My Lords, I want to intervene briefly, not to say something about language skills—I will not do that, as I agree with every word said by my noble friend Lady Coussins—and not just because I want to tell my grandchildren that I once carried a spear on a stage adorned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I want to draw attention to a June report by the Economic Affairs Select Committee of your Lordships’ House, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. As a member of the committee, I draw noble Lords’ attention to two paragraphs of the report. The first deals with the problem of how to ensure parity of esteem among all forms of higher and further education—a problem on which the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, has spoken wisely and eloquently down the years.
Paragraph 254 of the Select Committee report says that:
“The prioritisation of the undergraduate degree in schools, through the use of incentives and targets, has helped fuel perceptions that other routes are inferior. Schools must present all post-16 and post-18 options as equal. Incentives aimed at schools which encourage them to promote sixth form and university should be removed. Every pupil aged 16 should spend one day learning about apprenticeships and how to apply for them”.
Since I feel as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, does about apprenticeships, I do not think one day is nearly enough. I strongly support the thrust of the report.
Secondly, on the issue of how to help the young navigate a career, paragraph 260 of the report points out that:
“There is a clear and well understood process for university applications which is not available for other forms of post-school education. The process for students considering routes other than university should be clearer and less complex. There is merit in a single, UCAS-style, portal for covering all forms of higher education, further education and apprenticeships. The Government should ask UCAS how such a portal could be designed and implemented”.
I strongly support that.
I am not quite as optimistic as some have been in this debate, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley. I see the glass as only half full but I think that it would be relatively easy to fill it and I would be very interested to know the Minister’s reaction to the two suggestions made by the Economic Affairs Select Committee.