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Westminster Hall

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 16 May 2013

Westminster Hall

Thursday 16 May 2013

[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair]

Careers Guidance

[Relevant documents: The impact of the new duty on schools, Seventh Report of the Education Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 632, and the Government response, Session 2012-13, HC 1078.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Karen Bradley.)

I am delighted to be here to lead this debate under your august chairmanship, Mr Benton, and to have the opportunity to discuss my Committee’s report. I am also pleased to be joined by so many Committee members and ex-members, and to see that all three main parties are represented in the debate. The reason why we are here is that the ministerial decisions considered in our report will have profound and far-reaching consequences. Young people need good-quality careers guidance if they are to make informed choices about the courses that they take at school and their options when they leave school. That is all the more important now due to the difficult economic backdrop.

Is such good advice typically available? No. It is worth putting on record that the Government inherited a bad situation: a dysfunctional system of careers guidance. In 2009, the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions reported on the low level of satisfaction with the careers guidance work provided by the Connexions service, which is little mourned overall. In 2010, Ofsted criticised inconsistencies in provision.

The Education Act 2011 represented a chance for a fresh start. The Education Committee’s report was prompted by the introduction of the new statutory duty on schools to secure access to independent, impartial careers guidance for pupils in years 9 to 11. The Committee came to the conclusion that the transfer of responsibility to schools was regrettable, as was the way it was done. Our view was prompted not by any nostalgia for the previous arrangements but by concern about how the transfer was implemented. At the time, Ministers had other priorities. They were under great budgetary pressure, and careers guidance lost out. None of the £196 million in funding that the Connexions service received for its careers guidance work—£196 million to provide the signposting that we argue is vital for young people to make the right choices and ensure that the public money that serves their needs is spent in the right way—was passed to schools.

Following the change, a survey by Careers England found that only one in six schools had the same level of investment in careers activities as the year before. That is, one in six maintained what they had. The Minister needs to take that seriously. The survey also found that not a single school had increased its level of investment, even after the Connexions service, however patchy its performance, had been removed from the scene.

Evidence from countries that have transferred responsibility for careers guidance to schools, such as the Netherlands and New Zealand, does not support that approach. In those countries, the schools were at least given funding to supply the service when they were given the duty to do so; nevertheless, the Committee was told that even there, the transfer of the duty had resulted in a significant reduction in both the quality and extent of careers guidance provision in schools. That is why we described the transfer of responsibility as regrettable, much to the Government’s chagrin.

Separately, the OECD has highlighted the limitations of a purely school-based model of careers advice. They include lack of impartiality, weak links with the labour market and inconsistency of provision between schools. That matters, because young people need guidance in order to make good decisions. A recent study by the Education and Employers Taskforce, led by Nick Chambers, underlined the problem. The taskforce surveyed 11,000 13 to 16-year-olds, mapping their job ambitions against the employment market up to 2020. It showed that teenagers have a weak grasp of the availability of certain jobs. For example, 10 times as many youngsters as there are jobs likely to be available were aiming for jobs in the culture, media and sports sector.

I acknowledge the pressing need to deliver spending efficiencies where possible, but this is not a spending efficiency; it is the promotion of spending inefficiency, as we waste money by placing students on the wrong courses. When the Committee visited Bradford college in October last year, I met a young man whose experience typifies the waste of time, money and potential to which poor careers guidance, or the complete lack of it, can lead. He was taking a course to join the uniformed services. He had wasted the previous year on a course that was not right for him and would not have led to a job in the fire service, which he wanted to join. To add insult to injury, this young man, who wanted to be a fireman, found out during the appropriate course that the fire service is now shrinking, and that there was unlikely to be a job for him at the end of his course. The system let that young man down, and it is doing the country no good at all. How did it happen? He did not receive proper guidance about the courses that he needed to realise his dreams, or even guidance about the dreams that he had a chance of realising.

That is just one anecdotal example. When the experience is scaled up, huge amounts of money are being wasted. With youth unemployment at 21% and the CBI currently characterising the transition from school to work as “chaotic”, the policy smacks of false economy.

None the less, the Committee accepts that the new arrangements involving the statutory duty on schools are in place, and being so freshly put on the statute book, are not immediately likely to change. Schools have the duty. If I appear to be giving the new Minister a hard time, I recognise that he only has one foot in the Department for Education, whose performance on the issue has been so woeful. He also has responsibility in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, whose performance has been much better.

The launch of the National Careers Service is a huge boost to careers guidance for adults. It is essential in an integrated and competitive world, and it is re- professionalising careers advice. The Committee was therefore pleased—nay, delighted—that the Government accepted our recommendation that the remit of the National Careers Service should be expanded to enable it to perform a capacity-building and brokerage role for schools.

On the subject of the NCS, I note with regret the recent resignations of Heather Jackson and Professor Tony Watts from the National Careers Council because they believe that the Department for Education has been “escaping its responsibilities” by proposing that the funding provided by BIS for the National Careers Service should be stretched to fill the gaps in services for young people. They observe that the Department for Education has provided the NCS with only £7 million in funding, compared to the £83 million that BIS has provided for adult careers services.

Will the Minister reassure us that the Department for Education is committed to supporting the work of the NCS properly? Will the Department realise the opportunity that the NCS provides to ensure that we have an all- ages, competent, re-professionalised careers service? An opportunity has arisen from the Government policy that established the NCS. An extra £50 million in funding, set against the £56 billion education budget, could make a huge difference and deliver a much more sophisticated and responsive service.

There are some changes that the Committee welcomed. We were pleased by the decision to expand the duty on schools to offer careers guidance down to pupils in year 8, and up to 16 to 18-year-olds in school or college. We think that was logical, and our Committee heard strong evidence for doing it. It might seem an obvious thing to do, but the Government should none the less be congratulated on doing it. That decision was taken during the course of our inquiry. I know that Ministers always—well, mostly—take note of the powerful arguments coming from our Committee, which makes for a much more coherent policy. It is a big win for young people, particularly those about to leave the school system, and I congratulate Ministers.

However, the Committee was disappointed that the Government rejected several of our other recommendations. We advised that each young person should be entitled to at least one face-to-face careers interview with an independent adviser, an opportunity that 98% of schools consider important. We also suggested that schools should be required to publish an annual careers plan setting out information about the careers guidance provided to pupils and the resources allocated to it. Careers plans could form an important part of the new accountability regime for schools. At the moment, schools simply do not see careers advice as a priority. Being obliged to publish their plans would put them under pressure to deliver in that area and not merely to focus on things such as GCSEs, which tend to drive behaviour in secondary schools.

Regrettably, neither of those recommendations has been adopted. Like all organisations, schools are driven by the things on which they are evaluated, and they are not evaluated on careers advice—except during Ofsted’s rare visits—so it gets neglected by head teachers.

We welcome Ofsted’s ongoing thematic review of careers advice and guidance, which is due to report this summer, but Ofsted’s routine inspection framework for schools is simply not designed to make a clear judgment on careers guidance provision, as Ofsted itself acknowledges. Accordingly, we urged Ministers to pursue the development of more sophisticated education destination measures, to make the data analysis more meaningful.

Only yesterday, I questioned the Secretary of State for Education before the Select Committee. He apologised for failing to include destination measures in the Government’s accountability consultation for schools, and he made a commitment to do further work to strengthen the accountability proposals in that way. We support our Ministers’ ambition to expand the time frame of the destination measures and to try to make them a reliable set of data that can be used to hold schools to account—something which, for now, we do not do.

Careers guidance can provide a crucial signpost for rewarding employment. It can help young people—such as the young man I met in Bradford—to make the right choices first time. With the right advice, that young man could have a clear sense of where his opportunities lie. If the fire service was not recruiting, he could explore a job with another branch of the services, such as the Army. He would not waste time repeating a year, and could get a job when he left education. High-quality, independent and impartial advice has a key role to play in helping pupils to make good choices. If the system fails young people, a human and economic cost is incurred, by both the young people and the wider society that risks squandering their talents.

In their response to our report, the Government complained that the Committee

“focuses on the process of planning and providing careers guidance, whereas the Government’s priority is outcomes for young people.”

With respect to Ministers, our so-called process points were about ensuring that young people can access proper careers advice, at a time when five in six schools are cutting back on it. That could help to prevent obvious mistakes. For example, our report highlights the lack of awareness in many schools regarding apprenticeships, despite their being a flagship coalition policy.

Ministers assume that schools will always do the best thing for the children in their care but, in reality, schools will deliver what they are measured on. The system will not deliver when schools are not evaluated on the quality of the careers guidance they provide, and when they are not given funding to supply it. In truth, the Committee is perhaps better focused on outcomes than Ministers who made such a hash of the policy in the DFE.

What is the point of all the education reforms the Government have undertaken, if there is no decent signposting between education and the world of employment? The honourable exception is the new National Careers Service, which needs proper funding if it is to expand its remit and do a good job for the young as well as the old. But if Ministers think that this is about process, I assure them that it is not. It is about our Committee, working on a cross-party basis, recognising that careers services for young people are not up to the job, and identifying what needs to change.

Mr Benton, I recall that you chaired the very first Westminster Hall debate I ever took part in, when I first arrived here in 2010 and had absolutely no idea what was going on. It is, therefore, a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, when I hope I know a bit more about what is going on—we will see. It is also a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Education Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), and to welcome him back to Parliament and witness his speedy recovery.

I want to talk today about the Committee’s report, and a little about the Government’s response. In taking evidence from many of those involved in the education of young people, the Committee visited careers services and schools, looking at what good practice was emerging, and identifying where deficiencies were most acute. Most importantly, perhaps, we also spoke to young people themselves about the services they received. The crux of our findings is wrapped up at the start of our report:

“The Government’s decision to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools is regrettable.”

We had a lot of discussion in the Committee about using “regrettable”. We could easily have used much stronger language, but we were looking for something that would be helpful to the Government rather than something that would be seen as lecturing.

Secondly, we found that international evidence suggests that a school-based model does not deliver the best provision for young people, and we concluded that the weakness of that model had been compounded by the Government’s failure to transfer any budget to schools with which to support the service. That led, predictably and perhaps inevitably, to a drop in overall provision, with fewer than one in six schools providing anything like a reasonable service.

In its inquiry, the Committee was very realistic about the historical performance of career services and Connexions, and did not see the previous service provided to young people as good or not in need of considerable reform. It was clear to us that the Connexions service had fallen well short of expectations in most areas, with the probable exception of its services for vulnerable children, where I think that the level of provision and service was at least reasonable if not good. It was also clear that the service delivered far from the high expectations that the Government had of it on its creation.

However, the Government’s response has been not to reform the Connexions service but to abolish it altogether, transferring the statutory duty to schools, and not providing any of the £196 million of funding that was previously available for the service. That is leaving schools and pupils high and dry, and it is clear that young people will make less informed decisions and choices about their future education and training as a result. That will have a major, negative and long-term impact on the lives of some young people, and it will be those who do not have access, within their families and family circles, to well-informed professional advice who will be hardest hit and lose out the most.

It is fair to say that we were dismayed by what we found, but we chose our wording carefully. We spent a long time discussing what we wanted from the report. We wanted the Government to recognise that the current situation could not continue, and to take action to improve it. We wanted to agree on language that did not solely focus on the problems or lecture the Government about what was going wrong, but provided an honest analysis of what we found, and offered positive recommendations about how the current situation could be improved. We were particularly disappointed, therefore, by both the tone and content of the Government’s response.

The Government’s response tells us:

“While the Committee’s report does acknowledge the failings of the Connexions service we are disappointed that the Committee describes our decision to transfer responsibility for careers to schools as regrettable.”

We found it regrettable not because of the transfer, or even because it happened against international evidence that suggested it was the model that was least likely to succeed, but because responsibility was transferred with all its limitations but without any funding. It was surely bound to fail, and the failure would be regrettable.

Instead of acknowledging that they might have got it wrong, and considering the Committee’s recommendations for improvement, the Government’s response appears to focus on criticising how the inquiry was carried out, stating that we cited evidence of one survey carried out by the careers sector that suggested a reduction in service. I want to tell the Minister that we based our findings not just on one survey: we listened to a huge amount of evidence from schools, local authorities, careers specialists, employers, sixth-form college representatives, further education colleges, teachers’ representatives and head teachers’ representatives, and we listened to what young people told us about the service they received. If that is not enough, I suggest to the Minister that he look at what is happening in schools now. Careers provision for schoolchildren has largely collapsed.

I was a member of the Education Bill Committee more than two years ago, and we discussed at length what was happening then. The then Minister, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), at least acknowledged that there were problems, recognised what was happening and promised to look at the matter, but I understand that he was subsequently blocked from doing so by the Secretary of State for Education. That is regrettable. If the Minister is not convinced by our report, I suggest he talk to the people we talked to and come back and tell us that the system works well.

The Government’s response also complained that the Committee chose not to highlight examples of good practice. I disagree. We went to places such as Bradford, and looked at where local authorities and schools were working together, pooling resources and delivering a good service. It was clear, however, that even where there was good practice, they were doing it on very little funding, or by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul—taking money from other parts of the education service to deliver the bones of a careers service for young people.

Does the hon. Lady recall that in Bradford, where nearly all the schools signed up, money was taken from each of them, but the bulk of it was still provided by the council? Adding all that up, if I recollect correctly, the service provision of careers guidance—in a place such as Bradford, where the council had made it a priority—was still lower on the ground in schools than it had been.

I welcome that intervention. I absolutely agree that where we saw good practice, it still fell short of what had previously been provided. I understand that the Government have had to make cuts, but that is happening across the country to a greater extent than in Bradford, where we saw what other authorities can only aspire to.

The Government response criticised the Committee for carrying out the inquiry when the new arrangements had been in place for only one term. They felt strongly that greater consideration could have been given to allowing the new arrangements time to bed in before drawing such firm conclusions. The Government’s arrangements may have been in place for only one term, but the funding has been withdrawn for almost three years. We decided to look at the matter now rather than later, because we had strong evidence that the system was collapsing around young people, who were making less than informed decisions that will affect their whole lives.

I want briefly to consider what has since happened. Heather Jackson and Professor Tony Watts have resigned from the National Careers Council, in which the Government have such high hopes, as did we. The reasons they cited for their resignations are concerns regarding the council’s recommendations to the Minister in early May, and its failure to draw attention to the Education Committee’s report, with its strong recommendations on steps to be taken to address the current crisis in schools, including the urgent need for enhanced accountability and quality assurance. The inquiry was carried out at the right time: had we waited, we would now be taking evidence about an even greater crisis in independent careers advice, not an improving situation.

On the disappearing budget, the Government argued:

“While there was no explicit transfer of resources, when we made the decision to stop the Connexions service, by making savings on that and other centrally driven budgets we were able to prioritise and protect expenditure devolved to schools during this Spending Review period.”

I am sorry, but I say to the Minister that that is smoke and mirrors at best, and it insults the intelligence at worst. To transfer a major statutory duty to schools without any funding, at the same time as local authority budgets were being slashed and schools were having to pay for educational support services that they previously received free, either from local or central Government, and to expect them to deliver a proper service from a frozen or shrinking budget is simply disingenuous.

I have a number of questions that I wanted to put to the Minister, but I am conscious that if I go on much longer, other people may not be able to speak. If I write to him, will he be good enough to respond to those detailed questions?

Finally, I remind the Minister that in an educational system that is becoming increasingly diverse, the need for good-quality, independent careers advice has never been greater. If it is not available, it will not be the young people who have access to good family networks, whose parents work in the professions and who have good contacts who will most lose out; it will be the young people who do not have those things, and who need good-quality advice—about what they do next for courses and where they go next for jobs—that currently is simply not available.

It is a pleasure to participate in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. I think that everyone agrees that top-down careers guidance under the old Connexions-type service did not work effectively. As we have heard, the damning 2010 Ofsted report proved that point. The opportunity for the coalition Government was therefore immense. It was a good opportunity to have a hugely coherent policy, while getting value for money for the taxpayer. The verdict is still out on whether that has been achieved, and we as a Committee look forward to revisiting the new policy to assess its effectiveness and value for money.

I want to highlight the issue of careers guidance becoming a postcode lottery for many students, particularly young people from poorer and deprived backgrounds, because of the removal of a statutory duty on schools to provide work-related learning.

I have personal experience of growing up in a small outback Australian town, based purely around the production of steel, where aspiration among our peers, our parents and the educators tasked with inspiring us was low, not because we all grew up in households that were not loving and caring—in fact, quite the opposite—but because, in those days, our parents quite often did not understand what aspiration was beyond their lot. Top that with teachers who had never done anything apart from being in education, and it was almost a recipe for most of us in our small country town to be destined for much the same.

Of course, 20 years on—okay, 40 years on—some things are very different, and we live in a very different world. However, for young people from backgrounds where aspiration is low, in many cases because people know nothing different, it is vital that when they are away from their family home they are given every opportunity not only to aspire, but to understand aspiration and to have signposting to the steps that they need to take to unlock a world that is enabling.

Many people need to play a role in that journey, not least the family, but I am concerned about what happens when, for whatever reason, parents cannot give that support. As our Committee saw in Bradford, some areas are pooling resources for a coherent policy for all schools, which takes away the postcode lottery. What about schools and areas that do not do that? How do we ensure that each child has free access to support the unlocking of each step of their journey?

I agree that schools have the second biggest role to play after the family, so their role is increased when that support is not available in families. We all remember our inspirational teachers, but I bet we remember more those teachers we hated or who did not inspire us. When the Minister gave evidence to the Committee, he said that teachers come from a variety of backgrounds. Yes, they do, but not enough come from a different career background, so they have very little experience of what the jobs market needs or offers as opportunities for young people.

The fact that almost 1 million young people in this country are NEETs—they are not in education, employment or training—highlights just that point, as does the fact that we herd our young people through university, often with no collaboration between them and the economy or job opportunities.

Only last year, I wrote to several of my secondary head teachers in Calder Valley after attending their A-level awards evenings, to say what an honour it was to attend. Although each celebrated the young people who were going to university, not one of them highlighted apprenticeships or vocational achievements. That is an ethos that I find sadly lacking in many of our schools, and one that perhaps needs direction from Ofsted or, indeed, the Government.

Only yesterday, the Committee heard how even the Government have made a “dog’s breakfast”, to quote the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), of some of the programmes of study in the curriculum. The proposals seem to take no account of what opportunities are available for young people in the jobs market. I would highlight the proposed design and technology programme of study, which has little regard to the annual 5,000 shortage of engineers in this country.

When the banking crisis hit a few years ago, we discovered that Calder Valley has the third most vulnerable local economy in the UK, based on the potential failure of the financial system, because of Lloyds TSB’s base there. Yet there has been a partnership between that bank and our local college on apprenticeships for only two years, despite the bank’s reliance on more than 6,000 employees from the area. Just now, as we speak, the local college is constructing courses to tie in with the area’s high-end manufacturing base. Although 20% of people in Calder Valley work in manufacturing, only now is there a manufacturing-specific vocational course. Why does it take an MP to drive those things? They should have happened many years ago.

My first job as MP was to open a technology centre in one of my local high schools. It was a £2.2 million centre for construction, catering, computer-aided design, hair and beauty. Not one local business was asked to get involved in the design of the building, and only last year did we see a local business taking over the hairdressing course. That was another huge opportunity missed, sadly letting down our young people.

I understand that the Government have removed the statutory duty around work-related learning to enable schools themselves to decide on what is the best vehicle for young people, but as I have highlighted, we have a huge way to go to change the experience and the ethos of our educators to deliver such a huge aspiration. Sadly, we have missed a huge opportunity to encourage business to play a much bigger role. The countries around the world that do exceedingly well in this area show that a partnership between education, business and family contributes not only to producing high aspirations among their young people but towards their economies as well.

I support our Committee’s recommendations that guidance to schools must be strengthened to require them to provide work-related learning as part of their duty. I also believe that the Government must do much more to encourage business to play a bigger role in that process. A recent briefing from the Federation of Small Businesses suggests that it is eager to help and get involved, but its offer has not been taken up nationally, so we are missing out on a huge opportunity.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Benton, and to follow the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), who talks of his steel roots. I represent a steel town, so I hope that a thread of steel runs through this debate, which started so well with the Chair of the Select Committee elegantly setting out his stall. He explained why the Committee described the transfer as having been handled “regrettably” and the fact that the resources were not passed to schools along with the responsibility. I was pleased too to hear my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) express disappointment at the Government’s defensive reaction to the report.

The Minister does not have to be defensive. He has the opportunity today to respond to the concerns that are expressed and stride forward rather than glance backwards. Knowing the Minister as I do, I am sure that that is what he will do at the end of the debate.

The hon. Member for Calder Valley explained very well the need for careers guidance to be seen not only in a national context but in a local one, too, and to be matched to the needs of the local region and local area. For the past year, I have been privileged to serve as chair of the Humber Skills Commission, on behalf of the Humber local enterprise partnership, which has people from large and small businesses from across the region represented on its board.

When I took both written and oral evidence from businesses across the Humber, I heard what they were saying about the challenges in skills that face them. To my surprise, career education and guidance came out as a strong concern; indeed, it is one of the prime areas in our report, which we are finalising at the moment.

Let me pause to pick out the points that the commission highlighted. Interestingly, those points, which come from a regional perspective, accord with what the Select Committee has found nationally. First, it was noted that information, advice and guidance is frequently not impartial or focused enough. Secondly, many young people do not know about the roles that are available; they are just not aware of the jobs and roles that are available either locally or nationally. As the Chair of the Select Committee said, there is a mismatch between what they might be interested in and what jobs are there. Thirdly, it was said that we need more employers involved in mentoring and coaching, but we need an infrastructure to make that happen. If the money has been taken away and the responsibility transferred, how does that happen?

Fourthly, the commission noted that labour market information is insufficient and restricted—a key point made by the Chair of the Select Committee at the start of the debate. Career opportunities need to be sold to young people, so a process is needed by which their eyes are opened. The hon. Member for Calder Valley talked about inspirational teachers, but we could have inspirational careers advisers, too.

The commission also said that parents need to understand the opportunities that are available for their children. It is important that they have access to advice and guidance as well. There is a lack of information with regard to opportunities in the offshore wind industry and the supply chain. Given that there is a big opportunity in such an industry, it was quite a stark moment to realise how little was known about it within the educational system, which needs to be preparing people for the jobs of today and tomorrow and not the jobs of yesterday.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the National Careers Service’s initiative offers a huge opportunity? It is embryonic at the moment, but it is building for adults that kind of local labour market knowledge. Having started to gather that information, why on earth would we not want to leverage that for young people as well? Furthermore, does he agree that if the Government found from the Department for Education not necessarily the kind of money that they were spending on Connexions but a fraction of that and put additional resource into the NCS, they could build on a coalition and the successful policy of the NCS and turn all careers advice for young people in the right direction?

The Chair of the Select Committee is prescient, because the last thing the Humber commission found was a mismatch between the standard of support for young people and adults, with adults generally getting a better service. The Chairman is absolutely right and he lays down the challenge to the Minister, but the Minister can be inventive. We have heard one way forward. Another way would be to provide the resources to local enterprise partnerships. The matter could then be taken forward through city deals to allow the LEPs to innovate. The Chairman gives a good way forward, but there are other ways, and I am sure the Minister will be up for taking on board those interesting ideas.

Let me draw attention to the concerns of the Association of Colleges—this is coming from my background as a college principal. There is concern at the moment about the perverse incentives in the current system, which allow new schools to be established even where there is an over-supply of places. When that happens, we create a competitive environment in which schools are trying to maintain their pupil numbers through compulsory education up to 18 years old. That militates against the provision of truly independent information, advice and guidance because such advice might, for example, recommend that a young person remains in the school because that benefits the school but not necessarily the young person. Independence of advice is crucial; otherwise we get the outcomes that have already been described in this debate that are not in the interests of either young people or UK plc because we are wasting talent.

Let me close by quoting the words of Vince Barrett, the immediate past president of the Association for Careers, Education and Guidance who lives in the Humber area. He has spent his whole life in careers education and guidance, working with young people. He said:

“Removing the statutory duty for secondary schools to provide careers education and replacing it with a new duty to provide only careers guidance has resulted in young people having to make decisions about their future without fully understanding the range of opportunities that may be open to them. It’s a bit like being told to choose a pair of shoes without trying them on and hoping they’ll be a perfect fit.”

I hope that this debate today gives the Government an opportunity to step up to the plate for the young people of this country and put in the resource to allow proper, impartial careers education and guidance to be given to every young person in the land, so that they can achieve their potential.

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I point out that I hope to start the wind-ups at 2.40 pm by the latest. I ask Members to keep that in mind.

It is a great pleasure to participate in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. As all the previous speakers have said, it is a very important debate.

It is also great to see our leader, the Chairman of the Education Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), back again. Obviously, all of us wish him all the best for a swift recovery.

It is good to see the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) gracing the education world once more. We remain a happy if not always entirely united Committee, which is good for democracy. This morning, I was busy telling a conference just what the role of a Select Committee is. There seemed to be some confusion, with people thinking that we are just another adjunct of the Government, but if they came along here they would notice that members of Select Committees do not just simply salute the Government, which is another good aspect of Parliament that we should reflect on and be pleased about.

As the Chairman of the Committee mentioned, at our last meeting we talked about destinations, and the Secretary of State mentioned that he was sorry that he had not covered that issue properly in the accountability world. It is a critical issue and I want to say why it is so important that we know about destinations, and why that has an impact on schools in terms of careers. Obviously, if a school is to be measured by the destinations of its pupils in the future, it will show a great interest in finding the best destinations for its pupils and encouraging them towards those destinations. We need to bear that in mind as a stimulus for schools, particularly secondary schools. In other words, if a school is identified as good because of its record in getting pupils into good jobs or good pathways to further their careers and so on, it will establish the mechanisms that will help it to do that. We should work really hard to ensure that we have a destination measurement system in place.

I say that because whenever I ask companies in my constituency what we can do to help, there are usually three things. First, there are regulations; they are talked about by people in just about every organisation. Then, of course, there is criticism of high street banks, because they do not lend. But the commonest question is, “Where do we recruit from? Where are the skills?” We must start working out how we match the demand for skills with the output of our education system. Doing that is critical, especially when we are attempting to rebalance the economy, because while we are doing it we are effectively recalibrating the kind of skills we need. Therefore, we must ensure that people understand where the best opportunities are, both for themselves and for our economy. Business and education need to engage properly.

I have been having conversations with people from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for example, and they make that point forcefully, because they are aware that there is a bit of a void between many schools and businesses. What do we have to do to improve the situation? First, we must send a signal that now that schools have the responsibility for careers guidance, which they will have for some time notwithstanding the discussion that we have already had today about resources, we must make sure that schools are actually going out to engage with businesses. Governing bodies will have a role, and head teachers have to accept that it is part of their responsibility. It is absolutely right that Ofsted should consider how schools deal with those challenges, and measure the performance of schools and comment on it as part of the inspection package.

Of course, business has to engage with schools as well; there must be two-way traffic. Businesses must communicate with schools, because it is no use their sitting on the sidelines and saying they wish that this or that would happen; they must ensure that they influence the schools. Academies, of course, are more autonomous, so they should be more responsive and more open to contributions from the business world, and certainly from local businesses.

That is an issue we must focus on and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe—

I was enjoying what the hon. Gentleman said, up to that point, but will he talk about resource? I still visit many schools and they would love to do the things that he has just been articulating, but schools are busy and strapped for cash and resources. When I chaired the Education Committee, the two things that we said a school needed were a person trained to be a careers adviser—it does not come from Buggins—and the resource to get out of the classroom to meet businesses. Does he not agree that resources are crucial?

I will just finish my response to the point that the hon. Member for Scunthorpe made. He quite rightly said that local enterprise partnerships should play a role. They should, and we need to see an enhanced role for them. That would be a useful tool to encourage dialogue.

As for resources, of course everybody accepts that we do not have a bottomless pit. Having more resources would be better, but we must work within the framework we have. Businesses should engage with schools from self-interest, and we need to make that point more. I tried to provide some context by pointing out that, in some cases, businesses are concerned about where they are going to recruit.

In my constituency, I have a festival of engineering and manufacturing. I do so for two reasons. First, one in every five jobs in my constituency is connected with engineering and manufacturing; it is a big proportion, which shows we have critical mass. Secondly, I am aware that there ought to be more dialogue between medium-sized firms and schools, so I provide a platform for that dialogue to happen. We organise events, for example constructing electric cars, and various projects involving batteries, computers and so forth. Children come into businesses and find out what it is like to see a business, and business people go into schools and see what the situation is there. We had the festival last year; it was incredibly successful and that is why we are doing it again this year.

We want to see more such initiatives; it is all very well sitting around and saying, “This is what we need to do”, but we have to get on and do it. My festival is a good example. It is not something that everyone would necessarily want to copy, but people may want to consider the messages that it sends out and the mechanisms that it uses.

It is absolutely right that we get businesses into schools. The motivator could well be the destination measurements, and it is really important that teachers learn more about the place of work. That is something else that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development talked to me about, and I intend to expand that dialogue to see exactly what else we can learn about the way forward.

I finish by discussing economic competitiveness, because as a country we have to be more competitive and make more use of the European Union. I do not want to go through the arguments that we had in the House yesterday, but in my contribution to the economic growth debate, I made a point about the role of the Mittelstand type of companies in Germany. They have linkages with their local community, knowledge of and involvement in local schools, capacity to plan ahead and an interest in ensuring that they get the right supply of skills into their firms, as needed, largely on the basis of knowing what their requirements are and having the contacts to ensure that they can be fulfilled. We need to arrive at such a situation. It requires not resources and bureaucracy but a change of culture, in which schools and businesses start working together to ensure that we have the right skill sets and the right environment for pupils and students to choose careers that suit them and contribute to the rebalancing of our economy and produce more economic growth.

Mr Benton, it is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate. I, too, welcome our Chair, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), back to his role in the House.

I have no doubt about the importance to our country of a well-functioning and fit-for-purpose careers service for young people, although the transfer of responsibility to individual schools has resulted in mixed provision. I intend to concentrate on resources, quality and the need for a professional service.

During the evidence sessions on the Government’s reforms to the service, the Education Committee heard from many expert witnesses that the service was going downhill. There seemed to be little disagreement among them that the service has suffered since the changes took effect; things are going in the wrong direction and youngsters are the ones losing out. The subsequent report outlined compelling evidence that the service has begun to, and is likely to, continue degrading.

In written and oral evidence, we found ongoing concerns about the quality, independence, impartiality and availability of careers guidance. We also heard numerous concerns about an emerging postcode lottery of provision, with some schools and local authorities making a success of the reforms and others sometimes lacking the resources, expertise and perhaps even the will to do the same. One thing that stood out was the observation that effective guidance services will only support the complexity of needs if they are appropriately resourced and structured to do so. Although the Committee raised concerns, the Government have so far failed to address major funding issues in the careers service or the crisis facing the provision of careers advice in schools.

The funding provided for the careers guidance element of the former Connexions service totalled some £196 million, as the Committee Chair and other hon. Members outlined. Responsibility for providing careers guidance was transferred to schools as part of the Education Act 2011, but as has already been said, none of that funding was transferred with it. In consolation, if it is any consolation at all, the Department for Education funds the National Careers Service, for services for young people, to the tune of a paltry £7 million for a helpline, which we found that many young people do not even appear to know exists. I should like to know where all the cash has gone.

The staff need to be in possession of the requisite skills and knowledge to meet the needs of our young people. I remember my careers chat with Mr Harding, the deputy head teacher of Branksome School in Darlington, when I was 15. I thought I should like to be an engineer or maybe something else. “Okay”, he said. “Five O-levels, including maths and English for you”, and I was out the door. There was no real discussion, no exploration of my skills and no help. Perhaps if he had considered how incompetent I was with a piece of wood or metal, he might have been able to say, “Engineering is not for you, but you’re not so bad at English, you know. Maybe you should think about something along those lines.” The fact that I ended up as a journalist and politician probably speaks for itself.

Sadly, many young people today face the same level of support that I had, and it is simply not good enough. Some may be doing all right, but the evidence suggests that most certainly are not. My trade union, Unison, which has seen the number of members working in the careers service collapse, is worried for our young people and reminds us:

“The absence of regulatory rigour and safeguards within the new legislation and the cuts the service has faced have led to a postcode lottery on the type and level of careers advice available.”

I ask the Minister to consider doing more to promote consistency in the offer to young people, through a greater degree of central guidance to assist schools to adopt a consistent approach. That might arrest the slide into a full-blown postcode lottery that we are witnessing. I hope that the Minister will at least agree that our children deserve better than a postcode lottery.

As the quality of service slips, so too does the range of knowledge about potential career paths available to children. As the director of the Education and Employers Taskforce says,

“far too many young people are having to make vital and incredibly important decisions about their futures without enough access to good information.”

That is a worrying observation. The Government seem to have taken what is widely considered to have been an imperfect system and put an inferior one in its place. I am pleased that our Education Committee did not hold back in its criticism. In view of that, I find the Government’s response to our report puzzling. It is one thing for an Opposition party’s criticism to elicit a complacent response, but quite another for a Committee chaired by a Conservative MP, with a majority of Government MPs, to provoke such a tepid, lethargic reaction.

As a former chair of the Connexions service in the Tees valley, I know that Connexions was not perfect and that performance was better in some areas than others, with provision often concentrated on those with the greatest needs at the expense of the general school population, but at least we had professionals with knowledge engaged with our young people. Their numbers have been devastated and now they are simply not available in most schools. The Government’s response to our report seems to contain little appreciation of the negative impact the reforms have had on young people seeking to enter the labour market. Some of those who took part in our inquiry must wonder why they bothered, when it appears to have made so little difference as far as the Government are concerned.

We are told that we should offer an opportunity for the changes based on school-based provision to “bed in and evolve”, but the changes have been in place for long enough to see which way the wind is blowing. If the early signs are ominous, instead of allowing a pattern of failure and service degradation to set in, the Education Secretary and the Minister should see what steps they can take easily to arrest the decline. For example, the Select Committee report suggested that all schools should publish and review their careers plan each year, but we are told that this would represent

“the kind of bureaucracy that we have tried so hard to remove.”

Quite aside from the staggering amount of bureaucracy that the Education Secretary’s top-down reorganisation of English schools has brought to bear across the system, I do not think that asking schools to report on the kind of service they are providing represents bureaucracy that is worth removing.

Although I have a different vision of education and schools policy from the Secretary of State, I share with him a desire to see the reforms work, now that they are in place. The Education Committee provided a simple way of improving the system. It is mystifying why the Government would try to remove any ability for parents, representatives and the public to know what kind of provision is in place. I urge the Minister to reconsider that decision or, at the very least, to lay out in far greater detail why it was taken.

Not everybody agrees with me, but I urge a greater role for local authorities in the new system. It is logical that those institutions play a co-ordinating role to facilitate a flow of information about best practice, new ideas and resources. Bradford is one of the better examples. The Government should actively promote the schools and local authorities that do well, although I acknowledge, as have other hon. Members, that local authority resources are much squeezed these days, particularly in the north.

Research published in July 2011 revealed that of 144 local authorities only 15 would maintain what the researchers termed a “substantial service”. In six London boroughs, all the Connexions careers service offices have been closed. In Hull, the number of careers advisers has been reduced from 81 to 18. In other authorities careers staff have been merged into generic youth work. The Government’s attempts to simplify the system have led to confusion about the correct roles for members of staff, and resultant confusion about who is responsible for what. That is why the Government’s response is so disappointing. It is said that the Government want to wait and see what Ofsted says in the summer, once its review of careers guidance surfaces, but the Committee consulted Ofsted and found that the current inspection framework was

“not a credible accountability check on the provision of careers guidance by individual schools.”

A good quality, well-resourced careers service is one of the few levers that the Government have at their disposal to do something about youth unemployment. In my Stockton North constituency, youth unemployment stands at more than 1,000, and nationally it is around 1 million. If the Education Department is serious about ensuring that young people have a chance when they leave school, it needs to ensure that the careers system is up to scratch. The Committee realised that, the Labour party realises it, and campaign groups recognise it, but it appears to have passed the Government by. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) said, the response to our report may be disappointing, but we now have a new Minister who will, I hope, chuck the earlier response in the bin and respond by taking the actions that employers, educationalists and, most important, our young people need him to take for their future.

I am very happy to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Benton, and I am also very happy that the Chairman of the Education Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), is back. Like others, I wish him well for a complete recovery.

I thank the Education Committee for its report. I am not on the Committee, as colleagues know, but I pay tribute to all its members of all three parties, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward), who cannot be with us today. I am glad that the Committee was able to go to Bradford.

I have been a Member of Parliament for quite a while, and I came here with several clear views about the careers service. First, the careers service was patchy—Connexions had mixed success in different parts of the country. Secondly, the careers service was clearly not doing enough in my south London constituency to give young people the advice, information and guidance that they needed to be able best to maximise opportunities. Thirdly, that was probably the case across the country, too.

After the debates on higher education tuition fees, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister asked me to do a bit of work in the first six months of 2011 to consider access to further and higher education in England. I went to Merseyside, the west and east midlands, Cornwall, Hampshire and Kent, and I talked to people in London. I went to schools, colleges and universities. I spoke to people outside the school, college and university systems, and I spoke to parents, teachers and so on. I presented my report in July 2011.

I think that this is the first time I have quoted myself in a debate, for which I apologise, but I was told some very clear things. I was told almost universally by the young people I met that the careers advice, information and guidance that they received was not up to standard. Across all those places—from the most remote, rural communities to the most urban, deprived communities and the most affluent, home counties communities—people said, “We are not getting the careers service we need.” I was therefore fairly robust in my recommendations to the Government. The document is available for people to look at, and I think it is still on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills or Cabinet Office website.

Recommendation 3 states:

“At the age of 13 and 14 (in English schools year nine), every student should have made available to them information on all future pathways through education to employment, including clear information about which types of careers different educational choices can lead to.”

That point is then amplified.

Recommendation 4 states:

“The government should act urgently to guarantee face to face careers advice for all young people in schools. Government should also guarantee careers information, advice and guidance up to 17 and then 18 in line with the increase in the compulsory schooling age.”

Recommendation 5 states:

“The government should urgently publish a plan of how it intends to maintain the expertise of current careers professionals between the closures of local authority careers services…and the beginning of the all age-careers service”.

Lastly, recommendation 6 states:

“All schools should have events for parents and carers dedicated to careers and further and higher education”.

That recommendation would bring people together, and it makes the point that parents and carers often also need to be educated in the world of careers, because, as the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) said, parents naturally come with their own prejudices and historical recollections, and they do not always understand either that the world has changed or that the technology and processes of getting a job have changed, as they certainly have. It is better that people have their parents, family, peer group, brothers and sisters on board with them in the process, rather than leaving them behind thinking that they cannot benefit from the process.

A couple of things have since happened. In October 2012, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) introduced a private Member’s Bill on careers advice in schools. The Select Committee published its first report and then its robust second report.

I will concentrate on the issue that most exercised me and colleagues in both Houses during the passage of the Education Act 2011, on which we had to fight like fury to get the Government to agree that schools should have any duty to provide a face-to-face careers service to anyone. Eventually, mainly as a result of pressure in the Lords, concessions were made so that children on free school meals or with special needs would be guaranteed face-to-face careers advice, but the rest would not.

The Select Committee has clearly recommended that there should be at least one opportunity for face-to-face careers advice. I will pause for a second, because the Government and particularly the Secretary of State for Education—this relates to the Department for Education, not the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—resisted and held out against that recommendation, and he is wrong. That is not helpful.

First—again, this point was made by the hon. Member for Calder Valley—careers advice does not mean only trying to big up opportunities for further or higher education, particularly the latter; it also means considering alternatives such as apprenticeships or training and ensuring that young people understand that the route through life might start by going off into work from school and then back into training or apprenticeships. It may later go into further or higher education qualifications, or it may go different ways. I have family members who have done just that. They have effectively gone from school into the services and then into work. My younger brother then went to university and had a very successful academic and professional career. Other people do the same. We must ensure that schools big up destinations other than just higher and further education qualifications. Apprenticeships and training should be equally valid as places to go.

Secondly, people need to think laterally these days. Someone sitting in the county I was born in, Cheshire, or the county we moved to, Herefordshire, or the constituency I represent in south London has a predetermined view of things, depending on their circumstances, their location and the local industries and occupations. It is not sufficient to be told how to write a CV and to think that sending it, possibly by e-mail, will mean that it will be looked at, picked up and the writer’s brilliance will be discovered.

The important point therefore is that the process of self-presentation and maintaining up-to-date information requires personal contact. It is not enough to think that going on to the web or phoning someone will give people the support, confidence, mentoring and back-up that they need. I am not talking about children with parents who have no academic qualifications; children with two teacher parents, for example, may also need someone who is not their parent to help them in their route of deciding what to do.

My plea is that the Government reconsider their view that there should not be face-to-face careers advice, information and guidance for everyone. The Select Committee recommends that that should happen once, but as much advice as is needed should be given. I am certain that it would make a significant difference if there were well qualified experts to support young people as they navigate this and sometimes to help them as they fall back and realise—the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness gave such an example in his introduction—that a career in the fire service, police service or armed services, or whatever it might be, may not be an option because they are not recruiting but shedding people. Sometimes, people have to confront reality and think again.

The right hon. Gentleman is spelling out his case very well. From a lifetime of working with young people, I know that, although they might be technically able, they are unconfident when navigating such choices. However able they are, they need face-to-face support to work through what are very difficult questions for any of us.

I absolutely agree, and I respect the hon. Gentleman’s expertise on the matter.

I have two final points. First, if someone wants to go into the construction industry to be a plumber or builder, actually knowing the best way to go from their secondary school to get the relevant qualification, knowing which college is the best place to do an FE course and knowing which company might give them the best learning is not something that they will necessarily pick up accurately just because their uncle happens to work for a building firm or their elder brother happens to be self-employed and has his own firm. It does not happen like that. People need to have wider experience.

This point may be controversial, but I am clear about it. We are having a big debate in this country on immigration. It is abundantly clear to me that people from outside this country are often employed because they are better qualified. When there is competition, as in Lincolnshire or elsewhere, between a Lithuanian or Polish immigrant and someone from Boston, for example, offering their skills, we are failing all those young people who lose out because they are just not as competent or qualified—they have not got to the same place as the immigrant. If we are to show that we are providing the opportunities for our young people to get the jobs in this country and abroad that we want them to have, we must give them the careers advice to set them on the route to do that.

We cannot complain when we discover that, at the end of the day, they lose out because they have been unsupported. I am dealing with constituents who are now in their 20s and 30s, and I can testify to the fact that if people do not get the right support, it is doubly difficult for them when they are 21, 25, 29, 32 and 35 to get into the jobs market. If they did not have the support and encouragement to be at work when they were 16, 17, 18 and 21, it is really difficult later, and we set back a generation. So I ask the Minister, who is a new Minister and as far as I know a good thing, to persuade his boss in the Department for Education to rethink, to drop the ideology and the right-wing philosophy and to pick up on the evidence and support careers guidance for everyone in every single school in England.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Benton.

What brings us together in the Chamber today is a collective sense that we could probably have had better careers advice ourselves, and that we care passionately about young people’s careers advice in the future. That is why the Labour party welcomes the Select Committee report and, in particular, the devastating third paragraph of the summary, which announced that the “decision to transfer responsibility” was “regrettable”, going on to state that the Committee had

“concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people.”

Labour acknowledges that careers guidance for young people was in need of reform, which is why the previous Labour Government were committed to a review of the IAG—information, advice and guidance—strategy in 2011, following our response to Alan Milburn’s report. The Committee has produced a typically thoughtful and comprehensive contribution to an important issue. Transferring the statutory duty for careers guidance to schools is a radical and untested departure in the history of careers guidance in the United Kingdom, deserving of close scrutiny. Furthermore, the report arrives at a moment of crisis. That young people in this country are more likely than the elderly to be unemployed is a shocking situation and the exact opposite of what is happening in, for example, Germany. Youth unemployment in this country remains around 1 million, so this is exactly not the time to undermine effective careers advice. The Labour party, however, will try to approach the debate in a bipartisan spirit. Young people are not well served by tit-for-tat exchanges or by apportioning blame. The truth is that youth unemployment and social mobility are deep-seated challenges. We look to work with the Select Committee and the Government where possible.

The previous Labour Government stated:

“High-quality information, advice and guidance is crucial in helping young people to develop ambitious but achievable plans, which are more likely to lead to positive outcomes.”

That has also been recognised by a wide range of professional bodies, from the CBI to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. It is pleasing that the Government recognise the Committee’s findings that good-quality, independent careers guidance is “essential” for all young people. However, we believe that the Government could be doing more to drive aspiration, boost our competitiveness and stop exactly the kind of waste pointed out by the Chair of the Select Committee, when he mentioned the young man seeking to forge a career in the fire brigade.

We are pleased that the Minister has belatedly persuaded his colleagues of the importance of a technical baccalaureate, although it remains disappointing that, unlike Labour policy, which it attempts to imitate, it does not include a commitment to a proper work experience placement or a course structure developed by business. One of the strongest criticisms made by the Committee report is the removal of a statutory duty to provide careers education and work-related learning. In the public consultation on the Wolf report, nearly 89% of respondents did not believe that the statutory duty should be removed. With employers routinely complaining —as the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) explained—about the lack of workplace knowledge and poor employability of young people, the Government must consider whether scrapping work experience is a good idea. It would not be so bad if different routes to employability, vocational education and apprenticeships were well advertised by the careers services under the new regime, but, as both Government and Opposition Members have explained, that is simply not the case.

I strongly urge the Government, therefore, to respond with greater clarity than they did to the Select Committee report on how they will ensure that young people are made aware of the full range of post-16 options available in their local area, as my hon. Friends have discussed, including apprenticeships. Pupils need an independent and impartial system of advice. The problem is an element of over-concentration by the Government on the 16.4% of state school pupils who achieved EBacc results. We all want as much academic achievement as possible in our schools; we all want that excellence and rigour, but we also need to be aware of different learning and career pathways. That is the difficult situation that the Minister faces. His colleagues do not seem to share his concern for rigorous vocational training.

Unfortunately, the sloppy approach to evidence appears to have seeped into the reforms as well. The international evidence for the statutory transfer of the careers service to schools is, at best, thin on the ground. The Select Committee is clear about that, and it cites the OECD, which has highlighted the limitations of the school-based model—“lack of impartiality, inconsistency” and, perhaps most damaging, “weak links” with the labour market—also emphasised by hon. Members. Labour is not dogmatic on the location of the statutory duty. Quality of delivery is what counts, not who holds the responsibility. We agree with the Committee’s findings that further upheaval and uncertainty, after everything schools have been through, might have a detrimental impact upon young people at a difficult time.

In the current fiscal climate, we also agree with the Committee that additional direct funding to schools is unlikely. Schools need to make careers guidance a priority within their budgets. The Chair of the Select Committee’s figures about five in six not providing the same level of allocation are terrifying. As the deputy Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), pointed out in her speech, that does not mean that the Government should present the withdrawal of £200 million of funding as consequence free. In his evidence, the Minister suggested that the Government have protected school spending, but schools are having to invest about £25,000 each for something that was previously allocated funding, and we can see from the report that levels of provision have simply fallen off a cliff.

All that comes at a difficult time. Teaching morale is at an all-time low and, for better or worse, the change comes when our education system faces enormous structural upheaval and fragmentation. The Government are asking schools to take on a commissioning role, but if we have learnt nothing else over the past 30 years of public policy, it is that commissioning services is not easy and requires a complex set of skills and capabilities. Extraordinary demands are being placed on our schools, and the simple question that the Minister must answer is whether his Government are doing enough to provide guidance and support and to disseminate best practice. The Committee report seems clear that the answer is no. In the words of Professor Tony Watts of Careers England, it is

“not delegation to schools; it is abdication.”

We need careers services with strong links to employers, good local labour market intelligence, impartial advice on different routes and a robust system of accountability. We should not stifle innovation with over-prescription and bureaucracy, but we must not abdicate responsibility to provide clear and rigorous standards to drive performance. Like the Chair of the Committee, what most concerns me about the report is the accountability dimension. The report merely reveals the widespread sector concern, echoed by the Government’s social mobility adviser, that the accountability measures for the new regime are nowhere near robust enough. There is now near unanimous support for an enhanced role for Ofsted, and I am pleased to note that Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Committee that there is a need to

“recalibrate the schools framework to focus more on careers advice.”

We have Ofsted’s thematic review in the summer and the National Careers Council report this month, but I remain concerned that they will not result in delivering the robust accountability that we need.

I started by saying that I would approach the debate in a non-partisan way, and I am pleased to put on record our support for the Government’s extension of the statutory duty to year 8s and to 16 to 18-year-olds in college. There is a case for going further.

I welcome the Minister’s enthusiasm for increasing employer participation in schools and the commitment to develop destination measures further, although I note the Education Secretary’s failings on that. Finally, I note the Committee’s interesting recommendations on the potential for a brokerage role for the National Careers Service, which has rightly been criticised for not doing enough for young people. The Labour party will look at that recommendation as part of its ongoing policy review, and the One Nation Skills Taskforce, chaired by Professor Chris Husband, which we should implement in about two years.

It is a pleasure, Mr Benton, to serve under your chairmanship. I will try to respond to all the points that have been raised, but if there is not enough time to respond to specific points, I will be happy to do so in detail in correspondence, as with the Committee’s deputy Chair.

I value the cross-party approach to the debate and the Opposition Front-Bench Member’s largely non-partisan approach. I invite him to the Department to give him a teach-in on some of the things we are doing on work experience because I agree that it is vital, and we are doing a huge amount to strengthen it. What matters is real work experience, not pretend work experience. The change is important and I am sure he will agree when he understands what is happening. I welcome him to his first Westminster Hall debate on the Front Bench.

During the debate, I noted a huge number of areas of agreement, not least on the value and importance of information, advice and guidance, but also motivation, inspiration and education in a world that young people can reach through their education and their choices of qualification. Several times, the motivating fact in my job was brought up. Youth unemployment is falling and this week, thankfully, the figures showed a further fall, but it is far, far too high. At the same time we have a skills shortage. To fill that skills shortage, we must make sure that the young people of this country have not only the training and qualifications, but the skills to get a job and hold it down. That is the motivation behind the massive increase in apprenticeships and the introduction of traineeships, which will start in the summer. There is agreement about the value and importance of that.

There is also agreement that Connexions failed badly, and that was mentioned throughout the Chamber, but that must be matched with recognition that if the activity that occurred under Connexions, which was poor value for money, has reduced, it is not the same as the amount of careers advice falling. The two are separate, and the reason for the cross-party, cross-sector agreement that Connexions failed is that it was poor value for money.

I am interested in professional help. We have seen the number of professionals in the careers service collapse throughout the country. Does that not worry the Minister when he talks about the agenda for informing young people properly?

I will come to that. The question is what we can do to provide information, advice, guidance and, much more broadly, motivation and inspiration. Times have changed since the Connexions service was opened up. Information is widely available, but it is obvious that information on the web is not enough; it is about the individual connection between human beings, with young people being inspired, usually by a practitioner who is doing something with their life. Young people look at them and say, “That’s the sort of thing I want to do.” Then the question is how to ensure that they are steered into the path of being able to do it.

Aspiration must be encouraged, but realistically. There was a time when I wanted to be an astronaut, and I am glad I was told that for someone who is British the chances of becoming an astronaut are close to zero, so I ended up in my second choice.

My hon. Friend says I should have tried harder, but it is about balance. We must be aspirational, but realistic and helpful.

The funding issue has been raised many times. Times are, of course, tight for funding, but the central point is that the legal duty to secure independent and impartial advice in schools needs to be delivered from the school budget. Schools have a whole budget to deliver this, not just the £7 million that the Department for Education put into the National Careers Service. Frankly, we must be much more ambitious and look forward not back. I have taken up the mantle that was laid down. We understand what happened. There has been a big change and the question now is how that statutory duty can be properly enforced and put in place as powerfully and effectively as possible.

Of course, autonomy and accountability matter. People say that schools will not do this, but I also heard the evidence that 98% of schools say that it is very important. We must hold schools to account so that they deliver, and that can be done through Ofsted. Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted says that from September it will give priority to inspection of career advice, and the destination data that we are working extremely hard to expand.

In schools, what gets measured gets done, so how will we ensure that careers advice is policed and happens for all children, not just some?

The new destination data that were introduced this summer included for the first time measurement of people who go to university and also those who go into apprenticeships and other jobs. We must expand that. Last year was the first year, and there will be more years with a richer dataset in future. We must hold schools to account for that. As the hon. Lady says, what gets measured gets done, so we must measure destinations and outcomes—where children actually get to.

There is best practice. The careers academies provide inspirational best practice, including information and advice, as well as mentoring from people who work in industry. They go with pupils from a young age all the way through university or an apprenticeship and into work, and continue to mentor over a long period. Other examples of where things are working well include Business in the Community, Business Class and Speakers for Schools. As the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) said, there is some excellent provision.

The need for closer collaboration between employers and schools is vital to tackle the motivating factor. Someone reported an offer of support from the Federation of Small Businesses, and I hope that the FSB will contact me because I would very much like to take forward its offer. The issue is about ensuring that all children have access to the sort of networks that middle-class children often take for granted. Most jobs are filled not through advertising, but through networks, and it is vital to make sure that everyone has the same access to the networks that the middle classes often take for granted.

What must we do? First, enterprise, work and getting ready for employment, as well as further academic study, must be central to a school’s mission. Parents, employers and schools are vital for that. Labour market information through local enterprise partnerships, city deals and the National Careers Service is also vital and we have been very clear about the role of LEPs in providing labour market information. The bridge between employers and the education system, who often speak different languages, must be based on stronger relationships, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they happen.

Centrally and most importantly, the issue is not just about skills or careers advice. It is about guidance, inspiration, mentoring and character building—building self-reliance, lateral thinking, motivation and grit among our children to ensure that they can take on the challenges that they will face throughout their lives so that they can propel themselves through their careers because they are inspired to succeed. Let us take the discussion forward and be ambitious in our goals, and not merely try to recreate failed institutions of the past.

Educating Engineers

[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: The impact of Government reforms on 14-19 education, Seventh Report of the Science and Technology Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 665, and the Government response, HC 102.]

It is the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, so I welcome the opportunity to do so by addressing the Chamber on the Select Committee on Science and Technology’s report, “Educating tomorrow’s engineers: the impact of Government reforms on 14–19 education”. The Committee produced the report unanimously back in February. We dealt with the impacts of the English baccalaureate, university technical colleges and changes to the engineering diploma. I will also comment on the Government’s response to our report, and as we are in education mode, I will be generous and offer the Minister seven out of 10 for that response. It is a good score—I never got those sorts of marks in my classes.

Engineering is crucial to the economy. It has been estimated that the engineering work force produces a fifth of our GDP and half of UK exports. In 2010, the sector generated 25% of UK turnover—that is three times the size of the financial services sector. It is not just the economy that benefits from engineering; we also need to look at health care, energy, transport, construction, defence and many other sectors.

Despite engineering’s importance, the UK is facing a shortfall in the numbers and quality of engineers. About 820,000 science, engineering and technology professionals will be required by 2020, with 80% of those required in engineering. The engineering work force is ageing, and we will need around 82,000 engineers and technicians just to deal with the requirements up to 2016. That demand will not just be met by university graduates; we only produce 23,000 engineering graduates a year, and not all of them stay in engineering. The loss is a particular concern when it comes to women. Only 12% of engineering students in higher education are women, and it gets worse.

One of the most inspiring sessions that we did during the Committee’s inquiry involved three young ladies who came to speak to us. There was Kirsty, who is currently an apprentice at National Grid, Georgie, who was studying her A-levels, and Georgia, who was doing her GCSEs. They told us that a couple of things that were very important in getting ladies into engineering were having role models and having experience of engineering. Will the hon. Gentleman give us his thoughts on that?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. National Grid, in its briefing notes for the debate, quotes Kirsty, who said:

“I decided to do an apprenticeship as I could get qualifications and learn a trade at the same time; to do a job that means something; to be able to go into work in the morning and leave knowing I have made a difference to something.”

That young woman was an inspiring witness, as was a young lady from Novartis who spoke to the Cogent awards last year. She explained how she did a higher apprenticeship and was able to say cheerfully, at the end of it, that not only is she ahead of her peer group for her age, but she has a degree, and what is more, she does not have a student debt. She has done rather well. The hon. Gentleman is spot on in terms of the importance of women.

In the Queen’s Speech debate, I spoke about the importance of breaking the artificial barrier between vocational and academic qualifications. In the eyes of far too many people, there is a brick wall between vocational and academic. It is a continuum, and we need to support that continuum’s development.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his Committee wholeheartedly on the report—eight out of 10, I would say. He has just spoken about gender equality and gender issues in engineering, and there is a very good passage in his report on the subject. However, I could find no recommendations to address the issues of diversity when it comes to gender and engineering. Was that because he could not think of any, or have I missed them?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his response to the Gracious Address. It was interesting that the leaders of both parties commented on the sterling work that he is doing on engineering. My challenge to both Front-Bench Members is to follow their leaders and deliver on the quality of the work that the hon. Gentleman is doing.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question specifically, we were concentrating on 14-to-19 education. In my view, another part of the work that is needed is for us to work on developing continual professional development in schools, including, very importantly, among primary schools, because the seeds are sown at a much younger age. My simple answer is that the issue was outside the scope of our report, but he raises a very important point that ties back into the earlier debate, a large part of which I was privileged to sit in on.

We were keen to find out why there is such a mismatch between the demand and supply of engineers, and how subject choices were made, which is obviously part of it. Let us start with the English baccalaureate. The EBacc performance measure was introduced in 2011, but retrospectively applied to 2010 figures. It recognised where students have achieved a GCSE grade C or above in English, maths, sciences, history, geography and languages. Looking at the impact of the EBacc on engineering education, we heard mixed views. Some welcomed the EBacc’s focus on maths and sciences, which are important precursors for engineering. Some evidence shows that the EBacc has correlated with a greater uptake of science GCSEs. Some 93% of GCSE students are due to take a double or triple science GCSE in summer 2014, which is the highest proportion for two decades.

However, the EBacc has a downside for engineering, too. Maths and science GCSEs are not the only route into engineering. Important subjects such as design and technology are not included in the EBacc, and I know that a lot of companies agree with me on that point. About a quarter of the students accepted on to engineering degree courses in the UK have an A-level in design and technology. Worryingly, a qualification awarding body told us that some schools had been

“switching large numbers of students away from Product Design, Engineering, Manufacturing and Applied Science GCSEs.”

In some cases, that has happened when students were already six months into those programmes.

Although we welcome the EBacc’s focus on the attainment of maths and science GCSEs, we were concerned that important subjects such as design and technology are being adversely affected as schools focus on the EBacc. We recommended that the Government consider how to reward schools and recognise performance in non-EBacc subjects when it reviews the school accountability system.

The TechBacc—the technical baccalaureate—is an interesting development. It was designed when we were conducting our inquiry. In April, the Government announced the TechBacc performance measure as an

“alternative to the A level study route for post-16 education.”

We set out some hopes for the curriculum. First, the TechBacc should offer a broad base of education to facilitate a wide range of further study and career options. Secondly, the Government must endeavour to ensure that the TechBacc does not suffer from the cultural misconception that plagues vocational education—namely that it is for the less bright students, which comes back to my point about that important continuum.

Thirdly, and possibly most controversially, we concluded that schools must be incentivised to focus on the TechBacc and, therefore, that the TechBacc should be equivalent to the EBacc in all respects. A list of courses that will count towards the TechBacc will be published later this year, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments on whether the TechBacc will be equivalent to the EBacc for those schools that offer it. Could she also comment on how many schools might offer the TechBacc?

While the diploma in engineering is yet to prove itself, it has been in place since 2008. The qualification, which is for 14 to 19-year-olds, is available at three levels: foundation, higher and advanced. It sits alongside the traditional educational pathways of GCSEs and A-levels, and it offers students classroom-based learning, combined with work-related practical experience. The engineering level 2 diploma is equivalent to seven GCSEs, with a core principal learning component equivalent to five GCSEs.

As a result of the publication of the Wolf review of vocational education in March 2011, a vocational qualification will count as equivalent to only one GCSE in the 2014 key stage 4 performance tables. That means the engineering diploma would be equivalent to one GCSE in performance tables, despite requiring curriculum time equivalent to several.

The Government caused great unhappiness among engineers in 2012, when the change to the GCSE equivalence of the engineering diploma was announced. Employers considered the diploma to be excellent at providing the next generation of skilled engineers. In paragraph 17 of their response, the Government do not agree with us on vocational skills, saying:

“The performance table reforms were made following a full, public consultation and were not made in haste.”

There is a contradiction in the evidence there, and I would like the Government to publish their evidence, because it certainly conflicts with the evidence we heard.

The engineering community started discussions with the Government over redeveloping the diploma in May 2012. Then, in November 2012, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the engineering diploma would be “reworked”. During our inquiry, the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), stated the reworked diploma “won’t be a diploma” but “four separate qualifications”. The Government expected the revamped qualifications to be available for students to sit as early as 2014.

Although we are pleased that the Government have been engaging with the engineering community to redesign the diploma, some of the damage already seems to have been done. The rapidly climbing numbers of students taking the diploma hit a peak and then started dropping. In one submission, the change was seen as

“a retrograde step, out-of-sync with government’s stated intentions to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing.”

We concluded that, in changing the engineering diploma, the Government potentially sent a poor message about the value of engineering education.

The engineering diploma is particularly popular with university technical colleges. UTCs integrate national curriculum requirements with technical and vocational elements. Recently, I was delighted, as part of my personal research for the report, to visit the JCB academy. Bamford is not seen as a natural friend of the Labour party, but, goodness me, he has done an amazing job in investing in that school. It is inspiring place; indeed, people can go into Arkwright’s original mill and see the school’s energy coming from the same mill races Arkwright used to run the mill, although the safety conditions have improved more than somewhat since those days. What an inspiring school; it helps its talented students to work in engineering by encouraging them to get inside problems and work on complex issues.

With his background, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), who speaks for the Opposition, would be intrigued to see how Shakespeare, for example, was taught. “Romeo and Juliet” was being taught when I visited, and I expected a secondary modern, linear approach, with the play being taught from beginning to end, but the students were writing an essay about the causes of conflict between and within families. What a good way of understanding what is, after all, a very complicated storyline. That is the way the teaching is done. It is an inspiring school, and it made me want to go back to school.

Just to reassure my hon. Friend, I should say that I am visiting the JCB Rocester academy on 5 July, and I am looking forward to it enormously.

My hon. Friend will find some very talented students, inspiring teachers and fantastic equipment. It is worth examining whether we can develop that in other UTCs.

As a Committee, we were really impressed by the UTCs, the students and the head teachers; we thought that they were a fantastic idea and that they should be rolled out. However, we had a little concern that that must not be at the expense of teaching science and engineering in mainstream schools. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could touch on that.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Government must focus on good engineering education in all schools and colleges, and not just silo it in a few specialist institutions. That is hugely important, and it is one of the issues we all need to consider in relation to the success of UTCs. We must not silo them, but integrate them as part of the mainstream offer; indeed, in some towns and cities, we must look at how schools can collaborate to make possible a wider spread of engineering skills among students. That is an important point.

We have just heard about the Education Committee’s inquiry into careers guidance. Its report set out in detail the importance of face-to-face careers advice for young people and recommended that

“the Department for Education introduces into the statutory guidance a requirement for schools to publish an annual careers plan, to include information on the support and resources available to its pupils in planning their career development.”

We looked at careers advice from the engineering perspective, and we concluded that the duty on schools to provide access to impartial, independent advice was laudable.

In principle, we support greater autonomy for schools to provide careers advice. However, the duty poses problems in practice. First, there are resource implications for schools, which are given more responsibility but no additional budget to secure careers guidance. Secondly, there is little guidance on the quality of careers guidance that should be available to students. That partly comes back to the fact that there is insufficient time in the school day for teachers to have the continuous professional development training that would enable them to be on top of what is happening in the economy and in the area surrounding the school. There is a gap, and successive Governments have tried to wrestle with the problem, but we must address it.

The quality of careers guidance can go up only if those giving it have at least some understanding of what being an engineer means. An interesting discovery that we made in research for another Committee report, entitled “Bridging the valley of death”, on the economics of developing small high-tech businesses, was that Lloyds Bank had found time to send some managers on engineering training courses. If a busy commercial bank can do it, it is not beyond the wit of Ministers to develop a similar scheme that would work for teachers, to try to help them to understand a bit more about the jobs available in the communities where they teach.

The hon. Gentleman has not yet touched on the value of experience in getting people interested in engineering. One witness went to a lecture on the Bloodhound supersonic car. That young lady said that for her it was a turning point: she had to study engineering, build cars and race them across the world. Opportunities for people to get experience in engineering are hugely important, whether they happen through work experience or education field trips. Does the hon. Gentleman have any thoughts on that?

I am a great believer in the importance of practical skills. The teacher I remember most—he is still alive and I met him a couple of years ago—was George Ellis, who taught me woodwork. George had a great talent, with children of any ability—hon. Members may make jokes about my ability—of breaking problems down to the practical level that they could cope with and building up a solution. That is how he taught children of disparate abilities. He was a passionate believer in getting young people out and about to see and experience things with their own eyes. Making an engine work—building it from scratch—and similar skills are ones that we seem to write off these days, because they are vocational and not academic.

That brings me back to my point about the importance of the continuum. Every one of us, whatever we do, needs that continuum of skills. I agree with the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley): the examples that we heard of kids going to see the Bloodhound project, and youngsters being involved in Big Bang and similar projects, are hugely important. The House should press for projects such as Big Bang to continue to be available for young people. We should try to get more state schools engaged in it. It would be great if Engineering UK ended up with a problem that was so big that it could not be managed as a national exhibition, but had to be broken down into regional exhibitions.

I am aware that it is going regional, but it is still not yet of such a scale that we can say that every school has bought into it. That should be our target: to help Engineering UK to achieve just that.

I was privileged enough, a few weeks ago, to go back to my old stomping ground in Portsmouth and to address the congress of the Engineering Professors Council, to present the outcome of our report. The broad thrust of the report has been welcomed by engineering professors, learned societies, trade bodies and individual companies. Substantial parts of it have been welcomed by the Government. My plea is for us all to work together to deliver on our stated commitments—I refer once again to the comments of the party leaders in the debate on the Gracious Speech. It is up to us to do it, and we have the tools. Let us now get on with it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Walker, and to speak in this important and timely debate.

Why is a debate on educating tomorrow’s engineers important, and worthy of a report by the Select Committee on Science and Technology? There is no doubt that the country faces huge challenges. None is greater than the economic challenge; and our future is by no means certain, so we need to carve out a new future for our nation—one that is not based just on financial and other service-based industries, which perhaps we have come to rely on too much. They are valuable industries, but we need to rebalance our economy.

We need also to recognise that we will not return to the heavy metal-bashing industries of the past and that we need to play to our strengths; perhaps we had forgotten what they were. For too long, we abandoned—or at the very least undervalued—our skilled industrial and engineering heritage, in favour of other sectors. The time has come for that to change, and I hope that the report will instigate and support that change.

What lies behind the Government’s reforms in education must be widely and generally welcomed. There is a deep-seated belief that we need to give young people the best possible opportunities and skills to enable them to get access to the jobs that will exist in future. Some of the reforms that we considered will achieve that. We may collectively have underestimated the value of engineering, but let us not undersell ourselves.

As the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), said, engineering and manufacturing are still hugely important to the country. They are also important to me personally in my constituency. The UK is home to more than 500,000 engineering companies, employing, as we heard, 5.4 million people, of whom 2.3 million would consider themselves to be skilled engineers. That accounts for 8% of the work force. As we heard, it accounts for one fifth of GDP and half of all our exports, and turns over £1.15 trillion. We should not underestimate the importance of the sector, but we sometimes do, and we therefore seem to have created an ever-widening skills gap, which has consequences for the economy and for the rebalancing of our national wealth.

I am the co-chairman of the parliamentary ICT forum, and one of the things that companies always tell us is that the No. 1 thing they look for when considering investing in any country is not tax or any such factor but whether the skills that they need are available where they are thinking of locating a factory or development lab. The report ties into that.

My hon. Friend is right. Skills are a major factor when people are deciding where to invest. Something that I found surprising, or perhaps even shocking, was that when the CBI conducted a survey of companies, it found that 42%, across all sectors, reported a skills gap when recruiting. That skills gap is as true in my local context as it is nationally.

South Basildon and East Thurrock has a long and rich industrial heritage, and I shall, if I may, blow my constituency’s trumpet for a moment. For example, one in 10 of the world’s large tractors are built in Basildon, at Case New Holland, generating £7 billion of exports. The personal IED-blockers that our servicemen wear in Afghanistan are built, designed and programmed in Basildon by Selex. Gardner Aerospace is a medium-sized engineering firm, employing more than 200 staff in my constituency. It is a tier 1 supplier to Airbus—there is not an Airbus A380 that flies without a part made in Basildon—and it competes with firms in cheaper-cost-base countries such as India and China, and why is it able to compete? Because of its quality and because it delivers on time.

Given the excellence of the Airbus-producing manufacturer in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, has that impacted at all on his ideas about the virtue or otherwise of the European single market?

That is probably a debate for another day. There is no doubt, when we export 50% of our goods to Europe, that it is an important customer of ours, and I would not want to do anything to undermine that, but what does undermine that company’s ability to prosper and grow is the lack of skilled engineers in the wider work force. When I recently visited the company, I was told that although it is managing to recruit apprentices to train up to support its current work base, if it were to be offered a new large contract, it could not go out into the economy and recruit enough engineers to expand, even though we can compete with low-cost-base countries. That demonstrates why it is so important that we bridge that skills gap.

While I am blowing my own constituency’s trumpet, let me say that it is also home to Ford’s research and development facility at Dunton. The facility employs some 4,000 designers, engineers and technicians. For these companies to prosper, we need to bridge that skills gap, so what can be done?

First, we need to change our attitudes towards engineering as a career. We all need to work harder at promoting engineering as the rewarding, well-compensated profession that it is. It is a profession that shapes the world that we live in, and too many people do not understand that. Certainly, too many young people do not understand it. They are not aware of the role of engineering—how it shapes the world that they touch and experience every day. Even when they understand that and have a positive attitude towards it, that does not necessarily translate into wider participation, so we must have a change. We must find a way to engage with young people and show them that they have a role to play in engineering. That starts in schools, but there are concerns, as we have heard, that some of the changes that have been made to our education system will not necessarily support that.

There are concerns that the curriculum changes will do little to inspire people to take up STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and maths. There is concern that with design and technology no longer being compulsory, people will not be able to take their enthusiasm for that subject further. I look forward to being corrected if that is not the case. One of the issues that I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to address particularly is whether the EBacc is likely to encourage schools to concentrate on the five core subjects, rather than offering a broader education that might include exposure to engineering. Concern is also expressed that the new TechBacc does not receive the same recognition as the EBacc. Again, if that could be addressed, I would be most grateful.

There are concerns, as we heard from the Chairman of the Select Committee, that the changes to and perceived downgrading of the engineering diploma could send the wrong message. I am sure that that is not the Government’s aim. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I believe that the Government’s changes to education are designed to give people all the skills that they need to make the most of the potential that they have.

There are plenty of positives, and I will try to touch on them, although I do not want to detain hon. Members too long. One of the things that I welcome most is the university technical colleges—I would certainly welcome one in my constituency. They are a fantastic way of giving young people skills and inspiring them into potentially interesting and well-rewarded careers. My only concern about the university technical college programme is that not enough people will have access to it. I think that they are fantastic and would support them wholeheartedly. I would love to see an engineering and logistics university technical college in Basildon.

I am very pleased that, through an initiative funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Government are creating a network of more than 25,000 STEM professionals and academics who can go into schools to support STEM education and promote STEM careers. I understand that the Government are also part-funding STEM clubs. The hope is that 80% of secondary schools will have one of those clubs by 2015. I have seen how some of the clubs work in my own constituency when they are supported by industry as well. They are fantastic; they really do get people excited.

Both the private sector and the voluntary sector have a role to play, as I have seen locally. The power generation company npower runs programmes that involve people going out into schools and showing young people the practical application of engineering. Network Rail produces support material. JCB, as we have heard, sponsors a UTC. Businesses such as Ford and Selex in my constituency support the engineering and STEM clubs. There are initiatives such as “We Made It!” and Primary Engineer, which is fantastic, because we cannot start encouraging people to be interested in engineering young enough. Primary Engineer is a project that works with key stage 1 and key stage 2 pupils, getting them to design vehicles that they can then test in a competition. It allows them to look at the engineering solution to certain problems. It is fantastic to see in practice.

I add to the hon. Gentleman’s list the Rolls-Royce awards. This year’s winner is a primary school from Belfast. It is an inspiring project that the youngsters and teachers have been engaged in, but the key there was the partnership between the company and the school to bring the technical expertise that was outside the school into the classroom.

Absolutely, and that leads me to my next point beautifully. All those things are brilliant, and to see them in action is fantastic. My concern is that what is happening is not systematic enough. We are not getting it into every school, and not every pupil or student has access to it. One of the recommendations in the Select Committee report—I was delighted that the Government accepted it without amendment—was that all the learned societies, professional engineering institutions and trade bodies should oblige their members to go into schools, in a systematic way, to promote engineering and technology. Even if it was just for one day a year, if each of those engineers could go into schools across the whole school body, it could have a significant impact.

As a result of some of the initiatives, we are beginning to see an improvement in the uptake of engineering and particularly in the number of engineering apprentices and apprenticeships in our economy. Today, just before I came here, I had some very good news. DP World, which is constructing the London Gateway container port down at Shell Haven in my constituency, will on Monday announce the creation of six new engineering apprenticeships to support the engineering activity that takes place on that site. To see £1.5 billion invested in south Essex is great, but the engineering feat—the reclamation of the land and then the handling of millions of containers—is a fantastic sight and something that will, we hope, excite those six potential engineers.

In conclusion, there are some fantastic organisations and companies throughout our country doing some great things to inspire the next generation of engineers, but we must do more. We face a lack of skills and a shortage of aspiration to give people those skills, but those problems are not insurmountable. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that

“engineers are the real revolutionaries, the ones who take society forward, who create the technologies and the structures which carry us into new worlds.”

Although progress is being made and the general thrust of what the Government are trying to achieve is welcome, we must do all that we can to ensure that engineers can continue to take our society forward and continue to forge a future that will meet our increasingly complex needs. I hope that the Government will revisit our report, take it in the spirit in which it is meant and use it to achieve our shared and combined goal of creating a broader uptake of engineering across our whole society.

Order. Depending on the length of the next speech, we will start the winding-up speeches at 4 pm ideally. If the Front Benchers could leave two minutes for the Committee Chair at the end—we are due to finish at 4.30 pm—that would be well received by all, I am sure.

I am most grateful, Mr Walker; I shall try not to take up all that time, generous though the allocation is. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), the Chair of the Committee, on the excellent way he introduced his report and on his earlier speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on what he said. I agree with everything they have said, which makes this a consensual, but none the less important debate.

I am most grateful to the Chair of the Committee for what he said about my speech last week in the Queen’s Speech debate. I echo what he said about the welcome response from the Leader of the Opposition, declaring cross-party support for efforts to encourage the status of engineering in our society and, in particular, women’s role in engineering. My speech last week had one great problem; it was overshadowed by the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. I have bad news for the Chair of the Committee today; this debate will also not get the attention it deserves, because it is being overshadowed by the announcement today of David Beckham’s retirement from football. My serious point is, would it not be great if the retirement of a major engineering figure attracted even a fraction of the attention that the retirement of a major footballer does? As my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock said, it is engineers who change the world. Footballers entertain us marvellously and they are great people—probably overpaid, but great none the less—but engineers make the world a better place to live in. Their role is important to society. I have just come back from Jordan, where I talked to Jordanian parliamentarians about democracy. Most of the Jordanian Members of Parliament I met, rejoiced in the title “engineer” before their name. If only we could honour engineering as they do in other societies around the world, it would be better for all of us.

I declare a non-interest, in that the excellent Georgie Luff—who gave evidence to the Committee, is reported in the minutes of the Committee and referred to in the report itself—is, as far as I know, no relation. I wish she were. She is an outstanding young lady and clearly did a great service to women and engineering in her evidence to the Committee. I am a non-executive director of a small advanced manufacturing business, where I am seeing for myself firsthand the very real problems facing engineering companies. Skills shortages in engineering are real and present.

During my chairmanship of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills in the previous Parliament, many of the reports we produced referred to the skills shortage. I became more and more concerned about it, and the inadequate careers advice in schools. As a Defence Minister, I saw for myself just how pressing the shortage was. I went to TRaC Global, a test and evaluation company, and opened its Dorset facility. I was told, “Minister, we’ve given up looking for engineers from British universities. It is not worth our while, because they aren’t there. We’re recruiting from Spain and Portugal.” That was my moment of revelation. It is all right for a major British engineering company in the civil sector to recruit overseas—it is a massive wasted opportunity for British young people that they are not being employed to work in those engineering companies and the jobs are going to foreigners instead—but we cannot do that in the defence sector, because we need UK eyes only on high security matters. As I said in my speech last week, when I proposed the Loyal Address, the shortage of engineering skills in this country

“is one of the greatest avoidable threats to…prosperity and security.”—[Official Report, 8 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 7.]

I stand by those words.

Locally, the success of engineering companies can be a problem for Members of Parliament. In my part of the world, Jaguar Land Rover is flourishing—sucking up all the design engineers it can find, not only in the west midlands, but further afield. The result is that many engineering companies in my constituency find it more and more difficult to recruit engineers due to the desperate shortage of engineering skills. The shortage is made infinitely worse by the demographic of the engineering profession. Many people will retire in the next 10 years, so we will have to recruit a phenomenal number just to keep pace and fill the gaps.

I gave the Chair of the Committee eight out of 10 for the report. That was a bit churlish of me, so I apologise. It was mainly because he did not draw its scope quite wide enough. It was focused, quite reasonably, on the 14 to 19 age range. He helpfully said in response to my intervention that key stage 2 and, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock said, key stage 1 matter hugely as well, and I agree. If we are talking about inspiring the next generation of engineers, as the report does in chapter 4, starting young is important.

Although the report says all the right things about women in engineering, it does not identify specific steps that could be implemented to enhance their participation rate. In France, the engineering participation rate for women is about 21% or 22%; here, the estimates differ, but 10% to 12% is a good guess—half the French rate. The French are worried that their rate is too low, and yet we have the lowest rate in the European Union. We are 27th out of 27 and will be 28th out of 28 when Croatia joins. It is a scandal in its own terms, but it is also a missed opportunity for engineering. Modern engineering and its problem-solving nature lends itself more and more to the skills sets that females bring to the profession. We desperately need women to be engaged in engineering, and it is a great shame that we have not yet succeeded in boosting their numbers.

Another important thing that the Committee’s report refers to—although perhaps not quite enough—is how to engage business in schools. There is a lot about taking teachers out and helping them to understand business, but how do we help businesses to engage more in schools? What upsets me so much is we are living in a society with a real, acute youth unemployment problem—not only in this country, but around the world—and employers are crying out for skill sets that are not available in the labour force. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to marry up those problems; if we produce more engineers, we address the problem of youth unemployment, at least in part, and solve the problems facing our economy and security.

Things are happening, which the Government’s response to the Committee’s excellent report mentions. Paragraph 5 gives statistics that are encouraging in many senses:

“A-level physics entries have risen from 25,620 in 2009 to 30,750 in 2012.”

That is a welcome, good increase—constructive and positive—but it is nowhere near enough. A problem in the debate is that education gets boring so quickly. It becomes ridden with cliché and jargon, complex constructs and complex bureaucracies, but there is one thing at the bottom of it: we must inspire more young people, particularly girls, to want to be engineers—that is the essence of it. The Government understand that, as does the Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who responded to the previous debate. The skills shortage is a matter of the utmost urgency.

I do not think “complacency” can be used to describe the Government’s response; I caution against that. The issue is pressing and urgent and must fundamentally be addressed. The Government are right to say that the figures are improving, but the figures are not better enough and they are not improving fast enough. They are not as high as they were in the 1980s, for heaven’s sake! The scandal of girls’ participation is a real problem. The Institute of Physics produced a marvellous report, “It’s Different for Girls”, on participation rates for women in engineering, and physics in particular. One statistic in the report horrifies me more than any other: 49% of maintained co-educational schools sent no girls on to take A-level physics in 2011. In half of all maintained co-educational schools, no girls do A-level physics as a result of their education up to A-level. We simply must change that. Physics is, I think, the fourth most popular choice for boys, but the 14th for girls. The figures are well down and there is no reason for that whatsoever.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to change that shocking statistic would be for those women who had studied physics—STEM subjects —to come into schools to inspire other women to think about taking such subjects further than GCSE and to provide positive role models?

Many young women are doing that most magnificently. ScienceGrrl is a marvellous organisation—I cannot believe how many R’s there are in girl now. They are a fantastic bunch of young women trying to inspire the next generation of female engineers and scientists. I use the word “engineer”, but I am not sure what it means; I think it is really applied science.

For the benefit of Hansard, girl is spelled G-R-R-L and such is the importance of the subject, they are tweeting the debate.

I do not think that I am allowed to recognise the Gallery, Mr Walker, but I am not surprised. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting the number of R’s. I have their literature in my hand. That exchange has put me off my stride.

Addressing the issue is of huge importance. It is valuable for young people to go back to school to show secondary school pupils doing GCSEs and A-levels what they can do with those qualifications. The problem begins at key stage 2, because many of the role modals available, for girls in particular, in primary schools are female arts graduates. That is not a criticism of them at all, but they do not understand engineering, nor should they be expected to. The key is to get businesses into schools. We cannot expect teachers to correct every problem in our society—it would be unreasonable to do so—so let us get businesses into schools. That is why I particularly welcome what the Minister has done on the design and technology curriculum, and I know that she will be glad that I said that.

Design and technology is compulsory at key stages 1, 2 and 3 and an option at key stage 4. I am happy with that arrangement, particularly now that the curriculum has been so dramatically improved as a result of her interventions, for which I am grateful. As I said to her when we met to discuss it a couple of weeks ago, the curriculum now provides an opportunity to get businesses into schools to support it in a way that helps teachers and does the inspiration job that my hon. Friend and the Chairman of the Committee spoke so powerfully about.

The chief executive officers of the major companies are waiting for this and want it to happen, but as has been said, too much is happening. There are too many initiatives at present. It is a fantastically complex world out there. I hope that the new design and technology curriculum can act as a focus to inspire the institutions, major companies and trade associations to bring the initiatives together in a single place, probably under EngineeringUK’s “Tomorrow’s Engineers” banner, another first-rate initiative. That would bring greater coherence to the massive picture of opportunities out there to inspire young people.

What worries me is that very few of those initiatives are actually reaching my constituency. Primary Engineer, about which my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock spoke so well, is an outstanding institution. Why are the Scots using it so intensely and the English not? The Scots are a great engineering nation, but its penetration into Scotland is much greater than into England. I hope that that can be corrected as well.

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to a Committee recommendation, to which the Government responded in paragraph 52, on the role of institutions. To become chartered engineers, people must demonstrate a certain commitment to the wider community, and one way of doing so is to demonstrate that they have gone into schools and helped inspire and educate a new generation of engineers. That could be made more specific in the regulations on chartered engineer status. If the Government are minded to take forward the discussion on institutions, that is a route that I particularly recommend.

I am in danger of becoming bored by my own message because I am stating it so often, but it is exceptionally important. I am told by my old mentor Lord Walker, “It’s only when you’re sick and tired of your own message that you’re probably just beginning to communicate it to the outside world.” I say to my hon. Friend the Minister: believe in this. It matters a great deal. She should take the wise words of the Select Committee Chairman and the report seriously, and understand that if she can turn around the issue and inspire another 10% of women to participate in engineering, doubling the figure, she will do a great thing for the cause of her gender, for the economy and for the security of the nation.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, and to follow the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who has produced another compelling and interesting speech. I begin to think that he is a renaissance man, given his involvement also in the upcoming commemorations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015.

The Opposition welcome the Science and Technology Committee’s report. It is an important intervention on a question vital to rebalancing our economy and improving our competitiveness and, as we have just heard, for reasons of national security. “How do we educate tomorrow’s engineers?” is our collective exam question. The Opposition also welcome the Government’s response to the report, now that it has finally arrived.

I follow the hon. Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), serving as a constituency Member of Parliament, in thinking of the excellent traditions of engineering that we have in Stoke-on-Trent. I am thinking particularly of Goodwin International, a company now in its 10th generation of family ownership, which produces precision steel engineering for nuclear power stations in China, as well as for bridges around the world. Olympus Engineering is another fine business in my constituency.

As the report and many colleagues have noted, the UK engineering sector comprises more than 500,000 companies, employing 5.4 million people and generating one fifth of our GDP and half our exports. In 2010, it generated a £1.15 trillion turnover. By any measure, that is a profound contribution to our economic well-being. We all want to move wealth across the country away from London and the south-east to ensure greater equity in our constituencies. The sector is a profound part of our economy.

Although I would be happy, indeed delighted, to wax lyrical about the wonders of Richard Arkwright, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Thomas Telford and Stoke-on-Trent’s own Reginald Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire, at the moment we should think of the future and the modern global race for competitiveness. We are not where we need to be on skills, as the recent global survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers outlined. That survey of more than 1,300 chief executive officers revealed that UK business leaders are more concerned about the availability of key skills than any of their western European counterparts, rating the issue as the greatest threat to their businesses’ growth. We have heard evidence of that in the debate. Three out of four chief executives said that creating and encouraging a skilled work force should be the Government’s highest priority for business in the year ahead.

Nowhere is the struggle for skills more obvious than in engineering. As the Committee report outlines, by 2020, we will need 820,000 science, engineering and technology professionals, 80% of whom will be required in engineering. One need only look at the Indian institutes of technology or what is going on in China to realise that the rest of the world is not going to wait around for us to catch up.

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point, with which I am sure we all agree. Does he therefore fully accept that we are competing on a global stage and that we are in a global race? We owe it to our young people to give them all the skills that they need to compete in that global race.

I absolutely agree. The challenge is how to do so, and politics is the issue. We must push ourselves up the quality supply chain if we are to earn our money in the world. It is therefore depressing to read in the report that 31% of high-tech manufacturing firms had recruited people from outside the UK owing to a lack of suitably qualified people from within the UK. It is both a business and a national security question.

One area in which we simply must improve, as the Chair of the Select Committee and the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire suggested, is redressing the gender balance and the under-representation of women across the engineering sector. New research by EngineeringUK reveals that many girls rule out careers in science and engineering by the time they are only 14 years old. The UK has the lowest number of women scientists and engineers of all EU countries, fewer than 9% of girls opt for physics at GCSE level and 25% of schoolgirls think that science careers are most suited to boys. I remember hearing powerful evidence from the chief executive of Brompton Bicycle about looking for a female design engineer; candidates simply did not come forward. He wanted a female engineer precisely for a different way of thinking and problem solving, and for the new capacities that she could bring into his company.

Of all OECD countries, we currently languish at 21st for intermediate technical skills. I thought that at this stage I would introduce some partisan rancour. One would think that the Government would be doing all that they could to promote engineering and science and to develop a rigorous approach to vocational education and technical skills. We could have had a modern skills settlement in the Gracious Speech. That would have been far more useful to British competitiveness than grandstanding on a European referendum.

Although I am happy, indeed delighted, to pay tribute to the Minister’s excellent work on promoting mathematics in schools and encouraging greater female take-up of mathematics, sadly, the Government have not fulfilled the other side of the equation. Instead, they have devalued apprenticeships, undermined careers guidance by abandoning the statutory duty to provide work experience and downgraded a successful qualification in the engineering diploma. From the Committee’s evidence, it seems difficult to substantiate the Government’s claim in their response that they considered the views of the engineering sector carefully when downgrading the diploma in the infamous paragraph 17.

Like the Chair of the Select Committee, I also look forward to seeing those responses, because the evidence is unequivocal. National Grid suggests that downgrading the diploma will make it a less attractive option to schools. Meanwhile, the Engineering Employers Federation stated that the downgrading of diplomas has not sent out the signal to employers and young people that the Government are serious about the status and value of vocational education. I could go on.

In light of that damning verdict from the sector’s leading employers’ federation, will the Minister enlighten us as to how exactly she considered carefully the engineering sector’s views on the process of the downgrade? The Opposition agree with the EEF’s verdict and support the Committee’s position that the downgrading of the diploma represents a poor message about how much the Government value engineering education. It is all very well for the Government to suggest that they are now consulting on a replacement, but it is difficult to find fault with the Committee’s simple argument that any new plans could have been developed before the decision to downgrade. Indeed, that is arguably representative of elements of the Government’s education agenda.

We all support a rigorous grounding in core subjects, and it would be impossible not to welcome, along with other hon. Members, the increasing number of pupils studying triple science and A-level mathematics, as the Government outlined in their response. The point about the EBacc, however, is not that such core subjects are not an important part of a well-rounded education for all—of course they are. The point is in the narrowness, both the incentive it provides to schools to narrow an academic offer and, more importantly, the numbers of students it affects. As the Chair of the Select Committee pointed out, that can often lead to perverse outcomes.

A case in point is design and technology. Manufacturers and engineers have made it clear that they are troubled by its removal from key stage 4 as a compulsory subject.

As I say, manufacturers and engineers would like as much take-up of it at key stage 4 as possible. It is undoubtedly an important subject for training and educating the next generation of engineers. There is a need, however, to look again at the content of the proposed curriculum. I am surprised by some comments made by Government Members about the content, because the CBI’s director for employment and skills has said:

“The proposed design and technology curriculum is out of step with the needs of a modern economy. It lacks academic and technical rigour, as well as clear links to the realities of the workplace… The proposals…risk reinforcing existing prejudices about applied subjects being second-rate.”

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, particularly as he is being gracious about my speech. That was what the CBI said, but I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the new draft of the D and T curriculum, on which I have worked closely with the Minister, is a great improvement on that. The whole sector, including the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Design and Technology Association and the CBI, will be well pleased with the draft that will now be part of the curriculum.

I would love to stand corrected. If the CBI and other members of the engineering community are delighted with the new curriculum—

If they are less unhappy with the new curriculum, I look forward to reading their comments in due course.

What we need is the rigour not just of the past but of the future. Of course, the Government have belatedly announced their proposals for a technical baccalaureate, and that is a welcome change of tone. When the Labour party announced its plans for a TechBacc, the Government dismissed our proposed gold-standard vocational qualification as something that would

“leave millions of state school pupils unemployable.”

If that is not talking down vocational education, I do not know what is.

Labour’s technical baccalaureate would have a work experience requirement, and businesses told Labour’s skills task force that such a requirement is crucial. We would also place control over accrediting courses for the TechBacc qualification in the hands of business. Rolls-Royce or Jaguar Land Rover, for example, which, as has been mentioned, are going to transform the skills training economy in the west midlands with the i54 development, could be involved in designing the content of engineering education. That is in contrast to the Government’s vision for the TechBacc as an institutional performance measure—a wrap-up performance measure— rather than as a gold-standard qualification.

Mr Walker, sadly you were not here, but in the previous debate we discussed the Education Committee’s seventh report. I endorse the concerns expressed in this report, which echo those of that report, that the Government have removed the statutory duty for work experience. In the public consultation to Alison Wolf’s excellent report, 89% of respondents did not believe that the duty should be removed, and with employers routinely complaining, as we have heard this afternoon, about the lack of workplace knowledge and the arguably poor employability of many young people, the Government must consider whether scrapping work experience is a good idea.

The hon. Gentleman is right on one level. Work experience, when done well, can provide a really good opportunity to get an insight into either a sector of our economy or the world of work. Too often, however, work experience for 14 to 16-year-olds is not rewarding at all and can put people off work. Schools often scratch around trying to find enough employers to provide what is, basically, a sitting service for two weeks at the end of year 10 and the start of year 11. It has to be valued and it has to be good, and sometimes that is not possible at 14 to 16. That is why I think that the emphasis on later, and quality, work experience is much more valuable.

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right that bad work experience serves no purpose. The onus is clearly on the responsibility to deliver an effective work placement. Once careers guidance is downgraded—as we have discussed—our worry is whether the capacity to offer rewarding work experience and work placements will be there in schools. We will see how this rolls itself out, but with careers, work experience and work placements there is a genuine concern that the Government’s emphasis and attention are not where they could be, precisely at the time when so many young people face the real possibility of unemployment.

Some points in the Government’s response are welcome. Clearly, the new accountability proposals are a small step in the direction of correcting the narrow focus of the EBacc as the sole performance measure. The Opposition also welcome the progress made on university technical colleges, which play a small but vital role in delivering engineering excellence. We have heard about the work of Sir Anthony Bamford and JCB but, as the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) suggested, they are not the universal answer, and we must ensure that science and technology is delivered across mainstream schooling.

It is clear that although both sides of the House may share a similar ambition for a dynamic engineering sector at the heart of a rebalanced economy, the Opposition believe that we have a cast-iron commitment to creating the parity that is needed between academic and high quality vocational education routes, so as to educate the next generation of engineers.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank the members of the Select Committee for their comprehensive report. We have had very interesting speeches from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), and my hon. Friends the Members for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) and for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), and I also thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), for some elements of his speech.

I am pleased that we all agree that scientific, engineering and technological innovation has a critical role to play in the future of the UK economy. We all know that we are in a global race. We need a population that is at least as mathematically skilled and technologically literate as those of China, Singapore, Brazil and all the other emerging countries, and we have a considerable way to go to achieve that. At the moment, we have the smallest proportion of 16 to 18 year-olds studying mathematics in the OECD.

In my constituency, I know the vital role that engineering plays from the apprentices at RAF Marham, who will shortly be working on the new Lightning II joint strike fighter, the most advanced fighter jet in the world, and from G’s Growers in the food and farming industry, who do laser levelling of the land. That shows that high-tech engineering applications apply across many different industries. One thing we are doing in the new design and technology curriculum is widening the industrial focus, to ensure that schools are able to work with local industries that offer those types of skills. The Government are committed to increasing the number of young people studying STEM subjects.

I agree with the comments made today about getting the message across on a broad level. I have held a number of round tables recently with people from the engineering sector, about how we need to get the message across broadly to parents, as well as to teachers and the wider community, about the fulfilment and the economic value of engineering. We know that people with degrees in subjects such as maths and engineering are some of the most highly paid and sought after, and we need to get that message through from a very early age. As the world develops, there is an increasing return to skills. The correlation between our PISA—programme for international student assessment—results and economic growth has doubled over the past 30 years. There has been a 30% growth in managerial, technical and professional jobs, and we need a skilled populace able to take up those roles.

The remit of the report is 14-19 education, but the building blocks at primary school are so critical that we cannot not mention them. Importantly, we are reviewing our primary mathematics curriculum, so that it focuses much more on core arithmetic skills. It will ensure that children have their times tables, which are the basis of things such as ratio and proportion that are so important in solving multi-step problems in subjects such as engineering. We are also developing a new computing curriculum that will start in primary school. Children will learn not just to use IT programmes, but to programme things such as Scratch and Raspberry Pi from an early age. That will open their eyes, at an early age, to the opportunities that engineering brings.

I mentioned the broadening of the design and technology curriculum. We want primary schools to open children’s eyes to industries and things available for them to do in the local area, which is important for getting girls involved. There has been a lot of media commentary recently about the segregation of girls’ and boys’ toys, such as chemistry sets. As parents, we have to stand up and be counted on such issues. I have two daughters. If we allow the mindset to develop at that age that particular things, such as chemistry and physics, are boys’ things, it has a damaging effect later.

There is a strong role for design and technology, coupled with good mathematics and good computing teaching in primary school, in that it is a universal skill that is useful not only for engineering, which is of course important, but for the quantitative skills that we will need much more in subjects such as history than we did in the past. It is something that everybody has to know and should focus on.

On the design and technology curriculum, we have been working with engineering and other sectors to ensure that it is broad and high level, and that it encourages students to apply the learning they receive in mathematics and sciences. In the maths and science curriculum, we are reforming GCSEs with questions that are more open ended and have a focus that is more on problem solving, modelling and practical application, so that there is not a divide between theory and practice, but more of a continuum between subjects.

People will then understand when they study trigonometry that it is very useful for an engineering apprenticeship. Some young engineering apprentices in my constituency told me, “We had no idea that the trigonometry we used at school would actually be useful in this job, and now we’re really excited about it.” Would it not be great if, when trigonometry is first taught, the teacher brings up such applications, so that students know that they will be useful for their future careers?

The Minister is making an excellent point. Too often in education, and not just in science and technology subjects, the application for later in life is lost. Perhaps we might broaden that idea to ensure that there is always some practical example why children, from a very early age, are learning something. When I go into schools, children often have no idea why they are there: it is just somewhere they go during the day. Let us explain why education is important to them and how it will help them in later life.

I completely agree. One organisation I have talked to is PFEG—the Personal Finance Education Group—which is very supportive of the financial education programme in schools that we have added to the national curriculum. It is keen to help communicate with primary school children about which careers are likely to be available in the future, and which will have the financial rewards to support them and their families when they grow up.

There would thus be an early understanding of the value of continuing to study some of the subjects in which it may take a while for the penny to drop—we have all had moments of struggling through sums and finally getting it—and children could be encouraged by being told, “This is what you can do. This is the kind of thing you could be.” The Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) said that he wanted to be an astronaut, which is an aspirational career—I do not think you were in the Chamber, Mr Walker—but he settled for being an Under-Secretary, which I am sure we agree is an equivalent profession. Perhaps not.

We are making good progress on A-levels. The number of pupils taking A-level maths rose by 51% between 2005 and 2010. As the Committee commented, however, that is simply not enough, given that we are 200,000 mathematicians short at university and when many of those shortages are in engineering courses. We therefore need to do more to get students to do A-level maths and physics. Our stimulating physics network is particularly focused on getting girls to do physics at GCSE and A-level, which is part of our programme.

One reason why we have had such a low uptake in maths from 16 to 18, which is a key basis for engineering, is that we have not had the mid-level qualification that many other countries have. It has been all or nothing: children do the full A-level or nothing. We are creating a number of core maths qualifications, such as maths in education and industry, and we are working with Professor Tim Gowers of Cambridge university on a problem-solving qualification. We are also considering a probability and statistics qualification similar to the one offered in New Zealand, which succeeded in increasing take-up.

The core maths qualification will be part of the technical baccalaureate, and we hope that it will be part of academic programmes of study. I hope that addresses the Select Committee Chair’s aspiration to create more of a common core that all students take from 16 to 18. Clearly, students will also be able to take A-level maths or further maths, but let us make sure that they continue with the core study that is so important to whatever kind of career they go into later.

I was asked whether the technical baccalaureate is equivalent to the EBacc. No, it is not, because it is a 16-to-18 qualification, while the EBacc is a 14-to-16 qualification. The technical baccalaureate is a high-level vocational qualification that is aspirational—it includes level 3 maths—and it is also an applied qualification. It will be recorded in league tables alongside A-level, rather than at the 14-to-16 level. That is in line with Alison Wolf’s report on vocational education, which recommended that young people follow a general education curriculum until the end of key stage 4, with vocational specialist options postponed until after that stage, and explains why we have the EBacc, which is a core qualification and represents only 60% or 70% of the curriculum, so there is still space for students to study additional subjects. That is the expectation to 16, and the technical baccalaureate, the academic alternative or an apprenticeship follows from age 16 to 18.

In terms of the direction of travel in UTCs and the emerging 14-to-19 space, with young people beginning to think about different paths at 14, what is the Government’s belief in the UTC model, in relation to the Wolf report, in respect of total academic qualifications to 16 relative to beginning different pathways from 14?

As I said, we think that students should do a common core until 16, and even continue to do so until 18 on the critical subjects, which are maths and written communication, for example through an extended project qualification. The core is there, following the best traditions of countries such as Germany, which has upgraded its qualifications so that all students do a strong academic core until they are 16. That is the intention behind the new progress 8 accountability measure, which includes English, maths, three EBacc subjects and three additional subjects, so providing a common academic core for all students, plus three additional subjects.

May I plead with the Minister to alter a sentence she has just delivered? When she was describing the move from the post-16 technical baccalaureate, she said “or the academic alternative”. No, it should not be “the academic alternative”. It may be an arts or social science alternative, but she is using language that reinforces the brick wall that I tried to break down.

Yes, I agree to correct that. I, too, want to break down that brick wall, because we will have students doing core maths plus physics and chemistry, as well as core maths plus history and geography or core maths plus an applied occupational qualification. The key is that those qualifications are valued by employers or by universities as leading to progress, which is what we should be looking at. I am pointing out that the fact that part of it is the same maths qualification shows that there is a shared core between the A-level side, to put it that way, and the occupational side.

I think I have covered the point about the accountability tables, and I want to address the issue of the engineering diploma. I explained the philosophy that followed the Wolf review—having a common core until 16, and reviewing the league tables in that light. It is wrong to see the change in the GCSE equivalents of the engineering diploma as downgrading the qualification. We have approved level 2 principal learning in engineering for inclusion in the 2015 key stage 4 performance tables. In addition, three new engineering qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds, which are being developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering and an awarding organisation, are due to be submitted to Ofqual this summer for accreditation.

It is important that we have a consistent message in our 14-to-16 and 16-to-18 programmes about the status of qualifications in our league table. The progress 8 accountability measure really shows the Government’s intention, which is that students of those ages should be studying core subjects such as sciences, which are vital for engineering. In particular, we need more students studying physics to do engineering, but there is space reserved in the accountability measure for subjects such as design and technology and art.

Many colleagues mentioned university technical colleges, which provide an opportunity for young people to enter the engineering profession. In the 2011 Budget, the Government made a commitment to deliver at least 24 UTCs by 2014, and we are set to exceed that commitment: five UTCs are already open and 40 are in the pre-opening phase, of which 12 are due to open in September 2013, and a further 28 in 2014 and 2015. Those UTCs will together allow around 27,500 students to train as the engineers, scientists and technicians of the future, which is transformative.

When good schools open in a local area, it has a ripple effect on other institutions. For example, the maths free schools, which will be run by universities, will specialise in maths, further maths and sciences for students looking to go to university to study those subjects. Those schools were announced in the 2011 autumn statement and are based on a model from schools already operating in Russia and China. Two have already been approved and are due to open in 2014 at King’s college London, and Exeter. We are in discussion with other universities about the development of more of these maths schools. As they will have university-style tuition—much more seminar style—in maths and science, they will also be able to offer teaching support to other schools in their local area.

An underlying issue in the whole debate is that we need to increase teacher supply in the critical subjects. Maths has the greatest teacher shortage, but physics also has quite a large shortage. The Government are offering bursaries in those subjects. Improving the professional development of teachers in those subjects so that they are inspiring is important in encouraging the next generation. Who do children listen most to? They listen to their parents and their peers, but they also listen to their teachers, and a teacher can make a real difference. Having exemplar schools, whether they are UTCs or maths free schools, will help to improve the quality of provision.

Finally, I want to look at the role of industry in promoting STEM education and engineering. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire pointed out, there are keen institutions that want to get involved in helping schools. However, it does not always happen at local level, and sometimes the coverage can be patchy. As we have cross-party consensus on the issue, I am keen that we work together to promote subjects such as engineering, physics and mathematics and their value to the country and to the individual. Too often, when we wake up in the morning and listen to the radio we hear such negative messages.

I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way she has engaged with the design and technology curriculum. Business engagement is crucial. She probably cannot prejudge it, but is she aware of how the Perkins review, which is being conducted by the chief scientist at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, will address such issues? It is a cross-departmental matter, not just for her Department.

I have met the Government’s chief scientist on precisely that issue. We need role models and we need to be able to communicate clearly about the key messages. The social value of engineering is very important. Countries such as Malaysia and India have been successful in recruiting female engineers. We should look not just at Europe but across the world to understand why engineering is seen as an aspirational career. It is clear that we need a concerted campaign and a concerted effort to address the whole issue. Despite the fact that we all know there is a desperate shortage of engineers, I am concerned that the message has not gone through to schools, and students are studying subjects that will not achieve those aspirations either for them or for the economy they are about to enter.

I thank hon. Members for taking part in this interesting debate in which some new ideas have emerged. I hope that we can work together with the Committee to take some of those ideas forward, and also with the Opposition because there is a degree of cross-party consensus. I am delighted to have taken part in the debate.

Thank you, Mr Walker. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this important debate. It is great to see that there is a high degree of cross-party consensus on the matter, and I certainly concur with the Minister’s closing remark that we should carry on working with her Department to ensure that we drive forward some of the areas of strong agreement. It is hugely important that we try to use some of the time to iron out our differences. I certainly want to see the evidence that supports paragraph 27 in the Government’s response, in relation to work experience. The paragraph starts, “We do not believe”. It is not belief I want but facts. As the Minister has appeared before our Committee, she knows that we work hard to ensure that our reports are evidence based. We believe that better policy comes from working in that way.

Some organisations working in the field are doing a fantastic job. Mention has been made of STEM ambassadors, who are doing a great job. ScienceGrrl was mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff). He will be interested to know that a tweet I have just read says, “We love Peter Luff even more now.” Important work is going on in this space, and there is an extraordinary degree of consensus on some of the issues.

About a year ago, I had the privilege of sharing a platform with Sir Kevin Tebbit, at that time chair of Finmeccanica, and previously the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence. He and I were both pleading for greater priority to be given to design and technology. I still think that there is a gap between the Committee’s thinking on that and the Minister’s.

In March last year, I shared a platform with Sir Mark Walport when he was in his role with the Wellcome Trust. Now he is the chief scientific adviser. I urge the Minister to read his speech at that conference. I have it sitting on my desk, so if she cannot find a copy, I will send it to her. He sets out the importance of science practicals, and I hope that we can work strongly together on things like that. There is a huge amount of agreement. Let us carry on working together and ensure that we do justice to the students in our schools and deliver world-class engineers for our world-class manufacturing sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.