Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
MP, RT HON
MP, RT HON
MP, RT HON
MP AND RT
9 JUNE 2008
Q60 Annette Brooke: Perhaps I
can just refer you to the recommendation from Tom Clarke's commission.
Yvette Cooper: I should like to
draw your attention to a document that we published recently on
further reforms to the tax credit system. In particular, there
is a whole chapter on reforming delivery of child care support
through tax credits, which is all about different options for
simplifying the process and so on. Therefore, any views that the
Committee had on that would obviously be welcomed. Jane Kennedy
has been leading the work in the Treasury on that issue, but I
know that Beverley has been involved in those discussions also.
Beverley Hughes: I was going to
mention the consultation that the Treasury has put out. The other
thing to say is that of the £950 million that was announced
in the Budget, £125 million was specifically for a range
of different pilots, to try to deal with what many members of
the Committee have been talking about today, which is how we get
to the harder to reach. One of those pilots is testing different
ways in which HMRC advisers can offer good quality advice within
children's centres, to try to simplify people's applications.
That is also a project for HMRC advisers themselves because we
feel that directly engaging with parents in children's centressitting
down with them, looking at the factors for particular families
and the things that parents find complexwill inform our
considerations of how best to simplify the process.
Q61 Annette Brooke: I shall move
on. Under the Childcare Act 2006, which we both know well, April
2008 was the date when local authorities had to show that they
were offering a level of child care suitable to the local area's
needs. I do not know whether there has been any evaluation of
how much has been achieved, but if there has been I should like
to ask about the provision of extended schools and holiday provision.
Beverley Hughes: As you will remember,
Annette, under the 2006 Act local authorities were given a duty
to ensure that there was sufficient, and sufficiently flexible,
child care for working parents and parents of disabled children.
Actually, that duty started in April 2008 and, in the lead-up
to that, local authorities were required to undertake their first
assessment and to write that down, having looked in detail at
the demand from parentsnot just the demand in quantum,
but the demand in terms of flexibility and affordability as well.
Then they had to look at their supply and produce an assessment
of how far, locally, there was a match between what parents wanted
and needed and what was available and use that assessment to stimulate
the local market in one way or another to better meet the needs
of parents. The local authorities have just finished their sufficiency
assessments. An organisation has independently been looking at
the quality of those assessments, some of which are good and some
of which are not so good. We will use that experience to give
further guidance to local authorities about how to improve that
process. In a sense, they are just in the starting blocks now,
having undertaken those assessments, and will go on to use that
information to inform what they do, in terms of the levers we
have given them, to start ensuring that what parents want is provided.
In many areas, it is not so much that there is not enough child
care, but that it is not flexible enough. That is why we have
pilots on the entitlement in respect of three and four-year-olds,
for example, to see how mainstream reception classes, as well
as private sector providers, can be much more flexible. That is
the main lead now, together with the issue of affordability in
some parts of the country.
Q62 Annette Brooke: I do not know
if it was the same research, but an article in The Times
reported on Government-commissioned research by the National Centre
for Social Research. I shall be careful, because I am not assuming
that what I read in the article in The Times is true until
the Chief Secretary says so. That article said: "In terms
of older children, only 17% of parents are using the much-vaunted
after-school clubs. This figure has not changed since 2004, despite"
all the hype about "the `extended school' initiative".
Is that factual?
Beverley Hughes: That was not
I found that figure strange, to be honest, because, looking at
the statistics, there has been an amazing growth in the number
of holiday clubs, particularly, over the past few years. As I
said earlier, about half the secondary schools and many primary
schools are now offering extended activities, including child
care. However, many parents are feeling a gap in respect of secondary-age
children in the 11 to 14 age range. In terms of the extended school
offer, primary schools have cemented child care as part of the
range of things they are offering as extended activities. Secondary
schools do that less so. Initially, that was so because parents,
in their responses to school questionnaires, did not indicate
that that was an issue in respect of secondary schools, but actually
that is emerging. We are doing some work with schools in London
to ensure that we provide what parents need in terms of child
care in secondary school, including an assurance that, if their
child attends an after-school club, there is a proper register
and security and that it is not a loose arrangement just because
children are a bit older. We are working to ensure that we can
give proper guidance to secondary schools about how to ensure
that those extra-curricular activities after school are organised
in such a way that parents can be sure that their children are
attending, are safe and are being cared for while they are at
Chairman: I just remind everyone that
we are getting to the stage where quicker questions and answers
would be helpful. We have one important section after your section,
Q63 Annette Brooke: I will ask
the Minister quickly. We have not really spoken about rural poverty
today. Obviously it is important. The provision of extended schools,
with the problem of transport, is particularly difficult in rural
areas. Are you giving any special attention to rural areas?
Beverley Hughes: Yes.
Chairman: That was very brief.
Beverley Hughes: I will go into
greater length if you wish me to.
Q64 Annette Brooke: Actually,
I would not mind a little more detailI represent a rural
area, with some of these problems. It is hearsay rather than evidence,
but in deprived areas it has been said to me that, where a payment
is charged by the school for extended schoolsI know that
some element of the child care tax element comes into thisvery
many of the extended schools are failing, or falling, simply because
they are not sustainable, because of the low levels of income
in that area. That starts a downward spiral, in terms of keeping
it going. Is that so? I would like a little more than yes or no.
Beverley Hughes: Two quick points.
First, there are a number of schoolswe are clear about
thisthat need a bit more help. We are trying to make sure
that they get it, in terms of how they can manage their total
budgets in ways that enable them to make the kind of cross-subsidies,
if you like, that would help children from disadvantaged families
to take part in extended activities. Some schools are doing that
very well. Secondly, we did include in the Children's Plan a provisionI
cannot remember how much it wascertainly to enable 50,000
children from disadvantaged backgrounds to take part in extended
activities by directing those extra resources to schools in those
areas, so that they would have extra funding and could provide
extended activities for those children free of charge. So, we
are doing both of those thingshelping schools to use their
budgets better, but also some direct funding, specifically for
the purpose that you outlined, to enable disadvantaged children
to take part in activities free.
Q65 Annette Brooke: I have recently
asked a parliamentary question about extended school provision.
The answer was that the information was not collected centrally.
Surely it is very difficult to monitor what is happening if there
is not some collection of information.
Beverley Hughes: It is not true
to say that we have no information. We have the Training and Development
Agency, which is, if you like, our field force, out there, working
directly with local authorities and schools, making sure that
when an authority tells us that a school is fully extended, for
instance, that it is, and that the range of activities meets the
core offer. It is working directly with schools to support them
in delivering the extended activities. But it would be too onerous
to ask schools to provide us with a whole range of statistics
as to what they are providing and how many children are taking
it up. We are trying to strike a balance. I certainly am very
clear that I need to know enough that when I say to you that half
of all secondary schools are offering the full extended offer
that that is right. I can tell you that I am really prodding the
system to make sure that I can do that through the TDA. But to
go beyond that would be very difficult, in terms of asking schools
to provide a large amount of numbers.
Q66 Lynda Waltho: What work is
the Treasury doing with the DCSF to improve both the quality of
the child care work force and the conditions of that work force?
Beverley Hughes: On quality, I
think that we have got a pleasing, improving story to tell. Ofsted
rated 96% of child care as good or outstanding in 2007, and 98%
of early education provision as at least satisfactory. Both of
those figures are going up. But you are quite right that the quality
is crucial. To get the benefits, particularly for disadvantaged
children, what happens day to day between the staff in the settings
and the children is the critical factor. So, the training or up-skilling
of the work force is crucial, as is the Early Years Foundation
Stage, because that will give parents the assurance that in every
single setting, there is a common framework that staff have to
work to. The Children's Workforce Development Council is working
with us to take forward progressive training for staff both in
terms of the extent to which we can put graduates in settingsthere
has been a marked improvement thereand in moving people
from Level 2 to a minimum standard of Level 3 over a period of
Q67 Chairman: But do you agree, Yvette,
that child care settings should be run by people who are well-paid
Yvette Cooper: Obviously, the
quality of staff is critical. Our role is to provide the DCSF
with a significant and substantial CSR settlement, as we did last
year, and it has to ensure that the money is well spent and delivers
the quality that our children need.
Ed Balls: I think it was the next
CSR round that was referred to, and we will be preparing the evidence
Q68 Paul Holmes: On the issue
that we discussed a few moments ago, it is a little alarming if
one of the main planks is children's centres and after-school
clubs. It seems, anecdotally at least, that they are struggling
financially, because they are set up in the poorest areas where
parents cannot afford to pay. About a year and a half ago, I visited
a brilliant after-school club at a junior school on a very poor
estate in Chesterfield, but it closed a year later because the
charity that was running it could not keep it going any longer.
I understand, anecdotally, that all the children's centres in
Chesterfield, where we have many poor areas, are struggling wherever
parents are needed to pay into them. The County Council will not
talk to me about that; are you telling me that I cannot get an
answer from you either?
Beverley Hughes: The situation
varies, but I do not accept the general premise that children's
centres are struggling financially. There has been a massive injection
of funding, which we have committed to sustaining because we care
about it. We feel that the priority on early yearschildren
under fiveis absolutely paramount for the agenda that the
Committee is discussing today. That is why we started it and why
we will continue it. We are giving local authorities significant
amounts of money that increasingly are not ring-fenced. Generally
speakingI have spoken to one or two MPs about thisthere
might be specific areas in which the level of disadvantage in
communities, and the number of such communities, is such that
they are experiencing some of those issues, but that is not general.
We need both local authorities and, as I said earlier to Annette,
schools themselves to be much better at using those pots of money.
They need to bring them together and make sure that they can address
the need across their areas, not in a one-size-fits-all way but
by using their money flexibly. They want that flexibility and
the Government are giving it to them; it is up to them to be creative
in how they use it. It is up to them to address and target their
resources, as far as they think appropriate, at the areas of greatest
Q69 Paul Holmes: I will send your
answer to Derbyshire County Council.
Beverley Hughes: Okay.
Chairman: David has been very patient.
He has been in the debate on climate change, but he is one of
the most regular attendees of this Committee, and he will have
a brisk opportunity now.
Q70 Mr Chaytor: I am sorry that
I was not here at the start. May I go back to the issue of training,
and ask Ed and James whether the Government are going to abolish
the 16 hour rule?
James Purnell: We are, as we announced
previously, looking at the 16 hour rule and how it can be implemented
flexibly. For example, we are looking at young people of 16 and
17, but we want to consider the issue more widely as well. We
would not want to abolish it completely because we want jobseeker's
allowance to be a regime that gets people back into work. We do
not want a system in which people can perpetually be in training
and continue to get JSA. Indeed, the evidence shows that one reason
why there has been a good focus on work in the past 10 years is
that it is often better to get people into work and then get them
trained. However, that is not the whole story, which is exactly
why we are bringing together the work that we do with the work
of John Denham's Department to create a system in which when you
sign up for welfare you sign up for skills at the same time. As
you know, the Departments have made a number of announcements
about how we are integrating those two services. We are going
to give people a skills health check to make sure that we identify
skills weaknesses and then, if that is a barrier to work, provide
them with training. We are also sayingI know that you want
to move onthat there is far more flexibility in terms of
training and how people can take it up within JSA than they often
realise. We need to explain that well.
Q71 Mr Chaytor: A constituent
came to my advice surgery last Friday. He is a parent who has
just been made redundant and who is prepared to invest £4,000
of his savings into retraining into a higher-level skill, but
because that would be slightly over 16 hours a week, the job centre
will not enable him to do it on JSA. He therefore cannot claim
his mortgage protection payment, which makes it financially not
viable. May I write to you about that anomaly? I do not think
that it was what the Government intended.
James Purnell: No, exactly. That
is why we are reviewing it. If there are clear outcomes such as
improved job entry and retention that justify flexibility in the
16 hour rule, then that will be attractive. If, on the other hand,
it becomes a way of avoiding JSA conditionality, it will not.
Q72 Mr Chaytor: May I ask Ed about
post-16 participation? Nearly all education indicators have improved
significantly over the past 11 years, but the one that is pretty
stubbornly static is participation post-16. Why do you think that
Ed Balls: Post-16 participation
has increased but, as you say, modestly. By international comparisons,
we are still a long way down the league table for post-16 participation,
at 17 and at 18. That is what our new legislation, which I think
is going to the Lords tomorrow following the passage of its Commons
stages, is intended to addressthe Bill would raise the
education leaving age to 18. It is partly about the focused nature
of provision post-16. As you know, the expansion of the apprenticeship
programmeit has been expanding in the past 10 years, but
we want to accelerate its expansion furtheris important,
as are Diplomas, in ensuring that there are powerful ways in which
young people can combine learning and on-the-job training. There
are too many young people who have left school at 16 and gone
into full-time work without any training at all because that was
more financially attractive in the short term. It is partly about
what has been offered post-16, but I would say that it is also
about aspiration. We have done, I think, a really good job in
the past 10 years of raising the aspirations of young people who
might have wondered whether, at 18, they would stay in the education
system and go to university or go into work. As you know, there
has been a very significant rise in higher education participation
after 18, but there is more to do to raise levels of aspiration
to stay in education after 16 among today's 10 to 14-year-olds.
I always feelthis is why our Department has an important
role to playthat we engage too late. We talk to 15 and
16-year-olds and their parents about why it would be good to stay
in education, but to really affect aspiration we need to be talking
to parents and young people in primary school and the early years
of secondary education. Too often, we talk to young people and
their parents who have already decided that they are going to
do it, or are on the cusp. Too many young people and their parents
have decided that education will not be for them at a much, much
earlier stage. Much earlier intervention is what we need to do.
Q73 Mr Chaytor: Regardless of
the level of aspiration or the opening up of opportunities post-16,
something must go wrong between the ages of 11 and 14. It is not
a sudden decision to leave school at 16, it is a gradual process
throughout secondary school.
Ed Balls: We know that there is
a very clear linkthis takes us back to the subject of the
Committee's workbetween poverty and educational outcomes.
The evidence shows that those links often strengthen through a
child's life rather than diminish. Children from families on low
income are less likely to make progress from Key Stage 2 to Key
Stage 4 than the average. The disadvantage that means that they
will already be doing less well at Key Stage 2 accelerates in
their early secondary years. That is why the focus on promoting
excellence for all and trying to address the quality of teaching
and aspiration is so important. To give you one fact, we will
set out tomorrow the details of our national challenge programme
to get the number of schools with below 30% getting GCSEs including
English and maths, down from 638 today to zero by 2011. Of those
638 schools, 540 have above average free school meal uptake in
the intake to the school. Half of all the schools with more than
50% of kids on free school meals are in national challenge areas.
Those statistics cut both ways because they tell you not only
that there is a concentration of lower income or poverty in schools
which do less well but that half of schools with more than 50%
of kids on free school meals exceed that basic minimum. Many schools
with a lot of poverty and deprivation achieve high results as
well. That takes us back to the point I was making about aspiration.
We need to address poverty, low income and the barriers to learning
outside school, but that should never be an excuse for poor performance
and expectations. I still feel that is too often the case.
Q74 Mr Chaytor: Will you be publishing
the names and local authorities of all the 638 schools?
Ed Balls: All 638 schools are
in the public domain; that information has all been published
clearly. Tomorrow, we will publish the number and percentage of
schools in every local authority area. Of the 150 local authority
areas, 134 have at least one national challenge school.
Q75 Mr Chaytor: Earlier, you commented
on the continuing widening of the divide between Key Stages 2
and 4 in terms of children from different social backgrounds.
Is there any evidence in any area that that divide is beginning
to narrow? Are there any positive signs that certain policies
have reduced the gap?
Ed Balls: Yes. If you look at
GCSE results in the last four or five years, the results of children
on free school meals have risen faster at GCSE level than the
average, so the targeted intervention for boys and girls from
low-income families in terms of catch-up has been working. Those
children have been doing better than average, but it still does
not take away from the fact that a child from that kind of family
is at the moment much less likely to get five good GCSEs at 16
than the average child from the average family.
Q76 Mr Chaytor: Would you accept
that there is any truth or validity in the argument that although
a highly standards-obsessed and assessment-driven system is good
for children with supportive families, it might be part of the
reason that children from less supportive families fall behind?
Chairman: Can we have a brief answer
to that one?
Ed Balls: I obviously read your
report in detail and I welcome your support for continuing to
publish national test results. That was very positive. We obviously
want to make the process as stress free as possible and, as I
said, make sure that we tackle all the barriers to learning from
outside the school. Earlier, we talked about it becoming harder
as you make progress to address special educational needs and
the barriers to learning outside the home. Tackling that is what
our Department is about, and is the key to the next stage in terms
of raising the level of test results. I come back to the simple
point that it is much harder to have a culture of excuses about
low performance linked to poverty or the area where the school
is if you are publishing those results and holding governing bodies
and local authorities to account for performance. I personally
think that for too many decades we, as a society, assumed that
people who live in a certain place and are from a certain kind
of family just did not do well. We can now demonstrate clearly
that although some schools are still underperforming, some schools
with the same kind of catchment in the same kind of area have
achieved dramatic improvements in results. They are posting results
way above the average. It is the publication of that information
that allows us to demonstrate that there is not necessarily a
link between poverty and performance. It is the tracking of individual
progress that gives teachers the power to make sure that every
child can stay on track and to see early when a child is falling
behind and give them extra support.
Chairman: I am sure we can carry on with
that next month when you are here on your own.
Q77 Fiona Mactaggart: Is the gap
between the achievement of children on the lowest incomes and
the achievement of children on medium incomes growing or shrinking?
Ed Balls: The answer to that is
that the gap has stabilised during the past 10 years, having grown
for decades. There is tentative evidence that we are starting
to close that gap. The fact that GCSE results have risen faster
than average for free-school-meal pupils suggests that we are
starting to close the gap, but to me it is still a more powerful
reality than the closing of the gap, which is why we must continue
to do more. The national challenge programme is powerful because
it puts a large amount of money on the table to empower governing
bodies and local authorities to address disadvantage and poor
performance, but it also makes it clear to local authorities,
areas or governing bodies that come up with excuses that we will
not tolerate them any longer.
Q78 Fiona Mactaggart: How will
you stop them meeting the national targets by coaching children
across boundaries, which too many of them do?
Ed Balls: As in?
Fiona Mactaggart: One of the points that
we raised in our Testing and Assessment report is that
there is a bit of a culture of coaching children who are close
to a boundary across that boundary so that they can
Ed Balls: I thought that you meant
bussing them from one area to another.
Fiona Mactaggart: No. I am talking about
teaching to the test.
Ed Balls: The way to do that and
one of our big success stories is our progress not simply in terms
of average results at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4, but the floor
One of the advantages of testing is that it allows you to track
the progress of every child, not simply the average. We must demand
that schools focus on the progress of every child and measure
that progress rather than simply looking at the average. We do
not think that schools would be delivering if they were simply
coaching to the average and just around the borderline.
Q79 Fiona Mactaggart: I have one
more gap issue, which is about the social and emotional aspects
of learning. We now have information about that, which we did
not have before, which is great, but it is another area where
the gap seems to be pretty sustained and not necessarily moving.
What does that tell you?
Ed Balls: I am not sure that I
understand what you mean by the gap.
9 Note by witness: Whilst the research was
not carried out by the Department for Children, Schools and Families
(DCSF), this article was referring to research commissioned by
the DCSF. Back
Note by witness: In response to Question 78 about coaching
children across boundaries, the Secretary of State for Children,
Schools and Families highlighted the substantial successes on
average results and floor targets. He also meant to highlight
the introduction of the new progression targets. Back