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Design Engineer Construct Programme

Volume 793: debated on Monday 5 November 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Department for Education will reconsider allowing Design Engineer Construct levels 2 and 3 as project-based qualifications.

My Lords, the Department for Education recently published the list of technical qualifications approved for inclusion in the 2020 performance tables for schools and colleges. To ensure the quality and robustness of qualifications included in performance tables, they must demonstrate a number of characteristics, including an appropriate assessment methodology. The Design Engineer Construct qualifications were reviewed as part of that process, but did not demonstrate all the necessary characteristics for inclusion in the 2020 performance tables.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister would agree that there is actually a shortage of young people who are entering into design and construction, especially young girls. If we take away project-based skills such as set out by DEC, that reduces the number of people who will make that as a life choice. That means that most young people would be forced into an exam-based system whereas this subject lends itself to a project-based approach. Will the Minister agree to meet with those behind the DEC project to look for a way forward?

I can certainly agree to arrange a meeting for the noble Lord. I would like to give a little more information on the back of the decision that has been made. The qualifications for Design Engineer Construct were reviewed a total of three times during the approval process by the department. After each of the first two reviews, feedback was given to the awarding organisation so that they could improve. Unfortunately, after an appeal, it was still unsuccessful. It is standards that we are talking about here, which are very important.

My Lords, it is entirely illogical for such a valuable learning programme to be removed from the league table points, given its value to the built environment. This programme is respected by academia, business and the profession. Can the Minister say what impact assessment was made of the loss of young people developing the skills and knowledge for professional progression in the construction industry, which as we know is desperately short of skilled people? I would also echo my noble friend’s concern that only 2% of the construction workforce is female.

In answering the noble Baroness’s question I would say that it is not the end of the road, because schools and colleges can offer any qualification that has been accredited by Ofqual and approved for teaching to the appropriate age group, under Section 96 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. It is up to schools, therefore, to decide whether they want to continue with this particular qualification—although it is unlikely that they will do so, because they are not going to be listed on the performance tables. Again, what we are talking about is the greatest shake-up that we are undertaking of post-16 education since A-levels were introduced 70 years ago.

My Lords, there is little understanding of the built environment professions. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, says, few young people aspire to a career in what is a significant sector of the economy. That is why Design Engineer Construct was developed as a learning programme for school students, to help to inspire and create the next generation of those professionals. Surely they should be given every encouragement to flourish in that endeavour? From what the Minister says, that is not the case so far. When will the Government end their obsession with the English baccalaureate and accept that a place at a Russell Group university is not the appropriate destination for every young person, and instead encourage young people to get the sorts of employability skills that Design Engineer Construct will provide?

We are on the same page. I hope the noble Lord will understand that we are undertaking a number of very important reviews, looking particularly at the 16 to 18 year group. The T-level rollout is one of the most important schemes, and we are on track to roll out the first three from September 2020 and a further 12 from then on. This is joined up with other reviews: we want to provide a seamless approach from a younger age with better career progression and management for young people; and to make sure that we push people up the vocational route into the right positions to produce the skills that we need for the economy in the future.

My Lords, I believe I am allowed to ask a second question—I have read the book. The Minister put forward the idea that 16 to 18 year-olds should be pushed into this area. I have children who have just been through this process. They have to make exam choices which will affect their academic career far earlier than that. Unless they have decided on a career before they take their GCSEs, they are unlikely to move into this sector afterwards. Does the Minister agree that it is important to look at the 11 and 12 year-old age gap?

Yes; I think it is fair to say that we are looking at all the age gaps. Career management is often raised from the noble Lord’s Benches. He will know that the National Careers Service provides independent professional advice. The Careers & Enterprise Company is ensuring that every young person has access to inspiring encounters with the world of work. The important point here is that we are engaging work in schools to be sure that young people are given the inspiration and advice they need to take the right career path.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is a strategic implication to this lack of engineering skills, particularly in the military. We have a huge shortage of engineer officers, particularly within the Navy and Air Force. It was our engineers and scientists who helped us to win the First World War—100 years ago—and the Second World War. Surely more can be done to help ensure that youngsters see engineering as an exciting prospect, with opportunities for all sorts of jobs, which they should try to do.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. We are investing nearly £7 billion in this academic year to ensure that there is a place in education or training—particularly for engineering— for every 16 to 18 year-old. I see that my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking is in his seat. At least a couple of university technical colleges are being used to roll out the new T-levels, which is very good news.

I thank the Minister for referring to UTCs. The decision to remove these two exams is a mistake. It reduces further the amount of technical education in our secondary schools. Design and technology has already fallen by 57% in the lifetime of this Government. T-levels in engineering will not come in until 2023 and 2025. University technical colleges are the only colleges in the country that every year provide employable technicians and engineers at 16 and 18. We should have many more of them.

I thank my noble friend for his less than helpful reply; I was trying to be helpful to him. I hope he will understand that much effort and focus have gone into these particular Design Engineer Construct qualifications. At the end of the day, it was deemed that they were not up to the standard required.