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British Industry (Careers And Opportunities)

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he will take to make careers and opportunities in British industry better known in schools to children before they start A-level specialisation.

My right hon. and learned Friend will continue to encourage in various ways the improvement of careers education in school and the development of direct links between schools and industry. Both issues are being pursued with urgency in current consultations on a framework for the school curriculum, and in other discussions.

Will my hon. Friend accept that in many schools the best pupils, encouraged by their teachers, tend to specialise in the arts and social sciences rather than skills that could be useful in industry? Will my hon. Friend use all his Department's influence with successful British firms to encourage them to visit secondary schools to hawk their wares and make fully known the careers and job opportunities that they have to offer?

I think that my hon. Friend has identified the trend of the past 15 years or so. I assure him that the Department of Industry Education Unit and the Department of Education and Science, in conjunction with the local authorities, are doing all they can to improve this aspect which is so vital to our economic future. A large measure of responsibility, in my opinion, lies with industry itself. Over the past 10 or 15 years industry and commerce in this country have neglected to tell the teaching staff exactly what they want in the schools. In the urgent discussions that I have had with the CBI and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce we have been mindful of this point.

Will the Minister tell us when the Government will make their conclusions known on the consultation document on education and vocational training for 16 to 19-year-olds? Will he also take on board the need not just for general careers advice, but for the possibility of initiating specifically vocational education work in this country?

This is an aspect which has been acknowledged by the review that I am conducting at present In answer to the specific question, I hope that the 16 to 19-year-old review will be concluded by late autumn. This is an enormous subject which, to a certain extent, embraces the overall philosophy that the country wants for the education of this age group. Certainly we are mindful of the need for training in industry and commerce.

Is the Minister aware that it is not only the job of industry to tell young men and women about the future for them in industry and commerce, but particularly the job of the leaders of industry to show that they care and are concerned about the future intake to the wealth-producing sector of the British economy?

I accept that fully, but it is incumbent on all regions of the country to acknowledge their vital responsibility in this direction.

In advance of the working party report on education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds, will the Minister replace the rather garbled leak that he gave to the Secondary Heads Association conference on the matter of link courses? Will he say whether he favours link courses, and if so, will he provide funds for such courses and thereby criticise the action of local education authorities, such as Northamptonshire, which, because of the cuts in expenditure, have actually closed link courses for 16 to 19-year-olds?

The hon. Member refers to a speech that I made some months ago at Oxford on a most important subject. I was anxious to test the feelings of the head teachers at that conference. The hon. Member knows that when the country is faced with its present economic situation, I cannot make such a commitment. He knows very well that the economy of this country is the most important aspect at present.