MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002

__________

Members present:

Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Mr John Baron
Mr David Chaytor
Valerie Davey
Jeff Ennis
Paul Holmes
Ms Meg Munn
Mr Kerry Pollard
Mr Jonathan Shaw
Mr Mark Simmonds

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MR DAVID MILIBAND, Minister of State for School Standards, examined.

 

Chairman

  1. I welcome the new School Standards Minister to our deliberations and say what a pleasure it is, I am sure, for you to be here! It was certainly a pleasure for us when we saw how quickly you responded to the invitation to join us. There was always a slight note of irritation because we had only just got through our baseline assessment and performance review of all the ministerial team, to find that he team had been changed rather abruptly. We wondered whether you would like to make a very short opening statement.
  2. (Mr Miliband) Thank you very much for inviting me. I was quite pleased that within two weeks of being in the job I had had a request from the Committee to come along, and I was very pleased to do so. There is no reason that you should remember this, Chairman, but this is the second time that you have interrogated me; the first was as a callow 21 or 22-year old, fresh out of university, who wanted to get experience of Parliament and to understand how things worked. I came for a job interview the summer after I had left university. Let us just say that I hope you are more impressed today than you were by my performance 15 years ago! I hope I bring a very simple philosophy to the job that I have been given. I am convinced that there is talent in every child in the schooling system in the UK, and our job, as people working close to, and influencing education, is to develop a system that brings out the talent or talents of each one of those children. I attended the North-West Teaching Awards last week, which Lord Puttnam instigated. A newly-qualified teacher came up to the rostrum to receiver her award. She said: "All I want to say is that a child came up to me in the playground last week and said, 'Miss, I hope you realise you have helped change my life'." The whole audience swooned. That really does explain what we are about. There could not be anything more important. I feel very privileged to have joined a department that is "on the up" a department with an outstanding Secretary of State with a very clear vision of the future of education and a passion for education. While we have a proud record of achievement, no-one in the Department is satisfied with where we are. I do not think they can be satisfied while a quarter of children leave primary school still unable to read and write and count well, and while just about half of people leaving school do not get give good GCSEs. There is pride in the Department and I have sensed in the last three and a half weeks a real ambition and a real restless search to improve. We know that many of the children in schools could do much better. My title is "Minister for School Standards", but my overall concern, I suppose, is the learning from 5 to 19. I just want to pick up four priorities and mark them, and maybe we can come back to them in the future at meetings and hold people to account in the four areas. The first is that I am concerned to make my contribution to further entrenching high achievement in primary schools. I think we have a very good story to tell in primary schools over the last five years, but I do not think we should be complacent. There is still a quarter of children who are leaving primary school unable to read and write and count well at level 4 - and there are particular problems with boys. I also believe in an enriched curriculum. I went into a class in my own constituency on Friday, which is one of the most deprived schools in the constituency, and they were learning French. I think that that is a good thing and more should do that. The second area is reforms to change and reinforce the school workforce, all those who work inside schools and most notably teachers. This is about three things. The first is giving teachers more time to focus on teaching. That means support through extra staff, and through our efforts to cut bureaucracy; and secondly it is about more support for teachers. I have been very impressed by the experience of learning mentors and classroom assistants in some of the excellent city schools. The third thing is that it is about leadership, about heads and senior teachers deploying all the resources at their disposal to maximum effect, to most raise standards. I think if we can get the teaching and learning process right, we will go a long way towards getting everything else right.The third aspect that I am particularly keen to prioritise is the step change in standards in secondary schools to which the Government is committed. I think that is, first of all, about supporting diversity but it is also about collaboration between schools. I see diversity and collaboration going together in the secondary sector. Within schools it is about recognising the diversity of achievement that still exists and trying to do something about it. I am particularly struck about the problems of transition from primary to secondary and I think the flagship for this Parliament is going to be what we can do in key stage three up to age 14 to raise achievements substantially. The fourth area that I want to pick out is reforms to upper secondary education, notably the curriculum and qualifications where we have started quite a big debate and a very wide-ranging consultation on the Green Paper. Historically in this country we have struggled to combine rigour and breadth in academic education, on the academic track if you like, with depth and status on the vocational track (or what is called the vocational track although they do interact.) There are some big issues there that I am beginning to get my head round and want to pursue. Underpinning those priorities are big issues about funding, about tackling educational achievement in deprived areas, notably through Excellence in Cities, and through programmes for ICT, which has enormous potential in our schools - and obviously I have to be responsible for them. I would finish by saying that I feel genuinely privileged to be working in education at the moment. I think we have an historic opportunity to combine not just one-off investment but sustained year-on-year significant increases in investment with reform. I would say that there should be no monopoly of wisdom in this task. Those of us who are interested in education - and clearly you and your Committee are - are going to have to work together on this because none of us will get a chance like this again of what we hope is onwards of a decade of significant investment. Have no fear, any good ideas you come up with I will happily pinch! We all have a responsibility to put our best efforts into making the changes that I think we all, from wherever we come on the political spectrum, want to see. I hope this can be the beginning of a serious dialogue. I look forward to learning from you and I am very happy to answer your questions today.

  3. Thank you for that, Minister. I remember that 15 years ago and, if I remember correctly, I could not afford you rather than -
  4. (Mr Miliband) I am sure that is not true!

  5. Of course, you will know that we have another connection in that I was taught by your father at the London School of Economics, which you did have the privilege of attending of course. Can I push you on something that interests me, particularly because I have always been interested in management and the process of government and how one manages a department. When you became a Minister a very short number of days ago I would be interested to know what the job description was or, if you did not have one, what you thought it was?
  6. (Mr Miliband) What I discover you get when you come into a department is a list of things for which you are responsible. Sometimes it seems to resemble more a list of problems than a list of solutions. That is what you are presented with. My philosophy is that the job of a Minister is to provide clarity about three things: firstly, the values that you bring to bear; secondly, the objectives that you have got; and thirdly your priorities. As a Minister, if you can articulate and communicate your values, your objectives and your priorities you will go a long way towards giving the sort of steer to a department that it needs. It is not the job of a Minister, as we all know, to micro manage the Department. We have got 4,000 outstanding officials doing that for us. Our job is to try and add some value. I think the value is to help the Government be a government rather than be an administration. That is the way I distinguish it. That is why when I talk about clarity of values, objectives and priorities and that is what government is about, that is to what I am trying to contribute to.

  7. Do you worry that your predecessor was only in post for 11 and a half months? Here we are trying to run an Education Department because it is a very challenging job. Yes we have had remarkable continuity in terms of the last Parliament with a Secretary of State that stayed the whole course of the Parliament. As you walk down (as I know you have done many times now) what I call the "corridor of remembrance" in the Department for Education where all those photographs are, what is worrying is the short length of time many of those Ministers stayed in post. Does it not concern you that some Ministers only spend 11 and a half months in the job? Surely, you cannot make an impact on a department in a meaningful way in such a short time?
  8. (Mr Miliband) Certainly sitting where I am, I completely agree with you. Certainly eleven and a half months is a short time. I agree with your basic point. It does take time to figure out what is going on. I have certainly set myself the task of using my first couple of months in post, firstly, to build up relationships with you and with the profession and, secondly, to figure out what is going on in my patch. One of the strengths of the last Parliament was that at the Secretary of State level and at the junior Minister level there was genuine consistency from people given a chance to do the business. It sounds self serving, but I hope I get the chance to make a difference. In broad terms, it is clearly right that you want to have a good shot at it.

  9. Can I push you on that a bit. You were in the position until fairly recently before the last Election where you were one of the people presumably giving advice to the Prime Minister about moving the corners of the ministerial teams around. Some of us are quite surprised that here you are in the House of Commons in this much less influential job than the one you had before. Sometimes in the Select Committee we would have liked to have interviewed you before the last Election in your last job but we have never been successful?
  10. (Mr Miliband) I always stuck to being a policy person and did not deviate too far out of that. There is an awful lot of nonsense written about the power of advisers. Politicians, especially Prime Ministers, are much better informed about what their colleagues are doing than the outside world gives them credit for and they pay far more attention to what is going on in Parliament than to what others may be doing outside. I think that the record of the Government since 1997 suggests that it is taken seriously and on length in office- it is important to give people a chance to play themselves in and to do their best.

  11. But, Minister, I have got to push you a little bit on this. You would agree, would you not, that if you were going to say who were the four most powerful people influencing education policy in our country, you would not take the senior four Ministers in the educational team?
  12. (Mr Miliband) In any government where the Prime Minister has said education is his number one priority, the Prime Minister certainly counts in the top four influences on education policy, and I think that is a good thing, not a bad thing. The two most important people are the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister and that is how it should be. We should welcome the fact, those of us who are interested in education, that the Prime Minister does take an interest and that is important for the status of the Department and the status of the issue because he obviously believes that it is absolutely critical to the long-term future of the country and I think that is a good thing. Dialogue between a department and the centre of government is absolutely essential. I am pleased to say there is a lot of dialogue.

  13. This Committee is delighted at the Prime Minister's commitment to education and the Chancellor's commitment to education, we agree with all that, but do you not think it would be refreshing for a Committee that is charged with holding the Government to account to also be able to interview not only you but sitting beside you or following on, Mr Adonis. Would that not be refreshing if you were interested in public parliamentary scrutiny?
  14. (Mr Miliband) I am sure I am right in saying that you will have not only Mr Adonis but the Prime Minister himself certainly in front of you, Chairman, in the not-too-distant future. I will not choose a metaphor, but you will have the real thing there, and I am sure that is going to the top. I would have thought that is a good place to start.

    Chairman: Minister, we will come back to that later. Jonathan?

    Jonathan Shaw

  15. You have talked about bolstering the teaching profession, as we had heard from Lord Puttnam. I do not know if you are aware, Minister, but in a week or so Chris Woodhead is delivering a lecture entitled "Dear David" with lessons for the new Minister of State. I do not know what pearls of wisdom he has got for you and whether that might include how to get on with 15,000 grumpy teachers, to whom he referred, or how you develop positive relationships with the teaching profession. I want to understand the tone that you are going to adopt in terms of the teaching profession. If you were to be instructed either by the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State to deliver a lecture entitled "Dear Chris; lessons that we need to learn", what three things might you point to?
  16. (Mr Miliband) The most important thing for the teaching profession is that it is seen and it behaves as a profession with the support as well as the pressure that goes with being a profession. I am giving a speech tomorrow about the teaching profession and I want to highlight three aspects that I consider to be important to professional status. Firstly, you have got to have the time to focus on your core tasks. Secondly, you have got to have the support - and I think that goes for everything from the IT to the staff rooms that allow you to behave like a profession. Thirdly, you have got to be well-led. When that is underpinned by a continuous professional development that is about keeping up your skills, you are close to being a profession. That is what we are searching for in the teaching profession. The Government side of the bargain is clearly to put in money and resource, but it has got to make sure that it is getting professionalism for that. That is the sort of relationship to which teachers will respond. In my experience they are ready to have high expectations of themselves and of their pupils if they are given the support that allows them to put their ambitions for their kids into practice.

  17. Anything else?
  18. (Mr Miliband) That is for starters.

  19. You mention teachers using information technology. There is concern about the level at which teachers and schools understand perhaps the possibilities of broadband and all that entails. Rather than it being an integral part of teaching, it is very much seen as a bolt-on and kids go into the ITC suite once a week and get a couple of hours. Do you want to flesh it out a bit in terms of your vision of how you see IT being used as a more integral part of education?
  20. (Mr Miliband) My hunch is that it is built into the governing class because of our age that we are always behind the times when it comes to the transformative power of new technology and we consistently under-estimate how much potential it has got as a servant of professionalsim rather than as a replacement for professionalism. After 1997 the Government tried to invest in the hardware but also the software and teacher training that goes with it. The message I get from the ground is that while the hardware is very welcome and the software is improving and the development of the curriculum on line is welcome, we have not got the teacher training right to make use of the technology we have got, and that is something that we need to work on. I asked a head teacher last week in Liverpool, "Shouldn't we be looking to a future where every kid has a laptop?" and he said, "That is old now. What you should be thinking about is every kid having a palm top and the computer suites being there as back-up." He had built a new computer suite and I said, "Is it sensible to take them out of the class?" and he said, "You have got to get the best of both worlds." I have got to spend some time looking at that seeing what is possible but I think there is enormous potential in ITC. For example, I have seen kids doing lessons and being corrected as they go along, which is very impressive. I think the idea that ITC helps children push on at their own pace and stretches them is good. I think you can do a lot more with it. Am I a techno expert? No, I am not, and that means that I have got to tread quite carefully.

    Valery Davey

  21. You came in and you have talked about passion for education and you have talked about young people, so you get full marks for your opening comments from me. You then went on to talk about values and the step change needed at secondary level and again full marks. Can you explain a bit more the values that you expect young people to leave school with?
  22. (Mr Miliband) I think we want them to be ready to be citizens as well as employees. That is a glib way of putting it but it is basically what I believe. We want them to understand what it means to be a productive member of society as well as a productive member of the economy and a productive member of the multi-cultural, multi-faith country that we are, a country that is proud of its history but is changing quite fast. That is what citizenship is about. We are not going to get it overnight. There is the introduction of citizenship in the curriculum, but citizenship is taught not just in a module a week it is taught in the way of the ethos of the school, the way pupils treat each other and the way the class is organised. It can sounds soft but it is important. I think it is about scholarship but also about a wider sense of who we all are and what our role is in society. That is one reason why I am interested in the creative side of education. In my experience the schools that do best scholastically are also doing best in out of school activities, the arts and music and all the rest of it. I think that is important to education. I hope it is something we can push. There is some joint work going on with the DCMS on arts and education and music and education. I am terrible at music - I have got no ear - but I think it is really important.

  23. I applaud all of that. Do you think the Department itself in looking for specialist schools and in some of the other policies which seem to accentuate the academic is giving a good lead to get those values? In other words, you cannot expect young people to achieve or to emulate the values you have talked about unless the Department itself is sharing those values. Do you think the Department shares the values you have described?
  24. (Mr Miliband) I think it is very, very important that the Department of Education does accentuate academic standards. We have to be about excellence across the curriculum. I think that is really important. I do not see a tradeoff between excellence and creativity and value. If we get into that tradeoff we have got ourselves into a very bad position. The extension of specialist schools to include computing schools and the further roll-out of a wider range of specialist schools is encouraging. It would be interesting to see what response that gets. The challenge we have all got is to make sure that within the school and out of school as many children as possible have access to the range of opportunities which at the moment only a minority do. I think the specialist schools can contribute to that and the fact that their mission has to include outreach to children from other schools and the rest of the community is very positive. It has always struck me as very odd that we invest in the schools of state, for example, but that it is not used for half the time. I do not know if it is something the Select Committee has looked at. Coming into Government as an adviser in 1997 I would have thought that was one of the simpler things to sort out; it turns out to be very, very difficult. After school, weekends, holidays - for the children we are talking about who are not going to get the breaks at home they desperately need that sort of opportunity. Depth in that area of the curriculum can widen opportunity rather than restrict it.

  25. There are other members that want to come in obviously, but the policy (of the previous Government, I hasten to say) of local management of schools brought about competition and you could not get the kind of financing in the community that we are talking about. I am not asking for a response at this time but I am asking you to recognise that Government policy has got to enable the kind of things which you are talking about. It is alright talking about these values for children but the Government has got to share them?
  26. (Mr Miliband) If the Government believes something it has got to try and do something to put it into practice. Just as in primary schools we want the basics plus, in secondary schools we want high standards plus.

    Paul Holmes

  27. You are talking in glowing terms of the possibility of schools having lots of access to computers, including palm tops, and that would revolutionise the way teachers deliver the curriculum. Certainly no school in my constituency in Chesterfield could remotely dream of seeing that on the horizon. No school I ever worked in in Derbyshire could ever dream of seeing that on the horizon. The school I lasted worked in up until last year had to make 100,000-worth of cuts in their staffing and budgets for books, etcetera. How do you explain this gap between what teachers and many parents on the ground see and what we are hearing from Government about all the resources and money going into education?
  28. (Mr Miliband) I took the precaution of checking out the figures for the constituencies you represent. According to our figures, there is 900 per pupil extra going into schools in your constituency and I do not think anyone disputes that. How does one explain the fact that life is still tough at the sharp end? One, we were digging ourselves out of a deep hole. You and I would agree that the 120 per pupil real terms cut in education between 1992 and 1997 was disastrous for the country. Secondly, historically we have underfunded education in this country and not given it the position it needs. So have we got further to go and do we need continued investment in education? The answer is obviously yes. What we have got to convince teachers of is that we are going in the right direction and we want to work with them. When they hire an extra 200 teachers, which is the figure in your part of the world, that is a step in the right direction, not an indication that everything has been sorted out, but that the direction of travel is right. The direction of travel is about more teachers, more support through learning mentors and classroom assistants and more support through ICT.

  29. What about the uneven way money sometimes gets distributed? Two specific examples. I know two urban areas - Sheffield, where I grew up and went to school and Chesterfield, where I have lived all my working life and I have children at school and I taught there. A lot of the money through initiatives like Excellence in Cities goes to where it is very badly needed in inner city areas in Sheffield - and my old school recently was getting money from that fund - but there are parts of Chesterfield and lots of constituencies which are just as deprived but which do not qualify for the money from the Excellence in Cities scheme, so you get a very uneven flow of money. Some areas are really starting to benefit and lots of other areas do not qualify for various reasons.
  30. (Mr Miliband) You are raising a very legitimate point because getting your funding formula right is essential. Everyone wants to do everything. It is much easier to review it than to please everyone. Fortunately we are now at the review stage so I can say that we are looking pretty carefully at the issue but it is very difficult to get it right. I think I am right in saying that something like 1 in every 5 that goes through the EIS is linked to deprivation. On top of that there is about 1 in every 10 (or a bit less) that is linked to government programmes to try and target areas of the country that have got particular need. I think Excellence in Cities covers about 58 LEAs so it is quite wide-ranging. Does that mean that there is still rough justice in that? Yes it does. Do it mean we are trying to do something about it? Yes it does. That is the purpose of the review of local government financing. Do I hope it will be better after that review? Yes. Will we have solved all the problems? Probably not. That is an honest answer for you.

  31. If, say, there are seven secondary schools in my constituency and by the next Election three of them get specialist status or people status and the extra money that goes with that, how can that do anything other than have a bad effect on the other four schools in the area who will start to lose the aspirations of parents and pupils to the schools that have this status and specialisms?
  32. (Mr Miliband) I have got one school in my constituency out of five and I do not think it is leading to low expectations on the part of the other schools. Our challenge is to have high expectations across the board and to spread the benefits of specialism where they are adopted to individual schools and to encourage every school to be working towards the development of an ethos or specialism that marks it out and gives it a sense of drive and extra purpose. The biggest form of two-tierism is between good schools and bad schools and that is what we are trying to tackle. I think that specialist schools are showing themselves to add value to the education of their own pupils across the curriculum - and we could maybe come back to that - and increasingly to pupils from other schools. That is the answer to the three or four other schools in your constituency. We want them to access the specialism and themselves work towards their own distinctive ethos and specialism.

    Chairman

  33. Would you agree, Minister, that whoever said it, in whatever place, and you were closer to that place than you are now physically, when they talked about "bog standard", that was very offensive to a large number of heads and teachers and indeed parents and pupils? That sort of description in a sense was very damaging, was it not? As you have just said, the other schools are not bog standard and the other schools that do not get specialist schools status and extra resources may be very fine schools indeed, not bog standard at all.
  34. (Mr Miliband) I hope they are. I cannot remember who it was that said three or four years ago "we want every school to be excellent or improving or both", but any school that is improving will have a sense that it is going in the right direction, that it has a dynamism about it and it gives hope to pupils and to parents. The comprehensive debate in the 1960s and 1970s focused on who came in the school gate, which was a very legitimate thing to do given the legacy of the 11 plus, but comprehensive education to me is about more than that. It is about a breadth of opportunity that serves diverse needs and that has to happen within schools and between schools.

    Mr Simmonds

  35. Can I ask a question about funding. Is it your view that more funding should go directly to schools and certain local education authorities?
  36. (Mr Miliband) I think that certainly the percentages have been increased from about 80 per cent when we came into office to about 86 or 87 per cent now and it is due to rise by an extra couple of per cent. We are moving towards a new role for local education authorities which is not running schools but adding value to the efforts of schools, be that in relation to transport or special needs or music tuition or school improvement. But it is not about running schools. I think LEAs have an important role where the OFSTED process is showing very good practice as well as not so good practice. We have all learned a lesson from where we were 20 years ago. A greater proportion of funding needs to be in the hands of the front-line and that is the purpose of the increased delegation and the purpose of the direct grants that the Chancellor announced in three successive budgets because we have always known, I think, that the head of a school is the most important influence on the performance of that school. If we are confident that we are getting the right people into headship and the right people into senior management it gives them the power to make as many decisions as possible. In the primary sector, especially where you have got smaller schools and they have not got all the systems they need to do all the back-up, they need LEA support. It is a balance but a different balance than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

  37. Do I understand you to be saying from the answer you have just given that you think more money than currently should be going directly to the schools?
  38. (Mr Miliband) More money will over the next two or three years, it will rise by one or two per cent and I think that is a good thing.

  39. So the process of local education authorities perhaps controlling and influencing, as they do certain sections of funding to be going to schools will diminish as time passes?
  40. (Mr Miliband) In quantum terms the amount of money spend by LEAs will reduce. One of the most important things coming out of the local government finance review on the education side will be that schools money and LEA money will be separately bracketed so it will be very transparent how much there is for LEA functions and how much there is for schools. There is a second issue which is how do LEAs distribute money to schools, firstly, how do they passport the whole thing through and, secondly, how do they distribute it between schools, and that is something LEAs have to do.

  41. One of the great complaints that schools particularly in my constituency say to me is that they welcome the additional funds being put into education but they do not like funds coming down from LEAs or central government with strings attached that might not necessarily be appropriate to that particular school's needs. Do you have a view on that? Would you like to see that changed?
  42. (Mr Miliband) The balance between prescription and freedom is one that we are always searching to get right. Let me give you an example. When we first bought in the Standards Fund in 1997-98 it had literally dozens of different strands and schools were understandably perplexed/furious about having to dance to the different tunes for different strands of money. I am pleased to say that the Government listened to that and has rationalised the Standards Fund down to five or six strands of money. It is always going to be in the nature of central government that you want to get some leverage to achieve change at the front line. That is probably a good thing. Excellence in Cities, for example, has really promoted the development of learning mentors. There are now 80,000 more support staff - learning support and classroom assistants - than there were five years ago. Would that have happened if money had simply been delegated to schools? Probably not, certainly not in that quantity. Is it a good thing that we have got that degree of support? Yes. Do heads themselves recognise what that contribution can be? Yes. So it is an evolving process. I do not think one can be too rigid about it.

    Ms Munn

  43. Like the Chairman, I am also interested to know if the level of consistency there is between yourself and your predecessor on some issues. I am going to ask you the same question I asked your predecessor. To start off, you might find it interesting to note that your top four priorities more or less encompassed your predecessor's five priorities.
  44. (Mr Miliband) That is rationalisation for you!

  45. You got two into one or thereabouts, so not bad going so far.
  46. The issue I wanted to concentrate on was the area which has been identified in the Chief Inspector's Report about schools which have got serious weaknesses, and these are the schools which are not identified as failing schools but those which have serious weaknesses, and a concern that those schools were not doing as well as those which were seen as failing schools for whatever reason. I wanted to ask what was your view about that and what you think the Department should be doing to help those particular schools which now appear to be going down hill fast.

    (Mr Miliband) One has to be careful before saying in blanket terms that schools with serious weaknesses are all going down hill fast. I would not associate myself with that. There are three categories which were introduced to me and one obviously is failing schools, where the evidence of schools being brought out of failing status quickly is rather encouraging. You then have what happens to those schools, as you say, with serious weaknesses, which have less of a helping hand from the DfES. Then a third category is schools facing challenging circumstances. Those three categories often overlap and schools move between them. This is a good example where the LEA has an important role in the process of OFSTED examining and where each LEA has a lot to offer. It is clear to me that the LEA has a much bigger role in a school which is in serious weaknesses than one which is doing well. Is there a blanket answer? No. It is about dynamics of population often in relation to each school, it is about what is happening in the LEA. We have the Standards and Effectiveness Unit working on this but I cannot give you an easy answer on this. Sometimes it is about the head, sometimes it is a particular department in a school, et cetera, et cetera.

  47. Moving on from that, because I agree with you on the issue of LEAs taking that issue on, how do you see that interaction where perhaps LEAs are contracting out some of their services and how that happens? Because that is not just the balance of the funding, which Mark was dealing with earlier, between schools and the LEA but perhaps the level of responsibility which the LEAs themselves are retaining and schools are holding on to.
  48. (Mr Miliband) I am pretty pragmatic about this. It is only in the last ten years we have really had sufficient transparency and detailed data to know which are the schools which are in this twilight category, if you like, of serious weakness. We are learning what works and we have to take the practice that exists, whether it be from LEAs or from some of the companies they are contracted with, and try and spread it, but it is a devil's own job to spread good practice. Everyone talks about it but it is a very difficult thing to do, partly because people have their own way of working and partly because circumstances are different. I wish I could say I have a programme for schools with serious weaknesses but I think that would fall prey to the sort of initiative-itis which we are trying to avoid. We are trying to build systems which reinforce excellence and which tackle under-performance. Those systems are based on division of labour from the centre, intermediate tier and schools themselves. There is scope for more collaboration between schools but we have to keep working on the relatively small number of LEAs where there are a relatively high number of schools with serious weaknesses. I actually went to one which has just got out of serious weaknesses in Liverpool last week and when you look at it, it is not rocket science which is doing it, it is determined leadership, extra funding, high expectations, parental commitment and support. It is an easy recipe to say but it is hard to spread it.

  49. One of the other roles of OFSTED would be to try and look at how the LEAs themselves perform. I do not want to lead you down the road of saying, "Because there are concentrations of serious weaknesses therefore those LEAs are also in serious weakness", but how do you feel you are able to look at managing the process of looking at LEAs where there may be problems, because that in itself may be preventing those schools which have serious weaknesses getting the help and support they need?
  50. (Mr Miliband) We have now been through a full cycle of LEA inspections by OFSTED, and for the first time ever we have some grip on the situation. With each LEA there is a team from DfES which is working with them to tackle the problem. There are extreme cases which hit the headlines but there is a far wider span of LEAs where there is serious work going on to tackle the areas where there are problems. We have to stick at it, we have to be relentlessly up-beat about our expectations and our demands for what is tolerable in terms of level and support, and where LEAs have serious weaknesses we have to go in and sort it out, and that is increasingly recognised by LEAs. They do not want to defend under-performance, because it is in nobody's interest, because you cannot hide in this new world where data is available. One thing I would say, and it was covered in the last evidence with Stephen Chambers, is about value added because that gives us extra texture to see what is happening at the school level, and that is an additional element in our armoury because, as you imply, raw data can mislead as well as inform.

    Chairman

  51. There is sufficient data to suggest that certain categories of pupils under achieve quite dramatically. Off the top of one's head, one thinks of girls from the Moslem community, working class white boys, Caribbean young men. Does it concern you that right across the piece there is this under-achievement? Are we doing enough in terms of research in the Department or research we are commissioning to identify good practice in these particularly difficult categories so we can spread good practice? How active is the Department in that sense?
  52. (Mr Miliband) The Department is pretty active but you will know better than I that one of the frustrations of academic research is it takes a long time to bear fruit and the lead times on some of the research which goes on make short-term or fast-track policy making difficult. The finely-grained texture of the analysis you have set out which is now possible does make it possible for us to begin to get into those issues in detail. Of course it should concern us if there are particular groups of the population who are under-performers, we then have to diagnose why they are under-performing, and then the even harder task is what we do about it. Of course it is a concern but we are at the stage of just getting the finely-grained analysis, we now have to move on to diagnosis. What is different about that? We know, for example, and we are having an Adjournment Debate on this tomorrow - a small plug if you want to participate - about education in cities and we know there are particular demands on educating pupils in cities. We now know there are particular issues relating to particular groups in the population and we have to get in and find out what are the drivers to under-performance there and if we can do something about it. I would say we are still at the stage of pinpointing what those drivers are.

    Mr Chaytor

  53. Minister, four years ago the Government were arguing what mattered was standards and not structures, and this morning the Secretary of State has announced a programme of structural reform over the next ten years which completely reverses that. How do you explain that change?
  54. (Mr Miliband) I do not think it does reverse it. I think what she is saying, and she addressed this head on, is that there are structural issues as well as standards issues. She picked out literacy and numeracy as being the primary standards issue. No matter what school you are, you have to have a programme in there to give every child not just the basics, which is the rather derogatory way of saying what is happening in primary schools, but the tools so they can read and write and count well. On the big standards issue we did not think there was a structural answer to that. Now what we are seeing in the Department is the Department pursuing a standards track and a structural track, if you like, especially as we move on to the secondary level. I said at the beginning, we must not think "primary schools are done" because, just to take a small point, the performance of the 25 per cent of those children who are not reaching Level 4 at primary school is a big influence on what happens on the behaviour and motivation in secondary level.

  55. So the slogan is now standards and structures?
  56. (Mr Miliband) As you know, we are always wary about slogans, but we want to operate on both tracks, yes.

  57. Six months ago we were praising our teachers in schools for their achievement in the OECD PISA survey. Most of us were surprised at how well we did in comparison to some countries that we assumed were better. Again this morning, the Secretary of State said the whole system over the last 30 years has shown serious weaknesses. How can we move so quickly from praising our achievements six months ago in a professional context and again this morning saying the assumptions of the last 30 years must be changed?
  58. (Mr Miliband) There is only a problem if you caricature what we were saying six months ago as everything is good and caricature what we are saying today as everything is bad. What was actually said six months ago is let us be proud of what our teachers and the school workforce are doing and the pupils are doing relative to other countries but let us not be satisfied. Proud but not satisfied is not a bad approach. That is a reasonable thing to say. What the Secretary of State is saying today is that there has been enormous progress in 30 years but let us not hide ourselves from the fact that there is too much under achievement and we should be zealous in trying to tackle that. It is hard to get the message right but if anyone can, Estelle Morris can. She has got a way of communicating an authenticity and a commitment to the people that really matter - the teachers and head teachers and support staff in schools. They know where she is coming from which is high expectations and belief in those kids. That gives her a special place to be able to give messages that we all know are true but sometimes avoid saying as well as messages are saying are we not all doing well.

  59. In terms of the future direction of policy, are we taking particular lessons from the countries that tended to do slightly better than we did in the PISA study?
  60. (Mr Miliband) I think that is a really good point. It is something I feel strongly, that government - and this is not a party political point, it is just a general point -

    Chairman

  61. Are all the other points party political points?
  62. (Mr Miliband) I just want to reinforce the point I am making.

  63. Carry on. We have to have some levity in this Committee.
  64. (Mr Miliband) I will try and provide some. We do not take foreign examples seriously enough. We do not take examples nearer to home seriously enough. Scotland has some different traditions and different ways of doing things and we should take some examples from them. We do not look down at our own feet, although we are better at this now because the literacy and numeracy strategy was based on what schools were doing and the key stage three strategy was based on what schools were doing. We have always got to do a better job of looking abroad, especially in an area like 14 to 19s for example. Having said that, the angst that has been created in other countries as a result of the PISA study means that they are not going to be standing still, they are going to be reforming like crazy to try and catch up with us. We have got to be conscious not to copy what they are doing now; we have got to think about where they are going to be heading.

  65. Is there another country that is going down the route of 100 per cent specialist schools for secondary education?
  66. (Mr Miliband) I trespass into territory where I am not an expert. I have seen some Dutch and some German schools that have really done a lot in this area. I was talking to the Swedish Education Minister (and the Social Democrats often gets things more right than wrong) and he was saying the Swedes want to push in this direction big time, more at 14-plus, if I remember. There is a growing recognition that a combination of breadth and depth can be achieved. If you give a school a clear sense of direction and commitment you can get a lot more out of both the teaching staff and the pupils.

    Jeff Ennis

  67. Going back to the theme of raising attainment in deprived areas, the Government have introduced a number of very sensible initiatives like education action zones. I sit on the governing body of a secondary school in Barnsley which I have sat on for 20 years and the 5 GSCEs pass rate has gone up from 25 per cent to 35 per cent last year, which is one of the education action zone schools in Barnsley. We have also had the implementation of initiatives such as the education maintenance allowance in Barnsley and Doncaster which has increased the staying on rate by five or six per cent in both authorities. Is it the intention of the Department, for example, to roll out the EMAs not just to lucky areas such as Barnsley and Doncaster but to other deprived areas in the country as a whole?
  68. (Mr Miliband) We are looking at it. That is the official position. We are waiting for the data to come in. When one is spending a lot of money one has always got to look at cost and opportunity cost. We have got to do that on the basis of clear data about participation and attainment and how much bang for that particular buck versus the bang for another buck. I am impressed by what you say about how it has motivated young people in your constituency.

  69. Coming from a former coal mining area we inherited a legacy of children leaving school as early as possible in previous decades to work down the pits, etcetera, which is no longer applicable. I feel that one of the main problems in both increasing the staying on rates and, indeed, for children in areas moving on to university is peer pressure and the fact there is no history of students in some of the schools I am referring to in Barnsley and Doncaster going on into higher education. What can the Government do to break the peer pressure that is on kids that stops them moving up the educational ladder?
  70. Chairman

  71. That is an easy one for you, Minister!
  72. (Mr Miliband) You are very acute in pin-pointing a culture of dropping out rather than a culture of staying on and attaining.

    Jeff Ennis

  73. This is exacerbated, of course, by the success of the New Deal for young people -
  74. (Mr Miliband) Although that is 18 to 25.

  75. Yes.
  76. (Mr Miliband) The dropping out culture, especially in my constituency where we have two or three generations unemployed, is caused because you do not have the role models at home in too many cases and you do not have the sense that education can make it for you. Of course it is hard. What can we do about it? The biggest predictor of staying on is how you do in secondary school. Kids who are doing well are more likely to stay on. That is why there is no substitute for higher standards in motivation and attainment at secondary school. Secondly, I think you are right, that out of school pressure and out of school provision is absolutely critical to what happens in school. There is this book Nine Thousand Hours which calculated how many hours kids spend in their school lives by age 16 but that is dwarfed by the number of schools they spend out of school. There are all sorts of things as to what provision is there and what pressure is on them, etcetera, that we cannot do anything about. We can do more on provision, as I indicated. There is one other thing I think is important. What is the answer to negative peer pressure? It is high expectations fundamentally. How do you start off a culture of high expectations? I think that universities have got a big role to play in this. We do not talk much about the role of universities in raising school standards. It is slightly to go off piste and I do not know if I am meant to be talking about this, but to me that seems like a big resource for us. Some of our lowest performing and some of our toughest areas for schooling with some of these entrenched cultures and low motivation sit side by side with some of our best higher education institutions and our finest research establishments. The question is how are we using the latter to help the former? It can work in many ways. It can work through mentoring by under-graduates of young people in schools. I gather that Teesside University are doing this for all Middlesbrough school children, which is a fantastic thing. I have to check the facts but they have certainly got a big mentoring programme. It is about using university facilities out of term. That is an exciting prospect. It is about summer schools for kids especially those from families who have never had any experience of university, to go and spend a week or two weeks at the age of 13 or 14 in an enjoyable and high prestige learning environment. That is a fantastic thing to do. In my own constituency we are trying to get higher education institutions to set up an annex in South Shields because we want to bring that culture of high expectations and all that university life means to places that too often write off the possibility of going to university. It is a bit early for me to pursue this, but this is something I want to come back to. I think it is really important.

  77. I am very encouraged by that reply. Changing the subject slightly, the Government has been very successful but we have got a big problem still in schools with recruitment and retention. In the first period of office we have been very successful in introducing a number of very successful recruitment campaigns like the "golden hello", but we have been less successful with the retention figures and I certainly feel the retention of teachers is one of the major problems we still have in the schools system in this country. Why have we not been as successful in retention problems as we have in recruitment problems and what do we need to do to redress the balance?
  78. (Mr Miliband) You basically are right. One reason is it is very competitive out there, we are living in a very, very competitive labour market where people are more willing to change careers regularly, and a taste of teaching for three, four, five, six years can seem a perfectly normal part of a graduate's life. So it is competitive. There is also no point in hiding it, in particular parts of the country there are cost pressures, and it is interesting in London and the South East we have made some of the greatest strides on the recruitment side, the biggest improvements have been on recruitment, and we now have to translate that into retention. On retention, I think this teacher reform, the reform of the workforce, is a big way to get into the retention issue. People develop a sense of vocation and they want to play to that and we have to make sure that their working lives are not cluttered up with all the things which they were not trained for. Estelle Morris calls it a remodelling of the school workforce, and if we can get that right we can end up tackling the retention issue by addressing the professionalism issue. Teachers' pay has now gone up by I think 30 per cent in the last five years. I think we have to have a relatively subtle analysis of this, it is not just pay, it is about status and time on task and what teachers are doing while at school which gives them reward and motivation. If more teachers have the experience of that teacher I mentioned in the North West - saying, "He helped change my life" - that is what makes people stay in teaching in the end, and that is why this remodelling process is very important for the retention issue.

    Chairman

  79. Minister, just to finish, you made a very good speech to the Secondary Heads' Association very shortly after your appointment. Under the "Investment for Reform" section, you talked about, "Reform is about finish programmes not starting them, and piling in behind successful programmes so we get the full benefit of them." In response to Jeff Ennis's earlier question, and we all understand paying for your buck and bang which gives added value, but even governments are fashionable ----
  80. (Mr Miliband) I hope so still!

  81. --- and we look at programmes coming in and out of fashion and we maintain our loyalty to Sure Start, for example. We thought Sure Start when we looked at our Early Years Inquiry was making a very significant effort in breaking through that cycle of deprivation, poverty and low expectation, and one does have to ask you where you are with priorities. There is a lot of evidence in now that Sure Start is very good value for money, it is a good investment and ought to be rolled out. In the same sense I would also include the EMAs because there is growing evidence EMAs work. Indeed, some people gave evidence to our Inquiry into Higher Education that something which sounds like a medical condition, HEMA - the Higher Education Maintenance Allowance - could be a seamless way of keeping those young people from poorer families in education and through into higher education. In a sense what I am saying to you and we are saying to you as a Committee is, part of our job is to maintain our loyalty to products through fashion, and what we will be asking you to come back to talk to us about is where is Sure Start.
  82. (Mr Miliband) Good, is basically what I say. My reading of Sure Start is that one of the reasons it has been successful in the areas it has been tried is that there has been real focus on the details of getting the partnerships right. It has been a quality not quantity approach. I would be wary of judging Sure Start by how much of the country it covers because my fear is that will set up all sorts of incentives which say, "The most important thing is how big is the red blanket across the country", not, "How much difference is it making". On Sure Start for specialist schools, for other things, there are quite high hurdles which have to be passed before the money is released. On the one hand, that means some people are frustrated, on the other hand it means there is more chance of success when the roll out does happen. So I would say, keep up the focus on the programmes you know work but also keep up the insistence that we do not succumb to a short-term hit and say, "Everybody can have it", keep saying, "We are going to roll it out where we are convinced that conditions on the ground mean it will really deliver to the people we care about." That would be my answer to you.

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

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

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

  89. That also comes back to how we started in terms of your opening remarks about the high quality of civil servants in your Department and that you are not a manager. It is going to be very important that you make sure the quality of the management you have in your Department gives you the right answers and certainly gives you the right information in order to make decisions because just before you came in Lord Puttnam was explaining to us how the legislation was right about the General Teaching Council, the commitment was right and the ministerial commitment was there but when it actually came to it the civil servants did not really believe in it and it was a botched piece of legislation. It has taken a lot of work to get right because the civil servants were not convinced of the necessity of a GTC. So we are putting in your mind, Minister, that it is not only going to be about wanting things to happen; it is making sure you have got the people. Do you think you are up to the job?

(Mr Miliband) We will find out. My motto is "under-promise; over-deliver". Let's see if we can stick to that.

Chairman: Thank you for your attendance.