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My Lords, I am honoured to move this Motion. I should declare two relevant interests. I chair the council of the Institute of Education and I am deputy chair of the Social Mobility Commission, set up by Government in January this year.
Noble Lords present need no persuading that education is one of the most important responsibilities of any Government. One of its key objectives must be to equip young people with the knowledge and skills to make them employable in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex labour market. The possession of these skills has never been more important than it is today. People without them can face a future with little prospect of improving their lives and realising their aspirations. In his most recent Ofsted report, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, points out that,
“a more equitable access to high quality statutory education is a fundamental precursor to an individual’s future education and training, employment, social mobility and economic prosperity”.
The key word is “equitable”.
There has been striking progress in schools’ performance over the past 20 years. In 1992, 38% of 16 year-olds achieved five or more GCSE passes at grades A to C. In 2012, the figure was over 80%, with 59% of pupils attaining grades A* to C in five subjects, including the absolutely essential maths and English. The development of academies by the previous Government and this one, building on the principle of GM schools established by the Government before that, has opened up the school system to new ideas and the very welcome involvement of business and the voluntary sector in school governance. Increased autonomy for heads has encouraged innovation and is helping to drive up standards. In March this year, three-quarters of schools inspected were found to be good or outstanding. The relentless emphasis on standards from Government and from Sir Michael Wilshaw leaves the system in no doubt about what is expected of it.
However, there is more, much more, to do, as the most recent Ofsted report, Access and Achievement, published on
I do not have time today to explore the link between academic underachievement and material disadvantage, which is real and of great concern. The chief inspector takes a robust view in his report. He says:
“Deprivation does not determine destiny … poverty of expectations bears harder on educational achievement than material poverty—hard though that can be—and these expectations start in the home”.
“as a society we have to create a culture of much higher expectations for young people, both in our homes and in our schools”.
Some may want to take issue with the robust and tough approach of the chief inspector. I will leave his view floating in the air for coming speakers. However, what is beyond argument is the importance of early-years education. Gaps in achievement are clearly established by the time children reach the age of five. The home learning environment is of great importance, but so is the quality of early-years professionals. That quality, too, can make a difference to children’s life chances. There has been an impressive improvement over the past three years in the standard of early-years provision. There needs to be more of it, and more effective targeting to help the most disadvantaged. The Government’s current programme is providing good-quality, part-time early education to 40% of the most needy two year-olds, alongside parenting support. That is pointing the way. There are good initiatives such as Books for Babies and Play and Learning Strategies. In this area the Government have made good progress and are set to make more.
Another area where there has been marked progress is in access to higher education. Successive Governments, including the present one, have given strong encouragement to universities to improve their outreach arrangements. The result today is that almost 50% of people up to the age of 30 are, or are becoming, graduates, compared with around 37% in 1997. Given the importance of graduate status for employment, as well as for people’s aspirations, that is a great advance.
It might surprise some noble Lords to learn of the progress made by my own university, Oxford, so frequently is it demonised by the media—and in the past by some politicians—as being elitist. Oxford now offers the most generous financial support of any university in the country to the poorest students. One in 10 of its United Kingdom undergraduates is from the lowest income band: that is, £16,000 a year or less. State school admissions to Oxford are in the majority. It holds more than 2,000 outreach events every year. It has appointed outreach staff for every county and city in the UK. Their job is to focus on schools with the smallest numbers of students going to Oxford. Interestingly, anecdotal evidence from some schools shows that teachers are sometimes depressing the aspirations of children who wish to go to Oxford or Cambridge. That of course is unacceptable, but at least we know about it. The work at Oxford extends to successful partnerships with individual schools, down to primary school level, and intensive work with teachers. Oxford’s successful summer schools have seen more than two-thirds of all participants applying to Oxford, with a success rate of double the average of all applicants.
However, if 50% of people can now look to graduate status to realise their aspirations, it means that 50% cannot. From 2015, all young people will be required to participate in learning until the age of 18. This is creeping up on us. It is not a raising of the school leaving age but a change in the required participation age. These young people will have to choose between a school or college sixth form, possibly—if they are very fortunate—a university training college or studio school, an FE college or an apprenticeship.
The Wolf review of 2011 identified a number of problems with the routes open to these young people. In the first place there is the most confusing mix possible of qualifications, identified by acronyms. Their pathways to employment are not always clear—if, indeed, they exist. Far too many FE courses offer no help with poor English or maths skills, the very ones most required by employers. There are perverse incentives for providers to recruit for the courses that get the most funding or performance points. Those of us engaged in these areas of public policy will not find this a new phenomenon. We have known about it for a long time, and those who make the policy should be up to spotting the difference.
There are not enough apprenticeships, of course, and much of the teaching in FE colleges has been found by Ofsted to be poor. In response, the Government have promised to create a further education commissioner with wide-ranging powers. I think my noble friend will be able to update us on that. Indeed, this person may already have been appointed. In any case, it is an extremely welcome move. The Government have also given much more attention to the importance of apprenticeships. However, the underlying problem is still employer demand. Most of the new apprenticeships have gone to people over 25, which was not the point. The Government could well consider creating more apprenticeships within government departments to set an example. Meanwhile, they might pay closer attention to the German model, which has served Germany well for many generations and which provides an aspirational route to employment.
We are looking here at the destinations for half of our school population. Much effort has been made to improve the routes for those aspiring to go to university. At least the same amount of effort now needs to be made for those who do not. Their choices should not be treated as second best. In all these areas, so vital to helping young people to prepare for the world of work and to realise their aspirations, there has been progress under this Government in a uniquely challenging climate of unprecedented change in the labour market and international competitiveness.
But—I am sure that my noble friend will have been waiting for the “but”, and it has come—there is one area, that of careers advice and guidance, where, in my view, policy has gone backwards. I personally find it more than obvious that, at a time when there is high youth unemployment, when the statutory participation age is being raised to 18, when the education and training routes between 16 and 19 are multiple and their outcomes are far from clear, and when we need to encourage aspiration and not muddle it, there is an urgent need to help young people to make the right choices. I find it hard to believe that the link between aspirations raised by improved educational standards and the need for unwasteful career choice appears to be ignored by the Government. According to the Government’s own National Careers Service, the cost to the economy of young people making wrong choices amounts to some £28 billion. That same National Careers Service revealed last week that only 1% of teenagers had actually used its helpline. Instead, the Government have chosen to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools, but without funding and apparently without statutory accountability. The young people worst affected by this move are inevitably, as always, the most disadvantaged.
No one wants a remote, state-run monolith to do this work. There is good practice in some schools and colleges. They are well placed to help, although only one in six increased its work in this area last year. There is excellent input from the voluntary sector—for example, Career Academies UK, the Prince’s Trust and Barnardo’s, which perceive the need—and, of course, from employers themselves, from academy chains and from other consortium arrangements. However, for the young people the result is random, and that is not good enough. At the very least, the Government should empower Ofsted to inspect all schools for statutory compliance in their careers work, thus ensuring transparency and accountability for a vital public service. I look forward to my noble friend’s response on this issue because, although it would be a small move, it would be a start. Without it, and despite the excellent progress in so many other policy areas, we risk stifling the very aspirations on which the future of our country depends.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard. I have long respected her views on education and child development and, indeed, on issues beyond education. It is also a pleasure to be part of such a distinguished group of speakers in this debate. I agree with the noble Baroness’s emphasis on early years provision and the influence of the home. Sadly, some children miss out on early fostering of self-confidence and skills. As she said, it is not about material resources but nurture. Somehow, we have to ensure that that is there for every child. I also agree with her views on careers advice and hope that that will improve.
The noble Baroness addressed two issues—employment and aspiration—and tied them neatly together. I shall try to follow those themes. I shall first address what employers want of young people, for surely that is where we must look. I found it interesting to look at criteria from companies both big and small. Of course, they want literacy and numeracy and appropriate qualifications but they also want the following from an amalgamated list: communication and interpersonal skills; problem-solving skills: self-motivation; working under pressure to meet deadlines; team working; the ability to learn and adapt; and negotiating skills. These are the so-called important soft skills.
“The world of work is currently out of sync with the world of education”,
meaning that young people do not have the skills they need to get jobs. The Work Foundation and the Private Equity Foundation have stated that many young people not in education, employment or training,
“don’t have the so-called ‘soft skills’ employers are looking for, but often the only opportunity to learn those skills is on the job”.
City AM newspaper said in January:
“Rather than just looking at the quality of a degree, large City companies are now looking for more personal skills. They want to see evidence that a young person is self-aware, has the ability to take responsibility, is consistent and capable of taking initiative and willing to be adaptable”.
Clearly, employers think that there is a problem. Why is there this problem? As the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, said, the problem begins early and is compounded as a child grows. I go back to the recent UNICEF report card on child well-being, with its comparative data across 29 of the world’s richest countries. The UK does not do well in these comparisons. On well-being, we come 16th and across the other dimensions of material well-being, health and safety and education, we come 24th out of 29. Performance on other measures is recorded, such as that on behaviours and risk—for example, obesity, bullying, drugs and alcohol and housing and environment. Our record on young people not in education is simply appalling. We are the only developed country in which the further education rate is below 75%. We come just above Cyprus and Malta. The report notes that this may be the result of an emphasis on academic qualifications combined with a diverse system of vocational qualifications which have not yet succeeded in achieving either parity of esteem or an established value in employment markets.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which I chair, recently conducted a review of what children want. From listening to young people talk about their aspirations, it seems that we should look again at our approach to child health, including mental health, and to education, leisure opportunities and personal support for young people, such as careers advice. I have suggested previously that we need a strategy for youth across all government departments. I would be interested to hear what the latest government thinking on this is. I wish to suggest a few ways in which we might better prepare young people to have aspiration, better soft skills and motivation and better chances of employment.
First, I inevitably say that personal, social and health education in schools must be part of all school life and I echo the debate on citizenship held by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in this House last Thursday. The following factors contribute to personal, social and health education in schools: courses which support and protect children, like anti-bullying; gatherings which inspire young people to feel part of a community, like school assemblies; a curriculum which recognises that children are individuals who grow and change and which provides opportunities to discuss, at an appropriate age, sexuality and relationships, resistance to dangerous pressures such as grooming and internet hazards, healthy eating, safety and what being a good citizen means. Children need opportunities to develop the skills of empathy in personal relationships, self-respect and respect for others. They need opportunities to enjoy physical activity, drama and other arts. Some information will, of course, be gained across the formal curriculum. Some may be in assemblies, inspired by positive role models. Some may be inputs from the school nurse, first aid organisations, national and local politicians, sports men and women, drama groups and so on.
The Minister must be tired of hearing me say that a school should know where and how personal social skills are being developed in young people and should be able to provide evidence of that commitment. A majority of schools can probably do that but some cannot, as stated in a recent Ofsted report on personal, social and health education. I suggest that schools where PSHE is not organised will be schools where children, and particularly vulnerable children, may end up without those important soft skills. As I said earlier, children who are at risk of being unemployed are also vulnerable to joining gangs and be less likely to form healthy relationships or conduct healthy lifestyles. Nor should it be forgotten that children first need a sense of self-esteem to be able to perform academically.
Schools have their part to play, but so do other factors. This week I was interested to read an article in the Guardian by my noble friend Lord Adonis, saying:
“It is not being young that makes you unemployed, but being young and unskilled”.
He strongly supports apprenticeships and points out that barely one in 10 of Britain’s school-leavers take an apprenticeship. As I said earlier, such schemes can encourage the skills for employment. My noble friend Lord Adonis gave three suggestions for reform. First, the public and private sectors should be funded by the state to provide apprenticeships; secondly, quality must improve; and, thirdly, information about apprenticeships must be marketed and co-ordinated. Lo and behold, two days after this article, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was reported on the front page of the
Guardian as asking:
“Don’t want a lost generation? Then copy us”.
She would say that, wouldn’t she? But it means that we should concentrate on apprenticeships and not just on academic study.
Finally, I want to refer to a highly successful scheme, the Amos Bursary, which gets young black boys and men from inner-city schools to access universities or the world of work and become future leaders. Such young men are the most underrepresented in higher education and in top-flight professions. They may have had a lack of encouragement from home and school and may be vulnerable to bad influence. The bursary was established by my noble friend Lady Amos, former Leader of your Lordships’ House, and her sister, Colleen, in memory of their parents. Mentors are vital to the scheme and establish trust, offer advice, introduce alternatives, challenge, motivate and encourage initiative. They help build confidence, raise aspirations and performance: they are tough on these young people. The Amos Bursary has grown from seven students in 2009 to 41 today. There are many more applicants than can be accommodated as the scheme is only funded by donations of practical help from individuals and companies. Some mentors are young people who have gone through the scheme themselves and know what it is about. The scheme is run by volunteers and supporters.
Young people can be helped to aspire, to be confident and to succeed. I hope that the debate today has provided thought which might be built on in government policy.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, for initiating this important debate, which is vital to understanding what we need to do as a country to prepare our young people for their working lives.
Employers, when surveyed, say repeatedly that young people leaving full-time education—whether at 16, 18 or after a first degree—often lack employability skills and a real understanding of the world of work and how they must adapt and learn to succeed. In June, John Cridland, the director-general of the CBI, said that the quality of careers guidance is not good enough and that many young people leave school or college with little knowledge of the workplace. He warned that the Government,
“may have adopted too laissez-faire an approach”,
when they gave the right to schools to run their own careers advice. Careers information, advice and guidance—which I will shorten to IAG—are critical to inform and guide young people and their families about the opportunities for further education and work. We parents need our own information to be updated; entering the workplace is very different to how it was in our day. I shall focus principally on IAG.
Our present system is failing too many young people. Eighteen months ago, the Association of Colleges surveyed 16 year-olds. Only 7% knew that apprenticeships were a post-GCSE qualification. Less than 20% were able to name BTECs, and only 9% could name diplomas. All these are very good vocational routes into the world of employment. The BBC recently reported Joshua Robinson, an apprentice at Cisco Systems, as saying:
“Apprenticeships were never mentioned as a viable alternative to university and the problem really lies in the perception of schools”.
Yesterday, at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, of which I am a member, we heard from some major engineering employers about their excellent apprenticeship schemes. We heard of a young man who had a clutch of GCSEs at grades A and A*, and who was absolutely clear that he wanted to do an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce. Yet his teachers were telling him that this was the wrong route for him and that he must go to university. I suspect that they did not know that advanced engineering apprenticeships have a strong progression route right through first degrees and often into postgraduate study. I suspect that the teachers did not know that there were 11 applicants for every apprenticeship last year, with many, many more applying to organisations such as Rolls-Royce, Babcock and others. Sadly, I suspect that their aspirations for their students were to map out the same experience as their own: A-levels and a traditional academic course at university.
The employers yesterday were also clear that employability skills were an issue. Some good practice existed but not enough, and they applauded those further education colleges and universities that focused on them. They involve exactly the skills to which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred. Communication skills are key but there are others, including leadership and working as part of a team, which do not seem to be taught in most schools and colleges. Employers are also often concerned about literacy and numeracy in young employees. We alone of the OECD countries allow young people to give up maths and/or English if they follow an academic route such as A-levels. While our A-level system has much to commend it, involving in-depth study of subjects, it is possible to leave behind one of the two core subjects that every employee will need in the 21st century.
With the raising of the participation age in compulsory education to 18 by 2015, does the Minister agree that all students should continue with both maths and English, whether pure or applied, or as literacy and numeracy, until they are 18? The international baccalaureate insists that students continue with English and maths, and there are real benefits that young people often do not realise that they need until later in their life at college or university, or when they start work. It also allows pupils to utilise their broad education by bringing creative solutions in from other disciplines to their future jobs and apprenticeships.
For those young people who follow vocational routes, there is a focus on continuing with literacy and numeracy, and I am sure that this is right. However, I suspect we need new courses that are particularly relevant for the industry that they are going into, such as English for engineers or statistics for humanities students, that will give them the skills they need. The key message to students must be that the lower your skills level, the more chance there is that you will be out of work. Recent youth unemployment statistics show that a quarter are without five good GCSEs, 14% have good GCSEs but no further qualifications, and 8% have a degree. That could not be clearer: the higher your qualification, the less likely it is that you will be unemployed.
For many young people, the best route into work is through an apprenticeship. This Government have created over 1.2 million new apprentices, and we need more employers to come on board and develop apprenticeships. There are some excellent examples of employers working in schools with both pupils and teachers, and it is evident that where it happens, everyone benefits. I believe that this should start in primary school, and I am grateful to the Government for starting IAG at 13, but business link days for 10 and 11 year-olds give children the chance to design things, to create marketing ideas and to test out experiments which can fire their imaginations and move them away from the all too common aspiration of being a footballer or, even worse, a footballer’s wife. It is also important to ensure that pupils follow the right courses at the right levels. The engineering employers we spoke to yesterday all commented that the lower level maths GCSE exam at grade C does not provide a starting point for engineering apprentices at 16, so pupils who want to go into engineering, and their teachers, should push to do the higher level exam as a minimum.
We need to see if the new arrangements for careers advice in schools are working, and I suspect that this will be a common theme of the debate. Many concerns were raised in your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Education Act 2011, not least the move away from face-to-face advice for most young people. Can the Minister tell us when a detailed review is planned and what the Government will do to ensure that young people get access to information? That is because we are still hearing about examples of schools refusing—and I do mean refusing—to allow brochures from local FE colleges or employers offering apprenticeships into their schools. How on earth can our young people and their families come to an informed decision about progression routes if they do not know about them? What action will the Department for Education take with schools where this practice persists?
The National Careers Council report, An Aspirational Nation: Creating a culturechange in careers provision, provides an excellent perspective on how we can improve IAG for our young people, and asks for the role of Ofsted when reporting on IAG in schools to be strengthened. Can I ask the Minister if he supports this specific proposal, as well as the report more widely? Careers advisers are themselves coming together for accreditation and for continuing professional development, which is to be commended. We must not hamstring them by reducing the scope of their advice because of the actions of some schools. The OECD has argued that:
“As careers diversify, career guidance is becoming both more important and more challenging. More complex careers, with more options in both work and learning, are opening up new opportunities for many people. But they are also making decisions harder as young people face a sequence of complex choices over a lifetime of learning and work”.
It is vital that we have a strategic careers service that supports young people in their early and later decisions about subjects and levels of subjects. It should ensure that they have access to information about all the options open to them, not just about progression in their current school’s sixth form. Pupils should leave school, college or university with a good, broad range of qualifications and skills that will make them not just employable, but able to achieve their aspirations and ambitions for their lives.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Shephard on initiating this debate. I very much commend her for the way in which the Motion is drawn—the emphasis on aspiration is crucial. I declare an interest as professor of government at the University of Hull. That interest is relevant to what I want to say.
The focus on preparing young people for work tends to be on those in the 16 to 19 age range or younger, and especially those not in education or employment. I will look at a different body of young people, those in higher education, but the points I wish to make have a wider application.
As we have already heard, employers variously complain that students are not well prepared for the world of work and that they lack requisite skills and understanding. When students are in higher education, they may expect to gain jobs but, especially for those who may be the first generation in higher education, they may not always appreciate the range of career opportunities available to them.
One key means of addressing both these dimensions is through ensuring that students have some opportunity for experience-based learning. Enabling students to gain some experience in the workplace, as an intrinsic part of their studies and not simply an add-on, can enhance their skills and widen their opportunities. It has been recognised for some time that experience-based learning enhances opportunities for students. Increasingly, universities and other bodies are arranging placements for their students with firms, public bodies and other institutions.
I have been arranging placements at Westminster for a quarter of century. I run a four-year degree at Hull where the third year is spent on placement in Parliament, and we also now provide opportunities for one-semester placements for our students taking three-year single honours degrees in the department. The experience of being in Westminster has enormous value for students. In the time available, I want to draw out the benefits of such experience-based learning and at the same time identify what needs to be done to maximise the benefit of such experience for the student. The principal but not only benefits of such experience-based learning are threefold.
First, and this is very relevant to what we have already heard, students acquire practical and transferable skills. Research shows that not all employers seek the same attributes but what students acquire through placements are highly transferable skills. I know this not only from observation but from a funded study undertaken of our students in the 2004-05 academic year. The vast majority of students identified a number of skills acquired or honed as a result of a placement, including time management and interpersonal skills. Having to deal with a range of people—irate constituents, senior officials or some people who may have a sense of their own importance—is great training for later in life. Indeed, the students acquire the very skills identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.
The second value is pedagogic. Where students are placed not just to get some work experience but are placed in a work environment of interest to them, they get to learn about the institution and the process. They may begin to develop their analytic skills—understanding why things work as they do. As I shall explain, there are challenges in achieving this benefit.
The third benefit is that of personal development. Of the students surveyed, 87% felt that the principal thing they gained from the placement was self-confidence. Where students are given responsibility, it enhances their self-esteem and their capacity to look after themselves. They no longer feel dependent on others; they are able to act in a more independent manner. There is a particular consequence that flows from this. It widens their horizons. It makes them aware not only of career opportunities that they may not have considered but it gives them the confidence to apply for jobs that otherwise they may not have contemplated. That is why I welcomed the wording in my noble friend’s Motion. The reference to aspiration is so important.
The generalisations I have made are not confined to work experience placements of the sort for which I am responsible. The benefits can be achieved from a wide range of work-based opportunities. They can be life-transforming, especially for those from backgrounds where the perception of career opportunities may be narrow. The more we can do to ensure that such opportunities are made available to young people, the better. However, experience-based learning does not fulfil its full potential unless it is taken seriously by those arranging the placements. It is not a quick fix or a cheap option. To be effective it must be taken seriously, not only by those offering the placements but also by the home body arranging them. As one study of work experience in higher education observed:
“The quality of work experience is greatly enhanced by prior induction and briefing”.
One should not simply send a student off to a placement, in effect waving them goodbye and welcoming them back when it is completed. One has to prepare them for the placement and provide them with support during it. On my degree I emphasise what I characterise as the three Is: induction, integration and investment. I am responsible for an induction process leading up to and including the placement, ensuring that students are prepared and know what to expect from the experience. The degree is integrated: students spend a year studying the institution before taking up a placement, and continue to study while on placement. They also draw on their experience when they return and apply their knowledge of Westminster in a global context, and in completing a dissertation. The students receive support from the university while on placement. It is an investment, not only by the university but more especially by the students. The more they put into the experience, the more they get out of it.
The result is that students not only get good degrees, but they also tend to get the jobs to which they aspire. In the case of my students, that often means taking up posts in Westminster and Whitehall. However, as I emphasised, these points are not confined to this particular placement opportunity. I believe that much if not all of what I said applies generally to experience-based learning. It is a means of changing, and indeed transforming, the opportunities and aspirations of young people, whether through a short placement with a local employer or a particular institution or something of a much more long-term nature.
The more we can do to ensure that schools, colleges, universities and other bodies that serve the needs of young people develop and offer such opportunities, the better for young people and for generating a more effective and contented workforce. The benefits are clearly enormous, but achieving them requires a commitment of resources and planning. However, that commitment can be enormously rewarding.
My Lords, may I say how much I appreciate the opportunity to take part in this debate? I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, and everyone else who has contributed and started one thinking in various ways. I would like to step in a different, more global, direction. We believe that every child has potential, and our job is to make it possible for that potential to be realised. Yet in many areas of the world, especially those that are ravaged by war, famine or disease, there are hundreds of thousands of youngsters who will never be able to realise their massive potential. How do we tackle that? We have taken one step in this Parliament which I admire very much: sticking by our commitment to international aid. We must do all that we can, both as a Parliament and as supporters of individual organisations that try to relieve the suffering and starvation of so many people.
Despite progress, how many young people across the planet have no hope whatever of realising their aspirations? History shows that during the last war about 60 million people lost their lives. I wonder that we do not think of that 2.5% of the world’s population and how many Beethovens, Einsteins, Darwins and Wilberforces we have lost. What talent has been lost? We have perhaps lost a more imaginative diplomacy, and perhaps even greater music. How many have we lost to the ravages of war? We think of those in our time who contribute so much, of Gandhi and possibly Nelson Mandela. Our job, I am sure, is to help others to achieve and to contribute.
The world penalises itself by not being able to help these youngsters to achieve their goals. They have dreams, but they have to live with their nightmares. I suggest that the only way to tackle this completely is on a worldwide, global level, to make sure that children and grandchildren, ours and others, will be able to dream and to achieve their dreams. I suggest that erecting new borders or destroying present bridges is no help whatever. We are together; we are one world. Our own Governments, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as here, must embrace the younger generation. This is of especial importance in a time of recession, when we must give them hope and a reason for dreaming their dreams.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a Westminster bubble, where we seem to be out of touch with many of our people. New regulations might mean that those in the other place can increase their allowances substantially. Imagine how somebody who is going to lose their home, or is unable to buy food to put on the table for their children, will feel when they hear that under these regulations some will get richer while they get poorer. Think of young unemployed Britons and their anxiety as they post application letter after application letter, who then hear that others are going to increase their share of the fat of the land.
It has been said that, “We parley while they lament”. We see what is happening, and how less advantaged children in many different parts of the country and the world face an uphill struggle before they can dream their dreams. I do not watch “West Wing”, or rather I did not, but the character Sam Seaborn said:
“education is the silver bullet … Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce”.
I am sure we would all say that that is right. I hear that unqualified teachers—I was one for a wee while—are to be allowed to teach our youngsters, but we need the best possible teachers and the highest possible standards. We must look at this in the most serious way. Just as we expect those who work in the classroom to be qualified, those who offer career advice in schools, job centres and local communities must be the very best people we can appoint. When someone goes for career instruction they should not have to talk to a computer, or receive a list of perhaps 12 or 20 jobs that they can apply for. They should be able to talk to someone who has deep compassion and care for those in that situation.
The Chancellor of Germany recently remarked how important it was to have experienced advisers on hand to help young people on a local level, and that this could not be underestimated. That is one reason why Germany is doing better in the present recession than other countries. We cannot ignore this when we see the number of youngsters who are without jobs, especially in Greece, Spain and Italy. We are doing very well compared with them. What is their feeling? Does this not contribute to the riots and the discontent? We ignore this situation at our peril.
Last month I asked a Question about youth unemployment, the most pressing problem facing Europe, and what action the Government are taking with other European Union states to tackle it. The European youth employment initiative is to be shared, with the European Investment Bank also contributing, throughout the European Union. In his Answer the noble Lord, Lord Freud, mentioned the meeting in Madrid on youth unemployment on
However, in a further Written Answer from the noble Lord, which I received on
“The Minister for Employment did not discuss which UK regions will be eligible for support from the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) at the meeting in Madrid on
“The Minister did not raise UK efforts to tackle youth employment … at the meeting in Madrid, or …. Luxembourg … and there are no current plans to discuss this”,—[Official Report, 1/7/13; col. WA185.]
at Berlin yesterday.
In September 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister, flew in from Berlin with a piece of paper in his hand. I do not think that the Minister for Employment, or whoever is going to Berlin, will have even a piece of paper in their hand when they fly home. Perhaps they have flown already. This is a scandalous neglect of opportunity. The youth employment initiative could raise hundreds of thousands of youngsters out of this trap of hopelessness. We must be there.
I am a gentle Liberal and am proud to be a gentle Liberal, but sometimes even gentle Liberals have to say that the time has come for us to reconsider much of the work that has been done and what the UK is doing. I ask the department to do that, or to give me an answer today as to what happened at Berlin and what other things will happen that can bring hope to the young people. When they have hope, they can think of jobs and of their contribution to the life of our community.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend, but I am afraid that I am going to come rather closer to ground level than he was. I have one reflection on Germany: if it was not in the euro and went back to the deutschmark, a Volkswagen would cost 25% more than it does today.
I have one other reflection. My noble friend Lady Shephard mentioned that people get where they get by random processes. I am in that club: I got here twice, both times by a random process. We should not discount the ways in which people arrive at some destinations by random processes. Of course, we are all to a greater or lesser extent creatures of our own experience—a point I shall come back to in a number of ways.
Different people take different lengths of time to grow up. When we refer to young people, we need to remember that education does not stop at 18 or 21. Higher degrees can be gained by people who are much older than that, having found out on the journey who they are, what they are capable of doing and what they are not capable of doing. We have, quite correctly, mentioned aspirations in this debate. At some point, of course, it is always possible to have too many aspirations while, at another point, it is possible to have too few. What we are really seeking is reality. We are trying to find out, as we go through the journey, where we really want to be and where we are capable of being.
To illustrate that, I would like to talk about the foundry industry and will do so in some detail. My noble friend will be pleased to hear that I was introduced to the foundry industry by work experience. When I was 18, I worked for a number of weeks in Ford’s cylinder block foundry in Dagenham. Most of the people who lived in that part of east London and worked in the cylinder block foundry were of Irish extraction. They were able to make sure that nearly everybody in the foundry shop was of Irish extraction as they had their own methods of creating a community. It was a fantastic experience—I shall not go into it in any detail—but I finally hung up my steel-tipped foundry boots 54 years later, having been continuously involved in the foundry industry in one way or another throughout that time.
The foundry industry is a very old industry—one thinks of bronzes from China or Benin in west Africa—and it is never going to go away. It is a method of making complicated shapes in different metals which cannot yet be superseded—there may be this 3D, building-up-in-layers process, but not yet. It is not a big industry in this country: there are 20,000 people involved in it, in 400 foundries, which make half a million tonnes of castings a year. In this latest recession, not one single foundry of any note has had to close down, which is in contrast to the way that things were happening in the middle of my foundry career. This is an industry which is quite small, quite specialist and absolutely necessary. Every single motor car has castings in it. There are many other things that have to have castings in them, but every single motor car does. That demonstrates the necessity of the industry.
The question is how anybody arrives in the industry and how they can be prepared for a career in it. I shall briefly tell your Lordships about a foundry with 250 people in it making steel castings. The shifts were days, not days and nights. The first person got to the foundry at 6 am to get the furnaces going; the last person would leave between 6 pm and 7 pm. Once the hot metal came down, there was no stopping for tea breaks; it was a continuous process. Despite that, they all had tea and were very ingenious at keeping it hot. There are plenty of places in a foundry where you can keep your tea hot.
The work was relatively dangerous. It could not have been done without a workforce who really knew what they needed to do and did not have to be told anything. I do not exaggerate. Only when something went wrong were the managers, who were all foremen and charge hands in those days, involved. The interdependence of that workforce, the discipline and the willingness to be sure that they were looking after each other were absolutely vital. Who would prepare a young person for that sort of disciplined existence? Clearly, if you are on a small team and somebody does not turn out, it is pretty difficult.
There has been a lot of talk about schools, and I shall talk about them, but I do not see how you get round the idea that some sort of self-discipline and a willingness to be interdependent has to start in the home. If it does not, I do not know that you are doing too well. Anything else is a substitute, because, however you look at the way in which people grow up, the home is more important than the school. Okay, sometimes, the school becomes a substitute in some sense but in the foundry industry—it may be different today—the schools were not much help. They did not like foundries. Good Lord, if you invited schoolteachers into foundries, they would go out saying, “For goodness sake, don’t go in there. It’s hot and it’s dirty, and the men look pretty rough to me”. The lads in the foundry did but, of course, they arrived in one set of clothes and then changed into their foundry clothes. When they went home again, having had a shower in the foundry showers, they were very different and could do well in the pub more or less straightaway. There is a thing about conformism and expectations among the academic community, and I do not think we have got that right yet. We need a much broader acceptance of difference and diversity, and of people getting careers and satisfaction in places which school teachers, on the whole, do not know about and do not like.
If the careers system is not working in favour of foundries, another way is that of community and shared experience. I remember well the office manager, George Warner, coming to me and saying, “There’s a woman and a boy in your office and they want to talk to you”. She said to me, “This is William and he’s useless. He’s 16 and he doesn’t know what he wants to do. He won’t make up his mind about anything, but as you know my uncle”—she had family in the foundry—“will you give him a job?”. We had a bit of a conversation and we gave him a job.
Again, there is a whole raft of things about having too few aspirations. Who is going to solve them? It is not going to be central government nor, in my view, is it going to be academic institutions on their own. There has to be some willingness within a community and a society to look and see how we solve this and give people opportunities and back-to-work experience again.
The other thing that has happened in the foundry industry, alongside discipline, is the amazing sophistication of the technology. The materials technology during the time that I have been involved—I am now only an observer—has been quite amazing. The equipment technology has also been quite amazing. For example, in automotive casting foundries, you will find a machine called a Disamatic, which is made in Denmark. The guys on that machine are individually responsible for about £200,000 of capital equipment. It is very unlikely that they are graduates; I do not know that we would actually find it very satisfactory to employ graduates on a Disamatic.
As you increase the sophistication of a foundry, the cost of capital is no higher in the United Kingdom than it is in China—arguably, it can in fact be lower. Therefore, the greater the extent to which you can make the mix of your assets more capital and less labour, the more competitive you are. This operates in two directions: it means that western economies can remain competitive but also that the number of jobs available will not increase and is quite likely to go down. It also means that the people in that foundry have to be, on average, better educated and more willing to accept the disciplines of a continuous process. That is a big challenge.
One must not forget that the guys on the Disamatic also need manual skills. This is not something that central government can solve in any way. I am happy to say that another college has been set up just to look at foundries. My final message is that we should be much more open-minded, reject conformism and stereotypes, and actually go and look at the details of what people can do and how they can get a very satisfactory career out of it if they find their way into the foundry industry.
My Lords, I am sure that we can all say amen to that, and I hope that my noble friend will forgive me if I do not follow him into the foundry. I will begin by congratulating most warmly my noble friend Lady Shephard, not only on introducing the debate, but on the wise and firm manner in which she spoke. There is no one who is better at admonishing people with charm than my noble friend. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to someone who was one of the most successful Secretaries of State for Education in recent times.
I shall never forget when I talked to my honourable friend about some problems in my constituency, and head teachers having various difficulties. She said, “Bring them to see me”. I took half a dozen heads from the South Staffordshire constituency, who were completely bowled over when I said they were going to see the Secretary of State, and we went and had what was, for me, an unprecedented experience because she actually saw us on time. Ministers rarely do that.
Today my noble friend has given us an exemplary lead in what she said in her speech, and I would like to take up some of the points that she made. However, I would like to begin by saying that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, was kind enough to refer to the debate that we had last week on citizenship, I think that this debate is in many ways complementary to that one. I just hope that the Minister will be able to give a slightly more positive response to this debate than he felt able to give last week.
One of the things that I will major on, following the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is careers guidance in schools. This is absolutely crucial. It is a sort of add-on extra in many schools, and it should not be. The present Secretary of State is very good at telling people what he thinks should happen, and I think that he is a most excellent Secretary of State, but I believe that there should be a requirement for every secondary school to have not only a careers staff but a careers panel drawn from the local community. There would be industrialists relevant to the industry of the area, maybe a foundry, or farmers if it was in a rural area and, obviously, professional men and women. It would be a group of people who really knew what they were talking about.
I believe that it would also be sensible if, during the final year or two of their course, every pupil had the opportunity to go and see how a farm works, perhaps how a foundry works, or how a solicitor’s office operates. If they not only had the work experience—which is very important indeed, and my noble friend Lord Norton does it absolutely brilliantly—but had also seen how other places work, they would have a breadth of knowledge when they came to make the choice. They would also have something to aspire to. I really believe that the careers service in schools in our country leaves a great deal to be desired.
The other point that I would like to develop is this: in her speech the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, talked about apprenticeships, a subject which was echoed very eloquently by my noble friend Lady Brinton. There is still an unfortunate attitude, and I choose my words carefully, adopted towards those who work with their hands as though it is second best. There is almost a looking-down on the vocational aspect of the technical school or college. Frankly, I think that was compounded by the, in my view, misguided decision to make all polytechnics universities. They were different institutions that called for different talents, and they provided different opportunities. It is not a failure if a young man or woman does not go to university; it is a failure only if that young man or woman is unable to realise the full potential that they have within them.
I have been associated for many years with a body called the William Morris Craft Fellowship, of which I am chairman, and which I helped to found almost 30 years ago. Every year we give travelling fellowships to young men and women, and I am pleased to say that many of them have been women. They are craftsmen, builders, joiners, stonemasons, glaziers, plumbers—we have run the whole gamut. These are young people who have decided that they want to spend their lives repairing, upholding and adding to our built heritage. Only last week at a debriefing lunch in London, I was able to talk to last year’s craft fellows, one of them a woman bricklayer, another a woman stonemason, another a young man who was also a stonemason.
The breadth of experience that we are able to give those young people, mostly in their 20s, as they take themselves around a whole range of sites seeing disciplines other than their own at work, enriches them, makes them far better crafts men and women and puts them in a position—this is what we wanted to do at the beginning—where they themselves can take charge of major projects. We have been running now for 26 years, with well over 100 fellows—once a fellow, always a fellow—and already we have had several who have written books, while others have taken over companies. They have achieved a whole range of things, and they have gone into schools and inspired young people. I would like to see more of that. I do not believe that our young people are sufficiently alive to the opportunities and satisfactions of a career in the crafts.
We have the great good fortune of working in this most beautiful building, which did not just depend on the architectural genius of Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin; it depended far more on the craftsmen—they were all men in those days—who carved the panels, created the stained glass and built the walls, and it still depends on the skilled craftsmen of today repairing and restoring those things and keeping this building in being.
Keats, of course, memorably said:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:Its loveliness increases; it will neverPass into nothingness”.
We should inspire our young people with that thought so that they can take part in the crafts. Craftsmen make an imperishable contribution, in some cases, to the fabric of their country. We have so sadly, almost criminally, neglected and denigrated that as a career opportunity for many that we should be ashamed. As at least a couple of speakers have mentioned, the Germans do not take that attitude, and neither should we. In this country we have some of the finest and best crafts men and women anywhere in the world.
Another association that I am involved with as a patron is the Heritage Crafts Association, which is an association of individual crafts men and women making artefacts such as leather goods, pewter, silver and woodwork—a whole range of things—many of them one-man or one-woman bands, and many unable to afford to take on apprentices. I took a group from that association to see Mr Matt Hancock, the Minister with particular responsibility, a few weeks ago. We had a warm and receptive hearing, and I hope that that will lead to things. The Government should be helping those one-man band crafts men and women to take on others and pass on their skills. That is tremendously important.
My noble friend Lord Norton took up the word “aspirations” in the Motion. Yes, every young person should have an aspiration. It is our duty to give them the inspiration to have aspiration. I hope that my noble friend Lady Shephard’s Motion, in drawing attention to that fact, will help to persuade my noble friend on the Front Bench that, although things have been done, much more needs to be done.
We have marvellous debates in this House and we have had some admirable contributions today. One of the sadnesses is that what we say in here so often remains a state secret. I hope that what has been said today, and what I am sure what will be said in the following half hour or so, will get out into the wider world. My noble friend Lady Shephard has performed a signal service in drawing attention to this subject, and I truly hope that her debate will bear fruit.
My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on securing this vital debate. I pay tribute to her outstanding work in this area. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, which is relevant to my contribution today.
I am sure we can all agree that current levels of unemployment for young people are simply too high. From February to April this year, some 950,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 suffered unemployment. When young people fail to find work, their prospects can be bleak indeed. It is well documented that long periods of joblessness when young translate into lower lifetime earnings. In the worst cases, youth unemployment can inflict lifelong scars on the individual, as well as increasing costs to the Treasury. Indeed, the recent
ACEVO commission on youth unemployment found that current levels of youth unemployment in 2012 would cost the Treasury approximately £28 billion in the next decade alone.
I warmly welcome the strong emphasis that the coalition Government have placed on social mobility as a central plank within their social and economic reforms. I strongly support the Deputy Prime Minister’s social mobility business compact to help to ensure that all young people have fair access to job opportunities, the Government’s commitment to deliver at least 250,000 more apprenticeships during the spending review period and the support that they have pledged for young people seeking work or further education and training through the youth contract. These are positive steps, of course, but today’s debate is an opportunity to think boldly about what more could and should be done.
When I speak to employers, they say that they are looking for several main things: a good grasp of the basics, particularly English and maths; the right attitude towards customer service; and what are sometimes called—although, as I will explain, I think this is misleading—the “soft skills”. I would like to say a little more about that, building on the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.
The recent report from the all-party group entitled Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility set out the key issues that policy should focus on, looking at the unequal opportunities that start in the earliest years of life and all too often persist and widen in later life. These truths cover the importance of the early years in the home, as we have heard today; the critical importance of education, including both the quality of teaching and extracurricular activities; the pivotal role of access to university; and the need for other pathways to mobility such as apprenticeships, which we have rightly heard a lot about today.
The final key truth, which I want to focus on, is that of character and resilience, something that the all-party group saw as the missing link in the chain. Character and resilience may be viewed by some as a somewhat amorphous term, and some might choose to dismiss it as fluffy or cosmetic soft skills. In fact, the very term “soft skills” strikes me as something of a misnomer. Far from being fluffy, developing character and resilience is about developing the fundamental drive, tenacity and perseverance needed to make the most of opportunities and succeed in life, whatever obstacles stand in the way. It is about self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, aspiration and expectation. In everyday language, it is about believing you can achieve, understanding the relationship between effort and reward, sticking with the task at hand and bouncing back from the knocks life inevitably involves.
A recent survey of evidence from the Prince’s Trust tells us that young people from affluent backgrounds are more likely to be told by their family that they can achieve anything and that more than one in four young people from poorer backgrounds felt that people like them do not succeed in life and that if they have failed an exam or been turned down for a job they are more likely to feel that they have already failed in life.
There is a growing body of evidence showing the link between developing these social and emotional skills, and doing well, academically and in the workplace.
Research by the IPPR indicates that social and personal skills have become 33 times more important in determining life chances, while soft skills have become 10 times more important in determining future earnings in a single generation. Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed, which your Lordships may have seen, also illustrates the ways in which character skills contribute to cognitive ability. In addition, the American Nobel Prize winning economist, James Heckman, has found that character traits are just as predictive of academic or job success as more traditional cognitive skills.
In the light of all of this evidence the all-party group hosted the character and resilience summit earlier this year. We heard from Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, who said that it is not ability that is unevenly distributed, but opportunity. That phrase has stuck with me. We heard great things about work going on in schools—both in the state and the independent sector—with examples of volunteering in the local community, out-door activities that push pupils outside their comfort zone and a wide range of imaginative extra-curricular activities.
We heard schools saying that developing traits such as these is now part of their core business and that for employers, who are so relevant to today’s debate, these less tangible skills of sticking at it, not giving up, empathy and teamwork are precisely what they are looking for in potential recruits. Overall, the message we heard from academics, head teachers and employers is that whatever qualifications you might have, where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve in life.
What does this mean in practice? A recent Prince’s Trust Feedback from the Frontline survey found that a third of young people apply for more than 100 jobs before getting hired. With odds like this, it is all too clear just how critical resilience is for young people entering the world of work. In addition, recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and York University found that when they sent off fictional CVs that appeared to be from disadvantaged people, they fared worse than those not from disadvantaged backgrounds. I find that scandalous, but it demonstrates clearly how the odds are stacked against too many of our young people. That is why I want to call on the Government to take more account of the growing evidence surrounding the role of character and resilience in improving social mobility and see how we can put some of these ideas into practice.
As other noble Lords have said today, international comparisons can be helpful. I was interested in recent research by the IPPR that suggests that countries with strong transition systems—to use the jargon—are associated with far lower levels of youth unemployment and disengagement. Key features of stronger systems include a wide range of high-quality pathways into skilled jobs, such as apprenticeships, and early exposure to the workplace through high-quality and regular work placements. It is instructive for us to reflect, as my noble friend Lord Roberts and other noble Lords have done, that countries such as Germany which tend to have these features in their education and training systems have been successful in lowering youth unemployment since the economic downturn began.
I have some more practical suggestions. The Prince’s Trust survey had some important suggestions for what the Government should do to help more young people, including the provision of face-to-face careers advice for 16 to 19 year olds. That is vital and it is an area crying out for reform. Like my noble friend Lady Brinton, who spoke so eloquently on the subject, I would also like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he can say what steps the Government are taking to improve careers advice for this age group.
In response to its survey findings about the sorts of things that young people want from programmes to help boost their self-esteem, confidence and resilience, the Prince’s Trust has created the Team programme. This is a 12-week personal development programme that focuses on building resilience and encourages young people to pull together as a group. When the programme ends, participants continue to support each other through job clubs, some of which are completely youth led. The Team programme has seen more than 115,000 participants since its launch in 1990. Impressively, it boasts a 70% employment success rate within three months of completion of the programme.
We should also look out into the community, beyond Government, to get thoughtful advice on what more can be done to help prepare young people for work. Last week I had the pleasure and the privilege of hearing about the Campaign for Youth Social Action, which is led by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The campaign aims to provide a long-term vision to drive a real change in culture toward making youth social action, or volunteering, a universal norm. This is based on research demonstrating that meaningful social action improves empathy and that awareness of society around us leads to better engagement in education and, particularly relevant today, increased employability, confidence, problem-solving skills and resilience. I repeat the word “resilience”, but do not apologise for the focus that I am putting on it today.
The focus of today’s debate has been on getting young people prepared for the world of work and getting a job. But once this has happened, if young people are to achieve their aspirations, there must be opportunities for progression. Many employers understand this well and ensure that progression opportunities are available. But to ensure that progression is a reality for all young people, I strongly favour the establishment of a national lifetime careers service, in particular for young people, and for adults on low wages. They should be actively encouraged to engage with such a service and through this be assisted to develop a career or training progression plan.
In conclusion, we have taken time today to reflect on the efforts being made to prepare young people for the world of work. This debate has clearly shown that a number of things are vital. They include improving practical skills training and levels of English and maths attainment and supporting the development of strong character and resilience. These are key to ensuring that all young people are able to make the most of their talents and do well in the world of work. I urge the Government to build on the steps that they have already taken to make a reality of this collective aspiration.
My Lords, I am not quite sure that I can match my noble friend Lady Shephard’s ability to admonish with charm, as my other noble friend suggested. I want to belabour the government Minister nearest to me on the subject of careers advice and guidance, which many others have most eloquently spoken about. We suffer in this country from what I would call an intellectual snobbery that downgrades anything that is not only with the brain. If it is with the hands, it is somehow inferior. This point was made clearly my noble friend Lord Cormack.
I suggest another area: the world of horticulture. Here I declare my interest as the chairman of the all-party gardening group. You only have to mention this to the average careers teacher or adviser and they think immediately of some low-grade job that only the lowest and the humblest can aspire to fill. In fact it is highly skilled in its craft. It goes off into other fields, such as garden design and the study of plant diseases, and all kinds of other ways in which horticulture can be a truly skilled career or set of careers to follow.
In this place, we have two distinguished horticulturalists, and good examples, in my noble friends Lords Skelmersdale and Lord Taylor, and I think there are many others in the House who have these kinds of skills. I hope that the Minister will take this on board when reflecting on how the careers service should be guided in future.
I now turn to people who find it difficult to get work: those at the very bottom of the pile. I must declare my interest as chairman of an ambassadors group that supports the charity Tomorrow’s People in the Plymouth and south-west Devon area. It has an established reputation for trying to get the long-term unemployed into work and staying in work, which is a key element. In its work trying to help the long-term unemployed, it has realised that the problem is also at the youthful end of the scale, so it has developed programmes which I hope your Lordships will find of interest.
One is called Working it Out and is intended for those who have left school but who are, to use the ghastly term, NEETS: those who are not in education, employment or training. It has gathered together groups of 12 to 15 such young people, many of whom have appalling family problems as well, which compounds the issue. It gets them together as a group with two leaders who take them through about 12 weeks doing something useful. It might be going off to climb a mountain or redecorating a dilapidated old community centre, all kinds of things. The young people work as a group and the leaders try to inculcate in them teamwork, punctuality, reliability and initiative. At the end of those 12 weeks, most of the young people have remained on the course. At that end of the scale, you do get a few drop-outs, but the majority stay and most of them go into further training or get jobs.
A year or so ago, I watched a group in Plymouth that had a very inspirational leader. He was an ex-Royal Navy diver who had had a bad accident. He was no longer able to dive, so he had come out of the service. He had those young men and women enthused, and a number of them were contemplating going into one of the armed services. Of course, from there you can build up all kinds of careers within the armed services.
I also found that on many occasions Tomorrow’s People dealt with people whose educational achievement was weak. It managed to get some volunteers—I do not know how it did it—who had been teachers to come in and teach simple English and simple arithmetic. I sat behind a young man who was learning how to add up two columns of figures and how to carry a figure to the next column. He was 16 or 17. One wonders what had happened in the educational system. It had clearly failed him, but at least this was a useful attempt to bring practical skills and some academic skills to bear.
These Working it Out schemes led Tomorrow’s People to think that it should get those young people before they left school and that it needed to operate in schools. This has lead to an interesting experiment that is taking place right now. Fourteen schools in a London borough are selecting children of 14 or older who seem to be at real risk. Tomorrow’s People is bringing in a Coach with a capital C—I suppose you could say a mentor, but the expression does not matter very much. The coach sticks with the children over a period of up to five years from the age of 14 to the age of 18 or 19. There are one to one sessions and group sessions. The children are taken on visits to places of work. Then they graduate to going to workability workshops, which inculcate the kind of soft skills that my noble friend Lady Tyler was talking about. Tomorrow’s People then tries to get them work experience. This scheme is apparently having considerable success. Admittedly it is long term by the standards of most courses, and I am sure it is quite expensive, but let us consider the expense of having those young people for ever on benefits. When you look at it in that light, the more remedial work that is done at an early stage, the better. It is a reflection of what my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth was talking about in relation to higher education. I am bringing it down to this lower level, but the same principles apply.
I hope I have given your Lordships some idea of some of the practical applications. Other interesting ideas have been suggested by other noble Lords, and they are all of enormous value, because talking about lifting aspirations and poverty of expectation will get us nowhere. Someone somewhere has to get down to the nitty-gritty of working with these young people.
A year or two ago, I went to a school in Plymouth where I was asked to be one of a group of exemplars or role models, which made me feel slightly uncomfortable. There were several of us: a school teacher, the manager of a local store and me. We were supposed to enthuse the young women of 15 or 16 or so. I cannot tell you how depressed I was by the time I had finished. They already seemed set in not expecting anything much from life or a job. I do not think they had even lifted their thoughts to a career. I thought that that was no way to go as a country. We have so much to offer, and so many educational institutions are offering a great deal. It was a truly depressing experience. Anything we can do from the early years is of the utmost importance.
I hope the Minister will take some practical steps to assure us that the Government are taking on board all the points that have been made in this interesting, high-level debate. I ask him in particular whether he would be prepared to look at the two schemes that I know most about, particularly the one in schools in Shoreditch. I do not think I mentioned that before, but it is Shoreditch. I would be delighted if he could find time to pay a visit and see it on the ground. Would he be prepared at least to look at extending that kind of approach to schools generally? It would be extremely valuable. In the end, actions speak louder than words.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for tabling this debate today and for eloquently raising a number of important questions. I appreciated her contribution. This debate has given us the opportunity to explore in detail some very real challenges. In the course of this high-level debate, we have come up with a range of practical and interesting solutions to some of these challenges.
A number of noble Lords made the point that we had a very similar debate last week when we debated citizenship. The debates have some common themes, because we were looking for the need to create more rounded individuals, not just academic achievers but active and considerate citizens with all the skills to have successful and fulfilling lives in the broadest sense. That is an echo that we have heard again today. We all want young people to be ambitious—to stretch themselves and to achieve their dreams—but at the current time it seems that the very opposite is happening. We have youth unemployment remaining stubbornly high at 20%, and over a million young people between the age of 16 and 24 not in education, employment or training. We have a generation that is lost in depression and despondency. We are losing their energy and their skills to the economy. Something is clearly going very wrong, and we need to address this urgently.
Some of these challenges are wider than the UK. We are obviously impacted by the global downturn. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, spoke very eloquently on that matter and reminded us that we have a combined interest in having a proper international perspective. I was shocked at the quotes he gave in that letter about how our Government Ministers were not addressing and raising the issue of youth unemployment at an EU level. I will be interested to hear, as that discussion goes on, whether the Minister can give us a more positive update on that.
We know, for example, that there are an estimated 75 million unemployed young people worldwide. Obviously, that figure masks countries that are winners and losers. We want to be the best and to learn from the best here in the UK. This is not rocket science. There are ways of creating meaningful jobs for young people, and there are examples globally that we can learn from. We need to make sure that we take those lessons back so that we can maximise the opportunities for the next generation.
However, a number of noble Lords have said that we in the UK continue to have concerns about school leavers not having the right experience. This has been confirmed in the CBI report that was recently published, and the point has been made by several noble Lords around the Chamber. The CBI criticised the lack of key skills such as self-management, problem solving and aptitude for work. These concerns were recently echoed by the Federation of Small Businesses, which identified poor literacy, numeracy and communication skills as a barrier to employment.
Interestingly, the CBI also identified a critical lack of skills in key sectors such as manufacturing, construction and engineering, which might be the driver for future long-term growth in the economy, where vacancies already exist. So even where those vacancies exist we are not producing the young people with the skills to seize those opportunities. We need to start realigning young people’s aspirations with the types of jobs that we know will be generated over the next two decades, many of which will not even exist today.
First, I agree with my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, that we have to start at an early-years level. That early-years provision is absolutely vital. Interestingly, the Government have cut the early intervention grant by some 40 % since 2010, so they speak with mixed messages on that.
Secondly, education should be less about cramming facts and more about rounded skills that make young people employable. Rather than learning vast amounts of technical data, which may well be out of date by the time employment starts, students need to demonstrate analytical and collaborative skills. They need to learn how to speak confidently and articulate an argument, how to listen to others, how to scrutinise established views, and how to take an idea and work it up into a substantial, well argued piece of coursework.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, that developing character and resilience are also an important part of those key skills. Last week I spent an inspiring morning at a school in Waltham Forest where young people were writing and performing poetry about their lives. They were able to demonstrate that they were articulate, confident and literate. All the evidence shows that these are the types of skills that employers welcome. We know, however, that the Government’s education reforms are having the opposite impact with their singular focus on cramming and passing an end-of-course exam and the removal of speaking skills from the English GCSE. I have to ask the Minister what evidence there is that employers approve of these education reforms and whether they think that young people will be more employable as a result of these changes.
Thirdly, I echo the wide-range of criticisms of the careers service that have been made by a number of noble Lords around the Chamber. We clearly need to address the dire straits of the school careers service. Regrettably, all our warnings about the dangers of moving careers advice into schools, without any resources or expertise, have been shown to be true.
The report of the Commons Education Committee is devastating on this issue. It identifies a worrying deterioration in the level of provision for young people and highlighted concerns about the quality, independence, impartiality and availability of careers advice. For example, the evidence from Careers England has shown that only 16% of schools have maintained the previous level of careers advice. Teachers report that they are pressurised to encourage children to stay on in the sixth form regardless of their aptitude, rather than considering wider options, as it has a positive impact on the school budget. Surely this cannot be right.
Teachers also admit to having very little current experience of the world of work. Indeed, some were quoted as saying that in the absence of that they relied on giving the careers advice that they were given in school to young people. They also overly relied on websites for advice in the absence of that knowledge. As a result, young people are denied the regular one to one, face to face engagement with a professional that would help them make better career choices at an early stage of their schooling.
We know how heart breaking it can be when a young person finally decides on a career choice only to discover that they have studied the wrong subjects to make that a reality. The Select Committee chairman described the Government’s response that careers have been delegated to schools and that they would not interfere as an abdication of their responsibility on this matter. I absolutely agree with this judgment.
I am aware that Ofsted is carrying out a review of careers teaching, but I hope the Minister can reassure us that the collapse of this service is being given urgent attention and that a provision that is fit for purpose will be urgently introduced. I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, say how this should be not just about improving the professionalism of careers staff but about bringing more careers panels into schools and having wider opportunities for young people to make careers visits outside of school. Again, I hope the Minister will be able to respond positively on that.
A recent report from Pearson has discovered that, in the absence of proper advice, over a third of young people used television programmes to help them decide on careers and that one in 10 girls look to celebrities for inspiration about their future careers. It is no wonder that young people are failing to achieve their aspirations.
Finally, we need to move away from the long-held belief that a degree is the only route into well paid work. This includes challenging parents, who often see a degree as a rite of passage for their child and something that they can boast to their friends about. Parents need to be educated too. In Austria, for example, careers education is given to both parents and pupils. I commend that as an idea for consideration.
There is thankfully in this country now a growing realisation of the value of vocational education. My party is doing a great deal of work to develop a vocational offer on a par with the best of academic training. I therefore welcome the Government’s belated announcement today of a new tech qualification, although we will want to see and scrutinise the details.
Several noble Lords commented on the German model of combined apprenticeships and study. It is often held up quite rightly as an exemplar, and we can clearly learn a great deal from it, but we have to create a vocational alternative that is right for us—for the UK’s economy—that focuses on our specific and unique opportunities for growth.
We need to incentivise more employers to offer quality apprenticeships, not just in traditional subjects, although I very much enjoyed hearing from the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about his experience in the foundries. We also need to develop apprenticeships in the developing sectors of IT, design and the creative sector, where much of our further growth will be. I also agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, that the Government could do a great deal more to offer apprenticeships in our own governmental organisations.
While we welcome the development of studio schools, we need to ensure that the opportunity to study academically in parallel with work experience is not just a feature of specialist schools but becomes an established feature of mainstream schooling as well. Again, I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that this model can apply equally in higher education. I was very interested to hear of his experiences at the University of Hull.
In conclusion, we have shared many common themes in this debate today. We all share the desire to give every child a chance to succeed, but there is a great deal more that the Government can do to give young people the skills which employers say are essential, and the careers advice to make their way successfully through to the future jobs market. I very much hope that the Minister can reassure us that the Government have a plan to address these crucial issues, and I look forward to hearing from him.
My Lords, I thank those who have taken part in this debate, particularly my noble friend Lady Shephard for securing this debate on such an important issue. I know that she is committed to ensuring that young people leave their education prepared to enter employment or higher education.
High-quality vocational education delivers the knowledge and skills that employers need and is an essential part of a healthy economy. My noble friend Lady Shephard raised the question of equitable access, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also touched on it. My noble friend Lady Tyler raised the question of social mobility. A very fine young man, David Johnston, who used to run the Oxford Access Scheme and then my wife’s and my charity, and who now runs the Social Mobility Foundation, tells me that the foundation recently organised work experience for state school pupils with JP Morgan, Whitehall and Linklaters solicitors. They have achieved a high take-up rate, but not without a good deal of encouragement to schools, many of which saw this programme as not for them and too posh. They had no one to engage with the programme and, indeed, some were actively hostile towards it.
This is a question of attitude and mindset. Our children are capable of far more than we have previously asked of them. As my noble friend Lord Norton said, we need to raise their aspirations at every turn. I was appalled when—thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—we arrived at Pimlico Academy and I saw how the school had really not engaged at all with the business and professional communities. We installed a Raising Aspirations programme and have a full-time Raising Aspirations co-ordinator. We have had 400 speakers to the school over the past five years and our RA co-ordinator organises work experience, visits to companies, hospitals, universities and so on. It has had a remarkable effect on our students’ ambitions. I am delighted to tell my noble friend Lady Fookes that we have a gardening club, and I look forward to going to Shoreditch with her.
We want to send a message to all schools that they should actively engage with a programme like Raising Aspirations. I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to actively encourage the unions also to send this message to their members. We are working to make available more and better work experience opportunities by funding post-16 work experience at the same level as qualifications, giving providers more opportunities to develop closer links with employers. We are removing the bureaucratic barriers that employers tell us deter them from offering these opportunities. We recently published long-awaited simplified health and safety guidance, busting many of the myths which surround work experience placements. Ministers recently wrote to employers confirming that the insurance industry has committed to treat work experience students as employees so that they will be covered by their existing employer’s liability compulsory insurance policies.
My noble friends Lady Shephard, Lady Tyler, Lady Fookes and Lord Cormack, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Jones, raised the question of careers guidance, which I accept is not good enough by some way. We have transferred responsibility for this to schools because, frankly, the previous regime was acknowledged by just about everybody, including Alan Milburn, as not working. We have established the National Careers Service. This provides a focus on clear information and high-quality advice. Since its launch in April 2012, the service has handled almost 68,000 helpline calls, e-mails and web-chats with young people. We have also extended the requirement down to year 8 and up to year 13 from this September, and are extending it to young people in colleges. This will ensure that more young people can access the support that they need when they need it.
However, good schools seek to identify their students’ aptitudes, interests and passions at an early age and work with them to develop their knowledge of career paths while keeping their options open. Good schools engage with their local businesses and professional communities to organise careers advice, speakers, visits, work experience, mentors and so on. This is all part of a good education and we will seek to encourage all schools at every turn to emulate the practice of good schools. One face-to-face interview late in a young person’s school career is a very poor substitute for a good education.
My noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned the idea of a careers panel, which I have seen adopted in a number of schools, including my own. It is an excellent idea. In my discussions with schools about how they can substantially beef up their careers advice, I will be mentioning it whenever I can.
Business of all size has an important role to play in the development of young people’s employability skills. We have seen some excellent good practice from organisations such as Business in the Community through its business class programme, which now has 253 partnerships, planning to rise to 500 by 2015. Our guidance is very clear that we expect schools to establish and maintain links with other education and training providers to ensure that they are aware of the full range of options open to them. Ofsted’s thematic review of careers, reporting in September, will assess progress to date on careers guidance, but it has already said that it will give greater priority to the inspection of careers in schools from September.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, asked if I was tired of hearing her saying that PSHE is vital. I am not, because I agree with her that it is a vital part of what good schools should be providing. As she knows, however, we are apart on the point of whether or not it should be statutory. We trust teachers to deliver it because they know the needs of their individual pupils, which vary widely. As she mentioned, gang issues are sadly prevalent in many schools. In others, in leafy suburbs, the issues may be different. We feel that teachers must be free to adjust their provision accordingly.
All good schools focus on the character of their pupils, which my noble friend Lady Tyler mentioned. We expect all schools to do this. The Government are passionately committed to the plight of more disadvantaged pupils, and we are sharpening the way in which schools are held to account for the achievement of their disadvantaged pupils. We are doing this by ensuring that a clear and consistent set of measures are used throughout the accountability system, including Ofsted inspection. We are also increasing the coverage of the accountability system, so that even schools with small cohorts of disadvantaged pupils will be included.
There is no doubt that the UK’s 16 to 19 year-olds face tough transitions into the labour market, and this is particularly true for those young people who leave education without the necessary employability skills that employers cry out for. Since 2010 we have made progress in strengthening our skills system. As my noble friend Lady Shephard mentioned, in 2011 we commissioned Professor Alison Wolf to review vocational education. We accepted all 27 of her recommendations and I am delighted to report that we have now either implemented, or are well on the way to implementing, all of them. We are establishing a system of vocational reform that is rigorous and responsive to employers’ needs.
The most recent study from the CBI makes it very clear that 50% of employers consider literacy and numeracy one of the most important factors when recruiting school and college leavers. Major changes in the way that post-16 education is funded and the type of education offered are therefore being introduced in September 2016. Students aged 16 to 19 will be offered a study programme which will include either a substantial vocational or academic qualification, or an extended programme of work experience.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the importance of English and maths. At the heart of 16-to-19 study programmes will be the requirement for all students who have not yet achieved an A* to C in English and/or maths by the age of 16 to continue to study towards achieving them. This will either be through a GCSE or other “stepping-stone” qualifications, such as functional skills. This requirement will be enforced by making it a condition of student funding, and education providers who fail to meet this condition will have their funding withdrawn.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is correct that education is not about schooling young people to pass exams by cramming them with facts, but the current system of controlled assessment and bite-size assessments fails young people. It reduces teaching time and encourages rote learning and overmarking. Learning how to speak confidently, articulate an argument and listen with interest are particularly important. That is why we have included these skills in our proposed GCSE English language content.
Because we want to ensure that more young people can access high-quality education and training provision, later this year we will raise the participation age in England. From the new academic year all 16 year-olds will be required to continue studying or training for at least a further year. From 2015 that will be extended until at least their 18th birthday. Our reforms mean that young people will be able to choose to go to school, college or work-based training to take a study programme or traineeship. They can also enter an apprenticeship or study part-time alongside full-time work or volunteering
We know that many young people are highly motivated by the prospect of work but are not ready or able to secure an apprenticeship. That is why the Government are launching a high-quality traineeship programme within study programmes for 16 to 19 year-olds from August. This will better prepare young people for direct entry into an apprenticeship or a job. Employers will be at the very centre of traineeships, running the programme or offering high-quality work placements in partnership with a trusted provider. Traineeships will last a maximum of six months. The core content will be a high-quality work placement, work preparation training and English and maths. Providers and employers will have the freedom to bring these elements together in the best way to engage and support individual trainees.
My noble friend Lord Roberts mentioned Germany. A great strength of the German style is how apprenticeships are seen by young people, parents and employers as high quality and high status. This is supported by very serious investment by industry in apprenticeships. That is exactly why we have committed to pursuing the reforms recommended by the high-tech entrepreneur Doug Richard in his excellent report last year. Our reforms will put employers in the driving seat of apprenticeship standards and apprenticeships funding, just as they are in many other European countries with successful apprenticeship programmes.
The number of apprenticeships has doubled since 2010 and applications are up one-third over the past year.
We are increasing the quality and rigour of apprenticeships. Doug Richard’s recent review recommends that employers play a more central role in setting standards, overseeing testing and becoming more demanding purchasers of training. There will be a clear assessment standard at the end of an apprenticeship. Most importantly, we have a broad programme to improve standards. From 2013 we plan to report academic and vocational qualifications and apprenticeships separately, giving equal public recognition to vocational education.
We have established the accountability, financial monitoring and regulatory framework that will underpin the 16-to-19 curriculum reforms and the introduction of study programmes. Ofsted will inspect 16-to-19 study programme work experience provision under the common inspection framework and the results of these inspections will help to identify effective and less effective provision in meeting the needs of students. Reform to the 16-to-18 performance tables and the publication of employment destination measures from this summer will make schools and colleges more accountable for their students’ achievement and progression into employment. We are also reforming vocational qualifications. We are repairing the broken link between the qualifications that students take and the training that employers need. Employers, universities, parents and students must have confidence that their vocational qualifications are of the highest standard.
We have already reformed vocational qualifications taught to pupils at 14, with effect from last September. We have just completed a consultation on reforming 16-to-19 vocational qualifications and plan to set out rigorous new standards that the qualifications will need to meet if they are to count in future performance tables. The outcome of the consultation was published this morning. We are introducing two new categories of vocational qualifications from 2014: technical level qualifications or “tech levels” for students wishing to specialise in a recognised occupation; and applied general qualifications for students wishing to continue their general education at advanced level through applied learning.
Our new technical baccalaureate measure will recognise the achievement of students who take the highest value occupational qualifications, alongside maths and an extended project. The tech bacc will provide a mark of achievement for young people who achieve a recognised standard of technical training. We propose this be endorsed by employers and their representative organisations as a strong grounding for entry to an apprenticeship, skilled trade or technical degree. We have also approved 39 new UTCs and 26 studio schools. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Eccles will be pleased to hear that a number of car manufacturers are engaging with these projects.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned the work of the Amos Bursary. For many years I have been personally committed to the plight of young black boys, through my involvement with the Eastside Young Leaders Academy and other organisations. I wish the Amos Bursary good luck tonight with its event and auction. My noble friend Lady Shephard asked whether we had yet appointed the FE commissioner. We have not. We are recruiting widely to secure an individual of the highest calibre and have already begun to recruit a team of advisers to assist the FE commissioner in his or her role.
In order to meet their career aspirations, young people need to be equipped to compete in a global market that demands ever higher and more technical knowledge and skills. The package of reforms that we have instituted will mean that more young people will have access to the highest quality academic and vocational education and training, on which, I assure noble Lords, we place equal weight. This will give them the qualifications, skills and confidence to take their place in the workplace and to enjoy fulfilling careers and sustainable employment. Employers in turn will benefit from a workforce with an increased skill set that will help boost the UK’s economic growth and lead to a more prosperous future for all of us. I thank all noble Lords for participating in this important debate.
My Lords, there are a few minutes left in which I can thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. There has certainly been no lack of advice or ideas for the Government, and a great deal of agreement across the board about what is necessary, what is admirable and what is less successful. That is often the case in the House of Lords, which is why it is such a useful source of advice for any Government.
There has been some welcome clarification from the Minister, not only about the Government’s plans for technical education, but also for greater accountability on the part of further education colleges. I was extremely pleased to hear that there are moves afoot to appoint the further education commissioner. The existence of a single person who is truly accountable and can speak for making improvements to the sector should help a great deal and be successful.
There has been a lot of unanimity over anxieties about the function of the careers service. It is not a disaster to have the function placed in schools—there is much inspiring and excellent work going on. What I do find difficult to understand is that apparently we will still not place on Ofsted the same statutory responsibility for inspecting this function as it has for other functions in a state-funded education service. While we often look across to the independent sector when we say what we expect of academies, it might be salutary also to look at the careers advice provision within the independent sector to see what is available across the board for young people in the state sector. It is not a good comparison at the moment. We need the reassurance of Ofsted that the careers service is not random.
My noble friend Lord Eccles has made great play of the importance of being random. If randomness has thrown him into the House of Lords not once but twice, it is a marvellous quality. However, we cannot expect that his application will always be as successful across the board and in every sphere as it obviously was when it had the result of him appearing twice in the House of Lords. I do not recommend it as a general principle when we look at the future prospects of our young people.
This has been a great debate and I thank all noble Lords, not least the Minister. This House should take note of the importance of preparing young people for the world of work in order to realise their aspirations.