Skip to main content

Education (Amendment of the Curriculum Requirements for Fourth Key Stage) (England) Order 2012

Volume 739: debated on Monday 23 July 2012

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that is has considered the Education (Amendment of the Curriculum Requirements for Fourth Key Stage) (England) Order 2012.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, I am grateful to the legislation committee for its consideration of this order on 2 July. Noble Lords will be aware that the necessary statutory consultation has been undertaken and that the order has already been debated in the other place.

I shall start by setting out the background to the order and why the Government are seeking to remove the duty on schools to teach work-related learning at key stage 4. Noble Lords will remember that last year Professor Alison Wolf was asked to carry out a review of vocational education and make recommendations about how it should be strengthened. Her report was, I think, broadly welcomed on all sides of the House. One of her key findings was that the quality of work experience post-16 needed to be improved, a conclusion with which I think all noble Lords would agree.

I do not think that there will be any difference between us about the importance of good work experience and the contribution that it can make, particularly for those from poorer backgrounds who do not have the same networks and contacts that others from more affluent backgrounds tend to have. It has an important part to play not just in helping to prepare young people for the world of work but in raising aspirations and broadening horizons.

Professor Wolf pointed out in her report that with the raising of the participation age to 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015, it made more sense for work experience to be carried out at a later age, not least because almost no young people go into full-time paid employment at 16. She also found that employers, for a variety of reasons, were less keen to have young people aged 14 or 15 on their premises than older ones. She concluded that in many cases work experience provision for 14 to 16 year-olds was expensive, poor quality and not a good use of time for the pupil, school or business involved.

Ofsted has also found that the provision of work-related learning by schools is variable in quality. Professor Wolf recommended that the work-related learning duty at key stage 4 should be removed from the national curriculum, a recommendation that noble Lords will know is consistent with the Government’s general desire to remove prescription from the national curriculum, and from schools in general, wherever possible.

So for these reasons—a desire to give schools more freedom to exercise their professional judgment about how best to deliver work-related learning; concerns about the quality of work-related learning at key stage 4; and a desire to concentrate on raising the quality of work experience post-16—we accepted her recommendations.

I shall briefly explain the detail of what the draft order will achieve. Section 85 of the Education Act 2002 makes provision for the curriculum requirements for the fourth key stage. The national curriculum comprises the core subjects of mathematics; English and science; other foundation subjects of information and communication technology, physical education and citizenship; and four entitlement areas of arts, design and technology, humanities and modern foreign languages. Section 85 also includes the duty to provide work-related learning under subsection (5)(a). Work-related learning is defined in Section 85(10) of the 2002 Act as,

“planned activity designed to use the context of work to develop knowledge, skills and understanding useful in work, including learning through the experience of work, learning about work and working practices and learning skills for work”.

This order amends Section 85 to remove subsection (5)(a) in relation to work-related learning in line with Professor Wolf’s recommendation.

We announced in our response to Professor Wolf’s review that we would accept this recommendation and consulted on it between September 2011 and January 2012. We published that consultation on 5 July. I recognise that the timing of this order does not give schools a full term’s notice because we are proposing to remove the duty from this September. However, since the order has the effect of removing a duty on schools rather than imposing one, our view was that it was preferable for this duty to be removed as soon as possible. Removing the duty will enable schools to be flexible in their provision for students who would genuinely benefit from work-related learning, rather than trying to shoe-horn in curricular activities simply to meet a legal duty.

We are instead prioritising the provision of genuine work experience for students over the age of 16 when we think it is more relevant for them. We are doing this in a number of ways. Last Friday, for example, I was glad to have the chance to meet the people behind the 15 new studio schools that I approved last week. It is a great initiative, started under the previous Government, and I am delighted that we now have 30 studio schools moving towards opening by September 2013. Alongside a general emphasis on employability, each student at a studio school will get two days’ paid work experience a week at the age of 16 with local employers who help to shape the curriculum. I am pleased to have had the chance to expand the number so rapidly and hugely encouraged, although not surprised, at the enthusiasm and commitment of employers.

The Education Act 2011 inserts a new duty into Part VII of the Education Act 1997 requiring schools to give their pupils access to independent and impartial careers guidance. This must include information on the full range of 16-to-18 education or training options, including apprenticeships and other work-based education. The new duty will apply to pupils in years 9 to 11 when it comes into force this September. As noble Lords will know, we have been consulting on whether to extend this duty down to year 8 and up to years 12 and 13.

We have recently announced funding reforms for post-16. By introducing a single rate of funding for each student, we will support vocational education and make it easier, we believe, for colleges and schools to offer good quality work experience. Our expectation is that from September 2013, all 16-to-19 year-olds should be engaged on programmes of study that offer them breadth, depth and progression into higher education, further study or skilled employment. We have said that study programmes should include at least one qualification of substantial size, a non-qualification activity such as tutorial time, work experience and English and maths for those who do not already hold a GCSE at grade C or above. These new study programmes will be based on funding per student rather than per qualification. This will particularly benefit non-accredited programmes such as work experience, and will allow students to undertake substantial periods of work experience where that is appropriate for them.

We are also acting on Professor Wolf’s recommendation to look at different models for encouraging the take-up of good quality work experience. We are running a £4.5 million pilot scheme on post-16 work experience over two years in 25 FE colleges. These pilots, which began earlier this year, will evaluate different ways of delivering more wide-scale work experience for 16-19 year- olds. We have appointed the National Foundation for Educational Research to carry out an evaluation. We intend to use the lessons learnt from these pilots to help make sure that schools and colleges offer the best possible work experience placements, suitably tailored to meet the particular needs of young people.

We are also looking to see whether we can remove some of the red tape which employers tell us gets in the way and prevents them from offering work experience placements in the first place. At present, the employer, the local authority and the school can all feel that they have the duty of care when a young person is doing work experience, so we are working with DWP and the Health and Safety Executive on issuing revised, light-touch guidance to provide more clarity. We want to enable employers to expand the range and supply of work experience places, which will contribute to increasing young people’s skill levels and ultimately reduce the number who are not in education, employment or training.

While the order proposes to remove the statutory duty on maintained schools to provide work-related learning, schools will of course still be free to provide work experience for young people at key stage 4. This reflects the Government’s policy of reducing prescription and increasing professional autonomy. Instead, we are prioritising the provision of work experience for students over the age of 16 when it is far more relevant for them, as recommended in Professor Wolf’s Review of Vocational Education. I commend the order to the Committee and beg to move.

I thank the Minister for that detailed explanation of why the Government are proceeding in this way. I would not argue with Professor Wolf’s recommendation that a blanket one-size-fits-all approach to work-related activities has served its time, as I think she said. I also agree that work-related activities should remain a key priority for schools and colleges, including, I would argue, for those key stage 4 pupils who would benefit. Accepting those conclusions, though, is not an argument for abolishing altogether the statutory duty to provide work-related activity and for absolving schools from that provision. The definition of work-related activity in the legislation that the Minister read out remains even more relevant today.

It is instructive to hear what employers have to say. Recently I attended a listening event with small and medium-sized enterprises in Manchester. I declare an interest as a policy adviser to the Chambers of Commerce. It was salutary how many of those owners of businesses complained about the preparedness of students now for the workplace, not in terms of being prepared to do the specific job that the workplace was doing but simply in terms of getting there on time, being expected to work perhaps from 8:30 pm to 4.30 pm and the general, basic teamwork skills that you need to deploy to be successful in the workplace. They were arguing that many schools prepare students very badly for that, even with work-related activity as a statutory duty.

Today I was sent some comments about this proposal from the Federation of Small Businesses. It says that it is disappointed at the proposals to remove the statutory duty to deliver work-related learning at key stage 4, and argues that the concept of work-related learning should be broader than purely work experience placements and should encompass helping students to gain a range of experiences and skills that they will need in the workplace, such as writing job applications, and work-based skills of the sort that I mentioned, such as timekeeping and so on, improving young people’s understanding of potential careers and jobs. In fact, the FSB argues that work-related skills and an understanding of business and enterprise should be gained at as early an age as possible. The statement that it put out today repeats the contention that we should start early with work-related learning, maybe in small doses, in order to embed some of those skills and knowledge about the workplace in our young people.

The FSB goes on to say:

“This is not to say that work related learning and work experience for young people is perfect and cannot be improved but in our view we cannot see any significant justification for its removal which outweighs the benefits of introducing young people to work related knowledge and experience at Key Stage 4. In our view this is an area of learning that needs to be strengthened rather than watered down”,

and it is concerned that:

“Removing it from the statutory curriculum will inevitably lead to it being sidelined”.

The British Chamber of Commerce has said that it endorses the FSB’s statement, so there is a range of concerns from employers and it would be good if the Minister addressed them when he replies.

A second concern is the consultation, which produced the result that 89% of the just short of 600 respondees said that they were opposed to the change that the Government are making, and gave various reasons for their concerns, which we can see in the consultation document, all of them reflecting some of the points that I have just raised and which the FSB has talked about. I found it rather—I was going to say “insulting”, and I am sure that the Government do not mean to do that. There is a great deal of detail about the kind of responses that people gave and their reasons for opposing this measure. Yet the consultation document simply says, in terms of next steps, that the Government have decided to proceed with removing the duty, without engaging in any way with the concerns that people have expressed and the reasons why they are opposed to the action that the Government are taking. That is something that the Minister may want an opportunity to develop.

There is a range of concern in the world outside, and I would like to bring all that down to four questions for the Minister, if he would be kind enough to think about them. First, if work-related activity continues to be important to the Government, as the Minister says that it is—I understand about the evaluation work that is going on, and the models that are being tested by colleges—why, then, are the Government abolishing the statutory duty to provide it rather than amend that duty to allow schools to be more flexible and to extend it for 16 to 18 year-old, for example? I know that the Minister has said that abolition fits in with the Government’s mantra about liberating schools and freedoms, but a lot of people are concerned that anything that is not in the national curriculum will be sidelined, as the FSB contends. Therefore it would be possible for the Government to have amended the duty rather than abolish it altogether. Why have they chosen abolition?

Secondly, why are the Government ignoring the overwhelming views of the people who took the trouble to respond to the consultation with very little explanation? Thirdly, will Ofsted specifically report on the extent to which schools are providing effective work-related activity, and on the quality of those experiences that the students are getting?

Finally, given that the Government are undertaking this evaluation and working with colleges to experiment on different models, at least for 16 to 18 year-olds, will they at some point produce guidance to illustrate what that best practice has been found to be? When the results of those projects are available to inform ideas about best practice, will the Government consider making that guidance statutory, so that schools and colleges at least have to follow what has been discovered to be the best alternative way of doing them? I would be grateful if the Minister could address those points in his reply if at all possible.

My Lords, I preface my comments on the order with this: when one sits in this Room, sometimes, listening to the debate on an order that has been listed prior to one’s own, one often hears interesting things. I heard of something today called “rural proofing”, which I had never heard of before. It struck me that about 18 months ago, the Minister for Children, Sarah Teather, hinted that we might get child-rights proofing of policy before very long—or at least before this government comes to an end. Will my noble friend write to me to say how that is progressing?

On the order, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, that early experience of these issues is necessarily the best. They become more relevant later to the young person, when they get a bit nearer to leaving school and considering whether they are going on to further or higher education, or some training in employment. Of course, that is not going to happen before the age of 17 next year, and before the age of 18 a couple of years after that. Schools really struggle to find enough places for 14 year-olds. Many employers do not see it as terribly useful to have 14 year-olds knocking around their place of work.

I, too, received a briefing from the Federation of Small Businesses. I do not think any of us would disagree with the list of knowledge sets and skills that the federation wants young people to have before they leave school. However, having had a number of teenagers doing work experience with me for a couple of weeks, I do not think that young people really get those skills. I did my best to give them the best experience that I could, but they were certainly not training to become Peers of the realm—unless they would be prepared to stand for election.

I have often been heard to say, in Committee and in your Lordships’ House, that there is more than one way to remove the epidermis from a feline. Having this particular duty is not the only way of ensuring that young people get the necessary knowledge of places of work, career opportunities and the sort of qualifications that they will need to get there, as well as personal skills such as teamwork and being a self-starter. Since so many things have been done and announced by the Government in the past few months since we debated these matters, perhaps the Minister will tell us some of the other ways in which schools are likely to make sure that children have these skill sets. For example, a curriculum review is going on, along with a parallel one on PSHE. Perhaps there is some news on that score. Many of these skills can be obtained from a good PSHE course. On careers advice, the Government produced statutory guidance for schools, and also supplementary guidance. Those documents should be particularly helpful to schools, and are particularly relevant to what we are talking about today.

Finally, I turn to mentors from business who work with individual children. That is part of the youth contract. The Government are also encouraging mentors to go into schools before children get to the point where they need the youth contract because they have not yet got a job. All those things are relevant.

I am grateful to the Minister for talking about studio schools, but of course they help only a very small number of students. What is even more important is the business about funding individual students rather than individual courses. That is particularly important in relation to pre-qualification courses that organisations like ASDAN provide to schools to improve the employability of their young people, as well as their ability to learn and to gain further qualifications. These are the sorts of things that I hope the new funding system will enable schools and colleges to provide, because they are very relevant to the plans of young people, and to helping them become employable.

My Lords, we have had a fairly brief discussion. It is a shame that there are not more of us here because the order gives rise to important issues. I agree with both the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, and with my noble friend about the importance of good work experience and work-related learning. The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, rightly made the point that employers often say to us that employability skills such as teamworking, turning up on time and being able to take instruction from managers, are extremely important, and that not enough of our young people are equipped with them when they leave school.

I very much agree with her that it is important that we do what we can to help young people learn those skills. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, there are a number of ways of doing that. I agree with her about what young people can learn in PHSE about working together, and what they can learn in maths and English about being numerate and being able to write clearly—and about the importance of speaking clearly, which is also something that needs to be taught. There are a number of ways of taking that forward.

I take the point of my noble friend Lady Walmsley about studio schools being small. However, the previous Government were right to try the experiment. In May 2010 there were two, and now I have nearly 30 going. This is a start, but, and I think this is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, was making, they show the enthusiasm of employers to be involved if we can find ways of harnessing that. I hope that the studio schools will demonstrate that they are scalable. There is a variety of ways of showing how it is possible to get decent work experience—in this case, paid work experience—at 16 so that those young people can see the benefits of it. I am excited, particularly about the way that the young people themselves, their parents and the employers are enthusiastic about the opportunities that it provides.

My noble friend is also right about the significance, I believe and hope, of our funding reforms post-16, having a simple, single funding rate per learner, to use the jargon, rather than per qualification, which will, particularly for those taking vocational qualifications, be funded at a higher rate overall than previously, giving a lump sum to schools and colleges to work out how they want to spend it, particularly for those having decent qualifications and thus space for more work expense. In particular, I believe that those who are less academically able will emerge from that system as it starts to work through.

I hope that we can learn from the pilots to which I referred, which will look at new ways of rolling out work experience, and share that across the system. The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, asked me whether, when we get the lessons from those pilots, we will share them. Yes, absolutely. I hope that they will give us some practical case studies with things that work. We are trying five different ways across the country in 25 FE colleges, and our goal will be to share those widely.

The noble Baroness asked me whether Ofsted will report. There is no specific mention of work-related learning in the new Ofsted framework coming in this September, but inspectors are guided to investigate the extent to which pupils gain a well formed understanding of the options and challenges facing them as they move through the school and on to the next stage of education and training. Inspectors will take into account the destination of pupils when they leave school and increasingly, as we publish more information on destination measures, that will help schools, parents and others to see more clearly how well those schools are doing on a range of measures, including things like work experience and work-related learning, because those will contribute to the progression that those children make. Ofsted is also able to undertake survey inspections to investigate particular aspects of provision in greater detail, and this is the kind of area where it may well choose to carry out such a survey.

On the noble Baroness’s question about why we are abolishing the duty, if we argue that work experience and work-related activity are important, which I do, she knows that we contend that not everything that is important needs to be in the national curriculum. The more that we are able to take things out of the national curriculum, which I am keen to do, the less strong the argument that taking out a specific thing by exemption will highlight that we do not attribute importance to it. Taking some of these issues out and giving schools more space to make those decisions is the answer to her question.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley’s core point, with which I obviously agree, was about timing. It is sensible to do this later, when the children are older and the connection between the two is more immediate. That is one consequence of raising the participation age. When everyone left school at 16 and went to work, having work experience closer to that age was more sensible. However, experience also suggests that, notwithstanding the enthusiasm of employers for participating, having young people in the workplace is clearly proving a problem. As my noble friend said, schools struggle but employers are also struggling with it. That is partly why there has been a growing emphasis on work-related learning, rather than work experience. Schools were finding it hard to find employers who would participate. It is our belief that that will prove more straightforward with older children and young people.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, referred to the consultation response, which was clearly as she said it was. However, at bottom and for the reasons that I have set out, the Government’s view—accepting the arguments put forward by Professor Wolf—was that moving work experience to a later stage recognised the difficulty that schools and employers have had. I am grateful that the noble Baroness recognised that the blanket duty has, perhaps, served its time. The Government’s view was that the simple and sensible thing to do was to remove it and shift the focus to later; to make sure that there is good-quality work experience in a number of ways; and to reform the funding for it, which will be the main driver of change post-16. For all those reasons, the Government have brought forward the order and I commend it to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.41 pm.