Report (2nd Day) (Continued)
36: Before Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—
“Personal Education and Skills Account
(1) A Personal Education and Skills Account (“PESA”) is an account—(a) held by an eligible adult (an “account holder”); and(b) which satisfies the requirements of this section.(2) An eligible adult is a person who—(a) is aged 18 or over; and(b) is ordinarily resident in England.(3) A PESA may be held only with a person (an “account provider”) who has been approved by the Secretary of State in accordance with regulations.(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations establish a body to administer the operation of the PESA scheme.(5) In the case of each person who is eligible under subsection (2), the body established under subsection (4) must open a PESA for that person.(6) If a person does not wish to hold a PESA, they must inform the body under subsection (4) in writing in accordance with regulations.(7) The Secretary of State must pay into each PESA a deposit of £4,000 during the year in which each account holder attains the age of 25 and a deposit of £3,000 during the year in which each account holder attains—(a) the age of 40; and(b) the age of 55.(8) Further contributions may be made to a PESA by—(a) an account holder;(b) employers; or (c) any other person as may be prescribed by regulations by the Secretary of State.(9) At any time after an account holder has attained the age of 25, they may transfer funding from their PESA to an approved institution for their chosen education or training course.(10) For the purposes of subsection (9) an “approved institution” is—(a) a “relevant provider” under section 18;(b) such other education or training providers as may be approved by the Office for Students.(11) Prior to an account holder making an initial funding transfer, the National Careers Service must offer a careers guidance consultation to that account holder.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for individual “skills wallets” which may be used by a person to pay for education and training courses throughout their lifetime. The Government will make a payment of £4,000 when an individual turns 25 and then two further payments of £3,000 when an individual turns 40 and 55.
Amendment 36 provides for the introduction of personal education and skills accounts, commonly known as skills wallets. As stressed by many of your Lordships during the passage of the Bill, there is growing discontent about the way in which post-16 education and training are provided and the reality of the skills needed for our population.
We know that in future the average British worker will do several different jobs throughout their lifetime; almost half will retrain completely during the course of their career. Meanwhile, the number of adult learners has fallen dramatically, almost halving between 2004 and 2016. With technology advancing and the world of work always rapidly changing, skills learned at 18 or 21 will not last a lifetime. It has never been more important for people to continually develop new skills. Yet our higher education and student finance systems are still tailored mainly to people taking their first degree or beginning an apprenticeship around the age of 18. Meanwhile, there is a desperate shortage of funding in the FE sector. The current system limits the opportunities, and people do not get the chance to make the most of their talents. Do we not want to empower people to develop new skills, so that they can thrive in the technologies and industries that are key to Britain’s economic future? Championing flexible lifelong learning will give people the power to follow the path that best suits their ability. A skills wallet would be open to every adult over the age of 18 and resident in the UK.
I remind the House of the quite important words of the previous Secretary of State for Education when introducing the lifetime skills guarantee:
“What we are determined to do, and what we must do, is give people the opportunity to retrain and upskill, so that if one door closes, they will have the key to open others.”
He went on to say that the Government
“stand for empowering everyone in this country, wherever they live. We stand for the forgotten 50% who do not go to university.”
The measures that he wanted to see
“will embed greater flexibility in the technical and vocational system to support not just young people but adults who need to retrain and upskill at any point in their working lives.”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/10/20; col. 541.]
Those comments justify the need for this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think there has been a regrouping; I was about to speak on an amendment that seems to have disappeared from here. I have added my name to Amendment 45A from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, which is still in this group, and of course I entirely endorse what my noble friend Lord Storey said about the importance of the skills wallet.
The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is on lifelong learning. Of course, we would much rather see the support for this as grants, rather than loans, to attract adults with financial obligations that deter them from accruing more long-term debt—particularly if it is to encourage their own learning. The amendment is designed to monitor how well the lifelong learning arrangements are working. We particularly wish to see how restricting funding for those studying for an equal or lower-level qualification than one they already hold is impacting the nation’s skills level.
Changes in the world of work mean that many people who already have a level 3 qualification, if they are made unemployed and need to retrain, will need to be able to study for a subsequent qualification at this level or below. The lifetime skills guarantee extended the entitlement beyond those aged under 25 to all adults, but only to a limited list of level 3 qualifications and only for those who do not already have one. It is vital that adults are able to reskill at a lower level in a skill area different from the one already mastered, if that will enable them to gain employment.
This really important amendment calls for the Secretary of State
“to publish an annual report on the impact on re-skilling of funding restrictions on those who wish to pursue a qualification at a level equivalent to or lower than one they already hold.”
My Lords, I have also added my name to Amendment 45A from the noble Lord, Lord Watson. During the first day of Report, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, spoke about previous unsuccessful skills improvement initiatives and asked,
“why will it be different this time?”—[Official Report, 12/10/21; col. 1765.]
Why will the Government’s new skills system, as embodied in the Bill, work better than its predecessors? In my view, one of the answers will need to be a really vigorous and well thought-through approach to reporting, monitoring and evaluating the different elements of the strategy and how they all work together. The lifelong learning entitlement and the lifetime skills guarantee—I think I have those the right way around—are essential elements of the strategy but need to be transformed from slogans into realities. A crucial part of achieving that will be review, review, review.
I might prefer this amendment if proposed new subsection (1) ended slightly differently, to read, “a report on the impact on the overall levels of skills in England and Wales of all the provisions of this Act”, rather than confining itself to
“the rules regarding eligibility for funding for those undertaking further or higher education courses.”
In the meantime, I will content myself with supporting the noble Lord’s amendment as it stands—with its effect of ensuring that the impact of the equivalent or lower qualification rule is at least reviewed and assessed on a regular annual basis—while encouraging the Minister to look at beefing up further the process of reviewing the overall progress of the skills strategy, beyond the performance monitoring and review of designated employer representative bodies described in her letter to us.
My Lords, I slightly unexpectedly find myself to be the first person to speak to Amendment 40 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, also signed by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and me. Amendment 45A calls for a review to look at the issues around a restriction on allowing people to study at a level below that which they already possess. Amendment 40 goes further in removing restrictions.
I would have thought that naturally the Conservative position would be a belief that the person best placed to decide their best course of study would be the individual concerned rather than the state. This is a question of individual choice, about people knowing best their own situation. Therefore, while I very much support Amendment 45A, which at least calls for a review, I would go back to the more fundamental change in Amendment 40.
I am also in favour of Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey. Education is a public good. We hear a lot of talk about investment for levelling up. Well, investment in people is the most fundamental investment of all. It is flexible, it enables people to make choices for themselves. A new or improved railway line or better school facilities are there and accessible to people, but people making their own choices is what investment in education is all about.
I am also in favour of Amendment 48, not yet addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. I will leave her to fully explain this, but it is worth stressing that what does not get measured and focused on does not get funded or supported. That is the principle behind that amendment.
My Lords, as this is my first speech on Report, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, to her new ministerial role, and place on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for her hard work on the Bill and her openness and willingness to engage with those of us on this side.
I speak specifically to the government amendments in this group. My noble friend Lady Wilcox will talk about the others in this group. We would have preferred them to be de-grouped, but time is short. However, the Government were planning to bring back for Report detailed amendments on the lifelong loan entitlement. Since they have now decided not to do that, we are left with several questions which I must ask. I apologise for doing so on Report, but we have not had an opportunity to do so otherwise.
In Committee, the Government tabled some amendments which were presented as providing some of the wiring in the basement of higher education that would be needed when Ministers unveiled their renovation plans in the form of the LLE. However, since those plans must wait until another day and, we are told, until more primary legislation, because Ministers want to wait for the consultation first, we are left with some big questions. One obvious question is: when will the consultation happen? Indeed, why is it not already out there? What is holding it up?
Ministers have brought back some parts of the wiring amendments on Report. The LLE is meant to cover courses and modules in FE and HE. Clause 14 amends the Teaching and Higher Education Act to allow for the funding of courses in FE and modules in FE and HE, a lifetime funding limit and for funding not just for an academic year. Clause 15 amends HERA to change the definition of a “higher education course” to make it clear that the regulatory regime applies to modules. Government Amendment 39 defines what a course and a module are. However, at the risk of being nerdy, I point out that the Government have not brought back the parts of an amendment that they tabled in Committee which required the Office for Students to specify fee limits for modules as well as courses. We are told offline that the Government will provide for modular fee limits after the consultation. Will that require primary legislation? Does any other aspect of the LLE require primary legislation? If so, can we have a timescale for it? If not, can the Minister say how and when Parliament will have a full debate on the shape and scope of the LLE absent primary legislation?
Where does that leave us in the gap between the Bill taking effect and the new regime being brought forward? If THEA will now permit student loan funding to cover modules which are not taken as part of a full course, does that mean that a provider could do that now but with no fee limits, or would that require regulations to be made, perhaps under THEA? If so, can the Minister assure the House that no such regulations will be brought forward ahead of the debate on the primary legislation promised to enable LLE?
I have three other questions. First, does the same definition of a module in the Bill, as it will be amended, apply for all purposes—funding and regulation—in both HERA and THEA? I ask because Clause 15 as amended by government Amendment 39 offers a definition of a module, which I mentioned in Committee. However, new subsection (1)(e) in Clause 14(1) provides that regulations under Section 28A of HERA may prescribe the meaning of “module” in relation to HE or FE. Can the Minister clarify that distinction? Secondly, on funding, irrespective of how LLE develops, does it mean that a module can be funded via the student loan book only if it is part of a full course? In other words, would the Bill as amended exclude a module which was not part of a qualification?
Finally, the Bill brings the regulation of modules clearly within the remit of the OfS but there are lots of outstanding questions about what quality looks like for modular provision. The OfS has just closed its second-phase consultation on its proposals for new quality and standard conditions, in which it repeatedly stressed that their new conditions were designed to work for modules as well as courses. It will shortly consult on new quantitative metrics. The current measures—student continuation, completion, and progression to graduate jobs—will self-evidently not transfer across to modules from full HE courses. Is the intention for that consultation to consult on new metrics which will apply to flexible modules as well as full courses? If so, is the Minister concerned that this may pre-empt decisions of this House?
I am concerned that by legislating now on the regulation of flexible provision but holding back on funding and other details, the law is being changed without adequate scrutiny of what the new system will look like. Why have the Government brought these amendments back now? Why not hold off until we have that new primary legislation and Parliament can have a full, informed and coherent debate about how this will work?
My Lords, as the Bill before us today is about education, I hope that noble Lords will not mind me veering slightly off topic for a moment. Today marks the 55th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip on 21 October 1966 that killed 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed Pantglas Junior School. I was a pupil at Pontygwaith Junior School in the Rhondda at that time, another valleys primary school built on the side of a mountain, and as we returned to school after lunch we were sent into the yard and told to put our hands together, close our eyes and pray for the children of Aberfan. I had never heard of Aberfan at that time, but I have never forgotten it since.
I speak to Amendments 40, 41, 45A and 61 in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson, who unfortunately, because of the change to the timetable, is unable to be here today. The Government originally promised to table LLE amendments ahead of Committee, but unfortunately very few of substance materialised. We were told that they would be tabled for Report, but we have now been advised by the Minister and her Bill team that this was not possible and that they intend to consult and pilot the lifelong loan entitlement before returning with new primary legislation. This is disappointing given that the LLE is supposed to be the Government’s flagship policy and is urgently needed, but it is not surprising, because the sheer complexity of what they are trying to build was immediately apparent to all—apart from, it seems, the Bill team.
Perhaps the delay will give the Minister time to reflect on the length of the LLE. At present, it will offer up to four years of equivalent funding for levels 4 to 6, and while for some people this may be enough, for others it simply will not be. Undertaking a foundation or access year plus a three-year bachelor’s degree, which is a common route, would use it all up in one go. Therefore Amendment 41, requiring the Secretary of State to consult on extending eligibility to six years to give greater flexibility, is important. It will be especially important to those studying part-time and help to encourage adult learners to take up an offer to study and upskill. It is supported by the Association of Colleges, training providers and other stakeholders that we have engaged with in preparation for this debate.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for tabling Amendment 43, which allows the Secretary of State to make provision for the LLE to include maintenance provisions to include living costs to help disadvantaged students. We tabled this amendment in Committee and, as my noble friend Lord Watson highlighted then, one of the main barriers for adult learners, highlighted in the DfE’s own impact assessment, is the cost of study, including living costs. Yet, as drafted, the LLE covers only tuition costs. The Welsh Government recently introduced reforms to tackle this issue by extending maintenance support, including means-tested grants to all students regardless of mode of study, while maintaining low tuition fees for part-time study. Unsurprisingly, this has had a huge impact on participation.
Amendment 40 removes the equivalent or lower qualification—ELQ—exemption rule for the LLE to ensure eligibility for student loan funding for another qualification at that or a lower level, to facilitate career changes. It also ensures LLE eligibility regardless of subject, intensity of study, institution or learning style. We are concerned that, unless reformed, the ELQ rule could pose a significant barrier to further education providers working with local employers to deliver training in priority sectors that support communities.
I will not repeat in full the arguments my noble friend Lord Watson gave on this issue in Committee, nor will I repeat the searching and directly targeted questions from my noble friend Lady Sherlock. The ELQ rule means that anyone qualified to level 4 cannot access government loans or grants to study a qualification at an equivalent or lower level. I suggest this must be urgently reconsidered if the LLE is to succeed in providing opportunities for people to reskill for a new career where such skills are in demand. According to the Office for Students, there are exemptions to the ELQ rule if it is a qualification in a public sector profession, such as medicine, nursing, social work or teaching, or if the student is studying for a foundation degree or receiving a disability student allowance.
Mayoral combined authorities with devolved powers have begun to move away from the ELQ rule. Indeed, the Conservative-controlled West Midlands Combined Authority is running a pilot offering fully funded care management qualifications at level 3 and 4 to black, Asian and minority-ethnic women regardless of their prior attainment. The Augar review also proposed scrapping the complex ELQ rule. The need has been recognised, and there are precedents for the Government to follow.
It was disappointing that the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, withdrew last week what was then Amendment 42, requiring the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the impact on reskilling of funding restrictions on people requiring a qualification at a level equivalent to or below the one they already hold. We were supportive of that amendment, so it has been resubmitted in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson and appears as Amendment 45A. I do not propose to elaborate, as it is self-explanatory.
Another complex area concerns credit transfer arrangements to allow students to move between education providers. Amendment 61 is a probing amendment designed to elicit more information on this. A universal credit transfer system would have significant benefits to many students, not least in terms of widening participation. The Open University’s OpenPlus programme, where students initially study at one institution before completing their studies at another, is an example of what can be achieved. I would be very grateful if, ahead of consultation, the Minister can outline how the Government intend to address and overcome the lack of commonality which my noble friend Lord Watson raised in Committee. Can she say what discussions the DfE has had since then with the devolved Governments and what those discussions have produced? Any scheme for allowing students to use credit flexibly must enable transferability across the UK—many people living in Newport study in Bristol, and vice versa—and internationally. It also needs to support credit transfer not just in HE but between FE and HE. I hope the Minister can say how she anticipates that will be facilitated.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, for reminding us of the tragedy of Aberfan and the terrible loss of life on that day. I will speak first to the amendments in my name on the lifelong loan entitlement and then respond to your Lordships’ amendments.
The amendments being laid today primarily address the technical underpinnings of the LLE and make other minor corrections to enable a strong legislative framework. We are laying them now to introduce the enabling powers for the Secretary of State that are necessary to the delivery of the LLE from 2025. The Government previously set out that we would table additional amendments, as your Lordships have noted, outlining further detail on the modular fee limit policy of the LLE. Following further policy development and engagement with stakeholders, including debate in Committee in this House, the Government have decided not to lay these before we consult. As noble Lords have noted, these are complex issues and it is essential that our final policy approach is informed by the needs of students, providers and all key stakeholders. This complexity was demonstrated in Committee by some of the questions on the detail and implementation of the lifelong loan entitlement. Given the intricate nature of such legislation, we must not pre-empt further policy design or decisions based on the consultation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked what the consultation will contain. We intend to seek views on our ambition, objectives and coverage. This will include aspects such as but not limited to: the level of modularity —this will cover the minimum number of credits a course will need to bear to be eligible for funding; maintenance support; how to support quality provision and flexible learning; how to incentivise and enable effective credit transfer; and whether restrictions on previous study should be amended to facilitate retraining and stimulate high-quality provision. We intend to bring further primary legislation following consultation. This will allow us to meet the rollout timetable of the LLE from 2025, as originally planned.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, describes herself as nerdy; in my world, that is a great compliment. I thank her for her kind remarks about my getting to grips with the role, but I also commend my noble friend Lady Chisholm, who has found herself on an equally steep learning curve. To be clear on the timing of the LLE consultation, we commit to delivering the LLE from 2025. We cannot give the noble Baroness a firm date today, but it will be lined up so that we can deliver on that commitment. She also asked whether fee limits would require primary legislation; I can confirm that they would.
The noble Baroness also asked why the Government are laying amendments on the LLE now rather than waiting for future primary legislation—I have an instinctive feeling that, if we had not laid these amendments, she might have challenged the Government on our commitment to really delivering on this. Part of the reason is to be absolutely clear that there should be no doubt about that level of commitment.
In terms of the definitions of a module in the Bill, from both a funding and a regulatory perspective, I know that the noble Baroness has been in correspondence with colleagues in the department and I am happy to put a full, detailed response in a letter in the interests of time. The THEA and HERA legislation have two very different purposes. The former makes provision for loan funding via a broad set of regulation-making powers for the Secretary of State; the latter is principally about the regulatory regime—the powers of the Office for Students—and specifically enables the setting of fee limits for higher education courses by the Secretary of State. In Clause 14, new Section 28A(1)(e) modifies Section 22 of THEA by inserting new subsection (2ZA). That enables the Secretary of State to define what “module” means in relation to a higher or further education course for the purposes of making loan regulations.
Clause 15, which is to be amended by the government amendments, takes a slightly different approach due to the different regime that it covers. It clarifies that a module of a “full course”—an HE course, for example, mentioned in Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988—is itself a category of higher education course for the purposes of Part 1 of HERA 2017 when it is taken separately from the course from which it is derived.
Finally, the noble Baroness asked whether it was the intention that a module can be funded via the loan book only if it is part of a full course. The funding of modular loans will be delivered via regulations, using the modified powers to THEA under Clause 14 of the Bill, as noted earlier. The policy intention is for the lifelong loan entitlement to fund whole courses—or their component modules, if taken separately—that meet the necessary regulatory requirements and are provided by or on behalf of a registered provider. All registered providers currently offering loan-funded provision should be able to offer modular learning through the LLE. It is not the policy intention to fund modules that are not component parts of whole courses. The Bill would allow for regulations that could include or exclude from funding modules that are not part of a qualification. We will consult on the scope and policy of the lifelong loan entitlement, including seeking views on objectives and coverage, together with aspects such as the level of modularity.
The noble Baroness also asked about the regulations on fee limits and whether these would be introduced ahead of debate on the primary legislation. Any fee regulations would have to follow an affirmative resolution procedure, so there would be a debate in both Houses if and when the primary legislation has been introduced. I hope that that answers the noble Baroness’s questions, and I thank her for giving me warning of them.
As I was saying, we intend to bring further primary legislation following consultation, and we are still committed to meeting the rollout timetable of the LLE from 2025. As a number of noble Lords have said, we share that vision for lifelong learning to make sure that everyone, no matter where they live or their background, can gain the skills that they need to progress in work at any stage of their life.
As part of the lifetime skills guarantee, the lifelong loan entitlement will be introduced from 2025, providing individuals with a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of post-18 education to use over their lifetime. The LLE will create a flexible skills system through which people can build up learning over their lifetime and have a real choice in how and when they study. It will make it easier for students to navigate the options available, and it will encourage provision to meet the needs of people, employers and the economy better. We will endeavour to keep the House updated on the progress of the development of the LLE.
I turn now to the government amendments in my name, which seek to do three things. First, they will clarify what is meant by “module”, in reference to a higher education course. Secondly, they will avoid introducing a potential bureaucratic burden on providers. Thirdly, they will correct a previous error in legislation surrounding the teaching excellence framework. Specifically, Amendment 39 will amend Clause 15, which itself amends the definition of “higher education course” in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, to make express provision for the regulation of modules.
Currently, the post-18 education student finance systems do not provide for modules. The LLE will transform student finance by supporting more flexible and modular provision. These proposed changes will provide the explicit underpinning for the delivery of modular provision. On Amendments 37, 38 and 39, Clause 15, once amended, will make specific provisions for modules in Part 1 of HERA 2017, which relates to the regulatory regime under the Office for Students. These amendments also reduce the potential burden on providers to provide or publish information in relation to modules under Section 9 of that Act.
Amendment 59 relates to the high-level quality rating, which is currently an award under the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework—TEF—for providers without an approved access and participation plan. Higher education providers with a TEF award currently benefit from an uplift to their fee limit, which means that they are able to charge at a higher level than higher education providers without a TEF award.
There is currently an error in the legislation that could prevent a timely link between TEF awards and a provider’s fee limit. For example, let us consider a provider that does not have an approved access and participation plan. Whether that provider is entitled to the TEF fee uplift in any academic year is dependent on whether it had an award on 1 January in the calendar year before the relevant academic year. This means that a provider seeking to charge the TEF fee uplift in the academic year 2022-23 would be able to do so based on an award in force in January 2021, rather than January 2022, which was the original intent. This amendment will correct this and ensure that there is a more timely link between fee limits and the TEF, helping to further incentivise excellence in higher education. Amendment 73 to Clause 27 is a related consequential amendment that sets out that the new clause in Amendment 59 will come into force two months after Royal Assent.
Finally, I turn to Amendments 68 and 69, which set out the territorial extent of the provisions contained within the Bill. The LLE provisions extend to England and Wales but apply in relation to England because we are making amendments to the English student finance system. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked about our engagement with the devolved Administrations. We have engaged with them on the LLE and on other measures in the Bill, and contact and engagement continue as work on this area progresses.
Overall, we believe that these changes will help pave the way for more flexible study and for greater parity between further and higher education. As I said, we will consult on the detail and scope of the lifelong loan entitlement in due course.
I will now respond to your Lordships’ amendments and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today. I turn first to Amendment 36, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey. The Government warmly share the noble Lord’s desire to promote lifelong learning. However, this amendment would create significant fiscal and logistical challenges. It has the potential to disrupt our established loan support system in order to accommodate an additional system of grants. This would substantially increase costs to the taxpayer, both in the costs of such grants themselves and in their administration.
The amendment would mean that every individual in England would have a personal education and skills account. A report on this policy was published by the Independent Commission on Lifelong Learning in March 2019, setting out that the maximum total liability to government of PESAs would be £6.6 billion per year. It is worth noting briefly that this figure is likely to be an underestimate, because the PESA envisioned in that report was for a £9,000 sum, rather than the £10,000 suggested here.
The amendment also suggests that a new body would be created to administer these learning accounts for every adult resident in England. This process would have to happen seven years before an individual can first make use of any funds at age 25, and integration of these new accounts within the Student Loans Company’s existing operations would have significant cost and operational impacts. Moreover, there is an opportunity cost to the Government depositing thousands of pounds into these accounts, only to be left idle, waiting for an unknown point of use. This poses a strong contrast to our current loan support, made available at the point of study. Finally, these significant changes would risk delaying the rollout of the lifelong loan entitlement beyond 2025.
Turning next to Amendment 41, from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the Government’s vision for a four-year post-18 education loan entitlement mirrors the four years’ full-time undergraduate training recommendation of the Independent Panel Report to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. As many noble Lords will be aware, the panel reported following extensive consultation and stakeholder engagement, and sought specifically to promote both uptake of higher technical qualifications and flexible study through this recommendation.
The recommendations made were intended to strike the right balance between taxpayers and students. This amendment would potentially enable much greater cost to be borne by taxpayers than has been proposed by the Government. It is also worth noting that the existing flexibilities for part-time students will remain under the LLE and that part-time study would be able to exceed four calendar years, as needed. This would mean that, as currently, a student could study a course of four academic years at a lower intensity, over, for example, six calendar years, if they desired.
I turn to Amendment 61, again from the noble Lord, Lord Watson. I warmly welcome the interest that he has placed on ensuring that the Government have the powers needed to deliver the LLE, and agree strongly with the underlying principle. The Government believe that at the heart of the LLE is enabling greater flexibility. Where appropriate, learners must be able to accumulate and transfer credit between providers, building up meaningful qualifications over time. The Bill, and the government amendments we have tabled on the lifelong loan entitlement, provide the building blocks of a modular system; we intend to come back with further legislation once we have consulted on how that system should be made to work best in the interests of students.
In developing the LLE, we are working closely with the sector to understand current incentives and obstacles to credit transfer and recognition. We will examine how to support easier and more frequent credit transfer between providers, working towards well-integrated and aligned higher and further education provision, with flexibility that enables students to move between settings to suit their needs. So while we welcome the push behind this amendment, it remains important that consultation informs our approach to credit transfer. We must not predetermine the outcome, nor pin the Government to a path of top-down regulation, without understanding fully the impact on providers and learners.
I will now address Amendments 40 and 45A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on retraining and ELQs. The Government agree that many learners need to access courses in a more flexible way to fit study around their work, families and personal commitments, and to retrain as both their circumstances and the economy change. Developing skills across the country is a key priority for the Government as we seek to build back better from the pandemic.
In April, we launched the “free courses for jobs” offer as part of the lifetime skills guarantee. This gives all adults in England the opportunity to take their first level 3 qualification for free, regardless of their age. The offer builds upon the pre-existing legal entitlement for 19 to 23 year-olds to access their first full level 2 and/or level 3 qualification, which the free courses for jobs offer complements. Through the adult education budget, full funding is also available through legal entitlements for adults aged 19 and above to access English and maths, to improve their literacy and numeracy, and to access fully-funded digital skills qualifications for adults with no or low digital skills.
However, I should also note that existing equivalent or lower qualification rules were designed to help maintain a sustainable system. As such, we are designing the lifelong loan entitlement to support students pursuing higher and further education flexibly, but also to share the costs fairly. We want the lifelong loan entitlement to provide value for money to students, the education sector and the taxpayer. The complexity of this balance and the transformative nature of the LLE are among many reasons why we intend to consult on the detail and scope of the LLE before legislating on eligibility. It is crucial that careful consideration of the needs of providers, learners and stakeholders informs our final policy design and that we do not pre-empt the findings of the consultation.
Regarding Amendment 45A, introducing an ongoing review on eligibility into primary legislation before the policy detail is yet finalised may also prejudice the outcome of the consultation. Additionally, the Government believe that a yearly report without an end date could be an undue and non-proportionate burden to be tied to at this stage.
I again note that Amendments 40 and 45A would be out of kilter with similar legislation passed previously in your Lordships’ House in relation to student finance. As outlined earlier, much of the detail of how the system works, such as exact eligibility criteria, has been set out in secondary legislation, and the necessary monitoring and review will be undertaken after changes have been implemented and had time to embed.
On Amendment 43, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I can reassure him that the Bill already provides the necessary powers for maintenance support. Clause 14(1) modifies the powers in Section 22(1) of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, so that regulations will be able to provide for maintenance and living cost loans for eligible students taking designated modules of higher or further education courses. The introduction of this would follow consultation, which, as I have mentioned, will cover maintenance support. This amendment is therefore not necessary but I warmly welcome—and the Government agree with—the underlying principle: a need for appropriate support for students while they undertake their studies.
The Bill makes explicit provision for supporting the introduction of the lifelong loan entitlement. The funding of modules of courses will help create a more flexible system of provision across higher and further education. As I have said, much of this work is subject to the consultation on the lifelong loan entitlement, which we will be launching in due course. As such, I would hope that noble Lords will feel able not to move their amendments when they are called.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
Clause 15: Lifelong learning: amendment of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017
Amendments 37 to 39
37: Clause 15, page 18, line 17, leave out “In section 83(1) of”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s second amendment at page 18, line 17.
38: Clause 15, page 18, line 17, after “2017” insert “is amended as follows.
(2) In section 9 (mandatory transparency condition for certain providers), after subsection (3) insert—“(3A) The OfS must not request information relating to modules of full courses by virtue of a transparency condition more frequently than it requests information relating to full courses by virtue of the condition.”(3) In section 83(1)”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that requirements for higher education providers to provide information by virtue of a transparency condition are no greater in relation to modules than to full courses.
39: Clause 15, page 18, line 23, leave out from “course” to end of line 24 and insert “, where it is undertaken otherwise than as part of that course;”.
(4) In section 85 (definitions)—(a) in subsection (1), at the appropriate place insert—““full course” means a higher education course that is not a module of another higher education course;”;(b) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) References in this Part to modules (except in relation to references to the full course of which the module forms part) are to modules which are—(a) modules of full courses, but(b) undertaken otherwise than as part of those courses.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that the two categories of higher education course for the purposes of Part I of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 are full courses and modules of full courses where they are undertaken otherwise than as part of full courses, and defines references to modules accordingly.
Amendments 37 to 39 agreed.
Amendments 40 and 41 not moved.
Amendment 42 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 43 not moved.
44: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Lifelong learning: special educational needs
When exercising functions under this Act, the Secretary of State must ensure that—(a) providers of further education are required to include special educational needs awareness training to all teaching staff to ensure that all staff are able to—(i) identify, and(ii) support,those students who have special educational needs; (b) providers of further education provide support for students with special educational needs or disabilities that is of an equivalent standard to those with similar needs in higher education.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that there is sufficient SEN training for teachers of students in further education and that there is support for students with special educational needs or disabilities that is of an equivalent standard to those with similar needs in higher education.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, and I welcome the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for them. They are both about special educational needs in the further education sector. Special educational needs in further education are a bit like they are in everything else: an afterthought. They are an afterthought with a couple of special bits of legislation attached, including education, health and care plans, which allow some support until the age of 25 but do not apply to higher education. For those who get to higher education with special educational needs, there is a nice, structured support centre based on the disabled students’ allowance—some of the old jobs of which are taken on by the institution.
Why did I need to preamble like that? My amendments are trying to take best practice from the other two areas of education and apply them to further education. If you happen to attend a higher education institution and you have an identified special educational need, the institution must do certain things—for instance, it must make sure that you have information capture available to you. A few noble Lords might ask what that is. It is where students can digitally record a lecture, seminar or whatever and transfer it into a format which they can take the information from. It could be putting it on to a screen or into verbal means. Basically, there are lots of clever things you can do with technology nowadays that you could not do 10 or 20 years ago which mean that just about anybody can access it in any way they want to. This is a duty in higher education.
Some might ask why I have tabled these amendments, as these two areas are different. I think it was the right reverend Prelate’s office which provided me with the fact that over 100,000 students taking higher education degrees are doing it at colleges—100,000 students are able to get this support, but they cannot get it if they are on a level 4 or level 3 course. I think level 5 is covered by it; if I have that wrong, I put my hands up, but the principle is still there. Why are we not taking the best practice from one area of education and applying it to another? Let us face it: making sure that further education is a viable option is central to this debate. Everything in the Bill implies that, and we have an overlap of provider, so why are the Government not doing this?
There is also the question of how to train people to deal with this, and that is also a part of Amendment 44. Virtually everybody with a special educational need or disability that applies in this sector—depending on which end you take it from—will usually have a slightly different learning process. Can they write or read well? Will they absorb the information in the same way? Can they tolerate the same amount of time concentrating within a lecture or tutorial? All these people are slightly different, and understanding that is the way that they can succeed. I once again refer to the disabled students’ allowance, which guarantees support in higher education. So, level 6 and level 4 apparently have two totally different systems which contradict each other, and there is a different structure again within schools. How are we going to make sure that the best is taken from one system and applied to another, especially where there is a very high level of overlap? You will have the expertise and you will have people involved in it. Even if it is not in your institution at the moment, the one down the road will know—pick up the phone and find out. It is not that difficult.
When it comes to Amendment 46 and teacher training in further education, we have an awareness programme for schools and those trained in them. It does not include that much, and I think it should be much wider. It is based upon the most commonly occurring problems that a teacher will have to account for. I should have identified my interests: I say once again in this Chamber that I am dyslexic, the president of the British Dyslexia Association and the chairman of a company that organises packages of support for people in work and education. In the school system, there is an awareness package which means that teachers have some basic knowledge of those most commonly occurring conditions. Dyslexia comes at the top of that list, but it is only the top. To highlight how difficult it is for the person providing the training, co-occurring difficulties are almost the norm. For example, it is very common for a dyspraxic student to also be dyslexic. There is a conglomeration of little oddities and changes in patterns of learning which are difficult to meet for both the student and the teacher giving the support. Teachers must have some knowledge, because more of the same is a guarantee of failure in many cases.
To give a little example in the case of dyslexia, if you say, “Oh, if we give him lots of spelling tests, he will learn to spell”, no, he will not. He will just forget more words. Give him the same spelling test a lot, and he will learn a few. That is the tip of the iceberg. Teachers need to work differently and need the knowledge to understand why somebody will not respond in certain ways. They at least need to know that they should find out more. If that degree of knowledge is not provided, there is almost a guarantee of failure or delay. This is fair neither to the person doing the teaching nor to the person receiving it.
Both these amendments call upon the Government to institute actions which have been done in other areas of the education system. They should make sure that they take examples from there. I would like to go further and institute better back-up and support. When the Minister replies, she will undoubtedly have a list of lots of regulations and all the things that should happen, but they do not, because there is no way of going forward and co-ordinating them. I also hope that the Minister from the second-half team for this Bill will carry on from the first-half team in recognising that we are not just talking about high levels of need. We need to make sure that somebody who is in danger of doing less well and possibly failing receives the same attention as somebody who is a dramatic failure. At the moment, requiring that stamp of approval from the plan or the official diagnosis—saying that you are of a sufficient level of severity to need X level of help—means that we are worrying about those on the edge, who might just get through on a good day but probably will not. With small adjustments to their behaviour or the way information is presented to them, those people can actually get through.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I hope I do not have to press either of these amendments, but that is now in the Minister’s hands. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is my first opportunity to welcome the Minister to her new role, and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, to hers. In my own role as chair of the National Society—which I declare as an interest—I look forward to working with them both on many matters relating to education and the Church of England’s place as a major provider.
Turning to Amendments 44 and 46, which I was pleased to add my name to, I thank both noble Baronesses for the time they gave us recently to discuss them. The need for specific provision to be made to better meet the needs of students with specific learning needs and disabilities at all levels has been made—not for the first time—with great expertise by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I wholeheartedly support these amendments. Given the range and varied nature of the learning needs among FE students, their lecturers, tutors, assessors and other staff must have the skills to recognise those needs to be able to adapt their own approach to teaching, learning and assessment, and to be able to promptly and appropriately refer students for more specialised or intensive support.
Amendment 44 does precisely what is required and, in addition, poses a challenge. Such high-quality support is very widely available in HE, often in the departments of FE colleges which deliver HE provision and from which it might be made more widely available. Is it not both educationally and ethically desirable that those on FE programmes should have the same access as their fellow students in HE?
Amendment 46 is also carefully drawn. It would require special needs awareness training that is relevant to students of ITT FE courses within an institution. It may be said that, in contrast to ITT provision for schoolteachers, the content, assessment and delivery of teacher training in FE is very different and that such a degree of prescription is inappropriate and much is already being done. In other areas, such as funding, governance, qualifications and many more, there is no such hesitation. In this particular field, the need for a strong lead from government and the investment it requires are, I think, fully recognised by Ministers, officials and the sector. I sincerely hope that the Government will be open to accepting these amendments.
My Lords, these are really important amendments from my noble friend Lord Addington, and I hope that the Minister will take note. Again, I would ask her, “Why not?” It is hugely important that in our education system, whether it be in nursery or in university, we are able to identify where there are special needs requirements. Teachers and support staff need that training, because when they are able to identify, they can provide the support that is needed.
I remember as a young teacher going on a very simple course—dare I say it, it was like a couple-of-hours course—on being able to identify children who suffer from dyslexia, but it taught me that if you could identify children who were dyslexic you could then give them all sorts of support. For example, if you handed out worksheets that were in a certain colour—and please correct me if I am wrong—those children could prepare, understand and read in a better way. That is why the amendment is important.
One would hope that children with educational needs would be picked up at an early stage in our education system, but that is not to say that it always happens. It is a very simple amendment. It says that all teachers should have that simple, basic training, and let us hear why not, and that the support needs to be there.
The other amendment also says something that we have been saying for a long time; certainly, my noble friend Lord Addington has been doing so. Why not have this as a definite component in our teacher training that all teachers should be exposed to—that they should learn about identifying special educational needs? Whether they are trained on the intensive Teach First programme, doing a SCITT programme or doing a postgraduate education course, everybody should have a component involving being able to identify individual children who may have special educational needs and understanding their requirements.
I hope the Minister will respond positively.
These amendments would place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that there is sufficient SEN training for teachers in further education so that there is support for students with special educational needs or disabilities that is of an equivalent standard to that for those with similar needs in higher education. The amendments would also ensure that there is sufficient SEN training for those involved in initial teacher training.
FE colleges, sixth-form colleges, 16-19 academies and independent specialist colleges approved under Section 41 of the Children and Families Act 2014 have specific statutory duties which include the duty to co-operate with the local authority on arrangements for children and young people with SEN, the duty to admit a young person if the institution is named in an education, health and care plan, and the duty to use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision that the young person needs. These duties require extra training and support, which is key to their successful implementation. We fully support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. His specialist knowledge and understanding of this subject have identified clear gaps in the current provision that need to be plugged by these amendments to the Bill.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for his advocacy for learners with special educational needs and disabilities. I thank the right reverend Prelate for his words as well. I feel that, across the board, we come from a very similar position, even if the Government’s methods are slightly different.
Turning first to Amendment 46, I agree with the noble Lord that it is vital for our teachers to be trained to identify and respond to the needs of all their learners, including those identified as having special educational needs and disabilities. Where the Government differ is on the best way to achieve this aim. Let me explain our position. The new occupational standard for FE teaching, published in September, has been developed by sector experts who employ teachers. The standard sets out key knowledge, skills and behaviour, including a specific duty that focuses on the importance of inclusion, which—I hope that this vital point will ease the noble Lord’s concerns—will support the early identification of learners’ needs and enable teachers to respond to them effectively.
The occupational standard is the right place to set the expectations of our teachers. We have been clear that we intend to make public funding available only to training programmes that meet the new standard. For the reasons I have just set out, I believe that it would be inappropriate to specify particular course requirements in the Bill when a standard newly developed by sector experts already achieves this. I can assure the noble Lord that our intention is to drive up the quality of FE teacher training so that it can meet the varied and often complex needs of learners in the sector.
Turning to Amendment 44, the Government are committed to driving up the quality of teaching in further education and strengthening the professional development of the FE workforce. To that end, we are already providing significant funding for programmes to help spread good, evidence-based practice in professional development, including provision currently being delivered by the Education and Training Foundation to support the professional development of teachers working with SEND learners. It is also important to note that, under the SEND code of practice, colleges
“should ensure that there is a named person in the college with oversight of SEN provision to ensure co-ordination of support … This person should contribute to the strategic and operational management of the college. Curriculum and support staff in a college should know who to go to if they need help in identifying a student’s SEN, are concerned about their progress or need further advice.”
Ultimately, decisions must be made by providers themselves about what training is relevant and necessary in response to the specific needs of their learners and those who teach them. Of course, students with SEND must get the support they need to benefit from the lifelong loan entitlement. Students with SEND are an important part of our vision for and motivation behind a flexible skills system. We believe that this kind of flexible provision will be of particular benefit to these students. We plan to use the LLE consultation to build our evidence base on how to support all people to access or benefit from the LLE offer.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned the importance of primary schools and nurseries in picking up pupils who may have problems. The number of primary school-age pupils identified with SEND has increased over the past five years. In 2021, pupils with SEND represented 17.2% of primary school-age pupils. The most common SEND support needs are usually in speech, language and communication. Among pupils with an EHC plan, autistic spectrum disorder is the most common type of SEN. This shows that children with SEND are being picked up earlier, which is so important and means that they can get support from the age of five onwards. I know this from personal experience, because I have a grandson who has mild autism. His support in his state primary school has been second to none, and I know that that will carry on right through for the rest of his education.
There would also be a further issue if this was mentioned on the face of the Bill. The Secretary of State would then have to specify requirements relating to one particular element of the training programme, SEN awareness, even if others were not identified.
I thank the noble Lord again for submitting these amendments and hope he is satisfied with the work being done in these areas. I hope he will feel comfortable to withdraw this amendment and not move his other amendment.
My Lords, here we go again. They say that they will take out pupils if they spot them, they will really get on with it, but they will not specify that you have the skills to spot them. They will not turn around and say that you are trained to spot that somebody has a moderate difficulty.
Pupils may get to having a plan, but local authorities have spent over £100 million resisting plans and—I repeat this—on a good day, around 85% of appeals are lost, but it is normally about 90%. Only tiger parents with sharp claws get their kids through that process. Most pupils are not picked up because of the education system we have at the moment, from school to college and onwards. Noble Lords should remember that most of those in college were not given the correct support at school, and most are not spotted or are spotted late. Without staff who are in a position to identify them and give support, the only way in which pupils can get support is by getting plans or higher levels of definition, which is expensive, slow and damaging to that person. The person trying to teach them cannot do it, so you have someone who is a pain in whichever part of their anatomy you care to choose in that classroom. That is what happens when people are not given a basic level of training.
I would like the Minister to come back on what I said about support for people in colleges—technical support, including information capture—as she said nothing about it in her reply. Does she have anything in her notes on this?
My Lords, I did mean to mention that, so I apologise. There will be details on continuous professional development in the skills White Paper, which is committed to supporting improvements for FE teachers. This will include funding schemes to support educational technology and staff using digital forms of educational delivery, such as the ed-tech demonstrator programme; supporting new and inexperienced teachers by embedding early career support in government-funded programmes such as Taking Teaching Further and enabling access to high-quality mentoring; and running the FE professional development grants pilot, which is supporting collaborative, sector-led professional development approaches in the three key areas of workforce capability to use technology in education, subject-specific professional development, and supporting new and inexperienced teachers.
I thank the Minister for sharing her notes. It is clear that her department does not get what I am saying. There are higher education institutions that have got this right. Why not simply take that technology which has been set up—if it is not there, you are in trouble—and make sure it is available for people who are slightly lower down the grading system? These people are, after all, trying to get jobs or training at the end of this. Clearly, the Government have not taken that on board.
I feel I must call a Division on this, when the time comes. I would like to divide on both my amendments, but I am prepared to withdraw Amendment 44. I shall seek the opinion of the House on Amendment 46, but I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 44 withdrawn.
45: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Universal credit conditionality
The Secretary of State must review universal credit conditionality with a view to ensuring that adult learners who are—(a) unemployed, and(b) in receipt of universal credit,remain entitled to universal credit if they enroll on an approved course for a qualification which is deemed to support them to secure sustainable employment.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to ensure greater flexibility for potential students in receipt of universal credit to take up appropriate training that will better equip them for employment.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 45, tabled in my name, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for supporting it.
As Members will be only too aware, the £20 uplift to universal credit has ceased. A number of faith leaders, including myself, wrote to the Government alongside many other people seeking for that decision to be reversed. The response was the assertion that helping people back into high-quality, well-paid jobs is now the priority.
In order to achieve that objective—which is one that I know everyone in your Lordships’ House will applaud—it is necessary for those seeking such jobs to be suitably trained and qualified, especially if the economic and social shock of the pandemic means that they now need to change jobs for new ones or to completely retrain to meet new demand. Indeed, an early survey by Adecco in June 2020 suggested that just under one-third of employees were considering a career change post pandemic, and a further 16% had already embarked on some form of training during lockdown with that goal in mind.
Being able to access high-quality training is crucial to those aspiring to the high-quality, well-paid jobs that are rightly the Government’s objective. That was a consistent theme in the excellent points made by a succession of speakers of day 1 of Report, whether in relation to green skills and jobs, by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, or the need to increase the skills of our whole workforce, by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and many others.
It is no good having such opportunities available in theory, but finding that those who face the greatest challenges are, in practice, unable to take them up because they simply cannot afford to do so or the current eligibility criteria in effect exclude them from doing so. Among that cohort, people who are reliant on universal credit face particular difficulties in accessing such high-quality training. That is partly because the default setting for universal credit is that the client must not be in education, since support for that comes from the separate and quite distinct system of loans and grants designed for their needs—as the very helpful and recently updated policy note puts it.
As noble Lords will be aware, it is of course true that there is provision in specified circumstances for courses to be treated as a work preparation requirement for UC claimants up to a maximum of 30 hours per week in certain categories, which allows time for claimants to fulfil the other work-related requirements of their UC conditions. However, the briefest glance at the government regulations for UC that refer to education, or at the government guidance on claiming UC if you are a student, immediately showed just how complex the rules are in practice. That guidance also clearly shows how being available for work is a requirement of being able to claim UC regardless of the educational commitment, which can prove an insurmountable barrier for prospective students.
The present procedure allows a course of education to be included in an individual claimant’s work search requirements when that is approved by the claimant’s adviser. Such a request is frequently successful. However, while it is reassuring that, in some cases, education can be included in work search requirements, the fact that this is on a discretionary basis remains a cause for concern for prospective students, not least because they are reliant on their universal credit income. The uncertainty that this creates, along with the complex regulations that must be applied correctly, serves as a disincentive to many claimants to actually pursue the education that will get them into the higher-skilled work.
In addition, according to information provided by the Association of Colleges, there is a recurring issue whereby UC claims are incorrectly refused in the case of young people living independently, who are eligible to pursue full-time, non-advanced education within UC, due to the system assuming the education to be advanced. There are also significant problems facing prospective students who need financial support for accommodation or subsistence, which are either excluded from current funding or insufficient in scale. Rereading this and explaining it shows just how complicated the system is currently.
However, the good news is that a potential solution is already in the Government’s hands. In broad terms, the amendment in my name seeks to give practical effect to one aspect of the Government’s lifetime learning guarantee—a commitment that we fully and warmly support. More specifically, until the end of this month, the trials of the intensive work search programme, which is available throughout the UK and lasts 16 weeks, and the 12-week skills boot camps, which are available in England, show that it is possible to offer full-time provision as part of that lifetime skills guarantee. In addition, the Kickstart programme has been so successful that is has now been extended until March, with some 69,000 young people starting Kickstart jobs since September 2020.
Plainly, the effectiveness of these approaches needs to be properly confirmed. In any extension of UC eligibility for learners who are retraining or changing career, proper safeguards will be required to prevent abuse of the system. For example, it has been suggested that those who have obtained a recent qualification—say, within the last five years—might be ineligible for further full-time study if in receipt of UC.
The purpose of this amendment, though, is simple and straightforward. It is to enable those in receipt of universal credit to access the skills and qualifications they will need for the future, and thereby access the high-quality, well-paid jobs that the country needs to rebuild our economy, to help create a fairer and more just society, to help them and their families to flourish, and to fulfil the very purpose for which universal credit is said to exist.
I know that the Minister is acutely aware of these issues and look for reassurance that the Government are equally aware and, more importantly, committed to finding further new and creative ways to maximise incentives for those wishing to acquire new skills and take up high-quality, stable jobs and who currently rely on universal credit for all or the majority of their income.
I will speak on Amendments 62 and 63, and thank the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett, Lord Aberdare and Lord Bird, for putting their names to them. I was taken by a comment in an earlier debate when the Minister used the phrase
“no matter where they live or their background”.—[Official Report, 19/7/21; col. 90.]
That phrase is quite key, and another phrase came in a Statement from the Commons Minister:
“Talent exists everywhere in this country. We have to ensure that we give it every opportunity to flourish, wherever people come from.”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/10/20; col. 541.]
But for people on universal credit, those fine sentiments and words do not ring true.
The right reverend Prelate was absolutely right that universal credit, as well as being a financial support, is a barrier to learning in many cases. He was also right to say that it is incredibly complex. One of the aims at the introduction of universal credit was to remove the 16-hour rule that applied with jobseeker’s allowance, where claimants would lose benefits if they worked or studied more than 16 hours a week. While universities no longer enforce this, time limits have not been discarded. Young people cannot normally claim universal credit if they are studying full-time, which is more than 12 hours. However, they might be able to if they meet certain criteria—for example, if they are responsible for a child, are disabled, are under 21, or are under a non-advanced education course and do not have parental support, for example if they are care leavers. These restrictions might incentivise some young people away from intensive study that would support their chosen career.
If a young person is already claiming universal credit, a decision will be made on whether they can continue to claim that finance while going on a course they have been referred to by a work coach. That seems bizarre. Full-time study is normally allowed where the course lasts a maximum of eight weeks. In April 2021, due to the pandemic, the Government announced that they would extend course length in some scenarios to 12 weeks and 16 weeks on the new skills boot camps for six months. Those receiving universal credit have obligations to prioritise job searches and take available jobs if they are able to, which restricts the opportunity for every unemployed person to receive financial support to study a college course with no impact on their benefit. So we need clarity on these issues. We need to ensure that, to use the Minister’s phrase, whoever you are and wherever you come from, you should be able to access learning.
If we look at Kickstart, again, universal credit is a barrier. We talk about Kickstart as being available for 16 year-olds, but you can apply to go on a Kickstart scheme only if you are receiving universal credit. Can the Minister explain the thinking behind that? Why are the Government advertising Kickstart for 16 year-olds when 16 year-olds are not entitled to universal credit and are therefore unable to go on a Kickstart scheme?
I now turn to the amendment on Kickstart. Kickstart has generally been perceived as a good scheme, with real possibilities to help young people, and I am delighted that the Government announced an extension of the programme—but there have been problems. I understand that any new scheme will have teething issues and will need to be embedded and sorted, but let us look at some of the problems that have existed. These are not my words; they come from employers.
First, they say “Actually, do you know what? We don’t just want a six-month scheme. If we’re really going to develop the career opportunities of those young people, it should be a 12-month experience.” In many cases, companies have not found the experience as easy as they thought it might be: they have found it, at times, very frustrating, waiting months for approval and then with a further delay for roles to go online on the system; referrals that are totally unsuitable for the job specification coming to their business, suggesting that the role-matching automation is deeply flawed; lack of support for any queries, with weeks to receive a reply, and never from the same person; payments incorrect; and late or no record of the young person, despite all the procedures being followed. Small firms—and this is perhaps why so few small businesses have got involved—do not have the resources or time to manage these processes. We need to get those issues right, because it is a good scheme that has the potential to really help the issue of youth unemployment.
I will make just one more statement. We talk about youth unemployment and give an overall figure of, I think, 12.4% now—but of course that is the headline figure. We should look deeper at the figures. For example, among black people aged 16 to 24, the figure was 41.6% unemployed.
So the message is: let people not be debarred from learning because they are on universal credit; and Kickstart is a good scheme—sort it out and let it continue. Be inventive about it: perhaps it could be linked to apprenticeships. The sky is the limit. We are talking about young people’s livelihoods and opportunities—so, Minister, go for it.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 62 from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I seem to have added my speech to his as well, because I very much echo what he said. I was involved in delivering a rather similar previous scheme, the Future Jobs Fund, to young unemployed Londoners. Based on that, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that Kickstart has the potential to become a really valuable programme. I emphasise the word “potential” because I do not think it has got there yet, but it offers substantial benefits to the young participants it focuses on and to the employers who take them on.
For the participants—most, if not all, of whom are at risk of long-term unemployment—six months is long enough for them to become acclimatised to working life and to develop the employability skills they need for their Kickstart placement and for future jobs. The employers can fill short-term vacancies at a low cost, which might even lead to some Kickstarters being taken into permanent roles at the end of the placement, having proved their capability and worth.
Importantly, the scheme also recognises the need for many Kickstarters to receive extra support and training when they start by providing £1,500 for so-called wrap- around support, which is much needed for those who not only are new to the world of work but might often come from chaotic living circumstances. We used to have to send taxis to pick up some of ours to take them to their work, until they realised that they had to be up and dressed at a certain time in order to be there.
However, despite its excellent intentions, the scheme seems to be falling short of expectations, with only about two-fifths of available Kickstart jobs having been taken up by September, including in sectors heavily hit by the pandemic and now much in need of extra staff, such as hospitality, travel, retail and care. Many of the reasons for this disappointing performance, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, sound rather familiar to me, including delays, bureaucracy and complexity. It can take several weeks for a business, and indeed the specific jobs within that business, to be approved for Kickstart; only then does the rather unreliable process of identifying and recruiting candidates start. These must be referred by jobcentre work coaches, and it might take considerable time for them to come up with enough suitable candidates for employers to interview and recruit.
Again echoing the noble Lord, small businesses in particular, many of which could and do offer highly worthwhile Kickstart places, are often put off by the time, effort and bureaucracy involved. They are no longer required to use gateway providers to get involved in the scheme, but many of them continue to do so to reduce the burden on themselves of the complex administration involved.
It also seems that Kickstart is not as well integrated with other skills programmes, such as the apprenticeships programme, as it could be. Ideally, every successfully completed Kickstart placement should lead to clear pathways to further development whenever possible, including one or more apprenticeship options.
It would indeed be a pity if, just as some of these issues with Kickstart are beginning to be ironed out, and with numbers and outcomes picking up momentum, the scheme came to an end on 31 December—what I thought was its current cut-off date of, but it sounds as if that has possibly been extended. The noble Lord’s amendment would require the Secretary of State to review the scheme’s operation and consider whether its lifetime should be extended, with or without further modifications; for example, relating to eligibility and the link to universal credit. Surely such a review should be seen as an absolute necessity to learn the lessons of the scheme so far and consider whether or how it could be built on or improved.
My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to offer my support to Amendment 45 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, to which I have attached my name. It is, in a way, the reverse of Amendment 63: Amendment 45 says that adult learners should be able to get universal credit; Amendment 63 says that you should be able to become an adult learner while on universal credit. I am not sure which is the best way round, but I am not sure that it matters or will make much practical difference. Both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, have clearly outlined the Kafkaesque complications that arise, and the unreasonable unintended traps people can find themselves in when they seek to study and find that the system simply does not allow them to.
I want to come from the other point of view very briefly and think about the overall good of the country. As I was contemplating these amendments, I thought back to hearing an economist talk about how, slightly counterintuitively, having a very short period between people becoming unemployed and finding a new job might not be the best thing, because if you have very low levels of unemployment benefits, as we do in the UK compared to many continental countries, people have to grab the first job they can secure—the first job that comes along. That means that you get an awful lot of square pegs in round holes. You get people who are not best for the job. They are not good for the employer and it is not good for them to be in a job for which they are not suited. If you have a longer period, people are able to assess and improve their skills and then find the right job, stay in that job for longer, advance in it and make real progress. We need to move towards a system that allows that to happen. When we talk about the economy, we talk about how we can solve our productivity problem. These are the base issues that we need to think about. Amendments 45 and 63 address them.
On Amendment 62, I want to offer the Green group’s support. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said nearly everything I was going to say, so I am not going repeat it. It was reminiscent of some of the reports you hear of the green homes grant and employers struggling to get paid. If we are talking about small employers, their cash flow can become a serious problem.
I note one figure that says that the north-east—the region with the highest unemployment in England—is the area with the lowest rate of take up of Kickstart. That is obviously a concern, and it should be looked at in a review, particularly in the light of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and all noble Lords who have spoken. In Committee, we had a good debate about universal credit and the various ways in which people are discouraged by the rules from getting the skills that they need. I think the issue is that government policy is not properly joined up. We need to have skills, employment and social security policy fully aligned to make this work.
What is going wrong? I suspect that, at heart, it is an issue of departmental responsibility. DfE basically wants people to get training to increase their skills so that they can engage in productive, sustainable work, but most people cannot afford to train or retrain without financial support. I suspect DfE would quite like them to be able to get benefits while they do it. However, DWP does not think its benefit system is there to support students in education and training; it thinks that is DfE’s job. In general, that works. Most students are supported by loans or grants, and a lot of people on universal credit want to get back into work and universal credit supports them while they do. But there are clearly people who may struggle to get back into sustainable jobs unless they increase, update or change their skills, and it is likely that there will be more of them in the future than there have been in the past.
In Committee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and other noble Lords identified a number of barriers that get in the way of people wanting to do that. The Minister’s defence was basically twofold. She said, first, that DfE and DWP are working together on it and there is a trial under way for six months. She said that there is flexibility on conditionality, so that if you get universal credit and are part of the intensive work search scheme, you can study full time for 12 weeks, with boot camps and so on—the lot.
Secondly, she said that the benefit system may not be there for education and training for most people, but some people can get help. The Minister mentioned Regulation 14 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013. I went back and refreshed my memory of that regulation. It lists the exceptions, but the only exceptions are young people doing A-levels or the like who are not living with their parents, those who have kids and some disabled people with limited capacity for work. As I read on—the Minister can correct me—I thought that all Regulation 14 does is remove the blanket requirement that you must not be in education to qualify for universal credit at all. I do not think it stops people—even in those groups—having conditionality requirements placed on them in the way that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham described, which might make it impossible for them to take on a training course. Can the Minister clarify that?
It is really quite hard to work out who can get universal credit for training, at what level and where. To that end, can the Minister tell the House whether any or all people wishing to carry out study necessary for a course leading to the lifetime skills guarantee could get universal credit while they do it, as Amendment 63 suggests? If not, how should they support themselves while they do that?
Amendment 45 from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham makes a broader point about the needs of people who are unemployed and need training to get secure, sustainable employment. There is a balance here. The benefits system is not there to fund everybody wanting to retrain, but this amendment could pick up some of those people who are long-term unemployed or may have gone from one low-paid, insecure job to another, perhaps with periods on benefits in between. Might not they and the taxpayer be better served if they could afford to get trained for a secure and sustainable career? How could they be helped under the Government’s current approach?
I turn now to Amendment 62, which would require the Government to reconsider how long Kickstart runs and who is eligible for it. When we debated Kickstart in Committee on 19 July, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, said:
“I cannot say that we will extend the duration of the Kickstart scheme or change its eligibility”.—[Official Report, 19/7/21; col. 103.]
A summer is a long time in politics because, as we have heard, a Written Ministerial Statement has now announced that Kickstart is running until the end of March. Who knows? By the time we get to Third Reading, maybe eligibility will have been reviewed as well—you never know.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the decision to extend the timescale was driven less by the rhetorical powers of noble Lords—marvellous though those are—and rather more by the fact that Kickstart is nowhere near hitting its targets. There were meant to be 250,000 placements by December. The latest figures I could find were in a Written Answer to my noble friend Lady Wilcox on 21 September in which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, said that 69,000 young people had started Kickstart jobs as of 8 September. Does the Minister have more recent figures? That Answer also said that more than 281,000 jobs had been approved. If 281,000 jobs have been approved and only 69,000 people have started work, that is worse.
The regional position, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is really significant. I have raised the positions of the north and north-east before—not just because I live in Durham—but that Written Answer said that in the whole north-east of England only 3,170 people had started Kickstart jobs. Something is going wrong.
Can the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to rescue this scheme? In particular, why is there this lag between jobs created and jobs filled? What is happening to get young people into these jobs? Do the Government expect to meet their 250,000 target by December, March or another date? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Sherlock, for taking part.
Amendments 45 and 63 from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, broadly seek to enable individuals studying at level 3 and below to claim universal credit—an issue debated at some length in Committee. It is of course vital that students feel supported and have the confidence to come forward to upskill. Where we differ is in how that support is financed.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, talked about, there should be a joined-up approach between the Department for Education and the DWP. Important work is already under way on this subject, as she mentioned. Officials at the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions are working closely together to help address and mitigate the barriers to unemployed adults taking advantage of our skills offer.
There is a new DWP train and progress initiative aimed at increasing access to training opportunities for claimants. As part of this, in April 2021 a temporary six-month extension to the flexibility offered by universal credit conditionality was announced. As a result of this change, adults who claim universal credit and are part of the intensive work search programme can now undertake work-related full-time training for up to 12 weeks, or up to 16 weeks as part of a skills boot camp in England. This builds on the eight weeks for which claimants were already able to train full-time. I am pleased to inform your Lordships that this flexibility has now been extended to run through to the end of April 2022. These measures are truly helping to ensure that UC claimants are supported to access training and skills that will improve their ability to gain good, stable and well-paid jobs.
We must remember that Section 4(1)(d) of the Welfare Reform Act 2012—which I know we have in our minds all the time—sets out that one of the basic conditions of entitlement to universal credit is that the person must not be receiving education that can be defined in regulations made under subsection (6). As noble Lords are probably already aware, financial support for students comes from the current system of learner loans and grants designed for their needs. Where students have additional needs that are not met through that support system, exceptions are already provided under regulation 14 of the Universal Credit Regulations, enabling those people to claim universal credit. That includes those responsible for a child, as either a single person or a couple, or those aged 21 or under studying non-advanced education such as A-levels who do not have parental support.
It is an important principle that universal credit does not duplicate the support provided by the student support system. Importantly, universal credit may still be available for an adult who is undertaking a course up to level 3, provided that their course is compatible with work-related requirements agreed with their work coach. Where the course is work-related and will give the person the best chance of securing work, the work coach may consider it a suitable work-preparation activity. In such cases, time spent on the course will be deducted from the amount of time the person needs to spend looking for work. We therefore do not think it necessary for the UC regulations to be amended in the manner suggested.
I turn to the topic of Kickstart and the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Storey. As I am sure noble Lords are aware, the Kickstart Scheme was created and deployed rapidly to provide urgent jobs for young people to support their long-term work prospects. Kickstart will help to reduce the long-term effects of unemployment caused by the pandemic.
To be effective, the scheme must be targeted. For that reason, Kickstart funds the creation of jobs for people aged 16 to 24 on universal credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. Through Kickstart, these young people have the chance to build confidence and skills in the workplace and gain experience that will improve their chances of progressing to find long-term, sustainable work. As of the end of September, over 86,000 young people had started in a Kickstart job, with over 3,500 young people starting in roles each week. Whether we are going to reach 250,000 is, I am afraid, not something that I can say now.
With regard to the noble Lord’s amendment, I hope he is delighted to hear that on 4 October the Chancellor announced that Kickstart would run to the end of March 2022, thereby allowing the Government to continue to offer Kickstart jobs to as many young people as need them. Alongside that, we have been delighted to see the wider labour market open up and more opportunities become available to young people. We do not want Kickstart to displace existing vacancies so there are no plans to extend eligibility beyond universal credit claimants.
As noble Lords can see, this is a clear demonstration that the Government are already keeping Kickstart under review. The amendment is therefore unnecessary. I hope this has provided some explanation to noble Lords.
Some questions came up that I will try to answer. I think the noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked me about advertising Kickstart to 16 year-olds when they are not entitled to universal credit and therefore cannot do it. I partly answered that when I said that, while it is unlikely, some 16 year-olds can qualify for universal credit and, in turn, Kickstart. This number may be low but, for those eligible, Kickstart can be there to support them. As I said earlier, it is for those 16 to 17 year-olds who may be responsible for a child or who have regular and substantial caring responsibilities, among other examples.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, talked about Kickstart moving to apprenticeships. Once a Kickstart job has finished, work coaches will discuss further opportunities, such as apprenticeships and traineeships. But we know that all young people who have gone through Kickstart will have improved their employable skills.
The noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Storey, talked about small and medium-sized businesses. We have worked hard to make Kickstart available to them, creating gateways. New small and medium-sized businesses can apply directly to DWP—we received feedback saying that this was something that they wanted. We also created more for sole traders to take part through Gateway Plus organisations that place a young person on their pay system. We also created a network of Kickstart district account managers in every jobcentre area to manage and support employers of all sizes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked how people who have undertaken training under the LSG will fund themselves if they cannot get universal credit. Adults who study at level 3 or above can apply for an advanced learner loan to help them with the costs of a course at a college or independent training provider, if they cannot do so through existing entitlements. There is also a bursary fund to help vulnerable and disadvantaged people, via colleges and apprenticeship providers, with support such as childcare. I hope that answers noble Lords’ questions.
I ask the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham to withdraw his amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, not to move his when it is reached.
I am very grateful to the Minister for her responses and for clarifying the situation. I am very concerned in particular about the gap that exists between now and 2025; come 2025, I think most of her answers would satisfy me, but that is four years away. So, slightly reluctantly, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
45A: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Lifelong learning: review
(1) Within one year of the commencement of either section 14 or section 15, and each year thereafter, the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report on the impact on the overall levels of skills in England and Wales of the rules regarding eligibility for funding for those undertaking further or higher education courses.(2) The report under subsection (1) must in particular examine the impact of restricting funding for those who wish to pursue a qualification at a level equivalent to or lower than one they already hold.(3) The report under subsection (1) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the impact on re-skilling of funding restrictions on those who wish to pursue a qualification at a level equivalent to or lower than one they already hold.
Clause 16: Initial teacher training for further education
46: 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.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures there is sufficient SEN training for teachers of students of ITT(FE) courses
Clause 17: Office for Students: power to assess the quality of higher education by reference to student outcomes
47: Clause 17, page 20, line 22, at end insert—
“(e) the mental health and wellbeing of persons who undertake a higher education course with the institution is supported.”Member’s explanatory statement
To ensure that the Office for Students has a sufficiently powerful lever to enforce its policies on student support, mental health and suicide.
My Lords, the origins of this, for me, lie 10 years ago, when one of my work colleagues was rung by a friend of her son to say, “I think you need to come down to Cardiff.” That was the first she knew about her son being suicidal. Fortunately, it all ended well, but there are many other such stories that have ended badly.
The universal point in this is that the universities really have not looked after their students well enough. We get platitudes from them, every now and again, about what they will do, but they do not even follow the basic medical procedures of who to contact if they are really worried about someone. Nor do they, in their substance, take care of students in the way that we as parents might hope.
I tried, a few years ago, to see if universities would switch a bit in the American direction and pay close attention to what teachers said about students in their applications. The answer came back: “No, we cannot do that; we never get to know our students well enough in the three years they are with us to judge whether what a teacher said was right, so there is no way that we can build up a system of reputation and ability to judge teachers’ comments in the way that American universities do.” This is changing, and it is changing because of the Office for Students.
The Office for Students has produced an extremely good paper on what it expects universities to do on mental health. It is getting a real grip on access, saying that it is not only about how many disadvantaged people you let in but how you look after them while they are there. The fact that so many of them are dropping out is down to the universities. Universities must not blame what came before or do as the Government did last week and try to blame the examinations that students took before: these are your students; you have admitted them, so you look after them—we expect you to make a success of them. That is an enormously important change, and I really want the Office for Students to be in a position where it can enforce the ambitions that I just set out and make sure that universities come up to the mark.
Reading the underlying legislation, I was not at all sure that that was the case, which is why I put down these amendments. I am assured, in correspondence with my noble friend the Minister, that this is the case and the OfS has the powers it needs. I very much hope that that is what I will hear from the lips of my noble friend, when she comes to reply on this amendment.
My Lords, obviously the House is deeply sympathetic to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
I want to extend those points. The biggest cause of mental health stress for students over the past 18 months has of course been Covid. Over the past two years, a substantial part of their courses has not been physical; indeed, in many cases, they have had almost no contact at all with fellow students. Obviously, in a public health emergency, that situation was substantially unavoidable, although some universities dealt with the situation better than others. It is clear that there was a difficulty in students being able to meet in large groups and have physical contact. However, that is no longer the case.
I know—because they have been taken up with me personally, as I am sure is true of other noble Lords—that there are concerns about continuing restrictions on students meeting and face-to-face tuition. To me, such restrictions seem totally without justification now; if I may put it somewhat undiplomatically, they may be suited more to the convenience of university administrators and lecturers than to the well-being of their students. I know that the Government have been robust in their statements about the importance of returning to the full educational experience in universities, but this is clearly an ongoing issue. I think that the House would welcome a robust assurance from the Minister that universities should now be expected to return to offering the full educational experience; the Office for Students should also be making this clear to them.
On a related point, I find it extraordinary, given the serious diminution in teaching and learning that many students have experienced over the past two years, that universities have still charged them full fees. I was the guy who persuaded Tony Blair to introduce fees in the first place, so I have nothing against fees—we need properly funded universities and properly paid academics —but it is supposed to be something for something. The reason for paying the fees is to get the full educational experience. Indeed, part of the justification for the fees was that they would enhance the educational experience; we wanted universities to be able to staff up properly and offer proper facilities.
The other half of that contract applies too. Where students have not been able to gain the full experience and the quality of teaching and learning to which they are entitled in return for their fees of more than £9,000, the universities should have discounted those fees. I am surprised that the Government did not apply more pressure to them to do so; I assume the reason is that the Treasury was worried that, if the Government applied pressure on universities to discount fees, the universities would come and ask for the money. I have a feeling that what happened here was a kind of Faustian pact: the Government did not pressure universities because they did not want the consequential action of the universities asking them for money. But actually, it would be perfectly possible for universities, like almost every other enterprise in the country, to realign their outlays with their income and themselves take on the consequences of a reduction in fees. The idea that state funding is the only alternative to fee funding is wrong.
If I may say so—I have said this a lot over the past two years, but it still needs to be said—vice-chancellors are, for the most part, grossly overpaid. One of the less satisfactory outcomes of the fee reform, in particular the trebling of fees to £9,000, was vice-chancellors doubling their own incomes and creating a whole swathe of bureaucrats in universities. I went through the figures and was amazed at the swathes of bureaucrats in universities—all paid more than £100,000, and many of them paid more than £150,000—while none of the junior lecturers or PHD students gets any of this largesse. Apart from a few offers of short-term reductions in salaries, I have not noticed any university vice-chancellors taking this opportunity to apply proper scrutiny to the size and salaries of their senior management teams or, dare I say it, leading by example and cutting their own pay as part of a deal to cut student fees in response to the terrible experience that so many students have had to go through during the pandemic.
My Lords, I added my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which is self-explanatory, in a way. The Office for Students must have the powers to enforce its policies on student support and mental health and well-being. We must do our best to ensure that no student feels that suicide is the only way ahead. I have three student grandsons at different universities, and last year bore no relation whatever to the undergraduate experience of the past. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has said, the recent Covid measures meant that many students had a lonely year, with obvious welfare implications. Their welfare is surely of the utmost importance and should be one of the factors that is taken into account for the purpose of assessing universities.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for introducing his Amendment 47. I will comment on that before moving on to my Amendment 48 in this group. Even before the pandemic hit, health and welfare support systems in higher education were experiencing unprecedented demand. More students need more help with problems of increasing complexity. A DfE report in June, Student Mental Health and Wellbeing, found that almost all higher education institutions have been devoting more resources to supporting student mental health over the past five years but, in many cases, were still struggling to meet demand. The pandemic has exacerbated that considerably, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned, so I will not rehearse that.
It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others on what the OfS can and does do about this. From memory, its new criteria on quality and standards relate to academic support only, rather than to specific non-academic support, but the Minister can explain how the OfS can otherwise work with universities on this.
It has offered some money, of course. It offered £6 million for innovative mental health support projects, although, when I looked at the small print, I found that half of that had to come from the providers doing the work. There are bits of money from outside. The noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, said recently in a Written Answer:
“As part of the mental health recovery action plan, the government has provided an additional £13 million to ensure that young adults aged 18 to 25, including university students, are supported with tailored mental health services.”
That is really good. I thought, “Hang on; is that all 18 to 25 year-olds?” At a rough guess that gives about £2.50 each, which may not go very far. I wonder whether the Minister thinks enough resources are going to support services in higher education. If not, do they need more external support or should this be coming from fee income?
The second issue is that, realistically, pastoral care in higher education institutions can only ever be a first line of support. It is important that the NHS is there for students who need more than that kind of help. I spoke this week to a senior person from an institution that takes the mental health of students very seriously, and she spoke of being left trying to support suicidal and seriously mentally ill students herself, because there were no mental health beds available and the local community team had little to offer, because it was so thinly stretched. I have also been told about a lack of inpatient beds or even outpatient support for students with severe eating disorders, leaving them with nowhere to go for help. I ask the Minister whether the DfE is working with the Department of Health to ensure that their services dovetail, so that there is adequate support in local NHS services for those students who need more help than university pastoral care can offer.
Amendment 48 in my name seeks to ensure that the way the Office for Students regulates higher education does not jeopardise the goal of widening participation. Noble Lords know that the OfS applies a series of conditions for a higher education institution to be registered, labelled A to E. The most hotly debated are the B conditions, which focus on quality and standards, and especially B3, which states:
“The provider must deliver successful outcomes for all of its students,”
which I always thought was rather ambitious, but they are tested against numerical measures.
The OfS has run two consultations in the last year and is about to start a third, which is specifically on the new metrics for student outcomes. They will presumably, although not necessarily, relate to the current metrics, which are about student continuation, completion rates of degrees and graduate careers. These metrics are controversial, because many in the sector worry that the Government are abandoning contextualisation in setting standards for higher education institutions. It is funny to push back on the noble Lord, Lord Lucas: to declare that everyone should be treated the same does not allow for there clearly being differences in student outcomes between groups that reflect prior experiences, advantages or current circumstances, rather than academic ability.
To take one simple example, we know from the official figures that mature students have lower completion rates. There can be perfectly good reasons for that, which may not relate to things in the gift of the institution at which they study. We would not want institutions that recruit more mature students to find that their outcome measure was not as good and then be deterred from doing so. That would be ironic for a Bill that is supposed to promote learning in later life and part-time study.
I raised this issue in Committee but I am sorry to say that the Minister said very little and really, I got no comment at all on it. The only way I could think of raising it was to table a specific amendment to say that the OfS could not measure outcomes in a way that could jeopardise widening participation for students from disadvantaged and underrepresented groups.
Clause 17(7) says that the OfS does not have to publish different minimum levels in relation to different outcomes by, for example, student characteristics, type of institution or course. That does not mean that the OfS has to apply flat standards across the board, but it clears the ground for it to do so at will. Many people in the sector worry that that might penalise institutions that serve disadvantaged groups or areas, or even deter outreach activity. Section 2 of HERA means that the OfS has to apply some proportionality, and therefore contextualisation, to any assessment, but can the Minister tell the House how it can do that fairly without any benchmarking? Because I got nothing in Committee, I am really hopeful that the Minister can at least give the House some assurance that the OfS should judge quality with regard to the impact on disadvantaged and underrepresented students. I hope she can reassure us on that front.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to our measures on the Office for Students’ quality assessment. Section 23 of the Higher Education Research Act 2017, which relates to the assessment of 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.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, pointed out, Clause 17 of the Bill provides much-needed clarity. 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.
Turning to Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Baroness, I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss widening participation and access in higher education. Equality of opportunity for young people across the country is one of the Government’s highest priorities. Access to higher education should be based on a student’s attainment and their ability to succeed, rather than their background.
The latest figures show that we have made real progress on access to higher education, with a record 24% of disadvantaged 18 year-olds entering higher education in 2020. Disadvantaged 18-year-olds were proportionally 80% more likely to enter higher education as a full-time undergraduate in 2020 than in 2009.
I reassure the noble Baroness and the House that when the OfS exercises any of its functions, it already must have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in higher education. That duty applies when the OfS is looking at how disadvantaged students and traditionally underrepresented groups are supported and what they go on to achieve. It includes access, successful participation, outcomes and progression to employment or further study.
As I have set out, the minimum expected levels of student outcomes will form only part of the overall context as the OfS makes rounded judgments, as it is required to do under its regulatory framework. The OfS has a public law obligation to consider wider factors which could include, among other things, the characteristics of a provider’s students where appropriate. In reaching any final judgment, the OfS will balance contextual factors, proportionality and the need to protect students from low quality, including weak outcomes. Section 2 of the Higher Education and Research Act is clear that:
“In performing its functions, the OfS must have regard to … the need to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in higher education provided by English higher education providers”.
The OfS is also subject to the public sector equality duty. Both will apply to this measure.
Amendment 47 is in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. Sadly, I echo his reflections on his conversations in Cardiff many years ago. I talked very recently to school leaders who also shared with me stories about students of theirs who have attempted suicide or, sadly, taken their own lives over the last 18 months. I thank my noble friend for raising this important issue both in Committee and again today. His amendment seeks to add the mental health and well-being support given to students to the outcomes against which the quality of higher education may be assessed by the Office for Students. I reassure him that the Office for Students already has a strong presence in the student mental health agenda, with significant levers in this area.
The OfS provides funding, support and guidance to higher education providers to ensure they provide appropriate mental health support for their students. As it stands, the OfS believes that further regulation would not be beneficial in a sector with a diverse range of suppliers and an equally diverse range of students. However, I reassure my noble friend that existing OfS powers under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 are already flexible enough to allow it to impose a condition of registration relating to mental health, if it felt it necessary to do so.
We continue to work closely with the higher education sector to promote effective practice. The sector as a whole has established the overarching Stepchange: Mentally Healthy Universities framework, which is now complemented by the recently launched University Mental Health Charter programme and award scheme. The Government endorse this approach, including setting a clear ambition for all higher education providers to join the programme within the next five years. We also recognise the devastating effect that suicide has. A range of crucial prevention work and the promotion of effective practice are taking place across the higher education sector. We expect all universities to engage actively in this and deal sensitively if a tragedy occurs.
The Minister of State for Higher and Further Education, Minister Donelan, chaired a new round table on suicide prevention with Universities UK in June. The round table highlighted the importance of adopting and embedding the Suicide-Safer Universities framework and promoted good practice in the sector, helping to make sure that students are well supported during their time at university. The outputs include more regular analysis of student suicide data by ONS, including risk factors, which is central to informing preventive action, and the OfS publication of a new topic briefing, setting out approaches that universities and colleges can take to help prevent suicide among students.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked where this sits as a priority for government. She will not be surprised to hear that it is a key priority. I mentioned the round table that my right honourable friend the Minister held recently, but she has also written to vice-chancellors on numerous occasions, outlining that student welfare should remain an absolute priority, and has also convened groups of representatives from higher education and the health sectors and brought them together to address the issues that students are facing during the pandemic.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked about the Government’s stance on face-to-face teaching. He will be aware that the Government have recommended that universities return to a full curriculum, given the fact that the restrictions are now lifted, and obviously the Office for Students has a key role in ensuring that this happens.
Clause 17 is important because it serves to ensure that higher education provision delivers quality for all students, the taxpayer and the economy. It aims to help drive out the provision of poor-quality higher education courses that offer poor student outcomes and to support the OfS in taking action to drive up quality across higher education providers in a proportionate and risk-based manner. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and my noble friend will not press their amendments.
My Lords, I am very grateful for my noble friend’s answer, which included just the words that I was after—that the Government are sure that the Office for Students has the powers that it needs to make progress in this area. I am very happy to leave it at that, given the record of the Office for Students to date.
I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, the determination that disadvantaged students should not be disadvantaged further by the systems that we put in place. I think that is entirely possible. I hope that we will see from the OfS a system of better admissions, so that universities put some real effort into understanding how best to detect and attract those disadvantaged students who will do well at university; that this is a collaborative effort, a proper national research effort to solve this national problem; and that they will similarly collaborate on how best to look after those students once they reach university. They should expect them to need additional support because, after all, they are disadvantaged. In both those areas, I feel that the Office for Students is determined to see progress. I am confident that with that determination over the next few years we will see it.
I also hope to see some real diversity of thought as well as intake in our universities. I will know that we have achieved it when an Oxford college asks the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to be its next master.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Amendment 48 not moved.
Clause 18: List of relevant providers
49: Clause 18, page 22, line 14, at end insert—
“(c) confer functions (including functions involving the exercise of a discretion) on the Secretary of State or any other person.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment expressly allows the inclusion, in regulations made under Clause 18(1) of the Bill (regulations relating to the list of relevant providers), of provision which confers functions on a person.
Amendment 49 agreed.
50: After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—
“Provision of opportunities for education and skills development
(1) Any person of any age has the right to free education on an approved course up to Level 3 supplied by an approved provider of further or technical education, if he or she has not already studied at that level.(2) Any approved provider must receive automatic in-year funding for any student covered by subsection (1), and supported by the Adult Education Budget, at a tariff rate set by the Secretary of State.(3) Any employer receiving apprenticeship funding must spend at least two thirds of that funding on people who begin apprenticeships at Levels 2 and 3 before the age of 25.”
My Lords, this amendment was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and myself. We discussed it in Committee, without much response from the Government. I travel more optimistically today and hope that we will get a more favourable reception. We probably should, because it is entirely consistent with the Government’s stated aims on skills and the need for skills development in this country, and with the admirable spirit of this Bill, which I broadly welcome. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said rather forcefully on more than one occasion in Committee and on Report, the Bill is very sound in principle, trying to develop our training and skills system in this country, but a little thin on substance in places. This amendment seeks to add a little more specific substance.
The first two subsections of the proposed new clause hang together and are connected. Proposed new subsection (1) speaks for itself, if one reads it. It deals with those people who have not managed to attain skills up to level 2 or 3, which are quite essential in today’s world and will be for the future, and entitles them to free education of the kind they are entitled to up to the age of 18, as far as school education is concerned, if they, at any stage in their life and for whatever reason, turn to try that level of skill. People do not always take the opportunities available to them in their teens and early years. This subsection would enable people to turn to free education. It takes a step further, and for this particular case is more suitable. I have been listening to all the discussions we have had about the Government’s loan schemes and so on, which I welcome. There is no need to read out the subsection’s terms; noble Lords can read it for themselves. It spells out this entitlement to free education.
Such an entitlement is quite useless if, where you live, there is nobody in a position to provide such courses. That is where proposed new subsection (2) comes in. Although this is a modest amendment, it addresses the rather bigger problem of how we fund further education in this country. From listening to debates throughout the Bill, I see that there is nothing new in the world; we have been debating all this for 50 years. I can well remember that when I was Secretary of State we just acknowledged that further education had for too long been treated as the Cinderella of the education system. There was the great gap left by the failure of the 1944 Act to develop technical colleges and all the rest of it. I am not sure, when we look back on our efforts, that Governments of both parties of the last few decades have made anything like adequate progress.
One of the problems is the way that further education is funded. Proposed new subsection (2) deals with the question of how one would fund the entitlement to free education that proposed new subsection (1) proposes. There is a huge difference between the way courses are funded at schools—at the lower level—at universities and in further education. Schools are paid open-endedly about £5,000, if it is a sixth former, for every student they manage to retain. That is why it has been said several times in the debate that schools sometimes unhelpfully persuade people to stay in the sixth form because it is worth £5,000 a year for the school budget, when from a pupil’s point of view they might very advantageously move to a more suitable course. If you are a university, for every student you manage to recruit for a degree course, of whatever quality you have laid on, £9,500 comes automatically, student by student.
Further education colleges are still subject to cash-limited budgets. Those budgets, like most public expenditure, have been particularly fiercely curtailed in recent years, for necessary reasons in large part. The proposed new subsection makes a straightforward suggestion: if you accept proposed new subsection (1), that you are giving a right to free education to the people whom I have described, then you actually have to provide the funding. It says that the Secretary of State, out of the adult education budget, at a tariff to be set by the Secretary of State, will provide the funding to colleges to provide the courses. It hangs together very neatly.
I cannot think of any policy reason or reason of principle for opposing these two modest suggestions. My hope, were we to get the second in place, is that sooner or later one would face up to the big prospect, which I hope the Chancellor is contemplating in his current public spending round, of moving further education colleges to the open-ended funding that will be necessary to let them play the major part they are going to have to play in the reskilling of our population, providing the skills for our economy in future years.
The third part, which is obviously related to the subject but moves on slightly, is on apprenticeships and the working of the apprenticeship levy. It makes the proposal that, following the introduction of the levy and the intention of injecting powerful financial incentives to get our employers back into providing the apprenticeships, opportunities and training that our workforce requires in future, two-thirds of the levy-funded apprenticeships should be for those between 16 and 25.
This is a marked change from what has actually happened since the apprenticeship levy was introduced, which I do not think anyone foresaw. I am sure that, when the policy was first brought in, the Ministers involved and the general public envisaged that we would see a steady growth of good-quality apprenticeships —because very valuable conditions were put in, such as having off-work training and not just calling everything at work “training”, and so on—that young people would, steadily, have an attractive alternative if the academic education route did not suit them and that we would develop, through apprenticeships, people skilled in the new skills of tomorrow’s economies, which our young people in particular will require if they are to have a satisfactory work career thereafter.
That did not happen because the large companies were, I am afraid—not too surprisingly—anxious to see how they could recover levy money and reduce the impact of what was otherwise a new tax by ascribing to the levy most of the training that they already did for their existing workforce of all ages. It did not have the effect that we all hoped—which would advantage the company as well—of making people contemplate taking on and providing new training opportunities for young people coming out of schools, colleges and universities in order for them to get into the beginnings of their careers.
I know that the Government have got rid of the worst excesses. People without any kind of training, at every level of large companies and in the public sector, including the Civil Service, in order to improve the figures were being described as apprentices. Most of them did not know that they were apprentices but, for the purposes of recovering the levy, quite high-ranking managers were described as such. As I said, the Government have got rid of the worst abuses. At one point, it was possible for a high-flying senior manager to go on a business management degree course at a university and the apprenticeship levy would be recovered against the cost incurred.
Therefore, our amendment seeks to take the policy back to what it was expected to produce when it was first introduced and certainly to what the general public and both Houses of Parliament thought we were talking about when we first introduced the apprenticeship levy. It depends on all kinds of other things, such as explaining it to the public, improving the status of apprenticeships alongside alternative academic and technical routes and so on. But it was mainly an opportunity for the under-25s.
I quite accept that there are older people who can benefit from training or retraining. Indeed, people will have to change their jobs far more frequently in tomorrow’s economy, and plenty of people will, at the age of about 50, find that their existing job is coming to an end, and retraining is important. Because I have seen the Minister’s note, I anticipate that her response, which will no doubt be as courteous as ever, will say, “Well, first, we cannot interfere with businesses; they must decide what training they want”. That rather overlooks the fact that they are doing it for financial reasons, just to minimise what they spend on training anyway. More importantly, she will say, “Training is required by people of all ages”. I have already conceded that, and that will include some people who are sent off on totally fresh training courses by their employers.
The amendment says only that two-thirds should go on those under the age of 25; for one-third there is no age limit. If anyone starts producing good examples of people in later years who might reasonably qualify for funding for their training—and then the recovery of that funding by means of the levy through the employer providing it—that is fine, but the balance at the moment is absurd. Since the levy system started, the number of young people going into apprenticeships has actually declined, particularly at the ages of 16 and 17. The overwhelming majority of apprenticeships funded under the levy scheme are for older people.
I have described the way in which many large companies just use the scheme to attribute spending and recover the levy. All they are recovering is money that any large business ordinarily spends all the time and always did. There are always some people who need retraining. As you automate and change your technology, you give some extra skills training to your existing staff. If the companies were not doing that, they would not be successful and would not be progressing. To allow money to be used in that way does not really add to what any good company should be doing anyway, whereas the amendment advocates using the levy system as an incentive to give apprenticeship and training opportunities for those up to the age of 25, and I hope the House will accept it.
As I say, this is not a new question. Practically most people in the House, if they have taken an interest in the subject, have been advocating various policy changes on the subject of skills shortages and training. I have already said that in 50 years we have not got very far. Particularly after Covid and Brexit, and because of the pace of technological and other change in the globalised economy, the need is more urgent now than it has ever been.
Back in the old days, decades ago when I was in the departments for employment and education, we had YTS and NVQs, the youth training scheme and national vocational qualifications—daring stuff and very controversial at the time, but primitive efforts compared with what we do now to try to rationalise and raise the quality of our training. At any time in the last few decades, if you asked the management of a medium-sized or reasonably small-sized company what the biggest problem was that they were facing in running their business—a question that I often asked at several of the departments I worked in—skills shortages, over and again, was likely to be the first thing that featured when they spoke.
I cannot remember the number of speeches that I have heard where we have compared ourselves with Germany and regretted the fact that the Germans are so good at technical qualifications—they do not have our problems of equivalent status, and so on. People on both sides should hang their heads in shame; we have all made speeches using that as an illustration to forward our policies, but we have not got there.
If I may say so, the Bill is a valuable attempt to catch up to the pace of events. It is needed at a key moment. The careers of the next generations of people are not going to resemble the careers of the last. The acquisition of skills is essential from a personal point of view, while making sure that we have a workforce for skills is fundamental to our getting back to having a healthy, modern economy. I therefore urge the Government—having considered the debate in Committee, where we had quite a lot of support—to consider making a positive and content-filled response to the amendment and, I hope, accepting it.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 60 on the lifetime guarantee tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, but I shall first say a few words about Amendment 50, which has been so eloquently introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke. It was good to go down memory lane with NVQs and YTS; I remember them well. I am concerned about subsection (1) in the proposed new clause, which requires funding for an approved course
“if he or she has not already studied at that level.”
We have put quite a lot of effort into trying to get funding for people to study at levels equal to or lower than qualifications they already have, if that is going to enable them to get into a new job. To restrict this to people who do not have a level 3 qualification might well be problematic. But oh, how much I agree with him about apprenticeships. In my mind, an apprentice is somebody starting out in work, not a middle manager doing an MBA. Having something to try to ensure that apprenticeship levy funding goes to young people is essential if that system is to work properly.
On Amendment 60, it is important that the lifetime skills guarantee is on a statutory footing if it is to have any impact at all. Both these amendments refer to courses up to level 3. It is important that we do not overlook qualifications at levels 1 and 2, because often they are the gateway to learning for people who have been put off education at an early age, as I have said before. Level 1 learners can be people who are encouraged for the first time to find learning accessible, enjoyable and fulfilling, when at school academic learning and GCSEs had been nothing but off-putting and a source of failure. That is something we need to be sure to support. Once such people discover that a national qualification is within their grasp and their ability, they will often find the confidence to continue to upskill and to gain employment in areas that they previously assumed were unobtainable. If the Government are serious about levelling up, they must start at the lowest levels. Amendment 60 would be a definite boost to that agenda, and I hope the Minister will look on it favourably.
I support Amendment 50, which could transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of our young people. Given the time, I shall make just four points. The problem is much bigger than most people, maybe myself included, have realised. In 2019-20, the proportion of all 18 year-olds who were in no form of education or work-based training was 30%. That 30% of the 50% not going to university are getting no education beyond the age of 17. This is completely extraordinary and shocking. What is the reason? It is that there simply are not enough places for these people to study and acquire skills compared with people going down the academic route.
The lack of places is almost entirely due to the completely different way in which those places are funded. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said, when young people go down the academic route, the funding automatically follows the student year by year, but for the other 50% the budget is simply set by the Treasury. It is capped in total and college by college. The current funding for 2021-22, including recent additions, is still less than half what it was in nominal terms in 2010. This is extraordinary and shows the failure of the system that this sort of thing can happen. It is difficult to think of any case of greater discrimination in any other aspect of our public life. I cannot think of any more extreme class-based discrimination than in that area.
What is the remedy? It is clear that the only approach which is fair to other 50% and which will adequately address the problem is to fund the other 50% the same way as the privileged 50% who go down the academic route—to make the money automatically follow these students. The proposal is that every student up to level 3 exercising the lifetime skills guarantee and taking an approved course—not just anything—should be automatically funded according to a national tariff. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, explained, that is the essential part of the first half of this amendment.
The second half relates to apprenticeships. When I was very young, I worked for the Robbins committee. It established the principle that there should be enough places for anybody who qualified for a place and who wanted to exercise access to it. That has always applied to higher education, ever since the Robbins report. It has never applied to the other 50%; they just have not been thought of in that way at all. That really has to change.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said, we now have a severe lack of apprenticeships for young people. There is huge, well-documented excess demand but supply is falling. The system is completely unresponsive and far too much of the apprenticeship money is being diverted to the over-25s. I will give two reasons why I think that is wrong. First, what is the key duty of any system of education and training? The first key duty is of course to get everybody off to a proper start. Good initial training is the central feature of any just, efficient system.
There is an extra, economic fact about the use of resources which I think is very relevant. The Department for Education’s own figures show that the benefit-cost ratio is much higher—in fact, double—for apprenticeships for the under-25s compared with those for the over-25s. For the sake of justice and efficiency, we have to redirect this money to an important degree back to the under-25s.
I would have thought this was a central proposal for any levelling-up agenda. We have a problem which is a major cause, almost the main cause, of our low national productivity per head. It is also a major cause of the spread of low incomes among the lower part of the workforce. If we are looking for items for a levelling-up agenda, surely this should be near the top.
I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will support this amendment and that the Government will also support it. If the Government find that they cannot support this proposal, I worry about the whole future of the levelling-up agenda.
My Lords, I agree with every word of what my noble friend Lord Layard and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said. When I spoke in Committee, I gave the figures that show that the number of apprentices under the age of 25 is now lower than it was when the apprenticeship levy was introduced. Rarely has there been a policy which has failed so catastrophically to deliver its objective.
I do not want to repeat what my noble friend and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said; their points about the failure to create apprenticeships in the private sector were very well made. The point I want to address to the Minister and introduce to the debate relates to one of the other really significant failures in the creation of apprenticeships, namely the failure to create apprentices in the public sector. This has been another very long-running and serious failure.
The worst provider of apprentices in the country among large organisations is the Civil Service, which had no scheme of creating apprentices at all before 2015. I met the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, who was the head of the Civil Service then, and some of us worked very closely with him to get the Civil Service apprenticeship scheme going. There was quite a lot of foot-dragging and reluctance to do it. The Civil Service has a graduate fast stream and recruits tens of thousands of graduates each year across the different parts of the organisation, but had no apprenticeship scheme. An apprenticeship scheme was created and I checked before coming into the House where it had got to.
The other remarkable thing about it was the thing that persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, to go for it: it turned out that the department responsible for apprentices—it keeps changing its name; I think it was then called the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but it may have been something else—had, I think, three apprentices under the age of 21. The department of apprentices was one of the worst apprenticeship providers in the entire country. That was the department, with its Ministers, that was supposed to preach to the private sector about how it should create apprenticeships.
I checked where we are with apprentices now in the Civil Service. The state, which is the largest employer in the country, has an obvious capacity and indeed a duty. If everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, said is true about the economy at large, it is manifestly true that the Government themselves should create apprenticeships.
These are the statistics. According to the Civil Service statistical bulletin just out on the employment pattern in the Civil Service last year, since 2015, when the Civil Service apprenticeship scheme started, 29,000 apprenticeships have been created across the Civil Service at all levels. Across six years, that is about 5,000 apprentices in the Civil Service a year. The head count of the Civil Service, as of 1 January last year, was 456,410. Recruitment that year, which was lower because of Covid, was 40,680. There were 40,680 new recruits to the Civil Service last year and under 5,000 apprentices, so less than one in eight of all new recruits to the Civil Service is an apprentice. That is an apprentice at any age; it does not break it down by age, so I do not know how many of them are under 25.
It would be interesting to ask the Minister how many young apprentices, under 25, are in the Department for Education. Maybe the Box has time to provide her with a note by the end of the debate. She may not want to read it out, because it will be a very small figure. I will be surprised if the number of young apprentices in the Department for Education is into double figures—and this is the department, with its Minister, that is supposed to tell the rest of the country of the importance of apprentices.
That figure of 5,000 new apprenticeships a year created by the Civil Service is utterly pitiful. It should be many multiples of that. The idea that only one in eight new recruits to the Civil Service is an apprentice of any age, let alone a young apprentice, is a really serious condemnation of the state and the state’s leadership in the creation of apprenticeships. If the state does not lead on this business, there is no reason whatever to expect that the rest of the country will follow.
My Lords, I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, described as the first half of Amendment 50, but I am rather less comfortable about the approach taken in the second half, requiring any employer receiving apprenticeship funding to spend at least two-thirds of it on people under 25 beginning apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3. That is an aim I entirely support, but I am not convinced that putting the onus wholly on employers to deliver it is the right way of going about it.
One of the concerns employers have regularly expressed about the current apprenticeship system is its lack of flexibility. This amendment would not only reduce the flexibility available to employers but impose extra requirements on them to manage their apprenticeship programmes and an extra level of bureaucracy resulting from the process of enforcing the requirements.
Employers already find it difficult to spend their levy funds, which is why so many apprenticeships go to reskilling and upskilling existing employees. The energy and utilities sector, which has a very good record of employing apprentices, has managed to spend on average only 54% of the levy funding available to it, so it is not as if there is not more money available. All that they do not spend just goes back to the Treasury.
I believe a better approach might be to introduce that extra flexibility into the apprenticeship levy system itself, to make it easier and more attractive for employers to offer more apprenticeships at these levels to younger people. This could be done through, for example, enabling part of an employer’s levy funds to be used for pre-apprenticeship training initiatives in schools to identify and prepare young people who might then be suitable candidates for apprenticeships. I am sure there are other ways of motivating employers to offer more apprenticeships of this type, rather than introducing additional rules that could lead to their providing fewer.
I support two and a half thirds of this amendment, but I am slightly uncertain about the mechanism that the noble Lords are implying to address the third one.
My Lords, I have not participated in any of the proceedings on this Bill, partly because I chair the Economic Affairs Committee and we are looking at central bank digital currencies at the moment. But I bumped into the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who pointed out to me that this amendment is entirely in line with the recommendations made by the committee in its report, Treating Students Fairly, which was published in June three years ago. I shall not repeat the arguments so eloquently put by my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke of Nottingham, with every word of which I agree, but it was set out clearly in that report, more than three years ago, that the apprenticeship levy was not working. Indeed, we found that larger employers who were running very effective apprenticeship schemes had simply abandoned it, treating the levy as a tax, and done their own thing.
My noble and learned friend spoke about the way in which all the financial incentives are to keep people in schools and send them on to universities, where they do courses which do not enable many of them to use the skills and achieve the kind of living standards which they aspire to. In short, we probably need more plumbers, electricians, specialists and engineers than we do people who are experts in media studies. I am not saying that media studies is not a serious subject—well, actually, I do think that it is not a serious subject, but that is probably going to get me a lot of abusive emails. I am disappointed that, as this matter was discussed in Committee and as there has been so much about it in the all-party unanimous report, the Government are still dragging their feet on the matter.
When we discuss future topics in our committee, one thing that is regularly suggested is that we look at productivity. We always reject it, on the grounds that it is such a broad subject and so difficult, but this matter is absolutely central to productivity and, even more importantly, offers a future to so many of our young people. So I hope that my noble friend will consider this amendment. I take the point about providing flexibility.
One thing that struck me—and I know that the Government have taken some action on this—was that one of the officials who gave evidence to us proudly announced that the apprenticeship scheme had been used to send her to business school. Of course, that is the antithesis of what the scheme should be. I am not up to date on what has happened since, but there were some 400 different types of rules for different organisations, and the whole thing had become utterly bureaucratic.
The noble Lord, Lord Layard, referred to the Robbins committee. Those of your Lordships who have not read the report should just read the introduction; it is written in the most beautiful prose. It sets out the objectives, from all those years ago, and this amendment is central to achieving them.
When we were looking at treating students fairly, one thing we got in evidence was a diagram showing all the initiatives that had been taken by various Governments for training, and all the changes in names and so on. It is an unbelievably complicated process—not just YTS; there are literally tens and tens of different initiatives. What we need, in the words of Her Majesty the Queen, is perhaps less talk and more doing in this area. This amendment is a very important step forward if the Government decide to accept it.
My Lords, I had not come to speak in this debate but to listen. However, some things said by my noble friend Lord Forsyth provoke me to make a short intervention. I do so because I am the chairman—I was the founder—of the William Morris Craft Fellowship. Every year, we award craft fellowships to craftsmen working, for the most part, on historic buildings, including stonemasons, plumbers and bricklayers; people who have gone through a proper apprenticeship in the past and who we select because we think they have the potential to oversee a great project. Your Lordships all know the sort of thing to which I refer: a great parish church or cathedral, or a country house in the possession of the National Trust or privately owned. These places are at risk because of the very few people who are coming forward and getting a proper apprenticeship in this modern age.
My noble friend referred to the young woman and the business qualification that she claimed to be an apprenticeship. I have met people who have claimed to have apprenticeships in flower arranging. But I am talking about young men and women—and there is an increasing, though not overall great, number of women— who have spent four, five, six and sometimes seven years learning and mastering a craft. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on the Front Bench opposite, is a great devotee of Durham Cathedral, as I am of Lincoln and indeed all our great cathedrals. Their survival depends upon having men and women who are accomplished and able enough to master these crafts, which go back centuries. And they are in danger.
I am also a vice-president of the Heritage Crafts Association, which represents crafts men and women who very often work individually, at home, producing something, in the William Morris idiom, that is both useful and beautiful. We have produced only recently a red list of endangered crafts. I give you but one example: we are down to the last sporran maker. It might sound slightly amusing, but—
It is serious, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth knows better than most. Not only is it serious but it is outrageous that, to provide sporrans for a Scottish regiment, the Ministry of Defence has recently gone to Pakistan, whereas in Scotland they can still be made.
I will not go on; I hope I have made my point. Apprenticeships are desperately important, and they are not second best. A young man or woman cannot work with his or her hands unless they have a brain that functions—although, rather interestingly, many people with dyslexia are particularly good crafts men and women. We need them, and we must have proper apprenticeships that enable them to become accomplished.
I am very taken by the amendment moved by my old noble and learned friend Lord Clarke. We began in politics together, way back in 1964, fighting in adjacent constituencies. I think he has performed a service to the House by moving his amendment, so ably seconded by the noble Lord, Lord Layard. I very much hope that my noble friend who winds up will accept the thrust and logic of what has been said and give us a comforting reply.
My Lords, I rise to agree with almost everything that has been said about the importance of apprenticeships. This is the right moment to be pressing for reform, as both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are emphasising the importance of skills in the post-Brexit economy and in levelling up, as the noble Lord, Lord Layard, indicated. However, there are some problems with this amendment as it stands—notably, the lack of clarity as to what it would cost, and exactly where the funding would be found for proposed new subsection (1).
Turning to proposed new subsection (3), I would say that there is a case for some investment in management skills, which are very poor in parts of the economy and are often a cause of poorer company and public sector performance. Indeed, when I was a Minister, I had an assistant private secretary who was an apprentice and in fact became something of a showcase for how apprenticeships could be used right across the public sector. Some levy funding should be spent in these areas. However, I entirely agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke that most apprenticeship money should go the under-25s. His proposal of two-thirds is worthy of consideration.
Frankly, this is only one of several things that are still wrong with apprenticeships. Another issue is that lower level apprenticeships have been phased out. In my Tesco days, such apprenticeships made many of the least well educated in the land extremely proud that they were able to achieve an apprenticeship and then able to move from one employer to another with a certified skill. The exclusions under the current scheme have led to much smaller numbers of people able to become apprentices, which I think is one reason why so much less is spent on the under-25s. Flexibility is also an issue. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, gave us some examples from his own experience, and of course we have had the experience of my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s report on this whole area.
In conclusion, it is very good that we have this amendment. We have a new, impressive and energetic Secretary of State in Nadim Zahawi, and we have my noble friend the Minister. I hope that they will review the apprenticeship arrangements and that this amendment will spur them to action.
My Lords, the Queen’s Speech promised that legislation would support a lifetime skills guarantee to enable flexible access to high-quality education and training throughout people’s lives. It therefore beggars belief that there is no mention of this flagship policy in this skeleton Bill; indeed, the Bill is silent on the value of qualifications below level 3 altogether.
At present, 13 million adults in the UK currently do not have a level 2 qualification—that is equivalent to GCSE—and 9 million adults lack functional literacy and numeracy skills, leaving them vulnerable to job loss and making it harder for them to secure work. DfE data has shown that the return on investment for qualifications below level 2 is higher than for level 3. Furthermore, lower level qualifications offer many adult learners a key progression route. Without adequate support through the adult education budget for these lower level qualifications in future years, many students will not be ready for and able to progress to levels 4, 5, 6 and up to degree level, which this Bill—or indeed, in the absence of the LLE amendments, its successor—is intended to support.
Amendment 60 in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson would seek to rectify this by placing the LSG on a statutory footing. It is also intended to address concerns that, at present, the LSG does not offer support for subjects outside a narrow band of technical disciplines. Consultation and regular review of eligible courses are therefore key. Our amendment also addresses concerns that the LSG appears to omit reskilling and second level 3 qualifications by retaining the equivalent or lower qualification rule. I will not repeat earlier speeches on the need for ELQ reform, but I urge the Minister to reconsider including flexibility for subsequent level 3 courses in the LSG to unlock retraining for even more people in an area where there is a demand for skills.
I also support Amendment 50, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke, and my noble friend Lord Layard, which would ensure that the LSG and support for courses below level 3 are placed on a statutory footing. Amendment 50 also encompasses apprenticeships, which provide an alternative for able young people to the traditional academic route. It would ensure that two-thirds of the funding is spent on under 25s; this is key to ensure they are properly targeted.
Moreover, as noted by many noble Lords, the sharp decline in apprenticeships is deeply concerning, with 2020 seeing the lowest number of 16 and 17 year-olds starting an apprenticeship since the 1980s. We have seen 189,000 apprenticeship opportunities disappear since 2017, which is why Labour has called on the Government to use unspent funds from the apprenticeship levy to fund 85,000 new apprenticeships for 16 to 24 year-olds, creating opportunities for young people to rebuild from the ravages of the pandemic. More than £1 billion in apprenticeship levy funding paid by employers expired unused between May 2020 and February 2021 alone. It is absurd that businesses are allowing hundreds of millions of pounds of levy funds to expire, when so many young people are unable to access a high-quality apprenticeship. Vast sums of money going unspent is a sign of a system in need of fundamental reform to make it work for learners and business.
Skills and retraining must be a vital part of our economic recovery. I hope the Minister is persuaded of the merits of placing the LSG on a statutory footing, especially given it has cross-party and sector-wide support. After all, it reflects the Government’s policy to try to address the skills gap in this country and to enable individuals to develop skills relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s labour market, in their area. This is an opportunity for the Government to show that levelling up is more than just a slogan or an addition to the name of a ministry.
My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for their amendments, and all noble Lords who spoke in the debate. I concur with all noble Lords’ ambitions around lifelong learning. This is an important issue with which the Government agree; however, we do not believe it is necessary to specify such a requirement in the Bill.
In April, we launched the free courses for jobs offer as part of the lifetime skills guarantee. This gives all adults in England the opportunity to take their first level 3 qualification for free, regardless of their age. We have ensured that our funding arrangements will allow relevant providers to access further funding if there is higher-than-expected learner demand. Over 400 level 3 qualifications are available, which have been specifically identified for their strong wage outcomes and ability to address key skills needs. Adults in all regions of England have been enrolling since April.
The free courses for jobs offer builds on the pre-existing legal entitlement for 19 to 23 year-olds to access their first full level 2 and/or level 3 qualification—a point raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox of Newport and Lady Garden of Frognal—which the free courses for jobs offer complements. Through the adult education budget, full funding is also available, through legal entitlements, for adults aged 19 and over to access English and maths to improve their literacy and numeracy, and for adults with no or low skills to access fully funded digital skills qualifications, as we discussed in an earlier group of amendments.
The adult education budget also supports colleges and training organisations to work with adults at lower levels who want to re-engage with learning and/or their local labour market. This includes around 2,000 regulated qualifications and their components, and non-regulated learning, from entry level to level 2.
In areas where adult education is not devolved, the adult education budget can fully fund eligible learners studying up to level 2 where they are unemployed or earning below around £17,300 per year. In areas where the adult education budget has been devolved to mayoral combined authorities or the Greater London Authority, they are responsible for determining the provision to support outside of the legal entitlements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked why the Government will not put the offer of free courses for jobs on a statutory footing. As she will be aware, this policy has been in delivery since April and is already benefiting adults aged 19 and above without a prior level 3 qualification in all regions of England. We do not believe that it is necessary to legislate in order to deliver this important investment in the nation’s skills.
I am most grateful to my noble friend. It is fantastic that she has listed all these initiatives, but it does not really explain why she is not prepared to put this in the Bill. She says that she does not believe that it is necessary. Why?
I do not wish to press too hard on this, but Governments are here today, gone tomorrow, and Ministers change. By putting this amendment in the Bill, it is clear to everyone what the future is; otherwise, we are relying on administrative decisions, which can change.
My noble friend is quite within his rights to press me and the Government as hard as he sees fit, but I have set out the Government’s position as best as I can at this stage.
Turning to the other aspects of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, I agree that the list of qualifications—
I am sorry—I know that the point has been made—but I find this an extraordinary approach to legislation. Everything that the Minister has said so far has given examples of things that the Government are doing that are compatible with the amendments that we are discussing. She has not raised a single objection in principle to either of the amendments, but she has been given a brief saying that it is not necessary to legislate. What harm is done by legislation, given that so many Governments in the past have, in the end, fallen rather short of their agreements in principle?
I think that the Government’s priority is to see this measure working in practice. Many of your Lordships have far greater experience than I do of how attempts have been made to reform this area, including through legislation, which have not delivered the outcomes that noble Lords across the House violently agree we want to see. So, our focus—
I apologise. We are all on the same side here. I understand my noble friend’s powers personally and understand that she has a big document with “resist” written on it, but why can she not talk to her ministerial colleagues and say, “We’ll seek to come forward at Third Reading with something that reflects the concerns expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke, my noble friend Lord Forsyth and others”?
I can assure my noble friend absolutely that I am in regular and detailed dialogue with my ministerial colleagues. I will certainly share your Lordships’ concerns with them but, if I may, I would like to progress in responding to these amendments.
Turning to the other aspects of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, I agree that the list of qualifications in the free courses for jobs offer should be updated regularly and reflect labour market need. That is why we keep the list under review and accept suggestions for additional qualifications twice a year from mayoral combined authorities, the Greater London Authority and qualification-awarding organisations. For example, we added hospitality qualifications to the offer in July to ensure that it meets key needs in that sector.
Maintaining the offer as a policy entitlement allows us to continue to respond quickly to the changing labour market. I am sure that this is not the noble Lord’s intention, but the amendment has the potential to slow that process down. There are an estimated 11 million adults aged over 24 in England without a level 3 who can now access their first level 3 via the three courses for jobs offer. We know that there are real benefits to adults gaining a level 3 qualification. Achieving a full level 3 on average gives adults 14% to 16% higher wages and a 4% increase in their chance of being employed. It is right that we focus on those who have not already achieved those advanced level skills, as they have a significant amount to gain. Learners who already have a level 3 or higher can still benefit from a generous government-backed advanced learner loan.
Turning now to the amendment tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke and also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, that this reform is fundamental to achieving our levelling-up ambitions. The Government are clear that the further education funding system needs to change in order to meet the needs of learners.
I shall spend a moment setting out what the Government are doing. We are reforming the adult skills funding system so that it is simpler, outcome-focused and more effective. We are currently consulting on this and it would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of that consultation. We do not want to commit to funding arrangements on a piecemeal basis, which is why we cannot accept this amendment.
I remind your Lordships that we are proposing, first, to introduce a single skills fund that brings together all direct funding for adult skills, making the system easier for colleges to navigate; secondly, to establish a simpler and fairer way of allocating the money within the skills fund; and, thirdly, to give more certainty to colleges over their funding, including over multiple years, which I think goes to the heart of the second part of my noble and learned friend’s amendment.
On the third element of my noble and learned friend’s amendment, noble Lords are aware—my noble and learned friend anticipated this perfectly—that it is a central principle of the apprenticeship programme that employers take the decisions about who they recruit as an apprentice on which standard, including the level of apprenticeship, and government funding will then follow those decisions. We believe that employers are better placed to make those choices, as they know what skills they need and who might best meet that need. Therefore, we would be concerned about restricting that choice by agreeing to that part of the amendment. It might work for some employers, but not for all. It would reduce opportunities for older employees who may want to retrain for progress. There may also be younger people who want to start with a higher-level apprenticeship.
From August 2020 to April 2021, 16 to 24 year-olds accounted for just over 50% of apprenticeship starts and, in the same period, level 2 and level 3 starts made up more than two-thirds of total starts. The latest figures show that more than 101,000 apprentices have been supported through the apprenticeship initiatives between August 2020 and September 2021, of which 76% are aged between 16 and 24.
There were a couple of other questions. My noble and learned friend Lord Clarke talked about converting existing training into apprenticeships. Employers cannot simply convert their own training into an apprenticeship. The Institute for Apprenticeships approves all apprenticeship standards to ensure they meet high quality requirements. Apprenticeships must last a minimum of 12 months and include at least 20% off-the-job training.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked about the number of apprenticeships in the Department for Education. I am pleased to tell him that times have moved on since he and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, were battling on this. We have a strong internal apprenticeships programme. We have more than 350 apprenticeships, on standards from level 2 to level 7. Following a successful pilot last year, we put in place a new policy for external recruitment at our EA and EO grades, which I am informed are the two lowest grades in the Civil Service, in February 2021. Externally advertised vacancies at these grades are now recruited as apprentices by default.
In conclusion, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, for tabling these amendments. It is vital that all adults in England can access their first level 2 and level 3 qualifications for free, which is why the Government are already funding this through existing legal and policy entitlements. I also agree that the funding system must be fit for purpose. That is why, as I set out, we are currently consulting on new funding and accountability arrangements for the further education system, which aim to give providers more certainty and allow them to focus on education and training.
I hope my noble and learned friend and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, are satisfied with the work being done in these areas. If so, would my noble and learned friend be happy to withdraw his amendment, and would the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, in place of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, not move Amendment 60 when it is reach?
My Lords, my noble friend kept thanking us all for introducing these amendments, which is very kind of her. I think we all thank her for the skill and courtesy with which she delivered her brief in attempting to reply. Faced as I am with a situation where, as far as I can see, her brief gives examples of things the Government are doing that are entirely compliant with our amendments but provides no reason in principle for opposing them, except that it is not convenient or wise, I would like to take the mood of the House and put my amendment to a vote.
Clause 22: Further education in England: intervention
Amendments 51 and 52
51: Clause 22, page 26, line 32, after “provides” insert “English-funded”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to Clause 1 at page 1, line 7.
52: Clause 22, page 28, line 4, after “provides” insert “English-funded”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to Clause 1 at page 1, line 7.
Amendments 51 and 52 agreed.
53: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“CHAPTER A1CHEATING SERVICES PROVIDED FOR POST-16 STUDENTS AT ENGLISH INSTITUTIONSMeaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions
(1) This section applies for the purposes of this Chapter.(2) “Relevant service” means a service of completing all or part of an assignment on behalf of a student where the assignment completed in that way could not reasonably be considered to have been completed personally by the student. (3) References to completing all or part of an assignment on behalf of a student include references to providing material to the student in connection with the assignment where—(a) the student could use the material in completing the assignment or part, and(b) the material—(i) is prepared in connection with the assignment, or(ii) has not been published generally.(4) For this purpose—(a) where, in connection with an assignment, a student seeks the provision of a relevant service, any material provided as a result is to be regarded as provided in connection with the assignment;(b) material is published generally if it—(i) is available generally without payment, or(ii) is included in a publication that contains other educational or training material and is available generally (such as a text book or study guide).(5) A person who provides, or arranges the provision of, a relevant service does so “in commercial circumstances” if—(a) the person is acting in the course of business, or(b) in the case of a person who provides a relevant service, its provision was arranged by another person acting in the course of business,whether the person’s own business or that of the person’s employer.(6) “Student” means—(a) a person who is undertaking a relevant course at a post-16 institution or sixth form in England, or(b) any other person over compulsory school age who has been entered to take an examination relating to a regulated qualification at a place in England.(7) A “relevant assignment”, in relation to a student, is an assignment (which may have been chosen by the student) which the student is required to complete personally—(a) as part of the relevant course which the student is undertaking, or(b) in order to obtain the qualification to which the course leads or for which the student has been entered.(8) In relation to an assignment that is a relevant assignment—(a) “personally” includes with any assistance permitted as part of the requirement (whether or not the assignment, if completed with that assistance, would otherwise be considered to be completed personally), and(b) that assistance is “permitted assistance”.(9) Section (Interpretation of Chapter) sets out the meanings of other terms used in this Chapter (including in this section).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause defines key terms for the purposes of the new Chapter (Cheating services provided for post-16 students at English institutions).
I think we have all been in this Chamber for too long today, my Lords, and the brains are not working. But I do not do the scheduling; if I did, we probably would not still be here.
Group 14 is on essay mills and 16 to 19 academies. I will speak to Amendments 53 to 57, in the name of my noble friend Lady Barran. Contract cheating services have been a long-standing concern that your Lordships have rightly raised during the passage of the Bill. We have listened and I am pleased to bring these amendments to the House. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for his unstinting efforts to clamp down on essay mills, where unscrupulous online operators provide assignments and other pieces of work for students in commercial circumstances.
Essay mills threaten to undermine the reputation of our education system, devalue the hard work of those who succeed on their own merit, prevent students from learning themselves and risk students entering the workforce without the knowledge, skills or competence to practise. We have worked with the higher education sector to clamp down on essay mills and to support students who might be targeted by these services. The sector has made great strides to help students understand the gravity of cheating and tackle the problem of cheating services. But, despite this activity, cheating services remain prevalent, with the pandemic leading to a further increase in the number of sites targeting their services at students in England. Amazingly, over 1,000 websites are now listed on uktopwriters.com, a comparison site of essay mill companies.
Our legislation will make it a criminal offence in England and Wales to provide, arrange or advertise cheating services in commercial circumstances to students taking a qualification at a sixth form or post-16 institution in England or enrolled at a higher education provider in England. It will send a clear message that contract cheating services—selling essays to students—are not legal, acting as a strong deterrent to those operating these reprehensible services.
Government Amendment 58 provides the Secretary of State for Education with an order-making power to enable the designation of 16 to 19 academies as having a religious character. It also provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the procedures relating to the designation. In addition, it sets out the freedoms and protections relating to religious education, collective worship and governance that the designation provides. I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Touhig—my noble friend—for raising this important issue in Committee. Both the noble Lord and stakeholder organisations such as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have been very helpful in their collaboration with officials. I am glad that we have come to this solution.
This amendment will ensure that, when existing sixth-form colleges designated with a religious character convert to become academies, they retain their religious character and associated freedoms and protections. It will also enable new and existing 16 to 19 academies to be designated with a religious character in the future. The Government are committed to supporting existing sixth-form colleges to be able to convert to academy status. I am pleased that a significant proportion of sixth-form colleges have already taken this step and are making a stronger contribution to strengthening the academies sector. This amendment means that the barriers which have prevented sixth-form colleges with a religious character from converting to become academies will be removed.
Government amendments 74 and 75 in my name are tactical and consequential amendments which would expand the Long Title of the Bill. They are a consequence of the government amendments relating to careers information and provider access, the banning of cheating services and the clause relating to allowing 16 to 19 academies to be designated as having a religious character.
We look forward to more sixth-form colleges becoming academies and strengthening the sector with their expertise. We also look forward to the creation of the new 16 to 19 academies with a religious character in the future. I beg to move.
My Lords, I take note of the point made by the Minister and will not detain the Chamber for long. I am sure that colleagues have been here much longer than I have today—I have been elsewhere. I congratulate the Minister on her appointment and pay tribute to her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for her hard work on this Bill.
I will speak to government Amendment 58. My interest in the Bill arose because existing legislation prevents Catholic sixth-form colleges becoming 16 to 19 academies without losing their religious character. The colleges currently benefit from several protections set out in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. These relate to issues such as governance, collective worship, religious education and many others, and they are vital to maintaining the Catholic ethos of these colleges.
Any sixth-form college can of course become a 16 to 19 academy. However, the definition of “school” in the Education Act 1996, as amended by the Education Act 2011, excludes 16 to 19 academies. This means that 16 to 19 academies are currently ineligible for the protections and freedoms needed to remain Catholic.
Catholic dioceses across England that oversee colleges have developed strategies to bring the Catholic community together by creating families of schools within multi-academy trusts. These strategies enable schools to work in partnership and share resources. Many other sixth-form colleges around the country have become academies and are benefiting from the advantages of academy status. The 14—yes, there are just 14—Catholic sixth-form colleges across England would like to gain this benefit.
In Committee, I tabled a probing amendment to empower the Secretary of State to allow sixth-form college corporations to covert to academies without losing their current statutory protection—the Minister referred to this. I was encouraged by the response from the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I warmly welcome the work of her successor, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, who, with her excellent Bill team, has worked with the Catholic Education Service to find a way forward. Therefore, I am pleased that the Minister has tabled Amendment 58 to address this issue.
The amendment represents nearly a decade of engagement between the Department for Education and the Catholic Education Service on this matter. From my conversations with the CES, I know that the amendment has been positively received across the dioceses and the catholic sixth-form colleges. Indeed, Danny Pearson, principal of the Aquinas College in Stockport and chair of the Association of Catholic Sixth Form Colleges, said:
“Catholic sixth-form colleges are thrilled to see the government’s amendments will, at last, enable sixth-form colleges to become academies. As highly performing colleges with proven track records, this will allow us to grow and share our expertise across educational sectors for the benefit of local communities”.
“Many of our settings are in areas of high deprivation and this amendment will give colleges the stability and reach to ensure our young people get the life chances they deserve”.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, and the Government for tabling this amendment. I hope that the House will support it—I certainly will.
My Lords, I rise to speak on the issue of essay mills and contract cheating. I thank the Minister for tabling this amendment. There have been four Private Members’ Bills, three of them from me. The first time, I drew number 2, and then there was then a general election. I then drew number 50, which never got debated, and then I drew number 3—and we have the Private Member’s Bill up and running. I thank Chris Skidmore for putting one in the Commons as well.
More than 45 vice-chancellors and heads of UK higher education organisations wrote to the Secretary of State in 2018. The support and briefings of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education have been fantastic. I also pay tribute to two professors who started this whole thing off before I got involved: Professor Newton and Professor Draper at Swansea University.
When I looked at a particular independent college in Greenwich and saw the effects of contract cheating and essay mills, I realised that this was a very serious problem that we faced not just in further education but in higher education and, increasingly, in schools as well, although this amendment does not deal with that. Some 15% of our students admit to using contract cheating services. Oxbridge Essays claims that it has produced, for cheating, 70,000 essays. This is not just about students being drawn into this situation—many of them are worried about their well-being, their mental state et cetera—it is also about the academic credibility of our higher education system. If we allowed this cancer to grow, it will affect our universities and colleges.
I pay tribute to the Minister’s legal team, which has nailed this properly. I showed the amendment to a number of people, and, as you can imagine, I got some quite important replies. They said that the proposed strict liability offence—whereby there is no need to prove intent—is really important because it means that essay mills will not be able to rely on disclaimers, although they do have a due diligence defence. Getting strict liability offences through Parliament is extremely rare, but it is absolutely critical to this offence having any impact.
I would also like in passing to congratulate the Minister’s press department or PR department. The Minister very kindly emailed me her intended amendment and it said, “Strictly embargoed for four days”. I thought after the third day I would tip off the Times Higher Education Supplement or FE Weekly so I might get a little bit of credit, and they said “Oh, we got it four days ago”. The Government obviously have an eye on publicity as well.
I thank the Government for this amendment. Students, vice-chancellors and universities up and down the country will be very grateful. This is not the end of it, in the sense that we have to make sure that we look at Wales and Scotland, because that is important, and we will at some stage need to look at secondary education as well. When the Minister winds up, will she consider saying that if breaches occur, we will look at how we can tighten up the situation? I am sure that these essay mills, which form a £1 billion industry, will be looking at ways around this, and we need to see whether we can find ways to stop breaches happening in future. I hope the House does not mind, but I am going to depart.
My Lords, I, too, strongly welcome the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, which seek to address the pernicious effects of essay mills. I must declare an interest as an adviser on skills to the Prime Minister and as an academic employee of King’s College London. That is why I want to take this opportunity to say how important and welcome these amendments are. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, who has been passionate and determined. Without his recognition that this is a major and serious issue which can be tackled, I am sure that these amendments would not have been tabled tonight.
There are a number of reasons why cheating has become a major problem for universities. It is partly to do with the pressure on people to get formal qualifications, the scale of universities and the temptation—you can do things you could not do before. There are two major sources of this. One is plagiarism, where we can fight software with software, and one is essay mills, where we cannot. I am quite sure that there will be a major improvement as a result of these measures: the firms will be unable to operate and students will take much more note of the risks attached to doing something illegal with these measures in place. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, has escaped, so I will send thanks in his direction. I say on behalf teaching academics all over the country that they will be extremely happy to see these amendments to the Bill, because it is almost impossible to know if somebody has used a commissioned essay.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the government amendments and all noble Lords who have spoken. I shall say a brief word on government Amendments 58 and 72, on religious academies. When my noble friend Lord Touhig raised this matter in Committee, my noble friend Lady Wilcox made clear our support for his endeavour, so it is good to see the Government responding positively by bringing forward on Report their own amendments to address the problem. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Touhig. Given how long this has seemingly been worked on, I hope that at least one academy, the Lord Touhig catholic academy, will be appearing any day now to mark his success. I am going to ask him to put his name to my amendments in future, in the hope it will have a similarly positive effect on the Minister on future subjects. I look forward to his support. These amendments are very welcome.
Turning to the remaining government amendments in this group on essay mills, as I made clear in Committee, we fully support the outlawing of cheating services. Having had to research this matter for one of the many Private Member’s Bills proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Storey—I had only just taken the brief on—I was shocked to find how comprehensive the available services are. I think I have regaled the House more than once with my story about commissioning imaginary essays on Augustine and the problem of evil and various other things, and being astonished to find the precision with which one could request services. There was even a “comparethemarket.com” for it. The whole thing is extraordinary.
I have a small number of questions, and I apologise, but given the amendments have been brought forward on Report, we have not had an opportunity to ask about them, so I hope the Minister will bear with me.
First, one of the conditions is that material provided to a student has to have been prepared in connection with the assignment, rather than published generally. One of the abuses of the current system has been essay mills selling the same essay to more than one student, as the same topic comes up again and again. If material had been prepared for one student and was then resold to 15 more, is that one offence or is each sale an offence?
Secondly, the policy note talks about committing offences in England and Wales. What does that mean? Does it mean that the website is hosted in England or Wales, that the company that owns it is registered there or that the owners and essay writers live there? Who commits the offence? Is it the person writing the essay, the one promoting the service, the staff, the owners or all of them?
I have two other quick questions. We are told that enforcement of the law will fall to the police and the CPS. Given the pressures on both, do the Government have a sense of how many prosecutions, if any, are likely in a typical year or will this rely on deterrence as a way forward?
Finally, the penalty on conviction is a fine. I sought clarification offline as to the likely scale of this and was told simply that this will be determined by the courts in accordance with Sentencing Council guidelines, with no cap on the powers of magistrates to issue fines. When I have had to deal with these things on Bills before, I have normally been given some kind of heads-up about the likely tariff or scale from the Government Benches, so can the Minister give us an idea? Are we talking about £50, £5,000, £50,000 or £5 million, or something relating to the profitability of the company? Can she give us some sort of heads-up or a rough benchmark?
I commend the Government for acting on both these points and look forward to the Minister’s reply.
I thank noble Lords for their comments. There is clear support across the House for these amendments and I am glad we have reached an agreeable solution on these important issues.
I will have to write on some of the questions raised, but I am able to answer a couple of them. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked whether the legislation will be extended UK-wide. We continue to engage and share our work with the devolved Administrations and would welcome a decision from them to legislate against essay mills in the future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked if it is one offence or many. If sold 15 times, it is an offence not just once, but every time. I am swamped here; I think she also asked another question.
I will remind the Minister, but I am happy for her to write. My questions were about who commits the offence, what it means for it to be committed in England, the likely number of prosecutions and likely fines.
I ungraciously forgot to put on record my appreciation of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on this over many years, so I take the opportunity to do so now while I am on my feet. I commend him for all his work.
On how this will work in practice, an enforcement body is not specified on the face of the Bill and therefore any supporting investigations and prosecutions would fall to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service respectively. It is up to them to decide the offence and fine. I will need to write to the noble Baroness on her other questions.
Once again, I thank noble Lords, especially the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Touhig, for their support on these issues. I hope that the House will support these amendments.
Amendment 53 agreed.
Amendments 54 to 58
54: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of providing or arranging a relevant service
(1) It is an offence for a person to provide, or arrange for another person to provide, in commercial circumstances, a relevant service for a student in relation to a relevant assignment.(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine.(3) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) it is a defence for the defendant to prove, in relation to any of the matters mentioned in subsection (4), that the defendant did not know, and could not with reasonable diligence have known, the matter.(4) Those matters are—(a) if material is provided to the student as a result of the relevant service, that the student would or might use the material in completing all or part of the assignment; (b) that the student was required to complete the assignment personally;(c) that the relevant service was not permitted assistance.(5) A statement in the form of a written standard term of the contract or arrangement under which the relevant service was provided or arranged—(a) that the student would not use any material provided as a result of the relevant service in completing all or part of the assignment,(b) that the student was not required to complete the assignment personally, or(c) that the relevant service was permitted assistance,is not, of itself, to be taken as sufficient evidence of a matter to be proved under subsection (3).(6) A student does not commit either of the following merely by making use of a relevant service to complete all or part of an assignment—(a) an offence under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 where the offence that the student intended or believed would be committed is an offence under this section;(b) an offence under this section committed by aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of an offence under this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause creates an offence of providing, or arranging the provision of, a relevant service as defined in new Clause (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions) in relation to an assignment which the student is required to complete personally, and provides for defences where the defendant proves certain matters.
55: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of advertising a relevant service
(1) A person who advertises a relevant service to students commits an offence.(2) It does not matter for the purposes of subsection (1) whether the persons to whom the relevant service is advertised are only students, or only a particular category of students, or include persons other than students.(3) For this purpose a person advertises a relevant service if, and only if, the person makes arrangements for an advertisement in which the person—(a) offers, or(b) is described or presented as available or competent,to provide or arrange for another person to provide a relevant service.(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause makes it an offence for a person who provides or arranges (or would provide or arrange) a relevant service as defined in new Clause (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions) to advertise that service to students.
56: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Offences: bodies corporate and unincorporated associations
(1) If an offence under this Chapter committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to neglect on the part of—(a) a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, or(b) a person who was purporting to act in any such capacity,that person (as well as the body corporate) is guilty of that offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly. (2) Where the affairs of a body corporate are managed by its members, subsection (1) applies in relation to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with the member’s functions of management as it applies to a director of the body corporate.(3) Proceedings for an offence alleged to have been committed under this Chapter by an unincorporated body are to be brought in the name of that body (and not in the name of its members) and, for the purposes of any such proceedings, any rules of court relating to the service of documents have effect as if that body were a corporation.(4) A fine imposed on an unincorporated body on its conviction of an offence under this Chapter is to be paid out of the funds of that body.(5) If an unincorporated body is charged with an offence under this Chapter, section 33 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 and Schedule 3 to the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 apply as they apply in relation to a body corporate.(6) Where an offence under this Chapter committed by an unincorporated body other than a partnership is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to neglect on the part of, any officer of the body or any member of its governing body, that person (as well as the body) is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.(7) Where an offence under this Chapter committed by a partnership is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to neglect on the part of, a partner, that partner (as well as the body) is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause contains rules that apply where offences under the new Chapter (Cheating services provided for post-16 students at English institutions) are committed by companies and unincorporated associations.
57: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Interpretation of Chapter
In this Chapter, the following terms have the following meanings—“assignment” includes an examination and any piece of work;“examination” includes any form of assessment;“permitted assistance”, in relation to a relevant assignment, has the meaning given by section (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions)(8);“personally”, in relation to an assignment that is a relevant assignment, has the extended meaning given by section (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions)(8);“post-16 institution” means—(a) a higher education provider, within the meaning of Part 1 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (see section 83(1) of that Act);(b) an institution within the further education sector, within the meaning of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 (see section 91(3) of that Act);(c) a 16 to 19 Academy;(d) any other institution or person, other than a school, that is principally concerned with the provision of education or training suitable to the requirements of pupils who are over compulsory school age;“regulated qualification” means a qualification regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation;“relevant assignment” has the meaning given by section (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions) (7);“relevant course” means— (a) a course of any description mentioned in Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988, or(b) a course—(i) providing education or training in preparation for an examination relating to a regulated qualification, or(ii) which a person is required to complete in order to obtain a regulated qualification;“relevant service” has the meaning given by section (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions) (2);“school” has the same meaning as in the Education Act 1996;“sixth form” means a school, or part of a school, that is principally concerned with the provision of full-time education suitable to the requirements of pupils who are over compulsory school age;“student” has the meaning given by section (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions) (6).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause defines certain terms used in the new Chapter (Cheating services provided for post-16 students at English institutions).
58: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“16 to 19 Academies: designation as having a religious character16 to 19 Academy: designation as having a religious character
After section 8 of the Academies Act 2010 insert—“16 to 19 Academies designated as having a religious character8A Designation of 16 to 19 Academy as having a religious character(1) The Secretary of State may by order designate a 16 to 19 Academy as having a religious character.(2) The Secretary of State may designate an Academy under this section only if the proprietor of the Academy is a qualifying Academy proprietor within the meaning given by section 12(2).(3) The order must specify the religion or religious denomination in relation to which the Academy is designated.(4) The Secretary of State may make regulations about the procedure to be followed in connection with—(a) the designation of an Academy in an order under this section, and(b) the inclusion in such an order of the specification required by subsection (3).(5) Despite section 568(3) of EA 1996 (orders to be made by statutory instrument subject to the negative procedure), as applied by section 17(4) of this Act, a statutory instrument containing an order under this section is not subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.8B Constitution of Academy proprietor, collective worship and religious education(1) The articles of association of the proprietor of an Academy designated under section 8A must provide for a majority of the directors of the proprietor to be persons appointed for the purposes of securing, so far as practicable, that—(a) the character of the designated Academy reflects the tenets of the religion or religious denomination in relation to which the Academy is designated, and(b) in a case where there is a trust deed affecting the designated Academy, the Academy is conducted in accordance with it.(2) The proprietor of an Academy designated under section 8A may (accordingly) conduct the Academy in a way that secures that the character of the Academy reflects the tenets of the religion or religious denomination in relation to which the Academy is designated (and, in particular, in a way that is in accordance with any trust deed affecting the Academy).(3) The proprietor of an Academy designated under section 8A must ensure that at an appropriate time on at least one day in each week during which the Academy is open an act of collective worship is held at the Academy which pupils at the Academy may attend.(4) The act of collective worship must—(a) be in such form as to comply with the provisions of any trust deed affecting the Academy, and(b) reflect the traditions and practices of the religion or religious denomination in relation to which the Academy is designated.(5) The proprietor of an Academy designated under section 8A must ensure that religious education is provided at the Academy for all pupils who wish to receive it.(6) The proprietor of an Academy is to be treated as complying with subsection (5) if religious education is provided at a time or times at which it is convenient for the majority of full-time pupils to attend.(7) For the purposes of this section religious education may take the form of a course of lectures or classes, or of single lectures or classes provided on a regular basis, and may include a course of study leading to an examination or the award of a qualification.(8) The form and content of religious education provided under this section—(a) must be in accordance with the provisions of any trust deed affecting the Academy, and(b) must not be contrary to the traditions of the religion or religious denomination in relation to which the Academy is designated,but is otherwise to be determined from time to time by the proprietor of the Academy.(9) Notwithstanding section 17(4), in this section—“pupil” means a person receiving education at the 16 to 19 Academy;“trust deed” includes any instrument (other than the articles or memorandum of association) regulating the constitution of the proprietor of the Academy or the maintenance, management or conduct of the Academy.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes provision about the collective worship and religious education to be provided at a 16 to 19 Academy designated by the Secretary of State as having a religious character, and about the appointment of directors of the proprietor of such an Academy.
Amendments 54 to 58 agreed.
59: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Higher education course fee limits: administrationRelevant date for purposes of fee limit for certain higher education courses
In paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 2 to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (the fee limit where the provider has no access and participation plan), omit “before the calendar year”.” Member’s explanatory statement
Certain fee limits for academic years of higher education courses depend on whether the provider had a high level quality rating on a particular date. This new Clause changes that date to 1 January in the calendar year in which the academic year begins from 1 January in the previous calendar year.
Amendment 59 agreed.
Amendments 60 to 64 not moved.
Amendment 65 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 66 not moved.
67: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Code of practice by Information Commissioner’s Office on data sharing in relation to post-16 education
(1) The Information Commissioner must prepare a code of practice for organisations which collect personal data for purposes connected to post-16 education, including the processing of applications for higher and further education courses.(2) The code must—(a) contain practical guidance in relation to the sharing of personal data in accordance with the requirements of data protection legislation;(b) contain such other guidance as the Commissioner considers appropriate to promote good practice in the sharing of personal data of students and potential students; and(c) have regard to children’s rights in the digital environment as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 25.(3) Where a code under this section is in force, the Commissioner may prepare amendments of the code or a replacement code to reflect emerging technologies and changing needs of pupils, students and potential students.(4) In this section—“good practice in the sharing of personal data” means such practice in the sharing of personal data as appears to the Commissioner to be desirable having regard to the interests of data subjects and others, including compliance with the requirements of the data protection legislation; and“the sharing of personal data” means the disclosure of personal data by transmission, dissemination or otherwise making it available.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment places a duty on the Information Commissioner to prepare a code of practice in relation to the sharing of personal data between students and others.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Storey has dashed off for his train and handed me a sheaf of papers on his amendment on data protection. I am quite good at speed reading but I do not think I am quite as good as all that, given all this material. However, this is an important amendment because data protection is important for students and pupils. It should be protected but the DfE does not have a good record. There is an ICO inspection report from February 2020 that comes out with such things as:
“There is no formal proactive oversight of any function of information governance, including data protection, records management, risk management”
and so on. The report says:
“The organisational structure of the DfE means the role of the Data Protection Officer (DPO) is not meeting all the requirements … There is no clear picture of what data is held by the DfE … The DfE are not providing sufficient privacy information”
and so it goes on. It is a very damning report.
The good news is that the Minister wrote a letter to my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, setting out all the steps that the Government intend to take, and my noble friend is very satisfied with their approach on this. Despite this very damning report about data protection at the DfE, which seems to be absolutely non-existent, there is some hope here. Whether the Minister will accept the amendment I do not know, but I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for stepping in marvellously and introducing the amendment so confidently. It certainly seems, especially given the situation with the investigation that she describes, a pretty straightforward and simple way to address the issue, placing a duty on the Information Commissioner to prepare a code of practice in relation to the sharing of personal data. If the Minister is not going to accept this, perhaps she could tell us how instead the department intends to address these problems.
I would like to ask a little question. There have been concerns for some time that both practice and indeed legislation in education are loose in relation to data. Clause 11 makes provision to allow data sharing by and with Ofqual, the OfS and Ofsted as well as prescribed persons, and the provisions relate to technical education functions. Could that include students’ personal data? If so, for what purposes? How widely could “prescribed persons” be interpreted?
Can the Minister clarify whether the scope of Clause 11 extends beyond England? Although the institutions to which the new powers apply are all currently based in England, the people and institutions from which they will obtain personal data under those powers could presumably be at any educational setting across the UK within the scope of the Bill. What consideration has been given to the prescribed persons to whom the institution may pass on the data being based outside England in accordance with their own data-sharing powers?
These days students need and expect consistent controls across their data for collection, for use, for distribution and for destruction when it is no longer required for the lawful purposes for which it was collected. I am aware that institutions have also called for better guidance. Concerns have also been raised that the Bill does not preclude commercial use. Could the Minister comment on that?
Data is a valuable asset and it needs appropriate safeguards and a public interest test, so I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, Amendment 67 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, but skilfully presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, seeks to place a duty on the Information Commissioner to prepare a code of practice in relation to the sharing of personal data by organisations that collect such data for post-16 educational purposes.
I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for bringing this issue to my attention. The Government agree that this is an issue that needs addressing, and we share both noble Lords’ aims for increasing assurances around the processing and sharing of personal data for learners and students in post-16 settings.
The department’s response to this issue is to set up an education sector certification scheme, with the support of the ICO, that would allow the department to set standards in a wide range of areas. This would cover the data protection needs of the whole education sector, not just the 16 to 19 age group covered by the Bill. We feel that a certification scheme, rather than a code, gives us flexibility to deliver elements when they are ready. We will not have to wait until all elements are complete, which allows us to be flexible when responding to priority needs. In addition, as technology and the law change, we are able to update specific standards without having to update a full code, allowing us to remain flexible to future changes.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, mentioned, I have written to both the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, detailing the department’s ambition and next steps in tackling this issue, which will include writing both to the ICO and to the ed-tech companies by the end of the year.
I am amused at the definition of “a little question” from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock; it was at least three little questions. If I may, I will write to her on the detailed points. Broadly, the thrust of her questions is that student data should be protected. The department continually keeps its processes and practices under review to ensure that we are taking all necessary steps to protect data, including updates to access controls, audit trails of data usage and reviewing risk as part of our data protection impact assessment. In relation specifically to this amendment, the proposed data certification scheme would formalise these controls across the sector. If I may, I will respond in writing to her other points.
I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, will consider withdrawing his amendment. I again place on record my thanks to him and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for bringing this to my attention.
Amendment 67 withdrawn.
Clause 26: Extent
Amendments 68 and 69
68: Clause 26, page 31, line 12, after “15” insert “(3)”
Member’s explanatory statement
The effect of this amendment and the Minister’s amendment at page 31, line 20 is that the amendments of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 made by Clause 15 have the same extent as the provision of that Act which they amend.
69: Clause 26, page 31, line 20, after “15” insert “(3)”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the Minister’s amendment at page 31, line 12.
Amendments 68 and 69 agreed.
Amendment 70 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 27: Commencement
Amendments 71 to 73
71: Clause 27, page 31, line 24, leave out “and 22 to” and insert “, 22 to 24, (Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions), (Offence of providing or arranging a relevant service), (Offence of advertising a relevant service), (Offences: bodies corporate and unincorporated associations), (Interpretation of Chapter),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the new Chapter (Cheating services provided for post-16 students at English institutions) to come into force 2 months after the Bill is passed.
72: Clause 27, page 31, line 24, leave out “25” and insert “, (16 to 19 Academy: designation as having a religious character), 25”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the new clause (16 to 19 Academy: designation as having a religious character) to come into force 2 months after the Bill is passed.
73: Clause 27, page 31, line 24, after “25” insert “and (Relevant date for purposes of fee limit for certain higher education courses)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the new Clause (Relevant date for purposes of fee limit for certain higher education courses) to come into force 2 months after the Bill is passed.
Amendments 71 to 73 agreed.
In the Title
Amendments 74 and 75
74: In the Title, line 4, after “qualifications” insert “and apprenticeships”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert Clause (Information about technical education and training: access to English schools).
75: In the Title, line 6, after “providers;” insert “to create offences relating to completing assignments on behalf of students; to make provision about designating 16 to 19 Academies as having a religious character;”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendments to insert new Chapter (Cheating services provided for post-16 students at English institutions) and new Clause (16 to 19 Academy: designation as having a religious character).
Amendments 74 and 75 agreed.
Title, as amended, agreed.