Post-16 Education

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Skills – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 4th December 2003.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 11:30 am, 4th December 2003

What assessment he has made of the availability of practical training courses in the post-16 education system.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Skills and Vocational Education)

Every local learning and skills council has been asked to undertake a strategic area review of its post-16 provision. These reviews will identify changes required to ensure that young people and adult learners in every community have access to a choice of high quality provision that supports their progression and attainment. Such provision will include quality vocational education. Some 230,000 young people are currently undertaking modern apprenticeships in this country—the highest ever number. In our skills strategy, we announced our intention to introduce a new entitlement to a free first level 2 qualification for all adults.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but does he agree that our country and society, including industry and commerce, are in dire need of more young people with practical experience, qualifications and expertise? The question of whether young students go on to further or higher education should be based on their needs, merits and qualifications, and not on an arbitrary target of entry to university, or to any other higher education institution.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Skills and Vocational Education)

This Government are committed to ensuring that we have high quality, high status vocational education, and that we do not divide young people into sheep and goats, as the Conservatives seek to do. I should point out that a significant proportion of the 50 per cent. of young people who will go into higher education will do so via vocational education. If we repeat the mistakes of history and say that the choice is between either vocational education or higher education, and that we regard vocational education as second rate, we will again fail to deliver the high quality, high status vocational education that we need.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

Is my hon. Friend aware that in areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, which is going through the most profound economic and social changes, we continue to be blighted by a skills gap? It is amazing that while those changes are taking place there is still a lack of the necessary skills. Is he satisfied that the balance between education and skills that our learning and skills councils are operating is correct?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Skills and Vocational Education)

The challenge in closing the skills gap is to ensure that far more young people stay on in some form of education or training, and make progress post-16, while giving the adults who are already in the labour market, or who are still on the edge of it, the opportunity to up their skills. School standards, Sure Start and a new approach to education between 14 and 19, combined with a coherent adult skills strategy that enables millions of adults who are already in the workplace to upskill, is the most effective long-term way to narrow the skills gap that continues to undermine this country's productivity.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health)

Globalisation demands the raising of post-16 and adult education skills and standards, but the recent Ofsted and adult learning inspectorate reports were highly critical of existing provision. In addition, the Learning and Skills Council figures demonstrate that the three-year funding allocation will not even provide sufficient money for the Government's core priorities of education and basic skills for 16 to 18-year-olds. What does the Minister intend to do to reverse that situation, and will he assure the House that the anticipated and feared funding shortfall—equivalent to losing 10,000 full-time students, or up to 70,000 part-time students—will not materialise?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Skills and Vocational Education)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman both to the House and to the Front Bench, but it does not seem to me that, in the context of a debate about education, a party that advocates 20 per cent. cuts in education spending can say that there are inadequate resources to deliver the education reforms that we need. It is true that we need to improve the quality of work-based learning: 60 per cent. of work-based training courses were not adequate, but in 12 months that proportion went down to 46 per cent., and the work that the Learning and Skills Council and the inspectors are doing to raise standards is beginning to come through and improve the quality of provision. We are not complacent or smug, but the fact that the largest ever number of young people—230,000—are undertaking modern apprenticeships demonstrates that we are beginning to change attitudes to the importance of practical training.