Amendment to the Motion on Amendments 17 and 18

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 24 March 2022.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport:

Moved by Baroness Wilcox of Newport

Add the following amendments to Amendment 17—

17E: In subsection (4), in inserted subsection (2A)(b), after “provide” insert “in-person”

17F: In subsection (4), in inserted subsection (2B), at end insert “, beginning in Year 7 and running over at least two weeks on each occasion”

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, Motion 17D and Amendments 17E and 17F, tabled in my noble friend Lord Watson’s name, would in essence require schools to give careers advice for at least two weeks and in person after year 7 in secondary school. Technical education information provided to students must be given on two occasions per key education phase rather than on one occasion. In the next Labour Government, we will reinstate two weeks of compulsory work experience and will guarantee that every young person gets to see a careers adviser. We will refocus the curriculum, deliver new opportunities for digital skills, practical work and life skills, sport and the arts, and give every young person access to a professional careers adviser to make sure that they leave school ready for work and for life. We will give every child access to quality careers advice in their school by giving schools access to a professional careers adviser one day a week. In the meantime, however, we are where we are, and this amendment would at least put some extra provision into an area that is underresourced and in need of additional support. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I start again by thanking the Minister for meeting with myself and colleagues and with the Minister for the Department of Work and Pensions. I think we are all agreed that we want to ensure that every young person, whatever their circumstances, situation or abilities, is given the opportunities to study and to develop the skills that they need and that, presumably, we as a society need.

In meeting with the Ministers, I was impressed with the number of schemes for support that the Department for Work and Pensions provides. In recent years, we have seen a coming together of the Department for Education and the Work and Pensions Department in a way that we have never seen before. I was interested to see that the Department for Work and Pensions offers young people the intensive work-coach support through youth employability coaches, 160 youth hubs, training progress, expansion of sector-based work academy programmes, the restart scheme, the access to work scheme, providing personalised support to the disabled, and of course through Kickstart. However, I have to say that I have always been surprised that, although Kickstart has been a successful programme, a 16 year-old cannot join it unless they are on universal credit, and of course most 16 year olds are not.

Although I said how impressed I was at the joining up of the two departments, I was rather concerned when, in a Written Question to the Department for Work and Pensions, I asked how many young people aged 16 to 19 are currently studying for a post-16 qualification and the answer came back: “That information is not available.” I then asked:

“how many young people aged 16 to 19 who are receiving Universal Credit have successfully completed a post-16 qualification.”

Again, the answer came back: “We haven’t got that information”, which I was slightly concerned about.

Perhaps the most vulnerable—if I may use that term—with regard to education must be those students who either have learning difficulties or who are disabled. I want to highlight, as the Minister has done, the problems that disabled students face. Under the current rules, to start a claim for universal credit while in education a disabled person must already have limited capability for work status, as the Minister said. But, of course, to get that status a disabled person must have a work capability assessment, and the main way to access an assessment is by starting a claim for universal credit.

In practice, disabled people in education are in a Catch-22 situation. They need limited capability for work status to start a claim for universal credit, but they need to start a claim for universal credit to get limited capability for work status. Currently, the only way a disabled learner can get an assessment and therefore limited capability for work status while studying is by applying for a contributory new-style employment and support allowance instead of universal credit. Because claiming ESA involves an assessment, it can establish a young learner’s limited capability for work, so they can go on to claim universal credit. Is the noble Baroness following me? However, the oncoming rules will close off the ESA workaround route because they require assessments to have taken place and limited capability for work to have been established before a claimant starts studying. The new rules close off the only route young disabled learners have to universal credit.

Additionally, it would probably be helpful to address the Government’s assertion that the welfare system is not designed to fund maintenance support for those in education and training and that financial support for students comes from the current system of learner loans and grants. The problem is that, currently, there is extremely minimal financial support for those seeking to train and retrain in further education colleges, which might at best contribute to travel costs but which is nothing like enough to support wider living costs. As such, adults who are forced to forgo their universal credit in order to study have to be supported by family or live off savings they might otherwise have been able to obtain.

I know we discussed the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham on Report, and I am conscious of the Minister’s detailed reply, but for disabled people particularly, the situation is very precarious. I hope the Minister might agree to look at this matter with her colleagues and see how we can further support them.

Photo of The Bishop of Leeds The Bishop of Leeds Bishop

My Lords, this House carried an amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who cannot be in his place today, concerning universal credit conditionality—this has been referred to several times—but it was not accepted when the Bill was considered in the other place.

If the Government are to achieve their levelling-up ambitions and enable individuals to secure better-paid employment with improved prospects, then it is essential to achieve greater integration of the support provided for skills development and training by the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham wishes me to say that, on these Benches, we are most grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Stedman-Scott and Lady Barran, for their very constructive and helpful meeting with the right reverend Prelate and their subsequent letter setting out how this better integration is being actively pursued, the range of provision open to universal credit claimants seeking to retrain, and how work coaches are able to exercise appropriate discretion when applying universal credit conditionality rules.

I know that the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Durham and the Bishop of Coventry—the latter now in his capacity as lead bishop for FE and HE—welcome the opportunity to contribute to the consultation on equivalent or lower qualifications, which will engage Peers in more detail, along with the outworking of the detail behind the lifelong learning guarantee. In the light of these assurances, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham is content not to press the matter.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as we all struggle through this slightly unfamiliar process, the amendment I have down was inspired by the letter we got from the Secretary of State. I was told, as the noble Baroness has said, that we do not need to do it because the occupational standards will cover it. Great. But what really made me table the amendment was the body that the Government consulted: the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers.

My declaration of interest probably comes in here. I am president of the British Dyslexia Association, and my various other interests are on the register. I spoke to that association—the biggest group involved here—which also covers dyscalculia. It has had no contact with that body—and it is giving the advice. Dyslexia is the biggest of the groups involved, but it is not the only one. Dyscalculia is right up there, along with dyspraxia—that is all those beginning with “dys-” covered—and then there is ADHD, autism and the others. Those are the main, non-obvious groups that will occur in an ordinary classroom. This is what the duty was aimed at. Are those doing the teaching capable of understanding the needs of the people they are teaching? Are they giving advice and creating strategies, so that the people they are teaching actually succeed in what they are doing?

All I am talking about is making sure that the duties we have are acknowledged, and jolly good too. We are so well prepared for these duties that we have a growth in law firms making sure they are enforced throughout the education system. The law is so clear and so well provided for that for parents—tiger parents—the best way of getting through the education system is by paying lawyers to make sure they get through.

It is a mess. It is said that you cannot impose standards, but if you are part of the standards, you can update them, and this duty can be updated as well. We are dealing with about 20% to 25% of the cohort—probably more in further education. These are people who do not get the plan. They have a problem that means they will probably underachieve and not handle the classroom well. Expecting the teaching workforce to have a clear understanding of this is not too much to ask.

We are in a situation where dyslexics like me, who have a slightly different arrangement of their neural pathways and a slightly different learning pattern, will struggle to both absorb information and convey it if you use conventional ways of teaching. There are well-accepted strategies in place, such as the use of technology, but if the teaching staff are not at least reasonably familiar with some of these strategies, or know that changes can be made to get round things, you are not going to get the best results. If there is a legal duty, why not add this in?

I really do not get what the Minister and the department are about. They say that there is some £45 million over three years, which is £15 million a year throughout the sector, but there are thousands of schools and hundreds of colleges, so that is not that big a spend. There will be a few more SENCOs, but SENCOs are organisers; they do not teach on the ground in most cases. We have a situation where there is a legal right to something, but the Government are not saying that people will be trained specifically to deliver it; instead, they will put it out to a series of organisations which may or may not be tuned into this big sector.

There are certain things the Minister may be able to say that would stop me dividing the House. One is to say that this will be covered in the review we are getting on Monday. I do not think we are going to hear that, but I present it as an option.

We need to carry on and make sure that education works for this group, who have traditionally been left behind and underachieved. In my opinion, too much is made of the lucky ones like me, who get through because of a tiger parent and a bit of resource and nous. Let us face it: any system that relies on being lucky or brilliant has failed. It is the standard people who have a problem—not bad enough to maybe get the big label and the rubber stamp but bad enough to slightly underachieve.

All I am saying is that there should be some level of basic training guaranteed for those most commonly occurring conditions. If we do not have that, it is not about how we will fail but the magnitude of the failure. If the Minister cannot accept that, really the only option I have would be to ask the House to give its opinion on this matter.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 2:45, 24 March 2022

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today, particularly on the amendments and Motions we have just debated. I will touch very briefly on the points raised.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her explanation of the Labour Party’s vision for curriculum extension, but, as I set out in my opening remarks, we have very real concerns in relation to this amendment about the impact that a two-week work experience slot would have on schools. We question the value of provider encounters in year 7, before those students can act on them, as I set out in my earlier remarks.

On the very eloquent explanation of the disability benefits system from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, as he knows, we are very concerned about disability unemployment. We published a national disability strategy last July that set out how the Government will help level up opportunity and improve the experience of disabled people. Critically, that includes greater inclusion in the workplace to tackle the disability gap. As the noble Lord remarked, a great deal of work and many initiatives are going on in this area. I am more than happy to accept, on my behalf and that of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, any further conversations the noble Lord would find useful, and I will take back his thoughts to the department.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and his colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and similarly reassure them, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott, that we would be delighted to continue to work with all noble Lords on these issues, which I know she takes extremely seriously.

On the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I would be glad to write to him to try to reassure him about the quality of the advice we have received and the experience of those giving us that advice. I reiterate our concerns about inflexibility in relation to a measure that is in the Bill, particularly since we introduced this standard only in September 2021. The noble Lord will understand that, much as I would like to, I cannot pre-announce anything from the SEND review, but I very much hope he will find much that interests him within it.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I thank the Minister for her reply, and I offer in all sincerity that, if she ever wants to discuss the Labour Party’s policy on education and future strategy, I am always available. However, we continue to believe that the amendment is a necessary addition to the Bill. Therefore, I ask the House to agree with it and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 83, Noes 144.

Division number 4 Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Commons Reasons and Amendments — Amendment to the Motion on Amendments 17 and 18

Aye: 83 Members of the House of Lords

No: 144 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Amendment to the Motion on Amendments 17 and 18 disagreed.

Motion on Amendments 17 and 18 agreed.