Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2001
20. The Committee is a little sensitive on this
and will probe you just a little further because Val Davey and
I were on the HE Inquiry and one of our prime recommendations
for widening participation and access to participation was increasing
the premium for higher education institutions (HEIs) from 5 per
cent to 20 per cent for students who came from more socially-deprived
postcode areas. You do not think that would work for FE?
(Mr Hughes) I do not know about HE.
21. Are you saying it has only worked in FE?
(Mr Hughes) In FE it is a 10 per cent premium.
22. How much is that?
(Mr Hughes) It will vary. I could not say on the record.
I could drop you a note about that. It has produced 8,600 additional
students over a two year period and when we are talking about
£3½ million that is not a huge result.
(Ms Silver) One of the good pieces of news is that
the economy has lifted. Certainly where my college is located,
the choice between a job and a courseno winners. What we
have to do is get people who would have gone to college had the
economy stayed the same to come back into education through the
employer route. Colleges are not the only way to bring people
into participation, we must target employers to bring that level
23. Pursuing this point about the funding methodology,
the LSC has just issued its circular on the new funding methodology
and set out its plans for a common funding framework. Are you
therefore dissatisfied with the basics of the new funding methodology
or are you saying this is not going to have any impact on widening
participation at all? It is not only the question of a 10 per
cent premium but abolition of the entry units and other factors.
Are there things which should have been done in revising the methodology
which would have strengthened greater participation?
(Mr Hughes) My view is that the changes the LSC have
made in this early period are largely welcomed in terms of simplificationthe
move away from entry units which were not necessary, indeed the
move from this artificial currency of funding units in due course
and moving to counting human brings is very welcome indeed. There
will be other changes like shifting forward the census date point
at which we start counting students in college from 1 November
to 1 October, and so on. I think they are broadly welcomed within
the current funding methodology paradigm, if you wish. As an R&D
organisation, I am just beginning to signal there may be a need
for some more radical thinking in due course. For example, we
all of us take it as commonsense that we should fund learners,
but the minute you do that you introduce competition between institutions
in an unavoidable way, and there may be scope over the longer
term to think of other ways of funding institutions.
24. Coming back to methodology, were the premium
to be 20 per cent and not 10 per cent, do you think that would
work in FE?
(Mr Hughes) In my view, no, but others would disagree
with that, I have to say.
25. Can I ask you two questions about the way
the LSCs work in relation to the colleges in their areas? One
thing which seems to emerge around the country is there is a feeling
there are not very many, if any, representatives of colleges and
the FE sector actually on the LSC boards. In Derbyshire I know
there are none at all, for example. Secondly, the Learning and
Skills Council take a strategic oversight of what is going on
and they are conduits the money is passed through, but it is actually
the colleges and the sixth forms which deliver, and there is quite
a perceived gap there between one body which is trying to be strategic
and the actual people who are delivering at ground level.
(Mr Hughes) My understanding is that more LSCs than
not do have college principals on the councils. On the very important
question of the relationship between learners, customers, and
the delivery side, at our peril do we make learners customers
of the Learning and Skills Councils. They must have that relationship
with the colleges or other providers who deliver the curriculum
for them. It is absolutely essential. Nobody is going to relate
to the local office of a large quango. I do not see that as being
the LSC's intention either, but it does raise the question for
colleges about who determines the strategic direction of the institution,
because the first charge on the corporation of the further education
college is to determine the educational character, and that is
a charge which the corporation cannot delegate to its executive
management, and it does seem to me there is an inherent tension
between planning arrangements and the role of the corporation
to determine its own future. I see that as an ambiguity, if you
like, that could run for some time.
(Ms Silver) We have a principal on our LSC board locally
but he is very clear he is there not to represent people, he is
there to keep an FE view. There are some tensions there and I
think this is a very good area for this Committee to steward in
the next couple of years. My LSC has said what they are doing
in parts of their patch, e.g., Hackney but they will not tell
colleges what to do because they can just not "buy"
it. There are not many purchasers around in Deptford to buy what
it is they do not want, and that is a very clear signal about
how it will evolve unless somebody somewhere keeps a very sharp
eye on it.
26. How would you resolve that tension?
(Ms Silver) I am not sure I would have LSCs to start
27. You were happy with the old TEC system?
(Ms Silver) No, I was not. I am not talking about
TECs, I am talking about colleges. My worry is that what I see
in my area is an LSC concentrating on getting the core providers
to do what it is we have always done, and all the communication
is about what we know. I never thought I would say this and stick
up for TECs, but what has been lost strategically is a view of
factoring into environments employment opportunities. There is
nobody there any more bringing in the chances for employment which
my learners very badly need.
28. Could the RDAs do that?
(Ms Silver) Yes, and I think some of them are. It
is all very well giving lots and lots of provision, if there is
nowhere to go after that provision (and they are not all going
to go to university in Deptford) it is a real issue. The problem
we have is that the LSCs vary incredibly across the country, so
we talk about the LSC provision becoming more and more complicated.
One will buy one set of things, one will buy another. I do know
there is a dearth of people in most of the LSCs who know about
further education and more importantly adult basic skills.
29. Let me get this clear: you would like to
get rid of the LSCs or you would like to improve the quality of
(Ms Silver) I think I would like to improve the quality
in the first instance, but that will only happen if there is a
true and open dialogue. The people we know are terribly anxious
about understanding all these new systems floating down to theminspection
regimes, financial monitoring regimes, compliance, funding changes.
But that will not happen for a while.
30. Can I ask, if you were to get rid of LSCs,
what would you replace them with?
(Ms Silver) The nearest I get is a new kind of 24
central LEAs. I never thought I would say that either!
31. By local, do you mean county-wide, region-wide
(Ms Silver) I do not know. What I would like in London
is a big "LEA" which knew about travel-to-work and so
on, because that has been lost. I do not know, I would want to
think about that and maybe give you a paper and say what the alternatives
32. As a former adviser to this Committee, that
would be very welcome. I did not mention it in the introduction
but both of you have been advisers to this Committee and it is
lovely to see poachers turned gamekeepers, or whichever way round
(Ms Silver) It is easier this side!
33. I wanted to ask you about basic skills.
The Government has set some very ambitious targets and have put
a lot of money in, and colleges are going to be pivotal in delivering
this, whether it is a community programme or a work-based programme.
You said you felt there was a dearth of understanding with LSCs
about how that is going to be delivered, can you give us some
examples? How easy are you finding it to engage employers, particularly
locally, where there are large centres of employment, where there
is likely to be quite a low level of basic skills? Are people
willing to provide the time off for their employees? That seems
to me one of the crucial things, particularly if you have a busy
life. If you are a part-time worker in a distribution centre and
are told, "Come along afterwards and learn some basic skills",
you will say, "Sorry, I have kids, I have a husband".
(Ms Silver) You got that one in one. The basic skills
agenda is superb and the unit inside the Department is very strategically
systemic in what it is trying to do. The biggest problem with
recruitment of staff in London is that the ILEA used to have an
amazingly strong cohort of basic skills teachers, and of course
convergence meant that people stopped doing basic skills, it was
easier to do other things, and London now almost has no basic
skills teachers. With the competition between colleges, one college
is paying a wee bit more, and of course that still happens in
the college down the road, and people travel around, and the area
where it is most crucially needed for the next four years is the
area which is most problematic. That is the first comment. The
second comment is that my college serves the eighteenth most needy
community in the country, and it went to the LSC for additional
funding, additional support, which is the old name, to help people
on courses get some more support for basic skills, and we did
not get it. This is an LSC which said, "Basic skills, basic
skills, basic skills are on our agenda." We have challenged
that but actually the bidding round is over and I do not quite
understand why it happened. It was obviously not within the guidance
note which says, "This is how you spend your money".
A borough like Lewisham has been successful, we go into where
the bin men work very early in the morning and we teach basic
skills and they are allowed to start work an hour later. So there
are people trying.
(Mr Hughes) Just two things to add on basic skills,
two very fundamental problems. There is a capacity issuestaff,
training, development and status of basic skills teachersand
we really have to address that if we are to deliver the Department's
objectives. Secondly, there are technical issues about how we
measure and assess whether people are no longer functionally illiterate,
so knowing whether we have achieved the target is quite demanding
34. Ms Silver, you have spoken rather from a
London perspective, is there anything you would have said differently
if you were the principal of a smaller college in a rural area?
(Ms Silver) I do not know. I think what I am saying
about London is probably true also of Liverpool and Sheffield
and other places. City colleges have particular difficulties.
Rural colleges I am not familiar with.
35. We learnt the importance of creative play
when we did our Early Years Inquiry, and playing games is an interesting
part of that. Can we play a game in this last question. This time
last week the Secretary of State was sitting where you are sitting,
if you were the Secretary of State, what are the three things
you would do to put right anything you think is at the moment
wrong in the FE sector? Three things you think, if you were Secretary
of State, you would do in this coming year to do something positive
(Mr Hughes) I would only need to use two, Chairman.
One, I would urgently review the mission of general further education
colleges. It is a point the Association of Colleges make in their
evidence to you.3 We do need to clarify what their core business
is, their core focus. In my view, it should be a modernised and
inclusive vocational education and training system, and we do
need to address that because we have some mission drift in our
colleges. Secondly, student support.
36. You do not want a third?
(Mr Hughes) No.
(Ms Silver) I will take his third one! I would ask
her to address the parsimonious core funding of colleges and stop
this frilly activity around projects. I would seek a pile of money
for staff development to bring 21st century FE lecturers to the
highest level of skills we can. I would allow students to study
more without penalties. Students on benefit, on their way in and
out of New Deal, can only do a certain number of hours without
losing benefit. The learners of FE colleges are not badly taught
at all, they are under-taught.
37. Neither of you wanted your full three.
(Ms Silver) I would nag employers to give more support
to colleges and let people be there and give them opportunities.
There are all sorts of ways of working together. Get employers
on our side.
(Mr Hughes) If you press me on the third, it is the
focus on staff, their skills, their training, their motivation.
Chairman: Sorry it is a short session but I
think we have learnt a great deal. On behalf of the Committee,
thank you very much.
3 Evidence p 32, para 15.