Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 720-739)

STEPHEN TWIGG MP

WEDNESDAY 17 JULY 2002

  720. Yesterday we also had the announcement that Education SFA for schools will increase by 3.5 per cent. If the schools' funding is increased by 3.5 per cent and the FE funding by one per cent, surely that is going to increase the differential, not reduce it.
  (Mr Twigg) There is obviously a lot of further work that we are going to be doing in terms of the FE strategy and there will be announcements later on this year about the investment programme for FE and exactly what that will entail.

Chairman

  721. It is within the one per cent. Minister, I am sure you do not intend to fool this Committee, but the fact is that here you have a Green Paper on 14-19, putting enormous onus on delivery of Government policy on the FE sector, but at the same time a disparity in salaries and in terms and conditions. It is an appalling gap. Not only do we now have lecturers and good staff leaving FE to go into main stream schooling because of much higher salaries, but we are getting it from HE. This is a real problem for the Government: on the one hand you have highlighted that 14-19 is crucial, FE must deliver, but you are not giving them the resources to deliver.
  (Mr Twigg) It is a very significant shift, though, to say this week that we are going to have that one per cent increase in real terms for FE. I accept that it is not going to close the gap overnight by any means, but I think it is a very, very significant shift and a real change from previous practice of our own government and of previous governments.

Mr Chaytor

  722. But the issue, Minister, is whether the announcements to be made about funding later this autumn will be within the one per cent increase announced yesterday or over and above that one per cent increase.
  (Mr Twigg) I think, rather than risking making that up, I will have to come back to you in writing.[2]

Jeff Ennis

  723. I think most, if not all, members of the Committee, Minister, were delighted with the announcement earlier in the week to extend the educational maintenance allowances nationally. What were the deciding factors which eventually made the Government roll it out nationally? Because the last time the Minister came before us he said, "We are evaluating the programme."
  (Mr Twigg) It was the evaluation. The evaluation evidence that has come in is very, very strong that educational maintenance allowances in the pilot areas have had a very significant impact on the staying on rates amongst those young people at 16 and, crucially, at 17, with some indication—although I have not read the full evaluation—that you then see more young people who would not otherwise have stayed on actually going into higher education as well.

  724. Following that on, do you think that the profile of the type of courses that students undertake, particularly the EMA students, will change in terms of the current balance between academic and vocational courses?
  (Mr Twigg) As a consequence of the EMAs?

  725. Yes.
  (Mr Twigg) I think it is possible. I have to confess that I do not know precisely what the position on that will be or whether there is any evidence on that from the pilots so far, so perhaps it is best, Jeff, if I take a look at that and come back to you on it.

  726. I asked the Minister last time to look at that and he said he would evaluate that.
  (Mr Twigg) Margaret Hodge has taken direct responsibility for this area, so I will speak to Margaret Hodge about it and get that information back to you.

  727. Thank you. The other point we raised in our post-16 education report which we recently published was the potential to look at extending the EMAs to the 19-24 age range. Particularly in working class areas, there are children who leave school at Easter, when they are 16 or just before they are 16, and go into a low paid job, who eventually, after two or three years' employment with low wages, think, "I should now go back into education." Have we thought about extending the EMAs into the 19-24 age range? One of the other recommendations was to look at extending it into higher education as well. I wonder if you have any thoughts on those issues.
  (Mr Twigg) Going back to where I started this morning, and remembering coming to speak with my previous hat in NUS, we were always very keen to point up some of the disparities in terms of the funding that higher education students were getting compared to students either before higher education or those who do not go into higher education, and I think there are great benefits of a more consistent and coherent approach for the different stages of post-16 education. It is very hard to justify a system that funded me to go to university that was not prepared to fund people from much poorer backgrounds to get the benefits of further education or other forms of learning. So, yes, that is something at which we are looking, but I am certainly not in a position to make any kind of announcement about it today.

Chairman

  728. Minister, we were really taken by the experience of the EMAs. In our report, published last week, we asked for the roll out of EMAs nationally. We also asked for them to be rolled out, as my colleague has just said, through the first year, when, as we know from our retention inquiry, if someone is going to drop out of a course, they drop out in the first year. I do not want to take away from the Government's announcement at all, but did the Government not lose a bit of its nerve, in the sense that this is not coming in until 2004, which is something of a disappointment? If the system works, if the pilots are good, why not now rather than 2004? A lot of people will have missed out on the opportunity by then. Secondly, did the Chancellor lose his bottle in terms of the great possibility of linking this with changes in family allowance, child allowance? What went wrong? Did you lose the battle?
  (Mr Twigg) I think, on the first question, we want to ensure, when the programme is implemented, that it is implemented without any hitches, that it goes smoothly, that all of the local authorities around the country are ready for it. Most of the local authorities do not have experience of EMAs—they are not in the pilot areas—so we want to be sure that when it is a national programme it is fully ready and works properly. That is the reason why we have decided to go for launching in 2004 nationwide.

  729. Is the reason really that the quality of the civil servants you have today is not up to much? In the General Teaching Council there is a very serious problem, put by Lord Puttnam, that it was actually the civil service that did not really like the GTC and did not accept it with enthusiasm. That worried this Committee a great deal, that here was a senior figure saying that actually the reason that the legislation came off half-cocked was because of a lack of enthusiasm and dedication by the civil servants. Are we getting a poorer standard of civil servants? You have two or three with you today, and I am not talking in personality terms, but is the quality of the civil service back-up you get good enough? Is this the explanation why you cannot really roll out until 2004?
  (Mr Twigg) I do not believe that is the explanation. I have to say—and I am not just saying this because people are here with me—that my experience of the civil servants in the DfES is of a hugely dedicated and enthusiastic group of people. I think there have been some great improvements made.

  730. Are they good managers? A lot of dedicated and enthusiastic amateurs around, Minister: are they good managers of programmes?
  (Mr Twigg) So far I am impressed by the quality of management programmes that I have seen.

  731. But you have never been in management, Minister, so you would not know what to look for.
  (Mr Twigg) Well, you asked me. From what I have seen, I am impressed by what I have seen.

  732. We have our concerns.
  (Mr Twigg) I understand.

Valerie Davey

  733. Has the Government decided which of the pilots it is going to roll out?
  (Mr Twigg) The precise detail is still being worked out. The announcement made clear that it would be the £30 a week pilot but with some ability then to reward punctuality and attendance and those sorts of things. I think we were very impressed by the pilots that paid the young people rather than the ones that paid the parents.

  Mr Pollard: I live in the fourth wealthiest town in the country. We have nine secondary schools. All are putting in for specialist school status, all are having exceptional difficulty in raising the money. We have no large firm; there are several hundred very small firms, so head teachers are spending hours and hours and hours running around collecting three and fourpence from each of a lot of small firms. One deputy head teacher spent a whole year and has raised £650 so far.

  Chairman: The Minister is a young minister. Could you explain three and fourpence to him.

Mr Pollard

  734. He is not that young!
  (Mr Twigg) I would take that back. I am impressed if you put a tenner in yourselves; that is all nine schools!

Jonathan Shaw

  735. Minister, at the beginning of the month you unveiled a new poster regarding behaviour. I wonder, coming on to drugs, whether you are ripping up your poster saying "Don't do drugs," and instead saying "don't deal in drugs." How is the downgrading of cannabis affecting the drugs policy, of which you are in charge?
  (Mr Twigg) The poster was specifically about violence by adults, just to clarify. On the drugs issue, I do not think this announcement has any impact on the very, very strong message that we send out as a department that we want schools to be drug-free zones. It will have some impact in terms of the nature of drugs education, the factual element of drugs education, that young people will need to know about the new classification.

  736. Is that something that you have discussed with the expert managers?
  (Mr Twigg) Yes, it is something I have discussed with officials in the department and, indeed, in the Home Office as well, and we are working on the new guidance that will go to schools in the light of the announcements made last week.

  737. Can you give us a flavour of that?
  (Mr Twigg) I do not think it will be anything complicated, because it will simply be a matter of ensuring that, as part of drugs education, schools are aware of the new arrangements and what the legal position is with the reclassification announced last week.

  738. Do you think there might be some confusion amongst teachers and, indeed, pupils, with the Government saying one thing one minute and now it is another? Do you think there might be some confusion? How are you going to ensure that that does not permeate too much into the minds of young people?
  (Mr Twigg) I visited Highland School, which is a brand new secondary school in my constituency, the day after David Blunkett's announcement. I was speaking to 12 and 13 year olds and it was the biggest issue and we talked about it. These are sophisticated young people and they were actually quite able to understand the issues that we were talking about. I do not think there is any reason at all for there to be confusion. The other thing I want us to do is to get a much clearer message out about alcohol, because I think actually not enough has been done in terms of alcohol education in schools and there is a duty for us to do that.

Mr Baron

  739. Minister, you talk about drug-free schools. What about sex-free schools, in the sense of what is your view about this business of allowing contraceptives to be given out and sex advice in schools?
  (Mr Twigg) I think we have to tread carefully on these sorts of matters but I also believe that we have to be realistic. We have a major problem of teenage pregnancy, we still have a very significant problem with HIV and AIDS and we have a very sophisticated young people's population, as we were talking about in response to Andrew Turner's questions earlier on. I think, as long as it is done in a careful and appropriate way, it is something that it is right for us to do.


2   See Ev 159. Back


 
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