You understand the procedure: you will get a range of questions from members of the Committee, starting with the Front Benchers from the three parties but leaving plenty of time for the Back Benchers to ask questions, and possibly for the Front Benchers to come back in. We are looking for brief questions and brief answers.
Welcome and good afternoon. The Bill makes no mention of training provided directly by employers, or how that could count towards a qualification. It does not propose ways in which we can involve employers more closely. In your briefing note, you say that many 16 and 17-year-olds in employment have become disengaged by classroom-style teaching. My question is, does the Bill do enough to encourage employer involvement? Is there a danger that 16 and 17-year-olds in employment who spend one day a week in the classroom will not necessarily gain competencies that will be valued by their employer?
Susan Anderson: That is quite a few questions to answer. The feedback that we get from our members, particularly on apprenticeships, is that with these young people, who particularly want to use practical-type skills and enjoy the hands-on aspects of apprenticeships, the most difficult thing can be to get them to go back to the college for that one day a week. Members of ours, for example in construction, say that that is a real difficulty because many of the young people have failed to thrive and a high number of those who enter employment or are in that NEET category have very low levels of qualifications. Our members tell us that the young people thrive in the workplace situation but do not like going back to college typically, because they see that as going back to something that they did not enjoy and did not relate to. I think that that is an issue. What we do need to do, in looking at qualifications, apprenticeships and national vocational qualifications, is ensure that—I recognise that this is partly an employer issue, not just one for colleges or private providers—they are relevant to young people and do deliver the important numeracy and literacy skills that employers are looking for, in ways that are relevant to young people.
There are some problems at the moment with apprenticeships which we know need to be addressed, and we are having conversations with the Government on that, and indeed with anybody who wants to talk to us. Similarly, we think that there are problems with vocational qualifications, that too many of them do not reflect the needs of businesses, the skills and competency needs of business, so again we are working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and indeed the sector skills council, to try to ensure that qualifications better match employers’ needs, because if they do not, young people do not see the point and employers do not value them. There are some very important changes that need to take place before the Bill comes into effect.
Before you go ahead John, may I once again ask for quick questions and answers? Nine out of 40 minutes have gone and there are many members of the Committee who want to ask questions.
Sorry, Mr. Bayley. I shall be very quick. You say that you have developed a 12-point plan to ensure that more employers are prepared to participate, particularly in apprenticeships. I share your view about that. What, in your view, are the main ways in which apprenticeships should be reformed? Would that include a statutory definition with a minimum level of employer engagement and mentoring?
Richard Wainer: There are three particular issues around the apprenticeship programme that need reform. First, more high-achieving young people need to be encouraged into the programme, whether through ensuring that employers have better access to schools to promote the excellent opportunities that many employers provide or through improving careers guidance to counter the academic and gender bias that we often find. The second issue is ensuring that the apprenticeship programme is much more flexible to business needs and can adapt quickly to changing skill requirements. Thirdly, it is about ensuring that there is effective support in place for small employers who want to engage in the programme.
Through group training associations, perhaps, and perhaps you might also share the view that there should be an all-age careers service to provide the kind of advice that you have just mentioned. If I could be allowed a small suffix, what would you do about NVQs, which you also criticise?
Susan Anderson: We would like an all-age service, but as a matter of priority, we need to get better careers advice to young people at the key stages—11, 14, 16 and 18. If we had to prioritise, although we would love to have an all-age service and would like apprenticeships to be open to people of every age, we would prioritise young people at school, particularly at 14 and 16.
Susan Anderson: We fear that that could be an unintended consequence, which is why we have said that although we think this is a necessary step, it is not a sufficient step. There are issues that need to be tackled, but we are confident that they can be. They really must be addressed. Our fear is about not only the number of people in economic inactivity, the NEETs, but the 65,000 or so young people who are currently in employment that does not lead to a qualification—there is obviously no problem with the 100,000 who are doing an apprenticeship scheme or nationally recognised qualifications. Some good skills enhancement is taking place with young people who are currently in employment, but it is not leading to a nationally recognised qualification. If we cannot get qualifications right and do more on that, we could end up as an unintended consequence tipping more of those young people either into schools where they may not have a good range of options or into unemployment. That could be an unintended consequence if we do not get things right.
And the ones who are particularly at risk are the 65,000 whom you mentioned, who might be substituted for migrant workers or over-18s?
Susan Anderson: That is a very real risk if we do not get the system right so that more employers are able and want to offer apprenticeships, and if we do not get qualifications that they can see the point of. If they do not add any value for an employer, although it is going to be rather hard to persuade a young person to go, why would the employer not choose an 18-year-old or already qualified Polish worker who has all the right attitudes? That is a danger.
Given the Bill before us, is the answer to that problem to try to make the training, education and qualification requirements more flexible, or are you concerned that some youngsters, in existing employment that is not certified in the way described in the Bill, are learning useful skills and disciplines such as being in a workplace, attending on time and such basic skills that it would be better to engage in than go through qualification hoops for the sake of it?
Susan Anderson: That is something that we must be aware of. Certainly young people—I have already pointed to those who do not feel that college is for them—are gaining good employability skills. Some of those employability skills that our members have identified as so important are: self-management or just turning up on time, at the right time, day in, day out; team working; and customer care. You can get all those skills in a work situation. In fact, it is often the best way to gain those skills, which is why we think that work experience is so important.
Those are skills that you can get. They are the softer skills. One of the things that we would be looking to happen between now and when the Bill comes into effect is some way of accrediting those skills without young people having to go into college. Let us think about numbers and some of the things—for example, we could learn what has happened in terms of successful apprenticeships. It does not have to be people with clipboards following young people around, but in order to find some way of accrediting those skills that young people are getting in the workplace we would be very happy to work with the sector skills councils and the QCA. That would be one of the necessary steps to take place. We need to emphasise that young people are getting very valuable skills from training that is not necessarily off-the-job training. We must take account of that. We must not get to feel that it is not quite training if it is not off the job.
I am delighted to see in your submission the very straightforward sentence from paragraph 2:
“The CBI supports the Government’s proposals to raise the participation age.”
Would you set out for us the benefits that inform that support? What do you think that employers should contribute themselves in order to secure those gains?
Susan Anderson: We know that, from an employer perspective, employers’ biggest concerns are with the low number of young people—sorry, our concern is literacy and numeracy. We are not getting enough people coming out of schools with the right literacy and numeracy skills. That is employers’ No. 1 concern. They also feel that we need to improve those employability skills that I have already mentioned—those soft, generic skills around team working, business awareness, customer awareness, as well as literacy and numeracy.
In terms of what employers can contribute, we certainly as employers have a role to play—whether through work experience or other means—to ensure that young people recognise the benefits of those employability skills. I think that that is where we think we can play a role. Certainly when it comes to apprenticeships and, indeed, diplomas, delivering numeracy and literacy skills or helping people appreciate the appliance of those skills is very important.
There are things that employers can do. But why do we think that this is the right thing to do? What we want to achieve is improved literacy and numeracy. If this is something that is necessary to achieve that, then I think that our members believe that it is the right thing to do.
I am sure that some would argue that we should get literacy and numeracy right before the age of 16. I would agree. There is plenty that we have done, and more to be done. Equally, through work experience and built into the new diplomas are functional literacy and numeracy. We can do some of that employability through key stage 4. I would be interested in what is specific about 16 to 18 where you think that that is helpful—perhaps around certain sections of the population that you might have concerns about. Then, in respect of what employers can do, I gather that you have some nervousness about the burden of checking whether or not a young person is participating before employing them. Do you think that there is another way of doing that, which is less burdensome on employers?
Susan Anderson: In terms of what is helpful, as you say, we would rather hope that young people would have reached good levels of numeracy and literacy—by good level, I mean equivalent to a C in English and maths. Too many are not achieving that. If some of them can carry on studying English and maths—numeracy and literacy—beyond the age of 16, so that they have a chance to catch up, I think that will be very successful. If we will deliver that result through the new diplomas and through apprenticeships that deliver literacy and numeracy in ways that young people can relate to, because they can understand why these skills are so important in their chosen occupations, then I think that will be very helpful. I think delivering it in that way will engage young people.
Where we get worried is in relation to your remarks about our problems with employers getting involved in policing the system. If we do not have qualifications or training that engages people then, frankly, they will not be interested in turning up at a college. While they will come along with a piece of paper, or will tell you that they are going to the college, the employer is going to be very hesitant about thinking that they will actually be committed to attending the college. There are employers who feel that nothing has changed, who think that the qualifications are no more relevant, who, a year down the road, may have had some experience with young people who arrive with bits of paper saying they are going to college and then it does not happen. Those employers will say, “I have had some experience of this, it didn’t work, and so I have to question the piece of paper because clearly neither it nor the oral commitment to attend could be trusted. I had to go and check that the course and the college existed, and that they had signed up, because experience tells me that I could not trust them”.
I know the Bill says that employers should not have to get involved and that the onus is on the local authority. However, I think employers’ question will be, “Where can you track down this young person?” It is an employment. Is the local authority person checking up on these issues? Where are they likely to find the young person? They are likely to find that if the young person is not at home, he or she will be in employment. Does the employer really want to have the official responsible hanging around the factory gate or invited in at lunch time? I think our members are a bit sceptical that they can divorce themselves as easily as is proposed from any policing that lies with local authorities, but I would certainly be interested in any reassurances you could give us on that front.
Now is not the time for me to give reassurances, though it may come up when I myself give evidence. To be absolutely clear, are you saying that employers are really concerned about ongoing burdens, rather than just the initial burden of saying at the start of the employment, “How are you going to fulfil your duty?” and “Let’s be clear about what we need to do as an employer to allow us to fulfil our legal obligation, and you to do what you then do as a young person,”?
Susan Anderson: There are two aspects of this. In one case, young people come with the course already chosen; in the other, you take them on and then say they have to find a course. That might look simple set down on a piece of paper, but when you have had some experience as an employer who wants to do the right thing, how are you going to feel when experience has shown that the young person is not turning up to the college and you start to think that you should be doing what the law says? That is something that our smaller member firms will really feel uncomfortable about.
You have already partly answered my question, but I would like to explore further the idea of accreditation. We have some very good examples of big industry—factories and so forth—being able to make a very clear agreement with a college about the skills needed, and the one day a week release being very successful. The issue for many smaller businesses is that skills are more difficult to identify, as, perhaps, are some of the softer skills. How would you see that form of accreditation developing? Do you see learning-based union reps being involved or do you envisage a system of mentors? You clearly have expertise in the workplace, and the idea of having a form of accreditation that is totally relevant is obviously very attractive. Would you see that as a way forward? How would you manage to bring a form of accreditation to the accreditation?
Richard Wainer: It is absolutely right that we need better to recognise the high-quality training that goes on in many workplaces. Our surveys, and surveys from other organisations, show that although employers spend £33 billion a year on training, only a third of that training leads to recognised qualifications. So, there is a lot of training and investment in training that leads to higher skills and improved productivity that is not counted in the Government’s statistics and would not be an appropriate route for a young person to take. You are absolutely right: we need to put in place better mechanisms to recognise and accredit the very high-quality training that is going on in workplaces. We are working on pilots with the QCA and some big household names to ensure that the process is as easy as possible and identifies the barriers to employers accrediting their high-quality training so that more firms can follow that path if they want to.
Susan Anderson: If the large firms do it, that can trickle down to the smaller firms. If a large hospitality firm identifies what is a high level of skill, that helps to inform the qualification and can help the smaller firm.
On the second point, there is a lot of good training in smaller firms, where what works best is having a mentor—someone who really takes an interest in you and helps you to realise how to enhance your softer skills and employability skills. A mentor can work alongside you and talk you through how to handle difficult conversations and deal with awkward customers. The whole idea of mentoring—union learning reps have played a good role in terms of mentoring—particularly in smaller firms, is that you get an awful lot of people who really want to give something back and help young people. There must be a role to help those who are mentoring. That comes back to our earlier point that training does not have to be formal, off-the-job. On-the-job training can be just as effective.
The NEETs whom you talk about in paragraphs 6 to 8 have no qualifications and many of them cannot read or write. Is it correct that the response to that problem is not apprenticeships because you cannot do an apprenticeship if you are in that sort of educational condition? If so, why are you saying that the answer is for those youngsters to stay on beyond 16, when they have had 10 to 12 years of statutory education and obviously have not learned anything? Why would they learn anything in those two further years?
Why then are charities such as Rainer running literacy courses for people to get a certificate for the building trade in health and safety, and those kids just cannot read and write? Why are they doing that if those kids are functionally literate? They are not.
Richard Wainer: To come back to your first question, we cannot see this raising the participation age in isolation. If that were the only thing the Government were doing, it would fail to achieve an increase in attainment. With the reform of apprenticeships—making sure that when diplomas come in they are of a high quality—providing different learning routes for young people who do not like the formal classroom environment has to be the way to engage young people. That certainly does not mean taking the focus away from improving literacy and numeracy up to the age of 16.
Is there not a danger of constructing a false dichotomy between the idea that you either do learning or training, or have 16 or 17-year-olds in a job? I have heard the concerns that you have about getting them on board, but should the CBI not take a more active role and then encourage employers to regard the situation as an opportunity for more work-based learning?
Susan Anderson: It is not our job to educate people. As I have already said, young people thrive in what is a very different—you could certainly call it a learning— situation, but it is not our job to give young people literacy and numeracy, to educate them. We can help them to apply it and improve, but I would not take away from what it takes for teachers to give people literacy and numeracy. I do not consider it to be our role as employers. It is our job to train people to do their jobs; it is not our job as employers to give people literacy and numeracy skills. Employers just do not have those skills.
I understand that. I did not ask you about literacy and numeracy; I asked you about work-based learning. Perhaps you were picking up on Mr. Heald’s point. Let me press you a little further, because you talked earlier about the importance of integrating in-house training into qualifications, with which I agree, but where would you draw the line? There is a difference between the just-in-time in-house training, which is designed to meet a company’s specific need at a specific point, and other training that benefits and makes the employee’s career more progressive within that company and, possibly, outside it.
Susan Anderson: I do not think that training should be integrated into a qualification; a qualification should reflect the skills and competences that employers need, because if it does not, there is no point in an employee having a qualification. Employees will not value it and it will not add anything to that individual’s employability. Although we recognise that the right qualifications can enhance the employability of a person, whether young or old, a qualification that does not reflect employers’ competences or needs is just a useless piece of paper.
Our problem with the current system, as my colleague Richard said, is that too little training—very high-quality training—does not lead to a qualification, because the qualification system is not right. Employers are doing an awful lot on training the work force, and of course, we can always do more, but when you consider that employers spend £33 billion on training, you cannot say that by and large employers do not do their bit, or play their part, when it comes to training people.
You referred to employability skills. How important do you rate verbal communication skills in enabling pupils to interview well for college places, apprenticeships and jobs, and in interacting with people when they get there?
Susan Anderson: We would say that communication skills are essential, whether that is in terms of written communication skills, of speaking skills, or indeed of listening skills. They are equally important. When we did a report in 2006, which actually the then Department for Education and Skills supported us in doing, we asked employers to tell us the sort of problems that could arise from poor literacy and numeracy. By literacy, we were including those very communication skills, so if employees could not speak up and say that they did not understand when they had been given some oral instructions, clearly, they could go away and do completely the wrong thing because they were not able to articulate what they did not understand—never mind get the interview. So, I would agree with you that oral communication is as important as the written word.
Many employers, as you have said, take great responsibility for their training, but some do not. I have heard some confusion about the level of responsibility, and some are concerned that others, including colleagues, do not bear the responsibility for training that they should. What would your response be to a suggestion that there should be a duty on employers to collaborate with schools and other local learning bodies to provide training? Given the responsibility for 280 hours in a year, would some of your concerns be alleviated by the fact that those 280 hours could be met outside the normal working week?
Susan Anderson: In terms of a duty to collaborate, my view would be that it is not necessary. I think it would not be appropriate. If we talk to companies, many of which are working very successfully with schools, some of them think it is more appropriate to collaborate and to work in partnership with universities, some of them choose colleges, and others encourage their employees to get involved—whether through being a school governor or hearing young people learn to read. The employer gets involved in a variety of ways. I have to say, though, about a duty on employers to collaborate, that to be frank you would not want some employers to be involved in schools. There are lots of very good employers out there—I would be the first to argue that—but we need to be a bit careful. There are some employers that frankly should not get involved with schools. I can say that because I am with the CBI. We need to be careful. There are lots of things going on, but you certainly cannot force employers to do something, and as I say, at the margins, some would not be appropriate.
Richard Wainer: On the 280 hours provision, we need flexibility. If firms were told that they have to release your young person, your employee, every Friday for a year, there would be concerns, and that would discourage a lot of employers from providing those employment opportunities. However, if colleges and training providers are able to work around the needs of the business, that will mitigate that risk significantly.
Richard Wainer: We have a Government target of about 500,000 young people doing apprenticeships by 2020. I think that we support the Government’s ambition on that, but we have concerns not only about quantity, but about quality; that will be the issue. When we talk to our employers, who provide really good schemes and get very high completion rates, it is clear that we need more employers to be more intimately involved in the delivery of apprenticeships if we are going to drive up quality in that programme and if apprenticeship is really going to be a firm basis for a young person’s career.
I am pleased to hear you emphasise completion rates and quality, which obviously accounts for the overall figures. Would you agree?
Susan Anderson: Absolutely. We have seen some significant improvements in apprenticeship completion rates. As Richard mentioned, many of our members achieve 90 per cent. or 100 per cent. completion rates. So it can be done, but it does require quite a lot of effort. We have surveyed our members to see what is holding more people back, and there are some issues—both about the design of the qualifications themselves and the bureaucracy that need to be addressed. But we are aware that there is the review, and we are very hopeful that the sort of concerns that we have identified—they are articulated in a longer paper that I am happy to share—are addressed as part of that review.
Tom Wilson: Those who were fortunate enough to attend the TUC congress in September would have heard quite some debate on this. The crux of the issue is that many members feel very uncomfortable with the notion of criminalising young people in some sense. It is that aspect of compulsion and enforcement that people have concerns about. To put that in context, we support the overall thrust of the policy and strongly support the Government’s aims. Our further wish, and our expectation, is that it is unlikely that it will be a real issue when it comes down to it. I am not ducking the question, and measures will need to be put in place. However, we would expect those to be more like attachment to earnings measures and nothing that would involve young people being imprisoned or anything of that sort.
So when we come to scrutinise the Bill clause by clause and to table amendments, do you think that we should try to take out the criminal sanctions and replace them with civil sanctions such as county court enforcement procedures? Would that improve the Bill from your perspective?
Tom Wilson: The TUC view is that those measures would need to be looked at very carefully bearing in mind exactly the criterion that I indicated: will the measures lead young people to feel that they are in some sense being criminalised? There is whole spectrum of measures that could be taken. Some might lead us down that road, and we are concerned about them, but others might not lead down that road. Certainly, there are many ways of encouraging, supporting and facilitating young people, which is where the TUC is coming from. That is the kind of direction that we hope the Government will take, and we believe that they will do so.
You also say that apprenticeship places need to be the cornerstone of raising participation. Are enough employers offering apprenticeships in sufficient numbers and of a high enough quality to meet such demand?
Tom Wilson: Frankly, no, not in anything like the numbers that the TUC, the Government and, mind you, the CBI would like to see. We strongly support the Government’s aim of radically increasing the number of apprenticeships, and that many more of those should be high quality apprenticeships based at work. Many good employers are leading the field in this area, including blue chip companies, and they show what can be done. Our aspiration, as the union movement, is to work closely with those employers to help them to develop those kinds of apprenticeships and radically to increase the number available to young people.
It is clear from what Mr. Wilson has said so far that the TUC does not support compulsion, and that it would prefer entitlements instead. In paragraph 1.5 of your evidence to the Committee, which deals with entitlements to level 2 and level 3 qualifications, you imply that you would wish to see a lifetime entitlement to level 2 training. Is that right?
So, from what you are saying, if, say, by the time someone has reached 18 and they have gone through this compulsory staying on in education and training but they have not attained level 2, you think that it would be preferable for there to be a right to have paid time off and free tuition, and that should continue after 18. Is that what you are saying?
The Leitch report relies on an employer pledge, which you have also mentioned in your evidence, up until 2010. What do you think that the Government should do in 2010 if the employer pledge has not been met for making sure that everyone has attained at least level 2?
Caroline Smith: The commission for employment and skills, which was established last year, will look at that; the Government have made a commitment that the commission will look at that question. We really think that it is incredibly important that there are proper ways of continuing a momentum to ensure that there is a review that takes place and that the issue is properly and independently looked at.
In paragraphs 1.7, 1.12 and 1.13 of your evidence, you deal with the sectors that currently employ large numbers of young people: hotels; restaurants, and retail, etc. I am not clear about something in the percentages that you give. The percentages that you give in paragraph 1.7 are the people who do not have quality training at the moment. Is that what you are saying there?
Caroline Smith: Yes. Those figures were taken from the Green Paper consultation document. They are about the proportions of young people who are in work but not receiving training at the moment. The message really is that there are particular sectors that have a high proportion of young people without training, so I think that, in particular, the role of sector skills councils needs to be looked at. I think that there need to be levers within sectors to make sure that those young people in those sectors get access to training.
Stephen, I shall be accused of not being very good at numeracy if I do not move on, but you can try to catch my eye again in just a moment. David Lammy.
How do you think that the proposals in the Bill in relation to adult skills complement the union learning fund and unionlearn?
Tom Wilson: Pretty well, really. Obviously we are very proud of unionlearn and union learning and the number of union learning reps that we have; 20,000, and rapidly rising. They are a real, positive force in the world of learning at work. What the Government are proposing on adult learning is something that very much goes hand in hand with that.
It might be helpful to the Committee if we also briefly mentioned the train to gain programme. Again, that is something that forms the background, the kind of funnelling background, to this expansion of adult learning opportunities. That could also be enormously helpful in expanding opportunity as this drive to raise participation to 18 takes hold. So, our view would strongly be that those kinds of proposals would be very much in line with the developments that we would like to see.
We have had some suggestions on the Committee about the reasons for keeping young people in education when their literacy and numeracy are not up to standard. Presumably, from your own experience with members who have basic skills levels, you might have a view on why people might not have adequate literacy and numeracy levels.
Tom Wilson: Yes, we do. We are talking about some of the most challenged and disadvantaged people in society, really. Many of them, of course, are young people, but many of those young people also grow up into older workers who have equal needs and some of the stories that we have learned through our unionlearn work are really quite harrowing. They show the immense potential that has been wasted, the potential of people who really had a lousy time at school, to put it bluntly, and who have been given all sorts of opportunities, through unionlearn and through the union learning rep network.
The types of needs that those people have are pretty basic, in many cases. They are literally reading, writing, literacy, numeracy and also the softer skills of confidence, verbal fluency, personal self-organisation and motivation. Those are precisely the kind of skills, both the harder skills and the softer skills, that the skills for life programme and level 2 can give people.
The other important point concerns the accreditation of learning, which is going on in parallel with this exercise, through the QCA. In the past, many of the skills that both young and older people might acquire and use have not been recognised and accredited. That will change. With that kind of portfolio, and with those skills properly recognised, they can further reinforce and boost their self-esteem and confidence. It might well mean that employers find that they move on to better and further employment elsewhere, but in the interests of employers as a whole, we think that this will be a wholly good thing that most employers should welcome.
When Stephen Williams said just now that you seemed to be saying that you were opposed to compulsion and in favour of entitlements, you did not respond. Looking at your evidence, I thought that that was a little simplistic. Would you like to expand on that point? If all the caveats that you have put into paragraph 1.4 were there, would you not accept that, as was told to us in somebody else’s evidence, the compulsory element could galvanise all those elements into place? Would you be more in favour of a compulsory approach if all those caveats were in place acting as a force to bring in those additional support services?
Tom Wilson: As I have said already, we think that this is a complex area. There is a spectrum. It is not really: “Are you in favour of compulsion, or not?” It depends very much on exactly how that is implemented. Certainly, at Committee stage, we would expect there to be a whole range of measures, and as I have said we will look at those very carefully. The test that will apply is whether it leads to criminalising young people, or young people feeling that they are being criminalised. If the answer to that is yes, and people do feel that way, it would be counter-productive.
That is precisely what we seek to avoid, as too do the Government I am sure. We strongly support the notion of a very strong expectation, and the creation of a culture in which it is the norm, that all young people should continue until the age of at least 18, if not beyond, whether at work or at college or on an apprenticeship. Some might continue at school, but this is not about raising the school leaving age. In that sense, we think that entitlement is the right kind of language. This should really be about ensuring that young people are not forced, in that criminalised sense, and that young people have such a range of opportunities available to them that they are happy to take up whatever is appropriate for them. We think that that range of entitlements needs to be explored much more. To be frank, we think that employers need to do far more as well.
May I ask you about the categories that Stephen was talking about in paragraph 1.7? Clearly one of the risks was of shaking people out of jobs that might be a lot better than the alternative. Thinking about youngsters employed in certain sectors, but who are not getting certified educational training, and the fact that they might be in smaller businesses and so forth, do you think it realistic that the majority could be accredited in the work place, rather than through formal education? Are you confident that they could be usefully accredited, so that we do not simply create a paper factory, rather than provide real skills and opportunities?
Caroline Smith: I shall answer that in two parts. One of the key issues in the accreditation of, for example, what employers might provide already in the job, is ensuring that, if measures are taken to help recognise some of that training, it is of a high quality. Furthermore, transferable skills must be included. Particularly in a labour market with increased agency work and casual employment, it is really important, particularly for young people, that they receive accredited skills and training that can be taken elsewhere and that are not just reliant on a particular employer recognising that accreditation.
In terms of whether it is realistic in those sectors to ensure that access takes place, it will not necessarily occur in every workplace with every employer, and that is why the issue of leavers is very important if we want to ensure that training takes place across different workplaces. We suggest looking at sector skills agreements, the questions of sector levies in particular industries, the questions of licence to practise—those are the mechanisms that are in place to ensure that training is made available to everybody.
The Skills Minister mentioned the impact of union learning reps and union learning. The Bill has significant implications for information, advice and guidance and in particular expanding that into the adult area. Building on the success that you have had with union learning reps, what role would you see for unions and the TUC in that process?
Tom Wilson: The Bill proposes the creation of a legal entitlement to level 2 for adults. Similarly, creating that same sense of entitlement to a universal adult career service is exactly the kind of thing that would mesh well with the work that union learning reps already do in the workplace. Union learning reps are champions for learning in the workplace. They do many things, including encouraging people to take up learning opportunities and advising their fellow workers about the kinds of opportunities that may be available. I do not pretend that they are all qualified and experienced advisers, far from it, but they are skilled at encouraging people to look on the web, talk to people who are experts, talk to people in personnel or other unions—there are many sources of advice. If there were a good information, advice and guidance service—an expansion of the currently existing next steps and University for Industry services—that was universally knitted together across the entire country, and where people were confident that they would get high-quality, impartial advice, that is exactly the kind of thing that union learning reps could tap into.
I agree, and indeed the former Select Committee said as much in its post-16 skills report. The implication of that, of course, depends on funding. If you have to prioritise around a major expansion of adult skills, for which particular groups in society would you prioritise the funding of that expansion?
Tom Wilson: The TUC is pretty clear: prioritise the most vulnerable first. By vulnerable workers we mean those who currently have either no skills at all or just skills for life. I am talking about the very low paid, agency workers, temporary workers, people who move from job to job, moving in and out of benefit. In many cases, the real fundamental problem of those workers is their lack of skills. We would not accept such a prioritisation, but if there were to be one, that is the group that would take priority.
Tom Wilson: ESOL would be very much part of that. In our view, ESOL is very much a workplace matter—I will refer you to my colleague in a moment who knows more about this that I do. Social cohesion is important and the community role of ESOL is important, but much of that can be accessed through work.
Caroline Smith: There is a very important point to be made: the work that has been going on in the workplace with ESOL is not distinct from social cohesion. The work that unions have been doing on ESOL has been linked to social cohesion and we were concerned about the earlier funding changes and the ending of the universal entitlement to ESOL up to level 2. A recent consultation has been published, and we have differences about the fact that there are many needy groups of people. It is difficult to set different needy groups against each other. One thing that we certainly want to reiterate, and will be looking to stress, is the remaining importance of the workplace in ESOL provision. We will examine that in our response to that consultation.
Do you agree that some people who cannot read, write and add up by the time they get to 16 feel a deep sense of shame and stigma about it? It is difficult to persuade somebody who has already done 10 years, a lot of it hiding from the teacher because they are afraid that they cannot really engage in the class, to stay on at school or in a college, or take a particular workplace training opportunity. Is it not right that the strength of what you have been doing through union learning representatives is the softer approach, encouraging people, engaging them and making it much less a difficult thing to do? Is that one reason why you are not in favour of compulsion—that it may just reinforce all the bad stereotypes, difficulties and stigmas that this isolated group already has?
Tom Wilson: As I have said, our reservations about compulsion are about whether the form of it takes that route. We do not think that that is necessarily the case. One of the great successes of union learning reps is that they are people who work alongside others, and whom others trust. If somebody does have a sense of shame, as you put it, about their—
Tom Wilson: Well, there is a whole range of things, and it is complicated. A lot of working people feel very angry that the system has let them down and that they have gone through 10 years of school and emerged unable to read or write. They may not feel shame, they may feel quite the opposite in some ways. But yes, there can be that.
The real point is that with the right kind of support, people who have come through with very poor basic skills can be turned around, if I can use that phrase, very quickly. It is not about their staying on at school—if it were, they would be very apprehensive, and we would not support it either. But that is clearly not what the Government are talking about; it is not about raising the school leaving age, it is about creating different sets of opportunities, perhaps through apprenticeships or other appropriate frameworks tailored to the needs of such people.
For example, one particular need that they might have is for literacy and numeracy learning that is directly relevant to what they are doing at work. For example, if you can talk to people who are working in a shop about numeracy through pricing and such things, and their understanding of the need to calculate a 10 per cent. discount on a sale or something, that may be a far more effective way of teaching them about numeracy than a cold classroom example. That is why we strongly support the work-based approach.
I was going to ask you what you thought employers’ duties should be, but there is something else that I feel the need to clarify. I agree with you, in paragraph 1.4 of your helpful submission to us, that
“the primary focus should be on support, encouragement and an attractive learning and skills offer for young people”,
but I want to be really clear about what your view is on compulsion and enforcement. We have just heard Mr. Heald say that he thinks you are against compulsion, and we heard Mr. Williams say the same. Mr. Gibb’s questioning was on whether you were perhaps in favour of civil enforcement but not criminal enforcement. I want to be really clear about whether you are against compulsion, whether you are for a duty to participate but against enforcement, or whether you are in favour of civil enforcement but against criminal enforcement—exactly where you sit in that range of possible positions.
Tom Wilson: I do not think that we can be quite as precise as that until we have seen the detail of what is going to be presented in the Committee. What I can say quite clearly is that, first, we have very strong reservations about compulsion; secondly, we are strongly opposed to anything like criminalisation—criminal enforcement, to use your distinction from civil enforcement—and thirdly, that it is very much about entitlement. We think that there should be a far stronger entitlement for young people to have a much wider range of funded, paid time off. There should be a much greater duty on employers—to come back to an earlier question about what would happen in 2010 if employers had not got to the Leitch targets, we would expect them to be made to do so. We are quite keen on compulsion on employers, provided that they need it, which we think is quite likely on current evidence. Within that framework we want to look at precisely what is proposed in Committee. I am sorry that I cannot be precise, but I think that that gives you a flavour of where the TUC is.
In paragraph 1.2, you quoted what you said in the consultation, that
“if young people are to be given the best chance of succeeding in the world of work, it makes sense for them to remain in education or high quality training until they are 18.”
Obviously, I completely agree and am delighted that you say that so clearly. To some extent it goes back to Sarah McCarthy-Fry’s questioning on what you said about entitlement. Do you think that it is possible to achieve entitlement without that cultural shift in aspiration saying clearly that people should remain in education and training until they are 18, and that there is a way of enforcing it, if support does not work? Can we achieve that entitlement without a stick to go with some big carrots?
Tom Wilson: It depends enormously. The language of sticks and carrots is itself—forgive me for saying so—somewhat black and white. We strongly agree that, yes, we need an enormous culture change, and, yes, there needs to be a very strong climate that this is absolutely the thing that young people should do in a strong moral sense. Whether that in turn requires quite that degree of absolute compulsion with a possible criminal penalty is the point at which the TUC begins to have question marks, but we are with you up to that point.
Obviously, the Bill translates entitlements and turns it into obligations. Notwithstanding that, you place key emphasis, and I agree, on apprenticeships. Is your view, as mine is, that apprenticeships would be assisted by a statutory definition, that pivoted around employer engagement, a level of workplace training and mentoring, which would be a proper test of the acquisition of real vocational competence leading to employability?
Caroline Smith: We absolutely support apprenticeships, but certainly one of our concerns is around quality. While absolutely recognising that there are some fantastic apprenticeship programmes out there, unfortunately there are some that are not offering decent pay or high-quality training, and there are some real differences across the board in what is meant by an apprenticeship. We would certainly agree that looking at establishing a definition of an apprenticeship could potentially be a mechanism for boosting and levering up quality. Obviously, it would depend upon the detail of any legislation defining an apprenticeship, because it could be defined in a restrictive, as well as, expansive way. So, it would be very much what, at the end of the day, the detail around that was.
Would there be a trade-off in your estimation between completion and rigour? I do not have a fixed view about that, but if apprenticeships are going to be demanding—both of the employer and of the trainee—there may be some implicit affect on completion. What is your view?
Caroline Smith: That is an interesting one. Certainly, the issue completion is very important. I am not necessarily convinced that there would be that relationship between completion and rigour. Within the apprenticeship system, you would be looking to ensure that supports are in place to help ensure completion, for example, the notion of ensuring that support and mentoring are in place, and of having checks and balances around the apprenticeship programme. I think that it is about those types of measures and about a package of measures, not just legislating for a definition of apprenticeships. On its own, that would be one factor, but I think that you need to have wider support mechanisms around that.
May I once more return to the issue of compulsion and clarify that I have understood what you are saying? Am I right to think you are saying that you are not opposed to the principle of compulsion, but that what concerns you is the potential for criminalisation of young people as a result of compulsion and the potential for counter-productive, negative results from the imposition of sanctions?
Tom Wilson: All I can do is quote the precise terms of our policy which, after some discussion, was decided at the congress last September, which was that we had grave reservations about compulsion; that it would depend on the precise way in which it was done; and that we were certainly not in favour of anything that looked like criminalisation. We did not think that criminalisation or any criminal-type sanctions were remotely necessary and, indeed, would be counter-productive, but we very strongly supported the Government’s overall aim of giving a very powerful message to all young people that this is something they should do.
Whether you need compulsion to achieve that message is something about which we have grave concerns and reservations. It depends on exactly how a range of sanctions are framed in Committee. We are certainly looking to see precisely what is being proposed. The debate at our congress was very clear that our members are very worried indeed and have major reservations about this being compulsory in the sense that, say, ASBOs are compulsory. They felt that this would be counter-productive. It is not the sort of thing that would necessarily encourage young people. Since we are all starting from that aim of creating a climate and a culture of expectation that young people should stay on to 18 in some form of training, we wanted to see precisely what kind of framework the Government were proposing to encourage them to do that.
If there were not to be compulsion, do you have an alternative for creating the level of participation that the Government and you are clearly very keen to see achieved?
Tom Wilson: I think we have an awfully long way to go in terms of creating opportunities for young people, such that the number of NEETs could be reduced to a tiny proportion of what it currently is. If I may take issue with one or two of the figures from the CBI, it is our view that employers do not spend anything like £33 billion on training, and that something like a third of employers in this country provide almost no training at all. Another third provide some but, frankly, in our view, it is pretty inadequate.
Compared to many of our competitor nations, particularly in Europe and America, we provide very little training for vast sections of the working population. In our view, the answer to your question is that first you should bring employers up to speed and make sure that they are fulfilling their obligations to their communities and to their workers to make sure that they provide the right kind of training opportunities for all people—young people and older workers. Only then, when we have done that, would it be appropriate to look at whether we still need compulsion to tackle that very small remaining number.
We detected that Mr. Knight might have been trying to break up the consensus between the TUC, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party on compulsion. In case of doubt—in case you suddenly find yourself being quoted in other terms—your document in November, after the September conference to which reference was made, has a very clear and concise summary of your position. My understanding is that you have not changed that. It says, in one sentence, that
“the TUC does not support a compulsory approach that would result in young people being penalised by the criminal justice system for non-attendance.”
My understanding is that the TUC has not changed its position on that issue since then.
However many times Labour Ministers or Back Benchers ask the question, the answer from the TUC is the same, as Mr. Laws has just cited. You can cite the evidence to this Committee as well: the TUC has some reservations, in particular around a compulsory approach that would result in young people being forced into learning. Mr. Wilson, in your November briefing you said:
“Further, the use of financial penalties may have unintended outcomes and create additional barriers for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Could you please expand on that viewpoint?
Tom Wilson: Our concern there was that if NEETs or young people who have not been achieving employment do so and, for the first time in their lives, are in receipt of a wage and if they have to hand over a chunk of that wage in the form of a fine, because they have not been going to college and so on, it might be a disincentive to their taking up employment. What we are not concerned about—what I suspect may be behind your question—is whether it will be a deterrent to employers. Our view is that if we live in a country where employers are honestly saying that they would not offer 16 and 17-year-olds employment because there is an obligation to provide some sort of training it would be a pretty shameful admission. We would not expect most employers to admit that, nor do we expect it to happen.
In the retail or hospitality sectors where many young people are employed, there are enough examples of good employers who provide that kind of training for young people for us to know that it can work perfectly well. It is not necessarily a disincentive to employing young people in that way and we strongly support those who argue that it should not be a serious disincentive, nor do we think that the CBI and others have seriously argued that.
Would it be right to say that although you have reservations about compulsion in relation to young people you agree with compulsion in relation to employers and the training levy?
Tom Wilson: That is quite correct. As I said, if the evidence is that by 2010 employers are not meeting their Leitch targets we would be strongly in favour of introducing some form of compulsion as Caroline said, whether that takes the form of a levy, a licence to practise or some other system. The devil could be in the detail and it very much remains to be seen exactly how it would work. A sectoral approach might be appropriate. If by 2010 employers are not meeting those Leitch targets, something pretty drastic by way of enforcement will certainly be needed.
I am sorry I am late, Mr. Bayley.
On the whole, most employers will act rationally, so why are they not investing in training? If they felt there was a financial need, an imperative for their business to invest in training, they would do it, because they are not in the habit of cutting their own throats. What would be their commercial reasons for not investing in training, in your experience?
Tom Wilson: I suspect that part of the problem is that for an individual employer it may not be in their interests if their competitor employers are not also investing. But ask any group of employers and it is likely that they will agree that they should all invest. It is rather like the early days of health and safety legislation when employers collectively agreed that some kind of collective regulation was necessary because it was not in the interests of an individual employer to bear the extra, added costs of not killing or injuring their employees. I am not saying it is quite like that, but the economic arguments are analogous; this is the sort of thing where all employers need to move together, it is rationally in the interests of the economy and the group of employers as a whole, but it may not necessarily be in the interests of a particular individual.
What would be the incentive for employers to do that? If there were an incentive you could argue that they would already be doing it. I do not understand; if they are not doing it, it is because there is a lack of an incentive to do it.
I would like to be absolutely clear on the issue of compulsion. Is it compulsion to engage young people in employment, training and education? Is it the sufficiency and variety that is required to be provided for young people? Is it the requirement actually to look at the meeting of individuals’ needs and whether they have been met, before you actually move to—
We are all perfectly clear on compulsion. I thank the TUC for your written evidence and I very much thank Tom Wilson and Caroline Smith for appearing before the Committee. I am sorry I had to squeeze colleagues’ questions at the end but you will know that I am required absolutely to stick to timetables, unlike in Select Committees.
Could we ask our witnesses from the Association of School and College Leaders to come up to the table please? While they are sitting down, I would like to welcome Brian Lightman, president of the association, Martin Ward, deputy general secretary and Anna Cole, the association’s parliamentary specialist.
Martin Ward: Yes. We certainly agree with the idea that it should be compulsory for young people to be engaged in educational training up to the age of 18 and we welcome the fact that the Government intend that to be the case. What we are unhappy about is the possibility that we might find young people being put in the position of entering the criminal justice system for not attending. I spent many years as a sixth-form college principal and trained myself not to call 16 and 17-year-olds “children” because they do not like it. But as far as the law is concerned they are children, and it does concern us that we might find ourselves in a situation in which we are locking up children because they are confused and ill-advised about how they are conducting themselves, rather than because they have done something awful.
I do not think that there is anything in the Bill that would result in custody. But if it were short of locking up, if it were simply criminal sanctions, a criminal offence to fail to comply with an attendance order, would you still be unhappy?
On another issue, you say, in paragraph 5 of your brief, that
“we are concerned that to be relevant and therefore covered by the Bill employment must be for 20 hours or more per week. We do not think it is right that employers should be able to employ young people on half-time contracts and therefore be exempt”.
I presume that you do not want an employer who employs someone for one hour a week to be covered by the Bill, and you want it to be fewer than 20 hours a week. Where would you put the requirements for training in terms of hours per week, if it is not 20 and it is not one?
Martin Ward: We did talk about that on the way here. We have not come up with a very definite view but the figure that we were looking at was more like 16 than 20. You are quite right. Clearly it is possible for someone to be in full-time education, for example, and be doing a Saturday job. That would not make that employer responsible for them in this way. What concerned us about a figure as high as 20 was that the not-so-good employers that both the CBI and the TUC talked about might subvert the system by offering a lot of 19.5 hour contracts. Of course, they might still do that if we set the level at 16, but then, for a young person in effect to be doing full-time work, they would have to be holding at least three contracts, which would perhaps be less likely than holding two.
From your experience of the young people who at present do not stay in education beyond the age of 16, what are the major factors that account for that departure from the education system, and do you have any sense of what the proportions are of young people who would fall into the major categories of explanation that would have caused them to leave the system?
Brian Lightman: The numbers in that category are very small. In my experience as head of a large school, the majority of students already do stay in full-time education until 18. A very small proportion—well under 10 per cent.—go outside education at that stage. In my experience, those youngsters are very needy young people who lack self-esteem and need a much higher level of personal support from a very early stage in their education. That is the key to keeping them in education. That is where the individual advice and guidance part comes in. We need to do a lot there.
Would many of those people have their needs addressed and therefore stay on if the curriculum was changed, or are most of the high needs that you see much more about emotional issues, health issues, family background and special needs?
Brian Lightman: It is partly to do with the curriculum. Obviously, changes are under way and there are all the things that we are doing not only through the new vocational courses and the diplomas, but through wider changes in the methods of teaching and learning that we are employing now—personalised learning and so on. However, in my experience, the biggest need that youngsters in this category have is for pastoral support. For example, in my school, we have a student support centre, where we identify children who are at risk of exclusion or of leaving school with no qualifications when they reach 16. We identify them as early as we can—at the very latest, when they come into key stage 4—and we do not find that they do not want to access the curriculum. We thought originally we would be giving them an alternative curriculum. They do not want that. They want to access the curriculum, but they need individual support and help to organise themselves and, sometimes, to get through the school day, because as someone said earlier, some of those people come from terrible backgrounds where the circumstances are awful. Sometimes they come into school in the morning and you could not possibly expect them to go through a day’s teaching in the classroom until they have had some personal support and help to enable them to do that.
When I asked a head teacher in my constituency whether the Education and Skills Bill and the compulsory leaving age should go ahead and whether that would address the needs of that bunch of young people with very high needs, he said that in his experience some of the young people you have been discussing find it very difficult, for the reasons you have given, to engage at 16 or even before, whereas they are quite ready to come back into the system later and can usually benefit more. Do you lean towards agreeing with him or do you think that the Government are right and that if we put in much greater support and a more relevant curriculum, many or all of those people could stay on at 16?
Brian Lightman: I am probably going to sit on the fence slightly and give you both answers to that. Yes, there will be people we will not succeed with. We have to be realistic. This is an enormously ambitious agenda and it will take a long time before we reach the noble aspiration of trying to get everybody to achieve. However, the sort of steps we are putting in place will help to achieve that with a lot of people. I have experience in my own school of doing that, but it is time-consuming. It requires an enormous amount of effort on the part of many people and it requires a co-ordinated approach across the whole of children’s services, but that is certainly not a reason for not doing it.
I am interested in exploring with you a little more what needs to be done pre-16 in order to make the job post-16 easier, largely because of a more engaged cohort of young people. The children’s plan sets out several changes that would happen between now and when the current year 6 become the first cohort that it applies to: qualification and curriculum reform, apprenticeships, expansion of the foundation learning tier, diplomas, pastoral support, one-to-one support, which we talked about, and personal tutors. What do you think are the most important for us to prioritise, and what more should we do that we have not already set out in order to make the job post-16 that much easier?
Brian Lightman: The children’s plan contains enough measures, and the right measures, to improve support and to develop it further. It is going in absolutely the right direction to develop the pastoral support and tutorial help we provide. But the key issue is that that support is not something that can be bolted on. It is not the latest thing that we add to what we do in schools. If the support is organised properly, it will be in an absolutely co-ordinated way.
That is why in our brief we were very concerned about the separation of individual advice and guidance, and careers education and guidance. If I am talking to a child, I am not going to think which one I am doing, and it will be the same for a careers adviser who is giving advice. We have to plan this in an holistic way. Similarly, a head of year is not separate from the process of taking children through their whole education. We do not want to move back to an old-fashioned pastoral-academic divide. Therefore, we have the measures in place.
What we need to do now is to make sure that we build on the work that has been done on personalised learning: for example, the Specialist Schools and Academy Trust is very much leading on deep support work and those types of model. Lots of schools are developing those sorts of approaches, and that is the way that we need to go to encourage students from an early stage to stay on.
Martin Ward: Another factor is the strong need to work with the parents of young people while the children are still at school. It is relatively easy—difficult, but relatively easy—to reach the parents during that phase. In some cases—some already believe it—they need to be persuaded that what we all prefer for their children will actually be right for them, and that their children should carry on with education or training beyond the age of 16.
Brian Lightman: May I make one further point about the parents of secondary-age children? Parents of very young children get enormous support—antenatal support, post-natal support, health visitors and so on—but it is much more difficult for parents of teenage children to access support. Lots of parents say to me, “Help. What should we be doing? How can we help?” Again, there are measures in the children’s plan to help with that, but it is important that we help those parents to understand the complex maze of qualifications and opportunities for their children.
I will ask just one more question. Do you think that there are any young people who cannot participate in education or training post-16? If so, should we exempt them from the duty? If not, should all young people be expected to participate and supported in doing so?
Martin Ward: There are probably no categories of young people who should be completely exempted. However, we have to accept that it will be very difficult for some young people to be engaged constantly during that period. Reference has been made to this. For example, we have to allow that it will be difficult for young parents and other young people who are in other senses carers, for young people who are having terrible crises in their family life of one sort or another, for young people who are substance abusers and who need to be weaned away from that before they can be engaged in anything else, and no doubt for other groups of young people as well, to be engaged all the time. The sort of support that we might seek for those people will be expensive, of course, and will become increasingly expensive per head as we approach the last ones—the Pareto principle, which we refer to in our briefing paper, applies here. The last ones will be very expensive, but if we can give them that expensive support then we should be able to engage everybody in some sense.
I am in some difficulty, because the moment after I indicated that I wanted to ask a question, Mr. Lightman proceeded to answer it before I had asked it—and I was impressed by his comments, particularly on pastoral care in schools. Mr. Ward then proceeded to answer what would have been my follow-up question, but could I persuade him to reflect a little further on the implications for schools and colleges? The provisions of this Bill include children with special needs statements, and there are costs and practicalities in providing for them up to 18.
Martin Ward: Yes, clearly some young people are much more expensive to educate and train than others. That has always been the case, and will continue to be so. Colleges and schools are used to dealing with students who have statements of special educational needs; they have learning difficulties, or sensory or physical disabilities. Clearly, they can be and often are more expensive to teach, but colleges and schools know how to do that. However, as we try to complete the process, we will indeed have a larger number of young people for whom it will be difficult to provide the sort of support, per head, that they will need and deserve.
I very much appreciate your comments about starting young and getting the parents as well as the young people engaged. Ultimately, when you have brought them through the system and given them all the possible support you can, is there any alternative to compulsion in having some sort of sanction? Otherwise, how does compulsion become compulsion?
Martin Ward: We could be accused of willing the end but not the means here. We would emphasise a point on which I think we all agree: we should start by persuading or enticing young people, and we should make sure that a wide range of suitable provision is available to them all. Until that is the case, it would be quite wrong to compel them or to penalise them in any way for not going along with our desires. We need to start at that end. We would argue that that will, in practice, bring in virtually every young person.
Who will be left? Some young people will be in a sort of crisis, as we have described before; some will have mental health problems and will not be behaving rationally. It seems to us that those remaining categories of people deserve not punishment, but more help. It would still be possible, then, to say that we expect everybody to be involved, but that we will not actually lock them up. Now I know that is not actually in there.
Do you not think that is what will actually happen, in practice? Even if we go for a compulsory model with potential criminalisation at the end, there is still a lot of time in between, so if you look at the processes indicated in this Bill—at all the support mechanisms that would be put in before anybody got to that final stage—would that not actually be doing what you say?
Martin Ward: Well, yes, the intention is clearly that very few young people should find themselves at the point of criminal penalty, and that is right. A cynical response would be to say that not many people find the criminal penalties are applied when their children do not attend compulsory schooling—we have had that for many decades in this country. Another cynical response, drawn from my knowledge of people that age, is that most of them will be able to duck and weave quite nicely for long enough to get to the age of 18. That will be only a year and a bit away for some of them, because one slight oddity of the arrangement is that they enter this phase at the end of the school year when they turn 16, but they leave it on their 18th birthday, which may not be that long for some of them.
Going back to the point we made before, a less cynical response would be that if we have offered them the things that we think they should have, such as good opportunities for education, good apprenticeships and employment with good training attached, and we have closed off their option of going for employment that does not have good training by gripping employers and obliging them not to employ young people on that basis, there will be virtually no young people who have not already entered the categories that we want them to be in.
Is there anything more that you think should be in the Bill on that hierarchy of support? I thought that there might be some things that you wanted to come back to us on.
Brian Lightman: I do not think that there needs to be anything additional in the Bill. I think the crucial thing is that we are talking about a culture change and a mindset. It is a bit like when pupils come to the school in year 7: I go into their first assembly and welcome them and tell them that they are going to be working with us for the next seven years. I think that is the key issue. We are saying very publicly that there is an expectation and that we want everyone to achieve this. We know that there will be some with whom we have less success, but our aim is to get as many people to that stage as possible.
I am a great fan of no one getting left behind. That is a laudable aim that we should strive to achieve. However, a few months ago, the leader of our party was in an inner city and a youngster in a hood walked up behind him and gestured. That scene is played out across many towns and cities across the country. There are some extremely damaged and excluded young people out there—dangerous young people to be perfectly honest. How are we to reach them? You rightly pointed out that that will take a massive effort on behalf of many agencies. Have you any thoughts on how that can realistically be achieved?
Brian Lightman: We are not underestimating the scale of the challenges, but at the same time, we are not talking about everybody being in that situation. We are talking about a very small minority, but they are precisely the sorts of people whom I was talking about when I described our student support centre. When you actually get to know those people, you find that they have enormous problems with self-esteem and that they lack confidence. They are normally hiding something underneath that hood. They are the people we need to start working with early, because we will not get there when they are 16. By that stage—once they are out there in a hoodie—we are far too late. We need to get them at 13, 14 and earlier, work with them intensively in school and get them on track so that they go down the right routes.
I totally accept that point, but the Bill will become an Act within the next 12 months, and there are young people out there aged between 14 and 17 who will be covered by the Bill. Yes, in future, we can identify them earlier, but what are we going to do in the immediate future for those who are already between 14 and 16 or 17 who will be covered by the Bill? I do not expect you to have answers, but we need to turn our minds to that.
Brian Lightman: We have to take time. We are not going to solve all the ills of society in one year. At the same time, however, if we are not doing enough now with 14 and 15-year-olds, we need to get moving with it as soon as we can. There is a strong commitment across our profession to do that. Certainly, in our membership, I know lots of schools and colleges that are really doing things to try to motivate those youngsters and do the kind of things I have described.
Martin Ward: It will require provision in a lot of different contexts, offered in different ways and places with different organisational arrangements around them. One of the strengths of the Bill is that it is not raising the school-leaving age—it is not saying to these young people, “You must continue in school or college.” Instead, it is giving them alternative routes, which potentially will lead them in the right direction.
We had the Association of Colleges earlier, which, I think, represents FE governing bodies. They were saying that the costs of raising the participation rate to 100 per cent. are less than might be expected. You are on record as saying that keeping the last 10 per cent. of recalcitrant young people in education and training will not come cheap. Others have expressed concerns about the ability of FE to soak up reluctant students without damaging the learning experience of the rest. Is it not the experience of those who are teaching people who want to learn to read and write, but who have not managed it in 10 or 11 years of statutory education, that you have to have small groups, bags of counselling and support, and have to tackle quite a lot of social problems as well? Is that why you think this will be quite expensive? What do you see those costs involving?
Martin Ward: I have already alluded to the point we were trying to make: the Pareto principle operates here. The first 10 per cent. of young people are very easy to teach. They teach themselves. The last 10 per cent. are going to be much more difficult. Per head, they have simply got to cost more than the first 10 per cent.
Martin Ward: Colleges are already used to many of these young people bringing their problems with them into the college context. Years ago, when David Blunkett was Secretary of State, he used to allude to his days as an FE college teacher and talk about the problem of “Bricklayers 2” on a Friday afternoon. Young people are often resistant to that type of provision and that element of their work. I think colleges are already quite good at this, but it is not going to be cheap because they are going to need extra support. The next group of students, the ones whom we have not yet managed to hook, will need more support still.
Brian Lightman: If you want to break down the costs, you are going to need additional staff who can offer specialised support. For example, in our school we employ a youth support worker who provides specialised counselling and mentoring to young people. That is an extra member of staff. You have an extra teaching assistant within a very small class to give those children one-to-one support because often they have something like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or other special educational needs, and need help to engage in learning.
Once you get down to small group and one-to-one support, it is just like any other SEN provision. Those are expensive types of support. There is also a higher pupil-teacher ratio in whatever context they are learning. If you put them into smaller environments—in the children’s plan, for example, there was the idea of studio schools—then that is obviously going to cost more money because they are smaller institutions and they are going to require accommodation and the ensuing additional costs. There are certainly additional costs. I think it would be very wrong and naive to assume that you could do this on the cheap, and I do not think that would be practical.
To correct Mr. Walker, the present year 6 cohort are the first children that the Bill will apply to. In your answer you were talking about 14 to 16-year-olds. Those young people from year 6 will know about this as the older ones go forward, even though the 11 to 16 age group know that it is not going to apply to them. Do you think that this will encourage a higher uptake among those people in the period until it becomes compulsory, because it is going to be talked about in school and is going to be the ethos of the school?
Brian Lightman: I think that is already happening. I have seen it in my own school. I think that is why most people stay in education, because we talk about that from the moment that we get to know them, even when they are in primary school. I think that it is incumbent on all of us to do that, and to show them the routes and to ensure that we have high-quality guidance at all stages, in order to make that accessible for them.
We have heard throughout the course of today that various changes need to be made to the system of education and training: improvements in the careers service; refinements to the apprenticeship system, and particular help for disadvantaged young people and groups that are hard to get at, of the type that you have spoken about. However, this Bill creates extra demand on an unreformed system. You spoke a little earlier about means and ends. In your view, would it have been better to reform the system and so stimulate greater demand?
Brian Lightman: I do not think that the Bill is making greater demands on an unreformed system, because it has to be looked at in the context of all of the other things that are going on. Certainly, one of the things that I never cease to be amazed by in my role this year is that there does not seem to be any aspect of education that is not being reformed at the moment. We have a vast agenda for change and our members are working really hard on all of those things. So this Bill is really just a part of a much bigger picture.
You say that, and I respect your view. However, you would not deny, would you, that apprenticeship numbers in the latest figures are down at both level 2 and level 3, or that the number of NEETs has grown very significantly, or that there are real doubts about the careers service and Connexions? Many of the witnesses to this Committee in their written submissions have made those types of points. Unless those things are dealt with very promptly, if this Bill comes into force we will indeed be creating extra demand on an unreformed system.
Martin Ward: The largest part of those in the NEET category are in employment, but it is employment without the training that we seek. So, it seems to us that the single most important measure in the Bill, the measure that will have the biggest effect, is to require employers not to employ 16 and 17-year-olds unless they receive suitable training.
I think that Brian has something to say about guidance.
Brian Lightman: The careers service is being reformed and we are very aware that there are some places where there is very high-quality careers advice and there are other areas where the advice is less effective. What we need to do is to ensure that that advice gets up to the right standard everywhere; certainly, that is very important. However, the key thing about it is that, if you take the new standards for individual advice and guidance—the quality standards—they provide a really strong framework for high-quality guidance within school. We really support what is in the Bill. If a school or a college were to audit their provision, going through these quality standards, and a local authority were to use the standards as an auditing tool, the quality of careers guidance would be very good indeed. That is very important.
Regarding the apprentice system, it obviously must develop and improve. We cannot expect young people to stay in education until they are 18 unless we make sure that we provide a range of appropriate and high-quality opportunities that they will want to use. It is this business about persuasion, which we have spoken about before. We need to be able to persuade them to do these things, because they can see that there is high-quality provision in the form of apprenticeships, other courses or other training opportunities for them.
And, very briefly, that is why compulsion is such an issue, because you want to do these things, in your own words, “so that they want to stay on”. They will look at the opportunities available to them, regard them as attractive and likely to add to their employability, and so compulsion is not really desirable.
Brian Lightman: It comes back to this point that I made about the mindset. If our expectation is that everybody does it, then compulsion is the right word to use. What we have to do is couple that not with punishment and criminalisation but with high-quality provision and win the argument that this is the right thing to do. That takes persuasion from all of us, working together.
I want to bring in something about part 4 of the Bill. In your briefing you say that the leaders of independent schools are concerned about Ofsted taking over the registration and regulation of their schools, and that you have received welcome reassurance from the Government that there is no future intention for independent schools to be inspected on a similar basis to maintained schools. Can you expand a bit on your concern about part 4 of the Bill?
Martin Ward: Some of our members are the leaders of the leading independent schools and were concerned to find that it seemed that Ofsted was being moved in their direction, or that they were being moved in the direction of Ofsted, which does not necessarily have a good reputation among schools and colleges. They therefore expressed concern about what was in the Bill, most of which we have been reassured on.
Inspection can have two quite different functions and meanings. The health inspector who visits the restaurant is saying, “You are fit to practise, you are not going to poison people,” whereas the Michelin guide inspector is deciding how many stars you are going to get. It is not appropriate for Ofsted to do the latter job in the independent school sector, because it operates in a market. It certainly is appropriate that those schools should be regulated and required to provide a decent standard of education, good health and safety and so forth, so that children who are sent there are safe and generally well treated. Such a threshold inspection is appropriate, and our members are reassured that that is what is being talked about here, rather than their being handed over to Ofsted in the more complete sense. I think that you know about the reassurance that we received, Anna.
Presumably, the youngsters whom we really need to worry about are those who will not want to engage in a formal education setting and may be either unwilling to go into work or unemployable because of other problems that they have, to which you referred earlier. We do not really want those people simply to disappear for a year or a year and a half until they turn 18. Is there a missing category in the Government’s armoury of options that would not be employment or education but might be some kind of requirement to accept support to deal with the problems that you mentioned earlier?
Brian Lightman: I think that they are a very small number of people. We need to remember that. It is a very important duty of children’s services departments in local authorities to identify and keep track of those young people, because they are the ones who disappear off all the records, get into trouble and so on. There are some very successful schemes. For example, there is one in my area called the youth gateway scheme, in which intensive work is done with those groups of young people to try to get them into a position where they can get into employment or further training. You can identify who those small groups of people are. It does not come cheap, but it is worth every penny of the investment because you are hitting the hardest group to get, to ensure that they stay in training and education and then become employable within a reasonable amount of time.
Martin Ward: The Bill relies upon local authorities making good judgments in such circumstances. The regulations and guidance that will follow it will be of particular interest. We will certainly be looking for them to allow local authorities to proceed in a merciful fashion, if you like, for students and young people who are in particular difficulty.
One group that concerns me is perhaps not quite the same group that you are thinking of. We all have experience of young people who embark on a course at 16 that they then realise is wrong for them and find completely unsupportable in fairly short order. By about November perhaps, they are saying, “I’ve started this, but I just can’t bear it. I can’t go there. I’m not going there any more”—whatever “there” is. We will need to have means of coping with their changes of direction, so that they do not find themselves in trouble if they have to wait until the following September. If they say, “Oh well, I’ve started this apprenticeship. Actually that isn’t the right thing for me. I now realise I should have stayed at school or gone to college and embarked on a course of full-time education,” they will probably have to wait until the following September to do that and we will need to be able to keep them ticking over without getting into trouble during that waiting period.
I am afraid I need to draw a line there. We are coming to the end of our time. I thank the Association of School and College Leaders and the three of you, Martin Ward, Brian Lightman and Anna Cole, for coming and appearing before us. We are grateful.
Once again, the two names on my piece of paper have expanded. We have John Freeman, who represents the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Councillor Les Lawrence, who is chair of the children and young people board of the Local Government Association, and Kim Bromley-Derry.
May I start with the ADCS’s briefing to the Committee? In the summary, you say that “the ADCS agrees the need for sanctions for non-compliance”. However, in your submission in relation to the Green Paper “Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post-16”, you say: “We remain extremely sceptical at this stage of the proposals put forward to enforce participation. It appears to be counter-productive to take proceedings against a young person, if the aim is to encourage them to learn effectively, particularly if they have previously been disaffected anyway.” Can you expand on your views on that issue?
John Freeman: Hearing the debate this afternoon about compulsion has been fascinating. Our position in terms of the present drafting is that we support it, but in the context of the culture shift and the change in expectations, and we have an important caveat about custody, which I will come back to. We can start from the position of the year 6 young people who will be the first to be affected by the legislation. If we say to them, “You will be compelled to stay in education or training and if you don’t, we will apply a range of sanctions” and those sanctions include fines and criminal sanctions of various sorts, that will clearly be counter-productive.
We are talking about the notion that, at the extreme margin, there will be some young people for whom a sanction is appropriate, but it will be very, very few. We expect that, over quite a short period and by the time the young people who are now in year 6 get to the age of 16 or 17, that culture shift will have been implemented, as will the diplomas and apprenticeships, all the curriculum changes and all the improved information, advice and guidance, such that the requirement for coercion will become a very much less important thing.
In paragraph 16 of your briefing, you talk about clause 12, which deals with the duty on local authorities to make arrangements to identify young people who are not participating. You talk about needing to build on the existing computer systems: ContactPoint, the Connexions database, employment databases and so on. Will that be very costly for local authorities? Do you believe that the computer system devised to collate and share the information will work?
Kim Bromley-Derry: There has been huge investment in terms of the information systems currently operating across this field. Certainly that is true of the work that has gone on in Connexions as well and, with the migration of Connexions to the local authority, we feel that the capacity exists within both local authority and sub-regional or regional level. Obviously, we need to look not just at local authority level, particularly where you have conurbations of a number of authorities, but we do not feel that there is, particularly, an extra burden. However, we obviously need to co-ordinate and synchronise those systems over the coming years.
John Freeman: We are working pretty closely with Department officials on things like ContactPoint, which are quite complex systems to implement, but need to be implemented in an effective way. I think that we have sufficient time before they need to be fully in place, in order to ensure that they are pretty robust.
On notional assessments and the likely cost, the Association of Colleges has told us that the systems you described are not fit for purpose and would need considerable improvement. Given the new statutory responsibilities of local authorities in this regard, both for promotion of participation and for the necessity of keeping records of individuals, are local authorities going to come to a notional view about likely resource implications?
Kim Bromley-Derry: We feel that capacity is within the systems as they currently exist, although they need to be developed and synchronised. The level of tracking that goes on already is significant. It needs to be fine-tuned and targeted, but we feel that there is capacity within the system, without significant additional resources.
Les Lawrence: One of the important aspects is not so much the system, the hardware or the interconnectivity, but the data capture and analysis for which the system will be put in place and how those are used and shared. There are two elements in answering your question: one is the capital cost of the systems, and a lot of the systems already exist across the 14-to-19 partnerships, between authorities and across colleges and authorities; but I come back to the fundamental issues around data capture and how those data are utilised to facilitate the opportunities that will be offered to young people.
I would also like to ask some questions about the data capture duty that is going to be placed on local authorities. To take the case of the city of Bristol, someone from my constituency may well be going to school in any of the three neighbouring unitary authorities: North Somerset, South Gloucestershire or Bath. People come into Bristol from as far away as Wiltshire to go to college. How can we be confident that the data capturing system is going to deal with those complexities of real life, given that, if you get it wrong, someone may be going down a penalty situation?
John Freeman: The biggest system being implemented at the moment is ContactPoint, which is best described as 150 interconnected databases, each one at a local authority level. It will therefore have a record of all young people at the most basic level. That needs to tie into and be tied into other databases from Connexions and, indeed, from school and college records in an effective way, so that we are able to point up where individual young people are at any given time. I suppose that it needs to be pretty robust, which is the point that I am making. I accept that the need for that, because what do you do if you do not have a child or young person on this system? How do you know where they are? You need to be sufficiently robust to know that if they are not in Bristol they might be in Wiltshire, if they are not in Wiltshire they might be in Dorset. We need to have across-authority systems that are robust.
Les Lawrence: You can underpin that if you take other systems that have been developed. The common system framework is one where you agree a set of protocols between all those using the data, and then you agree what are known as common datasets. It does not matter about the platform or the networking arrangements in each authority or partner, if you have a protocol and the common dataset, the information is accessible and sharable. The underpinning part is that it must be timely, and those are the elements that you have to get absolutely right. If you get the protocols and common datasets, you will be able to work in a very participative way.
Kim Bromley-Derry: I would also add that we already have high levels—almost 90 per cent.—of participation post-16. We currently deliver it for 90 per cent., but this is an additional number of young people who are engaging. The diversity of their pathways has increased, but we already deal with large numbers of young people.
They were all the answers to my first question. My second question is about the legal powers that you as local authorities will be able to exercise if you have to enforce compulsion. Again, to give an example from Bristol, the legal services department has difficulty getting yellow lines removed or placed where residents want them. Are you confident that there are enough solicitors and other legally trained people in local authorities to cope with the large new duty being placed on authorities?
John Freeman: I cannot comment on yellow lines, but returning to our briefing at paragraph 25, the point is that we do not want to start with solicitors and legal involvement. We will need to start with individual counselling, mentoring for parents, parenting support, individual support for young people, information, advice and guidance. That is where it all starts, not at the point of compulsion.
When the other steps have not proved effective, there is still a decision to be made about the appropriate route to secure the best outcome. For some young people, however difficult and recalcitrant they are, it may well prove to be inappropriate or ineffective to go down the route of legal remedy. We see custody being used rarely, if ever. The starting point is information, advice and guidance, mentoring, counselling, support for parents and for young people through schools and other central services, with a view to securing their engagement before you start considering the legal remedy. If you do consider the legal remedy, you must come to a sensible decision about whether it will have the desired effect.
In the evidence from the Local Government Association, there is an expression of disappointment that the Bill does not recognise non-formal education that a youth service or positive activities might deliver. Are there any amendments that you would like in order to recognise the valuable service that children’s services and departments deliver?
Les Lawrence: In a sense, you have answered your own question by using that terminology. There are a number of innovative arrangements with different authorities throughout the country, whereby many youngsters, who had become disengaged with learning at 16, have been drawn back into youth support and outreach. Because of that different learning environment, they have become mentors of others who have become disengaged, and equally, those mentors have begun to re-engage with the educative process and, in many cases, become young potential youth workers. It is a different route. It brings us back to one fundamental point about this principle: it is about motivating and finding out what engages young people not only at this age but earlier at 11 or 14, because once you have an understanding of the innate abilities of the young people with whom you are dealing, you can flex a learning environment and opportunities around that young person’s interest, which is the way you drive their participation—not by standing behind them with a whacking great stick. In my view, that is a sign of failure. Given that we have five years and seven years for the local authorities to provide the strategic leadership with their partners in order to put in place the right frameworks within the secondary sector, I honestly believe that the need to use the sanction in the Bill will be minimal. It will not be the golden goose that the legal profession imagines.
Kim Bromley-Derry: The whole emphasis of the children’s plan is on personalisation and progression. The different forms of accreditation need to be designed in a way that personalises the package and provides an assessment for learning for young people, and to demonstrate progression so that they can go on to alternative, different and more valuable accreditation.
John Freeman: Councillor Lawrence referred to young people aged 16 with unfortunate experiences. We hope that the children’s plan, and the other curriculum and cultural changes, beginning at pre-secondary or perhaps even from middle-primary and up, can ensure that fewer 16-year-olds are disengaged and disfranchised. We hope that the 14 to 19 curriculum reforms will ensure that the maximum number of young people want to remain, and see the benefit of remaining, in education and training.
I want to explore two areas. The first is the vexed issue of enforcement. I am pleased to see that, like many others, both the LGA and the ADCS support the principle of raising the participation age. Local authorities have good experience of working within systems of enforcement. I am interested in whether we can learn any lessons from your experience about how we could run a system of enforcement. I am even more interested in the difference of tone between the two organisations in the two papers. From the LGA’s side, I would be very interested to hear from Councillor Lawrence where the LGA sits. Does it support the duty, but not enforcement? If it supports enforcement, as well as the duty, is that just civil enforcement, or should we go even further to criminal enforcement? Where does the LGA sit on the spectrum? From paragraph 19 of the ADCS submission, I take it that in “very exceptional circumstances”—I think that is the phrase—the ADCS supports enforcement through the whole spectrum. Will you set out why?
John Freeman: We support the whole spectrum, with the exception, as I said before, of custody. In our view, without the end point of the legal duties, and the compulsion through the law, the remaining changes to culture, the NEETs strategy, and things such as diplomas and apprenticeships, will have an effect, but there will not be the expectation that it is genuinely and seriously the norm and that it is the way to do things. I reiterate my point that we see enforcement as the last option and, indeed, an indication that we have failed somewhere. A disengaged young person is not just an indication that they have failed, but that we have failed.
On the general point of enforcement, as a director of children’s services, I have a range of powers that I never use. However, if I did not have them, I would have different conversations with a range of people. For example, I have powers to intervene in schools, under certain circumstances. I have never used those powers, but without them, my leverage on the activity would be much reduced. I believe that the compulsion needs to be there as a last resort.
Kim Bromley-Derry: We also have experience of enforcement in other areas, which has been relatively successful in terms of parenting orders. The concept of enforcement in other sectors seems to have worked quite well and has actually created greater participation, and so we feel that it has potential in this sector as well.
Les Lawrence: The view from the LGA is that the sanction is the very last resort. We do not disagree with the intent, but that intent should be seen in the context of the overall direction in which to go—not as one of the prime elements but as a final sanction to be applied in extremis.
It should be a civil sanction. I would argue that if you criminalise around this area, you then create tension and conflict with a whole series of other areas of the law which rightly should involve a criminal sanction because of the nature of the offence being committed. In that sense, this offence—non-participation—is a civil offence, not a criminal offence whereby one has brought about distress to another person or damage to the property of another person.
There is also a slight difference in that, yes, parenting orders have been successfully applied in cases involving children up to the age of 16, but the legal framework is that the responsibilities of parents to a young person between 16 and 18 and to one who is 15 years 364 days are different. I do not think that that difference has been fully drawn out in the nature of the sanctions being applied. I do not think that the application of a parenting order post-16 would be seen by the courts in the same context as a parenting order pre-16 in terms of the responsibility being placed on the parent. That is another reason why we think that the offence should be contained solely within the civil arena.
Thank you, that is very clear and helpful.
The other area was around quality assurance. We have heard concerns from some witnesses today about the consistency of the quality of the delivery of support services—information, advice and guidance—which will be crucial if we are to achieve what I believe is our shared aim of enforcement used only in exceptional circumstances. Our last witness waved around the quality standard for information, advice and guidance, but what reassurance can you give the Committee on consistency of quality, and what levers do you think should be applied by central Government to achieve that quality?
John Freeman: Consistency of high-quality support is already one of our key priorities. It has to be, because in order to secure good outcomes for children and young people, it stands to reason and is obvious that we need to provide them with the appropriate support, information and guidance—and that applies now, not just under the new legislation. It is very important that young people, particularly those who are at risk of not engaging or who are vulnerable in various ways, are supported to engage. As stated in our evidence, and as somebody else said earlier this afternoon, up to the age of 18 they are children within the meaning of the Act. Therefore, that is part of our existing priority.
One of the interesting changes in the present year, 2008-09, is that the Connexions grant will form part of the area-based grant, non-ring-fenced and within the overall area. It is having an interesting effect, in that people in my position are engaging in a debate with local strategic partnerships and councils on what the money is being used for, why it is being used in the way it is, how it can be best used and how partners can come together to get the best possible outcomes, rather than its being dealt with in isolation as a specific grant that does something that somehow is outside the purview of the children’s trust overall. So this is a high priority for us already. It is becoming a priority across the whole of the children’s trust and the local strategic partnership through the mechanism that I just described.
In terms of central Government, clearly there will be standards inspection, the comprehensive area assessment, and those mechanisms which will look both at what we do, in providing information, advice, guidance and support and the other requirements that are set out in legislation, and at the outcomes. If the outcomes are not good, whatever we do, if it is not in the outcomes, is less effective.
Les Lawrence: John is quite right. At the end of the day, the outcome must be beneficial for the person who has participated in the arrangements that were deemed appropriate for them. There is an area that perhaps needs to be looked at with regard to the quality assurance: we have an inspectoral regime for colleges and local authorities, but how will we be able to provide that assurance for those opportunities provided by employers? Local authorities do not have any jurisdiction over those who are providing the apprenticeship or training schemes that will be part of what we will be offering young people and engaging them with.
Equally, I would suggest that, within quality assurance, you must consider the range of opportunities that are available to young people. There is the tension between an urban and a rural environment. In a city such as my own, Birmingham, we will have no problem in conjunction with our neighbouring authorities being able to provide a range of different experiences and opportunities to young people. If you go to Cornwall, or Cumbria, or Northumberland, how you provide young people with the access, and then the opportunity that meets their needs, skills, and competencies, becomes a different order of question. The quality assurance aspect in that situation is different to that which we can provide in an urban area, where it is based on the range of opportunities that you can provide. So, there is an extra dimension.
Plus, as I say, how do we provide that process of inspection without making it overbearing, prescriptive, and restrictive on employers who, at the end of the day, we will be asking a lot of in providing the apprenticeships and training opportunities?
We have heard it said with some confidence that there is sufficient spare capacity in the system for sixth form and FE colleges to absorb the additional demand that will come from the 16 to 18-year-olds. But they will all come from currently under-represented groups which are, by definition, quite high-maintenance. They might be teenage parents, children who are caring for their own parents or who have a range of difficult domestic circumstances, or they might have special needs or mobility problems. How do you see the effect on funding of those additional, more expensive students?
Kim Bromley-Derry: I think that the question I was asked was about the information systems and the capacity in the system. Inevitably, you are right. The likelihood is that we will be working with a harder-to-reach group, who will need additional support. That goes back to the question of the levels of support required and the minimum entitlement of that support. Certainly, it is a key question that the 14-to-19 partnerships operating throughout the country are tackling at the moment.
We may have an entitlement, we may have a range of pathways for young people, but how do you pull together support packages for individuals that enable them to access, and, more importantly, stay on and achieve in those pathways? That needs to be designed as part of that partnership; for example, in dialogue with schools, FE colleges, and employers about their particular needs. Of course, as we have heard, all employers will have slightly different needs in terms of the level of support they require, whether mentoring support for young people or logistical support with families.
Certainly, if we take an approach that personalises the package for young people, each of those individuals will have a different set of needs, whether ADHD at one end of the spectrum or involvement in criminality at the other. The local authorities obviously have significant resources to broker into that. They are delivering many of them already, but some of them will possibly need to be reconfigured for a slightly different age range. We still need to work through that. Inevitably, there could be reprioritisation of those resources in order to enable it to happen. So, the key issue for local authorities is how we might reprioritise if there are no additional resources.
Kim Bromley-Derry: That is true, but we must also look at the impact of the migration of Connexions and integrated youth support, where we are looking to integrate the offer of youth offending services, Connexions and a range of different agencies to young people. We still have not worked through the impact of that. Certainly, it is something that we will need to work on over the next four or five years, before we have to offer this.
Les Lawrence: One of the strands in your question was about those with learning disabilities, those who have other health-related and physical needs. Here is yet another opportunity for us to consider the financial envelope, not only in the context of the local authority but in that of the services that can be provided by the health service and by the child and adult mental health service. Equally, we have to consider how we can utilise things like local area agreements and the area-based grants that are now coming on stream to assist local authorities in targeting resources to specific indicator requirements currently in place for local authorities and, dare I say it, to link them back for Government to the public service agreements, which are supposedly across Government Departments. I do not think that the concept of integration has quite reached central Government in the way that it has local government at the moment.
John Freeman: In the context of those local and national partnerships, it is worth noting that if young people get the outcomes at 16 or 18 they will be better able to enter into the employment market and thus reduce social costs. It is about not just spending more money on children’s services—to an extent it is—but reducing costs elsewhere in the public service.
I would like to probe further on the implications of the transfer of Connexions to LEAs. The recent report by Professor Watts and Allister McGowan on monitoring what is happening at the moment suggests that there are already very wide variations in the way in which the new Connexions services are to be delivered to local authorities. I wonder, Councillor Lawrence, whether this is something that causes you concern, given what was said earlier about the need to maintain national standards.
Les Lawrence: I think it would not be inappropriate to say that the provision of Connexions services was variable in the extreme across the country—from very poor service provision to exemplary provision. What tends to happen within local authorities at the moment depends on what service had been provided prior to the decision to take it into the local authorities’ jurisdiction. I think that inevitably, because you are seeking to devolve the responsibility to local authorities, it will bring about a variance in the nature and type of provision, simply because local authorities will gear the new arrangements to the needs and requirements of their localities. That means that they may well continue—Warwickshire is a good example—to use the Connexions service that was there before. They have been commissioned. Equally, some local authorities, like my own, because it was provided across Birmingham and Solihull, disaggregated the original service and were providing it in a much more localised way throughout the city, whereas in Solihull they have literally taken it in to their new trust arrangements.
I am confident that local authorities will look at the new service in the context of their needs and requirements, and actually make it a more localised provision, depending upon the nature of the localities and neighbourhoods that they serve. So what we will see happen somewhere like Northumberland will be of a very different nature, much more localised, than what you see in a city like Birmingham, which will be more area-based.
We may want to press a bit further on that when we come to hear from the Minister, but it obviously makes enormous sense that this is entirely in line with Government policy on “Every Child Matters” and children’s trusts and that it will embed those services as part of an integrated youth service. The concern that has been expressed already is that there are no mechanisms to ensure that that money will be spent in a way that is coherent with that. There is no ring-fencing and even at this early stage it is reasonable to ask what viewpoint you think that hard-pressed local authorities will take about maintaining the expenditure in this and coming financial years.
Kim Bromley-Derry: It is important to say that the local authorities and their partners have quite a robust performance framework and, certainly, many of the outcomes that were expected of the previous Connexions service before it migrated—or even stayed in the same form in some areas—are still incumbent on local authorities and their partners. I think that I speak categorically for directors and local authorities when I say that we are absolutely focused on delivering those outcomes.
However, we feel strongly that the services need to meet the local needs, demography and dynamics, and that was not always the case in Connexions but, as Councillor Lawrence has said, in some areas it was very strong and quite often that service has been maintained where it was strong. Certainly, the performance framework gives us a focus. We see that there is a level of efficiency in integration and joining up, which is an opportunity for local authorities and their partners that had not been realised when the services were separate and worked in parallel with each other. My experience of local authorities where that integration is going on is that some front-line services have been increased because of that more efficient model.
That is all very well and you may propose, but finance directors and chief executives tend to dispose in tight local government settlement years, and people know what happened to the funding of FE when it was under local authority administration in the 1980s, which were tight settlement years. Is there anything that you can do or would advise the Government to do to build on the existing framework to ensure that that sort of problem does not arise again?
Les Lawrence: One of the important changes aside from the move of the 14 to 19 funding vis-Ã -vis the LSC to local authorities as well as the Connexions service is that at a strategic level local authorities can now begin to plan and commission what they require to provide for the young people within their jurisdiction. That is a very different context from the current one, where I would suggest that much relates to how many bums on seats you can get in any particular institution, and you may have a series of institutions all providing exactly the same thing at different levels of quality.
This actually allows us to ensure the quality of the provision in a way that has not happened, I would suggest, over the last decade. While I do not disagree with your premise around the local authority FE paradigm, I suggest that the new arrangements that we are seeking to put in place will be much more coherent with regard to the quality of outcomes, the opportunities for young people and the actual utilisation of the resources in what I call the Lyons sense, not only between the other LSC funding and Connexions and the current children’s services grant, but also with money across other partner agencies and the private sector.
Kim Bromley-Derry: In the statutory framework there is a duty on the director of children’s services and the lead member to identify whether they believe there to be insufficient resources to deliver the outcomes within their children and young people’s plan and within the statute, and I am sure, given the commitment of members and officers to deliver on those outcomes, that they would raise that if they needed to.
John Freeman: The performance management framework is a fundamental shift, with regard to Ofsted, performance tables and things of that sort and also through local area agreements and area-based grants, which are focused on ensuring that partnerships as a whole own the issues and the outcomes. It was not like that in the 1980s; it just was not like that at all. The world has moved on in so far as performance management is now much tighter.
Do you agree that there needs to be a bit of flexibility in the system to allow for changes of plan? For example, I was talking to someone who owned a garage and had a worker from this age group who was at college and was not enjoying the car mechanic course because it used rather old-fashioned equipment and older vehicles than those he was used to working with in the garage. In the end, the owner said, “Why don’t I send you off to the manufacturer’s training course?” He paid £20,000, the lad went off and that seemed to work well. It may be that it would come within the guided learning provision in clause 8(3), but there should be enough flexibility in the system for it to, should there not?
Kim Bromley-Derry: Big issues facing the current system are staying-on rates, the ability to make informed choices and early intervention with young people. It is often no good having that conversation with a 16-year-old; it needs to happen at primary school and in the early years of secondary school. Certainly, it would not be good enough to have just one course for one young person. There has to be choice in the system and the ability for young people to change their minds if it is not the right course or employment opportunity. There also has to be flexibility for the providers, whether they be the employer, training provider or school. The strengths of the system will be having the ability to offer that choice and diversity, and having capacity in the system for flexibility when someone has made the wrong choice, if something is not right for them or if they find it too difficult and need to do an alternative course.
Les Lawrence: You have highlighted an aspect that I think the new arrangement could facilitate. A formal learning environment such as a college provides the theoretical base. The employers provide the practical base because, more often than not, they have to use state-of-the-art or more modern processes simply because that is the way they keep competitive. I think that the partnership between those two elements will be very innovative and will give us an opportunity not only to incentivise young people but to encourage employers to participate in a way that they have not been able to in the past.
I should like to go back to what you said about quality assurance, because it is an immensely important role in the same way as the whole issue of compulsion, on which you have responded very clearly. On the business of providing things in the workplace, the representatives from the CBI were keen to point out that sometimes there is not an appropriate college course and that they would like to do more in the workplace. What difficulties do you see that provoking for your services? Is there anything that you want to tell us about that?
John Freeman: Councillor Lawrence referred earlier to further provisions on the transfer of funding for 14 to 19-year-olds to local authorities on a commissioning basis. Local authorities need to consider how post-14 and post-16 education and training is commissioned—in a way that involves employers, meets their needs locally on all the issues from literacy and numeracy to high-level skills and all the soft skills of employment. It should all be tailored to the local economic need, so that the training we provide will enable young people to enter the employment market in an effective way locally.
The commissioning framework that is being developed for local authorities is not about provision, as with what I might describe as the bad old days pre-1993 when local authorities ran colleges, or the days before 1988 when they ran schools. Those days are no longer here.
We do however have a role, both in terms of economic regeneration and in terms of children’s services, to ensure that young people have the experiences in school and after school that enable them to enter employment. It is one of the duties of children’s services directors and authorities. It is one of the five outcomes. Therefore, we need to look very coldly and calmly at the provision being made, matching that to the needs of the economy in consultation with employers and employers’ organisations in order to commission, to recomission and, in some cases, to decommission provision to ensure that what we have matches what is needed.
Les Lawrence: To go back to a point I raised earlier, you highlight one of the tensions that exists in terms of how we ensure that young people in rural environments have the same opportunities as those in urban environments. Take, for example, two counties in the west midlands: Herefordshire and Shropshire. Both have single centres of population, and there is a natural gravity in terms of the way people see those as the focuses of the two counties. Therefore, one of the first things you need to have in place is the transport cost. That is not covered by the Bill, but it is an inherent cost of which I think the Government need to take account if you are asking a young person to travel. Often you will find that the economic base of the rural economy is far lower than in urban areas, even taking into account economic and social deprivation indices. That is the first factor.
Secondly, how do we persuade employers to provide enough opportunity in those rural areas to allow the theoretical aspect to be provided in the colleges and learning institutions in the major towns, and the practical application of what is being learnt to be provided in the rural areas? If representatives of the CBI were here, I would ask them how they would encourage their members to reach out into some of these rural areas to ensure the continuity of those communities and, equally, to provide opportunities.
We heard from people giving evidence earlier that there will be various tiers to this: there will be a role for primary schools in identifying youngsters and their attitudes. Obviously, there will be a role for secondary schools in engaging them in the learning process and then moving some on to sixth form and some to college. I want to be absolutely clear: are you, as local authorities, absolutely convinced that there will be funding mechanisms in place to ensure that that is affordable?
Kim Bromley-Derry: Much of that work has already started, in terms of our NEETs strategies that are already in place. It starts even with pre-primary school children in terms of family attitudes to work, especially where there is intergenerational worklessness. We see this as a natural extension of the work that is already going on, and feel that there is capacity within the system to deliver most of this. We need to be cautious in picking up that point: we have not quite seen the full impact of migration of services such as Connexions to the local authority, and we appreciate that children with additional needs are becoming more prevalent, and often their needs are becoming more complex. We do need to monitor that over the coming years, towards full implementation, but we certainly feel that there is capacity in the system, and that it builds on the work we are already doing. Much of the windfall comes from a more integrated, more coherent approach across local authorities, within local authorities, and with other partners such as the health community and the LSC as it stands at the moment and in the future.
When you say “capacity”, you are talking about financial capacity and human resources capacity. I thought local authorities were fairly hard-pressed at the moment, and I was not aware that there was a lot of capacity around. Was I wrong?
Kim Bromley-Derry: We are gaining capacity through a more coherent, integrated approach, which is a more efficient approach to delivering this. We would never say no to money, but the reality is that this is developing and working well within the 14 to 19 arrangements as they are developing, and we see this as a natural development from that.
John Freeman: On the funding mechanisms that were mentioned, there are clearly technical issues to consider on making them get the money to the right place. We are working pretty closely with the Department on proposals for that, but those proposals are not yet complete. We look forward to seeing them when they are.
I have two quick questions. How successfully, in your view, is the existing duty for youngsters to be in education up to 16 being enforced?
John Freeman: Pretty well, I think. There are some exceptions, some of which cause us, as directors, significant concern, but overall pretty well. The issues that face us from time to time are on what I would describe as grey exclusions, when young people who are causing difficulty at a school are advised by the school not to be there. That is an unprofessional approach, and when we come across it we take appropriate action. Those young people have an entitlement to be in school. Sometimes there is collusion between parents, children and schools in that, and it is entirely regrettable. In my view, it is driven in part by the fact that the curriculum being offered by the school is not meeting the young person’s needs.
Because of time, do you mind if nip on to the next question? I would like to be able to come back on that one. I want to explore what you understand “reasonable excuse” to mean in relation to not being in education or employment at 16. If somebody is a 17-year-old parent and has a drug addiction or mental health problem at the same time, and they are already with the relevant services such as a GP and drugs service, would they have a reasonable excuse not to be engaged in education or training?
Kim Bromley-Derry: Actually, I think that many of those young people are engaged already. It is about making our offer more flexible and having a broader range of pathways for them. There will always be a small group that is left outside that, because of either a drug addiction or their inability to engage, but we need to ensure that we are still engaging with them, even though it may not be in an education, training or skills environment. We must have an interface with them so that they are still in the system. We cannot afford for them to be out of the system.
Who, then, would fall into the category of having a reasonable excuse? I picked quite a serious case, with multiple reasons for being out of education, so who would have a good case?
Kim Bromley-Derry: There are occasions when young people’s needs are complex, whether they are suffering serious emotional or mental trauma, in in-patient facilities or subject to a high level of psychiatric or psychological support. I also think that there are some illnesses and medical conditions that make it much more difficult for them to engage, and there are some family circumstances that affect their ability to engage for short periods. They may be subject to abuse from parents, or there could be safeguarding issues that prevent them from engaging.
No, not about us. Tom Wilson, for example, said that a lot of people felt angry that the school system had let them down. John Freeman, how well are your members implementing the recommendations of the Rose review on using synthetic phonics to teach children to read in primary schools, and enforcing the statutory duty that now exists?
John Freeman: I have two comments. First, the assessment of local authorities through the Ofsted framework of annual performance assessments and joint area reviews shows that school improvement and services across the country are good on average, which is quite reassuring. On the detail of the support for the national strategies, it is rated as good throughout the country, and I have no particular concerns about that issue. However, there are too many young people leaving primary and secondary school with too low a level of literacy and numeracy. That is not an excuse or a ducking; it is accepted throughout the profession, by children’s services colleagues in local authorities and in schools. A range of different approaches is being taken to secure improvement.
To build on your point about access and transport in rural and urban areas, have you undertaken any further studies throughout your authorities, factoring in rurality, by which I particularly mean sparsity, and the local economic profile? Building on your point, Councillor Lawrence, I believe that those rural areas with a narrow economic base and a sparse or scattered population will be particularly adversely affected.
Les Lawrence: We have sought considerable information from our member authorities, not initially on that issue, but on the “Youth Matters” issue and the positive activities for young people programme. Often, such activities could be provided only during school term times in the evenings, and you tend to find in shire counties the duality of responsibility for provision, with transport provided by the county and the location for activities provided by the districts. We tried to get an idea of the transport infrastructure in many of those counties, and one finding that we have already is that, often, bus services stop at about 6 or 7 o’clock, so activities are difficult to provide.
If you try to provide a transport infrastructure for the provision of the opportunities under discussion, it becomes even more difficult, because something else that we have discovered is that during the middle of the day, classes do not tend to operate. The county councils network is coming to present data, views and costs, so we will have a more substantive body of information in the next month or two. The National Youth Agency is also examining transport issues, because of the “Youth Matters” paper.
Previously, you made a strong case about sparsity, and the delivery of public services generally and education services particularly. May I invite you to add this particular obligation to your considerations?
With that, I thank Councillor Les Lawrence and the LGA, and John Freeman and Kim Bromley-Derry on behalf of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, for providing written evidence and for coming along today to meet the Committee. To all the witnesses, thank you very much. You are helping us to introduce a new way of working, which we hope will lead to better legislation. To my colleagues, this is still a new procedure for us, so if, during the course of a Committee, any of you want to tell me what you think works well and what does not, and if you have suggestions for how we could tweak the procedure to make it work better, the Chairmen’s Panel meets regularly and we are reviewing the situation.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]