Examination of Witnesses (Questins 20-39)|
MP, DAVID BELL
9 JANUARY 2008
Q20 Mr Chaytor: Are the projections
a matter of public record?
David Bell: There is no reason
why they cannot be given to you, because we ask local authorities
for projections in relation to primary-age pupils and secondary-age
pupils. Of course, within the CSR that has just been agreed for
the coming three years an assumption was made around change in
the demographics because of some reduction in pupil numbers that
it projected. We have to do that kind of projection for all sorts
of reasons; it is not just to do with budgets but with other kinds
of planning where you need to have a longer-term assumption in
the assessment of pupil numbers.
Ed Balls: For example, the spring
Green Paper set out the policy on education to 18 for consultation
and projected the numbers of young people that we expect to be
in the 16-18 category over the next decade and then split them
between likely projections for school, college and apprenticeships.
On education to 18, in the period 2013 to 2015 when the policy
kicks in, we are envisaging needing perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 more
school or college places but 100,000 more apprenticeships, because
we think that is where the take-up is likely to come. So there,
clearly, we have been publicly projecting and I am sure that we
have done that in other places too, but I do not think that we
necessarily publish the figures systematically. I am happy to
provide a note on that as well.
Q21 Mr Chaytor: On productivity,
you mentioned earlier that rising standards are not necessarily
equated with rising productivity in education. Is there a need
to redefine the nature of productivity in public services, or
are you just reconciled to the fact that conventional measures
of productivity are not as relevant to public services as they
are to industry?
Ed Balls: As I understand it,
and I should know more of the detail on this area, the Treasury
conducted some work, which I think was carried out by Professor
Atkinson from Oxford University two or three years ago and was
commissioned by the Office for National Statistics to try to update
the way in which we measure public sector productivity. The old
saw, or the old joke, was that in the old ONS numbers the productivity
of the fire service was measured by the number of fires that it
put out. Therefore, there was no incentive for the fire service
to spend any money on fire prevention, because if it prevented
fires it did not put them out and consequently it appeared to
be less productive. That is the kind of old-style way of doing
things that, hopefully, we have changed. I am not saying that
the ONS is measuring productivity in the wrong way for education;
what I am talking about is the conclusions that you draw from
those measurements. It seems to me that you would expect it to
be harder, more expensive and more intensive to raise standards
as performance improves, because the 20% of children who are not
getting to Level 4 at Key Stage 2 now in primary schools will
need more intensive support to get to that level than the first
20% or the average needed. As a society, we have to decide whether
we think that that is a priority and whether we will spend the
money. I think that it is a priority, but you would expect productivity
to be lower, in the sense that it will cost you more to get the
next person up to standard. However, that is, in a sense, obvious.
Q22 Mr Chaytor: Is the Department
working on a new model of productivity?
Stephen Meek: The Atkinson review
involves an ongoing process of refining definitions of productivity,
capturing the benefits and outcomes and I think that papers on
this subject come out reasonably regularly, as I am sure that
the Committee is aware. There is a kind of moving picture on the
definition of productivity. The issues about low-hanging fruit
and how much harder it becomes as you go on are all relevant,
but it is a moving picture on the definition of productivity.
Q23 Mr Heppell: Can I move on to
targets? In the Annual Report, there is an awful lot on targets.
Some of them have been achieved, but an awful lot have not been,
with no real explanation as to why those particular targets were
not achieved. I am wondering how meaningful targets are. What
are the new Department's key targets? How do they fit in, or how
do they evolve, with the Children's Plan? Also, how will that
process fit in with the local area agreement process?
Ed Balls: If you look at the last
set of PSAs, the area where I think that we have struggled to
make progress compared to our expectations when the targets were
set is, in particular, Key Stage 3, in the group aged 11-14. For
us as a Department, the progress that children make in the early
years of secondary school is a real challenge, because too many
children do not seem to make progress in the way that you would
expect them to make in that period. I must say that I also think
that the targets that we set for Key Stage 3 were quite ambitious
targets. They were based upon an expectation that we would make
really quite rapid progress, which we have not managed to sustain.
At the same time, for Key Stage 4 we have clearly met the targets
for GCSE results and we have continued to make progress. From
memory, in Key Stage 2 we have made progress, but we have not
gone as fast as we would like. There is an underpinning assumption;
if you look at the Children's Plan, it essentially says that we
have continued to make progress year-by-year on standards over
the past 10 years, but the pace has slowed in recent years, and
we would like to see that pace reaccelerate. Part of the reason
why we have not met some of our PSAs is because that pace has
slowed. The Children's Plan attempts to address some of the reasons
why the pace of progress has slowed, which is partly around the
primary curriculum review. We have already reviewed Key Stage
3. It is also around the broader point that schools need the wider
community and need to focus on barriers to learning outside the
school, if we are to sustain the pace of progress we would like
and, as I have said, to reach those children for whom progress
is tougher and more challenging.
Q24 Mr Heppell: Can I press you on
that? My authority has made massive progress in the past few years.
Although it has made massive progress, everybody else is making
progress and it never seems to move up in the league table. It
is frustrating to see things obviously getting better, but still
having, if you like, a bad reputation. One of the areas where
there is "slippage" in the target, is in equalities.
Ed Balls: Inequalities?
Q25 Mr Heppell: Inequalitieswhatever
you call them: the super outputs against the average or targets
to narrow the gap. It does not seem that that is one of the areas
we are moving in. What can we do to make the target effective?
Ed Balls: As you know, because
we discussed that in the House, when we published the school-by-school
GCSE results in the Autumn, for the first time we also published
the list of local authorities that have seen the biggest improvement
across all of their schools and areas over the past year and past
10 years. I think that Nottingham came fifth in the country in
progress in the past year. We are talking about the role that
local government should play in education, I think that it should,
within their areas, be holding schools to account for whether
they are making progress, including whether they are doing okay
but coasting. We ought to be holding local authorities to account
for whether they, in individual schools and areas, are making
progress. We praise some of the areas that have made particularly
fast progress: Tower Hamlets is the fastest improving authority
over the past 10 years, and Halton, followed by Salford and Wakefield
have made progress in the past year. We also need to highlight
those local authorities that have not been making progress. On
inequalities, for the first time in the new PSAs, which we publish
for the next spending round, we have an objective, both for progress
in raising standards for all, but also for narrowing the gap in
achievement. That will be a very important part of our performance
management with schools in the next few years. As I have said,
one of the critical things in the Children's Plan is that narrowing
the gap is sometimes about progress in schools for individual
pupils. The agenda on personalisation and catch-up is about making
sure that children who start to fall behind early are helped to
catch upoften children from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is partly about highlighting the fact that some schools with
similar catchment areas seem to make much less progress than other
schools, and about asking local authorities, with us, to highlight
that. It is also about recognising that many of the issues that
hold back children from more disadvantaged backgrounds are issues
outside the school: culture of expectations, parental engagement,
special needs, and diet and health. If we are going to raise standards
and tackle inequalities, as a Department we need to think about
the needs of children rather than the simply the performance of
schools. That is why the coming together of Every Child Matters
in local areas and the role of the Children's Trust in identifying
barriers to progress is important.
Q26 Chairman: But it is in the super
output areasthe most deprived children in the most deprived
backgroundswhere you have missed the target. That should
be seared on the soul of the Department. You did mention that
in your answer on targets. Meeting new targets and bringing the
most deprived children towards the average is where you have really
Ed Balls: That was because we
set ambitious objectives. If you look at the past four or five
years, progress in standards has been faster for children on free
school meals than for the average child. The case can be made
that a number of things that we have been doing to try to focus
on tackling that disadvantage gap have started to work. There
has been a narrowing of the gap, but at much too slow a pace in
my view. Therefore, it is still the case that children's educational
chances are being affected by where they live and the income of
their parents rather than their abilities. That is something that
we really need to address. I am not in any way trying to duck
the issue or walk away from our responsibility. We have been making
progress, but there is a lot more do to.
Chairman: We will be coming back to that,
Secretary of State. We will now move on to spending plans, on
which Sharon will open.
Q27 Mrs Hodgson: I have a very quick
question and then I think that Graham Stuart will come in on some
more detailed matters. Over the years since 2000 there has been
a large increase in public expenditure on education, but I believe
that that will level off from the years 2008 to 2010. How is your
Department preparing schools for the lower rate of annual growth?
The Comprehensive Spending Review was published before the Children's
Plan so was expenditure for the plan included in the Comprehensive
Ed Balls: On the first point,
it is important to put that matter in its proper context. The
rate of growth of spending over the next three years will be slower
than that over the last 10 years, but it will still be rising
in real terms. In real terms, it will rise across the UK by 3%
a year and by 2.8% for England, which means that the percentage
of GDP spent on education will be rising for the next three years.
We will have considerably faster growth. There will be well over
twice the rate of growth in education spending in the next three
years than over the 18 years of the previous Government. To put
this in its proper context, we will still have substantial real-terms
increases in resources, which are historically above average.
Although over the previous 20 years educationalists have shown
that GDP was falling consistently, it will keep rising over the
next three years. We will have less of an increase, but the numbers
will still be going up. Secondly, it is important to say that
a number of the things that we want to do go beyond simply the
quantum of resources. There are a number of schools that are not
doing as well as they should, despite having the same resources
as schools that for the same catchment deliver much higher results.
Our drive on standards and performance is substantially about
tackling some of the non-spending barriers to progress. On your
final question, we allocated around £1 billion over three
yearsa cumulative figure over three yearsin the
Children's Plan for Children's Plan priorities. All of that was
money that I managed to find and release from within the overall
spending settlement that I inherited, with the exception of, I
think, an additional £200 million
added into our budgets in the pre-Budget report. We managed to
find in other areas savings or money that we could release to
allocate to the Children's Plan. This was money for new priorities,
but I never claimed that it was additional money over and above
the spending of the new settlement.
Q28 Mr Stuart: Welcome, Secretary
of State. The Prime Minister made a commitment to eradicate the
spending gap between state schools and private schools. Could
you reaffirm that commitment today?
Ed Balls: Yes.
Q29 Mr Stuart: Can you tell us what
it means, when it will be achieved and what milestones we can
measure on the way?
Ed Balls: I cannot tell you the
date on which we will get there because
Q30 Mr Stuart: Do you have an aspiration
date? When would you like to get there?
Ed Balls: That is asking me to
pre-empt our application for resources in the next spending round.
I am not in a position to do that today. Even if I were, I could
not tell you whether I would be successful because there might
be other Departments which thought they had an equal claim on
resources. It will clearly depend upon
Q31 Mr Stuart: It is a promise made
by the Prime Minister. We have long-term Comprehensive Spending
Review periods. To ask you, as Secretary of State, to give us
some idea when this firm commitment should be met is not unreasonable.
It is not asking you to divulge positions that cannot properly
be divulged ahead of any spending rounds.
Ed Balls: I was answering the
question in the most honest and open way that I can. There is
a clearly a difference between the two parties. We are committed
to raising the level of spending per pupil in state schools to
the level of private school spending. The Opposition parties are
not willing to make that commitment. That gives you a clear difference
of view. That pace at which we can deliver that commitment will
depend upon resources post-2011. We are closing the gap over the
next three years as we have done over the last decade. We have
clearly been going in that direction, but we have not got there
yet. I cannot give you a date after 2011 because I do not know.
Q32 Mr Stuart: When would you like
to do it? I am not asking you to give us a date by which you categorically
promise to do so, but it does not seem unreasonable to members
of this Committee that, having made the commitment, you should
be able to give us some idea of when you would hope to do it.
I accept that there may be other priorities. Maybe there will
be an economic downturn. Who knows? But give us an idea.
Ed Balls: I would like to do it
as fast as I can, obviously.
Q33 Mr Stuart: And what does it mean?
Ed Balls: As I understand it,
there was around a £3,000 per head gap in state versus
private school spending when the commitment was made. The Prime
Minister said that he did not see why children who were going
to state schools should have fewer teachers, less resource and
therefore less opportunity than the minority going to private
schools. Therefore he thought that our ambition over years should
be to try to get state school spending up to private school levels,
because that is the way to have fairness and excellence for all,
rather than to have a two-tier education system. Of course it
takes time because money does not grow on trees, but some of us
want to get rid of a two-tier education system and other parties
are quite happy to continue with a two-tier education system.
That is where the dividing line is. Obviously I should like to
make progress to end a two-tier education system faster rather
than more slowly. Unfortunately, I cannot pre-empt the next spending
Q34 Mr Stuart: Just to confirm, the
gap is what we should look at. If we want to map the milestones
along the way, this Committee can look at the gap between average
expenditure per pupil in the private sector and average expenditure
per pupil in the maintained sector. We can map that and draw our
trajectory from that to see when the Government will achieve this
firm and fixed commitment which you reaffirmed today.
Ed Balls: Having a debate between
Mr Stuart: It is not a party debate.
Ed Balls: Having a debate between
the parties as to which parties are and are not committed to ending
two-tier education seems to be a very good debate to have. If
in order to inform that debate we can make some projections, I
am happy to study your projections and to tell you whether they
are right or
Q35 Mr Stuart: I am not here as a
party spokesman, Secretary of State, I am here as a member of
this Committee. All of us on this Committee are interested in
that commitment. Our job is to scrutinise your performance and
we want to find out how you are going to get on in that regard.
Trying to drag in party politics is irrelevant to this. I am not
a Front-Bench spokesman of any kind.
Ed Balls: Far be it from me to
drag us into party politics, but I was simply pointing out that
there are different ways in which you can measure the credibility
of an aspiration to end a two-tier education system. One is whether
you are willing to set ambitions and a second is the pace at which
you then meet them. We have clearly been willing to set as an
ambition the goal of getting state spending up to the level in
that year of private school spending.
Q36 Mr Stuart: Of the year when the
promise was made?
Ed Balls: I think that it is in
the year when the promise was made.
Q37 Mr Stuart: So it is a fixed target,
and not a moving target depending on how much is spent in the
independent sector. It is about that particular year and the time
when the promise was made. That is what you are measuring it by.
Nobody seems to know quite what the promise means, and it would
be really useful for you to set it out specifically today.
Ed Balls: I will very happily
write a letter to the Committee setting out the commitment that
was made, the progress that we have made and the progress that
we shall make in the next three years. It will show clearly that
we are narrowing the gap, but we need to continue to prioritise
education spending over other spending or tax cuts to continue
to make progress.
Q38 Mr Stuart: I am sorry, but it
is so important to settle this. Are we talking about what happened
to be spent in that year, on average, by the independent sector,
or about closing the gap between the independent sector, wherever
it is at any given time, and the state sector? That is what we
would like to know.
Ed Balls: The thing that is interesting
is that you are criticising me both for not making sufficient
progress to meet the objective and for not making the objective
Q39 Mr Stuart: I was not aware that
I was making any criticism whatever. I have merely been trying
to find out the terms of the promise that you made and how we
can measure whether you are meeting it. There is no criticism
Ed Balls: It is already a very
ambitious goal to raise state spending up to the level of private
school spending in the year in which the commitment was made.
It would be even more ambitious to try to keep pace with the subsequent
rise in private school spending.
2 Ev 20 Back
Correction from witness: The Department received £250
million extra, not £200 million. Back
Ev 20 Back