Motion on Amendments 17 and 18

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 2:14 pm on 24th March 2022.

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Baroness Barran:

Moved by Baroness Barran

That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 17 and 18 and do propose Amendments 17B and 17C to Commons Amendment 17—

17: Insert the following new Clause—“Information about technical education and training: access to English schools(1) Section 42B of the Education Act 1997 (information about technical education: access to English schools) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1), for “is an opportunity” substitute “are opportunities”.(3) After subsection (1) insert—“(1A) In complying with subsection (1), the proprietor must give access to registered pupils on at least one occasion during each of the first, second and third key phase of their education.”(4) After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The proprietor of a school in England within subsection (2) must— (a) ensure that each registered pupil meets, during each of the first and second key phases of their education, at least one provider to whom access is given (or any other number of such providers that may be specified for the purposes of that key phase by regulations under subsection (8)), and(b) ask providers to whom access is given to provide information that includes the following—(i) information about the provider and the approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships that the provider offers,(ii) information about the careers to which those technical education qualifications or apprenticeships might lead,(iii) a description of what learning or training with the provider is like, and(iv) responses to questions from the pupils about the provider or approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships.(2B) Access given under subsection (1) must be for a reasonable period of time during the standard school day.”(5) In subsection (5)—(a) in paragraph (c), at the end insert “and the times at which the access is to be given;”;(b) after paragraph (c) insert—“(d) an explanation of how the proprietor proposes to comply with the obligations imposed under subsection (2A).”(6) In subsection (8), after “subsection (1)” insert “or (2A)”.(7) After subsection (9) insert—“(9A) For the purposes of this section—(a) the first key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 13, and(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;(b) the second key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 15, and(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;(c) the third key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 17, and(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year.””

18: Page 18, line 2, leave out Clause 14

17B: In subsection (3), leave out “one occasion” and insert “two occasions”

17C: In subsection (4), leave out paragraph (a) and insert—“(a) ensure that, during each of the first and second key phases of the education of each registered pupil—(i) on at least two occasions the pupil meets at least one provider to whom access is given (or any other number of such providers that may be specified for the purposes of that key phase by regulations under subsection (8)), and(ii) the pupil does not meet exactly the same provider or providers on each of those occasions, and”

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, the Motions in this group relate to provider access, universal credit, and SEND and further education teacher training. I will start with Commons Amendments 17 and 18, on strengthening the present provider access legislation, and Amendments 17A, B and C to the Motion in my name.

The Government have listened to and carefully considered the views expressed and concerns raised in this House and the other place. We agree that it is important that the number of mandatory provider encounters is balanced with the need for pupils to hear from a diverse range of people during each key phase of their education. That is why I am delighted to be able to propose a compromise amendment that offers young people that choice, related to students meeting providers of technical education and apprenticeships.

Our amendment would require schools to put on six provider encounters for pupils in years 8 to 13: two in each key phase, or an average of one per year over the course of a pupil’s secondary education. This should help to ensure that young people meet a greater breadth of providers and, crucially, should prevent schools simply arranging one provider meeting and turning down all other providers. The underpinning statutory guidance will include details of the full range of providers that we would expect all pupils to have the opportunity to meet during their time at secondary school. The Government intend to consult on this statutory guidance to ensure that the legislation works for schools, providers and, most importantly, young people.

I also want to take this opportunity to clarify that, although this amendment does not make specific reference to university technical colleges, the reference to “providers” in the amendment does cover UTCs. Strong UTCs are succeeding in equipping young people with vital skills, getting them into employment and supporting social mobility. It is right that, when there is a UTC in reasonable distance, it should be one of the providers that schools consider inviting to speak to their pupils.

I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for his work on this issue. In particular, I recognise the extraordinary work done by the right honourable Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, and thank him for his tireless campaigning. I hope noble Lords will agree that this is a sensible compromise, with a middle ground of six provider encounters that will help to give every pupil information about what FE colleges, independent training providers, university technical colleges and other alternative providers can offer.

Amendments 17D and 17E in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, would require that provider encounters are in person and, further, that they begin in year 7 and that access is given over at least two weeks on each occasion. We agree that all young people need work experience and engagement with a range of employers to gain insights into the workplace. We also want young people to have access to personal guidance whenever they are making significant choices about the next step in their education or training. That is why we expect schools to follow the Gatsby benchmarks, which incorporate these activities as part of a high-quality careers programme for young people.

We are committed to ensuring that every provider encounter is of a high quality and meaningful for the student. We agree that it is sensible that provider encounters should be given in person where possible. However, writing this requirement into primary legislation is unnecessary. We have seen throughout the pandemic that there are times when it is not always appropriate for provision to be given in person. Technology may also have a role to play in bringing pupils a wider range of perspectives; for example, as part of the provider’s in-person presentation at school, it could incorporate a live link-up with some students at the provider or deliver a virtual tour. However, we agree that encounters should be in person where possible, and we propose making that expectation clear in the statutory guidance.

Secondly, we agree that “the earlier, the better” on careers guidance. That is why the Government support the Private Member’s Bill currently making its way through this House that sets out that career guidance begins at year 7. Pupils will get introduced to careers education in year 7 and will start learning about technical education options via the provider encounters from year 8. There is little demonstrable benefit in bringing the provider access clause forward to year 7, because pupils cannot act on this information then, whereas from year 8 onwards, there are clear choices for them to make in terms of the subsequent stages following their secondary education.

Finally, I cannot agree with the amendment that would require schools to provide access to pupils over a two-week period. This would be extremely burdensome on schools, which would struggle to accommodate that amount of time for providers in an already busy curriculum. We think the clause as it stands, saying schools should ensure a reasonable period of time during the school day, is sufficient and proportionate.

I turn to Commons Amendment 19 and Motions 19A and 19B. My noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and I had productive conversations—

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

I just want to refer to the earlier amendment, for which I thank my noble friend very warmly. The original Baker clause had three meetings for each year group—13, 15 and 17—and the Government wanted one. It was a loophole. I had discussions with her and I thank her very much for the way in which she responded, moving to two meetings. It is a very good example of give and take. She is a member of a Ministry that likes to take but very seldom gives, but here the Government did listen to representations from this House. I thank her for agreeing to that and being sympathetic to it.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank my noble friend for his very kind words.

Returning to Amendment 19 and Motions 19A and 19B, as I was saying, my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and I had productive conversations with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on these matters. I shall highlight some of the points raised in these discussions, although I am aware that the letters we wrote to the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord are in the Library of the House.

First, I note that Clause 17, removed by Amendment 19, would be significantly costly to implement. Initial estimates from DWP suggest the cost of ensuring that such claimants retain entitlement to universal credit could be between £250 million and £300 million per annum. While this House has rightly asked the Commons to consider this point, it is right that we do not continue to insist on policy that would increase public spending. It may help if I remind noble Lords that the core objective of universal credit is to support claimants to enter work, earn more or prepare for work in the future. Indeed, it is an important principle that universal credit does not duplicate the support provided by the student support system.

However, I reassure your Lordships that universal credit claimants are able to take on part-time training for any level of course, as long as they can meet their work requirements and their work coach is satisfied that it will help their employment chances. Furthermore, the Government understand that there should be some circumstances in which people are allowed to continue to claim universal credit while doing full-time training. That is why universal credit claimants may undertake a full-time course of non-advanced study or training for up to eight weeks in order to support their employment and career goals. Additionally, as part of DWP Train and Progress, there is a further extension in the flexibility offered by universal credit conditionality. This extension means that, with the agreement of their work coach, adults who claim universal credit can undertake non-advanced work-related full-time training for up to 16 weeks without losing their entitlement to universal credit. The flexibility will last until at least April 2023.

Finally, exceptions for full-time study or training at any level are also made for students with additional needs that are not met through the student support system, such as those responsible for a child or claimants who have been assessed as having limited capability for work due to disability or ill health. This additional flexibility has been introduced in recognition of the benefit a course of study or training could have in enabling claimants with disabilities to improve their prospects of obtaining work. Officials at the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions will also continue to work closely together to help address and mitigate the barriers to unemployed adults taking advantage of our skills offers. For example, both departments are working to ensure that local jobcentre leads are actively involved in and help inform the design of local skills provision through skills advisory panels and the local skills improvement plans.

Moreover, the recently announced employment and skills pathfinders are a joint DWP/DfE initiative, working in collaboration with local partners, to examine how our national interventions could be improved by aligning the delivery of employment and skills at a local level. The employment and skills advisory pathfinders will share all their learnings with the LSIPs, as I mentioned, but also with the mayoral combined authorities and other local programmes, so they have an opportunity to learn from them too. More broadly, in relation to how we are learning from these programmes, the Department for Education is setting up a new unit for future skills which will work with BEIS and DWP to bring together the skills, data and information we hold across government to enable us to use central and local government, as well as providers and the general public. The unit will produce information on local skills demand, the future skills needs of business, the skills available in an area and the pathways between training and jobs. This will obviously also be relevant to those looking for work.

Turning to Commons Amendment 21 and Motion 21B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we all agree that it is vital for our teachers across all stages, from early years to school and further education, to be trained to identify and respond to the needs of all their learners, including those with special educational needs and disabilities. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, who has been a voice for learners with special educational needs and disabilities throughout the debates on this Bill, and more broadly in the House. However, as indicated by Commons Amendment 21, we do not believe it is helpful to prescribe requirements relating to the content of further education initial teacher training in primary legislation, and we do not agree, in response to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, that the content of occupational standards should be cemented into legislation.

I want first to address our shared commitment to ensuring that all learners, including learners with special educational needs and disabilities, have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life and supports them to achieve positive outcomes. This starts from the earliest stages, which is why, as part of the early years recovery programme, we are establishing a training contract to increase the number of qualified SENCOs working in early years settings by up to 5,000 between September 2022 and August 2024.

In addition, we recently announced a package of over £45 million for SEND, to be delivered over the next three financial years. This includes direct support to schools and colleges to support the workforce in meeting the needs of learners with special educational needs and disabilities. The forthcoming SEND review will aim to ensure that children and young people with SEND get the educational, health and care support they need, identified early, delivered promptly and in settings that are best suited to their needs.

On the content of FE initial teacher training programmes, it is right that teaching professionals in the sector decide how teacher training should be designed and delivered. We supported a group of experts who employ teachers in the FE sector—from colleges and training providers, whose staff have real insight into the needs of their learners—to develop the new occupational standard for learning and skills teachers, which was published in September 2021.

The occupational standard is absolutely clear that all FE teachers must:

“Work in a manner that values diversity, and actively promote equality of opportunity and inclusion by responding to the needs of all students.”

This high-level requirement is threaded throughout the standard, which specifies in detail the knowledge, skills and behaviours that teachers need in order to demonstrate that they are meeting that duty. As the noble Lord’s amendment itself acknowledges, the occupational standard is fundamentally “employer-led”. It is determined by expertise from within the sector itself. We believe it would be beyond the role of government to attempt to redefine a set of requirements that has been put forward by professionals working with teachers and learners on a daily basis.

As I already mentioned, we do not believe it would be appropriate to cement the content of an occupational standard in legislation. Standards are, by their very nature, dynamic reflections of the latest skills and knowledge required to perform a particular occupation. They are subject to regular review and updating. Attempting to codify any specific requirement for the standards within the rigid framework of legislation feels counterproductive.

I hope that the noble Lord can agree that we should put our trust in the professional judgment of those who train teachers in the FE sector and should not seek to use the tool of legislation to force the hand of those with experience and expertise. With that, I beg to move.