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Volume 649: debated on Monday 12 November 2018

Apprenticeships are now of high quality, with more off-the-job training and holistic end-point assessment. This ensures that, at the completion of an apprenticeship, the apprentice can demonstrate that they have the skills, knowledge and behaviours for their existing employer or a new employer in the future. Forty-four apprenticeships are now at the new higher-quality standard, and training is up from 540 hours to 670 hours, which is a 20% increase —well ahead of where we thought we would be on quality.[Official Report, 19 November 2018, Vol. 649, c. 6MC.]

Derwent Training Association in Malton in my constituency offers very high-quality precision engineering apprenticeships, but too often it comes up against headteachers who would rather see their students go to university. What more can we do to make sure that schools promote high-quality apprenticeships?

We have a lot more to do; there is no doubt about it. Wherever I go, I often hear from student apprentices who say that they had very little support from their school. Since January 2018 schools are required to allow technical education and apprenticeship training providers to come in to talk to pupils, and our apprenticeship support and knowledge project provides schools with resources to help them promote apprenticeships. The apprenticeship ambassador network also visits schools so that pupils can hear at first hand about the fantastic opportunities that an apprenticeship can bring.

I call Rachel Maclean. [Interruption.] Beetle in, beetle in. It is very good of the hon. Lady to drop in on us. I hope she was advised of the grouping by the Government—I am sure she was. I hope she is now ready, as I have given her a bit of injury time.

I am doing my best to help the hon. Lady. While I am burbling on, she has an opportunity to prepare her question, which I feel sure is now fermenting satisfactorily in her mind.

I do not want to fluster my hon. Friend. The Department is doing a great deal to improve apprenticeships. It is important to make sure that apprenticeships offer high-quality education that rivals that of our universities, so we are doing exactly that. There is no doubt that apprenticeships are already offering such education. We have a £10 million development fund available to develop degrees at a high level, and apprenticeship starts at high levels continue to grow—up almost 30% on last year.

Many large firms in my constituency, notably Premier Foods, have great apprenticeship schemes and are using the new system very creatively to improve the quality of those apprenticeships, but it is often more difficult for small companies to do the same. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that small businesses can benefit from apprenticeships as much as large businesses do?

I congratulate Premier Foods on what it is doing in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. Levy payers can already transfer up to 10% of their funds to other employers, including SMEs, and we are increasing that to 25% from next year. SMEs have taken longer to put in place their apprenticeship programmes, although many have already grabbed the opportunity.

May I apologise to the Minister for not being able to welcome her on her visit to Huddersfield and to Kirklees College? It was a very good visit and was well received, but did she talk to the principal about what is happening up and down the country, where so many people want to get on quality apprenticeships but cannot get the GCSE in English or in maths? Surely there should be a practical maths and practical English so that these kids can get the education they deserve.

I had a wonderful visit to Kirklees College and I was impressed with all I saw there. It is important that young people have a grounding in English and maths. I know this is difficult for some young people, and we are doing a great deal to improve the teaching of maths. Where people have failed after all those years in school, we cannot just go on doing the same thing. We have the opportunity to offer functional skills, which offers those young people an alternative way of getting a good qualification in maths.

A very successful Queen’s award-winning company in my constituency provides examinations and training standards throughout the world in contemporary music, but it cannot provide these apprenticeship standards in the UK because of the Government’s rigidity in not allowing them or providing them in industries with a lot of freelance workers. Can the Minister address that problem?

Yes, I can. The right hon. Gentleman perhaps ought to know that I have continued contact with my fellow Ministers in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, because this issue is important. We are not being rigid. There are ways around this, and I had a recent meeting to discuss exactly this point. It is important for the industry to get together and talk to the Institute for Apprenticeships, because there are ways around this.

How can we improve the quality of apprenticeships when further education—or certainly Coventry College—has had a 30% cut? What is the Minister going to do about it?

By 2020, there will be £2.5 billion available for apprenticeships. In fact, a lot of apprenticeship training is done by independent training providers, so I urge all further education colleges to make sure they get involved and take up the opportunity that the levy money makes available.

Surprisingly, my question is a segue to that asked by my old boss, the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable). Apprenticeships are a great success story for this Government, although they are being terribly undermined by the clunking fist that is the apprenticeship levy. Will the Minister look specifically at the position in the film industry, where apprenticeships do not last the standard length of time? When people are apprentices on a film production, it might last only three months. There needs to be some flexibility in order to support apprenticeships in our award-winning creative industries.

Although I often agree with my right hon. Friend, I disagree entirely with his description of the apprenticeship levy as a clunking fist. It is what has driven all the improvements and is part of the reason we have the £2.5 billion available. I am very aware of the issues in the film industry. I have had several meetings with people from the industry and we are working with it to make sure that where people are working on a contract, or are not on a permanent contract, apprenticeships may be available.