Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
9 JULY 2008
Q20 Mr. Heppell: Do you want to add
Julian Gravatt: We expressed some
reservations about some of the details that we were consulted
on, but I understand that the Departments will publish a response
to the consultation in July, so we will see whether those reservations
are being listened to.
Q21 Mr. Heppell: Do you think that
the transitional arrangements, which David touched on, will be
adequate to ensure that your institutions and your students will
not suffer during the transitional period, despite possible new
Julian Gravatt: It is a major
concern. David mentioned that people are only 16 or 17 once, so
it is absolutely crucial that existing systems for getting funding
to colleges and schools to deal with their education are built
on and amended, rather than just ripped up and started again.
Q22 Mr. Heppell: Do they look adequate
to you at the moment?
Julian Gravatt: I think that there
is more to do.
David Croll: I completely agree
that there is more to do. The paper refers to two extremes. One
is a continuation of the LSC or that type of arrangement whereby
it is purely nationally funded, perhaps by a sort of regionalisation,
but it is actually coming down one road. The other extreme is
that everything is, in a sense, handed over to local authorities
without any infrastructure in place, and the paper claims that
it is halfway between the two extremes of having a national body,
the Young People's Learning Agency, and trying to devolve the
responsibility. In terms of a pendulum hanging down, the paper
claims that it is in the right position. My strong argument is
that we need not rush too fast at it. I should like to see the
pendulum swing back more slowly towards letting go of national
control and not rushing into it. There are all sorts of details
and incredibly complex proposals about how everything will work
with dialogue between local authorities, reaching agreement and
moving the agenda forward. In a sense, it is like political philosophy.
It describes something and then the flavours of people and personalities
have to be added to it, which is where it could go terribly wrong.
I want the safeguards so that initially Derby College, for example,
is not treated differently from school sixth forms. In areas where
sixth-form colleges are now joining the local authority family,
I do not want them to be given preferential treatment. In areas
where highly successful colleges have had new builds of £50
million, £60 million or £70 million and are located
on the edge of various different local authority areas drawing
students across boundaries, I do not want the whole process to
become politicised. Having spent billions of pounds over the past
few years on new further education colleges, I do not want us
to end up with large numbers of empty places as a result of a
shift at local level in preference to a local authority favouring
its own sixth forms or its own centre. There are all sorts of
complications, moving forward. Only history will tell us how it
has worked, but I want to see the safeguards in place.
Chairman: Let us move on to commissioning
Q23 Mr. Stuart: I am just trying
to clarify the message that you want to bring to us. You accept
that the Government were not consulting on the fundamental principles,
only the details. However, as the Association of Colleges and
a leading principal, it is none the less up to you, if you wish,
to give a clear signal that you think that the proposals are fundamentally
misconceived. Are you trying to give such an impression or not?
I am unclear whether you are happy fiddling around with the details
and worrying about transition, or whether you think that the independence
and success of your sector could be threatened by the proposals.
Julian Gravatt: We have said that
we accept the longer-term direction of travel. We have concerns
about the speed of the change. David gave an example of the fact
that it might have been sensible to transfer the funding responsibility
to local authorities progressively rather than all at once in
2010. The longer-term aims can be achieved in other ways, such
as by making sure that the two different national agencies are
collocated and adopt similar processes.
Q24 Mr. Stuart: It seems that you
will lose your independence. No principals that I have come across
have ever said that they wanted to move to local authorities having
the funding control, let alone on the basis of some wished-for
collaboration on terms that nobody, including the paper, can determine.
Is there not a fundamental contradiction in the Government's policy?
It is all about independence, academiessupposedlyand
thus the choice of parents and pupils. Your sector has been very
successfulnot that the LSC has been perfect, but you have
had independence and have prospered. It appears that the Government's
policy is to go in precisely the opposite direction and bring
you back under the dead hand of local authorities, dressed up
in democratic accountability. It is fundamentally about providing
what young students want, is it not? You appear to be doing that,
but the proposals seem to put it under threat. I do not understand
how you can be so muted.
Sid Hughes: It does not necessarily
appear like that. I know that it may sound like detail. Of course,
if we are to lose our independence, our message would be that
that would be the wrong thing to do.
Q25 Mr. Stuart: It would be too late.
Julian Gravatt: Independence is
also a state of mind. Colleges already deal with a raft of national
targets. We have been pushing against a boundary of that for years.
We shall continue to push against boundaries if there is then
a raft of local targets on top of those national targets. Ultimately,
as public institutions, it is independence for a purpose. Colleges
have the independence in order to meet the needs of young people,
adults and employers. It is never an either/or situation. A lot
of it often ends up being about the details.
Chairman: Have you ever heard the expression
relating to pipers and paying? He who pays the piper calls the
Q26 Mr. Stuart: If we can go a little
more into the detail, do you have concerns about the consequences
of separating the funding for the 14 to 19 age group and adults?
David Croll: Can I come back on
your first question? We have been independent since incorporation.
I do not think that of the proposals as they stand at the moment.
If I felt at all that Derby College was giving up independence
and coming under the dead hand, as you put it, of local authorities,
I would be fighting tooth and nail. I do not see that necessarily
as the case. A higher state of independence is interdependence.
We exist within the community, alongside sixth forms and private
providers. As college principal, I have serious concerns about
the quality of some of the provision that has appeared over the
past decade or so in schools. One of the differences is the way
that colleges are measured and the way that school sixth-formers
are measured. We use the process of success rates, which is basically
retention times achievement, giving the success rate. In preparation
for the meeting I tried to obtain, from the LSC, the local authority
and Connexions, data on the success rates of the schools in the
city of Derby and in Derbyshire. Again, back to my comment about
lack of transparency; we do not know. At a guess, the reason for
that is that school sixth forms use achievement data. That is
very good, because you can say that 100% of students entered into
an exam achieved. That information does not tell you that 50%
dropped out before they got to the end. I believe that when we
get to a level playing field, that will expose poor provision
that exists in school sixth forms. I believe in a mixed economy.
I do not believe in necessary tertiary organisation of the country.
I think that colleges have their place, sixth forms have their
place and sixth-form colleges have their place. What does not
have a place in the locality, as far as I am concerned, is poor
provision. Therefore, what goes with the price of coming insitting
around the table and entering into that strategic dialogueis
that, hopefully, we shall be improving the quality and life chances
for all young people, as opposed to just the perceived interests
of Derby or whatever FE college.
Q27 Mr. Stuart: Do you all share
that confidence? Having been brought in under the local authorities,
will your models and standards out, and not the other way around?
Sid Hughes: That has not happened
so far. It would be an opportunity, at least, to have all those
people around the table, which has not necessarily been the case.
You also have to remember that local authoritiesI know
you referred to them as the dead handare not the same local
authorities that were there when we were taken out of local authority
control. They are very different beasts from what they were.
Q28 Mr. Stuart: My constituency is
in the East Riding of Yorkshire, next door to Hull, where there
are very successful colleges and a less successful schools sector,
up to now. I wondered whether there were fears. One would not
want to see the success of the colleges, which provide opportunities
for people, removed by being incorporated into a system that has
been less successful.
Sid Hughes: I guess that might
have been one of our frustrations over the past 10 years. We have
not been able to have that open dialogue without it sounding like
a gripe. It has never been intended as a gripe, but it was saying
that we need to look at the provision for all young people between
the ages of 11 and 19, bringing all those different sectors around
the table to ensure that we are providing for those people. We
are not all providing for all of our community.
Q29 Mr. Stuart: On gripes, there
is a gripe in the college sector that the 16 to 18 funding for
colleges is less than it is within schools. Do you feel that these
proposals may lead to rectification, as you would see it?
Julian Gravatt: There is recent
research that the Learning and Skills Council has published to
show that the gap is 9%. On top of that there are VAT and differences
in capital. Given public spending constraints, it will take time
to narrow the gap, but in the interests of the young people in
colleges, I think that it is important that it is done. As both
my colleagues have said, it will make the 16 to 19 process more
transparent and create an opportunity to address that issue.
Q30 Mr. Stuart: Are you convinced
that it will be done on the basis of data, and will not be so
politically mediated that things other than standards and quality
of provision end up becoming the determining factors?
Julian Gravatt: Politics inevitably
determines the distribution of resources, but I hope that the
evidence that hundreds of thousands of young people are getting
less resources at each institution they go into, will persuade
politicians to make changes.
Q31 Mr. Stuart: On the separation
of funding between 14 to 19-year-olds and adults, what will the
David Croll: In a sense, that
funding is separated now. That has happened over the last few
years with the Learning and Skills Council. We talk about funding
silos, but the issue is when we cannot buy one funding source
from another. In the past it was relatively easy. If we overachieved
marginally on the 16 to 18 targets, but underachieved on the adults,
or vice versa, we could buy the money across within the organisation.
Now it is separated into the key pots16 to 18-year-olds,
adult responsiveness and employer responsiveness. It will not
make any difference if we move into the new regime.
Julian Gravatt: At the moment
there are different silos within the same Learning and Skills
Council. The danger is if the two new national bodies go off in
different directions and start inventing different ways of funding
things or collecting data. That is why, at least in the short
term, there should be collocation, common systems and common approaches
to mitigate that risk.
Q32 Mr. Stuart: On the commissioning
front, could you comment on any concerns that you might have about
the sheer number of bodies with whom you will have to interact?
Sid Hughes: That is one of our
major concerns. The proliferation of bodies that we must consult
is massively time-consuming, but we already have some of that
in place. Greater complexity always leads to more meetings and
time away from what one is supposed to be doing, so we are concerned
about that. The other issue is not about funding but is the way
that students become divided. We have students that started at
16 and go on to age 19 and beyond. All of a sudden they are funded
by a different organisation. We want to keep the funding associated
with the individual. The trouble with all funding over the last
17 years is that it has always had amazingly unintended consequences.
We are trying to work out what might be the unintended consequences
of thisstrange things occur whenever there is a change
in the funding mechanism.
Julian Gravatt: One issue is that
in a particular area there will be different agencies responsible
for funding the 16 to 18-year-olds, depending on where they are.
In a school sixth form or sixth-form college it will be the local
authority; in a further education college it will be the sub-regional
partnership and in an academy or national workplace with any provider
there will be a national arrangement. It does not seem sensible
to have those different layershence we suggest that there
should be a single point in each area, whether that is the local
authority in Cumbria or Cornwall, or a sub-regional partnership
in London, Birmingham or Manchester.
Q33 Mr. Stuart: I have one last question.
Twelve years into this Government, the number of NEETs seems to
be the same as it was at the beginning. What benefits can the
proposals bring to allow you to provide better provision than
you currently do?
David Croll: Can I pick up on
those figures? There has been a remarkable shift in the NEET position.
I will use figures from Derby that were hot off the press yesterday.
In November 2002, there were 1,100 NEETs. By November 2007, that
had been reduced by 500 to 600. The projections are that by November
2012, there will be about 450. The smaller the figure gets, the
harder to reach those youngsters are, and often, any form of traditional
education may not be suitable.
Q34 Mr. Stuart: That does not seem
to reflect the national figures provided by the Government. We
had the Permanent Secretary here a couple of weeks ago and he
was not disputing the fact that those figures are pretty much
at the same level as they were10% of 16 to 18-year-olds
David Croll: It may be that a
lot of it depends on the procedures that are in place at a local
level. If a student at Derby College decides to leave the programme
and we cannot convince them to do something else or to remain,
they are immediately reported to the Connexions service and are
picked up. Even days matter. You do not want a youngster to lose
sight of where they are going, and it is a matter of picking up
on them very early. Perhaps that is particularly the case in Derby.
Sid Hughes: We need to begin long
before they are 16. One of the changes that might occur as a result
of this development is that we will be looking at the provision
for young people from the age of 14, to ensure that there is appropriate
provision for those young people all the way through, so that
we do not lose them at 14 or at 16, and certainly not at 17 or
18. One of the frustrations of the Government so far is that we
still have a considerable number of NEETs. Whatever the final
figure is, there are still lots of young people who are not engaged
in education or training. It begins very early on, and at 16 you
are playing catch-up.
Q35 Mr. Chaytor: Looking through
the Raising Expectations document, there were two omissions
that I thought were quite significant. I did not see a single
reference to the raising of the participation age, to 17 and then
to 18. I only found one reference to Ofsted; there is no discussion
of inspection. What I would like to ask to start with is, in the
context of performance management and accountability, where does
Ofsted fit into all this? The Skills Funding Agency will have
responsibility for performance management in further education
colleges; the local authority has area agreements with sixth forms
and sixth-form colleges, with all the performance indicators in
there to hold you accountable to; and Ofsted comes in from time
to time and gives you an inspection report, which has to be acted
on. How is all that going to mesh together? Does the performance
management framework make sense to you?
Julian Gravatt: I suppose one
reason Ofsted is not mentioned is that it was recently reformed,
in terms of a merger with the adult learning inspectorate. It
is one of the only organisations in our world that is not being
reformed in the next couple of years. That gives it a degree of
stability, which means that it can carry on providing an external
judgment with, it is hoped, a degree of independence, consistency
and accuracy. A challenge will be that if there is a divergence
between what happens in 14-19 education and what happens in adult
education and training and employer training, an Ofsted report
that covers an entire institution will not be taken seriously
enough by either agency. They might say, "Well, that college
may be great at employer engagement, but we've got issues about
16-19 education." That is an omission in the document, but
I think that that is because our assumption is that there is not
a great deal of change to what Ofsted does.
Q36 Mr. Chaytor: If I can give a
specific example, if Ofsted does a report on a school and identifies
serious weaknesses, the local authority has to take action under
the Education and Inspections Act 2006, and in the context of
the national challenge programme, that school has to be closed
or merged. If Ofsted does a report on a further education college
and identifies serious weaknesses in its 14-19 provision, the
local authority does not have equivalent powers and the Skills
Funding Agency is responsible for performance management. Is this
not just a bundle of contradictions?
Julian Gravatt: It is messy. There
needs to be a single point of intervention in those cases of serious
failure; otherwise, you will have the local authority and the
national agency each trying to intervene and causing a degree
of confusion, hence the description of the case conference process.
A possible concern there is whether that is an adequate way of
bringing these different agencies together, the local authority
and the national agency.
Q37 Mr. Chaytor: Do you think that
the new system is generally more or less complex than that which
Julian Gravatt: I think that it
is more complicated. It is like the break-up of British Rail.
Q38 Mr. Chaytor: The equivalent of
the privatisation of British Rail?
Julian Gravatt: In terms of breaking
up one big agency into multiple agencies.
Q39 Mr. Chaytor: That has been a
real success, has it not?
Julian Gravatt: Well, train passenger
numbers have gone up, but there have been plenty of other issues
along the way, and constant reform.