Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
9 JULY 2008
Q60 Mr. Stuart: Going back to the
central issue of commissioning by local authorities as opposed
to through the LSC, are you confident that the options offered
to local people and the meeting of their needs will necessarily
be improved by the proposals, as opposed to retaining the current
Caroline Abrahams: May I make
a point about special needs? I think this is one of the great
potential gains of this move. Obviously, the sorts of young people
that Les was just talking about have a range of needsthey
do not just need excellent educational provision; they also need
support services. This shift should allow us to join up the commissioning
across support services and learning, to provide integrated packages,
and also to start to think about it much more from the 0-19 point
of view. I would be the first to say that it is going to be quite
a challenging shift from where local authorities are now, but
it is the direction that policy is taking us, and it is the big
challenge for local authorities at the momentto join these
things up. There is a huge potential gain, particularly for the
more vulnerable young people.
Cllr Lawrence: Caroline has in
many ways exemplified the drive that local authorities feel is
behind this. Local authorities also have an economic development
remit, which is very important, in conjunction with young people
themselves and employers. They are looking at different types
of training needs, and apprenticeships, and linking those to skill
requirements and the courses that colleges can provide, and to
schools where they can prepare youngsters through the Diplomas.
Certainly in rural areas, we are convinced that there must be
a lot of working together between the schools and colleges, employers
and other work-based learning arrangements. If we can do that,
we will use the resources out there far more effectively and efficiently
in a way that will produce qualitative outcomes, especially for
young people. I emphasis that, because it is about the outcomes.
There has been a tendency in current arrangements for courses
to be put on on a volume basis, rather than a demand-led basis.
That will be a very important change. If we continue to focus
on the needs of the young people first and foremost, it will work
well. I want to emphasise a point that was made earlier. We are
already developing a lot of commissioning skills, especially around
working with primary care trusts in the health sector, and are
beginning to look at those types of arrangements with various
representative employers' bodies. That skill can be very highly
developed, which will build a lot of choice into the system.
Q61 Mr. Stuart: But anybody involved
in planning in local authorities, or any form of governmentI
am not disrespecting what you just saidwill always be able
to put together an excellent narrative: "driven by the outcomes"
and so on. Often those outcomes do not turn out to be so good,
especially if you get rid of independence and responsiveness to
local people. The question that I was trying to dig out was: are
you confident and sure that local authorities will deliver, and
that the "dead hand"as some would see itof
local authorities will not actually reduce the quality of provision?
Actually, colleges have arguably been one of the more successful
areas under this Government.
Chairman: You do not look like a dead
hand to me, Councillor Lawrence.
Cllr Lawrence: Local government
does not want to reduce the incorporated and independent nature
of colleges. You are right in that they have been a very successful
development, and given the way in which colleges have expanded,
developed the plant and created environments that facilitate learning,
I fully agree with you. Equally, I could not put my hand on my
heart and say that every single local authority, irrespective
of its political complexion, will perform at the highest level
required in every case. I suggest to you that local authorities
these days are far more effective and efficient in delivering
services than they used to be. We have the new comprehensive assessment
framework, and are taking on board the development of the national
indicators and becoming more and more outcome-focused and service
driven, so the dead hand is actually becoming a very light touch
and friendly. Having said that, when things start to go wrong,
that hand becomes a very tight grip to ensure that that which
is being provided is of an order and a quality that benefits the
client or the customerthe recipient of the service. That
is what motivates local authorities these days and makes us very
Q62 Mr. Stuart: Paragraph 4.2 of
the White Paper states: "Local authorities should have clear
levers to commission, in order to secure this entitlement, remove
poor provision and expand good provision. They should be held
to account for the outcomes for young people in the areaincluding
levels of participation, progression and attainment." If
we can maintain colleges' independence after that, I would be
astonished. As you say, local authorities will have a tight grip
as soon as colleges are not delivering what they think they should
deliver, according to their accountability. Obviously, that will
be up to central Government, who will still be dictating the outcome.
Caroline Abrahams: To a great
extent, it is not really any different from how it is with schools,
which are increasingly autonomous bodies. They are accountable
to their governors. On a day to day basis, their leadership teams
are in charge of the ethos and the general direction of the school.
The job of the local authority is to orchestrate, to hold to account
in terms of outcomes, to support and to challenge. It will be
no different with colleges. At the moment, the Local Government
Association is hopefully in the process of agreeing a protocol
with Julian and his colleagues at the Association of Colleges.
It is important that there is a national statement from us, as
organisations, making it clear that the measure is not about curtailing
the independence of colleges. We respect that. We understand the
direction in which colleges are going. A couple of weeks ago,
I was at a conference at which it was said openly that colleges
have changed during the past few years and so have local authorities.
All we have to do is get to know each other better, and that is
what we are trying to do at the moment.
Q63 Mr. Stuart: The comparison with
schools is good. It is ironic that, when government policy appears
to be greater independence, academies, separation from local authorities
and mixed provision, in this area they seem to be moving in the
opposite direction and giving much more control and levers back
to local authorities.
Rob Wye: From what I have heard
from Caroline and colleagues, local authorities are very much
committed to maintaining the independence of colleges within a
framework where the local authority is clear about the standards
that it wants, and where, if a college or other provider is failing
to deliver to those standards, there should be heavy intervention.
To pick up a point that was made earlier, it is important that
the same performance management framework for institutions applies
across the piece, so that there is a level playing field for everyone,
and applies equally pre and post 19, so that a further education
college would not face being hit on its 14-19s, or 19-plus, in
a different place, in different ways.
Chris Heaume: Local authorities
are getting stronger and stronger at delivering well managed and
co-ordinated services that support young people. The outcomes
for young people are increasing constantly. There are challenges
in the infrastructure that is needed, such as the common application
form, the children's index and all sorts of data issues that are
still being worked through. Mainly, little specification has supported
local authorities to come to conclusions, but they will be well
placed to take charge of the responsibilities for young people's
learning, as long as they can work together to do so. However,
local authorities will inherit something that still will not be
right about the system as it currently standsthe disincentives
for institutions to provide for lower-level learners. We know
that our NEET levels have got so much better as people move from
year 11 to year 12we have tiny numbers that do not do that
nowbut they suddenly rise the next year. Young people at
Level 2 or below struggle to get on the right thing and really
struggle to find the pathway forward. They are expensive and difficult
to teach because of their needs. Colleges are not supported in
any way with the financial costs of developing those programmes.
That will be inherited by local authorities in the proposals as
they stand. Local authorities will struggle to help young people
find their way forward.
Q64 Mr. Stuart: What is your view
of the much more complex system that will be put in place on funding,
commissioning and vast numbers of sub-regional, regional and cross-regional
matters? The actors in the new system seem enormously large and
complex. What is your view on the impact of that complexity?
Caroline Abrahams: It depends
on where you are standing when you are looking at that. If you
are in a local authority, for example, the new assessment for
young people with special educational needs at 16 looks complicated
and fragmented because of the existence of the LSC and such funding
arrangements. From that point of view, the measure should make
things better in the longer term. It would be foolish to deny
that there is a risk of complexity and bureaucracy in the system,
and we and our colleagues at the LSC have been very keen to say
to the Government, "For goodness' sake, let us keep this
as simple as it possibly can be." There may need to be complicated
wiring behind the scenes, but it is really important that we keep
things as simple as possible for both learners and providers.
We do not want the changes to make life more difficult for them.
In our conversations across all these organisations, we are finding
ways to manage that. We also need the Government to help us with
that and to ensure that there is clarity when we get to the next
Q65 Mr. Stuart: Do they need to change
their proposals? The proposals as they stand are fiendishly complex.
Caroline Abrahams: Our preferencewe
have said this in our response to the White Paperwould
have been not to have three national agencies. We would have preferred
more synergy. Having said thatRob knows more about this
than I dothere are plans to collocate, possibly to share
back office functions. In practice, as long as there are good,
strong working relationships across the new agencies, it may make
less difference in practice than perhaps it appears at the moment.
Our commitment is to make this work. We are where we are, and
we are very keen to ensure that local authorities deliver. We
think that it is a great opportunity for us and for young people.
There is a risk of complexity, but we are constantly considering
ways in which we can keep it simple.
Rob Wye: Caroline is absolutely
right. It is innately more complex. Therefore our job, in trying
to help the departments design the new arrangements, is to start
from the point of view of the employer, the learner or the provider
and say, "How can we hide the wiring? How can we keep it
as simple as possible as far as the front end is concerned?"
There is an example of that. A further education college should
have only two relationships: one with the Skills Funding Agency
for 19-plus, and the other with the local authority, which is
looking after pre-19s. Everything that needs to be done in respect
of sorting out the interdependencies and the relationships with
other local authorities will be outside the scene as far as it
is concerned. It should not see it.
Q66 Annette Brooke: I shall pick
up on that point. Now that we have a clear distinction between
0 to 19 and adult streams, how do you think that adults who are
taking GCSEs and A-levels for the first time, will fare in this
Rob Wye: On the adult side, the
funding available is not altered by this. The amount of resource
available for adults who are undertaking learning on their own
behalf, which most GCSE and A-level students do, will remain the
same. It will be accessed through the skills account as those
develop. The skills account is about the adult being able to access
what suits them and their needs in the circumstances. These arrangements
do not make it more difficult for those adults who want to pursue
GCSE and A-levels, but they do not make it better either. That
is all down to the resource available.
Q67 Annette Brooke: Does that same
comment apply to adultsby that I mean young people who
have not achieved those qualifications at school, but then have
their entitlement later? It is an entitlement for that group of
people who do not have those qualifications already. It seems
odd to have this separate funding stream.
Rob Wye: Obviously, we need to
work very closely with the Skills Funding Agency, as has been
pointed out, to ensure that people do not fall down the crack.
Wherever you draw that linewhether it is at 14, 16, 21
or 25there will be a point at which you need to ensure
effective progression from one side to the other. As you say,
young people up to the age of 25 have an entitlement up to Level
3, and at all ages up to Level 2. The funding will need to be
available to them to enable them to take up that entitlement.
We need to work very closely with the Skills Funding Agency, the
institutions, Connexions and Jobcentre Plus to ensure that, as
far as the individual is concerned, those processes are as simple
Chris Heaume: May I come in? It
is a pretty challenging system. The young person is often far
more ready at 19, 20 and 21 to engage than they were at 16 and
17. They are in a position in life where they really want to learn,
but the systems do not tie in for them. They have a different
level of support. We are not able to have a relationship with
them any longer unless they have special needs. We are worried
about how things currently stand. We do not think that the proposals
will overcome the problems.
Q68 Annette Brooke: So that is quite
a challenge for some of the very vulnerable people to whom we
really want to give extra support.
Cllr Lawrence: I agree with my
colleagues. There is one particular group of youngstersthose
in carewhose support at the moment ceases at 16. We take
very seriously our role in how to support young people post-16
up to 19 who are in care. It is a small group because many of
us are working to provide them with opportunities for independent
living. The proposals in the Children and Young Persons Bill to
extend that support up to 18 are a good first step, because they
give us the responsibility as a corporate parent to provide the
type of support that parents provide for their own young people.
It is a very vulnerable group, and if you look at the numbers
within the NEET category and those who are in care or have been
in care, you will see a significant correlation between the two.
The ability to provide support to those in vulnerable circumstances
through this process will be one of the main benefits. If local
authorities feel that their overall responsibility is to fulfil
the potential of each and every young person from 0 to 19, hopefully
over a 10 to 15-year period we should reduce the number of adults
who will need to go back into a learning environment to get the
basic skills. We should provide them with a framework in which
they have access to opportunities for development so that they
can use those basic core skills to meet wider skills needs and
go to the colleges and other educational institutions to develop
that end of their capabilities.
Q69 Annette Brooke: I would like
to ask Chris some questions. The Connexions service has been plucked
out of the outside world and put firmly in the hands of local
authorities, so what have been the advantages and disadvantages
of that position so far?
Chris Heaume: There are similar
advantages to this localising programme. In our own case, working
with central London boroughs, we are already contracted with the
local authorities to provide a Connexions service, so we are already
in that model. I know from colleagues who have had to move down
that road that they see, as we do, a real empowerment of local
authorities to work with the young people they are trying to help
to move forward, so it is galvanising people. There is a danger,
however, that we are starting to lose the consistency of quality
across local authorities, which will continue if we are not careful.
We used to have to ensure that all data were provided equally
and that the quality of all personal advice and support was the
same wherever you went. For a young person, Connexions had to
be Connexions, and it did not matter whom they saw or where they
saw them. There is a danger that that will start to slide away
as we lose something that is bigger than the borough. I said earlier
that I was worried that that might also be the case, from a young
Q70 Annette Brooke: May I ask you
particularly about the careers service that Connexions used to
provide? It was very bad in the past that young people were advised
to stay on into the sixth form so that the institutions concerned
could obviously still hold on to the money. We all know that that
happened. Will you not be under pressure from the local authority
to give advice that will suit the current number of places, and
will the colleges be brought fully into the framework?
Chris Heaume: I do not see a lot
of changes in the way that some young people are currently pulled,
often when in schools, into staying on rather than looking around
more widely. The legislation that is going through Parliament
at the moment and that would raise the participation age does
not include provisions for raising the schools' requirement to
provide careers education up to 18, and nor will it do that for
colleges. We have a weakening of the legislative base that requires
schools to fulfil that role, although there is no way that that
is currently monitored and supported through inspection, so people
are not doing that anyway. There is a danger that we have some
schools and colleges that prefer to keep people in house, rather
than give them a wider range of choices that require them to look
further. Some are very strong at ensuring that the full choice
is available, but that is not the case for everyone, and I do
not think that this will really change that situation.
Q71 Annette Brooke: May I ask Les
to comment generally on impartiality and the importance of the
Connexions service's role in providing data on an impartial basis?
Cllr Lawrence: You tend to find,
within local authorities, that the Connexions service is not seen
in isolation. It is becoming part of what is known as an integrated
youth support service. It fulfils its traditional function, but
gives wider access to support services and advice through the
local authority and the voluntary and community sectorthe
third sectorso that a young person can access health and
counselling advice. There is a whole series of different elements.
In determining the direction in which to develop, a young person
might need a range of support depending on the challenges and
the locality within which they live. It would be wrong for the
new Connexions service to be still isolated from the panoply of
support services that are now available. There will be no pressure
to force youngsters to go in specific directions; it is about
meeting the needs of young people on an individual and personalised
basis. If each young person is seen as an individual, the type
of advice and support that they get is very independent.
Q72 Mr. Carswell: A great deal of
public money has been spent on the Connexions programme. How many
more young people would not be in education, employment or training
if it did not exist?
Chris Heaume: I can give you our
data. When we began five years ago, there were 4,000 young people
who were NEET at any moment in central London. There are now 2,000.
Each one has someone working alongside them to help them get ready
and move forward. A third of those young people are virtually
doing that already, but they technically do not count as being
Q73 Mr. Carswell: Two thousand people?
Chris Heaume: Yes.
Q74 Mr. Carswell: Over how long?
Chris Heaume: That is the gross
figure that we started with and what it is now.
Q75 Mr. Carswell: So the difference
is about 2,000?
Chris Heaume: Well, at any point
we have a huge amount of churn going through the system as people
go into post-16 learning and then come out. We have reduced that
to a very insignificant level, particularly at 16. It rises at
17 and at 18 as we do not yet have the changes in the system that
Q76 Mr. Carswell: But you are saying
that it is about 2,000 people over that period?
Chris Heaume: Not individuals.
If you count individuals we have 2,000 every year who enter learning
and who have dropped out of learning. They are constantly replenished
by people who, again, drop out as they cannot progress very easily
through the necessary levelsthe provision for them is not
there. Year by year we help 2,000 young people into learning,
and we help another vast number to make proper choices that position
them well to develop the skills that they need for the future.
That is another issuewe are responsible for both.
Q77 Chairman: I have a question for
Councillor Lawrence and Caroline Abrahams. Local authorities have
lost a lot of their staff and expertise in the careers area. I
addressed a national conference on careers in Harrogate on Friday,
and I understand from people in the careers service that local
authorities no longer put their careers function out to tender.
Why is that, and how can they get away with it? I thought that
that sort of function had to be put out to tender.
Caroline Abrahams: I know that
some are not, but I did not know that it was true across the boardI
am not sure that it is. I have certainly heard of some places
that have decided that they are best off doing it themselves.
Things have changed, and there is no doubt that getting information,
advice and guidance right will be crucial in the success of the
system. It is important not to see the transfer on its ownthere
are many things going on in the 14-19 area that are designed to
tackle the issue of NEETs. Although the sort of efforts made by
Chris and his colleagues are crucial and make a big difference,
they will not be enough on their own to tackle the issue, nor
will these provisions be. We are thinking hard, as are many others,
about what we can offer to those young people who at the moment
would be NEET, but who in future would be truants from the system.
There is scope for much more creativity around more informal provision
of learning. This is where the issue raised in the previous session
about employers is so crucial. There are good examples of practice
in some parts of the country where employers get involved much
earlier on with young people. Kids who would otherwise have drifted
away from school at 14 are being engaged on interesting programmes
that allow them to practise their skills. We are moving towards
a much more integrated approach across all these different kinds
of provisions, so that we get 14 to 19 to work across the board.
Q78 Chairman: With respect, Caroline,
that does not really answer the question that I asked. The private
sector and the third sector have built up quite a lot of expertise
in the careers area. Why is it possible for local authorities
to dispense with that kind of expertise, which is quite a scarce
Cllr Lawrence: I cannot answer
for individual local authorities, but the feeling that I get from
talking to lead member colleagues of all persuasions around the
country is that there has been a variability of perception of
the careers service, especially, funnily enough, from within the
schools. In some instances local authorities have decided to bite
the bullet and take the service into themselves, and then offer
it out. Others have said to networks of schools: "You determine
the process by which you want to access or have a careers service
provided." That seems to me a very sensible approach because,
at the end of the day, the clients for a lot of the careers service
functions are the schools and the young people in them. If schools
can come together and use the third sector or existing service
in part or in whole to provide that service on their behalf, that
should be supported. However, that is based on a perception of
what has been the case in the past. In my own authority we have
asked the private sector to provide and bid for the service. We
have separated out from the careers service because that was felt
by the schools and, to an extent, the colleges to be the most
appropriate way of doing it.
Chairman: Thank you. Chris Heaume?
Chris Heaume: Since the localisation
of Connexions, which has only been a few months, but really since
14 to 19, we have seen schools and colleges being far more involved
in the provision of advice and guidance, in a way that works for
them and includes them. As a result, as an example, one of our
seven local authorities has decided to take the service in-house
because its 14 to 19 arrangements are so strong that it feels
it has the capacity to do that. The other six have decided to
go out to tender and are preparing for that; one has already done
it. That is the pattern in some cases, but it is more driven by
14 to 19 success than anything else.
Chairman: Rob, do you want to come in
on that or shall we move on to the next section?
Rob Wye: Just to comment that
we have recently tendered out the adult information, advice and
guidance services in nine regional contracts, which have gone
to a wide variety from the voluntary sector, the private sector
and some local authorities delivering for a whole region, so there
is a mixed economy.
Q79 Chairman: But local authorities
have the right not to tender and just do it in-house?
Rob Wye: For the Connexions service,