Report on quality outcomes of completed apprenticeships

Technical and Further Education Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 9th January 2017.

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‘(1) The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education shall report on an annual basis to the Secretary of State on quality outcomes of completed apprenticeships.

(2) A report under subsection (1) shall include information on—

(a) job outcomes of individuals who have completed an apprenticeship;

(b) average annualised earnings of individuals one year after completing an apprenticeship;

(c) numbers of individuals who have completed an apprenticeship who progress to higher stages of education;

(d) satisfaction rates of individuals who complete an apprenticeship on the quality of that apprenticeship; and

(e) satisfaction rates of employers who hire individuals who complete an apprenticeship with the outcome of that apprenticeship.

(3) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of any report under subsection (1) before Parliament.’—(Gordon Marsden.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament annually on specified quality outcomes of completed apprenticeships.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Representative panels—

‘(1) The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education shall establish—

(a) a panel of persons undertaking approved English apprenticeships; and

(b) a panel of persons undertaking study towards approved technical education qualifications.

(2) A panel under subsection (1)(a) shall be established by 1 April 2017 and shall advise the Board of the Institute on all matters concerning approved English apprenticeships.

(3) A panel under subsection (1)(b) shall be established by 1 April 2018 and shall advise the Board of the Institute on all matters concerning technical education qualifications.’

This new clause would establish representative panels of apprentices and of learners in technical education who are not doing apprenticeships.

New clause 4—Careers education: duty to publish strategy—

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall publish a strategy for the purposes of improving careers education for persons receiving education or training—

(a) in the course of an approved English apprenticeship;

(b) for the purposes of an approved technical education qualification; or

(c) for the purposes of approved steps towards occupational competence.

(2) The strategy shall be laid before Parliament.

(3) The strategy shall specify provisions under which the Secretary of State will seek to—

(a) ensure that persons receiving education or training under subsection (1) receive information, advice and guidance relating to their future careers, and that such information, advice and guidance is delivered in a way which meets each person’s needs and is impartial;

(b) ensure that such information, advice and guidance may be taken into account by relevant authorities and partners to meet the needs of local or combined authority areas;

(c) ensure parity of esteem between technical, further and higher education; and

(d) monitor the outcomes of such information, advice and guidance for recipients.

(4) The provisions specified in subsection (3) shall have specific regard to particular needs of different groups of persons receiving education or training under subsection (1), including—

(a) persons with special educational needs;

(b) care leavers;

(c) persons of different ethnicities;

(d) carers, carers of children, or young carers, as defined by the Care Act 2014; and

(e) persons who have other particular needs that may be determined by the Secretary of State.

(5) The strategy shall include guidance for the purposes of improving careers education, to which the following bodies shall have regard—

(a) the Office for Standards in Education, Children‘s Services and Skills;

(b) the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education; and

(c) the Office for Students.

(6) The Secretary of State shall by regulations designate relevant authorities and partners for the purposes of subsection (3)(b).

(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations designate—

(a) further groups of persons under subsection (4)(e); and

(b) further national authorities or bodies under subsection (5).

(8) Regulations made under this section—

(a) shall be made by statutory instrument; and

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(9) For the purposes of this section, “careers education” means education about different careers and occupations and potential courses or qualifications to attain those careers and occupations.’

This new clause would establish a statutory requirement for the Government to produce a strategy on careers education, which shall be taken to be the “Careers Strategy”.

Amendment 4, in schedule 1, page 21, line 13, at end insert—

‘(4) The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in performing its functions must have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to, and participation in, education or training provided in a form specified in subsection (6).’

This amendment would ensure that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education must have due regard for widening access and participation.

Amendment 5, page 21, line 13, at end insert—

‘(4) The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in performing its functions must co-operate with the Apprenticeship Delivery Board on progression into, and delivery of, apprenticeships.’

This amendment would ensure that the Institute has a duty to co-operate with the Apprenticeship Delivery Board.

Amendment 6, page 21, line 13, at end insert—

‘2A After section ZA2 (general duties) insert—

“ZA2A Expenditure by the Institute

In the discharge of its duties and functions under this Chapter, the Institute shall in any one year expend a sum no less than the sum projected to be raised under the Apprenticeship Levy in that year.”’

Amendment 7, page 22, line 2, after “to” insert “state-funded”.

Amendment 8, page 22, line 23, at end insert—

‘(1A) In making determinations under subsection (1)(a) on occupations relating to apprenticeships, the Institute shall attach particular importance to the needs of apprentices aged between 16 and 24.’.

This amendment would ensure the mapping of occupation groups has particular regard for people aged 16-24 taking apprenticeships.

Amendment 9, page 23, line 2, at end insert—

‘(2A) Outcomes under subsection (2)(b) shall include recognised technical qualifications.’.

This amendment would ensure that all apprenticeship standards include a recognised technical qualification.

Amendment 10, page 28, line 6, leave out “course document” and insert

“standard or technical assessment design specification”.

Amendment 11, page 28, line 9, leave out “another person” and insert “other persons”.

Amendment 12, page 28, line 10, leave out “another person” and insert “other persons”.

Amendment 13, page 28, line 12, leave out section A2IA(4).

Amendment 14, page 28, line 17, after “education” insert “route”.

Amendment 15, page 28, line 28, after “education” insert “route”.

Amendment 17, page 28, line 30, leave out section A3A(2)(c).

Amendment 16, page 28, line 32, after “education” insert “route”.

Amendment 18, page 28, line 39, after “Ofsted” insert “, the QAA”.

Amendment 19, page 29, line 1, after “Ofsted” insert “, the QAA”.

Amendment 20, page 29, line 3, after “England,” insert

“including those offered by Higher Education Institutions,”.

Amendment 21, page 29, line 13, at end insert—

‘“QAA” means the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.’

Amendments 18, 19, 20 and 21 would ensure that the QAA would be included in the list of organisations required to share information and that degree apprenticeships were fully covered by this requirement.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Mr Speaker, may I, on behalf of everybody in the Chamber, wish you, the Deputy Speakers—one of them is taking your place as I speak—and all your officials a very happy new year, and the same to all Members of the House?

The issue we are pursuing this evening is whether this will be a happier new year for apprentices and the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. The Government will know that the Opposition have been broadly supportive of the process that they are bringing forward, although it was somewhat forced upon them when their original mechanism, which was to get many of these things through in the academies Bill, was shipwrecked—the academies Bill mark 2 proved to be no more popular with some of their Back Benchers than the academies Bill mark 1. We therefore got a fairly rapid notice of the Technical and Further Education Bill before Christmas.

Having said that, we had a good Committee stage and I want to pay tribute to the Minister for his conviviality and the constructive way in which he responded to us. Of course, as the old saying goes, fine words butter no parsnips, but I hope that by the end of this evening we will have at least a few parsnips buttered.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Possibly a full meal, for those of a vegetarian instinct.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

My hon. Friend and I, and indeed other Members, tabled a number of amendments in Committee that the Government do not appear to have taken on board. They were not moved at the time, but we had hoped that the Government would bring some of them forward as their own amendments. Is he somewhat disappointed by that?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I am always slightly disappointed when intimations of progress in Committee are not met with specifics on Report. Of course, the Government have the opportunity this evening, in commenting on our amendments, to do something about it, and indeed to accept some of them in principle. If they think that the amendments are defective but the basic principle is fine, they should take them on board.

Let me turn to the raft of amendments that we have tabled. We moved new clause 1 in Committee and I think that it remains valid. It would require the Secretary of State to present to Parliament an annual report on the quality outcomes of completed apprenticeships. We have had many discussions and arguments in this place about the issue of apprenticeships, and much emphasis has been put on apprenticeship starts, but far less emphasis—this is not a party political point—has been put on the process of completion. Those who are familiar with Sir Francis Drake’s famous saying that

“it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yields the true glory” will know why we think that it is really important to emphasise not only input, and not even output, but outcome.

We have broadly supported the major expansion of apprenticeship starts, although the Government remain responsible for the target of 3 million starts by 2020, which, as I have said previously, came about through a curious set of circumstances. The Minister has rightly said that apprenticeships are vital to bridging the growing skills gap, and that potential expansion might fuel some of the cohorts needed to fill the gaps, so new clause 1 is timely, given the sorts of things, if not an exhaustive list, that we believe would demonstrate those desirable outcomes.

The truth of the matter is that, despite some progress in recent years, the situation for young people not in education, employment or training remains fragile. The most recent official figures show an increase in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds classed as economically inactive from July to December last year, which has increased the number of NEETs. As I have said previously, there remain question marks—with sector skills people, universities and the public sector—about the quality of those 3 million new apprenticeships. Young people themselves are very concerned that they should be quality apprenticeships. The level of satisfaction with apprenticeships has been high, and 2015 showed no change from previous years. However, it is extremely important that we monitor that satisfaction rate. In that process, we have to be watchful of the fragility of apprenticeship success rates, and those have fallen, from 76.4% in 2010-11 to 71.7% in 2014-15.

It is reasonable to look at the Government’s own apprenticeship evaluation document for 2015. It shows a modest fall in the proportion of higher apprenticeships receiving formal training, from 84% to 79%, but it is a warning sign to the Government. That is why we believe that, now that we have these new routes and standards for technical education and apprenticeship expansion, it is vital to track the outcomes for each group. Last year’s apprenticeship evaluation showed a slight increase in the proportion who had completed their apprenticeship, but we also need to look at particular areas where there have been higher levels of unemployment among those who have completed apprenticeships. That includes ICT, and arts and media, which had 11% unemployment, so those aspects need to be looked at. We hope that the Government will respond positively.

New clause 2 seeks to do two separate things: first, to build on the Minister’s assurances in Committee that an apprenticeship panel would be set up to report directly to the board; and secondly, to ensure that there is a similar arrangement when the institute absorbs technical education into its remit in 2018. On the first point, I have to say how concerned I have been following the belated release of the consultation document for the institute’s strategic guidance, which Peter Lauener, the shadow chief executive, promised us would appear before Christmas when he gave evidence to the Bill Committee. No doubt at some point in our exchanges this evening the Minister will want to tell us why that document did not appear before Christmas.

What the Minister did say in Committee—I thanked him for this—was this:

“I think we can square the circle by agreeing that the institute should draw on the experiences of apprentices, so I am pleased to announce that we expect the institute to invite apprentices to establish an apprentice panel, which would report directly to the board. The panel would be made up of apprentices from different occupations and experiences. The panel would decide for itself which issues to focus on… The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will ensure that the first panel is in place before the institute goes live in April 2017. The institute will consider how best to engage with apprentices on an ongoing basis and how best to represent technical education students ahead of it taking on that responsibility in April 2018.”—[Official Report, Technical and Further Education Public Bill Committee, 29 November 2016;
c. 145.]

Anyone reading the Hansard of that sitting would have come to the conclusion, as I did, that it was a welcome set of concessions from the Minister, and gave strong assurances that a panel would be set up before April. However, we have been through the finer detail of the belated consultation document and have found a paragraph that says that an apprenticeship panel reporting directly to the institute’s board would “perhaps” be set up

“to ensure that Apprentices have an opportunity to have their say about…education and training…and the chance to improve the experience of those who come after them.”

Now, “perhaps”—Madam Deputy Speaker, you are a student of the English language, as I am sure most of us know—is a lot weaker than the assurance that was given by the Minister in Committee. Will he confirm that the panel will still be set up before April?

The Minister also said in Committee that the institute will look at

“how best to represent technical education students ahead of it taking on that responsibility in April 2018.”—[Official Report, Technical and Further Education Public Bill Committee, 29 November 2016;
c. 145.]

Surely the logical step is to establish a similar panel for technical education students who are not undertaking apprenticeships. Hopefully, that similar panel will not be prefaced by phrases from the Minister’s civil servants that include the word “perhaps.” It is important that our experience and feedback help to guide the new institute, particularly as the timeframe and the capacities of the institute’s resources are so limited.

I will come back to what we have said previously in Committee, and will make the comparison between what is going on in this Bill and in the Higher Education and Research Bill. If whatever structure the Department for Education eventually produces for getting the views of apprentices and technical education students seems in any way inferior to, or not done in the same way as, the concessions made by the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, my hon. Friend Joseph Johnson on the Higher Education and Research Bill, people—students and the FE sector in general—will think yet again that they are being treated as second-class citizens. I appeal to the Minister to reassure us by repeating his assurance that the panel will be set up before April and by taking on board our new clause. If he is not able to accept it tonight, will he ensure that it is added to the Bill in another place?

New clause 4 would place on the Government a statutory requirement to produce a strategy on careers education. No one could fault the Minister on his enthusiasm verbally to get to grips with the subject—I am certainly not going to. It was one of the first things he said when he was appointed. In his regular columns in FE Week, he has continued to allude to the fact that we need, rapidly, to have a strong strategy. That is because the rhetoric on careers advice still does not match the woeful reality facing young people. I have seen, as I hope the Minister has, the disturbing report that has just been released by the Prince’s Trust, showing that young people’s self-confidence about their future is at its lowest ebb in eight years. A whole range of issues including advice, the state of jobs and thoughts of careers are cited with respect to that, but I will try not to stray from the new clause. We took the Minister at his word when he said in his new year article for FE Week that

“2017 is all about making sure that the careers advice and guidance on offer encourages people to pursue professional and technical education and apprenticeships as much as it does university.”

New clause 4 would give a structure and framework to what he says.

During the passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, Government Members, including the Universities Minister, said, “We can assure you that we will take that on board” and this, that and the other. However, we are legislating not just for one Minister or one Parliament. With something such as further education, as with the Higher Education Bill, we are legislating, possibly, for something that has to stand for 15 or 20 years. It is no disrespect to the Minister to say that we appreciate his commitment but that we would like the duty to publish the strategy to be in the Bill. As he knows, a whole host of providers, employers and employers organisations have queued up to stress to his Department and to the previous Department—the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—their exasperation with the way in which the Government have dealt with careers services in recent years. That is why, when I spoke to the Minister during Question Time in November, I said that the Government need to promote strong careers guidance and I referred to the cross-party verdict from the two Select Committee Chairs. I think the Minister felt slightly aggrieved by that, but the truth is that if we are to make a success of the institute, these sorts of things have to be in the Bill. There has to be a mechanism for this House to hold to account Ministers of whatever party and whatever Government over the period of time for which the Bill is supposed to work.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield 6:15 pm, 9th January 2017

I know the hon. Gentleman feels passionately about the subject, but does he not also agree with the fact that the Government have an overarching approach to careers advice, notwithstanding the Careers & Enterprise Company? It could be difficult to put arrangements that only apply to technical education into this Bill when there is a much broader issue at stake that the Government are tackling at a strategic level.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. It is true, of course—but this is outwith the discussion that we are able to have this evening—that careers advice and education in this Bill does not start at 16 or at the remit of the DFE. It starts much earlier. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that that is an argument for doing nothing within the limited scope of the Bill, I do not agree. We need to do something. I would like to see the overarching structures that he mentioned but, unfortunately, at the moment I would be quite happy to see a limited overarching structure for the area that we are discussing. The challenge for the Minister is to talk about the £90 million that the Government have allocated to the Careers & Enterprise Company over the course of this Parliament, how it will be spent, how it is being distributed and whether it is adequate.

There are some damning statistics in the report produced by the Institute for Apprenticeships under the aegis of Semta. As the Minister knows, the proportion of respondents saying that their careers advice and guidance was poor or very poor has remained high across all sectors in all surveys from 2014 to 2016. The report says:

“Worryingly, this year 94 survey respondents, 6% of the total, said they had not received any careers IAG at all.”

When we discussed the matter in Committee, those were the sorts of statistics that were available to us. I said—perfectly fairly, I thought—that, although the Careers & Enterprise Company was beginning to make progress, I did not believe that it was yet able to do the necessary coverage because it is heavily reliant on volunteers. Early in December, we learnt that the company does not cater to every college in the country, including the whole of London. There are not just a few cold spots, but whole cold areas. There is a postcode lottery for FE coverage, with 15 local enterprise partnerships not covered and London completely absent.

The chief executive of the CEC, Claudia Harris, confirmed that the company did not work with any of the capital’s 44 FE and sixth-form colleges. During an interview with FE Week, she blamed the lack of coverage on “ramp-up”—I think that is what lesser mortals would call the rolling out of pilots, but I await a definition from the Minister. Now, I am not laying the blame at the door of the Careers & Enterprise Company; the Government are expecting it to do too much with too little, and they should probably also look again at having a company that is so heavily reliant on volunteers to carry out these tasks.

As I said, Claudia Harris said the offer would be expanded to all schools and colleges over the coming year. That is fine, but what are the budget indications? Is the Minister already working on the Chancellor on a substantial hike in funding for this area in the Budget? He will certainly need one if he is going to address the issues we are talking about in the new clause.

On top of that, a report in the middle of December from the Edge Foundation showed that the poor quality of careers advice was limiting young people’s choices. Research carried out by the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, and commissioned by the Edge Foundation and City and Guilds, found that only 1% of students viewed careers advice as the most important influence on their decision to stay on in further education and that over half said they wanted more information from employers.

As I said, the Minister’s new year article for FE Week put priority on this issue, so I am taking him at his word. If his aims are indeed those he has set out, this new clause sets out fairly comprehensively how the process would operate—if there are technical or practical deficiencies with it or its draftsmanship, we would welcome any suggestions—and it is exactly what he needs to make his rhetoric a reality. There is an old saying that if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, so perhaps the Minister should get on his white charger and accept what we say; otherwise, he will remain a beggar come the Budget and will be looking for scraps from the Chancellor’s table.

While we are on the subject of careers, the Minister mused on another issue last year at, I think, the Tory party conference. He talked—again, we absolutely applaud this, and I believe that the previous Education Secretary made some announcements about it—about plans to allow schools to give equal weight to vocational and academic routes when providing careers advice. However, we are told—or, at least, The Times Educational Supplement was told—that that has now been put on ice as well. Again, I would welcome a response from the Minister on those issues.

I want now to speak briefly about amendment 4, which would make sure that the institute must have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in widening access and participation. I think that the Minister and I agree that the Bill presents a real opportunity to reform long-neglected vocational pathways and to support post-16 institutions, but too few students from disadvantaged backgrounds are transitioning from level 2 to higher levels of study, so thousands of young people are not realising their potential. High-quality technical education and work-based training must act as a vehicle for social mobility. Giving the institute the obligation in the amendment would help to focus it on changing the status quo.

Currently, the Government do not publish data—I stand to be corrected—on the social background of apprentices, so it is difficult to assess just how many people from disadvantaged backgrounds start and complete apprenticeships. However, recent research published by the Social Mobility Commission found that, nationally, young people eligible for free school meals are half as likely to start and complete an apprenticeship as their better-off peers. Just under 50% of students in that category attain a grade A to C GCSE or level 2 equivalent in English or maths by 19, as opposed to 74% of their better-off peers. Of course they therefore lack the grades to enrol on level 3 pathways. Figures also show that only 36% of such students achieve a level 3 qualification, compared with 61% of their better-off peers. That shows the importance of having the transition year proposed in the post-16 skills plan. If that does not happen, and does not happen well, we will see a wider gap in access to the new technical routes, which will prevent them from being an effective vehicle for social mobility. An amendment to widen participation is therefore important.

Higher education has seen an increasing focus on widening participation, and HE institutions will invest £833 million in 2017-18 in widening participation. Further education, including apprenticeships, deserves the same attention and scrutiny. The institute must be required to measure and report annually on the gap between disadvantaged young people and their peers accessing and progressing from technical pathways.

Madam Deputy Speaker—welcome to you and a happy new year to you as well—if I was not so aware of the woeful inadequacy of the staffing proposals for the institute, I might suggest that the Government take a leaf out of HE’s book and have an equivalent of the Office for Fair Access for FE students, but we are not asking for that tonight. What we are asking for is an appreciation of the fact that the institute needs the focus I have suggested.

I want to couple that with another issue. We have talked a lot in this Chamber over the past year about the timescale for delivering the 3 million target. Amendment 5 says the institute

“must co-operate with the Apprenticeship Delivery Board on progression into, and delivery of, apprenticeships.”

Under its terms of reference, the delivery board was originally to be chaired by the chair of the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network and the Prime Minister’s adviser on apprenticeships and to provide support across all areas to ensure that the Government’s ambition of achieving 3 million programme starts by 2020 was met. The terms of reference talked about the ADB’s purpose being to

“implement an employer engagement strategy…increase the number of apprenticeships” and

“secure new employer engagement”.

It sounded absolutely great, but when we actually delve a little further into the delivery of the board, it is not quite as it seems.

First, the terms of reference talk about it being co-chaired by the Prime Minister’s adviser on apprenticeships, but the Government’s tsar—Nadhim Zahawi—was stood down last autumn, and that left only David Meller, the private sector co-chair of the board, as its sole chair. People are bound to ask, where is the Government’s adviser on apprenticeships now?

How about the rest of the board? When the issue was raised in Committee, the Minister sang the praises of the Apprenticeship Delivery Board, but its role so far has been somewhat underwhelming. It may be a fine body, but its members were drawn from a relatively narrow section of business, and, incidentally, they had only one woman among their number. There was no role for other bodies, such as FE providers, universities, trade unions or local authorities. To be fair, there has been some progress on the number of women on the ADB, and it now has three, but it is important that the lessons are taken on board with the institute.

When the board was announced, it was advertised as being a key part of the process: it was not simply there to be a bully pulpit but was to have a very direct and active role. Naturally, I questioned the Minister on that in Committee, where he responded:

“I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Apprenticeship Delivery Board is in full flow. I meet it and its chairman regularly. It goes up and down the country and works with businesses to encourage them to employ apprentices. Much of our success has been because of that board’s incredible work.”––[Official Report, Technical and Further Education Bill Public Bill Committee, 24 November 2016;
c. 83.]

Yet having examined the minutes of the board, I do not get quite the same sense of achievement, because what they show, over the summer period, is a couple of employees from large employers telling each other about random conversations or meetings they have, or plan to have, with the occasional presentation from the Skills Funding Agency about its marketing plans. Very little co-ordinated action seems to have been taken over the summer months, and it is quite clear to me that the delivery board is not currently fulfilling that role. That is why we have tabled this amendment.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education does not have the resources or capacity to be taking on these responsibilities; its focus is supposed to be on developing standards. We know from the shadow chief executive that staffing levels and finance will be limited, with 60 staff, possibly rising to 100 when the technical education elements kick in, and there is a very short space of time between now and its April start. I should mention the princely budget of £8 million a year on which the institute is supposed to operate initially. There has to be more focused and targeted marketing. The delivery board is not just a trade fair, as the minutes suggest; it is meant to help to deliver and increase the number of apprenticeships, and it must co-operate with the institute to succeed. That is vitally important now that the Government have scrapped any involvement they had and, presumably, forgotten about apprenticeship tsars.

We have also tabled an amendment to try to get some clarity and to put some focus on to the Government with regard to delivering money that will be additional to, or substitute for, existing Government funding. We were told that the Government were already spending £1.5 billion on apprenticeships in 2016, and we are now told that the levy is expected to raise £2.9 billion by 2020, of which, at the latest count, £2.4 billion will be spent in England. So where does the additional money go? Last year, I submitted a written question on this to the then Skills Minister and got a sort-of response saying:

“By 2019-20 we expect…to spend £2.5 billion on apprenticeships in England.”

My maths told me at that time that if £2.5 billion was raised from the sector and the Government were currently putting in £1.5 billion, that means an extra £1 billion, as mentioned in the Minister’s reply. I therefore come back to the point that we raised early last year: what will happen to the remaining £1.5 billion raised? Will there be 40% for apprenticeships with 60% going straight back to the Treasury? The challenge remains for the Government to convince employers and stakeholders that this remains a genuinely long-term funding commitment for apprenticeships and not just something that becomes regarded as a Treasury payroll tax.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West 6:30 pm, 9th January 2017

I apologise somewhat for interrupting my hon. Friend’s magnificent speech. Part of the problem with the apprenticeship levy is that the Government are all over the place on it. I talked to a major supermarket chain that has employees in Scotland and whose payroll is of sufficient magnitude that it will have to pay the apprenticeship levy, but because of devolution there is no guarantee that, in Scotland, its apprenticeship levy funding will in fact be used for apprenticeships. That may be the case in Wales and Northern Ireland as well—I know not. This may go some way towards explaining the gap that my hon. Friend has put his finger on very acutely about where the money is going. The reason is that it is matter for the Treasury, which has not yet got to grips with devolution.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend, as usual, makes a very interesting and succinct point. If I were not constrained by talking about this amendment, we could have some very interesting conversations about how the devolution situation is panning out, but I need to stick to my last.

The other point that is germane to this amendment is the coming Budget. We now know that the Budget will be in the first week of March, so issues about what the rate and the threshold of the apprenticeship levy might be after its first year obviously come to mind. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, after much prompting and questioning during the previous Administration of David Cameron, said that

“the government will keep the apprenticeship levy under review.”

So, as we all know, it could go up and of course, theoretically, go down. The level at which it is set, and how much companies get back from it, will be crucial in deciding whether it is a success or a flop. Given that it is only eight weeks until Budget day, what conversations has the Minister had with the Treasury to make sure that it gets the balance right? The more we hear—I said this in May and say it again today—about how the levy will now need to fund the top-up, the devolved Administrations, English and maths at level 2, disadvantaged learners, incentive payments and non-levy payers, the more it seems inevitable that the Government will end up increasing it.

I want now to deal with some of the slightly more technical amendments. Amendment 7 to schedule 1 is designed to ensure that the situation for privately funded training and bespoke qualifications is clarified. Without clarification, we are told, there is a danger, within the scope of institute and Secretary of State rulings on technical qualifications, that steps on becoming competent may extend into professional accreditation schemes paid for solely by learners or employers. We do not believe that it is the Government’s intention to include this possibility, but we propose the addition of state funding to clarify the position.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West 6:45 pm, 9th January 2017

I am a little bemused by this amendment, although I think I understand it. It seems to me that it would be desirable, certainly within England, if not within the United Kingdom, to have a national framework of standards such that the framework should not simply apply to qualifications that were obtained through a state-funded institution but be spread more broadly. Perhaps my hon. Friend could say a little more about his approach.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of a national framework. Various research reports over many years indicate that the privately funded training market has been exceeding the publicly funded one by considerable amounts, and that includes specialist management training, IT vendor qualifications, and project and programme management. The Government may need to look a bit more carefully at how this process is going to move forward. I absolutely agree about the need to have an overarching national framework, which we do not currently have.

Amendment 8 would ensure that the mapping of occupation groups had particular regard to people aged 16 to 24. This is crucial, because many apprenticeship training providers are reporting that, under the new levy system, employers are deciding to choose apprentices aged over 19 rather than 16 to 18-year-olds, particularly with regard to the new standards. Employers say that there is very little incentive left for them to take on younger learners, especially in the higher funding bands where a £1,000 employer incentive is a small fraction of the overall funding available. As the Minister will know, the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, which has, up until now, predominantly delivered apprenticeships to 16 to 18-year-olds, is seeing the majority of its business switch from this age group to older individuals.

If one looks at Lord Sainsbury’s comments and the skills plan commentary in relation to the changes in funding giving parity to older learners, one can see that the majority of apprentices in this age band are already 18, with little effort to change that through careers support. Perhaps that is the Government’s plan. If so, the Government need to be honest and to tell us that; if not, then something needs to change; otherwise, we are in danger of ending up with fewer apprenticeship opportunities for 16 to 18-year-olds.

I want to quote to the Minister some recent remarks of JTL, a training provider. About the new system, it says:

“Our employers say that under the new system when the traditional age differentials in funding rates are removed, they would sooner employ young people aged 19 and over. Some 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t allowed on site due to health and safety rules, and many of them have yet to pass their driving test, but the present funding makes it still worthwhile to take them on. Remove the incentive and employers will switch back to recruiting older apprentices.”

It went on to say—I hope the Minister will give this point careful thought, given the emphasis on STEM—that the

“so-called £1,000 incentive for employers to recruit 16- to 18-year-olds simply doesn’t work for STEM sectors. Our level three apprenticeships typically last four years, meaning the incentive equates to a mere £5 per week, which is of no interest to employers given the additional challenges of younger employees.”

That is a timely new year reminder to the Minister that the concessions he made after the Save Our Apprenticeships campaign, with which our party was very pleased to be involved—as he knows, the campaign involved a very broad range of people, whom he met and to whom promised changes—have not solved the problem. The concessions applied a temporary sticking plaster to the problem, and it remains to be seen how long it will stick. Coming on top of the continued lack of certainties about the new structures for apprenticeships and the delayed consultation, there must be concern about the fragility of the Government’s performance in the 16-to-18 area. In FE sectors, such as mine in Blackpool, we desperately need to get such young people skilled apprenticeships, which means looking for them now.

As I am sure the Minister knows, the AELP has raised the issue that a framework of only 15 routes across technical education might create an elitist system of education that denies many young people a work-based route to level 2 or 3. We remain concerned about that, given that so many young people in the service sector are not likely to be automatically covered. I know that there have been conversations saying that this is not really about apprenticeships, but about technical education. Whether it is about apprenticeships or technical education, however, young people in Blackpool and everywhere else need good training, whether from the service sector or the manufacturing sector. I would have thought that focusing on that would make a major contribution to this Government’s social justice agenda and even, arguably, to anticipating the impact of Brexit if controls on migrant labour are introduced. It is important to have a skills strategy that is inclusive, and this is a perfect opportunity to create such a coherent, inclusive strategy that covers a wide range of different abilities and aptitudes and that strives for excellence. That is what amendment 8 intends to do.

I want to talk briefly to amendment 9, which is about all apprenticeship standards needing to include a recognised technical qualification. As the Minister will know, it is not only we who have been concerned about this; a range of organisations—most recently, AELP—has been concerned about the omission of qualifications from some of the new standards. The investment in time and resource is leading to employer fatigue in some areas, and there is a lack of engagement. According to AELP, just under 50% of the current standards released still do not include a mandatory qualification. One alternative solution is our proposed amendment, which would make the whole apprenticeship, rather than simply its components, into a recognised qualification.

I want to move on to amendment 10, which I will group with amendments 11 to 16 and, indeed, amendments 18 to 21. Amendment 10 on page 6 of the amendment paper is about the need to change the title of “course document” to

“standard or technical assessment design specification”.

That would ensure that copyright was acquired only at a level equivalent to apprenticeships. It is argued that underpinning occupational standards and technical assessment design specifications that are the equivalent of assessment plans is all that is needed for Crown copyright. City and Guilds has specifically raised with us the issue of the imposition of acquired copyright in evidence, as have other groups.

We have tabled the amendments because there is concern that imposing acquired copyright is one of the most significant risks to the future vitality of the technical education market in the UK. I accept that this is a complex and technical area, but the Minister needs to look at it carefully. It is not simply a question of existing providers wanting to set in stone a form of protectionism; it is about intellectual property, and where intellectual property starts and ends. The concern of many providers is that there has been a degree of mission creep in that respect in the way in which the Bill has been drafted. From a pragmatic point of view, I must say that if the broader definition of what the institute has to do on copyright remains in the Bill, even more resources may be required to police it, and I have already mentioned that there is a lack of such support. We need to look at these important issues.

The concern that each technical level will have only one awarding organisation has been raised by both the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education and NCFE. NCFE has said that, as currently set out, with some of the technical levels going to only one awarding organisation, having one would be unfortunate, but—to misquote Oscar Wilde—to have two might be beneficial. That would provide competition and enable providers to switch quickly in the event of problems, without the multiplication issues that have caused problems and difficulties elsewhere. NCFE has said, more in sorrow than in anger, that the

“current proposals do not seem to recognise the great expertise in designing and assessing Technical and Professional Education qualifications that already exists within Awarding Organisations.”

Our amendments 11 to 16 are consequential on amendment 9. Under an exclusive licensing model, the licence holder for a particular qualification may assume a quasi-monopoly position for the duration of the contracts. That is one of the reasons why the proposals are designed to move away from that principle. It seems to us that the principle should be that there needs to be a rationalisation of the operations of awarding organisations, but not necessarily to the point of having single operators on a licence, given the monopoly and single point of failure issues alongside all the intellectual property rights and Crown copyright ones. I repeat to the Minister that this is a complicated area and I appreciate that it is not easy to get the balance right, but I urge him to think very carefully about some of the representations that have been made and, if he is not able to do anything about them tonight, to at least bring forward solutions in the other place.

The final area on which I want to comment briefly—I have talked about routes and all the rest—is the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Amendments 18 to 21 would ensure that the QAA was included in the list of organisations required to share information, and that degree apprenticeships were fully covered by such a requirement. Ofsted should have the authority to inspect every apprenticeship. We welcome the growth in degree apprenticeships and expect many more under the levy, but some are not genuinely work-based learning and are a rebranding of more vocationally biased degrees. Stricter monitoring is therefore needed. We argue that the involvement of the QAA is very important in this respect. It is vital that apprenticeships are just that: proper apprenticeships, with which Ofsted and Ofqual need to be well and properly engaged.

I am aware that the Opposition amendments have had to be discussed in considerable detail and some are technical, but the broad thrust of what we are trying to do is: first, to ask the Government to act on their commitments in Committee; and, secondly, to go further than that and make the rhetoric around social mobility and widening participation a reality. The only way to do that is to improve the Bill with the amendments we have tabled this evening.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills) 7:00 pm, 9th January 2017

I think this is the first time that a lapel microphone has been used in this way—I appreciate that. I wish the House, and the many apprentices who worked over Christmas and the new year, a very happy new year. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for chairing the debate. I am grateful to Gordon Marsden for his amendments—as ever, very thoughtful.

I will start by discussing new clause 1, but I just want to make the point that the hon. Gentleman talked about the completion of apprenticeships. Some 70% of apprentices complete and 90% get either employment or further training. We have nearly 900,000 apprentices, an all-time high and a record in our nation’s history, so we are making good progress. He talked about NEETs. He will know that between 2014 and 2015 the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds in education or work-based learning increased to 90%, which is the highest on record. The percentage of NEETs fell to 6.5%, the lowest rate since records began. He talked about the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education appointments and went on, yet again, about Christmas. I have to say that IFATE is not just for Christmas, it is for life and we want to get it right. We want to ensure that the appointments we make are the right ones and are not made in haste. He sometimes says that we are doing things too quickly and at other times he says that we are doing things too slowly.

On new clause 1, as I explained in Committee, the institute will be required to report on its activities annually under schedule 4 of the Enterprise Act 2016, and the report must be placed before Parliament. That provision will also allow the Secretary of State to ask the institute to report on anything else she thinks appropriate, such as the information requested in the amendment. We think it would be an unnecessary and significant duplication of effort, as the information is already collected and published by the Secretary of State on the performance of the FE sector, which includes apprentices—I gave the hon. Gentleman some of the figures only a moment ago.

Much of that information goes far beyond the role of the institute. The institute’s core role from April 2017 is to oversee and quality assure the development of standards and assessment plans for use in delivering apprenticeships. Under the reforms in the Bill, college-based technical education cannot be held wholly responsible for, for example, job outcomes and wage rates of apprentices once they complete their apprenticeships. It is essential that the institute is aware of the impact it is making. We would expect it to make good use of the data on the outcomes made available to it through these public data sources and surveys, and to explain in its annual report how it has deployed them.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am grateful to the Minister for the work he does. He is very committed—whenever I see him he is wearing the “A” on his lapel to show his support for apprenticeships. Will he clarify one point in relation to new clause 1(2)(e), which would include in the report the satisfaction rates of employers? He will be aware that there is some concern that to reach the 3 million target there will be dilution. I am not saying there will be, but that there is concern that there might be. Is the satisfaction rate of employers currently collected—not for every employer, but through sampling—and published? If it is not, it would be very important for it to be published, so that the concerns about a dilution of standards could be somewhat allayed.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. It is published. I think, if I am not mistaken, employer satisfaction is near 90%; it might be 88% or 85% or something like that. I am very happy to provide him with the information if he so requires.

I agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool South that the institute needs to consider the views of those who take an apprenticeship or a course in technical education. I am confident that it will do that. He will know—he pointed it out—that last week we published draft strategic guidance for the institute. In this document, which is now open for consultation, we set out that we expect the institute to establish an apprentice panel that will report directly to the board. I am pleased to say to the hon. Gentleman that it will be ready by April 2017, but the wider point is that we should not rush things. We need to get it right. The apprentice panel will be made up of apprentices from different occupations and experience. The apprentice panel will decide for itself which issues to focus on, and will challenge and make recommendations to the board. I am sure it will be a success. It will ensure that the views of apprentices are fed directly into the institute’s governance. It might not be exactly the right model in practice. I want to see how it works. I believe that the institute, particularly in its infancy, should have the flexibility and the freedom to decide the best way of gathering the views of an apprenticeship on an ongoing basis. Whatever model it adopts, I would expect the institute to do something similar for technical education students when it takes on this responsibility, but I want to see how the apprentice panel pans out.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for giving way with his customary courtesy. I just want to be absolutely clear about the implications of the wording of the document. Is he giving an assurance on the Floor of the House that the panel will be set up by April, that he will review the panel’s progress and whether it has the right form and structure, and that if he thinks it does not have the right form or structure he will replace it with something equally valuable in representing the views of apprenticeships to the board of the institute?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

I am pleased to give the hon. Gentleman that guarantee. The panel will be set up by April. I believe it would be pointless to have an Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education without proper apprentice representation, but I want to see what the best format is. I am sure it will work and be a success, but I just want, as I said, to see how it pans out. We expect the institute then to do something similar for technical education students.

I agree with the motivation behind the amendment, but I am concerned about enshrining the establishment of panels in legislation. I do not want to put the institute in a constant straitjacket of legislative red tape that reflects every good idea there may be on how best to fulfil its responsibilities. I therefore think the amendment is unnecessary and would undermine the institute’s power to regulate its own governance and perform its duty.

On new clause 4, Tracy Brabin made a remarkable speech in Committee on a careers strategy. She cares passionately about this, as I do, but I think we do have meat on the bones. It is not just words. The hon. Member for Blackpool South talked about budgets. We are spending £90 million, which includes the work of the Careers & Enterprise Company. A separate £77 million is being spent on National Careers Service guidance just this year. I am going further. I am looking at a careers strategy from the beginning to ensure that we address our skills needs, and to look at how we can help the most disadvantaged. I am looking at how we can ensure widespread and quality provision, and how that leads to jobs and security. I will set out my plans on careers over the coming weeks.

On the investment in the Careers & Enterprise Company, the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that there was no activity in London. I have been to a school in east London supported by the Careers & Enterprise Company and the local enterprise partnership. They are doing remarkable work. Some 1,300 advisers are connecting schools and colleges. They are slowly creating a way to connect with 250,000 students in 75% of the cold spots around the country. There is also money for mentoring. He talked about a famine. I would not say there is a feast, but substantive and serious funds are going in. I could spend a lot of time listing the different moneys, but if he looks at this carefully and fairly, he will see the work that the Careers & Enterprise Company is doing.

We will monitor carefully the impact of our work. In January 2017, destination data will be included in national performance tables for the first time, ensuring an even sharper focus on the success of schools and colleges in supporting their students. Before my time, we legislated to ensure that schools gave independent careers advice on skills and apprenticeships—that was done by my predecessor. Work is being done in schools. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtfulness in proposing the new clause, but it is my view that it is not necessary because of the action we are taking, the careers plans I am developing and the money that is being spent, which I have highlighted.

As the hon. Gentleman said, amendment 4 would require the institute to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity. I welcome the opportunity to debate that. I know why he tabled the amendment and why it is important. It is crucial to widen access and participation, and to ensure that apprenticeships and technical education are accessible to all, which is why I was glad that, for this year, we have our £60 million fund to help to encourage apprenticeships in the most deprived areas of our country.

I reassure the House that the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will have to have due regard to widening access and participation. We carried out an equalities impact assessment before publishing the post-16 skills plan, which concluded that the reforms are likely to have a positive impact on individuals with protected characteristics, in particular those with special educational needs or disability, those with prior attainment and those who are economically disadvantaged. The economic assessment concluded that all learners would benefit from the proposed technical education reforms, which will give people access to high-quality technical education courses.

I believe that the need to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in further and technical education already exists in legislation under sections 149 and 150 of the Equality Act 2010. It is expressly set out in section ZA2 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 that the institute must have regard to

“the reasonable requirements of persons who may wish to undertake education and training within” its “remit”. The Secretary of State has the power to provide the institute with further guidance under that section. I hope that that explanation gives the hon. Gentleman confidence. I am committed to ensuring that people of all backgrounds have equal opportunities. As he will know, over Christmas we removed the need for apprentices who have serious hearing difficulties to do functional English—they can do sign language instead. That is an example my commitment, as is the extra funding we are giving to employers and providers to get more apprentices who are disabled.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

Will the Minister confirm that bringing together oversight of apprenticeships and technical education in one place will bring coherence into the system, which will ensure and protect diversity and equal opportunity because there will be clearer guidance on all opportunities for career progression?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills) 7:15 pm, 9th January 2017

My hon. Friend, who campaigns a lot on diversity and equality, is absolutely right. The proposal will benefit the people who need it most. Many people from disadvantaged backgrounds and with disabilities are prominent in further education and technical education.

Amendment 5 addresses the Apprenticeship Delivery Board. The hon. Member for Blackpool South was a little unkind about the board. The board’s representatives include the chief executive of Channel 4, the Compass Group, the City of London, Barclays bank, Sunmart Ltd, Fujitsu, Wates construction, the Ministry of Defence and a significant retail sector member. As he said, there are three women on the board. They are doing important work. They advise the Government and work with businesses to encourage them to have apprentices. As far as I am aware, those people are not being paid. They do not have to do it; they do it because they want to serve our country. They have helped the Apprentice Ambassador Network. The chair, David Meller, is doing important work on that and running the board. I pay tribute to the board. I mean this kindly, but I would not be obsessed with whether or not the Prime Minister has an apprenticeship adviser. As far as I am concerned, the Prime Minister’s advisers are the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, which is me, and my boss the Secretary of State. A new adviser for the Prime Minister will not change the course of history for apprentices in our country.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Most of us would see the Minister as a journeyman or time-served Minister rather than as the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills. He will forgive me for not researching this earlier, but I did not notice in the list he read out any trade union representation. Unusually for Conservative Members, he is an active trade unionist—or he was. Does he agree that it would be desirable to have trade union representation on that board to get buy-in from the workforce side?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I am still a trade unionist. That is a good idea. The board is independent, but I will suggest it. I am very impressed and supportive of the work that Unionlearn does, which is why we have agreed to fund it by £12 million. It works to promote training and apprenticeships.

The institute will consult the Apprenticeship Delivery Board and other bodies but, as I have said, we do not need to straitjacket the institute with so much red tape that we stop it from being independent. The delivery board is not intended to have any special legislative standing or corporate identity. It would be unusual to name it in legislation, but the institute will consult the board along with others.

Amendment 6 would require the institute’s expenditure in any one year to exceed that raised by the levy. It is important to clarify that the institute will not have responsibility for the apprenticeship budget, which resides with the Secretary of State for Education. Although the institute is not a funding body, it will be asked to advise on the pricing of apprenticeship standards and allocation to funding bands. The institute’s operations will be funded by my Department and not from the levy funds. It follows that the institute should not be obliged to spend funds raised under the levy.

On devolution, which the hon. Member for Blackpool South mentioned, it will be up to the devolved authorities how they spend the money. If we were to tie the spending explicitly to the levy receipts, there could be adverse funding consequences for the programme as a whole. The budget for spending on apprenticeships in 2019-20 for England and the devolved Administrations totals in excess of £2.9 billion, whereas the projected levy income is £2.8 billion. Having certainty over the funding for apprenticeship training is preferable to linking the funding on a year-by-year basis directly to the wider performance of the economy.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

Eastleigh College, which is the third-largest college providing apprenticeships in England and trains over 9,000 apprentices, is particularly interested in how the funding formula for the institute will work and how that will support its work with communities, so the Minister’s clarity today around the levy, the funding criteria and how it will be delivered is very welcome.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

I thank my hon. Friend. It is brilliant that her college is providing such training, and I would be pleased to come and see its training programme when I am next in the area. That it is doing this means that it will also be receiving significant funds. I congratulate the college on the work it is doing on apprenticeships.

Amendment 7 would limit the power to confer new functions on the institute to “state funded” apprenticeships and technical education. All the institute’s current functions in part 4 of, and schedule 4 to, the Enterprise Act 2016 and in schedule 1 to the Bill apply to all reformed apprenticeships and technical education qualifications, not just those that are state funded. We would therefore expect that any new functions the institute is required to carry out should also apply in the same way, to ensure that they are fully effective and do not treat some apprenticeships and technical education courses differently in accordance with how they are paid for. We want to ensure that as many people as possible can undertake an apprenticeship or technical education course, and we would not want this to be restricted to those that are state funded purely because the institute’s functions have been limited.

On amendment 8, it is important that the institute considers what apprenticeships might be appropriate for 16 to 24-year-olds. We know that apprenticeships are incredibly important to school leavers and are making sure that anyone from the age of 16 will have an offering of either an academic or technical education or an apprenticeship. The occupational maps that the institute will put together and which will guide apprenticeships and technical education qualifications will be based on information about the skills needs of the country. They will focus on occupations that can help to increase the UK’s productivity and meet the needs of employers. Putting any constraint around the development of the maps and the occupations included, such as by focusing on a particular group of the population, could damage this overall aim.

My Department runs a number of highly successfully promotional and advice services to help ensure that young people access the right apprenticeship for them. A significant number of 16 to 18-year-olds take up STEM— science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

On STEM subjects and the advice given to young people, successive Governments have tried to effect change, and the Bill, which is well meaning, will make a positive difference in many respects, but is not the real problem the fact that successive Governments have failed to persuade people that the vocational route is as good as the academic route? Is this not a cultural problem that has bedevilled our country for decades?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman is completely right. When I talk about my priorities for skills and education, one of the first things I mention is transforming the prestige and the culture. As he says, this is regardless of what party is in government, and it is not just about Governments either; businesses have also underinvested. Vocational training has always been seen as a so-called—I hate the term—Cinderella sector. The whole purpose of the Sainsbury reforms and the levy is to change behaviours and give apprenticeships and skills and technical education the prestige they deserve.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

The question for the Minister, as it was for me and others here when we were schools Ministers, be we Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour, is this: why will it be different this time? The Minister is absolutely right in what he has said, but why will it be different this time from all the times that have gone before?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I was not around for all the other times that have gone before. We have our differences, of course, but there is much cross-party consensus on the Sainsbury reforms, for example. Moreover, the apprenticeship levy is a fundamental reform to change behaviours—it is not just about raising money; it also changes behaviours. I believe that there is a new national conversation about apprenticeships and that things are changing, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I think we are on the tip of something special, but a lot more work needs to be done.

Because of time, I will speak only briefly on some of the other amendments. On amendment 9, the hon. Member for Blackpool South raised some important points, but we feel that the amendment is unnecessary. The important feature of approved English apprenticeship standards is the move away from reliance on a series of small and pre-existing qualifications making up an apprenticeship and towards a single end-point assessment. By not mandating qualifications in standards unless they meet one of these criteria, we are ensuring that individual employers have the freedom and flexibility to determine how to train their own apprentices to ensure they gain full competency. It is expected that the institute will continue with this approach.

The provisions on education copyright are very complicated, and I understand why the hon. Gentleman has raised them, but we do not think that the proposed provisions are necessary. Some of the concerns are covered by existing legislation, but we believe that the institute should have the right of copyright, and the bodies working with the institute will know that. We do not agree with the word “route” either because it could be confusing for employers. I want this form of training to be prestigious, and so I want the words “technical education”. I do not like the term “tech levels” either because it dumbs down a very important qualification.

Amendment 17 is on the power to charge for technical education certificates, and I should say that we also have a duty of care to the taxpayer. The institute will not make money out of this provision. It is all about giving it the power to do so if it so chooses and about having a duty of care to the taxpayer. It is for that important reason that we do not support the amendment.

On the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and amendments 18 to 21, the organisations named in the provisions will all have an important role. The omission of the QAA reflects in part the changes being introduced in the Higher Education and Research Bill, which is currently in the other place. Amendment 20, which specifies that the term “apprenticeships” should include those offered by higher education institutions, is not required. I am clear that the term “apprenticeships” includes all apprenticeships offered at all levels, regardless of the training provider.

In conclusion, I thank the hon. Member for Blackpool South for his thoughtful new clauses and amendments on technical education and I thank other hon. Members for their contributions. I hope that my responses have reassured the hon. Gentleman and the House on their underlying concerns. I therefore ask that he withdraw new clause 1 and not press his other amendments.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

If you will allow me a little latitude, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to place my remarks on the amendments in context. I was recently speaking to someone who made a very good point about who is fitting all the kitchens and bathrooms in Poland. This person had experienced very good electricians from Romania working in this country. Our conversation was about Brexit and the skills shortage in the United Kingdom. Whichever side of the debate hon. Members supported, Brexit provides our country with an opportunity to try to address the skills shortages that we have had for decades and have relied for filling on importing workers.

Figures have been bandied about, and I do not know the exact figure—perhaps other right hon. or hon. Members do—on the proportion of NHS employees who were trained abroad. I think we would all concede that it is quite a high proportion. Those people often, though not always, come from countries that can ill afford to lose them. The United Kingdom as a rich country ends up, because we have not got our technical education and apprenticeships architecture correct, poaching skilled labour from countries that desperately need that labour to build their own economies.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 7:30 pm, 9th January 2017

My hon. Friend is making very thoughtful points. He may be aware that there is now a fairly successful political party in Lithuania that is against emigration, not immigration, for that very reason.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am not surprised about that. In the last Parliament but one, I had the joy of visiting Lithuania with what was then the Trade and Industry Select Committee, and that was the sort of issue we talked about. In those days, Lithuania was already starting to import labour from Moldova—outside the European Union—because so many Lithuanians had come with their skills particularly to the United Kingdom and Ireland to ply their respective trades, and I specifically mean trades.

What my hon. Friend Gordon Marsden has sought to do from the Labour Front Bench is to beef up the Bill in two ways. One is to introduce even greater confidence in the new system that we will have, and part of that confidence building means moving towards national standards. This partly addresses the issue raised by my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker about parity of esteem. We talked earlier this afternoon about parity between mental and physical health, but in this case, we are talking about parity of esteem between the vocational and the academic.

Having been a semi-skilled worker for a number of years as a professional driver and a bus driver, I faced a fork in the road. Was I going to go down the vocational route—I had my eye on being a plumber—or was I going to go down the academic route with an eye to being a lawyer? I went down the academic route and I became a lawyer. I do not regret that at all. One reason I did so related to esteem or lack thereof, and another reason was that lawyers get to work indoors whereas plumbers sometimes have to work on building sites outdoors—and I do not like the cold. I am talking about quite a while ago, and the money was better in law than it was in plumbing. I am not sure whether that remains the case nowadays.

We live in a capitalist society. Part of what needs to be done to move towards parity of esteem in a cultural sense is the sort of thing that the Minister has attempted to do during his tenure of office and through this Bill; and, frankly, in a capitalist society, part of it is about paying people more. If we want parity of esteem, we should start paying people equal amounts of money—and pay plumbers as much as lawyers. Given that we live under capitalism, we are moving towards that because of skills shortages.

On new clause 1, I quite understand the Minister’s point that some of the information is already published as a result of the Enterprise Act 2016, but I believe that building this into the Bill as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South has proposed, would be helpful for sending out the right message about confidence. It is the same with new clause 2, so that the representative panels can become more representative when they are put in place. I welcome the Minister’s assurance this afternoon that those panels will be in place by April, and I hope they will have a breadth of representation that should, I think, be built into the Bill. I asked the Minister a similar question in a slightly different context about the involvement of trade unions. This is not just a tit-for-tat along the lines of “You have the bosses there, so we have to have the workers there,” although that is important; it more about getting buy-in to the new regime from all sections of our society to build towards addressing the skills shortages that we will face, as I have said, under Brexit.

Under Brexit, there is no mistake about it: the price for staying in the single market would be free movement of labour and people; and the UK population has said that it is not up for that and does not want free movement of people or labour. We will therefore not be in the single market, but we will not have free movement either, because there will be restrictions—whether Members like it or not. We should use these circumstances in a positive way, so that local people can train up for jobs and so that we do not keep poaching skilled people from abroad—whether from Lithuania, as my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins mentioned, or elsewhere. For that, we need national standards.

When it comes to confidence, we need proper advice. Careers advice in England has certainly been, to say the least, patchy over the years. I remember when my Government set up Connexions, which was not exactly a resounding success—certainly not in the west midlands. I urge the Minister to think again about new clause 4, which is all to do with building confidence. That is particularly clear in new clause 4(3)(b) and (d). These highlight the fact that the Secretary of State should seek to

“ensure that such information, advice and guidance may be taken into account by relevant authorities and partners to meet the needs of local or combined authority areas” and to

“monitor the outcomes of such information, advice and guidance for recipients.”

It is part of confidence building that we have a regime that is sensitive to local labour markets, which will change greatly from April 2019 when we are out of the European Union.

This Bill is part of the Government—surprisingly, given what is not happening in other areas—showing a bit of foresight, on which I congratulate the Minister. If only we had such foresight about Brexit ramifications for other areas of public endeavour; we do not, but this Bill is a step forward and part of that jigsaw. I am not saying that this is why the Minister has sought to introduce the Bill, but I do think we should look on it positively in that way, and I think that new clause 4 would help to build confidence in the new system, by ensuring that it would be reflective and flexible.

In referring to amendment 9 and others that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South said were in a sense under its umbrella—amendments 10 to 16—the Minister talked about employers having freedom and flexibility. Amendment 9 deals with “recognised technical qualifications” and these are connected, certainly for England as I said, with national standards. We need those standards as part of the confidence-building measures, but also to make sure that we get the right people with the right skills—in a sense, workforce planning.

This country is pretty poor at workforce planning. The one area where we could have excellent workforce planning because the number of employees is so enormous and they almost all work for the state is in healthcare delivery, yet it is absolutely appalling. We do not have enough doctors trained here; we do not have enough dentists trained here; we certainly do not have enough nurses trained here; we do not have enough professions allied to medicine—whether radiographers or phlebotomists and so forth—trained here. Yet this is the one area of workforce planning that the Government could get right. I do not mean that only this Government have singularly failed. Under the coalition Government, things went backwards when some nurse training places were shut down. Figures on the number of employees working in the NHS in England alone are so huge that we could take social trends into account and do some pretty good workforce planning on the kind of skills that will be needed in five years or the 10 years that it takes to train a doctor, and so forth.

Arguably, we have been absolute rubbish at this since 1948. Having national standards is important not just for confidence, but for workforce planning. That is why I again urge the Minister to have another think about the import of amendment 9, if not its wording. It is all very well having flexibility and freedom for employers. These were the sort of words that the Minister used—he will correct me if I am wrong—when he explained why he thought amendment 9 was unnecessary and invited my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South to withdraw it. In my view, however, the Minister should have another think about that, because I believe that national standards are important. Again, I draw on my own experience. When I qualified as a lawyer, I took a national exam that had to be taken by all those seeking to become solicitors in England and Wales. For most of us, if we passed, that led to what was, in a sense, the equivalent of an apprenticeship. It was called “articles of clerkship”, and it involved two years in a solicitor’s office. What had been a national exam taken by everyone who wished to be a solicitor in England and Wales then became a moderated Law Society final exam. My hon. Friend Jo Stevens will remind me what it was called. [Hon. Members: “Legal practice course.”] Yes. It became a legal practice course, and standards went down. I say that having talked to people in post-secondary institutions at the time and having trained articled clerks who had experienced the later system when national standards no longer existed.

National standards are not, of course, a guarantee of quality output, but they can be used by any Government, legitimately and properly, to ensure that we have confidence in the system and to ensure that those who undergo an apprenticeship process and emerge from it fully qualified have a qualification that is worth their having as individuals, and worth our society having.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

Qualifications may be mandatory in an apprenticeship standard if that is a mandatory requirement set by the regulator. They include qualifications that are recognised as a legal requirement—that is, licence to practise—are required for professional registration, or are used in a hard sift when apprentices are applying for jobs in the occupation related to the standard and would be disadvantaged in the job market without them.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I thank the Minister for that clarification. In a sense, he has made my point for me. There will be some national standards in certain fields of endeavour, which he has helpfully specified. However, I think that there is a contradiction in his position, a contradiction from which I do not think I suffer.

Amendment 7, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South, would insert the words “state-funded”. I found the Minister’s argument persuasive when he explained why he thought that the amendment should not be passed. I may have misunderstood what he said, but he seemed to be saying that he wanted a more overarching model that would encompass privately obtained qualifications. I agree with him. I merely suggest that, if amendment 7 is not accepted, it would be logical to accept something along the lines of amendment 9, which would not limit the requirement to state funding but would provide for national standards, not just in the broad but restricted field defined by what the Minister helpfully read out a moment ago, but more widely. I think that that would be better for confidence, better for our economy and better for the people—many of whom will be young—who will acquire those qualifications. I therefore ask the Minister to think again.

A similar issue is raised by amendments 18 to 21, which relate to the involvement of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. They, too, seem to me to relate to the ability of employers and prospective apprentices—and, in the case of young apprentices, their families—to feel confident that the system will deliver a qualification that our country needs and that involves enough training to ensure that those apprentices are likely not only to end up with jobs but to contribute to society as we would like them to. That returns me to the workforce planning issue to which I adverted earlier.

The Minister and the Government ought to think again about those amendments. They may not want to accept the exact wording, but I should like them to include the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in the list of agencies that will have a role to play in the planning, the maintenance and perhaps even the raising of standards. That would be desirable.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon 7:45 pm, 9th January 2017

I was a member of the Bill Committee, which was very constructive and involved much cross-party support. The Minister has a real passion for, and depth of knowledge about, this issue, and the shadow Minister, Gordon Marsden, also demonstrated a genuine interest.

I want to focus on a specific issue raised by the shadow Minister in connection with his desire to promote equality of opportunity. I think that that should include people with disabilities, and specifically those with learning disabilities. The Government have made great progress—they have helped some 600,000 more disabled people to obtain work in the last three years, which is fantastic—but those with learning disabilities still find it extremely difficult to benefit from the opportunities of work. The proportion is about 6%.

Photo of Andrew Bingham Andrew Bingham Conservative, High Peak

I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he did as Minister for disabled people. Does he agree that we also need to help employers? Does not dealing with people with learning difficulties or mental health issues, about which the Prime Minister has talked today, require a great deal of support for the employer as well as the apprentice?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon

Absolutely. That is at the heart of the points that I am going to make. People need time to develop the necessary skills, and employers need to be able to provide suitable opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities. All Governments, in all generations, have tried their best to give opportunities to people with learning disabilities. The proportion has stayed rigidly at about 6%, which is the worst percentage involved in any disability and therefore presents us with the largest challenge.

When I was Minister for disabled people, I visited Foxes working hotel in Bridgwater. I was incredibly impressed by the fact that it had managed to get 80% of its young students into work. Its three-year course involved two years in a working hotel, where the students learned how to acquire independent living skills and how to work towards obtaining jobs once they had finished. They were acquiring skills that were needed for their local towns, involving restaurants, hotels and care homes. We all have our own skills gaps in our constituencies, so the skills would be adapted accordingly.

The students spent their final year continuing their learning directly in the workplace. My hon. Friend Andrew Bingham mentioned employers. That final year gave employers an opportunity to receive support. Foxes academy provided training and advice for employers, and for the staff with whom they would be working. Young lads and ladies were able to learn their skills patiently over the year, which seemed to me to constitute an apprenticeship: they were learning skills on the job.

I invited the team to my Department. I said, “This is amazing: why can we not increase numbers?” I was told, “We could increase numbers, but that final year is so expensive, because we have to support the employer, that we have to cap them.” I think that if we could rebadge the system as an apprenticeship, we could access the funding that is being created through the apprenticeship levy, and bring about a huge number of additional opportunities. I met the then Minister for Skills, my hon. Friend Nick Boles, who agreed with me, and we set up the Maynard review. I am delighted that the Government have accepted every one of its recommendations, and I pay tribute to both Mencap and Scope for the huge amount of proactive work that they did, as part of the review, in helping to shape real, tangible opportunities.

Having spoken personally to the Minister, I know of his passionate desire to see all that through. We touched on the issue in the Bill Committee, but let me urge him now to crack on with those pilots. Every young adult will seize the opportunities which—as I know, having met hundreds of young people with learning disabilities—they are desperate to be offered. I ask the Minister to continue to make this a priority, and, in his summing-up, to explain where we are, what is the timetable, and what more we can all do to raise the issue with local employers.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

It is a great pleasure to speak in this important debate. I, too, was a member of the Bill Committee, and I am somewhat disappointed that Government amendments have not been introduced at this stage reflecting some of the points made in Committee, especially as they seemed to be accepted at the time, in broad terms, by the Minister. I therefore hope that amendments will even now be brought forward in another place to reflect some of the discussions we had in Committee, and, indeed, some of the points made this evening, particularly by my hon. Friend Gordon Marsden on the Front Bench, who made a tour de force speech introducing all his amendments. It is surprising that there are no Government amendments or new clauses on Report; that is very unusual.

All the amendments and new clauses have been introduced by my hon. Friend on behalf of the Labour Opposition—and they are all splendid and I support them all. The lack of Government amendments is disappointing, even though there is a degree of agreement on the value of this legislation, and we all know we have to do something about improving apprenticeships and training our young people for the future. As my hon. Friend Rob Marris said, we have got to train our own rather than just poach people from abroad.

New clause 1, requiring the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to report annually, is specifically about the outcomes of completed apprenticeships; it is about the quality of apprenticeships, not just other, broader measures of success. The quality of apprenticeships is vital, to ensure that they lead to the development of skills for quality, long-term jobs after their completion. Young people who complete their apprenticeships must be desirable to their own and to other employers; they must be able to command good jobs for the long term and to look forward to relatively high pay and advancement in those jobs. It is very important to make sure that apprenticeships are high quality not just in words, and that apprentices can do the things they are required to do after they have qualified.

I remember the days, many decades ago now, when we had full employment. I taught in further education during that era, and in many ways it was a better and happier period than we are in now. Everybody who wanted a job got a job, and teaching in further education was a sheer joy. It has been more painful and stressful since then, I have to say, and less well paid, and the conditions of employment are less good than when I was teaching. But that was several decades ago, back in the early 1970s. We also had large companies, mainly in the manufacturing sector, and the giant public utilities, which were then in public ownership, employing thousands of apprentices every year. They had to train their own and they wanted to make sure they were good. Some of those they trained moved off to other jobs, of course, but it was nevertheless beneficial to those doing the apprenticeships and to wider society.

Our society did well because we were training our own, but we have failed to do that in recent times; we have left things to the market, and the market does not always work well in these matters. A degree of Government intervention is required, and it is significant that the Prime Minister has used a phrase not used by any Government for a long time: she has talked about the need for an industrial strategy. I absolutely support that, and we had a debate on industrial strategy just a few weeks ago, which Chris White led very well.

The subject we are discussing now is part of that industrial strategy. We have got to train these people, to make sure we rebuild industry. We do not produce enough any longer, particularly in the manufacturing sector; we do well in services, but not in manufacturing. We have a gigantic trade deficit because we cannot produce enough and we have to buy in from abroad. We must rebuild the manufacturing sector, not so that it becomes the dominant force necessarily, but at least so that it produces sufficient to have a sensible trade balance, which we do not have at present.

Apprenticeships have always been insecure in recent times because companies are much smaller now than they were and they are less secure because of economic crises. I have many anecdotes from my own experience. Just after the 2008 crisis, I was being driven to Heathrow for a parliamentary visit and the driver had an apprenticeship in the construction sector, but the company he had been with had collapsed and he finished up being a cab driver, which he could have done without doing an apprenticeship.

I have heard of fears, too, such as small companies training apprentices who are then poached by larger, more financially lucrative companies. That is particularly the case in the motor trade, where there are skilled small companies training their own people who are then poached by large companies that do lucrative insurance repair work which can pay a lot more.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for, yet again, making a thoughtful speech. I do not have the figures to hand, but the evidence suggests that apprentices in companies are more loyal to that company than those on any other training scheme or in work experience or doing early-career jobs, and that they tend to stay with the companies they do their apprenticeships in.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I am sure the Minister is right in the majority of cases, but for some there is pressure to move on—for instance as a result of what is happening with house prices at the moment, as one can imagine. Certainly in Luton I know of companies, such as small motor repair firms, that employ apprentices who are under pressure to get a home, and if they can earn a few thousand pounds more at a larger company nearby to help them get on the housing ladder, they will do that. I agree that loyalty is important and many of them want to be loyal, but if the financial pressures on their lives are such that they have to move, they will in the end move.

I particularly want to support the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South about the need for a strategy for improving career education and new clause 4. We must ensure that when young people are at school or in further education they are aware of the enormous range of opportunities out there and they do not just look at a narrow field. In Luton too high a proportion of students want to get into the legal profession, for example; they want to be professionals and do not appreciate that there are highly paid, highly skilled jobs in manufacturing industry.

Vauxhall Motors still has a plant in Luton, and almost all its senior executives started as apprentices, leaving school, doing apprenticeships and going up the ladder, eventually doing higher qualifications such as higher national certificates and higher national diplomas and becoming highly paid senior executives in the company. Those opportunities are out there, and young people must be made aware of them. We must have a careers strategy making sure that every young person knows about all the thousands of different roles they could assume in life, rather than just going into the professions, or, indeed, just going into a local company; there are lots of things young people can do.

Life can be very exciting, and it is important that all of us do something we enjoy. I am very fortunate in that I was fascinated by politics in my early life and I finished up in Parliament where I wanted to be; I do not regret a moment of it. But sometimes people are not aware of the enormous range of possibilities in life. Having a powerful careers advice strategy is vital not just for young people’s lives, but for the economy. If people are happy in their work, they will work better and the economy will work better, and the world will be a much better place.

I have one more story that explains something tragic that has happened in Luton. We were a town that trained thousands of apprentices, and I know many of them personally. Recently I visited a small manufacturing company that makes components for Formula 1 and Jaguar. It could not find one toolmaker; it wanted one toolmaker from a town of over 200,000 people that used to be dominated by manufacturing, but could not find one. It is a disgrace that we have failed to train sufficient numbers of people in these areas.

There are many other things I would like to say—I could speak for an hour unaided, I am sure—but as others want to contribute, I will leave it there. I hope the points I have made are of interest.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

I was not on the Committee, but I know that the Technical and Further Education Bill has generated a lot of really good debate and positive views on how we might achieve what we all want, which is an improvement in the technical and vocational education in this country and in apprenticeships. The fact that there is no division between us on that was illustrated by the contributions from the Minister and rom my hon. Friend Gordon Marsden, among others.

I want to set the Bill in context by referring to my earlier remarks to the Minister. Over decades, it has been the desire of every Government, whatever their colour, to enhance the status and esteem of apprenticeships and technical and vocational education. Our country has been bedevilled by a culture in which technical and vocational education are seen as second class in relation to academic qualifications. We all bemoan that fact—we say that it is wrong, and it is—but culturally, the situation has not moved on in the past 30 or 40 years.

I asked the Minister why this time would be different from all the other times, and I hope that what he says is right. I want him to be right. Every Minister—Conservative, Labour or whatever—will have had the passion and desire to say exactly what he has said. Speaking as a Labour Back Bencher, I say to him as a Conservative that I hope he is right and that this time it will be different. Our country’s economy and its power are held back by the fact that things are not right at the moment. Our country is also held back by the fact that tens of thousands, if not millions, of our young people and families have not achieved what they should have done for this reason.

We talk about inequality of opportunity and the failure of many communities to advance and progress, and that is partly due to the fact that we do not value vocational education in the way that we should. It seems to me that challenging that is what the Bill Committee has been all about, and that is why I wanted to make this brief contribution to the debate tonight.

The depth of the problem can be illustrated by asking how we are to judge a good school. I cannot remember the last time anyone said, “I’m going to send my child to that school because it is brilliant vocationally. The vocational qualifications and the way it trains people to be plumbers and builders are absolutely brilliant.” My hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins talked about the kind of skills needed at Vauxhall. Our defence industries are crying out for engineers to repair the ships and to do other highly skilled technical jobs. There are thousands of vacancies. When was the last time anyone said they were going to send their son or daughter to a school because they would end up in a first-class technical or vocational job? That does not happen, and that is a real challenge for us as a Parliament. It is a challenge for the Government, and it is a challenge for us as the Opposition to work with the Government to do something about this. I say this not as a criticism but as a challenge to us all.

I will tell you what I think, and the Minister and those on my own Front Bench might want to reflect on it. I genuinely believe that our country needs a national crusade on technical and vocational education. It needs something that will really shake the system up. We have a Minister and a shadow ministerial education team who are saying exactly the same things. Let us challenge our country to turn all this talk about the importance of skills and of technical education into a reality. If we could do that, we could improve our economy. Just as importantly, in addition to valuing our doctors and lawyers, who are really important, we would for the first time be giving the work and vocational education of many families the esteem that they deserve. Our country would be better for that. We would improve educationally, and many of our poorest communities—where equality of opportunity in education is a rhetorical myth rather than a reality—would actually be able to do something. What an achievement that would be for a Parliament, let alone for a Government. I wish the Minister well, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South for his contribution. I also thank everyone on the Bill Committee for the contributions they have made towards tackling one of the most fundamental problems that our country faces. Good luck with it all.

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Labour, Batley and Spen 8:00 pm, 9th January 2017

New clause 4 deals with careers education provision in technical and further education, and I want to build on the words of my hon. Friend Rob Marris. As the Minister knows from our time spent together on the Bill Committee, this issue is of particular interest to me, and I would like to thank him for the courtesy that he has extended in explaining what the Department is doing in this area, and for introducing me to the Careers & Enterprise Company. I also thank him for his keen interest in improving careers education. After due consideration, however, I feel that the new clause is necessary and that it will complement the work that is already under way. There have been a lot of warm words and verbal support, but not including careers education provision in this legislation is an enormous missed opportunity.

The Bill will shake up the technical and further education sector considerably, and accepting the new clause would show how important career planning is to the House and to the Government. During private meetings before the Bill went into Committee, real concerns were raised with me about the lack of careers education provision in our colleges. It has been stressed that the lack of advice available is such that, without explicit legislation on careers guidance, the matter will be nudged even further towards the back of the priorities queue. Resources in our colleges are overstretched, and I was disappointed to hear that in one institution a receptionist with no specialist qualifications or training had been asked to give careers guidance. The problem of a lack of careers guidance is stark. It has been brought to the attention of the Department by the co-Chairs of the sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy. In its report, the sub-Committee states:

“Ministers appear to be burying their heads in the sand while careers guidance fails young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and exacerbates the country’s skills gap.”

It is clear that we cannot rely on warm words and reassurances alone. We must have provisions in writing and in legislation, because we have an obligation to our learners. As we know, the world of work that our young people are entering is changing really fast. The sector in which an apprentice starts their learning will have transformed enormously by the time they reach their last year. Access to guidance and advice should not be left behind when they step into a career. It should be more agile and responsive to the skills and experience they are picking up. It is those opportunities that new clause 4 would seize, including an opportunity for a strategy to be laid before the House that was specialised for further and technical education that was ongoing and that provided parity of esteem between technical, further and higher education, using the expertise of the new Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. This is a huge opportunity that is too good to miss.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank all those who have spoken. I particularly thank the Minister for confirming that the implications of what we asked for in new clause 2 will be satisfied by the Government, which is an important concession or confirmation, depending on how he wishes to look at it. Whatever it is, we thank him for it.

I will withdraw new clause 1 but, as shown not least by the powerful speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) and others, it is a huge missed opportunity that the Government are not including the strategy in the Bill. I mean no disrespect to the Minister and his personal qualities, but we believe that the strategy needs to be embodied for the foreseeable future in the Bill. On that basis, we will be pressing new clause 4 to a vote.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4