Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 120 - 139)

WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER 2001

BARONESS ASHTON OF UPHOLLAND

Jeff Ennis

  120. Minister, changing the subject and moving on to what I consider to be another excellent Government initiative, that is the establishment of neighbourhood nurseries. I understand the Department have recently issued guidelines to the LEA and the LEA partnerships in terms of drawing down the funding. It is my understanding that there is a capital limit being placed of £2,000 per placement in terms of capital funding which obviously does not lend itself to building a brand spanking new neighbourhood nursery. So can we take it from that that the intention of the Government is to use existing community facilities and buildings? Are we intending building neighbourhood nurseries as extensions into primary school campuses that do not have nurseries? What is the ideal model as far as you are concerned for drawing down the funding to establish neighbourhood nurseries?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure yet and that is part of the review. I do not want to spend money on building new nurseries if we have got existing facilities that we could use. I do not want to build institutions that we cannot sustain in the longer term. That means making sure we have got the funding available not just over three years but much longer. I do want to look at what we mean by neighbourhood nursery in terms of how it integrates with other services so I do not know yet. I will be able to come back to the Committee after the review and give you much clearer ideas about that.

  121. One further point. I am still on the theme of the early years partnerships. The clarion call of this Government since it came into power in 1997 in many respects has been establishing community partnerships. The early years partnerships now is one of a plethora of other community partnerships. What sort of linkages do you see that early years partnerships will have to make with other community partnerships and why?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Often the community partners are the same people, it is also what happens in communities. What I hope is that local authorities as they develop the different kinds of partnerships that they need will be mindful of what else is in place and start to move to integrate those. I think there are some things we should not make too much of a clarion call from the centre on. There are partnerships because it is professionals coming together that need to work together in genuine partnership and there are partnerships that are broader where you need to make sure those people are represented. I think that is for the local authority to look at how they bring together in a community the partnerships.

  122. Just one supplementary to that. Do you see the need for the early years partnership to have a very close working relationship with the economic regeneration partnership or forum in a particular area? If you do, why?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do, and I do because the LEAs' partnerships are about excellence standards, people being able to think about their futures, the way in which we develop the workforce in that community in terms of the people working in the early years partnerships and also child care for people to go back to work. All these things are economic and educational brought together.

Mr Shaw

  123. Minister, you are in charge of ICT.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  124. I see you are a director of YouGov.com?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not. I have no outside interests at all now. I resigned them all on becoming a Minister.

  125. Nevertheless, you have a background, an interest.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) A great interest in it, background is pushing it.

  126. I think we are together on that. The Prime Minister has said that he wants the UK to be the most advanced in terms of broadband by 2005 and, indeed, he mentioned it at the CBI Conference. Now, has the Department made an assessment of the schools that are using broad band and also the band width which they are using? You are in charge of content quality in terms of ICT. In order to really get the content quality there needs to be between two and ten megabytes in order to be able to access things like video conferencing in order for them to be really effective. Certainly the head teachers that I speak to in my constituency have an interest like you and I but do not know. What assessment has been made? What is the Department going to do to ensure that there is the width available to get the quality? It is not just enough to say they have got broad band and then actually all it does is a small improvement on the internet.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I smile only because we have spent a long time on these issues in the Department and there are teams of people working on them. First of all, we are working very closely with schools on the assessment and, secondly, the minimum standard would be two. There is a recognition that we need to keep that under review. The big issue at the moment really is that we have got schools wired up but we have got to move beyond what I call the plateau. They are wired up but where next and it is a big mountain to go from where we are now in order to provide the quality of content to every school in a way that they can access easily.

  127. If we are to be at the cutting edge, are there targets in terms of broad band for schools?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure we have set a target yet but we will because we want to do that.

  128. 2005 is the Prime Minister's target for the UK.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. So we have a target, the Prime Minister has given one.

  129. You are confident that they will have two megabytes by 2005?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am pretty confident we can do it reasonably quickly. The thing that I am most interested in at the moment is, in a sense, not so much the infrastructure, which at one level we have started on, it is about making sure that schools can use it properly and have got the right kind of support in terms of the technical support at school level to make sure they use it and that they are using it across the curriculum and not simply as an ICT subject. There are a whole raft of things I want to do around that.

  130. That is very refreshing because capital is one thing but actually a lot of things in public service you build up when you put something in you need to service, so you are looking at revenue support.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, and looking at what the creative mechanisms are to put service provision on the ground for schools, making sure that suppliers supply good quality equipment and giving schools recognition of what is a good quality supplier and ways in which we can kite mark that almost, making sure that teachers who are teaching are using ICT and know how to, the quality of the information and support we give them, the role of vectoring that which we are reviewing at the moment so that schools are comfortable and able. Then when we do provide this fantastic material we are, no doubt, going to provide online, they can actually use it and use it properly without the system crashing or without being fearful.

Chairman

  131. Perhaps, Minister, you could give the Committee a note on where the Department is in the preparation?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am very happy to do that.[13]

  132. Can I ask you something that I asked the Secretary of State two weeks ago. It is in response to the general discussion about faith schools. Would you be happy, as a Minister, to see most of the Muslim children in the urban communities throughout the country in separate education?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am going to answer it slightly circuitously, only because I want to make a point. In places like Bradford we have a large number of Muslim schools, they are not in the state sector, they are in the private sector. I would like them to be in the state sector, they would like to be in the state sector. The reason I would like them to be in the state sector is because I believe in the national curriculum, I believe in our citizenship programme and I believe that there are many ways to integration and that you can take communities and allow them to flourish where they are as long as you have the ability to bring them together with other communities as equals. There has been a long running debate all across our planet about how you achieve integration from those who believe it is an ultimate part to those who believe it is about allowing people to flourish as a group and then join as equals. I think we have always had a multi-view of how we do this in a society. We have allowed Church of England schools and Catholic schools to provide good quality education for a long time and Jewish schools and now Sikh and Greek Orthodox. I see no difficulty with providing for Muslim schools but as they come into our state sector then they are part of the process of having a multi-faith, multi-cultural integrated society which has got cohesion and that is what I want to see.

  133. Has the Department a percentage of children of school age who are in separate education at the present moment?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not have those figures. I can say it is not my area but I do not know. If we have them we will provide them.[14]

  134. Linked to that, you have a responsibility for citizenship education. How do you view that? All of us I think in this Committee have something of a familiarity with the work of Professor Bernard Crick. Where are we in terms of the education on citizenship and are you happy with its progress?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, I chair the group that is looking at citizenship because I take a very strong interest in it. It rolls out into secondary schools from next September in full and already exists in primary schools. I want to make sure that we develop a citizenship agenda in a way that is about allowing children to grow up as adults and feel part of our society and they have a contribution to make. It is also about their participation in democracy, which I think is important, that they see the value of that but also understanding their place in society which is multi-faith and multi-cultural and what role they can play. I think focussing on that, and providing the information and support, particularly in present times, is really important. I am pleased with the way it is going. I am pleased with everything from how Ofsted are looking at it through to how the curriculum is being developed, it is looking pretty good.

  135. Should there not be a lifelong learning parallel with citizenship? Many of the parents of the children we are talking about in terms of education will be people who have had very little knowledge of some of the workings of British democracy. There is an argument that the way in which the United States, France or Scandinavian countries handle citizenship in terms of adult citizenship, and the test or hurdles that one produces in all of the cases of citizenship, actually if we had a similar system would support children in school in terms of their citizenship education. Has the Department thought of looking at other countries' ways of doing this sort of thing?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I genuinely do not know and that is because I inherited the citizenship agenda already worked through in terms of what we would do with it. I am sure my colleague John Healey, with his role with lifelong learning, will be someone to ask but I am happy to go and ask him so that when he comes here you can ask him directly.

  136. It was fascinating when this Committee went to Denmark to see a Hans Christian Andersen Centre with children of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are taught to be little Danes in a way which is totally alien to the traditions in this country with no mention of different cultures or diversity or pictures on the wall, everything has to be about Denmark or Danish. Indeed, parents not only have to have their citizenship qualifications, if they do not take their citizenship programme and learn Danish they lose benefit.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Gosh.

  137. It is a very different system from what we are used to in this country.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) It is.

  Chairman: This Committee is quite interested in that area, having visited the United States recently and Denmark.

Mr Chaytor

  138. Could I just bring us back to the question of inclusion with particular reference to the new code of practice on special educational needs.
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  139. One of the problems that comes to my constituency most frequently is that of parents who cannot get the level of support they think they ought to have for their child in mainstream school. I noticed in the new statement there are more specific requirements for SEN statements to specify the exact levels of support, and even the number of hours of support a child would need. Now I also noticed that next financial year there will be £91 million allocated to this. Is that going to buy all the support that is anticipated or will I and other Members of Parliament still find people in our surgeries in 2002/03 saying "This is what my child statement says but the school cannot afford it"?
  (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The £91 million is not the only amount available, that specifically was increased in the standards fund from £82 million to £91 million to provide support and training on the guidance for children.


13   Ev. p. 43. Back

14   Ev. p. 44. Back


 
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