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Skills that Businesses Need: Equipping Students

Volume 700: debated on Monday 6 September 2021

16. What steps he is taking to encourage schools to equip students with the skills that businesses need. (903331)

As previously mentioned, T-levels are the new gold standard that have been designed in collaboration with leading employers—250 of them—and our further education reform White Paper and Bill that will be coming before this place are focused on trying to put employers at the centre of our system, to make sure the skills people get give them real currency in the labour market and are backed up by significant funding. I have been lucky enough to visit many providers and speak to many students, and these qualifications are game-changing; the offer is unbelievable and I urge all Members to go out and meet their T-level students and encourage colleges in their area to offer them to students.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The Careers & Enterprise Company has excellent potential to connect employers with schools but few businesses, large and small, I speak to in Thirsk and Malton have engaged with it and some have not even heard of it. What more can we do to raise awareness of it to make sure young people leave school with the skills that businesses need?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Awareness is often one of the challenges of Government and it is why careers are a key pillar of our Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. We are investing over £100 million in financial year 2021-22 to help young people and adults get high-quality careers provision. This includes funding for the Careers & Enterprise Company to roll out its enterprise adviser network, on which there has been excellent feedback with more than 94% reporting that they are happy with it. Schools, colleges and businesses will be working ever more together; over 3,000 business professionals are already working as enterprise advisers, but I urge any businesses that have not yet signed up to get involved. If they want to build their talent pipeline, that is the place to start. I also urge all Members to encourage businesses to get involved.

Literacy and numeracy, digital and life skills are essential for young people to succeed at work, but progress on closing the attainment gap has stalled—indeed, it has gone into reverse—so will the Minister say exactly what steps the Government are taking to ensure that all children reach their full potential?

Obviously it is vital. There has been much disruption during the pandemic. The first thing is to ensure that all children are back in school and able to stay in school and enjoy all their lessons. All of us will have been to schools and seen the joy in children as they go back to where they belong.

In addition, as the Minister for School Standards has made clear, up until the pandemic the attainment gap was closing; it had narrowed by 13% at the age of 11, and by 9% at the age of 16. Of course, the pandemic has had implications. That is why we have put forward a considerable long-term plan to help recovery in our schools, and every school will be working on that in the next year or two, but we are always focused on the most disadvantaged children and on making sure that we narrow that attainment gap after the terrible record of the last Labour Government.

But today’s Institute for Fiscal Studies report shows that two in five children did not even get minimum learning time during covid school closures, half a million left school this summer having received no catch-up support whatsoever, and the Government are funding just 10% of what Sir Kevan Collins says is needed for recovery. Will the Government finally adopt Labour’s children’s recovery plan? When we say we will invest in the skills young people and employers need, we really mean it.

We set minimum requirements for all schools for what was required in terms of lessons, and of course we provided extra support, with BBC Bitesize, the Oak National Academy, additional devices—all the support we could. Clearly, it took a bit of time, because we were responding to a pandemic. However, it is clear that under the education recovery fund, which will remain under review, we have millions and millions of student tuition hours still to be taken. Many students are signing up for it; many of them will be receiving that additional support right now in classrooms. However, this is not a short-term solution; there will be longer-term answers.