Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 1: Local skills improvement plans
8: Clause 1, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
“(5A) All other post-16 education and training providers, including universities, school sixth forms, sixth form colleges, and adult and community learning providers, must also have due regard to the local skills improvement plan, as it relates to their provision.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment sets out the complementary roles of schools, colleges and universities.
My Lords, I move this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie. This amendment sets out the complementary roles of schools, colleges and universities by joining up the wider education and skills system so that it better meets society’s needs and gives people the skills they need. Delivering this means ensuring that we develop the right balance of autonomy, authority and accountabilities that will enable schools, colleges and universities to focus on the complementary roles they can play together and with other partners over the long term. This must involve a genuine partnership, with providers empowered to stimulate and challenge articulated demand, rather than act as passive policy recipients. It means ensuring that this is meaningfully accessible to all and involves an effectively joined-up wider education and skills system. Colleges do not work in isolation to meet the education and training needs of their communities. Schools and universities are important parts of the system, so they should be part of the planning process. Amendment 8—in the names of my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Bradley, as well—therefore sets out the complementary roles of schools, colleges and universities in delivering on LSIPs.
Currently, there is a lack of a comprehensive, long-term education and skills plan that brings together all parts of the system towards the same vision. Different parts of the system have different policy priorities and initiatives. The current reform agenda is not sufficiently addressing this. It deals with only one part of the system—colleges—without exploring the need for complementary alignment with universities, schools and other providers. At the same time, this means that the role of education and skills in addressing wider policy priorities and strategies is not always recognised—for example, the role of colleges in welfare, health and net-zero policies.
There is a lack of any system to co-ordinate the 16 to 18 offer at the local and subregional level between schools and colleges. This leads to insufficient provision and limits student choice of programme—for example, when multiple competing providers concentrate on a narrow offer at the expense of less popular or minority provision.
At the university level, there is contested ground over the higher technical level 4 to level 5 provision and who is best placed to offer this, leading to unproductive competition between colleges and universities. If a whole education system approach is not taken to local skills planning, there will be a disjointed system that is not efficient or effective in its use of public money and does not best meet the needs of students and employers.
There should also be an exploration of a national 10-year education and skills strategy sitting across government, to deliver on wider policy agendas and to give stability to all parts of the system, creating a duty on schools and universities to collaborate with colleges and employers in the development of skills plans, so that the training on offer efficiently meets the need of local areas. I therefore beg to move.
I rise to support this amendment. This is such an important issue, but I can see that is difficult as well.
When I started teaching, which was many years ago, in Coventry, it was very clear which provider offered which course. The advantage was that it was very straightforward for children and schools to know where to go for catering, engineering, electronics or whatever. The disadvantage was that it squeezed out competition, which can raise standards and creativity. It is somehow getting that balance that we are looking for. I would welcome the Minister explaining how far the Government are prepared to go to make sure that there is some sort of co-ordinated provision within each skills partnership. It makes sense to allow providers to play to their strengths and it is also essential that courses that might not be economically viable but are important for the local or indeed the national economy are supported to stay open and be made available. So it is a tricky issue and I cannot recall so far in the debate on this amendment hearing the Minister outline the Government’s views on this.
To bring universities in, my noble friend Lady Wilcox made a very strong point. In the old days, it was just further education courses that were co-ordinated, but now we have a growth in private providers and universities in these contested levels as well. So in the name of clarity for students and users, and for the needs of the economy, we need some guidance from the Government about a co-ordinated approach, making sure all areas are covered. Basically, what happens is that all providers want to provide the cheap courses, and the machinery-heavy courses do not get offered. Schools are happy to go into vocational work, as long as it is classroom-based and they do not need specialist teachers. That very often leaves the college with the courses that need highly specialised tutors and heavy equipment. I would welcome the Minister somehow making sense of all that in her comments.
I support what my noble friends Lady Wilcox and Lady Morris have said. I strongly support the case for more co-ordination. It is not clear to me, in the Bill, how this is going to work, and I would like to hear an explanation from the Minister of how she thinks co-ordination will be made to work at a local level. The idea that a Secretary of State sitting in London can get into the question of which school should offer which course and how we deal with the problem that my noble friend Lady Morris described is not going to work.
There is the Education and Skills Funding Agency. In the period when I briefly had something to do with it—when I was advising my noble friend Lord Mandelson, when he was Business Secretary in charge of skills—I did not get the impression that that body had the capacity to do this job of co-ordination. It was basically responsible for making sure that public money was handled in an accountable way. What I would love to hear from the noble Baroness is an explanation of how central government intends to approach this question of co-ordination at local level. In my view—and here there is a big lacuna in the Bill—this is most effectively done by councils and mayoral authorities. It should be a devolved matter; it is an opportunity, in my view, to strengthen devolution within England. I do not sense that the noble Baroness shares that view. Perhaps she will explain to us, if she does not share that view, how she thinks this task of co-ordination will be carried out.
If the noble Baroness wishes to speak to Amendment 40A, she is entitled to do so.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to support Amendment 40A—and I hope it will be moved. It is crucial that this information goes to pre-16 year-olds, because it is at that stage they are making choices about their future. It is important that, before the vocational 16-plus stage is reached, doors are opened and aspiration is fostered and nourished. There is considerable poverty of aspiration in the years between 14 and 16. If we are to enable those young people to move into useful and rewarding further education, we shall be helping not only them but our economy.
My Lords, I am in favour of both Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and Amendment 40A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. These amendments require schools, sixth-form colleges, adult community learning providers and universities to have due regard for local skills improvement plans. This sort of co-ordination between education providers and the community is absolutely essential if we are to ensure that people are armed with the skills they need to succeed in the modern workforce.
There is one omission from these two amendments, and it is one that is all too often forgotten: the contribution of independent training providers. Many of these organisations provide high-quality courses that fill skills shortages in their communities. Unlike other providers, they are not given equal access to funding—for example, in the north-east of England they are, in many cases, filling gaps in skills training but do not have the same access to public funding contracts as non-private education providers. These training providers, where—and only where—they meet the appropriate quality standards, should be included in local skills improvement plans, along with any other providers listed in these two amendments. Further, these local plans should incorporate both public and private education providers if we are to give our communities the best possible chance of meeting their specific skills gaps.
We live in a society that is rapidly changing and we need an education system that can meet the needs of this changing world. Sadly, to date in this country, and in much of the English-speaking world, university degree qualifications have always been viewed as superior and the other, more technical skills and qualifications have been looked down on. They have been the victim of a particular form of snobbery, in my view. It is quite clear that many of the areas where we face skills gaps are in these technical areas, and we must address this by improving the status of education providers that teach these skills, including those that are independent.
We need to change our understanding of education to something that people should participate in at all stages of life. With the changes in our economy, many jobs that people do today will not exist in a few years. Local plans should be considering not only where there are skills gaps but where there will likely be jobs that are going to disappear, and how people working in them can be retrained. Therefore, it will not just be school leavers or younger people who need training but people who may have worked in their current professions for many decades and who are now having to learn new skills if they are to remain employable.
Another factor to consider is how we promote training opportunities in new and imaginative ways to encourage people to take part. Many people, as we know, have not had a very positive experience of the education system and may resist the prospect of having to return to do further study, even if it will benefit them. For others, it may be the first time that they have taken part in any formal education for a very long time, so they may also be apprehensive about taking part. Local skills improvement plans must be cognisant of this as a significant barrier when trying to encourage people to retrain in areas where we currently have severe skills shortages. Once again, this is where including all providers—including those who are independent—is crucial, as their ideas and experience may help to ensure successful skills training delivery.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a non-executive director of the Careers & Enterprise Company. I was sorry not to be able to speak last week on the first day of Committee, particularly in support of Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and on the broader debate about the relationship between local skills improvement plans and national skills needs. I sense that this debate on Amendments 8 and 40A is a continuation of that and I think that the Committee is quite rightly looking for clarification about the relationship between all forms of education and training providers and employers, and identifying skills needs and the careers inspiration that is needed. I hope that on the next day in Committee we will get on to debating Amendment 82 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and related amendments about the vital role that schools will play in shaping the careers aspirations of their pupils and the work of careers hubs.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, I wanted to comment on Amendment 40A. It appears to be drafted relating just to schools providing sixth-form education. However, evidence shows—and it is certainly the aspiration of the Careers & Enterprise Company—that pupils of all ages, even from primary school upwards, benefit from receiving careers interactions and inspiration and hearing about the different careers and jobs that are available. I would not confine the involvement of schools in the work and the shaping of local skills improvement plans just to those with sixth forms.
I hope that the Minister will take from this debate and from what Members are saying that we would welcome further details from Ministers about the way in which the whole careers and skills ecosystem, if I can call it that, will work. That is why the results from the local skills improvement plan pilots will be so important. I do not think that anyone can doubt the critical involvement not only of education providers of all kinds in knowing the need for local skills and national skills—we particularly talked about green jobs and careers in digital, technology and artificial intelligence on the first day in Committee—but also of employers through these employer representative bodies and the local enterprise partnerships too. The sooner Ministers are able to share the results of the local skills improvement plan pilots with Members, the better, as I think that that will help to explain how this whole ecosystem will operate.
My final comment relates to these two amendments. We have to be wary of overloading schools in all ways. As everybody knows, schools are busy places; there are many demands on their time, particularly in light of the challenges from the last 16 months related to Covid and teaching through a pandemic. While schools of course have a vital role to play in facilitating careers inspiration and careers education, it cannot be done without the involvement of employers and businesses from outside. That is the model behind the Careers & Enterprise Company and other local careers initiatives. I hope that Ministers will want to balance that as they continue drafting policies and evaluating these pilots going forward.
My Lords, I aim to speak succinctly in my contribution and hope that other noble Lords will follow suit. I do not look forward to going on until midnight for the next three days of Committee. My last Tube goes at half past midnight and I might have a sense of humour failure if I miss it.
Amendment 8 brings together schools, colleges, universities and adult and community learning providers to ensure that all those involved with skills learning are working in collaboration. We do not need competition where different providers, including independent ones, cater for different members of the community when they all have the aim of improving skills and employability. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, says, we support the aim of complementary roles and look for a whole-education collaboration style.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, it is often left to the further education providers to provide the resource-intensive programmes. As we all know, further education is poorly served in funding, teachers and so on, so we look to the Government to do much more to support the further education sector, which is vital in any of the skills programmes.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was not here to speak to his Amendment 40A but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, I will talk to it, because it is vital that sixth-form educators are aware of the full range of skills and employment opportunities. Far too often they are focused solely on academic achievement, which leaves out a whole load of young people whose skills are more practically based. We must take every step possible to ensure that young people are fully informed of all the work-based practical options which the country needs and which may play to their strengths in ways that A-levels do not. I absolutely support what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said; we will come later to amendments to ensure that primary schools are included in careers guidance. Of course, some of the skills in the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, are the very ones that university technical colleges do so much to promote. I hope that we shall get a positive response from the Minister on these two amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the engagement that we have had since the first day of Committee. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, that this legislation is part of the FE sector having its moment and being rescued from often being described as the Cinderella of the sector.
I re-emphasise that the local skills improvement plans will not be master plans that specify in minute detail all the provision that is to be provided by every provider to every learner in the area. They are a vehicle to give employers a more central role in local skills systems by articulating a clear, evidence-based assessment of priority skills needs and working with providers to shape technical education to better meet those skills needs, which many noble Lords have outlined. They are about employers working hand in hand with providers and key local stakeholders, such as local and combined authorities and Jobcentre Plus, and they are about agreeing a limited number of priority changes that, if enacted, will make post-16 technical education and training more responsive to employers’ skills needs.
I would also like to take this moment to update the House that we have announced the local skills improvement plan trailblazers, literally within the last hour, and I will now outline them to noble Lords. In the north of England, we have Cumbria Chamber of Commerce covering Cumbria, Doncaster Chamber will cover Sheffield City Region, the North East England Chamber of Commerce will cover Tees Valley, and North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce will cover Lancashire. In the Midlands, East Midlands Chamber will cover Leicester and Leicestershire. In the south of England, GWE Business West will cover the west of England, Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce will cover Kent and Medway, and Sussex Chamber of Commerce will cover Sussex. In relation to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and others, if you look also at the strategic development pilots alongside those areas, you will see a multiplicity of providers, including FE colleges, institutes of technology and universities. By the very nature of those bids, we can see that there has been a great deal of co-ordination in these areas, with the support, where relevant, of the mayoral combined authority.
The next update to noble Lords deals with the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, made about how we prevent providers from just going for the easiest, lowest-cost qualifications. We have today announced the consultation on new funding and accountability arrangements to simplify the system and focus on outcomes rather than processes and to avoid this descent to the bottom. It will include proposals for how local skills improvement plans fit into the wider funding and accountability landscape. That is also part of the development. The trailblazers will, of course, start work very soon and I look forward to being able to share with noble Lords details of their early progress ahead of Report.
Amendment 8, which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, relates to broadening the duty on who should have regard to these plans; the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, also mentioned this. Clause 1 already provides for the duty to apply to the universities and sixth-form colleges mentioned in the amendment, and the large majority of post-16 technical education and training providers will be captured.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, raised a specific point about independent training providers; they are specifically outlined as a relevant provider within Clause 4, so they are covered. The Secretary of State will be able to lay regulations before Parliament to add local authority providers, 16-to-19 academies and schools to those already identified and subject to the duty.
Amendment 40A would require local authorities to distribute these local skills improvement plans to all schools that provide sixth-form education. The plans will be published by the Secretary of State and publicised to relevant bodies through appropriate communication channels. Obviously, designated employer representative bodies will have worked closely on the ground with the relevant providers, who should be aware of that. I have to say that, of the many criticisms the department has faced over the last 18 months, publicising guidance to the relevant people has not been one of them.
I hope that my remarks provide assurance to noble Lords on the approach we are taking to local skills improvement plans and access to them. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, will feel comfortable in withdrawing this amendment, and that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, will not feel the need to move his when it is reached.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Liddle that local authorities and devolved Administrations are best placed to deal with local skills planning. I reiterate to the Minister that, if a whole education system approach is not taken to local skills planning, the system will be disjointed and will not be efficient or the best use of public money. I welcome the Minister’s announcement of the trailblazers pilot; I look forward to reading the reports of the projects and, indeed, the early progress reports. Therefore, although the Minister has outlined an amount of detail, I remain somewhat unconvinced. I will wait to see whether that joined-up progress takes place. However, with the approval of the House, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendment 9 not moved.
I cannot call Amendment 10, as it is an amendment to Amendment 9.
Amendment 11 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 12. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
12: Clause 1, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
“(5A) Guidance issued by the Secretary of State under subsection (5) is to be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.” Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires guidance to be laid before Parliament as a negative instrument.
My Lords, it gives me pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, to the Dispatch Box for the first time in a Bill Committee. May I say how well she is looking? If we do indeed sit until midnight on two evenings next week, as has been suggested, that will be useful practice for her because, in a few weeks’ time, she will discover that you take sleep where and when you can get it.
I will speak to Amendments 12 and 24 in my name; my noble friend Lord Rooker added his name to Amendment 12. The former would simply ensure that the Government’s local skills improvement plan guidance could be scrutinised by Parliament in the lowest form of scrutiny we have: the negative procedure. This guidance, which relates to co-operation with an employer representative body and, crucially, the matters to which the Secretary of State might have regard in deciding whether to approve and publish a plan, would take immediate effect but would allow the House to debate it if it were so minded. That is especially important because, as many noble Lords have said, this is a skeleton Bill so the detail of much of what we are debating at this point is vague or subject to ongoing or forthcoming consultations. I understand that that is why Ministers are unable to circulate a draft of the guidance, which would have been very helpful for all of us. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure your Lordships that the draft will appear well in advance of Report and that those directly impacted will be able to develop and shape it. However, in the meantime, I suggest that this amendment is entirely reasonable and appropriate given that there has been no opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.
Amendment 24 is a probing amendment regarding the criteria for determining the boundaries of a local skills improvement plan area. Every area in the UK needs a mix of provisions specific to its local context, community and sub-economy, as well as reflecting national strategies. However, the Bill is not explicit in certain features of the LSIP, including what constitutes “local”. On day one of Committee, my noble friend Lord Knight used his personal experience in the west of England to point out issues associated with living, studying or working near a county boundary or, as in my noble friend’s case, in an area where three counties meet. English local administration is bedevilled by inconsistent boundaries. A cynic would say, probably rightly, that this is one way in which Whitehall prevents localities and regions building up any real local autonomy. Divide and rule is a long-standing tactic.
The Bill does not specify what constitutes a local area in terms of the geographic footprints of the new LSIPS. Indeed, employer representative bodies are being invited to define their own localities for the purpose of skills planning, and, even in places where a local authority or metropolitan combined authority forms a well-recognised functional economic area with a long history of collaboration, there is no suggestion, far less a guarantee, that new local skills improvement plan proposals will follow existing economic footprints.
We have all seen the confusion that different interpretations of what constitutes a local area have caused in relation to coronavirus “stay local” advice. To some extent, the Minister addressed the issue in her response to group one on day one, but I hope that her colleague will be able to confirm how this will be determined for a local skills improvement plan. Is it a local, city or county definition, or something else? Will all metropolitan combined authorities be classified automatically as an area for local skills improvement plan purposes? Will the local areas align with democratic accountabilities? What about existing regional strategies or those yet to be developed? Will directly elected mayors or their communities have a say in the demarcation of their LSIP area? Will they be able to challenge the Secretary of State if they disagree or believe that they would be better served by a different definition of an area? I am fairly confident that I know the answer to the last two of those questions, but I look forward to the Minister’s response to the various points that I have highlighted. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is not in the Chamber so I call the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
My Lords, I support this amendment. However, I would just like to say, with great respect to the noble Baroness, that she did not answer the question I asked her on the first amendment. Nor was it a great reassurance to me to be told that Cumbria has been chosen as one of the pilot areas and responsibility placed in the hands of the chamber of commerce. I will explain that in a moment because it is relevant to this amendment.
If you are to have an effective local body that represents private sector and public sector employer interests, first, it has to have a clarity of focus on a particular labour market and, secondly, it has to be broadly representative of the businesses in the area. The chamber of commerce in Cumbria, taking this as an example, does a lot of good work with SMEs. It does a lot of training. It basically finances itself through doing local training courses for junior and middle managers, I would say. However, it has absolutely no connection with our major employers in the county: Vickers in Barrow, or the nuclear industry in west Cumbria—that is 20,000 workers to start with. In the area that I represent in Cumbria, there is a firm called Innovia, although its ownership has changed, that makes plastic films and employs about 1,000 people in a small town, but again it has very little connection with the chamber of commerce. The same would be true of the big firms in Carlisle such as Pirelli, which manufactures tyres, and Carr’s, which is now part of a wider biscuit group. I do this little bit of local storytelling because I do not think that putting skills planning in the hands of a chamber of commerce will prove to be a satisfactory solution. I want to see an employer-led approach—I agree with that—but we need to think about how we make this work more deeply than it seems to me the Government have. The areas do have to be relevant.
That is all I have to say, although I could add one point. In 2010, the coalition Government abolished the regional development agencies on the basis that they were not sufficiently employer led and that they were too bureaucratic and covered too big an area. They replaced them with something called local enterprise partnerships. These were intended to be employer led. Initially, in Cumbria everybody said, “Good idea: let’s have the chamber of commerce being the main private sector representative.” Eventually—and this is not a party-political thing at all—it was recognised all round that this body did not actually represent the proper mix of big and small employers. We have a reasonably effective local enterprise partnership running, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—one of the great figures of Cumbria who was a Member of the European Parliament on two separate occasions for the north-west area. He has tremendous local credibility and does a very good job. The LEP has looked at skills and done a lot of work on skills. I hear no mention of what the Government intend to do with local enterprise partnerships. They seem to be too scared to say, or too unwilling to say. I do not know quite what is going on there. I have no confidence that the Government have a grip on this. On the principle that there should be a strong, employer-led presence in determining skills policy, I totally accept that. But I just do not think the Government have thought it through.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green. The noble Lord is not online, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley.
May I say to whoever’s job it is, it would be useful to have list of people who have withdrawn from speaking; it is really difficult to know when we are about to be called, but that is a different matter. I rise to support the amendments, particularly Amendment 24, and to agree with my noble friends Lord Watson and Lord Liddle.
I understand completely why the Minister and the Government want local voices to have a say in what the nature of the partnership should be. That absolutely makes sense. Our country is very rich in diversity, with urban areas, rural areas, clusters of villages and small towns. I can see that see that the same model for everyone might not work. If the starting point is trying to let local people feel that they have ownership of this, I can see that and I share that starting point. What I think is a recipe for disaster is not to offer any guidance and to explore with everybody exactly what the criteria might be to determine what the local partnerships are.
I am not sure whose job it is to propose what “local” means. Does it have to be negotiated locally? That could take some time. Anybody who has been to a constituency Boundary Commission review will know how tempers can rise when talking about anything that has a boundary. I am not sure who it is who comes up with the idea in the first place of what the local area is. I am not sure what the criteria are that they have been advised they should make their decision against. I am not quite sure of the process by which somebody somewhere says, “Yes, that local partnership is local and covering the right areas.” I am not sure what happens to any geographical area that no one wants and has not managed to get a place in any partnership. There are, very often, left-out areas. There will be some areas that are really popular, and everyone will want them in their area; there will be some that are really tough and challenging, and no one will want them. I am not sure how all that is to be sorted out.
What I would be looking for is to keep that idea of not forcing the same on everybody, but within a much stronger framework of guidance than we have at the moment and a clear idea of process. It puts me in mind of when, some years ago, the Government—I think it was the coalition Government actually—set out regional schools commissioners. They decided to have no regard to any existing boundaries. So, instead of following the local authority boundary or a government office boundary, they made it up as they went along. It was an utter disaster, and there were some poor people having to negotiate with more than one regional commissioner at any one time. All that happened was that bureaucracy flourished. With the number of hours that were spent by one local authority that had schools within two regional schools commissioner boundaries, it just was not a model to follow. The Government, very sensibly, got rid of it and, I think, made sure—I may be wrong about this—that it followed the government office regional boundaries. I may be wrong about that, but it certainly makes sense now, and I know we are not spending as much time trying to chase appropriate regional school commissioners.
Therefore, I cannot see any example of where this decide-it-yourself, let-us-see-what-happens, get-on-with-it model actually works. It might not be something people like but—to be honest—let us get on with the job. Let us not set up a system where we will spend hours fighting about the nature of the structure that delivers it, rather than using our resources, energy and effort on what should be delivered.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, has rather pre-empted some of what I intended to say in support of Amendment 24. I very much welcome the announcement of the first group of trailblazers. It is, of course, the intention that all areas of the country should, in due course, be covered by a local skills improvement plan. I very much agree with some of what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, have said about how we make sure the whole system works.
Now that the first employer representative bodies have been designated, and the local areas for which they are responsible defined, it will surely still be necessary for the Government to provide and update guidance on the criteria against which further bids will be evaluated, as required by this amendment and as we learn about the experience of that first group. There needs to be a broad package of guidance addressing all the issues that we have discussed so far in our debates. That is not just on how local areas should be organised to ensure there are no not-spots, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, but also on who should be involved in LSIPs, what their role should be, what resources are available to them, what reporting and monitoring is required and so on.
It remains rather difficult, at least for me, to assess the merits of LSIPs in the abstract. I was very taken by the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, last week that the Government might share one or two model LSIPs with us to help us in our scrutiny of the Bill. Will the Minister clarify as much as she can, in her response, what plans there are for guidance to be provided, not least in time for the next stage of our own debate?
My Lords, as already discussed, local skills improvement plans will be developed by employer representative bodies working closely with employers, providers and key stakeholders. Guidance to support the publication of the plans will not expand the scope of the legislation but will provide further detail on the process and best practice to support the development and delivery of LSIPs. That guidance will be developed in discussion with key stakeholders and informed by evaluation evidence from the trailblazers announced today and running into next year.
In response to Amendment 12, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, relating to whether guidance on LSIPs should be laid before Parliament and subject to the negative resolution procedure, it is common for this level of detail to be placed in guidance rather than in statutory instruments, so that it can be updated rapidly in response to emerging best practice and changing circumstances. I can also confirm that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not raise any concerns about this approach to guidance.
The noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Aberdare, and other noble Lords asked whether the draft guidance would be made available before Report. Because that guidance will be informed by the trailblazers, as announced today, which will run until 2022, I am afraid that guidance will not be available in advance of Report on the Bill. However, the point about the guidance being informed by the trailblazers brings us to the second amendment, on what is defined as local. We want to use those trailblazers—to learn from how they are working, to inform our approach to LSIPs and to address a number of the detailed questions that noble Lords asked.
Amendment 24 relates to publication of guidance setting out the criteria used to determine a specified area. The geography for local skills improvement plans will be based on functional economic areas and informed by evidence from the trailblazers. The specified area for a local skills improvement plan will be defined in the notice published by the Secretary of State on designation. In the trailblazers, we have allowed a certain amount of self-definition of “local area”. One of the things that we want to test and learn from in the process of the trailblazers is the best geography for plans, so we will be giving some flexibility in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, asked about the role of local enterprise partnerships. The Government are working with LEPs to refine the role of business engagement in the local economic strategy, including skills, and to ensure that these structures are fit for purpose for the future, including looking at the right geographies. We will consider this work alongside evidence from the trailblazers, where flexibility has been given on geography, before making final decisions about the specified areas that local skills improvement plans will cover. I reassure noble Lords that, as they have already heard from the Minister, every area will be covered by an LSIP and no area will be left out.
I hope the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has received sufficient reassurance to allow him to withdraw his amendment and not to move his second amendment when it is reached.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I was very taken by the comment by my noble friend Lady Morris about the ways in which local areas will be defined. She made an important point, which I confess I had not considered, about what will happen to areas she described as “tough and challenging”, which are perhaps not particularly in demand by the employer representative bodies. I hope that the Government will insist that employer representative bodies are properly representative not just of employers’ organisations but of their communities as well, to ensure that the potential problems that my noble friend Lady Morris mentioned will be headed off before they properly develop.
The noble Baroness, Lady Penn, said guidance will not expand the scope but will provide more detail, and I understand that. It is important that it can be updated, so I take the point. I have to say that she might have given a hostage to fortune by saying that the Government are not going to support the idea of a statutory footing because the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not recommend it. I am pleased to see that the Government will in future be abiding by the recommendations of that committee, and no doubt we will be coming back to them on other issues in the days and months ahead.
I would like to raise another point. Both noble Baronesses mentioned trailblazers. If I caught the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, correctly, she said that they had been announced today. Since she said that, I have tried to find out about that, and the best we can do is that they have been announced this afternoon. We are in debate this afternoon. Why were they not announced at the very least this morning—or yesterday or the day before? This is becoming a pattern. Yesterday we got some of the lifelong loan entitlement amendments from the Government, just a few days before they are due to be discussed in Committee next week. I have to say that the impression being created is that the Government are not on top of all this. Certainly, if the trail-blazers are going to have the influence that the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, said—I think the trailblazers are interesting and I want them to be successful—we should have had sight of them, so that all noble Lords could perhaps have referred to them in the debate to inform the points that we all wanted to make.
So I cannot say I am pleased with the Minister’s response—I am not surprised, either—but the Government need to bear in mind the points that I and other noble Lords have made. Some of them will certainly arise in future days in Committee and perhaps even on Report. But, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendments 13 and 14 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 15. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate. I must announce that we will move in this group from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle.
15: Clause 1, page 2, line 27, after “required” insert “by employers or potential students”
Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the employer representative body is required to have an understanding of skills that are required nationally, and that may be required by local potential students but may not yet be required by local businesses.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 33 and 85. All three amendments in this group address the same question of providing access for the local skills improvement organisation to clear and consistent information on skills that are required nationally. I am very grateful to my noble friend for announcing the trailblazers today and am delighted to see that I find myself living in one of them—which is three hours wide, and that is on a good day. It is really quite hard to see how an organisation will hold together a coherent view across the many businesses composed in a spread that wide. It is also hard to see, given the current make-up of the chamber, how it will have access to a deep skills base in areas where Sussex is not currently strong.
There are a lot of skills required in the City of London which are not well represented in Sussex, which is not one of the great centres of the IT industry. There are a lot of areas where it does extremely well, but it is hard to see how you can take an organisation such as the Sussex chamber of commerce, which does very well in trying to knit together the varied economic landscape across this very hard-to-travel region and turn it into something that knows everything about skills in the local area, let alone something that has a real grip on skills nationally, unless we are providing it with a strong source of information on the national picture that it can build into the foundations of what it is trying to achieve locally.
When we last met, my noble friend the Minister referred to the skills and productivity board, which was announced last September and launched in November, with a letter from the Secretary of State saying that within the next 12 months he hoped to have information from the board on what the national skills needs were, how that would change over the next 10 years and how we should be focusing on productivity growth. As of today, as far as I can find, the organisation has no website; it has not reached out to people to discuss these affairs, and the only activity that I can discover is a contract it put out for a scoping study to help it develop a functional skills taxonomy by the end of June. This does not feel like a body that is moving with pace. It certainly does not feel like it is going to get anywhere effective by the end of November.
Perhaps my noble friend can fill us in a bit more than the skills and productivity board has felt willing to do on where it has got to and why a body that is largely composed of professors will be able to fulfil the remit it has been given. It is crucial that the Government get this right, and I am not at all clear that they have.
My Lords, I support these amendments. This Bill is full of good intentions and starts with a lot of good will—people want it to succeed and the nation needs it to succeed—but it is becoming increasingly clear that the backbone, the foundations on which we can build other things, is just not there. It is missing.
I understand it is difficult to know what to put in legislation and what to develop as you go along. I understand that that balance is always difficult, but I think the Government are erring on the wrong side. Like almost all the amendments we have been considering today, this is another one asking for clarification of the Government’s role in setting a national skills strategy, and in particular—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has rightly brought up on previous occasions—their role in almost future-proofing the skills needs of the nation.
Local people might know what needs to be done to provide a skilled workforce for the present economy, but I am not sure they have got time to speculate on the what the economic and skills needs might be in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. That needs a broader discussion and I am left wondering again what the role of the Government will be in their relationship with the local skills plan. Surely the Government are not going to say, “Get on with it, regardless of what we have decided at national level”. The national skills strategy should be what our experts say the skills needs in the next couple of decades might be.
The Bill lacks a clear vision of what the structure is, and as long as that is the case, we will not make progress. I would sooner the Government gave us something that we can amend and debate and move forward with, but they are not giving us anything. The guidance is delayed; it is not there in the Bill. There is hardly anything to debate—it is like whistling in the wind and guessing what the Government might intend. On this amendment, I am not sure how all these different locally determined, local skills plans are meant to fit in to the national skills strategy.
I wholly support what my noble friend Lady Morris has said. There is an emphasis on local skills plans, but even if they are working well with good representation from across the board of employers, we are not certain in the Government’s plans how that will happen. So the first problem is whether these bodies will be representative. The second problem is whether they will have the capacity. My fear—which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—is that even if they are good at it, they will focus on present needs rather than future ones. In a rapidly evolving economy, with artificial intelligence changing everything in the next 10 or 20 years, our education and skills system has to have some leadership from the centre to indicate how education and skills needs are going to change.
There is nothing terribly socialist about this kind of idea. When it comes to government investment in research and innovation, we have elaborate national structures that look at what the key technologies are going to be and invest in what they decide are likely to be the key innovations of the future. If you are doing that with technology and science, do you not also have to think in those terms for education and skills? I find no evidence in this Bill that the Department for Education—I am not going to criticise Ministers—has that long-term vision.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 85 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Blackstone, to which I have added my name. Before doing so, I should say that I support Amendments 15 and 33 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lady Garden of Frognal. I agree with all the remarks that have been made to date in this group.
I do not often quote a former Conservative Education Secretary so I will take this opportunity to do so, not least because I am in complete agreement with what he says. In the debate last Tuesday, the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, asked:
“How can you fashion an education system if you have no idea what your national economy wants in the way of skilled workers?”—[Official Report, 6/7/21; col. 1236.]
I suppose it is a rhetorical question but it one against which there can be very little argument, particularly given the turmoil of the previous 16 months when the workplace has been turned on its head and changes to working practices that had appeared decades away happened, quite literally, overnight.
There is in addition the urgency of the transformative overhaul that we now know to be necessary to align all sectors of the economy to net-zero targets for carbon and our biodiversity goals. The green jobs task force, which was set up under the 10-point plan, published a report just yesterday—one of a raft of relevant government reports—which says:
“The conclusion reached by this assessment of the evidence is that, if the UK is to grasp the opportunities afforded by a green industrial revolution, we must develop a comprehensive and holistic view of the green jobs and skills challenge.”
A few paragraphs later the report recommends:
“A UK-wide body, including representation from national government and industry, should therefore be established to maintain momentum and coherence in the workforce transition, supported by action from local bodies.”
To me, that reads like a call for a national strategic skills audit, with a focus on aligning with our climate change and biodiversity targets. I think that Amendment 85 would meet that recommendation rather neatly. The purpose of the amendment is to create a structure for an expert panel to provide strategic, evidence-based advice on the skills that employers need now and in future, through a skills audit. It would allow the expert panel to assess economic, social and technical levers, and to disseminate high-quality information to key stakeholders. That in turn would allow all stakeholders, including learners and workers, to make well-informed decisions to support a robust green economic recovery, and would ensure that future skills and qualifications are aligned with the net-zero and nature-positive economy. Lastly, a three-yearly review would keep it up to date and relevant.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. Like her, I will speak briefly in support of Amendments 15 and 33 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal. I agree with the comment on those by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that the Bill still very much lacks a clear vision of the structure that we are trying to create.
I will speak mainly in favour of Amendment 85 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Blackstone and Lady Sheehan, noting that it has full cross-party and non-party support. Indeed, I would have added my name had there been space available to do so.
It is interesting that the last national skills audit was more than a decade ago but, even then, conservation and environmental protection officers were at the top of the list of a growing area of demand. Town planners were also high on the list. Since then, of course, austerity has hit local government extremely hard and, as we were discussing yesterday on the Environment Bill, they are not currently funded adequately to meet their existing responsibilities, let alone their upcoming responsibilities under the Bill, which has undoubtedly had an impact on the demand for jobs.
I note that this debate is particularly timely, given that it comes the day after the release of the Green Jobs Taskforce report, which does at least some of the job that the amendment proposes. Although it focuses purely on the climate emergency, not the biodiversity crisis or the way in which a systems approach shows how these problems link to many of the other issues in our society, it is also very much a report that reflects a business-as-usual-with-added-technology approach, failing to acknowledge the need for economic and social innovation and the skills that go with those. It talks about engineers and construction workers for offshore wind farms and nuclear plants, retrofitters for homes to make them energy-efficient and comfortable and car mechanics servicing electric vehicles and vans. There are many other jobs that we clearly need that are not covered by that.
With this Bill, I find myself thinking yet again that the narrow focus on jobs is a dangerous mistake. The amendment talks about a strategic audit, but what does the country actually need? Thinking of some examples off the top of my head, we need far more gardening skills for growing food and managing the home gardens that will be so crucial to our biodiversity and the survival and thriving of so many of our species. We need community-building skills for resilience and climate adaptation. I think of the city of Lancaster where, a few years ago, I chaired for the Green House think tank a session examining the experience of the disastrous floods there in 2015 and the community response. A training session based on what Lancaster learned the hard way for every community in this land would be a very good idea. For the kind of resilience that the future is going to demand of us—I point noble Lords to the tragic events happening in Germany as we speak—we clearly need community-building skills. The divisions in our society and the social issues that have come to the fore in recent weeks are real barriers to tackling the climate emergency and the nature crisis. Something else very practical that comes to mind is first aid. These are skills that we need for every community and just about every person in this land.
I am not sure that even this amendment is as broad as it needs to be, but it is a good start as an acknowledgment that we need our skills for jobs, at least, in many different areas and we need to think much more broadly in a systematic, comprehensive kind of way.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in support of Amendment 85 in particular, to which I have added my name.
We had a long debate on the first day of Committee about issues relating to the economy of the future, the new industrial landscape and the overwhelming need to ensure that workers have the skills necessary for the jobs of the future, and that workers who will have to transition from their current employment are given the opportunity to reskill in order to do so. In her response, the Minister was very helpful in assuring us of the Government’s recognition of those priorities, the important role that they will play in future and how they will need to form part of the background—if I can put it that way—to local skills improvement plans.
However, as many others have said already, we do not yet join up the dots in this Bill. We do not respond to the recommendations of the Green Jobs Taskforce, which were just highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, nor those of the Climate Change Committee, which in its recent progress report to Parliament recommended that the Government
“develop a strategy for a Net Zero workforce that ensures a just transition for workers transitioning from high-carbon to … climate-resilient jobs”
“integrates relevant skills into the UK’s education framework”.
We do not see the way in which that will be done; nor, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, do we see how we can ensure that local skills improvement plans look to the future, not just the present. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, we do not see how they fit in or how to ensure that national priorities are understood and integrated into those plans in locally relevant ways.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, spoke about the ecosystem for skills and post-16 education and training. I do not think that we can get the ecosystem right unless we ensure that the national priorities—they are accepted by the Government in the 10-point plan, in all their documentation and in the words of Ministers all the time—have a proper way of filtering down, not by framing it as “a man in Whitehall knows best” and dictating what happens at local level but by providing a coherent national framework in which the essentially local work that takes account of place, as we spoke about last week, can be undertaken.
I very much hope that the Minister will understand our need for mechanisms in the Bill to ensure that this national framework is clearly in place, and that it will support and underpin the work that is done at the local level.
My Lords, I support these three amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others. It is particularly important that the views and aspirations of individual learners should be taken account of by LSIPs, not least those who find that their ambitions cannot be met by existing employers or employment opportunities within their current environment or circumstances, and those who wish to start their own businesses. LSIPs need to be aware of opportunities relevant to wider national skills needs, as Amendment 33 requires.
I was very struck by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, last week on the views he had heard from unemployed young people. They may need specific personalised help and support to prepare themselves for work and get into the skills system at all after long periods of unemployment or, perhaps, no previous employment. This is most likely to be provided by independent training providers, often within the frame- work of schemes such as Kickstart, but it is not clear to me whether the Bill makes provision for funding such extra support; perhaps the Minister could say how she expects that need to be met.
I also share the view expressed by many noble Lords of the need for a national skills strategy to provide a clear and coherent framework for the education and skills system. The national strategic skills audit proposed by Amendment 85 would be an important part of developing such a strategy, and I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that the Government are planning something along those lines to underpin the new system which they intend to create and for which the Bill provides a framework.
I imagine that this may well be another part of the remit of the skills and productivity board, which the Minister has mentioned from time to time, so I found the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on his attempts to find out more about the board somewhat disturbing. I hope the Minister may be able to tell us more about that.
My Lords, as last week, I have added my name to Amendments 15 and 33 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I support his Amendment 85. He set out very clearly why those amendments are needed and, on the principle that I do not repeat things just because I have not yet said them, I will not go into detail on that. We have already explained why potential students should be taken into account.
Amendment 33 would add a clause to ensure that the employer representative body is required to be aware of skills in demand nationally which may not be in demand in the local area. If young people or adults are enthusiastic to learn skills which may not be available locally but are in demand elsewhere, it is really important that national demand should be recognised and skills training made available, even if the skills are not, or not yet, required locally. If a young person or adult is desperate to become a farrier or an aeronautical engineer but there is nothing in their locality, they should be enabled to follow their talents and interests. We must have a national picture of skills training and, if need be, there should be help with travel for those who want to pursue their skills out of area.
The amendments make it clear that skills needs and shortages must be seen in a national context, even if that means that those training need to move to find work. Again, let us never forget distance learning, which can be valuable in such times and has no barriers.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made the valid point that we must do some blue skies thinking about what will be needed in future, and Amendment 85 mentions medium and long-term national skills. Who would have thought two years ago that we would all have needed to become proficient in Teams and Zoom? It is quite a wonderful advance really, but I do not think anyone predicted it, and we must always respond to unpredictable events in future.
My noble friend Lady Sheehan has given our support to Amendment 85 in this group, because a national strategic skills audit would be an invaluable tool to assess how our skills shortages are being addressed, alongside the invaluable task of working towards net-zero future jobs. This need not be an excessively cumbersome or costly exercise, but having a body with an overview of skills is surely effective for jobs and training. I know that the Government are always reluctant to set up new bodies, but this one would have a co-ordinating role which could prove invaluable in generating skills in the right places. I hope that the Minister will see that this group of amendments is well worthy of government support.
My Lords, we welcome the amendments and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on reminding us of the bigger picture in skills development. Effectively, these amendments relate to the national skills strategy and seek to ensure that employers, colleges and universities adopt a far-sighted approach by planning to develop the skills and apprenticeships for the jobs of the future and, in doing so, help to shape a more secure and sustainable economy for the country. An employer representative body that did not follow that path should not last for long.
It is crucial that we maximise the power of the economy by delivering on genuine lifelong learning so that people can grasp the opportunity to reskill or upskill when they need it and as often as they need it. Equipping the workforce with new skills for the jobs of the future will help build job security, which in turn will bring sustainability and resilience back to the economy and public services, at the same time helping our high streets to reinvent themselves and, hopefully, begin to thrive again.
From green jobs in manufacturing electric vehicles and offshore wind turbines to fintech, digital media and film, there is a pressing need to grow modern industries to build a long-term economy that provides good-quality and well-paid jobs and is thus fit for the future I am sure that the Minister will be keen to tell noble Lords how the industrial decarbonisation strategy, launched earlier this year, would fit in to this future-proofing approach, which will be enhanced if the Government are willing to accept these modest but, I would say, important amendments. They are complemented by Amendment 85, which would require the Secretary of State to establish a panel to undertake a national strategic skills audit to be updated every three years. The Government's industrial decarbonisation strategy cannot exist in a vacuum. It must interact with the industrial strategy which, noble Lords may remember, was published in 2017, but seems to have been hidden in plain sight ever since, the green jobs task force, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred and the broader skills agenda into which the Bill will play.
In fairness to the Government—not something I am characterised by—the industrial strategy was indeed dusted down and updated as recently as January, setting out what are termed “grand challenges”, designed to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future and improving the country’s productivity.
That is all good, stirring stuff, and absolutely necessary because, as my noble friend Lord Knight highlighted last week, on our first day in Committee, we currently have a reactive skills system that is too often tortuously slow in responding to new demands, never mind anticipating them. A strategy formulated with an understanding of the need to embrace net-zero future jobs and skills would address that issue and, over time, could open up many more employment markets. I genuinely hope that that is a role that the industrial strategy will adopt, with a national skills strategy a key part of it.
My noble friend Lord Liddle rightly pointed to the lack of evidence that the Department for Education has a long-term vision. If there were one and it were cross-cutting in nature, a national skills strategy could benefit from a comprehensive assessment of our medium and long-term skills needs, with the goal of creating not simply secure employment but, in doing so, achieving the country’s climate change and biodiversity targets. I say to the Minister on these amendments: what is not to like?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for tabling these amendments. We completely agree with him and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that designated employer representative bodies should take into account evidence of future skills needs and national priorities as they develop their local skills improvement plan. Of course, much will be included in guidance, but each employer representative body will be expected to co-ordinate and collaborate with its neighbouring employer representative bodies in writing the local skills plan, and with others across England.
In relation to Amendment 15 and potential student needs, I draw noble Lords’ attention to Clause 1(6)(b), which many noble Lords mentioned. It states that a local skills improvement plan
“draws on the views of employers”.
I hope that that answers some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on what is expected of the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce in reaching out to the big employers that he mentioned. The clause also talks about
“skills, capabilities or expertise that are, or may in the future be, required”.
Although the approval process for the Secretary of State is about whether the relevant people have been consulted, as I outlined to noble Lords, the Bill states that the plan must look at the future. I obviously cannot comment on whether individual plans will pass or fail the Secretary of State’s test, but it is here in the Bill that a plan must look to the future. The future outlined is obviously the “potential students” that are mentioned in Amendment 15. They were the subject of much discussion on the first day of Committee. I remain of the view that, by being focused on the needs of employers, the LSIPs will also, by virtue of this, include the needs of potential students in relation to jobs in their areas. The vision that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to is found within the White Paper that we launched earlier this year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, I think, referred to other employment—it might relate to a skill that is needed for a neighbouring area. There is obviously the wider local needs duty under Clause 5. We are expecting that the trailblazer programmes will not only help to inform the guidance but help us to see how they engage with one another and the national skills priorities. The advice on national skills needs will clearly be part of the guidance. We have also previously discussed, both in this House and outside it, the role of the national Skills and Productivity Board, which will report later this year. This will enable each employer representative body to have access to its high-quality advice. The statutory guidance will highlight the types of evidence that they should have regard to.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made reference to the flexibility that people need nowadays in terms of skilling and reskilling. Of course, that will be part of what we discuss later in Committee in relation to the lifelong loan entitlement. A lot of the additional support for young people that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, mentioned is provided through Jobcentre Plus. People can sometimes be a bit sniffy about that, but what the work coaches are doing to make young people aware of the opportunities such as Kickstart is amazing. We have also given additional funding for apprenticeship starts in that group in particular and there has been an expansion of the traineeships. However, the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company obviously depend on the age of the person. We will also make those young people aware of that. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, mentioned the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, which, again, will be one of the national strategies that a good local skills improvement plan will look to.
Amendment 85 looks to set up a national strategic skills panel, particularly in relation to our targets on net zero and biodiversity. As mentioned, we have been busy in the department—we have launched the Green Jobs Taskforce, which I hope gives some reassurance to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Bennett, that we are looking at those recommendations now. The recommendations in relation to the response to the need for net zero and biodiversity were not just for government but also for business and the skills sector, as we extensively debated on day 1 of Committee.
On the points made by many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, there is a balance between a framework within a piece of legislation and having so much detail within it that the accusation can then be made, potentially rightly, that Whitehall is trying to fix all. There is a framework to try to set up the appropriate situation so that providers work with the employer representative bodies and that each local area works with the others and the national picture. I do not think that we should be more prescriptive than that. There is strategic development funding to deal with the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on the capacity for these areas.
I hope that I have reassured noble Lords and that my noble friend Lord Lucas will feel comfortable to withdraw his amendment and not press the others when they are reached.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her extensive reply and to other noble Lords for their supportive words on these amendments. I am afraid that I remain entirely unconvinced that the Government have a firm platform on which to go forward in this area. I hope that it may be possible to talk to the Minister and officials between now and Report. In the absence of some further clarification, I think that this is an area where we ought seriously to try to improve the Bill.
Listening to my noble friend, I think that there still seems to be an idea that the interests of local employers and local potential students are automatically aligned. This is a fundamental misconception: within a particular area, there are many skills where employment is not available in the quantities that might be required. Students require a much broader view of what their capacity and prospects are. People follow my noble friend Lord Tebbit’s advice and get on their bike and get around the country, particularly when they are young, and their view should not be restricted to what is available locally.
I am also not convinced by the picture that my noble friend paints of a whole collection of local skills improvement partnerships talking to each other. We are getting into the now-familiar territory of exponential growth, this time in emails and confusion, as these organisations try, in a collection of people that is far too large and diverse, to evolve some view on what the national skills need is, armed with a collection of reports of variable quality from different bits of government and other people. This needs drawing together to make it something that informs not only the local skills improvement partnership but government as a whole. We need a view on where our skills requirements are. That way, we can make an effort to do something about it.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, pointed out, these things change quickly. This is not intended to be a plan that we expect to be worked through but one that we expect to live with, but, unless you are looking a few years ahead, it is impossible to put in the provision that you will need. Unless we are looking nationally, we will find national shortages emerging, because large parts of the country, where these industries are not present, turn out not to contribute to the provision of employees in areas where we need them. I will of course withdraw the amendment, but I very much hope that, between now and Report, we can get to a rather better place.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendments 16 to 26 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 27. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate. Before I call the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I inform the House that the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Adonis, have withdrawn from speaking on this group. I ask those after them to be prepared for when they are called, please.
27: Clause 1, page 2, line 33, at end insert—
“(8) The Secretary of State must publish a response to the local skills improvement plans published by the local designated bodies across England.(9) The response must include—(a) a national skills map based on the skills needs identified in the local skills improvement plans, and(b) an action plan outlining how the Secretary of State will support local areas to address the skills needs in their area.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to ensure that there is not only a feeding in of national policy into local skills improvement plans, but also that local information and information about skills gaps is fed back into national policy making. This is to ensure that government can identify national skills shortages more easily and more quickly, and act accordingly.
My Lords, I am pleased to move Amendment 27, originally in the name of my noble friend Lord Patel, who is unable to be here this afternoon. He has kindly shared with me the points that he wished to make and I will make full use of them. I will also speak briefly to Amendment 30.
Amendment 27 aims to ensure that, in addition to national policy feeding into local skills improvement plans, local information about skills gaps and local skills challenges is also fed back into national policy-making. Real-time labour market data, as well as insights into what is happening locally around education and skills options for young people and those wanting to retrain, is vitally important to ensure that the Secretary of State and his department have the insights and evidence needed to make strategic national decisions about education and skills policy.
I hope the Minister can give us some more clarity about how the LSIPs proposed in the Bill will feed into the work of the DfE and BEIS to develop a strategic approach to addressing the skills gaps on a national level. How will information within LSIPs help shape and inform national industrial policy? How will the Government use the reforms in the Bill to identify and respond to regional skills needs important to the overall strategic goals of the UK, such as specialised engineering skills?
Several proposed amendments to this Bill aim to ensure that LSIPs will take account of national strategies and policy—as they should—but what is missing is a feedback loop from the local to the national, which is what this amendment seeks to achieve. Local skills improvement plans have the potential to provide rich insights into what is going on locally around the skills businesses need and the difficulties they may or may not have in accessing them locally. They should, one hopes, provide insights into how local areas will address any skills shortages and how effective these measures prove to be in the long run.
Local skills improvement plans will provide detail and data that should enable the Government to get a much better picture of the skills situation in this country and allow them to map out where there are potential issues. This will foster an understanding of whether particular skills gaps are localised, and therefore need to be addressed locally, or whether there is a pattern across the country that may require national policy interventions in addition to local action.
This amendment is asking the Government to provide a response to the LSIPs as a whole, including a skills map and an action plan. This is surely a reasonable proposal that can only help to further the Government’s ambitions around productivity and joined-up thinking. Ensuring that there is a functioning feedback loop from national to local and from local to national will enable government, both local and national, to identify and address skills shortages more easily and quicker.
Turning to Amendment 30, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which I also support, I am rather surprised that it should be needed at all and that the publication of LSIPs is not already in the Bill. Every LSIP needs to be available, not only to all interested parties in the education and skills system within the area it covers, as specified in the amendment—particularly providers of careers guidance—but also more widely, both so that others can learn from different approaches being taken and as input to national skills policy-making.
Apart from the essential publication of the LSIPs, as in the amendment, there needs to be a process for regular progress and performance reporting, not least to promote the sharing of experience and good practice, as well as for monitoring and accountability purposes. This is yet another element of the framework that is not clear. It is not clear if that feedback loop is going to be there, what sort of performance monitoring is going to be in place, and what happens if LSIPs do not reach the standard one might hope from them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I find myself in a difficult situation with these amendments. I listened carefully to the Minister responding to the last group of amendments, and I feel that she was right: a lot of what noble Lords are rightly concerned about ought to appear in the guidance. I do not want the Bill to be overly complicated, with every prescriptive concern, but I do want an assurance from the Minister that the guidance will address some of the valid points made by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and others.
While I have the Floor, I am concerned about the view that, somehow, employers will not be looking ahead. That is not my experience of dealing with employers. They are concerned; they have had to look ahead. Like hanging, the pandemic has concentrated their minds wonderfully, but it was also happening beforehand. Look at all the work in establishing new standards, where employers are involved; they are taking into account their future skills needs and that new green skills will be required.
The Minister was right to remind us about the vitally important work that jobcentre coaches are doing. I would not say that I am absolutely satisfied they have got all of that right, but they are on the right track to ensuring that young people are aware of the skills that they will need in a job market that is changing significantly. We know what some of these are already; we know they need a reasonable standard of maths, English and digital skills—they are absolutely essential. Some of them are fully equipped, certainly on the digital skills front, while others will need some extra assistance and training. The Minister referred to lifelong learning, and we also have traineeships and Kickstart, so there are a number of things the Government are providing. Is everything working absolutely right? No, there are things that I believe—as I have said in a previous debate —need reform, and the apprenticeship levy is one.
I urge the House to be wary of trying to load up the Bill with every single detail. The Minister was right when she said that there is a role for guidance. If there needs to be a reference within the Bill to the fact that some of these points will be covered in the guidance, that is all well and good. I attach a lot of importance to the guidance.
I do not share the pessimism of some that this is a badly framed Bill that will not involve local people as it should. Of course we are going to go through a learning curve, as the participants in creating the local skills improvement plans develop the technique of doing this. What the Government should do on a national level is encourage best practice, looking at examples of where it has been done really well and passing that kind of information on. I suspect I may be in the minority here, but it is no bad thing to have a range of views. I hope that, when the Minister responds, she will take into account the points I have made—she has also made them before—about the balance of what is in guidance and what needs to be in the Bill.
My Lords, we should all take notice of what my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green says on these matters. He has vast experience in this area, as a trade union official and as a Minister in the field in the last Labour Government, so I would not dismiss a word of what he says. However, I think he is being a little overgenerous about this Bill, which seems very vague in some of its key points.
We support—certainly I do, and I think my Front Bench does—the principle of a lifelong learning entitlement and reform to our qualifications structure to allow modules. That is a very important reform. We support a stronger role for employers in determining skills. All of that is fine at the level of high principle. The question is how this is going to work in practice. I still have very severe doubts about that. Here we are talking about the role of the Secretary of State in relation to the plans that are produced locally. Can the Minister tell us precisely what that role is going to be, because it relates to these amendments?
I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say in last week’s Committee, and I think that she said that the role of the Secretary of State was not to comment on the substance but to verify the process. What does that mean? Does it mean that the Secretary of State will not interfere with the judgments that have been made about what skills to prioritise? Is it simply the Secretary of State checking that a proper consultation has been carried out among employers in the area, checking that all the known facts have been gathered and assessed and that a thorough job of work has been done, and then giving it a tick or saying “You need to do your homework a bit better”? What actually is the role of the Secretary of State in relation to these local plans? The amendments that have been proposed try to give that question an answer. I am not sure that they have got it right perfectly, but they try to give that question an answer—but I greatly look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I support Amendment 27 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Aberdare, and Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie. These amendments stress the need for local and national co-ordination and place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that local and national skills needs are both involved in national policy planning, which is surely only common sense if the country is to address skills shortages, of which we know there are many, and provide a functioning feedback loop, as the noble Lord said. It is also important that this information should be readily available to all the educational bodies involved in skills training. Like the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I find it surprising that this is not already in place.
I wholly support the information being available to schools from the age of 11. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, touched on this in an earlier amendment. But, as we know, 11 is really too late to start careers advice, which needs to begin at primary level, where young people, particularly those whose skills are more practical than academic, can begin to see pathways for progression and to have some confidence in their future. I can understand why the provision in this amendment may not extend to primary schools, but we must never overlook the very young in these discussions.
The local skills improvement plans should be given to all those who work with the education and training of the future workforce. They should certainly be on websites, but steps should also be taken to ensure that these providers actually access them and that everyone within their organisation is aware of them. There is little point in assembling all the information if learners are blissfully aware that it exists. So, for the moment, the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is definitely a step forward.
Amendment 30 requires that the Secretary of State must publish LSIPs and distribute them to schools and all post-16 education providers. However, there is little point in having a plan if no one is aware of its contents. Yet, despite the requirements for providers to have regard to LSIPs, the Bill is silent on how LSIPs will be published or disseminated. I know that the Minister responded that a model LSIP can be provided, but this amendment seeks a much wider and co-ordinated task. Does the Minister intend, as the amendment suggests, for the DfE to take responsibility for this? Does she agree that publishing all local skills improvement plans will allow for areas to draw on each other’s strategies? That would be particularly helpful for a complementary regional approach and would promote best practice. Or does she envisage that such responsibility will fall to ERBs? If so, can she advise whether they will have the resources and a dedicated budget for such a responsibility?
Perhaps the Government believe that the onus should be on providers themselves to track down where LSIPs have been published. If so, where should they look—to the chamber of commerce, or local authority websites? How does that fit with the lack of role of local authorities and mayoral combined authorities in the process? I hope that she can assure the House that there is indeed a plan for publication and distribution, and I further reiterate my noble friend Lord Liddle’s probing question around the role of the Secretary of State in relation to local plans.
I also speak in support of Amendment 27 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, which requires the Secretary of State to publish a response to each LSIP, including an action plan for how they will support areas to address their skills need. I agree with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, about where the strategies approach will be developed, using LSIPs to feed into national strategies and creating the feedback loop that is so essential. It is very important, given that LSIPs will need to be responsive to national level strategies, and given the Secretary of State’s powers to intervene if they believe that providers are failing to adhere to LSIPs or not meeting local needs, as seen through the lens of local employers.
I further understand that the notion and definition of “local” has been much discussed during the passage of this Bill already—but I respectfully point out that it continues to be raised by noble Lords because of the still undefined nature of the link between local and national priorities. When I entered local government almost 20 years ago, I was reminded that all politics is local, and I came to recognise that most assuredly throughout my tenure. I would further add that local knowledge and experience is invaluable in feeding into the national strategic overview.
My Lords, I am grateful to be able to speak to this group of amendments relating to publication and response to local skills improvement plans. We expect them to be an important resource to inform decision-making by local providers, stakeholders and national policymakers.
On publication, in Clause 1(7) it is clear that a local skills improvement plan means one that has been
“approved and published by the Secretary of State”.
I presume that that will be on GOV.UK. I cannot prescribe that, but I do not think that we need to go into any further detail in relation to that, or to put such matters in the Bill. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Young, about what we do and do not put in a Bill and what goes into statutory instruments—and then, of course, what is published in guidance.
Amendment 27 talks about how local skills improvement plans can inform national policy on skills. As outlined previously, we expect the plans to be informed by, and in turn inform, national skills priorities highlighted by the Skills and Productivity Board. This is envisaged to be a two-way relationship. In relation to the collaboration between employer representative bodies and the co-ordination point, which has been quite a theme throughout a number of amendments, the Secretary of State can set terms and conditions for the employer representative body and, should it be necessary, they can be used to mandate in the approval that they collaborate—but, obviously, one would hope that that will not be necessary.
On the point from the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I hope that the trailblazers will reveal whether his doubts will materialise about whether the appropriate national skills priorities are taken into account.
On the approval process by the Secretary of State, it is not about the Secretary of State second-guessing the priorities and actions agreed by local areas but about ensuring that a robust process has been followed. In Clause 3, there are provisions that enable the Secretary of State to remove the designation if he sees fit: if terms and conditions have been broken, if the body is no longer impartial or reasonably representative or if it does not have regard to the guidance. Of course, when one talks about process, one normally thinks about judicial review—but, if a plan says that we are going to invest in coal mining in an area, for example, there might be a case for such a priority that is way outside. But it is a process that he will be looking at; he will not be second-guessing the choices and priorities decided by the employer representative body.
As I have said, we expect the LSIPs to complement the funding system reforms outlined in the Skills for Jobs White Paper. The consultation that I mentioned was launched today, aiming to give providers more autonomy to use government funding to meet the skills needs of local employers, including those articulated in LSIPs. We expect these plans to be a relevant factor for the Secretary of State to consider when making decisions about funding and support for local areas. Again, implicit in that is a co-ordination point as well.
Turning to Amendment 30, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, concerning the publication and distribution of LSIPs, I have mentioned Clause 1(7). The ERBs will lead the development of the plans, and the Secretary of State will approve and publish them. Obviously, if they are defective, there is the remedy I outlined for the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. They will be published on a website to ensure that relevant bodies across England can easily find and access them, and this will be publicised through appropriate communication channels. The department has good relationships with stakeholders, as I say.
I hope that my remarks in relation to these amendments have provided some reassurance to noble Lords. One noble Lord who requested a meeting—it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—in relation to these matters. Of course, I am happy to engage with any noble Lord to give further detail outside of Committee. I hope to be able to report to the House on the progress of the trailblazers, but they are not due to conclude until March 2022. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment and that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, will not feel the need to move his when it is reached.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and the Minister for her response. This is a Bill whose aims I strongly support. It is absolutely focused in the right direction, and it has lots of great ideas in it. My occasional frustration is that I do not quite see how it is going to work in various aspects that have been raised by a number of noble Lords. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, that it may well make sense to answer a lot of these points in the guidance rather than in the Bill itself, but we do not have the guidance and we do not know what is going to be in it so all we can do is say “We want this to be dealt with somewhere” and keep asking how it is all going to work in practice. Having said all that, I live in considerable hope and expectation, and I am happy to withdraw my noble friend’s amendment.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
Amendments 28 and 29 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 30 not moved.
Clause 2: Designation of employer representative bodies
Amendments 31 to 38 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clauses 3 and 4 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 39. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate. As I did in the last group, I point out that the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Baker of Dorking and Lord Liddle, have all withdrawn from this group. I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
39: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of apprenticeship levy
The Secretary of State may request a review of the apprenticeship levy in respect of eligible costs definitions, in order to ensure that the funding required for the delivery of local skills improvement plans is optimised and reflects employers’ needs.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to create flexibility in the eligible use of employers’ apprenticeship levy funds.
My Lords, in speaking on this bit of the Bill and this amendment, I feel like the reserve coming in to fill in for somebody else as my noble friend Lord Storey initially had his name down. When I see that the other co-signatories are here, I am reasonably sure that the team will do the job.
The apprenticeship levy sounds right. It is the idea that if you have a turnover of, I believe, more than £3 million, you will pay into a training levy—apprenticeships through a training levy might have been better in the first place—then you will get something out of it. However, it has never really taken off. We do not really know what it is for or what it is getting in. Of late, we have had a decline in the number of apprenticeships, yet you are still having to pay in. There have been lots of other issues here, such as— although the loophole has been filled—the fact that MBAs have been studied on the money from the apprenticeship levy. Can we have a look at what this is really for? Does it need redefining? Does it need a new level of focus? That is what is behind this amendment. How can we make sure that it is functional and does what we think it was supposed to do? If we actually know that, we will get more encouragement for it and will keep it going forward.
Before I go any further, I want to point out that the Treasury gets money that is not spent at the time. If it is training money, we should make sure that it goes somewhere that trains. Hopefully we will examine questions here, such as would level 1 and 2 activity be taken on here? Should it be for the under-25s if it is supposed to be about youth training? Can we get these things out? Can the Minister, in her reply, let us know exactly what the Government think the future of this institution is? At the moment, it is danger of becoming something faintly ridiculous that is not quite achieving what we think it should. The people are having to look for a way to get the best out of it and get a focus. We could actually use this money to support colleges and institutions in delivering the right type of structure, especially locally, under the course of this Bill.
I hope that, by the end of this discussion, we will have started to find out a little more about the Government’s direction and the use of this very useful pot of money, because if you really want to make this a tax on businesses with turnovers of more than £3 million, let us just call it a tax. Let us take the money back and put it into colleges in the normal way. There really is not any point in having this label on this institution if it does not function. If we are going to have an effective training levy, taking out apprenticeships might be the best start for it, so that you are not actually tied to that, and doing something else with it. I hope that, by the end of this debate, we will have a clearer idea of the future direction of this because this really is starting to damage the idea of apprenticeships more than it actually helps. I beg to move.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green. No? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
My Lords, it is an unexpected pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Addington, with his straight talking. I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Storey, in introducing a greater degree of flexibility in the use of employers apprenticeship levy funds.
I am particularly glad to see the involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who brings practical experience of what works from running a training business and of the red tape—my words, not his—of complying with regulatory conditions, which I fear this Bill increases too much. The backdrop to all this is a dramatic fall in apprenticeship numbers in recent years—exactly the opposite of what we wanted and promised to achieve. A great deal of effort has been put into improving the quality and level of apprenticeships but I fear that, perversely, this has excluded many who would have benefited from the discipline and recognition of a successful apprenticeship, for example in my old industry of retail. However, my noble friend the Minister may have a better explanation for the decline and be able to reassure us that the fall has come to an end.
I was at the birth of the apprenticeship levy as the Minister who took the legislation, the child of Nick Boles, through our House. As noble Lords may have sensed earlier, I am passionate about apprenticeships, which were beginning to be a lost art, but I did have some carefully disguised doubts about the design of the arrangements for administering the levy. The system is a bureaucratic one and was led by education, rather than employers, so bigger employers paid a substantial levy. This often came off their existing training budgets; they were then unable to fix their training into the mould laid down by the Civil Service, so the levy ended up as a tax.
Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can explain why things are better now. In particular, where a company has surplus levy credits, can these be allocated to their supply chain or pledged to other companies without the levy payer having to become responsible in any way for the training in that other firm? That requirement was a real barrier to good practice and spreading the levy into the supply chain. What is the current cap on the new arrangements in percentage or other terms? Has the inevitable move to digital made the system more efficient, with fewer requirements to keep unnecessary records for inspection and more trust in employers to lead and train their apprentices? Or have more requirements been laid down in the digital world because, in theory, it is so very easy?
Amendment 39 seems to suggest that the levy funds could be diverted in other ways, which I might be more concerned about if it led to pressure for a rise in the levy. Companies can ill afford a levy increase at present, especially those whose training budgets have been hit hard by Covid. Before we reach Report, I would like to understand better what is planned for apprenticeships. Apprenticeships provide a passport to mobility from one job to a better one. They provide a route to advancement to people who do not need or want to go to university and incur debt doing so. If we could massively increase their numbers and their status on the German model, that would contribute to happiness and to growth.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I suspect that her knowledge of apprenticeships is far greater than mine and I appreciate her remarks. I also strongly agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said at the beginning of this debate.
I have added my name to this important amendment because apprenticeships need to be an integral part of the new skills and education system which the Government are rightly seeking to create. They are employer-led and job-focused, and they cover all levels, from GCSEs up to degree level. Through the levy, they provide a mechanism whereby employers contribute to the cost of skills training—where, at times, they have been less than forthcoming.
However, as we have heard, there is a widespread recognition that the levy is not working as well as it should. Relatively few employers are able to use more than a small proportion of their levy funds. Even for major employers in the energy and utilities sector, it is only just over 50%. So, to maximise the funding they can recoup, they tend to use a high proportion of the funds for apprenticeships that are about upskilling or reskilling existing employees, rather than taking on or training new, young apprentices. This is perfectly understandable and, of course, reskilling and upskilling are good things to do—but the result is that the number of 16 to 25 year-old apprentices has not grown nearly as much as the number of over-25s. Although there are mechanisms for employers to transfer up to 25% of their levy funds to other employers who can use them, the process seems overcomplicated and take-up has been pretty low.
At the same time as levy payers are unable to use all their levy funds—with much of the unused funding going back to the Treasury—there appears to be a shortage of apprenticeship funding for non-levy payers. So the impact of the levy on the total funding available for skills training has been rather less than might have been hoped. It is not even clear whether the total amount of funding going into apprenticeships is significantly greater than before the levy was introduced.
The word that crops up most often in discussions with employers about the levy is “inflexible”. As I have said, apprenticeships will surely be a significant element of LSIPs and they need to be properly integrated. I have felt for some time that it would make sense to recast the apprenticeship levy as a wider skills levy—perhaps with a lower payment threshold to bring more employers into the net of contributing towards training. But, at least, if employers in an LSIP area are not able to use all their levy funds, why should it not be possible for those funds to be used for other, defined LSIP training priorities? In any case, what is needed is a review of the apprenticeship levy system in the light of experience to date. It must be clear how it relates to the wider post-16 education and skills system, as set out in the White Paper and now in this Bill.
Amendment 39 does no more than encourage the Secretary of State to conduct such a review. In my view, that is the answer to the argument that it does not belong in this Bill. Well, it does belong in this Bill—it is fundamental to it—and the review is to ensure that levy funds are used in a way that is integrated with the priorities of local skills plans and properly reflects employers’ needs. Of course, such a review must not reduce the amount of funding available for the apprenticeships that are so badly needed. It should seek to maximise the funding available from the levy and to optimise its use in pursuing local and national skills priorities. I look forward to the Minister telling us how this will be achieved—but the review proposed by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, would be a very good place to start.
We will go back to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, to see whether he wishes to participate.
Thank you, my Lords. I apologise that, on the previous occasion, I committed the offence of forgetting to unmute.
I am aware—as are many other noble Lords—of the deficiencies of the apprenticeship levy. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, almost said, we should be careful before we throw the baby out with the bathwater. It has done a lot of good. It has focused employers’ minds on the importance of apprenticeships. We have an Institute for Apprenticeships which is involving employers in creating new standards. I agree with the noble Baroness who said that there was a need for reform. But a consultative process is going on. I ought to have declared my interest as a national apprenticeship ambassador.
Employers already have the ability to use apprenticeship levy money to support not just supply chain companies but other companies outside their supply chain, and there has been a better take-up of that. Indeed, the Government have made more of the apprenticeship levy available. My concern at the moment is that, if we are really looking for growth in apprenticeships, this needs to be in the area of small and medium enterprises, especially in small and micro companies. Those companies frequently complain that the administration is too complicated, and that they find it a burden. We should bear in mind that many are saying, “Look, I’m struggling just to keep my business afloat and now you want me to take on an apprentice”. My response is to be understanding We need to work on helping them to remove some of that administrative and basic training burden. I also say to them, “Look, having a young person whose digital skills might be a lot more advanced than yours can often be of benefit to your company”.
I agree that some of the apprenticeship levy money has been spent in the wrong place. My concern is the 16 to 18 group, where the levels of youth unemployment are exceedingly high. I have already acknowledged the work of the job coaches, but more needs to be done on that front. So I am in favour of reform of the apprenticeship levy. I do not think that we should call it something else. We are just beginning to see a much better understanding by both parents and potential apprentices of the value of apprenticeships. I was interested in a recent development. UCAS, which used to be the clearing house just for those interested in going to university, has now opened another portal where people will be made aware of apprenticeship routes and vacancies. So reform is needed, but I still think that the basic concept is right. There are always areas where things could be improved, perhaps including the role of the Institute for Apprentices.
The apprenticeship levy is a bit like the curate’s egg—good in parts. I think the Government are aware of that, which is why there is a consultative process. I welcome the opportunity for the Committee to have this debate.
My Lords, this seems to be our only opportunity, in considering the Bill, to mention the words “apprenticeship” and “levy” in the same sentence. We should utter these words sotto voce because, at Second Reading, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, made it very clear that the levy was beyond the scope of the Bill. That is not the fault of the noble Baroness, of course, but speeches by several noble Lords at Second Reading, which have been reinforced today, demonstrated that I am not alone in finding it rather perplexing that the levy does not merit a mention in the Bill. This is despite the fact that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education—which develops and approves apprenticeships and technical qualifications with employers—is quite prominent in clauses that we shall consider in later debates on the Bill.
Apprenticeships are key to ensuring that Britain is equipped with a well-skilled workforce in the years ahead. The levy scheme—which we have supported in principle—has yet to produce anything like the effects hoped for and required. So, while I am happy to support the intent of this amendment—and understand the reasoning behind it on the basis of what the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said in introducing it—I urge caution at this stage with regard to the levy and using its funds for any purpose other than apprenticeships. In that, I think I am reflecting the comments which my noble friend Lord Young has just made.
In a briefing for noble Lords, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers pointed out that, prior to the pandemic, the levy was heading towards an overspend on apprenticeships. It quoted the National Audit Office report and the subsequent Public Accounts Committee hearing and suggested that should the expected economic recovery, much trumpeted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, come to pass, that danger might return.
I am a bit confused. We believe that the levy should be rebalanced to ensure that more apprenticeship opportunities are available for young people, and at entry levels. A stand-alone budget for non-levy-paying SMEs is also needed. My confusion comes from what we know about the levy in its second two-year term—and we know it because of a reply on 24 May by the Minister, Gillian Keegan, to a Written Question from the shadow Apprenticeships Minister Toby Perkins MP. We know from that reply that between May 2019 and April 2021 there was an underspend of £2.1 billion, according to the Government. I know that the Government do not use the term “underspend”; they prefer to call them “expired funds”. What Ministers do not say is what happens to those expired funds: do they simply return to the black hole that is the Treasury? How much went to the small companies that do not pay the levy? Like my noble friend Lord Young, my main concern is small and medium-sized enterprises, where there is a need for a stand-alone budget, as I have said. That must be considered alongside the review mentioned in the amendment.
In small towns, SMEs are the main source of employment and, if they do not receive funds, the availability of apprenticeships in those sorts of areas will be very limited. This should be part of the levelling-up agenda, we believe. The Government talk a lot about that but are yet to deliver on it. We believe that the apprenticeship levy needs more time to grow and that employers, especially non-levy-paying employers, should make greater use of it. As I said, while supporting the intent of Amendment 39, we believe that, at this stage, to consider spending levy funds on anything other than apprenticeships is probably premature.
My Lords, now that I have de-masked myself, I will first make two remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Watson. In my enthusiasm to start my speaking role on this Bill, I did not thank him for his kind words in welcoming me to the Dispatch Box. I also acknowledge completely his point about the timing of various announcements and the need to ensure that noble Lords have as much information as possible to help them to scrutinise proposals for this Bill. We will endeavour to do our best in that regard.
I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for giving us, on behalf of his noble friend, the opportunity to discuss apprenticeships, which are at the heart of the Government’s skills ambitions. As we recover from the impact of Covid-19, apprenticeships are more important than ever in helping businesses to recruit the right people and to develop the skills that they need.
I hope that noble Lords will allow me a little time to outline a few principles of the apprenticeship levy and its funding, as that will respond to some of the points made in this debate. The funds available to levy-paying employers through their apprenticeship service accounts can be used for apprenticeship training or assessment in their own businesses, or transferred to other employers. They are not the same, however, as the Department for Education’s annual apprenticeships budget.
While those unspent funds, therefore, expire from the employer’s accounts after two years, the broader funding contributes to the budget set by the Department for Education, according to its rules, and funds other costs associated with apprenticeships. This includes training and assessment for apprenticeships for employers that do and do not pay the levy, the cost of English and maths tuition and additional payments to support young apprenticeships—as I heard from noble Lords, those are a priority—and those with additional learning support needs.
On Amendment 39, I reassure noble Lords that we keep apprenticeship funding policy under review. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Aberdare, among others, that a key principle of the apprenticeship levy is that we should only pay for apprenticeship training and assessment costs from the apprenticeship budget, as apprenticeships deliver a significant return on investment from the public purse, rather than using the levy to fund wider skills training needs.
We have an ambitious agenda for apprenticeships and we have made huge strides forward with the apprenticeship reforms, but we cannot and will not stop here. We want to grow the programme, drive up quality and improve apprenticeships, to the benefit of all employers and ultimately the economy, through increased skills and jobs. While widening the scope of the apprenticeships budget to pay for other costs or skills training, even for a time-limited period, would not be in line with the Government’s aims for the programme, I hope that noble Lords who have raised questions about how it currently operates will be reassured by some of the improvements that we are making to make it easier for employers to use and to encourage take-up by potential apprentices.
We continue to listen to employers and to adapt apprenticeships to better meet their needs. Work is under way on a package of improvements that respond directly to employer feedback, so that employers can make better use of their apprenticeship funds.
First, we are introducing a new service that will make it easier for employers that pay the apprenticeship levy to transfer funds in their accounts to other employers, including smaller employers. Large employers will be able to pledge funds for transfer and other employers will be able to receive these funds, so that both will benefit from those transfers. In response to a question from, I think, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, the lead employer that is transferring those funds will not retain any responsibility for the provision of training after the transfer. It is not an additional burden on them.
Secondly, we are helping employers to choose more innovative training models, such as front-loaded training and accelerated apprenticeships, which will help apprentices with relevant skills and experience to complete their training more quickly. Finally, we are supporting sectors of the economy that have more flexible working patterns, such as the creative industries. We will shortly launch a £7 million fund to help organisations in England to set up and expand new flexi-job apprenticeship schemes.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked about the funding available for apprenticeships. In 2021-22, the funding available for investment in apprenticeships in England is almost £2.5 billion. That is double what was spent in 2010-11. We have increased the investment available for apprenticeships.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked about the aims of the apprenticeships programme and its direction of travel. Our reforms to the programme have all been focused on making them longer and better, with more off-the-job training and proper assessment at the end. Many pre-reform apprenticeships were of low quality and involved little or no training. That is what we have aimed to change.
We know, however, that there is more work to be done and, in addition to the reforms that I have mentioned that will make it easier for employers to take up their levy funds, we have introduced new incentives for those employers, particularly during the pandemic, to take on new apprentices. Until the end of March those incentive payments were £1,500 for those aged 25 and over and £2,000 for those under 25—71,140 incentive payments were paid up to that date. We have increased the incentive to £3,000 and that remains in place until 30 September.
I hope that noble Lords take some reassurance from what I have outlined that we remain committed to the apprenticeship programme. While we do not agree with diverting apprenticeship funding to other forms of skills training, we acknowledge the need to continue to review and adapt the apprenticeship programme so that there is better take-up and it works better for employers and those who will potentially benefit from it. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, feels able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister so I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to conclude the debate on this amendment.
I have a quick question for clarification. I think what the Minister is saying is that she wants quality of apprenticeships, not quantity—for example, that level 2 apprenticeships are a thing of the past. I was saying that I am rather sorry about that, but I would like to be clear, either now or before Report, exactly what the direction of travel is on the lower grades. I completely support those doing level 6 including even the stonemasons , but I think that there is a place, especially among youngsters—those between 16 and 23 years old—whom we are trying to get to do apprenticeships, to do something perhaps a bit less sophisticated that brings discipline and the sense of attainment that apprenticeships can bring.
My Lords, I believe the Government are aiming for quality and quantity when it comes to apprenticeships. On the noble Baroness’s specific question about lower-level apprenticeships, I will ensure that I write to her with that specific information before Report.
My Lords, this has been one of those slightly odd debates. One thing that we have established is that it is complicated—“We are not quite sure what it should do; we think it is quite a good thing, so please do not get rid of it now.” That certainly seemed to be the attitude of the Labour Party. They may be right about that, but at the moment there is a great deal of scepticism about whether this actually delivers. The intentions are good, but that is the thing that paves the way to hell. Can we please just make sure that we get a little more clarity on this? Whether it is worth returning to on Report, I will have to have a word with my noble friend Lord Storey after he has read this debate.
I felt, listening to the first part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that with a bit of tweaking you would get to a classic sketch about bureaucracy in some lofty TV show of my youth when people were being clever. Because it is complicated, but there is an intention behind it. The noble Baroness replied, “Yes, but we are trying to do things.” There was a lack of clarity here and focus at the heart of this. We should keep an eye on this, because if it continues to bring itself into disrepute, it may well be doing more harm than good. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
Amendments 40 and 40A not moved.
My Lords, we now move to the group beginning with Amendment 41. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
Clause 5: Institutions in England within the further education sector: local needs
41: Clause 5, page 5, line 33, leave out “from time to time” and insert “regularly”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to make sure that the needs of students and potential students are regularly considered and reviewed in decision-making.
My Lords, I almost feel that the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield—indeed, as we discovered in a debate in this House, my noble kinsman Lord Lingfield—should be the one opening this debate, because he has the more substantive amendment. Having said that, I think that I know better than to try to put words in his mouth.
My Amendment 41 concerns a part of the Bill that says, and I think it is best if I quote it, although I am beginning to wish I had put my glasses on:
“The governing body of an institution in England within the further education sector must … from time to time review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs”.
I tabled the amendment because I do not know what “from time to time” means. I have absolutely no idea what “from time to time” means. Does it mean once a decade? Every six months? I have absolutely no idea.
This is a small point that starts before the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, comes in. Put simply, I would like to know what the Government think “from time to time” means. Does it have a timeframe on it, or is it something that will be inspired by events—for instance, if you lose an employer or another one is coming in? Are they having a look at what the needs are in these situations? That is really what we are trying to get at. If we can establish that, then we will be able to assess whether further action should be taken on this. Because the fact of the matter is that it is basically a recipe for confusion at the moment, if you are looking in from the outside. However, I hope that the noble Lord does not take this as a criticism of his amendment, which uses the same wording.
I remind the House of my interests yet again in special educational needs. If you get special educational needs wrong, you are effectively cutting out X number of people from training. It becomes very difficult to train them properly if you do not take this into account and you do not have the training processes in place that allow you to reach those students. To look just at the neurodiverse conditions—dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, et cetera—they all have different learning patterns, and these are patterns that apply differently to different subjects.
For instance, “Dyslexia does not affect maths.” Yes, it does, because you have a bad short-term memory, which means that you do not remember things like equations. I know this—I have the maths retakes to prove it. Dyscalculia is probably not officially recognised by the Government, but it is one where you have a difficulty with the concept of maths. If you know how to deal with this in your structures, and if you have people who can address this in the way they are working, life gets easier. Other conditions have other things—there are various gradings when it comes to autism and other things such as learning difficulties, et cetera. It is a very complicated structure. If you can learn if you have spikes in certain groups and communities going through, I personally feel that you should always try to find out exactly what you are dealing with. It is a very straightforward thing, but one that has very big implications. You are talking about slightly changing the way you deliver lessons, with flexibility, I suspect.
I do not know whether my noble kinsman thinks that this is exactly the same thing that he is implying, but I look forward to finding out. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 43, 44, 45 and 46 and, in doing so, remind noble Lords of my registered interest as chairman of the Chartered Institution for Further Education, which is a growing Russell-type group of the most distinguished FE colleges in the country.
Briefly, this amendment adds a requirement for institutions to review, from time to time, how well they are meeting the special educational needs of students in their areas. I read the guidance published after I put down my amendment, and it makes a short reference to special educational needs and disabilities, as did the Minister, my noble friend Lady Berridge, in her reply at the end of Second Reading.
The role of further education colleges in developing SEND provision is central to ensuring that those who have the most significant barriers to learning improve their life chances and are given the opportunity to develop new skills, establish independence and contribute to the local economy.
The parents of special needs students find that the best further education colleges provide their sons and daughters with safe, productive and supportive environments in which they can have confidence. I have been struck by the readiness of FE student bodies to welcome special needs colleagues and to extend friendship and help to them.
The best colleges are very good also at progressing special needs and disabled learners into employment. These institutions encourage close co-operation with local employers to provide work experience opportunities for SEND learners, often by supported internships.
All these young people gradually become less reliant on local support services and acquire an ongoing sense of achievement and self-esteem. Many develop a special level of expertise in certain vocational areas and are welcome additions to the local workforces in their areas.
In the past few years, far more companies have become more sensitive to the needs of disabled employees. There is no regulation in this country that requires the employment of a quota of staff with special needs, as there is in certain European countries, but I know a number of firms that have made the gratifying effort to ask colleges to steer disabled students in their direction.
We tend to think of FE students with some kind of special needs as being in a very small minority. Last week, I received the statistics from four excellent colleges in various parts of the country. They support the figures quoted briefly on Second Reading of around 20% of students requiring special support, rising to 25% of those under 19 years old.
For far too long, further education has been, as my noble friend Lady Berridge underlined earlier this afternoon, the Cinderella of this country’s education service, underfunded and often neglected as it has been. Too much of its provision has become mediocre today. If that were not so, this Bill would not have been necessary. The Government have woken up, at last, to the fact that high-quality vocational education is absolutely essential to our country’s competitive performance in a post-Brexit world, and all this is very welcome indeed.
However, too many colleges have still to improve, and as special needs and disabled students’ numbers are visibly on the increase, the regular legal requirement for review of the needs of SEND students becomes even more needed. With such a considerable proportion of the FE student population in this category, it is clear that we owe them a special duty of care. It is my view that the face of the Bill should reflect this in the way my amendments make apparent.
My Lords, the next three speakers—the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Young of Norwood Green and Lord Liddle—have all withdrawn from the debate, so I call the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
My Lords, I first need to declare my interest as chair of the National Society. I should also apologise that I was unable to take part in Second Reading because of other engagements; my noble friend the Bishop of Leeds spoke in my stead. I also need to apologise for a complete error on my part in not being available to speak to Amendment 11, to which my name was added, during day one of Committee; that was entirely an administrative error at my end.
However, I now enter into the debate on a very small matter, on Amendment 41, on which I simply want to endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about the phrase “from time to time”. The language seems too loose. The word “regularly” implies something more frequent without expressing exactly what that regularity is. Put simply, regular review that connects with potential changing local needs makes good sense. The amendment simply tightens this up.
But I want to connect Amendment 41 to Amendment 43. My local college, Bishop Auckland College, which is an excellent example of FE provision, in reviewing the support for SEN in its own context, also found itself reviewing the wider provision for the students with SEN who were coming into the college. That led it to recognise that there was a serious gap in provision locally, which has led it further to now open a campus for a school specialising in special educational needs support for those who need the provision of a specific school with all the facilities provided. That means that the local FE has now added to the provision in the area. It also means that it has developed, or is developing now, a much longer-term vision for support for these students. It will see them through their secondary education and then into the FE itself. There are potentially all sorts of long-term advantages, I believe, for some of the students in this provision.
I think that Amendment 43 makes complete sense, as the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, has so helpfully outlined. I wish to add my support to both Amendments 41 and 43.
My Lords, my role in this group is really to add support to my noble friend Lord Addington, who knows more than I ever will about special educational needs. He and the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, are a formidable team for these amendments. Obviously, these two noble kinsmen disagree on the use of “from time to time”, but that is not as important as the fact that they call for reviews to take place on these matters.
What matters is that colleges should be fully aware of the skills, talents and opportunities, but also the limitations, of those with special educational needs. As I said previously in this debate, FE does lend itself to those with SEN because of the breadth of practical subjects that can be studied. I hope the Minister will appreciate how important it is to have those with SEN on the face of the Bill.
My Lords, I am sure I am not alone in finding that there are times when I come across something that makes me look at it and look at it again and think, “Well, that’s stating the blindingly obvious.” That was my thought when I read Clause 5(1), which says:
“The governing body of an institution in England within the further education sector must—
(a) from time to time review how well the education or training provided by the institution meets local needs, and
(b) in light of that review, consider what action the institution might take (alone or in conjunction with action taken by one or more other educational institutions) in order to meet those needs better.”
Certainly, any principal or governor of an FE college reading that would have reacted with genuine astonishment, along the lines of: “Wow, that’s a great idea—why didn’t I think of that?” Actually, any principal or governor of an FE college would have reacted with astonishment, probably with language that might politely be described as “unparliamentary”.
I am not going to claim that every one of more than 200 FE colleges in England are faultless in how they go about their business or in the quality of their teaching. They employ around 120,000 full-time equivalent people and have a key role in developing career opportunities, enhancing skills, creating future leaders, transforming lives and serving businesses.
Not satisfied with having dug themselves into a hole in the form of Clause 5, the Government and the DfE then managed to dig even deeper with their attempt at an explanation for this clause in the Bill’s policy summary notes. On page 11, they ask themselves the question: “Why is legislation needed?” They answer their own question:
“Creating a statutory duty will ensure that aligning provision with local needs is a priority for the governing body of the relevant providers, alongside their other statutory duties, and strengthens accountability for this aspect of their performance.”
I have read that two or three times, and it always reads, to me, like gobbledegook.
I do not really see the point of Clause 5. But to whatever extent some colleges might be run to a higher standard—of course we are not denying that there are several cases where that is true—do noble Lords really believe that those colleges do not “from time to time” review how well the education or training they provide meets local needs, and then follow that process by considering what action the institution might take to meet those needs? That is a fairly safe assumption. For the Government, or whoever drafted this clause, to feel the need to include such wording in the Bill suggests that they have a very poor understanding of how FE colleges operate, and an even poorer appreciation of the value of the education and training that colleges provide as a benefit to their local community. I hope the Minister will use her remarks at the end of this group to tell me in no uncertain terms that such a suggestion is entirely mistaken, while demonstrating why that is the case.
On the amendments in this group, I might have been tempted to say something similar to the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Lingfield, because neither provided evidence to support their implicit contention that, in general, the needs of students and potential students are not regularly considered and reviewed in decision-making, as set out in their explanatory statement. However, I know and accept that that was not their intention and not what they meant, and I aim no criticism in their direction.
Amendment 43 is of course more specific, highlighting the needs of students or potential students with special educational needs in their local area. That is indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, outlined in moving this group, a very real issue, albeit one that colleges should neither require legislation to alert them to nor to make them take the necessary steps to make their institutions as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
In summation, Clause 5 is in itself unnecessary and adds nothing worthwhile to the Bill. But on the assumption that it will remain, Amendment 43 is important and should be supported, even if only to ensure that all colleges reach the level of support for SEN students that those students and their families have a right to expect.
My Lords, Clause 5 places a duty on governing bodies of institutions within the further education sector to periodically review their provision against local needs and to consider changes that might improve the way that those needs are met. Regular reviews of provision should be a key part of strategic curriculum planning within every college, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, pointed out. As well as reflecting the priorities set out in any local skills improvement plan, the reviews should cover the whole of the education and training offer and the needs of both current and future learners.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that this clause is not introduced with the intention of second-guessing practices that already take place within local providers or their value. But by placing a legal duty requiring reviews to be published, Clause 5 strengthens transparency and accountability around decisions on provision that are vital for local communities.
I turn first to Amendment 41, from the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I welcome the opportunity to respond to the points he made on clarifying the timing of reviews, including their frequency and regularity. In the draft statutory guidance—which we have been able to produce for this clause and which supports the new duty proposed in Clause 5—we set out the principle that reviews should be timely and undertaken at least once every three years. The term “from time to time” is often used in legislation, and can have the advantage that it can accommodate reviews that may, for very good reason, take place at different intervals and therefore could not, strictly speaking, be described as “regular”. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, himself asked whether you could have more frequent reviews or a review at a different point, perhaps in response to changing local needs or circumstances, and so “from time to time” is aimed at allowing for such circumstances.
I hope that there is a broad level of agreement across the Committee around the importance of reviews taking place on a timely basis, and that my explanation of the Government’s approach and the contents of the draft statutory guidance provide some reassurance that the proposals in Clause 5 will achieve that goal.
On Amendments 43 to 46 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lingfield, I completely agree with his remarks on the importance of provision for students with special educational needs, including those with an education, health and care plan. Provision for these students is an integral part of the education and training provided by an institution. Again, the draft statutory guidance published by the department makes clear that the review should include consideration of the needs of learners with SEND, including those with education, health and care plans, when governing bodies are considering the needs of different groups of learners locally. The existing statutory obligations on colleges relating to SEND, including the public sector equality duty, are a key reference point for the governing body when carrying out the review.
Colleges and other FE sector institutions already do fantastic work for students with SEND, and that provision is an integral part of the education and training that colleges offer. For that reason, we consider it essential that it is considered as part of any review of their wider provision, rather than through a separate or parallel exercise. To re-emphasise, in reviewing the college’s education and training provision under Clause 5, the governing body must do this in a way that is consistent with its existing statutory obligations in relation to SEND, and that is underlined in the draft statutory guidance supporting the review.
I hope that I have provided some clarity to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the use of the term “from time to time”, and he will feel able to withdraw his amendment, and sufficient reassurance to my noble friend Lord Lingfield that he will not move his amendments when they are reached.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her reply. I understand the Government’s views. I particularly thank my noble friend and kinsman Lord Addington for his support. He is one of the House’s experts in the area of special needs and always worth listening to. However, it is a sad fact that not all further education colleges and suppliers of further education are up to the level of the very best ones, and a regular review, clearly required by the Act instead of being hidden in guidance and regulation, would be an important incentive to those that are mediocre to improve their offering to these vulnerable young people. I hope that my noble friend might think again, and I hope to return to this at the next stage of the Bill, but I shall not press my amendments.
My Lords, I think we are in agreement on the importance of special educational needs being included in the reviews undertaken by providers. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked what the point of the provision of this clause is. The regular production and publication of these reviews might enable noble Lords and others to hold colleges more easily to account on how they have taken on that guidance, which is clear that the special educational needs of students have to be taken into account, and how they have taken that on in the conduct of their own reviews. I am sure that many colleges do an excellent job in that respect, but the additional transparency of having these reviews produced and published on a regular basis will aid in that job.
My Lords, I have now received a second request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green. No? I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to conclude this debate.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. My probing amendment got the reply, “Yes, we actually know what it means: it’s in the guidance”. If it had been put on the face of the Bill, I would not have asked. So, there we are.
As I have said, the more substantive amendment was from the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield. We should have a look at this. As we started speaking, we both went to different groups in that very big group that has special educational needs. As the Minister will accept, that means you have two different sets of needs, or different groups that have a variety of needs that interlock and overlap. It is a very difficult thing you are expecting an institution to do to meet all of those needs. It is not easy. If it was, we would not be banging on about it. It is difficult. The Minister said that they have to have a plan. I shudder every time I hear that, because most disabled youngsters do not have a plan. Most do not have parents who can fight to get one for them, or they have very severe needs, which are dealt with.
People who have a moderate difficulty and who may well, with a little bit of help, find a place in training, are the group we are worrying about here. Certainly, I am, and I think my noble kinsman is talking about the same thing as well. We need to have more clarity on this. It is a way in to giving a better description of what is supposed to be done, so that everybody knows. The Minister should listen to her noble friend; some colleges are not as good as the best. Aspiring to get there is what they should be doing. I agree that we should look at this again on Report, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendments 42 to 46 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
We now move to the group beginning with Amendment 47. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 6: Functions of the Institute: oversight etc
47: Clause 6, page 6, line 9, leave out subsection (2)
Member’s explanatory statement
This is a probing amendment to test what level or type of education or training will fall within the Institute’s remit.
My Lords, I think it fair to say that more than a little concern has been expressed about the role of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in relation to qualifications. We seek to address that through the amendments in this group.
Turning first to Amendment 47, at present, education and training is currently within the institute’s remit if the training is or may be provided
“in the course of an approved English apprenticeship … for the purposes of an approved technical education qualification, or … for the purposes of approved steps towards occupational competence.”
The Bill proposes to add a fourth category to this list to enable a person to
“enter work within a published occupation (whether in the course of training of otherwise).”
However, it is not clear what level or type of education or training it is intended to capture. Can the Minister confirm that, essentially, this decision will be left in the hands of IfATE in publishing a list?
Amendments 48 and 49 require IfATE
“to report to the Secretary of State”
and for that report to be laid before Parliament. This is important for both ministerial and parliamentary oversight and scrutiny. The arguments are rehearsed regularly on Bills in Committee and I do not propose to rehearse them here, but accountability is really what is at issue here.
Amendment 55 is a probing amendment regarding IfATE’s new powers to implement fees and charges for the cost of technical qualification approval. The Bill’s impact assessment says that by giving
“the Institute powers that could allow it to charge for approval and to manage proliferation, we will ensure that the future qualification landscape is clear and straightforward for users to understand … This will avoid a return to the proliferation identified in previous assessments of the technical qualifications market.”
The Government’s impact assessment also admits that this will add significant extra cost to the awarding and FE sector. It states: “we would expect” awarding organisations
“to face more of these costs upfront, as initially”
“will have to resubmit the majority of non-defunded qualifications.”
Can the Minister provide more detail about exactly how the charging regime is expected to work? What consideration has been given to the adverse impact it may have, particularly on niche providers of qualifications that may, in future, withdraw from occupational markets because the business case for investment is simply too prohibitive.
Amendment 56 would extend the IfATE consultation processes. As drafted, the Bill requires IfATE to first consult with the Secretary of State before a decision to create or end a moratorium can be taken. This enables the Secretary of State to retain close control over the institute’s use of this power and, in effect, means it will only use it once it has first had the Secretary of State’s approval. We have concerns that this duty does not apply to any other interested parties whose views should be considered by IfATE before a decision is taken. This is why we also support Amendment 54, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which requires IfATE to publicly consult and to have
“the consent of employer representative bodies”
before removing qualifications.
Amendment 57 is a probing amendment that addresses the possibility of non-IfATE-approved courses being defunded. The Bill gives IfATE additional powers to approve technical education qualifications, but it is not clear what will happen to non-apprenticeship vocational and technical qualifications that are offered by awarding organisations and are currently recognised by Ofqual. There is understandable concern in the sector that those qualifications have to be approved by the institute in order to attract government funding. It is also not clear what will happen to those qualifications in cases where there will then be approved qualifications in the same occupational pathway. Will those qualifications, in effect, not be allowed or be defunded if they are not approved by IfATE? This issue is at the heart of Amendment 51, in the name of my noble friend Lord Blunkett, which seeks to limit IfATE’s powers to remove a qualification purely because of duplication.
Can the Minister confirm whether non-IfATE-approved courses will be defunded or not permitted to operate in the market? Will there be pressure from government to recognise or endorse those qualifications that the institute has approved? If so, in accordance with the Government’s desire to address proliferation in the sector, where that exists, does the Minister accept that awarding organisations, or significant parts of an awarding organisation’s business, might disappear? What impact will this have on widening participation and the
“diversity of qualifications to meets the needs of all learners”,
as per my noble friend’s Lord Blunkett’s Amendment 53?
Amendment 58 limits IfATE’s approval powers to T-levels and apprenticeships outside of England. The Federation of Awarding Bodies is concerned that as drafted, Clause 8, on international availability, may allow a public body such as IfATE to manipulate which technical qualifications are exported globally through its accreditation process. This clause is in contrast to Ofqual’s powers, in which there is no expressed statement about regulated qualifications being offered outside of England. It is therefore not clear what Clause A2IB would entail in practice. There are concerns that it may end up creating more competition for other vocational and technical qualifications that are offered internationally.
Amendment 50 removes provisions for IfATE to approve technical qualifications. The Bill gives the institute, a non-departmental public body directly accountable to Ministers, the ultimate sign-off power for the approval and regulation of technical qualifications in future. We are concerned that handing back day-to-day political control of technical qualification regulation directly to Ministers via the institute would undermine the independent status of Ofqual and risk creating a cumbersome new dual regulatory approval system. We believe that Ofqual should remain the sole body with sign-off powers, via a single statutory approvals gateway, regulating and accrediting all technical qualifications in future. That would maintain a clear line of responsibility and accountability to Parliament for all qualifications intended for public regulation outside universities in England.
In conclusion, as with much of this Bill, there is a tendency to give more powers to the centre, that is to say, to Ministers. That impacts on the operation of IfATE and Ofqual and, potentially at least, creates confusion. These amendments, we believe, would bring clarity and consistency. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 47A requires that:
“In performing its functions in relation to technical education qualifications, the Institute must have regard to apprenticeships policy, including any future reform of the apprenticeships levy, in order to promote growth in apprenticeships opportunities.”
I believe that for many years, as a country and an economy, we have overextended educational qualifications and we have certainly underaddressed colleges. I hope that this Bill will be the catalyst that puts those things right. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, had to say today. I view it as disappointing and shameful that the number of young people taking apprenticeships is now down to 160,000 in a year, and the Government have a tax revenue from the apprenticeship levy of £2.1 billion per annum.
Alignment on apprenticeship policy is needed urgently. This will be the third Bill extending the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s remit—the first created it in 2016 and the second extended it to T-levels in 2017—but there is still a complex four-way relationship between DfE, covering oversight, funding, intervention and the provider side; Ofqual and qualification regulation; Ofsted, the inspector of the provider side; and the IfATE and the development of programmes and their regulation. The Government should set out their approach to the apprenticeship levy alongside this wider skills agenda.
If the apprenticeship programme is to function successfully, it needs to remodel itself, with the offer of secure ongoing employment to apprentices upon successful completion of their programme, training and studies. This would be along the lines of the support and training offered when selecting officer recruits into the services. They are appointed in advance of taking up university courses and are supported through their degrees on the basis that, post qualifying, they devote a minimum number of years’ work to those who have sponsored them. Effectively, for an apprentice, this system could mean guaranteed support through study, with guaranteed work at the end. Similarly, the employers get exactly what they want in terms of skills and, equally importantly, a real return on their investment.
I hear employers are becoming increasingly dissatisfied at paying the apprenticeship levy without any guarantee of securing suitable training staff. This is particularly so in the context of niche, high-end skills, since apprenticeship programmes are designed to suit the masses. What works in terms of the necessary skills base for an employee at Wimpey Homes will not work for a high-end and very exclusive building company that requires not just a standard brickie but a true craftsman. Approaching apprenticeships in the way outlined above, in a bullet point, would go some way to addressing this concern. SMEs in particular have an understandably jaundiced view of apprenticeships, where they have often been left to pick up apprenticeship unpaid training plans.
Community adult education is a key part of the post-16 education landscape, supporting many adult learners to progress towards qualifications or into work and bringing many social and economic benefits. This is not prominent in the Bill as drafted or the White Paper which preceded it. There is a risk that some of the key objectives of the Bill, such as supporting adults to obtain level 3 qualifications, may not be fully recognised unless community adult learning is supported as well. It provides the stepping-stone for many adult learners returning to education and training.
There is a profound need to put right the balance between universities and colleges and to revive successfully the principle of apprenticeship. I hope that this Bill will be a major force towards achieving these things.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendments 51 and 53 in my name, my job has been made a great deal easier by the very comprehensive and thorough introduction by my noble friend Lord Watson. I echo all that he had to say, including my support for Amendment 54 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who will follow my contribution.
Before speaking to Amendments 51 and 53, I just say that I welcome today the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s step back regarding clawing back resources from colleges. I hope it will do so again with those residential colleges which are so crucial to what the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has just spoken about in terms of adult education and the ladder of opportunity. Reducing or clawing back their funding would be a very major mistake. I hope the Minister might be prepared to write to me about that.
I want to deal with the issue of defunding on the one hand and overlap, or duplication, on the other. It arises, of course, from what has become a rather sterile debate about whether A-levels and T-levels are the qualification of choice at level 3—by the way, “qualification of choice” is the term constantly used by the department both in written material and in responses. I just pose this question to the Minister: choice for whom? If there is not a choice, you do not have one. If, as was originally mooted following the report by Lord Sainsbury, we were going to have two tramlines running alongside each other and no opportunity for anyone else, whether walking or riding, to carry forward along the same road to qualification and success, we would have been in really deep trouble. As an ambassador for further education, I am pleased that there has been some movement, including on the back of the consultation and the Government’s report yesterday. There is great ambiguity, however, and it would be very useful—if we are going to avoid having to move and carry amendments on Report—if the Minister would be prepared to go back to the Department for Education to get a much clearer understanding, and therefore clarification, on what we are talking about.
At Second Reading—I will not tediously repeat what I said—I illustrated my own experience of being able to take a vocational qualification which also had elements that allowed me to take A-levels in the evening. I saw no problem—in fact, I saw a massive advantage— in having a vocational qualification and academic qualifications at the same time, and it stood me in very good stead. It is true that industry or occupational standards are absolutely crucial, but too narrow an occupational standard, which defines what is to be funded and therefore seen as a success in a way that applies solely to a very current application in industry or commerce, would be a very grave mistake. Therefore, my appeal is that, if we do not want to have to move amendments on Report, we must get these matters clarified, both the issue of overlap or duplication and the issues around defunding, which have been addressed so ably by my noble friend already.
We must also listen not only to those who already have the Government’s ear but to those who often do not, out there in the sticks. For instance, it has been put to me—and I would be very interested in having this refuted—that in the development of T-level engineering, we do not so far have a perspective on electrical engineering. This is a remarkable situation, given that the whole move in engineering is towards that area, not least because of climate change and all its knock-on effects. I would be very happy to be contradicted, but I have had it from very good sources that we are nowhere near down that line that I referred to earlier—the very narrow line—in providing that option.
My obsession is yes, to have A-levels and T-levels as an important standard, but anyone who thinks that we should do away with BTEC national diplomas has not been in a factory or a workplace for a very long time, if at all. My experience goes back quite a long way to my time in the department in 1997 to 2001. We had some brilliant people—there are some extremely able people in the department now—struggling to do the job. However, I did not find too many who had been anywhere near the factories I went into in my constituency in Sheffield at that time. You cannot beat knowing what you are talking about because of hands-on experience. Let us try to clarify this; otherwise I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, along with my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who spoke eloquently at Second Reading on these matters, will join forces.
I will speak to Amendment 54 in my name. I reflect some of the concerns that have already been expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Blunkett. It goes back to the very significant powers being provided to IfATE in the Bill, especially the simple and stark statement:
“The Institute may withdraw approval of a technical education qualification.”
I understand the need for that power. I would not justify every technical qualification currently in existence, but it is a significant power and I think we all want to know how it will be exercised and under what constraints. My anxiety is that power may be exercised in a way that does not serve the long-term interests of the economy or individual learners. For example, the Government have invested a lot in T-levels. I very much hope that T-levels will succeed. However, it would be tempting, if T-levels were not quite achieving lift off at the speed that was hoped. to close down the alternatives in order to drive people, not through personal choice, into T-levels. That would be very regrettable.
We also know that the Government believe in trying to divide young people into the sheep and the goats—the two routes. They are either going for a qualification that leads directly to skilled employment or one that leads to further study. Sadly, life is not that tidy, nor is the modern economy. There are enormous overlaps between the paths and there are qualifications that straddle that divide of which the BTEC—already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—is a conspicuous example. It would be a great pity if BTECs lost out simply because they have an employment value as well as being accepted by universities.
I say to Ministers that expecting young people to give up on the option of university if they go for T-levels seems to me the wrong way of trying to promote them. In reality, young people do not want to close off their options. Of course they have a subsequent decision to take, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Flight, that they must have vocational options in apprenticeships, but expecting them to take a course that explicitly makes that impossible for them will not improve and encourage the take-up of T-levels.
Finally, we have to think of employers. Those of us who are veterans of these education and skills debates know how frustrated employers are by frequent changes in qualifications and frequent changes in the systems. Some qualifications, such as BTECs, have gradually achieved acceptance over decades. Employers are familiar with them and it would be very dangerous for IfATE simply to defund them when employers have become familiar with them and trust them.
All my amendment really does is ask the Minister to set out a process of consultation to be followed. The Minister has on several occasions during this Committee stage—and I commend her on what she has been saying—made it very clear how keen she is on a role for employer representative bodies. Would it not be a natural, logical result of the Government’s own approach that employer representative bodies should be consulted before IfATE exercises the powers that are being given to it?
I hope that as well as the designated employer representative bodies, the public consultation might also involve others, such as LEPs. I am not totally clear why LEPs appear to have fallen out of favour; they have a good understanding of the local economy and would be an obvious group to consult. There are also colleges—it is noticeable how the Association of Colleges has expressed some of its concerns about these powers—and students, whose choices we must trust. I very much hope that the Minister will accept that these powers need to be used in a way that reflects the needs of employers and the choices and preferences of individuals and that therefore the framework for consultation is entirely consistent with the underlying philosophy which she has been expounding.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendment that my noble friend Lord Willetts has just spoken to and the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, concerning T-levels. This gives us an opportunity to discuss T-levels, probably for the first time.
The Bill gives the Institute for Apprenticeships far too great a power in that it can decide, without any constraints, to abolish a qualification. In the past, this has lain with Ministers. Some Ministers have used it in a very absolute way and done it without consultation, while some have consulted. The power to cancel qualifications was probably seen best in Michael Gove when he abolished all technical qualifications in 2012, which determined the curriculum of all schools thereafter. It determined the basis of EBacc and Progress 8. The cancellation of qualifications is a very important political, as well as an educational, issue.
The Government are now promoting T-levels as the technical qualification at 18. I do not think they will ever abolish A-levels because no T-level that has been announced so far has been required to guarantee A-level maths as the level of maths at that level. There will be many engineering and manufacturing companies that will still require someone who is 18 to have passed A-level maths.
The practice under which T-levels has been established is that each subject has to be 20% practical and 80% academic. That is quite a small element for a technical qualification. At university technical colleges, students from 14 to 16 do 40% practical and 60% academic. When they become 16, they do 60% practical and 40% academic because by that time they will have mastered a series of tools and machinery—drilling machinery, turning machinery, lasers and all the very complicated equipment of engineering companies. They will have also learned to make things with their hands doing projects. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, asked whether the engineering T-level will give students that degree of experience at 18. It seems highly unlikely that it will not.
There is a digital T-level. We are trying to make it work in UTCs, and we are still experimenting with it. Once again, the general feeling is that it is very academically based with far too much concentration on coding and not digital skills, which are much wider than coding and relate to things such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and robotics. T-levels will succeed only if they are accepted by two groups: universities at one end and industry at the other.
For decades, industry has been accustomed to BTECs. Engineering and manufacturing companies up and down the country know exactly what they will get for a BTEC qualification or a BTEC extended diploma. In fact, the extended diploma is so important that it is one of the two subjects that industry requires to be provided to appoint an advanced or higher apprenticeship. Two qualifications are needed: A-level in maths, physics or chemistry and a BTEC extended diploma. This means that employers know that the students whom they employ will have had wide experience of using tools and machinery, making and designing things and problem solving. I have no idea whether that can be provided by the T-level engineering, but, if it is only 20% technical, I would have thought that the chances are slender.
My other point is that, technical qualifications have to be very wide, not narrow; they are not as narrow as academic qualifications. Over the years, industry has recognised their quality. The bedding in of T-levels will take some time. Not only universities but also businesses will have to see whether they are in fact providing the degree of technical expertise that they require. That will take some years to establish. Therefore, I hope that we have less talk of abolishing BTECs early on in order to give preference to T-levels before people really know what constitutes a successful T-level and what does not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Young, have both withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
My Lords it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, who has done so much to keep the candle burning for technical and vocational education through many difficult times. This group on the role of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is one of the most important and it has widened out in discussion.
In considering these amendments, I would like to understand more about the leadership of the institute and its level of independence from the department. I would like to know the extent of business representation, which has barely had a mention in that context, and understand any plans to change its governance or composition as the Government’s very welcome new emphasis on skills and post-16 education takes shape. How does it compare to the set-up in Germany, Switzerland or Austria? My concern is that it is much less employer-based and flexible than the arrangements that I have encountered there, but I would of course be happy to be proved wrong.
Is small business, the backbone of British innovation, properly involved? I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on the importance of encouraging small business apprenticeships. Will there be a culture of simplicity and speed, or is this a very bureaucratic organisation, as, I am afraid, the impact assessment suggests? It would be helpful to have an answer on some or all of these points today or, if it is easier, in writing.
With his Amendment 55, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is I believe right to explore the issue of charging for approval of qualifications, pointing out that the deterrent effect on providers might be a problem. That might lose us useful innovation and competition in the provision of qualifications. Should this not in fact be a public service, rather than a charged-for service, as I suspect it is in universities?
I also support the simple Amendments 51 and 53 of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, which probe plans to cancel some qualifications to avoid duplication. It is always a great pleasure to hear from him and to be reminded that he is a brilliant product of vocational education. Against a background of declining achievements in technical education, is the proposed moratorium wise? Could we hear which employers are likely to be affected? We have heard quite a bit about individual qualifications, but what kind of employers are likely to be affected? For example, I recall that at Tesco we were able to frame qualifications in a way that suited our work patterns and needs, and we helped many thousands of apprentices to get on and indeed rise up within the retail sector. Is that kind of arrangement now at risk? One of the reasons why I loved working there with my public sector background was that it was a great provider of opportunity for some of the most disadvantaged in the land.
Since the institute can make or break training provision in a sector, can the Minister provide, before Report, an idea of its sectoral priorities and a full list of planned qualifications? I would also be interested in how the hotchpotch of regulatory bodies fits in, as requested by my noble friend Lord Flight. The new Skills and Productivity Board, chaired by the CEO of Sky UK and Europe, might be another body to add to the list. The main point is that we need to understand how these will fit together.
As the chair of the Built Environment Committee, I have a particular interest in construction, engineering, robotics and the green skills increasingly needed in that sector because of climate change. However, we also need more emphasis on digital, the creative sector and health and social care. We must keep more traditional sectors supported, such as farming, hospitality and cooking—chefs are known to be in short supply—retail, car manufacture and so on.
I believe that new technical qualifications can help the services sector, which is now such a huge proportion of GDP. I remember working on local schemes with PwC and local government, and the brilliant apprentice that I had in my private office at BEIS. I agree with my noble friend Lord Flight that this is the opportunity to shift the dial on advancement in education and skills outside our universities and to move forward on parity of esteem. Is the machinery of government, particularly the Institute for Apprenticeships, fit for that purpose? We need to find an answer to that and to make amendments to the Bill if we are not happy with where we end up.
My Lords, I very much share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friends Lord Willetts and Lord Baker in particular.
The last legislation that we had in this area was the Technical and Further Education Act. There was a belief then in the perfection of the new—almost a post-modern belief that destruction was the necessary precursor to success. The Government had just destroyed the sector skills councils and they have not yet managed to recreate the complex relations and understandings that led to their successes. In the run-up to the technical education Bill, the Bill team said they thought that this would probably result in the destruction of City and Guilds, as if that institution and all its reputation and quality had no value for the future in the face of their newly-created ideas. Now we seem to be destroying the local enterprise partnerships, which in many areas have established a pattern of understanding and reputation that has enabled projects to be undertaken that would have been very hard otherwise.
I do not share this disdain for the old; I think that it is best to work with it where we can. As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, the reputation that qualifications have built up with employers is a thing of great value. It means that employers know what they are getting but it also means that, when a young person gets that qualification, it is something with strong currency. People know exactly what to expect. It has a high reputation and is a highly tradeable asset.
This is not yet true of T-levels. As noble Lords may know, I have run the Good Schools Guide for many years. I cannot yet imagine advising a parent to let their child do a T-level. It still seems a misconception that you should have to spend the whole of your sixth form years doing this one qualification to the exclusion of everything else. If one is aiming for parity of esteem then it ought to be through the route of being able to mix academic and other qualifications. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, that would allow the technical qualifications to be heavily technical to carry the sorts of skills an employer is looking for, rather than being overly general and not directed towards making someone instantly employable when they come out of school.
Doubtless we are all going to put a lot of effort into making things succeed. We are where we are; we have to make the best of where we have got to. But to give powers to IfATE and others to continue on a path of destruction without consultation and care, and in particular to give them the direction of this Bill without the permission of employers seems wrongheaded. I very much hope that, between those who have proposed amendments to this Bill, we will get something on Report that will help change the Bill’s direction.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
My Lords, this is one of those occasions where I thought I knew what I was going to say before the debate started, but I have changed my mind—or, at least, my words—considerably having listened. When the Minister replies to this, I feel that the audience behind her might be the most worrying. I suggest that when the noble Lords, Lord Willetts and Lord Baker, are saying “beware of this”, any sensible Minister would listen. I know the noble Baroness falls into that category.
The Minister has to pay attention to what has been said. Everybody here said, “We are not sure what you are doing yet”. T-levels may sound neat, but we do not quite know what they are. Are they doing something else? Are they a replacement? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who asked if they are replacing BTECs, which are an established way forward and allow flexibility, university entrance and other qualifications. That is the sort of thing we want, especially as we are giving more power to level 4 and 5 qualifications, which is overly due. Can we have some assurance that there is no government thinking that T-levels will be used to replace all this? They will simply not lead to these places; they cannot.
Other institutions with qualifications which are understood and known, such as City & Guilds—if I do not mention City & Guilds, I fear that my noble friend might well have a few words with me afterwards—will be saying, “Everybody knows what these are.” If you are going to bring in T-levels, do it slowly and make sure that you are adapting them to take over these functions. A one-off exam at this age cannot do what these do because they do wonderful and flexible things. A few employers cannot find their way around them, but others can. You could simplify them a little and not sweep them away to do something else.
I will not follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, into his very intellectual comments about the destruction of post-modernism because we have quite enough on our plates without thinking about the centre of Glasgow and its planning issues. But I hope that when the Minister answers she will say that we are not getting rid of all of these good and established things straightaway, just because we have a lovely new toy that sounded good when we first put it forward. T-levels, I am afraid, will have to earn their stripes. They may become something that replaces or works into the rest of it, but further education deals with a diverse range of subjects and paths. It will never be that straightforward. I look forward to the Minister’s response and do not envy her task.
My Lords, these amendments relate to the measures that support the implementation of the Government’s reforms to align the majority of technical qualifications to employer-led standards by 2030. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we are aiming here for all qualifications for learners to be of high quality and connected to those employer-led standards.
I was disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, was not down to speak in this debate, because we had a very interesting discussion today where, as the noble Lord, Lord Flight, outlined, the key to what we are trying to do is to clarify the roles of a number of the institutions involved—IfATE, the OfS, which is relevant to the next amendment, Ofqual, the department and Ofsted.
We believe that the technical qualifications should cover the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are essential to an occupation. But the heart of the matter here, and one cause of the problems, is that although Ofqual accredits general qualifications such as A-levels and GCSEs, which are developed by awarding organisations, usually of the exam boards, in line with content set by government, the content of the majority of publicly funded technical qualifications is not specified or scrutinised centrally before the qualifications can be taught. That really is the nub of the problem here: Ofqual is not performing that function.
For parity of esteem, these reforms will bring the treatment of technical qualifications more in line with general qualifications. We have already done that process with T-levels, which were developed along with 250 employers to ensure that they met that standard. The content and employer-led standard then delivered, which could be by an FE college, is inspected and overseen by Ofsted. This process will raise the quality bar and deal with the issue of why we have, at level 3 and below, more than 12,000 qualifications, of which only about 800 are GCSE and A-level. As the Sainsbury review identified, we have had a proliferation of qualifications at that level, and many of them are currently created by the awarding organisations.
On the question of no one overseeing the content and it not being connected to an employer standard, we would not tolerate that in relation to GCSEs and A-levels, and someone needs to do that function. I have outlined the process for academic qualifications; the question then is who does that function. The institute currently manages the system of employer-led standards, and we believe it has the expertise to ensure that qualifications genuinely meet the skills of the economy, and the needs of learners and employers, and that it is right for the institute to lead this reform.
I explained some of these issues to noble Lords in the letter on 1 July. It is quite helpful that at the moment the position of chief regulator is being sorted out. Dr Jo Saxton, the Government’s preferred candidate, appeared last week in front of the Education Select Committee for the approval hearing, and was approved for the role. She was specifically asked about Ofqual and IfATE. She outlined that Ofqual will continue to play a key role with regulatory oversight of the standards of technical qualifications in live delivery, as it does currently. Ofqual and the institute are both needed as they contribute different and complementary sets of function and expertise. The two bodies will work together to assure, on Ofqual’s side, the consistency and reliability of assessment and awarding, as it does over the exam boards, and on the institute’s side the relevance to employers of the content of technical qualifications. When asked by the chair, she said:
“At its simplest, the curriculum side of it sits with IfATE. Once the curriculum has been agreed and approved to go forward, Ofqual’s job will be to make sure that any endpoint assessments and examinations continue to assess the curriculum that has been determined by IfATE and the employers and that receivers of the endpoint assessments and qualifications know that the awards they end up with accurately reflect what they know and can do. The relationship should work well. At its heart, it is essentially a separation between curriculum and regulation”.
I find that really helpful. That was the core purpose—she outlines why Ofqual was set up to be the regulator while the content of the curriculum was set out by the department.
Ofqual here provides noble Lords with the clarity on where it now sees its role, and where IfATE sees its role. Obviously, Ofsted is inspecting the quality of teaching, whether in an FE college or in schools and so on in terms of delivery. The institute currently carries out its role in setting the content by using employers vis à vis a standard, with T-levels and higher technical qualifications under its current powers, and we are legislating to give it a broader range of powers while being clear about what that function is.
The Bill will also provide a single gateway for technical qualifications to be approved—that is the language for IfATE; for Ofqual, it is accreditation—via the institute. It will be clear to everyone where one goes. However, there is one slight caveat. At levels 4 and 5, approval for higher technical qualifications is opt-in and can be delivered by higher education institutions without IfATE approval. That obviously relates to the university world.
Those approval mechanisms are just one part of what we are seeking to achieve. The institute’s oversight function provided by these clauses will bring coherence and clarity across the system of education and training within its remit, including apprenticeships and approved technical qualifications. Noble Lords will be aware that level 4 and level 5 qualifications are going through that process. Why would we leave level 3 and level 2 technical qualifications outside that process? If Ofqual does not see that as its role, who will oversee them? It would be a great disservice to leave learners with qualifications where no regulator is overseeing the content or matching it to an employer’s standard.
The moratorium power will give the institute that additional lever to manage the risk of proliferation such as that which the Sainsbury review outlined. The clauses also place a duty on the institute to regularly review the qualifications that it has approved, thereby ensuring that they continue to hold currency with employers.
I shall now deal with the specific amendments. On Amendment 47, Clause 6 will bring into the institute’s remit other technical education and training that supports entry to occupations that are published by the institute in its occupational maps. It will allow the institute to play a more significant role where appropriate for such education and training to link to employer-led standards. Those include matters such as occupational traineeships and skills bootcamps, which, although they do not lead to a qualification, also need to be connected into the employer-led standard. Such a role would include advising or publishing guidance, but it would not oversee that education and training.
Amendments 48 and 49 are unnecessary because the institute is already required under current legislation to present its annual report to the Secretary of State, who must then lay that before Parliament. I am sure that noble Lords would agree that it would not be appropriate for the institute to report to Parliament every time that it exercised its findings, as that would be burdensome.
I turn to Amendment 47A in the name my noble friend Lord Flight. I can assure him that the institute’s role, as provided for in the new oversight function, includes ensuring the appropriate range of the education and training within its remit as far as possible, including in relation to apprenticeships. I also refer my noble friend to the discussion on the apprenticeship levy earlier today. His amendment is therefore unnecessary.
On Amendment 50, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, as I have said, the legislation is needed to implement our reforms as part of the review of post-16 qualifications, allowing the institute to approve a broad range of qualifications. It is the right body because it already manages occupational standards. In terms of the governance of IfATE, which one or two noble Lords asked about, it is an independent body and its role is to ensure by statute that the content of qualifications is high and meets employers’ needs.
I turn to Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—I accept his invitation to write to him on other matters. The institute already takes into account the diverse needs of learners in exercising its approval powers. That is provided for in current legislation, which requires the institute to have regard to the reasonable requirements of anyone wishing to undertake education and training within its remit when exercising its functions. A specific point was raised in relation to electrical engineering. I can assure the noble Lord that the building services engineering T-level includes specialism in electrotechnical engineering.
Regarding Amendments 54 and 57 tabled by my noble friend Lord Willetts and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, respectively, I am of course in listening mode, but would like to clarify that institute approval, or withdrawal of approval, is separate from the funding decision, which rests with the Secretary of State, so IfATE is not in charge of what is and is not funded. It is content against an employer standard. A national consultation on withdrawing funding would be disproportionate, so I must respectfully disagree with my noble friend Lord Willetts.
On the various issues in relation to what we have done in terms of consultation, obviously the response to the level 3 consultation has been published. That outlines the categories of level 3 technical qualifications that will attract public funding in the future. We are not abolishing a category here; it will be whether these qualifications fulfil the requirements outlined in that response and whether they are of the appropriate quality, because we are aiming for all qualifications to be high-quality. We have been clear which qualifications, in addition to T-levels and A-levels, will be funded. On the issue of additional qualifications, I can say nothing more than that at the Ron Dearing UTC it was made very clear to me that some young people at 16 want to keep their options open and want to take A-levels combined with one qualification, because they are not sure whether they are going to go straight to work or to university. The response to the consultation makes clear which of those we will be continuing to fund where there is not duplication.
Turning to Amendment 51, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, under the new approval scheme set out in Clause 7 the institute could approve more than one qualification covering the same content should there be demand among employers for employees with each of those qualifications, so there is therefore no need for that amendment.
Turning to Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the institute is required to consult the Secretary of State before implementing a moratorium. The legislation does not preclude the institute from consulting other stakeholders. However, placing it under a duty to do so may affect its ability to respond when it has identified such a risk. Regarding Amendment 55, regulations made under this clause would authorise the institute to recover the costs associated with approval. It is not unusual for a regulator to have some costs, but the parameters for approval fees will be set by regulations made by the Secretary of State, meaning that Parliament will have a further opportunity for scrutiny.
Finally, on Amendment 58, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, Clause 8 is most likely to be required in relation to T-levels, as the institute owns the copyright in the T-level qualification course documents. Therefore, if another country wished to make T-levels available in the future, the institute may need to co-operate with other bodies to help make this happen—obviously, that is particularly with the devolved Administrations. The institute will not own the copyright for other technical qualifications; that is by a different process of approval. Awarding organisations will be free to offer qualifications outside England and the Bill does not change that position. I assure noble Lords that no decisions have been made in relation to BTECs or the future of any individual qualifications. However, it will be the process for IfATE in terms of the quality. We are rolling out the providers for T-levels. The take-up has been 43 providers in 2020, 105 providers in 2021 and 190 providers in 2022, and we have launched the provider process for 2023. We are rolling this out at pace.
I hope that these explanations have clarified the different roles, particularly for IfATE, in this regard, and that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, will therefore feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment, and that other noble Lords will not wish to move theirs when we get to them.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for doing what she always does and giving comprehensive replies to almost all the points raised by noble Lords—not to anyone’s great satisfaction, I suspect, but, none the less, I think she has understood the points we have made without, perhaps, giving them as much credence as we would have liked.
This has been a really good debate, informed by contributions from many noble Lords who have considerable experience in the areas covered by these amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, the Minister should be wary of not taking cognisance of the wise counsel of those on her own Benches who caution against the path that the Government seem intent on following on the powers to be given to IfATE and those being taken by the Secretary of State himself. The concerns of widely respected former Education Ministers, as well as established organisations in this sector, such as the Federation of Awarding Bodies and the Joint Council for Qualifications, should not be cast aside either.
I fear that the Minister’s description of the relationship between IfATE and Ofqual—between, as I think she said, curriculum and regulation—does not convince within the sector, notwithstanding the comments from Ofqual that she read out, because the Government insist that the Bill merely formalises the existing relationship between IfATE and Ofqual, but I and other noble Lords contest that. Ofqual currently has sole regulatory and approval responsibility for all vocational and technical qualifications apart from T-levels and apprenticeships, but the Bill proposes to broaden IfATE’s remit to encompass the approval of other—as yet unspecified—vocational technical qualifications that may or may not continue to be regulated by Ofqual. As I and other noble Lords have said, Ofqual is an independent regulator, and IfATE much less so, as a non-departmental public body.
To return to where I started, this has been the most lively debate we have had today on any group of amendments. I look forward—and not just because I genuinely enjoy the contributions of all noble Lords who have spoken today—to returning to many of these issues on Report. But, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Amendments 47A to 49 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clause 7: Additional powers to approve technical education qualifications
Amendments 50 to 57 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8: Functions of the Institute: availability of qualifications outside England
Amendment 58 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clauses 9 to 13 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 59. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate. The Committee should know that the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Young and Lord Liddle, have all withdrawn.
59: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—
“External Quality Assurance
(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for Ofqual to provide external quality assurance of all apprenticeship end-point assessments.(2) Regulations under this section must prohibit the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education from providing such external quality assurances.(3) Regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument containing them has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment places the external quality assurance (EQA) role that Ofqual exercises on a statutory footing.
My Lords, I am moving this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson and, with the scratchers from this group, it looks as if it is just Front-Bench contributions.
If it is worth saying something twice, that is what I am going to do. The Bill currently gives the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, a non-departmental public body directly accountable to Ministers, the ultimate sign-off power for the approval and regulation of technical qualifications in future. So, despite the Minister’s extremely detailed and comprehensive reply to the previous group of amendments, I am going to press her further, because this amendment would ensure that, within six months of the passing of the Act, the Secretary of State must, by regulation, make provision for Ofqual to provide external quality assurance of all apprenticeship end-point assessments. Regulations under this section must prohibit the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education from providing such external quality assurances. Regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument containing them has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament. This amendment places on a statutory footing the external quality assurance role that Ofqual exercises.
As I said, despite some of the assurances and detailed explanations given by the Minister in her responses on the previous group of amendments, we continue to be concerned that handing back day-to-day political control of technical qualification regulation directly to Ministers, via the institute, would undermine the independent status of Ofqual and risk creating a cumbersome new dual regulatory system.
So we seek to amend the Bill to ensure that Ofqual remains the sole body with sign-off powers, via the single statutory approvals gateway, regulating and accrediting all technical qualifications in future. This will maintain a clear line of responsibility and accountability to Parliament for all qualifications intended for public regulation, outside universities, in England. This amendment places the external quality assurance role that Ofqual currently exercises on to a statutory footing. I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment, so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, raises an issue that engaged us at Second Reading—namely, the relationship between Ofqual and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education—and was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on a previous group. The matter of regulation is causing concern in the awarding sector, because it is not clear who has authority for end-point assessment for apprenticeships, and it is surely not desirable for there to be any confusion over which of these two bodies has most power, nor where the expertise lies.
The Minister tempted me to come in on the previous group and I nearly came in after her—but I knew I had the opportunity to speak on this group, so I thought I might as well save my thunder.
My noble friend Lord Addington referred to my connections with City & Guilds. I remember that it was the employers who set the curriculum, because they have always been involved with vocational workplace qualifications. Of course, there was heavy regulation of everything we did but, over many years, both BTEC and City & Guilds have developed a reputation for standards and quality. They are understood and trusted by employers, and BTEC has the added cachet that it is accepted by universities, in many cases, because of the academic rigour of its awards. Part of the work I did for many years at City & Guilds was talking to universities to see where they could accept City & Guilds vocational qualifications for their degree programmes. There were certainly some, in engineering and areas such as that, who were prepared to accept that people who had the right level of City & Guilds qualification had met the criteria for entry to a university programme. They are doing different things, by and large, so not many people went down that route, but it was possible. So this constant mention that employers are in control, as though it was something new, always concerns me, as it has been going on for over 100 years.
The noble Baroness also made a brief mention of copyright. I remember going through the Technical and Further Education Bill, which was cut short by the election, and having stunningly good amendments that were all of course dropped in the wash-up. The suggestion then was that the copyright of any of the awarding bodies would immediately be taken over by the Government. I objected strongly and said “You can’t do this. You can’t just assume the copyright of an organisation”. I got a phone call from the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, who asked me why I was objecting to his wonderful Bill. I said that it seemed to me outrageous that the Government could just take over the copyright of other organisations. He said, “Oh, I didn’t mean for that to happen at all”. I said, “Would you mind very much ringing up the department and telling them that?” I do not think he ever did, because nothing happened on it. But the issue of copyright is vital, because many awarding organisations earn income from the copyright of their qualifications.
Anyway, the noble Baroness very kindly sent us a chart of Ofqual and the institute, showing where they all were, and the complexity of it is absolutely mind-boggling—I am sure that a brighter soul than me would reckon that it is all very straightforward. The institute has responsibility for the curriculum, but Ofqual has end-point assessment. Ofqual provides advice to the institute with regard to the validity of technical education qualifications submitted for approval and the reliability of assessment, but the institute will be responsible for reviewing technical education qualifications to determine whether they continue to meet the criteria. This seems to be an incredibly complicated way of running these qualifications. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that it is obviously more appropriate that responsibility lies with Ofqual, which is an independent regulator, whereas IfATE is of course less independent, as a non-departmental public body.
We have no information about how IfATE’s approval fees would be regulated, how often the fees would be charged and how accurate the estimation costs are. Would the fees be per qualification, per sector, annually or for the lifetime of the qualification? That is not clear. There is a lot of obscurity around the setting up of these qualifications.
I find it very strange that, as has been mentioned, Ofqual has regulatory and approval responsibility for all vocational and technical qualifications apart from T-levels. I thought that T-levels were supposed to be the be-all and end-all of vocational qualifications, so why have they been split off into another body? I am afraid that I am a simple soul and I find this very complicated, so perhaps the Minister could enlighten us and clarify it all for us.
My Lords, the external quality assurance of apprenticeships’ end-point assessment is a vital tool in ensuring that all apprentices receive a robust, high-quality assessment. In this amendment, we are now dealing with what is an Ofqual function. Ofqual does not set any curriculum for A-levels or GCSEs and neither would it, in our view, be the appropriate body to set any content for any level 3 or level 2 technical qualifications. It oversees the assessment process, seeing whether grading is fair and examinations are being run properly.
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education introduced an external quality assurance framework in 2019 in order to bring consistency to the sector. Following this, the institute put the matter of external quality assurance out to public consultation between February and May last year. This resulted in the institute taking the decision that the EQA for most apprenticeship end-point assessments would transfer to Ofqual to bring further consistency and quality to the assessment of apprenticeships. This is Ofqual’s bread and butter: overseeing examinations.
There are a small number of exceptional standards—chartered surveyors, for instance—where an existing statutory regulator oversees entry to a profession. The best way to quality assure these standards is currently being worked through with those regulators. I would like to make it clear that the Office for Students must continue to provide EQA for integrated degree apprenticeships—because Ofqual does not have statutory jurisdiction over degrees and therefore cannot provide EQA for apprenticeships at that level.
I will specifically address the noble Lord’s suggestion that regulations under this proposed amendment must prohibit the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education from providing EQA. While the institute is stepping back from direct delivery of EQA, it is an employer-led organisation, working to develop apprenticeships that meet the needs of employers. It is right that it should continue to have responsibility for securing the quality assurance of apprenticeship assessment in order to retain an independent, impartial voice in the sector and to maintain clear focus on supporting employers to develop the right apprenticeship skills for the labour market.
Regarding the suggested six-month timing for the transfer proposed in the amendment, the pace of the EQA transition currently taking place from the institute and other EQA providers to Ofqual has been carefully planned to ensure the development of a balanced end-point assessment offer to continue to develop a high-quality apprenticeships system. The first phase of the transition is well under way and is focused on transferring the majority of standards that currently have the institute as the named EQA provider. This phase will conclude at the end of the year. The second phase is to transition to Ofqual the remaining standards that are externally quality assured by other EQA providers, excluding the standards that will be regulated by OfS and statutory regulators, as aforementioned. This will conclude at the end of September 2022.
The sector is made up of a great number of end-point assessment organisations of different sizes and natures, some covering single standards, some covering around 50 standards. To attempt to transition all these organisations and standards over to Ofqual in a six-month period would cause severe disruption in the sector and would negatively affect the apprentices’ experience. The proposed amendment would also place a great burden on universities, as under this amendment they would be required to be regulated by the OfS and Ofqual, rather than just by the OfS, as is currently the case. I hope I have set out that, as the successful transition of EQA is already under way, it would have a detrimental effect if we were to remove the institute from the process entirely.
In relation to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on fees, any future approach that is developed will be proportionate and take account of the operational costs of institute approval in the reformed landscape. This may differ across qualification categories and levels.
On this basis, and with the explanations and reassurances I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel comfortable to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for the further explanation. I will analyse it in greater detail when I read it in Hansard tomorrow. The point from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, about regulation being a matter of concern is absolutely correct. Indeed, employers have always been involved in qualifications. I am afraid that I am unsure of the background of many of my fellow Peers, but I can assure noble Lords of the quality standards of BTEC qualifications because I taught them for many years, alongside A-level qualifications, which are another quality qualification—I actually wrote A-level examination papers, as I was a principal examiner for the AQA examination board.
Nevertheless, the principle remains that we need responsibility and accountability. That is what Ofqual would give. I am sure we will return to this issue on Report, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Clauses 14 and 15 agreed.
Clause 16: Initial teacher training for further education
Amendments 60 and 61 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 62. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate. Before I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I inform the House that, again, the noble Lords, Lord Adonis, Lord Young and Lord Liddle, have all withdrawn.
62: Clause 16, page 19, line 9, at end insert—
“(2A) Regulations under subsection (1) must include provision to require ITT(FE) courses to include special educational needs awareness training relevant to the students of ITT(FE) courses within an institution.”
My Lords, the intention of this amendment is straightforward. It is to probe and clarify. When you are training teachers in this field, can they be sure of the 20% to 25% of their students who have been identified as having special educational needs? When you get to further education, the proportion of those with special educational needs often rises. Those who have passed all their exams are not doing level 1 and level 2 qualifications, so in that situation you have a higher density.
Anybody who ever doubts this just needs to look at the number of people who we know have a neurological condition that is passed on. The figures make it clear. You are going to have a higher number of people. If we look at the number of people who have been identified as having these needs in the school system, many more will be unidentified. The maths just tells you that from the genetic stock and the numbers we have got.
What I am trying to get out of this is whether people will be trained to identify and train those people in front of them correctly. People will have different learning pathways. If someone cannot take notes from a blackboard very easily, can we do something else? Does the teacher know how to spot these people? Remember these are not the people who have been identified and have the plan; it is those who are on the edges.
We should remember that the plan—I was there when we did it and know all the mistakes we made—was never meant to cover all those with it; it was meant to cover only those at the top. It has become more popular because those at the bottom in the school system are not being spotted or dealt with. You have a large number of people with a diverse range of problems, and learning strategies that should be employed to help them get through the courses which the teacher should know about to enable them to do their job in a reasonable way.
When the Minister replies, will she let me know what steps are being taken to make sure that the cohort of professionals who are dealing with it are given the tools to do it? If we do not, the teacher will go back to what they know and repeat it. If that is counterproductive, because the person cannot learn in that pattern, we are reinforcing failure. Please let us know what goes on.
Institutions often have a variety of support structures already in place for other courses; for instance, degree courses. Are people trained well enough to access them? Do they know what else they can do and what the technology can do for them? That is what I am trying to get at here.
I hope we get an answer that reassures me that steps are being taken. I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that when you are dealing with teacher training for schools, there is an awareness strategy. It is there; indeed, I am afraid I helped draw it up. It is not that inclusive, but it is there. It should be expanded for this group, because there will be a higher density of people down there and probably more diverse needs within every class. That should be there. If this is not the way to do it, I ask the Minister to assure me that she will change it or to tell me where it is done, because we must address need to make it worth while educating these people to pass examinations, qualifications—call them what you like.
Can the Minister tell me that I am wrong to be worried? I beg to move.
My Lords, once again, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Addington on special educational needs. I am sorry that we seem to have seen off all the Back-Benchers. It gets a bit lonely when you have only the Front-Benchers in these debates, but I hope that some of them will come back for the next group, because we value the contributions from those who are not on the Front Bench.
We on these Benches have long campaigned to ensure that initial teacher training encompasses awareness of special educational needs, and it is important that those training for further education should be fully aware. As my noble friend said, in some respects, it is more important for FE, because those with special educational needs may well be drawn to the provision within FE, which tends to be more practical and less academic. So the amendment is a no-brainer.
We should ensure that all FE students, whatever their educational needs, have every opportunity to learn skills appropriate to their abilities. Some special educational needs are quite difficult to identify, so teachers need to be trained to spot them.
My noble friend is particularly expert in dyslexia, and I remember, years and years ago, when I was at school, a girl at school was always labelled as thick. She went on to be a very successful businesswoman, having been diagnosed late in life with dyslexia, but her school days were pretty miserable, because she could not do the things that everybody else could and the teachers thought she was just not trying. We had a pretty untrained set of teachers, obviously.
This is a very important amendment, and I hope that the Minister will see that it deserves serious consideration.
My Lords, I am pleased to signify our support for Amendment 62 and commend the passion with which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, spoke, as he unfailingly does on matters relating to those with special educational needs.
The Government must surely accept this amendment because page 30 in the Bill’s policy summary notes, under the heading, “What is the Government doing to support the teaching of SEND in FE?”, states:
“The government is also funding an in-service training grants programme to support those training in-service to teach maths, English and SEND. In Academic Year 20/21, 24% of bursaries and 73% of grants were awarded were for teaching SEND.”
Therefore, to add the requirement that SEND awareness training is included is an entirely logical follow-on to that. However, I await with interest the ingenious, perhaps even tortuous, argument that the Minister’s officials have crafted for her to tell us that it is not really necessary. That really would be unfortunate. I say, in a relatively gentle way, that the Government need to understand that accepting that something they have drafted could possibly be improved or even complemented is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
My main concern regarding Clause 16 is its intention. It seems to fit the pattern of the excessively hands-on and controlling position that the Government are adopting in many aspects of education. It is already happening with regard to initial training for schoolteachers. The policy summary notes address this question, again on page 30, under the heading, “How do these proposed changes align with the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) market review for school teachers?” It answers its own question:
“The government is not seeking to replicate the reforms taking place in the schools ITT system ... However, officials within the Department for Education are working together to ensure a coherent relationship between our reforms in the two sectors”—
hence my fears and those of many others in the teaching profession at school and college level.
The Government may protest that there is no connection between the two but, as politicians, we naturally do not believe in coincidence. Perhaps the Minister can explain just what is meant by
“a coherent relationship between our reforms in the two sectors”
because there is uproar in the teaching profession and among those who provide teacher education at the Government’s highly controversial and potentially damaging proposals for the review of initial schoolteacher training which are currently out for consultation.
On the FE ITT system, the policy summary notes say:
“The government believes that the FE ITT system could be much better than it is”.
Can the Minister enlighten noble Lords about the evidence for that? There is no clamour in the sector for such a change. I have to say that, again, that Clause 16 smacks of an increasingly voracious government appetite for centralisation and control, with Great Smith Street the control centre. If the Minister believes she can gainsay that impression, I am sure I would not be alone among noble Lords in being very interested to hear it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for this amendment. It highlights the importance of equipping teachers to identify and support learners with special educational needs. Further education teachers must be trained to identify and support the needs of all learners, enabling them to overcome barriers to their learning and allowing them to meet their full potential.
I concur with the noble Lord’s intention and I understand that he intends it as a probing amendment. He may be unsurprised to hear that I do not believe it is necessary to specify such a requirement in the Bill. Other mechanisms for achieving the same aim are more appropriate, and steps are already being taken.
Our reforms to teacher training are founded on a new occupational standard for FE teaching, which will specify the knowledge, skills and behaviours expected of FE teachers. This standard is being developed by a group of employers—colleges and other providers, so organisations which employ teachers—from across the sector, who bring a wealth of experience and expertise and are well placed to determine the right content for teacher training that will meet the needs of all their learners. We fully expect that the new standard will be explicit in its requirement for further education teachers to meet the needs of all learners, including those with a wide variety of special needs as well as learners from diverse backgrounds. We anticipate that the standard will be in place in time for the next academic year. It will form the basis of a new FE teaching apprenticeship, and we will support the reform of FE teaching qualifications so that they are also based on the standard. If, in future, the content of FE teacher training was considered of insufficient quality to meet the needs of all learners, this clause would give the Secretary of State the power to take appropriate steps.
To address the point I think I have understood from the noble Lord, Lord Watson: the reason we do not believe this amendment to be necessary is that we do not intend to use the powers in this Bill to take greater control or gain more centralisation of FE teacher training. We believe that the sector is doing the work needed to set out that standard and that steps will be taken within it to make the right provision for the training with regards to special educational needs. To allay his fears in relation to initial teacher training reforms for schools, I undertake to write to the noble Lord to further clarify that point.
I hope that with those brief remarks the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is assured that we are already taking steps to ensure that teaching in the FE sector meets the needs of all learners, including those with a wide range of special educational needs. On that basis, I hope he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this is an odd one. Actually, I do not think that response really hit it, because there is supposed to be a report. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, pointed out that it is supposed to be out now. I cannot quite match the withering sarcasm he put into it: “Oh, autumn then, maybe.”
The entire education system is squaring up to the fact that special educational needs is not working in our schools at the moment. There is a series of cock-ups made by other bits of legislation, for which I have some of the blame for not spotting them coming down the line. Unless you are going to be specific about having somebody in there who can spot, transfer and change the way they are dealing with at least some of the most commonly occurring conditions, you are guaranteeing a degree of failure and underachievement. We might have a conversation about how this works, and there might be something behind this that I need to hear, but what I have heard today convinces me that this needs some more time.
I would have intervened on the noble Baroness if the process was going through, but I suspect we are going to have a more robust Report stage than normal because of this. It is not the noble Baroness’s fault, unless she wrote the brief herself. I think we have opened up something here. Teacher training is the best way of dealing with this so that you can deal with those who have moderate difficulties and certain patterns of behaviour. Small changes and a bit of reassurance—telling them they are not thick—are the best way to get a reaction out of many of the groups that I deal with. Saying “Hey, I think you’re dyslexic or dyspraxic or have ADHD; here are a few quiet, basic strategies; by the way, you’re not an idiot” dramatically improves the outcomes of that group, which is about 20% of the whole group we are dealing with. Dealing with that type of action enables them to start that process to take them on to somebody else, and that is so important.
The transition I am looking at is away from: “I have somebody in my classroom who is a pain, can’t concentrate and won’t spell. Oh, God, can we get rid of him?” And it is towards: “Oh, I think he needs a bit of help and support.” It is not about the dramatic ones who are easy to spot, who are going to get the plan. It is that level of expertise that we need.
Can we please engage so that we actually know what is coming? At the moment, there is a review going on. There should be more there. I hope that the next time we raise this, the noble Baroness, if she is still with us—I should not have opened that one up —or whoever answers this, provides better answers. Good intentions have always been there. The problem remains.
I will briefly respond to the noble Lord, because I do not think I will get the opportunity to take this conversation forward with him ahead of Report, although I am sure that others will be happy to continue that conversation.
The point of differentiation here is specifically about the approach to regulating teacher training in FE colleges versus the regulation of teacher training in schools. The latter is subject to a regulatory regime that allows the Secretary of State to set conditions for its content and delivery, but we do not have that equivalent provision for FE teacher training as the content is determined by the sector itself, working with organisations. Although this clause as drafted would enable the Secretary of State to prescribe course content if desired, with a view to improving the quality of FE initial teacher training courses, the initial intention is for the sector to do that work itself. The points that the noble Lord makes about how important it is that SEND is properly accounted for in this and the widest understanding—and not just those with education, health and care plans but the broadest spectrum, and those who may not have been identified before—are an integral part of that. With regard to specifying that as part of the reforms to the initial teacher training, we would hope not to use the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene in this area at the moment and would rather do it through collaboration with the sector.
I thought it might be useful to say just one or two words. That is not the end of the conversation, but someone else will take it forward with the noble Lord.
Amendment 62 withdrawn.
Clause 16 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 63. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate. I inform the Committee that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has withdrawn.
Clause 17: Office for Students: power to assess the quality of higher education by reference to student outcomes
63: Clause 17, page 20, line 22, at end insert—
(b) by reference to— (i) the degree to which the mental health and wellbeing of persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution are sustained and improved while they are attending the institution;(ii) the quality improvement and response to mental health crises among persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution;(iii) the pastoral and academic care of students attending the institution.(5A) In this section “quality improvement” has the same meaning as in the report by The King’s Fund, Quality improvement in mental health, published in 2017.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that higher education institutions should be evaluated on the basis of their care for students as well as purely academic measures.
My Lords, I welcome Clause 17. There has long been a lack of satisfactory information available to prospective students on the outcomes of a degree. What happens afterwards, other than a degree, first, second or even third class, as in my case, awarded on obscure criteria—although no doubt correct in my case—but with no indication to a prospective student of what comes afterwards? How do students who have been through the degree course look back on their time at university? Are they appreciative of what was done for them? Have they suggestions about what could have been done better? What sort of careers have they secured?
This can be very different in further education, where a good FE college, running a course in, say, golf course management, will have an immense network of alumni with whom it will work to improve the course and with whom it will be in correspondence about the prospects for their current students. It will be able to portray to someone who intends to take on the cost of a course exactly what the outcome will be. For such a substantial personal investment by students, universities owe prospective students a much better set of information about what their prospects are.
My interest in this clause, though, is in the opportunity to broaden it to include mental health and well-being because, in my experience, this is an area that universities have been much less good at than they ought to be. I agree that this has, to a certain extent, come up on them. It is the result of increased parental interest in university education—that is, in parents wanting to make sure that they are launching their children on a good course. I have been a champion of that for a long time. I do not think that it sits easily with universities, which have historically taken refuge in the mantra that their students are adults and therefore do not need support from home, and communication with home is inappropriate.
I sense that that is changing but, for it to change to good effect, it needs some kind of support from the Government. Universities need to know that they are being watched—that information will reach prospective students as to how good their mental health and well-being services are and how well they look after their students. This will form part of a student’s decision on which course to take. If we do not have that kind of visibility, we will see a continuation of the inaction that has been my experience of universities’ response to this over the past 10 years or so.
I am sure that we all have stories about a mental health crisis hitting a friend’s child at university, perhaps even to the point of suicide. Mine, fortunately, has a happy ending. The son of a friend of mine went to a Russell group university, found that the course they were on did not really have its own social life, went back to university accommodation, which likewise had no social life, and fell into a cycle of despair. Bar a casual acquaintance knowing someone who knew his mother and getting a message back, that might have been the end of it. Fortunately, he had a very active mother who whisked him out of university and helped him to find a course that was much better socially adapted to his needs. He flourishes still.
There are many, however, for whom the outcome has been much less good. Universities have not traditionally seen themselves as having a duty of care in looking after their students. I remember—it must be about 10 years ago—trying to tell universities that they should pay more attention to teacher recommendations, that they could use some kind of online reputation system to score the teacher recommendations in the light of their experience of the student when they arrived at university, and that this would enable them to reach through the surface of qualifications to look at the underlying person and maybe start to use that to address the inequalities of access that were very apparent then.
The answer I got from universities was, “Can’t do that. We never get to know our students well enough to know whether that teacher recommendation is accurate or not”. I contrast that with my experience of the better degree apprenticeships and the way in which a company looks after children of the same age whom it has recruited into much the same circumstances. It can be extraordinarily good. I single out JCB in that respect: the way they look after young people who arrive in the wilds where the JCB factory is set and look after them through their degree is absolutely exemplary. JCB is, however, by no means alone. It has set a standard, in the minds of parents and people like me who advise parents, for what we now expect of universities, and I would really like the Government to take a hand in moving the needle.
I am not in any way committed to the particular formula in this amendment. It is a formula that is necessarily stated by its circumstances; it has to fit in with the structure of this Bill. I am not at all convinced that having a scored measure—an outcome measure—at the end of the day for mental health and well-being is the right way to go, but we have to get to a point where universities know that they are being observed and where accurate information finds its way to prospective students.
In the Good Schools Guide, if a school is a place that is a difficult environment for the less robust, we say that. It is fine. You can happily say that you have to be pretty rumbustious to get on in this school, and students and parents know what you mean. It will absolutely suit some people. Others will be put off by it and will find a place that is better suited to them. There is no reason why all universities should be the same, but it is absolutely obvious to me that prospective students and their parents should be given the information needed to make good judgments as to the environment at the university and whether their child will flourish there.
I also hope that, by doing that, we will raise the standard of universities generally. This is a move that Universities UK talks very strongly in support of, and some individual vice-chancellors are clearly ahead of the crowd in this. We ought to be out there supporting them, helping this change to happen and helping universities generally to up their standards. At the end of the day, these are children, and it is a big transition between home and local school to university in a strange city a long way away with completely different customs. We want them to be cared for; we want them to be looked after; we want to be a part of that, where we have a relationship with our children that will support that. We want the university to be strong and active in looking after them. If we cannot do that through this amendment, I hope that the Government will confirm that they have plans in this direction. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wish to speak to my Amendment 69 very much in the spirit of the powerful speech that we just heard from my noble friend Lord Lucas. We definitely need more information about student outcomes. One way in which that information can be presented is the absolute information on the absolute outcomes. I am sure that the Minister will be eloquent on that. There is nothing in my amendment that tries to suppress any of that sort of information—far from it. However, the way in which the legislation is currently drafted means that it goes out of its way to exclude a different sort of equally valuable and relevant information: how our higher education institution is doing relative to the types of students that it has. That is a measure of distance travelled; it is a measure of how a university is performing, given the students that it recruits.
We have heard several important interventions in the course of our debate about students with special educational needs. A university that recruits an unusually high proportion of students with special educational needs, within the approach set out by Ministers, will not be able to signal that it does that; it may just appear to be a less well-performing institution. To offer a second example, which I know is a source of deep frustration and shame to us all, we should look at the performance of students from ethnic minority backgrounds. For any given level of academic qualification, a graduate from an ethnic minority background may do less well in the labour market than a graduate of similar academic achievement but not from a minority ethnic background. That is shocking; it is also a description of the British labour market as it is today. This would mean that, on the approach set out by Ministers, a university that had a disproportionately high number of graduates from ethnic minority backgrounds would do less well on labour market outcomes without the university being able to display its commitment and what it was doing.
With these two approaches, the absolute data need to be complemented by data relative to the backgrounds and attributes of the students. That is the best way of putting pressure on higher education institutions to raise their performance, because otherwise they will be tempted to appear to raise their performance on the standard set by Ministers by selecting the students who are easiest to educate and are going to perform best.
I also think it really matters for prospective students. Of course they want to see the absolute performance of the university, but they may also wish to see how students like them perform at the university. This makes it possible to follow up in the spirit of the intervention of my noble friend Lord Lucas, who talked about giving parents the information needed on how their child might flourish in a particular university environment. It is very relevant for them to know “How do children like mine do at university?”
So all that I am asking is that, as well as the measures of absolute performance that Ministers want, they also expect information that shows how universities are doing relative to the characteristics of their students. It is how, for example, the TEF—the teaching excellence framework—is already done. We should leave it to individuals to compare the information collected in those two different ways. They are both of value—I think of equal value—and it is a pity that the current framework of legislation in the Bill goes out of its way to prioritise one sort of data over another sort of data that is equally important for all of us who wish to hold universities to account for their performances.
My Lords, this is an interesting group of amendments, because I think everybody would agree that universities as institutions have a duty of care to their students. They are adults, but most of them are only just adults. I must declare an interest here; I have an 18 year-old daughter who is expecting to go to university—and not only go to university, but a university in another country: Wales in this case, but there we are.
At least I have got that confirmed; I thank the noble Baroness for that aside.
The point here is about “Students like us, how do they do and what do they go through?” I have heard it from many people, and indeed from members of my own family. Two of my nephews are of mixed race and are wondering “Where do we go where people like us are?” We have to get this information out, because it is a perfectly normal thing. You are leaving the support structure of home and your parents, but there is some way of intervening.
The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, referred to special educational needs. We have a universal package there called the disabled students’ allowance. We have a structure within universities that means you actually have to give things. Members of the Front Bench have sparred with me on this—I think “sparred” is quite accurate—in the past. There is a structure of support and a standard, and you can take action if that standard is not fulfilled. That is difficult, but it is there. You have a support structure going through.
So having more information about what happens here and what goes on will not hurt. It is not that big an ask. People are posting about entrance requirements and groups are coming across—it is happening at the moment. I suggest that having more information gives a better guide to what can come out of the experience and what other people are experiencing on their way through. I think this information is being gathered in many places anyway, usually for internal commercial reasons by the institutions. It would not hurt to have it in there.
I do not know whether the Government are in the mood for accepting amendments at the moment. I always remember when it happened to me many years ago; it stunned me into silence for the rest of the evening. It may be a bit late in this day for doing that, but I just throw that out. It would be something that would be quite good to have. I would hope that the Government at least give us some idea that they are encouraging, if not requiring, people to do it.
My Lords, this is a particularly important group of amendments and the debate on it has been very good. I support all the amendments in this group. They have been very well spoken to by the people who put them down. I really want to add support and try not to go over the same points again.
They fall, basically, into two groups: the first on mental health and well-being and the second on how we measure outcomes. I will briefly comment on both. I very much support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the way in which he put them forward. I was going to say that I was not sure the amendment was the right way to solve the problem, but he said it beforehand, so I see the amendment as very much drawing the issue to the attention of the Government and wanting a response.
My experience really came from when I was chair of council at one of the London colleges. I had the honour of giving out degree awards at the ceremonies twice a year. There is nothing as heartbreaking as giving out a degree posthumously to the parents of a student who has passed away through suicide. It is absolutely heartbreaking, and it happened more than once. That was just my experience at a relatively small college, and it will be replicated throughout universities.
We think of those children as adults, and they are: they are legally adults and they do adult things. But to begin with they are only a year out of school. By the time they graduate, they are only three years out of school, and children—young people, adults—develop at different rates. Somehow, we put a whole chasm between the pastoral support they get by the end of school, and the lack of pastoral support they get at the start of university. Somehow, we have to build a bridge between the two, particularly with academic high-flyers. There is often an emotional inability to cope with failure. One university lecturer said to me once that they had had an overseas student who committed suicide. They had to greet her parents from China and go through what had happened. They did not know, but their view was that it was the first time the child—the young woman—had ever found it difficult to come top of the class. She has come top of the class right the way through everything; she gets to a Russell group university and she does not come top of the class. She did not have the resilience to know how to deal with that.
We could spend a week discussing this, but the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, got this absolutely right. Universities hitherto have been slow to see this as an issue that they have a role to play in addressing. I should give credit to the Government, because I think I am right that they did something recently that means universities can tell parents if they feel their child is at risk. Certainly, in my day, when I was chair of council, legally a university could not phone up the parents without the young person’s permission, to say they were at risk.
The only way in which I would disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is that I am not sure they need to be “watched”—I think that was the phrase he used. Universities need to be worked with to make them realise that this is a core part of their job. Once they can see that, they will extend their considerable prowess and commitment and care for their students into pastoral health, mental health and well-being, as much as they offer academic support. But they are at the beginning of that journey and anything the Minister can offer in this Bill, to give them the powers or the freedom, or just the direction, to do this, I certainly think would be a step worth taking.
I also want to say a little bit about the other amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, spoke. This is also exceptionally important, because I absolutely agree with the premise that universities ought to be measured by student outcomes. It would be silly not to take into account student outcomes. We take them into account in schools. Why we would stop doing it when we get to universities, I am not quite sure.
I do not think we have a great record so far in deciding what outcomes universities should be measured by. I will not go into it, but I am a bit critical of some of the teaching excellence framework, the TEF criteria for success. One measure is whether their students are in employment 12 months after they finish their degree. For some subjects, they are not likely to be in employment in a degree-level subject. People in the creative arts very often make do for a year while they are finding their feet. They very often work in a pub or a restaurant while they are doing the creative work. Measure them in five years’ time and they will be flying, and that is a credit to their university, but it will not get the credit if they are not in a degree-level job after 12 months.
One measurement that is not used by the teaching excellence framework but is regularly used by the newspapers that publish the tables is the A-level mark needed to get into a university. If universities want to take risks and bring on young people who got Ds and Es at A-level and say, “We believe in them and want to give them a chance; they come from an area of disadvantage”, they get marked down in the league table. Why on earth would they do that? I thought that was what we wanted to do.
I do not think there is a very good record of getting the outcome measurement right. Universities are partly at fault because they did not want this and did not engage in the discussion. I think they left others to decide what the measurement outcome should be and are paying the price.
I have a couple of specific points. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willetts—why would we not want this extra information? Why would we not want to know what universities have achieved, in terms of outcomes, with specific groups of students? It adds to what we know about universities and it means that when we are developing policy, we can do so with more knowledge about how existing policy affects different groups of students and different institutions than we would have without this information. I cannot see one good reason for not requiring that information at this level should be collected. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Clause 17(7) says:
“The OfS is not required”
to collect this information. I think it should be required, but will the Minister confirm that neither is it banned and that it could collect it if it wanted to? The noble Baroness is nodding, so I take it that it is allowed to collect it. That leads us to the question of whether it should be up to the Office for Students to decide whether this information is collected. It should not be up to the OfS, because it is useful to other people as well. I want to know it, as somebody who is involved in education and interested in policy-making. The Government should want to know it; the universities should want to know it; employers should want to know it. Why should the Office for Students not collect it so that others can have that information? Whether the OfS or the Government do anything with it is a different discussion, but not to collect it means that no one else can do anything with it.
My last point is that the world of schools is far more advanced in collecting data about pupil progress: it is 20 or 30 years more advanced. It has been through a lot of pain and made a lot of mistakes, but it is in a better state now than the universities. I just hope that the Office for Students learns lessons from those decades of trying to get the collection of data improved in schools.
One thing that ties into the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is that, to begin with and for many years, Ofsted and the examiners did not discuss with schools what the outcome measurements would be. All it created was a very poor relationship that has not done well for children, teachers or schools. We are still trying to get over it, so I very much support the amendments proposing that the Office for Students, in developing these measures, should discuss them with universities and all higher education providers. We are setting the framework now for the next stage of using measurements of outcome for university; it is really important that we get it right and I very much hope that the Government’s response to these amendments will give us greater clarity and perhaps highlight areas where further attention is needed.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group and shall talk about Amendments 63 and 66 in particular. For far too long, pastoral care in these institutions has been inconsistent, sometimes even unprofessional and neglectful, to the great detriment of students’ achievements and well-being. Like other speakers, I personally know of suicides and cases of severe depression among students that I think could have been prevented, and there are plenty more in the statistics. It is only right that the institutions should be evaluated on these grounds.
On Amendment 66, because discrimination is often associated with mental health vulnerability, there are many such cases among those in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who have struggled through obstacles to gain entry into higher and further education. It is important to publish different student characteristics to get a proper handle on the data, as this amendment proposes.
My Lords, I begin by making a general comment in expressing concern about the way in which this Government and others have sought to judge and rank higher education institutions and have directed the Office for Students to do so. I associate myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about universities being penalised for welcoming students who have succeeded in their school and college studies despite the socioeconomic odds.
I want to add a more general concern about the ranking of institutions by the level of pay or classification of jobs that graduates attain. Education should be for life, not just for jobs. We know that there is often an inverse relationship between the levels of pay in a role and the contribution that it makes to society. An anthropology graduate who goes into community organising, say, might never earn much at all but is making a huge contribution to our society in a highly fulfilling role.
However, it is encouraging to see that the amendments all seek in some way to make judgments fairer, so they are to be welcomed. I shall go through them in turn. Speakers have already concentrated quite a lot on Amendment 63 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and backed by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal. In this context, it is worth pointing to an important report from the British Psychological Society in 2019 entitled Mental Health and Wellbeing in Higher and Further Education. I should perhaps preface what I am about to say by saying that this contains some disturbing material.
At least 95 university students took their own lives in 2016-17—and while the rate of suicide is lower than in the general population, it is a serious concern for the sector—and one-third of students experience a serious psychological issue that requires professional help. Some 94% of higher education providers reported an increase in demand for counselling services. And of course that was in 2019, while all the evidence and anecdotes that we have suggest that the situation is likely to be significantly worse now. The professional report says that all higher and further education institutions should make mental health and well-being a strategic priority. I think it particularly focuses on the need to train all staff and on how to assist them in signposting to the right support. There is also an important note in the report about UCAS needing to update the application process to reduce stigma, removing the need for applicants to disclose mental health conditions as a disability.
Let us think about the practicalities of this. The report cites Student Minds research that found that many academics feel ill equipped to assist students when they encounter difficulties or are approached by them. This is a pretty obvious problem when you think about it: a PhD or postgraduate studies in physics or medieval history do not necessarily equip you to deal with situations that you might face. This has a substantive negative impact on the well-being of academics as well.
I turn to the series of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, although I am slightly handicapped by the fact that they have not really been properly introduced. I am not going to cover them in great detail, except to note that Amendment 65, which calls for consultation with providers over the way in which these assessments are made, is essential. The assessment needs to be embedded in real-world experience and practical possibilities of what is deliverable.
I come to Amendment 66, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, to which I have attached my name and for which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, expressed support. It seeks to ensure that the OfS reflects in its outputs
“differences in student characteristics, different institutions or types of institution, different subjects or courses, or any other such factor.”
I am drawing here on my experience as a school governor. Of course, in schools, we have increasingly sought to look at what value has been added, acknowledging that students start from many different starting points. That is true at all levels of our school system, but it is also very much true of our higher education sector. A university that caters particularly well to students who perhaps have not had a great experience at school or college deserves to have its successes acknowledged fairly in the assessment.
Amendment 68, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, makes the related point that it must
“ensure that the … measure of student outcomes does not jeopardize widening participation for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.”
Finally, I will mention Amendment 70, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, which says that
“The OfS must work together with the devolved authorities”.
I somewhat feel that I should have a hymn-book, because I speak on this in practically every Bill that we discuss, but it is clearly in the interests of prospective students and employers that these assessments are conducted fairly.
My Lords, I particularly want to support Amendment 63, but also the others in the group. Just last month, in June 2021, the DfE itself published a report, Student Mental Health and Wellbeing, based on research done before the pandemic. It points out that 96% of institutions ask their students about their mental health but only 41% ask them about their general well-being. It also notes that only 52% of universities would say that they have a “dedicated strategy” for the mental health and well-being of their students. So the DfE’s own report, from last month, highlights that there is plenty of work to be done on universities having proper, dedicated strategies around mental health and well-being—particularly on the well-being side.
We know that Covid has highlighted the issues further, particularly around loneliness. Just today, the head of the OfS, Nicola Dandridge, spoke of her concern that more than half of the student population feels that their mental well-being has not been supported enough this year. I have not had time to explore her comments more fully, but it is notable that she made them today, when we are having this debate.
Well-being has to be covered by a whole range of services, and I note here the value—which you certainly cannot put into legislation—of universities having chaplaincy teams. During the pandemic, the chaplaincy team at Durham University was given an award for being the most important group of people in the university over the last few months. In the University of Sunderland, the vice-chancellor decided that the chaplaincy team should be awarded extra money so that it could do further work in the future, on the basis of how significant its input had been to student well-being during this time. So when we look at mental health and well-being, we need to look at counselling services and all sorts of other support, but it should include the work and role of chaplaincies.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, with the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, has raised a really important point in suggesting that this is put in the Bill. The overall well-being of students really matters as much as their academic outcomes. This needs to be known, seen and observed. I also support the amendments, and particularly their probing nature, of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the intent of those of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, to look at other social outcomes. They are significant and should be in the Bill.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 63 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is rapidly becoming my noble friend at this rate. I support all the others in this group, which are concerned with the mental health of students, well-being, student outcomes and widening participation.
Because of this Committee stage, I was sorry to miss a meeting this afternoon on lifelong learning, which was sponsored by Graeme Atherton, a brilliant champion of widening participation. He has done more than most to promote access to higher education, through such wonderful programmes as Aimhigher, which introduced so many non-typical students to university, with some inspirational results, before having its funding withdrawn—such is life.
The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, bear witness to their tireless support for disadvantaged students and those suffering from poverty of family, opportunity or aspiration. Of course, the pandemic has caused additional stress for our students, who have been very badly affected in many cases by being locked up and not being able to have classes or socialise in the way that they might have expected.
I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that universities should not be penalised if they accept young people with lower school exam results if they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, where they have actually achieved a great deal just to get the results they have. I think we should bear that in mind. Of course we have to ensure the quality of our great institutions, but, at the same time, we have to make sure that our students are properly cared for and have all the opportunities that they can.
I think this is a very worthwhile set of amendments, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, in responding to this excellent debate I will also introduce my Amendments 65, 66, 67, 68 and 70—albeit, I apologise, too late for the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, whom I thank for her support. Together, my amendments are designed to draw out from the Government the approach that is to be taken regarding regulating higher education providers, especially on quality and standards.
To start, despite lots of research, I still do not know whether this Bill will change the powers that the Office for Students has at the moment. We are told that this is a technical clause required
“To put beyond doubt the Office for Students’ ability to regulate in relation to minimum requirements for quality.”
But can the Minister tell us: is this Bill needed to ensure that the OfS can keep doing what it does now without risk of legal challenge? Or is it to enable it to do something different, for which it needs extra powers, and if so, what?
The OfS currently applies a series of conditions, in categories A to E, for an institution to be registered. The B conditions focus on quality and standards, and I am most interested in B3, which says that
“The provider must deliver successful outcomes for all of its students”,
measured against minimum standards for student continuation, completion and graduate careers. My Amendment 65 says that the OfS must consult the HE sector before determining those minimum standards. We had a general OfS consultation, which closed in January, but no response has yet been issued. Another is due any day now on most of the B criteria, but the key one—these B3 metrics—will not be consulted on until much later in the year. Given the concerns we have heard about the direction of travel, and since that consultation will take place after this Bill becomes law, it is really important that it is full and meaningful. It needs to be clear on what metrics are proposed, how they will be measured, where the data will come from and how they will be applied. It should provide the evidence for any metric being advanced as a proxy for quality, assess the impact of any proposed move away from benchmarking, and be transparent about how the baselines will be set. Are they objective standards which, in theory, all institutions could meet, or are they designed to cull the lowest performers, irrespective of absolute scores? Can the Minister give us some assurances on this? Can she tell the House how Parliament can express a view on these hugely important decisions which will be taken by the OfS?
Amendment 66 is designed to flush out the Government's intentions on contextualisation. I understand that Ministers do not want different outcome standards for different groups—this is a probing amendment; I am not proposing a new scheme—but there are clearly differences in student outcomes between groups which reflect prior experience, advantage or the lack of it, or their current circumstances, rather than academic ability. I shall not repeat the excellent points made by my noble friend Lady Morris and the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, on the whole issue of contextualising data, but I look forward to hearing the Minister explain why we are legislating to enable the OfS to refuse to collect that data.
Amendment 68 would ensure that the OfS’s student outcome measures do not jeopardise the goal of widening participation for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups—a matter of concern to many in higher education. MillionPlus points out that
“if you remove the ability to contextualise, you also remove the ability to assess”
value-added—or distanced travelled, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said. MillionPlus also points out that setting minimum thresholds on student outcomes while removing any need for benchmarking
“sits incongruously in a Bill designed to diversify access to higher education and boost mature and part-time study.”
The briefing we will all have received from the National Centre for Universities and Business picks up on that issue. It cites PISA figures showing that the dropout rate among mature students is twice as high as for the under-21s. Is the Minister concerned that some universities might be deterred from actively recruiting older students or, more broadly, is there a risk that an approach based on flat measures could penalise the institutions that are more inclusive?
Amendment 67 is probing the OfS powers of intervention at subject level. I spent a long time trying to get my head around what powers the OfS currently has here, and I can tell the House that there is a lot of confusion out there. I am very grateful for access to the Bill team and for various briefings from different corners. I now think I understand it, but I shall set it out for the record, and should be grateful if the Minister would confirm, or correct me if I am wrong.
I understand that the OfS can intervene and use its enforcement powers wherever it finds a breach of a registration condition. If the problem is in a subject, rather than the performance of the whole provider, it could use its power of suspension to switch off student loan funding just for that subject area. Also, as it can grant degree-awarding powers on a single subject basis, it therefore can vary or revoke them for a single subject. All of that is, of course, subject to it acting proportionately.
Can the Minister confirm that my understanding is correct? Has this power ever been used at subject level in a multidisciplinary institution? If the OfS can do that, does that mean that the OfS can already, in effect, shut down this study of mathematics at, say, Lindchester university, and could it make such interventions at a course level? Could it, say, allow the Lindchester maths department to carry on but to spend degree courses in maths and accountancy or maths and tourism? If a slew of complaints came in about maths at Lindchester, the OfS could clearly investigate, but I doubt there are enough data around now at subject level to make that the basic unit of assessment. However, that is changing.
Recent comments from Ministers raise the spectre of that being used at a larger scale—perhaps to close down degrees that lead to what they perceive as poor outcomes. Could it, in theory, be used to hollow out a whole discipline? After all, if a key requirement is a percentage of graduates entering professional jobs at a certain salary level, what happens to, say, music students? As my noble friend Lady Morris said, they are usually gig economy workers when they first graduate, mixing income from music teaching, concerts or recording sessions and doing other work to pay the bills in quiet times—or, indeed, Covid times. Could this direction of travel lead to music schools or other creative arts providers being classed as failing and, if so, what is the knock-on effect on our creative industries, one of the most vital and fast-growing parts of our economy?
Finally on this point, will the Bill enable the OfS to intervene at the level of a module? If we end up with more credit transfer and flexibility, who is accountable for student outcomes? Is it the last institution the student attends? What if the earlier modules were terrible, while later ones were great?
Amendment 70 is aimed to ensure that the OfS works with the devolved Administrations to minimise the divergence in quality assessments, with the aim of protecting the international reputation of UK higher education. I have heard concerns that HE in England is moving out of line with the UK quality code and that our systems will be increasingly divergent. The coherence of our education system is important, both domestically and internationally, where our reputation for quality in higher education was very hard won over a long time.
Additionally, at least one university—the OU—operates in all four nations, and so could presumably end up facing quite different reporting and compliance regimes. As well as regulatory burdens, could we end up with a provider passing the registration process in Wales and failing in England? Can the Minister tell us what thought has been given to these issues?
Finally, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for putting into our debate today the issue of student well-being and mental health and for the very important points made by so many noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and my noble friends Lady Morris and Lady Whitaker. This merits a wider debate on how good pastoral care in higher education can be prioritised and resourced and also, perhaps, on how good practice can be spread. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to this and to all the questions I have put to her. I look forward to her reply.
My Lords, Section 23 of the Higher Education Research Act 2017—HERA—which relates to the assessment of the quality of higher education provided by registered providers, currently places no restrictions or stipulations on how the OfS might make an assessment of quality or standards. Clause 17 provides some much-needed clarity, or so we hope. It puts beyond doubt the ability of the OfS to determine minimum expected levels of student outcomes. These levels would be taken into account alongside many other factors, such as the context in which a provider operates, when the OfS makes its overall and well-rounded assessment of quality.
Amendments 63 and 64, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, seek to add provision for the mental health and well-being of students to the outcomes measures that higher education institutions are evaluated against, in addition to academic and post-study progression measures, and to allow for more than one measure that institutions are expected to meet. I reassure my noble friend and other noble Lords that student mental health is something that this Government and the OfS take extremely seriously. The testimony that we have heard from many noble Lords in this debate has shown exactly why this issue is so important.
We continue to work closely with the higher education sector to promote effective practice. Higher education providers are autonomous bodies, independent of government, and have a responsibility to support their students, including those with mental health conditions or mental health needs. They are experts in their student population and best placed to identify the needs of their student body. The Government therefore strongly support Universities UK’s step-change programme, which focuses on the need for a whole-institution approach and in doing so supports the spread of good practice and the agreement of guidelines for co-commissioning and the provision of mental health and well-being services. In addition, the Government actively back the sector-led university mental health charter which aims to drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and well-being and invites universities to meet high standards of practice, including in areas such as leadership, early intervention and data collection.
While it is for higher education providers to determine what welfare and counselling services they need to provide to their students to offer that support, the OfS provides funding, support and guidance to providers to support students’ mental health. Noble Lords are right to say that sufficient attention has not been paid to this issue in the past and that, while steps are being taken to put this right and move in the right direction, there is more to do. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, noted, that may not be best addressed through more legislation or regulation. However, I reassure noble Lords that, if the OfS wished to impose a condition of registration that related directly to mental health, the exiting legislation under HERA is flexible enough for it to do so.
The Government and the OfS do not see that as the right route at this stage. Rather, the aim of Clause 17 is to put beyond doubt the ability of the OfS to set minimum expectations of quality and performance by reference to objectively measurable outcomes. My noble friend Lord Lucas acknowledged that there may be some difficulty in defining those outcomes on something such as mental health provision. I confirm to my noble friend that the existing legislation can be read so as to allow institutions to be subject to more than one measure, so Amendment 64 is not required.
I turn to Amendments 65 to 68 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. I first reassure the noble Baroness in relation to Amendment 65 that not only does the OfS already have a statutory duty to consult before determining or revising its regulatory framework in relation to outcomes, it has already undergone one round of consultation, as she has already noted, and a further consultation on specific outcome levels is planned for late autumn.
With regard to Amendment 66, leaving out “not”, as the amendment does, completely reverses the purpose of this clause. Driving up quality and standards in higher education is a priority for this Government and a fundamental part of the levelling-up agenda. This amendment would mean that students would be expected to accept that they might achieve different outcomes—and in some cases, lower ones—depending on their background. That cannot be right. That is why we included the provision in this clause to make it clear that there is no mandate on the OfS to benchmark the minimum levels of standards it sets based on factors such as particular student characteristics. Benchmarking or setting minimum levels by reference to the outcomes the OfS would expect from students with certain characteristics or certain types of providers risks entrenching disadvantage in the system.
I hope I can clarify one point and reassure a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Morris. Subsection (7) means that the OfS is not obliged to set minimum expected levels of outcome based on these factors. It does not prevent the OfS collecting data or considering the type of students a provider has. Indeed, the OfS will look at this when reaching a rounded judgment of quality.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked whether this is about clarifying the existing approach or giving new powers or a new approach. The OfS is already regulating based on absolute student outcomes data. In practice, the amendment will not affect the OfS’s current approach but will put beyond doubt its ability to continue to operate in this way. I will return to this point later in relation to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Willetts.
Amendment 67 seeks to probe the OfS’s powers of intervention at subject level. The current drafting in subsection (7) is intended to make it clear that the OfS is not required to determine and publish different minimum levels to reflect differences, including differences in the subjects being studied. While this does not preclude the OfS from doing so, the intention here is for minimum levels to be set by reference to the outcomes set out in subsection (5).
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked me to clarify her understanding, based on correspondence with Bill officials, of the powers of intervention at subject level. The OfS can intervene at subject level. As the noble Baroness noted, the OfS has an obligation to be proportionate in its interventions. However, any conduct that the OfS has decided constitutes a breach can be enforced, whether that conduct relates to all subjects or an individual subject. Courses could also be included in extremis.
The noble Baroness also asked how the OfS may assess quality when it comes to modular provision, given the changes that we are aiming to make in the LLE. The Government and the OfS are working closely together as part of the development of the lifelong learning entitlement. The OfS quality measures are designed to be flexible and used effectively by the OfS across a diverse provider base and different courses, for example part-time courses. As we will come on to, the OfS is currently consulting on its approach to regulating quality and standards. This includes consideration of its approach to modular and flexible provision. The OfS will consult on the indicators it proposes to use and how it proposes to take the context of the provider into account as it makes regulatory judgments. The purpose of Clause 17 is to provide clarity on the ability of the OfS to use absolute outcome measures, not to remove its ability to use other contextual or relative information.
On Amendment 68, I can reassure the noble Baroness that the OfS already has a statutory duty, under Section 2 of HERA, to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity when exercising any of its functions, and that will also apply to this measure. That duty applies to the whole student lifecycle for disadvantaged students and traditionally underrepresented groups.
Amendment 69, from my noble friend Lord Willetts, seeks to place new requirements on the OfS to publish an assessment of the effects of its decisions, and to allow institutions to be given opportunities to account for any differences in information. Amendment 71 requires the DfE to share the information used to assess institutions. As the independent regulator, it is for the OfS to decide which data or measures it wishes to consider when using student outcomes to assess quality. However, I can reassure noble Lords that, as part of the consultation later this year, the OfS will consult on the student outcome measures it proposes to use as minimum baselines, and set out the impact on students, institutions and courses.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who made the point that getting this right requires properly involving universities and HE providers in setting the right outcome measures, that is exactly the aim of the two consultation processes that the OfS has undertaken and will be undertaking later this year.
As I have tried to emphasise to noble Lords, the OfS does and will continue to look at overall contexts before reaching a well-rounded judgment of performance, and higher education providers will have an opportunity to respond to the OfS as part of that consultation. More generally, HERA also enables providers to make representations to the OfS, and, in the case of deregistration decisions, to bring appeals where the OfS is proposing to use enforcement powers in an individual case.
I turn finally to Amendment 70, from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, which relates to the UK Quality Code and requires the OfS to work with devolved Administrations to minimise different assessments of higher education quality. Higher education is, of course, a devolved matter, and it is absolutely right that each Administration should be free to drive up quality in the way that they think is best. I understand, however, that the noble Baroness is concerned about the removal of a direct reference to the UK Quality Code from the guidance in the regulatory framework of the OfS, and about the possible impact that might have on the reputation of the UK’s higher education sector. The OfS has made it clear that its regulatory requirements would continue to cover the issues expressed in the expectations and core practices of the quality code, which will remain an important feature of the regulatory framework. The Office for Students is not proposing to abolish the UK Quality Code—indeed, it has no power to do so. I will take the opportunity to make it clear that the UK Quality Code will continue to be an important part of the sector, and one that providers will continue to be able to use.
I believe that all the amendments in this group seek to ensure that the OfS takes a well-rounded view of provision when making an assessment of quality, and in doing so does not inadvertently reduce access to students from particular backgrounds or access to particular subjects. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that that will be the case, while also ensuring that the OfS has the powers it needs to ensure that every student, regardless of background, has the right to expect the same minimum level of quality from their education, and the same opportunities to achieve successful outcomes.
I therefore hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment, and that other noble Lords will not feel the need to move theirs when they are reached.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of those who have spoken. The question of supporting students and getting their mental health needs looked after is one for which I—and, I suspect, a very large number of other parents—absolutely have a minimum expected level. I therefore find my noble friend’s statements of government policy in this area uncomfortably flabby. The Government support UUK—good. They back the mental health charter—good. However, universities have been subject to this sort of pressure for a long time and have not moved.
In the spirit of the Bill and of a minimum expected level, I really hope that the Government will consider what else they might do. It absolutely does not need to be measurement under Clause 17; it would work very well if, to pick up on the spirit of the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, someone with character and reputation set out as an individual to work with the universities to get them to the place they should be. Such people are not impossible to find. However, we need something to make universities focus, and which says, “This isn’t just one of the other things that the Government find important but one of the things which we must do, and we know that, even if it can’t be expressed as a number, there is a standard which we have to reach”.
Not surprisingly, I listened with interest to my noble friend Lord Willetts’s explanation of his interest in this area. The question “How are people like me doing at this university?” absolutely ought to be something that interests the university just as much as the student. They should be looking at, for instance, students they have recruited with high and low qualifications relative to the average of a class and asking, “How do they do? Why are students dropping out? Is there stuff here we should be feeding back to their schools because perhaps they have not had the advice that they ought to have had there? Do we really understand the needs of particular types of children, whoever they might be? Are we seeing effects that might reflect something we could improve in this university?” There are lots of different ways of cutting that cake. The self-improving university comes from an attachment to data and a care for its students, rather than just a care for process; that is what we must strive to inculcate, improve and increase in our universities. That human side of the interaction is the foundation of making sure that the physical university survives in a virtual world.
As I said, I am grateful for all the support that I have received. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Amendments 64 to 71 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 72. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 18: List of relevant providers
72: Clause 18, page 22, line 18, leave out paragraph (b)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that relevant providers will not be charged further costs when a provider’s contract for services with the Education and Funding Agency already requires a contractor to maintain at its own cost a policy or policies of insurance.
My Lords, this is a probing amendment intended to explore more fully the Government’s intentions in respect of independent training providers—ITPs—and their role in relation to the provisions of the Bill. I was delighted that my noble friend Lady Greengross raised this issue right at the beginning of our debate, so it has in a sense been bookended by ITPs.
According to the Bill’s impact assessment, there were 3,737 ITPs in 2019-20, about half of them small businesses. Some 700 of these are members of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, delivering vocational learning and employability support to 350,000 employers. They train around three-quarters of apprentices and young people on traineeships, as well as delivering adult education and programmes for the unemployed.
Some ITPs are large and well resourced, but the great majority are small, demand-led specialist businesses, often in towns and rural areas not served by colleges. There are 1,186 towns in England, I gather, but only about 170 FE colleges. Employers choose them because they are responsive and fleet of foot, as my noble friend Lord Bichard pointed out at Second Reading, and reach the parts other training bodies cannot reach, filling gaps in available training provision. The quality of their training is evidenced both in Ofsted reports and in employer and learner satisfaction surveys, with generally higher ratings than FE colleges. As such, they are an extremely important part of the education and skills landscape, and should be fully involved in the development and delivery of LSIPs. They should also receive a fair share of the funding available under government-supported schemes, whether directly or, more often, as subcontractors to larger providers. This is by no means always the case: frequently the funding available to ITPs is capped or reduced, with the result that they are unable to deliver the level of training for which they have capacity, for which there is demand, and on which their business plans have been based.
The main focus of the Bill, in respect of ITPs, is on protecting students from the effects of providers making unplanned exits from the market and failing to complete delivery of contracted training. There have of course been such failures, some of them high-profile and resulting in learners being left with debt on their loans but no course to complete. Again, according to the Bill’s impact assessment, 60 ITPs made unplanned exits in 2019-20, but there are many reasons for unplanned exits and it is not clear how many involved scandal or fraud, or what impact there may have been on learners. I have seen little evidence to justify the unduly negative reputation of the ITP sector, nor am I convinced that the measures proposed in the Bill would resolve the problems that exist. On the contrary, I fear that they might have the opposite effect, by forcing providers out of business, or discouraging new entrants to the market, thereby reducing innovation, competition and availability of needed training. The Government’s own impact assessment for the Bill admits that the measures
“are likely to have a significant impact on small or micro businesses from a resource and cost perspective.”
There was no mention of a list of providers in January’s White Paper, and there has been no consultation on the proposal, although this is promised for next spring, by which time the Bill will no doubt have been passed. The Bill would create a new list of relevant providers, and to be eligible to receive government funding an ITP would have to be included on this list, which would require it to meet a series of conditions and to pay a fee. I have no problem with the idea of such a list, nor with its being a prerequisite for receiving government funding. There is already a register of apprenticeship training providers, including many ITPs, and a broader register of training organisations that, somewhat ironically, is being decommissioned at the end of this month.
I do worry, however, about the specific conditions likely to be required for inclusion on the list, and the fact that they appear, albeit only as possibilities, in the Bill before there has been any consultation. These conditions include requirements for student support plans, for insurance cover, for providers to be fit and proper persons, and for the provision of information to, and taking action on directions from, the Secretary of State. The Bill also makes provision for fees to be charged for entry on to the list. Some of these conditions seem perfectly acceptable, and indeed are already required under existing ESFA contracts—which is where I believe they are more appropriately based—but I would argue that imposing this additional level of centralised regulation and cost is disproportionate and potentially damaging. It is based on the idea of a unified system of protection for all learners, without recognising the substantial differences between small independent providers and more established publicly funded bodies, such as FE colleges and schools.
There are particular concerns over the possible insurance condition. ESFA rules already require providers to maintain a range of insurance cover, including professional indemnity, employers’ liability and public liability insurance, but the Bill’s impact assessment seems to envisage a new form of insurance to offset costs to the Government in the event of a provider failure. Such insurance does not currently exist, and it is not clear how it might work in practice, let alone what it might cost. My amendment therefore proposes simply removing the mention of insurance cover from the list of example conditions in the Bill.
Finally, there is the issue of a registration fee for entry on to the list. This would presumably not be exorbitant but, however reasonable it might be, it will eat further into the already tight margins of many smaller ITPs, without seeming likely to offer significant benefit to the recipients of their training in return—other than ultimately having to bear the extra cost. So I welcome and support Amendment 74 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which seeks information on how the charging of this fee would be regulated.
I hope the Minister in her response to this group will be able to give some reassurance to ITPs that they will not face disproportionate restrictions or entry barriers under this Bill, and that their views will be duly sought and properly taken into account, via the planned consultation, before the proposed list of relevant providers is implemented. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 74 probes the charging of fees in connection with entries on the list of relevant providers. The Bill would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide for a list of post-16 education or training providers, including independent training providers.
We have no argument with the principle of introducing legislative measures to protect the interests of learners, and agree wholeheartedly that those who run providers on the proposed list of relevant providers should be “fit and proper persons”. But we are concerned that many of the provisions appear to be just piling costs upon ITP delivery without any consultation or rationale as to why they are necessary. Can the Minister explain why no such exercise has taken place and assure the Committee that meaningful consultations will take place before any new requirements for providers are introduced via regulations?
Under the proposals, any provider not on the approved list will not be granted funding agreements or be allowed to subcontract with another provider that is on the list, so this will not be an option going forward. Yet being on this list does not guarantee future financial sustainability, given that the Government admit that listing will have a “significant impact” on the costs of smaller providers because of the need to pay to join and the imposition of mandatory professional indemnity insurance, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in his Amendment 72.
If this is in response to concerns about provider failure, I too fail to see how enhanced liability insurance and more stringent entry registrations will have any impact or give protection to learners. Meanwhile, it risks destabilising the entire ITP sector at a time when the economy desperately needs more skilled staff as we emerge from the pandemic and as the effects of Brexit on the labour market are felt.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers has also raised concerns about the practicality of this indemnity requirement, given that it is not aware that the insurance product that the Government may have in mind actually exists, despite such a requirement being written into primary legislation. I hope the Minister is able to address this in her response.
There is also understandable concern in the sector that increasing costs may be a backdoor way to reduce the number of ITPs in the market. Can the Minister confirm whether this is indeed the Government’s intention? If it is, I am concerned that such a policy could backfire spectacularly and have significant adverse consequences for learners and communities.
ITPs deliver three-quarters of all apprenticeship, traineeship and adult education budget programmes. While many are small, they provide crucial and valuable opportunities and bring much-needed responsiveness, innovation and competition to the skills training marketplace. Many ITPs are either specialist providers or serve areas out of easy reach of a local college—indeed, there are 1,186 towns but only 170 FE colleges in England. Does the Minister recognise that ITPs are very good at reaching out to small businesses in small towns and rural areas which do not have a local college, including the Chancellor’s Yorkshire constituency and some red wall areas? Does she agree that they have a major contribution to make to the Government’s levelling-up agenda?
I hope the Minister can provide some clarity on these issues and assure the House that independent training providers will be able to continue to provide value opportunities, which will be crucial to the country’s post-pandemic recovery.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the agreement in principle that a list of independent training providers is a requirement, as I believe it was suggested in this House in previous legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is correct: the core focus of the list is to protect learners and reduce the significant disruption to learners that provider failure can cause. We value highly the role of relevant providers, including independent training providers and in particular those small providers noble Lords have mentioned. We are not unduly negative at all about their role in providing a diverse and innovative learning offer. They provide a great deal of variety to many learners.
The provisions in Clause 18(7) include a requirement for a provider to have insurance for examples of conditions that may be specified in regulations that providers must meet in order to be on the list. In a similar way, subsection (10) gives examples of provisions that may be specified in regulations in connection with the keeping of the list, which would ultimately help deliver a well-functioning, transparent and fair scheme to all those involved.
We propose that the student support plans we envisage providers having will, subject to consultation—which I will mention further—follow the approach in the HE sector, where the Office for Students requires a statement of the level of risks to the continuation of study. We must remember this is study paid for by the taxpayer, and obviously it is in everybody’s interests that that course of study is completed.
I would like to allay the fears of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox: as the clauses require, we will consult on the conditions and provisions for being on the list, prior to making the first set of regulations, to help ensure that those conditions manage and mitigate the risk of disorderly exit. That consultation will allow us to fully take into account the views of those affected by the scheme, particularly the small providers noble Lords have outlined.
I turn to the specifics of the amendments. Amendment 72 is intended to ensure relevant providers will not be subject to further costs relating to obtaining insurance cover. The introduction of insurance, or an equivalent, may be useful in preventing or mitigating the risk of provider failure and assist with learner transfers at that point. If we were to introduce a condition in relation to insurance, the aim would be for learners to benefit from greater continuity of provision. Clause 18(9) allows different conditions to be applied for different descriptions of providers. It is not one size fits all. This would ensure that, where appropriate, we could make the scheme as flexible as possible.
Amendment 74 is intended to probe how the charging of fees in connection with entries on the list will be regulated. It is reasonable to expect that some fees may be necessary to recover the costs—I emphasise “costs”—of administering the list. It is important that we retain the ability to introduce fees if they are deemed necessary to run an effective and fiscally responsible scheme. I can, however, offer an assurance that this would be the sole purpose of any fees. They would be set to a reasonable level, with reasonable notice and with consideration of the impact on providers of all sizes. There would be no intention to make a profit at the expense of providers.
Regulations to create the list are subject to the affirmative procedure, so there will be further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of any conditions or provisions specified. This includes regulations relating to any requirements for providers to have insurance or an equivalent, if proposed in the regulations following consultation, as well as any requirement to charge fees. If regulations setting out the basis for charging fees were to change again in the future, those amending regulations would also be subject to the affirmative procedure.
I therefore hope the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment and that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, will not feel the need to move her amendment when it is reached.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who made some good points, very strongly. I entirely agreed with her.
Despite the Minister’s hope, I am rather less comfortable with her response. This is going to have a very big impact, particularly on the smaller ITPs. The Minister talked about it being designed to avoid significant disruption to learners. What is this “significant disruption” and where are the examples? I have heard of two major cases, and a lot of others where nobody can produce any evidence at all, so I am not clear whether the problem being addressed justifies the scale of the sledgehammer being used to address it. I appreciate that the conditions in the Bill are examples, but the fact that they are there seems to make it very likely that they will turn up as conditions when the actual contracts get written. I would much rather see that left to the ESFA or the contracts, or whatever.
I think the Minister also mentioned that the approach was based on the higher education sector, but there is no comparison at all between a university and some of these small ITPs. It is just ludicrous to have the same sort of requirements placed on them as would be placed on a university. I very much hope that this consultation will be serious and deep, and taken great account of when it happens. I also hope that the fee will indeed be reasonable.
Before I withdraw my amendment, as the only Back-Bencher left standing I congratulate those on the Front Benches who remain in place, and particularly the two Ministers, on their efforts today, unhappy as I am with this final response. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 72 withdrawn.
Amendments 73 and 74 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19: Prohibitions on entering into funding arrangements with providers
Amendment 75 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clauses 20 and 21 agreed.
House adjourned at 8.42 pm.