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Technical and Further Education Bill

Volume 782: debated on Tuesday 25 April 2017

Commons Reason and Amendment

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 1A.

Commons Reason

1A: Because it would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

My Lords, this Bill is integral to the Government’s ambitious reforms for creating a world-class technical education system. These reforms will help to ensure that technical education in our country provides everyone with the skills and opportunities they need to succeed and gain skilled employment on a long-term basis, and at the same time they will serve the needs of our economy and reduce our skills gap. The Bill’s further education insolvency regime will also protect students at FE colleges in the event that their college faces financial difficulty.

I am very grateful for the interest and input from noble Lords across the House on the Bill, and in particular how they have helped strengthen the Bill and its related policy areas. It is quite clear that the Bill has strong cross-party support. I am glad that the Bill returns to this House for further debate on two amendments from the other place. I will deal with these amendments in turn. Given the volume of business we need to get through today, I will try to keep this brief, and I hope other noble Lords will join me in that endeavour.

Noble Lords will know that Lords Amendment 1 was rejected in the other place on the basis of financial privilege, and I request that this House respects the decision reached there. However, I would like to acknowledge the sentiment behind the amendment and to address some considerations. First, I understand that a drop in household benefits income and a shift of income from parents to a young person can be difficult to manage. However, we should give parents credit for supporting their children to enter apprenticeships and develop their own financial independence and long-term careers. The numbers testify to this: last year more than 200,000 young people under 19 were in apprenticeships.

Secondly, during the Bill’s passage, the Opposition compared the financial support available to full-time students and that available to apprentices, while giving very little attention to the matter of remuneration. Full-time students are forgoing employment and income opportunities to gain qualifications, often while paying to invest in their future. Apprenticeships are paid jobs, with high-quality free training. The 2016 apprenticeship pay survey showed that the average wage for all level 2 and 3 apprentices was £6.70 an hour. Apprentices are also increasing their future employment prospects and earnings: on average, level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships increase earnings in employment by 11% and 16% respectively.

Finally, we must target resources. The cost of the amendment is estimated at over £200 million per year by 2020. The benefits system quite rightly targets financial support towards greatest need, including for example dependants in low-income families. Benefits awards must take other sources of income into account. We also target funds carefully to support apprenticeships among key groups. We pay additional amounts to training providers in the most deprived areas. We also steer funding towards providers and employers for the youngest apprentices and for care leavers, as well as for those with learning difficulties and disabilities. As the new funding system beds in, we will continue to review how funding is targeted, including to support access to apprenticeship jobs for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Amendment 6A was tabled in the other place in lieu of an amendment tabled on Report by the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden. The amendment proposes a new clause to the Bill which will require Ofsted to consider the quality of careers provision when conducting standard inspections of further education colleges. I am grateful to noble Lords and the noble Baroness for raising the issue of careers guidance in colleges and giving the Government the opportunity to consider this important matter further.

As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, explained so eloquently on Report, one of the most important things we need to do for young people is provide guidance and knowledge about careers. He rightly pointed out that this is particularly true for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may not have access to networks of support to inform them about options and perhaps provide opportunities for them to do work experience. That is why it is vital that FE colleges—which take many students from areas of educational disadvantage—should make high-quality careers advice available to everyone.

Of course, there are a number of colleges already leading the way in this. Gateshead College embeds careers in all aspects of a student’s learning. JobLab provides dedicated support to help their students develop practical employment skills, and Career Coach provides labour-market data and maps out education, training and career options. I also recognise Ofsted’s commitment to evaluating the quality of careers advice and guidance in further education. Matters relating to careers provision feature in all four graded judgments that Ofsted makes when judging the overall effectiveness of a college. However, the Government are persuaded of the need to go further to ensure that young people can benefit from the best possible preparation for the workplace and acquire the skills and attributes that employers need. The amendment will send a clear signal that a high-calibre careers programme must be embedded in every college.

I hope I have reassured noble Lords that we agree wholeheartedly with the principle of the original Lords amendment. The drafting changes serve only to ensure that the amendment achieves its intended effect and that the language conforms to current legislation. The amendment now includes an explicit requirement for Ofsted to comment on the quality of the college’s careers provision in the inspection report.

I urge noble Lords to accept this amendment in lieu. It is our chance to ensure that all FE students can access the support they need to help them to achieve their full potential. As discussed earlier, I also ask noble Lords to respect the other place’s decision to reject Amendment 1 on the grounds of financial privilege. I beg to move.

My Lords, I acknowledge that the Bill is a better one than when it began its progress through both Houses. We shall not seek to impede its journey to the statute book.

The addition of the amendment promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and others, represents an important step forward in ensuring that school pupils have explained to them the full range of options, not just those whose choice of an academic route might benefit the school’s coffers. It should not have been necessary for an amendment to be passed to secure that, because strong careers guidance is critical to promoting apprenticeships in schools. If the Government’s target for apprenticeship starts is to be achieved and sustained, as we all hope, then it is crucial that young people are alerted early enough in their school life to the importance and attraction of technical routes.

However, it is disappointing that the Government have not been willing to accept Amendment 1 passed by your Lordships on Report. The decision to exclude apprenticeships from the category of approved education or training will serve as a deterrent to some young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills said last week:

“The crucial point is that the vast majority of level 2 and 3 apprentices are paid more than £6.30 an hour, and 90% of them go on to jobs or additional education afterwards”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/4/17; col. 714.]

But that is not the crucial point; in fact, he has missed the point. At least 90% of university graduates go on to jobs or additional education, so there is no difference in that respect. And whether apprentices earn £3.50 an hour—the legal minimum, which, as I said on Report, not all of them get—or £6.50 an hour, their parents are still disqualified from receiving child benefit. That is the nub of the issue. Clearly, though, we have not been successful in convincing Ministers of that point.

It was interesting to read last week of the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, in defence of the Government’s position, coming up with a figure of some £200 million a year by 2020-21. So apprentices—the young people we need to train in order to fill the skills gaps that we know exist—are to be treated unfavourably compared to their peers who choose full-time study because of the cost. The Government can miraculously find £500 million to create new grammar schools yet cannot find £200 million to ensure that the number of apprentices from the poorest families rises from its current very low level of just 10%. If there is logic in that policy stance, it escapes me. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said in Committee that she would discuss this issue with ministerial colleagues in the DWP. By Report there had been no such meetings, and we learned from the debate in the other place last week that those meetings have still not taken place. So where did the £200 million figure appear from, if not the DWP?

In passing, I say to the Minister that I submitted a Written Question asking for the Government’s workings that produced the £200 million figure. As I understand that those Questions disappear on Dissolution, I ask him to write to me with the answer so that we can gain an understanding of the foundation on which the Government have erected the barrier to treating apprentices as “approved learners”.

On Amendment 6, initially I was dismayed that the Government were unwilling to accept the will of your Lordships’ House on careers advice in further education colleges, although that was perhaps not too surprising as the Minister told us on Report that it was not necessary. However, the Government’s amendment in lieu actually appears to be stronger than the original amendment. First, it goes further than further education colleges and refers to “FE institutions”, which of course covers all training providers on the register.

Secondly, the original amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, which your Lordships’ House voted for at Report, called on Ofsted to “take into account” the careers advice made available to students by colleges. Government Amendment 6A states that Ofsted must,

“comment on the careers guidance provided to relevant students at the institution”.

For that reason, I welcome Amendment 6A, as Ofsted will be obliged to be proactive in reporting what it discovers in FE colleges that it inspects. That is certainly to be welcomed, although it comes with the caveat that it will apply only to those colleges that Ofsted actually inspects. How many will be? Realistically, how many can it be?

At Report, I asked the Minister to give an assurance that Ofsted would be adequately resourced; I fear that he did not reply. Mr Marsden asked the same question of the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, and he did not reply, so perhaps the Minister can now tell noble Lords how many additional staff Ofsted will have to enable it to inspect as many training providers as possible out of the 2,000 likely to emerge. It cannot do that with its existing staff, and we have a right to know what additional resources Ofsted will receive to enable it to cope with large new demands. I look forward to his response on that. I suggest that he must have one because it is surely inconceivable that he and/or his officials have not met Amanda Spielman or her deputy, Paul Joyce, to discuss the resources that they will require as a direct result of the Bill.

We are now at the end of a process that has produced the Bill, which will strengthen the sector but could have achieved much more. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in our debates, as well as Ministers, who have moved some way, if not as far as we would like, during our deliberations.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 6A. The Minister has put it better than I could, so I shall be very brief. I have always thought that the key to making the Bill successful was twofold. First, there was breaking the logjam of mainstream schools not allowing for or understanding the important role of technical education, whether it be FE colleges or university technical colleges. The acceptance of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was a crucial step forward. Secondly, there was careers. You can have all the courses in the world, but unless young people get a successful career at the end of it and an understanding of what is available to them, it is all for naught. I am delighted with the amendment. It sends a clear signal not only to the further education sector but to schools themselves. The explicit wording in the amendment means that there is no hiding place.

This is an important Bill, and I congratulate the Minister and his colleagues on carrying it through the Chamber in such a sympathetic way. I also thank the civil servants, who have been exemplary in the support that they have given us all. We could not wish for anything better. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Garden—she cannot be here—who led for my party on the Bill, and other colleagues who have supported us.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, for deciding not to press his amendments on this case. I know how strongly he feels about it, but it will be possible to revisit that after the whole principles of apprenticeships have been set up. I think that it is generally agreed by all sides of the House that this is an important Bill and a beneficial Bill. It is a major step forward in improving the technical education of our country. It has been handled very well by the Minister and his department, and we should speed it to the statute book.

My Lords, I have discussed the Government’s response to the two amendments that have returned to this House from the other place and asked noble Lords to agree the Motions from the other place on those two amendments. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, about where the £200 million estimate came from, I can say that it is estimated by the DfE, HMRC and HM Treasury, using apprenticeship participation data and HMRC child benefit data—HMRC, not the DWP, pays child benefit—but I will still write to him on the matter he mentioned.

As for Ofsted, I have personally discussed this with it. It is satisfied that it is adequately resourced at the moment, but we will keep this under review. As I said, the Bill has strong cross-party support. Several noble Lords from across the House have mentioned that previous Governments have attempted unsuccessfully to raise the status of technical education—I remember a particularly powerful speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on this—but I am confident that under the leadership of Minister Halfon, who I am delighted to see is in the House today, we will seize this opportunity to raise the status of technical education in this country.

I thank again all noble Lords for their participation on this Bill. I am absolutely sure that the legislation is in much better shape thanks to their scrutiny, as always. I commend the Bill to the House.

Motion A agreed.

Motion B

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 6 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 6A in lieu.

Commons Amendment in lieu

6A: Page 19, line 5, at end insert—

“Careers advice in further education institutions: Ofsted inspection

(1) Section 125 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (inspection of further education institutions) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (4) (matters to be dealt with in inspection report), after paragraph (a) (but before the “and” at the end) insert—

“(aa) must, in a case where it relates to an institution within the further education sector, comment on the careers guidance provided to relevant students at the institution,”.

(3) After subsection (7) insert—

“(8) In this section—

“careers guidance” includes guidance about undertaking any training, education, employment or occupation;

“relevant student” means a student—

(a) who is aged under 19, or

(b) who is aged 19 or over and is someone for whom an EHC plan is maintained.””

Motion B agreed.