Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Sir Sydney Chapman

  20. I was going to ask about the difference between waiting lists and waiting times.
  (Dr Bogle) Yes, that is right.

Annette Brooke

  21. I want to pick up something David said before I get into my main questions. Do you not think that the targets coming down from the EDPs and the agreements are likely to be shaking up the rather cosy relationship with advisers employed by the local authority and probably being teachers themselves and headteachers who actually have been letting some of our children down for quite a long time?
  (Mr Hart) It has certainly shaken up the relationship. Whether it is cosy or not I do not know.

  22. I am suggesting it might have been in the past.
  (Mr Hart) It has certainly shaken up relationships to the extent where headteachers now view local authority inspectors or advisers whose prime responsibility is for monitoring standards and for coming into schools doing the negotiations in a different light. They do not regard them as being quite the adviser, the supportive friend maybe, that they used to. Whether that is good or bad I am not sure. I think the local authorities have a job to do. It is one of their five or so strategic responsibilities that they are going to have under the new funding system, to continue to monitor standards. Let me give you a quick example of why I think we have these tensions. Key Stage II 11-year olds: take Southampton as an example. In 2001 in Southampton 11-year olds achieved about 63 per cent level 4 and above in English and 66 per cent in maths. The targets for 2004—and that is only about three years of tests, by the way—jumped to 85 per cent in Southampton in English and 85 per cent in maths. That is a massive increase in achievement being expected of Southampton. It is that sort of major increase in performance which is expected of individual local authorities that will bear down on our members in Southampton and will lead to a bad relationship I guess becoming more tense and more strained in the years to come.


  23. What would be helpful would be if you could tell us in a nutshell, because it would help us across the board, where a target like that comes from. By what process of negotiation? Who is consulted?
  (Mr Hart) The Department of Education and Skills civil servants will arrive at that target and will discuss that target with the local education authority. The local authority is under a great deal of pressure to sign up. There is only one local education authority in the whole country that refused to sign up to its targets and that was Cornwall. Cornwall refused point blank to sign up to its targets because it said the whole process was completely flawed, and I congratulate the Chief Education Officer for Cornwall for standing out, unlike his colleagues who I think should have been much tougher in their discussions with the local authorities about whether these targets that are being expected of them are really realistic. Each Chief Education Officer has to go through a negotiating procedure with regional offices of the Department plus the central Department in London and, after a very tortuous process, pretty well all of them bar one signed up in the end. Having done that, they then go to the schools and say, "This is what we have signed up with the Department. We have got to get you to sign up to targets so that each school, when put together as a totality, meets the target we have reached with the Department". That is the process. Involved in that process, I said in my memorandum, is a degree of coercion that includes monetary incentives being offered or monetary penalties being suggested if they do not sign up, and in the case of some local education authorities of course they have been threatened with Ofsted if they do not sign up. That is the negative aspect of the target setting agenda which I think is in dire need of reform.

Annette Brooke

  24. I want now to come to my main question. I am carrying rather a lot of baggage and I actually believe that decision making ought to be at local level. My question to David was about the fact that I did see some benefits with one or two schools being shaken up.
  (Mr Hart) I agree.

  25. But the general principle, as far as I am concerned, is that it should be bottom-up and it should be local decision making. You suggest, Dr Bogle, that this is rather difficult because we get different expectations in different areas. My question to you therefore is, could we not have more local decision making without running into a problem of postcode lottery again?
  (Dr Bogle) Like you, I believe in decisions being taken at as local a level as possible. All I would flag up before I specifically answer your question is that when you do that there will be a variation in the provision of service across the UK because there will be different priorities in different areas. That is inevitable. One of the consequences of having that local determination is that there will be variation. The variation will be aimed at the needs of the people, if it is done properly, in the particular area, so I can live with that variation. What I would like to see, and I think one of the most difficult questions is the one that was asked before,—pick a target and explain why it is bad, because individually, when you pick a target, a lot of them seem to be very good until you look at the unforeseen consequences of implementing that target without any further discussion—is the Government cutting down the number of targets that it is putting forward. I think the Government, in the position it has now, has every right to suggest target areas and to set targets, but there are too many. Then I think that locally, through primary care trusts, they should take note of those targets, they should form their own plan in discussion with the public in a local area and the professionals working in that area and produce a business plan for that area that incorporates the Government targets and the local targets and makes it clear which targets they find are the more important for their area. They will need then to submit that to the specialist health authorities so that there is some co-ordination, but then to explain in their annual reports, where they fail to hit targets, why they failed to hit targets and why they gave priority, for example, to other targets that did not appear to be the main Government targets. To give you an example from my past in Liverpool, where smoking related diseases, particularly chest diseases and chest mortality, were, certainly when I was there, the highest in the UK. Smoking is one of the very important Government initiatives but it does not figure as an absolute target and I would have thought in Liverpool they would want to target that above all for the illnesses that they see and so I would expect the business plan to say, "This is why we do it. These are the figures on which we base our targets", and then to argue the case, if they cannot hit them because of staffing shortages or whatever, and there is then some flexibility to debate how a primary care trust can be helped to get back on track and to hit the targets. At the moment it is, "There are the targets. You have got to hit them. No matter how it is, I just want to hear you have hit them". That does not help the patient at all. It can be worked locally. I believe we have the structures in place. It does bring with it some of its own difficulties but I think we have to live with those.

  26. That is interesting. I have not been involved in EDPs in the last year or two but initially it was so constrained in choosing the main priorities laid down by the Government do you actually think there was enough scope for local determination of priorities for a local education authority?
  (Mr Hart) Yes, I think there. I think the problem is that the by-products of the target setting process are such that it is difficult to see some heads (not all; they vary enormously, as you well know) using the autonomy/opportunity to be innovative to best effect. We know perfectly well that it has distorted the curriculum, certainly in the primary schools. We are losing music, drama, sport and so on because of the relentless emphasis on literacy and numeracy and yet this is one of the major achievements of this Government, to improve literacy and numeracy levels in the primary sector. It distorts to the extent where I am now getting reports of primary schools having already started revision now, in the autumn term, for next summer's maths and English tests. That must distort the curriculum in most schools. I would like to see schools freed up to be able to develop their autonomy, their innovation, to demonstrate what the Government wants them to have but a lot still feel very constrained by the relentless emphasis on the test results that come out in the summer and the league tables that follow those results, and there is the conflict which we need to resolve in sensible discussions with the Government. I respect the Government's democratic right, by the way, to have targets. I respect its right to have public service agreements. It goes to the country on a manifesto that says education is a top priority. It wants to be judged at the next election in part on achievements in education; I respect that. I just wish that the dialogue was more open and that the Government listened more to the responses it gets from the people representing the profession about the realism of some of these targets and how they are driven down at school level.

  27. Would it actually matter if one authority put music as a higher priority and another authority did not? Do you need the unity across the country?
  (Mr Hart) You certainly do not need it. The question is whether the Department will let it get away with that since each local authority has to file its education development plan with the Department and each local authority has an EDP which is supported by all the targets which the individual schools have signed up to, at seven and 11 and at 14. The DfES has this whole raft of information given to it and I suspect that if a local authority kicks over the traces and says, "Sorry; that is not our priority in our EDP", they would be smartly told by the Department, "Go away and re-think it. It is not acceptable to us".

  28. If we had this balance of local and national how could it be effectively monitored? I have had the case in Dorset of the ambulance trust where there have been a few problems with reported figures on targets and so on, so presumably the management had a responsibility but who else is responsible and how are they going to do the monitoring if we were to give more local flexibility?
  (Dr Bogle) From the health point of view and from monitoring the clinical input and activity point of view, one would expect the clinical governance lead at the primary care trust to watch the clinical capabilities and aptitude of the professionals in the patch.

  29. How can they do it better? You have talked about all this cheating. If the professionals are going to be allowed to do their job then somehow we have got to have some better monitoring, so not how it is now. How could it be better?
  (Dr Bogle) That could be better, I believe, by allowing more time for it to happen. It could be better if you had fewer clearer targets and particularly from our point of view as doctors those where we see benefit to patient care and something like the national service frameworks for coronary heart disease where there are targets for the provision of drugs, for the care of patients, and the life expectancy and morbidity in that particular group has shifted significantly, so professionals would like to see targets that are fewer but by which they can easily measure clinically the improvement. The main thing in the Health Service would be the monitoring by the special health authority—of course are new bodies—and the business plan of the primary care trust.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  30. Who do you feel that targets should be used for? Who should be the most important people to get the information from target-setting?
  (Mr Hart) First the school itself. You have to remember that this whole target setting agenda is not being discussed in isolation. We have a performance management system which now every school has. Every school has a performance management policy. Every school has a performance related pay system, of which academic targets and other targets will to a greater or lesser extent form part. The information which is generated by the performance management system, by the target setting approach, primarily in my view should be for the benefit of the professionals in the school to inform them as to what action they should be taking to improve the standards of education for individual pupils. Target setting for individual pupils, by the way, is absolutely first class; it is absolutely essential. You even start your target setting for individual pupils if you are moving it up from the bottom. It is vital information for the school and for the people working in the school. It is vital information for the governing body upon which the parents will be represented because the governing body has to make decisions about the performance related pay of the headteacher and the headteacher makes a recommendation to the Government about the performance related pay of other members of the staff. I think it is very important that the information does go to the local authority as to how the school is performing against targets because the local authority has a strategic role to play and is required to monitor, and if it does not do its job properly it is going to be sat upon by Government or by the Audit Commission and so on. I think that the results should be fed through to central Government. In Wales it is bottom up. In Wales the schools set their own targets. The targets they set then pass through to the local authority who pass them through to the Welsh Assembly, so the information is not secret. That is in my view the order of priority.
  (Dr Bogle) I believe that patients should be the ones who are the first call on the targets, the first ones that targets should be there to help, first, in providing information about the services that are available and, getting more sophisticated if you like, the safety and the comparisons between different areas, the sort of thing we were talking about originally, and also targets that would benefit patient care. Another example of that would be coronary heart disease. Patients are the first call on benefiting from targets in my view, or should be. The second group is the professionals and the managers working in the field and really as a management tool to see how you are doing against set objectives. That is why it is important that the set objectives are basically decided locally and have some meaning and some ownership from the people using them. Last, but certainly not least, fitting in with what David said, the Government should be getting the aggregated information with their responsibility for providing health services.

  31. One of the things you say in one of your documents is that there is a danger that the performance management systems process could become more important than the outcome. Do you actually believe that will happen? Do you believe that is happening?
  (Dr Bogle) I believe that is happening, yes.

  32. And is it getting worse?
  (Dr Bogle) Yes. The more targets there are the worse it is getting. Ticking a box and saying that you have achieved a certain level of waiting time or ambulance response is not the point. The idea is that you should be benefiting patient care.

  33. You also say, "One dilemma faced by successive governments has been to reconcile local and clinical autonomy with central control". That is basically what the consultants have said now, is it not, that they want to have the freedom to do it but outside a system which is constraining them, making the decision that they are going to do private work or work within the NHS, whatever they are going to do. Is it not the target system, the end users of it, the target of information, even though you would like it to be backed, that is not much what is happening in reality?
  (Dr Bogle) No, it is not happening in reality. What we were trying to say in our memorandum was what we thought should happen and where targets could help. That was the purpose of that and I believe what the consultants were saying was that they, as much as anybody, voting according only to targets, would mean that we wanted targets to show benefit to patient care, obviously. I have no doubt that the answer to your original question is that in the Health Service the patient should be the one who will get benefit from the setting of targets.

  34. Can I come back to what you were saying about targets and the way that they hit schools, Mr Hart? If a headteacher does not hit a target and goes on not hitting targets, should they be removed?
  (Mr Hart) Eventually, if it goes on year after year, they will be removed. That is a fact of life. They will be removed but it has to take place over a reasonably lengthy period of time because—

  35. What do you call a lengthy period of time?
  (Mr Hart) I will tell you. The problem we have got at the moment is that people assume that as night follows day your results must go up year after year; they must go up irrespective of the fact that you can get a different profile of pupils coming into your school which may well hit the results. We have got to get away from what I think is excessive accountability. I believe in accountability but I think this is excessive accountability. We have to allow for hiccups. There will be hiccups in results. That is a fact of life. Obviously, if a school has made a professional judgment as to what its targets should be and it falls short of its own targets, then serious questions will be raised, and if there is no good reason for falling short of targets which can be explained as a result of factors "in year". For instance, you can get refugee children coming in in the middle of the year or something of that nature which can distort the picture, then serious questions will be raised. If that goes on, say, over a period of three years or so, then I think the head will be at risk. Certainly the head will not a get a performance related pay award in the first year, that is for sure.

  36. Because if you take it down to such a low level, and I am not disagreeing with your answer, but if you go down too low, could you not stigmatise schools in areas which are finding it very hard to hit targets because of asylum seekers or whatever? Could you not get to a position where a school was finding it almost impossible to hit targets? You have got a local education authority that is trying to hit their targets, you have got the Government trying to tell them which targets to hit. Could you not end up with a vicious circle where you just cannot win?
  (Mr Hart) You could do, but if the professional responsibility is allowed to lie with the school to decide its own targets, and it will decide that upon an aggregation based upon the individual pupil targets and then move them through the departments and the faculties and so on, then it is signed up to a target which it believes it can achieve at the end of the day. If there are good reasons why that target is missed then those reasons should be acceptable to the governing body and to the local authority that is monitoring the situation. If there is no good reason for that target to be missed then questions will be asked. All I am saying is that there will be in-year reasons why the target has been missed. If there are no in-year reasons for that then serious questions will be asked and that is accountability. That is what I am perfectly happy to sign up for.

Brian White

  37. Do targets have a shelf life? Just to give an example, in my area the cataract unit had a massive waiting list which showed that there was need for investment. That investment came along and there was a new unit put in, waiting lists disappeared, with the result that GPs put more people through, waiting lists reappeared but at a much higher throughput level, so do targets have a shelf life to achieve a particular purpose?
  (Dr Bogle) In general not in the Health Service. I am trying to think of one where the shelf life might have expired but no is the answer I will give to that.

  38. And in education?
  (Mr Hart) I guess, for instance, if you are going to have targets for truancy reduction or for attendance improvement, those targets might have a shelf life if we do achieve an improvement on the truancy situation and the attendance situation, but the academic targets certainly will not have a shelf life. They will be with us ad nauseam, I guess. I do not say that, by the way, negatively. I think they will be with us ad nauseam because they are key targets.

  39. One of the changes that has happened in public services since Dr Bogle went into the Health Service is that there was an acceptance of a standardised service in the sixties before. Now people want individual service in a much more focused way. Do we not have a problem between individual choice and the efficiency of a service? In order to get choice you have to have spare capacity in an organisation and the targets look at the efficiency of an organisation and therefore tend to make sure that schools are full and hospitals are running at capacity operation?
  (Dr Bogle) Yes, but there is a contradiction between total efficiency and 100 per cent bed occupancy and patient choice because a lot of patients choose to go somewhere where there is 100 per cent bed occupancy. I believe that the Government are right to increase patient choice. One of the things that I would like to go back into practice again would be to have this choice of multiple providers that is now being offered, not just to be stuck with your local district general hospital but to have other choices, but you do need to free up some slack in the system. I know you have also had our A&E report which refers to the bed occupancy and even within a hospital unit, if you operate 100 per cent bed occupancy, you block your A&E. The idea of patients being able to go wherever is at the moment more theoretical, but I still think it is something we should be aiming for because it is a choice patients should have.

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