My Lords, as the former Master of Birkbeck, perhaps I may begin by saying just how delighted I was to hear the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Boothroyd about the Open University. I believe that every speaker in the debate will share her view about the unique value of the OU and the very special qualities of the part-time mature students who take its courses. Indeed, I recommend its courses to all Members of your Lordships' House. However, I hope that I can arrange a learndirect course for my noble friend on how to use her new laptop. Perhaps she would like to come to see me after the debate.
I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for raising this important matter and for doing so with great conviction--and, if I may say so, with wisdom. We have had a very good and most stimulating debate. I am also grateful to all the speakers who have taken part.
Learning is fundamental to our future prosperity. We can no longer rely on a small eilite: we need the creativity, the enterprise and the skills of all our people to achieve economic growth, social justice and a civilised society. For many people this means overcoming past experiences that have put them off learning. It means recognising and developing their talent, often for the very first time.
That is the vision that we set out in our Learning Age Green Paper four years ago. Since then, I believe that this Government have done more than any other to lay the foundations for a learning society. We have raised standards in schools and have encouraged more young people to stay in learning. I believe that we have reached out imaginatively to engage adults with poor skills and qualifications and established a framework for raising standards in learning beyond education.
However, I should like to say how much I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and, indeed, with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who said that what we are about here is learning to learn. We are also concerned with those other three Rs: resilience, resourcefulness and reflection.
As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, an understanding of international development and the global world is important. As he rightly pointed out, the introduction of citizenship in the national curriculum is important in that regard. Many link-ups are being established between schools in the UK and the rest of the world. Recently in Cambridge I witnessed middle school pupils making important links with schools in Ghana. The pupils enjoyed that enormously.
The work of the new Learning and Skills Council will be central to the delivery of our strategy. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, does not support that important reform because the council integrates for the first time the planning and funding of all post-compulsory education and training outside higher education. It will have significant new resources for its work. In 2005 its budget, excluding the total for school sixth forms, will be £6.4 billion. Therefore, there will be substantial extra resources going into further education. That is just part of the extra investment this Government are making in lifelong learning. By 2003-04 investment in higher education will total over £7 billion as a result of the extra investment that we have provided. In addition, we shall invest substantially more through the University for Industry, individual learning accounts and other initiatives to promote adult learning.
I must defend my noble friend Lord Puttnam. He referred to the substantial extra investment that this Government have made in education across the board. I believe that he mentioned the additional £540 per pupil that has been provided since 1997. Of course, he is right that more is needed, but the Prime Minister has pledged that if we win the election we shall provide further increases in funding for education. I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch, that we are spending more as a proportion of GDP on education. The figure was 4.7 per cent in 1996-97. In 2001-02 it will be 5 per cent. It is projected to rise to 5.3 per cent in two years' time. We should acknowledge those improvements and those changes.
The Learning and Skills Council will build on achievements in our schools, as a number of speakers have rightly indicated. My noble friend Lady Massey was quite right to suggest that those who achieve most during their years of compulsory schooling are most likely to remain lifelong learners and to realise their full potential in their jobs and in the wider community. That is why our focus on raising standards in schools is so crucial. Last year primary schools delivered the best ever results in literacy and numeracy tests following the introduction of our new national strategies. More young people achieved five or more higher grades at GCSE. These are the returns on that extra £540 of investment per pupil since 1997.
We now intend to put in place new measures to promote diversity and higher standards in our secondary schools. The transformation of teaching and learning for 11 to 14 year-olds will ensure higher achievement at Key Stage 3, especially in English and Maths. However, I reassure my noble friends Lady Massey and Lord Puttnam that we are concerned with the wider aspects of learning and, of course, with support for teachers, as well as meeting our achievement targets.
We are encouraging all young people to go as far as their talents will take them. Social and economic disadvantage must no longer be a bar to learning. Over 90 per cent of young people from professional families stay in education after the age of 16, compared with only 60 per cent from semi or unskilled families. We are determined to close that gap, to which my noble friend Lady Andrews referred. We have created clearer and more challenging learning pathways, both academic and vocational; broader A-level study; the new key skills qualification; and stronger vocational options from 14-plus with new vocational GCSEs, reformed modern apprenticeships and new foundation degrees. These reforms will help to make sure that we achieve our aim of 50 per cent of people going to university by the age of 30 compared with around 43 per cent today.
In driving up standards we also seek to raise aspirations and to overcome the poverty of expectation that has bedevilled so many families. That is why we are matching better opportunities with targeted support for those at most risk of dropping out or underachieving. The benefits of focused effort are beginning to show from Sure Start and our Early Excellence Centres Programme, from Excellence in Cities schools and from education action zones.
To keep 13 to 19 year-olds engaged in learning we shall provide advice and guidance through the one-stop Connexions Service. The incentive for young people in disadvantaged areas to continue learning provided by education maintenance allowances has produced a 5 percentage points increase in the proportion of 16 and 17 year-olds staying in education.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, adults who missed out on education and training earlier in life must no longer be disadvantaged relative to their better qualified peers. Our strategy to engage these adults tackles the barriers reported in the National Adult Learning Survey: low levels of prior attainment; lack of information; lack of attractive and accessible opportunities; and lack of resources. As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, there may be no such thing as a non-learner. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, many people's expectations about putting their potential to learn into practice are still far too low.
Basic skills are essential for further learning and for many jobs. As a number of speakers have said, up to 7 million people in England have poor literacy and numeracy skills. Our aim is to eliminate poor literacy and numeracy among adults, starting with a reduction of 750,000 in the number of those with poor basic skills by 2004. Our strategy, Skills for Life, was launched last month. By 2003-04 funding for the strategy from the department will reach £403 million a year. That is a massive increase.
New diagnostic assessment tools will help to identify learners' needs. New national standards, curricula and tests for literacy and numeracy have been published. Those teaching basic skills for more than six hours a week will receive intensive training. We are testing in 10 pathfinder areas radical improvements in the quality of the training and support delivered to learners to drive up standards. We are embedding basic skills training in a clear pathway of further learning, with a targeted approach for different groups. For example, for people without jobs, literacy and numeracy assessment and learning will form part of wider employment training.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, focused on people in prison. The Prisoners' Learning and Skills Unit will help offenders to improve their literacy and numeracy skills so as to improve their employment prospects on release. However, they also have to develop skills other than literacy and numeracy. The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Dearing, also referred to the importance of improving what we do for people in prison. They are absolutely right to say that there has to be a much greater emphasis on education in the prison regime than there has been in the past. I am grateful for their welcome of our initiative in that regard. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on the more specific point that he raised.
Good quality information, advice and guidance can help inspire and realise the desire to learn. We are therefore building a comprehensive system of local services and piloting free in-depth guidance services for the most disadvantaged. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that we shall focus on the challenge of those with learning difficulties, trying to match their needs to good quality provision.
We also want to increase the attractiveness and availability of learning. For many people, adult and community learning is the essential first step out of exclusion. We are proud that we have arrested the decline in adult education that was seen, I regret to say, in the 1990s. In November 1998 there were 1.1 million enrolments in LEA adult education, an increase of 50,000 on the previous year. This growth will continue. We have announced a record £167 million for adult and community learning. In providing these extra resources, we have listened to what people want--both learners and providers. The family learning, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred, is being encouraged through that funding.
A number of speakers have talked about the use of IT. We are exploiting the Internet and electronic media to create opportunities for learning which are more convenient in terms of time, pace and place for adult learners with work and domestic commitments. I entirely endorse what my noble friend Lord Puttnam said about the importance of those developments. We are piloting ways to close the digital divide through wired up communities in urban and rural areas. Over 1,000 UK online centres are contributing to our goal of universal access to the Internet by 2005 and of helping people to explore opportunities for learning. Around 5,000 more will be "live" by the end of 2002.
The University for Industry, whose board the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, chaired--I am most grateful to him for that--has created an e-learning network for people at home, in the workplace or at one of over 900 learndirect centres around the country. The 1.7 million searchers and 2.6 million callers to the learndirect website and helpline demonstrate the importance of information on learning opportunities and the extent of the potential interest in learning. This is encouraging for us all.
We are doing more than ever to provide financial support to adult learners. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, suggested that we had not made a proper start on individual learning accounts. I disagree. Over 950,000 individual learning accounts have been opened.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and my noble friend Lady Andrews mentioned the importance of learning in the workplace. We must not forget that. It is vital. The economic benefits to employers are now well proven. The Learning and Skills Council will work with a smaller, stronger network of national training organisations and with the University for Industry. I hope that they will persuade more employers to reap the reward of a well trained workforce and to gain recognition as investors in people. With the Small Business Service, they will offer extra support to those small firms which lack in-house resources for staff development.
No one mentioned the unions, but they, too, have shown that they can play an imaginative and constructive role in helping members to develop their skills to ensure their long-term employability. Over 2,000 union learning representatives, trained through the Union Learning Fund which we have introduced, are informing and advising their members about the importance of learning and the opportunities to take it up. We shall continue support for that fund.
Our strategy is to raise participation and standards of learning for everyone at every age. We need a nation that has acquired those basic tools for further learning and self-development which will see them through not a job for life but the prospect of movement both within and between jobs which will take place more and more.
Much has already been achieved in our schools, colleges and workplaces and in wider communities. But I am the first to accept that more still must be achieved to create the learning society that we all want to see. The Learning and Skills Council will lead that growing renaissance of our learning culture in partnership with employers and individuals. As an active, enabling Government, we shall continue to drive forward this agenda to build the learning society not just for today but to meet the demands of tomorrow in the knowledge economy of the 21st century.
I conclude by agreeing with my noble friend Lady Andrews and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that, above all, we have to convince people that learning is not a treadmill but that it is engaging, enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding for its own sake.