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Duty to Participate in Education or Training (Alternative Ways of Working) Regulations 2013

Volume 745: debated on Monday 20 May 2013

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Duty to Participate in Education or Training (Alternative Ways of Working) Regulations 2013.

Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Session 2012-13.

My Lords, I am grateful to the legislation committee for its consideration of this order on 27 March. Noble Lords will be aware that the necessary consultation has been undertaken and that the regulations are being debated in the other place.

I shall start by setting out the background to these regulations. The Education and Skills Act 2008 places a duty on all young people in England to participate in education or training. Later this year, we will commence that legislation to require young people to continue in education or training until the end of the academic year in which they turn 17. From 2015, that will rise to their 18th birthday. As noble Lords will be aware, this is termed “raising the participation age”. This does not require young people to remain in school and they may choose an educational path that is best for them. This could be full-time education at a school, college or elsewhere, an apprenticeship or full-time employment combined with part-time education or training.

While this legislation was put in place by the previous Government, we are committed to supporting as many young people as possible into education or training and will be commencing the central part of this legislation shortly.

Continuing in education or training means that our young people will gain higher skills and qualifications, making them more attractive to employers and giving this country a more productive and competitive workforce. Our aim is that young people will be better educated and better prepared for higher education and for productive, sustainable jobs. The evidence is clear that participating in education post-16 improves young people’s life chances. It means that they are more likely to attain higher levels of qualifications and have increased earnings over their lifetime, better health and improved social skills—for instance, young people with two or more A-levels earn around 14% more than those without.

However, there are still a number of young people who are NEET—not in education, employment or training—and this number has been too high for too long. The most recent national statistics show that at the end of 2011 more than 90,000 16 to 17 year-olds were NEET—7% of that age group.

Participation in education or training is not an end in itself, so we are also substantially reforming the post-16 education system, taking significant steps to improve the quality of education and training and the outcomes for young people.

All the evidence shows that the better-educated children are pre-16, the more likely they are to continue in education post-16. Therefore, our reforms to the school system, increasing the freedoms of schools and providing additional support through the pupil premium, will mean that in the long term more young people continue in education for longer. By increasing the number of university technical colleges and studio schools, and supporting colleges to enrol 14 to 16 year-olds, we will ensure that pupils inspired by vocational education are better prepared to continue post-16.

From this September, all 16 to 19 year-olds will be able to take a study programme, which will include one or more substantial qualifications or extended work experience. Students who do not have a GCSE in maths and English at grade C or above will continue to study these subjects. These are exactly the areas that employers say they value most strongly, so study programmes will help all young people to be better prepared for work.

We know that many young people are highly motivated by the prospect of work. We are introducing a new high-quality traineeship programme that will better prepare young people for apprenticeships and sustainable jobs. Traineeships will offer a combination of high-quality work placements, work skills training and English and maths, together with other flexible training and support to suit individual young people’s needs. We know that some young people need additional help to overcome the barriers and difficulties that currently prevent them from participating in education or training. Through the youth contract we are providing intensive support for 70,000 of the most disengaged 16 and 17 year-olds with no or low qualifications. Some young people also need financial support to enable them to continue in education or training. Our £180 million 16-to-19 bursary fund provides targeted support, with guaranteed bursaries of £1,200 for the most disadvantaged.

The two instruments under consideration today are simple steps to ensuring that the legislation that was passed in 2008 is still fit for purpose. One is technical in content only. The other is in line with both the primary legislation and feedback from public consultation and is supportive of young people gaining experience from a range of valuable opportunities. I will briefly address each in turn.

The consequential amendments order is made under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. That Act established the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, commonly known as Ofqual. This order simply updates the 2008 legislation to take account of that Act. It is important for raising the participation age, as young people undertaking full-time work are required to combine that with part-time study towards a qualification that is recognised and transferable.

I now turn to the Duty to Participate in Education or Training (Alternative Ways of Working) Regulations 2013. A key way for young people to meet the duty to participate in education or training will be through getting a full-time job and combining that with part-time education or training. This will be an important route for young people who are motivated and able to secure employment, while also allowing them to get rigorous transferable qualifications. Gaining experience of employment before the age of 18 is a key way to begin building the skills and experience that will lead to a long, fruitful career. However, there are also alternatives to paid work that can provide valuable experience to young people and we would not want to prevent young people from pursuing these activities for fear of falling foul of the legislation.

The 2008 Act makes allowance for further activities described as “ways of working” that could be considered in the same way as paid employment. These could be combined with part-time study to meet the duty set out in that Act. We consulted on the possible options available to young people in this regard, and that consultation agreed with the three routes that are proposed in the 2008 Act. These are: self-employment; working not for reward, for example by volunteering; and holding a public office. In all these instances, the requirements are the same as those set out for full-time employment in the 2008 Act. These ways of working must be full-time and accompanied by accredited part-time study or training.

In summary, these regulations amend and give detail to the 2008 legislation to ensure that it is still fit for purpose and allows young people to undertake the full range of opportunities that will stand them in the best stead for their future lives. I therefore commend them to the Committee.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive introduction to these statutory instruments. As she rightly said, they bring into force legislation that we introduced in 2008, which I think, without appearing to be overly indulgent, was a smart bit of legislation. Rather than raising the school leaving age but the participation age took into account the fact, as the Minister said, that not every youngster wants to stay on in full-time education.

I want to draw out a few things raised by the Minister. She talked about the study programmes, and I wonder whether she can come back to that in her reply, as I am interested in that. The Minister gave a figure on the youth contract support but unfortunately I did not have time to note it down. Who will be employed in that? It seems that it might refer to young people who have not been in significant employment or education. I do not know whether it related to the NEETs.

A group of people that I am particularly interested in is those with disabilities. I was at a specialist school that deals with autism last Tuesday. In talking to a group of 15 and 16 year-olds when we got to the end of the visit, it was interesting how small their chances of employment are. I think that in their experience, they have managed to have one or two jobs but it is really very difficult, and I wondered whether they were going to be included in that youth contract support.

The other questions that I wish to raise are in my general contribution. As the Minister rightly said, we raised the participation age in the Education and Skills Act 2008. It was a Labour Party policy. We agree that if Britain wants to seek to maintain its competitive edge, it is absolutely essential that we upgrade our skills base and ensure the well trained workforce which is essential to that. We know that part of our challenge is the long tail of poor performance within the 16-to- 18 age group, so raising the participation age—as I said, it is not the school-leaving age—is an essential part of confronting that challenge. We are certainly not seeking to oppose these powers today but I have a number of questions, which I would be grateful if the Minister could answer.

While we are happy to agree that self-employment, volunteering and holding an office could combine with part-time study to meet the duty to participate, we remain unclear as to the precise description of holding an office. There seems to be no explanatory guidance, so I would be grateful for some examples. If they are not available, I am sure that the Minister can write. I would also be keen on an update on the Minister’s discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions on how the requirements for education and volunteering align with benefits conditionality, as set out in the July 2012 consultation, and what impact, if any, universal credit will make.

Within the consultation, there was some concern that home schooling might be exploited as a loophole when raising the participation age. I would be grateful for the Minister’s thoughts on how this will be addressed. We saw only last week the vulnerable situation that many young carers find themselves in, so I would be grateful to know what special considerations have been given to young people with caring responsibilities. It seems clear that if we are not to repeat the mistakes made in relation to some low value apprenticeships, which were revealed in the Government’s system, we need a proper system of agreements to ensure that young people are not simply engaged in low-level activity at work but learning decent skills and having proper training. The consultation document speaks of working with relevant organisations to draw up such agreements. Can the Minister explain how that will be taken forward?

Chapter 3 of Part 1 of the Act puts duties on employers to take certain actions in respect of young people who meet the duty by combining work with education and training. The Minister has said that these duties will not be brought into force at this stage and that the possibility of commencing them will be kept under review. I would certainly like some indication of the timetable of that review and who will be conducting it. Finally, a series of responsibilities are placed on local authorities by this legislation to ensure compliance. Will these apply to pupils in academy and studio schools, and in university technical colleges?

Perhaps the real challenge in raising the participation age is that we are inevitably going to raise expectations—at least, I hope we are—that at the end of this process the young will find a job. That is going to be the biggest challenge, no matter who is in power, and I do not wish to make light of it. We know of the significant numbers of young people who are now in unemployment; it is nearly 1 million. It was disappointing to see that if you looked at the number of apprenticeships in the 16 to 18 year-old group, in 2012-13 that had dropped to 69,600 compared to 79,100 in 2011-12, which is a 12.1% drop. Although I pay tribute to the Government’s efforts to increase the number of apprenticeships, there is sometimes a lot of emphasis on the overall figure, which includes a significant number of those aged 19 and above, whereas for us and society as a whole, the biggest challenge is the 16 to 19 group.

I have said on other occasions that one way that the Government could not only set an example but create more apprenticeships is by public procurement. The last time I raised that, I seem to remember the Minister telling me that we could not do that because it was against EU legislation. I looked at the issue and noticed that, for instance, the UK Office of Government guide, Promoting Skills through Public Procurement, suggests that,

“a contracting authority could, through contract conditions: require that successful contractors have a formal training plan in place for the development of their project workforce; require that a specified proportion of the project workforce be trainees, apprentices or long-term unemployed”.

I also draw attention to the fact that EU legislation did not seem to prevent us doing that for both Crossrail and the Olympics. I urge the Government to reconsider, because it could make an important contribution—not only symbolic but numerical—in a vital area. We are also still faced with the challenge that only a small number of companies are participating in providing apprenticeships and work experience opportunities.

There were a lot of good intentions in the Minister’s contribution about work experience, apprenticeships, et cetera, but if you go around talking to young people, you know that their biggest concern, along with participation, is whether they will find a job at the end of that road. Make no mistake, we welcome the legislation, which follows what we introduced. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank the noble Lord for his comments and agree with him that raising the participation age was a very good move to make to the breadth of possibilities to young people. On the figures which he said that he had not had, the study programme is for 16 to 19 year-olds with qualifications and extended work experience. On the youth contract, there is intensive support for 70,000 of the most disengaged 16 and 17 year-olds. That was in my opening remarks.

To pick up some of the noble Lord’s points on this, the raising of the participation age will indeed be reviewed annually from spring 2014. We have not yet agreed the members of the review team, but they will be agreed later this year. He asked about holding an office. Obviously, that may be a bit more difficult for 16 to 17 year-olds, but we have already had the example of someone being an adviser to a police commissioner or a charity trustee. There are things that young people might find, and if they do, that will count for them.

The noble Lord mentioned young carers. They receive a carer’s allowance, and that could certainly be classified as a way of working for they would get credit. Home education is allowed under the scheme, and local authorities will check with parents to confirm that that is indeed taking place in a robust and proper manner.

We have published the document about re-engagement programmes and are involved with organisations such as the Prince’s Trust to try to assure them. On universal credit, we remain in discussion with DWP on how that will fit in with the orders.

The noble Lord also mentioned learners with learning difficulties. Of course, we recognise that too many children and young people do not get the support that they need and that their families have to battle for services, but we are reforming the special needs system. That will come through in the Children and Families Bill, which is in the other place at the moment and coming to us later this summer. That will provide points for debate, and we look forward to hearing the noble Lord’s views on those proposals, but we hope that that will be a distinct advantage for those with special educational needs. I think that I already mentioned the study programmes.

There is a good story to tell on apprenticeships. I will always give credit to the noble Lord and his Government for what they did to beef up apprenticeships and increase the numbers going through. The coalition Government have taken that forward, with significant increases in the number of apprenticeships. They will be looked at again in the light of the Richard review. We are engaging more and more employers in taking on apprentices and some of the bigger companies such as BAE Systems, BT and BP have well accredited schemes. Some of them have more applicants for places than for some of our best universities. That is raising the profile of apprenticeships and the fact that young people, their parents and indeed their schools and careers advisers are aware of the possibilities of apprenticeships and what an excellent way they can be of getting into fulfilling careers. We have a great deal of work going on in that regard and obviously we will work with the noble Lord to make sure that that programme continues.

The noble Lord also raised again the possibility of making apprenticeships contingent on government contracts. Sadly, I have to disappoint him because I have no answer other than the one I gave him previously on that. It is for the employers to decide how that will proceed. I do not have a different answer. We have not found it possible to insist on it in the contracts. Of course, a great many government contractors have apprentices.

There may be one of two points that I have not covered: the noble Lord was raising them slightly more speedily than I was able to note them. But if there is anything I have not covered in those replies I will of course write to him.

Meanwhile, the legislation for raising the participation age will bring a historic and significant change to the English education system. It will bring benefits to young people, especially the most disadvantaged, and our country as a whole socially and economically. The Government are taking decisive action to improve the quality of education in this country and are providing support to the most vulnerable young people so that they can also continue in education and training. We want as many young people as possible to receive a high-quality education that will equip them to progress into higher education or sustainable employment.

The two instruments under consideration today should not be contentious. As I said at the start of the debate, one is technical in content only. The other is in line with both primary legislation and feedback from public consultation and is supportive of young people gaining experience from a range of valuable opportunities. I will come back to the noble Lord if there is anything that has not been covered.

I have a couple of points before the Minister sits down. Her answer on public procurement was slightly different this time. Last time it seemed to be emphatic that there were legal barriers. I am challenging that. That does not appear to be the case, and I would welcome the Minister taking that away and giving me a more considered answer on that issue. I am quoting from the UK Office of Government Commerce guide.

I encourage the Government to look again. The Minister cited the large employers. Yes, they are good and if they were all like them we would not have a problem, but the difficulty we face is the point that the Minister made herself. Places are vastly oversubscribed. The demand is huge. We will raise the demand even further when we raise the participation age. My question to the Government is how we are going to meet that demand. Although the overall picture looks good, we still face the problem that in the 16 to 19 year-old age group there is a drop. I do not raise that to score any political point. I want the Government to succeed in this area, but somehow I do not detect enough urgency in the Government’s approach to this.

The more you meet young people—I go out and speak to lots of sixth formers—the more you realise the chances of a group of them getting more and more disillusioned and saying, “What is the point? When I get to the end of this what are my chances of getting a job?”. We know what the figures are for unemployment in various parts of the country.

We really should be straining every sinew to ensure that we give a work experience or job opportunity to every young person. That should be the target, and not at some distant point. If we do not do that, we will be in danger of creating another lost generation, and a generation that becomes disillusioned does not always respond in the most constructive way, as we witnessed not all that long ago. Therefore, I hope that the Government will reflect on this. There are lots of good intentions within these two statutory instruments and I do not challenge any of those.

There is one other point to which the Minister might reply in writing. We also need to check on the quality of training that employers provide. We know that lots of young people are going into a job. For those who want to do so and can get a job, that is great, but we want to make sure that every employer who takes them on has a proper training programme laid out, otherwise that will be another objective. I am not sure whether that was covered in the Minister’s response. If she does not have the answer to it now, I would welcome a reply in writing. Other than that, we will be supporting these instruments.

Perhaps I may pose one further question to the Minister. Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the Act places quite a number of obligations on local authorities—in particular, the rather difficult obligation of chasing up and identifying the young persons not meeting the Section 2 duty. Guidance is to be published on the Department for Education website, but I wonder when it is likely to be published and what proposals it is likely to make. Given that the diversity of schooling now means that it is not necessarily so easy to chase up what young people are doing and how they are participating, I think that this is going to be quite a difficult task for local authorities.

Picking up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Young, made—

My Lords, there should be just brief interventions for clarification. Perhaps the noble Baroness could keep it fairly short.

I was just going to ask the Minister whether she would like to comment on the role of traineeships in relation to young apprenticeships.

In reply to the first point, the guidance was published in February, so it is available. We also have a recently published document on traineeships, and there is more detail in that. We see the traineeship programme as providing another very valuable route for young people, and it will be rolled out further once the first programme has been established. We understand that local authorities will have a central database to try to monitor it.

I fear that this debate is rather moving away from the order and regulations. However, it is very interesting and valuable, and I am sure we will go into great detail when we come to discuss other aspects of this. I will indeed undertake to write to the noble Lord about the public procurement apprenticeships, and I will look at the other points that have been raised and try to come back to both my noble friend and the noble Lord. Meanwhile, I think that we have discussed the regulations, which I commend. I hope that the Committee is fully supportive of our ambitions and this legislation.

Motion agreed.