Clause 29

Part of Further Education and Training Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14th June 2007.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong, Minister of State (Cabinet)), Cabinet Office 2:00 pm, 14th June 2007

This group of amendments and new clauses relates to improving the system of pastoral care created by supporting and mentoring that exists for 16 to 18-year-olds who undertake some form of training or education after 16, as defined in amendments Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 16 which seek additions to clause 29. The new clauses, to which I shall relate most of my remarks, set out those four improvements.

New clause 3 would establish in law what is already best practice in a number of schools and colleges, where a personal record of achievement is given to students. However, what is critical, which is outlined in the clause, is that it should not record academic achievement only, but other skills that have been demonstrated, including any voluntary or community work that has been undertaken. In addition, it would set out the learning aims for post-16 education and training, and how those aims can best be met, as well as, more generally, what the young person wants to achieve in their future learning. The reason why this is so important is that the degree of careers advice, the quality of that advice, and the pastoral care that 16 to 18-year-olds receive, have an important role in shaping the future career patterns of that young person. If the school or college gets it wrong, it can have a devastating impact, at least in the short term. I shall give a brief example from my constituency.

A couple of months ago, a young person and her mother come to my surgery. I am not going to say which FE college she was attending—I do not want to embarrass anyone—but the daughter was taking a diploma in health and social care. She wanted a career in the caring professions, but for reasons that no one can quite understand she was advised by the college to do physiotherapy. She did not have the background or aptitude, or even the wish, to study that subject.

When she came to my surgery, she had been rejected by all the institutions to which she had applied. Within three minutes I was able to understand that she wanted to do social work, but by then it was too late in the applications process for her to apply to study social work for the following year. As a result, she is going to have to take a year out. That might be character building for her, but it is not what she wants to do. It points to a weakness that sometimes exists in the careers advice available to FE colleges and schools. I hope to have demonstrated through that example how important it is to have the best advice, and for the person giving that advice to take the time to talk to the young people and to be clear about what they want to achieve in their future careers.

New clause 4 would give all young people undertaking post-16 study a mentor from the school or business, or an appropriate voluntary-sector body, depending on where the education and training is taking place. The mentor would need to give advice on future training routes, on possible employment opportunities and career development, and on how young people might acquire other skills to enhance their life opportunities.

Such mentoring is important to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who recently raised the matter in a private Member’s Bill. He was most concerned, as am I, about the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training. He argued that if, prior to 16 and immediately afterwards, young people could get a mentor to talk to them about the importance of staying on in education or training and advising them of the best routes, some of those who are not taking up such opportunities might take them. It is a critical role and it would require a skilled person to give such advice.

New clause 5 asks that the provision of mentoring advice and support be made available to post-16s in education. It applies also to those who have special needs. The Minister will know that the review of special educational needs undertaken last year by the Education and Skills Committee identified the problem that young people with special educational needs do not always get good advice or proper support to enter further education or to undertake post-16 education in some other format.

There certainly seem to be some weaknesses in the current system. It was found that more direct support was needed to encourage young people with special educational needs to take up further education opportunities. The argument behind the clause is that if there was better careers advice, better mentoring and better support for young people with special educational needs, they would be able to take up more opportunities for post-16 education.

New clause 6 seeks to make a requirement of what I think is already best practice in a number of schools and colleges—providing young people with a range of opportunities to undertake voluntary work in their local communities that would enable them to acquire and develop leadership skills. The new clause argues for a wide range of opportunities to be made available, such as a Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, or a limited version of it that could take place locally. Thanks to a meeting that I had recently with young people from some of the secondary schools in my constituency, I know how much that is needed. They are very keen to undertake some sort of community work locally, but they simply do not have the connections with the community groups that would enable them to do that. We have put a set of recommendations to local schools to the effect that they should try to enhance the number of activities that are available to young people to enable them to play a greater role in their communities.