Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 600-618)




  600. I am sure that Valerie Davey will keep you to that.
  (John Healey) I am sure she will.

  Chairman: Can I now turn to something that has very much interested the Committee and that is the financial support for adult students and the kind of equity or lack of equity between students in higher education and students in further education?

Valerie Davey

  601. Can you give us your opinion as to whether FE students should have been included within the Government's recent review of funding for higher education? Your colleague again more or less indicated that would have been a good idea.
  (John Healey) I think that would be very difficult to do, I have to say, because the basis of funding for students in higher education is so different from further education that to try and examine the challenges that we wanted to sort out with higher education funding would be difficult to do with further education. The principal reason for that is that, unlike in higher education, in further education there are no entitlements to funding support. That is such a fundamental difference. We may be arguing the pros and cons and the policy consequences of that, but purely in terms of your question I think that would be very difficult to do.

  602. Difficult but important.
  (John Healey) We are at the moment in the Department doing a pretty far reaching review of the support for adult learners. I am quite content that we are doing that within the Department in discussion with others rather than having that part and parcel of a complex exercise that is going on at present with higher education funding and support.

  603. Can we turn then to specifics? Let us turn to the 16 to 18-year olds where we have not yet got a common formula for the institutions that they go to. What about a common formula for the support they get? A third of young people are entitled now to education maintenance allowances. Have you yet had the analysis of the benefit that that has given and is the Department again preparing a bid for February 18 on account of the EMAs for 16 to 18-year olds?
  (John Healey) I think the Committee has probably had the early evaluation that we have had on education maintenance allowances and the Committee will be aware that although there are different stages there are three years of evaluation set out for EMAs. That seems to suggest that there is probably an impact as far as we can see initially of round about a five per cent increase in participation in the 56 EMA areas. In terms of the spending review it is clearly one of the areas we are looking very hard at in terms of the context of what DfES will settle on as the priorities for the bid we put to the Treasury, what view the Treasury will take of our bid as a whole and the elements within it of course are a matter for discussion further down the track.

  Valerie Davey: Can I just check whether we have that evaluation already?


  604. We are not sure.
  (John Healey) If you have not had the evidence that we have then we will make sure you get it.

Valerie Davey

  605. Clearly targeting funding is always good and there has been a very considerable increase in the access money that the colleges have. I think we have a note that it has risen from £36 million in 1999/2000 per year to £62 million in 2001/2002. Can you tell me what calculations you have as to how much of that has been taken up and of what benefit it has been to students?
  (John Healey) In terms of benefit, because it is a flexible fund that the colleges have been able to make decisions about largely according to the student demands and needs in their area it has been very useful. It has covered things that range from transport costs to overalls to learning books and equipment. We have an analysis of the precise number of people that have drawn down access funds. I do not have it with me today but I can let you have that.

  606. Included in that please could you tell us how much has actually been used?
  (John Healey) Yes.

Mr Chaytor

  607. On the question of the review of support for adult students can you give us an idea of when that will be completed, and is it completely separate from the review of HE student finance?
  (John Healey) It is separate. We are doing it within the Department as part of our work to try and make appropriate decisions on where we might go in the longer term and therefore what sort of shape the elements of our bid for the spending review ought to have.

  608. So therefore this will be completed long before February 18?
  (John Healey) Much of the work that we are doing at the moment at least needs to give us a basis on which to make some judgements and decisions about priorities and some judgements and decisions about how strong our case at that point might be on any of these fronts.

  609. Has there been any consultation with outside interested parties about the future shape of any scheme for support for adult students or has it been entirely internal?
  (John Healey) We have discussions and meetings all the time, officials and ministers, with interested parties right across the piece on funding in the post-16 field as you know.

  610. But has there not been a formal consultation?
  (John Healey) This is not a formal consultation. This is work we are rightly doing within the Department as part of our own planning and prioritisation, particularly in the context of the onus on producing a DfES spending review bid.

  611. If the bid for this particular area were not successful in this year's CSR would the discussion of support adult students continue after that? Is it an issue worth considering after that or will you abandon it for the next three years?
  (John Healey) Let us wait and see what the outturn is, but in general terms I cannot see a situation where the discussion about funding support for students is ever going to be settled for any part of the education system.

Mr Simmonds

  612. Mr Bryan Sanderson, to whom the Chairman referred earlier, was very strongly of the view that the disparity in pay between teachers in schools and teachers in FE colleges was unsupportable, to use his word. I wonder whether you agree with him and what you are going to do about it.
  (John Healey) There are difficulties, particularly in some areas, with recruiting and retaining staff in FE just as there are in other parts of the education system. If you look at the figures for the turnover of staff in FE, in general in FE colleges it is on average ten per cent. That compares pretty well with schools and higher education institutions. In about a fifth of general FE colleges it is as high as one in five. Some of the measures that we are putting in place will help that: the training bursaries, the golden hello's. Fundamentally pay may be a part of that but there are two other elements to this that the Committee might want to bear in mind as it tries to get a fuller picture of this. The first is that at present we still do not have the comparability of qualifications in the workforce, so of full time FE staff 52 per cent only have a full teaching qualification and ten per cent have a partial qualification. You would not find that in the school system. What that leads me to is that part of any long term solution has got to be able to deal first of all with the levels of professionalisation and qualification within the FE sector, and we can discuss some of the initiatives in the standards fund supported by the new teaching pay initiative that we have decided to try and re-introduce in order to create a career structure. Secondly, we have to deal with the degree of casualisation in the FE sector which again you certainly do not find in other parts of the education system. Part-timers make up 36 per cent, more than one in three, of the teaching force within general further education colleges. Thirty three per cent of FE colleges employ some of their teaching staff on term-time only contracts. Ninety per cent of their support staff are on term-time only contracts. This fragmentation and casualisation of the FE sector is one of our biggest challenges and I think myself is a big part of the problem of recruitment and retention in the sector.


  613. It is worrying, even if it is only ten per cent turnover in staff, if that ten per cent is many of your highly qualified people who are moving. This Committee has found, certainly in evidence from NATFHE, that like for like there is a £6,000 differential. If you are teaching IT in an FE college and there is a school up the road which has a vacancy you are likely to move. I am only talking about full time fully qualified, like for like comparisons, and that is a problem, is it not?
  (John Healey) There is a differential. I do not recognise the figure of £6,000. The figures that I have suggest that it is around £2,000. That certainly can create problems but then there are also these differentials in terms of the degree of qualification within the different teachers' workforces.

  614. I am just checking my papers here. The General Secretary of NATFHE, Paul Mackney, said that there was a £6,000 difference between further education and schools.
  (John Healey) I am not suggesting that Mr Mackney did not say that. I am just saying that I do not recognise that figure. The figures according to our analysis suggest that the differential is around £2,000. There is a differential, it can clearly cause problems, but there is also this differential which I think is important to bear in mind: the degree of qualifications that we have currently got in the workforce which we have to improve in FE and the degree of casualisation that many of the members that Mr Mackney represents have to put up with in terms of their employment within the sector.

Mr Simmonds

  615. One of the issues as I understand it is that the pay structure within the funding for FE colleges used to be ring fenced and that is no longer the case. Certainly I have had representations from management in the FE college in my constituency, and I am sure others have as well, to try and bring this back. What is happening at the moment is that when the college finds itself short of money it is taking it out of what effectively would be the pay budget or not allowing the increase of pay to take place, even further exacerbating the problem.
  (John Healey) You are right to say that there is no ring fenced or national system. When FE colleges became incorporated independent institutions as a result of legislation in 1992 they then set their own terms and conditions for their staff. Although there are national pay bargaining arrangements it is a decision for the governing body of each and every college to make in terms of their staff. The latest NATFHE figures that I have seen suggest that seven out of eight colleges implemented in full the previous year's nationally negotiated settlement. It certainly does mean that you will see differences from college to area, from area to area, but that is because the colleges as employers are independent corporations.

Mr Pollard

  616. In my own college the staff had not had a pay rise for two years and it was exactly the point you were making. I want to move on and say that Paul Mackney at our last session said that as well as the £6,000 (and you disputed that figure so that is up for argument) the sixth formers that colleges looked after were generally the ones that schools would not or could not look after and therefore there was a bigger job of work for them to do and, as well as that, they were getting less money for doing it.
  (John Healey) I would not like there to be any suggestion from those comments that somehow sixth form colleges were sink options for kids that schools could not cope with. In many areas, and it is probably the case in yours, Mr Pollard, many students go to sixth form colleges as a very positive option because they want to get away from the school culture. Sixth form colleges, as general FE, can offer them a range of learning that they simply cannot find elsewhere in the system. Though it is true to say that there will be some students that may require additional support that will put extra pressure on the staff, to some degree we have tried to recognise this in the formulas for the funding of students so that those who, for instance, come from particularly disadvantaged areas a proxy for perhaps extra support or extra incentive which might be needed to bring them into learning is built into the formula for funding student places.


  617. Minister, I appreciate what you say, but I have to tell you that in terms of sitting here on our top-up inquiry into FE, that if you compare the evidence that we had from the main teaching unions last week, there is a real change and you can see there is a real change and lift in positive feeling about what is happening in mainstream education, but we get a very different feel from the FE sector, that there is a lack of morale and there are some very deep discontents in the sector you are responsible for. I hope you realise that that is what we are picking up on and if you are not picking up on it we would be concerned that the Government was not aware of that situation at the very time when, as I have said elsewhere, the FE sector is being asked to play a very important role in your area and a tough role at that.
  (John Healey) Chairman, I do understand that and recognise it very clearly. I have said to audiences that I have either spoken to or had discussions with that in many ways I understand the view from FE that somehow from 1997 onwards the priority was for schools and then FE follows and I think that was the case. What we can argue is that we are only now starting to see the sort of investment in the FE sector that we were able earlier to make in schools and so the increase in the budget for FE of £527 million has been earmarked for this year as a significant real terms increase with more to follow next year. It is for the first time the sort of level of capital investment, particularly when we are introducing for the first time the teaching pay initiative and an increase in the standards fund, which has not been there in previous years. I do understand the pressures and the feeling there is in the sector. Also you would get many saying, "Well, we can see some signs now that perhaps things are changing".

  618. As the evidence showed last week, it takes time for it to be felt. The last point is on Sector Skills Councils. A lot of people—and we were talking about employers earlier—get a little bit dismayed by the Government's attitude to change: changing the name, changing the structure. It is quite difficult to keep the partnership that delivers the skills agenda and here we are, we have moved from TECs to LSCs, we are now having Sector Skills Councils and we are getting rid of the national training organisations. There is a price to pay, is there not, in terms of perpetual change? People get upset about it.
  (John Healey) In this field the criticism would be justified if it were change for change's sake. My view when I took over this brief was the challenge of skills from the sector point of view of change over the years since the Government started consulting on this. What we needed were organisations that were able to make a contribution through increased skills sector by sector, not just in the level of qualifications that the workforce might have but also in productivity, in employability. You see in the policies that DWP are producing over New Deal, you see within the DTI over their concerns too about business competitiveness sector by sector, and also in the Treasury in their concerns about productivity generally, that the sector base has a very much more important part to play. We as a Government in my view needed organisations that were capable of doing that.. We had some very good NTOs. They were the minority. There were too many NTOs that had too little buy-in from employers in their sector and too little influence outside their sector, and that really is the basis on which we are looking to move from 70-plus NTOs to a smaller, stronger network in the future which will be based on sector skills councils.

  Chairman: Minister, thank you for your attendance. We will seeing more of you. Thank you for your evidence.

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