Examination of Witness (Questions 560-579)|
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
560. What standard level? Will it be taken or
accepted that they have reached a certain standard with regards
an improvement? For example, NVQs, is there going to be a comparable
(John Healey) Yes, the tests range across from entry
level to level 1 to NVQ level 2. That is roughly equivalent of
a 7 year old, an 11 year old, and GCSE.
561. We would be very interested to know what
is the nature of your target audience here. Who are the people
in this country who have these problems? In every other part of
education we have a very pretty good profile of the children that
we are trying to deliver better education to and retaining education.
With adult literacy, it does seem very vague. Who is the target?
How does one reach them? Some of the discussions that have been
taking place in terms of education for citizenship are around:
"Should learning the English language be a part of the award
of citizenship in a country?" Who are the targets? Is it
newly arrived people in the country? Is it people from a particular
background or from particular parts of the country?
(John Healey) You are right, Chairman, this is a very
special challenge. In every other part of our education system,
our learners are those who are in our schools or in our colleges.
We know who they are and as the DfES we, or the institutions or
agencies we deal with, have direct contact. But the people who
generally lack decent levels of reading, writing and maths tend
to be more commonly unemployed, they tend to be more commonly
in prison, they tend to be more commonly (if they are in work)
in low-skilled, casualised, low-paid jobs. In other words, as
the DfES our challenge here is that we do not have direct contact
with the learners for whom we want to provide the learning. The
big challenge for me and for the department is that we do not
have control over the departments or the agencies through whom
we need to work and through whom the screening/contact with these
potential learners must be delivered. That is why we are working
so closely with the prison service, with the employment service,
with the Army to identify the people who have these skills gaps
and then to be able to deliver literacy and numeracy learning
as part of what they may be doing as part of their search for
work, as part of their time inside or as part of their training
when they join the Army.
562. A lot of money, minister, is spent on advertising.
I am particularly thinking of the Gremlin advert which we all
love dearly! I wonder at the effectiveness of that because when
I look at that it frightens me stiff, I would not like to be thought
of as somebody who could not read. I wonder whether the message
is right and how effective that advertising is and whether you
are doing some evaluation as to whether you are getting value
(John Healey) A very important question, if I may
say so, first because one of the big challenges here is how we
reach people who have difficulties of reading, writing and maths
and encourage them to decide to do something about it instead
of just getting by as they may have done for years in the past.
Advertising clearly has a part to play in that. We tried the Gremlins'
campaign (as you might term it) in September/October. We had a
response line, as you may have known, from that. We had 50,000
calls to that and sent out more than 30,000 packs, which were
information, video and motivational tips as well as contact points
for people wanting to take up learning. The post-campaign evaluation,
as far as we have been able to do it, suggests that 73 per cent
of those who have got basic skills and problems were aware of
the campaign. Significantlyand this is part of why we have
decided to relaunch it in January38 per cent of those who
have got the biggest difficulties with reading and writing say
it would make them more likely to take up some learning. The proof
in the end will be in the practice and in the pudding, but the
second wave of the campaign is designed much more explicitly to
follow through and get potential learners not just contacting
us for information and advice but signed up to courses. For me
that will be a crucial question of whether we can convert the
interest the advertising seems to be generating to people who
would not otherwise sign up for learning.
563. Thank you, minister. I want to move on,
but I do hope you take away Val Davey's point that there are ways
in which people are able to learn and access those basic skills.
A teacher, when we were looking at an inquiry in one school, said
that the best thing that had happened was the driving test, because
a large number of young people wanted to drive and had to be literate
in order to get through that great desire to get wheels.
(John Healey) Chairman, if I may encourage you perhaps
to pay a trip to Aston Villa Football Club or one of the Tesco
stores in Leeds or any number of projects where the delivery of
this sort of learning and the opportunity to learn is being put
in places where people are rather than in classrooms. I hope that
is going to help, in the way that Ms Davey suggested, to overcome
some of the barriers.
Chairman: Perhaps Val and I should do that together.
Can I move on now to the relationship with employers. We had a
very interesting session with the General Secretary of NATFHE,
Paul Mackney on this and I know some colleagues would like to
follow that through.
564. It does tie in very much to the adult basic
skills and the relationship that perhaps the Learning Skills Councils
have with the employers. You said, in answer to the Chairman's
question, "Who are we talking about?" that part of the
group that we are targeting for this 750,000 are people who are
low-paid. Getting those employers to release people to increase
their skills and so therefore not only help themselves but help
the company, I think is proving quite difficult. I understand
there is a pilot in Liverpool where you are paying employers £50
a day to release people for training. Could you tell us how that
is going and whether you have evaluated that yet and whether you
have any plans to expand that.
(Mr Healey) Specifically on adult basic skills, Mr
Shaw is right, we are piloting in nine different areas a whole
range of different ways to try and tackle what we think, from
experience so far, are the barriers. One example is encouraging
employers to release people to do it. Other experiments include
incentives for the learners and sanctions for those in the job
seekers system that will not. They include also different ways
of screening for problems and also including intensive residential
weekends to kick-start the learning they have got to take. Given
that those additional pilots have only started from September
onwards, we do not have sufficient data at the moment, particularly
in relation to control areas that we are obviously watching as
well, to be able to come to an evaluation. I am hoping that by
the spring that will be a bit clearer in terms of the specifics.
In terms of the general, you are absolutely right, employers are
going to be key in this. If we reckon that there are seven million
adults who have poor literacy and numeracy skills, at least three
million are actually at work. We know from the pressure of the
changes in the workplace at the moment that being able to learn
new skills is a crucial part of people's future job security.
Of course if you are required to learn new skills from your company
and you do not have good reading, writing and maths it makes that
very much more difficult. The response that we are able to encourage
employers to have to this programme in the coming months and years
is going to be critical not just to the potential for these learners
to develop the skills but, to be honest, the success of those
565. Is it in your mind at the moment or on
your agenda that, if you find yourself that you are getting to
a certain point where the target of these 750,000 people is not
being met because there is clearly a large body of employers who
are unwilling to release people to go and have training, you would
then think, "Right: what we need is educational leave because
people have to have a statutory right for educational leave"?
If you are perhaps a single parent working part time at a distribution
centre on low pay and the employer says, "Yes, you can do
it but you have to do it in your own time", it is simply
not going to happen, I would suggest. The demands upon someone
in those circumstances are too much for them to take on learning
outside of all the other pressures they have. If it is done within
works time then that is more likely. Is that on the agenda? If
you are not reaching this target will the Government introduce
legislation requiring employers to provide educational leave?
(John Healey) The short answer is yes, it is in our
policy thinking for the medium term. The long answer is this,
that employers, like the rest of us, are only just waking up to
the scale of the problem. We will be producing over the next few
months a toolkit that will help them realise the scale of the
problem and have a look in their own workforce at the basic skills
needs they may have. Most are not aware of the scale of the problem,
if I may say so. Many employers legitimately take the view that
this sort of basic reading and writing and maths ought to be something
that the state should have ensured these people had in the first
place, and therefore many are reluctant to concede immediately
that it is their responsibility to pick up all the costs of doing
so. That is why we have accepted as a Government that there is
a proper role for the public purse to pay for the costs so that
all adult learning for basic skills is free. That is one barrier.
Some of the evidence suggests that time is another barrier to
learning. You may have seen in the Pre-Budget Report that the
Chancellor published in late November that there is a strong chapter
on productivity, a large section of that on skills and productivity
which I mentioned when I came before the Committee before Christmas,
and proposals within that to set up perhaps three or four pilots
which will be run by local Learning Skills Councils which will
attempt to trial new policy ideas which include a tax credit for
the costs of basic skills and learning up to Level 2 skills, and
they write time off for the individual employee who will pursue
566. When you talk about pilot schemes, sometimes
when Ministers come before us it sounds a bit waffly. How many
people employed in your Department do you think have a deficiency
in basic skills?
(John Healey) We do not know.
567. You have never done an analysis?
(John Healey) We do not know because part of what
we are doing as our basic skills strategy is working with a whole
new resource department but in each of the other government departments
568. It would be nice to see your department
evaluate how many there.
(John Healey)to identify the degree to which
there are basic skills deficits within government's own employees.
Chairman: It would be useful for you to look
at your department and perhaps the Houses of Parliament. We have
about 3,000 people working here. I suspect that a significant
minority have problems that we could identify.
569. Would the Minister bear in mind the requirements
of the small business sector who employ perhaps two or three people
and who might be bothered about a questionnaire coming round to
assess basic skills in their organisation? They would see it as
another bit of red tape and bureaucracy"What are we
going to get out of it?" There would also be concern about
releasing Jimmy or Georgina to go off to learn to read and write.
They will say, "You should have done this years ago"
to them and to the state. Could you bear in mind when you are
looking at this, and I would support legislation if it is needed,
the requirements of small businesses and that they do not have
the same flexibility that large organisations have?
(John Healey) Can I reassure Mr Pollard that we are
very conscious of the position of small businesses, both the pressures
they are under but also the fact that the levels of learning investment
and training are also much lower than elsewhere. If I can encourage
you to look at that Pre-Budget Report you will see that the outline
proposals for testing these pilots load the compensation costs
heavily towards small businesses and the whole emphasis of the
PIU Report on workers' development which the PVI was partly in
response to emphasises the importance of the small business sector
in this regard.
570. Minister, can you confirm that the Government's
policy remains to achieve convergence on funding for all post-16
education and training?
(John Healey) The policy remains as it was set out
in the manifesto when we together fought the last election, which
is that for sixth forms in schools there is a real terms guarantee.
For other parts of the system we want to bring up the funding,
which is of course in FE and in sixth form colleges.
571. So that is convergence?
(John Healey) That is a question of bringing up those
levels of funding relative to the levels that they are at at the
moment and we have never, as you are aware better than anyone,
been able to set a timescale on that because it is clearly a feature
of what we are developing as our discussions and our proposals
as part of the spending review process.
572. In the Department's letter to the Committee
in September of this year when we wrote to ask for some clarification
following the previous review on FE, it clearly says that there
will be a common funding formula established by 2003/2004. There
is some ambiguity as to whether it is the beginning of that financial
year or the end of that financial year. Will that common funding
formula not pay for all post-16 education and learning at the
same rate? You seem to be saying that that is not so.
(John Healey) The common funding formula is not the
same as the common funding rate.
573. So what is the difference between the common
funding formula and the common funding rate?
(John Healey) The formula means that for the LSC over
the four main streams of post-16 learning they will develop and
are developing a framework that allows them to assess and plan
for provision in a way that is consistent right across the four
streams. As you know, they have been separately managed and separately
planned and separately budgeted for in the past and so bringing
those together in a common framework is an essential step towards
the sort of ambition that you have there but it is not the same.
574. So by the end of 2003/2004 it is probable
therefore that there will still be a differential funding rate
for students following the same course in a sixth form in a school,
a sixth form college and a tertiary college?
(John Healey) Yes, because by 2003/2004, given that
the budgets have already been set, it is not possible to see how
that gap could be closed. This challenge and commitment that we
have made to bring up the funding in general FE and sixth form
colleges that we made in the manifesto is very much part of our
thinking in the plans that we have got for the spending review
process which should be settled by the summer, though you will
know of course relates to the period 2004 to 2007.
575. We do not usually operate as a dating agency,
Minister, but could we fix an appointment for you with Bryan Sanderson
to discuss this issue? We have had very strong views from Bryan
Sanderson on this topic and perhaps you two ought to get together
at some time.
(John Healey) We do get together but I would be extremely
surprised if Bryan Sanderson would say that a common funding framework
was the same as a common funding rate for streams of post-16 learning.
576. In terms of the Comprehensive Spending
review of this July therefore, has the Department made a bid to
achieve a common funding rate in the next three year spending
(John Healey) The bids are due with the Treasury on
577. Also, will the Department be submitting
a bid by 18 February to achieve a common funding rate within the
next three year spending period?
(John Healey) The Department will be submitting a
bid by 18 February to the Treasury. It would be rather an oversight
if we did not, but I simply cannot say because it has not been
settled what will be in that bid. You must remember of course
that it is a bid that will span the whole range of the Department's
programmes, ambitions and plans.
578. If the Department were to submit a bid
by 18 February to achieve a common funding rate how much would
(John Healey) I cannot give you the answer to that
because it clearly depends on all sorts of variables, does it
not, including the amount of learners you want to put through
any part of the system plus any other levels of investment you
might want to put in to increase standards as well. There simply
is not an easy answer.
579. There is not an estimate on the shelf?
(John Healey) There is no answer to the question as