Clause 29
Further Education and Training Bill [Lords]
2:00 pm

Interpretation

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods

Roberta Blackman-Woods (PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office; City of Durham, Labour)

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in clause 29, page 19, line 40, at end insert—

‘“accredited voluntary body” means any voluntary body which is at the relevant time accredited by a recognised organisation or by a body or group of people approved by a recognised organisation for purposes including the bestowal of such accreditation;

“compulsory school age” has the same meaning as in section 8 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56);’.

Photo of Peter Atkinson

Peter Atkinson (Hexham, Conservative)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 13, in clause 29, page 19, line 42, at end add—

‘“school” means—

(a) a maintained school;

(b) an Academy;

(c) a city technology college;

(d) a city college for the technology of the arts;

“young person” means a person who is—

(a) in his last year of compulsory schooling; or

(b) over compulsory school age but has not yet attained the age of 19.’.

No. 14, in clause 30, page 20, line 4, after ‘24,’, insert

‘[Assessment of students in last year of compulsory schooling], [Mentors for young persons], [Provision for young persons with special educational needs and disabilities], [Community leadership programmes],’.

No. 16, in clause 31, page 20, line 24, at end insert—

‘(3A) The following provisions apply to England only—

sections [Assessment of students in last year of compulsory schooling], [Mentors for young persons], [Provision for young persons with special educational needs and disabilities] and [Community leadership programmes].’.

New clause 3—Assessment of students in last year of compulsory schooling

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall arrange for an assessment of every student to be carried out at some time during the student’s last year of compulsory schooling.

(2) An assessment of a student under subsection (1) shall result in a personal profile setting out an assessment of—

(a) his educational achievements to date;

(b) his other extra-curricular achievements;

(c) his post-16 educational and training aims and requirements;

(d) the most effective way of achieving his post-16 educational and training aims and requirements; and

(e) his other interests and skills.’.

New clause 4—Mentors for young persons

‘(1) Every young person shall be entitled to access to a person (“mentor”) who shall have individual responsibility to give guidance and advice to the young person.

(2) Where the young person is a student, the mentor shall be nominated by the school at which he is a student.

(3) Where the young person is in training or employment, the mentor shall be nominated by the person who provides the training or employment for the young person.

(4) The mentor may be selected from any accredited voluntary body which provides services for young persons.

(5) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), the mentor’s duties shall include—

(a) assisting the young person in preparation for undertaking post-16 full-time and part-time education qualifications;

(b) assisting the young person in preparation for post-16 training;

(c) advising on career development and employment opportunities; and

(d) advising on acquiring other skills and on other opportunities, including engaging in voluntary work.

(6) The mentor shall arrange meetings on a regular basis with each young person for whom he is responsible.

(7) The meetings referred to in subsection (6) may be held in person or through other means of communication.’.

New clause 5—Provision for young persons with special educational needs and disabilities

‘(1) This section applies when a local educational authority maintains a statement of special educational needs for a young person under section 324 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56).

(2) A local education authority shall arrange for the provision of advice and information of the type described in subsection (3) to—

(a) young persons in their area with special educational needs or who are disabled; and

(b) parents or guardians of young persons in their area with special educational needs or who are disabled.

(3) The advice and information mentioned in subsection (2) shall include advice and information about—

(a) post-16 full-time and part-time education;

(b) post-16 training;

(c) career development and employment opportunities; and

(d) acquiring other skills and opportunities, including engaging in voluntary work.’.

New clause 6—Community leadership programme

‘(1) The Secretary of State may provide or secure the provision of services to encourage, enable or assist (directly or indirectly) the creation of programmes for young persons to develop skills and qualifications.

(2) The programmes referred to in subsection (1) shall in particular make provision for the development of leadership skills and skills for future employment.

(3) In securing the provision of the services referred to in subsection (1) the Secretary of State may, in particular—

(a) consult voluntary bodies which provide youth and adult training, training in skills, management and enterprise, community projects, training and employment schemes and services, including those for young persons with special educational needs or those with disabilities;

(b) make arrangements with local education authorities and other persons for the provision of such services; and

(c) direct local education authorities to provide such services, to secure the provision of such services or to participate in the provision of such services.’.

Amendment No. 10, in title, line 6, after ‘training;’, insert

‘to make provision about post-16 education and training;’.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods

Roberta Blackman-Woods (PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office; City of Durham, Labour)

This group of amendments and new clauses relates to improving the system of pastoral care created by supporting and mentoring that exists for 16 to 18-year-olds who undertake some form of training or education after 16, as defined in amendments Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 16 which seek additions to clause 29. The new clauses, to which I shall relate most of my remarks, set out those four improvements.

New clause 3 would establish in law what is already best practice in a number of schools and colleges, where a personal record of achievement is given to students. However, what is critical, which is outlined in the clause, is that it should not record academic achievement only, but other skills that have been demonstrated, including any voluntary or community work that has been undertaken. In addition, it would set out the learning aims for post-16 education and training, and how those aims can best be met, as well as, more generally, what the young person wants to achieve in their future learning. The reason why this is so important is that the degree of careers advice, the quality of that advice, and the pastoral care that 16 to 18-year-olds receive, have an important role in shaping the future career patterns of that young person. If the school or college gets it wrong, it can have a devastating impact, at least in the short term. I shall give a brief example from my constituency.

A couple of months ago, a young person and her mother come to my surgery. I am not going to say which FE college she was attending—I do not want to embarrass anyone—but the daughter was taking a diploma in health and social care. She wanted a career in the caring professions, but for reasons that no one can quite understand she was advised by the college to do physiotherapy. She did not have the background or aptitude, or even the wish, to study that subject.

When she came to my surgery, she had been rejected by all the institutions to which she had applied. Within three minutes I was able to understand that she wanted to do social work, but by then it was too late in the applications process for her to apply to study social work for the following year. As a result, she is going to have to take a year out. That might be character building for her, but it is not what she wants to do. It points to a weakness that sometimes exists in the careers advice available to FE colleges and schools. I hope to have demonstrated through that example how important it is to have the best advice, and for the person giving that advice to take the time to talk to the young people and to be clear about what they want to achieve in their future careers.

New clause 4 would give all young people undertaking post-16 study a mentor from the school or business, or an appropriate voluntary-sector body, depending on where the education and training is taking place. The mentor would need to give advice on future training routes, on possible employment opportunities and career development, and on how young people might acquire other skills to enhance their life opportunities.

Such mentoring is important to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who recently raised the matter in a private Member’s Bill. He was most concerned, as am I, about the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training. He argued that if, prior to 16 and immediately afterwards, young people could get a mentor to talk to them about the importance of staying on in education or training and advising them of the best routes, some of those who are not taking up such opportunities might take them. It is a critical role and it would require a skilled person to give such advice.

New clause 5 asks that the provision of mentoring advice and support be made available to post-16s in education. It applies also to those who have special needs. The Minister will know that the review of special educational needs undertaken last year by the Education and Skills Committee identified the problem that young people with special educational needs do not always get good advice or proper support to enter further education or to undertake post-16 education in some other format.

There certainly seem to be some weaknesses in the current system. It was found that more direct support was needed to encourage young people with special educational needs to take up further education opportunities. The argument behind the clause is that if there was better careers advice, better mentoring and better support for young people with special educational needs, they would be able to take up more opportunities for post-16 education.

New clause 6 seeks to make a requirement of what I think is already best practice in a number of schools and colleges—providing young people with a range of opportunities to undertake voluntary work in their local communities that would enable them to acquire and develop leadership skills. The new clause argues for a wide range of opportunities to be made available, such as a Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, or a limited version of it that could take place locally. Thanks to a meeting that I had recently with young people from some of the secondary schools in my constituency, I know how much that is needed. They are very keen to undertake some sort of community work locally, but they simply do not have the connections with the community groups that would enable them to do that. We have put a set of recommendations to local schools to the effect that they should try to enhance the number of activities that are available to young people to enable them to play a greater role in their communities.

2:15 pm
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Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth, Conservative)

I am interested in the proposals that the hon. Lady outlines, and I have two questions. The first relates to new clause 6. Is she at all concerned that the rubric that it sets out might limit the diversity of activities available through the voluntary sector? In many cases, they are attractive to young people precisely because they are delivered through the voluntary sector without the overlay, consultation and interest of the state. Secondly, has she any estimate as to what all the proposals will cost?

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods

Roberta Blackman-Woods (PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office; City of Durham, Labour)

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that activities would be limited. In fact, I believe the opposite. The whole point is to spread to  schools that might not already provide them a range of opportunities for young people to undertake community work or some other activity that would benefit their local community. That seems to be a sensible and laudable thing to do. To answer his second point, I hope that the cost would not be prohibitive. Some schools—in fact, a great many of them—already make some form of provision, but it would help if they could focus their efforts to ensure that the opportunities are available to all young people.

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Sarah Teather (Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills; Brent East, Liberal Democrat)

Is the hon. Lady aware that Surrey has a scheme that allows all schools to buy in to it? The Surrey school where I spent a week shadowing last September has a scheme for sixth-formers that is run and co-ordinated by the borough council. The range of activities that it offers are partly structured and partly accessed by young people through an introduction to opportunities to volunteer that exist in other schools. It works well because it operates right across the borough.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods

Roberta Blackman-Woods (PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office; City of Durham, Labour)

I thank the hon. Lady. That is the sort of best practice that we want to see extended elsewhere as a result of the new clauses.

If our proposals do not become law, what is the Minister going to do to ensure that schools, colleges and others providing post-16 education adopt the best practice on pastoral care that is created by mentoring and community activity?

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Angela Watkinson (Whip, Whips; Upminster, Conservative)

May I recommend to the hon. Lady the project at Havering college called ROSE? That stands for realistic opportunities for supported employment for students with learning difficulties. It enables them to transfer from education to employment with the help of local employers. Each student has a job tutor who stays with him or her all day to start with, and is gradually weaned off that relationship over, say, six months until independent. I am sure that other colleges would benefit from sharing that example of good practice.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods

Roberta Blackman-Woods (PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office; City of Durham, Labour)

The scheme that the hon. Lady outlines appears to be an example of best practice relating to the employment needs of young people. That is exactly what we would like to see elsewhere.

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Angela Smith (PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Department for Communities and Local Government; Sheffield, Hillsborough, Labour)

I rise to support the amendments and new clauses in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham.

It is worth bearing in mind that the present provisions relate to the transition at the age of 16 from formal schooling and education to post-16 education—the 16-to-19 phase and above. As a country, we spend a lot of time focusing on the needs of young people as they move from primary to secondary school—from key stage 2 to key stage 3. The Government and the Department for Education and Skills have recognised the problems of transition, and a lot of new ideas are being implemented to deal with the transition from key stage 2. Is it not therefore about time that we paid more attention to what happens to young people at the end of the key stage 4, when they leave school to move into the adult world?

The idea that we need to do something is supported by evidence showing that too many people still leave school at 16, or nearly 17. They then become NEETs, which I always think is an unfortunate name for those who are not engaged in education, employment or training, because it sounds slightly insulting. The other interesting point is that many of the young people who end up as one of those unfortunate statistics do so after a further year of formal education. It is when people reach 17, or in some cases nearly 18, that the figures start to rise, and that is certainly the case in my area. That says something about the lack of support that exists for young people once they move on from formal school and education. We therefore need to do something, and I am pleased to see the proposals before us.

Let me briefly remind the Committee of why we need to do something. It is not only that such a situation represents a terrible waste of the talent and abilities of the individuals concerned or of the opportunities available to society, but that the country cannot afford to lose such abilities, because—it is worth making this point over and over again—we are competing in a global economy. This country can succeed internationally only if its people are sufficiently skilled to allow it to stay ahead of the field and at the competitive edge of international markets. For that reason alone—to ensure the future prosperity of our country and of all our young people as they move through adult life—it is important that we put all the necessary measures in place from year 10 onwards, and indeed earlier, so that we get things right.

New clause 3 is particularly useful because it implies that the measures outlined need to be clearly in place pre-16, and I would argue that a seamless programme of support should be available to young people from year 7 or 8 onwards. It also implies the need for clear collaboration to ensure that crystal clear career pathways are available to young people once they are in secondary education so that they no longer have a sense of confusion, as they often do at the moment, about what they should do next, what options they should pursue from year 9 onwards and what they should do once they leave school.

Clear career routes and professional pathways are a critical part of a young person’s education, and new clause 3 suggests to some extent the steps that are necessary to ensure that we get all that right. Several local authorities across the country are already working hard on the issue, and the 14-to-19 work that is going on in places such as Knowsley, Wolverhampton and Sheffield is fantastic. The Government need to learn from all that, and they are indeed doing so, but they need to continue learning and putting in place measures to address the issues as they arise. To some extent, that is what new clause 3 does.

New clause 4 is equally important. It is not just that young people do not go on at 16 or drop out of full-time education or employment and training at 17, they sometimes get on the wrong courses. That is a big issue in FE.

I know that because I have been there and I have seen young people on the wrong courses. I know of the pressures that force tutors to encourage young people to take up places on courses because they are desperate to make up their numbers. That is just not on. In the end it is a short-term measure which unravels because the young people end up dropping out. They are not in the right place and they are not doing the right course. That is one of the reasons why at age 17 the numbers of young people classed as NEETs rise.

There is a need for independent information, advice and guidance. Let us get the concept of independence clearly on the table. It is extremely important. It is important to have mentors for other reasons. Many young people between the ages of 16 and 19 are incredibly ambitious. They are much more ambitious than my generation ever was. They are keen to earn money and to get the things that we never thought of having until we were in our early 20s. A lot of young people want to buy a car. They want to enjoy life. When I was 17 I thought that I would enjoy life when I was a bit older and earning the money to do it.

When I was a tutor I often found that young people came into college in the morning absolutely shattered. They were almost falling asleep because they had been working at the local Morrisons on the night shift. That is a real issue in many parts of the country. The education maintenance allowance has done a great deal to address that problem, but let us not underestimate how ambitious many young people are to have money in their pockets. That is a very good thing, but we need mentors to ensure that young people are advised about the importance of getting the right balance between work, study and play.

That balance is encouraged very well in university and higher education institutions, but it is almost non-existent in FE. Usually it is down to the tutor to say to the young person, “Come on, you are doing too much here. You need to hold back a bit. Your studies are suffering. Cut down your hours and let us get this sorted out.” That is a very difficult message to pass on to a young person, especially one from a deprived background where there is no parental income to supplement their lifestyle. These are the people whom we need to help the most.

New clause 5 is very close to my heart. Young people with special educational needs and severe disabilities are almost completely ignored by the post-16 education system. Improvements have been made in recent years, but they tend to be piecemeal. In Sheffield, the special school for young people on the autistic spectrum and with communication disorders has established a relationship with the FE college and developed pathways post-16 for a number of young people on that spectrum. However, provision is not comprehensive, because the support mechanisms are not in place for children post-16 with special needs. That area of SEN provision that has been neglected for a long time, and the new clause is a start to the process of looking seriously at the issue.

A great deal has been done in recent years on SEN. In Sheffield, our special schools have been almost completely rebuilt. The programme is almost complete, so I want it on the record now that the Government  have done a great deal to help SEN education in terms of the buildings and the range of options that we offer young people through to the age of 16. Now, having congratulated the Government on that record, I say that it is time to start thinking about that post-16 period, because it has been neglected for a long time. The problem has not begun to occur recently, because it has been happening for generations.

Attitudes have moved on: 20 or 30 years ago nobody gave much thought to what happened to young people once they left school at 16 if they were disabled or had serious learning difficulties. It was all right for them to stay at home watching television all day and for parents and carers to have to cope with all that. Society has moved on, however, and we are now not prepared to tolerate such a waste of a young person’s life or the strain that such responsibilities can put on parents and carers. It is now time to address the particular needs of that section of the school population.

2:30 pm
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Rob Wilson (Reading East, Conservative)

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady, particularly with regard to the neglect to which she says young people over the age of 16 have been subjected. Does she think that that is why the number of young people not in education, employment or training has grown since 1997?

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Angela Smith (PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Department for Communities and Local Government; Sheffield, Hillsborough, Labour)

I have not said that. That section of the population rarely had access to such provision in the first place. For generations, its needs have been ignored, which is the whole point of my argument. This Government have focused on special educational needs, but it is now time for them to focus on the post-16 educational needs of that section of the population.

I should like briefly to draw attention to new clause 6. The Duke of Edinburgh award is successful in my city. Traditionally, it tended to focus on schools in the richest part of the city, but it has moved forward in recent years. It has worked well with the local authority, and it now works in the vast majority of our schools. That partnership, as well as the wider education partnership in the city, has attempted to reach out to young people from deprived communities, who would not traditionally have thought of achieving a Duke of Edinburgh award. That answers the point that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth made about state intervention in the voluntary sector. I understand his point, but a sensible partnership between the voluntary sector and state education can encourage and increase young people’s involvement in voluntary activities.

The Duke of Edinburgh award is a sterling example of a programme that is not only enjoyable for young people, but improves their employability. I know for a fact that it is highly regarded by employers, although I do not forget that a number of voluntary leadership and skills development programmes are available to young people, which is important because not every young person is suited to the Duke of Edinburgh award.

I commend the new clauses to the Committee. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham about the best practice suggested by the new clauses. I hope that the Minister will feel able to tell us how that best practice can be embedded in our education system.

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Sarah Teather (Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills; Brent East, Liberal Democrat)

I want to make a few broadly supportive remarks. I thank the hon. Member for City of Durham for tabling these useful new clauses. She is absolutely right about the patchy nature of careers advice in this country; in some places, for some young people, it is good, but for many others it is either difficult to access or not of high enough quality, and it often lacks adequate ambition to push young people forward. In my constituency, sadly, the options are often tailored to the expectations of a particular type of young person and do not reflect all the things that they might be able to achieve.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough spoke well about the importance of extending access, particularly for young people with special educational needs beyond the age of 16. During the course of the Bill, many charitable organisations have raised with me the fact that it is often difficult for such young people, especially those with physical or learning disabilities, to access provision.

There are three issues that I would prefer to be separated—mentoring, careers advice and volunteering. The details of the three issues are slightly conflated. Mentoring is something that should extend to all young people at all stages of education, and it should probably take place within the school or college setting. Careers advice, however, is different. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough has used the word “independent” several times, and careers advice should be independent. That is crucial, especially if one is trying to raise expectations and give tailored advice to the young person. We need to get away from the type of prejudices that, sadly, can occur within a school, where people, over a long period of time, have come to know the performance or behaviour of a young person. I would like to see careers advice taken away from that setting. In a sense, therefore, I would like to separate careers advice and mentoring. Mentoring is about pastoral care. Careers advice will obviously include a pastoral element, and a student may wish to discuss the advice that they receive from a careers adviser with their mentor, but careers advice has to happen independently.

Furthermore, 16 is far too late for careers advice to start. I know that both hon. Members who spoke on this subject, the hon. Members for City of Durham and for Sheffield, Hillsborough, said that, but it needs to start at 11. Hon. Members will have heard me witter on about the Tomlinson report at great length at every opportunity. Certainly, my vision is a flexible approach for 14 to 19-year-olds, so that young people can move between vocational and academic courses at all stages between 14 and 19. However, if we are to have that type of system, there must be access to good, independent careers advice from the earliest stage and right the way through the system, because the system will not work without it.

With regard to the ideas about volunteering, I am very sympathetic to the points that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough has suggested. Personally, I would not want to see this matter dealt with in legislation, unless the legislation were a good less detailed than this Bill and only enabling legislation. Volunteering is the type of issue that can be dealt with perfectly well by encouraging local authorities to set up their own schemes and encouraging schools to collaborate. Volunteering does not tend to work  terribly well with one school, and it is often necessary to have more opportunities that schools can explore by collaborating with each other. That is certainly an issue that local authorities could take a lead on.

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John Hayes (Shadow Minister (Vocational Education), Education; South Holland and The Deepings, Conservative)

This is a useful series of amendments and new clauses, and it has enabled us to speak about the context in which the Bill will fit. The speeches so far have made those contextual points powerfully.

We should be frank about the dilemmas that we face, not as party politicians but as public policy makers. The first of three dilemmas that I want to highlight during this short debate is the conflict between the importance of investing early in a child’s life in the core skills that are necessary for all other educational progress, and the need to rescue those young people who have been failed by the system.

Dealing with that conflict is very difficult for the Government, because roughly 45,000 young people who leave school each year are functionally illiterate and/or innumerate—they are not entirely illiterate or innumerate, but they are functionally so. Many of those young people, although not all of them, will become NEETs. Much of the Government’s focus, therefore, has been on skills for life and ensuring that those young people have a second chance, and one understands why the Government have taken that view. Who could argue otherwise, and why would we not want to bring those young people back into learning? However, focusing on that problem prompts two questions. If public policy attention and resources are focused there, does that mean that there is less to spend on earlier education? Of course, the answer is yes. Moreover, does it reduce pressure on schools to ensure that those basic skills are acquired up to the age of 16?

My two little darling sons, who are aged three and six, will be taken by the state and educated for a long time; as their parent, I am legally obliged to ensure that that happens. If, at the age of 16, they could not read, write or count proficiently, I would feel cheated, and they would have been cheated. If the Government have any duty, it is surely the duty, in terms of education at least, to ensure that people end up with those core skills.

All kinds of factors affect people’s capacity to learn. Many come from altogether less charmed backgrounds than the one that I enjoyed and that I hope my children will enjoy, too. However, it is a mark of failure that, barring extreme circumstances and particular special needs, we still cannot ensure that all who enjoy a state education leave school numerate and literate. Surely we have that responsibility.

The first dilemma is about resources. Some in the primary sector will say—I am sure that the Minister has heard it said, as have you, Mr. Atkinson—“We are worried that the emphasis on the 14-to-19 age group will de-emphasise the significance of younger children.” I do not think that that is the Government’s intention. As public policy makers, we need to have an honest debate about it. I do not know the answer, but we need a serious, open-ended and even-handed discussion about the matter.

The second dilemma is highlighted in the Leitch report. In a slightly partisan fashion, may I say how disappointed I am that the Government have delayed their response to the report? We had expected and eagerly anticipated that the Prime Minister in waiting—the Chancellor of the Exchequer—perhaps the Minister and certainly the Secretary of State for Education and Skills would this week furnish the Committee and the House with their detailed response to the report, which was published last December. We are now told that the response will come later, but we do not know whether that is days, weeks or months away. It certainly is not good enough that we still do not know where the Government stand on the fundamentals of the Leitch review. I hope that the Minister will say something about it today.

That is the partisan bit over and done with; I return to my main theme. Leitch makes it clear that the demand for unskilled labour is plummeting. Although it is contested by some economists, I tend to share Leitch’s view; he argued that the demand for unskilled labour will fall radically. Indeed, he said that it will fall by 2020 to 600,000 jobs. Simultaneously, the number of NEETs, which has been referred to by members on both sides, has grown to 1.3 million—a growth of about 15 per cent. since 1997, as we heard earlier. If we take account of those young people older than 24 or 25, and consider those aged between 30 and 35, there is a substantial number of people not in work. Given the changing macro-economic profile of Great Britain, we have little chance of getting them into work unless we can get them skilled.

The second dilemma then is how much emphasis should be placed on bringing those people back into education and skilling, and how much we should concentrate on upskilling and reskilling the existing work force. Given the demographic profile, unless we do the second, we will not meet out skills targets. That is another big dilemma for the Government, and a big issue for public policy makers.

The third and final dilemma, which is relevant to these helpful amendments and new clauses, is about advice and guidance. I have come to the conclusion, in common with Lord Leitch, that we need to disaggregate the careers service from Connexions. Connexions does an important job for a particular group of young people. It is true that some young people, particularly those who are described as NEETs—not a terribly helpful term, I agree—need a multifunctional service. However, I am not sure that we have not lost something in the careers service by asking those who run it to be Jacks-of-all-trades.

We should probably maintain a service like Connexions, but have an all-age careers service running in parallel. That could be cost-effective. The cost of the old careers service was about half of what Connexions now costs us. As for the throughput of people, there has been nothing like a doubling in the number of clients. Taking into account what the Learning and Skills Council spends in addition on adult careers, we could, within the existing budget, reorganise the careers advice structure so as to deliver much better advice both to young people and to those in the work force seeking to upskill and reskill. That is why it will be Conservative policy to develop an all age career service alongside Connexions. Public policy makers will have  to address the dilemma of how much emphasis to place on the multifunctional role—dealing with people with problems—and how much to put on the careers role that is likely to affect the majority of people.

In conclusion, let me say a word about mentoring. We have heard a lot about it, and I want to mention it in relation to apprenticeships. I am sorry to raise the matter again, because I know that every time I do so, the blood pressure of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Corby, of whom I am immensely fond, rockets. I do not want to cause him any unnecessary distress this late in our proceedings. However, I see that he is getting his notes out; he is preparing his weaponry for a counterattack. It is clear that there is not enough mentoring in relation to apprenticeships. Most people think of an apprentice as an eager young learner acquiring a key competence by the side of an experienced craftsman, with a serious emphasis on workplace training. It is not unreasonable to say that every apprenticeship that bears the name should be employer-engaged and mentored, with a serious element of workplace training.

When he talks of mentoring, the Minister will tell us that that happens anyway. He will say that much of my complaint is imagined. However that is not the view of the adult learning inspectorate, which has said that it is possible to complete an apprenticeship without ever having set foot in a workplace. The inspectorate undertook a survey in which it found examples of programme-led apprenticeships that were completed even though they contained no significant period of time spent in employment and little prospect of a job at the end of the programme. The survey came across some engineering apprentices completing a full framework on a six-month programme-led pathway with no period of employment and little or no work experience.

Some apprenticeships, by no means all and not in all sectors, are not mentored; many are insufficiently mentored; some have no employer engagement; and many have an inadequate workplace element. It is critical that the best of the apprenticeship system should become typical. Indeed, it should become the standard for the whole system. When we talk about mentoring, let us talk about that, and let us once again, as public policy makers, have an honest debate about it.

2:45 pm
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Angela Smith (PPS (Yvette Cooper, Minister of State), Department for Communities and Local Government; Sheffield, Hillsborough, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman just mentioned the best of the apprenticeship system. Did not his Government dismantle the best of the apprenticeship system in the early 1980s, much to the detriment of many young people of the time, including my younger brother, who never got the opportunity to develop the skills that he should have developed as an apprentice?

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John Hayes (Shadow Minister (Vocational Education), Education; South Holland and The Deepings, Conservative)

The number of advanced apprenticeship enrolments is falling, and I have to tell the hon. Lady that it has been falling since the beginning of the decade. Hon. Members can say what they like about the hon. Member for Daventry—he has taken a bit of stick today even in his absence—but I think that he is a splendid chap. However, we cannot blame him for what has happened in the past 10 years. We need to deal with what has happened recently, what is happening now and what is likely to happen. I make no apology or defence for things that happened in ancient history. I  hope that the hon. Lady will make no apology or defence for things that have gone wrong in recent history. We all have a responsibility as politicians to be straightforward about these things.

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Phil Hope (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Skills), Department for Education and Skills; Corby, Labour)

I have been trying to bite my tongue, but it has proved completely impossible. The second sentence on the front page of “Towards a Gold Standard for Craft”, the document published today by the hon. Gentleman, says:

“Much training dubbed as an apprenticeship is not worthy of the name.”

That is an absolute disgrace. To respond to his specific point about programme-led pathways, programme-led apprentices begin their apprenticeship in a college and they complete those elements of the framework of an apprenticeship that do not require employer involvement, such as key skills. But—I want to put this clearly on the record and I should like the hon. Gentleman to retract what he has been saying repeatedly in the Chamber and now in Committee—they cannot complete their apprenticeship until they have demonstrated occupational competence. This can be achieved only in the workplace. The scenario he described is simply not possible.

Finally, it should be noted that these programme-led apprenticeships are not widely undertaken. In fact more than 90 per cent. of apprentices are in waged employment from the very start of their programme. I appreciate that Conservatives now, unlike when they were in government, have decided to take a positive interest in apprenticeships. However, it would be helpful if, instead of running down the apprenticeship system and over-exaggerating any flaws there may be, the hon. Gentleman could see his way to celebrating the tripling of apprenticeships in this country and their 60 per cent completion rate—not the 43 per cent. completion rate that his document describes—and for once stand up for apprentices rather than trying to run them down.

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John Hayes (Shadow Minister (Vocational Education), Education; South Holland and The Deepings, Conservative)

Let us be clear about this. I enjoy these exchanges. I know that the Minister’s intentions are good and right. I do not deny that he wants this to work. But we need to be straightforward. The 2007 figures from the Office for National Statistics make it clear that the number of enrolments for advanced apprenticeships—level 3 apprenticeships—and the number of enrolments in level 2 apprenticeships are falling. That is not a cause for celebration or complacency but for considerable concern.

When I cite the Adult Learning Inspectorate it is on the basis of its work in 2006. There may have been a dramatic improvement in the last few months. I bow to the Minister’s greater—I will not say expertise—but certainly his capacity to seek advice. I do not have civil servants sitting behind me, although I have equally good advice from my hon. Friends, who are immensely well informed about these matters. They do not suggest to me that there has been that dramatic change in the last few weeks and months.

The Adult Learning Inspectorate said that it found that colleges were told to rebrand learners as apprentices simply because they were working towards qualifications such as technical certificates that were  also part of the apprenticeship framework. However, there was little prospect of these learners progressing to full apprenticeships with a work placement. The rebranding exercise enabled colleges to reach their targets for apprentice enrolments, but of the 34,000 full-time students designated as programme-led apprentices, only about 3,000 progressed to full apprenticeships.

Even allowing for that sleight of hand, the number of enrolments has fallen. Goodness knows what would have happened if there had not been that rebranding. Yet to hear the Under-Secretary one would think that there was not a problem.

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Peter Atkinson (Hexham, Conservative)

Order. I remind the Committee that this is about mentoring, not apprenticeships. Although we have had an enjoyable debate, we should return to the subject matter.

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John Hayes (Shadow Minister (Vocational Education), Education; South Holland and The Deepings, Conservative)

I offered a short analysis of three dilemmas that face public policy makers. I tried to do so in a reasonably even-handed way. The Under-Secretary and I will continue elsewhere to debate the issues that you have told us we must not debate any further here, Mr. Atkinson. However in anticipating his response, I hope that we can have the kind of bipartisan discussions about the way that public policy is prioritised in the terms that this debate has allowed us to explore.

I am grateful for the opportunity to say those few words about my excellent paper, signed copies of which will available by the end of the Committee sitting.

3:00 pm
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Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby, Labour)

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that those are a few words, I wonder what he thinks a long speech would be. I am going to deliver a few words slowly. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham and for Sheffield, Hillsborough on the amendments and new clauses, which have been eloquently and articulately presented to us, in respect of further education.

I am sorry that the amendments and new clauses have been met by such quibbling on the other side of the Committee—the Liberals quibble that we should do this, but not that; and that we should do it this way, but not that way—as well as the damned-by-faint-praise arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings. I call him my hon. Friend because he and I are the little fishermen. We went on a fishing expedition to Spanish ports to find fish that were landed below minimum landing sizes to damn the Spanish fishing industry. His Spanish was so bad that, after going directly to the pilchard landings, which was the only thing that people could understand with his Spanish, we never found any small fish. It was a failed attempt to sabotage the common fisheries policy, but it was a bonding experience.

The other side of the Committee is beginning to show signs of life. My hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings had reduced his ranks to such a catatonic trance that they were totally  silent, until suddenly this issue came up and I saw eyes open, cash registers begin to fly and figures appear—this is going to cost money, “Kill, kill, kill!”

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Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; the Committee always stays awake when he speaks. The question that I asked was not designed to kill the proposals, but it is fair to ask what they will cost.

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Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby, Labour)

That is the perennial question; not whether it is right in principle, or whether it should be done or whether it is going to make for a better society, but what will it cost? That is exactly my point.

The hon. Member for Brent, East has reduced her party by firm discipline into total silence, although there were signs of life when this issue came up. The Whip has asked me to be brief, and I always accede to his requests, so I shall speak for only about a quarter of an hour.

I want to commend the principle behind the amendments and new clause. We had many problems in raising the school leaving age to 16, and we solved them inadequately. We will have more problems keeping people in education or training until they are 18, unless we provide the kind of imaginative framework outlined by my two hon. Friends today.

We always cater so well for academics, the middle class and the intelligent in this country, but they tend to get on, whatever happens, through their own ability. However, we do not cater for, support and sustain those who are less adequate intellectually. I understand the desire to get out of school and into adult life and to be free of school trammels, but such people are, in effect, throwing away their futures in many cases, unless they are helped adequately and are sustained for what is a difficult period. I am sure that parents help, but such people need some other support mechanism.

The SEN students from Sheffield, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough has referred, will find it difficult. I constantly have to argue about the ending of courses at the institute in Grimsby because they do not lead to a diploma and therefore do not qualify for finance that would provide a specialist for each student. We must have an imaginative framework to help these people, because a skill, an education or an involvement is a platform on which to build life. Those people who are deprived of those things live a second-rate existence and it is our job, in providing training and higher and further education to see that people are sustained through the system and helped to seize opportunities, rather than being cast into the dustbin of life, as I would put it; that is, being cast out unsupported and unhelped. It is a little impractical to include such ideas in this Bill, but I hope that those are the lines that the Government are thinking along as we go in for this all-important transition.

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Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills; Harlow, Labour)

We have genuinely had an exceedingly good debate, and I would particularly like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham on introducing the new clauses. When we first saw the new clauses in the Department, one of my officials, totally unprompted, said, “This person clearly  knows what they are talking about.” Through their contributions today, both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough have adequately and emphatically demonstrated that.

The Government are sympathetic to the intention behind these new clauses. Indeed, key elements of the proposals are already being developed as part of Government policies through, for example, the “Every Child Matters” and “Youth Matters” strategies. We are also considering them as part of our own proposals on raising the participation age. Given the circumstances and the changes that we are considering, however, now is not the right time to create additional legislation for young people aged 16 to 18.

Having said that, let me address each of the proposals in turn. New clause 3 seeks to place the Secretary of State under a statutory duty to arrange for an assessment resulting in a personal profile for all students in their last year of compulsory schooling. Progress files—a similar concept—were recommended by the Dearing report in 1996, and indeed they are now modelled as part of best practice across the system. Most schools already have such measures in place in ways that reflect the individual circumstances of both the young people concerned and the school. I think that that is better than the one-size-fits-all approach to legislation.

On school leavers, head teachers are already required under the pupil information regulations to prepare a report briefly setting out details of progress and achievements during the final year in curriculum subjects and activities. Again, I think that that answer responds to the concerns that have been expressed.

New clause 4 goes to the heart of the debate. It stresses the importance of giving information, advice and guidance, but I do not believe that further changes in legislation are necessary at this stage. At the moment, any young person in the 13-to-19 age range can already access an individual professional for advice and guidance through the Connexions service. That is not a static situation, and it is evolving. The Connexions service holds detailed assessment information about the needs of young people, and Connexions personal advisers are trained professionals who are responsible for providing information, advice and guidance to the young people concerned.

Connexions and schools agree arrangements for making services available to young people; in many cases, that involves Connexions having a direct presence in the school. However, I would be the first to admit that we need to do more. That is why this summer we are planning to publish a set of standards for young people’s information, advice and guidance.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

3:24 pm
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Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills; Harlow, Labour)

As I was saying, I would be the first to acknowledge that we need to do more. We are planning to publish this summer a set of standards—covering information, advice and guidance—to ensure that all young people benefit from high quality advice and  guidance wherever they are, and that the standard of the services with which they are provided is consistently high across the country, although they will be differentiated to meet the needs of individuals. We are keen to spread best practice.

Funding and responsibility for Connexions is migrating from the Connexions partnerships to local authorities, a process that we expect to be complete by next April. That, combined with the introduction of quality standards for information, advice and guidance, will further strengthen the services that young people receive.

That was the most important part of the debate. Let me now respond to some of the specifics, particularly mentoring. One example of effective practice that we want to encourage is that of transition mentors. In that model, an adult who has been supporting a young person in school stays with him across the transition, continuing to work with him at the start of post-16 learning. A number of areas are already using that approach. The mentor can be based in a school, college, Connexions service, local business or community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough raised some important issues in terms of transition at the end of key stage 4. One of the most significant things that we have to consider—as she knows, we are doing so—is raising the compulsory education and training age. For far too long, we have allowed 16-year-olds to lose all contact with the world of education and training. That is crazy. We have to ensure that we make the right offering available. That is why the expansion of apprenticeships and the roll-out of diplomas is crucial. When one considers that education and training until the age of 18 was first proposed in this country in 1918, and that it appeared in Butler’s Education Act in 1944, the fact that that is still not the situation today is lamentable. That is why we are pressing for it so strongly.

Other hon. Members have talked about information, advice and guidance. We need to ensure in that regard that we lay a responsibility on the further education provider to consult not only existing learners but potential ones—those who are not yet in the system—to ensure that college provision, courses and the way in which the system operates genuinely cater for their needs. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made the point that functional illiteracy and innumeracy do not amount to people not being able to read, write and add up. That is important; sometimes such terms are misunderstood. He also, rightly, called for further improvements in the school system. I, too, want improvements to continue. However, we need to acknowledge the progress that has taken place. I have observed it particularly in my constituency, where 10 years ago 28 per cent. of young people gained five A to C grades at the age of 16. Today, the figure is 58 per cent. That represents thousands upon thousands of young people whose life chances have improved.

The hon. Gentleman also asked specifically about the Government’s response to Leitch. I assure him that that response will come very soon. However, we were right to separate the response to Leitch from the important announcement that I have been involved with elsewhere in London during the gap between  Committee sittings—along with the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby, the Chancellor, the Secretary of State and Digby Jones. That was the launch of the skills pledge, the incredibly important process by which employers up and down the country sign up to commit to educate and train their employees to level 2. That will be hugely important in changing the culture of education and training in this country, and I hope that it will be welcomed across the House.

There has also been a lot of reference to NEETs. It is important to make it clear that the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training has remained fairly constant at about 10 per cent. for the past 10 years. We have made progress: more than three quarters of 16-year-olds are in full-time education or training. That is the highest proportion ever. However, the situation is not static—those in the NEETs category include people on gap years, mothers looking after children and young people between jobs and courses. We cannot simply say that there is a permanent 10 per cent. who are excluded from the system. Nevertheless, there are causes for concern, and we are setting ourselves tough and challenging targets to reduce the figure further.

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John Hayes (Shadow Minister (Vocational Education), Education; South Holland and The Deepings, Conservative)

To save my putting down a series of incisive written questions, which will cause the Minister no end of difficulties and his civil servants still more, will he write to the Committee—or to me directly if he prefers—giving the breakdown of the number of NEETs? I think that he is right; it is a big total, and it includes gap-year students and all kinds of other people, some of whom have perennial difficulties, such as mental health problems or addictions. A good breakdown of that figure would enable an intelligent debate. I hope that he takes up the gauntlet that I have laid and drops me a line about that.

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Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills; Harlow, Labour)

I will be more than happy to respond in that vein. This is one of the most complex social and educational policy challenges that we face. Too often, the tabloid headlines do not do it justice.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Connexions service and the position of the Conservative party on that issue, which, he will forgive me for saying, has not always been crystal clear. I remember the debate on widening participation in education that took place on the Floor of the House a couple of months ago. His hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), when challenged on the Conservative party’s policy on Connexions, said that it was to abolish the service, at which point the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) started pulling at his jacket. Literally five minutes later, the Hon. Member for Henley was forced to stand up again and say that he should have said that he would reform the Connexions service.

3:30 pm
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John Hayes (Shadow Minister (Vocational Education), Education; South Holland and The Deepings, Conservative)

Just to reassure the Minister, I conveyed our policy on the careers service, having cleared it through the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant. That is the Tory party’s policy-making process; it is not made on the hoof by anybody.

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Bill Rammell (Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills; Harlow, Labour)

The implied rebuke for the hon. Member for Henley was clearly heard all the way across the Chamber.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills eloquently put the case in response to the points on apprenticeships that were raised. People can play with figures, but the reality is that today, we have 250,000 young people in apprenticeships, compared with 70,000 10 years ago. Completion rates have gone from 28 per cent. to 60 per cent., just behind the performance of Germany, which has always been seen as an exemplar in that regard. I am the first to admit that we can and should do more, but given what happened to apprenticeships in the 1980s and 1990s, we should not take lectures from the Conservative party. In response to documents written by the right hon. Member for Wokingham, I say that putting skills training in his hands would be like asking King Herod to manage the Sure Start programme.

New clause 5 deals with the transition from school to post-16 provision and adult life of young people with special educational needs and disabilities. It is an important issue for the Government. The 2005 report of the Prime Minister’s strategy unit highlighted the difficulties that young people face in their transition to adult life. It is crucial that we do more. I am sympathetic to the sentiments behind the new clause, but arrangements to provide those young people and their parents and guardians with advice and information to help with the transition are already in place, along with the statutory transition planning arrangements, under the Education Act 1996, for young people with statements of special educational needs. Crucial in that regard is the annual review meeting, following which a transition plan is drawn up. A special educational needs code of practice gives the Connexions service responsibility for overseeing its implementation and liaising with the young person, their parents or carers and post-16 providers. To my hon. Friends, I say that we need to keep transition planning for those with special educational needs under review. I have been discussing the issues with campaigners recently and I hope that we can continue to move forward on them.

New clause 6 seeks to give the Secretary of State the power to

“provide or secure the provision of services to encourage, enable or assist...the creation of programmes”

to develop young people’s skills and qualifications,

“in particular...for the development of leadership skills and skills for future employment.”

I agree that it is important to help young people to develop those skills, which are key to supporting the transition to adulthood and to success in the modern workplace. The new clause is not needed, however, because there are already sufficiently broad statutory powers for the Secretary of State to arrange that kind of provision. Sections 2 and 3 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, for example, give the LSC statutory functions in relation to securing the provision of facilities for post-16 education and training.

The third sector, to which a number of hon. Members referred, also has a crucial role to play. Schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh award, the scouts and guides and the Prince’s Trust do invaluable  work in that regard. The third sector is also a key partner with local authorities in delivering youth opportunity and capital funds.

A wide range of opportunities to develop skills for leadership and work is already available to young people aged 14 to 19, such as functional skills in English, maths, information and communication technology, and personal, learning and thinking skills. This has been an important debate. We have had a good exchange of views. Many of the changes that have been called for are already in train through particular strategies that we are pursuing or ones that are under consideration. I hope that my hon. Friend will therefore feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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Roberta Blackman-Woods (PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office; City of Durham, Labour)

When I tabled these amendments and new clauses, interesting though they are, I did not expect them to spawn such a wide-ranging debate. I was pleased by the comments of my hon. Friends the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough and for Great Grimsby, emphasising the importance of transition-stage support. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brent, East for her concise and focused comments about the need to have clarity about which type of advice and support we are talking about.

I want to thank the Minister for his helpful comments. I note that the Government have done a lot to support young people in further education and training and to expand opportunities in post-16 education. I am pleased to hear that guidance is in the pipeline which might help to put a greater focus on some of these issues. When his Department looks at extending the compulsory school leaving age I urge him to ensure that these issues are high up the agenda and that some opportunity is given to extending the range of support that is available. I hope that he will keep a review of the Connexions service in mind and consider whether it is the correct body to provide all of this support. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.