Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)



  140. I am encouraged to hear the doubt and the recognition that more has to be done. I think this is particularly high. 75 per cent does seem high to me from my experience. The FEFC had this proposal for 10 per cent post coding element which was going to go in, the Committee earlier discussing this felt that that was probably too low and it would need more, do you feel this is a helpful approach or not and have you any alternatives that you might wish to add as a way of ensuring more young people do have this learning achievement and attainment, because all of us agree on that, whether we debate the facts and figure, we are all concerned to get more young people involved?
  (Mr Harwood) The answer to that must be at two levels, the first is about the post code issue, it is a way of channelling resources in to institutions to encourage and compensate them for the drive to widen participation and to enable that to happen. There are a range of ways of doing that. The other most common way is that which is used in schools, which is to use the percentage of students who are eligible for a free school meal as a surrogate for the same type of resource funding formula. One of the things that has quite clearly been put to me is representations about the adequacy at schools sixth form level of using a measure of eligibility for free school meals. For example, most sixth form students are unlikely to declare they are eligible in the first place and therefore you get an automatic loss from the reality. The post code methodology, as you know, came from the Helena Kennedy Report and it seems to have been well received as a methodology. However that is not to say that while the principle of it may be well regarded there are not legitimate debates to be held about the quantum of money which follows the identification of a particular post code. We have some work going on at the moment, some research going on, to look at whether the uplift which takes place at the moment needs to be greater than it is at the moment in order to provide a real incentive and real compensation to institutions for that particular measure. The second issue, I think, is a wider one, I do not believe that the objectives that the Council has, indeed we all have, to widen participation are going to be met simply by funding incentives to institutions. I think it is quite clear we need to look at a range of other measures about what is happening in society and communities, about the attitudes to learning, about the local culture in the families, in peer groups and in local communities.


  141. That is right. Which ones do you favour? What are you going to do about it? This is what Valerie Davey is asking? Which one do you prefer?
  (Mr Harwood) When you say, which one do I prefer, I would prefer a mix including the post code uplift. I have not said that we are not going to do that, but I think that only goes so far. I do not think there are single magic bullet solutions to this. You have to produce funding which goes through the institutions and other providers but one also needs to do more than that, separately from that—funding these are not alternatives—is to tackle issues to do with culture in local areas.

  142. If you talk to your colleagues in the Higher Education Funding Council what they tell us is that the real blockage in terms of Government meeting its targets are 50 per cent of people going into higher education, you guys are basically failing the nation, you are not bringing enough young people through with the right qualifications to an A-level equivalent. You are not producing enough young people qualified. What are you going to do about it? We are getting to the last 15 minutes of this, we need short questions and short answers, come on, what are you going to do about it? Education maintenance allowances, are you in favour? Are you going to pay for them? Are you going to bang on the Secretary of State's door and say, we need them rolled out nationally?
  (Mr Harwood) There are a range of pilot studies going on at the moment. The earlier indications seem to suggest they do increase participation somewhere between three and 11 per cent in different areas. If that can be demonstrated by the final report then I shall certainly argue that they ought to be extended. The issue is, do we need to look at what the evidence tells us before we embark on a particular course of action. It is important to wait so we can see what the outcome of that study is before we start leaping in.

  143. Both you and I studied at the London School of Economics and one of the things we did learn at Nelly's knee was that image of Keynes, that in the long term we are all dead. Quite honestly, if the LSC must keep pondering about what the answers are, some of us around this Committee think education maintenance allowance, a real incentive for post code, actually paying the people to deliver a proper wage so that we get a greater incentive to do the job better than they do it now.
  (Mr Sanderson) The facts are stark, are they not? There is the 2010 target of 50 per cent into higher education. At the moment we only have 51 per cent getting level -3, so we have some way to go. We have to get, as you say, further education improvements coming all of the way through. I think the 2010 target is quite helpful, because that sets a strap line and can pull the rest up if we use it properly. What I think going around, as I am doing—I was talking about it only at lunchtime to higher education—is it has not quite got through. Actually if you look at Britain comparatively we do rather well on the higher education front, we are up near the top of the league. If we were to get that next bit, going back to our economics again, you have to stop pouring fertiliser on the higher education, you have to start fertilising further down otherwise we will not get this pull through which is very necessary. How you do that and what mechanics you use I am just too new and ignorant to say.

  144. If you do not get your act together soon and start baying for those new resources you are never going to meet the ambitious targets.
  (Mr Sanderson) We are doing that. We will continue to bang on the table. The sector is woefully short of funding in some areas, there is no doubt about that at all.

Valerie Davey

  145. Could I ask specifically what advice you are giving ministers particularly at the Treasury about reinstating the individual learning accounts?
  (Mr Harwood) We have not given any advice to them.

  146. Would you like to?
  (Mr Harwood) I am sure we would like to in due course. If I am allowed a personal view again, I think that ILAs are an important development.

  147. They have been proved to be successful, have they not?
  (Mr Sanderson) Conceptually very clever.

  148. So where do we go from here? How do we overcome the very practical difficulties which we have clearly come up against because they have proved successful? We now need a process for re-invigorating, restarting and, I am going to say, refunding. Is it worth it?
  (Mr Sanderson) We have been asked to comment and to consider what we will do, and of course we will. I think you will find the concept that the principle is a good one is shared by all of us. There is something we have not mentioned yet, which is an enormous need for good professional management of anything like this, and clearly in this case that was somewhat lacking. There were just too many abuses. The decision to suspend them was almost inevitable but we do have to come back at them.

  Valerie Davey: I am pleased to hear there will be advice given and I shall be very interested to hear it.


  149. It is interesting that Mr Sanderson obviously thinks it was the abuse of the system and not the popularity of the system, which the Secretary of State said was the major cause for putting a stop on ILAs.
  (Mr Sanderson) Abuse and not popularity. There were 2,500,000 take-ups, were there not?

  150. The Secretary of State said it was a success because of the number of people but you immediately homed in on the number of problems.
  (Mr Sanderson) I was just commenting on why I thought it was suspended.

  151. The impression we are getting on this Committee, and I think I can sense this, is that perhaps you in the LSC are being a bit too tentative. I do urge both of you to not worry when you have an interview with the TES and you say something which causes a lot of comment, or go on to Radio 4, in a sense we sometimes hope the very opposite, that you will come out of your corner punching above your weight and getting on the Today programme saying what the LSC thinks about things. I am getting a feeling of tentativeness today. Is there a time when you are going to come out of your corner punching up to your weight or above your weight?
  (Mr Harwood) I am sure there will be, Chairman.

  152. When will that be?
  (Mr Harwood) When are you next proposing to invite us?

  153. Perhaps earlier than you expect!
  (Mr Harwood) I shall look forward to it.
  (Mr Sanderson) There is a trade-off between getting established and getting some track record and making public comments, and I think we are getting some sort of order, Chairman.

  Chairman: I hope you are getting the sense from this Committee that we will quite soon be looking for some signs of that readiness. I am now going to shift slightly to Jeff Ennis.

Jeff Ennis

  154. We have already touched on the use of EMAs, and from my personal experience they have certainly caused an improvement in places like Barnsley, which I represent, and Doncaster which were pilot areas. Looking at other student support mechanisms, the DfES are currently conducting a review in higher education student support, should that review be extended to FE students in your opinion?
  (Mr Harwood) I would not be averse to it being extended, but we have not studied that or talked to the Department about it.

  155. Have you got any views on this?
  (Mr Sanderson) I would like it to be extended but we have not addressed it yet.

  156. If it was included, what other range of options, other than EMAs, do you think we ought to be considering in terms of getting more students into FE?
  (Mr Harwood) As I was trying to say earlier on, before the Chairman encouraged me to be more outspoken, there are a range of issues to do with what happens about the choices which young people make, the role of Connexions for example and making sure there is proper guidance and advice for young people about the choices—an issue on which the Committee has commented before—which I think is a very important development. It is one where at a local level the LSC needs to work closely with institutions, with Connexions and with other groups. We need to try and change the expectations, the aspirations, the drivers young people see as to what they are trying to achieve. Then there a range of what we might call broadly physical measures to do with both institutions in attracting them but also individual young people and the choices they make, and it is that last area you are getting into, which is whether there are other taxation incentives or other ways of encouraging young people to pursue learning rather than going immediately into employment. I am sorry if I am going to disappoint the Committee again but I do think these things need to be looked at very carefully. One can take quite significant measures in quite a short space of time, for example on EMAs and, if one is not careful, disrupt other types of provision which those young people may be opting for at the moment. We have already heard one of our big challenges is not to do what we have done in this country over the past few years, and I must say I do not think we have been silent on this, we were very clear early in the year about the challenges facing this country and the need for radical change, but we need to avoid the over-fishing of a rather small pool, to increase the size of that pool, and that is the way we would help meet the overall national target of 50 per cent of under-30s having the availability of HE by 2010.
  (Mr Sanderson) I would just add, I am involved in the Sunderland Urban Regeneration Council, not too different from some of your constituencies, with 68,000 people and 50 per cent adult male unemployment, and at the core of it, if you had to take a single core of the multiple deprivation, is an education deficit. Somehow or other, in addition to that, we have to find some way of putting aside some of the political correctness. What we have there is a problem of young, white males—and females as well but particularly young, white males—who only respond to football basically.

  Jeff Ennis: We are not responding very well in Barnsley!

  Chairman: Sunderland has a lot of difficulties as well!

Jeff Ennis

  157. Both of our guests have touched on the relationship between the national and the local councils, which I think is key to the hopefully successful future of FE and adult skills. I am trying to remember the analogy you referred to in terms of using Shell and Unilever. How do you see the relationship between them? You have already mentioned in terms of delivery the local Learning and Skills Councils are very much the ones which will set the agenda locally, and that is absolutely right and I totally agree with that. How do you see the relationship between the national and local Learning and Skills Councils? Are you looking for a series of mini-Unilevers or a series of mini-Shells?
  (Mr Sanderson) I think probably we have pushed that analogy as far as we can take it. I think the national/local dialogue has to be just that, it has to be two-way. We already have, incidentally, as part of the national Council some sub-committees looking at specific issues which have both on, and we have also set up, in case of any failures or break-downs of communications between national and local, some ombudsmen under a guy called John Merry, who is on the Council and familiar with this, and the idea is if the locals somewhere in the country think they are getting a raw deal and head office is leaning on them too much, then as a last resort, after they have exhausted John's executive, they can come to that, so it is an ombudsman's role. We are already on the way to doing that. The national agenda being set is the targets and the measurement of them, and importantly the boundaries within which we work. This is a public body and we have to be very clear about all that, so we do not want one bad apple dragging us all down. So, to set those parameters and to set some very clear targets and go around pushing them. But the operating decisions are all down at the local end.

  158. As a supplementary to that, how high on the list of priorities, and we are talking about a very new organisation here, do you see the spread of that best practice from the national down to the local?
  (Mr Sanderson) It is very high. It is not just from national to local, what we are also encouraging is best practice between different local bodies. We found in BP one of the strongest ways of getting best practice was to put peers together, because they set targets for each other which you would not dare do from top-down. Of course, you need proper systems in place to do that but when they are up and running, we will be encouraging that.

Paul Holmes

  159. As we approach the end, can I back-track slightly on some of the things you have said? The Chairman was urging you a few minutes ago to make strong statements and say where you saw things going, and I think Mr Sanderson has had several goes at that in the last hour and a half. He has said you will improve the balance of college representation on the LSCs, you will cut bureaucracy, there is a need to fertilise the lower tier, which I assume is put more money into FE. He also said he recognised there was a big problem with staff morale, recruitment and retention in FE because they are being paid about 10 per cent below the equivalent teachers. What will you be recommending to Estelle Morris and Gordon Brown? Are you saying there should be a 10 per cent pay rise for the FE sector to address that problem?
  (Mr Sanderson) That would be the populist line, would it not? I certainly will be saying, and am already saying, that I think this is an insupportable model for the medium to long-term and that something has to be done about it.

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