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Education and Training

Volume 793: debated on Monday 15 October 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to adapt education and training to address the needs of the changing economy.

My Lords, we are working with employers to make the skills system more responsive to employers’ needs. This includes supporting industry to create high-quality apprenticeships and developing a national retraining scheme. This will give adults the skills they need to thrive as the economy changes. We are also introducing T-levels, a high-quality technical alternative to academic education, and establishing institutes of technology to meet higher-level technical skills needs.

I hear what the Minister says, but with the Open University and FE colleges cutting back and several training companies in difficulty, the usual routes for skills and social progress via Earn and Learn, lifelong learning and adult reskilling, are in decline, as are apprenticeships. As a result, the number of skilled job vacancies is soaring, and high employment is based on low-skill, low-paid and low-security jobs. To me, this is not a route to a modern economy but a race to the bottom. How will the Government reverse that?

My Lords, there are a lot of questions in that question but I can pick out some of the strands. I mentioned the national retraining scheme, which we have announced, which is investing £100 million in retraining. It will include a phased series of impactful interventions, and initial interventions will be in digital and construction. I mentioned national colleges, which are specialist colleges for technical areas. We have started with two for the nuclear industry and high-speed rail. We are also tendering for the institutes of technology at the moment. I assure the noble Lord that we are very focused on this important area.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the 2,000 leavers from university technical colleges since July included virtually no NEETs and that 30% of them became apprentices, which compares to the national average of 7%? Of the 47% who went to universities, three-quarters studied STEM subjects, which is double the national average. As he is the only Minister who has visited UTCs in this or the previous Government and I know he likes them, could he spread his enthusiasm among the Government, because these are outstanding schools—some of the most successful in the country—and we need many more of them, because they produce the skilled engineers at 16 and 18 which the economy needs?

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will recognise the enormous effort that my noble friend Lord Baker has put into the UTC movement. He is right: I have put a lot of my own time into it, because I think UTCs are a vital part of the skills network. We are doing as much as we can; the system still needs to improve. I am encouraging the Baker Dearing Educational Trust to allow more UTCs to join multi-academy trusts so that their resources can be pooled. I am also trying to encourage my noble friend to adjust the entry age of UTCs so that they are not in conflict with surrounding schools. Then, local areas can work in harmony.

My Lords, has the Minister had any further thoughts about giving more support to careers education, so that young people are more fully aware of the range of work opportunities in the world of tomorrow?

Again, the noble Baroness asks a very important question. We have our careers strategy, underpinned by the Gatsby benchmarks, which among other things help students to learn from the career and labour market information available. The curriculum should be linked to careers, for example by bringing STEM subjects to life, and young people should have real engagement with employers and receive personal guidance. The performance of 3,000 schools and colleges has now been diagnosed against the Gatsby benchmarks, and awareness in schools is increasing all the time.

My Lords, the creative industries have lots of vacancies they cannot fill with UK citizens. What are the Government going to do to address the shortage, which has mainly been caused by changes in the education system?

My Lords, I am not sure if this is a question about Brexit and skills from abroad or about training our own people, but even the artistic and creative industries need well-educated children. One of the first things the coalition Government did was to get rid of 3,000 pointless qualifications, to encourage children to learn proper subjects—including creative subjects.

Further to the noble Lord’s answer to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, what are the Government doing to ensure the availability of enough qualified careers professionals to deliver the admirable goals of the careers strategy?

As noble Lords may be aware, we recently established the Careers and Enterprise Company. It is working with schools to ensure that there are enough career advisers in the system. We have 2,000 schools and colleges within the enterprise adviser network, 700 schools and colleges in career hubs and the Government have announced a doubling of the number of career hubs to 40 to meet this rising demand.

My Lords, one of the issues on which the Government’s ongoing post-2018 review of education will focus is how to deliver the skills the country needs as we enter unknown terrain when we leave the European Union.

I defer to my noble friend Lord Foulkes. In a debate in your Lordships’ House in July, the Minister’s colleague, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, said that the review panel’s interim report would be published at some point this year. Can the Minister be more specific about when we can expect to hear the initial thoughts of the people charged with the important task of mapping a route that links schools, apprenticeships, further education, higher education and industry with a view to filling the skills gaps now and into the future?

My Lords, there are several parts to this answer. To deal with the initial concern about a post-Brexit scenario, as noble Lords will be aware, the Migration Advisory Committee has just issued its own recommendations on how we should adjust to a post-Brexit environment, including that we lift the cap on Tier 2 visas—at present only 20,000 a year are allowed in that area—and that we add 140 more categories to that sector. Turning to our economy and our school system, we created the skills advisory panels last year, which initially are convening in the opportunity areas to liaise with the LEPs and other employer groups. We have also created the institutes of technology, which are designed to be at a higher level of the skills matrix to ensure that the STEM skills the noble Lord referred to are given priority.