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My Lords, what an exciting and stimulating debate. If my noble friend Lady Perry were at school today she would get a gold star and 10 out of 10. I am pleased to take part in the debate. I congratulate other speakers on making some exceptionally good points. I want to speak for our young people: my colleagues and I get up every morning to try to make sure they have a better life. I only wish a couple of them could stand with me now and talk to your Lordships about the difference their school and the people who have supported them make. I will do a poor job of trying to do that on their behalf.
Those young people live in a challenging, changing and complex world, and their experience at school and in education must be the greatest investment we can make to ensure that they can live productive, meaningful and exciting lives. Our teachers do a great job: I can only say that all those I have met have been incredibly committed, and they only wish that there was more they could do. We expect so much from teachers. We expect them to teach our young people how to learn, and to teach them the good things about life, such as how to be a good citizen. We also often expect them to make up for the deficiencies that some of those young people find in their home lives. That must be a great challenge.
I have to declare an interest in that I am the CEO of Tomorrow’s People, the patron of the Rye Studio School and a newly appointed governor of the Bexhill Academy. I am learning lots. However, it will come as no surprise to your Lordships’ House to hear that the three activities that I want to focus on in terms of reforming schools are the following. First, how do we reform school activity to ensure that our young people prepare for life after school? Secondly, how do we help them make decisions that will ensure that they make a good transition from school to the world of work? Thirdly, how do we make sure that young people find their destiny, whether that be in the education system in a university, or working in a garden centre servicing the public. Both those extremes have great value.
There has been a great deal of criticism of the lack of careers advice and guidance in schools. Sometimes there is none at all, and some of the quality has not been great either, but the investment made has not enabled guidance to be given in the way we want. I appreciate that that is a far-reaching and broad statement, but the advice and guidance that our young people get to help them make decisions about their lives has to be the best—and it is important that that is what we give to them.
Advice must be built on what the labour market needs—what employers need, and what the economy needs. I do not want to talk glibly, but I want to say to your Lordships: let us stop training thousands of hairdressers. We need hairdressers—we would all look bad without them—but let us train more engineers too. Let us train them for where the vacancies are—and of course, young people have to be educationally equipped to do that.
I completely concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said about the age of 14. That is the age at which, we have discovered through research, young people are ready to make decisions, to take things seriously and to embark on new things in their lives. Something that I have seen and been part of that has made my heart sing for those young people is a model called ThinkForward. Many noble Lords across the House have been to see it, including my noble friend Lady Perry and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The Deputy Prime Minister has seen it too.
ThinkForward means that within a school the teachers identify young people who do not have the systems in place to give them advice and coaching and take them through—the very thing that many of our parents did for us. We have been in 14 schools in east London, young people have had a coach, and they have done phenomenally well. They stand up when someone comes into the room, they speak to people and they can answer questions. In the first year we have helped 1,100 young people, and we have 300 businesses coming into the schools telling them what they need to do to get ready for those jobs. I can tell the House that 85% of the young people we work with have shown a great improvement in their behaviour, their attendance and their attainment, and 95% have not become NEET. My other great passion is that if we can prevent young people from becoming NEET we can save a fortune, and they can enter the world of work after their full education process and become really good employees—which is what we need. Imagine the difference that having a personal coach would make to so many of our young people. I do not wish to give the Minister a heart attack, so please do not worry, but I would like to find a way—please—to give every young vulnerable person a personal coach. That costs money—I am not daft enough to deny that—but there are ways of putting deals together, when businesses are prepared to put their hands in their pockets because they know that it is in their best interests.
I ask your Lordships to indulge me for one minute, and imagine, in this day and age, being 16, and living in a tent in the woods in the Sussex countryside—because you have been a bit naughty, you have played up a lot of people and have not taken part in school, and your parents have thrown you out because you are just too much trouble. Just imagine when that coach comes along and says, “Come on, this is not good enough for you”, finds you somewhere to live, finds out what it is that makes you tick and what you want to do, and that turns out to be working in landscape gardening. Then just close your eyes for one minute and imagine the moment when that person goes with their employer to pick up a gold award at the Chelsea Flower Show. Those are the types of reforms that we would like to see in the system to ensure that all our young people reach their destiny.