Education: Tomlinson Report

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 16th March 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills 2:30 pm, 16th March 2005

rose to call attention to the Government's response to the Tomlinson report and to ways in which more 16 to 19 year-olds can be encouraged to participate in education and training; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, the Tomlinson report on education for 14 to 19 year-olds was published in October last year. It proposes fundamental reforms to upper secondary education in this country. Those reforms are far-reaching and of great significance, yet no Statement was made in this House about the Tomlinson report; nor, when in February this year the Government published a White paper replying to that report, did we get a Statement or a chance to debate the issues.

It is for that reason that I have chosen today to offer a debate to the House. It is appropriate that we debate this report of very considerable significance. One of our educational leaders in this country, John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, described it as having missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

Why do we need to look at reform of 14-to-19 education? As everyone knows, the Government boast of the increase in the number of young people gaining GCSEs at grades A to C, the equivalent of the old O-level. Some 53 per cent now get five good A to C GCSEs. In the old days, when O-level was introduced, it was assumed that it was appropriate only to those in the top 20 per cent of the intelligence quotient. Now, we have 53 per cent gaining that qualification. We must remember that, although 53 per cent gain five good GCSEs at grades A to C, 47 per cent do not. Of that 47 per cent, some gain lesser qualifications at GCSE, and others—a hard core of about 5 per cent of pupils—gain no qualifications at all.

When preparing for the debate, I looked up a volume—some of your Lordships may remember it—that was published just before the Government came to power in 1997. The author was Helena Kennedy, and the book was called Learning Works. It was about the further education sector. In the introduction are some words that we should remember when considering the provision of education for this group of children:

"In a system so caught up with what is measurable, we can forget that learning is also about problem-solving, learning to learn, acquiring the capability for intelligent choice in exercising personal responsibility. It is a weapon against poverty. It is the route to participation and active citizenship".

Although we may be proud of the achievements at GCSE, our participation rates in education and training at age 17 are low by international comparison. With 75 per cent of our 17 year-olds in education or training of some sort, we are 24th out of 28 OECD countries. Why? It is partly because of the poor school experience of some of those children. Many of the 47 per cent who fail to get their five A to Cs are bored by the 14-plus curriculum and demotivated from learning. GCSEs and A-levels were, as I said, geared to the academic curriculum, the top 20 per cent. Although they have been broadened, the academic still dominates. Is that suitable for the whole range of the population?

In the UK, England and Wales have traditionally failed to offer a coherent vocational route. As a consequence, vocational education has remained a second-class option. At a time when only 10 per cent of the age group went on to university—back in the 1960s and 1970s—apprenticeships and HNDs provided an alternative route into management and especially into the engineering and construction industries. However, now that 45 per cent of the age group go on at some point or other into further and higher education, we still lack people who are qualified technically and practically in those skills. There is a fantastic skills shortage in many areas. It is for that reason that we need to provide a coherent framework of education that embraces the vocational and the academic.

In any case, there are many who have been discontented even with what we have. As your Lordships will know, businesses complain about the lack of ability among school leavers to speak or write good English, about failures at spelling and about the lack of ability in basic numeracy. Others, including many universities, see A-levels as offering too narrow a curriculum in sixth forms. We are the only country in the world where 17 and 18 year-olds staying on in education are encouraged to narrow their studies to two or three subjects, a trend that has been exacerbated by the tendency to widen the offering and add subjects such as psychology and international relations that, at one time, were seen as specialised university subjects not suitable for school study. Yet, at the same time, A-levels are not seen to be challenging pupils enough. Twenty-three per cent of those taking A-levels get A grades, making it difficult for the universities to distinguish the really bright from the bright.

Finally, we are an over-examined nation. Young people these days face SATS—externally moderated examinations—at 14, 16, 17 and 18. Is that really necessary? What are the effects on the narrowing of curricula? We have a narrow curriculum and just not enough time for other activities outside it in the community and creative sphere. There is too much teaching to the test. As the National Audit Office reminded us recently, it costs £610 million to administer those examinations.

So the Tomlinson report gave us a broad review. What did it recommend? It was, above all, an attempt to create a unified framework of achievement and qualifications post-14, based on four levels of a diploma or a graduation certificate. Everyone, or nearly everyone, who left school would take with them a diploma recording their achievements while at school, including sport and community service, work experience and skills, as well as academic achievements. The idea was that an advanced, or level 4, diploma, whether achieved by academic or vocational route, would have equal standing and provide the gateway to further, degree-level study.

The diplomas were to incorporate all existing exams, including GCSEs, A-levels, vocational courses and apprenticeships, in a common framework, with specific, age-related exams essentially to be phased out. There was to be a compulsory core of functional literacy, numeracy and ICT; an extended essay or practical project; and optional modules based on GCSE/A-level subject courses or vocational or specialist areas. Successful completion of courses was to be rewarded with credits that could be accumulated and stored and put towards the completion of a particular level of diploma. Pupils were to take courses and exams when they were ready for them, rather than at a set age, and were encouraged to mix and match vocational and academic courses.

None of that was to happen overnight. Proposals for phasing out A-levels and GCSEs ran through to 2014. It was matter of phasing in the new and phasing out the old. All levels of the diploma, except the advanced level, were to be assessed mainly by teachers rather than by exam boards, although a good deal of training for assessors was proposed. Electronic transcripts setting out pupil achievements in all courses and other activities would also be available for the A-level equivalent exams. An extended essay or research project would be required, and more testing questions also were to be a feature of that level.

The key feature of all the proposals was the unified framework that would provide a coherent career progression, whichever route was chosen. Modular credit accumulation would allow the mixing of different routes and allow those who wished or needed to take longer to achieve a certain level to be able to do so, even to be able to move out of the system for a while and re-enter it, retaining the credits from the courses that they had completed.

So what have the Government proposed? The headlines were grabbed by the fact that the Government decided to retain, rather than to phase out, GCSEs and A-levels. The Tomlinson report had proposed their phasing out by merger with the new diploma framework. The diploma framework is being introduced only for the vocational or work-based learning areas. Following Tomlinson, a number of specialised learning lines, such as health and social care, engineering, construction and the built environment, will be introduced. Initially, eight such learning lines, and eventually 14, will be introduced. The diplomas will have three levels rather than the four proposed by Tomlinson. His entry level, which would have given those with less learning a chance to leave school with some sort of record of what they did, is not to be pursued. The Government are proposing three levels. The foundation level is equivalent to the current NVQ level 1, which is basic introductory knowledge plus functional maths, English and ICT. Level 2 is equivalent to five good GCSEs, GNVQs, Modern Apprenticeship or BTEC at that level, with compulsory functional maths and English, achieving A to C in those subjects. Level 3 is equivalent to the current A-levels, BTEC or advanced Modern Apprenticeships. The specialist lines are aligned to the new sector skills councils, and the industry is to have a large say in training requirements.

Vocational education is to be delivered in schools alongside colleges and private training providers, and schools are to be encouraged to develop centres of vocational excellence. It is envisaged that schools and colleges will co-operate in providing different lines of specialist training, with the initial phase, the "young apprentice", beginning at 14, and allowing for work-based experience also to start at that age.

From her evidence in the Select Committee on 2 March, it is clear that the Secretary of State envisages a situation where different schools, colleges and training providers specialise in offering different diploma subjects along different lines, and that pupils who pursue a mixed curriculum of academic and vocational subjects may well be expected to travel around different campuses.

There will also be a general diploma framework to cover the GCSE route. As originally envisaged, this will acknowledge achievements in sports and community service, as well as academic achievements. Essentially, the Government have designated the diploma as the qualification for vocational training while retaining the GCSE/A-level brand for academic studies. Although, as the White Paper stresses, both will be valid routes into higher education, and there will be room for flexibility and mixing options from the two routes, and for movement from one route to another, this decision effectively retains, and even reinforces, the divide between the academic and vocational routes. That is why there is a good deal of disappointment. Creating a single qualification framework is seen as bridging that divide and getting away from the two-tier structure.

The Government have provided two ladders, one academic and one vocational. We on these Benches have long argued for a framework that we call the "climbing frame to learning", and moving up and across is an essential part of that. The problem is that, while these two ladders may be wide at the bottom, and even overlap a bit, as you go up them it becomes increasingly difficult to step from one to the other.

We should never underestimate the ability of the English to turn diversity into hierarchy. We have a wide diversity of institutions that serve the 14 to 19 year-old age group, and a wide diversity of students. The crucial factor is to find a way of fitting one into the other.

After much discussion, careful consideration and consultation, Mike Tomlinson put forward proposals that we on these Benches thought were not perfect, but were well worth developing and building on. Above all, we welcome the open framework that mirrored our proposals for this "climbing frame for learning", holding open doors and encouraging the learner always to try to climb a little further up that framework.

We believe that the key to making such a framework work is the adoption of some sort of modular credit-based system, where the student could accumulate, store and reactivate credit. It provides the basic level playing-field on which to build parity, at least in terms of credit units, if not of esteem—although esteem may well follow from that. Most importantly, it provides an incentive for the individual to make the effort to reach a little higher. Credits gained, for example, on a work-based training course, can be topped up by the individual by taking, of his or her own volition, an evening class or an e-learning course. It is worth doing this if there is some tangible qualification at the end.

I do not think the Government's proposals provide a satisfactory framework at present. There is too much in their thinking that seems to me to hark back to the world of the 1950s and 1960s, of a neat division of society between the academic, the technical and the secondary modern—a world in which we all knew, and were expected to know, our allotted places. We are moving on from that world. If we accept the Government's response as the beginnings of a new dialogue, rather than as the end of the affair, perhaps, when we have finished, we can get them facing forwards rather than backwards. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Labour

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for bringing forward this debate on a subject that is of major significance to the future of our country. I particularly congratulate the noble Baroness on her exquisite timing in having this debate follow today's magnificent Budget announcements, with extra funding for education that impacts directly on the subject matter we are discussing.

The analysis of the Tomlinson report is compelling, and its essence is encapsulated in one of its earlier paragraphs:

"We want to bring back a passion for learning, and enable all learners to achieve as highly as possible and for their achievements to be recognised. We must ensure rigour and that all young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for HE, employment and adult life".

I place particular emphasis on the word "all", and illustrate with a couple of local experiences why I believe this must be so.

About four years ago, we launched an event in Luton called "Celebrating Education". It was a public recognition across the town for young people who had achieved. Schools had their own awards day, and nominated a particular pupil for the town-wide event. This not only focused on those with the highest academic attainment, but included those, some with special educational needs, who, in their terms, had made real progress. The joy of their having succeeded, and the support and engagement of parents, were of special significance to me. "Celebrating Education" was part of the process of value in education, and I am pleased to say it is now an annual event.

Although at the other end of the spectrum from the 14 to 19 age group, I would also cite an event at a local nursery school where I had the privilege of presenting some certificates. In one case, I am not sure who was most excited and proud, the little girl or her mother. I heard the latter remark that it was the first time anyone in the family had received any award like this. It was as though she considered that it was not supposed to happen to families like theirs. We have to ensure that no individual or family feels excluded from the education system, and that every individual has the opportunity to reach their potential.

We have made huge progress in this country since the imperative of "Education, education, education" was first espoused by the Prime Minister. As acknowledged by the noble Baroness, primary results are at their highest ever level, and compare favourably internationally. Key stage 3, GCSE and A-level results are at their best-ever level. Record levels of investment have flowed into our schools, with more to come for building schools for the future, and yet more following today's announcement in that splendid Budget. Post-16 participation rates have increased, but we know that these do not compare well internationally, and that too many youngsters leave school without a basic grounding in English and maths.

If we changed nothing from the investment and strategies already in place, I have no doubt that most young people in our schools would continue to make further progress. But it is not good enough that only most young people make the best of their education. We want all young people to do so. We know that the current education offer to students means that some are precluded from succeeding, because the type of curriculum that would engage and excite them is absent. Switching off from education not only diminishes the life chances of the individual, but can percolate through the generations. Too often we see the malignant cycle of disaffection with the curriculum, bad behaviour, low attainment, lack of parental engagement with the school, and a rush from education at the earliest opportunity. We are already having to deal with the consequences of parents whom the system has failed in the past.

The Tomlinson report and the Government's response give us a genuine opportunity to change this. Neither should we accept that there is an inevitability about differential educational outcomes for students from different ethnic backgrounds. The situation we have locally mirrors the national position, with the relative position of some ethnic groups improving through the key stages, while for others it declines. The proposals in the White Paper will help because they focus more on the individual needs of the student and they build in flexibility on the timing of progression.

As the White Paper asserts, tackling these matters is both a moral and an economic issue. It is a moral issue because we have a duty to ensure that every individual is equipped to enjoy a full life, including access to higher education and employment. It is an economic issue because if we are to compete successfully in the global economy, we need to improve skills and to encourage the capacity and enthusiasm to learn throughout life. We should also recognise that we need to seek an enduring consensus on these matters if we are to deliver the change required for our young people. The Government's White Paper recognises that in building on the changes already taking place, it would still be 2015 before all the diplomas became a nationwide entitlement.

It has been said again today that the Government's response to the Tomlinson report was a missed opportunity, but I reject that assertion. Even though they have not adopted all the recommendations made, they have adopted its fundamental analysis of the issues that need to be tackled: getting the basics right, strengthening vocational routes, focusing on the needs of individual pupils, seeking ways to stretch and challenge, engaging employers in the design of diplomas and widening routes to higher education. They have also gone some way to responding to recommendations made about the burden of assessment.

However, there is divergence on the matter of the continuing role of GCSEs and A-levels. Tomlinson envisages these as ceasing to be freestanding qualifications and evolving to become components of the new diplomas. The Government's White Paper puts GCSEs and A-levels at the heart of the 14-to-19 agenda, but with some key changes. I wonder whether in practice and over time the difference in these two approaches is as wide as has been suggested. Tomlinson's diplomas include "open" lines of learning and retained opportunities for a combination of academic subjects similar to existing GCSEs and A-levels. What these are called is less important than ensuring that the programme can meet the needs of the individual student, encouraging progression and facilitating movement across the offering so that young people do not unduly narrow their options.

It is hugely important to ensure that the diplomas enjoy the same value and recognition as GCSEs and A-levels and that they offer the same opportunities to access higher education and employment. There is no inherent reason why they should not do so if the components of the diplomas are of high quality and relevance. In any case, an interesting debate for another day is to ask what in the modern world is vocational and what is academic.

I should like to make two further brief points. I note that the White Paper recognises the need for further work on how best to stretch the most able students. There is a hint that the international baccalaureate might offer one way of doing this. Noble Lords will be aware that the IB aims for breadth, depth and stretch, and there is a particular and welcome emphasis on international awareness, cross-cultural perspectives and caring about the world. I would be interested to learn where this approach sits in the current vision of the 14-to-19 agenda.

Secondly, we know that the prospects presented in the White Paper mean that not all schools and institutions will be able to offer the full entitlement to diplomas, GCSEs and A-levels and that the agenda will require increased co-operation and partnership arrangements between schools, colleges, universities and employers.

But these are genuinely exciting times for education, with a chance to build on the progress made to date and to tackle further the fundamental issues which have daunted us for too long.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has given us an opportunity to discuss Tomlinson. The same delight does not seem to have been experienced by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills when she addressed the conference of the Secondary Heads Association recently. The TES noted some extremely pungent comments:

"'It was just awful' . . . 'I found it patronising' . . . 'superficial' . . . 'I have never felt so disappointed and angry'".

No need for the barbed wire undergarments that day. Ruth Kelly must have had a hard time. A general reading of the education press suggests that the Secretary of State could do with a few friends when it comes to her proposals, so I offer myself as one.

I share her doubts about the idea of an overarching diploma. In the days of information technology and the ease of dealing with and presenting varied information, I do not think that we should seek to reduce a pupil's educational attainments to a single figure. A diploma made up of so many different elements to reach the same answer will be something that people pay no attention to because they will not know what it means. You have to give those who are expected to place value on these qualifications enough information about what the student has actually done and actually achieved.

The international baccalaureate is a wonderful qualification. It suits a particular kind of person—the kid who has the breadth of intelligence to tackle all that is required to do well in it. A-levels are wonderful for those who are more specialist. If you are a scientist or your joy lies in languages, or if you are maths blind but a really good historian, A-levels are absolutely for you. I share the wish of the Secretary of State to keep A-levels and, indeed, GCSEs as the foundation of our examination system. In spite of all the criticism, they are quality examinations and we should build on what we already have.

None the less, I am with Tomlinson and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in saying that we really need to move. In taking the 20-year view—this is a long process—we must look ahead to see what can be improved in order to tackle the well known problems of the divide between vocational and academic, over-examination and so forth. Immediate wholesale reform is not required, but we need a programme of reform, one that I hope to see shared as far as possible between the parties. We should give ourselves time to talk about it, certainly in this arena, in a relatively non-partisan way. We will then have a common idea of where we are going, ensuring that every time there is a change of government—may that be soon; apart from the sadness of losing the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, it would be a pleasure from many other points of view—we do not hiccup between one vision for education and another.

Some time ago we adopted the concept of lifelong learning. We have all agreed on its importance, but we have not adapted the examination system to go with it. Exams are too big a step to make lifelong learning easy. I wholly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that one should be able to add to qualifications as you go along. It should not be a two-year stretch to pass an A-level; there ought to be steps that can be taken along the way. Those steps ought to mean something so that, while they would not be the final examination, it should be possible to clock them up over time. One should be able to say, "I am half way to an A-level and I have taken a step to sign myself off. I will now work for a couple of years and come back to the A-level after that". That system would make examinations, if not modular, more like the music examination system. Students can take steps and do not necessarily have to do everything all at once. That would be a mark of progress.

I should like to see GCSEs regarded as a final examination, signalling that it is the last examination you intend to take in a particular subject, although you may go on to do other things. The curriculum is too bound up in the obsession with the academic and thus is overly defined by academics. That makes it pretty useless to anyone not aiming to pursue the curriculum to its higher levels. I have mentioned before that when taking my son through his GCSE maths revision, even though I have spent my life working with figures, I have not used three-quarters of what he had to learn. Yet I have used a whole lot of mathematics out there in the world which are never introduced at the GCSE level, but would be very useful to people.

Making the GCSE a final examination for those who are stopping at that point would give us some constructive changes to the curriculum and would allow those who want to go further to progress straight to AS-level. They would never take a GCSE in their subject, but would carry on studying until they reach the AS stage. Perhaps, as Tomlinson says, people should be able to take these exams when they are ready, whether early or late. People could build up a portfolio of AS-levels from subjects they have chosen to take seriously. That would allow them to be much wider in their choice of GCSEs—to go off and explore a GCSE in car mechanics or construction, or whatever it might be. Rather than being hemmed in, as they are at the moment, by a rigid set of choices, it would allow people to take fewer exams when they are right and ready for them. We can move to that within the existing structure, if that is where we agree it should go.

I am comforted by some of the little changes taking place at the moment, but the key thing we have to get right is university recognition of what we are doing. What killed the concept of AS-levels was that the universities did not pay any attention to them. They just looked at the A-levels; so, kids who had spent a lot of time getting extra AS-levels received no credit for that at all, and that concept is dead. As the TES said on 11 March in its article headed "Blocked routes to higher learning", there is still that problem with universities not recognising qualifications which are out there that we have created. That pattern has continued, all the way down. If we are to move to the broadening of 14 to 19 education, we must ask at least some of the universities to move to something broader too.

I have just published a book on US universities. It is extraordinary how broad their courses are. Almost all of them offer the liberal arts degree, which means that mathematicians will be doing languages and humanities.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour

My Lords, is there not some contradiction in what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is saying? Speaking as an academic, if the schools had more people with the IB, the universities would indeed take notice of that recognition and recruit people on a broad basis. Personally, I did a narrow A-level; it would have been a lot better if I had had a broader education. Giving people a broader education, as is done on the Continent, is highly beneficial. The noble Lord seems to have moved away from that tack in his speech.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am sorry if I appeared to do that. I think it is highly beneficial, but if we are going to create that in the 14 to 19 group we have to encourage universities to offer courses which keep the breadth. There will always be some who want to do physics—and go on to be nuclear physicists—or whose talents are narrow, but many people should be encouraged to keep the breadth. We need universities to come along with us in doing that. In terms of their product offering, there is at the moment no sign of them doing so. I do not believe we should rush into changes for the 14 to 19 group until we have the universities with us on this.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 3:43 pm, 16th March 2005

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, on securing this debate. From these Benches, I can say that we wholeheartedly supported the central aim of Tomlinson—and would have expected the Government to do so far more explicitly. The aim of breaking down the barriers between the academic and the so-called vocational pathways seemed to be at the heart of the government Green Paper which led to the Tomlinson report in the first place. I speak for schools all over the country, such as St Luke's in Portsmouth, which vocational GCSE programmes have helped to turn into the seventh most improved school in the country. That is not just in terms of hard and fast results, but also in atmosphere, ethos and character.

Why is all this so important? There seem to be two purposes of education; on the one hand, human flourishing and the fulfilment of human potential and, on the other hand, social prosperity and economic success. Both are important. Both contribute to a happier, better society. Both would be promoted by ensuring that vocational routes in education become as highly valued as academic routes.

The Government's response in the recent White Paper came as rather a disappointment. The decision to retain GCSEs and A-levels, largely for academic routes, but to introduce new diplomas for vocational routes misses the opportunity to break down the binary line between academic and vocational. I appreciate the particular desire of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to explore that further. However, as a result, vocational courses run the risk of being seen as second class. If that is the result, it is more than a disappointment. It is a missed opportunity to correct one of the persistent ills in British society. It will require of employers and higher education institutions much greater efforts to recognise the quality of the education many young people receive through non-traditional routes.

Then there is the place of religious education. There are aspects of the Tomlinson proposals which caused us some concern—more for what was not said than for what was. We might have expected the government White Paper to make up that gap, but in vain. Last year, Charles Clarke, when he was Secretary of State for Education, launched a new national framework for religious education. The Churches and the other faith communities had impressed him with their ability to work together with the government and RE professionals to agree on such a framework. The Government, in their turn, continued their commitment to religious education. The framework reinstates the requirement that RE is taught to all learners in school between the ages of three and 19—and that looks like being a very broadly based RE. I am not talking of a kind of narrow, conservative, Christian evangelical ghetto, but of something much broader.

We had hoped that Tomlinson, or at least the government White Paper, would have maintained consistency of approach by ensuring the entitlement of every learner in schools to RE in the crucial years beyond 14 and beyond 16. If they had been really consistent, they would have found a way to ensure that 14 to 19 learners also benefited from continuing religious education in some form or other. Many in further education colleges would welcome such a development, but I am afraid we were disappointed. References to religious education are scarce, and most were concerned with linking it with other curriculum subjects to make more time available for other activities. That is always the story when there is argument for a particular course.

Religious education is, these days, a fundamentally important part of the curriculum—and recognised as such by a dramatic increase in candidates taking examination courses. This, as supported by the statistics, is rather to the embarrassment of the old, tired secularist line. Perhaps I should not need to add that, as now conceived, RE contributes powerfully to the building of a more inclusive and cohesive society. We must act to prevent its disappearance in the new, post-14 environment.

Finally, the Tomlinson report had some interesting but tentative proposals about personal education. As with every self-respecting report, Tomlinson would have introduced another acronym to challenge the budding educationalist, CKSA: common knowledge, skills and attributes. I am afraid that we were able to give these only two cheers. We do get enthusiastic sometimes—two cheers, not one, but not quite three. The proposals, it seems to us, were an uncomfortable mix of functional skills, personal education and routes to becoming a responsible adult playing a role in the community. One tentative suggestion was that every student should have some kind of community engagement, whether helping young children to read or visiting elderly and house-bound people in their homes to help with some weekly chores. Many schools and colleges do have very effective community involvement. Such further developments would have been very welcome, even though demanding for schools and colleges to manage.

Rather than inventing the new name of common knowledge, skills and attributes, I would rather have seen this as an important part of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. That is fundamental to the British education system, and only recently reinforced in your Lordships' House through the passage of the Education Bill. Yet the Tomlinson proposals seem to be tentative and less visible in the White Paper—where personal education is mentioned, but not really highlighted.

Functional literacy, numeracy and "stretch" are of course important, but they emphasise the functional nature of the proposed changes. With the less than adequate treatment of religious education and personal skills in the White Paper response to Tomlinson, it seems that they add up to little more than a utilitarian package. Can we not, together, raise three cheers for human flourishing—and thus avoid the pitfall eloquently described by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, as "turning diversity into hierarchy"?

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench 3:50 pm, 16th March 2005

My Lords, like other noble Lords I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for giving the House a chance to debate the Tomlinson report and for the things she said. It is a pity that there was not a chance to debate it before but at least we now have the advantage of being able to discuss the Government's response at the same time.

In her foreword to the White Paper, the Secretary of State speaks of breaking down artificial barriers between academic and vocational education. She has correctly identified what needs to be done, and what, indeed, Tomlinson sought to do. But it seems to me that, sadly, her words introduce a rather timid and short-sighted White Paper.

The proposal in the Tomlinson report that would really have broken down the barriers referred to by the Secretary of State was to phase out GCSE and A-level as freestanding examinations and instead embrace a single overarching system of diplomas at four levels, each containing core (compulsory) and main elements to be chosen by students and tested and assessed when they were ready. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that this all-embracing system of diplomas—it is not just one diploma; it is a system of diplomas—would be meaningless. Indeed, I believe that it would be an extremely good and transparent system for seeing what the student has learnt and what he or she can do.

The great advantage of this system is that there would be no more blocks of examinations to be taken at fixed ages—16, 17 and 18. Pupils would accumulate credits for parts of each diploma as they were ready, and at 18 or 19 would have a set of diplomas that reflected what they had learnt along the way.

I must confess that for a very long time I have been an advocate of a system of student assessment by graded tests in both practical and theoretical subjects roughly modelled on—as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested—the Associated Board music examinations, where practical and theoretical aspects of the subject are tested separately, and where the tests—in this case grades I to VIII—represent approximately a year's work, but where there is no restriction whatever on the age at which they may be taken. They are marked on a scale from nought to 150, and the marks are blocked into fail, pass, merit and distinction. These are intelligible and well respected methods of assessment in that subject. Each graded test—this is an important point—presents the student with a new goal that looks attainable from where she happens to be, and therefore, motivation is sustained throughout.

Tomlinson's proposed system of four graded diplomas: entry, foundation, intermediate and advanced, each divided into separately assessed components, is an elegant and workable extension of the same principle across the whole curriculum, giving the same attainable goals and the same flexibility, to accommodate pupils of different ages, different levels of ability and different spheres of interest.

I must confess to having been optimistic at one stage when I first learnt what Tomlinson's proposals were likely to be. I hoped that at last the division between those who were doomed to fail—which is the majority of students—and the rest was going to be allowed to disappear. Students would now, as I hoped, all be able to have a diploma saying what they had done and could do in the future, and would all be motivated to achieve the best diploma in their chosen subjects, practical or theoretical. They could take pride in their work and their achievements, whatever they were. Sadly, I was too sanguine. What we have in the White Paper is a compromise, a dog's breakfast, with diplomas only loosely attached to the old framework of blocks of examinations at 16 and 18. GCSE will even, we are told, be strengthened—I believe that is the word which is used—and so erect a further fatal barrier to yet more students to alienate and demoralise them.

I well remember years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was in charge of education telling him about my bright idea for graded tests and the phasing out of GCSE and A-level. He said, "Oh, no, we could not possibly do that. A-level is, after all, the gold standard". The number of times people have said that A-level is the gold standard are uncountable, but it is even less true now than it was in the days when the noble Lord, Lord Baker, used that phrase, perhaps for the first time. The metaphor will not do any longer. A-level is not the gold standard because too many people pass it at too high grades and it has become useless for either of its functions; namely, as a school leaving certificate or as an entry to university.

I fear that the White Paper would, if it were implemented in its present form, change very little. If GCSE and A-level are to remain as freestanding structural parts of education progress up the school, we are stuck with the rigid distinction between the sheep and the goats. Long, long ago, after the Butler Education Act, we used to be told that there should be parity of esteem between secondary modern and grammar schools and between CSE and O-level. But parity of esteem will not come about and cannot be brought into existence just by a ministerial promise that it should be so. We need an education revolution to provide chances for those who are now at the bottom of the scale of esteem and who put themselves lower and lower by their lack of interest, lack of ambition, failure to see where they can go next and what the next immediate education step is for them.

I believe that Tomlinson promised something like parity of esteem, which has apparently been turned down. I hope, however, that we can treat the White Paper as a beginning and not an end. I wish I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, that there is not really all that much difference between what Tomlinson proposes and what the White Paper proposes. However, I believe that there is a huge difference and that that is a gap which we must fill somehow or other.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for bringing to our attention this very important issue. She again demonstrated in her opening remarks her passionate dedication to education and her wide knowledge. It is, as ever, a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

I want to talk about the importance of through learning—lifelong learning, if you like—from pre-school onwards as influencing access to education for 16 to 19 year-olds. There is much of value in the Tomlinson report. I note the vision to ensure that by 19 all young people should be able,

"to participate fully and effectively in adult life . . . be active citizens equipped to contribute to the economic, social, political and cultural life of the country as well as developing an understanding of the wider international community".

Yes, of course, but education is not simply about new structures. There is a lot of vision and many exciting initiatives in education, which encourage pupils to continue after 16 and, indeed, for life. I shall give two examples later; my noble friend Lord McKenzie gave others. I have taught children and young people from pre-school through to university and I know that, by and large, it is predictable from an early age which young people will succeed in education and will have the motivation to go on to post-16 education. That is sad, but true. So how do we change that?

I am reminded of the need to build strong foundations as I experience the restructuring of my house. Unless the foundations are deep enough and the various beams strong enough, not only will vicious cracks appear, but the whole structure may not last long. So it is with children and learning and motivation to learn. Things will only get better if we put in more effort lower down the education system. The Government's five-year strategy for children and learners aims to give every child the best possible start in life. That commitment to children and their education and welfare has permeated much recent thinking, and many noble Lords here today have contributed to that thinking. Sure Start has of course been a flagship programme, and there is good evidence from the Institute of Education that children who experience three years of high-quality early-years education boost their development at the end of key stage 2 by 10 months. Because Sure Start involves parents, it has an impact on their ability to cope with systems, to use systems, and to support their children. Many children need that support to pursue education at all levels.

The policies set out in Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004 are significant to much that is changing in the area of support for children and families. The commitment to establishing children's trusts, and the requirement for a single children and young people's plan in each local authority, will act as agents for change. Local strategic partnerships of many kinds are being established, including education professionals, which is essential. Some have set up a Parenting Lead, a creative way of looking at parenting in its widest sense, not just in the context of disability or fostering and adoption. Those of us who think that parenting is key to achievement, welfare and happiness, including the pursuit of education, should be encouraged by that. Extended schools can also provide parenting support as well as involving the community in a school's facilities, including sport. All that should encourage engagement with education in its widest sense.

I do not underestimate the influence of health on achievement. The National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services and the public health White Paper provide a focus on health issues. Research shows that pupils at schools who participate in the National Healthy School Standard appear to be performing better academically. Many factors influence the ability and the motivation to pursue education beyond the age of 16. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth is right; personal skills are important, and young people tell us so.

I also recognise the challenges involved in encouraging some young people to pursue education, and we must not forget those. A recent manifesto from the Children's Society, National Children's Homes, Barnardo's, Save the Children and the NSPCC reminded us that young people in the youth justice system, refugee children, young people in care and other vulnerable groups are just that; vulnerable. Their educational attainment, as well as their physical and emotional welfare, are likely to be suffering and will suffer.

I will focus briefly on two examples of creative work in education. First is the Increased Flexibility Programme, a new initiative instigated by the DfES and managed by the Learning Skills Council. It has been researched by the Trust for the Study of Adolescence, of which I am a trustee. The programme involves day release from school to complete NVQ or vocational GCSEs at college. Some positive outcomes to date, according to participants, include improved confidence, being able to learn in an applied way, autonomy in decision-making and increased intention to participate in post-16 education, which are all excellent results.

Secondly, I want to mention the DfES international strategy for education, skills and children's services. The report Putting the World into World-Class Education is an important document, which is worthy of more attention than we can give it now. Already, schools and colleges are developing initiatives to promote global citizenship, and to help young people to understand social justice, sustainable development, diversity and interdependence. That is one way in which young people can be encouraged to access education in a wide sense. I hope that we will not be limited in our thinking to systems that are relevant simply to the UK. Given encouragement and support, young people could be encouraged to access pre-16 and post-16 international programmes in exciting ways.

In conclusion, does the Minister agree that the future of access to post-16 education lies in the building blocks that we set lower down our system and in initiatives such as those I referred to? Does he recognise that particular challenges exist in vulnerable groups of young people? Does he agree that a global dimension to education might be attractive to young people and important for their development and for our future?

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 4:06 pm, 16th March 2005

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing this important subject for debate. I hope that some of your Lordships might have had the opportunity, as I had, of talking to some of the young people who were lobbying outside the House earlier today for more money for colleges.

I welcome the report in one respect, in so far as it encourages more respect for those whose abilities are not academic. For too long the educational establishment—I say this with great respect—has felt that those members of our community were less than important. Of course, they are very important indeed. I will not try to cover all the ground that other noble Lords have covered today—I am speaking simply on one point. The weakness of the report is that it does not set out effectively how more respect for those who are less able can be achieved.

The idea seems to be that you simply introduce vocational skills and say that they are just as good as other sorts of skills, and that then everyone will want vocational skills. I believe that only a limited number of vocations involve really interesting skills that will make interesting courses. Inevitably, many young people in our society will end up doing rather boring activities which will not make appropriate university vocational courses. I do not understand how the proposal will work, but it seems that you have not only the sheep and the goats but also, if I may say so, the rabbits. I am interested particularly in the people at the bottom of the pile.

I want to take the House back to the Education Reform Act 1988. It had such a brilliant definition of a curriculum, already mentioned by one noble Lord. It states:

"The curriculum for a maintained school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which . . . promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and . . . prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".

The introduction of the Tomlinson report states:

"We must ensure rigour and that all young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for HE, employment and adult life".

Note the order: HE first, then employment, then the more general subject of adult life. Paragraph 30 contains an important quote:

"They should have the opportunity to develop their individual potential to the full, whether intellectual, creative, practical, or a combination of these".

But there is no mention whatever of social skills or family life. Probably, the role of being a parent and bringing up the next generation is one of the most important things that most young people will do.

What I find missing is a clear vision of how such young people who do not have academic potential are going to achieve parity of esteem. I ask myself what are the skills, knowledge and attributes that are going to make 14 to 19 year-olds more able to cope with the opportunities and challenges of adult life. I want to refer to just one: the ability to get on with oneself and with other people, which is sometimes nowadays called life skills or interpersonal skills.

In the report, no mention is made of those skills. But many of the problems in our society today derive from the need that each of us has for some measure of self-respect, linked to respect for others: the need to understand that each of us has a unique role to play in this world.

To achieve that, young people need to understand a number of things: the emotions of others and how to be able to control their own emotions; how to communicate, whether it is in a discussion group, a presentation, a major debate or just a smile. They need to know how to work as a team; to sink sometimes their own perceived interest to that of the group; to lead and to follow; to distinguish between good and evil—or good and bad; to assess risk; to solve problems. They need to understand about responsibility and trust and how to make decisions and the importance of positive attitudes to others and, especially, the responsibilities of family life.

I follow the right reverend Prelate—who is not in his place, alas—in drawing attention to the importance of the RE curriculum in that context. I should also like to draw attention to what is now called in some schools the co-curriculum—that is to say, all the things that happen outside the curriculum: music; art; dance; drama; team games, to which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, will refer later; competitive sports; outdoor activities and adventure; participating in charitable and community activities and projects; challenges undertaken individually or in small groups, such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme.

Year after year, those wider but essential forms of education have fallen to the axe of budget cuts; and Tomlinson makes no reference to them—why not? The co-curriculum is not just for fun, although pleasure and, indeed, competition can be important motivations for young people. It is an essential element in the rounded preparation for adult life in the 20th century.

I want to ask the Minister a specific question: what are the Government's plans for reviving the co-curriculum in maintained schools? What are their plans for reviving the youth service and the facilities provided for out-of-school education for 14 to 19 year-olds? Further, what plans do they have to protect those who work in such organisations from false accusations of abuse and litigation, even when there was no negligence, which is at the moment a tremendously strong deterrent to people entering such work or leads them to cease to work in that area?

If the Government do not have a plan today, I ask them to make a commitment to commission a study to see what it would cost to produce a proper co-curriculum either in all schools or in youth services and voluntary organisations running in parallel and working with schools.

Photo of Lord Walton of Detchant Lord Walton of Detchant Crossbench

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for initiating this important debate. In 1991 my noble friend Lord Moser—then Sir Claus—in his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, castigated what he saw as the major failures of the British education system and called for the establishment of a Royal Commission. That call was echoed a few months later in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan.

It was rejected by the Major Government at the time, but, happily, Sir Claus Moser—as he then was—was able to persuade his friend Paul Hamlyn, subsequently Lord Hamlyn, to fund from his foundation a national commission on education, in which I was privileged to share. We published our report in 1993—12 years ago. I want to pay tribute to those who assisted in the commission's work; notably my vice-chairman John Raisman, my noble friend Lord Moser, Sir John Cassels, our director, and many other commissioners including the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws.

We promulgated seven items in our vision—which I commend to your Lordships' House—and seven goals. We strongly recommended that the educational provision in the UK should be co-ordinated and planned as a single whole from age 14 to 18 or 19 and even, at times, beyond. We recommended a new general education diploma leading to an ordinary level qualification at about age 16 and an advanced level qualification at 18 to 19 to replace GSCEs, A-levels, BTEC, GNVQs and so on. All courses were to be provided on a modular basis.

At once your Lordships will ask how that proposal differed from GSCEs and A-levels. We of course recognised that it was important that in the national curriculum there should be five core areas within which there should be a wide choice of specific subjects. Those areas were languages; mathematics; natural science and technology; expressive arts, including physical education; and the humanities, including social science.

As for the requirements for the diploma, we recommended that at ordinary level the student must obtain at least the minimum total number of credit points prescribed, including the minimum number of credit points prescribed in subjects within the compulsory core. For the award of a diploma at advanced level, we recommended that the student must obtain at least the minimum number of credit points prescribed in a nominated major area of study; but in addition, the minimum total number of credit points—as we promoted it—prescribed in subjects from at least three core areas not within the major area of study.

Your Lordships will recognise some resemblance to the International Baccalaureate. I have to say to noble Lords who have mentioned it today that two of my grandchildren, educated at an international school in Switzerland, both passed the International Baccalaureate and had no difficulty in obtaining entrance to Durham University, where each of them achieved good degrees. The fact that they had not taken A-levels was no disadvantage to them.

In passing I would mention that, building on our report and its recommendations, my noble friend Lord Dearing in his subsequent report a few years later also strongly commended a baccalaureate. He apologises that he cannot contribute to the debate because he is undertaking a task in Berlin on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

One of the principles underlying our proposals was that there should be, as my noble friend Lady Warnock has said, a mechanism whereby there would be parity of esteem between the academic and vocational qualifications. That mechanism must allow a fast-track means for those intending to go up the academic ladder, but at the same time it must include the possibility that youngsters could take a combination of academic and vocational subjects; and the issue of breadth is fundamental.

Among the evidence that we took—we obtained 250 written submissions from many organisations, including universities, and took oral evidence at 50 hearings over a 12-month period—there was almost universal acceptance by virtually but not quite all the universities that A-levels had passed their sell-by date. There was a strong recommendation to the effect that they were so narrow that early specialisation was resulting in graduates in the arts who were scientifically illiterate and graduates in science who knew little of the arts and humanities. That was one of the reasons why we felt that breadth should be encouraged.

We did not expect, or intend, that the process of the education diploma should end at the age of 18 or 19. One of our most important recommendations was that those who entered work at 16 plus, and those who continued in work beyond 18 or 19, should have the opportunity of acquiring points towards the diploma through credit accumulation and transfer so that they would achieve additional qualifications of an academic or vocational nature through their occupational life. That is a crucial issue that is not fully covered in the White Paper.

There are many good things in the White Paper, but the attempt to cobble a new educational structure on to the existing framework of GCEs and A-levels is an error. I believe that the Government should think about it again very seriously. It is important to the future of our country. In the National Commission on Education report, one of our visions was that,

"in all countries knowledge and applied intelligence have become central to economic success and personal and social well-being."

I mention to my noble friend Lord Northbourne that he will see a lot about social skills and interpersonal relationships in the National Commission on Education report. We also made clear that in the United Kingdom much higher achievement in education and training is needed to match world standards. I believe that if the Government pursue what is in the White Paper without reconsideration they will have lost a golden opportunity to improve education in the UK.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour

My Lords, we are deeply in debt to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for keeping these important matters before us and for giving us this opportunity to discuss in such a free way the proposals of the Tomlinson report and the White Paper that responds to it.

I live in the London Borough of Islington. I do not confess that in too many places as I might get a groan in response, but this is a safe place from that point of view. I am a governor and trustee of the Central Foundation School for Boys and the Central Foundation School for Girls. In the few years that I have been associated with those beleaguered schools in a very difficult social setting at the southern end of the borough of Islington there has been an improvement in morale, the investment of funds and examination results. I want to put that on the record and I would be delighted to respond on it. Financial support has been increased and the schools have become special schools: the boys' school specialises in business and enterprise and the girls' school specialises in the performing arts. We have been able to bring professional people from the City of London in to act as mentors and to enter into relationships with some of our young people. Local offices have also been involved in a healthy to-ing and fro-ing.

I welcome the fact that pupils aged 16 and above are given financial inducements to continue their education. It seems to me that that is a very important consideration. When I go into the schools, I rejoice at the way in which provision is made for the teaching, in the classroom or outside it, of children with special educational needs, as well as the teaching of the normal core curriculum subjects. There has been a terrific sea change and I record it with great pleasure. So I give credit where credit is due. All that has been happening while Tomlinson and his colleagues were deliberating and while those who responded in the White Paper were thinking.

I picked out in the report the notion of a unified framework within which the proposals being put forward could happen. I regret that it has not figured more in the debate. I thought it was an ingenious idea that showed great imagination. It also showed realism because a proper time was envisaged for transitional arrangements to take us to full implementation. I liked the way that there was so much crossover and flexibility at the different levels so that a pupil could buy in and out of different strata and put together something coherent that worked around him. I liked the realistic way that it related the world of learning to the world of work. The only thing missing was an adequate definition of "education". The words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth—"human flourishing"—seem as good a definition as any to me, as do "spiritual, moral, social and cultural development". I distrust acronyms that have a "k" in them.

I do not want to rake over old ground and ideological battles long won, but I am encouraged to do so by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. In the 1950s and 1960s, we lived in a world that told us where we belonged. I passed the 11-plus examination but my brother, my only sibling, who was a year younger than me, did not. He went to the secondary modern school and he knew his place all right. Although it was a good secondary modern school and he was a very good student, every pupil in the school knew that he was only there because he had failed an exam. My brother could sniff out from a mile away patronising proposals to marginalise pupils who do not perform well in our educational system. I wish he were alive now to help me apply his nose to the proposals in Tomlinson and the White Paper.

We must separate less able pupils from those with vocational orientations because they are not the same and we have less able pupils. The unified framework offers honest ways that, if we worked at it, could give everybody a sense of achieving what they were capable of and could equip them for the world of work. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and fear that the separation of GCSEs and A-levels from other possibilities will diminish them and I would like some reassurance from the Minister on that when he sums up the debate.

I rejoice at what Tomlinson has put before us. There is much that is good in the White Paper but there is a conceptual flaw at its heart. I would love to think that we could go on working on that to see if we can bring forward something better at the end of the day.

Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench

My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for initiating this important debate. The Tomlinson report makes one of the biggest contributions to our thinking on education for many decades by focusing on the crucial years of 14 to 19 and problems such as early leaving. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reminded us that far too many children leave at 16. We are now near the bottom of the OECD league table in that respect.

The working group consulted very widely and its report is one of the best of recent decades. Obviously, there are some things missing from it, but that is inevitable. Like most noble Lords, I shall focus on the issue of the divide between vocational and academic education. In doing that, it is important to recall that the Tomlinson report was basically about underachievers, early leavers, getting the basics right, improving vocational routes, stretching the best for the best and increasing challenges. It was also about reducing the burdens of assessment and qualifications, which are burdens for teachers as well as pupils. To achieve that, the working group tackled every aspect of educational curricula and qualifications. I like the way the report combines vision with practical detail, which is not a common feature of such reports.

At the centre of the report is a unified system with vocational and academic routes. Tomlinson specifically warned against a piecemeal approach to the problem. He saw clearly that there was a central issue, which was the missing framework. What the White Paper does—and I see a lot that is very attractive in it—is to accept a good many of the pieces, indeed to build on them, but not to accept the basic structure—the integrated framework. That is why there is so much disappointment, which I share.

But let us remember the key points in which the White Paper makes considerable progress. I pick out the obvious ones—language and mathematics teaching, which are very important to improve. Tomlinson could have been stronger, as the Royal Society pointed out in its published comments, on the importance of science for the future. I applaud the emphasis on English and on literacy and numeracy. Literacy—a subject in which I have been working for many years—remains a very major and rather shocking problem in spite of some progress. So in these particulars Tomlinson has left his mark.

The White Paper has many of the basic building blocks in place, including a major simplification of qualifications in the vocational area—from some 3,000 qualifications at present to a mere 14 that are key for our economy. Given all these important parts of the White Paper, why is there such widespread disappointment? Why is there a feeling, which I share, that the Government have missed, or may miss—because I see hopes for the future—a vital opportunity?

That takes me back—alongside some of my colleagues and previous speakers—to this historic divide in our educational system between the academic and the vocational route. Those abbreviations are not totally satisfactory. This divide has always been with us, with obvious social class undertones and with what the Secretary of State herself has referred to as the problem of intellectual snobbery—so, clearly, the Secretary of State does not need persuasion that there is a social, deep-seated problem here. This divide is at the root of the great underachievement for so many of our children—literally thousands of them leaving school at 16 and not continuing to any kind of education, full-time or part-time. That was the key problem mentioned by the National Commission on Education, to which the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, referred.

What the noble Lord did not say was that it took some persuasion on my part to persuade him to chair that commission. In all my activities in the educational world, that was the toughest task I have ever had to perform, but also the one with the finest outcome. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, was an amazing chairman and it is a very good report. It was published 14 years ago, with some volumes appearing after that date. It is a remarkable effort and we owe a great deal to the noble Lord.

As the noble Lord reminded us, that report took very much the same route as the Tomlinson report. Many people, including most of those whom Tomlinson consulted, took the same view. We must remember that Tomlinson brought to this task, personally, the greatest experience probably of anyone in the educational world—25 years as inspector, and much else. He grasped this central issue of the divide squarely and courageously, and produced the system of diplomas. But he did not account for one brick wall—on publication day the Prime Minister stated, in addressing the CBI, that the aim would be,

"to improve . . . not to replace", the present structure. Next day, Mr Miliband said that the essence in this situation is to make a distinction between an overriding uniform framework and all the bits within it and that they were both equally important.

I end simply by stating as clearly as I can that what is much more important in this situation is to have the structure in place within which all the bits and pieces—the qualifications and the curricula—can be developed. To develop them in a piecemeal way is once again to shrink away from this historic opportunity of at last getting the structure right in which vocational and academic routes would be regarded as of equal status—not the same outcome for everybody, but of equal status, as other people have said.

I also see no particular reason for retaining the A-level as our gold standard. It is no better as an exam than the gold standard was as an economic reform. I do not know why we keep on wanting to refer to the gold standard. My hope still is that, with so much right in the White Paper, we are on a possible route towards the baccalaureate as the ultimate system. As my noble friend Lady Warnock said, I hope therefore—and I hope the Minister may refer to this—that this stage is just one of the staging posts in a long process in which Tomlinson and the White Paper can be put together in various discussions, not least in this House.

Photo of Lord Pendry Lord Pendry Labour

My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on initiating this very important debate.

It is true that many people were disappointed that the Government's recent 14 to 19 White Paper did not go further down the line of Tomlinson and introduce an overarching diploma for the 14 to 19 stage of education, combining vocational and academic learning. I believe that that argument has its merits but I also believe that the GCSE and A-level system also has its merits. The challenge now is to ensure that the vocational diploma being introduced is not seen as a second-class route or a route for less able young people.

But we do not need to be pessimistic. There is a growing momentum, a shift in values, which is detectable in the media, in the classrooms and in the boardrooms of employers across the country. This movement is beginning to look upon vocational learning as an esteemed and valid option. I believe that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the academic snobbery of which this country has in the past fallen foul.

To achieve this, however, we need to move away altogether from the distinction between vocational and academic learning. A degree in law is a vocational qualification, as is an NVQ in customer service, a technical certificate in football coaching and a medicine degree.

The truth is that the skills gap faced by the UK, in comparison to our European counterparts, and the implications that this has for the productivity of the UK economy, have brought home to us the value of vocational learning. We have realised that we must embrace all types of learning, vocational and academic, in order to progress as individuals and as a society.

The employer-led sector skills councils are already playing a major part in this process and I should like to say a few words about SkillsActive and the sector skills council for the active leisure and learning sector, a sector which, as many noble Lords may know, is one of the areas of interest to me. I am only too aware of the need for skilled professionals to work at all levels throughout the sport and leisure industry. We need football coaches, lifeguards, skilled fitness instructors, playworkers, outdoor adventure leaders, and more. SkillsActive tells me that employers are calling for the people coming into the sector to have better team-working skills, improved communication skills, better technical and practical skills and improved customer-handling skills.

SkillsActive is working hard to develop pathways for entry to the workforce. The developments focus on foundation degrees in higher education, young apprenticeships for the 14 to 16 age group, progression routes for non-traditional learners and, potentially, adult apprenticeships for the over-25s. I welcome the Budget announcement made by my right honourable friend the Chancellor today that the Government will make available universal education and training to all those under the age of 18, with the aim of 300,000 being in apprenticeships by 2008.

A good example of young people being encouraged to remain in training is the apprenticeship programme being embraced by employers in the fitness sector. Fitness First, LivingWell and DC Leisure Management, to name but a few, are embracing the blend of vocational learning and quality work experience offered by apprenticeships for their staff. I am sure that we have all seen the television adverts and billboards for apprenticeships, and I would be interested to learn whether the take-up has increased across all sectors following that campaign.

Professionalisation of the fitness industry through the Register of Exercise Professionals, a SkillsActive company, means that young people are informed about what qualifications are valued, where they can get them and what qualities employers are looking for. That is exactly the kind of employer-led direction that many young people who may be considering leaving full-time education and training need. SkillsActive, as with the other sector skills councils in each sector of the economy, is developing a sector skills agreement between employers, government and funding partners, which will define and shape the work force for the next 10 years. That will mean that, for the first time, vocational education and training will be demand-led, and that each student can look forward to better opportunities for employment and have better incentives to participate in education and training.

The sport and leisure sector has the power to engage with young people at the 16 to 19 stage, more so than any other sector of which I know. A great example of the power of sport to inspire disengaged young people is the DfES scheme "Playing for Success", where the medium of football, rugby and other sports is used as a motivational tool to help to raise literacy, numeracy and ICT standards among key stage 2 and 3 pupils who are demotivated and struggling with study.

The Child Benefit Bill, which is due to come into Committee in this House, will create a financial incentive for eligible young people to continue in full-time unwaged education and training. However, we must recognise that, for many young people, financial reward is not necessarily the big incentive. Lessons must be learnt from projects such as "Playing for Success" and, where applicable, applied to the 16 to 19 stage so that we can truly release the potential of our young people, as Tomlinson set out to do.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I too warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for this opportunity to think how we can be less wasteful of the full potential of our 14 to 19 year-olds. I also record my appreciation and thanks for the news in the Budget that there will be further consistent investment, particularly in teachers. Various speakers have mentioned the distinction between GCSEs, GCEs and vocational qualifications. Yesterday, I was reminded of the work of Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa, which does an outstanding job in ensuring that children in residential care do far better than many of their peers in education. Its education officer insists that her children get GCSEs because they see it as the gold standard. There is a danger that if the dichotomy continues, such thinking will continue, but I recognise that the problem is difficult to address.

I would like to pursue two themes. The first is the importance of concentrating on the potential of the children and allowing them to fulfil their capacity, and the danger of unintentionally slipping towards an emphasis on what employers need. It is welcome that employers are so involved, but we should not think too narrowly about simply skilling up a child to do a particular job. I do not see that in the papers that have been produced so far, but there might be that danger.

The second theme that I wish to pursue is that of engagement. Many of your Lordships have addressed that already. I think particularly of children in local authority care. I was looking at a website for the Department of Health about Quality Protects. It must have been two or three years old, but it said that 75 per cent of children aged more than 14 in care were not in education. I find that incredible, but the Minister has recognised in the past that our education system has badly let down those children. That has been exacerbated by the lack of investment historically in care, foster care and residential child care.

I welcome the thrust of both the reports in terms of really concentrating on engaging young people. Tomlinson says in his report, with regard to the principle that he adopts:

"What is apparent to us, particularly by looking at successful 14–19 systems abroad, is that vocational learning is not just a matter of contributing skills to the economy, nor of providing opportunities to young people who find difficulty with academic subjects—though it can do both of these things. Soundly-based vocational education is an absolutely key feature in the education project itself as it is capable of attracting large numbers of young people to participate in, and attain at, advanced level study".

It is very important that we want to retain the young people in education for longer periods, with a broader education than we currently allow them so that they can fulfil their potential and realise their full capacities.

The other point to which I would like to refer in Tomlinson's report is on the quality of teaching. It states:

"The quality of learning depends heavily on the quality of teaching. Time would enable teachers, lecturers and trainers to do more of what they do best—that is to inspire learners by delivering a varied, relevant and interesting curriculum in ways that motivate them".

Tomlinson is referring to his paring down of the assessments referred to by other noble Lords. I recognise that the Government still intend to move somewhat in that direction, but not nearly so far as he intended. I would welcome hearing from the Minister whether he will give careful thought to whether there is no further that he can go in reducing the level of assessment of pupils from 14 to 19. As has been said, we may have the most tested pupils in Europe at least. Perhaps more should be done in that direction. However, I welcome the investment that the Government are making in teachers and supporting teachers better, so that they can work more effectively in the front line. The recent education Act frees teachers from some of the burden of bureaucracy that has prevented them being creative in engaging with young people.

I shall refer briefly to the Government's report. Under the heading:

"A new means of re-engaging the disaffected", it states:

"We need a strong work-focused route designed specifically to motivate those 14–16 year-old young people who are at the most risk and who we know would be motivated by a different learning environment . . . We will therefore develop and pilot a strongly work-focused programme aimed at those with serious barriers to re-engagement".

I bear in mind what my noble friend Lord Northbourne said on that but, on the face of it, I warmly welcome it, so long as it is of good quality. I note what the Social Exclusion Unit's recent report, Transitions, states about socially excluded young people—that those in the poorest areas tend to have a short-term view of life. I very well see that a young person in school might not see the point of it. To have one day a week in a workplace can really motivate them to continue in their studies and develop basic skills at least before they leave. We have far too many people who are functionally illiterate, so I welcome the Government's response.

I would make one further point. The Social Exclusion Unit's report into teenage pregnancies had a very important, one might say principal, finding: girls choosing to have children in their teens had extremely low aspirations. They saw no prospects in their life for any future apart from maternity. I am confident that if we could engage more girls in education, by finding them interesting, engaging courses, then we would have a lower teenage pregnancy rate. It is far too high as it currently stands.

To conclude, I was dismayed, working on the recent Criminal Justice Bill, as we further discussed the anti-social behaviour orders, that we were making it easier for these to be used on children as young as 10. We were making it easier for them to be photographed, named and their addresses given in the local newspaper. One would also see the tabloids and national press picking these photographs up and publishing them on occasion. In my view, we have been far too quick to punish in the past, and we have been far too slow in supporting families and children. I welcome what the Government are doing, but if one considers that we have the highest number of children in custody of any of our neighbours in Europe, if we think of the numbers of women in custody—which have rocketed in recent years—we need to be more pro-active in engaging young people.

I also hope that the forthcoming youth Green Paper will say how we will invest further in youth services. We do not have a statutory youth service in our country. It has long been neglected. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Photo of Baroness Maddock Baroness Maddock Liberal Democrat

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I rise to speak in the gap. I am afraid that, due to an administrative error, my name was left off the speaking list. I therefore have to be very brief.

I am a governor at Brockenhurst College, an FE college in Hampshire. The Government White Paper on the reform of 16 to 19 year-old education and the forthcoming Foster review are of great significance to my fellow governors and our principal, Mike Snell.

The college has been through many transformations. In the 1950s and 1960s it was a grammar school, and I was educated there. It then became a sixth-form college under Hampshire County Council, and subsequently a further education college. Since that time, it has had two different masters when it comes to funding.

Despite these changes, the governors and staff have always striven for excellence. Last year, our inspection rated us excellent—indeed, in the top 10 in the country. We have since received beacon status. That is the background with which I approach this debate.

As others have said, for those of us involved in education, the Government's decision not to implement the Tomlinson review more fully is very disappointing. It is unlikely, however, that they will now change their mind. We need to ensure, therefore, that there really is a step change. I have a few brief questions for the Minister.

It seems to me that across the board—and I am sure this is true for all of us—we welcome the commitment by the Government to the concept of vocational learning. However, we need two things. We need to ensure a better understanding of what vocational education is. We need some robust research in this, and we need to involve those in higher education. We need to strengthen the vocational system beyond the traditional lines of closer involvement with employers, specialist schools and others in the system.

This is a real opportunity to build on what we have, to raise the status of vocational and skills-based learning. Many people have referred to that today. We need to stop thinking of academic education as being better than vocational—that is what we have been trying to get away from in education for as long as I can remember.

If we are to achieve this, we need to ensure a broad education for as long as possible. I hope that the Minister can comment and expand on this, because it has been one of the themes of the debate today. Can the Minister indicate whether resources will be made available to provide facilities for the improvements that we all want to see in vocational education?

At Brockenhurst, through careful management, we have set up a restaurant on site. It is open to the public, and students are trained in catering and hospitality. We have expanded IT provision across the board; we have drama and media studies; we have off-site adult education; a nursery; workshops where we offer plumbing and building skills; and much more. But it has been a constant struggle to set up and fund such facilities when funding requirements and government priorities are always changing. We need a period of funding stability and predictability if we are to succeed.

I am told that I have to sit down when the Clock shows five minutes to the hour. We are all disappointed. Governments say that they are going to be radical, but only time will tell. Today, however, we are looking to the Minister to demonstrate that the future really will be different, and that schools and colleges will get the facilities they need to go forward in the way that many of us have expressed today.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important matter today. There have been so many excellent and impassioned speeches in this debate that it is a great challenge for those of us winding to do it justice. I shall do my best.

My noble friend Lady Sharp referred to the Tomlinson report as the opportunity of a lifetime. It is therefore rather sad that so many concerns have been expressed very legitimately around the House today.

The world is becoming a much more competitive place for us. During the Industrial Revolution, the UK led the world in many respects. Nowadays we do not. The UK workplace is also becoming more competitive, even though we have a very high level of employment. That is why this subject is so vitally important to our future.

We face many problems, which the Tomlinson report sought to address. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, reminded us of the lack of engagement of so many young people in their education. The further education sector often needs to correct the failings of the school system in later life—that is, if the person concerned has enough energy and motivation to undertake it.

The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, reminded us of our skills shortage. We must remember that those who train for practical skills also need good English and maths abilities, in order to run a successful business. Any of your Lordships who have ever received an almost unintelligible estimate from a plumber or builder will realise that that is the case.

We have also been reminded that we have 20 per cent functional illiteracy in this country; 47 per cent of our children leave school without the target five A to C GCSEs. We do not really know how many leave without maths and English. Of course, 5 per cent leave without any qualifications at all.

We have been reminded about the lack of participation in post-16 education. Two noble Lords mentioned that we are in fact 24th out of 28 OECD countries for participation at sixth-form level in our schools. Perhaps today's Budget announcement will help to encourage more young people to stay on. I really hope so.

I was most interested in the description by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, of the increased flexibility programme, and the global citizenship initiative. These strike me as the sort of things that will give young people the sort of interest that might encourage them to stay on.

One of our problems is that our exam system is geared more to select for university than to prepare young people for the world of work. Businesses are constantly complaining about the shortcomings of the current system. We also, as my noble friend Lady Sharp mentioned, have a rather narrow sixth-form curriculum—one of the narrowest in the world. Some noble Lords have emphasised the benefits of the international baccalaureate, including the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who, with the noble Lord, Lord Moser, in his commission of 1993, has clearly been extremely visionary. It shows us, perhaps, that some of the things that Mike Tomlinson is proposing are not the result of new needs. Twelve years ago, that commission was talking about the need for breadth, saying that it is quite fundamental.

A-levels are not suitable for many young people. Even when they are, they do not sufficiently challenge many of those who take them. The response to this seems only to be the giving of a project, or an essay that enables the best students to show their ability. As we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, most able students also include many young people who have a vocational bent. We need in our society clever electricians, plumbers and builders and other people of that nature.

We were reminded by my noble friend Lady Sharp of the cost of external assessment, which is £610 million. But I suggest that the cost is also in the loss of creativity and innovation, when we find teachers teaching to the test.

Despite all those problems, many schools do absolutely excellent work. I enjoyed the account from the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, of the single-sex schools in Islington, but I wonder what happens to girls who want to go into business and boys who want to go on the stage.

I believe that the Government have missed opportunities in responding to the Tomlinson report. After 25 years' experience—some of it, I understand, under the guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland—Mike Tomlinson has offered a sensible and appropriate set of proposals to address the problems that we face over a sensible timescale. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, commented that the report,

"combines vision with practical detail", and warns against a piecemeal approach. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, agreed with Tomlinson in that, as do I.

First, I welcome the fact that the Government have now said that the five A to C grade targets will in future have to include English and maths. I welcome the fact that the general GCSE diploma will include those subjects and that the GCSE achievement and attainment tables will also include them. I mention the comments in today's media from Ivan Lewis MP, who talked about the need to "raise the bar" and the fact that the Government are being quite courageous in saying that they will do that because initially it might seem that the achievement levels are going down a little. Well, it just shows that there was very much a need to do that.

I also welcome the fact that in future pupils will be able to take exams when they are ready. Of course, a credit system would work very much better if children were allowed to do that. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, was very enthusiastic about that aspect of the report. I also welcome the simplification of vocational qualifications.

But the proposed unified framework of achievement has been dismissed. According to the Government, the diploma framework will be retained only for vocational and work-based areas, and GCSEs have only been tinkered with. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wants to keep the brand of GCSEs and A-levels. I think that, so long as we keep the content, there is no reason why we should not have the broader vision.

Tomlinson tried to address a fundamental cultural attitude towards vocational training and skills. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth talked about vocational training being seen as second class. He also talked about the need for continuation of religious education. I have to admit to having some sympathy with the right reverend Prelate. In our multicultural and multi-religious society, religious fundamentalism and the misunderstanding by advocates of one religion of the tenets of another religion cause us enormous problems.

I also welcome the fact that young people will be able to include community involvement in their achievement record in future. I remember how much I learnt from the community involvement that I had when I was in the sixth-form at school. I went to work for a lady who was bedridden with arthritis and who lived in a very deprived community. Apart from learning how to put a bet on at Aintree, which I certainly had not known how to do previously, I learnt a great deal about a society of which I knew absolutely nothing before.

But the problem is that the Government's response does nothing to bridge the divide between vocational and academic training and nor does it allow the kind of flexibility that we need. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about the need for firm foundations—I absolutely agree with her about early years education—but she suggested that it needs a certain solution. Perhaps another solution is flexibility. Wooden houses bend and give a little and they do not crack, and the same is true of trees. They bend with the wind rather than break. As a botanist, I am always quoting these analogies, but I think that that is what we need. We need flexibility. Tomlinson offered us that, and it is a pity that the Government have dismissed some of his major recommendations.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Conservative

My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to speak from these Benches in this important and significant debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for initiating it and I greatly enjoyed the contributions of all noble Lords. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I found them imaginative and thought-provoking.

As many noble Lords have mentioned, encouraging greater participation and involvement in education is a challenge that none of us can ignore. We owe it to society and to our young people to do all that we can to address the very real problems that are acting as constraints in the present system.

To that end, the Tomlinson report is an important marker, and we must thank Sir Mike Tomlinson and his team for their enthusiasm and tenacity in drawing together an imaginative and creative report in a genuine and honest attempt to address the more entrenched weaknesses in the existing structure.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the report was the broad consensus that it achieved. All of us, it seemed, were in agreement that raising core literacy, numeracy and computer skills was vital, along with the need to encourage greater participation beyond the age of 16. We, for our part, stated clearly and unequivocally—this has been reinforced today by my noble friend Lord Lucas—that, while the Tomlinson report provided many invaluable suggestions for reforming 14 to 19 education, we did not agree with the proposal to abolish GCSEs and A-levels.

The Secretary of State, in her White Paper response to the Tomlinson report, now seems to agree with us, but she failed to offer any proposals for making A-levels more rigorous. In fact, she indicated that no changes would be made to the content of the exam at all. The White Paper stated the Government's plans to work with employers and universities to identify what, if anything, would add value to existing courses. But the Secretary of State does not plan even to consider making reforms until 2008. Our children deserve a quality education and should not have to wait until 2008 to get one.

We would also allow schools to offer other robust curricula, such as O-levels and the International Baccalaureate, as well as vocational qualifications. As my honourable friend Tim Collins said:

"Only by giving head teachers and their professional colleagues the freedom to set their own academic agendas in line with their admissions policies will classrooms once more become the orderly and happy places in which children can learn and excel".

It is disappointing that, after eight years and four Secretaries of State, Labour has just woken up to the crisis of confidence in our examination system. Far from the transparency that the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, spoke of, it has created an opaque and devalued system that few would now seek to copy. I think that the noble Baroness called it a "dog's breakfast".

We share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Moser, with regard to numeracy and literacy. So, in addition to our proposal to improve A-levels and GCSEs, we think that it is of crucial importance that receipt of a diploma will depend on passing externally examined literacy and numeracy tests. This measure will ensure that those who leave school possess the basic reading and maths skills that they will need to function in the wider world.

The CBI has stated that employers wish to see the standards of functional literacy and numeracy among school leavers raised—a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—because they have been unacceptably poor under successive governments. It also reported that one in three companies has to provide remedial training for those who leave school without having mastered reading, writing and arithmetic. Its 2004 survey of 500 companies showed that 37 per cent were not satisfied with the numeracy and literacy standards of 16 year-olds, and a survey of vice-chancellors showed that 48 per cent have been forced to provide special lessons in literacy and numeracy for first-year students. Two-thirds stated that extra numeracy classes were now the norm. These facts and figures paint an unacceptable picture of the current education system and highlight the need for immediate reform.

In Ruth Kelly's White Paper she proposes to restructure English and maths GCSEs to ensure that it is impossible to get a grade C or above without the ability to use functional English and maths. The fact that there is even a question of whether those who achieve a C at GCSE have those basic skills is appalling.

Along with the reform of the current exam system, we believe that the gap between pupils who concentrate on academic subjects and pupils who focus on vocational subjects should be breached. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, too often we seem to be concerned only with academic studies.

Every child needs the encouragement and incentive to do well in both areas. A premium must be placed on educating all students, not only those with an interest in pure academia. We should value youngsters with technical or practical qualifications just as much as students with a degree and not regard them, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, as second class. Indeed, sometimes I think that this country is obsessed with which university you went to. Pupils who choose not to continue on to university need skills to secure jobs in today's world. We must provide our children with the skills and the knowledge they need to be successful and productive members of society.

Despite the Government's emphasis on raising the status of vocational skills training, the White Paper published by the Government fails to offer an effective solution. The Secretary of State on the day of publication of the White Paper stated:

"We must also transform vocational opportunities".—[Hansard, Commons, 23/2/05; col. 312.]

However, her proposals as they are outlined in the White Paper merely offer a pilot programme for 14 to 16 year-olds, which it is expected will be available for up to 10,000 young people from 2007–08.

This contrasts with our plan for immediate vocational grants to allow 300,000 young people from age 14 to take vocational courses in local further education colleges. We would provide £1,000 per year to pupils aged between 14 and 16 so they can receive vocational training. Those grants would allow 20 per cent of the age group to learn a trade. Currently, 22 per cent of British employers suffer from a skills gap. It is estimated that one-fifth of vacancies, approximately 135,000 jobs, remain unfilled because of a shortage of people with the right skills.

Today a million young people are not in school, do not have jobs, and are not enrolled in training courses. We plan to establish a network of skills super colleges, provided by extra funding from the abolition of the learning and skills councils. We are seeking to enable 14 and 15 year-olds to start on a vocational path from school, while allowing further education colleges to provide specialist courses for them.

To build esteem for trade professions, the quality of the vocational education system must be improved. As a result, a young person who chooses a vocational route, and successfully completes that route, will not be viewed as someone who opted for a standard class education; instead, he or she will be seen as an individual with first-class skills. As our hard-working and dedicated teachers know, education is about developing each child or young person to his or her full potential; it is about fostering self belief and unlocking the curiosity inherent in all of us and developing that passion of which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, spoke. All of us are good at something and the best education finds that something and builds on it.

After eight years, two manifestos, five Green Papers, three White Papers, eight Acts of Parliament, two strategy documents and four Education Secretaries, the Government claim to have the answers to the crisis in education. But I am afraid it is all talk. There are no effective measures to raise standards and the Government have missed a golden opportunity to reform the life chances of a generation of pupils.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, by happenstance, it is Budget day which, in many ways, is quite fitting. The Chancellor said in his speech that because education is the 21st-century road to prosperity, Britain must become the best educated, the best trained and the best skilled country in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Walton, said something very similar in his interesting and important speech.

The Chancellor also drew attention to the fact that we are moving rapidly from a world in which compulsory education was for everyone from five to 16 to one in which universal education and training will be available to everyone from the age of three to 18. I preface my response with those remarks because they set the wider context for our important discussion about education and training for 14 to 19 year-olds.

I do not need to spend time on why we need reform, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke well on that and most Members have read both the Tomlinson report and the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said something that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, when we debated the Dearing report: if we can achieve a consensus on these issues, it is desirable to do so for many good reasons. I am not sure that we have a perfect consensus. My measure of the views across the House is that the consensus varies between a half and seven-eighths. I will not put marks, at this point, on who is where. At least there is a consensus on some of the elements.

Essentially, the difference is that we have not done everything that the excellent Tomlinson report recommended. Show me a government who ever did so behave. Advisory groups give advice and governments make decisions, as they should.

The key decision that we have made is that it is possible to tackle the key problems that Mike Tomlinson and his working group identified, quite correctly, while also retaining the clarity, stability and quality of the best parts of our system. In other words, one does not need to throw everything up in the air all at once to focus on what most needs to be changed and there is a benefit in having some stability in a system that is undergoing rapid change.

Does that mean that we are addressing these problems in a piecemeal fashion, as the noble Lord, Lord Moser, asked? I do not believe so. We have focused on the specific measures needed to produce a coherent structure for 14 to 19 year-olds. Above all, we have secured the basics, we have better vocational opportunities, we have more stretch for all pupils and we are re-engaging disengaged learners. Those are the four key elements—if we pressed Mike Tomlinson I am sure he would agree that those are the fundamentals—and we are focusing on how to deliver them. Employers and many parents also tell us that those are the fundamentals. Many in the world out there want change most focused on those matters.

The first element of the debate was about getting the basics right. That was perhaps, surprisingly, one of the less richly developed areas of our discussion. The noble Baronesses, Lady Massey, Lady Walmsley and Lady Morris, all referred to it. There has been strong pressure and support from the CBI for what we have proposed in this area. In the debate, no one recognised that in the White Paper we have gone substantially further than the Tomlinson report on how we address getting the basics right. No one mentioned the fundamental importance of the changes that we are making to key stage 3 and to trying to achieve the correct remediation if children arrive from primary schools—we hope they will not—without the basics. If that is not done, the rest of the educational offer, as we know, is completely wasted for obvious reasons.

We are getting the basics right in other ways. I shall not go into detail. Clearly, the focus on functionality is very important. There is something wrong if people can do differential equations, but cannot add up their change in the pub. Without being trivial, part of our reforms address that.

I turn to the central theme of improving vocational education and vocational qualifications and, through that, securing more engagement. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, put his finger on the point. It does not matter what it is called, but what one can deliver. We are putting forward strong reforms to strengthen vocational education. Such education will have a diploma status. The diploma will not only be in vocational training, there will also be an academic element to it.

The fact that we have not taken every bit of what Mike Tomlinson said into the overarching, almost classical, structure of a uniformed diploma has caused unhappiness. That has been echoed in our debate today. Part of that unhappiness is the belief by many that if everything does not have the label of diploma, in some way people will feel that having a vocational diploma is not to be valued. It would be wonderful if, by simply giving everything the same label, we could shift some of the prejudice against vocational training education. But we do not believe that to be the case. Therefore, we have not been persuaded that it now is a priority for change.

That repositions the question of how we make vocational training and a diploma which are rich in vocational content, valued, recognised and have status. That was one of the central themes in our discussion today. A large part of the answer was touched on by my noble friend Lord Pendry when he signalled that some of this must be demand-led. You have to listen to those in higher education institutions and in the world of work on what they think should be the content of vocational training and vocational diplomas. If you get that right, you make an acceptance that this has value and status very likely.

My first meeting of the morning was with Sir Digby Jones. We were discussing a joint passion for sorting out offender education and getting more people into jobs. He was articulating—and I strongly agreed with him—that you had to start with what employers wanted and valued and build on that. It is exactly the same on this agenda. Fundamental to that question is how employers from sector skills councils and HE institutions work with the QCA to design the content to give these diplomas real credibility.

In other words, if young people know that getting a diploma with a high vocational content will virtually guarantee them recognition and status in the world of work, there will be a rush to get them and perhaps less of a rush to gain qualifications which give very unclear paths into the world of work and employment. There will be more to it than that.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Griffiths that the provision also partly rebuts the argument—the secondary modern legacy which has infected this debate—that vocational means less able. That legacy infects part of British society.

I welcome the applause of the noble Lord, Lord Moser, for the simplification from 3,500 qualifications to 14 diplomas. I agree also with the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock—and I shall return to the issue later—about resources.

In response to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, you cannot simply legislate to give vocational qualifications parity of esteem. You cannot achieve that by giving every higher educational 14 to 19 qualification the same label.

I also mark that the diplomas are not only vocational. "Specialise" is not the same as "vocational". The lines of learning can and will include GCSEs and A-levels within vocational courses. In other words, a diploma which is essentially vocational will have a mix of academic and vocational elements to it. That is important.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked how the White Paper will contribute to life-long learning. The answer is that it will do so directly through three areas—providing access to higher education; forming the foundation on which individuals can build; and employment in later life. The courses which make up specialised diplomas will often be exactly the same as those available to adults through the Framework for Achievement.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, also raised the issue of high status and whether it will be achieved. I touched on that with the involvement of employers and universities in designing the courses—in other words, ensuring that you are listening to those for whom they are meant.

We touched a little, but not massively, on stretch and challenge. That is the third key element in the Government's White Paper proposals. Part of that is about the retention of A-levels and GCSEs. It is not true, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, alleged, that there is no change and that we are carrying on with exactly the same system. We will be piloting the introduction of optional harder questions into A-levels to make them more rigorous and stretching. As the noble Baroness will recollect, because she was there at the time, in the Education Bill we are putting in the option of starting HE courses in schools. So there is a richer higher-stretch option. There is much more to the matter than that, but I do not have time to deal with it now.

My noble friend Lord McKenzie asked on stretch and challenge whether the International Baccalaureate was an option. The short answer is that it suits some—it is a well established qualification—but it is not the answer for all. Therefore, we are not going to roll that in as a universal offer.

There was some debate—and my noble friend Lord McKenzie touched on it—about the difference between what Mike Tomlinson recommended and what the Government White Paper says about A-levels. It does not seem to some to be the biggest issue. Essentially, Tomlinson said that we should retain what A-levels and GCSE were but get rid of the label. We are retaining the label as well as the contents. If that is the only issue that divides us, I do not think we should faint about it.

A further question was about whether the A-level offer is too narrow. The Curriculum 2000 reforms, which are still being implemented and bedded-in, have broadened substantially the offer that many young people undertake. Many now take four AS subjects—and all the better for it.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked whether we need stepping stones on the way to whole qualifications. A-levels and, increasingly, GCSEs are modular. An AS equals the first half, as the noble Lord knows, of a whole A-level. We agree that students should be able to move to AS level without doing a GCSE first if they are able to do so. So you can go faster if it suits you.

The critical issue which both Tomlinson and the White Paper address is on raising participation and achievement. In crude numbers we must aim for 70 per cent now and 90 per cent at least in 10 years' time. The Budget had a specific offer on that. It signalled that we will now offer those in full-time education or unwaged training up to £75 per week in education maintenance allowance and children's benefits; and for teenagers who are both out of work and out of education, we will pilot special transitional help if they agree to return to training.

Also in the Budget there is the strengthened offer for apprentices and college-based training and the offer to increase funding into FE colleges. As the House knows, we have already raised the number of apprentices to more than a quarter of a million.

A lot more needs to be done on raising participation and achievement. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, my noble friend Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, were right—to get participation at the higher level right, you have to get engagement and learning going well in the early years. I refer to pre-school, addressing the contribution that parents do or do not make and getting the foundations right. If you do not have full participation of children in primary school—in other words if 10 per cent are disaffected—you can guarantee that they will be opting out at the age of 16 and onwards.

So, if you are trying to ensure that you are raising participation, you must have a total system perspective. You cannot achieve it merely from the ages of 14 and 15. I repeat that our proposals on strengthening the attention in key stage 3 as a crucial part of this agenda are directly relevant to raising participation later on. In other words, if a child of 12 or 13 is not able to participate because he or she does not have a good foundation for key stage 3, you must put more effort into that. We are directly focused on that.

Part of raising vocational attainment is avoiding the feeling that some young people currently have that they are locked in school, sitting learning things for which they cannot see a direct relevance, with a syllabus that feels as though it is still essentially geared towards getting A-levels and going into academic higher education; and that the offer does not seem to address the needs of those who may be perfectly bright but who are much more interested in going down a practical and work-based route.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is also very important that pupils have good guidance so that students know what offers are available to them?

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare) (also Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. I thank her for interrupting me. In fact part of the proposal is to ensure that there is good guidance. That is crucial in trying to raise participation at that point.

Part of the discussion on participation was about motivation. It is not simply about the educational offer made but about how you motivate those on the other side of the table to feel that it is worthwhile. That takes us back to our discussions in earlier debates about what does or does not turn off some young people from engaging in education.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about the importance of early years, wider social factors and support services. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about looked-after children and some of the disadvantages that they have faced before being looked after. Clearly, the international dimension is valuable.

There is not as much time as I would like to respond to all those points but I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that 9 per cent of young people are not in employment, education or training at all. That is one of the hardest targets to crack. Our proposals for a new programme for 14 to 16 year-olds, to which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred, based on entry to employment, will include high levels of advice, guidance and support to tackle non-educational problems, including teenage pregnancy. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for reminding me of that point.

I have just a few minutes to touch briefly on other important issues raised. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, a redoubtable contributor to our education and training debates, raised an eyebrow at the fact that religious education was hardly mentioned. The White Paper has not changed the position on religious education: it remains a statutory requirement up to age 16. The proposals recognise its importance in personal development, and the RE framework introduced by Charles Clarke, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, provides a sound basis for strengthening RE in schools. All that is there, believed in and a crucial part of the agenda. I assure the right reverend Prelate that it is not going away. Sometimes part of the challenge is not to write everything into White Papers because they would become almost unreadable. I know that he understands that.

I was also challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who said that the White Paper did not set out a clear vision of the knowledge, skills and attributes that young people need. I do not believe that that is so. It provides a firm grounding in the basics— English, maths and ICT—a framework of thinking and learning skills, including inquiry and creative thinking, and a body of knowledge and understanding about self, society and the place in the world, through the statutory national curriculum. A wide pedagogic view must be taken rather than a narrow one.

I have already touched on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, about the aim of creating a quarter of a million or so apprenticeships. I could say much more if there was more time. I shall write to him if he wishes.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked about reviving the co-curriculum. I can confirm that shortly we will set out our proposals to recognise and embed the value of wider educational and social activities in supporting learning. That could well be in the youth Green Paper, so I ask noble Lords to wait in patience.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked whether resources would be made available to raise the quality of vocational education. I can assure her that resources will be made available; for example, new capital funding for FE announced in today's Budget will improve facilities for vocational education. We are working with employers to set up new sector-based skills academies as national centres of excellence in vocational learning.

The noble Lord, Lord Moser, asked whether this was just one stage in a longer process that would bring together Tomlinson and the White Paper proposals. In essence, he was asking whether, if there was some divergence now, it would come back together later. The White Paper proposals clearly build on Tomlinson's proposals but go further in some respects. They have set the direction and will now enter a crucial phase of implementation. It will allow time for development, careful piloting and review to make sure that we get right the fundamental reforms of which I have spoken.

The White Paper also commits us to carry out a review in 2008 to establish whether anything further is needed to increase the breadth at advanced level. No doubt, that will give us opportunities to reflect on the issues and to see both how the reform programme that we have so far is going and whether it says we need to go further, faster or even wider.

The Government's focus will now be on making it happen. We have been through the process of testing, debating and consulting; it is now about action planning to deliver it. We are developing a clear, robust implementation plan. An extended range of GCSEs in vocational subjects will be available later this year, as will pilots of the upgraded maths and English GCSEs. The first four specialised diplomas will be introduced in 2008, and schools, colleges and training providers in each area will collaborate to deliver the full range of 14 to 19 options. We believe that those reforms will deliver the diverse routes needed to increase participation and provide the skills that our young people and employers need to take society forward. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that that will be substantially different as a result of the changes.

I thank the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for a stimulating debate.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response, and all noble Lords for their participation in the debate. I hope that the Minister will bring this very good debate to the Secretary of State's attention because it has been useful.

In general, quite a number of noble Lords lamented the Government's failure to rise to the challenge of creating an integrated framework. Nevertheless, as other noble Lords pointed out, many good things are happening. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned the increased flexibility programme, and the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, talked about the integration of the sector skills councils with developing the agendas in vocational areas. Those of us who feel that the whole is not quite the same as the sum of the parts need to take the good things that are happening but to go on pressing the Government to embed them into a more integrated framework. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.