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Volume 487: debated on Monday 26 January 2009

2. What steps he plans to take to increase the number of apprenticeships for 16 and 17- year-olds. (250609)

In 2007-08, a record 225,000 people started apprenticeships, and 107,000 of those were aged 16 to 18. Provisions in the forthcoming Children, Skills and Learning Bill will guarantee an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified young people by 2013 and are key to delivering our ambition for one in five young people to be in an apprenticeship by the end of the next decade.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, which is in sharp contrast to what is happening in Scotland. Is she aware that third and fourth year time-served apprentices are being laid off in my East Lothian constituency and throughout Scotland, and are unable to complete their training. Does she agree that the Scottish Executive and the First Minister need to prioritise jobs, training and skills and follow the example of Northern Ireland, where apprentices are guaranteed to finish their training no matter what?

It is certainly a disappointment that the Scottish Executive are not taking the situation of young apprentices seriously. We have recently announced an additional £140 million, which will provide an additional 35,000 apprentice places this year, many of which we hope will be for 16 to 18-year-old apprenticeships. It is a pity about the proposed cuts by the Opposition parties, as if they were to be felt in the apprenticeships—

I am slightly confused, so I want to ask the Minister a question that is genuinely about seeking knowledge. Should I be encouraging youngsters—and employers on their behalf—in towns like Bicester to stay on at school to do a diploma in engineering, or should I be encouraging them to leave school at 16 to try to find an apprenticeship? I am just a bit confused by the overlap between diplomas and apprenticeships in vocational qualifications.

What we want to do is ensure that young people have the information, advice and guidance they need to know what options are available to them. Either of those two options is a route towards a higher-level degree. The route is either through an apprenticeship, which is occupation-specific, or through a diploma, which is wider and more sector-specific. It is important to give the right advice and guidance to young people to enable them to choose the correct route for them. Either route is acceptable to a university: we have already been told by Oxford and Cambridge this year that they will accept the advanced diploma in engineering as a qualification for their undergraduate courses.

I visited TEi engineering in Wakefield this summer. The company, through apprenticeship schemes, is training the next generation of welders to build the next generation of eco-power stations. May I invite my hon. Friend to visit TEi, where apprenticeships have trebled? What assessment has she made of proposals to increase the Department’s budget by just 1 per cent. this year, which would cut 100,000 apprenticeship places nationally?

Unlike other parties, we are certainly not proposing to restrict growth to just 1 per cent. this year and it would be a real shame if we were cutting 100,000 places for 16 to 18-year-olds, which we do not intend to do. We will increase the number of apprenticeships available. I have a number of visits going forward this year, and I always like to visit places where I can see quality apprenticeships for young people.

Given that the Government intend to raise the education leaving age to 18 by 2015, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities have access in terms of apprenticeships and other opportunities to courses that will mean that the change of policy benefits rather than hurts them?

It is certainly my intention that we ensure that children with special educational needs and disabilities are fully able to take advantage of all the pathways that we have on offer. The foundation learning tier that we are developing will enable people to get on to the first level and to get on to those pathways. I am also ensuring in my talks with employers who work in partnership with schools that they pay specific attention to how they will include children with special educational needs and disabilities in those programmes.