Examination of Witnesses (Questins 60-79)|
MP, DAVID BELL
9 JANUARY 2008
Q60 Annette Brooke: Do you think
that it is something you should be seeking?
Ed Balls: I should be very happy
to listen to the views of the Committee on that.
Q61 Annette Brooke: Right, thank
you for that. Can I perhaps return to mainstream education for
a moment? Within the Children's Plan there is the phrase "stage
not age" in relation to the new test. I want to pick up a
specific point, but to relate it more generally across the Department.
Goals for 2020 on page 16 include: "every child ready
for success in school, with at least 90% developing well across
all areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile by age 5".
I appreciate that there is a conflict between being ambitious
for our children and, on the other hand, particularly in the early
years, taking on board child development. I should like to ask
you about that dilemma generally in the Department and how you
set targets, particularly in the early years when we know that
there are variations in child development in terms of hearing
and all sorts of things that are not necessarily fully developed.
So how can you just come up with a figure of 90%? Is there any
scientific evidence to say that by the age of five, 90% of children
will be at stage X in the child development process? They never
would be, because there are so many aspects of child development.
How do you face up to that real dilemma to be ambitious but to
remember that every child is so individual, but particularly up
to age five and six?
Ed Balls: We have thought very
carefully about how to frame this goal and the goal for Key Stage
2 for secondary children. There is a balance to be struck between
ambition and realism. There is also a balance to be struck between
being ambitious for every child and recognising that some children
will not be able to reach this standard at any age. Then there
is the third point which you raise. There will be some children
who will be able to reach a standard, but at a slower pace. When
we set this at 90%, we looked in detail at the way in which Early
Years Foundation Stage progress had been moving in recent years.
We were conscious that some people would say that 90% in 10 years'
time or 12 years' time is insufficiently ambitious and that it
should be 100% of children. But we also recognise the very important
point that you make and your expertise. There are things that
we will be doing as part of the follow up for the Children's Plan.
We have not specified the details of some goals yet, for example,
around youth offending. There are others where we need to make
more progress in terms of measurability and children's wellbeing,
as I said earlier, is one of those. It would be a good thing for
us to produce a more detailed document or statement of how we
arrived at those numbers or those areas where we are still continuing
to consult. We will consult widely over the next year on whether
these goals represent the right national ambitions. This was our
starting point. We thought that this was a reasonable but stretching
way to frame the long-term target for early years. But we will
want to discuss with experts, including the Committee, how exactly
we should measure it over the next few months.
David Bell: Can I come in here?
Chairman: Briefly, because we have two
David Bell: Quickly, the letter
that has gone to Sir Jim Rose this morning, which the Committee
has seen, makes the point specifically about that transition from
the Early Years Foundation Stage into the primary curriculum.
It is another good opportunity to consider quite how youngsters
make the move from early years into the more formal primary curriculum.
Chairman: We try to make this look like
a seamless process, but we have sections that we try to cover.
So we will now move on. We will focus a bit more on the Children's
Plan, led by Fiona.
Q62 Fiona Mactaggart: The Children's
Plan states that, "The Government is committed to halving
child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020." Do you
stick by that?
Ed Balls: Yes.
Q63 Fiona Mactaggart: How will you
Ed Balls: The 2020 goal will be
affected by the income, the work chances, and the progress that
today's teenagers make over the next few years. They will be the
parents of the generation of children being born by the end of
the next decade. Looking to the 2020 goal, that is a very broad
set of policy levers and something which the Children's Plan is
an important contributor to. The 2010 goal will be affected much
more by the level of income going into families' household budgets,
plus the percentage of families who are working or non-working.
The reforms being taken forward by the Secretary of State for
Work and Pensions on employment and support for employment for
families and single parents, plus the decisions made by the Chancellor
in the next couple of Budgets, will be much more important to
the 2010 goal than any lever that our Department can pull.
Q64 Fiona Mactaggart: I am a fan
of the Children's Plan, but there is a risk of it sounding a bit
like some other 10-year plans that were promoted by Comrade Stalin
and others, in that, if you go on after the commitment
[Interruption.] Sorry, that was a joke. If you continue from
that statement, the Plan states that, "The number of children
in relative poverty fell by 600,000 between 1998 and 2006."
A true statement, but it does not acknowledge that last year's
figures were the first in which there was a relative increase.
You said in reply to an earlier question that the lowest-hanging
fruits, the first steps in making progress, are the easiest bit.
We are in the situation of being one third of the way to the 2010
target, but we have used up four fifths of the time. So, we have
got two thirds of the way in two years. Are we going to get there?
Ed Balls: As I said, that is a
matter for subsequent decisions which will have been made over
the next few months and the next couple of years. I made a speech
the day before the publication of the Children's Plan to a conference
organised by the End Child Poverty coalition, in which I talked
in detail about what had happened to the child poverty numbers
in recent years, and acknowledged the rise in child poverty. So,
I apologise if we did not make that particular point in that paragraph,
but it is something which we have been open about and happy to
discuss. The reality is that we have made substantial progress
on reducing child poverty. In the 18 years to 1997, we had the
fastest rise in child poverty of any European country. Since 1997
we have had the fastest fall in child poverty of any European
country. That is pretty good, but it is not good enough to get
to 2010. Therefore, if we are going to get there, and I believe
that we can, we will have to do more. As I have said, that is
not something that can be delivered from the resources or with
the levers of our Department, but it is something for which I
have joint responsibility with Peter Hain and Alistair Darling.
There was a debate at some time in 2005 as to whether we had failed
to meet the quarter target in 2004. At the time of the 2003 pre-Budget
report, when I think £1.2 billion went into the child tax
credit, and on the basis of Institute for Fiscal Studies figures
at that time, we thought that that would be sufficient to more
than meet the objective before and after housing costs. Changes
subsequently happened, which involved a faster rise in the incomes
of the non-poor than we expected. That is a good thing. It is
good that the average went up, but it made it harder for us to
meet our child poverty objective. What has happened over the past
couple of years is a similar storyeven though absolute
child poverty has come down the relative numbers have been more
difficult for us, partly because of the better performance of
the economy. Those are explanations, not excuses, and I think
it is important for us to stick to our guns.
Q65 Fiona Mactaggart: I do, too.
But I also think that it is important to describe an ambitionand
a plan to get therewhich is real. I am anxious that this
has become a kind of shibboleth that we are repeating and that
there is risk that it could become unreal. You say in the Plan
that there is the joint unit between your Department and the Department
for Work and Pensions and so on, and you point out in your response
to me, quite rightly, that in the short term the things that your
Department can do will not make the difference, although they
will in the longer term. However, can you give a hint of what
you think is needed in the next two years to get to the 2010 target,
because we want to get there?
Ed Balls: To get to the 2010 target
we would need a combination of a rise in employment rates for
single parents, which have been rising steadily over the past
10 years but have not yet got to the level of a number of our
European counterparts; a further reduction in workless households;
and resources allocated to families in future Budgets. Since I
have had a lot of experience of sitting here as an adviser at
the Treasury, I can say that the one thing the Treasury would
not take kindly to is my coming to a Select Committee and telling
the Treasury how it should write the next Budget, but that is
clearly something that will be in the Chancellor's mind in his
Budget preparations. The child poverty goal is a very ambitious
goal for a government to set, and setting down quarter-point and
halfway milestones was the right thing to do, although ambitious.
If it had not been for those objectives, we would never have made
the progress that we have, even though sometimes we have not gone
as fast as we would have liked. As I have said many times to child
poverty campaigners, you can either say, "You failed to meet
the target to reduce by a quarter by 2004, therefore it is a betrayal;
it was not worth the candle," or you can say, "You got
a substantial part of the way there but you needed to go the extra
mileredouble your efforts." The easiest way for governments
to meet targets and objectives is to set unambitious ones and
then tick the box every year. You get better outcomes, but it
is politically harder, if you set more ambitious goals and strive
to get there. In the case of the Millennium Development Goals,
at the moment we are not going to meet the goals for the reduction
of international poverty by 2015, but it would be wrong to say,
"Well, in that case, let's back off them." We need to
find ways to redouble our efforts.
Q66 Fiona Mactaggart: I absolutely
agree, but how are we going to hold you accountable? You are saying
at the momenton this bit of it right now"It
is not me, it is someone else." Sorry, I am being mean.
Ed Balls: That is slightly unfair.
Q67 Fiona Mactaggart: You were saying
that the things that can happen at the moment
Ed Balls: In the short term.
Q68 Fiona Mactaggart: Can you advise
us, as Members of Parliament, whether we hold you, as the Secretary
of State for Children, accountable? Do we hold the Secretary of
State for Welfare accountable? Do we hold the Chancellor accountable?
How do we hold the Government accountable for the detail of this
target? It is worth arguing about the detail; that is why I made
the crack about Stalinism. You need to dig beneath these sorts
of statements and look at progress and other things, for example
whether the IFS and others were surprised when the child tax credit
did not deliver the changes that everybody had expected. I completely
concur with you, but Committees like ours need to be able to dig
underneath and that is difficult when responsibility is moving.
Ed Balls: There is a question
for the Committeeand for Parliamentabout how it
chooses to manage its process of scrutiny and accountability,
which is not for me to dictate. It is for us, as the Executive,
to be clear about how we will manage our process for driving change.
The Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and
I now have much clearer joint responsibilities for child povertythey
are clearly set out in the delivery arrangementsand we
meet on a regular basis in government. It is a matter for you
to decide how to scrutinise that. Clearly, that is more complex
for this Committee than pretty much any other Committee in Parliament
because I have a range of joint responsibilities in a number of
areas. Whether I can deliver depends on my leverage and the co-operation
of other Cabinet colleagues. Obviously, from my point of view,
the more you scrutinise them and ask them whether they are doing
what we need to do to meet these objectives, the better, but it
would be quite wrong for me to start dictating how to do that.
This is a 10-year plan because I thought that it was right for
us to set the ambitions for our new Department, to be ambitious
and to look to the long term. The reason why it is not Stalinist
is that I do not think Stalin ever really believed in joint working
or dual keys, or that he saw cultural change and indirect leverage
as the way you went about it. We are absolutely clear on youth
justice, health, obesity and immigration that we will achieve
in promoting the welfare of children only if we do it through
the support and co-operation of other colleagues.
Q69 Chairman: We are all on a learning
curve, because the more I hear your responses, the more I understand
that you are on a learning curve in the Department. Certainly,
in respect of children's responsibilities, we will have to learn
to do a much more difficult task in terms of scrutiny than on
the other sideon schools.
Ed Balls: If we do not do it,
we will not succeed.
Fiona Mactaggart: Our challenge, therefore,
is to see whether we can get the Chancellor and two Secretaries
of State together in front of us on this issue.
Chairman: I am sure that the Secretary
of State for Children, Schools and Families will help us. Can
we now have quick questions and quick answers?
Q70 Stephen Williams: I will be as
quick as I can, Chairman. Next, I come to staying on. Two big
things are going to happen this year: your first flagship Bill
to raise the education participation age starts on Tuesday; and
the roll-out of Diplomas will start in September. Taking Diplomas
first, is everything on track for their successful introduction?
Ed Balls: We have made substantially
more progress than any of us thought possible when I arrived in
the job in July and substantially more progress than the Permanent
Secretary advised me that he thought was possible when he greeted
me on the first day.
Q71 Stephen Williams: So you were
worried, but now you are less so?
Ed Balls: How can I say this?
When a senior civil servant greets you by informing you of challenging
objectives, there is part of you that thinks, "This sounds
like it's going to be tough." But, actually, I think we have
done very, very well. The announcement before Christmas of the
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service point score for Diplomas
was a very positive fillip indeed. Many universities in the Russell
and 1994 Groups and the new universities are coming forward and
saying that they will want to attract Diploma students. A report
coming out in the next week or so from the 1994 Group will be
a very powerful signal to heads and students. In the end, it will
take some time to get things bedded down, but at the moment I
am honestly feeling quite upbeat about it.
Q72 Stephen Williams: We touched
on resources at the start of this sitting. Are enough resources,
especially capital resources, committed to ensuring that this
is a success? You can have more people participating in education
and training if you can raise the education leaving age, but clearly
more provision means that more capital resources will be needed.
Is there a big enough capital budget in your CSR settlement to
Ed Balls: Are you asking about
Diplomas in particular?
Q73 Stephen Williams: They are linked,
are they not? If you raise the leaving age, more people will participate,
but, hopefully, Diplomas will attract more people as well.
Ed Balls: In the Green Paper and
the documents that we produced in November, we see a substantial
rise in training at work and apprenticeships as being much more
significant in terms of increasing numbers than a rise in the
number of full-time students in school or college post-16 between
2013 and 2015. Given what is happening demographically, we need
not a big capital expansion, but a substantial number of apprenticeships.
That is why we are legislating for a right to apprenticeships
and, therefore, a duty on local areas to work out how they are
going to deliver them. At the moment, we do not think that resources
are our most significant constraint.
Q74 Stephen Williams: We are obviously
going to have a more in-depth look at the Bill in its Committee
stage. Is there not a significant problem if you see the answer
to more people attaining higher education levels as making them
stay on longer than they wish to? Currently, in year 11, nearly
68,000 children are persistently absent under the existing compulsory
staying-on age. What gives you confidence that raising the legal
barrier is going to attract more people into education?
Ed Balls: One of the things that
we need to do for 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-oldsand we are
doing with the Steer work, following up his exclusions report
and more broadly through studio schools and other thingsis
to find more motivating and compelling ways to keep certain kinds
of young people in pre-16 education, rather than sticking them
in a classroom of 30 or 25 to learn a certain curriculum. Clearly,
the same applies after 16. If the policy was to raise the legal
age at which children could leave school, it would be the wrong
policy, but that is not what we are proposing. We are proposing
finding ways in which the 50,000 young people currently in full-time
work who are not receiving any training can receive training for
a qualification. We want the substantial numbers of young people
who would like, but cannot access, an apprenticeship to be able
to get one. We want to address the issue of young people aged
16 and 17 who do not have the qualifications or the basic learning
to access an apprenticeship through entry to employment to be
helped to catch up. The reason why we have a six-year planning
process is that we want to make sure that by 2013, when the obligation
kicks in, the cohort that today are 10 and 11 in primary schools
are better prepared to stay in education until 18.
Q75 Stephen Williams: A couple of
last questions in this section, because we are running out of
time and there is more to do. The predecessor Department, in post-16
areas, was keen on contestability and competition among colleges,
sixth form providers and so on. We do not hear much about that
now. Is there waning enthusiasm for competition in that area?
Ed Balls: I do not think so. There
is a distinction between pre and post-19. In driving Diplomas
and delivering our ambitions in the 14-19 age range, we need to
make sure that we have the collaboration between colleges and
schools in the areas that is needed to make sure that you can
have a comprehensive offer for young people. That requires a focus
on collaboration and performance management. Clearly, as with
schools, those colleges that are not attracting people, because
no one wants to go there, are going to struggle and we need to
take action on that. For post-19, as we move more in the direction
of a demand-driven system as Train to Gain expands, a market incentive
is going to bite increasingly over time on that kind of provision
in the FE sector.
Q76 Stephen Williams: Your two predecessors
as Secretary of State who we questioned here always had a presumption
in favour of sixth forms as well. There is the roll-out of Academies,
and they usually a have a sixth form attached. Is that presumption
Ed Balls: The interesting thingin
a way this is a reflection of the influence that the Committee
had a couple of years agois that if you look at the first
30 schools that set up as trusts in September, 23 of them are
in collaborative trusts. My instinct politically is that parents
want the option of their children staying on in school into a
sixth form, and many head teachers whom I speak to who do not
have sixth forms would like to have one. In many areas, collaboration
between secondary schools, through trusts and other means, is
a way to share sixth form resources without every school necessarily
needing a separate sixth form. My guess is that as the Diploma
programme expands, we will see more of that collaboration and
therefore more young people moving around their area to different
institutions for different courses, rather than staying in one
sixth form for all their courses.
Chairman: Lynda gets a gold star for
patience today. You want to talk about teachers.
Q77 Lynda Waltho: I would like to
talk about teaching. I am very pleased that it is acknowledged
in the Plan that teaching is a highly skilled occupation. The
best teachers constantly seek to improve their skills. You go
on to say that to achieve the ambitions for children and to boost
the status of teaching, you would like the profession to become
masters-led. Do you think that this will make the profession more
attractive? Importantly, would achievement of the masters attract
a higher salary? What would the time frame behow long do
you see this taking?
Ed Balls: We are learning from
a number of countries that have used post-graduate training of
teachers as part of career development, as a way of continuing
to drive excellence in the teaching profession. We have, Ofsted
says, the best generation of teachers that we have ever had and
lots of people today want to come and be teachers, but we need
to make sure we continue to support every teacher to improve through
their career. One of the things that we are doing within the range
of things in the Children's Plan is saying that in order to make
teaching a masters-level profession, we will start with a presumption
that every teacher coming into the profession should be studying
for a masters qualification in the early years of their teaching.
That does not mean a continuation of initial teacher training
or going away from the classroom to do full-time study, but it
does mean having structured masters-level professional development
through those early years. We would also like to make that an
offer that would be available for existing teachers. I praised
the partnership earlier. One of its successes has been that we
have made much more progress on work force development, professional
development and reform than we might have expectedthat
has happened because of the partnership. It is important to discuss
the details with the teaching unions and employers before we jump
to hard conclusions. This is a process for discussion.
Q78 Lynda Waltho: I really would
like you to consider the idea of the achievement attracting a
higher salary as well. Would you see it as being comparable to
other masters degrees?
Ed Balls: It needs to be comparable.
We have made real progress in the last few years on pay structures
and incentives for progress and rewards for attainment. If I suddenly
lob into the Children's Plan a new expectation with a clear link
between that and pay without discussing that in detail with our
partners, people would think that that was the wrong thing to
do. I understand the point you are makingthey understand
it as welland it is something we will need to talk about
in detail. This is about continuing to bring the best talent into
teaching, allowing talent to develop through time, giving support
for that, and rewarding it.
Chairman: We will have just a few rapid-fire
questions before we finish. Stephen, you can go first.
Ed Balls: This is my starter for
Q79 Stephen Williams: I would like
to ask about the international data that have come out recently:
the Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study on 10-year-olds;
and the Programme for International Student Assessment on 15-year-olds.
As I am allowed only two questions, I will look at reading first,
and then at maths and science. The reading analysis shows that
although England does well at the top level of achievement, we
are only average overall. However, there is a significant tail
of underachievement compared with other countries. What concerns
do you have about that and how will you address the problem? In
particular, some of the detail shows that English children disproportionately
spend their time watching television or playing video and other
games at home, rather than reading for pleasure. How are you going
to tackle that?
Ed Balls: As I understand it,
the PIRLS data, compared with the previous study, show that the
biggest change in enjoyment of, and performance in, reading actually
happened for the highest achieving children rather than the lowest
achieving children. The point that you are rightly making, which
is that we do not have enough reading outside school, is not only
a low-achieving-children issue. It goes across the ability range,
with the biggest fall among the highest achievers. PIRLS makes
it clear that we have more children playing computer games and
fewer children reading for pleasure than some other countries
and compared with five years ago. That is an issue for our society.
While this is partly about responsibility for schoolsthe
Rose review will look at reading within the curriculumPIRLS
makes it clear that compared with five years ago, teachers are
setting less reading homework and have less time for reading in
the school day. That is an issue that we need to look at, but
it is also a responsibility for parents and our wider society.
I do not think that it is my job to tell parents what to do, but
I do think that all parents have to find a way to strike the right
balance for their children between reading, watching TV and playing
computer games. The evidence says that we are not all getting
that balance right at the moment.