Examination of Witnesses (Questins 40-59)|
MP, DAVID BELL
9 JANUARY 2008
Q40 Mr Stuart: So which is it, the
first or the second? Is it the less ambitious, or
Ed Balls: As I understand it,
it is the first.
Mr Stuart: It is the first. Okay, so
we can measure it against that fixed point in time.
Q41 Chairman: I think that the last
time the previous Committee met David Bell, we asked similar questions.
I think that you have some knowledge of this. Do you want to add
David Bell: No, I think that the
Secretary of State has made the point and position clear.
Q42 Chairman: You were a bit iffy
about whether that was about capital expenditure or current expenditure.
Ed Balls: The answer is that on
the capital side, we will meet the commitment within this spending
round. It is on the current side, on revenue, that we will take
it more or less
Q43 Chairman: Do you remember that
that is what the discussion was about?
David Bell: Yes.
Q44 Mr Stuart: Why have the Government
decided to reduce the minimum funding guarantee for 2008-09, given
that that will lead some schools to face reductions in their resources?
Ed Balls: The minimum funding
guarantee is set to reflect the quantum of resources available
to us as a Department, the cost pressures that we believe schools
will face and the efficiency gains that we think it is sensible
for us to expect schools to deliver. On that basis, I do not think
that we would expect any local authority to have to impose cuts
on individual schools. Obviously that will depend on the decisions
made in local authority areas within the overall quantum of their
budgets. They will take into account a number of factors, including
what is happening to schools rolls. If a school roll is falling
substantially, I guess a local authority has to take that into
account, but those are local decisions rather than central ones.
I am not going to hide from you the fact that this is a tougher
settlement than previous ones, but at the same time we think it
is entirely deliverable, not just to meet the basic needs of schools
but to deliver our priorities, particularly in special educational
needs and the personalisation agenda.
Q45 Mr Stuart: What specific efforts
have been made to prepare schools to be able to deal in the tougher
Ed Balls: We announce the detail
of the budgets to local authorities at the end of October or early
November, and it is then a matter for local authorities to work
with their schools through the schools forums in the following
months to work out how they will prepare.
Q46 Mr Stuart: So there is no specific
central help to deal with what is quite a big change in the funding
environment for schools.
David Bell: In some ways your
question links to Mrs Hodgson's question. Part of the work that
the Department has been doing with local authorities is to enable
them to work with schools. Do not forget that that is in the context
of three-year budgets, so it is extremely important that schools
do not look only at the next financial year, but plan their programmes
over three years. One virtue of three-year settlements is that
schools might have to manage. That might be difficult in the first
year because of falling rolls, but they can look at it with some
certainty in years two and three. Our Government office network
is working with local authorities. Both the National College for
School Leadership and the Training and Development Agency for
Schools are putting together programmes to enable head teachers
to be even more acutely aware of the efficiency effects of the
sorts of things that they do. There is a lot of support. One reason
for getting the settlement out in the Autumn is to give schools
that kind of time to prepare.
Q47 Mr Stuart: When will the review
of schools funding commence, and what will its terms of reference
Ed Balls: We expect to do the
substantial work on the schools funding review over the Summer,
and we have not yet published detailed terms of reference for
that review. The idea is to be able to inform decisions for three-year
budgets following this spending review period, so we still have
a number of years to prepare. We will need to look carefully at
the underlying assumptions underpinning the current "spend
plus" formulaI know that the Committee has discussed
this beforeand how far they have changed, how far we need
to make adjustments to the formula, whether we are getting the
right balance between stability and deprivation and whether we
need to do more to focus on pockets of deprivation within more
affluent areas. That is an area for which we have allocated £40.9
million in this three-year budget round. There are a number of
issues that we want to look at, and we will be doing that later
in the year.
Q48 Mr Stuart: Can we take it that
you will be considering having a more targeted funding system
in terms of targeting disadvantage in areas where it may not otherwise
show up so easily, statistically ?
Ed Balls: At the moment, within
the overall dedicated schools grant, about 10%slightly
more than £3 billion; about £3.5 billion of that £36
billion DSGgoes on deprivation spend, so there is already
a substantial chunk of expenditure there. However, that is within
the context of an historical set of arrangements. Clearly, there
is a balance to be struck between the pace of change and stability.
I am not going to prejudge the review by saying that there is
not sufficient focus on deprivation, but I certainly think that
looking at whether there is a sufficient focus on deprivation
is an important part of our work. As the Schools Minister would
want to jump in and say, if he were here, this is not simply deprivation
measured across an area, but also taking a proper account of the
deprivation that can occur within areas that are sometimes categorised
as being more affluent.
Q49 Mr Stuart: That is an important
point. If that is to be includedif it is to be targeted
as closely to individual people as possible in order to tackle
their individual needsit will be welcomed. What reassurance
can you give the F40 group, for example, about what it considers
to be an unfair funding allocation? In terms of the current spending
period, quite a lot of money has been held back from ministerial
priorities; will tackling disadvantage in rural areas be a ministerial
priority? Can you allay fears that there are just too few Labour
votes in rural areas for you to bother?
Ed Balls: As a Member of Parliament
for an F40 member authority, I very much understand the concerns
that you raise from a constituency point of view. However, my
authority was one of the top three local authorities for improvements
in GCSE performance in the past year, which shows that you have
to be a little careful about making too tight a link between performance
and the quantum of resources, but I understand your point. In
the debates that occurred, we ended up with a shift to the minimum
funding guarantee. At that time, the pace of change was perceived
as destabilising for individual schools, and that was why we ended
up with the system we did. At the same time, if there is too much
stability, history can end up dominating the reality on the ground,
and that is why it is right for us to have a review.
Mr Stuart: We have a young radical as
Secretary of State, we have high hopes.
Chairman: Graham, you have not had a
bad innings on that, it is time to move on. I will ask Dawn to
take us into the questions on the Children's Plan.
Q50 Ms Butler: First, I would like
to congratulate the Department on the Children's Plan. It has
been warmly received locally by head teachers and by parents.
Some are talking about how the Children's Plan relates to the
Every Child Matters five outcomes, and I wondered if there are
plans to re-categorise some of the content, to make to easier
for people to refer to.
Ed Balls: In some ways, I would
personally see the Children's Plan as being the mission for our
Department. Many of the issues that we have discussed so far are
integral to the Children's Plan: how we focus on narrowing gaps
in school attainmentthat is really what it is about. I
do not want the Children's Plan to be seen as only the spending
announcements made in the documentthe measures that we
are taking on school improvement are also very important. I say
that to make clear that we see schools, and driving up standards,
as central to the achievement of the Children's Plan. We decided
to structure the document around our five Public Service Agreement
objectives rather than around the five Every Child Matters objectives,
although we could have done it the other way round. The document,
and in a way the entire Department, is informed by the reality
of Every Child Matters on the ground in local areas. We have been
trying to learn lessons from what happens locally. If I say that
in the Chamber, colleagues opposite sometimes roll their eyes,
but we see ourselves very much as a Department that at the national
level is taking forward the Every Child Matters agenda. If it
would help for us to produce a breakdown of things that we are
planning or doing in the Children's Plan around the five Every
Child Matters outcomes, I would be happy to do that.
One of the important commitments in the Plan, in chapter 7, is
for us to produce indicators of child wellbeing, which are measurable
and comparable and cross all the five Every Child Matters outcomes.
Sometimes, when we look at performance, we end up making school
tests a measure of output because they are easy to measure whereas,
from the Department's point of view, we need to look right across
Q51 Ms Butler: I will come on to
some of the details of the Children's Plan, but in terms of the
Department, how many functions does the Department for Children,
Schools and Families have that the Department for Education and
Skills was not performing?
Ed Balls: The truthful answer
to that is a large number, but a large number of joint responsibilities.
If you take youth justice, for example, we have joint responsibility
for the management of the Youth Justice Board, for ministerial
oversight of day to day operations, for appointments. Every policy
decision is made jointly by myself and Jack Straw or by Beverley
Hughes and David Hanson. We now have, located in our Department
but led by a senior official from the Ministry of Justice, a 30-plus
strong team of officials who jointly, across the two Departments,
prepare all advice on Youth Justice issues. That is a set of responsibilities
and expertise that the Department did not have in DFES days. You
will not see that reflected in our departmental expenditure limit,
because our departmental expenditure has a small amount of resources
for the prevention of crime. Most of the expenditure is happily
in the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice. In terms of intensity
of effort, the allocation of civil service resource and ministerial
accountability, youth justice is a substantial addition for us,
but I think that you could say the same thing about children's
health and school sports. We now have joint responsibility for
children's play, drugs policy, youth and alcohol policy and child
poverty. Those are all areas where we have taken on new responsibilities
and had dedicated resource and ministerial time allocated to them
within the Department.
Q52 Ms Butler: The report highlights
that there is close cross-departmental working, which has made
the report and the 10-year plan quite strong. I was not a member
of the previous Committee, but I have been informed that it was
told that it would be difficult to involve health services in
wider children's service planning. It seems in the Plan that the
problem has been addressed, but it would be good if you informed
the Committee of what consultations took place and how the problem
has been addressed on health issues such as obesity and teenage
Ed Balls: In general, it would
be much too early to say that the problem has been solved. It
is a problem that we are now addressing. It is a regular refrain
from school heads and directors of children's services on the
ground that there is sometimes a gap in working and not enough
intensity of joint engagement, for example on children's mental
health or children's health more generally. That is something
that I know that Alan Johnson, as Secretary of State for Education,
was very focused on. He has gone into the Department with a big
desire to improve the prevention side of children's health and
to have much greater working locally. You can see that in the
fact that we have announced a joint review of child and adolescent
mental health services and the fact that Alan and I, through John
Bercow, are doing a joint review of speech and language therapy.
You can also see it in the operating framework for the NHS for
the next year, which was published just before Christmas. It had
children's health as one of its top five priorities and was seen
in the children's community as a very substantial step forward
for children's health and its prioritisation within the overall
NHS. All of those things are a reflection of what has been happening
at the national level over the last six months and of our joint
working. We now need to see that reflected in the way in which
primary care trusts around the country are allocating their budgets
and working with children's services locally. That is not perfect
today, but we think that this is a big step forward.
Q53 Ms Butler: It will be important
that all of these services are easily accessible under one roof
if possible. Going back to teenage pregnancies, they are at their
lowest rate for the last 20 years, but in constituencies such
as mine in Brent South, the figure is 11% higher than the national
average. You talked earlier about local authorities and making
them accountable. How will we monitor local authorities and ensure
that we make them accountable and that we spread good practices,
to ensure that the Children's Plan actually works?
Ed Balls: We still have an above
average rate of teenage pregnancies, but we have the lowest level
for 20 years and we have had quite substantial falls. The degree
of variation across local authority areas is very wide; quite
strikingly so. The evidence shows that those authorities that
have had an intensive drive with schools on that issue have made
real progress and authorities for whom it has not been a priority
have not made progress. I cannot find the figures in front of
me for one comparison I could make, but variations across areas
are quite striking. That is something that we will want to do
more to highlight. It is important that local authorities and
schools together take responsibility for this issue.
David Bell: I visited a project
elsewhere in London, where they had made greater progress with
the reduction in teenage pregnancy rates. One of the most striking
reasons was the close working relationship between the director
of public health and people working in schools. It is a good illustration
of the fact that you cannot tackle such problems if you leave
them with just one agency More generally, the new Public Service
Agreements that begin this April are all cross-Government. We
have deliberately moved away from the agreements that, in the
previous round, tended largely to be the responsibility of one
Department. For example, we cannot address the well-being of children
and their health on our own as the Department for Children, Schools
and Families; we must work with other Departments. When we put
together the delivery agreements, the mechanisms by which we will
achieve what we expect to achieve, there must be close working
between Departments. The Children's Plan was in many ways an early
illustration of such cross-departmental working, which must be
translated into what happens in local authorities and in wider
Ed Balls: You could make the same
point about, for example, looked-after children, where there is
wide variationauthority by authorityin looked-after
children's progress in school and the stability of their care.
You could make the same comparisons on the education or re-entry
of youth offenders, where some local authorities have been much
more effective than others at locating offenders close to home
and then managing their re-entry into mainstream education or
work. Other authorities are not making anywhere near the same
progress. One thing that we must do, which goes back to Mr Heppell's
comment about the national indicator set, is use data to show
clearly the local authorities that do well throughout the range
of issuesyou can make the same point about missing children.
The best practice of such local authorities should be highlighted,
and the local authorities that do not take seriously their responsibilities
for co-ordinating support for disadvantaged groups need to do
more. You can say the same thing about Gypsy and Traveller education,
in which there is a wide variation in performance.
Chairman: Dawn, a last point.
Q54 Ms Butler: In 12 months' time,
when you produce a report about how far the Children's Plan has
been implemented and its success rate, will it also include a
dossier of good practice to help local authorities and other areas
that are perhaps not achieving or progressing as much as you would
Ed Balls: That is a good idea.
For the Department to achieve its objectives, this is as much
about using informal, arm's-length levers or cultural change as
it is about direct expenditure. We decided that we needed the
first round of consultation on the Children's Plan to be intensive,
and we will now undertake much public consultation on, and discussion
with teachers in local areas about, the Plan's implementation.
We thought that there could, potentially, be a national conference
in the Summer to highlight examples of policies that are working,
so the right thing may be for us to produce, more systematically,
performance measures, comparisons and examples. I shall take that
point away and reflect on how best we can do it. If we can do
it in order to contribute to your work over the next year, we
will be very happy to do so.
Q55 Annette Brooke: Ed, I can see
only six colours on what I presume to be a rainbow, so my questions
will be about whether things are missing from the Children's Plan.
I shall start with reference to the UN convention on the rights
of the child. We just raised the question why we are not examining
the five outcomes from Every Child Matters, but many people felt
that Every Child Matters did not give sufficient weight to the
convention. Clearly, the Government will be assessed on their
progress in implementing the convention later this year. I am
sure that you will agree that they will not get top marks in every
section. How is the DCSF planning to put in place the institutional
frameworks necessary to promote and protect children's rights
under the convention?
Ed Balls: The absence of pink
from the front page of the document is notable.
Annette Brooke: Indigo.
Ed Balls: Isn't it, "Red
and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue"?
Mr Chaytor: Surely it is: red, orange,
yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
Ed Balls: I was thinking of the
song as a way of remembering.
Chairman: Now we all agree that it is
indigo, perhaps we can return to the question.
Ed Balls: I would not want Members
to think that that was a diversionary tactic. In Annex B, we published
a full breakdown of the UNRC articles and examples, area by area,
of how we envisage that the new Department's Children's Plan will
take forward aspects of the UNRC convention. We think that we
get pretty close to implementation, but we have not made a formal
commitment to do so. As you know, there are a number of reasons
that that would be complicated.
Q56 Annette Brooke: I feel rather
sad about that. I am aware of Annex B, but I still do not think
that you are making a real commitment to putting in a framework
that would deliver on this commitment, which was made way back
in 1991. I believe that we are rather lagging behind our European
counterparts on this.
Ed Balls: We have made substantial
progress in the past 10 years. The new Department is a further
step towards implementing or matching a number of the commitments
made in that convention.
Q57 Chairman: What was the most difficult
bit, Secretary of State?
Ed Balls: As you know, we set
out our view on smacking in the Autumn. Different parts of the
Community have different views on what the UNRC requires, and
a number of UNRC signed-up countries have the same policy as us.
However, there is also a view that we would need to go further
to meet the obligations of the UNRC, as I understand it.
Q58 Annette Brooke: May I come in
on a related issue? Joint working is a very big issue now. You
have identified joint responsibilities, but there are conflictsthis
relates back to the conventionsuch as over the rights of
separated asylum-seeking and trafficked children. I assume that
your Department has to be fully signed up to safeguarding the
welfare of all children in this country. How closely are you working
with the immigration authorities, given that they do not have
such a commitment? We know that not all children are getting as
much protection as they might.
Ed Balls: My colleague the Minister
for Children, Young People and Families, Beverley Hughes, has
been in close contact with Ministers in the Home Office over that.
Obviously, consistent with the Government's wider approach to
immigration and asylum, we want to ensure that the education and
welfare of children are properly protected. We monitor that and
are in discussions with our colleagues about it. However, the
overall framework for that policy is a matter for the Home Secretary.
We do not have a joint responsibility on immigration and asylum.
Q59 Annette Brooke: You do not have
a joint responsibility for every child in this country?
Ed Balls: The areas where we have
a dual key policy responsibility are set out clearly in the Machinery
of Government document. However, in areas that fall outside those
responsibilities, but where the welfare of children is affected,
clearly we have an interest and we take an interest. I do not
have joint responsibility for immigration policy as it affects
the children of asylum seekers.
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