Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 91



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Accounts Committee

on Wednesday 9 November 2011

Members present:

Margaret Hodge (Chair)

Mr Richard Bacon

Jackie Doyle-Price

Matthew Hancock

Chris Heaton-Harris

Fiona Mactaggart

Austin Mitchell

Ian Swales

Julian Wood, Director, NAO, gave evidence. Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, Marius Gallaher, Alternate Treasury Officer of Accounts, and Gabrielle Cohen, Assistant Auditor General, NAO, were in attendance.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Pearl Barnes, President, National Association for Special Educational Needs, Teresa Kelly, Principal, Abingdon and Witney College, and Andrea Lewis, Policy Adviser on Education and Skills, Disability Alliance, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Welcome. This is an innovation that we have tried at the Public Accounts Committee. Before we take evidence from accounting officers to see whether there is value for money, we like to hear a little from those at the sharp end about how they are experiencing whether or not the service is providing value for money. This is much shorter than the usual Select Committee appearances in which you may have been involved in the past. It is really an opportunity for you to tell us what is working and what is not working, particularly in this area. All of us know as constituency MPs that there are massive challenges in the transition of young people out of full-time education into whatever, and that comes out in the report. We take evidence on the basis of the report, and I hope that you have all had a chance to look at it. I am really opening it to you to tell us what you think we ought to be putting our minds to. Teresa, do you want to start?

Teresa Kelly: Thank you for inviting me here today. I welcomed the timeliness of the report given everything else that is going on in special educational needs. I shall call it that today, as so much terminology surrounds the area. We are a major provider; it is a core part of our provision at the college. It is a provision of very high value to parents and all the other stakeholders in Oxfordshire.

The key point is that, to make really good, strong provision for people who have profound and complex needs, it has to be a simplified system to encourage providers to want to take that step and to put the infrastructure in place. Unless you have the passion and the drive to work yourselves through some very complicated systems and unless you have the ability to put in place some very strong security networks for the young people, it can be off-putting for further education colleges, in particular, which might see it as a very high risk. They would not want to let the students down, and they would have to have the infrastructure in place. Having said that, in our own circumstances, I have to say that we do some very innovative stuff, and we do it in very different ways. I have never had the funding turned down for it.

Q2 Chair: Elaborate a little. What is it that is complex? What would stop people accessing? It looks to me as though the figures are pretty stark: 30% and nowhere. There is huge geographic variation.

Teresa Kelly: If you are dealing with students with profound and complex needs, the policies and the funding methodologies do not always match the needs of the students. In order to ensure that the provision is right for that student you have to go out and argue-

Q3 Chair: Give us an example.

Teresa Kelly: I have 16 students with profound learning difficulties. There is no way I am going to put those students through a group of qualifications, just in order to draw down certain funding levels at the end of the year. That would be totally meaningless for the students and for the staff, who would be very dispirited by it. We look at a very individual learning programme and, rather than try to match our students into the criteria systems that are there, we try to get the criteria systems to match what we want to do with the students. That takes time; you have to talk to people about that; I have to work that through with auditors.

Q4 Chair: How would you have more sensible outcomes? One of the other things the report says is that there is a lack of outcome data and a lack of consistency in outcome data. Clearly we want to do the best for this particular group of young people, but you also want to ensure that you and everybody else involved in their lives progresses them.

Teresa Kelly: I would argue that the outcome data that I could give you for our students are far more valuable.

Q5 Chair: What are they?

Teresa Kelly: They show how they have progressed; what they have done since they started; where they were when they started; where they were when they completed; where they are going on to; what support mechanisms the college is continuing when they follow-on; their aspirations and destinations and how they are planned; how we are working with health and adult services; what is the plan for that student.

All that is far more meaningful than my saying that the student has entry level 3 in particular subjects, because that is not what has taken the students on. What has taken the students on is how they have developed their confidence and independence, how ready they are for a more independent life, what they are going to be doing and how we are working with parents. It is all those sorts of things that do not fit into a qualification. It can be done, but it is a complex system to work round. You have got to be passionate and want to do it, and have teams that want to do it. There are many colleges that are doing it and would want to.

Q6 Chris Heaton-Harris: How do you measure your outcomes at the end? When you read the report, it looks like quite a decent picture, but you cannot say what an outcome is. Do you follow your students with special educational needs to see whether at the age of 25 they have a job? If the Chair permits, I am later going to raise some cases from my constituency. People go through the statementing process, follow through in education and might even get an apprenticeship, but then the system drops them. There are no figures for when they have got to the age of 25-after a huge amount of money has been invested from which they are expected to benefit-and then they become a statistic and long-term unemployed. Is there a way of measuring that?

Teresa Kelly: We measure them by their individual learning programme, which should be based on their initial assessment, whether that be an assessment they bring with them or, in our case, an assessment we do when they come into college.

Q7 Chair: That is totally appropriate for the individual. The problem for us, sitting here and asking if there is value for money across the whole country, between local authorities and different sets of providers, is to find a way in which to assess that and measure it, to make sense of the £600 million spent in this area.

Teresa Kelly: I was saying that is the starting point. That gives me a measure when they leave me or the college, two to four years later, to say whether we have achieved the outcome we set out to achieve at the beginning. The key is getting that outcome at the beginning right and realistic. If the outcome is right, you can make accountable all the providers that are making this provision and say, "That is the outcome that this student can achieve. At the end of two or three years, they haven’t achieved it with you. Why not?" or, "They have achieved it with you, and they have gone on to their next destination or step." If that is an apprenticeship, that would probably be followed through the college route or they would be accessing that. If it were work-some of our students do go into work and some go into sheltered work-we still provide support for three to five or six years after they have left us. We have an employment support unit that supports the students when they finish and go on to employment.

Q8 Chris Heaton-Harris: It sounds fantastic, and I have examples of very good best practice near me and I also have examples of not fantastic best practice. I was just wondering, from where you sit, how you see the picture in surrounding colleges and wider geographically. Is everyone doing roughly the same thing?

Teresa Kelly: I think there is a very, very strong provision within colleges generally-right across the college-for severe and moderate learning difficulties. I think it is very limited when it comes to profound learning difficulties and young people with complex needs, which are the very high-cost students. You need particular skills to deliver appropriate programmes to those students, and you need to invest in the right skills in order to put that in place. For severe and moderate learning difficulties, the further education sector is doing an excellent job and has done for 30 years.

Q9 Chair: How do you feel that you will survive in an environment where this is likely to be funded-looking at the Green Paper-by local authorities and where the ring fence will probably go?

Teresa Kelly: I am very nervous about that.

Q10 Chair: Nervous or excited?

Teresa Kelly: Nervous.

Q11 Chair: Because you think they will fall off the edge?

Teresa Kelly: I will give you an example of why I am nervous. I am working with an excellent authority. We have a super authority in terms of the way that we work and we have super special schools as well. We have a really strong partnership. One of the things that we do is that we run a specialist college on site for people with very complex autistic and behavioural needs, and in order for us to deliver that I partner with a specialist provider who has come in because they have the skills to do that.

When we were thinking through this concept, we thought that there is a need here. Parents want the students to be local, but we do not have the skills to deliver that. If I did not have a single agency to work that through with and develop that through, I do not think that that would have originally happened. I have now got it into my mainstream funding. But I need a single agency, and I am nervous of having a situation where, as a college, the additional support needs are funded through the authority, but the course that the students are following, which is also core, is funded through an agency. I would feel far more secure, as a principal, in that provision going forward if the same body were making the decisions about the funding, because the student does not see it as two different types of funding. It is one funding for them. But it will be splitting the course-what we are actually teaching them-from the support needs. So I might get the course fees, but I might not get the support fees. It makes it very complicated when I am dealing with parents.

Q12 Chair: Andrea, where are you from? Are you Disability Alliance?

Andrea Lewis: Disability Alliance is a small national charity, which took over the work of Skill: National Bureau for Students with Disabilities when we unfortunately closed in April. We are a membership organisation. We have a large number of FE colleges, training providers, universities, local authorities and other disability organisations who are our members, and we run a helpline information service for disabled young people, parents and people working with them. All of that provides us with quite robust evidence of what is actually happening. Some of the trends that have happened this autumn are quite interesting. The other side of our work is the policy and campaigning side.

I also welcome the report very much. To pick up on one of the issues that has already been raised, which is quite a concern of ours and has been for some time, quite often, when people are trying to think about what they can measure and what kind of outcomes are measurable in order to be able to evaluate anything-either the achievement of the young person or the success of the institution or the value for money-they think of things that are measurable. They think: "Let’s measure whether they achieve an accredited qualification." A load of qualifications are then invented in order to comply with that mechanism. Actually, for some of these young people, it is not necessarily about an accredited programme, it is about being able to judge whether that person-the plan that was originally put in place-has achieved and progressed. Sometimes you need to review it as you go along.

The good practice that happens in colleges is that an individual’s learning plan is usually reviewed half-termly or termly and sometimes more frequently. Part of that review will be reviewing how their support plan is working and making adjustments if that has not turned out to be quite right, in that setting, for that programme, for that individual. It is very person-centred. I know that that is a nightmare for people who like having boxes to tick, but whether an outcome is favourable or not for a young person is probably about whether it was what was planned and whether they have been able to progress. If they have, is it in something that is realistic for that individual, because the other type of outcomes that are frequently measured are whether they have progressed to the next up-level of course or whether they have progressed to employment? Those are the two measures that are frequently put in place.

For some of these young people, progression to the next level up is not realistic and is not their learning plan at all. It is about being able to transfer what they have learned into another setting. To be able to deal with some of the employability skills, they may work, as part of their programme, in a social enterprise in the college and gain confidence and skills in that context. The next stage for them might be to go to a supported employer outside of the college context and learn independent travel training to get there as well. Being able to transfer that learning to another setting, in educational and accreditation terms, will not take them up to the next level of course, but it is meaningful for them. It means that they are more likely to be able to get into employment in either supported or open employment. The report is excellent in indicating what a huge impact that makes on the individual, as well as on the public purse. I want to make those points about what kind of outcome is realistic for a group of young people whose needs are unique to them.

Q13 Ian Swales: You both mentioned these individual learning plans. I want to ask about how they are set. What rigour is applied and what cross-referencing happens? One of my concerns about this hearing is the extent to which one might get better provision depending on where one lives. For example, does one get a more challenging individual learning plan in one setting rather than another? Can you say how we know that those individual learning plans are both rigorous and realistic for the person concerned?

Teresa Kelly: In our case, it is about the rigour of the individual learning plan and how robust and meaningful it is. It is very easy to make it not challenging at all. The key measure for us, if I am taking a high-level response, is Ofsted. When Ofsted came in and inspected us last February-it looked specifically at our learning-difficulty provision-the inspectors spent most of their time looking at the learning plan and seeing whether it had a relationship to what that student needed. That is the quality process. It is not difficult, I think, to get that across the patch and across the country.

Q14 Ian Swales: Are you concerned that changes in the way that Ofsted approach this will mean that what you have just said will not be the case in the future?

Teresa Kelly: I am, yes.

Q15 Ian Swales: So what should happen then? What things do you think might go wrong in the future with the new Ofsted regime?

Teresa Kelly: I think that learning difficulties should be inspected as a discrete area of provision in whatever provider and that that should be inspected, as it often is, by people who really understand what learning difficulty means. I am not and I never have been comfortable with Ofsted including learning difficulties in the whole raft of foundation learning, because that is huge and learning difficulty is very, very specific. I think that the way that Ofsted inspects special schools-they have a very key focus in special schools, looking at teaching and learning-they should be doing that with all providers who are making provision and drawing down funding for students with learning difficulties. The mechanism is there; it is just the breadth and the range in school.

Q16 Chair: Let us go to Pearl, who has not had a chance. I am sure that you want to come in on other things, but can you also talk to the Committee a little about the transition? What is good? As a constituency MP, it is a nightmare, but maybe I pick up the ones who fail: I have far too many people who cannot make that transition. I am sure that there are other things you want to say, but if you could talk a little about the transition for young people from full-time compulsory education into the post-16 world.

Pearl Barnes: I am here representing Nasen, the National Association for Special Educational Needs, which is a membership organisation that nationally oversees children and younger people with all SEN and disabilities. As a membership organisation, we represent teachers, SENCOs, teachers working in specialist settings-the whole range of SEN and disability. We are coming here very much from that coal-face, so to speak, perspective of what is actually happening on the ground.

Again, the timing of the report is absolutely fundamental. It is a really good time, with the SEN Green Paper having just come out. We are looking forward, in future planning and forward planning, at what is happening at the moment and what we can do differently in the future as a result. Nasen has huge concerns over some areas. You have touched already on the huge geographical variation, which is an ongoing concern. Teresa has explained the circumstances within her area but, overseeing nationally as an organisation, we get feedback from all areas and all walks of life, shall we say. The feedback is hugely variable; it is not consistent at all. There are obviously pockets of good practice, which we can go out and look at and say, "Well, that’s working really well." But, generally speaking, it is hugely variable, which was obviously very much highlighted throughout the whole report.

Q17 Chair: What would you do about that? We have a whole trend towards localism.

Pearl Barnes: Yes, I was going to say that the feeling for us is that it will get worse-that, with everything becoming disaggregated, it will actually not be improved in some way. So what do you do about that? How do you address these issues? In a way, the SEN Green Paper came up with some solutions, so it is about looking at those solutions and how they can then work on the ground. They were not just academic studies; they actually were real solutions. For things like the core offer of provision, is that going to be a core offer of what is currently available or will it be a core offer of what is necessary and actually needed?

Q18 Mr Bacon: When you said that your feeling is that it will get worse, because everything is disaggregated, do you mean because of localism and the decrease in ring-fencing? Is that what you are saying?

Pearl Barnes: Yes, very much so, and each individual setting becoming increasingly more autonomous. There will be accountability, but less accountability to a centre, if that makes sense. How do you then track these individuals?

Q19 Mr Bacon: I understand that there are big concerns about ring-fencing, especially in times of financial retrenchment, but it is not obvious that leaving it all to the centre will produce better outcomes than devolving it to local areas. Indeed, the underlying philosophy behind localism is that local authorities will know better what is required for their people in their area than will be the case centrally.

Pearl Barnes: It is about having those measures in place to track individuals as they go through the system, as well. Teresa has talked about the ILPs that each individual has. If they are adopted nationally as a process of review, how will those children and individuals be tracked across those stretches, across those autonomous individual settings, through FE and out into the independent wide world? It is how you manage it and what structures are in place to support that. Disaggregation is not necessarily the issue; it is about having a structure in place that works with devolution and localisation.

Q20 Chair: So you have got to have the data-you have got to monitor and inspect.

Pearl Barnes: Yes.

Q21 Chris Heaton-Harris: As a good localist, I am with you and against you at the same time. In the report, you have a range of different assessments of need. Different provisions are available in each locality, and there are different outcomes and costs, depending on which institution you go to. I struggle to see how it can get worse, because it is very difficult to determine what anything-the tables, figure 8 and so on-actually means.

I would love to think that you could improve the system, which is why I shall try to keep coming back to outcomes. The reason I am very interested in this is because I am a big fan of the special Olympic movement, which involves those with learning disabilities, and I do a lot of work with them. People go through a school or college and the statementing process and so on, and a lot of money is invested in them, but at the age of 25, from my experience, they seem to be just dropped where they are. If we are going to invest all this money and put a lot of time and effort into these people, as we should, I would like to think that what we are providing them with will last them beyond the age of 25 and keep them going for a long period of time.

Pearl Barnes: I totally agree. That is the purpose of the system-it is not setting up for failure; it is setting up for children and young people to be living an independent, fulfilling adult life. That will be hugely variable, depending on the individual. Within one category of need, autism, say, or autistic spectrum conditions, you will have a huge spectrum of young people with various needs. How do you provide for those individual differences? How do you get service provision-available, accessible-for young people who are living in rural Cornwall or Dorset, where there is not a range of facility or provision on the doorstep? They do not have a choice that they can access within a sensible radius.

As you say, going into adult life, which is the purpose of this, how do we ensure that those individuals are where they really want to be? We have talked to parents as well as those in settings, and we would certainly support the notion of a designated advocate who is there to support individuals through the system at those key points of transition. We have talked about transparency and information sharing, but many parents still do not know where to go for information and do not know what the information means. So you can have all the destination data in the world, but parents might not be able to interpret it, so having someone whom they can access, who will talk them through it and explain what it means, might be the difference between successful outcomes or not, if that makes sense.

Andrea Lewis: There are a couple of things that I would like to pick up on. First, you led us to think that young people are supported to age 25 and I challenge that. Many local authorities will support for only two or three years, and that is their policy. Whatever the legislation and the duties local authorities might have, in reality, many young people are actually dumped at 19.

Pearl Barnes: Sometimes at 16.

Andrea Lewis: Well, no, not at 16 so often, although we have had a few cases. But there is a duty on local authorities to ensure appropriate provision for all young people aged 16 to 19, and in most cases, they have regard to it. But they must provide up to the age of 25 for those who have had a statement, in all probability, and a 139A-a learning difficulty assessment-on leaving school. We know through the helpline that, particularly this year, there have been a number of callers who, a few days before term started in September, were expecting to go to a particular mainstream college and had discovered that the course either was not running in the same way as they had anticipated or was not running at all. We are still supporting some of those young people to find, and encouraging their local authority to find, an appropriate source of education or training. That has come about because of the funding mechanisms that the colleges are working under. To pick up a point that Teresa made earlier, the funding mechanisms are not flexible enough for even a dedicated, high-performing college with expertise in the area. They have to be extremely creative to meet the needs of the young people.

An earlier question was on transition, and one of the things that is absolutely crucial to a smooth transition is the quality of the careers guidance that the young person and their family have had from at least year 9, if not earlier. Changes are going through today in the Education Bill. We tried to get it through that the assessment and identification of disabled young people’s needs, and what support needs they have, is an integral part of that guidance process. We have concerns about that responsibility being moved from the local authority when, actually, the local authority retains or acquires other duties in relation to those young people. That is another cause of confusion, lack of communication and barriers to a smooth transition.

Q22 Chair: I will go to Fiona, but nobody has really answered Chris’s question. What happens at 25? We have invested all this money in those who are lucky to get through.

Teresa Kelly: I can only answer that for my students, because we track and we-

Q23 Chair: Who tracks? How often do they track? You do, but who else does?

Teresa Kelly: Adult social services. Often they become the responsibility of adult social services when they leave college, and we usually have a two-year transition programme between our provision and where they go on to. They carry forward the individual learning plan, and if the individual learning plan is realistically about going into work, adult social services will try to enable that to happen, sometimes by coming back to us and asking us to carry on that provision through their funding. So we are tracking students through.

Pearl Barnes: The report highlights that this is for all individuals with SEN-the whole range of SEN-with and without statements. We know that assessment is hugely variable. You will get some individuals with high-level needs who are probably well supported and some individuals, who are still SEN, with lower-level needs and it is literally over to them. They will not have the support of social services at all, and who knows what happens to them at the age of 19, more often than not, not 25. A huge concern of Nasen is about the lack of support around transition and about the variability.

Andrea Lewis: I just want to reinforce that we are talking about two-point-something per cent. of school pupils who have a statement, but we know that something like 17.8%, in 2009 anyway, have support needs related to a disability. I am quite concerned about the focus of the report. I understand it because that is where the high costs and the high level of needs are-if you are looking at costs, that is clearly an area to look at-but do not forget: the vast majority of these young people are in mainstream; the vast majority do not have a statement; and the vast majority, therefore, do not have a learning difficulty assessment when they progress. So they are not supported until they are 25; they would only be supported until they are 19, if they are lucky.

I had a case this week of somebody who had a mental health condition in year 10 that meant that he was not able to attend school. He had five hours a week home tuition, managed somehow to get his GCSEs to the point where he was accepted on to an A-level course at the local FE college, and four weeks into the course he has had his case reviewed and been told that, because his attendance is not up to 95%, he has two weeks to improve and get it to 95%. By the nature of his condition, that is clearly unrealistic. So this young person faces being turned off a course. He is achieving highly on the course, despite his barriers, but the college, I am sure, knows that there is a risk that that young person will not continue and will not achieve his potential, and that that will have an impact on their income. Those cases exist.

Q24 Fiona Mactaggart: I will have to leave very quickly, so I need a quick answer, I’m afraid. What strikes me most about the report is that there is inadequate information about outcomes for young people-it is not collected. It sounds to me, from what you have been saying about everything being very personalised, that it is actually very hard to produce adequate, accurate and useable information that can help people to assess value for money and effectiveness of interventions. So what I want to ask you is: do you think it could be done? If so, how?

Teresa Kelly: I think it could be done. I think it could be done by having very standardised, clear, national guidelines. It would take time and what constitutes an outcome and how that can be measured would need to be worked through. At the moment, it is almost up to the provider to decide what the outcome is and whether or not that is a valuable and good outcome. It would take some time and some work, but I think it could be done.

Q25 Fiona Mactaggart: For example, scoring gaps between where someone is and where they end up?

Teresa Kelly: Yes, and where they are going to and whether or not they have got there. In the FE world, we are moving into destination measurement. There is no reason why we could not be doing that with students with LDD. I do not see that as a barrier at all.

Pearl Barnes: It depends on what you value as well as an outcome measure. Are we valuing happiness and wellbeing-these individuals being content with themselves, having greater self-confidence and greater self-esteem-and how do you measure that? So it is qualitative measures as well as those quantitative measures-those firm measures that are obviously mentioned within the report. It would need looking at as to how you would measure those qualitative soft data; what meaning and value we put on them, and what weighting we put on them. Employability and independent living-all of these issues need to be looked at and measured, but they can be measured. It is just a case of thrashing it out and valuing them.

Fiona Mactaggart: There certainly is a way of assessing the value of independent living. I am sorry, I have to leave.

Q26 Matthew Hancock: Perhaps I can pick up the mantle, because for me Fiona’s question was the number bit, given that we are a value for money Committee. Teresa, you have just said that this is doable and that you could have a national scale. However, at the start of your evidence, you were saying that one of the things that you have is a very personalised set of goals for each individual. That is important, otherwise you are pushing people through goals that are not appropriate for them. So could you explain how you square the circle?

Teresa Kelly: I do not see that that is in conflict. Having that very personalised goal that is based on a really good assessment-assessment is really the key-is something that I should be measured against and judged against. The way that that could be done is on a national policy guideline national scale. There has to be one single body saying what the measure is, and not the 20 or 30 that we are currently working to at the moment. There has to be one. We can all debate that and get that right. It might take us time, but we could get that right. Then I can produce the individual programmes that will make sure those students are making the progress they need to be making towards those measures.

Q27 Matthew Hancock: I see. So the difference is between the individualised learning path, or what is actually done, and then the framework.

Teresa Kelly: It is the framework that is missing.

Chair: There will be a challenge. The good providers will do it right. The poor providers will set very low targets.

Q28 Austin Mitchell: Teresa said, it seems to me, that the individual school or institution, by knowing their student and following through, can determine what is best practice and what works. Paragraph 12 on page 10 of the Report-key findings-says that there is not enough comparable information on a national scale to do that job. That alarms me in light of what is to come and the financial position of local authorities. If you look at figure 10 on page 31, there seems to be a wide variation in practice between Yorkshire and Humberside, say, and the more prosperous parts of the country, such as the south-east and the east of England, in terms of maintained special schools, non-maintained special schools and independent special schools. In other words, the danger is that you can ring-fence, and local authorities will be able to supplement it, but they will always be able to fiddle round ring-fencing by using the money for all kinds of diverse purposes, rather than what it is intended for. Are you in a situation, as national organisations, to tell us which are the good local authorities that have best practice, and which are not?

Pearl Barnes: You are absolutely right. We have huge concerns, and we have seen huge disparities between the regions and local authorities in terms of specialists. Some local authorities, for instance, do not have any support services at all to support children with special educational needs.

Q29 Austin Mitchell: Can you name them?

Pearl Barnes: No, not in this forum. I do not think so.

Q30 Austin Mitchell: It would be useful to know.

Pearl Barnes: I would have to do some research to dig out the names of the local authorities, but I know that there are some. Others have cut support services back to the bare bones, but there is support there. It is going to make a difference to the outcomes of these young people if they have the support of specialists from the local authority, or if they have not got access to support from specialists.

The issue is not about which are effective and which are not, to give parents choice, because, as I said when I started speaking, accessible choice is not there for these individuals. It is about having accessible provision that meets their individual needs. It is finding what works, which cuts across all of them. Figure 1 shows the range of provision that is available, from specialist settings to mainstream settings, bases within mainstream settings and FE and higher education. You have got everything out there; it is finding out what works and what can work in each of those settings. That range of settings has to remain available in order for individuals to access provision.

Q31 Austin Mitchell: The problem is that we have to have information on who is good, who is bad and what the good practices are. I am having to advise parents who come to me and say, "My daughter"-my son or whatever-"is just going to be dumped at home at the end of the chain." I do not know whether North East Lincolnshire is good or bad in this respect and how it compares with other authorities. What is going to be done?

Pearl Barnes: Would the core offer address those issues? If the core offer is just "This is what we have. This is the service that we provide," at least parents would be able to see the differences between local authorities. In many respects that does something, it ticks some sort of box, as long as the information is easy to find and is accessible for the parents.

Q32 Austin Mitchell: Bear in the mind that the parents are not very well informed either. It is difficult to get the information. What does the Disability Alliance know about good and bad authorities?

Andrea Lewis: Inevitably, because the bread and butter of our casework, if you like, comes through a helpline, people get in touch with us if something has gone wrong. I do not think it is, particularly, a fair indication of a local authority, because one of the issues is that something could go very right in one area for one person and very wrong in the same area. I do not think it is an issue automatically.

Austin Mitchell: That dodges the issue. If you get a lot of complaints-

Chair: Austin, I am going to move this on, because you are trying to get something they are not going to give us, and I want us to get to the next session.

Q33 Chris Heaton-Harris: A quick question to Teresa, because you talked about a framework, and we have the SEN Green Paper. How close is that to being the framework that you need to provide?

Teresa Kelly: I could get very excited about the SEN Green Paper. I use the word "excited" in this context, not "nervous". I could get very excited: I think the framework that the SEN Green Paper sets out is going to be really challenging to deliver, but it is right. The principles and the philosophy for that framework are right.

What is key is the assessment and who is doing the assessment. That assessment is independent and autonomous. I really have this vision of a single funding stream with an agency, that we can go and debate, and that I can go to and say, "I need this, this and this" and they will sit down and listen. I do not want to go off to 30 or 40 authorities, but I see the authorities, then, being independent to do the assessment. If they are independently doing the assessment and the Young People’s Learning Agency or the Education Funding Agency is the funder, and has the responsibility for the single funding, I think that is going to give a much stronger package for the individual student or child.

Pearl Barnes: I want to support Teresa in that. It is something that we have wanted to see for a long time-that separation of assessment from funding, so that it is a true assessment of individual needs, not based upon the provision that is available, so, yes: an independent assessment.

Teresa Kelly: That is what will give the parents confidence-if that assessment is independent of funding. Let the authorities do the assessment and let the YPLA fund. That is what I would do.

Andrea Lewis: What does need developing in the Green Paper is the notion that it is the parent who has the major control of the situation, where actually we are talking about young people who say "I am fed up with things being done to me. I want my choices-my preferences-taken into account."

Chair: Okay. Thank you all very much indeed. That was very helpful.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Sir David Bell, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education, and Peter Lauener, Chief Executive, Young People’s Learning Agency, gave evidence.

Q34 Chair: Welcome. I thought, Peter, you had advocates on behalf of the agency sitting there giving evidence.

Can I start with you David? Welcome; I think you have got one more session with us, so this is your penultimate one. We read the report, and there is obviously some good stuff going on, but on the whole I came away feeling that this is a real Cinderella service, whether it is seen from your Department or from the local education level, with too many people falling over the edge. There are loads of stats, but one is that 30% of young people are not in education, training or employment-goodness knows where they are. What is your view? What are you going to do? What do you feel about that? Where do the responsibilities lie on that? It is a very general question.

Sir David Bell: There are so many different strands to that question. Perhaps we will unpick them as we go through.

It is easy to read the report and to say, "Isn’t it a problem that you have got such a diverse range of provision?" I think that that is only a problem if people-parents and students-do not understand what would be best for their needs. Actually, given the multiplicity of needs that we describe in the report, you probably want a diverse range of provision, and arguably one of the great changes and improvements over recent years is that more and more young people who were probably previously thought not capable of any education at all are actually drawn into education. For example, the further education sector seems to me to have made huge strides in drawing in more young people at the moderate learning difficulty end, all the way through to many more young people having their needs met through very specialist provision.

I think that diversity is good. The question of information, which came across very strongly with your previous witnesses, is one that we could come back to. I think that the report makes a very fair criticism that there is not enough consistent information and data, which would be an important driver of improvement. If I might say one last comment as introduction, Mr Hancock asked how we can balance value-for-money data against student-specific outcome data. I think that we can do that, and that is what we’re planning to do. We’re going to be requiring greater consistency in education destinations data, employment data, education outcomes data, retention rates and success rates. We are going to require all that, by the very end, to 2014.

At the same time, the new education, health and care plan proposed in the special educational needs Green Paper will specify life outcomes to address the question of how to identify what outcomes are beyond the measurable. The report absolutely describes the system as it is. I do not think that we are at all complacent. Many of the changes in train are meant to address the problems identified here.

Q35 Chair: But 30% are not in education, training or employment.

Sir David Bell: Yes. As you will be aware, Madam Chair, local authorities and others have responsibility for identifying young people who are in the NEET category and providing appropriately. Again, further education colleges have done a lot to assist such young people. It is absolutely a fact that if you have a moderate to severe learning difficulty, you are more likely to be a NEET. That is true, but that issue goes all the way back into the school system as much as it is an issue post-16.

Q36 Chair: So what are you going to do about it? The Department for Education passes the buck to local authorities. These are the same people-today, the papers said that two thirds of people in court over the riots have a special educational needs statement. It’s back to the old accountability thing. We know the statistic that 30% are not there. You’re saying that local authorities should do it. I can tell you, as I think all of us as local MPs could, that the struggles you have to get your local authority to take a post-16 person seriously and provide for them are immense. You’re sometimes successful if they manage to get to you, but few of them know about their local MP. Somebody somewhere has got to say, "This ain’t on."

Sir David Bell: Just to be absolutely clear, the accountability lies with the local authority for identifying the need of the post-16 learner who might be in the category that we are describing, as it does for the pre-16 learner through the statementing process. If we are to pick up the theme of earlier concern about localism, the responsibility lies fairly and squarely with the local authority to provide appropriately. The local authority is not doing that on its own; it is working with the local further education system-

Q37 Chair: And if it doesn’t?

Sir David Bell: Then it is a question of accountability for the individual student. The parent has various rights of appeal when it comes to provision, but I would argue that it is not for national Government to take on the responsibility for providing for individual students in individual local authorities. We can’t do that.

Q38 Chair: I accept that, but it is your job to set a policy, right?

Sir David Bell: Yes.

Q39 Chair: If I say to you that current policy on localism leaves 30% of young people outside the system, it strikes me that somewhere along the line, the policy ain’t working. You can’t just say, "Okay, local authorities should do it, or parents." Parents struggle. You know this from your cockpit, and I know it as a constituency MP. These are probably parents who are struggling anyway in their day-to-day lives to cope, particularly at the higher end of need. They don’t know their way around the system. The report tells us, and you have accepted, that only a quarter of local authorities give them any information at all. It is a policy issue, because it is not being implemented at the locality. That is my contention.

Sir David Bell: Yes, and there is a range of policy responses, isn’t there? If you can get better provision for children and young people with special educational needs in the statutory system, whether through better special education or better support in mainstream schools, that is one policy response. The kinds of ideas concerning special educational needs are another policy response. You have touched on the issue of transition-the transition from below 16 to post-16, or from below 24 or 25, to post-25-and again, there are clear responsibilities. There are good examples of local authorities that are making this work, so it is not a uniformly difficult or problematic picture. The question is about accountability.

Q40 Chair: You have got 30% outside-30% who are not in. Your only response to the Committee is, "Local authorities are not doing their jobs. We’ll try and make the schools better." Of course you will try and make the schools better; that is obvious, so let us take that as read. I will say it again: the issue is illustrated by two thirds of those young people who end up in court charged with participating in the riots having an SEN.

Sir David Bell: One of the arguments for the new kind of plan to replace the statementing process is to try to get a sharper statement of need that draws together educational requirements, health requirements and care requirements. That is a genuine policy response to a statementing process that, for all it has achieved over many years, is not capable of doing what we need it to do now. That is a genuine policy response.

Q41 Chair: So you will prescribe that will you?

Sir David Bell: The plan in the special educational needs Green Paper is that we move to a single statement of special educational needs, which will be prescribed-that is correct. Again, you are back to the question that you have legitimately raised about how that plays out locally, which will be very different across the country. There is a shared responsibility for national Government to get the policy framework correct, alongside local authorities that argue for more and more responsibility, and to have the accountability for providing appropriately for children, young people and young adults with special needs.

Q42 Chair: And you have removed the impact indicator on the educational attainment of young people with special educational needs-it has just been junked. One of the key, powerful tools that you might have used to see whether the local authorities delivered against your framework has been junked. In my experience, everybody tries to have too many impact indicators. I remember having those rows as a Minister; you have endless impact indicators, and the Treasury and Cabinet Office try to get them out. Once you have junked it, you will never get it back in.

Sir David Bell: Well, to respond to that, a decision was made to remove an indicator, but it is coming back in. As I said a few moments ago, the plan is to have new, consistent employment educational and outcomes data, including for students with special educational needs.

Q43 Chair: I am hogging it a bit here-sorry to come back to you, David, but then I will move on because Austin and Matthew want to come in. The outcome data are outcome data for the general population. To some extent, of course, they will measure SEN, because everything does, but the impact indicator that you have junked would have been the one and only indicator that might have looked at this particular group, which will otherwise fall over the edge.

Peter Lauener: I think a mistake was made in removing that indicator. This year, we are putting back the indicators of destinations for young people with high-level special needs. That will be back in for 2011-12. The key indicators are progress on independent living and progress on support into employment. That will help a lot and pick up some of the points that Teresa was talking about earlier. At that high level, if we can focus on those indicators we can make them consistent and coherent against a set of much more detailed indicators that will be an individual learning plan.

Q44 Chair: Then what will you do if a local authority fails to deliver?

Peter Lauener: That is about getting the right indicators, as you and the NAO have said, and putting the framework in place. If we do not get the indicators right, we will not have transparency or clarity on what is working and what is not working. That is a step along the way.

Q45 Chair: And then?

Peter Lauener: It is then much clearer to see where there are great successes and where there are weaknesses.

Q46 Chair: And then?

Sir David Bell: You are then into the question of intervention, and of the inspection and regulation of local authorities. The Government have made the decision to lighten that kind of inspection burden, but we still will have, in the future, the ability to identify gross failure, as it were. I think you touched on a point or somebody raised it at the end-I think it was in response to Mr Mitchell’s question-that it is actually quite difficult, if I can put it this way, universally to identify uniformly poor local authorities when it comes to this.

I know, having had a local authority background in doing this, that you thought you would deal very effectively, you hoped, with the vast majority of students and young people, but there would always be cases where the parent was unhappy and perhaps the provision did not work. So it is quite difficult, even with the kind of transparency of indicators that Peter has described, to find a situation which is uniformly poor, but we have the mechanisms to do that. We retain the Ofsted inspection arrangements for looking at local authority provision, but you might argue that it is something of a blunt instrument when you are talking about individual failure for individual students or young people.

Q47 Chair: In five years’ time, will the new framework mean that fewer than 30% of those with SEN are NEETs?

Peter Lauener: If I can say something about the 30%, that is a shocking figure-

Chair: Shocking.

Peter Lauener: And it needs to be much better, but it is actually better now than it was a few years ago. There have been year-on-year decreases in the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds with learning difficulties who are NEETs. That is not defending the position we are in as good enough. I think the key to get it better again is some of the things we have just talked about, but also a continuation of the process which has been happening over the past few years where there is a better choice and a better range of opportunities with more local provision. Over the past 10 or 15 years, about 2,000 places have been developed in further education colleges, of the kind that we heard about earlier, which means that many more young people have something on their doorstep that meets their needs, because not everyone wants to go away to residential specialist providers, which was the traditional source of opportunities for this group.

Again, I could give you case studies of where local authorities have been very proactive, working with colleges to develop that kind of provision, which allows better transition to start, say, at 14, and to go on from 16, if those opportunities are available, and then on to supported employment afterwards. There are some pathfinders to develop aspects of the Green Paper at the moment-20 pathfinders covering 31 areas-and quite a lot of those are focusing on those transition aspects.

Q48 Austin Mitchell: That is precisely the point I was going to raise about the indicator. We have found that this a hokey-cokey kind of indicator-you put your whole indicator in, you take your whole indicator out. Peter Lauener’s saying it is going to be refined worries me because, in the light of paragraph 12 of the Report about the lack of comparable information across the country, I am worried that refining this indicator is going to make it less effective or that there is going to be a weakening of the indicator.

Can you assure us that, when the indicator comes back in, as it is going to in its hokey-cokey phase, it will provide the information that people want to make localism work? In other words, so that they know whether their authority is living up to its requirements and how its performance compares with other authorities; and that is true of institutions, local authorities and national provision.

Sir David Bell: It is probably less about the comparability of data from local authority area to local authority area, important though that is. What probably matters more to the parent of the student is whether they can compare the education outcomes or the employment outcomes of one kind of provision or another: if they go to the local further education college, is it more likely, given the experience of students in the past with similar needs, that-

Q49 Austin Mitchell: No, it is whether my local authority is living up to the responsibility.

Sir David Bell: Not to the responsibility-the real test in the mind of an individual parent is what provision is best for my young person. One of the completely fair criticisms in this Report is that at the moment you really cannot do that. You have school provision, further education provision, and you may have independent specialist provision. All the destination convergence that we are talking about is designed-certainly at the very latest by 2014, with most of it done by 2013-to allow exactly those kinds of comparisons for parents and others. That is not a hokey-cokey figure, to use your phrase. That is a very serious commitment to ensure that you have that data.

Q50 Austin Mitchell: You are going to fudge it.

Sir David Bell: I do not think that we will fudge it. If you recall a previous hearing when we talked about 16 to 18 more generally, you asked us a similar question and we were very robust in the answers that we gave. It was important to get that kind of comparability. What today’s session illustrates is that, for young people with special educational needs, you may have to go beyond the traditional indicators of success. Have they achieved a certain level of educational outcome? That is important, we should not undermine that, but have they got the right kind of life skills? Are they going to be successful in supported employment? I think we can combine good, robust, comparable information between institutions alongside a more finely tuned set of indicators that really matter to a parent looking at the future of their young person.

Q51 Matthew Hancock: This is exactly the question that I wanted to come in on. You heard the earlier exchange. Do you think that the question of individual tailoring of courses to the individual needs of people with learning difficulties can be made consistent with the new targets that you say will be brought in in 2013 and 2014?

Sir David Bell: Mr Lauener may want to comment on this as well. My view is that having a consistent set of indicators does not tie you to a uniform set of provision. One college might decide that for particular young people they would like to tailor provision in a particular way, and we would say that that is good. We would all say that that is good. We might argue, however, about what the outcome will be.

Q52 Matthew Hancock: And also how measurable it is.

Sir David Bell: And also how measurable it is. This is where it really is quite difficult to talk in the generality. If you think about the very wide spectrum of need that we are describing here, for young people and adults with the most profound need you are probably talking about things that are almost unique and an almost individual requirement to them. Therefore, perhaps you will not have a way of capturing that. But what you might have a way of capturing is the extent to which that tailored programme has led to supported living or supported employment. I do not think we would want at all to cut across the individual programmes-very interesting programmes-that are emerging in colleges and individual specialist providers, but I do think it is right, as the Report says and as your Committee suggests, that we have better ways of comparing success, broadly defined.

Peter Lauener: Can I give you an example? I went to a college with a special unit recently. I was talking to one of the young people, and the lecturer told me that a major item of progression for that student would be for them to go into mainstream FE provision with support in the next year, rather than stay in the special unit. That would be a major change towards independent living and a good outcome. The question is whether we can abstract from that personal experience to put that into an overall measure. There is still some development work to do on that, but that is what we are looking to achieve.

Q53 Matthew Hancock: You accept the Report’s description of how there is poor information on this at the moment. Do you think that the new indicators that you have told us about, which are not in the NAO’s Report, will be better at being able to provide comparable information, even given the individualised needs, than the existing sets of targets that have been there in the past?

Sir David Bell: The answer is yes, but I do not think that it is the complete picture. For example, many parents will sit down with their local authority, usually through the partnership services, to talk through the very specific needs of their child.

Q54 Matthew Hancock: Yes, but they do not care about how it is measured nationally, because they only care about their child, and rightly so.

Sir David Bell: Parents can still ask, "How am I going to know whether allowing my young person, my child, to stay in a secondary school would be better than an FE college?"

Q55 Matthew Hancock: Yes, but the question is also comparability to how things are happening elsewhere.

Sir David Bell: Absolutely. That seems to be the data point. At the moment you cannot really have that consistent comparative data, which is what we are aiming for. The other thing is that there are other ways of measuring. The institutions will be subject to inspections, and you can look at inspection reports. Parents of all children, mainstream or special needs, will want to go and look and to find out the options. Better comparative data help but, as we know in the mainstream sector, having performance information is not the only basis on which you make a judgment about what is most suitable for your child.

Chair: Okay. Jackie, then Chris. We have a vote in four minutes, so if everyone comes back very quickly, we can resume.

Q56 Jackie Doyle-Price: Following up on that, a special school in my constituency specifically raised the issue of the scrapping of the contextual value added measure, which seems an ideal measure for parents to be able to assess whether their child was better off in specialist provision or in mainstream, because some schools obviously provide well on that. Have you got anything you can feed back to us about how you will look at those sorts of added value criteria?

Sir David Bell: One of the changes to the inspection system is that, while there will not be a grading of provision for special educational needs, inspectors will still be required to report on the provision, and part of the success of that provision will depend on the progress. The problem with contextual value added is that for many parents-I seem to remember having discussed this around this table before-it can almost be impenetrable, and it does not actually assist them. But you have to have progress measures, and that is still an important part of what we are doing. I would say, and I am sure the school in your constituency would endorse this point, that you want to find the right kinds of progress measures for the population of children that you are serving. Again, that will depend on whether you are serving children with moderate learning difficulties, when perhaps you could expect progress measures broadly similar to the measures that you would find in a mainstream school, or at the extreme end of provision, when you might find that the progress measure is that a child is making a step or eating for themselves, or some other measure. I do not think that, in the end, contextual value added data really assisted the public’s understanding of what was going on in schools-mainstream or special.

Q57 Jackie Doyle-Price: I get that completely, because the key is that parents should be able to understand it, and I do not think that they did. But we need to make it easy for providers to demonstrate how they do add value in these cases, and there is a lot of work to be done on that.

Sir David Bell: Don’t forget that if this is a special school, obviously the school will be inspected under the inspection framework so, in a sense, we do not expect all schools to be the same. There is an expectation that you will have a different approach against the broad headlines of inspections. Again, one of the improvements that we must not lose is that too often in the long-distant past, many children were genuinely considered not capable of education; one of the great things that we have done in recent times is to have high expectations appropriate to the needs of all children and young people. You are absolutely right that, even though we might lose one measure, we should not use that as an excuse for having lower expectations, even of children who have very profound needs.

Q58 Jackie Doyle-Price: Obviously, one of the key ingredients in how well we provide this sort of education is money. Paragraph 2.16 of the Report says that funding varies "from as little as £1,900 per student to over £20,000", which seems a fairly vast discrepancy. What do you think the reason for that is? Obviously, you make grants to local authorities for such provision. Are some local authorities taking too much away, or are the good authorities adding to it?

Peter Lauener: I am not wholly surprised by that kind of variation because, if I make a comparison with the post-16 area, the range of needs that we are talking about can vary enormously. The funding is set against a matrix of levels of need, and the amounts that are payable for the different levels of need vary by that kind of factor from least severe to most severe. That is not entirely surprising, and I certainly wouldn’t want to conclude from it that more and less generous funding is based on those figures.

Julian Wood: Just to be clear: I think we are talking about the block grant to local authorities.

Peter Lauener: Yes, I understood that, but I was making an analogy with the post-16-

Q59 Chair: The truth is-let’s be honest-that what happens is that some local authorities put the money into SEN, and others leave it to their schools, and go for mainstream schooling and not SEN. That’s a bigger danger as we move into ring-fencing. Let’s have a bit of honesty about this. We know that’s what some of our local authorities do.

Sir David Bell: If you’re talking about direct funding to individual schools-

Q60 Chair: The block grant. Some use it for the purpose intended, and might even add to it, but many just let it go to the majority. If a school has 250 pupils, a couple of whom have special educational needs, they spend it on the 248 and forget about the two.

Sir David Bell: That is a wider discussion about local management, and about what decisions-

Q61 Chair: That is the reality, and why you get disparities.

Peter Lauener: I do think it is more complicated than that because of the range of needs-

Q62 Chair: Probably, but there is an element of that in it.

Peter Lauener: That is being talked about. Also, the number of those with SEN have been reducing, and similarly the post-16 numbers have been reducing. We are seeing more mainstream provision. The costs are being met in different ways. I think it’s a complex equation.

Q63 Chair: Are you telling me that you don’t think that’s a factor?

Peter Lauener: It would be silly if I sat here and said that there were not variations in local authority practices, but I would not assume from those figures that there is a right figure at one end of that spectrum.

Q64 Jackie Doyle-Price: No, there is not a right figure, because ultimately it comes down to outcome, but it does illustrate a massive discrepancy between how individual local authorities use this money, and the priority they attach to it. A local example is that my local authority has value specialist provision and puts that at the heart of delivery. Next door in Essex, they have made mainstream their strategy for dealing with this. Clearly, there will be funding implications for that because we can look elsewhere in the report and it suggests that delivering through mainstream is more economical, cost-effective or whatever. We must empower parents to examine what is most effective for their child. There will be occasions when mainstream will suit some young people more effectively than specialist. What we need from you is more information about how we can judge our local authorities and hold them accountable, if they agree to remain accountable in this system.

Sir David Bell: There are two or three things there. On the point about the type of provision for students in the statutory sector, successive Governments have not had a policy of complete segregation or complete integration. That, properly, is a local matter. However, successive Governments have said that they would find it strange if there was no specialist provision to ensure that parents had a choice of ways to meet their needs. On comparability of data, we have a variety of mechanisms. So you can look at the section 251 statement, which indicates what is spent on individual schools, and how you compare local authorities’ central expenditure.

I think we are probably talking about two different kinds of information. We are talking about information that individual parents need-this goes back to the answer to Mr Hancock-and trying to get it in a way that really helps parents to understand what’s best for their child or young adult, alongside proper policy consideration of what is the most effective and efficient configuration of services. Even if we move to better comparable data, I don’t think anyone here is saying that therefore the national Government should specify what the provision is. What we’re hoping is that better information will make it clear. Let me give an example.

If we look back 20 years, there were certainly far fewer independent specialist providers-about 100 or so. Now that number is down to 56, and that has come about because there has been a proper rationalisation of provision. The 100 was probably not the right 100, but increasingly now people are doing that. That has not happened because central Government have said that there is one appropriate way of making that happen. I don’t think anyone would want that to happen.

Q65 Chris Heaton-Harris: When you read the report, it reads okay, but when you look again at all the factors in it, you think, "That’s not so good." There is no basic assessment of need, and different provision is available locally. We’re talking about outcomes. I am interested in what you say about better information making better provision. I have examples in my constituency of a child being statemented for a period but no money following that statement. As a statistic, you can put a tick, but in terms of improving that child’s provision it is a big cross. Learning difficulty assessments are a legal requirement, and crucial, but it seems that they are not yet good enough either. Are we also going to improve the tools that measure the provision for us?

Peter Lauener: I think the key change there is what Sir David referred to earlier: the planned introduction of the education, health and care plan as a 0-25 plan. For the first time, we’ll have a consistent set of criteria and a consistent set of processes to take us through the pre-16 and post-16 change, which has been quite a major process.

Q66 Chris Heaton-Harris: It is very kind of you to say that, but it is not what I asked. I just want to know that when statements are given out you have listened to the people who gave evidence beforehand and said that the SEN Green Paper could work if the provision came independently to the assessment. I want to know that there will be some provision behind the statements and the learning difficulty assessments in future, because if we get that right, many of the worries of the previous witnesses will disappear.

Peter Lauener: That is why I wanted to emphasise the education, health and care plan. It is an opportunity to say what is working well with the statementing process, and what is working well with the learning difficulty assessment process, and to build a consistent process that includes quality and consistency around the country.

Q Chair: Peter, we have to go and vote. Just answer the question. Are you intending to divide the assessment from the funding?

Sir David Bell: This is an issue in the schools funding consultation document, and I heard what was said earlier. The proposal was that local authorities would take the money, have the funding to allocate, and not have it directed above a certain level by the YPLA. That is not a conclusion yet, but it was interesting to hear what one of your witnesses said.

In reply to Mr Heaton-Harris, I don’t think we could sit here and give you a categorical assurance that even under the new system every education health and care plan would look the same throughout the country, and frankly I don’t think it should.

Q67Chris Heaton-Harris: I do not want it to look the same. I just want to know that when provision has been awarded it will be followed through.

Sir David Bell: That is one of the criticisms of the current system. You have to specify much more clearly and sharply, which is the proposal in the SEN Green Paper, and we’ll have to see first what the Government’s response to that is, and secondly how you police the implementation of that provision.

Q Chair: Okay. We’re going, but may I plead that everyone comes back quickly, and does not disappear.

Sitting suspended.

4.52 pm

On resuming-

Q68 Ian Swales: Apologies, I missed a few minutes of the hearing earlier. As I left the room, Sir David’s words were something like, "How that plays out across the country will vary." We have been hearing a lot about that this afternoon. I want to just turn that around and think about the young people themselves. What sort of rights should they have? We hear more and more that it depends on what kind of establishments and what kind of local authority you have. I am actually quite disturbed at that sense of how it seems to be working. I will give you two examples. In my area, there is a cliff edge at 18-people are typically moved anything up to 50 miles away from the local area because there isn’t any provision. Right now, my local authority is consulting on charging people from 16 upwards for transport. Given the nature of the transport, this will almost certainly mean that quite a lot of post-16-year-olds will stop going to any kind of establishment. I will be interested in your views on those two issues, and the point about what rights young people have.

Sir David Bell: It feels that as if the issue of localism is playing out quite a lot not just in our hearings but in hearings of the PAC more generally. You have to then think about what the alternative would be. For example, it used to be the case that the Department made school closure decisions from Cumbria to Cornwall. Of course, that was abandoned because it was seen that the man and woman in Whitehall could not possibly know the local circumstances. I actually think that that was one of the best decisions ever made-to put the decision making about the infrastructure of schooling there. But then you play that out to the examples that you, Mr Swales, have given as well,: the number of schools, the way they are organised, whether you should have small schools or large schools, and whether you should have special schools or integrated provision. Surely part of the dimension of local accountability and direct democracy is that local authorities will say, "This is what our expectations are for children and young people-all children and young people. This is what we think children and young people with special needs are entitled to and we will seek, through our democratic mandate, to provide services to a particular quality." So, I find it quite hard to respond to the general question.

Q69 Ian Swales: We do not have any problem setting some kind of national standards for children who do not have special needs, so are we abandoning any idea we might have that it simply, literally is a postcode lottery? I know Miss Mactaggart, who was here earlier and had to leave, was talking about people actually moving house into her constituency because of the quality of the provision.

Sir David Bell: For children who are currently part of the statementing system, and hopefully part of the system in the future, there will be national regulations. There is a set of national regulations that governs the content of statements. Part of the consultation document is through a pathfinder to see whether you can tighten that up. In some ways, you have more national setting of requirements for children with special educational needs than you do for children elsewhere. Again, I would say that the Government’s policy is to try to move away from specifications of a very detailed kind, but to enhance transparency-back to what we were describing earlier-so that parents and others can compare what is happening at one school or another, what is happening in one area or another. I do not think we are in any sense abandoning national standards for children in special education; but how those are met, I think, will have always to be sensitive to local circumstances.

Q70Ian Swales: And on the particular issue of transport?

Peter Lauener: Can I add a point on your first point, which is the local provision? I said something about that earlier, but just to draw that out a little bit: I do think it has been one of the most significant trends in recent years that more local provision has been agreed between local authorities and FE colleges, which extends the range of opportunities. With my national budgetary control hat on, I am also very pleased because that is generally quite a lot cheaper. The average might be £20,000 a head-still very significant-rather than £60,000 a head for residential provision. So it improves choice, it is good value for money, and I think that it is the way we will get the NEET figure down-through better local choice.

On your point about transport, I quite understand the difficulties that local authorities are in, where they have exceeded statutory obligations in the past and are looking at all areas to cut costs. They still need to meet statutory obligations, of course, but that does not mean that they will all need to do everything they have always done.

Q71 Chair: I have a question: what takes precedence, localism or the entitlement of the child?

Sir David Bell: I think when it comes to special educational needs statements-so if you have gone into the statementing process-there are national regulations about the nature of the statement. To that extent, you could say that the national statement takes precedence over the local decision. Of course, in a sense, localism takes precedence when it comes to how you play that provision out, because as we know, for example-I think this was alluded to in something that Mr Heaton-Harris said earlier-some local authorities will be much more specific about the financial consequences of a statement than others.

The question is, in the future, if you are going to specify the regulations for the new statement or the new single plan, how specific should those be? We have got an interesting tension here between what you should say nationally about individual students and what should be determined locally. You could argue at the moment that too much local variation has been allowed under the statementing process, but you have got to be careful that you do not end up with a single prescribed model for every part of the country, which might just not meet the local needs.

Q72 Ian Swales: I want to add another angle to this, in terms of the rights of the individual young person-let us remember that this report is about 16 to 25; only the first two years of that is actually child, legally, and the rest is adult. That leads me on to the point about the implication that I think still exists in the Green Paper that sharp-elbowed parents will get the best provision for their children, or certainly that that is still a feature of the system. I always bridle at that because I always think of the children who do not have parents or who have parents who are not capable of tackling complex systems, or whatever-they may have disabilities, or whatever, themselves, or they may have other problems. This is why it is so important that we think about what rights these young people have, regardless of the power of their parents, or whatever else.

Sir David Bell: I have to disagree with that, Mr Swales. Part of the reason for originally setting up the parent partnership services in local authorities was to provide precisely that kind of independent voice for parents who might not be able to navigate their way through the system. I think you are right about the sharp-elbowed, but I think all parents find aspects of the special educational needs system really hard to navigate, whatever their background or education. Part of the ambition in these changes is to try to make the system simpler to navigate, because, arguably, that is the thing that really demoralises parents, and leads them, often, to despair about providing appropriately for their child or young adult.

Q73 Ian Swales: Will you be seeking to have more mediation and fewer legal disputes, and will you be measuring that?

Sir David Bell: That is actually quite an interesting point. When you are looking at the success measures of a new system, would a success measure be, for example, a reduction in the number of parents who took their case to a tribunal to appeal? I think that would be a success measure. Some people-people who are more anxious about getting the right provision-might say that, to some extent, that is a success. I think most of us would say that probably it’s not a success if you are having to take your case to a tribunal, because what you are doing is saying, "I’m not satisfied." Measures like that will be important.

Q74 Ian Swales: So you will measure that?

Sir David Bell: Yes. In fact, to be honest, we do that at the moment. We do provide data on the number of appeals that go in front of special educational needs tribunals.

Chair: I thought the report says that we haven’t got data on appeals.

Julian Wood: In front of the tribunal, which is pre-16 or those with statements, not for those with the learning difficulties-

Sir David Bell: Mr Swales was referring to the pre-16 tribunals.

Ian Swales: No, I wasn’t.

Q75 Chair: Post-16. The report says that there are no appeal data.

Sir David Bell: We do not capture those data. I confess that I don’t know the answer to this-I will have to check-but if you have a single plan from 0 to 25, I would have thought that it would be more likely for us to be able to capture that. Can I confirm that with you, Madam Chair, in writing? I just don’t know.

Chair: One of the criticisms in the report is that you don’t currently capture those data.

Sir David Bell: For post-16, you’re right.

Chair: Chris, we interrupted you earlier.

Q76 Chris Heaton-Harris: I will not go back on exactly the same ground, but if I may air it, this has been a big constituency issue for me. I’ve got a local education authority that seems to be pretty good, but a bit like this report, which seems pretty good, there are some murky patches. I am particularly concerned about the gaps where there is an opportunity to fall off the cliff and go missing. What has this report brought to you in learning about the gaps?

The mum of one of my constituents, Joshua, has written to me. Joshua had a statement until he was 16. After he left school, his statement lapsed, and he was told that they couldn’t appeal, although they could have done so. He did two years at a local college, but then he was told he was not academic enough to continue his studies. He went on an apprenticeship, which took him to Kent, so he didn’t become a NEET. That didn’t work out, so now he’s back on jobseeker’s allowance. That seems quite a waste of taxpayers’ money and exposes a number of gaps in the system. What can you draw from this report going forward?

Peter Lauener: That is an interesting example, because it exposes something that certainly went wrong and is referred to in the report, which is that Joshua should have had a learning difficulty assessment to help him through that transition, because he had had a statement at school. The report refers to the variation in the quality and availability of learning difficulty assessments. That’s a good example of a bit of the system that is not working as consistently as it should. Again, I don’t want to labour the point, but I think the aspiration of the education, health and care plan from 0 to 25 is a good one, because instead of having one thing and then another thing, it’s like a rolling programme, isn’t it?

Sir David Bell: I am not sure whether the report highlights this, but part of the cross-Government thinking about a participation strategy for young people and young adults is looking precisely at this issue. What do you do for those who do not have academic or even other kinds of qualifications? That is an important part of the participation strategy, and it highlights something we know.

Going back to the Chair’s first point, if you think about it, despite the progress downwards, we are still talking about 30% of young people who are NEETs. I think it highlighted for me, picking up Peter’s point, that a lot of new provision has emerged in recent times. It is not all gloom and doom in this area. I think a lot more sensitive local provision has emerged. Some of that has been independent specialist provision for the very high need end of the spectrum, but I think that Peter has pointed out that a lot of the development has been more local. The YPLA and local authorities, which have taken a little bit of a kicking this afternoon, have been active in initiating conversations locally to allow new provision to be set up sometimes with FE colleges, sometimes with voluntary agencies and sometimes with the private sector. Of course, the private sector is an important player in this market. There is an interesting question about how you continue to stimulate the market of provision, because the more diverse the provision, I’d argue, the more likely you are to meet a wider range of needs.

Q77 Chris Heaton-Harris: I agree with that. What I am after, personally, is a commitment from you. We often get permanent secretaries before us, and they answer the points that the NAO makes, and we make some recommendations. I actually think this report should be feeding into the SEN Green Paper. I just want a commitment from you that you will take away what this says-I am quite happy for you to give it to someone else-and put it into that process. There is some good work being worked up here and some good thoughts from previous participants. It would be a shame just to put it on the shelf as job done, when this is one of those reports that I would like to see as job followed through.

Sir David Bell: I do not want you to be cynical and think that it is easy for me to give a commitment because I won’t be here in January next year, but to reassure you, this has actually played in quite strongly. I hope that you have heard from what we said today that quite a lot of what was already in the thinking around the Green Paper was because of the sort of issues that were then brought together in this report. We might argue about why it has taken so long for us to get to where we are, but I think there is a genuine recognition here. My own view has always been that identifying the faults in the system to support children, young people and young adults with special educational needs is the easy part. The harder part is finding a system that really does that. But if the positive responsive to the SEN Green Paper is anything to go by, many people out there think that this is the best chance we have got, probably in a generation, to sort this. I can absolutely assure you that Ministers are really committed to getting this right. I think this report highlights, if it needed highlighting, the sorts of problems that we have to solve.

Q78 Chair: In the current context of constrained resources, how would you assess value for money?

Sir David Bell: The report, interestingly, says that there is a mixed picture, to use a phrase. We have got evidence-the report highlights this and Peter has referred to it-that we are educating more people who were not educated previously.

Chair: That is not value for money.

Sir David Bell: It is one dimension of value for money.

Chair: It is not. What you are getting is more people.

Sir David Bell: But we are driving down the unit cost of educating some of these most extreme-end provisions. I think that is good. I think the report fairly points out that we cannot come to a definitive conclusion on this, because we do not have comparative data. So you cannot say at the moment that you get better value for money out of young people with a particular need being educated in FE colleges compared with being educated at a secondary school. I think we will be in a better position to do that when you have got the comparable data. So I think it is a mixed picture on value for money.

Peter Lauener: To add one point on value for money: for lower level needs, the gap between those with lower level needs and without any disability at all has been closing in terms of achieving level 2 qualifications at 19. So that is quite a good value-for-money story. It gets much more difficult, and I think the NAO Report is very fair in drawing out the value-for-money conclusions about outcomes for those with more complex needs. But in terms of costs, I think there is quite a good story on value for money.

Q79 Chair: Let me ask you two questions. One is for you in your agency: how do you ration it?

Peter Lauener: The key thing that we have done over the past couple of years, which I think has helped to contain costs-has it avoided rationing? It has certainly contained costs-is we have worked very closely with local authorities over the more expensive end of the provision, the individualised placement budget. We have worked to give out indicative budgets to encourage local authorities-

Q80 Chair: When you say "worked closely", what does that mean?

Peter Lauener: We have given local authorities a lot more information and they have been doing quite a lot of peer challenge. One authority has been saying to another, "Well, do you really need all these expensive residential placements? Shouldn’t you be developing some better local provision?" I have been delighted by that, because I think that is getting better value money into the process, but also better choice. That is not rubbishing national provision and residential provision, because there is some outstanding provision there, but it is getting the best value out of that and getting it used for the right young people and getting some of that national expertise deployed in support of local provision as well.

Q81 Chair: That is good but you have not really answered the question. Do you ration?

Peter Lauener: We have not turned away young people but we have sought to ensure budgetary control by issuing indicative budgets and expecting everyone to work within these. We have not had any cases where we have said, "No, we can’t fund", but we have tried to exercise proper budgetary control.

Sir David Bell: I suspect that you, as constituency Members of Parliament, are probably in a better position to judge whether extreme rationing had been going on, because I think it would have come through. However, I think Peter is right that that has not interestingly been the issue here, but you might tell me if I am wrong. What you will more likely pick up are the sorts of decisions that are made at local authority level, and the way in which those decisions are made.

Q82 Chair: I will tell you where the rationing comes, and in a way, Peter gave it away, because what happens is-it is always tougher at the more complex end-you give an indicative budget, so if the institution that the parent/young person chooses is above that indicative budget, they are not allowed to have it.

Peter Lauener: Let me give you an example of something we do which addresses that particularly. We set a maximum level-I think it is £80,000, which is an enormous amount for students at the very high end of needs. If the proposition comes in that more than £80,000 is needed, we have an exceptional costs review process, which gives an independent expert assessment of whether those costs are justified. Actually, in some cases, that has come back and said, "We do not think that is justified", and indeed, that process we have put in place has saved us about £3 million. I do not really regard that as rationing, because we are not saying, as a funding agency, we will not fund that. We are subjecting the proposition to expert review and challenge, which I think is a good and value-for-money process.

Sir David Bell: I suspect you would have us here for another reason if Peter’s budget had been blown on this issue.

Q83Chair: I was going to ask about the independent specialist providers, because in page 17, paragraph 1.14, it says that you looked in detail at 15 and found that seven had made errors, which is a heck of a lot. Presumably they all over-claimed, but did any of them under-claim?

Peter Lauener: I do not think any of them under-claimed, from what I recall. We have a three-yearly audit process, so there are 56 independent specialist providers. Until recently, there were 57, which made it easier, because that was 19 a year. It is that kind of amount, and I think it is important to have that sort of review. I would say, however, that the funding proposition is so complex and detailed that I have quite a lot of sympathy for some of the providers, where their judgment about the needs has changed.

Q84 Chair: I accept that, but if that were the really the only thing, you would get under-claims as well as over-claims. If it really is just complexity that drives-

Peter Lauener: What happens is that the independent specialist provider changes the provision in some respect, and we go along and say, "You were going to provide six sessions but you have only provided four. We will have the money for two sessions back." One thing I want to look at is whether we cannot make the funding a little simpler. We still want to have an audit in there. I am not convinced that the detail of the audit works as well as it should, but we must have that audit.

Q85 Mr Bacon: May I ask you about that type of behaviour in relation to schools themselves, rather than, necessarily, independent providers? Something I have noticed in my constituency-I would be interested in your comments about how widespread you think this is-is that the schools are happy enough to get the extra money that comes in the statement, but once they have got it, they then move the goalposts in terms of what is provided.

A parent has been coming to see me for a long time. Finally, a statement was put into place, and they got some provision that they were very happy with. Suddenly, after a few months, the provision went away and was changed to something else, because it was convenient for the school to do that. They had the money. It was in their pocket and they then, internally, moved the arrangements around. It looks to me and my constituent like the main purpose was in order to extract more from the available pot. How widespread a phenomenon do you think that is?

Sir David Bell: I do not know the answer to that, in terms of how widespread it is.

Q86 Mr Bacon: Anecdotally, do you think it is something that people do a lot?

Sir David Bell: I do not think people do it driven by the motivation, as it were, to just take the money, run and use it completely for something else. What happens sometimes is that the provision is allocated in a particular way. Let me give you the example of one-to-one support for a child with special educational needs. The school then says, "Actually, it may be better if this child were in a group of five or six." That often happens. What I would say in those circumstances is that you have the annual review of the statement and that it is really important that the parent uses the process to say, "Well, I thought that we were getting this. It is really important that I understand as a parent why I am now getting that."

Q87 Mr Bacon: What happened in that particular case was that they put in a provision that worked. The school turned round and said, "Well, there isn’t a problem any more," and moved the goalposts. The reason there was not a problem was that the provision was working. The school took it away and of course the problem re-emerged.

Sir David Bell: That is the issue about the frequent review of the provision. I just do not know how widespread it is. You often get the behaviour that I described. Schools, with the best of intentions, change the support because they think that the child’s needs have evolved over time.

Q88 Austin Mitchell: The report says, in paragraph 2.16 on page 26, that there are significant variations in the amount of funding per statemented student. The figure ranges from as little as £1,900 per student to more than £20,000 per student. To venture a guess, that arises because local authorities are either using the block grant and fiddling it around for other purposes, as I suggested earlier, or they are adding to it from other funding. Do we not need to know what is happening and to have figures that are comparable-sorry, I have just had some new false teeth?

Peter Lauener: We touched a little on this point earlier on. I was not convinced that these figures demonstrate that there is a postcode lottery operating, because I know that there can be significant variations in the range of needs and the costs of meeting those needs identified in statements.

Q89 Austin Mitchell: If you are going to encourage best practice, we need to know who is subtracting and who is adding.

Sir David Bell: We know the outturn expenditure from local authorities on special needs. That paragraph is alluding to a variation per statement. We were talking about keeping control of budgets. Probably one of the common reasons for local authority directors of children services coming under pressure is when the special educational needs budget, including the statementing budget, goes out of control. All sorts of factors come into play here, but there is a lot of comparable data about what different local authorities spend on pupils’ needs. To some extent, that answers your question. Some authorities have made the choice to spend more on students with statements than others. As we said earlier, the problem is less pre-16, when you have that comparable data, and more post-16. As Peter has said, that is one of the things that we want to be looking at.

Q90 Chair: Where is your system of accountability? Have you written it yet?

Sir David Bell: I have the pleasure of coming back to you one more time before I go.

Chair: I know.

Sir David Bell: We will send a draft copy of that to you in advance of the session, because it is on financial management (primary schools). It will be in draft, so it will probably form the basis of quite a bit of the conversation. You will get that before the hearing on 28 November.

Chair: Thank you. Richard has one final question.

Q91 Mr Bacon: My question relates much more broadly to your responsibilities and the responsibilities that you will have when you become a vice-chancellor next year. We had Mr Devereux with us recently talking about means-testing. Looking at universal credit, as we have done a number of times, it has become apparent that it is starting to throw up unintended consequences in a number of different areas. One of them that was alluded to in our hearing was related to the disincentives to work. An example of that is a parent working with children of university age or who are going to university. If you are earning £24,900 or £25,100 it could make an enormous difference of many thousands of pounds to how much you contribute as a parent, or are deemed to be expected to contribute, towards your child’s education at university. The universal credit system may have a big impact on that. When we talked to Mr Devereux about this-he won’t thank me for putting it in these terms and he didn’t put it quite as crudely as I am about to-he said, "This is a pretty difficult thing we are embarked on and my focus is on this. Heads down, bully and shove. I am not going to worry about what is happening elsewhere, including in other Departments like DFE. I have too much to do to get this right myself." Presumably you have been made aware of the potential consequences in the university sector, and it is something that you will be grappling with next year.

Sir David Bell: I look forward to being invited back as an expert witness.

Mr Bacon: We might just invite you back as an accounting officer.

Sir David Bell: I have heard of that as well. The specific issue does not relate to our Department, because BIS covers the universities. I have to confess that I do not really know anything about that. Even if I did, the constitutional convention is that I should leave it to the accounting officer of BIS to answer your question. I will grapple with it when I move on.

Chair: Thank you.

Prepared 22nd November 2011