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Volume 621: debated on Monday 6 February 2017

9. What steps the Government are taking to encourage more 16 to 18-year-olds to take up apprenticeships. (908594)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, in 2015-16, 131,400 under-19 apprentices climbed up the ladder of opportunity to get the skills and jobs that they need for the future. We are investing millions in supporting providers and employers to employ apprentices. We also have the Get In Go Far campaign, which is working incredibly well, and we are investing £90 million in careers guidance, including in the Careers and Enterprise Company.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement of progress. Does he agree that a UCAS system for apprenticeships could improve the status of apprenticeships, make it easier for businesses and students to connect with each other, and end the classroom divide between those applying to university and those applying for technical education?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the UCAS issue. He is absolutely right. We are looking very hard at this, and we announced it in our industrial strategy. We want to ensure that we give technical education students and apprentices clear information with a platform similar to UCAS. We are looking at how we can ensure that it works to help to address the skills deficit and to help the socially disadvantaged.

Is it not time to place a duty on schools to allow colleges and other providers of post-16 education, including apprenticeships, access to pupils so that those pupils are fully aware of the options available to them?

As so often, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I recently visited degree apprentices at Gateshead College whose own school refused them a visit in order to talk about apprenticeships, skills and technical education. We are doing a lot of work to ensure that careers guidance in schools properly reflects the options available. We have introduced legislation and we are looking to do more to ensure that students are offered skills and apprenticeships.

Would my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Havering College of Further and Higher Education on its excellent five-week railway skills course from which 85% of students are moving on to apprenticeships in an area where there is a great skills shortage? Would he agree that a five-week course is an ideal way of encouraging less academic students to remain in education?

I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in her place. Not only do I offer my huge congratulations to Havering College; I would be pleased to visit with my hon. Friend.

The Minister quoted the statistics for 2015-16, but the proportion of apprenticeships for under 19-year-olds, compared with those for older apprentices, was basically stagnant at just 26% compared with 25.2% the previous year: only one in four of all apprenticeships. The latest stats—for the first quarter—show that numbers for 16 to 18-year-olds are getting worse, with 58,190 compared with 63,200 the previous year, which is a drop of 8%. With the head of engineering training provider JTL saying that Government funding changes could cut its apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-old by two thirds, and thousands of youngsters blocked from getting apprenticeships by being on the treadmill of GCSE English and maths resits that only one in four of them passes, where is the Government’s beef for 16 to 18-year-olds, instead of motherhood and apple pie?

I am amazed by the hon. Gentleman’s question. He often does not see the apprentice wood for the apprentice trees. We now have the highest number of apprenticeships on record in our island’s history at 899,000, with more than 780,000 apprenticeship starts since May 2015. We are investing millions in ensuring that employers and providers hire apprentices. We have a record to be proud of.