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Education: Vocational Subjects

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 12 May 2011


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement on vocational education made earlier in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to a make a Statement today on the next stage in this coalition Government’s radical reform programme to make opportunity more equal. I should like to outline our response to Professor Alison Wolf’s ground-breaking report on vocational education. In her work, Professor Wolf stresses the importance of fundamental reform across the board to improve state education and I would first like to update the House on our progress towards that goal.

It is a year to the day today since the new Department for Education was created to raise standards for all children and narrow the gap between rich and poor. In that year, we have introduced a pupil premium, £2.5 billion of additional spending on the poorest pupils. We have extended the free provision of nursery education for all three and four year-olds and introduced free nursery education for all disadvantaged two year-olds,

We have launched the most comprehensive review ever of care for children with special needs. We have overhauled child protection rules to ensure that social workers are better able to help the most vulnerable. We have allowed all schools to use the high-quality exams which the last Government restricted to the private sector. We are ensuring spelling, punctuation and grammar are properly recognised in exams.

We have recruited Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson to restore proper narrative history teaching. We are doubling the number of great graduates becoming teachers through Teach First and doubling the number of great heads becoming National Leaders of Education. We have also created more than 400 new academies, tripling the number that we inherited, creating more academies in 12 months than the last Government did in 12 years. I can confirm to the House today that we have now received over 1,000 applications from schools wishing to become academies and more than 300 applications to set up free schools, many from great teachers like the inspirational head Patricia Sowter and the former Downing Street aide Peter Hyman.

These achievements have been made possible by the united strength of two parties with a shared commitment to social mobility working together and I would like to take this opportunity to underline my thanks for the part they have played in pushing this programme forward, to the Deputy Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Member for Old Southwark and Bermondsey, my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families and my right honourable friend the member for Yeovil. It is my personal hope that we will all be able once more to make use of his talents in the country’s service before very long.

We will be building on the momentum generated by our reform programme by today accepting all the recommendations in Professor Wolf’s report on vocational education. Professor Wolf found that while there are many great vocational education courses and institutions providing excellent vocational education that are heavily oversubscribed, we also have hundreds of thousands of young people taking qualifications that have little or no value.

That is because the system is overly complex. After years of micromanagement and mounting bureaucratic costs, it is also hugely expensive; and there are counterproductive and perverse incentives to steer students into inferior courses. In short, the damaging system of vocational education that we inherited is failing young people and must be changed now before the prospects of generations of young people are further blighted.

Securing our country’s future relies upon us developing our own world-class education system, from which young people graduate not just with impeccable qualifications and deep subject knowledge but also the real practical and technical skills they need to succeed. This Government do not only support high quality vocational education for its utility—vocational education is valuable in its own right. It is part of the broad and balanced curriculum that every pupil should be able to enjoy. It allows young people to develop their own special craft skills, to experience the satisfaction of technical accomplishment and to expand what they know, understand and can do.

As my honourable friend the Minister for Further Education has repeatedly and eloquently argued, we need to elevate the practical and treat vocational education not, as it has been seen in the past, as an inferior route for the less able but an aspirational path for those with specific aptitudes; which is why we are taking immediate steps to rebuild the currency of vocational qualifications. As recommended by Professor Wolf, we have reinstated several qualifications which lead to professional success—for example certificates in electrical engineering and plumbing—which we know are highly valued by schools and colleges and admired by employers.

Because we know that the current set of qualifications do not meet all needs, we will work with awarding bodies and others to ensure that more high-quality courses are available for all students of all levels; because we know that the current league table system does not reward the progress made by students of all abilities, we will reform league tables to recognise the achievements of the lowest and highest-achieving; and because we know that not all qualifications are equal, we will further reform the league tables to guarantee that vocational qualifications are given a proper weighting. Their value will no longer be inflated in a way which encourages students to pursue inappropriate courses, nor overlooked in a way which unbalances achievement. Because we know the current funding system creates perverse incentives, we will reform it. At the moment schools and colleges are incentivised to offer lower-grade qualifications which are easier to pass because they get paid on those results. That must end. The dumbing down of the past has got to stop if the next generation are to succeed. Students should choose the qualifications they need to succeed, not those which bureaucracies deem appropriate.

However, while choice in the qualifications market is crucial there are certain inescapable facts in the labour market no student can ignore. Employers rightly insist that students are properly literate and numerate. They remind us that there are no more important vocational subjects than English and maths. However, as Professor Wolf’s report lays bare, huge numbers of students leave education without proper qualifications in those areas—making it increasingly hard for them to secure jobs.

This Government will put an end to that by ensuring that all 16 to 18 year-olds who were unable to get at least a C in English and maths at GCSE continue to study those subjects through to 19. The best-performing education systems not only offer a strong grounding in the basics such as English and maths, they ensure a good general education which cements the ability to reason, to assess evidence, to absorb knowledge and to adapt to new opportunities. In this fast-changing world, few 16 year-olds know exactly what they will be doing at 21, let along when they are 25, 35 or 45. So we need to ensure that every 18 year-old has followed a broad programme of study and has a core academic knowledge that provides them with a secure foundation from which to progress. That is why Professor Wolf backs our English baccalaureate as a springboard to future success in a rapidly changing world and stresses that it gives students the maximum freedom to choose between academic and vocational pathways throughout their life.

We know that the most prestigious vocational pathways require a rounded school education as preparation. Professor Wolf’s report underlines that some of the best vocational education in the world exists in our private sector apprenticeship programmes. The best are massively oversubscribed. BT typically has 15,000 applicants for 100 places each year. Rolls Royce has 10 applicants for every place and Network Rail is similarly oversubscribed. There is far greater competition for some of these courses than there is for places at Oxford or Cambridge.

We want to ensure that all employers get the support that they need to offer high-quality apprenticeships. My honourable friend the Further Education Minister is working to reduce the bureaucracy that employers face and ensure that every penny spent by Government and employers on apprenticeships can be used to the very best effect, including by studying best practice with similar schemes around the world.

Professor Wolf emphasised the need for clear routes for progression, but for greater flexibility within them. She was right to do so, and we will consider, alongside the general educational component, what further programmes of study are needed to give 16 to 18 year-olds the broad education they need.

For more than a century, there have been numerous failed attempts to reform vocational education. It is now more important than ever that we finally bring an end to the two-tier education system that has scarred our country for too long. Professor Wolf’s report, together with wider reforms, such as the fantastic university technical colleges being pioneered by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, sets out a clear map of what we need to do.

I am delighted that Professor Wolf has agreed to continue to provide regular and ongoing advice to government as we implement her recommendations. I cannot think of anyone better qualified to help us offer young people the genuine and high-quality technical education they have been too long denied. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, we found much to welcome in Professor Wolf’s vision for a higher quality vocational education. In particular, we welcome the commitment to ensure that every young person reaches a decent level of proficiency in English and maths before they leave school, an area to which we devoted a considerable amount of resource, with some success, and gave them the opportunity to make progress in those important basic skills. I declare an interest at this point, as I am a school governor of my local primary school, which I am pleased to say recently received an “Outstanding” assessment by Ofsted. English and maths are the key sets of achievements when pupils reach year 6.

We welcome the efforts to simplify the system and qualifications to make it easier to navigate for young people so that normal programmes of study lead to progression. Professor Wolf recommends the adoption of multiple measures of school performance, echoing moves that we made in government towards what we described as a balanced school report card approach. The Secretary of State has accepted that and is proposing new performance management measurements in addition to the English baccalaureate. But will teachers’ hearts not sink a bit when they hear that there are to be more targets, and will they not question whether the Government are delivering the autonomy to get on and teach that they promised? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that they will consult teachers before dropping any new measurements on them, as they did with the English baccalaureate? Even with the range of measures, Professor Wolf’s report rightly warns of the consequences if a single performance measure becomes dominant. She says that,

there remains a serious risk that schools will simply ignore their less academically successful pupils. This was a risk with the old 5 GCSEs measure; a risk with the English Baccalaureate; and will be a risk with a measure based on selected qualifications. It needs to be pre-empted”.

Rather than pre-empt that risk, did the Secretary of State not in fact pre-empt the Wolf report by presenting his English baccalaureate as the gold standard for schools?

More broadly, have this highly prescriptive league table measure and its arbitrary subject selection not already damaged the deliverability of Professor Wolf’s vision by relegating vocational learning to second-division status in the public mind and in the minds of schools? Creative and practical subjects are crucial to the quality vocational education that Professor Wolf advocates, but already they are an undervalued currency in our schools because of the Secretary of State’s action. We ask the Government to think again on the English baccalaureate and allow more breadth and flexibility so that it caters for all students. You cannot design a school system that works for everyone around the requirements of the Russell Group.

The deliverability of Professor Wolf's vision is also affected by some of the Secretary of State’s action in other areas. She rightly stresses the importance of a quality careers service to inform young people about their options, which is surely more important in a world where young people are struggling to make their way. Yet, as we speak, the careers service in England is simply melting away. We welcome the vision of an all-age careers service but ask again: where is the long-promised transition plan to deliver it and will it be adequately resourced? At a time when youth unemployment is at a record high and access to further and higher education is becoming more difficult, is not the web and telephony service that the Government propose only part of the solution?

The Government say that they are focused on social mobility but they are, we believe, systematically knocking away some of the ladders of support that help young people to get on in life. More young people in FE colleges on vocational courses are in receipt of the EMA than in schools or sixth forms. They need the money to buy equipment or support their courses. Will the scrapping of the EMA not hit those young people disproportionately hard and, again, make Professor Wolf's vision hard to deliver in practice? Colleges and students are four months away from the start of the academic year but still none the wiser about what the replacement scheme will provide. Is it not now time to listen to no less than the OECD and reinstate the EMA scheme?

Because time is limited, I will focus some of my contribution on apprenticeships, which I am sure will not surprise the Minister. There were three explicit recommendations in the Wolf report. I want to focus on two of them; I am only dismissing the other in the interests of time. In recommendation 14, Professor Wolf says:

“Employers who take on 16-18 year old apprentices should be eligible for payments (direct or indirect), because and when they bear some of the cost of education for an age-group with a right to free full-time participation. Such payments should be made only where 16-18 year old apprentices receive clearly identified off-the-job training and education, with broad transferable elements”.

That is worth pursuing if we are serious about trying to get more and more employers involved with apprenticeships—and we have a long way to go in that area.

I also want to refer to recommendation 16, where Professor Wolf says:

“DfE and BIS should discuss and consult urgently on alternative ways for groups of smaller employers to become direct providers of training and so receive ‘training provider’ payments, possibly through the encouragement of Group Training Associations”.

If I wanted to amend the report, I would delete that “possibly” as we know that group training associations are a tried and trusted formula. We put in hand a scheme to enlarge and expand upon them but we seem to take an inordinate amount of time before taking a tried and trusted formula and expanding it in the way that is needed. Again, I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that recommendation.

On the general question of apprenticeships, I listened carefully to the Minister and if I have a criticism it is that I wish we would not always talk about high-level apprenticeships—remembering that there are well over 200 types of apprenticeships—as though implying that if you are not doing a Rolls-Royce or a BT apprenticeship, it is somehow second class. We need people in the catering industry and I know that it is fashionable to mock McDonald's but it has a damn good training and apprenticeships scheme. You can progress through to management and get a foundation degree, so there should be a little less focus on implying somehow that those are the only apprenticeship programmes which count. They are not, but we need to ensure that every apprenticeship programme has proper training and educational elements to it. We have all the necessary measures in place to achieve that.

I hear what the Government are saying about apprenticeships, but some of their actions are unfortunate in that they undermine their intentions. It was unfortunate that the Government decided to do away with the guarantee that we had in a previous Education Act that by 2013 every young person who wanted an apprenticeship would receive one. It was an ambitious target, I freely admit, and we might not have achieved it, but it was a real signal of intent, of commitment, by a Government to ensure that we did not waste another generation of young people by leaving them unemployed. This Government really ought to reconsider that because it was the wrong signal to give.

I am also puzzled why, every time they issue a government contract, the employers who benefit from those contracts do not have to indicate how many apprentices they will recruit and what training programmes they have. It does not cost any money to do that, and if the Government are serious about trying to engage more employers then, for the life of me, I am baffled why they have not continued with that.

The comments that have been made suggest that, somehow, only private sector apprenticeships count. That is not true. There are lots of very good public sector apprenticeships. I have a concern about the Government’s economic policy. I do not want this to be a debate where we try to score points off each other, because we can do that in debates about whether we believe in the Government’s current economic policy, but the plain fact of the matter is that, unfortunately, we now have 43,000 more young people unemployed.

We are in a situation where we have to do everything we possibly can. The points that I have made about apprenticeships are practical and I hope that the Government will give them serious consideration. We, too, welcome in general the Wolf report and the recommendations contained therein. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

I congratulate the noble Lord on the success of the primary school of which he is a governor. It is very much the case that the role of governors in primary and secondary schools is often unsung. They perform a hugely important role, and everyone who has performed it will recognise the amount of time that it takes and the difference that it makes, so I am delighted that his primary school has done so well and been rated as outstanding.

I also welcome his broad welcome of the report. I listened with care to what he had to say about apprenticeships because I know from previous exchanges with him that he speaks with great authority on that subject. I have recently been lucky enough to have a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who spoke along similar lines and made similar points to me. I accept many of the noble Lord’s points. Payments to employers for 16-to-18 apprenticeships, for example, are something that the Government said that we would need to look at in the light of our response to Wolf. I think that that was one of the noble Lord’s concerns; certainly it was one that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, raised with me. I agree that we need to do more to get employers involved.

I also agree that public sector apprenticeships have an important part to play alongside private sector apprenticeships. Many good public sector apprenticeships are being offered. On the noble Lord’s point about how important it is to stress the central role that apprenticeships can play—this is not only about Rolls-Royce—we all need to send that message out.

On the guarantee, which we have debated before and about which I know the noble Lord, Lord Knight, feels strongly, the reason for making that change was not in any way to try to diminish the importance that we attach to apprenticeships; there is more funding going into them, and we all want to see them increase. Rather, it is because ultimately we are dependent on employers to provide work-based apprenticeships, so that is not a guarantee that the Government can give. If employers will not provide that guarantee, we cannot give it. However, I certainly agree with him that we need to try to attract more employers and raise the quality of apprenticeships if we can.

I take the point that the noble Lord made at the beginning of his remarks, about targets and not having more and more complex targets. Getting the balance right between having a set of measurements that does not lead to perverse incentives and providing more varied information so that we can all see what is going on is not easy. However, we need to try.

I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of creative and practical skills in education. The point of the EBacc was not to suggest that an academic route is superior to a vocational and technical route. The Government very much accept that we want good education, whether it is academic, vocational or technical, fitted for the particular aptitudes of the child. The point around the EBacc is that there are children, particularly from poor backgrounds, who are not being given the chance to study academic subjects and are therefore not given as much chance as they might to progress into higher education. That is what we hope that the EBacc will, in part, address.

I am glad that the noble Lord welcomes the all-age careers service. I take his point about the importance of getting the transitional arrangements right. My honourable friend the Minister for Further Education in another place issued a Statement on April 13 giving guidance to local authorities about trying to work our way through the transitional period, but we will need to keep that under review.

So far as the EMA is concerned, I also accept that people want clarity. We are running, as the noble Lord will know, a consultation on the proposals that we announced at the end of March, which runs to May 20. The reason for that consultation was to have the chance to talk to schools, colleges and others in this sector so that we could try to ensure that the arrangements that we outlined in our response in March are practical and can be delivered. We will try to ensure that the funds which we have will go to those who need them most, and encourage them to stay on in education.

My Lords, I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and we, too, welcome the Wolf report. We particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to improving the quality, status and availability of vocational education.

I will pick up two concerns that I heard expressed earlier today in another place. The Chairman of Committees was concerned that, although it is welcome that schools will be made accountable for how they deliver vocational education, teachers and parents may find it rather confusing to have another system alongside the English bacc for holding schools accountable. Given the Government’s commitment to improving the quality of vocational courses, once that has been done to the Government’ satisfaction, would they consider adding an additional section to the English bacc to include vocational courses, and perhaps arts and cultural courses, once they are convinced of the quality of those? Of course we all agree with the objective of giving young people a broad and balanced curriculum. Once we have achieved that quality, surely there is a case for expanding the English bacc.

Secondly, on the amount of timetable time given to the English bacc, will the Minister confirm, as his right honourable friend the Secretary of State did in another place this morning, that the 80 per cent of timetable that is supposed to be spent on English bacc subjects is only advisory and not statutory; and that schools are very open and able to allow young people to choose subjects which would means that they spend, say, 40 per cent on vocational subjects and not just 20?

I am grateful to my noble friend for her welcome for the Wolf review and her recognition of the importance of vocational education. One of the performance measures that we are keen to try to develop is a destination measure for schools and colleges so that we can see where children and young people go on to when they leave, and so that parents can see how a school or college is doing, whether it is vocational or academic.

We are keen to have more information generally. As that spreads and people are able to look at data and find their own ways of using them, the measure that my noble friend mentioned of seeing how schools and colleges might be doing, particularly as regards vocational or technical subjects, will develop of its own accord. The point of the EBacc is to try to have a small, narrow basis on which to shine a spotlight, particularly on academic subjects. It is not meant to betoken any kind of judgment and is obviously not compulsory. It is not a qualification in its own right. We want schools to decide for themselves whether it is something that they want to pursue. As my noble friend flagged, there is no statutory requirement on timetabling around the EBacc. There is, indeed, no statutory requirement that anyone should offer the EBacc at all.

My Lords, I, too, found much of the Wolf report interesting and valuable. The beginning part of the Statement had a slight annual report feel to it with its list of achievements. It may be slightly cheap to say that I noted there was no list of the number of U-turns that the Secretary of State has performed, but it is time that there was a U-turn on the English baccalaureate. The commitment to end the pervasive two-tier system in education, which many of us have worked hard to try to get rid of, would be more credible if the English baccalaureate included practical learning for everyone, so that the Secretary of State’s commitment to ensure that academic subjects are available to everyone extended also to vocational subjects. Then we might be able to make some progress. The 80 per cent of curriculum time devoted to the English baccalaureate subjects leaves 20 per cent not just for vocational subjects but also for statutory religious education, sport—to which I am sure the Minister is committed—and a number of other things that we all want to see delivered in our schools. How can he show that the Government’s commitment to end the two-tier system as between vocational and academic subjects is credible while the English baccalaureate continues?

I know that the noble Lord has worked for a long time to try to overcome the problem that we all see regarding the perception of a two-tier system. I certainly share that objective. Many have strong feelings about the English bacc. I come back to the point that its purpose is not to be discriminatory in the way that the noble Lord suggests—although I know that he did not use that word. The motivation behind it was to tackle the fact that children from poor backgrounds have not had the chance to study certain subjects—such as modern foreign languages, which have declined in number, history or other subjects—as much as one would like. Only 4 per cent of children on free school meals achieve the EBacc. That has a very narrowing and limiting effect on their possible progression to higher education. The measure we are discussing is intended to tackle that situation.

I entirely take the noble Lord’s point that one does not want to entrench a sense of difference in this regard. As he knows very well, alongside things such as the EBacc, which I hope we do not take in isolation, we are committed to university technical colleges and studio schools, which I am very keen to encourage the spread of so that children who are in danger of becoming disengaged get the change to re-engage, learn practical skills and, in the process, pick up some academic ones as well. I understand the noble Lord’s point, but I hope that he and other noble Lords may see the EBacc in the broader context of what we are trying to do across the piece to raise the prestige of academic study, alongside raising the prestige of technical and vocational subjects.

I hope that Professor Wolf’s report, in giving us pointers to how we can give everyone confidence in the quality of vocational qualifications—and I very much welcome the support for that across the House—will be another leg in tackling the problems that the noble Lord identifies.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Government’s response to the Wolf report. They are clearly trying to find a solution to a problem that has eluded all previous Governments—namely, to dramatically improve the practical, skilled and high-quality training of technicians and engineers, alongside higher academic education. If we do not resolve that, because there is a desperate shortage in our society of technicians, skilled workers and engineers, the great forecasts of this Government will simply not be met.

I welcome, in particular, one or two specific recommendations. The first is that the difference between qualified trainers in FE colleges and qualified teachers should be removed. That is an absurd class distinction. They should be at the same level and paid the same. I hope that amendments to that effect will be introduced to the Education Bill which will come before this House later this Session. Secondly, I hope that my noble friend will recognise that vocational education below 16 in schools is an expensive option. It requires workshops, equipment and qualified trainers. It cannot be left to two hours’ craft studies on a Friday afternoon. It requires much more than that.

Finally, I thank the Minister warmly for the support that the Government, the department and he personally are showing—as well as the support that the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are showing—to university technical colleges. The Chancellor granted us another £150 million in the Budget to expand them. The purpose of UTCs is to recognise that youngsters at 14 can make their own choices about the courses of study they want to take. The whole idea of bringing under one roof the training of the hand and the education of the mind is already proving to be very successful. One such college is already operating, and even at the end of the second term two things are outstanding. First, there is behavioural change. At 14, they are adults. Truancy and bloody-mindedness have disappeared. Secondly, there has been dramatic improvement in the quality of English and Maths, because students are studying those subjects alongside engineering. I am glad to say that this programme has all-party support. The former Minister is nodding, and I see that this is something that the coalition also supports. Therefore, I hope that there will be a substantial expansion of these colleges over the coming years.

I am grateful for my noble friend’s remarks, particularly on the support that we have been able to give to UTCs. I am glad that that commands support from all sides of the House. I note in particular his comments about trying to break down the divide between people working in FE and giving them the chance to work in schools. Like him, I think that that is a sensible way forward. I look forward to working with him on trying to raise and spread UTCs in the way that my noble friend Lord Baker would like—although never as fast as he would like, because he is an extremely hard taskmaster regarding UTCs. I look forward to doing everything we can to spread them as far and as fast as we can.

My Lords, I welcome Professor Wolf’s review and the Government’s Statement, in particular what they have said about reviewing the league table system, making it more sensitive and, I hope, looking more closely at the distance travelled by all children in the education system. I would like ask two questions. The first relates to achieving literacy in children, which enables them to be successful in these courses, and the other relates to the quality of mentors in the workplace.

First, does the Minister recognise the important contribution of charities working with children in schools, and indeed within their families, to address their difficulties in attaining literacy? For instance, Voluntary Reading Help works in more than 1,000 primary schools and trains adult volunteers in the community to work on a one-to-one basis, with a commitment over a year to work with individual children twice a week. Also, Learning School Help works with children, in their families and in their schools, to help them achieve literacy. As to the workplace, can the Minister give more detail about how mentors are developed, how good-quality mentoring is recognised and celebrated, and whether there are any schemes to certify good-quality mentoring in the workplace for apprentices?

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Earl about the importance of charities. One announcement made today in the broader context of tackling the NEET problem—no one has found a better way of saying it than NEET, because otherwise it takes too long—is a new £10 million-a-year fund to be set up, which I hope will be taken up by charities and the voluntary sector, to come up with solutions to help those children, such as I was lucky enough to see recently, to re-engage, undertaken by Fairbridge, which does a fantastic job in helping to re-engage those children. I very much agree with the noble Earl about the role of charities.

If I have more detail on the noble Earl’s second point about mentoring, I will come back to him. I will follow that up; but he and I may also have a chance to discuss that further outside the House.

I, too, welcome the report, and may be keener on it than others. I chaired a seminar yesterday in this House with 25 employers, including British Airways and some other big employers, but also some small ones. We started off by talking about schools and what happens in the curriculum. Every one of those employers had the same concern which we have all heard over and again about the lack of career guidance in schools, particularly about apprenticeships. Today, there is still a void in how that is raised with young people, where the push is always for the academic and for those who do not go that way, who go for apprenticeships, to be considered failures. How can we make a serious effort? The previous Government tried to get across the equal value of both those aspects of education.

My Lords, I would be very happy, if the noble Baroness has particular suggestions, to discuss them with her, because I agree that we need to do that. One of the new duties that we will place on schools in the Education Bill, in which I am sure that she will take a particular interest when it comes to our House—all too soon—is to give schools a duty to ensure that careers advice is independent and impartial. That is in part driven by some of the concerns of the noble Baroness: to try to ensure that a child is not, in one way or another, shoehorned into the wrong choice—either into the vocational route when that is not right for them, or into an academic route when that is not right for them. I recognise the problem that the noble Baroness describes and would be keen to have a discussion about her experience of practical ways in which we might ensure that we get that balance right.

My Lords, I fear that I may be less in touch with this field than I used to be, but am I not right in saying that one of the difficulties in maintaining standards, which is all-important in any qualification, is the tension between the real interests of employers and the perceived interests of students, which meets in the awarding bodies? They have a commercial interest in increasing throughput and therefore making more qualifications, successful applications, whereas employers want to limit successful applications to those who really deserve them. Is not a possible approach to that to give the employers a financial interest in maintaining the awards equal to that given to the students and those providing them with finance?

My noble friend raises a number of interesting points. One issue that the Government are going to look at concerning employers offering apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds is where the funding goes and whether there should be, as I think Professor Wolf suggests, consideration of some kind of subsidy to employers. We certainly need to make sure that, in moving forward with these proposals, the role of employers in helping to construct good qualifications is fully allowed for. Ultimately, if we construct qualifications that employers do not want, we will not do anyone any service at all.

My Lords, perhaps I may thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and say how pleased I am that, among other things—although this is not mentioned in the Statement—the government response equates QTLS status in schools to QTS. There has long been a need for that if we are to get high-quality teaching in vocational subjects. Perhaps I may bring the Minister back to the EBacc and the two-tier system. He has emphasised the degree to which the Government see the EBacc as opening routes to higher education, yet surely one reason why we are anxious to see high-quality vocational education is in order to open up progression routes through different pathways. For example, the university technical colleges, which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has been espousing and whose expansion we are all quite glad to see, are precisely the sort of route that we want to be developed. Very high-quality vocational education has also been a route to technician training, and from technician training on to degree-level training and even on to PhD training.

I agree with my noble friend’s first point about QTLS and I am glad that she welcomes that. I also agree with her basic points about progression, about making sure that vocational qualifications have esteem attached to them, and about there being clear progression that people can see.

I return to the issue of careers. One experiment with which I was associated was making careers advice available on the high street. Careers advisers were trained and the department made free, impartial and professional advice available on the high street. Younger people with their parents or people of any age could walk in off the street, book an appointment with a professionally trained adviser and get free, impartial and professional advice. If teachers in schools give careers advice only on a part-time basis, they cannot keep up with the dramatic changes that are taking place in all trades and professions. Would the Minister be prepared to look at that and at the results of the experiments that have already taken place to see whether anything can be learnt from them?

I should certainly be interested in seeing the kind of evidence and examples that the noble Lord has mentioned. As I said earlier, we are developing our proposals for an all-age careers service and are trying to make sure that schools have a duty to provide impartial, independent advice. My honourable friend Mr Hayes has responsibility for taking that forward and I shall relay to him the points made by the noble Lord. If he is keen to discuss the matter further, I shall see whether I can arrange that too.