Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 60)

WEDNESDAY 13 DECEMBER 2000

MR DAVID GIBSON, DR JOHN BRENNAN AND MS RUTH SILVER

Mr Twigg

  40. They do not necessarily get the qualification at the end of it that they were aiming for?
  (Ms Silver) No, we measure on job outcomes. I do not know if Geoff knows how many do qualify.

Chairman

  41. 72 per cent stayed the course, completed the course?
  (Ms Silver) That is right. There is real tension in the intention of the programmes. We find quite often that students who are desperate for the qualification get really fed up with the work focused part of the programme and vice versa. That is quite hard to handle when you are trusting people to come back in again, having not been around education for a bit, and being torn between, "Do I get a qualification and maybe fail or it is best to concentrate on a job?" We have to manage that tension. It can be really difficult. Some do not want the qualification, you see, they want the job.

Mr Allan

  42. The fewer than 20 per cent I was talking about was those who complete and get the qualification. I want to be clear that is our understanding of it. That point you just made about the tension between getting a qualification or not is something that runs generally across the FE sector as to whether all payments should be qualification focused, but you are saying it is an issue for New Dealers as well?
  (Mr Gibson) We have great discussions and a popular phrase at the moment is "bite-sized chunks of learning" for Learning Direct. Certainly these students, let's face it, are more in need than anybody else. I think the second thing concerns motivation, which you mentioned earlier on. As you know, you get your JSA and if you are in employment you get £10 a week as well, but you do not get it if you are in the education option. Given the success, if I may say so on our evidence, of educational maintenance allowances, if they are helping people stay on and are improving retention and improving achievement, it would not be a wild step of the imagination to suggest that if they got the £10 as well that might help retention.

Mr Twigg

  43. To some extent that answers my next question which is what changes do you think should be made to the FTET option in order to put more emphasis on the attainment of qualifications and retaining people in that way?
  (Dr Brennan) I think one of the additional flexibilities which would be helpful, chair, is to allow a wider range of learning programmes. At the moment the focus in the FE world is on what is known as Schedule 2 which has a relatively limited range of things, and certainly not a lot of low level qualifications appropriate for the kind of individuals that we are talking about here. There needs to be more flexibility in terms of programmes and a greater capacity to do the kind of thing that Ruth was describing earlier at Lewisham where you have a mix between a skill-based qualification that you are trying to pursue but also a lot more emphasis on job search skills and personal attitudinal issues and approaches to work, so programmes should have much more tailoring in terms of individual needs which are capable of responding to that. That would certainly be helpful. The incentive effect, which has already been talked about, would also be helpful. I think a further change which might be helpful in taking us in the direction of sustained employment is when individuals move into employment from the Full-Time Education and Training option—and there are some who are eager to do so earlier despite the fact they have not got the qualification and others who want to move later once they have got the qualification—if they were able to have a more sustained form of support for a period in the employed situation so that those who want to carry on to completion of qualification can do so and others who have a variety of other kinds of problems would get some on-going support maybe in the basic skills area or other areas to keep them facing up to the realities of working life. Those kinds of things would be helpful in terms of making the programme more appropriate for the more difficult groups that you are trying to get to there.
  (Mr Gibson) I think Professor Millar made a very serious point about the advisers and their role. We would certainly want to endorse that 100 per cent. I think that has been critical. I think as it gets harder then they can be given more support in the sort of way that was described to be able to recognise some of those problems and look to other agencies for support. I do not know of any one agency that can deal with some of the complexities. We would want to support that very, very strongly and certainly we would want to support the point John was saying, that if somebody moves into employment if they had support there perhaps for several months, if they still had that same person and they had got a good personal relationship with them, and they could still get help and support in employment, that might also help.
  (Ms Silver) Some more flexibility particularly around targets for progress. They need to be smaller and fed back to the trainees.

Mr Twigg

  44. Smaller targets?
  (Ms Silver) Things they can mark along the way saying "this is progress". We had an inspection—and it was not from OFSTED—and we had an interesting struggle in the early days. They challenged us as to why the students did the basic skills qualification right away and why we taught them food hygiene. It is because in London you can get jobs if you have a food hygiene qualification. We did that by way of building confidence and also to make them more employable. We won the debate but we had a real tough time justifying those but we did by saying that they start with success and it is no time at all until they get a qualification. That feels quite important and that kind of flexibility is crucial. I think we also need to have funds for additional payments to the trainees so that when they do a bit better on a long programme they can trigger more money for themselves. It is a real issue. We have seen in my college how EMAs have made a difference to 16-19 year olds and they are no different, they should be allowed the same kind of financial bonus support.

  45. Moving back a little bit, all of that is very interesting and there are some areas that we should pursue further in our inquiry but, on the matter we were talking about before, where do you see the pressure coming from to place this overriding priority on getting jobs rather than on some of the issues around quality of training and qualifications? Is it something integral to the way New Deal is constructed or something else? Is it the young people themselves?
  (Ms Silver) I think it is the intention of New Deal that they do actually get young people, the ones who are not into full-time education programmes, as part of the entitlement. I make no challenge to that. One space we need is to enable people to change their minds having been in the college and it is not nearly so scary, "can we please change over and get to another programme?" This may just be the Scot in me where the vocational impulse is strong—well, it would be because there are hardly any jobs there—but the vocational impulse in working class communities, it is really important to respect that. It is a way of definition of our adult selves. I think it is an important outcome. It really needs to remove any sense of the social work notions surrounding New Deal. It is a learning programme, it is not a social support programme, and I think young people have responded to that in my experience.
  (Mr Brennan) Just to add one or two points to that, if I may, Chairman. I think the emphasis upon employment as the outcome is absolutely right and that has never been an issue. The issue is around the path to that end and creating opportunities for individuals to move through in different ways. Despite what Ruth says about attitudes towards work and so on, there are some whose experiences are such that they have become disenchanted with the normal pattern of existence that most of us accept and they need to be shifted back into seeing the positive aspects of all of that and seeing that as a route to personal satisfaction and material reward and so on. With some you have to take that route back and it is simply a question of being able to bring them through and bring them to a point where they begin to see the value in all of that, they begin to want to see those outcomes. For some that will be relatively easy to achieve because they start from that perspective, but with others you need to go through that period of shifting that perspective. For some they see the acquisition of particular skills and qualifications as being vital to the kind of job opportunity that they want, others are much more flexible and are willing to take any reasonable range of jobs which may be on offer fairly quickly. I think it is about creating the alternative possibilities. I am not trying to have a one-size-fits-all approach to this in order to create the longer term goal for everyone of getting them back into the labour market.

Mr Twigg

  46. I absolutely take the point about flexibility, nevertheless looking at it in an overall sense would you accept the criticism that the FE sector so far has not been getting sufficient of its New Deal people through the option and into work, that overall the numbers just are not good enough?
  (Mr Brennan) I do not think we would dispute that. The evidence is quite clear, that the success rates in the conventional sense are not that impressive. One has to look beyond that to the nature of the measures which are being used and their appropriateness to the client groups that we are actually trying to deal with. I think you do need to have a much more sensitive assessment system to evaluate how successful you are, as Ruth was saying, have more milestones along the way towards some of those objectives to try to assess that people are making progress. You do need to reinforce confidence and progression in many of these individuals and I think if you were able to do that you would begin to see the benefits of that over a longer period of time.
  (Mr Gibson) Could I just add to that. I am not here to be defensive, and it would be totally unhelpful, but I do think on the previous debate about those that are most employable and taken up by the employers very quickly, whether one likes it or not there is a sort of filtering out, almost a sort of bizarre selection procedure. We would accept there is a challenge there and we hope you will accept that is with those who have the most difficulties and problems. It rather takes you back to Helena Kennedy and widening participation, that you are actually working with those least likely to succeed and least likely to be retained, but well worth it. I think the Secretary of State at the recent conference the Association had at Harrogate talked about the real purpose of trying to work with employers and individuals to get a cultural change and that obviously would take time but, if achieved, would be quite brilliant.
  (Ms Silver) The other point I would like to make is that employability is a spectrum and to move somebody from the beginning of that line to the middle is quite an achievement. I told you I taught our New Deal trainees. I laughed heartily and gaily when they said widening participation in my college had doubled in size because I could not believe there was anybody in Deptford we had not got to until I saw the New Deal clients and I realised there was a whole group out there we had not touched before. I think you do need to realise that we are the last sieve in the placement ladder.

Chairman

  47. There is a very strong argument that you are developing that there is some system of pre-selection and you are getting more than your fair share of the more difficult to place candidates. I think that was what you were saying.
  (Mr Gibson) I am not saying that we are complaining about it because I think this is a challenge, but it is a very worthwhile challenge. From a social point of view it is a critical challenge because we see the consequences too frequently. Yes, I think it is hard. We are looking at different ways, and we have discussed many of them with you today, to try to improve that rate and I believe that is our mission.

  Chairman: This is something that Judy will remember in the evidence that we took before. I was rather surprised that, for example, in the North East, and it may well be true in Scotland, there was a far bigger percentage going into the Further Education and Training option than anyone ever predicted. It was something like 40 or 50 per cent, whereas I think the assumption had been 25 per cent.

  Mr Allan: Across the board it is.

Chairman

  48. That is right. This is probably, I would guess, because in lots of areas the subsidised jobs are not available and, therefore, more are going into the Further Education and Training option.
  (Ms Silver) I think I wanted to make the point earlier that it takes two to tango. There need to be jobs at the end for them to go to. In our part of London, and it has been 25 years since the river changed, it has been difficult. That is now changing for us. There need to be jobs there and employers who are receptive to working with new client groups.
  (Mr Brennan) I think one also needs to understand that the characteristics of the unemployed populations are different in different parts of the country. Where levels of unemployment are high you have got lots of relatively capable and well motivated people who may see that acquisition of a qualification, which is well within their grasp, as being the right step forward for them in terms of trying to improve their employability. In other areas where you have much more disadvantaged people, because unemployment rates are relatively low and you are at the bottom end of the spectrum, then motivation in terms of acquisition of qualifications and skills and so on is much more problematic. You are dealing with different kinds of populations in different areas.
  (Mr Gibson) You know, Chairman, some of the areas that I know and there you are not talking about one individual but three generations of a family that have been unemployed. Again, we have got to face up to that honestly and try to deal with it.

  49. It just strikes me, has anyone done any evaluation of the differential placement rates relating to the tightness or otherwise of the labour market?
  (Mr Brennan) Not to my knowledge.
  (Mr Gibson) Not that we know of, Chairman.
  (Ms Silver) No idea.

  Chairman: That would be a good thing for somebody to do. Judy?

Judy Mallaber

  50. I think my question on funding actually follows on very closely from some of the difficulties you have just been talking about because it is based on the idea of the Employment Service only needing to pay a marginal rate on the assumption that FTET participants will take places on pre-existing courses, but you have been talking about some of the difficulties with the students and John talked of the intensive time and effort needed for a number of them. Those additional costs for individual clients, as I understand it, are not covered explicitly. How serious a problem does that pose for colleges?
  (Mr Gibson) Could I ask John to give some figures and we can then add to that, if we may, Chair.
  (Dr Brennan) I think the starting point is that colleges are accustomed to being paid through the FEFC funding mechanism at defined rates for particular types of provision. So their first point of comparison is "what are we being paid for New Deal clients as compared with what FEFC would pay", and typically you are talking about figures of two-thirds or something of that order, so you start from a position where, even if you are providing an exactly equivalent package, you are actually being paid at substantially less and I think the arguments about marginal funding are not very well founded in this context because colleges do not operate on that basis any more. They do not have a core funding which they can rely on to cover their overheads and then marginal costs per student. That is not the way the system works. So I think the problem that they have, first of all, is that that is what they perceive to be their situation in terms of broad funding levels, but they have then got the further problems we have already been talking about, the fact that many of these individuals require different kinds of support from mainstream students so they are therefore incurring additional costs in trying to deliver the total programmes. The total commitment is 30 hours a week, not 20 hours a week which might be a standard full-time programme, so you are committed to a considerable amount of extra expense associated with these groups for which there is no recognition in the funding formula. Our view is that that does need to be addressed. You do need to get closer to a realistic recognition of the costs involved. There are practical problems identifying what those costs are and very little work has been done on it, although the Learning Skills Development Agency has a project going at the moment to look at some of these questions and hopefully that will throw up some useful data to us. A lot of colleges have reported to us that, effectively, they believe they subsidise the New Deal to a very considerable extent. We quoted one example in the paper where colleges assessed that it was costing them £70,000 to support a New Deal commitment. Colleges are doing that because they basically believe in the objectives of the scheme. They believe these are clients they should be reaching out to and should be trying to help and they are prepared to carry some degree of additional cost to do that, but I think if the programme is to be sustained on a long-term basis it is not an adequate basis for funding it and we need to see a much closer relationship between the costs incurred and the income which it generates.

  51. Are you hearing of colleges declining to provide the FTET option on the basis of cost or not wanting to take on particular clients because of particular difficulties?
  (Dr Brennan) I think there have been some examples quoted to us of not withdrawing from the full-time training option altogether but deciding to limit the offer. Many colleges started out saying, "The totality of our programmes is available for New Deal clients", but some with experience are starting to say, "It is far too expensive for us to accommodate the particular needs of individual clients in this kind of area and therefore we withdraw that from our offer and restrict what we offer to a narrower range." I think there has been some of that but I do not think that has been on a large scale up until now. If the cost pressures were to continue, more might find it difficult to sustain their commitment across the board.
  (Mr Gibson) In the early days I was at a college where the Employment Service had eight people wanting to join an engineering group in August and the college said, "We can do that, but if we have eight in that group and it is going to last for a year and they have got to be on the college site for 30 hours, it is going to be a major loss leader", and certainly in those first few months as it got under way there were some discussions such as you outlined. I think John's point is fair, though, they got less and less, and hopefully the examples in the paper would support that view.
  (Ms Silver) We manage a group of sub-contractors so we can give real work experience to the trainees and that is an incredibly difficult cost for quality assurance that we have to fold in. People forget the costs of the management of contracts on behalf of other people so you can really put people in the workplace to try out the new skills they have learned. It is a very expensive programme. I refuse to allow my colleagues to tell me how much it costs because then I will know and I would not sleep at night.
  (Mr Gibson) Thank goodness she does not stop food hygiene, Chairman.

  52. How likely is it that the Government will increase the ES funding for each client to the same level as the FEFC funding for the same courses? Do you have any hopes?
  (Mr Gibson) We are optimistic about the amount of money that the Secretary of State has found to put into the sector. If we are getting 15.9 per cent over the next two years it would be pretty churlish to start to complain about that. Yes, I think we have been challenged to come up with ideas and we have been challenged to come up with something for something. I do not believe that is an impossible pipe dream.
  (Ms Silver) I want to be greedy. I want to say "these are the people you need to spend more on, not less" because their needs are so enormous that any kind of equitable society would do that. I think I would still want to ask for more, David, if that is all right with you.

  53. Noted.
  (Mr Gibson) The populist answer would be we would love to reduce the bureaucracy attached to the scheme.
  (Ms Silver) Oh, God, please.
  (Mr Gibson) There is lots and lots. Somebody estimated that it took over 50 pieces of paper for one person.

Chairman

  54. This is distinctively with the further education sector. We have made the point across the board, have we not?
  (Mr Gibson) Could we support you in that, Chairman, very strongly if that is possible.
  (Ms Silver) I have one more addition to that. I do not know if you know that people have to hand in time sheets and the checking on New Deal trainees is really appallingly undignified. If you are trying to normalise them and they are the only group in college who have to take their time sheets, it is very undignified.

Judy Mallaber

  55. Could we just look briefly at the liaison with the Employment Service, which is obviously a critical issue. We had a few teething troubles in my area when it started, which were sorted our mostly. Do you think there is close enough liaison between the Employment Service and the New Deal providers in the FE sector? Is that working well now?
  (Mr Gibson) I think, as you rightly say, it was almost open warfare, was it not, if you go back to those very early days. Anything that went wrong by definition was the other party's fault, but I think it has grown up a lot since then. I am not saying it is perfect, I think we should look, and I hope you will encourage us to look, at much more close working relationships, using the personal advisers as the people to help us see through that to the advantage of the New Deal people. It is a lot, lot better than it was but it would be foolish to say it could not better. I think that is one recommendation you will obviously want to consider.
  (Mr Brennan) Just to add a little bit to that. One of the interfaces which we still get comments about is the communication between personal advisers and college staff when clients make the transition, and so on, and the extent to which information is passed on and the college sometimes has to duplicate work that has already taken place in the Gateway in order to establish a starting point for individual learners and so on. I think there are areas like that where a general improvement would probably be helpful although, as David has said, it is not uniformly bad. The relationships are much better and the understanding is much better than it was before but I think there is still room for improvement in that respect. There are other structural things which to some extent relate to relationship issues but also relate to the kind of bureaucracy point that was being made before. Because New Deal has its own structures, its own consortia arrangements, its own planning arrangements for provision and so on, which are not linked in to the kind of emerging structures which the Learning and Skills Council will be creating, for example, there is a potential in all of that for colleges in particular, as providers, to find themselves engaged in a whole series of different dialogues with different agencies about the range of provision they are providing in a way that does not integrate accordingly to all of that. We think there are opportunities now as these new structures are being built to create a rather more coherent approach to this so that the planning and the management and the accountability arrangements, the flow of information and so on, can be much more streamlined for all the parties involved. That would help everybody to focus on the clients rather than on some of the processes that surround that.
  (Ms Silver) We have two Employment Service colleagues in our college the whole time, they are based in the college itself. For two days a week we also have somebody from the income tax office to sort out tax problems and benefit and that really makes a difference, they are not running between different agencies but where they are based is where they are served. Without the team we have we would not be nearly as successful and it makes a difference. When it works, it really works well.

  56. I am interested in the appointment of the secondee to work with the Employment Service and I note that you said you were pleased with the Good Practice Guide. What other benefits have there been from this initiative, the route talked about, the advantage of people going the other way and going to colleges? Has that secondment been a success? What benefits were there? Is it going to be repeated?
  (Dr Brennan) I think it was and it was widely seen as such on both sides in that it created a better interface between the sector and the Employment Service, a better understanding on the part of the Employment Service of the issues which drove colleges in terms of the way in which they were trying to respond to the needs of the programme and so on and, on the other hand, you were able to disseminate some of the messages about what the Employment Service was trying to do and how it was trying to do it out to the colleges through channels through which they perhaps understood a bit more readily and in language they would understand more readily than the Employment Service would deliver. I think there were benefits from that. It is a bit unfortunate that it came to an end at the point where it did. If it were possible to resurrect something of that kind we would see that as being very beneficial. Indeed, David referred earlier to something David Blunkett said at our conference a few weeks ago in effect challenging the sector to do better in terms of its contribution to the New Deal, a challenge which I think we are very ready, and the sector is very ready to pick up on and David has written to him to say that we want to do this and we are awaiting some response to that so we can begin to work on some of these agendas together.
  (Mr Gibson) Departmental differences and understandings are not made up, are they? Sometimes they are fairly fundamental and I think this was an attempt to try to get over some of the original problems that you mentioned. Whether it would have been better to look at re-establishing that along the lines John said I would have thought there was still some benefit to be gained from trying to do that.

Mr Allan

  57. I wanted to go back to the issue of funding briefly and ask whether you still think there is a major problem in terms of putting together packages of support for New Dealers. In Sheffield we have got pots of Objective 1 money to spend on education and training, SRB money, we have got all the LSE money that is coming through, and there are national IT programmes. There is lots and lots of money coming in in different ways but it seems you cannot put together a package of all the different bits for New Dealers. Is that still the case?
  (Mr Gibson) I think you are spoiled with money!

  58. It depends which street you live in which ones you are eligible for.
  (Mr Gibson) I think you are right. If I refer you back to those case studies, some colleges were putting in extra funds from their own money, and some were eligible and able and willing to apply for European Social Funds and some are going for SRB, and that does dictate the reality, that colleges are sitting there trying to maximise income. Sometimes it is another job and some colleges have special units in order to go around maximising the amount of money they can get from these things. The more that is brought together then the colleges can make a more coherent deal for its students and clients.

Chairman

  59. Can I thank you all very much indeed for coming in front of us and answering our questions so frankly. I was very interested in the job brokering service which is happening in Ruth's college. Could you perhaps provide us with further examples of that where it exists within your sector. That is very much pertinent to another investigation that we are just completing. That would be helpful.
  (Mr Gibson) That would be a pleasure, Chairman.

  60. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Mr Gibson) Thank you very much.





 
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