Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
DORKING CH, RT
BLUNKETT MP, RT
CLARKE MP AND
8 MARCH 2010
Q40 Mr Stuart: My crude proxy,
though, is the number of NEETs. Even before we got to the credit
crunch, the number of people who were left without employment,
education or training was unchanged, and of course it is now higher
than it was in 1997. It seems to me that with a Labour Government
who genuinely committed resources in a bid to tackle disadvantageto
close the gap and ensure that opportunity was there for all, and
not just for those in the leafy suburbsif that NEETs number
is correct, it does not look like change for those at the bottom
has been delivered.
Mr Blunkett: That would be true,
except that nobody over the age of 16 has experienced any of the
changes that Charles, Estelle and I brought in.
Baroness Morris: I think that
it is immeasurably better. I am not complacent and I too could
pick out things that we could have done better, and the statistics
do not show the improvement that we would have hoped for. However,
to add to what David has said, at the end of the day everything
has to be judged by the improvement in teacher quality in the
classroom. Nothing else will actually bring about transformation,
or whatever word you want to use. The teacher matters and I think
that so many of our policies supported that, from the National
College for School Leadership to the national professional qualification
for headship and professional development for teachers. For me,
the biggest change is that when you go into schools nowI
left teaching in 1992teachers talk about teaching and learning.
They have a language and a structure so that they can talk about
their jobs, which is utterly transformed from when I left teaching
in 1992. All the initiatives that have brought that about, from
literacy and numeracy initiatives onwards, have done that, I think.
I would just throw back two statistics: the fact that London,
with all the problems we know London has, is now the highest-achieving
region for 16-year-olds with five GCSEs, including English and
maths, and the fact that Tower Hamlets is the most improved local
authority. Something in those statistics tells us that we have
delivered for children from less affluent backgrounds too. If
we had not done so, those statistics would not be true. If I was
you and if I was challenging somebody from a different political
party, of course I could find statistics to use. But do I sleep
easy at night, thinking that the time that I spent in the Departmentseven
years, or whateverwas well spent and did improvements happen?
Yes, it was well spent, and there is improvement. I defy anybody
to go into most of our schools and not feel and sense the utter
professionalism and higher-quality teaching and school leadership
that is there.
Q41 Chair: So it's not just money,
it is a change in the culture of the school.
Baroness Morris: Absolutely. When
I taught, there was no professional development. To be honestI'm
going to talk about myself, Paul, and not about youthe
staff room conversations weren't about pedagogy. They were about
kids, they weren't about pedagogy and there is a bit of a difference.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, just the sheer professionalism of
teachers has improved, although I know there are still some who
are not good enough. Charles was absolutely right: professional
development needs to be at the centre of what we do, but I'm with
David on thisI'm old-school Labour on this. It is standards
not structures, and if ever we've gone wrong over the past 13
years, it was when we started to believe again that it was about
structures not standards. I do believe that standards are higher
now because professionalism is higher.
Q42 Chair: Shall we peep into
Mr Clarke: There are pluses and
minuses. For the pluses, I agree with everything that David and
Estelle have said about quality. Secondly, the fabric of schools,
the investment in schools and what has actually taken place is
enormousa lot of money. The number of people working in
schoolsteaching assistantsand the number of teachers
helping students significantly transforms the actual environment.
I'm glad that Estelle mentioned London. When I lived in the London
borough of Hackney, there were real questions about which secondary
schools were any good in the borough of Hackney; now we have a
multiplicity of choice, which is incredible. The London initiative
has been extraordinary. The higher proportion of people going
to university, and the higher proportion of people from poorer
backgrounds going to university is completely different, as is
the relationship and the quality of education for children with
special educational needs, which is much greater. Standards generally,
as David statistically illustrates, are going up right across
the range. That is a fantastic record that I would defend with
absolute strength. Anybody who tries to knock it back is seriously
mistaken. Things we didn't do that we should have done are the
minuses. I have mentioned already Tomlinson, 14-19we should
have done that and didn't do it. In big terms, we have done nothing
like enough to change the relationship, particularly after age
14, between work and education. There is a set of issuesa
big agenda that has to be looked at. Thirdly, there is a bit of
an improvement for parents, but nothing like as much as we could
have and should have done. That is a big thing that we could have
led on. Estelle is right about teaching quality, but I would have
liked to see far more on subject-led teaching and all the aspects
I talked about there. The final point is on NEETs. The social
exclusion unit was a big, big aspect of Labour, right from the
very beginning. It went to schools, it went to housing and to
many, many different aspects. We have to say that we were right
to go for it, but the problems in fighting social exclusion have
been more intractable than I certainly expected. I would have
expected over a 10 to 13-year period that we would have done better.
I think we have done fantastically well in many ways, and there
have been big improvements, but there are still important socially
excluded groups, and the NEETs are an example. We have to ask
ourselvesit is not a question of us not putting enough
money inwhether we did the right things and could have
done it better. If I was in your position, Graham, I'd be saying,
"Okay, you didn't do as well on the NEETs as you needed to,
what are the policies that now need to be donewhether those
are IDS policies or whateverfor the whole thing?"
That is a good discussion to have. However, do not say that the
whole panoply of enormous achievements and transformation has
not been very important on that one basis.
Chair: I think we ought to give Lord
Baker a view on this.
Lord Baker: Even with the prospect
of an election only a few days away, I wouldn't dissent roughly
from what has been said. I think I was very grateful in 1997 that
an incoming Labour Government broadly accepted the changes that
were in place. The initial reaction in the 1980s was to virtually
vote against everything I did. They changed their views, and I
think that was a good idea and was for the better. I applauded
very much the initiative that David took on literacy and numeracy;
I thought it was very imaginative, and I think there have been
improvements. There is no question about that. I think we have
to recognise that the sheer difficulty of teaching young children
today is much greater than it was 20 years ago. The collapse of
parental authority has changed things, and the relationship of
the pupils to teachers is different. The demands that are made
on teachers now are infinitely greater in terms of managing their
classes than when I was at school, or even when I was Secretary
of State for Education. That should be recognised. It is a very
difficult task. I welcome what has been said about the quality
of teaching. The great opportunity in the recession is to attract
into the teaching profession people of higher scholastic attainment,
which I think will be very, very important indeed. I would only
say this: when you are talking about what's gone wrong in the
English education system, focus on those years 12-14. That is
when most goes wrong in education. That is when youngsters at
the local comprehensive are totally fed up with what the school
is doing, they do not think it is relevant or interesting and
they want to leave. That is why I think that Tomlinson 14-19 is
the answer to a lot of our problems. If youngsters can be given
motivation to stay on at school and learn somethingtraining
and skills, as well as academic subjectsfrom 14, a lot
of the problems with secondary education will disappear, because
you improve the quality in the schools they leave. They will have
huge improvements in GCSE at 16 when they leave their schools
and you will give them quality training and education, supported
by a university. You will have a transformation in our society.
Q43 Mr Stuart: Could I follow
up on that point, Lord Baker? I wonder about creating another
artificial line at 19. A lot of people, perhaps particularly those
who haven't done very well at school up to the age of 16, need
a longer period. When we visited Holland recently looking at NEETs,
we found that there were a lot of programmes from 16-20. Is there
a danger that in some sense we need to look holistically all the
way into modern adulthood, which is probably not 19, but is probably
more into the 20s?
Lord Baker: Let's get 14-19 established
first. One step at a time. You are not only speaking to four former
Secretaries of State for Education but also to three former Home
Secretaries. I think that I may say on behalf of us all that we
all found the job of Secretary of State for Education infinitely
more interesting and rewarding than the job of Home Secretary.
A Home Secretary can't change muchit's too big a boat to
turn round. Every night when you put your head on your pillow,
you hope that one of the people you are responsible for isn't
going to destroy your career. That is the position. Being Home
Secretary is not a creative job. Secretary of State for Education
is creative; you can actually change things for the better and
see some results. Do I speak for all of us in that?
Mr Blunkett: You do indeed.
Mr Clarke: Not in my case, no.
I am more optimistic about the capacity of the Home Secretary
to change things than you are, but maybe that is naive optimism.
Chair: Members of the Committee would
love to ask more questions. I think they will be very frustrated,
but we promised you 7 o'clock at the latest. We had a Division
and have gone on a little bit longer than that, but I found it,
and I am sure the rest of our team found it, absolutely fascinating.
Mr Blunkett: Thank you very much,
Chairman. There is only one problemnone of the four of
us will get another go at doing it.
Chair: You never know. Thank you very