Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
9 JULY 2008
Q80 Mr. Chaytor: The Government have
recently announced the national challenge programme for the 638
schools with below 40% of pupils gaining grades A-C at GCSE. Those
are schools for which local authorities have had responsibility
since at least the Education Act 1944. What does it say about
the capacity of local authorities to performance manage institutions,
if 64 years on the Government have to send in a hit squad to sort
out the problems of those schools?
Cllr Lawrence: First, local authorities
do not have an issue with the national challenge as a concept.
The way that it was portrayed concerning a particular group was
somewhat unfortunate. If you looked at a lot of the schools in
that list, forgetting English and maths for a moment, you saw
that many were already achieving five A*-Cs at a high level. Many
were either already achieving above the benchmark in English or
maths, although not necessarily in both. Also, for a lot of those
schools, looking at the cohorts of pupils, the length of time
that they had been there, where they had started and what point
they had reached in a short time, progress was sufficient to be
recognised by, for example, awards from the Specialist Schools
and Academies Trust and inspectoral reports coming out of Ofsted
on their capability. The benchmarkquite correctly, because
English and maths are fundamental to the core competencies of
young peoplechanged the basis on which a large number of
those schools were considered.
Q81 Mr. Chaytor: The city of Birmingham,
for example, has one of the highest proportions of its schools
in the national challenge programme. Does that justify the city
now being given responsibility for the performance management
of sixth-form colleges?
Cllr Lawrence: Yes. We have one
of the largest number of secondary schools in any local authority.
Q82 Mr. Chaytor: It is the proportion
in which Birmingham scores highly, not the raw scores.
Cllr Lawrence: And of those 27,
after you see the GCSE results of this year, 11 will no longer
be in that group. That is the first thing. Secondly, each of them
already had, before this was published, an action plan to show
where it was and where it is going to be. A number of those schools
will be academies in a short time. If you looked at those 27 schools
and differentiated what is happening to each, you would see there
is only a small number that still cause us some concern. The strength
of our actions is that I shall not tolerate failure on an individual
basis. I can tell you that lead members around the country do
not tolerate failure. Two of the schools on that list I have turned
around over the past two years by putting in improvement teamsthat
was my own decision. We issue warning notices within our city,
in relation to primary schools. We are about to put an interim
executive board into one primary school. You will find local authorities
the length and breadth of this land, irrespective of political
persuasion, taking action not only against schools that are perceived
as not achieving against benchmarks, but against those deemed
to be coasting. It does not matter whether they are foundation,
trust, community-aided, voluntary-aided or voluntary-controlled
schools. Local authorities take their responsibilities incredibly
seriously and will be doing their utmost to ensure that youngsters
are not given a second-rate education.
Q83 Mr. Chaytor: Has Birmingham,
for example, closed any secondary schools in recent years, for
performance management reasons?
Cllr Lawrence: Technically, we
are about to close two schools, but because we have to do that
to turn them into academies.
Q84 Mr. Chaytor: In terms of the
relationship between performance management and commissioning,
what interests me is that on the one hand local authorities are
now being given responsibility for commissioning, but on the other
hand the rhetoric in the Raising Expectations White Paper
is all about demand-led funding. How do you reconcile that? Do
we have a command economy or do we have an economy driven by individual
learner choice? How are you going to reconcile that within your
Caroline Abrahams: There are three
things to square off there. First is learner choice. IAGinformation,
advice and guidanceis going to be crucial for that, partly
because a lot of young people are not sure what they want to do,
so there is a big task to be performed with them, and with their
parents, helping them to think through what is the best option.
That is one driver. The second driver is, what are the jobs in
the local economy? The fact that local authorities are working
sub-regionally on this is very helpful, because that is the spatial
level at which the labour market operates. The third component
is the targets set for the number of apprenticeships. How that
will work in practice is that local authorities will receive an
indicative budget at the beginning of the year, within which they
will be able to work. Towards the end of the year, they will come
back together, as a region, to check that people are not collectively
busting the budget and that the entitlement that learners have
is being met. That is how it is supposed to work, but obviously
we have to test it and see how it works in practice. The transitional
year, which people are going to be engaged in from next year with
colleagues from LSC, will be important.
Q85 Mr. Chaytor: May I ask Rob, from
the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA), what you are going
to do other than bang heads together among local authorities?
It seems that the sole purpose of the YPLA's existence is to mediate
if the sub-regional groupings of local authorities cannot agree.
Is that the case?
Rob Wye: We are still working
through with the Department and with local authority colleagues
precisely what it will do.
Mr. Chaytor: It might be a good idea
to decide what it should be before deciding that it should exist.
Rob Wye: At the top level, it
will receive the £7 billion budget and be accountable for
distributing it to the local authorities. It will also be responsible
for ensuring that the entire commitment is being delivered everywherethat
is a quality assurance role. The bit about which we are still
in discussion is the extent to which the YPLA will provide strategic
analysis and data, and who will actually collect, analyse and
supply the data. That is still being worked through because it
involves interaction with the Skills Funding Agency.
Q86 Mr. Chaytor: But the commissioning
function of local authorities and urban areas will be done not
by individual authorities but by the sub-regional groupings, and
the agency's role will be to mediate that. Why cannot the local
authorities reach agreement among themselves? In all the urban
areas, there are already sub-regional groupings for police, fire
and transport. That is the forum where such things are negotiated.
Why is the YPLA needed to do it for them?
Rob Wye: The expectation is that
local authorities will reach agreement. The YPLA is a backstop
if agreement cannot be reached or if there is a spectacular failure
of some sort.
Q87 Mr. Chaytor: Does the YPLA have
a role in performance management?
Rob Wye: I think that it will
have a role in working with the SFA to determine what the performance
framework should be, building on the framework for excellence
and working closely with Ofsted, which you mentioned earlier.
The operation of the framework will be down to the SFA for adults
and the local authorities for young people.
Q88 Mr. Chaytor: It is not exactly
crystal clear where the division of responsibilities will lie,
Chairman: Hansard will not pick
this up, but there was some very interesting body language. You
were looking at Caroline in answer to the last question, Rob.
Rob Wye: That is because we are
working closely together.
Q89 Mr. Chaytor: The local authorities
have responsibility for the performance management of sixth-form
colleges but not further education colleges. They are responsible
for commissioning the 16 to 19 work of the FE colleges but they
are not responsible for performance management, which is the job
of the SFA. It is difficult to think that anyone could have established
a more complicated set of relationships.
Rob Wye: The basis for that is
to have one body responsible for performance managing each institution.
The SFA has that responsibility for general FE colleges. It will,
of course, have to relate to and talk to the local authority,
which is responsible for the 16 to 19 commissioning plan, and
feed back information on performance. The local authority may
look at the performance and say that it is inadequate but it would
intervene through the SFA, so there is only one accountability
Cllr Lawrence: The other element
of intervention is that the authority can decommission the provision
that it seeks to gain from a particular college if it feels that
the qualitative outcomes are not meeting the needs of young people,
and that can be very serious for an institution. A chunk of funding
Q90 Chairman: Can we just get this
straight? I have not heard the figures before, Rob. You said that
the YPLA would have a budget of £7 billion. What is the budget
of the SFA? Would that be the residual of £4 billion? The
Learning and Skills Council has £11 billion.
Rob Wye: There is £4 billion
for adults and £7 billion for young people passing through
the LSC at present.
Q91 Chairman: What about apprenticeships
Rob Wye: I cannot remember off
the top of my head the apprenticeships funding figure, I am afraid.
Q92 Chairman: What is the ballpark?
Rob Wye: Just over £1 billion.
Chairman: Just over £1 billion.
Rob Wye: And that is within the
two sums. About three quarters of it is for young people and one
quarter for adults.
Q93 Chairman: So it is not their
own money; they will get it from the other two.
Rob Wye: Yes.
Q94 Chairman: Does anybody else have
any of this money, independently?
Rob Wye: No.
Chairman: Okay, that is clear.
Q95 Fiona Mactaggart: I am worried
that you are trying to negotiate your way through something that
seems increasingly complex to decide how some of these things
will operate, and that you are looking in and sorting out these
kinds of structures at a time when the economy is changing the
context for learners quite dramatically. They have different challenges
and worries. Our education system should be more fleet of foot
and flexible to meet the changing needs of the economy and the
anxieties that that creates for learners. You are looking at how
we are going to manage all that. Am I right to be worried?
Rob Wye: It is a risk. Our councillors
identified and flagged up to Ministers the severe danger that
all those involved in these processes might focus on in sorting
out the wiring, the structures and the performance management
arrangements. Meanwhile, there is a huge day job of delivering
for learners, young people, adults and employers. Our eye is not
being kept off that ball. We have talked today about how we can
make the machinery of government arrangements work. We are also
focused on how we can continue to drive up performance. That is
evidenced by the recent satisfying results in higher participation
and success rates than ever before and the reduction in the NEET
figures. However, you are right to flag that up as a risk. We
must keep our eye on the ball.
Q96 Fiona Mactaggart: You will know
that unemployment drives participation.
Cllr Lawrence: It does. I concur
with Rob that an eye should be kept on that tension. As I mentioned,
local authorities have an economic development remit. They work
closely with employer bodies to ensure that skill needs within
localities are not only understood, but that the right courses
and processes are in place or are being developed to meet those
needs. A concern about the Skills Funding Agency is that it will
work on a national basis. It could become divorced from the local
market intelligence in parts of the country. Although it can retain
a strategic national view on skill needs and sector developments,
that must not influence the particular local needs throughout
the country. Local requirements need to be fulfilled, otherwise
the flexibility to adjust, adapt and respond that has been referred
to and the ability to lead within localities will not be provided
by the various partners that will be subject to the agreements.
This area needs a lot more discussion. That is why Rob and Caroline
keep sharing body contact. This kind of discussion is going on
in detail between the various bodies within departments.
Caroline Abrahams: I thought you
would find it useful to know that the group of Greater Manchester
authorities are using their multi-area agreement, which is based
around worklessness, to do lots of things together to tackle employment
and benefit issues. They are trying to draw into that how they
will work together under the 16 to 19 funding transfer. That is
an interesting and progressive example of how this change can
help local authorities to be more responsive and to take full
account of the needs of this group of young people in a way that
was not possible before. That is the only area we know of so far
that is using a multi-area agreement to do this, but similar discussions
are going on in London. Over the next few months I think that
we will see more of this kind of approach.
Q97 Chairman: You have been very
good so far at putting a good spin on what is happening.
Cllr Lawrence: Spin!
Q98 Chairman: Not spin. You have
been very supportive of the changes. Local authorities are very
powerful organisations. We never found out whether you are happy
with this because it is what you campaigned for. I asked the previous
group of witnesses whether they said to Government, "We hate
the Learning and Skills Council way of doing things. We want to
be in charge of this." Are you pleased because you lobbied
and you won?
Caroline Abrahams: I do not think
it is quite like that. It is true to say that the LGA, the Association
of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), the main local authority
organisations and London Councils are very supportive of this.
Obviously that is partly because of the localist agenda, but it
is also because we genuinely see the benefits for employment and
young people locally. It is the right thing to do, but that is
not to denywe have not denied this, I thinkthat
there are some big challenges in getting the delivery right.
Q99 Chairman: Someone like Douglas
would worry that far from being localists, you are actually making
things far more bureaucratic and there are far more players. All
of us have latched on to these sub-regional partnerships, and
many of us, knowing your patches quite well, wonder whether these
partnerships will ever work in the way that you describe.
Caroline Abrahams: We are mapping
them at the moment. We are doing a lot of proactive work with
the ADCS. This is serious business for us; it is a big part of
our workcertainly in my policy area at the momentand
we have been engaging very actively with local authority members
and officers at a range of levels. We are mapping the sub-regional
partnerships as they come along. We have every intention of staying
in this with the ADCS and of working with the LSC to support local
authorities as the changes go through. There is a shared commitment
across all those organisations to see this work, and, so far,
the omens look pretty good. Obviously, things will change over
the next few months, and there is a lot of work to do. But so
far, local authorities are doing what we want them to do, which
is to work out who they will work with. They are having conversations
with providers and colleges. In some places, they are getting
into buddying, mentoring and shadowing arrangements with their
LSCs, which is an important prelude to the really important work
of transitioning staff across from the LSC into local authorities.
That will be crucial. So far, so good, but there is an immense
amount to do, which is why Rob and I spend so much time together.
Chairman: You have taken us into transitional
arrangements, and that is our last section.