Examination of Witness (Questions 280-299)|
WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2001
280. Minister, on the question of convergence
of funding (16-19) the Government's policy is for convergence
between school sixth-forms and further education. When will that
happen and how much will it cost?
(Mr Lewis) We have made no commitment to a timescale,
we have expressed an aspiration and believe that it is right that
that convergence takes place but we have said quite clearly that
it is in the context of available resources. It really returns
us to the discussion that the Chairman was quite rightly raising
earlier about the different choices and different priorities that
have to be made. Therefore, the aspiration is there should be
convergence, the decision will be made in the context of available
resources and all the other decisions that have to be made.
281. So we will not know until the Comprehensive
Spending Review next July?
(Mr Lewis) I think it would be very unlikely.
282. Part of that convergence process is the
guarantee of funding for sixth-forms whose numbers do not fall.
Is that an aspiration or is that a guarantee and does that have
a time limit to it or is that forever?
(Mr Lewis) There is no time limit, it is more than
an aspiration and, at the moment, it is a guarantee.
283. At the moment it is a guarantee?
(Mr Lewis) It is a guarantee.
284. It might not always be a guarantee?
(Mr Lewis) It is a guarantee. It was in the Labour
Party's Manifesto at the general election, therefore, it is a
285. It will remain a guarantee?
(Mr Lewis) It will remain a guarantee during the period
the Labour Party Manifesto takes effect for this term and the
Government will, no doubt, return to this subject at a later stage.
286. It is a guarantee for the whole of this
(Mr Lewis) Yes.
287. Given that the existing funding for schools
and further education, respectively, is based on schools getting
an increase each year and further education getting a reduction
each year, the difference is actually widening as each year goes
by, if the convergence is not brought about, surely?
(Mr Lewis) It depends.
288. What I am saying is, is the problem not
getting worse, and, therefore, is it not crucial that a timescale
is given, because the schools budgets are going up by RPI plus
x per cent a year and so college budgets are coming down by RPI
minus x per cent. So the gap is getting wider year by year.
(Mr Lewis) I think, again, we need to look at this
in the context of the issue as a whole. There is the fact that
we will have a much bigger idea very soon of the overall cost
in terms of where numbers in school sixth-forms, for example,
are dropping significantly and where they remain the same. The
real terms guarantee is linked, as you know, to pupil numbers.
So that is absolutely integral to the real terms guarantee. There
is also the LSC's responsibility for looking at 16-19 provision
generally in the area of inspection plans and the new responsibilities
that they have there. Clearly, one of the issues that will have
to be addressed over the next few years in terms of the LSCs responsibilities
in terms of defining high-quality provision at 16-19 in each locality
is the consequences of differential funding levels in different
institutions. That is something that will have to be addressed
as part of that process.
289. Minister, I visited my technical college
last week and my Learning and Skills Council in Yorkshire on Monday.
In what time? The places that you have said that you care about
most are institutions that are dedicated to training and giving
relevant skills to the more deprived members of communitiesand
we are very pleased they are staying on at 16but they are
under the most terrible pressure now. My technical college in
Huddersfield, which does a wonderful job, has more students than
the local university but is under tremendous pressure for funding
now, and if we wait much longer, I was told only last Friday,
they are going to cut engineering training, they are going to
cut electronics and cut catering. What sort of sector have we
got and what sort of Government have we got if we say "Over
the years, in the long term we are going to balance"? The
emergency and the urgency for that sector of education is now.
Members of this Committee really want to know what are you going
to do about it now, not only in three or four years?
(Mr Lewis) The answer is that we are not in the short-term
going to be in a position to change that. We have acknowledged
that from a policy point of view and from a reality point of view
we need to achieve that convergence over a period of time, but
that is not going to change within the next year, 18 months or
two years. It is going to have to be in the context of difficult
decisions made about the spending review and, also, the amount
of money that we make available to Learning and Skills Councils.
Chairman: I hope the alarm bells are ringing.
290. Going back to the issue of consistency
in government policy, on the one hand we have got the move to
rationalise small sixth-forms with falling numbersand this
is the Government's view and it is the Learning and Skills Council's
viewbut, on the other hand, we have a White Paper that
encourages every new school who wishes to, to open a new sixth-form.
Is there not a contradiction there? By definition, every sixth-form
that opens is going to a small sixth-form which is going to be
struggling for numbers and it is going to increase the funding
problem. Is there not an inconsistency there?
(Mr Lewis) I think for school sixth-forms to, ultimately,
be successful, if a school wishes to create a new sixth-form,
then there will have to be a linkage between that and the existing
provision within the area. If you simply say any school that wishes
to can set up a sixth-form without any regard to the rest of the
provision, collaborative and partnership
291. The White Paper does say that. It does
not describe the mechanisms by which they will be established.
It does say, however, that it wants to encourage any new school
that wishes to to establish a sixth-form.
(Mr Lewis) We believe there is an important place
for school sixth-forms within the system, and for more and new
school sixth-forms. There is no suggestion, as far as I am concerned,
that that will be irrespective of existing provision, as defined
by the LSC, both in terms of quality and capacity with regard
to whether those new applications talk about collaborative and
partnership arrangements with existing institutions. All of that
will have to be considered before we make decisions to spend money
on the expansion of school sixth-forms. It has got to be a credible,
robust application which demonstrates a need and a justification,
and fits with our raising standards agenda but also fits within
the provision for a particular area.
292. You would accept that for every new school
sixth-form that opens the bill for convergence is going to be
(Mr Lewis) I would accept that if we simply said there
was going to be significant expansion of school sixth-forms and
there were no other changes or reconfigurations within 16-19 provision
anywhere in the country, that would be accurate. However, we also
know that, as we home in on this phase of education, we have area
inspection reports, we have the new responsibility of the LSC,
and it is very, very important that we ensure that in each area
there is appropriate provision and relevant provision and, therefore,
there is appropriate configuration. We will not be imposing that.
If this is a popular local facility that seems to be working well,
the Government is not going to close it down, but if it is a sixth-formbe
it a college or a schooland it is clear that numbers have
declined to such an extent that parents do not regard it as a
valued option any more, it is by stealth in decline, we have got
to do something about it. It would be irresponsible simply to
allow that situation to continue.
293. You said that school sixth-forms will have
their money protected as long as their numbers do not drop. Can
you clarify what the details of that are? I was the head of a
sixth-form for the last twelve years and I know that in some years
the number of pupils coming into our Year 12 would be less than
in others and in some years more. Sometimes you could not see
any reason why that was; sometimes it was just a population bulge
that was coming through or there was a low Year 11 cohort to draw
on. So there were all sorts of reasons which are nothing to do
with particular sixth-forms why figures fluctuate up and down.
Over what period of time do numbers have to drop before the school
loses its guaranteed funding? Is it one year, is it over six years?
(Mr Lewis) You can probably answer the question better
than I can, really. I will try. It is complicated. There has been
a significant consultation process and we wanted to get this as
right as you can get it when you are moving from one system to
another. We believe the approach that we have adopted does reflect
more what people have said they wanted than not. So we have tried
to listen. The baseline starting point is the amount of funding
that was allocated via LEAs based on what they tell us for the
year 2000-01the beginning of that financial yearbased
on the information they have provided to the department in terms
of what they were spending on school sixth-forms. In terms of
numbers, at what point do we look at: "Has there been a decline
or an increase or have numbers stayed the same?" We are talking
about the September 2001 figures. So those are the baseline indicators,
if you like. There is a guaranteed increase, I think, over a two-year
period in terms of inflation of 3 per cent per year. In terms
of increases or reductions in numbers, I think the figure that
has been agreed is £2,600 per pupil. So that is the sort
of starting point. That is the framework and, clearly, the Learning
and Skills Counciland it has been based on very in-depth
consultation, as I say, and trying to get consensushas
to work on that framework and that financial regime.
294. So if numbers going into Year 12 went down
next year in a particular sixth-form because there was a smaller
Year 11 cohort to pull from, they would then lose funding. If
numbers went up the year after because there was a larger Year
11 cohort, would the money go back or once you have lost that
guarantee you have lost it forever, even if your numbers then
go up the next year or the year after?
(Mr Lewis) I think there would have to be a consideration
by the LSC of a significant or unusual set of circumstances which
led to a one-year blip which did not seem to be logical or did
not seem to make any sense. We would have to look at the possibility
of the LSC using some discretion in those circumstances. In most
cases, however, the formula I outlined will be the one used. That
will be the starting point. I accept that that can lead to situations
where you may have one year where something unusual or out of
the ordinary happens, and there will be an opportunity for the
LSC to consider that in the context of an individual institution
where that happens, but the financial regime is as I have outlined.
I acknowledge it is very difficult from day one when there is
such a shift, to get it right. I think they have got it as right
as we can get it.
Paul Holmes: So the implication could be that
just one year's drop, for whatever reason, that is it, you lose
the guarantee. Also on thatI am sorry, I have lost the
Chairman: Jeff Ennis can come in, and we will
come back to you.
295. I would like to put you in an actual scenario,
Minister, and get your response to the situation in Barnsley.
In the early 1990s (at the time I was Deputy Leader of the Council)
we persuaded all the parents and all the staff to close all the
small sixth-forms in Barnsley and go over to a more or less homogeneous
tertiary college system. In fact, the only other sixth-form in
Barnsley is the grammar school, which is not a grammar school
but a fully comprehensive school, right on the fringe of the borough
in Penistone, which is inaccessible to many areas in the east
of the borough. Given the fact that we have differential pay and
conditions at the present time between staff in colleges and in
schools, we have now got the potential leakage of staff from Barnsley
Collegeand the surrounding colleges, by the way, have still
got their fair share of sixth-formsinto the surrounding
sixth-form school provision. What are going to do or what can
you do as a minister and as a government to actually stop this
haemorrhage from happening in both the short term and the medium
(Mr Lewis) I think we have to look at ensuring that
we do value FE provision in the way that it should be valued and
recognise that it has an absolutely essential part to play. One
of the things that we are looking at at the moment, for example,
in response to the sector making some very strong and, I think,
fair representations to us, is the whole issue of bureaucracy
and red tape, audit, different funding streams which go in to
the colleges. This has been a
Chairman: The question was specifically pay.
296. The differential pay rates.
(Mr Lewis) We have to address that in due course.
Again, we have to do that in the context of limited financial
resources and hard choices. I probably sound like the Iron Chancellor
297. Minister, you started your statement saying
you cared very deeply about what we always talk about here, the
30 per cent of non-achievers, the people from socially-deprived
backgrounds, who do not get education. What we are bringing you
to, towards the end of our discussion, is the very sector that
deals with those people, who actually do manage to keep them onand,
increasingly, perhaps, with the EMAs and your policy will keep
them on. This is the area that is feeling more of the pinch, in
terms of good quality teaching, and holding the quality of teaching
in FE, and that is why we are bringing you back to this. It is
a very serious challenge to the Government at the moment. Most
Members of this Committee are not happy about how speedily the
Government is reacting to this. It is all right saying "It
may resolve itself"; what Jeff Ennis was saying is this is
an emergency and an urgency now.
(Mr Lewis) The Secretary of State made an important
speech this week in this particular area of policy, which was
generally, as I understand it, well-received by the sector, where
she made it absolutely clear that we are extremely committed to
the integral and central role that FE plays, and that we understand
and acknowledge there are difficulties that we have to address.
That is the starting point. We clearly need to look at terms and
conditions and we clearly need to look at the quality of provision.
We need to look at that in the round.
298. You would like to pay a bit more within
this sector, really?
(Mr Lewis) We would like to see, I guess, two things:
we would like to see a clearer focus with regard to performance
and we would also like to look at the terms and conditions of
staff. If they are not being paid the appropriate amount to attract
and retain high-quality and high-calibre people, then any government
that is responsible has to consider that.
299. Moving on to modern apprenticeships, there
is a distinct skills shortage; try getting a plumber or a carpenter,
etc, etc, you cannot get them. There is a great danger that this
shortage will hold back our economy. What are you doing to develop
greater awareness and understanding of the modern apprenticeships
scheme amongst employers?
(Mr Lewis) It is true that whenever we meet employers
they say "It's a shame we do not have apprenticeship any
more". However, as I became aware recently, obviously, we
do have not only an apprenticeship but a very good one in terms
of modern apprenticeships. The Cassel Committee which has now
reported, which has looked at modern apprenticeships in a variety
of ways, has come up with some very important and very useful
recommendations as to how we make modern apprenticeships of high-quality,
how we make them readily available and how we persuade and encourage
as many employers as possible to offer modern apprenticeship opportunities
to young people. The Government and the Learning and Skills Councils
will be responding formally to the Cassel recommendations next
week, and one of the fundamental outcomes of that will be that
we will invest a significant amount of resources and effort in
marketing and promoting modern apprenticeships, both to young
peoplebecause it is very important that they see them as
a high-value, high-status option routeand employers. As
a consequence of the Cassel recommendations and the Government's
response, in a sense, what that does is put the framework down
and creates a structure and a vision for the direction of what
we intend to do to raise the profile, increase the number of young
people going down the modern apprenticeships route and raise the
status of that route for young people.