Vocational Training

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

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Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon 11:30 am, 24th March 2005

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

In both the skills White Paper and the 14 to 19 White Paper, we have set out a series of reforms that should lead to an increase in the number of people undertaking vocational training in schools and colleges. Our plans for specialised diplomas, access to high quality training facilities and targeted support for employers and individuals will make a real difference to vocational training.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer, but may I put to her the fact that, in too many schools, those pupils who wish to undertake a vocational course are still not regarded with the same esteem as those pupils who wish to undertake an academic course? May I also put it to her that the real wealth of this country is based on those pupils who complete a vocational course, rather than those who complete an academic course?

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

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. May I say how much I have valued his contribution to the House over the years, not least during our dealings in the Finance Committee? It is imperative that we raise the esteem of vocational training and that our young people realise that vocational training and education is valued in our society. I think that we can do that by involving employers and higher education institutions in the design of the curriculum that young people follow. They can thus learn the subjects that they want to learn in the way in which they want to and in the place that motivates them. When we achieve that, rationalise vocational and academic qualifications and introduce new specialised diplomas that are recognised by young people, parents, employers and the higher education sector, we will transform the opportunities available for young people.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I congratulate the Government on now taking seriously vocational training, and thank them for what they are doing. However, how would the Secretary of State respond to Mr. Mark Vinall of South East Essex college, who asked me yesterday why in the White Paper the Government have failed to meet the needs of vocational learners? He states that they are protecting A-levels at the expense of vocational learners and that that is a missed opportunity. How would she respond to Mark Vinall's comments?

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations, although I am now a bit confused about whether he supports the 14 to 19 reforms. We have preserved the best of both by preserving qualifications—A-levels and GCSEs—that are recognised by parents and valued by employers and HE institutions, and combining the opportunity to study for those qualifications with truly high-quality vocational training. Such vocational training will be designed by employers and the HE sector so that there are real routes for progression. When we combine the best of both, we will offer young people, for the first time, a high-quality, valued route including vocational training.

Photo of Ms Lorna Fitzsimons Ms Lorna Fitzsimons Labour, Rochdale

Is it not the case that people have been confused for years because of the morass of vocational qualifications and that that has led to their devaluation in the marketplace as seen by parents, users and employers? Addressing that is thus the key to success in achieving parity of esteem. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that a key factor is the fact that places such as Rochdale are offering the education maintenance allowance for the first time, which means that it now has the highest staying-on rate in its history and the biggest take-up of EMA in the north-west? Will she give us more information about the eight pilots that are to be rolled out throughout the country, which were announced by the Chancellor in the Budget, that will give £75 to people who have not stayed on in education or training in order to encourage them to do such education or training? To my mind, and certainly to that of my constituents, that will be of huge benefit when trying to ratchet up skills, as well as educational attainment.

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As a lecturer I am one of the many experiencing the true affects of the EMA at the sharp end as oppose to those who appear to be more interested in the manipulation of figures to meet targets and deadlines. Unfortunately a student only needs to attend a lesson and I must sign the EMA form, regardless of the fact that that student has been disruptive to others and achieved little or nothing at all. It is the responsibility of the lecturer to provide catalogued evidence, if the achivement bonus is to be withheld. While I accept that your retention figures have improved I very much doubt this payment has made any...

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

I agree with my hon. Friend—as always she is spot-on. At present there are 3,500 vocational qualifications, which makes things confusing for employers and HE institutions, and most confusing for the pupils themselves because they do not know which courses will lead on to further qualifications, or the right courses to pursue for their careers. She is right to draw attention to the education maintenance allowance. Our pilots show that the staying-on rates among young people in the target groups drawing EMA increased by 5.9 per cent. That is why the announcement in the Budget that we will pilot a combination of such allowances and children's benefits to attract young people who are currently not in education, employment or training to do some real training, which will in turn get them a job, has the potential of ensuring that all young people stay in training or learning of one form or another right up to the age of 18 and beyond.

Photo of Mrs Anne Campbell Mrs Anne Campbell Labour, Cambridge

Will my right hon. Friend comment on a headline in a newsletter that has been widely circulated in my constituency, which reads, "Fees for school sixth forms planned for Blair's 3rd term"? Is there any foundation at all for such a headline?