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Volume 643: debated on Monday 25 June 2018

We have made good progress. We have announced the providers who will deliver the first three T-levels from 2020. We published the outline content for them, developed by panels of employers, and have begun the process to select an awarding organisation to develop them.

Why, with its huge success in piloting industry work placements and its leadership of best practice in the area, has Yeovil College been left out of the T-level pilots, and how can the Secretary of State help to make up for its and my disappointment?

We have thus far selected a relatively small number of colleges to teach the first three T-levels from 2020. This is an ongoing programme and more T-levels and colleges will come on stream in the years to come. We expect to launch the process to select providers for 2021 early in 2019.

I welcome the introduction of T-levels, which could be a game changer for the British economy. What other sectors are the Government talking to about introducing T-levels in future years?

Eventually, as per the Sainsbury report, we will be looking right across industry and the requirements for technical and vocational education and training. We are looking at the combination of T-levels and apprenticeships to deliver learning across those routes. These are just the first three for 2020 and there will be a further 12 to come very soon.

Small businesses account for 60% of all private sector employment in the UK. What support will the Government put in place to encourage and enable small businesses to offer T-level work placements?

Industrial placements are at the heart of the T-levels programme. We are investing £5 million in the National Apprenticeship Service to make sure that it can be a one-stop shop. We have published “How to” guidance for employers, and we continue to work closely with bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses and small employers themselves to establish the support that they need to offer these placements.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. What is the Government’s plan for mandatory work placements as part of their new T-level when the number of learners exceeds the placements available from local employers? Answers that include “remote learning” or “online” will not be accepted.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for laying out his acceptance criteria for my response. The simple point is that we are working hard from now, not starting in 2020, to build up the availability of industrial placements, because they are such an important part of the programme.

I hope that the Secretary of State will do a bit better than he is doing on apprenticeships, which have collapsed in my constituency in the last two years, going from 350 starts to 50. Will he consider being more flexible about the time release rules for employers?

We think the quality requirements for apprenticeships are absolutely central, and that includes the 20% off-the-job training requirement, as well as the minimum 12-month length. We should also bear it in mind that over the last few years there has been further strengthening of the overall employment market, so today the proportion of young people who are unemployed and not in full-time education is down to 5%, as opposed to 8-point-something per cent. at the change of Government. The apprenticeship programme remains absolutely vital to building up the skills level of the nation.

The Secretary of State might be content with T-level progress, but I am afraid that many in the sector are not. There is no clarity on work placements, on bridging options post-16, on the transition years that some need or on where T-levels sit in the post-18 review. The Department’s own research warns that having a single awarding body for T-levels risks system failure, and Ofqual says the same, while his own top civil servant advised a year’s delay, which he rejected. Is he content just agreeing with himself, or would he be happy with a process for T-levels with the wheels coming off—a magical mystery tour for young people that risks becoming a ghost train?

Dear oh dear! Gordon! I do not quite know where to go with that question, because I do not recognise its premise. I spend a great deal of time talking to employers, providers and others throughout the sector about this programme, and if the hon. Gentleman consults the Sainsbury report, he will see the overall blueprint. It is absolutely clear where T-levels fit in with the overall skills landscape, including levels 4 and 5, which also need improving. T-levels are fundamental to building up the country’s skills base, and I would expect to see him supporting them.