I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The background to the Bill is that the Government have worked tirelessly over the past six years to embed our school reforms so that we can raise standards and ensure that an excellent academic route is open to all students. That work continues. Thanks in no small part to the hard work of the teaching profession, over 1.4 million more children are now being taught in schools rated as good or outstanding compared with 2010. This is vital if we are to be a country in which everyone not only has a level playing field for opportunity, but has their potential unlocked and can thereby do their best. This transformational progress has been great news, particularly for those young people who choose to build on their time at school by pursuing an academic route through Britain’s world-class universities on their way to joining the workforce and making a contribution to the economy. The truth is, however, that half—last year, most—of our young people, often those from disadvantaged backgrounds will choose not to go to university, but to follow a less purely academic route, or perhaps one that plays to their individual strengths, talents and interests.
The Secretary of State will know that we are failing nationally to train enough graduate engineers to serve our own needs. One reason is the teaching of mathematics and the failure of young people to acquire skills in that subject. A lot of effort has been put into improving the quality of mathematics teaching in schools. Are we now starting to see the fruits of that extra effort?
I believe that we are. Not only have we seen investment in more effective mathematics teaching—through some of the Mathematics Mastery work, for example—but we have tried to widen participation by making sure that girls do maths and science courses, thereby better balancing our engineering careers between men and women. Alongside that—this is why the Bill matters so much—we must recognise routes into such professions that are not purely academic which, for many of our young people, will take the form of technical education.
We have been clear that we do not want children to be left behind by not getting a GCSE in maths or English when they could have achieved one, so we want those who score a D to take resits. For others, however, there is the option to study for functional skills qualifications, and it is important for employers that we make sure those functional skills qualifications work effectively.
I will make a little more progress. I will definitely let the hon. Gentleman intervene but, as he will know, I have some way to go as I introduce the Bill.
I was setting out how most young people will not necessarily go down an academic route, but choose more a technical educational route. Despite that fact, the technical education route open to those young people for decades has often lacked sufficient quality and failed to offer a proper pathway into the world of work. That is not acceptable. If we are to create a country that works for everyone, it is time that we gave technical education the focus its deserves, alongside our school and academic education reforms, so that people who choose to pursue this route have as good a chance at getting a high-skilled career as someone taking an academic route.
I think that everyone applauds the direction of travel for technical education. In response to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) about GCSE maths and English, the Secretary of State focused on functional skills. Is she saying that those functional skills will remain as an equal qualification in the future, because I do not think that that is being said to institutions or students?
What we are saying is that we want an education system, particularly at the primary and secondary level, that really stretches our young people to get through their GCSEs and to come out with GCSE qualifications that are well recognised and respected by employers. Alongside the resit policy, we want strong functional skills qualifications that can, in conjunction with a broader offer for technical education, enable young people to demonstrate their attainment in both maths and English. No young person should leave our education system without something to show for all their time spent on maths and English. It is important that they are able clearly to demonstrate their level of attainment to employers. At the same time, we need to make sure that people achieve as high a level of attainment as possible to recognise their potential in maths and English. STEM subjects, especially maths and English, have been a strong push for this Government so that we ensure that we give young people the critical building blocks that are important not just for their future careers and work but, much more broadly, so that they have a chance of being successful in life.
The Secretary of State is being generous with her time. There is still quite a lot of confusion about this point. She says that she wants to make sure that GCSEs are well understood and that they have a certain status, so will she clarify whether those who will take the new maths and English GCSEs next year will be required to resit if they get a 4 or if they get a 5? Will that apply thereafter, or is it a transitional arrangement?
Of course, a level 4 broadly equates to a C grade. We will make sure that the resit policy aligns with the new way of grading GCSEs that will come through next summer. I hope Members recognise that the most important thing is to ensure that young people come out of our education system with adequate skills, particularly in maths and English, as well as—dare I say—adequate digital skills, which are also important.
The aim of the Bill is to ensure that there is a genuine choice between high-quality academic and technical education routes. The Government want to build on what exists in the further and technical education sector and steadily create a gold standard of technical education for the first time so that students can be confident that if they commit their time and effort to a course, they will be building towards a successful career. We will unlock those opportunities only by addressing the challenges facing further education. We need to get to the root causes of poor-quality provision, including weak employer engagement, ineffective training methods, the proliferation of qualifications that are not highly valued and, of course, institutions with uncertain finances.
Is collaboration between local institutions part of the process? Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of Kingston College in leading the way by federating with Carshalton College to provide a much better offer to local students?
That work shows that colleges acting collectively can provide not only a higher-quality offer, but a broader one. We hope that through the local area review, other colleges will steadily make sure that they are co-ordinating their local provision for young people. Wherever young people are growing up, it is vital there is a strong further education offer on their doorstep if they want to follow a technical education route.
The good news is that much of the work is already well under way. Lord Sainsbury’s report on skills in this country led to the skills plan, which was published in July by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). Let me take this opportunity to wish him well, as will Members on both sides of the House, following the recent announcement about his health. I am sure that all Members look forward to seeing him back in the House as soon as possible.
The vision that my hon. Friend outlined in the skills plan involves streamlining technical education so that, despite the plethora of career opportunities, there are clearly identified routes into work that students can easily understand and that enable them to make informed decisions about their futures. The skills plan also explains how important it is for employers to play a big role so that the qualifications that young people obtain equip them with the skills and knowledge that they need to enter the jobs market successfully and start their careers. I shall come on to how the Bill will help us to deliver that.
Some 2.4 million apprenticeships were created during the previous Parliament. We want to build on our commitment to increasing both the quantity and quality of apprenticeships, and we remain committed to our target of creating 3 million more by 2020.
We do want to ensure that students complete their apprenticeships. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Higher Education and Research Bill commits us to widening our review of how inclusive and open higher education is, taking account of not just the number of young people who embark on courses, but the number who finish them, particularly if they are from more disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds.
As part of last year’s spending review, we announced that we would provide more than half a billion pounds this year alone to help further education colleges and sixth forms to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with low prior attainment. Moreover, we are already committed to future funding levels. Those assurances will give the sector the security that it requires to deliver the skills that young people need if they are to succeed in modern Britain. We are committed to doubling the 2010-11 spending on apprenticeships, in cash terms, by 2019-20, and to protecting the national base rate of £4,000 per student in 16-to-19 education for the duration of this Parliament. By 2019-20, our funding for 19-plus skills participation will be £3.4 billion, which represents a cash increase of 40% on 2015-16. The steady progress of the Government’s programme of area reviews for the further education sector means that we have taken another important step towards giving institutions the opportunity to put themselves on a secure financial footing.
I thank the Secretary of State for her generosity. I welcome the fact that further education funding streams have stabilised recently, but does she accept that the pernicious and deep cuts that the Government imposed on further education and technical education budgets during their first five years in office had a long-lasting and difficult impact on further education, and that that is why we are now so far behind our international comparators when it comes to post-16 funding?
I do not accept the picture that the hon. Lady presents. In the long term, our technical education offer for young people has not met the ambitions that all of us should have had for it. However, when we went into government in 2010, we asked Alison Wolf to look into further education. Her report said that at least 350,000 young people had been let down by courses that had
“little to no labour market value.”
She said that those courses were not valued by employers and did not prepare young people for further study. Perhaps as damagingly, she also said that students had been “deliberately steered” away from challenging qualifications—that
“funding incentives have deliberately steered institutions, and, therefore, their students, away from qualifications that might stretch (and reward) young people and towards qualifications that can be passed easily.”
I make the point about what Alison Wolf said about the further and technical education system to demonstrate why the body of work undertaken over the last six years is so important. It has at its heart the Sainsbury review that was undertaken alongside Alison Wolf’s work, and what came out of that was the skills plan. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will now swing in behind the skills plan and, indeed, the Bill, which is part of how we will develop it.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want to make sure that young girls get exactly the same opportunities as young boys. We know that part of the challenge relates to the kinds of industries that might offer apprenticeships. The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) asked me about the engineering profession. It is important to ensure that the technical education route is as desirable for young women as it is for young men, and among the ways we will do that is by steadily changing its image, by ensuring that it is of high quality, and by making sure that people know that if they follow this route, they will come out with experience and qualifications that employers truly value. That is why part of the Bill’s purpose is to put employers at the heart of our technical education strategy.
University technical colleges have also been established to address skills gaps in local and national industries. They provide technical education that meets the needs of modern businesses. Indeed, they also give a much different offer to young people who are interested in specialising through a technical education route.
I would like to make a little more progress. I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s long-standing interest and expertise in this area, but let me get on to the Bill itself.
Alongside our wider education reforms, the Government’s work on technical and further education over the past six years represents a firm foundation on which we can now build a really strong technical route in this country. The Bill serves to do exactly that. Part 1 focuses on technical education. It extends the role of the Institute for Apprenticeships to give it responsibility for classroom-based technical education in addition to apprenticeships. It will be renamed as the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. The measures take forward and support the reforms set out in Lord Sainsbury’s report and the skills plan so we can truly streamline the technical education system and ensure young people can follow clear routes to skilled employment. That will ensure that we have strong standards as part of an employer-led approach on technical education so that courses and apprenticeships develop knowledge, skills and behaviours in individuals that meet the needs of employers and improve overall productivity.
The right hon. Lady may well know that those of us who have worked in factories and in similar jobs realise that often the people at the chalk face, as it were, know at least as much as employers about what skills are needed. How will we ensure the revamped institute includes workers or their representatives—as well as employers, of course—so that there is a rounded view of what is needed and what is appropriate for a particular skill?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have talked significantly about our plans to make sure that workers have more representation at the higher echelons of business. As the Institute for Apprenticeships becomes responsible for technical education, it will of course have employers at its heart, but it will also work with other stakeholders including, importantly, further education colleges themselves. We will make sure that the institute can truly deliver on our ambition for it to be at the heart of how we drive forward and improve standards in technical education.
Part 2 of the Bill puts in place protections for students for the first time and provides greater certainty for institutions by introducing an insolvency regime for further education and sixth-form colleges. It applies normal insolvency procedures to colleges. At present it is not clear whether or how colleges are covered by existing insolvency law, and the resultant uncertainty is bad for colleges and for students. The Bill will remove the uncertainty for all parties by putting in place a regime that allows for an orderly process in the very unlikely event of a college becoming insolvent. As I have said, we need to rectify the lack of protection for students. Crucially, chapter 4 of part 2 will put in place a special administration regime that will have the special objective of minimising or avoiding disruption to the studies of existing students at affected colleges. These measures will ensure that students can be protected if a college becomes insolvent.
As I mentioned earlier, the current programme of area-based reviews is already putting the sector on a sustainable financial footing for the future. Part of the review process is to encourage colleges to consider needs and provision locally. That will help to ensure that the right provision is available in the right places. The proposed insolvency regime and technical education measures also require certain delegated powers, and we will be providing more information about those to the House before the Bill goes into Committee.
Part 3 of the Bill, the title of which is “Further education: information”, includes a measure to amend existing legislation to ensure that, after the devolution of further education functions and the adult education budget to a combined authority, FE providers and others will continue to submit relevant information to the national data system. This will ensure the continued availability of relevant data that are needed to make intelligent and strategic policy decisions about investment in further education.
Six years ago, we inherited a system from Labour in which too many young people—often those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds—left school or college without the skills and qualifications that they needed to build a successful future. Our wide-reaching reforms have had a transformational effect on the education system in this country, and it is important that we now build on the work of my two immediate predecessors in this role, my right hon. Friends the Members for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan).
We know that there is still so much more to do, which is why we are doubling free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds to 30 hours a week. We are also working hard to put our first-class universities on an even stronger footing so that they can continue to compete with the very best in the world. We are starting work on opportunity areas to ensure that the education system as a whole can work better to drive social mobility in those parts of the country where it has been stalled for generations, and we have doubled the previous Labour Government’s spending on school places and set out plans to make more good and outstanding school places available to more families all over the country.
The newly broadened remit of the Department for Education, with skills and further education back under one roof alongside schools, gives us an exciting opportunity to build on the excellent work that has already been done over the past six years, both in FE and in the wider education sector. In the end, education underpins how this Government want to create a country that works for everyone so that, irrespective of their background, people can get the skills that they need to take advantage of the opportunities in our country. This is not only good for individuals, but will ensure that we have the skills that our businesses and our economy need so that we can drive up prosperity across the country. The Bill will allow us to take the next steps to give the technical and further education route the status and the spotlight it deserves so that it can flourish as a genuine, high-quality alternative to the academic route, and one that leads to successful careers for those who choose to pursue it. I commend the Bill to the House.
I start by associating myself with the well-wishes for the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles).
The Opposition do not intend to oppose the Bill’s Second Reading, but many questions remain for the Government to answer during its passage. We accept that the provisions on insolvency are necessary, but their necessity is a sad reflection on the circumstances facing providers under this Government. Further education helps 4 million people a year, playing a vital role in giving our young people the skills they need and supporting older learners into retraining and learning new skills. Since 2010, however, the sector has suffered a real-terms budget cut of 14%. I am sure that the Secretary of State will have seen the National Audit Office report on “Overseeing financial sustainability in the further education sector” and will know that 110 colleges had recorded an operating deficit by 2013-14—more than double the number that had done so in 2010, when her party took office—and that the number of colleges judged by the Skills Funding Agency to have inadequate financial health has more than doubled. However, in the face of that financial crisis, the Government’s solution is not the investment that the sector needs, but is simply a way to sweeten the bitter pill of insolvency.
I needed a second chance at education, and many of my Opposition colleagues have experienced the transformative effect that technical and further education can have on young people’s lives and on learners at all stages in their lives. That is why the Opposition see the Bill as a missed opportunity. Britain needs a highly skilled, highly trained workforce to succeed in the economy of the future, particularly following Brexit and given the productivity gap that we face.
Does my hon. Friend share my bemusement at the Secretary of State standing before the House this afternoon extolling the transformational—that was the adjective she used—changes brought about by her Government and the previous coalition Government and extolling the high-quality work that has been done? Does my hon. Friend share my bemusement that, despite apparently hordes more skilled workers as a result of the changes introduced by this Government and the previous Government, this country’s productivity is still absolutely rubbish? If technical and further education were so fantastically transformed, productivity would have improved a whole lot, but it has not.
I absolutely agree that this Government have done nothing to provide technical skills. Colleges have faced dramatic budget cuts. It is audacious for Ministers to stand at the Dispatch Box and say what they have done when they have failed. In fact, the Government included the word “technical” in the Bill only as an add-on—it was not there in the first place.
I would be the first to say that an excellent academic education must be provided to all pupils from all backgrounds, but given that many will not go to university, other educational routes remain vital. That is why it is so important that further education is put on a sustainable financial footing. It is not too late for the Government to do that and to bring forward the changes that the sector needs. Next week, the Chancellor will stand at the Dispatch Box and deliver his first autumn statement. The Government could take that opportunity to ensure that the hundreds of millions of pounds that has been cut from the further education sector since 2010 are reinvested in colleges across Britain, in our future and in our best and most valuable asset: the people.
The Secretary of State could get the Chancellor to bring back the education maintenance allowance, which helped hundreds of thousands of young people from low and middle-income backgrounds to stay in education. The Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed that the EMA represented value for money for the taxpayer, boosted the rates of young people staying in education and improved attainment. I fear, however, that we will be left disappointed once again. After all, this Government have struggled to match warm words with policy when it comes to education.
I will come on to that, because although I welcome some of the Government’s proposals on the Institute for Apprenticeships, some of the substance is lacking—let’s be honest, it is not in the Bill. The Government have struggled to match their warm words, and were planning to push ahead with cuts to apprenticeship funding that would have been devastating to those in disadvantaged areas. It was only the concentrated opposition in this House, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), along with many other Labour Members, that forced the Government to do a U-turn.
I will make progress and let the hon. Gentleman in again later.
Even then, the Government did not announce new investment, nor did they abandon the cuts. Instead, cuts of 40% have become cuts of 20%, and cuts of 50% have become cuts of 30%. So although we welcome the Institute for Apprenticeships, now to be renamed the “Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education”, we are concerned that changing the name is the extent of the progress made in the Bill. For example, there is no role for apprentices or learners on the institute’s board. First, the Government gave us an office for students with no students, and now we get an Institute for Apprenticeships with no apprentices. There is no inclusion of further education providers, colleges, universities, the relevant trade unions or local authorities either, and I cannot help but wonder whether anyone in the sector will actually be allowed on the board. Despite that, we have long welcomed the institute in principle, as the body to implement a plan to improve both the quality of apprenticeships, and access to and participation in them. We will now have the institute, but where is the plan? Why is there so little mention of the institute’s need for a strategy to promote participation among care leavers, learners from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and learners with disabilities? Why have the Government not used the Bill as an opportunity to enshrine in law the recommendations of the Maynard review on apprenticeship accessibility? We simply know too little of the Government’s plans for what the institute will do, and how it will help providers and students in the years to come.
However, that is not really a surprise. After all, the Government do not seem to know what the capacity of the institute will be. In a recent written answer, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said:
“We are currently developing the detailed structure of the Institute for Apprenticeships, and therefore we are not yet able to set out initial staff numbers”.
So the Secretary of State and the Minister can come to this House with a Bill to set up this institute, but they cannot tell us how it will be structured, staffed or operated. We can only hope that the institute will fare better than every other body this Government have set up to help them deliver their policies in further education.
Is my hon. Friend also aware that the Minister for School Standards, having said at the Dispatch Box that the royal college of teaching was up and running and had full Government support, has said in answer to my parliamentary questions that there have been no meetings with the Secretary of State, no meetings with Ministers of State, and no effective funding? The royal college of teaching is something we should all support in this House, and I would hope those on the Treasury Bench were behind it. [Interruption.] That is what the parliamentary answers said.
Absolutely shocking. We have seen the Skills Funding Agency lose nearly half of its staff since 2011, and we have seen continued and accelerating decline in the staffing of the National Apprenticeship Service and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Of course, all those bodies were threatened with further cuts under the “BIS 2020” project, which was overseen by McKinsey for the former Secretary of State. We found out about the details of that not from any ministerial statement, but through internal documents leaked to my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) in April. Perhaps the Secretary of State can take the opportunity today to clarify that that process is no longer ongoing, and what her plans are for the staffing of bodies transferred from the former Department.
Given that businesses will contribute to the apprenticeships programme through the levy, it would help if the Minister reassured them that they will not be short-changed or end up just paying in to cover for cuts rather than for a genuinely new and improved level of service. As welcome as the institute is, there is concern that it will not deliver if it is not resourced for the job. With all the challenges facing the further education sector today, with the hundreds of millions of pounds of funding lost, and with the sky-rocketing number of providers facing deficits or requiring direct intervention of the Government, now is the time for radical action to ensure that our further education sector is able to continue on a sustainable footing in years to come.
It is always a pleasure to take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman. I will come on to that point.
I have no doubt that the Secretary of State read the same National Audit Office report that I did on the growing financial crisis in further education. It was that report that recommended the creation of an insolvency regime. That recommendation is in the Bill, but it would be alarming if that were the only response on offer. The Secretary of State seems to be aware that dozens of providers are reaching crisis point, but instead of deciding that something needs to be done about it, she seems to think that we should be helping that process along. While Labour Members call for investment, Government Members offer insolvency.
This Bill offered the Government an opportunity to improve the situation faced by providers and students. Instead, they seem content with managed decline. We should make no mistake that the decline of a sector that helps more than 4 million people every year will fail not only them, but the needs of our economy and society as a whole. For that reason, I urge the Secretary of State to look again at the opportunities that may have been missed in this Bill. We will not oppose the Bill tonight, but we will most certainly seek to improve it.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I very much welcome the Bill and pay tribute to the ministerial team who are rightly focusing on providing opportunity for all. I speak as somebody who went to a school that was bottom of the league table in Worcestershire and who employed many young people in the 10 years that I ran a business. I recognise the absolute importance of equipping all young people, regardless of background, with the necessary skills to fulfil their potential in their working lives.
I wish to focus on a very narrow part of the Bill, which is to do with the opportunities for young disabled students, particularly on the apprenticeship programme. Typically in this country, non-disabled people have an 80% chance of being employed. If a person has a disability, that figure drops to 48%, which is still up 4% on 2010—an extra half a million more disabled people in work. If a person has a learning disability, they would typically have only a 6% chance of having meaningful and sustainable careers. All Governments of all political persuasions have tried their very best to look at different initiatives and different programmes to try to boost that figure, but, by and large, it has stuck rigidly at 6%, and we all desperately want to see huge improvements in that area.
I had the pleasure of visiting Foxes Academy near Bridgwater. It has taken over a former working hotel and takes on young adults with learning disabilities in a three-year programme. For those first two years, their time is split between learning about independent living, slowly progressing up the floors of the hotel as they become more independent, and more skilled and confident. They learn real-life tangible skills within the hotel, which can be transferred to local employers in the restaurant trade, the care homes and other local hotels. On this visit, I was absolutely staggered to see that, at the end of that three-year course, 80% of those students—not 6%—remain in work. That was because of that three-year, constructive and patient approach to learning to give them those skills. They spent the final third year in supported training with local employers, patiently being taught the skills that are needed. It was no surprise that those employers, having invested in training and support, were then keen to keep on those young adults.
I was so impressed that I invited people from the academy to come to see me in Parliament when I was Minister for Disabled People. I asked them why we could not have one of those projects in every town. They said that in the first two years they could take on as many students as they could fit in the hotel, but the challenge was the cost of the supported training in the third year. I said, “Well, surely this is just an apprenticeship by another name. Why can’t we call it an apprenticeship? You can access the funding for the Government’s commendable pledge to have 3 million more apprentices by the end of this Parliament.” They said, “We can’t, because most of our students wouldn’t get the grade C in maths and English that is the typical entry requirement to access an apprenticeship.”
We agreed that we would look into this as a matter of urgency and I met my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), who was the skills Minister at the time. He shared with me that he thought this was both a frustrating situation and a real opportunity to make a difference. We commissioned my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), Scope, Mencap and many other experienced colleagues, to look at what we could do. As part of this Maynard review—we only gave him three and a half weeks, as we had a suspicion that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford and I might no longer be in a position to sign things off after that, and it is a credit to him that he rushed it through—they identified that if we made an exemption for those with a learning disability, we could offer real, tangible opportunities for those young people through the apprenticeship programme. I am delighted that the Government have been so positive in welcoming that. In the Minister’s closing remarks, I would be keen to hear what steps need to be taken for this to happen, how quickly we can do this and how we can advertise it to local employers.
The other key lesson was that there were many local employers who were willing to engage and offer that opportunity. They were not doing that to tick a box, or as a favour because they wanted to feel good. They did it because these young adults, after patient training, proved to be excellent employees who would stay with their organisation year after year. I was sent photographs of many of these young adults on their first steps into a career, and every one of them had a huge beaming smile because of their pride in having the opportunity to work. They were not always full time—some were part time—but they felt proud, as did their parents.
I have one other slight request, to do with university technical colleges. I am very proud that Swindon has its own UTC; I am a huge fan. In fact, our party launched its election manifesto from the Swindon UTC, which mixes modern technology and Swindon’s proud railway heritage in one wonderful, fantastic building.
UTCs could go much further if entry was at the beginning of secondary school, not at 14. I have talked to many of those students and they chose to go there not always because it was the right route for them but because they were unhappy in their secondary school. I have also talked to people who should have gone to the UTC and have a natural aptitude for the courses it offers—in higher engineering or computer programming; in the sorts of roles in which we have desperate skills shortages in this country—but who were already settled in their secondary schools with lots of friends. They did not want to break away from that, so they missed out on taking advantage of the opportunity of going to a UTC. If we could change the entry age to the traditional entry age for secondary school, UTCs would compete on an even footing and those who would most benefit from this opportunity would be more likely to take it.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as well as talking to young people about the time at which they can enter the UTC, parental knowledge is important in influencing that choice? The lack of information for parents, particularly from many local authorities, stops the progress of the UTCs.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that important point. When we talk to the heads of UTCs, they say that one of the biggest challenges is that secondary schools, when seeking to recruit students, go into neighbouring primary schools and get involved in assemblies, have displays and make contact with parents. The primary schools work with those secondary schools to advertise those opportunities, but, obviously, UTCs are seeking to take students away from secondary schools—and with those pupils comes the funding—so the secondary schools are not always receptive to opening their doors and saying, “Look, there’s an alternative. Why not take the funding that follows you to another organisation?” If we put it back on an even footing by having the same entry point as secondary schools, primary schools will be able to engage with those parents and provide those opportunities.
UTCs are training those young adults with the skills we very much need, and we need to do far more to get businesses to support UTCs by providing mentoring, work experience and expertise. Too many local businesses are not yet up to speed with the great links they can get with UTCs. If they invest early in those students, they will be their next generation of staff. We can use things like the business rates mailer—all businesses, whether they like it or not, will get one every year—to send out information about apprenticeships and UTCs. Local businesses will then know that by investing a little time and support they can help to fill those skills gaps in the future.
I welcome the Bill, which is a positive step in the right direction to deliver opportunity for all.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson).
I do not see many exciting opportunities arising from the UK’s decision to exit the European Union, but if we are feeling optimistic, as I always try to be, a rebalancing of educational provision and opportunity is one of the elements that we need to look to as we think about a new political economy for the United Kingdom, and part of that has to be a more effective technical and vocational education system.
In his great work “Our Kids”, which I urge the Secretary of State to read if she has not already done so, Robert Putnam charts the decline of social mobility in rust belt America, hinting at what has happened in recent days. He is clear that if people are interested in tackling inequality and promoting social mobility, the two areas to focus on in respect of Government provision are high-quality early years support and an excellent system of technical and vocational education. Those are the two elements that really make a difference in terms of inequality.
My hon. Friend mentioned Brexit. Since the referendum, the pound has depreciated to a much more sensible level, such that manufacturing is starting to grow. Does he agree that it is vital that as manufacturing returns to its previous strength, as we hope it will, we have a good technical education system so that we can provide industry with all the skills it needs?
I knew I would not get away with my Brexit comment with my hon. Friend sitting there. Yes, we need to provide the human capital to revive our manufacturing industry and to make sure that we succeed, but in the modern era of manufacturing, with components coming from across the single market, we are going to take a hit on inflationary pressure in relation to some of the manufacturing competitors—
But we are not going to go down that road too quickly.
I welcome large parts of the Bill. It is good to see the focus on technical and vocational qualifications. I pay tribute to the work of Lord Sainsbury, and in so doing alert the House to what is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. He has been a passionate supporter of technical and vocational education, and his time as science Minister taught him that one of the blocks for achieving excellence in British science was making sure that we have not just top-flight research chemists, physicists and biologists, but high-quality technicians in our science-based industries. We are not producing those level 4 or 5 qualified technicians who are fundamental to the success of the science base.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) pointed out, productivity and economic growth demand that we invest more effectively in technical and vocational education. We should also see it as an opportunity. The Edge Foundation has shown time and again that we are going to see a huge growth in jobs in science, engineering and technology, and we need to provide the professionals to fulfil those opportunities. Much of our education system works against that. Whether we think of Progress 8, EBacc or the Ofsted inspection requirements, we have on the one hand a demand for an education system almost on the model that the British set up in Germany to provide our technical and vocational system, and on the other hand every element of incentive in our education system working strongly against that.
I am excited by the addition of the technical component to the Institute for Apprenticeships. I urge the apprenticeships Minister to visit the institutes of technical education in Singapore, which are doing a phenomenal amount on cutting-edge technical and vocational education, as that economy, too, begins to think about the kind of provision it needs to fill the skills gap and about the very demanding requirements on the sector.
My reservations are as follows. First, having the divide at 16 is a missed opportunity. My passion in the next few years will be to see whether we can create a consensus in this House on committing ourselves to ending GCSEs by 2025 and to getting rid of a school leaving qualification for people who do not leave school. We should strip out an examination that is an anomaly across Europe and America and that is not providing our education system with the academic or technical, vocational learning it requires. I urge the House to think much more creatively and imaginatively about having a 14-to-19 framework that includes an academic baccalaureate and a technical baccalaureate. That would get over some of the criticisms levelled at the Bill about having too narrow a focus on educational provision from 16 to 19. A broadly constituted baccalaureate between 14 and 19 would work, so I urge the Secretary of State to think big and to set up some kind of bipartisan thinking about how we—in exactly the same way that countries such as Singapore and Finland manage their education systems—can reach a national consensus in a decade that the GCSE model, having served its time, is no longer necessary. The introduction of differing pathways at 16 in the Bill is interesting, but I urge us to think now about how we put that upstream and have some of those differing pathways from 14 to 19.
Secondly, following on from my comments to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), careers guidance is so important in this. When we think about accessing UTCs or further education colleges, having decent and effective careers guidance is really significant. The last Secretary of State had a clever plan —a sort of careers guidance and business thing—that was going to work. I do not know what has happened to it, or whether it is coming under review by the new Secretary of State, and I more than accept that there was no great golden age of careers guidance, but if we want technical and vocational education to work, we must have effective careers guidance. We have to make sure that parents and young people not only have the career immersion in primary school, but have effective careers guidance early on in secondary. That is the way they can access FE and UTC provision.
Thirdly, the Secretary of State valiantly defended retakes for English and maths GCSEs. I want English and maths to continue in education until 18, but—I see this in my constituency, and I think colleagues see it in theirs—young people are retaking and retaking GCSEs on a highly academic syllabus, which the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) introduced. We can debate its merits, but it is really not useful or effective in terms of young people’s career pathways. What these young people need is a good level 2 post-16 qualification that gives them the English and maths skills they need, but does not give them an academic syllabus that they do not necessarily require. I am all for people pursuing the academic pathway, just as much as the technical, vocational pathway, but if we are forcing them to do that at great expense, and causing them to be frustrated about their learning, that is one element of the previous Secretary of State’s system that the current Secretary of State might want to think about.
When it comes to technical and vocational education, we create a lot of institutions: UTCs, FE institutions and career colleges. As I understand it, UTCs were not part of the FE review, so we have divided up the review of further education colleges without taking account of UTC provision, even though there is a lot of crossover between UTCs and further education colleges. In Sheffield, for example, the further education college sponsors the UTC. If the Secretary of State is looking for savings, overprovision and institution-building are prevalent in the English education system, and a bit of co-ordination among those institutions would be a good idea.
That leads me to my final point, which is that the best way to achieve that aim is to devolve educational provision. We are beginning to devolve skills policy to combined authorities and directly elected mayors, but we need to think much more creatively about devolving schools policy to directly elected mayors and combined authorities. The needs of the Cornish economy are different from the needs of the Birmingham economy, which are different from the needs of the Northumbria economy. If we devolve some of the authority to a local level, we will end up with a more effective technical and vocational education system.
I admire some of the principles in the Bill, and I admire the direction of travel, as we now say. I urge the Secretary of State, as she begins to think big, to push this upstream and think about the 14-to-19 technical and vocational pathways.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I am going to talk about the local experience of further education in Kent. I welcome the independent report of the panel, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, that conducted an important review into the post-16 skills system. The panel was right to advise on improvements that could be made, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) has just said. Improvements were needed after flaws were spotted following changes made in the last Parliament. The system is over-complex, with a confusing array of courses and qualifications that are insufficiently linked to the world of work and the needs of employers. Lord Sainsbury and the Government were right to accept the panel’s recommendations in July 2016 and publish a post-16 skills plan setting out their vision.
The proposals are about boosting technical education to make sure that it is of high quality and responds to employer needs, and the introduction of a new insolvency regime to protect students’ interests. Such things matter. In Kent, we have long had a problem with an institution that has variously been called K College and South Kent College. It suffered from debt problems and, frankly, ate principals. The problems were so deep-set that every now and again the principal would be sacked and the college would be renamed, but the whole thing would continue. The fundamental problems were the big debt overhang and the teaching of courses that employers did not want—courses that did not have the relevance to learners that is completely necessary. That is why the focus on good-quality technical education and information sharing between colleges and local authorities is so important. It is important for everyone—local authorities, employers and educationists—to work together and make a good job of it, because when they do so, learners benefit.
K College finally collapsed in a heap of debt, and it had to be sorted out during the last Parliament. It basically had to be broken up. Part of it was taken over by Hadlow College and part of it by East Kent College. We were able to reset and restabilise the whole situation, but doing so was difficult and took a long time. There was no real process for doing so, because there was no proper insolvency reconstruction mechanism. That is why this Bill is important. It will put in place a proper process, rather than haphazardly trying to make everything work and gluing it all together, and it will ensure that there is a focus on the kinds of skills that learners need.
In my constituency, the East Kent College campus in Dover was threatened with closure as part of the reconstruction. I fought against that for the very simple reason that many people have a low capital base, low household wealth and low aspiration, and they simply would not travel further out of Dover for skills education. That is a real concern, and we made the case for keeping the Dover campus because the skills it taught were more in keeping with the jobs available in the local economy.
The most important thing we can all do for our young people and our learners is to provide ladders in life—to raise the bar of aspiration and to tell people, “You can succeed and achieve, and you can do really well in life. If you go to college and learn some skills, you will do better, and you will achieve and succeed.” The most important thing to do, particularly for this Conservative Government who are so committed to the new meritocracy, is to allow people to climb ladders in life at any time.
Much has been said about whether we should have skills education from 14, 16 or 19, but we need skills education to be available at any point in life. We need the ladder to descend at any time. Many people with a difficult home life are not able to achieve and succeed in the usual exams—in school at 16, with A-levels at 18 or for a degree course at 21—and many people who have simply been slow to grow up have spent their teenage years less formatively than they might have done and with people who have not necessarily been a good influence on them. For those who have had such a life, but who suddenly wake up at 21 and 25, a ladder should descend for them to climb. Skills education is not just about the teenage years, but about lifelong learning because everyone should be able to climb the ladder of prosperity and success at any time.
For me, it was important to make sure that we kept the Dover campus of K College, which is now part of East Kent College, and to make the case for a new FE college in Deal—I also represent Deal—which suffers from so many of the same issues of low aspiration. In such ways, we can raise the bar and give people greater aspiration and life chances. That will enable them to find it easier to climb the ladders in their home communities —to get more skills and get better-paid jobs in the areas in which they live—without having to move away, as so many do. I am very passionate about such things, because we need more further and technical education in our towns, particularly coastal towns such as Dover and Deal, which too often suffer from less aspiration than they should.
I feel very strongly that we must focus on and do more about building an aspiration nation, with such ladders in life and life chances, and with proper processes for when things go wrong. That is why I think the Bill is fundamentally a good thing.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke). It is a rare treat for us to agree on something, but I did find myself shouting, “Hear, hear” about his comments on adult education. All of us in the House would applaud that, but I urge him to look at what has happened to adult education during the past six years, because I am afraid that that ladder has been well and truly kicked away for many of the people wanting to get such skills later in life.
It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). I entirely agree with much of what he said, especially about how we should tackle some of the deep-rooted causes of inequality and of the lack of social mobility in this country. To the issues he raised about the quality of early years education, which is so critical, and technical and vocational education, which we are discussing today, I would only add that we need enough quality teachers teaching all our children, but especially the most disadvantaged.
It is worth pondering for a moment, if you do not mind, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we should have been in the Chamber this evening to discuss a different education Bill—the education for all Bill, which was going to force all good and outstanding schools to become academies against their wishes. The Technical and Further Education Bill was only meant to be a small part of the bigger education for all Bill. I am glad we are not discussing that Bill, because it would have been a terrible mistake to force good and outstanding schools, against their wishes, to become academies, when we simply do not have the capacity, oversight and accountability in the system to tackle such a change. We all have to admit that in its place, we are left with a much-reduced education Bill. None the less, it contains some important principles, as others have said. I welcome the extra focus on post-16 vocational and technical education and the extra support the Government are giving it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central said, we should all welcome the direction of travel.
I want to raise a couple of issues with the unintended consequences of the Sainsbury review and how it is being implemented, including through measures in the Bill. I worry about the idea that, at 16, someone should choose either an entirely technical education or an entirely academic education. That is more akin to the grammar school era of the 1950s and ’60s than today’s world of work and modern economy. Most of the jobs that we need today and will need in the future involve a blended mix of academic and vocational education. They require general applied qualifications, where those two streams come together. As many Members have commented, that is exactly what the best university technical colleges and further education colleges provide—highly academic and highly technical education alongside one another.
My hon. Friend mentioned joint pathways being undertaken by the same further education institutions. She might like to know that the secondary school where I am chair of governors has a construction academy attached to the main academy. We do everything from elite sport right through to construction and vocational pathways. It is all prestige and all rooted in academic and vocational attainment, all under one roof. We can do it from the beginning right through to further education.
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent intervention. It sounds like just the sort of institution we should explore further and support.
As I said, many of the jobs that we need today and will need in the future require both types of education. The pathways into professions such as nursing, engineering, health and social care and many more require a blend of general applied and academic education, as well as technical and vocational education. That will be especially true in post-Brexit Britain, where the supply of such workers is likely to be reduced further, particularly in nursing, social care, health and engineering. Closing down those pathways at this point in time could have serious unintended consequences.
It is a well-trodden pathway for people to go to university to study nursing, health and social care or engineering with an applied general academic qualification and some technical BTEC qualifications alongside it. That pathway is highly regarded by universities. We should be careful about closing down that pathway, because if Ministers look they will see that the vast majority of the tens of thousands of undergraduates who come into the system through that route have that blended mix of academic and vocational qualifications.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. We need to think about technical education not just for the jobs of tomorrow, but for the jobs of the day after tomorrow. I am considerably older than her and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) is a little older than me. When he entered the workforce, let alone when I did decades ago, many skilled jobs existed that do not exist now, such as in printing. Typesetting basically does not exist now. The world has changed and we have to equip the coming generation with not only the skills they need now, but the flexibility to adapt to what the workforce will look like, inasmuch as we can foretell that, in the next 30 years.
My hon. Friend makes a great point, although I do not want to get into the relative ages of Members here. But I look at my own children and think of the world of work ahead of them. We perhaps have an old-fashioned view of jobs such as engineering—engineers come in all shapes and sizes now, from digital engineers, sound engineers and construction engineers to the other types of engineer that we may know about. A key issue with the productivity gap we are facing in this country is the problem we have in applying technology and technological advances in small and medium-sized companies.
I want children from Manchester Central to have exactly those types of skills; they will therefore need literacy, numeracy and other academic qualifications but also education in digital engineering and many other technical areas. The combination of the two will be the route for so many, and for all jobs in the future—I firmly believe that. I look at my own son, who I think will want to be an engineer one day; he is highly technically able—he has great skills there—but is highly academic as well. I want him to have the option to do both right through till 18.
The Minister seems to recognise the issue here, as he has recently the launched degree-level apprenticeship scheme, which I welcome. However, the tiny numbers involved in that scheme can in no way make up for the tens of thousands already going through the university vocational pathway. I hope that he is not falling foul of the same ideological dogma that his colleague the Minister for Schools and a previous Secretary of State for Education perhaps fell for in trying to cut away entirely the university professional pathway into teaching. As the Minister will know, that has in no small part caused the recruitment crisis in the teaching profession; stripping away the university pathway to teaching has meant that teacher supply is now at crisis point. I know the Minister, and so know that he is a lot more pragmatic than some of his colleagues; I urge him to watch the situation carefully, and make sure that these well-trodden routes—both academic and vocational—into professions remain very much open for our young people.
I will touch on a couple of other points that have already been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central raised resits. I concur with him entirely. We have to look again at the enforcing of required resits post 16. In many cases, less than 50% of children are passing those GCSEs the second time around. Many FE and post-16 institutions are struggling to get in the teaching skills needed to get children through GCSEs, as that is not something they are used to doing. The size and nature of the maths and English curricula make them increasingly difficult for some children to pass, and they are not necessary for the types of careers those children may want to go on to.
Like my hon. Friend, I entirely support the notion that children should do English and maths right through to the age of 18, but the Minister should clarify what will be required for resits. Will it be a level 4 or a level 5? I understand that it is a level 4 this year and next year, and will then go to level 5. We do not know what is happening; never mind parents and children, what are employers to make of that?
Finally, we should not have this debate without looking at the international comparisons for our funding levels for 16-to-19 education in this country. We compare really badly with our OECD competitors: we do well in terms of funding from five to 16, but then there is a significant dip in per-pupil funding. After that, funding goes through the roof for those who make it to higher education. We need a better and more consistent funding stream. The transformation we need in this area will be achieved only when we couple this sort of reform with funding.
For too long, technical and vocational education has been seen as the poor relation to academic education, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment, in her speech last week, to bring the “same lens and focus” to the technical education routes that most people follow. Perhaps more than many hon. Members, I know the importance of technical education because my constituency sends fewer of its young people to higher education than any other, although we have a lot of young people in further education and on apprenticeships. That is the genesis of my interest in, and passion for, this issue and the Bill.
I want the Government to succeed with their ambitious target of 3 million apprenticeships. I also want the Government to succeed with the Bill because I believe its spirit is well placed. Its basis is sound, too, and I welcome the fact that it aims to deliver the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, chaired by Lord Sainsbury, but—it is important for an Opposition party to have a “but”—I am concerned about a number of issues. I want the Bill to work for the people of Bristol South, so I want to use this contribution to seek some clarity from the Government.
The Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education will have a huge remit. I support its aims and will help to support its success, but I would like more detail about how it will deliver its remit in such a short timescale, especially as the Institute for Apprenticeships is currently operating without a permanent chief executive. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which looked at proposals for apprenticeships, I believe that there is a danger that the reform could suffer if the new institute’s remit also includes sweeping changes to technical education. Will the Minister assure us that such fears are groundless and that the institute’s “lens and focus” will remain rigorous?
As the Secretary of State acknowledged last week, the way in which we as a country help young people to fulfil their potential and use their talents will become more important than ever in post-Brexit Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) considered the positives that Brexit might bring in this area, but they will be something of a challenge. We all know that in any period of change and transition there is a danger of focusing only on future beneficiaries and neglecting those already in the system, especially if the existing system is flawed. I would therefore like assurances that my constituents who are going through the system will not lose out in the transition to the new framework.
It is important to consider those who stand to gain in the future: young people who are currently in school, and their parents and carers who want to help them to navigate and plan for their futures. What are the Government doing to ensure that those who will encounter the new system receive the guidance and advice they need now so that they will not lose out when the new frameworks and assessments are introduced? My concern stems from a number of new provisions, particularly in relation to university technical colleges. Parents are not involved in these discussions. As a parent of three boys in secondary school, it has been eye-opening to find out how little information gets to parents and how little we understand about the future of our own young people. We cannot allow those who lack the necessary prior knowledge to navigate the system to flounder, so will the Government please provide proactive support and guidance? How will they do that?
I take issue with the idea in the Bill that employers should be at the heart of the system. Surely it is students—young people themselves—whose interests must be at the heart of any Bill that seeks to improve their opportunities.
On social mobility, I have explained that my constituents’ interest in this matter runs deep, not least due to our low take-up of higher education, but there is more to it than that. I welcome the introduction of the 15 vocational pathways but, given that I represent a constituency in which 80% of apprentices are on schemes with the lowest wage differentials, I want to know how the Government will ensure that young people are doing vocational training, including apprenticeships, in the right areas, and that that training gives them greater earning potential and more career opportunities.
I also want to know how young people will access opportunities in areas where local providers struggle to improve quality, alongside dealing with their financial difficulties. As the Minister is aware, the Public Accounts Committee has looked closely at the sustainability of the FE sector and how apprenticeships can work when providers are struggling. Some of the 15 routes appear to be apprentice-only openings but, as we know, many employers will not countenance taking on a 16-year-old apprentice. Additionally, what careers advice will be available to young people in my constituency to ensure they are best advised on which pathway to follow? I would welcome more clarity on the process for switching between academic and the technical routes, which I raised with the Government last week.
Finally, I appeal to the Government to make the revised system as easy to navigate as possible for young people, and their parents and carers. Much work has been done in recent years to make academic pathways easy to navigate, but we need to take the chance the Bill presents to ensure parity of transparency and ease of navigation for those pursuing this all-important technical route.
It is a great privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), who rightly set the Minister a series of challenges around pathways, transparency, equivalency and all those sorts of things. She raised very important issues.
Drawing on the Association of College’s key facts and figures, I will begin by reminding the House of the value of colleges and their contribution to the country. Colleges provide a range of education and training, helping to provide skills and qualifications to students entering the workforce. Colleges educate and train 2.7 million people, including 1.9 million adults, and 744,000 16 to 18-year-olds choose to study in colleges. Almost every general further education college offers apprenticeships, with 306,000 people choosing to take one in a college. Some 153,000 people study higher education in colleges, and students aged 19-plus in further education generate an additional £70 billion for the economy over their lifetimes. It is worth reminding ourselves of the great contribution that colleges make.
I declare an interest as someone who has led a college—back when I had a real job—and therefore knows the nuts and bolts of doing that. John Leggott College in my constituency, which I was privileged to be principal of, is still doing a cracking job locally, as is North Lindsey College, the general FE college. These colleges make a real difference to people’s lives day in, day out. However, the funding challenges that colleges face are very real: a 17% cut in sixth-form college funding since 2011; and a significant squeeze in adult education funding, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) set out earlier.
I have high hopes for the Education Secretary, the first Secretary of State to have been educated in a comprehensive sixth-form college, but when she says that area-based reviews are already putting the sector on a sustainable funding footing for the future, I fear that she is being over-optimistic. The area-based reviews have reported, but nothing has really happened as a result. Indeed, if the funding cuts continue and the autumn statement does not contain a commitment to the 5% increase in college funding that the AOC is calling for, the challenges facing colleges will remain significant. I therefore do not think that area-based reviews will be the cavalry coming over the hill.
We have seen under this Government a plethora of confusion in post-16 provision. Area-based reviews did not look at the new university technical colleges or post-16 provision in schools. We have a complete hotch-potch: free schools, studio schools—a whole mess has replaced the preceding coherence.
I am in favour of university technical colleges where they are needed, but if a college is established as additional capacity in an area that does not need it, that creates much more inefficiency. It is not good enough for the Government to continue to fund such colleges more generously on the basis of estimates rather than real numbers. We see problems in these areas that we all know about as politicians—even in times of austerity, we can fund our pet projects—but it should not be like that, because that lets our young people down.
The insolvency scheme introduced by the Bill is probably not necessary, but we will need to see how it develops. The Sixth Form Colleges Association is concerned that it might create unintended consequences in the way banks lend to the sector, so we need to make sure that the right conversations take place between the Government and the banks. We would not want the policy to make it more difficult for colleges to go about their business.
Let me pick up one or two issues that hon. Members have raised, starting with the debate over GCSE C grades in maths and English, and the matter of functional skills. When I was principal of a college, all our students did either English and maths GCSE, or functional skills. They are both good, solid qualifications, but overall it was the opposite of the holiday postcard: there was a very different feeling from “Wish you were here” in maths and English classes. Thankfully, however, and thanks to great maths and English teachers around the country, the situation has been transformed, and people now do quite well when they resit maths or English post-16. The post-16 sector has always had bespoke qualifications that are appropriate for an older age group studying additional qualifications alongside them, rather than a system of merely repeating what was done at the pre-16 level. I ask the Minister to think carefully about functional skills because it seems that they are being put to one side. If the Minister is going to correct that, it would be very helpful, because that is certainly felt outside this place.
The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) is pursuing a good campaign on getting apprenticeships for young people with learning challenges, which I support. He cited the example of what is happening in the hospitality sector. My example would be a young constituent who recently contacted me. She has level 2 functional skills, which she achieved with great effort during her time in college. She is now doing a level 3 apprenticeship, but she has been told that she has to get a grade C in English GCSE and that her level 2 functional skills will not count. I hope that the Minister will confirm that he will brush that aside, because that seems like unnecessary repetition for a young person who has worked extremely hard. Instead of following the route suggested by the hon. Member for North Swindon, things seem to be going in the opposite direction, so I encourage the Minister to find ways to address the situation
That brings me to the key point I want to focus on: the nature of applied general qualifications. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central said, those qualifications are crucial so that young people can work towards the professions and jobs that will be needed when an ever-changing workforce face ever-changing challenges. Paragraph 2.18 of the “Post-16 Skills Plan” states:
“We plan to review the contribution of—
applied general qualifications—
“to preparing students for success in higher education; what part they can play in a reformed system; and the impact any reform would have on the government’s ambitions on widening participation. We will announce our decisions later in the year.”
Well, it is quite late in the year already, and those qualifications are crucial because of the way in which they work. They are combined with other qualifications: a student might study for a BTEC alongside an A-level, for instance. That combination gives students flexibility, enabling them to gain applied general qualifications as well as academic qualifications, and to move forward positively and successfully.
I know from my own experience that those qualifications have allowed young people who might not be suited to a full programme of three A-levels to find a successful model in an area in which they are interested and to which they are committed, with good, strong progression routes. I am anxious for us not to end up, in the course of our entirely proper search for more rigorous and effective technical education, throwing the baby of strong applied general qualifications out with the bathwater.
I know that the Sixth Form Colleges Association has been convening round tables of practitioners and arranging for members of the Department to visit sixth-form colleges to see the good work that is going on there, but I urge the Minister to champion applied general qualifications and the role that they can play for young people in driving up standards and developing progression routes. I hope that he will also give us some idea of when the review mentioned in the skills plan will take place, and when it is likely that a report will be produced.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who shared with us his professional experience of guiding many young people towards the paths that they need to take. It is a shame that we have not given greater priority to further education in the past, because the skills challenge that we face remains acute, as it has been for a very long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), the shadow Minister, shared with us her own rocky path from secondary education to a career and secure work. A number of people find it a difficult path. That is the challenge that the Bill seeks to meet, and many of us are supportive in respect of both the path and the challenge.
I left my school in Bognor Regis—ironically, the constituency of the Minister for School Standards—with almost no usable qualifications. I had to return to secondary school at the age of 25 to obtain the qualifications that I needed in order to return to the education system. I know from first-hand experience that for many young people, the door to education is slammed shut and needs to be broken down. We all tend to assume that the doors to education, and indeed to all our public services, are open all the time. I am very keen to remind Labour Members, as well as others, that doors are often shut and that it is our job to break them open, rather than expecting individuals to remove the barriers to getting the best out of our public services the first time round without waiting for the second.
My hon. Friend is making a strong point. Some years ago, funding for adult education at sixth-form colleges was taken away. Excellent teachers and wonderful facilities are no longer used in the evenings, which used to enable adults to go back and take A-levels, for example, and possibly go to university after that. The door was shut very firmly some years ago, and it should be reopened.
My hon. Friend makes a good point.
This door being slammed shut, often in the faces of young people who do not have the skills to break it down or a background that encourages them to break it down, is one of the reasons why we have ended up with a society where those who are asset-rich will succeed in life and those who are talent-rich but asset-poor will very often not succeed. That is why it is incredibly important that we get this Bill right. It is of paramount importance for the Government’s plans for technical education, apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy, which is now only a matter of months away from being launched.
It has long been my view that the levy as currently formatted is too rigid to fully take into account the skills challenges facing our country. When taking evidence on the issue of skills as a member of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills and as chair of the all-party group on further education and lifelong learning, it became clear that some sectors will struggle with the way the levy is currently formulated. The technology sector, for example, needs to invest very early, right back to the early years. I have visited many technology companies that are investing in nursery and primary education, and in secondary education. It is a sector that needs programming skills, and it needs imagination, flair and creativity in the way that people develop those skills. Often in such sectors post-16 is just too late. I support the apprenticeship levy, but we need to get it right, and if we are not careful we will end up with a perverse incentive in the system whereby technology companies are forced to invest in post-16 education, and in order to pay for it they will be withdrawing their support for pre-16 education, which would be a tragedy for our economy, particularly in the post-Brexit era when we might find that such companies struggle to secure investment and recruits from abroad with the right skills. We are entering tricky territory and we need to get this right first time. On mention of the word “Brexit”, I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) is still in his place.
It also concerns me that existing spending on employer-sponsored degrees or graduate schemes will not be recognised by the levy. That risks closing those routes in favour of what could be entry-level apprenticeships in order for companies to get back what they pay for the levy. The Bill creates an institute for apprenticeships that also covers technical education. I want to see that institute play a strong role in ensuring that standards remain high in apprenticeships and technical education. I still have real concerns that the levy, along with the Government’s pledge to have 3 million apprenticeship starts—starts, not completions, I note—risks incentivising a dash for quantity rather than quality.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who made a fantastic contribution about the role of apprenticeships in providing productive pathways into the workforce for people with disabilities. At a recent surgery I was visited by the mother of a young woman who is trying to apply for an apprenticeship. She has a very specific disability that has always prevented her from succeeding in maths. It is an extremely difficult disability for her to live with, but all through the education system she has been provided with specialist support and allowances that have enabled her to succeed. However, she cannot apply for any apprenticeships because she does not have the maths qualification. She is applying for a dog grooming apprenticeship. It seems absurd to me that she is prevented from taking this incredible pathway into work because of her disability. I have raised this with Ministers in writing, and I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will show a willingness to inject a little common sense for those few people who struggle with the current system. Although this has an impact on very few people, it is a profound impact.
I have pressed the previous Secretary of State and the previous Minister for Skills on these matters. I should like to join other Members in wishing the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) well. He stood as a parliamentary candidate in Hove in the 2005 general election, in which I played a key role in the winning candidate’s campaign. I got to know the hon. Member well at the time, and I say with all sincerity that I and all those who worked on the campaign wish him a very speedy recovery.
I pressed him and the then Secretary of State to introduce a target for the number of apprenticeship starts at level 3 and above, because that is where the training will really address our skills needs. It is nice to know that someone has been reading all the parliamentary questions that I have been submitting on this subject, because the Policy Exchange’s report on apprenticeships, which was released on Friday, calls on the Government to do just that. I hope that the present Minister will take heed of that report. I would support him in embedding targets for quality as well as quantity in the Government’s plans.
I have also pressed the Government to set a target for apprenticeship completions, which I am sure we all agree is the key figure. There is no point in getting 3 million people to start apprenticeships if a significant number of them simply drop out. The Minister has not previously shown any interest in setting a target for completions, but I noted that the Secretary of State was more conciliatory on this point when responding to an intervention today. I hope that means that the door is still open and that such a target will now be considered.
The Institute for Public Policy Research report calls for an assurance that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will have the necessary resources and power properly to enforce quality standards. I totally agree with that. Only last week, I asked the Minister for details of the staffing levels for the institute. I hope that we will get clear answers to these questions during the passage of the Bill. Given the imminent closure of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which did a great deal of work with employers to utilise labour market information to map out skills gaps and sectoral needs, it is vital that the institute is able to fill that void. If it cannot, we will be much worse off.
The Bill also introduces a new insolvency regime for FE colleges, with the aim of protecting students if such an institution should become insolvent. The Government say that this follows on from the area reviews, which aimed to ensure that all FE colleges within a certain area were on a solid financial footing. In Brighton and Hove, we are lucky to have three excellent colleges: BHASVIC, City College and Varndean College. Our area review, covering Sussex, started last year, but despite an expectation that the final report would be published some months ago, it still has not seen the light of day. I hope the Minister can offer some reassurance to me and my neighbouring MPs, as well as those in other areas who are waiting for their reviews to be published, that they will be released shortly. Providers and students are anxious to know what the future holds for the institutions in which they work and study. In the Budget in March, which feels like a very long time ago, the Government pledged to
“review the gaps in support for lifetime learning, including for flexible and part-time study.”
Will the Minister update us on that, too. When can we expect the results of that study?
I welcome the Bill as a chance to focus on technical and further education, which often feels neglected in the overall educational landscape in this place and beyond. However, the Bill and the Government’s policy priorities leave a lot of questions unanswered, and I hope that the Bill’s passage through Parliament will give us a chance to remedy that.
It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle). He is currently the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on further education and lifelong learning—a job that I had many years ago. I have had a long association with the further education and post-16 sector. I taught in further education more than 40 years ago, and while I was teaching a basic statistics course I discovered that one of the major problems with education in Britain is the poor level of mathematics teaching. The students I taught had difficulty with basic computation, multiplication and division. I found that quite shocking at the time, but the problem has continued.
Some 20 years ago, the great Lord Claus Moser produced a report on numeracy and literacy, finding that more than 50% of the population was functionally innumerate. He illustrated that point by saying that 50% of the population did not understand what 50% meant, which is quite surprising—if not shocking. More recently, I asked the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), why we were having to recruit so many qualified engineers from abroad and he said that it was because our mathematics is not good enough to produce sufficient engineers. There is a serious problem.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem with mathematics is down to English culture? It is still acceptable for people to say words to the effect of, “Ooh, I don’t do maths,” without that being seen by their interlocutors as an admission of abject failure. It is just seen as a bit of a joke. It is a cultural problem. This is about not only the education system, but our culture, particularly in England. It is appalling.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but it is changing and I am optimistic about that. People such as me who are good at maths are regarded as being a bit of a geek, but what is wrong with being good at maths? In the country of Isaac Newton, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Alan Turing, why should we be ashamed of being good at maths? That is being addressed, but we are still having to recruit thousands of engineers from abroad because people cannot do the maths to become engineers through our education system.
As I said, I taught in further education 40 years ago, but I also spent four years as chair of governors at the then Luton College of Higher Education when we were producing hundreds of qualified engineers doing ONCs, HNCs and then AMIMechEs and so on. They were good engineers and they could do the maths. It may just be that we have declined in some areas because the manufacturing demand is not as great as it was. We are now trying to pick up the manufacturing sector again and we are realising that we have missed out on maths.
I am happy to say that Luton College of Higher Education went on to become the University of Luton and then the University of Bedfordshire. The vice-chancellor is now Bill Rammell, a former colleague in Parliament, and its chancellor is Mr Speaker—the greatest honour of all—and I am absolutely delighted about that. I have also been a governor of the superb Luton Sixth Form College for 25 years. It does brilliant work and gets better and better every year.
Barnfield College is also in my constituency. A dozen or so years ago, it was the first ever general FE college to be given beacon status, but it went into serious decline and wound up almost collapsing into a state of failure a year or two back. It has now been picked up by its great new principal Tim Eyton-Jones and I am sure that it will be revived, but it needs Government support. It should never have been allowed to get into that situation. The neglect of colleges was criminal. Barnfield is now on the up and will be great again, but it needs the active support of Government, particularly in finance.
In Parliament, I was for some years chair of the all-party parliamentary group on further education and lifelong learning—lifelong learning is also important—but I am now chair of the all-party parliamentary group on sixth form colleges and am pleased about that. Colleges in general, FE colleges in particular, have been neglected over decades. Colleges represent an abused sector of education, and one reason for that is that so many people in the political sphere have no connection with further education. They go to posh schools—grammar schools, public schools, whatever—and then to university. Indeed, some become special advisers—a former Spad is in our midst now—and then go into politics never having touched further education or understood what it is about.
Does my hon. Friend recall the reorganisation of Government Departments in about 2007—sadly under a Labour Government—when the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was set up? It took a week for the Government to realise that they had not put further education in either of the two possible Departments.
There is another story, which may not be true, about what happened when incorporation was introduced in 1993. When the legislation was going through, the then Education Secretary was asked what was going to happen to sixth-form colleges and he said, “Oh, shall we put them in the FE sector?” It was a last-minute thought just to drop them into that sector. Sixth-form colleges are really schools and had they stayed with the local education authorities, we would by now have a lot more of them because LEAs would never have given away all the sixth-forms from their schools to create new sixth-form colleges because they were a different, independent sector.
Unfortunately, LEAs, and indeed, councillors are possessive about their institutions and do not want to give them away. I have experience of that, because when I was chair of governors of the Luton College of Higher Education, we had a battle royal to get that college into the higher education sector—out of LEA control and into the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council. The chief education officer threatened to sack the college principal for pursuing that avenue, and I had to intervene to say to the CEO publicly, “If you sack the principal, you will have me to contend with and I will fight you all the way.” He backed off and we got what became the University of Luton and, subsequently, the University of Bedfordshire. LEAs are, understandably, possessive and they are not going to give away their sixth-forms to move towards sixth-form colleges. Had they done that, our education system would be much better, but that is another story.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about people’s understanding or experience of the FE sector, but may I just invite him to reflect on the statement he made a moment or so ago? He said that the Conservative Benches are full of posh boys and girls who went to posh schools. A good four or five of us sitting on the Parliamentary Private Secretary Bench this afternoon paid no fees at all for our education and are products of state school, hard work and good teachers.
I thank the hon. gentleman for his intervention, but I think the majority of Members, probably on both sides of this House, have not gone through the further education sector. A small number have, and they understand this, but a high proportion are not very familiar with FE and the vast contribution it makes to our society, in all sorts of ways.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I went to an FE college to do my A-levels, but what he is saying applies not just to politicians, but to people in our media, our legal establishment and throughout other walks of life. They do not have experience of going through that sector, which means that it is often the forgotten sector.
I agree with my hon. Friend about that, and of course another cultural factor is the fact that we are not aware of things. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) says, there is this idea that mathematics is something we do not do; we say, “Oh, I can’t do maths”. People do not boast about how they cannot read. I want to make sure that everybody can read, and we should have adult education to make sure that everyone can. There is a problem with our mathematics, and I invite Ministers and shadow Ministers to visit the wonderful sixth-form college where I am governor to find out how to do things well, because so much that goes on in our college is brilliant.
I find myself feeling how I did during my A-levels, when I was the only girl in the class doing science A-levels—it has taught me well for this place. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) agree that the issue of maths teachers is now a looming crisis in this country? Someone who has a first or a 2:1 in maths is a very desirable potential employee, and therefore the teaching route is just not as attractive as it once was and we are facing a crisis in maths education.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. One of the most interesting things about Britain is that we produce more accountants than almost any other country in the world. People who are numerate can become an accountant and with an accountancy qualification they can earn a lot more money than they can by being a teacher. An accountancy friend of mine said years ago, “The reason we have so many accountants in Britain is that we are so bad at maths, we need accountants to do our work for us—our tax returns and so on.” I am digressing.
The hon. Gentleman mentions teaching, and I have been waiting patiently for him to refer to his own experience of teaching at the excellent Oaklands further education college, to which many of my constituents send their children. As a comprehensive-educated special adviser, there I got a lot of experience of the excellent education one can get at a further education college.
Indeed. In my day, it was certainly an excellent college and we did our very best.
I keep digressing from the points I am trying to make. One problem we have is that we try to pick up problems in mathematics post-16, in further education—as shown in Alison Wolf’s report—when the real problem is lower down. If someone misses out on maths in primary education, they will have much more serious problems later on. Picking it up later is much harder than picking it up at six, seven, eight or nine. My two granddaughters are studying at a wonderful school, and they are very good at maths. One was doing her long division, or whatever, yesterday, and she got everything right, because they are being well taught now. I hope that that will feed through the system, but it certainly was not the case all those years ago when I was teaching.
At the sixth-form college—I hope that this can happen in FE colleges as well—we are putting massive resources intensively into retakes for GCSE maths. The retake results, as in most places, were appalling until about two years ago; then we introduced a system with extra resource and the best possible teachers and we doubled the pass rate for GCSE retakes. That means that many more youngsters can go off to university or to apprenticeships with a maths qualification at A to C. It can be done, but it is hard work and takes more resource. I hope that the Government will recognise that. If they want to get the maths results up post-16, resource has to be put in. That means recruiting more teachers and ensuring that we have the best teachers teaching maths—people like my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who feel comfortable with the subject. Someone who is comfortable with maths is more likely to be a good teacher of maths than someone who feels uncomfortable or who has it as an add-on to something they have been doing elsewhere.
There are many other points I wish to make, but some have been made by my hon. Friends and by honourable colleagues on the Government Benches. The contribution that sixth-form colleges must make to our communities and our economy is vital for our future. If we do not get it right, we will not have the successful future we should have. We will see a declining scientific and technical culture, which we cannot afford. We must ensure that our maths is good and that our maths teaching is good at every level. Picking it up in further education has to be done, even though it is difficult, and I support Alison Wolf and her report, but we have a long way to go to ensure that we catch up with some of those other countries.
I must declare that I, too, am a comprehensive-educated special adviser from a long time ago, which may be familiar to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We will move on from that. I spent many years in business, too, and that is why I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate.
Before I get to the meat of my remarks, I want to join my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) in recognising the important work that FE colleges do throughout the country. In Macclesfield, we have a great principal in Rachel Kay, who is moving things forward. That is great.
There have been lots of interesting developments over the past few months. Following on from Brexit, there has been Trexit—we might want to think what is Nexit—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] It took a while. It is not clear what will happen, except that it is clear that there are vital lessons we need to learn. One lesson I took away from the referendum campaign and from Brexit was that there was an underlying concern from many people across the country about the impact of immigration.
As I spoke to people during the referendum campaign, it was clear to me that the concern ran deeper than just that. There was a sense of insecurity and a desire for greater security about jobs, work and prospects for the future. Those concerns will not be addressed by changes to immigration policy alone. That is why the Government are right to take a more comprehensive approach, a more comprehensive response, working to enhance an industrial strategy, continuing with welfare reforms, and pressing ahead with plans to address the skills gap that has been too prevalent for far too long. That is why this Bill is so important.
Since being elected in 2010, I have often spoken in the House on the importance of social mobility. I want to see more first-time entrepreneurs, more first-time employers, more first-time exporters and, crucially for those from the most challenging backgrounds, more first-time employees. A strong focus on those four roles, the four E’s, as I call them, and on motivating people to take on those roles, especially for the first time, delivers the key to economic success.
Progress in technical and further education and in apprenticeships is vital for the life chances of those seeking first-time employment. I therefore strongly support the Bill. I support it because it seeks to open clear, defined, aspirational paths to success, and it has the potential to help create much-needed parity of esteem between academic education and technical education, as has been talked about during the debate. That is further evidence that we on the Government Benches are the real workers party and that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills is at the vanguard of that movement.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to put it on the record that it was I who was speaking from a sedentary position. The Minister is indeed at the vanguard, but the only other discernible member of the Government is the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is standing behind the Speaker’s Chair.
May I make a quick point? As the debate has highlighted today, it is quality, not quantity, that counts.
The Bill is timely. After strenuous efforts to stabilise the economy following the financial crisis, the UK faces a new opportunity—and some challenges—in Brexit. If we are to make a success of leaving the EU, it is increasingly urgent that we tackle our long-standing productivity gap compared with other leading economies. The challenge is to upskill the existing and future British workforce. It is interesting that the Chartered Management Institute says that one in four jobs was left vacant in 2015, owing to skills shortages.
The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on our poor productivity level, but poor productivity often results from the availability of cheap labour because employers are not forced to invest in modern technology. That is a factor in the equation. Low productivity and low-priced labour are a problem for us.
The Government have already put in place improvements to the national living wage and will do more in that arena. Productivity is about a lot more than wages. From contributions that the hon. Gentleman has made in previous debates, I know that he is fully aware of that, too. The situation is more complicated.
One in four jobs left vacant in 2015 were due to skills shortages. The CBI has found that one in five employers want candidates for jobs who not only have academic qualifications but can demonstrate other skills as well. So the Government must ensure that their efforts to close the skills gap inspire and motivate those who would gain most—those in training and businesses that need their skills. If we are to strive to achieve the greater parity of esteem that we have talked about and to get businesses actively involved in education and training, we need to motivate more young people who are planning to pursue the non-academic track to gain the skills that will transform their lives. Only then will we secure the prize of greater national productivity. Wages have a role to play, but so, increasingly, does motivating young people to want to acquire these skills.
The key to promoting technical training will be the Government’s drive to provide 15 clear routes to 3 million quality apprenticeships. These routes are set out in the post-16 skills plan, which was published in July. It is a strong plan; my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) deserves real credit for setting it out, and I join the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) in wishing him a speedy and full recovery from his current health challenges. Those routes—or “occupational categories” as they are called in the Bill—will signpost such sectors as construction, catering and hospitality, and vital ones such as engineering and manufacturing. The obvious, recognisable nature of these categories will give young people the assurance they need that apprenticeships are, and will be, focused on delivering identifiable careers and are relevant to their own fields of vocational interest. Relevance is absolutely key.
Confidence in these routes as genuine career paths can be bolstered only by involving businesses in their design. Fostering links between business and schools, and between business and the rightly reconstituted Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, has never been more urgent. The Government have taken the initiative in encouraging businesses to step up to the plate and to deliver employer-led technical education that addresses the skills gap. I hope businesses will now seize this opportunity—it is vital that they do.
The Bill should be seen as part of a process of going further in breaking down the barriers between education and business—between school lessons and work experience. I have talked to my right hon. Friend the Minister about this. We need to get more young people out of school and into business, and more businesses into schools and further education. Indeed, schools themselves need to be made more aware of the options for, and the importance of, motivating young men and women in the classroom about wider opportunities to develop skills and career options.
No one in the House wants schools to feel they are being imposed on by the Bill; we want them to recognise the benefits of the Bill for the futures of the young people in their care. It is important to establish, as set out in part 3 of the Bill, an information-sharing relationship between the Department, schools, academies, colleges and other providers. Businesses, too, will need to find it easy to engage with education providers to be motivated to participate. Those relationships will need to be forged—in some cases, from scratch.
Fortunately, there is good practice—from existing schemes to introduce business skills into schools—to learn from and extend. For example, Young Enterprise and Enabling Enterprise provide teachers with opportunities to link up with business, and supply model exercises in flexible, transferable life and work skills. Young Enterprise already has relationships with over 50% of secondary schools. I shall be interested to hear—although this is not directly relevant to the Bill; it relates to the wider issue of what we can do to engage and motivate people—what role my right hon. Friend believes these schemes will play in this vital area of motivating more people.
There is much more that we need to do to close these skills gaps. In South Korea, for example, there is a clear difference between the skills gap among 55 to 65-year-olds, nearly half of whom are low-skilled, and among 16 to 24-year-olds, who have a much higher skills base. In England, however, about 30% of the 16 to 24-year-old age group and the 55 to 65-year-old age group are classified by the OECD as having low skills. It is clear that we are not closing the gap for the different age cohorts, and the Bill will be fundamental in taking that work forward.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely keen to move things forward on social mobility and to play his part in the party for the workers, which he has helped to articulate in recent years.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The Prime Minister has already talked about how we should look at having workers on the boards of companies. Let us see how we can take that forward, and what role they can play.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has a role to play in taking the Bill forward, and he has helped to articulate it further. I wish him well in the work that he is doing. He has already done important work in securing extra funding for businesses that take on an apprentice who has grown up in care. That shows that he has real credibility in driving this agenda forward.
As Conservative Members seek to build a Britain that works for everyone, we must promote social mobility and open up young people’s horizons to new experiences and aspirations beyond their own backgrounds. The Bill is vital in taking that work forward. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will also take the opportunity to learn ways to bring businesses into the classroom and help more young people get out into the world of work. The Bill is an important start, and I wish him well with it.
I thank everyone who has spoken today. We have had a thoughtful, productive and constructive debate. Among Government Members, I particularly welcome the comments of the hon. Members for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), for Macclesfield (David Rutley) and for Dover (Charlie Elphicke). The hon. Member for North Swindon is not in his place—[Interruption.] Oh, I am sorry; he is. I particularly want to congratulate him and my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), on the work that they did on the review of access to apprenticeships for those with learning disabilities, which was really important.
We have had some excellent speeches from Opposition Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) quoted the famous American academic Robert Putnam on the decline of technical education and made a powerful argument for UTCs. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) talked about the importance of adult learning and the need to worry about the binary split, and I will say a couple of things about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) pressed hard the need for upskilling, on the basis of the number of people in FE and schools in her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), a most excellent former college head, spoke doughtily for his sector. He talked about the “cavalry coming over the hill”, but I think that the area-based reviews are not so much the cavalry coming over the hill as the “Charge of the Light Brigade”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) drew on his considerable business and FE experience and talked about the rigidity of the levy. The Minister and his colleagues would do well to take on board the points he made. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) brought his own wealth of experience to discuss the pitfalls of reorganisation, and he reminded us all of how these processes come and go and sometimes reincorporate themselves.
The Bill is timely, even if the methodology of its appearance is curious. If we wonder why it is necessary and why the Government should introduce it in a mood of humility, we need only survey the state of play in the twin areas of its operation. I bring to the House’s attention a document published today by Alison Wolf called “Remaking Tertiary Education”, which was supported by the Education Policy Institute. That research finds that technical education at levels 4 and 5 is on the verge of total collapse in terms of numbers. In 2014-15, only 4,900 learners achieved level 4 awards. In England, technical post-secondary awards now account for less than 2% of the qualifications taken and well under 1% of all qualifications funded in the skills system. Where level 4 and 5 qualifications are being delivered, they are not in subjects that meet the needs of the UK economy or labour market. Those are things that we should all think very hard about, and I look forward to Professor Wolf’s further observations when she comes before the Bill Committee as a witness.
We have heard about the decline in the financial health of the sector, and current forecasts suggest that the number of colleges under strain is set to rise rapidly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) said in her excellent speech, it is no wonder, given the alarm bells about their continued viability that the Skills Funding Agency and the National Audit Office have been ringing. It is not just FE colleges that are feeling the strain. In September 2016, a Sixth Form Colleges Association survey showed that two thirds of colleges had dropped courses as a result of funding pressures, a third did not believe that next year’s funding would be sufficient and 31% thought that the college would cease to be financially viable in the next three years.
That is the context in which the Government decided to introduce a stand-alone Technical and Further Education Bill. We all know why they have done so: because the academies Bill into which they wanted to drop these measures as a feel-good sweetener has itself been dropped. The entire process has been mired in dither, uncertainty and an overall lack of connection. There was no attempt to put these measures into the Higher Education and Research Bill, where they would naturally have fitted. Rightly, the HE White Paper banged on strongly about the importance of technical and higher education skills. However, we have to look at the Bill before us.
As we have said, there is no role in the Bill for apprentices or learners to be on the board or to be involved with setting standards. We are right to draw parallels with the way in which, in the recent Higher Education and Research Bill, the Government resisted putting stakeholders—in that case, students; in this case, apprentices—into a new institution that is crucial for their success.
I am afraid that I will not because I am short of time. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but it was indicated that I had 10 minutes.
The Government’s argument was, “You can trust us. You can leave it to us.” However, the evidence is clear: we cannot leave it to them. The skills plan consistently talks about the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education being employer-led. That is precisely why FE colleges, other training providers and learners need to be an essential component of it.
The Government gave us a body that has had two shadow chief executives so far—one was a career civil servant who left fairly rapidly to become a university registrar, and the other was the head of the Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency, Peter Lauener, who was drafted in part time. That is very much of a piece with the “make it up as you go along” way in which the Government have proceeded so far. It is therefore right for us to ask how the new institute will co-operate with the Office for Students, given how inadequate the current arrangements are for involving learners and providers. Given the fiascos during the past 18 months—for example, the Apprenticeship Delivery Board, which is tasked with advising the Government, has, with the new Government, lost its tsar and now has only the previous private sector co-chair of the board as its sole chair—we are right to ask such questions. Six months after their introduction, we are no closer to finding out how the two bodies will interact with each other.
We have had no word about what capacity the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will have, and many concerns have been expressed about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove did us all a service by putting that question to the Minister. We know that the body was originally going to involve only 40 employers; it is now suggested that there will be 100 employers. As the chief executive of the Association of Colleges has said, in neither case will it be adequate for the purpose.
The Government have shown little sense about how the institute will operate in the jungle of organisations that now exist. There is the EFA, the SFA, the National Apprenticeship Service and the Apprenticeship Delivery Board. How will their roles overlap? What role will Ofsted play in the process? What about Ofqual? At best, it is an alphabet soup. At worst, it could become a tug of war in Whitehall, with the interests of providers and apprentices pushed from pillar to post.
The Bill has more than 20 clauses on insolvency and administration, which shows the direction in which the Government think things are going in the next few years. We believe that the outcomes of the area reviews may entrench, rather than remove, such liability. The college insolvency regime is being introduced alongside the Treasury-controlled restructuring facility. We will want to look very closely in Committee at that process and at the consultation process. We will also want to make sure that public assets are not handed to private, for-profit companies if an insolvency process is taken forward. We agree with the Association of Colleges that the Government have missed an opportunity to introduce a legal scheme that would cover both FE and HE corporations. This means that a college might have an additional regulatory burden that will make it harder to secure finance.
The skills plan itself is not without criticisms—how strategic it will be post-Brexit, and on productivity, workplace training and adult training—and the Government will need to talk about such issues. The concerns about binary choices and standards, which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central spoke about, have been echoed by me, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the University and College Union. We are also concerned about the potentially limiting scope of some of the routes. As Mark Dawe, the chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, has said, a large proportion of jobs in the economy will be outside the scope of the routes. As a Blackpool MP, with my local FE college, I believe it is crucial that the service sector, which will potentially provide huge numbers of apprenticeships and jobs, is not left out of the process.
There is no reference to the new institute having any responsibility to widen access, and nothing on a strategy to promote participation among care leavers, people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds or those with disabilities. We need that to be in the Bill. We agree with the excellent analysis of Shane Chowen, the head of policy at the Learning and Work Institute, on that point. We agree that the Bill ought to enshrine the recommendations of the Maynard review, to which we contributed. It suggested that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills revisit the recommendations of the Little report of 2012. The Bill needs to do more for looked-after children and care leavers.
Insolvency might force some students to travel longer distances, but the Bill makes no reference to how they might be compensated or how difficult it might be for suburban and rural colleges. All these points strengthen our argument for the return of the education maintenance allowance.
I spoke earlier this afternoon about the problems the Government have got themselves into over careers advice. If we are to make a success of the institute, it is crucial that young people are alerted early in their school life to the importance and attraction of technical routes, and we must maximise the opportunities for them to get work tasters that translate into real work experience.
I am glad that the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills has shown more enthusiasm for the progression from traineeships to apprenticeships than a couple of his predecessors. Traineeships are a key point of entry that can make more young people competitive. However, traineeships have to be progressive. If not, there is a danger that we will see some of the issues we saw in the 1980s.
Finally, I come to the issue of devo-max. In view of the potential for combined authorities to take on skills and education, why does the Bill not take more account of the potential for devolved skills policy? All it contains is a brief but important reference to the need for such authorities to report their statistics to preserve a national database. That is hardly an endorsement of the potential to drive apprenticeships and skills at a local level.
We speak in this debate having seen two overviews from two key think-tanks, the Institute for Public Policy Research and Policy Exchange, cast doubt on the Government’s direction of travel. The Government need to think very hard about some of the issues raised, such as whether level 2 apprenticeships are too job specific and whether a significant proportion of the apprenticeship standards are inadequate and a cause for concern. We will give the Bill a fair hearing. We want the Bill to succeed, but if it is to succeed there needs to be more detail and we need to hear less self-congratulation from Ministers and more aspiration for the groups that they have signally not included in the Bill.
I welcome the thoughtful contributions to the debate from Members on both sides of the House.
This important Bill has two purposes: to provide high-quality technical education to students; and, when colleges are suffering extreme financial difficulties, to provide clarity in the unlikely event of insolvency while protecting students as part of the process. The Bill has the protection and best interests of students at its heart, which is why David Hughes, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, has stated that he is
“pleased that the Government is continuing to take forward the measures outlined in the Post-16 Skills Plan”.
The Bill is vital because we face serious challenges: a chronic shortage of high-skilled technicians; acute skills shortages in science, technology, engineering and maths; and low levels of literacy and numeracy compared with other OECD countries. A number of Members have raised an important issue about maths. We do not yet require all 17-year-olds who have not achieved an A to C in maths and English to resit the qualifications. Students who achieve lower than a D grade at 16 may take other qualifications. We are looking at functional skills. I want functional skills to be better and for them to be as prestigious to employers as other skills.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to hold on one second, because he said that he wanted resources for maths, and we have invested £67 million to recruit up to 2,500 additional maths and physics teachers, and to upskill up to 15,000 non-specialists. We are investing the resources.
I will not give way because of the shortage of time.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the Maynard reforms. We will implement those as soon as we possibly can, particularly with regard to the issue of maths for those with disabilities. We will inform the House as progress is made.
The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) talked about the levy and technology. The thing is that if companies have apprentices, they do not pay the levy, and they get 10% on top. This is about changing behaviour and raising money to fund millions of apprenticeships in our country.
We have substantially grown apprenticeships, with 619,000 starts, which is why we have the levy. It will have an impact on employers with a pay bill of £3 million or more and help to fund the quantity and quality of apprenticeship training. We are dramatically reducing the number of technical qualifications available, ensuring even better quality for students.
A lot has been said about FE funding, but by 2020 more will be spent on FE and skills participation than at any time in our island’s history—£3.4 billion in the year 2019-20. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) correctly described FE as a ladder of opportunity for young people.[Official Report, 20 December 2016, Vol. 618, c. 11MC.]
We are adopting the Sainsbury report, as has been suggested, and will put in place 15 high-quality technical routes to skilled employment. Those will be implemented by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, which will oversee the employer-led reforms.
We are proud of the university technical colleges. There is clearly a debate here, as some Members want those for pupils at 14 and some for education at 16. That debate will no doubt continue, but we allow flexible entry to UTCs in certain circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) asked about the role of business. We have created the Careers & Enterprise Company to boost businesses’ linking up with students in schools.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) talked about representation. I am very keen for all kinds of organisations to be represented. I am a trade union member myself, and I am very proud that this Government give Unionlearn £12 million. It has an incredible fund that supports thousands of learners and apprentices. I very much hope that trade unions will be involved in the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. The institute will ensure that all technical provision, across both apprenticeships and college-based courses, matches the very best in the world.
Mr Hunt is excited at the prospect of another three hours from the Minister, but it is incumbent on every Member of this House to judge the mood of the House, the pace of the debate and the necessity of taking up the time of the House. From my observation and experience, a speech of between 10 and 15 minutes from a Minister winding up is usually appropriate and welcomed by most Members of the House.
The hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members talked about quality, not quantity. They should practise what they preach.
Let me give an example of the technical education reforms in practice. For someone aspiring to be an engineer, rather than choosing from the 500 qualifications that are currently on offer, many of which hold very little value for employers, there will be one clear route: the new engineering and manufacturing route. That individual will choose an apprenticeship or college-based technical education course by choosing an occupation. They will initially learn a broad base of knowledge based on one approved standard per occupation, and then they will specialise, for example towards electrical engineering. The awarded certificate will be universally recognised and have real value for employers. That is an example of the nature of our technical reforms.
There is no doubt that FE and sixth-form colleges play a vital role in our education system, as the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) noted so brilliantly. That is why I have visited my own FE college more than 50 times since becoming an MP. FE colleges act as genuine centres of expertise. We know that, because 80% of colleges are either good or outstanding, and 79% of adult FE students get jobs, move to apprenticeships or progress to university afterwards. It is worth noting that 59% of institutions are in good financial health and 52% are operating with a surplus.
A minority of colleges, however, are in serious financial difficulties—about 40 colleges face these problems. In supporting these colleges, we forecast by March 2017 a total spend of £140 million on exceptional financial support. That £140 million could have been invested in students. We have to deal with the roots of these problems and ensure that we protect students, which was why we started the area reviews, about which there has been much discussion. They will be completed by March 2017 and will ensure financial resilience, strong leadership and well-governed institutions. We have a moral duty to students that money is spent on learning, and a duty to deliver value for money for the taxpayer. Money that would otherwise be spent servicing debt will be freed up to invest in high-quality education and learning.
I am very sorry, but I cannot because of time, even to my hon. Friend. I apologise.
Let me be clear: no FE or sixth-form college will close as a direct result of the Bill. The Bill will help to ensure prudent borrowing and lending, and to safeguard the protection of students.
The insolvency regime under the Bill will clarify what will happen should a college become insolvent. The special administrative regime we are introducing will allow Ministers to take action to ensure that learners are protected. There will be duties on the Secretary of State to promote education, and to provide suitable apprenticeship training and basic skills training for certain people. All existing statutory requirements will stay in place. Local authorities are also legally responsible for promoting effective participation and making clear how transport arrangements support young people of sixth-form age to access opportunities. That is not to say, however, that creditors are not important. Colleges and banks have long worked together to grow and develop the FE sector. The Bill will introduce a clear process for all involved should a college become insolvent, and will reassure creditors about how their debt will be treated.
The reforms in the Bill are fundamental to the Government’s vision for a country that works for everyone. It will ensure that we improve the skills base in our country, that we increase our economic productivity, that we protect students, and that those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have a chance to climb up the ladder of opportunity. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Technical and Further Education Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Technical and Further Education Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 6 December 2016.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
4. Proceedings on Consideration and the proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Heather Wheeler.)
Question agreed to.
Technical and Further Education Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Technical and Further Education Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State, and
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Heather Wheeler.)
Question agreed to.
Technical and Further Education Bill (Ways and Means)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Technical and Further Education Bill, it is expedient to authorise—
(1) the charging of fees, and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Heather Wheeler.)
Question agreed to.
Homelessness Reduction Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Homelessness Reduction Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)