Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-52)|
9 JULY 2008
Q40 Mr. Chaytor: So, the colleges
are the train operating companies and the various agencies are
the rolling stock?
Julian Gravatt: I made a broad
Q41 Mr. Chaytor: Could I just pick
up on David's point about the comparison between the accountability
mechanisms for sixth forms and for colleges, and the issue of
the calculation of the success rate? On the positive side, will
not the reintroduction of local authorities' strategic responsibility
deal with that? The document talks about comparable funding for
comparable work, but in terms of the different ways in which school
sixth forms and sixth-form colleges are assessed, surely that
will now inevitably be on a level playing field, for both funding
and performance management?
David Croll: That is a positive,
but there have to be very clear criteria in place so that the
whole issue does not get fudged. It is down to the transparency
argument. The youngster's or the parent's right to choose from
really good informationat the moment that is not necessarily
there. Perhaps in the next session the Learning and Skills Council
can pick up on that, because it has had the responsibility for
post-16 funding. You will probably find that it did not really
have the powers to act on poor provision. Perhaps that will be
solved moving forward.
Q42 Mr. Chaytor: In terms of the
difference that there has always been between the funding of institutions
in the leafy suburbs and those in the inner urban areas, do you
see any move here towards recognising the difficulties of the
inner urban schools and collegesparticularly the collegeswhich
have a more difficult student intake and where turnover and drop-out
are faster? Is there anything in here that will deal with that
David Croll: I think so.
Chairman: Let us have Sid on that. He
is more inner city, is he not?
Sid Hughes: There have been great
strides by this Government towards recognising those challenges,
and although the document is fairly silent on those issues there
is nothing to suggest that the Government would not continue in
that direction. The problem is the complicated way in which these
things were accounted for. At the moment the funding mechanism
is incredibly complicated, and it has become more complicated
in the past 18 months.
Chairman: I was not suggesting that you
were in the leafy suburbs, David.
David Croll: If you have a very
clear national funding formula, that can respond to needs. Where
you have inner-city deprivation you can use sophisticated postcode
analysis and so on to target resources where they are most needed.
Again, there is an opportunity here for this.
Q43 Mr. Chaytor: My final question
is about the issue of proliferation of providers of 14-19 education
and what the new proposals are likely to do about that. In 1993
the local authorities were sidelined because they were seen to
be inadequate, and we moved to an era of college independence
and national funding. In 2001 the LSC was set up and was given
a responsibility to conduct strategic area reviews because it
was thought that that was a way of rationalising the proliferation
of providers. Now we are giving the strategic responsibility back
to the local authorities who were considered to be inadequate
in the first place. So, which local authorities are going to confront
difficult decisions about closing small sixth forms, for example?
Is this not just turning the clock back 15 years to square one?
David Croll: It depends where
you come from. Sid made the case earlier that local authorities
have changed over that period.
Q44 Mr. Chaytor: But they are still
accountable to electors, including parents whose children go to
small sixth forms.
Julian Gravatt: I am optimistic
that this is a chance to look at the evidence of performance,
and that that could be taken into account when decisions are taken.
Nobody likes to take difficult decisions. The LSC found it quite
hard to take difficult decisions in the strategic area reviews,
but there have been some successes, such as the new college at
Hastings, which brings together the college and two inadequate
school sixth forms. To some extent, the advantage that local authorities
will have over the LSC is that they have democratic legitimacy.
If difficult decisions have to be taken, they will be better able
to take them, but a lot depends on the relationship between local
government, national Government and institutions.
Sid Hughes: There is a considerable
degree of uncertainty about whether and how local authorities
will deliver on this agenda, because they do not have the personnel
that they once had; they do not have the officers in place. There
is a whole layer underneath the local authority that we have not
talked about. I think that someone mentioned commissioning earlier.
There is a big debate at the moment about how work will be commissioned.
You talked about dealing with small, inadequate sixth forms. If
we are looking at commissioning models, which is what local authorities
are now talking about, the machinery for delivering on that is
very uncertain. I know that you are not too keen on the detail,
but it will be the detail that will make this thing collapse if
it is going to.
Chairman: Graham has a quick question
Q45 Mr. Stuart: Will you comment
on the introduction of Diplomas in this context?
Sid Hughes: We are offering all
five of the new Diplomas in our area. I think that my college
is the only sixth-form college in the country that is doing so.
Leaving aside the curriculum initiative around the Diplomas, they
have helped to bring things together around 14 to 19 partnerships,
because there had to be local partnership development, and now
local partnership delivery. It has been quite an interesting exercise.
We ought not to use young people's education in that way, but
it has been interesting, especially in terms of how people are
accountable one to another. We have schools being accountable
to each other and colleges being accountable to schools. In some
ways, the confidence growing out of that relationship is making
local authorities feel that they can move into commissioning.
I am not sure that dealing with a small amount of diploma work
is anything like the amount of work that will have to be commissioned
when we get to the whole 11 to 19 agenda.
David Croll: In Derby, things
have got off to a relatively slow start. The engineering diploma
is the first to go through, and we are working with Sinfina
secondary school in the city that is delivering Level 1 to 14
to 16-year-oldson Level 2. We hope that students will then
progress to Level 3. The rest of the Diplomas are still at the
bid-writing stage. What is being fed back to me is that it is
an incredibly cumbersome and relatively bureaucratic process to
pull those bids together. There are serious issues there.
Q46 Chairman: What is your feeling
about Diplomas? Are you supportive of them?
David Croll: Yes, we are supportive
in the sense that they bring coherence to the 14 to 19 agenda.
My only sadnessthis goes back to Tomlinsonis that
I believed we had a far superior way forward, but compromise was
made at the time, when A-levels were separated out.
Q47 Chairman: Thank you for that.
If there is anything that you desperately want to tell the Committeeif
you think we have been remiss and have not asked you the right
questionsyou have a couple of minutes before we change
Sid Hughes: I would like to talk
about provision for young people with learning difficulties and/or
disabilities. We need to keep a close watch to ensure that those
disadvantaged and most vulnerable young people are catered for.
I am not entirely sure that the proposals make it clear that they
Q48 Chairman: But in a lot of collegesparticularly
the sort that David is principal ofadult learners are being
squeezed out, and many of these second-chance adults are going
out of A-levels. There is also increasing pressure because many
young people with disabilities or special educational needs do
not reach targets. They are being squeezed out even though we
have an agenda for widening participation. That is true under
the present regime, is it not? That is certainly the case in my
Sid Hughes: That has not been
our experience. The Further Education Funding Council first and
then the Learning and Skills Council have been committed to ensuring
that provision is available and that there is more of it.
Q49 Chairman: But you are a sixth-form
Sid Hughes: Yes.
Q50 Chairman: What about you, David?
David Croll: Provision is very
well catered for in Derby. It is a mixed message when you look
nationally at various FE colleges and their contribution. It is
a key part of our activity. Skills for work and life are 20% of
our activity. That is one area in which we do excel. We have 3%
of all Ofsted grades ever given for that area of work, and we
were outstanding. But there are issues. There will be issues with
particular needs. Derby is a centre for specialising in deaf education,
and we have a relationship with the Royal School for the Deaf.
We merged with the Derby College for Deaf People and brought its
provision in. That had rapidly declined over the past few years.
In the past, local areas would send youngsters to Derby for education,
but the whole drive at the moment is to make education as local
Q51 Fiona Mactaggart: I was struck
by the fact that we have not talked a lot about employers in this
session. In Slough, which I represent, the critical thing in ensuring
that all aspects of FE work well is the relationship between colleges
and employers. You have not said whether you think these new arrangements
will assist in that regard.
Julian Gravatt: We see the session
as looking very much at the 14-19 area, and David has just described
work on the engineering diploma.
Q52 Fiona Mactaggart: A very high
proportion of 18 and 19-year-olds in my constituency are in employment.
Julian Gravatt: And in a sense,
one of our concerns is that the age divide at 19 could focus colleges'
16-19 work very much on full-time academic work and that things
should not necessarily become less employer-responsive as they
become so complicated. You are right to highlight that as a concern.
Colleges do a massive amount for employers on their adult side,
and the important thing for mixed-age institutions is to make
sure that they feed across to both age groups.
David Croll: I think that is a
very valid point. Of our 16 to 18-year-olds, about 3,300 are full-time,
but 882 are part-time. What is interesting about the point that
you makethis is where the complexity is and where it could
go terribly wrongis that if we look at the spread of the
16-18 part-timers, they can be found across a lot more local authority
areas, whereas the full-time students tend to be concentrated
primarily in, say, the city of Derby and in Derbyshire, with 10%
from other counties. The part-timers are actually spread further
because we deal with companies, and on their payroll are 16 to18-year-olds
that we are picking up and providing the training for. So you
make an incredibly valid point.
Sid Hughes: Yes, indeed. It would
be wrong to believe that because we have not mentioned them they
are not important to us. You asked earlier about the diploma,
and one of the issues around the Diplomas will be how well employers
are engaged; indeed, a conversation is now being held in 14 to
19 partnerships. I do not think that the governance changes would
impact negatively on that, because there is already a lot of movement
in that direction.
Chairman: I am afraid that we have to
draw a line because we are eating into the next session.
David Croll: Very briefly, may
I say that the Government perhaps need to look at extending the
national challenge in the light of the comments that I made about
the success rates? I believe that provision is poor, but it has
been hidden in a sense because we do not look at retention. The
national challenge could be extended and have a part 2 that would
look at 16 to 18 provision. This is not about abdicating responsibility
to local authorities. The point is for central Government to hold
local authorities to account for the quality of the provision.
We need clear measures for that. I am fully supportive of the
national challenge and the list of underperforming schools. I
think that we should be showing underperformance post-16, whether
in further education colleges, sixth-form colleges, school sixth
forms or private providers.
Chairman: Thank you. If you feel that
we did not ask some of the right questions or you wish you had
said something to the Committee, I hope you will contact us.