Educational Options (16 and 17-year-olds)

Oral Answers to Questions — Children, Schools and Families – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th February 2008.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC (Minister for Women)), Leader of the House of Commons 2:30 pm, 4th February 2008

What steps his Department is taking to provide a range of options for 16 and 17-year-olds when education and training becomes compulsory up to the age of 18 years.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

The Education and Skills Bill sets out our plans both to raise the compulsory participation age in education to 18, and to provide new options for young people alongside our new diplomas and enhanced advice and guidance. We will introduce a foundation tier for those not yet at level 2 and expand the range and number of apprenticeships, so that by 2013, 90,000 more young people will do an apprenticeship each and every year, compared with today.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC (Minister for Women)), Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Apprenticeships are a key option for young people, but there is evidence of considerable gender bias. The male options that are taken up tend to be better paid and lead to higher qualifications. In fact, in Salford, Connexions found that 100 per cent. of young women took health and child care, but skilled construction apprenticeships were 100 per cent. male, so that bias is evident locally. What initiatives or extra steps can be taken to tackle that considerable bias in apprenticeships?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

My hon. Friend is quite right on that point. Across the country, 99 per cent. of apprenticeships in construction are taken by men, and in engineering, the figure is 97 per cent. In child care, however, the number of apprenticeships taken by women is 97 per cent., and in hair and beauty it is 91 per cent. The new national apprenticeship service must make a priority not only of expanding the number of apprenticeships but of ensuring that they are available to both men and women. Through taster courses, better advice and guidance, we must make sure that the opportunities that we are expanding are available to men and women across the widest range of careers.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I very much welcome the 90,000 additional apprenticeships, but will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he is doing to make sure that there is proper workplace-based training for those new apprenticeships? What incentives will he give employers to ensure that those young kids get real experience on the job, as interns would if they came to work in the House?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

I am not sure whether interns or young employees always get on-the-job experience. On the point made by the hon. Gentleman, we will only include in the 90,000 those young people who have a contract of employment with an employer. It will not simply be people on a training scheme—they must get work with an employer, as well as structured training. If it is an apprenticeship, that will be done in a particular way, and that will be dealt with by the national apprenticeship service. If it is a full-time job, under our new legislation there will be one day of training a week for every young person doing more than 20 hours. The important thing is to make sure that there is proper structured training to a qualification and, at the same time, the kind of on-the-job experience that will help those young people to be ready to move on to a full career. I can guarantee that that is very much part of our thinking, not just on the apprenticeships programme, but on the new diplomas, which combine learning and the practical experience that the hon. Gentleman wants to see more of.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West

We are very pleased indeed with the steps that my right hon. Friend has taken to raise the compulsory age of participation. To make that a success, however, we must greatly increase the number of apprenticeships throughout the system in a relatively short time. His proposals for a national apprenticeship service could play a key role, provided that we get the organisation, the relationship with local government and the financing right. Would he therefore be prepared to meet a group of us who are concerned about all those matters, so that we can discuss them with him and the key people on his side?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend. He has a great deal of experience in these matters: when he was chief executive of Jaguar, the company offered an important apprenticeship programme. He has a lot to teach us all about how to drive work-based learning in society, and he is absolutely right that only by expanding apprenticeships and providing better advice and guidance, and by making sure that barriers to learning are addressed can we achieve our objectives in raising the participation age to 18. We have been careful: we have not said that the measures will come in tomorrow; we have given ourselves five years and 10 months to prepare, and we will use that time to make sure that the legislation genuinely delivers the revolution that we need, including the revolution in learning in the workplace, which he supports.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

It is proper that we should give effective vocational education to young people, whether in colleges or on work placements. However, the Secretary of State will know the shocking statistics on how many people leave school who cannot even read and write properly. Will he give a guarantee that he will redouble his efforts so that nobody leaving full-time education at age 18 will be illiterate?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

I am redoubling my efforts and those of the Government; I am also putting in place substantial funding increases year on year to deliver on that. The hon. Gentleman's words and those of other Conservative Members would have more credibility if they had supported our investment in education rather than opposed it in the past 10 years. We will do more to make sure that every child does well at school and that at 11 and 16 they get the qualifications that they need. Our Every Child a Reader and Every Child a Writer programmes are there to give the personalised one-to-one support that is needed. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the situation today is not good enough; but it is a hell of a lot better than it was 10 years ago, when we came into power.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas PPS (Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, Attorney General), Law Officers' Department

I was very pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend said about trying to ensure that more women get into apprenticeship programmes. However, has he reviewed the programmes that he has already established for older women? On that basis, does he have any words of comfort for organisations that would like to see more such schemes to ensure that more women access higher-paid jobs?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

My hon. Friend has great credibility, as someone who has practised lifelong learning throughout her life and who has shown that women can go in and become experts across the widest range of professions. I listen to her words very carefully. As she knows, we now have not one but two Education Secretaries in the Cabinet. The funding of apprenticeships to adult women is a matter for the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. I shall raise the issue with him; together, we are driving forward the revolution in apprenticeships that our country needs and I shall ensure that my hon. Friend gets a proper reply from him.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

The first tranche of diplomas—in subjects such as construction, IT and engineering—are coming in this September and they are very welcome. Will the Secretary of State explain who is meant to be engaging with employers in our constituencies? Do the Learning and Skills Council or the sector skills councils make sure that as many small and medium-sized employers as possible get signed up?

Secondly, will the Secretary of State in due course—

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

In the case of apprenticeships, the new national apprenticeship service will have teams around the country to drive the number of extra apprenticeships that we need for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. At the moment, the issue of 16 to 19-year-old learners taking up diplomas and engaging with employers is taken forward by the Learning and Skills Council as part of the local consortiums for driving forward the take-up of diplomas, and we now have that in most parts of the country.

In the next few weeks, we will publish a consultation on how to move the funding of 16-to-19 education to the local authority level. When local authorities are at the centre of the local funding partnerships, the issue will be their responsibility, although they will work closely with regional development agencies and sub-regional employer skills partnerships to make sure that employers are engaged in the widest possible way. Without the support of employers, we will not be able to make a success of the diploma scheme. So far, the employer reaction to our diploma programme has been very positive indeed.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I strongly support the Government's policy in this area and their efforts to improve education at every level. However, the fact is that a significant proportion of young people, mostly low achievers, become alienated from school and education at a very young age, and that carries through into the teenage years. We are in stark contrast to some other countries in this respect. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at ways of overcoming that alienation and demoralisation among young people? That would make the Government's policy for 17 and 18-year-olds much more successful.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Our policy for compulsory education to 18 will first affect the young people who today are 10 and 11 at school. What will motivate them will not only be the support that they get from teachers and families, but whether the curriculum is motivating for them in the period up to age 16. That will determine whether they want to stay on in education or training after that. It is certainly true that we have a lower staying-on rate at 16 than other countries, although the rate has been rising. However, the reforms that we are putting in place to the curriculum at key stage 3 level, and our diplomas, are more likely to achieve the kind of mix of theory and practice that will engage young people.

Sports colleges, for example, today have the fastest increase in results, including in English and maths, because they use the motivation of sport to get young people learning across the range of different subjects. That is a great success story for the Government and shows the way forward for other areas.