UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 960-i

HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE

 

LEARNING AND SKILLS COUNCIL

 

DAVID CROLL, JULIAN GRAVATT and SID HUGHES

CAROLINE ABRAHAMS, CHRIS HEAUME, LES LAWRENCE and ROB WYE

 

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 114

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee

on Wednesday 9 July 2008

Members present:

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Chairman)

Annette Brooke

Mr. Douglas Carswell

Mr. David Chaytor

Mr. John Heppell

Fiona Mactaggart

Mr. Graham Stuart

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: David Croll, Principal and Chief Executive, Derby College, Julian Gravatt, Director of Funding and Development, Association of Colleges, and Sid Hughes, Principal, Newham Sixth Form College, gave evidence.

 

Q<1> <Chairman:> Welcome to Julian Gravatt of the Association of Colleges, Sid Hughes, principal of Newham sixth-form college and David Croll, principal and chief executive of Derby College. We are grateful that you could come today-particularly Sid and David because they are on the front line, running institutions. Is it still term time or have you finished for the summer?

<David Croll:> The students finished last Friday.

<Chairman:> Well, I do not feel so guilty about pulling you away.

<Sid Hughes:> Ours finish this Friday.

 

Q<2> <Chairman:> We thought that it would be remiss if we did not, before the summer recess begins, look at the far-reaching proposals to change the Learning and Skills Council to a different delivery mechanism. As you all will know, that is a profound change and there will be a very long transition, so there are a lot of people out there involved in the LSC and in colleges who have a high degree of uncertainty in their lives at the moment. We want to probe those issues this morning.

First, I usually give witnesses the chance to speak for a couple of minutes. I keep these things tight; this is what we call a double-bank session. I will ensure that my colleagues ask tight, short questions, and we would be grateful for not too long answers. Do not give us your CV-we have all had that and know exactly your background-just say a few words about how you regard these changes and what your hopes, aspirations and fears regarding them are.

<David Croll:> I thank the Committee for the opportunity to address it. Over the last week I have had a series of meetings in college with governors, senior managers, staff and students, mostly in the refectory, in which we have been talking about the effect of the changes. That has led to a wide debate, and there is no single consensus coming through. Overall, everybody welcomes strengthening local democracy and the accountability of local authorities. If anything, the devil is in the detail, and that is where our concerns come from. My personal concern, and I think that I speak on behalf of most principals in the country-as the Committee session develops we will see whether Sid and I agree on most things-is that what we do not want to see in this transition is any of our current students losing out. You are only 16 once, you are only 17 once, and we do not want to see the thousands of students at Derby College or the millions of other students affected if the transition goes terribly wrong. What I would like to concentrate on today are the safeguards moving forward with what is probably quite a brave agenda.

<Sid Hughes:> Thank you for the invitation to attend the Committee. You will find through the morning that the differences are sometimes to do with the different types of institutions that we are from. Mine is an inner-city sixth-form college with 2,500 young people, 98% widening participation and 90% black and ethnic minorities. We have always been very much part of our local authority because students transfer from schools to college.

What we hope for from the change is greater strategic planning at a local level to provide more opportunities for young people to deal with those who are not being catered for, but we are concerned whether that will be delivered. There are particular concerns about the stages below the major departments and organisations. As with David, this is a period of transition. I built my college 17 years ago, and this is the third major change in organisation in that time. Each time there is a period not of chaos, but of stillness. It is quite difficult to engineer that period, so this is about engineering that period of transition to make sure that the transition is right and will do what it is intended to do.

<Julian Gravatt:> I am from the Association of Colleges, of which both Sid's and David's colleges are members, along with 370 others. In total, there are 600,000 16 to 18-year-olds in colleges, so we are a major part of this area. Colleges have argued for reform of the LSC for many years, and we have said that raising the participation age involves changing the system, so it is inevitable that some reform will be needed in the next decade. Like Sid and David, principals and governors across the country are concerned about some of the details and the pace of change, which we are happy to explore with the Committee.

 

Q<3> <Chairman:> So, it is your fault! The AOC has pounded on the doors of the Ministries and brought about this change. My first question to you was going to be: who wanted that change? David and Sid had establishments with mini-university status that were pretty independent, did their own thing and responded to local communities in their own way. Then along came the AOC and lobbied and lobbied, and now we have all these changes. Are you the prime instigator of the changes?

<Julian Gravatt:> No, I think that the AOC fairly represents the views of its member colleges. In the past decade, colleges have transformed themselves and have improved their quality and success rates, but, at the same time, there has been a degree of second-guessing and interference from the LSC that is not necessary given that the sector is more mature. We have been arguing on behalf of our members for a smaller, more strategic LSC.

On raising the participation age, we have accepted the arguments for making sure that every young person counts and that the system is refocused to cover all young people, so that they all have a good chance in life. That will inevitably require a reconsideration of the system.

 

Q<4> <Chairman:> So, the majority of your members said to you, "We don't like this independent status we have. We want to go back under the auspices and control of local authorities." Is that what they have consistently said?

<Julian Gravatt:> No. They have consistently said that they do like having independent status.

 

Q<5> <Chairman:> But you are not going to have it. You have lobbied for a slimmer, more strategic LSC, but you have got something very different and you are going to lose your independence.

<Julian Gravatt:> In a sense, we represent the views of our member colleges-

 

Q<6> <Chairman:> In all the visits that I have done over the years that I have chaired this Committee, not one college principal has said to me, "We don't like being on our own. We want to be under local authority control again." If I were a member of your association I would cash in my chips pretty quickly and look for someone else to represent me.

<Julian Gravatt:> But in the 400 days since the White Paper was published and the decision was taken to give local government more of a role, we have argued for the independence and autonomy of colleges to be preserved so that they can continue to make their own decisions.

 

Q<7> <Chairman:> But you know that will not be the case. The Government have clearly stated their intention to put you back under the control of local authorities, which will give you your funding again.

<Julian Gravatt:> Within a national funding system in which the ability of governing bodies and principals to steer the direction of their colleges-

 

Q<8> <Chairman:> And so, Julian, you now have a much better and more democratic way, do you? How are you going to deal with sub-regional partnerships? You campaigned for sub-regional partnerships.

<Julian Gravatt:> We did not campaign for transferring funding through local government. As Sid said, we understand that local authorities have a natural role in representing local communities and that colleges need to respond to that.

<Chairman:> We would all agree with that.

<Julian Gravatt:> The issues with sub-regional partnerships are slightly different because in some parts of the country local authorities are large and are effectively self-contained communities. There is then less need to do things at a sub-regional level. However, in places like London or Manchester where the boundaries are tight and young people travel across them, there is a natural case for things to be done at sub-regional or even regional levels.

 

Q<9> <Chairman:> Yes. David, what is your view on this? Were you campaigning? Were you saying to the Association of Colleges, "Come on, this is dreadful. We want to change this"? Is this the change that you hoped and aspired to get?

<David Croll:> In my opening statement I said that I will attempt to reflect what the majority of principals feel. I support your view, Chairman. The majority of principals do not want to lose the independent status that they gained at incorporation in 1993. At this stage, we do not see funding being rerouted through sub-regional partnerships or the collaborative arrangements of local authorities as a loss of our independence.

Colleges are far more than just training and education providers. They are deeply routed in their communities. We see this move as part of the Government's drive to strengthen communities. Given their successes over the last decade, with the success rates in many colleges going from below 50% to the current average of about 75%, we believe that colleges could be a powerful catalyst to put among the post-16 provisions.

 

Q<10> <Chairman:> So the Secretary of State looked at how well you were doing and said, "I can't have this. I'm going to shake it all up again to see what happens."

<David Croll:> Could you repeat that?

<Chairman:> Despite all of you complaining about the Learning and Skills Council, you did rather well under that framework.

<David Croll:> My main comment, as principal of the 10th largest college in the country, is that over the last eight years a strong partnership has developed between us and the LSC. I can only reflect to you the strength of the relationship at ground level. Our relationship with the east midlands learning and skills council is extremely good. It has highly knowledgeable and supportive staff and the relationship is a partnership.

 

Q<11> <Chairman:> Now you are going to have partnerships with all sorts of interesting people, are you not?

<David Croll:> Yes.

 

Q<12> <Chairman:> With apprentices, the new skills funding body, your local authority and the sub-regional partnerships. Who do you think you are going to be talking to in the sub-regional partnerships? Who will be the boss of that?

<David Croll:> There is a lot of detail that we have to work through on that. In preparation for the Committee, I have had conversations with senior officers and politicians in the city and the county. There was a strong consensus between the two in support of what Derby College is doing.

An interesting view from the county council was that it did not matter where the students received their learning, as long as it was of the highest quality. Derby College sits in the city, but we also have a campus just outside the city. The relationship with Derbyshire county council goes back to pre-incorporation days. Across the country there was wide-scale tertiary reorganisation of further education in the 1980s. The relationship between us and local authorities has been strong over the last decade or so, even with the LSC being there. Historically it was a very strong relationship too. We do not want to give up our incorporated status. Derby College in a sense is a 50 million business with 25,000 learners. In that sense it is self-determining in the directions it takes. What we are looking at and what we are prepared to engage with is the strategic dialogue that can take place between large FE colleges and local authorities.

 

Q<13> <Chairman:> Most of us think that you have been a success story. The data undoubtedly shows that. What worries us is that at a time of great change in the whole sector, the extension of the education and learning age to 18 and the introduction of the new diplomas, certain people might argue for a bit of stability in other things while all those changes are taking place. On the other hand, you might say that you should totally reposition yourself in order underpin the changes. What is your view, Sid?

<Sid Hughes:> If I thought that the AOC was that powerful in bringing about those changes I would be utterly amazed. The introduction of the machinery of government took us all by surprise. There is a will from somewhere else that may be responsible.

 

Q<14> <Chairman:> Where do you think it was? You are a pretty wise bunch. Who do you think originally said, "I think we are going to do this" or "What about doing this, Minister?" Who do you reckon said it? Oh, Julian knows.

<Julian Gravatt:> Sir Michael Lyons's report made a strong case for local government having a stronger role in shaping the places. That has fed through into these changes. The decision was made perhaps before some of the implications for the wider educational system were considered. That is what has been happening in the last year.

 

Q<15> <Chairman:> I cannot remember which Lyons it was. Was it the same one who said that lots of civil servants should come out of London and the south-east? I have lost civil servants in Huddersfield. I have not had one since the Lyons report.

<Sid Hughes:> Coming back to what we have had before, relationships between different colleges in different areas with their LSCs, as with the Further Education Funding Council, varied considerably. There were things around the way that the LSC had been delivering its business in recent years which was causing frustration for people. We had our budgets delivered very late. There was not an awful lot of local responsiveness. Our relationship with the LSC was fundamentally sound, as it was with the FEFC. You deal with those arrangements as you see fit. We were well served by our local officers. When you go around the patch there are a lot of colleges and there was a fair amount of discontent that some things were not moving fast enough.

 

Q<16> <Chairman:> So you embrace all these changes?

<Sid Hughes:> Not entirely. Some 80% of my young people come from my borough. We are a locally based sixth-form college, and we work with our local FE college and the local authority to deliver in a strategic way across that provision. What worries me is that that partnership may break down. An FE college is organised in a slightly different way from a sixth-form college, which will be part of local authority. We would still want to have autonomous status. We are an incorporated college and we benefit from that. But there are real advantages to a local response. The purpose of the LSC was to bring about a local response to local issues. That is probably not what has been achieved, given the other pressures.

 

Q<17> <Chairman:> The Government got rid of the local LSCs quite quickly, did they not?

<Sid Hughes:> They did. One of the things that we lost was a direct relationship. We had a relationship with our local LSC, but one always felt that it was a postal service with decisions being made at the centre. It is difficult to engage in a conversation with the centre.

<Chairman:> Okay. Let us drill down. John, you are in charge.

 

Q<18> <Mr. Heppell:> I think that you have probably answered what was going to be my first question, but I will put it again because I am fairly certain that I know the views of the Chairman, but I am not sure that I know your views. What was wrong with the LSC? I seem to be getting conflicting messages. One moment you are saying, "Oh, we had a great relationship with them and it all worked well", but your comments at the end, Sid, were the opposite of that. What were the real problems? How do you think that it had operated to date? Were the changes really necessary? I get confused; FE seems to roll on and have new changes every few years. I remember in the early 1980s, sitting on the further education sub-committee when I was a local councillor and by the end of the 1980s that same Mick Lyons was the chief executive of that council. It has changed at such a pace since then that I cannot keep track. What was wrong with the LSC and are these things really necessary?

<David Croll:> Can I just pick up on what Sid said? As a college principal, I am not going to sit here and say that everything about the funding council and the planning council is absolutely correct. The problems with late allocations are of serious concern to colleges. Our financial year runs from 1 August, and it was only last week that we received the final allocation. Therefore, for Derby College we have to shift about 3 million of funding next year to deliver employer engagement, with only three weeks' notice of how that shift will take place. It is extremely difficult to manage that transfer of resources strategically from one part of the organisation to another in that time.

I also feel that the LSC lacks the transparency of its predecessor organisation, the Further Education Funding Council for England. When allocations were given you could see the spreadsheet and see the allocations for each institution. At the moment, we know what our allocation is, but we do not know what other colleges and other providers get.

The fundamental question about what is wrong with the LSC is, in a sense, at a much higher level than I feel able to answer as a principal of a college. It is more to do with the machinery of government changes. The largest quango that ever existed is sitting between two Departments, and I think that that drives the agenda rather than anything else. The split with the Young People's Learning Agency and the Skills Funding Agency is a political decision that is, in a sense, top-down as opposed to bottom-up. You are right to say that FE colleges respond to changes; every two to three years there is a major change and we respond. That is not the case with the university sector. To a degree, the whole-scale change is not the same with the schools sector. There is something about further education that means that it tends, sometimes, to be moved around like a political football and it may not have stability.

<Julian Gravatt:> I agree with what David said. I would just add that the Learning and Skills Council has been very successful in terms of meeting every target that has ever been set for it. It has been terribly responsive to what central Government have required from it, even when those requirements have changed. The problem is that that has sometimes meant that it is not particularly responsive to local issues. It has not particularly been allowed to be, hence the pressure for change.

Its size is the second point. A year ago, we did some work to compare the Learning and Skills Council's size with that of the comparable body on Scotland, and, per head of population for the budget, the Learning and Skills Council is almost twice as large as the funding council in Scotland; you have to ask why. We have been pressing for a continuation of a national funding body, but a smaller one, hence some of our reservations about the way that funding will now transfer in a much more complicated way.

<Sid Hughes:> I think that some of the frustrations of Government have to find a channel to be directed into. There are issues to do with the engagement of young people in learning, their achievement at 17 and the delivery of the skills agenda. The Learning and Skills Council is the Government agency for delivering post-16 education, so if it was felt that the country was not moving quickly enough on those issues, the LSC was seen as one of the reasons. I think that there is something about being caught in the middle of all that; the LSC is in that position. If those concerns exist, someone has to address them, and maybe something like that has gone on.

As a sixth-form college principal, I know that there are issues relating to local responsiveness and whether we can have a proper dialogue with the LSC, and we have had phenomenal difficulties with the release of capital funding. I have spent 7 million or 8 million on capital projects over the past few years, but have received only 200,000 in all that time from the LSC. There are frustrations about the LSC not moving quickly enough to equalise the budgets from schools and colleges and the amount of money attached to a young person. There is a whole host of things and the LSC is caught in the middle, so I guess that the concern is not only that we might think that something is wrong with the LSC. For me the relationship was fine, but there are still issues that are not being addressed.

 

Q<19> <Mr. Heppell:> How useful is the consultation for you now? I raise that point because all of the shadow bodies seem to have been lined up, and it seems that that does not give you a great deal of wriggle room if you do not like the proposals. Is the Government's consultation really meaningful?

<Sid Hughes:> There has been a fair degree of consultation, and I guess that I am not the only person who attended several large consultation meetings. The concern, however, is that the decisions appear to have been taken in advance of the consultation. We are now trying to work out the supply lines. We have invaded Russia and are now building the supply lines-obviously not us, but Napoleon. The supply lines are being worked out behind us, and that seems to be a concern. We already know that some of the remodelling of the learning and skills councils in local authorities is about to take place. Indeed, that is already happening. So, is it genuine consultation or a fait accompli, the detail of which we are now having to deal with?

<Julian Gravatt:> Effectively, it was decided at the end of June that funding would be routed through local authorities, and it was decided in July that that would happen in 2010. So, effectively, the consultation has been about the details, and I suppose the issue about shadow arrangements being created now is that there are only 600 days left until those arrangements are in place. If this is definitely the direction in which the Government wish to continue, based on the results of the consultation, they have to act now.

 

Q<20> <Mr. Heppell:> Do you want to add anything further?

<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.

 

Q<21> <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 complexities?

<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.

 

Q<22> <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 and funding.

 

Q<23> <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.

 

Q<24> <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, academies-supposedly-and thus the choice of parents and pupils.

Your sector has been very successful-not 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.

 

Q<25> <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 tune.

 

Q<26> <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 in-sitting around the table and entering into that strategic dialogue-is 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.

 

Q<27> <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 authorities-I know you referred to them as the dead hand-are 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.

 

Q<28> <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.

 

Q<29> <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.

 

Q<30> <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.

 

Q<31> <Mr. Stuart:> On the separation of funding between 14 to 19-year-olds and adults, what will the consequences be?

<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 pots-16 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.

 

Q<32> <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 this-strange 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 layers-hence 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.

 

Q<33> <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.

 

 

Q<34> <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 were-10% of 16 to 18-year-olds are NEETs.

<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.

 

Q<35> <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-to-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-to-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.

 

Q<36> <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-to-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.

 

Q<37> <Mr. Chaytor:> Do you think that the new system is generally more or less complex than that which it replaced?

<Julian Gravatt:> I think that it is more complicated. It is like the break-up of British Rail.

 

Q<38> <Mr. Chaytor:> The equivalent of the privatisation of British Rail?

<Julian Gravatt:> In terms of breaking up one big agency into multiple agencies.

 

Q<39> <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.

 

Q<40> <Mr. Chaytor:> So, the colleges are the train operating companies and the various agencies are the rolling stock?

<Julian Gravatt:> I made a broad analogy.

 

Q<41> <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 chose from really good information-at 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.

 

Q<42> <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 colleges-particularly the colleges-which have a more difficult student intake and where turnover and drop-out are faster? Is there anything in here that will deal with that problem?

<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.

 

Q<43> <Mr. Chaytor:> My final question is about the issue of proliferation of providers of 14-to-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.

 

Q<44> <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.

 

Q<45> <Chairman:> Graham has a quick question on diplomas.

 

Q<46> <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 Sinfin-a secondary school in the city that is delivering level 1 to 14 to 16-year-olds-on 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.

 

Q<47> <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 sadness-this goes back to Tomlinson-is that I believed we had a far superior way forward, but compromise was made at the time, when A-levels were separated out.

 

Q<48> <Chairman:> Thank you for that. If there is anything that you desperately want to tell the Committee-if you think we have been remiss and have not asked you the right questions-you have a couple of minutes before we change the cast.

<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 will be.

 

Q<49> <Chairman:> But in a lot of colleges-particularly the sort that David is principal of-adult 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 college.

<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.

 

Q<50> <Chairman:> But you are a sixth-form college.

<Sid Hughes:> Yes.

 

Q<51> <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 as possible.

 

Q<52> <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-to-19 area, and David has just described work on the engineering diploma.

 

Q<53> <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-to-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 make-this is where the complexity is and where it could go terribly wrong-is that if we look at the spread of the 16-to-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.

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Caroline Abrahams, Programme Director for Children and Young People, Local Government Association, Chris Heaume, Chief Executive Officer, Central London Connexions, Councillor Les Lawrence, Chair of the Children and Young People's Board, and Rob Wye, Director, Young People's Learning and Skills Group, Learning and Skills Council, gave evidence.

 

<Chairman:> I welcome Caroline Abrahams, the programme director for children and young people in the Local Government Association, Councillor Les Lawrence, the chair of the children and young people board at the LGA, Chris Heaume, the chief executive of central London Connexions, and Rob Wye, the director of the young people's learning and skills group at the Learning and Skills Council. Thank you for being with us.

We understand that the chief executive of the LSC could not be with us because it is his annual holiday. We are happy that Rob Wye will represent him. People do deserve holidays. If he is in charge of testing, he might have to be called back, but if he is not he will be all right.

This will be quite a fast and furious sitting. We have a lot of questions for you. As we have a large panel, I suggest that we go straight into questions. We have your CVs and know that you are the right people to have before us. I ask Douglas to start the questioning on the need for reform.

 

Q<54> <Mr. Carswell:> My first question is to Mr. Wye. Why separate the 16 to 19 and adult functions of the Learning and Skills Council?

<Rob Wye:> That is not a matter that the Learning and Skills Council had a decision in. The decision was taken by the Government. As was said by the previous group of witnesses, it was a natural consequence of the creation of the two Departments-the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. They have their own delivery arrangements for their responsibilities.

The argument around young people has to relate to raising the participation age. If you are giving local authorities a responsibility to ensure that there is an opportunity for every young person up to the age of 19, it makes sense for the services to come through the local authorities. On the adult side, we are already moving to a more demand-led world, which is different from the more planned world of education up to the age of 19. The approach is therefore already different for 16 to 19-year-olds and for over-19s. The two could be dealt with through a single organisation such as the LSC, but the decision was taken to deal with them through new arrangements. We are working to put those into effect.

 

Q<55> <Mr. Carswell:> So quite a lot of it was in response to a Whitehall-driven process?

<Rob Wye:> Yes.

 

Q<56> <Mr. Carswell:> Do local authorities have the capacity and the ability to take on some of the responsibilities that have been set out for them?

<Rob Wye:> We need to work with them. From colleagues here, it is clear that they recognise that there is a need to develop their capacity. This is not an area that they have been responsible for since 1992. This move builds on a changing world for local authorities, in which they are in the business of commissioning a wide range of services. This is an addition to an approach that they are familiar with. They will need the expertise and resource that currently lies in the LSC, which looks after the arrangements for 16 to 19-year-olds.

 

Q<57> <Mr. Carswell:> Caroline, from an LGA perspective, do you think that local authorities have the ability to do this?

<Caroline Abrahams:> We certainly have the ability. We do not currently have the capacity because the specific skill sets for commissioning for this age group are currently in the LSC.

As Rob said, local authorities are in the business of commissioning children's services across the piece. From our point of view, one of the great advantages for young people of the transfer is that it ends an anomaly whereby lead members for children like Les and directors of children's services are accountable for the outcomes of all young people up to the age of 18 in their area, but do not have the commissioning responsibility for this age group. It brings more strongly into alignment the capacity for local authorities to be held to account for the outcomes of those young people.

 

Q<58> <Mr. Carswell:> I have one final question before I hand over to someone else who might want to ask a bit more about the need for reform. Giving local authorities responsibilities has often been justified in terms of localism and local accountability. Surely a better system of local accountability than giving power to local authorities would be to allow the institutions to be totally free-standing, totally independent and free from both LSC and local authority control, and allow them, through a new mechanism, to answer directly to people who might wish to study at them?

For example-people sometimes smile when I say this, but it is a serious point-my local supermarket does not answer to the local council. It answers to those people who wish to buy food. That is why it is pretty good at doing that. Surely colleges should answer to those who might want to study at them? Local authorities are very imperfect as a mechanism of local accountability. Some voters might happen to be parents who might happen to have children of sixth-form age. Why not have a more immediate form of accountability to the end user and get local authorities and the LSC out of the picture entirely?

<Rob Wye:> You are absolutely right that providers, colleges and schools, need to be responsive to learners and their parents and learners who go directly to those institutions. That demand-led approach is absolutely where the LSC is moving to. I think the local authorities will endorse that sort of approach. The difference between 16 to 19 and 19-plus is that there will be a responsibility to meet the needs of all young people. Somebody has to ensure that there is a place for every young person who wants to take that place up. If you leave it entirely to the market, it does not ensure that everybody has that opportunity. If you leave it entirely to Tesco it does not mean that everybody can be fed by Tesco.

<Cllr Lawrence:> I think that Douglas uses an unfortunate analogy. Most people go to the supermarket on a weekly basis just to meet their immediate needs. We are talking about the needs of young people in relation to their future direction in life in employment terms and in terms of the skills framework within local communities. Depending on the nature of those skills, they become the generators of the economic activity within a locality. We are not talking about something on a week-by-week basis. A youngster going to college to study may initially do a one or two-year course. That leads to other courses and, as Rob quite rightly said, we are talking about a demand-led process based on need. That need is governed by a series of factors that are not on the basis of a short-term requirement to meet the needs of the locality in which those young people live.

The food analogy is inappropriate because if you go to Tesco you have a series of different qualitative products. People choose them on the basis of their own economic ability to do so. That is not how a young person should choose a college course. The analogy is that a college says, "That course costs 50, that one costs 40 and that costs 30. They have a different level of qualitative component." This is about ensuring that there is a level playing field in terms of the quality of the outcomes and access based on need.

When you get into what I call the really specific support needs of the vulnerable groups and those who are NEET or at risk of becoming NEET, those who have learning difficulties, those who have physical disabilities and those with special educational needs, you need a framework so that those youngsters, who often come from the most vulnerable and challenged circumstances, can be supported and have exactly the same opportunities as all other youngsters who do not face those challenges.

 

Q<59> <Mr. Carswell:> Just one final point: would you not argue, as a good Conservative councillor, that one of the factors in the failure of the inclusion policy for children and young people with special educational needs is precisely the fact that they do not have any consumer choice as to where they are sent? They are forced into taking the sort of education that their local education authority decides to provide for them. If only they had that sort of consumer choice, which you deride, they might not face some of the problems that they face now.

 

Q<60> <Chairman:> I do not think that Councillor Lawrence was deriding anything.

<Cllr Lawrence:> I am going to be very parochial, if I may. In the city of Birmingham, the premier city in the land, we have just undertaken the most significant piece of work in relation to all youngsters with special educational needs, which has involved very detailed consultation with parents and the youngsters themselves, as well as all the providers, so that we are able to provide a strategic framework for special educational needs provision within the city that actually meets the needs of those you would call the consumers.

It has been done on a collective basis-on a very inclusive basis-and when you listen, especially to the young people themselves, talking about the nature of the facilities, the access and the funding to support that provision, you begin to see that you cannot do it on a pick-and-mix basis that is left to a free-for-all. It has to have an element of planning, but what you do within that is allow the degree of access that best meets the needs of those youngsters, together with their parents, in the localities that they live in. That, I think, is the best way of doing it. Yes, you must have a degree of freedom, but at the same time you must have a structure that allows everyone the same opportunity to access the provision that is available.

<Chairman:> Chris Heaume, you wanted to come in.

<Chris Heaume:> I think that young people currently do have choice. They choose from a wide range of institutions. The danger of the proposals that we are looking at is that such localisation might start to limit that choice. Currently young people, especially in urban areas, are very mobile in the way they seek learning post-16-and pre-16. We have in London 45% mobility from their borough of residence to where they are studying. That is incredible mobility.

If we move down to very localised planning, we are likely to lose that range of choice. If we are to have a skills economy that has got young people skilled to the levels they need and excited by how they are trying to drive things forward for themselves and where they are working, we need them to have that type of challenge to the way they look at their options, and encouragement to take them up. So I think choice is certainly available. I support the London arrangement that as a response to these proposals the local authorities want to work together and not individually in an isolated way, so that they can jointly commission that offer for London, rather than singly.

 

Q<61> <Mr. Stuart:> When commissioning provision in rural areas, how will local authorities ensure that young students do not have to travel too far?

<Caroline Abrahams:> A reasonableness test will be applied. For example, if a young person in London wants to do agricultural training, there may be one or two places in the country to do that. It will be tremendously expensive, and who knows whether that will be affordable? But, by and large, at the moment all the arrangements are being developed on the basis of travel-to-learn patterns; it is a terrible bit of jargon, but basically there are patterns whereby young people travel from one area to another for their education. That is actually becoming the determining factor for the clusters of local authorities coming together to plan and commission this kind of provision.

So I think the answer is that there is absolutely no guarantee, but everyone will have to do their best within the provision that is available, which may also of course in future get us into issues of both decommissioning and recommissioning: both getting rid of some places when they are not needed, particularly because of demographics in the shorter term, and having to recommission in response to the demands of young people but also the local labour market.

 

Q<62> <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 situation?

<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 needs-they 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-to-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 moment-to 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.

 

Q<63> <Mr. Stuart:> But anybody involved in planning in local authorities, or any form of government-I am not disrespecting what you just said-will 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 it-of 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 customer-the recipient of the service. That is what motivates local authorities these days and makes us very accountable.

 

Q<64> <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 area-including 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.

 

Q<65> <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 to 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 stands-the 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 12-we have tiny numbers that do not do that now-but 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.

 

Q<66> <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 debate 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 stage.

 

Q<67> <Mr. Stuart:> Do they need to change their proposals? The proposals as they stand are fiendishly complex.

<Caroline Abrahams:> Our preference-we have said this in our response to the White Paper-would have been not to have three national agencies. We would have preferred more synergy. Having said that-Rob knows more about this than I do-there 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.

 

Q<68> <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 system?

<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.

 

Q<69> <Annette Brooke:> Does that same comment apply to adults-by 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 line-whether it is at 14, 16, 21 or 25-there 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 as possible.

<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.

 

Q<70> <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 youngsters-those in care-whose 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.

 

Q<71> <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 person's experience.

 

Q<72> <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.

 

Q<73> <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 sector-the third sector-so 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.

 

Q<74> <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 involved.

 

Q<75> <Mr. Carswell:> Two thousand people?

<Chris Heaume:> Yes.

 

Q<76> <Mr. Carswell:> Over how long?

<Chris Heaume:> That is the gross figure that we started with and what it is now.

 

Q<77> <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 we need.

 

Q<78> <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 levels-the 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 issue-we are responsible for both.

 

Q<79> <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 board-I 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 own-there are many things going on in the 14-to-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.

 

Q<80> <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 resource?

<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.

 

Q<81> <Chairman:> But local authorities have the right not to tender and just do it in-house?

<Rob Wye:> For the Connexions service, yes.

 

Q<82> <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 benchmark-quite correctly, because English and maths are fundamental to the core competencies of young people-changed the basis on which a large number of those schools were considered.

 

Q<83> <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.

 

Q<84> <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 teams-that 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.

 

Q<85> <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.

 

Q<86> <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 local authorities?

<Caroline Abrahams:> There are three things to square off there. First is learner choice. IAG-information, advice and guidance-is 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 collecting and 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.

 

Q<87> <Mr. Chaytor:> May I ask Rob, from the Young People's Learning Agency, 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 everywhere-that 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.

 

Q<88> <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.

 

Q<89> <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.

 

Q<90> <Mr. Chaytor:> It is not exactly crystal clear where the division of responsibilities will lie, is it?

<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.

 

Q<91> <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 for intervention.

<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 just goes.

 

Q<92> <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.

 

Q<93> <Chairman:> What about apprenticeships funding?

<Rob Wye:> I cannot remember off the top of my head the apprenticeships funding figure, I am afraid.

 

Q<94> <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.

 

Q<95> <Chairman:> So it is not their own money; they will get it from the other two.

<Rob Wye:> Yes.

 

Q<96> <Chairman:> Does anybody else have any of this money, independently?

<Rob Wye:> No.

<Chairman:> Okay, that is clear.

 

Q<97> <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.

 

Q<98> <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.

 

Q<99> <Chairman:> You have been very good so far at putting a good spin on what is happening.

<Cllr Lawrence:> Spin!

 

Q<100> <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, 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 deny-we have not denied this, I think-that there are some big challenges in getting the delivery right.

 

Q<101> <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 work-certainly in my policy area at the moment-and 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.

 

Q<102> <Mr. Heppell:> A lot of the questions that I was going to ask have been partly answered, but can you tell us some of the specific ways you are working together now? The management of this transition seems pretty crucial, given that people will be 16 or 17 only once, as we said. Are we sure that the "working together" is working? Can you give me some examples of how you are working together?

<Cllr Lawrence:> I can only give you the practical response. The kind of discussion that is now taking place, which is being led not just by the local authorities, but on a collective basis, relates to the extent to which employers and young people are being engaged in skills development. It relates to what is required to meet those skills needs, to the nature of apprenticeship requirements and to how provision can feed into the economic regeneration of areas, in terms of inward investment. It relates to how that creates a link between the skills capability, the people who can be employed and the means by which you attract different types of economic activity.

More and more partnerships, informal though they have may have been in the past, are now being given a sense of direction and purpose. They are recognising that much of the work that is needed to assist in providing opportunities for young people in particular is actually taking place on the ground. In many cases, local authorities have been the leaders in that, simply because they have the mechanisms and levers to bring people together in a way that is beneficial.

<Rob Wye:> We see the institutional transition from LSC to the local authorities and the Young People's Learning Agency as something that will evolve over the next two years. It is not the case that we are running the LSC as it has been run historically until 2010, that legislation will go through and, bang, there is a change. We are already restructuring the LSC at the top level, and, progressively during the next year, we will make it look like the future arrangements in terms of the Young People's Learning Agency and supporting local authorities.

We will be planning closely with local authorities for 2009-10, as a shadow year. In planning for 2010-11, we will be planning for the year in which local authorities take on responsibility. We are working on those transitional arrangements with the LGA and the ADCS, but also with Departments and our unions. It is a very large and complex process, but we are trying to ensure that it is managed as effectively as possible.

 

Q<103> <Chairman:> A senior LSC person told me-of course, this was off the record-that morale in the LSC is at rock bottom. That is not a very good basis on which to build partnerships and buddy up with each other, as one of you just described it. Is morale in the LSC at rock bottom?

<Rob Wye:> That is not my perception, and I have been out and talked-

 

Q<104> <Chairman:> Are they all happily embracing this total instability of their careers?

<Rob Wye:> Everybody would prefer not to have change, but they are used to change in the LSC-

<Chairman:> Absolutely.

<Rob Wye:> -and see it as part of what needs to happen. I would not say people were ecstatic.

 

Q<105> <Chairman:> What about that last bit you threw in-they "see it as part of what needs to happen"? You mean there was total discontent in your work force about the way things were?

<Rob Wye:> Not at all. No. We are, and staff are generally, very proud of what we have done in terms of the LSC's drive in relation to performance 16 to 19. But they understand that changes occur. They can see that this is going to come about. Their commitment is to make sure that this is not to the detriment-indeed, that it is to the benefit-of young people, learners and adults.

 

Q<106> <Chairman:> The gentleman from the Association of Colleges said they wanted to be on the same scale, in proportion to the Scottish system, so half your members are going to lose their jobs, are they not?

<Rob Wye:> The scale and the nature of the new arrangements is still in discussion. I cannot answer that.

 

Q<107> <Chairman:> That must be the intention.

<Rob Wye:> The only assessment we have got of that was in the impact assessment that came out with the document, which implied that the broad shape and scale of what was required for the future was the same as what was required now.

 

Q<108> <Chairman:> So you will have the same number of people and the same budget?

<Rob Wye:> Well, it is already subject to Gershon pressures, so it will be going down anyway.

 

Q<109> <Mr. Heppell:> You are in a state of flux, everything seems to be changing, and we are getting shadow bodies set up. What is the point of a consultation process if we are doing all these things before that is finished?

<Rob Wye:> Well, that is really a matter for the Departments, but the consultation document was described to me as "a White Paper with green edges"-in other words, it was announcing, "This is going to happen, but there are some aspects of how it is going to happen that we would like your views on." That is the nature of the consultation.

<Caroline Abrahams:> And the reality is that, as you have identified, there are lots of bits of policy not yet bottomed out. That is why Rob and I spend a lot of our time with Julian and various others in the DCSF, mostly-sometimes with DIUS colleagues as well-sitting down and trying to work out the detail of how this is going to work in practice.

 

Q<110> <Chairman:> Is it any way to run the system?

<Caroline Abrahams:> I am sorry?

<Chairman:> There is all this uncertainty. With the best will in the world it seems, even from the evidence we have had this morning, that this is a worrying situation for a very important sector of our educational effort.

<Caroline Abrahams:> Well, it is a lot of work going on for us. I am not sure if a young person in a local authority has noticed any difference. It is our commitment, I think, across the agencies, to ensure that the LSC and colleges and so forth are able to deliver during this period. People like us nationally are spending lots of time thinking about it, but so far I think it would be fair to say it has not impacted-it is very important that it does not-on the quality of service that young people receive.

 

Q<111> <Chairman:> But we are politicians and we have constituencies. When we go back to our constituencies people do not just think it is all happening "up there". They are very worried. A lot of people who have done a great deal of good work in the FE sector are very worried about their futures and whether these changes are the right changes and will improve further education, rather than doing the opposite.

<Caroline Abrahams:> I understand that, but I think it is fair to reflect that I have been in numerous conferences, events and seminars in the last few months. The conversation always goes the same way. It starts with college principals expressing serious concern about the impact of the changes and whether they are rowing back and turning the clock to how it was before. They think they are going to lose their autonomy, and local authorities will come in and top-slice their budgets and will not treat them fairly. Then what tends to happen, particularly if there is a small group discussion, is that they sit down with people from a range of positions within local authorities and have a discussion, and they find a way through it. I have seen this happen on a number of occasions now, and I think it is fair to say Rob has as well.

The best example recently was the London Councils conference on this, which had some fantastic colleges doing a great job, which expressed all these concerns. Then I sat on the table and watched them have the conversation. By the end of an hour they had found a way they thought they could work together, and it was not going to be as bad as they thought. But this shows the importance of building relationships over the next period of time.

 

Q<112> <Mr. Heppell:> In some respects colleges have always had to respond to change. I suppose local government has as well. I was involved with FE back in the early 1980s. Then it was almost a case of being cut off from it and trying to get involved again now. That is surely the position that local authorities are in. They have lost most of their expertise-the people I used to deal with in FE colleges. It has gone because we have had this gap. Will local authorities be able to pick up that responsibility again? Are they being given enough time to adapt, to pick up that responsibility again under these proposals?

<Cllr Lawrence:> They certainly have the ability to pick up the responsibility. You imply that there had been a total separation between the local authorities and the FE sector within each and every locality. Actually, you will be amazed at the amount of ongoing work that has been continuing between local authorities, schools and colleges, simply because if it did not continue, it would not have been possible to create the seamless paths for young people in the way that has been achieved.

What does need to be given time-which is why we have to get the planning right, and why Caroline, Rob and others are having discussions with the Department to get it right-is the nature of the structural aspect of the change. We-that is, my lead member colleagues in local authorities and I-have to ensure that, for the young people who are the recipients of the courses and the skills processes, it is, to all intents and purposes, seamless. At the end of the day, they should not see an interruption in their opportunities to access whatever course they need to a quality to ensure that they can develop their potential and their opportunities. That, to me, is a guiding principle.

 

Q<113> <Mr. Chaytor:> I just want to pick up on John's question about the validity of the consultation, given that the shadow structures have been put in place. The questions in the consultation are not all about detail. One of them is, "Do you agree with the proposal to create a new skills funding agency?" Those are substantial questions about the key building blocks of the new structure. If 100% of people had responded that they were opposed to the new skills funding agency, what would have happened?

<Rob Wye:> I have two comments on that. First, the consultation period is now finished. The response will be published in July. We will know what people said shortly. All the work that has been done so far has been to think through how we could create those shadow structures. We have not put them in place yet. It was sensible pre-planning to think about how we would put it in place, assuming that it goes ahead. The indications are that it will.

 

Q<114> <Mr. Chaytor:> But the work has been done on the assumption of a certain outcome to the consultation?

<Rob Wye:> Yes.

<Chairman:> I think that is a good note on which to finish. It has been a very good and useful session. It has really educated us to what is going on and who is doing what. Thank you very much Caroline, Les, Chris and Rob. If there are things that you think we missed, please contact us. Thank you.