Motion to Take Note
My Lords, it is with pleasure that I rise to open the debate on the Select Committee report on social mobility. At the outset I want to emphasise that we were not looking at social mobility in the round but in the context of the transition from school to work.
I want to place on record my thanks to members of the Committee who were assiduous in their interest, attendance and support throughout this process. I also want to pay tribute to our staff. We are extraordinarily fortunate in this place in the dedication and commitment of our staff. When we look at a report of this dimension and realise that we had one clerk, Luke Hussey, and one policy analyst, Emily Greenwood, it is remarkable that this work was turned out in such a tight timescale. On a personal note, members of the committee will be pleased to know that Emily gave birth to a baby daughter last week, her first child. We were also very fortunate in our specialist adviser, Professor Ann-Marie Bathmaker. She was a great support to staff and was ready with advice to members of the committee.
The background to the report in the consideration of the transition from school to work was the evidence that social mobility, which we thought had been a norm since World War II, has stalled at best and is going into reverse at worst. Intermediate jobs in the labour market, such as in offices and factories, are disappearing at an alarming rate, mainly as a result of the growth in information technology and robotics. This has led to a hollowing out of the labour market so that it resembles an hourglass. Some commentators have indeed referred to people who would have done these jobs as the “missing middle”.
I emphasise that our report was about young people who would have gone into these jobs straight from school. They feel that what is becoming the traditional route from school to university is not for them. They are also trying to find their way through a chaotic exam and qualification system and are not counted among those who are not in education, employment or training. But they make up a staggering 53% of the cohort. We are talking about the majority of our young people, and they are the overlooked majority.
We tried very hard to take a novel approach to our work. As well as the usual video clip from the committee chair, we conducted focus groups with young people in London and Derby and conducted an online survey of young people, to which there were 650 responses. Their testimony is interspersed throughout the report, and much of it makes sober reading. We published a short film online at Lambeth College summarising the report’s conclusions, and we visited Derby. We went to Rolls-Royce to see its apprenticeship programme, to Derby College to talk to students, and to the International Centre for Guidance Studies at Derby University. We published a short film online at Lambeth College, which summarised the report’s conclusions, we went to Lilian Baylis Technology School, also in Lambeth, and we tried to ensure that the report was written in accessible language. We were, as ever, assisted by witnesses who gave generously of their time, and we published in compliance with the timetable laid down by the House.
The government response was due on 8 June but was not submitted until 7 July, which I found a bit extraordinary. I was very disappointed in the response because it seemed to be a list of what the Government were doing rather than engagement with the points that we were making about these young people and their life chances. Our inescapable and unanimous conclusion was that the majority of our 15 to 24 year-olds do not go on to university and are “overlooked and left behind” by Whitehall. We acknowledged that most people understand the transition from GCSE to A-level to university, but that the rest were, by and large, left to fend for themselves in a system that we described as,
“complex and incoherent, with confusing incentives for young people and employers”.
We found that most young people leaving school knew that they were not work ready and had to navigate a chaotic landscape, and that many of them did not have life skills. I have to admit that I am passionate about life skills. As someone who was in the other place for 13 years, a lot of it covering the inner city of Bristol, I saw for myself what it did for the confidence and capability of young people to have life skills education, which was available under the last Labour Government but was abolished by the right honourable Michael Gove. Everywhere we went, we were told that employers wanted young people who were work ready. When we spoke to students, they said that they did not have the wherewithal to be presentable at work, co-operate with others, make a persuasive phone call and do the things that we all think are absolutely normal. Indeed, I remember being in the other place years ago and hearing a speech by someone in your Lordships’ House who acknowledged that he had a first from Oxbridge and that when he went out to work he realised that he could not write a persuasive letter. Those are the kinds of skills that I am talking about, and they know that they do not have them.
Life skills are not the same as work experience, but even that too often requires informal contacts via the family, businesses or social contacts, which are not available to all young people. Some employers are trying to break down these barriers. We heard from Deloitte and Marks & Spencer—but they are by no means the mainstream.
As for apprenticeships, we noted that 50% of apprenticeship starts in 2015-16 were for those over the age of 25, and we came across some dubious practices. In one of our focus groups, I spoke to a very enterprising and engaging young woman. I mentioned apprenticeships—and in my innocence I thought that they were like the ones that my dad did, which lasted four years. When I left school, in Yeovil in Somerset, boys wanted to get an apprenticeship at Westland Aircraft that lasted four years, so I thought apprenticeships were like that. The girl told me that she had done three apprenticeships. I thought, “How the devil could she have done three?”. She said that one apprenticeship was in arranging flowers into bunches for a supermarket and lasted six weeks and another was in wrapping vegetables for a supermarket, which also lasted six weeks. She then worked in an office, where everyone apart from the managing director was an apprentice on the minimum wage. So I began to wonder whether these were apprenticeships or a means of massaging the unemployment figures. These young people need the kind of proper apprenticeship to which my father had access because, apart from anything else, our economy needs that.
We found significant inequality in investment in the education of young people, with a difference of approximately £6,000 a year per student in the public funding of young people attending college as opposed to university. Consequently, FE is a poor relation. My former right honourable friend Alan Milburn, the chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, referred to it as an unfair education system. We found evidence that the abolition of the independent careers service has had a detrimental effect. Schools are simply not equipped or funded to fulfil this service.
Recent Governments have focused on higher education and apprenticeships as the way to help young people to be successful in later life. Both can work well but they are absolutely not suitable for everyone. This focus is to the detriment of many talented and able young people. We accordingly made eight major recommendations. We said:
“There is a need for more coherence in the UK Government’s policy governing the transition of young people into the workplace. The policy should set out a framework for school to work transitions from age 14 to age 19 and over. It should explicitly address the middle route to work, and the decision-making that takes place from 14 onwards, and set the standard for sharing best practice across the UK”.
We further said:
“The transition stage should be considered to be from age 14 to age 19. Learning during this stage should include a core curriculum with tailor-made academic and/or vocational courses. It should aim to get as many people who can, up to a Level 3 qualification. There are three important strands to the framework”.
The first is:
“Clearer routes to good-quality work for those in the middle, brought about by local collaboration, to enable … vocational routes to work which are robust and high quality, do not close down future opportunities, and lead to worthwhile destinations”.
The Minister may be able to say something about the contribution to the report of my noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville in that respect. We said that they also need,
“meaningful experiences of work, organised between the student, the school and a local employer, including work placements and work-based training”.
This should not necessarily be left to family contact. We also said that work experience should,
“have a clear aim and objective to prepare young people for work and life”.
We said that there should be:
“A new gold standard in independent careers advice and guidance, supported by a robust evidence base and drawing on existing expertise, which moves responsibility away from schools and colleges (which would require legislative change) in order to ensure that students are given independent advice about the different routes and qualifications available”.
There should be,
“independent, face-to-face, careers advice, which provides good quality, informed advice on more than just academic routes”,
so that young people can make decisions “based on sound knowledge”. We said that there should be,
“a single access point for all information on vocational options, including the labour market returns on qualifications”,
“Improved careers education in schools, to empower young people to make good choices for themselves”.
This would include,
“information on labour market returns … information about the financial prospects of different options, to inform and motivate”,
“data on local labour markets to inform the teaching of Life Skills … and careers education”.
Our third recommendation was that the,
“transition framework should be owned by, and be the responsibility of, a Cabinet-level minister, who will assume ultimate responsibility for the transition from school to work”.
When we took evidence from Ministers I noticed that this responsibility now falls between two departments. That makes me realise why in 1997 the then Labour Government set up a Department for Education and Employment, where the Secretary of State was my noble friend Lord Blunkett and I was his Parliamentary Private Secretary. To have education and employment under one roof worked rather well.
We also recommended that:
“Transitions from school to work should be supported by publicly available data, compiled by the relevant Government departments. This data should be made available to researchers so that they have access to earnings data, study patterns, and different demographic patterns, brought about by legislative change if necessary”,
“the responsible Cabinet Minister should report on progress annually to Parliament”.
We also noted that:
“Increasingly local labour markets and skills needs are being seen as a devolved responsibility, whether it is to conurbations such as London, Manchester or Leeds, or to rural areas such as Somerset or Lincolnshire.
However, because administrative structures are so much in flux, there is often no focal point for action. The most valuable role the Government can take is to act as a facilitator, coordinating the efforts of its existing structures, and brokering collaboration between existing local bodies”.
We said that:
“The Government should keep under constant review the degree of success of transitions into work for those in the middle. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission should play a strong part in monitoring these transitions”.
The final recommendation was that,
“the Government should commission a cost benefit analysis of increasing funding for careers education in school and independent careers guidance external to the school in the context of social mobility. A report providing this analysis should be made to Parliament before the end of its 2016-17 session”.
The Government did not provide a response to conclusions on reducing unfairness between academic and vocational routes to work, ensuring that apprenticeships remain high-quality, inequality between academic and vocational routes to work, improving careers guidance and advice for young people, making transitions work for those in the middle, increasing market transparency with destinations data for colleges and schools, and increasing employment involvement. That is a sum total of 31 detailed conclusions which have not been directly addressed by the government response. This is disappointing, to say the least, and I hope that Members will join me in asking for a response to the points not covered. I apologise—I am recovering from this cold and cough virus, which has been going around. It is certainly playing havoc with my voice.
What is the response of the current Secretary of State to the committee’s report? There has been a change of personnel, and it would be useful to know to what degree there has been any change within the department with regard to the response to our report.
Does the Minister accept the need for a framework for school-to-work transitions from ages 14 to 19? That was suggested by the Tomlinson report many years ago, and I bitterly regret that we did not implement it when we were in government.
We also noted that the Government had said that they intended to publish their strategy. Has it been published, and if so did it take into account the committee’s recommendations?
The Government also noted that they intended to bring forward legislation to require schools to co-operate with other education and training providers so that they can engage directly with pupils. Have the Government done this yet, and if not when will they do so?
Furthermore, what discussions has the Earn or Learn implementation task force had regarding implementing the committee’s recommendations? If it has not discussed it yet, will it undertake to do so? On one positive point, I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the committee’s recommendation on data sharing for research purposes present in the Digital Economy Bill. I am sure the committee would agree with me that we challenged the Government’s view that they do not have a role in brokering local arrangements. What are they doing to encourage to work together all those involved in a young person’s transition from school to work, to ensure that the system is improved for young people in England?
We commend the work of the Social Mobility Commission and ask the Government what discussions they have had with it in monitoring our report. I also point out that the Government are not helpless in this matter. When Alan Milburn appeared before us, he said that intermediate jobs were disappearing, but intermediate jobs can be created—and they can be created in the public sector. He gave us two examples from the Labour Government. The first was the establishment of the police community support officer. At the time, many people in the police service were not too sure about it but I think that it is now generally accepted that this is an intermediate public sector job. Teaching assistants are another example. Now, nobody would suggest that schools can do without teaching assistants. These are also intermediate public sector jobs. With imagination, the Government could introduce such jobs rather than cut them. At the moment, some of those jobs might be quite handy—in the Prison Service, for example.
Finally, I remind noble Lords of the report’s title: Overlooked and Left Behind: Improving the Transition from School to Work for the Majority of Young People. I repeat: “overlooked and left behind”. We said that in March. It now trips off the tongues of commentators nearly every day because, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, people are talking about all those who feel left behind. It was prescient of us to use that phrase. When the Prime Minister stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street, these were the very people she was talking about, so on behalf of the committee I would like to know what kind of priority they now have.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for her excellent chairing of the Select Committee. It was a great pleasure to serve on it under her leadership. I also thank the superb committee staff—particularly Luke and Emily—who served us so well.
When it comes to the big debates on education, almost invariably the focus is on schools and universities. On the rare occasion that that is not the case, the focus is on apprenticeships. Of course those are very important things, but the attention that Governments of all hues have paid to these flagship policies has obscured one very important fact: that the majority of young people—53%, as we have already heard—do not follow the “traditional” academic route into work. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, I feel that the title of the Select Committee report—Overlooked and Left Behind: Improving the Transition from School to Work for the Majority of Young People—says it all. Those young people not pursuing either higher education or apprenticeships—around half of them—face a system beset by a lack of funding, esteem, guidance and co-ordination, and those are the issues on which I wish to focus.
The bald conclusion of the report is that young people not pursuing the traditional path are getting a raw deal. Let us consider the fact that as of 2014 there are some 3 million people in further education colleges on a government budget of £4 billion, while the 2 million people in higher education enjoy a budget of some £30 billion—nearly eight times as much.
The Select Committee had the privilege—and it was a real privilege—of hearing first hand from policymakers, educators, employers, civic organisations and, most importantly, from young people themselves about the challenges they face. The committee recognised the value of apprenticeships for young people and the economy but pointed out that less than 7% of 16 to 18 year-olds do one. The vast majority of apprenticeships are started by people aged 19 or over.
Many young people leave school or college and face a bewildering and incoherent set of options with little help or support to guide them through this morass, leading to high levels of drop-out. There is no centralised, UCAS-like system to guide these young people into jobs with the possibility of upward mobility. Instead, they, and indeed the employers who hire them, must face a constantly shifting, incoherent and poorly funded system of vocational qualifications that are constantly given short shrift in favour of A-levels and university degrees.
This issue was, I thought, reinforced very powerfully by the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report, published last month. It amply endorsed many of the committee’s findings, and its central conclusion is that:
“Britain has a deep social mobility problem”.
This is, it says, exacerbated by poor alternatives to academic education and leaves those from lower-income homes much more likely to end up in low-wage, dead-end jobs.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, I too found the Government’s response to the Select Committee’s report disappointing and lacking in urgency. Sadly, it provided no response to a number of the key recommendations. However, on the positive side, I welcome the bringing forward of the Government’s post-16 skills plan, prompted by the Sainsbury review, which was published in July this year. The Sainsbury review reaffirmed many of the committee’s conclusions, particularly on the importance of technical training and the incoherence of the smorgasbord of qualifications that young people currently face post-16. The aim of the post-16 skills plan, to establish a framework of qualifications which will cover both apprenticeships and college-based learning to provide a common core of knowledge, skills and behaviours as well as specialist training for specific areas, is admirable. However, there is for me one fundamental area where the plan falls down. Although it pays lip service to the idea of parity of esteem between technical and academic education and training, the plan offers no provision to reduce the gap in funding between the two routes.
It is notable that the Government found £200 million for grammar schools in the Autumn Statement but could not spare a penny, it seems, for technical training. It is hard to see how this underfunded, long-neglected part of the skills system will realise the Government’s own vision of becoming world class under current funding plans. Will the Minister tell us what progress has been made on implementing the recommendations of the Sainsbury review?
The Select Committee report made a raft of recommendations to government to help young people who do not go on to university or undertake an apprenticeship to make a successful transition to work. For me, key among them is the urgent need to reduce the unfairness in funding between academic and vocational routes into work. Most people in the sector agree that further education colleges have the potential to be real engines of social mobility and to help with much-needed local 16 to 19 co-ordination. But while government policy has ring-fenced schools and university funding from budget cuts, the same cannot be said for post-16 institutions which provide for young people moving into vocational education. In fact, the budget for provisions for 16 to 19 year-olds was cut by 13.6% in real terms from 2010 to 2015. The individuals most affected by these spending cuts are much more likely to come from low-income households, which further harms their possibility of upward mobility.
An underfunded and overworked system invariably leads to lower-quality education, and this has a cost as well. Drop-out in post-16 learning courses cost the public purse a whacking £814 million in 2012—the latest figures I could find—which is some 12% of the funding allocated to provisions for 16 to 18 year-olds that year.
Funding is not the only problem. The key insight from the Select Committee is that rather than the national curriculum stopping at the age of 16, it should instead end at 14 to enable a 14 to 19 transition stage to be developed. This would ensure that young people sliding down the wrong path are caught earlier. It would also allow young people to experience a mix of vocational and academic options more tailored to their interests and aptitude, which I think could help them make better informed choices later on. Far too many young people are demotivated by the over-academic GCSE curriculum, yet see scant opportunity in other directions. Importantly, this transition stage must include a gold standard in careers guidance—that is the term that we used on the Select Committee—which moves responsibility away from schools and colleges. This careers guidance must be independent, comprehensive and face to face to help young people through our current vocational system. It has to be said that our current system is some distance from this gold standard. The Careers and Enterprise Company has thus far made little impact, and although recent modest funding increases are welcome, they certainly do not outweigh the sums removed from the careers service in previous years.
Careers guidance is currently the responsibility of schools, which have a vested interest—not to mention an inbuilt financial incentive—for pupils to carry on in the academic route. Instead, careers guidance must adequately inform young people of all the options available to them.
We were not alone in our concerns. The recent House of Commons Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy concluded in July this year that careers guidance was inadequate and exacerbating skills shortages. Only last month, Ofsted published a report saying that the chaotic careers education in schools could jeopardise the UK’s future economic prosperity. We continue to await the Government’s careers guidance strategy, which has been promised for a year now. Can the Minister offer any news on this front today?
Taken together, the Select Committee’s recommendations support the development of a stable, coherent and navigable transition system for those aged 14 to 24. Ultimately, this needs to be underpinned by reliable publicly available data and owned by a single Minister who could monitor it and be accountable for its success.
The current system is not only unfair on individual young people, often leading to a lifetime of missed opportunities, it also damages the UK’s economy and limits our collective human capital. We are living in a period of profound change. Consider the fact that the richest 10% of the UK’s population now owns half of the country’s wealth, with the top 1% owning nearly a quarter. Consider that today only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high earner as an adult. High inequality combined with low social mobility is a toxic mixture for our society.
The ladder to a better future is becoming longer and the rungs further apart. No wonder public dissatisfaction with our current system is growing. We have seen much evidence of declining social cohesion, of a country split between those who have been given a leg up and those left behind, in 2016. It does not augur well. Investing in our young people today has a significant long-term economic and social value tomorrow, but only if we get the system right for all. It is long overdue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for tabling this important debate and for her and her committee’s work, which has produced such a helpful and clear report. I also look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth.
The findings of the report are of particular importance to those of us in the north-east. According to the Growing Up North project, 4% of young people leaving school in London go on to an apprenticeship whereas the figure is 11% in the north-east. The inequality in provision between academic and vocational routes compounds the inequalities between the north and south of England. Therefore, the current problems with the system are not only failing individual young people but, in some instances, they are failing particular communities. It is with the young people of my diocese and region in mind that I welcome the solutions offered in the report.
There is a profound need to respond to the call for a more coherent approach to vocational training. The Government should bring together employers, colleges, schools and independent learning providers. In particular, I welcome the proposal to move the transition period to 14-19. I also wish to highlight the need for major improvements in careers advice which covers vocational routes. The report underlines the importance of implementing the proposals in the post-16 skills plan and the Technical and Further Education Bill to do just that.
Here we must pay tribute to the crucial contribution of further education colleges in offering the “missing middle”, on which the report focuses, the chances that they need to obtain qualifications of real value. These institutions deserve our thanks and they need greater support.
The Government can rightly highlight the progress that has been made. That more than 1.4 million more pupils attend schools that are rated “good” or “outstanding” than in 2010 should be celebrated. However, while quality schooling is important, we risk overplaying its role in social mobility. As Growing Up North highlights, the north-east consistently has among the best primary school results in the country, but the lowest average adult incomes. According to the IPPR’s The State of the North report, there are only 0.69 jobs per working-age resident in the north-eastern region in contrast to 0.86 in Cheshire and Warrington. The success of a coherent route into work is dependent on the availability of well-paid, meaningful work.
This leads me to highlight that while education is important, it is not the most important factor in relation to social mobility. A 2010 study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that educational deficits emerge early in children’s lives, even before entry into school, and that they widen throughout childhood. Even by the age of three there is a considerable gap in cognitive test scores between children in the poorest fifth of the population compared with those from better-off backgrounds, and this gap gets wider as children enter and move through the schooling system. Likewise, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England highlights that by,
“the end of secondary school, disadvantaged children are on average 19 months behind their peers”.
Child poverty is critical in relation to social mobility, so the removal of “child poverty” from the name of the Social Mobility Commission is indicative of a worrying trend which is only exacerbated by today’s news of the closure of the Child Poverty Unit and the apparent abandonment of the life chances strategy. This appears to confirm a focus on the “just about managing” and “the middle”, as in this report, to the exclusion of those who are the poorest and who deserve our most important attention and help. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that news. The report itself scarcely mentions the word “poverty”. What mentions there are focus on how poverty can be the result of a bad transition from school to work and how jobs provide a way out of poverty. Insufficient attention is paid to the impact of child poverty on the transition from education to work and social mobility more widely. This trend is alarming for two reasons. First, because poverty must remain a priority, and secondly, because excluding poverty from our social mobility agenda is self-defeating.
As admirable a goal as social mobility is, it should not be used to crowd out child poverty as a policy objective. If our policy is entirely shaped by concerns around social mobility and life chances, then the society we are aiming towards is one which is unconcerned with the presence of poverty itself, but just wants to make sure the poor deserve to be poor.
Secondly, a renewed focus on social mobility requires a renewed focus on child poverty. Social mobility, even of those in the middle who are the focus of the report, is shaped profoundly by economic factors. The committee’s report notes the impact of informal recruitment practices on social mobility, but we must also note the impact of a parent working several jobs and being unable to help with applications, the impact of the anxiety caused by seeing a parent struggling to make ends meet, and the myriad other ways that poverty impedes social mobility. One of the most pernicious ways is its effect on aspiration. As experience shapes a child’s imagination, growing up in poverty robs children of the capacity to imagine themselves improving their circumstances—all too often leaving the impression of poverty as being inevitable or a particular profession unattainable. We need to help with aspiration levels.
An integrated strategy for vocational routes into work must be part of an integrated strategy for the flourishing of young people and be alive to the impact of poverty on all aspects of a child’s life chances. To the extent that the importance of the world outside the classroom is ignored, any attempt to improve the options available within it will ultimately fail. British young people do not deserve a system in which “vocational” is the code word for “non-academic”. Particularly for those in my line of work, the word “vocation” is one charged with rich meaning. This report points some of the way towards a system that is more worthy of that word.
I have some final thoughts. Social mobility by definition tends to suggest that an upward social trajectory is the right and best one for everyone. I actually have two concerns about this. The first is that we can have greater upward mobility for those near the bottom only if there is some equal and corresponding increase in downward mobility among those near the top. If the rich and powerful, which of course includes all of us, do all they can to protect and pass on their privileged positions, this can be as much a barrier to social mobility as a lack of education or opportunity for those in poverty. So downward mobility is not just sometimes desirable, it is also necessary in a more socially mobile society.
My second concern is this. Jesus himself encouraged his followers not to seek upward mobility but rather the way of service. Foot washing was to be the example and not a practice to be avoided or frowned on. In all our pursuit of ensuring that whatever start in life a person has they do have equal life chances, let us not lose sight of the fact that some social mobility downwards is good for us all. We are holding this debate just before Christmas, when, let us not forget, we celebrate the God who chose downward mobility as the way to save humanity.
My Lords, this is an excellent report and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on chairing the committee and all the members on producing such a good report. It is disappointing that this is the first report of the committee and the last report of the committee. Social mobility requires more constant surveillance by this House than just holding a debate every year or two. The committee stuck very closely to its purpose and concentrated on most young people, but especially those who do not follow the academic route and are therefore overlooked. They are the overlooked and the forgotten ones. In this populist age, I seem to remember Mr Donald Trump saying on the day after he was elected that he had been chosen by the forgotten ones. These young people are certainly part of the forgotten ones.
It would be charitable to describe the Government’s response as vapid and complacent. I cannot believe that the civil servants who wrote it had read any of the reports of Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools for the past five years. The response was also signed off by two Ministers who are no longer in post. I hope that the new ones will be more sympathetic to the report than those two. At one stage the Government boasted that at last we have reached the lowest level of NEETs, but they did not say what that level was. The level of NEETs in the third quarter of this year was 11.5%. That represents tens upon tens of thousands of young people who after 14 years of free state education are drawing jobseeker’s allowance. That is a disgrace and we should be ashamed of it as a nation and ashamed of it as a Government. The percentage is much higher than in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Why is that? It is because 70% of German students will have had some experience of technical and vocational education by the time they reach the age of 18. In our country only 30% of students experience any form of technical and practical education.
It is little wonder, therefore, that our schools are not performing well. In one of his last reports, Sir Michael Wilshaw identified that secondary schools in Manchester and Liverpool are actually going backwards. They are not improving year on year, they are getting worse. On top of that, the Birmingham education authority, one of the largest in the country, is not fit for purpose. He has recommended that education be taken out of the hands of Birmingham and put into the hands of the department. We are dealing with very serious matters here. On top of that, the changes to the exam system that have been introduced in the past two or three years are so confusing that the Government have said that they are not going to publish the league tables this year. I cannot understand, as one of the authors who introduced these things, how you can actually get to a situation where one is so confused that no priorities have emerged.
The figures announced last week by PISA of progress across Europe and in our schools are very disappointing for the Government. They show that since 2010, when a Conservative-dominated education policy was introduced, the performance of 15 year-olds has declined in reading, maths and science. That is an extraordinary failure and one we should be very much more aware of. The Government hope to fix this by introducing the EBacc, which means there will be more academic subjects studied in schools and technical subjects will be squeezed out below the age of 16. I find that an extraordinarily perverse policy. Uptake in design and technology, a GCSE introduced back in the 1980s, has fallen by 27% since 2010. The whole of the education system in our country is concentrating on academic subjects at the age of 16 to the damage of not only technical but creative subjects.
What can we do about it? University technical colleges, which I have been promoting for the last seven years, begin at the age of 14. I believe that 14 is the right age of transfer. We are landed with an age of transfer of 11 for purely historical reasons. The age of school leaving in late Victorian England was 11 and the only schools that went beyond it were grammar schools, so that became the age of transfer. We are the only country left in the world separating children, educationally and culturally, at the age of 11. It is quite the wrong age. I was very glad to hear the right reverend Prelate say just a few moments ago that he believed the age of transition should be 14. I welcome that, and the support of the Church of England. When I am in church on Christmas Eve I will give a special thanks to the Lord that He is now supporting us.
The age of 14 is so much better for the age of transition. By then, youngsters know what they want to do. At the age of 11 it is a parental choice to go to grammar school. At the age of 14 students and parents come together to decide whether they want to go to our sort of college. The level of NEETs is lowest in Austria in the whole of Europe. There, the national curriculum stops at the age of 14. From 14 on it has a series of specialist colleges—some academic colleges and some technical colleges, engineering colleges, food technology colleges, sports colleges, and hospitality and catering colleges. A whole range of different skills are being imbued. As a result, it has the lowest level of youth unemployment in Europe.
There are 47 UTCs now. We have exceptional destination data for education to employment. This July we had 1,292 students leaving at the age of 18— very nearly 1,300. Only five of those were NEETs. That is a quite remarkable achievement for any set of skills in the country. Some 44% of our students went to university, instead of the national average of 38%; 29% became apprentices, as opposed to the national average of 8.4%; 15% got a job; and 9% went on to other forms of education. We are capturing the disengaged, in some cases—the youngsters who at the ages of 12, 13 and 14 have really decided that their schools are not for them. When I go round and talk to students in the college I say, “How did you learn about us?”. They reply, “We searched the web, because, quite frankly, our schools are not doing what we want to do”. Students can make that decision at the age of 14 very effectively. I hope that conversion at 14 will become part of our education process.
The Government are very keen to introduce and extend new grammar schools. Personally, I would not support new grammar schools from the age of 11 to 18 because 11 is a toxic age and the 11-plus a toxic exam. However, I would be quite prepared to accept selection of some sort at the age of 14, with well-informed parental and student selection and possibly an assessment of aptitude. At the age of 14 youngsters can be reasonably directed to the range of studies they want to take.
Social mobility has to start in schools. What we in UTCs give to our youngsters, and why we have such a good record in employment, are the skills they will need in their jobs. In a UTC, for two days a week youngsters are making and designing things with their hands. In addition, they are working on projects brought in by local business and working in teams. An essential experience in life is to work in teams. They are also working on problem solving. All the time they are thinking about where they will go when their education ends and they leave the UTC. I therefore want to see very many more UTCs than we have at the moment. Indeed, I am glad to say the new Secretary of State for Education visited the UTC in Didcot. She gave a press conference when she came out to say that it was brilliant, with phenomenal teaching and phenomenal learning.
As far as the education system in our country is concerned, we will be able, over the course of the next few years, to increase technical, vocational, practical, hands-on learning. That will be the biggest source of social mobility in our country. There is absolutely no doubt about this. Grammar schools will not give us social mobility today. I passed two 11-pluses and went to two grammar schools. Grammar schools in the 1940s were genuine agents of social mobility. There is absolutely no doubt about that. For students at the ages of 11 to 18 they are very much enclaves of the middle class. Only 4% of students at grammar schools today come from the fifth-poorest group in our society. I am not against having grammar schools at the ages of 14 to 18. It is quite possible that there can be academic streams at that age.
I again congratulate the committee on producing the report. I hope some of the things it says will not disappear into the sand, because we have a responsibility in our society to ensure we increase the life chances and opportunities of all children in our society. That is what the task should be in any change in education.
My Lords, it was a privilege to serve on the Select Committee. I join others in thanking my noble friend Lady Corston for her excellent leadership and presentation of our report. I join with her in thanking the officials who supported us, and the witnesses. In that sense, it was a joy to be a part of the committee because it worked so smoothly. I pay tribute, as she did, to the young people who gave evidence. That had an impact on all of us. Their words are threaded throughout the report’s recommendations, as they should be.
Before I get on to what I was going to say, I want to take up something the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. I am about to agree with almost everything he said. In fact, I am about to concentrate on the thing he concentrated on. With his permission, I have to correct him on Birmingham because I would not want people to be misled. Michael Wilshaw did not say what the noble Lord said he said about the Birmingham education system—he has not asked for it to be taken over by the department. After the so-called Trojan horse scandal two years ago, a school-led organisation called the Birmingham Education Partnership was handed the legal responsibilities of the Department for Education related to school improvement. I happened to chair it, which is why I know that to be the case. It is now in its second year of operation. I think Ofsted will now say that things are improving in Birmingham as far as schools are concerned. I pay tribute to the school-led Birmingham Education Partnership, which has brought that about. Michael Wilshaw did say what the noble Lord said about Birmingham social care. That is perhaps where the misunderstanding has arisen. I would not want a story in the Birmingham Evening Mail tomorrow to say that Sir Michael said its schools were not of good quality.
Returning to the Select Committee report, it is worth thinking about the young adults the report is about. They are exactly the “just about managing”. When we talk about untapped talent we worry a lot about the young people with A-levels who do not get to Russell group universities and go to one of our other 100-odd universities. I reckon there is more unfulfilled potential and lack of skills capacity for our nation in the 53% who are in the middle than there is with students who go to university, but not Russell group universities. When we talk about productivity and not having the skills we need, it is this group that needs to be given the opportunity. When we talk about not delivering for this group, it is not just a question of their life chances, aspirations and all that that means; there is a fault in the system of the way we run the country. They ought not to be ignored, not just because it matters for them, but because it matters for all of us.
I say at the start that we should not assume that all this 53% should take vocational studies and that that would be suitable for them. Many of them should pursue academic careers. The point of our report is that they should have the choice. Many of them do not have it.
At the core of the report is the statement:
“Our recommendations support the development of a coherent and navigable transition system for those aged 14–24”.
Why vocational education is so important in this context is that everything we have ever done in vocational education has not worked as a system of transition. Every element of our education support system either does not work for vocational education or works less well than it does for academic education. If we look at the curriculum, qualifications and assessment, we see that we constantly change them, they are not understood and they are not a commonly known currency. In terms of place of learning, such children are moved from pillar to post—from further education to school and, very often, back and forth in years 10 and 11. On continuity of teachers, children have to have both lecturers and teachers to gain the skills they need. Careers guidance does not work for them. The education areas that they access are not as well financed as others.
The best way of understanding that is to make a comparison with children who follow an academic curriculum. If you follow an academic curriculum, you have all the continuity and coherence that you need. Indeed, if you are educated in a public school, you are very often in the same school from five to 18, with the same teachers, the same cohort of peers and the same pedagogy working towards the same end. If you talk to your teachers for careers guidance there, you are talking to somebody whom you are about to follow on the same track throughout life. It is amazing how for the most confident and highest-achieving group of people we give tremendous coherence and continuity; for those who often struggle, we give the least continuity and the least coherence. That for me is the most important thing. Unless we can solve it, nothing else matters. All the recommendations in the report and all the small changes that we try to make will not work if they are plonked into a system that is not coherent. That is where I agree so much with the noble Lord, Lord Baker. Unless we get rid of this big barrier at 16, nothing else will change.
That is why I join other speakers in saying how very disappointing is the Government’s response to the report. In response to the call for greater coherence, it states:
“The Government’s education policy … ensures transition from early years right through a young person’s education and onto work”.
No, it does not; it does not do that at all. At every single join, whether it is from infant to primary, primary to secondary or whatever, it is not good or cohesive. But the biggest join that does not work is at 14, 16 and 19. If we have a Government who believe that what we have at the moment works, we may as well not have written the report, because none of it will work unless we are prepared strategically, robustly and bravely to look at that 14-to-19 structure.
When we saw good evidence of what works—when we talked to university technical colleges, to some further education providers who were really trying to help with 14 to 19, and, to some extent, to studio schools —we found that what was making it most difficult for those good initiatives to work was that the system was working against them. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, talked about what works with UTCs. There are things about UTCs that do not work. It is really difficult to fill some of them. It is difficult to persuade some schools to let children go, for understandable reasons, at the end of year 10, because a UTC is trying to be a 14-to-19 school in an 11-to-16, 16-to-18 education system. All that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said could be even better if he was working with an education system that was 14 to 19 and not 14 to 18 with a big join at the age of 16.
The point that I want to make has been made so often and I have never heard a government response as to why we cannot do it: 16 transition is out of date. The only mention the Government make of that in their response is to tell us that they are going to make GCSEs more robust and rigorous. That will make the problem worse, because if they insist on making the exam at age 16 very robust, very high-stakes, very rigorous and very important to schools’ accountability, the whole school system will concentrate on what happens at 16. What 14 to 19 becomes is 14 to 16 with a pause and a concentration on GCSE, and an effort to pick up the pieces for two more years from 16 to 18. The proposal is quite clear: speed up the national curriculum—because it could do with being speeded up—and finish it at 14. There would then be an end-of-national-curriculum examination—call it a GCSE; call it robust; call it rigorous; call it what you want, but have it at 14. At that point, let us then have some proper pathways from 14 to 19 that are academic, vocational and naturally bring coherence, through which many of our good initiatives such as the university technical colleges and the work of further education could flourish. I invite the Minister to explain why that is not possible and why those issues were not addressed in the department’s response, which the predecessor Secretary of State signed off.
The Government deserve to be criticised for their response to the report, but, quite honestly, my Government did not get this right anyway. There comes a time when all politicians know that they have struggled with this area and all we want now is to get it right. There is no feeling of having to criticise the others. I will criticise my record on this—it was not as good the record in lots of other areas on which we delivered. There is an opportunity and there is good will. The report we are discussing today gives a framework to move forward, as long as the Government are brave enough to take the risk.
My Lords, I feel somewhat uncomfortable following two former Secretaries of State for Education. I hope that the Minister will take this debate very seriously given that it features such senior figures from the educational world. I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, and add my thanks to those expressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, the chair of the committee, and the committee members for an excellent report.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, expressed concern about the lack of continuity on this matter, there being no further committee to look at social mobility. I remind him and your Lordships that 22 December is the deadline for proposing ad hoc Select Committees for next year. If any of your Lordships wished to propose a committee on such a subject, I would certainly support it. Social mobility is so crucial when one considers the increasing development of China and India and the advent of automation. As the report clearly lays out, we cannot be so wasteful of so much of the potential of our young people. This matter is crucial to the future of this nation.
One particular revelation in the report was the quality of careers advice. For many years, I have heard concern expressed in your Lordships’ House about the quality of support for the development of careers advisers. Only this weekend, I was speaking with an administrator who has regular contact with careers advisers. He highlighted to me his urgent concern about the deficits in their knowledge. In his line of work, but also more widely, the world is changing very quickly and careers advisers are not being trained to keep up with it. He argued that they should have annual training in his specialism to be able to keep abreast of what is happening. I welcome what the Government have said in response to this issue, but I hope they can go further and meet the concerns raised today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, referred to this but I would like to focus on care leavers—young people leaving care—and their transition from school to education. One issue that has not been raised so far today is their housing needs. There has been much welcome progress from successive Governments in better meeting the needs of those in care and leaving care. I pay tribute to politicians on all sides for making those in care and care leavers a priority. However, housing for care leavers remains an issue. The challenge here is that often nowadays, they are placed in private accommodation and receive housing benefit to sustain that. Yet when they seek work, their housing benefit is reduced or removed so they are caught in a trap. Every incentive they have is to stay on benefit and not get into work, because they will have a secure home. Of course, these are young people who have experienced insecurity in their home lives. We disincentivise them engaging in the work market by not finding secure housing for them.
I was approached a couple of months ago by a care leaver, Jordan Morgan, who is a very successful specialist in foreign affairs. He struggled greatly with this issue of the housing trap for care leavers. He consulted various care leavers and produced a report about these issues, which I am glad he raised with not only me but Edward Timpson, the Minister for Children. He also introduced me to ambassadors from a charity, the Drive Forward Foundation, which supports care leavers, at a meeting two or three weeks ago.
I was introduced there to someone I will call Yasmin, a remarkable young woman with an apprenticeship in a City firm. She had to downgrade her accommodation to manage doing the job she wanted. She moved into private accommodation and just about made enough each week to sustain herself and pay the rent, but she had to not tell the truth to her landlord. She could not tell him that she was on housing benefit because he would not have such people in his property. However, recently he discovered this and gave her notice to quit. Last Thursday, I had an email from Drive Forward saying, “What can you do to intervene for young Yasmin because she will be made homeless very shortly?”. Fortunately, I had another email saying she had taken the initiative and found accommodation through an application called SpareRoom. The only response the local authority gave to this young woman was, “Wait until the bailiffs arrive and then you can be statutory homeless and we can help you”. A further issue with this poor young woman is that she suffers from a disability—macular degeneration. She is a remarkable young woman, struggling against all odds to get into work and further herself.
I was pleased to meet recently with Crisis and to hear of its campaign, Home – No Less Will Do, which is for the generality of single homeless people but would particularly help these young care leavers. The campaign is supported by London Councils, the National Landlords Association and the Residential Landlords Association. It calls for the Department for Communities and Local Government to fund help-to-rent projects across England. It asks the DCLG to establish and underwrite a national rent deposit guarantee scheme to support homeless people to rent in the private sector. A help-to-rent project supports tenants and landlords to set up, de-risk and sustain tenancies. There has been some piloting of this. From 2010 to 2014, with the help of the Government, Crisis ran the private rented sector access programme. A rent deposit guarantee offers a written commitment from a private help-to-rent project which covers certain types of costs that the landlord may incur at the end of a tenancy, including damages and in some cases rent arrears. Some 59% of landlords with experience of letting to homeless people said they would consider letting to homeless households only if backed by such interventions.
Will the Minister seek to persuade the Treasury and DCLG to furnish the House with their view of this approach and campaign from Crisis? Will they give us information on whether they are considering funding these two initiatives? Finally, would the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, or both noble Lords, consider visiting a help-to-rent scheme with me? I am sure that any noble Lords interested in joining us would be welcome. I warmly welcome this crucial report on social mobility and helping young people who are overlooked and left behind. I hope we can have a further Select Committee on social mobility soon in this House, and do even more to help care leavers better themselves and make better prospects for their children, in full recognition of the great work successive Governments have done in this area. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I recently turned 70. One might be forgiven for thinking this is a ripe old age to deliver a maiden speech, even in your Lordships’ House, but it pales into insignificance beside the maiden speech of the fifth Lord Penrhyn, the grandfather of a friend of mine, who delivered his maiden speech in 1965 on his 100th birthday. So perhaps I have been a bit hasty in jumping into action like this.
As a recently arrived Member, I am deeply honoured to be here. I thank my supporters, my noble friends Lord Lang of Monkton and Lord Goodlad, for their help in organising a smooth entry into this House. I also take the opportunity to thank my mentor, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, other noble Lords who welcomed me here and, of course, the doorkeepers and staff of the Chamber. As many newcomers find, it is imperative to be told where everything is and the staff have been exceptionally polite, treating one with immense courtesy.
One other topic I bring to your Lordships’ attention is the place from which I take my title, namely Corriegarth. It is an obscure property in an equally obscure part of the Highlands known as Stratherrick, adjacent to Loch Ness. In 1746, when the Jacobite army led by Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated at Culloden, Lord Lovat, head of the Fraser clan, needing to hide from the Hanoverian army, made for Stratherrick where his loyalist clansmen lived. He managed to remain undiscovered for nearly a year. Eventually he was captured and, notoriously, in 1747 was the last man to be beheaded at the Tower of London.
I feel somewhat daunted talking about education following such experts from all sides of the House. However, I must turn to the report from the House of Lords Social Mobility Committee. This comprehensive document gives the background to tackling a very important social issue: the apparent waste of resources when children leave school. A number go on to further education but many seem to fall by the wayside. It is perceived that this separation of the sheep from the goats is not done, if indeed it should be done, in a rational manner. First, it appears that the social class into which one is born is a major determinant of one’s future occupation and financial situation.
Secondly, there are significant regional differences in the potential outcomes for 16 to 18 year-olds. It seems bizarre that if a child happens to be born in Guilford, he or she is more likely to succeed than if born in, say, Oldham. It is as if those with a name beginning with “G” were more likely to succeed than those whose name starts with an “O”, or dark-haired children were less likely to succeed than those with red hair. Clearly, there is a huge fairness issue here. It seems self-evident that if children think that the deck is stacked against them they may give up or become anti-social, or in any event feel left behind. The consequences of this are likely to be dire. I fully understand all this and, of course, sympathise with children who suffer from this syndrome.
The issue has been covered extensively in the report and already by other noble Lords. My take on it is more conditioned by my work experience in the Far East. I spent many years commuting from London to Asia, setting up a stockbroking and investment banking franchise in all the major cities in Australia and Asia, and so have four decades of exposure to the East. It is fair to say that what we call a “social conscience” is not as widely felt there as it is in western societies. Rather, they are interested in outcomes. By this I mean that in places such as China, Korea and Japan, the priority is the importance of education in bringing benefits to society at large.
The most obvious example of this occurs in Korea, which in 1953 was a failed and divided state; its GNP per head was near the bottom of the heap worldwide. Education in that country has always been important. In the 15th century, the Emperor Sejong, unhappy about the high percentage of illiteracy in the country, asked his courtiers to invent a phonetic alphabet. To this day, there is a public holiday in Korea called Alphabet Day—Hangul. In any event, in 1953 education was perceived to be the way to pull this half-nation up by its bootstraps. The result is a state that is the number three country in Asia in terms of GNP per head and in the top 20 major economies worldwide.
As regards fairness in Korea, I am not qualified to report. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a country which enjoys essentially 100% literacy will be less sad than a country such as England, which has a literacy percentage in the 80s, while in Scotland the rate may well be in the 70s. Viewed from this perspective, it is important to consider, in addition to the destructive effect of poor education on individuals, the waste of potential for the state. Education is an area where a libertarian attitude by government is inappropriate; rather, just as there has to be a rule for which side of the road we drive on, so state provision of adequate education is mandatory.
In the report, there is a section on IT training. I believe that training in the proper use of IT is essential. This is an area where racial, gender and social biases are effectively meaningless. Training can be done remotely. It is an area in which state interference is essential. I believe that the UK is ahead of the curve in this respect, at least in comparison with Europe.
In conclusion, while it is extremely important to raise the percentage of those educated in the state sector who are offered tertiary education, from the 77% of children where it now stands towards the appropriate total of 93%, we should not lose sight of a dual aim: first, the question of equity, or fairness, to the individual; and, secondly, the benefit to the state. I thank your Lordships for your time.
My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth. His was a very eloquent maiden speech, filled with wit and common sense—common sense, of course, being not nearly as common as people like to think. The noble Lord, Lord Fraser, is no stranger to this House as his father was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton, in Perthshire, who was a much-respected Member for some years. Born and bred a Scot, the noble Lord has had a remarkable career in the City—much of it, as he said, in the Far Eastern markets. He is a lifelong unionist and played a central role in the Scottish referendum of 2014. I know that many in this House will feel grateful, as I do, for his steadfast and successful efforts in that vital battle to maintain the union.
Corriegarth is in Inverness-shire. I have some cousins who live in a neighbourly way and I rang them this afternoon to find out a bit more about Corriegarth. They said two things. The first was the reputation the noble Lord has for mirth and humour at the local dances and that we probably ought to install a dancefloor in the Bishops’ Bar. Secondly, they told me about the word “Corriegarth”. Of course, I knew what “corrie” was—it is a hill in Scots—but “garth” is a small field that you might keep livestock on. I said, “Gosh, why would you want to name something ‘Corriegarth’?”. They said, “It is very simple up here: that is where you keep the rustled sheep”. We will talk about this later on. Anyway, I know that we look forward to many contributions from the noble Lord, who I understand is going to be here regularly—and anyway lives just across the road.
It was a privilege to serve on the Select Committee. I add my thanks to the staff of the committee, and in particular to Luke Hussey, who ably led them. I pay tribute to our redoubtable chairman—sitting on her own over there—who worked tirelessly and with great efficiency, and dealt with enormous charm with both bad witnesses and bad members of her committee. I thank her for that.
I will make just three points this afternoon. The first is in connection with the topic of social mobility and echoes what a couple of other noble Lords have said. Our report was pretty wide-ranging. We have been discussing a number of the eight recommendations and I am enjoying the debate on those very much. But an awful lot came up in evidence that we did not have time to cover; in other words, a lot of good stuff went on to the cutting-room floor.
I link that thought with this year, which has been remarkable for the visibility—the coming into view, really—of attitudinal changes in our society. I cannot help but feel that the lack of social mobility is a root cause of that, and I will give an example. In a truly socially mobile society I do not think that the feeling of disconnection from our political cadre that so many have would be quite as bad. In fact, I think it would be reduced if we were truly socially mobile. So I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that we need to discuss social mobility more often and expend more of the energies of this House on that. Accordingly, I ask the Minister: does he agree with me that this House needs to keep social mobility at the top of its agenda and use its energies fully to improve social mobility?
My second point relates to a home subject for me: data. Paragraph 289 of our report says that,
“data is the foundation of any policy. Without good data, these problems will be impossible to understand and then solve”.
There are two main concerns about data. The first is simply ensuring that we collect the correct amount of data—neither too many nor too few—that they are sufficiently pure and that this is done over a long time. The second is to ensure that the right minds have full access to those data so that they can actually analyse them, and that all relevant data are available for research.
Chapter 7 of our report sets out just some of the current mechanisms for collecting data. Gosh, this is complicated, as a very large number of institutions at local and national government level collect data for a variety of sound reasons. Often, I note, quite a lot of the data are very similar. I cannot help feeling that there is quite a lot of double collection going on. I note that some of the most valuable data lie with HMRC, which has a lot of the destination data. There are some gaps. Some of those gaps look easy to fill, such as those relating to private schooling; some look less easy to fill, such as a lot of the stuff to do with NEETs.
As a committee, we felt strongly that it was necessary to drive towards what I am going to call, in Euro-language, ever-better data. There is no magic bullet in data but if one has an attitude that one always has to improve the quality of the data that one has and the access to them, that will be a win. The data issue that concerned us most of all, however, was the lack-of-access problem. That was the basis of our recommendation 4.
I thank the Government for the encouraging language in their response. However, one of the very provisions that they cite in that response as helping where HMRC data are concerned—they said it in their own written evidence to us, at paragraph 295 of our report—was that,
“only researchers working on behalf of the Secretary of State can have access to this information”.
So they are saying that on the one hand, you can have access to the HMRC data, which are so vital, but on the other hand, only certain people, who are specifically, as it were, under contract with Secretaries of State, can do that. That means that access to those HMRC data is not yet adequate. But I take heart from the encouraging language and ask the Minister a second question: does he agree with me that ever-better data and ever-better research regimes are things that the Government should and do aspire to?
My third and final point concerns recommendation 8, which asks the Government to,
“commission a cost benefit analysis of increasing funding for careers education”,
in schools. The issues here are simple. Currently, this is an area of not so much spend or attention in schools. Indeed, we heard from Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted that careers advice does not form a core part of its grading of schools.
Evidence suggested that many students head off to university and then discover, after a short period, that the academic route is not for them. Someone in these circumstances will suffer a reversal that is damaging to morale and at the same time will have run up, no doubt, a huge student loan debt. This causes loss to the Exchequer, as clearly at least some of these loans will never be repaid and there is a natural likelihood of a cost to the Government in relaunching a career. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said having dug up the figure from 2012 of £800 million in drop-out costs, which I am sure covers a lot of that.
It was not just we as a committee who felt that. I had an interesting conversation in June with Sir John Holman, who in his excellent report for the Gatsby Foundation looked into this very issue, among many other things. He concluded his own limited but, I think, very rigorous cost-benefit analysis; he had help from PwC in achieving it. He felt that some spend here would definitely represent a saving to the Exchequer.
Turning to the Government’s response, again I found the language encouraging—I thank them for that—but I feel that they did not answer the question. Asked a relative question, the response was an absolute one referring to some £90 million of spending. How on earth do we know whether this is the right amount or whether it is being spent in the right way? A cost-benefit analysis would no doubt greatly help to guide decision-making and would not be expensive. In his analysis, Sir John Holman concluded that just £54 per pupil would make a substantial difference. In closing, will the Minister therefore agree to look again at the suggestion that a cost-benefit analysis where careers advice was concerned should be undertaken?
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Corston for her report and for enabling us to have this important debate. I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fraser, on his maiden speech and my best wishes to him. I welcome him to this House.
Recent decisions by the citizens of both the United Kingdom and the United States of America have made it clear that there is a great deal of discontent among ordinary voters in both countries. It is a commonly held view that voting patterns in the referendum in the UK on membership of the European Union, and in the election of the next president of the United States, reflected great concern and anxiety at the nature and pace of industrial change. Technological developments plus increased globalisation have led to a 20 years-long industrial revolution—so far—and as in all revolutions, there are winners and losers.
The role of the state in these circumstances is to try as far as possible to take advantage of the new opportunities which arise. I believe we have done quite a lot of that, for example by developing financial and other services. The state also has a duty to mitigate as far as possible the negative effects on the losers; this is where we could and should have done better. We wait to see the overall content of the Government’s industrial strategy but it must be a fair bet that the growth of our technological offer will be a key and central part of it. Yet if this is our aim we need to take a long, hard look at our education system which is geared, as it appears to many, to focus its efforts rather too closely on academic achievers. If social mobility is to be a reality for that huge swathe of the population who are either unsuited to higher academic learning or do not want to end up dealing with a massive debt, then we have to embrace the vocational agenda with more determination and vigour.
The Government’s response to my noble friend’s report at Recommendation 8 states that the case for serious investment in careers advice is clear and the intention to invest £90 million is very welcome, even though it is hard to see how this will fix a system that is, frankly, a busted flush. However, I note that the recommendation, which has already been mentioned, to,
“commission a cost benefit analysis of increasing funding for careers education in school and independent careers guidance … in the context of social mobility”,
has not been taken up. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House the reason for this.
I also repeat my concern, expressed previously in this House, regarding the conflict faced by schools when balancing the advice given to pupils to move on to a different, and probably more suitable, educational establishment against the fact that as the pupil moves, so the funding moves with them. Many schools therefore see that advising a pupil to move is not in their immediate interests. My concern is shared by many engaged in the educational field and I have yet to receive an answer to this dilemma. Again, could the Minister address this point, which was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler?
I am of course aware that the Government are grappling with the issue of apprenticeships. I am not wholly convinced that establishing a target of 3 million apprenticeships was a sensible move, requiring as it does 26,000 starts per week—never mind the quality, feel the width. Given that we are competing in a global arena and that our educational statistics do not stack up well against those of many other countries, being 21st in the world of science and 27th in maths according to the OECD data, it would seem more sensible to look for a less frantic approach to training young people with a bit more emphasis on a world-class standard.
Overall, the Government’s response to the report contains many warm words but not a lot of substance. In particular, the use of numbers of pupils rather than percentages to claim improvements in the reading ability of six year-olds, for example, or attendance at schools rated good or outstanding is disingenuous, given the overall rise in pupil numbers. It has also been extremely worrying to note the concerns set out in the report of the National Audit Office, stating as it does that schools face an 8% spending cut. The Department for Education claims that its funding per pupil is increasing but it fails to take into account the fact that schools’ costs will increase by more. We also have a poor track record when it comes to funding training. The apprenticeship levy will obviously help here, but for too long vocational training has been seen as the poor relation and too many employers have been allowed to get away with poaching rather than developing talent. We are the poor relation compared to the rest of Europe.
Let me give a little thought to finance. Everybody is aware of the wonderful success that the UK had at this year’s Olympic Games. We had our best medal results ever and were world leaders. Why was this, we ask ourselves? Massively good organisation was one thing; absolute commitment and hard work by the participants was another. But neither of those would have brought the results we had without a huge increase in the amount of money available. I am not arguing that we should put lottery money into our education and training systems, but nothing comes for nothing in this world and insufficient funding will have a negative effect on educational outcomes and on our social mobility index.
Social mobility in the 21st century is not just about the path from primary to senior school, then to university or college and on to work. People studying today will no doubt still be working well into their seventies and during that time the requirements for their skills and training will change, particularly as technology continues to develop. We therefore have to have policies and programmes which relate to lifelong learning and which are capable of meeting the needs of a modern economy, and giving people the opportunity to be socially mobile more than once in their lives.
My Lords, it was indeed a privilege to serve on this committee. I, too, am grateful to the many people who gave evidence to us and to the committee staff, Luke Hussey, Emily Greenwood and Morgan Sim, who responded to my numerous requests, often at the last minute. I view the Government’s response as an introduction, as our report ran to nearly 140 pages and the response is only 11 pages of very widely spaced text with large margins. I hope the Minister will agree to meet interested members of the committee to discuss the detailed report in more depth.
I came through the academic route from school—A-levels at sixth-form college, university and then a pupillage in Kings Chambers in Manchester—to become a practising barrister, but from a background of parents who worked all their lives in a factory. I was therefore not hugely conversant with what I now know to be the vocational route, but you soon learn that if you are to get that elusive tenancy as a barrister you need to impress not only your fellow barristers, your pupil mistress, the head of chambers, if you come across them, and those solicitors who give you work, but also the clerks. Clerks then had usually joined chambers at 16 as a runner, and then had a junior role in the clerks’ room before becoming a junior clerk and rising up the ranks. They were vocationally very talented as salespeople and negotiators and were incredibly business-savvy. Even after you were taken on as a barrister, you soon knew if they were not pleased with you when the work given to you as a junior barrister involved travelling from Manchester all the way to Pontefract or Hull for a 10-minute hearing.
Looking back, there was a clear career progression for clerks, and they were deservedly highly respected. They had not picked up any of the social conditioning that Mr Tony Moloney of National Grid described to the committee in his evidence, which said that,
“if you do not go to university you have failed”.
Besides being wrong as an attitude, this would mean that the majority of our young people have failed as the majority do not go on to higher education or become NEETs. The majority—the committee debated many labels for this group but settled on simply “the majority” to get this simple point home—go into further education, work or apprenticeships.
I will not be able to do justice to the enormous amount of evidence we heard as I make four brief key points. They are, first, looking at ourselves, then a simple system, then flexibility and, finally, a new vision for the majority. Let us begin here at home, looking at ourselves, the House, Members and the Civil Service. I commend wholeheartedly the recent introduction by the House of Lords of apprenticeships that will provide high-quality entry-point careers to young people within the administration of this workplace. The committee met the head of the House of Lords staff privately, and I am very pleased to see this development. With regard to Members of your Lordships’ House, I recognise that it can be difficult to provide work, or even work experience, when many of us are part-time and have few support staff, but I know that many noble Lords wish to give back and to provide opportunities, which is why a group of us will be writing to the Lord Speaker to ask him to look at the viability of running a formal work experience scheme here. This would seem an obvious next step from Peers’ outreach to schools and, combined with the contacts gained by Parliament’s excellent Education Service, there must surely be a network to advertise and recruit for a meritocracy-based work-experience scheme here.
Also close to home is the Civil Service scheme, which I have raised in your Lordships’ House previously and about which I was in correspondence with my noble friend Lord Bridges under the previous Government. If I understand correctly—and I read his letter very carefully—there are high-quality apprenticeships in the Civil Service, but you cannot join the fast track at the age of 18 on an apprenticeship. You have to transfer in later on. Why? We received evidence that you can join Deloitte, National Grid or M&S and be on the path to the top from the start. In fact, they were clear in their evidence that senior managers, even directors, of M&S and National Grid began as apprentices. The noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, who ran Marks & Spencer, joined from being a market trader in Pontypridd. Sir John Parker, who former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked to run Harland and Woolf and who turned it around between 1983 and 1993, joined that company as an apprentice and went on to be president of the Royal Academy of Engineering. You can join the British Army as an officer at 18, so why not the Civil Service? Such embedding of the lack of parity of esteem for graduate entry against those who enter at 18 undermines the stated view of Her Majesty’s Government that vocational and academic routes are equal in value. I hope the Minister will be able to inform your Lordships’ House today that the fast track is being reviewed to sort this matter out lest talented young people be deterred from applying.
My second point is about simplicity. Our report recommends a system along the lines of the UCAS system so that the majority of students have a simple access point with the relevant information about various vocational qualifications, careers and earnings. This recommendation is repeated in the State of the Nation 2016 report by the Social Mobility Commission, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that of all the recommendations, it should be a priority for the Government. I was going to say that the current system is complicated, fragmented and so on, but it is not actually a system. It really is not if you try to engage with it. It needs coherence. It sets too many young people up to start on the wrong route. Too many young people spend a year doing the wrong vocational course or starting A-levels and then needing to switch. If at this point they find the right route for them, that year can have funding implications for their study as the next two years may fall partly under the adult education budget, apparently partly depending on their birthday. I confess I never felt confident that I fully understood the complexities of the funding arrangements for the 16 to 19 cohort. Some simplicity, as with UCAS, is urgently needed.
My third point is about flexibility. In this regard, I shall refer first to a case that struck me and other members of the committee: young people who are carers. A charity facilitated discussions with young people. A lady in her early 20s, whom we met, had been thwarted in her career choice as her caring responsibilities, which she had borne most of her life, entitled her to carer’s allowance. She wanted to be a midwife, but that was a full-time course. Although she could have done the time around her caring responsibilities, the inflexibility of the system meant she would lose her carer’s allowance. She was allowed to undertake only a part-time course, and midwifery was a full-time course in her rural, east-coast location. Many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, rightly champion the situation of care leavers, but we hear much less about young people who are carers. Will the Minister confirm that this issue, which is specifically raised in our report, will be investigated by Her Majesty’s Government and/or the Social Mobility Commission to look at proposed solutions?
Another point is about flexibility and self-critique by employers to ensure their recruitment is open to all. I found the evidence from Mr Moloney of National Grid and Ms Codd from Deloitte in October 2015 most compelling. National Grid not only focuses on trying to recruit ex-offenders, which is admirable enough, but has also sought to reach young people with learning disabilities, of whom only 7% get into employment, although 70% of them gain employment from the programme in the firm. Deloitte has gone to great lengths to recruit 200—rising soon to 400—people at the age of 18 on a level playing field.
Ms Codd’s evidence is worth quoting to your Lordships, as it gives some indication of the depth Deloitte has gone to in order to achieve that level playing field. She said that,
“the BrightStart scheme … has five components, and we have looked at each of those components thoroughly over the past two years to make sure that the playing field is completely level and we are not inadvertently favouring anybody from middle or upper socioeconomic backgrounds. For example, we still set a requirement for 260 UCAS points. However, when we look at academics we contextualise that now, so it is about looking at the background within which any achievement was attained. We have also introduced blind CVs when it comes to institutions where individuals have studied to make sure that we can remove unconscious bias … we have moved away from a competency-based interview to an interview that focuses more on values, because again we realised that if we focused on competency, as in, ‘Give us an example of when you did something’, that was inadvertently disadvantaging those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds”.
It is taking this to its suppliers and clients. Why? It is the right thing, but she also said it is a smart thing to do:
“For us it was a real business imperative. We want the right talent. We want the best, and the best does not necessarily have to come from a particular background”.
I hope it will be a key government priority to ensure that the new job creation we are witnessing in the digital economy is, again, open to all. I hope the Government will look at how high-tech start-ups are ensuring that there is a level playing field. This very new business model needs to ensure that it breaks the mould and is open to all.
Finally, even if all firms had the best procedures, our report recognises the deeply embedded cultural problem that vocational training is viewed as the poor relation. If we are to have shared—or some might say, British—values, we also need a vision for our country where every job counts and is valuable. Changing culture is about more than changing policy; it is about promoting different role models, particularly in the media. I join the right reverend Prelate in his concerns about the context of social mobility. It seems often to be portrayed as people only progressing up an already established class structure. What message are we sending to the hundreds of thousands of people we need to build homes or to care for older people? We need to return to a national vision that does not just value work on its income—although I accept that in some areas the wage needs to be raised to the living wage—but under which every person’s job is valuable, to bring about the cohesion that we all desire to see in 2016.
My Lords, I congratulate the Select Committee on Social Mobility, and in particular its chairman, my noble friend Lady Corston, on this well-structured and clear report. I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, on his excellent maiden speech. Finally, while I am doling out the congratulations, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, who was a member of the Select Committee and is now retired from the House. This was a subject about which she felt passionately, and I know that she is very much missed.
Just the fact that we are talking about the overlooked middle—which happens, as has been said, to be the majority of our young people—represents a shocking indictment of our country and its in-built privileges. My first experience of this system was considerably before the transition from school to work, when my best friend was taken out of the 11-plus exam because her parents wanted her to go to work as soon as possible. She was bright and would have passed the exam, but they did not want to take that chance. However, I appreciate that the report was clear that it would not cover parental influence or lifelong learning, as the subject matter was already a considerable challenge.
The analysis of the nine factors which affect social mobility on page 20 of the report is excellent. To some extent, the challenges are greater now than they were 50 years ago. Then, half our children left school with no qualifications whatever, but the job market was different. It was still possible to work in a factory, depot, mine, steelworks et cetera, have a steady job, and just about be able to afford to raise a family—with, of course, more social housing available. Now, we have the hourglass job market, with jobs for the skilled and low-paid jobs for the unskilled or unqualified. The middle has not just been overlooked; it has been squeezed out. The report cites the OECD analysis, which the report says,
“suggests that income inequality has a negative and statistically significant impact on medium-term growth”.
As the Independent Panel on Technical Education, chaired by David Sainsbury—the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville—indicated:
“By 2020, the UK is set to fall to 28th out of 33 OECD countries in terms of developing intermediate skills, and the size of the post-secondary technical education sector in England is extremely small by international standards”.
I will make two comments on the report and then ask the Minister some questions. First, the report was very clear that the existing quality of apprenticeships must not be compromised for the sake of greater quantity. The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf of Dulwich, called the target of 3 million apprenticeships “a big mistake”. Could the Minister update the House on what action is being taken on both the quantity and the quality of apprenticeships, or will this all be left to the Institute for Apprenticeships, to be set up next year?
Secondly, the report spent some time looking at the important area of careers advice. The Select Committee was told by OCR, a UK awarding body, that poor careers guidance has the greatest impact on young people not doing A-levels or going to university. Teachers’ knowledge and incentives are such that they push their pupils on to the academic route. OCR told the Select Committee that schools want to keep the more academic students to benefit their performance tables, regardless of what is in the best interests of the young people. Could the Minister tell us what action the Government will take to equalise the incentives between academic and vocational courses? Until something is done in this area, the best careers advice system in the world—and we certainly do not have that—will not make an impact or improve the chance of the overlooked middle.
The Select Committee’s report was published in April 2016, as was the Sainsbury report on technical education. The government responses to both came in July—neither Minister who signed them is in office right now—and five months later the response is already out of date. It talks about every school becoming an academy—remember that? It says that the Government’s strategy for improved careers education and guidance for young people will be published later this year—how much later this year will that be? Could the Minister update us on the strategy for improved careers education and what action has been or will be taken?
Both the Corston and Sainsbury reports refer to the 13,000 qualifications which are available to 16 to 18 year-olds holding little value for either individual or employer. Could the Minister say what action is being taken to rationalise these qualifications? Will the Government adopt the 15 technical education routes recommended by Sainsbury? The then Minister for Skills, Nick Boles, said:
“We accept and will implement all of the Sainsbury panel’s proposals, unequivocally where that is possible within current budget constraints”.
That is all fair enough, but he then went on to talk about,
“a knowledge-based curriculum as the cornerstone of an excellent, academically rigorous education”.
So in the foreword to a report on technical education, the Minister felt he had to reinstate the academic approach as the cornerstone. The Design and Technology Association believes this is completely counter to the needs and approaches identified in the skills plan. Could the Minister update us on the implementation of the Sainsbury report?
I have deliberately not talked about resources: that could be the subject of another Select Committee report, and I am mindful of the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the deadline is fast approaching on Select Committees.
In conclusion, the Select Committee took on an enormous workload, and its recommendations, if implemented, might lead to a fairer as well as a more successful economy. The committee deserves much thanks.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, and her committee on its report. It is absolutely brilliant. I have read it. It has everything in it, including the kitchen sink. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, on joining the House. I hope he has a very pleasant time. I have been in about nine months, and it has been a holiday; it has been great. Everybody has been incredibly nice, which is great.
I do not like the term “social mobility”. The only reason we use it is because we are talking about people who are not mobile. If you are mobile, you do not say so. If you go to Eton or Harrow, or Oxford or Cambridge—if you are Ed Balls, for instance—you would never talk about your social mobility, although he probably came from meaner circumstances. I would rather that we used the term “social opportunity”. Social mobility is a recognition of failure, a recognition of the fact that society is made up of certain tiers and certain people do not move up. Therefore, we have to put a label on it and bless everybody with the hope that we—Governments, social investors, trusts, charities and so on—can move on.
My problem is that we do not recognise several things which are a bit outside the report. One is that what we are trying to give a child who comes to the age of 14, 16 or 19 and moving on in life is social literacy. We want to make them literate, so that they can read and write; we want to make them socially literate so that when they go before someone who asks them, “So what do you think about the war in Syria?”, or “What do you think about the football results?”, they have a loquacity and openness. That is what you get if you go to a public school—I have not been to a public school; I have been to a prison, which is a bit like it in certain ways.
What the middle or upper-class child has been sold, what their parents have been buying for centuries, is social literacy. They go on to university or they do not, but they move on and have an ease and ability to move around society and take on a job. They may not be trained in insurance or banking, but they fit in well and very quickly they rise and assume a position of prominence. That is social literacy—it is the ability to be chummy, to be open, to take on new knowledge and be excited about life. That is what we are trying to give our young people from the age of 14 to 16. Unfortunately, we are not doing very well, which is why there is a need for us to form a committee and call it the Social Mobility Committee.
We do not seem to be dealing with the economic forces behind the fact that we have been happy for decades to produce people who do not have social mobility. When the Beatles came along and made more money than God, we all realised that the world was divided and asked: “Isn’t it strange that some people who come from the back of beyond get out of it, get a shedload of money, move on and buy big houses?”. For many centuries, we were quite happy with the fact that there was no social mobility; it was not really important. I went to a Catholic secondary modern school at the age of 11, having failed my 11-plus. I came out at 15. Nobody was particularly upset that I could not read and write, because you do not need that on a building site. You need a pair of tough hands and to be able to drink, but not at work, and to take the battering that takes place when you are loading concrete into a basement.
All that has disappeared. What is to replace it? The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has been working very hard on colleges, and he asks: why do 70% of German young people have some understanding or work experience of engineering? It is very simple. Our banks lend 87% of their money to the buying and selling of property, and put only 13% into business. In Germany, 20% of the money lent by banks is for the buying and selling of property; 80% is invested in business, new technology, infrastructure, universities and even libraries. We must reject the old system of the lack of social mobility because we know, as Mark Carney was saying the other day at John Moores University, that 15 million skilled people—people from the middle-class—will be lost. We already know that 95% of accountants will disappear in the next five to 10 years, and over the next 10 to 15 years there will be a real shedding of labour.
We are in a precarious situation yet we are, rightly, talking about social mobility. It is an expression of the fact that a child will leave school at the age of 14 and move into some form of training which will lead them to a fulfilled life, a life full of social opportunity. That is exactly what we want, but to achieve that, we will have to break out of the silos that government operates in. Do the Ministers for education, social mobility, this, that and the other ever meet people in the marketplace? We have an enormous investment crisis on our hands, so that we now cannot even afford austerity, but we seem to be going on with it. All these things come together when we are talking about social mobility.
We need to scrap the curriculum and come up with one that reflects the needs of a society which is utterly devoted to making our children, our young people, cognitive democrats. That means that they know the difference between things. What was the Brexit thing? As I said in the Moses Room the other day, all the people I met who wanted to leave did not know what they were talking about, and all the people I met who wanted to stay did not know what they were talking about. We do not live in a cognitive democracy. We are not experts and we do not train our children to be experts. The world will have to be a world of experts in the future. The world will have to be totally and utterly different if we want to make Mark Carney eat his words. That is one of the problems that we have.
I was with a group of teachers the other day. I gave a talk and did all sorts of stuff. I spoke to them afterwards and asked, “What are your biggest problems?”. They are teaching five to 11 year-olds. They said that their biggest problem was that they could not get on with teaching because they are testers. They said, “That is what we do. We keep testing, testing and testing. We want to know where the children are and are never allowed to get on with our pure role of teaching”. They also said, “We have to be policemen because there is breakdown in society. We have to be coppers. We have to be mums and dads. We have to be Big Brother and all that”.
If we are talking about social mobility, the only thing I would add to the report is a couple of hundred pages about the crisis in which we are living, which is about the marketplace. The marketplace has to be reformed. We have to make enormous investments into business so that we can grow the businesses that will need the children, and we will have to spend a shedload of money in education. We spend £19 billion a year directly on education—not all the other stuff that goes with it—but it should be twice that.
My Lords, it has been an excellent debate and I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Fraser, in his maiden speech. I came to the debate, having read this excellent report alongside the State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission, from a concern about the “left behind” and a set of questions about why so many of the left behind whom I have canvassed over the years in Bradford and Leeds voted to leave the European Union as a sort of, “Sod off to the lot of you; we get nothing out of globalisation and nothing out of the state. We are fed up with the world as it is”.
I have to say that I share very strongly the views of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, that I am not sure social mobility is what we now need to talk about. My father-in-law is a classic example of the old social mobility. He was the youngest child of a mill-working family who got a scholarship to Bradford Grammar, became a schoolteacher, then an Army officer and then a university teacher. That was the old social mobility—one or two people out of each working class community got out and up.
That is not what we want any longer. What we want is to teach life skills to everyone, including the left behind. We need to recognise that these are not the undeserving poor—a phrase that, as the right reverend Prelate rightly said, is creeping back into our discourse these days. They are part of our national community and our citizens, and we have to make sure that life chances for all in a national community which consists in its turn of strong local communities is what we are about. There will be some social mobility. We have to tell the people at the top, incidentally, that they also belong to the national community and have obligations to the national community, starting with paying tax. That is the different discourse that we need to talk about.
A number of other reports have been mentioned in this debate which are highly relevant—the State of the North and Growing Up North reports and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation studies. We will be debating some of these—on 12 January we have a Question on the State of the North report—and I hope this House will continue actively to follow the debate. In terms of sessional committees, I am aware that there are two proposals to look at the content of citizenship as such, and I think it right that we ought to look at some other aspects of life chances because these are all fundamental issues.
There are four key points in the whole transition area. I have been most concerned with two to five year-olds. Children in north Bradford arrive at school already a long way behind their fellows from the middle classes in literacy, social skills, numeracy—the lot. If you have lost out by the time you are five, you start structurally behind. Then there is the transition from primary to secondary school. I visited a summer school being run in north Bradford this summer by local Liberal Democrats, dealing with 10 to 11 year-olds from vulnerable families who do not get regularly fed at home. They had not learned to read or count properly in their primary schools and there is a lot of evidence that that is the point at which aspiration and ambition begin to drop off—as they go to secondary school—if we are not careful.
Then there is the transition from school to work which this excellent report is about. We must not forget—maybe this is a subject for another sessional committee—the very difficult transition from a first career to a second. People in their 40s and 50s will lose their jobs because of technical change but will be expected to go on working until they are 70 in our new world. They will need the opportunity for part-time education and retraining—all the things they are now dropping. The number of people in part-time education has dropped quite radically in the last three or four years. I had some interesting figures from the Open University the other day and it is something to which we absolutely need to pay more attention.
My concern here is with intermediate skills in particular. I noted paragraph 73 of the report, which says:
“The most recent UK labour market survey found that ‘Jobs with intermediate skills demands tend to have high shares of skills shortages. These include skilled trades’ roles in manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail, and hotels and restaurants. This partly reflects longstanding shortages of skilled construction trades workers such as plumbers, electricians and carpenters, and skilled chefs within the hotel and catering industries’”.
That is a scandal, and we have come to rely on immigrants to fill the gap. I tried to interest Migration Watch in looking at the linkage because I am conscious that the pull factor in immigration, particularly from eastern Europe, is precisely in the intermediate skill areas—above all in construction and building.
The apprenticeship scheme I know best is the Bradford social housing association Incommunities, which now trains 10 apprentices a year. Last year it had only 400 applications; the previous year it had 500 applications. That is 40 applicants per place, compared to Oxford and Cambridge, which have six to eight applicants a place. That is absurd. The figures on the overall apprenticeship scheme in the report suggest that in 2014-15 there were 1.5 million applications for just under 200,000 apprenticeships. That is an 8:1 ratio, which is higher than the ratio of applications to most Russell group universities.
It shows that the demand is there from people who want to have apprenticeships, but the supply is not there. We know from the extent to which companies are recruiting directly from abroad that the demand is there. It is not quite such an hourglass. Agencies do recruit from Slovakia and Poland for builders, long-distance truck drivers and for nurses, chefs, and others. There are some interesting questions about why companies find it cheaper and easier to recruit from abroad than to train their own. Incidentally, I was told this morning that in British universities 20% of technicians are from abroad—above all from eastern Europe. That also suggests that universities should be looking at how much they train the people they require for their intermediate skills—perhaps paying more attention themselves.
My anecdotal impression from across Yorkshire is that companies have been finding it much easier to recruit people already trained abroad than to put the effort into training and motivating people from this country. I am sorry that Migration Watch has not taken this up because it does not fit its anti-European narrative. This applies to the public sector as well as the private sector. I am very grateful that, when I was ill in June, Portuguese nurses in St Thomas’ looked after me very well and Polish physios in St George’s did my rehabilitation afterwards. But there were not many British-trained nurses there. The Government’s new scheme for training nurses has lifted the cap, which left us structurally short of trained nurses, and has imposed loans instead, which has apparently led to a reduction in young British people applying for nursing.
The report talks about the underlying bias in the English education system—the cultural preference for arts and finance as against engineering and crafts. That is not new. When I first became a university lecturer in Manchester, I remember the dean of my faculty telling me how he was trying to close down our evening degree because it was only really for teachers and was not what an international university should be doing. Since I had spent five years at an American university which had several Nobel Prize winners on its staff and a department of home economics and a school of hotel administration, that seemed a little odd to me—but it is there in too many of our universities. Happily, some few of our new universities bridge the gap between the academic and the vocational.
As several noble Lords said, we neglect our FE colleges and we are squeezing the funding for them further. The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, is quoted in the report as suggesting that we may be facing a “downward spiral” in the ability of the further education sector, which would be disastrous for all these people who need to train, and for the secondary schools, some of which, certainly in my part of West Yorkshire, rely on their partnership with FE colleges to offer the spread of courses in the sixth form that they want to offer.
Some of this is down not just to the Government but to corporate responsibility. We have to say to companies that it is their responsibility to train our own—to train young people. I am horrified by the cynicism that I have heard in West Yorkshire about the new apprenticeship scheme: that it will be used by large companies to rebadge their existing management training rather than bringing in new youngsters and giving them new skills. I hope that that is not the case, but the cynicism is out there, and I hope that the Government are aware of it—that it will be about quantity and rebadging and there will not be much that is new or that improves skills or, crucially, brings in new young people from the left-behind and equips them with the skills that they need.
The report is very valuable. The Government have provided, as all noble Lords have said, an extremely inadequate answer. They are a Government for whom reinventing grammar schools is a greater priority than funding secondary schools, particularly in their sixth form, or thinking about the future of FE colleagues. This does not provide the right incentives. What we need is a partnership between schools, FE colleges and companies, large and small. That, I hope, would provide an answer to our problem of the structural skills shortages that leave so many of our youngsters behind.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Corston for chairing the committee that produced the report and introducing the debate so eloquently and effectively today. I also offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, for his maiden speech. There was some interesting Scottish historical perspective in it, which got my attention; I look forward to hearing more of that in his contributions as time goes on.
I hope that noble Lords will not be in any way offended if I say that I found the most enjoyable contribution this afternoon and evening was that of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who to some extent was slightly left field in saying that he wanted to deconstruct or perhaps even reject the concept of social mobility. He talked about social opportunity, which I think is very interesting in itself. I think that he may have been talking about inculcating confidence in young people—that seemed to me to be what he was saying. If independent schools do one thing for people who attend them, it is to give them a sense of confidence, and we need to ensure that that is spread more widely. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, that he seeks a debate on the question of social opportunity in the not-too-distant future, because that would be useful and interesting.
Since the report that forms the basis of this debate was published eight months ago, we have seen much activity of direct relevance to it. We have had the government response; the Sainsbury review and the Government’s response to that; the Technical and Further Education Bill, which will arrive in your Lordships’ House next month; the latest State of the Nation report by the Social Mobility Commission; and, just yesterday, the revelation—that is what it was, because there was no announcement; it was slipped out as a Written Answer in another place—that the Government are to abolish their Child Poverty Unit, a point made forcefully by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. He also mentioned, stealing my thunder a little bit, that the Social Mobility Commission has been rebranded from what was the Commission for Social Mobility and Child Poverty. So within weeks we have witnessed the Government effectively airbrush the term “child poverty” from the face of their Administration. Are they telling us that child poverty has been eradicated? If only. According to the DWP, in 2014-15 there were 3.9 million children living in poverty, which is 28% of children, or nine in a classroom of 30. The Government are in absolute denial about child poverty, which is shameful, and it says more than the Minister will be able to about the subject of this debate. The Government lack any credibility when it comes to promoting social mobility, a concept that they do not even give the impression of understanding. That is demonstrated by their lukewarm response to the report’s recommendations.
By my calculation, of the eight recommendations in the report, two were accepted, both involving administrative requirements, three were partially accepted, and three were rejected. Listening to my noble friend Lady Corston, I understand that I have been kind in interpreting the Government’s response, because she and other members of the committee clearly feel badly let down by what appeared in the response. For a report of some 140 pages to be treated in such a fashion is less than respectful to my noble friend Lady Corston and other noble Lords who worked hard to produce the report. The rejection of the committee’s recommendation that there should be a transition stage from 14 to 19, a point taken up and advanced forcefully by former Secretaries of State for Education, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and my noble friend Lady Morris, I find particularly regrettable. It is a point that we must revisit soon. I was taken by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about the national curriculum finishing at 14, although we have to part company on what he then went on to say about grammar schools starting at 14. But the age of 14 is a hub that the Government need to look at, because it could be an important development for the sort of issues that we are discussing in the report.
It is noticeable that the Government responded more favourably to the report from the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, the Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, which found that the current system was too complex and failed to provide the skills most needed for the 21st century. The panel said that there was an obvious need to simplify the system, which the Government accepted by announcing that in future 16 year-olds will have to choose between academic and technical options, according to the post- 16 skills plans. Streamlining young people into a limited number of high-quality routes makes sense, but there must be some flexibility to take account of technological advances, particularly in digital and technical skills. The 2019 target for implementation is optimistic to say the least, and forcing young people to choose the route to their future career at the age of 16 risks institutionalising the divide between vocational and academic learning. Ironically, the proposals are reminiscent of Labour’s 14-19 diplomas, which aimed to create parity between academic and vocational routes. Those qualifications were launched in 2008 in 14 subject areas, but they were scrapped within a few years by the coalition Government. Now the wheel has had to be reinvented.
The Explanatory Notes to the Technical and Further Education Bill claims that the Bill,
“takes forward policies relating to Technical and Further Education which support the government’s social mobility agenda”.
That remains to be seen, but it is not a view shared by the Social Mobility Commission, which stated in its recent report:
“Funding is being diverted from second chance education in further education … colleges to apprenticeships, which are often of low quality, in low-skill sectors and not linked to the country’s skill gaps”.
The commission went on to say:
“The Government should encourage sixth-form provision in areas where it is lacking and give schools a central role in supporting FE colleges to deliver the Skills Plan. It should aim to reduce the number of 16- to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training to zero by 2022”.
That is the Government’s own commission. Perhaps the Minister would comment on these recommendations and say whether they are likely to be met with a positive response within the DfE.
Although the Social Mobility Committee’s report concentrates on the bridge between school and employment as a means of promoting social mobility, as other noble Lords have pointed out, there are other stages in life when intervention can have a telling effect on social mobility if allowed to do so with the necessary funding. I think it is widely accepted that above all else the key factor in increasing social mobility is investment in the early years of a child’s life. That can have a lasting impact because there are stark social class differences in how ready children are when they arrive for their first day at school. For a Government genuinely concerned about promoting social mobility, that is where their priority would lie. That is why Sure Start centres were launched by the Labour Government in 1998, with a particular remit to provide early help to infants from disadvantaged backgrounds before they started school. But a succession of government cuts—direct as well as indirect—since 2010 has seen many closures, to the point where 156 centres in England closed in 2015, almost double the number which shut the previous year.
It seems that this Government still have not grasped that reality. They are not willing to commit the necessary resources to early years funding, so children continue to fall behind, often losing ground to their contemporaries from better-off families— ground which can never be recovered, a point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. Unfortunately, one area where the Government have committed significant funding, just referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is grammar schools, where miraculously they have found £250 million of new money.
The Prime Minister likes to refer to “just about managing” families, which is taken to mean those who, despite largely being in work, are squeezed by low pay and the high cost of housing and family bills. The focus on this group has also been linked with education, with grammar schools claimed to be of particular help for the children of low-income households. All the evidence shows that that is a fallacy. Indeed, the overall effect is the opposite, but I will not quote the figures on this occasion.
While the focus of research has traditionally been on the disadvantaged, there is little evidence for the effect of grammars on those slightly higher on the socioeconomic scale—a fact highlighted in the recent DfE consultation—that is, those just managing families. Recent research by the Sutton Trust shows how a lack of access to grammar schools is not merely restricted to those at the very bottom of the scale: there is a steep social gradient across wealth distribution, which may be one reason that the Social Mobility Commission stated in last month’s report that the Government should,
“rethink its plans for more grammar schools and more academies”.
How hypocritical it is that many in the Conservative Party who railed against supposed elitism during the EU referendum campaign are now willing the return of grammar schools, which can create only a more elitist society.
Many noble Lords—particularly my noble friends Lady Morris, Lady Prosser and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler—have stressed the importance of career guidance in this whole question of the link between school and work. My noble friend Lady Corston referred to the need for a “gold standard” of careers guidance, referring to the Social Mobility Committee’s Recommendation 8. Unfortunately, the Government did not respond to the suggestion of a cost-benefit analysis on careers education in schools. They simply came out with a figure of £90 million that was being spent. However, I think that few people at the moment believe that careers guidance delivers value for money. I urge the Minister to look again at carrying out such a cost-benefit analysis.
Meanwhile, the Social Mobility Commission’s report stated that poor careers advice and lack of work experience mean that, even with the same GCSE results, one-third more poorer children drop out of post-16 education than their better-off classmates. It went on to recommend that independent schools and universities should be required to provide high-quality careers advice, support with university applications and to share their business networks with state schools. That seems to me a very sensible suggestion, and more sensible, incidentally, than the suggestion in the grammar school consultation paper that universities and independent schools should sponsor schools in the state sector. I invite the Minister to comment on those suggestions, although I am quite content for him to do so in writing.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and my noble friend Lady Donaghy all suggested that it was unfortunate that the committee whose report we are considering is no more, and that there was certainly more work for such a committee to undertake. I very much subscribe to that view. Perhaps your Lordships’ House should consider setting up a committee to look at social mobility in terms of educational opportunities for older students. It is widely accepted that part-time higher education is a catalyst for widening participation. Recent analysis by the Open University of official government data has reconfirmed the dramatic fall in the numbers of part-time higher education students in England aged 21 and over from 2007 to 2015. During this time, nearly 400,000 part-time students have been lost from higher education and the sharp increase in tuition fees over that period is without doubt a major contributory factor. Yet, in a move that almost defies belief, in the 2015 Autumn Statement the Government committed to cutting university funding for widening participation work by up to 50% by 2020. This funding is known as the student opportunity allocation and is vital for institutions with a strong commitment to social mobility. Again, I ask the Minister to revisit this issue and perhaps consider having a discussion with the Chancellor to see what support can be provided for widening participation of part-time learners in the period in which that cut is still due to take place.
I commend the Social Mobility Committee for its thorough, and thoroughly convincing, report, which demonstrates that commitment by government is necessary to make sure that all our young people have the best chances of success. It has to be said that, up to this point, no such commitment from the Government is in evidence.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for tabling this debate and I thank all members of the Select Committee for the report they have produced. It is thorough, insightful and raises important and timely issues. Some passionate speeches have been delivered this afternoon.
I declare my own interest. My background is in industry and the City as a human resources generalist, including career management, so I come to this debate with some knowledge of the importance of, and a great deal of enthusiasm for, careers for the young and the perhaps not so young.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Fraser on his maiden speech today. It is clear that he brings a wealth of experience, including from Asia, to your Lordships’ House. His speech was thoughtful and incisive. I doubt that we will move towards a Hangul holiday in the UK, but the link he made between literacy and productivity is a salutary tale. I look forward to many more contributions in this House from my noble friend.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, said, this report focuses on social mobility in the transition from school to work. Since the report’s publication—this answers a question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull—the Secretary of State has placed social mobility at the heart of her education agenda and strongly recognises the importance of advice and experiences in preparing all young people for the right path. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, raised the basic point about careers advice. Of course, it must be high quality and up to date.
I would like to step back a moment to consider what we mean by social mobility. There has been some debate this afternoon about that. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, expanded on some interesting theories in this area. I know that we could debate the definition of social mobility all day but the report succinctly defines social mobility as,
“where a person ends up in life compared to where they started”.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham raised the important issue of social mobility linking to child poverty. I noted his thoughtful and interesting comments on the theme of downward mobility. Disadvantage is central to social mobility. We know that many of the poorest children and young people do not achieve their potential in our schools, and they too often do not have access to the wider opportunities and experiences that they need to succeed. One of the most important actions to tackle child poverty is to ensure that the next generation is better equipped with the knowledge and skills, advice and experiences to succeed. That is how we see our efforts to improve social mobility.
In talking about social mobility, it is not just the most disadvantaged who struggle to access the opportunities they need, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said. There is a wider group of families who struggle to get by and who lack the advice and wider networks to help them. We also need to focus on social mobility so-called cold spots—areas across the country where young people are not fulfilling their potential. I will speak more about this later.
Therefore, important questions are raised about our education system. How do we support children into careers—that is, all children, as my noble friend Lord Baker emphasised—and at what point? How do we take account of their individual needs and talents? What is the role of schools, and of parents and wider society, including business?
Before turning to the detail of the report, I will deal with an interesting issue that was raised by my noble friend Lady Berridge—the lack of an entry point at the age of 18 for people into the Civil Service Fast Track Apprenticeship scheme. I can reassure her that from 31 August 2016, the scheme has been open to everyone aged 16 and above who meet the general requirements.
The report rightly draws attention to some of the barriers to social mobility young people face today when making the transition to work. First, the non-academic route is too complex to navigate, as has been discussed in the Chamber today. Too often, this route offers no clear path to employment. Secondly, young people do not always have access to the information and advice that they need to make choices about their next step. This Government are committed to ensuring that our education system is set up to support everyone into careers that reflect their talent. By prioritising knowledge and skills, the right advice at the right time and the need for challenging, life-shaping experiences, our education system can support everyone. I am sure the committee will especially welcome the Government’s commitment to “the right advice at the right time”. By this we mean supporting young people and parents to navigate the system and make the choices that work for them. I will say more about this later.
The Government have given the recommendations in the report careful consideration. The report highlighted the need for robust and high-quality vocational routes to work. To deliver this, the Government are taking three key steps, which the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, mentioned. First, through our skills plan we are introducing a series of technical education reforms based on the panel recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. These reforms will provide a high-quality technical track, centred on 15 routes, preparing individuals for skilled employment. We will ensure that technical education is employer-led and responsive to the requirements of the economy. The forthcoming Technical and Further Education Bill, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, among other noble Lords, takes forward these recommendations; I hope it will be generally welcomed by the House. The skills plan will also ensure that young people who have fallen behind are supported to catch up. The overlooked and left-behind were mentioned in the Chamber today. We will introduce a “transition year” at age 16 that provides tailored support for young people who are not ready to progress to technical education, a traineeship or employment.
At this point I will address an interesting issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and which was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Watson. The noble Baroness asked whether the post-16 investment in skills is, in effect, too late, and whether young people would benefit more from the age of 14. In line with leading international systems, we want to ensure that everyone secures an academic core by the age of 16 which supports all routes, including technical, before then specialising. However, technical awards at 14 to 16 allow students to experience technical subjects, and the skills plan will open up 15 new routes, as mentioned earlier, to skilled employment at the age of 16 onwards. I hope that helps to explain our thinking. The noble Baroness is shaking her head.
Secondly, we are committed to reaching 3 million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020. We are creating a world-class system that offers high-quality apprenticeships for people of all ages and from all backgrounds. The Institute for Apprenticeships will support the quality of apprenticeship standards in England. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, raised an important point about apprenticeships being proper apprenticeships, along the lines we are proposing. We absolutely intend to ensure that the quality is there and, importantly, the Institute for Apprenticeships will be instrumental in that.
Thirdly, we are using the school system to introduce the benefits of technical education earlier. The university technical college programme, based on the work of the Baker Dearing Trust, has been established to address the skills gaps in local and national industries. Some 48 UTCs are now open, as my noble friend Lord Baker himself said. We continue to look at the performance of the UTC model and to learn lessons from those that are open to ensure great education for young people who want to follow a technical path.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, raised concerns about the inequality of funding between academic and vocational routes into work. The Government believe that every young person should have access to an excellent education, and we have protected the base rate of funding at £4,000 per student for all types of providers until 2020 to ensure that that happens. Overall, the Government plan to invest around £7 billion in 2016-17 to ensure that there is a place in education or training for every 16 to 19 year-old who wants one.
The committee’s report has made an excellent contribution to our thinking on achieving excellence in careers. I will talk about four key themes: investment, coherence, accountability and data. First, we agree with the committee, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, highlighted, that a clear strategy and substantial investment are crucial to make the improvements that are needed. As well as the noble Earl, the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, asked whether I would explain why the Government were not carrying out cost-benefit analyses of careers. The Government have ensured that funding to the Careers & Enterprise Company is underpinned by the development of a robust evidence base. The company has carried out a “what works” review to underpin all its work on the ground, and published cold spots research based on prioritisation indicators to identify geographical areas of the greatest careers and enterprise need. This helps the company, schools, colleges and others to prioritise and target funding with initiatives where they are needed most.
Secondly, responsibility for careers provision for young people and adults has been brought together under a single responsible Minister. As the committee rightly highlighted in its report, this will give us an opportunity to bring greater coherence to careers advice—a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Corston and Lady Donaghy, raised the question of the publication of a careers strategy. This is a good point. Next year we will set out the details of our approach to careers advice and guidance across the age range—from primary schools right through to adults who want to retrain. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, raised this issue, and I will answer some of the questions that were raised on the important subject of careers advice before moving on to my third point. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said that the impact of the Careers & Enterprise Company is limited. In addition to a network of enterprise advisers, working with over 1,300 schools and colleges to direct their careers and enterprise strategies, as I mentioned earlier, the company is targeting further support where it is most needed. Some £10 million is invested in 35 proven career and enterprise programmes, which benefit 250,000 young people. A £12 million mentoring fund and campaign matches with business mentors pre-GCSE teens who are at risk of disengaging, and there is £1 million to scale up high-quality careers programmes in the six opportunity areas of west Somerset, Norwich, Blackpool, Scarborough, Oldham and Derby.
The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, asked about the need for a careers service to support young people. That is the point I am trying to make. The National Careers Service provides free, up-to-date and impartial careers advice. It is delivered by around 1,400 careers advisers, qualified to level 3 and above in careers. Young people can access support via the website, webchat and telephone helpline services. Schools can commission national careers advice contractors to provide face-to-face support to pupils. In this respect, face-to-face support is important. The National Careers Service has made over 13,000 contacts with schools to help broker relationships with employers and develop their career strategies.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about the knowledge deficit of careers advisers and the need to train them annually, which I alluded to at the beginning of my speech. The Government’s current review of careers provision includes consideration of how well equipped careers professionals are to provide advice and guidance on the full range of pathways. We will talk to the Career Development Institute to ensure that its professional standards and continuing professional development for careers advisers remain fit for purpose. The UK register of careers professionals contains details of advisers who are qualified to level 6 and undertake CPD—up to 30 hours every year. This assists schools, colleges and others to identify high-quality careers professionals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, asked when the Government will bring forward promised legislation requiring schools to give access to other providers to talk to pupils about their education or training offer. The statutory guidance underpinning the careers duty on schools is clear that schools should give other providers who wish to do so the opportunity to engage with pupils on school premises to inform them directly about what they offer. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that we want to go further. We are considering options, including new legislation, to ensure that young people are fully informed about the range of opportunities open to them, including apprenticeships and technical education.
I now move on to the third point. The report highlighted the importance of creating the right incentives for schools and colleges to give careers advice and work preparation the focus they need. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said correctly that Ofsted has sharpened its approach to the inspection of careers provision. Ofsted’s inspectors are trained to recognise the importance of careers provision and to reflect this within their communications and school inspections.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, raised the use of data. I agree that the Government aspire to ever better data. Our work on the Longitudinal Education Outcomes dataset is used by policymakers to gain a deeper understanding of how students progress from different educational and vocational routes into employment.
I want to highlight a further crucial point: the importance of work experience. There is a clear link between employer contacts while at school and young people’s success in later life. Traineeships offer young people a chance to participate in high-quality work experience placements in order to develop workplace skills. My noble friend Lady Berridge asked about work experience in the House of Lords. We are currently advertising for work experience placements for school students aged between 15 and 18 during June and July 2017. They will be offered office-based work in departments within the general areas of the House of Lords administration.
We know that as well as work experience young people need access to wider experiences and extra-curricular activities. A lack of these experiences can widen gaps between young people from different backgrounds. We are working with great organisations such as the National Citizen Service to ensure that more young people are able to access such experiences. Earlier this year we announced that the National Citizen Service will benefit from more than £1 billion over the next four years. By 2021, it will cover 60% of 16 year-olds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, asked about the importance of brokering local arrangements. In fact, she highlighted this as being very important. We know that there is entrenched disadvantage and low potential for social mobility in certain parts of the country, as I said earlier. Therefore, I agree with the noble Baroness about the role of government in brokering local arrangements. That is why we have launched opportunity areas, providing £60 million of additional funding and support for social mobility cold spots. In these areas, we will focus the Department for Education’s ideas and resources on supporting young people to fulfil their potential. We will work within opportunity areas to respond to local priorities and needs; each area will have its own challenge.
Demand for high-level skills in computing will continue to grow in the years ahead and will be crucial to supporting a successful economy. I mention that because my noble friend Lord Fraser raised the importance of IT training. To help meet this demand, the Government have introduced computing as a statutory national curriculum subject at all four key stages, as well as a new computer science GCSE and A-level. This will ensure that pupils acquire the knowledge and skills they need to become active creators of digital technology.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked about the Sainsbury report on technical education. I reassure her that the Government are taking action following the recommendations of the independent panel. Through our skills plan we are introducing a series of technical education reforms based on those recommendations. As mentioned earlier, they will provide a high-quality track centred around 15 routes, preparing individuals for skilled employment. An important point is that we will ensure that technical education is employer-led. We believe that we made great strides in addressing technical education through the reforms in the last Parliament following the Wolf review, but I make it absolutely clear that we are committed to doing more.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, for tabling this debate and I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions. I agree wholeheartedly with the committee’s statement that:
“The transition from school into work is a vital point in the lives of young people”.
We are committed to addressing the challenges that exist at this time so that Britain truly works for everyone.
In conclusion, the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, made a key overarching point—that there will be winners and losers in the new industrial revolution. She is right that the increasing emphasis on further education and vocational education, in conjunction with higher education, will help build the skills base that this country badly needs in order to succeed.
Perhaps I may intervene briefly. I specifically asked about the news that leaked out yesterday concerning the Child Poverty Unit and the life chances strategy. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, also referred to the Child Poverty Unit.
A number of issues concerning child poverty were raised, and it therefore becomes me to write a letter to cover those points, making the link between social mobility and child poverty. Although I alluded to that, there is more to say and I hope I can make some reassuring points in a letter.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this afternoon’s debate. I feel that in many ways it has shown the House at its best, with people bringing such diverse experiences to the subject of the future life chances of our young people. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, for his wonderful maiden speech. It was of perfect length and combined humour, local knowledge and personal experience germane to today’s debate. I hope we will hear from him frequently in the future.
As the widow of the person who set up the Child Poverty Action Group, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. Obviously, child poverty underlies much of what we were writing about. Some of the young people to whom we spoke in London and Derby clearly came from disadvantaged backgrounds, and it was heartening to see the way in which they struggled to make headway in—to put it tactfully—this rather diverse system. I thank the young people who helped us.
I also thank my noble friend Lady Donaghy for reminding me that Lady Sharp of Guildford was one of our members. She retired from the House before we reported but I want to record that she was an assiduous attender of the committee and was highly committed to these young people, to whom she has devoted her life. We thank her for that.
Again, I thank the young people who assisted us. We must ensure that we no longer blight the life chances of young people—not just for their sake but for the sake of our economy and our future. The Minister made one or two welcome statements. All I can say is that I hope that the House will, in modern parlance, hold his feet to the fire.