I beg to move,
That this House
believes that the Government should act urgently to guarantee face-to-face careers advice for all young people in schools.
The motion is in my name and that of my right hon. Friend Mr Denham. The House this afternoon debated the challenges facing the coming generation; this evening, it is right to consider how, as a society, we help all young people to face up to those challenges, and how we give them the advice and support that they will need to find their way in a changing and highly competitive world.
It would seem that our debate is well timed. After today’s bombshell from the Boundary Commission, perhaps a few more of us all of a sudden have a keener interest in preserving a good-quality careers service. However, our woes are nothing compared with the dejection, disappointment and sheer hopelessness that many of our young constituents are experiencing. Jobs are getting harder to find, with close to 1 million young people now unemployed. Many are struggling to stay in education or training with the loss of the education maintenance allowance and local authority travel grants. For a growing number, university is quite simply no longer seen as a realistic option.
Not surprisingly, some young people are feeling lost and do not know where to turn. Some are able to fall back on strong families and family connections to open doors, but that is not available to all young people. Those who feel lost need good careers and life advice more than ever.
What is the Government’s answer? Having kicked away the ladders of support—the EMA, the future jobs fund and Aimhigher—they are now pulling up the drawbridge, leaving young people alone in the dark to fend for themselves. Let me say at the beginning that this debate is not about preserving the status quo, and nor is it special pleading for the Connexions service. The previous Labour Government commissioned a report that highlighted problems with that service and we accepted that there were areas where it needed to improve. I have not come to the House tonight to say, “Nothing must change.”
The Opposition have previously said that we have no real disagreement with the Government over their vision for an all-age careers service. However, with every day that passes, it becomes less likely that the Government’s vision will ever become a reality, because careers services are disappearing, advisers are being made redundant, and young people are being left in the lurch. Schools are being given the statutory responsibility to provide careers advice, but no money to do so. It is a complete mess. Ministers promised a transition plan months ago, and tonight we ask them this simple question: where is it? They are treating dedicated careers professionals with contempt, and owe them the courtesy of some answers. That is why the Opposition have brought Ministers to the House this evening.
We appreciate why the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning is not here today—the Opposition wish him well—but why is the Secretary of State for Education not leading this debate for the
Government? Where is he? I say this to the Minister of State, Department for Education, Mr Gibb: what is more important when young people all over the country face the difficulty of finding a job, uncertainty about their futures and worries about the cost of education? What could be more important than the Government ensuring that those young people have access to good advice? Why is the Secretary of State not here to answer those concerns?
My right hon. Friend sends his apologies to the House, but he is meeting 100 outstanding head teachers in Nottingham who have travelled there to meet him to discuss the opening of the first 100 teaching schools. That is why he cannot be here. If it had not been for that, he would have been here.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but debates in the House used to be more important than that. This is an urgent situation facing the careers service in this country. This is more urgent and it needs to be addressed by the Secretary of State. We need him to provide leadership. Frankly, he has provided none to date on this important issue. On his watch, the careers service in England has gone into meltdown, which is unforgivable considering all the pressures on young people today. He has shown next to no interest in this subject and has his head permanently stuck in an ivory tower. Instead of obsessing about Oxbridge, he needs to start engaging with the real world and the challenges that young people face in trying to get on in life.
My right hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to dedicated careers professionals, who do a superb job, but is there not complete confusion over who provides advice to young people and those not in education, employment or training? Also, where has the money gone?
My hon. Friend asks a good question. In opposition, the Conservative party produced a manifesto for careers that spoke of £200 million being allocated to an all-age careers service. As well as asking this evening where the transition plan has gone, we might pick up the question that my hon. Friend has just asked: where has the money gone? Schools have not been given any extra money to provide a new careers service and to fulfil the statutory responsibility that the Government want to place on them. How can it be right at this time to ask schools to do more and then not give them the money to do the job for young people? It is utterly disgraceful.
I was rather hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would apologise, as his colleague the shadow Chancellor did yesterday, for the mess that the Labour party left this country in. The right hon. Gentleman asked where the money has gone. His Government managed to spend it. As he knows, his colleague, Mr Byrne, left a note at the Treasury saying, “There is no money left.” There he has his answer. He should talk to his own colleagues, not lecture the rest of us.
He saw his Prime Minister make a personal promise to those young people that they would continue to have their EMA. He also stood on a manifesto promising £200 million for an all-age careers service. If he could not deliver those promises, should he not now apologise to the House for seeking the votes of young people in his constituency on a false premise? That speaks for itself.
Our motion is deliberately broad so that we do not get drawn into a debate about the merits of one service versus another. I have said that we are prepared to support the Government in their vision for an all-age careers service. We want to work with the Government to make that service as good as it can be so that it is fit for purpose in these times and for the challenges facing young people. The motion is simple, then, and makes two requests. I might say in passing that it is drawn directly from the report, published in the summer, to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister from the advocate for access to education, Simon Hughes, who I am pleased to see in his place. In fact, the motion repeats the words of his recommendation verbatim. I hope, therefore, that he can support us this evening, given that the motion is his own recommendation—but I know now not to come to any such conclusions where he is concerned.
Our motion makes two simple requests to the House. First, as Members of Parliament standing up for young people in our constituencies, we ask the Government Front-Bench team to get a grip on this mess—[Interruption.]—to stop messing around on their BlackBerrys and to stop going off to attend other events around the country. They need to get a grip on this mess, publish the transition plan, show some leadership for once in their lives and get on with the job of standing up for young people. Secondly, we want the House to send a clear message that we have high expectations of what we expect all young people in this country to get and that we want them to have face-to-face advice.
We hear that the Government want to downgrade the quality of careers advice to a phone or web-based service. The national careers service will be a phone or web-based service! It seems that this cost-cutting drive has been partly driven by the raid on the careers budget, to which my hon. Friend Derek Twigg alluded, which the Government made having been forced to make a partial U-turn over EMA. I want every Member to ask themselves whether they think that a remote and impersonal phone or web service is good enough. Would that be good enough for their own children when they are making life-changing choices and considering their options?
I will come to that in a moment.
The Secretary of State could guarantee it simply by inserting the words “face-to-face”. Indeed, my hon. Friend Mr Wright, the shadow young people’s Minister, introduced such an amendment to the Bill on Report. I find it extraordinary that Government Members can troop through the Lobby voting against face-to-face advice for young people. [Hon. Members: “And the cost?”] As I said a moment ago, the cost was put forward by the Conservative party. It costed its own all-age—[Interruption.] I am trying to answer the question. The Conservative party promised and costed a fully funded, all-age careers service which maintained those currently employed in the Connexions service. It promised £200 million.
Exactly, what have the Government done with that money? Where have they spent it? Those are questions for the hon. Gentleman to answer, not me.
May I correct my right hon. Friend? Is it not a fact that face-to-face careers advice will be available? It will be available in the public schools, the independent schools and the most elite and privileged schools in the country; it just will not be available to most schools.
That is the point, is it not? This well-connected Cabinet think that everyone’s lives are like their own and that everyone can just call on a friend, uncle or whoever in a law firm or in the City. Sure, they will open a door—ring them up and they will give the advice. They live in a world, and constituencies sometimes, where that advice is readily available through informal family networks. They probably do not see the need for careers advisers. They have used them themselves, but do not see the need for them. However, there are many young people in the constituencies that we represent who cannot draw on those family networks and connections, who do not have role models to whom they can go and who perhaps have never had family members in the professions. They are the ones who need help to enter these closed worlds run often by a self-perpetuating elite.
Is my right hon. Friend getting a bit sick and tired of Government Members talking about money issues, given that they will be wasting £3 billion on an unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS and £100 million on unnecessary unelected police commissioners? If they can find money for that, why can they not find a few hundred million pounds for these services?
My hon. Friend puts her question very well. The Government have got their priorities completely and utterly wrong. If I were a young person watching these proceedings tonight, I would be asking why since the coalition Government came to power they had singled out young people for this barrage of cuts. Do they think that young people are an easy touch? I do not know, but that is what I would be asking if I were them. I would also be asking what an elected police commissioner was going to do to improve life in the community. Very little, I would suggest. I return to the point that I was making earlier. If Government Members do not think that an impersonal, remote service is good enough for their children, they should not accept such a service for anyone else’s children in their constituency.
As my right hon. Friend Mr Redwood said, everyone in the House would like to see high-quality careers advice, but a little humility might be required all round, not least from representatives of the previous Government, under whom the number of young people not in employment increased in this country despite the fact that it fell in other OECD countries. Furthermore, as their own report showed, at the end of their term in office, the standard of careers advice for young people was palpably poor. Does the shadow Secretary of State agree with the Government’s intention to take the decision making down to school level and let the school decide what is most appropriate? In many cases, that will involve face-to-face advice, although I do share his desire to see greater resource allocated to that.
I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his question. He calls for humility, but I acknowledged at the beginning of the debate that we did not get the Connexions service perfect and that we were prepared to work with the Government. I pay tribute to him in leading the Select Committee’s production of a very good report that comes to the right conclusions on this issue. It is possible for schools, with sufficient support, to provide face-to-face advice, although I do not think that he or I would want to go back to the days when the PE teacher or some other member of staff was responsible for giving careers advice and did not do a particularly good job of it. We need independent, good-quality, face-to-face advice.
There is an important point to be made about conflicts of interest. At 16, young people face choices about whether to go on to further education college or sixth-form college, or whether to stay at their school. It is important, in the highly competitive world that the Government are creating, that the careers adviser in the school should not have a vested interest in advising the young person to stay there if that would not be the best option for them. That needs to be thought through, but, without a transition plan, we have no means of judging what will happen. The Government have simply not provided us with any detail.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend is saying. Is he aware that a generation of young people will get no support or advice this year or next year? In particular, children whose parents’ first language is not English have no opportunity to talk to them about their options. What those children need is not a school-based service but an independent, professional service that can assess them in the round and give them support, help and, above all, inspiration. They will not get much inspiration from trawling a website.
My hon. Friend speaks with customary clarity on these issues, and tells us what life is like for the young people he represents, many of whom might be new arrivals in this country who do not understand how young people can open the doors to education, training and jobs. He has put his finger on the problem. The Government take the view that schools can do everything, and that everything can be pushed down to the schools. Some things need to be organised across the whole local authority, however, if we are to maintain quality and expertise.
I am prepared to believe that schools could provide the necessary advice, but the transition process needs to be managed so that the experts who are currently working for the local authorities can be brought into the schools to provide the advice from those schools. Instead, this lot are allowing those people to be let go and made redundant, even though they have many years experience in the careers service. They are being lost to the profession, and in a few months’ time the schools will be expected to subscribe to a phone or web-based service.
Government Members might think that this is funny, but I do not. We are talking about young people’s life chances, and those young people deserve better than what the Government are giving them. We owe them more, because the world that they are facing is far harsher than the one that we lived in 30 or so years ago. Young people today can expect to have at least 10 different jobs throughout their careers—probably more. Unlike their grandparents, who did specific jobs in large industries, they will be most likely to work in smaller companies. They will need to be all-rounders, able to adapt quickly to new situations. It is also more likely that they will be employers as well as employees.
The harsh truth is that it is getting harder for everyone to get on, but the odds are being stacked much more heavily against those who have the least. If we do not act, this century will see us return to a world in which the postcode of the bed that people are born in will pretty much determine where they end up in life. In today’s world, as traditional structures break down, social networks and connections are becoming the key to jobs and opportunities. In some industries—sadly, we can count Parliament among them—it has become almost expected that a young person will have to work for free before they can get their first foot on the ladder. That is wrong; it is the exploitation of young people’s determination to get on.
If we allow the situation to continue in which there is no careers advice and in which the only way in is through having a connection with a company or organisation and moving to London to work for free, we will limit the job opportunities in the most sought-after careers in the country to less than 1% or 2% of the population. That is not a situation that I am prepared to accept. Parliament needs to step in and level up that playing field, to ensure a fair distribution of life chances around the country. We need to help those young people who have the least.
A statutory careers service is important because not all young people get the same support and advice at home. Dame Ruth Silver, chair of the Careers Profession Task Force, says of the Government’s approach:
“It will further deepen deprivation, because some people come from families who have never worked; the ones who need it most are those who don’t have successful adults in their lives.”
I have some sympathy with that argument, but it is an argument for more and better careers advice, not less. We have some sympathy with the view that we need to ensure that all qualifications should be of a decent standard and should lead somewhere. We accept that view and we will support the Government in that regard, but that is not an alternative; we still need good quality careers advice alongside those routes. I feel passionately that, collectively, the whole lot of us here have failed the 50% or more of young people who are not going to go down the university route. We have not done enough to provide them with a proper structure or a proper route through to good qualifications and a good job, and it is about time that we addressed that balance. It is about time that this House, rather than focusing on the top 20% and the English baccalaureate, thought about a pathway for all children, so that they can all fulfil their potential.
The hon. Lady was not here at the start, and I am not sure whether she has heard the whole debate. Her point does not quite fit. We want young people to make the right choices for them. We should strongly encourage the teaching of foreign languages, particularly in primary schools, but they will not be right for all young people. The question I would ask her is this: why are young people who want to do engineering, information and communications technology, business studies, economics, music, art or other creative subjects being told that they are somehow second best because those subjects are not in the English baccalaureate? What is it that justifies the Government ranking some subjects above others—and, by definition, ranking some children above others?
Following the right hon. Gentleman’s response to my previous intervention, will he shed some light on his view on the need to involve employers in creating the courses and qualifications that lead to outcomes for young people? One thing Professor Alison Wolf made very clear is that employers should be much more involved in the FE sector and in the formation of courses and qualifications.
The hon. Gentleman makes another good point. I agree with him, but urge him, perhaps when the Minister is speaking, to stand up and ask his Front-Bench team what discussions they had with the CBI before they introduced the English baccalaureate. What is the CBI’s view of it? Does it respond sufficiently to the needs of employers. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding and I hope he will direct those questions to his Front-Bench team. Quite frankly, we risk preparing young people for a world that no longer exists and we need to ensure that young people have the crucial skills—good communication skills, critical thinking and good presentational skills—that they will need if they are to survive in a workplace where much more is demanded of them.
“Let us once and for all kill off the bourgeois, left assumption that working-class people do not aspire to the same things as their middle-class contemporaries. Their ambitions are the same; what they lack is the wherewithal.”—[Hansard, 11 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1257.]
I agree with that statement. Let me share a shocking statistic with the House; I genuinely find it appalling. It is that 39% of 16 to 19-year-olds who went to a state school say that they do not know anyone in a career in which they would like to work. This rises to 45% among the poorest young people who receive free school meals. What Ministers fail to recognise is that if someone does not know a single person in a career in which they would like to work, they might not be able to fulfil their aspirations in the same way as others.
What my right hon. Friend has just said ties in entirely with what I am about to say. Three of my nephews came to do their work experience here; they are mixed-race lads from council estates in Luton. One of their friends—they did not have an aunt who was an MP—spent the night as a security guard in a factory where his dad sat watching telly all night, walking around the building once an hour to check that no one else was in the building. Another friend did his work experience at Costa Coffee. That was because they did not know anyone who worked in professions to which they could aspire. It is important for career advisers not just to try to get people into internships, but to encourage young people through early work experience placements to stretch their horizons and make connections with people in the professions.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent contribution; she puts her finger on the problem. I hear anecdotally that, increasingly, schools are saying to young people, “Can you sort out your own work experience?
Is someone in the family able to give you an opportunity?” I understand why they might say that because there are lots of pressures on schools, but that highlights the dangers of what is being created. If we live in a world where people say, “The schools do it; we’ll leave it up to them”, that can reinforce low expectations. It is basically telling kids that they cannot break out from their family circumstances because they will dictate what they have experience of and where they will set their expectations. That is what is so wrong about that approach—this random laissez-faire approach to this crucial issue.
My hon. Friend and other Opposition Members will remember a report by Alan Milburn on fair access to the professions during the last Parliament. He made the point that we need to do the reverse—take those young people who have no connection with the powerful worlds of the professions and transplant them into those worlds. We need the highest quality careers advice and work experience for those young people. As the Opposition develop our policy, that is exactly what we should aspire to deliver—alongside excellent careers advice, of course, which has to be impartial, independent and personalised.
I agree, just as I did with the Education Committee report, with much of what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said in his report. I look forward to hearing what he has to say and to his support for our motion.
May I absolutely endorse the comments of Kerry McCarthy? All the evidence from my conversations around England in the early part of this year showed that there was not only very poor careers advice for many young people, but really poor work experience. In a difficult economy, the chances of getting a job from 16 onwards are, to put it bluntly, reduced horribly for those who do not have work experience.
I agree completely, but the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to do something. I say that not to make a party political point. In some ways, this is not the most headline-grabbing of debates. We are raising this issue out of a genuine concern about what is happening to the careers service and what it might do to damage the life chances of some young people. He has produced what I consider to be a very good report for the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, but if Government Members troop through the Lobby against this motion tonight, where does that leave the advice he is giving to the Government? Is he happy about that? There has to be a change.
I will obviously wait to hear the Minister and I hope to be called to speak. My hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle said to me earlier that this is exactly the sort of issue where we should avoid party politics and seek a consensus. I commit myself again, as I have said to the right hon. Gentleman and to ministerial colleagues, to doing so, even if it is sometimes very hard work to get us all in the same place. Careers, work and work experience seem to me to be issues on which there is much more than a party interest in getting to that right place.
I agree again with what the right hon. Gentleman says. If there is some passion in my voice tonight, it is because I am standing up for people to have a careers service that is under attack. It is quite simply going before our eyes. It is no good saying “let us find consensus” complacently; we need to say that the issue is urgent and it needs to be got a grip of right now. Otherwise, the damage will not be reparable. That is why I continue to point out what I consider to be unacceptable complacency on the part of the Government Front-Bench team. It promised us a transition plan on how this responsibility would be managed as it moved from local authorities to schools and on how we ensure that we do not lose professionals. This plan has been promised for weeks and weeks and weeks. Every day that passes, more and more damage is being done to the careers service. I say to Government Members who worry about these issues that the time has come for them to start holding their own Front-Bench team to account.
“I find it inconceivable, or at least unlikely, that best practice will not include face-to-face provision.”—[Hansard, 11 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1257.]
If that is the Government’s view, why do they not guarantee it for all young people? The aim must be to give a basic minimum to all young people. I have to say that the Government are in danger of looking seriously isolated on this issue. The Education Select Committee—I mentioned its report a few moments ago—highlighted the need to protect face-to-face guidance. When a Committee is chaired by a Conservative Member—Mr Stuart is no longer in the Chamber—and it makes that direct recommendation to the Government, one would expect them to do him the courtesy of making a proper response.
Esther McVey put it this way when we last debated these issues:
“We must not lose the knowledge on the internet, but we must also not lose those people and their personal knowledge. We cannot let something so vital slip through our fingertips when it was within our grasp and when we had the ability to save it.”—[Hansard, 11 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1249.]
Voices are speaking from the Conservative Benches, which I do not think Ministers can or should ignore, but the careers service is slipping out of our grasp.
Research conducted by the university of Derby and Unison reveals that just 15 councils are retaining a substantial universal careers service. More than 4,000 careers advisers have already lost their jobs and 50 councils have closed their Connexions centres completely. This expertise is being lost. According to the university of Derby,
“the current environment is having a potentially disastrous impact on the careers profession.”
In a speech in November 2010, the Minister said:
“As we go about this, it’s important to recognise that we’re not starting from scratch. On the contrary, we will build on Next Step and on Connexions because we must not lose the best of either.”
But that is exactly what is happening. We are losing the best of what we have, and this gross mismanagement is simply unforgiveable. It could damage the life chances of up to 2 million young people, as the Association of School and College Leaders has estimated. Young people appear to have been sidelined from the Government’s plans for a national careers service; the Education Bill transfers the responsibility, but not the £200 million that they were promised. Ministers need to tell us tonight what has happened to that money, what is available for the new national careers service and when it will be made available to save these services. Schools have a statutory responsibility to provide a service, but it is absolutely clear that if they are not given the guidance or the money, these services will be of a substandard quality.
The Government have provided no transition plan, no funding, no clarity and no guarantee of face-to-face advice. If they vote against our motion, they will be completely isolated. They have not tabled an amendment—an alternative—which in itself illustrates their sheer absence of ideas on how to take this issue forward. If their own advisory group cannot support them, what does that say about the position the Government are in? In August, the entire careers advisory group considered resignation, because it wanted to protest at the situation that it had been left in. These people did not resign, but they must now be listened to if the Government are to retain any credibility on this issue.
In conclusion, I am proud that it is Labour Members who have spoken up for young people and for a service in crisis. I know that many careers professionals will have been watching this debate, and I am sure that many feel utterly demoralised and undervalued right now. If nothing else, I want them to know tonight that, on this side of the House at least, we appreciate what they do for our young people. A bit of recognition is due, and Labour is proud to give it to them.
However, we also know now what we are up against. This is a Government who have a brutal approach to public service reform, and who are too lazy or too arrogant to produce a transition plan for the careers service. We have Education Ministers who like to focus on the elite—on Oxbridge—when the kids who have least are left to fend for themselves. The fact is that some young people cannot call on well-connected families to open doors. When a family does not have role models or where there is little family experience of what it takes to break into the professions, young people need youth workers, careers advisers and personal advisers to help them open those doors.
Just a few short weeks ago, this House reconvened to discuss the summer disturbances. Many theories were put forward on that day to explain what had gone wrong with our young people to make some of them act in that way. Of course we will continue to debate those things, but I suggest to the House something simple that all young people need, regardless of their circumstances—hope. They need hope of a job and hope of a better life, but that hope is being taken from them. So my appeal tonight goes beyond the Government Front-Bench team and to the House as a whole: is it not about time that this Parliament started standing up for young people? How much longer will we tolerate this attack on aspiration? Let us say tonight that enough is enough. That is why I urge the House to support our motion.
I am delighted to be able to respond to Andy Burnham.
I had thought that this might be a policy area where the differences between us were slight enough that he would not feel the need to overstate his case. Alas, that hope has been dashed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would have liked to respond to the right hon. Gentleman but, as I mentioned earlier, he is in Nottingham meeting 100 head teachers to discuss the future teaching schools. I hasten to add that 100 people is more than the number of Labour Members in the Chamber right now, and this is an Opposition day debate. The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning would also have liked to have responded to the right hon. Gentleman, but he has just undergone minor surgery and is recovering in hospital. He sends his best wishes and wanted me to pass on his apologies to the House for the fact that a lesser orator than he is responding.
It is hard to listen to the right hon. Gentleman when he clamours for £200 million here and £200 million there, given that he was in the Cabinet of a Government who left this country with the largest budget deficit in the G7 and interest payments of £120 million a day, leaving the country on the brink of financial collapse. That is why we have had to take some very difficult decisions. Until Opposition spokesmen acknowledge that point, nothing they say on public spending will have any credibility.
I will make this final point and then I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman. I dread to think of the damage that would have been done to young people’s prospects had Labour won the last election and plunged our economy into a crisis such as those that Greece and Ireland have faced.
This evening, will the Minister at least tell us where the money has gone? Was the careers budget in the Department raided to pay for the patched-up version of the successor to the education maintenance allowance that the Government were forced to cobble together?
As I just mentioned, the £200 million to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring would pay for two days’ interest on the debt left by his Government. In addition, we have put extra funding into tackling post-16 deprivation and providing help for those who need additional support: we increased that by a third, to £750 million. That is how those sums have been prioritised by this Government.
Following on from that point, can the Minister tell us what money is actually being given to schools to provide careers advice? I would particularly like to know the answer in respect of Halton, which is one of the most deprived areas. Does how good the careers advice is just depend on what money is in school budgets now? Is this a lottery?
Despite the appalling state of the public finances that we inherited, we have managed to ensure that school funding is maintained, in cash terms, at a consistent level over the next four years. That is despite the fact that we inherited a budget deficit of £156 billion.
We have also allocated a significant sum to the pupil premium, which is worth at least £430 per pupil qualifying for free school meals this year, and the figure will rise to £2.5 billion by 2014-15. These are the extra sums that we are putting into schools, at a time when our public finances are in a dire state.
This Government are not involved in ring-fenced budgets for schools. We have de-ring-fenced a large number of budgets into the dedicated schools grant, so that head teachers and teachers can decide how that money is allocated within the priorities of their school. That is the approach that this Government are taking to public spending in the schools sector.
The hon. Gentleman is asking me to provide a critique on the state of careers advice in this country today. I will come to that, because his party’s record is not one of which he should be proud. The Labour party has just been in power for 13 years and the state of careers advice today is a consequence of what happened during those 13 years, not of what has happened during the first 16 months of this Administration. Hon. Members in all parts of the House agree on the importance of pupils receiving good quality advice and guidance to help them make the right choices for their future; that is particularly the case in these difficult economic times. We have recently seen a welcome reduction in the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training—it has fallen from 9.4% in 2009 to 7.3% in 2010—and rises in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds in education. The youth labour market is also tightening, with unemployment for 16 to 24-year-olds who are not in full-time education growing each year from about 420,000 in 2004 to its current level of 671,000. The premium on achievement in particular vocational and academic qualifications demanded by employers and universities means that making the right choices becomes ever more important, and the consequences of making the wrong choices are ever more damaging.
The Minister is talking a lot about 16 to 18-year-olds, but does he agree that if we are going to raise aspirations we need to start young? Will he agree to look at some of the good work that Leicester Connexions has done with Folville primary school in my constituency? Parents and pupils have been brought together when the children are still really young to talk about what careers options might be possible. The events were really well attended—much better attended than many other events involving parents run by the primary school. Does the Minister agree that the new system that his Government are proposing must support and fund initiatives that start at such an early age?
I could not agree more. We want to promote such best practice and we want schools to be innovative, but to do that they need control of their own funds. We have tried to de-ring-fence funds and to delegate and devolve decision making on funding to schools so that they can engage in such innovative activity. We have also de-ring-fenced the early intervention grant for local authorities, which now stands at £2.2 billion. That means that such initiatives can be undertaken by local authorities to tackle the very vulnerable people about whom the hon. Lady is talking.
The problem with the early intervention grant is that in Leicester it is being cut by £5 million this year. The Minister says that the Government are not ring fencing things, but I am not arguing for that. I am saying that there will be less money for such innovative projects, and I am asking what the Government are going to do about it.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. We de-ring-fenced all the components that make up the early intervention grants, and that funding is £2.2 billion, rising to £2.3 billion next year. That is a very large sum. I acknowledge that we had to reduce it by 10.9% as we moved into the coming year, but that is a consequence of the many very difficult decisions we have had to make in government as a result of the budget deficit. I am sorry to sound like an over-wound gramophone, but those are the consequences of being in Government and of inheriting a budget deficit that had to be tackled if we were to get our economy moving again. Young people suffer more than any other group in society when an economy is floundering, and we are in the middle of a very difficult world economic crisis driven by world debt, so we have to get our budget deficit under control if we are to survive as an economy through such difficult periods. I think the best thing for young people is to get our economy growing as soon as possible. That is why we have had to make those decisions.
Local authorities currently have a duty to provide careers advice, and they fulfil that duty through the Connexions service—a service that has, I am afraid, had mixed reviews. The Education Committee’s report said, in measured terms:
“Connexions services have provided careers guidance to individuals alongside wider support services targeted, in general, at more disadvantaged groups; and some Connexions services have been more successful than others in discharging these two duties equally successfully.”
Alan Milburn, who was referred to by the right hon. Member for Leigh, was a little less circumspect in his report on access to the professions when he reported a number of surveys that suggested low levels of satisfaction among young people with the careers guidance they received from Connexions, showing that 45% of over-14s received either no careers advice or advice that was poor or limited. He went on to say:
“Throughout our work we have barely heard a good word about the careers work of the current Connexions service.”
It is very difficult to listen to the emotional tones of the right hon. Gentleman when that is the legacy of the very careers advice that he is so passionate about providing to young people.
I am not sure what service those people were receiving from Connexions, but there is no doubt that all the surveys showed dissatisfaction with the careers advice given by Connexions. There is more satisfaction with the advice that it gives to vulnerable young people on how to get back on track and back into the mainstream, and I acknowledge that that part of the service has been of a higher quality.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the service is very patchy.
Our starting point was that careers advice needed to improve, and I think that there is unanimity across the House on that. We decided to split the provision of careers advice from the provision of advice to vulnerable young people. They are very different disciplines requiring different skills and different knowledge bases, so the decision was taken to provide an all-age careers service—the national careers service. That is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the service will be up and running from April 2012. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning for the work that he has put in to delivering that service.
The duty to provide careers advice to young people will therefore be removed from local authorities and transferred, subject to the passage of the Education Bill, to schools from September 2012. That duty will require schools to secure access to independent impartial careers guidance for their pupils in years 9 to 11. As part of the consultation process, we are also considering whether there is a case for extending that duty down to year 8 or up to the age of 18.
Will the Minister confirm that it might be independent and impartial advice, but it will not be face-to-face advice? That is to say, the Government’s plan is that it will be delivered over the phone or via the internet.
I am ever so grateful to the Minister for giving way and for setting out the schedule. What careers advice has he given all the careers advisers who have now lost their jobs because local authorities have had that funding cut and are therefore no longer providing that service? Given that he is talking about the new service not coming on line until April 2012, and that there is no guarantee that it will be provided by individuals face to face, what does he expect to happen to the people who are the experts in this system?
Local authorities still have a duty to provide careers advice, because section 68 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 is still in force, and they are required to do so. They are making decisions based on the very difficult financial settlement that we were left with by the previous Administration, but there are good examples of good practice from around the country, including Northamptonshire. In April we published statutory guidance setting out how local authorities should continue to meet that statutory duty under section 68 to encourage and help young people to participate in education and training. We are publishing on the Department’s website best practice from around the country.
I thank the Minister for giving way yet again; he has been very generous. Will he confirm that the careers advice will be given by professionally trained and qualified careers advisers? Will he also confirm that as soon as the Education Bill goes through, local authorities will retain responsibility just for the NEETs and not for everything else, which will transfer to schools, although schools have not been given any additional funding to provide that independent careers advice and guidance?
On the first point, the duty to provide advice to vulnerable young people who face problems in accessing education will remain with local authorities, whereas the duty to provide careers advice is transferring to schools. Of course, schools currently have a duty to provide careers education, within which an element of careers advice is also required. We are introducing that duty in the Education Bill at a time when we are acting to reduce bureaucracy and remove unnecessary duties and burdens from schools to allow them to focus on driving up standards, so the fact that we are introducing that new duty is a signal of the importance that the Government attach to high-quality careers guidance.
We are giving schools that duty for two reasons. First, we believe in the concept of decentralisation and of devolving decision making. We trust schools to take decisions in the best interests of their pupils, and restoring trust to the teaching profession is the cornerstone of our approach to education reform. Some argue, as has been argued today, that schools have an inbuilt bias to advise pupils to stay on in the sixth form regardless of whether it is in their best interests. That is why the Education Bill imposes the duty on schools to give advice that is independent.
Many of the incentives for schools were being distorted by the structure of the league tables. Professor Alison Wolf set out this problem in her landmark report on vocational education. She said that false equivalencies have encouraged schools to enter pupils for qualifications that score highly in performance tables but are not necessarily valued by employers—effectively building bad advice into the system. Some qualifications have been proclaimed as being equal to four GCSEs, but they do not provide the broad grounding that students need to progress. As a consequence, some pupils have been encouraged to make choices that significantly reduce their prospects for success in later life.
That is why we are reforming performance tables—to end the damaging impact of false equivalencies, as well as removing perverse incentives in the funding system that have encouraged schools and colleges to offer qualifications that are easier to complete but do not necessarily provide the rigour and quality that students need. We are also introducing destination measures that set out where school leavers go after they leave school—whether into high-quality employment with training, to further education colleges or to university.
The shadow Secretary of State asked me to ask the Minister about the E-bac, and I do so with pleasure because I welcome its introduction. I think it will have a huge impact in improving opportunities for young people. Does the Minister agree that it respects and represents the preferences of many employers and universities in that it encourages students to do the right subjects and get the right range of qualifications?
Yes; my hon. Friend makes a very good point. Whatever people say, employers disproportionately employ people with the E-bac subjects amongst their qualifications.
Our approach is to measure and report on the outputs—on what schools achieve for their pupils. The destination measure will say more about the success of a school’s approach to careers advice and will do more to deliver high-quality advice than will any number of detailed regulations.
The second reason for giving schools the duty is that they are best placed to decide what support their pupils need to make the right choices. We have considered carefully the evidence about what works and what does not work in the provision of information, advice and guidance. The approaches that are most effective work because they are part of a wider approach in a school or college that promotes ambition and aspiration, and encourages pupils to think about their future throughout their education. Effective careers guidance is not a one-off event.
There is no single right way; many different approaches work, depending on the precise circumstances of the school or pupil. That is why it is right to leave schools to decide how to provide impartial independent advice. How they choose to do that should be determined by what works for them. In making choices about how to provide impartial advice, they will benefit from independent benchmarks of quality—something that was recommended by the taskforce on careers guidance led by Dame Ruth Silver, which was commissioned by the previous Government and reported to us last year.
Alongside the duty for schools, local authorities will also have responsibility for encouraging young people to stay in education to the age of 17 or 18 by 2015. They are free to determine how best to fulfil that responsibility, taking account of local priorities. That is a duty that local authorities take seriously.
There will also be free online and helpline services for young people, which will be provided through the national careers service from April 2012. The motion mentions a requirement to provide “face-to-face” guidance for every young person, and that was also recommended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark in his report as the advocate for access to education. The issues that he raises in his report are important: making the right choices at the key decision points in a young person’s education and career can open or close a lifetime of opportunities. We are still considering all 33 recommendations in his report—not just the one recommendation that has been picked up by the Opposition—so we are not, at this stage, ruling anything in or out, and we will respond in full to his report in due course.
We also need to recognise that although advice is important, other elements are also fundamental to a pupil’s ability to achieve and progress. If a pupil does not have a thorough grounding in the basics of literacy and numeracy, or is not given the opportunity to study the subjects that are the best foundation for progression, the best information and advice in the world will not help that pupil to progress far beyond the constraints that a poor education has put on him or her. The evidence is very clear that the longer someone stays in education, the higher their earnings are and the less likely they are to be unemployed. OECD figures show that the earnings premium resulting from a university degree is between $200,000 and $300,000. People with two or more A-levels can earn 14% more than those without. For those who secure five good GCSEs the chances of being NEET are just one in 40, whereas for those who do not achieve five or more good GCSEs the odds fall to one in six.
For young people who are set on pursuing a vocational route at an early age we are promoting university technical colleges and studio schools, we are encouraging FE colleges to consider recruiting students at age 14 and we are allowing further education lecturers to teach in schools. That is also why we are increasing apprenticeship places for 16 to 18-year-olds, with 102,900 young people starting apprenticeships in the first nine months of this year compared with 117,000 for the whole of the last academic year. That is why we have protected school budgets in cash terms, and why we have ensured that we are funding participation at age 17 by 2013 and at age 18 by 2015. It is also why we make no apology for prioritising resources on funding for early years on the pupil premium in schools and on funding for disadvantaged young people post-16.
Perhaps the greatest benchmark for deciding whether we are providing the best careers advice for our children is the advice that we provide to children in care, and we know that the outcomes for children in care, particularly in relation to their education, remain woeful. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the continuation of the care to work project. However, will my hon. Friend look again—perhaps this could be a 34th recommendation to add to his list—at widening the Frank Buttle Trust quality mark, which provides looked-after children with real confidence that any higher or further education institution that they might want to go into has support and guidance in place for them as a looked-after child or care leaver, to enable them to succeed and achieve their aspirations?
My hon. Friend makes some very good points. The gap between looked-after children and the rest of society is unacceptable. The low proportion of looked-after children who go to university—just 6%—is also unacceptable. Looked-after children qualify automatically for the pupil premium, and I am listening carefully to what my hon. Friend suggests.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech, and I have been on the edge of my seat throughout. In Windsor we have some of the best schools in the country, and many of the eminent and pre-eminent Members of the House have attended one or two of them. What the Government propose is absolutely right: it gives flexibility for schools to decide which type of independent advice they think is necessary for their pupils, but does not rule out the selection of Connexions in future to continue to provide some of those services. Can my hon. Friend confirm that that is the case—that Connexions can continue in the new framework?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am grateful to him for his very sincere comments about my speech. He is right that the purpose of the clause in the Education Bill is to enable schools to buy in, to procure those services—whether provided face to face, online or by other means—for the young people in their care. We want to avoid the scenario painted by Andy Burnham of a PE teacher providing careers advice in his spare time. We want to ensure that advice is independent and high quality.
I shall now bring my remarks to an end; I apologise to my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie for doing so. On funding, schools will make any provision for careers guidance from their overall budget. Schools already have, under the existing legislation that we are amending, a duty to provide careers education, which includes duties to provide impartial careers advice. Schools’ budgets are no longer ring-fenced and schools can make, and can fund, careers advice.
We are a Government who believe in high-quality careers advice, which is what our reforms are about. We are acting at a time of fiscal constraint, as a consequence of the state of the public finances left by the last Labour Government. I urge all hon. Members, therefore, to reject any motion tabled by the Opposition on any issue that requires funding, and in particular to reject their motion this evening.
May I just say that we have nine Members left to speak, and that if the hon. Gentleman limits his speech to eight minutes it will help everybody?
I was going to confess that when I was Chair of the Education Committee I never did an inquiry into careers, but in 2008 I was co-chair of the Skills Commission and we undertook a major inquiry into careers. Lord Boswell, Baroness Sharp and I were on the commission and we produced an all-party report, “Inspiration and Aspiration: Realising our Potential in the 21st Century.” Dame Ruth Silver, whom the Minister and anyone who knows anything about careers will know, the former principal of Lewisham college, was a very important influence on our inquiry, and she now chairs the Government advisory organisation that fell out with the Government recently.
We found pretty simple things. We found that, yes, information technology is very useful and that it will increasingly be used by many young people and older people, but at that stage—three years ago—it was used by only about 17% or 18%, which is not a lot. We also found that it was not enough in itself—face-to-face experience and trusted professionals were vital. There was no doubt that all the research, all the evidence that we took, showed it could not be done by technology alone, and that we blanked out many people by relying only on the technology and the internet.
We also found that yes, the careers service was not as good as it should have been. Anyone who does a PhD in future about the Conservatives’ enthralment with localism will have a wonderful time with the Minister’s speech tonight, because what is this localism? I intervened and said, “The trouble is that Connexions was patchy.” It is true that in every local government service I know, much is good in some things, but less is good in others and things are pretty average too much of the time. So how does one, believing in localism, raise the bar in careers? It is a great challenge, as Conservative Members will find. Pushing the responsibility back entirely on to schools, they will find the service very patchy indeed, especially if there are very few resources to some schools and better resources at others.
The Skills Commission report was accepted by all three parties and influenced all three manifestos, so there was the start of a good cross-party agreement on the need for high-quality careers advice—absolutely everyone from whom we took evidence agreed on that. But how do we push that forward? When we found that all the manifestos had been influenced by the cross-party consensus, we were very hopeful. But how did we get to the Government advisory group on the all-age careers service? The Labour Government of 2008 did not want an all-age careers service. They were eventually persuaded—again, there was cross-party consensus. All three main parties agreed on an all-age careers service, and they reconstituted it under a different name—the national careers service advisory group. I understand that it is now in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with the Education Department visiting, rather than its being in the Education Department. I have some concerns, and I think hon. Members will have some concerns, about careers being put very securely in BIS rather than in the Education Department.
Responsibility for providing face-to-face services is, however, being transferred to schools, without funding. I have the report from the advisory group on the all-age careers service and the comments by Dame Ruth Silver about its very real problems with it. It says:
“The new National Careers Service will include face-to-face services for adults, but not for young people. Instead, its service for young people will be confined to telephone- and web-based services. Responsibility for providing the face-to-face services is being transferred to schools, without any transfer of funding: the previous provision of around £200 million per annum for the service for young people has been allowed to disappear.”
That is the Government’s advisory group speaking. These are the leading people in the country advising on careers. The report continues:
“There are widespread concerns about the destruction of careers services across the country, with heavy staff redundancies. At a time when young people are facing massive changes in further and higher education, and new apprenticeships—as well as high youth unemployment—stripping out the professional help available to them is not only foolhardy; it is potentially damaging to young people’s lives and ultimately to the economy.”
What a damning report by the Government’s advisory committee! It cannot be right to go in this direction.
As a result of this kind of localism, schools with few resources will have very little careers advice. That is the truth. At the same time, local authorities up and down the land, under pressure of resources, are getting rid of their careers services or slimming them down to the very bone. We will not recreate a culture of high-quality careers service professionals in that way, even though the Government asked Ruth Silver to chair a committee to determine how to increase the professional quality of the careers service.
Everything was going in the right direction, with all-party consensus. Localism could have worked in this respect if the money had followed local responsibility and accountability. I worked closely with the Minister, who was a good member of the Education and Skills Committee for some years, when I chaired it. He is a reasonable man, and he will understand that this is not a party political issue. Good-quality careers advice is absolutely essential to everyone of whatever age. I am one of those people who believe that it is shame and a stain on our country to have a thing called NEETs. I believe that anyone who is not in education, employment or training of whatever age is a NEET, and we cannot have them.
I am happy to follow Mr Sheerman, with all his expertise as the former Chair of the Education Committee and his reminder of what the Skills Commission, on which he so honourably served, so clearly said.
I am grateful to Andy Burnham for choosing this subject. I shall let him and the House into a secret: the more pressure that we as a House can put on the Government on this issue between us, the better. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for the way in which he responded. May I pass on through him my thanks to the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, with whom I have had several pragmatic and good conversations, and to his colleagues at all levels who have said that, having received the report that I gave them in July, they are taking seriously what I asked them to do?
May I now go back a step? In May, we sent the Education Bill from the House to the House of Lords. We held robust debates on this and other issues. It left with two relevant provisions. First, clause 27 states:
“The responsible authorities for a school in England…must secure that all registered pupils at the school are provided with independent careers guidance”.
I support that. Secondly, it states:
“For the purposes of this section the relevant phase of a pupil’s education is” between 14 and 16. That is an adequate starting point.
Two months later to the day, the Education Committee, chaired by Mr Stuart—a Conservative Back Bencher—produced its report. The cross-party Select Committee had a clear, unanimous view on the issue. It said specifically, at paragraph 156:
“Professor Watts told us that ‘we used to have a careers service for young people, and all we had for adults was a strategy… What we now have…is a careers service for adults, and a very loose” information advice and guidance
“framework for young people’. Online career guidance, which allows young people to explore at their own pace and according to their own interests, is valuable; and we heard praise for the online careers services offered by DirectGov. However, this is no substitute for personal advice, given on the basis of an understanding of a young person’s circumstances and ambitions. We recommend that the all age careers service should be funded by the Department for Education for face to face career guidance for young people.”
It could not have been clearer.
I did not know that the Select Committee would say that specifically, but the following week, on
I was clear, because the evidence given to me was clear, that people should start to talk about careers in year 6 in primary school. I was clear, which is why I was so glad about the intervention made by Kerry McCarthy, that work experience was seen as something where the cleaner did not take a child to work to clean or the accountant take another to do accountancy, but where the cleaner’s child had the same exposure to the opportunities that the accountant’s child would have and, to be honest, vice versa.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman shares my concern about what is happening in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, where Futures used to charge £13 per pupil to fix up work experience, but as a result of the loss of a £500,000 Government grant, it now charges £31 per pupil. Many schools are unable to buy in the service to match students with work experience opportunities, yet individual parents can pay £150 to buy just those opportunities for their children to be matched with work experience. What does that say to the children of cleaners and school dinner ladies about the importance of their opportunities?
I absolutely share that concern. We need a system that guarantees more than just one week of work experience once in July—at the same time all around the country—at one stage in a person’s career. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, Tim Loughton, and I were at city hall today with some young people who argued that they should have at least two weeks’ work experience. I am clear that it should be for those aged from 14 through to 16, and be held at an appropriate time and in an appropriate place. It should not be something that people charge to fix up; we should develop it so that it is part of the expectation in secondary school, and part of youngsters’ lives.
I agree very much with the right hon. Gentleman, and I welcome the spirit in which he is speaking. He would probably agree with Labour Members that, as my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood said, work experience is so important that it should not be left to random chance. We have to find a way of offering structured opportunities, particularly to those young people who have the least. With that in mind, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to comment on the Government’s intention of removing the requirement on schools, at key stage 4, to offer work-related learning, which essentially is work experience? Is it not the case that if they remove that requirement, provision will be completely random? Some schools will offer it, and some will not.
Let me be absolutely straight with the right hon. Gentleman: I understand the Government’s wish not to burden heads and schools with over-prescription. I am chair of governors of a primary school, and a trustee of a secondary school, so I understand that completely. However, some things have to be guaranteed, and in my view we have to guarantee the opportunity of work experience during secondary school time, and we have to guarantee face-to-face careers advice. I say that not because I have some theological view about it, but because the evidence that we have heard, and that I collected, is that youngsters are overwhelmingly saying, “We’ve had bad careers advice and bad work experience.”
In a tight economic situation, people even more need both careers advice and work experience. The figures that I collected show that there are more than 4,000 different qualifications that a young person can gain between the ages of 14 and 18. There are millions of combinations of qualifications that they can end up with. Navigating a way through that requires more than a person’s ability to go online and discover what they think they might want to know; that, bluntly, is different depending on how bright the person is, what family support they have, and other things. It is about more than having some books to look at; it is about speaking to somebody who can relate to them where they are, and engage with them.
As my hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle said to me when the debate began, in the end what is required may be more than one half-hour session; there may need to be follow-up—mentoring, support, and continuous commitment. That might mean a local employer—PricewaterhouseCoopers could step over the river to my constituency—coming into a school to continue to support somebody as they work things out. It might mean working out how somebody who fluffs some exams, and does not start very well academically, can recover and be told, “You haven’t lost everything just because you had a terrible year when your parents separated and your family situation was a disaster.” We have to understand that people have only one school time in which they can do work experience.
The right hon. Gentleman must be commended for speaking with great foresight and spelling things out with great common sense. Does he agree that there is real urgency, as is reflected in the motion? Young people have only one chance, and getting things right tomorrow is no good for today’s kids. We need to get things right now. There is a transition gap; to be fair, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has recognised that that is an issue in talking to me. That gap needs to be addressed immediately.
I do not disagree with that; I said it in my report, and I would remind the hon. Gentleman to go back and look at it. I just have time to list the recommendations and give my conclusion on where I think we should go.
The second recommendation, which is relevant, is that the Department for Education should continuously consider how best to support schools and colleges in their access activities, and in building up much more available information.
The third recommendation is that at the age of 13 and 14—in year 9—every student should have available to them a proper, broad base of information on what the pathways are. Indeed, it is not just the young people who need that information; their parents do, too, so that they are not prejudiced by their own experiences and past.
The fourth recommendation is that the Government “should act urgently”—those are the words on the Order Paper—to guarantee face-to-face careers advice for all young people in schools; that should be taken up to age 17 and 18, as the school leaving age increases.
We need a plan on how to keep the expertise of current careers services providers, given the change in the system. I welcome the change in the system—Connexions was often not successful, but we must make sure that we do not lose the expertise of the people who delivered the service. We must hold events for parents and carers to make sure that they understand that. Someone in each school—not the independent provider—should be responsible for access issues and someone for careers issues. Finally, Ofsted should evaluate the careers service given to the school and report on it, and how it makes use of destination data.
I am grateful for the Minister’s courtesy and his Department’s consideration. I can hold back my colleagues from voting with the Opposition only because of the undertaking he has given. [ Interruption. ] No: the Government are going to respond to all the recommendations, not one. I accept absolutely the point about urgency made by Back Benchers. Our Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Lords feel equally strongly that we must ensure the provision of face-to-face guidance.
I represent a strongly working-class constituency. If we believe in social mobility, we must additionally assist those who do not have the advantages of privilege and finance, which is why the Government must deliver. I await the recommendations and their response, but there must be a yes to the proposal.
I greatly admired the speech given by Simon Hughes, but I am slightly perplexed as to how he can speak eloquently and passionately about something in which he clearly believes but then, at the last minute, say that he will be able to vote with the Government—that is extraordinary— and that he will encourage his colleagues to do the same. It is his call to vote with the Government and support them. I shall support young people in all of this, as they need us now.
We decided to call this debate on careers advice—not the sexiest subject out there—because it matters to us in the Labour party. This is about social mobility, and if the Labour party cares about something, it is social mobility. If we get this wrong, it will make a huge difference to young people’s lives.
The hon. Lady rightly said that we all have to show that we are on the side of young people, and I hope that I have shown that and that my colleagues are, too. The Government must not just provide one response to one question but respond comprehensively. They also have to find the money. That is their job, not my job. I want them to do it, and we are putting pressure on them. Let me put pressure on in my way; if the hon. Lady puts pressure on in her way, I am determined that the Government will deliver.
I listen carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, and clearly he is far more experienced in the ways of the House than I am. It really is not about what we get up and say—it is what we do. We must show support for young people through our actions, not just by giving a fancy speech.
I am listening carefully to the distinction that the hon. Lady is drawing between how Members will vote on the motion and their commitments more widely. Will she tell us whether the previous Government guaranteed face-to-face contact for every person, as the motion seeks to demand that the Government guarantee?
There are issues with Connexions, and if I am able to deliver the rest of my speech I will come on to that.
Satisfaction with Connexions varies a great deal, and the Minister rightly pointed out that its careers advice was lacking. In his report, Alan Milburn observed that only one in five young people questioned on the issue found that the careers advice offered by Connexions was satisfactory. That situation is not sustainable, and we should not put up with it. My objection is that the only young people who will receive guaranteed, face-to-face, top-notch, good-quality careers advice are those in fee-paying schools, which no one in the House should tolerate, regardless of their political affiliation, background or education.
The issue is not just the life chances of individual young people, although it certainly includes that, and I am sure that will be the main focus of debate. This is about economic regeneration. My constituency has an engineering heritage and I have some very large engineering companies. I am thinking of Cummins, which makes engines. I do not understand fully what the company does, but I know the engines come in a range of colours. The careers advice and guidance that I was given, growing up in a town with such a strong engineering heritage, was about the public sector, health care and social sciences. Nobody ever spoke to me about taking maths, about a career in engineering, about getting into technology—nothing. Not very much has changed in that respect.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is the quality of advice that counts, more than its quantity? What does she recommend we could do to get more people into schools to talk about STEM subjects, for example, and to inspire pupils to take those—boys and girls?
Exactly right; I agree with that. I look at my own sons and wonder who is going to talk to them if they want to go into science, technology, engineering or maths. Heaven help them if they look to me or their father for advice. I can give them advice on politics, psychology, archaeology, retail and cake decorating.
Alan Milburn was right. I am happy to see the service devolved to schools. It is fine for schools to commission the service as they see fit, but they need money to enable them to buy quality face-to-face advice, and there needs to be a proper inspection regime.
Fantastic! I am all for that. That is marvellous, but is it happening in every school in the country? Of course not. I have some brilliant engineering businesses which go into schools and inspire young people. They try to point young people in the right direction and show them that there are wonderful careers for them on their doorstep—international careers—but young people need more than a visit from such a company. They need proper face-to-face advice from people who will inspire them.
The businesses in Darlington to which I referred are recruiting senior engineers from Greece, Brazil and Turkey, because we are not producing the people to fill those senior roles. One reason for that is that people are not getting the right advice at the right age. I am not talking just about 16 and FE. I am talking about year 6 in primary school, before they take their options, so that they know that they have to take good science subjects and maths. I am glad to see Damian Hinds agreeing with me. Such careers advice will not happen via Google. It needs to be face-to-face, inspiring advice.
I am fortunate to have in Darlington the Queen Elizabeth sixth-form college. I shall shamelessly plug the work of one woman, Stella Barnes, who provides first-class careers advice to young people there. I am sure that despite the pressures that it faces, the college will find the funding to keep Stella doing such fantastic work, but that is one woman and she can only do so much.
In the turbulent world that our young people are entering, job prospects are not certain, the costs of higher education are putting people off, and EMA no longer incentivises young people to stay on post-16. That applies not only to the at-risk, the vulnerable, the people who would not have a job if their mother had not organised something for them. It applies to all young people from all kinds of backgrounds. It is not just about the children of people on benefits. It is about people whose parents are in professional careers but who lack the wherewithal to open other doors—people like myself.
The biggest shame is that the Government have over-promised on what they will do. When they said that there would be an all-age careers service, people took them at their word. They thought that that meant the same for everybody and that it would be fair, but that is not what we will find. Adults can get face-to-face advice, because the Government rightly recognise that they need it, so why can young people not get it? They need it more than anyone else. They need someone to look them in the eye, work out their personal circumstances, listen to their hopes, dreams and aspirations, perhaps give them some if they do not have any, and work out the best thing for them. Otherwise, we are leaving young people stranded.
There are good examples across the United Kingdom, and some of those will be in Northern Ireland. I suggest that that might be a way forward.
I fear that the Opposition are on the wrong track with the subject they have selected for today’s debate. I fear that much more damage has been done by the dilution of maths, sciences and languages in our schools than by poor careers advice, and yet we have yet another Opposition day debate on education that does not address the core issue. We are not talking about what students actually learn in school.
During their period in government, Labour presided over a hollowing core that failed to prepare people properly for the world of work. Britain has been left with a skills shortage in crucial areas, and I fear that we are losing the race against international competitors. An OECD report published today indicates that there has been a rebalancing of skills between west and east. The leagues tables for the OECD’s programme for international student assessment speak for themselves, with the UK falling to 28th place in maths.
The previous Government, instead of addressing the fundamental weaknesses in our education system, further skewed education towards those subjects that employers did not want and spent money on careers advice that only a few people appreciated. Only 20% of students said that they thought the careers advice provided was useful. Alan Milburn, a former Labour Minister, said that the careers advice simply was not good enough.
I recognise my hon. Friend’s interest in this wider subject. The really important thing is that both should work. The reason we need good, personalised careers advice is that it enables young people to make the right choices, for example on what subjects to study, so that they do not end up excluded from university courses—medicine, for instance—because they made the wrong choices when they were 14 or 15.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I advocate making the E-bac subjects that the Government are encouraging compulsory until age 16, as they are in Canada, Germany and France. It is good for all students to get a core basic education. We currently have one of the lowest proportions in the OECD of students doing maths aged 16 to 18. We have a very poor record on foreign languages, history and sciences.
To address the point that the shadow Secretary of State made in his speech, we need to get everyone up to a good level in a core general education. It is no longer appropriate to say that it is okay for students to cut off their options at age 14 and regret it later in their careers. I do not think that we need a lot of expensive careers advisers telling students that; it should be a broad part of a general education that everyone in this country studies, as is the case in most of our major competitors. I would like the Government to take up that point.
Employers say that they are most concerned about foreign languages—75% said that it was their major concern. Yet in 2004 the previous Government dropped the requirement of a foreign language at key stage 4, and since then the proportion of students studying foreign languages at GCSE has plunged from 79% to 44%. In mathematics, the UK is an outlier, with only 50% of sixth forms offering further mathematics A-level, and yet students who wish to study mathematics or physics at one of the top universities need a further mathematics A-level. That means that 50% of our young people are unable to study those important subjects at university. That is absolutely disgraceful. Why are they not able to do so? There are perverse incentives in the league tables, as the Minister said earlier, and we all know that some subjects are more equal than others, but there is also a fundamental dishonesty in how they are presented and reported.
One thing that no one has mentioned in the debate so far, however, is the role that teachers should play. We have seen their role diminished since 2003, and in particular since their terms and conditions restricted the activities in which they may become involved. Teachers have a crucial role in inspiring students to think about their future and what they could make of themselves, but sometimes we focus too much on the student’s immediate career, rather than on building up their long-term capabilities.
It is better to have somebody who is close to a student giving them regular advice and being honest about their subject options. I have been into local schools and talked to teachers, and often they are afraid of denigrating a subject for fear of seeming elitist, but unfortunately that is undermining our meritocracy and meaning that students from well-off backgrounds who attend independent schools are twice as likely to study maths and science at A-level, three times as likely to study modern languages and seven times less likely to study media studies. That, I am afraid, is the legacy of our system.
What is the basis for assuming that unqualified teachers who flourish in the free-school experiment will be better equipped to provide the support and direction that the hon. Lady hopes pupils will receive?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I support the idea that a good head teacher will select those teachers who are the most inspirational to the students entering that school and encourage them in their future lives and careers. In this country, however, we often look to the short term and the next job, instead of building up the capability for a lifetime of jobs—which could amount to 10 jobs. We are all going to work longer, because we are all living longer.
I know from the previous comments of Labour Front Benchers that they do not always approve of traditional subjects such as physics, chemistry and modern languages—[ Interruption. ] Well, I have heard expressed in this Chamber objections to the English baccalaureate. However, even if the Opposition think that those subjects are old hat, which people in China and India certainly do not think, as they are rushing to institutes of technology to study them, I am afraid that we are not that great either at teaching new subjects in the way that employers want.
“Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage.”
I fear not only that we are not teaching enough rigorous and traditional subjects, but that we are not teaching the new subjects deeply enough, or in a way that imparts how things work, in order to give us the capability to build more effective programming and IT industries. The problem therefore is not just with the subjects, but with the way ICT is being taught.
The Government are taking absolutely the right approach by encouraging more students to study such core subjects, which will give them broad career options, rather than cut off their options early, as many people have unfortunately been doing.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, because I have been sitting here getting increasingly frustrated at the notion that history, geography, modern foreign languages, maths and science are the only subjects that will give a student the breadth of knowledge with which to go forward in their lives. Is the issue not about academic rigour and young people learning to learn and learning to evaluate what they learn? That is the important thing, not the subject that they are doing.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Perhaps in due course she could tell me why Canada, France and Germany insist on those subjects being taken to age 16, and why all those countries are doing better than us in the OECD PISA—programme for international student assessment—tables.
The Government are taking absolutely the right approach of strengthening the core, getting rid of modules from exams, making rigorous assessments, and encouraging students to take the E-bac. It is so encouraging that this year the numbers of new entries to these subjects have gone up. We are also offering proper apprenticeships to get people the proper work experience that they need to build a successful career. We will not create careers with more hot air; we will create careers through real learning in real subjects and real jobs.
This is the first debate I have spoken in since the summer recess, so may I declare an interest that I should have declared when I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on
My right hon. Friend the shadow Education Secretary set the context for this important debate—rising youth unemployment, the loss of education maintenance allowance and the increase in tuition fees, with the danger that today’s generation of young people could be left in the lurch. He also made the important point that Labour Members are not arguing for preserving the status quo, and he made it clear that we want to work on a cross-party basis to deliver the terms of the motion. I welcome the comments by Simon Hughes, who reminded us of the recommendations in his report. I gently encourage him and his colleagues to follow those words by joining us in the Aye Lobby.
The big policy challenge to which several Members have referred is how we can increase social mobility. We know from research, including last year’s “Going for Growth” report from the OECD, that this country has an appalling record. The strength of the link between a person’s income and their parents’ income is higher in this country than in any other OECD country. That is a truly shocking fact. I think that every speaker has mentioned Alan Milburn, so I feel the need to do so as well. In his 2009 report, Alan said:
“Birth, not worth, has become much more of a determinant of people’s life chances.”
We must ensure that we address that in this debate.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I was going to make a similar point later, but she has made it very powerfully.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is not here this evening, has been cautious in his criticism of the previous Government’s programmes, and rightly so. Of course, as Members on both sides of the House have said, there were serious imperfections with Connexions and Next Step, but we must be careful not to write off the positive features and the important work of many talented and committed professionals who have worked, as some still do, in those programmes.
Today, in advance of tonight’s debate, I spoke to people in some of the secondary schools in my constituency. Those at St John Bosco school in Croxteth told me about the work they have been doing with the Aimhigher programme. They have drawn particularly on the importance of the role of face-to-face contact by employing a graduate mentor to assist the girls at the school with their university applications and career development.
This is a school in a very deprived neighbourhood that has an excellent reputation and a high percentage of its girls going on to university.
Cardinal Heenan school for boys has pioneered a particularly innovative approach to careers advice. I want to commend Dave Forshaw, the head teacher, and his team for their industry day programme, which I have had the opportunity to visit on two occasions. The programme draws on alumni, partners and a range of local organisations to deliver rich and effective careers advice, starting in year 7. Its recent industry days have had contributions from a former pupil of the school, the actor Ian Hart, who appeared in the Harry Potter films, as well as local and national journalists, sports professionals, solicitors, accountants and others. West Derby school has adopted a similar approach and held its first careers convention last year.
I cite those examples because they demonstrate two important points. The first is the critical importance of giving information and advice at an early age. Too often, these things are left too late. The second is the importance of drawing on expertise, including among the alumni of the schools themselves, to inspire young people.
The head teachers of those schools said to me today that quality careers advice needs resources. They are very concerned about what they see as a potential shift in policy away from face-to-face interaction to online and telephone-based services. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State set out the research published by Unison that was done at the university of Derby, which shows the sheer scale of the cuts in careers services up and down the country. That is the backdrop for this important debate.
Some of this debate has focused on low-cost solutions and how effective they are in delivery. I would like to bring the House’s attention to the work of an organisation called Future First. It has done excellent research on careers services. Like the head teachers of the schools in my constituency that I have cited, it emphasises that careers advice cannot be reduced to online information and telephone services. A complementary model is surely the best way forward. Future First seeks to increase social mobility by building communities of alumni around state schools to inspire young people about their futures.
The hon. Gentleman is giving a passionate speech. He has just said that careers advice should be complementary, and I agree. However, the Opposition motion does not say that the Government should seek to find additional funds to provide face-to-face careers advice; it says that all young people should be provided with face-to-face careers advice whether they need it or not. That does not sound complementary; it sounds like the cumbersome over-specified and overly expensive processes that we saw too much of under the previous Government.
Not at all. What I mean by complementary, and what I understand Future First to mean by complementary, is that we need face-to-face advice, but that that is not enough. We also need the other projects to which I and other Members have referred.
On the subject of complementary services, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Labour Government and my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman explored the possibility of using social media as a complementary way of introducing kids at school to people who have the same interests. Does he think that we might take that idea forward in the future?
Absolutely; my hon. Friend makes an important point. Face-to-face advice is vital, and that is why the motion is about that, but it is not enough on its own. We need other initiatives, whether they use information technology or networks of alumni, as Future First does.
Future First started as a project in London state secondary schools. It was founded by a team of graduates from state schools, who were motivated by their own experience. It seeks to improve the support offered to young people at school as soon as they start considering their future. It is now supported by a wide range of organisations, including the Sutton Trust. It is looking to extend its excellent practice beyond London to other parts of the country. Recently, I had the opportunity to introduce Future First to Liverpool Vision, with a view to opening opportunities for it to take its programmes to Liverpool. It will be meeting shortly with head teachers and business leaders in the city of Liverpool.
Future First’s study, “Social Mobility, Careers Advice and Alumni Networks”, to which my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State referred, makes the point that was made earlier by my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman about the contrast between what happens in private schools and state schools. When asked how they rated their careers service, just 31% of young people in state schools said “good” or “very good”, yet in private schools the figure was almost double that at 57%. The figures from the independent sector and those from the state sector show a very significant contrast, which highlights the scale of the challenges that we face.
In-school services must get better. Schools need to improve them, but they cannot do that on their own; they need partners, and organisations such as Future First provide ideal partners for that excellent work. I therefore urge the Government, following tonight’s debate, not only to guarantee face-to-face careers advice as set out in the motion, but to go beyond that, and support and encourage excellent programmes such as the one at Cardinal Heenan school in my constituency and the ones that Future First has promoted in London. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Education Secretary said, Opposition Members will work with the Government if they genuinely seek to advance that vital instrument in the fight for a more socially mobile country.
I do not know whether you have seen the film “Groundhog Day”, Mr Deputy Speaker, in which history keeps repeating itself, but this Opposition day debate and the one before it feel very similar. We have heard the same old tired arguments from the Opposition, with very little acknowledgment of the mistakes that they made or the mess in which we find ourselves, in terms of both the economy and the careers advice service.
A number of hon. Members have quoted the former Member for Darlington, Alan Milburn, so let me do so as well. Having chaired the panel on fair access, he said:
“In my view, the service requires a quite radical rethink”.
Indeed, the panel concluded:
“We believe that schools and colleges need to be given direct responsibility, working with local authorities, for making their decisions about information, advice and guidance”.
That is exactly what the Government plan to do.
Mrs Chapman quoted a survey that said that only one in five young people found Connexions helpful. Further surveys said that under Labour, six in 10 were unhappy with the quality of the careers that they were getting—[ Interruption. ] There has been an element of good advice, but perhaps not enough, and we must acknowledge that there was no golden age of careers advice under the previous Government. We need to put the debate in that context.
I agree with hon. Members who have made it clear that careers advice is vital, and that young people need to get it as early as possible in their school careers. It is important that we foster aspiration, which hon. Members have talked about; that we expand the boundaries of what students believe is possible for them in their careers; and that we get young people to aim high.
Kerry McCarthy, who is not in the Chamber, spoke about that, and I agreed with her, but the question is this: how do we deliver that careers advice? We have heard that the Education Bill will introduce a legal duty for the provision of impartial careers guidance in years 9 to 11, which is absolutely right. I am pleased that the Minister spoke about the fact that the Government are consulting on whether they should extend that duty downwards to year 8, which would be great. I would like to see it go down further, because we cannot start careers advice early enough.
I agree that that responsibility should go to schools. At the end of the day, they know their pupils best and know what is required. They will be able to commission advice and services from the new national careers service when that is up and running, and of course from other external sources.
It has been implied—I do not whether it was deliberate or not—that providing online advice does not make sense for young people. Some of us have young children ourselves, and some of us know young people, and we know that it is second nature for them to use the internet to do research. Professor Alison Wolf, who led the Government review of vocational education, has said very clearly that there is a role for the Government in providing online, updated information on what is available. It is entirely consistent that online provision is one of the things that will be happening.
I agree that young people often want to access information through new technology, but does the hon. Gentleman consider it an adequate replacement for guidance and the opportunity to discuss options face to face?
Clearly, we need to have both. [Interruption.] Hang on, let me finish! Schools will be able to access this information.
I want to talk about what is happening on my patch in Reading. It is vital that not just schools, but businesses have a key role in providing careers advice, because, at the end of the day, they have an interest in interacting with their future employees. It is vital that we do not forget that element. As the Minister knows, because he is opening it at the end of the month, we have organised an interactive careers fair—we have called it a “futures fair”—open to all secondary schools in my constituency. We have organised it with the educational charity, Central Berkshire Education Business Partnership, which I guess is the sort of external service provider that we are talking about. I have long thought it important—I am sure that other Members have too—that we connect schools and business and that careers advice is not provided in isolation by schools and teachers.
When I began the initiative, I wondered how we would fund it, but actually businesses bent over backwards to provide funding. We are holding it at the conference centre at the Madejski football stadium in Reading—it is going to be a very big event—and schools will not have to pay a penny because it will be fully funded by business. More than 60 organisations, including businesses, multinationals and local companies, are taking part. An hon. Member said that we need alumni and former students in positions of responsibility in companies to come and talk to pupils in schools, which is exactly what we will have—every sector will be covered, from engineering to IT and apprenticeships providers—along with seminars on practical skills, including on how to write a CV, perform in mock interviews, secure an apprenticeship, manage money and budget. There will also be advice on pursuing a science career. Hon. Members have rightly said that we need to encourage STEM subjects.
The careers fair is also about ensuring that before the students arrive, they know exactly what to expect and that afterwards there will be follow-up sessions with teachers. Hon. Members talked about the need to involve families and parents. There will be an opportunity, after the school day, for parents to come back with their kids and talk to businesses. There are families in my constituencies—perhaps in all constituencies—who have never had a scientist, lawyer, accountant or whatever in their family, and this is an opportunity for parents to talk with businesses together with their kids. That is vital.
In the previous debate, the shadow Business Secretary, Mr Denham, talked about the need for long-term apprenticeships. We have companies coming to the fair offering three-year apprenticeships, and there is even a seminar for teachers to learn about the local labour market and the types of skills that employers are looking for. I am talking about this because we need to stop thinking one-dimensionally and assuming that the Government must provide everything. There is a clear role for businesses. They bend over backwards to help schools and local communities because they know that at the end of the day they will see the benefits. We need to find a way of getting the business community more engaged. Bridging the skills and expectations gap between young people and potential employers is vital.
In conclusion, I think that the Government are on absolutely the right track with careers advice, and I would ask the Opposition to think carefully about what the Government are doing and the constraints placed on them as a result of the position in which we were left by the previous Government. Unfortunately, I cannot support the Opposition motion tonight.
In the ’80s and ’90s, I spent 10 years as a youth worker in youth co-operative project for unemployed young people. At that time, more than a quarter of young people were unemployed. They were a generation who had no jobs, no hope and no future. Some of those young people never recovered from that period. Some committed suicide; others turned to drugs and alcohol, or ended up with long-term mental health problems. Even when the economy started to recover, those young people who had spent many years unemployed found it incredibly difficult to get a job. Let us be honest, most employers would probably prefer to employ a 16-year-old fresh out of school than a 26-year-old who has spent most of the past 10 years unemployed, with nothing to get up for and nothing to do.
The youth co-operative tried to stop the cycle of despair for young people. It helped them to gain skills and set up their own businesses. It gave them driving lessons and taught them how to use computers. It built up their confidence and gave them a reason to get out of bed, and it was open 365 days a year. It was about more than skills education; it provided a support network, and it challenged attitudes. It helped people to believe in themselves and gave them practical help. We helped young people who were sleeping in cars and on friends’ floors to get rehoused. We then helped them to decorate their new homes and find second-hand furniture. We helped young people whose schools and colleges said that they were not good enough for university to get there and to complete their degrees, and we supported young people into work. Then we were closed by Tory cuts in the youth service.
The Labour Government came along and introduced the Connexions service, which offered careers advice-plus, in the form of straightforward careers advice for all young people and a dedicated support service for young people not in employment education or training, or those at risk of becoming NEETs. The service did many of the things that the youth co-operative did in the ’80s and ’90s. Now we have another Tory Government, and youth unemployment is at its highest since 1992. We are seeing the destruction of Connexions and the youth service, and all support services are being slashed. It is back to the future again. Young people again feel that they have no jobs, no hope and no future.
We can argue about the effectiveness of the Connexions service. The Government like to use the result of an online survey of 510 respondents who said that they were unhappy with the service, rather than the survey of 5,000 young people carried out by the then Department for Education and Skills, which found that over 90% were satisfied with the service that they had received. Surely no one can argue that online advice is a substitute for face-to-face advice. Like my hon. Friend Mrs Chapman and, I suspect, many other Members, I did not get good careers advice—[ Laughter. ]
Perhaps—although I have to say that it is not a bad job.
It is down to us to ensure that young people are inspired to follow certain careers. How can they find out what jobs and careers are out there? If they do not have friends, family or people in their neighbourhood who are in a variety of professions, how do they find out what they can do, or what their options are? That is the situation that faces many of our young people, especially those from poorer backgrounds.
I am quite happy to concede that they have not been working perfectly, but I have to tell the House that the Government’s proposals will make things worse, not better.
Many industries—not just the professions involving solicitors, doctors and so on—are very much family affairs, in which sons and daughters follow fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles and grandparents into the workplace. Before I worked for a rail union, which was very much a family affair, I had no idea about the range of jobs available in that industry. How does a young person without connections find out about such jobs, and how do they ensure that they have the right skills to apply for them when they do find out about them?
Of course, the advice that young people receive has to be good. I remember a member of my staff taking a young person to meet a careers officer before the Connexions service was established. Again, I am not saying that Connexions was perfect. That young women wanted to become a vet, but the careers adviser very kindly told her about how to become a veterinary nurse. That was disgraceful. We need to be ambitious for young people. I worked with two young people who were told that they were too stupid to go to university. One of them now has her master’s degree, and is a head of department in a sixth-form college. The other has a degree in Russian and splits his time between Russia and Korea. A computer programme will not inspire young people. It will not be ambitious for them, and it will not stretch them. It will not build their confidence, or give them the support that they need if they are to reach their full potential.
What if a young person has learning difficulties or physical disabilities? I want to talk about Thomas, whose mum and gran came to see me in my surgery. Thomas had not been diagnosed with a disability and there was a threat to take his mum to court because he would not attend school. Eventually, through our intervention, Thomas was diagnosed with an autism-related condition. He would not leave home, go to school or do anything else. He had a Connexions adviser, however, who regularly came to the house at the same time each week—the sort of thing that a young person with an autism-related condition needs. By using the available funding, the adviser was able to take Thomas out to the library and various other activities, and to give him experience of work programmes. Thomas’s life was transformed, but his mum and gran are now absolutely desperate about what will happen to him.
Connexions was not just about careers advice. Funding was made available to support young people like Thomas or others who for other reasons were not making a good transfer to further education or work. There was funding for programmes that provided support, training and education for young people, including a summer programme for 16-year-olds from the New Opportunities Fund. An activity agreement provided an allowance in return for fulfilling an agreed action plan and funding was provided to purchase experiential learning opportunities. There was a learning agreement aimed at engaging local employers and increasing the number of young people in jobs with training. The programme offered financial incentives to employers and young people, in combination with suitably brokered learning provision.
In Wigan there was a range of bespoke projects aimed at the most vulnerable young people in the borough—including teenage pregnancy courses and a video production course for young offenders. The re-engage project built on the success of the activity agreement pilot by securing a discretionary fund for young people living in Wigan’s most deprived neighbourhoods. That also funded summer projects, in partnership with the youth service, to keep school leavers engaged. An apprenticeship pathways project was delivered by Wigan college and local learning providers, which looked at new ways of engaging and motivating closer to the labour market young people who were struggling to find opportunities. Wigan council’s supported employment team was funded to assist young people with learning difficulties in accessing work opportunities. The council delivered a successful apprenticeship programme, recruiting young people and supporting them through trained mentors. In partnership with local learning providers and colleges, it successfully delivered a range of activities to engage and motivate NEET and potentially NEET clients—including the clearing house, taster sessions, locality-based summer programmes and careers events.
What happened as a result of all that support and all those programmes? Youth unemployment fell by 40% from 1997 to the start of the global financial crisis, and more than half the young people on jobseeker’s allowance were off it within three months. But now it is all gone.
Most young people from advantaged backgrounds will make the transition from school to employment, probably via university, with few problems, but surely we have a duty to support young people who, through no fault of their own, will find that transition difficult or impossible. We owe it to young people to help them fulfil their potential. We owe it to them to give them the best possible support and advice from trained and qualified advisers. I hope that the Government will do another U-turn and save either the Connexions service or the careers service—at least something that will be valuable to young people. And while they are at it, I hope that they will save the youth service, too.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for bringing this debate to the House, as I believe it is valuable—one of the most important debates I have attended since being elected. It is only a shame that so few Members are present to hear the contributions. [Interruption.] I am not naming names, just making a comment. The principle of the motion is very good, but the way in which it has been written is very poor. [Interruption.] Those might be the words of my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes but they are not in this motion. The problem with it is—[Interruption.] Karl Turner has only just come into the Chamber, yet he seems to think this is a joke.
The motion says:
“That this House believes that the Government should act urgently to guarantee face-to-face careers advice for all young people in schools.”
It does not tell us how many times, at what stage careers advice is needed, or how old the young people should be. Let me explain why I believe it has been badly written. If it had been written differently I might have been able to support it.
When I was leader of Burnley council some three years ago, I went to a junior school to speak to some year 6 students who were just about to leave the school and go on to secondary education. The headmistress had invited a number of prominent people in the town—the mayor, myself and one or two more—to say what our jobs were. After we had told the young people what our jobs were, we asked them what sort of vision they had for their future. One little girl said that she was interested in becoming a nursery nurse, as she had some siblings and was keen on looking after them. The shock for me came when one young man said, “I want to be a benefit claimant.” That was the aspiration in life of a young man of 11, and he had never been given any different advice. When I asked him why, he said, “My dad and uncle are benefit claimants and we live very well off it, so why should I get up every morning to go to work?” When I told the head teacher afterwards how stunned I was at that, she said, “I’m afraid that’s the way of the world round here.” I then decided that I would look into how that happened, and what we could do to try to stop it.
After that we got talking to people in the secondary schools. The secondary schools in Burnley have gone through a torrid time, although I am pleased to say that they are now recovering. Nobody in here needs to tell me about privileged students; if they came to Burnley, they would find that we do not have very many privileged students at the moment. I thought it would be a great idea to get the companies involved, and we managed to get a big company involved in every school. They carry out a lot of careers advice because they are the professionals; they know what educational skills they need from the people who are coming to them.
A lot of young people want to go on to university, and that is fine, but a lot of young people are going on to university to study subjects that do not qualify them for any jobs when they have finished studying them, while there are a number of jobs in manufacturing, particularly in Burnley, for which we cannot get staff.
One company in Burnley is looking for 300 skilled workers and cannot get them. It has suddenly decided that taking on a vast number of apprentices, through the Government’s apprenticeship scheme, is a good idea. But a young person of 16 does not get to be a skilled airframe fitter or aero-engine fitter by the time they are 17. The process takes four or five years. For the past 30 years that process has not happened; we have let the whole thing fall apart. I am not blaming the Labour Government or the previous Tory Government, but that has happened; this is where we are.
We have a careers service that has failed the young people of this country for the past 30 years, and we desperately need to do something about it. We do not need the Government to do everything; we need to get the professionals from industry involved. Why do we not invite Sir John Rose, who has retired from Rolls-Royce, to talk to people and advise them about how he would run a careers service? He has run Rolls-Royce for donkey’s years and made it very successful. I do not think that the Government can do this on their own. People outside government can give better advice than anybody within it.
I suggest that the Government should examine what they are doing. I accept the need to do more and if money is available, I hope that they will do more. I also think that the local colleges and further education colleges could do more. Twice a year Burnley college has a careers day, when it invites all the companies from Burnley and most of them attend. They put stands up and speak to young people, and they take vast numbers of young people on as a result of those nights. One company took six apprentices on as a result of one of these nights—young people who had never thought of going into that sort of industry.
We cannot take too narrow an approach to this issue. We should expand it to include everybody involved in employing young people once they have finished school or university. I implore the Government to examine all the options. As I have said, I am disappointed that the motion has been so badly written. [Interruption.] It is not my right hon. Friend’s motion; it is the shadow Secretary of State’s motion. It is badly written—but if it had said, “We want to do this at certain times of people’s education and there is some money for it here,” I assure hon. Members that I would have supported it. Unfortunately, the Opposition motion does not say that.
So much to say, and so little time to say it in.
Many of the contributions from Opposition Members have been about bad careers advice, stereotyping and ambition limiting. The unfortunate point is that guaranteeing that it will be provided face to face does not get rid of bad advice; all that guarantees is that the advice will be heard more directly. The title of this debate displayed on the annunciator is “Careers Service (Young People)”, but doing real service to young people in their careers is about much more than specifying a certain amount of time with the man from the council. It only happens when the whole education system and the economy work together on young people’s careers. We must take a much bigger, broader, holistic view of this at a national level, in industry, throughout the education system and in interaction with individual young people.
As we know, we live in a rapidly changing world that has already changed in many ways, not least through the disappearance of many jobs that young people used to do between the ages of 16 and 18 and in terms of the types of skills we need for the jobs that we expect to be available in the future. As Andy Burnham rightly said, the range of different jobs that people might now do over their lifetime calls for much more flexibility.
We do not have a great record in this country, historically, of picking winners, but we need to recognise that certain industries will be growth industries at which we need to excel. Without exception they are industries that need greater skills, and we need to help young people to focus on them. We need better links between industry and education, both so industries can inspire young people to want to go and work in them and so that the skills sets that come out of the education system include the things they need as companies, and that we need as an economy and as a country to succeed in the world. There also needs to be a feedback mechanism so that companies and sectors can tell the education system what they are looking for. We often hear complaints about what comes out, but it is not quite so clear what the mechanism for change is.
There must also be opportunities, of course, for young people to experience, sample and gain experience and training in firms, and I welcome the expansion in apprenticeships and work placements. I agree that we must look again at how the internship system works. We have heard about internships from Opposition Members, and a number of Members of Parliament have taken the decision that they will ensure that internships are paid, so that they are available to the full range of young people.
Education as a whole must guide young people towards fulfilling careers. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Leigh left colleges out of the motion, as they are an important part of the education system. He referred only to schools, but of course the whole system must work effectively. I do not think anybody could doubt the Government’s commitment to reforming the education system, both to raise the average level of education and, crucially, to narrow the yawning and embarrassing gap between rich and poor.
I am afraid that in parts of the education system too many young people have not been guided towards fulfilling careers. Let me quote the Wolf report:
“The staple offer for between a quarter and a third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational qualifications, most of which have little to no labour market value.”
At an even earlier stage—coming up to key stage 4—it seems that some young people are guided towards subjects that will boost the school’s performance in the league tables more than they might boost the individual’s performance in the job market and their opportunities through life. Perhaps they get face-to-face advice: perhaps somebody tells them that all GCSE subjects will be worth the same to them as any other; perhaps somebody tells them that equivalencies will always be accepted in the outside world; and perhaps somebody tells them that getting a GCSE in accountancy, law or financial services is a key step to starting a career in one of those professions.
I welcome what the Government are doing to publish destination data on schools as well as more information on higher education institutions, and I also welcome the reform of the key stage 4 league tables. I also welcome the somewhat controversial—in parts—English baccalaureate. The simple fact is that those core subjects have a premium value among employers and higher education institutions, and we should stop fibbing to young people. It is not a full curriculum. There is plenty of room for options on top of the English baccalaureate, but the best advice we can give to a young person who wants to keep their options as open as possible is to include in what they study those core academic subjects. Of course it will not be for everyone, and I also welcome the Government’s moves to ensure that the league tables and metrics recognise equally the progress of every child. We must find new and better ways to ensure that post-16 students are more engaged with mathematics.
In conclusion, the motion talks about guaranteeing good careers advice. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that the only way to guarantee a good careers service for young people is if all the elements—at national level, in industry, in education, and direct advice for people—are working in concert.
May I begin by extending the Opposition’s best wishes to the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning? He always makes these debates an absolute delight and pleasure; frankly, we have missed him today and we very much hope that he has a speedy recovery from his operation.
The debate has not been what I expected, which was more of the yah-boo politics that we have come to expect in the House. I expected to hear, “You spent too much money,” coming from one side and, “You don’t care about vulnerable people,” on the other. I have been struck by how much consensus there has been and what a good, measured, well-informed and excellent tone there has been throughout. At its best, the debate has featured hon. Members being very much in agreement. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have contributed tonight, particularly to the spirit in which Simon Hughes made his remarks. What I did find regrettable, however, were the contortions that he and Gordon Birtwistle got into in saying, “We agree with every single point that the Opposition are making regarding the motion, but we cannot possibly vote with them tonight,” for whatever reason.
The point that might have escaped the shadow Minister is that the Opposition have taken one recommendation out of a whole report and sought to force a vote on something tonight that they never provided for when they were in government. Unfortunately, that brings a yah-boo, cynical element to something that goes much wider. It would be better to debate the full report from the Government and the reaction to that report.
I disagree. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark made an excellent and measured contribution about expanding the provision of careers advice to younger pupils, about making sure that we have a wide variety of work experience and about making sure that careers guidance is not offered on a wet Wednesday afternoon, as we mentioned in the Committee on the Education Bill. I agree with every word. This is more complex than it just being about face-to-face guidance, but face-to-face guidance is an important complementary step. I should have thought that he agreed with that and would want to show his support and put pressure on the Government by joining us in the Lobby tonight.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I respect his commitment to these issues both before he came to the House and since he has been here. We are very clear that we want the same objective. Tonight is a chance for the Labour party to put its cards on the table, and we have made our position clear about where we want the Government to get to. I believe that they have listened and that the Minister will respond, and I hope that in not many weeks from now we will end up where we all want to be.
The Minister said earlier that he did not want to rule anything in or out regarding the right hon. Gentleman’s recommendations and I should have thought that meant an abstention in tonight’s debate to make sure that all the cards were on the table, but that does not seem to be the case. I do think that the Minister is thinking about moving in that direction and I hope that he will accept an amendment to the Education Bill—we will certainly put pressure on him as the Bill makes its way through the Lords—but it is disappointing that, in the spirit of consensus that we have seen in tonight’s debate, he cannot make more positive remarks to make sure that we get face-to-face guidance.
Two or three weeks ago, our young people got excellent GCSE and A-level results and, as hon. Members have said tonight, we should all celebrate their success. The Minister said in August that
“we have to make sure we prepare young people for the future, whether they are going onto further education, training or into the workplace.”
He reiterated that tonight by saying that it is important for young people to make the right choices in order for them to be guided in the future. We could not agree more, but it is abundantly clear that the Government are failing to do that.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State has made clear, young people are facing the most difficult and turbulent prospects for at least a generation. The modern world is complex and often disorienting and is unrecognisable from what it was a few short years ago, both in its challenges and in its opportunities. The certainties that we had in the labour markets in the 1950s and 1960s when the Minister of State, Department for Education, Mr Gibb, listened to his gramophone records have gone for good. Much of that change is due to large-scale shifts in global forces, such as the economic rise of China. The present economic situation is made more difficult by the current turbulence in the global economy. I fully accept that when global aggregate demand goes down, additional pressure is placed on youth employment, but the Government’s policies are making a bad situation very much worse.
As we heard in an earlier debate today, the loss of EMA, the abolition of the future jobs fund, the scrapping of the young people’s guarantee, the trebling of tuition fees and the ending of Aimhigher have made it more difficult than ever for young people in this country to work hard, to get on and to succeed. That implicit contract that we had, in place since the post-war era and shared by successive Governments, that somehow the next generation would do better than the previous generation, is in real danger of being broken. That was made clear in an excellent contribution by my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg.
In difficult and confusing times such as these we need, now more than ever, an effective, functioning and professional careers service to support and navigate young people through the turbulence. We need a personalised service, with close links between the young person and the adviser. We need, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said tonight, face-to-face guidance, helping to motivate, inspire and enthuse young people in difficult times.
In the current economic difficulties, when a young person receives rejection letter after rejection letter, it is neither use nor ornament just to point them to a phone. As my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman said, IT is important but we cannot do it with technology alone. We need a professional to say to that young person, “Keep going,” or “I think you should try this,” or “This might suit you.” As my hon. Friend Julie Hilling said, we need in the careers service trusted professionals who know the young people—young people such as Thomas—who can help inspire and motivate them. Tragically, the cuts to such services mean that the professionalism and expertise of careers personnel has been lost, and lost for good.
Time and again in the debate we heard that our young people from places across the country have been denied such opportunities. We heard that from my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield and for Darlington (Mrs Chapman), who in a powerful speech expressed her concern that high-quality advice might be confined to those in fee-paying schools.
Ministers in the Department for Education pride themselves on trusting professionals in making the right decisions, but we have had in the last month the astonishing, and possibly unprecedented, situation where a Government advisory group of some 20 renowned experts and professionals considered resigning en masse in protest at the Government’s shambolic and incompetent handling of careers services for young people. Steve Higginbotham, president of the Institute of Career Guidance, blasted the Government and stated that the service
“will not be an all-age careers service. It is a rebranded Next Step service for adults plus an all-age telephone advice line and website.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said, if the Government truly wish to aid social mobility and break the cycle of multigenerational worklessness or low aspiration, they need to provide all possible tools. By removing face-to-face careers guidance for all young people, they are taking one of those vital tools away.
Ministers also often cite international comparisons to support their policies. Elizabeth Truss cited those a lot tonight. But international evidence shows clearly that devolving such career advice to schools has not worked in other countries. Professor Tony Watts, giving evidence to the Education Committee, stated that in studying 55 countries it emerged that three negative things happen when it comes to school-based guidance. First, impartiality goes out of the window because schools have a direct and vested interest; secondly, there is a weakening in links with the labour market; and finally there is an unevenness in performance in schools. Professor Watts said that two countries, New Zealand and the Netherlands, have recently done what this Government are now doing, and in both cases it resulted in a significant erosion in the quality of help as well as the breadth of its extent.
I mentioned the Education Committee. In its excellent report on participation in education and training by 16 to 19-year-olds, it makes a valued point on the unease about the Government’s changes to careers. That was highlighted several times tonight. It draws attention to the fact that the Department for Education’s funding commitments to an all-age careers service consists only of online and phone services. As we heard tonight, the Select Committee makes the very clear recommendation that the Departments should fund face-to-face careers guidance for young people under the age of 18. Opposition Members very much agree.
So I ask the Minister—for the sake of his career, let alone the careers of hundreds of thousands of young people—to look again at this important matter. Will he listen to the impassioned pleas made tonight by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he consider the almost unanimous view of professionals? Will he take on board the Education Committee’s reasoned comments? Will he listen to what is best for young people? Will he listen again to the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and act urgently to guarantee face-to-face careers information, advice and guidance for all and not just some young people in schools? Listening to the speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that definitely seems to be the will of hon. Members tonight. I commend the motion to the House in a spirit of consensus.
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.