Examination of Witness (Questions 300-318)|
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
300. Is the Government taking steps to encourage
SMEs to take part in that scheme?
(Mr Lewis) Absolutely. I think one of the issues for
Government as well as specifically dealing with the FESs is that
it is okay when we talk about connecting with business to talk
about "We met today with the CBI and the British Chambers
of Commerce"; we all know that what is equally if not more
important than that is to get into communities at a grass roots
level and to connect many of the Government's initiatives with
the small businesseswhether it be the one-person businesses,
the businesses that only employ five people or those that employ
30 or 40 peoplebecause they are at the cutting edge of
our economy. They are often the people that are actually quite
close to the fabric of the community in a variety of waysschools,
colleges, community activitiestheir children go to local
schools and, therefore, there needs to be much better linkages
and relationships and partnerships between those SMEs in localities
and education and learning institutions. That will be, by the
way, very central to the vision that we have in terms of not only
modern apprenticeships but in terms of a new, distinct approach
to 14-19 education.
301. I wonder if I could draw your attention,
Minister, to the article by Hilary Steedman? I do not know if
you have seen it. It is entitled Five Years of the Modern Apprenticeship
Initiative: an Assessment against Continental European Models.
Are you familiar with it?
(Mr Lewis) No, but I am about to be!
302. I would like you to get your department
to consider it seriously. You mentioned the CBI and the Chambers
of Commerce, and I would like to read one very small part: "With
a few honourable exceptionsmainly in the traditional sector
such as engineering and electrical contractingtrade unions
have done nothing to protect the interests of young people entering
apprenticeship. Unlike their German counterparts, they have not
fought for the right to education and transferable training. Unlike
their Danish counterparts, they have not upheld the importance
of assessment based on objective evidence. And for successive
governments, the work-based training route has been all but invisible.
The result, as set out here, is that apprenticeship in Britain,
judged as a programme, falls short of that provided elsewhere
in Europe on every important measure of good practice." That
is a condemnation, in a sense, of the TUC and the trade union
movement, let alone a condemnation of government not producing
a viable route for non-academics through our educational system.
It seems to us, on this Committee, when we hear encouraging reports
of the vocational GCSEs and A levels and so on, the join-up between
that and modern apprenticeships does not yet seem to be happening.
(Mr Lewis) Fair point, Chairman. It is one of the
reasons why Cassels was commissioned to do his report and it is
one of the reasons why, not only are we going to introduce new
GCSEs, as you know, but I am very clear that one of the problems
is we do not attach negative labels to qualifications. It has
now been agreed within the departmentand some people may
snigger at thisthat we now refer to them as "new GCSEs
in vocational subjects" rather than "Vocational GCSEs".
I hope, in due course, we will drop the word "in vocational
subjects". I think if we are serious about this, parents,
young people and employers, have to see parity of esteem and have
to see work-based learning as a high-value option. We have to
see young people from a variety of backgrounds feeling that that
route, in conjunction with traditional academic study, is an appropriate
route for young people to take.
303. Can we ask for your assurance that, by
the time we see you again, you will have drawn the trade unions
and employers together to specifically talk about the vocational
routes and the modern apprenticeship scheme?
(Mr Lewis) I give you that guarantee. I can also give
you a guarantee that in terms of our response to the modern apprenticeship
report and what I believe is one of the most significant, potential
and exciting changes to education in this country with regard
to 14-19, the importance and the status of high-valued, high-quality
routes for all young people is going to be absolutely integral.
Chairman, if I can just very quickly explain: if at 19 you are
going to be eligible (and this is an option, it is not definite
but we can explore it, as everybody knows, as part of the overarching
certificate concept) for the overarching certificate, which, as
I say, is not decided but we are considering it and the principles
are outlined in the White Paper with a detailed document due in
January, through a variety of options, either through what a lot
of young people do now, an academic route, or a route which is
a combination of academic and practical subjects, or a route which
has exclusively a practical base, if we get to the situation where
we do that, that will drive a process in terms of education where
there is a far stronger commitment to parity of esteem and equality
in terms of those various routes. I am very committed to that.
I also think that we need to remember that modern apprenticeships,
for example, or practical, vocational-type learning within schools
can lead to a degree. There is the assumption that it cannot,
that somehow it is separateit is not. Although we have
a clear target of 50 per cent of young people having access to
higher education, I also think it is very important that we make
strong statements about the other 50 per cent as well. Modern
apprenticeship as a more practically based route for those young
people is no less important socially, in terms of social justice,
nor in terms of economic success in the long-term. We have written
off far too many young people. One of the reasons for that is
if at 14 we do not offer a young person a flexible package of
learning which builds on their strengths and their aspirations
and what they are good at and, instead, we say "If you do
not fit into this rigid set of options you have failed",
then we are asking for the trouble that we get as a consequence
of that approach.
Chairman: That is music to our ears.
304. We welcome your enthusiasm generally but
in this area, in particular. So we have now got a diverse group
of routes, we have got excellence in all of them and that brings
(Mr Lewis) Not yet.
305. to the Careers Service and the need
to ensure that young people set off down the right route. More
recent reports seem to indicate that we are polarising somewhat.
What enthusiasm have you got for the Careers Service, and where
is that going?
(Mr Lewis) I have great regard for the importance
of credible, strong, effective and professional careers advice
to young people as being very, very important, but the Careers
Service as a separate entity will not exist once Connexions is
rolled out nationally. What will be integral to the work and responsibility
of Connexions will be, as part of this removing any obstacle and
any barrier which gets in the way of young people doing well 13-19,
about sound and high-quality careers advice with people who will
be personal advisers but personal advisers who will specialise
and focus on specifically careers advice. There will be individual
partnership agreements between the Connexions service and each
learning institutionschool or collegewhich will
be clear about the level of service that that institution and
those young people can expect from that adviser. As I would say
to you, some young people will require intensive, extensive, on-going
input, but other young people will not require that. It will very
much depend from individual to individual. It is very important.
306. The evidence that has emerged in September
seems to be that, yes, the pendulum is swinging, that intensive
work is beginningand thank God it is because it has not
been done in the pastbut we are now, perhaps, not giving
as much care to, let us say, the high-fliers academically, and
we have obviously got to keep the balance. I am just hoping that
you recognise that.
(Mr Lewis) I think I do. One of the first speechesprobably
the first speech I made but I have made so many I have forgottenwas
about Connexions service, saying this is a universal service,
and with universal services many of them differentiate in terms
of the level of activity and intervention, depending on the needs
of the people receiving help.
307. Very quickly on this: in careers advice
will there be included the opportunity of working for yourself
or starting your own businessSMEs?
(Mr Lewis) I very passionately believe that that should
be an option for young people. A lot of young people do not feel
that opportunities that most people in this room take for granted
are for them, because they have no experience of them in their
family, their community, their schoolwhether that be university
or whether it be the whole concept of starting a small business.
We all know that many of the young people we are talking about,
if you look at what switches them on and what they are good at,
many of them would be entrepreneurs of the future if we tapped
into what they are good at rather than focussing on what they
are not so good at. I am totally with you on that.
Chairman: Paul Holmes got cut off when he lost
his thread earlier, but I think he has found his thread again.
Paul Holmes: I think I was so stunned by what
you said. If I was still a head of sixth form I think I would
be quite worried now because looking back over the last 12 years
I am sure for at least four, possibly five, our numbers in the
sixth form would have dipped; so at least a third of that time.
You seem to be saying that just one dip in one year means you
lose that guarantee. There are a number of questions here which
you might want to come back on in a written answer. Are you saying
that a drop of 1 per cent would be enough to cut off your guarantee
for funding, or is there a band? Are you saying that 1 per cent
would be too small, that you need 5 per cent or 10 per cent? Or
is it with just a drop however small, that is it, you lose your
guarantee for funding? Are you looking at the whole sixth form
numbers, Year 12 and 13, or in-take into Year 12? For example,
one of the points about AS levels is that students who have soldiered
on for two years to get A levels and do badly at the end, might
now leave at the end of Year 12 with an AS level having achieved
something rather than going on for two years and getting nothing
at all, and that might affect overall numbers in sixth forms if
it is going to work in that flexible way. Are you judging the
figures on the in-take in September or when Form 7 is done in
February or on the numbers still on the course in June or July?
Are local Learning and Skills Councils having total autonomy across
all 40-odd Skills Councils in how they interpret this or is it
a central judgment from the Learning and Skills Councils?
308. That is a very complex question, do you
want to answer that in writing?
(Mr Lewis) I do not think we should forget the fact
that a number of schools will see significant increases in the
number of people attending sixth forms, nobody has addressed that,
and will therefore benefit substantially. The fact there is a
3 per cent increase per year over two years you could probably
argue is significantly above inflation actually, so in terms of
cushioning with regard to fluctuations in terms of numbers there
is that as well which we should not forget. The final point I
would make is, no, we would expect there to be a consistency of
approach across the Learning and Skills Councils with regard to
these policies rather than different approaches in different areas.
On the AS level progression point, I have to say, whatever the
criticisms of AS levels the evidence suggests that ultimately
AS levels lead to people staying on rather than saying, "We
can get an AS level and then drop out".
309. It is too early to judge, surely, we have
only had one
(Mr Lewis) I will write to Mr Holmes with the relevant
310. Two very quick questions on young people
at risk. Can you clarify what appears to many to be muddled thinking
on the policy of exclusions? On the one hand we have had Estelle
Morris saying that the scheme intends to make life easier through
the appeals panels to take into account what head teachers and
governors want, on the other hand, yet again, next year we have
a target which is lower than the previous years. How are going
to balance these two? Speaking to head teachers in my constituency,
they would welcome a little more freedom when it comes to exclusion,
which we all know should be an issue of last resort but it would
suggest that this arbitrary target to reduce the numbers is going
to produce complications.
(Mr Lewis) We would say that most head teachers and
governing bodies in this country now do their best to support
young people stay within their educational environment and understand
the importance of doing that, and that exclusion is seen not as
a first resort but a last resort. We believe that is largely because
of the policies we pursued in our first term of government, that
we did try and ensure the pendulum reversed in certain situations
where we felt anyway it had often been too easy an option to exclude
young people, that it was important to put that right and to make
sure we did not have any levers in the system which encouraged
people to not try perhaps as hard as they needed to do with young
people who would be able to stay within the school system with
some additional support. We believe we achieved a lot in the first
term in that respect and now, having done that, having established
that culture and that set of principles and those targets, we
have to recognise there are young people within schools who make
life so intolerable, for whatever reason either on a short-term
or a long-term basis, for teachers and for their fellow pupils
that it is frankly irresponsible not to give head teachers the
chance to deal with them in a responsible manner.
311. Point taken, but you do not see any contradiction
between imposing targets on head teachers or schools generally
which are lower than in previous years and giving them more freedom
to make decisions about this matter?
(Mr Lewis) No, I do not see a contradiction.
Mr Baron: This is broadening it out slightly,
but the National Council of Citizens Advice Bureaux this morning
came out with a report suggesting that what they find particularly
worrying is the lack of financial knowledge that young people
have when they leave schools. I know this is broadening it out
from young people at risk, but many people are leaving educational
establishments and getting further into debt, being subject to
unscrupulous practices by lending companies and so forth. What
is your Department going to do about trying to, if you like, put
people on some sort of very brief financial course covering the
basicsmortgages, interest rates and so forthso they
are not such easy prey when they leave school?
Chairman: I was at the launch, it was yesterday
312. I apologise.
(Mr Lewis) I think this is a valid point. In many
schools there is some quite innovative work going on in terms
of young people in the early years of secondary education, which
I have seen personally, which is getting them to think of linking
careers to financial rewards and also lifestyle consequences,
if you like. So if you want to be whatever, this is the amount
of money you are likely to get, and this is the impact on your
313. But that is individual initiatives in individual
schools. What is your Department going to do about it?
(Mr Lewis) I think it is fair to say
314. Can I interrupt and say that according
to our information Sir Howard Davies is chairman of the Treasury/DfES
Review of Financial Education.
(Mr Lewis) Howard Davies is also a wonderful Manchester
City supporter, which is more important.
Chairman: I knew there was something wrong with
315. I knew there were two of them!
(Mr Lewis) He is doing a review of enterprise in education,
and that is slightly different, Chairman, it is about creating
more entrepreneurial spirit, enterprising activity within schools,
similar to the point Mr Pollard made. What we would say is we
are not going to impose from the centre a requirement that schools
give young people a prescribed course on financial management.
We believe however, if you look at the citizenship agenda, the
citizenship part of the curriculum which will come in next September,
that is a very logical part of that teaching process, talking
to young people about financial responsibility and about financial
Mr Baron: So you are saying it will be included
in the citizenship course?
Chairman: It could be.
316. Are you satisfied with the number of parenting
orders which have been brought in?
(Mr Lewis) Nobody has tried to take out one against
me just yet despite the behaviour of my kids! I think the answer
is, no, I am not satisfied. I sat on the Crime and Disorder Bill
early on in the last Parliament in 1998, I think, and while I
participated in the Committee I felt we passed some very important
legislation which was very consistent with what the public was
telling us for many years in this country about what was affecting
the quality of their lives and their communities, and that was
to do with the anti-social behaviour, to do with lack of parental
responsibility, to do with gangs of people terrorising others,
all of those issues. It seems to me in that context the implementation
of many of the new powers which our legislation gave to the agencies
on the groundthe local authorities and the policehas
been patchy to say the least. As a constituency MP as much as
an Education Minister, I am not satisfied that enough of those
orders have been used by the local authorities and the police,
having said for years, "We need new powers, we need enhanced
powers, to deal with this behaviour undermining the quality of
people's lives". We should not reach for the parenting order
and the anti-social behaviour order as the first option but there
reaches a time when you have to protect the decent majority and
at the same time support and help somebody who might be behaving
in that way because either they do not have positive role models
in terms of parenting or parents are struggling to cope or young
people have no boundaries. People talk about discipline, particularly
the Daily Mail, but they never talk about love. We have
large numbers of young people in this country who have neither
love nor discipline. I am very passionate about that and in some
ways you wonder whether those agencies charged with seeking those
orders have, in a sense, subverted the will of Parliament by not
using those orders in a way which we would expect. As I say, for
years we were told, "We have not got enough powers to tackle
these fundamental problems in our community". Parliament
makes those powers available and then not enough of them are used
and you have to ask some serious questions about why that has
happened. I have never said this should be the first resort, nobody
in Government or no MP has ever talked about using them as a first
resort, but when problems reach a particular stage surely there
should be an intervention. Where parents have been the subject
of these orders, it might sound strange, many of them have talked
very positively about the programme of support they had as a consequence
of being served with a parenting order, which is not very nice
to start with, I am sure, but the support which has flowed from
that has really supported those parents and has not actually been,
a lot of the evidence suggests, particularly stigmatising. On
the contrary, it has supported them to do what they want to do
in most cases, which is bring up their children well.
317. Minister, we are coming to the end of the
session, you have been very good to stay on an extra ten minutes,
and the Chairman is going to get the last question. One of the
greatest allegations against the Department is that it is very
good at producing red tape especially on head teachers and on
schools generally, and just before you became a minister, Lord
Haskins, Chairman of the Better Regulation Task Force, said that
the DfEE, as it then was, "was the most Stalinist department
he had ever come across". You were just talking about subverting
Parliament, have you been able to subvert Stalinism in the Department?
(Mr Lewis) I suppose with a name like Ivan I have
a chance! I think the honest answer to that is that I am responsible
for deregulation and I take that responsibility probably more
seriously than just as an add on part of my range of duties and
responsibilities. I hope that was reflected, if you read it in
the White Paper, in that there was a whole sectionand I
am not sure that has happened very often before certainly in an
Education White Paperwhich talked about deregulation. As
I have said, central to the Bill there will be various measures
to free up successful schools and leaders of education institutions
generally performing well, allowing them far more discretion and
flexibility to run their schools and colleges in the way they
feel they should. But I do not make apologies for getting that
balance between accountability and standards and transparency
and allowing people to run their institutions and make locally-based
decisions which they feel are right. It is a very delicate balance.
We can never go back, Chairman, to the days when there was insufficient
accountability, there was not a clear commitment to standards,
and as a consequence of that too many of our young people in my
view were failed by our education and learning system. In terms
of my commitment, in the Department we are looking at regulation
in FE at the moment, we have to do something about it. The concerns
from the centre, where they are legitimate, not where they are
simply saying, "We do not like accountability"because
sometimes you get thatneed to be tackled. I am also determined
to build into the mainstream culture of the Department an analysis
of whether a new piece of legislation or a new regulation is absolutely
necessary, or whether we can use existing structures, existing
processes, to achieve the same outcome without piling on additional
bureaucracy. We are doing a piece of work at the moment in terms
of our interaction with local education authorities, do we send
them too much paper and too much information. Is that done in
a proper way. We all know we are waiting for the PricewaterhouseCooper
report on burdens particularly in relation to teachers, but I
want to build into the Department not a group of officials who
are responsible for deregulation but that it is in the mainstream
thinking of all officials, first of all, how we ensure when we
implement new policy we do it in a way which minimises burdens
and red tape, but secondly where in our responsibilities are we
finding there are obstacles which are getting in the way of us
achieving what we need to achieve when in fact if we use the new
powers the Government has given, the regulatory reform orders,
we can get rid of those obstacles and remove them. So it is a
cultural shift in the way the Department thinks and the way it
works. I regard it as one of my significant responsibilities and
not just an add-on. I think Stalinist was a bit strong, Chairman.
318. We look forward to a whole new era in the
Department. Minister, thank you for bearing with us this morning
and answering our questions fully and fairly. I hope you have
an impression of the concerns of the Committee. Thank you.
(Mr Lewis) Thank you very much, Chairman.
5 National Institute for Economic and Social Research.............ref. Back
Ev. p. 81-82. Back