Schools have a legal responsibility to secure independent and impartial careers guidance in years 9 to 11, and in years 8 to 13 from this September. This requirement will be extended to those up to the age of 18 in colleges. This will help those taking AS-levels to make successful transitions.
My very excellent Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) has quite properly highlighted the scandal that this country produces only 19,000 graduate engineers a year when we need 41,000 graduate engineers. Unless children take maths and ideally physics at AS-level we are not going to bridge that gap, so will the Minister make it clear to schools that when children make these vital choices, they are told that graduate engineers are being snapped up, the country needs them, and a graduate engineer creates 12 extra jobs in the economy?
I can think of few better people to make that argument than my hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), with whom I am meeting Professor Perkins, the chief scientific adviser, later today. This is a huge and important area. The lack of engineering skills in this economy is a serious problem, the product in part of 13 years of failure to address the problem. We are working four-square towards that, and we will not rest until it is sorted out.
Is not the problem with that answer that the Government are proposing to downgrade AS-levels? Good advice is vital if we are to widen participation in higher education. Cambridge university’s response to the Government’s proposals on AS-levels is that they are
“unnecessary and, if implemented, will jeopardise over a decade’s progress towards fairer access.”
Will the Government think again?
We absolutely oppose what the Government are proposing on AS-levels, as do the vast majority of people in the education system, including Cambridge university and the other Russell group universities. Which universities support the Government’s proposals on AS-levels?
Seventy-five per cent. of universities do not use AS-levels. What is crucial, therefore, is not only that we work with universities to reform A-levels, but most importantly that we have broadly a rigorous exam system that universities and employers trust. Not only do we in this country have youth unemployment that has been rising since 2004 and became much too high, but worse than that, we have skills shortages at the same time. That means that we need to reform radically the education and skills system that we were left.