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Volume 617: debated on Monday 14 November 2016

May I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and wishing him a speedy recovery?

We are transforming Britain into an apprenticeship and skills nation. We have ensured that schools provide high-quality careers guidance to pupils on their different options, and there is a legal requirement for schools to inform pupils about apprenticeships and other vocational options. We have also established the Careers & Enterprise Company to transform careers provision for young people, to inspire them and prepare them for the world of work.

Sian Nixon, the modern languages teacher, is one of the many inspirational teachers at Haslingden High School. She has invited me and a local manufacturer to go into the school and talk about the value of modern languages before pupils make their GCSE choices. Will the Government say what can be done to encourage more businesses to enter schools, in particular to promote apprenticeships in areas of high manufacturing worth such as Rossendale and Darwen?

I know that my hon. Friend is an incredible constituency champion on skills and careers. I hope that when he goes into that school he will talk about apprenticeships as well as modern languages. We have created the Careers & Enterprise Company, with £90 million of investment. It has 1,200 enterprise advisers to help more than 900 schools interact with businesses and have work experience and other career options.[Official Report, 23 November 2016, Vol. 617, c. 1MC.]

At present, only 8% of young people finish apprenticeships with a higher level of qualification than they started with. Will the Minister set a target for young people starting higher level qualifications rather than just the target of 3 million starts that he has at present?

I have very good news for the hon. Gentleman. The number of apprentices doing higher apprenticeships has gone up by 500%. If we include degree apprenticeships, in which we are investing millions of pounds, more than 28,000 people are doing higher apprenticeships or degree apprenticeships.

I am delighted to hear the Minister speak so warmly of the Careers & Enterprise Company, and I know he will do a terrific job in his post. For schools to promote apprenticeships successfully the apprenticeship positions must be there for students to move into. He will have had a letter from IMPACT Apprenticeships and Loughborough College in my constituency about the latest announcements regarding apprenticeship training agencies and levy paying companies’ not being able to transfer funds to the agencies, as that will be delayed until May 2018. Will he meet me to discuss that further?

I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend and the apprenticeship training agency she mentioned. As she has said, from 2018 it will be possible for employers paying the levy to transfer up to 10% of the levy funds to indirect employers.

A few months ago, the Secretary of State prayed in aid the Technical and Further Education Bill, which we will debate today, as a measure to help apprentices. That Bill changes the name of the Institute for Apprenticeships and includes vast numbers of provisions to deal with further education colleges and sixth-form colleges going bust. Will the Minister tell me exactly which part of the Bill does anything to promote apprenticeships, in schools or elsewhere?

As I said, we are transforming our country into an apprenticeships and skills nation. The whole point of the Bill is to drive up standards to help improve our technical education offering. We already have an Institute for Apprenticeships, which will be up and running by April 2017.

15. As the Minister is aware, developing skills through apprenticeships is key for today and for the future, and across my constituency businesses such as JC Payne are playing their part in creating apprenticeships. Will he reassure me, though, that, as we move forward and develop more apprenticeships, this will not just be about quantity but about quality? (907235)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is about quantity as well as quality. We made it a requirement that all apprentices have to be employed and have to do a certain amount of training. We tightened the definition of apprenticeships in law to ensure they are real apprenticeships. We are creating the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, and we are moving from frameworks to standards to improve apprentices’ qualifications. Everything we do—in addition to the 3 million apprentices and the 619,000 apprentice starts since May—aims to drive up quality as well as quantity.

To promote apprenticeships in schools, strong careers guidance is critical. However, this month’s cross-party verdict from the two Select Committee Chairs who have looked at this, the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), is that

“Ministers appear to be burying their heads in the sand while careers guidance fails young people”.

Will this Minister—the third Minister to whom I have put this question—back the Select Committee’s recommendation to restore proper work experience in schools at key stage 4? Will he lift his head out of the sand?

I suggest the hon. Gentleman stops being a doom-monger and becomes an apprentice-monger. We are providing the Careers & Enterprise Company with £90 million to boost career provision in schools, with £20 million for investment. The National Careers Service is getting £77 million to help people with careers. We have thousands of enterprise advisers in schools all over the country. This is what the Careers & Enterprise Company is all about. The Government are investing in careers, investing in skills and investing in apprenticeships.[Official Report, 23 November 2016, Vol. 617, c. 2MC.]

Following the disability apprenticeship report by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), Scope and Mencap, which I set up with my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), will the Minister confirm that it is a priority to open up apprenticeships to those with learning disabilities?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work as Disabilities Minister. That is exactly the case. We are ensuring significant financial support to encourage investors and providers to provide apprenticeships to those with disabilities and special needs. We are investing in a special £2 million fund to help to provide apprenticeships for those with mental health difficulties, and we have agreed to adopt the reforms suggested by the Maynard review in full.