WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002

__________

Members present:

Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Mr John Baron
Mr David Chaytor
Valerie Davey
Jeff Ennis
Paul Holmes
Mr Mark Simmonds
Mr Andrew Turner

__________

MR DAVID NORMINGTON, Permanent Secretary, and DR RUTH THOMPSON, Director of Finance, Department for Education and Skills, examined.

Chairman

  1. It is a great pleasure to welcome the Permanent Secretary, David Normington, and the Director of Finance at the Department, Ruth Thompson, to our proceedings. It is something of a large gap, in terms of our meeting formally, Mr Normington; we last met you, as the old Education and Employment Select Committee, when Michael Bichard did his swan-song performance, and you came as the new boy. But you have had plenty of time to play yourself into the Department now; so that is our excuse for not seeing you earlier. Would you like to make something of a brief opening statement, either or both of you?
  2. (Mr Normington) I do not think I have a great deal to say, and I am sure you will be wanting to ask how we have been getting on in our first year, and how I have been getting on. If I could say just two things. I am quite pleased by the balance-sheet that is in the Departmental Report, in Table 1, there is a statement of how we have been performing against all our targets; we have not met all of them, we are not going to meet all of them, but the balance-sheet is very positive, and, in the end, I think, that is how we have to be judged. The Government sets those objectives, and are we meeting them; so I am proud of that. I think there are quite a lot of things I am pleased about, in terms of the way in which the Department has been developing in the last year, but maybe we will come on to some of those.

    (Dr Thompson) I have nothing to add, thank you very much.

  3. Does not that rather reflect the situation out there in the real world, in schools, that there is some very real, encouraging performance and improvement of performance, but there are bits of your Department that I would not touch with a bargepole. In fact, when we did our Individual Learning Accounts, there was a whole track record of not learning from past experience, fundamental mistakes that we thought occurred, in terms of the contractual agreement you had with Capita. But would you find that offensive, that I described bits of your Department that I would not touch with a bargepole?
  4. (Mr Normington) I am very dismayed by what happened on Individual Learning Accounts. I think it has highlighted some problems with the way in which we manage major bits of policy, and the way in which we manage contractors, and so on; and I think your Report highlights those very clearly, and we accept a lot of those things. I hope that that is not reflecting what the Department is like. I have to ensure though that those lessons are learned, to make sure that that is not happening anywhere else, and I am clear that that is one of the downsides of this year.

  5. But you do not find it offensive that I would describe bits of your Department in that way?
  6. (Mr Normington) No, I do not.

  7. Thank you, Mr Normington. Can we move on to one or two other issues, regarding the general direction of the Department. In one sense, you took over a pretty good ship, when you took over from Michael Bichard, your predecessor. Things looked good, here you have a Government, it could not be better, really, as a Permanent Secretary, could it, that was committed to the three Es, there was a Prime Minister and a Chancellor of the Exchequer extremely interested in educational performance, and there has been an enormous amount of money flowing into education, your Annual Report highlights that. But that is not the feeling that people have on the ground. As we call witnesses, as we attend annual conferences, as we visit schools, there is a feeling out there that that large amount of money is not trickling down in a way that one would expect from the figures; how do you explain that?
  8. (Mr Normington) I cannot wholly explain it. I hear exactly the same, and I know for a fact that at the top of this funnel there is a large amount of money going in, and it is over 7 per cent, if you are looking at the schools budget, it is increases year on year, in the last two, of over 7 per cent, in terms of per pupil funding. I think part of it is that that is an average figure, at national level we are talking average figures. The range, in terms of the increase in local authority budgets on education around that 7 per cent figure, it is actually 7.4, is somewhere between just over 3 and 10; and, of course, that is why in some places the pressure is on, and in some places it is not, and you will always hear, of course, from the people whose budgets feel under greatest pressure. So that is some of it. I think there are some other issues about the way in which the money comes to them and whether they feel they have the ability to move it round and spend it on the things they want. We have made a big series of changes in the last two years, in that direction, actually to give schools more ability to move the money around, but they are still nervous that they do not have that ability, and they are still, even after several years of increasing funding, lacking in confidence that the money will keep flowing. That causes them to put some money in their reserves, it causes them to be anxious about the demands on their spending. A third things is, there are a lot of demands on schools, and I am talking about schools but it could apply to other areas too, there are a lot of demands on schools. The main cost, in most of the business I deal with, is the people, and people sometimes come quite expensive, and it is very difficult to get rid of them quickly, and therefore you cannot make quick adjustments in your budgets. And I think all our institutions, universities, FE colleges, schools, probably feel that.

  9. My colleagues will want to come back to that issue; but can I ask you one other thing, before the questions are broadened. In terms of your job description, when you walked into your first day as Permanent Secretary, presumably you had a job description; how does that job description differ from and how does it complement, or how does it work with, the job description of the Secretary of State? What is the dividing line, what sorts of things do you do that she does not do, and vice versa?
  10. (Mr Normington) I am her chief adviser on policy, and she decides. I am the one who tries to convert that policy into effective implementation. I am the one who takes decisions about the way the Department is run and organised, in order to deliver the Government's policies. That is true, but it does not tell the whole story. Those lines have to be blurred, because, at the top, the Secretary of State and I have to work very closely together on all those issues, because if she is not happy with the way in which policy is being implemented, or the effectiveness of one bit of the Department, I will talk to her about that, we will talk about the causes of that, and I will then go away and try to put it right. But there are some clear dividing lines, but you have to work it out at the top.

  11. I am very interested in management, and so you would say you were the general manager of the Department, the chief executive?
  12. (Mr Normington) Yes, in terms of the management of the Department. I think the Secretary of State would say that too, and would hold me to account for that.

  13. But she can interfere with the management process when she likes?
  14. (Mr Normington) She does not interfere, in that sense. She does, actually, talk to me about whether the Department is working, whether we have got the right people in, whether they are providing the right service; she gives me all that feedback, and she suggests, from her perspective, where things are not going right. If that is interference, it is interference, but it is a legitimate role for her, because, in the end, she is accountable to Parliament and to the public for what we do, and if the Department is not working, of course, she must take an interest in that, but she holds me to account for that, me and my Management Board. But if it is not working she will, if you want to use the word 'interfere', yes, of course, she will interfere, because she will want to know that things are being put right.

  15. What does she do, the day after she reads the article, I think in the TES, that a very high percentage of your staff were unhappy with their managers?
  16. (Mr Normington) We have not had that discussion yet, we are going to have that discussion; because that comes from our staff survey. I am very happy for everyone to see our staff survey, because I am really proud of it, actually. A lot of the performance in the staff survey has gone up, a lot of the perception of how the Department is managed has gone up, but they do not believe it is anything to do with me, or my senior management team; which, after a year, I will just about settle for. The messages from the staff are, "We need you to be more visible, in leading this Department;" but they are also saying, "But a lot of the other things about the Department are significantly more positive than the last time we did the survey." And, in the end, I will judge the Department by that. I have promised the Secretary of State a discussion about the results of that survey, and I am happy to be quite open about the staff's perception of our management skills and our leadership skills; by the way, they have improved, but they have improved from a low base to a base which is a little higher.

  17. Are you getting the right quality of people coming into the Civil Service? One hears, in the educational press, in higher education, more and more young people only want to go into where they can earn the highest amount of money, often the City is mentioned as the preferred destination. Are we getting the quality coming into the higher-ranking levels of the Civil Service and going through the system; are we getting the right sort of quality, or are we getting rather second-best people coming into the Civil Service now, in your Department?
  18. (Mr Normington) There are two answers to that. At the junior levels, recruitment is very buoyant, people want to come and work for us. Years ago, because I used to do graduate recruitment, people did not put the Education Department down as one of their priority areas; now they do, and I think that reflects the profile we have and the impact we are making. Also, in the last year, of course, I have been recruiting to my senior team from outside the Civil Service. My replacement as Director-General for Schools came from a local authority, he was the chief executive of a local authority, and before that a chief education officer and a teacher; and my new Director-General of Lifelong Learning was the principal of a college. I am absolutely delighted with those appointments; it suggests to me you can recruit some of the best people out there in the education world, and they have strengthened my team immeasurably. I think probably Michael Bichard would say that that was one bit of luck I had had.

    Chairman: I cannot imagine why a boy from Bradford Grammar School could have described himself as a Martian to any of his staff.

    Jeff Ennis

  19. Looking at last year's restructuring of Government Departments, Mr Normington, given your extensive background in employment, you must have been personally disappointed that the old Department was broken up; is that not true to say?
  20. (Mr Normington) A little; but you live with Machinery of Government changes, it is part of the job, I think. The Prime Minister decides it. I was pleased about two things. One, I was pleased to be the Permanent Secretary; and, secondly, the way in which the dividing line was drawn, when Employment was taken away, preserved in the Department for Education and Skills a very coherent set of responsibilities. If the dividing line had been drawn further back, in the Skills area, and had recreated the divide we had had pre-1995, I think that would have been a really retrograde step. A lot of the gains we made in 1995 were preserved really in the Lifelong Learning area. So, a little disappointed, but it is life, really, I got on with it.

  21. Did you play any part or any role in where the dividing lines were eventually drawn up?
  22. (Mr Normington) Yes, sort of; in the sense that the Prime Minister had signalled to us during the election campaign that if he were re-elected he was likely to make this change, and I and my counterpart in the DSS worked on a set of propositions, which were then put to the Prime Minister when he came back into office. It was then his decision that I was able to have that influence, and I was fortunate in that regard, that we had about two and a half weeks to do that work, and, in fact, it was one of the first things I did when I came into my job, in fact, I was Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education and Employment for two and a half weeks.

  23. So there was agreement between the two Permanent Secretaries there?
  24. (Mr Normington) Yes, and we were working with the Cabinet Secretary, who, of course, is the person who advises the Prime Minister, at that point.

  25. What do you perceive to be the advantages in the new Department, in the new structure, as opposed to the old structure, and are there any disadvantages?
  26. (Mr Normington) The advantage is in the coherence of it. The agenda does fit together; unlike some other Government Departments, there are not a lot of things that are sort of attached to us but do not really fit, it is a very coherent set of responsibilities, which enables us to focus on the agenda for Education and Skills very precisely. In that staff survey I mentioned, 91 per cent of our staff are very clear what the purpose of the Department is and know how their work relates to it; only 3 per cent say they are not, and I am looking out for them. That is a very, very high number, and I think that is partly because of the work we have done, but partly because people are very clear what our main responsibilities and purposes are. So I think the coherence is there. I think that the only downside I would want to highlight is a managerial one, in that the loss of the Employment Service, which was a very important part of the Department for Education and Employment, takes away from us a lot of operational experience, and a pool of staff there that we used to bring into our head office people who knew about operations and delivery. And we have an understanding still with the Department for Work and Pensions that we will share staff; and one of the advantages to us of that is that we hope to be able to attract some of those people with very good operational skills into our head office.

  27. Would it be true to say, under the old Department, that staff employed in the Employment division, felt that they were a part of a Cinderella service, if you like, compared with Education, and is that one of the reasons why it was transferred over?
  28. (Mr Normington) I do not think that was why it was transferred over. I think it was transferred over because of the priority the Government was giving to the sort of whole Welfare to Work agenda really. I think some of what you say is true. The Department for Education and Skills has some of the same issue, in that people think we are just about schools; that is what takes 75 per cent, maybe 90 per cent, of the press attention, and certainly quite a lot of the attention within Government, and one has to work to make sure that people in other parts do not feel that somehow they are second-class citizens. I think, if you look back over a lot of years in the Department for Education, the schools area has always seemed like the premier league.

    Chairman

  29. But is not the new Cinderella the Skills bit of your Department? We hear very little about Skills in the Department, and there seems to be one unholy mess going on between what seems to be the demise of these National Training Organisations and their replacement, or possible replacement, by the Sector Skills Councils?
  30. (Mr Normington) Sometimes it may seem that the Skills issues do not have so much profile outside; they have a lot of profile inside, it is just that you do not get much notice for them. I think that the aim behind the transfer from the National Training Organisations to the Sector Skills Councils was intended to be a stepping up of the importance of sector training bodies. The National Training Organisations, it was felt, were very variable in quality; the aim is to create some much more powerful sector skills bodies which can be a counterbalance to what is a very strong element in our policies, which is a regional and area base, and traditionally there has been much more emphasis in Skills on delivering through area bodies, and there has not been enough emphasis on the needs of key sectors of the economy. And that is what the change is about. As part of my attempt to signal how important this is, I have agreed to be on the Board of the Sector Skills Development Agency myself, so that nobody thinks that senior management are not taking that just as seriously as everything else.

  31. No, but the Minister who identified with that big process, John Healey, has now gone, after 111/2 months; well what does that say to the morale of the Department?
  32. (Mr Normington) There is a very good Minister in his place, is there not, who is going to give it a lot of priority as well.

  33. But do you not find it frustrating; you have had a couple of Ministers in 111/2 months, off they go, they have just played themselves out of a job, they have been there less time than you, and off they go? And this Committee is not very happy at the news that we are hearing, that there was going to be announced a replacement to Individual Learning Accounts very soon, within a couple of weeks, but with a change of Minister it may not happen until the new Parliamentary session. That is very frustrating, when this Committee has asked very clearly for an early replacement?
  34. (Mr Normington) Obviously, the Prime Minister reshuffles Ministers; for me, that goes with the job too, and I do not think perhaps I ought to comment on that. If you want me to talk about Individual Learning Accounts, I can talk about that. We have already said we are going to replace the ILA1 scheme. It is very important to me, as the Head of the Department, that we do not announce the successor scheme until we are sure that we have a properly-designed scheme and that we can run it effectively. I am anxious about rushing into an announcement myself. I am quite glad that Ministers have decided not to, until we are absolutely sure we have in place a successor scheme.

  35. It has been a three or four months' delay, on something that we have pressed that this should be - and it is frustrating, when one clearly hears the Minister was going to make an announcement imminently, he goes, and for some reason, just because of a change of Junior Minister, that is going to be delayed by three or four months?
  36. (Mr Normington) I think he has taken a look at it, with the Secretary of State, and they have decided that we do not yet have an assurance that we can run a successor scheme, and we do not have all the pieces in place, and until we do we should not announce it. And I am comfortable with that, because, as Accounting Officer, I am very clear that we must not repeat the mistakes that we made. The whole story is very frustrating, it is very frustrating that a really good idea, which was working, has been so damaged. We have a lot of work still to do to make sure the replacement scheme is effective and works; we really cannot afford to repeat those problems, your own Report actually says that.

    Chairman: Thank you, Mr Normington. I want to move to spending on education.

    Mr Chaytor

  37. Over the last five years, Mr Normington, there has been a significant shift in the patterns of spending, and, basically, schools have gained to a very large extent, and higher education has lost significantly. How do you measure the effect of that, in terms of the educational outputs, what processes do you have in the Department to monitor the effect of those increases and decreases in spending?
  38. (Mr Normington) There are two things going on. In each area, we have very clear targets and output measures, and, obviously, we have very clear measures of inputs, which are not just about the total amounts going in but are also about unit costs; and, in a sense, in each sector, we are looking to see what outputs we are getting for the money we are putting in, and we have pretty good performance measures in quite a lot of our areas. I think, in the higher education area, they have been improving, but they have been lagging behind a bit, in terms of their improvement.

  39. But are you convinced there is a direct relationship between the patterns of spending and the achievements of the targets; for example, because higher education spending has been reduced, have we seen a falling away in the quality of HE or a failure to meet the targets in HE?
  40. (Mr Normington) Not really, no.

  41. So what does that tell us about the contributory policy then?
  42. (Dr Thompson) May I just interject. I think it is important to bear in mind that the balance of spending in higher education has shifted, in that there is a move towards more contribution from the student, and therefore there has been a very small decline in the amount of money coming in from the Government, relative; actually, the shift is not that great, and, if you look at the total expenditure on the services of the universities and higher education, I do not think you would find that there had been a decrease in overall spending. But it is where the money is coming from that has changed. So I think that is important to put on the record as well.

  43. Can I pursue this one, because the unit cost in HE and in FE has remained fairly constant.
  44. (Mr Normington) It has gone up in HE this year, for the first time for quite a lot of years.

  45. But what do you learn about the performance of HE and FE; because, particularly in FE at the moment, there is considerable concern, following the Secretary of State's recent speech about the changes she is looking for in FE? What I am interested in is what mechanisms you have, and how do you come to conclusions about where to allocate future growth and where to make reductions?
  46. (Mr Normington) Clearly, the performance of different sectors has to be looked at not just in absolute terms but also in relation to individual institutions, and in all sectors there is a great variety of performance; and often we are looking at the benchmarks of performance for particular types of institution. Some of the most important data that is provided on schools, for instance, is the autumn package of data, which takes similar types of schools and compares their performance, in relation to where they are, the nature of their pupils, and so on, and we have been refining that, so that you can actually compare schools against like schools. What you see there is quite a range of performance, even within a particular band. What I cannot prove to you, because the evidence clearly is not there, is that you get a certain level of performance for a certain input of resource, I cannot prove that in any of our sectors, because there are so many factors affecting that. Money either can be spent well or it can be spent badly; very often, the leadership and management of the organisation that is getting the money is the key to whether you get more output or not. And I guess that if there is a weakness in all our analysis it is that you cannot produce a neat correlation between the money going in and the output you can get; you can, in general terms, but there are too many factors intervening which get in the way of doing that.

  47. If I could ask one further thing about the link with targets. In your Report, you provide a checklist as to the extent to which targets have been met, or not met. Does it follow that where the Department has not met the targets set, my recollection is, within the Skills area, that the Chairman just focused on, this is problematic, does it follow then that in the next three-year period we are likely to see an increase in resource, in an attempt to achieve those targets, or not, and how do you deal with the failure to meet targets, or do you revise targets downwards?
  48. (Mr Normington) We may revise targets downwards, of course, because setting targets is an imprecise science, and sometimes you get new evidence about it. If we are not meeting targets, the first discussion with the Treasury and others in any spending review is why are you not meeting them; is it an issue of ineffective delivery, what are the blockages to meeting them, and, if you do need more money, where is that money going to have its greatest impact. So it does not necessarily follow, nor should it, that because there is poor performance in an area you need to put more money into it; it may be that the best place to put money in some sectors would be in a great injection into the development of leadership and of good leaders, that may be the best thing to do. So, I am afraid, unfortunately, it does not follow that if an area has been poor performing it gets more money; I say 'unfortunately', I do not think that would be right, actually.

  49. But the overall message is, there is no discernible relationship between the level of investment and the level of achievement?
  50. (Mr Normington) No, I do not think I am saying that. If you take any institution, if you take any of our schools, colleges or higher education, clearly, there is a relationship between the money you put in, the quality of staff you can recruit, the types of support you can give to different kinds of pupils and students, some of whom have much greater barriers to achievement than others. I think we know quite a lot about that; and that does infuse a lot of our policies, it infuses local authority funding as well, to a degree. And what I cannot prove to you is that the injection of a specific amount of extra money in a particular area automatically produces good outputs in a particular area. I think I can show you, in general terms, that the injection of money overall has produced certain outputs.

    Valerie Davey

  51. I would like to press you further on the schools issue, in particular. You said earlier that the increase in the funding to schools, on a unit basis, ranges from anything from 3 per cent to 10 per cent. Does not that alarm you, given what you have just said?
  52. (Mr Normington) The Government has had to try to damp the effects of that, as I recall. I think the DTLR, as it was, actually put in a floor of 4 per cent, and actually injected money to ensure that that was the case. It does not alarm me, it is a fact though, and that is why the Government is in the process of trying, yet again, I do not mean this Government yet again, but it happens every few years, to redraw local authority finance; and the next phase of that, I think, will be a consultation in July, which will actually look at a new formula for education, which will try to address this issue of the disparities. There will always need to be differences, different levels of funding, according to different need; you will always need to take account of the nature of the area in which you are putting money, you will also need to take account of the costs of recruiting staff in those areas. But the Government is committed to producing a basic level of entitlement for per pupil spending, or for education school spending, and then looking at the factors that you add to that, to try to create a much more transparent system. Because almost no-one in the system is happy with the present way in which it works, it is not transparent, it is very difficult to understand why it works in a particular way, in a particular authority, and some members of the Committee are in areas where funding is quite low, and it is very difficult to explain why that is; and we are in the process of trying to put that right. I just know that this is the most difficult thing in all Government to put right.

  53. One of the ways in which the Department, and indeed the Minister, has done it, in the past few years, is to add additional funding directly to schools. Now would the Department find it easier, and is that the way in which they wish to see funding from the Department go, directly to schools, in other words, bypassing the local education authorities?
  54. (Mr Normington) That is not the Government's policy. A certain amount of money goes direct to schools, it is an increasing amount; there are a number of blocks. The amount of money that goes to schools via local education authorities' main spending, and which they can then adjust as they wish, or to a degree, anyway, is about 86 per cent of total resource, the total schools budget; 14 per cent, therefore, by definition, is in other categories. Some of it is in the standards fund, that is the main chunk, which is hypothecated to some particular purposes, and some of it, about 600 million, is actually in the schools standards grant, which is a grant which is administered by local authorities, but that is simply an administrative convenience, it goes direct to schools. The Government's policy is clear, that local authorities have a role in this, and therefore you have to leave them with some discretion to decide locally how they allocate that money.

  55. Given the title of one of those budgets, schools standards, is there any more direct link between the spending of that money and standards in schools than the general funding, which you talked about earlier?
  56. (Mr Normington) No. It is really just a name that was given to it, but to emphasise that, actually, we mind about standards. But that money, for a typical secondary school, I suppose it is about 70,000, it is a significant amount of money, and it is money that comes to them and they are assured of getting it for the three years of this current Spending Review period.

    Chairman: Thank you for that, Mr Normington.

    Mr Baron

  57. Mr Normington, sixth-form colleges; there has been a change with regard to their funding, in the sense that the Learning and Skills Council have now taken on this responsibility, and certainly in my constituency it has caused an element of disruption. Sixth-form colleges, at least two in my constituency, are down something like 150,000 on what they were envisaging that they were going to receive, simply because it appears that the Learning and Skills Council has taken on the responsibility and the formula has been tweaked somewhat. This was received by the schools at very short notice, this news, and it has caused consternation. Why was that change implemented; can you throw any light on this, from my point of view?
  58. (Mr Normington) Can I just check, are you talking about school sixth-forms or sixth-form colleges?

  59. I am terribly sorry, I am talking about school sixth-forms, sixth-forms within schools, rather than sixth-forms in colleges.
  60. (Mr Normington) Of course, that is the main change that has taken place. When the Learning and Skills Council was set up, it was decided that there should be a single funding route for post-16 education and training, so that, over time, and it is over time, college provision, separate sixth-form college provision, sixth-forms could be funded on the same basis according to a national formula. And that has meant that school sixth-forms, for the first time this year, are getting their money from the Learning and Skills Council, but they are getting it through local education authorities, the local Learning and Skills Council applies its formula, puts it to the local education authority, which then puts the money to the schools. Your schools are very unfortunate, because two-thirds of schools with sixth-forms have got more money than they got the previous year out of this formula, and, I must say, that surprised us a little, but that was the way the formula worked. I have explained the underlying reason for the change; there has been some disruption, but, for a lot of schools, it has worked in their favour. There is supposed to be, and this is the bit that is sort of puzzling me about your comment, there is, a real-terms guarantee for sixth-form funding, so, unless their pupil numbers have changed, there is not supposed to be any loss of funding, year on year, once inflation has been taken into account. So it should not be the case, and, if it is the case, I would happily look into it.

  61. What I may do is pursue this after this Committee meeting with you, but there is no doubt about it, two of the schools with sixth-forms in them are down quite significantly; and what perturbs them more than anything else is the fact that they were given very little notice about this change. But perhaps we should correspond.
  62. (Mr Normington) I will be very happy to take this up. It is just possible that they are down against an expectation; because what happened here was that schools were given illustrations of what their budget was going to be, which was increased very significantly on the previous year; the local authorities then found it very difficult to meet that budget allocation, and it was agreed that, though they had to provide an increase on the previous year, it could be less than the total allocation. So it could be that their expectations about what they were going to get were disappointed and they got that news very late. But I will look into it.

    Chairman: Thank you for that, Mr Normington.

    Mr Simmonds

  63. Can I follow up, Mr Normington, one of the points that Val Davey was making earlier, about the proportion of funding that is circumventing LEAs and going directly to schools. Do you see that proportion increasing or decreasing, in the forthcoming years?
  64. (Mr Normington) I do not know, for sure, I think it depends on how the Spending Review goes. I am not anticipating a major shift in the way in which those proportions I described work out; there has been some increase in the direct money going to schools. No, I cannot be sure yet. I will be clearer after the Spending Review.

  65. I am not concerned with the total sum of money itself, but the proportions that you gave figures for earlier?
  66. (Mr Normington) I know that, but, in a sense, that is an issue in the Spending Review too, it is an issue about the total amounts of money, but also where and how it is spent, and it could go into any of those three blocks I described.

  67. I am interested in that response, because the response we got from the Minister, that we interviewed on Monday, was very different from that.
  68. (Mr Normington) That is possible.

    Chairman: We are moving to schools' expenditure.

    Mr Turner

  69. The Secretary of State has said that comprehensive schools have failed to deliver for a large number of their pupils, but she is still wedded to the comprehensive principle. Is that the triumph of ideology over experience?
  70. (Mr Normington) I am not sure I should be taken too far into this, because, after all, this is the Secretary of State's policy. What she was saying was that some comprehensive schools are a lot better than others, which is patently obvious and just a fact, and all the policies are designed to try to ensure that the comprehensive system does deliver higher performance, that is what it is all about. It is a very interesting speech, in terms of, I know it got a headline, but actually there are a lot of things in there about her disappointment with what the comprehensive system has delivered up to now, but she is saying that we are putting in place the policies to try to make the comprehensive system perform everywhere better, because that is our objective. If we could do that, that would be a terrific achievement.

  71. And, effectively, what those policies do is abolish the comprehensive system as we know it, and revert to a much more disparate system?
  72. (Mr Normington) Well they preserve an important element in the comprehensive system about admissions, they do not introduce lots of selection; in that sense, the comprehensive system is, certainly in her speech she says that very clearly, she is not proposing to change that element. What she is saying is that the comprehensive system needs to be more diverse, with many more schools with a distinctive mission, ethos, aiming higher, and Specialist Schools, for instance, are one of the routes for achieving that. So when you look at the model of comprehensive schools, it will not be just a lot of community schools that look the same, it will be schools with a distinctive path of excellence, but not schools that select.

  73. Right. The thing which concerns me, you see, is whether you measure the effectiveness of your policies effectively, and it seems there has been a big shift in the Government's policy, certainly from the rhetoric of the early years and even before they came into office, from one which supported a reversal of many of the policies that were adopted by previous Governments to one which goes for more difference between schools. But I am not sure on what that is based. How did Ministers come to the conclusion that what the previous Government was going for was broadly right, not wrong?
  74. (Mr Normington) I think you will want to ask the Secretary of State that question, rather than me.

  75. But you devised that, presumably?
  76. (Mr Normington) Yes. If you take the Specialist Schools policies, which, after all, have become a very important part of the reform of secondary education, what we all saw about Specialist Schools was that standards were improving there, and appeared to be improving faster than in the rest of the system. And when you have evidence of that kind of success, clearly, you say to yourself, well, could we make this a much wider element in the reform; and we did not have that evidence so clearly in 1997 because there were not so many, and the Specialist Schools programme was not as developed as it is now. But there is nothing surprising about that, that was the process that was going on.

  77. But similarly on greater autonomy for schools, that was evidence which you presented, that greater autonomy was successful and Ministers therefore moved perhaps further in the direction of greater autonomy than they did in the early years?
  78. (Mr Normington) I think these things go in waves. The Government came in with a clear commitment to abolish grant-maintained schools, that was its clear intention, it is not going back on that, but there is a growing belief that, as more schools become successful, you ought to be able to give them more freedom to innovate and create greater success, and that has become a major theme of Government policy in the second term.

  79. But your view then is that schools which become successful are entitled to freedom to innovate, and not that schools which enjoy freedom to innovate are more likely to become successful?
  80. (Mr Normington) I think there is some evidence of both those statements, in fact. The Government's policy is that schools should earn their autonomy. Can I just make a point though, that all through this period, and going right back to the late eighties, what we have developed in this country is the most devolved school system, in terms of governance and the way budgets work, and so on, of any country bar a very small number, it is arguable that The Netherlands is one that has a more devolved system than ours. It is a very devolved system, and that was a policy developed under the last Government, and it has continued under this, with the one exception that grant-maintained schools, which was really about the way in which funding was routed, i.e. we did not go through the local authority, that was one of the main changes in 1997. But what did not happen then was a major rowing-back on the freedoms which those schools had, because they were able to take foundation status, with many of the freedoms and autonomies which they had had as grant-maintained schools.

    Paul Holmes

  81. I was fascinated by something you just said, and hopefully you can clarify something which, when I asked the Minister on Monday, I certainly did not feel he did, and I have now been able to understand the rationale for what the Secretary of State said as well. You were saying that the Secretary of State's speech on Monday was still saying that she was committed to the idea of comprehensive schools, and you said that Specialist Schools, for example, do not undermine the idea of comprehensive schools. If Specialist Schools and City Technology Colleges and Beacon Schools, and all the rest of it, are allowed to select up to 10 per cent of their pupils by aptitude, which I cannot see any other version about whether it is another word for ability, if they can select 10 per cent of their pupils, and they also have more money and more status, and therefore mobile, aspirational parents tend to select those schools, in various ways, by getting their kids into them, that means that, in any given area, around 40-50 per cent, which is the Government's ambition by the time of the next election, will be Specialist Schools. So, in any given area, up to half the schools have got more money, more status and the right to select up to 10 per cent by aptitude or ability. How can the other half of the schools in that area still be comprehensive; they cannot have a comprehensive intake if the most able pupils, that are the pupils with the most aptitude, if you prefer that word, have gone to the Specialist Schools?
  82. (Mr Normington) As a matter of fact, almost no Specialist Schools do select on aptitude; that is not what most of them want to do.

  83. But the number is increasing?
  84. (Mr Normington) The number of schools is increasing. I would be very surprised if we have seen much increase in selection, but we will have to see about that. Two particular things which relate to what the Secretary of State said. One was that what the Secretary of State was describing was a whole-system approach, she wants every school to be on this map of improvement, they will be in different places but the aim is that all schools should be moving up and achieving. And she would like many more schools to aspire to be Specialist Schools, or to have some kind of similar special ethos or direction. Secondly, it was a very important change in 1997 that Specialist Schools were required, as part of gaining their specialism, to share their expertise and experience with other schools; and an important element, as the policy is developing, is actually having groups and associations of schools in an area, working together, so that if one is a Beacon in technology they share that expertise with others. And we have some very interesting examples of that, that is a trend that is growing. There is a lot to be debated about the Secretary of State's speech, which at the moment we have not yet seen. I would really like it if people read the speech and had a serious debate about it. I know she would, too.

  85. I have read the speech very, very carefully, and I find it very alarming, the way it talks about not just creating, which used to be our criticism, a two-tier system of schooling, but she talks clearly about a multi-tiered system, where schools are very firmly pigeon-holed into different levels. And, again, the aspirational parents, who look at those league tables and this multi-tiered approach, are going to be saying, quite clearly, "I want my children to go to that one that's in the top tiers, and not to that one that's in the bottom tiers." And that can only take us back, in a de facto way, to grammar schools and secondary moderns, by backdoor methods?
  86. (Mr Normington) They are saying that already.

  87. And this is going to make it even worse, accelerate it?
  88. (Mr Normington) No, because the aim of the policy is to move schools upwards. One of the things about the tiers, some of the tiers are about performance; there is a whole group of weak schools, with low performance, and an important element of the whole approach, and indeed of the resourcing, is to support those schools in moving out of that weakness, so they can work towards Specialist, or some other similar status, so that we do not have a two-tier system. This is an aspiration to move everyone out of the categories of weakness and failure, so that we have a system where groups of strong schools in every area are providing much better quality education and much better choice for all pupils, which is, after all, what the comprehensive system was about.

  89. The Minister, again on Monday, said that he wanted to hear the evidence, he wanted to base his policies on evidence. You have just talked about Specialist Schools being required to share with their neighbours; well, again, a recent report showed quite clearly, and my experience as a teacher up until last year shows quite clearly, that Specialist Schools do not do that. In the recent report, the only Specialist Schools that were seen to share their expertise and facilities with their neighbours were sports colleges, the Sports Schools, and the others, basically, just did not. And, as I say, certainly in my experience as a teacher they did not. You were talking about why Specialist Schools were seen to be increasingly effective in raising standards; well, again, some of the evidence for that is that they take fewer children with special needs than the national average, they take fewer children who qualify for school meals than the national average, in other words, they are selecting by backdoor methods. Now some of the evidence, if you are using an evidence-based approach, does seem rather to contradict what you and the Minister are saying?
  90. (Mr Normington) You are referring to the OFSTED work, are you not? OFSTED said that this was not yet a strong enough element, that is true; in fact, they also said, which is also true, that many Specialist Schools are more comfortable linking with their primary schools than they are with other secondary schools with whom they feel they are in competition. And I think that remains a major issue, but one which the Secretary of State was saying she wanted to change. If one is trying to create a universal system and a universally more excellent system, we do have to tackle some of the issues you described, about which schools are taking which pupils, and ensuring that all schools take their share of pupils who need extra support and help. And that is what the comprehensive system is about as well and what the Secretary of State was also implying, I think, when she said, "I want to preserve the best principles of the comprehensive system but I actually want to find ways of creating many more excellent secondary schools."

  91. And just the last point was one I forgot to mention, that, obviously, if schools do have the status and the money, and all the rest of it, of being Beacon Schools and Specialist Schools, they become oversubscribed, and it does mean that, in terms of disruptive pupils, they have far less pressure upon them to take in disruptive pupils, because their places are full, and when the LEA says, "We need to allocate this pupil," they can say, "But we are bursting at the seams." And, of course, the disruptive pupils, again, I speak with 20-odd years' experience as a teacher, the disruptive pupils end up in the schools that are lower down whatever tiered structure you have got at the time which have got a spare place, and they cannot refuse to take them. So you get into a cycle of deprivation at one school, while the other school is getting more and more successful?
  92. (Mr Normington) But a lot of what was being said, in the underlying approach in that speech, is that you get schools to work together, to share their excellence, for strong schools to link with weaker schools, to help them get better, so that you try to deal with those issues. There will always be some issues like those you have described, but we have to work harder to minimise them.

    Chairman

  93. Your policy of encouraging the members of your Department to get out and spend time in schools, would that have been more effective if it went right down from top to bottom, that it was almost a part of the contract, that anyone who works for your Department spends the minimum of a week in a real school, in what I call a real part of the country? I am glad that senior managers are encouraged to do this, and, indeed, Sir Michael Bichard encouraged this Select Committee and its members to do more of it, and that is one of the reasons we are going to spend a week in Birmingham schools. But would not this be a rather better policy; because I remember very clearly that when someone, I believe, in No.10, used the description "bog-standard comprehensives," it caused great offence in your Department, because it took people's eyes away from the serious debate about improving all schools? Is it not the same, in terms of, you asked us all to read carefully the Secretary of State's speech, we would have done so much better if the whole media had not gone off, and a lot more people would have read the full content of the speech, if this 'not touching some schools with a bargepole' had not been included? Now I do not expect a comment on that, but it is strange, is it not, that the Department for Education and Employment, furious about 'bog-standard', a year later the Secretary of State uses "wouldn't touch with a bargepole." And I feel for the people that woke up this morning whose children go to schools that the Secretary of State would not touch with a bargepole. Would you not feel the same?
  94. (Mr Normington) Yes; because we have to feel, as parents, or as relatives of children in the system, if they are going to schools that are not up to scratch then we are all failing them. And, in a sense, that was what the Secretary of State was saying. It is true, I think, a lot of people, teachers included, will recognise precisely what the Secretary of State was saying; but I will not go further with that comment.

  95. But we cannot have it both ways, can we; the people who criticised 'bog-standard' then used an equally offensive term? And, certainly, as the Chairman of this Committee, I do not like either description.
  96. (Mr Normington) I am not agreeing with you that there was outrage about 'bog-standard', I do not want to get into those phrases particularly. I am just saying that, if you are in the business of trying to improve education, you need to start from the reality of what the education system is like, we were talking to Mr Holmes about that; and one of the realities is that there is great variation in performance, and some schools are not performing well enough. And one of the disappointing things about the last 24 hours is the way in which people seem to want to deny that as a fact, when the general population knows it all too clearly. Let us start from that position and see what we can do to make it better. The whole effort of Ministers and the Department is to try to ensure that many more schools are excellent. And may I just agree with you on the other point, which is, we have started, as a major theme, for quite some time, we have been getting our staff out into schools, colleges, universities, to see what it is like; often those are quite short stays. The most recent change that I have made is to say, "You need to be long enough in a school to see what its tempo is, to see what a typical day or a typical week is like." I cannot commit myself to sending 4,000 staff in short order to spend a week in a school, just because I have some work to do in the Department, but therefore I thought it was sensible to start actually with our middle managers, who have a lot of influence on the people who work for them and on the policy, and get them doing that. I would like to extend it beyond that. I certainly think it ought to happen with further education colleges and some of the other people we deal with. It makes a really bit impact on people in quite a short time. The other thing is, more exchange with the system, more bringing people in from the education system to work with us, on secondments, attachments, and so on; we have about 110 inward secondees, of all sorts, at the moment, quite a lot of teachers, and so on. That is a really important bit of it as well.

    Chairman: I think all members of this Committee will applaud spending time in a school, over time; indeed, I often argue that every Member of Parliament should spend a week of their year in a hospital, not being treated but watching what goes on, but also in school. Now we are going to move on to Department underspend, that you will be familiar with, and I want to ask Mark Simmonds to open the questioning on that.

    Mr Simmonds

  97. During the 2000-01 financial year, as the Department was previously structured, I think the Department had the largest underspend of any Government Department, and during the 2001-02 financial year, I also understand there was a significant underspend. I wonder if you could confirm that was the case, to start with, and, secondly, perhaps offer the Committee an explanation as to why the underspend is continually taking place?
  98. (Dr Thompson) The figures are right for 2000-01. The figures for 2001-02 are not yet out.

  99. What is your initial view; is it that there has been another underspend?
  100. (Dr Thompson) Our initial view is that there will be further underspends, yes.

  101. Could you explain to the Committee why that is the case; why there is a consistent underspend?
  102. (Mr Normington) We are talking about 1.6 billion underspend, in 2000-01, under the old Department, after Machinery of Government changes, it is about 1.3 billion on the Education and Skills budget, which is just about 4 per cent of the Department's spend on Education, it is a lot less, in percentage terms, if you take local education authority expenditure in place. There are a number of reasons for it. By the way, I want it to be smaller, I am not happy about it. It says something about the way in which we profile expenditure and manage it. So all I am about to say has to be against that background. We have got to do better. But there are some reasons for it, and I just take a couple of examples to illustrate it. A significant amount of it in 2000-01 was in the Sure Start programme; it is a ring-fenced budget, we are not able to spend that money on anything but Sure Start, therefore we cannot manage our resources across budgets. And what that underspend is due to is that programme taking longer to get off the ground locally than we had expected, or the Sure Start team had expected, when they drew up the original profiles. It does not mean to say that money will not be spent, but it will be spent later. That is one example. A different example is the capital. There is quite a significant capital slippage in those figures, which is simply about money being allocated to projects but those projects not being brought to account in year; and, in a sense, I do not really apologise for that too much, because it is wholly artificial to want to try to conclude a big building project on 31 March. It is a great improvement in Government accounting that you can carry expenditure like that across year ends, so that you can actually have more efficient expenditure. But in that case the money is allocated to those projects, the projects are under way, but the money has not been brought to account within the year. So those are two examples; there are others. So it is not one reason underlying this.

  103. Do you not think though that, particularly the first example you gave, that was a very good reason for having and creating flexibility into the system, so whilst that money may be there for future years you could allocate that money that was perhaps for Sure Start to some other programmes that are oversubscribed? Because I am sure we could all think, around this table, of the 1.6 or 1.3 billion that could be spent in our schools and educational establishments, throughout all constituencies. Do you not think some additional flexibility should be built in?
  104. (Mr Normington) Yes, I do, and we can do that, to an extent; and when the announcements were made in the Budget about extra expenditure we were very clear that there was some new expenditure in the Budget, but also we had reallocated some money as well, and that the money came from both those sources. Sure Start actually, because it is ring-fenced to Sure Start, is one where we cannot do that, but most of our, well, some, budgets are not ring-fenced, although a number of the underspends - - -

    Chairman

  105. But you have known about the problems with Sure Start for a long time. Many of us, who very much support the roll-out of Sure Start, feel very frustrated, that in the early days you seemed to be able to get a Sure Start programme up and running quite fast, because that was what the Department wanted, it wanted to show it was active, it wanted to be doing things; but now it is increasingly difficult to get a Sure Start programme and up and running. That is the Department's fault, is it not, you are increasing the barriers before people can get the money and spend it on what we believe, in this Committee, is one of the finest programmes of cutting through this cycle of underachievement and poverty?
  106. (Mr Normington) I hope it is not true that it is becoming more difficult to get the money, if you are a Sure Start partnership. I think we have got something like 400 set up. The underspend in 2000-01, I think, simply flows from the difficulty of getting the initial local partnerships set up and into a shape and with the capacity to start taking the money and spending it. That is what it was. If it is now in some way difficult to get Sure Start approvals, I would be really concerned about that. I did not think that was the case.

    Mr Simmonds

  107. What are you going to do in this current financial year and subsequent financial years to ensure that the underspend is reduced dramatically, because I think that 1.3 billion figure is equivalent to 600,000 per secondary school across the country, and that is an enormous sum of money that is not being spent that should be?
  108. (Mr Normington) I will ask Ruth to say something about that, but I just want to say one thing. Apart from what I said about capital, very little of the underspend is in the schools area; that does not mean to say you could not reallocate some of the money to the schools area, but most of the money is not an underspend on schools budgets. It is really important to say that, because the initial reaction from schools was that they were the ones that were suffering from this; it is not the schools budgets that are underspent. But we have a lot to do. Do you want to say something?

    (Dr Thompson) Yes, may I say something about the steps that we have been taking. What David Normington has just said is relevant. As you know, as a Committee, we do a great deal of our business through intermediary bodies, other bodies, and the most salient now is the Learning and Skills Council, which has about a third of our budget passing through its hands. One of the things that we have been doing with them is working with them, and you have to bear in mind that they have only been in operation one year, they had a start-up year where, as you might imagine, budgeting and profiling was particularly difficult for them, and they had a number of legacy systems to absorb and all sorts of turbulence in their own system. We have been working with them to see to it that over the course of the next year their profiling can be much improved, and this is the responsibility that we need to give to them and to have with them. So we are working with them on the areas where we know, from our own experience as a Department, the particular difficulties arise with underspending, and have arisen in the past, when these programmes are part of the departmental business; and Work-Based Learning for Young People is one such case in point. There are other complications that I might mention, just before I go on to other things that we are doing, in respect of the Learning and Skills Council. Because of the legacy of the TECs, where some money came through the accounts almost like a windfall, and there is a one-off effect there, which was adding to a perceived underspend, that, in fact, with the Secretary of State's agreement, is being recycled out through the local LSCs into what is called the Local Initiatives Fund. So there are all sorts of changes taking place in that body; but that is one area where we need to work with our non-departmental public bodies, and in particular with the LSC, because of its newness and its size, to bear down on the factors which will bring about underspending. Now, internally, in the Department, and David Normington talked about capital, we have already begun to overcommit on capital programmes, which is something which you find is widespread around Government, and indeed elsewhere, to ensure that we make the best use we can of the budget in year. I think we have probably been too cautious, we are looking at how much further we can go. There are, to be honest with you, as well, some areas of direct spending from the Department where, frankly, I think that my colleagues and I need to work hard to improve the levels of expertise among budget managers, to make sure that when they profile expenditure at the beginning of the year they profile it realistically, and that during the course of the year, if the budgets depart from profile, we get very much earlier warning than we do, or have done in the past, about those variances, so that we can redeploy the money satisfactorily. So those are some of the things that we are trying to do.

  109. Are you not concerned that, if you do not address this, what I think is, very large underspend, the Treasury will actually cotton on to this and say, "Well, actually, the Education Department doesn't need this money"?
  110. (Mr Normington) They have cottoned on to it.

  111. I am sure they have cottoned on to it, yes; it is a very serious point?
  112. (Mr Normington) Yes, it is a very serious point, and we have had a serious discussion with them about that very point, of course.

  113. So the Treasury have said they may withdraw some of this funding to give a lesser level, have they?
  114. (Mr Normington) No, they have not threatened to do that, but they are engaged with us in trying to understand why the underspend has occurred, what is a genuine underspend and what is simply an issue of profiling, and, as I say, in the Budget, that led to us reallocating some of the money that we had underspent. I forget precisely how much it was, but it was about 100 million.

    (Dr Thompson) 150 million.

    (Mr Normington) 150 million was reallocated as a result of that exercise; we discussed that with the Treasury, and we reallocated the money at Budget time to - - -

    Chairman

  115. Is not the Treasury the cause of the problem, in the first place; are you not terrified of the Treasury, and so that makes you more cautious? So they lead to the underspend in the first place and then the Treasury comes along and says, "Oh, you don't really need this money because you're not spending it"?
  116. (Mr Normington) We are not terrified of the Treasury; anybody who holds the purse-strings is somebody to take serious note of. But we work pretty well with the Treasury on this. The only way to deal with this issue is to share the information with them and actually to sit down and make sure that they understand why it has happened.

  117. Have they asked you for any money from the LSC, the change from the Training and Enterprise Councils to the LSCs, yet, because I think the Secretary of State at that time said you were going to save 50 million; what has that been spent on, or did it never materialise?
  118. (Mr Normington) That is the admin. costs. The admin. costs of the Learning and Skills Council are just over 50 million less than the costs of the previous system, and, that money, I think you would find it very difficult to trace precisely where that was. I think it has been recycled within the budget, I do not think they have asked for it back.

  119. We have actually got that saving that was promised, on opening this?
  120. (Dr Thompson) It is on the budget, yes. I think, from memory, it is 52 million less than the budgets would have been, had we gone on with the old system.

    Paul Holmes

  121. The 50 million saving, even though apparently you gave them 25 million extra?
  122. (Dr Thompson) That is absolutely right, yes.

  123. So you are still saying it is over 50 million, despite the increase?
  124. (Dr Thompson) Yes.

    (Mr Normington) We said we would do that.

    Valerie Davey

  125. I am a school governor, and one came very concerned to my surgery only last Friday. You are the people who hold the purse-strings, and you have just explained how you have faced real problems in adjusting your huge budget. Many of these school governors are volunteers, with huge financial problems, in their perspective, and are really angry at what they are reading and seeing. Do you not understand how difficult it makes life for the voluntary school governor, doing the best for their school, who learns about 1.3 billion; they are desperate for just enough money for another teacher?
  126. (Mr Normington) I do understand that, because I have experienced it directly several times, and you can tell from the discussion that we have just had, it is very, very difficult to explain why it has happened to a school governor in that position. And I do understand that. I do try to explain it, and sometimes it works, but there is a long gap between the explanation we have given and the experience of a school governor. I hang on to the point that is true, which is that the money that we have, that Parliament has voted for schools, is going to schools and is being spent by schools; but underspends are not principally on schools budgets.

  127. It has no effect at all, to discuss it with a governor who is a governor of a school in a very difficult area, for whom that money would make a huge difference to the life of the children at that school. And I think, quite honestly, you ought to send these people, these middle managers, whoever they are, and the budget that you want to improve, into a governing body meeting, actually to sit with them and understand the pain of the decisions which they have to take, without all the expertise that you have got in your Department?
  128. (Mr Normington) I do understand that. I have been to school governor meetings, so that I have experienced that myself, and, of course, a lot of our staff are school governors as well. So we do know that, we do get that back. All we can do is go on trying to explain it. But 1.3 billion is a lot of money. We did reallocate some of it at Budget time, and most of the reallocation was to schools; it was a reallocation of money, that was not originally voted for schools, to schools. So I can show them that we are now trying to make sure that if there are genuine underspends they are reallocated in that way, and they should feel the benefits of that, in terms of more support. And two areas of money were more money for capital and more money to support behaviour, truancy and to tackle street crime; those were two particular priorities.

  129. Can I just say, I think this illustrates, at a very specific level, the whole need of a Department, and not just Ministers, to be more in touch with and more accountable to those people who work in the school system; and I take the schools, and we could take FE and we could take higher education. The dialogue between the Department and those people who, in effect, are delivering for you on the ground, has got to be (a) to use a phrase that I do not think is particularly good, transparent, but there has to be a human dialogue going on. You have been very open with us, in saying that you have been to a school governors meeting; unfortunately, of course, there are thousands of them going round and for every one that you attend or are at. So somehow and I just hope, can you give us any way in which the Department, in future years, will begin to address the need for a better dialogue, a better relationship with those people delivering, and that is not just the teachers, it is the governors, it is the school caretakers, it is the college principals, all those people, who are actually delivering the service?
  130. (Mr Normington) I am personally absolutely committed to trying to take us further down that road, of talking and explaining and listening to the people who are on the receiving end of what we do, and actually are the ones on whom we depend; my predecessor did a lot in that direction, and I have been trying to build on that. And the only answer to it is that there are 4,000 people in the Department for Education and Skills, and there are millions and millions in the education system. It is absolutely true that, when you sit down with a group of school governors and have a sensible discussion with them, I learn a lot, and so do they, and actually the relationship is immeasurably improved; if we can repeat that ten thousand times we will really make a change. And we have to have the ambition that we can actually make an impact, by at least getting some school governors together, by getting headteachers together, by getting groups of teachers together; we have done a lot in that area, but it is still not recognised, you still meet lots of people who have never met anybody from the Department.

    Chairman: I want to move on to closer scrutiny of the Departmental Report and Estimates. John, would you like to open, on that?

    Mr Baron

  131. Just two very quick questions, Mr Normington. In previous Departmental Reports, it is a small point, but individual civil servants' names and telephone numbers have been included; and it appears that they are not in the latest, the points of contact for the public. In this age of greater accountability and transparency, can you explain why that is the case?
  132. (Mr Normington) I cannot, actually; you can, can you, Ruth?

    (Dr Thompson) Yes. The simple reason is the strictures that were placed upon us, including by ourselves, to keep the thing brief; and we have no possible objection to the names and contact details of Departmental staff being available.

  133. But a few lines, giving telephone numbers, it is not going to add much to the weight of a Report, is it?
  134. (Mr Normington) We will make sure that they are in next year. Nobody reads the Departmental Report though.

  135. We do, Mr Normington.
  136. (Mr Normington) You do, sorry. I do, you do, but the public who want to contact us probably do not.

  137. But it will be put right next year?
  138. (Mr Normington) It will be put right, I promise.

  139. Fine. Very quickly, resource accounting. There are those who believe that the advent of resource accounting is going to give you a lot more, how can I put it, that it is going to improve the quality of information that you are going to be able to supply the Government with, with regard to helping them to run the Department generally and achieve policy objectives. What changes are you making with regard to the way you operate, in order to take advantage of this new resource accounting ?
  140. (Dr Thompson) Let me start with a slightly cautionary note. Resource accounting, in respect of the Department for Education and Skills, does not make a huge impact on the way in which our expenditure appears, or in the way in which the details of our management information and financial information appear to us. With the sole exception of the student loans area, most of our budgets look rather as they did under the old cash regime; now that is neither here nor there, in one sense. We are going to be making use of the information that we are generating for resource accounts purposes, to report to our Board on a monthly basis about the financial performance of the Department, and we will be putting that next to information about the performance of the Department against its various targets, so that we can draw the appropriate relationships. And this is part of some work that I have been undertaking in the last few months, with a view to having a new system, starting up April 2003; at the moment, we are in a transitional stage of using the resource accounts information on a monthly basis, which you get at the Executive Board, to report on where we are, and it relates, indeed, to the questions that you were raising earlier on, about underspends. So we are working to improve the use to which we put our financial management information; and resource accounting has made a difference, but not a big difference, in that regard.

  141. To what extent do you think it will make a difference with regard to underspend?
  142. (Dr Thompson) Resource accounting; it will not make a huge difference in respect of underspends. The principle of resource accounting, as you will understand, means that the expenditure scores when the consumption takes place, not when the cheque leaves the building. But, in the sense that we are already working very much with current expenditure, in most of our arrangements, because most of our arrangements are either direct, current payments to providers of services, or grant payments to major NDPBs, it is not going to make a great deal of difference to the way the profiles work.

  143. But it will improve the quality of the information?
  144. (Dr Thompson) It will.

    Chairman

  145. This was all imposed by the Treasury, was it; it was inspired?
  146. (Dr Thompson) It was inspired by the Treasury, yes, it was inspired by the Treasury back in the early nineties.

  147. (- inaudible - financial ? ), do you welcome it, it is a big improvement?
  148. (Dr Thompson) It is a modest improvement, as I think I have tried to explain; it has not made a huge difference to the way in which we look at the consumption of resources in the Department for Education and Skills. Across Government, in other Departments, where there are big internal Departmental capital programmes, it makes a massive difference to the way they look at their expenditure, and it will improve their systems, it has already caused them to improve their systems and brought very good benefits for them.

  149. This Committee is always interested in what is a good idea somewhere else; it comes down as red tape and bureaucracy when it actually hits the people that implement. So I wondered if it was a bit of a taste of your own medicine, in the sense of...
  150. (Dr Thompson) I do not think it is felt like that in the Department.

    Chairman: Right. To carry on in this vein, David Chaytor.

    Mr Chaytor

  151. Can I come back to the question of the Standard Spending Assessment, and earlier you told us the variation between the different numbers for local authorities, between about 3 per cent and 10 per cent. What do you think is a reasonable level of variation?
  152. (Mr Normington) I do not know, honestly, I think that is too wide.

  153. Less than 7 percentage points?
  154. (Mr Normington) I think it would be. Actually, as I explained, the Government has introduced damping to reduce that variation; so I think the floor is at 4 per cent, at the moment, to make sure that everybody has a 4 per cent uplift. I think that is right. So that is a signal, in a sense. It depends why the variation has occurred, and whether there is more confidence in the formula that leads to that variation. I think that is the right way to approach it. As we head for this very important next few months, when we try to redraw the formula for education, it is at that point that we will judge what factors it is right to take into account which lead to that variation; and I mentioned too, it is clearly right that there are some deprivation factors and it is clearly right that there are some cost factors related to living costs. How you measure those and how you ensure that they are real is the big issue, as it has been for quite a long time in local authority finance, it is the great issue.

  155. The consultation paper will appear in the next few weeks?
  156. (Mr Normington) That is what I am expecting, yes.

  157. Will it be before July 24, or soon after July 24?
  158. (Mr Normington) I do not know, actually. I think my briefing told me it was likely to be in the middle of July, and I do not know more than that, the middle of July, but not a precise date.

  159. That will be a consultation paper from the Department of the Deputy Prime Minister?
  160. (Mr Normington) I think it will be from the Government, will it not; it will be from the Deputy Prime Minister, but it - - -

  161. What I am interested in is what was your input to that; broadly, what have you recommended, in terms of changes, to get a better balance between the various factors, the deprivation and the cost factors?
  162. (Mr Normington) We have had a major input to it, and indeed we have had two working parties going, with local authorities and others, to try to draw up the best options.

  163. But the working parties actually are conclusive?
  164. (Mr Normington) I cannot tell you what the outcome is of the Government's deliberations, because that will come in July. I think our own working papers, from that work, are available, in fact, on our website and can be made available; whether they are wholly intelligible to people like me, who get to the limits of understanding this, I do not know, and it is quite technical stuff, this. But it is all available, that work, and it is in the public domain. There are still then judgements to be taken about what you actually do, but a lot of the work has been done jointly with headteachers, teacher associations, mainly local authorities, the LGA and others.

  165. But, in terms of the judgements that you have made, on the basis of the technical work that has been done, what has been your judgement about the kinds of changes that need to be made?
  166. (Mr Normington) We are clear, and the Government is clear publicly, that there needs to be a minimum entitlement per pupil, which applies across the country; but then there needs to be a number of factors, on top of that, to reflect some of the things I have described, and all the debate is about that. And I do not think I know precisely the answer as to what we have recommended internally, but I could not tell you anyway, at this moment, because we are not quite at the point of decision, we are about a few weeks off.

  167. Do you have a view about the balance, or the proportion of total spend that should come from the minimum entitlement, and the proportion that should come from the additional factors; is it 50/50, or 40/60, what do you think will be reasonable?
  168. (Mr Normington) I do not actually know. I guess the Department does have a view about that. I do not think I know that. I think some of the factors, in the present formula, are very small, in fact, they are about 2 per cent; so I would expect the basic entitlement to be a big bit of it.

  169. A big bit? What I am saying is, somewhere it must be documented as to what the Department's view is on the size of the basic entitlement bit, and that is why we are interested in trying to get that from you?
  170. (Mr Normington) I do not know the answer to that question, but if I did I do not think I could tell you yet, because the Government is still debating it inside and will be coming out with that in the middle of July.

    Chairman

  171. Could we ask the Permanent Secretary if we could have a short paper from the Treasury, something that is pretty understandable for the lay reader, on this, as a future for schools?
  172. (Mr Normington) Certainly, I can do that; it will be better to do it at the time the Government produces its consultation paper. I can certainly at that point produce some sort of note.

  173. We are concerned, as you know, Mr Normington, that sometimes we think you, as a Department, take us a bit for granted; and one of the ambitions for us, as a Select Committee, was to get on your radar, we actually wanted you to be conscious, when you talked to the Secretary of State, when you made decisions, or made mistakes, or whichever, that there is a Select Committee here, a Parliamentary Select Committee, that wants to have, yes, a healthy relationship with you, but we want you to be aware that we exist. And this is interrupting David's flow, but in this section, we are not even on your bibliography, when you publish your bibliography you do not even put any of our Reports in it, we are not even mentioned. And it does worry me sometimes that you see us as a kind of peripheral irritant, rather than anything meaningful in your life?
  174. (Mr Normington) Well you would expect me to deny that. We do know you exist, and we take you very seriously; and if there are ways we can help this relationship... I actually think the Individual Learning Accounts did move the relationship between us on quite a long way, we were as open as we could be with you and you responded with, if I may say so, a very accurate, good Report. And I think that probably proves to us that if we share what is happening with you, actually, we get treated accordingly.

  175. You are trying to seduce us now, yes.
  176. (Mr Normington) I am sorry. I will not do that then.

    Mr Chaytor

  177. Just pursuing part of that point, is there not a logic to including in your bibliography the Government's response to the Education Select Committee's Reports? I am not necessarily suggesting you should list all the Select Committee's Reports, but, in terms of the Government response, this is something for which you are directly responsible, and your bibliography is now extensive and wide-ranging and has documents written, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and so on, so it is not entirely all your own work. But I would have thought the Government's response to this Committee's Reports would be legitimate content for next year's Report?
  178. (Mr Normington) We can certainly do that.

  179. One other point on the Report then, in terms of the new policy of actively recruiting more practitioners from the Education Service, what is the sort of balance now that you have achieved there at senior levels? I seem to remember, in the article that you wrote recently for the Education Journal, you talked about 40/60, did you?
  180. (Mr Normington) I think, at the two most senior levels, i.e. the two levels below me, the Director-General, Director levels, it is about 40/60, in terms of people recruited from a whole range of places outside the Department, and people who have developed within the Department.

  181. This is an innovative procedure; do you think that it will continue beyond 40/60, and do you envisage a time when the whole basis of traditional Civil Service recruitment may change, and that the traditional routes of professional career civil servants will be replaced by a continuous process of drawing in people from the relevant service, whether it is the Health Service, for the Department of Health, or whether it is education, for yourselves? Potentially, this is a revolutionary change in policy?
  182. (Mr Normington) It is in line with where the Government, and actually the previous Government, wanted us to go; it is quite a way ahead for some others. I do not think there is a precise number, because all the time, at your senior levels, you are trying to build the team for the job you have to do, and sometimes the best people come from inside, and sometimes the best come from outside. I am comfortable with the balance I have got. I do not want to send too many signals into the Department that you cannot have a good career within the Department, and that good people will not come through, that would not be good for our internal career development. I think there is a case for bringing in more people at a number of levels, so that you are constantly refreshing your talent, but you are also developing your talent inside, but some of that talent has come in, in later career, at other levels of the Department. I also think that one of the messages to our own staff is that, as part of their Civil Service career, they need to be thinking hard about how they develop themselves; so if I may take just one precise example. My Director who looks after school workforce and teacher issues, as part of his career before he took that job, spent a year as the Assistant Chief Education Officer in Manchester, and he is a career civil servant, but his career route took him in that direction. So it does not have to be these two streams, they can cross over, I think I would like to see that happening. I do not see a time though when there is not a good career to offer to really effective civil servants who have developed their skills within the Civil Service. I would not want to go the whole hog.

    Chairman

  183. Is it not a problem though, and I think, what you are saying about this bringing in people from outside, all of us on this Committee would approve of that, we like that diversity, and we understand the points you made. But, in terms of putting names forward for public appointments, you are not bringing through many women for those public appointments, the balance is not very good; are you having difficulty finding suitably-qualified women to take up positions on public bodies?
  184. (Mr Normington) On public appointments; in terms of the recruitment we have done to the senior levels, the majority of the recruits are women.

  185. It says in my notes: "According to the Departmental Report Annex G page 173, only two women were appointed to non-departmental public bodies in 2001, compared to 16 men."
  186. (Mr Normington) You are talking about the appointments to non-departmental public bodies; well, we are very clear that we need to do better on this. Are we having problems; obviously we are. I have not looked at this just recently, and, I think, if those are the figures then it is not good enough. I am surprised those are the figures, because a great deal of effort has gone into trying to widen the recruitment process; and, actually, most of these opportunities are advertised now, some of them are in the Engineering and Construction Training Boards, are they not, where there is a particular issue about the difficulty in recruiting women, and it has been really hard to do that there.

  187. Perhaps the Select Committee can help you; we know a few good women, we have a good network.
  188. (Mr Normington) I would be happy for you to do that. Remember that most of these opportunities are now advertised, and actually encouraging those people to put their names forward is a really important part of it.

  189. Perhaps you, the Department, and the Committee can work together on this, because we would like to see more women appointed to these positions?
  190. (Mr Normington) Yes, certainly.

    Paul Holmes

  191. On the SSAs, which we have already discussed, LEAs like mine, in Derbyshire, have been consistently right at the bottom level of funding, under the SSAs, and obviously they are hoping that by next year they are going to get a significant increase in the funding. But if that is going to happen to the F40 group, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire, and all the rest, is that increase in funding, do you think, going to come from the injection of extra money, to bring people at the bottom up, or are the LEAs, who have been benefiting for the last ten years by getting the 10 per cent increases, going to lose money, effectively?
  192. (Mr Normington) I think the Government's commitment is to level up, is it not; that was one of the things it said in its original Green or White Paper on Local Authority Finance, that it would try to ensure that there was a levelling-up. But I do not want to be misunderstood about this. We are not quite at the point where I can say for certain that there will not be some redistribution; if you have a new formula, it may mean that over time there is some redistribution, that is what has happened with changes in the formula before. So I think it is possible that will happen too; but I think the Government's commitment is, if people are below the floor of basic entitlement, to inject some money to bring them up. It is all subject to the discussions in the Spending Review.

  193. And, very quickly, on the consultation period; if the document is coming out for consultation somewhere in the middle of July, just before schools and Parliament go into recess, for example, not the best time to consult, do you know what the closing date of the consultation is going to be?
  194. (Mr Normington) I can try to let you know that. I do not know the answer, it is not my consultative document, it is the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, as it now is, is it not, so I do not know. We will be pressing on them the need to take account of that precise point, but I think they will understand it anyway.

    Chairman

  195. Before we leave that topic, there was some concern that it seemed that the new SSA was going to come out before we could actually take benefit of the data coming out of the most recent census. I do not know if that is the case, but certainly it was suggested to this Committee that it was. That would seem rather strange, would it not, if you were feeding into your computer ten-year-old, 11-year-old data from the census? On the other hand, could we have a note on what the Department is doing in terms of a better focusing on deprivation? What this Committee finds, time and time again, in terms of sessions we have, when we are talking about EMAs, when we are talking about the possibility of HEMAs, is the use of postal codes as a basis for giving particular money to higher education, to identify young people from poorer backgrounds; constantly we hear that it is not a very refined tool, that it scoops up all sorts of inappropriate people. How much work is the Department doing on getting a better focus, being able to pin-point the people in a better way; is this a familiar story to you, and are we making tracks to get better?
  196. (Mr Normington) It is a familiar story, and I will provide you with a note on it, because we work with others, a lot of the data we use is the data that others provide, it is from the census but it is also from the work that the former DTLR have done on deprivation, and so on, so we do not generally work alone on this. And I will have to provide you with a note; it is a very important issue, and we are constantly trying to get the measures better, for the reason you said.

  197. It runs through all your policy, does it not?
  198. (Mr Normington) Yes, it does.

    Chairman: I just want to move on. Two more topics, before we end, and we want to talk a little bit about running the Department, and Val is going to interview you on this.

    Valerie Davey

  199. I wanted to ask you, during the uncomfortable position which another Department, namely the DTLR, suffered, under the scrutiny of the media, with leaks and counter-leaks from their political advisers and the career civil servants, whether you sat there, as it were, and breathed a sigh of relief because it was not your Department, or whether you took note and thought, "There are aspects of this which in our Department we really need to look at again"?
  200. (Mr Normington) The truthful answer is, I breathed a sigh of relief, and also that the Secretary of State and I sat down and had a conversation about whether there were lessons to be learned for us.

  201. And were there?
  202. (Mr Normington) On the whole, we felt that we had got the relationships in a state where we could sort out problems; so I do not think we thought that there were lots of things we could learn. But that sounds complacent; there are always things you need to just keep your eyes on.

  203. The political advisers in the DfES do not have a very high profile; are they being effective, and do they come within your remit?
  204. (Mr Normington) They are civil servants for the time they are with us, are they not; and do they come within my remit, well, they are appointed by the Secretary of State, so they are in a slightly different position, but I do have a lot of dealings with them, and the Secretary of State and I are concerned, just as we are with everybody else, about people's performance, and I think they are performing very effectively, actually. But I do not suppose you would expect me to admit, here, today, that they were not, but the truthful answer is that they are working very effectively, and working well as part of the team, which is what the Secretary of State and I both want.

  205. What you both want, presumably, from them and for the Department, is to have this good media profile. How effective do you think the Department is, in relation to the media?
  206. (Mr Normington) Just to be clear about the special advisers, one is more concerned with media issues and one is a policy adviser, really. How good are we on the media? I find that very difficult, because I am not quite sure, different people will judge us differently.

  207. The difference between The Times and the...
  208. (Mr Normington) No. I mean that, what is successful media, everybody will have different views about that, will they not? We are trying very hard to be straightforward and tell things straightforwardly, to answer questions from the media and to have good relations with the media; that is what we are trying to do. But I think perhaps you should ask the Secretary of State about this.

  209. One last question. The one criticism, potentially, is the amount of money you actually spend on self-publicity. I have used the word 'self-publicity'; how do you feel, how conscious are you of the size of the budget which you spend in your relationship with either the rest of the team, i.e. the schools and the colleges, and/or the wider public?
  210. (Mr Normington) We are very conscious of that, and the budget has to be agreed every year, and it is agreed within the Department and then with Ministers. The huge proportion of that budget is spent on information to the public about programmes and policies that we need them to know about so that they can participate in them; that is what most of the money is spent on. Some of the recent increases are, for instance, in relation to the programme we have for persuading children and parents that, children from areas of the country where people do not go to university so much, they should go to university, there is a lot of that sort of spending, that is where the big money is. But I am conscious of that and we try to keep an eye on it.

  211. Is that budget set as a proportion of the total, one year to the next, or do you look ahead and say, "This coming year we're going to be doing this policy area, this policy area, they clearly will need further funding," and it is set to the needs of the Department, or is it set as a proportion?
  212. (Mr Normington) We try to do it as you have just described, the second approach there, because there are not limitless funds in the Department, there is about 220 million to spend on admin. costs of all sorts, and therefore we try, in a sense, every year, the issue is, what are the priorities, not, shall we increase the spending. Indeed, it rarely is, in terms of those sorts of costs, shall we increase the spending, it is always about priorities.

    Chairman

  213. Can you not save money on both consultancy and advertising of posts? It always seems to me rather strange that you have to go to Capita to advertise; although, I have to confess, so does the House of Commons and this Select Committee use Capita to identify personnel. But this huge bill that is run up, in terms of advertising posts, in the education sector generally, not just by your Department. It just always seemed to me that the Internet was going to be a way of cutting down, if you like, the size of the TES and the THES, and a much cheaper way of identifying new recruits into the profession, and it seems to me that we have not taken advantage of the new technology. Whereas, in the House of Commons, no longer do many of my colleagues advertise at all in print media, we use 'working4anmp.org.uk' and you get a hundred applications, and one wonders why we cannot see the use of the new technology in saving a lot of money on advertising in the education sector?
  214. (Mr Normington) There are two issues there. We intend to use Capita, as they now are, PricewaterhouseCoopers and others, (ATK?) and others, mainly to help us with recruitment of senior staff and chief executives of NDPBs, and so on, because, actually, we are not expert recruiters and we need that kind of help, and sometimes you need to search to supplement what you will get from advertising. The other issue, about general advertising, there, there are huge amounts being spent on advertising in the TES for teachers, and in other places; we have not gone down the road ourselves of saying we should set up in competition with that. There is, I would have thought, a market opportunity for anybody who wants to do that. I do not know that it is the Government's job.

  215. Thank you for that. I want to finish up by asking a little bit about management of policy. I am going to start by saying, what this Committee picks up, and particularly in our interview with Sir William Stubbs, from the QCA, only two or three weeks ago, is, what is the nature of the relationship. Ruth Thompson said, difficulty in terms of underspend is very often because other people in the education sector, like the Learning and Skills Council, a whole range, OFSTED, are spending the money. What is the relationship and how do you manage this relationship between all these bodies? I will give you one example. When we pushed Sir William Stubbs, he had a Green Paper that made some pretty innovative remarks about the end of foreign languages being compulsory in secondary education, and suggesting that the real place to invest is in the primary sector, learning foreign languages. When I asked him whether that had come from the work of the QCA, persuading you in the Department that you should change, and that fed into the Green Paper, I think he confessed that that was not the case, that when he opened the Green Paper he was quite surprised about the content. Now, if that is the case, what is the process, what is your relationship; take just the QCA, how come a Green Paper was published with that very big change, in terms of curriculum, that the QCA did not seem to be consulted on?
  216. (Mr Normington) I am surprised at that. The Chief Executive of the QCA, David Hargreaves, at that time, was on all the working groups that worked on that Green Paper, and, I must say, I had assumed that, because of that, the QCA was fully involved in it. And, actually, the QCA, over a number of years, have provided advice to us, not on dropping foreign languages but on the tightness of the curriculum in secondary schools and the lack of flexibility in it. So I do not know what he said, and so on.

  217. But also, in terms of the international baccalaureate, he said: "The QCA has evaluated the international baccalaureate and its applicability to the English education system," and had rejected it; but no-one in the public domain has seen that, had you seen it?
  218. (Mr Normington) Personally, I cannot remember seeing that. But what I do know is that the production of the Green Paper was overseen by a group of people, which included Ministers, actually, with input from a number of our major NDPBs, and that is what would be the normal practice, that you would have policy developed with the advice of and support of people in our major bodies. We would not, for instance, want to be developing policies on teacher recruitment without the Teacher Training Agency being at the centre of that. I accept there is more to do, in working with some of our big partners, but we start from the basis that they need to be involved in that. I am sorry if he was surprised; there should not be any surprises in something like the 14-19 Green Paper for the QCA, at the point that it is produced.

  219. I have to say, that was my impression from Sir William, it may not be the case, to be fair to Sir William. But, you see, what this Committee is feeling and finding is that, in relation to what you say was a third of your budget is Innovation and Learning and Skills Councils, we are already getting sort of on the grapevine, in our constituency work, as we are Education and Skills, concerns about how the relationship is working, it is a very important part of your management responsibility. If something was going to go wrong with the LSC delivery, it is going to be very much down to you and your relationship with the LSC; now we have a very high regard for Bryan Sanderson, certainly I have, but how do you manage that relationship, how do you make sure that something is going on early enough?
  220. (Mr Normington) There are the formal things and then the informal things. We do have a senior member of staff from the Department sits as, I am not sure what the term is, an observer, but actually an active participant, on the Learning and Skills Council itself. The formal relationship is a remit letter, which is, in a sense, the Government's set of priorities for Learning and Skills Council, which they convert into a plan; there are quarterly review meetings, which Margaret Hodge takes, to review their performance with officials there, and with Bryan Sanderson and John Harwood there. In a sense, that is the formal framework. I would meet Bryan Sanderson myself once a month, probably, it is a fairly regular thing, and John Harwood about once a quarter, when we would, one to one, usually, just review what was going on. Our issue really is should we have other sources of information; we pick up a lot informally, as well. We have been having this great series of dinners with FE college principals, Ministers and I have been sharing out FE college principals, so that we can take stock with them of what their view is about the whole policy, and also what they are thinking about the changes that have taken place. So we actually do dip-stick into some of the organisations which deal with our NDPBs, in order to get another view. So I think that is all in place; and with the LSC we are working it out still, of course, but it is all there, and the QCA a similar thing. One has to get this relationship though right. We are not managing that process, we are trying to monitor the performance of those organisations and trying to spot when we have concerns, which we are asking the LSC or the QCA to account for; and sometimes, when things are difficult, you have closer working relationships with them than when things are going well, it is just knowing when that is changing.

  221. Sometimes this Committee picks up quite early when something is going wrong, or when something has changed, because we call most of those bodies that you work with to this Committee. Lord Puttnam, only on Monday, said that one of the real problems with the General Teaching Council and its slow start, and the fact that he has spent most of his time, as Chairman, quite unbelievably, looking after the plumbing, seeing to the plumbing, the most unlikely thing I would have thought Lord Puttnam would have been expert in, but there were real problems. And the way he described those problems was that the new Labour Government came in, in 1997, with a commitment to set up a GTC, but the senior civil servants in the Department did not think it was necessary, and what he described was a poor piece of legislation, poorly thought through, because there was not the interest and focus in the Department that he would have expected. Now that is pretty damning, for the first Chairman of the GTC to say that it was a poor piece of legislation, coming from the fact that senior civil servants did not think it was necessary; do you have any comment on that?
  222. (Mr Normington) If it were true, I would be very unhappy about it, because it is Ministers who have to decide those things, and if civil servants are not implementing Government policy then that is a serious matter. I know that what happened was that the legislative basis for the GTC was not adequate. I think that was a mistake, I do not think it came from a lack of commitment. I had better go and talk to him about it, because I would be really concerned if that were the case. I do not detect a lack of commitment to the GTC in the Department, and nor should there be, since if the Government is committed to it the Department should be committed to it, and we should not have a view that some of our civil servants can be lacking in enthusiasm and holding back policy.

  223. You can see this Committee's interest in this, only because we believe that, if we detect things going wrong, it is the role of this Committee to say something seems to be going wrong, or has gone wrong in the past, but not in the sense that we want to punish the Department, that we want the Department quickly to learn the lessons so it does not make the same mistakes again. That ran throughout, as you know, our (ILEA ?) Report?
  224. (Mr Normington) I talk to David Puttnam from time to time and he has not mentioned this to me. I am surprised at it, and I will find out what we can learn from it. Certainly, a mistake was made in drafting the legislation, but actually I just thought that was a mistake, not through that commitment. The commitment to the GTC now is very great, we have greater ambitions for it than perhaps they have for themselves.

    Chairman: An interesting comment.

    Mr Chaytor

  225. You described yourself, in your opening remarks, as the Secretary of State's chief policy adviser. Now, in a period of presidential-style Government, is not that an obsolete concept, and is not the reality that education policy is driven from No.10?
  226. (Mr Normington) I know this is a sort of popular view, but, no, that is not so. That whole thing needs unpacking, really. We have a Prime Minister who is probably more interested in education than any Prime Minister, and therefore takes a great interest in the development of policy; it would be surprising, given what he had said about his priority, if that did not follow. And it is therefore the case, but it has always been the case, that big policy issues and big policy directions are discussed with No.10 and, as appropriate, with others, but it does not feel to me as though he and his office are driving the agenda. They do set the high ambitions for education, they do challenge us to make sure we meet those ambitions, but I think the lead remains very firmly with the Secretary of State, and she is the one who is held accountable.

  227. And how is the process between the advice you get from the No.10 Policy Unit and the advice you get from NDPBs and the drive you get from individual Ministers within the Department, how do you manage that process, and what is the relative influence of each of those sets of advice?
  228. (Mr Normington) It is not quite like that, in a way. Sometimes, all those people are sat round a table, thrashing out the policy; on very big policy directions, sometimes somebody from the Prime Minister's office would be involved in thinking through those issues, so that the NDPBs are round the table. It depends what the issue is. But, usually, the process is agreeing the general direction within Government, the Department going away and working out how it is in detail going to produce those outcomes, and then accounting to the Prime Minister for those policies. That is the formal process. But, of course, there is a lot of discussing going on, we have lots of discussions with No.10, but that has been so in all my career, under previous Governments too, and it depends on the priority that policy area has and the interest of the people involved, and it would be very surprising if we did not have lots of discussions in No.10 in that process. But it does not feel as though it is one way.

    Chairman

  229. Give us a specific example then, Mr Normington, because it is very good in theory, but, in practice, do you not get frustrated when something is blocked, you do the work, you can deliver and it is blocked elsewhere? For example, who is blocking at the moment any real action on the student finance report; is it your Department being slow and ineffective, is it stuck in No.10, or is it at ministerial level?
  230. (Mr Normington) I am sorry, you cannot tempt me into a debate about who is advising whom, and who is blocking whom; after all, that is the internal working of Government, which we do not lay out. If I just take that specific case and say this. We are working with No.10 and the Treasury and some others on that review. I know people have been waiting for that review for a long time, they are not going to hear the outcome until the Spending Review is over, because, after all, all the issues being discussed there end up being about the amount of resource that is available. And it became clear, as we got further into that review, that, actually, we could not conclude it until we had looked at it in the context of the overall Spending Review. That is the fact. Nobody is blocking it, in that sense, it was just an agreement that, actually, when we had done a lot of the work, we could not conclude it until we knew what the total resource picture was.

  231. You will be happy to hear that we will be giving you our recommendations on our Report in time for you to take those into account.
  232. (Mr Normington) Thank you very much.

    Mr Chaytor

  233. Just one final thing. When policy develops to the point of a Green Paper or a White Paper, who then writes that, and, specifically, in the 14-19 Green Paper or the Schools Achieving Success White Paper, who is the author of that document, where does the responsibility for it lie?
  234. (Mr Normington) It would normally be written, is almost always written, by civil servants in the Department.

  235. Always written by your officials?
  236. (Mr Normington) Almost always.

  237. What would be the exceptions?
  238. (Mr Normington) It will be written by them, but then the document will be put round in draft to others, who will make comments on it, both within the Department and, at a particular point, round Government as a whole, normally. I cannot think of a case where the draft has not been done by a civil servant. Of course, if it is not very good then you have an awful thing about, well, how are we going to make this better, and people then make suggestions about that; but usually it goes back to the Civil Service, again to make it better, that is normally the process. I cannot think of a recent case when that has not been so.

    Paul Holmes

  239. In the Education Journal, you wrote an article about 'Transforming secondary education' and one of the things you were saying was that, because A-level results are going up, GCSE results are going up and our 15 year olds did very well in the PISA study, this shows that Government policy to transform education is working. Now I started teaching in 1979, and throughout the 20 years that I was involved A-level results were going up steadily; before 1988 O-level CSE results were going up, after 1988 GCSE results have been going up, so they have all been going up steadily for 20 years. The emphasis of Government policy up till now has been on infant and junior schools, and the Secretary of State has said that you have just started on secondary education, but the 15 year olds in the PISA study had left infant and junior school before the Government reforms really started, before the Numeracy and Literary Strategy, for example. So does not the success in the PISA study and the constant rise of A-level and GCSE results over the last 20 years show that schools have actually been doing pretty well, in improvement terms, despite various Governments, rather than because of various Governments?
  240. (Mr Normington) It is really important for me, as a civil servant, for you to understand precisely what I was doing in the Education Journal. What that is is a largely unedited version of the speech that I gave to the Secondary Heads Association, when I was saying to the heads, look how good your performance has been, I was not talking specifically about successes and failings of Government policy, it was actually a message to the schools about precisely the point you make, which is, "There is a lot of success here, why don't you recognise it, why doesn't this conference start cheering about that success and being a bit more positive?" That was one of the strong messages that I was putting over. I then went on to analyse some of the data, which showed where there were problems. And I never started my story in 1997.

  241. I would applaud that message, but you do say specifically, for example, that the results of PISA study research "provide the best evidence we have that investment in education is yielding excellent returns." But investment in education has only really started to increase in the last two to three years; the children in the PISA study obviously had their education very much prior to that?
  242. (Mr Normington) That is true, I did say that, I think that some of that is true, but I agree with you that the performance had started improving before that.

    Chairman

  243. Some experts argue that the independent sector makes a very big contribution to our PISA successes; is that right?
  244. (Mr Normington) I think the independent sector is in there, but I do not think that is the whole story, because I think you can see the improvement in the state sector.

  245. Mr Normington, Dr Thompson, it has been a pleasure having you in front of the Committee. You have had a long session; thank you for that. We have learned a lot, and I hope you have not found the experience too painful. We hope to have you back, with a shorter interval between than the last time we saw you. There are two or three specific things that we did not cover, which you may be amazed to hear; if we could write to you and get a reply, that would be most appreciated.

(Mr Normington) I will happily do that, yes.

Chairman: Thank you for your attendance.