My Lords, the Government are committed to putting children and young people at the centre of policy-making. We want to ensure that services for children and young people work together across disciplines to offer the best possible network of support so that all young people are given every opportunity to become fulfilled adults. Investment in skills and training is vital if we are to secure Britain’s place at the forefront of global competition, innovation and productivity. It is the only way that we will build the strong workforce and the strong economy that we need for the future.
Last year the Education and Skills Act raised the participation age in education, employment or training to 18 from the year 2015. Now, because we believe that local decision-making is the key to meeting the needs of all young people and ensuring continuity of learning pre-16 and post-16, the Bill will devolve responsibility for the education and training of all 16 to 19 year-olds to local authorities, along with £7 billion of funding.
A light touch national body, the Young People’s Learning Agency, will support authorities in this role, and the new Skills Funding Agency, working closely with the sector skills councils, will create a stronger demand-driven system for adult skills, more responsive to the needs of employers. The Bill also builds on what we have already done to bring apprenticeships back from the brink of extinction, with their number increasing from just 65,000 to a quarter of a million this year. Completion rates are at an all-time high. The Bill will establish the entitlement to an apprenticeship for every suitably qualified young person who wants one, set national standards for apprenticeships as a guarantee of quality for apprentices and employers alike and ensure that young people get appropriate careers advice on apprenticeships at school. Of course, training should not end with the award of an apprenticeship certificate. Most businesses are already investing in their staff by making time for training, but this Bill will make sure that every workplace has a culture of training and improvement by giving all employees the right to request time for training.
Since 1997 we have made huge progress in driving up standards in schools. Twelve years ago, more than half of all secondary schools were below the basic benchmark of 30 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths. Today the number is just one in seven. We are determined to reduce that number to zero over the next two years, because every school should be a good school. Through National Challenge, we are providing £400 million of funding and extra support to help those schools, many of them already improving, to rise above our benchmark. We are working with local authorities to deliver that target. However, where authorities are not providing the support that their schools need, they can be held to account. This is why we are proposing new powers in the Bill to require local authorities to act.
Academies also have a vital role to play. We remain firmly committed to the academies programme and reaching our target of opening up to 400 academies. We know that academies are working, but as the programme expands, DCSF will find it increasingly difficult to deliver the individualised support that it has given to academies up to now, so the Bill allows the Secretary of State to ask the Young People’s Learning Agency to carry out specific academy functions —essentially funding and performance management—on his behalf. Academies prove that with determination, extra support and good leadership, it is possible to break the link between deprivation and achievement. I take this opportunity to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House, and the right reverent Prelates, who play a direct role in the sponsorship of academies, for their contribution that they have made and will make.
Good schools and excellent teaching are the cornerstone of a successful education system. We want schools that are free to teach, accountable to the parents and communities that they serve, and safe, so that teaching and learning can take place without disruption. The Bill seeks to make progress on each of those aims. By giving Ofsted the power to publish health check statements, the Bill supports the move to a more tailored and proportionate approach to inspection. This will mean that inspection is targeted on the schools where it is most needed, while the best schools benefit from a lighter-touch regime. Where something has gone wrong and parents are unhappy with the way in which their school has handled a complaint, the parents will be able to go to the Local Government Ombudsman instead of taking the more drastic step of appealing to the Secretary of State as the system currently demands.
Almost all secondary schools are now working in partnerships to challenge poor behaviour and attendance. This has had a positive impact. In 2007, Ofsted told us that behaviour was inadequate in just 2 per cent of secondary schools. We are not complacent —much more needs to be done—but, to be truly effective, all schools should be involved in a partnership. This Bill makes partnership a requirement for all secondary schools, academies and pupil referral units. For the schools and colleges that need it, the Bill also extends the power that staff already have to search pupils for weapons to cover drugs, alcohol and stolen property.
The Bill will support the development of a good curriculum and qualifications system. By establishing Ofqual, we want to create a strong, respected and independent regulator so that standards are maintained and are seen to be maintained. Ofqual needs to make judgments about standards without fear or favour, so, like Ofsted, it will report directly to Parliament. The Bill will give Ofqual all the powers that it needs to safeguard standards of exams and tests and to speak out if standards come under threat. This is crucial to maintaining public confidence. Ofqual will inherit this regulatory role from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which will evolve into the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. This will be the Government’s expert adviser on qualifications, the curriculum and assessments, and it will deliver national curriculum tests.
We know that education and training play a vital role in young offenders’ resettlement and life chances, so the Bill takes the historic step of ending the disapplication of primary education law to young people in custody. Local authorities will take on the responsibility for learning in custody alongside their mainstream responsibilities, and will ensure that as far as possible young people in custody are offered the same learning experience as those in the community.
As noble Lords are well aware, the progress report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the protection of children in England highlighted a number of areas in which the current arrangements for the safeguarding and welfare of children could be improved. The Bill responds directly to recommendations made in his March report and to commitments in the Government’s response. It gives the Secretary of State the power to set children’s services authorities in England statutory targets for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in accordance with regulations. It seeks to open up local safeguarding children boards to greater public scrutiny and engagement by requiring that each board in England includes two lay members to represent the local community. It also requires each local safeguarding children board in England to produce at least once a year a report on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in its area. This will be a full and frank report and, when published, a copy will be sent to the local children’s trust board.
A decade ago, there were no children’s centres. There are now more than 3,000 Sure Start children’s centres around the country. Children’s centres have revolutionised the support that is available to families during the early years, and have helped many more children get off to a good start in life, including many of the most disadvantaged around the country. The next stage of our reforms is to make sure that every family can have access to this support, and this Bill requires local authorities to ensure that there are sufficient Sure Start children’s centres to meet local demand. Meeting all the needs of children and families means ensuring that different services work collaboratively together.
There are many examples of local services working effectively together through a children’s trust. The Bill will make it an obligation for every local authority to have a children’s trust board, with responsibility for improving the well-being of all the children in its area. The Bill also extends the list of relevant partners who will have a duty to co-operate to promote children’s well-being, so that all maintained schools, academies, colleges, Jobcentre Plus and youth offending teams are included. Short-stay schools will be added through regulations. This measure will provide proper area-wide accountability for the well-being of all children and young people across all the different services.
The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill is wide-ranging legislation, but every measure is driven by a very simple objective; namely, our determination to create a world-class education and training system through a process of reform that has children and young people at its heart. I look forward very much to hearing the views of noble Lords during today’s debate and to engaging with them in Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining this Bill, which attempts to address a wide range of areas of policy across the spheres of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In that regard, I note with regret the lack of a Minister from the former department to speak today. However, it is reassuring to have here the Minister, given her experience, as well as so many experts who have chosen to speak today, as we very much hope that they will in Committee and on Report, to ensure that the Bill is subjected to the exceedingly stringent and effective scrutiny that it needs.
I wonder whether, when the then Prime Minister proclaimed, “Education, education, education”, this Bill was what he had in mind. While we welcome some of the policies and specific provisions, we are concerned at the apparent convoluted and confusing tangle of institutions and policies, which suggest the creation of a bureaucratic muddle. At Second Reading in another place, my honourable friend David Willetts said that the Bill has no clear or sustained argument. Through 262 clauses and 16 hefty schedules we dash from apprenticeships to academies, from children to complaints, from behaviour to bankruptcy, and even to a small section tucked away on education for those detained in youth accommodation. There remains a fear that perhaps the breadth of this Bill comes at the expense of any depth of conviction or clarity in some of its policies.
My honourable friend also commented that it seemed to demonstrate,
“the besetting problem of a decaying Government coming to the end of their term: when in doubt, reorganise … Even worse than that, they are now reorganising their own reorganisations, and changing the institutions that they themselves created”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/2/09; col. 115.]
We have to ask ourselves whether this Bill is symptomatic of a Government who are frantically hurling semi-formed policies at problems, desperately trying to legislate for higher standards of education.
A moment ago, I said that there are bits in the Bill that we welcome. We welcome, for example, the incorporation of advice about apprenticeships into more general careers advice in schools and we see the attractions of creating an entitlement to apprenticeships, but we do not see that merely legislating for it will make it happen. Furthermore, at a time of economic crisis, when many businesses are struggling to make ends meet, we foresee difficulties in enforcing a statutory right to an apprenticeship. Will the Minister assure us that provisions will be put in place in order to prevent this right from becoming a lawyers’ charter? The nightmare scenario would be that of employers who cannot afford to do this ending up at an employment tribunal or people ending up on a so-called apprenticeship but not doing anything productive or useful. We need to know how the Government will guard against these sorts of problems.
When it comes to making promises about apprenticeships, the Prime Minister himself does not exactly have a glowing record. In his 2003 Budget as Chancellor, he announced that apprenticeship places would increase to 320,000 by 2006. In fact, by 2006-07 there were only 239,000 apprentices in training. In 2007, he announced that he would double the number to 500,000, but by 2008 the number had fallen by 13,000. We now have a new target. At Second Reading of the Bill in another place, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families announced that there would be 1,000 more apprenticeships by the end of the next financial year—admittedly, a rather more modest target, but a target none the less. Do we believe him? I hope that we can.
Ofsted’s 2008 report, The Impact of Programme- led Apprenticeships, confirmed that many of the apprenticeships created by Labour are only virtual apprenticeships and do not include any proper workplace training. The Adult Learning Inspectorate has noted that,
“some apprentices can potentially achieve the full requirement of the apprenticeship framework without having to set foot in a workplace”.
Furthermore, your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee reported that,
“most of this increase has been as a result of converting government-supported programmes of work-based learning into apprenticeships”.
Therefore, while we broadly welcome the Government’s intentions behind the apprenticeship clauses of the Bill, we do not believe that these provisions really get to the heart of the matter. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that we hope to table amendments that will help to address the core problems. We want to create an apprenticeship structure that will increase the availability and take-up of apprenticeship places by reducing the bureaucracy surrounding certification and inspection regimes, increase employer involvement through the sector skills councils and make sure that apprenticeships include real work-based experience.
We also welcome much about the addition of Ofqual, which appears later in the Bill. We are grateful to the Government for at last accepting the proposal made by my right honourable friend David Cameron nearly four years ago for a new independent regulator of exam standards. We welcome its incorporation into statute. At a time when public confidence in exam standards seems to decline year on year—the Minister herself referred to this—it is vital that there should be a public body to ensure that the infamous dumbing-down is stopped and that we have an exam system of which we can be proud and in which we can have confidence.
Nevertheless, we have reservations about the body’s independence—and that independence is fundamentally important. We hope to receive assurances from the Government that they will not allow Ofqual to be viewed as a government agency. This would undermine public confidence in qualification standards. In this vein, it is most concerning that, infamously, one of Ofqual’s earliest interventions was to lower the pass mark in a science GCSE—to 20 per cent for a grade C—to make it easier to pass. For a body charged with restoring public confidence, this seemed to be a backward step. We will look for assurances that the regulator will, from now on, push standards up, rather than down.
The Bill also represents the fourth major transition of the Learning and Skills Council. The body, which was set up only in 2001, had been through two major reorganisations by 2005-06 and a further restructuring in 2007. In 2009, we now see that it will finally be abolished. In principle, this might seem sensible. After all, the organisation, which employs over 3,000 staff, churns through £11 billion in its inefficient administration. Nevertheless, the Government propose simply to replace it with three more quangos: the YPLA, the SFA and its sub-quango the NAS. This sounds to us less like “Education, education, education” and more like “Quango, quango, quango”.
The impact assessment issued by the two departments involved points out:
“Administering the new system is expected to be cost neutral for the exchequer”.
I repeat: “cost neutral”. The Explanatory Notes state that staff movements are expected to mean that about 1,000 staff will be transferred from the Learning and Skills Council to local education authorities; some 1,800 will form the Skills Funding Agency, including about 400 in the National Apprenticeship Service; and 500 will travel to the YPLA. If my calculations are correct, the Government are saying that the three new agencies will employ exactly the same number of people as the old, hugely inefficient LSC. They have not cut down on a single penny of budget nor reduced the number of staff, yet they are keen to emphasise the slimline nature of these bodies. One wonders who they are trying to convince.
There are other key areas of the Bill which we very much look forward to addressing as we go into Committee, including specifically the Government’s provision for the education of those detained in youth accommodation, the clauses regarding the complaints procedure and those on careers education in schools. I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to hear that we intend to address these issues in a positive and constructive frame of mind. We aim to help the Government to find more substance and concrete policy to underpin these areas and others and to help to construct a Bill based solidly on education, education, education rather than on quangos, bureaucracy and targets.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for her introduction to the Bill. The Liberal Democrats, as always, will play a constructive part in the debates on the Bill despite our severe reservations about part of it. Indeed, we believe that large sections are totally unnecessary in primary legislation. We will undoubtedly miss the wisdom and trenchant views of the late, much missed Lord Dearing as we go through the various stages of the Bill.
This portmanteau Bill has neither theme nor vision and appears to us to be from a Government on their last legs, trying to convince the country that they still have good ideas and are very, very busy. There are a number of missed opportunities which we hope to correct as the Bill moves through the House. However, there are things that we support in the Bill and we will try to make it work. In the end, we will judge this legislation on its ability to benefit children and learners, and to help and support all those who work conscientiously with children and young people and whose professionalism is not always appreciated.
The Bill follows from last year’s Education and Skills Act, which raised the learning leaving age to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015. That was then, and this is now. There are questions to be asked about whether the current economic crisis makes this the right time to make the change mandatory. Are the Government confident that hard-pressed businesses will be able to offer the number of apprenticeships required when they are having to lay off regular staff? Perhaps the reference to programme apprenticeships is an acknowledgement that they are not so confident.
The Bill covers so many issues that I will not have time to cover all of them. I therefore give notice that my noble friend Lady Sharp will be covering apprenticeships and the overcomplicated, burdensome and bureaucratic funding and oversight system for post-16 education and the new role of local authorities; my noble friend Lady Garden will cover the education of young offenders and careers advice in schools; my noble friend Lord Addington will cover disability and SEN issues; and my noble friend Lord Cotter will cover apprenticeships from his experience in business. That leaves me with the issues relating to regulation and assessment, schools, early years and children’s services. There are many things that I will not have time to say anything about, even though I apologise to your Lordships that my speech will be longer than usual.
I start by pointing out that, despite its size and complexity, the Bill does little to tackle the entrenched inequalities of our education system. The enormous gap in performance—indeed, in opportunity—between children living in affluent neighbourhoods and those in poor ones is a sad memorial to an outgoing Government who came into office with such good intentions. It is still the case after 12 years of their administration that 85 per cent of white boys from poor families fail to obtain five good GCSEs and the majority of schools in poor areas fail to get 30 per cent of their pupils to reach that target. This is despite the fact that these figures have been known for years and that we have had 17 Bills, around 70 Green Papers and more than 1,700 regulations. With the Bill we are considering today, the Government have probably now blown their last chance of picking up another good Liberal Democrat idea, the pupil premium. So be it. We now have to debate what they are proposing.
We welcome the Government’s attempt to pull together the organisation of 16 to 19 education; we just do not think they are going about it the right way. My noble friend Lady Sharp will tell the House how she thinks it should be done. However, it is vital that those young people who may benefit from apprenticeships the most—that is, those with disabilities and special educational needs—are not prevented from accessing the programmes. We also welcome the proposal to separate the regulatory powers of the QCA by setting up Ofqual, since there is a clear need to restore confidence in the education system and our qualifications in particular, after some disasters in recent years that have affected young people very badly. I shall return to Ofqual in a moment.
We are disappointed that the Government are still unable to resist meddling by the powers of intervention that they are keeping to themselves. Despite what the Minister said about local decision-making, the Secretary of State’s powers to direct are numerous; indeed, there are 116 mentions of the word “direct” in the Bill. I fear that this is a dark omen of things to come, despite reassurances from Ministers in another place that some of the powers will be used only in exceptional circumstances. That may be so, but the very existence of such powers may make those over whose heads they are held behave exactly as the Government wish, for fear that those powers of interference will be invoked. The powers therefore have an effect when they are not used as well as when they are.
So, to Ofqual. It was clear in the debates in another place and from the recommendations of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, that there is wide agreement that Ofqual can make a real difference but only if it is truly independent of government and has the trust of the public. I fail to see how it can be seen as truly independent when the Government appoint the first chairman, chief executive and seven to 12 members of the board. As well as recognising awarding bodies and qualifications, there is wide agreement that it should have the power to carry out standardised sample testing for the purposes of monitoring particular cohorts of students, so that over time we can see what is happening to standards. Clearly, from the Government’s response to that proposal in July 2008, they do not agree. They said:
“we do not accept that sample testing is necessary or desirable. In any case, Ofqual’s role is not to monitor education standards as a whole; it is to regulate the qualifications and assessments which are one of the means by which those standards are measured”.
If I send my car in for servicing, I do not want to be assured just that the spanners used are up to a certain BSI standard—I want to know that the quality of the garage as a whole is up to the job. The Government propose that Ofqual judges only the quality of the spanners.
Besides, the Government show an alarming level of complacency about this issue since, in paragraph 50 of their response to the Select Committee, they have already made up their minds. They say:
“Thanks to ... regulatory scrutiny, we have every confidence that standards are being maintained and that tests are a true measure of learners’ attainment”.
Well, that’s all right then—except that it is not all right at all. Here, though, we have an opportunity, with a truly independent Ofqual with sufficiently wide powers, perhaps to deserve that confidence some time in the future. We will work with others in your Lordships’ House to ensure that we have the Ofqual we need. We will seek a debate about the powers to cap fees and other detailed matters. Alongside Ofqual is the QCDA, and we will be probing the apparently rather blurred edges of the role of the remaining part of the old QCA.
I turn to schools. With regard to academies, it is no surprise that the Government have realised, as we have mentioned so often, that it is impossible—indeed, undesirable—for the DCSF to try to manage hundreds of schools directly. The Government’s ambition to open 400 academies gives them a considerable problem, given the current setup. So the Bill sets up an agency, the Young People’s Learning Agency, which, among other things, has the job of undertaking specified academy functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. We understand that it may not undertake funding agreements with academies. The funding agreements, as we have been told so often in this House when asking questions about academies, are crucial, but the Secretary of State is holding on to those. The Secretary of State can grant aid to the YPLA to carry out specified functions and can impose specific conditions on academies that receive the grant aid. The YPLA is clearly a creature of the Government, so there are concerns that in transferring these duties to it, the autonomy of academies will be compromised. From these Benches, we would have preferred to see strategic oversight of academies, their role in the local educational provision mix and their performance handed over to the local authorities, rather than to a new arm of government. If this is arm’s-length, it seems to me that it is a very short arm.
Part 10 of the Bill is about schools causing concern, and here we find new intervention powers for the Secretary of State and new arrangements whereby parents can make complaints about schools. The Government are concerned that some local authorities have not been using the ability to issue warning notices given to them in the Education and Inspections Act 2006. In order to crack this small nut, they have taken their usual large mallet and given the Secretary of State the power to direct them to do so. We will be scrutinising the circumstances under which this power will be used.
The new arrangements for parents to be able to complain to a local government ombudsman about certain prescribed actions of schools has the potential to produce nightmares with numerous vexatious complaints—though I believe that the ombudsmen are usually quite adept at spotting these. However, there is the potential to waste a lot of schools' time dealing with these complaints, and we will be scrutinising this part of the Bill to see whether it is necessary at all and to ensure that it works fairly. I notice that academies are currently excluded from these arrangements, and I ask the Minister whether any further thought has been given to including them since the debates in another place.
Teachers today have a lot of pressures that make it difficult for them to build good relationships with young people, but we must accept that schools have changed a good deal since I was a teacher. I refer here to the extension of the powers of school staff to search for items and the duty to record and report the use of force, both of which will do nothing for teacher-pupil relationships. On the first of these, it is clear from the report published this morning by the Home Affairs Select Committee that children in schools need to be protected from others carrying knives. In my view, the principle of the power to search should always be the safety of the children. Teachers should not be seen as an extra arm of the Ministry of Justice. Therefore, I have serious concerns about the extension of these powers, in particular the onus on the teacher to have reasonable belief that items have been stolen.
However, my main concern is not the extension of the list. My concern is that no teacher should be expected to search a child without good quality training, and not just in safe ways of searching that will protect the child from harm and protect the teacher from unfounded allegations of improper behaviour. I believe that teachers who might find themselves having to conduct searches—or to use force, which we will come to in a minute—should have training in managing potentially inflamed situations, de-escalation techniques, risk assessment and how to calm things down, the sort of training that staff in secure children's homes and secure training centres get. No staff in those institutions would be expected to lay a hand on a young person without such training, and teachers should not be expected to do so either. Can the Minister assure me that no teacher will be required to do this without such training?
Can the Minister also say why this extension of the powers is being introduced before there has been a proper review of the existing power to search for weapons? In 2005, Sir Alan Steer's report said that,
“the DfES should monitor, evaluate and publish a report on the use of the new legal power to search pupils without consent for weapons. In the light of that report, they should review whether the right to search should be extended in due course to include drugs and stolen property”.
I am not aware that such a report has been published, so here we have a case of “legislate first and get the evidence afterwards”. We shall probe these issues in Committee, bearing in mind at all times the rights, dignity and privacy of the child.
The issue of recording and reporting incidents of the use of force is similar, in that training in the interests of both children and teachers is key. I agree with the Government that where it is right to report an incident, both parents should be informed, even if both are not resident with the child. However, I believe that the Government should leave the judgment about which incidents are sufficiently serious to warrant such recording and reporting to the professional judgment of the head teacher. There is already very good guidance on these matters, including from the teacher unions, and it should be adhered to. If it is, this legislation is not necessary. It is good practice that should be disseminated.
We need much clearer definitions from the Government before we will be satisfied about this part of the Bill. However, I welcome this opportunity to consider the use of force in school more generally in the light of recent developments concerning restraint in child custody, in particular the Court of Appeal’s judgment in R(AC) v Secretary of State for Justice . In the light of this judgment, the power to use force in a school,
“to prevent a pupil prejudicing the maintenance of good order and discipline”,
is very questionable. The term “good order and discipline” is open to wide interpretation and we would not want teachers falling foul of the law. The use of force should always be a last resort and should be more about protecting children from harm than anything else.
While I am on the subject of parts of the Bill that do not need to be there, I should like to ask the Minister why it is necessary to include the duty to take part in a behaviour partnership, when 98 per cent of secondary schools do so already. The clause does not include primary schools or FE. It really seems very perverse. If the Government were bringing in all schools by this duty, I might understand it better. As it is, I do not.
I turn to provision for pupils who have been excluded from school. We on these Benches are happy to accept the new name for pupil referral units as short-stay schools. Let us hope that they are just that—short stay—since their objective should always be reintegration of the pupil. However, we are concerned that this should not mean a reduction in the sort of provision that students often need when things go wrong. It is worth stressing here that we would like to see the Government introducing our concept of pupil premiums so that the percentage of pupils with special needs who are excluded from school falls considerably. Many of these children are excluded simply because their needs have not been met in the mainstream, and that is so wrong.
I turn to Part 9 of the Bill, which relates to children's services and was considerably amended in another place in the light of the important report from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and the sad case of Baby Peter. Before I turn to what is in the Bill, I should like to mention another of those missed opportunities. There is considerable evidence that the saddest cases of neglect and abuse, the ones that result in the death of the child, have one simple thing in common—that the child has not been seen alone by the key social worker so that he or she can get to know the child as a person and understand the relationship with the carers from the child's point of view. This was clearly a major part of the problem in the case of Baby Peter, and indeed in the case of Victoria Climbié—a matter which was commented on with great force and anger by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in his first report. When my honourable friend Annette Brooke tried to amend the Bill in another place to introduce a statutory requirement about this, the Secretary of State referred her to guidance and sections of the Children Acts 1989 and 2004. Because of these, he said, her amendment was not necessary. I am not satisfied with his arguments and give notice that I will return to them in Committee.
I welcome the fact that the children's trust boards have been explicitly linked to the well-being of children, but I shall seek clarification on which body or bodies will be responsible for monitoring the exercise of this function. Well-being, in this case, is being defined with reference to the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. The House is probably already aware that I believe the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to be a better and broader expression of children's rights, and regret another missed opportunity to put the convention at the heart of the trust boards’ work. In October last year, in its third report on the UK Government, the UN committee said that,
“the Committee remains concerned that the Convention is not regularly used as a framework for the development of strategies throughout the State party and at the lack of an overarching policy to ensure the full realisation of the principles, values and goals of the Convention”.
Since the children and young people's plan, now to be developed by the trust boards, is so central to the well-being of children in each local area, I hope the Government will agree to an explicit link between the plan and local implementation of the convention.
The recent sad events to which I referred earlier make it urgent that there be even greater integration of services at every level in the delivery of frontline services. We welcome the inclusion of schools as a partner on the children’s trust board, which is something that my noble friend Lady Sharp and I called for some years ago. However, I hope that the Minister will heed Shelter’s proposal that housing authorities are also brought into the tent as a relevant partner, given the importance of housing to children’s health and well-being. However, it is important to retain sufficient flexibility so that local boards can respond to local needs.
Clause 188 gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce statutory targets in relation to the safeguarding of children. We on these Benches welcome this, but it must be remembered that targets alone achieve nothing. It is very important in drawing up targets to watch out for perverse incentives that might result in the opposite of what we want. I welcome the explicit tightening of the safeguarding arrangements in relation to all those working in children’s centres. This closes an important loophole. Putting children’s centres on a formal, legislative basis will ensure the accountability of the centre manager. Early years settings have a vital role to play in the early identification of and intervention on safeguarding issues, but they should have a designated person who leads on the issue.
We rely on professionals to spot violence against children in the home and deal appropriately with the matter. These are difficult matters, but children’s well-being must be paramount. They should be protected from violence in all circumstances. I will be seeking to ensure that there is no justification for violence against children in any setting, including the home.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply to the many matters that I have raised, and I approach our further deliberations with relish. I apologise for having wearied the House with such an unusually long speech, but if the Government want to avoid this sort of situation, they should avoid portmanteau Bills of this nature.
My Lords, I am very grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has left disability to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, otherwise there would have been very little for me to say. I am glad to welcome this Bill to the House, in particular for the attention that it pays to the wishes of learners with a learning disability, who will be entitled to education and training up to the age of 25 and whose needs will be substantially considered by local education authorities. It is therefore a Bill that is consistent with the welcome focus of the Department for Children, Schools and Families in recent years on children with special educational needs, through Aiming High for Disabled Children, the children’s plan and the more recent Bercow review.
The Bill quite rightly recognises that disabled people, particularly people with a learning disability, have been desperate for more education provision that leads them to meaningful, full-time, paid employment in adult life. Only 17 per cent of people with a learning disability are estimated to be in employment, while 65 per cent want to work. Sadly, this is almost starting to feel like a permanent statistic, as I have been highlighting it continuously in my role as president of Mencap, the charity representing the United Kingdom’s 1.5 million people with a learning disability. The past decade has seen many plans and policies put forward that are intended to help people with a learning disability to find work. It is a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing, for employment levels have remained stuck at around 17 per cent, compared with 49 per cent of all disabled people. I look forward to the day when I can stand up in this House complaining about the employment of people with a learning disability being at only 40 per cent or 50 per cent, and I hope that this year’s legislative programme will help to take us to that point and beyond.
The new focus of the work capability assessment, on what disabled people can do rather than what they cannot do, is an important shift in thinking to achieve this aim. The added specialist support for disabled people announced with the Welfare Reform Bill will be integral to helping people with a learning disability into work. Clearly, however, welfare reform is just one piece of the jigsaw in achieving this aim. Alongside it, progress is essential in changing employers’ attitudes, as is, of course, appropriate training for the workplace. I therefore look forward to the Government’s forthcoming learning disability employment strategy, which I hope will have considered exactly how these developments in further education will address this chronic unemployment problem.
Just as it has taken a long time for the Government to realise the scale of the commitment needed to reform the welfare system and support people into employment, so this Bill seems only to scratch the surface of the skills agenda, which I hope will develop far more in the years ahead. I should have liked a stronger and more radical commitment to support lifelong learning for people who are far from the labour market, such as people with a learning disability—including those over 25.
I am particularly concerned that the qualification requirements of the apprenticeships scheme will create unnecessary barriers for learners with a learning disability. It is perfectly understandable that entrance requirements should be applied to the scheme, but it seems unnecessarily inflexible, for instance, to require learners with a learning disability to hold these specified qualifications at level 1 in order to access level 2 or level 3 apprenticeships. Put another way, why should somebody need a GCSE in maths to become a hairdresser? I would like to hear from the Minister how these blanket requirements comply with the public sector’s duty in the Disability Discrimination Act to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, which may include treating them more favourably to promote equality of opportunity. If entry requirements are not made more flexible for people with a learning disability, we may well see further exclusion of those who should really be one of the main beneficiaries of the Bill.
Given that local education authority budgets are bound to come under much pressure for apprenticeship funding, I am concerned that local authorities will be severely tempted to use as a get-out clause the requirement not to incur “disproportionate expenditure” to avoid making provision for disabled young people. Perhaps the Minister could explain why the Government feel that this provision is necessary, given that it simply relates to a duty to secure “suitable education and training” to meet the “reasonable needs” of persons in the area.
The Government indicated in Committee in the other place that individuals can challenge LEAs if they believe “disproportionate expenditure” is wrongly used as an excuse, but I am deeply concerned by the responsibility that it places on people with a learning disability and fear that failure to provide them with the most suitable education and training may frequently go unchallenged.
Rather than indicate that suitable provision may not be possible, the Bill should go further to ensure sufficient provision. The briefing from the Special Education Consortium, of which Mencap is a member, draws attention to the sufficiency duty, with a robust needs analysis and audit provision, which is in the Childcare Act and which ought to be mirrored in this Bill. That process would go to the heart of ensuring that the apprenticeships scheme led to truly positive outcomes for people with a learning disability and avoided the past mistakes of many courses which ultimately lead nowhere. The Government argued in Committee that the performance management system and Ofsted will oversee LEAs and ensure a strong focus on outcomes. I, however, share the Special Education Consortium’s view that the system will not be robust enough. If LEAs are not compelled to assess and meet needs, I hope that the Minister will explain why the Bill does not go as far as the Childcare Act rightly did three years ago.
It has been made quite clear that apprentices will be considered as employees, so I am very pleased that apprentices with a learning disability will be entitled to Access to Work support. More clarification, however, will be needed around how Access to Work will interact with an employer-led apprenticeships scheme and therefore join up with Additional Learning Support, which is limited to operate with education providers. Those of us who want to see all adults with a learning disability prepared for the workplace would really wish to see provision extended to over-25s. While we would settle for the age extension that the Government have made in this Bill, I hope and envisage that over the coming years those over 25 who have not been so lucky will enjoy similar rights to be trained and given the opportunities that they deserve.
Meanwhile, people under 25 with a learning disability may fare better under this Bill, but I fear that having a learning disability may continue to go hand in hand with unemployment, unless central government take a strong lead to argue that we must respect those people who follow longer learning journeys, need additional investment in their skills and support and need local government to be far more proactive in guiding them through education that leads to employment. If LEAs and others shy away from that commitment, people with a learning disability will lose out and there will be a net loss to our economy. This Bill has indicated an understanding of these issues, but it must go further by truly recognising the needs of people with a learning disability and other vulnerable people and ensuring without any question whatever that those needs are met.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in acknowledging the concise way in which the Minister introduced this wide-ranging Bill. I am particularly glad to be following the noble Lord, Lord Rix, whose experience in supporting those with learning difficulties is beyond parallel. I identify myself entirely with his sentiments and with those of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on those children who are most vulnerable in our society and the need for them to be protected at home, at school and elsewhere from violence of all kinds.
I am grateful to the Minister for her acknowledgement of the contribution made by the churches to education in this country. She referred particularly to academies, but, of course, the influence and involvement of the churches extends way beyond academies.
I ask noble Lords to imagine that you are a provider of a service to the community—not, I hope, a difficult thing for you to imagine. As this debate is about education, learning and skills, I ask you to imagine, if you will, that you are a provider of educational services, and not just any old educational services, for you are proud to tell of the nearly 5,000 schools for which you have an especial care and the 1 million children in them at primary and secondary levels. You will also want to tell people with pride about those academies that you have initiated in some of the most deprived areas of the country and also acknowledge the part that you play in further and higher education. Furthermore, imagine if you will that you are a core provider with statutory status conferred by virtue of the Education Act 1944, which differentiates you from other voluntary providers in the education sector.
Now imagine that a Bill is introduced into Parliament that significantly effects the commissioning of the service that you provide. It does this through the establishment, for example, of local 16 to 19 partnerships to be used by local authorities for planning educational provision in all the areas across the country where you have a major interest and stakeholding. Then imagine further that the Bill as drafted makes no explicit provision for you to be involved in those partnerships, notwithstanding the fact that alongside local authorities you are a key provider of secondary education across the country as a whole and may well be the provider of one or more secondary schools in an area served by such a partnership.
Of course, your Lordships will have twigged long before now that I am asking you to imagine how it feels to be the chair of the Church of England Board of Education and the National Society for Promoting Religious Education, with its huge statutory stake in educational provision—and yet our dioceses are assured of no place in the partnerships in which local educational provision will be planned and commissioned. There may well be an expectation that the dioceses will be included in these partnerships, but we are sadly all too familiar with the pain and frustration caused by thwarted expectations. So I will be grateful if, in responding to the debate, the Minister can give reassurance that providers other than local authorities will be specifically involved in the 14 to 19 partnerships so as to ensure that an appropriate commissioner/provider split is maintained in the interests of accountability as well as effectiveness and efficiency. Indeed—I am pushing my luck here—will the Minister undertake to legislate for providers with statutory status, such as our Church of England dioceses, to be members of 16 to 19 partnerships as of right?
On the Young People’s Learning Agency for England, which has already been mentioned and is cited in Part 3 of the Bill, the omission of any reference in Schedule 3 to the Church of England Board of Education or the National Society for Promoting Religious Education is even more disconcerting. I note that paragraph 2(3) of that schedule requires the Secretary of State, in determining membership of the YPLA, to,
“have regard to the desirability of appointing a person who has experience relevant to any of the YPLA’s functions”.
Clearly the national society meets this criterion beyond a doubt, so there is the strongest possible case for the society to be cited for inclusion in the membership of the YPLA. Of course, the same applies by extension to any committees set up under paragraph 7 of the schedule.
While I am at it, what about the Skills Funding Agency in Part 4? Surely the case for legally constitutional national society representation is as strong here as it is in relation to the YPLA. In relation to children’s trusts in Part 9 and the support staff negotiating body described in Chapter 4 of Part 10, we would welcome clear assurances from the Minister that diocesan boards of education will have a distinct role in planning, consultation and implementation of decisions. Indeed, establishing the dioceses as “relevant partners” would be a welcome step forward. These are detailed matters, but this is a detailed Bill, both in its clauses and in its schedules, so I do not think that providing these detailed clarifications should be burdensome.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that we have special concerns with regard to the provision of spiritual and moral development and religious education for 14 to 19 year-olds. There is a particular issue relating to those in the 14 to 16 age group who may find themselves studying in more than one institution. We stand ready to assist the DCSF and the department’s faith group in overcoming a potentially negative unintended consequence of the otherwise welcome provisions in the Bill for this age group.
On the 16 to 19 year olds, we would welcome an assurance that the entitlement of all students to spiritual and moral development and religious education will be a requirement. This is important, not only because students themselves should be able to receive and benefit from such provision on a regular and reliable basis, but it is in the interests of community cohesion that young adults should not only understand their own faith tradition but also have a mature awareness of other faith traditions as well. That is what SMD and RE provides and, once again, we will want to se the national society’s framework for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development adopted as a major contribution towards securing what is required for this age group. We are delighted that in the past few days the framework has been handed to the Learning and Skills Improvement Service for development.
While we welcome the opportunities provided by the Bill, we have some questions. We welcome the opportunity provided for the Church of England to form sixth-form colleges and the reassurances given by departmental officers that the distinctive ethos of such colleges will be protected. A specific reassurance from the Minister to that effect will, of course, as always, be helpful. Meanwhile, we have spotted several parts of Schedule 8 in relation to sixth-form colleges which will need clarification, especially in relation to trustees’ value in the site of a closed sixth-form college and the apparent right given to local authorities to remove even foundation governors under certain, albeit extreme, circumstances.
We shall want to monitor carefully other aspects of the Bill as it moves onto its further stages, including Part 10 of Chapter 2 concerning complaints made by parents about schools. Will the process proposed here actually address the problems of frivolous and vexatious complaints, a question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley? How and when will the provider be informed and involved in relation to such complaints, or will we first read about them in the newspapers? As raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, what about academies?
However, there is a great deal in the Bill that we welcome as a significant contribution to enhancing, enriching and extending the participation of young people in the great adventure of learning and skills acquisition, which can only be to their benefit and will benefit society as a whole as we equip a new generation for the challenges of the future. As a major provider of education and skills training, faith groups in general, and the Church of England in particular, stand ready to play our full part in developing the strategies undergirding the Government’s proposals. We trust that amendments to the Bill along the lines that I have suggested will enable us to do so to good and full effect.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich. Like the right reverend Prelate, I generally welcome the Bill although I accept that it is a bit of a ragbag with 12 different parts on a whole variety of different aspects of the education system, many of them unrelated to each other. Before I go any further, I must remark on the amazing way in which the Liberal Democrat Benches appear to have divvied up every single area of the Bill. This is a degree of organisation that we on this side of the House did not know the Liberal Democrats were capable of.
I want to concentrate my remarks on apprenticeships. Before doing so, I want to welcome a couple of other areas, one of which I suspect will not get very much attention today—that is the clause which gives sixth-form colleges a separate legal entity. For a long time I have been a huge admirer of what sixth-form colleges do. They are one of the most successful parts of our educational system, but they have hardly grown over the past 10 or 15 years. I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that they have been outside local education authorities’ general areas of responsibility. There has therefore never been any incentive for LEAs to reorganise their sixth-form provision, rationalising it so that you get larger numbers of young people coming together in good, well organised sixth-form colleges which are particularly geared to the needs of this age group, rather than them being distributed around often very small, and sometimes not very successful, sixth forms. I hope that the Minister will comment on whether the Bill will result in the expansion of sixth-form colleges.
The second thing that I welcome is the split of the QCA. The regulation of the testing, examinations and qualifications system and curriculum development never sat very comfortably together in a single body. It is very important that we get the structure and powers of Ofqual right. From my experience as a Minister with responsibility for all qualifications, this is a very difficult area. Therefore, I hope that in Committee we are able to come back to one or two of the details on this.
I turn to what for me is the most important part of the Bill—apprenticeships. This section is essentially a follow-up to the legislation last year to extend education and training to all 16 to 18 year-olds on a compulsory basis. I said then that it was a historic moment; however, without the value or substance of a work-based education-and-training component available on a statutory basis, it would not be quite as historic. I am delighted that the Bill creates a statutory framework for apprenticeships, a national apprenticeship service and a guarantee that all suitably qualified young people may get an apprenticeship at level 1 by 2013.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that it was a huge error to allow apprenticeships to more or less collapse in the 1980s and 1990s. We know that many young people become disenchanted with academic education, and they may even be completely turned off by school- or college-based vocational education. However, we also know that many of these young people can be motivated to learn in a working context where they can see a direct relationship between what they are learning and their job. I should be very interested to know whether the Conservative opposition spokesmen regret what happened prior to 1997. The noble Lord provided a lot of statistics about the failure of Labour to make as much progress as he believes we should have done. I accept that we should have made more progress, but after inheriting a situation whereby the collapse had reduced the number of people getting apprenticeships to about 60,000 to 70,000, increasing it to a quarter of a million is at least some progress. I am sure he would acknowledge that. I hope that a Conservative Government’s policy will be to expand apprenticeships and ensure that they are of high quality.
I turn to the specific measures in the Bill on apprenticeships. It is important that we get this legislation right this time around, because only by doing so will some of the huge inequalities between the educational haves and have-nots start to be narrowed. I was a little surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that absolutely nothing in the Bill was being promoted to narrow inequalities. Perhaps her noble friend Lady Sharp will say otherwise about apprenticeships, because if we can provide an alternative work-based route of genuinely high quality and offer progression from this route back into vocational or academic further and higher education later, we will do quite a lot to address inequalities.
The starting point must of course be what happens in secondary schools. All teachers at this level need to be aware that there are several mainstream routes at age 16. There is obviously the A-level and GCSE route, there is the diploma route, other vocational qualifications, and there will now be apprenticeships. They should not be perceived by teachers as a low-status solution for educational failures, but as a powerful, quality alternative for many young people from which they will be less likely to drop out than if they take another route. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, mentioned that it was important that this information and guidance should be provided, but he did not go on to say what I thought he might have done—that, I am afraid to say, Clause 35 on information and guidance is wholly inadequate. I say to my noble friend the Minister that I should like to come back to this in Committee. It really will not do just to say that schools, when giving careers advice, should consider whether it is in the best interests of a child to tell them about apprenticeships. All pupils should have the right to know the full range of options and their teachers should not prejudge their best interests. Teachers should advise youngsters that this is an option and not just decide not to tell them because they would rather the young people went down another route. That really must not happen.
The next issue is how to make sure that an apprenticeship is a meaningful learning experience with some rigour and a clear structure. The young person needs to learn skills, and acquire some knowledge, which is equally important. That should be embodied in a technical certificate, awarded on completing the apprenticeship. To ensure that the certificate is of value and a basis for progressing, there need to be clear minimum standards of when and how it is expected that the apprentice will receive instruction. It is excellent that there now seems to be an agreement about basic provision of 250 hours of guided learning, and I hope that that will not be eroded. The guided learning should on the whole be away from the work station. I am, however, a little disappointed—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—that the technical certificate will now no longer be required, as it has been until now. Surely it should be the normal expectation that every young apprentice coming through the system should get such a certificate. If that is not the case, I should like the Minister to explain why not. We should be as concerned about these sorts of issues as about quality of standards in GCSEs and A-levels, and the role of Ofqual in maintaining them.
Another element of apprenticeships appears to be missing, which is basic skills training in numeracy and literacy, which is vital. The next issue I want to touch on is drop-out. This is a challenge, as it is in other parts of post-16 education, and in existing apprenticeships it has been much too high. It would help to put in place, as happens in some other countries, access to a named mentor for every young apprentice. Some of these young people are not terribly mature, and others will be quite vulnerable when they start, before reaching level 2 at 16 or 17. There is nothing to suggest in any of the guidance that that will happen.
I move on to what will happen when level 2 has been completed. If young people are successful and are still under 19, should they not be entitled to go on to a level 3 apprenticeship if that is their choice? If a 17 year-old has five good GCSEs, he or she is entitled to pursue an A-level course, so why have a different system for apprenticeships? We sometimes neglect equity between different parts of the system. Again, I should appreciate the Minister’s response to that.
Assuming that a young person has a level 3 apprenticeship, can we make sure that just as diplomas for 14 to 19 year-olds can and should be accepted as a route into further and higher education, so should a level 3 apprenticeship? Surmounting the barriers will help to widen participation in higher education in particular, and will serve to reduce those educational inequalities, which I am sure worry all of us in this House. It might encourage school teachers to view apprenticeships as a genuine choice that does not cut off access to a university education later. The articulation of apprenticeships with higher education will be taken up by my noble friend Lady Warwick later, so I shall not pre-empt what I am sure she will say. It is a complex area and we need to do some work to ensure progress. No progress at all will be made in the establishment of a proper system of apprenticeship without employers playing their part. They will be vital to this Bill when it is enacted.
The new National Apprenticeship Service will have a huge challenge in securing the full engagement of employers and working with them to promote high standards. Doing that does not need to be bureaucratic in the way that the CBI seems to fear. I hope that the CBI will accept the need for basic minimum requirements. If they are put in place, the Bill will lead to the establishment of apprenticeships as a legitimate, mainstream, high quality alternative that can engage and motivate the young people who choose them.
My Lords, I find little to welcome in the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, it is a ragbag, a mishmash, a thing of shreds and patches pasted together by a tired department at the fag end of a Government. If it were merely trivial, it would not merit discussion, but it is also harmful, because it also establishes an elaborate and burdensome bureaucracy of immense complexity which will not benefit technical and vocational education. The only question that must be asked about the Bill is: does it improve technical and vocational education in our country? I do not think that it will.
Back in the late 1980s, when I was Education Secretary, I visited many FE colleges. Several of them I found to be immensely depressing places, down at heel, dirty, shabby and with poor equipment. By any measures that we had at the time, 40 per cent were failing. I decided that drastic surgery was needed and I removed them from the control of local education authorities. Since then, the golden age of FE dawned. The noble Baroness will certainly support me in removing things from local education authority control, because by removing polytechnics from the control of local education authorities, I provided her with the institution which she now adorns as vice-chancellor.
Taking control away from local education authorities was necessary, because whenever it came to a choice in an LEA between a primary school and a nursery school and a new wing in the FE college, the primary school and the nursery school won out because there were councillors saying, “I want that primary school in my bit of the constituency”. When the FE colleges were removed and made independent, they literally made the best of it. A principal of an FE college only a few weeks ago referred to the period until now as a Camelot for further education.
As a result, today, how many FE colleges are failing? Not 40 per cent, but 4 per cent. That is the system that the Government want to mess up and change completely. It is a great success story. Go to Birmingham and look at Matthew Boulton College, the FE college in the centre of Birmingham. It is a magnificent building. It stands comparison with any building in the whole of the universities of Birmingham. When I went there, it was full of the latest equipment. There were hundreds of students full of self-esteem and pride at going to an institution which was as good as a university. That is very enhancing; they wanted to go back to study there. Go to Middlesbrough. Look at Middlesbrough College. Not only is Middlesbrough College the best building in Middlesbrough, it is the best building in the whole of Teesside. It stands alongside the University of Teesside and is better than any of the buildings in the university.
Those colleges cost more than £100 million. No local education authority would provide £100 million to build an FE college, but those are the colleges that will transform our country. That is the system that the Government are now dismantling—they are dismantling it because they will return the FE colleges to the control of local education authorities. In my view, that will be a disaster. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench are noting what I am saying, because, in a few months, they will be sitting over there and will have to defend this complexity, nonsense and chaos. They will be attacked by noble Lords opposite who are now Ministers who will say, “We left you a perfect system. What a mess you are making of it”. They have not left you a perfect system; they have left you a mess.
Just before I finish on the subject of colleges, I ask the Minister a specific question. I recently visited Lewisham College, which is at the junction of Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark. It has proposals before the Learning and Skills Council, in suspension at the moment, for a new college costing £140 million designed by Norman Foster—the noble Lord, Lord Foster. The contracts are about to be issued. This is spade-ready, so I hope that the Minister will give it her approval. Some of her colleagues, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Darling, and the Business Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson—I think that they are still in post at the moment—have been saying that one of the things that the country must have is big public sector projects to stimulate the economy, so why has this college not been approved? Why is it on ice? I know that she will not have the answer in her brief, but perhaps she could ask one of her colleagues in the Civil Service to answer later.
The Learning and Skills Council is now in the doghouse because it went over its budget, so it is a very easy body to attack. Why did it go over its budget? It went over its budget because it was ambitious. What is wrong with being ambitious for further education? Ambition is all about reach and grasp. Let us remember what Robert Browning said—that,
“a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?”.
I do not condemn the Learning and Skills Council at all; I find that it has transformed the state of further education in our country.
What is the Learning and Skills Council replaced by? It is replaced by three bodies that we have mentioned already: the Skills Funding Agency, the Young People’s Learning Agency for England and the LEAs. When the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, cited three bodies, she underestimated the Bill. I remind the House of the other bodies which the Bill sets up: the CYPP, the CTB, the CDL, the MIAP. Does the Minister know what the MIAP does? Does it report to her? Does she appoint the chairman? I am sure that she knows what she does with the QCDA, the NAVMC, the EYFS, the CCIS, the AACS, the ISA, the IEB or—last and best—the SSSNB: not one S, not two Ss, but three Ss. What does the SSSNB do? Does anyone in the House know? We are being asked to approve this Bill. This is the complexity of the organisation which the Government are creating. This is gobbledygook soup; it is a sort of deep Brown Windsor. I hope that my noble friends will look at this very carefully indeed and decide that it will be inoperable.
What will happen? LEAs will be responsible for 16 to 18 education, so they will sponsor it in colleges that they do not own; have staff whom they cannot appoint, control or change; and be unable to change the curriculum. That is really intimate, is it not? It is just there. The LEAs will provide the per capita funding.
What is the answer to capital? Let us suppose that an FE college wants to build a wing costing £20 million to increase its teaching of tourism and hospitality. Who will pay that: the SFA or the LEA? I ask the question because the Government have not answered it yet. They say that they do not quite know whether the SFA or the LEA will pay the £20 million. We should forget the LEA wanting to pay for it; no LEA will fork out £20 million. For £20 million, you can have a secondary school or two primary schools, so the SFA will pay. Why do we not leave the Learning and Skills Council where it was, because that is what it has been doing? This, again, shows the absurdity of the changes that the Government are making. This will add to the confusion and complexity.
I shall give an example of where this will be very confusing. At the moment, one body—the Learning and Skills Council—funds further education. In the future, a college will have to go to the Skills Funding Agency, to its local LEA, to the Department for Work and Pensions—a Minister from that department should be here; I do not think that the Minister is from it—and then to employers, because when Train to Gain is faded out, employers will be expected to step up to the mark. As a result, FE colleges have been made a political football. This will be very damaging indeed.
What should be done? Here I mention the work that Ron Dearing did. We regret his absence in this debate very much indeed. I first knew him when he was chairman of the Post Office. He was the most successful chairman of any nationalised industry I came across. I was the Minister responsible for the Post Office at the time, and I was fortunate to be the first one to appoint him to his first job in education as the chairman of the body that dealt with polytechnic qualifications. Thereafter he went to the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. When successive Ministers, both Conservative and Labour, wanted something fixed, they rang up Ron—the great Mr Fixit of education.
Ron Dearing was passionately dedicated to vocational and technical education, on which he did a great report. In the last year of his life, he and I worked together to establish a new type of school in our country. We agreed that the best age for transfer was 14 and not 11. I know that that is controversial: I will not debate it now because it needs a long debate. By 14 years old, most youngsters know which way they want to go. We set about trying to recreate the schools left by Rab Butler; that is, the old technical schools of 1945. He left grammar schools, technical schools and secondary modern schools. The first to go were the technical schools because they were infra dig, a bit greasy and everyone wanted to be the school on the hill. That was a huge mistake.
One reason why Germany has 55,000 workers in the automotive industry and we have 5,000 at Luton is that we have not addressed the problem of basic engineering technical skills, which are done by technical schools in Germany. German technical schools are now more popular than German grammar schools.
Ron Dearing and I set about trying to establish new schools, with the full support of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. We wanted universities to be involved. First, we went to Aston University and asked it to sponsor, under the academy programme, a new school in Birmingham for 14 to 19 year-olds. We said that there would be two elements of entry—half apprentices and half students—to do engineering diplomas. Aston University said that it would sign up for that. Then we went to Birmingham City Council, which had to provide the site. Fortunately, the council is again in the hands of the Conservatives with a very imaginative leadership. It said, “Of course we will do it”. The project was approved by the Government before Christmas. The project manager has been established. The new school in Birmingham will be built for 600 to 800 pupils aged between 14 and 19 and they will specialise in engineering, production, manufacturing and design.
I believe that that is the way forward and is the sort of thing to which the Government should be more openly committed. They should not tinker around with the measures that they are doing now. Beyond that, we have approached another dozen universities and we are well advanced with proposals. These schools will restore in Britain a capacity to produce specialists and technicians at all levels. If we are going to build nuclear power stations and Crossrail, and be able to do all the things we want to do in our country, we will have to have technicians at all levels. Because a university sponsors each of these schools, the path goes through to foundation degrees as well. That should be the answer to technical and vocational education in our country.
The Government were right to identify the 14 to 19 curriculum, but to have such a curriculum you must have institutions to teach it. The Government were right to have diplomas, but what will the diploma students do this year? They will do three days in their secondary school, studying English, maths, science and IT. On another day they will be bussed to a college somewhere to do engineering and on the final day they will be bussed for day release. They will have three different places for study, which cannot be right. You need institutions where specialisms such as engineering, construction or medical skills can be taught alongside basic subjects. The Government give nodding approval, but they do not go out trying to sell the idea in a big way. I believe that that is the way forward for technical and vocational education. I cannot see that this Bill helps us at all.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to contribute to the Second Reading of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. The Bill’s title is certainly a mouthful but I can assure you that I will be brief. I shall be focusing on the aspects relating to higher education, and I declare my interest as chief executive of Universities UK. Perhaps I may also say how much I share the appreciation of Lord Dearing and his contribution to FE and skills, which was so well articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Baker.
I suspect that the Bill will conjure up for many Members of the House nostalgic visions of craftsmen and artisans bending over wool, wood, glass or leather and learning their trade over many years. While that may still be true in some cases, it does not accurately reflect apprenticeships and apprentices in the 21st century. Apprentices can now be found in a far broader range of industries, ranging from leisure and fitness to health and social care, as well as to more traditional engineering or manufacturing industries.
Many apprentices will not have found a traditional academic education conducive to learning, nor found a suitable outlet for their practical talents until they joined an apprenticeship scheme. I endorse all the points that my noble friend Lady Blackstone made on this. Once an apprentice joins a scheme, the world could indeed become their oyster, which is why it is really important to get progression routes right. The Government are rightly committed to increasing the number of apprentices by 2013 and to offering apprenticeship places to all those who are qualified to take them up. Given the ever-increasing levels of skill required by apprentices, it is perhaps not surprising that many of them wish to enter higher education at a later date. Apprenticeships can be an effective way of widening participation in higher education, and with the acknowledged demographic downturn, apprenticeships could become crucial to HE participation levels.
On the face of it, the current Bill does not set out a progression path for apprentices who wish to enter higher education. I appreciate, of course, that there are some practical difficulties with this, since apprenticeships are not strictly qualifications but frameworks. In World-class Apprenticeships, a publication which the Minister knows well, the Government gave a commitment for an apprenticeship framework that could use a UCAS tariff rating. This is necessary to increase progression from apprenticeships to HE. It is also important since many apprentices on entry will not have traditional academic qualifications, either because they have vocational qualifications or perhaps because they are older learners. Many of the apprentices will not have moved directly from their apprenticeship to higher education and will be studying part-time. So, from the institutional point of view, it will be key to ensure that the apprenticeship frameworks fit smoothly with higher education. However, I am reassured by the fact that the two education departments, DCSF and DIUS, started a review on the expansion of apprenticeships in January this year. Following on from the review, I wonder whether the Minister could inform the House whether articulation to higher education from apprenticeships will be included in the Bill in Committee.
I turn to two other points on the Bill. First, I welcome the fact that the Bill includes a provision for increasing the amount of information, advice and guidance about vocational educational opportunities. It is good that the Government recognise that it is essential for our young people to receive the most appropriate information for them to make the best decisions about their future.
Secondly, I am less sanguine—indeed, I am a little anxious—about the adoption of foundation-degree awarding powers for further education colleges in Wales. As the Minister will be aware, I raised the issue of quality control for these measures when they were brought before the House in relation to England. I made the point then that universities are extremely well placed to offer such degrees, since they can provide the quality assurance necessary to deliver a high-level qualification, as well as the articulation arrangements to which I referred earlier, so that the students can undertake a full honours degree at a later stage with the same institution. I recognise that foundation-degree awarding powers are going ahead for colleges in Wales, but can the Minister assure the House that the quality arrangements for colleges will be as rigorous as those applied to universities?
Of course, all the positive work of upskilling and reskilling that universities do comes at a price. I hope the House will bear with me when I enter a perhaps predictable caveat. Public funding is key to keeping our institutions fit for purpose and world-class. It underpins all the other sources of income that institutions can raise for themselves. While I appreciate that budgets across Whitehall are much tighter than ever before, I stress to the Minister that without well-funded institutions we will not be able to achieve much of what needs to be done to pull us out of the downturn and prepare for the upturn in the economy, as well as to get the best out of our people. The sector has not yet had any guarantee that the vital unit of funding for teaching will be maintained. Cuts in the HE budget at this stage might provide short-term gains for the Government overall, but in my view they would certainly store up long-term pain. So, finally, I urge the Minister to offer her support for the maintenance of public investment in higher education at the necessary level.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate apprenticeships today and the Minister’s comments about bringing them back from possible extinction. Whenever I speak to people and say that apprenticeships are being actively encouraged and addressed in Parliament now, there is widespread approval—a chord is struck—and rightly so.
Having worked in business all my life—I ran a manufacturing business until a few years ago—I am delighted to welcome apprenticeships and the fact that they are not to be devoted only to industry and trades but to a wide range of other activities as well. It is very important to encourage young people to go into many spheres of activity. The job is to deliver on the aspiration and to provide work opportunities for young and old at a time when past certainties have gone and retraining and reskilling is a part of life.
I want to look at the apprenticeship issue from the business perspective. We have to make implementation easy and straightforward. It is concerning, however, especially with small businesses in mind, to see how complicated matters are becoming—with quangos, new regional and sub-regional groupings, new rules and regulations, red tape and registrations—and how confusion is generated by having so many organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has raised this issue with far more aplomb than I can, but I have my own list to share. It includes the NAS, the NSA, the SFA, T2G, YPLA, CDL, CASHE, AACS, GFCs, the ISA and JACQA. I could go on and on, but I shall not. I simply make the point that, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, so aptly asked, who knows much about what these organisations represent? Certainly the business community does not wish to be faced with such a list.
In addressing the issues affecting the business sector, one has to ask what the sector needs. Funding and help with the costs is clearly very important. The Budget announced a figure of £350 million for skills training in SMEs. Can the Minister say exactly how that will be distributed? We are well informed by the FSB and others on the SME issue. For example, the FSB states that 95 per cent of businesses are unaware of wage contributions for providing training. It is concerning that they are not aware of this provision, and the Government should do something about it. With 69 per cent of all apprenticeships taking place within small businesses, both funding and clarity about how to train are vital.
Business needs to be listened to. Last Friday a consultation on retail finished which included a call for 250 hours of off-station learning time for retailers and those employed in the retail sector. That sounds okay, but the small shops sector is very concerned, their view being represented through Skillsmart Retail. We need practical and light-touch procedures, otherwise the very smallest businesses—the country’s backbone—will struggle to gain access. Changes in the sector and skills councils have been already been mentioned, and learning and skills councils are also a matter of concern. We need good communication between business and colleges. However, in many people’s opinion, the new agencies being created will add to the bureaucracy problem.
There is much work still to be done to help ease the essential involvement of business. As the CBI says, there must not be a system of one-size-fits-all. This is a common concern raised by businesses and business organisations. It is difficult because while we need, through the Bill, to encourage high standards—consistency, if you like—businesses are different in their whole mode of operation, what they are all about and how they perform. They know about their business. That has to be understood and respected, which means that we cannot have prescription, come what may. For example, the London Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses have spoken about businesses with fewer than 20 employees having exemptions—I am putting that forward only as a point that has been made—with regard to certain aspects of regulation. You could then mention the fact that there are 4.7 million small businesses in the UK but 95 per cent employ fewer than five people, and they will need special help.
That brings me back to the point about small shops. As I have mentioned, they have concerns about some of the proposals. It is welcome, though, that through Skillsmart Retail they could get much-needed training; it has always been my observation that small shops require a wide range of skills, more than people appreciate. You are competing with supermarkets and other organisations that have many people backing them up and the staff necessary to do many different jobs. It is welcome that Skillsmart Retail is going to be engaging on the retail sector’s behalf. There is much that can be done in that sector, which, again, has special needs.
Another organisation that I have not yet alluded to makes some key points about apprenticeships. The British Chambers of Commerce also expresses reservations about the abolition of the learning and skills councils:
“The government’s planned abolition of the LSC and replacement with a number of new agencies for the sake of organisational efficiency is bizarre”.
The BCC represents many people in business, but people generally see the sense of what it is saying. It also says:
“We believe that apprenticeships should be a mainstream educational option for young people, and that a greater number of apprenticeship places should be created”.
That is the call from business. The BCC goes on:
“Apprenticeships should be employer led, offer real progression routes for apprentices, whether that be on to development in the workplace or further and higher education, and be rigorous enough to enjoy parity of esteem with other learning routes”.
I turn to careers advice. I have heard many people at different times express concern about careers advice, saying that it should be effective and help young people into the workplace—it should stick with them, if you like. With regard to the Bill, it is important that advisers provide comprehensive information about apprenticeships. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in that respect—although not the other comments that she made—when she says that Clause 35 seems in effect to leave it up to schools to decide whether or not to advise. Surely that is wrong. Apprenticeships should be a positive point that is raised.
It is more important than ever that we address skills in this country. Although we are in stormy waters, which is why assistance is needed for business to engage in apprenticeship specifically, when we come out of recession we have to be ready with a fully trained workforce. We on these Benches will do all that we can to encourage the right initiatives to that effect.
My Lords, I have long been involved with issues of basic skills, and I was very disappointed, and rather surprised, that the Bill pays so little attention to this area. Basic skills are absolutely basic to all aspects of education, for all skills and for apprenticeships. I am referring, of course, to literacy and numeracy. I have a personal interest in focusing on this since the Government’s strategy on Skills for Life goes back explicitly to my committee’s report, A Fresh Start, which was published 10 years ago. It is worth recalling why that report, which dealt with adults, produced such public shock. We concluded that roughly 20 per cent of adults had more or less severe problems with what is generally called functional literacy and numeracy. Many adults, millions of them, could not look up items in the Yellow Pages or calculate how much change they would get after spending a couple of quid in a shop. There are many other examples from survey data. Obviously, there were arguments about definitions, but the seriousness of the situation was beyond doubt. At that time, 10 years ago, this country came lowest in Europe, apart from Poland. That kind of league table was not discussed a great deal.
The Government had, at the beginning of their term, embarked on a major literacy strategy in schools, and our report showed how bad the situation was for millions of adults, so stringent action was promised by the Government. I want to leave no doubt that considerable progress has been made since the launch of the Skills for Life strategy in 2001. Vast sums have been spent, and it is estimated that the basic skills of some 2.25 million adults have been improved, a considerable improvement. That was the target set for 2010, and the claim is that it has been achieved two years early. The achievement belongs above all to the Learning and Skills Council as a centrepiece in the partnerships with the FE sector, so on basic skills alone I agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker.
However, in spite of this progress, which has to be acknowledged and admired, this is not the time for complacency, as the latest government report acknowledges, so let me give some of my reasons for not being complacent as far as basic skills are concerned. In the first place, it is not acceptable that in this rich country tens of thousands of children still leave school unable to read or write to any acceptable level or, above all, to cope with numbers. Inevitably, they embark on a spiral of disadvantage in adulthood. It is a shame that we have not solved this problem and that we are still mediocre at the school level, in spite of all that has been done.
I turn to adults. In his introduction to the latest government report, John Denham, the Secretary of State, said that basic,
“skills underpin almost everything we do in our daily lives —at work and at home”.
That puts the matter clearly. The Government’s targets are ambitious. My worry is not that they are not ambitious enough, but whether they are realistic. To be specific, the aim is now—these targets really stem from the Leitch report in 2006—that, by 2020, 95 per cent of adults should achieve fundamental literacy and fundamental numeracy. Those are considerable climbs from where we are now. There are no up-to-date figures, but the latest ones I can get hold are that for literacy there is a climb from 85 per cent to 95 per cent of the adult population, which may be achievable, and for numeracy it is up from 79 per cent or thereabouts to 95 per cent. Incidentally, the Government regard that 95 per cent as making this country a world leader. That is a little beyond reality because all it does is group us with the top 25 per cent of other countries.
These targets include priorities for people not in employment or on benefit; those in low-skilled jobs; people in prison, crucially, of whom perhaps 50 to 60 per cent lack basic skills; and those known to be in areas or groups of social exclusion. Though I regard these targets as desirable, one has to accept that they need exceptional resources and more partnerships than I sense are in the plans so far. For example, I wonder—going back to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Baker—whether the further education sector, which in our report of 10 years ago was basic to these improvements, is still expected to play such a major part as we then proposed. If not, which bit of the education sector is going to fill in the gaps?
What can be done to make employers more engaged in helping people with poor basic skills? Could the voluntary sector do more to help such people, especially those who are hard to reach? All these aims are part of government plans. My worry is simply whether the challenges are reachable, especially for numeracy, where far less progress has been made. There are still far too few numeracy teachers. People are frightened of numbers, as we all know, and they do not take up available courses, even in the business and employment sector. This has been extremely disappointing. In schools, where we all know the problems with mathematics teaching, it is not only in maths that numbers should be made more comfortable for pupils—it is in the whole range of subjects. That also is not happening.
At one time we were promised—I think from the former Chancellor, Gordon Brown—a major government report and impetus on numeracy, because he certainly understood the priority. That report has not appeared. The recent report Skills for Life explicitly acknowledges that the country faces particular challenges with numeracy. Given our current crisis around finance, mortgages, borrowing and so forth, there has never been a more important time for every citizen to be comfortable with numbers, so it is an appropriate time for this to become a government priority.
All I hope to do is to restore basic skills to a proper place in the Bill and in its vision, and I ask the Minister whether this is a realistic hope on my part.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest: I advise the board of a charity, ARK, which runs city academies in inner London.
Nothing is more important to the individuals concerned, their families and the country as a whole than improving the education and skills of our young people. We all want young people to be given the chance of fulfilling their potential; for many, this means opening their eyes to what might be and stretching their ambition to the future by offering them better chances at school and beyond. None of this is easy.
In this wide-ranging Bill, I particularly welcome the proposals for apprenticeships. Vocational education has too often been the poor relation in our education system and, frankly, too often it has not been good enough. The introduction of a proper statutory framework for apprenticeships is a great step forward. It promises proper attention and funding to a crucial sector for the UK economy and new opportunities for many young people. I was fascinated to hear the noble Lord, Lord Baker, talk about the new technical schools, and look forward to hearing more in Committee.
I also welcome the proposed establishment of an independent Ofqual. There doubtless will be questions on the details of this as we scrutinise the Bill, but any of us involved in the education system knows the debilitating effect of arguments over the veracity of results and standards. I am always really depressed by the instant response to GCSE and A-level results and the talk of falling standards, which immediately punctures the feeling of elation felt by many pupils on receiving their results. So let us hope that this new body can operate in an effective and transparent way to strengthen confidence in results and develop the support of schools, employers, pupils and parents alike.
I am also strongly supportive of the proposals on young offenders and pupil referral units. Some PRUs do excellent work, transforming the chances of the young people they work with. Far too many, however, do not. They contain rather than educate; they manage behaviour rather than reform it. They are receptacles for youngsters who have been repeatedly excluded, disruptive to other pupils or worse, and sent there for the sake of others—understandably—rather than for their own benefit. I know that as a governor, I have sat on exclusion panels and taken decisions to safeguard the education of the rest of the pupils in a group rather than truly believing the excluded pupil was going to get a good deal at the local PRU. The proposal for earlier intervention in poor PRUs builds on the previous excellent announcement to widen the provider base of these units, and I welcome it.
Of course, the pupils who end up in PRUs usually have attainment well below expected levels, many dramatically so. Their behavioural problems often stem from this. They have spent perhaps 10 years in schooling and have been failed by it. Their reading is substandard, their basic literacy and numeracy skills are well below average, they left primary schools in trouble, and it just got worse.
That brings me to an area of concern I have about the Bill. We have discussed city academies in this House many times. We now know that the majority of the 133 now open are performing well. Indeed, in its recent independent evaluation, PWC commented:
“Ofsted reinforces our conclusion that, overall, sponsorship contributes significantly to school improvement”.
The 2008 GCSE results for academies show that performance is improving faster than the national average and that the performance of pupils on free school meals gaining five GCSEs, including English and maths, has risen at more than double the national improvement rate. NFER research shows that most academies are in areas of relatively high deprivation—many in areas of very high deprivation. They admit higher proportions of pupils eligible for free school meals than the proportion living in the local postcode districts, higher proportions of pupils with special educational needs and a lower proportion of pupils with higher key stage 2 ability compared with the proportion living locally.
Setting up and developing a successful new city academy in a deprived community is tough, but of course the majority are morphed from existing schools or amalgamations of existing schools, which have usually been the subject of repeated interventions and large resources over a period of years. The academy is often the last throw of the dice and, in my experience, has been an LEA’s sink school—with all that that entails—for several years previously. Results are way below national average; attendance is bad; punctuality is chronic; aspirations are at rock bottom; behaviour is poor; finances and systems are at best chaotic; in mixed schools, boys usually outnumber girls; leadership at senior and middle levels is poor; the staffroom includes the cynics group, the lazy and the hopeless; and the majority, who want to do a good job for the kids, could do so but have forgotten how to or feel isolated in their endeavours. The physical fabric of the place is usually rotten and depressing, too.
The first 18 months after opening are especially tough. For a start, the place is usually a building site, as the work on the new building starts—although it will be fantastic and uplifting eventually, of course. The new governing body invariably has to replace much of the senior leadership. Often, too, there is a chronic weakness in the middle leadership, especially in core subjects. The basics are not there: schemes of work, lesson plans, systems of assessment and marking, and pupil tracking. There are no clear behaviour norms and understandable merits or punishment systems; there are no clear expectations of staff and certainly none of pupils; uniforms are patchy; the place is unloved.
As a governor in several of these schools in the past few years, I have experienced at first hand the heavy lifting of turning the situation around. I have seen a majority of teachers raising their sights with new leadership and pupils responding fantastically. It is almost humbling to see the determination of year 11 pupils who are finally and belatedly given a fair chance. They grab at it and work ferociously—after school, in Saturday classes or through Easter revision.
The problem is that it is last-minute catch-up. Two of the schools in which I am involved will be for those aged three to 18, meaning a real chance of improving the transition at 11 that causes many children to slip back and offering the opportunity of a more streamlined education. After all, some of the most privileged pupils in the UK move seamlessly through their schooling, so why not extend it to the most disadvantaged? Experience also suggests that the tighter the links between primary, feeder and secondary schools, the better the educational experience and outcome. So will my noble friend reassure me that the Government are open to the expansion of all-through academies and feeder academies?
I am also acutely aware of the need to allow a new academy to focus on itself and its own pupils, especially in the first couple of years. Heads whom I speak to say that the last thing that they want is to be outside their school at meetings; they want to be in the corridors and in the classrooms—the last period at a failing school often sees senior staff outside the school at any opportunity. Such a desire is not because the heads of the new city academies are being isolationist, but simply because the challenges that they face every hour of the day are so huge. I am therefore wary of instructing academies to join local partnerships and structures, and want assurance from the Minister that there will not be encroachment on existing freedoms. Most city academies happily accept and work with peers and school improvement partners, but is making it mandatory truly necessary? One head I spoke to was clear: her pupils had adults endlessly involved in their lives. What she felt she could do for them was not to replicate all those others, but concentrate single-mindedly on their education alone.
I know, too, that the freedom to run a longer school day and an extra week for staff planning can be crucial to improving the educational offer. So, too, is the chance to concentrate longer on literacy and numeracy, rather than spreading everything too thinly. Literacy, after all, is the passport to a wider education and, quite simply, has to be sorted first.
I am not advocating a sort of laissez-faire for academies: I am as critical as anyone of those schools that continue to fail the same pupils as failed before. I want proper accountability and transparency of results, but also real insight into and support for those schools working in the toughest conditions. I am keen to see earned autonomy: let us reward those who are delivering well with a lighter touch.
However, I do not want to see a new bureaucracy, which I fear we will get in the YPLA in so far as it affects academies. The core business of the new agency is 16-to-19 education and under-25s with learning needs. One departmental brief, for example, states that the Bill will establish the YPLA to,
“support local authorities when they become accountable for 16-19 learners … make sure they are working together and provision is coherent where pupils are travelling across … boundaries”.
There is no mention of city academies.
I therefore ask the Minister where the rather strange provision on city academies fits in. Why put a small group of schools into that mix? What possible expertise will a 16-to-19 agency bring to the running of city academies? How will it assist in raising standards for disadvantaged children? I urge the Minister to think a little more about that specific proposal and listen to all those involved in running these schools now who have respected the support and challenge of the academies division in her department in recent years.
Last year, 65 boys in the whole country on free school meals got three As at A-level, while 175 at Eton got the same. Massive progress has been made, but we still have a heck of a long way to go. The schools working in the most challenging of circumstances need real support and expertise, not to be only the other business of an agency with a different, though important, focus.
My Lords, as we grope our way into this mammoth Bill, I am increasingly of the persuasion of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. It is a very difficult Bill to get one’s mind around the whole and, inevitably, I shall concentrate on some of the parts. Our situation is like that of the blind men in the fairy story who encountered an elephant, which they carefully inspected before coming to rather different conclusions about what the beast was like. As we look at apprenticeships and the various new agencies, I feel that we are in that position. We have an alphabet soup of quangos and agencies, and, very helpfully, the Explanatory Notes give us a glossary, including 46 acronyms, several of which will be unmemorable.
My fear is that this Bill, if passed, will create a cobweb of lines of supposed accountability, which the many institutions affected, not least the schools, will find it very difficult to deal with. The levers are invisible. My most fundamental test for adequate—and I do not mean good—legislation is that it be comprehensible and compliable for those who have to comply. I fear that this legislation may not meet that test, although we need to do our best by it.
I should declare some interests. I have—more behind me than ahead of me because it was rather long—a university career in this country and overseas and in a number of other academic institutions. I also chair the Nuffield Foundation, which runs a curriculum centre that has produced many curricular innovations over the years, and continues to do so. It is rather curious, by the way, that, with all the responsibility that the Government take, curriculum development has hitherto not been handled entirely by government.
From these activities, I have been able to see the effects of a changing school and examination system on what young people can and cannot do when they leave school with a variety of qualifications, and in particular regulated qualifications. I have also been able to form a rather wider judgment of the quality of their educational experience. What recent pupils tell one is often the biggest and best guide to what is really happening at school level, and it is not a happy situation. At present, we have many different qualifications and, above all, many different regulated qualifications, each with their own subjects and examinations and so on, particularly for older pupils. There are more in prospect with the proposed diplomas, although we shall have to wait and see what happens on that front. Pupils and schools consequently have to make intricate choices between qualifications, in the knowledge that the marks awarded them will be used by future employers or by university admissions officers, and will also help to determine the reputations and futures of their teachers and schools. When a measure is used for too many different purposes, perhaps it ceases to be a good measure—and when it is used as a target, doubly so. All this has been very well documented, as noble Lords will know, in the galaxy of perverse incentives introduced by the assessment system for schools by Mr Warwick Mansell in his book, Education by Numbers.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, has already mentioned a number of criticisms of the present system. He is right, but there are more. Many think that standards have fallen, at least in some areas, noting subjects in which pupils are now less well prepared for further study or work than they used to be. That applies both in apprenticeships and in sixth-form work leading to university. In another place, some robust—and some less robust—evidence of decline was cited. Some comment that examinations are simply now more boring than they used to be—I think that matters—and too numerous. Some worry excess teaching time is lost to examinations and mock examinations, and fear that the assessment tail is wagging the education dog. Some worry about excess reliance on course assessment in some qualifications, which may cover parental and teacher assistance and plagiarism, electronic and traditional.
Others note that serial retaking of modules may disguise lack of consolidated grasp of the material. Many point out that, if qualifications and assessment are changed without sufficient care and lead time, employers and universities will be unsure of their merits and public confidence in them will be damaged. So it matters greatly that the Bill provides appropriate governance both for curriculum and, particularly, for regulated qualifications and their assessment.
The Bill provides for two bodies. The QC is to split. The curriculum becomes the responsibility of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, the main successor to the QCA; the examinations by which regulated qualifications are assessed fall into the lesser body, Ofqual. It is far from clear whether the Bill provides adequate structures for the regulation of qualifications by Ofqual. In particular, it is unclear whether it provides adequate ways to secure the integrity and independence of the examinations and assessments that are relevant to regulated qualifications.
It is not so difficult in many ways. There is great agreement about the objectives that examinations and assessments for qualifications should provide. They should provide reliable evidence of skills and standards at each level of pass, for pupils and parents, employers and universities, which they can use to differentiate candidates and make decisions about futures. They should be efficient in various respects, and should not displace teaching unnecessarily. They should be fair and manageable for candidates, teachers and schools and command public confidence. The current system does not meet these objectives. In particular, there is no doubt that public confidence in standards has sagged.
Ostensibly the Ofqual objectives cover a number of these requirements. They are listed: the qualifications standards objective; the assessments standards objective; the public confidence objective; the awareness objective; and the efficiency objective—not very revealing. However, the Bill does not give Ofqual adequate independence from government, which may undermine all and any of the purported objectives.
Clause 126 says:
“In performing its functions Ofqual must also have regard to such aspects of government policy as the Secretary of State may direct”;
one of the many uses of “direct”. This general power is specified more narrowly in Clause 138:
“The Secretary of State may make a determination specifying minimum requirements in respect of a specified qualification”.
It is also said that:
“The Government intends that this power would be used only in exceptional circumstances”.
In winding, can the Minister tell the House what will constitute “exceptional circumstances”, and why they cannot be specified in the Bill—or can they, perhaps? In another place the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Schools and Learners, Ms McCarthy-Fry, stated that,
“we do not have … anything in the Bill that tells Ofqual exactly what it should do to safeguard standards”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/5/09; col. 115.]
Indeed, no. It is supposed to exercise judgment. So that is not enough reassurance. What is there to prevent the Government or a future Government from reaching in to lower minimum standards? Incentives exist because Governments may wish to show themselves, if not others, that standards are rising. The Minister in another place gave the example of reaching in to determine which texts should be set for exams in English. Others commented that that could be applied not just to English but to politics or history. Above all, it could be used to alter the difficulty of obtaining a pass or a C, B or A grade.
Is not the safe way forward to place a barrier in the way of the Secretary of State adjusting standards at all? If in winding the Minister could tell the House why the Government resisted an amendment to this effect in another place, I believe that it would greatly aid your Lordships’ House in Committee.
My Lords, I share doubts, especially those expressed by my noble friend Lord Baker, about whether the Bill will turn out to be a good thing in the end, but doubtless there are good things in it. I start, though, with something which is not in it but which I think the Government intend should be in it, and that is home education. I smell a rat when it comes to home education. A few months ago we heard very critical remarks from the NSPCC—since withdrawn—about the link between home education and child abuse. This was followed fairly rapidly by the appointment of a review into home education by Graham Badman, who is not at all a bad man but quite a sensible and well integrated individual. None the less, he is due to report this month. A typical pattern would be that we then get a rushed Henry VIII clause inserted at Report, giving the Government power to do what they want with regulations concerning home education. I do not think that is appropriate. First, it strikes at the heart of our attitude to education, which is that it is the responsibility of the parent to educate the child. An attack on that needs to be very carefully considered.
Secondly, many of the people indulging in home education have done so to escape just the sort of situations that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, described of terrible schools, terrible circumstances, insupportable effects on a much loved child and parents giving up their lives to support that child. To be corralled back into school under a Henry VIII clause, however well intentioned, is not something that I am prepared to contemplate. I have talked to the Minister about this and have offered her two ways forward: she can give me a promise in her speech that nothing will appear in Committee, or on Report or at Third Reading to implement any of the recommendations of Graham Badman’s review, or we can have some long debates in Committee on home education and the many aspects of it which need to be considered, because they do need to be considered. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, there is a move to integrate the whole business of child protection so that many more agencies work together to take an interest in what is happening to children. We have the children’s database, which will mean that for the first time local authorities will know who in their area is being home educated, and will not have the excuse that many of them have used to date for not paying much attention to this and letting parents get on with doing it in their own way. Therefore, the need to understand what is happening, to protect what is happening and to support it where it should be supported is going to get to us one way or another. In my view we should be extremely positive about home education.
We went through an analogous process a decade or so ago with the National Health Service when we started to recognise that people caring for the ill at home were doing a useful job, that enabling old people to stay in their homes was a useful thing and that, rather than standing back and just letting these people suffer and pay on their own, the state should offer support because that benefited everybody. That, I think, is the case with home education. Most of these people are doing an excellent job but receive absolutely no support from the state. They are not even get allocated centres where their children can take examinations. Putting your child in for a GCSE is an immensely difficult thing to do if you are a home educator because there are no facilities for that. Local authorities provide all sorts of facilities for children in their charge—including swimming, first aid and cycling proficiency lessons—that are closed to home educators. The Government could do many things to support home education, and it would be great progress if that happened. It would benefit not only the children but the parents and the Government.
The first thing to do in that direction is to open proper, permanent and well understood communications between the Government and the home education community. All sorts of things are happening in legislation. The current Welfare Reform Bill is one area, but there has been secondary regulation in other areas which impact on home education. The Government ought to understand how home education works, the way in which it will be dealt with when it comes to child protection, and assessing the quality of education needs to be understood and thought through and be done in a positive way. In Committee, I shall be encouraging the Government to take up the suggestion by Education Otherwise, the principal charity in this area, that there should be a permanent conclave within, I suspect, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, where discussions will take place between officials and home educators about how the regulation and support of home education should evolve. That may be the limit of it, or it may be much more extensive, depending on what the noble Baroness says to me.
The second matter I wish to cover is in the Bill, but you would not know it if you had not been told about it. I refer to specialist colleges. Colleges for the blind, the deaf and so on provide specialist education to children, mostly aged 16 and over, and are seemingly being cast into limbo because of the end of the Learning and Skills Council. What is to happen to a college whose pupils come from half way across England because of their particular requirements? The early discussions that some of the FE colleges have had with their local authorities seem to indicate an insistence that the colleges should do nothing that goes beyond the geographical boundaries of the sponsoring local education authority. That is difficult enough because of the way that sixth-form and FE colleges have flourished over the past couple of decades. They have reached out widely and many of the pupils at good colleges will come some considerable distance to get to them.
Therefore a narrowing down, because of the local authority’s determination that its influence and the benefits of its college should be extended only to its pupils—we have seen and fought against that in schools for long enough and it is not that surprising—will be extremely difficult when applied to specialist colleges. That problem was faced by the National Health Service when it went local. National centres of excellence found that very difficult for a while, but have now been accommodated; but we need to understand how that issue will be dealt with in the Bill.
Prison education now comes under local education authorities. There is supposed to be some sort of co-ordination between the local education authority in which, say, Feltham is, and all the local education authorities that its inmates come from as to the right way of dealing with these inmates in the extremely short time—a matter of a few months, mostly—when they will be in this prison. The Prison Service cannot co-ordinate itself; the idea that it can co-ordinate with a myriad of local authorities and get things right for individual prisoners is a total mirage. We shall have to think carefully about how this transition should be handled and exactly what the relationship between the local education authorities and prisons should be.
We should think deeply about what kind of education should be provided in prisons. There is a great opportunity. A child who in most cases will suffer from basic educational disadvantage will certainly be suffering disadvantage in terms of their behavioural patters, and you have an opportunity, if you design the education right, to set them right at a fairly early stage. However, we need to reach into the sentencing procedures to make sure that the assessment necessary for the prison to provide the right education has been done before the child reaches prison. Otherwise, half the sentence is spent finding out what the child needs and the other half is spent waiting for someone to appear to provide it. By the time the end of the sentence is reached, the prison is just about ready to help. We need to think that through very carefully, particularly given that we are moving to local education authorities.
Lastly, I echo some of the things that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, said about Ofqual. It is terribly important that it should be independent and that it should do a real job in assuring us of the quality of the examinations that we are to take. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, that goes beyond just looking internally at what is happening in a particular exam. You have to look outside that; you have to do sample testing; and you have to follow pupils afterwards to see what the reality is. One of the great tests of the quality of, say, key stage 2 exams taken in particular schools ought to involve following those children to secondary school, seeing how they do there and seeing whether in key stage 2 testing you are getting real results or assisted results. It ought to show—it does show, where this analysis has been done in other jurisdictions—that following through is the only way that you can tell the difference between an easy course and one which really excites the students. You have to look beyond.
Ofqual will have to be able to work with and into the university sector. The Higher Education Statistics Agency is extremely bad at collecting information on which schools university students come from. That needs to be greatly improved if there is to be real understanding of how good A-levels are in particular contexts, and whether their quality is really improving. The whole area of working with the university sector needs to be much better.
As the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, said, we need to do away with the idea that the Government should interfere with Ofqual’s decisions. They do not need to; there is another acronym, JACQA, which is not mentioned in the supporting material for the Bill, but is actually a crucial, secretive and unaccountable committee which decides whether a particular qualification will be funded by the Government. If the Government want to affect what is going on in schools, they can use that lever; they do not need to use the lever that affects everyone’s appreciation of how good a qualification is and whether the standards are changing. Ofqual needs to be the body which sets the points allocation for qualifications. Whether a GNVQ is actually worth four GCSEs or only three-and-a-half or three, must be set by Ofqual. Otherwise the believability of the performance tables suffers, as it has suffered under successive Governments when they introduced new qualifications and overrated them to boost their popularity. That absolutely must end.
We will have an interesting Committee stage. I can see that I shall be paying great attention to many different aspects of the Bill and I hope that despite the reservations of my noble friend Lord Baker, we can make it a better Bill, if not a good Bill.
My Lords, I, too, am delighted to participate in this debate, and I share the remarks that my noble friend made earlier in congratulating the Minister on her opening comments. The Minister has all my sympathy in trying to wind up the debate and address the many contributions made and the excitement and challenges expressed.
I am particularly concerned to be involved in this debate because it taps into fundamental questions for the country. How do we ensure that we as a nation can meet the challenges of the new world that will emerge from the current economic situation? How can we make the skills and learning landscape fit for the future, a landscape which employers need and individuals want? How should the organisations in that landscape be constituted to make the system truly demand-led?
The Bill contains extensive reform of structures and responsibilities which need to be managed carefully to safeguard consistency and quality during the transition period. The transformation of a body as large and influential as the LSC into new organisations which will provide funding for young people and adults is a seismic shift in approach. I shall not go into all the acronyms, as everyone else has enjoyed doing this afternoon. Employers are looking to the new structures to help them build the skills they need for their businesses for years to come.
I shall concentrate, as other colleagues have, on the apprenticeships aspect of the Bill. Apprenticeships have for years been the jewel in the training crown of the engineering industry. Engineering apprenticeships have for many years been regarded as the gold standard and a watchword for quality. This is because employers in engineering demand such high standards from their trainees. They support them through programmes that combine learning on the job with vigorous and rigorous off-the-job qualifications, along with wider skills in numeracy and literacy. Despite the demands and the rigour of the framework, the completion rate for engineering apprenticeships has always been among the highest. This is a reflection of the quality of the young people undertaking them, the quality of the training providers and the support of the employers.
Semta—the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, in which I declare an interest as I work with and support it in many areas—developed the engineering apprenticeship framework. Semta works continuously with employers and providers to make the programme both flexible and relevant to their needs while maintaining core quality and consistency. To give a quick example, the steel components company, Sheffield Forgemasters, is so convinced of the value of engineering apprenticeships to its business that almost 10 per cent of its workforce is on the programme. This very impressive organisation says that not only are its concerns about an ageing workforce reducing but that young people who have a lot of talent, which has often been latent for a long time, and who were not excited by school, are now fulfilling their potential. However, if apprenticeships are to grow at the rate to which the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, and the Government aspire, more of the same cannot be the only option. Further concerted efforts need to be made to raise employer demand for apprenticeship-level skills. If the apprenticeship guarantee is to be met, that is essential.
The barriers to recruitment vary between sectors. For the engineering sector the barriers tend to be around the cost and time commitment required, which sees trainees studying for more than three years at advanced level. There can also be barriers around the lack of knowledge about the framework; the lack of in-house staff who are suitable to be mentors, an issue raised by other noble Lords in their contributions; and concerns about the cost of the programme. If we can address these barriers, the guarantee is a far more realistic prospect.
How do we continue to ensure that apprenticeships meet employers’ needs? First, the apprenticeship framework needs to keep pace with the changing world. As a priority over the next year, Semta, along with others, will be undertaking research into emerging technologies and the skills requirements they will raise. Semta expects apprentices to play a significant part in meeting these needs and developing that programme. It will be using the outcomes of this research to help shape the future development of the organisation involved in the engineering apprenticeship framework.
Secondly, as the new apprenticeship settlement approaches and the organisations that the Bill taxes with securing provision seek to boost their capacity, we must ensure that we do not lose sight of the importance of maintaining the quality of the work-based learning. We need to raise employers’ informed demands for apprenticeships in tandem with the introduction of the guarantee, but we need to do so in conjunction with increasing provider capacity and with much improved guidance, an issue to which I shall return and which other noble Lords have mentioned today. We need employers to look strategically at their businesses, to raise their aspirations and ambitions and to demand apprenticeship programmes that meet their ever-increasing needs. From this will come more and better apprenticeships that prepare young people for the industry of the future and for their lives.
A balance needs continually to be struck between employer demands for training of their own staff and their expectations when recruiting adults into business. All the bodies involved in apprenticeship development and delivery proposed in the Bill will need to hold the employers’ views foremost in their minds. That means incorporating their specific training requirements into a framework and maintaining the quality of that framework. Through sector skills councils employers can influence the content of the framework. While SSCs should ensure that the overall quality is not reduced by employers, they must also make sure that employers do not attempt to force miscellaneous training courses into an apprenticeship, as that could devalue it. SSCs are always aware of that possibility and the need to ensure that it does not happen. It is important for the individual as well as the business to ensure that apprenticeships are viewed as being of comparable quality and value across the sector.
The process of apprenticeship certification is paramount to the credibility of the framework. The Bill recommends specific content that should appear on the certificates. However, sector skills councils, which currently award the certificates, are curiously absent. Why not include at least the logo of the sector skills council which developed the framework as a guarantee of the quality of the certificate and an endorsement? That would give absolute credibility both to the employer and to the individual achieving it. Employers currently value the Semta logo on engineering apprenticeship certificates as a mark of quality, as do those who achieve them. I have witnessed many apprentices receiving and valuing their certificates.
Sector skills councils must remain the organisations responsible for issuing apprenticeship frameworks. SSCs work with employers to ensure that frameworks meet their needs and frequently update frameworks to incorporate employer requests. While the Explanatory Notes to the Bill make it clear that the intention is to include SSCs, surely my noble friend will agree that it is worth reiterating that the important role that the SSCs play should remain with the employer-led bodies that, after all, were created by the Government to ensure that the standards and qualifications for their sector are fit for purpose. There has recently been some uncertainty regarding the apprenticeship contract, and I am sure that there will be lots of discussion in Committee about the employment tribunal cases. Some employers have been worried about the consequences of those but I shall not refer to the issue further today.
I referred earlier to careers guidance. One of the biggest disappointments in the Bill is the lack of teeth in Clause 35, which relates to careers education in schools. A number of noble friends have already referred to the issue. Those of us who support the vocational and work-based route for students of all abilities have been dismayed by the mounting evidence that high achieving young people are simply not informed about their options at key points in their schooling. A five-minute conversation with an advanced apprentice in engineering is all it takes to realise that the rigour of the programme means that it is not for those who are not extremely academically able and sufficiently skilled to carry on the apprenticeship process. Apprenticeships are simply a different way of learning, but the learning is just as challenging and exciting. Rather than leaving to schools the judgment about a young person’s suitability to receive information on apprenticeships, will my noble friend consider whether it would not be better to ask schools to justify why they have not given this information to all their pupils of the right age? With increasing concern about student debts, what school would not want their highest achievers to hear about a route to higher education that will enable them to work, learn and earn?
My Lords, this Bill is as complex as its predecessor, on which many speakers today worked last year, as all are agreed, and has already attracted the same considerable interest and briefings from statutory and third sector organisations, to all of which we are most grateful. It is also clearly a Bill with clauses over which we shall need to take considerable time during later stages, so I, too, intend—no doubt to everyone's relief—to concentrate my remarks on only a few issues.
First, I offer some congratulations. Like others, I am particularly glad to see that responsibility for all 16 to 19 year-old education, but particularly young offenders’ education, will eventually be passed to local authorities. Every figure published illustrates that those who have been failed by our education system are far more likely to end up in custody. For that reason alone, concentrating on trying to remedy that must be the number one priority. Many young offenders with diagnosed or undiagnosed special needs will have been out of education for a number of years—excluded or anyhow unable to cope. The Social Exclusion Unit’s survey of adult prisoners further underlines the problem, showing that 30 per cent truanted regularly from school; that 49 per cent of male and 33 per cent of female prisoners had been excluded from school; and that 52 per cent of male and a horrendous 71 per cent of female prisoners had no qualifications at all.
All that serves to underline yet again—as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, and many others rightly pushed for during last year's debates—that there should be compulsory special needs tests for every UK child of primary school age. The earlier that that is done, the better. That remains crucial so that at least some of the failure that those figures graphically illustrate can be prevented.
There is another issue that the Bill needs to address. There must be no postcode lottery about the quality of special needs education provision by different local authorities. As I understand it, Clause 49 was amended in the other place at Report requiring LEAs to use,
“best endeavours to secure that appropriate special educational provision is made for the detained person … whilst detained in relevant youth accommodation”.
I take note of the fact that that is worrying because sometimes the period for which young offenders are there is very short, but, nevertheless, it is a start. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us when she replies that that means that each offender’s individual special needs will be met, and that the level of such provision will be of the same standard and quality throughout the UK.
It is of course welcome news that extra safeguarding provisions incorporating the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, have now been added to the Bill, and it is encouraging that behaviour and attendance partnerships between schools in the same LA area are already making sense—although, as the NUT points out, as 98 per cent of secondary schools have entered into that voluntarily, is it really necessary for the Bill to make it a statutory requirement?
However, the Bill contains interesting proposals for further developing children's well-being through children's trusts—again, by putting them on a statutory board basis with duties within their local area to prepare, publish and monitor a strategic children and young person’s plan. I am sure that in Committee we will want to hear more details of how that will work. Certainly welcome is the continuingly ambitious plan for Sure Start centres—also to be put on a statutory setting. Sure Start, from its beginning 10 years ago, has been the jewel in the Government’s crown for early education, and the establishment already of almost 3,000 centres, towards their 2020 goal of ensuring that there is a centre in every community, is to their considerable credit. If, as the Minister in another place, Ed Balls, said on Second Reading, it is intended to ensure that parents, the local community and the voluntary sector are all well represented on each advisory committee, then its continued success is assured.
Turning to apprenticeships, a major part of the Bill, I hope that the issue discussed last year of the need for careers advice to encourage children, particularly girls, to think in terms of non-traditional jobs and careers, is still on the agenda. The noble Baroness, Lady Wall, made exactly that point. Far too few girls have previously shown an interest in apprenticeships. I remember a recent visit that our Communications Select Committee made to Pinewood film studios, where the brilliant sets for the latest Harry Potter film were being made and assembled. I believe that Pinewood is part of the proposed apprenticeship plans, and an apprenticeship there might be rather more likely to appeal to girls as well as boys. Anyway, as Barry Sheerman said in another place, again on Second Reading, apprenticeships should be brought to the attention of all children and will suit some children, regardless of their level of education, better than higher education.
Returning to young offenders, who may well want to begin apprenticeship training while in custody, there remains concern that those with learning difficulties, if aged under 25, may not be able to get resources from the chief executive of skills funding if they do not have the core English, maths and ICT units. They are even more unlikely to have the qualifications for level 2 and 3 apprenticeship training. If that is so, what other forms of funded vocational training would they be eligible for, given that their failure within the UK education system is almost certainly our—not their—responsibility? I should very much like an answer on that if possible.
I shall end by raising a number of concerns. First, there is the very complexity of the Bill before us, which others have mentioned, and the number of issues that it covers. Can we be assured that the Government are prepared to give your Lordships' House, with its considerable educational expertise—it is considerable even without Lord Dearing, who is so sadly missed by us all—adequate time to debate and, where necessary, amend the Bill? As noble Lords will understand, I ask that particularly as we are already well towards the end of this Parliament.
Secondly, as other noble Lords have said—notably and amusingly the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking—the Bill sets up an almost horrifying number of new organisations. The financial and bureaucratic costs of those must be considerable. I hope that the Minister in her reply will be able to justify what must be extremely large sums spent in that way and reassure us that enough finance has been set aside to ensure that the opportunities and encouraging commitment that the Bill promises for all young people's futures is indeed financially secure—ring-fenced, indeed.
Finally, I must confess that I remain uneasy about the large number of children out there who have already opted out of education before the current school leaving age of 16 years is raised. What explanation can the Minister give us for her belief that such children will want to and be able to stay with us from the age of 16 to 19 years—and indeed, in some cases, beyond that point?
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the Ministers and the Bill team for their initial briefings on this monumental piece of legislation. Even with their explanations, I cannot but agree with my noble friend Lady Walmsley that it is difficult to find a holistic vision, a common theme or a coherent policy in its 262 clauses. How much of this Bill is necessary, one wonders, let alone desirable? We also express the concern that, as has happened with other recent large Bills, it has come to your Lordships’ House after too little time for proper scrutiny in the other place.
Like the curate and his egg, we shall look for the good parts while being dubious about the whole. We welcome the measures that will lead to better regulation, consistent standards in our education system, support for apprenticeships and opportunities for all learners to reach their potential. However, many of the provisions suggest greater centralisation and increased levels of bureaucracy, which could be a recipe for disaster.
Any Government should be cautious about making major changes in education without full evaluation of the expected benefits. Young people caught in the transition phase can be seriously disadvantaged while teaching, assessment and funding arrangements are disputed and the credibility of qualifications is established. The estimated transition costs for this Bill are put at “less than £40 million”, to be offset by savings, but inevitably when bodies are abolished, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has just said, and new ones are created, there are additional burdens for providers: new remits, procedures, forms and glossaries of terms, to which we keep returning in this debate—and what an extensive glossary this Bill requires. One cannot help but feel that Gilbert and Sullivan might have made rather a jolly ditty out of it, but that is not necessarily a good criterion for legislation. Providers have to divert resources—people, time and money—from front-line services, and these costs are always more difficult to quantify. I therefore hope that during our debate the many areas of complexity will be shaped into something that is both simpler and more effective for practitioners.
As my noble friend Lady Walmsley indicated, I shall focus on certain parts of the Bill—the clauses that deal with careers advice, provision for young offenders and the proposals for qualification regulation, all of which have been addressed by other noble Lords. In Clauses 35 to 38, it is proposed that careers advice should include information about apprenticeships “where appropriate”. I cannot but agree with all that has been said about this. If the apprenticeship programme is to succeed, all young people should be told about its options, and indeed about the range of vocational pathways that may not be linked to apprenticeships: otherwise it smacks very much of a second-best option.
My noble friend Lady Sharp has long argued from these Benches that careers information, advice and guidance have not been given due priority. Teachers, and particularly careers advisers, need not only to give information but to have interest and enthusiasm in order to set out to young people the myriad opportunities that are opened up by learning in all its forms. This section of the Bill as it stands undermines the value of apprenticeships. It also implies that adults in effect make choices for young people by including or denying information. The Bill is an opportunity to encourage young people to follow their interests and aptitudes and not to be channelled into limited options, but the current clauses fall short of that.
The section on youth detention, Clauses 47 to 51, calls for much closer attention. The Bercow report quotes figures of more than 60 per cent of juvenile offenders with speech, language and communication difficulties. When young people find themselves in custody, society has an unrepeatable opportunity to address their skills gap and to encourage them to gain confidence and self-respect as they master basic and more advanced skills. It should be possible to enable young people to stay in one institution for long enough to follow an intensive and coherent programme, with teachers and trainers who can analyse their strengths and weaknesses, giving particular attention to those with special educational needs. I echo the comments made about the need for that assessment to be made at the earliest possible stage.
The Bill imposes duties on host and home authorities to inform each other. As has already been mentioned, this is not always as simple as it sounds. It has not, for example, always been effectively implemented for children in care. Will the Minister explain how those channels of communication will work in practice, how they will be monitored and how the outcomes will be measured? With unemployment set to rise, it will be even more of a competition for young offenders to find work. To offset their disadvantage, time spent in detention must be used as effectively as possible, with careers advice and guidance made available to them, too. This Bill could help to ensure that there is provision in young offender institutions for learning and assessment as well as for accreditation to help them to make their way productively in the world. As Barnardo’s, among others, has highlighted, there is also a duty to ensure that young people can continue their education after release.
Briefly, on qualifications, we welcome the establishment of Ofqual as an independent regulator, but seek assurances about the mechanisms by which it will retain its independence. It seems that its focus will be on the reliability and consistency of qualifications. What about the other aspects? Does that include their validity and currency, for instance?
The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency appears to duplicate some of Ofqual’s regulatory powers and adds another layer of complexity and bureaucracy. The QCDA has a proposed role in assessment. I worked for many years for an awarding body, City & Guilds. It, and other well established bodies like it, such as the OCR and Edexcel, have proven experience in the research and development of academic and vocational qualifications at all levels, as well as in assessment technologies. It would be a foolish extravagance to set up a new agency without paying due regard to existing organisations and systems.
Many parts of this Bill call for detailed discussion and scrutiny. As we proceed to Committee, we shall aim through amendments to clarify, shape, and I hope shorten, this legislation so that it will be of real benefit to practitioners, providers and learners. We look forward to the discussions ahead.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill, which covers so many issues of great importance, but I aim to raise issues which I feel are salient.
Apprenticeships are crucial to preparing our nation’s workforce for the competitive global market. My understanding of an apprenticeship is that it provides a route to building technical skills that are relevant to the requirements of industry through practical learning. It appears that apprenticeships have been serving alternative purposes, such as helping individuals to achieve basic numeracy and literacy. These skills should be provided in schools and community learning centres, but certainly not as part of apprenticeships. As a result, the definition of an apprenticeship has become distorted, which has resulted in the reluctance of a number of employers to sponsor them. It is therefore important for us to consider legislation on apprenticeships and allied subjects.
I welcome Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Bill, as I share the belief that an employer needs to promote the training of staff, which will maintain and enhance their standards. This will provide the staff with satisfaction and assist in making our businesses and industries more productive. Professional bodies, employers, individuals and government all have a role to play in the provision of these skills.
I have been a visiting lecturer on insurance and financial services, and I am the chairman of an insurance broking organisation. As an employer, I have fully supported the training of our employees and giving them every assistance. I therefore endorse the provisions in the Bill pertaining to these matters. For us to maintain our premium position in the world in financial services, we need to ensure that the knowledge and expertise of our staff are continuously kept at a high level.
I avidly support Clause 41, as it requires local education authorities to encourage school leavers to remain in education after the age of 16, and I register my support for the measures in the Bill that give employees the right to request leave to train or study. This provision will benefit our economy and, thus, our society as a whole. I should like further education colleges to be given greater freedom to determine their own destinies. They have proven to be vital institutions in the quest to encourage post-16 and adult learning.
I welcome the provisions to improve the academic prospects of young people in custody. Although I am in favour of new Section 562B(3) of the Education Act 1996, to be inserted under Clause 49, I am concerned about its use in practice. It would place the onus on the local authority where a young offender was resident prior to being taken into custody to make educational provisions for them during and after their period of detention. One can argue that new subsection (3) provides local authorities with reasons to abstain from fulfilling this duty. Young offenders will find it increasingly difficult to integrate back into society if these powers of omission are enforced.
I also welcome Clauses 188, 189 and 190, which will support the implementation of the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in his report. Clause 188 will ensure that child safety and protection remain the central priorities for all children’s service authorities. It will provide children with additional protection as all local authorities will be bound by this clause to meet all safeguarding targets. I would be grateful if the Minister would elaborate on these targets. Clause 189 requires all local authorities to appoint two members of the general public to all local safeguarding children boards, which would promote transparency and guarantee civic contribution in the general scrutiny of the boards’ proceedings.
It is crucial that all stakeholders in society are encouraged to put themselves forward in order to reinforce the idea that child protection is not the duty of only a select few but all of us. Clause 190 will ensure that all local safeguarding children boards publish annual reports about their efforts to provide child safety and welfare in their communities. The requirement that these reports may be submitted to respective children’s trusts is welcome as it will provide efficient scrutiny. This clause can be strengthened further by ensuring that all serious case reviews are published. We must do everything in our power to prevent the tragic suffering that befell Baby Peter and Victoria Climbié in their short lives.
In order for these clauses to have the desired effect, action must be taken to tackle the disproportionate number of cases allocated to each social worker. Social workers have a central role in ensuring that children and the most vulnerable members of society are protected. It is only fair that they receive adequate training and resources to enable them to fulfil these duties. A serious problem exists concerning the recruitment and retention of social workers, and these difficulties have had an impact on their ability to carry out their jobs effectively.
The shortage of apprenticeship places in Britain can be attributed to the overwhelming administrative and fiscal burdens inflicted on companies. The Learning and Skills Council has presided over the bureaucratic delivery of apprenticeships. The errors of the apprenticeship system can be attributed to the Government’s decision to abandon the modern apprenticeship model introduced by John Major's Government in response to the decline of apprenticeships sponsored by employers. The main feature of the modern apprenticeship was that it resulted in a level 3 qualification, which was equivalent to an A-Level. Although the Learning and Skills Council has categorically failed to achieve its goals, it is highly unlikely that scrapping it, as advocated in this Bill, in favour of creating three organisations will reduce bureaucracy. If the Government believe that taking these steps will reduce bureaucracy, why were they unable to state in the other place that the number of staff employed by the new bodies would not surpass the current number of people employed by the LSC? I should like to express my dissatisfaction at the number of bodies and quangos being created.
Clause 235 gives teachers the authority to search students for weapons, knives, drugs, alcohol or stolen goods provided the teacher is of the same gender as the student and is supervised by another teacher of the same sex. This requirement will be difficult to satisfy in primary schools because of the limited number of male teachers and the fact that the police may have to be contacted before a search can commence. This is highly impractical and may prevent officers from carrying out more urgent duties. The Bill does not provide any protection to teachers who have false allegations made against them. Teachers do a tremendously difficult job and legislation should support them in their role. I fear that a lack of adequate protection could deter individuals from entering the teaching profession.
This Government were elected on the pledge that they would prioritise education. After 12 years in government, the facts speak for themselves: 40 per cent of children enter secondary school with difficulty in reading, writing and numeracy. The system has failed the most disadvantaged children: 50 per cent of them are unable to achieve a single A* to C grade at GCSE. The number of school leavers without a job or work placement has risen to 860,000, 5 million adults are illiterate and 17 million struggle with basic literacy. This Bill must undoubtedly be strengthened during its passage through this Chamber to ensure that the systematic failure to support the most vulnerable members of society is properly addressed.
My Lords, I rise as someone whose working life has been influenced more by the experience of the shop floor than the classroom. First, I declare an interest. I carry the responsibility of chancellor of Staffordshire University. I am a product of one of the excellent FE colleges in Birmingham, about which the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, spoke earlier. I hasten to add that mine was not Matthew Boulton College; it was Handsworth Technical College, and I am proud of it. It did a lot for my misspent youth.
This Bill has much to commend it and much to be supported. However, there is much about which I need to be convinced. We can all agree that the Bill covers a vast number of areas. My criticism is that it is neither targeted nor focused and, as such, may achieve too little by trying to achieve too much. The Bill has three prime functions: first, the protection of children; secondly, the creation of a framework of skills development; and, thirdly, the strengthening of the qualification regime by legislating for a new structure of quality, delivery and funding.
There are, of course, areas of the Bill that deserve universal support. For example, the statutory right of those in work to request time off for training will, and should, receive a general welcome. However, this right should be extended to part-time and agency workers because they reflect today’s real economy. Temporary and part-time workers sometimes have longer service than full-time workers. Therefore, the exclusion of part-time workers is an anomaly which will be tested in Committee. In light of recent events, any proposal to strengthen the accountability of those responsible for children’s services is to be welcomed. Also welcome is the proposal to establish a new parental complaints service, and the proposal for a new negotiating body for pay and conditions for school support staff is a good idea, whose time has come.
I pause to say a few words as a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In its recently published report on the Bill, the committee welcomed many of its aspects because they enhance human rights. Positive measures include provision for the education of young offenders, guidance on the use of force on young people, the obligation to record the use of force, and a commitment to ensure that children and young people are consulted when plans for their future and interests are being drawn up. The Joint Committee also made one recommendation. We believe that the Bill provides a real opportunity to improve the United Kingdom’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, reminded us earlier, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently expressed concern that the United Kingdom has not done enough to realise the principles, values and goals set out in the UN convention. The Joint Committee therefore recognises that this opportunity should be taken. The committee believes that, to embed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in UK laws and practices, the children’s trust boards should have a duty, in the development of their plans, to pay due regard to the need to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Again, we trust that there will be no need to test this principle in Committee.
I turn to some of the areas of real and deep concern. Much has been said about the various proposed structures provided for in the Bill. One change about which I remain to be convinced is the proposal to transfer responsibility for funding education and training for 16 to 18 year-olds to local authorities. That seems to take the clock back to where we started. Here, again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, about the pressures and spending priorities that local authorities face day in, day out. I am not sure about the number of 16 to 18 year-olds whose training institution will be located in a different local authority area from where they live. Not to be too pessimistic, I can nevertheless see multi-layers of bureaucracy as local authorities dispute who is responsible for making the necessary payment.
My biggest fear is the possibility that the proposed funding structure could effectively lead to the break-up of further and adult education. We must not allow adult education to be detached from the rest of the education sector. If we do, the curriculum will suffer and the loser will not be the individual student, but wider society. I am also concerned that courses will only be funded if they supply the narrow skills acceptable to employers. What happens to personal self-development? Lifelong learning and vocational training should not simply be opportunities in life; they should be opportunities throughout life. Clearly, the Bill was conceived and drafted before the global recession. Arguably, what we need in the current environment is not just upskilling, but reskilling. The Bill appears to do little or nothing to address that. Given the current recession, education funding based purely on the needs of industry could also be a hostage to fortune. People should have the right to lifelong learning as a means of improving their minds and lives. Surely that is the way to build not only a better economy, but a better society.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a teacher in higher education in this country since 1975. It gives one an angle of vision on the debate on the Bill in the other place, where it was confidently stated that we could not be living in an era of grade inflation because, if we were, the universities would register it. I think that the universities are under strain arising from what might be called grade inflation. In view of the fact that the debate in the other place—and, indeed, at times this afternoon—has been influenced by the arguments of Cambridge Assessment, I declare that I am an honorary fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. I will concentrate my remarks on Ofqual and the Northern Irish aspects of the Bill. Before doing so, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Morris, in praising one aspect of the Bill, namely the humane intent behind Clause 47, which is designed to ensure that local education authorities must ensure suitable education to meet the reasonable needs of young offenders detained in their areas. As in other parts of the Bill, there is a fundamentally humanist impulse there, which is to be respected and admired.
I was delighted to hear the Minister say, in opening, that standards must be maintained and be seen to be maintained, and say so in terms of the new role for Ofqual. It now exists and has existed in a shadow form for some time. I was also comforted by this key sentence in the Government’s Explanatory Notes:
“Whilst it is generally a policy objective of the Government to improve the quality of teaching and learning such that the number of people able to jump the hurdle increases … that is not a concern of Ofqual’s under its standards objectives”.
It is inevitable that some will take this as a green light. Already in the last few days Mr Jerry Jarvis, head of Edexcel, one of the country’s biggest exam boards, said that there was a public perception that more discrimination was required in awarding A-level passes. He said:
“Any exam graded A to G where 40 per cent of the candidates get A grades—as happens in some subjects such as maths—instinctively looks wrong”.
He called on the new Ofqual to treat A-level grading as a serious issue that needs to be considered.
At this point I offer a heretical comment. It is commonplace for Ministers to hail the United States and its system of admission to higher education as in some ways more progressive and open than that of this country. I am not quite sure why Ministers do so. In recent years, the record of the top colleges in the United States on the admission of children from low-income families has been poor and is getting poorer. None the less, it has been a fairly consistent feature of the Government’s rhetoric on this subject.
I want to point to one positive aspect of the American experience. I hasten to say that the debate on higher educational standards in this country suffers from an unrealistic comparison over time within our own country, and often from unrealistic comparisons with other countries where the situations are very different. It is extremely difficult, I concede, to make accurate comparisons over time with respect to our own performance, or with respect to models elsewhere, whether in Europe or in the United States. The advance placement courses which exist in American high schools are designed to open up the way to better universities in the United States. For example, in Illinois in 2001, just fewer than 27,000 students took these advance placement courses; by 2006, the figure had risen to about 44,000 students. It is interesting that these courses have been a means, for example, for African-American students to make progress. Over that period, there was a doubling of African-American students passing and succeeding and taking advantage of these courses. As I say, these courses are designed to open up the way from American high schools into the better American universities.
But in the same five-year period in which the number of students grew quite markedly, there was an increased failure rate—not a great increase; about 3 to 4 per cent, roughly speaking. We in this country now have a discourse about education which effectively says—and if you look at the debate in the other place you can see it in this Bill—that because the excellent grades that have been achieved in our schools are so good, this is a function of excellent teaching. An increase in the failure rate could only therefore, by definition, be a function of poor teaching and a crisis. I offer this heretical assumption: it appears to be possible in the State of Illinois to have arrangements in place which improve access to higher education and which, at the same time, seem to be compatible with at least a small increase in failure rates. At this point, we would find that almost unimaginable in the way we discuss educational achievement in our country. But I am not sure that it is absolutely unimaginable. As I say, I offer this as a heretical thought.
I am delighted to see that Ofqual will have a role with respect to Northern Ireland and that there will be a requirement in principle to present a report each year to the Northern Ireland Assembly. For many years now Northern Ireland has consistently achieved, by some long way, the best A-level results in the United Kingdom but there is still room for improvement. I am convinced that complacency and provincial attitudes are essentially dangerous and I am delighted that Ofqual will be flapping its wings nearby. It is very important that the local system does not enter a rut and this is essentially a positive development. I note, however, that there is no real clue in the Bill as to the likely content of such an Ofqual report and I would be grateful if the Minister could offer some further enlightenment on what the likely content of an Ofqual report to the Northern Ireland Assembly might be.
At the other end of the scale, and less pleasantly, I notice that Clause 250 toughens very significantly—and more significantly in Northern Ireland than elsewhere—the law with respect to the repayment of student loans. I simply wish to draw attention to the scale of the problem. Universities are now seriously talking about calling in professional debt collectors. In Belfast in the past fortnight, the Irish News has reported that a staggering £115 million borrowed by Northern Ireland students in the past 10 years remains unpaid. In a small region of the United Kingdom over a relatively small period, that is a very large sum. It is very worrying indeed in the context of a recession. In the context of the provisions in the Bill on the repayment of student loans, we could be heading into a nightmare. The figures for Northern Ireland may be worse than for the rest of the UK, but I cannot believe that they are of a radically different order.
I hope I am not being too pedantic but I feel it necessary to draw attention to a drafting problem. In a number of places—Clauses 104, 127, 254 and 261—there are references to the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland on its own. For example, Clause 127 suggests that Ofqual’s role in regulating vocational qualifications in Northern Ireland may be removed by order of the Secretary of State. It then states that before the Minister does that, he would have to consult the Department for Employment and Learning. This is common-sensical in many respects; however, there is a wider political issue at stake. Elsewhere in the Bill, at all such points at which the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland is referred to on its own, the reference is to the “Welsh Ministers” when referring to the devolved settlement in Wales, or to the “Scottish Ministers” when referring to Scotland; there is no reference to one department on its own. Indeed, I think on one occasion there is a reference to the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament. Throughout the entire Bill, however, when the case of Northern Ireland is mentioned the reference is to one department on its own, not to Ministers or to the local Assembly.
I draw attention to this because a political sensitivity is at stake. The St Andrew’s agreement, which modifies in certain ways the Good Friday agreement, is built around the principle that it is necessary to enforce collectivism at the top table in Northern Ireland. This is because of the unhappy history in the previous existence of the devolved Assembly under the Good Friday agreement of Ministers, on their own, acting independently in ways that were disruptive of the process. The thrust of the St Andrew’s agreement is an attempt to enforce collectivism at the top table and, in that context, I find it slightly worrying that the Bill singles out one ministry, on its own, in this way. Everything that is proposed in the Bill is perfectly reasonable and sensible but I am concerned about the broader principle with respect to the new ethos which is supposed to underpin the Northern Irish arrangements. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me on this point.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill which represents a further commitment by the Government to training and skills development. There are already more 18 to 24 year-olds working or engaged in full time education compared to 1997, record numbers of people now receive training and this year’s Budget provided for £1.2 billion to be invested in creating jobs and providing training to young people who have been unemployed for 12 months. Investment in higher education has been increased by nearly a quarter in real terms since 1997 and more than £5 billion is being spent on adult skills this year, helping 3 million learners. The Train to Gain budget has increased to more than £900 million this year and the budget for apprenticeships is more than £1 billion, with 250,000 starts planned.
The Government have a record of which they can be proud. However, I do not wish to spend the rest of my brief contribution highlighting what the Government have achieved. I want instead to raise an issue that is being pursued by at least one sector skills council. I refer to the need to identify in precise terms the tangible benefits to businesses in terms of performance of developing and improving the skills of their staff. The skills council in question recognises that it needs to collect evidence of the impact on businesses of skills development, qualifications and apprenticeships in a more systematic and reliable way. It is important that it can be demonstrated that money spent on training and skills development is an investment and not a cost.
Many existing surveys and case studies in the sector concerned—passenger transport—while valuable, tend to be more of an anecdotal nature relating to specific businesses and tell only part of the story. They focus more on activity than on outcomes, with less evidence than one might like on the economic impact of qualifications that have been created in conjunction with awarding organisations. Measurement of the indirect and wider economic contribution is currently difficult to achieve. I suspect that at least some other sectors are in a not dissimilar position.
Investment in skills and training produces real benefits. In one major passenger transport operator, 1,200 level 2 NVQs were achieved in 2007, with a target of more than 2,000 set for 2008. Another aspect is that staff injuries decreased from 115 to 87 per 1,000 employees in 2006-07, and staff time lost in consequence has fallen from 49 hours to 35 hours per 1,000 employees. Vehicle collision rates have decreased by 31 per cent, and there has been a further reduction in driver turnover.
Of the need for further investment in skills and training there can also be little doubt. Research by the sector skills council concerned indicates that 23 per cent of UK passenger transport businesses recognise that they employ staff with gaps in their basic skills. In addition, 64 per cent believe that those staff members hinder productivity.
The creation of the Young People’s Learning Agency means that there will be a body with a role in providing what is described as “strategic data and analysis”, but it appears that such work will be at up to age 19 only.
We also have the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which provides comprehensive research and data in relation to those undertaking and completing university-level degree courses. These data include information on the numbers studying and what kind of work those who have graduated are actually doing in the months and first few years following completion of the studies, thus enabling a picture to be formed of the relevance of the course and the direct and indirect benefits arising to the individual and employers from the study undertaken.
As I understand it, there is no similar body for further education. Some of the awarding organisations do their own surveys and collect their own data, and some do not. Inevitably there is no consistency of approach, which makes comparisons difficult, if not impossible, and creates a problem in forming an accurate overview of the situation and of the direct and indirect benefits arising from the investment in training and skills development.
The picture is further complicated by the fact that while, as I understand it, the Higher Education Statistics Agency covers the United Kingdom, for further education, separate research and statistics from a multitude of bodies are prepared for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England with, once again, no consistency of approach or method of evaluation.
There can be no doubt that investment in apprenticeships, training and skills development brings considerable benefits, but we need to be sure that we are directing resources to areas that produce the maximum impact for the individual taking the course, the employer and the consumer, as well as in indirect and wider economic contributions.
Full and complete data, as well as analysis of those data, are needed for each sector and within each sector on the benefits and economic contribution of different work-based qualifications. We need a consistency of approach in obtaining and analysing those data to ensure that proper comparisons can be made that will enable reliable conclusions to be drawn on the actual benefits of a multitude of different courses from a variety of awarding organisations in further education. We need information on the outcomes of the qualifications that have been achieved and the economic and other benefits that have materialised, as well as on numbers undertaking such studies and success rates.
I should be interested to hear the comments of my noble friend the Minister on this issue. I accept that I may have misunderstood the situation, or that it is addressed within the Bill—in which case, I am sure that that is what my noble friend will say. However, if the point I am making has some substance, as at the moment I believe it does, I should like to know whether the Government consider that the situation in respect of research and data analysis in the field of further education needs addressing.
My Lords, the Bill comes at an important time. As businesses are struggling to cope with the difficulties that the recession brings, the most responsible and farsighted of them are looking beyond the current downturn to see how they can position themselves to take full advantage of the upturn and recovery when it occurs. Those who are able to maximise their workforce’s skills will be in a much better position than those who do not. It is right that the Bill focuses on apprenticeships and equipping our young people with the skills our economy will need, and I will focus much of my speech in that area. I declare an interest as a governor of Bolton School, a trustee of AGBIS and a trustee of the Transformation Trust.
I shall also touch briefly on children’s centres. The Bill concentrates on their structures and how they are governed, but I share the concern of many organisations that the structure should not be too prescriptive. There should be maximum flexibility, especially where the children’s centre is run by private or voluntary-sector organisations. While I am on the topic of PVI providers, especially in childcare, the Government have always said that it is their wish to work with that sector, yet we keep hearing stories of nursery groups struggling financially. It was reassuring to see that the Bill includes measures to ensure equity in funding between the PVI and maintained sectors. If parents are to have genuine choice in childcare, we need a strong private, voluntary and independent sector, and that includes childminders, where the fall in numbers is alarming.
There is something of a dichotomy at the centre of the Government’s approach to apprenticeships. On the one hand, they have talked a lot about the benefits of skills training, vocational education and alternative routes to employment, and apprenticeships and skills have unquestionably been a large part of their narrative on education. On the other hand, there has remained the implicit assumption that the academic route is preferable. We have had the arbitrary target of 50 per cent participation in higher education, which was motivated by concerns over social mobility. Of course it is right that access to higher education should be equally available to all those with the ability to benefit from it regardless of their background, but aiming for a fixed quota gave the impression that other educational routes were inferior.
Then, on the new diploma, we have had a creeping “academisation”—I do not know if that is a proper word; if it is not, I am sure that Hansard will replace it, but noble Lords know exactly what I mean. Let us not forget that the diploma was conceived as a new qualification, intended to be a distinct alternative route into employment, with employers positively engaged in the development of their content.
At first there were to be diplomas in areas strongly related to employment sectors—construction, engineering, leisure and so on—and they were broadly welcomed. But then the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families announced in 2007 that there would also be new academic diplomas in science, languages and humanities. That went completely against the spirit of a vocational diploma, and was rightly criticised by the CBI, my honourable friend Michael Gove and most recently the Joint Council for Qualifications, which has now urged Ministers to delay their introduction.
Rather than tagging academic strands on to vocational qualifications, we should instead be seeking to define more strongly the vocational path into employment and be proud of it. Of course it should be easier to move between the different paths—to go from an engineering diploma or apprenticeship to an engineering degree, for example—but the key is to start celebrating the distinctiveness of the vocational route and to showcase its advantages. In the current economic climate there are all too many graduates who find it difficult to find employment, but there is still huge demand for highly skilled workers.
Rather than being a second-class educational route, vocational training now often has the edge on traditional academic subjects in the employment market. Some higher education institutions, particularly the new universities, are well placed to respond to this. The University of Bolton, which I know well, prides itself on engaging positively with employers and providing graduates who are employable as well as well educated. The history of the institution is rooted in work-based learning and vocational training, so it is a proud tradition in Bolton.
The Bill’s focus on apprenticeships is certainly to be welcomed. It is not, of course, the first legislation relating to apprenticeships. As many noble Lords will know, but could be forgiven for not remembering first hand, the Statute of Artificers 1563 first laid down terms and conditions for apprentices, and its provisions largely shaped the way apprenticeships worked for the next 400 years. It is worth remembering that in more recent history the revitalisation of apprenticeships began 15 years ago when my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, then Secretary of State for Employment, introduced reforms creating modern apprenticeships in 1994, and he deserves great credit for that. He was in his place at the beginning of this debate, and has popped in and out, but today is his 36th wedding anniversary, and I think he had strict instructions to be home early.
It should not be a surprise that Conservatives support apprenticeships. However, we share the concerns of the two Select Committees that examined the draft Bill that the quality of apprenticeships offered should not be sacrificed to quantity. We know that Ministers like to have targets, but it is more important to get the quality of each apprenticeship right. They should be work-based, not programme-led. Most people’s understanding of an apprenticeship is that it is hands-on learning in the workplace, and we should reflect that. However, I have sympathy with Rathbone, which has been in touch with a number of noble Lords to say that it places some of the most difficult young people and that starting out on a programme-led apprenticeship is often a vital step leading to learning in the workplace.
I turn to the abolition of the Learning and Skills Council. While it is true that since its creation it has been a somewhat centralising and unresponsive institution, the proposed new arrangements may well give us cause to miss it. The creation of three new bodies, the Young People’s Learning Agency—in her opening remarks the Minister said it would be a light-touch national body, which might be an oxymoron—the Skills Funding Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service, has been criticised by the British Chambers of Commerce and others for potentially descending into bureaucratic muddle, and it is hard not to agree. When we add to that the passing of 14-19 provision to local authorities, it becomes even more confusing. FE providers were freed from local authority control in the 1990s, which we heard my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking speaking passionately about, and they must remain free if they are to continue to thrive. It is right to decentralise, but what is proposed in the Bill is not proper decentralisation. It seems more like casting asunder the LSC's responsibilities, with the pieces being caught in different parts of this cobweb of quangos. Explaining how they will all link up with each other and with local and national government would require an organogram of which Heath Robinson would be proud.
One of the most seriously wrong-headed proposals is the transfer to the Young Person's Learning Agency of a number of responsibilities for the academies programme. We have seen a gradual watering down of the autonomy of academies in recent years since the days when the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was first involved in pioneering them. Their freedom is their very essence, and has been shown to work very effectively. It is hard to see how this proposal to put academies under the remit of the YPLA can do anything other than restrict those vital freedoms and make them less effective. That would be a tragedy.
Finally, I must say a few words about careers advice. The Bill makes provision for ensuring that schools include in their careers advice information about apprenticeships, but many organisations, including the Select Committee, have argued that this does not go far enough in promoting apprenticeships as an alternative pathway for young people, and I agree that the wording could be stronger. The YWCA, a charity that works with disadvantaged women, has argued that reform of careers advice offers the chance to challenge gender stereotypes in apprenticeships. This is certainly a worthy aim as the figures show that 97 per cent of apprentices in childcare are women, contrasting with 3 per cent in engineering. Are we confident that every potential female engineering apprentice has been advised of the option and has considered it?
These examples illustrate a wider point: the guidance of young people in their career choices is an important, life-changing responsibility, and it has to be done properly. Not all schools can offer the level of expertise required from their own staff, but they should have access to such specialist advice for all their pupils. Providing proper advice on the options available and, more importantly, guidance on their suitability for the individual can prevent the waste of talents that results if the wrong options are taken. This is one of many issues that will be debated in Committee which, judging from the speeches of noble Lords, will be very lively.
My Lords, as many noble Lords have pointed out, this is a wide-ranging Bill, which has been demonstrated by the variety of contributions. I particularly welcome the fact that the needs of children with special educational needs feature prominently in the Bill. I shall concentrate on their concerns, particularly on apprenticeships and school environments. These issues have been raised with me by the National Deaf Children's Society, to which I am grateful for information. I shall be brief.
The Government can be truly proud of their commitment to the school rebuilding programme, but there is one area that is causing serious concern. It is the importance of acoustics in schools. As the NDCS’s Sounds Good? campaign has revealed, new school buildings are being built in which it is very difficult for deaf children to listen and learn effectively. Children cannot learn if they cannot listen effectively, and teachers cannot teach if they cannot be heard effectively. This is true for all children, but especially so for deaf children, for whom high quality acoustics are essential.
Over 80 per cent of deaf children now attend mainstream schools, so any classroom could be one in which a deaf child is learning. Research has shown that primary school children with special educational needs are disproportionately affected in reading and spelling when there is background noise in the classroom. To achieve the Government's aims of creating a highly skilled workforce, we need to make sure that all classrooms are as inclusive as possible.
Billions of pounds are currently being spent on new school buildings through, for example, the Building Schools for the Future programme. We should be outraged if, after all this spending, new school buildings are being built in which the acoustics are not fit for purpose for children with special educational needs. Yet the National Deaf Children's Society has repeatedly come across examples of new schools with poor listening environments, and a wide range of organisations share those concerns. In PricewaterhouseCoopers’s evaluation of the Building Schools for the Future programme for rebuilding secondary schools, between 26 and 40 per cent of teachers from four brand-new schools stated that the acoustics were not good enough. Sadly, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has conducted no audit of acoustics in new school buildings.
Government guidance exists on this, and is set out in Building Bulletin 93. The Building Regulations 2000 and the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 set out the need for acoustics that are appropriate for the intended use of the classroom. However, there is no mandatory requirement anywhere in guidance or legislation to conduct acoustic testing. A simple recommendation to do acoustic testing is not enough. There needs to be a mandatory requirement for testing of the acoustics in all new primary and secondary school buildings. Acoustic testing is not expensive. The NDCS estimates that it costs around 0.01 per cent of the cost of a new school building, which is a minute price to pay for ensuing that schools are inclusive.
This matter was raised while the Bill was considered in the other place, and I understand that the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Communities and Local Government are currently reviewing Building Bulletin 93.
I am aware that the NDCS has had a number of helpful meetings with officials. It has been told that the introduction of a mandatory requirement is outside the scope of the review. Officials have spoken about introducing a new template contract for local authorities participating in building schools for the future. However, this is just a template contract; it is not mandatory; and it does not apply to primary schools where good acoustics are vital for language development.
The only way forward appears to be a legislative amendment to the building regulations or the Education (School Premises) Regulations. I should welcome a commitment from the Minister that an amendment will be considered to these pieces of legislation to introduce a requirement to make sure that acoustics are fit for purpose. Schools need to be inclusive environments for all. There is little point in building lots of new schools that look good if they do not sound good too.
I turn to the matter of apprenticeships. Clause 89 establishes a new duty on the chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service to create a scheme whereby it will secure sufficient apprenticeship places for every suitably qualified young person who wants one. Clause 93 sets out the qualifications required to take part in the scheme. This includes a GCSE in English to participate in a level 2 apprenticeship and a GCSE at grade C in English to participate in a level 3 apprenticeship. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has pointed out, this blanket requirement has led to serious concerns that unnecessary barriers may have been created in enabling deaf and other young people with special educational needs to participate in the scheme. For example, a blanket requirement for a GCSE in English may disadvantage a deaf candidate whose first language is British sign language.
These blanket requirements will be applied regardless of whether it is a necessary competence for that individual apprenticeship. I appreciate that it is possible to conduct an apprenticeship outside the scheme. However, that is not the point. Under the public sector duty of the Disability Discrimination Act the Government have a duty to ensure their apprentice scheme is accessible to disabled people. They also have a duty to treat disabled people more favourably in order to achieve equality. A blanket requirement, which may not be relevant to all apprenticeships, will disadvantage disabled people. The duty to promote disability is not served by such requirements—and for no strong justification.
I should very much welcome reassurances from my noble friend that disabled young people will be able to access the apprenticeship scheme created. Will the Minister also set out how the scheme will comply with disability equality duties to promote equality and whether a GCSE in English will be a necessary competence for every apprenticeship provided?
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, who has just spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who spoke earlier, I want to speak about the aspects of the Bill that concern the education of disabled young people. My interests as chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People and president of SKILL, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, are fully declared in the register of interests and are well known to the House. The RNIB also provides me with an assistant in my work here. It is not on behalf of any organisation that I speak but on the behalf of the disabled young people they represent.
I do not apologise for concentrating on the Bill as it relates to disabled people. Its impact on the system of provision for disabled people is potentially quite significant, so it is important that we get it right. Let us not be mealy mouthed about it: the reign of the LSC, which this Bill brings to an end, has seen real progress in the further education and training of young people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. That is the technical term used in the business. It is a bit of a mouthful so your Lordships will understand if I shorthand it in order to get through in the time. We have made real progress with the further education of disabled young people in the past 10 years. Between the Tomlinson report of 1996 and the Little report, Through Inclusion to Excellence, of 2005, the number of disabled young people in colleges of further education rose from 165,000 to somewhere between 400,000 to 450,000. That is something to celebrate, and anything I have to say about the Bill should be seen against that background. The progress we have made gives us a real momentum on which to build. The Bill should therefore be welcomed as a real opportunity to do that, and anything I say is simply about making the most of that opportunity.
However, none of that should blind us to the fact that we still have a long way to go. There is a raft of statistics to show the close association between disability, poor educational attainment, lack of skills and employment with social exclusion, poverty and disadvantage in adult life.
By raising the age of participation to 18, the Education and Skills Act 2008 put in place the framework for beginning to address these problems. We must see that this Bill, which after all simply purports to complete the job begun last year, facilitates achievement of the objectives of the 2008 Act, and does not put unnecessary barriers in the way.
In fact, as others have said, this is a very complicated Bill to get to grips with. For a start, it contains a number of Catch-22s. You cannot understand apprenticeships without understanding the SASE—the specification of apprenticeship standards for England—but the SASE cannot be finalised until the Bill is passed. I am grateful at least that it will apparently be published in draft early on during Committee.
I also take the points that have been made about ragbag, mishmash, bureaucracy and administrative musical chairs. Again, there has been a lot of confusion over how the provisions relate to young people in different age groups and concern about a so-called 16-to-18 gap. It has been unclear how far disabled young people between the ages of 16 and 19, who are not in possession of a learning difficulty assessment under Sections 139A and 140 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, are covered by the twin duties to provide apprenticeships and facilities for apprenticeships, as it may depend on how constructively each local authority interprets its duty to have regard to any learning difficulties its learners may have. The Minister has kindly written to me to point out that a consultation is currently taking place on learning difficulty assessments. Her letter contains the following statement:
“A local authority should arrange for an assessment of learning difficulties to take place for: (a) any young person with a learning difficulty but without an SEN statement ... who is believed likely to need additional support as part of his/her future education or training and who would benefit from an assessment”.
That is certainly reassuring. Unfortunately, the consultation closes after the Bill is likely to have left this House, so in Committee I shall want to probe questions such as how the quality of these assessments will be maintained and who will carry them out, how the data will be shared, and whether transport needs will be considered. For now though, it would simply be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that it is the Government's firm intention that young disabled people aged 16 to 19 without a learning difficulty assessment will unambiguously be covered by, and get the full benefit of, the duties relating to the provision of apprenticeships.
Finally, the legal status and accountability of the Skills Funding Agency are obscure. Should it not be subject to the single equality duty when that comes in with the Equality Bill, instead of just being loosely covered by that of DIUS?
I turn to the question of apprenticeships. No less than for non-disabled young people who are not particularly fired up by the more academic kind of education at school, apprenticeships offer a potentially more attractive and rewarding route from education into employment. In much the same vein as the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins said, apprenticeship schemes, if I may put it this way, need to be disability-proofed to meet the access and other needs of disabled young people in advance, and not leave employers having to find out for themselves, make it up as they go along, reinvent the wheel and retrofit their schemes to accommodate the needs of the disabled, probably at unnecessary expense, or leave disabled young people having to fall back on the Disability Discrimination Act to get what is due to them.
Thus I want the apprenticeship scheme clearly to lay out what providers need to do to enable disabled apprentices to benefit from their schemes and what support is available. I am glad that, following discussion, the department has agreed that Access to Work will be available to apprentices. However, there remains work to do to ensure that it has the practical effect intended. Apprenticeships are different from ordinary employment, so we need to look, for example, at the requirement for employers to pay a proportion of the cost. We need also to ensure that Access to Work equipment and support can be available very quickly; and, most of all, we need to make sure that all apprentices and apprenticeship providers know about the scheme.
There are other issues I would mention in more detail if time permitted, from the treatment of young offenders to specialist residential colleges, which are concerned that, in transferring responsibility to local authorities, Clause 45 weakens the duty which rested on the LSC to secure boarding provision in appropriate cases. We will be moving amendments on this in Committee.
There is one further matter to which I must refer. The issue of disabled students between the ages of 19 and 25 who have a place but need help with transport to get there has been a vexed question for many years. In last year’s Education and Skills Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I pressed the Government to place a duty on local authorities to make appropriate provision. The Government said that they would go away and do more work with the help of SKILL. The result is Clause 55, which places a duty on local authorities to make such arrangements for the provision of transport as they consider necessary, or as the Secretary of State may direct, and requires local authorities to publish transport policy statements. This is a welcome step forward but I do not think that we have got it quite right yet. What are we to do if the local authority sees no necessity and the stated policy is not to provide transport? So far as young people aged 19 to 25 with a learning difficulty assessment are concerned, the duty relates only to specialist provision. We will have to return to this in Committee.
We have a Bill which potentially contains many opportunities to develop the provision that is made for disabled young people. Some rationalisation would clearly be helpful, but I doubt whether we will get it. However, with some obscurities removed and some strengthening in the places I have indicated, I think it could turn into a Bill that we will be able to work with.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this legislation, which at long last moves the responsibility that currently lies with the Learning and Skills Council back to local authorities, which enjoyed this status prior to the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. However, I am aware that colleges are very keen that this welcome change should not in any way limit their ability to innovate and respond to the needs of their local communities.
The past 10 years have seen further education and sixth-form colleges flourish. Investment has increased in real terms by nearly 50 per cent; despite recent problems, many college buildings have been rebuilt or refurbished, and many thousands of young people benefit from the education maintenance allowance—the majority of them in colleges. This investment has had the desired results, with college success rates—a mixture of student retention and results—reaching 81 per cent in 2007-08 and more than 700,000 to 16 to 19 year-olds choosing a college for their post-compulsory study. That is many more than choose schools. It is therefore vital that the changes proposed must protect and build on these successes.
It will also be very important that certain principles are followed in the implementation of this legislation. For instance, students must still be able to choose to study at whichever college, within reason, they want. Young people do not necessarily follow local authority boundaries, and why should they? For example, at my own City of Wolverhampton College, nearly 70 per cent of 16 to 19 year-olds come from the borough of Wolverhampton, but 30 per cent come from the surrounding areas of Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell. I am delighted that Wolverhampton Council will join a sub-regional group, along with these three other councils. Under the new system, they will together consider the education and training needs of 16 to 19 year-olds throughout the Black Country. It would be very useful if the Minister could confirm whether councils will specifically have a responsibility to ensure that student choice remains a core priority in this new plan.
Wolverhampton Council will take on five staff from the Learning and Skills Council. In addition, 31 LSC staff will work for the regional West Midlands presence at the new Young People’s Learning Agency, and a minimum of 120 staff will work for the regional branch of the Skills Funding Agency. It is essential that these agency staff are as hands-off as possible and that colleges are able to get on with what they do best—meeting the needs of local people.
I also wish to raise the rather tricky issue of funding. There has been a funding gap for many years between the education provided for 16 to 19 year-olds in colleges and in school sixth forms. Despite the Government’s efforts, the funding gap, although reduced, remains in place. The changes to be introduced in this legislation provide a real opportunity for this problem to be addressed once and for all. However, to ensure that this happens, there needs to be a national funding rate for all 16 to 19 year-olds in education, set by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which all local authorities will be obliged to follow. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that will actually be the case.
I regard the Bill as moving further education and skills training into a new and exciting dimension.
Before I end my speech, I take this opportunity to pay a heartfelt and genuine tribute to Ivor Keith Wymer, who died recently. He was a passionate educationalist, who spent his life seeking to bring further education and lifelong learning into the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people and adults who may never have had the benefit of further education had it not been for his vision and commitment. He believed in the right of every human being to benefit from open access and continuing education and to tailor the further education system to their needs. Keith Wymer was a true servant of all of those who have good reason to be thankful for the life and professionalism of this excellent teacher. I say these few words on behalf of the thousands of educators in this country who have been inspired by his work.
My Lords, it is very difficult to find a central theme in the Bill; the reasons for that have been well exposed in our debate. I offer three thoughts: first, how easy is it to find a fit between the talents of young people and the opportunities available to them? I hope that we are not too beguiled by the idea that if only we will it, it will happen. I think that the fit is very difficult to find, and I will offer some reasons for that. Let us take the apprenticeship scheme and the dialogue between my noble friend Lord De Mauley and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on numbers, or the leave-well-alone-and-continuously-improve-what-we-already-have approach of my noble friend Lord Baker.
I go back a long way. I was some years ago a premium apprentice in the engineering industry. The benefit of being a premium apprentice was that you were allowed to use the tools—and very helpful, it was. I learnt quite a lot about what one did in foundries and engineering shops, and I learnt a lot about the way of life in them, much of which I would not dare to tell your Lordships about. However, when I became manager of a steel foundry in Light Pipe Hall Road in Stockton-on-Tees, the question of apprentices did not arise. We wanted apprentices; and there were parents who brought in their boys—usually the mothers—who they wanted to be apprentices. We had in the foundry, for example, moulders and coremakers, both of which were skilled trades. We knew that we needed to take on the boys because some of the moulders were getting older. Those were days of full employment, and there was plenty of work about.
Some of those apprenticeships worked very well, and some not so well—it depended very much on the interaction between the apprentice and whoever the charge-hand or foreman was. We were as basic as that in those days. It came down to who was responsible for making sure that the apprenticeship worked. We would not have doubted the right to day release or the need to try to make the apprentice go to night school in addition. The ones who did really well went to one of those colleges that my noble friend Lord Baker found so dilapidated, the foundry technical college in Wolverhampton, and became the managers of the next generation. There was no government intervention.
However, the circumstances have changed. Whereas in those days the primary requirement of Harry Chadfield—who had been on a farm in the hills, came into the town, became a moulder and taught me how to mould—was manual, it is different today. Steel foundries are full of machinery which requires you to be able to read, write, do digital read-outs and know, when you have some problem on a complicated disamatic, what you should do next, who you should send for and what is going on. The other problem is that there are very few steel foundries left.
The circumstances have changed and the problem is that Governments will always lag behind the ball. They are the referees who try to solve yesterday’s problems. Governments do not drive science; governments do not drive technological change; and they do not drive economic development. Therefore, they do not drive the fit between young people and the job opportunities available to them. We delude ourselves if we think that they can. Why, then, do we have government intervention? We have regulatory impact assessments and, very often—certainly, when it is secondary legislation—we get the description “modernisation”. It is used as a friendly word, but it is neutral. We get “cost savings” or “benefits of centralisation”. Are there no limits to government belief in intervention? Is there no theory for, or academic explanation of, the background which means that government intervention is likely to be sensible? I assume not. The problem with this Bill is that it will not find the fit between the talents of apprentices and opportunities for them in the economy. Its proposals are costly, bureaucratic, impractical and unenforceable.
The second thought is that bodies are created and bodies are abolished. As if by magic, new bodies can be expected to be better than existing institutions—for example, better than the LSC—but it is the same people who go into them. I was taught at a school that was founded in 1392, so I am afraid that I believe in the adaptability and continuous improvement of existing bodies and not in constant change. As my noble friend Lord De Mauley reminded us, we are now reorganising the reorganisations; we are tightening the mechanistic screw; we have not done very well, so we are trying again. But it may be that the direction of travel was always wrong and we are now in danger of making matters worse.
Thirdly, I return to a subject developed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I refer to the independence of bodies. I add to what she said—and she nearly said it—that where you find directions with which a body must comply, you can be pretty sure that there is no independence. I know this from experience, having been subject to directions—not often, it is true—which, crucially, removed for a time my independence to manage. What can be done once can be done again.
Let us take the establishment of Ofqual as a Crown body. Does this shift confer more independence on the QCDA? At first, it might look as if it does, but if we follow the story we see that the QCDA has Clauses 182 and 183 devoted to it, which enable the Secretary of State to give general and specific directions to the QCDA with which it must comply. The body must also pay attention to every piece of guidance that he gives to it. Under Schedule 11, the Secretary of State controls the appointment of the chairman and can confer on the chairman some of the functions that the QCDA had conferred on its chief officer. So the chief officer will be in a pretty difficult situation if he does something which seems out of turn, because some of his job is to be given to the chair. I cannot believe that anybody who was the chief officer would ever believe that they were the chief officer of an independent body—I have, as some of your Lordships will know, been a chief executive of a public body.
Is Ofqual different? In paragraphs 2 and 6 of Schedule 9, one reads much the same things. Of course, the Crown appoints the chair, but, as we know, it does not do so until No. 10 has said, “Well, that’s all right”. Where does the true difference lie? There are other aspects of the schedule to which we shall no doubt return in Committee, but the real killer is in Clause 126(6), which states in terms:
“In performing its functions Ofqual must also have regard to such aspects of government policy as the Secretary of State may direct”.
That means that the Secretary of State can at any time completely change the rules of the game for Ofqual. I have no doubt that Ministers will say, “Oh, these are reserve powers and we would not use them unless we absolutely had to”, but what they ignore is the psychological effect on the body. If you know that that can be done to you, you must take account of it, and you certainly do. Any of your Lordships who have been in that position will have been met by a senior civil servant who says, “Well, of course, I don’t want to make too much of it but you will remember that your Minister has this power, won’t you.” That is the end of the independence. I do not believe at the moment that Ofqual is genuinely independent, and I am sure that we will have a very interesting time in Committee, if we get there.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on this Bill and I thank my noble friend the Minister for her introductory remarks. I welcome the Bill on a number of grounds. First, as has already been noted, the whole question of the difference between academic and vocational qualities, abilities and training is one that we need to discuss sooner rather than later. We have a long-standing skills shortage within the United Kingdom. While, of course, it was extremely important to keep the emphasis in the early years of the Labour Administration on increasing and improving academic opportunities, to a certain extent that was done at the expense of an emphasis on the vocational. Therefore, I welcome the fact that we are here now.
Secondly, I very much welcome the right contained in the Bill to request time off for training. The trade union movement from which I come has a long and honourable history in negotiating for training opportunities in the workplace for workers and their members. Unite, my own union, the Transport and General Workers’ Union as was, has participated over the years in many training committees and joint workers and employers’ bodies, looking to ensure that people within the workplace have the opportunity to reach their potential. However, we must ensure that this is not a right just for those who are deemed to be potential high flyers. If we analyse the expenditure of training budgets over the years, we see that the vast majority of that money goes to the most senior employees, with precious little going to those at the bottom of the ladder. I welcome the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth that it would be a very greatly missed opportunity if the right to request were not extended to part-time employees. That would no doubt be indirectly discriminatory, given that the vast majority of part-time workers are women. In my experience, many of those women have enormous potential to improve their skills and move forward.
I welcome the Bill because, while we may be in the most dreadful of recessions, it will not last for ever. We will come out of it at some point in future and we need to use these times to rebuild and prepare for that upturn. It is an opportunity to fix the roof even though the sun is not currently shining.
Secondly, we need to consider how we can use this opportunity to learn from our mistakes and the general mistakes of the past. We need to use this Bill to look at how the demographics of this country have changed. We have a rich ethnic mix in our population, many more older people who want to continue working and many more women engaged in the labour market. That means that apprenticeships must not be designed or considered just for boys who like Swarfega or girls whose sights go no higher than a course in hair and beauty. Schools and employers must provide a menu of options which will interest, attract and raise the aspirations of our young people. We need to use the opportunity to look at today’s labour market and the employment patterns and see what we think needs fixing. We have the most appalling gender segregation within our labour market, which itself brings about a very bad gender pay gap. We have ethnic groups at the bottom of the employment ladder. Research conducted last year for the Equality and Human Rights Commission—I declare an interest as the deputy chair of that body—and by Longhi and Platt demonstrated that there are great pay gaps and penalties for many members of the community from particular religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Pakistani men and women, black African men and Bangladeshi women. They all suffer very serious pay penalties because of their position in the labour market, which is not only a waste of talent but unhelpful when we are looking to ensure that we use these opportunities to build social inclusion.
In 2006, the Women and Work Commission, chaired by me, produced its report, Shaping a Fairer Future. We demonstrated in that report that you could trace pay gaps back to choices made at school. We are now revisiting the work that we did then; we are looking to see what progress has been made against those recommendations that the Government accepted and determined to move forward on. There is a recognition that there are certain problems, but there needs to be a sturdy and determined attack on those problems. Information, advice and guidance has been mentioned a number of times this afternoon. We are told that personal advisers who give that advice and guidance have been trained in equalities and to recognise the dangers of stereotyping. But what are the outcomes expected here and how are they going to be monitored if we do not have any outcomes laid down to be measured? To use the management phrase, what gets measured gets done. At the moment, we do not appear to have measures to determine how those personal advisers are actually achieving those aims that have been laid down.
Training the trainers is an important aspect here. We are looking to encourage girls and boys into non-traditional areas of training and employment, but college-based training is quite often given by ex-craftsmen who have never worked with or taught young girls. One way in which we can help in that situation is partly by training the trainers, as I say, but partly also by introducing buddy systems so that girls can move into non-traditional areas in twos and threes rather than be expected to shoulder that quite difficult move on their own. Work experience needs to be given greater attention and more resources by the education system. At the moment, it is an add-on to somebody’s responsibility. Employers need to show more willingness, too, to provide work experience and to play their part in a more positive way.
Finally, I have three points to make about how we should set an example. My understanding is that in central government there are only seven departments that currently have apprentices. Central and local government and other public bodies need to step up to the plate here and play their part in ensuring that these proposals come to fruition. There is a duty on all public bodies to promote equality on grounds of race, gender and disability; after the Equality Bill is passed in the coming months, as we hope that it will be, that will be a general duty. There is an enormous opportunity here for those bodies to use that to give equal and proper opportunities across the piece.
Secondly, as has already been mentioned, we need to stop changing the structures of the provision of education, training and learning. It is costly, wasteful and hugely confusing. If we who are interested in this subject and make it our business to participate in debates on it find it difficult, then how difficult is it for those who would like to access the service?
Finally, we must recognise that a great deal of change and advance can be achieved without legislative change. We simply need the will vigorously to implement the policies that we already have.
My Lords, I will probably echo quite a few of the final sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser. She has just spoken about the need for stability in academic standards and ensuring that what you have actually works before dreaming up something new.
A difficulty for somebody ranked 28 on the speakers list is that you arrive at this point and think about what original contribution you might have to make to a debate that has been packed full of such insight and wisdom from people with immense experience in the fields of education and training. I therefore briefly mention some of your Lordships’ comments in the debate that particularly resonate with the point I want to make, which I will come on to in a second.
First, I declare my interests as a director of three academies in the north of England. I am a director of a city technology college in Gateshead and vice-chairman of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, which was founded by my friend the businessman Sir Peter Vardy, who has done an outstanding job of turning around failing schools where once he had turned around failing businesses, using the same expertise to deliver some outstanding results. It is wonderful to participate in this debate with my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, because he was instrumental in establishing the city technology concept with independence from local education authorities at its heart. It said that you needed to set beacons of excellence into the areas—such as Gateshead, which was and still is one of the most socially deprived towns in the country—to show what good looks like and what can be achieved with outstanding teaching, great leadership, well behaved students and supportive parents.
A school opened when the average attainment of five GCSEs in Gateshead was 16 per cent. It was set up and, under statute, was required to take two-thirds of its pupils from deprived and semi-deprived areas. Yet, last year, it was turning in 85 per cent good GCSEs, including English and maths. It regularly sends students off to Oxbridge universities. It has had a transformational effect on the town of Gateshead. As people have seen what has been achieved at Emmanuel City Technology College, other schools and parents have seen what can be achieved there, too.
Clearly, given the importance of that experience of the benefits of independence, with teachers, governors and directors being able to shape education and raise the bar of academic attainment, I share many of the concerns that have been outlined so well by my noble friend Lady Morris about what happens when you strip powers away from the schools and academies and the impact that that has upon falling standards within those schools. I would not necessarily want to argue that it was an indication that the local education authorities are not interested. It is just a question of the level of ambition and expectation of the level of possible academic achievement that people have when you come into an independent school.
I am at issue with the Minister who introduced the debate. She mentioned trying to get more good schools and then set the bench mark at 30 per cent five A to C grades. That is appalling: it means that 70 per cent of the children in those schools are failing to meet the most basic academic attainment. That is a staggering indictment. We must consider raising the bar of expectation and performance much higher for all schools. If schools, academies and city technology colleges can demonstrate in some of the most socio-economically tough areas that standards can be delivered—that 84 per cent can achieve five good A to C grades—why not set that as the benchmark? Why not set 50 or 60 per cent as the achievement benchmark? We ought to look at that. There is a staggering problem. If we leave that 30 per cent hanging and say that we only have 639 failing schools out of 3,000, we are fooling ourselves as well as letting down a whole generation of children at those schools.
That leads me to my other point, about academic standards and performance. I have talked about one measure of school performance, but there is another: what actually constitutes a GCSE. We have talked about Ofqual, a qualifications body that will try to raise standards. Yet, as my noble friend Lord De Mauley mentioned in his opening remarks, one of the first actions of that body was to put pressure on one of the examination boards to lower its threshold for a C-grade in science; it was lowered to 20 per cent. When you discuss this with parents and teachers—as I have had the opportunity to do—and ask people outside of the educational elite what they think the score for a C-grade qualification is, most would probably say somewhere around 40 or 50 per cent. A B-grade would be about 60 per cent, and an A-grade probably something over 70 per cent. Those would be the general expectations, but we find that getting 80 per cent of the answers wrong can constitute a good GCSE pass in many areas. How can that be allowed to stand? We must ensure that that bar of academic achievement is raised. As has been mentioned, there is some concern that some of the examination boards are selling their services on the basis that their exams are easier for students to pass. We must be much clearer and tougher on what academic performance we expect.
I move from academic performance to another area central to the academic performance of children. Sadly, it is not mentioned anywhere in this Bill. It is the role of parents, who are central to setting children’s exam expectations and supporting their learning at home. They play a critical role. Students only spend 15 per cent of their time within the school building. The vast majority of their time is spent at home, with siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, who are all feeding into that child’s education. We have found that unless you engage the whole family in the educational achievement of that child you will not be able to attain nearly as much as you could if you did engage them. We have the concept that every child matters but every family and every parent matters. Unless you engage those people in the process, I am afraid that you will not see good results.
What do I mean by “engage with parents”? I mean helping them to help their children. There is a staggering level of illiteracy and a lack of numeracy and IT skills among many parents who really want to help their children but do not have the basic skills with which to do so. In my view the role of the school is to reach out and deliver those skills to parents to help them achieve the best for their child, because every parent wants the best for their child. I am sure that is a universal truth. They want the best for their child but often they do not know how to achieve that. Often other things are pressing on their mind which restrict their ability to help their child. The Bede Academy, which is due to open in Blyth this September, will be the first body to employ someone to work specifically with families based in a school. Debt counselling will be provided for parents and training will be given in literacy, numeracy and IT skills. Mother and toddler groups will be set up, as will marriage guidance courses. There will be lots of opportunities to support people and to show parents that a team effort and holistic approach to education is required whereby parents, teachers and children all come together to deliver excellence.
As regards my verdict on the Bill, it reminds me very much of the kind of comment that I am sure many people have received on an essay submitted to an examiner; namely, “brilliant and lengthy analysis but you failed to answer the question”. Here we have a Bill of 239 pages but I am afraid that it has failed to answer the question: how do we raise the raw scores of numbers and academic achievement to give people confidence in what they are doing and what they are studying for, and how do we support parents to help their children to attain those results?
My Lords, I think that this is a great Bill for quite different reasons from the ones that have just been mentioned. It is incredibly important because for the first time it gives vocational education equal treatment with academic education. We have never done that before in this country. That is the central aspiration of the Bill. We have guaranteed academic education to people who want it for as long as I can remember, but for the first time we are guaranteeing an apprenticeship to people who prefer to learn that way—and there are many of them.
I shall focus my remarks entirely on apprenticeships and on four major ways in which the Bill could be improved if it is to achieve its objectives: first, widening the entitlement; secondly, better information and guidance; thirdly, better content; and, fourthly, fairer financial treatment for apprenticeships. As regards entitlement, under the Bill people with level 1 qualifications are entitled to a level 2 apprenticeship. However, they are entitled to a level 2 apprenticeship only. Even if they successfully complete a level 2 apprenticeship before their 19th birthday, they are not entitled to go on to a level 3 apprenticeship. That is simply inadequate because a level 2 apprenticeship is quite a short affair—on average, it lasts one year for people aged 16 to 18—and is well below the standard of most apprenticeships in continental countries, which are much nearer to level 3. Essentially, the Bill is saying that if you want to study full time, you are entitled to progress from level 2 to level 3, but if you want to study part time via an apprenticeship, you are not. I call that a discriminatory situation. Of course, we know that finding places for apprentices will be challenging. However, we also have to remember that the Bill’s provisions for 18 year-olds will not come in for another six years. Surely we should aim to establish fair treatment for this group as compared with other groups. That means an entitlement to proceed to level 3—if you complete level 2 by the age of 19.
Further, we should get the English in the Bill right as regards the entitlement. When the Government discuss their approach to apprenticeship policy for 16 to 18 year-olds they always use the word “entitlement”. However, it does not appear in the Bill. Clause 90 says only that a suitably qualified person “may elect” for an apprenticeship. Surely it should say that a person is entitled to elect. We must include the word “entitlement” in the Bill. We should also drop the dreadful phrase “apprenticeship scheme”. My God, what does that remind one of—20 years of unsatisfactory arrangements for this group of people? It implies something temporary rather than what we are doing; namely, building a new and permanent part of our education system. Please could we replace “apprenticeship scheme” with “apprenticeship entitlement”?
As regards advice and guidance, as many people have said, it is important that young people are told about apprenticeships while they are still at school. However, Clause 35 leaves it to the school to decide whether it is appropriate to do that for any particular young person. Of course, we know that the school’s interest lies in keeping those young people in school. Surely Clause 35 should contain a simple duty for careers education to inform all young people about all the main options; that is, A-levels, diplomas and apprenticeships.
As regards content, I want to discuss the underpinning knowledge that is acquired during an apprenticeship. The draft document on apprenticeship standards specifies 250 hours of guided learning a year away from the workstation in order to acquire the underpinning knowledge. That is really excellent; it is a commitment to excellence. However, the Government are under a lot of pressure to water it down. I think that only one concession could conceivably be made, which is to include in the 250 hours timetabled study of new material online at the apprentice’s own computer, but I earnestly hope that no other concessions will be made.
A separate issue is the certification of the underpinning knowledge. The Cassels committee, of which I was a member and which reported in 2001, said that it should be certified through a separate technical certificate. This is currently the normal, though not universal, practice. The apprenticeship standards document seems to open up a bit of a can of worms by not saying that this should continue to be the normal arrangement. I earnestly hope that it will say that.
As regards what used to be called the key skills—they are now called functional skills—of English and mathematics, it is proposed in the specification that in order to get a certificate it would be enough for a level 2 apprentice to achieve level 1 functional skills. But the remarkable thing is that that is actually an entry requirement to a level 2 apprenticeship. So you have the remarkable situation where in order to complete the apprenticeship you have to have the same level of functional skills as you have to have to enter it, which means, of course, that not much will be going on in between.
That is very serious. If you look at the fundamental problems of the British non-graduate workforce, up to age 15 our schools score very well on the international tests, as I am sure noble Lords know. As regards 15 year-olds, we are not the horror story internationally that is usually assumed—we are doing as well as France, Germany and so on—but by the age of 20, our young people are way behind those of almost every continental country in their use of language and mathematics. The explanation is perfectly simple: so many of them have stopped progressing from the age of 16. We must take serious steps to embed some progress in the use of language and mathematics in the apprenticeship scheme.
How can we do that? As other speakers have said, it would be very hard on many youngsters if we insisted that they get level 2 functional skills in order to get a level 2 apprenticeship certificate, because those level 2 functional skills are equivalent to good GCSEs. That is asking an awful lot. However, it is also absurd not to be asking for anything—as in the current proposals. Some intermediate level between level 1 and level 2 has to be developed. That should be a requirement if we are to get our apprentices to advance their functional skills, which is essential for them as individuals and for our national economy. All this talk of developing functional skills raises problems with many employers. They do not think that it is their job to let their young people go off to do something that should have happened in schools. However, it is crucial that they do, which brings me to my final topic: the financing of apprenticeships, which is closely related to the finding of places.
The task facing the National Apprenticeship Service in delivering the entitlement is gigantic. By 2015, it will have had to have found nearly twice as many apprenticeship starts as exist today for 16 to 18 year-olds. It is a huge task, and one of the most important tasks for a Government to put their back behind if we want to have a more effective and equal society. In the past two years the number of 16 to 18 year-old apprenticeship starts has been falling, which tells you what a problem this is.
I believe, as does the committee of the House of which I was a member and which reported on apprenticeships, that we will not get there unless we offer some financial incentive to employers, which is the custom in most countries on the continent. We must face up to this. One may ask, “Where is the money coming from?”, but I should point out a few obvious facts. First, a young person on an apprenticeship gets less public funding than a young person in a sixth form. That in itself is unfair. But on top of that, an educational maintenance allowance—costing nearly £1 billion in total—is available to full-time students in sixth form or FE colleges but not to apprentices. One can see that there is an enormous imbalance of funding, which is completely typical of our education system.
Fairness is not the only issue; there is also the issue of how to get the places. I maintain that we will not get the places—certainly not places of an adequate standard which involve serious day release—unless we can offer to employers on a totally non-bureaucratic basis a flat-rate, simply calculated sum which is understood to be there to compensate them for having to allow their young people to go off on day release to improve their general skills and gain the underpinning knowledge relevant to the job. Employers, who in many cases do not like subsidies, will like that; they will understand that that makes it reasonable for us to insist on these general knowledge requirements as well as the on-the-job training. I do not know whether that is a suggestion for the Bill or even to be dealt with in the specifications, as it is a financial matter, but in Committee we need to discuss whether there should be a general legal principle that a category of young person who is pursuing one type of education at a given age should have at least the same funding as another group.
This is a very important Bill. It could be, and I hope it will be, a historic Bill. I also hope that we can make some of the changes that will do so much to make a difference.
My Lords, my noble friend talked about this being a portmanteau Bill and other noble Lords talked about trying to find a coherent theme going through it. I return to the area of education, disability and special educational needs, quite simply because I am a vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association—a position which is based on self-interest as a dyslexic. Someone came up to me at one of its functions and asked: “Have you seen this? The apprenticeships Bill has a minimum literacy requirement in it”. “Really?” “Yes it does”.
I hope that the Minister will tell me I am reading it wrong, because other legal requirements such as the Disability Discrimination Act may well override this legislation. However, when potentially a group may be excluded from accessing the principal provision for which this legislation will be remembered, and it may well be one of those who access this training, this qualification and this way forward, quite determinedly by saying, “You must have reached X level of qualification in a certain area”—that is in the use of English—I suggest that the Minister should go away and quietly kick the person who drafted this Bill. Many people in other disability groups have come to the same conclusion. Something is very wrong at least in the presentation of this provision, and it really is not on. A reference or a pointer across to where this applies in other pieces of legislation would have helped very strongly.
What does having a disability mean? It means that you either cannot do something or you have a problem doing it. I shall concentrate on dyslexics, although I appreciate that they are not the only group affected. Dyslexia manifests itself in terms of written language. Dyslexics from the traditional non-academic classes are in one of the highest groups for under-qualification and no qualification, and find themselves strongly represented in the prison population. You cannot get a job; you cannot earn money; you end up getting sucked into the criminal system. That is well accepted by just about everybody.
The Government then say, “You must have X level of basic literacy”. That makes me suggest that somebody has not thought this through. That should not have happened, no matter what the Minister says. I encourage the Minister to give me the assurances that will tell me exactly where what is in the Bill is overridden. Which legal requirements do that? If they are not there, we will have to change the Bill. It is that simple. I would put money on being able to rustle up a majority on this one; we have done it before.
I have other suggestions. The Bill has not really engaged properly with the disability lobby. Measures on inappropriate expenditure and the reasonable needs of learners are bumping into one another. Are we trying to create work for lawyers? There are enough of them in this House. Maybe there is a special interest group that has really got hold of the Government. It should be clarified which legal requirement comes out on top and when. How will it be decided as a legal precedent? How will it happen? Which bits of legislation will come out on top? How will they work together? In such a big, rambling Bill, provisions are bound to bump into many other sections of legislation. I hope that the Government have a strategy for dealing with that. If they do not, the Bill will take a long time in Committee, on Report and possibly even on Third Reading. We have to sort it out. If we do not, we will be going against the spirit of the legislation that the House has passed—to my certain knowledge—over 20 years. I hope that the Government will have coherent answers.
Having asked for a coherent answer, I crave a small indulgence to address something that is not in the Bill. It is an accomplishment to find something to do with any form of learning that is not in the Bill. There was a considerable error towards other areas of government policy in the Learning and Skills Act 2000. In that Act it was decided to concentrate only on qualifications and funding for qualifications that led directly to employment. It did not cover anyone involved in such things as coaching for sports, particularly amateur sports. I have a Bill covering the same ground, but on the assumption that my Private Member’s Bill stands less of a chance of becoming law than this Bill, I suggest that we try it here as well. By removing funding for that, people who are meeting government targets to get people involved in sport are required to fund it themselves. When we consider the number of targets from the Department of Health and other departments in the education world, it would be appropriate to provide some funding for that group to enable them to be trained.
Let us consider the people who are supposed to be supporting and funding this activity. They include the Department of Health, the Treasury, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the good old DCMS. They are all there, as I have been told on numerous occasions. Can we please have some more favourable treatment for the people involved? The Bill is about support for skills, learning and children. There may not be apprenticeships, but surely these skills should receive support. We should make sure that sports clubs, which are delivering a part of government policy, should get support. I accept that it cannot be open-ended and that there might be caveats, but anything would be better than the current situation. I apologise for going off on a slight tangent, but hope that I will be forgiven on the grounds that for once I was the first to mention the subject.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill and congratulate my noble friend on the efficient way in which she introduced such a long and complex Bill. It is timely because the country needs to improve its skill base if we are to help to get out of the recession and provide for and prepare ourselves for the future prosperity of the country.
I start by declaring an interest. I am leader of Wigan Council, chairman of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and a member of the board for NWDA. I appreciate what noble Lords have said about this being a crazy and complex arrangement. However, it is important to make it simple for those who want to use the system and it needs to be readily understood and accessed by the young people it employs so that we can create a public face for the new agenda that is clear and straightforward while expecting agencies to work more effectively together with, as my noble friend said, light-touch regulation.
The skills agenda is also complicated by other government initiatives. I want to raise two which have not so far been mentioned: worklessness and the city region pilots. The Government have produced a very swift and welcome response to the recent Houghton report on worklessness. It showed that worklessness remains a significant problem in some areas of the country. Unemployment is now rising faster in those areas than in other parts of the country. The promise of £1 billion for the Future Jobs Fund will help local authorities to tackle some of those issues. The schemes will need to be up and running by October so, clearly, most of them will have to contain a significant training element. If we are to get people who have been long-term unemployed back into employment, there will need to be significant training to tackle low skills with work-based training. That will need already to exist when the new arrangements come into place.
The Government are also producing a programme of city region pilots, which will enable certain parts of the country to have greater delegation than others. In Manchester, we wanted to prepare for that and make sure that we were doing the best for our local economy, so we commissioned an independent economic review of Greater Manchester. Inevitably, skills emerged as a central theme of the study. We need to develop high-level skills to ensure that we can meet the demands of the knowledge economy, and also drive up basic skills if we are to have an impact on the most deprived communities. We need to make sure that the flexibility of devolution can be brought to those areas.
One part of the Bill that has not been mentioned so far is Clause 41, which establishes a responsibility for local authorities to encourage participation in education. At the moment, there is wide variation in participation in local areas. At 16, the lowest participation in a local authority area is 72 per cent, and the highest is 97 per cent. That is a huge difference. If we look at it from the other perspective, NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—the lowest is 2.6 per cent, the highest is 11.8 per cent. That variation reflects different communities and the negative attitudes towards education and training in families and neighbourhoods.
I disagreed with quite a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said in his speech, but one thing that he said that is wrong is that all families want the best for their children. If only that were true; it would make our work a lot easier. There are some parents who, as he said, do not know what they want, but many actually do not care. In some of our deprived communities, there is a large number of parents who do not care. They may be drug users. They do not have an interest in the future of their children. We need to take that on board.
We can improve participation by structural changes and better support for individuals and families, but the fundamental barrier, as my noble friend said earlier, is the level of aspiration in individuals and families for education. The Government have made some promising starts. Sure Start is a very important scheme, but it is a longer-term scheme. I know that in Greater Manchester, Aimhigher has been successful in getting more young people from the more deprived communities to participate in higher education. As I said, it will take a long time and it may be too late, by the time that young people have reached their teenage years, to get them interested in education.
Noble Lords will not be surprised that I am pleased to welcome the devolutionary tendencies of the Bill. However, in my experience, two contrasting sets of circumstances lead to devolution. The first is when enlightened Ministers recognise the benefits of local solutions to local problems; the second is where intractable difficulties and insufficient resources mean that the Government are happy to pass the agenda to local authorities. In the kind of rugby that I played and am interested in, Rugby League, we call that a hospital pass.
It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, is not in his place. I enjoyed his robust contribution about what he achieved when he took FE away from local authorities, but there is a different view from the other end of the telescope. When his Government were starving local authorities of funding, we had to make difficult choices between the statutory sector and further education. By giving a separate funding stream to FE, he cannot really claim that he did much better.
I am amazed by how many noble Lords have said that the LSC is a successful organisation. I must say that from my perspective it is not, given its recent problems with capital funding and revenue funding. It has also failed to address some of the local skills problems. At a meeting that was meant to see how we could raise operations in some of the more difficult areas of Wigan, I was shocked when someone from the LSC said that it was important to provide hairdressing courses for girls. I am not sure that that is raising aspirations, although maybe it would be if they tried to cut my hair; they would have to look upwards.
FE has also failed to develop adequate links with schools and local communities. Recruitment to some of the new sixth-form colleges may have been on a wider geographical basis, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, but it has not been on a wider social one. Those colleges have not broadened the social impact; they have actually creamed off some of the better students and ignored those in deprived communities. As an aside, it is interesting that, having ignored their local authorities for many years, FE and sixth-form colleges are now talking to them.
I recognise some of the issues. We in Greater Manchester have already talked about how we make sure that provision post-16 links up better with schools and is planned across a much wider area than a single local authority to ensure both the efficient use of resources and the provision to young people of a wide range of different skills.
I also want to talk about the city region agenda and the fact that it has taken 12 months for Greater Manchester to begin to develop an employment and skills board similar to the one in London, despite a multi-area agreement. I trust that my noble friend can assure me that this legislation will not further delay the creation of such an important body and the delegation that we need from the LSC to ensure that it works.
I mentioned the Manchester Independent Economic Review, which is consistent with the Government’s ambitions to achieve better outcomes for employers and individuals. Again, I hope that we can ensure that there is an amount of devolution in the Bill, but we may well need to do things in future that are not already incorporated, and if we can build in some flexibility we will be able to secure a more successful future for skills and development.
I welcome the Bill. It will create education that is more relevant to local people, local businesses and local communities, and if we can improve participation and give greater access to skills and training in those areas, we can start to transform deprived communities.
My Lords, I, too, greatly regret the absence of Lord Dearing at this evening’s proceedings. He was particularly concerned and enthusiastic about improving the prospects of children in public care. We spoke about this often, and I appreciated his encouragement to me in this area.
I begin by taking the opportunity to pay tribute to the Government for the priority that they have given to education over the past 10 years and for their achievement in turning around the status of teaching. It is uplifting for me to talk to friends and hear them say that their sons are thinking about a job perhaps in the City or as a teacher. It really is something that the Government can be proud of having achieved in the past 10 years. It was heartening to be reminded by the Minister of the move from 65,000 available apprenticeships some years ago to 250,000 currently and to the highest level of completions. That is particularly pleasing for me because I recall speaking to a young man in a hostel run by Centrepoint. He had recently acquired an apprenticeship and was in a crafts workshop. He was simply delighted at this opportunity.
I also recall being present at awards ceremonies run by National Grid for young trainees who had been in custody and were selected for an opportunity to gain an NVQ level 3. If they succeeded they were guaranteed a job at National Grid or one of its partners. These young men were often at the awards ceremonies with their partners and young children. Thanks to this training opportunity and a job, these young children had the prospect of a father who would stick around and a family income, as well as a positive role model, rather than a father involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. These opportunities for young people make a difference from generation to generation. I welcome the Government’s successes in this area.
I welcome in the Bill the opportunity for employees to ask for training and the possibility of a less vigorous or more proportionate inspection of schools, as well as relieving them of some of the bureaucracy with which they have to deal. However, I share the concerns expressed from around the House, including from the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, and the noble Lord, Lord Bates, about the risk of increasing bureaucracy. During the past 10 years, I have been troubled that there has been such a lot of legislation concerning education and children. The Government have done wonderfully in terms of teaching, but if the same effort had been put into social work and other areas where people work with children and young people, we would be further down the road of improving outcomes for children than we are now. In 2004, during the passage of the Children Bill, my noble friend Lord Laming reflected on the fact that if only we had effectively implemented the Children Act 1989 this would not be necessary.
The workforce delivers the outcomes we want for children. I worry that a Bill of this extent and magnitude, which involves a fair amount of structural change, might be distracting rather than helpful, but I was encouraged by what the Minister said in her opening speech. It will certainly give us a good opportunity to look at what still needs to be done. Last year’s Children’s Plan recognised that the primary means of improving outcomes for children and young people is the workforce. We need to avoid being distracted from keeping that strong and single focus on making that sort of work attractive, keeping people in that sort of work and making a strong framework to support it.
As regards the abolition of the QCA, part of the plan is to improve confidence in the exam system. Will the Minister consider other means to improve that confidence? For example, building capacity in Parliament might be helpful. For many years, the Industry and Parliamentary Trust have offered to parliamentarians fellowships to work in business. There is a similar facility for those who wish to have experience in the armed services, but I am not aware of any similar fellowships for those who wish to find out about teaching and education or social work and social care. I would be interested to explore with the Minister what might be done to make available to new Members of Parliament the option of choosing fellowships with a local authority or a healthcare trust to shadow for some months social workers and so on in order to gain a deeper understanding of what they do.
I also share the interest of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, in what will be done to support the mentors, the craftsmen, in terms of delivering these apprenticeships. What guidance and support will be given to employers to make sure that we recognise and offer investment in these people? I will be interested in what the Minister has to say on that matter. As a general rule of thumb, the more challenging the client group, the more we should invest in front-line staff. I take that experience from children’s homes, where the reverse happens.
I am interested in the clauses in the Bill on education in prisons. How, for instance, would one implement this policy? Prison officers are often young men’s first experience of a father-like figure or, certainly, of a man in their lives who is not involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. A prison officer can be a very important figure for young men in custody. However, prison officers receive only eight weeks’ induction training, while probation officers have a degree-level qualification. I was very interested to read about the example in Northern Ireland, where prison officers are trained to become educational facilitators or advocates for young people in custody. There are two papers on this from 2008, one by Pike and Irwin and the other by Wilson and Irwin. I will send details to the Minister.
I remember speaking to a prison officer in Feltham young offender institution, who had received training in this area and was very enthusiastic about it. How, under the new arrangements, would local education authorities influence policy in prisons on the training of prison officers so that they are developed as facilitators or advocates for education? I suspect that it might be quite difficult under the present—or future—arrangements, but I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response. I very much look forward to further deliberations on the Bill.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to today’s debate. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of UNISON’s parliamentary group. While this is a wide-ranging Bill, with much to commend it, I will concentrate my comments on two aspects, namely the investment in apprenticeships and the creation of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body. Given that this has already been a long and well informed debate, I will be relatively brief.
The Bill’s proposals for apprenticeships are, by any measure, bold and ambitious. The Government already have a commendable record of skills investment and now they seek to move the agenda on to a new plane. The investment of £1 billion, with a target of 400,000 apprenticeships, could change the whole employment landscape for young people for the future. It is a defining and iconic policy, in that it illustrates our Government’s belief that in times of global recession, rather than cut services, we should invest in our future. That means investing in the skills of our young people, so that they can be at the forefront of the economic upturn.
The strategy will not succeed unless we also redefine and shape the scope of apprenticeships. They currently have an image that is stuck in another era. Our challenge is to modernise the concept so that it can be more easily embraced by the non-traditional sectors. The biggest challenge in this regard—but also the one over which we have the most control—is the public sector. My noble friend Lord Young has previously conceded that our record in the public sector is poor. Currently, the public sector accounts for 20 per cent of the workforce, but only 10 per cent of apprenticeships. We have begun to address this but, clearly, more can be done. This is why a rethink of the Government’s approach to public procurement is so crucial. As the recent report of the Office of Government Commerce acknowledged, today the total value of public procurement is around £175 billion a year. As the paymasters, it is in our power to insist that public contracts embed skills training and apprenticeships, as well as other good employment practices.
The Secretary of State has already embraced this concept in applying it to some public construction projects, such as new school building and the Olympic park, but this is a very small part of the public contract opportunity and, indeed, runs the risk of further stereotyping the image of apprenticeships as being mainly aimed at young men in the building and engineering trades. So I hope the Minister will feel able to go further today and give a commitment that training and apprenticeship provision will in future be built into all public contracts for products and services as well as for capital programmes.
In this regard there is one area of public procurement that could really benefit from further measures to drive up standards and improve skills: the care sector. The recent adult social care workforce strategy identified that 1.5 million people work in the adult care sector and over two-thirds work in the private and third sectors, the majority of which are small employers. Meanwhile, local authorities spend more than £16 billion a year on adult social care, much of it contracted out to the private sector, so there is an opportunity there for those contracts to have apprenticeships built in.
There is a desperate need to raise the status, skills and rewards of those working in this sector. The Government have taken some steps to address this by announcing 50,000 traineeships in social care for young people who have been out of work for 12 months, but this hardly begins to address the scale of the problem. We are facing huge demographic changes and there are already now more people over 65 than under 16 for the first time in our history. At the same time, quite rightly, we have higher expectations of care. A massive investment is now necessary to guarantee the professional, vocational and ongoing development needs of this sector. As part of this investment, a programme of apprenticeships in this sector could appeal to the mainly female workforce and help remould its image.
Finally, I would like to say something about a separate provision in the Bill concerning the creation of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body. We had some fun earlier with its acronym but it is a very serious and worthwhile body. It is a long overdue initiative which will affect more than 400,000 low-paid school support staff, mainly women, working in diverse jobs such as teaching assistants, technicians, secretaries, craft workers and school meals workers. Undoubtedly they make an invaluable contribution to children’s education and well-being as part of the school team, yet all too often their loyalty and commitment to the children and the school have been exploited. Their pay, often set by local authorities or individual schools, has been seen to be expendable and, as a result, school support staff have ended up being among the lowest paid in the entire public sector. A recent survey has shown that the average take-home pay for teaching assistants is £758 a month or around £11,000 a year, and for a qualified nursery nurse it is £957 a month or about £14,000 a year, and their relative pay rates compared to teachers have fallen dramatically. Yet in recent years their roles and responsibilities have become more complex: for example, actively supporting teachers and learning, covering for teachers and providing individual support for pupils and their families. Many of the improvements the Government want to achieve in schools, such as improved reporting, raising standards and tackling poor behaviour, as set out in the Bill, will add further to the responsibilities of the support staff.
I am therefore pleased that the Government have finally addressed this issue and created this national negotiating body, albeit with some caveats. The issue which has to be confronted is the dichotomy between a Government keen to set national standards with fairer rewards and an ongoing desire to give schools more control. However, the issue has been overcome for other groups, such as teachers, and it would be invidious if the lowest paid were expected to bear the brunt of the consequences of decentralisation.
The dilemma has been addressed in the Bill by allowing for a national framework for pay and conditions with local flexibilities. Obviously, this has the capacity to undermine the objective of consistency, so there is still some work to do to ensure that the agreed outcomes of the negotiating body are applicable to all schools. I understand that these issues were explored at length on Report in the other place, and suitable clarification was agreed. However, there remain concerns that some of the Secretary of State’s powers to refer agreements back to the negotiating body—for example, on the grounds that it is not practicable to implement the agreement—remain ambiguous and need further clarification. I hope that the Minister will be able to address this point of detail in due course.
While I am on the subject of seeking commitments, it would also be helpful if those responding from the opposition Benches could reassure support staff that they see a long-term future for the work of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body.
I have sought during this debate to raise a couple of matters of concern, but overall I welcome the Bill. It addresses issues that are fundamental to the concerns of young people and their parents. It gives new rights where they are due and focuses investment where it can be justified. If it is successful, it will change the learning experience for a whole generation and finally achieve our oft stated aim of lifelong learning for all. I hope that the House will give it its wholehearted support.
My Lords, I apologise; I had the benefit of the Minister’s introduction, for which I was grateful, but thereafter I had to chair a Select Committee that was taking evidence and, regretfully, missed a number of the earlier speeches.
I declare my interests. I chair the Chartered Institute of Education Assessors, which inevitably has interests in some of the issues in the Bill. I was also the author of an independent inquiry on SATs that is referred to in the Explanatory Notes. I take full responsibility for that.
There is much in the Bill that deserves comment. It is a varied and multi-headed Bill, as has been pointed out—almost Hydra-headed. I shall restrict my comments to Part 7, which deals with the setting up of Ofqual. I warmly welcome its creation as an independent regulator and a non-ministerial government department. Your Lordships might be interested to know that I believe the expression “non-ministerial government department” was first used in the context of education in the Education (Schools) Act 1992. In fact, I was given the responsibility of developing that department, which became known colloquially as “Ofsted”. In order to find out what the job was, I went, as I thought sensibly I should, to speak to the Cabinet Secretary, one Robin Butler. When we sat down, he said affably, “What can I do for you?”. I said, “I would like to know what a non-ministerial government department is”. He said, “So would I. I thought you were going to tell me”. We have moved a long way since then. It is now a term of art and, if properly applied to Ofqual, will improve significantly the way we deal with some of these matters.
The critical issues in relation to Ofqual properly carrying out its role relate to its having the necessary powers and resources, having sufficient independence and having clear lines of accountability. Much of the background to this is what I had to plough through when looking at what went wrong with SATs last year. There have to be clear lines of independence and accountability, including a line to Parliament; provision is made in the Bill for an annual report to be laid before the House of Commons. There have to be lines to the Secretary of State, and it is correct that there will be a duty on Ofqual to report to the Secretary of State should it have reason to believe that there may be a malfunction, or even a potential malfunction, in the national assessment procedures. There will have to be lines of accountability and clear lines of communication with the various providers of regulated qualifications and, significantly, with the students and pupils who will be subject to these assessments. There is more in the Bill about accountability to the providers than about that to the students, and that is a weakness that we may want to look at in some detail.
As part of accountability, the core report will be the annual report. “Who lays it before the House of Commons?” is an interesting question; I do not think too much hangs on it, but we ought to be clear. Is it the Secretary of State, or is it perhaps the chair of the relevant Select Committee in the House of Commons? I have mentioned the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. It is important that Ofqual understands that if malfunction appears on the horizon, there must immediately be a report. That was a failing last year when such reports were not forthcoming in time.
There are responsibilities to the wider community, which the Explanatory Notes refer to as “the public confidence objective”. The most important responsibility Ofqual will have is to issue a stream of independent reports commenting on processes, procedures and the quality of what is being done. In the minds of a number of people, there is some question about the relationship to the Secretary of State. The Bill gives the Secretary of State significant powers. For example, there is the power to determine minimum requirements, which, in effect, means minimum standards. The role of Ofqual is therefore, according to the Bill, among other things to monitor and regulate how these minimum requirements are met and enforced. There are some who question this and see this as a route to undermine the independence of Ofqual. I have thought hard about this. On reflection, I do not agree that that is an inevitable outcome, but there are certain points that must be taken into account. Two or three different considerations are relevant. On the one hand, who better to hold responsibility for minimum requirements? In some ways, it seems to be the least worst option. At least it is an identifiable figure, and if there are questions of standards not being met, we know who is responsible and where questions should be directed, and there are procedures inside and outside Parliament to direct those questions specifically.
I was pleased to see in the Bill that a Secretary of State laying down or changing minimum requirements would be required to publish them. Publication is a key feature of this, and without it, it would not work. There would be a desperate temptation to interfere. If they are published, they can be questioned and analysed, not least—and I shall come to this in a moment—by Ofqual. Ofqual must have the independence necessary to comment on these minimum requirements. It may not agree with them, but part of its job is to check whether they are being met. If it is an independent body, it should also have the responsibility of ensuring that these minimum requirements are subject to proper public scrutiny and it can be an important partner in that.
There are other grounds in the Bill for suspicion that there is a risk that a Secretary of State might interfere. For example, Clause 125 refers to the assessments standards objective—I was not quite sure about all these titles—which is,
“to promote the development and implementation of regulated assessment arrangements”.
That responsibility is given to Ofqual. So far, so good, but in the Explanatory Notes there is a gloss on that:
“The ultimate responsibility for regulated assessment arrangements, which are statutory assessments, lies with the Secretary of State, so Ofqual‘s role is to monitor and report on those arrangements”.
That is a significant diminution. What happened to “develop”? The Bill refers to promoting the development, but the Explanatory Notes refer to “monitor and report”, and they are rather different. It is important to have that clarified by the Minister. “Monitor and report” is not the same responsibility as promoting “development and implementation”.
Another area I question—these are just two examples, but there are more—relates to Clause 126(6):
“Ofqual must also have regard to such aspects of government policy as the Secretary of State may direct”.
That may seem looming and threatening, but I see the point. If Ofqual does not have regard to that policy, part of its job is not being done. However, does this preclude evidence-based comment by Ofqual on these policies? I hope not, and I hope we can have reassurance from the Minister that Ofqual is not prevented from commenting on the policies that will be stated by the Secretary of State.
Ofqual must have adequate resources and powers. It must have an annual budget and means of determining that, and there must be all the usual discussions, bilaterals and arguments. I assume all that will take place, but we are told of something called the efficiency objective. This takes the remit significantly beyond the assessment of standards, which of course a regulatory body such as Ofqual is certainly engaged to do. My point here—it is important to be clear and precise—is whether Ofqual has responsibility under this efficiency objective to ensure that the processes are adequate and working well. What went wrong last year was that the processes looked good on paper, but they were not working. There needs to be some form of monitoring. Ofqual is an obvious way of doing that. If so, there is little mention in the Bill of ensuring that it has the resource and skill to monitor process. For example, one of the things I recommended was that if a contract was issued to an external provider it could in the early stages be subject to comment from Ofqual. In other words, what does it need in order to carry out the appropriate monitoring of the process? I would welcome reassurance from the Minister that it will have the responsibility of monitoring process as well specifically as standards.
There is a further point on this. One of the clauses refers to entry and inspection conditions, which “may be” imposed on granting regulated standing. The Bill says that this “may be imposed”; I think it must be imposed. Indeed, it should not be a “may” or a “must” but a “will be imposed”. Unless Ofqual has the right to ask for relevant information and data whenever it sees fit and appropriate, the risk of the thing going off the rails is considerable. That happened last year. The embryo Ofqual, which at that time was still part of QCA, was not able to receive, to ask for and be provided with, the information it thought necessary to do its job. There must be a specific power to ensure that it has that capacity.
I have one last point. Ofqual is also responsible for handling changes of criteria for recognition. What account will be taken of the needs of those seeking recognised assessed qualifications; in other words, the students and pupils? The handling, withdrawal or surrender of recognition could have a significant impact on students already on a course, or who have made earlier education choices with the aim of picking up a particular qualification. If the provider can no longer provide these because of decisions by Ofqual, there needs to be assurance that Ofqual will take this into account and have plan B so that students are not left hanging. I can see that we are in for an interesting time. There will be many questions to raise in Committee.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as a member of the corporation of Guildford College and as an honorary fellow of the City and Guilds institute. My task otherwise is to begin the winding up of this long debate. The breadth of the issues covered makes this task somewhat difficult. At the core of the Bill are three developments. First are the new arrangements for 16-to-19 education, which follow from the Education and Skills Act 2008, which raised the learning leaving age to 18. Secondly, there is the implementation of the Leitch recommendations in relation to skills training, and in particular the development of apprenticeships and so-called demand-led provision. Thirdly, there is the revamping of the QCA and the separation of the role of qualifications regulator from that of developing the national curriculum.
As we have heard, there are also important provisions relating to children’s centres, children’s trusts and children safeguarding; issues relating to teachers and support staff; provisions about how schools can cope with bad behaviour, record and report the use of restraint, search for drugs, alcohol and weapons, and deal with complaints from parents; and, finally, provisions for stopping students avoiding their debts by declaring bankruptcy. It is, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said in her response to the Queen’s Speech, a Christmas tree of a Bill. The two departments have succeeded in hanging all kinds of ornaments on it.
Like so many Bills that come to this House from the other place, barely half of it has been properly scrutinised. It is notable, for example, that at the beginning of the marathon all-night 16th and final Committee sitting in the other place, the Committee had reached only Clause 130 of this 262-clause Bill. Moreover, the Report stage in the other place was dominated by government amendments so, once again, proper scrutiny of the Bill falls on this House. Today’s debate indicates that there will be a lot of scrutiny of a lot of bits of this Bill as we go through it.
I should make it clear that we on these Benches have considerable sympathy with the two broad objectives of the Bill—the provision of a coherent framework for the provision of 16-to-19 education, with particular emphasis on apprenticeships and work-based learning, and the setting up of the independent exams regulator. For some time, my party has been calling on the Government to develop a much more coherent approach, not just to 16-to-19 education but to the whole of the 14-to-19 stage. Although the emphasis in the Bill remains on the 16-to-19 stage, there are elements in relation to the provision of sixth-form colleges which seem to look to the 14-to-19 stage. We will be probing this further in Committee. We endorse very much the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that we should be looking at the 14-to-19 curriculum. That is the coherence we are looking for.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, challenged me about whether we did not see the opening up of the vocational and work-based routes to education as doing something very positive about the inequalities in education. I join the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in saying yes. I celebrate the degree to which we are putting apprenticeships and work-based learning on to a firm footing. However, the reason we are having to do this now, much too late, is that for 50 years this country has failed 50 per cent of its young people in secondary schools. The secondary school curriculum is based far too much on academic standards and does not give most students something on which they can focus. For those who learn by doing rather than by thinking, the secondary school curriculum is very alien. It is not surprising that many of them want to leave school so early. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that it is all very well judging everything in terms of who gets five A to C passes at GCSE; quite frankly, the GCSE is an irrelevant exam for a lot of these children. We need a curriculum that meets their purposes much better.
When they came into power, the Government rightly asked Sir Mike Tomlinson to look at the secondary curriculum. He came up with an overarching proposal for a diploma, which was rejected. Instead, we have hybrid diplomas. There are three separate lines: the GCSE line; the diploma line, which is about the world of work; and the apprenticeship line, which is about work-based learning. There is at the moment no coherent linking between them; we need a degree of coherence and the overarching umbrella that Tomlinson proposed. But the Government rejected it and we do not have it. So although it is lovely that we are at long last giving work-based learning some real status, it is much too late. We should have done it long ago.
My own interests, following my role as shadow spokesperson on these Benches for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, are in the provisions relating to apprenticeships and skills. Here we are witnessing the dismantling of the Learning and Skills Council and in its wake the creation of two further quangos. As many have said, it is not clear that this is an improvement. Indeed, the complexity of the new arrangements in terms of funding and accountability leaves many people quite bemused. I am not alone in having seen detailed organigrams which try to clarify the situation. I was quite amused by the briefing issued by the Bill team, which described the new YPLA—and the Minister almost repeated it—as,
“a new, slim-line NDPB which will support and enable local authorities to carry out their new duties”,
in relation to 16-to-19 education. A paragraph further on, it expands on this role, stating that the YPLA will be,
“providing national frameworks to support (LA) planning and commissioning, ensuring coherence of commissioning plans, managing the national funding formula and providing strategic data and analysis … Once local authority commissioning plans are agreed by the sub-regional group and the regional planning group, the YPLA will check these to ensure they cohere and are affordable. The YPLA will then fund local authorities to meet their agreed commissioning plans”.
So much for this light-touch authority.
Despite the fact that I welcome the attention given to apprenticeships, there is a real question whether we needed this legislation at all. Since the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, taking through this House—it was the Bill on which I cut my legislative teeth—we have set up the sector skills councils, which have gradually taken the lead in developing, in conjunction with accrediting organisations such as City and Guilds and Edexcel, the apprenticeship frameworks for each sector. The Economic Affairs Select Committee of this House, in its report on apprenticeships, endorsed the lead taken by those employer-led councils, although it noted a number of anomalies, in particular the varying amount of time required to complete a full apprenticeship according to sector, and suggested some kind of mechanism for developing equivalence. It also suggested a clearing house for apprenticeships.
The National Apprenticeship Service which the Bill sets up to some extent fulfils those functions, but it is set up as part of the Skills Funding Agency and, if truth be known, there is no explicit mention in the Bill of the National Apprenticeship Service as such. Whether we really need all the paraphernalia of central registration, certification, specifications, frameworks and agreements that the Bill sets up is a moot point. It would seem to add a good deal to the bureaucracy of a system that is already working quite well, and it is odd that, while it is clear that the proposals intend to build on and develop the existing sectoral arrangements, the sector skills councils, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, mentioned, receive no mention at all.
The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee in the other place, in its examination of the draft Bill last autumn, asked whether this legislation was really needed. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Young, responded that the Bill was of “symbolic importance”. The Select Committee remarks in its report:
“This appears to us to be perhaps the driving force behind the Draft Bill. We question whether it is a good use of Parliamentary time to consider ‘symbolic’ legislation”.
From these Benches, we can only say that we agree. While we endorse the concept of the National Apprenticeship Service flying the flag for apprenticeships and acting as a co-ordinating body for the various sector skills councils, we do not see the need for this heavy-handed approach. A light-touch NDPB was all that was needed, which we shall suggest in Committee.
A number of other issues on apprenticeships came up in the debate which merit a mention. My noble friend Lord Cotter and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, raised the role of small and medium-sized businesses. They will have a real problem in handling the bureaucracy. The Select Committee in this House suggested group apprenticeships, which I believe are compatible with the Bill, but, again, there is no mention of them in it. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, there is a great danger of the bureaucracy becoming overwhelming for a firm which has only half a dozen employees.
Secondly, the issue of whether apprentices should be required to be employed or to meet minimum qualifications has been raised by quite a number of people. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, I, too, will take on board the points that Barnardo’s and Rathbone make. Many people would benefit greatly from the work-based route to learning; they can achieve a great deal, if somewhat slowly, and need a way into an apprenticeship. We do not want to shut that door or create barriers there. The same is true of the points made by my noble friend Lord Addington about dyslexia. At the college where I am a governor, there was a case of a girl who came in regarding herself as a dummy to do a level 1 course. Because we put every new young person through an assessment test, the college picked up immediately that she was badly dyslexic. She has been at the college for five years and is doing a national diploma, which is a higher education qualification; she will end up with a foundation degree. So, provided that you support people with dyslexia, they can actually achieve a great deal. The initial assessment is of vital importance.
Careers advice has been mentioned by a lot of people. My noble friend Lady Garden mentioned it, and very many people have said how inadequate they feel that Clause 35 is. Clearly, we will all be looking at that—and the Minister is on notice that there is a lot of feeling around the House about that one.
The noble Lord, Lord Layard, referred to progression. It is very important that apprentices are not stopped in their tracks. The point that he made was that if a young person had only a level 1 qualification they could only do a level 2 apprenticeship; then they are stymied because they cannot go on to a level 3 apprenticeship. That is madness; they really should be allowed to do that.
I turn to the two organisations that will inherit the mantle of the LSC—the YPLA for the under-19s and the SFA for the over-19s. I have already questioned the role of the YPLA. We have also very serious misgivings about the SFA. Above all, we do not understand why that organisation, which will have wide-ranging responsibilities and wide funding responsibilities for adult skills as well as running four important further services—not just the National Apprenticeship Service but Train to Gain, which has a budget of well over £1 million a year now, the Adult Advancement and Careers Service and the National Employer Service, all set up as part of a Civil Service department with the Civil Service at the top—is an agency. It is not even an NDPB. It has very little autonomy and is said to be under the thumb of the department. Surely such an organisation needs to be able to do its own thing and have the same degree of autonomy as its 16 to 19 partner, the YPLA. Yet here it is, sitting right under the thumb of the department, and indeed an integral part of the departmental machinery.
At one of the very many meetings that we have had over the last few months to discuss the Bill, I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Siôn Simon, why there was that differentiation between the two organisations. He replied that the two departments had just taken different views as to what they wanted. I cannot really accept that that is why they differ. I would be interested to know why the YPLA is seen to be a hands-off organisation whereas the SFA is potentially a much more interfering organisation.
This is a wide-ranging Bill and there are a lot of issues to discuss. One that many noble Lords have addressed is that of Ofqual, including the key issue of whether it will have real autonomy and the extent to which the Bill gives undue power to the Secretary of State to interfere in Ofqual’s remit. I was much encouraged by what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said. We need to look at Ofqual against the criteria that he established for Ofsted. I found his analysis very helpful in terms of what we should be looking at and how we should measure this.
There is also the QCDA, which remains under the wing of government, no one being quite certain what its function will be. My noble friend Lady Garden asked how far it would develop assessment techniques. In many senses, the assessment organisations—the City and Guilds and so forth—are those with the expertise here. It is madness for the QCDA to be working in these areas. The national curriculum remains the responsibility of the department and the Secretary of State, and it is right that somebody should put some thought into the development of the curriculum. In fact, lots of people are doing that, but there should be an organisation that advises the Secretary of State on these things, and I see that as the QCDA’s role.
It is unclear precisely what that role is. What does “promoting quality and coherence” mean? What is “coherence”? That is not at all clear. Then there is this shadowy JACQA—the Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications Approval. What is JACQA going to do? Nobody quite knows, which raises a lot of questions.
On young offender education, my noble friend Lady Garden made it clear that we Liberal Democrats very much welcome the fact that there is a clear remit for local authorities here. I echo her views that there is an opportunity perhaps to do more, to really look at young offender education and do something worth while about it. It would be lovely to seize the opportunity of the Bill and do something like that.
The big question in lots of people’s minds is whether local authorities can live up to the expectations. The problem in all these young offender institutions is that there is such churn. We know very well from other areas that it is difficult for local authorities to ensure that the information about the young people actually travels with them; too often it takes six weeks to appear, by which stage they have moved on yet again. It raises many questions about whether local authorities have the capabilities to handle this. Have they got the funding to handle the responsibilities? Have they got the people with the skills to do it? I am not sure that they have. However, I hope very much that they will. We need to do a good job here because we have let these people down far too often.
We generally welcome putting children’s trusts, safeguarding boards and children’s centres on a statutory footing, but we have a general worry that this sector has already seen so many changes and initiatives. It is time to stop changing the goalposts and let it settle down. The knock-on effects of the Baby P case on recruitment in social work have been relatively disastrous. Let us hope that it settles down and that we can achieve something positive out of it.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley spoke about the power to search and the recording and reporting of the use of force. A number of other noble Lords also mentioned this issue. It is an important issue, and it is important that we recognise children’s dignity and privacy. It would be lovely if we could see the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporated into British law. We have been asking for that for a long time.
This has been a long debate. I have not found it easy to sum up because the Bill covers so wide a range of issues. Many have spoken about only one or two aspects of the Bill. In general, I sense that many welcome its main provisions on boosting apprenticeships and setting Ofqual up as an independent regulator in the area of qualifications and assessment. One theme of the debate has been the perception that the structures being put in place are unnecessarily complex and leave too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State. That has been a recurring theme of Second Reading debates in this House and reflects the Government’s tendency to think that they can fix problems by changing structures rather than by plotting a more evolutionary approach. We have a prime example here of getting rid of the LSC and setting up two more organisations to replace it, rather than merely changing its terms of reference and allowing it to grow into a new role. The result—I echo some of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, mentioned—is that we have a churning of institutions, acronyms and, above all, people. There has been a tendency to think that this churn is good, that it keeps people on their toes and stops them becoming complacent. However, there is also a downside in the loss of team spirit and morale. As the Foster report on the capital funding crisis in the LSC reminded us, with all their jobs up in the air it is hardly surprising that the LSC staff took their eye off the ball.
With the exception of the clauses relating to Ofqual, we take the view that the Bill is unnecessary and threatens to burden the education system with yet more churn, uncertainty and bureaucracy.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to hear so many noble Lords speak with such passion and insight about the provisions that the Bill sets out to deliver. When I first read the Bill, I was struck by the droning sound of a cacophony of instruments conducted by a maestro who was missing large parts of the score. It is reassuring that we have so many expert minds in this House—minds galvanised by the arduous task ahead of writing those missing scores and making sense of this extremely wide-ranging Bill.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I will not speak about every part of the Bill today as I hope to have much more time in Committee to look in greater detail at every measure that it proposes. As my noble friend Lord De Mauley pointed out in his excellent opening speech, this is a huge Bill which skips, hops and jumps across probably three Bills’ worth of clauses. “Education, education, education” is now a byword for bureaucracy, interference, organisational change and failure. However, we must turn to the task ahead of us. Inequality is rampant within our education system. In 2007, just 25.3 per cent of pupils from the 10 per cent most deprived areas gained five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with 68.5 per cent of pupils in the top 10 per cent of the least deprived areas.
The cost of this inequality in times of recession is dear. In the UK there are fewer manual jobs for those with no or low skills, and fewer avenues to prosperity for those with little by way of qualifications. But rather than pointing the way out of inequality, the Bill plays the old encore of bureaucracy, confusion and disparity. As my noble friend Lord Eccles pointed out in his most informative speech, the Bill will cause the Government’s interference to grow rather than be reduced. Opportunities will be lost as processes are overly complex. In the PISA international league tables of school performance, Britain has fallen from fourth to 14th in science, from seventh to 17th in literacy and from eighth to 24th in maths. Graduate unemployment among the under-25s is running at 17.2 per cent. Universities are finding it hard to distinguish between students on the basis of A-levels alone. While independent schools are tackling this challenge by introducing new, more rigorous exams, the Secretary of State has refused funding for those exams and so has placed state-educated pupils at a further disadvantage.
Organisational change and reorganisational change over the past 12 years have left the teaching fraternity angry and frustrated. The Bill should raise standards, reward successful schools with greater independence, stretch the brightest pupils and create opportunities for all to shine. Instead, it lumps together a hodgepodge of ill thought out proposals. How they all fit together nobody quite knows. We must now, more than ever, create a framework which empowers our young folk with skills and opportunities to shine and equips them with the resources to excel in the tough workplace once they leave education. I listened very carefully to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, who rightly highlighted the need for the education that we deliver to be far more aware of and responsive to the country’s demographic demands. Skilling, reskilling and training for the older workforce and those from different minority backgrounds is crucial to ensure that we successfully deliver equality and opportunity for all.
However, stopping inequality must begin with provision at birth. As my honourable friend Maria Miller pointed out in another place, despite spending more than £17 billion over the past decade on early years provision, the Government have not significantly improved every child’s ability to reach their potential. We can see this right from the beginning in key stage 1 results. According to the Government’s own figures in 2005, 71 per cent of the most deprived 10 per cent of children in this country achieved national standards in writing, but by 2007 this figure had fallen to 68 per cent. This Government have a poor record of delivering not only equal education opportunities but equal well-being. In April of this year, Britain rated 24th out of 29 developed countries in the University of York’s measurement of child well-being.
The original inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, published six years ago, recommended effective joint working as a remedy to this culture of disadvantage and so arrived children’s trust boards. However, the Audit Commission’s report of October 2008 stated that after five years there was little evidence that the Government had improved outcomes for children and young people. Although we support the measures in the Bill that put Sure Start centres on a statutory footing, we must ensure that children’s trust boards acquire the partnership of their missing partners, as the Audit Commission recommends.
My noble friend Lady Morris has so eloquently argued about the inequalities in funding private, voluntary and independent nurseries. Will the Minister give assurances that the issue of funding and disparity in funding will be addressed in the Bill? As my noble friend Lady Morris said, we are poorer in the provision of excellent childminders and PVIs as they struggle to access funding and places remain unfilled.
This Bill not just extends unequal access to education in the early years, but continues to do so throughout secondary education. Working from the Conservative city technology college model, Tony Blair recognised that his academies needed to be freed from the constraints of local authority control and local bureaucracy in order best to serve the socio-economically deprived pupils they sought to help. But since the current Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families arrived, this independence has been diluted. My noble friend Lord Bates provides real-life evidence of what academies can do when the freedoms are given to them to govern to suit the needs of the students and to raise their aspirations.
Local authorities have become more involved in academies’ sponsorship, establishment and operation, and academies have enjoyed less freedom over the curriculum. In a letter to the Minister of 23 February, Mike Butler, chairman of the Independent Academies Association, fervently articulates the wider view among other academy principals when he says:
“It appears that with every consultation, each missive and even new legislation from the DCSF there comes further erosion of the independent status of academies”.
Furthermore, the regulation and supervisory management of academies have been tagged on to one of the three quangos that this Bill creates. They appear almost as afterthoughts. As we have read in the briefings, many fear that academies will be so heavily controlled by the YPLA that they are unable to respond to the needs of the pupils they serve. Sadly, the real losers here are some of the most disadvantaged students whose chance of being offered opportunities in academies which make the most of their talents may be stolen from them. What seemed strange to me were Jim Knight’s comments to a Lords committee last week when he said that the Government were looking into giving every school in the country some of the freedoms afforded to academies. I must say, I for one am most confused. We are all set to debate a Bill in this House which reduces academies’ independence, while a Minister from another is making announcements that appear to extend the model of academies elsewhere. I wonder which it is to be. Perhaps the Minister could give us greater clarity on this issue. When will these freedoms be afforded? What freedoms exactly does the Minister refer to, and which schools are the Government going to start with? I am afraid that the Government’s confused polices on freedoms and academies are illustrated by the whole Bill.
Another area of education this Bill dusts around but fails to spring clean is the provision of special educational needs. Twenty per cent of school pupils have special educational needs, but the Government have a poor track record of helping them. Despite their spending £5.1 billion on the education of pupils with SEN, Brian Lamb, who conducted the government-commissioned review into SEN services, wrote to the Secretary of State in April of this year noting:
“Too many [parents] reported that the system was not on their side and said they had to fight or do battle with the system to get what they needed for their child”.
Furthermore the Bill gives local authorities responsibility for the education of students aged up to 25 who have learning difficulties. There are currently 3,000 pupils with severe learning difficulties in residential specialist national institutions. As briefing from the Association of Colleges points out, by locally commissioning the provision of education for students with SMLD and special needs, we run the risk of sidelining successful national providers of education, regardless of the fact that the national specialist providers may better equip a pupil with tools to flourish in life—providers such as the brilliant National College for the Blind, which was ably alluded to by my noble friend Lord Lucas, who has great knowledge in the provision of home education and the importance of not discriminating against families and parents who wish to build on the ability to have home education. Will the Minister guarantee that local bureaucracy and localised commissioning will not obstruct pupils with learning difficulties from going to education providers that best suit their needs?
This Bill not only changes the way in which education is provided, but provides us all with a delightful new language to learn—a language built on an alphabet of acronyms. My noble friend Lord Baker laid out far better than I can the many different acronyms that the Bill introduces. I wonder whether the Minister plans to legislate for this new language in the Bill. These acronyms from the CESF to the SFA, the YPLA and beyond, are not just the basis of a new language but new quangos, which come with even greater bureaucracy.
Worryingly, as my honourable friend Graham Stuart in another place pointed out, nobody knows how the relationship between these quangos will work. The lines of responsibility are organised locally, regionally, sub-regionally and nationally. The fear is that this reorganisation will lead only to even more paper pushing between agencies and further divert attention away from providing funding for the learner, thereby distracting education providers from the task of giving every individual in their establishment the opportunity to shine. We look forward to debating these relationships and I hope that the Minister will provide further clarity.
As we debate this Bill, I hope that we can begin to untangle this convoluted web of quangos and make amendments that will help the education provider deliver greater educational opportunities to their learners. Teachers must be handed back control for discipline in their classrooms. Schools should not be, as they currently are, punished for suspending unruly pupils. When 344 children are suspended every day in schools in England for violence against other children it is clear that the Government have failed to get to grips with the rise in poor, disruptive pupil behaviour. When will the Government stop paying lip service to the educational fraternity and instead begin to trust them? If the Government claim to trust the professionalism of teachers, why is there nothing in the Bill to protect teachers against false accusations? If we are to deliver a better educational system then we must begin by trusting the very individuals who deliver it. My noble friend Lord Sheikh, in his wide-ranging and informed speech, raised many of the difficulties that teachers will face in trying to implement parts of the Bill. Teachers should be able to instil discipline as they see fit and should not shy away from lawful, proportionate measures to improve behaviour and discipline because they live in fear of time-consuming, confidence-sapping false accusations.
There are parts of the Bill that we support, but its size and muddled, confused content mean that part of it has not received the level of scrutiny required for legislation in the other place. The Bill has arrived as a bureaucratic muddle, saddling schools, teachers and funding agencies with unclear lines of responsibility and wasted bureaucracy. Ultimately, the Bill diverts education providers’ attention away from creating the opportunities that our children need to shine.
I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the expertise and knowledge of this House. I know that the Minister values line-by-line scrutiny, in which we are at our best here. With my noble friends, I look forward to working very closely with the Minister and her team.
My Lords, I join many noble Lords who have started by saying how sad it is that we are not joined by our very dear Lord Dearing, whom we all know from our experience of debates on Bills and other topics of substance was always a great source of wisdom and thoughtful guidance for all of us on all sides of the House. I join those who have made that point more eloquently than I.
I have been grappling with the etiquette in your Lordships’ House on whether I should welcome the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, to his position, but I would very much like to congratulate him on what I consider to be an outstanding opening speech. Although I do not necessarily agree with him, I know that I will very much enjoy debating with him in future and I congratulate him on his speech.
We have had some wonderful contributions this afternoon and this evening, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, I value the line-by-line scrutiny of this House and this debate has given me and, I am sure, colleagues in the department, food for thought, as ever. I particularly liked the fable cited by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, about the blind men inspecting the elephant. I very much hope that by the end of Committee, we will all be able to agree on what the shape of the elephant will be. Whether we all like the shape of the elephant, I cannot predict.
Like my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, I found the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, very entertaining. Like my noble friend, I found that I could not agree with the noble Lord’s analysis, but I wholeheartedly agree with a couple of points that he made. The first is the excellent design of the Middlesbrough College building, which is an absolutely fabulous building. The second is the importance and value of the work that he did with Lord Dearing and elsewhere to promote the technical school idea. I was very interested to hear about that.
I was particularly taken by the contributions of my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Layard, and many others who highlighted the significance of the Bill in setting out the historic nature of the law with regard to apprenticeships. Those who are belittling the importance of the Bill should take heed of their remarks, particularly with regard to the role of apprenticeships in tackling inequality.
I shall talk about a few numbers, because for me, as a scientist by training, numbers are always very important. Yes, we have a clear expectation that we will meet our target of 130,000 completions by 2010-11, unlike the prediction of the honourable David Willetts. We need to be clear about the fact that we are measuring completions, which are so important. Completions have more than trebled from 39,000 in 2001-02 to more than 113,000 last year. It is fair to say that we have rescued and expanded apprenticeships over the past 10 years from the position in 1997 when only 65,000 people started apprenticeships—a different measure from completing them. Two hundred and fifty thousand people started an apprenticeship in 2007-08—a record number, and an increase of 22,000 from the year before. Those figures speak for themselves. They are significant achievements.
I will think very carefully about noble Lords’ comments on the need for stronger information, advice and guidance on apprenticeships, but I should say that the 2008 Act requires schools to provide impartial careers advice to pupils that promotes the pupils’ best interests. This will be underpinned by statutory guidance that is currently out to public consultation. The new section in the Bill builds on this by requiring schools when fulfilling this duty to consider apprenticeships, but, as I have said, I will consider noble Lords’ thoughts very carefully.
I was going to say at the start—I warned the Bill team that I was going to say this—that I want to ensure that we pick up on all the questions that have been raised during this debate and, with our best endeavours, get back to all noble Lords before Committee on 16 June. I hope that we will be able to give some pace to our debates then.
My noble friend Lady Wall challenged me to reiterate that sector skills councils must remain responsible for issuing apprenticeship frameworks. I applaud the work particularly that Semta and all the sector skills councils do on apprenticeships. I reiterate that the intention is that sector skills councils will continue to issue apprenticeship frameworks and that we are committed to ensuring that sector skills councils continue to play a pivotal role in delivering our apprenticeship ambitions.
My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and others talked about the importance of progression from apprenticeships to higher education. This is in our sights. We are committed to a range of progression routes into and out of apprenticeships that include higher education. The Learning and Skills Council is working on a project to align UCAS tariff points with a small selection of advanced apprenticeship frameworks, providing a clear route into HE. Plans are currently being developed to align all advanced apprenticeship frameworks to this model: clearly a very important development.
My noble friend Lady Prosser raised a number of key issues, but talked particularly eloquently about non-traditional occupations. Again, the Learning and Skills Council is running pilots to encourage people to consider apprenticeship routes that are non-traditional for their gender or ethnicity. These aim to get a critical mass of people into particular careers through pre-apprenticeships and by offering support through mentoring. That is very important work, although I am sure there is much more that we need to discuss.
The noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, and my noble friend Lady Wilkins highlighted the importance of accessibility to apprenticeships to people with disabilities. We are very committed to ensuring that apprenticeships are accessible to all young people and adults. We are grateful particularly to the work of the Special Education Consortium, Skill, the RNIB and others for their assistance so far in seeking to achieve this, and we look forward to working with the co-ordination group.
We are happy to confirm that Clause 81(2)(b) provides that when securing apprenticeship training for all 16 to 18 year-olds, as well as to 19 to 25 year-olds with learning difficulties, the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency must have regard to any learning difficulties that a person may have. A complementary duty on local authorities to provide significant apprenticeship training is included in Clause 40. I know that noble Lords are very concerned about these important areas.
The noble Lords, Lord Rix, Lord Low and Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, talked about the qualification criteria for apprenticeships and how this should not act as a barrier to young people with disabilities. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked specifically about dyslexia. I understand noble Lords’ concerns about this and I am committed to looking afresh at pre-apprenticeship routes. It is important to note that the qualifying criteria in the Bill relate to the apprenticeship entitlement and not to the individual apprenticeship framework. Anyone who meets the qualifying criteria for an individual framework will still be able to pursue that, but I can see that this will be an important area for us to debate further.
My noble friend Lord Layard talked about a number of important issues, including whether 16 to 18 year-olds completing a level 2 apprenticeship will be able to extend that entitlement to a level 3 apprenticeship. I am advised that there is nothing to prevent a young person going on to a level 3 apprenticeship after completing a level 2. We hope that they will do so. However, the entitlement relates to a first entitlement at either level. I am sure that we will come back to that.
The noble Lord, Lord Moser, very importantly talked about the need for a continued commitment to basic skills. I am particularly grateful for his comments on the success of the skills-for-life strategy, and I pay tribute to him on his role in its inception. We remain committed to a further £3.9 billion investment through to 2010-11 and we will build on the £5 billion already invested since 2000-01, which has enabled 5.7 million people to attend 12 million courses with more than 2.8 million people achieving first qualifications. Again, it is worth noting the numbers.
My noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth talked about the right to request time to train and whether it should be extended to part-time workers. Part-time employees will be eligible to make requests for training. A key point is that they should have been in employment for six months, which we will propose through regulations. Agency workers, as with flexible working arrangements, are excluded, but they can access training through Train to Gain via their agency or the organisation to which they are hired. It is important to have that on the record.
The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, talked about Ofsted as the first non-ministerial department. For all of us here today his contribution was particularly helpful and illuminating. Ofsted has largely been the legislative model for Ofqual, which we expect to be as independent in its judgments and regulatory activity as Ofsted had been. Along with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady O’Neill, he raised important questions about the relationship between Ofqual and the Secretary of State. In Committee, we need to explore these points in detail. In particular, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to Clause 126, which allows the Secretary of State to direct Ofqual to have regard to government policy. We believe that that does not encroach on Ofqual’s independence. It is only a requirement to “have regard to”. How it does so is left entirely up to Ofqual. This clause is a replication of a power that the Secretary of State has with regard to Ofsted. Without it, we could not rely on Ofqual’s assistance in implementing policies such as ensuring that there is a range of qualifications to engage young people who are, for example, at risk of disengaging from education. I have got rather too much detail to go through on that, but I am sure that we will have some important debates.
The noble Lord, Lord Bew, asked what the annual report of Ofqual to the Northern Ireland Assembly will include. The report must state how Ofqual has performed in its functions in the reporting period. In reality, the report is bound to range more widely. Ofqual may, for example, want to report on its plans for the coming year. Of course, it will be for the Assembly to consider and set out what issues it wishes Ofqual to cover.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and many other noble Lords referred to the reform of the Learning and Skills Council. He suggested that the reforms would not save money. This is not a cost-saving measure, but is intended to transform the support that we can give to young people through the raised participation age and to upskilling adults. We are also committed to retaining the expertise of Learning and Skills Council staff. Some savings, though, may be realised—for example, through reduction in accommodation costs—but that is not the objective. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, also talked about the LSC and made some very sharp comments, which are always important to listen to. I make a couple of points. The LSC has made excellent progress in driving up participation and achievement among all age groups. I pay tribute to the work of its staff. We now need new structures to deliver a raised participation age and even more responsive support for adult learners and employers.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, teased me about whether I knew what SSSNB stands for. I was delighted when I had a quick look at the list of acronyms at the back of the notes, which tells us what all sorts of things stand for. One is DCSF, which stands for the Department for Children, Schools and Families. EYSF is early years foundation stage, FE is further education and LSC is the Learning and Skills Council. Also in here is SSSNB, which stands for School Support Staff Negotiating Body, which I accept is not an easy abbreviation, but it is an extremely important body. It will, for the first time, bring together school support staff and employer and employee representatives to negotiate the pay and conditions of school support staff. This will end the era of widespread pay disparity for this group, which my noble friend Lady Jones referred to and has been a real challenge for many schools.
My noble friend Lady Jones expressed concern that the Secretary of State could reject and refer back to the School Support Staff Negotiating Body any agreement that it has reached. The Secretary of State would only do so after fully considering the context and examining the likely impact. It is not a step that the Secretary of State would take lightly. We expect that it would be highly unlikely for the Secretary of State to need to do so, given how the body has been set up and how it promises to work. A good example to illustrate why we might need such a power would be if implementing an order in relation to an agreement would be detrimental to schools or pupils. That is an extremely unlikely event. Again, I am happy to provide reassurance on that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln was concerned about representation on the negotiating body. The membership of the SSSNB includes the Church of England education division, which will be well placed to protect the interests of dioceses. I hope that I can reassure him there.
My noble friend Lord Rosser talked about data collection and analysis to assess the benefits of the investment made by employers in training. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills produces a monthly skills and employment policy research briefing which aims to provide up-to-date intelligence relevant to its partners. I am happy to discuss this further, or any other matter which my noble friend would like to raise, and to offer him some further background and reassurance.
Many noble Lords referred to the important role that academies have to play in driving up standards for some of our most disadvantaged young people, particularly my noble friend Lady Morgan and the noble Lord, Lord Bates. They spoke passionately about the achievements of academies and I listened with great interest. I pay tribute to the work that they do. In particular, there was a question about the inclusion of academies in behaviour partnerships. I can offer reassurance that this is about building on accepted best and current practice; that is the driver there.
My noble friend Lady Morgan asked what experience the YPLA will bring to assist academies. They should benefit from the YPLA’s experience of funding education and training of all 16 to 19 year-olds as well as its regional presence, which will enable it to provide a more local and personalised service than the department can as we move forward into looking after the 400 academies that we expect to establish. That is one point. Importantly, many of the staff of the academies division, to whom my noble friend paid tribute and acknowledged the role that they have played, will be moving across to the YPLA. We will endeavour to ensure that that corporate knowledge and experience is safeguarded.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about behaviour partnerships and why primary schools are not involved in them. She made a very interesting point. While we agree that there is value in partnerships being forged with primary schools, we need to recognise that behaviour issues at primary and secondary level are not always the same and adding primary schools to partnerships could make them unwieldy. However, we will encourage school partnerships to involve feeder schools.
The noble Baroness also asked why the power to search for weapons under previous legislation was being extended without review. We are implementing the recommendations in Sir Alan Steer’s report. Some schools need these extended powers to deal with the disruption caused to other children’s education by a minority of students bringing alcohol and drugs into school. That is very much what Sir Alan Steer was talking about in his widely welcomed comprehensive report on promoting good behaviour in schools, so that is where that driver comes from.
On the question about teacher training and appropriate training for those required to search for drugs, alcohol or stolen items, nothing in the Bill will give anyone any power to force teachers to carry out searches. It is important to say that on the record. We will be providing new guidance, which will give the comprehensive background to support this new power, and we will be consulting on that guidance in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked about home education. I should make it clear to the noble Lord that there is no intention whatever to introduce new clauses into this Bill in relation to home education. Many Peers have commented that there is plenty in the Bill already and it would not necessarily be a good thing to attempt to put more into it. I can give the noble Lord that reassurance now; I hope it is what he is looking for.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Garden and Lady Howe, talked about the importance of arrangements to support young people as they move into and out of custody, and whether they will work in practice. I believe that new duties on home and host authorities will go a long way towards addressing the issues of continuity of education for young people in custody. We are making historic changes in the Bill for the education of young people in custody, and I am sure that those will be welcomed as we scrutinise them in Committee.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made profound comments, as always, about the importance of supporting looked-after young people and the importance of the education of young people in custody. I agree that it is vital to ensure that staff in the secure estate work in partnership with the staff in local authorities. As I said, we will be looking to draw on the experience of all those who have something to offer and particularly on the experience of Ireland, as the noble Earl described.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, asked what the targets will be for local safeguarding children boards. The Government have stated that we will review the range of safeguarding targets and will publish a new safeguarding framework this autumn. In developing that framework, we will draw upon the range of expertise in this area and will consult widely. It is not an easy area to define, as the noble Lord pointed out.
My noble friend Lord Bilston talked about a funding gap between FE colleges and school sixth forms, and asked if there would be a funding formula. I am happy to confirm that the Young People’s Learning Agency will operate a national funding formula, so I hope that reassures him.
My noble friend Lady Wilkins asked about the needs of deaf pupils. We share the National Deaf Children’s Society’s ambition to ensure that our new school buildings meet the needs of all children. That is why the new Building Bulletin 93, The Acoustic Design of Schools, will include a new section setting out the legal responsibilities to promote inclusion and access to education in all settings. We hope that this will have a significant impact on quality, and look forward to continuing our ongoing dialogue with the NDCS on this important issue.
This legislation builds on our work over the past 12 years to enable young people to fulfil their ambitions. It also helps equip the country to meet the economic and social challenges of today and tomorrow. It is a significant Bill, reflecting the scale of our ambition to ensure that from the earliest age everyone must have the opportunities to achieve the very best that they can.
I make no apologies for the broad range of the Bill; it is important legislation. We need to take a holistic approach that ensures that the structures are in place to support parents, teachers and schools and, most importantly, to support individuals in realising their own ambitions. The Government are ensuring that young people have a wide range of learning opportunities that meet their needs. The measures in the Bill are fundamental to delivering a world-class education system, to building a strong economy and ensuring that every learner has the opportunity to pursue their talents, realise their ambitions and secure for themselves a successful future. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 9.59 pm.