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Volume 638: debated on Monday 19 March 2018

We are using radio adverts, digital advertising, social media and telemarketing—the latest phase of marketing started at the end of January and will continue until the end of this month—and of course our national apprenticeship week, with its hundreds of events throughout the country, is also spreading the message. I should also point out that a legal duty on schools to allow in technical education providers was introduced in January.

My right hon. Friend knows that Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford, Shrewsbury and several other very good colleges that provide excellent apprenticeships have not been awarded funding under the non-levy apprenticeships scheme. She has worked hard to find a way through this, but can I ask her for an update to ensure that those colleges can continue to provide apprenticeships in vital areas such as construction and engineering; otherwise there will be a bit of an apprenticeships desert in those areas?

I know that my hon. Friend is a strong supporter of colleges in his area, but, as with any procurement, some bidders were unsuccessful. We have extended contracts for existing providers by three months to give employers and apprentices stability, and the main providers on the register of apprenticeship training providers can still deliver training directly to levy payers, to non-levy payers through subcontracting and to employers receiving transfers from April.

In 2009-10, there were 280,000 apprenticeships, and in 2016-17, there were 495,000, so we are moving in the right direction. What more can the Government do to lift the status of apprenticeships in schools, bearing in mind that most teachers come through a university route? Should Ofsted report on how schools are promoting apprenticeships when they do their examinations?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that status is crucial to increasing the value that people place on apprenticeships. Having employers involved in the design of the new standards right up to degree level and making sure there is that 20% off-the-job training and that they last for a minimum of 12 months are all about raising the status and currency of apprenticeship qualifications. I make no apology for making sure we increase the quality of apprenticeships. It is not just about numbers; it is about quality.

One of the key ways to promote apprenticeships is to maintain a broad curriculum in our schools. This was one of the key themes at the Association of School and College Leaders conference last week, where the CBI president said that children were missing out by being made to memorise facts and that the curriculum should prepare them for adult life. Does the Minister agree that the curriculum is narrowing to the detriment of children and our future economy?

There is no doubt that we have one of the best curriculums in the world. What is absolutely crucial to the success of any technical education programme —that includes apprenticeships—is a solid foundation at school. That can be used as a springboard into other careers, possibly via apprenticeships.

Knowledge of and access to apprenticeships relies on high-quality careers information, advice and guidance in schools. What are the Government doing to ensure that every young person is entitled to that information, advice and guidance, and that it stops being a rather dubious offer across the patch, as it is at present?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of good careers guidance. I am sure he has read the careers strategy that we launched at the end of last year, which uses the Gatsby benchmarks as a spine. Schools have a legal duty to enable technical education providers to go into schools. The Careers & Enterprise Company is doing fantastic work all over the country, and Members of Parliament also have a role to play: they, too, can go into schools and point out the opportunities that exist.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that apprenticeships are vital to maintaining and enhancing our sovereign defence manufacturing capability, and are a key driver of social mobility, especially in constituencies like mine?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Apprenticeships represent a wonderful opportunity and are an important part of the mix.

Last month the Minister wrote to the chief executive of the Institute for Apprenticeships with a long list of requirements—I have it here—for the delivery of degree apprenticeships and technical skills at levels 6 and 7. The chief executive has said he told the Minister that the IFA could not take on responsibilities for technical skills unless adequate additional resources were allocated. Given that the institute is scheduled to take on those responsibilities next month, what resources and extra funds has the Minister allocated to the chief executive here and now?

I was with the chief executive of the IFA only about an hour ago. The institute is increasing its headcount substantially to ensure that it has the capacity to deal with the new T-levels that are coming on stream. This is a fantastic opportunity, and I look forward to working with those at the IFA. They know that they should tell me if they have any problems with resources, and we will then try to meet their needs.