Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:36 am on 14th January 2022.
I beg to move amendment
1, page 1, after subsection (4) insert—
“(4A) In subsection (4)(c), omit “the person giving it considers”.”
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 2, page 1, leave out subsection (5).
Let me put the amendment in context, for colleagues who have not looked at the text of section 42A of the Education Act 1997. Under section 42A(4)(c), the Act states:
“The responsible authorities must secure that careers guidance provided under subsection (1)…is guidance that the person giving it considers will promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given.”
In other words, the test is a subjective one on the part of the provider, rather than an objective test. My amendment would remove the words
“the person giving it considers” thereby making it an objective test for the responsible authorities when securing the careers guidance required by the Act.
The context of the amendment is very much about quality. I was delighted that in the debate that took place in Westminster Hall on Tuesday there was much emphasis on quality in careers guidance, and a lot of reference to what the Gatsby rules set out. Let me briefly tell the House about some of the points raised by my right hon. Friend Esther McVey, who introduced that debate. She said how important it is that children know what they want to do when they leave school, but that they will not be able to do that if they are not told about all the career opportunities available to them, the qualifications they will need, and the different educational paths they can take.
For example, when my daughter was at school she aspired to become a member of the veterinary profession, and I am proud to say that that is what she is. However, it was difficult because her teachers said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re going to be suitable for science A-levels”, and obviously without them she would never have been able to get the qualifications to go to veterinary school and attain the qualification that she has. The good advice she got from a teacher at the school meant that she could embark on science A-levels. That is a personal example from my own experience of the importance of quality. I do not doubt that some people at the school would have taken the view that the best thing was for her not to do science A-levels, but on any objective assessment it was the right decision. I therefore agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton.
My right hon. Friend went to say:
“The latest report from the Centre for Social Justice says that there is a growing need for tailored, innovative and inspiring career guidance with links to role models and employers.”—[Official Report,
I think everybody agrees that that is so, but it is a concern that there is no single place where a young person can get comprehensive Government-backed careers information. The Centre for Social Justice also found that schools are not consistently delivering good quality careers advice. About one in five schools does not meet any of the eight Gatsby benchmarks, a series of internationally respected benchmarks that help the Government to quality assure careers advice in schools. That is very serious.
Everybody seems to agree that the Gatsby benchmarks should be the standard, yet we know that only one in five schools meet any of them. The question I want to pose, in moving the amendment, is this: what are the Government doing to ensure that we get not just careers guidance, but good quality careers guidance? I remind the House of the eight Gatsby benchmarks of good careers guidance: a stable careers programme; learning from career and labour market information; addressing the needs of each pupil; linking curriculum learning to careers; encounters with employers and employees; experiences of work places; encounters with further and higher education; and personal guidance. The fact that so many schools do not even comply with any of them should raise significant alarm bells. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton, in concluding her remarks in the Westminster Hall debate, said:
“How do the Government plan to ensure that careers guidance is of a high quality for all pupils, irrespective of where they come from?”—[Official Report,
That is the issue.
I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Alex Burghart, who was not able to attend the Westminster Hall debate, on the Front Bench. In welcoming him to the debate, may I say how much I appreciate his decision to give Ferndown Upper School in my constituency a significant capital grant for its T-levels programme, which was announced just before Christmas? That is much appreciated. Ferndown Upper School has made enormous progress over recent years under excellent leadership and has expanded its numbers accordingly. If we were able to see an equivalent increase in the quality of careers guidance in schools across the country, we would all be absolutely delighted.
Let me turn to the response to the Westminster Hall debate from the Minister for Higher and Further Education. She said:
“The foundation of making that a reality is careers guidance in our secondary schools.”
She went on to say:
“That is why we are strengthening the legal framework so that every secondary pupil is guaranteed access to high-quality, independent careers guidance. Careers guidance, in itself, is not the panacea;
the quality is absolutely crucial.”—[Official Report,
How will we ensure that we have that quality, which we are told will increasingly be assessed by Ofsted, if it is going to be constrained? If Ofsted goes to a school and says, “Your provision is not of sufficiently good quality”, the school will be able to say, “Under the guidance—under the existing legislation—we think, or the person giving the advice thinks, that that is the right advice to be given for this child,” and there is no objective test. If the provider thinks that what it has done is correct, there is no possible way of criticising that or exercising any sanctions against it. That is why removing these words is of absolute importance if the Government want to deliver much better quality careers guidance in our schools. That is a small but important point, and I hope that we will get a constructive response from the Minister. If there is resistance to accepting the amendment in this place, perhaps it can be considered in the other place. However, we need to have more than just words about the importance of good quality; we need to ensure that the legislation facilitates it.
Amendment 2 is more of a probing amendment. It would remove subsection (5), which removes the application of the 1997 Act for provisions
“in relation to pupils over compulsory school age”.
As hon. Members know, compulsory school age is up to 16. If the Bill goes through as it stands, there will be no duty on schools with a sixth form, for example, to continue to provide careers guidance. I do not understand why, because although it could be said that careers guidance is important to enable pupils to decide their A-level options, even when they are taking those options and preparing to apply for higher education, they still need or would benefit from careers guidance. They may be doing, say, history or English at A-level, which will open up massive fields of opportunity in higher education and careers, but surely people who are taking those subjects, which are not obviously designed to enable them to go on a specific professional path, could benefit from getting proper guidance in school.
Why does the Minister think that schools with a sixth form should not be required to continue to provide careers guidance for pupils who are over 16? I am sure there must be a really good explanation—as there always must be if the Government have put forward a proposal to the House—and I look forward to receiving it from him. If he wants to intervene at this stage, I am very happy for him so to do, but perhaps he will hold his thunder until later.
The amendments do not need to be introduced at enormous length. However, the Bill has cometh before the House and this is an opportunity for us to explore these two aspects of it in more depth and with more focus.
I thank my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope for his interest in this important Bill and for focusing the debate on the importance of good-quality careers guidance. I note that he took interest in the Westminster Hall debate held by my right hon. Friend Esther McVey, as I did, and I was happy to see so many in that debate refer to this Bill. He and I are on the same page on the importance of good-quality careers guidance, but I hope to assuage some of his concerns. His points about consistency are exactly what this Bill seeks to address, in extending the statutory requirement to provide careers advice to all state-funded schools and across the entirety of secondary education. His other point was about the single point of careers guidance. I am not convinced that that is the answer. Although it might help with consistency, it may also bake in consistently bad advice from a single source.
On amendment 1, I take my hon. Friend’s point about removing subjectivity, but of course the idea of good careers advice is that it is subjective and depends on many things, which the Gatsby benchmarks address, such as local labour market provisions. He will be pleased to know that section 45A of the Education Act 1997 makes it incumbent on schools to “have regard to” statutory guidance. The statutory careers guidance, which continues to be updated by the Minister’s Department, imparts the need to adhere to the Gatsby benchmarks. On his personal experience of his daughter’s careers advice, let me say that that does include addressing the needs of each pupil. The Bill, in extending the duty and putting all state-funded schools on the same footing, gives Ofsted the teeth it needs to apply that statutory guidance and the Gatsby benchmarks to a level playing field, across the board.
On amendment 2, I think there is a slight misunderstanding as to what clause 1(5) does, which is to disapply the need to offer advice on 16 to 18 options to those over 16, for obvious reasons. The statutory careers guidance to which all schools need to have regard does include the provision of careers guidance at 16 to 18, and that will remain. This provision disapplies the need to talk about 16 to 18 options once people get past 16, for fairly obvious reasons. The Minister may wish to address some of the points in more detail, but I hope that I have been able to assuage some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. I hope that he will not force the House to decide on his amendments.
Let us start by congratulating Mark Jenkinson on reaching this stage with his Bill. I fully anticipate that he will ultimately achieve his aim of aligning academy provision with current state-maintained provision in the sphere of careers guidance, and I am pleased to give Labour’s backing for this small but important Bill. Careers guidance is an important component of any serious social mobility strategy. For many people, and certainly for people in my family and other young people I have spoken to in Chesterfield, careers guidance and work experience are often the first time that young people really get a chance to put their head up and start looking into the future.
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman making a Third Reading speech or speaking to the amendments?
Okay, so I will just speak to the amendments. That will speed us up nicely. None the less, I thought it was important to give some background to that point. Let me turn to the amendments tabled by Sir Christopher Chope. I suspect it would not be a sitting Friday if we did not hear the view from Christchurch. I have often wondered whether a sitting Friday when we did not hear what the residents of Christchurch thought would be followed by a Saturday at all. Today, we have heard their views on careers guidance.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of significant points, and I have good news for him. We in the Labour party share his fear about quality, breadth and objectivity when it comes to understanding whether provision is of a high standard. I think his proposed amendment is not necessarily the way to address that, but several of the Labour amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill are. Quality and breadth of provision are important so that young people have the opportunity to consider a broad range of alternatives, and some careers guidance may be of a high standard but lack breadth. Our amendments to the Skills Bill—they have been supported by Lord Baker and others, and I hope they will return from the other place—will give the hon. Member for Workington the opportunity to get the assurances he seeks about quality and breadth. I look forward to speaking to the Bill further.
Order. If Members wish to speak, it would be helpful if they stood when the Member who is speaking sits down. I am just trying to put some names down.
Thank you for calling me so early in this debate, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to speak in it, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson on bringing this Bill before the House.
I want to give a little bit of perspective from my own background. In my maiden speech, I referred to my family background as moving from workhouse to Westminster. My great grandmother was born in a workhouse in the east end of London. She was a foundling and she met my great grandfather in the Foundling Hospital, so they had very modest beginnings. The emphasis in the Foundling Hospital was not on a choice of careers but on set career paths. All the boys who were put into the Foundling Hospital were trained to become Army bandsmen, and all the girls were trained to become maternity nurses—midwives. They did not have a choice in that.
My great grandparents went on to have great careers, in the Army and as a midwife. They met each other in the hospital, and it absolutely changed their lives. They had rewarding careers and their own family, and—workhouse to Westminster—I managed to get here, for some reason. I think that shows the fundamental need for a career and a job to make our lives what we want them to be. That opportunity, which is fundamental to levelling up and everything that we stand for—
Order. I want to be helpful, but Members should be speaking to amendments to the Bill and not making Third Reading speeches. I think, unfortunately, you are making one of those, which I would love to hear later rather than now. If you can speak to the amendments and what we are dealing with, that would be helpful to the Chair.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your guidance. On the amendment, I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington said in response to my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope. I think that the Bill, as it stands, answers the questions that it seeks to address, so I support it as it is presented today. But I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—I like to relate things to personal experience, and I think his daughter’s experience is very telling. It shows us about the cart and the horse. If someone has a vision for the future, they need to know the pathway to get there, so it is important that they have advice at an early stage. I absolutely take what he says, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington has answered that question.
I will not speak at great length about the amendments, only to say that every time my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope speaks, I always think that I went to the right university, because like him I am a graduate of Queen’s College, St Andrews, now Dundee University. I was interested in the way that he rationalised the idea of moving to an objective test. He will know that that relies on the man on the Clapham omnibus being the benchmark as the unified standard of quality, shall we say. My hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson eloquently made the point that that could end up baking in that quality.
I can speak only to my own experience. I was dead set throughout most of my A-levels on being a doctor. I have no scientific aptitude, but I convinced myself that that was what I was going to do—
I do apologise, Mr Speaker. We are doing so well today. I have suddenly got louder—that is good.
It took a tutor who recognised that that might not have been my best skillset to point me in the right direction, and I am very glad that she did when she did. It led to a fulfilling career, with one slight blip when I was elected in 2019. I will not support the amendment if it is pressed to a vote, but I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend’s intentions.
Order. You are all going to have to stand if you want to speak, because I am having to guess here. If people do not want to speak, can they let their Whip know and at least then I know what I am working to?
I commend my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson on bringing his Bill to this stage, and my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope on his amendments. I have some sympathy with what the latter said about his first amendment. My own daughter is at university at the moment and she has found the mentoring skills offered by industrialists to be extremely helpful. I agree with the spirit of the amendment but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington said, the Bill is well established and structured, and is sufficient as it stands.
On the second amendment, I have made recent visits in my constituency to Ysgol y Grango in Rhos and Ysgol Rhiwabon, and I have seen how keen students are there to discuss their future career prospects. The more that we can satisfy that thirst for knowledge, the better, especially by bringing professionals into schools to provide their experience.
I respect very much the spirit of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, but I feel that the Bill is sufficient as currently constituted, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington said.
I have made newbie mistake No. 1,273 procedurally, so I am happy to accept the Bill as it stands and I look forward to speaking on Third Reading.
I wish to touch briefly on the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope.
I had not intended to speak in today’s debate because I am confident that my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson will get his Bill through. My main comment is about ensuring that there are no unintended consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is right in seeking, through his amendments, to ensure consistency throughout the piece and the quality of the advice that young people get. I am slightly concerned, though, because we do not want to create arbitrary methods that do not take into account local social and economic needs. As I said on Second Reading in interventions on my hon. Friend Esther McVey, sometimes the careers advice provided does not necessarily fall within a strict framework in respect of the needs of the individual.
The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch are intended to ensure clarity and consistency. He gave the moving example of his daughter and how careers advice can have an impact; it is important to make sure we do not allow ambition to be stifled in any way. It is also important that his amendments do not have any unintended consequences. My hon. Friend’s intention in respect of both amendments is clear, but the issue is what the operational delivery will look like.
I was reassured by the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington to the amendments: he explained what his Bill seeks to do and how he has worked to address the concerns expressed. That being said, as Mr Perkins said, it would not be a sitting Friday without the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. I very much endorse the intent behind his amendments, but they might be somewhat wanting in respect of delivery, so I am reluctant to support them.
I thank my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for long championing all things education and for standing up for children. I have seen him, not just in respect of this Bill but on many other occasions, be a lone voice for children and for opportunities in education.
I appreciate the issues raised by the amendments. I agree that we need further scrutiny in that respect and to look into how we can help to give tailored support to everyone in need. In particular, clause 1, which extends the careers duty to all pupils to secure education in all types of state-funded provision—particularly alternative provision—is excellent, but the amendment talks about giving advice to all from one set point and I have an issue with that. We could look at further ways to dig down into a bespoke way of targeting, perhaps through a funding settlement agreement that provides a funding incentive for those providers that are able to get students into an apprenticeship successfully. The school could get an economic settlement for that in the same way as applies when students are able to get into university at sixth-form level.
From my previous work, I have found that alternative provision is often overlooked—it is often the way in which schools shunt off students who are more challenging and they are not then given the support that they need. When I worked in disadvantaged areas and with schools with low skills, my concern was that children were being taken out of the main school, put into alternative provision and then left at 16 with no qualifications, no help, no skills and no guidance. I appreciate the fact that the Bill and the amendments are trying to target that inequality.
The nuanced issues raised by the amendments are great but I would go even further. Clause 1(3), which extends the duty to secure careers guidance to academies and alternative provision, is welcome, but I would like to see a way of incentivising schools to pursue apprenticeships and to stress that they should. Many schools do not pursue apprenticeships because it takes a lot of time to liaise with the businesses and with the educational provider. Schools need an extra financial settlement or incentive to do it correctly, so we should look at how to move that forward. I know we are not allowed to discuss that in a debate on a private Member’s Bill, but I wanted to put that out there as we are discussing the amendment.
This is a nuanced issue. If things are done correctly, the Bill could help the levelling-up agenda throughout the UK. This is where children are falling through the cracks. They are being put through their paces until they are 16 and then left. They are not being diagnosed with learning difficulties and they are not being given careers advice, which would help the most disadvantaged access the career choices that they need.
I love that the amendments and the Bill are looking at how we target young people—people younger than 16 to 18. Young people from a disadvantaged background who have no family member in a job or career need to be told which A-levels to study. They need to be told that they need a triple science if they want to do something science related. If a young person does not come from that background, they have no idea that that is something they should be doing. This is a way to give that information to every child from every background. The immigrant child might be the only member of the family who speaks English as their first language. They are trying to navigate the British system and this kind of careers advice can give them the levelling-up advantage that they need.
I welcome the Bill and think that we can look further at these amendments to find a way to make the Bill as sharp and crisp as we possibly can.
If there are no other speakers, I will call the Minister.
You are very kind, Mr Speaker, and it is lovely to be here with you this Friday morning.
What a very interesting debate we have had on the amendments of my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, even if some of our colleagues have been so anxious to get onto Third Reading. I can understand why, but we do have a couple of very important amendments to discuss.
I must declare a small amount of interest: I grew up very close to my hon. Friend’s constituency. Many is the time that I have cycled past Ferndown Upper. I am delighted to hear that it is joining us on the T-level journey, which will help transform the lives of so many young people who want to have excellent vocational training as well as qualifications that have been designed with employers. They want to get that really serious long-term experience on the job while they are still at school or in college, knowing that they are getting the skills that the economy needs. I am absolutely delighted that Ferndown is part of that journey.
I often think of my hon. Friend when I am reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which is one of my favourite early medieval texts. As you will know well, Mr Speaker, after King Alfred the Great died, his nephew, a nobleman, tried to seize the throne. He did so by starting at Tweoxneam, which is the archaic name for Christchurch. Whenever I think of that noble rebel of old, my mind sometimes flits to my noble friend from Christchurch today.
The thrust of my hon. Friend’s amendments is extremely important, because it focuses on quality, and the quality of our careers advice and careers service that we intend to provide young people is paramount. This was something that was central to a debate on Tuesday in Westminster Hall, which, sadly, I was unable to attend. Those present got the Minister of State instead of the mere Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, so they benefited from my absence.
The work that we are doing in the Department for Education centres on this very important issue of quality, and there are a number of changes that we have introduced, and are introducing, on that score. One key thing the Secretary of State has done is commission Sir John Holman to undertake a review of careers advice in the round, not just for young people, but for adults and those furthest from the workplace. I met Sir John yesterday. His work is coming along extremely well. We are looking forward to getting the formal findings of his report in the summer. We are also seeing accelerated progress in schools and colleges of the enterprise adviser—
Order. I think the Minister is almost in danger of doing his Third Reading speech. This is about the amendments—whether we do or do not support them and where we are going with them. I think Members would like to hear this speech in the Third Reading debate rather than now.
Absolutely, Mr Speaker. The thrust of my hon. Friend’s amendments is about quality in the careers service, which is very much where I was trying to go in my remarks. I will speed ahead to the specifics, and perhaps we will come back to the general points on Third Reading.
Given the challenges that young people have faced throughout the pandemic, there has never been a more important time to help them plan for the future with confidence. That is why, as I say, we are focusing on quality. That said, the two amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has tabled, however well intentioned, are unnecessary.
Amendment 1 would amend the duty on the responsible authorities. We all agree that independent careers guidance must promote the best interests of the pupil, but this amendment seeks to take away the responsibility for determining the best interests of the pupil from the person who gives the careers guidance to pupils, and would instead place that responsibility on schools. I believe it is important that the person who gives the careers guidance determines the pupil’s best interest by applying their own judgment as to the suitability of the guidance for the pupils. In their role, they will be best placed to understand the needs of those pupils when delivering careers guidance. The key point is that schools must secure careers guidance that is independent of the school: if schools become responsible for determining whether the guidance is in the best interest of the pupils, that independence could be affected. In many cases, for example, the school will bring in a qualified careers adviser to deliver independent careers guidance to pupils. Careers advisers are specifically trained to act impartially and—crucially—in the best interests of the pupil, such as the daughter of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.
Turning to amendment 2, the Bill seeks to exempt 16 to 18-year-olds from the provision of guidance on options available for 16 to 18 education or training, including apprenticeships. That guidance is thought to be unnecessary, as 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in compulsory schooling will have already chosen their post-16 options. If we adopted this amendment, schools would be obliged to provide 16 to 18-year-olds with guidance on post-16 education or training options, which might simply waste their time and schools’ resources. In fact, that exemption—it must be noted—is already in force through the Careers Guidance in Schools Regulations 2013, so the Bill simply seeks to move what we have previously had in guidance into primary legislation: it is more of a tidying-up exercise.[This section has been corrected on
I thank all Members on both sides of the House who have contributed today, and look forward to continuing the debate on Third Reading.
I much appreciate the Minister’s comments, and his exemplification of the importance of Christchurch—of Tweoxneam—in the history of our country. I am glad that he is so well read in his subjects and knows the locality. I am sure that that had nothing to do with the decision to award this money to Ferndown Upper School, but nevertheless, it is very much appreciated.
I accept what the Minister says about amendment 2—it was very much a probing amendment. However, I invite him to reflect further on amendment 1, because at the moment the Bill says that
“The responsible authorities must secure that careers guidance provided under subsection (1)…is guidance that the person giving it considers will promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given.”
Surely, the school should be taking the responsibility for ensuring that the careers guidance that is provided promotes the best interests of pupils. The Minister did not really address the points that I was making about the number of schools that are not complying with any of the eight Gatsby guidance principles.
My hon. Friend is right about the one in five schools, but allow me to turn that figure on its head: from a standing start really quite a short time ago, four in five schools are now complying with large numbers of the Gatsby benchmarks, and are improving. Our Ofsted regime will include adherence to those benchmarks in its handbook, and I remind my hon. Friend that as part of our post-covid work, all schools will be inspected by Ofsted between now and summer 2025. As far as we are concerned, this is a genuine accountability measure.
I appreciate that, but one in five schools is not complying with any of the eight Gatsby principles that I read out, so surely we need to take action sooner than on the timescale to which the Minister refers. That is not a matter for legislation—his Department needs to get a grip on it. If schools are not complying with the basic principles set out in Gatsby, why is that, and why are they not being held to account?
I return to amendment 1. If a school transfers responsibility for careers guidance that is in the best interests of pupils to a provider who gets it wrong, there is no way in which that school can be held to account for having chosen a duff provider. The school will always be able to say in defence, to an Ofsted inspector, for example, that the provider thought that it was working in the best interests of the pupil to whom guidance was being given.
I was not seeking to intervene, but I am glad to take the opportunity. Ofsted would obviously hold the school accountable for procuring poor careers advice. I very much appreciate my hon. Friend’s point, but, to be clear, we take accountability for careers advice very seriously and we wish to drive up quality. We believe that it is in the best interests of the pupil to have independent careers guidance in schools where possible, from independent careers advisers who act, and are trained to act, in the best interests of pupils. I hope he will appreciate that we are working towards the aims that he sets out. It is a serious measure to have reference to Gatsby in the Ofsted handbook and a programme to inspect all schools against it, and I hope that no one will make light of that.
I much appreciate that full intervention to further clarify the Government’s intentions. In the end, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We will have to see whether we get the improved quality in careers guidance that everyone in the House wants and on which the Government and Opposition are united.
I thank Mr Perkins for his comments. I do not always get compliments from the Opposition, but I much appreciate them and take them to heart, as indeed I do the support that I have received from my hon. Friends. They are waiting to deliver their Third Reading speeches, but they nevertheless had a good formula for commenting on the amendments, which was basically, “My hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson has got it right and we do not need to comment any further.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington has worked hard on the Bill and it is great that he has given us an opportunity to raise these issues and focus on quality. He echoes what the Minister said about the amendments being unnecessary. I will not put the amendments to a vote, so let us hope that they prove to be unnecessary. We will have to see whether the good intentions materialise. For that reason, I once again express my appreciation to all hon. Members who have contributed to this short debate, and to the Minister in particular, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am delighted to present the Bill to the House for its Third Reading. It heralds a sea change in how we prepare the next generation to meet the career challenges that lie ahead. It will serve to embed careers advice throughout the secondary phase of education through the provision of regular and ongoing support for students every step of the way. In short, it is designed to give our young people the best start and to maximise their opportunities.
I am delighted that, through the Bill, I will make a positive difference to the lives of young people in my Workington constituency and across England. As a father of four, it is an issue that is close to my heart. The changes that the Bill will help to bring about are important and overdue, and I have no doubt that its effects will be positive and far-reaching.
At present, the statutory duty to provide careers guidance falls on maintained schools, special schools and pupil referral units but not academies. The Bill seeks to address that anomaly by placing the same requirement on all types of state-funded secondary schools, which will help to create a level playing field. I hope that that will encourage a culture where young people, regardless of social background, can advance through merit and hard work.
It is essential that the advice available to our young people is consistent, of the highest quality and accessible to everyone. As a blue-collar Conservative from a working-class community, I am a staunch believer in the value of meritocracy. The standard of careers guidance should not be a postcode lottery—we cannot leave the education of the next generation to chance—and must be based on a set of clear principles that are clearly focused on the best interests of children.
It is also important to develop a more joined-up system in which careers advisers, education providers and employers work together to share information and signpost young people to the opportunities available. I know how frightening it can be for a young person to make momentous and life-changing decisions about his or her future career, and that process becomes even more stressful if they are not in possession of the information that they need to make the choices that work for them.
In previous stages of the Bill, I joked that I am 39 and remain undecided about what I want to be when I grow up. At the end of the month, I will hit the big four-o and I am even less decided than I was. On a more serious note, it is easy for young people to find themselves on the wrong path or facing the wrong direction, and without the proper guidance, the risk of that happening becomes even greater.
That is why it is important to give our young people the best careers advice we can at the earliest opportunity. Such a crucial decision cannot be determined on the basis of an occasional meeting, but must be part of a long-term process that is continually reviewed in the light of changes in the labour market and the child, and of the developing aspirations of the young people themselves.
I very much welcome the hon. Member’s Bill and the speech that he is giving. Careers advice has come on a long way in the last 50 years. I am sure that we all remember the scene in “Kes” where my constituent, the former lord mayor of Leeds, Bernard Atha, played the careers teacher who gave Billy and all the boys and girls in the school exactly the same careers advice. Although that was a drama, it reflected what happened in the sort of communities that we represent.
The quality of careers guidance depends on the person giving it. We have NVQs at levels 4, 5, 6 and even 7 in higher education for careers guidance, so it is a profession in and of itself. It is not just an add-on or to be left to online quizzes, but that is what has happened to my child at school, so there is still a long way to go. We need to professionalise careers guidance and see it as something in and of itself, not just an add-on.
Order. I think the hon. Member knows that an intervention is not meant to be a speech. You can speak—I will put you on the list—there is no problem there.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that important point. I will talk later about funded bursaries and the training that is available for careers leaders, and will explain how the Minister’s Department is putting careers leader training at the forefront of careers advice. We cannot abandon our children to the whims of fortune without a map, a compass or a torch to light the way.
The Bill is particularly timely given the disruption and disorientation caused by covid-19. It is hardly surprising that young people are worried about their education and employment prospects in these unprecedented times. Uncertainty and change inevitably fuel anxiety, and covid-19 has forced many young people to reconsider their options and look again at their career paths.
As I said in my earlier speech, unexpected change and challenges are not necessarily bad. They can open new doors, and encourage us to be adaptable in our goals and innovative in our approaches. Difficult experiences can help us to see new opportunities that we may not have considered before, bringing out latent talents and teaching us new skills. However, the support structures and safety nets must be in place to help young people. It is incumbent upon us—indeed, it is our duty—to help our children to negotiate these obstacles and to encourage them when they lose their way, or, even worse, lose faith in themselves.
In my constituency, as in others across England, there are pockets of deprivation, unemployment and sometimes, I have to say, hopelessness. I am acutely aware of the stark disadvantages faced by so many young people. They have so much to contribute, but so often they are written off too soon. If we are serious about “levelling up”—if it is to be more than just a slogan or a soundbite—giving all children access to good-quality careers advice is one of the most important weapons in our fight against poverty and despair. We must leave no child behind.
Providing this enhanced careers education and guidance makes economic sense too, as it will contribute to a high-skills and high-productivity recovery. The Bill will help all young people to develop the skills and attributes that will enable them to succeed in the workplace, and in some cases it will nurture the community leaders of the future.
As the hon. Gentleman has already heard, we support the aims of his Bill. He has spoken of giving every child access to good-quality careers guidance. Does he agree that that must involve face-to-face conversations? It is not good enough to say, “Do it on the internet.” We need to ensure that every child can sit down with a careers professional.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support, and for making an important point that takes us back to the point made earlier by Alex Sobel about trained careers leaders. We must ensure that there is face-to-face careers guidance, rather than children being plonked in front of a computer to figure out their own paths.
The Bill extends careers advice down from the current year 8 to year 7 to ensure that children are given the information they need to make the best possible choices at the earliest juncture. The sooner we can provide children with careers options, the sooner we can address some of the gender, class and other work stereotypes that are already starting to bed in. The Bill also brings academies into line with local authority-controlled schools, ensuring that everyone has the same opportunity regardless of their postcode. As we know, some academies are not statutorily bound but are bound by their funding agreements, while others are subject to no requirements at all. The Bill gives Ofsted the tools that it needs to guarantee that our children benefit from first-rate careers advice throughout their school careers and across the country.
As a direct result of the Bill, approximately 650,000 year 7 pupils across England will become entitled to independent careers guidance, and we are bringing 2,700 academies into scope. The Bill puts into statute the Government’s commitment in the “Skills for jobs” White Paper for the UK's post-pandemic recovery. It builds on the important work that is already being done nationally to develop a coherent and well-established careers system—a sector in which Cumbria is a leading light.
As Members will know, the Government are already committed to the national roll-out of careers hubs, and have taken action to support the careers of young people through schemes such as kickstart. As I said earlier, the Careers & Enterprise Company is increasing young people’s exposure to the world of work, and helping schools and colleges to deliver world-class careers guidance for their students in line with the Gatsby benchmarks. The National Careers Service provides careers information, advice and guidance through a website and a telephone helpline. More than 3,300 business professionals are now working as enterprise advisers with schools and colleges, doing a lot of the face-to-face guidance that strengthens employer links with schools. The result is that 3.3 million young people are now having regular encounters with employers, up 70% in just two years.
Education providers, training providers and careers services in my Workington constituency continue to rise to the challenge in the face of often large socioeconomic challenges. The Cumbria careers hub was launched in January 2019 to deliver the Government’s careers strategy for Cumbria after the local enterprise partnership’s skills investment plan identified a significant challenge in developing skills in our county.
The process is accelerating, with 100% of schools in the hub matched with an enterprise adviser from a pool of senior business volunteers. It has been successfully replicated across the country, with 45% of secondary schools and colleges now in careers hubs. We are seeing rapid improvements in hubs, with disadvantaged areas among the best performers. The link between careers and career pathways is essential for developing and attracting talent to Cumbria, owing to the area’s declining working-age population, and their success is to be celebrated.
It is therefore critical that we nurture homegrown talent by giving young people the skills and confidence they need to make the most of the opportunities within a forward-looking global Britain, to help close the skills gaps in areas like Cumbria and to attract investment. It is simply not enough to nurture talent; we must also work to retain it and attract it. Furthermore, careers advice, in line with the Gatsby benchmarks, must be tailored to the jobs market in a local area, which is why conversations and relationships between employers, schools and careers advisers are so important. This Bill ensures that those channels of communication are built upon. The Bill helps to ensure young people are aware of the opportunities that lie on their doorstep, as well as those that exist further afield. Young people often tell us that one of the biggest barriers is not knowing what careers exist.
Simplifying the current system whereby careers duties are imposed on secondary schools by a combination of statutory provisions and contractual arrangements, while there are no requirements whatsoever on some of the older academies, is an important part of this Bill. The importance of extending the careers duty to all secondary pupils cannot be overstated. Extending the duty to all academies and alternative provision academies places the same requirements and standards on all types of state-funded schools, which puts all state-funded secondary pupils on a level footing and gives Ofsted the tools it needs.
We need to start setting out to children, as soon as possible, the options that will be available to them—not just sixth form and university but further education, apprenticeships, T-levels and other technical education qualifications. The earlier our young people start to consider these options and receive the appropriate guidance, the greater their chance of making the best possible choice.
University technical colleges—I have a fantastic one in my constituency—form an important part of the offer, but that could mean changing schools at 14. This option should not be put in front of a child at 13. It should be talked about from a much earlier age. Although it is important that young people are aware of their options, the last thing we want is for them to get to year 9 and feel like options are being imposed on them or, worse still, are non-existent, which is why flexibility must also be built into the guidance.
Engaging with employers from an early age can inspire young people and help them relate to the career opportunities to which their circumstances, abilities and interests are suited. The Bill recognises and makes use of the work already undertaken as part of the national careers system and, more importantly, it continues to raise young people’s aspirations through regular and meaningful engagement with employers and workplaces.
Having spoken in depth with education providers, parents and guardians, careers advisers, employers and, most importantly, young people themselves, I am more convinced than ever that this Bill will help to unlock the potential of generations to come. It is difficult to imagine a more worthy cause than to give our children the confidence and skills they need to be able to fulfil their dreams.
I am grateful to everyone who has worked on the Bill and helped to shape it. Their research, knowledge and observations have been invaluable and have created something that will serve our young people well. This Bill is about helping young people navigate through obstacles and avoid blind alleys, and it will prevent them from ending up in a career cul-de-sac.
We spend so much of our lives at work, so it is paramount that we give our young people the tools to find employment that is worth while and fulfilling. It is not simply about boosting the economy; it is also about wellbeing and helping to foster a culture of personal growth and aspiration from the starting line. More fundamentally, it is about creating a fairer system across our education system that allows everyone to realise their potential and make the best contribution possible to their communities, wherever they live and whatever their background.
I would like to repeat my congratulations to Mark Jenkinson on reaching this stage with his Bill. I think it is a very valuable thing that he is doing with the private Member’s Bill allocation that he successfully won. I think he is absolutely right to express the importance of careers guidance, particularly in communities where opportunities are not necessarily plentiful and people need to have an opportunity to see different kinds of careers from those that their parents have enjoyed and that others in their school previously have enjoyed.
For all the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, we entirely agree that ensuring that every student, whether they be at an academy school or a state maintained school, can avail themselves of a minimum standard of careers guidance is a necessary provision. We know that many schools already have excellent provision and constructive, successful and transformational relationships with employers, but there is a real lack of consistency across the board, and anything that sets out to consolidate and improve that provision across schools should be welcomed.
I have to say that it would be impossible to debate careers provision as an MP who was elected in 2010—as I am—without stopping for a moment to lament the vandalism to careers education that took place under the 2010 to 2015 coalition Government. The Minister said that the Government had done well from a standing start, and goodness me, wasn’t it a standing start? The reality is that, between 2010 and 2015, the Government almost deliberately set out to set fire to careers provision such as it was. I think there were legitimate questions about the effectiveness of the Connexions service, but it was scrapped without any serious replacement and then Ministers celebrated—in preparing for this Bill, I looked back at some of the debates we were having in 2010—that the £200 million saved by shutting Connexions would prevent further cuts to the schools budget. It was really an extraordinary approach that, as I say, was an act of vandalism that left a whole generation of schoolchildren without careers provision. I am glad to hear from the hon. Gentleman that this idea is now utterly rejected.
Just on the point of the 2010 changes, I was working in schools at that time and I would like to point out that there was an emphasis on apprenticeships and skills, and moving toward students for the first time being put into jobs. I organised apprenticeship fairs, and I worked with schools that for the first time were actually trying to help children in low educational attainment areas to find careers. I found that the challenge, while we were there promoting apprenticeships, was that the schools only wanted to send children to university. So I do believe that the 2010 shift was a positive shift towards apprenticeships and skills.
Order. Interventions should be quite short and a question.
The thing that the hon. Member sets out that is welcome is this shift—[Interruption] if she would listen to me—towards apprenticeships. I entirely support that, but I think that getting rid of professional careers advice and moving to a “let the schools decide” model actually did the opposite of that. I think it meant that the rather narrow environment that sometimes exists in schools became the very prevalent one, and I am going to reflect on that in more detail.
As I was saying, the Government’s approach was born of an idea that careers guidance could be provided by a child’s parents or their parent’s networks. Young Jonny could go and do a week in the City with his father’s firm. It bore no relation to the reality of what that meant to children whose parents did not have those networks. It was a move that kept children in their place, with work experience becoming voluntary or something additional for schools to do, rather than an integral part of supporting children to leave our schools ready for the world of work.
The Bill is narrow in scope, but it is an opportunity to discuss what the Government’s commitment to the nation’s young people and employers should be. As the hon. Member for Workington expressed, as is often the case, much of the Bill will end up being what is in the guidance, rather than what is on the face of the Bill. It is an opportunity for the Government to ensure that they put in place the mechanisms to make the rhetoric about quality and breadth a reality.
Labour believes very strongly that every child should be able to expect quality work experience that opens their horizons and is assessed not just on whether they are safe, but on whether it helps them to experience the wonderful world of work. That means much more than what many of us as parents have seen with our own children, which is a letter home from school saying, “Work experience fortnight is coming up. Go and sort it out and get the employer to fill out this form, so we can assure ourselves that no one is going to die while they are away from the school.” It is about much more than safety. Work experience should not just be “go to work with mum or dad week”, which is what it so often is around the country. The milkman’s son helps his dad on the milk round for a week, while my lad sits in my office upstairs helping an MP. All that happens is that children repeat the experiences they have been hearing about around the breakfast table for the previous 15 years.
I therefore welcome the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer has sought to go further, announcing a bold offer that will be introduced by the next Labour Government. It will include the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of compulsory work experience to connect young people with local employers and build the skills needed for work, ensuring that every child has access to quality careers advice in their school by giving every school access to a professional careers adviser once a week.
One crucial point made earlier is that careers guidance is a profession. It is not an add-on to the deputy headteacher’s job, but a career in its own right that needs respecting. There are many fantastic teachers and school leaders, but often their horizons and experiences are narrow. Many people have been schoolchildren, university students, and then schoolteachers and school leaders. How is that an appropriate background to lead careers guidance? We need people with a breadth of understanding of the many different careers out there. How likely is someone with that kind of background to introduce children to the multitude of different opportunities and alternative paths that follow post-school?
The point Joy Morrissey just made is very important. If the experience in many schools has only been going to school, university and then back to school, and if those schools feel that Ofsted wants to judge them on the number of people who go to university, then of course if we put school leaders in charge of careers guidance we should not be surprised if that guidance ends up being, “Get yourself into our sixth form and stay there; don’t look at apprenticeships or any of that.” I agree with her point.
In defending the abolition of professional careers guidance back in 2013, Lord Nash said in another place:
“That is why we gave responsibility for securing careers guidance to schools. They know their pupils best and can tailor provision to their individual needs.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
What happened was precisely what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield says. Some schools carried on providing a great service, but in many cases schools got as many pupils as possible into their sixth forms, perhaps because they wanted to stuff their sixth form with students or perhaps because they did not have the experience to know what other opportunities were out there. There was an idea prevalent at the time that it was all about university and that apprenticeships were a second-rate option. That is very much not the approach the Labour party takes.
What Lord Nash’s advice meant in practice was that for many children careers guidance and work experience all but disappeared. The legacy of that disastrous approach was that even before the pandemic almost 800,000 young people were NEET—not in education, employment or training. The Government now say—I am sure they are right, because I hear the same thing—that employers tell them that too many young people leave our academic institutions unready for the world of work. We welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Workington is attempting to work with Government to address some of those mistakes and the missed opportunities that previous Administrations have been responsible for. He has our full support, as do the Government. We think that the Bill is a useful first step in ensuring that we have adequate careers guidance for school-age pupils.
From the perspective of the Minister’s response to the amendments, we very much agree that the Bill is a standing start, but we think that the Government need to go further. As he knows, we proposed a number of amendments, and supported amendments from the other place, during the passage of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill that would have done precisely that.
As my hon. Friend Stephen Morgan said in the House earlier this week, according to Parentkind’s “Parent Voice Report 2021”, just half of parents believe that their school offers good careers advice. As has been mentioned, the CBI survey in 2019 said that 44% of employers felt that young people were leaving education not work-ready. It is vital that children and young people receive the highest quality of independent and impartial careers guidance, setting out the full array of opportunities available to them.
As many hon. Members will be aware, the Labour party recently supported the Baker clause during the passage of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, and, as that Bill returns from another place, we will continue to advocate for Ministers to adopt such a rigorous approach to careers guidance to ensure that young people have the opportunity to access it from a range of sources. It is a real shame that the Government removed the Baker clause in another place and in Committee in this House, because it has real value.
All too often, an academic route has been the default option put forward to pupils. Of course, that is a worthwhile endeavour for those seeking to undertake further academic qualifications. We in the Opposition salute and celebrate our universities as a huge national strength and asset, but it is crucial that vocational opportunities are available for all, not just those who do not go to university. They should be seen not as a secondary option for those who choose not to go to university, but as something for A-grade students to consider, too.
It is important that all students are aware of the full range of options open to them. That is why we think there is real merit in ensuring that a range of organisations and institutions get the opportunity to go into schools and engage with pupils throughout their school journey, and that Ofsted rigorously investigates the careers provision at school and ensures that all pupils are aware of the range of options that might be suitable for them. It has been suggested that no school that has poor careers provision should get an “Outstanding” from Ofsted, and that that idea has real merit. If a school’s careers provision is poor, how can its overall education be seen as outstanding?
In my Front-Bench role, I regularly meet and visit companies across all sectors of our economy that have incredible apprenticeship programmes for young people. Too many young people, however, have no idea what an apprenticeship is or any belief that they would be able to access one, and have no idea how they can progress through a technical route. We believe that apprenticeships should be the gold standard for vocational and technical education. We are exploring ways to extend apprenticeship opportunities, particularly among those aged under 25.
We very much welcome the Bill’s central purpose— to ensure that academy provision is held to the same expectations as state-funded schools—but it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about what that means for the freedoms that academies enjoy. Those of us who were here in 2010 can still remember the messianic zeal with which Michael Gove extolled the freedoms that schools that converted to academy status would enjoy.
Labour’s approach at the last general election was to say not that all academies should convert back into being under local authority control, but that parental expectations and accountability should be the same whether the children are educated in an academy or in a state-maintained school. The Bill seeks, in the sphere of careers guidance, to impose exactly that kind of responsibility on academies, and we welcome that. That is a departure from the approach the Government have taken previously with the majority of schools that were moving to academy status.
It would be good to hear from the Minister about where the balance now lies between Government-imposed expectations on academies, and the freedoms that academies can expect to enjoy. We rather prefer that sort of approach, but it is a departure from what the Government have previously said about academies. It would be good to hear a little from the Government about whether that signals a wider change of approach on the balance between freedoms and guidance.
In conclusion, the Bill is a welcome first step, but it by no means resolves the damage done over the past decade of Tory failures and inaction on careers guidance. I am happy to say that Labour believes the Government’s position is now better than it was in the past. We will continue to push them to go further, but we think there are steps in the right direction for careers guidance. I hope that in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, Conservative Members will look favourably on Labour’s amendment to the Bill in the coming weeks, as it enters Report and Third Reading and comes back from another place.
I was fortunate to speak in the Westminster Hall debate earlier in the week, and given the time constraints I will confine my comments to an area of careers guidance that I think has not been covered, and will not be covered by other Members. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson on introducing this important Bill.
We must recognise that during their lifetime most, if not all, young people will experience a period of self-employment, either running a business or contracting out their services. That trend is even more pronounced since the pandemic, with the number of new businesses started in the UK increasing by 14% in the first year of the pandemic. However, the skill set needed for self-employment and entrepreneurship is not taught in most schools. It is estimated that one in four Brits operate at least one side business alongside their day job, contributing an estimated £72 billion to the UK economy, and highlighting the importance of equipping young people with the skills they need to take the leap.
The journey starts in school, and research from the National Association of School and University Entrepreneurs has found that 73% of young entrepreneurs agree that the skills required to start and run a business can be taught. Many are in favour of teaching entrepreneurship in schools as an integral part of every college course that leads to a qualification that is preparation for self-employment, whether that is a course in hairdressing, catering or plumbing.
We must also more closely align our school core curriculum with the realities of the modern world of work. Robots, artificial intelligence, and automation are no longer reserved for science fiction movies, and they represent a fundamental shift in the skills our workforce need to improve productivity and compete in the modern globalised world. For example, research from McKinsey shows that 51% of job activities are highly susceptible to automation. We must increase our focus on what we are doing to prepare future generations to thrive in that changing landscape. Young people must be prepared with creative, collaborative and digital problem-solving skills for the future. The Government are right to recognise computer science as part of the core curriculum, but we must invest more to improve uptake and recruit teachers with the required skills. That is just one step we need to take to ensure that our schools teach the right curriculum for the future and not the past.
The two biggest employers in my constituency are the NHS—Stoke-on-Trent has a teaching hospital—and Bet365. One might not think that they have much in common as employers, but the NHS and the world’s largest online betting company are both dependant on digital platforms. The city council is right to have launched a prospectus called Silicon Stoke, which illustrates our understanding of and aspiration to harness digital innovation as a key driver for our economic success as a city. Schools have a duty to understand the way the world of work is heading. It is absolutely right that we have independent advice and guidance. I fully support all the intentions of the Bill, and I do believe it is absolutely necessary. On Tuesday, people reflected on their own experience of careers guidance, so I would like to share mine. I went to a state grammar school, where they just said, “You’re okay, you can go to university.” So I did not actually think about what I was going to be. It has taken me 65 years to achieve my full potential, so I am glad to be standing here today supporting this Bill.
It is a great privilege to be called so early in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me start by commending my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for this excellent Bill. I am a huge fan of careers advice in schools. He has done some great work since he has been in Parliament and this Bill is absolutely the right thing to do, so my congratulations to him for getting it through today.
I was at school once, believe it or not, many years ago. I was in a very good school in Guildford. I was probably a lost cause for most of it, but one reason why I scraped through was that it had a careers office. It was fantastic because it was a warm office in the old part of the school, there were lots of leaflets and newspapers in there, and it was where the students and the kids used to hang out when they were hiding from the headteacher. The important thing is that it was led by a chap called Mr Richard Mant, who was a very inspirational teacher. At the age of 11 or 12, I was absolutely inspired by him, and by the leaflets and articles I read in that careers office, and I went through my school years with an idea and a vision of what I wanted to do when I left school. Children who are exposed to that at the right age, from year 7, in accordance with the Bill, are at a massive advantage, because it sows the seed of what they might want to do later in life. As Steve Jobs proved so ably, if someone has a vision, they then bend their entire focus, hard work and work ethic into achieving it. Children being exposed at an early age to the whole panoply of what they might want to do when they grow up is really important. They may wish to be an accountant, Army officer, lawyer, politician, apprentice or electrician. It does not matter what someone wants to do, because all work is vital and valuable, but instilling that vision from year 7 is absolutely the right thing to do, and I once again commend my hon. Friend for his Bill.
I know that time is short, but I wish to use my last minute or so to commend the education provision in my constituency, which is fantastic. I have had the privilege over the past two years of visiting most of the schools in the constituency, both primary and secondary. The figures are amazing: 23 of the 26 schools in my constituency are graded “good” or “outstanding”. The education offer in Bracknell is fantastic, which is testament not just to the excellent education department at Bracknell Forest Council, led by Gareth Barnard but to the fantastic teachers and headteachers we have in the constituency. There is not a bad apple among them, and the offer is absolutely brilliant. Do I think this Bill would work in Bracknell? Yes, I do, 100%. Most of the schools there already have careers provision and excellent careers staff, but instilling this in law and compelling teachers and schools to provide it in year 7 is a brilliant thing to do. Kids in Bracknell, who already are very blessed with superb education, will benefit from this and, we hope, will aspire to great things as they grow up.
I know that time is short, so I will keep my comments brief. I wish to start by congratulating my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson on introducing this important Bill, which is now before us in its remaining stages. Giving every child the best start in life is a guiding principle of this Government’s approach to education here in England. Every child needs to have access to equal opportunity, and a good education is part of the vital armoury in ensuring that, building the foundations they need—confidence, resilience and commitment—to thrive in adult life. As we have heard from many Members in the debate on this subject last autumn and today, education is not just about reading, writing and maths—academic training. Schools can help children to develop their social relationships, emotional skills, identity and all-round wellbeing. Academic or cognitive development is essential, but so, too, is careers guidance and support in order for a child to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. We need an education system that not only focuses on academic or technical training but guides and supports children on their future career path. Good career guidance is a vital key to social mobility, and it is about showing young people, whatever their family or social backgrounds, the options open to them, helping them make the right choices for them and setting them on the path to a rewarding future.
I also want to highlight the need for more people from a variety of careers and a business background to come into our schools and talk to our young people about their careers. We might have to look at some kind of voluntary umbrella organisation in order to really encourage people to take that step. There is no doubt that careers advice and support is crucial, and the Bill will see that such advice is offered independently to all pupils from year 7 onwards.
I will not dwell on the intricacies of the Bill, but I highlight the fact that the Department for Education is supporting a range of measures to ensure that all students choose a career that is right for them, including the Baker clause, which stipulates that all schools and academies must publish a policy statement setting out opportunities for providers of technical education courses and apprenticeships to visit schools to talk to all pupils and to make sure that the policy is followed. The “Skills for Jobs” White Paper aims to improve compliance with the Baker clause through the introduction of a three-point plan, by creating minimum legal requirements and taking more action to enforce compliance. The White Paper, coupled with the Bill, could transform the way in which we provide careers advice and guidance to young people across England.
I am delighted that East Sussex College in Hastings was part of the successful Sussex-wide application under the skills accelerator programme for a joint local skills improvement plan and strategic development fund pilot. I have been listening in to some of the LSIP virtual meetings to go through the various areas, including manufacturing and engineering, and it is fascinating to see the research and evidence that they have built up.
The “Skills for Jobs” White Paper sets out the Government’s blueprint for reshaping the technical skills system to better support the needs of the local labour market and the wider economy, and the skills accelerator is a core part of delivering that. The Bill will go a long way in supporting students with the advice and guidance they need to make reasoned and timely decisions to help them into the world of work. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Workington for bringing forward his Bill, because this is such an important aspect of education.
I was really delighted to learn that the Government agree with my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson that parity is needed across all secondary and further education providers in giving our youngsters the best possible start in life.
My constituency has produced a lot of talent—many amazing people—over the centuries. In fact, it was the birthplace of the industrial revolution. Now, however, it has a much higher proportion of challenges, with young people not in education, permanently excluded and not in employment. But Dudley has the ability to find a way, and it is doing so. Even though in recent years the council has had some difficult challenges to overcome with its own education department, Dudley has resilience and an innovative way of getting round problems. I have mentioned before in the House the Priory Park boxing club, which has been helping kids who have been excluded from mainstream education. Too often, such children are written off by our society.
Much like the Government, Paul Gough, who runs the club, has said that enough is enough and change is needed—no more talking shops but action. With the support of the council leader, Councillor Patrick Harley, Paul has agreed to support a new school in Dudley in partnership with the club. They want to ensure that these young people get academic qualifications as well as increased strength, belief and confidence and, therefore, opportunities for the future in their lives. These youngsters will be able to pursue worthwhile careers; they will have a future.
A year ago, during Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agreed to visit the school when it was up and running, and I very much look forward to welcoming him to show him the incredible opportunities that the right kind of guidance and support can give to the next generations.
Would it not be great if one of the alumni of the new school, in some decades to come, were perhaps to become a Member of Parliament, or, indeed, a Dudley Prime Minister of this country?
I commend my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for this amazing Bill. I was not able to speak on Second Reading because I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Education, but I was sitting on the Benches cheering him to the rafters from inside. I know how important the Bill is and how important education and guidance are for our young people.
From having visited schools in deprived parts of my constituency, I saw that people often moved to Guildford for its amazing education. I must acknowledge the wonderful schools that we have within both the mainstream and the independent sectors, but I have none the less visited schools where children’s aspirations are not as high as they should be. Even though we have the wonderful University of Surrey, the Surrey research park and wonderful links to those schools, children do not always see such education as a possibility for them. I speak from my own experience. Without careers guidance at school and universities coming in, I would never have gone to those sessions because I did not think that university was for me. Nobody had been to university in my family. My father worked in a family business, but we were told not to go into it because it was third generation and all the cousins would fall out with each other. When I was in the equivalent of the sixth form, my mother was actually at school with me, as an adult student, trying to get some qualifications, so that she could restart her career after being at home looking after children for a very long time.
I understand personally how important it is not only to get the right guidance at school but to overcome family obstacles, especially when it is perhaps not an option to look at going to university. I encourage my wonderful colleges in Guildford to have links with those schools, especially as we want technical qualifications and technical education to have parity of esteem with other education. Apprenticeships and skills are just as important for young people as university education. It is important that we do this for all secondary schools, and it is also important for me as a parent of three teenagers, one of whom is in special education because he is on the autism spectrum. It is important that he has not only a good education but a range of things that are available to him and that he is encouraged to do, so that he is trying not just to get through the education years and achieve the best qualifications that he can but to think constructively about the future and what he might be able to achieve in his life.
In the “Skills for jobs” White Paper, published in January 2021, the Government are trying to bring forward careers hubs, digital support, careers leader training and the enterprise adviser network to all secondary schools in England. This private Member’s Bill, as it will succeed on Third Reading, will be a huge part of the Government’s wider agenda for young people in our schools.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson on bringing forward this Bill. As a former governor of a primary school, a chairman of governors of a further education college, and a governor at an autistic school, I have seen at first hand how important it is to ensure that children up and down this country understand the opportunities that they have. Part of our role as elected Members of this House is to make sure that children appreciate that they have opportunities that others around the world may not have. It is always a stark reminder when I am told that about 75% of women in the world are illiterate. For us, that should be a crying shame.
I was not able to attend my hon. Friend’s debate in September, but some of the statistics that he shared about careers advice were quite profound and, I think, encouraging:
“More than 3,300 business professionals from local businesses are working with schools and colleges as enterprise advisers to strengthen employer links. Almost 3.3 million young people are now having regular encounters with employers, which is up 70% in two years.”—[Official Report,
My parents’ generation would have had a career for life—one job, one industry. The reality of technology and the global world we now live in means that children leaving school, university or technical college today are likely to have multiple different careers. Guidance from professional careers advisers is fundamentally important. It can give them the confidence to make those brave decisions. It can help them to understand the value of soft skills, such as wearing a tie or suit when they go for their first job interview, shining their shoes, turning up on time and being professional—skills that they may not necessarily have been accustomed to or shown in their home environment.
One thing that I am really proud of in South West Hertfordshire is the quality of education. I cannot claim credit for that, but I have some amazing schools and teachers. Irrespective of our local education provision, none of us can rest on our laurels. If we do not continue to strive forward, we will quickly be outpaced by other parts of the world that rightly put a focus on education. The competition for our students of today is not from neighbouring towns or cities; it is from global rivals, who are potentially also friends. We need to fully equip young people, students and loved ones, to be the global leaders of tomorrow. I am conscious of time and I know that some great colleagues want to speak in this debate, so I will leave it there.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak on this important Bill, and I commend my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for his immense efforts to secure its safe passage.
When I was at school and college, some of the best careers advice that I received was from my dad, and it is thanks to his wisdom and support that I found my way. He did not tell me what to do; it was quite the opposite. He told me I needed to set myself apart from everyone else my age going to university and graduating at the same time. I had absolutely no idea what that meant or how I was going to do it, but somehow I did.
I secured work experience when I was at college, first in a primary school and later with my local MP, and then I knew exactly what it was I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to get a job with that MP—the previous Member of Parliament for Dudley South, Chris Kelly—and that gave me such great experience when I was at university. It was essentially like doing a very expensive apprenticeship, where I paid out more than I earned.
Not everyone who has parents who can advise them about the industries that they are interested in, or the world of work in general. None of my family had anything to do with politics. In my constituency of West Bromwich East, I have seen some fantastic examples of careers advice at the forefront of a child’s progress in the education system, but access to high-quality careers advice from a young age is still something of a postcode lottery and varies greatly from school to school. Aside from implementing many of the proposals in the skills White Paper, this Bill will require secondary schools to start setting out as early as possible the future education, training and careers options that will be available to their students, in line with the Gatsby benchmarks of good career guidance, which apply from year 7 to year 13. I fully support that approach.
Last year, I co-chaired a report for the Skills Commission about the difficulties young people face when they attempt to navigate the careers maze, and we set out nine recommendations for achieving a longer-term career strategy in this country. I thank Policy Connect for the opportunity, and I thank my co-chairs Lord Jim Knight and Dr Siobhan Neary for their hard work. School is not just about achieving good academic results; it is also about crafting the people that we want to be, and inspiring young people. That is why last year, I hosted an online event with Ben Francis, founder and chief executive officer of Gymshark, to give young people from West Bromwich the opportunity to learn from a local lad from the west midlands who used his wages from Pizza Hut to develop what is now a unicorn, with its headquarters in the constituency of my hon. Friend Saqib Bhatti.
To conclude, good careers advice is so important. We need it to allow young people to explore their strengths and options, and to give them opportunities to have work experience and support from their school in doing so. I am proud to support this Bill.
It is a pleasure to speak again in this debate. While I was slightly premature in mentioning some of my family history, it goes to show the importance of careers advice, which my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson described as a torch to light the way—a compass to help guide young people. That is very apposite, and I passionately believe it.
My careers advice slightly contrasted to that of my hon. Friend James Sunderland: it was given by a very lovely lady, an elderly French teacher, who I do not think had done anything apart from teach her whole life, in what was formerly a cupboard in the school I attended and consisted mainly of leaflets—it was not a place to hide from the headmistress, either. However, we do it a lot better now, and I absolutely commend my hon. Friend the Member on for this Bill, which will make careers advice even better and—crucially—more consistent across the board, which I think is what we all want to do for young people across this country. I am very determined to do that in Bishop's Stortford, Hertford, Ware and Sawbridgeworth, because although we are blessed with fantastic schools and fantastic careers advice, we should never sit on our laurels. Heads in parts of my constituency, particularly in and around Bishop’s Stortford, have said how much they believe we should consider a further education college in Bishop’s Stortford. I am being slightly opportunistic in mentioning that with the Minister present: it is something that we will be looking to speak with him about in future.
I am also a big advocate for apprenticeships. My brother took a different path from me: he did an apprenticeship with a local engineering company, and has gone on to become a pilot in the United States. Both routes are absolutely valid, and both are so important to realising young people’s potential. To refer to comments made earlier, if a young person can think of a path early in life, or even know to keep their options open, that is good advice. It is also important to consider the soft skills that careers advice can help young people build. That can direct what A-levels they might do or whether they go for an apprenticeship. Learning soft skills can be incredibly valuable in determining where they go and what they do, and in giving them an all-round education.
I will not take up much further time, but I am grateful to speak in this debate. I am a big advocate of my hon. Friend’s Bill, and I commend him for it. It seeks to provide greater consistency and quality of careers guidance in all types of secondary schools. It champions alternative routes of education, and ultimately, I think it will help to improve the life chances of children across this country.
Like my hon. Friend Julie Marson, I launched into my Third Reading speech a little prematurely—it was very good, but I do not want to spoil Members too much. What I will say is that I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for having introduced this Bill. What it is doing is so important: education is the silver bullet, the tip of the spear. As the shadow Minister, Mr Perkins, said, it is about aspiration; it is about social mobility; it is about opening up horizons and telling the next generation that what is expected of them is not necessarily what they have to do—that they have options and can look at different things. It is also about understanding that young people learn differently, and about getting in early on that in year 7, rather than asking them to make big life choices at that drop-dead point of A-levels: “Are you going to go into further education or are you going to go into something technical or vocational?” It is about giving them a broader perspective on things.
I have seen that work well in my Heywood and Middleton constituency. I am lucky to be served by Rochdale Sixth Form College and Hopwood Hall College for further education. It would be entirely remiss of me not to put on record my thanks to Julia Heap, the principal of Hopwood Hall, and Richard Ronksley, the principal of Rochdale Sixth Form, for their constructive working relationship and the way they identify students who may not be in the correct educational pathway and help them to move into a more appropriate area.
We have mentioned apprenticeships, so I, like everyone else, put on record my enthusiasm for them. I also mention the apprentice in my constituency office, William Lee, who is a great young man. I encourage anyone who is thinking about their future to look into an apprenticeship, because it is an incredibly good way to get ahead and learn about something new and exciting. With that, I will finish so that other hon. Members have time to speak.
I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to talk about careers advice generally. I applaud my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson, who has applied his energy and skills to try to genuinely transform the lives of children and young people, including those of Stroud.
Many people around the country will have had chequered experiences of careers advice in their lifetime. Unfortunately, unless children are lucky and in a fancy-pants school, where successful parents are paraded regularly to tell them about their jobs, they genuinely rely on their school, parents or people on their street to learn about opportunities, which is not a recipe for greatness, brilliance or options.
I remember that my careers advice was a short discussion in an art class about me becoming an air hostess. I made the wrong choice—it is a wonderful job and it would definitely have broadened my worldwide horizons, because I basically chained myself to a desk trying to become a lawyer for years. That narrow discussion meant that I did not have the guidance to make good choices at A-level and I did not go to university—it goes on. We will never know what would have happened if that discussion had been different. I might not be here; I might be doing something better.
It irks me that nobody—but nobody—told me that there was a job called cat scientist. I found that on the telly when I was watching a programme about people following cats around. I would have been a brilliant cat scientist—cats have been training me for that job for years—which just goes to show that we do not know all the opportunities until we get careers advice. I applaud what the Government are doing in backing the Bill.
Stroud has a growth hub in the college that brings employers, businesses and the local enterprise partnership right to our learners, which is exactly what the Government are trying to achieve with the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. All MPs on both sides of the House can do more. When we go out to meet businesses, we should do those little clips to say, “This job is available,” or, “There’s this company that you could create.” I am trying to put together a programme called ambitions, where I do little interviews, which I will build up. Young people will probably not want to watch them, but they will be there as an option to provide more opportunities for learning.
The 2019 Augar review was clear that we need to put more money into careers advice and more opportunity. The Government are now listening. My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope was absolutely right to focus on quality earlier and I was encouraged by his comments and the Minister’s response. Schools and parents have been desperate for these changes for years. I do not agree with the shadow Minister, Mr Perkins: the Labour Administration’s focus on getting 50% of children into university meant that, for years and years, they forgot about the 50% who were left over, which unfortunately meant that their opportunities and options were ignored.
Ministers have stepped up with the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill and in support of this Bill today. The Government have appointed Sir John Holman as the independent strategic adviser on careers guidance. Most importantly, the narrative of the country is completely changing for our children and young people, so that technical education, further education or getting a job straight after school is not a poor choice. All those things are available to us, in addition to university, so I welcome the Bill, which will do so much to achieve that.
I will follow on from the contribution of my hon. Friend Siobhan Baillie on why these things matter. They matter so much for young people who do not come from a wealthy area or background or have wealthy parents who will not be taught in school how to enter a certain profession. In many schools in London and urban areas in particular, there is a complete lack of clarity about going into law, accounting, finance or any kind of professional degree. Time and time again, I saw how those in academies, those not in education, employment or training and those falling through the cracks who had been put into special education were not given any skills to navigate towards a career or any future at all. I watched talented, intelligent young people fall by the wayside, join gangs and disappear off the radar—often into prison—because no one had ever given them guidance saying, “Here’s what you need to do. Here are the steps that you can try to follow.” I welcome the Bill, because it addresses some of the inequalities that I saw again and again.
This memory will never leave me. I mentored a young woman, and I thought, “How hard will this be?” but I could not navigate the system through an academy for her. She was from an immigrant background, and none of her family had ever been to university, and the whole school failed her. Everyone in her programme apart from her left school at 16 with no qualifications. Many of them are now in gangs, but despite the odds she has persevered and she has succeeded.
I did everything in my power to try to help and assist her, and that experience made me realise that the system was broken. If somebody who does not come from the right background but has all this talent, skills and abilities cannot navigate the system, that system needs to change. I thank the Minister and the Government for addressing this issue and I thank my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for bringing the Bill together and fighting in the House for children and those who have no voice.
I will be brief, because I spoke to the amendments earlier. I feel strongly about the Bill and applaud my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for bringing it to its Third Reading. First, although I represent the Welsh constituency of Clwyd South and the Bill applies only to England, the Welsh Government can learn much from it. Secondly, my hon. Friend made a vital point about pockets of deprivation—that is very much the case in my constituency—and better careers guidance is extremely important for young people from those areas.
Thirdly, the point was made about 50% of children going to university—my two children are currently at university—and 50% not doing so. Careers guidance is of even more importance to those who do not go on to university, because those such as my children can delay career decisions while at university, but those going down a different route cannot.
My hon. Friend also mentioned enterprise advisers, of whom there are now 3,300, and the big increase that we have seen in them. I feel strongly about that. I have seen with my own children how mentors from business play a massively important part in giving them aspiration and ambition as to what they can achieve. It also works both ways, as, importantly, it binds enterprise, business and other communities with education.
One point not made perhaps as much as it should have been is about the particular importance of careers guidance as we come out of the pandemic, which has thrown the lives of young people into disarray; I have seen that with my own children. Careers guidance is therefore extremely important, particularly for the most disadvantaged. My hon. Friend also mentioned that people do not necessarily know what their careers will be, so careers advice is important in helping them come to that decision.
Finally, I am pleased that the Bill will not only extend current requirements but include children in year 7, which I gather means 650,000 extra pupils. Careers advice is extremely important in informing and affecting young people’s decisions about what they will go on to study. It gives me great pleasure to strongly support the Bill on its Third Reading.
What a pleasure it has been to take part in this debate. We have had some medieval history from me, some family history from my hon. Friend Julie Marson and some personal and socialist history from Opposition Members—or the Opposition Member, I should say.
We all thank my hon. Friend Mark Jenkinson for this excellent Bill, which will improve a lot of young people’s lives. That is what we are all here to do. The Government are fully committed to education and to careers education and guidance, which is an essential underpinning of our reforms. It has been clear at every stage that the Bill has cross-party support and co-operation, and I genuinely thank Mr Perkins for his party’s support during the Bill’s progress.
We are at an important juncture for skills reform in this country, and I thank my hon. Friends for supporting the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which will soon return to the House on Report. The careers work we are pleased to be doing with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington underpins a lot of that Bill, and it is wonderful to hear my hon. Friends cite great examples from their constituencies for us to dwell on.
My hon. Friend Joy Morrissey made a powerful speech on what happens in alternative provision settings. These young people, on whom so much rests, have too often been forgotten. The most important piece of careers advice I ever heard was on a visit to an alternative provision setting in Wandsworth about 12 years ago. It was a fantastic setting in which the headteacher had created a number of studios for practical vocational education: a car mechanic’s workshop; a hairdressing salon; a cookery school; and a bricklaying studio. The headteacher said to the gentleman who taught bricklaying, “Will you tell our visitor what your last job was? This is what you tell all the pupils.” And the bricklayer said, “I was an armed robber. I earned £10,000 on my last job and now I earn nearly £30,000 a year working here.” That was an extraordinarily valuable and inspiring careers lesson for young people to hear in such a setting.
We want to make sure that young people in all settings, regardless of their background, have access to high-quality careers education, which is what our reforms will do. We want to level up opportunity, and the reforms set out in our skills for jobs White Paper will give a genuine choice between high-quality technical and academic routes. It is vital that everyone has access to careers guidance of the highest standards so that they are well informed on what will happen afterwards.
We cannot overstate the importance of careers advice, and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions at this and previous stages. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington again on bringing this Bill to the House.
With the leave of the House, I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this debate and to the Bill’s previous stages. I will not take up any further time by naming them all, but I put on record my heartfelt gratitude to each of them.
I also thank the teachers and careers advisers who have taken the time to share with me their ideas for this important Bill. Their expertise and knowledge have been critical in helping to shape the Bill. Their input has been invaluable and has helped me to understand how we can better serve our young people, whether by raising their aspirations, providing direction or helping them to recognise their own talents. A better future is possible for our young people with improved access to the right support and guidance.
I also extend my thanks to the Minister, to his predecessor my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan, to the Secretary of State for Education and his Department and to the Opposition Front-Bench team, particularly the hon. Members for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) and for Hove (Peter Kyle), for their support throughout this process.
It was Benjamin Disraeli who said:
“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”
This Bill is true to the spirit of those words.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.