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Employment: Young People

Volume 757: debated on Wednesday 10 December 2014

Statement

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on preparing young people for the world of work made earlier today in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows.

“Ensuring that young people leave school or college prepared for life in modern Britain is a central tenet of this Government’s plan for education and a vital part of our long-term economic plan for Britain. It is the students of today who will be the workforce of tomorrow and on whom the future success of our economy—and everything that flows from that—will depend. That is why our plan is ensuring that every young person learns the knowledge, skills and values they need to be able to leave school or college ready to fulfil their potential and succeed in life.

This Government have done a huge amount to raise standards in our schools. We now have a million more pupils in good and outstanding schools—more than ever before—and 100,000 more six year-olds are now on track to become confident readers because of our focus on phonics. The number of pupils taking core academic GCSEs is up by over 60% since 2009-10, thanks to the EBacc. Critically, we now have the most highly qualified teaching profession ever, with more graduates from top universities choosing teaching than ever before.

However, I am clear that while helping every child to master the basics is vital, it is only the start. Schools and colleges have a broader role to play in preparing young people for adult life. That is why I recently allocated £5 million of funding to support new, innovative projects that build character, resilience and grit, because as much as I want the next generation to be able to solve a quadratic equation, I also want them to be able to make a compelling pitch for a job and to bounce back if things do not work out. It is also why, today, I am setting out an ambitious new approach to the way that we open young people’s eyes to the world of work.

It is widely acknowledged that careers provision in schools has long been inadequate. To date, we have encouraged schools and colleges to take the lead. We have placed a clear duty on them to provide students with access to impartial advice and guidance. But although we published an Inspiration Vision Statement in September 2013 and strengthened the statutory guidance to support schools and colleges in making this vision a reality, it is clear that many schools and colleges need additional support if we are to ensure that every young person, regardless of background or location, receives the life-changing advice and inspiration that they need to fulfil their potential and succeed in life. This is a view supported by a number of respected contributors in this area including Ofsted, the National Careers Council, the Sutton Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Education Select Committee of this House, as well as many employers, sector experts, and schools and colleges themselves.

There are, of course, some schools and colleges doing great things to ensure that their students access the necessary support, but too often provision is patchy. Already busy schools and teachers do not always have the time to give this the focus they should. Meanwhile, many organisations, including employers, offer excellent programmes for young people. The challenge before us is how to ensure that every young person in every part of the country is given access to them. I have consistently heard calls from both employers and schools and colleges to help them navigate this complex landscape and spread the good practice that is happening in some parts of the country to all. Today, I am answering those calls.

I am pleased to be able to tell the House that Christine Hodgson, chair of Capgemini UK and someone with a strong track record of developing young talent, will chair a new careers and enterprise company for schools. This will transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them to take control of and shape their own futures. The company will support much greater engagement between employers on the one hand and schools and colleges on the other. It will ensure that young people get the inspiration and guidance that they need to leave school or college ready to succeed in working life. It will be employer led but work closely with the education and careers sectors, and it will act as an umbrella organisation to help employers, schools and colleges and other organisations navigate their way through the existing landscape. It will provide a vehicle to help other organisations co-ordinate their activities where appropriate.

The company will not itself be a direct delivery organisation or act in competition with the many existing providers in the market. Instead it will help schools, colleges, organisations and employers work together in partnership. The company will focus on the offer to young people, initially those aged 12 to 18. It will work closely with the National Careers Service, which will continue to support adults and young people and help the company bring employers, schools and colleges together.

It will be for the new company’s board to set its own strategy but we envisage that it will do a number of things. It will use relationships with employers—private, public and third sector—to break down barriers between schools and colleges on the one hand and employers on the other, and increase the level of employer input into careers, inspiration and enterprise in all schools and colleges. It will do this partly through a network of advisers who will broker strong and extensive links at local level. It will assist schools and colleges in choosing effective careers and enterprise organisations to partner with, including considering the use of quality marks. It will stimulate more and better activity in areas where the current provision is poorest. Last but not least, it will develop an enterprise passport to incentivise young people to participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities that boost their appeal to employers, as well as their enterprise skills.

The network of advisers and enterprise passport are ideas championed most effectively by my noble friend Lord Young, to whom I should like to pay generous tribute for his invaluable work in this area. His report, Enterprise for All, has informed our thinking about the way forward. I am also grateful for the support of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and his officials in ensuring that our work reflects the needs of employers and businesses and providing £1.4 million this year to ensure the company makes a strong start. Of course, it is important to say that this announcement builds on the work already under way in this area, such as the common online application portal being developed by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Business and Skills.

The Government will support the new company with start-up funding in 2015-16, the cost of which will be met from the £20 million announced by my right honourable friend the Chancellor in last week’s Autumn Statement. Five million pounds of this will constitute an investment fund to support innovation and stimulate good practice across the country. In the longer term the company will sustain itself.

I am confident that the plan I have announced today will build on the excellent work that is already going on in some parts of the country, but will ensure it is replicated in every part of the country. It will herald a step change in the quality of careers inspiration, advice and guidance provided to all young people—paying no regard to ability, interest or background. It will help to realise our ambition of ensuring that every child leaves school or college prepared for life in modern Britain. We know that the ultimate success of our long-term economic plan for this country rests on the shoulders of the next generation, and we are backing them every step of the way. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Statement. I am inclined to say welcome, rather belatedly, to the real world. The noble Lord will know that throughout the changes to the curriculum that this Government have introduced, employers, including the CBI, have been saying that this has missed the point, and that the priority should be to get children to be work-ready for careers in the 21st century. Instead, the Government have presided over an education system that only works for half the country—with those young people who do not want a traditional university education left languishing without an alternative comparable vocational route. This is why, on these Benches, we have consistently made the point that we need a gold-standard vocational offer, on a par with academic qualifications, that will promote social mobility and deliver the skilled workforce needed for a stronger economy.

The fact is that Britain is falling behind other OECD countries in terms of technical skills. Meanwhile, employers are struggling to find the skills they need to succeed—particularly, as we have been hearing recently, in construction, manufacturing and engineering. This has not been helped by the low-quality, short-term apprenticeships that this Government have introduced.

Sadly, our main competitors in Europe offer up to four times as many apprenticeships as are offered in England, yet the demand here for these places massively outstrips supply. At the same time, we are missing out on utilising the public sector’s market power by specifying the requirement for high-quality apprenticeships for all significant government contracts.

Does the Minister now accept that if we are serious about improving young people’s work opportunities, we need a major overhaul of the apprenticeship system to provide new rigorous standards combined with respected qualifications? Does he agree that we need a new skills and training framework that is genuinely industry led, as we have proposed? Does he also agree with us that every child should have the opportunity to experience a quality work experience placement, co-ordinated by the school and not left to the individual pupil themselves to source? Does he agree that governing bodies should include local employers, and what is he doing to make that happen? Does he agree that destination measures, which chart pupils’ progress once they have left school, should play a much more important role in judging a school’s success?

I turn to the specific proposals relating to the careers service—a service which is widely acknowledged to have deteriorated under the watch of this Government. The Minister rightly lists some of the many bodies that have criticised the current provision, to save us having to do so. Indeed, over and over again in debates in this House we have been united across the Benches in raising concerns about the current careers service. I would therefore say to the Minister: what took you so long? While his department has been brushing off the criticisms, a whole generation of young people has been let down by an inadequate careers advice. Time and time again as I have visited schools around the country I have seen otherwise outstanding schools struggling to provide effective careers advice, with none of them providing regular face-to-face advice, which all the experts say is vital for quality guidance for young people.

Now we have this announcement today, which has all the hallmarks of a policy scrambled together to plug a gaping hole in the Government’s education plans. In the other place, my honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Education asked a number of questions about the status of this new company that I do not think were answered, so I am giving the Minister another opportunity. For example, what was the bidding process for the contract to establish this company? How will the cost be apportioned? Will it be provided free to schools? What will be the relationship with employers and local enterprise partnerships? In addition, I would ask: what is the timetable for this new advice to be provided to schools, given the gaps that we already know exist?

No one would deny that there is some scope for innovation in the provision of careers advice, but this is only one part of the challenge that currently exists. Young people are crying out for one-to-one individual advice, which I am not sure this proposal addresses. There is also a need to improve on the online careers service and to ensure that the phone line is free for mobiles and is Skype friendly. There are some basic practical hurdles that remain to be addressed. Perhaps the Minister could clarify whether these will be the responsibility of, and overseen by, this new company.

We all aspire to a high-class education system but this Government have made it more difficult for teachers to deliver and succeed. They have created a culture of criticism and confusion. That is why there is a continuing shortfall in filling teacher training places and why we face a critical shortage of teachers in the STEM subjects, which are crucial for our economy’s future. This is why our agenda for preparing young people for the world of work puts the teachers centre stage and will invest in them, help them to manage their workload and give them renewed professional status. This is why we are confident that, unlike the Government, we will prepare every child for the challenges of 21st-century living and working. Meanwhile, I would be grateful if the Minister could address the questions that I have asked.

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support. I point out, though, that the previous Government’s attempt to get children ready for work resulted in 4,000 vocational qualifications, almost all of which were massively overvalued through the scandal of GCSE equivalence, were not valued by employers, rendered pupils no favours at all and resulted in this country slumping down the international league tables during the first 10 years of this century. The OECD told us only at the end of last year that our school leavers—Labour’s children—were the most illiterate and innumerate in the developed world. We have done a great deal to improve the standard of apprenticeships by involving employers of great stature in their design and advertising them much more widely.

Of course we support work experience. My good friend David Johnston at the Social Mobility Foundation, who has cross-party support on his board, is doing great work in widening work experience to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The idea of getting more employers into governing bodies is something we have been expanding substantially in the department; we have formed the Inspiring Governors Alliance and we are working with big business. I have been most struck that with business we are pushing at an open door because of its willingness to provide us with governors, and we have a massive programme in place to expand this effort. We are bringing destinations into the accountability framework.

The noble Baroness harks back to a golden age of careers advice that I do not recognise. Of the previous system of careers advice through Connexions, the former Labour Minister Alan Milburn said that on his panel they could find hardly anybody who had a good word to say about it. On the concept of face-to-face careers advice being the gold standard, McKinsey’s conducted a study across Europe which found that face-to-face careers advice was in most cases virtually worthless compared to activity involving employers in or from the world of work.

On the status of the company, it will be a company limited by guarantee. Its precise strategy will be for its board to decide. We plan for it to be free to schools. It will involve LEPs and we plan to have it up and running by next summer. We believe that with this company, we will be able to build on our work with a number of excellent organisations that already exist up and down the country supplying careers advice to schools.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Statement and express the hope that the new company will transform careers advice in schools, which at the moment is inadequate, ill informed and in many cases deplorable. Youngsters at 14 should have all the opportunities made available to them: whether to stay on at school or go to a university technical college, a studio school, a career college or even an apprenticeship. I am glad that businesses will be involved in this, because that will open up other opportunities to them. I hope that it will lead to a substantial increase in skills training in all schools.

I am grateful to my noble friend for his words. I know that he has been terribly actively involved in driving the UTC programme, and we should all be incredibly grateful to him for that.

My Lords, I hope that the Government have not overlooked the role that the trade union movement can play in providing and insisting on education, particularly for older children. The TUC has its own department, Unionlearn, which is highly respected and was formed deliberately to try to encourage education among people who somehow or other, during the course of their earlier career, missed out on it. It has worked consistently to try to improve and make available apprenticeship schemes right across manufacturing industry. My union, Unite, has done a great deal of work on manufacturing industry to ensure that there are proper educational arrangements for younger people and to encourage them—in particular, women—into training for engineering and manufacturing, which is vital for this country. I hope that the role which the trade union movement can play in this area, which can be assessed via the TUC, is not overlooked, because it is very important in encouraging people who have missed out on education earlier in their career.

I could not agree more with what the noble Baroness says. The involvement of the unions on this side of the piece is extremely important. I am delighted to be able to say that the careers company will have an advisory board, which will help it to design and implement itself, and Askel will sit on that board. I note the very good work that the NAHT has done in relation to Primary Futures. I was visiting a Primary Futures event at a school in Oxfordshire on Friday and noticed that one of the ex-presidents of the NAHT sits on the Primary Futures board. The noble Baroness’s points are very well made.

I, too, thank my noble friend for this important and worthwhile Statement. I also praise the Enterprise for All document. I particularly like the Fiver scheme for primary schools, which I hope will be extended. However, on the day that we hear the Association of Colleges saying that careers education is broken, my noble friend mentioned in his Statement that the Government’s plan for careers guidance has received support from organisations such as the Sutton Trust. Does he agree with the Sutton Trust’s recommendation that all pupils should receive a guaranteed level of impartial, professional advice in careers education, while schools should ultimately be held accountable for the quality of the careers guidance provided?

I certainly agree that schools should be held accountable for providing careers advice. Ofsted has made it clear that it will look at this very closely in its leadership category and we have strengthened the framework in this regard. I have already said that I do not think there is any one way of providing careers advice and I do not think that we should rely too much on one-to-one advice. Rather, we should involve the world of work much more in careers in the way we have been discussing.

My Lords, the Minister will know very well that the young people who find the transition from school to work most difficult are disabled young people, particularly those with learning difficulties. What is there in this package for this group and how will the new agency work with those organisations that are already attempting to provide very good projects?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. I am aware of her experience in this area. As the guidance notes, the area where one-to-one careers advice may be particularly appropriate is for pupils with learning disabilities. We will ensure that the careers company makes sure that all pupils get the opportunities for careers advice that they deserve.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement addressing an issue which has been an area of such desperate failure in our education system for the past few years. Indeed, on the provision of advice by Connexions, I have not yet met a school which found that Connexions was useful or helpful to it in the work it was trying to do. Is it envisaged that this new company will enable employers to have an input into the syllabus for some of the major subjects of the curriculum? So often we hear from employers that what is taught is not helpful to them in employment. Will it go beyond their involvement in providing placements and advice, into some input into the syllabus for the main subjects?

I am grateful for my noble friend’s comments. Of course, we have involved employers greatly in the redesign of the curriculum, particularly, for instance, in computing. The involvement of employers in the syllabus and the curriculum of UTCs is central to that programme. I can see that this company would be a very good conduit for employers to make detailed comments to us about the context of the curriculum.

My Lords, as the Minister was speaking I could not help reflecting on the late, lamented Donaldson report, which was so surprisingly rejected by the previous Government. I seem to remember that it suggested that a valuable service would be provided if some census could be made of skills needs and skills shortages by industry, which could then be passed on to the education world so that the two could be matched. Can the Minister say whether such a census might be made a responsibility of the new company?

I shall certainly pass this on to the chair of the new company and to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I think that it is a very good point.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned England, but I sometimes think that the other countries—Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—also have a contribution to make to any careers guidance changes. How do we make the best use of the successful schemes that have been brought in, not only in the countries of the United Kingdom but in the European Union? Have they anything to teach us? What is their best practice? What are their most successful experiments? Are moves being made to be in touch with other countries, not only in the UK but in the European Union?

I am grateful to my noble friend for his comments. The chair of the new careers company works for a multinational company. I am sure she will be very open to studying what is going on in other countries in relation to this.