Social Mobility and the Professions

Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 11th June 2009.

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[Relevant document: The uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee on 8 June 2009, on Social Mobility, HC 624-i.]

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector) 2:04 pm, 11th June 2009

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of social mobility and fair access to the professions.

I am pleased that my first Cabinet Office debate concerns such an important issue—one of the most important that must be dealt with by society as a whole, and a subject on which I feel particularly strongly.

I want to say something about the work of the panel on fair access to the professions. I pay tribute to the panel and its chair, my right hon. Friend Mr. Milburn. Access to the professions and social mobility are important to society and to hon. Members in all parts of the House. Today's debate will be enhanced by the wealth of expertise represented on the panel, which, as a cross-party, independent body, has scrutinised both Government and society as a whole. Having read its reports, I thank the panel for the depth of the work that it has undertaken, and look forward to seeing the conclusions and recommendations that it will make to the Prime Minister.

The Government believe that every member of society should have the opportunity to get on with life. That ethos is at the heart of what government is about. We are committed to ensuring that everyone can achieve their potential, not just now but in the decades to come—not just for their own benefit, important though that is, but for the benefit of society and the economy. We need to be able to draw on the widest possible pool of talent, and ensure that the best people enter the professions.

The panel's reports identify the importance of the professions to the economic and social success of the country, and reflect on the number of new people who are required in an evolving global economy—an economy which will become very different in the future. They also draw attention to the need for fairer access in particular spheres. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington will say more about that, but what is crucial is the ability to choose from the widest possible pool of talent in order to increase economic efficiency and production. That will not only help individuals to succeed, but contribute to social cohesion and inclusion. Social mobility has a direct impact on our economic future.

It may seem difficult to imagine this now, but the world's economy is set to double in the next decade as India and China renew their economic growth. One billion skilled jobs are being created, and here in the United Kingdom we shall need to find an extra 6.8 million or so new entrants to the professions. We need to be ready to capture those jobs in the future, and ensure that everyone can enjoy new opportunities as they arrive. That must be a priority for the Government.

Access to the professions and to senior jobs must clearly be based on talent and the ability to do the job. Geography, finance and family background cannot be the deciding factors. Although that ambition is not contentious, many communities, and even graduates of many universities, are denied access to many professional and senior jobs. Of course no one wants people who cannot do the job; what we want are the best people in the job, regardless of their background. All too often, barriers exist to prevent that. We are committed to continuing the progress that has already been made, and destroying every obstacle in order to ensure fair access to the professions for all.

I think it fair to say that we have made progress towards achieving our objectives, but to ensure fair access we need to help individuals at different stages of their lives. Children need support from their early years if they are to secure the best start in life and develop their abilities. Young people, whatever their backgrounds and aspirations, need support as they make the transition from school to further education, training and higher education. Adults also need help to develop and adapt their skills in an increasingly changing labour market. The provision of excellent, personalised public services can provide the right balance of support and incentives, and we are continuing to build on what we have already achieved in that regard.

We do not consider it right to cut the investment that is necessary to build secure foundations for tomorrow, especially during a recession. I know that some believe that a recession is the best time at which to cut back, but it really is not. We must invest during a recession in order to take advantage of the upturn.

Even the youngest people need support if the professions are to benefit from that wider pool of talent in the future, and we have more than doubled the number of child care places to 1.5 million in just over 10 years. All three-year-olds and four-year-olds are now entitled to free part-time early education places if that is what their parents want, and we have introduced more than 3,000 Sure Start children's centres. We have brought families out of poverty through tax credits, the national minimum wage and child trust funds, which is making a real difference to their lives. I am sure that all Members of Parliament have been told about that in their constituencies.

In the Budget, the Chancellor also announced that the child element of the tax credit would increase by an additional £20 a year above indexation from April 2010. In schools we have doubled funding per pupil in real terms, which has raised overall performance. We owe a tribute to teachers and classroom assistants, who have played a massive part in changing education and improving the quality of education that young people receive in our schools. It is no coincidence that total funding per pupil in the past 12 years has almost doubled to £2,880. In the pre-Budget report we announced £14.5 billion of additional spending on education for 2010-11. That investment has made a difference. There are now fewer schools in special measures—the number has nearly halved in just over 10 years—and those that are in special measures get out of them much more quickly because of the support that is there for them. The investment in education means that there are 41,000 more teachers, 210,000 more support staff and over 120,000 more teaching assistants than 12 years ago.

The investment also means that now more than 64 per cent. of pupils attain at least five GCSEs from A* to C, including English and Maths. That has gone up from 45 per cent.—less than half—12 years ago. The investment in staff, equipment, buildings and child care has delivered real improvements in education. To help those who are perhaps most at risk from not fulfilling their potential in school, we have introduced the educational maintenance allowance. Half a million young people have been helped every year with £10, £20 or £30 a week.

In the 2009 Budget, the Chancellor also announced a guaranteed job, training or work placement for all 18 to 24-year-olds who reach 12 months' unemployment. We have also prioritised giving second chances to those adults who did not achieve their potential in education the first time around. Since 2001, over 2.5 million people have improved their basic skills and we have now put in place a legal right for adults to get free training up to level 2—GCSE, A-level or equivalent—to help increase their employability. We have revived apprenticeships as a viable and mainstream option for young people. This year there will be an extra 35,000 apprenticeships and we have seen a huge increase in the number of young people completing their apprenticeships.

One problem is that all too often in the professions there are barriers preventing those in junior roles from progressing to professional and better paid jobs. There was a time when older journalists could say that they had gone from making the tea on their local paper to becoming a senior journalist on a national newspaper. We do not see that so often these days. Another route is an unpaid internship through family connections in London, which is becoming an increasingly normal way to enter national journalism. It can still be difficult for talented, able and ambitious apprentices to work their way up to the highest levels. We have listened to the views on this and, following consultation, the UCAS points system will be applied to apprenticeships.

I wish to draw the House's attention to the "New Opportunities" White Paper, which sets out ambitious plans for everyone in Britain to make the most of their potential, to increase aspiration and, having done so, to turn that into success. The commitments in the White Paper will have a direct impact on the issues under discussion today. We are on track to provide access to high-quality early learning and child care for two-year-olds by September.

Already 145 schools are taking part in the scheme to get the most effective teachers into the most challenging schools. Often, one of the problems for the most challenging schools is a high turnover of teachers. Effective teachers are joining such schools from September, and they will get a new £10,000 incentive if they guarantee to stay in the school for three years, thus ensuring continuity of teaching for their pupils. These new skills and that continuity will help to continue the improvements that we are seeing in the most challenging schools, often in the most challenging communities.

The National Apprenticeship Service was launched in April with the aim of creating 35,000 new apprenticeship places across the public and private sectors. That is a challenge. We have a Cabinet-level steering group and the continued development of delivery plans is in the early stages, but good progress is being made and I urge as many private and public organisations as possible to take on apprentices to make this a success.

We are trebling the number of career development loans available for people who want to undertake training. It will help to develop their skills and to realise their full potential. Over the next two years, 45,000 new and rebranded professional and career development loans will be made available, up from the 15,000 available in this financial year. They will be made more attractive by reducing the headline interest rates, allowing people to apply for loans of up to £10,000 to study at colleges, universities and with private training providers—an increase on the current limit of £8,000.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am listening with respect to the Minister. The Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, Mr. Lammy, will know that a particular hobby horse of mine is clause 84 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which concerns election for apprenticeship schemes. Will the Minister take on board the concern that if there is a prescriptive requirement that somebody should have level 2 or level 3 qualifications, that can discriminate against young people with special educational needs—perhaps on the autistic spectrum—who do not have such qualifications but who in every other way would be extremely well suited to the pursuit of an apprenticeship scheme?

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I entirely agree; the hon. Gentleman will know that the matter was raised several times in Committee. The Government are looking at it, because we do not want people with special educational needs to be excluded from apprenticeships. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Minister has taken his comments on board. That point also relates to the charity v, which is looking at full-time volunteering opportunities for young people who are not in education or employment. We want that to be extended as far as possible from April this year.

Having read the two reports from the panel, I am eager to see the recommendations to be given to the Prime Minister. We believe that everyone with ability from across society should have an opportunity to get the most senior jobs in society. That is why the Government invited my right hon. Friend Mr. Milburn, senior professionals and experts to establish the panel on fair access to the professions, which is entirely independent of Government.

The panel's remit was to look at barriers to fair access and senior jobs and at what more could be done by the professions with support from the Government to improve fair access for all. Fair access to the professions is crucial for individuals. It is important for their communities and for society, but it is also crucial to the economy as a whole. We must have the widest possible pool of talent from which to choose, as that increases economic efficiency and productivity. It is not just individuals who succeed if we give everyone a fair chance; it can also contribute to social cohesion and social inclusion. Social mobility has a direct impact on our economic future.

The panel is developing its recommendations, which will be published over the summer, although it has shown so far that many of the top professions are not representative of society. There is a much higher representation of independent school-educated professionals, especially doctors and lawyers, who come from well-off families.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

The Minister referred to the report being published in the summer. That has been the official position for some time. Can she give any more detail as to when we might expect it? Will there be a statement to the Commons?

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington. It is not my report or my panel. I wish I could assist the hon. Gentleman. It would not be for the Government to tell my right hon. Friend what to do and when to present his report.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

I am grateful not to be told what to do by my hon. Friend. If it helps Mr. Willetts and the House, I can say that the intention is to publish our report in mid-July. It is for the Government to decide whether they want the House to consider it. As it is an independent report from a ferociously independent panel, representing all parties and none, I cannot speak on behalf of the Government on that issue. But we will publish in mid-July; I hope before the House rises.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I think that "summer" was a fair representation, although we are not always sure that July is summer. Some professions have perversely become less, not more, socially representative over time, especially accountancy and journalism. The panel has so far identified five underlying barriers to improving access to the professions and the House would be pleased to hear the views of Members on these issues.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I appreciate that the hon. Lady has just started that section of her speech, but will she give at least some credit to the professions—particularly the Law Society and the Bar Council I might add, as I was formerly a lawyer—for the efforts that they have made to increase social mobility and ensure that there is, as far as possible, broader access to them? It should not be felt that the professions are unaware that these issues are at stake; indeed, they have made some significant steps in recent years. They might have more to do, but they are very much on board.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Many professions recognise that if they are to attract the brightest, best and most able, they will need to have a much fairer system of progression. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Bar Council, and there is Julia Neuberger's report on that issue. Many professions have taken good steps forward, but they acknowledge that they have more to do in facing the challenge ahead of us. Progress has been made, but I would not imagine that any Member thinks that we have gone as far as we should. I acknowledge the progress that has been made, but we want there to be more, and we await the panel's recommendations on the best ways to achieve that.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I want to ask the hon. Lady a question, and to do so without prejudice. To what extent has graduate entry changed the opportunities for people to rise through professions? It was once entirely possible for someone to start as a tea boy in a professional organisation and to rise to close to the top of it. I know of cases when precisely that occurred in both journalism and accountancy.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

The panel will be looking at, and making recommendations on, precisely those issues. The extent of such opportunities varies from profession to profession. Graduate entry has opened up access in some professions, but, perversely, it has had the opposite effect in others. That is why the panel has been asked to make independent recommendations on all these issues; we want fair access to the professions.

The panel's initial report highlights the aspirations of young people as a significant barrier. Only one in five young people from average backgrounds and only one in eight from poorer backgrounds currently aspire to be a professional—in this context, that term covers a wide range of professions. However, the proportion for young people whose parents are already in one of the professions is two in five. I do not believe that where we live, how much our parents earn and what our parents do have any impact at all on ability, but they clearly impact on young people's aspirations.

Another important issue is career support for young people. The panel's research shows that soft skills are becoming increasingly valued by employers, but not all young people have the opportunity to develop them. Another barrier is to do with internships and work experience. They have become an important route into the top jobs. More than nine in 10 young people have been interns. That helps to raise their aspirations and improve their CVs, and four out of five employers recruit former interns. A disproportionate number of internships are in London and the south-east, and the evidence shows that more internships are sourced through families and friends than through advertised schemes. Therefore, where a young person lives and what university they attend can also be a barrier to their moving into the professions.

Another issue is recruitment and selection. Seven out of 10 of the top graduate employers target just 20 of 167 universities. Therefore, as I have said before, what university someone attends can have an impact on their progression.

There is also an issue to do with flexible routes of entry to the professions. There has been a long-term decline in the non-graduate routes. Today, only 27 of The Times top 100 employers accept alternative entry routes such as non-graduate entry. There are good examples of professions opening their doors to people entering from different routes, such as the fast-track teaching qualification, which can be undertaken in just six months. There is clearly more to do, however.

It will take a few years before we have a clearer picture of access to professions for all those who have come through the education system in the past decade, but to date the panel's evidence shows a narrowing attainment gap between kids from poorer families and those from better off families. We believe that that will lead to increased social mobility in the years ahead.

The issue of aspiration is at the heart of this debate. We need to ensure that young people aim higher and fulfil their aspirations. Fair access to the professions is not just good for those individuals who succeed; it is good for their communities and for society. It is also no exaggeration to say that it is essential for the economic and social future of this country.

Any successful economic strategy that can take advantage of the global economy of the future must be built on the foundation of a highly skilled work force. We are currently in very difficult economic times, but this is not the time to cut back. We need to invest, as it is crucial that we are ready for the economic upturn when it comes and as it happens. It is estimated that the global economy will need 1 billion extra skilled jobs in the next 20 years, and the figure for the United Kingdom is probably about 6.8 million to 7 million.

To reap the benefits, we will need action and investment at every stage of a child's life. I know that Mr. Willetts does not entirely accept that and has concerns about early-years investment and Sure Start. The evidence shows, however, that we have to invest in those early years; otherwise, we will not reap the benefits as those children pass through the education system.

Mr. Lansley may have let the cat out of the bag this week when he talked about proposals for 10 per cent. funding cuts across the board—apart from in one or two areas. If the Opposition's proposals are to cut post-16 Train to Gain, that will reduce social mobility, increase social inequalities and fail this country's economy. The progress being made by the Government will lead to everyone being able to fulfil their potential. If one person does not fulfil their potential and aspirations, or fails to have them in the first place, that is a waste for them as an individual, for the community, for society as a whole, and, crucially, for the economy and future of this country. We are committed to stopping the squandering of those skills, and to ensuring that the brightest and the best from every background, family income level and part of the country will have the chance to fulfil their potential.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Does the hon. Lady not feel that the emphasis—or, it might be argued, over-emphasis—on aspirations and access to the professions can often obscure a real concern? She is right that there will be a need for 1 billion more skilled people in the global economy in the decades ahead. The real issue, therefore, is that there needs to be more investment in further education and lifelong learning, not simply in access to the professions, which will always be elitist in the respect that only about 15 or 20 per cent. of people will be able to aspire to join them. We should focus on the jobs that will be required in future through better further education and a commitment to lifelong learning.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's point, although I accept that he means it well, in that the two things seem complementary. The argument we are putting forward today—this is why we are so keen to see the panel's recommendations—is that through every life cycle of someone's education and skills training, the support and training needs to be in place. Having support and fairer access to professions is crucial, but part and parcel of that is improving access to further and higher education. The two are complementary; they are not exclusive or separate in any way.

In conclusion, I pay tribute again to the work undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington and his panel. He has taken on a huge task, because this issue affects the future not only of individuals but of the whole economy of this country. He will want to take on board the views of this House, and we are eager to see his recommendations, so that they can be taken on board in order to make the difference that society and this country needs.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education) 2:30 pm, 11th June 2009

I welcome both the Minister to her new responsibilities, which include this important subject of social mobility, and this debate. I do not know whether she planned to have a debate on this subject within two days of becoming the Minister responsible for it, but it is welcome that she is at the Dispatch Box to speak on it. Mr. Milburn is also in the Chamber, and he is leading the independent review. The work that has been produced, both originally by the Cabinet Office's strategy unit—that was on social mobility as a whole—and more recently by the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, is excellent. The amount of empirical evidence assembled in those reports is fantastic, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is the right man to push forward this agenda. We read in the papers that he got his party's Chief Whip to apologise for having suggested that he was a rebel plotting the downfall of the Prime Minister last week; we note that nobody else has had such a statement from the Chief Whip. It is good to see the right hon. Gentleman in the Chamber to debate this important subject.

Our starting point is the statistics that have led to an extraordinarily lively academic debate about the decline in social mobility between children born in 1958 and those born in 1970. Although the evidence since 1970 is debated, it seems clear to me that, despite one or two claims to the contrary, social mobility has been flatlining since 1970. The summary of the November 2008 document got it about right when it stated:

"Broadly, social mobility is no greater or less since 1970".

Something I welcomed in the Minister's statement was that she did not try to argue that social mobility was improving again; it might be, but we do not have the evidence for that. One of the leading experts, Paul Gregg, who did work on children who were born in 1990 and took their GCSEs 15 years later, said that there was not enough evidence to claim with any confidence that there had been an improvement. Although we hope things are getting better, we do not have the evidence to say that at the moment.

The panel's reports are fascinating. The Minister rather dangerously strayed into the territory of access to different professions. As I do not believe that there are any journalists sitting up there in the Press Gallery, let us be clear about what the figures show. The table on page 2, which shows the backgrounds of professionals born in 1958 compared with those of professionals born in 1970—again, those two longitudinal studies are used—is about the most fascinating one in the report. The table measures how much more affluent their families were in comparison with the average family income.

In some professions—teaching, for example—there has been, if anything, a tiny improvement. For those joining other professions, the family backgrounds of those born in 1970 were much more relatively affluent than the backgrounds of those born in 1958. The biggest single change was found to have taken place in journalism: journalists born in 1958 were seen to have come from backgrounds where the family income was roughly the same as the average, whereas for those born in 1970 a massive gap had opened up. I am looking forward to the Minister coming to the Chamber when we have the panel's report in mid-July and telling us what she is going to do about access to journalism. As she takes on the journalists' profession, we will be watching sympathetically from a distance.

I was also struck by the material on page 45, which again shows the rise of requirements for graduate entry—another powerful piece of evidence from this very useful report. We look forward to the final report that the Minister will receive from the right hon. Member for Darlington.

We have done some research of our own on social mobility, including an analysis of evidence from the Office for National Statistics about the backgrounds of people who go to university. We did a micro-analysis, based on the neighbourhoods that those people came from, and we concluded that the figures convey a stark message. Despite hundreds of millions of pounds being spent on widening participation, the figures still show that in the richest, most affluent areas of the country six in 10 young people go to university, but in the poorest, most deprived neighbourhoods three in 10 go to university. So there are still enormous gaps in the opportunities for young people to go to university, and it is hard to improve social mobility with that bottleneck in the access to university.

We are also concerned about the prospects for the poorest young people. They have an increased risk of being not in education, employment or training—NEET. We are, sadly, in tough economic times with high unemployment, and it is worth remembering the evidence that a period of unemployment, especially when very young, can scar someone for life. People's lifetime earning prospects are affected, and it seems to affect the kind of jobs they have 20 years later.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

It is also perhaps worth stressing that that applies not only to young people leaving school, but to those leaving university. Those who graduated during the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s have found their opportunities severely limited. Sadly, the same may apply to last year's graduates and this year's graduates—although we hope not for too much further forward than that. A recession is a very limiting experience, whenever one leaves full-time education.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is right, and that is why we propose, as a temporary measure, that extra postgraduate taught masterships should be made available for people leaving university this year who are finding it difficult to get a job.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Higher Education and Intellectual Property)

The Government are committed to growth in postgraduate education along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I am sure that he will agree that although graduates face a tough autumn, in the medium to long term those in the employment market arrive in the end where they intended to be.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

Well, we hope so. We will have an unusual development this summer, which will see the toughest recruitment round for graduates since the big expansion of universities. We have had a steadily improving labour market overall for the past 15 years, and I hope that what the Minister says is correct and the evidence on the blighting of life chances by periods of unemployment does not apply to graduates. We will have to wait and see.

Young people will be the worst victims of the recession, because they will find it hard to get jobs when they leave university, and youth unemployment is rising. But even during the boom years in the first part of this decade, and while in other advanced economies youth unemployment was falling and the proportion of young people who were NEET was falling, Britain was already heading in the wrong direction. For example, among 16 to 24-year-olds unemployment rose in the UK between 1997 and 2007 from 13.4 per cent. to 14.4 per cent., while across the OECD it fell from 15.7 per cent. to 13.4 per cent. Our NEET rate for the same age group rose from 11.6 per cent. in 2000 to 13 per cent. in 2005, at the same time as the OECD average was falling. I make that point because that tells me that some features of Government policy meant that the problems were getting worse even when the overall economy was improving. There are some lessons that Ministers need to draw from that.

I can see the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property itching to intervene, but I will give way to him when I have completed my point. My belief is that the way in which he is funding FE colleges, through the Learning and Skills Council, to churn out paper qualifications makes it harder for people who were already detached from education to go through the doors of the FE colleges. The colleges wanted people who would get a national vocational qualification fast, and increasing numbers were therefore excluded from education and training by the performance indicators and funding systems that Ministers were applying. I would be interested to hear why the Minister disagrees.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Higher Education and Intellectual Property)

The hon. Gentleman knows, because we have had this debate before, that all of us, across the House, recognise that there are young people who are not in education, employment or training. I certainly see that in my constituency. That is why we want to take the age to which young people remain in training up to 18. Notwithstanding that, however, he knows—we have had this ding-dong in many television studios—that his figures include young people on gap years. They also include young people who are independently wealthy—there have been more of them, clearly, over the past 10 years—and young people who have had children, who have other commitments or who have particular disabilities. It is important to reflect on those figures and to dissociate them from the young people about whom he is particularly concerned.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

There are, of course, a range of reasons why young people are NEET, but I was quoting OECD figures that are comparable. They are on the same basis for Britain in 2005 as they are for Britain in 2000. They allow comparison between Britain and other advanced western countries. Whatever we think about the composition of that group, I am making two points about the trend. First, the trend in the UK was in the wrong direction. Secondly, the trend was in the wrong direction in the UK when the trend in the rest of the OECD, which was going through the same overall economic situation, was in the right direction. The Minister's ingenuity does not explain what was going on.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Higher Education and Intellectual Property)

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that Britain had 10 successive years of growth. That situation was not replicated in other European countries; indeed, it was not replicated in Japan or the US, either. The inclusion in the figures of those who are independently wealthy as NEET makes my point.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

I am afraid that I do not follow the Minister's point.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

I did not follow the Minister's point, either, but I probably misunderstood because I am sitting directly behind him. I am not making a cheap political point—I understand why the hon. Gentleman is going on about NEETs—but will he look at the new book launched on Wednesday by Oxford university, edited by Richard Pring, and especially the section on NEETs, which talks about the danger of even using the NEET category, as it can lead people towards rather bad answers in public policy?

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

I have had this conversation with Professor Pring, and I want to make a further point about NEETs in a moment. Let me reiterate: the fact that we have had this economic growth across the west is not the point. I am quoting from the OECD documents on what has happened to NEETs in Britain compared with what happened in other advanced countries and across time. We have an obligation to explain these two trends in the wrong direction.

Let me turn to the practical measures that could be brought forward to tackle some of these problems. My list overlaps with some of the list given by the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, which is a sign of progress for both of us. It is not quite the same, but let me work through the options that are available. My list focuses on teenagers and beyond. The Minister said in passing that I was not a fan of Sure Start—but I think that it does an excellent job. However, I am sceptical about what has been called early-years determinism, which says if we do not fix children's problems by the time they reach the age of three, we might as well give up. We must not become so obsessed with the early years that we forget the importance of providing opportunities for teenagers and adult learners. Sometimes the emphasis on early years has been so strong that we have lost sight of what happens later in life.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Minister of State (Third Sector), Cabinet Office, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Third Sector)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for explaining his position, but he has misrepresented the Government. We have never suggested that we should give up on anything beyond early years, but we feel very strongly that support for early years is a crucial foundation for later development. He said that children's experience in their early years need not determine their destiny, but the evidence is that those years can have a very great impact. If we ignore the early years, it is much more difficult to catch up later.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

I do not think that children's opportunities can or should be determined by their experience in the early years. Early years matter, but I expect my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes will speak later in the debate about what has happened to adult learning opportunities. The absolute decline of more than 1 million adult learning places suggests that there has been such an exclusive focus on early years that the opportunities for people later on in life to reshape their careers and get new skills have indeed been reduced.

I want to return to working through my list. The first item about which I think that the Minister and I agree is the importance of careers advice. I want to refer to the Nuffield-Rathbone study—another version of that research was published this week—but my interpretation is slightly different from the Minister's. It is easy to say that there is a problem of aspiration, and the report does contain some evidence in that regard, but the Nuffield-Rathbone researchers present a somewhat different argument.

Interviews were conducted with young people who were NEETs or otherwise disengaged from education and so unlikely to go to university. The study said:

"At the workshops with young people, all of the participants expressed some form of aspiration, many of which were highly specific...they were able to express clear and precise aspirations."

Those young people aspired to conventional jobs, such as chef, solicitor, holiday rep, bar worker, plumber and so on but, as the study went on to say,

"it was also clear that they did not have a planned trajectory for achieving those aspirations".

The study added that they were pessimistic about where they would be in 10 years' time.

If anything, the problem has to do with the routes to achieving aspirations. Young people have to find their way through a maze if they want to get the A-levels that they need to get on the course that is best for fulfilling their aspirations. Some very ingenious traps have been laid to send them down the wrong route. It would be perfectly reasonable for a person to think that a law A-level would be a good route to becoming a lawyer, but we know that it is not a particularly good path to studying law at university or beyond. It is therefore not a good way to achieve aspirations in the law.

I remember a fascinating interview on "Woman's Hour" a few weeks ago. A young woman engineer had come up with an ingenious device to serve as a low-energy fridge for the third world. It comprised two containers, one inside the other: the external one held soil or grass that absorbed water, whose evaporation cooled the contents of the internal container. The interviewer said to the inventor, "But you didn't do engineering at university." The young woman replied, "No one told me I needed to do maths for that, so I couldn't do it." It is clear that there are people with great aptitudes and aspirations who are being let down because they are not being given a route through the maze. That is why careers advice is so important.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

The hon. Gentleman is making a fascinating speech, but all the research done by the Select Committee and the Skills Commission, which I co-chair, is that the quality of information, advice and guidance for kids from economically challenged backgrounds is very poor. In contrast, middle-class children have a network of uncles, aunts and other people who are graduates and have professional experience and so they get high-quality advice to back up their aspirations.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

I accept that. That is why the Government's various changes to the careers service over the past 10 years have really not helped. I do not think that the quality of careers advice, or the creation of Connexions, has helped at all. We believe that there should be a professional all-age careers advice service that independently assists young people who are making their way in the world. There have been at least two sets of changes. The dismantling of the Careers Service as it existed in 1997 was a mistake. The chopping and changing on Connexions has not helped. We attach a large amount of importance to independent careers advice. The Minister has to accept that the Government's record of chopping and changing, and of focusing on Connexions instead of independent careers advice, has not helped young people through the maze that confronts them. So the first item on my list is better careers advice from a genuine, independent, professional careers service.

The second item on my list is internships. I remember the launch in January of the national internship scheme by the former Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, Mr. Denham, using that well-known device, an interview with The Daily Telegraph. He identified Microsoft and Barclays as companies that would join that scheme. I hope that the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, who will wind up the debate, can give us some more information about that. Since then, Barclays and Microsoft have made it clear that they already run internship schemes. They seem to have no proposals to change them in any way. We have heard about lists of places in a graduate talent pool that has been launched.

I received a written answer today from the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property. I had tried to identify how seriously the Government were taking the new internship scheme by finding out how much money they had allocated to it. So far as I can tell from his answer, they have put £800,000 into a website. I have to say that it is not at all clear how the 5,000 extra internships are to be financed, or what has happened to the national internship scheme beyond the work on that website on opportunities. That website may be admirable, but it is not quite what his previous boss launched in January.

What has happened to the national internship scheme, and what resources are the Government putting behind it? I am interested in that, because we understand and accept the evidence, which is absolutely clear: the concentration of internships in London and the south-east, and restricted access to them, is a barrier. That is why the Social Mobility Foundation, and its work with internships in this House, is such an excellent initiative. That was the second item on my list.

The third item on the list, of course, is the "three As at A-level" challenge. To get into the competitive professions, which often select from a relatively small group of universities, one needs very good A-level grades. There are a variety of attempts to tackle the problem. We have to be wary of any system that just chucks applicants into the bin because they have been to private school, or because we think that they come from an affluent background. We need measures that are clear, defensible and well understood.

The scheme that has impressed me most is that at King's College, which aims at broadening access to Guy's, King's and St. Thomas' school of medicine. King's College has created up to 50 extra places a year, on top of its mainstream recruitment, for students from state schools in 15 of the poorest London boroughs. It accepts them with A-level grades down to two Bs and a C, but they are subject to an internationally recognised aptitude test, so that there is an objective test of their merit; the scheme is not simply an exercise in social selection. The places are additional, so no one with good grades misses out. There is also an extra year—an American-style foundation year—to bring those students up to the level that is necessary if they are to be properly trained and are to qualify as doctors.

Of course, one can only leave that medical school as a doctor, with a proper qualification, if one has achieved exactly the same high level as others have had to achieve before. None of us wants to have heart surgery performed by a consultant who may not have been very good at it, but who at least came from a poor background. There comes a point when sheer objective standards matter, and one can pass only if one has achieved those standards. That seems an admirable initiative. Again, I hoped that we might hear more from the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, who opened the debate, about the Department's ideas on how that initiative could be extended.

There are two other items on our list of five. The fourth item is skills apprenticeships and better routes from apprenticeships to university. The Minister said that the UCAS points system would include apprenticeships, but that is easier said than done. I have had conversations with UCAS about that, as I am sure the Ministers will have had, but the UCAS application form and website are unclear and there is very little about apprenticeships.

There is a lot of information about the value attached to music grades, for example, and a reference to the value attached to a horsemanship qualification, but trying to track down the value attached to an apprenticeship is not at all easy. UCAS says that its problem, which invokes a separate debate that we have had on other occasions, is that there is such a diversity of training schemes called apprenticeships. The term "apprenticeships" no longer involves simply level 3, but level 2, so it is difficult for UCAS to include apprenticeships automatically on its form. If the Minister, in his winding-up speech, were to flesh out what the other Minister said in her opening speech about exactly how all those apprenticeships will involve UCAS, that would be very interesting. We strongly support such apprenticeships, and I have urged UCAS to do better on identifying them.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, but what is his view on the solution that the panel received in evidence? There has been a huge growth in the number of apprenticeships, and we can argue about whether that is right or wrong, but opening up such opportunities to a mix of in-college and on-the-job training seems to be a broadly good thing. There is, none the less, a transitional problem: when only 0.2 per cent. of apprentices are able to go on to further or higher education, there is at best a silo problem in our training and education system. What would he do about that?

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

We support apprenticeships, but part of the problem is the new broader definition of apprenticeships, which includes level 2 as well as level 3 and is part of the UCAS problem. So far as I know, no other advanced western country calls level 2 "apprenticeships"; by and large that description is reserved for level 3, as it used to be here.

Using some of the Train to Gain budget, we have proposed skills scholarships aimed specifically at funding apprentices to go to university. We made the initial suggestion because the figures are so low. If the Minister were to give us reliable figures, we would appreciate it, because they are hard to pin down. We suggested funding 2,000 apprentices to go to university and take courses that would enable them to develop the skills that they had already displayed in their apprenticeship, and we thought that it would be a very good use of a modest part of the Train to Gain budget.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

We are enjoying what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but is not the real gap between the traditional three to four-year apprenticeship in engineering—the crème de la crème—and the average one-year apprenticeship in retailing and distribution? In between, we need health authorities, local government, universities—everybody—to create apprenticeships so that there is a much broader mix of apprenticeships. Then they will go through into higher education.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

I completely agree, and have nothing to add to that excellent comment. It is one reason why we, through parliamentary questions, have been trying to track the record, not least of Departments and quangos, on apprenticeships. It is a very mixed record indeed, with large swathes of Whitehall not having taken on apprenticeships but giving a very poor performance, which we hope will now improve.

The final item on my list of five barriers to overcome involves opportunities later in life. Many professions tell us that the broader social mix of their recruitment comes from the older people whom they recruit. Sadly, they are able to reach out more widely at that level than they are through the conventional route of 18-year-olds who go to university and are then recruited. Of course, we have to do better with the 18-year-olds and the university route, but opportunities in later life do matter, and we should not forget universities' continuing unhappiness about the equivalent level qualification—ELQ—policy, which means that if someone already has a university qualification in something completely unrelated, and if they want to go back to university and study something else many years later, it is very hard to change career and direction. We should not forget the disappearance of other adult learning places, either.

The Open university, a fantastic institution that does such a good job in spreading access to higher education, has lost £30 million as a result of the ELQ policy. Birkbeck college is an institution with which many on the Labour Benchers have an association: when the ELQ policy was proposed, it lost one third of its students at a cost of £7.8 million. That such institutions, which are particularly devoted to giving people a second chance, were worst hit by the ELQ policy shows that there was a failure to ensure that people have opportunities later in life.

I enjoyed the Minister's speech and I look forward to what Mr. Milburn will say about his report. If his final proposals match the excellent analysis in the opening two reports, we have much to look forward to.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington 3:01 pm, 11th June 2009

It is always a great pleasure to follow Mr. Willetts. At some points in his speech, his insight and knowledge were in danger of creating a progressive consensus in the House; then, however, he lapsed into criticism rather deeper than I would have expected from him. It is also a great pleasure to follow the Minister, whom I congratulate on her appointment to an important post. I know that the work that she is and will be doing on social exclusion, and her knowledge from first-hand experience, will be brought to bear and make an enormous difference to the Government's policy.

I very much welcome this debate, and I thank the Government and the business managers for finding time for it. It is about an important issue. For me at least, how we ensure that as wide as possible a pool of talent gets access and opportunities to pursue a professional career goes to the heart of what a modern Britain should look like. I am proud to have served as part of a Government who have worked so hard over so many years to open up more opportunities to people. One of the things to strike me, following the contribution of the hon. Member for Havant, is that in one sense there is a progressive consensus nowadays in the House. All parties have come to the view that ensuring that Britain is a mobile society is a perfectly legitimate objective—and, indeed, a priority—for public policy.

This debate gives me an opportunity to place on the record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for asking me to chair the panel on fair access to the professions. I also thank my fellow panel members and my excellent Cabinet Office strategy unit secretariat for their hard work.

The debate comes at a particularly timely point in our considerations because we have just finished our call for evidence. As I told my hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman on Monday, when I was before the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which he chairs, I have been staggered by the response. There have been 13,000 pages of evidence from a rich variety of organisations. Most importantly of all, we have heard from young people themselves, who have had some stark, insightful things to say to us. We have also heard from employers and representatives of trade unions, schools, universities, professional organisations and voluntary-sector bodies.

That fantastic response indicates that the broad issue of social mobility and the narrower issue of access to the professions strike a chord in the British psyche. They do so for a number of reasons. First, people nowadays recognise the growing importance of professional employment opportunities. As we speak, one in three of all jobs in the British economy are either managerial or professional. As the Minister said a moment or two ago, the number of such jobs is set to rise dramatically in the years to come. Some of the evidence that we have received suggests that fully nine in 10 of all future job opportunities in this country in the next decade or so will be professional in nature. It is possible that once retirements are taken into account, the country will need to recruit a further 7 million professional workers over the course of the next decade or so. At a time of deep and painful global economic recession, it is very easy to forget that our professions—our armed services, our cultural industries, our doctors, our lawyers—are genuinely among the leaders in the world. We should therefore have confidence in the fact that Britain is incredibly well placed to compete in the more knowledge-based economies that we are bound to see in the years to come.

Secondly, if the trend of recent decades continues into future decades, and we see falling demand for unskilled labour, as we are bound to do, and rising demand for skilled labour, as will probably occur, there is a terrible risk that we will end up with people who, without qualifications or skills, risk being left behind economically and stranded socially. Already, in this city of London, well over half of all jobs are professional jobs—and a jolly good thing too. In my part of the world, the north-east, the proportion is under one third. Unless appropriate action is taken in the years to come, we risk seeing more employment segregation, not less.

Thirdly, people feel that these social developments offer a great opportunity as well as a great challenge. The generation of the late 1950s, of which I am part, were the beneficiaries of a mobility in society that came about because of a change in the economy—what the academics call more room at the top. In simple terms, more service jobs and more professional jobs became available, which benefited both men and women—particularly, perhaps, women, allied with the huge social changes that we saw in the 1960s. However, a more fluid society was not something that simply happened by chance: it happened in part because a big policy choice was made. It came about as a consequence of Government action, not just inevitable economic and social change. Having won a pretty gruelling war in which so many people in our country made such enormous sacrifices, during that decade—the 1950s—there was a shared determination to win the peace.

I suppose that that commitment found its expression in the huge achievements of the post-war Labour Government—universal education, full employment and a modern welfare state. Millions of people received opportunities that they would not otherwise have done—me included. I have been very fortunate in my life. I grew up on a council estate and ended up in the Cabinet. I sometimes worry whether that might still be possible today; our ambition, surely, has to be to make it so, and I believe that we can. Given the huge changes that we are going to see not just in our national economy but in the global economy, we can, provided that we make the right policy choices, have a second great wave of social mobility in our country, where new opportunities for this generation and future generations are opened up.

Fourthly, we have to be candid in this debate. We can discuss to what extent we have reduced inequality or tackled poverty in recent years, but we can accept that there has, at a minimum, been progress: there are far fewer poor people than there were. That is a great achievement. However, two decades after Mrs. Thatcher declared that the closed shop was dead in the workplace, we still have too much of a closed shop society. The way that I characterise it is this: we might have raised the glass ceiling, but we certainly have not, as yet, broken through it. Among the evidence that the hon. Member for Havant and my hon. Friend the Minister referred to is that which we have received about the nature of professional employment. The worrying thing is that despite the many commendable efforts on the part of the professions—all the initiatives, schemes, mentorships and so on—we have seen greater, not less, social exclusivity. It is not just the fact that three in four of our judges are privately educated. It is not just the fact that fully half of our senior civil servants received a private education. It is not even the fact that although only 7 per cent. of the population attend an independent school, fully two thirds of the Members of the House of Lords and one third of the Members of this place were privately educated. It is broader than that.

Over time, social exclusivity has got worse rather than better across all the professions. The panel's first report indicates that the older generation of today's professionals, people born, like I was, about 1958—a long time ago—on average came from families with incomes 17 per cent. above that of the average family. For the younger generation of today's professionals, the people born about 1970, that figure had risen to 27 per cent. That is the generation of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property. On average, today's doctors and lawyers come from families with incomes two thirds above that of the average family. As the hon. Member for Havant interestingly pointed out, guess which profession has become the most socially exclusive over that period? I use only one word—journalism.

There has been a dramatic change, and the weight of that evidence points to one thing. Despite the progress that has been made over recent times, there is an enormous chasm between where we are and where we need to be if we are to realise the social benefits of a huge potential increase in professional employment opportunities in the years to come.

This is not just an issue for those at the bottom of society. Too many able kids from an average income background or from middle-class families find themselves losing out in the race for a professional job, so this is an issue not for the minority in our country but for the majority. It matters to what President Clinton once famously referred to as "the forgotten middle classes". If the aspirations that most hard-working families have for themselves, their children and their communities are thwarted, social responsibility and individual endeavour are inevitably undermined.

What has struck me forcibly during the course of the panel's proceedings, having listened to young people from a wide variety of backgrounds, is the emergence of what I call the "not for the likes of me" syndrome. People might say, "I am thinking of becoming a nurse, but it is not for the likes of me to become a doctor", or "I might go into hairdressing, but I would never consider a career in law". Something quite profound is happening. When one in two kids whose parents are professionals are willing to consider a professional career, that is a fantastic thing. But when only one in six kids from average income backgrounds—not the most disadvantaged—are willing to consider a professional career, surely we have an aspiration gap that we have to find a way of bridging.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I am so excited by the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and the one that preceded it, that I am obliged to intervene to ask whether he agrees that social cohesion is particularly damaged by what he has just described. It is not that people's aspiration or ambitions have changed, but their means of achieving their ambitions seem ever more remote, leaving them discouraged, depressed, even hostile.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

The hon. Gentleman is on to a very important point. One thing that I am absolutely convinced about, not just from anecdotal evidence but from academic evidence, is that the problem is not that young people do not have aspirations, it is that they are blocked in fulfilling them. It is not that the country does not have talent—to coin a phrase, Britain's got talent. It's got lots of talent. The issue is how we can unleash it.

Not everybody will aspire to be, or have the aptitude to be, a doctor or a lawyer—of course not. Not everybody will want to come into this place. However, for those who do, surely our objective as a society must be to ensure an equal opportunity, in the best sense of the phrase, for them to achieve that. I fear that that does not exist today.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

I am fascinated by my right hon. Friend's work in listening to young people. Our Committee has also listened to young people, and we have found that physical mobility is a challenge in our country today. When we had national service, in the period to which my right hon. Friend referred, young working-class men in particular were very mobile—they went around the country and around the world for the first time. More and more young people are now stuck on their estates or in their towns and are not very physically mobile. Middle-class children go away to university and are very mobile. Physical mobility is important in raising aspirations.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

When I compare my kids' experiences and life chances with those of my childhood, it shows that we are living in a different world. It is amazing, and something to cherish about modern society that, by and large, there are fantastic opportunities for more and more people. We live in a world of opportunity. Notwithstanding the problems of economic recession, we live in a world of greater plenty than ever. However, my hon. Friend is right that, at the bottom end, there is ghettoisation of disadvantage. We should all, regardless of political persuasion or ideology, be deeply concerned about that for the reason that Mr. Hayes mentioned: the good of our society. That is what we should be bothered about in this place. I therefore believe that the work of my fellow panel members and that of the hon. Member for Havant on social mobility is so important.

I am pleased that social mobility has become such a cause célèbre in modern political discourse. We have a common problem, to which we might not have common solutions, but we are determined to do something about the dichotomy of opportunity to which my hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman referred.

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Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton

I am sorry to have missed the early part of the debate. I will read it in Hansard and examine the detail of the work of my right hon. Friend's panel. Has he studied of necessity of allowing entry to the professions at more mature ages? Does he recollect from his experience as Secretary of State for Health the advent of the Peninsula medical school and the way in which it opens up opportunities for people to enter the medical profession?

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

Oh happy days! Yes, I do, and I also well remember my hon. Friend's championing of Peninsula's cause. She knows that Sir John Tooke, who does a fantastic job at Peninsula, is one of the panel members. It is not only one of the most progressive but one of the best medical schools in the country—I should have said "and", not "but" in that sentence. It is one of the best because it is one of the most progressive. John is an impressive person who brings great knowledge and insight to the panel's work. My hon. Friend is right. I think that the hon. Member for Havant made the same point in his contribution.

There is a danger in debates on education. There are strong adherents to the importance of early years education, and there are those who say, "What really counts is pre-16", while others say, "In the modern world, where skills are changing ever faster, it's about what happens post-16." However, it is not a case of either/or. We must move from a mindset of educational opportunity having to be about a one-off chance—it is not; it must be a chance throughout life. If ever there were a need to realise the slogan, "lifelong learning", it is now, in the modern world. The world is changing so fast and knowledge is expanding so quickly that if we limit children to a one-off opportunity at 11, 16 or 18, we will do the current and future generations an enormous disservice.

Of course, no single lever can prise open opportunities in the professions and no single organisation can achieve that. The subject is far too complex. It is as much about family networks as careers advice; as much about standards in schools as university admission procedures, and as much about work experience as career development opportunities. The panel is looking at all those aspects and many more, but it might be helpful to the House to know that we are focusing on a handful of issues in particular and to hear where we are in our consideration of them.

First, how do we provide many more young people with practical exposure to the professions at an early enough stage in their education? There is no shortage of fantastic schemes, including school outreach and mentoring schemes, run by fabulous organisations such as the Brightside Trust, the Sutton Trust, the Citizenship Foundation and the Social Mobility Foundation. Exposure to what it means to be a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist or even—heaven help us—a politician and hearing first hand what it means to do the job is particularly important, as we have discussed, for kids who come from families who have no such exposure to professional careers. Such schemes often have a bigger impact on children's future career development than school work experience programmes do, which are crying out for a radical overhaul. Good though the initiatives that I have mentioned are, however, they are pretty fragmented and deeply unco-ordinated. To give one example, only 60 of the 260 combined cadet forces, from which so many future armed service officers are drawn, are based in state schools. The rest are based in independent schools.

That, like so much else, is something that we have to change. So too is the way in which we provide advice and guidance, so that young people can make an informed choice about the career that is right for them. This is the second area on which the panel is rightly focusing attention. Like the hon. Member for Havant, I believe that a fundamental overhaul is needed. We have a more complex labour market than ever before. More than ever, navigating young people through the choices, opportunities and complexities that they now confront requires good careers advice. Yet one survey of students found that three in four were unhappy with the quality of the advice that they had received. A further survey, commissioned by the panel from the very good careers website icould and released today, found that 70 per cent. of under-14-year-olds say that they have had no careers advice and that 45 per cent. of over-14-year-olds say that they have had no advice or very limited advice. Girls rate the advice rather worse than boys do.

During all our proceedings, all our hearings and all our evidence-gathering sessions, I have heard barely one good word about the careers work of the Connexions service. I have no doubt that other aspects of its work are absolutely exemplary. However, I can only conclude that its focus on the small minority of vulnerable young people with deep, entrenched and complex problems is unfortunately distracting it from providing good careers advice to the majority of young people. That is simply not good enough. I know that there has been some change, but in my view the service requires a quite radical rethink. I can tell the House that my panel will be making recommendations on precisely how we should do so.

Thirdly, getting a professional job nowadays requires more than aptitude and ability and more, even, than a qualification. People also have to be able to demonstrate work experience. Four out of five employers say that they go on to employ interns. Internships have become, as it were, a new rung on the modern professional career ladder. All too often, however, internships are handed out on the basis of who someone knows, not what they know. Too often, what counts is family connections, rather than open advertisement. That, too, must change. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, most internships in careers such as law are overwhelmingly concentrated in London and the south-east. Because interns usually have to work for free, many young people from average family backgrounds are simply priced out of the intern market altogether.

Again, that is an area on which the panel will be making recommendations for change.

Fourthly, the way in which employers and universities go about selecting their entrants will of course determine the future social profile of the professions. Some make a big effort to recruit widely; others recruit very narrowly. In the end, it is for employers to decide how they go about recruiting their staff, but whereas nowadays we collect and publish data on the gender and racial make-up of organisations to ensure that those such as the civil service are what they say on the tin—and are equal opportunities employers—we neither collect nor publish comparable data on social background. In my view, we need to think very carefully about that.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Does not that tie in closely with the point made by the Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee about the white working-class youngsters who, with few champions and feeling left out, fare worse in the circumstances that the right hon. Gentleman describes? We have made great progress with minority groups, but little progress with those young people.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

It is important in these debates to ensure that the emphasis is on all groups and not just on some. However, we also have to recognise that different people from different backgrounds have different starting points in life. There is no equality of life chances at the beginning of life, and public policy will quite rightly want to intervene to ensure that life chances are made available subsequently. My point is a simple one, however. I believe that things have fundamentally changed in, for example, the civil service. There was a time when the debate in the civil service centred on its being all white and all male. That might still be overwhelmingly true, but it is less so. What was the change that made the biggest difference? Of course, some will say that it was the changes in legislation that we passed in this place, but what really made the difference was changes in information. That is an area that we need deeply to consider.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

I fear that Quentin Letts will have another go at me for making this point. Let us look at the diversity of the BBC, which it brags about. According to many criteria, including ethnicity and gender, it is a very diverse employer, but when it comes to social class, we see that people who studied in independent schools are hugely over-represented there. I shall now wait to see the Daily Mail.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

Yes, I have a feeling it will be coming my hon. Friend's way.

I guess that we knew that, although it is just a guess. That is the point, I suppose. I guess that we had a hunch about it, and we have some rudimentary data, but they are pretty rudimentary. This is an issue of accountability for public sector bodies, including the BBC, to consider. They are funded from the public purse—from the taxpayer's money. They must ensure that they are as broadly representative as possible of the population as a whole that they serve. However, the only way that we will ever know whether that is happening is by collecting and disseminating the relevant data.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Chair, Children, Schools and Families Committee

I recently wrote an article in the Fabian Review that gave me some notoriety. In it, I pointed out that people who are paid from the public purse, including vice-chancellors, head teachers, the heads of children's services and those who work for the BBC, should be expected to send their children to state schools.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn Labour, Darlington

That is a slightly more contentious point. Is it time for my hon. Friend to leave?

We know that when universities broaden their base for recruitment, it does not lower levels of achievement. Figures from the Higher Education Funding Council show that students from state schools, once they get into university, perform at the same level as—or at a higher level than—students from private schools who might have got higher grades at A-level. The hon. Member for Havant referred to the fantastic scheme at King's college. In my view, it is an exemplar that all universities and employers would do well to heed. Why? Because it contains this simple lesson: it is not ability but opportunity that is unevenly distributed. The job of universities in particular is to ensure that opportunities are as widely distributed as possible, but some would find it hard to make that claim right now.

Fifthly, entry to a professional job increasingly requires a university degree, as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings mentioned. In the old days, as he said, journalists could work their way up from a local paper to Fleet street. Nowadays, Fleet street no longer exists and journalism is a graduate entry profession. Nursing and social care are now joining a long list of professions increasingly becoming graduate entry. There may be, and there often are, very good reasons for that, but there is also the danger that qualification inflation will simply make these professions more socially exclusive than they need to be.

What I find interesting about so much professional work in recent years—Mr. Field rightly defended the professions—can be seen in the teaching profession, which has recently sought to disaggregate and devolve some of its functions to non-graduates, so we now have classroom assistants helping teachers in the classroom. We have health care assistants helping nurses on the wards and we have police community support officers helping police officers on the streets. I think that there is an important lesson to be learned from that, which is how the professions can begin to create new ladders of opportunity by devolving functions down rather than always seeming to take functions and qualification levels up. I can tell the House that my panel is looking at how to extend such opportunities.

Many of the panel's recommendations will, of course, be for the professions to action, and I have seen a lot of willingness on their part to do so. The most progressive parts of the professions are already opening their doors to a wider cohort of talent. I hope that when we produce the report in the autumn, it will very much go with the grain of those efforts. Equally, where there remains evidence of a closed-shop mentality, I hope that we will be fearless in exposing and tackling it. I do not believe that it is only in the country's interest for the professions to fish in a wider pool of talent, as it is in the professions' own interests, too. If the professions are properly to serve the interests of a Britain that is characterised by its rich diversity more than ever before, they, too, need more fully to embrace the notion of diversity. Despite some commendable efforts, that is not, by and large, where I believe they are today.

Achieving that is not just a job for the professions. Of course, they can do a lot more to put their house in order, but what they cannot do is instil in kids an aspiration to pursue a professional career. That has to come from individual citizens, their families and their communities. Neither can the professions create the framework within which individuals will have many more opportunities to realise their aspirations to progress. That is properly the job of the Government.

There is a broader canvas here, which both the hon. Member for Havant and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office touched on in their remarks. In my view—I stress that this is my view and not necessarily that of the panel—it is a canvas on which we need to begin to paint a rather different picture. I said earlier that I am very proud of what this Government have done to open up more opportunities to more people. Like many others, I would have liked progress to have been faster, but it is no mean achievement when the Sutton Trust can report that after decades of social mobility declining in our country, it has now at the very least bottomed out.

That is progress. It is also progress when primary schools in the poorest areas have improved almost twice as fast as those in the most affluent, and when in the secondary school sector, city academies—despite having twice the number of kids on free school meals—are improving their performance at four times the national average. It is also progress when, notwithstanding our debate about early years education, this country has finally begun to learn the lessons from the Scandinavian countries where universal child care has for many years brought enhanced mobility and narrowed inequality.

This, for me, is a fundamental point: the desire to increase social mobility cannot be a substitute for the desire for a more equal society. It is no coincidence that countries as different as Sweden, Australia and the Netherlands are among the most socially fluid in the world. They are also among the most fair in the world. That is why the Government's efforts—despite the obvious challenges—to abolish child poverty are so important, and that is why I hope all parties in the House will make similar firm commitments, backed by firm resources, to achieve that objective.

Breaking the relationship between class origin and class destination is a battle for the long term, which requires an holistic approach. Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel prize for economics, once rightly said families can suffer not only economic but cultural, educational and housing disadvantage. We need to make a fundamental break from the approach that has so often dominated policy in the past. We need to move from the traditional welfare state approach, which seeks to correct the outcome of market-driven inequalities such as family poverty or low wages retrospectively, towards an approach that proactively reduces inequality and advances mobility by tackling the roots of those problems rather than their symptoms. That is not a job for any one part of the Government; it is a job for the whole Government.

Let me give an example. We know that in a modern, knowledge-based economy, education will become ever more the motor of mobility, but despite the good progress of recent years, the attainment gap remains far too wide. A child who is not receiving free school meals is still much more likely to get five good GCSEs than one who is. Less than half the number of black Afro-Caribbean boys get five good GCSEs, although the national average is closer to two thirds.

Like many others, I applaud the Government's efforts to break that cycle of educational disadvantage. City academies, trust schools, a focus on personalised learning and the new soft skill development described in the Rose review are making a difference, and I think that they will continue to do so in future. However, I believe that we need to do more still to ensure that good schools are just as accessible to poorer parents as they are to the better-off. The truth is that the more wealth people have, the more choice they are given. If they are wealthy enough, they can opt their children out of poorer schools and take them to private schools. I have no objection to that. Alternatively, they can supplement state education with private tuition, or use the most potent of all market mechanisms and buy a house adjacent to a good school.

By and large, selection by academic ability has disappeared from our education system, but let us not pretend that selection by social position has disappeared. Unfortunately, we still have an education system in which affluence buys attainment, and that must restrict mobility. There are 25,000 schools in the country. In the overwhelming majority standards are rising, but in 2007, 638 secondary schools containing around 600,000 kids were failing to secure five good GCSEs for 30 per cent. of their pupils. Overwhelmingly, those schools have been consistently underperforming for many years, and guess what? They are located in the areas of greatest social disadvantage.

I have long advocated that, in addition to the raft of measures that the Government have rightly introduced to improve standards and discipline and provide good teachers, and in addition to all the other structural changes that have been made, one further step should be taken. Kids and their parents in disadvantaged areas must be given precisely what kids and parents in more affluent areas get, which is more than preference: it is choice.

My proposal to do so, in which I have long believed, is for those parents to be given an education credit—some call it a voucher; I am not bothered what it is called, but what it does—worth perhaps 150 per cent. of the cost of educating their child, so that they can take their child from the school that is failing to deliver good results to another state school that is delivering results. I know that there will be many objections and concerns about such a proposal, but I do not believe that it is right—or that it should be tolerated—to have a situation where too many disadvantaged kids are still let down by the schools system. Overwhelmingly, I repeat, school standards are rising, but sadly the areas where they rise least and where most progress needs to be made are in the poorest areas. The only way in which I believe that can be done is by empowering parents to have greater choice.

That brings me to my final point. I do not believe that we will get social mobility moving in this country if we think that somehow or other it is purely economic distribution that is our problem. We will not get social mobility moving if we think that it is only wealth that is unevenly distributed. It is also power. When you are poor you have precious little power. The sense of hopelessness that clouds the poorest communities in our country grows out of disempowerment. If Britain is to get moving again socially, people need to be able not just to get a job, training or child care but to enjoy far greater control over, and have a bigger say in, how they lead their lives. Beating crime, creating jobs and rebuilding estates all help, but I have long believed that that cloud of despondency can only be dispelled through a modern participatory politics that allows both local communities and individual citizens more evenly and directly to share in power.

One thing is certain. Modern Britain cannot work if it harbours a closed shop mentality. Our economy will not prosper unless we harness the talent of all of those who are able to and aspire to make a contribution. Our society will not work unless people feel that their endeavours and efforts are suitably rewarded. That is why I hope that the work of the panel that I am honoured to chair will help renew our determination in this place systematically to unblock every obstacle that stands in the way of individuals being able to realise their own aspirations to progress. That for me is what modern government is all about and that is why I very much welcome this debate.

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Photo of Jennifer Willott Jennifer Willott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 3:43 pm, 11th June 2009

It is a daunting prospect to follow such a knowledgeable and interesting speech from Mr. Milburn and to have to confess that I am one of the third of Members of this House educated in an independent school. I am feeling waves of class guilt this afternoon. I welcome the Minister to her new role.

Clearly the debate is topical. All three main parties have had commissions of some kind or instituted research into social mobility. It is clearly an important issue to people all across the political spectrum. As the matter has been discussed across the spectrum, some interesting views have been expressed in blogs and in political commentary in newspapers and the media.

There have been mutterings from some quarters that wealthy parents obviously will have children who do better because the parents are likely to be more educated, more intelligent and more motivated and will expect their children to do better, and that that is the real explanation for the lack of social mobility in Britain. There may be something in that, but there are also clear signs that children in Britain from disadvantaged backgrounds who show great potential are being let down. A lot of statistics have been flying back and forth this afternoon, but one in particular sends shivers down my spine: tests on pre-school children at age three show that the initially least bright children from the richest fifth of households overtake the initially brightest children from the poorest fifth of households between the ages of five and 10. That shows not only that there are many influences at play other than genes, but that that happens remarkably fast. I find it horrifying that from the age of three in just two years we see a marked change in children's opportunities.

Education and upbringing are an influence. Those who get a superior education in a school that does not have discipline problems and where the other pupils are keen to learn will have an advantage that sticks with them into later life, and the impact of a private education is much greater than we would expect. For example, students who have a private education are 55 times more likely to be accepted into one of the five best universities in the UK. That is far higher than we would expect as a result of normal opportunity, genetics, parents' expectations and so forth.

The Government are keen to tackle this issue; they have been talking about it, and they have put in place many measures over the past few years. However, the same barriers are still in place, and some of them are even greater than before. Each year, 60,000 people who were in the top 20 per cent. of their school cohort do not reach higher education. That is a lot of people whose potential is being wasted as they enter adulthood. Although the Government have focused on education, there has not been enough progress towards making a step change.

There is considerable evidence that the introduction and expansion of universal education systems in the UK and broadly across western Europe have not led to increases in relative social mobility.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Indeed, the hon. Lady might go further: I would go so far as to say that the expansion of university education over my lifetime has cemented social division.

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Photo of Jennifer Willott Jennifer Willott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

There is an argument for that. Some of the statistics on graduate training show that that has led to certain divisions, and the increase in people going through university has led to the possibility for professions to insist on a degree. However, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman if he is saying that it is not a good thing to encourage more people to acquire more qualifications through further or higher education; we should all be striving to achieve that.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I was making the point not that that is a bad thing, but that it is a good thing that is largely the preserve of one class of people. Progress in working-class people entering higher education has been stultifyingly slow. Consequently, most middle-class young people now achieve in terms of higher education, whereas most working-class people do not. That is highly injurious to social mobility.

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Photo of Jennifer Willott Jennifer Willott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

There is certainly a class divide in which children go to university and the universities to which they go, and I shall return to that issue shortly.

I agree with the Minister about the importance of early-years education. There is a lot of evidence showing that if we do not sort out some problems at a very early stage, it is significantly harder and more expensive, although not impossible, to solve them later. Making the investment at a very early stage pays dividends in the long run by helping children to fulfil their potential later in life.

I have concerns, however, that where investment has been put in at an early stage, such as in children's centres and Sure Start projects, there is evidence that, contrary to the Government's expectations, middle-class parents have been much better at accessing that additional support than the families at which it is supposed to be targeted. In an unexpected way, the disadvantage of some of the most disadvantaged families has thus been further entrenched.

One Liberal Democrat proposal that could help to address this problem is to increase further the availability of free child care. I have encountered a number of constituency cases where people have been unable to return to training and education after having children because they are not able to access child care tax credits unless they are working. There would be significant advantages to providing wider access to free, very high-quality child care for parents who want to go back to study and to train, particularly those who have not had the opportunity to do so the first time around. I am thinking, for example, of young mothers whose children are likely to start off disadvantaged if that is not provided.

One of the reasons why such provision could have a significant impact is that parents who have a low level of skills are less likely to be able to help their children as they go through school. Some 5 million adults in Britain are classified as functionally illiterate, and 17 million adults have basic numeracy problems. Clearly, their children are going to have fewer advantages when they go through the schools system, because their parents are able to provide less support for doing homework and so on. No matter how bright the children are, another layer of disadvantage is ingrained.

As has been discussed, such circumstances also have an impact on expectations. There is evidence that the primary source of expectations in life is one's parents—that seems to be common sense—but the surrounding community and one's school peers also have a significant impact. Someone whose parents went to university is much more likely to expect to go there too. Other parents want what they did not have for themselves and therefore really push their children to go to university, to progress and to get into the professions, but a worrying number of parents do not have any higher expectations for their children than they have for themselves.

Last month, I spoke to a lady in south Wales who had just encouraged her daughter to leave school as soon as she turned 16 and could do so—before she did her GCSEs. The mother took that approach because she had hated school, did not trust teachers and thought school was a complete waste of time. That leaves two generations of a family with no qualifications. That is such a waste of potential, and we really need to find ways of circumventing it and ensuring that there remains a way to motivate young people who have potential and to give them expectations and aspirations. We also need to help people who have those things to see where that could lead and to develop.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I promise that this is my last intervention, because it might eat into my own time, and that would be monstrous. I invite the hon. Lady to make a more subtle point about the difference between expectation and ambition. It may well be that people have ambitions and aspirations but do not have expectations. Perhaps that is the problem.

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Photo of Jennifer Willott Jennifer Willott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Absolutely, and I think that parents have a very important role to play in that. They may want a lot for their children yet still not believe it is possible for them to achieve it. In such cases, schools and teachers have a very important role to play in building expectations in the children of what can be achieved.

The Minister and the right hon. Member for Darlington mentioned some of the figures on parents' and young people's expectations of going into the professions. There is a more basic difference in people's expectations of their children going to university. More than a third of parents in the A and B socio-economic groups expect that their children will go to university, whereas the figure is about one in 10 for parents in groups D and E. That marked difference goes back to the point that Mr. Hayes has just made. If expectation is not built in, even if somebody has the ambition to do something they will not necessarily have the ability to take the final step to do it. We need to overcome that by creating other role models or children at both primary and secondary school. Leaving it all to secondary school is too late. We need expectation, ambition and aspiration from a much earlier stage.

Much work has been done to try to get inspirational teachers into schools in deprived areas, and that can make a big difference. My mother-in-law was a maths teacher in a very run-down area of Liverpool, although she was not from that background. Having a diverse range of teachers in schools in deprived areas makes a big difference to pupils who can see different ways for their lives to progress. We need to ensure that we replicate that across the country.

A role could also be played by former students of such schools who have been successful—perhaps who have gone to university and got professional jobs. They could try to encourage more young people to follow them in their success. We have already heard about schemes that have been introduced in universities, schools and independent bodies, but there are some interesting schemes that are nothing to do with career progression. For example, Allen & Overy, the law firm, has a scheme in which its lawyers are encouraged to help in schools in east London, perhaps providing basic help with reading. That helps the children, because they get personal attention from someone who focuses on them and makes them feel important. It also breaks down barriers if they see that someone who works as a corporate lawyer in the City of London is a normal human being, doing a job that they could perhaps do themselves. It brings the job closer to the young person so that they see that it is something that they could do. It is important to replicate schemes like that to try to break down some of the barriers that are in place.

Other hon. Members have mentioned the role of careers advisers. I agree that they have a crucial role to play, and at a much earlier stage. I was given my first careers advice when I was about 17 and a half—although the advisers did not recommend that I enter Parliament. By that stage, I had already made choices that would limit what I could do, and we need to look at the choices that young people have to make and give them more options.

Universities could also do a lot more to try to encourage people from more unusual backgrounds to think about attending. My constituency covers Cardiff university, which has a scheme that involves a lot of outreach work in schools in the much more deprived parts of the city. Students work with young people as, effectively, classroom assistants, trying to encourage them to think about university and their options. In particular, female engineering students go into schools to try to encourage young women to think about career options such as engineering that they often will not have considered as a possibility. Given the geographical spread of universities across the country, there is a huge opportunity for them to do more outreach work in schools nearby to encourage young people. There are some very good examples of such schemes already, and it is one important way of breaking down some of the expectational barriers.

Many young people, especially boys, do not pull their lives together and work out what they want to do until they have left school. If we expect everyone to rely on careers advice during their teens, too many people will fall through the gaps. Hon. Members have already mentioned the need for flexible routes into the professions. Some professions are good at doing that. For example, it is still relatively easy—although less common than it used to be—to go into accountancy through a non-graduate route. Nor is it necessary to be a graduate to pursue Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development qualifications. But more could be done to use people's work experience. As the right hon. Member for Darlington pointed out, there are many divisions in some areas, such as PCSOs working with the police and classroom assistants working with teachers, and it is a big step for those who go into the non-graduate jobs to progress to the other roles.

We need to consider making it much easier for PCSOs to use their experience to pursue a career in the police, and for classroom assistants to move into teaching. We must recognise that if they have the ability, the experience that they get on the job can be just as useful—if not even more valuable—as university in enabling them to fulfil a career that would otherwise be considered a graduate-only job. A lot of work could be done to help create career paths that would enable people to move, such as having fewer graduate posts so that people who do not have the opportunity to go to university or who realise later on in life what they want to do can progress into the professions.

Quite a bit has already been said about the need for work experience and internships, and about the barriers that they put up. Clearly, some people find that difficult to access through the necessary contacts or find it expensive. The cost is probably one of the biggest issues for a lot of people from disadvantaged areas. We are just as guilty in this place. A lot of researchers find their work by doing volunteer internships and working in an MP's office, and that puts such a career out of the reach of an awful lot of young people. We need to consider how we recruit staff and try to encourage other people to apply. Internships and work experience are an easy way to get free labour for many of the professions, but they should not be seen as that—because they can be, barriers are being put up that do significant damage to the professions in the long run.

The cost of internships and so on is not the only cost that puts people off. A lot of the professional training takes longer than other routes into work. Medicine requires a five-year degree, and law a three-year degree followed by one or two years of training. Not only do people face the additional cost of studying for a longer period of time, but they have to put off until later their ability to start earning. That makes it difficult for some people even to contemplate going into those careers. It is just too big a step for them to take right at the beginning. That is one reason why it should be easier to get into those careers later on. Those who had the aspiration at a young age but found the financial barrier too great at the age of 18 would be able to find other ways in through working that enabled them to reach the same end result.

It is also important that we flag up that this is not just about education. The right hon. Member for Darlington mentioned some of the other great barriers that prevent people from disadvantaged backgrounds from being able to progress into professional roles. Elements as basic as expectations and the drive to succeed are affected by other factors as people are growing up. It is not just parents' expectations that affect people's views and aspirations, but those of friends at school and of the community.

One thing that has had a significant impact on people's expectations and aspirations over the past few decades has been segregated social housing. It has exacerbated a lot of the problems in areas that are blighted by crime, family problems and health problems, but there is also a lot of evidence that negative forms of social capital have built up in certain geographical areas that are often associated with social housing. There is much more likely to be a culture of worklessness, higher levels of antisocial behaviour and higher levels of drug abuse. There are likely to be a lack of positive role models in the community, negative peer pressure and a poverty of ambition around people as they grow up, and that has had a significant impact on large numbers of communities across the UK.

That situation is very difficult to unpick, because so many different influences pull down the young people growing up in those communities. We can knock down one barrier by giving them a good education, but if we do not solve the other problems there are still many barriers to overcome. It makes it much more challenging for them to progress out of the social environment in which they have grown up.

A lot of practical problems are associated with areas where there are concentrations of social housing. For instance, access to private transport is significantly lower, and public transport is often not very good either. That presents a simple, physical barrier to studying, going to job interviews or to working outside the immediate area. Such areas also tend to have poorer-quality public services—not just in education, but in the provision of health, leisure facilities and the other things that children need for self-confidence and a belief in their ability to progress. For instance, it has been shown that sporting activities can have a big impact on young people's ability to work in teams. In turn, that gives them self-confidence and improves their ability to progress, but lack of appropriate facilities can be another disadvantage for people trying to get into work.

The right hon. Member for Darlington talked about ghettos, and I have described how people in severely deprived areas are affected by practical disadvantages in terms of education, health provision and transport. Young people from such areas are more likely to have lower birth weights and to exhibit later behavioural conditions, and to begin primary school with lower levels of personal, social and emotional development. The fact that they are also likely to have higher levels of communication, language and literacy problems means that even the ones with high intelligence and great potential at an early age are held back. Even if we discount the other factors affecting their lives and concentrate on education, it is very difficult for such young people to break out of their circumstances.

I turn now to the question of broader inequality in society that the right hon. Member for Darlington raised at the end of his contribution. Social mobility is not the only problem in that regard, as increasing inequality across society as a whole also plays a part. In 1991, the richest 1 per cent. of people owned 17 per cent. of the nation's wealth, but that proportion had risen to 23 per cent. by 2002. The gap is getting wider.

There has been a huge amount of research internationally into equal and unequal societies. We know that the more unequal a society, the more unhappy it is. We also know that unequal societies have more of almost every social problem, from a greater incidence of teenage pregnancies to higher murder rates, and that the standard of health across the community is less good. As was noted earlier, inequality also generates high levels of what could be called social jealousy or frustration.

In more equal societies, people have more chance to thrive because of their intellect, with their parents' backgrounds being less important in that regard. However, there is a clear link between inequality and social mobility: in all countries, children born of more educated parents are more literate than those from uneducated homes—that is common sense—but the gap between children with uneducated parents and those with educated parents is much smaller in more equal countries than it is in unequal countries such as the UK. In other words, in more equal countries, the built-in disadvantage for children from uneducated, illiterate households is much smaller.

It is to be expected that in all countries there will some differential, based on parental background, in the proportion of young people who go to university and progress into the professions, but the gap in the UK is much wider than could normally be explained by reference to genes, upbringing and so on. All the evidence shows that bright children from disadvantaged areas are being let down by the systems that we have at the moment. In school, they are overtaken at a very early stage by their less bright but wealthier counterparts. They are less likely to go into higher or further education, and they are far less likely to enter a profession. The changes made to education over the years have not made enough of a difference.

I have five, quick suggestions about what would make a difference. The first concerns early-years education, which I have already mentioned. We need much wider availability of really high-quality early-years education that not only enables parents to work, to get trained or to pursue further education, but helps children to develop, and helps to even out some of the disadvantages that they might face right at the start of life. Secondly, we need to look at the housing mix so that we can inject more opportunity and aspiration into deprived areas and break up the deprivation cycle that is pulling people down.

Thirdly, Liberal Democrat policy is to introduce a pupil premium, which would mean that children from disadvantaged backgrounds had more money attached to them. It would follow them into whatever school they went to, which would mean that the finances were in the school to help provide additional support that might be needed. That would make such a child much more financially attractive to a school. If a school gets more money for taking such a child, it would be an incentive for it to do so. That policy might help to ensure a broader mix of backgrounds among young people in schools.

Fourthly, we need to reduce the financial barriers to higher and further education. That does not just mean looking at internships and so on; it also means considering tuition fees and the cost of going to university. For some young people, that hurdle is just too high.

The final issue is non-graduate routes into professions. I am sure that other people will talk about that, too. As has already been said this afternoon, that is not just an issue for the individuals concerned, although it is a criminal waste of human potential in a lot of cases. As a country, we need the best people to be in the top roles. We need the best people as our top soldiers, Cabinet Ministers, doctors and lawyers. If we do not make sure that those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds who show potential are able to get into those jobs, we are all missing out.

I really look forward to seeing the report that the right hon. Member for Darlington is to bring forward. Today, he mentioned a lot of practical suggestions; I hope that we will all be able to pull together behind them, because the issue is not party political. It is a matter in which we all, as citizens of the UK, have a huge stake. Fortunately, it is right at the top of the political agenda of all three parties, and I hope that we can see progress over the next 12 months.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne 4:12 pm, 11th June 2009

This is a truly uplifting debate. I was wondering what I would do in Parliament today, and I looked at the Order Paper and noticed that Mr. Milburn was going to speak. He gave one of the best speeches I have heard in this place in the four years for which I have been a Member of Parliament. It is a great privilege to take part in this debate.

Our routes of travel may be different, but most Members of Parliament want to get this country to the same destination. I did not go into politics as a prosperous, middle-class man to ensure that other people did not enjoy my advantages. I went into politics to make sure that as many people as possible could have and enjoy the advantages that I had and continue to have. I represent a Hertfordshire seat, but Hertfordshire is not simply the sunlit leafy uplands of the home counties; there are many poor parts of Hertfordshire, albeit perhaps not as many as in London. However, there are deprived parts of the county.

When I visit the schools, particularly the primary schools, in the difficult areas, it is wonderful to see all the shiny, smiley faces of the young people—the four, five, six and seven-year-olds—who are busily learning, creating, and absorbing the information around them. They are served by dedicated, hard-working teachers, but the real sadness is that when I talk to the teachers, I find that they can already identify the young people in their care who will struggle to make a success of their lives. All that goodness and all those smiles, yet not all those young children will go on to achieve great things, although the potential is there when they are young. We politicians in this place need to make sure that we allow that potential to blossom and flower.

I had the advantage of an extremely good education. I was lucky: my parents could afford to send me to a good school, and of course I did moderately well in my exams. I am concerned, however, about the gap between youngsters who go to Eton and the best public schools in this country, and youngsters who go to difficult comprehensives, where getting an education is difficult, not because they do not want it but because the circumstances in which it is offered are difficult, with less motivated classmates and parents. For years I thought that it would be wrong in every way to discriminate against children who went to Eton; I thought that someone who got four A*s at Eton should be guaranteed a place at Oxford, Cambridge or one of the other great universities of this country. But at last I am beginning to realise that perhaps three Bs from an inner-city comprehensive may be worth more than three or four A*s from Eton. It may not always be the case, but such a child may well have more potential to go on and achieve true greatness than the child who is spoon-fed at one of our great public schools.

I do not mean any disrespect to our public schools, but I was travelling out to France and, finding myself sitting next to two wonderful young men who were teachers at Eton, I said, "What's it like teaching these young people?" They replied, "It's easy: they're self-motivating; they're programmed to achieve; they compete with each other; there's no view in their mind that they will fail; they're an absolute joy to teach." Those two young men were truly charming, and I wish them every success in the world.

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Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and is referring to a philosophy in which I have always believed. In fact, Harvard university—the alma mater both of the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property, Mr. Lammy, and of myself—makes huge attempts in its admissions process to look not just at the kids who go to the private schools in New York or Boston. Its whole admissions policy is geared to looking at kids from Watts or Harlem to see how they have performed relative to their peer group, not to kids from private schools. Harvard takes them in with the view that, through its "greenhouse effect", they can then go on to achieve greatness. That does not always work, but we should think about bringing that philosophy to our higher education institutions a little more.

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Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Conservative, Broxbourne

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I totally agree with that philosophy. I should like to see more of it in this country.

We cannot socially engineer a perfect solution; it is not within our gift in this place today. However, collectively—we can have robust and passionate disagreement, but we can also come together for this purpose—we can have the very highest aspirations for the young people of this country.

I realise that we politicians are not in good odour, but I am so lucky, because in my constituency there is a wonderful young lady aged 16 who wrote to all the main political parties saying, "I'm interested in politics; I'd like to get involved," and, thank God, we were the first party to get back in touch with her. She is a truly remarkable young woman and she comes from a loving home. I do not call it a disadvantaged home; she just comes from a home where she has had fewer advantages than I had. She is a carer to members of her family, but despite that, was also Hertfordshire's volunteer of the year two years ago. She is the No. 1 academic performer in her school, a truly wonderful person who will go on to be twice if not three times the person I am. That is just fabulous. I want more people who have not had the advantages that Charles Walker has had to go on to be twice, three times and four times the person I am, and I want many of those people to live in my constituency.

As I said a few moments ago, this is a truly uplifting debate. It may not be well attended, but I think that the people in the Public Gallery have walked in on something very special, and it has been a real honour to take part.

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Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:19 pm, 11th June 2009

Like my hon. Friend Mr. Walker, I was not expecting to speak in this debate, but its title captured my imagination. My mother was from the south Bronx and left school in her early teens to make ties. My father was from Newark, New Jersey, and the only job he could get was breaking up the ground prior to the construction of the runway at Newark airport. Unfortunately, he died at an early age. My mother came over here and married an Englishman. I then had great opportunities that I might not have had in my previous life. Today, here I am—the hon. Member for Braintree. Social mobility has worked to my advantage, and this debate is important. I want to focus on some of the issues that have arisen in the 11 years or so since the Government came to power.

In 1997 social mobility was heralded as part of the ideological bedrock of the Government. Tony Blair himself said:

"If we are in politics for one thing, it is to make sure that all children are given the best chance in life."

All of us, on both sides of the House, believe that. The current Prime Minister echoes the sentiment, promising us a social mobility "crusade".

However, the rhetoric and promises of the Government have, unfortunately, run aground on the rocks of reality. Between 1998 and 2006 the number of families living in severe poverty increased by 400,000. Furthermore, child poverty, after housing costs, rose by 100,000 between 2006-07 and 2007-08. As the full effects of the recession continue to unfurl, I expect that the situation for those already in poverty, or those teetering on the brink, will deteriorate further.

Social mobility has stalled; the class divide remains. Thousands of children are being deprived of the opportunity of a better life. The Government have claimed to be the champion of social mobility, but they have fundamentally failed to understand the problem. We do not make people's lives better by telling them that they have a legal right to a better life, by papering over the cracks or by addressing the symptoms and not the causes. The Government need to understand that the only way to give people a better chance in life is to tackle the root causes of the problem and build pathways of opportunity out of the cycle of deprivation. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith on the work that he has done on the issue through the Centre for Social Justice, which he founded.

Too many children are born with wholly unequal life chances. The best possible start in life comes with a stable family life and a stable income. As a start, abolishing the couple penalty in the tax credit system would certainly help. Child poverty is a serious impediment to social mobility. The Government have set a commendable target to halve it by 2010, but their track record suggests that they are unlikely to achieve that goal. They have already missed their 2005 target to reduce child poverty by a quarter from 1998-99 levels. Furthermore, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that, on the basis of their current policies, the Government will miss their 2010 target as well. I say that with regret.

The inequalities that persist throughout the education system begin even before a child first enters the classroom. I congratulate Mr. Milburn on his work on the panel on fair access to the professions. However, notwithstanding the points that he made earlier, in 2007 the Sutton Trust, founded by my friend Peter Lampl, said that despite 10 years of a Labour Government the best schools remained socially selective—hardly a glowing epitaph for a Government claiming to be the champion of social mobility.

The Conservative policy of making money available for children from the poorest backgrounds through a pupil premium and of ensuring that extra funds follow those pupils to the school that educates them, would mean that wherever they go to school, disadvantaged children would have the extra support that they need. We also need to target deprived schools, which can become ghettos of disillusionment for many who have untapped talents to succeed in life—a point admirably made by my hon. Friend Mr. Walker. More money in deprived schools would pay for higher-quality teaching and ensure that help is targeted to where it is needed most. The Sutton Trust has found that the association between adults' education and that of their children is stronger in Britain than in other developed nations. A decent and equitable standard of education can set a child on the right path towards a profession and give not only them, but future generations, a chance to escape the debilitating cycle of deprivation. The upward trajectory of social mobility begins, first and foremost, with education. Young people's time at school and at home helps to shape their aspirations.

Worryingly, the panel on fair access to the professions found that professionals typically grew up in families with incomes well above that of the average family, and that only one in five young people from an average income background and one in eight from a poorer background aspire to be professionals. Young people are not being given the support and advice to direct them along the education and talent development pathways that could lead them to a better life. Already, seven in 10 young people are unhappy with the careers support they receive. We must tap this reservoir of potential in young people from lower-income homes—not just for their own sake, but for the sake of the country's future. By 2020, there are expected to be 90 per cent. fewer unskilled jobs and 50 per cent. more professional jobs in Britain. This is an enormous opportunity finally to make some real progress on social mobility, and the Government should have seized on it long ago.

I would suggest that the Government reflect on some of our proposals if they are not to miss this golden opportunity. A massive expansion in the provision of real apprenticeships at A-level standard could create 100,000 additional training places annually, and a new all-ages careers service and a professional careers adviser in every secondary school and college would help to tap the potential out there. We have also pledged to invest £20 million by the third year of a Conservative Government to provide more than 1,000 bursaries for new university places every year. That would extend to part-time study, and could be decided on in conjunction with employers. However, it is important to remember that social inequalities can persist and continue to inhibit social mobility right through higher education and beyond. When seven in 10 of the top graduate recruiters target only 20 of our country's universities, we can see this as a systemic problem.

We must realise that it is never too late for social mobility, but we must also be able to accept when policies simply are not working. The new deal, one of this Government's flagship policies, has failed to get people back into work and failed to improve people's life chances. For example, in 2008 just 29 per cent. of new deal participants had gone on into employment. For all its hype, the new deal is more of a revolving door back to benefits than a fast track to social mobility; last year, two in every five participants returned immediately back to benefits. That cannot be good. Fully one third of the participants in the new deal for young people have been on the programme at least once before, and 50,000 new deal participants have been on it four or more times. For them, the new deal offers a constant way of life rather than a stepping stone to improve their opportunities.

Welfare requires radical reform if it is to begin to be a tool of personal progress and advancement rather than a constant crutch. Every claimant able to work should be engaged in full-time activity as part of their back-to-work process, including mandatory community work for the long-term unemployed. We also need much tougher sanctions for those not willing to return to work. Private providers of welfare-to-work services should have the freedom to innovate and think outside the box, and be paid by the results they achieve.

It seems that the Prime Minister, who describes himself as

"a child of the first great wave of post-war social mobility", has forgotten where he came from. Under his Government, social mobility has stalled. Today we have a culture in which poverty of hope and poverty of aspiration still prevail. No child should be held back by their background. We need as a matter of urgency both education reform and welfare reform, to ensure that we bring about the necessary change in our society so that every child and teenager can aspire to, and achieve, their life's dreams.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 4:30 pm, 11th June 2009

I am delighted to take part in this debate on this important subject. Like Mr. Milburn, I am a beneficiary of the social mobility available to those born in 1958. I am delighted to participate, even though it means missing my youngest son Edward's fifth birthday party. With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall wish Edward a happy birthday on behalf of you and the whole House.

Education changes life chances, because the skills and knowledge that people acquire through learning give them the chance to prosper. More eloquently, one of my heroes, John Ruskin, said:

"Education is the leading of human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them".

Even before the recession began to bite, we were failing to help too many people do their best and be the best that they could be.

We should go further than the right hon. Gentleman suggested. It is not enough to redistribute opportunity; we must redistribute advantage. The uncomfortable truth is that we have not done enough to expand access to the professions, partly because we have not done enough to extend access to higher education. Opportunity for some has not led to opportunity for all. The reason why I described the expansion of the education sector as having cemented social division is that our failure to expand opportunities for those from under-represented groups, who do not typically tend to get to university, coupled with graduate recruitment into the professions, has meant that the less advantaged, cut adrift, see opportunity drifting away from them.

In 2005, as my hon. Friend Mr. Newmark pointed out, the Sutton Trust pointed out that people born in 1970 were less likely to have moved between social classes than those born in the mutual year of birth of the right hon. Member for Darlington and myself, 1958. As my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said in his opening remarks, the problem has been exacerbated rather than countered by public policy assumptions—over the lifetime of more than one Government.

In the space of 12 years, a child born into poverty has become less likely, not more, to escape the consequences of their birth. Behind that change has been a rise in educational inequality. Young people from the poorest income groups increased their graduation rate by just 3 percentage points between 1981 and the late 1990s, compared with a rise of some 26 per cent. for those from the richest 20 per cent. of families. The clear conclusion reached by the authors of the Sutton Trust's report was that

"the expansion of higher education in the UK has benefited those from richer backgrounds far more than poorer young people."

It is still more dispiriting, as my hon. Friend Mr. Willetts noted, that a raft of Government measures and a deluge of spin seem not to have made much difference, as a recent Cabinet Office report was forced to conclude. As has already been quoted, it stated:

"Broadly, social mobility is no greater or less since 1970".

The latest statistics, released just last week, showed that the number of undergraduates from lower social and economic groups was actually falling. If we failed to expand opportunities when the economy was booming, how can we possibly do so when 100,000 people every month are losing their jobs?

I am not an adherent of laissez-faire. Indeed, as many hon. Members know, I am not a liberal of any kind. I believe that Governments can and do make a positive difference, and, like the right hon. Member for Darlington, I believe that they have a responsibility to do just that.

Governments can influence people's lives; they can change people's lives for the better by laying the foundations for a stronger, broader-based economy and social order, in which people can move more straightforwardly. To do that, we must give people the opportunity to study, to acquire skills and improve their chances to change their lives. Critically, we must give them the wherewithal to do that; wherewithal, not lack of ambition, is the problem. Although the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property and I agree about much, I think that we probably disagree about that, in nuance if not in substance. I am being as generous as I can, but I shall doubtless hear more about that when he sums up. The critical point about wherewithal is providing the right sort of quality advice and guidance, a subject to which I shall revert shortly and about which my hon. Friend the Member for Havant spoke so eloquently.

However, we must also rethink our perception of study. Instead of forcing people to fit the education system, we must make the education and training system fit people's lives. We will not broaden access to higher education as long as we think that the full-time, three-year university degree is the only or the best way in which to study. Woody Allen—you did not expect to hear from him today, Madam Deputy Speaker—once said that

"80 per cent. of success is showing up".

However, people need to know where to show up. Wherewithal, not aspiration, is lacking. There are high ambitions, but low expectations. People aspire to much because they know that more skilling, training and education is likely to help them prosper, but they do not expect to achieve that because they know too that most of their fellows do not.

It is important to provide people with the information they need to decide when, where and how to fulfil their ambitions. We should deliver higher education at a place, time and pace that meets people's needs. We should recognise that increasing participation does not apply only to 18 to 30-year-olds but the whole of our society.

Recent Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills research on social mobility—I am not sure whether it is rather vulgar now to mention DIUS, but I will anyway—suggests that there is

"strong evidence of significant returns to degree-level qualifications gained in later life."

Yet the number of first-time mature entrants to HE from all social classes is falling. Lifelong learning provision in higher education is being decimated by the Government's misguided decision to cut funding for equivalent level qualifications.

Last month, a report warned that adult education in HE is

"on the verge of extinction", with the universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Durham, Exeter, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton and Surrey all scaling back or shutting their lifelong learning departments. As hon. Members know—I say "Members", and as I look around, I see the press release emanating from my office: "Hayes galvanises packed House!"—the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has pointed out repeatedly that approximately 1.3 million adult learning places have been lost. Yet people often find their way back to learning through non-accredited study, for example, women returners, people without a previous successful history of learning, mature learners and disadvantaged learners, such as people with special needs and disabled learners, whom my hon. Friend John Bercow mentioned at the beginning of the debate.

Lifelong learning provision, the loss of which I lament, is critical because it directly affects people such as those not in education, employment or training. We discussed NEETs at the beginning of the debate, but they got scant mention subsequently. However, there is a lot to discuss, so I understand that. All the evidence suggests that young people not in education, employment or training are more likely to find their way back into all of them by taking small steps on the road to learning. Yet the lack of availability of adult community learning means that they cannot take that first step back into education.

To broaden access we need to challenge prejudices about higher education. The rhythms and structures of campus culture are often simply unsuitable for the needs of the under-represented. The ingrained pattern of low participation in some neighbourhoods and among certain social groups requires solutions sympathetic to the lives of different types of learners. Jenny Willott mentioned child care in that context, and I agree with her. Full-time study is difficult for those who work or have families. The financial burden of living away from home is heavy for those from low-income groups.

We must recognise that different lifestyles necessitate different learning experiences, with more emphasis on part-time courses, community-based learning and modular and distance learning. Through changed modes of learning, we can change the life chances of thousands of potential students. We can and must build bridges between aspiration and HE admissions, achievement and social mobility. As community institutions, further education colleges have a vital role to play in building those bridges, but at present, there are too many barriers to education of all types and at all levels.

Twelve years ago, the late Lord Dearing concluded in his review that much greater flexibility in HE provision was vital to widening participation. His review found that

"a major limitation of the UK system of higher education is that students are offered just one contest—they must clear the 'high jump' of the three/four year honours degree, or fail".

Yet the system has not become flexible in the way that Dearing envisioned. If an American leaves university before finishing a full degree, they will describe themselves as having studied one, two or three years at college, implying that they will return to complete their studies later. If someone leaves university or college early in the UK, they are branded a drop-out. There could not be a greater difference between taking a break and dropping out. However, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation confirms that most working-class students who leave college or university early gain skills, confidence and life experience from their time there and, most interestingly of all, that the majority re-enter higher education later.

Dearing's vision of a transferable credit-based framework has yet to be properly realised, however. He recommended that

"a major part of future expansion should be at sub-degree level...provided in both higher and further education institutions."

FE colleges are uniquely placed to serve those whose lives do not fit traditional forms of university learning, because those colleges are characterised by localness, accessibility and flexibility. Their proximity to non-traditional students' homes, workplaces and previous learning experiences enables them to have an easy reach to the under-represented. However, enrolments for HE and FE have declined and are below their 2001-02 level.

Colleges are often prevented from responding to the communities that they serve because of the byzantine bureaucracy that they face—recognised some years ago, in a report commissioned by the Government and written by Andrew Foster. He said that the

"galaxy of oversight, inspection and accreditation bodies" was diverting staff, managers and teachers from their proper purpose. Rather than reducing the bureaucracy in further education, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which has wended its way through this House and is currently being debated in the other place, adds to it. The Bill, which has been described as "obscure", "opaque" and "obtuse", creates three new bodies with a role in further education. For all its faults, the Learning and Skills Council was a bit like the red army: expensive and big, but at least it was predictable. The new bodies are more Byzantium.

Another recent report by DIUS found that

"the UK is not doing enough to provide a more or less complete online educational experience to students who, for a variety of reasons...cannot enjoy a conventional campus based learning experience."

As a nation, we surely cannot afford to fall behind in e-learning or other forms of distance learning. I commend the work of the Open university, which has led the way in that area, and where I was speaking just this morning.

Opportunity is not enough, however. I repeat that the wherewithal is critical as well. Too often, young people in particular do not get the advice and guidance that they need to turn their ambitions into reality. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families made that clear in a brief intervention, and my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and the right hon. Member for Darlington also highlighted the point.

By abolishing the careers service for young people and replacing it with Connexions, which provides support also on issues ranging from housing to drugs and sexual health, the Government have undermined the professionalism of careers advisers. In two thirds of schools in England, careers advice is given by staff without any formal qualifications in the subject. Two years ago, a House of Lords report concluded that young people were not being given the information that they needed to access apprenticeships. A recent study found that 31 per cent. of young people felt that they were not getting enough information about going to university. We heard today from the right hon. Member for Darlington that 70 per cent. of young people in a particular survey said that they had had no careers advice at all. I can add to that: 94 per cent. said that they needed better subject and careers information and support.

This is why we are so fervently in favour of, a dedicated, impartial, all-age careers and guidance service. Such a service should have a presence in every school and college, as well as on the high street. Everyone should have access to universally recognised, community-based, impartial advice and guidance about education and career options. This applies not only to young people. As an advanced economy, we have a continuing need to re-skill and up-skill in this recession, and advice for mature learners is also vital.

Education is the key to unlocking individual potential, increasing employability, and building fuller lives for individuals, which in turn helps us to construct a society that works. Each of us must play our part, and feel proud because we are valued in a society that is socially mobile, cohesive and just. As a country, we led the world into the industrial revolution. We also led the world in the growth of the service sector. I believe that we can now lead the world into a new economy, a 21st century economy in which the professions will become ever more important and ever more representative, because people can find their way in those professions, no matter where they started from.

It has been said by speakers across the Chamber today that our economy will need people with high-level skills and the aptitude and ability to adapt quickly to different roles and new challenges. We need an education system that is flexible enough to respond to these new demands. Instead of becoming ever more prescriptive, instructing and dictating, we must look and learn from the best, trust those with a good track record and evangelise to the rest. Instead of telling potential students that they must study in a particular way at a particular place and at a particular time, we should be opening up provision and valuing different forms of lifelong learning. Instead of strangling further education with ever more red tape, we should dismantle the bureaucracy and trust colleges to manage their own affairs. And we should trust learners to make their own decisions, supported by the kind of dedicated professional advice and guidance that I have recommended.

All with stout hearts and sharp minds should have their chance of glittering prizes, should they not? Learning drives social mobility, and the inequalities implicit in a free society can be ethically legitimised only in a social order that allows people to prosper, no matter where they began.

My hon. Friend Mr. Walker said that this was an important debate on a vital subject. Like him, I am pleased, proud and privileged to take part in such a debate. Surely we want to create a society for which each plays their part, and of which all can feel proud, a nation in which disadvantage is fought and advantage is spread—a Britain that stands tall when it is socially cohesive because it is socially mobile and socially just because it is both of them. To instil Britons with confidence, politicians must be confident enough to be bold. We need nothing less; and nothing less than that is right.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Higher Education and Intellectual Property) 4:50 pm, 11th June 2009

This has been a tough few weeks for the House of Commons, but I think it right to say that this debate has seen the House at its very best. There are, of course, some political differences about the "how" aspects of much of what has been said, but the passion and eloquence with which Members have made their case and shared their desire for social mobility and greater access to the professions has been palpable. I am deeply honoured as a member of the Government to have witnessed this occasion.

It is right to say that many hon. Members have a professional background. Much is often said about barristers and lawyers more generally. Since Labour came to power in 1997, however, the barristers have been outnumbered by the large number of teachers and lecturers on the Labour Benches. It is also right to say that our numbers include doctors, architects and former senior members of the armed services. Although the Chamber has not been packed this afternoon, I know that many hon. Members will either have been watching the debate in their offices or will read Hansard tomorrow and will agree with much of what has been said.

It is my deep pleasure to pay tribute my right hon. Friend Mr. Milburn, who is my very good friend. Back in 2002, it was a great honour when I received a call from the No. 10 switchboard and the operator asked me whether I would hold for the Prime Minister. I held—I have never met anyone who has said that they would not hold for the Prime Minister—and Tony Blair asked me to join the Government. I was very pleased to be made a junior Minister in the Department of Health, which was then led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington.

Many in the House will know that my right hon. Friend and I share similar backgrounds. He was raised by a single mother on a council estate in county Durham, just as I was raised by a single mother in Tottenham. In a sense we have always shared a concern for social mobility. He has had much to say about whether the opportunities he had then exist to the same extent today.

I am obviously not part of the 1958 generation; I am part of the 1970 generation. I experienced my secondary schooling in the 1980s and university in the early '90s. In that sense, I suspect I share much with Jenny Willott, who is younger than me and who certainly— [Interruption.] If I am not careful, I am going to get into trouble saying any more, but she looks very young indeed!

As regards the evidence that the panel brought to bear on the cohort of young people coming through from the 1970s, I suppose I had reason to reflect on being the exception rather than the rule. I was raised, as I said, in inner-city Tottenham—part of the country that experienced serious social unrest in a period of its history, arising from real problems experienced by its black and ethnic minority community—and I am acutely aware of the community out of which I became a Minister.

Some of that was due to luck—the networks and the social concern that gathered around me, and the youth workers, teachers, priests and others. Internships can provide jobs in the Easter and summer holidays, and can give people their big break. I was fortunate enough—in a sense—to be able to leave Tottenham and to be educated in Peterborough.

I commend my right hon. Friend on a particular dimension of his work. He has not just examined socio-economic disadvantage—the disadvantage that still exists for women and people with disabilities, especially those from poorer backgrounds. He has also been keen to examine geography. We forget how many professions are centred largely on our major cities, particularly the city of London. That is certainly true of my profession, the Bar, but many of our senior doctors and architects are also part of what has historically been a metropolitan elite. Those who grow up in suburban Peterborough, Swindon or Basingstoke, or much further afield—further north, perhaps, in towns such as Middlesbrough—will find it extremely difficult to gain access to the networks that I have described. I look forward to learning from my right hon. Friend's report how such opportunities can be provided, but I know that internships are part of the answer.

Both Mr. Willetts and the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central pointed out that university was a key element of the necessary journey. Although I wish that the progress that we have made over the past 10 years had been even greater—I think that all hon. Members share that wish—I hope that Opposition Members in particular agree that the Aimhigher programme has made an important difference. This week we are celebrating the work of Aimhigher co-ordinators and associates.

"Westminster Constituency Profiles", which is available from the House of Commons Library, shows that huge progress has been made in nearly every constituency in terms of the participation rates among young people at universities, and that real progress has been made in those among young people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. For instance, in the south London constituency of the Leader of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, 525 teenagers went to university last year, compared with 185 in 1997. That is an increase of 184 per cent. In Dagenham, a part of London about which many of us express concern—especially following last week's elections, when progress was made by the British National party—340 youngsters went to university last year, compared with just 125 in 1997. That is an increase of 172 per cent. That is down to the work of schools connecting to universities. Over the past four or five years, we have learned what works. We know that summer schools work and that universities, with buildings that are available for so much of the summer, can make a considerable difference.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central mentioned the important role of parents, and their intervention is also important. Manchester Metropolitan and Liverpool universities are extending their work not just with young people in the schools around them, but with their families and parents to lift those aspirations. In cities such as Sheffield or Liverpool, people have seen the university as that place on the hill—an ivory tower; a place that is "not for me". I commend the work of Aimhigher Associates, a recent programme involving young people going back into schools to champion universities and, importantly, to help much younger people in primary school and early secondary understand the process. That goes back to the point about information, careers and guidance. There is a need to understand the UCAS process.

I was told by the vice-chancellor of Bristol university that many courses are less competitive, and that schoolchildren from independent schools understand that and know to apply for courses that need slightly lower grades. However, that knowledge was not present in the state sector. It is now coming in because the associates—those young people who applied a few years ago—have conveyed it to young people.

We need to extend the work and recognise that there are parts of the country where university is a long way away. We must spread networks, which is what we have done through the National Council for Educational Excellence and the work of Professor Steve Smith, the vice-chancellor of Exeter university, who was able to show that every university now has a policy programme on widening participation. The vast majority of universities are offering summer schools and all are working with schools in their local neighbourhoods. There is much more to do, but the programme is in place and the evidence base is there.

With regard to the panel, it is my real hope that we will be able not just to have a conversation about what Government, universities and schools can do but about what the Government, with our expertise, can do in greater partnership with the professions. All of us will recognise that it can frustrating when a particular profession—one has been mentioned several times today—is way behind others because best practice has not filtered through. Part of the panel's work will help us to move to a benchmark of standards for professions learning from one another so that we can make the advance that is needed.

The debate is hugely important for our wider economy—although it is, of course, taking place at a difficult time for the economy. There has been, and will continue to be, a substantial rise in the number of professional and managerial positions in the UK—from one in 13 at the turn of the century to one in three now, and with the prospect of still further progress over the next decade to 2020. Some studies suggest that up to 7 million new professionals will be needed by 2020, and that does not even take into account some of the new professions. The digital economy will be important to our future. We also know that our future has to be sustainable, and the renewables debate is particularly important in that regard. Technology and engineering are central to our economic future as well, as are the life sciences. All those emerging sectors will provide new professions that we will want to ensure all our young people are able to access.

The labour market's requirement for ever higher skills and knowledge will place new pressures on teachers not only in schools, but in further and higher education. We also must not forget that the average age in this country is rising, so there will be retirements to consider, and we must ensure that people of a broad age range can access the jobs. There is, therefore, an economic case for the huge importance of this subject, and there is also a social justice case, which was eloquently put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington.

I hope that it is not controversial to suggest that the history of this country has largely been an elitist one. In the 19th and much of the 20th centuries we could get away with that because of our manufacturing economic base. Few people went to university, and skilled jobs were available in manufacturing and in industries such as shipbuilding and coal mining, and also in agriculture, with its heritage of the market towns that there still are in some Members' constituencies. That will not be the right prescription going forward, however. We cannot be content with such a situation. We must recognise that talent exists in all places and ensure that everyone has these opportunities, and the politics and public policy to support that must also be put in place.

Mr. Newmark was right to point to Harvard's ability to access young people from the very poorest parts of America. I recall that when I was at Harvard it was the most diverse institution I had studied at other than my primary school in Tottenham, and there must be more that we can do in that regard. There are complications in this picture, however. It is probably right to say that in America the discourse around African-American disadvantage in particular has resulted in an advance in institutions such as Harvard, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are significant issues in respect of "the white working-class American", who is, perhaps, not as greatly represented in institutions such as Harvard. This points to a wider debate that goes back to the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington made about the data on socio-economic disadvantage, and I look forward to learning what his report has to say about that.

Hon. Members have also had much to say about information, advice and guidance—that has been the common theme of most contributions. I am pleased that I have been able to work with colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families and that it will shortly publish a new strategy on careers advice for schools. The picture there is complex; it is right to say that the straight comparison between state schools and independent schools is slightly unfair. The cohort and the backgrounds of children who go to independent schools mean that one pays one's money and the return is university. The cohort and the backgrounds of young people in state schools are more complex. The challenges, and defining what success is for teachers, particularly in state schools, make that picture and the job of providing information, advice and guidance much more complex. For that reason we introduced the Connexions service, which has been particularly helpful for the most vulnerable young people in its ability to connect up information about not only careers, but sexual health, drug addiction and other things. We must take a hard look at how to move forward on information, advice and guidance as we progress to this new landscape where local authorities are in the driving seat.

A number of issues are emerging from the work that my Department was doing with the DCSF. We recognised that teacher attitude is important and that many teachers have not experienced our most competitive universities. A few weeks ago, I asked people from Oxford university to come to my constituency to meet head teachers and principals of the local college and the local education authority. I did so because we are still yet to send a young person from a Tottenham school to Oxford. The teachers were asking what an Oxford pupil looks like and what the standard was, because more information on that needs to be available if our teachers are to help. The discussion has been very meaningful and a work programme has been put together, but it illustrates that teacher attitude and access to better information will be very important.

It is also important to recognise that many schools—often those in the most deprived areas—are schools for those aged 10 to 16. In a sense, it is understandable that, as we have been driving up standards to the extent where 46 per cent. of young people get five good GCSEs including English and Maths, the emphasis has been on standards. We need to ensure that the progression routes beyond GCSE and A-level, particularly those into the labour market and higher education, are better understood.

This new strategy is not just about schools; it is also about further education, and information, advice and guidance, particularly that provided between higher education and further education. Mr. Hayes and I have had much to say over the years about advice on apprenticeships, and I hope that the Bill that passed through this House last year will mean that that will get better, but in FE issues have been raised about the advice to all of our universities.

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Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Shadow Minister (Education)

I am sure that the Minister has looked at the evidence—I believe that Mr. Milburn referred to this—from the Futuretrack report on applying for higher education, which presented findings from a survey of the class of 2006. It shows shocking ignorance about the options; a lot of people said that they wished that they had had access to advice. What people particularly want—this is what hon. Members on both sides of the House were calling for—is professional careers advice from a distinctive careers service. For whatever reason, that is what has been lost from view with the creation of Connexions. I wonder whether the Minister could say something to recognise the case made by those on both sides of the House today in support of that initiative: the provision of independent careers advice that cuts across ages and would cover schools, FE and wider matters. I hope that we might hear more from him on that crucial initiative.

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Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Higher Education and Intellectual Property)

I recognise the description that the hon. Gentleman gives. However, I shall not anticipate the report that will be published shortly by my colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, who will address these issues in their strategy. Nor do I wish to anticipate the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, who would have something to say about that. I recognise the issue, and as the Minister with responsibility for higher education, I might be expected to be very keen to ensure that young people understand the opportunities that exist.

Much has also been said about internships. These are critical and important, and that is why my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham was keen when Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills to ensure in this difficult time that the Government do all that they can to galvanise the country to offer more internships to young people as they graduate this summer and into the autumn. I am pleased that we have seen firms such as Network Rail, Channel Four, Abbey and Microsoft and the police and others indicating that they will offer internships for young people.

Many organisations have described their internships as what some of us might call work placements—opportunities within a degree course. Our aim has been to galvanise that attention to life after graduation. Employers are coming on board, and the hon. Member for Havant is right to say that we are offering the graduate talent pool website. We have put money behind that and the Government's role is to co-ordinate and galvanise it. Our efforts must last not just through September but into next year and beyond as different employers seek to offer opportunities for young people that will last for different periods. Whether for three months or six months, young people will have the opportunity to obtain the skills that will put them in a stronger position to gain permanent employment.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central mentioned apprenticeships in this place, and it is important to provide opportunities for those who live way outside London. That is why I was in Manchester last week, ensuring that we see a flowering of internships in that city, so that they are available to young people in the north-west.

Much has also been said, especially by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, about informal adult learning. We have had that discussion many times in this place, and I hope that he will recognise the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen in the recent White Paper, "The Learning Revolution", which was published only in March, and the new fund of £20 million to help to garner cross-sector projects in that area. There is also an existing £210 million budget, so people should not get the impression that no learning for learning's sake is happening across the country. Of course it is, and it is funded not only by my Department, but by the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. My colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government fund lots of activities in many areas—in particular, they are aimed at achieving social cohesion—to keep the informal adult learning going.

The work that was set up by the Prime Minister in January, which has been taken forward so well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, is hugely important. It has been a great pleasure to hear the warmth with which the House has commended that work and with which it looks forward to my his report later in the summer. Of course, we will have differences about how to do such work. The Government, in particular, are concerned about any proposals for cuts that might lead to problems with apprentices and with routes beyond school. I hope that the hon. Member for Havant will make the case within the Opposition to ensure that the funding is there to increase social mobility.

I am grateful to have taken part in this debate. I commend the work that has gone on and thank all the panel members and the civil servants in the Cabinet Office for all that they are doing. This work will make a huge difference for many young people and adults across this country. It is a tribute to the best that can come from the House of Commons and the metropolitan elite here in London.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the matter of social mobility and fair access to the professions.

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