Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education 2:14 pm, 14th March 2017

I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend’s local college is doing. She is absolutely right. In order to see a change in the workplace and in careers, we have to start in early education to build the pipeline to make sure that girls, and subsequently women, are going into these careers, which have traditionally often been more male dominated.

This is not just making a difference to the people who are doing apprenticeships; apprenticeships are making a difference to our country. Employers tell us that apprenticeships increase quality and increase productivity, so investing in an apprenticeship pays out for them and their business, and it is paying out for our wider economy. This is only the beginning of our apprenticeship reforms. Next month, we are introducing the apprenticeship levy, which will ensure that by 2020 over £2.5 billion is available to support apprenticeships. Contributing to the levy will mean that employers are, for the very first time, truly fully invested in apprenticeships. This keeps us on track to meet our manifesto commitment of delivering 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

Apprenticeships will play a key role in delivering the skills that our modern economy needs to level up, but we need to do more to meet the broader challenges that our economy faces. The most successful countries do not just rely on apprenticeships—work-based routes—to get skilled professionals. They also depend on more college-based routes—on technical courses with workplace experience and training as a crucial element. So we will up our game, looking at reforming our technical education system to make it a central plank of how to sustain a growing economy. For decades, our country has neglected technical education, despite the fact that a substantial proportion—over half—of our young people who choose not to go to university take this path. We have never achieved a sustainable strategy because it has never been truly led by employers. We need a strategy that asks businesses what a world-class technical curriculum should look like—that invests in the tools, the teaching and the skills expertise that help young people to navigate the complex web of choices on careers to find the skills and the career that is right for them.

Over many years, we have allowed the technical curriculum to emphasise quantity rather than quality. There are currently around 13,000 separate technical qualifications. In plumbing alone, a young person has the choice of 33 different courses. How on earth are they supposed to know which course is the highest quality, which one is valued by businesses, and which option is the right fit for them? This cannot be right. In recent years, we have made some important steps forward in tightening the requirements for qualifications included in school and college performance tables, but we need to go much further to ensure that technical education is high quality and meets employers’ needs. In place of complexity, this Government are following the advice of Lord Sainsbury and replacing the current system with a streamlined set of just 15 technical skills routes. Each route will be a pathway to skilled employment—from construction to digital, whether bricks and mortar or lines of code—and our standards for each route will be designed and agreed by our best businesses to make sure there is a direct flow through to the skills that our economy needs.

We know that we need investment as well as reform. At the moment, a young person working towards a technical qualification receives a programme of about 600 hours a year, but in countries with the best technical education—Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway —students train for far more hours per year. If we really are serious about becoming world-class on skills, we need to rival the commitment and investment of the world’s leading countries.

That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced over half a billion pounds a year of new funding for technical education last Wednesday. It will be used to increase the number of teaching hours for students. As the Sainsbury panel recommended, it will also fund institutions to organise a substantial, high-quality work placement for every technical education student, helping them to apply their skills in the workplace and to prepare for a successful move into employment. In total, this will mean that a student’s programme hours will increase by more than 50%, from 600 hours per year to more than 900. It is no surprise that the CBI has called this Budget a “breakthrough Budget for skills”.

The funding for extra hours will be rolled out alongside the new technical routes, beginning with the first programmes in autumn 2019. Each of the routes will lead to a new certificate, the T-level, which will be a gold standard for technical and professional excellence. The name will remind Members of another prominent qualification, and that is very deliberate. I want there to be no ambiguity whatsoever: this is the most ambitious reform of post-16 education since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago. The investment announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor shows that the Government are committed to making it a success.