Members present:

Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Mr David Chaytor
Valerie Davey
Jeff Ennis
Paul Holmes
Ms Meg Munn
Mr Kerry Pollard
Mr Jonathan R Shaw
Mr Andrew Turner


BARONESS ASHTON OF UPHOLLAND, a Member of the House of Lords, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Early Years and School Standards, examined.


  1. Lady Ashton, can I welcome you to the Committee. I know that you have not appeared before a select committee before and this is a new experience for you, but welcome to you and also welcome to your new role as a Minister in the Upper House. May I start the proceedings by inviting you to say a few words in terms of introducing your ministerial position and your aspirations for your time as a minister.
  2. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) As a member of Estelle Morris's ministerial team, my lead responsibilities include early years in childcare, primary education, special educational needs, school inclusion, truancy and discipline, and National Curriculum, assessment and performance tables issues for five to 14 year olds. I also lead on e-learning within schools, the schools building programme, protection of school playing fields and school governance. I am of course responsible for all education and skills matters in the House of Lords. In the next few minutes, I will attempt to give a necessarily broad-brush overview of what we are trying to achieve across this portfolio and my specific goals and targets. Our fundamental aim is to ensure that as many children as possible leave school with the education, skills and attitudes they need to make a success of their lives in the workplace, as citizens and within their families. This is partly about building a better educated and more highly skilled workforce, but it is also about helping the one in five children who live in poverty and their families, to use the opportunity which education offers to break out of the downward cycle of deprivation and social exclusion. We are also seeking to develop the schools' capacity to respond to the individual needs of every child, whatever their abilities and circumstances. We know that early years education can make a real difference to children's ability to benefit from their subsequent schooling, particularly the children from homes which are relatively lacking in stimulus and support. That is why we have provided nursery education for all four year olds and why we are working towards our goal of nursery education for all three year olds by 2004. Alongside early years education, affordable quality childcare is a top priority for families. By 2004, working in close co-operation with the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, we will have created 900,000 new childcare places for 1.6 million children up to the age of 14. Our ambitions is that every lone parent in the most disadvantaged areas who enters work should have access to a childcare place. The cross-departmental Sure Start programme is providing a range of support for parents to be and families with children under four living in disadvantaged areas. We are also working to develop more childcare provision that is integrated with nursery education, schools and other family services. I am particularly keen to help schools develop as providers of a range of services to support families between childcare. I am chairing the informal review supported by the Treasury and project managed by the PIU at Number 10. Supporting young children and their families so that children are ready to learn when they begin primary school is a critical part of our strategy. Equally, we are continuing to work with schools to increase the numbers of children who, by the end of their primary schooling, are able to read, write and use numbers effectively. Primary schools have achieved a truly dramatic improvement in the last four years in the proportion of 11 year olds reaching the standard in English and mathematics, which they need if they are to benefit fully from their secondary education, We are providing further support and investment to help schools meet the targets for next year, but it is not about hitting targets in inself, it is about realising the full potential of as many children as possible. There are still very considerable variations in the results achieved between schools including between schools with similar pupil intakes. Every child matters which is why we are continuing our drive to get standards up overall. We are consulting now on new targets for 2004 including, for the first time, the target that 35 per cent of 11 year olds should reach level 5 in English and maths to ensure we are stretching the more able pupils as well as raising average levels of attainment. At the same time, we want to offer, develop and broaden the opportunities for primary schools. In particular, we are looking at ways in which we can extend opportunities for primary school pupils to learn a musical instrument, to do more PE and sport and to learn a foreign language. We are working with key people from education and business to develop and expand language opportunities in schools, colleges and higher education. This kind of enrichment is particularly valuable for children who come from relatively impoverished homes with fewer opportunities for wider cultural activities. The general drive in standards will benefit all children including those with special educational needs. The literacy and numeracy programmes and the secondary Key Stage 3 strategy include materials and support specifically aimed at helping teachers respond effectively to pupils with special educational need. We are working generally to spread best practice and SEN teaching and to promote further inclusion of children with special educational needs. The new revised SEN code of practice will help all schools on the outcomes. We are also committed to raising the educational attainment of children in public care. An important development was the launch in May 2000 of the joint DfES/DH "Guidance on the Education of Young People in Care". The guidance sets out specific steps to be taken by local authorities to secure improvements including designated teachers in schools providing all children with personal education plans and securing educational places for all children in care within 20 school days. We are continuing to develop school performance tables which set out the results schools have achieved at the end of Key Stage tests and the GCSEs. From next year, we will be publishing schools' Key Stage 3 targets results, that is for 14 year olds. We will also for the first time be including in the tables an analysis showing schools' performance in value added terms. In other words, the progress that pupils make between Key Stage 2 and 3 and between Key Stage 3 and 4 and we will piloting value added measures for Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2. The addition of value added measures will offer parents and others a more rounded picture of what schools are actually achieving. Promoting good behaviour and tackling disruption in schools is central to securing high standards for our children. Poor behaviour is a key concern for teachers, parents and children themselves. Heads must be able to exclude children who are violent or persistently disruptive and we are consulting on proposals which require exclusion appeals panels to take a wider range of factors into account. It is important that decisions to exclude are properly considered as a last resort. I am concerned, for example, that black children are three times more likely to be excluded than others. Children's behavioural problems can most effectively be tackled if we intervene earlier and we are providing support for schools to promote positive behaviour from the early years and on. At the same time, we are developing provision for children who are excluded and we are on track to meet our goal that all excluded children and young people are receiving a full-time education from September of next year. At the secondary stage, I am working with Stephen Timms on the development of "education with character" with the aim of building self-esteem, physical and mental health and social responsibility. The introduction of sistership into the national curriculum has an important role to play as do PE and sports. Through the rigorous controls we have imposed, we are ensuring that school playing fields may be sold off only where local schools already have sufficient provision and where the proceeds are ploughed back into education. The Government have invested heavily in computers for schools and IT is now being increasingly used to help pupils across the curriculum. Nearly all schools are now connected to the Internet and we are on course to hit our targets for computer/pupil ratios: 1:8 in primary schools and 1:5 in secondary schools by 2004. The challenge now is to make progress not just with infrastructure but with content: quality, on-line teaching materials. I am also responsible for school buildings. For the last four years, we have been concentrating on addressing the huge backlog of repairs we inherited with 17,000 schools benefiting from major repair works. While the repair work continues, there is now an increasing focus on renewal and modernisation, thanks to the interim investment we are supporting, a total of 8.5 billion over the three years to 2003/4. We are also increasingly using the PF initiative to bring private sector expertise into the design, building and maintenance of school buildings and other capital facilities where this represents better value for money than conventional procurement routes. To ensure that improvements in the quality of school buildings are sustained, we are requiring all local authorities to develop asset management plans so that, from now on, maintenance and renewal work can be properly planned and prioritised in every local area. Finally, a word about school government. I know from personal experience the important and challenging role which school governing bodies play in partnership with heads. We depend on school governors to support and challenge schools on their values, their results and their use of resources. We are currently consulting on proposals to help governors more clearly distinguish between their strategic and the head teachers' executive responsibilities. We are also proposing more flexibility in the way governing bodies are constituted and operate and we are looking at which we can work with LEAs with others to improve support and training for governing bodies. As you will have gathered, I have a wide-ranging portfolio! The common thread running through my responsibilities is raising standards overall by better meeting the needs of individual children from the earliest stages and by action involved in the class room, and outside it, where there are wider issues to be tackled.

  3. Thank you, Minister. That was very interesting; it covered almost everything including the kitchen sink! The Committee will want to ask you some specific questions. Most of the people on this Committee would consider you as an unknown quantity; you have never been elected to Parliament; you are someone who arrived with, in a sense, looking at your CV, not a particular educational background and some members of the Committee will be concerned to know what your passion is, what you care about and where you really want to make your mark. We heard about your official capacity, you have ranged right across your responsibilities very competently, but you did not actually come through as to what you want to do yourself during this given period. What do you really feel strongly about? What is the mark that you want to make?
  4. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not have a strong background in education in the traditional sense, I have never been a teacher. I am a parent and a step-parent; I have brought up five children. I have been a school governor for seven years and the chair of governors for two and I have chaired a health authority where one of the largest pieces of work that I was involved in was on children's services. My background, if you like, is in a public policy sense looking at the impact of government policies on the ground. That is my passion. I am about delivering. I have been on the receiving end of governing policies for 20 years working through business in the community on economic development through other work that I have done in terms of 'How does it impact? How do you make it real?' and recognising that sometimes policies, as they impact on the ground, seem almost contradictory with what they are trying to achieve. So, I find myself at the other end of that telescope and hope that my contribution will be to make sure that we value our teachers, that we value our schools and our governors and we value those who deliver on a daily basis for our children; we support and help those who are struggling to do that; we recognise that every child matters. I am passionate about the inclusion agenda in the best possible sense, that where children are included in mainstream school when they are able to be, that they have the best opportunity, that they benefit from that education but, as importantly, that every child benefits from being in an inclusive school. I believe that our children have one stab at education and it is our job to make sure that it is the best possible one.

  5. In terms of another concern, we on this Committee had a very far ranging inquiry into Early Years, in fact we just recently had a debate in Westminster Hall, and we care very much about that and of course the Government have been very loud in their proclamations of success on that strategy in Early Years and the amount of money that has been spent on Early Years. There is a sense, when one is looking at the Government's new programme and the ministerial dispositions, that there is almost a feeling that perhaps they have done that now, that they can allow that to drift up to the House of Lords and that you will look after it like a night-person/watchman, whatever you want to call it. We would in fact take that as a kind of pushing down the scale of priorities. Many in this Committee are really concerned because we believe in cutting that link between deprivation, poverty and educational deprivation. We think that certain of the initiatives that were introduced in the first four years in the last government, like Sure Start, were very much seen to be the way forward, yet here we have a situation where your responsibilities in the House of Lords means that you are much less accessible to the House of Commons and there is a feeling that the Government are now getting on with 11 to 14 year olds and other years. We are very concerned, for example, that the roll-out of Sure Start is slow, the underspend is great and our concern would be that the enthusiasm in the first four years is not continuing.
  6. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I love the idea of being a night watchman/person; I spend a number of nights in the House of Lords so I suppose that is applicable. I understand that and I think there is always a difficulty being a Lords Minister that you do arrive from a different world, as it were, but I would not want anyone in the House of Commons to feel that I was inaccessible to them but, more importantly, the fact that we have announced this informal cross-cutting review on childcare is actually very much to signal to people that we take this even more seriously. It seems to me that, if you look at the Sure Start programmes, with 437 programmes already designated with 200 running, with an underspend largely because is takes longer to roll out the programme, not because the money has not been allocated, that we have a model which s working extremely well but, by any definition, that model cannot have universal coverage because it simply is not designed in that way, it is designed very specifically to reach particular communities and rightly so. If you look at all the work that is going on in childcare and I have been talking to a number of childcare organisations asking them what their problems are and where they see the future, what we have are a number of areas of some difficulties. Recruitment into childcare, particularly getting men into childcare, is difficult. You may have seen the adverts that we have been running lately, for which I believe we have won an award. There are issues about the capital expenditure required and so on for the private nurseries. My ambition for childcare is that it should become mainstream. I take a much longer perspective than perhaps ministers have thought to do about seeing where we think childcare might be in the future and the purpose of the review - and it is, as I say, an informal cross-cutting review chaired by myself and supported by the Paymaster General with the Minister of State for Women and the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions with responsibility for children supported by the performance and innovation group who are project managing this for us from Number 10, that is a fairly inclusive group, I would argue, and the purpose of that is to examine where we have reached and to start to think about beyond the comprehensive spending review into where childcare goes because I have said that my ambition is to develop childcare into the mainstream. It feels still - and we have done a huge amount - that is still peripheral particularly for working women, and I am one, with children of school age, and I have them, we are wholly dependent on the quality of the childcare that we can provide them. For many women, that is something that is not a guarantee. It is something that they have to be constantly looking at, constantly unsure about their future and we want to make sure that childcare is a very important part, both from an educational perspective and from the working life of the country's perspective.

    Jeff Ennis

  7. Continuing on the theme of Sure Start, you mentioned in your opening remarks the cross-departmental nature of Sure Start delivery, do you see that as a strength or a weakness?
  8. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think it is a strength and I say that because I come from the outside where, when I was chairing a health authority, I worked very closely to develop the county I was working in the links between health and social care. It does seem to me that joining up services on the ground, going back to my point about delivery, makes a huge difference to the children in families and that, for too long, we have had a situation where people are having to refer to two or three different government departments each dealing with different budgets and different personnel. If we join it up to national level, what you are able to do then is engender for people the ground that sets off being part of one process and, when you are looking at children who you are trying to support and parents to be who are trying to support, you need to bring in all the professionals to work with them together, so it is strength. It is not always easy because it is something that we all have to work to do, whether that is locally or nationally, but it is important.

  9. You also mentioned the fact that the current situation in terms of underspend for Sure Start programmes is because of the scale, it is a new project and rolling it out etc nationally with 400-odd places. Do you see that underspend very much as a temporary transitional situation or can you assure the Select Committee that there will be no underspends in future years?
  10. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I would expect it to be transitional. As you know, my colleague Yvette Cooper is chair of the Sure Start group and takes responsibility therefore and I would not want to speak on her behalf on this, but the anticipation is that Sure Start will develop as a model. Often when you are trying new things in any form of life, in my experience, it takes a while to get the model correct. The point about Sure Start is that it is very much delivered at a local level, so pulling together the individuals to make it work takes a little longer and I think that has been the fundamental problem. I imagine that that would get easier but it will be one of the things that we will look at in the review and I will happily come back and report further on that to you.

  11. Finally on Sure Start, you mentioned that fact that it is a new programme and there will be hiccups and what-have-you. How can you ensure best practice and the strength of best practice given that it is such a new scheme?
  12. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think one of the ways is to be sure about what we have done and to be clear about what we have discovered. Two things will be inevitable: one is that it works differently in different areas because there are different needs, different children and different families, but there will be common themes that run through that and we should make sure that we learn the lessons of those. The second thing is to make sure that the model is capable of being developed in areas that are not designated as Sure Start areas. I am very keen that we have a way of understanding in terms of the process, bringing people together, so that any local authority could develop a Sure Start model of its own to build on what has already been achieved.

    Mr Shaw

  13. Minister, on the issue of underspend on Sure Start programmes, you are right in saying that the programmes perhaps take longer to get up and running than first anticipated, so therefore they lose money because they have not spent it. When the projects are applied for, they are costed and, included in that cost, is the capital and they lose some of them, so they are not actually able to purchase, on occasions, the sort of capital for buildings that they want and, from my understanding, there is quite a lot of inflexibility within Sure Start to allow to swop from revenue to capital etc and there is no rollover and so Sure Start programme will say, "This is the building that we want, this is going to meet the needs" and the Government approve it but because of delay they lose that money and then they actually have to reduce their plans. Do you agree with that and what are going to do about it?
  14. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The way in which the Sure Start programme is worked through is, as you know, the responsibility of a steering committee of which I am a member but am not the chair, so the detail of this is not so much in my remit. I am responsible for it in terms of that I am a member of the DfES team and therefore sit on the committees, so forgive me if I cannot be as specific as you would like but that is only because it is not within my remit. What I am very clear about in terms of what we are going to look at in the review is to make sure that we address exactly those issues. My belief is that they are working very hard to make sure that programmes do not suffer because they are delayed. As to precisely what the detail of that is, I would need to consult my colleague Yvette Cooper and come back to you on that.

  15. But you will come back to us on that.
  16. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed.


  17. Are you saying that Yvette Cooper is really the Minister that we should have here because she chairs the committee?
  18. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think she would be able to give you a more detailed analysis of it than I am able to. As I say, it falls within my remit because I have that as part of the DfES and the Cabinet Minister responsible is the Secretary of State but, in terms of the day to day work that Sure Start does, Yvette Cooper chairs the group, so I think you could go into more detail with her than you would be able to with me.

    Paul Holmes

  19. The Government's ambition is that the Sure Start programme will only reach one-third of the (?) policy by 2004. What about the 66 per cent that you want to bring in?
  20. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed and this is my point about having a Sure Start model that you can roll out in that most deprived children do not necessarily live in deprived areas, they live in leafy suburb land in areas of one or two streets and it is very important that we have models that can be worked through for them. When we look at the cross-cutting review, one of the ambitions I have is that we begin to designate and develop the way in which schools can play a role in both Sure Start and Early Years to be developing family based services. Schools seem to me to be the obvious community resource and are often an underutilised community resource and I do not mean, I hasten to add, that teachers should do more than they currently do nor that heads should take responsibility, but we have good private and voluntary sector partners who could be brought in. We have good links with health and I would like to see those extended and expanded: the role of child and adolescent mental health services, the role of school nurses and so one where we have good examples of them being involved in schools on a more outreach basis and I see that as being potentially a model where you could integrate the kind of Sure Start childcare/Early Years developments alongside some of the work we are trying to do on behaviour management, working with families who are deprived and working with adult literacy too around a school provision because school provision is pretty much universal.

  21. What commitment is there for financial resources to back that up? There is a good record of governance over the last 20 years of some excellent initiatives which are well funded and really work and then they say to the schools, "Right, now you can do that as well because you have seen the example", but there are no resources that follow through to do that.
  22. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The purpose of the review is to be putting forward proposals to the comprehensive spending review, so resources are clearly key to all this. One of the issues of our resources in terms of the childcare role is that there are over 40 different funding streams and that has been necessary in order to get money from the European Union and so on, so I do not make any apologies for that. In fact, I am delighted that my predecessor Margaret Hodge was able to do that, but we managed to look at making it easier and more accessible and perhaps reducing the number of streams, but that is all about how to mainstream and how to integrate the services together.

    Ms Munn

  23. Moving on to a different area but with some of the same themes, namely money, the particular area that I wanted to raise was around the schools building programme and the capital. Firstly, I would just like to say that I welcome this enormously. One of the things that I did when I was a candidate in the Election was that I went to the school at which I started well over 35 years ago and the toilets which I used when I was four years old were still there and the concern that that school had around the decay that had gone on with the lack of investment was palpable, so I welcome the programme. My question is, 8.5 billion sounds like a lot of money, but how confident are you that you are going to be able to continue this level of investment? Presumably the asset management plans which the local authorities are doing should be identifying how much overall is needed to get the schools up to the standard that we want them to be.
  24. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. The position is that we used to have a position where there was just about enough money in the budget to deal with the need to expand schools because of children moving into the area but there was not enough to think about genuine renewal and we are trying to now develop, through the fund mechanisms, the opportunities to do that and I do not make any apologies for using PFI in that either because it is a very important tool to do that. What we want to do with the asset management plan is first of all to get local authorities to understand exactly what they have and to have a programme developed so that it is not so much a case of, if the thing falls sufficiently, in that I can think of schools where you let things decay to the point where they have to renew them because, if we keep patching them, they never work well, and it was a great day when I got the money for our school toilets, I remember it well.. So, we are trying to look beyond that to having a coherent programme for the future. We are committed to doing that. Again, this is all part of where we go on the spending review and it will be for the Secretary of State to pull together the whole of the department's programme. I do not think anyone is any doubt as to the importance of getting school buildings not only repaired but prepared in a way that will allow for the technical of the future. School buildings will have different uses in 10 years time to what they do now, so we need a more flexible approach and I am also very keen that we are looking carefully at design and we are looking carefully at environmental issues.

  25. If I could link in with the earlier discussion because I too would be very keen to see schools really as a family centre for the community. A number of schools in my constituency are being renewed and we are getting new schools, but there is a real concern in the community that there is no spacing put in there for community use and the local authorities say that is because there is not sufficient resources and it comes back again to the forward thinking which you are talking about, but also this sense that we have to think across the issues and are we making sure that when schools are built, we are putting in place in order that we can do the things which Paul was talking about?
  26. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, it is a very good point and it is something that, with the purpose of looking at the whole review, building in terms of childcare and building that into what we are doing like extended schools and so on, these are relatively new ideas that, in a sense have been around for a long time, I did not claim any credit for them and certainly I have been thinking schools as a community resource for at least ten years, but beginning to see what that might look like does have an impact on how we design the build and I have no doubts about that, we will have to consider it.

    Mr Chaytor

  27. Before we leave the question of capital, Minister, you mentioned that PFI would be used where it meant better value for money. Can you tell us what the criteria are?
  28. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I can to some extent. The basis upon which we look at PFI is to see what we are able to achieve within that PFI project that would not be achieved simply left to the resources available and that is a combination of factors, not least of course the actual money that you would have to invest at that particular time but also what the outcomes would be. One of the things that I think is important about PFI is because at the end of whatever timescale is decided, let us for argument's sake say 20 years or 25 years, the buildings have to be handed over in good condition. That means that you are building in the maintenance and upkeep of those buildings throughout that time and that is a hugely important factor, so it is combination of what is the investment being made, what is the gain at the end, what will be the amount in terms of the support for maintenance and the support for the school building, removing from head teachers those responsibilities as well which I think would be welcome, and to develop that as part of the long term plan.

  29. That is not a set of criteria, is it? That is a basis of a general judgment, it is not a precise criteria. What I am interested in finding out is what is an agreed, accepted methodology that is applied to each PFI project.
  30. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I cannot reel those off for you but I can certainly get them for you. They do exist and the reason that I cannot reel them off is because they exist both in terms of the department's officials who work on the PFI projects but also in terms of their relationships with the LEAs, so that, as they develop them, they take the criteria but they also look at the particular circumstances of the LEAs. I would be very happy to supply those for you.


  31. Who has the overall control in terms of the quality and design? So many of us are sickened by the awful educational buildings that have been built over the years and the buck passes between architects, local education authorities and the government. We are spending all this money, what control do we have on the quality of the buildings as we enter the feeling of the beauty of the environment?
  32. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed and it is a very interesting and pertinent question because I was speaking at a conference on design at the PFI two weeks ago. There is an ongoing debate about whether the departments should play a more significant role in the design. I have my doubts about government departments becoming design gurus. What I am very clear about is that, on the ground, there are people who are pretty clear about what they are trying to achieve and I do want to see school governors, if it is a school, and the head teacher and the local community involved in some way, shape or form in that design. What I have said is that I want us to move closer to thinking about design in terms of the environmental issue: how much does it cost to heat it, light it and so on, in terms of the flexibility of the building: this building is used for school purposes but school purposes are changing so how much effort has been given and is thinking of being given? And to have designs that are practical as well and affordable, but that the people who are going to live in the building, the children, have some say in what their school should look like. In my own school partly for an anti-bullying project, the kids were asked to take a plan of the school each and to draw which parts they like best and which parts they did not, and it was astonishing to see the unanimity of people, which parts they felt were dingy and which parts they would like to have differently done. If you can expand that and of course include the teachers as well because the teachers have to feel that the plugs are in the right places, all of those things that, when you build a house, you take into account.

    Chairman: Minister, that is good news but all of us sitting round this table have been looking ruefully at schools and educational buildings. My own area is one of the wettest parts of the world and we have schools with flat rooves. How many of us are involved with leaking schools because the rooves were designed not for the climate that we actually live in.

    Mr Shaw

  33. One matter on PFI, please, Minister. One of the criteria, looking at the costs of putting the PFI deal together, are the lawyers' and the accountants' fees. There is one case of a hospital in Kent where the accountants' and lawyers' fees were 2 million and the capital programme was 10 million and it collapsed, but you will be looking at that because that is part of the criteria and there is guidance about how much you should spend on lawyers and accountants before you actually get to putting the deal together.
  34. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, Mr Shaw; you raise again a very, very pertinent point. What I have asked for and what officials are working for is to get the system to be much less time consuming because it seems to take a huge amount of time to get the schemes put together.

  35. Bills keep coming in.
  36. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. We are developing guidance - I think it will be out by Christmas - saying this is what we expect to do in terms of what the mechanism should be. It should of course decrease the cost because you actually have a rigorous approach to it.

  37. If you are saying this is the guidance, if it passes a period of time, will you be saying, "That is it, that is enough, we are not going to allow to continue year upon year. Not only does it cost a lot of money but is also frustrates the community. When is this hospital going to be built? When is the school going to be built? It is a PFI deal, it is some way down the line." Will there be a cut-off point?
  38. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure whether we are planning a cut-off in the guidance because I have not seen the draft guidance yet. What I have said in terms of the steer is that we have to make sure that people understand what the process is, that it is timely and that it deals with the issues that need to be dealt with, but the officials who do work closely with local education authorities when they are getting in trouble, our track record is fairly good -

  39. We do not want them getting into trouble in the first place.
  40. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) What I mean by "getting into trouble" is when they are not sure what to do next. It is long before "getting into trouble" in terms of the project collapsing. The department has very good officials who go and talk and work with local education authorities at the first sign that they have a difficulty and the problems that we have had in terms of timescale I think are about people getting to grips and learning about the scheme but, now that we have done that, we want to be more creative with it, but I fully accept your point, it has to be within measured timescales and it has to be within a reasonable cast and precisely those objectives we have in the guidance.

  41. I think you will be looking at a very firm set of criteria and a very firm case in order that you give that PFI the green light in order that the local councils or the schools consortium can go out and find the finance and they will need to employ their own accountants and lawyers, but I think you should be looking for some sort of timescale because another month and another month goes by and it goes on and on and, if there is not that sort of timescale, it seems to me a model where the department says, "You should be able to put together a deal, this is the model of good practice and, if you are not going to do that, we will intervene." Your department is quite happy to intervene and remove the education authority but perhaps a few plugs should be pulled on the PFI.
  42. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) What you have asked me about is another point and I would be reluctant to say, "If you do not do it in six weeks and two days, you are off" because that is different. I think what you are saying about a clear-cut set of guidelines and a clear-cut time-frame and a clear understanding that this project is going to work properly I agree with completely.

    Paul Holmes

  43. I have three concerns on PFI and I will be interested to see the criteria that Education are using on PFI. At a Court case, we saw criteria on London Underground ...(inaudible)...any public bid would automatically be penalised on the grounds that they bound to be behind schedule and inefficient whereas the private sector were bound to be efficient and always build on time, rather like Railtrack. I hope there will not be any artificial criteria in the criteria that Education are using to look at PFI but there are other concerns about PFI and one is accountability. In some of the early schools, governors were asked to sign gagging orders on grounds of commercial confidentiality and the company which built the school argued commercial confidentiality in terms of running the buildings etc, so you have accountability. Then there are questions that PFI can work against the community involvement that we were talking about early in that, for example, one school in Derbyshire has had the suggestion that, when they have an event in the evening, the company say they will charge a parking fee because they want to maximise the financial return. So, there are very factors here that are very worrying and actually work against schools being community involved in a commercial company which is keen to maximise return.
  44. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I will be as brief as I can. In terms of the public/private cross-benefit, I know that the issue of delay and overspend is an issue and it is taken into account. I do not know about specific examples; I would not anticipate that that was something we would want to do at all, we need to be realistic about what the differences are. The second in terms of governors and gagging orders and so on, I am very keen that governors run schools and that means that they run schools and I would not wish to see what you might call a gagging order. There will be issues of commercial confidentiality but of course, as responsible grown-ups, governors would be quite clear about their responsibilities. I do not want the companies to feel that people can just wander up and say, "This is a dreadful scheme" and so on, but that is about a negotiated position and I want governors to be in the driving seat. One of the issues about PFI is that I do not think governors understand the system - and I do not blame them, it is difficult - and therefore we will have to do quite a lot more - and I am talking to colleagues about how we do that - to help governors understand what it is they are entering into so that they make a proper and genuine decision. In terms of the evenings, yes, I am very, very alive to the issue about who controls the school building outside the school hours because again it fits very much into what I have been saying about community resource and I have already asked officials to go away and make sure that we are not in a position where the governing body could not dictate what exactly is going to happen. So, thank you for raising that.

    Paul Holmes: If all those criteria are there, that will be excellent.

    Mr Pollard: Chairman, you mentioned accessibility of the Minister and I can categorically tell you that the Minister is exceptionally accessible. It may help of course that she is a constituent of mine!


  45. Who cannot vote!
  46. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have three other voters in my household!

    Mr Pollard

  47. I want to move onto Early Excellence Centres. Minister, I am delighted that, in my constituency, I have an Early Excellent Centre but I have to say that it was there before you were in post, so there is no undue influence there. What are the criteria for where Early Excellence Centres are? You know my constituency as well as I do and it would be hard to describe it as a very needy and run-down area, in fact it is about one of the wealthiest towns in the land, so I wonder if you could take us generally through that.
  48. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Because I know your area, I can say that it may be one of the wealthiest areas in the land but it has real pockets of deprivation as you well know. It has a number of children who are living in, I think, real poverty and we do have in all our schools in the area issues of children with low literacy levels, with family backgrounds that lead them to have lower education attainment and so on, so I think that in our communities, however affluent they appear, there are always areas that are deprived and I would not want our programmes to be purely for those areas that measure high on the indicators, important though they are. The point about the early excellence centres is that it gives the opportunity for people to come together and it is very much driven by those areas who feel they can provide that. We want to have 100 of them, we have 47 or 48. We plan to let them develop themselves so that you bring in together the different services and therefore it is driven by areas where we can address a genuine need and what that need is, where we can bring together the services to support that and we can develop and grow and bring in other areas around it and that is really the criteria.

  49. Why have the Government not planned to have an Early Excellence Centre in every Early Years development and childcare partnership? There are 100 that you are planning and there are 150 of the other, so there is a gap of 50.
  50. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Can I leave that to the review?


  51. There is a case in principle. What is guiding the department? Do you want to put these in areas of higher social deprivation? Your opening remarks showed that you were concerned about reaching through to that bottom third who are the most difficult people to get into any form of education and is that not the priority? Should that not be the priority of the department? If we get to the situation where you are going to have one in every local government area, yes, St Albans will get its share, but is it right that those areas get their share when real deprivation is clustered in other regions of our country?
  52. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed and inherited targets are always more difficult to work back and see precisely why we did it. I am a great fan of targets because it keeps everybody on our toes not least myself because you can ask me about them. I think what is important is that we developed a range of different approaches to how we tackle deprivation with the clear view that this is a real focal point for us. The point that I was really making is that I recognise that deprivation exists across our communities and therefore the models we develop have to be appropriate and I think that the investment in financial terms is largely going into those areas of high deprivation and rightly so and it will be the area on which we will focus. The child care review will be the area in which we focus in terms of developing our partnerships but it is also relevant to say that, if you want to make sure that you address all children's needs ultimately, that you develop models which you can move across the community and use resources in that way too.

  53. How far do you think your department joined up in these things? When this Committee looked at a whole range of good innovative ideas to tackle this deprivation, lack of education and poverty, one of them was Sure Start, there were Early Excellence Centres and later on there was educational maintenance allowance, so there is a whole range of packages, and then there are mechanisms that this Government are suggesting and we have asked them to go further in terms of identifying children from more deprived backgrounds to get into higher education. How is the department stitching this altogether or is there one group of ministers scattering Sure Start here, bit of EMA here? How is it stitching together? Should they not all be concentrating in the same areas of deprivation in a more focussed way?
  54. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes, we are stitching it together and one of the reasons why I can say that is because one of the issues that I am looking at in my childcare review is the need for 50 per cent of the population by the age of 30 to be accessing higher education and I would argue that you start really at the beginning because you have to approach children and young people wherever they are. If you look at where a number of the problems are, they are trying to focus on the same areas, but there is a lot to do and a number of areas and, if you are going to work with local partners on the ground, they have to be able to work with you. So, sometimes when you are developing a programme, and Sure Start is a good example, you are reliant upon the local people being able to come together and develop that service. It is not about us driving with hoards of people from the centre saying, "Here we are, we have come to do this."

  55. No, it is not but it is also the case that even if you look at the awards from the Lottery, the fact is that the most deprived communities which have less able people, less middle-class professional people, less people able to put a competent bid through, so time and time again, even with the Lottery, you will see that Jeff Ennis's area probably gets less Lottery money than any other part of the country yet it is one of the most deprived. If you wait for an articulate group of people to get together and organise it, then you are going to have a long wait in some of those deprived parts of the country.
  56. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not think I said that. I think what I said was that you have to be sure that you can put the partners together. I would have said that you bring together the sort of 'top down button up approach', the kind of thing that we have to meet in the middle. So, it is not about people from the centre and it is not about waiting for people who clearly could not do that, so I would argue with you that, in my experience of working in economic development deprivation for 20 years, some of the most able and articulate people willing to do things live in the most deprived communities. They simply do not get access to the resources but, my goodness, they are there and I think that is something that we should not forget, that these people are begging poverty but we should not give them any other attributes that we perhaps would not want to. They are quite capable of coming together and working together, they just need support to do it and that is what we have to do.

    Chairman: Support to do it is crucial.

    Mr Turner

  57. I would like to begin by following up on one of the Chairman's questions. Is there a document which lists, to begin with, you department's programmes operating in which areas? I worked for a local authority before I came here and we had a list of every known programme that applied in that authority though I doubt that it was very effectively joined up until it reached local authority. Is there such a document?
  58. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have not seen such a document. That does not mean that it does not exist because I have not asked to see it. If you are asking whether we can get you the list of which programmes apply in which areas, yes, we could.

  59. And then the criteria because again it seems to me that the criteria is absolutely essential so that I can understand, for instance, why certain programmes do not apply in my constituency and, like EMAs, it is a constituency with one of the lower GDPs in the south-east of England.
  60. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I cannot answer obviously for EMAs. I think the other point you are making and it has been made several times is one that I absolutely accept. My experience again at the receiving end of government programmes, and yours would be too, is that, when you are looking to try out ideas and to pilot initiatives, it is quite often that they look very scattered. They are not necessarily from the centre but they feel it from the ground. What we are leaning towards now is much more bringing everything together and making this fit in a way that is more easily understood and I take your point and hence my part of it in terms of childcare over many years that we have a range of initiatives and what I want to see is how these best fit together, which communities we are addressing, how do we make sure that we do not miss lots of the children that we wish to work with, how the partnerships are doing, which ones need more support and how we provide that support. So I am absolutely 100 per cent behind the idea of joining it up but it is about bringing that together, as I say, in different ways.

  61. On Early Years provision, I tabled a couple of PQs recently to establish how much was provided in each local authority area and what the take-up was and I have been promised you will be collating figures of take-up in 2002, so does that mean you have not collected figures for take-up of places that are provided in this programme yet?
  62. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Do you mean the nursery provision for four year olds and three year olds.

  63. That is right.
  64. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) As far as I know, we have the details of that because we know what the take-up levels are, so we should have.

  65. Somehow they did not emerge.
  66. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Then I will go back and make sure you get those. As you know, it is a moving population, so there are issues about it but the differential is also about the provision that local authorities have been providing themselves and we are just at that point where we are moving universal provision for three year olds where they do look different and the reason they look different is because our investment is in areas where there is very little.

    Valerie Davey

  67. I want to come back to Early Years but the range of projects which you are going to consider in putting the map of Britain and where this money is being spent. W have not mentioned, for example, New Deal in Communities, we have not mentioned Excellence in Cities, we have not mentioned Education Action Zone or indeed Health Action Zone, all of which inter-relate and I would agree with Andrew that it is when it gets to lower government level, for example within the city of Bristol, that you begin to see the impact and eventually you hope there will be a total impact, but understanding on the ground, if you are a low councillor or indeed if you are involved in one of these projects, the inter-relationship is important. Is that something Government are considering and giving thought to?
  68. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Certainly in my area we are because it is part of my conversations with the Department of Health because Education Action and Health Action Zones often are working in the same communities. I do appreciate because I have been on the other end of it that, when you are trying to understand what the difference between these things are, it is sometimes difficult. Targeting resources is a very useful mechanism and I think all government have used targeted programmes in order to make sure resources hit the particular things they want them to hit and that is quite important. The trick is to move that now, certainly areas I am working on, to be more easily understood, to make sure the funding streams now come together. As I have said before, it is necessary if you are going to access all the different bits of money available but, if you are on the ground working out how to apply for them, it is not so easy. So, it is about those kind of things. We are acutely aware of this myriad of different things going on and acutely aware of the need to join up and make sure that it all fits together and that is part of the work of the next one.

  69. You realise of course that none of us are saying "no" to this money coming in. Whatever direction it is coming from, we want it and we will use it as well as we can. An area where there has been universal acclaim from all the professionals in Early Years has been the foundation stage and I would like to just focus on that. Now the idea is coming through that the baseline assessment will be universal and I appreciate the universality approach, but when is it going to be done and what will it be done for?
  70. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The assessment will be done at the end of the reception year, the end of the year when the child is five.

  71. That is pre-school still, is it not? A child goes to school officially, statutorily, in the term after they are five.
  72. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The term in which they are going to be five and you will find that it is now described as the summer after they will have started school, so they will be at school.

  73. This is a difficult area and this is not a trick question and I do not want to get you involved in some of the detail of it but the foundation work could, if we are not careful, be brilliant for what it is doing up to five and then, when the children start school in the term in which they are five, they do not benefit from it and have not had that baseline assessment and I think what many professionals would urge you to do is to look at how important that foundation work is for the five-plus, for the year in which many of us, as older parents, would have called reception year which is now actually year 1. How much of that baseline reflects into year 1 or is indeed part of year 1?
  74. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We call it a profile and the reason we call it a profile is that it is not a test and it should not be seen as a test. It is an assessment made by the teachers in the general course of their work about the child and the reason it is done while the child is at school is because we think children arrive at school from a whole raft of different experiences and it is only after a while of being with the child in the school setting that you can make those assessments and we are looking at, yes, of course abilities in terms of literacy and numeracy, but also emotional development and social development, those things that are crucial to the beginning of a child's educational life, and the purpose of that is to inform up the school and to help work out where a child has reached. As I say, it is not a test, it is a profile and I have called it that specifically because it is about the teacher and it is about when the child is at school and has had some school experience, but obviously looking at how children develop is ongoing.

  75. I welcome that enormously and I think your word "profile" is one that perhaps was reflected in the work we did in the Select Committee earlier on. Can you tell me quite categorically that that work is not part of the table procedure for schools and that it is there for the parents and the teacher to assess a child and help their performance in the future?
  76. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. The only thing I would add to that is that it may provide in the future aspects of value added measure because we will see where a child is and we are looking at that and we have not made any decisions about it, but we are absolutely not testing children in any way, shape or form. It is a useful mechanism to help schools see where a child is.


  77. One of the problems we identified in terms of Early Years was much of the good work that has happened in children getting a nursery place at four and now three, but there is evidence on the ground that children are getting formal learning too early. All the work/research we have had from an excellent woman who has completed her PhD in the development of the brain and early learning and so on showed the danger of formal learning for children too early on and there is enivitably in the process a real push to get children the formal learning. Do you see that as a problem? We heard it all the time when we went round schools. That is what people were saying. Good initiative but the unintended consequence was that children will be put in a formal situation with one teacher and 25 children too early when they should be in very small groups doing more active play and stimulating play.
  78. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Learning through play is very important. I do not want children to get into formal learning too early and I would agree with you entirely on that. The purpose of the nursery education is nursery education. Children learn from the minute they are born, their first and most important educator is their parent. We accept that and that is absolutely right and children learn a huge amount in that learning through playtime at nursery. They learn about socialisation; they do learn numbers and reading and some children are ready to do those things. It is also about not holding any child back, so I do not want to get us back to the position we have also had where children have not been allowed to learn their letters because the nurseries have said "no" and that is one of the things I can remember. It is about allowing a child to develop in the way that a child does; it is learning through play and it is very clearly done in that way and it is not about, we will all sit down now and learn the three Rs which we all agree - and I do not think there is anybody on this Committee would disagree - is not appropriate and you cannot get them to do it anyway because they will not.

  79. Do you recognise this as a problem?
  80. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I recognise that people are worried about it.

  81. Minister, I am asking you. We saw evidence that this is happening, that real children in real schools have been put into formal settings too early.
  82. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) By "too early", you mean ...?

  83. Certainly before they are five and even when they are four.
  84. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) All I would say to you is that that is not the purpose of the Early Years. I have not seen that. I would be very happy to go and see it if you have seen it and I accept that you did. The only advice I would give is that, for some parents, there is an opportunity for children to start formal school because of the way the terms are worked out and the way admissions are worked out in the term after they have turned four. Where parents want to do that, we would not stop it, but the purpose of the nursery education is precisely that. If it is a problem, then we need to deal with it.

  85. If I, as Chairman of this Committee, make a suggestion about people to whom you should talk ...
  86. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I would be very, very grateful.

  87. You would be happy to meet them?
  88. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, most certainly.

    Chairman: Excellent.

    Mr Turner

  89. I wanted to pursue something arising from Val's questions about baseline assessment. You mentioned that it might form the basis of value added measure. Hitherto, you have only spoken about value added measures for Key Stages 2, 3 and 4. Many of us have three tier systems in our schools and there is not really any measure at all that is achieved in the intervening phase. Do you have any intention of providing such an interest for public consumption?
  90. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure. I am very conscious of the public consumption side of this debate and the way in which schools feel pressurised by that public consumption and the need to make sure that we are able to reassure them and make sure that we know what we are measuring. In terms of the early profile, it is about a recognition that schools' greatest achievement is the value that they add to a child and therefore being able to find new and creative ways of measuring that and, as you know, there are lots of lots different ways you can look at, some very simple which is where we start, so I give you a wooly answer because I am actually not sure where we should go on this, it is an area that I want to explore and, three-and-half months in, I have not quite got there.

    Chairman: It is nice that ministers do admit that they do not know all the answers

  91. Key Stage 1 information you do collect, so it is available, you have simply chosen not to make it available to parents.
  92. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  93. Why are my parents not entitled to that when parents of a child in a primary school can see what appears at the end of the process?
  94. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think if you talk to the individual schools, they usually will share information with parents quietly.

  95. You know what I mean on a practical basis.
  96. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The trouble is that this is where we get into the difficulty, what are we comparing with what? In terms of Key Stage 2, the 11 year tables, there is still huge controversy around how we do it, what we are trying to show and so on, and local newspapers thoroughly enjoy setting up league tables for schools in a way that is very simplistic, if I can put it in that way. We need to be cautious about moving in that direction until we are sure about what we want to say by doing it and I am not sure what I want to say by doing it. It is important for us to know what information is, but I am not sure that I want to be saying that to the general public.

  97. It seems to me that you do not trust the general public, that you feel that parents cannot tell that there are some schools which may have less money spent on them, may be in deprived areas and you think that the Minister knows best.
  98. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Heaven forfend! No, I certainly do not think that and I am actually a member of the general public. It is not about the general public, it is about what the purpose behind publishing information is and what that information is actually telling you. We are very clear on Key Stage 2 and now Key Stage 3 that we are able to measure and show where schools have got to. It may be that there is case to be had for doing that within primary schools. At the moment, I have never had a letter yet from parents saying, "I cannot get information about my school, my primary school" because we know that, when parents go and talk to primary schools when they are looking at schools for children, they talk about issues like that.I am fully well aware that parents do not make the decision entirely on that but I am also well aware that on some of the agendas we have schools perhaps find some pupils less attractive and, therefore, it is important to keep that balance. What I am saying to you is I do not know yet and I will keep looking at it.


  99. Minister, many of us on this Committee would say that what we are discontent about is the arid nature of the performance tables that are published that do great damage to the education process. I do ask you to look at two or three of the speeches which alluded to this last evening in the chamber of the House of Commons where many of us were arguing that what should be published is what added value a school brings to a pupil. Most people in the educational system I know are absolutely sick to the back teeth of reading reports of performance tables that put, yes, one of the most exclusive girls' schools in London right at the top for A level results. Surprise, surprise, when the intakes were all girls with ten A star GCSEs. Quite honestly, you would have taken local teachers out and hung them if they had not done the trick. In my own constituency, Greenhead College, Dr Kevin Conway, looked at this new system, some of the colleges have already done this and a network of colleges said "What added value do we give that". Taking people who have got Cs and Ds at GCSE and working out what you did in terms of added value, there is a possibility of publishing added value. There would be a wonderful counter-value influence on the arid ones that we know, that we have seen. Why does the Government not get its act together and start publishing, commission someone to do it to actually give us value added and that would help a lot of schools who do the hard work with more difficult pupils but do a really very good job as most of our teachers do?
  100. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We are publishing the first piloted value added this year.

  101. Oh.
  102. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Next year we will publish value added on Key Stage 3 and then we move to value added on Key Stage 2.

  103. Who is doing that for you?
  104. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think that within the Department statisticians are doing it. I would strike a note of caution as to why I really am seriously thinking about league tables in the broadest sense. I hear everything you say and I have said it myself as a chair of governors. We need to be cautious about what value added itself can do because I think a lot is riding on people's interpretation of what this is somehow going to show. The basic value added measure is taken where a child began and where they end. It will show to us schools that are doing exceptionally well across the spectrum with children and it will show schools that are doing fine and you may argue schools that are probably coasting as well, and schools that are not doing so well. What it is not is a very sophisticated measure yet because we know that there are children who are in our schools who have got a multiplicity of different things going on in their lives. The fact you move them from one thing to another is incredible from where they are. They are very individual stories and individual cases. So there are two things I am looking at. One, that we get the first bits of value added out but we get them out with the right expectations, this is not the end of the story, this is us moving on to be more sophisticated. What you will see will be better but I think it is probably not all we can do. The second thing is in presentational terms. I want to make sure that we are highlighting the schools that are doing well across the board. It is not just of the school that is top of the league table that we all say "Well, of course it is, it should be, with the resources and so on that it has it should be that". I celebrate that too, that they do well. It is about also the schools that we want to say as a Department we are particularly proud of the things that they are doing as well. So there is a kind of presentation and, it is about what we can achieve with value added.

    Mr Chaytor

  105. Just pursuing the value added idea. You said next year will be the first year in which the pilot studies are published.
  106. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) This year Key Stage 3.

  107. In terms of Key Stage 2.
  108. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Next year.

  109. Then will that go nationwide for the following year?
  110. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I think it is 2003 we get everything on to value added. I will correct that if I am wrong back to you.

  111. On the question of Key Stage 2 and the SATs, I have a primary school in my constituency where the head teacher was recently accused and following an investigation by the local authority I understand subsequently admitted intervening with the process of the tests. He was immediately suspended from duty subject to investigation. The Governors then had to decide, after the outcome of the investigation, what to do. They decided to reinstate him. My question is what can be done to reduce the possibility of head teachers or classroom teachers interfering with the administration of the tests? Secondly, where there is clear evidence - and I am not saying this is the case in my constituency, as I am not familiar with the latest details - that a teacher or a head teacher has intervened in the process, is it right that person should be reinstated following suspension from duty?
  112. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) First of all, I think it is a very sad case. I think the first thing I would say about what can be done is that I think schools need to be aware of what pressure they are putting themselves on teachers. I am well aware that instantly people will say "Well, it is the Department which puts all the pressure on". Yes, we do keep the pressure up but we also do try and support schools. I do know that in some schools some governing bodies and some parents put enormous amounts of pressure on the heads. I think the governing body has to take some responsibility for saying "Was it not aware that the head was feeling this kind of pressure? Who was the head able to talk to?" and indeed the LEA and the LEA advisors, so there is that support system. You can never support somebody who effectively cheats and allows a school to cheat because, apart from anything else, it is the worst possible educational example you can set for children. Individual cases will warrant different responses. I would not comment on an individual case I do not know about, the governors have got to take into account a whole raft of other issues. We cannot countenance cheating, it is not fair on the kids, they lose out because if that is found to be the case then they do not get the credit for what they have achieved. It is not what the system is supposed to be for.

  113. If I can pursue the two aspects of the point. It seems to me there is an issue over the design of the test that makes it possible for teachers to manipulate the pupils' performance. Is there any debate within the Department or between the Department and the QCA about changing the design of the test so it is more foolproof? That is the first point, is it not possible to design a foolproof test?
  114. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) There is always discussion about changing the test, I suppose for that reason. I do not know if you can do a foolproof test. I think we also have to be careful about saying we cannot trust our teachers. The vast majority of teachers do these tests properly. They make sure that the tests arrive with the children and then they believe confidently that they have taught the children to the best of their ability. I would not want to be in a system where teachers felt we did not trust them because we do. In those odd cases I am much more concerned with what leads up to that in a way and people feel that is the way they should react, particularly good heads.

  115. Is there any discussion with the QCA about the nature of the tests at the moment with a view to minimising the possibility of cheating or, if not, would you be prepared to have such a discussion?
  116. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I will certainly go and find out for you. I am not aware of any. We look very carefully at the number of incidents reported to us of interference with the test and obviously each one is checked out because sometimes they have no substance to them, inevitably. My understanding is that we are very clear with LEAs and schools the procedures that they should follow for the tests so we are clear and they are clear. I do not know if we can do a foolproof test. I will certainly go and ask if that is happening and come back to you.

  117. On the other aspect of the problem, that is the Government's response because this comes within your sphere of concern as well.
  118. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed.

  119. I am not asking you to comment on any individual case obviously. On the hypothetical case, if a head teacher admits that he or she intervened in the process, do you think it is acceptable that that person is reinstated or ought it to be a dismissible offence? What does it say about the governors' powers and responsibilities? Is there a need to review that if a governing body were to reinstate someone who was clearly found to be cheating?
  120. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) These cases are so rare that there is not an obvious response I can give you. I only mean that because the governing body would have to take into account every other factor to do with that head teacher and would need to seek advice from the local education authority as well. It is a serious thing to have done and I would not expect governors to take decisions lightly. It is so rare that you could not have a blanket view on it.

  121. Not an automatically dismissible offence?
  122. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not think you could. Now, I may have to go back and say "Well, do I need to think about that, is that right?" This is the only case that I can think of that I know about, at the moment. It is rather like anything that is so rare, you would have to look at it in real detail. I think the LEA, I am sure, will be playing a huge part in that as well and advising the governing body and I am sure would come to us if it felt there was something which was amiss.

    Valerie Davey

  123. Can I take up the issue of the inclusion policy for the outcome targets. We are encouraging schools clearly to take youngsters and integrate. I have got a school in my constituency which is doing that so well that parents are coming and saying: "Please take my autistic child into mainstream. You have done such a good job". That is completely to be praised, they are doing a really good job. But, the time and effort and energy on staff going to meetings, on parental involvement, is enormous and then at the end of the day the SATs results, the test results, of course, reflect the inclusion of those children. There is a real tension though between those two policies: high expectations, inclusions. How can we help give a school like mine the encouragement to do a very good job without being penalised?
  124. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) This is my point about delivery on the ground, it sometimes feels contradictory. The school I chaired governors of also had a policy of including children and, therefore, never found itself at the top of the local league tables and never could in that sense. It is about not under valuing the progress as well that children who have got special educational needs make. It is an area where I am really, really interested in trying to resolve that dilemma. As I say, early in my career, I have not solved it yet but I recognise it is a real dilemma. I believe that every school should want to include children, where it works, and it does not always, and I make no apologies for saying that. I believe that it is good for all children to work alongside children of different abilities, as I believe it is important in terms of multi-culturalism and multi-faith as well. There are lots of issues around it if you are going to then focus on any one measure, hence value added being an important part of that, but I would be pushing hard for schools to be as inclusive as possible.

  125. Could I ask you to take this up with Ofsted.
  126. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I have.

  127. In a previous meeting we did get a recognition by Ofsted that where you had a large movement of children moving in and out of an area that affected school outcome. I think an example we had was an air force base where children were coming and going and it really affected the outcome.
  128. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  129. You are, I gather, asking them about this inclusion policy, therefore, and what their approach would be and how they advise?
  130. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. I met with Mike Tomlinson this week and we are going to talk specifically and separately about the whole inclusion agenda. He is very keen to ensure that the Ofsted inspection regime recognises that. I am very keen that as part of the inspection and the importance to parents, the schools that have a good inclusion policy are given credit for doing so and that parents understand how beneficial it can be when it works well to all their children, whether they have special educational needs or not. I think Ofsted, my impression certainly is Mr Tomlinson is completely on board in doing this. We recognise it is a lot to do

    Valerie Davey: Can I say how much this school and others would welcome your statement today and I hope that Ofsted too would get their operation on the ground recognising what we have said.

    Chairman: Meg, is this a new point or do you want to continue with the others?

    Ms Munn

  131. It is following up with the other area of inclusion which you mentioned at the outset which is children looked after by the local authority.
  132. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  133. I suppose the issue I just wanted to explore for the moment with you on that links to another area you mentioned at the outset which was exclusion panels and children with difficult behaviour, children who are looked after by the local authority and have a long history of a difficult childhood which is not their fault, their needs relate to behavioural things. While you may be able to win the argument in terms of actually including the children who have got disabilities, it can be extremely difficult for other parents to accept that a child whose behaviour is disruptive through their own experiences also needs to be included. How are you going to actually balance up this dilemma and this tension between the child with difficult behaviour who needs to be included and a normal child who is in front of the exclusion panel for violent behaviour?
  134. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) It is difficult. The first thing to say is that there are only so many expectations that we can put on teachers to be able to deal with all the children. So inclusion is also about making sure you have got the expertise available to the schools to support them. For example, I want the special schools to play a role in that working alongside main stream colleagues to support them and help them. Where you have children who are violent to other children or to teachers, then the power to exclude must exist. What we would want to do is be working with children from an earlier age particularly to make sure we address some of those behavioural problems that they have. I have a mantra that I might just repeat to the Committee because those who have heard it will smile. It is that I believe that when a child arrives at a school with its rucksack, with its ruler and its pencil case it should also have its special educational needs kit in there as well. We often wait far too long before we put in place the measures that will support children and schools battle for too long to get resources to do it. I will just put that in a box for a moment. In terms of children who are looked after, I recognise that they are less likely to achieve, I recognise that they are more likely to have emotional, behavioural problems. We have got to make sure that support is given to the school to support the child in the school and not expect the school to simply be able to take them and deal with it. We need to monitor it. I have just started to look at what other things we can put in place. It is a new policy area for me, obviously, as a new Minister, and I am very keen that we develop, alongside colleagues in the Department of Health, ways of doing that.

  135. Can I put a real plea about this. I understand why you are saying children who are violent, there must be the power to exclude, but from years of experience of working with these children that is yet another rejection and it feels to them like it is their fault. It makes matters considerably worse and their likelihood of ever achieving education goes down. Now there are areas which are looking at schools pooling their resources with the help of the education authority to actually enable children to be taken out of the school for a period, up to six weeks or so, and then be put back into the school. So they are not going through the process of exclusion because exclusion is as much, in my view, a failure of everybody involved with that child, not just the school but whoever else has been involved in that, rather than the child feeling like a failure.
  136. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I agree and I think there is something about the word exclusion, is there not, that we have got to look at. I do want to in the course of my time at DfES, however short or long that is, look at this. Having, as a chair of governors, excluded children, I find it an entirely negative process. I was often doing it in order to get the child the help they needed. First of all, the fact that we are going to have full time education in pupil referral units for all children excluded will make a difference because exclusion also means kids just being left to their own devices and that always worries me a great deal. The fact is they will not be excluded to do that, they will be excluded in order to go to other kinds of education. If I could find a way of reworking the phrase even, or reworking what we mean, if a kid is expelled for being, whatever, that is one thing but often these children we are describing are being excluded in order to get help and I undertake to do that.

    Chairman: Minister, we have a few minutes left. I want to get every questioner in if I possibly can.

    Jeff Ennis

  137. Minister, changing the subject and moving on to what I consider to be another excellent Government initiative, that is the establishment of neighbourhood nurseries. I understand the Department have recently issued guidelines to the LEA and the LEA partnerships in terms of drawing down the funding. It is my understanding that there is a capital limit being placed of 2,000 per placement in terms of capital funding which obviously does not lend itself to building a brand spanking new neighbourhood nursery. So can we take it from that that the intention of the Government is to use existing community facilities and buildings? Are we intending building neighbourhood nurseries as extensions into primary school campuses that do not have nurseries? What is the ideal model as far as you are concerned for drawing down the funding to establish neighbourhood nurseries?
  138. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure yet and that is part of the review. I do not want to spend money on building new nurseries if we have got existing facilities that we could use. I do not want to build institutions that we cannot sustain in the longer term. That means making sure we have got the funding available not just over three years but much longer. I do want to look at what we mean by neighbourhood nursery in terms of how it integrates with other services so I do not know yet. I will be able to come back to the Committee after the review and give you much clearer ideas about that.

  139. One further point. I am still on the theme of the early years partnerships. The clarion call of this Government since it came into power in 1997 in many respects has been establishing community partnerships. The early years partnerships now is one of a plethora of other community partnerships. What sort of linkages do you see that early years partnerships will have to make with other community partnerships and why?
  140. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Often the community partners are the same people, it is also what happens in communities. What I hope is that local authorities as they develop the different kinds of partnerships that they need will be mindful of what else is in place and start to move to integrate those. I think there are some things we should not make too much of a clarion call from the centre on. There are partnerships because it is professionals coming together that need to work together in genuine partnership and there are partnerships that are broader where you need to make sure those people are represented. I think that is for the local authority to look at how they bring together in a community the partnerships.

  141. Just one supplementary to that. Do you see the need for the early years partnership to have a very close working relationship with the economic regeneration partnership or forum in a particular area? If you do, why?
  142. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do, and I do because the LEAs' partnerships are about excellence standards, people being able to think about their futures, the way in which we develop the workforce in that community in terms of the people working in the early years partnerships and also child care for people to go back to work. All these things are economic and educational brought together.

    Mr Shaw

  143. Minister, you are in charge of ICT.
  144. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  145. I see you are a director of
  146. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not. I have no outside interests at all now. I resigned them all on becoming a Minister.

  147. Nevertheless, you have a background, an interest.
  148. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) A great interest in it, background is pushing it.

  149. I think we are together on that. The Prime Minister has said that he wants the UK to be the most advanced in terms of broad band by 2005 and, indeed, he mentioned it at the CBI Conference. Now, has the Department made an assessment of the schools that are using broad band and also the band width which they are using? You are in charge of content quality in terms of ICT. In order to really get the content quality there needs to be between two and ten megabytes in order to be able to access things like video conferencing in order for them to be really effective. Certainly the head teachers that I speak to in my constituency have an interest like you and I but do not know. What assessment has been made? What is the Department going to do to ensure that there is the width available to get the quality? It is not just enough to say they have got broad band and then actually all it does is a small improvement on the internet.
  150. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I smile only because we have spent a long time on these issues in the Department and there are teams of people working on them. First of all, we are working very closely with schools on the assessment and, secondly, the minimum standard would be two. There is a recognition that we need to keep that under review. The big issue at the moment really is that we have got schools wired up but we have got to move beyond what I call the plateau. They are wired up but where next and it is a big mountain to go from where we are now in order to provide the quality of content to every school in a way that they can access easily.

  151. If we are to be at the cutting edge, are there targets in terms of broad band for schools?
  152. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am not sure we have set a target yet but we will because we want to do that.

  153. 2005 is the Prime Minister's target for the UK.
  154. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed. So we have a target, the Prime Minister has given one.

  155. You are confident that they will have two megabytes by 2005?
  156. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am pretty confident we can do it reasonably quickly. The thing that I am most interested in at the moment is, in a sense, not so much the infrastructure, which at one level we have started on, it is about making sure that schools can use it properly and have got the right kind of support in terms of the technical support at school level to make sure they use it and that they are using it across the curriculum and not simply as an ICT subject. There are a whole raft of things I want to do around that.

  157. That is very refreshing because capital is one thing but actually a lot of things in public service you build up when you put something in you need to service, so you are looking at revenue support.
  158. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, and looking at what the creative mechanisms are to put service provision on the ground for schools, making sure that suppliers supply good quality equipment and giving schools recognition of what is a good quality supplier and ways in which we can kite mark that almost, making sure that teachers who are teaching are using ICT and know how to, the quality of the information and support we give them, the role of vectoring that which we are reviewing at the moment so that schools are comfortable and able. Then when we do provide this fantastic material we are, no doubt, going to provide online, they can actually use it and use it properly without the system crashing or without being fearful.


  159. Perhaps, Minister, you could give the Committee a note on where the Department is in the preparation?
  160. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am very happy to do that.

  161. Can I ask you something that I asked the Secretary of State two weeks ago. It is in response to the general discussion about faith schools. Would you be happy, as a Minister, to see most of the Muslim children in the urban communities throughout the country in separate education?
  162. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I am going to answer it slightly circuitously, only because I want to make a point. In places like Bradford we have a large number of Muslim schools, they are not in the state sector, they are in the private sector. I would like them to be in the state sector, they would like to be in the state sector. The reason I would like them to be in the state sector is because I believe in the national curriculum, I believe in our citizenship programme and I believe that there are many ways to integration and that you can take communities and allow them to flourish where they are as long as you have the ability to bring them together with other communities as equals. There has been a long running debate all across our planet about how you achieve integration from those who believe it is an ultimate part to those who believe it is about allowing people to flourish as a group and then join as equals. I think we have always had a multi-view of how we do this in a society. We have allowed Church of England schools and Catholic schools to provide good quality education for a long time and Jewish schools and now Sikh and Greek Orthodox. I see no difficulty with providing for Muslim schools but as they come into our state sector then they are part of the process of having a multi-faith, multi-cultural integrated society which has got cohesion and that is what I want to see.

  163. Has the Department a percentage of children of school age who are in separate education at the present moment?
  164. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I do not have those figures. I can say it is not my area but I do not know. If we have them we will provide them.

  165. Linked to that, you have a responsibility for citizenship education. How do you view that? All of us I think in this Committee have something of a familiarity with the work of Professor Bernard Cregg. Where are we in terms of the education on citizenship and are you happy with its progress?
  166. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Indeed, I chair the group that is looking at citizenship because I take a very strong interest in it. It rolls out into secondary schools from next September in full and already exists in primary schools. I want to make sure that we develop a citizenship agenda in a way that is about allowing children to grow up as adults and feel part of our society and they have a contribution to make. It is also about their participation in democracy, which I think is important, that they see the value of that but also understanding their place in society which is multi-faith and multi-cultural and what role they can play. I think focussing on that, and providing the information and support, particularly in present times, is really important. I am pleased with the way it is going. I am pleased with everything from how Ofsted are looking at it through to how the curriculum is being developed, it is looking pretty good.

  167. Should there not be a lifelong learning parallel with citizenship? Many of the parents of the children we are talking about in terms of education will be people who have had very little knowledge of some of the workings of British democracy. There is an argument that the way in which the United States, France or Scandinavian countries handle citizenship in terms of adult citizenship, and the test or hurdles that one produces in all of the cases of citizenship, actually if we had a similar system would support children in school in terms of their citizenship education. Has the Department thought of looking at other countries' ways of doing this sort of thing?
  168. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I genuinely do not know and that is because I inherited the citizenship agenda already worked through in terms of what we would do with it. I am sure my colleague John Healey, with his role with lifelong learning, will be someone to ask but I am happy to go and ask him so that when he comes here you can ask him directly.

  169. It was fascinating when this Committee went to Denmark to see the Hans Christian Andersen Centres with little Danes who are taught to be little Danes in a way which is totally alien to the traditions in this country with no mention of different cultures or diversity or pictures on the wall, everything has to be about Denmark or Danish. Indeed, parents not only have to have their citizenship qualifications, if they do not take their citizenship programme and learn Danish they lose benefit.
  170. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Gosh.

  171. It is a very different system from what we are used to in this country..
  172. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) It is.

    Chairman: This Committee is quite interested in that area, having visited the United States recently and Denmark.

    Mr Chaytor

  173. Could I just bring us back to the question of inclusion with particular reference to the new code of practice on special educational needs.
  174. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Yes.

  175. One of the problems that comes to my constituency most frequently is that of parents who cannot get the level of support they think they ought to have for their child in mainstream school. I noticed in the new statement there are more specific requirements for SEN statements to specify the exact levels of support, and even the number of hours of support a child would need. Now I also noticed that next financial year there will be a 91 million allocated to this. Is that going to buy all the support that is anticipated or will I and other Members of Parliament still find people in our surgeries in 2002/2003 saying "This is what my child statement says but the school cannot afford it"?
  176. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) The 91 million is not the only amount available, that specifically was increased in the standards fund from 82 to 91 to provide support and training on the guidance for children.

  177. Is there an increase in the allocation for the staffing as necessary?
  178. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) There is. I am fighting very hard for the figure which I cannot find, of course. I take your point and the point you are making is that this is a resource intensive area, and I accept that. On the code, the reason that we put the code back, in terms of quantification, to where it was before, we have not made a change, was because I received a large number of letters from parents and you as Members of Parliament - maybe not you specifically but Members of Parliament - and Members of the Lords made representations and, therefore, because it was my area and with the support of the Secretary of State I withdrew the Code in July in order to reflect on it. I have subsequently made some very small changes to tidy it up and the specific change of reverting back. It is not my intention that the Code should in any way suggest to parents that we have anything other than their interest and their children's at heart. That is the first thing to say. In terms of the resources, yes we are going to have to keep a very careful eye on resources. Yes, we do want local education authorities to think very carefully about the quality and quantity of support. We recognise that we are going to have to keep those two things very firmly in our view.

  179. Can I just ask one other thing on the code. One of the most common complaints from parents also is the time taken to get a statement for their child because of the bureaucratic processes to go through. I noticed in your speech in the Lords the other night you referred specifically to the reduction of bureaucracy that would be brought about by the introduction of the code. Can you tell us exactly which parts of the bureaucratic processes will now be slimmed down and is this going to lead to a speeding up of the timescale which it takes to complete the statements?
  180. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I fear it will take me too long to go through the detail and I do not have it to hand so I will give it to you and make sure that it is sent. There are different parts of the code where that applies. The purpose overall is to take out the bureaucratic machinery, things that do not matter, and make sure that assessments are done as quickly as possible and statements are published and those are very clear guidelines within the code.

  181. Are there any targets for the timescale to complete a statement?
  182. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) I believe we have put some detail in that but I cannot actually recall precisely the details of the number of weeks but I will send that to you.


  183. Minister, what will concern this Committee is what is the correlation between special educational needs and statements and perhaps postal code deprived areas. Many of us represent areas where we are amazed to see more statements arrive from the more affluent parents of the constituency and not from the more deprived. Is there not a level at which special educational needs statements are actually used by more motivated parents to get special resources for their child and very often they are not the children who need their help? Is there any evidence that statementing is higher in more affluent postal code areas and lower in less affluent postal code areas?
  184. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Not that I have seen but remember statementing is for very particular kinds of special educational needs. There are lots of children who have special educational needs who do not have statements and, therefore, the interesting fact would be to look at areas of deprivation on a number of children in schools who are on the special educational needs register. Where children have statements it is often because they have quite complex needs and that actually does not follow necessarily areas of deprivation. You have to be a bit cautious about what you are looking at. What I do know is that parents will say some LEAs are more reluctant to provide statements and we are putting huge pressure to make sure that with the code you cannot have blanket policies any more, you cannot refuse a statement where it is obvious it should be and bring professionals in to support that.

  185. What is Professor Lesley Abbott from Manchester Metropolitan University doing? I think she is doing something between 0 and three. It is supposed to be at curriculum under threes but we were slapped on the wrist by your colleague, Stephen Timms, for using that term. What is the role of Lesley Abbott?
  186. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Lesley Abbott is not one of my advisors so I cannot comment.

  187. According to your colleague, Stephen Timms, Professor Lesley Abbott has undertaken quite a lot of work for the DfES for 0 to three year olds which Stephen Timms described as a framework of effective practice rather than a curriculum. Is that not a bit worrying if you have been left out of the loop?
  188. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) No, it is not worrying at all. The Department has got a long tradition of bringing in people from outside to talk to them and advise officials. There are lots and lots of people all the time coming in and, like yourself, we are not the font of knowledge. They are not ministerial advisors. I am sure that whatever work is going on will reach me but I would not necessarily know precisely who is coming in to advise my officials. That is quite within their remits, they are enabled to do that, that is fine by me.

    Chairman: Kerry, would you like to ask the last question as you are the Minister's Member of Parliament.

    Mr Pollard

  189. Minister, you know as well as I do the huge responsibilities that school governors have got and the massive voluntary effort they put in. What steps are you taking to recruit suitable governors, enthuse them and fire them up so they do the business?
  190. (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) We are just developing a new recruitment campaign and I have been out talking to groups of governors throughout the country both about our consultation on making sure that they have less bureaucracy to deal with and providing the strategic frame, i.e they steer not row, to put it succinctly, which has been a problem in recruitment. What they say to me, and what I am very clear about, is that the best recruiters of governors are governors themselves and we do not do enough to encourage and support them to stand up in the school assemblies - and I never did it as a chair of governors - and say "I am a governor, this is why it is really good to be a governor". I have challenged them all to think about ways in which they could do that. We are going to design a campaign that is going to be very school focussed, helping them to recruit the governors of the future.


  191. Minister, can I thank you for the long time you have been answering our questions. Can I say that I hope you did not see it as a kind of indoctrination of fire but as a positive experience and we hope to see you at the very least in a year's time.

(Baroness Ashton of Upholland) Thank you. I look forward to it. I will be better then, I will know more.