– in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 22nd October 2015.
My Lords, I must first declare my interests, in that I am a governor of Bexhill Academy, patron of Rye Studio School and an ambassador for the charity Tomorrow’s People. I speak not arrogantly but having had 30 years in this field, and it has consumed me, so it is in my DNA. I shall give some practical examples of the effect of there not being strong education and employment support for many of our young people.
I want to start by giving one example. About 15 years ago, a company asked Tomorrow’s People to help it recruit, induct and integrate 12 unemployed young people into its workforce. One young lady, by her own merit, got the job of booking all the executives’ travel which, for her, was very exciting. She turned up for work on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but on Friday she was missing. A member of our team went to her house and knocked on her door. It was about 10.30 am and she came downstairs in her pyjamas. When asked why she was not at work, she said that she never went to school on Fridays, so she did not think that she would be missed. The next week exactly the same thing happened. Somebody went to her house and told her to get dressed. She came and the next week she turned up—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Quite rightly, in your Lordships’ House we often speak about great, intricate things, but some of the things our young people face are very basic. That is why we need strong education and employment support opportunities for youngsters in the UK. We must be driven when we see what happens when we do not have it. Please do not get me wrong; there is an awful lot of excellent work and progress taking place. It just seems to me that we have been presented with a window of opportunity to build and improve on what we have in place, and we have to grasp it.
During preparation for this debate, I sought to ascertain the data and statistics on those for whom the right opportunities have been in place but who have not been able to take advantage of them—those who are NEET. Obtaining those statistics has not been as straightforward as I would have hoped. However, I am happy to present to your Lordships’ House consistently reported figures from ONS. From April to June this year, there were 922,000 young people aged 16 to 24 in the UK who were not in education, training or employment. That was a welcome decrease of 21,000 from January to March 2015. Some 788,000, or 85%, of these young people were in England. The figures have remained stubbornly high during a number of strong economic periods and some difficult periods. From April to June, 370,000 NEET young people who were looking for work were classified as unemployed. The remainder were either not looking for or not available for work and were therefore classified as “economically inactive”. I will leave noble Lords to try to make sense of that.
The Impetus-PEF 2014 annual review for the ThinkForward programme states that,
“For every young person who goes on to become NEET, … £56,000 is lost to the public purse”.
When I looked at the maths—and, believe you me, I had to do it three or four times to make sure I had got it right—those 370,000 young people equated to £21 billion of lost money to the public purse. If there were ever a case for getting this right, it is now.
Those are just the fiscal costs. What about the other costs to those who are affected? There are people with special educational needs; those with dyslexia; those on the autistic spectrum; those with mental health issues; those involved in crime; those with addictions; and those suffering family breakdown. To me, family breakdown is one of the biggest generators of people not being able to achieve their potential. People talk of fiscal poverty; in my book, in this country there is a poverty of hope, a poverty of self-belief and a poverty of aspiration for the young people we are talking about.
The case for a step change has never been greater, but we must not forget the times in which we find ourselves. The employment rate is at a record high of 73.6%, with 31.1 million people in work. Unemployment is down to 1.77 million, or 5.4%. Long-term unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2009, down 526,000—a fall of a quarter compared to the same period in 2014. Vacancies are at a record high of 783,000. It is easy to make various comparisons, but it does not seem right that we have so many young people without employment. All this stands against the gloom and doom predictions of some that the opposite would happen—that unemployment would be up, vacancies down and the numbers of people in work would fall. We must recognise this success.
So let us concentrate on those who, thus far, have not fulfilled their destiny and ensure that what is in place will help them to do so. Prevention is better than cure and, if early intervention is genuinely accepted as being the right thing to do, it is seen by most as an investment rather than a cost. The benefits are seen as a saving of both social and fiscal capital, rather than as a cost of putting something right that had not worked in the way we had hoped.
The case for creating the right education and employment opportunities needs a little more articulation. From my experience, this means that we need to take young people on a journey, starting at school and arriving at a destination of a successful transition from school to work. We should be under no illusion that, once this destination has been arrived at, it is not the terminus. The journey does not end. There will be other phases along the way, but let us hope that we will have given them the confidence and skills to embark on that next phase with a much less heavy touch of the support that they will need.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who will speak in this debate—all of whom have areas of expertise on which their contributions will be made. I have no intention of trying to duplicate these, but I do want to talk about the journey path, about what I have seen work and about what the key components might be. I would also like to thank Gideon Levitt for his help in putting this speech together.
The journey definitely starts at school. Some say it does not start early enough—that it should be at primary school—but it should start in the education system. How can we build on the excellent progress made in our schools? There are a few things. Having focused predominantly on the academic path, can we now make sure that credible and meaningful vocational routes are bedded down into the school system and curriculum? These routes must be credible to employers. When they are considered, vocational opportunities are targeted at the most disadvantaged. Might they, too, not be more appropriate for others who enter the academic journey only to fall out too quickly?
I want to make a plea for core life and employability skills to be part of the curriculum. Perhaps the Minister could let us know the department’s position on this. This element of support is left to individual schools whose pressing priorities mean that, where they are included, they are done inconsistently and are very much dependent on volunteering with limited resources available. Employers need a well-prepared, highly motivated and energised workforce. Employers, too, are a critical component to the journey of a young person. Again, depending on resources and other priorities, employer involvement is not consistently embraced. Please can it be considered, so that all young people are able to have a good experience of the world of work?
By institutionalising the idea of a “career journey” for young people, we can break this vicious cycle of unfulfilled potential. This will in turn create the right conditions for the country to fulfil the economic potential which remains dormant within a significant portion of its population. The social benefits will be exponential, as we create motivated, focused employees where previously we sought just to shoe-horn young people into work by any means necessary. By creating an integrated, seamless system where employers have a permanent presence in the national curriculum, the truth of this interdependence can be realised. No longer should business involvement be artificially divorced from the classroom environment.
Much has been said about careers guidance. The setting up of the Careers & Enterprise Company is very welcome. The Leeds pilot has significantly improved business involvement in the enterprise network and enabled 3,500 young people to access new employer-led opportunities. We need an employment model which nurtures the career aspirations of our young people and we must shift our focus to schools. A careers guidance process which starts early and is tailored to individual needs creates a virtuous cycle of employability, rather than a reactive, costly cycle of long-term unemployment. A targeted investment in life employment and career readiness will create both a dynamic workforce over the coming decades and reduce the financial strains incumbent on long-term unemployment.
I want to introduce to your Lordships an initiative called ThinkForward, a partnership of Impetus-PEF and Tomorrow’s People, which has achieved great success: 85% of 14 to 16 year-olds have shown substantial improvements in their school attendance and behaviour; 60% of the school leavers achieved at least five GCSEs at grades A to C; and 96% of the 17 to 18 year-olds were in employment, education or training. If you remember the early figures quoted to you on NEET levels, you will see the difference this could make. Can the Minister give us the department’s view on the ThinkForward programme and any indication whether this could be offered to all young people, or at the very least those most excluded and vulnerable? Let us think about those in care who need this help, those in the criminal justice system and many others. It would be a good investment to enable them to achieve results and would negate the need for so many costly rectification programmes. It would enable young people to transition from school to work and be independent, aspirational and not dependent on welfare. I will leave it there on that for now.
I want to conclude by telling your Lordships about a young lady whom we helped. She was a bit of a handful. She got into so much trouble that she was not allowed to get on the bus to go through her high street to go to school, so her coach got on the bus with her at the beginning of the high street and got off at the end of it. The young lady went to college; the coach met her on the way back; and she never missed a day at college. And she got a job, which was great. When that coach was no longer able to support her, or it was deemed that she did not need the help, it was not too long before she came back to us and said, “I’m in big trouble”—the language was a bit more colourful than that, but the essence was that she was in big trouble. I was asked whether I could write a letter to the court to say that she really was a very good girl and that she should not go to Her Majesty’s pleasure. I said, “Well, I couldn’t possibly to do that, because if you’ve done something you’ve got to stand by it”. But I did write to the judge to say, “This young lady’s had humongous problems and when she’s had her personal coach with her she has proved what she can do. The minute the coach wasn’t there, obviously, things went wrong. Whilst I don’t condone for one minute what she’s done, when she’s got somebody with her, things are very different”. I would like to see every young person—I have said this before—with a personal coach, even if it is, to start with, for the most disadvantaged, to help them on their journey to prevent rather than cure.
I know that there is an elephant in the room—no disrespect to anybody here, I might say. Your Lordships will tell me, “It’ll cost a lot of money”. Well, it probably will, but it will not cost as much as if we do not do something. I know that social investors and big society capital are ready with finance to inject to pay for such coaches so that we can do something about this and prevent it. I know that the request to the Government for a local outcomes fund to pay only when a young person has reached a successful destiny in their journey is pure common sense and good for the public purse. So I say to the Minister that it is the curriculum; it is the coaches; and it is a financial model where the computer says yes. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on initiating this important debate. It is not the sexiest subject to debate, but it is vital for the continuing extraordinary success of our economy and equally important because good jobs and work are the surest means of lifting people out of poverty, however that may be defined.
So I want to begin by congratulating my right honourable friend the Chancellor on his extraordinary success over the past five years, which has been hard won. He inherited an economy with a record deficit and government spending was out of control. The deficit has now been halved to 5% of GDP and we are on track to be the fastest growing major advanced economy for the third year in a row.
Our economy is now 11.8% larger than at the 2010 election. Statistically, we were then about as bad a Greece, but whereas Greece decided to do nothing to grasp the nettle of government overspending, George Osborne decided that we had to take steps to balance the books as soon as possible. It was certainly optimistic to reduce the deficit as much as he hoped in the last Parliament, but if we did not send a signal that we were serious about austerity and living within our means, we would have had a run on the pound and interest rates out of control. Despite that really awful starting position left by Gordon Brown, we have got economic credibility because of the action taken by George Osborne.
Therefore, in looking at education and employment opportunities in the UK today, we can see a completely different scenario than if that disastrous, overspending programme of the last Labour Government had continued. Let us just look at employment and unemployment figures. The employment rate is at a new record high, 73.6%. The employment level is at a record high, 31.1 million—up by more than 2 million since 2010. Full-time employment made up 81% of the annual rise in employment, up 291,000 on the year. The female employment rate has maintained a record high of 68.8%. There is close to a record number of women in work, 14.55 million. The number of people working part time because they could not find a full-time job is down 85,000 on the year. The number of disabled people in work is up by 226,000 on the year. More than 3.2 million disabled people are now in employment. On average, 1,000 more people are in work each day since 2010. There are a million fewer people on the main out-of-work benefits since 2010. The claimant count rate is at its lowest level since 1975. Unemployment is down to 1.77 million, or 5.4%. The claimant count is down 796,000, down almost 160,000 on the year. Long-term unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2009: that is down 526,000, a fall of a quarter compared with this time last year. Finally, vacancies are at a near record level of 738,000. So we should recognise that the Government have been doing something right somewhere when we look at what else we should do in the future.
By any measure, that is an outstanding achievement which we now take for granted. It has been achieved because we have the strongest growing economy in Europe. As the EU falls further behind the rest of the world in competitiveness and its economy is in relative decline, the UK has been powering ahead. Some 2.3 million apprenticeships have been started. There are 760,000 more new businesses than five years ago. Corporation tax has been cut from 28% to 20% and will go down to 18% in the next few years.
We now need to concentrate on two areas. The first is getting more of those 1.7 million unemployed into those 738,000 vacancies, and second is making sure that work pays more than being on benefits. I support the work of the Department for Work and Pensions in trying to transform lives by supporting people to find and keep work. I do not know how many of those 1.7 million would be regarded as unemployable by employers. That is not a term I like, but it possibly describes the attitudes of some people rather than their abilities. Did some Opposition spokespeople say that my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms would not work and we were doomed to an unmovable number of workless households and permanent long-term unemployment for many people? Those messages seem to be wrong. His welfare reform and work incentives have resulted in tens of thousands of people moving from benefits into work, so that the workless household rate is the lowest since records began and our long-term unemployment rate is less than half that of the EU.
For many years, Governments of all persuasions have said that work must pay more than being on benefits. Indeed, Tony Blair commissioned the excellent Frank Field MP to deliver such a scheme. Frank did so but it was kyboshed by the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who wanted everyone on his tax credit scheme. That is why universal credit is so important: it reduces poverty by making work pay. It provides a new, single system of means-tested support for working-age people and does away with half a dozen other benefits. I am led to believe that early results show that universal credit claimants do more to look for work, enter work quicker and earn more than jobseeker’s allowance claimants, and that is the way it should be.
I will say a few words about the minimum wage and the tax credits issue without straying too much into a debate we may be having next week. When Gordon Brown introduced tax credits, they cost £4 billion. This year they will cost £30 billion. Something has gone terribly wrong with his system so that, by 2010, nine out of 10 families with children were eligible. That is not what Gordon Brown initially intended. It was barking, and coalition Government changes brought the figure down to six out of 10 households. I understand that the changes, which are currently controversial, would bring it down to five out of 10 families. It is patently obvious what we should do to close the gap between pay and benefits, and it is not increase benefits.
It was inspired of the Chancellor to push up the minimum wage and aim for a living wage, but I urge him to go further and faster. We get the usual misguided whingeing from the CBI that it will reduce company profits and increase unemployment. Enhanced company profits earned on the back of poverty wages is not moral capitalism. As for unemployment, is it seriously being suggested that the major supermarkets, Amazon, Starbucks and Pret A Manger—every 10 yards on the pavement—are employing additional staff because they are cheap and that if they had to pay more they would lay staff off and drive for more efficiency? What nonsense: the big supermarkets and others are employing the barest number of staff they can get away with and paying them the lowest wages they can get away with. However, the Chancellor’s announcement of the national living wage in the summer Budget has changed the conversation about low pay and we have seen pay increases announced to meet it early, before the increase to £7.20 comes into effect in April.
This dynamic effect on wages has not been taken into account in any analysis of the Government’s changes to date. Nearly 200 firms have agreed to pay the national living wage in recent months. Morrisons has pledged to increase hourly pay to £8.20 from March; Costa Coffee is increasing it; Sainsbury’s has put up pay to £7.36; Lidl is now paying £8.20 an hour; British Gas is now paying the living wage and IKEA has said it will put pay up. This has to be the way to go. If those companies can do it then so can every other business. I said this in the Budget debate and I make no apology for saying it again: it is morally indefensible for companies to pay poverty wages, the taxpayer then having to pay up so that a family can live. The salaries of chief executive officers and executives of the FTSE 100 rose by 15% in 2014 and the gap between the highest paid executives and their lowest paid employees has never been wider. In 1998 chief executive officers’ salaries were 57 times larger than the average worker’s. Now they are 178 times larger, and there is no correlation between huge salary increases for executives and company worth, growth or profits. The Chancellor’s increase in the minimum wage is 6% per annum. Since many companies seem to have had no difficulty paying their directors 15%, I want to see the minimum wage pushed up to that level as soon as possible. Everyone should share in a company’s success. Being in work, with proper pay, is the route out of poverty for all and it will make Britain the most successful entrepreneurial country in the world.
There have been some excellent changes to vocational training but my instinct is that it is still regarded as inferior to a university degree. That is so wrong: just look at those brilliant A-level students who turned down a place at Oxbridge so that they could become apprentices at Rolls-Royce. These people should, as in Germany, be entitled to be called Herr Doktor, or at least the English version. Germany regards their engineering skills as being like a doctorate, but we see them just as car mechanics or grease monkeys. My noble friend Lord Baker has done a marvellous job enhancing the reputation of vocational training and building city technology colleges, but we need to do more to encourage young people to go down these routes, rather than some worthless degrees.
When the battery in my laptop died recently, I could not easily replace it. Being a MacBook Pro, it had to be dismantled, have half the guts removed and a new battery ordered—one of about 30 possible alternatives—and be repaired by an expert. For anyone with a broken Mac or iPhone, I recommend Honeylight Computers in Pimlico, which is an Apple repair agent. I am not on any commission. I do not know whether the guy who fixed my computer had a degree or a technical qualification, but without him I would have had to buy a new one at £2,000 instead of paying the £150 it cost. His contribution to our, and my personal, economy was worth £1,850 for that one little job and I could not have done it without him. I contrast that with the contribution of those graduate social workers who destroyed families in the Orkney Islands because they thought they were performing naked, outdoor witch dancing in February. Your Lordships may remember the case in 1991: it was dismissed immediately by the judge as utterly incompetent. These two radically different examples are simply two of millions showing that a degree is no guarantee of competence, common sense or worth, and the ability to fix things and make things which make our everyday lives infinitely better is no guarantee of good pay or status.
In conclusion, I congratulate my noble friend again on securing this debate. There is, of course, always more to be done. We need to make all schools free schools; we need even more apprenticeships; we need far better career guidance in schools; we need to ensure that no one teaches a subject at secondary level unless they have a degree in it. I was appalled when I came to England and found teachers with only some teacher training certificate who were not qualified in their subject. We need to get into teaching, at all levels, people who have retired early and are experts—and, more importantly enthusiasts—in their subject and who can enthuse young people. We need to let our best universities grow and expand to rival the Ivy League in the USA. We have some absolutely rubbish universities and we should let them die, as students voluntarily switch to better ones.
Above all, we need Britain to get back its freedom to be a world trading nation again, taking control of its own destiny and economy and not shackled to a dying and declining European political union. However, that may be a debate for another day.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, on introducing this debate. She gave a very interesting and practical analysis, on which I agree with many areas. I wish I could say the same about the following contribution. I will resist responding to a number of provocative statements but it was a bit of a Panglossian analysis of this Government’s record and perhaps the reverse as regards the track record of the previous Government.
The subject of this debate is of supreme importance. I was not necessarily planning to start with these comments but, on looking at today’s papers, I saw a large headline in the Times stating, “Apprenticeships are ‘a waste of money’”. In the past, I have declared an interest in that subject and I found it somewhat painful to look at that headline. When I found that no less than Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, said that, it cannot just be dismissed. I notice the article went on to say that:
“Kirstie Donnelly, managing director of City & Guilds, which gives vocational training, accused Sir Michael of seeking to undermine apprenticeships”.
That is probably an unwise statement to make. It would be far better to look at why Ofsted has come to that conclusion.
I am one of the people who applauds this Government for their focus on apprenticeships. On many occasions, I have said I wish that they would get away from announcing large figures, such as 2 million or 3 million, without disaggregating them. I do not think that that helps the situation. I am not against a target as such but, if we are talking about apprenticeships, we should be focusing on 16 to 19 year-olds. The noble Baroness reminded us of the number of NEETs. The economy may be flourishing in all sorts of ways but we still have far too many NEETs and significant areas of youth unemployment in parts of the country. That is not to discount the progress made.
The article states:
“Sir Michael Wilshaw will accuse some employers today of wasting public funds on low-quality schemes that undermine the value of apprenticeships”.
We should be worried and concerned about that. I agree with a few of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, including the need to enhance the view of apprenticeships so that they are on a par and so that there is not a distinction between a vocational route or an academic route. As I have said on many occasions, young people should not be told that it is an either/or option. A vocational route can often lead to an academic route. It really is worrying when one sees a report like this on poor-quality apprenticeships.
The Government were aware of the problem that some apprenticeships were as short as six months. We knew that they were not really apprenticeships. The Government responded by making the minimum period one year. I am not sure whether that is sufficient. The way we monitor apprenticeships and check what employers are providing is not sufficient. What are training providers doing? If we do not have a kitemark or a badge of quality on that, we are going to undermine people’s views of apprenticeships. Worse still, we will not get value for public money. We should be worried on both those counts.
Referring to an Ofsted report, the article states:
“Poor-quality apprenticeships were particularly prevalent in retail, healthcare, customer service and administration”, which account for a very large number of apprenticeships. We should be worried about that and I would be very interested to hear the response of the Minister. It continues:
“About 140,000 people started apprenticeships in business administration last year and 130,000 began healthcare apprenticeships. Standards were much higher in the motor vehicle, construction and engineering industries, where numbers were much smaller”.
Therefore it can be done but, unfortunately, it is not being done in too many cases.
The article states:
“Today’s report attacks many employers for failing to invest in and supervise apprenticeships”— and, even more worrying—
“as well as some of the colleges and training companies that provide them and schools for failing to give informed and impartial advice to young people who can benefit”.
I want to spend a little time on that issue as well. As I have said, I will welcome the Minister’s response.
By law, schools are supposed to provide young people with career advice, which should not just consist of saying to students, “All of you should go on to A-levels and to university”. But far too many secondary schools still do that and do not have proper links with the business community. Legally, they are supposed to do that, so why are the Government not enforcing it? I think that it has already been mentioned in this debate that there are young people going to university when it is not the right route for them at that age. They drop out and would have been far better off going on the vocational route.
I am part of the Lords outreach programme and still find that when I go to secondary schools and ask 15 and 16 year-olds where they are going and what their intentions are, the vast majority say that they are going to university. I do not deplore that but when I ask whether they know of any alternatives, I am lucky if one hand goes up and they mention apprenticeships. Because I cannot stand it any longer, I am complaining to the teachers. I say, “Why are you not giving the full range of advice? You are disadvantaging young people”. We need to do a lot more on that.
I make no apologies for again referring to the article, which states:
“It will make sobering reading for ministers, who have pledged to create three million new apprenticeships … Ofsted describes this as a commendable aim”.
I agree that it is a commendable aim. It continues, stating that,
“so far, apprenticeships have not trained enough people for sectors with skills shortages”— we have talked about that before as regards the desperate need in engineering and construction—and,
“that smaller businesses are not being involved”.
Again, we know that and we are still stuck at the figure of about one in five businesses. It is as though one is driving a car and cannot get the speedometer to go above 20 or 30 miles an hour. We need to do a lot more. The article also states that,
“not enough advanced schemes leading to higher skills and wages are being created”.
We have a strange situation where there is a demand for apprenticeships. I make no apologies for again citing British Telecom because it is a good example. It gets about 25,000 applications for 400 to 500 apprenticeships. There is huge demand.
There is an issue as regards getting young people ready for apprenticeships. We know that there is work to do on the educational side. I will not spend too much time on that issue because it was covered by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott. She said that the journey starts at school, but as a primary school governor I say that it starts before school, which is why Sure Start and things like that were and still are important programmes. One can see a variety of achievement of children starting nursery school. Some are not even potty-trained and others do not know how to socialise at all. A big demand is made on primary schools these days.
The article states that the Ofsted report’s,
“conclusions were based on … 22 apprenticeship providers, discussions with 188 apprentices, a survey of 709 apprentices”.
Whether you think that this survey is good enough, there is enough in it to give us real cause for concern. It continues:
“Some apprentices were not aware that they were classed as such, while others did not receive broader training or support to improve their English and maths. In the retail, catering and care industries, inspectors found apprentices cleaning floors, making coffee or serving sandwiches”.
I am not sure that I necessarily disagree that they should have to do that. Doing a job involves a wide range of applications. The problem comes when they are doing it to the exclusion of being taught a wider curriculum—when there is no proper learning programme. We must remember that with apprenticeships we are trying to equip young people for a career, with skills that we hope will be transferable and enable them to progress in later life. I have been working my way through the Library Note on this debate, which is extensive and makes fascinating reading, especially when it looks at the changing nature of the world of work.
I ask the Minister whether we have the balance right between funding levels for vocational training, further education and higher education. I ask that because we have had another report from Professor Wolf—the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf—expressing concern about the level of funding in further education. If we wish to drive up the number of apprentices in the way that the Government suggest, it is worrying to hear alarm bells ringing in relation to funding. I am not here to proselytise on either one or the other. However, where I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra—although I am not sure that I agree with his analogy about the laptop repairer and the social worker—is on his point that it is just as important for us to get funding right in further education as it is in higher education. We should not see them as completely separate silos.
Another point in the government document interested me. It says:
“The government wants strong local areas and employers to take a leading role in establishing a post-16 skills system that is responsive to local economic priorities. The government will make an offer to local areas … First, the government will invite local areas to participate in the reshaping and re-commissioning of local provision to set it on an efficient and financially resilient footing. A differentiated approach to local involvement will be adopted which will enable areas with the strongest governance and levers to shape provision, building on the skills flexibilities agreed with Greater Manchester, London and Sheffield”.
I do not know why it is only the strongest areas—surely it should be every area. I have asked this in previous employment debates: why we are not looking at the areas covered by the local enterprise partnerships and the best practice in those areas? Why are we not looking at the areas where they have driven up the numbers of apprentices and where they have the best possible links between business and education, and seeing those as the role models and examples of best practice? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott has given us this opportunity to discuss some very important issues. I would like first of all to expand a little on the Think Forward scheme, which the noble Baroness mentioned in her opening remarks. I was fortunate enough to visit a school in London—I shall name no names—where the scheme was being carried out. As the noble Baroness explained, it involves a coach or mentor staying with a particular pupil over a period of years and giving them real support, very often in difficult circumstances. I met about half a dozen young people in receipt of this help. The difficulties that they had to face were an eye-opener to me: chaotic home conditions; fellow pupils who thought them stupid for trying to better themselves academically; the general world outside school, where there was precious little hope; and a kind of resistance to doing better for oneself. All manner of obstacles are put in the way of anybody even trying to make the most of their school education. Think Forward is a most valuable system, which—echoing my noble friend’s words—I certainly hope the Minister will take on board, to see if it can be rolled out on a much wider basis.
I like to think of the mentor or coach as the nearest equivalent any of these young people will get to a well-educated and supportive parent. We all know the value of a supportive family when it comes to achievements at school and thereafter. All the other schemes that we have tried certainly have their value, but I think this one-to-one scheme is the most valuable of all, and I certainly hope that it will receive a warm appreciation from the Minister and a commitment to try to extend it nationwide.
I now turn to the wider scene, which other Peers have already touched upon: the issue of further education. I sometimes feel that there is a distinct snobbery in this country about education, a very firm division where universities are seen as good and further education as the poor relation. I deplore that, because they should be working in collaboration and partnership; one should not be seen as better than the other. In the attempt to get more young people to go to university, successive Governments have gone rather overboard and, in doing so, have deprived people of very good chances of finding fulfilment and qualifications in another way. I hope that the Minister will take that on board in her reply.
It is extraordinary that spending is ring-fenced for education on the whole, but not for further education. Is that not an indictment of the way we organise things? We know that further education colleges have considerable financial worries, yet they can be responsible for so many people finding fulfilling and rewarding careers. I hope very much that this will be looked at.
Mention has also been made of careers education. Again, there are some very sharp failings in this area. As somebody has already pointed out—perhaps it was the noble Lord, Lord Young—teachers and career advisers barely mention any alternative to going to university. That is absolutely deplorable. There are many ways of setting about these things, and pursuing one option does not preclude another later on, if people suddenly turn out to have a particular academic bent. We have long passed the days when it was either brawn or brain. The brawn bits are now undertaken by machines. What we need is a whole range of people who have manual skills allied with intelligence and are able to put them to good use. I feel very strongly about this.
What is more, we have a number of skills shortages. Here we are, worrying about the ability of young people to get jobs and keep them, and yet we have these skills shortages. This is particularly true in the world of horticulture. Perhaps I had better declare my non-financial interest here as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group. We are constantly hearing about worries over lack of skills. Ask any schoolteacher or careers adviser whether they have recommended the world of horticulture as a possible career, and you can almost bet that they will not have done. Both the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society have very serious concerns. Even last week, in the latest edition of Horticulture News, the industry’s newspaper, there is a heading that says:
“Arboriculture sector faces key skills shortage”.
This is in the world of arboriculture: the planting, care and surgery of trees. One of the experts in the field, who recruits, says that his company is having real worries about fulfilling key skills, to the point where it is hardly able to fulfil contracts. He says that colleges offer qualifications up to level 3, but his company needs people with level 6 qualifications and they are not finding them in sufficient quantities. That is just one small example of our shortage difficulties.
I now turn to apprenticeships, already touched upon by several others today. I, too, am less concerned about actual numbers than about the skills of apprentices. Let us remember that in centuries past, many apprentices would work for seven years, under a very skilled craftsman or workman, before they were allowed to call themselves fully engaged workmen or craftsmen. I am not suggesting that we now need seven years to do all this, but the ideas of “quality” and “apprenticeships” should be one and the same. Anything that means that an apprenticeship is watered down and not really worth it is not an apprenticeship. That is just a half-baked course, leading to half-baked qualifications. I want none of it. Apprenticeships should be restricted to where there are real, quality skills. Again, it is something about which I feel very strongly.
Many years ago—literally in another century—I was a schoolteacher. It was always my wish that the pupils under my care would do the very best that they could, but it was not always going to be in the direction of university. We really should be much keener on providing a whole series of alternative vocational arrangements. The various types of further education colleges can offer that. I believe that half the apprenticeships come from colleges as it is. There are also all these other skills that they can offer, but will they be able to offer them if they are worried stiff about their financial resources? Again, I leave that point for my noble friend the Minister to answer. Meanwhile, I again thank my noble friend for the excellent opportunity that she has afforded us.
My Lords, I have particular cause to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, for organising this debate. I had hoped to speak in the apprenticeship debate last week, but I had prior commitments that meant I could not. I am therefore very pleased indeed that this debate, which to some extent picks up some of the same issues, is taking place. I need to declare several interests. I am a patron of the 157 Group of large FE colleges. I am an honorary fellow of the City & Guilds of London Institute and of Birkbeck College.
I began my career back in the 1960s when I was a young assistant lecturer at the London School of Economics. At the time there was a technique known as growth accounting, which looked at where economic growth comes from, given the three factors of production that economists identified: land, labour and capital. With land not being regarded as an expandable resource, on the whole growth was accounted for by the increase in the population—of labour supply—and the increase in capital supplies in terms of investment. When they looked at the growth figures, they came up with what they called the “unexplained increment” in economic growth. This was put down on the one hand to technical progress and on the other to education—improvements in the capabilities of the labour force.
Those two elements have to some extent dominated my interests since then. I went on from the London School of Economics to play a part during the late 1970s in Neddy—the National Economic Development Office. Subsequently, I went to the Science Policy Research Unit in the University of Sussex, where I did a lot of work on research and development, and the role of research and development in promoting growth. I came to this House in 1998. Since then, education has dominated my interests, particularly further and higher education.
Going back to those days in Neddy, though, my job in the early 1980s was a very interesting one—a project looking at where Britain would be going in the 1990s. We called it the 1990s project. At the time, we identified an important trend. We had begun to see the disappearance of manufacturing industry in Britain. The textile, shoe and television industries were disappearing to what were then called the newly industrialising countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan.
What became increasingly apparent in our work—this picks up a phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes—was the fact that Britain had to live by brain rather than brawn and that it would be very necessary to expand education generally. In those days only about 12% of the age cohort went to university. On the one hand it was about expanding higher education—one saw through the 1980s, particularly at the end of the 1980s, under the noble Lord, Lord Baker, when he was Secretary of State for Education, this very rapid expansion of the higher education sector—but we also recognised that skills were vital. We began a series of surveys of skills. I remember an OECD study that identified that Britain had an unduly high proportion of those with no skills and low skills. In particular, we lacked the intermediate skills—the HNDs and HNCs, the technician-level skills—that we needed.
Roll forward to the present day and we still have very considerable skills shortages. The total number employed in the UK is 31 million. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, that is the highest number of people employed in this country ever. Of those, 23 million are in full-time employment and 8 million in part-time employment. Some 26 million are employed by other people and 5 million are self-employed. Self-employment and part-time employment have increased over the last two decades, even though, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, suggested, it has decreased slightly in the last few years.
This is very interesting in itself: the shape of the labour market has become increasingly what some people call the “hourglass economy”. The top of the hourglass reflects the fast growth of high-skill, high-pay professional and managerial occupations, particularly those where skills are combined with technical and engineering capabilities. The bottom of the hourglass also reflects fast-growing areas of employment, but ones which are generally the low-skill, low-pay service sectors associated with personal care—children and older people, healthcare and healthy living—and the hospitality industry: restaurants, fast food, hotels and tourism.
The big change has been the drastic reduction in middle-range, blue collar management and clerical occupations. While these changes have in part been driven by technology, they also reflect globalisation and the push for more flexible labour markets. In turn, flexible labour markets have led to an increase in subcontracting in both public and private sectors, more self-employment and the rise of the zero-hours culture. Skills shortages mean that the expansion of the high-pay, high-skill sector has been accompanied by relatively higher pay, while the low-skill, low-pay sectors, although expanding in numbers, have seen little or no increase in their relative pay.
The general advice now given to young people is, not surprisingly, to aim for the high-skills, high-pay occupations at the top end of the hourglass. This gold route—five GCSEs at grades A to C, A-levels and on to university—is now followed by almost 50% of the cohort of school leavers. But what of the other slightly more than 50%? Much noise is made about apprenticeships, but in fact only 6% of those school leavers go into apprenticeships. Some of the rest go straight into jobs with A-levels or their equivalent vocational qualification of BTEC, while others pursue jobs with lower-level GCSEs and vocational options.
Training on the job is the main source of training for these young people. Since 2011 the majority of apprenticeships have gone to those already employed. Most are not, as the public image of apprenticeships suggests, in sectors such as construction and engineering. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, the majority have actually been in sectors such as care, hospitality and business administration—those low-pay, low-skill jobs in the lower half of the hourglass. And most of these have been one-year apprenticeships, leading to a level 2 qualification—equivalent to GCSE with five A to C grades. Government pressure means that employers are shifting to providing longer apprenticeships of two or three years leading to a level 3 qualification—equivalent to an A-level—but this has yet to take effect.
The big skills shortages are at the technician level—the HND level—and we are not meeting them. The UK therefore ends up with a large number of young people going into the low-skill, low-pay sectors, receiving little by way of further training and with very little opportunity to develop a career pathway and upgrade their skills. It is hardly surprising that of every four people who were in low-paid jobs 10 years ago, three are still in low-paid jobs today.
The other side of the coin is that the UK, in comparison with our competitors, is well supplied with graduates—but we continue to suffer chronic shortages of those with intermediate and technician-level skills. The CBI recently reported that nearly 60% of employers—not just horticulturists and the arborealists—are worried that their operations will suffer because they cannot recruit people with the technical skills required.
Over the next 10 years, some 12 million of the UK’s 31 million workforce are due to retire, while the number of those emerging from the education system—approximately 600,000 a year—will total only 7 million. Many of those due to retire may stay in work longer, but this only serves to emphasise how important it is that there should be a route by which those already in work can upgrade their skills or retrain, in order to meet the country’s skills needs. Otherwise the trend, which is already apparent in UK industry, of filling those crucial vacancies with skilled workers trained overseas will become the norm. Meanwhile, many of those leaving school with relatively low skills will be locked into the low-skill, low-pay sector.
The scandal is that, just when we need to provide progression routes for upgrading skills, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Government are closing down those opportunities. The only game in town is apprenticeships. Outside apprenticeships, the adult skills budget has already been cut by 11% since 2013 and is scheduled for a further cut of 24% over the next two years. The traditional pathway for individuals wishing to retrain and acquire higher level skills—HNDs, HNCs and foundation degrees taken part-time at a further education college—has all but collapsed, while fees have trebled. Although loans are available, the terms are much less favourable than for degree-level students—and many mature students, already encumbered with mortgages or high rents, balk at the increased indebtedness. So if you cannot persuade an employer to fund you through a higher-level apprenticeship, there is very little you can do.
Alison Wolf—the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, as she now is—in her latest publication, Heading for the Precipice: Can Further and Higher Education Policies be Sustained?, concludes that the result of current policies—I must confess that these are coalition policies as well as the policies of the current Government—is that:
“In post-19 education, we are producing vanishingly small numbers of higher technician level qualifications, while massively increasing the output of generalist bachelors degrees and low-level vocational qualifications”.
This as an immensely short-sighted policy and I hope that the Government will do something about it.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott on bringing this debate to the House. I had some reservations as to how I could support my colleague on the subject of education and employment opportunities in the United Kingdom—so I shall speak wearing several hats today, and I hope that my words will have a place in this debate.
There are many things I could say about the value of work. Much has been written by greater minds than mine about its importance to individuals, to communities and to the economy. But for me personally, it was Barack Obama who summarised what it meant when he said,
“The best way not to feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope”.
Following the murder of my late husband Garry Newlove in 2007, and the ordeal of watching my three young daughters appear as witnesses at a trial, I felt angry, frustrated and traumatised. But I had to think about my three daughters and their future. I had to think of a way of providing for them financially and in terms of health, but I was also determined that they would grow up, as Garry would have wanted them to, as healthy, happy young women whose lives would not be entirely defined by their loss of their father on that night. So I took hold of my anger, frustration and outrage and put it to work.
In October 2010 I was proud and honoured to become the Government champion for safer communities, and more so in December 2012, when I became the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales. Although I would not go so far as to say that work saved my life, I know that Mr Obama was right when he said that the best way not to feel hopeless is to get up and do something. That is the rule I live by, and the rule that I have instilled in my three daughters.
Employment needs to be accessible to everyone, and we should develop policies to bring this about. Everyone should have the ability to reach their potential and to find work that is meaningful, secure and satisfying. Some people may need help to achieve this. In his recent conference speech, the Secretary of State for Justice spoke about the importance of work for prisoners.
I agree with this. It is not good for prisoners to sit idly in their cells. Learning the skills and discipline of working life is important, because, we hope, it will help them go out and live a law-abiding life.
However, what is harder to accept is that victims of crime do not seem to be given the same help and support. Once the offender has been sentenced, victims of crime often feel left, with nowhere to go, and very lonely lives, which they have to pull themselves up from.
Believe you me, the impact of a crime can last for many years; indeed, it never leaves you for the rest of your life. We are all different, and crime affects us all in different ways. It can impact on a young person’s ability to attend school. It can affect their concentration or ability to retain information. More than anything, it crushes their self-confidence and destroys their belief that they are capable of doing or achieving anything. I am standing here because I have seen my three young daughters struggle to retain the very abilities they were brought up with—their self-confidence and their belief in life gone. Lack of access to appropriate psychological support meant that my daughters never felt part of society—yet society had let them down.
My eldest daughter had been an A* student. She had a place at university, but felt unable to carry through her academic achievements and do what she had walked into that university with her father to do. Her confidence had been destroyed. My youngest daughter really struggled, at 12, to get up to go to school, and was living in a bubble, thinking that no one ever really cared about her, or could understand her mood swings. My middle daughter’s GCSEs had gone for ever: she could not get over what had happened to her—because nobody sat and spoke to her to ask how she felt, or about the trauma she was going through. More importantly, they were all grieving for their father at that early age.
What saddens me is that I meet many victims of crime throughout the country, all saying the same thing. We are all too familiar with the numbers of children who have suffered lengthy and systematic abuse. We are more aware than ever of how domestic abuse physically and mentally destroys the victim, and we know about the lasting damage that it causes children who witness such acts.
More recently, we have learned about the horror of those forced into years of sexual and physical slavery after being trafficked into this country. Many of these people will need a wide range of psychological and practical help. Without it, they are unlikely to recover sufficiently to take up and enjoy the benefits of regular employment or education. It is therefore essential that all departments work together to provide whatever a victim needs to help them recover. In some cases, victims of domestic abuse and sexual abuse will have turned to drink and drugs. Many victims can find themselves without a stable place to live, and many will not have acquired or retained the skills that enable them to compete in the job market. When the Government develop their many training, apprenticeship and employment schemes, they need to consider that these opportunities can be accessed by some victims of crime only if they have first received help in other areas of their life.
At the risk of saying the obvious, most people can hold down a job only if they have somewhere safe to live, are free from debilitating addictions and have a healthy body and mind. So I encourage the Government to ensure that their plans for promoting employment consider how their programmes can be accessed by all potential applicants. This means thinking not just about what employment plans should be produced by the Department for Work and Pensions, but about how the Home Office, health, education and justice departments can come together to ensure that barriers to education and employment are reduced or removed. Of course, that will not be easy. Bringing agencies together to make education or employment a realistic prospect for those who have been damaged and traumatised will be hard work, but the best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.
I stand here wearing many hats, but I speak as somebody who has lost a husband and who is now the only supporting parent of three beautiful young women. When victims are handed reports by the criminal justice system saying that offenders are now getting education programmes and employment and skills programmes because they were damaged in their early lives, please think about—the time has come for the Government to think about—what it really feels like for victims whose lives have been damaged and traumatised not by their own hand, but by somebody else. We need better support for victims and to give young people the education and employment support they need for a healthy future.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott on securing this debate on a most important subject. Her knowledge and powerful advocacy of young people is well known and certainly appreciated by many in this House.
I also point to my entries in the Register of Interests, which include a range of non-financial interests in children’s charities. I wish to highlight my trusteeship of Ark, which is generally an educational charity which operates one of the largest chains of academies and free schools in the country. As well as being a trustee of Ark, I also have the privilege of being chair of the board of governors at Ark Burlington Danes Academy, a school in the White City area of London that I sponsored through Ark.
The debate so far has been wide-ranging and fascinating across the whole range of employment, apprenticeships, further education and, most movingly, from my good noble friend Lady Newlove on the subject of victims of crime, which is an area that I had not even contemplated for this debate. Because I have spent the majority of my time in and around schools, I want to focus my speech on primary and secondary education and on some of the achievements of Government in these areas, which have largely built on the remarkable academy initiative started by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and passionately supported, and then championed, by the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove and further by Nicky Morgan, the current Education Secretary, who between them have greatly expanded the academy programme and moved it through to free schools, which to most intents and purposes are very similar to academies.
I want to talk about the benefits to educational achievements that academies and free schools have created, particularly Ark, because I know a lot about it, and then explain some of the helpful ways in which the Government have expanded the programme and, indeed, most importantly, extended it to primary schools and beyond because, as several other speakers have said, the problems of the most needy need to be addressed very early.
Education was a transformational factor in my life, and as a former grammar school boy, I used to be a passionate believer in having more grammar schools as a major driver of social mobility, as it was for me and, indeed, many of the parliamentarians who sit in this House and another place. However, when I started looking at the data for the charities affecting the neediest, I realised that while grammar schools did help a large percentage of able students to achieve their full potential, indeed, incredible results, sadly, the attainment gap opens up in the early years for the most disadvantaged in our society. Most children in receipt of free school meals, which is one very important measure of poverty, would never make it into a selective school at the age of 11, as socio-economic factors and, in some cases, parental and family issues, will help determine the results of an 11-plus exam. Hence, despite having enormous respect for the achievements of all good and outstanding schools, including grammar schools as well as academies and all other schools, and particularly the staff who work in them, sadly, I cannot accept that grammar schools alone will achieve the social mobility needed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty that affects many parts of our country.
I should explain that all of Ark’s schools are non-selective and almost all are in areas of major economic deprivation. The few that are not are in areas of very poor historical educational outcomes. Many, including my academy—Ark Burlington Danes—have high levels of free school meals and pupil premiums, some up to, and even beyond, 75%, which is over three times the national average. You have to be pretty poor to get free school meals.
Good academies with great teaching staff are achieving remarkable results for the most disadvantaged pupils. In fact, most Ark academies—we have several dozen now—are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted and achieve results well above the national average, despite poverty levels among their intake and prior attainment which would suggest that the students would achieve results markedly lower. I have to pay tribute to the executives at Ark, led by Lucy Heller, and the staff and senior leadership teams at our schools for these achievements and for their incredibly hard work. These schools are managing to get some of the poorest students into the best universities in the country, including Oxford and Cambridge. Many of the others go on to very useful jobs indeed, including some to apprenticeships, although I will leave that subject to others who know far more about it than me. But what is important to me is that whatever their pathway, the school helps them identify the right pathway, and the students have the confidence and resilience to shine at universities or places of work due to the extra work, initiatives and experiences that have been gained in school.
Ark uses a mixture of techniques to achieve this success and indeed is often rated the highest performing academy chain in the country. It starts with a real focus and incentive to get full attendance at school. When I first looked at secondary schools, I saw schools with attendance rates as low as 80% and, in some cases, the teacher attendance rates were nearly as low as the pupils’, which shows some of the intrinsic problems for both the schools and the problems for teachers teaching in a school with poor discipline, so we have rigorous attention to discipline and an extended school day because many children do not have facilities at home to do their homework, and we focus on depth before breadth.
The recruitment, training and promotion of many good young teachers who are generally fully qualified in their degree subject, including many Teach First teachers, combined with a very creative approach to the curriculum and innovation, including a programme called Mathematics Mastery that was modelled around the Singapore maths curriculum, which is a country that is rising up the league tables in mathematics, more or less mirroring Britain’s sad decline in maths, has helped to achieve our goals at primary level, where we are achieving levels of achievement for young children that are beyond any expectations.
As I said earlier, the main focus at ARK has always been depth before breadth. We want to ensure that literacy and numeracy are totally hardwired because, without this, it is difficult for students to benefit from the rest of the school curriculum or, indeed, get a job; if you are not numerate and literate other things really do not matter.
How are the Government helping? They are generally increasing the number of academies and free schools by changing the paradigm away from the original concept, under which too much was spent on each school’s capital cost because the sponsor was allowed its own choice of architect; many expensive architects were used. New schools were meant to cost £10 million to £15 million, but most of the data that I have seen suggest the average cost was in excess of £20 million. The programme has been made more sustainable by using refurbished schools and stopping the use of famous architects. Indeed, based on our data—the Minister will probably have more accurate data—the average cost today of a similar academy is less than £15 million. That is a cost reduction of about one-third per school, which clearly makes it more affordable to build more.
Another big improvement has been extending the programme to primary schools and encouraging its use all through schooling, from four to 18 years old, and beyond this, by trying to include nursery provision. When it first looked at academies, ARK was convinced, based on experiences in America, that for schools to be genuinely transformational they had to start younger. In many of the secondary schools it opened at that time, the first year or two were spent on remedial work, trying to offset levels of literacy and numeracy that were often two to four years behind expectations. This limited the teaching time available for GCSEs.
My school, Burlington Danes, eventually got permission to open a primary school last year. We started, in effect, in large porter cabins in an existing outbuilding. I went into that school last week. It has been operating for probably six weeks this year and already I saw a bunch of four and five year-olds who had started to make progress. I could see them beginning to learn how to read with the use of synthetic phonics and, using the maths curriculum, they were starting to be able to add up and understand numbers after just a few weeks. They also showed amazing discipline. They moved seamlessly from their desks to a bug boardwhere they sat down for the lesson taking place. When they did not move quietly and efficiently the teacher asked them to do it again, and they did. I believe that sort of discipline, instilled early in a career, will hold them in good stead for the rest of their schooling—indeed for life.
I hope your Lordships believe that education should never be the subject of political infighting. I am privileged at ARK to work with the labour Peer, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, as well as the prominent Liberal Democrat supporter, Paul Marshall. Truthfully, we have seldom, if ever, had any disagreement on our goals and virtually none on the methods for achieving the best for each student, particularly the most disadvantaged, who we focus on.
I also want to do something that we perhaps do not do enough and pay real tribute to the teaching profession. I have direct experience with the teaching profession at ARK schools. As well as many curriculum differences, we have saddled them with expectations which are beyond anything that they or the Fischer Family Trust tables would have children achieving, when there is the intake we have. In many cases that has involved a lot of extra work for the teachers. Frankly, provided that we could convince them that what we were doing was in the best interests of their students, the teachers have never stinted in their efforts and their enthusiasm.
I hope I have given your Lordships’ House an insight into some of the factors that enable disadvantaged young people to have a better chance of success in a more competitive world.
My Lords, I hope it is appropriate to pay tribute both to the noble Lord, Lord Fink, and to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who spoke earlier this week on the Education and Adoption Bill, for their extraordinary leadership in setting up both the Ark chain and the Harris chain of academies. Their inspiring leadership is leading the way for educational achievement and changes in this country and we should be very grateful to them and the many others involved in this.
The case for creating the right education and employment is clear and I thank my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott for providing us with the occasion to debate this topic. The opportunities and, indeed, the challenges so ably set out by my noble friend, vitally important as they are, must be for all the UK population. Opportunities in education and employment must be aimed not only at those who will be entering the workforce for the first time, but also at those who wish to stay in their jobs; to continue to progress fulfilling careers; or to join or re-join the workforce in later life.
I would like to talk about the workforce of the “third age” because of a round-table discussion I recently attended, organised by the Centre for Social Justice and the Scottish Widows Centre for the Modern Family. I thank them for their advice in preparing for this debate. I learned a lot about the reality of older people in work—the drivers and barriers, the different roles in tackling old age and employment and how health plays a part—from eminent specialists such as Professor Sir Cary Cooper and Chloe Wright from Carers UK. I am glad to have the chance to raise and share, in this Chamber, a number of the important issues which were discussed at that meeting.
We know that we as a society are older than ever before. Thankfully, many of us will retain good health into our later years. The Government’s abolition of the default retirement age, so that workers can no longer be forced out, and the extension of flexible working rights, has seen more and more people working into what would have once been considered retirement years. More than a quarter of the national workforce, approximately 8 million people, are aged between 50 and 64. A further 1.1 million workers are aged 65 or over. Working later and longer is the new norm.
However, employment rates decline as people get older and these age groups remain less likely to be in work. The latest Labour Force Survey found that 67% of 50 to 64 year-olds are in employment, compared to 81% of 25 to 49 year-olds. Only around 10% of people aged over 65 are in work. One in four women and one in six men who reach the state pension age have not worked since 55.
The rapid demographic change being experienced by our ageing society means it is increasingly urgent to address premature exit from the labour market. Doing so would bring a significant boost to our economy. Recent estimates from the Department for Work and Pensions—which has been undertaking much welcome work on this topic—found that adding just one year to the average working life would increase gross domestic product by 1% every year. In 2014, this would have amounted to £17 billion.
It is not only on a national level but also within individual workforces that the benefits of retaining and supporting an experienced workforce can be measured. The hardware chain B&Q, for example, has been at the forefront of employing older people for more than 20 years. It has seen its staff turnover greatly reduced, as well as improved customer service from staff, who have lived in their own homes for many years and have personal experience in DIY.
I have spoken before in this Chamber about the importance of diverse workforces. Businesses which are able to harness and retain talent from all aspects of society are stronger performers and better attuned to their client and customer base. My comments on this issue have usually focused on the role of women in business, but the same evidence applies to older workers, and increasingly so, as the number of people in this age group continues to grow.
The stereotype of an older worker is too often deemed to be someone with outdated practices who is waiting for the opportunity to retire. However, a recent report from the Scottish Widows Centre for the Modern
Family compiled the views of workers and business leaders, and happily revealed a far more appreciative view: 85% of employees, and a similar number of employers, welcome the skills and experience that older workers bring.
Given this context, it is clear that any discussion around increasing the number of people in appropriate and fulfilling work must include consideration of those who are approaching what would previously have been thought of as retirement age.
The challenge to extend working lives is threefold. First, there is the need to change perceptions of older people in the workforce, among both employees and employers—not, I think, an issue in this particular place of work. I welcome the fact that from April of this year older claimant champions have been introduced in each of the seven Jobcentre Plus groups. These specialists will work with work coaches and employer-facing staff to raise the profile of older workers, to highlight the benefits of employing older jobseekers and to share best practice. As the former business champion for older workers, my noble friend Lady Altmann did much to challenge outdated views of older people, to actively promote the business case and the benefits of employing older workers, and to engage both employers and employees on these issues. We must continue to build on her work.
Secondly, we must support businesses to provide the flexibility and support that older people may require to remain in the workforce. Older workers are more likely than young people to be affected by disability or caring pressures, out-of-date qualifications and skills, and discrimination—both intentional and unconscious —by employers. Nor should we assume that older workers will be able to, or wish to, remain in their current jobs. Scottish Widows research found that almost half the over-55s intending to stay in work are planning to shift to a part-time role; for example, to help family members with childcare support. Flexibility is a vital component in retaining this top talent, and we frequently see that those considered to be the best employers are thought of as such because they appreciate and adapt to the wider circumstances of their staff. The same report found that 50% of employees currently believe that their organisation is supportive of older workers, but only 18% believe that their employer would continue to support them if they expressed a desire to reduce their hours.
We should also consider that older workers will have physically demanding roles which may need to be adapted to allow them to remain in employment. The DWP has recently launched sector-specific toolkits to provide guidance for employers of older people. The experience and skills which develop over a long career do not need to be lost from a business, and mentoring roles can be a particularly important consideration; we know that many older workers thrive when they are able to help younger colleagues succeed.
Thirdly, there is a need to work with the older people themselves, to support them in gaining new employment opportunities and to help them access the retraining and education that they may require for the rapidly evolving employment market. Department for Work and Pensions research has found that unemployed people over 50 are more likely than others to remain unemployed for longer and are more likely to be economically inactive. The Government have made considerable efforts to directly address this point. A pilot project, launched in April this year, introduces targeted provision of work academies and work experience programmes for older people where age is a barrier to finding work. Separately, from May this year, the DWP has trialled an enhanced approach for career advice and reviews for older claimants, and has provided dedicated IT support to guide older people through modern job-search techniques.
I conclude with an acknowledgement that not all workers will wish to remain in their job. For some, working in later life will be a simple consequence of feeling as though they effectively cannot afford to retire. For women in particular, gaps in employment may mean a working life of low-paid and unfulfilling employment which does not provide transferrable skills. At present, two-thirds of working women over 50 are employed in just three sectors—education, health and retail—and the Scottish Widows research found that while more than a third of men want to continue working because they like their jobs, barely one in 10 women feels this way. For these people, the importance of part-time learning should not be underestimated. It can provide an opportunity to change their job but not give up work altogether.
As we in this House are only too well aware, older people play a vital role—one which will only increase—in both our national workforce and the businesses, large and small, which comprise it. With the continued focus of government, good business practice and a rebalancing of the way in which we think about older generations, I hope that this contribution may be better recognised. As a starting point, I encourage my noble friend on the Front Bench to ensure that the older generations are included in all conversations on this issue.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, for bringing this subject to our attention. It has been a very interesting debate, which has covered a plethora of activity. I agree with her wholeheartedly that early intervention pays. Every single person who has looked at getting the best out of a workforce knows that if you get in early and get your preparation right, you get a result.
The noble Baroness started off by looking at those people who have problems and for whom you need to intervene. She said that the journey starts with school. I would challenge her on that. I think the journey starts with your parents. The intervention starts the minute you have any organised education. Early intervention pays because that is when you can see where you should be intervening and giving that support. Clearly, all the social problems that we have talked about mean that that person is less likely to be employed; more likely to get caught up in anti-social activity and, indeed, the criminal justice system; and less likely to contribute to the well-being and happiness of the nation. That is accepted by everyone. The question is: how do we start to address this?
Having stated the obvious, I will go into what has been suggested. We are talking about our education system. One thing that was referred to again and again was the fact that we tend to pray to certain education gods. The A-levels and university path, the one I went down, gets quite a lot of prayer quite a lot of the time from most of us, because most of the people who make decisions went down it. As the noble Lord, Lord Fink, said, one of the most important observations is, “What I did is right”. We all know that. When our teachers go down this path, they say, “Pray at the same altar I did, because how could I have possibly made a mistake?”
My noble friend Lady Sharp, with her usual forensic analysis, said that we have always failed to address the areas where we have skills shortages. I have been hearing in this Chamber for well over 25 years that at HND, technician level we are underachieving in our skills base. There is no argument about that. It is a very old song. So how do we get to these groups which have been underperforming, traditionally, and get them into the right type of employment to guarantee them a valuable way forward? Unless we start to recognise that there is more than one way to skin this particular cat, we are going to get into real trouble. We need to intervene in the teaching process, because that is where the most intervention is required, and show that there are other ways of making a decent living and giving yourself some status.
We all know what teachers should be doing all the time, and the average teacher could spend several decades in training and not fulfil our requirements. How do we deal with this? There is a very good case for at least doubling the length of teacher training. I would like far more recognition to be given to special educational needs, and I will be bringing this issue to your Lordships’ attention in the future. If you do not know how to intervene and get your message across, you will always be at a huge disadvantage, no matter how willing and able you are. If you spend time on catch-up, the good will follow; those who follow the herd will follow, if you do it properly; the rest will slip away. A teacher should not have to be a saint; they should merely be competent at their job. The vast majority of us, when doing our jobs, are doing what is required of us. How do we educate teachers to take these options?
A less prayed-to idol, but one that is definitely improving its status, is apprenticeships. Everybody thinks apprenticeships are wonderful. I have spent a lot of time pointing out that they miss out on, for example, support for those with special educational needs. I raised a case involving dyslexia, and I faced huge resistance in trying to change the structure of this new shiny thing which was going to answer all the problems.
We still have not got it right. There is still not enough intervention to bring in the groups who are most likely to be linked and who are most likely to acquire those skills. So how do we bring them together? How do we have a coherent strategy of investing in further education to make sure we enhance our workforce? First, we need to make sure that those who are making the decisions have the skills to intervene and offer encouragement. If you intervene you may well, as the noble Baroness said, stop people thinking that activities such as gaining qualifications are “not for people like us”. Returning to my prayer theme, we pray to the value that “people like us do this; this is what we do”. Normal economic activity is not about passing exams and getting qualifications; it is not about even turning up to regular employment. We have to break into that idea, and we can only do it with a decent skills base in our educators, no matter which sector they come from. We must invest here.
The special educational needs group pulls all these factors together. Unless somebody tries to remove you from that group, your problems are going to be intensified considerably. We must always try to intervene. We were given a wonderful example of how the criminal justice system affects not only the criminals but the victims. That is something we often forget and I congratulate the noble Baroness for raising that issue. We have to start educating people to pick out the groups who find themselves gravitating towards this situation. Middle-class dyslexics, for instance, get support and help and often end up going to university. If you know how to identify the support which is out there and which we have provided over the years, you are fine. If you do not—I am talking about the social groups at the bottom—it all gets that little bit darker and difficult, and it looked pretty difficult in the first place. Breaking that expectation of failure is probably the most important bit. We are not going to achieve this unless we invest across the board in education. Further education provides a wonderful way in, because it does not have the “them and us” divide to anything like the extent of A-levels and university. It is just more accessible.
As many people have said, we should not be looking at this as an either/or situation. In a perfect world, these elements should come together. We are a long way from perfection, but let us aim for that anyway. Unless we get better education for teachers and lecturers in further education—which means continuing training after identifying the strategies to be put in place—we once again guarantee failure. The further education sector was fine for my own disability group, dyslexia, but now there are major structural problems because the group has not been identified.
So we have all identified a series of common goals. Unless we start to communicate more about what this pathway should be, we are always going to go back and forth, blaming one another for the last failure. To take my religious analogy slightly further, the idea that academies will solve everything is a fallacy. They will not because they are still schools, and they still have teachers who have to be trained. You may get an improvement and the shock of change, but ultimately they are still just schools, and once they get all the problems, they will have to deal with them. We are going to have to work with them. They will still have to make sure that they are achieving not prestigious outcomes for people, but putting them into further education to succeed.
Can we do this? Can we recognise that we should co-operate? We can. Oddly, we had a wonderful example from the Government of everybody at least acknowledging the idea of communality and that various factions should talk to each other. It is called sport. Read the sport consultation paper. It is wonderful. We get dozens of different departments all saying they have a part of the solution. I am not holding my breath to see if they actually do change their behaviour and co-operate. “Change the way we do things? No. We have said it is important. That is enough.” I have a nagging suspicion that is where we are, but we should at least start to think about co-operation in education and certainly within further education. How do we support one another? How do we have that coherent approach? It takes a lot of talking and a lot of communication to bring things together but unless we do, we will ultimately fail and we will go back to having little miracle solutions which will run into the ground and then get resurrected, with other miracle solutions working against them. We really should start to talk to each other more and stop shouting.
My Lords, like others, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, for initiating and introducing this debate. She did so with commitment and passion. As we have discovered and as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has just acknowledged, this has proved to be a multi-faceted topic and one which, in various ways, we have discussed elsewhere in recent days in our debates on apprenticeships, the Enterprise Bill and the Education and Adoption Bill.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, was introducing the Motion she said that what she was talking about was generally not technically sophisticated. I agree with that. She instanced the concept of personal coaches, which I am sure are challenging and rewarding but of themselves not technically complex. She instanced the importance of transition from schools to work and the need to address this because of the poverty of hope, belief and aspiration. I found that I could not agree with much that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said. I agree that work is a route out of poverty and that there is a need to encourage employers to pay people properly, but I remind him that the economy was actually growing when Gordon Brown left office and it was austerity which choked off that growth. On tax credits, I am sure we will have an interesting session on Monday.
My noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green is a strong advocate of apprenticeships—he spoke about the need for proper monitoring if these are going to be effective—and the importance of Sure Start. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, gave us her own experience of the arrangements for mentoring and coaching and how important that could be, and touched on the need to raise the esteem for vocational education. I agree with that. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, took us down the path of her initiation into growth accounting. Despite all that and the march of technology and globalisation, we still have a skill shortage. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, spoke movingly about how trauma in her own life was the spur to action—she got up and did something—and the need to recognise that everyone should be able to reach their potential. The noble Lord, Lord Fink, spoke in an enlightened way about the contribution he had made and seen of education, praising the teaching profession. I very much support that. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, spoke about the issue of older workers and the challenges that they face.
The Motion invites us to debate on,
“the case for creating the right education and employment opportunities in the United Kingdom”, a case which can hardly be denied. It is implicit in the Motion, of course, that the opportunities at present are not as they should be and it begs the question of what constitutes the right opportunities. In a speech included in our pack, the Minister Nick Gibb mused about the purpose of education. His definition embraced being the “engine of our economy” and the “foundation of our culture”, educating “the next generation” and,
“instilling … a love of knowledge”.
It was also, he said, about,
“the practical business of ensuring that young people receive the preparation they need to secure a good job and a fulfilling career”.
I would not disagree with any of that. The speech might also have included that education can be the engine to drive greater equality and social mobility. The whole journey of a child through education needs investment to ensure that all young people have the opportunities they need and for our society and economy to thrive.
Sadly, we know that vocational education has been neglected, with spending plans for post-16 education threatening many colleges. We have heard that from several contributions today. That is showing: the CBI already says that one in three of its member firms is not confident that they will have all the skilled staff they need for the future.
If we are to create effective education opportunities, as my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie spelled out in his excellent opening speech from these Benches on Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, we need to address the fundamental problem of recruitment and retention of teachers. As he pointed out, nearly 50,000 teachers left the profession in the year to November 2014.
I think we all accept that what makes a difference in schools is much less to do with structures than with good leadership and good leadership teams. There is much else, but I recall attending a conference held by an international educational foundation which was unveiling its findings about the status of teachers in a variety of countries around the world. There had been a strong correlation between educational outcomes and the esteem with which teachers were held—an intriguing concept, I suggest.
We believe that more quality apprenticeships are essential to the prospects of young people and the future success of our economy. Although we welcome the Government’s expressed desire to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and to protect the brand, the track record has not been inspiring. The focus should be on quality rather than quantity.
As my noble friend Lord Young said, just today we received the report of the Chief Inspector of Schools, with a damning indictment of the Government’s record on apprenticeships. As has been suspected for some time, despite the increase in the numbers, very few apprenticeships are delivering up-to-date skills in the sectors which most need them. One in three providers visited by Ofsted was failing to deliver high-quality training. Sir Michael Wilshaw has called it,
“little short of a disaster”, that only 5% of young people took up apprenticeships at the age of 16—a real failure to prepare pupils for the world of work.
The Ofsted report identifies that too many low-skilled roles are being classed as apprenticeships and too few apprenticeships provide the advanced professional-level skills needed in sectors with shortages. Sir Michael is quoted as saying:
“We have won the argument over the value of apprenticeships. We have yet to make them a sought-after and valid alternative career choice for hundreds of thousands of young people”.
His call for urgent, joined-up action by schools, employees and FE and skills providers must be part of the creation of the “right” education and employment opportunities. Of course, that cannot happen without resource. The Government’s own adviser on skills has warned that there is simply no money with which to move from low to high quality.
We acknowledge and welcome the fact that unemployment has fallen year on year, although the number of people working fewer hours than they want to has increased by almost 1 million since 2008. The overall unemployment rate, at 5.4%, is below the OECD average but the youth unemployment rate, at 14.8%, is significantly above it. The previous coalition Government, by scrapping the educational maintenance allowance and trebling tuition fees, made it financially more difficult for those from low-income backgrounds to engage in further education. Disbanding the Connexions service and transferring responsibility for careers advice has led to a deterioration of careers guidance just when it was most needed.
We were expecting the Welfare Reform and Work Bill to include measures to provide Jobcentre Plus adviser support in schools across England to supplement careers advice and provide routes into work experience and apprenticeships. However, all that seems to have been announced is a small-scale pilot project in the Midlands. Does the original ambition still pertain?
Of course, we have the Earn or Learn task force—inaptly named, it is suggested, because why should those be alternatives?—which is supposed to oversee the end of long-term youth unemployment and decades of so-called welfare dependency. We shall see, but there is ministerial rhetoric about creating a “no excuses” culture, putting young people through their paces and references to boot camps. That kind of language blames young people who cannot find work for their own situation and assumes that they lack the necessary willpower.
We know that the Work and Pensions Select Committee has launched an inquiry into welfare-to-work provision to explore options for the future with a particular focus on promoting a broader range of specialist provision, including through innovative and community-level approaches. This is obviously to be welcomed. The DWP’s main contracts for welfare-to-work schemes— the Work Programme and Work Choice—are due to expire in 2017, and it is understood that a retendering process will begin in the new year. Most recent statistics show that of 1.76 million people referred to the Work Programme since 2011, about 27% have found sustained work. That is to say, more than 70% did not. The total price tag is £2.8 billion. Is that as good as we can do?
I think that there is general agreement that moves to greater devolution away from the centre and passing powers and responsibilities to local authorities—especially combined authorities—is a movement whose time has come. Local communities better understand their local economies and skills needs. It is a pity that this issue has got mired with the attempted imposition of elected mayors as part of the process. There is also concern that responsibility may pass without adequate resources.
The focus has been on the mainstream and at a macro level, but we should recognise that there is a multitude of circumstances across the country, where there is a range of organisations with low-key but vital projects helping to train and educate individuals, improving their chances of employment. I should like to introduce to the House just one, Noah Enterprise—that is, New Opportunities and Horizons—of which I have the privilege to be a trustee. It is a Luton-based charity working across Bedfordshire offering support and opportunity to people struggling against homelessness, addiction, exclusion and unemployment. It runs a welfare centre, and outreach programme and a furniture-based social enterprise that combine to provide a holistic approach to rehabilitation for those who are among the most vulnerable in our community. In helping people to recover their lives, they are encouraged to enrol in the academy, where they can engage in digital learning, learn English as a second language and be prepared for employment. That is combined with volunteering in the social enterprise, where they can learn skills, including furniture restoration, portable appliance testing, warehousing, white goods refurbishment, driver’s assistant duties, and others.
In those ventures, we look to generate income to contribute to supporting the running of the welfare services. They are, especially, a place where vulnerable people on the margins of society can find a rekindling of self-esteem, respect and confidence, a means whereby they can find a framework that helps them to live their lives constructively and with satisfaction—and, for the first time in many years, the prospect of a job. For them at this time, that is the right education and employment opportunity.
My Lords, I would first like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott on securing today’s debate and thank all noble Lords who have contributed. We have certainly had many impressive contributions today; I fear that mine might seem inadequate by comparison, but I will do my best.
We have covered a wide range of issues that are central to this Government’s ambition to extend opportunity and transform lives. Let me be clear: whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever your background, this Government’s aim is to help you to fulfil your potential in life. The core of our approach to improving life chances is to focus on tackling the root causes of poverty. A number of noble Lords referred to this today. Having a parent in work, and leaving school with good qualifications are the most important determinants of whether a young person will do well in life. Education and employment, the key drivers of opportunity, are captured in our new “life chances” measures set out in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. It is through these measures that the Government will be held to account to ensure that we do improve the life chances of all children.
This Government want every family and individual in the country to benefit from the rewards of employment. Noble Lords have all talked about the importance of this. It is through work that parents provide security for their children and help them to get on in life. But the rewards go well beyond the financial; a steady job provides a sense of purpose and pride. Work is central to creating self-worth, self-confidence and self-belief. Conversely, worklessness—as we all know—is strongly related to poor mental and physical health, poor child outcomes and poor educational attainment. That is why this Government have set the ambition of securing full employment in this Parliament.
I know that a number of noble Lords do not like it, but, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, we are starting from a good economic position. The employment rate is at a record high and there are more people in work than ever before. There are 480,000 fewer children living in workless households than in 2010. The employment rate of young people who have left full-time education is continuing to rise. Since 2010, nearly two-thirds of the rise in employment has been in higher-skilled occupations, which generally command a higher wage. My noble friend Lady Jenkin will be pleased to know that there are more older people in employment than ever before. But we know that we have more to do, which is why we are committed to transforming our welfare system, improving our education system and growing our economy.
Central to our welfare reforms, as we have heard today, is universal credit, which radically simplifies our overly complex system: but it is much more than a technical exercise. Universal credit will make sure that work always pays. The structure supports parents to make joint decisions about how to balance work and raise their children, while, through the claimant commitment, every individual has a clear understanding of what is expected of them in finding work. As a result of universal credit, up to 300,000 more people are likely to be in work due to its more effective work incentives, increased simplicity and increased conditionality. As my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, early results show that it is working. Compared to JSA claimants, universal credit claimants do more to look for work, enter work more quickly and earn more money. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, asked me about a specific DWP pilot project: I will have to write to him with details of that.
As a number of noble Lords said, we know that youth unemployment can have significant negative impacts on young people’s life chances, which is why we are committed to eradicating it. My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, laid out some of the issues that young people face. An important part of achieving this goal is our commitment to creating 3 million new apprenticeships in England in this Parliament.
Apprenticeships offer young people a route into the world of work, valuable experience and vital skills. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, said that we were not providing enough apprenticeships, but in fact, in 2013-14, 240,000 workplaces had apprentices. In 2015-16, we will be spending £1.5 billion in total. The noble Lord, Lord Young, and my noble friend Lady Fookes mentioned the recent Ofsted report. Of course we will be reflecting on the findings of that, but we are absolutely clear that we need good-quality apprenticeships. The Enterprise Bill, for instance, will be introducing a protection of the term “apprenticeship” to stop it being misused. We will certainly ensure that there is rigorous testing and grading at the end of apprenticeships. This is absolutely key: there is no point in young people taking apprenticeships that are not of sufficiently good quality, and the Government are committed to ensuring that they are. We also have in place degree apprenticeships in the nuclear industry, engineering, chartered surveying and the automotive industry, to name but a few. Other employers are exploring ways to develop their own apprenticeship programmes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, and my noble friend Lady Fookes talked about the importance of further education and adult skills training. The Government take this very seriously. In relation to funding, we have the upcoming spending review, so I cannot say much more about that, but I reassure noble Lords that between August 2011 and February 2015, nearly 600,000 jobseekers started adult skills training.
Furthermore, key to tackling youth unemployment is early intervention to ensure that young people get the help they need before they leave school, so that they can make the transition between school and further learning or employment. That is why we are putting Jobcentre Plus advisers into schools around England. Working with 14 to 17 year-olds, these advisers will complement the work of careers advisers to ensure that young people get the advice they need on local training and employment opportunities.
The Government are also supporting young unemployed people through work experience and traineeship programmes so they can get that vital experience of the workplace to help them find sustained jobs. An evaluation in 2012 found that work experience participants were around 16% more likely to be off benefits than non-participants after 21 weeks. This is a similar success to the Future Jobs Fund but at 1/20th of the cost.
As a number of contributors to the debate today said, we know that attainment at school is the biggest determinant of our young people making a successful transition to adult life and future success in the labour market. As my noble friend Lord Fink so eloquently highlighted, a good education unlocks potential and lays the foundations for future success and employment prospects. Those who have benefited from a good education are more productive, healthier and happier citizens who contribute greatly to the communities in which they live. That is why we want schools not just to provide a high-quality education but to help their students develop qualities such as confidence, resilience and motivation. These character traits not only support academic attainment but are highly valued by employers.
The best schools—such as those of Ark, which my noble friend Lord Fink is involved in, and those of my noble friend Lord Harris, who we heard from earlier this week—do this through daily interaction with teachers and staff, through the curriculum, and through encouraging activities such as playing team sports, volunteering, learning an instrument or debating. But in order to encourage this further we are investing £5 million in character education and have already awarded grants to support 14 projects for schools, particularly those in the most deprived areas.
We are also ensuring that schools have the resources they need to close the attainment gap between the poorest students and their peers through the pupil premium. During the last Parliament we invested £6 billion of additional funding in schools in England through the premium and are providing an additional £2.5 billion this year. Schools such as Charter Academy in Portsmouth demonstrate the impact that can be achieved. In 2014, 82% of disadvantaged pupils achieved five or more good GCSEs including English and maths—double the national average for pupil premium pupils and 18 percentage points higher than the national average for non-disadvantaged pupils.
Our reforms also include a rigorous new curriculum, world-class exams and a new schools accountability system which rewards schools that push children to achieve their best. Now 82% of all schools in England are good or outstanding—the highest proportion since Ofsted began inspecting schools—and there are over 1 million more pupils in England in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. We will not hesitate to intervene where schools are failing or “coasting”. As the Prime Minister has said, we will have zero tolerance of the failing schools that still exist, so every inadequate school will be turned into an academy with new leadership.
Free schools are providing parents with more choice—and at a cheaper price, as my noble friend Lord Fink correctly said—and offering new opportunities for young people where there is local demand for new provision. Since 2010, over 300 new free schools have opened, providing over 150,000 new places for children. The free schools programme is encouraging school partnerships and allowing excellent practice to spread. For instance, Bury St Edmunds Technical Academy is being set up by an academy trust that already runs good and outstanding schools. It will be a 13 to 19 school focusing on STEM subjects through both academic and technical routes. Its partnerships with local employers will mean that students will be able to access work-based projects and work experience in addition to their studies. Free schools are more likely to be rated outstanding by Ofsted than other state schools, and almost half are in the most deprived areas of the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, and my noble friend Lady Fookes talked about careers advice. We absolutely agree that high-quality careers guidance is vital if young people are to make good decisions about future learning and careers, and it is particularly important for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not get that advice at home. We know that some schools are doing excellent work and that their pupils are accessing the right support, but in too many cases careers advice has long been inadequate.
Since September 2012 we have devolved responsibility for careers advice to schools in England. They will now be held to account for the destination of their pupils, whether it is an apprenticeship, a job, further education or university. The Government have also set up the Careers & Enterprise Company to transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people. Last month it launched its Enterprise Adviser network programme to link employees in firms of all sizes to schools through a network of enterprise advisers drawn from business volunteers. As my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott mentioned, the Leeds City Region was part of the Enterprise Adviser pilot, and its programme began in November 2014. Since then over 100 business leaders and 60 schools from across the city region have joined their network, which has resulted in over 3,500 young people accessing new employer-led activities and over 50 action plans created in schools to develop employability skills.
We also want to unlock the potential of all young people who have the ability to succeed at university. The Prime Minister has committed to doubling the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education by the end of this Parliament from 2009 levels and to increasing the number of BME students going to university by 20% by 2020. We recognise that graduates have a vital part to play in building a highly skilled workforce through their ability to challenge assumptions, energise and innovate. The best way to produce more employable graduates is for employers, either individually or jointly, to work directly with universities and colleges. They can and should help with course design and delivery, provide work placements and, where appropriate, offer sponsorship for students.
My noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington was absolutely right to mention that it is not just young people who need the right opportunities. The structure of our society is changing and life expectancy is increasing as people live longer and healthier lives. Despite the increase in the employment rate of older people, the problem of people leaving the labour market too early remains a problem. The Government have implemented a number of initiatives to help people to live fuller working lives. We have appointed a Business Champion for Older Workers, extended the right to request flexible working, and introduced Carers in Employment pilots in nine local authorities to explore ways for carers to balance work with their caring responsibilities.
In March 2015, in her previous role as Business Champion for Older Workers, my noble friend Lady Altmann published the report A New Vision for Older Workers: Retain, Retrain, Recruit. It makes a number of recommendations designed to challenge outdated stereotypes of older workers. The Government will respond to the report’s recommendations shortly.
I now turn to the issues raised by my noble friend Lady Newlove, who spoke so movingly earlier. The Government recognise that difficult circumstances can cause a substantial and varying amount of distress for children. All schools should create a caring and supportive environment and earlier this year the Government brought together a group of experts to advise on how to provide good school-based counselling services. We are providing nearly £5 million of funding this year to support 17 projects delivering a wide range of support for children and young people with mental health issues, including supporting Dove, an organisation that provides mental health support for bereaved children.
The Government recognise the variety of barriers that many people, including victims of crime, face and we agree that a holistic approach is required. That is why, for instance, the Government are committed to expanding the Troubled Families programme and why the DWP and DCLG are looking at what more they can do with local authorities to break down barriers. Victims of crime will be delighted that they have such a strong voice within government also fighting their cause. Finally, on Think Forward, raised by my noble friends Lady Stedman-Scott and Lady Fookes, the Minister for Children and Families will be delighted to meet my noble friends to discuss the programme and hear more about the benefits that they outlined.
In conclusion, high levels of employment and educational excellence drive opportunity and are at the heart of this Government’s social justice vision. It is through employment that parents provide for their families and through education that children, in turn, fulfil their own potential. It is by tackling worklessness and delivering excellence for all our young people that we will break the cycles of disadvantage—and this Government will focus relentlessly on both.
My Lords, I thank everybody who has taken part in this debate. I almost feel like we are just getting going. I am sure, though, that the Companiondoes not allow me to apply for an extension to the debate. The debate has been very lively—livelier in some parts than others—but it keeps us on our toes. This is a subject beyond political banter and I hope our hearts beat in concert to try to do something about it.
I have a few closing remarks. I think it is work in progress on apprenticeships. We have more homework to do and we had better get on and do it. As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, we have got over to people the value of apprenticeships, and we need to make sure that those apprenticeships are valuable to the people who will undertake them.
There is nothing more to say on careers advice and guidance, but we are taking too long to get this right so we must re-treble our efforts and make sure that young people get the best labour market careers advice and employment support to ensure they can fulfil their potential.
The points about the rebalancing of higher and vocational education were well made by everybody, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her contribution. Her knowledge and experience is well respected and there is much more that we will be doing.
I have got the message on early intervention and where it starts. I really have got that, thank you.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for drawing our attention to older workers. They have a great contribution to make. We have got to keep them in the workforce and they act as good role models to younger employees and sometimes they become their “parent” in a roundabout way. I completely agree that it is competence rather than age and I hope that this House at some time in the future will remember that, too.
On education, I became a governor of an academy so that I really understood them and I hoped I could make a contribution. Teachers are to be complimented. They do great jobs. Of course, like in every workforce, they could do better in some respects but they are terrific. I concur that the noble Lords, Lord Fink and Lord Harris, and others have made a great investment in academies and our country will only be the richer for that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has paid a high price, but her girls are a credit to her. She gets all the grief—believe you me—because they are teenagers but they are doing well. I think the next debate should be the rehabilitation of victims. We must do that.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who has changed her place in the Chamber, that horticulture jobs are valuable. They need doing and there are a lot of people—one in this Chamber in particular—who spend a lot of time in horticultural establishments purchasing things for their garden. Horticulture is a great contributor to the economy.
Noble Lords have seen the value of coaches first hand. If any noble Lord wants to go and see a coach, see me and I will fix it up. There was nothing half-baked about the contribution, I must say.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, mentioned the importance of the economy. If the economy is strong then employers will create jobs. It is a no-brainer. Of course, there is also the importance of the family in that particular journey.
I am really grateful for the offer of a meeting. Let me know when it is—if it is tomorrow, I will be there. I will go away now and prepare for that.
I received a phone call at 6.50 am today from my niece’s six-year old son, who was crying on the telephone. He has a massive eye infection, but he was not crying at the thought of going to the doctor but because he could not go to school and the people in his class might learn something that he missed and he might feel at some disadvantage. I hope that we may create that desire to learn in our education and employment system.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.