Examination of Witness (Questions 240-259)|
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
240. No. You know a lot about faith schools,
you know a lot about Bury where there were particular problems
last summer. Would you be happy for all of the children in your
constituency and in the area of Manchester as well to be in separate
education according to faith? Would you be happy with that or
would you see that as a real concern?
(Mr Lewis) The first thing I ought to say is that
there were absolutely no disturbances in Bury. There could have
241. You were very close though.
(Mr Lewis) They were obviously very well managed which
is interesting in itself. On the substantive point, which is a
valid point, my view is quite strongly on this that I think faith
schools play a very, very important in the fabric of our education
system, in the range of choices that are available to parents
and young people. I actually think it is slightly disingenuous
to suggest that faith schools in any way, in my view anyway, contributed
towards the events in the summer in terms of those dreadful disturbances.
242. That was not my suggestion.
(Mr Lewis) No, no, but some people have suggested
that, you did not but many commentators have suggested that. I
think they are very important. I think they offer choice for parents.
I think they contribute towards high standards and I think there
is evidence that young people who attend them, on the whole, enjoy
the experience. I think what we need is a diverse system so that
is right for some parents and for other parents they make different
choices. They do not feel that faith schools are appropriate to
them. I think the Secretary of State's announcement within the
last few days says that basically applications for future faith
schools, there will be guidance which suggests that they either
operate and feel comfortable operating inclusive admissions policies,
which means they take a significant number of young people from
other faiths or no faiths, or they demonstrate a willingness to
collaborate and work in partnership with schools of other faiths
or non faith schools. I think that is probably the right way forward.
I have to say my two children who are five and seven go to a faith
school, I think it is important to say that. I have to say though
that I think that it is important to encourage collaboration and
partnership and it is important to give the opportunity to young
people to learn about and have experience of other people's cultures
and religions. I think that there are all sorts of ways we can
do that, through citizenship activities, through youth work activities,
through twinning arrangements, the beacon school arrangements,
all of those things. I think it is wrong to per seI
know you have not done this, Chairmanblame faith schools
for many of the inherent deep rooted problems we have in some
of our cities and towns right now. In my view if you are uncomfortable,
and fundamentally do not like the idea of mixing religion and
education, I think you should be honest enough to argue that case
and I think it is a perfectly respectable point of view to hold.
I do not think it is right to use, as I say, the events in those
northern towns or for that matter September 11th as some kind
of intellectual justification to justify a position you had in
the first place. I think you should be honest enough to argue
the fact you are not comfortable with mixing religion and education.
As I say, I am a strong supporter of faith schools. The Government
did not say in its manifesto, of course, that we would embark
on this kind of uncontrollable, unlimited massive expansion of
faith schools. What we said was we would welcome applications
for an increase in the number of faith schools providing they
have the support of their respective local communities. I feel
that is still right that we recognise the contribution they make,
the fact that parents value those schools. You know it is interesting,
I am not sure I understand the conclusions but it is interesting
because I was researching this for a speech I was due to make
recently, as participation in organised religion in this country
has declined, the number of parents who are choosing to send their
young people to faith schools has significantly increased. I do
not know what that says about how parents see the ethos and the
focus that is often there in a faith school. There are many schools
which have a strong ethos and a strong focus, I want to say that,
not just faith schools but it is clearly in faith schools that
does exist and we should pay tribute to that and celebrate that.
It is important in that context to recognise that they are part
of a range of options that are available to parents.
243. Minister, what we would be more interested
in is actually the basis of the evaluation of whether faith schools
are more successful than regular comprehensives. One of the jobs
of this Committee is to try and scrutinise your Department and
when your Department, as all departments do, get a fashion behind
themwe all know all departments get a fashion and a fadfor
us to say "Hang on, are you really looking at good data?
Are faith schools more successful than the others". There
is recent evidence coming out that many of the faith schools that
have been looked at as succeeding better than a regular comprehensive
actually have lower numbers of free school meals, lower numbers
of special educational need pupils so in a sense what we are doingand
it is our jobis seeing if this Department is really in
the midst of a fashion and fad or basing its arguments on good
(Mr Lewis) I think that like in any situation some
faith schools are excellent, some faith schools have a very inclusive
approach to admission, other faith schools are not as good, do
not provide as high a quality of education and some people might
say that in terms of their catchment area they take a disproportionate
number of given people who are not from socially disadvantaged
backgrounds, for whatever reason, and therefore if you are comparing
like with like is it a fair comparison. My own personal view is
that a significant majority of faith schools do provide a high
standard of education relatively speaking to their young people.
That does not mean there are not numbers which do not provide
poor quality and it does not mean that there are not many non
faith state schools which perform significantly better than those
of faith schools but that is my own personal judgment.
244. Minister, I would like to go back to your
opening statement when you talked about ethnic minorities and
I am very interested in that. I know from my own constituency
that the Indian kids do miles better than any other group, in
fact better than the ethnic white groups.
(Mr Lewis) Yes.
245. Pakistanis do next best and the Bangladeshis
do worse of all. I wonder if you could take us through how we
might get the Bangladeshis particularly to aspire and achieve
better which is not just in education, it is a family thing and
a community based issue as well.
(Mr Lewis) I think it should be, first of all, a significant
source of concern that children from certain ethnic minority backgrounds
are doing worse than generally. We have a responsibility both
at a Government level and a local education authority to really
address that issue. By the way if we are talking about some of
the difficulties in some of our communities if young people from
ethnic minority communities feel cut off from the opportunities
that are available to others that really does contribute towards
that. My view is there are a variety of interventions that we
need to use. We do have the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant,
for example, I think we need to look at that, frankly, and make
sure that we are using it to maximum effect in the futuretalking
about base line assessmentbecause I think that some of
it is based on historical spend, if you like, and we need to look
far more at current need and ensure that we are using that money,
as I say, to maximum effect to achieve the outcomes that we want.
I think that is important, specific resources we target in that
area on individual schools and local education authorities. There
is the issue of learning mentors, I think making a significant
contribution up and down the country in a variety of ways but
particularly getting people from ethnic minority backgrounds who
could be regarded as role models, who have done the business in
terms of education or the world of work and been successful, in
sport, however you define that, giving those kids a sense that
to be aspirational is a good thing, to achieve is a good thing
and that really there is the potential and the opportunity there
for those young people and there are no bars, no barriers in our
system. It is about both national government funding, making sure
that is used properly, it is about initiatives like learning mentors,
excellence in cities, targeted initiatives. It is also, frankly,
about the management of an individual school, you know it is about
a head teacher focussing in on, in a mainstream way, obviously
all of his or her pupils but really acknowledging as a starting
point that ethnic minority pupils in that school may be struggling
for all sorts of reasons and therefore it is important to have
a strategy, as part of a strategy to ensure that anybody who is
struggling in your school, that you are not just simply allowing
that to happen but you are homing in on that, targeting that and
looking at the different range of appropriate interventions and
support mechanisms which are going to allow those young people
to pursue and fulfil their potential.
246. I think in answering that question you
failed to respond at all to the point about under-achieving white
pupils. You spent a great deal of time talking about the Ethnic
Minority Support Grants and other associated interventions, what
about failing white pupils and particularly whites where they
are an ethnic minority in their own schools?
(Mr Lewis) First of all, with all due respect to Mr
Turner, I was asked specifically in the context of the question
about policies towards pupils from ethnic minorities in relation
to Bangladeshi children.
247. He actually mentioned white pupils.
(Mr Lewis) I am delighted to answer the question but
I do not want to misrepresent what I said.
248. Minister, the floor is yours.
(Mr Lewis) Thank you. Basically our whole intervention
in terms of numeracy and literacy, in terms of early years of
secondary, in terms of our new approach to 14 to 19, in terms
of the development of the Connexions Service, in terms of learning
mentors, in terms of having floor targets for both schools and
local education authorities, in terms of GCSEswe have had
some good news today with 50 per cent of young people achieving
the GCSE target a year earlyall of that is about ensuring
that under-performing young people who in the past were not actually
being given the opportunity by the education system in this country,
we were basically educating an elite in this country for too many
years, and all of those policies are about ensuring that we educate
a far wider range of young people to a very high standard than
we have ever done before. It is about again, as I said, specific
initiatives which we have, as I say learning mentors, excellence
in cities, all sorts of specific interventions, the Connexions
Service itself will be there to make sure that young people who
are struggling for whatever reason within the system have any
obstacle and any barrier removed or dealt with which is getting
in the way of them progressing. Of course in the end we need to
look at what we are saying about outcomes. What we are saying
very, very ambitiously is that 50 per cent of young people go
to university, why that is important is that will mean that a
significant number of young people from communities and families
who have previously been denied that opportunity will go to university
in the future. We are talking about re-vamping the modern apprenticeship
route for young people so that as an alternative option or a similar
option is a valued and high quality option for all young people.
Everything that this Government is doing is about encouraging
able children and talented children to maximise the opportunities
but also making sure that we give every single child, whatever
their social background, the opportunities that they deserve.
249. Leaving aside the fact that the Secretary
of State did put a rather more accurate statement of your targets
for universities, it is not 50 per cent of youngsters going to
universities, is it, it is 50 per cent of youngsters having a
higher education experience?
(Mr Lewis) Going into higher education.
250. Right. When you mentioned the five overall
objectives in your introductory statement, could you just quantify
each of those and say exactly what the target is on each of those
(Mr Lewis) On young people making sound choices about
learning Key Stage 4 GCSE, my view is if we enable and support
young people to make those sound choices we will achieve the targets
that we have set ourselves in terms of GCSE. We have already achieved
one of those in the year early. By the way if you enable young
people to make those choices at Key Stage 4, it is very likely
that we will achieve our targets in terms of higher education
and in terms of alternative high value routes like modern apprenticeships.
So that is how I would quantify that. If you get it round to that
age, and you give them the support to make those choices, you
will reap the benefits in terms of their education certainly beyond
16. In terms of supporting all young people to overcome the problems
which get in the way, that is about performance but it is also
about this ridiculous situation in this country where far too
many people have dropped out at 16. The reason they drop out is
for a variety of reasons, as we know. It is often thought to be
completely limited to careers advice and curriculum issues, it
is not, people have family difficulties, they get involved in
peer group activity which is not particularly desirable, they
get hooked, unfortunately, on drugs or on alcohol, there are a
whole range of reasons why young people do not end up performing
in the way we want them to do. So supporting all young people
to overcome the problems is basically a reference to the Connexions
service and that kind of support.
251. I am thinking of a quantifiable visible
date by which you expect to achieve this?
(Mr Lewis) I think that the targets that you would
need to look at are the number of young people remaining in education
beyond 16, the number of young people having access to higher
education, the number of young people if they are not having access
to higher education pursuing an alternative high quality route.
Frankly it is not just about how you measure these from an educational
point of view. If we get this right, it has an impact on targets
and objectives across Government, whether it be teenage pregnancies,
whether it be anti-social behaviour, whether it be the skills
shortage or the productive gap we have in our country. There is
a whole variety of targets and objectives that if we get the principles
I outlined in my opening remarks right, they will have a massive
knock on effect not just, as I say, in the narrow context of what
the DfES is trying to do but specifically in terms of the Government'sas
I said at the beginningcommitment to social justice and
economic success. If you want me to carry on going through the
list I will do.
252. I think it might waste the Committee's
time if you do because you do not appear to be putting dates on
(Mr Lewis) There are existing dates. We have already
today had news that we have achieved a year early our target of
50 per cent of young people getting the sort of grades in GCSEs
that we want. We have significant floor targets in terms of LEAs
and schools who perhaps have not been doing as well achieving
the kind of resource that we would want in the most disadvantaged
communities with regard to GCSE performance. We have, as you know,
the higher education target. We are about to respond to Cassels
who talks about a modern apprenticeship target. We have a clear
priority objective if you look at Educational Maintenance Allowance,
if you look at Connexions and all of that to ensure that we maximise
the number of young people who do not drop out of education and
learning, high quality education and learning at 16. I think there
are more than enough targets there.
253. Minister, if Andrew Turner was wanting
more clarification, you would be happy to write to him?
(Mr Lewis) I would be delighted to do that, Chairman.
Chairman: I want to move on because you have
such a wide spread of responsibilities so I want to get a good
coverage. I am going to encourage everyone to ask short questions
and reasonably short answers. Jeff Ennis, who is well known for
his probing short questions.
254. Turning to the specific area you are responsible
for in terms of Education Maintenance Allowances. You have already
mentioned we are still in the pilot phase here. My own particular
area the two LEAs in my constituency, Barnsley and Doncaster,
are part of the pilot phase for EMAs. What level of success do
you think we are having so far, given the fact that we are still
in the pilot phase, in terms of getting young people to stay on
for further education courses and eventually for higher education
(Mr Lewis) One of the things it is important to say
is that the way the pilot has been established is that it will
be relatively easy to compare areas of a similar nature, some
of whom have EMAs and some who do not. I know the ones who do
not feel very aggrieved about that but that is the way the evaluation
has been established. The early indicationsand I have to
be clear about this, it is early indicationsthere has been
about a five percentage point
increase in participation post 16 of young people where EMAs have
been available and in operation. It is very early though and we
are expecting some better data within the next month or two on
that. Of course the other measure that is very important is participation
but it is also attainment. Is there evidence that yes we keep
more young people in but what is equally important is that they
stay in and do well and achieve. That is the basis on which we
are examining EMAs at the moment.
255. Do we have any evidence in terms of the
young people who qualify for EMAs in terms of the breakdown of
those going on vocational courses as opposed to academic courses
as against the non EMA areas?
(Mr Lewis) Frankly, no, we do not have that evidence
yet. It is a very good point and what I will do, if the Chairman
will allow me to do it, is I will go back and check whether that
piece of work is being done and more to the point, if it is not,
suggest that they include that in the evaluation if that is okay.
256. I think that is an important area for us
to research actually. Once again, accepting the fact we are in
a pilot phase, do you think there is enough evidence already correlated
to show that we do need to very seriously consider a national
roll back of the EMA programme or would money be better spent
on other interventionist measures?
(Mr Lewis) I think that is the dilemma. When we get
what I would describe as hard data, credible evaluation evidence,
I think we have to make a decision and that decision is do we
roll EMAs out on a national basis, do we sort out some of the
anomalies in terms of, for example, financial assessment where
there are different criteria being used in different areas which
causes a lot of frustration or do we say, having got the evidence,
that either it has not been as effective as we hoped it would
be or in terms of the extremely expensive cost of rolling it out
nationally, we could find better ways of keeping the 16 year olds
in education. I know there has been speculation. There was a leak
in the newspaper, I responded by saying it was a nonsense that
the decision had been made not to roll the EMAs outwhich
was the basis of the press articlethat decision simply
has not been made nor has the decision been made to roll it out.
This is one where we are genuinely waiting for the evaluation
evidence and then we will have to look at that and also look at
that in the context of cost. That is a reasonable thing to do
when you have piloted anything and you are making a decision whether
you are going to maintain and extend it or whether you are going
to change the nature of it. I do not apologise. I do not think
Ministers should be worried or anxious about that.
Chairman: That is music to our ears when we
hear you say we are going to wait for hard data and evidence to
be collated. What we get worried about is when in the midst of
a pilot or the midst of a new experience regarding policy some
message comes out of some unknown policy adviser in No. 10 and
the Education Department goes into a flat spin, has a cross-departmental
inquiry, as in student finance. What worries me is when your Department
does not stick to hard data and mature reflection. I know you
are not responsible for the other world but that is the lesson
that has been learnt.
257. On the question of the timescale of the
decision, you have said, Minister, that further research on EMAs
is being conducted but that will not be available for some time
yet, can you give us an indication of when it will be available?
(Mr Lewis) Hopefully we will have far more significant
and useful, relevant, informative evaluation evidence by early
in the New Year.
258. Does that mean that decision will be taken
in the context of the review of finance for higher education or
are the two decisions being seen as quite separate?
(Mr Lewis) I think currently the issues are being
259. Is there a possibility they might be integrated?
Would you think that is a good idea to integrate?
(Mr Lewis) I think there is a very good case for suggesting
there should be integration in terms of the consideration of those
two policy areas, yes. I would say there is a good case. At the
moment I think we are looking at those issues separately. In a
sense we are at a different stage. I respect and appreciate what
the Chairman said about previous practice. I think, to be fair,
if I may, Chairman, on student finance, actually I think what
happened wasand this is not naive I do not thinkpoliticians
actually went out on the door step and during the election, particularly,
weighed up the kind of issues which were giving them the most
grief, people expressing the most disappointment with in terms
of the Government's first term. Having experienced that, they
felt it was only right to come back and review it. The main reason
for reviewing it was I think that obviously there were anomalies
where the burden on some families, particularly those families
above low income levels, just above low income levels, was prohibitive
in some cases and, secondly, because it was the perception amongst
young people from low income families that they would have to
pay amounts that actually they would not have to pay. There was
a danger of disincentivising what we were trying to achieve in
terms of persuading all young people or many young people that
they have a genuine opportunity to go to university. That is,
in a sense, the reason why we are where we are at now in terms
of reviewing the higher education finance regime. Now we know
the Educational Maintenance Allowances have been up and running
for some time, the pilot phases, and we had always intended really
to review them in a way that I have described, and a recognition
that in terms of the next spending round a decision would have
to be made about whether you were going to change the nature of
how you spend money to keep young people in education at 16 or
whether you were going to ensure that Educational Maintenance
had a universal coverage. That was always going to be the debate
1 Ev. p. 81. Back
Note by witness: So if participation without EMA had been,
for example, 65 per cent the EMA effect would take it up to 70
per cent. This would be almost an eight percent increase. Back
Ev. p. 81. Back