Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 1-19)




1.  Good morning, Secretary of State. Can I welcome you and say what a pleasure it is to have you at our first formal and public session. You will know that the election coming on meant that although we did interview, right at the end of the last Parliament, the Permanent Secretary, the Secretary of State got off, as they say, not because he wanted to because I know he was looking forward to that final session with the Committee; that is what he told me on the record. You will know that this Committee is trying a new approach, in line with the Department's attitude of having milestones, having targets, that we also ought to have targets and also perhaps institute a sort of performance review for the Department and your team. You cannot have a performance review if you do not have an initial meeting. Therefore, in the best possible sense of that performance review, this is the initial meeting on which we hope in continuing years we come back and say, "But, Secretary of State, at that first meeting in October 2001 you said this". We are all well aware of the process but first of all, in welcoming you, I would like you to make a short statement.

  (Estelle Morris) Thank you, Chairman. My apologies for being late. Punctuality is not my strength but I was genuinely kept back in the Department. In this situation I am happy to stay late, probably for more minutes than I was late, but that is life. Can I first of all say how pleased I am to meet the new Committee and congratulate those members who were not members last time but I hope for a good and positive relationship between us. We are a new department of course. It is not the Department for Education and Employment. It is the Department for Education and Skills. What I wanted to do in my opening comments was not to go through each of those policy areas but just say how I saw the cohesiveness of the Department and its new structure. The thing that mattered most to me in the shape of the new Department was that we did not split education and skills. We are not the Department for Schools; we are not a department for schools and higher education. We are a department for education and skills. I think it is that skills part of the agenda to some extent that has been sadly neglected in the country for generation after generation. We still have not got that right, right down to seven million adults who have not got sufficient basic literacy and numeracy skills. I am very content and happy that we have a coherent department now. Clearly we have lots of targets and milestones and we hope to make progress. What I would say, Chairman, in response to what you have just said about being held accountable and in a couple of years' time saying, "But two years ago, Secretary of State, you said this", is that I am hugely ambitious for our Department. We want to aim high and my approach would be: be very ambitious, aim high and do your damnedest to get to it. We will make progress in all of our key areas but what I do not ever want to do because of some fear of accountability is to set low targets in the knowledge that I will get them. I very much hope that your conversations over the months with myself and other colleagues will bear that in mind, that I would sooner be a Secretary of State who has aimed high and almost got there than a Secretary of State who has aimed low and made it and had an easy time in front of the Select Committee. I know that you are meeting my colleagues over the next few weeks. I think you have us one a week so we shall get to know each other very well over the next six weeks when we want to give some of the details of the policy. I think that education and skills bring together so much of individuals' and the nation's life. It is so important for personal fulfilment so that everybody can reach their potential. It is hugely empowering and enabling but it is also not only good for individuals; it is absolutely essential for the health and wealth and well-being of the nation. I suspect that educationalists for generations have always said to their students or pupils, "You need to work hard to pass your exams". I am happy to be Secretary of State at a time when that has never been more true than it is now. I think we are moving into an area where life chances are going to be so diminished for those people who do not have the basic skills and the educational qualifications but, more than that, that life chances will be diminished for those individuals who do not understand that they must have a lifetime commitment to learning and re-learning and engaging with the whole of that learning process. In that way I think we are a Department, like the new welfare state, that means learning for fulfilment and to learn right from cradle to grave. I think learning can take place at any one of those years. Can I say just one more thing, Chairman, before I open myself to questioning? As a courtesy to the Committee I did want to let you know that this afternoon at four o'clock I will be answering a written parliamentary question in which I have decided to suspend the Government's Individual Learning Account scheme. It has been hugely popular. We have over two and a half million people who have signed up to the learning account. Much of the feedback we have got is that it has served its purpose well. They have returned to learn and they have taken advantage of the subsidies that were available from the Government, and it is making a real difference. What has emerged over recent weeks is that I am not entirely happy that the details of the scheme are all running well and because the scheme is so very important I have taken the decision to suspend it, but obviously in my parliamentary answer at four o'clock this afternoon and in a release at that point to the press I will go into more details. Of course, Chairman, if you wish me or any of Ministers to come back on a future occasion to go over that in more detail I will do so but I was conscious that I was appearing before you on the very day on which we are answering a parliamentary question this afternoon.

2.  Secretary of State, thank you for that courtesy. I understand that under the protocol of the House we will not pursue ILAs today on that specific question, but all other questioning is no holds barred. Can I start the questioning by saying that over the summer we have had a whole number of issues bubbling up and before the tragic events of September in New York the education agenda seemed to dominate the domestic news. Certain things did bubble up but many of us who looked and reflected on both the general election experience and also the kind of feel that one had, going round the teaching conferences, as I know you, Secretary of State, did (as I did), was that there was a worrying gap between what four years of a Labour Government had achieved or thought they had achieved if you talked to Ministers like yourself in terms of having a whole range of what they thought had been successes, but on the other hand a lot of people at the delivery end who did not really seem to share the same view. Yes, partially they could see more resources coming into education, partially they could see that many of the things that Government was attempting to do were on the right track, but at the end there did seem to be, especially coming out of that general election experience and then in the discussions in conferences and so on, the feeling that there was a real gap between the executive trying to deliver on an educational agenda with the troops out there whom you have to engage not really quite engaged. First of all, did you feel this gap between the two and, if you did, under your administration and under your period as Secretary of State what are you going to do about it?

  (Estelle Morris) I know what you mean. I am not sure there was a gap but I know what you mean because I heard that as well. When you question people more closely I think what they were saying was that in the areas where we had claimed to make progress they would agree with us, but they wanted us to go further. Somebody who said, "You have not changed things, you have not made a difference" which, in all honesty, in the field of education was not said to me that much, would then admit that literacy and numeracy in primary schools had made a real difference and head teachers would admit that they did have more money. They had noticed that in the last 18 months to two years of the term, rather than in the first two years, schools would say, "Yes, we have seen rebuilding going on and we know there are capital works". I think they rightly wanted more, and I think that in terms of the nature of the relationship between politicians and people we serve that is always going to be difficult because I think it is right that politicians give the big picture and aspire high and aim high, but sometimes in using those words we must not give the impression that we can achieve that big picture and all those ambitions overnight. Before the election we met most if not all of our departmental targets. We made huge progress towards them. There is another thing, and this particularly came forward when we were talking to teachers and those who deliver the system. I think a strange thing happened on election day, that as an electorate people were telling us that they wanted better public services. As people who work in the public services they were telling us that they were working too hard and had felt the pressure. We have to square that circle at some point. I do not think we can get better public services without asking more of those who work in them. That is an inevitability. Where we have a responsibility, and I have a responsibility, is to make sure that in pushing forward that change and implementing that change we explain things carefully, we make sure that what we do is on a clear evidence base, we resource it sufficiently, we offer professional development opportunities for those on the front line and we understand the pressure that we put on them. My own personal experience is that if you can talk front-liners through that they become far more willing, as we all are, to give more of their time and commitment. I would not have any doubt in putting on record the huge effort which those who work throughout all the field of education made in the last four years. I did not carry out the literacy strategy and teach one child anything phonetically in the strategy, but 240,000 teachers did and that is what made a difference. In terms of what needs to change we have to get better at the nature of the relationship between the centre and the front line. We have to be confident as politicians that the accountability structure in place is such that we can be hands-off and let them get on with it. I feel we are there with schools now, that I know at the touch of a button the performance of every single one of my 24,000 schools. I know that it is my responsibility to spot failure before it happens but, because it is an accountable framework, I think I can forge a new relationship with teachers which gives them choices and pathways within the wider Government framework. If anything changes it is that, and I do not think it could have happened four years ago because the accountability mechanisms were not in place.

  Chairman: It seems to me that in different words you are using the words that those of us interested in management always use, that if you can get people to share the vision and if you can engage all the stakeholders in that in delivering that vision you will deliver that vision, and what I was saying—and this is not a question—was that I do hope that there is a consolidation in the period coming so that we can energise those forces to a degree that in a sense they were not energised over that period.

Mr Turner

3.  Secretary of State, when I read your manifesto Realising the Talent for All I felt there were lots of targets but mostly they were process not outcome targets, and I welcome the strategy that the Department has published which has many more outcome targets and does not concentrate as much on process. Can I ask you four specific questions in relation to the targets please? First, do you have any targets or objectives, published or unpublished, for integration of pupils with special educational needs?

  (Estelle Morris) No.

4.  Second, do you have any outcome targets for the Connexions Service and what are they?

  (Estelle Morris) Connexions is in its early stages at the moment. We have just rolled that out. Our initial aim is to get Connexions established in each of our areas and get the partners together. That is something that my Ministers may wish to take up when they speak to you separately. I am not sure we are concentrating on targets at the moment but the areas would be in employability, about making sure that people who choose options after school actually stick with them, that they make the right choice to begin with. Increasingly what we need to do, which goes back to the Chairman's point, is almost customer satisfaction. That is where that brings processes and outcomes together. We will want to test that both teachers and the taught, those who are customers of the Connexions Service, are actually satisfied with the quality of advice.

5.  It would be helpful if we could have some more detailed outcome targets at some point. My third question is about something which appears in the manifesto but does not appear in the objectives, and that is that you promised to enable every primary pupil to learn a musical instrument.

  (Estelle Morris) Yes.[1]

6.  That is one of the Department's outcomes?

  (Estelle Morris) Yes. We were desperate to do that. We have started work on that at a thinking level already.

7.  Fourth, in higher education the manifesto says that you will enable 50 per cent of young people under the age of 30 to progress to higher education by 2010. That appears to have been watered down in the Department's publication on page 14, where it is increased participation "towards 50 per cent". Is this an absolute commitment?

  (Estelle Morris) Yes.

8.  What sort of participation are you talking about? Are you talking about progressing or are you talking about BA (Calcutta) Failed, or are you talking about emerging with a first degree at the end of the process?

  (Estelle Morris) The target is firm. We have to work towards it before we arrive. What we will do in terms of intermediate targets is that we have a 2010 target that is firm but we will want to see year on year that we are moving towards that. You may know that the applications to HE are up by over five per cent this year. That is clearly taking us some way towards that, so it is a firm target and we are moving towards it year by year. We will be making an announcement shortly. We are busy doing some work in the Department about what constitutes higher education, what our initial entry rate is and what our starting point is. I am clear that it will probably be higher education experience but not nationally defined by doing three years and getting a straight degree. The nature of higher education is changing and I think that people will go there at different points and different parts of their life to access that. One of the things we are doing in the Department at the moment is having that discussion. The nature of what we will be looking is length of course and qualification at the end of the course. When we have worked that out with the sector—we are talking to the sector at the moment—we will want to tell you as well, because what we want to do is to have a firm starting point. The other complexity on this, to put all the cards on the table, is that we do want people who are new to HE, not that went to HE at 18 but then go again at 29, so that that counts as something towards our 50 per cent. Because this is a new target and it is hugely ambitious, and HE has not been asked to do this before, we have to sort out those who already have been to HE. We have to be absolutely clear that there is not double counting, so it is not a case of, "Let me know how many under-50s you have taught this year". It has got to be, "How many under-30s, who have never been to HE, have had a higher education experience this year?" We are grappling with those two details. The first, which we have a firm decision on, is absolutely new to HE; but the second one, once you get into the complexity of what higher education offers now, will involve real decisions about the balance between outcomes and length of course. We will not take more than a few weeks, I do not think, in coming to that decision but we are just in the middle of some talks with HE on that.

9.  But what the public may understand by HE is not necessarily what this target will be based upon at the end of the process?

  (Estelle Morris) It will be based on good quality higher education experience for the very first time between 18 and 30.

Mr Pollard

10.  Secretary of State, in the mission statement, item two, it says, "We will employ at least 10,000 extra teachers". In my LEA, Hertfordshire, we are having extreme difficulty in recruiting teachers for vacancies that exist already so the concept of several hundred perhaps extra teachers just leaves us in fear as to how this might be achieved. The question I ask is: how?

  (Estelle Morris) We have based the estimate on our record of what we achieved in the first term. You know that we increased the number of teachers going into teacher training last year and those then going into teaching by 12,000 over the period that we were in power for the first four years. I understand the difficulties of recruitment. I think it is far more complicated than just counting teachers, partly because of our standards agenda. What I know we have done is create the need for more teachers than we ever had before. What is true is that as you put money into the system heads choose very often to spend it by recruiting more teachers. Just to be clear about that, teaching is still the first choice profession for most graduates leaving university. We must remember that: there is no other profession which more graduates choose to go into. That is how popular it is as a first choice profession, but we do need to do more and our responsibility is to talk to teachers about balancing that supply and demand. It is that which has got out of kilter rather than our failure to recruit teachers. I am confident that those 10,000 extra teachers will be found on the basis of the trend that we have seen. May I say one more thing on that? I care also, and I know you do, about other staff in schools as well with qualifications. I think when we have these conversations in the future, as well as talking about numbers of teachers we should be talking about numbers of bursars, numbers of administrative staff, numbers of trained classroom assistants, because increasingly schools are getting to be those complex organisations that need that spread of staff. I know that it is unusually difficult for you. You come from an area that has had more difficulties than most; I do appreciate that, but it is not because teaching recruitment went down.

11.  Many initiatives have been tried, such as the Golden Hello's and stuff like that, and some of those have kicked in and we have seen an improvement in our LEAs, no question about that. However, one of the things that we are conscious of is the key worker housing initiative that was launched. When we put a bid in from our LEA we got very low grant back from whichever department it was. Are there any other initiatives? You talk grandly about the vision; I appreciate all that. You said in the past that you thought we would get 12,000 and 12,000 showed up. On the ground it is not coming out. We are not getting the teachers that we need. Some classes are short so the thought of extra leaves us cold. Are there any other initiatives?

  (Estelle Morris) I am grateful for your acknowledgement that the measures that we took on recruitment worked. They did work; that is what has brought about the increase. Four years ago after the 1997 election there were no such financial incentives at all to recruit into teaching. We have made huge progress. I tend to think that we did everything that was asked of us and was suggested and beyond in terms of recruitment. Retention is an issue. I think we need to look carefully at retention. The figures are no different than they have ever been on the whole but that is not good enough. Whereas we have made progress with recruitment, we have not budged the figures in terms of retention. Initiatives will be different by nature when you talk about retention because I think that is about giving teachers the space to think about their jobs, acknowledging that they are professionals and giving them the support. Hugely we need to do more professional development and we need to cement that partnership so that they feel part of the education system rather than their fate being down to by somebody from central government. I have got retention as one of my top priorities and I want to budge those figures this time. They did not get worse but they did not move in the right direction. The only new thing is that the Department will take a power in the legislation that is shortly to go through Parliament to go ahead to pay off student loans for those in teaching over a ten-year period. You knew about that but of course that has not actually come in at the moment.

Bob Spink

12.  My question is on the issue of the Department's general objectives and targets. One of the Department's objectives is to give successful schools more freedom over the curriculum and pay and conditions. I wondered if the Secretary of State could tell us what criteria will be used in determining what is a successful school and who precisely will be making that decision?

  (Estelle Morris) It is one of those policies where the detail is always more difficult than the principle. When we talk about buying into the bigger vision, at least that principle has got agreement right across the political parties, right across the profession and the teaching unions and teachers as well. It is therefore beholden on us to keep that consensus going. Initially we will be relying on Ofsted quite a bit and performance data. We now have a school system immensely rich in the nature of the data that we have got about each individual school. To give some reassurance to this, what it will not be is the top 20 schools in the performance tables; that I can promise you. We have got better quality data than that so we can now benchmark schools with other similar schools. We are talking to Ofsted about this and we will rely hugely on their advice. If we announce the decision, which I suppose inevitably will be the case, we will do it in conjunction with Ofsted. It will be a combination of Ofsted inspection reports, performance data benchmarked against other similar schools and, importantly, we have got to find some way of knowing that the leadership in the school is good. School improvement and decline, as we have often said, goes like that (indicating upward line) and you can be good, but if you have not got good leadership you are about to go down. Those three things are necessary: an Ofsted inspection report, decent performance data and an assurance that leadership is good. I think we will want to start carefully. I do not think we will want to open the flood gates. We have not got a limit on it. We are not saying it can only be X per cent and no more, but I think we will want to test out the policy as it moves forward.

13.  This fits with what the Secretary of State said about "hands-off and let them get on with it", and I rather like that. Can I ask about the target on exclusion, that every child permanently excluded from school will be provided with a full time alternative, that is, 25 hours a week, and the other target that truancy will be cut by one third from 1996/97 levels? Will both these targets be met by September 2002?

  (Estelle Morris) Can I take you back a bit to say something about hands-off? Freeing good schools to get on with it means we can use our resources to help the struggling schools and the under-performing schools. We have not gone back to central government stepping out of school standards. What I want to do is use the Department's time to aim it where it should be just in case anybody thought we had said we would stop bothering with schools.

14.  I will remind you of that later on.

  (Estelle Morris) We will meet the 2002 target of every child getting a full time education. The figures are an utter disgrace to society and the education system, that the kids who most need an education once they are excluded are wandering round the Bull Ring in Birmingham and other urban centres. It is a disgrace that we ever got that far. There are a number of things that happened. It needed resources because the pupil referral units are expensive. The other thing is that the quality of PRUs in 1997 was not good. They should have our best teachers. That is where our best people should be. They do the most difficult job in education, trying to re-engage young people with the education system. What has happened over the last four years is that year on year more local authorities have moved towards full time education but—and this is a huge tribute to the profession and those who work in PRUs—the quality of teaching in PRUs has immensely increased and Ofsted say that, not I. I am keeping my eye on LEAs. We are getting figures for this year but every single LEA tells me that they will reach the target by 2002 and I will make sure during the year if there are any problems about that, that I push them and support them to make sure they can deliver. In terms of the exclusion targets, we have met our exclusion target to reduce from 12,000 to 8,000 but we will not be setting any new exclusion targets. The attendance target, or the truancy target, whichever way you look at it, is more challenging. It is partly because it is not as massive as exclusion so you are at the end where you really need to make a difference, but we are determined to make progress and to achieve that as well. There is only so much that schools can do and it needs real partnership with families and parents. What worries me as much as anything is family and parent condoned absence from school. An awful lot of it goes on. I cannot be pushing teachers and local authorities to make an effort with this unless we have got that partnership with parents, that they see how important it is that they do not take their children out from school if they can possibly avoid it.

15.  The Secretary of State made a little bit of a slip in mentioning attendance instead of truancy targets. Are not attendance targets more reliable anyway? Should we not be moving towards those?

  (Estelle Morris) My personal view is that there is some benefit in that because what you do is that you switch your authorised attendance to your non-authorised attendance. Targets determine how we behave; we all know that, and there is an inbuilt incentive to do that. It is something that we are giving thought to for the LEA level targets. I hope I am right in thinking, and I will drop you a note if I am wrong, that primary legislation actually meant that we have to set them the way they were.[2] We put it into primary legislation. I have always been persuaded over the last two to three years that we need to look at attendance targets so that we can encompass both sets. You cannot do better at one at the expense of being worse at the other. It is a fine argument, a professional argument, and on that one I have more sympathy with the profession than with the Government so I had better do something about it.

Ms Munn

16.  I wanted to follow up on a little point following on from that before moving to another subject. There is a group of children who I get very concerned about and perhaps they have not even been excluded so they do not come under the guidance, where they are struggling in school, they are perhaps children in care, and they are not following the normal curriculum and there is an implicit agreement that they are not getting full time education because of the difficulties they are having. I am not suggesting that people are particularly doing it to get round the exclusion issue but how are you proposing to tackle that?

  (Estelle Morris) It is a problem I can remember from being a teacher as much as from being a politician. If you take that back, why do teachers make that decision, to offer them something different than the national curriculum? It must be that the national curriculum for that child is not meeting the child's needs. Teachers act in the best interests of pupils almost all the time. That is what motivates them, that is what gets them up in the morning, that is why they go to work in one of the toughest but most important jobs that the country has got. I think we then make it very difficult for teachers. They have to circumvent the rules. They have to slightly not tell the truth in terms of what they are doing. They have to pretend that they have either misapplied the subjects that they teach in the national curriculum. What I want to do as we develop our 14-19 policy, which is going to be one of our key areas from now until probably the start of next year in terms of policy development, is that I want us to be more open about this because I would like to work with teachers at looking at what works if the national curriculum does not work. As long as the conversation is not open because it is not meant to be happening, I cannot use my resources and expertise in the Department to support them in the task that they are doing. I need to work out, and the Department needs to work out over the next few weeks, what is the framework in which we are offering no flexibility and what is the framework in which we are offering flexibility. I will never go back to offering total flexibility in the curriculum because I can remember the Seventies and the Eighties when kids really missed out because they had lost their entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum. My thinking at the moment is that we have obviously got the legislative programme about a broad and balanced programme which will stay there. I do not ever want any child for the compulsory years not to do basic skills in the core skills, but at some point how far beyond that we go, I want a conversation with the profession. It will be rigorous, it will be measurable, it will have qualification at the end. Just to take up one point, you do not do that because you are badly behaved. You do that because the curriculum is not appropriate to you. What happened in the old days was that they put the badly behaved children in there and that curriculum was not appropriate to them either. We have learned a great deal and we can now take that agenda forward. In terms of our schools agenda it is probably highest of our priorities apart from literacy and numeracy at Key Stage 2.

17.  If I can move on to the commitment to provide greater delegation of funding to head teachers and greater autonomy for successful schools, I am concerned that this tends to paint the local education authority as not a good thing and that money spent by the local education authority on the core services they have to provide is not valued. I worry that they will not be able to do the job that Government is asking them to do. Can you respond to that?

  (Estelle Morris) I think some local authorities are a very good thing. Some are not such a good thing because they do not do their job well. Local authorities are a necessary structure. They have a huge part to play in the education system and local authorities are a good thing. That is why in my previous role I spent so much of the last couple of years on the intervention strategy in support of the 18-20 LEAs who did not get sufficiently good assessments out of Ofsted. Can we go back a bit? There is no doubt that in the past before there was pressure and there were targets and there was a conversation about delegation, I do not think enough money was actually passed on to schools. This has changed immensely over the last three decades. I started teaching in 1974 and we had to order all our exercise books through the local authority and they only did a Monday afternoon delivery. If you ran out of books on Thursday afternoon you were scratching around. It was absolutely ridiculous and I am not pretending that for two decades anybody has acted like that, but what we have seen over the last two decades is treating the local authorities as we do everything else in the public sector involved in a delivery service, which is making sure that we focus their attentions on what they can do best. They are not best at ordering exercise books. They are not best at deciding the allocation of resources within school in terms of personnel. They are best at making sure that schools have got good quality data comparable across the rest of the LEA and comparable nationally. I think they are best at keeping an eye across all schools in their LEA and making sure they spread good practice and support under-performance. Some of the language is tough because we need to move quickly. I tend to think that we have got now to a good agreement with LEAs, that they feel more secure that they have a future because they went through a phase of not thinking that they had got a future, and they know what that is. They might not like where we have drawn the boundaries all the time, but they are drawn and we are not going to move them. I hope that we can have a period of settlement and we want our lowest devolving LEAs to move to the performance of our best devolving LEAs. That is all we ask, that everybody moves towards the best in the system. We ask no more of anybody in the system than what has already been achieved by the best performer in their sector.

18.  My concern is that there are a number of initiatives which I support, such as looking at teenage pregnancy or Sure Start or whatever it is which is something which local authorities are asked as a whole to do along with health and social services jointly. For example, we know that Sure Start money was underspent because probably people were having trouble getting things off the ground and the like. What I would really like to know is how are you confident that the balance is right in terms of the funding that is going into local education authorities to support that wider role which is not directly about the face to face education of children but is extremely important in terms of education and having an input into whether it is teenage pregnancy or Sure Start? How can you be sure that they are getting resourced to do that? I worry when I see underspends, that that is because they are stretched in the range of responsibilities that they are being asked to undertake.

  (Estelle Morris) We are driven first and foremost by making sure it does not get spent in administering the scheme but actually at the sharp end and I know you are too and I know that local authorities are. There are a number of initiatives I can think of through the schools agenda where, in allocating the resource for a project, there is an inbuilt percentage which is for monitoring the project, evaluating it and administering it. Beyond the money that is devolved to schools as part of the straight education budget there are a number of initiatives right across the range that will have a small element in them for administration. Where I am interested in moving towards is that sometimes the LEA will be best at administering that system. Sometimes it will be a partner but it will not administer the system. In terms of the hands-off approach to which you referred, I do not always want to be saying, especially in the years where we have now got the early development child care partnerships, "Here is a new initiative and the LEA must do the monitoring and the evaluation for the system". I would like to say,—and this is really where I want to get to—"You are the partners locally. There is the framework. There is X million. Passport 95 per cent, 97 per cent, whatever it is, to the delivery arm but you choose amongst yourselves how as a cluster, as a partnership, you want to evaluate, monitor and support the system." That will mean that local authorities sometimes might feel left out because they did not get that, but that is life and if you want us to share power that means local authorities share power as well. I am delighted at their attitude. They have come on such a long way, they really have. I think they have gone through a cultural change over the last few years and I applaud that. We have got some real expertise in the system.


19.  Are they feeling more comfortable because you have ceased to say quite so loudly in the Department about the great advantages of the private sector? There is a softer voice in that area recently, is there not?

  (Estelle Morris) I think there are advantages to the private sector. I feel very strongly about that. I want the best for our schools and those who work in them and as a huge pragmatist I will take it from wherever I can get it. If the private sector works with us it is as accountable for its performance and for the public money it spends as is the public sector and they have joined us on that understanding. I think they are more comfortable, Chairman, because they now see that it is not an effort to squeeze them out. It is not saying, and we have never said this and there has been a lot of misunderstanding, that the public sector has failed so we will have to bring in the private sector. We say two things. Sometimes the public sector under-performs so we have to seek expertise from the private sector, and sometimes we say that what the public sector does is so very important that we want to bring extra things in to help it deliver more effectively. I hope you are right in that there is a more "at ease" feeling out there and we can move forward on that agenda. Involving the private sector is one of our non-negotiables.

1   Note by Witness: We will enable all primary pupils who want to do so to learn a musical instrument. Back

2   Note by witness: Section 63 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 enables the Secretary of State to require school-level targets for unauthorised absence from specified schools. In the forthcoming Bill I will be seeking to widen these powers to also include authorised absence. Back

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