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Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009

Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 23 March 2010

My noble Friend the Minister for Postal Affairs and Employment Relations, Lord Young of Norwood Green, has today made the following statement:

I gave a commitment to this House in response to assurances sought by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston during the report stage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill to report on progress on three specific areas below. I can now report on the implementation of the apprenticeships provisions of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and specifically how each of the commitments I gave will be taken forward.

A timescale for exercising the powers that are being taken under this legislation and associated regulations.

Sections 82-86; 104 and 106: will commence in full on 1 April 2010, at the same time as those sections relating to the chief executive of Skills Funding and the Young People’s Learning Agency.

We expect that sections 1, 3-6,11-17, 23-27, 32-39 and 105 will come into force in April 2011.

We are currently working to establish a detailed timeline for the development of regulations. Specifically, we have begun preparatory work in relation to the regulations that are to be made under part 1, and in part 4, sections 92 and 95, using the anticipatory exercise of powers provision in section 13 of the Interpretation Act. The timeline for regulations to be laid, subject to the will of Parliament, is as follows:

Part 1, with the exception of section 1(5) relating to the alternative completion conditions—we expect to lay regulations in autumn 2010, and they will come into force in April 2011. The regulations in respect of section 1 (5) will be laid in spring 2011 and come into force in September 2011; and

Part 4, sections 91-99 will come into force in April 2013. Regulations to be made under sections 92 and 95 will be laid in the summer of 2012 and come into force in April 2013.

Work with key stakeholders on regulations, guidance and practical steps to encourage participation of those aged 19to24.

Mindful of the need to engage fully with stakeholders to help shape the development of the regulations apprenticeship offer requirements for learners with learning difficulties and disabilities under sections 92 and 95 we have established a stakeholder reference group to advise and work with officials and the national apprenticeship service. A preliminary meeting of the group was held on 25 February. At that meeting it was agreed to establish a small working group, chaired by Peter Little OBE, to consider and make recommendations on the specific flexibilities that the regulations should contain in relation to sections 92 and 95. The work of this group will inform the drafting of the regulations to be laid before Parliament in the summer of 2012. This work will also help to provide clarity on the scope of the proposed flexibilities and allow sufficient time for local authorities, delivery partners and learning providers to make appropriate preparation and provision for the regulations before they come into force in 2013.

A clear lead from the top that the recruitment of disabled apprentices should be a priority, with no less priority being given to disabled young people than they currently enjoy from the Learning and Skills Council.

We fully acknowledge that inequalities within the apprenticeship programme remain a challenge. Overall, the latest data show that of the 73,000 people who started an advanced or higher apprenticeship in 2007-08 only 9 per cent. considered themselves to have a learning difficulty/disability/health problem. These inequalities are not unique to apprenticeships—they are mirrored in the wider employment pattern—but many apprenticeships are still more segregated (by gender, ethnicity and disability) than the rest of the corresponding sector’s workforce.

I can assure the House that disabled young people will be no less a priority for the chief executive of Skills Funding and the chief executive of the National Apprenticeships Service than they are currently. I have asked the Joint Apprenticeship Unit in my Department and the Department for Children, Schools and Families to work with the National Apprenticeship Service to ensure that the service meets the commitment I gave to the House on increasing the proportion of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities in apprenticeships; and that equality and diversity is a key priority for their second year of operation and for the future. The National Apprenticeship Service is working with employers to help them understand and be more responsive to the needs of learners from under-represented groups; and to promote apprenticeships to those under-represented groups, their communities and key influencers, including parents, teachers, community leaders and support workers.

I am able to report also that initial discussions have taken place between the Joint Apprenticeship Unit, the National Apprenticeship Service and the Department for Work and Pensions to explore how additional learner support funds and the access to work programme can form a package to support better those learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities to take up and sustain employment with training as an apprentice.