Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Fourth Special Report

Appendix 1

Government's response to the Second Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2007-08

The Select Committee's conclusions and recommendations are in bold text.

The Government response is in plain text.

Some of the recommendations and responses have been grouped.

The new Department

1.  While joint working across Government is of course not new, the extent to which the DCSF is involved with other departments is possibly unique. There are two areas where it has sole responsibility for policy and funding—early years and 5 to 13 schooling—but on everything else it has joint responsibility and varying degrees of control. On 14-19 education it has joint responsibility with DIUS, but sole responsibility for funding. On matters such as child poverty and health the funding and policy levers are largely in other people's hands. (Paragraph 5)

The Machinery of Government statement, which announced the creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) gave DCSF the responsibility for the education of children and young people up to age 19, including both policy and funding of 14-19 education (Cabinet Office June 2007).[2] The Machinery of Government document stated that DCSF would lead the strategy for reform of the 14-19 phases. In doing so, it will work closely with the new Department for Innovation and Skills to ensure successful delivery of the reforms through schools, colleges and training providers.

In addition to those areas listed by the Committee, DCSF also has responsibility for the policy and funding in a range of other areas, such as information, advice and guidance for young people and the provision of positive activities for young people. It has policy responsibility for children's social care services, covering services for children in need (i.e. at risk and disabled children), child protection and children in care. In other areas such as child poverty, child health, youth justice, substance misuse and teenage pregnancy we share responsibility with other Departments.

It is certainly true that successful delivery in DCSF's areas of policy demands effective joint working with partners and other government departments, but this should not be confused with a lack of clarity over responsibility. As noted below, cross-departmental structures are in place to drive the action required to meet Government's targets (its cross-departmental Public Service Agreements). For example, the Child Poverty PSA Board monitors progress against the Government's target for 2010, supported by the Child Poverty Unit staffed by DCSF, the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Treasury.

2.  We welcome the new Department's focus on children. The problem with joint responsibility is that it might mean no effective responsibility, with each part of the system doing its own work but with no-one ensuring that it does all add up to coherent policy and actions. The DCSF has been given the leading role, which appears to be an acknowledgement that ultimately someone does have to take decisions. The challenge for the Department and for the Secretary of State will be to ensure that they are able to lead and to require decisions to be made. (Paragraph 9)

The creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families in June 2007 for the first time brought together all key aspects of policy affecting children and young people into one government department. This has allowed Government to strengthen its support for children and their families, through the development of coherent policy and joined-up delivery across departments and each part of the system which delivers education, wider children's services and support for parents.

In order to drive change in areas where effective policy development and implementation relies on the input of other departments, a clear governance structure and performance management mechanisms have been put in place.

The Domestic Affairs Cabinet Sub-Committee for Families, Children and Young People is chaired by the Secretary of State for Children. Under the Secretary of State's leadership, DA(FCY) considers policy affecting families, children and young people; and reports as necessary to the Cabinet Committee on Domestic Affairs. Cabinet Sub-Committees provide the forum for policy decisions to be made across Government and a forum to manage the delivery of Public Service Agreements (PSAs).

The Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 announced a streamlined set of 30 new PSAs, articulating the highest priority outcomes for the spending period, with a published Delivery Agreement for each PSA. The PSAs put us on the path to achieve the 2020 goals for children and young people set out in the Children's Plan.

Accountability arrangements have been strengthened, with a publicly identified Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) for each PSA, direction by Cabinet Committees, and plans for a stronger linkage into the appraisal regime for civil servants. Each PSA is underpinned by around five indicators, some of which (but not all) have national targets attached, with the rationalised use of targets leaves more space for local target setting.

The DCSF is responsible for five of the Government's PSAs and the Department also contributes to the child poverty PSA, jointly with HM Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Governance arrangements have been put in place across government to ensure effective and consistent monitoring of performance and delivery of PSAs. Performance and delivery of the PSAs led solely or jointly by DCSF is overseen by four PSA Boards, along with the Child Poverty Board, chaired by HM Treasury.

3.  This issue of how well education, health and other services work together at the local level is one that we will want to monitor, as it is crucial to the success or otherwise of the Government's plans. The mechanism for achieving effective joint working at the local level is the Children's Trust, and we plan to undertake an inquiry into Children's Trusts later in the year. (Paragraph 11)

As set out in the Government's Children's Plan, joined-up local services are crucial to improving outcomes for children, young people and their families. This is illustrated by the Government's commitment to all schools providing extended services by 2010 (including swift and easy access to health services) and its commitment to strengthen integrated working across all children's services.

We are currently consulting on draft supplementary statutory guidance for Children's Trust partners (consultation ends June 26th) that places greater emphasis on driving improved outcomes and promoting cultural change, now the structural changes are substantially in place.

As noted by the Committee, Children's Trusts will be key to driving effective joint working at the local level. The Children's Plan (Chapter 7) states clearly the Government's intention to monitor the difference that Children's Trusts are making and examine whether Children's Trusts arrangements need to be strengthened to improve outcomes, including by further legislation.

The Government welcomes the Committee's interest in this area and looks forward to the Committee's inquiry later in 2008.

4.  Given the importance of Diplomas, clarity over who is responsible is vital. We ask the DCSF to set out each department's specific responsibilities towards Diplomas. The success of the Diplomas is vital to improve levels of attainment. We shall be taking further evidence on progress in implementing Diplomas later in the year. (Paragraph 13)

Since DCSF was created, Government has been clear that the Department is in charge of all 14-19 curriculum and qualifications, including the Diploma.

DCSF's lead role includes the design and development of the new Diplomas—working with employers through Diploma Development Partnerships, running the Gateway process to determine which schools and colleges will be ready to offer Diplomas in their first year and making sure teachers in schools and colleges receive the workforce training they need.

DCSF works closely with other departments on the Diplomas including the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, with DIUS leading on the development of some vocational qualifications that might be used within a Diploma.

Schools and colleges up and down the country are gearing up to deliver Diplomas from September this year and Diplomas have received widespread support from schools, colleges, universities and employers.

There are challenges ahead, but the Education and Skills Select Committee, National Audit Office and other independent bodies have confirmed that we are on track to successfully deliver the first five Diplomas in 2008.

As the Committee notes, the successful implementation of Diplomas is key to improving levels of attainment and for engaging young people in learning to age 19. The Department welcomes the Committee's interest in this area.

5.  The key issue for the Department is to make joint working a reality at both national and local level, and the extent to which it is able to achieve effective joint working will be the main determinant of whether the aims of these policy initiatives will be achieved. (Paragraph 14)

As the Committee notes, the creation of DCSF reflects the fact that all the services for which the Department is responsible play a significant part in helping children and young people develop and address difficulties that they may face. The Government agrees with the Committee that these services need to be co-ordinated rather than operate in isolation if they are to be as effective as possible.

As set out under conclusion 3, Children's Trusts will be central to making a reality of joint working at a local level.

In April 2008, the Government published a document setting out the actions it is taking to build on existing investment; to improve further the skills and capacity of people who work with children; and deliver the high quality, personalised and integrated services set out in the Children's Plan.[3]

The Department will publish a long-term strategy in the autumn that will set the foundations for a staged programme of workforce reform to support joint working across the children's workforce.

6.  It will clearly be our main task to hold the Secretary of State accountable for how well these new arrangements work, given his key leadership and co-ordinating role. We have decided to invite the Secretary of State, his opposite number at the Department for Work and Pensions and a Treasury minister to give evidence jointly later this year on the issue of child poverty. We hope that this will both provide an opportunity to see how well these different departments work together to achieve one of the Government's most challenging policy objectives, the halving of child poverty by 2010, and demonstrate our determination to pursue scrutiny of children's issues across Government. (Paragraph 15)

The Government welcomes the Committee's scrutiny of the delivery of the 2010 child poverty target, and the opportunity to update the Committee on the steps that the three Departments—DCSF, HM Treasury, and DWP—have been taking in partnership to intensify efforts to tackle child poverty across Government.

Partnership has been, and continues to be, critical to effectively tackling all the causes of child poverty. As the Departments explained to the Committee on the 9 June, joint working has been cemented with the new Child Poverty Unit (CPU), where officials from the three Departments work together to drive forward delivery against the 2010 target and develop the longer-term strategy for eradicating child poverty by 2020.

The three Departments also work together through a Child Poverty PSA Board, which is responsible for monitoring progress against the PSA and reports to a tripartite ministerial group, also chaired by HMT. A wider child poverty board involving other Government departments and Devolved Administrations is jointly convened by HMT, DWP and DCSF to look at the policies needed for the eradication of child poverty by 2020.

The Government's commitment to the 2010 and 2020 targets remains firm. We were pleased to be able to give the Committee details about how the joint Child Poverty Unit is really driving forward work towards these ambitious goals. Budget 2008 contained £950m additional spending to tackle child poverty. Alongside the Budget, we published Ending child poverty: everybody's business, which outlined our intention to begin now, working with stakeholders, to develop a strategy for the next decade. It also announced £125 million over the next three years to test new and innovative policy ideas to inform this strategy.

The Government is committed to understanding more about what works—not just in improving parents' and families' incomes, but also in improving their outcomes, so we can be sure that children are on the path to success and intergenerational cycles of poverty are broken once and for all.

The Children's Plan

7.  The lack of priority amongst objectives and the absence of a timetable for implementation are weaknesses which need to be rectified, otherwise the Children's Plan runs the risk of being simply a wish list rather than the mission for the Department of which the Secretary of State spoke. If it does not do so before, it should use the progress report later in the year to set out in greater clarity when it hopes to achieve some of its main policy proposals. In order to keep track of progress on the Children's Plan, we intend to take evidence for the Secretary of State again when the progress report is published. (Paragraph 18)

A clear timetable for implementation is an important part of delivering the Children's Plan vision. This is why DCSF published a timetable as part of the Children's Plan Implementation Pack in April 2008.[4] This document gives a clear indication of the overarching timeline for the delivery of key commitments made in the Children's Plan.

The report that Government will publish at the end of 2008 to set out progress made on the Children's Plan, will indeed provide a further opportunity to set out plans for implementing commitments made in the Plan.

8.  If there is to be long term planning it is important to stick to objectives. The way in which the DCSF sees the ECM outcomes being linked to the objectives in the Children's Plan needs to be clarified as soon as possible, and the new strategic objectives need to be maintained for the long run. The fact that there are now three sets of indicators that the Department is using—five Every Child Matters outcomes, six strategic objectives and five PSA objectives—is unsatisfactory. The Department needs to be clear both for the sake of its own work and that of the wider children and families workforce which objectives it is primarily working towards. (Paragraph 22)

DCSF published a new Every Child Matters (ECM) Outcomes Framework in April 2008, as part of the Children's Plan Implementation Pack.[5] This shows how the ECM outcomes align with and are supported by the Government's PSAs and the Departmental Strategic Objectives.

The Departmental Strategic Objectives, which drive the DCSF's activity, and the cross-Departmental Public Service Agreements for which DCSF and other departments are held accountable, directly correspond to the ECM outcomes. A common set of indicators unite all three. Together, they set out what Government needs to do for the next 3-10 years to be sure children are healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, achieve economic wellbeing, and make a positive contribution.

The new ECM Outcomes Framework also clarifies how indicators used at a national level are reflected in the National Indicator Set for local government. The Local Government White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities published in October 2007, committed to introducing a set of streamlined indicators that would reflect national priority outcomes for local authorities working alone or in partnership.

Public Service Agreements

9.  If targets are to be respected, the way in which they are decided must be more transparent. For that reason we ask the Department to set out in its annual report or in the response to this report the basis on which the targets for indicators under the new PSA objectives have been determined. (Paragraph 30)

Each PSA is underpinned by a small basket of national indicators, which were developed in consultation with partners and negotiated with HM Treasury as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review process. Factors such as relevance to the PSA outcome, data quality and frequency, and links to departmental performance were considered. A subset of indicators also have specific national targets attached (all other indicators are expected to improve against baseline trends over the course of the spending period). Where new national targets have been set, the Department has sought to strike a balance between ambition and credibility to drive improvement. Two 2010 targets were rolled forward from the previous spending period.

The PSA Delivery Agreements, published in April, provide further background to explain the rationale for the targets to support the delivery of the PSAs.[6] In line with the Committee's recommendation, the DCSF will provide further detail through the Autumn Performance Report later this year.

10.  The new Department needs to be explicit how it intends to drive improvements in services for children and families. In particular, Ministers will need to spell out how their desired outcomes will be hastened and delivered by the various different performance drivers currently in use. In some cases, there may be conflicts between 'choice' as exercised by parents and the demands of PSAs. (Paragraph 32)

11.  There are still tensions between the Government's desire to secure collaboration and co-operation between institutions, and financial incentives and performance requirements which stimulate competition. These two policies need to be carefully managed. Where competition is introduced it is important that it does not lead to fragmentation of provision. (Paragraph 33)

The final chapter of the Children's Plan (Chapter 7 Making it happen) sets out how Children's Trusts and the 21st Century school will be central to the Government's strategy for delivering these improved outcomes in partnership with all those on the frontline working in the children's workforce.

In particular, organisations at the national, regional and local level which commission, fund and provide services to children need to have clear roles and responsibilities to drive improved outcomes for children and young people. The empowerment of parents is at the heart of the Children's Plan vision and the principles which underpin the Government's strategy to deliver improved outcomes for children and young people.

The Children's Plan was clear that Government needs to do more to back parents and families, for example, providing childcare and additional support from professionals to help deal with the challenges of bringing up children. The Children's Plan was also clear that children's services need to be shaped by and responsive to children, young people and families, not designed around professional boundaries. Giving parents the information that they need to make decisions about how to access services for their children is key to delivering the improved outcomes set out in the cross-government PSAs.

 The Department believes that delivering this enhanced information and choice for parents can be achieved alongside increased collaboration between organisations throughout the delivery system. There are a number of benefits for children and parents in increasing engagement between schools, encouraging innovation and the sharing of ideas, resources and expertise.

A central part of our schools improvement strategy, and the National Challenge in particular, is to promote collaboration between schools.[7] The Department is making it easier for the best head teachers and teachers to support other schools, including through the National Leaders of Education programme. The National Challenge will accelerate our Academies and Trusts programmes, potentially allowing up an additional 200 schools to benefit from collaboration with strong schools, other educational providers and strong partners.

Already, most of our Trust school pathfinders and aspiring Trust schools are working collaboratively with other schools to acquire a shared Trust. The Academies and Specialist Schools programmes show that working with external partners brings significant benefits to schools. The Department is encouraging hard forms of collaboration (for example in rural schools) including joining up administrative functions and sharing School Business Managers to free up leadership time. We have also made capital funding available to support schools to collaborate through the Standards and Diversity Capital Fund.

DCSF will provide further detail on how the delivery chain will work together to strengthen these arrangements in the Children's Plan progress report at the end of 2008. Prior to this, DCSF will publish detailed plans in a number of key areas, notably the 2020 children's workforce strategy, covering everyone who works with children, young people and their families, which will set out a coherent approach to the development of the children's workforce.

The forthcoming DCSF and Department of Health strategy for children and young people's health and the final report from the review of child and adolescent mental health services will provide further detail about how improvements will be secured in these areas. The Department has already provided detailed plans on school improvement: the National Challenge toolkit for schools and local authorities is published alongside Promoting Excellence for All, a School Improvement Strategy, which aims to secure improvement in all our schools, and our first and most urgent commitment is to raise standards in schools with a long history of low attainment.[8]

Schools' Funding

12.  We will want to be kept informed of the review of schools funding as it goes through its different stages. With funding growing more slowly in the current CSR period than in the previous one, decision on calculating and distributing schools funding will be even more critical. The changes in funding to the 16-19 sector, and the implications for 14-19 funding, will also need to be examined carefully. (Paragraph 40)

The Government welcomes the Committee's interest in the review of school funding and their intention to examine the proposed changes of 16-18 funding from the Learning and Skills Council to Local Authorities as set out in the joint DIUS/DCSF White Paper Raising Expectations: Enabling the system to deliver.

The review of the distribution of school funding is at an early stage. The Department has set up a dedicated schools grant (DSG) Formula Review Group consisting of partner organisations representing local authorities and schools. There have been three meetings of the group, looking at different aspects of school funding which may form part of the new formula.

One of the aspects of school funding the group is considering is the shift in responsibility for 16-19 funding from the LSC to Local Authorities. The key issue for this change in relation to the school funding review is whether the Department looks to introduce a 14-19 funding system. Any proposals will need careful thought and consultation before a decision is made. Proposals are due to be discussed by the review group in July.

The review process is public and easily accessible for all interested parties. All stakeholders, including schools themselves, will have the opportunity to contribute to the review. Stakeholders beyond the review group have been invited to submit papers and to attend meetings of the group on topics of particular interest. Papers, minutes of meetings and information about the work of the group are available on the TeacherNet website. There will be a formal consultation period in early 2010.[9]

The Department will continue to keep the Committee informed of the progress of the review.

Efficiency and productivity

13.  We are keen to see the detailed assessment of the achievement or otherwise of the Gershon targets in order to establish how much more effectively the education and children's services systems are operating. We will also wish to see how the new efficiency targets in schools are monitored and the extent to which they are achieved. (Paragraph 45)

Ensuring value for money (VFM) is an imperative for the Department. The Spending Review 2004 Efficiency Programme, the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 VFM Programme and the Public Value Programme are just part of the Department's commitment to ensure it continues to spend taxpayers' money in the most effective way.

The Department's Annual Report 2008 sets out progress made by the former Department for Education and Skills (DfES) against the 2004 Spending Review efficiency targets of £4.35 billion. Efficiency gains of £3.4 billion were achieved by the end of December 2007.

The Department is confident of achieving the target in full and will report the final outcome in its Autumn Performance Report 2008. Further returns will be provided to HM Treasury on a quarterly basis, recognising that there are some lags in the Department's reporting of efficiency gains, due to the use of academic years as opposed to financial years and the unavoidable time taken to gather data from so many front line institutions.

The table (below) gives a breakdown of the reported figure by policy directorate in the former DfES. The table demonstrated that 72% of achievement to date has been delivered through Schools Directorate.
DfES policy directorate
Efficiency Savings Reported in December 2007 (£m)
Lifelong Learning and Skills (LLSD) 14-19* 25.8
Children, Young People and Families* 394.7
LLSD Further Education & Skills; and Higher Education** 392.9
Corporate Services 138.5

* Legacy target now owned solely by DCSF

** Legacy target now owned solely DIUS

The savings made enable frontline professionals in schools, colleges and higher education institutions to use their time more productively. Benefits are generated through workforce reform, investment in ICT, reducing administrative burdens and improving procurement of goods, services and new school buildings, in part using a new procurement centre of excellence (the Centre for Procurement Performance) to strengthen procurement practice across the education and children's services sectors.

As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 settlement, DCSF signed up to meeting the cross-government target of 3% cashable savings year on year. This equates to £4.5 billion cashable savings by 2010-11. Arrangements for monitoring and delivering these savings are included in the DCSF Delivery Agreement which was published in December 2007. Progress against our target will be reported in November 2008.

14.  We ask the DCSF to set out what it anticipates the new Public Value Programme will require of the Department, and of schools and other children's services providers. (Paragraph 47)

The Budget 2008 announced plans to build on the success of the existing public sector efficiency programme by launching the Public Value Programme to look at major areas of public spending and find smarter ways of doing business and saving money.

As part of this process, the DCSF Public Value Programmes are:

  • Building Schools for the Future;
  • Childcare; and
  • Teaching Assistants.

Work in these areas is being taken forward jointly with HM Treasury and the Department will report progress to the Chief Secretary in June this year and for the 2008 Pre-Budget Report.

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3   Building Brighter Futures: next steps for the children's workforce (DCSF, 2008)  Back

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