Technical and Further Education Bill (Third sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Mr Adrian Bailey, Nadine Dorries
† Argar, Edward (Charnwood) (Con)
† Brabin, Tracy (Batley and Spen) (Lab)
† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)
† Evennett, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Halfon, Robert (Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills)
† Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton North) (Lab)
† Jayawardena, Mr Ranil (North East Hampshire) (Con)
† Kane, Mike (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
† Mak, Mr Alan (Havant) (Con)
† Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool South) (Lab)
† Rutley, David (Macclesfield) (Con)
† Shah, Naz (Bradford West) (Lab)
† Smith, Henry (Crawley) (Con)
† Tomlinson, Justin (North Swindon) (Con)
Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)
† Vara, Mr Shailesh (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Kenneth Fox, Marek Kubala, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Thursday 24 November 2016
[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]
Technical and Further Education Bill
On a point of order, Mr Bailey. This Bill, which we did not oppose on Second Reading, is full of lots of worthy things, but the devil is in the detail, and the latest detail that we have had was a lengthy policy statement on clause 1 and schedule 1, which was delivered to Members at only 5 o’clock last night. I do not know whether other Members have had an opportunity to look at it—I gather that printed copies are not available, which is a shame, but it will have been emailed to everyone.
The point that I want to make is that it is extremely unhelpful, to put it mildly, for the details on complex issues relating to how the powers in schedule 1 to the Bill will be repatriated into the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 to be delivered to Committee members at such short notice, leaving us little time to study them, let alone table amendments. I would like to know why it was not possible for this document to be delivered earlier in the week—on Tuesday, for the sake of argument—when we might have had an opportunity to look at it properly. As it is, we have been done a grave disservice.
I remind the Minister and the Government Whip that the document includes the Keeling schedules, which are designed precisely to make complex provisions comprehensible by reference to the earlier legislation that is being changed. That is their purpose. It might also be worth reminding people that Keeling schedules were the innovation of a Conservative Member and were brought about under a Conservative Prime Minister; they are designed to help Government as much as Opposition Back Benchers to do their job.
The other point is that the policy statement makes out that the provisions are merely an add-on to ones taken up in the Enterprise Act 2016, which I am not querying. However, to argue that technical education is a mere add-on to apprenticeships is to diminish its value and to underrate the complexity of what the Government will need to do. That is therefore not a very good argument for saying, “Oh well, this is just a basic set-up of principles in which we have included technical education.”
In view of that, I am asking not only for an explanation from the Minister as to why the documents could not have been made available on Tuesday, but, in fairness, for some consideration to be given to taking manuscript amendments relating to the clause—since I assume it is not possible to reprogramme it at this stage—on Monday and Tuesday. We might then be able to have a broader and more thoughtful discussion. Depending on the Minister’s response, I will then ask about the context and basis of the policy statement for our discussion of amendments this morning, or indeed of clause 1 and schedule 1, if that is what we do.
Obviously that is not a matter for the Chair. However, the point has been made and I invite the Minister, if he wishes to respond, to do so.
Thank you, Mr Bailey—
Order. Mr Hopkins, is this in support of the point of order?
It is further to that point of order, Mr Bailey. I just want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South. I arrived at the House fairly recently and picked up the paper from my office, but I have not had time to read it, and it is clearly lengthy. I entirely support what he said and hope that the Minister will be accommodating.
The existing policy statement has already been on the gov.uk website for several weeks, as has the delegated powers memorandum. What was provided last night was an expanded refresh, but we have provided information on the policy, and that is the key point.
I appreciate what the Minister says about the original version having been on the website, but the point is that this is not the original but an expanded version. He used the word “refresh”, which, if I may say so, politely, is another slightly slippery term that would be best avoided. This is actually an amended version of what was on the website, which is why we are raising the issue.
We broadly support the principles of the Bill. We are trying to take it forward and do due diligence, as all members of the Committee should want to do. This is not a partisan argument or an opportunity to score points; it is about treating the Committee with the respect it deserves. Hon. Members received a significantly amended version of the policy statement at 5 o’clock last night, without having had any prior indication. I return to my point, which the Minister has not answered: why could this document not have been circulated on Tuesday? Why was it left until 5 o’clock on a Wednesday evening, when many hon. Members perhaps were not looking at, or were unable to look at, their emails? The Minister has heard already that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North has picked his up only this morning. Frankly, if we want to proceed in a co-operative and friendly way in the Committee, this is no way to run a railway.
As a former Minister who has taken Bills through Committee, I am confident that there is no conspiratorial issue here. Regrettably, this does happen with a number of Bills going through Committee. It is happening under a Conservative Government now, but it used to happen when Labour was in government. I am confident that, on the whole, Ministers, of whichever shade of the political spectrum, mean well and act in good faith, but the reality is that sometimes things appear at the last minute. Those on the Opposition Front Bench simply have to live with it and get on. This is not conspiratorial; it is the way the Government operate, whichever party is in office.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I assume that most of the time these things come about—if I am not using unparliamentary language—as a result of a cock-up, rather than a conspiracy. For the sake of Hansard, I stress that I am not saying that that was the case here. What I am saying is that it was not terribly helpful that the document turned up at only 5 o’clock last night. I understand that these issues are quite complex. I might add in passing, however, that some of the discussion in this sitting will be about capacity, and if the Minister’s Department did not have the capacity to produce this very important document by Tuesday, that will raise concerns about its capacity to do some of the other things that it needs to do in relation to the Bill.
I am not asking that the document not be looked at. I entirely accept the point made by the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire that these things happen, but in the circumstances I think it not unreasonable to ask that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, who might want to look at some of these issues, should have the opportunity to table amendments in the light of this policy statement. I remind those on the Government Front Bench that clause 1 and schedule 1 deal with most if not all of the meat of the establishment of this new institution, and we should get that right.
I will just say one final word on the matter. It is important to note that this is existing material. Most of it is already in the public domain—in the Sainsbury report and the explanatory notes. We did not publish it on Tuesday because we wanted to be able to digest the oral evidence session. There is no conspiracy. We were just trying to be helpful to the Committee by ensuring that there was a fuller note on the matter.
I entirely accept the Minister’s explanation. It is unfortunate that we are in this situation, but I am asking whether, under the circumstances, we will be able to move amendments to clause 1 and schedule 1 by manuscript or on a starred basis at the beginning of next week.
I am informed that the deadline for tabling amendments is actually the close of business today, so that could be done. The exact timetabling of the order of business is obviously a matter that needs to be determined by informal dialogue between the two Whips, so I leave that in their hands.
I do not want to test your patience, Mr Bailey, and I accept what you have said, but on that basis, since we are going to move on to discuss clause 1 and schedule 1, may I establish the status of the policy statement? Does the Minister intend to present and debate that document as part of his remarks on clause 1 or schedule 1, or should we be able to refer to it in cross-questioning?
I had not seen the statement either, so I will invite the Minister to explain, but first I call Kelvin Hopkins.
The situation is that Members can table amendments if the Committee has not moved on, but if schedule 1 has been taken, they cannot. I call the Minister.
I will move on to some preliminary announcements. Today we begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. Members may remove their jackets during Committee meetings. Please ensure that all electronic devices are turned off or switched to silent mode.
The selection list for today’s sittings is available in the room and shows how the selected amendments have been grouped for debate. Grouped amendments are generally on the same or similar issues. The Member who has put their name to the leading amendment in a group will be called first. Other Members will then be free to catch my eye and speak to all or any of the amendments in that group. A Member may speak more than once in a debate. I will work on the assumption that the Minister wishes the Committee to reach a decision on all Government amendments.
Please note that decisions on amendments take place not in the order in which amendments are debated, but in the order in which they appear on the amendment paper. In other words, debate occurs according to the selection list and decisions are taken when we come to the clause that the amendment affects. I hope that explanation is helpful. I will use my discretion to decide whether to allow a separate stand part debate on individual clauses and schedules following the debates on the relevant amendments. If any Member wishes to make a declaration of interest, he or she may do so at this point.
Thank you. I remind Committee members that we will consider the clauses and schedules in the order set out in the programme motion that we agreed on Tuesday morning, which is set out at the end of the amendment paper.
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I am very pleased to be here this morning to begin line-by-line consideration of this important Bill. I look forward to debating it with all members of the Committee. I particularly want to convey my thanks to Lord Sainsbury and his Independent Panel on Technical Education for the excellent work that they have done on technical education, which we are now taking forward through the post-16 skills plan in the Bill.
I want to pay significant tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), who has been recovering from a serious illness. It was good to see him in the House recently. I want to thank everyone who has taken time to serve on the Committee, and I thank you, Mr Bailey, and Ms Dorries for serving as chairpersons. I thank those who gave oral evidence on Tuesday this week and those who have already submitted written evidence; their expert contribution has got us off to a great start.
Turning to part 1 of the Bill, clause 1 seeks to amend the name of the Institute for Apprenticeships to reflect its wider responsibility for college-based technical education. The Enterprise Act 2016 will establish the Institute for Apprenticeships. The institute is expected to come into operation in April 2017 with apprenticeship functions. The clause, together with schedule 1, will extend the institute’s remit to reflect the Government’s vision for the skills system set out in the post-16 plan.
The reforms will result in technical education qualifications that are designed around employers’ needs. They will support young people and adults to secure sustained employment and will meet the needs of our rapidly changing economy. Measures to extend the institute’s remit are important for a number of reasons. As a country, we face a pressing need for more highly skilled people, yet the current system presents a bewildering array of overlapping qualifications with similar aims. We cannot continue to let so many of our young people work their way through a succession of low-level, low-value qualifications that lead at best to low-skilled, low-paid employment.
The Bill will give the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education responsibility for approving high-quality technical qualifications that develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours required by employers for skilled employment. Apprenticeships and college-based technical education courses will be based on a common set of employer-developed standards. This will ensure consistency between the two methods of obtaining a technical education.
Securing a step change in technical education is vital for the productivity of this country. By 2020—we are open and honest about this—the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 33 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills. The size of the post-secondary technical sector in England is extremely small by international standards. That affects our productivity, where we lag behind competitors such as Germany and France by as much as 36%. Unless we take action, we will be left further behind.
A high-quality skills system needs to be distinct from the academic option. Academic qualifications such as A-levels are clearly understood, yet most young people do not go to university. Evidence shows that technical qualifications have long been regarded as inferior to academic qualifications. Reforming the system so that it provides a clear line of sight to the world of work will ensure that technical education in this country is valued as equally as the academic option.
The reformed technical education system will be built around a clear framework of skilled occupations. Occupational maps will be used to identify the occupations that are suitable for technical education, grouping together those with similar requirements, designing the system around clearly identifiable occupations, and bringing together employers to identify the skills and knowledge needed for those occupations. They will ensure that the new system genuinely meets the needs of individuals, employers and the economy.
It is important that a single organisation is responsible for working with employers and is the custodian of employer-led standards. Giving the institute responsibility at the heart of these reforms will ensure that all technical education provision is closely aligned and of the same high quality. We will ensure that the institute has the skills and capacity to be responsible for technical education when its remit is extended in April 2018. It is right that the institute’s name is changed to reflect the wider scope of its responsibilities.
I associate myself with the Minister’s kind words about his predecessor, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, and that of Ms Dorries. I appreciate that this is quite a technical and detailed Bill, so we will depend upon the skills of the Clerks and hopefully timely policy submissions from the Government to wade our way through it.
The Minister rightly spoke about the broad need for the institute. He talked frankly about the situation in terms of technical skills, which was alluded to recently by the noble Baroness Wolf. It is absolutely right that we have the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education—I do not know whether we are going to have to state that in full all the way through, or perhaps we can use the acronym; I assume the “E” will not be silent. I shall not detain the Committee with the story of why one Government had to change the title of a higher education and lifelong learning department; Members can think about that acronym.
Great. I shall use it with relish.
We are very much in favour of the establishment of IFATE. We were very much in favour of the establishment of the Institute for Apprenticeships—so much so, in fact, that we anticipated the Government in tabling a clause in which, with our limited capacity as opposed to the civil service’s, we tried to spell out what that institute should do. I make that point to issue a caution to the Minister. He is still relatively new to his post, but not to this field; he has a distinguished record in championing apprenticeships, both in person and in policy. I am entirely confident that the principle of everything he has said today is very close to his heart—it is not always close to every Minister’s heart, but I think it is in his case—and that he will do his best to take that through.
We did not oppose the Bill’s Second Reading, not simply because of the Minister’s personal qualities but also because we believe there is a great deal of good in the Bill. However, the devil is in the detail, and the detail that causes us significant concern, and to which my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State referred on Second Reading, is the fact that we come to the Bill and to this new institution with a great deal of rather confused and not very comforting baggage.
I remind the Committee that when the Enterprise Bill was originally going through the House of Lords, where it started, there was no concept of an Institute for Apprenticeships at all. If Members consult the Hansard report of the House of Lords debates, they will see that there was much discussion on the Government Front Bench as to how the whole issue of standards could be developed. At one stage, a Government spokesperson suggested—whether accurately or otherwise I do not know—that some of it might be the province of trading standards officers. I think most Members here who know the way in which local government has had its trading standards officers cut back in recent years would agree that that is probably an over-optimistic assessment.
In due course the Government decided that they needed to set up an arm’s length body, which is why, at a relatively late stage during the Commons debate on the Enterprise Bill—I think it was on Report; I might be wrong—the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), tabled an amendment to that effect, which we then debated in Committee. As I said, the Government on that occasion had not got their act together to put a clause down establishing it in the Bill, so we put one down and we discussed it.
I know that no Government like to take anybody else’s idea, but we were rather disappointed that, when the Bill eventually came out, it was a fairly standard boilerplate structure, if I can put it that way, for setting up any institution of this sort. As we know, this is an innovation that potentially takes quite a lot of working responsibilities away from the Department for Education and the Skills Funding Agency. I think we are now back in the sort of territory that we were in during the Committee stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill. The Minister I faced then was the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, but we had exactly the same conversations in that Committee about the appropriateness of a Bill that established the office for students but did not mandate students to go on to that body. I feel a sense of déjà vu, because we are in exactly the same place with this Bill. We will return to the detail of that amendment in due course, but I mention it now only to illustrate the lack of connectivity that there seems to have been, and the relatively late stage at which guidelines for the Institute for Apprenticeships have been produced.
Hon. Members might also remember that the skills plan was originally intended to be in the Government’s academies mark 2 Bill. It disappeared from that Bill at a relatively late stage, when the Government realised that that Bill would be too hot to handle with their Back Benchers. We then had the rather strange situation, again at the very last minute, in which a Government statement about introducing the Bill and laying out its provisions had a little bit tucked in the middle saying, “Oh, by the way, we’ve decided we don’t have to go ahead with the academies issue.” I am not here to talk about academies, but I mention that example because it is illustrative. The hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire spoke earlier about things that go wrong in Government. It is illustrative of the fact that the Government felt, at a relatively late stage—largely because of their embarrassment over that Bill, some observers believe—that this set of changes, which we welcome, should have separate legislation.
Whatever the reasons for that, we welcome it now, although I will gently say that it would have been better to have been able to discuss some of this in more detail, and possibly to have the Institute for Apprenticeships itself incorporated in the Higher Education and Research Bill. During the passage of that Bill, as the Government Whip will well remember, the Minister for Universities and Research spoke at length about the importance of higher level skills and everything that went with that, so it seems rather bizarre to some of us that this did not go into that Bill in the first place. We will not dwell on that.
What we want and need to dwell on are the issues relating to capacity. Capacity and time in terms of establishment have plagued the Government ever since discussions about the skills plan and the apprenticeship levy started. Sector skills council after sector skills council, employer bodies and providers have all had queasiness about the apprenticeship levy. We, too, support the levy, but we share some of the severe concerns about its implementation. A long list of organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses, have expressed and continue to feel concern about timing and capacity.
The Minister is quite right that the information about the institute in the policy statement on clause 1 and schedule 1 reflects much, if not everything, that was in the original web document, which I do not think referred to numbers as such. On page 4, we are told that the estimate is that the institute will initially have about 60 staff, with running costs for the next financial year of about £8 million. We are, of course, promised an implementation plan “in due course”. That information was revealed by the current shadow chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships and director of both the Skills Funding Agency and the Education Funding Agency, Peter Lauener, when he gave evidence to the Committee on Tuesday. It did not exactly trip off his tongue, but it came out in the end, for which we were grateful, and it is confirmed in the policy statement. Nevertheless, the fact that it has been confirmed only strengthens our concerns about capacity.
It is reasonable to take up some of the points made by the Minister. He rightly spoke of the importance of developing the standards. The policy statement talks about how the institute will
“develop and maintain the quality criteria for approval of apprenticeship standards… at regular intervals, review published standards and assessment plans”
“have a role in quality assuring the delivery of…end point assessments, where employer groups have been unable to propose employer-led arrangements.”
It also confirms that the institute will launch in April 2017 as a Crown non-departmental public body. That is a long, worthy and laudable list of aspirations, but aspirations do not grow on trees, and nor does the ability to effect them. They cannot be realised without a strong cohort of people to carry them through.
I am worried about the complete lack of clarity that we have had thus far from the Government on just how they propose to perform all those tasks with a relatively shoestring staff of 60, which is the figure that has now been given. The Minister may come back to me and say, “Ah, but of course we are not taking on the more technical education element for another year,” which seems sensible, but to my mind and, I think, that of many outside observers, that will just muddy the water further. People will say, “There are 60 people. How many people are they going to need to take on the technical side? When are they going to take them on—at what point?” We are going to have a chief executive coming in in April to deal with what sound to me like very fragmentary plans in terms of the board and the chief executive. Peter Lauener said that they hoped to have a conclusion on that before Christmas; the Minister might want to respond to that at some point.
I am not alone in saying this; it is being said across the industry, as the Minister will know. The whole thing smacks of—well, I shall not say the Government making it up as they go along, because I do not think that is true, but it certainly smacks of last-minute add-ons. I remind the Minister what my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), Chair of the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy, said on 2 November, when he—the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills—and the director of apprenticeships at the Department for Education, David Hill, were being questioned by that Committee. David Hill and the Minister had given details about how many standards there would be and how many employers would be engaged. My hon. Friend said to Mr Hill:
“David, you said, ‘It will take time to scale up the reforms’.”
and he referred to
“the remarkable change in institutional architecture and the need to ramp up apprenticeship numbers”.
We need to remind ourselves that the Government have committed themselves to getting 3 million hopefully good-quality apprenticeships by 2020. I have not yet heard a satisfactory explanation for where that figure came from, but it is a big target, and how far it will be accomplished in the context of the apprenticeship levy and if the Government do not do more than they are doing to satisfy and enable small and medium-sized companies are big issues.
My hon. Friend asked:
“Given the remarkable change in institutional architecture and the need to ramp up apprenticeship numbers, aren’t you concerned, Minister, that you are trying to do two things and that one needed to be put in place before the other?”
The Minister responded, as I would probably have responded on that occasion:
“I think we are doing the things that are needed.”
Well, I am glad that the Minister thinks that he and his Department are doing the things that are needed, but this Committee deserves and will need more specific forensic information about how they are doing it.
Everything about preparation thus far for the institute has felt tentative and improvisatory. I made this point clearly in the oral evidence session on Tuesday, so I will not go into the detail again, but we have now had two shadow chief executives of the institute, neither of whom were employers even though it was supposed to be employer-led. The first left relatively quickly and the second, who has great skills and capacities, is still supposed to be taking this thing through on a two-day week. All the things that the Minister has told us this new great institution will do are being taken through by a shadow chief executive working two days a week.
I genuinely have great respect for Peter Lauener’s capacities and abilities. As I said on Tuesday, he has been a fixture in this area for over 20 years. I doubt anybody knows more than Peter Lauener about the comings and goings of the various systems, and where certain bodies have been buried. If we want someone to make preparations, he is a very good person, but we do not want someone to be doing it on two days a week.
That prompts us to ask who the new chief executive will be and when they are going to be appointed. Mr Lauener gave the impression on Tuesday that he was there to prepare the ground and that some of the detail would be filled in by the new chief executive. Most members of the Committee will be familiar with—and may have personal experience of—setting up new organisations or businesses for which a chief executive or shadow chief executive is recruited. It is not normally done at four months’ notice, with the person who comes into that position being told, “Well, we have all these plans here, but they haven’t all been sorted yet and it is your job to drive them forward.” The Government might think that is a rather unkind description of the process so far, but I do not think it is entirely inaccurate and, frankly, nor do many people in the business sector.
If the Minister wants the institute to be “turbo-charged” from day one—I think that phrase was used at some point—he needs to provide people with a lot more reassurance, as well as make sure that he gets the right person as quickly as possible. We do not know what that person’s background will be and whether they will have to serve out notice, but from day one of their appointment and its ratification, he or she will need to get absolutely all the support that they need. Otherwise, they will arrive in April and it may be that this time an acting chief executive—as opposed to a shadow one—will depart sooner rather than later. I do not think that I am being alarmist. I merely point out the issues of capacity.
Does my hon. Friend agree that matters are extraordinarily hazy? We are setting up an institution and employing a gentleman for two days a week. The Government think they might employ 60 staff and the budget is an estimated £8 million. What guarantees are there that the organisation will be fit for purpose?
Of course, the broad thrust of what my hon. Friend says is right; but let us try to be fair to the Government, and indeed to the officials, including Peter Lauener, who have the slightly unenviable task of bringing the matter to fruition in the relatively short time we now have.
On Tuesday, we discussed not only capacity, but the capability of the people recruited. That was why I asked Peter Lauener where the people might come from. I offered him the opportunity to say how many transfers, if any, he expected. I asked him:
“You talked about the numbers…given the staff reductions in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—of course, this is a machinery of government change—do you expect to be moving across or recruiting people from either the SFA or BIS who have previous experience in this area?”—Official Report, Technical and Further Education Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2016; c. 9, Q10.]
Answer came there none. I was merely told about the process for advertising for the key roles of deputy directors. I am sure that, like generals in armies, deputy directors are very important people, but in armies it is non-commissioned officers who are needed to get things moving—the people lower down the food chain who know all the bits and pieces and nuts and bolts. Peter Lauener offered no evidence on possible transfer processes from the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Education, or indeed whether there have been expressions of interest.
Hon. Members will remember the comments of Ian Pretty, the witness from 157 Group, after David Hughes expressed strong concern about capacity issues. Mr Pretty has significant experience in the civil service and outside it, including as a tax inspector, as he said rather ruefully. He said:
“I would focus on capability as well. You can have 60 people or 100 people in the institute, but have you got the right capability? I would be nervous if the institute was completely staffed by civil servants. If this organisation is about co-creation with the private sector and the education sector, you need people with the capability to understand how business thinks and how business operates. You also need people who understand how the education providers operate. On the capacity issue, in terms of raw numbers you will cite something, but capability is more important.”––[Official Report, Technical and Further Education Public Bill Committee, 22 November 2016; c. 16, Q22.]
I agree. We do not have a problem with the direction of travel of the institute or the long list of admirable things it is supposed to do, but we have a severe problem of confidence about believing that it is anywhere near having the ability to do it. That is the issue that the Minister needs to address.
Perhaps I can drill down into that. The Minister talked about standards and frameworks, so it would be appropriate to ask him a few questions about those. It is fair to say that, although the routes produced by the Sainsbury review and the skills plan have been broadly welcomed—they produced 15 routes, which is a reasonable starting point and, sensibly and reasonably, the Minister has said that that number will be flexible—the broader picture is that the Government are trying to get everyone behind this new institute and its new policies. I will keep coming back to the target of 3 million apprenticeships because, even though it is not in the Bill, it is central to the success of the new institute.
The Library briefing and other comments have made it clear that some stakeholders are quite concerned that the technical routes are not adequate to involve the numbers of people that we need. The former head of the Association of Colleges, Martin Doel, said it was “a concern” that creative arts and sports were out of the scope of the 15 routes. The director of YMCA Awards, Rob May, said that the routes cover only half of the potential occupations. Mark Dawe, the general secretary of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said that it estimates that only some 57% of the routes—a very precise figure—would cover all the potential need. In evidence to the Committee on Tuesday, the representative from the National Union of Students said that the NUS believed and had had feedback to the effect that some of the routes were too broad. She cited performing arts as an example of where there needs to be more breakdown. She also made the important point that the routes do not cover retail skills in any shape or form.
I declare a local influence. We are all influenced by our constituents, and the Minister is proud of his constituency and its excellent FE college. We get to know about the nature of our constituencies. When he visited Blackpool and The Fylde College, I think he went to the Bispham campus, so he would have been in the constituency of the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). Obviously that college, as the Minister knows, serves not just Blackpool but Poulton-le-Fylde and the surrounding area. A predominant element—I would not say the dominant element—of employment in those areas, as he will probably know, is retail and tourism based, and it involves quite a lot of part-time work and everything that goes with that. The extent to which service sector skills will be represented in the routes is important because we need to ensure that we have the capacity to get to 3 million apprenticeships.
Another specific point that the Minister might want to take on board—I do not expect him to respond to this today, but it would be helpful if, having considered it, he is able to respond later in the Bill’s passage—is the point made by Shane Chowen about advanced learner loans. The Minister will know that I have been critical of the number of post-24 learners who have taken up those loans. At the last count, only 50% of the £300 million that was made available for advanced learner loans at level 3 for people over the age of 24 had been taken up, which is a great tragedy. Like all Ministers he will want to keep a jealous eye on his budget vis-à-vis the Treasury, but I hope he agrees it is a great shame that £150 million of the £300 million allocated for those students had to be returned to the Treasury unused.
We can argue about why that happened, but the fact is that there remains a problem with the uptake of advanced learner loans. However, Shane Chowen made the point that his interpretation and understanding was that, in future, students would get an advanced learner loan only for a course that fits into one of the 15 routes. If that is true, it is important, because we have already heard from the other witnesses I mentioned that only about half of the occupations covered by such loans are covered by the routes. These are big issues in the retail, service and leisure sectors.
I have a few words to say about standards. In his opening statement, the Minister quite rightly put great emphasis on the importance of policing the content of standards, and Peter Lauener made the same point in his comments: he said that he wanted to revisit and review the standards at regular intervals. Select Committees have also commented on the issue. When I was shadow Transport Minister, the Transport Committee was particularly concerned that some of the maritime and marine qualifications that needed to be passported over for approval from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were being held up for between 12 months and 2 years. The Committee was so concerned about that that it commented on it in its report.
We know that in the past there have been problems not only with the approval of standards but with their development. We are now being told that they are likely to be subject to triennial review. Again, my questions to the Minister are about capacity. If I have my figures wrong, I apologise, but I think he said in evidence to the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy that around 400 standards were in development, of which only 150 had so far been approved. However, we have also heard that up to 3,000 standards may be approved. I ask him straightforwardly: how many standards will there be in total on an ongoing basis, when they are fully active at an individual level? Have he or his Department already determined that there will be an upper limit? End points for standards are not quite the same as starting points; how many end points will the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education be responsible for? There are issues around the individual frameworks, so an update on the current state of play there would be welcome.
The Minister may think I am being hard on him for criticising the small numbers, because other authorities involved in the process are not in the institute and are not likely to be. Those are the so-called issuing authorities, which are authorised by the Secretary of State to issue apprenticeship frameworks for particular sectors. I am told that there are some 590 individual apprenticeship frameworks. Will the Minister tell us what their relationship will be to the new institute, as opposed to the Secretary of State?
Colleges and providers deserve clarity on these issues, particularly because of the back story. I could go on about the list of things that have not so far been clarified about the institute, but I will not. I merely emphasise that we would like to be positive and enthusiastic about it; but at the end of the day, this is not about whether the Opposition are confident and enthusiastic, but about what the punters out there think. It is about what the providers, the sector skills councils, the further education colleges and the employers—particularly small and medium-sized enterprises—think. And, of course, it is about all the young and older people who the Minister and I hope will fill the ranks of the 3 million apprentices by 2020. We owe it to all those people to get the capacity and the capability right. Frankly, we need a lot more transparency and information about this issue than we have had so far.
It is a pleasure to speak in this very important debate. I support what my hon. Friend has said. I have long been concerned about the problems with apprenticeships. Many of them are insecure and poor quality, and it has been alleged that they are sometimes simply a disguise for low-paid labour for young people. I would like to think that the institute will challenge that and ensure that we have good-quality, secure apprenticeships in the future, so we can build an economy that will compete effectively with those of other industrialised nations, which approach these things in a more rigorous way than we do.
In the evidence sessions, I drew attention to the research that Professor Sig Prais and others produced at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in the 1980s and early ’90s, which contrasted Britain with Germany, Spain, Italy and other European countries, where the rigour of educating apprentices was so much greater and the quality of the employees who came out of that rigorous experience was much higher. Some documentary television programmes illustrated that, too.
Apprenticeships cannot be done on the cheap. We need much higher teacher-student contact hours, and we should have more rigorous and intensive pedagogic teaching. That is one thing that came out of Germany and other countries, where apprentices get many hours of rigorous teaching, so they must have, first, good teachers and, secondly, enough of them to do the job. I hope that the institute will look at that, too.
The chief executive of the Association of Colleges drew attention to the low funding per student in further education, in contrast with higher education. I made the point that in higher education in my days we would have one or two lectures a day, perhaps, and a couple of seminars or tutorials during the week, but we were left to our own devices to write our essays and do our maths and statistics projects. The intensity of teaching was much more restricted, although it was high quality and we had some very impressive lecturers. It is not like that in further education, where constant attention needs to be paid to the youngsters, who are sometimes not as academic as those of us fortunate enough to go through higher education.
In 1969, I moved to Luton—I now represent it—which was then a major industrial town. General Motors in Luton and Dunstable employed about 38,000 people. Every year, hundreds if not thousands of young people went into genuine secure apprenticeships. They were taken in at the age of 15 or 16, and they were sometimes pretty raw from school, but after five years of experience in industry, they came out with pretty good qualifications and secure jobs. They would be at different levels. Some would go on to take examinations—ordinary national certificate and higher national certificate—and some would even go on to associate membership of the engineering institutions. It depended on their abilities, but they would look forward to a good life of work within General Motors or other companies, with a good pension at the end of it. That kind of secure manufacturing experience has long disappeared for most people in Luton. The incomes of the people who live in my constituency have declined significantly in relative terms.
Electrolux and SKF, which makes bearings for cars, have declined. Some companies kept a nominal presence in the constituency. Electrolux used to make washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Indeed, my first experience on being elected to Parliament in 1997 was Electrolux getting rid of the last of its manufacturing; it was shipped out to Hungary, where labour was cheaper. We fought to oppose that, but we did not win, although Electrolux kept its office headquarters in my constituency, which pleased me. No doubt it still makes very fine equipment, but not in Luton. SKF still has a small number of people making high-quality bearings. They are kept only because they make such high-quality bearings; the mass of thousands of people making large numbers of bearings for industry has long since gone.
At that time, not only manufacturing provided a background of secure employment, long-term genuine security and apprenticeships; we had large public sector employers as well. We had local government and public utilities, and they were good bases for training apprentices. It was understood, although not necessarily publicised, that the public sector trained young people who later went out into other sectors and industry after their good five years of apprenticeship there. For example, local authority direct labour organisations trained young people with genuine construction apprenticeships in a whole range of skills, and many of them went off and set up their own private companies, becoming self-employed with that base of good training. Even so, it was still not as good as the quality of education and training that we saw in Germany and elsewhere.
I return to the contrast with German workers on the shop floor, whose mathematics were sufficiently good to do all their own calculations, design their own products and construct them afterwards—specifically, things such as kitchen equipment—because they had skills. They not only had mathematical skills, but were often fluent in English. They could take a bespoke kitchen plan from England, written in English, to the shop floor, see what needed to be done, understand the English and produce the whole bespoke kitchen, which was then packaged up and sent back to Britain. We should be able to do that, but we could not do it then, and I suspect that we cannot do it now either. We must rebuild our capacity, which is why apprenticeships are so important.
Apprenticeships exist in other sectors as well. They range from high-level apprenticeships in technical subjects down to much more basic employment, but even there, it is important to have long-term experience in the job and to be able to do basic computation and use a language correctly to do the job well. We would not need to recruit quite so many people from eastern Europe in particular if we could do that ourselves with our own young people. It is not right that we should denude eastern European countries of their brightest and best young people. We ought to be concerned about what is happening in those countries, as well as what is happening here.
Order. This is a fascinating discourse, but the hon. Gentleman is straying rather a long way from the purpose of the clause. If he could refocus slightly, that would be helpful to the Committee.
Thank you, Mr Bailey. I was aware that I was straying from the subject. As I said, I taught in further education myself. I have taught a small number of day-release students as well, mainly A-levels in economics, politics and statistics. My experience was not very long—three years or so—but it was a great experience that has coloured my politics ever since. I know the difficulties of training young people.
Another problem that we have had is that, because of the reduction in employer size, there are fewer employees, and it is harder for a small employer to sustain an apprentice without a proper levy system with heavy state subsidy. I think that the levy system is exactly right; I would like it to be more extensive, so that we can give apprentices secure employment with reasonable pay, while they are working and studying. Apprenticeships across the board need to be properly sustained financially and a levy system is the way forward. We are moving in that direction.
I have come across another problem. Small garages, for example, might take on an apprentice as a car mechanic, who might stay there for three years, but then that small garage might suddenly find that its apprentice has been poached by a big garage that does insurance work, which would be very lucrative and much more highly paid. The small garage loses out because it has put a lot of work and finance into training somebody who has been lost to a bigger employer. We ought to be training more people and giving more security to small employers to ensure that they can sustain an apprentice with similar and appropriate pay for a longer period.
There is a lot for the institute to address. I welcome the fact that we are moving in the right direction, but we must ensure that apprenticeships are high quality and secure, not just because our young people should have the right to good training, education and skills, but because our country and its economy needs those people to do well.
I could listen to the hon. Member for Luton North for a long time on this subject, because he speaks with a lot of wisdom. I have been to the north-east of England to see young people on five-year apprenticeships in companies, doing exactly the things that he talks about.
I will just say that the public and private sectors will be following the same standards. We have exactly the same standards on training and quality, and we are introducing a public sector target from April 2017 in all areas to increase the number of apprenticeships in the public sector: 30,000 by 2020.
I will respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Blackpool South. He is kind about me and it is good to be opposing someone who also cares passionately. I very much enjoyed the visit to Blackpool and the Fylde College. What it is doing is extraordinary, not just for students but for the long-term unemployed.
I will comment on a few things, given that we are about to discuss amendments. The hon. Gentleman said that the levy was an administrative challenge for the IFA. It is important that it has only an advisory role on funding caps. The implementation of the levy is for the Department and the Skills Funding Agency.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the apprenticeship target and how difficult it was. It is worth remembering that there have been 624,000 apprentice starts since May 2015. We have 899,400 apprenticeship participations in the 2015-16 year. That is the highest number on record. Of course, it is a challenge to reach a 3 million target, but we are on the way.
The Minister is right to point to progress so far and I do not want to disparage that. He reminds us that implementation is for the Department and the Skills Funding Agency. I am well aware, of course, that David Hill, who is an extremely talented and assiduous civil servant, has been seconded to do precisely that as director of apprenticeships. I was puzzled, however, that the Minister made no reference to the Apprenticeship Delivery Board. I will not go into whether it will have tsars or not; that is for others to decide and the Minister to ponder.
When that board was announced, it was advertised as being a key part of the process of encouraging and driving up the numbers. It was not simply to be a bully pulpit, but it was to have a very direct and active role. Yet since the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) stood down from that post, we seem to have heard very little out of the board. What is its role?
Order. That was rather a long intervention. The hon. Gentleman can make a further speech if he wishes, but if he could make his interventions shorter, it would help the Minister.
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Apprenticeship Delivery Board is in full flow. I meet it and its chairman regularly. It goes up and down the country and works with businesses to encourage them to employ apprentices. Much of our success has been because of that board’s incredible work.
On frameworks and standards, the hon. Gentleman will know that 25% of frameworks will be gone by the end of this year. The 400 standards support around 340,000 apprenticeships. We hope by the end of the Parliament to have moved entirely from frameworks to standards. That is our target. As he knows, the standards will be determined by occupational maps based on labour market evidence and information about employer demand. We do not want to set an upper limit, because we need flexibility to respond to the economy. It will be up to the IFATE to plan the timescales for the review of those standards.
I want to get to the amendments, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will bring some of these things up again at some point, so will he allow me to answer the questions?
The hon. Gentleman asks us to sign a blank cheque on IFA capacity. We are consulting on the Secretary of State’s strategic guidance letter to the IFA. The IFA’s shadow board will publish a draft operational plan. The hon. Gentleman is right that Peter Lauener, the shadow chief executive, is excellent. He has been working with Antony Jenkins, who is the shadow chair. The shadow IFA is working hard to get the institute’s operational plan up and running by April 2017, and that plan will be published soon. Progress is being made, and the institute will be set up in April 2017.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the institute’s board and chair are being appointed. There are 60 core staff. The IFA will draw on many more people through engagement with employer panels, experts and more than 1,000 employees, so the IFA does have the necessary capacity. We are doing this carefully. The technical education bit will start a year later; the first course on the new route will start in 2019. We are doing everything that he wants. The institute has the necessary capacity, and we have the right people and board to run it.
On occupations not included in the 15 routes, if the hon. Gentleman remembers, the principal of his college said in the evidence session that it was possible to do different things, such as sports, through the academic route and applied general qualifications. We are not closing the door on those things, but 15 is regarded as the right number. We have analysed the labour market, and I think that it is right to have those 15 routes, which are, in essence, what our economy needs. On that basis, I believe that the expanded institute is the right body to be at the heart of the reforms—we are implementing the Sainsbury reforms—and the Government are committed to ensuring that the institute plays that role. Clause 1 should therefore stand part of the Bill.
It has been interesting to listen to the Minister. I have one quick question. How will the nearly 900,000 apprentices currently on courses be channelled into those routes? If they are in retail, for which a route does not currently exist, what will happen to their course?
I am grateful to the Minister for his response and his customary courtesy. I am sure that this will not be the last time I say that we agree about the ends but not necessarily the means and whether they are adequate. It was interesting to hear what he had to say about the Apprenticeship Delivery Board; perhaps if it were a little more public-facing, we might know more about what it does.
It is easy to say that we are asking for a blank cheque on capacity, but we are not. We are asking, for all the stakeholders concerned, for some reassurance and some filling in of the current blank canvas in this area. The Minister has elaborated on the various functions and how marvellous they will be—it will all be marvellous, but only when we get the right number and the right sort of people. It is simply not convincing to say an elegant version of, “It’ll be all right on the night,” because it is not all right on the night at the moment. The clock is ticking, and we do not know where these people will come from.
If we were working in “government as usual” times, coming up to 18 months since the general election, a new Government would obviously want to push their major things through. In that situation, I would be less concerned about some of the vagueness and the blank canvas, but we are not in that situation. Three things have happened since the general election that give me and most people considerable concern about the capacity of the Department for Education and—I say this gently—the Ministers concerned to deliver on what they undoubtedly hope to do.
First, of course, we have a new Government, with a new Prime Minister and new Ministers, including the Minister present. I know very well, as do most people in this room, that when we have a new Government, we cannot just pick up from day one; there is an inevitable delay, with issues to be addressed. We factor that in, but nevertheless it is the case.
Secondly, as a result of the change of Government, the machinery of government changes brought skills and apprenticeships out of the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and into the Department for Education. I happen to think that that was by and large a good thing. It gives a more coherent, stronger, longer narrative. However, I have been around for long enough—frankly, so has the Minister—to know that the machinery of government changes do not happen smoothly; they cause delays and confusion. That is why so many people have been worried about the speed of this process. There are ways to deal with the necessity to do things relatively quickly. Put bluntly, we put more resources and more effort into them and call upon other areas to do so. I have seen little evidence of that so far.
If the Minister was working in this area with a Department that was of reasonable complement, we could have some confidence. However, I remind him that staffing levels at the Skills Funding Agency are down nearly 50% since 2011. There is a continuing and accelerating decline in National Apprenticeship Service staffing, and the Government closed—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying into a rather broader debate. I ask him to refocus.
I will refocus to the extent, Mr Bailey, of saying that all the issues I describe have a consequence on the effectiveness of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, which we are being asked to approve to set up as a new body. The Minister has not convinced us that that new body will have the capacity it needs to deliver all this. I have explained some of the reasons for that.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Would it not be intelligent to look at what is done in other countries that are more successful at training people—notably Germany, which would be a good place to start—to compare the quality of apprenticeships and the resource that goes into training apprentices in those countries?
Of course my hon. Friend is right, but one would also hope and think that the Department had done that already. There is a healthy industry of comparative studies out there, not just in the public sector but in the private sector. No doubt, the Department takes advantage of that. My point is that, if we want the institute to progress properly and to do everything it needs to do—what it says on the tin—we need more reassurance.
The final area on which we need reassurance is the implications of Brexit. Hon. Members might ask what Brexit has to do with the Institution for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. Well, a lot. If the Government do not manage to get the sort of money from, for example, European structural funds, which have traditionally supported the expansion of apprenticeships and small businesses in areas of the country with strong local enterprise partnerships, the Government’s ability to reach that figure will be affected. That is why we have to ask those questions about capacity, capability and join-up.
I have not even talked, you will be relieved to know, Mr Bailey—
I am very relieved.
I have not even talked about the relationship of the new institute to the variety of other bodies, such as Ofsted and Ofqual, which were referred to in the evidence sessions, that are circling around wondering what their relationship to the institute will be. I make the point to the Minister that this is not business as usual or something of which he can say, “Well, it’ll be all right on the night,” because it is like playing four-dimensional chess at the moment. I do not know how good the Minister is at playing four-dimensional chess, but he might need to improve his skills if some of the problems that we are talking about come to pass.
The only blank cheque on offer here is that the implementation plan for the institute will be published “in due course”. Is it not concerning, with the competing pressures of government, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that we just do not know when that implementation plan will be published?
It is, but to be fair, Governments always say things will be done in due course. Anybody who has said, “Yes, Minister, of course; we have no plans to do this,” means that they are not going to issue a statement about it on that day, so I am not going to press the Minister too hard on the phrase “in due course”. However, I hope that the Christmas to which Peter Lauener referred in terms of the employment of the new people is the traditional Christmas and not, say, the Russian Christmas, or possibly even the Georgian Christmas, which I think comes at the end of January. We all know what used to happen to the autumn statement—full marks to the Chancellor for keeping it within autumn.
I think that I have said enough to emphasise our concerns about the way in which the institute will be supplied and its ability to proceed, but we do not want to hinder its setting up in any shape or form. It needs to be set up as soon as possible, so that it can get a move on with some of these things. We therefore do not intend to oppose the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Evennett.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.
Technical and Further Education Bill (Fourth sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Mr Adrian Bailey, † Nadine Dorries
† Argar, Edward (Charnwood) (Con)
† Brabin, Tracy (Batley and Spen) (Lab)
† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)
† Evennett, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury)
† Halfon, Robert (Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills)
† Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton North) (Lab)
† Jayawardena, Mr Ranil (North East Hampshire) (Con)
† Kane, Mike (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab)
† Mak, Mr Alan (Havant) (Con)
† Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool South) (Lab)
† Rutley, David (Macclesfield) (Con)
† Shah, Naz (Bradford West) (Lab)
† Smith, Henry (Crawley) (Con)
† Tomlinson, Justin (North Swindon) (Con)
Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)
† Vara, Mr Shailesh (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
Kenneth Fox, Marek Kubala, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Thursday 24 November 2016
[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]
Technical and Further Education Bill
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education
I beg to move amendment 9, in schedule 1, page 21, line 13, at end insert—
“(4) The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in performing its functions must have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in Further and Technical Education.”
This amendment would ensure that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education must have due regard for widening access and participation.
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 10, in schedule 1, page 21, line 13, at end insert—
“(5) An apprenticeship target shall specify what proportion of new apprenticeships starts is to be applied to apprenticeships for people—
(a) who have been looked after children; and
(b) with disabilities.”
This amendment would ensure the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education sets targets to increase the number of apprenticeship starts made by care leavers and people with disabilities.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Dorries, and to begin discussing the series of amendments that we have so far tabled to the Bill. As I might have said this morning, having just come off the Committee that considered the Higher Education and Research Bill, I am struck by the fact that the same sorts of issue that we raised in relation to that Bill for students at higher education level are now appropriate to be raised for students at this level—apprenticeships and further and technical education.
Of course the difference, which we might want to contemplate, is that over recent years in higher education not only have issues relating to access and participation been high on the agenda, but, to their credit, both Governments—pre-2010 and subsequently—have taken some steps in that direction. Notably we had the creation under the Labour Government of the Office for Fair Access, but we never had a similar organisation for further education students and apprentices, so it seems appropriate to discuss this amendment today.
I am not necessarily expecting the immediate creation of an FE or technical education equivalent of OFFA, but I am certainly suggesting to the Government that at a time when we are trying to expand the number of apprenticeships and get parity of esteem for technical education, we should perhaps consider what priority that will have in the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. Again, the words “Capacity, capacity, capacity” go around in my brain, but I will suspend that for this afternoon and focus simply on the principle and why the principle is very important.
By way of comparison, let me take us back to what the Higher Education and Research Bill said in establishing the office for students—an organisation that is not that dissimilar to the institute, although of course it is in terms of size and reach. Clause 2, entitled “General duties”, states:
“In performing its functions, the OfS must have regard to…the need to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in higher education provided by English higher education providers”.
That duty to “have regard to” will of course cut across, in some areas, to technical education, because there will be higher skills in that area and there will be providers—FE colleges, for example—that are providing HE. However, when it comes to the broader picture—concentrating as a matter of public policy on what the Government might need to do to promote equality of opportunity and access to and participation in further and technical education—we have a significant way to go.
Shane Chowen, head of policy and public affairs at the Learning and Work Institute, gave evidence to us on Tuesday. He said that people with disabilities and learning difficulties and people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds have been famously under-represented in apprenticeships for a number of years, so why not use the introduction of this new institute to make a commitment in the Bill to improving access to apprenticeships for traditionally under-represented groups?
FE colleges and providers have already expressed concern to me about the Government’s focus when it comes to the 2 million apprenticeship target, but mandating the institute to widen access and participation would be beneficial for all parties. On top of that, the Government have set out their own laudable agenda to halve the disability employment gap. Only five in 10 disabled people have a job, compared with eight in 10 non-disabled people. Surely the Government should be using apprenticeships as a critical step towards eradicating that gap.
How, in practical terms, do we go about improving access and participation? They are fine words, but how do we actually put some sharp edges on them? One thing that I and many others would like the new institute to do is look at what might be done for groups who have traditionally been under-represented in pre-apprenticeship support and training. The Minister has already spoken about that issue, particularly with regard to traineeships. Again, I will not rehearse the history of traineeships, except to say that they were—I strongly believe that they still are—a good idea.
If we want not only to meet the targets that the Government have set for quality apprenticeships, but to ensure that those quality apprenticeships are evenly and fairly distributed among all groups, we must recognise that some groups will find it much more difficult to get to the frontline of competing for them without some prior training, support, guidance and so on. In my understanding, that was the original role of traineeships. I will not go into the swerves and views of different Ministers and different comments in the period of time since. For a variety of reasons—some to do with the restrictions that the Government placed on promoting anything other than apprenticeships at that time—traineeships did not really get the head start that, in my view, they deserved.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about traineeships, particularly about seeing them as an introductory route into apprenticeships. In that respect, traineeships would be particularly appropriate for the groups of people we might be thinking of when it comes to promoting equality of opportunity for access and participation. Traineeships are also appropriate for retraining because, after all, the institute has now been broadened out to take in technical education, not just apprenticeships. Traineeships could be used for retraining and non-apprenticeship skill access for the groups we are looking at.
One helpful option that the Government should utilise in the Bill—I am genuinely quite surprised that they have not, but maybe the commendable speed with which the Maynard review was completed has been a factor—would be to enshrine the Maynard review in law. I think that was mentioned on Second Reading, but I am not sure that I entirely followed where we were up to with the legal procedure. That would send an important signal. Therefore, although I do not want to create otiose legislation, I suggest to the Minister that there might be a mechanism to ensure that that admirable work is enshrined in law. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Swindon for his participation in that process, and indeed to the previous Skills Minister, both of whom worked very hard indeed to ensure that the review got its nod before the referendum—and, my goodness, considering what happened, it is just as well that they did. That would be a good thing to do.
We welcomed the opportunity to submit evidence to the taskforce that the Minister commissioned, and we welcome the Government’s intention to explore access to apprenticeships for those with learning disabilities and other, not always visible, impairments and to find recommendations for resolving that access. Will the Minister update the Committee on where the Government are on implementing the review’s recommendations? It is still early days, but that would be useful.
Schedule 1 is essentially about making sure that access and participation strategies are high up the list of things for the new institute to do, and of course that cannot be divorced from careers advice. I will not stray outwith the amendment, except to say that careers advice, and what has or has not been done for it in the past four or five years, has occupied some lively debates and been a cause of concern both across the sector and across the House. Everyone who has commented on careers advice, particularly careers advice in the school setting, has said that without adequate access to information, advice and guidance that encourages young people to take up apprenticeships, traineeships or, indeed, technical education, we will be hampered in reaching the access and participation strategies that we need.
The Minister has previously commented on the work of the Careers & Enterprise Company, which I have met. The Careers & Enterprise Company has positive goals, although I still have concerns about capacity. If we want to know where people who have become apprentices have found difficulties in access and participation, we need to hear their voice and their commentary.
The excellent 2016 survey by the Industry Apprentice Council, supported by EAL and Semta, produced statistics that strongly underline the importance of careers advice in this area. The Education Secretary has observed that there is no reason to doubt Ofsted’s finding that 80% of careers information, advice and guidance is below the necessary standard, even though schools have a statutory duty to provide impartial and detailed careers IAG. I am afraid that that was reflected in this year’s survey. The proportion of respondents from members of the Industry Apprentice Council who said that their information about apprenticeships had been poor or very poor remained high—it was 37% in 2014, 40% in 2015 and 35% in 2016. There was some improvement, but there is a considerable way still to go.
To add to my hon. Friend’s statistics, in the evidence sessions we heard that the answer to careers advice was that it should happen in school at key stage 4. Statistically, only one in three teachers think that their school is fulfilling its statutory duty to provide decent careers advice, and 68% of students think that 16 is too early to make career choices. Working-class kids take longer to develop academically, and 42% of students said that they did not receive enough information, advice and guidance before A-levels. I add that to the plea for careers advice to be included in the Bill.
My hon. Friend has been in the House for only a relatively short period of time, but she is making some absolutely excellent and spot-on points. In this context, we are concerned with the specific ways in which the measure will affect people’s ability to take up apprenticeships, and that is what I will focus on.
This is about more than information in schools; it is also about who can come into schools to influence people’s career choices. I, for one, have praised a number of companies for what they have done to offer apprenticeships to adults. In terms of young people, British Gas, for example, has for a number of years had a crack team of female ex-apprentices who go into schools and colleges to break down gender stereotypes. Without suggesting that the institute should be prescriptive in that respect, I think that it could and should encourage the breakdown of gender stereotypes in terms of applications for apprenticeships.
It works the other way around, as well. There is a young man in my constituency, a nurse, who has been very active in the campaign for NHS bursaries. We need more men in the nursing professions and the caring professions, and many of those people can come through apprenticeships. Again, there is a role for the institute. Incidentally, another issue is the commitment to continuous professional development, in which the new institute, particularly the technical education side, will play a role. We must be careful there as well to extend continuous professional development outwith the usual groups of people from a professional background.
Those are some of the issues of which we must take cognizance when considering the amendment. Unfortunately, the representative from the National Society of Apprentices was unable to give evidence on Tuesday due to a family illness, but the National Union of Students —it is important to add that the NUS figures are not dissimilar to those from the Industry Apprentice Council—has stated:
“We want the…government to invest in a truly national careers system that delivers impartial careers information, advice and guidance”,
and that in surveys, 21% of apprentices said that they had never received information about apprenticeships.
The NUS draws attention to a point that will not have escaped the Minister’s attention—I know that he was questioned closely on it by the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy. The NUS found that the current approach to careers advice is exacerbating skills shortages. Those are some of the arguments that we believe it is important to take on board when considering the amendment.
I had a similar discussion in Committee with the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. We did not always agree, but we came to some convergence of our views. It is important when establishing a new organisation to give some direction or guidance in the Bill establishing it, in this case in schedule 1. There should be some emphasis on the signals sent to the outside world about what sort of organisation it is going to be. Will it simply be a bog-standard Government quango or non-departmental public body, or will it be a forceful campaigning institution? We had a debate this morning about how campaigning it could be with a relatively modest workforce, but that makes the issue all the more important. Given the references that the Minister made, perfectly reasonably, to the range of people who will not be members of the institute but will be supportive, it is extremely important to send out the message in the Bill that the institute must have regard to that function.
That is extremely important, because governance in this area is relatively underdeveloped, when compared with governance in higher education, which the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation and I discussed during the Higher Education and Research Bill Committee. It may have been reasonable for him to have told me in that Committee that there was no need for me to worry about putting a measure in the Bill regarding the OFS, because the Government had been doing all these other things for years in that area. I did not agree with him, but he had a point. The point about this measure is that although we are not exactly in the stone age when it comes to access and participation, we are certainly nowhere near as far down the line as in higher education.
Amendment 10 continues that theme, but in more specific fashion. It would require the Government to specify in its apprenticeship targets the proportion of new apprenticeship starts for those who were looked-after children, and for people with disabilities. It would ensure that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education increased the number of apprenticeship starts by care leavers and people with disabilities, so it is linked to the strategy arguments for access and participation that we put in amendment 9.
It is curious how targets are sometimes set; the Government already have targets to increase the proportion of black and minority ethnic apprentices by 20%. It might make sense for them to do the same for people with disabilities and care leavers, though I do not say what the proportion should be. We also seek clarification from the Minister on the progress on the BME targets, if he has those figures to hand. Those targets were set under the previous Government and were never formally incorporated in legislation. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that the Government were still working to meet those targets. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), having fought the good fight, with others, on apprenticeship funding in disadvantaged areas—the Minister listened to his arguments—has also been pressing on these issues due to the nature of his constituency.
The Government’s apprenticeship funding proposals last month recognised that 19 to 24-year-old apprentices who had previously been in care, or who had a local education authority health and care plan, might need extra support. The majority of respondents to the Government survey supported that, with more than twice as many agreeing with the proposal than disagreed: 53% to 26%.
I make a more generic observation that it would be helpful for the Minister to consider: in recent years, in debates on apprenticeships and where they should be focused, a dichotomy has often been proposed between adult apprenticeships for those who are over 24, and apprenticeships for those who are 16 to 18-year-olds, with a greater focus on the latter. I have sometimes felt that we needed to shine more light on 19 to 24-year-olds generally as a target area, because that range often includes people who have had all sorts of problems, sometimes of their own making, and sometimes absolutely not; I am thinking of family circumstances and issues of bereavement, and a number of them have been carers. I know of nearly 1,000 young people in Blackpool who are actively caring for family members.
I have always taken the view that the 19-to-24 range is a crucial cohort from which we should be recruiting apprentices. Even though those young people might have fallen by the wayside before 19 for whatever reason, they often bring with them zeal, experience of hard knocks, and a desire to do even better during the apprenticeship period. That is particularly important. Of course, the Government have recognised the importance of looked-after young people by extending the remit of their care plans up to the age of 25. I pay tribute to the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families for that. It is a good start, but it is important to guarantee that every necessary step is then taken to ensure access and opportunity for care leavers.
Looked-after children achieve less highly at GCSE than their counterparts and often miss out on parts of education. There may be a history of abuse in their background.
I am interested in my hon. Friend’s comments on looked-after children. They may have been held back in education not because of a lack of ability, but because of their disturbed personal circumstances. Given a secure environment, they can in fact progress, probably more rapidly than others, and become very effective employees and good citizens.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He raises a whole subset of questions that we cannot go into this afternoon about the strength of support in schools for young people in those circumstances. That ties in with what I was coming on to say. The Special Educational Consortium, which has submitted evidence to the Committee, along with Barnardo’s, has made some important points. There are real challenges, because less than half of disabled people are in employment, compared with 80% of the non-disabled population, and only 5.8% of adults with a learning disability who are known to local authorities are in a job, which underlines the importance of the Maynard review. On top of that, the proportion of apprentices with learning disabilities has decreased: it was 11% in 2010-11 and is only 8% now. But the good news is that for all apprentices, the success rate of completing their frameworks has risen considerably, and that is true for those with disabilities as well.
The climate for advice on apprenticeships for those with disabilities has declined markedly. Jobcentre Plus’s own disability employment service has a ratio of only one adviser providing support for every 600 disabled people, which was a key cause of concern highlighted by a Work and Pensions Committee inquiry in 2014. In answer to a written question in October 2015, Ministers revealed that the number of jobcentres employing at least one full-time equivalent disability employment adviser had fallen from 226 in 2011 to just 90 in 2015. The Minister may be familiar with the comprehensive Little and Holland review that in 2012 made some 20 recommendations in this policy area. We are not here today to solve the problems of the Department for Work and Pensions or jobcentres, but all that underlines the importance of those targets being firmly in the mind of the institute and, indeed, in the minds of the Minister and his colleagues.
We did not put such a category in the amendment because it was difficult to capture in accurate terminology. There is one category we should think hard about: we have talked about girls and apprenticeships, but there is an issue with white working-class boys. I am conscious of the situation in my constituency where the ethnic make-up is 97% to 98% white; other members of the Committee will have similar circumstances. This has been looked at quite hard recently in the context of higher education, including in a recent report from the Higher Education Policy Institute, but it has been looked at less in the context of apprenticeships, possibly because people think white working-class boys would go in for apprenticeships. Actually, many of the structures of 20th century Britain that supported working-class communities, whether trade unions or other structures, to get boys of that calibre to go into apprenticeships have disappeared.
My father was apprenticed at the age of 14 to a company called Crossley Brothers. It was very competitive and he was glad to get it but it was a natural process. He was told by my grandfather that now he had gone to Crossley Brothers he had a job for life. Well, he did not, as it happened, because they made steam engines and we all know what happened to steam engines in the 1960s. The point I am making is that there were automatic, almost informal routes for white working-class boys to get into apprenticeships and many of those routes have disappeared. Many of the social institutions, including trade union groups, have disappeared. Although we do not include that category on the list in our amendment, I am sure that is an issue the Minister will want to give his fullest attention. We are not looking to be combative with the amendments but we would like to hear some positive ruminations from the Minister on the issues we wish to see established in the Bill.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I just want to add a few comments about disabled people, which will come as no surprise given my former role. I echo the comments on the importance and, crucially, the opportunities that apprenticeships provide to predominantly younger disabled people. That context is right: 81% of non-disabled people in this country expect to be in work, and for those with a disability that is 48%—up 4% since we came to office and an increase of 590,000 jobs in the past three years. That equates to about 500 to 600 extra disabled people into work a day. For those with a learning disability, though, the figure is about 6%.
All political parties and Governments of all persuasions have tried tweaks but very little changes. I saw on my visits that those with a learning disability need patient, one-to-one support to get them into work, and to me, that was an apprenticeship. That is the whole point of an apprenticeship—to give those tangible, real-life skills. I went on some brilliant visits to places that provided the equivalent of an apprenticeship, such as Foxes Academy hotel near Bridgwater. As many as 80% of their students remained in work at the end of their three-year course. The only limitation was that the third year in-work training—the equivalent of the apprenticeship —did not qualify for apprenticeship funding and it was too expensive to have an unlimited cap on those numbers. Of that 80% who stay in work, 48.8% were paid. Not all of them were paid or in full-time work but, having spoken to their parents, I know that that made a real difference to each and every one of them.
That is why I triggered the review carried out by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). I was delighted to see the outcomes. The then Minister for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and I signed it off three days before the reshuffle because we had a feeling that it was important to do that quickly in case something changed. I would welcome an update from the Minister on how he will ensure that the institute prioritises spreading that information. My understanding is that someone who has a learning disability will be exempt from the requirement for a C grade in Maths and English GCSE, which is a hurdle too far for many of these young adults.
During consideration of a previous amendment there was some talk about a target. I understand targets; I did A-level maths, so I get quite geeky with numbers—that is how I remember all these stats. However, I gently caution Members that we need to learn the lessons of HE figures. At each general election, each political party used to suddenly announce that we would have a slightly higher proportion of people going to university. It was like an arms race with students. The reality is that some people who have gone to university to meet those targets would have been better served doing something like an apprenticeship. The wheel has gone full circle, and here we are now.
We do not want to shoehorn some people artificially into doing what we think is the right thing when it is not right for them. A lesson I learned as Minister for Disabled People is that each and every person is an individual with their own unique challenges and opportunities. As tempting as it can be to have targets, because they focus minds, I would be more assured if the Minister committed to meet institute representatives twice a year with this matter the first item on the agenda, and if we as individual MPs met these organisations and sought to hold them to account.
The hon. Member for Blackpool South made a fair point about disability advisers, but the DWP did listen and make changes. Disability advisers are now returning to every single jobcentre—there are roughly 500 more—so we are basically back to where we were at the very beginning. We can call that a score draw. Even when the Department reduced the number of disability of advisers, it was not to have less support for people with disabilities; the idea was that all staff would be trained to be fully disability-aware, but it has been recognised that having somebody with specialist skills in every jobcentre is probably better, so things have gone right back to how they were.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again this afternoon, Ms Dorries. I strongly support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South and the case he made for them. I am also sympathetic to what the hon. Member for North Swindon said.
I have some knowledge of these issues. In general, it is so important for all citizens to have a sense of worth, and having some form of education or having a job gives us that. Without that sense of worth, we can become not only alienated and miserable, but difficult people in society. All sorts of problems arise when people do not have a proper role in society. Even if one has disabilities, to be able to have a real role among one’s fellow human beings is so important.
I particularly wish to discuss adults with moderate learning difficulties. Some 15 years ago or so, a friend invited me to speak to a class of young adults with moderate learning difficulties at my local college. I spoke fairly briefly about politics and about what I did and then they asked questions. I have to say that I could not answer the first two questions, which were very perceptive and intelligent. One was about benefits—they were very conscious about benefits and the rules governing them. I was not up to speed on that, so I was in difficulty there. The young man’s second question was why Tony Blair had abandoned socialism. I have to say that on both counts I was completely floored. I had to say that I could not speak for the Prime Minister, but that I had not abandoned socialism.
That experience showed me that these young adults were not daft. They had things to say and they had an understanding of the world. With the right courses and, if possible, the right apprenticeships, they could find some employment at some point. For example, recently, in one of our supermarkets, the young man who collects the trolleys and pushes them to the collection points for customers has moderate learning difficulties, but he has a job; he is a character; everyone knows him and he is happy. We ought to organise the world so that such things can happen.
Amendments such as the one tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South ought to be on the face of every Bill relating to education, training and employment, so that it becomes deeply embedded in our culture. Some employers and teachers, although they would not necessarily discriminate wittingly, might do so unwittingly without such things in their mind. They need to be aware that they must be fair and provide equal opportunities. Some employers are notorious for discriminating against women. That is changing, but we still have some way to go to ensure that women have equal shares with men. We do not have equal pay yet.
We have also talked about minority ethnic communities. Again, it is particularly those who are unemployed and live in poorer areas who sometimes get into difficulty or trouble. If they had jobs, it might be different. There was a time in my own town when anybody could literally knock on the door at Vauxhall and get a job. It might not be a very skilled job, but they could get one.
On the difficulties on the streets, an interesting statistic featured in The Guardian some years ago: when unemployment rose to 3 million in the early 1980s, street disorder and street crime took off like a rocket. It is not surprising. All those young men whose energy would have been absorbed putting wheels on cars or doing whatever they would have been doing were on the streets, with nothing better to do than cause trouble. I have always been a passionate believer in organising society to ensure full employment. Some years ago, I was chair of a Back-Bench group with outside members called the Full Employment Forum, started by the renowned Bryan Gould, one of the leading Labour politicians, who is still a friend.
On looked-after children, I said in an intervention that it is important for them to be given extra advantage, because they have had disadvantages in early life. Perhaps their education has been disrupted by their being absent from school, moving house or being generally disturbed and unhappy in education, but they might have abilities way beyond the level of education that they received, so it is important that they are given an extra boost through an apprenticeship or a college education. Providing them with security, hope for the future and a stable and predictable environment in life is important to giving them a sense of optimism and increase their self-worth.
I think these two amendments should, in one form or another, be made. I hope that at some point—maybe today, or maybe not—such amendments can be incorporated into the Bill in its final form. I am happy to support them, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on moving them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I will respond to some of the issues raised. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen talked about careers guidance in schools, and I agree with her. The first ever speech that I made in the House of Common was about the problem of careers guidance in schools not encouraging people to do technical education or apprenticeships. We must consider the issue holistically, from primary school all the way through. Although it is not part of the Bill, I am considering from the start how we deal with the issue.
That said, we are investing £90 million in careers. The Careers & Enterprise Company has 1,190 enterprise advisers and a £5 million careers and enterprise fund. I have seen myself how they go into schools to boost provision on technical education and apprenticeships, to encourage work experience and to build links between businesses and schools. There is also a separate £12 million mentoring fund, which I am very keen on.
In a thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Blackpool South talked about the white working class. My first introduction to apprenticeships was not meeting an apprentice but reading “David Copperfield,” which was one of my favourite books at school. The hon. Gentleman made a powerful point about the structures that used to exist and, by changing the culture and transforming the prestige of apprenticeships in education, we are trying to rebuild some of those structures in a modern format.
Six opportunity areas were announced at the Conservative party conference to focus the whole education community, from early years to employment, on areas where social mobility is lowest. That does not address the whole problem, but it shows that we are taking it seriously. Proper representation is in the DNA of the new IFA.
I will address disabilities but, before I do so, the hon. Gentleman asked me to update him on the statistics. Some 52.8% of all apprentice starts in 2015-16 were females, which is impressive. Even more impressively, the median wage received by female apprentices is higher than that for male apprentices. Some 10.5% of those starting an apprenticeship in 2015-16 were from BME backgrounds. In 2015-16, 50,640 of those starting an apprenticeship declared a disability or learning difficulty, which is 9.9% of the total starts and an increase of 12.9% on 2014-15.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon was a brilliant disabilities Minister. I am wary of targets. Disability is a complex issue, and I would like to review the policies for incentivising businesses. We are giving huge amounts of money—an extra £150 a month—to businesses if they have apprentices with disabilities, and we are giving up to £19,000 for adaptations. He talked about traineeships, and we are investing a huge amount of money: £15 million. More than 19% of those traineeships go to people with a learning difficulty or disability. We are offering internships and considering rolling out transition years, which will significantly help those with disabilities. I want to see how those roll out.
I dread to say to the hon. Member for Blackpool South that we are genuinely implementing the Maynard review as soon as possible, but that is not Sir Humphrey’s “as soon as possible”. I have huge respect for the brilliant officials in my Department, and we are implementing it but, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon said, the process started just before the reshuffle. We are doing every single part of it—lock, stock and barrel—and I am sure that we will report. The hon. Member for Blackpool South will be interested to hear how it is rolling out when it happens, and we completely agree with it.
We are doing a lot on disability. The Bill’s impact assessment, in relation to the institute, shows that those with a special educational need or disability are often high users of technical education and further education. Some 23% of those whom we expect to access technical routes will have special educational needs, compared with 7% of those taking level 3 and 20% of those in the total cohort. This Bill is beneficial because it will improve technical education.
The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the adult budget. He said that there is often huge focus on 16 to 19-year-olds, but he asked what is being done for 19 to 24-year-olds. The whole idea of the reforms, including the investment in apprenticeships, the advanced learner loans—I know he wants a further comment on that, and I am happy to do it—the youth obligation and the apprenticeship funding, will mean that, by 2020, the adult education budget will have increased by 30% in real terms. That is a significant and important amount.
On representation, I will reflect on what the hon. Gentleman said, but it is important that the Secretary of State has a power to direct the institute, especially in terms of technical education. It is the duty of the institute to represent everybody, as the legislation sets out. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel reassured enough to withdraw the amendments, noting that I will reflect on what he said.
I thank the Minister for that positive and thoughtful set of responses. I agree with him on the issue of disabilities. I have had disability in my own family; how disability is defined and classified is not necessarily whether someone is in a wheelchair. We do not need to go into all of that—we all know that. If the Minister is saying that one should not have a target for people with, in inverted commas, “disability”, I would agree with him.
There is one point that he has not replied to, but he does not need to come back to me on it now; he could perhaps write to me. The reason for tabling the amendment was that I understood that the Government already had a set target in relation to black, Asian and minority ethnic people. If that is the case, it is important that we at least consider whether that should be balanced against other targets. Perhaps we need to consider whether we should have targets in the first place, but if that target exists, and the institute comes in without other targets for other people, people will inevitably draw certain conclusions. They may be completely erroneous conclusions, but people may draw them.
Having said that, I am encouraged by what the Minister said. I too will reflect on what we have said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 11, in schedule 1, page 22, line 14, at end insert
“following consultation with institutions, students and employers, and their representatives”.
This amendment would ensure that the Government must consult with institutions, students and employers, and their representatives before making changes to the “occupational categories” or “routes”.
The amendment would ensure that the Government consult with institutions, students, employers and their representatives before making changes to the occupational categories or routes. You were not with us this morning, Ms Dorries, but we had quite a detailed discussion around occupational categories and routes, so I will try not to repeat the arguments that we had—people can read them in Hansard.
If there are concerns and controversies about the different routes—for instance, about whether the service sector is adequately represented in the existing routes—that gives even more force to the argument that there should be as broad a consultative and collaborative process as possible. It should not hold up the processes; I am conscious that consultations can go on and on endlessly.
As it stands, the Bill enables the Secretary of State to propose categories for those routes without any further input. It simply requires the Secretary of State to notify the IFA of any changes. I say to the Minister what I said to his counterpart on the Higher Education and Research Bill: although I genuinely have every confidence in his wish to consult, and, for that matter, in the Secretary of State’s wish to consult, we are setting down legislation that will last for a significant number of years, so we have to be careful that we do not hook everything on to the whim of a Secretary of State. After all—we made this argument about the Higher Education and Research Bill—if a new institution is to succeed, it has to have the active and enthusiastic participation of as many of the people who are affected by it as possible. A consultation with institutions, students, employers and their representatives is a necessary part of the process.
A further point is that there is a balance to be struck —the Minister will be well aware of this, because it is a continuing and intensifying debate—between the bespoke skills that are needed for immediate jobs and the enabling skills for more generic future employment. There will always be a tension between the needs of an employer and the needs of an employee—they might be a student or an apprentice—in whichever skills area. After all, in the 21st century we will not all have, as my father was promised before the second world war, a job for life.
We will probably see young people who—I am sure we have all used this phrase, one way or another—do five careers during their lifetime, two of which have not yet been thought of. It is therefore even more important that we have that broad process of ongoing consultation about how generic, as opposed to bespoke, skills should be, so that not only do we get the skills that we need for the future, but young people and adults wanting to return to work or start a new career get the skills that they need.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the amendment, and understand why Opposition Members support it. It is important to understand the purpose of occupational categories, which we refer to as routes in the technical education reforms we are putting in place, and how they relate to the overall system we are developing. The routes are the main ways that learners will find their way around the new system. They provide clear and accurate signposts to the new qualifications.
Lord Sainsbury’s report proposed a system that has
“employer-designed standards...at its heart”,
which is what we have created. He urged that there be a common framework of standards, covering both apprenticeships and college-based provision. Those standards are the basis of the new technical education system we have created. In essence, the standards are the knowledge, skills and behaviours required to perform the occupation.
Presentationally, it does not help to have hundreds of different standards, completely distinct from one another. It is better to group them together to make it easier for people to understand how to navigate through the system. The routes give us a mechanism to do that. I shall not go through it again, but on Second Reading I set out how, if someone went down the engineering route, that would be reflected if they then chose a different branch of engineering.
Earlier, we discussed best practice overseas—I think the hon. Member for Luton North mentioned it—and our system does reflect international best practice. It was reviewed with employers, academics and professional bodies as the Sainsbury panel developed its proposals. The routes are each based on evidence-based occupational maps, on which we have to consult widely. The institute will take on board a wide range of views when developing the occupational mapping, which will then feed into the shape of the routes. It will have to help to ensure that the routes are aligned with the needs of the economy and the industrial strategy, so that young people and adults can make the choices they need to make when they move into skilled technical occupations.
Route panels—panels of professionals—and employers have been consulted to ensure that the institute gets it right, so it is not necessary to consult on the routes separately. Nevertheless, there will of course be an ongoing need to keep the route structure under review—it is flexible—and to continue to listen to the feedback from stakeholders. In view of that, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel reassured enough to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for that explanation, which is helpful. I hear what he says, but I am still not entirely reassured. I understand the process; indeed, I understand the process laid out by Lord Sainsbury in the skills plan. The point I was trying to make, and to which I referred this morning when I discussed the responses from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers and various others, is that there remains considerable unease—I will put it no more strongly than that—about whether the routes cover a large enough area of the skills or sectors we will need for the future. That is separate from the issue I raised about enabling skills.
I am not rubbishing the existing routes at all, but the matter needs to be thought about and watched very carefully. I can understand what the Minister is saying about not having everything chopped into silos, but I would not want him to think that certain areas, particularly the service sector, can be ignored just because he has been told that this is the route to follow. Nevertheless, it was a probing amendment. I was interested in what the Minister had to say, and we can always return to the matter on Report if we are not happy. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Evennett.)
Adjourned till Tuesday 29 November at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.
Written evidence reported to the House
TFEB 04 Centre for Vocational Education Research, London School of Economics
TFEB 05 City & Guilds
TFEB 06 Impetus—The Private Equity Foundation