Careers Service (Young People)

Part of Opposition Day — [20th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:50 pm on 13th September 2011.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 9:50 pm, 13th September 2011

First, I agree with the shadow Minister that we have had a lively, good-humoured and balanced debate this evening, even if it has lacked the sagacity and flair of my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. I am sure that we all wish him well in his recovery.

I must repeat that the Secretary of State is not here this evening because, heeding the shadow Secretary of State’s advice, he is not hiding his head in an ivory tower; he is out meeting 100 excellent head teachers who have gone to see him to talk about weighty matters—five times the number of Labour Members who bothered to come to the Chamber to listen to the shadow Secretary of State when he opened the Labour party’s debate in this Opposition day earlier this evening, so let us get things into perspective.

We heard the same old script. Whether it is “Groundhog Day”, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Alok Sharma, a wind-up gramophone—a phrase used by my hon. Friend the Minister—or an over-heated iPod, the shadow Secretary of State and the hon. Members for Halton (Derek Twigg), who is not here, and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) came out with the same old stuff: where is the money? They should tell us where the money went. Where did the money go? Why did we have such an inheritance, which meant that difficult decisions had to be made? Why has face-to-face advice become such a totemic issue? If it was such a be-all and end-all that it had to be guaranteed, why did the previous Labour Government, in 13 years of running the careers service, never offer that guarantee? Why has it become so totemic now?

It was an understatement par excellence by the shadow Secretary of State when he said that the previous system was not perfect. He is dead right that it was not perfect. Labour Members left a system where youth unemployment had risen from 664,000 to 924,000 on their watch and where the number of NEETs aged between 15 and 19 rose from 8% to 8.8% when it was falling in other OECD countries. They left far too many of our young people without the basic literacy and numeracy skills that they need to get any career going at all.

Labour Members trotted out the same old platitudes and clichés. Andy Burnham said that we are interested only in the elites. If pioneering a pupil premium for the most disadvantaged young people from the most disadvantaged estates in this country is an elite, call me elitist. If giving special treatment to those children in care who suffer appalling outcomes after 13 years of Labour Government is elite, call me elitist. If it is elitist to offer 250,000 additional apprenticeships and 80,000 more work experience places and to ensure that we will raise the participation age, despite the financial pressures at the moment, call me an elitist. Our view of elitism is to ensure that every child in this country gets a fair crack of the whip and a fair opportunity to get a decent career—something that got worse under the previous Government.

Mrs Chapman—the successor to Alan Milburn, who came up in just about every speech that we heard—gave us the most unparalleled outpouring of stereotypes that I have ever heard in 14 years in the House: the feminine qualifications of cake decorating and the colour of cars. She talked about social mobility and said, “If Labour is about anything, it is about social mobility.” Why, then, after 13 years of Labour, at key stage 4 did 68.5% of non-free-school-meal pupils achieve five or more A to C grade GCSEs or the equivalent, compared with only 30.9% of free-school-meal pupils? Why did only 8% of free-school-meal pupils take the E-bac, with 4% achieving it, as against 24% of non-FSM pupils? Why, at age 18, are 29% of young people who have claimed free school meals not in employment, education or training? That is more than double the rate for those who had not claimed free school meals, for whom the figure is 13%. If that is social mobility under Labour, I do not want any of it. It is up to this Government to do something about social mobility, which Labour talked and talked about but delivered in reverse.

Mr Sheerman, whom I respect greatly as a former Chair of the Select Committee, said that in his day technology alone would certainly not have solved the problem. Of course it would not; technology has moved on enormously in the past 10 or 20 years. Who, 20 years ago, would have envisaged ringing up NHS Direct to get medical advice, or using computer programmes to get mental health advice? It is horses for courses. He talks about localism; what localism means for us is leaving it up to the expertise in the schools—the professionals, teachers and heads—to decide whether careers advice should be given face to face, over the internet, over the phone, or even by retaining Connexions. [Interruption.] If Labour Members listen, they will learn something, I hope. I have four minutes to try to get them to learn something, but they are in denial about where the money went, about where the £200 million exclusively to guarantee face-to-face interviews will come from, and about social mobility, when they know that it went the wrong way under Labour.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes for the work he has done on the subject, and for his report. He is interested not in numbers, but in quality. He says that there has been a proliferation of courses and qualifications, and he is absolutely right. That is why we are ensuring a concentration on good-quality, core subjects that people can understand—subjects in which employers want the people whom they take on to have qualifications.

My hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, in another excellent and typically thoughtful speech, said that we need pupils to have a core general education. We need real subjects for real jobs. Teachers, who did not feature much in the contributions of Opposition Members, have a crucial role in inspiring young people in the classroom. In the same way, people from industry—engineers, business men and women, scientists, doctors—who were mentioned by several hon. Members, have a crucial role to play in coming into classrooms and giving their face-to-face advice, and experience of what it is like to go into their career.

Stephen Twigg gave some very good examples of good practice in his constituency. He talked about an industry day, when real people come in and share their real-life experiences to inspire others. We are talking about people who have lived those experiences, trained for those experiences, and are making a living from them. All that can happen under the new system; it is up to the schools to decide, because we trust the schools. We trust the teachers and head teachers to make the right decisions on the ground, locally, for the children whom they teach, and to have an interest in what those children go on to do.

My hon. Friend Alok Sharma talked about “Groundhog Day”; he got it absolutely right. You would not believe it from the opening speech, or from other contributions from Labour Members, but there was never a golden age of careers advice. It was as if things had suddenly gone down the plug-hole after the election. Julie Hilling talked about the youth service, as she often does; she has expertise in the subject.