MONDAY 4 NOVEMBER 2002
Dr Ian Gibson, in the Chair
MR DAVID MILIBAND MP, Minister of State for School Standards, MS JANET DALLAS, Team Leader, Curriculum Division, and MR JOHN JONES, Team Leader, School and College Qualifications Division, Department for Education and Skills, examined.
(Mr Miliband) Would you mind if I did say a few things just to kick us off?
(Mr Miliband) It may be worthwhile saying first of all, to inspire you to even greater rough and tumble activities, that we have behind us the Speaker of the Cape Verde Parliament who is here not because of his outstanding interest in science but because of his particular interest in the Committee system. I am told that when he leaves after about quarter of an hour that is not because of something I have said but because he has a busy schedule. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here. I am here with Janet Dallas whom you have met before from the Curriculum Division, and John Jones from the 14-19 Division. With your permission I will spend four or five minutes setting out some points. My own experience of science rather ill qualifies me for this task.
(Mr Miliband) I will happily own up to my travails in A-level science which were more to do with my own limitations than those of the teachers or of the curriculum. On a serious note, we have no view that we have a monopoly of wisdom in the Department in this area. We are delighted that you are spending time thinking about science and the science curriculum 14-19. We hope by the end of this hour that you will be able to offer us a re-grade from "unsatisfactory" to at least "promising" although, as you know, the Government has to steer very well clear of anything to do with assessments.
(Mr Miliband) We are hoping for a re-grade. I am sure we agree that science is absolutely critical to the future of the country, not just economically but as a community. I hope you also agree that Investing for Innovation, the Government-wide prospectus for reform in science, is a very positive document. We are absolutely clear that the so-called genome generation is going to need the moral and technical resources to make some very difficult decisions in the next 20 or 30 years and science teaching is obviously critical to that. Let me start in an unusual place, which is that there are some good things happening. It is rather British trait always to talk about what is wrong, but you would not believe from reading a lot of the press in this area that the UK was ranked fourth out of 32 OECD countries in terms of scientific literacy. I think that is a tribute to teachers and to pupils and it is important in sessions like this that we recognise the outstanding work that is done all round the country and I am sure you would agree with that. It is important that we are doing some things right and we must build on those as well as correcting what is wrong. I just want to pick out three themes from your report and touch on them briefly and then answer your questions. They are to do with people, to do with the curriculum and to do with resources; in other words, effective teaching, how we get and develop an engaging curriculum, how we make sure that we have the right accommodation and equipment to achieve high standards. In relation to effective teaching, we obviously want to have the right number of properly rewarded, properly supported teachers using the best possible teaching techniques. To that end you will know that overall the pay of experienced teachers has risen by about 15-20 per cent in real terms over the last five years, and that obviously benefits science teachers as well as teachers of other subjects. In addition there are over £5,000 per teacher recruitment and retention allowances available to heads to use from their own increasingly devolved budgets to ensure that the difficulties in the recruiting and retaining of science teachers are overcome. We are waiting for the STRB, the School Teachers' Review Body, to give us their view on the need for specific allowances in relation to science teachers. In relation to the spreading of best practice, you will know about the £25 million pledge from the Wellcome Trust to the National Centre for Excellence in Science Teaching. We will soon be coming forward with the Government's proposals in this area. I would also like to flag up the 24 specialist science schools and the 58 applications we have had in the October round for specialist status for science schools. Finally, in relation to support staff in this section on people, you will know now, which you could not know when you published your report, that the Government has some very ambitious plans for bringing expertise into the classroom to support the work of the so-called para-professionals. We anticipate over this Parliament over 50,000 extra people. Some of them are just secretarial but increasing numbers are at a higher level to support teachers in the teaching enterprise. We are working closely with the Royal Society and others to ensure that we have the right framework for designating and qualifying those staff but technicians fit very squarely in the middle of that agenda. They are highlighted twice as priorities for the support staff reforms that were published two weeks ago. In relation to the curriculum, I personally see absolutely no contradiction between the emphasis we put on high standards in what are called the basics and the enrichment and the creativity that comes not just from science but also from other subjects that sometimes are seen as supportive rather than centre stage. I would say in relation to the science curriculum 14-19 that we will never get anything right if we start at 14. The Key Stage 3 science curriculum is absolutely critical and that is why I think you will applaud the reforms that we are bringing in at Key Stage 3 so that we can get to encourage much more active learning, more engaging pedagogy at 11-14 to engage young people. In relation to the 14-19 curriculum itself, you will know that just last year students started some new style GCSE courses and this year we are starting a pilot of a hybrid GCSE that has a common core and then some options beyond that core. We are at the early stages in trying to re-energise and re-engage pupils in the science curriculum at GCSE. No-one has completed their courses yet. Personally at constituency level I am getting very positive feedback from teachers about that. You will know that the 14-19 Green Paper flagged up the potential for longer term reform in this area and we will be coming forward with our response to the consultation in due course. Obviously, other matters in relation to A-levels and AS-levels have taken precedence in the last couple of months but we certainly have not forgotten about the issues raised in that Green Paper and we will be coming forward with them at the appropriate moment. Finally, in relation to buildings and accommodation, you will know that when we came into office in 1997 the total school building budget for 24,000 schools around the country was some £600 million, which does not add up to very much per school. It is now £3 billion and it is growing in the spending review estimates up to £4.5 billion a year by 2005/2006. The DfES guidance to the local education authorities puts real stress on the importance of some of that money going towards science laboratories and their importance in that and we trust the good sense of local headteachers and LEAs to put that money to good use. The Asset Management Plan is prepared by every LEA to give due significance to the importance of science in that investment. That is our agenda. We are clear that the next stage of educational reform is not about central diktat but about us setting the right framework of accountability for teachers and for LEAs to respond and to empower them with the resources to make change at local level and that is why delegation in our education system is rising and why the DfES spend is falling and why there are fewer pots of money to bid for and less bureaucracy attached to that, but with the right accountability we believe we can get not just science right but the rest of the curriculum right too. Thank you very much.
(Mr Miliband) It is quite the opposite. I take quite the opposite view that because we agree with you and confirm that we are taking action in areas where we agree with you, it seems to me strange therefore to seek areas of disagreement. Throughout our response to your report we agree that you have identified important issues and we set out the ways in which we are trying to address them, so I would take quite the opposite view from you. We have deliberately not written a sensationalist report in reply to you that tries to find areas of disagreement where there is none. Instead we have given an honest appraisal of where we think you have hit the mark, which is a large number of areas. They are areas that we have identified as well and I think that we can have a very productive discussion about how we do better in a number of those areas but I would really urge you not to feel that because we agree with you that areas need to be addressed somehow we are complacent; quite the opposite. I feel that we have a shared agenda in terms of pushing science forward. I hear what you say about the evidence base but with all due respect the OECD study which I cited, showing the UK's performance in science, has not been challenged by anyone and whatever the anecdotal comments that might come forward from the front line the overall situation is as I described it. We agree that there are real pinch points, real problems, real areas where we need to do better as a country and we have tried to highlight where we are addressing those issues. It is precisely because we share some of your concerns that we have taken a lot of action to change those things.
(Mr Miliband) With respect, those are two very different questions so let me address them separately. Although you say we are scraping the bottom of the barrel as a country there are 28 countries who are performing worse than we are in a national survey of 32 countries, so let us not do ourselves down. In relation to young women, which I agree is a serious issue, the overall position in our schools actually is that the young girls are doing much better than the boys, including in science. If you look at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 the gender gap is against boys. Girls are doing better. Where you have highlighted an important issue is how we then translate that into study at post-16 and study at university, and obviously there is a whole range of issues associated with that. One is the curriculum and the extent to which it motivates all young people. I would be nervous of making changes to the current curriculum before we see the effect of the new GCSEs that have just been brought in a year ago. The second issue I would raise with you is the pedagogy, if you like, the teaching and learning strategy and the extent to which it gets the right balance between course work and examination and the extent to which the learning is genuinely active learning as opposed to passive learning. I do not want to become too jargon laden, and there I see an important role for the specialist science colleges being genuine beacons of good practice that spread the best methods of science teaching around the local schooling system. We are going to see the same in relation to sports colleges, in relation to technology colleges where there is a greater critical mass and where we have seen progress, so that is the second thing I would mention. The third aspect of this is that we want to give young people when they make their choices about 14-19 science the sense that they are moving into a growing field where there are future possibilities for them at university and beyond and that is why it is so important to locate our discussion today in the context of the Investing for Innovation overall strategy. We can only succeed as part of a growing science base. We cannot do it in the absence of that.
(Mr Miliband) I was not very good at it and there is nothing like a "D" to make you think twice about whether or not you want to carry on pursuing a subject. Frankly, I would not have got into any university to do university degree physics. Such is life. As I say, it was more my problem than the system's problem. The system is probably quite lucky that I did not pursue science any further.
(Mr Miliband) Anyone in the social sciences at university would give their right arm for the degree of investment that has gone on in the natural sciences.
Chairman: It is expensive.
(Mr Miliband) No, with respect, it is not irrelevant. I was asked by Mr McWalter whether the Government was willing to give priority to science. In our spending decisions we have given priority to science. It is absolutely in relation to infrastructure, in relation to funding of personnel that the Government has responded to the demand that we give greater priority to science, and we have. Those are funding choices we are making to build up the capacity of science departments. I am skiing off piste here; that is outside my area, but we have put significant sums of money into science and not into the social sciences. You can rightly say, and I will agree with you, that it is long overdue, it is long needed, the money is necessary, we need more, but the Government has flagged up in the most obvious way it can its own commitment there. I would ask back to you, what are you saying to me about the choices that students are making? I do not see how we can run a university system by us making the choices for them; I am sure you would agree with that. They are making the choices about what subjects they want to study. We are making it possible for them to study to a high standard by expanding the science base in universities. We want to do more of it. We are committed in a whole number of ways. I do not need to rehearse how we hope to do that, but I do not see what you are suggesting about an alternative model of getting people to do science at university other than the choices that they make.
(Mr Miliband) We must not let this discussion close without having on the record that there are 12 per cent more people doing science in university than there were six years ago. That is a fact that I have not invented. Between 1994 and 1995 and 2000 and 2001 total enrolments in full time science based first degrees in UK institutions increased by 12 per cent.
(Mr Miliband) Let me come back on those two because I think they are important points. My figures are that there are 40,000 more undergraduates studying science than there were six or seven years ago.
(Mr Miliband) They cannot all be doing medicine, with all due respect.
(Mr Miliband) I take seriously what you say about the content of science at A-level. However, I will never be party to saying that we should make science A-level easier. That gets the Government into very hot water, rightly, and I am not saying that. I hear what you are saying about maths but I have seen no research, either from the universities or from anywhere else, showing that the maths content of science A-level is a determining factor in putting people off. I am open to it and I will certainly pass it on to the QCA who are responsible for this, but I cannot direct a change in the maths content of the science A-level without significant research evidence that is independently based showing that.
(Mr Miliband) How many undergraduates are there in tap dancing?
(Mr Miliband) I know of no students doing tap dancing.
(Mr Miliband) I do not want us to demean the choices that people are making. People often say that media studies is a load of nonsense but actually the employment rates of media graduates and some of the emerging technologies in that area show that there is a market for them. In relation to science and the like, as a personal view I am not convinced that they are seen as hard for people who have shown skill at science A-level. If I tried to do undergraduate physics I would not find it possible but for the young people who are doing well at A-level, as a personal view I do not think it is the fact that they are seen to be hard. I think that there is an issue about the extent to which the world of science holds on to its graduates and the extent to which they float out into other occupations, which is a different thing. That relates to the place of science. Someone referred to engineering, the economic base of the country; there are some very big issues there. I am interested if you have got some evidence showing this because it is perceived to be hard. For kids who are talented at science I am not convinced that that is the problem.
(Mr Miliband) Why?
(Mr Miliband) I do not want to end this session on a false note. What I have said is that the Government is committing significant resources to expand the capacity of science departments of universities to offer more and better degrees to science students. That has resulted in 40,000 more people doing science at undergraduate level. You say the distribution is not as it should be. The Government's commitment is to a bigger, better science base at university level. It is up to students then to make those choices. Our job is to get right the science teaching at Key Stage 3, GCSE and A-level so that you have the right flow coming through.
(Mr Miliband) I take very seriously what Mr McWalter has said. I think we should commit in that case to go away and do a breakdown, with you if that would be helpful, subject by subject, course by course, cross-cuts, in whatever way we can. I have no interest in saying to you that everything is fine and then to find in seven years' time, you said, that everything has gone to pot. I have got absolutely no interest in doing that at all. I am more than happy to commit to detailed discussions, subject by subject.
(Mr Miliband) Let us drill down to what is really happening because I have absolutely no interest in pulling the wool over your eyes or having the wool pulled over mine.
(Ms Dallas) As you know, we are working very closely with the Wellcome Trust to develop the new centre. Where we are at the moment is developing around 25 new courses for teachers and also including science technicians. As maybe I indicated last time, those courses are all about leading edge science. It is about access to that for teachers and pupils. It is about looking at contemporary science issues in a way which both handles the science and the controversy which sometimes surrounds issues like that. It is about engaging in effective use of ICT in the science classroom. It is about looking at ways of encouraging analytical and reasoning skills in pupils. One of the things which I remember we talked about last time was the very heavy content in the curriculum and the whole issue about regurgitation of facts. It is attempting to move away from that. Obviously you need the facts but it is about encouraging teachers to help their pupils develop those reasoning, questioning and investigative skills. That is just a snapshot of the provision that is being developed there.
(Mr Miliband) He wants to know when we are launching it, when we are putting our money in.
(Ms Dallas) We said last time that the centre would be up and running next year, and that is still the case, and we said it would be fully operational in two years. That is still the case.
(Mr Miliband) We want to make an announcement, as I understand it, before Christmas about our commitment to the package that was so generously kicked off by Wellcome.
(Mr Miliband) I think this is an important area and one where it is difficult for politicians, or at least politicians that are not scientists or have not been through the system, to be absolutely sure about what is really happening. You have listed a number of areas. The fact that they are listed does not mean that they are true, so the first thing we have to do is look at them and see whether or not they are right. We are with due seriousness trying to get underneath this.
(Mr Miliband) No, it is not a capital "R" Review, if that is what you are saying. Let me address the second half of your comments because I am happy to hear you come back on it. We have just started, a year ago, the new style GCSE, and we have got the new pilot GCSE, the so-called hybrid GCSE, starting this year. The frustrating thing about curriculum change is that it takes a very long time. However, I am sure we would all agree that in the light of the AS-level and A-level fracas this summer, urgency always has to be balanced with due diligence in making curriculum change, and you will know not just that those initiatives were long in the gestation trying to address several of the issues that you have raised here, but that they need to be properly evaluated, but also that there is a structural issue here which is that our advisers on curriculum issues are, rightly, the independent QCA. They have given evidence to you, they have responded to your report. I think it is dangerous for me to bypass what is an established procedure, whichever party is in power, as to the nature of curriculum change. I would agree with you that where there are problems we have to tackle them seriously. However, I never want to start trialing new initiatives before we know the effects of existing ones. In this area, as it happens, we have two really major things going on: a new GCSE course and the new pilot of core science plus specialist modules. I think we all have to wait and see what the effect of those is before we rush to change it again.
(Mr Jones) The review has not been commissioned yet. That review will be part of the review that will be commissioned as part of the response of the 14-19 Green Paper which the Minister has not yet given. That would look at science and would be asked to take account of this Committee's report, but until ministers give their response to the 14-19 Green Paper we cannot commission the QCA to undertake that review of the Key Stage 4 curriculum.
(Mr Jones) Yes.
(Mr Miliband) And I think it is fair to say that we have been focusing on the practical issues, the delivery of the A and AS-level system, but we certainly want to proceed when possible with the 14-19 Green Paper and the response to it because it was a very wide-ranging debate on that Green Paper.
(Mr Miliband) Can you come back on my point which is that we have made what we believe, and I think you accept this, are some quite significant changes to the GCSE science course? Come back to me in a judicious way and in a way that does not say to teachers, "You have started teaching the new style course. We are going to turf it all up if you did not take any exams". We need to find a way of learning the lessons of that significant reform before we turn the system upside down again.
Mr Heath: I think it would have been reasonable to have commissioned the review from the QCA. I think it would have been reasonable to have identified at least some of the key areas.
(Mr Miliband) But is it not right, Chairman, that first of all there are schools that have been debating those things? Secondly, the purpose of science courses is to give students the technical basis on which to have what you describe as the moral arguments. There is nothing to stop those sorts of debates happening. I hear what you say about the amount of material that needs to be taken on board. I have been to schools where there are displays on the wall of work about GMOs, so I am not convinced that these are no-go areas for teachers and for schools.
(Mr Miliband) There are a number of things I should bring to your attention or maybe you know about them already, which do constitute a significant improvement. You can judge whether or not they are a step change. First of all, the Key Stage 3 strategy really must not be under-estimated. It is a major attempt to galvanise the teaching and learning experience for 11-14-year olds. We know those are the years when there is a turn-off in secondary education. Secondly, I think that the development of the specialist science college network is an exciting step change, a genuine step change. As I say, there are 58 applications in the October round to be announced in January. Those are schools thinking, "We have got a centre of excellence in science. We want to build on that and share our facilities and our expertise in that area." That has real power. Third, I believe the school workforce reforms that we announced two weeks ago really are a radical departure in the sense that they will give science teachers, like other teachers, a chance to be at the cutting edge of what it means to be a professional. They will be properly supported with proper time preparation and assessment of pupils, absolutely critical to high quality lessons, I am sure you agree, and will get the support in the classroom from technicians and others, secretarial support as back-up, that really allows the science lessons to be of the highest quality. We know at the moment that teachers only spend a third of their time teaching. We want to increase that proportion which will have benefits right across the curriculum, but notably in an area like science. You can judge whether that counts as a step change, but I think there are important things happening that will have a positive effect.
(Mr Miliband) You obviously did think it was negative and I am sorry you thought it was negative. We start with a statement of fact which is that the national curriculum, including science, was revised in 2001. It has just happened. We have got that major revision. For obvious reasons I do not need to bore you with we are not permanently revising the national curriculum. It would drive teachers and pupils absolutely mad. I will take away the fact that you think this is too complacent. I think with such a recent review, with some big changes going on at Key Stage 3, real encouragement for teachers to help students progress at their own pace, so forging ahead in some subjects like science where they have got a particular talent, we can address some of the points that you have made.
(Mr Miliband) It was one of the quinquennial reviews of the national curriculum which was done on the basis of real expert engagement with the science and other communities. Perhaps someone can fill me in on the 25 per cent that was revised. That is actually quite a lot of the curriculum to be revised given that it is the same people who are teaching it in a five year period.
(Mr Jones) My understanding was that one of the changes that was made was to remove the duplication between what happened at Key Stage 3 and what happened at Key Stage 4. That would be in terms of the programme of study that would be required at each of these stages and of course the curriculum at Key Stage 4 is what drives the content of the GCSE provision. What I cannot comment on but may well be the case is whether teachers none the less found that in taking groups of pupils forward from Key Stage 3 they still had to do remedial work that would inevitably require some duplication of work in order to bring people back up to speed at Key Stage 4 and GCSE. Clearly there are issues in that about pace and progression and how you handle different groups of young people within any one year group within a school, and indeed the 14-19 Green Paper does suggest that there should be a more flexible use of different paced teaching in order to facilitate that.
(Mr Miliband) That is what this is about though. This is what we are being asked about. We are asked, "Is there repetition" and he has just said we are taking out the repetition.
Mr Harris: I have to say, Minister, that in the evidence we took across the country, in Scotland as well as in England and Wales, everywhere, the word "repetition" in the syllabus came up time and time again and my colleague has already referred to that.
(Mr Miliband) Janet is in the Curriculum Division. She obviously cannot speak for Scotland because they have got a different situation, but why do you not say whether you think that duplication has been removed, because that is the focus of this, whether or not duplication has been removed and he says it has?
(Ms Dallas) I think we need to separate out two things. We need to separate out the curriculum which is a framework and has progression built in from Key Stages 1-4 and it was the case that prior to the last national curriculum review there was repetition within what was studied or what was specified to be studied between Key Stages 3 and 4, and it is that change which has been made. I think perhaps from your own evidence what you heard was that the pupils' learning experiences are repetitive which is like being on the receiving end of the curriculum. We recognise that some pupils do feel like that but I also think that today we have told you a lot about the things that we have put in place which we hope will change the experiences of those young people over time, but these things do happen over time.
(Mr Miliband) I would certainly agree that the mode of assessment has major implications for teaching in any subject, not just in science. That is obviously true.
(Mr Miliband) For obvious reasons, in matters of assessment it is always much more sensible for the Government to follow the advice of its lead advisers unless there is absolutely overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We have a system where it is not the DfES internally that makes proposals on this. We have got an independent external body full of experts in these areas. I have not seen sufficient evidence to make me want to countermand the QCA's advice, which I am sure you would agree, since they are an independent body, means that there is this high burden of proof required, and on the basis of my views simply to go against what they are saying.
(Mr Miliband) I think this is an important area and I am glad that we got a chance to look at it, but it is one where politicians have to be very careful how they tread. The responsibility for regulating the Awarding Bodies is not a matter for Government; it is a matter for the QCA. That is the straightforward answer to your question. The QCA is responsible for ensuring that syllabuses are appropriate, that examination procedures are appropriate, that the right examination is done in the right way and all that sort of thing. Having said that, you will know that there is a major review going on at the moment by Mike Tomlinson into the relationships between the QCA and the Awarding Bodies as well as into the suitability of our current structure of Awarding Bodies, so I do not want to pre-judge that but that is the formal position.
(Mr Miliband) That is a fair point. It would be absurd in the light of this year's difficulties to say, "Look how well we are doing in this area".
(Mr Miliband) I have read Stephen Timms' evidence but in relation to that there is quite an interesting story, remember, which is that last year there was a major problem with one of the examining boards, Edexel, and the way it worked. It was a huge issue I think for you and for us and the QCA were encouraged to take a very active role in ensuring due diligence on the procedures in Edexel. What we know as a result of the whole imbroglio this year is actually that Edexel got their act together, they got the requisite number of markers, they got their grades in on time and appropriately, so QCA in that specific context did its job quite well. There is a separate issue, which is where QCA fell down. It is very clear that in its specification of the appropriate standards for individual units in the AS and A-level it fell down on the job. That is the absolutely obvious conclusion of the Tomlinson Review mark one, and that is what is being addressed coming out of that Tomlinson Review by the new Chief Executive of the QCA. The six points that Tomlinson requested that he look at are being looked at.
(Mr Miliband) With respect, I do not think they are awaiting re-grades. They may be awaiting re-marks.
(Mr Miliband) Which is a significant difference.
(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 a plan.
(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.
(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 schools?". 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 in schools.
(Mr Miliband) On the former, the consultation on this document on developing the role of school support staff closes on January 26. 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.
(Mr Miliband) The experience of regional skills 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 in to 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 schools.
(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.
(Mr Miliband) No.
(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.
(Ms Dallas) The evaluation of the money given to the LEAs - we are talking about 60 million over the last two years, ring-fenced funding to the laboratories - will 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.
(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.
(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 saw 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?
(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.
(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 is four and a half billion a year on capital by 2005/2006. That is big money.
(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.
(Mr Miliband) Where did it end up?
(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.
(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, --
(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.
(Mr Miliband) The assessment procedure must test the full range and 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.
(Mr Miliband) I will take that seriously, I will take that away. A similar charge is made against us in a wholly different area, let me explain, we are told that in primary schools the emphasis on literacy and numeracy means there is no room for enrichment activities and that all other activities are being squeezed out of the primary school curriculum. OFSTED enquired into this and what they found was that in 25 per cent of schools that were actually delivering a primary strategy properly, a literacy and numeracy strategy properly, there was synergy between enrichment activities and the literacy and numeracy that we were putting such emphasis on. I feel we probably have a similar situation here, there are schools and colleges up and down the country who are arming young people with the technical knowledge but they are also firing them with imagination and enthusiasm for the debates that come out of that, the debates in which their technical knowledge is used. What I am hearing here is we have to do a better job in making sure more schools are able to provide that combination of technical knowledge and real debate. I am not yet convinced the curriculum or the assessment mechanism makes that impossible. In my estimate there is a good 20 per cent to 25 per cent of schools that are doing that.
Mr McWalter: We say that it does.
(Mr Miliband) Thank you.