Vocational Education

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Skills – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 24th February 2005.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North 11:30 am, 24th February 2005

If she will make a statement on financial co-operation between local education authorities, the Learning and Skills Council and further education colleges in implementing in Nottingham the Government's 14 to19 strategy for vocational education.

Photo of Mr Syd Rapson Mr Syd Rapson PPS (Team PPS), Ministry of Defence

What plans she has to increase the take-up of vocational training in schools and colleges.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

Yesterday, I placed before the House the Command Paper "14 to 19 Education and Skills". That should lead directly to an increase in the number of young people undertaking vocational education and training. To deliver the radical proposals in the White Paper, we expect local partners to co-operate in planning and funding to ensure breadth of provision and highest quality and value for money, without disrupting core funding systems or increasing bureaucracy. Nottingham provides an excellent model.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

Does the Secretary of State accept that my constituency will be the test of the White Paper on 14 to 19-year-olds because it sends the fewest youngsters to university and further education? Will she therefore ensure that the bureaucratic interlocking of the various organisations—the local education authority, the Learning and Skills Council and many others—which produces less progress than we would like, is tackled in the aftermath of the White Paper? Will she examine the good example of Sure Start, which my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards was instrumental in promoting? It had a dedicated capital fund, a dedicated revenue fund and everybody knew their exact responsibilities. That is the way to get more youngsters into FE.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in championing the needs of young people in his constituency. He has raised the matter with not only me but my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards. He is right to draw attention to the need for the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities to work together to overcome any financial barriers to providing integrated education for 14 to 19-year-olds. One way of achieving that would be through a flexible funding pot for the Learning and Skills Council to facilitate collaboration. We shall revert to that proposal shortly and set out the details of how it might work.

Photo of Mr Syd Rapson Mr Syd Rapson PPS (Team PPS), Ministry of Defence

I, too, welcome the White Paper, which was published this week, especially its promise of new vocational routes to success. I have spent a lifetime encouraging people into engineering. Will the Government give support specifically to women entering into engineering and following that vocational route to success? That would tap an untapped group of people who are central to the country's future.

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. Yesterday, I met some young women and girls in the 14 to 19-year-old age group who were studying engineering. It is important that girls are given that opportunity. The Equal Opportunities Commission is currently considering gender segregation, and is due to report in March. I believe that one of the occupational sectors that it will consider is engineering. We will study its proposals carefully to see whether we can take them forward.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills, Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Mr. Allen raised a key issue about 14 to 19 development funding. Does the Secretary of State agree that without harmonisation of the funding units for the same delivery of a programme in a school and a college, we will not get the sort of co-operation that he wants? Does she also agree that unless we can bring together the pay rates and conditions of service for teachers and lecturers, again we will not be able to get that sort of co-operation? What plans does she have to deal with those two issues?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

Those are indeed important issues. I am glad that the Liberal Democrats have now committed themselves to parity between further education lecturers and teachers. We must overcome the barriers involved in delivering that. The real test is whether it can work in practice and whether it does work. The answer is that it does. In places such as Knowsley, local authorities and the Learning and Skills Council are working together to deliver really innovative programmes for young people, making a success and widening opportunities right across the board.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

When the Education and Skills Committee took evidence on the Tomlinson review, we were told that vocational courses would just be a taster and would not involve genuine training in any particular skill. Will she reject that superficial approach and ensure that all vocational courses provide high-quality, useful training that leaves students with a genuine, marketable skill?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I can make that commitment. It is very important that students are able to study in the ways that motivate them in the places that motivate them. For example, if a student is taking a catering course, it is not right that they just learn about applied catering theory; it is right that they learn how to cook in a kitchen, taught by a chef. That is exactly the sort of course that I would like to see offered and made available to all our students.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

Is there not a wider national issue relating to the role of the learning and skills councils? Is the Secretary of State absolutely confident that the strategic planning responsibilities that she has given to the learning and skills councils are always consistent with the prospect of 200 new academies and the autonomy that they have, the move to 3,000 foundation schools and the autonomy that they have, and the encouragement of all 11 to 16 schools to open new sixth forms?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I am committed to collaborative working between different schools and FE colleges and indeed employers and the voluntary sector where that is necessary. I foresee the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities coming together to offer a joint prospectus of opportunities available to all our young people from the ages of 14 to 19, and that that will be backed up by coherent information, advice and guidance to make sure that students take the right courses and that their options are not narrowed down too quickly, so that they have the opportunity to switch course later as they mix the academic and the vocational. My hon. Friend is right that there are challenges and we will need extra money to oil the wheels of collaboration. I will set out in due course how we intend to develop that model.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban Shadow Minister (Education)

Today's young people cannot wait for the full roll-out of the national diploma in a decade. We are committed to creating 300,000 vocational education places for today's 14 to 16-year-olds. What measures will the Government take to make sure that vocational education is a reality for today's 14 to 16-year-olds?

Photo of Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to the policy of the Conservative party. Yesterday, that was strangely absent—there was not one mention from Mr. Collins about its policy to cap the funding available for vocational courses for all our 14 to 19-year-olds. We intend to make provision available across the board. There will be no cap on opportunity and no cap on aspiration. Four of the specialised lines will be available by 2008 if not before. Some are already being developed and will be on-stream over the next year or so. Over the decade, we will raise the participation rate from 75 per cent. to 90 per cent. to be one of the best in the industrialised world.