Skills White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 22nd March 2005.

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Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Education 12:33 pm, 22nd March 2005

If the Minister does not understand that A-levels in modern languages and the key sciences are vital to adult skills, no wonder the Government are performing so poorly.

The numbers of A-level entrants for chemistry, for physics and for mathematics are all down by at least 10 per cent., and in some cases by nearly 20 per cent. In her statement, the Secretary of State rightly spoke of the essential nature of level 3 skills. Why, then, are the Government cutting funds for level 3 skills?

Today's statement was, sadly, all too typical. It lacked a great deal of substance. It was a mixture of repeat announcements: the announcement about the level 2 entitlement is welcome, but it has been made already. There is very little new money—almost all of it was announced in the Budget, and even that is a tiny percentage increase on what was already being provided. The small tinkering at the margin includes £4.5 million to be given to the trade union movement—which, no doubt by pure coincidence, is about the same as the amount that the trade union movement is expected to give the Labour party for the general election campaign this year.

Sadly, what was needed in this statement, and what employers were calling out for, is not provided. There was nothing about making exam standards tougher, more robust and more credible. There was nothing to simplify the funding for further education colleges or increase their freedom. There was nothing to match the Conservative commitment to a substantial increase in vocational education for 14 to 16-year-olds. There was a reference to providing funding for adults who are without basic skills at the age of 19, but no clarification as to whether, as the Conservative party proposes, that would be fully funded. We will see whether the Secretary of State can provide that commitment. There was no matching the Conservative commitment to set up a new national network of super-colleges and no matching our commitment to abolish failed, expensive and bureaucratic learning and skills councils, which, as the Secretary of State should know, are disliked equally and universally by schools, colleges and employers.

Instead, we heard the usual: vague words, empty aspirations and promises to do better next time. Meanwhile, British employers face real and growing difficulties. It is time to get a grip, and time to get on with the work. The Government will not do so; the Conservatives will.