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I am delighted that this important matter is being debated in the Chamber today. However, as it is an important and complex matter, I would very much like this to be the start of a discussion on careers advice for all ages, so that we can create a much greater awareness of the issue as a whole.
It is because of the scope of the topic of today's debate that I shall focus on careers advice for those at school and the importance of specialist careers professionals as a separate practice and distinct occupation, pushing the sector towards professionalism under a unified body and voice. At the outset I welcome the Government's plans for an all-age careers service, but it is important that all Members can discuss the matter before any further steps are taken. I therefore welcome the time that we have been given in the Chamber this evening.
It is an apt time to examine careers advice for the young given that the latest figures for those not in employment, education or training are at an all-time high. At the end of the third quarter in 2010, the figure for those aged between 16 and 24 in England was 1.026 million. Of those, 160,000 are in the north-west-the highest figure of any of the UK regions. Of particular concern to me is the fact that, in Wirral, 16.8% of those aged between 16 and 19 are not in education, training or work.
Added to that is the ever more sophisticated array of choices of job, training, education and routes to work. It requires the accompanying sophistication of knowledge and know-how to enable students, at the right juncture in their lives, to choose the right subject so as to follow the right education path, preferred course or apprenticeship training, or fill out the right job application form. It is not only providing up-to-date information that will allow every student the best opportunity to pursue subjects and interests that best suit their talents and aspirations, but ensuring that young people and their parents are well informed about the potential of the decisions and the positive ways in which they can influence their future working lives.
All young people, of all backgrounds, abilities, interests and ambitions need good careers education information, advice and guidance so that they can achieve their best and fulfil their potential. However, that is currently not happening with sufficient consistency for every child throughout the country. That has led to comments such as those by the Local Government Association, which said that careers advice was found to be "not useful" by
"the majority of young people".
The Institute of Career Guidance said that the provision of careers services in England was "patchy and inconsistent". Although the National Foundation for Educational Research recognised that Connexions was making a significant contribution, it was for a small number of people in a very specific situation. Again according to the LGA, the majority of young people were
"more likely to ask their parents, teachers and youth workers" for careers advice than to seek formal careers services.
If those points are added together, we have a lot of young children who are not getting the service that they require. I therefore agreed wholeheartedly with the Secretary of State for Education when he said at the annual conference of the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services in June:
"We are clearly, as a nation, still wasting talent on a scale that is scandalous. It is a moral failure, an affront against social justice which we have to put right".
The question for all hon. Members is how we are going to put that situation right. How will we find a system that works for all children of all abilities from all backgrounds? How will we provide a flexible system with underpinning standards and requirements? Today, I will make a few suggestions, welcome others, and await the Minister's replies.
I want to make it clear at this point that, when I pass comment on the failings of the current system, I am in no way passing comment on the thousands of careers staff, educational welfare or youth service staff, who work tirelessly throughout the year, dedicated to their chosen profession. The debate tonight is a constructive overview of careers advice; it is not a question of the staff, but a look at the current system, asking how best that focus should be directed, as well as how best the staff, resources, infrastructure and intelligence already in place can be used to achieve what is best for our youth today. There is also a key question about the transition from the current to the proposed system which I would like the Minister to address.
A quick look at the history of careers advice might provide a useful insight. From April 1974 to April 1994, local education authorities had a statutory duty to provide a careers service under sections 8 to 10 of the Employment and Training Act 1973. The purpose of the service had been mainly to provide guidance and counselling to young people in full-time education in order to help them make the best of their abilities when selecting a career. It had also helped adults requiring information on retraining and in promoting schemes directed at unemployed young people.
In 1990, the Conservative Government undertook a review of services to consider the effectiveness of existing organisational arrangements, with the aim of recommending the most relevant system for delivering careers information, advice and guidance for young people. The review led to proposals to introduce legislation that would facilitate a mix of provisions, including direct management by training and enterprise councils, joint TEC-local education authority provision and a local service contracted out to the private sector. That amended the 1973 Act and transferred the responsibility for the careers service from LEAs to the Secretary of State.
Under the previous Government, in 2001, Connexions was implemented and the careers service subsumed completely within the new Connexions structure. Subsequently, in line with the social inclusion agenda, the emphasis for careers advice was shifted away from universal schools provision to those not in education, employment or training. However, in July 2009, Alan Milburn published a report commissioned by Mr Brown into social mobility that was highly critical of the previous Government's provision of career services, in which he judged Connexions an expensive failure.
Similarly, the Sutton Trust, the education charity, found that only 55% of pupils had a formal career action plan meeting with a careers adviser or a teacher-down from 85% in 1997. Recognising that the Connexions service was not working, in October 2009 Labour published "Quality, Choice and Aspiration: a strategy for young people's information". Criticism focused on the fact that poor or non-existent career advice had allowed many people to take A-levels inappropriate to the university degrees to which they aspired or to choose degrees unsuitable to their ideal career. Some were encouraged to go to universities when advanced apprenticeships would have been better or had gone for unsuitable short-term jobs from Jobcentre Plus. The National Council for Educational Excellence noted that
"state school teachers are often ill-equipped to offer adequate advice to students", leading to unjustified divisions of provision between different types of school.
Such criticisms of a system would lead me to believe that the advice being given was too little, too late, to too few, and of a varying quality. One of the questions being raised tonight is whether we need to start tackling careers at a much earlier age to discover where a child's passions lie. We do not need anything prescriptive or pre-suggestive when a child is young; we need initially to allow a child to go on a natural discovery of his or her favourite subjects, and then to build on that love of a subject to explore career options constructively, asking, "Where would that subject lead?" We are talking about the application of education and appreciating the building blocks of school, work, employment and, most of all, life fulfilment.
In my mind, that falls in line with the recent report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which stated that science, technology, engineering and maths-STEM subjects-are not being highlighted until later in the educational process, by which time students may have bypassed those career options. It added that there is evidence that
"engaging with young people before they reach secondary school has the potential to create more positive attitudes towards STEM".
Potentially, therefore, we are missing out on a section of children who might have gone into a science career. Inadvertently, we have closed a career path to a swathe of children who may well have gone on to excel in and relish such a career. Most importantly, that affects the individual, but the wider picture is that it affects society as a whole.
As chair of the all-party group on the chemical industry, I am repeatedly told the same story, which is that we are losing valuable talent-so much so that reports are coming to me that we are losing and have lost generations of young technicians and engineers. Not only that, but the industry is crying out for posts to be filled. That equates to career opportunities and jobs that are not being taken. Those are employment gaps that we could easily be filling now, especially at a time of high youth unemployment. There have been so many wasted opportunities. The Institute for Manufacturing and Professor Allport, who is the head of particle physics at Liverpool university, co-ordinating projects at both Daresbury science and innovation campus and CERN in Geneva, confirm that point.
I hasten to add that I cannot believe that the current situation is unique to STEM subjects. It must span across a range of subject areas, the message being: if we can engage young people and children in future career options and get them interested from an early age, they can connect with a broad range of choices of which they might not otherwise be aware. If they have a particular interest, they can tailor their education to that interest. Young people often miss out on important opportunities because they do not take up the correct subjects and are not adequately informed early enough about the choices that they need to make for their careers.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this Adjournment debate on an issue that is close to both our hearts: making certain that young people get the best possible careers advice, so that they can make informed choices-something that, unfortunately, I do not believe I got when I was 16. She asked how we were going to put the system right. Does she agree that sacking careers advisers and slashing funding would not achieve her aim of doing just that?
I do not believe that that is what is happening. Not only have I read out quotations from other people, but when the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath commissioned a report into the matter, he said that the project in question had been expensive and had not worked. I also specifically said that I was not looking at the staff individually, because so many of them are well qualified, believe in the job passionately and are completely dedicated. The focus of this evening's debate is where things are going wrong. Where do we need to focus our future direction so as to capture people with the infrastructure and the systems that are already in place, so that we do not lose anything, but instead take things forward?
I thank my hon. Friend for letting me get off the second bus. Does she agree that the focus in recent years has been far too much on pushing young people down the academic route, towards university? Many of the vocational ways of getting full-time work, including apprenticeships, have simply not been helped-I will not say "overlooked"-by the system. I want pupils in Beckenham, along with those in every other constituency, to be given more opportunity-a broader scope; a full range of options-so that they can choose the route that best suits them and their skills.
My hon. Friend makes a key point, which I was going to touch on a little later. Did the requirements on schools perhaps produce some distortion, pushing children down a university route that might not benefit them all? That is why I am asking for far more sophisticated careers advice, so that each child gets the career outlet that is best for them, and not necessarily one that produces extra positive statistics for the school concerned. It is always about the child and how that child moves forward.
What sort of advice are we talking about, and who will provide it? In his review of higher education, Lord Browne stated that careers guidance should be
"delivered by certified professionals who are well informed, benefit from continued training and professional development and whose status in schools is respected and valued."
However, in times of austerity, with ever-decreasing schools budgets, we need to ensure that we are able to make such a commitment. We need high-quality guidance for all children that can help young people make the right choices.
Added to that, a survey of young people from workless families found that 70% struggled to find work, that 25% felt that their parents did not have the knowledge to help them find employment and that 49% said that they did not have the role models to look up to or respect. That implies the need to bring such role models into schools to meet young people. In fact, the Deloitte Education and Employers Taskforce found a "substantial" divide between what young people wanted from their careers advice experience in school and what they actually got, including levels of involvement with employers. The findings showed that 95% of young people agreed that they would like employers to be more involved in providing advice and guidance about careers and jobs.
We therefore need to look at the interface between schools, other organisations and the professional careers bodies. I concur with the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, who said that the conclusion she drew from the Ofsted report on careers advice was that
"Not every teacher should be expert in careers advice, but... young people should know who to turn to when they need guidance on future learning or on employment. Careers education in secondary schools should not be an also ran. Schools should have the resources to employ staff who can give dedicated and knowledgeable advice."
I would add that careers advice requires a co-ordinated interface of individuals and bodies working together, which requires standardisation as well as flexibility, aided by the creation of accredited professional organisations bringing real business examples into the schools.
My points for the Minister are these. We have to look at the new proposals, particularly the fact that schools will have a legal duty to secure independent and impartial careers advice for their students. Schools will be free to decide how best to support young people to make good career choices. It might be perceived that that could lead to a gulf in the provision of careers advice among schools, councils and areas. I would like to think that that will not happen, but I would like some clarification. Some children could be getting better advice than others, so we need to ensure that that does not happen. We need to ensure that what we have said about universal specialist training happens.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Like her, I feel strongly about the importance of careers advice. She makes a strong case for how to reform the careers advice system, but does she not accept the concern of some Opposition Members that our ability to provide the new careers service that she wants will be severely damaged by the fact that many careers professionals currently face redundancy? I understand that in Merseyside alone 130 places are due to be cut. In my borough of Waltham Forest, the careers service is at risk because of the cuts to local government. She might have great ambitions for an all-age careers service, but the people necessary to support it will simply not be there by September this year to facilitate it.
What the hon. Lady has said is vital, which is why we are here today. We are saying that such a situation could be on the horizon, so we need to capture the people I mentioned. However, when Members on both sides of the House have said that Connexions is not working, failing and an expensive experiment, it shows that the system is wrong. It is not the people who are wrong but the system, so how do we get those people into the right system? That is what we are trying to do.
Moving on, we have to look at the transition stage. All Members are deeply concerned about that. We need to look at the age and the scope of career awareness. As my hon. Friend Bob Stewart said, we also need to look into a possible distortion from within schools to push people into career paths down which they should not go-to university, for example. My hon. Friend is a champion of apprentices, and we know that there will be 75,000 more of them during this Parliament. How will people find out about that? That is why I am asking for a professional body with sophisticated knowledge which uses all the outlets-whether face-to-face or through the internet. There should be every opportunity.
Thank you for allowing me to intervene, Mr. Speaker.
Bob Stewart made an important point. Apprenticeships are not just about careers advice: people do not embark on them just because someone has pointed them in that direction. It is true that there are real problems related to careers advice, but there is also the problem of the culture of apprenticeships and the lack of parity of esteem. In other countries, such as Germany, an apprentice is seen as the equivalent of someone who has taken an academic route. It is not just a question of those working in careers services pushing people into apprenticeships; it is a much wider issue. People should not be pushed into an academic route which might not be the best option for some individuals.
The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. He has identified one of the key flaws in the careers advice that is currently provided. As he says, apprenticeships have equal standing. Careers advice should take account of the abilities and capabilities of the individual, and should aim for the complete fulfilment of that person. We need to increase understanding of the status of apprenticeships.
We have touched on many important points this evening, on which Members on both sides of the House have been able to agree. We all want children from all backgrounds and with all abilities to be able to fulfil their potential.
I congratulate Esther McVey on securing the debate, and thank her for being gracious enough to allow me a few moments in which to address the House. I also thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Minister for agreeing to that.
This is a hugely important subject. There are few words that the hon. Lady uttered with which I would take exception, but I should like to mention a detail relating to my constituency. I stress that I am speaking from a local point of view. Connexions worked in Cheshire: it was extremely well run, although I accept that its success was patchy in the country as a whole. Our present difficulty lies in the fact that the local authority, Cheshire West and Chester council, has agreed to re-inherit, through a TUPE transfer, 26 youth workers from Connexions. That will be the sole service available to people in the age group that we are discussing, which is inadequate provision according to any measure.
A constituent who works in the service has written to me saying:
"As you are aware, there has been talk of an all age careers service being established by... 2012 which would lead the way in providing careers information advice and guidance. As you might not be so aware... the all age careers service... although its remit would be to work with people from the age of 13... would not operate within schools."
Therein lies the key problem. The hon. Member for Wirral West rightly identified the difficulties involving the STEM disciplines. With my Select Committee hat on, I have been discussing that huge and complex issue with a number of learned societies, including STEM Ambassadors and the UKRC. I am sure the hon. Lady agrees that it is sad that UKRC has lost its funding for supporting women in science and engineering, and the Minister may wish to comment on that en passant. Organisations such as those, which have been working extremely hard to promote STEM subjects, will find doing so much harder as a result of the vacuum that is being created. We are told that it will take until 2012 to set up the all-age service, and that it will not necessarily operate in schools. As all the STEM experts have observed, there is a gap in the schools sector.
I agree with the hon. Lady that people should receive careers advice at a very early age. If we are going to excite people about science and engineering, the "on" switch has to be found at a very early age. That is why I am a great fan of the National Schools Observatory operating out of John Moores university, where children from the hon. Lady's constituency and mine-and, indeed, from the constituency of Bob Stewart and from across the country-can get access to the telescope at La Palma and engage in genuine science. It is a fantastic project but, unfortunately, for the sake of probably less than £2 million, the service is going to disappear. Therefore, even in schools that have a science driver-a teacher who is excited about the potential of creating the next generation of scientists-tools are being taken away.
I have known the Minister for a while, and I know he is a man of eclectic tastes. It says in his biography that he is interested in subjects as diverse as architecture and jam-making. I also know that he ran an IT company with some success, so he is a man who probably understands the point I am making. My plea to him is that he should sit down with his colleagues in the Department for Education, and with those with responsibility for business and higher education, and start to formulate a strategy that will maximise the impact at the primary level. We must ensure that we work with industry and academia to bring as much expertise as possible into the classroom, and we must continue the projects that are available at the secondary level, including the Catalyst centre, which is just down the road from the hon. Lady's constituency. It is a great, exciting place where people can play with proper chemistry, and do things that I hope we will do in the House in a few weeks' time to mark the anniversary of the Royal Society of Chemistry. I hope that will excite Members. We must also work at the higher level with university students-as many Members have done-and at a still higher level, working with people through the Royal Society pairing schemes. There are all sorts of things we can do.
I am not criticising the Minister for seeking change, but I am worried. We are going to have a vacuum, and in my constituency we are going to lose the skills of people within the system. My plea to him is that he should slow the process so that we make sure that the skills that we have are not lost, but instead are transferred into structures that are thought-through and appropriate to the local community. I want to stress that final point about being appropriate to the community. One size does not fit all. In my constituency we created, quite away from my interest in the STEM areas, the Cheshire Oaks retail academy. That is a grand-sounding title. It started off helping the NEETs-those not in education, employment or training-get jobs in the fantastically successful Cheshire Oaks retail operation. They were not getting jobs from the community, and we started at the very basic level, working with the further education college and the secondary school to help kids present a CV and present themselves for interview. The project has grown and grown, and now it is doing higher level national vocational qualifications, and has trained many young people-certainly at the top end of the second thousand of them. They have gone through training modules, working with all the employers on the Cheshire Oaks estate. There are therefore models that can be tailored to the needs of particular sectors.
There are changes we need to think about that apply to the primary sector and the secondary sector, but my plea to the Minister is this: for goodness' sake, hold fire on pulling the plug on Connexions, because we need a more sophisticated transition from where we are now to where I think all of us on both sides of the House would like us to get to.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Miller, who chairs the Select Committee on Science and Technology and has a background as a technician and expertise in industrial relations. He said that I was "eclectic". I like to be eclectic, and even idiosyncratic, but only to the point where it is still interesting and not weird, as I shall try to illustrate in these remarks. I will address the points that he made, but he will understand that as a matter of courtesy I wish to start by congratulating my hon. Friend Esther McVey on securing this debate and on the contribution that she has already made on the subject of careers, aspiration and, in particular, the opportunities available to young women.
I was proud to attend, along with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith, whom I see in his place, the launch of this magazine "If Chloe Can". It is tailored to promoting opportunities for young women, to opening up those opportunities and to spreading the message that people's aspirations, tastes and talents can be met if the right support, the right advice and the right opportunity is in place. I will present a copy to you at the conclusion of this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I hope that it will be signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West. She and other Members are a role model for young women, showing what one can achieve with hard work and determination. I know that she has been a success in business and in the media, and, as I say, she is making her mark in politics too.
My hon. Friend is right to say that high quality careers guidance is crucial if all young people are to receive the support they need to make well informed decisions about learning and careers. I listened to her carefully and she was also right to say that most young people garner that advice from social networks, parents and others in their immediate locale. I shall come on to speak at great but not inordinate length about social mobility.
The point about the garnering of advice from those networks is that it disproportionately favours those whose parents or friends know about opportunity, know about going to university, know about college or know about apprenticeships. Young people who do not have access to that familiar and social support to enlighten them about those opportunities are doubly disadvantaged. In order to compensate for that disadvantage-it is the mission of this Government to redistribute advantage in society, and I make no apology for saying so-we need to ensure that good quality advice and guidance is in place so that people can achieve their potential.
The right support is one of the keys to unlocking social mobility and opening the door to aspiration and progression. Ruskin once said:
"The highest reward for man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it."
Steve Rotheram, whom I seem to recall is a successful apprentice, rightly says that this is not merely about wage returns. Of course it is about that, but it is also about elevating the status of the practical, understanding the aesthetics of craft and realising that vocational learning has its place. As my hon. Friend Bob Stewart said, for too long in this country we have conned ourselves into believing that the only form of prowess that mattered came from academic accomplishment. Practical skills and vocational competencies also give people a sense of pride and purpose, which is vital to their self-esteem and the communal health of our country. I entirely endorse what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, in a happy alliance-one might call it a coalition-with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, said earlier. I recommend to them both a speech on that subject that I made at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. I have only one copy with me, but perhaps they could share it, passing it from one to the other.
Good guidance from a young age can stimulate ambition, inspire hard work and instil social confidence, even for the most disadvantaged young people in our society. As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said, we have some good examples of support offered to young people in schools and by the Connexions service. As he acknowledged in generously welcoming our initiative for an all-age service, we also have many instances where young people are not getting the advice they need. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West made clear, the evidence clearly supports that conclusion.
According to a survey carried out by the Edge Foundation in 2010, 51% of young people reported that careers education, information, advice and guidance were simply not meeting their needs. Incidentally-this is not in the notes prepared for me, but I shall add it-the survey also revealed that teachers in schools knew less about apprenticeships than any other qualification with the exception of the Welsh baccalaureate. I have nothing against the Welsh baccalaureate, but one would have expected teachers to know rather more about apprenticeships than they do. As they do not have that information at their disposal, they cannot always match people's aspirations and talents to the opportunities that I spoke of earlier. That is why we need independent, high quality, up to date and impartial advice and guidance for all young people.
Ofsted has found, as hon. Members will know, that the provision of information, advice and guidance about the options available is not always sufficiently impartial. Those concerns also extend to the issues about which my hon. Friend feels so passionately.
First, on broadening horizons and challenging preconceived ideas about learning and careers for women, we must build on the work of my hon. Friend and others to ensure that young women are equipped and inspired to pursue the fullest possible range of careers rather than those that are too often mapped out for them based on stereotypical beliefs.
On making apprenticeships and vocational training equal in status-and appeal-to academic qualifications, I have, as hon. Members will know, long made the case for elevating the practical in our system. Through restoring a focus on specialist expertise in guidance for young people, I want us to inspire the next generation of young scientists, for example, as the Chair of the Select Committee recommended.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I think I called you Mr Speaker earlier, Mr Deputy Speaker-I apologise for elevating you far too early. In case the Minister's reference to coalitions with Government Members ruins my embryonic political career, I agreed on the one point and very little else as regards my political persuasions and those of Bob Stewart. I want to put on record the fact that the previous Labour Government trebled the number of apprenticeships, so they did understand their merits. Like my hon. Friend Andrew Miller, I have been contacted by constituents who are end users and employees of Greater Merseyside's Connexions service, some of whom are facing redundancy. Does the Minister understand their feelings? They believe that the Government's proposals are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
I shall come on to the issue of transition. The hon. Gentleman, like his hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, is right to raise the issue of how we deal with the transition from the existing arrangements to the all-age service. We will begin the all-age service, as has been said already, in 2012, but I want as much as possible to be in place by the end of this year. I shall come back to the transition, but let me say that this proposal is not just in the interests of the recipients of advice. It is also about re-professionalising careers advice for the people who give it. When I became the shadow Minister in the long-distant past, I met many people who worked for Connexions. Some were lifetime careers advisers who were desperate to have careers advice re-professionalised. They were asked during the Connexions regime to be advisers on all kinds of things-on careers, but also on sexual health, lifestyle choices and drug misuse. That was a very tall order. There is a place for that kind of advice, but I am not sure that it is best provided in a one-stop shop such as Connexions. It is much better to have a careers advice service that is just that. It is demanding enough for careers advisers to be up to speed and up to date with all the options for training, learning and jobs, let alone being asked to do much more. I say to careers professionals that this is not a threat but a serious opportunity, as our commitment to that service and their profession is unrivalled.
I have more time than Ministers usually have in Adjournment debates, and I cannot resist saying a word, with your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, about apprenticeships. I do not want to get into a sterile debate about the history of this issue and the previous Government-a tragedy perhaps tinged with comedy-but I will say that I intend to build more apprenticeships in this country than we have ever had. We have already put an extra £250 million into the apprenticeships budget to secure that ambition. We have set an initial target of 50,000 more apprenticeships and I believe we can meet that target and exceed it in the lifetime of this Parliament-indeed, in this comprehensive spending review period. I want more apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3-and more too at levels 4 and 5-to fill the gap in intermediate and higher level skills that, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is well aware, will inhibit growth, particularly in those high-tech, high-skilled industries that we need to foster.
Schools will continue to play an important part in ensuring that all pupils benefit from good advice. Teachers are so important. As this is becoming something of a wide-ranging debate, let me say, with your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is time for us as a Government and as a House to elevate the role of educators. Into the hands of teachers we place our future-our children. Every great civilisation from the past-Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia and China-understood that educators and teachers are vital. Socrates himself was a teacher. However, we ask too much of our teachers when we expect them, in addition to inspiring young people with a thirst for learning, to be careers professionals. It is true that individual schools have the best knowledge of their pupils' needs, and it must be their responsibility to ensure that those pupils can access the best possible advice, but it is not always best for those schools to provide the advice. Some do it very well, but others less so.
In the forthcoming education Bill we intend to introduce a duty for schools to secure independent, impartial guidance for their pupils, but they will be free to decide how that guidance is secured-through the all-age service or through another provider, all of whom will be expected to meet exacting quality standards. That will safeguard the partnership model in which schools draw on their knowledge of pupils' needs and work closely with external independent advisers with expert knowledge and skills. It is crucial to place that at the heart of our new arrangements, because with all that is expected of schools, it is too much to ask them to provide careers advice and to keep up to date with the latest developments in careers and the labour market.
My ambition is to have guidance for both young people and adults that is widely respected and valued. C. S. Lewis said:
"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."
The important thing about the all-age service is that it will assist people who need to change direction or to upskill. One feature of an advanced economy is that as skills needs advance they become more dynamic. Businesses change more quickly to shape themselves around economic changes and skills needs change accordingly, so we need to help people to get the advice they need to get jobs, to keep them and to progress in them.
Information, advice and guidance will be available online. In those terms, we will build on the work of the last Government, who invented the Next Step service, which we were able to implement this summer and will provide a basis for a high-quality online product as it metamorphoses into the core of the technology offer that the all-age service will provide. Young people in particular tend to access information online, and as hon. Members will know, that will enable us to ensure that information is updated effectively, but face-to-face guidance matters, too. I am determined to use the limited resources that we have available-we live in tough times and the Government are determined to deal with the deficit, so there is no money sloshing about-to maximise the amount of face-to-face contact that people can enjoy, because it is needed to supplement what they can gain online.
To form a new professional basis to the service that will be crucial to its success, the Government are responding positively to the recommendations of the Careers Profession Task Force aimed at increasing the quality and status of the profession. That was led by Dame Ruth Silver, who has done an excellent job with her team. Members who were fortunate enough to read the report that emanated from that work will recognise that it was very much about building the kind of professional pride and purpose that I described when responding a few moments ago to Steve Rotheram.
Let me say something about transition. To be frank, I was concerned about that, too. Determined though we are to put in place the all-age service, it is vital that transitional arrangements are handled properly. During the transition period, we will support local authorities to work through any changes in local service provision that may be necessary as a result of the establishment of the all-age service, involving, where appropriate, Connexions service providers.
In 2011-12, the early intervention grant will support transitional arrangements to ensure that young people have access to impartial guidance in advance of the all-age careers service being fully operational. For those who want to check the figures-diligent Members will do so immediately after the debate-they were announced on
Given that the Connexions company locally has effectively been told to wind itself up, it will, by necessity, have to put people on notice of possible dismissal. What advice is the hon. Gentleman giving to the Connexions service and local authorities to give comfort to those people who have put a lot of time and hard work into the service that their jobs will be protected where the service has been of the standard that he quite rightly expects?
Local authorities will retain a duty to provide the service and the new all-age service will begin to kick in from this autumn, so any hiatus of the kind that the hon. Gentleman suggests is present should not be significant. I hope that local authorities would put in place arrangements to ensure that those people involved could move from one service to the other reasonably seamlessly. If he takes that message to his local authority with my endorsement, it may yield more fruit.
If the Minister were to write to local authorities and be kind enough to place such correspondence in the Library, that might give some comfort to hon. Members.
I am always informed by the contributions of hon. Members of this House, and I will certainly take what the hon. Gentleman says away and give it appropriate consideration. As I am a responsive, listening Minister, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will ask my officials to look at that matter closely, see what measures we have already put in place, and see whether we need to do anything more. That would be an appropriate way to deal with the hon. Gentleman's query, as I think he would acknowledge.
The arrangements for the all-age service will, of course, include an emphasis-widely welcomed in this debate-on apprenticeships. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West spoke about vocational learning, as have others. She also spoke about the need to be open-minded about all the opportunities available to young people. As many have already said, that certainly includes learning at local college, learning in the workplace, and learning provided by independent training providers, as well as the academic route. I want to create a pathway on the vocational side that is as navigable, progressive and seductive as the academic route that many of us travelled. To that end, it is important that the House understands the new commitment that the Government have to apprenticeships, as a pivot of our skills policy. I want more apprenticeship frameworks, more higher level apprenticeships, and more apprenticeships permeating companies that have not had them in the past.
My officials are working closely on ideas for improving the status and aesthetics of apprenticeships, including proposals to introduce a more formal graduation process to give apprentices a proper sense of achievement; proposals to ensure that the frameworks are progressive; and proposals to develop more level 4 frameworks, in particular. I am also keen to ensure that we see apprenticeships as a route to higher learning. Many apprentices already go into higher learning through college or university, but I want to grow that over time. In our skills strategy, which I know sits by the bed of all hon. Members present, we committed to working with the National Apprenticeship Service to do many of the things that I have just described, but I have already spoken of the unprecedented financial commitment that we are making to apprenticeships, and I do not want to repeat myself.
In Liverpool, there is no problem with careers advice attracting people into apprenticeships. It is the opposite way round: there are not the employed apprenticeship opportunities for people to move into. How does the Minister think the local government settlement in Liverpool-the worst in the country, which means that public sector jobs will be lost by the city council, which employs apprentices-will help people who want to get on the ladder as an apprentice?
I would not want to talk about local government; it is outside my purview, and you would not permit me to do so, Mr Deputy Speaker, because it is also outside the range and scope of this debate. The hon. Gentleman has put his remark on the record. What I will say is that on his substantive point about companies, he is right: we need to encourage more companies to take apprentices. The National Apprenticeship Service has been very busy doing just that. I have been working with it on a national campaign, unprecedented in its scale and penetration, to encourage more businesses to take on an apprentice. Seventy-five Members of this House have engaged with that campaign, working in their locality to promote apprenticeships. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is one of them, but if he is not, I hope that he will join their number. Many colleagues have taken on an apprentice. I have taken on one in my Department. I hope that Ministers and Members of the House will do that, too. Let us give apprenticeships the status that they deserve by what we do and what we say.
I shall now move to my exciting peroration, although I know that Members are, rightly, excited by this subject.
In summary, we have to improve our education system so that every young person gets the support, guidance and inspiration that they need to make a success of their life, and we need high-quality learning provision with clear routes into a range of rewarding careers. The establishment of an all-age careers service, which provides excellent, professionally delivered careers guidance to young people and adults, lies at the heart of that, and the support of schools will be a vital component in its success. As we take that work forward, I shall ensure that we address all the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West made at the outset of this debate.
Let me make myself absolutely clear. Education is a key driver of economic growth, individual well-being and communal health. It changes lives by changing life chances, and guidance and advice is critical to that. C. S. Lewis, whom I have quoted once already, also said, "What you believe is what you are," and this coalition Government believe passionately in social cohesion, social mobility and social justice.
Question put and agreed to.