I beg to move,
That this House
notes that the previous Government rescued the idea of apprenticeships and quadrupled apprenticeship starts;
furthermore believes that a transformation in vocational education has eluded Governments for decades;
therefore believes that the UK needs a new settlement for those young people who do not wish to pursue the traditional route into university and the world of work;
and further believes that in order to achieve a high status vocational education system that delivers a high-skill, high-value economy the UK needs a new Technical Baccalaureate qualification as a gold standard vocational pathway achieved at 18, a new National Baccalaureate framework of skills and qualifications throughout the 14 to 19 phase, the study of mathematics and English for all to age 18, for all large public contracts to have apprenticeship places, new employer-led apprenticeships at level 3 and new technical degrees.
This motion is further testimony to the Labour party’s belief that education offers the surest means to deliver social justice, economic competitiveness and a route out of the fearful isolationist impulse adopted by the UK Independence party and increasingly by the Conservative party. Labour wants a skilled Britain, not a little England. In just under a month’s time, we shall mark the 70th anniversary of the Education Act 1944. The Minister for Skills and Enterprise likes to compare himself with the young Winston, but that Education Act was the product of a slightly more heroic coalition—a genuinely cross-party one-nation moment to broaden the focus of education and extend its emancipatory power to all classes. This, along with the national health service that the Conservatives tried to block, was to be the centre point of the post-war new Jerusalem. As Winston Churchill said, it would be a society in which,
“the advantages and privileges which hitherto have been enjoyed only by the few, shall be far more widely shared by the men and youth of the nation as a whole.”
Yet the sad truth, at least as far as education is concerned, is that we are still waiting for this new Jerusalem. In post-war Germany, Ernest Bevin implemented a new era of technical and vocational excellence, but in Britain, Rab Butler’s plans were stymied at birth and the technical school’s roots of the tripartite system never truly materialised.
Our ambition in office is to right that wrong and to do what this Government, with their narrow focus on free schools and curriculum tinkering, have signally failed to achieve. We do so because our economic future depends on it. Our shortage of technicians, engineers and skilled apprentices is hindering growth and a more balanced economy.
I am slightly disappointed by the partisan note in the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. The truth is that apprenticeships were ignored by generations of politicians. The previous Government, to their great credit, started the process of rehabilitation. The present Government have continued the work. We should celebrate that consensus and that spirit of shared endeavour and not score party points.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work with the engineering sector. The fact of the matter is that we are not delivering the results. The
Royal Academy of Engineering forecasts that the UK needs an extra 50,000 STEM technicians and 90,000 STEM professionals every year just to replace people retiring from the work force. Similarly, new nuclear capacity could boost the UK economy by an estimated £5 billion and create more than 30,000 jobs, but the sector needs thousands of new recruits a year.
If we want to build a high-skill, high-wage economy, we need to build a recovery that delivers for working people. We need an education system that marries the vocational with the academic, and values what people can do alongside what they know. The modern workplace demands non-routine analytic and interactive skills. Businesses want employees who are innovative, flexible, creative team players. Sadly, that has not been the focus of Her Majesty’s Government. At exactly the point when we need a long-term economic plan, there is absolutely nothing in sight.
We have a proud record of tackling unemployment and youth unemployment. We championed the delivery of young people into work with a future jobs fund which this Government scrapped when they came into office. As this week’s CBI—
I would have thought the Minister would want to listen to what the CBI has to say. This week’s CBI survey found that 58% of businesses are not confident that they will have enough highly skilled staff available for their future needs, which is up from 46% last year. [Interruption.] I know the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Elizabeth Truss is keen on maths, so let me tell her that that is a rise of 12% in a single year under this Government. The Government’s focus has been on tinkering with the curriculum, undermining teaching and introducing a mishandled free schools policy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that simply converting short-term vocational training programmes under the apprenticeship brand only damages that brand? What employers want are highly skilled, highly motivated individuals to ensure that we have a world-class work force.
My hon. Friend speaks of what he knows, and he is absolutely right about the devaluing of apprenticeships under this Government, which I shall come to.
I know my hon. Friend agrees that the lack of skills is one of the biggest impediments to our development as a country. Skills are essential to the prosperity of this nation. Does he agree that it is a great shame, and says everything about this Government, that the Secretary of State for Education is not in the Chamber for this essential debate?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention, and normally I would be 100% behind him and seek to knock it out of the park, but on this occasion the Education Secretary has organised an international conference of educators here in the UK, which is not a bad place for the UK to be. However, my instincts are with my hon. Friend.
I urge my hon. Friend to continue making party political points, because they are rather good. Will he add that too many Government Members have no history of further education or technical colleagues, as I do? I did my A-levels at Kingston technical college.
My hon. Friend is exactly right.
Talking of political divisions, the Government’s focus, as we have seen, has been not on the vocational demands of our education system but on tinkering with the curriculum and a free schools policy. At the Skills Minister’s favourite school, the Swedish private equity free school IES Breckland, which he has supported so much, Ofsted discovered “inadequate” teaching, poor behaviour and declining student literacy levels. The Swedish for-profit model that the Government were so keen to import has been exposed and discredited in the Skills Minister’s own backyard—responsible for one of the biggest falls in educational standards anywhere in the world.
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman broke away from his overly partisan tone when mentioning the Secretary of State, who apologises for not being able to be here. My right hon. Friend made it clear that if the Labour party had made this the first and most important debate this afternoon, he would have been here at the Labour party’s request. He would have liked to have been here, but the Labour party chose to make this the second debate, and therefore he cannot, and so I shall be responding for the Government.
We are beginning to see a widening attainment gap, but it is on vocational education where the Government’s negligence hits hardest. The Government are failing young people who want a gold-standard technical education, and they are not securing our skills base.
Let us be clear about the Government’s record. The number of apprenticeship starts by under-25s has fallen by 11,324 since 2010. The number of STEM apprenticeships for 16 to 24-year-olds has fallen by more than 7,000 since 2010. Too many apprentices in England are existing employees, not new job entrants, and too many are over 25. Let us add to that the Government’s scandalous destruction of careers advice.
The hon. Gentleman’s motion refers to the United Kingdom, but he will know that in Scotland vocational education and skills development is devolved and the cross-party Wood commission is looking at that very issue. Does he intend to overrule what has been proposed in the Scottish Parliament in favour of his proposals, or did he just get a bit confused when drafting the motion?
The hon. Gentleman is being very talkative, but what practical steps has he taken? How many skills and apprenticeship fairs, such as the one I held in Redditch on Friday, have he and his Front-Bench team held in their constituencies?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she has done to promote skills in Redditch. I have seen some great schools there that are combining vocational and academic work, such as the RSA academy, and I know how important that is.
Sadly, this Government have undermined careers advice. Thanks to their reforms, prisoners now have more access to careers advice than school pupils. In 2013 the Education Committee raised its concerns about
“the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people.”
Similarly, Ofsted has found that only one in six schools offer individual careers guidance from a qualified external adviser. For the Labour party, this is a matter of both social justice and economic efficiency. For those young people without the networks and internships, decent careers guidance is essential. Similarly, the complexity of navigating a vocational technical course, mixing an apprenticeship with further education provision, demands decent advice and information. All the colleges I have visited, from Dudley to Chichester, Manchester to Tamworth and Lambeth to Stoke-on-Trent, complain that they are not being properly promoted to potential students.
Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the creation of university technical colleges across the country, including the one that is due to be built in my constituency? At the same time, apprenticeship places have more than doubled since the general election and youth unemployment has fallen by more than a third. Does he welcome those three things?
The hon. Gentleman has clearly been reading the Adonis review, as we look forward to more university technical colleges opening under the forthcoming Labour Government, but we must keep a watch on the quality of provision in UTCs and ensure that they are rolled out appropriately.
The coalition Government’s third mistake was an overly restrictive approach to syllabus reform. I agreed with much of what the Wolf report said about cutting the number of semi-vocational qualifications with over-inflated GCSE equivalents. I also think that it is absolutely right that pupils from working-class backgrounds in Stoke-on-Trent and elsewhere have full access to academic courses, but the current balance within the Progress 8 attainment measures can often seem out of kilter if we want young people to pursue engineering, design and technology, and art.
Similarly, the destruction of practical learning in the curriculum is very worrying. From geography to physics, the move to a more knowledge-focused curriculum, although important in some respects, has seen a withering away of skills, whether field trips, speaking skills or project work. This Government are undermining a powerful component of English education.
I recently had the pleasure of taking my hon. Friend to visit the BRIT school in Croydon, which is sadly the only state school of its kind anywhere in the country. It has a very strong relationship with the music and performance industry. Does he agree with the young people we met there that the Government’s downgrading of vocational qualifications downgrades their hard work and their futures?
I absolutely agree; dance, drama, art, design and creativity are among the most successful components of modern English in our culture and economic competitiveness. We need an education system that will promote and inspire that. Sadly, however, Ofsted, to which I would have thought the Ministers would have paid some heed, has stated:
“too many school leavers are not well-enough equipped scientifically with practical, investigative and analytical skills.”
That cannot be in the long-term interests of this country.
I am slightly worried about the hon. Gentleman and others on the Opposition Benches who seem to have been overtaken by mass amnesia. Does he not remember that the Labour Government presided over an entire generation of 16 to 24-year-olds who are now likely to have fewer skills than their grandparents? We are the only country in the western world where that is the case. Will he apologise for that?
The hon. Lady should worry no more, because in 10 months’ time we will have a Labour Government delivering a sustainable education and skills policy.
Our motion talks of
“a new settlement for those young people who do not wish to pursue the traditional route into university”.
Let me lay out the Labour party’s ambition for Government to deliver equal status for vocational qualifications from school to university and beyond, to provide clear routes for highly skilled technical or professional careers and to have a dynamic, modern education system that will ensure that Britain can compete as an innovative, productive economy. We shall start with technical baccalaureates for 16 to 19-year-olds, in order to provide a clear, high-status vocational route through education. That is a Labour policy. The tech bacc will include quality level 3 vocational qualifications and a work placement to provide a line of sight through education into employment.
Our next policy is to ensure, unlike this Government, that all young people continue to study English or maths to the age of 18. These are the most essential of all 21st-century skills, and getting them right is fundamental to future career prospects. That does not mean asking young people to redo their GCSEs over and over again. Rather, it means ensuring that applied, functional and useful English and maths will help them to succeed with their careers. We will have slimline English and maths courses designed to complement a student’s core programme of study.
Furthermore, we think that English and maths should be part of an ambitious national baccalaureate framework for all learners. Alongside core academic or vocational learning in English and maths, we want young people to undertake a collaborative project and a personal development programme, which would nurture the character, the resilience and the employability skills of all our young people. Much of the tech bacc route will be delivered through further education colleges.
We want an education system in which those young people who wish to pursue technical and vocational pathways have a grounding in English and maths that will allow them to succeed in their own fields, and in which there is a much greater interrelationship between the academic and vocational pathways. That kind of qualification would provide exactly that.
This Government have hammered further education provision. They can find £45 million for a Harris free school in Westminster, but they have done that by slashing funding for further education learners and sixth-form colleges. That is a scandalous set of priorities. We will work with FE providers to improve teaching and to ensure that colleges focus on local labour markets. Our highest performing FE colleges will become institutes of technical education with a core mission to deliver Labour’s tech bacc and the on-the-job components of apprenticeships.
I have laid out the Government’s mendacious record of spin and subterfuge on apprenticeships. We will deal with the devaluing of apprenticeships by introducing a universal gold standard level 3 qualification lasting two years. We will ensure that every firm that wants a major Government contract offers apprenticeships. We will also ensure that employers are involved in the development of apprenticeships by giving them support over standards and funding.
On apprenticeship figures, would the hon. Gentleman be interested to know that, according to the House of Commons, apprenticeship starts are up by 62.8% in Hexham? Indeed, apprenticeships are up significantly in every single one of the 29 seats in the north-east of England,.
The fact is that the number of starts for under-25s has gone down by 11,400. Ministers can rebadge their apprenticeships and reconfigure the figures as much as they like, but people in the country know that on apprenticeships, this lot are not to be believed. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman may be making points that are not amenable to those on the Government Benches, but he must be heard, no matter what he wants to say.
I am trying to conclude.
The culmination of our vision for young people on a technical or vocational pathway is our new plan, announced by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, for technical degrees. These courses will be designed by some of our best universities and our leading employers, teaching people the skills they need to prosper in the new economy. Currently, just 2% of apprenticeships are available at degree level. For the first time, those who have excelled in vocational education and training—those who have gained a first-rate tech bacc and completed a level 3 apprenticeship—will be able to take their aspirations further. For the first time, young people will have the chance to earn while they learn at university, with a degree that provides a clear route to a high-skilled technical or professional career.
At the next general election, we have a choice between a Labour party determined to equip an outward-facing Britain with the skills and education it needs to succeed and, on the other hand, coalition parties tinkering with the curriculum here and there, increasing the number of unqualified teachers, and promoting for-profit schooling. It is a choice between more young engineers and more IES Breckland free schools; between a modern curriculum focused on thinking and doing, building character and creativity and harnessing the aspirations of all young people, and the narrow exam-factory model of recent years; and between a low-wage, low-skill, business-as-usual race to the bottom and a high-skill, high-innovation economy that works for all. Only one party is offering this country an economy and an education system fit for the punishing demands of the 21st century. I commend the motion to the House.
We heard a regrettable tone from Labour in opening this debate. Before going into the details of the radical reforms of vocational education that we are undertaking to promote apprenticeships and to strengthen vocational qualifications, it is worth going through a couple of points of detail.
Tristram Hunt stated that the number of apprenticeships for those under 25 has fallen by 11,000 since 2010. He refused to take my intervention, probably because he knew I was going to point out that figures show that since 2010 the number of apprenticeships for those under 25 has risen by 49,000. He mentioned careers advice but forgot to mention the new National Careers Service, which has 3,700 careers advisers who have in the past year delivered 1 million pieces of careers advice. He did not even know that education is a devolved area of policy and talked about education across the UK. On the withering away of skills in science, according to Ofsted that is precisely the legacy we were left by the Labour party. On degree-level apprenticeships—I take this one as a personal compliment—he was critical of their representing only 2% of apprenticeships. I introduced degree-level apprenticeships this time last year, and under Labour there were no degree-level apprenticeships. Perhaps now we know why Mr Umunna left the Chamber halfway through the opening speech—it was to go and cross off another name from his list of leadership challengers.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, because the shadow Education Secretary would not do so when I tried very hard to get in earlier on. I listened very carefully to the shadow Education Secretary and heard a lot of top-down stuff, but very little about business. Why would he be so afraid of talking about business? Is it because his party is the anti-business party?
It is certainly true that Labour is the anti-business party, but it is much more worrying that the Labour party seems to oppose our reforms to bring the world of education and the world of work closer together. We are undertaking the most radical reform of vocational education in Britain for a generation. We have swept aside thousands of qualifications that employers did not value and replaced them with clear tech awards, tech levels and the tech bacc, which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central mentioned and which starts in September. We have boosted apprenticeship numbers—there are record numbers under this Government—and introduced higher-quality apprenticeships that reflect the modern economy, and strengthened the requirements for English and maths.
I have raised this point before, but I think it would be useful to do so again. The Minister is currently consulting on changing the apprenticeship rules, and 400 businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises in the north-west, have responded by raising very serious concerns about the future for apprenticeships under his proposals. Why will he not address their legitimate concerns and ensure we can have those apprenticeships in the future?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we have to ensure that the reformed apprenticeships are super simple, especially for small businesses, but representatives of 500,000 businesses wrote in support of the principle of the reforms and that is why we are going ahead with them.
The reforms are starting to pay off. Standards are starting to rise. Youth unemployment, which rose 40% in the first decade of this century under the Labour Government, is falling—it is down 10% over the past year—and is lower than it was at the election.
I would almost like two bites of the cherry by asking a question about youth unemployment as well, but I will not do so. The shadow Education Secretary said that our performance on vocational courses was lamentable, but is my hon. Friend aware that the proportion of 16 to 19-year-olds studying at least one of the post-16 level 3 vocational courses available—[Interruption.] I am actually delivering the facts, which might be helpful. Is my hon. Friend aware that that proportion rose from 100,000 under Labour to 185,000 under this Government?
I will have to add that to my list of erroneous facts from the Labour party that need sorting out.
Does not a more measured view of the history tell us the following: in 1997, fewer than 20,000 people completed apprenticeships, but by the time the previous Labour Government had finished, 285,000 people were starting apprenticeships each year? That number has continued to grow, but there are legitimate concerns about an increasing number of late starts and a smaller proportion of youthful starts, and those are the issues we need to address.
That intervention was rather better than the whole speech given by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central. It is absolutely true that modern apprenticeships were started by the great Lord Hunt of Wirral in 1994 and they grew. Under this Government, they have doubled in number and the latest figures show an increase in the proportion of apprentices who are under 25, which I welcome. More apprenticeships are good news, but we have to make sure that they are also of a high quality.
I will take this intervention, because I think I know what the hon. Gentleman is going to say.
Plenty have done so, including me. I went out to recruit one apprentice and came away with two because the applicants were so good. They are both absolutely brilliant. There are many more in the Department—there are now 58 apprentices in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I recommend an apprentice to everyone.
It might help my hon. Friend to know that, as an employer, I took on an apprentice under the Labour Government. The course he was required to do and the apprenticeship bore no relationship to, and were a disaster for, each other. Quality as well as quantity has improved in recent years, which is a point Labour Members always forget.
That is certainly true. I want to address an important point sensibly made by Steve Rotheram. He asked whether too many apprenticeships are short courses and whether they are not high enough quality. It is true that the Government inherited a system in which apprenticeships could be less than six months. That was wrong, so we have said that every apprenticeship must be for a minimum of a year. We have increased quality while increasing the number of apprentices.
It is good news for the nation that the Opposition have accepted their failure in office—the wording of their motion shows that they forgot half the population— and now back our reforms. Some say that imitation is flattery, and I suppose they are right. On Sunday, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central called for a new elite grade of master teachers. That sounds like a good idea, and we have them. They are called specialist leaders in education—top teachers who get dedicated training and share their expertise with other schools. There are 3,800 of them in England. By next year, we will have 5,000.
On improving reforms and driving up standards, the hon. Gentleman mentioned technical degrees, which Edward Miliband described yesterday. They sound like a good idea, and we have them. More than 200 colleges already teach technical degrees. It is called higher education in further education. I suggest he goes around the country and has a look.
May I return the Minister to the subject of apprenticeships? Apprenticeships need to be of a decent length, but they also need to be high quality. There have been steps forward on both, but the other vital element of a successful apprenticeship is that it should be income transformative—it should lead to a significant increase in the market value of the person doing it. Has he looked at any mechanisms that could be put in place to ensure that, however worthy in concept apprenticeships are, they are held to account for delivering true market transformation of income expectation for the people who take them, young or old?
Absolutely. The evidence shows that apprentices on the existing scheme increase their lifetime earnings, but we are not content to rest, so we are redesigning apprenticeship standards. Four hundred employers from different sectors of the economy are engaged to ensure not only that the training is rigorous, which is important, but that it responds to the needs of employers and gets people into higher-paid jobs. We want to ensure that the money that we, on behalf of taxpayers, put into subsidising apprenticeships, is well spent and that we get value for it. Ensuring that the money helps people to get higher-paid jobs is a vital part of that reform. I welcome any suggestions on how to entrench that link between what is taught to apprentices and the needs of employers. That can lead to higher pay for young people, which is what the policy is all about.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to have joined-up thinking in government? The Chancellor’s proposal, working with the Million Jobs campaign, to abolish national insurance for young people who get jobs, saves employers about £500 a year, and gives them the extra impetus they need to hire a young person.
I am happy to withdraw my earlier remarks about the Secretary of State’s absence.
On quality and ensuring that apprenticeships do the job needed for the economy and for the individuals involved, does the Minister accept that we need the same approach as in Germany, where vocational and academic qualifications are of the same quality and have the same status? Does he agree that we need to offer apprenticeships in businesses of all sizes? That happens in Germany, but is it really happening in this country? I do not think it is.
It was gracious of the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remarks about the Secretary of State.
In the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, the number of apprenticeships has gone up by 118% since the election, so I know that he is a supporter of apprenticeships. Of course we must ensure that we drive up their quality. More than half of apprenticeships are in small and medium-sized enterprises, so they can be got in smaller businesses. An important part of the reform is to ensure that they work for small businesses as well as large ones, and that is happening at the moment.
The crucial point is that apprenticeships are based not only on the needs of employers, but on the basics, especially the key vocational skills of maths and English. We are strengthening maths and English at primary and secondary school, but it is shocking that, despite recent improvements, 40% of pupils do not get GCSEs at A* to C in English and maths by the age of 16. It is a national scandal that nine out of 10 of those who do not reach that basic standard by 16 do not achieve it by 19 either.
Under Labour, Britain was the only major country where young people were less numerate and literate than their grandparents, and we became one of the few major countries that did not insist on continued studies of maths and literacy for those who did not get such qualifications the first time around. We are ending that scandal. From September, all students will for the first time have to continue studying maths and English if they do not get a good GCSE, which will improve the life chances of millions.
I am sure that the Minister understands that it is important for many young people who do not gain the qualifications they need at school to be able to go back to college to get them later on. Will he therefore take this opportunity to apologise for trying to impose on Croydon college the largest cuts in the country for 18-year-olds in further education, despite the continuing high levels of unemployment in many parts of the borough?
The hon. Gentleman mentions unemployment in Croydon. In his constituency, it has fallen by 29% over the past year, and the number of apprenticeships has increased by 170% since the election, so he should be saying thank you very much. As for the difficulties of managing a tight budget, whose fault is that? It is the fault of the Labour party, which left us with the biggest deficit in modern peacetime history.
I apologise for having made a political point earlier. People outside the House are worried about the fact that we get into an argy-bargy between the two parties.
Come on. Surely there must be commonality of purpose in doing something for the young people in this country who do not go down the higher education route. Will the Minister please now give his attention to the further education sector? As hon. Members from either side of the House who care about this know, we must galvanise the FE sector to deliver what we want.
Absolutely, and I am happy to work with the hon. Gentleman and Mr Denham, who spoke so powerfully earlier. It is a great pity that the Front-Bench spokesman’s speech was one of unremitting negativity and, crucially, that it was based on an utter misunderstanding of what is happening in vocational education. The reforms we are pushing through are about driving up standards, having higher expectations and ensuring that more young people have the chance to achieve their potential. Instead of saying that 50% should go to university and not caring—indeed, forgetting—about the rest of them, we are making sure that all young people get the chance to succeed.
Like Steve Rotheram, I have hired and trained an apprentice, who I have retained for the past four years. She is outstanding and has been a great success.
To take the Minister back to what he said a moment ago about education funding on a difficult budget, is it not fantastic that the fairer funding formula has been readdressed so that—in these difficult times—Northumberland, for example, will from next April have an extra £10 million for schools that have been so underfunded for so long?
Of course it is. Furthermore, in the 16 to 18 sector, instead of providing funding on the basis of how many qualifications young people take, we are providing it on a per pupil basis, with extra support for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. That has strengthened the funding for those who take fewer qualifications, and it provides an incentive for FE colleges and schools to do what is right for the young person.
The second part of our reform is about strengthening qualifications and having clearer pathways through tech awards, tech levels and the tech bacc. People must know that, instead of the mushy muddle that went before, we have strong and clear vocational pathways that are endorsed by employers.
The third and final strand is apprenticeships. In the previous Parliament, there were just over 1 million apprenticeship starts. We are on track to deliver 2 million apprenticeships over this Parliament. We have doubled the number of apprenticeships and driven up quality. There are stronger English and maths requirements. Apprenticeships now have a minimum duration of a year. Employers have been given the pen to design apprenticeship standards. We are reforming funding so that the training that apprentices receive follows the needs of employers.
As apprenticeships become more stretching, we are, for the first time, introducing traineeships for young people who need extra help with work experience, maths and English so that they have the skills and behaviour that they need to hold down an apprenticeship or a sustainable job. We are reforming the advice that young people receive so that they can be inspired by work experience, and we are ensuring that there are more mentors. We are reforming league tables so that schools are rewarded not only for exam results, but for where their pupils end up to take account of whether they get to university, get into an apprenticeship or end up not in education, employment or training. That change never happened in 13 years under the Labour party.
It is rapidly becoming the norm across the country that when young people leave school or college, they go into an apprenticeship or go to university. Our job is not to set arbitrary targets, but to ensure that there are high-quality options in both those areas. We must bring together the worlds of work and education, and break down the apartheid between academic and vocational education to give all young people the skills, knowledge and behaviour that they need to succeed. This task is vital. Yes, it is part of our long-term economic plan, but it is more than that—it is a battle for social mobility and a moral mission for social justice. The Government know that social justice is about earned reward and that jobs are created by endeavour, not handouts. There can be no higher justice than economic opportunity for all. That is our policy and these are our tools. We are ending the previous Government’s decade of neglect for vocational education so that every young person can reach their potential.
Order. To continue the Minister and shadow Minister’s theme of equal opportunity, rather than imposing a formal time limit on Back-Bench speeches, I thought that I might experiment with a voluntary limit and see whether Members can behave courteously. In order that everyone who wishes to speak has an equal opportunity so to do, it would be helpful if Members limited their remarks to seven minutes. If that does not work, I will impose a time limit.
I am very pleased that the shadow Secretary of State called for this debate, because we have to make education and skills this country’s No. 1 priority. The biggest question that we face, as a country, is how we can bring new, better-paid and more secure jobs to places such as Dudley, which have lost their traditional industries. The only way our country will pay its way in this century, let alone prosper, is by equipping the British people with the skills that they need to compete. There is no more urgent priority or task.
Children who are at school today will spend their adult lives working with technologies that have not yet been invented, and that we cannot even imagine. On average, those who leave school today will have more than a dozen jobs over their lifetime. The key thing that they have to learn is how to adapt and acquire new skills. However, the CBI’s education and skills survey in 2013 found that nearly a third of employers were dissatisfied with school leavers’ basic literacy and numeracy. Too few students have good English and maths GCSEs by the time they reach 18.
Germany has three times as many apprentices as the UK. The number of young apprentices—those who are under the age of 19—is falling, as is the number of apprentices in information technology and construction. It is good that the Minister has introduced degree-level apprenticeships, but they account for less than 2% of apprenticeships.
Britain is also falling behind our competitors in basic numeracy and literacy. In basic skills, we now lag behind not only countries such as Finland, South Korea and Germany but even Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. England is the only country in the developed world where the generation approaching retirement is more literate and numerate than the one entering the work force.
If I may say so, that is a narrow party political point. I believe that the last Government took many great steps in education and skills, and if the hon. Gentleman bothers to listen, he might discover that I am saying some things that he and his party’s Front Benchers actually agree with. He ought to sit down, listen carefully and then perhaps contribute later to a serious debate about what I am saying should be the No. 1 priority for every political party.
We should agree as a country—all parties, Government, schools, universities, the teaching profession and businesses—clear long-term targets to transform education and ensure that we have the skills that we need to compete. We should set an ambition for Britain to produce the best-educated and most highly skilled young people in the world. Someone is going to do that, so why can it not be us? We have to drive up standards in our schools and get behind head teachers and teachers who are working to improve standards. If we recruit good teachers, motivate them, set high aspirations and tough targets, focus on standards and discipline and make the kids believe in themselves, the sky is the limit.
Does my hon. Friend agree that companies such as Jaguar Land Rover need highly skilled and highly qualified technicians? Fairly recently, they were having difficulty recruiting them. If we cannot get people with high skills and technological qualifications, how will we expand our manufacturing base in the west midlands, for example? Does he agree that that is critical to the area?
The hon. Gentleman and I both represent parts of Dudley. Does he agree that we need better matching of skills and employers? The black country local growth deal, signed this week, will bring significant investment to both Halesowen college and Dudley college in his
I welcome every penny that will be spent on improving the facilities at Dudley college. It is fantastic that we will get a new construction centre to go alongside the new manufacturing centre that is being built, the new sixth-form college, and the new college buildings that the shadow Secretary of State visited a couple of weeks ago, which were funded entirely locally, rather than by central Government.
Research by the Sutton Trust shows that bringing the lowest-performing 10% of teachers in the UK up to the average would make our country the third best-performing country in reading, and the fifth best in maths—subjects in which we currently fail to make the top 20.
We need to recruit and train a new generation of head teachers. Ellowes Hall, a comprehensive school in my constituency, has gone from fewer than four in 10 students getting five good GCSEs a few years ago, to more than eight in 10 doing so today. They are kids from the same families, and largely with the same teachers, but what has changed is that there is a brilliant new head teacher, Andy Griffiths. We need to find new ways of identifying, recruiting and training head teachers and improving the quality of teaching. We should expand Teach First massively, and I commend the shadow Secretary of State’s proposal to introduce a new master teacher status, inspired by education reforms in Singapore. We should find new ways of enabling popular, well run and financially sound schools that are consistently over-subscribed to access the funding they need to expand, so that parents can send their children to the schools they want to, not ones that they would prefer them not to have to go to.
We should expand Lord Baker’s brilliant work on university technical colleges. Unfortunately, our bid for a UTC in Dudley was not successful, but undeterred, Lowell Williams, the brilliant principal of Dudley college, is working with local employers and Aston university to open Dudley Advance, a new technology and manufacturing centre that will soon be open to help students of all ages get new skills and jobs. We should aim for all apprenticeships to provide level 3 qualifications and to last for two years, and insist that every firm that wants major Government contracts provides apprenticeships. We need higher education, and a university campus in every town. It is a scandal that Dudley is England’s biggest town with no university campus.
People say to me, “Look Ian, what’s the point of going to university when there aren’t the jobs afterwards?”, but they are completely wrong. More than 94% of students who graduated from the university of Wolverhampton in 2013 are in work or undertaking further study. Three out of four were working in graduate-level professional and managerial jobs earning graduate-level salaries, with 60% earning between £15,000 and £30,000, and more than a fifth earning between £30,000 and 60,000. Scores of its students have gone on to set up their own business. Under Vice-Chancellor Geoff Layer’s leadership, Wolverhampton is achieving its ambition to be the university of opportunity, contributing to the local economy and economic regeneration, providing the skills and knowledge our economy needs, helping local businesses grow and succeed, setting up new businesses, and creating jobs and wealth in the black country.
Despite accounting for just 7% of school pupils, those from independent schools represent seven out of 10 High Court judges, more than half our leading journalists and doctors, and more than a third of MPs. Just five public schools send more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than 2,000 state schools. I therefore reiterate my call for Ministers and those on our Front Bench to take up the Sutton Trust’s open access proposals.
In conclusion, let us agree as a country to make education the No. 1 priority, and to have the best-educated young people in the world. Let us support teachers and heads in improving schools. We need more technical colleges, more apprentices, and more people studying for technical qualifications. Let us open up the best schools in the country to the brightest students, whatever their background. Better schools, better skills, better jobs—that should be our rallying cry for the 21st century.
What an excellent list of characteristics that was, and it is a great pleasure to follow Ian Austin. I welcome today’s theme, because too often we focus on the part of our education system in which there are the fewest problems—the more academic routes. We should spend more of our time on the vocational routes that the majority of the population go through, which, as hon. Members have said, are harder to navigate. Those routes need to be made more navigable, and need to be linked closely to the needs of employers and the long-term earnings potential of the people who take them, whether they are young or not.
The Education Committee will soon launch its dedicated inquiry into apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19-year-olds, so this debate is of particular interest to me and the rest of the Committee. Too often, vocational courses have been the Cinderella element in our education system, and denied the limelight given to academic qualifications that are sometimes perceived as more glamorous and socially transformative. This is a timely opportunity for the House to discuss how to change that.
Under the previous Government, getting as many young people as possible into university sometimes appeared to be an end in itself, regardless of whether that was necessarily a good deal for those young people, employers or wider society. I do not think that Ministers then thought of it that crudely, but that was the message that went out. It is important that we get the message right, so that the next generation has the right signals to make choices that will make the biggest difference to them.
It is regrettably true that overall, youth unemployment rose by 40% under the previous Government, and it did not go down in the boom years. That challenge was not new to the Labour Government, but there was a long-standing problem. Other countries such as Austria, Germany—famously—and the Netherlands had the same social problems and challenges, but managed to have fewer people ending up in unemployment, but even in the boom years we had high numbers of people in unemployment.
When I sat on the Children, Schools and Families Committee in the last Parliament, I used to challenge Ministers and ask them what counted as educational success. Was it the PISA—programme for international student assessment—tables, for example? One crude proxy would have to be ensuring that the educational system did not leave anyone completely behind, trapped in poverty for life and without a job. That is exactly what we had. It so important for whoever is in government after next May that we get this right.
It is a priority to work out how to improve the offer made to the hundreds of thousands of young people who take vocational courses and enter the workplace every year. As I say, if anything, they face greater complexity than those who take academic courses. The Government inherited a remarkable 3,175 equivalent qualifications on offer in schools for 14 to 16-year-olds alone. As Alison Wolf reported, some of them were not worth the paper they were written on, so it was right to change that.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, whose expertise and interest in this issue is of long standing and dates from long before he came to this House. He is, of course, right in what he says, but in too many cases, institutions were putting young people on courses that they may or may not have known were of limited value, but that were in fact of little or no long-term value, because it suited the interest of the institution, rather than the interest of the young people. That is why it was right to look carefully at that problem.
When Professor Wolf published her review, she warned:
“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…Among 16 to 19 year olds, the Review estimates that at least 350,000 get little or no benefit from the post-16 education system.”
That was a pretty terrible inheritance, with more than a third of a million people being educated at great public expense, with no benefit to themselves or the country as a whole. Both literally and metaphorically, Britain cannot afford to continue to fail young people in that way, and it is to the Minister’s credit that a considerable amount of work has been done, including the commissioning of the Wolf report.
Almost 100 university technical colleges and studio schools have been established. I hope there will be a Humber UTC in the not-too-distant future, and I know that Nic Dakin is working hard, championing it. I hope there will be involvement from companies such as Able UK, Total, Centrica Storage, Tata Steel and Clugston.
The Government have published a new 16-to-19 accountability framework, the headline measures of which focus on pupil progress, attainment, retention and destinations. Elsewhere, as others have commented, the apprenticeships programme has had rocket boosters put under it. It has been lengthened, and there have been improvements to quality.
Returning to the question about the number of apprenticeships raised by the shadow Secretary of State, if there are fewer 16-to-18 apprenticeships, more of them are a year long or longer; a year is now the minimum length. Overall, I do not know—I hope our inquiry will find out—whether the package for 16 to 18-year-olds is better than it was, in respect of quality and long-term impact. Whatever happens, we need to keep wrestling with the question—that is why my Select Committee will look further into it—of how to get more people in the young age group on to high-quality apprenticeships, particularly in view of concerns raised about the way in which some employers were training people who were already in their employ. Morrisons was criticised for some pretty short-term apprenticeships in supermarket skills that were unlikely to have been income-transformative—a point I raised earlier.
I am mindful of the time, so I shall try to conclude. I hope that we will keep focusing on vocational qualifications. It is the route that most people in this country follow. It is therefore the route that this House should focus on. Notwithstanding the excellent personal experience of Mr Sheerman, the truth is that Members of all parties have little personal experience of the further education sector and associated sectors. That is all the more reason why we need to focus on them, read about them, conduct inquiries into them and make them better. Our problem as a nation has not been the way in which we have educated the academic elite; it has been the fact that we have failed to make decent provision for a decent education, whether academic or vocational, that gives people an entitlement to the riches of our civilisation and access to the jobs market. Whoever is in power after next May, I hope this House will remain focused and determined to serve the part of the population that has most often been let down historically.
Order. Members are tending to get As in rhetoric and Ds in arithmetic. Six minutes from now is 5.21 pm.
The debate is timely: timely because it is about opportunity and life chances, and timely because the discussion about opportunity and life chances in this country has become tied up with the discussion about immigration and our place in the world. It has been argued that opportunity will somehow be enhanced and pressure on public services will be eased by our keeping out workers who were born overseas, whatever steps that would require in terms of Britain’s place in the world.
The debate takes place against the backdrop of the publication of two important reports that shed light on that argument. The first—published a couple of weeks ago by the Education Committee, chaired by Mr Stuart—is entitled “Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Children”. The second, published yesterday, is the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on the labour market impact of EU migration. I want to say a word about both reports.
According to the Education Committee’s report, the proportion of white children receiving free school meals who attain the benchmark standard of five good GCSEs including English and maths is only half the proportion of white children as a whole. Among other ethnic groups, the gap is much smaller. Among children from an Indian background it is just 15%, and among children from a Chinese background there is almost no attainment gap at all. Indeed, Chinese children receiving free school meals are, at this stage, the highest-achieving of any group at school—except for Chinese children who are not receiving free school meals, and even then the gap is tiny. So the attainment gap between children from low-income families and better-off children does not affect all children equally. Although there is an attainment gap, the fatalistic argument that deprivation can be used as an excuse to explain away educational failure does not hold up, because deprivation has such contrasting effects among different groups.
While the Education Committee’s report may give us cause for despair, it also gives us reason for hope. There is hope because the report draws attention to things that make a difference. It found that how highly a school is rated by Ofsted makes a “dramatic” difference to the performance of pupils. Just 25% of children receiving free school meals at a school that is rated “inadequate” will get five good GCSEs, but in schools that are rated “outstanding”, the figure is 50%. The more “good” and “outstanding” schools an area has, the more opportunity it will be providing for the children who need that opportunity most. The issue is urgent for cities such as Wolverhampton, which last year was judged by Ofsted to have a lower proportion of children attending schools rated “good” or “outstanding” than any other area in England. I believe that changing that situation should be the absolute top priority for the city that I represent.
In fact, despite that harsh verdict, there is hope and there is excellence in Wolverhampton. Holy Trinity Roman Catholic primary school in Bilston, which has twice as many pupils on the pupil premium as the national average, recently received an Ofsted report which states:
“This is an outstanding school. School leaders and governors are relentlessly focussed on securing the very best for their pupils. From the moment they start in the nursery, children achieve exceptionally well...by the time pupils leave in year 6 they are extremely well prepared for their next stage, educationally and personally...pupils eligible for the pupil premium make phenomenal progress and outperform all pupils in the school and all pupils nationally”.
Holy Trinity is a success because from the brilliant head, Carroll McNally, down, failure is not accepted. The school has the highest ambitions and wants the best for its children, and if Holy Trinity can do it, other schools can, too.
Let me turn to the Migration Advisory Committee report. Not only did that report show that migrants add £22 billion to the public purse, are less likely to be in social housing than UK-born citizens, and pay in more than they take out in benefits, but it stressed that the difficulty faced by some UK workers was lack of skills and qualifications. People are shut out of the labour market because employers do not feel they are equipped to take part in it and do the jobs that are there. That is the heart of this: not blaming others, but increasing the life chances of children born here.
The debate on these issues is a debate between the politics of grievance and the politics of hope. Constant attacks on Britain’s openness to ideas, people and talent from around the world do not add a single job to this country. They do not add a single qualification. They do not help a single young person. They provide someone to blame, but they do not provide anything else. We should be the champions of hope: give young people a chance, not an enemy; give them an opportunity, not a target for blame; and let us have passion for achievement in all parts of the education system, from the top to the very bottom.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate and to follow Mr McFadden, who made a very thoughtful speech. Indeed Members on the Opposition Back Benches have made very thoughtful contributions, but I have to say that stands in stark contrast to the partisan tone struck by the shadow Education Secretary, on a subject where strident partisan points should not be made, because if we strip away all the bluster, most of us are on the same page.
The shadow Education Secretary did make one correct point, however: there is a looming need to have more people going into STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—careers. Mr Sheerman made the important point that for too long—for generations—we have undervalued apprenticeships and further education. I congratulate the last Government on having started to right that, and this Government have built on it.
Let me highlight one example of why I think there is a growing skills gap. In civil and electrical engineering, a large section of the current work force will retire in the not too distant future, and with the vast investment in infrastructure that is coming in the railways, road building and utilities, we are going to face a significant gap if we do not inspire and encourage more people into those careers.
The Government have done much to boost apprenticeships and vocational education. I will not go through all the points my hon. Friend the Minister made, but I want to highlight the £1,500 grant to employers to take on apprenticeships. That is doing a lot to encourage more employers to take on apprentices where they may have been reluctant to do so in the past. Specifically on the transport side, the new proposed High Speed 2 skills academy is absolutely the right thing to do to boost the number of people going into that sector. I am just disappointed that the excellent bid from Milton Keynes to be the host of the new skills academy has not made the shortlist, but I wish the remaining towns and cities in the process all the very best.
I wish to make three points, which I hope are constructive. First, we can talk about specific qualifications and the specific nature of the careers advice given to young people, but beyond that I think there is a need for a cultural shift. For too long we have allowed ourselves to get into the situation where, for too many young people, going straight from school to a campus-based university course is the automatic next step. I do not want in any way to diminish the importance of that step for the people it is right for, but it is not the right answer for everyone at that time. We need to get into schools much earlier than we are doing to explain to young people that when they finish their school career they have a range of options, be it university, an apprenticeship or some other form of vocational learning. Above all, we are talking about a cultural shift, and we need to put all these options on an equal footing.
My second point relates specifically to apprenticeships. I have talked to a large number of employers in my constituency who take on apprentices, and one of their concerns is about the level of mentoring available to young people. As employers, they can provide the workplace learning, and the colleges they are associated with can provide the educational side of things, but young people often need a mentor to help them through their training. Small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, do not always have the ability to release their staff to help the apprentices. If a large cohort of engineers are about to retire, could we not set up a voluntary mentoring scheme whereby their skills and experience could be very profitably used to help coach and guide these young people? There are some of these schemes in the country, but it is a piecemeal situation at the moment, so I urge my Front-Bench colleagues to examine ways in which such a scheme could be developed. I am discussing with the excellent principal of Milton Keynes college a way in which we might do that locally in Milton Keynes, but this could be a national thing, too.
I am conscious that I am in the last minute of my time, so I shall briefly mention my third point, which is about the need for flexibility in moving from technical qualifications into higher education. That happens at different points in people’s careers. I am on a bit of a sales pitch here, because we already have an excellent mechanism to deliver that—the Open university, in my constituency. I urge everyone to look at the engineering degrees it has on offer. I will draw my remarks to a conclusion, but I hope we can move forward with a consensual and constructive tone in this debate. Let us not have some of the nonsense, partisan points which were made earlier.
In a lecture to the RSA in January, I set out the case for employer co-sponsored degrees, so I am delighted by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party’s announcement of his backing for new high-level technical degrees that, as he said, would be delivered in partnership with industry, co-funded and co-designed by employers. In the furore around the £9,000 tuition fees, not so much attention was given to an early decision of the coalition to close down Labour’s work force development programme. After just three years, it had created 20,000 co-sponsored degree programmes a year, with an average employer contribution of nearly £4,000. The scheme was different from other higher education funding, because instead of having central allocations, employers and universities had to bid for funds. That element of competition created the incentive to design courses that employers really wanted to help pay for, and employer contributions could be varied according to ability to pay and the course on offer. We need something like that, and more of it, today.
At the moment, we have a persistent degree-level skills shortage in parts of the economy, but we also have record numbers of students going to university. However, a third of graduates are not working in graduate jobs five years after they graduate. They are up to their neck in debt, but higher education has not delivered what they expected. The problem is not that we have too many graduates; it is the mismatch between supply and demand, which arises because employers have too little influence over the process. As the CBI said last July, we need more partnership-based provision, with greater business involvement in colleges and universities, as well as to boost apprenticeships. But the market in “learn while you earn” models, such as higher apprenticeships and more flexible degree programmes, is underdeveloped.
My right hon. Friend is being characteristically modest in understating the influence he had on the announcement that was made yesterday. Is he as concerned as I am that the number of people who had the chance to study for foundation degrees, HNCs and HNDs in a full-time role has fallen by 40% since 2010?
I shall come to that point.
There are other reasons why we need the change. The welcome expansion of higher education has had a less welcome aspect, in my view. Universities have increasingly concentrated on the most expensive model of higher education—the full-time honours degree studied away from home. More than ever before, higher education is a one-shop deal for 18 and 19-year olds. Our graduates are the youngest in the OECD. There are two consequences. With an uneven schools system, such as that described by my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden, there is no chance of young people competing equally at 18, so social mobility suffers. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer routes for the later developer, the student from the weak school and the young person whose family did not value education, and mature and part-time numbers are shrinking.
Technical degrees have been spoken of as an additional route for the 50% of young people who do not go to university. I will be frank and suggest that they would be a better route also for a minority of those currently entering higher education. In the proposals that I set out earlier this year, I showed how those could be delivered without student debt and with better value for money for the taxpayer. If we recognised that employed students do not need maintenance, and if we made the cash available not as debt cancellation, but as subsidy to the employer, we could create the finance for a good co-sponsored degree. I look forward to my own party’s development of the idea.
Businesses will contribute, as they have done in the past. If they can educate an employee whom they have chosen, on a course that they have helped design, which is delivered full-time, part-time, on site or by distance learning, according to their business needs, at times that suit their business, the cost of contributing to the education of the graduate will be much less than the typical recruitment costs of employing a new graduate, let alone the typical retention costs when the business or the graduate finds out that they have made the wrong choice.
I hope my party retains at least the flexibility and the competitive elements of the work force development programme. Not only did they help to ensure that both employers and universities worked in effective partnership, but they will avoid the need to create cumbersome structures to design and validate new degrees. The Wolf report was in part a comment on my time as a Minister. What Professor Wolf said, rightly, was that the genuine attempt to create employer-led bodies to design qualifications, which was shared by all sides, had not worked in delivering the qualifications that we needed. The innovative effort should go into ensuring that SMEs, not just the major employers, have sufficient voice and weight to negotiate with universities.
In the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced huge new funding to take the cap off university places. As things stand, that will all go to three-year degrees studied away from home by young people. Putting that money, or some of it, into the type of technical degrees now being discussed might be a much better use of the money.
Mr McFadden said that today’s debate was timely. I could not agree with him more. Yesterday I visited the brand new CEMAST centre in the brand new enterprise zone in my constituency. CEMAST stands for the Centre of Excellence in Engineering, Manufacturing and Advanced Skills Training, and there could be no more powerful emblem of this Government’s commitment to the high-end skills training and vocational training that we desperately need in this country. Nine hundred students will start at that college in September. It is the most fantastic educational environment that I have seen in a long time.
Many hon. Members have spoken about the Wolf report. It is worth dwelling on some of the facts that we all know very well: one in five young people leave school with qualifications so poor that they cannot progress any further through the system; half of all young people fail to achieve good passes in English and maths; and too many students at 16 find themselves standing on a cliff-edge with no options for progress, many of them flitting for years between low-grade occupations and low-grade educational offerings that are unlikely ever to help them find a job that they really want.
I am delighted that the Opposition education spokesman, Tristram Hunt acknowledged that under the previous Government qualifications that meant nothing to potential employers were widespread. There were more than 3,000 so-called equivalent to GCSE qualifications on offer to 14 to 16-year-olds. They could get a BTEC level 2 extended certificate in fish husbandry, worth two GCSEs; a level 2 certificate in nail technology services, which I would find quite valuable, worth two GCSEs; or a level 2 diploma in horse care—I am allergic so I probably would not be too keen—worth four GCSEs. Those courses were not valued by employers and were not preparing young people for life; they were simply bundling them over the five A to C GCSE line. Those young people were given false credentials and, criminally and crucially, false hope.
Perhaps the most damning indictment was the finding that young people were deliberately steered away from qualifications that might stretch and reward them and towards qualifications that could be passed easily. Sadly, the result was that, while the rest of the world was making progress, we were falling behind. Between 2000 and 2009, the OECD average for those not in education, employment or training fell, while in the UK, it went up. England is now the only country in the developed world where pensioners are likely to have better skills than those aged 16 to 24, which is obviously incredibly sad.
I do not want to be partisan on this matter—we have already had too much partisan comment—but when Labour talks about a high-skill, high-wage economy, we should remember that on its watch, one in five young people were left with no skills, no wage and no future. Thankfully, however, Labour has now seen the light. It wants more people doing apprenticeships, so it must welcome the fact that under this Government we have had a record number of apprenticeships. It wants a new technical baccalaureate, so it must be excited by the prospect of the technical baccalaureate that comes into place in two months’ time. It also wants more people taking the vocational equivalent to a degree, so it will be thrilled at the number of under-25s taking higher apprenticeships.
On the Government Benches, the skills gap in this country is not the source of a press release; it is a call to action. By investing in 2 million apprenticeships and replacing low-value vocational qualifications with new tech levels that are backed by employers, this Government are taking decisive action. What we now need is even more employer involvement in education. According to a recent CBI survey, 85% of businesses now have links with some type of school or college. That is fantastic news, but that number needs to be even higher, because businesses know better than anyone else what businesses want. As a bare minimum, they are looking for employees who are numerate, literate and employable.
We must always remember that our schools are preparing children for the world of work, and a failure to provide them with the necessary skills to flourish in this world is to hold them back from achieving their true potential. That means a hard-headed focus in schools on what employers really value.
In the motion, the Opposition note that a
“transformation in vocational education has eluded Governments for decades”.
That might be the closest we ever get to an apology from the Labour party for its woeful failure to prepare our young people for the modern economy. This Government are transforming vocational education, but there is more to do. If we stick to the plan, we can ensure that our young people have the skills they need to face the future and to succeed.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. There have been some good contributions already this afternoon. The Chair of the Select Committee, Mr Stuart is consistent in reminding us, as he was when I was a member of the Committee, that we spend a lot of our time focusing on those students who succeed at whatever they do. It is right and proper to focus on students who sometimes find it more difficult to succeed. I hasten to add that those are not necessarily students in vocational and technical education, but we often neglect that area as well. His laser-like approach to keeping up that consistency is very important.
My right hon. Friend Mr McFadden, in a powerful contribution, reminded us of the need to dispose of the politics of grievance and grab the politics of hope.
In the 1990s, I was running the then Conservative Government’s technical and vocational education initiative in the north Lincolnshire area. I mention that because it is a reminder that this country has been grappling with technical and vocational education for a long time. In fact, that was one of the best initiatives that came out of the Thatcher Government, as it used carrots to incentivise change. It put forward many of the things that we now take for granted in our education service.
Whenever we look at education in the UK, we always ask which areas of the world have performed better in relation to technical and vocational education. In fact I put that very question to the Business Secretary this week. The answer was the one I expected: Germany. In some ways, the German football team, as we saw last night, is a metaphor for how Germany gets things right. Over time, Germany ruthlessly puts things together in a cross-party way that engages across generations and across parties, whereas too often we flip-flop around instead of building on the positives.
I do not accept that things were disastrous in 2010, because they were not. We had had the biggest investment in education for a generation, building on other investments, such as the one under the previous Conservative Government. Politicians, educationalists, students, parents and others took education to a different place, where it was performing far better than before. That does not mean that everything was right and rosy, but the secondary curriculum at the end of that period was delivering better outcomes for young people than ever before by using a mix of vocational and technical qualifications, such as BTECs, alongside the necessary and appropriate increased rigour on maths and English. We saw schools, on a two-year lag, beginning to improve on their number of five A* to C grades with maths and English, by changing the culture of aspiration, which makes a profound difference to performance.
The Government have built on certain things effectively, and I welcome their commitment to furthering the delivery of apprenticeships. I welcome the introduction of destination monitoring and the increased rigour and focus on maths, English and science, but frankly the move to prioritising things such as the EBacc will have negative consequences because, as the Chair of the Education Committee said, it is not the area to which we need to be paying attention. We need to be focusing our attention on what we are discussing today.
I taught in Sweden, which has a similar baccalaureate system up to 16, but it has far greater breadth than the narrowness of the EBacc. The problem is that the EBacc could have been a good vehicle for taking things forward if it had been a proper curriculum developed with careful thought, instead of focusing on certain things that will have consequences. School timetablers only have so much curriculum time, and if we narrow that down by producing more geography and history students, it will have consequences for other things.
I have another quick point. We need to have greater “earn while you learn.” In countries such as Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark, 52%, 48% and 49% of young people respectively earn while they learn, whereas in our country the proportion is down at 22%. Why do we not set a target of being in the top three of that table? There is a lot of evidence that work experience, which the Government have taken out of the key stage 4 curriculum, is beneficial for job readiness and furtherance into jobs. I will leave it there, because I am aware that other Members want to contribute.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to get on in life and reach their full potential. A strong system of vocational education equips young people with the skills they need to succeed and is a crucial aspect of building a stronger economy and a fairer society. The renewed focus on apprenticeships over recent years is warmly welcomed by almost everyone. They provide real opportunities for young people to get a job in a vocation of their choice, providing the skills they need for a fulfilling career.
Employers value apprenticeships enormously, as they provide the skills needed for growth and increased workplace productivity. With the greatest expansion of apprenticeships since the 1950s during this Parliament, I am pleased that the Government are continuing to aim high by setting a target of 2 million by 2015. Importantly, employers have a growing voice, which means that the apprenticeships on offer are increasingly of world-class quality, providing young people with the skills that employers are looking for and providing the country with the work force we need to build our economic future.
Of course, not all young learners are apprentices. Many young people take part in vocational education exclusively through college provision. There has been extensive debate about the need to promote excellent teaching in our schools, and we also need to ensure that learners in vocational education are supported by great teachers. Achieving that is challenging, because vocational teachers must not only have strong pedagogical skills, but be fully up to date with practices in their vocational area.
Last year’s report by the commission on adult vocational teaching and learning highlighted the value of industry experts getting involved in vocational teaching and curriculum development. Since then, the Education and Training Foundation has commissioned the development of a Teach Too initiative, which will bring industry experts and those involved in vocational teaching and training closer together. It will help to gain a better understanding of current practice and build on it to lead towards a national framework for Teach Too. I encourage Ministers to see what can be learned from the initiative as it progresses. I also encourage Ministers to consider what more can be done to encourage industry secondments to FE colleges, which offer a low-risk means for colleges and employers to engage industry professionals in teaching and learning. The Education and Training Foundation might be well placed to conduct work in that area too.
One area of Government policy that has seen industry and education partnerships blossom is the university technical college programme. I am delighted that this September Norfolk UTC will be opening in my constituency. It will specialise in the skills needed for the energy and high-value manufacturing sectors, both of which are important drivers of growth in the East Anglian economy. Employers are involved in shaping the curriculum so that courses meet the needs of local industries and provide routes for young people to go on to employment, training or university. Places at Norfolk UTC are in high demand, and I hope that in due course the UTC programme can be further expanded at a sustainable pace.
I would like to point to a further challenge: how we can best ensure that young people are fully aware of their options from school. It is meaningless to create education and career paths if young people do not know about them and do not have the support they need to access them. Ofsted has highlighted that too many young people are left to wade through the frequently confusing array of options available to them with no real idea of what skills they need or the path most suitable for them.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need many more employers to go into schools and help embed careers in the curriculum, perhaps by helping with science practicals in sixth form? There are all sorts of ways that employers can embed careers in the curriculum by getting involved in teaching.
I agree 100%. At the moment, too few schools value vocational qualifications or the needs of the 60% who do not go to university, and we do not start learning about careers in school at a young enough age. At the same time, there a perception gap among industry, education providers and learners about employment markets.
I welcome the strengthened statutory careers guidance for schools announced earlier this year and the proposal for a UCAS-style system to provide a single route for 16-year-olds. We need to consider how we can further strengthen the role of Ofsted and how school destination measures will fully support vocational and technical education routes being treated with equal esteem as academic education.
Finally, I want to emphasise the contribution of city deals and local growth deals, supported by local enterprise partnerships and local employers, who know better than Whitehall what skills their area needs. In Norfolk and Suffolk, a LEP-wide skills programme will maximise employer involvement and investment and increase apprenticeships and graduate internships, as specified in the region’s city deal, which was confirmed last year. This week the New Anglia local growth deal confirmed that colleges in the region, including Easton college, which is just outside my constituency, will benefit from additional investment, enabling the building of a new construction training centre and new agri-tech laboratory areas to accommodate employers’ needs.
A transformation in vocational education is under way, and we need to be undeterred in our determination to continue the progress that has been made. The quality and status of vocational qualifications has improved; the number and standard of apprenticeships has increased considerably; and employers, professional bodies and providers are working to ensure that training reflects our future skill needs. Most importantly, the foundations for a stronger economy are being laid while giving every young person the opportunity to gain the skills they need to get on in life.
People like you and I, Mr Speaker, who are interested in history will remember that about 50 years ago Harold Wilson made his great “white heat of technology” speech. I recommend that Members read it, because it leaps off the page. He was talking, as Leader of the Opposition, about how Britain must transform itself in order to be a place where all of us could share in a good life. I came into politics to secure the good life for the people of this country and, in particular, my constituents. Re-reading that speech—I had not looked at it for many years—I found it remarkable how he was looking at the changed social and economic structure. He said that there would not be any room for unskilled and semi-skilled people in our country, that a production line in Detroit could make a car with no human intervention at all—automation was coming.
Harold Wilson said what a pity it was that only a tiny number of people, who were usually from posh backgrounds and going to elite institutions, were going into higher education. He said that 10% of people, instead of 5%, should be going to university, and that we should have universities in every major town and city. Of course, before long we had the expansion of the polytechnics. Interestingly, his message started a bipartisan view of upskilling our country; there was little demur about it. There is a bit of old-fashioned stuff in the speech: the Soviets had just put a man into space and shocked everyone, and his allusion to Soviet science does not ring true today. However, he was right to say, “This is our country and its social and economic structure is changing fast.”
During my time in this House, the social and economic structure of the country has moved very fast—we can all see that. Now, fewer than 10% of people make anything, while 30% are in public services—health, education and local authorities—and 60% are in the private sector, with 1% in agriculture. That means that most people are working in the private sector. If they are looking after people—at the bottom end or the top end, young people or old people—they will be on the minimum wage or minimum wage plus. That also applies to people in retail and distribution. There are some very good jobs in the private sector. Cross-hatching that, most of the jobs are in small and medium-sized companies, not the big companies.
When I left school, I went to work in the chemical industry and worked for ICI—a big company. I had an intensive year at Kingston technical college to get my three A-levels because I was a naughty boy and dropped out of school at 16. After getting a scholarship to the London School of Economics, I had the wonderful experience of being able to get into a growth area. As a young person seeking employment, people took the time to give me advice about what I should direct myself to. They not only estimated my capabilities but said what one could earn in different professions. Too often, we do not tell young people what their future is.
We need more bold recommendations on a bipartisan level. Why cannot we go back to sharing policies? None of us have got it right on vocational and technical education. The former Labour Government put in a lot of effort, leadership and resources. We did not get everything right, but we had some success. The current Government have not had all successes, although it is absolutely true that they have made some improvements. However, there are some radical proposals that no party has listened to, although Labour is moving towards them. We should not have unemployment under the age of 25. We should be like the Dutch. Why should any young person up to the age of 25 not be in education or training, or in a job with training, getting valuable work experience? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that we should not allow young people to live on a little bit of housing benefit in the shadow land—that is no way to grow up. We all need to grasp that there should be no unemployment or idleness under the age of 25.
Anyone without maths and science as part of their background is never going to make it. I applaud the maths hub launched by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Elizabeth Truss. We absolutely need that.
In the last few moments of my speech, I want to make another radical proposal: I want a citizenship service. People who go to university are too young and some young people remain idle for too long, so we need a citizenship service for everyone, including those at university.
The only way any of us will get what we want is by reinvigorating the further education sector. There are more than 350 FE institutions and we all have one not too far from our constituencies. We can have university technical colleges and all sorts of new-fangled things, but FE colleges will deliver the numbers we need. They have to be given that push and the resources. A lot of young people who have failed in other education pathways go to FE colleges and they need the best help available. The quality of FE maths teaching is deplorable, so let’s do something about FE.
Finally, let us not forget the parents. No one has mentioned the parents yet. A child’s parents can back them, put them up and wipe away their tears if they are being bullied at school. We learned last night that a supportive mum and dad can compensate for horrible bullying. There is something wrong when a reasonable percentage of people in this country do not get that family support.
To be honest, I was a tad surprised that Labour called for this debate, given that its record on the subject is quite mixed. I am, however, of a charitable disposition and I wish to be charitable now because I agree with certain things in the motion. It admits, for example, that the previous Government failed to transform vocational education in this country. We can also agree that credit should be given across the board to Lord Hunt for his work back in the 1990s and to Ministers in the previous Labour Government who increased the number of apprenticeships. I think we also agree that there is a need to study maths and English for longer and to place greater emphasis on the technicals.
There are, therefore, things that we can agree on, but I cannot agree that this Government have failed in the same way as the previous one in their attempts to reform apprenticeships and vocational and technical education. Their changes have transformed tens of thousands of young people’s lives. I guess that the problem for the Labour party is that it is in a negative spiral—it sees only the negative in everything at the moment and seems to want to talk down the country and young people. I find that very disappointing.
I am very proud of what this Government have achieved. They have transformed our educational system and the opportunities within it, driving up aspiration both in my Reading constituency and nationally. We have done that by recognising that vocational and academic education are two sides of the same coin—that vocational and technical education is every bit as valuable and necessary to the prospects of this country as academic education.
Let me tell the House about the transformation taking place in my constituency in Reading. It would be fair to say that, before 2010, this was an area with limited educational options for young people. In 2010, it was represented by an underperforming community school and an unsatisfactory college run by Thames Valley university.
My desire, supported by the Government when we finally had the levers of power, was to create what the Education Act 1944 originally envisaged for the UK but never implemented, namely a tripartite structure of education: academic, technical and vocational—all with parity of esteem and all offering something different to fit the aspirations of young people.
The first stage in engineering such a major change is to get investment, and this Government, in difficult times, have put their money where their mouth is.
Bringing together business, the university, the college and others, we managed to persuade Lord Baker and the Government to back Reading university technical college, specialising in computer science and engineering. Reading UTC is rooted in the needs of local employers, which the Leader of the Opposition failed to mention in his speech yesterday. We deliberately set out to match the needs of local employers, to build them their work force of the future. That is why big companies such as Cisco, Microsoft and Network Rail got behind the bid and supported the UTC, but long-standing smaller local companies such as Peter Brett Associates are also deeply involved and committed.
The UTC’s only focus is on providing high-quality education, but it does it in a different way that is much more hands-on and technical. It does not try to pretend, as Labour has for years, that that can be achieved without the fundamental building blocks of learning. Therefore, it runs what it terms as basic academic courses for those who may have struggled with English, maths and computer science at another school.
The UTC concentrates on building strong relationships with business, because it understands that, without business confidence in the qualifications it offers, it will not succeed, and young people will not thrive. Businesses see that the UTC offers young people something unique—something that will allow them to stand out in the jobs marketplace. Parents see their young people gaining confidence as they gain in-depth knowledge of their specialism.
Having seen the impact that the UTC has made in the eastern part of my constituency, I am proud to support Lord Baker’s aspiration that many more UTCs should be invested in throughout the country. The local community school, which had drifted for years, suddenly sat up and took notice when it saw a world class UTC on its doorstep. That led to a new management team and new investment from the local education authority. Bulmershe school in my constituency is now on an upward and impressive trajectory.
Reading college, which runs a range of important vocational courses, has raised its game, and was recently awarded a good rating by Ofsted, with some elements of outstanding. It also recently announced funding for a solutions lab, which will bring together businesses, FE colleges and students to shape curriculums so that they are aligned with the needs of technical-based businesses in my constituency and the Thames valley. Its assistant principal described Labour’s old system as like
“being handcuffed to a set of qualifications to drive funding”,
whereas he welcomed the new system because it allows the college to provide a study programme that is crafted by the needs of learners, and not with funding in mind.
The final piece of the jigsaw in east Reading was an outstanding Wokingham-based school, Maiden Erlegh, which agreed to imprint its DNA on a free school from September 2015. It is nothing short of a revolution in my constituency in the provision of high-quality education for young people, whether vocational, academic or technical.
Labour failed in office to understand that equality between academic and vocational routes cannot be enforced by Government diktat. Setting up yet another body or qualification does not work by itself. The important thing is that qualifications are respected by business and the wider public. People can and will vote with their feet, as they did under Labour, if they think a qualification is not valued.
I warmly welcome the motion proposed by my hon. Friend Tristram Hunt, in particular the acknowledgment in it that
“a transformation in vocational education has eluded governments for decades”,
meaning Governments of both the main parties. My hon. Friend Nic Dakin spoke powerfully and mentioned Germany. I have used this quote in a previous debate but it is worth repeating. Tim Oates, who is one of the foremost experts in the country on the subject said that, in the 1940s, we devised an excellent system of technical education and exported it to Germany, where it has thrived ever since.
Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges we have faced in this country for many years. In Germany, youth unemployment is below 8%. In this country, it has fallen in recent months, which is welcome, but it is still above 18%. Overcoming that is crucial to achieving the politics of hope, about which my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden spoke so powerfully. This is not a new problem, but a long-term and intractable one. In 1984, the youth unemployment rate was 20%. It fell modestly in the first 10 years of the previous Labour Government and in 2007 was 14%, but that is still far too high.
We know that half of young people in Germany undertake apprenticeships, whereas the number undertaking technical and vocational courses and apprenticeships in this country is far lower at about 32%. We need a change on the supply side, as the motion sets out, with more and better vocational qualifications that are fit for purpose, but we also need a change on the demand side, with a cultural change in our attitudes to vocational education in this country.
The Edge Foundation does brilliant work in this area. Earlier this year, it did a survey of 2,000 18 to 35-year-olds, some of whom had followed an academic route and some a vocational route. About two thirds of those on the academic route felt that they had been supported by their school, whereas only one third of those on the vocational route gave that response. My hon. Friend Mr Sheerman talked about parents. About half of those following the vocational route felt that their parents had encouraged them, whereas three quarters of those who followed the academic route felt the same.
We therefore need to achieve a cultural change involving independent advice and guidance in schools. The shadow Secretary of State spoke about that, and we must get it right. Some schools do get it right, and we should praise them. In the Budget debate, I spoke about Cardinal Heenan school in my constituency, which has done some fantastic work. I visited another Liverpool school last week, Calderstones school, which does a lot of work to ensure that from when students arrive at the age of 11, they are thinking about their options for the future, so that when they are 16 they make the best choice for them, including those who follow a technical and vocational path.
That is absolutely vital, and I welcome the fact that it is integral to what is set out in the motion.
It is crucial that advice is personalised to the individual student. I want to warn against us getting into a position where we have to choose between the forgotten 50% and widening participation in higher education; we need to do both. I am proud of the fact that the previous Labour Government expanded higher education, but we did not do enough on vocational education.
I am working with schools in Liverpool to encourage more of the most academic young people to consider applying to top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge. I want to put on the record a tribute to Calderstones school, which I have already mentioned, because that comprehensive school in the heart of Liverpool gets a lot of its young people to go to Oxford or Cambridge. I want to mention Elle Shea, the head girl of St John Bosco school in my constituency, who has an offer of a place at Cambridge university. There are still not enough young people from low-income families getting into our top universities, but we should not have to choose between saying that and saying that we are passionate about the forgotten 50% and want to improve technical and vocational education; we need to do both.
The motion draws on the excellent work done for the Labour party during the past two years by Chris Husbands, from the Institute of Education in London, on how we can best strengthen the status of vocational and technical education. I particularly welcome the proposal for a national baccalaureate that seeks to put alongside fit-for-purpose qualifications, whether academic or vocational, concepts such as extended projects, personal development and an emphasis on character, resilience and employability. Those things matter, and it is very welcome to have such an emphasis in the motion.
I want to echo what my right hon. Friend Mr Denham said about the new forms that higher education will take. I particularly welcome the proposal made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday for new technical degrees.
Let me finish by making a point about how we can take this matter forward. In my opinion, the Husbands review for the Labour party worked because it engaged with all those who have an interest in the area. They have all been mentioned in this debate—the further and higher education sectors, businesses and other employers, and young people themselves and parents—and it is important for their voices to be heard. Getting the national framework right is absolutely critical to the success of this work, but as several hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, in the end it cannot simply be imposed from on high; it is in our communities that it will make a real difference.
In Liverpool, I certainly pay tribute to the extraordinary work, yes, in our schools and further education colleges, but also what is done in partnership between businesses or other employers and the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, and Liverpool city council in particular in delivering more high-quality apprenticeships. We can say things in the House and the Government can set a framework, as they should, but if we are to transform life chances, in the end the differences must be made on the ground in our communities.
This is the first time that I have taken part in an education debate, so I was pretty shocked by the tone and content of the speech by the shadow Secretary of State. He implied that vocational qualifications required an overhaul. I would argue that the quality of vocational education in this country has risen under this Government, and that the policies that are in place will only continue to improve.
Vocational education plays a vital role in equipping young people with the skills that they need to thrive later in life. The introduction of university technical colleges, which were conceived by a Conservative Secretary of State for Education and Science, Lord Baker, will undoubtedly mean that practically minded students have the opportunity to train for careers in well resourced and appropriate environments, without the vital skills that are taught in comprehensive schools being neglected. What is most encouraging about the education that UTCs offer is that they teach students the practical and administrative skills that they will need to survive in their vocation.
I look forward to the opening of the manufacturing college in Derby in September 2015. Given that world-class engineering firms such as Toyota, Rolls-Royce and Bombardier are based in the city, it is clear that the college is well located to offer a comprehensive and hands-on technical education. By academic year 2015-16, 300,000 students will be able to receive a top-quality vocational education in a UTC. I am proud that the Government are so committed to ensuring that the colleges are a success.
Another education facility in my constituency that I am very proud of is Broomfield Hall, which is part of Derby college. It offers a range of land-based, public service and sports courses. They are incredibly popular; there are 500 full-time students enrolled on land studies courses, with a further 800 people studying them part time. The college now offers foundation degrees in animal care; that is a great way for students who do not wish to take A-levels to get into university to study for a career in zoo-keeping or veterinary nursing. The college feels empowered to offer a greater range of courses in a larger variety of subjects. It is obvious from that example that, contrary to the Opposition’s belief that vocational education in this country needs to be overhauled, colleges feel motivated by the policies of this Government to diversity and improve the quality of the qualifications that they offer.
Like Broomfield Hall, the university of Derby has extended the range of courses it offers to include BTECs and foundation degrees in subjects such as business, management and civil engineering. As at Broomfield Hall, the vocational qualifications are extremely popular, with 930 people currently studying for them. I am pleased to say that as a result of the focus on running courses that are attractive to employers, the employment rate among Derby graduates within six months of course completion is 4.6% above the national average of 92%. That again illustrates that higher education institutions in this country are following the Government’s lead and providing high-quality and well-regarded vocational courses.
A vocational college that I hope will come to Derby is the proposed High Speed 2 skills academy. The Government see the landmark HS2 project as a means of offering high-quality vocational education. If the college was located in Derby, its students would benefit from a diverse range of employment and training options because of the excellent engineering firms that are located in the city. Given its proximity to the proposed HS2 route, they could expect to receive on-the-job training. It is clear from the focused vocational education that the skills academy will offer that its students will be fully equipped to head straight into a career in the railway industry. I am pleased that the Government have harnessed that opportunity.
The Government have been keen to encourage the uptake of apprenticeships. They have taken steps to increase the quality of the schemes that are offered, which has done a good deal to increase the value that employers give apprenticeships. In addition, the Government have tried to make apprenticeships more attractive as further education options for school leavers by introducing the apprentice minimum wage, which has given more employers the support they need to take on apprentices. That focus on vocational education has led to an unprecedented uptake of apprenticeships, with 1.8 million starts since 2010.
Given all the hard work that the Government have put into that initiative, it seems absurd for the Opposition to criticise a number of apprenticeship policies that have proved successful. In my constituency alone, there are a number of examples that show that the Government’s policy on vocational education is working. The motion denigrates the fantastic work that individual colleges do to offer their students the skills they need to thrive in a working environment. Institutions such as Broomfield Hall and the university of Derby now feel able to offer foundation degrees. The Opposition claim that the quality of vocational education is not up to standard, but that is obviously not representative. The increased uptake of apprenticeships is further evidence that what the Government are doing is positive. I am concerned that any effort to divert us from the work that has already been done will only harm the great progress made.
It is a great pleasure to follow Pauline Latham. I find myself wishing that you had put us on the clock, Mr Speaker, because I care so much about this matter that I feel I may rattle on. My hon. Friend Nic Dakin promises me that he will cough vigorously at about the six-minute mark. I commend the Opposition Front Benchers on securing the debate. We do not spend enough time thinking about what happens to young people who do not choose to follow an academic route post-16.
I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, because in Darlington students do exceptionally well up to GCSE—as well as those just about anywhere else in the country. Yet given those GCSE results, far fewer than we would expect go on to do A-levels and attend university. Very few attend what we have loosely come to term the “top universities”. I will not stop encouraging people from my constituency to go to those universities until we achieve parity with other parts of the country.
In my constituency, there is a sixth-form college and an FE college. I attended one of them, and I visit the other often. When I look at the curriculum on offer and the number of students taking each course, I find that we train more hairdressers per head of population in Darlington than just about anywhere else in Britain. I am not against hairdressers at all—I am a big fan, and in fact I wish I could use them more often. However, it strikes me that there is no incentive in the system for colleges to offer more STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and train more technicians. If we want them to do that, they will have to stop doing something else. Some of our colleges have invested heavily in training people in subjects such as hairdressing, beauty therapy, travel and tourism, but they are not leading people into the types of jobs that they hoped for.
I find that it is easy to persuade 15-year-old girls to study hair and beauty, particularly when they are not getting any information, advice and guidance at school that is worth having. Instead, we need to find a way of incentivising FE colleges to restrict the number of students that they recruit to some courses, and expand the number that they recruit on to others that are much more in demand from local employers. We have not cracked that yet. One way of doing so that we might want to consider is payment by results—I hesitate to use the term, because my expertise is more in the field of justice, in which payment by results has been a mixed bag. In education, however, there may be a way that would help colleges to divest themselves from some forms of activity and to invest in others, and until we crack that we will not change the investment behaviour of some of our colleges, which is what we need to do.
Pathways into further education are confused. We know there is no information, advice and guidance worth having—the CBI has stated that advice and careers guidance are on “life support”—but there is no standardised application process or single source of information, and it is difficult for a young person to choose in any sensible way between different providers and courses. So many different funding options, routes and types of qualification are available that it is confusing. Young people are not making decisions in their long-term best interests; they are sometimes enticed to make decisions that may be in the best interests of their local college.
I would like some thought to be given to having a single pathway into FE, just as we do for university. There is a well organised, well established application process for university, but nothing like that for FE. Once we have such a process, we will get some kind of support, and understanding and appreciation of what is on offer, from parents. Parents are key to this issue, and the real test of how successful apprenticeships or vocational qualifications are will be the confidence that parents have in them.
One or two colleagues have mentioned that they went to an FE college. That is great; where we went does matter. Where we send our children, however, will really demonstrate the success or otherwise of these measures. Do we have the confidence to advise our children not to do A-levels or go to university, but to take a risk on some of these other qualifications? I hope we do, and that they are good enough and of a high enough standard for us to have the confidence to advise our young people to make that choice.
Some Government Members have been very pleased with themselves and their Government, but I encourage them not to count their chickens before they are hatched, because the proof of whether these measures work will be seen a long way into the future. This is about parents, confidence, people from working-class backgrounds doing A-levels, and those from middle-class backgrounds studying for vocational qualifications.
I congratulate Jenny Chapman on a good speech and on her recent engagement. I hope she enjoys her party; I gather that she will celebrate after this debate.
I am pleased to be returning to the topic that I raised in my maiden speech—vocational training—because like the hon. Lady I feel passionate about it. Vocational training, properly delivered alongside academic training, will undoubtedly drive economic growth. That growth has already started, but vocational training will help it to build and gain the momentum that we need for the longer term. Between 2012 and 2020, it is estimated that we will need 830,000 science, engineering and technology professionals, and 450,000 science, engineering and technology technicians. That is a huge challenge, and I think that the Government have performed outstandingly in ensuring that we meet it.
I welcome the steps taken. The new high-quality tech awards that will run alongside GCSEs, the new tech levels that run alongside A-levels, and the new tech-baccalaureate are very much to be welcomed; I am only sad that we do not have time today to consider exactly how they will work. A significant amount of employer involvement in those courses is absolutely what we need; I think that will be agreed on by Members across the House.
Interestingly, the move to get business and education closer and closer together has almost gone viral, and I am pleased that my council came to me today to talk about how it and the education authority can work to develop projects that will bring together business experience with what is happening in the schools that they are responsible for. That I applaud. For me, however, the crown has to be the 100 studio schools and UTCs that have been opened, and it is no surprise that UTCs have formed a large part of this debate. They are a fantastic concept, introduced by this Government. They integrate technical, practical and academic skills. By 2016, 30,000 students will be undertaking courses in them. They specifically address some of our key skills shortfalls in engineering, manufacturing, health sciences, product design, digital technologies and the built environment. Youngsters will be able to get access to the latest research and to real-life employer projects.
I am particularly proud that Lord Baker and the education team have approved my UTC—the South Devon university technical college, which will be based in Newton Abbot and is due to open in 2015. It will provide 15 state-of-the-art engineering and science workshops and laboratories, along with a great deal of input from local sponsors. It is to their credit that Centrax, Galliford Try, South West Water, the Environment Agency and WaterAid are all playing their part in designing the curriculum, and in providing and, in some cases, funding some of the tools and equipment that are crucial to make these courses live. As has been said, to be real, we must have hands-on experience, not just work in the classroom. I am pleased, too, that Exeter university and South Devon college—two outstanding educational institutions—are involved. This course will lead to apprenticeships, degrees and all sorts of job opportunities.
The apprenticeship revolution, which this Government have put a rocket behind, is something that I very much welcome. I shall not dwell on the subject, because we have already heard a lot about the successful doubling of apprenticeship starts since 2010. I am pleased that Newton Abbot has had 3,450 starts since 2010, which is a 60.7% increase on where we were at the last election.
The next steps will be even more important, and it is to their credit that the Government have listened to some of the more forward-thinking additional proposals. First, there is Lord Young’s report, “Enterprise for all”, which sets out the steps he believes we should take to get even further integration between business and education to ensure that our youngsters really have the capability to think about going into business. Then there is the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, who has given his support to “An Education System fit for an Entrepreneur”, a report by the all-party parliamentary group for micro-businesses, which I chair. That is the way forward. All these steps taken by the Government are far-sighted. I look forward to seeing how they will introduce all these measures. All power to the Government’s elbow. They have a great record, and I would encourage them to continue to deliver in the same vein.
ATMs and self-checkouts have already taken over jobs that we assumed would always be there. It is difficult fully to take in the potential structural change that will come from driverless vehicles and 3D printers, let alone from cleaning robots and Amazon drones delivering what is left and cannot be transmitted through the ether. More and more markets become more contestable, and more and more things can be offshored. We will never again make T-shirts cheaper than China can.
As we look to the future, we need to focus not only on high-value sectors, but on areas where we have competitive advantage. What those things are is for a debate on another day, but we need to note that those two forces—technological change and globalisation—are accentuating the hollowing out of the labour market that we are already seeing, with more jobs at the bottom of the scale, more at the “knowledge economy” top and fewer in the middle. That has serious implications for social mobility and progression.
We know that the way in which those forces impact on people will depend on whether the particular job is enhanced by technology and the computer or competes with them, and there are major social justice questions attached to that. There will, of course, always be jobs that have little or nothing to do with technology—in care, retail, hospitality and so forth. For all employment sectors, however, we need a significant improvement in skill levels in the economy.
What skills will be required? We are going to see a merging of the academic and the vocational, the intellectual and the practical, and a further emphasis on some skills that we are not used to considering in either group. The Wolf report was right to talk about the primacy of English and maths—the skills for which employers look before all others. We need more attention, as the shadow Secretary of State mentioned, on character and resilience skills and on workplace skills. They are not the same thing but they overlap. Character and resilience skills are about what is in you—self-belief and the ability to set realistic goals, for example. Workplace skills are primarily about how people interact with others—customer empathy, including the ability to smile and make eye contact, teamwork, organising tasks, leading and motivating others. At the intersection of the two are perseverance and the ability to bounce back, which is, of course, so important throughout life.
Our success as an economy will depend on how we adapt to those new realities, and on how quickly we adapt. One benchmark is probably South Korea, whose story of change is dramatic. The youngest people in its work force have materially better basic skills than those approaching retirement. It is a shame that this country must currently contend with the opposite position.
I fear that a great error in the first decade of this century was the overriding obsession with the “five-plus C-plus” target for GCSEs. I say that not just because this is an Opposition-day debate and this is what happens in the House of Commons, but because we owe it to young people not merely to file recent history, but to learn from it. The system found increasingly clever ways of helping schools and helping itself—the system as a whole—to find their way up the league. Half-courses, double awards, modularisation, early sits and retakes all helped, but the daddy of them all was “equivalents”, which helped to perpetuate the diet of low-value qualifications. The 350,000 young people of whom Alison Wolf spoke were let down by courses with little or no labour market value, and that in turn contributed significantly to the terrible rise in the number of young people who were not in education, employment or training.
The other big target was the 50% target for the number of people who should go to university. The Opposition now talk about the “forgotten 50%”, but we only talk about that 50% because of the first 50% target which they introduced. Actually, I am not sure that 50% is a bad target. I think it is the rest of the sentence that we need to look at. The target should be not just about the proportion of young people who go to university, but about the proportion who finish university courses that will be of use to them later in life. An increasing number of those courses—degree courses—will be vocational, and many careers that used to involve a vocational route straight after school have themselves become “graduatised”. The number of people embarking on undergraduate degrees more or less matches the number of occupations that now require people to have degrees and did not do so previously.
I rather welcome what the Opposition have been saying about tech degrees. I think that that is a direction of travel that we see on both sides of the House. However, it is the Government who are grasping the nettle and doing what it takes. The importance that my right hon. and hon. Friends attach to vocational education and training is exemplified by the fact that the Wolf report was commissioned at the very start of the Government’s tenure, before the completion of some of the other reforms that we have had plenty of opportunities to debate in the House. I think it right to move away from that “one target that trumps all others”, the “five-plus C-plus”, and towards measures that reward and value the progress made by all young people, whatever their abilities. I also think that we should take into account not just the results those young people achieve at the end of their time at school or college, but where they go after that, and where they end up.
This Government are determined that all qualifications will have rigour, because with rigour come respect and value. I welcome tech levels that involve local employers, and I welcome the tech bac, including the core maths qualification and the extended project. I also welcome the massive increase in the number of apprenticeships—it is up 86% in my constituency—the higher apprenticeships fund and the huge growth in UTCs. This goes further than that, however. It is about employers being in control of apprenticeship training budgets, it is about more young people studying maths after the age of 16, and it is about getting 3D printers into schools and enabling more young people to study coding and app design.
You are indicating that I should stop at this point, Mr Speaker, so I shall do so. Let me end by saying that, as we heard from the shadow Secretary of State, this is a matter of social justice and economic efficiency.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Damian Hinds, who is very knowledgeable about educational matters, and to speak in this important debate. I enjoyed the rhythm of the shadow Education Secretary’s speech, liberally laced as it was with quotations from Sir Winston Churchill, but the speed with which he rattled through his speech did on occasion remind me of Churchill’s observation about Ramsay MacDonald: he had the great ability of compressing the largest amount of words into the smallest amount of thought. Notwithstanding that, however, there is some startling honesty in Labour’s motion because it says that it believes that
“transformation in vocational education has eluded governments for decades”,
so clearly Labour takes its share of the blame for any failure to deliver the sort of vocational education and qualifications that we want to see in our country.
For far too long, far too much stress and pressure have been put on the traditional route through A-levels and into university. Parents have for too long been left with the impression that, unless their children go to university, they have failed. Schools and teachers have been left with the impression that, if they do not get their students into university, they have failed, and the students themselves have been left with the impression that, unless they pass their A-levels and go to university and find a room in a hall of residence, they, too, have failed. That is a corrosive narrative that has undermined the importance of the vocational qualifications that R. A. Butler envisaged in 1944. As the shadow Education Secretary said, on
It is important, therefore, that we focus anew on vocational qualifications, and I am pleased and proud that the Government are focusing on expanding the number of apprenticeships—the figure is 1.8 million since 2010—that they have introduced the higher apprenticeships fund, which will create 10,000 places for state-of-the-art degree level apprenticeships, and are introducing the technical baccalaureate at the end of this year. I am pleased that Labour appears to be supporting that proposal, but I hope it has a less bumpy ride than the English baccalaureate had. I see Stephen Twigg is in his place. In 2011 he said that the EBacc was a measure to be praised because it might reverse the decline in children studying languages, but by 2012 he was saying that education could not be improved by the EBacc reverting to a system that was considered out of date 30 years ago. I rather hope Labour will not flip-flop on the tech bacc as it appeared to flip-flop on the EBacc.
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman as we do not have much time, but what I will do is say that if I am wrong he should write to The Guardian, and make sure he has lots of spelling errors in the letter, which will ensure it is published.
I am very pleased by what the Government are doing with the tech bacc, because in my town we suffered terribly in the recession. A large number of young people found it difficult to find work and did not get the qualifications necessary to find work, so it is going to be important. When Labour left office in 2010, the main source of vocational qualifications in Tamworth was South Staffordshire college, which the shadow Education Secretary visited earlier this year. Now we have a sixth-form and Tamworth enterprise college, which together provide BTEC courses on everything from construction to IT. South Staffordshire college offers 33 courses and 24 apprenticeships, ranging from veterinary husbandry to bricklaying. That college has a 97% pass rate and a 91% satisfaction rate among students, so it is doing really very well. It is no wonder therefore that Jaguar Land Rover and JCB are recruiting in Tamworth and BMW has come to set up in Tamworth, bringing over 100 skilled and professional jobs. So I welcome what the Government are achieving.
My hon. Friends on the Front Bench should be pleased. They should be pleased that Labour appears to be supporting much of what they are trying to achieve. Labour appears to want to get aboard this vessel because it thinks it is rather a good one. Unfortunately for Labour, however, I fear that vessel has sailed, carrying my constituents to a better and brighter future, and all the shadow Education Secretary can do is wave from the quayside.
This has been an excellent debate. My hon. Friend Ian Austin made the first Back-Bench contribution to it and said that the debate was urgent and important. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman, who said that we do not spend enough time in this House debating the subject of today’s motion. It has been an important debate because it has revealed that, on the future of vocational education and on the basic question of how our constituents are going to learn what they need to earn their way out of today’s cost of living crisis, there is no long-term plan. There is nothing long-term and nothing short-term; there does not appear to be much of a plan at all. The Chair of the Select Committee is not in his place, but we have heard some powerful calls today for a new cross-party consensus on the content of this debate, and I hope we can achieve that today. Therefore, I hope that the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, who is talking away from a sedentary position, will not divide the House today and that the motion will go through with full support, because that cross-party consensus, now and for the long term, is something this country desperately needs.
My hon. Friend Tristram Hunt started this debate with a candid admission that the problem we are talking about is decades old and decades deep. Indeed, Lord Percy reported to the Government shortly before the Education Act 1944. His Committee said that
“the position of Great Britain as a leading industrial nation is being endangered by a failure to secure the fullest possible application of science to industry… and…this failure is partly due to deficiencies in education.”
That was the position we found ourselves in again in the 1970s, as my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman pointed out, and we find ourselves there again today. So I am pleased that the Select Committee, chaired by Mr Stuart, is going to look at this in detail. A new consensus is needed, and the business community is saying that to us loud and clear.
Labour left this Government strong foundations. I am sorry that Damian Hinds felt that there were errors made between 2000 and 2010—no doubt there were—because some awfully strong foundations were left, too. I thought my hon. Friend Nic Dakin put it well when he said we rescued the apprenticeship system from the state of complete collapse that we inherited in 1997, rebuilding schools and school standards, rebuilding further education colleges all over this country and rebuilding our university system. Labour Members are very proud of those achievements, and what we needed in this Parliament was a Government who were determined to build on those foundations and create a strong, new, wide path for vocational education from 14 through to 21 and above. I am sorry to say that instead we have the kind of chaos that means that at the age of 14 pupils can look forward to passing through systems regulated by Ofqual, Ofsted, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the Education Funding Agency, the Skills Funding Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council. It is a dog’s breakfast; it is a complicated situation that is not delivering the skills we need.
That is what business is saying to us clearly. When I left business school in America, I was clear that the UK was the only country where I wanted to build my business. Thousands of firms want to bring work back to this country, but let me tell hon. Members what KPMG said a few weeks ago. It said that the ability of manufacturers to bring jobs back to Britain is being crippled by the lack of available skills. Mike Wright, the head of Jaguar Land Rover, said the following not too long ago:
“We are not educating nearly enough skilled apprentices or graduates to replace those retiring from manufacturing roles.”
Lord Adonis has said that skills are now the “single biggest impediment” to economic growth. The Migration Advisory Committee, which my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden referred to, made an important contribution to this debate yesterday. The MAC has added more than 100 different roles to the shortage occupation list over the past three or four years. Firms have had to sponsor in 282,000 people from abroad because they could not get the skills they need here in this country. So my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North is absolutely right when he says that a better deal for vocational and technical education is crucial if we are to regenerate significant parts of our country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East made a powerful speech and the point he drew our attention to is that we do not just owe it to the business community; we owe it to our constituents, too.
Training up to degree-level skills unlocks a life in which people can earn over £100,000 more over the course of their career than if they had only two A-levels. If we want to transform life chances for everyone in our constituencies, we need to build a better system. I hope our motion today is the basis of that new consensus. [Interruption.] The Minister for Skills and Enterprise is chuntering away. Let me tell him where I think he is getting a few things wrong.
A new, stronger system must start in schools. I am sure that, like me, he is slightly worried that there has been a 16% rise in unqualified teachers in my children’s classrooms. I am sure that he is concerned, like me, that when we say that people should be able to study English and maths up to the age of 18, that is not the policy of the Education Secretary. The Minister gave us a new piece of information this afternoon about 1 million bits of careers advice being distributed to our children. I was not quite sure what that meant, but I do know that the CBI has said that the careers service is “on life support”. That is not a system fit for the future.
Those lucky enough to graduate to a further education college confront colleges that have seen a £700 million fall in their funding. That has weighed heavily on those aged 18 studying in FE colleges. For those going on to study in further education beyond the age of 19, funding has fallen by 22%. The Minister for Skills and Enterprise made great play of apprenticeship numbers. He wanted to make the point that apprenticeship numbers have risen since 2010, and of course they have. But, like me, he will be worried that over the past year apprenticeship numbers for the under-25s have fallen by 11,400. He will concerned about the fall in apprenticeship starts in his constituency, and so will the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Elizabeth Truss.
The Minister for Skills and Enterprise should take great care in the changes that he proposes and he should listen hard to small and medium-sized enterprises up and down the country that say that putting apprenticeship funding wholesale into their hands through the PAYE system could be a disaster that sees apprenticeship numbers fall off a cliff. He needs to listen carefully to that.
Earlier this week the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, announced the final stage of our proposals. It was not the Minister for Skills and Enterprise who introduced the chance for apprentices to go on and study at the highest level of skill. That was a change that was made many years ago, and it is not acceptable that just 2% of apprentices go on to study degree-level skills. There has been a 40% fall in the number of people studying for HNCs, HNDs or foundation degrees. That is not the way to empower apprentices and enable them to go on and study to degree-level skills, and it must change.
We know that there is a big appetite among young people for a vocational path to the highest level of skill. That is why it is now harder to get an apprenticeship in this country than it is to get into university. It is now harder to get into BAE Systems’ apprenticeship programme than to get into Oxford. It is harder to get into Rolls-Royce than to get into Cambridge. These are brilliant programmes and if we are to create more chances like that, we must introduce the kind of proposals for a technical baccalaureate that have been discussed. We must give people the chance to study English and maths through to the age of 18. We must raise the quality of further education across the board by introducing institutes of technical education.
We must radically increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities, crucially using the power of public procurement to increase the number of opportunities. Finally, we must put more resources into the hands of employers so that, with universities and colleges, they are able to use that buying power to expand the opportunity to study technical degrees to the highest level of skill. This is a proposal that was pioneered by my right hon. Friend Mr Denham when he was in office. It was a tragedy that the work force development programme was shut down. It was popular with employers, with students and with universities and colleges, too.
I finish on the point underlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East. We need to offer our young people a chance, not an excuse and not a target. The hon. Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and for Beverley and Holderness were among those who called for a new cross-party consensus. If we on the Labour Benches sound partisan, it is because we are passionate about transforming the life chances of the people whom we represent. We have a simple belief that the world around us is changing in a way that it has never changed before. There is a new competitive threat to this country from rising economies in the east. If we want to live better than others, we will have to be better than others, and that means giving us a skills system that gets everybody, not just some, to the very highest level of their potential. Only in that way can we offer a future that is optimistic and ambitious. Only in that way can we be a country that is full of hope and not a country that is facing fear.
There is nothing more vital to the future of our country than the education and skills of our young people. I find myself in violent agreement with Ian Austin and Mr McFadden. They are absolutely right that it is the No. 1 priority for our future competitiveness, social mobility and outcomes as a nation.
As Mr Sheerman and my hon. Friend Damian Hinds pointed out, education and skills are becoming more and more important over time as our world is transformed by technology and globalisation. We will not be dividing the House on this motion, because we realise that the Opposition acknowledge their failings over previous years, and that they back our direction. Indeed, they back many of our policies, such as the technical baccalaureate and the availability of more degrees from apprenticeships, and also our reforms in English and maths.
We need to ensure that every qualification, whether it is academic or vocational, is demanding, rigorous and a route to employment. Many Members today commented on the vital importance of English and maths. As the Secretary of State said, those are the most important vocational subjects, which is why we care passionately about ensuring that all children achieve. We are setting up maths hubs, so that all children can master maths. There will be 32 hubs across the country, which will learn from those high performing countries in east Asia that so many hon. Members have talked about this afternoon. In those countries, all children, regardless of their background or whether they are boys or girls, perform very highly.
We are putting in new grammar, spelling and punctuation tests at age 11, and double-weighting English and maths in the performance tables to make sure that every child is literate and numerate by the time they leave school. Students who do not secure good passes in GCSE maths and English will continue to study those subjects until 18 so they can earn those vital passports into future careers.
In addition, we are introducing a new mid-level maths qualification, which students on both the academic and vocational route can study. The core maths qualification comes into being next year, but we have some early adopters—179 colleges and schools. All seven of our Tech bac trail blazers will be trialling core maths from this September.
Until now, 40% of students who got a C at GCSE and who wanted to continue with maths did not have an option to do so. Those students will now be able to maintain their confidence and competence in maths. They will be able to apply maths in real-life situations and use statistics, which are so vital in so many jobs today. The core maths qualification is part of our technical baccalaureate, which is our way of ensuring that technical and vocational qualifications are world beating.
The Chairman of the Select Committee talked about Alison Wolf’s report. He used some of the quotes that I was going to use in my speech. Essentially, her report showed that too many young people were fobbed off with qualifications of little market value. What we are doing is ensuring that all the qualifications that students study are of high value.
My hon. Friend Mr Wilson talked about how we have transformed vocational education. We have introduced technical awards, which are genuinely equivalent to GCSEs, and tech levels, which are backed by employers and will help students get jobs in occupations such as engineering, computing, hospitality and accountancy. We are ensuring that the Tech bac is taught across some of the 50 new university technical colleges, which many hon. Members have praised.
As my hon. Friend Pauline Latham pointed out, we are hugely expanding apprenticeships. There will be 2 million apprenticeship starts over the course of this Parliament, which is a record for our country.
The Minister gives way with characteristic generosity. I know she will be concerned by the fall in apprenticeship starts in her constituency—apprenticeship starts were down by 150 between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Is she as worried as I am that small and medium-sized enterprises, no doubt in her constituency, are concerned about some of her colleague’s proposed changes?
Apprenticeship starts are actually up in my constituency since 2010, and we are seeing record levels across this Parliament. One of the most important things, as many hon. Members have talked about, is the quality, as well as the quantity, of apprenticeships, and it is important that employers are engaged.
My hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) talked about the importance of ensuring that young people are doing the right courses and taking on the right apprenticeships in areas of huge demand, such as STEM. Our Your Life campaign, which has been launched by industry and will go forward to students and young people this autumn, is all about encouraging more young people, particularly girls, to consider future careers in technology, engineering and business. I met some fantastic young women at the Big Bang fair who have taken on apprenticeships at Jaguar Land Rover. They are passionate about what they are doing, and we want to see more of that, because too many young people are not necessarily taking the choices that will help them to get great jobs in the future. Jenny Chapman pointed that out and made some very good points.
As early as 2004, before the great recession, youth unemployment was on the rise—it was up 40% in the first decade of this century. The reality is that the basic skills that many Opposition Members bemoan were not being taught properly in our schools, and the reality is that many young people were let down by not having basic literacy and numeracy skills. The sad truth is that those young people were let down by low expectations and devalued qualifications.
Our reforms are working. There are 135,000 more young people in work, education or training than this time 12 months ago. Long-term youth unemployment is down by 25,000 on last year, and the number of young people claiming out-of-work benefits has fallen every month for the past 23 months. It is time for Labour Members to acknowledge the changes, reforms and progress that we have made. All young people will now be able to work towards GCSEs in maths and English until they are 18, and all young people now have an opportunity to take the apprenticeship route or the university route. We are expanding the opportunity for students and apprentices to study degrees. We are working more closely with employers, and more and more employers are coming into schools to talk to young people about the fantastic opportunities that are available.
I am afraid that both the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State for Education, in their announcement yesterday, failed to talk about the fantastic progress that has already been made by employers, colleges and schools in bringing together business and qualifications. We have fantastic things going on, and it is a shame that Labour Members seek to be miserablist, rather than positive. [Interruption.] Miserable is the word. Why do Labour Front Benchers not learn lessons from the excellent contributions of their Back-Bench Members, who have talked about optimism, hope and a new future, rather than complaining about the reforms that we are already undertaking?
Although the shadow Education Secretary talks about technical degrees, baccalaureates and employer-led apprenticeships, the Opposition do not seem to realise that we are already doing that and young people are benefiting. Under this Government our young people are getting the opportunities they deserve, and they are gaining the skills to get on in life.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes that the previous Government rescued the idea of apprenticeships and quadrupled apprenticeship starts; furthermore believes that a transformation in vocational education has eluded governments for decades; therefore believes that the UK needs a new settlement for those young people who do not wish to pursue the traditional route into university and the world of work; and further believes that in order to achieve a high status vocational education system that delivers a high-skill, high-value economy the UK needs a new Technical Baccalaureate qualification as a gold standard vocational pathway achieved at 18, a new National Baccalaureate framework of skills and qualifications throughout the 14 to 19 phase, the study of mathematics and English for all to age 18, for all large public contracts to have apprenticeship places, new employer-led apprenticeships at level 3 and new technical degrees.