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Further Education: 16 to 19 Year-olds

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they plan to give 16–19 year olds in further education.

My Lords, we are committed to raising the participation age to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015. We are protecting funding for 16 to 19 learning, expanding the number of apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds to 131,000 and creating more training places. We are also doubling the number of UTCs and have announced a £180 million 16 to 19 bursary fund, which will be targeted towards those young people who most need support to continue their education and training post-16.

I thank the Minister for that, as ever, helpful reply. In terms of the bursary fund, will the £70 million shortfall be arrayed on the 16 to 19 budgets that are already there? The recent AoC inquiry looked at reasons why students were not staying on in colleges and found that, for 94 per cent of colleges, the reason was access to transport. Local authority after local authority is doing away with 16 to 19 transport. Will my noble friend please look at this, because there is no point having good colleges and good courses if the students cannot get there?

From the whole range of conversations that I have had with principals and with Members in another place from all parties who have brought them in to see me, particularly from rural areas, I am very aware that there are particularly acute transport provision issues, as my noble friend says. One of the points of the new discretionary fund, unlike the current one, is that schools and colleges will be able to make provision for transport. Local authorities have a statutory duty under the Education Act 1996 to set out what provision they are making for post-16 transport. However, I agree with my noble friend that that needs to be kept under review. We need to see what local authorities are doing and how they are discharging their duty and to bear in mind the importance of transport going forward.

Does the Minister agree that, in addition to the issues that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, one of the key issues is having teachers who understand what trades and skills are required for apprenticeships? Most employers who are very keen on apprenticeships have this dilemma, as teachers do not understand and do not take young people through this route. We have a lot of information to give them.

I very much agree with the point that lies behind the noble Baroness’s question. There are two connected issues. One is to do with trying to make sure that children and young people are given impartial and independent careers advice. I know that there are concerns that schools not only might not have teachers who have an understanding of apprenticeships and the benefit of apprenticeships but might have an interest in advising the child in a way that is in the school’s interests financially, perhaps persuading them to stay on rather than saying that they would better placed in an apprenticeship. I accept the force of what she says. I know how much work the last Government did to encourage and promote the uptake of apprenticeships, which is very much a goal that we share.

My Lords, over and above the fact that apprenticeships are centrally important in delivering high-quality education, as well as a craft training experience, is it not very much to our benefit that they provide a contribution by employers to the process of education in this age group? Is it also not very encouraging that the Government seem in difficult times to have been able to make progressive improvements in that programme?

My Lords, I am glad that we have been able to make provision for an increased number of apprenticeships both at 16 and, in the Budget last week, at post-18. I agree with my noble friend. The benefits of good apprenticeship schemes are not just for the young people on them but for the employers and the businesses; it is very much two-way travel.

My Lords, how do the Government intend to encourage basic skills, citizenship and spiritual and moral education for 16 to 19 year-olds in FE, given the cuts in entitlement funding?

I am very much aware from conversations that I have had with a whole range of sixth-form heads and college principals how much value those institutions place on entitlement funding and what is able to be taught through the entitlement funding. I know therefore that the cuts in entitlement funding are a cause of concern to them. The Government decided that the key areas that we had to safeguard were those of the core academic and educational programme. If we can get to a point where funding in sixth-form colleges, FE colleges and school sixth forms is not tied to specific activity but goes to the college and the principal can spend it with discretion, in the same way as we are trying to do in schools, that will go some way towards addressing those concerns.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the very limited bursary scheme that he announced this week will deny financial support to hundreds of thousands of young people who currently receive the education maintenance allowance, who are all, by definition, living in very low-income households, and that all the Government are doing is taking money away from students in poor families to give it to only the very poorest, which is a political choice? Before he mentions deficit reduction, does he also agree that the cost will still fall on the Government through rising unemployment, leaving aside the cost that the young people and the families themselves will pay?

I know that the noble Baroness and Peers on the opposition Benches are very concerned about education and training and have worked extremely hard to promote it over a long period and that she and others are particularly concerned about unemployment among the 16 to 18 age group. Fortunately, in the last quarter that has fallen a little, but we need to keep going on it. I understand entirely why the EMA was set up and what the moral purpose behind it was. It was paid to 45 per cent of children, which is hard to define as a targeted form of assistance. Overall we have moved from a situation where it was an incentive payment to one where participation up to age 18 is to be compulsory. As the participation age is raised going forward, the argument for a broad scheme like that is weaker. Therefore, it is sensible to concentrate the money that we can afford on those who need help the most.

My Lords, may I put it to the Minister that the apprenticeship schemes are very welcome? The young apprentices learn practical skills on the factory floor but they must learn the theory in vocational colleges. I hope that places are made available for apprentices in those colleges.

I agree with that point. I would be very keen to have a conversation with the noble Lord about UTCs, which I hope will capture some of the issues about which he is concerned.