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Basic Maths and English Skills

Oral Answers to Questions — Business, Innovation and Skills – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 26th March 2015.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 9:30 am, 26th March 2015

What steps he is taking to ensure that more adults gain basic English and maths skills.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

A good grasp of English and maths is the vital passport into the world of work. Of course, people should ideally acquire that good grasp of English and maths not as adults, but at an earlier stage of their education. That is why we have made English and maths essential components of college study programmes, apprenticeships and traineeships.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

Two weeks ago, my hon. Friend Mr Wright and I met the principals of the Tees Valley further education colleges, who pressed for an end to the funding disparity between FE colleges and other parts of the education system. They were particularly concerned about English and maths, but they were also worried about further cuts in funds for school leaver and adult funding, and asked whether the FE loans programme could be extended to people over 19 who were on level 3 programmes. I do not know whether the Secretary of State plans to be in government after 7 May, but if he has any influence, what does he or the Minister think can be done to address the issues raised by our principals?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

When it comes to further education funding, we are emphasising the stuff that works. Apprenticeships deliver the most value to the people who do them, much more than any other further education. English and maths are vital—[Interruption.] We are funding them. We are funding them to the tune of more than £300 million a year. That is what we are spending on the provision of English and maths as part of study programmes.

Photo of Stephen Mosley Stephen Mosley Conservative, City of Chester

Many businesses recognise that the best way of gaining new skills is to upskill their current work forces. How are the Government supporting companies that want to invest in the skills of their own workers?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

We are making an unparalleled investment in apprenticeships, which—notwithstanding the criticism from the Opposition—companies sometimes use to help existing employees to gain new skills and realise their potential. We are also making advanced learning loans available to people who want to invest in their own skills so that they can command higher salaries in the workplace.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Opposition Whip (Commons)

Funding for non-apprenticeship adult education courses is dropping by 24% this year, and the adult further education budget has been cut by a third in the last five years. Can the Minister confirm that, by definition, apprenticeship courses serve those who are working—albeit for only part of the week—and that many of the courses that will be cut provide vital basic skills for the unemployed, and vital support and education for those who want to improve their skills when employers are not supporting them?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

Unlike the previous Government—and no doubt the Government that Labour would form were they to get into office again—we follow the evidence, and the evidence is clear. We published a report in December that looked at the destination data of young people taking different kinds of further education course and apprenticeships. A level 2 apprenticeship provides an 11% increase in income three to five years later. A level 3 apprenticeship provides a 16% increase in income three to five years later. No other FE course provides more than a 1% or 2% increase in people’s income. We are investing in what works: apprenticeships and traineeships for people who are not yet ready to take on an apprenticeship or a job. That is the right investment for any Government to make.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

What discussions does my hon. Friend have with his counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure sufficient numbers of young people are going through schools with a maths background so that they can eventually teach maths in further education?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the great tragedies is young people, at a very young age, making choices whose impact they do not realise and closing off routes into engineering and maths teaching. That is why we have introduced the e-bac to prioritise those subjects—sciences, English and maths—that open doors and open possibilities for all young people.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Chair, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

Does the Minister accept that if we are to improve basic maths and English, a key step is to bring forward, with some urgency given that the Government are about to go to the electorate, a number of proposals already in the Department, such as the disadvantaged learners fund and proposals to ensure our FE provision is completed—in my case at Basford Hall FE?

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

The hon. Gentleman has been a champion for his constituency, and not just a champion but an initiator and a creator of very good ideas and programmes. We are very keen to work with him to support disadvantaged learners in the outer Nottingham estates in the way he has outlined. We are currently looking at how we will fund that, but he has my commitment that we will be working with him to achieve his goals.