|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 23rd May 2011|
16-19 Participation in Education and Training
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
16-19 PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION AND TRAINING
WEDNESDAY 18 MAY 2011
MARTIN DOEL, JOANNE MCALLISTER, MARTIN WARD and PROFESSOR WATTS
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 18 May 2011
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Martin Doel OBE, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, Joanne McAllister, Cumbria County Council, Martin Ward, Deputy General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders, and Professor Tony Watts OBE, Life President, National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling, gave evidence.
Q183 Chair: Good morning, and welcome to our Select Committee’s deliberations on participation by 16 to 19-year-olds in education and training. Thank you particularly, Martin Ward, for stepping in at the last minute. Thank you for coming. It is a pleasure to see you, Joanne, as well as lags who have been before the Committee many times, who are also very welcome; it is a pleasure to see you.
The Government have accepted all the recommendations of the Wolf report. In the context of 16 to 19-year-old participation, do you think that decision is to be welcomed?
Martin Doel: Yes, I am pleased that they have accepted the recommendations, and I am particularly pleased that the recommendation on English and maths GCSE has been softened somewhat to attend to the fact that some young people at 16 won’t find English and maths GCSE the right way forward to engage them, which is particularly important in terms of raising the participation age, so giving consideration to an alternative way forward for them is very welcome, as is acceptance that some young people may take longer than 16 to 18 to achieve the best standard in maths and English that they can. In that sense particularly, it is welcome, and generally the complete nature of the report is welcome. I was concerned at one stage that the some parts of it would be cherry-picked, and that it wouldn’t be done coherently. It is important to preserve the coherence in the report as we go forward.
Professor Watts: My main concern is about the weakening of work experience pre-16. In her report, Alison Wolf confused exploratory work experience pre-16 for all young people with preparatory work experience post-16 for some young people. They are different. Work experience is a really important part of young people’s ability to explore the world of work at an early stage. That is my main concern.
Q184 Chair: And on the positive side, excepting that, do you accept it overall?
Professor Watts: In general.
Martin Ward: Yes. Most of the recommendations seem entirely sensible to us. There is slight concern about the point that Martin made-that over-emphasis on English and maths GCSE, as distinct from numeracy and literacy, would not necessarily be helpful. Clearly, it wouldn’t be an easy sell to a 16-year-old who has hated doing English and maths GCSE for the last two-or, arguably, five-years to say, "Come along and do it all again." Although young people clearly need those skills-numeracy and literacy-they don’t necessarily need to be studying GCSE English and maths, at least not straight away.
The other slight concern is about moving away from vocational courses in the 14-to-16 phase. Although one would agree with Alison Wolf that over-specialisation at 14 is not a good thing, moving away from vocational courses may make it more difficult to motivate and keep engaged some of the young people in that age band. If they are obliged to do a narrowly defined academic course and nothing else, we may find they reach 16 all the more likely to want to leave.
Q185 Chair: It was 80%, wasn’t it? So she was allowing up to 20%, claiming that there was enough balance there.
Martin Ward: That’s right. It’s a good point, but some of those courses were somewhat larger than that and probably could continue to be so. Of course, it also depends on exactly what one means by a vocational course. They don’t want anything too narrowly defined at age 14. We’re not talking about training people for a particular occupation at that point, but something that is looking outwards and looking forward can in that sense be very useful for some young people.
Q186 Chair: She specifically rejected the idea that vocational courses did exactly what you said they did, which was to help to re-engage those who had been turned off by more academic study. Was she wrong in that respect, Martin Doel?
Martin Doel: I think there was more than an implied criticism in the report of inappropriate provision of vocational education to some young people within schools because of the lack of specialist lecturers and specialist facilities-the laboratories and workshops you would want to have in those situations. They weren’t as effective as they should or could have been, and she saw a greater role for colleges delivering to 14 to 16-year-olds in making use of those specialist facilities and lecturers.
Although we’re supportive of that recommendation, there is a lot of work to do to address how that’s to be done. In a situation in which funding is now more constrained and the competition therefore is to catch the student and the funding that goes along with the student, the high-quality provision that colleges make for 14 to 16-year-olds, which has been praised by Ofsted, is, I think, at risk in the meantime before we get new provision or new freedoms for colleges that take on 14-year-olds. The number of 14 to 16-year-olds going to colleges has been declining over the last two years, notwithstanding the value that Alison saw and Ofsted sees in this provision, so we need to get on quickly to understand what the barriers are to colleges doing more with 14 to 16-year-olds.
Joanne McAllister: I agree with all the points made, particularly about pre-16 work experience. In terms of vocational education, our experience in Cumbria has been that it is a very useful tool for 14 to 16-year-olds. We’ve had some really good college courses, and progression to post-16 courses has been significant as well, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Q187 Bill Esterson: Good morning. To what extent is what goes on in schools responsible for low participation post-16, especially compared with what goes on in the systems of our comparable European neighbours?
Martin Ward: Clearly, what schools do is very important in that respect. If they bring people to the age of 16 alienated from the education process, that is not going to be at all helpful, but it would be unfair to lay the problem at the door of schools. The great majority of young people at 16 are going on with their education and training and want to do so. In relation to those who don’t, although that can have something to do with their school experience, it almost invariably also has to do with the poverty-monetary and educational-of their home background. In some cases, it has to do with poor parenting, poor diet, the local peer culture, gang culture and so on, mental health problems or drug or alcohol addiction. All these things bear on that last group who are not engaged in education and training post-16. You can’t lay all of that at the door of the schools system. That said, the schools system can do more; of course it can.
Q188 Bill Esterson: What’s the likely impact of the emphasis on academic learning?
Martin Ward: As I just said, if that is too narrowly defined, and young people who are not temperamentally inclined to want to work in that sort of way find that they are obliged to do O-level English, maths, and history-sorry, I am going back in time there, but that sort of strand of GCSE work-clearly there is all the more danger that they will reach 16 thinking, "This isn’t for me. As soon as I can get out of it, the better." If that happens, then I think we will see an increase in young people who are not productively engaged in the 16-to-19 phase.
Martin Doel: I wouldn’t want to make it a whole morning of school versus college, but colleges do, at points, I think, pick up the problem from a disengaged youngster at 16, and then try to change that person’s approach to learning. In doing that, I accept that it is clearly not only the schools that are responsible for this problem. I am quite persuaded, having read the 2007 report on NEETs last night, that this is not a homogeneous group; it is heterogeneous. Every individual, almost, has a different set of issues and problems. What I would say colleges are particularly adept at, in terms of their pastoral support systems, is trying to personalise the learning to the individual who attends at 16.
I have to say, I share Martin’s concern that if the English baccalaureate is the driver of behaviour in schools, I’m not sure that personalised provision will so easily be made available to 14 to 16-year-olds. This relates to my issue about colleges having more of a role here, but having the freedom to deliver in a way that engages those young people and prevents them from becoming NEET at 16. Interestingly, the stats we are seeing now are saying that the NEET problem is being displaced to 18, substantially, which is logical; you would expect, in terms of raising the participation age and increased participation, the point at which people become engaged to slide to the right, but that needs attendance.
Professor Watts: The personalisation thing is the reason I want to focus mainly on guidance programmes in schools, which I think are hugely under risk. Perhaps we’ll come to that a little bit later.
Chair: We will indeed. Thank you.
Joanne McAllister: It is not just a college issue either, at 16. I think there are other providers that can provide for these young people and offer a personalised programme, particularly around foundation learning, etc. We have obviously got to look at the needs of the person as an individual, and ensure that what is being put in place for them meets their needs and breaks down the barriers that they have to education.
Q189 Bill Esterson: May I ask about part-time vocational learning? What’s your view on what is done in schools at the moment?
Martin Doel: In terms of vocational provisional and part-time learning?
Chair: Are they doing enough to enable part-time vocational learning?
Martin Doel: In schools?
Martin Doel: I have a concern about the vocational provision within those schools-part-time or otherwise-mainly because of the lack of facilities, and the way that the league tables have operated, putting perverse incentives in front of schools, in terms of doing the right thing. In terms of part-time provision and work experience, I don’t know that part-time learning is the issue. I would move towards 16-to-18 apprenticeships as a kind of part-time learning provision. There are interesting issues to observe on the nature of apprenticeship pre-18, and apprenticeship post-18, which need some further attention.
Martin Ward: Do you mean children in school who are learning in a vocational way part of the time, and in academic strands the other part of the time, or post-16 youngsters who are doing part-time learning, and working the rest of the time, or not learning?
Bill Esterson: The 14-to-16 group.
Chair: The 20% that Alison Wolf talked about.
Martin Ward: Yes. That is a good model; it’s something that does make a lot of sense. There certainly have been cases of schools making provision of that general kind evidently to improve their league table standing, rather than to improve the experiences of their youngsters. That is true, and we need to get away from that. The problem there is the perverse incentives introduced by poorly chosen performance indicators. The fact that that is true does not mean that this type of provision should not be made, and for many young people it is appropriate provision and something that can be well done. As Martin says, it is often done in conjunction with colleges that have expertise in that sort of area. We certainly welcome the Government’s acceptance of Wolf’s suggestion that teachers with QTLS should be permitted to work in schools in order to do this type of work, because they are often the people who have the right sort of expertise that Martin was alluding to.
Q190 Bill Esterson: May I move on to what needs to change at 16 to 19 to keep students in learning?
Chair: Does a great deal need to be changed? What needs to be done to make it more effective for 16 to 19-year-olds?
Martin Doel: One of the most significant aspects is to acknowledge that the point of entry to the job market is now presumed to be 19 rather than 16. We’ve had an education system that almost presumed that entry was at 16 for many years when the facts say something different. The curriculum needs to adapt to acknowledge that fact, although I accept the notion that, up to 18, it is significantly about broader education and preparing the young person for life, rather than working in an individual sector.
That then moves to the point, if you like, about narrow training to work in one particular area. I therefore support the notion that sector skills councils should have less of an impact over the curriculum from 16 to 19. We should be looking to have broader programmes involving substantial amounts of maths and English, in order to give the young person the life skills they require for their future, and not just for working in one particular career.
That is also my point on apprenticeships. We need to think carefully about what it means to have a broad education within apprenticeships from 16 to 18. We were supportive of apprenticeships within the association, and I am personally very supportive of them. There is a tendency at the moment to say, "The answer is an apprenticeship. What’s the question?" We need to think through the pedagogy that attaches to apprenticeships from 16 to 18, and what it means to have a broad curriculum for 16 to 18-year-olds, rather than one that is made up of a series of qualifications. I therefore think that there is some important continuing work to be done, arising from Wolf, around the curriculum and how it is delivered, and the experience that we have had with things like the diploma.
Q191 Chair: What about the loss of enrichment funding? Surely that goes in the opposite direction. It would narrow to a qualification-driven track, rather than ensuring a rounded course of study.
Martin Doel: I absolutely agree, and one of the interesting things that arises from Wolf is how you arrive at a different funding formula to drive the behaviours that the Government seek to achieve. Some would say that the difficulty is that it is a complicated funding formula for 16 to 19-year-olds; others would say that it was a sophisticated one. When you start moving bits around in this formula, the law of unintended consequences applies very quickly. It needs to be done sensitively, but it needs to be consistent with the aim of having a broad curriculum that engages the 16 to 18-year-olds, and prepares them for the world of work or higher study and the rest of life. The work that needs to be done is not insubstantial, and like many things at the moment it is being done at high speed, but it needs to be done with due care and attention.
Q192 Charlotte Leslie: I want to ask about the transition period as participation becomes a requirement. Are schools and colleges prepared to take on a new intake of 16 to 18-year-olds who find themselves now under a requirement to be in education or training? Are the colleges ready, do you think?
Martin Ward: Yes; in one sense, colleges in particular are ready. There is sufficient flexibility in the curriculum offer-the sort of courses that can be offered-to give a good experience to those students. Clearly, if young people are in a college or school on sufferance, that will bring extra problems.
There is also the question of needing in the first place to reach out and engage with these young people and bring them in, and it may be that voluntary agencies can help with that. However, the Pareto principle applies: the last few are much more difficult to engage and retain than the first few, and are much more expensive. The issue becomes one of support, monitoring and mentoring at a much greater and more intense level than may be necessary for some of the other students. That is expensive. The point that the Chair just made is very pertinent; the loss of that enrichment funding will clearly make it that much more difficult for schools and colleges-it may well be colleges in particular-to engage with this group of students.
Martin Doel: In answer to your question, we have been concerned for some time about aspects relating to the participation age. We are very supportive of raising the participation age, but there is an issue about compelling people to attend until 18, when previously it had been post-compulsory. That might include a change of behaviour. If I were looking for a plus on this, I would say that colleges, through their very nature and what they have had to do over the years, have become the most responsive and adaptive layer within education. They are ready to respond and adapt.
The key thing will be personalising the programme and meeting the needs of individual learners who attend a college. We need to attend to them and engage them through those means. That will be around the pastoral support systems, and matching the students to the right course and the right options, to emphasise what Martin was saying. That is where the real threat around entitlement funding plays into this. It is about the ability to support tutorially those previously disengaged learners, or those who feel that they should not be in learning.
Joanne McAllister: I think there is a role for the voluntary and community sector and other providers, particularly around preparing young people to move into a college environment. We find that some youngsters are daunted by moving into that environment as a first step. For example, in Cumbria, we have tried to work with our foundation learning provider to link into the colleges and work with the young person and prepare them-have those first few weeks with them-before progressing them into a college programme. The other point to make is that I agree with Martin about the cost. When you get to the bottom end, about 900 people are NEET in Cumbria, which is low for the size of the county, but it is very resource-intensive trying to get to them and engage them. It is costly.
Q193 Chair: The key question is: how well prepared are you? Martin is saying that colleges have particularly good strength. What about schools? A lot of people in rural areas are not going to travel all the way to a college-I don’t think many do-and will want to go to their school. If they are the sort of people who disengage, the school will have to change the quality of its offer if it is to re-engage those people. You have to get them there, keep them there and give them something decent to do. Is the system ready for raising the participation age?
Joanne McAllister: I am not sure how ready it is in that respect. Obviously, when you look at school sixth forms and what we are going to teach on level 2 courses, a lot of these young people will not be ready to go in at that level. There is still a lot of work to do within the school system.
Q194 Chair: So it isn’t ready?
Joanne McAllister: No.
Martin Doel: I am moving on slightly to another issue that you might want to cover this morning. A particular aspect of the way colleges are required to do business that plays well into this issue is how performance is measured within colleges and the issue of success rates. Colleges’ success rates are a calculation of a combination of the achievement of the student-the grades they achieve through their courses-and the fact that they are retained and complete their course. Therefore, the calculation of their success, if you like, in our league tables, is the combination of those two: the student must complete the course and pass the course, not just pass the course.
School is a measure just of the achievement of the students at the end. There is therefore less of an imperative on schools to match the students to the right course and support them to ensure they complete. In a college, retention is the key word-retention and completion of the course-whereas in schools, it is much more about the achievement of the A-level grade that puts you up the table. The Government have given an indication that they wish to align the performance measures between schools and colleges. We say that that cannot come along quickly enough, because it allows an informed choice about where you study. It also drives the right behaviour in the institution: focusing on the students so that they complete.
Q195 Charlotte Leslie: You talked about funding resources, but you also need information about likely capacity needs, such as what kind of intake can be expected and what that will be made up of. What information do you need and by what time do you think colleges will need that in order to be ready by 2013?
Martin Ward: For the most part, the information is pretty much available. The big colleges in urban areas have potentially the biggest change to look forward to, because it is in those areas that the largest proportion of young people have not been carrying on with their education. They have pretty good information about the demography and previous patterns of behaviour, so they will have a pretty good idea of what numbers of students are likely to come forward. Of course, they will find it very difficult to know how many of those students actually will engage. We have this notion that the participation age is going up to 18 and everyone will be engaged, but whether they will be is another question, and there is no way to know until after the event.
Martin Doel: I have one additional point. In this uncertain circumstance, there is some benefit of scale in terms of 16-to-18 provision, because you have the ability to weather the ups and downs. A small school sixth form is dependent on numbers being recruited to add to the viability of groups and classes and to offer young people what they want. There is some benefit to, say, a minimum scale, and sixth-form provision of over 250 is absolutely necessary to weather any uncertainty. That is one consideration, and it bridges to two other points.
You asked about information. Colleges have good and well-developed business skills to understand what is likely to be coming in the next year and to make an assessment of that. There are two areas I would identify as particular concerns, and the Committee might want to talk about them later. The information needed to operate the bursary scheme gives us much concern. The other issue is about information as it flows to the student to choose whether they will come to a college-that is the careers point that Tony made, and we may touch on it later.
Q196 Chair: But colleges complain about lagged funding, because is based on the previous year. You have talked about scale. Why can colleges not do more to provide mid-year starts to people? When it comes to trying to engage the difficult to engage, colleges do not do enough, they use lagged funding as an excuse and they need to do more-discuss.
Martin Doel: Our position at the association is that lagged funding is a kind of Winston Churchill term; it is the least worst system you can come up with. It drives a more stable system, but it does mean that people provide this year and earn next year. It stabilises the system, but unless you make some sensible refinements, particularly around mid-year starts, you could be waiting for the money for the student you have taken on in January for a full 18 months. You might retain it when you do not have the students, so it does mitigate the peaks and troughs in the system. But you can get the wrong side of a lagged funding model, and if you have a bad year, catching up from that is very difficult. We are in the early days of this lagged funding system, and some principals are finding it more of an issue than others, because they find themselves in a difficult position. We need to work things through with the new funding agency, as the YPLA transitions, to understand how we can make sensible, but not over-complicated, system refinements to take account of particular circumstances and situations. The model is fundamentally right, but we need some refinements.
Q197 Chair: If you have any recommendations on that front, we would love to hear from you, because it will be important for us to encourage more mid-year starts if we are to engage with people. If you have any proposals, we would like to hear about them so that we can consider recommending them in our report.
Martin Doel: I am happy to help.
Q198 Craig Whittaker: I want to ask you about the local authority role in all this. What are local authorities adding to the range of provision for 14 to 19-year-olds? How much of their work is talking and planning, and how much is about applying pressure and generating results?
Martin Doel: We are on record, as the former Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill had not gone through, as saying that colleges did not relish the thought that they would come more directly under local authority control in terms of what they were to provide in what would have been a highly planned environment. We have moved not into an alternate future, but one where there is much more of a market mechanism, not least as a result of the lagged funding numbers basis. That offers some concerns about the range of provision, because the market operates in an imperfect way in all circumstances.
As to the local authorities’ role in this, I struggle somewhat to say what it is. The legislation is still in place, but they do not have the wherewithal or the mechanisms to do much about it, particularly since many more academies have formed, and they are outside local authority control. Colleges are autonomous bodies outside local authority control and direction. As I say, the role of the local authority in this area is much more one of facilitation, rather than direction. I think we are still finding our way in terms of what that means. From a college perspective, we are very keen, particularly in the association, to encourage colleges to do of volition what they were previously directed to do-to engage with their local authority and their partners in the area in order to come up with provision that meets the needs of the communities they serve; reaching forward to do that.
Q199 Craig Whittaker: Does that actually happen though, Martin? In my experience it is incredibly disjointed. With things such as apprenticeships, local authorities tend not to get involved, or they know of them and pay lip service to them. Surely, as the commissioner, the local authority has a real role in banging heads together to make sure that we have all these provisions.
Martin Doel: Integrally, we have a very uneven system. It is a transitional point, we are between systems, so it is uneven because of that. Inherently, it is more uneven in that regard, but my point is that the local authority, if not a facilitator, transitions into the role of champion on behalf of local people, championing them and their needs to the various providers-the third sector, colleges and schools-in order to make sure that there is a breadth of provision. As I say, they still have some legislative responsibilities, I just do not quite see how they can action those legislative responsibilities that hang over from the previous Bill.
Q200 Craig Whittaker: So it is not working?
Martin Doel: It is working imperfectly. I would expect it to be working imperfectly here, but in most places, colleges-I only speak for colleges-are acting responsibly to fill the gaps that exist and meet the needs that are unmet, because it is in their interests so to do.
Joanne McAllister: I agree. We can only really be in a facilitation role at the moment and try to influence and persuade. I do not think that we really have the teeth to bang heads together, because the funding comes through a different agency and although we have the statutory responsibility, we do not really have anything else that goes with it. Our ability to generate new provision, especially in Cumbria, is restricted by volume-providers are restricted by small class sizes and that is how they decide whether or not to run provision. If they do not think it is cost-effective, it will not be run. We can only try to have a facilitating and influencing role at the moment.
Martin Ward: The pattern is extremely variable around the country. In some areas all the colleges and schools and the local authority get together regularly, are on extremely good terms and always have been. In other areas, the exact opposite is the case and there is very little communication. As someone who speaks for elite schools and colleges I would say that they feel that, at an institutional level, they are in the strongest position to make sensible decisions about what provision to put on and how to get the best value for the public pound. They were therefore very reluctant to see the local authority directing them to do certain types of work. The local authority can clearly have a moral leadership in saying, "Come on, folk, we have this group of young people who are not being served and somebody has got to do something about that". Whether institutions of any variety will then come forward to do so will depend much more upon the funding mechanism than upon the moral pressure, I suspect. If it is the sort of provision which is being properly funded, which they can do well and where the young people will be successful, then they will put it on. If those factors are not true, it will be very difficult to persuade them to do it by any mechanism.
Q201 Craig Whittaker: You are saying that where it works well it is basically down to the colleges and schools rather than the local authority?
Joanne McAllister: It is a partnership. Until now, we have had five travel-to-learn area partnerships comprising schools, colleges, the voluntary sector, employers and so on and that has worked well. People have understood the partnership model and the need to collaborate, but now, with the cuts that we face, some of that could be under pressure because there is less local authority support to facilitate that role across a county.
Q202 Craig Whittaker: You need money to get a partnership together?
Joanne McAllister: It is not so much money as actual bodies. If you want the local authority to be supportive of facilitating, persuasion and so on, there have to be local authority officers in that role to be able to take part in those partnerships.
Q203 Craig Whittaker: I have a final question on facilitation. There are authorities that do well and those that don’t; what levers do those that do well have to use that the others aren’t using?
Joanne McAllister: Again, it’s persuasion, it’s influence and it’s probably using the moral argument that Martin has just described. I don’t think that they have any ability to force people to do anything that they don’t want to do.
Q204 Ian Mearns: The words champions, aspirational, commissioners, facilitators and moral leadership have been used, but local authorities are democratically elected organisations with a local mandate from the public that they serve. Isn’t there a role for strategic planning in terms of the local authority and its local area? Or is the logical conclusion that we just have a free-market approach?
Martin Doel: I would say that from a college perspective, a major concern we had with the planning regime was about the colleges serving more than one local authority area. The notion of an elected official, who serves a particular small community, conditioning what a college that serves five or six local authorities does, and driving what goes on there, seems to us likely to do the very opposite of a planned system-to atomise a system down to local authority level. For colleges that have complicated specialist facilities that only work across boundaries, that was a problem with the planning approach that has been adopted. There could have been ways around it, but whatever way you do it, it becomes inevitably very bureaucratic and therefore not as responsive.
Q205 Neil Carmichael: We touched on local authorities, which is what I was wanting to talk about. With the introduction of an all-age careers service and the uncertainty about Connexions as we stand now, does that have any implications on the participation age being increased for 2013?
Chair: Neil is more enthusiastic about the answers you are going to give than he sounded.
Professor Watts: Are we talking about the all-age service more broadly? The specific thing about the all-age service is that we do not have an all-age service, and there is not going to be an all-age service. BIS is continuing to provide a service for adults, but there will be no significant service for young people. That is the reality of the all-age service. We have to get into the issue in a much broader sense. I don’t know whether this is the time-
Chair: It is indeed. This is the time to let fly.
Professor Watts: Can I say this as clearly and unequivocally as possible? We are seeing a collapse of the help that is available for young people in terms of their career planning in two respects, and both are important. First, access to professional career guidance, which was traditionally through Connexions, is being stripped apart at the moment. The funding is being not cut and pruned but totally removed. It is very important to understand that.
Secondly, in terms of careers programmes in schools, we have talked about work experience, which is severely under threat; Aimhigher has been removed; and the statutory duty to provide careers education is being removed in the Act. At a time when youth unemployment is a massive problem and when young people are facing massive changes in the funding of higher education, we are stripping out all the help that is available to young people in relation to that. I think it is very important that the Committee understands that that is happening and addresses it in its report.
There are lot more things to say. Let’s just talk about the funding. There are two bits to Connexions; one, the NEETs bit, if you like, will remain within local authorities, but the assumption was that the career guidance bit-around £200 million-was going to go into this all-age service alongside the funding from BIS. That was clearly what John Hayes thought, and the plans were all about that. What seems likely now is that the only bit that will go in is the little bit-around £7 million at the moment-for the distance service and the telephone helpline.
The notion that that in any way addresses the issue is nonsense. Of course, it is a terrific resource, and of course you can do massive things with ICT, but it is puny and it is absolutely not the answer. Where is the £200 million going? Well, it is absolutely being allowed to vanish. The notion now is that schools have to buy back this service, which is a new idea for them, but there is no sign of budgets being enhanced or of money going into those budgets.
The whole policy towards school autonomy is based on international evidence, such as PISA and all the other things. The White Paper is all about that, saying that the best performing systems involve school autonomy. I do not deny that in relation to pupil attainment. The notion that it is true in relation to support for effective transitions-absolutely not. I have done studies for OECD and others in 55 countries and I can tell you unequivocally that there are three things systemically that happen in relation to school-based guidance systems, which is now what we are moving towards. First, they are not impartial. I am sure others will have comments on that. We know that that is an issue. It is going to get even worse because schools have an interest. Secondly, the links with the labour market are always weak. Subject choices are treated as subject choices: they are actually career choices but there is nobody to help young people to understand what that means. Thirdly, they are always uneven. Some schools will do it and do it well. Many schools will not. So you get unevenness. That is systemically true.
In addition to that, there are two countries that have done precisely what we are now doing in terms of allowing school commissioning of these services. Those were New Zealand and the Netherlands. In both cases they resulted in significant erosion in the quality of the help that was available and its extent. But in both cases the funding was transferred. We are not even doing that. So it is going to be even worse here. So that notion that school autonomy, whatever the arguments for it and I do not dispute them in general terms, may apply in this area is absolutely not the case. I have made this point in comments to Ministers and so on and so forth. But so far they have been totally ignored. John Hayes’s vision was absolutely right. The Government came in with a strong commitment to re-professionalise this area of work and to an all-age service. Terrific ideas-there is enormous support for them. But what has actually happened is that there has been absolutely no support for them in DFE and step by step that vision has been eroded. So we are facing a major crisis. I think it is a huge issue for your Committee.
Q206 Neil Carmichael: After that very clear answer, I have several other questions-
Chair: You should have had higher expectations.
Q207 Neil Carmichael: Several questions spring to my mind and I will ask two of them. What kind of structure do you think should be introduced, given what we have just been hearing about local authorities and the variable standards, the issues that Martin Doel made interesting points about? It is not much good local authorities having a strategic view if there are five of them serving one college, which is a really good point. So what kind of structure should we have? If it is to be local authority based, do we need to strengthen the statutory functions of local authorities?
Chair: I will bring in Martin Doel first.
Martin Doel: On the narrow point of information, advice and guidance, I would not necessarily modify my earlier remarks but would be entirely consistent with what Tony has said. He made a very persuasive case from our perspective. All I would add in that regard is that I would hope we can reverse the direction of travel with the Department for Education, even at this late stage. Were we not able to do that, it is absolutely critical that we understand the effectiveness of the careers advice and guidance that schools are giving to establish whether this policy is working or is not working, as we suspect it will not. Otherwise in two years’ time we will be having a debate about the evidence, which won’t exist in any persuasive way to show what the consequences of this decision have been.
We would also say that there is strong role here-I know this is always resisted by Government, for understandable reasons, and also by Ofsted-for Ofsted to have a remit to look at careers advice and guidance within schools to establish whether this statutory duty or this responsibility that they have is being carried out effectively. It seems to me that Ministers are trusting schools to do this, but they are not obeying the trust and verifying it. You need to trust, but then establish whether that trust is being repaid in terms of the quality of the service that is being provided. I think there is a role here for continued funding and continued direct funding for advice and guidance. How that might be arranged between local authorities and the partnership with schools, I just do not know. But I know that you need to understand the consequences of policy changes in order to revisit them later if they are not working. I am concerned that at the moment changes have been made with no way of establishing whether they are successful.
Chair: So much for evidence-based policy making.
Martin Ward: I certainly agree with Tony. We are extremely concerned that the existing system is apparently being dismantled and phased out, and the new system, however well it is funded and on whatever basis it is provided, is not ready yet. At the very best, there will be a gap in provision. Clearly, there is a danger that those with the expertise in the area will go away; they will be laid off from their existing work and there will be nothing else for them to do, so they will work in an entirely different field. It will take some time to rebuild the expertise. Clearly, schools have a problem in this respect. One thing we need to remember is that a little more than half of secondary schools in the country have sixth forms, and a little less than half do not. Those two groups of schools are in quite different situations. We have to keep that in mind, but we tend, at a national level, to think in terms of 11-to-18 schools.
The colleges complain that the advice being given to 11 to 16-year-olds in those schools cannot be impartial, because there is obviously an interest in retaining people into the sixth form. Sometimes, that is literally the case and schools are setting out to do that, but they are doing their best to provide impartial advice, which, of course, can easily be undermined by the advice given by individual teachers. If I teach A-level French, I would want people to be in my A-level French group. The 11 to 16-year-olds are in a completely different situation, because all their students leave at 16 and they have a different attitude.
Q208 Chair: Tony, can you give as short an answer as you can manage on what it should look like?
Professor Watts: The concept of the partnership between schools and colleges and some external services that are closer to the labour market is the right model. That is what the all-age service was designed to do. It is absolutely the right model; I am absolutely convinced about that, and that was why it was rightly welcomed. It has to be a partnership. Taking that bit of it out of local authorities made sense. What we have not got at the moment is how to operationalise that, and a sense of how we get from here to there.
When the Conservative party was in power in the 1990s, it marketised the careers service, which had been a local authority responsibility. Criticisms were made about it, but it was extremely well managed and it produced a lot of benefits. This time, it has been appallingly managed. There is no sense of a serious transition plan. The Government may make clear where they want to get to, but the steps that we need to take to get there are absolutely not clear. As Martin said, the Government say, "We will have transparency and accountability in relation to school autonomy," but where will it be? All the rhetoric has been about a destinations measure on which schools will not have to report. That is an incredibly weak tool. It is largely about the nature of local labour markets and things of that kind. As for the notion that it in any way tests the quality of what is happening in careers programmes, it absolutely does not. Accountability and transparency are critical issues.
Q209 Neil Carmichael: You have touched on the lack of interface between the labour market and careers advice. I completely agree that that is a serious problem in this country. You referred to research in the OECD countries. Will you write to the Committee and tell us what structures exemplify what we should be doing to improve our interface?
Professor Watts: The interface with the labour market, in particular?
Q210 Neil Carmichael: Yes. I am not expecting a full answer.
Professor Watts: Very quickly, under Connexions, there was erosion of the professionalism of careers advisers, including their knowledge of the labour market. That is one of the things that this Government have got right; they want to re-professionalise and strengthen it, which I welcome. A lot is happening in relation to that, and the careers professional groups are coming together. That link is being re-established. The all-age service is the right model because it is all-age. People do not choose careers any more. They construct careers throughout life, so it needs to be all-age. All the way through, it must have very strong links with the labour market, and careers advisers should always be well informed about all the changes taking place both in the learning system and in the labour market system.
Q211 Chair: To summarise, Tony, would you like to see an all-age, independent careers service available to everyone from the age of 13?
Professor Watts: Absolutely, at the latest. Incidentally, we have not touched on the need for early intervention. Young people’s ideas about who they might become are formed very early. The case for career-related learning in primary schools is really strong; it is not just 13. As far as career guidance is concerned, yes, it should be available from 13, but it should be available particularly strongly for young people, because at that stage it is absolutely critical. The irony is that we used to have a careers service for young people, and all we had for adults was a strategy-an IEG framework. What we now have, believe it or not, is a careers service for adults, and a very loose framework for young people. It is complete nonsense.
Q212 Chair: Again, looking to summarise what you said, basically you thought the Hayes vision was a good one.
Professor Watts: Absolutely.
Q213 Chair: But it was betrayed by the Department for Education, which has supplied neither the money nor the work to deliver it in reality.
Professor Watts: Spot on, and step by step you can see the erosion of that vision in relation to quality standards. There is a statutory duty in the new Act, and we are told that schools may meet the statutory duty by providing access to websites. What is the point of spending parliamentary time on a statutory duty of that kind?
Q214 Damian Hinds: I want to come back on what you were saying about the careers service. You mentioned the level of youth unemployment. There is an interesting sequencing point here, because youth unemployment peaked at 1.024 million under the last system of careers advice, and carried on rising all through the boom years. There are no doubt multiple reasons for that, but what are your thoughts on the role that careers advice played, and what would you identify as the top three failings of the service in that regard?
Professor Watts: In relation to youth unemployment in particular?
Q215 Damian Hinds: Clearly, careers advice is ultimately about young people getting jobs. A number of them didn’t get jobs, and I wondered what your thoughts were on the role of the careers service in that.
Chair: I must ask you for a brutally short answer to a question that doesn’t really allow it.
Professor Watts: Yes. I am sorry, I haven’t got the precise-you’re going to have to say it one more time.
Q216 Damian Hinds: I will try to be as precise as possible. Careers advice to young people is about young people ultimately getting jobs. It is about other things as well, such as further and higher education and so on. Over the past few years under the current and previous careers advice regime, youth unemployment carried on rising. I am just wondering what failings there were in the careers service that may have contributed to that, no doubt alongside other factors.
Professor Watts: Career services cannot solve youth unemployment-of course they can’t-but they can significantly ameliorate it, and they can help young people to cope with it and to work their way through it effectively; that is what they can do. I think they did do it reasonably well last time, but the risk this time is that that kind of help will not be available.
Q217 Damian Hinds: So what is a measure of success, if youth unemployment keeps rising? What are we looking at that we are encouraged by?
Professor Watts: As I say, they can make a contribution, but they cannot solve it. The causes of youth unemployment are far deeper.
Damian Hinds: I accept that.
Professor Watts: But they can ameliorate the problem, and can help young people to cope, and to find strategies. Getting a clear outcome is not easy, because it is about quality. It is not just about where you go; it is about the decisions you make. That is very difficult to demonstrate effectively, but there is massive, very strong evidence of the effects of those programmes, in terms of helping young people to cope more effectively with their transitions.
Q218 Lisa Nandy: The Government have said that they intend to replace the EMA, which is an entitlement, with a discretionary scheme. Joanne, in your submission you raised quite a few concerns about the impact of the stigma that might prevent people from applying, and a particular impact on people with disabilities. How can we make sure, with the scheme that we have and the limited pot that is available, that the money really reaches those young people who are most in need?
Martin Doel: There is something of a dilemma when talking about the amount of money in the scheme, and £76 million was talked about initially. Our strong view was that the best way to achieve a targeted effect with that relatively small amount of money was to give it to the colleges, instead of spending money on a national administration scheme, which would have consumed much of the £76 million instead of sending it on. Somewhere between that and £550 million, which is the current EMA sum, there is a point at which a national scheme becomes valid again. I judge, and the association’s position is, that £180 million is not sufficiently far on to justify a national disbursement scheme. That means you have to disburse it at local level. A key element in being able to do that is having good information in the hands of colleges in a way that avoids, as far as possible, the stigma of a direct means-testing regime in each college-a regime that is different across the country.
Q219 Lisa Nandy: On that point-this is to Martin, specifically-what information would you need that you do not have at the moment to administer the scheme?
Martin Doel: We are currently talking to the Department on this area. There could be information in the hands of colleges on current benefits received within families. That might be one way to do it. We have a one-year win around the EMA data, which at least give an allocation. In subsequent years, it could be around benefits. Free school meals entitlement at 16 is one we have discussed and might be worth investigating.
Like much else in the introduction of the new bursary scheme, this is being done at disreputable speed. If you look at the introduction of the scheme within higher education for tuition fees, that has been the subject of a one-and-a-half-year study by Lord Browne, I think, and is subject to a series of consultations and two years’ transitional funding before we emerge in the new scheme. A decision has been made to do away with EMA in October, and we are still not in a position to say what the new scheme will look like on its introduction in September. To get perfect information on that in year one will be next to impossible.
Q220 Lisa Nandy: Can I challenge you on the notion of local discretion for colleges? The AOC submission said: "Colleges have been unable to inform people of the financial support that will be available." You seem to be making a similar point now. A point that came over strongly from Joanne’s submission was that students need to know what support they will get in order to make the decision in the first place about whether to go on and study. If there is not clear guidance available to students, so that they know before they make the decision to go to college, how will they be able to decide?
Martin Doel: I don’t think there is any distance between Joanne and me on that. We are all doing it too late. The last safe moment to have introduced these changes was about November last year, when students were coming to college to think about what their future might be and what they might do at 16-when they were approaching that point of decision. We had no information to give them. I made that point very clearly to the Secretary of State at the time. We needed information to give out as quickly as possible. I said at that stage that the last safe moment was early in the new term-that is, the winter term. We are now well into the summer term with no information. It is very difficult to see how to do it.
When you find yourself in that position, what is the answer? Is it to come up with a set of dirigiste, centrally directed-but inevitably ill-considered-directions here that would not fit the local circumstances of many colleges and young people? Or do you have to make the best of a bad job at this stage, and trust the people in colleges to do the best they can with where they are, and take that first year as a way to learn things in order to make it better in subsequent years? From the association’s point of view, that is the pragmatic line we have been almost forced to take because of the circumstances. Where we are now is: "Here is the decision, there is the amount of money"-actually, we don’t even know the precise amount. We need to get on and do our best to make it work as well as we can.
Joanne McAllister: The point I was making about disabled young people was more about those with learning difficulties and disabilities who are in post-16 special schools at the moment. In Cumbria, we have a number who are accessing EMA, which is contributing to their learning around independent living, looking after finances and so on. Obviously, special schools will not attract this funding because they are not contracted with the YPLA; they will not draw down any of the discretionary learning support fund. That leaves a gap for those young people; that was the point I was making. The other point was about how it would look within a college. If you start looking at free school meal issues, there are people on low incomes who are not eligible for free school meals who could be cut out of accessing this funding benefit.
Martin Ward: I think we would all prefer an entitlement scheme such as EMA, so that people know in advance what their entitlement is, and they know it will be the same whatever institution they choose to go to. In fact, we would prefer to keep the EMA. Given that that has gone, in the present context, as Martin says, the only way we can cope is to allow schools and colleges to make local decisions. In the fullness of time it would be much better to move back to an entitlement system, except perhaps for a small proportion kept for unforeseen circumstances. It is always true that schools and colleges have occasionally had to bail out their students, and there still needs to be a little bit of funding for that.
Q221 Lisa Nandy: I do not know whether the Chair will like this, but as I do not have time to ask for this now-this question is particularly for Martin, but also for anybody else who thinks that they have something to contribute-if there is information that is not currently available to colleges that would make a significant difference to targeting that money where it is most needed, I would be grateful if you let the Committee know in writing.
Chair: I did like it.
Q222 Nic Dakin: Do you see any logic in making free school meals available to 16 to 18-year-olds in schools, but not in colleges?
Martin Doel: None whatever.
Chair: Martin Ward? None whatever from Martin Doel-we have to be brutally quick and you have been very clear. Thank you.
Martin Ward: No. It makes no sense at all. Schools and colleges- now there are two sorts of colleges, sixth-form colleges and general FE colleges, and 17 different varieties of school-all work under slightly different regulations and that often produces that sort of unintended consequence. It does not really make any sense at all.
Martin Doel: Ministers might say that not all colleges have canteens where they could deliver free school meals. If free school meal provision was made for students in colleges, our sense, as a college just recently said, is that all colleges would makes provision for those students to make use of free school meals within their estate. Some of them will not currently have a dining room as you would have in an 11 to 16 school or a sixth-form college, but every college we have asked says that if that provision was made they would make it available.
Q223 Nic Dakin: So that is not a significant or practical inhibitor.
Martin Doel: I don’t think that is a practical or significant inhibitor to applying free school meals to colleges.
Q224 Nic Dakin: Are there any other difficulties, which you haven’t already highlighted in answer to Lisa’s questions, that colleges and schools face in introducing the bursary scheme now?
Martin Doel: The only thing I might reflect on, and I think this is one where the partnership issue again becomes interesting, is that a college will have significant managerial capacity to actually take on this scale of change and to apply the scheme. Therefore, I would hope they will make the very best fist that they can of the late arrival information and its allocation. I must confess to being slightly concerned about some schools’ capacity to take on this responsibility. This is unfounded, because I do not know enough about schools, but just making a logical conclusion, this will be, particularly in the first year, administratively difficult to apply. Having managerial capacity and capability in a larger institution seems to me to actually assist you to do that. So, I have a concern. I think we are encouraging colleges to work as far as they are able to with their local schools to have a common system so that we do not use this as a means by which you can beat the students, but to see if we can align administrative systems and drive down cost by working across institutions.
Q225 Nic Dakin: Is there a danger that a student going to college x might get a different outcome in bursary support than if the same student went to school y?
Martin Doel: I think there is. There are times when that would be justified, particularly if you are in a rural area and the needs are different. But equally, where they are exactly in the same travel-to-learn area that would be unhelpful, let us put it that way. So far as we can work together co-operatively and collaboratively, it seems a sensible thing to do.
Q226 Chair: The danger is if you have an overloaded, relatively small school sixth form struggling administratively, then two children in the same situation at the same school could end up getting different support and then you could have that same overloaded head or administrator ending up in court defending their inequitable behaviour. Is there a danger of that, Martin?
Martin Ward: There is a point about the need to administer this for a relatively small number of students in a school sixth form. There is also a very real danger that the system will actually be different in different institutions and that will create the sort of problem that you allude to. There is also a danger that it will actually be used quite explicitly as a marketing tool by some institutions. Of course, that is not what it is intended for, but that may actually be the outcome.
The other problem that may create such inequities is if the funding mechanism that drives the funds to the schools and colleges does not do it right. This year, the only thing that I think we can use is last year’s uptake of EMA. That probably won’t be too far adrift, but it will soon become increasingly out of date. If we do not have a good mechanism for getting those funds out there, there will be real inequity, because in one place it will be easy to get such support because there are few disadvantaged students and a lot of money, and the opposite will pertain in the next door institution so it will be difficult to get such support.
Q227 Nic Dakin: Finally, on the administrative burden on schools and colleges, is the new system more or less similar to the EMA system?
Martin Doel: One particular area about which we are concerned is access to bank accounts. One of the great side benefits of the EMA system was that young people were required to get a bank account. The banks have been very supportive in allowing them to open accounts earlier than they would normally and without the normal requirements. If an EMA system is not applied nationally, colleges will spend time encouraging and facilitating those young people to get accounts, because the last thing that the colleges will want to do is operate a cash system.
The colleges will want a cashless system that works for people who may come from difficult family backgrounds and do not have the experience of working with a banking system-certainly not for themselves. Working towards that is an unseen administrative burden. I have written to the Secretary of State to ask for his assistance in working with the bankers association. That has been relatively constructive, but there is still a lot of administrative work to do in that area and on how local banks will respond to the need for those young people to get bank accounts.
Martin Ward: In terms of the economies of scale, clearly it will ultimately be more expensive to administrate in total.
Chair: We need to move on as swiftly as we can-poor chairmanship and timing.
Q228 Pat Glass: The Committee has had evidence from young people who have told us that they have used EMA in the past to travel to a school or college that meets their needs rather than necessarily going the local college. I know that it is early days, but are you picking up any indicators yet that young people are opting for the nearest school or college because they simply cannot afford to travel to the one best suited to their needs?
Martin Doel: The changes were announced only relatively recently, so, no, we are not seeing early signs of that. The alternative concern I have at this stage is that some local authorities under pressure with their funds will withdraw current transport provision for young people in their areas and rely upon the bursary scheme to pick up the slack. Local authorities that have taken a responsible view about enabling choice and do not require young people to pay for transport might see this as an opportunity to withdraw that funding. This is very variable across the country as well, because appropriate transport provision for young people in an area has never really been a local authority’s duty, so it has not been applied consistently and rigorously. When local authorities are under budget pressure, I think that this will become an opportunity for them to use the bursary, so colleges will have to pick up the bill for local transport being withdrawn.
Q229 Pat Glass: My local authority is consulting on removing travel for 16 to 19-year-olds completely, but I have see no evidence that the bursary system is being used as an alternative. Is there evidence of that across the country?
Martin Doel: It is more about the type of indications we are getting from Durham that this might happen rather than that it has happened. Northampton is a very difficult area in terms of transport from rural areas, and therefore the EMA was being used substantially in the past to allow young people to access the course they wanted, rather than the course most local to them. I can see the Northampton situation spreading across the country due to the pressures that local authorities are under, which means that the bursary scheme, which could have been used to enable students to study and to support their study, in terms of equipment, books and living costs, will increasingly have to be used to subsidise transport.
Joanne McAllister: In Cumbria, through consultation our post-16 discretionary transport has just been removed, although they are looking into a hardship fund for the most disadvantaged to apply to, but, again, that is an additional administrative burden for young people who will also have to apply for the discretionary learner support fund. Obviously, we will have to review that situation as we move through to see what effect it has on participation, particularly in rural areas.
Martin Ward: We have not seen any change in behaviour yet, because it has not yet happened. But it is hard to see that there won’t be such changes in behaviour when young people find that it will be expensive to get to the provision that they most want. There clearly will be pressure to support that transport from the discretionary learner fund, which, as we have heard, is much smaller than the EMA pot. There is some expectation here that it will be very difficult for schools and colleges to meet.
Q230 Pat Glass: Let me take you to the post-16-plus participation era where colleges are not subject to the same rules as schools on free school meals. Obviously, we all want travel. Do you think there will be an impact on college enrolment?
Martin Doel: I see a threat to college enrolment. Colleges will work and will be very responsive, entrepreneurial and businesslike in reaching out to the students that they want to serve, but there is an implied threat. We will have some difficulty dealing with that, which is why we were so keen to get the amount of money in the replacement scheme to a level that would protect the ability for students to choose the course that most suits them.
We support the notions of funding following the learner and increased choice for students that the Government are propounding, but they mean nothing unless you can access those choices. That is dependent on having the wherewithal to be able to travel to the college or the school that provides the best provision. I would put it as being at risk.
How will it turn out? I don’t want to be less than confident that what the colleges provide is sufficiently good to attract students and provide what they need, what they want and what employers are looking for. I am paid to be optimistic about what colleges can achieve, but I am pessimistic about the nature of the threats that they face.
Q231 Chair: Are colleges putting transport first? Is it a top priority to make sure that students can access education?
Martin Doel: It is dependent on where you are in the country. There are issues with transport in the city, but it becomes somewhat easier here than it is in a rural area, where transport becomes uppermost.
One of the areas is restricted-size replacement schemes. We were keen to have local flexibility on how that restricted sum would be most effectively used. The needs are different across the country.
Q232 Chair: That has been provided, has it not?
Martin Doel: The flexibility is provided. We hope that when the detailed rules come out, flexibility in the detail will allow us to do that. It is a very significant concern. A lot of colleges, probably a majority, put transport at the head of their concerns about accessing the right course that fits the young person’s needs.
Q233 Pat Glass: Access to transport is different in places such as London, or even Tyne and Wear, where young people’s transport is subsidised across a much wider area. I have concerns that young people in constituencies such as mine, in Cumbria and in other rural areas will have much less access to the course that suits them than other young people. Do you think that people will be disadvantaged by that rural-urban divide? Are colleges ready for that?
Martin Doel: I will have to work it through. This is not an excuse, but, because of the speed with which we are doing it, we will learn things in the application of the scheme in the first year, and that is one of the lessons that we might learn. The alternative that has been mooted is a travel voucher scheme, with which we could recognise the different needs in rural areas.
The difficulty comes down to the cost of administration, such as having people in local authorities going around with pedometers to see whether you qualify because of the distance to the local college. At the speed we are doing it, I cannot see how you could apply a travel voucher scheme that would allow such an approach. Whether or not we learn something from the year ahead-we have to be open-minded about it-there is a tension between rural and urban and how we apply this most fairly and effectively.
Q234 Chair: A final remark from Professor Watts.
Professor Watts: The notion of funding following the learner reinforces the point about the importance of clear guidance. It is crucial that the decisions that learners make are well informed and well thought through. That is the Leitch argument, which has driven the BIS interest. There are two core arguments: that one and social mobility. Those are the two core arguments, and the Government agree with both of them, which is why the points I made before are all the more important.
Chair: Thank you all very much for your evidence this morning. Keep in touch with the Committee if you have any further thoughts. We have touched on some things on which we would welcome further information from you.
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