Question for Short Debate
My Lords, it has been widely acknowledged that we have a problem as a nation with the quality of the teaching of vocational subjects in further education. The most recent example and proof of that has been Ofsted’s refusal to grant outstanding status to any FE college, although I believe there is one going through the process now. I am being told that it got it, which is wonderful. That news had not reached me. It would certainly be a first, and a very welcome first. So we know that we need to improve the quality of our vocational education teaching.
Vocational education is not an easy thing to teach. There are demands for a high-quality outcome. Most of these courses are intended to produce someone who will be an employee or craftsman of high quality, and we need a high-quality system and a high-quality foundation to get them there. That is why I am very pleased to be able to draw attention to this report from the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development. I declare an interest as a member of its advisory board. By foundation, I mean not the main foundation, but one of the stones in the foundations of a high-quality vocational education system because we ought to base the way that we are teaching vocational education on a sound pedagogy, on a sound theory of how vocational education is best taught.
I find this document extremely readable and lucid. It is just a beginning. From here, it will go on to be discussed with employers and teachers. It will find its way through a process that is at educational rather than political speeds, so I suspect that it will take a year or two to get to the point where it is not just a theory of vocational pedagogy but a practice and something with some well consulted background.
By way of illustration, I draw particular attention to page 47 of the report, which looks at the structure of the outcomes that one is aiming for from a well organised vocational pedagogy. It looks at the skills that one would expect a plumber to have, starting with routine expertise. It states that, if a boiler requires an annual service, the plumber,
“is familiar with the make and model and runs through a routine process of checks to ensure the boiler is safe and working properly”.
Beyond that, the plumber requires resourcefulness because the boiler may be exhibiting some strange symptoms. You want the person who has passed out of a vocational course, once they have tried the obvious solution, to consider alternative courses, to think carefully about what they might be, to investigate and to try alternatives. One also wants the plumber to have what you might call “functional literacies” so that they can handle language and interpolate between technical language and the level of comprehension of clients, so they do not just spout jargon at customers but can explain in their language what is wrong with their boiler and what needs doing.
We want craftsmanship, which we often look for in vain. It is such a delight when one comes across a builder who really cares about what he has done, who takes joy and pleasure in a job well executed and in having done something right that will last. That is going beyond just doing the job; it is being able to do something relatively simple and routine a great number of times and still take pleasure in a job well done at the end. It is a matter, too, of business-like attitudes: to have a proper relationship with the client and know that he has often relied on your assistance; to do something little free of charge; and to build a long-term relationship. Beyond that, people need to develop wider skills and resilience to build on their qualifications to go further in their career, to have determination to refuse to give in, to know how to look for resources beyond their own immediate understanding and to consult colleagues, carry out research and look further.
When we think of what we would like the plumber who calls round to look after our boiler to be, that is a pretty good set of ambitions to have for a trained plumber, and a pretty good set of resources and qualifications for a plumber to have. Based on that, you can hope for a secure life if you choose to stay as a plumber, or if you want to go beyond it, you have learnt a lot of skills that will apply elsewhere. One could read through that list and think that it applies pretty well to a Minister and to many other professions. Indeed, one could say that it would apply pretty well to school education, although not in the context of a particular skill.
This research has led to a good place. It resonates for me as the right answer. It obviously needs polishing and working through with employers to make sure that they recognise the skill sets that they would hope to have, with teachers to make sure that what is being said is teachable and workable, and indeed, with customers. It cannot hang as a piece of research on its own but needs to be worked at and enriched over the next year or two to produce a thoroughgoing basis on which to build a very high-quality system of vocational education. I am looking for the Minister’s supportive interest and hope that she will say that this is an initiative that the Government support and to which they will continue to pay attention. I want them to keep up communications about their own thoughts on this so that it does not go wandering off in a different direction from the one with which they feel comfortable. I feel confident of receiving that, not least because I know the Minister’s background in this area. I hope that she will have sympathy with it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing forward this debate, which is a timely one. I declare an interest as a patron of the Institute for Learning, and as a member of the advisory committee for the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development. It is very timely, because another committee is sitting, as I am sure the noble Lord recognises—the McLoughlin committee on adult teaching and learning in vocational subjects. In many senses, the City & Guilds report feeds into the McLoughlin committee and is seen as that, but we will get a full response from the Government when the McLoughlin committee has reported to them.
In the report now two or three years old from Alison Wolf on vocational education and training, she drew attention to the fact that we have getting on for 2.5 million young people aged 16 to 19 who are going through vocational education of one sort or another. In this country, we give a lot of attention to those who achieve GCSEs A to C, and we measure to some extent the success of our educational system by the proportion of the young people who achieve at least five and, moving forward, six GCSEs A to C, including English, maths and science. What we often fail to recognise is that something like 40% of young people, and often more, fail to achieve GCSEs and in fact follow the vocational pathway. They go on and often achieve quite highly in other respects through the vocational pathway. The Wolf report made it quite clear that these vocational programmes, if well taught, are for those young people not only a more satisfying preparation for employment and life than the GCSE and A-level route but for the country they are extremely necessary in raising productivity and meeting our skills deficit.
I put emphasis on the words, “if well taught”. The issue of the quality of teaching and learning in vocational education came to me during the making of the report that I chaired, sponsored by NIACE, the 157 Group and the Association of Colleges, in looking at the role of FE colleges and their communities. That particular report picked up in many senses the same issues as this one—namely, that FE colleges have new flexibilities. An element of deregulation has taken place, and they now have much greater flexibility to decide on their own courses. One aspect of this is the need for these colleges to be seen to serve their communities, in two senses. One is that the student body represents the community, and colleges must do the best that they can for that student body. Secondly, if they are to do the best that they can, it is important to train those young people for the jobs available in their communities. Therefore, there must be a very close liaison not only with the employers in their communities but with the other public sector bodies in their communities, such as hospitals and the police force.
It became clear, as we wrote that report and talked about the potential of colleges to provide a degree of leadership within those communities that we needed to look at a new pedagogy. The changing circumstances of further education and adult education in this world require us to look again at the whole body of teaching and what goes on there. So we need high-quality teaching and learning that moves with the times. That is why this report from the City & Guilds centre is extremely useful to have. It gives us a template on which to build and think about a new pedagogy. In itself, it does not really provide us with the pedagogy as such. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, drew attention to the diagram on page 47.
What one learns from this is that vocational education needs to be taught within the context of practical problems. It is best when it is hands-on, practical, experiential and real world. It involves feed-back, questioning and reflection, and the application of theoretical as well as practical explanations. It needs tried and tested teaching methods—learning by watching, learning by imitating, learning by practising, and trial and error in real world situations, feed-back, conversations, listening, transcribing, critical thinking, drafting and sketching.
Picking up on the need to consider the world of vocational education and training within the changing context that we face, we must also consider the role of the internet and the increasing use of distance learning and social media. One of my commissioners was very concerned about the curriculum, in which pedagogy played quite a part. Sally Dicketts, the principal of the Oxford and Cherwell Valley College said that we need a curriculum that is any time any where. This is a vital subject. OECD recently produced a report on the UK remarking, once again, on low levels of productivity. It identifies three key issues as influencing productivity: first, and above all, investment in infrastructure; secondly, investment in R&D; and, thirdly, once again, investment in education and training. The deficit lies in training in vocational areas up to level 3 and level 4. It is absolutely crucial to our future and vital for productivity and growth in the UK that three-year apprenticeships to level 3 and the skills required at HND level should be taught well.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating this debate about a sector which is too often the Cinderella sector of education and on which, however, we shall rely, if our economy is to grow again, for the creation of a technically accomplished workforce for the future, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness because her work in further education is much admired throughout the sector.
I, too, declare an interest as a fellow of the City & Guilds of London Institute and as chairman of the Government’s review, Professionalism in Further Education, which was published late last year. This was conducted against the background of the Government’s policy of giving as much autonomy as possible to FE institutions, be they in the public or private sectors. I give my earnest thanks to those professionals who comprised the panel that sat with me and to the many who gave evidence to us throughout that time.
It is impossible in the short time that we have to comment on all the findings of the review and how they touch on the work of the City & Guilds, which I much admire. However, one that is hugely important concerns the occasional difficulties caused by the current funding system which requires FE institutions to work with at least two agencies—the Skills Funding Agency and the Education Funding Agency. It would be preferable, in my view, for post-compulsory education to be seen as more distinct—I know that not everyone will agree—from secondary education policy and procedures.
At the moment, FE providers are often undergoing mission drift. One of the reasons is the easier availability of grant funding for courses for the under-18s as opposed to older vocational students. In my view, a review is necessary to remove these unintended distortions from the system and to look forward to a single post-compulsory funding system with an aim of giving the highest quality of vocational education to all, whatever age they may be. I firmly believe that it is right to give the managers of our FE providers as much independence as possible. They are the professionals on the spot and they deserve the authority to match their great responsibilities. Only they should set the spending priorities of their colleges and decide the age groups which they feel will most benefit from available funds, free of central bureaucratic controls and constrictions.
However, autonomous institutions have to have touchstones of quality against which they must measure themselves, and I welcome the Government’s acceptance that there should be created a royal chartered body to which colleges and other providers can apply for corporate membership. They would be admitted on criteria concerned with the high quality of their pedagogy, their governance, their financial management, their results in the qualifications that they offer to the young people and their response to the autonomy on which the Government’s policy is currently founded. Institutions admitted would thus enhance their status and perhaps earn the freedom from inspection already granted to a few—a very few, as we have heard—outstanding colleges. It seems to me essential that the credibility of such a royal chartered body and its potential to raise the professional standing of all who teach in its member institutions will be secured by eventually placing it at arm’s length from government, for it will need to be both professionally authoritative and independent. It will need to take into important account the words to me last year of a young FE lecturer. He said, “I have two interwoven careers to develop: first, I am a teacher and I want to learn the very best pedagogical techniques to let me enable my students to learn at the highest level. But, as importantly, I am an automotive engineer and I want to ensure that I keep absolutely up to date in current practices. It is no good being a good teacher if I am teaching the mechanical techniques of five years ago”. This is touched on, on page 25 of the City & Guilds report. It is hugely important and I hope that central to the mission of institutions in membership of the proposed royal chartered body will be a total commitment to the professional updating and development of their staff.
Further education, as the City & Guilds report implies, is the most diversified of our sectors and that is one of its strengths, but it also can be one of its weaknesses, for, as we have heard, it is estimated that it deals with some 3 million students each year studying for an incredible 17,000 or so vocational awards. Alas, such a plethora is rarely understood by students and particularly not by employers. Some clear rationalisation is needed and, in my view, we need the establishment of a simple set of high-quality benchmark qualifications readily understood and valued by all.
My review found some superb practice within the sector. The reforms which I have just outlined would help to spread this much further and help this country to outperform its competitors in today’s extremely difficult economic environment.
My Lords, when I saw that this debate had been tabled, I initially put my name down for one reason—to have a slightly more detailed dig about the development of, for instance, those with special educational needs and their way into further education. That was as a result of my experience of dealing with the new apprenticeships and the problems there associated with dyslexia, although apparently there are problems with dyslexia in other sectors as well. However, as I started to read through the report, I was also convinced that I should put my name down to speak because of the use of the term “coaching”. I know rather more about coaching in relation to sport than I do about coaching in relation to any aspect of further education, but I appreciated that it was a new way of learning and one that I knew something about. It involves a different process of imparting and using knowledge and teaches people how to apply that knowledge.
My noble friend Lord Lucas started with examples of trying to make training appropriate. The example we use in the documentation is a plumber. You take information, you approach how it is integrated and you go back and through. My very distant noble kinsman Lord Lingfield spoke about keeping people up to date, making sure the information is ongoing and how to learn and approach others. This approach is more appropriate for people who are not really designed for being in a classroom receiving facts and figures, which surely must be one of the primary differences between further education and the schoolroom. The connection between the two and acknowledging that there are differences between them is a very positive step forward. You create a different learning process to which those who have not enjoyed school or had great success there will find themselves more open, particularly if this different approach is explained to those on entering it.
The briefing for this debate mentioned the Wolf review. I became less happy with aspects of it, particularly going back to the insistence on GCSE passes when we brought in apprenticeships under the previous Government. I remember hearing that employers want people who can pass English and maths, but they also want people who do not put in for overtime, do not have time off, do not have children who get sick and so on. They really want people who will turn up and work for nothing; they have no right to expect that. They have the right to expect somebody who will able to do the job at least competently, who has a decent approach to what is coming next and who will not be rude to clients and fellow workers. That is what they have a right to expect.
Although City & Guilds has done good work, it is one of the bodies I had disagreements with. I discovered considerable resistance to the idea that you could change the way exams are taken. It had to catch up with the fact that the rest of the education system acknowledges things such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia and allows people to take qualifications and different ways forward. One example of that is telling people that they cannot have differently formatted online exams for security reasons. It might be a bad thing if somebody gets hold of the answers in advance, but it is not a nuclear strike. Other examination bodies, such as universities and GCSE and A-level boards, manage this process consistently and have done so for years. How are we going to make sure that the further education sector gets itself more up to date on taking on a mass group and giving meaningful qualifications, and how you let those people in?
The groups that I am talking about should be over-represented in the general population in this process of education. Let us take dyslexia, which is the biggest group; it affects 10% of the population. The first example I saw of somebody failing in a skill that requires using your hands due to what was key skills then—it is functional skills now—was a hairdresser who had won an award but could not pass the English assessment. You can get a degree with dyslexia by using assistive software. It is available for free on the phone I have on the desk in front of me; that is how common it is. I draw attention to my interests in the fields of both technology and dyslexia, but they are both predated by my interest in this subject—or my interest in the subject predates them. I am sure that Hansard will have fun with that.
However, the further education sector has to grow up and become part of the mainstream about bringing these groups in. It has not done very well as a starting point. If we could hear from my noble friend that she can build on what she said at Question Time today about making sure that they all take on board the fact that they must bring in these people, I would be a much happier person. This was not a confrontation I looked for and it was one which I thought would be over and done with by now. I have on one occasion had a Minister of State shouting at officials, “Sort it out, it’s ridiculous”. That was nearly 18 months ago. There does not seem to be an embracing of the fact that we have a legal framework that says that those with hidden disabilities should be brought into the mainstream. They should not be left on the side.
We do not want to create a situation where more people find greater difficulty with employment because they cannot access the very basic and fundamental forms of qualification, which we need now in finding employment—or at least to change employment frequently, as we seem to have to do. Unless we can start to address this and work it in with that very welcome change towards coaching and a more flexible approach to learning and teaching, we will just create more problems. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me a positive reply. Indeed, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Young, will give us an idea about where he thinks it should develop, because I recognise his expertise in this field as well.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for ensuring this debate. If nothing else, it forced me to look up “pedagogy” and find out what it meant. I thought I knew but that, being a fully paid-up member of “Pedants are us”, I had better know the precise meaning. I am also grateful to the City and Guilds Institute, for two reasons. First, the only qualifications I have are from it, so I have some reason to be grateful to it. Secondly, I am grateful for the report, although when I looked at its equilateral triangle that promised to identify the three types of vocational education I did not quite understand it, so it is back to the drawing board for me.
I was tempted to ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for the name of the plumber. If he was as good as that, everybody would want him. Unfortunately, not all of them measure up. I remember seeing a television programme which showed far too many of them saying, “Your boiler’s had it and you need a new one”, when it actually had quite a simple fault. Of course, a plumber these days is not just a plumber. A plumber is required to have knowledge of electronics and chemicals, plus the basic plumbing techniques, so I do not knock that.
My party’s approach to vocational education is, briefly, that we want to develop a transformational 14 to 18 education system featuring a quality technical baccalaureate at 18 for those achieving a rigorous vocational qualification, a work experience placement and achievement in English and mathematics. That is taking into account the point from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about having different methods for those who have real problems in approaching exams in the standard way. The TechBacc would sit alongside those A-level programmes. We want more and better vocational education up to 18, with all young people undertaking some vocational learning from 14 and compulsory work experience for all 16 to 18 year-olds. I am rushing this because we have only a short time.
One of the smarter things that we did in Government was, I felt, that instead of raising the school-leaving age we raised the participation age. All Governments make mistakes, but I thought that was a good one. One of the mistakes we made was in picking a random figure and saying, “We want 50% of young people to go to university”, which somehow implied that the other 50% had failed in some way. Eventually, we realised that that was not the case and we put a lot of effort into both FE and apprenticeships, but I feel that it was a sort of catching-up process.
There are many of these reports but, looking at the Government’s response to the Wolf report—whether or not we like every aspect of it—it was a significant report. The Government identified a number of things that they felt were failures, and I agree with them. They include perverse incentives created by the performance and funding systems and encouraging the teaching of qualifications that attract the most performance points or the most funding, not the qualifications that support young people to progress. I saw evidence of that in my brief ministerial career, so I do not in any way blame it on this Government—we are all on a journey trying to improve quality. The failures also include students without a solid grounding in the basics being allowed to drop the study of English and maths. We know that they cannot do that. Many potential employers say, “If they want to progress, they’ve got to have a basic grounding in those subjects”. Therefore, we are looking to improve the quality of FE, and we know from the Ofsted review that it needs to be improved.
I was attracted to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, made about giving institutions more autonomy. However, with autonomy comes responsibility. Before he said that, I thought that I would not give them autonomy unless they came up to a certain standard. The noble Lord then went on to talk about the royal charter, which I think is a good approach.
When you go into FE colleges—and I have visited quite a few—you can see that when they work, they work really well. One college that I went to had a department dealing with painting and decorating. It worked well because the college had managed to attract a local painter and decorator who ran a highly successful business. It had initially lured him into the college on the basis that he would be coaching, but it trained him in teaching and he created a fantastically successful department. I instance that because we need all colleges to have that relationship with the business community, as the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, mentioned, as well as the local community.
In the brief time available to me, I want to touch on a couple of other things. We have a concern about the looming introduction of FE loans for all courses at level 3 and above for those aged 24 and over. There is already some evidence that that might prove to be a disincentive. We live in a society where we know that people are not going to retain one job throughout their life and that they are going to have to retrain, and that is something that the Government may need to reflect upon.
Something else identified in the Wolf report is that we can have the best further education but if it does not lead to work experience and apprenticeships then we are in trouble. It is not that the Government are not focused on apprenticeships—I pay tribute to some of the work they have done—but there is still some way to go on quality. Just quoting numbers is not enough, as a lot of the figures relate to adult apprenticeships. The area where I think we need to focus is the 16 to 18 age group, and I say that because of youth unemployment. Although the unemployment figures may be coming down, youth unemployment is still a serious problem. The number of firms employing apprentices is still pathetic. I think that only about a third of the FTSE 100 companies have apprenticeships, and the average is somewhere between 4% and 8%. I fail to understand why the Government do not insist that if you want a public procurement contract, you have to specify the training and the number of apprenticeships. I have just been invited to a Crossrail apprenticeship award event. Crossrail has 400 apprentices because we insisted on it, and the same applied to the Olympics. I do not understand why the Government will not go down that road.
We are in an ever-changing environment—the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned further education, distance learning and social media—but we are also in an era when UTCs are on the scene. One question that I used to ask when I went around schools, colleges and universities was, “How many apprentices do you, as an institution, have?”. Often I might as well have asked them how many people from their college had landed on Mars because they did not seem to understand that it is no good teaching about apprenticeships if you do not have any yourself. It is important to encourage them to recruit not just as one school or one college but together as a group. We have ATAs and group training associations, which have been identified in the government report, and every local authority ought to ensure that GTAs operate within their area working with schools, colleges and further education colleges. They are part of the solution to this problem but we have a long way to go.
As part of the Lords outreach programme, I will be speaking to some sixth-formers tomorrow. They are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and we cannot help but think that they are about to face reality. They will be trying to enter the world of work, assuming that they do not go on to university. Even those who go on to university are now wondering whether it is the right journey. We have a huge challenge and responsibility. We cannot afford to fail to create not only apprenticeships, which are fundamentally important, but work experience. If further education colleges are able to apply their pedagogy in an environment that will produce results, they must be able to give confidence to young people that they will find work and work experience out there. Those are some of my brief reflections. This has been a very worthwhile debate, and the subject merits a much longer debate at some time in the future when we can pursue some of its complexities. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for initiating this debate. Vocational pedagogy is an issue seldom discussed in your Lordships’ House, but it is a legitimate area of concern for both the House and the country.
I declare an interest—a number of interests have been declared in this debate—in having been associated professionally for more than 20 years with City & Guilds, and it was the City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development that produced the report under debate. It is clear from reading How to Teach Vocational Education that the institute maintains its standards of expertise and insight in relation to vocational teaching and assessment. It has been tremendous this afternoon to hear people coming from all sorts of backgrounds talking with the same enthusiasm and passion for vocational education.
I can assure my noble friend Lord Lucas that the Government welcome the report and the evidence that it provides to inform the work of the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning. The Government are not alone in this. Both the Institute for Learning and the Learning and Skills Improvement Service have also applauded the report as a valuable contribution to work on this theme. As the originator of the Good Schools Guide, my noble friend Lord Lucas is fully aware of how fundamental standards of teaching are to eventual learning outcomes. What constitutes good and effective school teaching is, rightly, a topic to which your Lordships’ attention is frequently drawn and on which this House can boast substantial expertise. However, too little attention has been paid both in government and in the education sector as a whole to the quality of the education and training offered to young people and adults after compulsory school age.
Teaching adults and teaching vocational subjects call for different skills and present different challenges from those required in school classrooms. For example, learners’ ages may vary from 14 to over 90. The experience they bring with them may be as a complete beginner in the subject, as someone working towards a first step on the career ladder or as someone who may have worked in an area for years and is looking for the certification required for career enhancement. They may also want to learn for personal satisfaction, and that, too, is worth while. The task of teaching children successfully is hard enough, but the range of variables with which teachers of adults must cope potentially extends so much more widely. They tend to be better disciplined, which I suppose is one of the advantages of teaching adults, and their motivation tends to be higher than for those still of compulsory school age.
Two key factors have a bearing on the quality of the results that vocational education produces. First, there is the standard of qualifications to which it leads and the degree of confidence that employers have in those qualifications. My noble friend Lord Lingfield mentioned the importance of benchmark qualifications and the ease of understanding quite what the qualifications represent. City & Guilds, as befits an organisation founded by the livery companies and the Corporation of the City of London, has been delivering these since 1878. In the aftermath of the Wolf review, this Government have sought more and better ways to encourage more employers to become involved in the design and delivery of vocational qualifications as a guarantee of quality and workplace relevance. The noble Lord, Lord Young, gave a telling example of the local painter invigorating a class of people who were learning that craft.
Secondly, and equally crucially, there are standards of teaching and learning. For this, we look largely to the commitment and expertise of the further education sector. I echo the views of the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, and those expressed by other noble Lords, and I pay tribute to the dedication of governors, leaders and, of course, teachers. On the comment that my noble friend Lord Lucas made about FE colleges, my understanding is that 66% of colleges are currently judged as good or better and that around 13% hold an outstanding grade, which is encouraging.
As the report makes quite clear, the sector has successfully adapted its methods to the subject in hand and to the diverse characteristics and aspirations of learners. Success depends not on new orthodoxy or dogma but on awareness and creativity. FE has responded, for example, to the way that e-learning has grown in recent years—as my noble friend Lady Sharp set out clearly—in recognition of the technology-dependent lifestyles of today, especially among the younger generation.
The previous Government took welcome steps to guarantee the quality of adult learning. I acknowledge the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Young, to the developments and progress made during that time. The coalition Government are building on that but, equally, we are trying to tackle the bureaucracy. We believe that one of the most useful sources of expertise is to be found among teachers and so, rather than impose central targets, the Government’s most effective role is to help the sector to identify and share good practice wherever it exists. We can see from the report that those directly involved in further education, individual learners and their eventual employers will all be the beneficiaries of high-quality teaching leading to high-value qualifications.
As noble Lords will know, the Government announced in December 2011 that they would establish a new Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning under the chairmanship of a distinguished college principal, Mr Frank McLoughlin CBE. My noble friend Lady Sharp made reference to this. Input to the review came from a wide range of sources, including this valuable report and, crucially, real-life observation of adults learning.
The main findings, influenced by this City & Guilds research, concluded that vocational education and training programmes should be characterised by learning with a clear line of sight to work, and that specialist vocational teachers and trainers should be at the heart of this system. To ensure that knowledge and skills are always current, strong links with employers should be maintained and further developed. In connection with this, following the review of professionalism of the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, the Government are developing new professional qualifications for the FE workforce, and the new FE guild will take that forward.
Ofsted’s new inspection regime has a greater focus on the quality of teaching and teachers—my noble friend Lady Sharp referred to this—and will report on the contributions of colleges to their communities. As to teachers with dual professionalism, which the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, highlighted, the commission sees this as a fundamental element of the future development of the FE workforce. Its recommendations advocate equal focus on developing teaching and ongoing professional skills. It has long been one of the strengths of the further education sector that the practitioners were also frequently the teachers, and that brought reality and relevance to their teaching of students.
The commission will also set out the standard for what an adult vocational learner should expect and define a range of effective pedagogical approaches that make full use of the potential of technology—because, of course, technology has made an enormous difference in life.
On the points made by my noble friend Lord Addington, I recognise his concern about the requirement for people with any form of learning disability or disadvantage to be allowed to reach their full potential without any barriers which particular forms of assessment may present. I assure him that this is constantly under review. Ofqual is in regular contact with disability interest groups, to which I pay due tribute for the expertise and passion they bring to ensure that the groups they represent are not unnecessarily disadvantaged by things which could be removed.
Ofqual is looking very closely at the different methodologies for assessment. My noble friend—I know of his particular interest in dyslexia—mentioned the different ways, such as computer aids and software applications, which can enable learners to demonstrate that they can attain the standards of the qualification, albeit by a somewhat different method of assessment. The awarding bodies and, of course, the colleges have to maintain an interest in the qualifications, when they are awarded, representing a pure standard of achievement. A great deal of work is going on—and my noble friend deserves thanks for the way in which he champions disadvantage—to try to make absolutely sure that these different methods can be brought in. Many colleges already have strategies and technologies to support learners with special needs. We expect that some of the results coming out of the commission will address this, and we will have further information to support that. The websites of the Government, of Ofqual and, indeed, of the awarding bodies are available. My noble friend mentioned particularly City & Guilds. I know that all the awarding bodies have an interest in ensuring that special educational needs are met. I am sorry that he has found difficulties dealing with that, and we hope to take forward any specific cases that he can bring forward to try to ensure that those are fully addressed.
My noble friend also mentioned the importance of coaching. The other volume that comes with this report is The Role of Coaching in Vocational Education and Training, and we know how vital that is. It is always good to have a reference back to the Olympics and Paralympics in any debate, so why not in this one?
An interim report was published last December. Consultation on the commission’s conclusions is now nearing its end, with the final report due towards the end of March. The Government will look forward to considering that report and responding to it in due course, bearing in mind, of course, the development of the FE guild. With the interest in this subject around your Lordships’ House, that response may well provide an opportunity for the House to return to this vital subject at a later stage.
In closing, I again thank my noble friend for initiating a debate on this instructive report, and I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. They have brought a wide range of expertise and enthusiasm to this subject and have made incisive and informed contributions.
Committee adjourned at 4.52 pm.