Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 660-663)



  660. That leads me on to the second part of your speech I wanted to comment on. You say, "But I am absolutely clear that public support for investment is conditional on the money going into programmes that deliver." Part of this Committee's central reason for existing is to see what actually delivers and try to evaluate what delivers. You go on to say, "So in this we are bound together. You want more investment; so do I. You want higher standards; so do I. But the public wants reforms to ensure their money is well spent. Deliver them reform and they will deliver the funds." I thought you absolutely put your finger on the issue in that reference in that speech. Do you believe that you are getting the necessary reforms for the investment? We have had massive investment in education over the last five years. We will be asking the Permanent Secretary on Wednesday, is it filtering through fast enough, is it money being spent fast enough. Do you think that if you notch up the last five years you have got the reforms you think you deserve in terms of the money put in?
  (Mr Miliband) First of all, if every time I come here you quote my speeches, you will convince even me they are quite good!

  661. It was only two bits!
  (Mr Miliband) That's reassuring! I won't let it go to my head! I think we have got significant leverage for the investment we have made in the last five years, however I put in a couple of points. First, we should not over-egg the pudding. If you look at the international league tables, we should not pretend that somehow we are spending vast sums more than comparable countries. I cannot remember the exact figures but we are now approaching the G7 average I think for education expenditure. So let's keep a sense of proportion. In historical terms there has been more or less double the increase which was the historical average. Does that make up for 30 or 40 years where the increase was half what it is now? No, it does not. The second thing to say is, we have been digging ourselves out from some deep holes in the last five years and we have had some success in doing that, but what we now have to focus on is the reform for the next five years. I hope some of that will be continuity, but the hardest thing in public policy is to get step change while you get incremental improvement. If you look at any organisation in the private sector, it has to keep on doing its core business. If you are a local council, you have to keep on emptying the bins while at the same time demanding community leadership. If you are in business you have to keep on delivering the bottom line while you are thinking about your long-term strategy. That is also true for the Department for Education. We have to keep on doing the business and helping teachers do the business day in day out in schools around the country, while at the same time fashioning the step change. You need reform to oil the wheels of that.

  662. The private sector recognise that very well because if a private sector company is going to maintain its position and market share, it knows it has to invest in what they do well all the time, plus they have to invest in future products and innovation. What worries me sometimes about the Department you now have a senior role in is, to give you a comparison, you have just now said, "What a good idea, I am going to go into universities and higher education, which is not my remit", and all of us felt a warm glow of agreement with what you said about the role of universities. But we have had ministers come before this Committee and we have had a lot of evidence before this Committee which absolutely speaks with one voice on this, the real role which universities can play, but it does not come cheap. It cannot be done out of current resources. When we as a Select Committee went to the United States what we saw was where that is done well it is done professionally, and that means hiring people of a high professional calibre and giving them a remit to do it, and it does not come on the side, a little bit added on to what universities for example do. In a sense, what I am saying to you is, the obligation is to come back and say, "Yes, we want this to happen but we are willing to put resources in to make it happen."
  (Mr Miliband) I hope I can do that, although I think it would be wrong to say I could come back to you on all the things that give us a warm glow and say we are going to do them all. The easy thing is to say yes; the hard thing is to say no. We will have to say no to things which are perfectly good projects but we are going to be saying no because we really want to pile in behind things that we think are going to make the most difference. If we can be in that dialogue where we are trading evidence about what is going to make the difference and discussing where resource should be best spent, that seems to me to be a really productive dialogue where we would not all be saying we would like to do everything, but we are saying there is a resource constraint. We are saying with the best will in the world, money spent on X means you cannot spend it on Y and we want to spend it to maximum effect. That is a really good agenda. One of the things that is most important for me is, if we come back to where we started, which is about values, objectives and priorities, I want to be at the stage where everything that is done within the Schools Directorate is directly linked to raising standards. There should not be anyone who comes into work in the Schools Directorate who is not thinking about higher standards, whether they are in the teaching division or the ICT division or the schools capital division or the funding division. They should feel in the end that what counts is not their hermetically sealed unit but the bigger goal of raising standards and that is where you get an organisation that is about innovation, drive and high expectations, and I think that is what we are trying to do.

  663. That also comes back to how we started in terms of your opening remarks about the high quality of civil servants in your Department and that you are not a manager. It is going to be very important that you make sure the quality of the management you have in your Department gives you the right answers and certainly gives you the right information in order to make decisions because just before you came in Lord Puttnam was explaining to us how the legislation was right about the General Teaching Council, the commitment was right and the ministerial commitment was there but when it actually came to it the civil servants did not really believe in it and it was a botched piece of legislation. It has taken a lot of work to get right because the civil servants were not convinced of the necessity of a GTC. So we are putting in your mind, Minister, that it is not only going to be about wanting things to happen; it is making sure you have got the people. Do you think you are up to the job?
  (Mr Miliband) We will find out. My motto is "under-promise; over-deliver". Let's see if we can stick to that.

  Chairman: Thank you for your attendance.

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