Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 28 - 39)

WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2000

MR DAVID GIBSON, DR JOHN BRENNAN AND MS RUTH SILVER

Chairman

  28. David, John and Ruth, you are very welcome. You have sat through the previous session and there may be some food for thought there, I do not know.

  (Mr Gibson) Absolutely, yes.

  29. We are delighted to have you here and thank you for the written evidence which you have already provided. We are looking forward to what more you are going to tell us now. If I may start myself before handing over to my other colleagues. Do not all three of you feel obliged to answer every question, but if you do want to add anything then you are more than welcome to do so. What would you say the further education sector's role in the New Deal for Young People and other welfare programmes is?
  (Mr Gibson) Can I thank you for the invitation to be a part of this process. As far as further education is concerned, as you know, we have each year more than four million students within further education that deal not only with the academic—and it is an interesting fact that 40 per cent of students that go to university now go through a further education college—but, on the other hand, the other area you are talking about which is skills needs. For those who ever doubt the role and the need for FE let them be asked to find a plumber in London! The range of skills is very broad. I was at a college in Manchester where we went from horticulture, floristry, hairdressing, beauty therapy through to printing through to media, music and technology, so it really is across the greatest gamut. While colleges have always got room for improvement and currently, with the active encouragement of the Secretary of State, we continue to strive for better achievement rates and better retention, I think the sector is absolutely critical to the development of UK plc as far as skills training and retraining is concerned.

  30. Why do you think the Government included the Full-Time Education and Training option in the New Deal?
  (Mr Gibson) I think number one is there was a lot of experience of difficulty through JSA when people were being pulled out of FE because they had not done enough job applications that week or people were being watched. That was negative. A lot of students who wanted to learn were being stopped. I think this is the positive side. If I can say on behalf of us collectively, as far as the sector is concerned, we see the role of New Deal as being a very, very positive one. The other thing is I do think it has got a real role in the whole of the agenda talked about previously by the Professor and that is in accosting the social inclusion agenda. You know, Chairman, and I am sure other Members of the Committee are well aware, it is rare for one person to have one problem, the difficulty is the complex nature and the interchange of a number of different problems. I do think FE has a major role to play, not least of all there.
  (Mr Brennan) I am conscious of your stricture at the beginning that you would not wish us all to come in on every question but there are just a couple of points I would like to add to what David said there. Your question was why did the Government have a Full-Time Education and Training option in New Deal and I think there are two general points one might add to what David said. One is that further education has had a long history of involvement in programmes for dealing with the disadvantaged, the unemployed, those who have got various kinds of problems in accessing the labour market and so on. There is a very considerable tradition of experience to build on there. I think the other thing that is also part of the thinking of this is there is an enormous body of evidence to suggest that those who are better qualified are a lot more likely to get jobs, to get better pay, to sustain employment and so on, and all the evidence is very much that those who are unskilled and unqualified are the least likely to enter sustained employment. It is part of the contribution of the FE sector that it is able to add that value in terms of qualifications and lift people up to the point where they have the kinds of skills and attitudes and so on that employers are looking for. It was a combination of those two contributions which were in the minds of Ministers and so on when they designed the programme.

  31. Thank you. Bearing in mind that there is a section of the young population and of the adult population who would not be seen dead in anything that looks like a classroom, what do you think colleges can offer to people on the New Deal?
  (Mr Gibson) I will ask Ruth to comment on this.
  (Ms Silver) My college is Lewisham College in South East London, the college nearest the Dome serving the sixteenth most needy community in the UK. We have been amazed at how popular New Deal has been with young people. The key is not to offer them a classroom, very seriously not to do that, so we have a curriculum programme that is designed to do two things: to tackle the New Deal aspect for the young people but also—forgive the phrase—to normalise them. So for 15 hours of the week they are in teams of New Deal peers working on basic skills, job search and so on, and for the other 15 hours they are in among the normal student body so that they seem like everybody else. They will be following vocational programmes, mostly in workshops: engineering workshops, construction workshops, catering, media studios, some even doing counselling training. You have to play the dialectic that enables them to be ever so ordinary, the same as everybody else, but also meet their needs in a way that respects them as not being the same as everybody else.

Mr Allan

  32. If we can look at the FTET option in a bit more detail. One of the shocking things that struck me about the statistics that have come out of the New Deal is the fact that fewer than 20 per cent of people who start an FTET option actually complete it. I want to go into that a bit because I think if you say to the man or woman in the street "there is a less than 20 per cent completion rate" they will see that as a more than 80 per cent failure rate of the option in some sense. I just wonder if you could give your reaction as colleges and providers of that option to the fact that you get a completion rate of less than 20 per cent?
  (Mr Gibson) I will ask John to start and then I think we would all like to come in.
  (Mr Brennan) Can I add one or two things in relation to that. One is, as Professor Millar was bringing out earlier on, many of the individuals who are going into the Full-Time Education and Training option are at least a step away from employment readiness, they have a variety of social problems of different kinds. You commented earlier on on some of the characteristics: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, social, domestic, housing problems and so on. Many of the individuals who are going through these programmes have a considerable degree of need for support alongside the basic skill acquisition and knowledge acquisition which goes with the qualification programmes that they are following. I think it is the experience of many colleges that it takes a lot of intensive time and effort to try to support those individuals through those programmes and when you have some fairly firm time constraints on the time over which you are allowed to tackle them, when you are faced with pressures, as colleges sometimes are, to move people on into employment opportunities when they are available, then I think it is not entirely unexpected that completion rates are relatively low. I think one of the things that we feel about the programme is that you do need to tailor the programmes much more closely to individual needs. A greater length, where that is appropriate, and a different mix of learning activities and so on would be a helpful way of broadening the programme out and enabling it to tackle those more disadvantaged groups.
  (Ms Silver) The retention rate at Lewisham College is 72 per cent and job placement is 40 per cent.

Chairman

  33. That sounded so important to me, could you repeat the statistics?
  (Ms Silver) 72 per cent retention and nearly 40 per cent job placement at the end. There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, we have seen the challenge of New Deal, which we really welcomed for our community because Deptford is pretty difficult, as being worth investing lots of staff time in. We have changed our intention from making people work ready to getting them to be job ready. My colleagues, and my managers are here, actually find jobs that we train people for. We pay them when they go into the job for the first 16 weeks. The American phrase is "internship". They then go on to take up full-time employment in good jobs. There is something about the quality of the jobs on offer. We happen now to be connected to Canary Wharf, so there are more ordinary good jobs available. That has happened because of extremely strong partnerships with the Employment Service's team and their action teams which really do follow up once people are in work, so there is support once they are out of the hands of the colleges and they do stay there. It means that I have had to re-engineer the college almost to have a group of intermediaries inside the college. They are not teachers, they are not personnel officers. I think we have been lucky that the Employment Service has been as flexible as they have been. You really do need to walk all the way with them. Knowing there is a job at the end, a real job, not just a work opportunity or possibility, has made an enormous difference to retention rates. You have to deal with New Deal in a different way.

Mr Allan

  34. Just to clarify a couple of points on the detail of that, it is 72 per cent who start the FTET option go all the way through and reach the end at Lewisham?
  (Ms Silver) Yes.

  35. And the 16 weeks' internship, who pays for that?
  (Ms Silver) The employer does in a kind of roundabout way. They are our staff and we put them forward as our staff. We then charge employers a kind of agency placement rate. It is all legitimate, we have permission from the Government to do that.
  (Mr Gibson) Let us clarify that point.
  (Ms Silver) I claim immunity.

  36. This is a special scheme that you have got that is not available elsewhere?
  (Ms Silver) It is an experiment that we have been involved in and we have tried to do that. Our placement rate for others, not on the experimental part of it, is high as well simply because of the Employment Service action team support.
  (Mr Gibson) If you look at the case studies from colleges I think you will find that a number of them talk about ESF extra funding that they have used to build up the sort of provision that Ruth is outlining.

Mr Twigg

  37. Can I be clear, the 72 per cent at Lewisham is comparable to the 20 per cent national figure?
  (Ms Silver) No, the 40 per cent is comparable.

  Mr Twigg: If it is averaging 20 and you have got 40, some places must be doing a lot worse.

Mr Allan

  38. Finally on the general point, the Lewisham example is impressive but across the piece we have this issue that overall New Deal FTET people are not completing. The argument—I have heard this from the Government side—is about whether the low completion rate is because people are finding jobs, and therefore the 10 or 12 weeks or whatever they did on the FTET course was money well spent because it made them more job-ready, and it is just because they found a job quicker as opposed to the fact they are dropping out because the option was not the right option, for whatever reason, or they were incapable of completing it. I do not know if you have a general feel as to which of these two pictures is the case. Whether the vast majority—80 per cent—are leaving simply because they have found jobs and it is the buoyant labour market and everything is okay really or whether there is a problem about placements and how people are getting onto the options.
  (Mr Gibson) Can I say two things. The entry data that we have for people coming onto the courses shows that 31 per cent of them have no qualifications whatever and 22 per cent of them are at foundation level. If you add on top of that all the various different social problems (which in my view you were rightly emphasising and focusing on because that is absolutely critical) it has to be remembered that is the starting point. What we should measure from is that starting point to where people achieve. If I can use that as an intro, if I may. I do not feel I can give you an absolute answer to that question. I believe it is both. I believe there is a lot more that can be done. I think the Secretary of State himself talked about wanting more flexibility. If somebody was nearly there but the money or time ran out and we could negotiate an extra month, if somebody needed an extra month before they went into employment and that would help them have sustainable employment, then we ought to be able to try to negotiate that. We are not saying it is all perfect and it is all alright, we are not saying that. What we are saying is that it has been a major step forward and we would be more than happy to work on increasing the flexibility and concentrating more on the individual in the way Ruth said. I think we need to re-examine and develop our relationship with employers. That is a challenge to all of us collectively. Also we must not under-estimate the amount of time and effort—and I believe worthwhile effort—that is necessary where people have got a very low level of attainment and complex disadvantages as well. That does take time.
  (Ms Silver) I taught New Dealers when they first came to Lewisham and it is a long time since I have taught people who are quite so needy. I was extremely proud that they came back the second week. I felt that was a real achievement because it is really hard to come back in for a second week.

Chairman

  39. With this 72 per cent that you mentioned, we are not absolutely clear what it is. Is it 72 per cent completing the qualification?
  (Ms Silver) That is our retention profile.


 
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