Commons Reasons and Amendments
Motion on Amendments 1 and 2
1: Clause1, page 2, line 21, leave out “subsection (6)” and insert “subsections (6) and (6A)”
2: Clause1, page 2, line 32, at end insert—
“(6A) Where a specified area covers any of the area of a relevant authority, the Secretary of State may approve and publish a local skills improvement plan for the specified area only if satisfied that in the development of the plan due consideration was given to the views of the relevant authority.
For this purpose “relevant authority” means—
(a) a mayoral combined authority within the meaning of Part 6 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (see section 107A(8) of that Act), or
(b) the Greater London Authority.”
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1 and 2 en bloc. I will speak also to Amendments 3 to 6, 15 and 16 and associated Motions.
I am delighted to be back in the Chamber to discuss the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. It is the Government’s belief—which I know is shared by your Lordships—that the skills sector has been forgotten for too long. This Bill represents a landmark moment for skills, bringing greater parity between further and higher education. Noble Lords will have seen the letter from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education outlining the Lords amendments tabled, the key issues raised throughout the Bill’s passage and our position on each. I ask noble Lords to consider their positions alongside the concessionary amendments and policy changes that the Government have already announced since the Bill was in this House. These include delaying the removal of funding for technical educational qualifications that overlap with T-levels by a year and putting the role of mayoral combined authorities in the development of LSIPs into the Bill.
Furthermore, we tabled a number of amendments on Report in the Lords in response to issues raised by your Lordships in this House, including the criminalisation of cheating services and the requirement for LSIPs to consider skills needed for jobs relating to climate change and other environmental targets. I am delighted also to announce that we have tabled a further concession relating to the number of encounters for years 8 to 13 students with a range of providers of technical education, which I will come to in the third grouping.
First, I address Commons Amendments 1 to 6 and the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Watson: Amendments 3A, 4A and 4B. We have been clear that local skills improvement plans should be developed by designated employer representative bodies working closely with employers, relevant providers, mayoral combined authorities, the Greater London Authority, local authorities and other local stakeholders.
The Bill already places duties on relevant providers to co-operate with employer representative bodies to ensure that their valuable knowledge and experience directly inform the development of the plans. This includes independent training providers, which are referred to in Amendment 4B, that provide English-funded post-16 technical education or training. Let me reassure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that the views of independent training providers will be taken into consideration in the development of the plan.
The Government also recognise the importance of mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority and their work as commissioners and convenors in their areas with devolved adult education functions. That is why, in the Commons, the Government brought forward Amendments 1 and 2, which place a duty on the Secretary of State to approve and publish a local skills improvement plan only if satisfied that, during the development of the plan, due consideration has been given to the views of the mayoral combined authority or Greater London Authority where it covers the specified area.
Further details will be set out in statutory guidance, informed by ongoing engagement with key stakeholders and evidence from the trailblazer pilots. Guidance can be updated regularly to reflect evolving needs and priorities, as well as best practice. We will ensure that the views of key stakeholders including mayoral combined authorities, the Local Government Association and the Association of Colleges are considered in the development of the statutory guidance.
Furthermore, relevant providers and key local stakeholders are already playing an important role in the local skills improvement plan trailblazers running this spring, which are spurring new collaborative working. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, will not insist on his amendments.
I now turn to Commons Amendment 15, Amendments 15A and 15B from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lord Baker’s Amendment 16A. Many of your Lordships have spoken passionately about our reforms to post-16 qualifications, both now and when the Bill was last in this House. We listened carefully to these issues and have made some significant changes as a result.
At Second Reading in the other place, the Secretary of State announced that we are allowing an extra year before public funding is withdrawn from qualifications that overlap with T-levels, and before reformed qualifications are introduced that will sit alongside T-levels and A-levels.
Our reform programme is rightly ambitious, but we understand that it would be wrong to push too hard and risk compromising quality. The additional year strikes the crucial balance between giving providers, awarding organisations, students and other stakeholders enough time to prepare and moving ahead with our important reforms. That is why we cannot accept a three-year delay, as the amendments to this Motion propose.
These changes are part of our reforms to our technical education system that will be over a decade in the making from their inception, building on the recommendations in the Sainsbury review, published in 2016, which itself built on the findings of the Wolf review of 2011.
T-levels are a critical step change in the quality of the technical offer. They have been co-designed with more than 250 leading employers and are based on the best international examples of technical education. We have already put in place significant investment and support to help providers and employers prepare for T-levels. By 2023, all T-levels will be available to thousands of young people across the country. The change to our reform timetable means that all schools and colleges will be able to teach T-levels for at least a year before overlapping qualifications have their funding removed.
Last November, the Secretary of State also announced the removal of the English and maths exit requirement from T-levels. This is about making the landscape fairer, so that talented students with more diverse strengths are not prevented from accessing and successfully completing a T-level. The change brings T-levels in line with other level 3 study programmes, such as A-levels, which do not have such a requirement.
In addition, Amendment 15B would also require consultation and consent from employer representative bodies before the withdrawal of funding approval from qualifications. As your Lordships will be aware, we have twice consulted on our intention to withdraw funding from qualifications that overlap with T-levels. T-levels were designed by employers to give young people the skills they need to progress into skilled employment or to go on to further study, including higher education.
The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will continue to involve employers actively when making decisions about qualification approval, including through its route panels. These panels hold national sector expertise and expert knowledge of occupational standards which have portability across employers. Institute approval will in itself be a mark of quality and currency with business and industry; it ensures both employers and employees have the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need. The requirement for a public consultation and consent from employer representative bodies would duplicate existing good practice and introduce an unnecessary burden.
I next turn to Commons Amendment 16 and Amendment 16A. Throughout the discourse around the Government’s technical education reforms, there has been some misunderstanding about our intentions. I must make it clear that while A-levels and T-levels will be the best academic and technical options for most 16 to 19 year-olds, our reforms do not mean we are replacing all applied general qualifications, such as BTECs.
I can assure noble Lords that we recognise the need for other qualifications—ones that provide knowledge and skills in areas that are not covered by T-levels or not well-served by A-levels. We see a valuable role for such qualifications in the reformed landscape where there is a clear need for them and they meet new criteria for quality and necessity. Our reforms will ensure that every qualification is high quality and has a clear and distinct purpose. All learners should be able to attain the skills they need to succeed in higher education or progress into skilled employment.
We set out the types of qualifications we intend to fund, alongside A-levels and T-levels, in our response to the level 3 consultation in the summer. This includes large academic qualifications, such as BTECs or similar, as a full programme of study in areas that do not overlap with T-levels and are less well-served by A-levels—for example, performing arts or sports science. We have made it clear that students will be able to take BTECs and applied general qualifications alongside A-levels as part of a mixed programme—for example, taking applied general-style qualifications in subjects such as IT, engineering or health, alongside an A-level core. These qualifications will still need to meet the new criteria for quality and necessity.
We have listened to the views expressed in this House and have acted on them. The Secretary of State’s policy announcements are significant changes that acknowledge and satisfy the aims of these amendments. To push these amendments would risk the whole reform programme and potentially let down a generation of learners. I therefore urge your Lordships to accept these Commons amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introductory remarks. I begin by speaking to Amendments 3A and 4A in my name. We fully support the principle of employers playing a central role in driving the development of identified local skills needs. We also recognise the more specialised role of FE colleges in delivering higher-level technical skills, although that should take place within the context of a holistic and more objective overview of the whole education, skills and employment support system.
If local skills improvement plans are to be successful, they must draw on the expertise and knowledge of all important players. That must certainly include mayoral combined authorities where they exist, and local authorities where they do not, in shaping the development of LSIPs, reflecting their unique understanding of their communities and job markets. We believe they merit a formal role and that that role should be clearly set out in the Bill.
We also believe it is appropriate to acknowledge the role played by contributors to the skills delivery equation, which is often overlooked; namely, independent training providers. ITPs are distinct from other types of FE providers, in that they are not run or directly influenced by the public sector, yet they form an intrinsic part of the country’s skills landscape. It appears that the breadth of provision that ITPs offer, and the impact they have, is not as understood as it could be among DfE officials and perhaps the public at large.
In Committee, I highlighted that there was no provision or requirement within the Bill for the Secretary of State or the designated employers’ representative body to engage with mayoral combined authorities or local authorities, or indeed any other stakeholder, in relation to the development of LSIPs. The same argument was advanced by the Opposition in another place and, credit where it is due, as the noble Baroness has outlined, the Government have listened. Commons Amendment 2 provides for such input, albeit it on a limited scale. It refers to “due consideration” being given to the views of the relevant authority. At least it is clear what, in the Government’s eyes, the relevant authority means, although noble Lords could still be here at this time tomorrow were we to attempt to define what “due consideration” might mean.
The definition of relevant authority has been kept very narrow: just mayoral combined authorities, of which I think there are currently nine, and the Greater London Authority. Why are local authorities not included in places in the country where there is no mayoral authority? What is to happen there? I suspect the Minister will say that, for the past two years, the adult education budget has been devolved to mayoral authorities and the GLA, which of course is the case, but LSIPs are not just about the contribution of adult education funding to the skills agenda; it surely goes much wider than that.
Here we come up against a right-hand/left-hand dilemma as far as the Government are concerned. The nine mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority are to be given arm’s-length input to the development of LSIPs but other local authorities are to be given none at all, as things stand, and yet, in the levelling-up White Paper, launched last month amid great fanfare, the Government say:
“We want to usher in a devolution revolution … we will support local leaders to make a difference in their communities by … bringing local leaders into the heart of government decision-making with a new role for mayors and strong local leaders in the shaping of local growth strategy.”
I think those of us on these Benches would be happy to sign up to that, but what is it to be for government? Are democratically elected local leaders being brought into the heart of government decision-making or are they being marginalised, with merely “due consideration” being given to their views? There is certainly a disconnect; the Government cannot have it both ways.
I would say that, as they have got it right in the levelling-up White Paper, it would be consistent—perhaps not an adjective often applied to this Government—to give the same importance to mayoral combined authorities and local authorities in the development of LSIPs. Reflecting the status and expertise of FE colleges and independent training providers would enhance such a role for the mayoral combined authorities and would benefit the local skills strategy of their area. This is all the more important as the levelling-up White Paper gives the green light for fully devolved budgets at county level in the near future.
Perhaps in passing, might the Minister clarify the situation with Cornwall? It is not a mayoral authority, but I understand it has devolved responsibilities for skills and adult education.
It will become increasingly important for LSIPs to involve local and regional government, as well as providers and other community representatives. These amendments give the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and, in that respect, I hope the Minister will understand that argument and accept it.
The way in which the amendments have been grouped means that I also have to speak to Amendment 15A in the name of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I would have preferred to have spoken separately. Before I begin on that subject, I need to point out further evidence of a lack of consistency in the Government’s position on technical skills and training.
In yesterday’s Spring Statement, the Chancellor said that
“we lag behind international peers on adult technical skills.”
He then gave some figures:
“a third lower than the OECD average, and UK employers spend just half the European average on training their employees.”
Perhaps we should ask: who has been in government for the past 12 years? The Chancellor went on to say:
“We will consider whether the current tax system, including … the apprenticeship levy, is doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in the right kinds of training.”—[Official Report, Commons, 23/3/22; col. 341.]
In the skills Bill in another place, the Opposition pressed an amendment calling for a review of the apprenticeship levy, with particular regard to those at level 3 and below. The Government voted against that amendment, so there again it is a left-hand/right-hand dilemma. What are the Government doing?
I want to signify our support for Amendment 15A in the name of my noble friend Lord Blunkett. I have said on many occasions that I welcome the introduction of T-levels and genuinely want to see them establish parity of esteem with A-levels as a path into post-school education or employment. However, we do not accept that BTECs and other applied general qualifications need to be sacrificed to ensure the success of T-levels because we do not believe that they are mutually exclusive. Let it be understood that T-levels are as yet unproven. The first of them will reach completion only this summer. Until they are fully embedded and acceptable to students, parents—they are important in this regard—employers and universities, it is important that other options are available to young people for whom neither T-levels nor A-levels are appropriate.
In his letter to Peers last week, the Secretary of State claimed of this Bill that its measures will change people’s lives across the country. He is right, although, in too many cases, it will not do so in a positive way; he seems unable to grasp that for some reason. Defunding most BTECs would seriously affect the future life chances of many young people. These qualifications are well established and are often a springboard for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into well-paid, skilled employment or university. Studying a BTEC empowers a young person to shape their own pathway, whether it is going to university or pursuing a technical qualification. Restricting a young person’s choice at 16 seems to make no sense. Withdrawing BTECs without an alternative pathway that still meets the needs of people, employers and the labour market is not responsible policy-making.
Last month, Ofqual launched a consultation on the reform of level 3 qualifications. Perhaps the Minister can tell noble Lords where that will fit with the proposals in the Bill. As engines of social mobility—and, indeed, of social justice—BTECs play a significant role in the skills agenda. I know that the Minister gets out and about a lot. She must have heard the overwhelming opposition from FE colleges, universities, independent training providers and many employers to these proposals relating to BTECs. That is because BTECs are qualifications that are understood and respected by employers. They have a long-standing track record; they are respected by learners and understood by institutions. These are real strengths that should not be cast aside lightly.
Almost unbelievably, the DfE’s own equalities impact assessment stated that scrapping BTECs would disproportionately impact those from SEND backgrounds, Asian ethnic groups and disadvantaged families. Yet the department decided to ignore that warning and press ahead regardless. This could mean years of progress in increasing the numbers of students entering higher education from the lowest-participation neighbourhoods being lost by the defunding of BTECs.
I have heard it said that those refusing to abandon BTECs in favour of T-levels are looking backwards rather than forwards. Well, BTECs date only to 1984. A-levels were introduced in 1951. Is advocating the continuation of A-levels backward-looking? Of course it is not. That is why we reject the false dichotomy between BTECs and T-levels. A block in the development of T-levels is the requirement of employers to provide 45 days of workplace training. In the current climate, that is difficult but, ultimately, that issue will be overcome. For now, the need is to defend, not defund, BTECs.
My Lords, I have a historic declaration of interest; I refer to it today to ensure entire transparency.
I will speak to Amendment 15A and respond to the Minister. I have no doubt whatever of this Bill’s significance and the importance of getting it right. I also have no doubt about the significance of the vote that I will ask the House to divide on today. I am not in any way opposed to the general thrust of the legislation, nor to the introduction of T-levels; I have made this clear over and again.
I have not had the opportunity to speak to the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, who spends time in Downing Street, but I did have a productive and constructive meeting with Lord Sainsbury just a few weeks ago. The only thing that divides he and I—I refer to both because the noble Baroness did—is the belief that you have to have a scorched earth policy to make T-levels work. I do not believe that for a minute. I believe that T-levels will succeed on their own merits and in their own right, meeting a specific, focused, technical need—and a wider vocational need, in some cases—where employers and those involved in shaping these qualifications get it right for the future. Picking up on my noble friend Lord Watson’s point, so much of what we have done in education over many years—I include my time in government—has involved catching up on the past and putting in place measures that reflect a bygone era. I do not want us to be in danger of doing that with T-levels—in other words, catching up on a German or Finnish model that is already changing—I want T-levels to succeed in their own right and on their own merits because they are relevant to and appropriate for the future.
However, they are specifically focused on particular sectors and employers. Every employer I speak to, and everyone you hear on the television or the radio—the Government must hear this as well—tells us that we also need broad-ranging qualifications geared towards enabling young people to cope with rapid and fundamental change in the workplace. In other words, we need something that gives them the skills to be able to change and move not just within but between sectors; to take on the enormous challenge of technical and business change; and to take on the introduction of artificial intelligence and robotics, including in terms of what that will mean, in every possible workplace in the country.
My appeal today is for people not to focus on whether this is about T-levels. It is not. I am absolutely certain that T-levels will succeed. However, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said on Tuesday, sometimes it is beholden on Back-Benchers and the Opposition to save the Government from themselves—not an easy thing to do when they know that, when they make a mistake, it might come home to bite them very hard indeed, including in red wall seats. If levelling up means anything, it has to mean choice and diversity for young people in different circumstances at different stages of their maturity and education.
My noble friend Lord Watson referred to the fact that many 16 year-olds are not absolutely clear what they are going to do in life. If you are taking A-levels and are determined that you want to be a medic, you will take the right qualifications. At one time, the Russell Group had preferred A-levels; I have never come across anything so nonsensical. I have three A-levels. Two of them are economics and law, neither of which featured on the Russell Group’s list. However, they are pretty fundamental to our economic development and well-being and professional lives. Let us not make the same mistake here with the vocational and technical thrust, which the Government are right to highlight. Yes, it is far too long since we gave vocational education the status and standing it needs, but doing away with part of what we have, which has been building quality, because we believe that it is the only way of introducing a new system is both short-sighted and extremely dangerous. We want quality in every possible area of our vocational and academic life but oranges are not the only fruit. That is why I humbly suggest that diversity of choice should be the mantra of a Conservative Government.
I want to make one final point. I do not know how much hands-on expertise there has been. I know about the consultation that the Minister referred to, in which 250 employers were asked about the development of their specific T-level qualifications. Of course, they were in favour of doing this—I am; why would I not be?—but they were not asked at the same time whether they favoured doing away with a more broad-brush qualification that allows 16 to 18 year-olds to find what they want to do and which career they want to follow. Take my eldest son, who took a BTEC national diploma because he was not sure what he wanted to do. By taking it, he got into Liverpool University and became—this is going back a bit—the first BTEC national diploma student to go there. He subsequently got a master’s degree. He would never have succeeded if he had been pushed into a specific route at the wrong time in his life.
Take Agnes, whom I walked with, together with her father, last Sunday. She wants to do a BTEC in forensics and an A-level in criminology alongside it. She will know, because she is going this September, what is available to her, but unless we pass this amendment, there will not be certainty of timetables or of the cut-off in defunding for students from hereon in. A modest delay, which the Secretary of State has already acknowledged is necessary, coupled with further consultation with employers at the time of proposed defunding—a terrible expression, but that is what it is—surely cannot be wrong. It cannot be, as the noble Baroness has described it this afternoon, an unnecessary burden to say to employers who are currently using and familiar with and want to retain a particular qualification, “We won’t talk to you again, because we have made our minds up.” Actually, minds were made up a long time ago. Minds that are closed are minds which have not benefited from a good education. Minds that are closed capture us in a bygone era. Minds should say “Yes, let us take the T-level programme forward rigorously and with the extra funding that is being allocated. Let’s get it right, but let’s not take away qualifications available now and familiar to employers that enable tens of thousands of young people to be able to progress.”
That is all that is being asked for this afternoon: a short, defined delay, a consultation before defunding, and then we will get it right. As someone who got my qualifications at night school and day release, and who took a postgraduate certificate in teaching in post-16, and had three older sons who got their qualifications through further education, I say to all those, including the Minister: consult with the advisers and with your civil servants, and ask how many of them have anything like that understanding or life experience, and then they can tell me that I am wrong.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. It is right, and I echo completely his comments about T-levels. I am just as committed to T-levels as he is. They are an important and interesting innovation, and to show it, of the UTCs for which I am responsible, in the first year two have experimented with T-levels. They have been teaching them for the last 18 months and will know the results by August of this year. Last August, more UTCs implemented T-levels, so we are learning a great deal about them, though not enough.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, would mean more time to consider whether they are living up to what we all hope that they will live up to. That is what it is all about. That is why, when we last debated this Bill, we asked that they should be delayed for four years. The Government listened—I recognise what the Minister and the Secretary of State said, which was, “No, we will delay defunding until 2024.” They were going to start gentle defunding this year with a little bit more next year. I do not know whether that will be cancelled, but the main defunding will be in 2024.
This means that we will only have two years of T-level results to judge. We will have the results in August 2022 of how many students—only a few hundred have taken them—got a distinction, a credit, a pass or a failure. In August 2023, there will be a few more hundred. That is very small evidence of whether they are working. T-levels will only succeed if two lots of people want them to succeed. The first is the students, and whether they recognise that this is a way in which they can get to university, improve their technical knowledge successfully and get a good job after that. The second is whether industry is satisfied that the level of education is what they expect their young employees to have.
Our experience of T-levels is that we had 10 starting the digital T-level 18 months ago at the Dartford UTC. Three dropped out because it was too demanding for them and too academic. We have discovered that students who only get 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 in GCSE will not be able to cope with T-levels, because 80% of a T-level is academic and only 20% is practical. The ones who can cope with T-levels will be those who in GSCE get 9, 8 and 7. Some who get 6 can cope; some cannot. Unquestionably, T-levels are trying to produce an officer class of highly skilled workers in technology.
However, you need more than an officer class. You need a large number of qualified technicians. It is rather like in the Army, where it is no good just having an officer class. You must have the level below them, the regimental sergeant-majors, the sergeant-majors, the lance-corporals and the corporals. These are the people who make the Army successful or not. BTECs have managed to train a lot of qualified technicians who do not particularly want to join the officer class, which is very interesting. You see this in levels 4 and 5—the two qualifications above level 3. Lots of people are now being encouraged to do these, people whom I would describe as “qualified technicians”. To give an example, if you live in London and have a plumbing problem, you have to ring up Pimlico Plumbers. A plumber will come very quickly and charge £80 an hour, which is £640 for a whole day. If someone has a qualification of 4 or 5 and is earning £640 in a day, they are not going to spend two years going on to level 6, the foundation degree. They are the qualified technicians which BTECs provide extensively throughout industry.
Perhaps the Minister can explain one of the problems. BTECs will be disqualified if they overlap, but what does overlap mean? There is no definition of “overlap”. It is very subjective. It is what you think may or may not overlap. To give an example, I have had a letter from an industrialist, whom I have never met, Benjamin Silverstone, a fellow at Warwick University and an expert in battery technology. He says:
“My concern is that a kid says, ‘I want to do my engineering T-level because in two years that job is going to be there’, but that T-level doesn’t fit them for it because there isn’t anything in there about battery technologies, electrification or power electronics.”
This is just one businessman, whom I have never met, but he is saying that T-levels look far too academic.
Therefore, I ask the Ministers seriously to compare the curriculum of T-levels with the curriculum of BTECs. We are doing that with digital at the Dartford UTC and finding out how they differ, and there are differences. We would say that in some areas they do not overlap, but that is a very subjective argument, and the Government may just say, “They do overlap”, so this is not a very satisfactory system. I hope that the Government will listen again on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and think again on how he is adding that one year back, meaning that they could have another year to decide more clearly which BTECs should be defunded.
My Amendment 16A is altogether quite an interesting argument. In the draft Bill, the Government said that BTECs will survive as single subjects in the future, but no student will be allowed to take two BTECs. This is an entirely original and unique thing to say in the history of education since the great Act of 1870. At no stage have any Government or Minister said that a student cannot take two qualifications that are funded and available. This has never happened before in our history, so why is it being done now? The Government have never justified this, and it is extraordinary.
Several students in schools and FE colleges will take two BTECs. Some 20% of black students go to university with two BTECs. The Government say, “Oh well, they can take T-levels”, but many of those students will not be able to match T-levels if they have not attained level 4 in English and maths.
The Government have another proposal to which I strongly object: in future, students who do not get level 4 English and maths will not be allowed to apply to universities. That is an extraordinary proposal, which again is unique in the history of education in our country. No Government have ever said that before; no party has. It denies many youngsters a chance. It would exclude most dyslexic students, for a start, because they would have great difficulty in attaining level 4 in English and maths. This is a different issue for another day and another debate, but it is relevant to my amendment.
I am asking the Government to think again about this, because they have never justified why a student should be disallowed from taking two funded qualifications. It is very discriminatory and will affect the future life chances of many young children, so I would like to hear what other Members from different parts of the House think about my amendment.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 15A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who is a tireless champion for education, including technical education. He has personal credentials in that field. It is also a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Baker. These Benches entirely agree with his amendment, too.
I had submitted an amendment, which covered the same ground as that from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, but I withdrew it to ensure we combined strength on this one to try to convince the Government of the extreme damage they are doing to young people’s prospects by their blinkered approach to T-levels. They have, after all, only just been invented. They have no track record and we have no way of knowing if they will really work. Okay, they have been developed by employers, but so has every work-based qualification in existence. BTECs were developed by employers, too; it is nothing new. Of course, employers are experts on employment, but qualifications need input from teachers at colleges and assessors at awarding bodies if they are to make sense.
Why do the Government not have a corporate memory? I was working for City & Guilds back when national vocational qualifications were introduced. Does anybody still remember NVQs? They were going to be the answer to the academic/vocational divide. They were going to break things down and ensure parity of esteem. Wow—they were great. There were six levels of attainment and employers were in the driving seat.
That was fine, but the retail sector decided that it did not need any outside help. All assessments were to be for real; there was to be no simulation. But two essential competences were dealing with fire and dealing with angry customers. The sector proudly printed umpteen boxes of the exciting new qualifications, until it was pointed out that, for anybody to pass them, many retail outlets would need to be burned down and many contented customers would need to have their feet stamped on to be angry enough to meet the requirements. Sadly, the boxes were pulped, as the sector acknowledged that teachers and assessors simulating assessments could be okay for some competences.
I was concerned to see this Government refusing to learn from the past and trying to develop T-levels without the expertise of teachers or assessors. Luckily, they have now been allowed in, but why is there only one awarding body per qualification? If choice and competition are good for GCSE and A-levels, why not for T-levels? It makes no sense to discontinue qualifications that are understood and respected by candidates, by parents—who are a particularly hard nut to crack—by employers and by further and higher education. They have been instrumental in ensuring that less academic, or in some cases more academic, students had choices in pursuing practical studies with enough academic content to satisfy universities’ entrance requirements, and which were capable of being studied alongside A-levels.
The Minister says that they will be withdrawn only if they overlap with T-levels but, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, they are very different animals. An engineering BTEC and an engineering T-level may suit quite different students. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, previously mentioned that, in the trial of his university technical colleges to which he has alluded today, only the brighter students took to T-levels, but there are many other students with different skill sets for whom the BTEC has been an ideal mix of knowledge and skills that has fitted them up for successful employment. Why on earth would the Government stop that?
In five years, we may know for sure whether T-levels are really the bee’s knees but, while they are still in their infancy, it would be folly in the extreme to put all the eggs in the T-level basket and possibly ruin young people’s chances of meaningful study or employment. I appeal to the Government to do nothing hasty and to keep BTECs funded as far into the future as possible. If not, they risk doing irreparable harm to young people’s prospects of meaningful employment and to addressing the country’s skills shortages.
My Lords, I declare an interest because, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, I am currently working as a skills adviser at No. 10. I was therefore quite involved in the skills White Paper, which led to much of the legislation today.
I very much appreciate the interest the House has taken in this Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and many other noble Lords, I have been bashing away at skills and vocational education for many years. It is wonderful to see that it is now a subject of such importance to so many of you.
I will say something about the local skills improvement plans and Motions 4, 4A and 4B. There is a danger that we are losing sight of what these were meant to be, can and should do, and what the White Paper set out to do. They were meant to be a simple way to create a stable mechanism to make sure that local employers’ voices and insights would be brought together and made available to providers. Colleges do not have to follow these plans in detail; they just have to take note of them. I am concerned that, with the best of motives, we are in danger of creating a vast, complex and bureaucratic process that will not do what it was meant to do, which was to take employers into account but also to reverse the 20-year trend of colleges and providers generally spending all their time worrying about ticking boxes for Whitehall and whether they have met regulations and requirements, but far too little time looking out to their local communities.
I put it on record that I am also bemused by why six pages of dense text are needed to put this simple idea into legislation. I am genuinely concerned that, in trying to enforce something that says, “You must take account of schools, and of this and that”, instead of creating a simple mechanism for employers to be part of the thinking about what is provided in a locality, we will create a new series of tick boxes.
I raise a question particularly on independent training providers, because I simply do not see how this will work. Independent training providers range from huge national providers, which are dominant in apprenticeship sectors, to tiny commercial companies of literally two people in a room above a chip shop. I tried to get my head around how you would take their views into account, when many of them are commercial concerns in determined competition with each other. I really wonder whether this will achieve what people want it to.
As I said, I take this opportunity to say, first, how very much I think the Bill and the support expressed for its purposes show how this country has moved on and really understood the importance of this, but also that local skills improvement plans are meant to be simple. They are meant to be not tick-box or expensive bureaucratic exercises but a way to ensure that employers are part of a process. They are something of which to take account, not an attempt to introduce central planning into what colleges decide to put on.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, who has fought so hard for the skills agenda. I associate myself with much of that fight and I very much welcome a great deal of what is in the Bill. However, I will say a few words in favour of Amendments 15A and 15B. All the key points on these amendments have already been made very eloquently by my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Watson, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I strongly support the arguments they put forward and I will underline three points.
First, it is true that too many qualifications can be confusing. I have no doubt about that, so I understand what the Government are trying to do here. Nevertheless, I think they have got it wrong. There is no confusion about BTECs. They have been going for nearly 40 years. They are long established and well tried and tested. They play a really important role in the range of qualifications at level 3. It is particularly important that they combine the development of skills with academic learning. They are the only qualification focused entirely on that.
For all the positive aspects of T-levels, they do not do this. They are mainly designed to help those enrolled on them to become successful in specific occupations. Again, I do not want in any way to criticise their introduction—that is an important role—but BTECs allow those who are successful in completing them to go into higher education and in particular to take applied vocational degrees, of which there are many, or into the workplace, or, in some cases, into both, because there are quite a lot of part-time students at BTEC level. Therefore, they should not be ditched to try to bolster T-levels. It is not necessary to do that. I know the Minister has indicated that there are certain niche areas where they will survive, but they should survive as a whole. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, we need some time to see how T-levels bed down, who they are successful for, who is attracted to them and whether they are really working for employers.
That is my first point. My second is that the Government seem to have ignored the results and outcomes of their own consultations. Some 86% of respondents to its level 3 consultation disagreed with the proposal to remove funding from qualifications deemed to overlap with A-levels and T-levels. As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, there is a big issue about what is meant by “overlapping”. The fact their content might be the same does not mean that the approach to teaching and learning is the same. In fact, they are profoundly different. Neither of the two reviews the Government have cited, one undertaken by the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, favoured the Government’s approach. In her review, the noble Baroness recognised the value of BTECs, and the Sainsbury review did not cover BTECs at all because they were not part of its remit.
My third point is that abandoning BTECs is likely to severely damage social mobility. It will block a route to university or skilled employment for large numbers of disadvantaged young people. This is reinforced by the evidence of the Social Market Foundation that 44% of white working-class students who entered universities studied at least one BTEC. I am familiar with this from my past role as a vice-chancellor. Many of these students do extraordinarily well when they get to university, often better than those who come in with rather poor A-level qualifications. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned, 37% of black students went to university with only BTEC qualifications. Surely we should not block the route of these young ethnic-minority students into our higher education system by taking away a qualification deemed valuable for them.
The fact is that disadvantaged students are overrepresented on BTEC courses. Many of them were eligible for free school meals while at school. The Government’s proposals, as others have said, are very unlikely to help the levelling-up programme. I do not know how much consultation there has been between the Minister’s department and that of the levelling-up department under its Secretary of State, Michael Gove. Let us keep this popular qualification at least for the next few years and remove it only when students wanting what it and it alone can provide are happy for it to go. There should be further consultation at a later period that is listened to and not ignored. If the Government accept this, they will earn the gratitude of independent providers, FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and universities—let us not forget them. They will also gain the gratitude of many employers, parents and, most important of all, students themselves.
My Lords, I very much agree with the important points noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lord Baker, have made. I particularly agreed with my noble friend’s point about this concept of overlapping with T-levels. BTECs and T-levels are rather different. I do not understand exactly what “overlapping” means any more than he does.
It is really important, if we recognise that BTECs have a distinct identity, that many of them continue to be funded. If the Minister can give any further guidance about which BTECs might be defunded and on what basis that would be of enormous value. The two examples she gave of areas where BTECs might be kept, such as performing arts, did not inspire enormous confidence. The more she can share with the House about what exactly this will mean for BTECs will help us in this debate. It will also be incredibly important for FE colleges and other providers.
I will make one final point about the rollout of T-levels. As has been said, many of us support T-levels and we want to see them happen. However, I do not believe that the rollout of T-levels in practice can possibly be delivered in the timescale envisaged. I very much welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement of a delay of one year. If I might make an analogy, it reminds me a bit of the story of Crossrail. This is admittedly a rather London-centric example, but rather like Crossrail we will find that there will be further announcements of further delays, but unlike with Crossrail the Government also have a bold plan to close the Central line. The announcement of a strict timetable for closing the Central line, because the Government are so confident that Crossrail will be delivered on time, would be very high risk.
Regardless of the exact outcome of the vote today or further possible exchanges with the other place, I think that the timescale set out by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is itself quite optimistic. I will not be at all surprised if, regardless of what appears in legislation, eventually the appearance of T-levels and the disappearance of BTECs takes considerably longer than currently envisaged.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, has just said about the timescales. I had the privilege of chairing your Lordships’ Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, which reported in November. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, for giving us her time and the benefit of her expertise to advise the committee, which was much appreciated.
We reported in November and have just had the reply from Her Majesty’s Government. What we concluded from the evidence given to us was substantial. I shall read to the House our recommendation 40 on this issue:
“The Government must reconsider its decision to defund tried and tested level 3 qualifications like BTECs, Extended Diplomas and AGQs”—
that is, applied general qualifications.
“We support the amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill requiring a four-year moratorium on defunding these qualifications and urge the Government to reconsider this policy in its entirety.”
That was the unanimous conclusion of the committee.
The Government’s reply came to us a few days ago, and the word “overlap” appears in it again. They say they will
“remove funding from qualifications that overlap with T Levels … at a pace that allows growth of T Levels and time for providers, awarding organisations, employers, students, and parents to prepare.”
They conclude that one year is enough. I conclude that it requires four years and, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, has just said, it may be more than that. In introducing these amendments, the Minister talked about two consultations that have taken place on the issue but, as I recall, she did not say, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has reminded us, that 86% of respondents thought the Government’s timetable was too complicated.
I will just give the House some statistics that the committee received. We said in our report:
“230,000 students received level 3 BTEC results in August 2021. They are a common route into HE and are particularly taken up by students from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with special educational needs and disabilities … Almost half of black British students accepted into university have at least one BTEC.”
The evidence is conclusive, and the contributions today from around your Lordships’ House have demonstrated that the Government need to think again on this issue. For that reason, in supporting Amendment 15A and indeed Amendment 16A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I will say on behalf of these Benches that if the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, decides to press this matter to a Division, we shall support him.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register as chair of Access Creative College, an independent training provider of further education for the creative industries. Access welcomes many of the measures in the Bill, as do I. However, I have real concerns that we are inadvertently blighting the applied general qualifications, including BTECs, that it provides.
I listened carefully to the Minister’s remarks responding to Amendment 15A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. I may have misheard but I thought I heard her say that A-levels and T-levels were the best routes for learners. I really worry that that kind of language, which creates a hierarchy between qualifications, will lead us to diminish the applied general qualifications and the place they have in our system. I worry that we are denigrating them, which will make it harder for providers confidently to offer them and for learners to undertake them, not knowing whether they will hold their value over time in the eyes of employers and the Government. We need to be careful to ensure that when we talk of parity of esteem we include applied general qualifications in that, so that it is parity of esteem not just between A-levels and T-levels but between A-levels, T-levels and applied general qualifications, including reformed BTECs if they are to be further reformed.
It is really important that the Government try to set out a long-term vision for applied general qualifications. We have to recognise that we have moved quite a long way from the previous government position of there being nothing in between A-levels and T-levels. The Government are now acknowledging that there are going to be a large number of qualifications of the applied general variety, but we need to ensure stability and certainty over their funding and their place in the system, otherwise providers are simply not going to get going and offer them, and learners are not going to be confident about taking them.
In that respect, it would be extremely helpful, for example, if the Government set out when they intend to end the moratorium that has been in place since September 2020 on the creation of new applied general qualifications. To my mind, it does not make any sense to have a moratorium if the Government, in their new policy position, now see value in qualifications in this space between T-levels and A-levels. What purpose does a moratorium serve? To my mind, it crimps and constrains innovation. It prevents providers adapting to the needs of employers and learners and stops them innovating. That is a real issue, and the Government would do well to set out a timeline for ending this moratorium.
I am all for T-levels, and Access Creative College, which I mentioned, is embracing such T-levels as exist that are relevant to its areas of expertise, including the digital T-level—but let us not develop them at the expense of BTECs and other applied qualifications, which meet the needs of their learners extremely well. Let us not create a burning platform for T-levels that does great damage to their needs.
My Lords, as the Minister who gave the authorisation to Crossrail, I can say that it was never the intention that the Central line would close; there would be pandemonium in London if it did. The whole purpose of Crossrail was to supplement and improve the Central line, not to replace it, and indeed it goes out further west and east.
That goes to the heart of what the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, has just said, and indeed there seems to be a consensus in the debate that we want a range of qualifications that meet employers’ and students’ needs and do so because they have a strong currency. That strong currency should of course be decided by the students and employers, not imposed by the Government—at least not until the point where it is so clear that the currency is there that it becomes a kind of tidying-up exercise rather than the straightforward force majeure abolition exercise that it looks like at the moment.
I was struck by the fact that when the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf—whom we hold in extremely high regard—spoke about the local skills plans, she did not speak at all about T-levels and did not reply to my noble friend Lord Blunkett. There was a deafening silence on that issue, and I am not sure whether silence was supposed to mean consent; I suspect it might have. I am sure the House will listen with close attention, since she is the Government’s adviser, if she wants to intervene again to say whether she disagrees.
The point being made here is that there may be a longer-term case for these qualifications continuing together, just as there is a long-term case for Crossrail and the Central line continuing together. At the very least we should not abolish the right of students to have access to BTECs until we can be reasonably confident that the replacement qualifications have a strong currency, not a weak one. I am surprised that it should be us on this side having to say this, because it is an enormously Conservative argument: you do not abolish what is there at the moment until you are clear that what is going to replace it is stronger.
This point was brought out particularly strongly in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who has chaired a Select Committee looking at some of the underlying issues that these qualifications seek to address. He gave the figure to the House that last year 230,000 students finished BTECs. In preparing for this debate, I read the T Level Action Plan of September 2021, which says that as of last year 5,450 students started on 10 T-levels. Let us recap those figures: 230,000 students finished BTECs last year, while in the rollout of T-levels at the moment 5,450 students have started. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said that the plans at the moment for opening T-levels are highly ambitious. Extrapolating from that model for the Central line and Crossrail, we would be opening Crossrail in about the middle of this century—not next year with a one-year delay.
My noble friend Lord Blunkett’s amendment seems extremely reasonable. He is calling for a two-year delay and a review at the end of that to see whether the currency is strong enough. That would seem a very sensible step. Not only is it moderate in its own terms, given the timescales; it could be vital for the life chances of hundreds of thousands of students for whom BTECs are, at the moment, their currency into employment. We should not take that currency away until we are clear that there is an alternative at least as good.
My Lords, coming from up north I do not really understand about the Central line and Crossrail. What I do remember was the Liverpool overhead railway, commonly known as the dockers’ umbrella. It was scrapped before the new transport system had proved its worth and chaos resulted.
I preface my remarks by thanking the Minister. I do not think I have come across a Minister so prepared to listen and engage—I am sucking up here—and to consider changes. That is the way it should work in the House of Lords and I pay tribute to her. I also want to pay tribute to the Government because we have talked about the importance of further education and vocational education for a long time but, frankly, successive Governments have done nothing about it. They have done little bits at the edges and margins but not actually done real, radical change. We now see something which is going to be really important to not only the skills agenda but young people particularly.
My comments from our Benches are not being made from a stance of party dogma. They are being made from a stance that it is important to get this right, as the noble Lords, Lord Baker, Lord Blunkett and Lord Adonis, have said. We want the Government to be successful. We want them to be able to triumph in this legislation, so the areas we are finally down to are just small changes which would make sure this really happens. I want to talk about two important areas, in the order that we have discussed them.
First, on the local skills improvement plans, yes, it is now important to have a plan in each locality and for all the partners to be joined up to it. Those plans will vary from area to area—of course they will. I have never quite understood why we should exclude the further education providers or local combined authorities, or whatever they are. They have not only budgets; they have influence and expertise. I take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, made about us not wanting it to be bureaucratic but we want to make it successful so, as I have just said, it is important that those stakeholders are there.
Colleges bring a wealth of experience. You cannot expect them to provide the courses and skills needed unless they are truly involved. This notion of the combined authorities just ensuring that the plan is not signed off until they raise the white smoke is not good enough. They should be working alongside by influencing, empowering and suggesting, not as some huge bureaucratic body but through some simple opportunity to work side by side. Actually, the employers need to be in a position to tell the colleges where they have got it wrong and how they can improve by doing things to step up to the game. We feel strongly about that and if it goes to a vote, we will support it.
We have heard the talk about the BTECs. Again, I do not really understand it. It was interesting to see what Pearson said, which was that the introduction of T-levels need not lead to a requirement to defund other qualifications. Why? Because there is a clear distinction between T-levels and career focused BTECs, which have different structures and different purposes.
It seems to us that we have long advocated this, as far back as the Sainsbury reform of vocational qualifications; again, it is a bit like the local skills plan. It is important to get it right and we are not convinced that you can rush at this. The two qualifications have to work alongside each other. This is not an area I have any expertise in but listening again to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who has expertise in this matter, the Government would be wise to take on board his suggestions. We are saying that we clearly want to see BTECs not being defunded for at least four years, and we want to support the very important amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.
I thank all noble Lords for the contributions they have made to this important debate and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for acknowledging the importance of the Government’s work in this area. I also thank my noble friend Lady Wolf for her descriptions of how local skills improvement plans should work in practice. I attempted to write something down but she put it very well.
We are trying to balance having a clear focus on the needs of employers, for all the reasons that your Lordships are well aware of—given the feedback we have from employers that students do not come to them with all the skills and experience that they need—with drawing on the valuable local insight and intelligence to which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and others of your Lordships referred. We are trying to strike a balance between those two things.
In relation to the role of local authorities in this, particularly those which have a devolved adult education budget, the Secretary of State will have the ability through regulations to add local authorities in England to those relevant providers already subject to the duties in the legislation. These regulations will be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution in Parliament.
Those independent training providers that deliver English post-16 education or training will also have duties on them where that training is material to a specified area. There is already a duty on them to co-operate and engage in the development of the local skills improvement plans.
Turning to the vexed issue of defunding BTECs, I am concerned about my communication skills. I am not sure how many times I have stood at the Dispatch Box—I know colleagues at the other end have done the same—trying to reassure the House that we are not defunding most BTECs, as the noble Lord, Lordusb Watson, said, deploying a scorched earth policy, which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, suggested, or leaving them as a niche qualification, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, suggested. We see them as an absolutely core part of the offer in giving young people choice, diversity and quality, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, described. We agree absolutely and think that the suite of qualifications we will have in future will do those three things.
To my noble friend Lord Johnson’s point about blighting and—these were not my noble friend’s words—besmirching the quality of BTECs, it is absolutely the reverse. Once we get through this and we are clear which BTECs are remaining, they will have absolute endorsement from the Government that they meet the standards of quality and future employability which are so critical for our young people, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. All will be on a level playing field and have that endorsement.
On that last point, once we get through this, as the Minister says, we can make judgments, but as things stand we are talking about 2024. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and others have said, by 2024 we will not have a clear view of how well T-levels have proceeded, so that is not the time to make the judgment. It surely has to be further down the line.
If I may, I will respond to that very valid point about the scale-up of T-levels when I come to it in just a second.
I am tempted to expand on the Crossrail/Central line analogy, but I think time does not permit.
On timing, and my noble friend Lord Willett’s question about giving a greater sense of which technical qualifications will be recommended for defunding, I am not in a position to be able to say that today. We intend to publish a provisional list of overlaps with waves 1 and 2 of T-levels shortly. We want to provide as much notice as possible about the qualifications that will have public funding approval withdrawn from 2024.
On the definition of “overlap”, which a number of noble Lords raised—
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I wonder whether she can give some indication of the proportion of BTEC qualifications that the Government are intent on keeping and the proportion that are likely to be dropped because of the so-called overlap. How many of the 250,000 students currently taking BTECs will be able to continue to do so?
I am afraid that I am not in a position to be able to confirm that today, but I can confirm that “scorched earth”, “niche” and “most” are not a reflection of where we are on this policy.
On the definition of “overlap”, in our policy statement in July last year we published the three tests that would be used to determine overlap: first, is the qualification in question a technical qualification; secondly, are the outcomes that must be obtained by a person taking that qualification similar to those set out in a standard covered by a T-level; and, thirdly, does the qualification aim to support entry to the same occupation as the T-level?
Turning to the number of people and the scale-up of T-levels, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, suggested that 230,000 students start a BTEC each year. In fact, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, clarified just now, there are 230,000 students taking BTECs or similar qualifications at any one time, rather than as initial starters.
My noble friend Lord Baker suggested that the number of people starting T-levels is in the hundreds. Around 5,450 students started their T-level last September, at just over 100 providers across the country. That was up from 1,300 students, who were the pioneers and are now in their second year. We now have more than 400 providers, all over the country, signed up to deliver T-levels. All the current T-levels will be available by 2023, and of course those providers include FE colleges and UTCs, which deliver significant numbers of those qualifications.
More broadly on the very wise challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about our level of confidence in scaling up T-levels to our target of 100,000 a year, we are, as your Lordships know, investing very heavily to make sure that this is a success. Where in the early stages we focused very much on quality, which I am sure noble Lords would endorse, we are now looking to scale up, and have invested more than £165 million in capacity-building funding to ensure that providers can work with employers to deliver the industry placements that are so important for this. We have made £268 million of capital funding available for the first wave of T-levels, and the recent spending review settlement included £2.8 billion of capital across the SR period, which will include specific capital funds to support T-level providers. The SR settlement will deliver an extra £1.6 billion a year for 16 to 19 year-olds’ education by the end of the SR period, including more hours of teaching for T-levels.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lord Baker challenged that T-levels are too difficult and potentially inaccessible for students with GCSEs at grade 5 and below. I hope your Lordships will remember that we have introduced the T-level transition programme which is designed to support young people who are not ready to start a T-level at 16 but could progress to one following a tailored preparation programme.
My noble friend also referred to the consultation in relation to GCSE requirements in English and maths for access to higher education. I remind him that it is a consultation, not a decision.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to the 86% figure in response to our consultation. That question related to the process rather than the policy of withdrawing public funding approval for qualifications that overlap with T-levels. Most consultation respondents supported our plans for academic qualifications: 73% agreed with our proposals for types of smaller qualifications that should be funded alongside A-levels and 71% agreed with our proposals for the types of larger qualifications that should be funded as alternative programmes of study to A-levels.
We also touched on students and access to higher education. This Government are absolutely committed to making sure that students from more disadvantaged backgrounds are able to access higher education, and we are very proud of our record in that regard. The data shows us that students of BTECs are around three times more likely to drop out of higher education than those entering with A-levels, even after controlling for age, ethnicity, level of disadvantage, and level and subject of study; hence we loop back to the importance of choice, diversity and quality, to which the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, referred. As the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, put it, they are different animals. That is absolutely fine. We want a choice of animals, whether they are travelling on Crossrail or the Central line.
My noble friend Lord Baker’s amendment is concerned about the restriction of choice. We are looking at this absolutely through the prism of quality and we will be publishing more detailed information, advice and guidance on the range of study programmes that students can choose as our reforms take effect.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked how the Ofqual consultation fits in with this plan. The consultation sets out Ofqual’s proposed approach to regulating alternative academic qualifications and alternative technical qualifications operating in conjunction with the institute and the department. These qualifications will be part of the future level 3 landscape as part of our review alongside A-levels, T-levels and apprenticeships.
If I may, I will write to my noble friend on the moratorium issue. With that, I urge noble Lords to accept the Commons amendments and not to press their amendments to a vote. I beg to move.
Motion on Amendments 1 and 2 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 3
3: Clause1, page 2, line 35, leave out from “body” to “for” in line 37
Amendment to the Motion on Amendment 3
Motion on Amendment 3 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 4
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 40, leave out from beginning to “and” in line 6 on page 3
Amendment 4A not moved.
Motion on Amendment 4 agreed.
Motion on Amendments 5 and 6
5: Clause 1, page 3, line 8, leave out “by people resident”
6: Clause1, page 3, line 9, leave out “and other local bodies”
Motion on Amendments 5 and 6 agreed.
Motion on Amendments 7 to 14
7: Clause 1, page 3, line 10, after “any” insert “English-funded”
8: Clause 4, page 5, line 35, after “institution” insert “in England”
9: Clause 4, page 5, line 38, leave out “a” and insert “an English”
10: Clause 4, page 5, line 40, after “provider” insert “whose activities, so far as they relate to the provision of post-16 technical education or training, are carried on, or partly carried on, in England”
11: Clause 4, page 5, line 41, at end insert “in England”
12: Clause 4, page 6, line 9, leave out “in respect of which amounts are” and insert “funded, wholly or partly, by amounts”
13: Clause 4, page 6, line 10, leave out “by the Secretary of State”
14: Clause 4, page 6, line 11, after “made” insert “by the Secretary of State”
My Lords, I now turn to the Motion on the amendments in the second group, which relate to technical government amendments, the lifelong loan entitlement, the level 3 entitlement and apprenticeships, and the Office for Students.
Commons Amendments 7 to 14 provide further clarification of the definition of relevant providers in scope of the duties relating to local skills improvement plans, and which education and training is treated as English-funded. The duties will apply only to institutions within the further education sector in England, English higher education providers and independent training providers who carry on their post-16 technical education or training in England, either partly or fully. Relevant providers will be subject to the duties relating to local skills improvement plans only if they provide English-funded post-16 technical education or training material to a specified area in England. This includes distance or online learning.
This will help to ensure that English-funded technical education and training provision material to an area in England is better aligned to labour market skills needs and leads to good jobs for learners and improved productivity. These are technical amendments that the Welsh Senedd has confirmed it is happy with. It has confirmed as such through agreeing that this measure would not be part of the legislative consent Motion required and granted in January.
I turn next to Commons Amendment 20. A key aim for the lifelong loan entitlement is to ensure that people can reskill flexibly across their lifetime in response to changing skills needs and employment patterns. We also need to consider the importance of creating a sustainable student finance system, alongside what will be necessary to ensure that eligible students have the opportunity to study, upskill and retrain.
I am pleased to confirm that in our current consultation on the LLE, which we have published since the House last discussed the Bill, we seek to understand better the barriers that learners might face in accessing the LLE. This includes whether restrictions on previous study should be amended to facilitate retraining and stimulate high-quality provision.
I was delighted to host a round table with Peers to listen to your Lordships’ advice on the consultation and where officials noted comments for submission into the consultation. This was a productive and thoughtful session which will help inform policy decisions moving forward. If any of your Lordships would like to discuss the details and scope of the lifelong loan entitlement with me, or with officials, I would be delighted to meet them. Given that the consultation is the appropriate vehicle to examine the issue of the LLE, I hope your Lordships will agree to this Commons amendment.
Commons Amendment 22 is a minor and technical amendment which clarifies that advanced learner loan funding, routed through the Student Loans Company, is in scope of Clause 22 of the Bill. This has always been the intention of Clause 22(9), and this amendment is merely a technical adjustment to the drafting. It ensures that advanced learner loan funding arrangements are captured by the funding arrangements definition in Clause 22. Without this amendment, the clause may not be adequately applied in relation to providers that receive advanced learner loan funding.
Commons Amendment 23 removes Clause 25, which sought to place the level 3 entitlement on a statutory footing and require at least two-thirds of apprenticeship funding to be spent on people who begin apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3 before the age of 25. The Government agree with the ambition to ensure that people in England have access to education at any age. That is why we launched the free courses for jobs offer in April 2021 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. But it is not right to put the free courses for jobs offer into legislation, as my noble and learned friend Lord Clarke’s amendment would have done. Doing so would constrain how the Government allocate resources in future and make it more difficult to adapt the policy to changing circumstances and for adults most in need.
The Secretary of State announced last November that from April 2022 we will expand the offer to include any adult in England who earns below the national living wage annually—which will be £18,525 from April this year—or is unemployed, regardless of their prior qualification level. Funding for the free courses for jobs offer will be available throughout the three-year SR period, giving FE providers the certainty they need to invest in the delivery of this offer. Full funding is also available through the adult education budget for adults aged 19 and over to access English, maths and digital skills qualifications. There is also a legal entitlement for 19 to 23 year-olds to access their first full level 2 and level 3 qualifications for free. 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 the national living wage.
I turn now to the apprenticeship proposal in the clause. From August to November 2021, nearly 100,000 people under the age of 25 started an apprenticeship, with under-25s accounting for 61% of all apprenticeships. Some 71% of apprenticeship starts were at level 2 and level 3. We want to bring more young people into apprenticeships. This is why the Minister for Skills wrote to all year 11, 12 and 13 pupils and their parents during National Apprenticeship Week to tell them about the great opportunities that apprenticeships provide. The Department for Education is looking at how we support young people in the application process and is working with employers to help them understand the benefits of hiring young apprentices. The department is also looking at how we can better support providers and employers to advertise to this group and is working with UCAS to capitalise on the work it does to connect young people to opportunities after school or college. We believe that measures focused on raising awareness of apprenticeships, helping young people to navigate the recruitment process and encouraging more attractive and accessible vacancies constitute a much better approach to supporting young people into apprenticeships than an amendment that could restrict opportunities. I remind your Lordships that this clause would have created significant costs and altered arrangements for public spending, which I do not believe this House should amend when the Commons has disagreed to this measure.
I will now turn to Commons Amendments 24 and 25. These new measures will give the Office for Students, the OfS, an explicit power to publish information about its compliance and enforcement activity in relation to higher education providers. It is important that the Government act now to ensure transparency of the OfS’s regulatory work, as in recent cases it has become clear that the OfS does not have the explicit powers that other regulators have to publish such information. As part of this, we believe that it is important, and in the public interest, that the OfS is able to publish such information in the form of “notices, decisions and reports”, as this amendment will enable—for example, where it is investigating providers for potential breaches of the registration conditions placed upon them by the regulator. Publication by the OfS regarding its compliance and enforcement functions will demonstrate that appropriate actions are being taken by the regulator, ensuring that the reputation of higher education in England is maintained, and bearing down on poor provision.
Your Lordships can be reassured that this power will be discretionary, as in certain cases there may be reasons for the OfS to consider that it would not be appropriate to publish certain information. The amendment provides various factors that the OfS must take into account when deciding whether to publish, including the public interest test and whether publication
“would or might … seriously and prejudicially affect the interests”
of a “body or individual”. The amendment also includes provision in proposed new Clause 67C to protect the OfS from defamation claims when, for example, it announces the opening of an investigation or publishes regulatory decisions. This protection provides qualified privilege, meaning that there is protection unless the publication is shown to have been made with malice.
It is important to highlight that other regulators, such as the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofsted and the Children’s Commissioner, already have similar powers and protections. We are seeking a power and a protection in this amendment to ensure that the OfS has what it needs for the purpose of transparency, noting the need to be as consistent as possible across the statute book. Publication of “notices, decisions and reports” will become increasingly important as the OfS scales up its work on driving out low-quality higher education and, in due course, on protecting freedom of speech and academic freedom under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill. There is a real need for this provision. There have been several instances where the OfS has acted but the circumstances and the action or sanctions proposed by the OfS have not been made public. This reduces the impact of the OfS’s regulatory activity as providers, students and the public are not aware that the OfS is in fact taking action and investigating matters. Ultimately, this amendment will serve to increase the public’s confidence in the quality and integrity of the sector.
I turn now to Commons Amendment 26. For Bills starting in this House, a privilege amendment is usually included to recognise the right of the other place to control any charges on the people and on public funds. It is standard practice to remove such amendments in the House of Commons, and it is for this reason that the Commons made Amendment 26 during its Committee stage.
I turn finally to Commons Amendment 27. This amends the long title of the Bill to cover Commons Amendment 24 in relation to the
“Office for Students: publication and protection from defamation”
measures. With that, I beg to move.
Motion on Amendments 7 to 14 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 15
15: Clause 7, page 10, leave out lines 38 to 40
Amendment to the Motion on Amendment 15
15B: Clause 7, page 10, line 37, at end insert—
“(3) Subsection (2) does not apply to the withdrawal of level three courses—
(a) for the period of three academic years beginning with the first such year which starts after the day on which this Act is passed; and
(b) for the fourth such year, unless the Institute has undertaken public consultation and secured consent of the relevant employer representative bodies, as defined in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, together with appropriate quality assurance.””
Motion on Amendment 16
16: Clause 7, page 10, leave out lines 41 and 42
Amendment to the Motion on Amendment 16
Motion on Amendment 16 agreed.
Motion on Amendments 17 and 18
17: Insert the following new Clause—
“Information about technical education and training: access to English schools
(1) Section 42B of the Education Act 1997 (information about technical education: access to English schools) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), for “is an opportunity” substitute “are opportunities”.
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) In complying with subsection (1), the proprietor must give access to registered pupils on at least one occasion during each of the first, second and third key phase of their education.”
(4) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) The proprietor of a school in England within subsection (2) must— (a) ensure that each registered pupil meets, during each of the first and second key phases of their education, at least one provider to whom access is given (or any other number of such providers that may be specified for the purposes of that key phase by regulations under subsection (8)), and
(b) ask providers to whom access is given to provide information that includes the following—
(i) information about the provider and the approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships that the provider offers,
(ii) information about the careers to which those technical education qualifications or apprenticeships might lead,
(iii) a description of what learning or training with the provider is like, and
(iv) responses to questions from the pupils about the provider or approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships.
(2B) Access given under subsection (1) must be for a reasonable period of time during the standard school day.”
(5) In subsection (5)—
(a) in paragraph (c), at the end insert “and the times at which the access is to be given;”;
(b) after paragraph (c) insert—
“(d) an explanation of how the proprietor proposes to comply with the obligations imposed under subsection (2A).”
(6) In subsection (8), after “subsection (1)” insert “or (2A)”.
(7) After subsection (9) insert—
“(9A) For the purposes of this section—
(a) the first key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—
(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 13, and
(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;
(b) the second key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—
(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 15, and
(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;
(c) the third key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—
(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 17, and
(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year.””
18: Page 18, line 2, leave out Clause 14
17B: In subsection (3), leave out “one occasion” and insert “two occasions”
17C: In subsection (4), leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) ensure that, during each of the first and second key phases of the education of each registered pupil—
(i) on at least two occasions the pupil meets at least one provider to whom access is given (or any other number of such providers that may be specified for the purposes of that key phase by regulations under subsection (8)), and
(ii) the pupil does not meet exactly the same provider or providers on each of those occasions, and”
My Lords, the Motions in this group relate to provider access, universal credit, and SEND and further education teacher training. I will start with Commons Amendments 17 and 18, on strengthening the present provider access legislation, and Amendments 17A, B and C to the Motion in my name.
The Government have listened to and carefully considered the views expressed and concerns raised in this House and the other place. We agree that it is important that the number of mandatory provider encounters is balanced with the need for pupils to hear from a diverse range of people during each key phase of their education. That is why I am delighted to be able to propose a compromise amendment that offers young people that choice, related to students meeting providers of technical education and apprenticeships.
Our amendment would require schools to put on six provider encounters for pupils in years 8 to 13: two in each key phase, or an average of one per year over the course of a pupil’s secondary education. This should help to ensure that young people meet a greater breadth of providers and, crucially, should prevent schools simply arranging one provider meeting and turning down all other providers. The underpinning statutory guidance will include details of the full range of providers that we would expect all pupils to have the opportunity to meet during their time at secondary school. The Government intend to consult on this statutory guidance to ensure that the legislation works for schools, providers and, most importantly, young people.
I also want to take this opportunity to clarify that, although this amendment does not make specific reference to university technical colleges, the reference to “providers” in the amendment does cover UTCs. Strong UTCs are succeeding in equipping young people with vital skills, getting them into employment and supporting social mobility. It is right that, when there is a UTC in reasonable distance, it should be one of the providers that schools consider inviting to speak to their pupils.
I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for his work on this issue. In particular, I recognise the extraordinary work done by the right honourable Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, and thank him for his tireless campaigning. I hope noble Lords will agree that this is a sensible compromise, with a middle ground of six provider encounters that will help to give every pupil information about what FE colleges, independent training providers, university technical colleges and other alternative providers can offer.
Amendments 17D and 17E in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, would require that provider encounters are in person and, further, that they begin in year 7 and that access is given over at least two weeks on each occasion. We agree that all young people need work experience and engagement with a range of employers to gain insights into the workplace. We also want young people to have access to personal guidance whenever they are making significant choices about the next step in their education or training. That is why we expect schools to follow the Gatsby benchmarks, which incorporate these activities as part of a high-quality careers programme for young people.
We are committed to ensuring that every provider encounter is of a high quality and meaningful for the student. We agree that it is sensible that provider encounters should be given in person where possible. However, writing this requirement into primary legislation is unnecessary. We have seen throughout the pandemic that there are times when it is not always appropriate for provision to be given in person. Technology may also have a role to play in bringing pupils a wider range of perspectives; for example, as part of the provider’s in-person presentation at school, it could incorporate a live link-up with some students at the provider or deliver a virtual tour. However, we agree that encounters should be in person where possible, and we propose making that expectation clear in the statutory guidance.
Secondly, we agree that “the earlier, the better” on careers guidance. That is why the Government support the Private Member’s Bill currently making its way through this House that sets out that career guidance begins at year 7. Pupils will get introduced to careers education in year 7 and will start learning about technical education options via the provider encounters from year 8. There is little demonstrable benefit in bringing the provider access clause forward to year 7, because pupils cannot act on this information then, whereas from year 8 onwards, there are clear choices for them to make in terms of the subsequent stages following their secondary education.
Finally, I cannot agree with the amendment that would require schools to provide access to pupils over a two-week period. This would be extremely burdensome on schools, which would struggle to accommodate that amount of time for providers in an already busy curriculum. We think the clause as it stands, saying schools should ensure a reasonable period of time during the school day, is sufficient and proportionate.
I turn to Commons Amendment 19 and Motions 19A and 19B. My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and I had productive conversations—
I just want to refer to the earlier amendment, for which I thank my noble friend very warmly. The original Baker clause had three meetings for each year group—13, 15 and 17—and the Government wanted one. It was a loophole. I had discussions with her and I thank her very much for the way in which she responded, moving to two meetings. It is a very good example of give and take. She is a member of a Ministry that likes to take but very seldom gives, but here the Government did listen to representations from this House. I thank her for agreeing to that and being sympathetic to it.
I thank my noble friend for his very kind words.
Returning to Amendment 19 and Motions 19A and 19B, as I was saying, my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and I had productive conversations with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on these matters. I shall highlight some of the points raised in these discussions, although I am aware that the letters we wrote to the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord are in the Library of the House.
First, I note that Clause 17, removed by Amendment 19, would be significantly costly to implement. Initial estimates from DWP suggest the cost of ensuring that such claimants retain entitlement to universal credit could be between £250 million and £300 million per annum. While this House has rightly asked the Commons to consider this point, it is right that we do not continue to insist on policy that would increase public spending. It may help if I remind noble Lords that the core objective of universal credit is to support claimants to enter work, earn more or prepare for work in the future. Indeed, it is an important principle that universal credit does not duplicate the support provided by the student support system.
However, I reassure your Lordships that universal credit claimants are able to take on part-time training for any level of course, as long as they can meet their work requirements and their work coach is satisfied that it will help their employment chances. Furthermore, the Government understand that there should be some circumstances in which people are allowed to continue to claim universal credit while doing full-time training. That is why universal credit claimants may undertake a full-time course of non-advanced study or training for up to eight weeks in order to support their employment and career goals. Additionally, as part of DWP Train and Progress, there is a further extension in the flexibility offered by universal credit conditionality. This extension means that, with the agreement of their work coach, adults who claim universal credit can undertake non-advanced work-related full-time training for up to 16 weeks without losing their entitlement to universal credit. The flexibility will last until at least April 2023.
Finally, exceptions for full-time study or training at any level are also made for students with additional needs that are not met through the student support system, such as those responsible for a child or claimants who have been assessed as having limited capability for work due to disability or ill health. This additional flexibility has been introduced in recognition of the benefit a course of study or training could have in enabling claimants with disabilities to improve their prospects of obtaining work. Officials at the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions will also continue to work closely together to help address and mitigate the barriers to unemployed adults taking advantage of our skills offers. For example, both departments are working to ensure that local jobcentre leads are actively involved in and help inform the design of local skills provision through skills advisory panels and the local skills improvement plans.
Moreover, the recently announced employment and skills pathfinders are a joint DWP/DfE initiative, working in collaboration with local partners, to examine how our national interventions could be improved by aligning the delivery of employment and skills at a local level. The employment and skills advisory pathfinders will share all their learnings with the LSIPs, as I mentioned, but also with the mayoral combined authorities and other local programmes, so they have an opportunity to learn from them too. More broadly, in relation to how we are learning from these programmes, the Department for Education is setting up a new unit for future skills which will work with BEIS and DWP to bring together the skills, data and information we hold across government to enable us to use central and local government, as well as providers and the general public. The unit will produce information on local skills demand, the future skills needs of business, the skills available in an area and the pathways between training and jobs. This will obviously also be relevant to those looking for work.
Turning to Commons Amendment 21 and Motion 21B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we all agree that it is vital for our teachers across all stages, from early years to school and further education, to be trained to identify and respond to the needs of all their learners, including those with special educational needs and disabilities. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, who has been a voice for learners with special educational needs and disabilities throughout the debates on this Bill, and more broadly in the House. However, as indicated by Commons Amendment 21, we do not believe it is helpful to prescribe requirements relating to the content of further education initial teacher training in primary legislation, and we do not agree, in response to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, that the content of occupational standards should be cemented into legislation.
I want first to address our shared commitment to ensuring that all learners, including learners with special educational needs and disabilities, have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life and supports them to achieve positive outcomes. This starts from the earliest stages, which is why, as part of the early years recovery programme, we are establishing a training contract to increase the number of qualified SENCOs working in early years settings by up to 5,000 between September 2022 and August 2024.
In addition, we recently announced a package of over £45 million for SEND, to be delivered over the next three financial years. This includes direct support to schools and colleges to support the workforce in meeting the needs of learners with special educational needs and disabilities. The forthcoming SEND review will aim to ensure that children and young people with SEND get the educational, health and care support they need, identified early, delivered promptly and in settings that are best suited to their needs.
On the content of FE initial teacher training programmes, it is right that teaching professionals in the sector decide how teacher training should be designed and delivered. We supported a group of experts who employ teachers in the FE sector—from colleges and training providers, whose staff have real insight into the needs of their learners—to develop the new occupational standard for learning and skills teachers, which was published in September 2021.
The occupational standard is absolutely clear that all FE teachers must:
“Work in a manner that values diversity, and actively promote equality of opportunity and inclusion by responding to the needs of all students.”
This high-level requirement is threaded throughout the standard, which specifies in detail the knowledge, skills and behaviours that teachers need in order to demonstrate that they are meeting that duty. As the noble Lord’s amendment itself acknowledges, the occupational standard is fundamentally “employer-led”. It is determined by expertise from within the sector itself. We believe it would be beyond the role of government to attempt to redefine a set of requirements that has been put forward by professionals working with teachers and learners on a daily basis.
As I already mentioned, we do not believe it would be appropriate to cement the content of an occupational standard in legislation. Standards are, by their very nature, dynamic reflections of the latest skills and knowledge required to perform a particular occupation. They are subject to regular review and updating. Attempting to codify any specific requirement for the standards within the rigid framework of legislation feels counterproductive.
I hope that the noble Lord can agree that we should put our trust in the professional judgment of those who train teachers in the FE sector and should not seek to use the tool of legislation to force the hand of those with experience and expertise. With that, I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion on Amendments 17 and 18
17E: In subsection (4), in inserted subsection (2A)(b), after “provide” insert “in-person”
17F: In subsection (4), in inserted subsection (2B), at end insert “, beginning in Year 7 and running over at least two weeks on each occasion”
My Lords, Motion 17D and Amendments 17E and 17F, tabled in my noble friend Lord Watson’s name, would in essence require schools to give careers advice for at least two weeks and in person after year 7 in secondary school. Technical education information provided to students must be given on two occasions per key education phase rather than on one occasion. In the next Labour Government, we will reinstate two weeks of compulsory work experience and will guarantee that every young person gets to see a careers adviser. We will refocus the curriculum, deliver new opportunities for digital skills, practical work and life skills, sport and the arts, and give every young person access to a professional careers adviser to make sure that they leave school ready for work and for life. We will give every child access to quality careers advice in their school by giving schools access to a professional careers adviser one day a week. In the meantime, however, we are where we are, and this amendment would at least put some extra provision into an area that is underresourced and in need of additional support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I start again by thanking the Minister for meeting with myself and colleagues and with the Minister for the Department of Work and Pensions. I think we are all agreed that we want to ensure that every young person, whatever their circumstances, situation or abilities, is given the opportunities to study and to develop the skills that they need and that, presumably, we as a society need.
In meeting with the Ministers, I was impressed with the number of schemes for support that the Department for Work and Pensions provides. In recent years, we have seen a coming together of the Department for Education and the Work and Pensions Department in a way that we have never seen before. I was interested to see that the Department for Work and Pensions offers young people the intensive work-coach support through youth employability coaches, 160 youth hubs, training progress, expansion of sector-based work academy programmes, the restart scheme, the access to work scheme, providing personalised support to the disabled, and of course through Kickstart. However, I have to say that I have always been surprised that, although Kickstart has been a successful programme, a 16 year-old cannot join it unless they are on universal credit, and of course most 16 year olds are not.
Although I said how impressed I was at the joining up of the two departments, I was rather concerned when, in a Written Question to the Department for Work and Pensions, I asked how many young people aged 16 to 19 are currently studying for a post-16 qualification and the answer came back: “That information is not available.” I then asked:
“how many young people aged 16 to 19 who are receiving Universal Credit have successfully completed a post-16 qualification.”
Again, the answer came back: “We haven’t got that information”, which I was slightly concerned about.
Perhaps the most vulnerable—if I may use that term—with regard to education must be those students who either have learning difficulties or who are disabled. I want to highlight, as the Minister has done, the problems that disabled students face. Under the current rules, to start a claim for universal credit while in education a disabled person must already have limited capability for work status, as the Minister said. But, of course, to get that status a disabled person must have a work capability assessment, and the main way to access an assessment is by starting a claim for universal credit.
In practice, disabled people in education are in a Catch-22 situation. They need limited capability for work status to start a claim for universal credit, but they need to start a claim for universal credit to get limited capability for work status. Currently, the only way a disabled learner can get an assessment and therefore limited capability for work status while studying is by applying for a contributory new-style employment and support allowance instead of universal credit. Because claiming ESA involves an assessment, it can establish a young learner’s limited capability for work, so they can go on to claim universal credit. Is the noble Baroness following me? However, the oncoming rules will close off the ESA workaround route because they require assessments to have taken place and limited capability for work to have been established before a claimant starts studying. The new rules close off the only route young disabled learners have to universal credit.
Additionally, it would probably be helpful to address the Government’s assertion that the welfare system is not designed to fund maintenance support for those in education and training and that financial support for students comes from the current system of learner loans and grants. The problem is that, currently, there is extremely minimal financial support for those seeking to train and retrain in further education colleges, which might at best contribute to travel costs but which is nothing like enough to support wider living costs. As such, adults who are forced to forgo their universal credit in order to study have to be supported by family or live off savings they might otherwise have been able to obtain.
I know we discussed the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham on Report, and I am conscious of the Minister’s detailed reply, but for disabled people particularly, the situation is very precarious. I hope the Minister might agree to look at this matter with her colleagues and see how we can further support them.
My Lords, this House carried an amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who cannot be in his place today, concerning universal credit conditionality—this has been referred to several times—but it was not accepted when the Bill was considered in the other place.
If the Government are to achieve their levelling-up ambitions and enable individuals to secure better-paid employment with improved prospects, then it is essential to achieve greater integration of the support provided for skills development and training by the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham wishes me to say that, on these Benches, we are most grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Stedman-Scott and Lady Barran, for their very constructive and helpful meeting with the right reverend Prelate and their subsequent letter setting out how this better integration is being actively pursued, the range of provision open to universal credit claimants seeking to retrain, and how work coaches are able to exercise appropriate discretion when applying universal credit conditionality rules.
I know that the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Durham and the Bishop of Coventry—the latter now in his capacity as lead bishop for FE and HE—welcome the opportunity to contribute to the consultation on equivalent or lower qualifications, which will engage Peers in more detail, along with the outworking of the detail behind the lifelong learning guarantee. In the light of these assurances, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham is content not to press the matter.
My Lords, as we all struggle through this slightly unfamiliar process, the amendment I have down was inspired by the letter we got from the Secretary of State. I was told, as the noble Baroness has said, that we do not need to do it because the occupational standards will cover it. Great. But what really made me table the amendment was the body that the Government consulted: the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers.
My declaration of interest probably comes in here. I am president of the British Dyslexia Association, and my various other interests are on the register. I spoke to that association—the biggest group involved here—which also covers dyscalculia. It has had no contact with that body—and it is giving the advice. Dyslexia is the biggest of the groups involved, but it is not the only one. Dyscalculia is right up there, along with dyspraxia—that is all those beginning with “dys-” covered—and then there is ADHD, autism and the others. Those are the main, non-obvious groups that will occur in an ordinary classroom. This is what the duty was aimed at. Are those doing the teaching capable of understanding the needs of the people they are teaching? Are they giving advice and creating strategies, so that the people they are teaching actually succeed in what they are doing?
All I am talking about is making sure that the duties we have are acknowledged, and jolly good too. We are so well prepared for these duties that we have a growth in law firms making sure they are enforced throughout the education system. The law is so clear and so well provided for that for parents—tiger parents—the best way of getting through the education system is by paying lawyers to make sure they get through.
It is a mess. It is said that you cannot impose standards, but if you are part of the standards, you can update them, and this duty can be updated as well. We are dealing with about 20% to 25% of the cohort—probably more in further education. These are people who do not get the plan. They have a problem that means they will probably underachieve and not handle the classroom well. Expecting the teaching workforce to have a clear understanding of this is not too much to ask.
We are in a situation where dyslexics like me, who have a slightly different arrangement of their neural pathways and a slightly different learning pattern, will struggle to both absorb information and convey it if you use conventional ways of teaching. There are well-accepted strategies in place, such as the use of technology, but if the teaching staff are not at least reasonably familiar with some of these strategies, or know that changes can be made to get round things, you are not going to get the best results. If there is a legal duty, why not add this in?
I really do not get what the Minister and the department are about. They say that there is some £45 million over three years, which is £15 million a year throughout the sector, but there are thousands of schools and hundreds of colleges, so that is not that big a spend. There will be a few more SENCOs, but SENCOs are organisers; they do not teach on the ground in most cases. We have a situation where there is a legal right to something, but the Government are not saying that people will be trained specifically to deliver it; instead, they will put it out to a series of organisations which may or may not be tuned into this big sector.
There are certain things the Minister may be able to say that would stop me dividing the House. One is to say that this will be covered in the review we are getting on Monday. I do not think we are going to hear that, but I present it as an option.
We need to carry on and make sure that education works for this group, who have traditionally been left behind and underachieved. In my opinion, too much is made of the lucky ones like me, who get through because of a tiger parent and a bit of resource and nous. Let us face it: any system that relies on being lucky or brilliant has failed. It is the standard people who have a problem—not bad enough to maybe get the big label and the rubber stamp but bad enough to slightly underachieve.
All I am saying is that there should be some level of basic training guaranteed for those most commonly occurring conditions. If we do not have that, it is not about how we will fail but the magnitude of the failure. If the Minister cannot accept that, really the only option I have would be to ask the House to give its opinion on this matter.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today, particularly on the amendments and Motions we have just debated. I will touch very briefly on the points raised.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her explanation of the Labour Party’s vision for curriculum extension, but, as I set out in my opening remarks, we have very real concerns in relation to this amendment about the impact that a two-week work experience slot would have on schools. We question the value of provider encounters in year 7, before those students can act on them, as I set out in my earlier remarks.
On the very eloquent explanation of the disability benefits system from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, as he knows, we are very concerned about disability unemployment. We published a national disability strategy last July that set out how the Government will help level up opportunity and improve the experience of disabled people. Critically, that includes greater inclusion in the workplace to tackle the disability gap. As the noble Lord remarked, a great deal of work and many initiatives are going on in this area. I am more than happy to accept, on my behalf and that of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, any further conversations the noble Lord would find useful, and I will take back his thoughts to the department.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and his colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and similarly reassure them, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, that we would be delighted to continue to work with all noble Lords on these issues, which I know she takes extremely seriously.
On the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I would be glad to write to him to try to reassure him about the quality of the advice we have received and the experience of those giving us that advice. I reiterate our concerns about inflexibility in relation to a measure that is in the Bill, particularly since we introduced this standard only in September 2021. The noble Lord will understand that, much as I would like to, I cannot pre-announce anything from the SEND review, but I very much hope he will find much that interests him within it.
I thank the Minister for her reply, and I offer in all sincerity that, if she ever wants to discuss the Labour Party’s policy on education and future strategy, I am always available. However, we continue to believe that the amendment is a necessary addition to the Bill. Therefore, I ask the House to agree with it and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Motion on Amendments 17 and 18 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 19
19: Clause 17, page 21, line 28, leave out Clause 17
19B: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Universal credit conditionality: report
Within twelve months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament on the impact of universal credit conditionality on the ability of unemployed disabled people to take up further education.””
Amendment to the Motion on Amendment 19 not moved.
Motion on Amendment 19 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 20
20: Clause 18, page 22, line 1, leave out Clause 18
Motion on Amendment 20 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 21
21: Clause 19, page 22, line 34, leave out subsection (3)
21B: After Clause 19, insert the following new Clause—
“Employer-led occupational standards for further education teaching
The employer-led occupational standards for further education teachers must include a working knowledge of how the most commonly occurring special educational needs will affect students in the normal educational and training environment within an institution.””
Motion on Amendment 21 agreed.
Motion on Amendments 22 to 27
22: Clause 22, page 28, line 15, leave out from first “to” to “paid” in line 16 and insert “an agreement for the funding authority to provide funding to the provider includes a reference to an agreement or arrangements between the funding authority and the provider by virtue of which amounts can or must be”
23: Clause 25, page 30, line 14, leave out Clause 25
24: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
“Office for Students: publication and protection from defamation
In the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, after section 67 insert—
67A Power for the OfS to publish notices, decisions and reports
(1) The OfS may publish notices, decisions and reports given or made in the performance of its functions.
(2) Subsection (1) does not affect any other power of the OfS to publish such a matter.
(3) Publication under this section does not breach—
(a) an obligation of confidence owed by the OfS, or
(b) any other restriction on the publication or disclosure of information (however imposed).
(4) But nothing in this section authorises the OfS to publish information where doing so contravenes the data protection legislation.
For this purpose “the data protection legislation” has the same meaning as in the Data Protection Act 2018 (see section 3 of that Act).
(5) In deciding whether to publish a notice, decision or report under subsection (1), the OfS must, in particular, consider—
(a) the interests of—
(i) students on higher education courses provided by English higher education providers,
(ii) people thinking about undertaking, or who have undertaken, such courses, and
(iii) English higher education providers,
(b) the need for excluding from publication, so far as practicable, any information which relates to the affairs of a particular body or individual, where publication of that information would or might, in the opinion of the OfS, seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of that body or individual, and
(c) the public interest.
(6) For the purposes of this section and sections 67B and 67C—
(a) a reference to a decision includes a reference to the reasons for it, and
(b) any decision made in the course of exercising, or for the purposes of enabling the OfS to exercise, any of the OfS’s functions (including making any other decision) is made “in the performance of its functions”.
67B Publication of decision to conduct or terminate investigation
(1) This section applies where under section 67A(1) the OfS publishes a decision to conduct an investigation.
(2) If the publication identifies a higher education provider or other body or individual whose activities are being, or to be, investigated, and—
(a) the OfS terminates the investigation without making any finding, or
(b) the findings of the investigation, so far as they relate to the higher education provider, body or individual, do not result in the OfS taking any further action,
the OfS must publish a notice stating that fact.
(3) Section 67C does not apply to the publication of the decision to conduct the investigation to the extent that it includes information other than—
(a) a statement of the OfS’s decision to conduct the investigation,
(b) a summary of the matter being, or to be, investigated, and
(c) a reference to the identity of any higher education provider or other body or individual whose activities are being, or to be, investigated.
(4) See section 67A(6) for the meaning of references to decisions.
67C Protection from defamation claims
(1) For the purposes of the law of defamation, publication by the OfS of any notice, decision or report given or made in the performance of its functions is privileged unless the publication is shown to have been made with malice.
This is subject to section 67B.
(2) See section 67A(6) for the meaning of references to decisions.””
25: Clause 38, page 42, line 1, leave out “and 26 to” and insert “, 26 to (Office for Students: publication and protection from defamation) and”
26: Clause 39, page 42, line 13, leave out subsection (2)
27: In the Title, line 5, after “assessments” insert “and publication of certain matters”
Motion on Amendments 22 to 27 agreed.