WEDNESDAY 10 JULY 2002
Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
RT HON ESTELLE MORRIS, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, examined
(Estelle Morris) Indeed, Chairman, it does give the opportunity to not only thank the Committee for the work on that report but on other reports, but I have to say when we return that you might accept the then Minister, Mr Healey, was more open with you beyond the call of duty and certainly beyond the words on the written page. I have certainly found, from the department's point of view, that the whole of that interchange was very useful to us, and I welcome the openness and the straight talking. I hope that when we launch ILA 2 it will reflect some of your concerns and is a better product because of the way I think we jointly dealt with the issue throughout the year.
(Estelle Morris) I did give some thought, Chairman, to opening words, and the trouble with opening words is that you end up repeating them because somebody asks you a question on whatever you decided to say. So I decided not to actually say a lot of opening words. I was going to thank you, and I have already done that. Given that baseline assessment happened last time, this is value added, and I suppose I have my own thoughts as to where we have really added value as a department over the last year, and as ever in the life of policy development and implementation there are some areas where we have done more work and made more progress in the past 12 months - and that includes secondary school reform and trying to sort out ILAs at the beginning of our FE strategy - and there are areas that we still have to address, in terms of the strategy document, perhaps at the end of October/beginning of November, for higher education. Rather than going through all those areas I would sooner put the facts on record and pledge my commitment to try and maintain an open relationship, and get on with it.
(Estelle Morris) I lost two good ones and gained two good ones. I think I have as strong a team now as I have had. You have to put that in context, it is a department that has incredible ministerial continuity. I myself have been there in each of three posts on the schools side since 1997, and the Permanent Secretary I worked with was Director General of Schools for two years before the 1997 election. Mrs Hodge pulled the average age up of the ministerial team considerably, other members of staff have been there for two years before 1997 and we have the three youngsters as well. I think, inevitably, as far as John Healey and Stephen Timms are concerned, they are both moving to departments where they will get new experience, and that is the life of a minister and of a politician - everybody knows that you cannot bet on being in a second job tomorrow or the same job after the next election. I do not feel as though I have been disturbed in that sense. We have got continuity and I do not feel as though the team has been thrown in the air and had to start again.
(Estelle Morris) I am glad to hear it!
(Estelle Morris) Indeed. I think I did a one-year/three-year split. I think if you went to any other organisation and looked at it over a six-year period you would probably find that the change of personality at senior level was more than it has been in our department. All I can say is that ministers are entitled to accept opportunities in other government departments for breadth of experience and I do not feel that we are an unstable team. I think we have benefited from stability. Indeed, the previous Secretary of State was there for a full term. There have been a few changes among senior officials, to tell you the truth, but I do not go into the department and feel as though it lacks stability - the very opposite. Some of us have been there long enough now to pick up the consequences of our earlier decisions. I think that is an incredibly helpful position for ministers to remain in.
(Estelle Morris) The teachers' feeling under stress is slightly different and if I may I will concentrate on the money. The money has got to schools. The money held back by local authorities is less than it was. The pass-through rate from LEAs to schools has increased and I applaud and thank local authorities for that. I believe our own department's running costs have actually decreased and if you look at the funds of departments across the board we have done quite well. When I go to schools I ask the very same question and I get the same response "We need more money". I then always follow it up with "But have you got more money than you had in 1997? Have you noticed a difference?" They say "Yes, but". I do not think I should ever go to a school and worry if the teacher left me thinking they have got enough money; they see it as their mission to say "We need more money". I do think it is beholden on us to actually say "But aren't you getting more than you had?" It is a very different question. There are a number of other things I have learned: they do not count capital as money. If they do not control it they do not count it. So if they have had an extension or a new school building or repairs to the roof they do not actually see that as capital. The amount of money that we spend on the National Grid for Learning or the literacy and numeracy strategy they often do not see as money themselves. So it partly depends on how it is routed through to them and how much influence they feel they have on how it is spent. There is another factor, and this goes a little bit into what you said about teacher numbers: most of them have used the money to create new teaching posts, which is an issue I have been discussing with the profession for nearly a year now. What then happens is that that becomes part of the baseline commitment for the next year round, so your next year's spending commitment actually ignores the extra money you put in for increasing staff in the previous year. So I wish they said "This is brilliant, the money is showering down on us, we have never had it so good". I do not expect them to say that but these days I rarely find anybody who says their financial position has not improved since 1997.
(Estelle Morris) Yes, but they need to be looked at as we progress and at each spending review we look at our PSA targets and make sure that they are fit for purpose. Sure Start is interesting because I think it was two things. I think, possibly more than any other programme run by our department, it was about process as well as outcomes. That is part of the reason for my departmental underspend, which I noticed you raised with the |Permanent Secretary last week. What we tried to do was to have projects that started at the base and grew up, and actually rooted themselves in the community. So the early targets were about process; they were about setting them up, about contacting children. I could present to you a most brilliant report on Sure Start but it has not actually reached the children and the parents and contacted them within however many months of birth. It will not work. So I look at the amount of money going to Sure Start, I look at the targets and I do, too, note that they are input rather than output achievements at the moment, but that will change over time. I am very happy to make the commitment that what we expect to get out of Sure Start we will get out of Sure Start, which is improvement in social development, emotional development and cognitive development and, I think, parents who are more active partners in their child's education, greater well-being and greater cohesion of provision of services to families. I just say that it has been an incredibly slow process but for defensible reasons, and I think the targets are right for now but they are not right forever.
(Estelle Morris) Yes. What we have to remember is the US programme Head Start, which did not start to think about its results until 18 years after it started. Part of the evidence they gave for success was how well those youngsters brought up their own children and became effective parents. I suppose governments have got to look medium and long-term. You are right, probably with the amount of money we put into Sure Start, the Prime Minister and Chancellor could have given it to me elsewhere in my budget and we might have seen more immediate results, but it is right to invest for the long-term. Somebody once said to me that the best thing they thought we had done in our department was the early years policy and Sure Start was the thing that we would get the least recognition for because it was essentially medium-term and long-term. However, I would not be looking to 18 years. What I would be saying is that given that we have now got baseline assessment when children went into school, I would not be disappointed if, over time, the youngsters that had had the investment made by Sure Start did see that reflected in the baseline assessment when they started their formal education.
(Estelle Morris) Yes, but I have been looking across the piece in what we have got in early years at the moment, and there are a lot of titles - neighbourhood nurseries, community, nurseries, early excellence centres, Sure Start - for the plain old nursery we used to know when we were little. I do think, as I said to the department, that the time has now come, in my view, to make sure that that makes sense and not to cut back on provision. I have asked myself the question, what is the difference between an early excellence centre and a neighbourhood nursery and a community nursery? We have to ask that question and make sure parents are asking that question as well. So I am very interested (and I hesitate to use the word "rebranding" because I do not mean that) in making sure that the whole of our early years provision is as simple to explain to its clients, to its customers, as possible. It has got like that for the best of reasons. As we have tried to meet each new need and as we have got more resources that we have been able to invest in early years, we have not always thought "Let us just pile it all into Sure Start"; we were almost starting from scratch in some areas - absolute scratch - in terms of government investment in early years. For instance, how do you tackle the pockets of deprivation in otherwise affluent areas? Is Sure Start always the model for rural areas? Are early excellence centres? Should Sure Start be attached to schools? To some extent we have been piloting a lot of those initiatives, but I very much hope that over the next two years, as part of our new work after the spending review, maybe the name and shape of it might be slightly different, but that is only because it is almost rationalising it and makes sense of what we have created. I do expect to be able to continue to invest in that area.
Mr Baron: Point taken, Secretary of State, but the fact is that whether you talk to OFSTED or the NUT or unions generally, and indeed teachers and headteachers themselves, their view is that the workload is the key factor as to why teachers ae leaving the profession. It cannot be denied that in recent years the figures have been getting worse. Yes, we are recruiting them but we have trouble keeping them, and this is the problem. That is why there are quite extensive teacher shortages across the country. I do not want to turn this into a political football, and I think you recognise there is a problem but I am interested in looking forward as to how we are going to try and put this right. That is the number one issue in schools, certainly in my patch, at the moment.
Chairman: Can we ask for slightly shorter questions?
(Estelle Morris) Can I suggest that I do not suppose there was a headteacher in the country who actually ploughed through the pay and conditions document that was well over 100 pages that also gets sent to schools. Come on. These are intelligent, bright, professional people. Does any Member of this Committee plough through every document and every word of every paper that is sent? Mr Shaw does. I tell you what I do when I get to my constituency office on Friday, I bin more than half of what is sitting on my desk because it is brochures and such like. This is a serious conversation, Mr Baron, but it has to be about what is real. If you crammed in that document the whole of the Key Stage 3 strategy, which is actually a teaching and learning document, to last us over the years ahead and then say that teachers have to read all of that as well, that is not the real world.
(Estelle Morris) I would be delighted to forget documents.
(Estelle Morris) I think workload has increased. I think we ask more of our teachers than any previous generation of teachers and ask more than the Secretary of State asked me when I was teaching. I cannot change. I do not want to change that, because what they do is so important. At the moment the mood in the public is to want better public services. Every parent wants the best for their child, and that is good. That pressure from our joint customers, the general public, parents and pupils, puts tremendous pressure on teachers to achieve. That is the world we live in and that is why I applaud teachers for the work they do. What I often say to them is to put themselves as citizens. If they have got a grandmother or a parent who is going to hospital, or they have got somebody in social services care, or they travel by train on the railways, do they not, as citizens, demand better public services? They do not realise when they are demanding better public services that that puts pressure on those who work in the public services, and it does. So my answer to that is I cannot do anything about the extra demands because the extra demands are right in the most important of all the professions. What I can do about it is see how we manage those demands. So the conversation I have with the teacher unions is "Let me look at what teachers are doing that somebody else could do." Twenty per cent of their tasks people say could actually be done by somebody else. I could list the things that we could all agree teachers should be doing, and I can actually say "How can we actually support the profession into the 21st century?" because they do not have the level of support the professions have the right to expect. Any of us on the Committee who have been teachers and moved from teaching to politics saw the difference in support that we got overnight on the change of job. I saw it in 1992 and I would imagine it is even more measurable now. They have a right to expect the support, but we have a right to demand something of them. So my debate - and I know I have not solved the problems - is not how can they work less hard, but how can I make sure they are able to use their time commensurate with the skills and qualifications they have got? That is the nature of the discussion I need to have with the profession.
(Estelle Morris) Of course. If I remember rightly, I think it was 12,000 extra teachers that were required for that. I must admit I have not used that figure for a while, but I am almost sure about that. It has. However, even if you take that out and look at the overall number of teachers, it is still a significant number increase in teacher, but we did need more primary to meet the class-size pledge.
(Estelle Morris) I read the coverage of it but I do not agree with him. I think our decision to have that as a commitment was based on what OFSTED said about the importance of smaller classes in earlier years. I think it is great that the nation now has not got five, six and seven-year olds in classes of 45, and that is what they had in 1996. I think it is money well-spent and well-invested.
(Estelle Morris) It is either £1.3 billion or £1.6 billion.
(Estelle Morris) Two things. Not the underspend. In fact, I made clear when I spoke to FE and other post-16 staff that I would not use the underspend for that. Just on the underspend, half of it is in ring-fenced budgets. I am not going to repeat evidence given by my Permanent Secretary, but a lot of it is in Sure Start, a lot of it is in the Children's Fund that I cannot switch to my general budget and a lot of it is capital. So it is not that it will not ever be spent, it is about re-profiling it. It will be spent in subsequent years. I think I have used some of it for the Havering initiative (?) which we launched in 33 LEAs with the highest truancy and the highest crime rate. I will correct myself if I am wrong on that. I know I have used £66 million and I think it was from the underspend, but I will clarify that. I will tell you why I do not want to use the underspend, because it is rather like the school budget: you cannot spend it once and then not put it into your baseline for the next year. So it is not the way to do that. I do acknowledge that partly "life is not fair, is it" but partly as a result of our decision to put more money into teacher pay we have widened the gap between FE pay and teacher pay. I cannot defend that except to say that we live in the real world and when you are trying to change things as radically as we are you have to do it orderly, but what you have to be is absolutely clear about what the order is. My predecessor was never but not honest about saying that schools were a priority and the early years were a priority between 1997 and 2001. I do not make any excuse about FE salaries, I do not like the nature or the number of people on short-term contracts and the lack of stability in the FE workforce, and I do find it difficult, in front of an FE audience, to justify that we have increased teachers' salaries so much to open the gate. I only wish I got a bit of recognition from the teachers, but that is life. So you lose out at both ends. So it is not the ideal situation but you have to do things in order and as and when you can.
(Estelle Morris) For the college pay initiative? I do not think I am. No, I am not using the underspend for that. I will send you a note. I have used some of the underspend into the college of FE. I can recall, for instance, that I put some of it into e.learning, I put some in for training for non-teaching staff and we have made an announcement about the teachers' pay initiative for the non-teaching staff as well. I would sooner drop you a note about that.
(Estelle Morris) No, that will be subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement.
(Estelle Morris) It should not have done. There is a real terms guarantee and the money has been passed back to schools. I think two-thirds of school sixth forms or providers have done better out of the new system than worse.
(Estelle Morris) It was not intended to widen the gap but what is true ----
(Estelle Morris) We have done nothing to close the gap. That also is subject to the spending review. It is a manifest commitment of the Government and an over-time move to close the gap but we have not made progress on that yet.
(Estelle Morris) I do not think so. Just to put on record, we put more money into FE than the previous government. We have not put as much as they wanted and we have not put as much as we put into schools and early years, but we have reversed the decline. We have put more money in, both in capital and revenue. You are right about the level 2 target. We have not met that. Can I say just a bit about where I think FE is in terms of the cycle of reform. I look at each of my areas of responsibility in terms of the cycle of modernisation and reform, and I think FE was furthest away from that. So much of the early years has been about reorganising the structure and making sure that we have got rigorous inspection, making sure that we have got the intervention strategy to actually deal with under-performing colleges, and making sure that we have got a rewards and incentive structure to deal with good colleges. That has taken a lot of the resource, the effort and the energy in the first five years. We have seen some improvement. Some colleges have improved and there are improvement indices there. That is what we have had to do during the first term. I would be very disappointed if having put that infrastructure in place we did not see movement towards improvement in output targes and attainment targets over the second term.
(Estelle Morris) I am fighting for all the areas of my departmental expenditure, as one would expect. I suppose I am going to be a bit like schools and get more but never actually tell anybody I have got as much as I want. I absolutely acknowledge that if you look at FE it delivers most of our targets. It is actually a crucial sector for the Government. It attracts those sectors of the community more often turned off by learning. I cannot ask it to deliver those targets unless we invest in a better and targeted way. We will have to wait until after the spending review, but I will be hugely disappointed if we do not increase investment in FE over the next five years.
(Estelle Morris) I am always interested in the views of individuals, and I am always grateful for pressure put on senior members of Government. I am the Secretary of State and I have got responsibility for making sure that the money is spent well as well. One thing on that, because this is important. I will tell you what the best thing has been about money in education in the last five years: it has been the stability. It has been the fact that we have had a stable economy. I worked in education when we got more money one year and had to cut it back the next year. That has not happened. I would always, always, always sooner go for steady growth and stability than massive investment one year and massive cutbacks the next.
(Estelle Morris) Absolutely not. I have never, ever, ever had for one moment that feeling at all. Not just by words but by actions. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have taken every opportunity during recent months to say that education remains a top priority. I do not think Lord Puttnam does not think that it remains a top priority. I suspect that what he is saying is that he would want even more than, probably, people have asked for. You could spend billions and billions and billions. I understand that. If you are asking me whether education remains a priority, of all the things I might worry about in terms of my doing the job, the fact that it is not a Government priority is not something that has ever caused me a moment's concern. It is, and it will continue to be so.
(Estelle Morris) I understand that, which is why some schools have actually got sizeable underspends themselves and are holding money in budgets. They are always waiting for the rainy day because they have been brought up to behave like that. Most heads will have got used to managing a diminishing budget, and (I say this in the gentlest of ways) managing an expanding budget is a different skill, and I do think that is part of the problem I have got with teacher workload and trying to remodel the workforce in the schools. I am running 30 pathfinders to try to find ways forward on that, which you may be interested in. Schools will not stop being a priority. If you actually look, we have got to maintain and expand all the time. We had massive investment to get the literacy and numeracy strategy off the ground, and we can keep that going because there is a point in the improvement cycle where you invest more than in other years, and I suspect that the biggest investment in literacy and numeracy was in its opening year. If we look at the profile of that expenditure it will change over time. School is important to us because we know that it is the gateway to higher education, further education, jobs, lower criminality, decent health and communities and all those things we care about. So we are not going to stop investing in schools. What we do have to do, however, is to not ignore other sectors as well. We are in a difficult game, really, because every one of my sectors can make an argument for being incredibly important, and they have all suffered from decades of under-investment. I do not want any of them to stop yelling for more money. I am not going to stop campaigning for more money with the Government, but I am happy to give that assurance to schools that they are not about to go off our agenda. Anybody who has been listening to what I have been saying over the last couple of weeks, I think, should see that.
(Estelle Morris) Yes. It is varied. EMAs, for instance, have brought about evidence of increasing participation. It is very, very early days yet on attainment levels but there is increasing participation. Excellence in Cities has brought about evidence of reductions in exclusions, improvement in attendance and a faster than national average rate of improvement in GCSEs. There is the fact that the money put into numeracy is targeted so that the most under-performing LEAs - and those in the most deprived areas - get more money and it is good that Tower Hamlets is the fastest improving local authority. So, in general, I think the extra investment has brought about improved results. We are, quite rightly, as a department always being questioned by the Treasury, making sure that the money is spent to good effect. I feel quite strongly - and I do not want to be party political about this - that we have got a Government that has probably invested over a period of time more money in education and is more determined to make a difference than any other. We cannot waste it, because the chance might not come round again. I do not mind that pressure to always equate money to results, and the evidence is beginning to be there.
(Estelle Morris) But the other stuff is real money, it is not monopoly money, it is exchangeable for goods in the economy. I think TPI is part of the non-core funding on that. Let us just take TPI. I am rightly worried about the levels of FE pay, as Mr Chaytor mentioned. If you are in my position sometimes you have to use the levers you have got to bring about the change in behaviour you want to bring about. Sometimes, for a period of time, using ring-fenced, targeted money, is the only thing that will bring about a change in behaviour. So we have to move overtime to un-ring-fencing it, because it should always be a transitional state of affairs, to some extent. At the end of the day you have to trust that behaviour has changed and that people on the front line know best how to spend the money. I go back to the point that, you are right, the table says that, but all I am saying is that it is not unreasonable to be asked to be judged on the total amount of money that we put in, not how it was actually categorised in expenditure terms.
(Estelle Morris) I must say, without being critical, I find it impossible to imagine why a college which is complaining it has had a 59 per cent cut would wish to remain anonymous. I do not understand that. I think they have an obligation, if their funding has been cut by that much, to say who they are so that I can look at it. Without saying who they are I cannot look at it. It is an absolute nonsense to remain anonymous. Just in terms of what your proposed explanation might be, I know this is something you covered, again, last week with the Permanent Secretary, the admin costs of the LSC are lower than the administration costs of the organisation that it has replaced. I do not have that fear. What it might be - and I would be very happy, given a bit more evidence, to look at that - is that sometimes you re-label money when it comes in through a different route. I do think we need to rationalise the Standards Fund as much as we have done in schools, and we need to do that over the next few years in terms of its complexity and bidding and the different funding systems. If colleges are actually saying to you "It comes in in a form that is difficult for us to deal with, or more complex than we would like" I would probably have a good deal of sympathy with that.
(Estelle Morris) I think we have told Parliament that we expect to make a £50 million saving in administration costs of the LSC, and I note that the accounting officer for the department has said that that will be delivered. I do not want to sound complacent, neither do I want to sound as though the LSC would wilfully keep money back from colleges or providers - it does not do that and it is not in the business to do that. It is right that both yourselves, as the Select Committee, with those powers you have, and us, as the department, always keep an eye on that. It is a very young organisation, it is barely a year old, it is just settling down and I think it has done quite well but there will always, always be the need to make sure that bureaucracy does not grow. Organisations have a capacity to grow their bureaucracy that defies belief sometimes.
Chairman: We will come back to OFSTED in a minute, Secretary of State, but we have to move on.
(Estelle Morris) I think most parents are fearful about that; I cannot judge whether it is one of their greatest fears but it is certainly a fear.
(Estelle Morris) Miss Hoey, whose constituency that covers, is entitled to make the observation about her constituency. I think it would be wrong for anybody to portray the English secondary education school system as full of children who are going to school, because of drugs, "bombed out their heads". What is true, however, is that we have a growing drugs problem within this country. Children live in the real world, they live in the community and they are of an age where they often do take drugs, and I think that we would all agree that, sadly, drug-taking has increased. When they go into schools they go into schools as the people they were outside in the outside community. Miss Hoey will have to account for herself and the Home Secretary will account for the new drugs policy when he makes the announcement today. I take seriously any drug-taking in schools or children going to schools under the influence of drugs - of course I do - but to build up a picture that it is only happening in one LEA because of the change in drug policy, I think, is scoring political points and not addressing the real issues.
(Estelle Morris) I have no evidence that that is the case. One of the initiatives I announced some weeks ago was an expansion of the Southwark project of having police based in schools, where that is the wish of the headteacher. In Kate Hoey's constituency that is one of the LEAs which is covered by our behaviour initiative, and that is one of the LEAs that will have funding provided directly by the Government, directly from my department with the Home Office providing the police funds as well, to make available police based in schools, to work with heads, if that is what they wish. I just think that drugs is such a big issue, it is an issue in Birmingham and it is an issue in every one of your constituencies. I think we have to face up to this and talk about it, and talk about education and prevention. My good colleague, the Home Secretary, is doing exactly that. I applaud the fact that he is trying new ways to deal with this problem. Of course he will evaluate it - he is bound to do that - but if you are asking me, whether my department has been over-burdened with extra complaints from schools in Miss Hoey's constituency that life has been made more difficult, my understanding is no, that is not the case.
(Estelle Morris) I do not think there has been one message from this Government, across the five or six years we have been in power, saying that we do not care for children in areas like that. All the investment in my department is targeted at areas like that. It is this Government, and my department, delivering the basic reading and writing for kids in areas like that. I will tell you what, one of the things that might actually keep them away from drugs is a decent education, higher expectations, basic skills when they go to secondary school, good comprehensive schools in which to be educated and hope for the future. I take great exception to any allegation that this Government has done anything other than care for children, whether they are children in middle-class, rural, urban areas, north, south, east and west.
(Estelle Morris) I would be delighted to do so.
(Estelle Morris) Of course I was involved. It concerns my department, of course I was involved. I was not "bounced" into it. I am not prepared to be bounced into decisions like that. Clearly, the order of events was that the Home Secretary was already dealing with the issue of accommodation centres and thereby consulting across government as usual. I both wrote and - probably - spoke personally to the Home Secretary about that. I speak with the Home Secretary a great deal and I have probably covered that. Of course I spoke to him before the announcement was made in public or before further consultations around Whitehall took place.
(Estelle Morris) Yes, of course we were. We were consulted and I had discussions before anything was put in the public domain. Indeed I remember that one aspect of developing that policy was the continuing role of the Local Education Authority in terms of the education that was made available in the accommodation centres. I even recall, though it was a few months ago now, the nature of some of those discussions. My starting point was that if the Home Secretary had come to me and said that he wanted to change and upturn the standard and quality of education for asylum seekers which was absolutely brilliant, I would not have objected to it, but my belief has always been that partly because of the length of time it takes to deal with the applications for asylum seekers and partly because we seem to have a housing policy that moves these families about from one place to another, we are not getting the best deal and the best ability from schools that we might have, so we did not have an ideal position.
(Estelle Morris) I fed into the paper produced by the Home Office, but the consultation on that has obviously invited a number of letters. I myself ----
(Estelle Morris) I do not live in ivory towers and I am sure you did not suggest that I do, Mr Shaw.
(Estelle Morris) But when I am with schools and with headteachers and if somebody comes up with an idea, I have not got a blank piece of paper in my mind so I only go and talk to somebody so I can form a view. One of the things that teachers, especially in inner cities, have said to me ever since I have been in the Education Department is that one of the things they have sometimes found difficult to deal with is huge pupil mobility. It is a real issue for schools that we do not have the answer to. It is one of the things I do worry about and it can almost keep me awake at night. I think pupil mobility, especially in London, is a huge issue. I knew this before the consultation started, that some of those students, those pupils who have the most mobility is because of the way we deal with asylum seekers at the moment which is actually to juggle asylum seekers. I know you do not think that, but there is a feeling out there in schools that some of these children are kept in accommodation centres, education accommodation centres once it has been determined that they have got the right to stay in the country and this is, by necessity, short-term. When someone offers me a solution which might give stability, the same teaching targeted to their needs in one place for a period of six and up to nine months, I make a judgment that the needs of that student might be better met than their being in a number of schools over even a longer period.
(Estelle Morris) Yes. Let's be clear about this: the roles would be no different than that which apply in a school and there can be people without qualifications, QTS, that teach in school. That is my only caveat there.
(Estelle Morris) I think both the Home Secretary and I hope that the asylum process would be such that it would have been determined within six months and I think that it is one of those catch-all things that I hope we do not have to deal with because I hope it will all be reviewed, but I think he was right to give that assurance and I think at that point as throughout the whole of the process because we have said it about children who have special educational needs that they might need an education which cannot be done in the accommodation centres, that their needs must be assessed and ----
(Estelle Morris) Yes, the LEA still has responsibility for the education that goes on in the accommodation centre and what we need to do now is to work out the detail, and we have not got any yet, it might be a little while arriving. I still have not talked to LEAs in any depth or my own officials about how exactly that assessment will be made of special educational needs, but there is a top-line commitment that if it cannot be met within the accommodation centre, it will be met elsewhere. The general direction is I want to give these children stability, the same teachers, if we possibly can, maybe the beginnings of learning English if they have not got that so they can cope with mainstream school. I want to improve their education and not detract from it.
Chairman: Secretary of State, the Committee is very minded to look at this area in one sense in terms of the mobility of children through schools, especially in urban areas. In an urban area, like my own constituency, where there is a focus for a particular group of political refugees coming from a particular country, the impact on local schools can be quite catastrophic if a large number of children arrive in short order and then move on. We have seen examples where schools are just getting used to a group of children and then the children are whisked away and the whole school suffers from it. Actually schools in my own constituency suffered because they were just building a relationship with the children and then they were moved on, so we are minded to look at that at some stage.
(Estelle Morris) If we could, but we do not have a situation where every parent can have a first-choice school.
(Estelle Morris) Wherever possible, yes. I think it is a legitimate thing to want to satisfy where parents choose to educate their children.
(Estelle Morris) There are two things. When we reorganised infant education to deliver our class-size pledge, we were absolutely insistent that LEAs expanded their good and popular schools and indeed many parents were more likely to get their first choice in that age group because there were more places in the popular schools. We did that and it cost the nation. It was a decision by us to actually invest the nation's income in that to good effect. I think there is a real issue there and I am interested in that if we can expand the popular schools to better meet parental demand, we should do it. There are just two things. What is a popular school and parental demand sometimes change over time, so we have to be careful of that. What can be popular one year is not popular the next. What I would say to LEAs is that when they are looking at the pattern of provision and if they are short of places, I would really welcome them choosing to meet some of the demand for extra places by expanding popular schools. I go further than that, that if a school is not doing well and parents do not want to send their child there, and the LEA takes the decision that it cannot be turned round and it should be closed, I am entirely happy if it is the LEA's decision to come forward with a plan to expand a nearby popular school. In essence, I would agree with you, but I would add a word of caution that you cannot just go in and put in new buildings for what essentially is five, six, seven forms of entry into secondary school overnight, but the gist of what you say is one that I would agree with.
(Estelle Morris) Well, the situation will change a little bit because of the division of the LEA money and the schools' money in the new funding arrangements that are shortly to come in. We have pushed, as did the Conservative Government before us, for more money to be directed to schools, so we have always wanted to keep a very tight check that as much money goes to schools as it can. For instance, the special grant, the cash sum that has increased, I think it is called a special grant, though I think it has more initials than that, that goes to schools and yes, we are continuing that next year, as you already know, but we do not have plans to massively reorganise the financing of schools. However, for instance, we do adapt and learn as we go on, so the dedication of capital money direct to schools is something that has been expanded under this Government and the amount of cash was expanded last year and who knows what will happen next year, so again I am with the drift of what you say, but I would not want to give you the impression that we are about to abolish LEAs, cut them out or drastically change the way we fund the situation with schools.
(Estelle Morris) Yes.
(Estelle Morris) The companies, which of course is now not in the Bill because the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the House of Lords voted against it, and we will have to see about that when it comes back to the House of Commons next Monday, I think is quite innovative and it gives a vehicle, it gives the capacity to schools to actually manage more of their own affairs. Now, this could be as simple as jointly, which I am quite interested in, offering support of their expertise to schools which are not doing as well, but this actually puts it on a formal basis. I think we are evolving over time the nature of the relationships between LEAs and schools, and I do think times have changed over the last five years. I think that LEAs have, and I say this in the nicest way, it is not meant to sound patronising, grown up and realise that in the world in which we are they survive if they provide what schools want and what the nation wants. So when I am talking now with LEAs, that has been one of the great changes in the last five years, and again with recognition of the work that the previous Government did in talking about the role of LEAs, so I think what I want is for LEAs and schools to actually sit down and work out how services can best be delivered. I do not want a battle between schools, I do not want a situation where we say to schools, "You've earned that right to break away from the LEAs" because I am always left with the question, if that is right for some schools, why not do it for all schools? I think that has always got to be the bottom-line question. Don't give some schools the privilege that actually could well be used by all schools. The whole of the school company, the whole of that which operates school improvement, the whole of the selling services is about trying to find the new relationship between what LEAs do and what schools do. I am interested in shifting it and I look to our best schools to actually lead the way, but I do not have a clear view of where we might end up. I feel as though we are being innovative here and we want schools to actually show what can be done.
(Estelle Morris) Indeed.
(Estelle Morris) I am delighted you are going to Birmingham. You will be most welcome and I think you will enjoy it. It is a very good LEA which will be just about to lose its Chief Education Officer at the point at which you visit, so I hope you are able to visit while he is still there. I have to say, and I am hugely biased, but I sense that the relationship between the LEA and the schools in Birmingham is slightly different than the LEAs and schools anywhere else. I will tell you what I would look at. I would look at most how the LEA has kept a strategic role, but left schools feeling as though they are in charge of their own destiny and it has managed to do that trick in that probably schools both feel more empowered and yet they are the ones who most say that they want the LEA to have a role and that is what is different. Sometimes when I go to schools that feel strong and feel confident about themselves, they then follow it on with, "And I can manage without the LEA". In Birmingham I did a primary headteachers' conference only recently. What they said to a round of applause was that they were confident and strong, but they sought assurances from me that I would not cut out the role of the LEA, so the thing you should most look at is how it has changed over a decade from an LEA which I was quite honestly ashamed of to one that now has actually earned the trust of the schools and has found itself a niche in their everyday life.
(Estelle Morris) Sometimes I read things in the paper which I said and I do not even recognise them, so if any politician in the room actually reads things in the paper and believes that that is policy with the 'i's dotted and 't's crossed, they are mistaken. You will have to wait for the spending review announcement and it is not for me to comment on that. All I would say is that the EMAs have been successful in terms of participation. The Government has a Manifesto commitment to extend them, but I think we are almost at that commitment and I think the Manifesto commitment on that is that about one-third of the nation, so we will evaluate that policy in due course, but maybe at this time of year more than any other perhaps you will be able to speculate what might be in the spending review separately, but I am not about to speculate on that.
(Estelle Morris) I am feeling pretty positive about my settlement, but I am not commenting in detail about any aspect of it.
(Estelle Morris) We have to get them right to begin with and one of the problems is with the whole vocational route and, and again I am being generous today, I think the previous Government made huge efforts in this field as well. We have never ever got it right, never ever got it right. I bemoan the demise of the modern apprenticeship system. I think it was a model that actually could have been as relevant today as it was in its heyday in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and I do bemoan its demise. We have to make sure that the product is right and my colleague Mr Mitchell(?) can make sure that is the case. I will tell you how to do it. You assure them that it will lead to something in that if you think of yourself as a parent, you will only recommend a course of action to somebody if you think it will lead to somewhere, so we have to make sure that it is a robust qualification that leads to employment or leads to progression and routes into higher education. I am more confident now that the MAs will do that following the Cassells Report than perhaps a couple of years ago.
(Estelle Morris) I take the point. There are two things on that. Do not forget that a lot of the people going to university will be doing their engineering and IT and they will not all be straight academics, but I take that point. We must not give a message that we are not as ambitious for the other 50 per cent who choose different routes and it is something I have reflected on over recent weeks and if that impression has been given, it should not have been and it must be something to which I will perhaps return at a later date.
(Estelle Morris) Well, we always should be looking at it, we always should be looking at it.
(Estelle Morris) Yes, of course. It is one of those things that supply teachers are always sort of on your desk and you never stop looking at it in some ways because it is such an important area. There are two things. There is my responsibility, my Department's responsibility, which is the checking process of those teachers who come as supply teachers, and then there is the regulation process which is DTI's. Certainly after recent events I started to discuss with the DTI the nature of the regulation and I do not have anything to say on that now, but I do take your point that if it grows and if they become more important, it is always crucial that you update the legislation and make sure you have got the controls you have got. I do not have anything more to say.
(Estelle Morris) I had not thought of that, but given that you have mentioned it, it might be that you will say that that is a responsibility for OFSTED. I will just put a full stop by saying that we always have it on our minds and will keep it under review.
(Estelle Morris) I am glad the Department is so lean! That really is new!
(Estelle Morris) I think what we have done is make semblance of order in the inspection regime, so we actually look at the changes which have been made in terms of OFSTED in the early years and OFSTED working with the HMI. I think that is the right thing to do, but you are right in that when organisations grow like that, effective management of them becomes more crucial than ever. I have already obviously had the chance to meet with the new HMCI and I have every confidence that would happen, but I take your point that it is something that David Bell will have to manage and manage effectively, and that is the point of him doing the job. You are right to say, "Does it not mean there have to be greater management skills?" You are right about that, but in response I would say I am confident that we have got the right people in place.
(Estelle Morris) I notice that, yes.
(Estelle Morris) Well, I hope we have got this HMCI for a few years to come, so that will not be actually at the top of the agenda for a while.
(Estelle Morris) Yes, interesting. First of all, don't forget there is the shorter inspection, but, in principle, yes, I do agree that successful schools should have a more light-touch inspection. Teachers over-prepare for OFSTED. If you speak to David Bell or any OFSTED inspector, they produce more information than OFSTED has gone for and that is because they are conscientious people and it is high-risk stuff, but I wish they did not and that would help with the workload as well. I will keep my eye on that, but just to say that I know you would acknowledge that there are shorter inspections now for successful schools. In terms of unannounced, it is one of these debates which will go on and on and I can see the strengths of it. I can also see the drawbacks and the simple analogy I always use is yes, they arrive on Monday morning, the head happens to be away taking some children on an outdoor adventure for a week, and if I was the head, I would want to be in the school on the Monday morning when OFSTED arrive. I never would say that that is something I would never consider, but it has never actually got to the point where we would do it, so it is interesting, but we have no plans to introduce that at this moment in time.
(Estelle Morris) I have a very short answer to that. I am obviously reasonably au fait with the recent report and I am not saying what you have quoted is not right, I am not saying that at all, but what I thought the main point of the report on that was that in England the link between social class and educational attainment is greater than in almost any of our competitor nations. Now, that is different from saying that the link between selection and a selective system and achievement is different, and I am happy to read the paragraph to which you draw my attention, but on that I was immensely proud of the tribute to our teachers' achievements, immensely proud, and it just confirmed my determination to try to do something about the link between poverty and educational attainment. What we really got from that report was that it need not happen. Other countries have overcome it and we should be able to overcome it as well.
(Estelle Morris) I want to see the formula more accurately reflect the needs of each LEA.
(Estelle Morris) It is not quite that. I am interested in higher education and I have both talked to Universities UK and I have visited numerous universities both old and new. I have had dinner with various vice chancellors, very pleasant it was too, and I have learnt a great deal. What is true is in terms of my own expertise and experience, I still have a great deal to learn in all my areas and particularly HE. I think we have spent some time finding out and preparing ourselves for the strategy document which we will announce in October and what you heard on the grapevine was actually an announcement by us that we will produce a strategy document at the end of October/ beginning of November ----
(Estelle Morris) Yes, and what that will be will be a combination of many of the issues both I and Mrs Hodge have been talking to universities and students about over the last year, so it will not be a blueprint, but it will be a discussion document and I think it will be ample evidence that we have been thinking, doing, talking and listening a great deal about HE over the last twelve months.
(Estelle Morris) The cross-departmental inquiry into student finance, that will be part of it.
(Estelle Morris) Yes.
Chairman: Thank you, Secretary of State. We have enjoyed this session and thank you for being so frank in answering and fielding so many questions.