Examination of Witnesses(Questions 40-59)|
MILIBAND MP, MS
MONDAY 4 NOVEMBER 2002
40. Yes, I apologise.
(Mr Miliband) Which is a significant difference.
41. Quite so. Let us hope they are re-grades
(Mr Miliband) Let us hope that they get the appropriate
grade at the end of it. That is a procedure that happens every
year and as far as I know the appeals against marks are proceeding
according to plan.
42. Minister, what do you see as the role of
a school science technician being? In view of the recent proposals
that you have published on the role of support staff, how do you
see school science technicians playing in that new arena?
(Mr Miliband) I think this is important. What I would
say is that teachers are better able to do their job and students
are better able to learn when they have got technical support
from other adults in the classroom and outside the classroom.
My vision of the future of the teaching force is that teachers
are leading teams of professionals, in this case including technicians,
better to serve the students who are in the classes. It is striking
that, of the five priority areas that we proposed in our proposals
two weeks ago for additional staff, two are directly addressed
at technicians, for example, priority two, assisting classroom
teachers with higher level tasks directly associated with teaching
and learning. That seems to me a good description of something
that technicians do. Priority four is providing technical support,
particularly relating to ICT, but none the less including technicians
more generally. We hope that there will be an expanding cadre
of technical support in schools. We are working with the Royal
Society and the other bodies to ensure that there is proper delineation
of the roles of science technicians and that will be available
to local authorities and to schools as they begin to judge the
sort of people that they want to recruit. The money will be in
the hands of the headteachers and we are hoping to create a much
more transparent and supportive framework for that hiring practice.
43. Are you aware that a school science technician
spends an inordinate amount of time in the background, in the
prep room, getting the experiments ready to take into the classroom
and that if that is the role that you see for science technicians
in the future, and I agree with you that that would be an ideal
thing for them to be able to go into the classroom and help the
teacher in the classroom, the difficulty is that they are so few
in number that they are worth their weight in gold and unless
we have some method of recruitment and training for school science
technicians we are never going to achieve what we want to achieve?
(Mr Miliband) Obviously I do recognise that they work
outside lessons and then come back. I think that a clearer delineation
of the different roles of technical support staff will help schools
and help heads. The other thing is that there is a massive culture
change going on. Two or three years ago there was huge caution
in schools about the prospect of other professionals coming into
the classroom. I think the experience of learning mentors tackling
behaviour problems, language specialists but also thinking laterally
about the role that technicians have played for many years is
beginning to change the culture and heads now, when they have
more money in their budget, are thinking about recruiting more
teachers (and, as you know, the Government is committed to hiring
10,000 more teachers in this Parliament) and are also thinking,
"How can I get other staff into the school?". Just to
pick out one thing, yes there are recruitment issues. The Roberts
Review highlighted the prospect of undergraduates playing a bigger
role and also graduates, once they leave university, playing a
bigger role. Those are two things that we are pursuing actively
because they are obvious sources of technical expertise to help
44. Can we expect anything concrete and, if
so, what sort of timetable, about the re-structured roles of technicians,
if there are to be any, and also are we going to be looking to
address their pay because at the moment they are on about £9,000
a year if they are doing their current role?
(Mr Miliband) On the former, the consultation on this
document on developing the role of school support staff closes
on January 22. I am delighted that the General Secretary of the
Secondary Heads Association has written to every secondary headteacher
in the country saying, "Get on with it. You have got the
money in your budget. Start hiring the additional support staff,
including technicians", so I would say that, in terms of
the formal processes, in terms of making progress, it can happen
now because more money is being devolved into school budgets for
them to make choices that will best help their school. In relation
to pay, this is not a nationally negotiated pay system. However,
I do think that the framework we are developing with the Royal
Society and others will make much clearer the different skill
mixes and levels that are required at different levels of technicians
and that will bring to the attention of heads and others the implications
for pay. We have said clearly that we want more heads to recruit
more higher level teaching assistants. Some of those will be technicians.
From where they appear on the ladder of qualifications and skills
they will have to be paid a certain amount to get them in and
it will be at the local level that you find the recruitment works.
45. But is it right, Minister, that different
local authorities in different parts of the country should pay
school science technicians such very different rates? That is
the experience we saw. Some people were doing it for the love
of doing it rather than for the pay that it gave. You would be
lucky if you were earning £9,000 as a school science technician.
Would it not be better if we had at least regional salary scales
if not national salary scales for these staff?
(Mr Miliband) The experience of regional pay scales
has not been productive. We think that LEAs have a tradition of
negotiating at their level that is sensitive to local labour market
situations. The reason there are pay differences is there are
different pay pressures and different recruitment pressures in
different parts of the country. Obviously it is in the interests
of the schooling system, the education system, to have as many
people of the appropriate and, if possible, the highest possible
quality. We think we will get a better match by putting the pound
in the hands' of local heads. I do not think it would be sensible
to have a free-for-all, that is why LEAs have an important role
and generally set rates. From a school's point of view it wants
to get the best possible person, and many of them, for the appropriate
amount of money. We all know how much extra money is going into
schools, the DfES has put an ordinance on how much money we put
into separate pots of money at the centre with a cash flap for
central progress. The choices are going to be there for the professionals
to think: how do we best support teaching and learning in our
46. We are leaving it to the market?
(Mr Miliband) We are leaving it to local organisations.
Peripatetic and technical support is somewhere where LEAs have
traditionally had a role, that is not the market, that is them
playing an appropriate role in the schooling system.
47. I am not absolutely clear, are you saying
that any enhanced role or recognition of the responsibilities
of a technician will be linked inevitably with classroom times,
with direct pupil contact time?
(Mr Miliband) No.
48. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of
the role of technicians.
(Mr Miliband) I did not explain myself properly when
somebody else asked me earlier. What we are saying is high level
teaching assistants working under the direction of a teacher have
an increasing role in our schooling system. When we say the direction
of the teacher that obviously includes pre-class time, the sort
you just described, as well as in-class time but it is up to the
teacher to decide how he might best use the technician.
49. You mentioned some of the extra money that
has gone into school laboratories, which is appreciated; however
your Report does not talk about how the value has essentially
been measured; can you talk about the evaluation of that extra
money for school laboratories?
(Ms Dallas) The evaluation of the money given to the
LEAswe are talking about £60 million over the last
two years, ring-fenced funding for laboratorieswill come
about through our scrutiny of local authorities Asset Management
Plans, because that will tell us the effect of the investment
on the schools where that funding is directed, and then following
on from that whereabouts in their LEA they propose to invest future
money in different schools for different purposes.
50. How can we be sure that that money is being
spent on the areas we want it to be spent in?
(Mr Miliband) There is a really important principle
here, £60 million for science labs, the capital budget is
three billion. Of that three billion schools and LEAs will decide
the relative priority of science in their area. It will be different
in my area from yours.
51. I do not have a problem with it being different
from area to area. In terms of feedback and evaluation, that is
a key area, that is not actually mentioned in this Report?
(Ms Dallas) The LEAs have done their own evaluation
and it is up to them to make future decisions about where to invest
large sums of money that come to them. There is no reason why
there has to be central intervention in LEAs decisions about where
they see the poorest conditions of laboratories.
(Mr Miliband) I hope we will see the results in more
people doing science, higher standards of achievement in science,
because those are the things we want to see at the end of the
day. I share your wish to see improvements in the science labs,
however it is obvious from the two figures I quoted the biggest
improvement is not going to come from the 60 million pocket it
is going to come from the allocation of the three billion that
goes towards science. Do you see what I mean?
52. I do. I must also say that the Report goes
on about a number of matters, one of the things it says in recommendation
62 is, "We will be working with our partners to develop interactive,
flexible and user-friendly resources for schools to help in assessing
their needs and procuring the accommodation and equipment necessary
to teach science in the classroom of the future". It will
make it much easier for all of us if the language was a little
bit simpler. If can you explain to us what it actually means that
would be really helpful?
(Mr Miliband) What it means is that every LEA is developing
an asset management plan to upgrade the quality of its capital
resource, that is an important document, above all, in helping
focus LEAs' attention on which aspects of their capital they want
to tackle. In the end the proof of the pudding is going to be
in the number and quality of science education that goes on.
Mr Dhanda: That is far more easily understood
in the way you said it. Thank you.
53. We saw some excellent science laboratories.
I have to say that the best we saw were at Westminster School
round the corner here in Smith Square. You might expect that!
In my own personal meandering about schools I have seen some pretty
grotty science laboratories, in many cases the fume cupboards
do not work. There is a complete shortage of glassware work, there
is a shortage of everything. I am a bit disappointed to hear that
we are not going to try and evaluate how much money we need to
plough into school science laboratories, we are going to leave
it to the local authority to do that. Some local authorities are
excellent and they will do that, will they not, but other local
authorities need to be driven to do that. I have another concern,
I am very pleased to hear that we are going to allocate three
billion pounds for buildings, whether new or maintaining existing
ones, such as science laboratories; that is good news. I would
encourage you to ensure that quite a bit of that money goes down
to the science laboratories. My question is: are you going to
assure us this afternoon that quite a bit of that money will go
outside the specialist science colleges, into the schools that
are not getting extra money in many ways and that are really suffering?
(Mr Miliband) I can tell you that every asset management
plan is audited for quality to make sure that it is not just a
few boxes that are being checked, it is actually a serious document.
In the guidance priority is clearly given to science labs. I think
that should reassure you, it reassures me, that there is a big
push going on, that a significant proportion of the money does
get spent on science labs. I always welcome feedback from the
frontline, but the asset management plans give sufficient authority
to science and our guidance gives priority to science. I agree
with you that there are grotty science labs but I have also seen
some improved in the last five years. The sums involved are large,
they are in addition to all of the other running costs, three
billion a year comes up to five billion a year on capital by 2005-06.
That is big money.
54. Are you saying that your Department will
be monitoring that that money is actually going in to improve
science laboratories all round?
(Mr Miliband) We monitor the asset management plan,
that it conforms to the guidance we have given. If an asset management
plan came forward that had no priority towards science labs we
would ask a pretty serious question about it. We need to be convinced
that every science lab in the LEA was of such a brilliant standard
we do not have to spend any money on them.
55. This Committee's experience was that the
£570 million that went in to cancer services did not actually
get through, and that was admitted by the Department.
(Mr Miliband) Where did it end up?
56. It paid off deficits in health authorities
and it had to pay for wage increases. The money did not get to
where the Government thought it was going.
(Mr Miliband) Let me go back and check on the extent
of any underspend on New Deal for Schools and other capital budgets
and drop you a line to see if that provides any reassurance or
alarm on the state of spending.
57. I would just like to pick up on something
you said earlier which I think reflects something that I and the
Committee unanimously would wish to contest, it relates to the
answer you gave earlier about GM crops. You seem to suggest that
what the science curriculum was about was learning the technical
stuff and then they could all have little discussions about it
somewhere else; some good schools might provide scope for people
to do that. What we have said in our Report, for instance, a quotation
from Ralph Levinson, "an emphasis on evidence and an emphasis
on argument could be one way forward". What we are trying
to do is to get people to think differently about the way science
is delivered so there is more emphasis on the students' own interests
and them being able to shape their educational experience more
effectively. We think that the awarding bodies do not take responsibility
for what we regard as a satisfying assessment system which prevents
that kind of interaction from happening. If they are not doing
it then we are asking you, will you?
(Mr Miliband) To respond, I do not think we do have
a difference. I did not articulate myself sufficiently clearly.
The unique contribution of the science teaching is to give young
people the facts. That does not mean, let me finish,
58. That is a source of conflict, we do not
(Mr Miliband) You have not heard what I have said
yet. That does not mean that science teaching and science classes
are restricted to giving them the facts. Science lessons can have
excellent debates as well as getting technical issues across;
however those technical issues and debates can be pursued in other
lessons as well.
59. Should they not be integrated into the assessment
procedure and the student's experience?
(Mr Miliband) The assessment procedure must test the
full range of` knowledge and skill that exists in a young person.
The science class is not restricted to those technical issues.
I hope there is debate in science classes as well as technical
discussion, but the unique contribution of science is it can arm
young people with the technical knowledge as well.