Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)



  240. Can I push you on that. There is in the current debate, as there always is on this is when they have got nothing else to put on the Today programme, the old argument about "not more means worse". We have around 34 per cent of people going into higher education in this country and the Prime Minister's ambition is to get it to 50 per cent. But we still have at the moment 66 per cent of the population not going into higher education, which is an awful lot of people. As we have been round schools in Birmingham this week it is interesting how many teachers and heads have said to us, "We work very hard with these young students. We get them to qualifications at 16. A substantial number of them disappear at 16 and do not reappear", particularly one school that I will not name but which is doing a really good job. "What frightens us at 16 is that they have a piece of paper, they go home, they close the door, they turn the television on and do not come out. They do not come out to go to college or to go to a job or to go into other education." And they said, "It is not our job to track where they have gone." I said to them and a number of us said to them, "We will be seeing the Learning and Skills Council . . ."
  (Mr Cragg) It is our job and we are quite happy with that job.

  241. Coming back to the Learning and Skills Councils, Stephen brought this point up, and it is a phenomenal problem, that a number of your good schools are producing 16-year-olds and they are lost, they are not tracked. Should you be tracking them, John?
  (Mr Towers) Could I go back to your original question, which was not answered, because I am also an employer, as you know. MG Rover is a big employer and therefore when it comes to issues of skills and training, mature apprenticeships and modern apprenticeships, it has more at its disposal than the small and medium-sized businesses that we at the LSC try very hard to get to the same level. I would say very definitely in the past that a combination of an already complicated set of processes and a desire on the part of politicians to have an initiative a week had caused many small and medium-sized business people to say, "It is just too much. I am chief accountant, storekeeper and head mechanic. I cannot be director of training as well in this terribly complicated environment." What we are trying to do at the moment is two things. First of all, we are trying to simplify the ability to be knowledgeable as a small business person about what is available and at the same time provide both financial assistance and administrative assistance into making those things happen. It is bound to have a two in the middle of it, but we have just launched a scheme which is a pilot in the area.
  (Mr Cragg) It is what I talked about earlier. "Train to Gain" is our local brand name.
  (Mr Towers) You know the PR people who do these things!
  (Mr Cragg) We are working already with well over 500 individual employers and most of those are SMEs. A lot of them, for example, are private care homes, and there are big issues about the national care standards at the moment. A lot of the people in the Asian business community run textile operations which is very clearly segmented work. I would want to challenge that a little bit, Chairman. That does sound like an old story about multiplicity. If anything, people are moaning to us that we are perhaps too all powerful because we are managing the whole of those resources. In this region, for example, we have reached an agreement with the local development agency that the six local LSCs will co-ordinate the Regional Skills Strategy through lead LSC arrangements and at a sub-regional level as well on behalf of the RDA. That is a comprehensive agreement. The RDA has even funded specialist regional skills roles for us to co-ordinate that work from now to the period 2006. I think that is very helpful.

  242. Track us through the 16-year-olds who disappear and no one tracks them. What is the relationship between you and Connexions, to bring another organisation?
  (Mr Cragg) It is a very close and day-to-day working relationship. I was surprised at your statement. I think you were suggesting very low participation rates. We are lower than the national average, there is no question about that, but relative to our neighbours in the Black Country our participation rates are quite high. 16 to 18s are around 73 per cent. It is too low and the national target of 80 per cent is a perfectly legitimate challenge for us as a LSC locally as well as nationally. Most worryingly, there are around 15 per cent of young people who are in no form of structured education and training and most of them are not even in employment. So those are big issues for us naturally. The joint work—and remember we are 18 months old—in putting those systems in place has made massive progress. We are much better informed and much clearer about that. If you come back to schools, the arrangements we put in place and the action plan which Ministers have signed off following the area-wide inspection by OFSTED—and this has been agreed through the whole of the schools network of heads as well as the college principals—is to look for a much more focused neighbourhood-based patch-based approach to planning, and in particular to look at picking up the issue of non-participation as one of our highest priorities and to see much better targeting and focusing of collective efforts on a patch basis between all the schools and the relevant local colleges across the 14 to 19 group.

  243. Is that not one of the problems? One of the things you notice as a "comer in", as we say in Yorkshire, is that people even to go to school travel great distances.
  (Mr Cragg) It is absolutely a problem.

  244. When you talk to people about where they are going to go to college at 16 or to get skills at 16, the places where they are going to get those skills and go to college, for very many people in the population, are a long hike.
  (Mr Cragg) We agree completely. It is not so much that the places are a long hike, it is just that people have not got sufficient trust and faith in what is available at a local level. If I give you the extreme examples: Sutton Coldfield College in the north of the city recruits from 170 individual schools and Cadbury College in the south of the city, which is a much smaller sixth form college, also recruits from 48 schools. The whole basis of our work 14 to 19 is to get a much better and consistent progression of pre- and post-16, through collaborative local arrangements between a college and a school on a patch, building, incidentally, on what the LEA has done in Excellence in Cities which we think has been very successful.

  245. We saw a very good scheme backed by local employers out at Four Dwellings School of which you know?
  (Mr Towers) Yes I do.

  246. Which seemed very good.
  (Mr Towers) Yes, we are much taken with that ourselves.

Valerie Davey

  247. A group of us went to Turves Green Girls' School, and woe betide any college that took on some of the girls there with their engineering and computing skills, not recognising the ability which they have now been given. Thank you, Rover, for the work put in there. I want to take up perhaps on the back of that where girls are falling back. I want to come back to the Women's Academy because that is where we went on to. I appreciate enormously what you said in a very robust way, David, about all that the LSC has done, but given the demographics, given that it is this large Pakistani community which is represented at college and which is the drop out, and where the women are potentially the workforce, "small is beautiful" may be something that you do need to replicate. Despite all you have done—and I do not blame you at all in brushing it aside and saying this is what we have done and this is where we are going—
  (Mr Cragg) I was not saying that.
  (Mr Towers) I do not think he was saying that.

  Valerie Davey: I apologise if that is not what you were saying.

  Chairman: Never apologise.

Valerie Davey

  248. I do apologise because I think you are doing some good work and I certainly do not want to get on the wrong side of that. I was very sceptical, to be quite honest, about what this small academy might be doing, but having seen the trust—again it is that building of trust—amongst a community which has not had the benefit very much at school level and now certainly is not going to be encouraged by their families, sadly, to go into co-ed colleges, this has opened a door. Some of those stories we heard, we could go on, it was not just the ones that you heard here, there were others, and it seemed to us that the potential for that was way above the small unit that it was, and being able to replicate it may help. Given your analysis at the beginning that the ethnic minority community—not at school age but the next generation, the parents—are those you want to tap into, then for value for money that small academy was way above anything I have seen.
  (Mr Cragg) It is worth responding to say I was asked simply about capital investment so I gave a proper robust response. I would not want to convey a message through that that the thing we are interested in is solely that kind of investment; it is the very reverse. Again, it is taking time. We have to go at the right speed. We cannot just rush at institutions and bounce them into it. It is "yet another initiative syndrome" if you are not careful. One of the things we have done is to look both at 14 to 19s, as I have mentioned already, at area planning, which then starts to look at individual disadvantaged groups and targetting. We now are looking at the same co-ordinated process for looking to get all first level and access work at a local area and bringing together for the first time the adult education service with FE colleges and with other voluntary sector providers. We have got a major review taking place which is engaging all those groups, and one of our big objectives is to get a much closer alignment between what is going on at a patch basis, in individual disadvantaged groups especially, and wider regeneration and employment initiatives. That is crucial. We have got the best possible inter-agency co-ordination of employment that we have seen in the last 20 years. For example, we are all working right across the piece from the voluntary sector, at this end of the supply chain, if you like, right through to Business Link at the interface with businesses, the JobCentre Plus and the local authorities on the Bullring making absolutely sure that the 8,000 jobs created in the Bullring are closely linked to neighbourhood renewal and regeneration and outreach work. That is precisely the kind of issues you are picking up that we are replicating on the ground.

  249. Could I ask Mark or Stephen whether that makes sense to you? As employers can you echo that?
  (Mr Ellison) I can give a very good case study in point about that. About 12 or 18 months ago I was approached by Pertemps who have a large contract to get people back into work. We are a training company and we have two or three Asian tutors on board. Sadly, I cannot afford to employ them full time, but I do have those and I could call upon a number more. There is a large, large number of Asian people who are not working in the East Birmingham area. This is well-known, I am sure, by John and by David. I approached several employers to say that if we came across basically trained people who are trained in hygiene and health and safety, would they be prepared to give people a job and give people a chance. Initially the response was very, very good, but the enthusiasm waned because it is fine, it is great, we train people, people have the knowledge, have the skills, but the cultural gap is not assessed by the training. This is in no way intended to be any judgment on any particular culture, but the employers found it too difficult to make provisions for people who may be shy in speaking to a member of the opposite sex, who may be shy in coming forward, who may have different cultural views on certain things. I was speaking to employers like Allied Bakeries and various other employers in the food sector because primarily that is where we work, and there is a lot of employment in the food and food manufacture sector from this particular background. I put about two and a half months into it and it fell flat on its face because it was not going to work. As I mentioned before, an awful lot of work is done to take somebody the 90 per cent (and a woman's A-levels and qualifications are superb) but they need another 10 per cent to make them "work ready", if I could use that expression.
  (Mr Towers) More than 10 per cent.
  (Mr Ellison) I was being conservative.


  250. Why do you say more than 10 per cent, John?
  (Mr Towers) You have heard the LSC's perspective on this. We support that process and we would like to see much, much more because we know that it will have a multiplier effect and eventually we will be able to get to where we want to. However, if you talk to an average employer round here he will take a very practical approach to this and say, "All very well, but unless the education, training and skilling turns itself into employability in a normal context—I am very happy to listen to you and hear what was said, only I do not know what I have got to do with it." In other words, "I haven't got a women only factory." I think that is what Stephen was referring to.
  (Mr Ellison) Another employer was blunt to me not too long ago. He said, "If they cannot speak English, I do not want them." I said, "Many people can speak English and will be able to get by, you are judging too quickly," and he said, "No, if they cannot read the instructions, I am not interested."

  251. Surely a lot of people you are talking about will have good language skills?
  (Mr Ellison) This is my opinion. I think there is a huge, huge under-estimate in the literacy ability of not just the 30 plus per cent of people from other cultures in Birmingham but also the white European people in Birmingham. Because of things that have been mentioned before about people's parents being made redundant, difficulties with education in the past, and speaking from practical experience—

Mr Turner

  252. You said there has been an under-estimate—
  (Mr Ellison) Of the number of people who are below level one in writing, again my opinion.


  253. We hear what you say about that and what John says about that, but one of the things you find—and a couple of you popped into the last session we had with the two academics and the reason we invited them is they have done a study of Birmingham on the progress of African-Caribbean people here—is if you put all that to one side, part of that discussion was when we have been to schools one of the most difficult groups to bring out their potential and get into employment is white working class lads, and to some extent lasses, who have got no problems with linguistic skills or working in a mixed environment, but in this city it seems you have got a very high level of unemployment of just that type of person.
  (Mr Towers) Some of the best attainment is among Indian girls, they top the tree.

  254. Absolutely, so if we concentrate on that for a moment in LSCs and talk about bread and butter issues, here it is flagged up time and time again that there is this real problem with young men living on estates in Birmingham, perhaps their fathers or grandfathers worked in the car industry at one stage, but they not see a role for themselves and are not skilled enough and do not have this 10 per cent or 15 per cent. Sitting here listening to you as employers and LSC active leaders, what are we doing in a city like this? You say it is difficult with Asian women. I can understand that. What about this population when you are dying to get skilled young men?
  (Mr Cragg) Let's focus on young men.

  255. White young men.
  (Mr Cragg) I think young men.

  256. It is a difference in language.
  (Mr Cragg) You had a debate earlier. There is a big debate to be had about race and class because the correlation is pretty clear for me.

  257. Why is it clear? In what sense clear?
  (Mr Cragg) If you stop mapping the city ethnically and map the city in terms of multiple disadvantage, you will find the correlation is overwhelmingly the same correlation. It just happens to be particular ethnic groups. For example, we have done a lot of cross-referencing of unemployment in health and educational attainment and you can see how that lines up. The more complex the ethnicity becomes, the more you have got to focus down. You are asking me what we are doing. We are clear that by the time you have got to 16, if you look at the horrendous results now of African-Caribbean boys or, for that matter, for pockets of working class white boys, we need to focus in on those particular areas in a way that makes sense in a remedial context because you are trying to get people back in and trying to address a whole range of things. This year we have introduced an incentive for institutions to work outside the box because we believe it is necessary—and we come back to the funding which Mr Ennis mentioned earlier—and we do not think formula funding will address this issue. It requires far more to get people off the streets, in through the door and support them to stay there. If there is no additional support you will not do that. We have introduced an easy to manage benchmark. We look at the current baseline of participation in each of the colleges and among work based learning providers (not in sixth forms because you have got to have a qualification to enter sixth forms) and we are offering a 25 per cent uplift for increased recruitment for institutions, on a clear condition that they will work with other intermediaries, in particular, for example, we have forged an agreement across the whole of the area with "Foyers" to work with those Foyers to target the hardest to help and to create a bridge between the intermediary who is working right at the grass-roots of the community and the institutions or training providers. We are doing the same, for example, with black intermediary organisations. We are working in Handsworth with an organisation well-known nationally called the Scarman Trust which is doing a lot of work with other grass roots training organisations. There has been a 25 per cent uplift in funding which we think is very legitimate and we have used TEC legacy funding to do that, and we have had 1 million this year to do two things—to do practical things to forge relations with those organisations that are in touch with young people, but also to give institutions a really new model of working out in the community outside the institutional boxes. We also hope we will be able to evaluate what is, after all, a pilot exercise from our own point of view, and show how in both a controlled but very flexible way you can bring precisely those young people back into education and training.
  (Mr Towers) I sat at the back for some of the discussion you were having with David and Simon and part of that discussion talked about a racist attitude. It was a sophisticated definition of a racist attitude in schools which I was, frankly, struggling with. We have talked at length about the stuff that David has spoken to you about. If you take the community that we are talking about, take that particular class level, then the issue that we face, the issue that we know about, the issue that is most easy to understand is the role model issue. The fact that it is smart not to work, it is smart not to study, rather than the other way round. What this process is attempting to do is not to say you are bad parents or you are bad teachers but it is trying to get a role model type of thinking into the process which says it might be quite smart to make a few quid when you are older, it might be quite smart to drive around in a nice car because you are making a few quid, and you do not make a few quid and run the risk of going to prison every so often. We are not there and I do not think our philosophy is yet fully developed but, goodness me, I honestly believe—and I do not have the statistics—that schools these days are one of the least racist areas and one of the least things we need to worry about in terms of a distinction of that nature.

  Chairman: I think this Committee would agree with you. Could I give Andrew a turn. He is going to get restless if I do not give him a question now.

Mr Turner

  258. One of the points made to us earlier in an informal session was that white working class boys in particular have been told to be ashamed of everything about their culture. Do you agree with that?
  (Mr Cragg) That is a pretty far-reaching statement. I could draw some parallels between what I believed in.
  (Mr Towers) Been told to be ashamed about their culture?

  Jeff Ennis: Do you mean lifestyle or culture?

Mr Turner

  259. Perhaps what was meant was the stereotype of their culture.
  (Mr Cragg) I think that is just such an over-simplistic statement really. What I do believe, and John has summed it up, is that we have got a huge set of issues about how we create positive and desirable role models and the point I was going make, Chairman, was a demographic point. I personally believe that one of the biggest issues around African-Caribbean under-attainment is that we have got a secondary school employee population that is overwhelmingly white and middle class. I believe that makes a fundamental difference and it is the biggest challenge for us. It is interesting that in another place John and I both sit on the local City Strategic Partnership. One of the major focuses we have taken there is to look at demography from a public service and employment point of view. The one thing that will change behaviour and attitudes to staff is to reflect the diversity of the community in the way services are provided, especially in education. That will create the role model. We have got massive under-representation in most areas of our public services by the very communities we are trying to serve. We need to put a huge amount of effort into all of that. Incidentally, private sector employers in this city are starting to do that. One of the most significant pieces of work we have done around campaigning about these demographic issues is we have found in professional services a real awareness that for huge job growth they must do something economically about diversity. They have created a big new initiative on diversity, the Diversity Board, and they are taking that right into their own backyard and among their employers.


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