Let me tell colleagues that the Opposition Front Benchers have suggested that we re-time the slots this afternoon. You will see on the document that has been circulated that we were to hear evidence from the two professors for 40 minutes, followed by the Association of Learning Providers and the Campaign for Learning for one hour, and the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers for an hour and twenty minutes. The Opposition Front Benchers have proposed that we go for three one-hour slots. If we change the times, we can move on to the next witnesses ahead of time, but not after time. It would give us more flexibility.
That the Order of the Committee of 22nd January 2008 be amended as follows:
In the Table-
(a) leave out the third entry relating to Thursday 24th January and insert—
‘Thursday 24th January
Until no later than 2.00pm
Professor Wolf; and Professor Unwin”
b) leave out the fourth entry relating to that day and insert—
‘Thursday 24th January
Until no later than 3.00pm
Association of Learning Providers; Campaign for Learning.”.
I should tell our first two witnesses—I do not know whether this is good news or bad news—that the Committee has decided to extend the questioning session from 40 minutes, which I think is what you were expecting, to a maximum of an hour. I do not know whether any of the witnesses who will give evidence later this afternoon are present, but we have decided to allocate a one-hour slot, starting on the hour ,to each of the three sets of witnesses.
Lorna, with Alison Fuller, you gave evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry into apprenticeships, as you will remember. You told that inquiry that there were barriers to employer engagement in the apprenticeships. Indeed you said,
“For quite a lot of employers there is a lack of knowledge about how to gain access to the system.”
What are the main barriers to employer engagement in your view?
Professor Lorna Unwin: There are a number, which partly stems from the fact that for too long employers have not been properly involved. That might sound a strange thing to say when we think about apprenticeship, but I think it is because the key apprenticeship organisations are the training providers, which contract with the Learning and Skills Council to organise and manage apprenticeship places in particular localities.
We know from Government estimates that only 5 per cent. of employers contract directly with the LSC for apprenticeships. The rest have managed contracts through training providers. In a sense, there is a barrier between employers and young people, but there is an intermediary organisation. Talking to employers, some have good relationships with training providers in localities. Often, if the main apprenticeship training providers are local colleges, those colleges have long-standing relationships with employers and ongoing dialogue about apprenticeship. However, that is not always the case, and employers struggle to discover whom they need to talk to, not just to recruit young people, but to establish what sort of apprenticeship they might be able to provide.
Perhaps the group training associations could play a bigger role in engaging small and medium-sized businesses, but have you been able to elicit what proportion of employers involved in apprenticeships have training as their main business? I have tried to do that through parliamentary questions, but I was unable to find the information. What I am implying is that a significant number of those employers may actually be training providers rather than employers in the sense that the very best apprenticeship providers such as Rolls-Royce, Honda and Toyota are.
Professor Lorna Unwin: You are quite right: we do not have robust information on that. Part of the problem is that the Learning and Skills Council does not keep records of the employers involved. It keeps records of training providers, and it regards it as the business of training providers to keeps records of employers. From a research point of view, if we want access to apprenticeship employers, in the main we have to go through training providers, which often say, “That is commercial information.” What we need is a proper register of employers who have apprentices with them in the traditional sense—they have employment contracts and the business of the apprenticeship, to answer your question, is proper training and not just a work placement.
May I ask you a final question on the subject of completion rates, hoping that in relation to your earlier answer we might be able to get that information during our scrutiny of the Bill? You link the change in completion rates to the decision to drop technical certificates as a mandatory requirement. You said in your submission to the House of Lords inquiry:
“What is not clear is how many apprentices have achieved a technical certificate. Current completion rates will include sectors where there is no longer a TC requirement at all.”
So is the completion rate figure something of an illusion in terms of assessing the teaching and testing of real competences?
Professor Lorna Unwin: I would not say it is an illusion. Completion can mean many things, because apprenticeship frameworks differ considerably from one another. The only requirement is for a national vocational qualification plus key skills. The technical certificate requirement was dropped last year, and from inquiries I have made, the number of sectors that have dropped the technical certificate seems to swing between four and six. Again, we do not have real information on how many apprenticeships still include the technical certificate. If you do not include it, and if completion is based entirely on the NVQ and the key skills, we are down to—in some sectors and in some apprenticeships, particularly at level two—the assessment of the NVQ on the job, which can often be done in quite short periods of time. The notion of completion varies in terms of what is being completed and the length of time that it takes.
You made a point that seems to be very significant. What you are suggesting is that there may be a lack of equivalence between different apprenticeships within the frameworks, even at the same level. That supports other work that you have done on the difference between the BTEC, the ordinary level and NVQ level 3. If there is such a lack of equivalence, are we short-changing learners in terms of their ability to progress to higher study? Some will be able to do so, and some will not.
Professor Lorna Unwin: This is a complicated issue. I want to stress first of all that apprenticeships clearly need to be fit for purpose. We need to ensure that we have apprenticeships that have the support of employers, reflect the needs of sectors and so on. At the same time, where we are investing public money in apprenticeships we want, as a society, to ensure that the young people and adults going through them should be exposed to an experience that gives them qualifications that have currency in the labour market and can also help them to progress. The problem that we have with the NVQ is that it is a totally different animal, according to the sector. Some level 2 NVQs contain very little underpinning knowledge, and are very easy to acquire through assessment on the job. Other NVQs are much more substantial, and the difference across level 2 and level 3 is quite remarkable. There is also a problem that some level 2 NVQs do not even give a proper platform for NVQ level 3. So there are big problems with the qualification itself.
Professor Lorna Unwin: It hovers at around 50 per cent. according to some figures; approaching 60 per cent. according to other figures, with variation across the sectors. Some sectors, such as health and social care and retailing, are still struggling to improve, but there have been improvements in completion—sorry in achievement. You were asking about completion. There are completion figures and attainment figures. One of the problems that we have when looking back 10 years is that you have to be careful about what is being counted in achievement figures, because the non-NVQ qualifications were not counted.
Are you aware also that in the recent past there has been an attempt to drive low-quality providers and employers out of the system?
Do some of those employers indicate that although they are sympathetic to apprenticeships, the business of training and apprenticeships is not the mainstay of their business; the mainstay is the product or whatever they produce?
Is that the reason why many employers want the contract to lie with the training provider, rather than with them as a small or medium-sized employer?
Professor Lorna Unwin: Employers do not necessarily look at the issue in that way. You ask whether they complain about bureaucracy; they certainly do not want lots of additions to the paperwork that they already have to complete. The problem is that if the contract lies only with the training provider, at level 2 and level 3, but particularly at level 2, the employer does not really play any role in the actual training for a number of apprenticeships. What is happening—this links again to the concept of the competence-based NVQ—the training provider goes into the employer’s premises and assesses the young person against the competences and the key skills, and perhaps even having the apprenticeships for their off-the-job training in the training provider’s premises. I meet many employers whose role is entirely that of employer, in the sense that the young person is there to do a job of work. The best quality apprenticeships are those in which the employer engages with the training and does not merely allow the training provider to undertake assessment.
We must think about what an apprenticeships means in the workplace. It should mean that the employer is closely engaged with the training, because employers should have an input in it. The training should be closely linked to the business need, and where it works, it works very well. The employers who are high-quality apprenticeship employers are closely involved, and they will tell you that they have apprentices because that links to their bottom line and their company’s sustainability. We must get away from too many instances in which the employer sees the apprentice as an extra pair of hands, and hands over all responsibility for training to the training provider. It must be a true partnership.
It is right to say that there is a choice for the employer on where the contract lies. It can be with the training provider or with the employer, dependent on the nature of the business.
Yes, that is technically right. For the record, I did not want you to give the impression that the contract can only ever be with the training provider.
Alison, may I bring you into this, too? You recently published a paper on the Bill, which it would be fair to describe as not wholly applauding the Bill’s potential effects. Leaving aside the philosophical debate about compulsion and criminalisation, and focusing solely on the economics, will you summarise your concerns about the potential impact of the Bill?
Professor Alison Wolf: Yes, I can summarise it in two statements. The predictions of the economics benefits that will arise from people obtaining additional qualifications under the Bill are enormously exaggerated, because it is overwhelmingly likely that most people who gain additional qualifications under it will gain qualifications that have little or no economic benefit.
I also think that the negative impact that the Bill will have, by effectively destroying the labour market for 16 and 17-year-olds, is enormously underestimated. That might be justified if one were confident that they were going to be doing something that was extremely valuable. Since one is not, and since we know that on-the-job experience is demonstrably extremely valuable to people, I think we have to take the impact on the job market extremely seriously. I think the effect will be very serious and almost totally negative.
Are the youngsters you are concerned about this group of, I think, around 65,000 people who are in work but not in accredited training? Is that the right sort of figure? Through which mechanisms do you think they could end up out of the labour market, rather than in the labour market in a positive way?
Professor Alison Wolf: Yes, I think one of the problems is—and I am sorry to get slightly technical—that the Government has been extremely optimistic in its interpretation of the labour market statistics, because it sees people as being in training simply if they are listed in the labour force survey as having received some training in the previous 13 weeks. Of course, a large number of people in the labour market are in that situation, but are not in jobs where it would be in the least easy for their employer to give them this very rigid requirement of 280 guided learning hours.
The people who are likely to be the largest losers from this are the notional equivalent of today’s young people—many of whom have left school with perfectly good GCSEs, I would say; they are not the sort of group that everybody is so hung up about, the hoodies on the corner—who have made a decision at 16 to leave school, who are in jobs, who are getting a great deal of valuable on-the-job training often and who may be getting formal training as far as the labour force survey data is concerned, but who are not in jobs where their small and medium-sized employers can, with any ease, move to releasing them for a day, or entering into an extremely complex apprenticeship contract and so on. We actually know this from other countries and from our own history: that when you face small and medium-sized employers with this increased rigidity—with these sorts of demands—their understandable response is to simply say, “Oh well, blow this, I will not employ a 16 or 17-year-old.”
Now, as I said, if we were confident that those young people were going to do something that was extremely valuable and useful to them, and made sense, and was more important than what they were doing, then yes, you can leave aside the philosophy. But I have been unable to find anything that convinces me that that is the case—indeed, quite the opposite.
May I ask you a final double-barrelled question, in case the Chairman cuts me off? First, following from your last question, are we clear about what proportion of the existing bunch of 16 and 17-year-olds in work—those that are not getting the existing accredited training—will actually be affected by the Government’s proposals?
Secondly, it intuitively sounds as though what the Government are trying to do might make sense—they are saying, “You have these youngsters in employment, so why not give them some certification of what they are achieving and some on-the-job training, so that they can go on into other jobs later?” Why would it be so difficult for the employers that are likely to be employing these youngsters without the accredited training to deliver valuable accredited training in the workplace?
Professor Alison Wolf: That is quite a long question and I might give a slightly long answer. Whether we know the precise percentage affected depends on whether you accept the Government’s own projections that by the time this legislation comes in, 90 per cent of the cohort will be in education or training anyway. I do not think that there is any reason to accept that projection, because we have actually been sitting very steadily at 80 per cent for 17-year-olds for 15 years now, and I cannot see why it would have changed. If it has changed, which is the premise of the Bill, we are indeed only talking about 5 per cent. If it has not changed, then we are probably talking about 15 per cent of the cohort, which is very major difference in terms of both impact and costs.
Professor Alison Wolf: Well, it will be 15 per cent who are either in employment with training under LFS definitions but not necessarily leading to qualifications, or actually in employment but not with any form of formal training.
The answer to your question whether or not this is a problem for employers really depends on whether you actually take this 280 guided learning hours seriously or not. If you simply mean that people can come in and accredit what they are doing—the local training provider can come in and tick them off for an NVQ—well, yes, I guess you can do that. I do not know why you would want to. In fact, I can think of one reason why you would not want to. The reason why you might not feel that it is a particularly important use of Government money is that many of those young people will already have level 2 GCSEs. Even those who do not may well be in occupations in which the NVQ, accredited in that way, in unlikely to have a major impact on their earnings. There will obviously always be a few for whom it is good, but the data show overwhelmingly that low-level NVQs of that type are not having an impact on people’s earnings.
Yes, of course you could say, “Let’s send in the local training provider. He’ll stand there and tick it off, get some portfolios to show that they have done it and give them a qualification.” There are two reasons why you might not want to do that. First, it adds nothing to their earning power. Secondly, it will mean that if they then want to go to the local college or whatever and take another qualification, they will be told that they have already had their full level 2s, so they have to pay for anything in the future. Under the current regime, in which we have an extraordinarily complex set of rules about what you can get for free and what you cannot, if I were a 17-year-old and understood the bureaucracy, and somebody came and said to me or my boss, “I can just accredit you,” I might well want to say, “No, thanks.”
I am grateful to you, Mr. Bayley, and to the Committee for its indulgence. I am also grateful to you, Professor Wolf, for the clarity of your statements that the economic benefits have been exaggerated and that we have underestimated the effect on the youth labour market. That was certainly my reading of your document on those two central planks. May I delve into that a little? Have you had a chance to have a look at the research commissioned by my Department but carried out independently by the centre for the economics of education, which is part of the London School of Economics? It agreed with you about the negligible effects on average wage returns of NVQs at levels 1 to 3, but stated clearly that
How do you respond to that in the context of your claim that there is no wage return from vocational qualifications?
Professor Alison Wolf: In the paper, I say quite clearly that I am not saying there are no wage returns to any vocational qualifications. I am extremely clear on precisely that point—there is an appendix. It is indeed the case that we see returns, particularly on old-style City and Guilds craft qualifications and BTEC diplomas, which are mostly taken full-time in further education colleges. I absolutely do not say, either in the paper or here, that there are no returns to vocational qualifications. What I do say—the LSE researchers would agree—is that having wrung the data dry, we must accept that for low-level NVQs, the results are extremely discouraging. We are probably not in disagreement.
Which highlights the importance of good information, advice and guidance for those 16 and 17-year-olds about whom we are all concerned. I was fairly clear from reading the paper to refresh my memory today that you were not optimistic about diplomas. Given that they have been allocated by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service equivalency to three and a half A-levels at level 3 and seven GCSEs, and have been designed by employers so that there are good routes out from them into higher education or employment, it is fundamental to our assumptions that they are somewhere between those traditional vocational qualifications and GCSE and A-level qualifications in terms of wage return.
Professor Alison Wolf: I do not think that diplomas are central to this particular argument because, as your Secretary of State has said, most of the people who are expected to be swept up by the legislation will not be studying diplomas full-time. That seems quite clear from most of the discussion.
I hope that diplomas will succeed—of course I do. I guess that everybody in this room does. I am not optimistic that, by 2013, there will have been a huge change in the options perceived by young people that will mean that the diplomas have transformed the whole education and training scene. That is, after all, not very far away. One of the great failures of this country has been the repeated redesign, redevelopment and, if you like, inability to get correct the full-time alternatives to A-levels. I hope that this time it will be better.
I would also like to put on record that we should be extremely grateful for the existence of BTEC diplomas because they have gone on and on, continuing to deliver results, while other things have been designed around them—generally with a great deal less success. If they are still available in 2013, it is very likely that we will continue to have substantial take-up of those qualifications. I hope that diplomas will be beginning to prove themselves; if they are, people will want to do them.
The point I would like to make—and which I hope we are also agreed on—is that if young people perceive something to be worth doing, they will want to do it. If you are a Rolls-Royce, JCB or British Telecom apprenticeship giver, you have hundreds of applicants for your apprenticeship places. If something is worth doing, young people will do it. If the diplomas work then yes, that will increase participation, but I really think you should not legislate on hope; you should legislate on probabilities and think about the worst, as well as the best-case scenarios.
I am sure that there will be further discussion by the Committee on that.
Finally, I would like to move on to the employer burden. I was struck by the cataclysmic effect that you think this measure will have on the youth labour market. I believe the burden on employers of having an initial conversation with a new starter around how they would achieve their 280 hours’ training is extremely modest. I disagree with you about the rigid requirement—there is flexibility That 280 hours could be delivered, for example, with a 40-hour, one-week training course and then five hours a week in the evenings or at weekends. Given that flexibility, why would it be worth the employer—if they were paying minimum wage—paying £1.20 an hour more to take on an 18-year-old?
Professor Alison Wolf: Why so cataclysmic? There are two reasons. The first is that I know France rather well--I do not know if that is an answer. Looking at what has happened to the youth labour market there because of the rigidities has definitely affected my perception of how labour markets respond to a large number of rigid requirements. Those requirements are different in France but they have, in effect, completely destroyed the youth labour market. It was one of those road to Damascus experiences for me.
So you are a big advocate of flexible labour markets?
Professor Alison Wolf: I am a big advocate of flexible labour markets with lots of opportunities for young people to have entitlement to education and training. As you will have gathered, I believe that the most useful thing for a large proportion of young people and adults is to get work experience, and your Government’s research evidence bears that out. So, yes, I am a big advocate. Moreover, if you are a small, or medium sized, employer you are mostly rather insecure. I speak as someone who, in my non-day job, is a small employer. You worry terribly about whether or not you can get things covered, about getting into trouble, and you are always convinced that you are bound to be breaking some regulation or other. This is one of the reasons why it is so hard to get small and medium-sized employers involved in anything of this sort.
Of course, it is not just a preliminary conversation; it is also the case that you can be served an enforcement notice, or a penalty notice. If the young person suddenly turns up and says, “Actually, they have changed my course and therefore I can’t be here this week, when you thought you were going to have me”, you cannot sack them—that is absolutely grounds for unfair dismissal in the Bill. Employers are not all paying the minimum wage anyway—a large number of young people in employment are getting a good deal more than the minimum wage. I think this is a very real danger now. It will probably not be as cataclysmic as my most extreme estimates, but I also gave a range.
I believe that David Willetts made a speech on the issue. That might just be typecasting, but I have a feeling he had hauled out some evidence about what happened when local authorities experimented with this. If it was not David Willetts, he came to mind because I think he was the most likely person to make such a speech. We have some evidence that when people were allowed to try this out at local authority level, it had a bad effect. If you could hire a kid from Edgware who was not liable for it, you would do so instead of hiring someone from Islington who was liable for it. I hope that the effects would not be as cataclysmic as my most pessimistic projections, but I would be prepared to put a great deal of my own money on the provision having a significant effect among small and medium employers.
Thank you, Mr. Bayley. I have only two questions, because I want to give other people a chance.
Most people’s vision of an apprenticeship is of an eager young learner at the side of an experienced craftsman, learning a valued competence that has a relationship with economic need. Your most interesting paper paints a different picture. You say that many apprenticeships have almost no connection with employers. In fact, your words are that they have “little or nothing to do with employers”.
Why do you think that is?
Professor Alison Wolf: I think it is partly because we have extended the term, “apprenticeship”, to cover a whole range of things which are not what most people think of as apprenticeships. There is a whole other debate about whether that was wise or not. At one stage, it was as if central Government—and I have to say this was not under Labour—really wanted to sweep apprenticeships away. Belatedly, both parties have recognised how critically important they are. We now have clearly applied a good label to all sorts of things which are really not apprenticeships.
I think it is for two reasons. It is partly what Lorna has talked about: because of the extremely bureaucratic structure we have created in this country, it is very much more difficult for employers to get involved than in, for example, Ireland, where I was a couple of weeks ago and where they have had an apprenticeship revival, partly because they have made it extremely easy for employers to sign up. It is also because we have among the numbers a large number of young people who live in areas where apprenticeships are not available. Also, young people who have enormous problems are not going to be people to whom an employer is readily going to want to dedicate their own time and investment. It is important to understand that, because it helps to explain why for many of these young people what they are in is not the sort of programme that leads to the significant gains we were talking about in relation to old-style City and Guilds qualifications.
I should add that in every country in the developed world, there is a group of young people for whom everybody is trying to work out an appropriate way to help. We have put a lot of those young people into a large and very diverse category called apprenticeship, but we have not solved the problem by doing so.
This is my second and final question. You will know that academic research by yourself, Professor Robin Millar, and Alison Fuller suggests that the economic returns for apprenticeships are immensely variable. The best apprenticeships provide a return for the learner equivalent to two A-levels. For women, there is a particular problem. On average, women who undertake apprenticeships receive no gain in their wages as a result of training. Is it the case that some vocational qualifications may have no or even a negative economic return? Is that particularly true in certain sectors of the economy, and is it a particular problem for women learners and workers?
Professor Alison Wolf: The negative return is worth explaining a little. The reason for negative returns is that those people would be better off doing something else. It is not because being in that apprenticeship suddenly turns you into a zombie. It is because there were other things you could have done, and might well have done. Most plausibly, in most of the analyses you could have been at work for a couple of years, which would have had more positive effect on your later-in-life chances. There is some evidence that being on something with a negative connotation because it is a Government training scheme may not be a great experience. I think the most important thing is that you would be better off in the work force, getting the experience that employers reward.
Lorna might want to come in here, but I think there are two reasons that it looks worse for women in what are, obviously, averages. First, it is partly that the girls in this group go into different occupations. Secondly—and this is worth emphasising—males and females generally have very different patterns in what they do post-16. So, more girls go to university, while boys in an equivalent position until then in an achievement profile are more likely to take work-related and apprenticeship routes. That is another possible reason for that finding. When you look at universities, girls are participating a lot more, so when you start making comparisons among people going via a vocational route you are not necessarily comparing like with like if you compare boys with girls, or young men with young women. It is a combination of those things.
Professor Lorna Unwin: I have a quick point to add. You find that young women tend to be in level 2 apprenticeships. Advanced apprenticeship is heavily populated by young men, because of the skew that predominantly male sectors like engineering are still big-volume sectors for advanced apprenticeship. Young women in level 2 apprenticeships are in the low-paid sectors of the economy. Some of them are doing jobs where the apprenticeship does not necessarily add value, if they are accredited at level 2 for skills that they would be developing anyway in those jobs. The fact that they are on an apprenticeship does not necessarily help them to progress beyond the normal work experience.
Alison, when you began your remarks, you criticised the broad-brush or over-optimistic view of the benefits of participation, but when the Minister tasked you with being apocalyptic about the effects, you fell back on your French example. Is there any independent modelling that bears out that semi-apocalyptic view, other than that we might all behave like the French? I say that, because we have been down this route before with predictions of the impact of the minimum wage on employment, and we know what happened there.
Professor Alison Wolf: There a number of things to unpack regarding the over-ambitious and optimistic projections of wage benefits. I am relying on a large volume of quantitative and empirical research, a small part of which I was involved with directly, but a large part of which was carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the London School of Economics and so on. I was simply going on different ways of modelling which qualifications people would get and what the probable wage benefits would be. It was clear that, in that part, I drew on a large volume of quite specific modelling.
One reason why I criticised some estimates attached to the Bill was that they were based on a model assuming that a significant number of the additional young people staying on would do A-levels. That is not what Government Ministers predict in their speeches, and I think the Government are quite right on that. That was very specific modelling. As for whether we have any direct modelling of other effects on the labour market, local authorities pulled back from demanding such provision for young people when we ran an experiment in this country. Young people in the local authorities that demanded it were losing out to those in local authorities which did not. As for whether we have any other reason to suppose that that will happen, that is obviously hard to know. In some places that have tried to do it, nothing has happened—the participation rate has not gone up and neither has the unemployment rate—so it could be said that we will both turn out to be wrong.
Professor Alison Wolf: It is a bit of a hunch, but so is yours, to be honest. The answer is that we know that in countries that have these demands and have very rigid labour markets, the young people are the biggest losers. We do know, for example, that in the last few years—although I absolutely agree with you about the minimum wage not having the predicted effect when it was first brought in—we have had a real youth unemployment problem. We still have, in spite of the huge increase in the number of jobs and a huge influx of people, a considerable number of young people, right up to 25, whom we would desperately like to get into the labour market, but we are not doing so. So, the answer is yes, it is a hunch: in the sense that we can’t model it—or we could model it, but if we did we would be modelling it on different people’s assumptions and hunches. All I can say is that my hunches are ones I would be prepared to put my own money on.
You think it is a gold-plated hunch. May I just press you on an issue I know you are very concerned about: small and medium-sized employers and how they will be able to deliver. It rather seemed to me that you were ignoring the potential flexibility of work-based training. Let me posit a brief example. In my constituency, where there are large numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises in leisure and tourism—an area where we all agree it is critical to get more training—I have been pleasantly surprised by the flexibility with which hoteliers and others have been able to fit this in, because, of course, much of the work in that area is seasonal. Are you not underestimating—I know SMEs tear their hair out every day over every Government regulation—the flexibility in the system?
Professor Alison Wolf: Perhaps. I say in the paper that this is something we really have to think about, and I give a number of estimates. My relative pessimism is related to work that I am doing at the moment looking at Skills for Life availability in the workplace. It is proving extremely difficult to carry that forward with SMEs, particularly the minute it requires anything in terms of giving up work time. There are a lot of employers who would very much like to help their young people to get training and of course, with the right mechanisms, of course they can do so.
There are a couple of things that concern me in the Bill. Partly, in terms of what I have already said, it reads very punitively if you are an employer. You say 280 hours is quite flexible, but it is not that flexible, and you might find there was something somebody wanted to do that hadn’t been ticked off by QCA as requiring 280 hours. One should not exaggerate the demands, but I hope you are right.
A final quick point, because I know the Chairman wants to move on. You are concerned about apprenticeships, and about completions. Would it help if the structure of apprenticeships and their delivery was made more flexible, and shaped more to the employer’s needs as well as to the employee’s aspirations?
Is there a relationship between the willingness of employers to employ particular classes of employees, for example young employees, and the costs and burdens that go with that employment?
On Second Reading, David Willetts gave an example of what happened when local authorities introduced such a scheme. The authorities that weren’t running the scheme were the ones where the employees came from. Can you think of any example of a programme which increased the burdens and costs of employing young people and which did not result in fewer young people being employed?
Professor Alison Wolf: The answer is definitional in a way—if it did not have an impact, one assumes it was not a problem, so you get caught in circular arguments. I think that the benefits are also important. That goes back to Mr. Marsden’s question about whether I personally would be less gloomy if I could see apprenticeships becoming much easier to accommodate. The countries that have successful apprenticeship programmes are the ones where the burden of the apprenticeship on the employer is small enough to outweigh the benefits, which may include a genuine desire to do something good for young people. Many people who are fantastic with lower-achieving kids are often small employers. It is a balance.
The apprenticeships that you mentioned are the ones that recruit fantastic kids—kids with wonderful ability and qualifications who get a lot out of it and make a lot of money as a result. We are talking about youngsters who can barely read and write. Is that not a very different ball game?
Professor Alison Wolf: We are not just talking about youngsters who can barely read and write. There is a very particular group with whom, as I said, nobody knows how to deal. I think that I should pass over to Lorna on this. We also know that—and we can look at other countries—there are plenty of examples of young people in apprenticeships who are not potential entrants for Rolls-Royce, JCB or BT, but who are acquiring really valuable skills and bringing something worth while to the business. I have mentioned Ireland. Should I mention Jersey, Lorna?
Professor Lorna Unwin: We have to be careful, because successful apprenticeships in other countries are not easy on any of the parties concerned. Switzerland would not have a debate about whether we make things easier for employers, young people or training providers. In countries like that, all the parties sign up to a high-quality programme, and the flexibility comes when the parties decide how to adapt a core model of learning to the needs of different sectors. That has to happen over time and it has to be dynamic, because the sectors are changing. What they hang on to is a core set of principles about what the apprenticeship should deliver for the employer and for the young person. We want a core set of principles at the heart of apprenticeships that will deliver benefits for both: at the moment, we swing between the two. We have not properly settled on what the purpose of apprenticeships is, and we need to do that. I think that a lot more employers would get involved, if they could see that they could adapt a core model to their business.
Alison, I would like to ask you a question to clarify your advice to Ministers. What is your basic message to the Government about the youngsters who are in employment, but not in the type of accredited training that the Government want to see? Is it not to worry too much, because they are doing fine in work, they are learning useful disciplines and are probably better educated than some of us think they are? Or is your message that we should worry about them, because they are going to need accreditation to go further later in life, and that the proposals are wrong?
Professor Alison Wolf: It is partly the first point. This is not a group to get so worried about that you need risk what I think could be a very harmful backwash from the Bill. It is also something else. These young people are citizens; they should have exactly the same entitlements as their more academic peers who stay in school full-time to do A-levels and go on to higher education. They should have exactly the same entitlement to education and training later, but they should be able to take that when they want, in the courses that they want and at a period in their careers that makes sense.
At the moment, the choices, the bureaucracy and the restrictions leave the 50 to 60 per cent. who do not go on to higher education seriously disadvantaged in many ways compared with their favoured A-level-taking, and sometimes BTEC national-taking, peers. The message is not that 16-year-olds who leave school should never even think about doing any education or training. Quite the opposite: we cannot second-guess when that education or training should take place, so they should have that the chance to take up that entitlement when they need it. There is no particular reason to suppose, in many of those cases, that 17 is the age at which they most need it. That is what I would like to see happen.
I have to draw a line there. This is not like a Select Committee, I am afraid—our rule is to stop on the dot. Professor Wolf and Professor Unwin, thank you for coming to give evidence to us. I invite Graham Hoyle and Trish Hartley to come to the table.
Welcome to the Education and Skills Bill Committee. I hope you have been told that we have both delayed and extended your session—it is going to run from 2 pm until 3 pm. I would like to introduce to the Committee Graham Hoyle, the chief executive of the Association of Learning Providers, and Trish Hartley, the chief executive of Campaign for Learning, and to invite John Hayes to start the questioning.
Welcome and good afternoon.
Mr. Hoyle, your organisation is on record as saying, and I quote, that
“demand—led provision is key to raising our gain on skills”
I think that was said at your annual conference. Is the current system of vocational learning sufficiently responsive to the needs of both employers and learners?
Graham Hoyle: We are getting there. I am an optimist and we are moving in the right direction. Clearly, we have to accept that “demand-led” refers to employers and individuals; that is not always fully understood. I think the moves over the last couple of years to more actively involve and access employers through sector skills councils is a real move in the right direction. I would say that probably we are not all there yet, but I think in terms of actually understanding what employers’ needs are, that is a good route.
I also think to respond to young people’s demands sounds very attractive, but that demand has to be properly informed. One of my biggest reservations is in the area of information, advice and guidance and the way that we are actually addressing the needs of young people and informing them of what is available. That still needs more work. Indeed, there are some helpful suggestions within the Bill.
So, I think we are moving in the right direction there. The other thing I would say at this stage, from a positive point of view—but it is not really fully grasped and understood—is that if you are talking about demand-led working and trying to bring together employers’ and individuals’ and young peoples’ requirements, the best example of where that works is the apprenticeship programme, which is very much at the core of our developing skills strategy in the country, mainly because apprenticeships are jobs. They are not training programmes. They have massive quality training at their core, but they are jobs. They are employment: there are employers, there is a wage, it is real work, and, as such, it reflects the labour market needs. There is an employer who has decided, “I am prepared to take on an employee.” I am not sure we have fully grasped that picture that the apprenticeship programme is the most accurate assessment of linking skill training with the needs of industry and employers. Those are just a few comments; I hope they help.
Yes. On your point about advice and guidance, perhaps we should have an all-age careers service to go alongside Connexions. But in respect of the apprenticeship programme, given your support for the concept of apprenticeships, why do you think the level 3 apprenticeship numbers have fallen so much for so long, and why do you think that, according to the latest figures, level 2 numbers are also down?
Graham Hoyle: If we knew the answer to that, we would be happier, but I am not sure that we do know the answer. Both those points are, in part, linked to my comments about information, advice and guidance. Taking it back to demand again, we are still not stimulating the right kind of informed demand from youngsters at level 2 or, indeed, level 3 to move into an occupational, a vocational and a skill route. I do not believe we have got the balance right in the country on where our youngsters go at 16, 18 or, indeed, post-18. I support the emphasis of pushing towards higher education, but the balance over the past decade and beyond has got of sync with the need for skill development. Our society now sees A-levels and degrees as the answer. They are a major, important answer, but they are not the only answer, and we are getting too many youngsters at 16, 18 and, indeed, 21 who are not realising that the vocational skills route is the right one for them now and for the rest of their occupational and work career. So, one element there is getting the balance right, between the different routes.
Trish Hartley: Can I add something in there? The Campaign for Learning works extensively with employers through initiatives like National Learning at Work Day. We have 14,000 employers on our database, and when we are working with employers, the thing that we keep coming across is the old chestnut of, “I can’t afford to invest in training, I can’t afford to take on apprentices, if I train them they’ll leave,” and so on. We still have not managed to get those messages across.
We did some work for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on employers’ awareness of the impact of numeracy in the workplace, and we found that a shocking 70-something per cent. of employers were not aware that they could access free numeracy training. That was a couple of years ago; we would like to follow that up now and see whether, through the Train to Gain promotion, we have moved on. But we have still got a lot to do in demonstrating to employers how they will improve their productivity, how they will make savings on recruitment by being able to promote from within, and so on. We are not getting that message across as well as we could be.
Training associations might play a role in that. You will be as worried as I am to hear that, according to the Government, work-based learning has declined by more than half in the past 20 years. Moving on to my question, I believe Train to Gain has problems with both the brokerage service and the dead-weight cost. What is your view on that?
Graham Hoyle: In terms of brokerage, there has been considerable confusion during the first full year of the operation of Train to Gain and, indeed, the brokerage system with regard to what it is there for. If we see brokerage—this links back, in a sense, to the previous conversation—as an impartial information, advice and guidance service to employers across the board, advising them on how best to develop their work force development strategies, then brokerage is moving quite strongly and moving well, and we have made real progress over many years. If we see brokerage as the main sales force to sell the Government-funded elements of Train to Gain—the level 2 qualifications and basic skills—it has not been a success. It is interesting and we have to realise that there is a dual purpose.
I see brokerage developing into an advisory service for employers on how to develop the skills of their work force, present and future. I do not think that we have quite worked it out yet. The main sales force for the particularly Government-funded elements of Train to Gain—the programme element—is not something that I would entrust to brokerage, although it will add some value, some bonus leads, around the edge. Quite frankly, the experience has been that those leads are found primarily by providers who have a relationship with employers. That is very much where the vast bulk of Train to Gain programme work has happened in the past year. We have to be quite clear about the two different positions of the brokerage service.
Trish Hartley: I support Graham’s view on the improvement that is happening, but we have some concerns about the training of brokers and the need to make sure that skilling up those people carries on. From our point of view as an organisation that is concerned with social inclusion through learning, we put a strong emphasis on skills for life provision, and the brokers’ awareness of the importance of skills for life as part of that continuum is patchy.
At its best it is excellent. We have seen, through the employer training pilots in places such as Manchester where they really put an emphasis on skills for life training for their brokers from day one, that they did not have many of the problems that other areas had. We feel very strongly that that has got to be built in as an element of the training. If brokers are aware of that—if they can see how that contributes to the work that they are doing on training needs analysis with employers—they will offer the right sort of support.
Graham Hoyle: That is a tricky issue and I think you have to get a clear view and put it within the context of the purpose of Train to Gain. There are different opinions.
If Train to Gain is primarily seen as a training programme, there is a real debate about the degree to which certainly the larger blue-chip companies have already effectively looked after training their workers and, therefore, the question is whether they should now be given access to Government support for something they would do anyway. There is a question there. At the same time, if we see Train to Gain in part or in whole as an assessment programme to ascertain the levels of existing skills in order to encourage employers and individuals, perhaps at their own cost, to develop those skills further, there is a stronger case for Government moneys to raise the level of knowledge, understanding and motivation.
There are different elements. While we are using qualifications as the proxy—as the measure used by Government to determine the effectiveness of their investment—one is going to be pushing towards qualifications and an assessment-based system and getting people through to that level. There are quite few almost shadowy areas which perhaps we are not fully clear about.
On that last point, you are aware that the Government have instructed providers and brokers in pursuing new employers under the Train to Gain system to go after the hard to reach. That is the main criterion. Would you agree that that deals with the dead-weight problem, which in a sense is an old problem?
Graham Hoyle: If it is not engaged in training, then I agree with your proposition that clearly there is no dead weight to offset it against. I think in the interpretation of it, however, there is an element where you are looking at engaging those who have not been engaged with Government funding. There is a case for doing that as well but that is where a dead-weight issue has to be checked out.
Wonderful. Graham, you gave what I thought was a very clear and powerful explanation of what an apprenticeship is all about. In terms of apprenticeships that you have seen in the last short period, would you recognise the picture that people sometimes give when they say that most apprentices are nowhere near an employer?
Graham Hoyle: No, absolutely not. That is just wrong. Apprentices are employed. There is a small proportion who are not and there are one or two areas and certain sectors—care, for example—where there are some age-related restrictions. You have to be 18 to do something. There has always been—I am going back to the launch of modern apprenticeships in 1994 and I was around and involved at that stage—a thin line of non-employed apprentices, often for regulatory reasons. If you come across or trip over them you can get that picture, but that does not represent apprenticeships. A high percentage—90-something per cent.—are employed. They have real work with real employers with a wage.
We must be careful. We have programme-led pathways, which were introduced three or four years ago. The Association of Learning Providers supports those, but is clear about the need to be careful. Programme-led pathways are looking at training some part of an apprenticeship that can be done in advance and off the job, but the value of that comes when someone is moved into an employer-led apprenticeship at the earliest opportunity. We need to get that balance and progression clearly in view.
Trish Hartley: As you know, David, we run policy briefings with 20-odd people round our boardroom table every week, and the kind of feedback that we are getting on apprenticeships is, “They are a strong brand; let’s do more of them, but let’s not water things down around the edges.” We should be quite clear on what is an apprenticeships and what is not.
I want to move on to part 1 of the Bill, on the raising of the participation age. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State said that the enforcement measures that concern some Members of the Committee would very much be a last resort. What forms of support do you think the Government should be providing and what provision should we be building up between now and its coming into effect in 2013 and 2015? Are you happy with the qualification strategy around the expansion of apprenticeships—the foundation learning tier—and optimistic about the success of diplomas?
Trish Hartley: On support arrangements, picking up on what Graham has said, there should be good-quality universal information, advice and guidance, so that a young person and their parents can make an informed choice, The opportunity should be used for the two Departments to work together, so that we get messages across to adults, as potential adult learners, as parents, or as employers, about the value of learning through life. You should use the opportunity to pull all of that together.
We are very supportive of raising the learning leaving age, given its potential to develop a culture of learning and to raise aspirations. We have some concerns about the whole compulsion business, since we see it as an entitlement and want young people to see it that way. Therefore, there needs to be stuff happening in schools and in other provision to make sure that young people, in the main, perceive it positively and as an opportunity. We mourn the loss of the increased flexibility programme, because that kind of thing has the potential to draw back in many of the young people we lose, and who we may be in danger of losing under a new system unless we can build more flexible arrangements around a range of provision.
We are also concerned about employers, who may vote with their feet and decide that they want nothing to do with young people under 18 because of the training requirements. I am perfectly sure that Professor Wolf has entertained you at length about that one, so I will not go on about it, but it is a worry. But if we have wage subsidy under Train to Gain, should we be looking at wage subsidy for small employers under this proposal so that we do not discourage young people from getting experience of work in SMEs, which are ultimately the main employers in the country?
We would say that there is much work to do in embedding that culture and getting people to see it as an opportunity. We hugely welcome part 3, because that demonstrates the Government’s commitment to entitlement to a lifelong learning culture, but we need to work with schools in that area.
Graham Hoyle: Generally speaking, the compulsion element is a difficulty. I am still not quite clear on what is really proposed there. The message clearly embodied in raising the participation age to 18 is that it is in every young person’s interest to be on a quality route with quality training. Clearly, that is the right message, and inasmuch as it states that positively, it is worthy of total support.
The policing will be more difficult. It will have to be done by ensuring that there is a comprehensive range of offers between 16 and 18—more comprehensive than there is now, I suggest. Diplomas will obviously be important, but I am still concerned about the extent to which they seem to be moving toward vocational knowledge as opposed to skill development. That balance is probably still not quite right. The youngsters who are unlikely to attain or do not wish to choose the academic route—it is not just those who are unlikely to attain, but those who will attain without any trouble at all, which comes back to my point about degrees and A-levels—are better off moving straight into a work-based route and learning on the job. The diploma revolution, on which I am optimistic, has to recognise that you are therefore developing the skills of people early as well as the academic knowledge. I am not sure we are getting that quite right just yet.
I am concerned that a weakness in the current situation, which has to be put right for now and certainly has to be put right as we go through the next five to seven years, is the pre-level 2 training—the foundation learning tier that has been developed, entry to employment. I do not believe there is a total strategy and—let me use the term carefully—a pre-apprenticeship mode, which might well look for those youngsters with real problems whom we need to engage and excite and get ready, and go right the way through to able youngsters who still are not quite ready to go for a full level 2 or level 3, but can do it. I do not think we have got that package right.
If I can change the subject, if we do not get it right now, you will not get the 400,000 apprentices we want in three years’ time. So it is not just the issue that you raised, there is another very big, totally supported Government policy. My members are delivering well over half—perhaps three quarters—of apprentices. We are delighted to see a projected increase in the funding for 400,000 and we will play our part. We are concerned that engaging enough employers is an issue, but we are also concerned about making sure we can turn youngsters who have the potential to be apprentices and get them through a route whereby they are taken onto an apprenticeship with confidence. We have learned: we do not want and we do not take on to apprenticeships people who are not going to completely succeed. There is a degree of wariness—to get them ready we need to have something strong in place, and I do not think we are quite there yet.
May I ask both Graham and Trish about their attitude toward compulsion? You mentioned it in passing and said you had reservations, could you state whether you actually favour compulsion, compulsory participation until 18? We all believe that it would be a good thing, but do you think youngsters should be compelled to stay in education or training?
Graham Hoyle: I really am undecided on this one. It is not very often I am undecided—I have normally got a view on most things, and not necessarily the correct view—but on this one, I really can see all the arguments. I have already said that the picture painted by having a statutory compulsory route to 18 and the reason for that is very strong and I support it and it has to be a great message, so clearly I like that bit of it. In some respects, if you have not got compulsion, do you actually mean the message—is the message real? That is a question that has to be addressed.
However, when you start looking at behaviour and what is actually going to make all of a cohort—all of a population—motivated to learn, compulsion is probably one of the weaker areas. So on that side it seems to me that for a minority—certainly I hope they are a minority—of youngsters, compulsion will not have the desired effect and you will accentuate a problem we have now. We have a problem with the NEET group—you know what it stands for—and it seems to me that at the extreme end compulsion might make it worse rather than better.
That is not a very helpful answer, I am afraid. We need to back up a strong message, but compulsion may not be effective means for the most vulnerable and most difficult group that we are struggling with at the moment.
Graham Hoyle: You are putting words in my mouth. As I am undecided, perhaps I deserve that. I think I could probably just about go along with that, but as I say, if you have a strong message and you believe in it, and I certainly do, you have to have some kind of strength to show that you mean what you say. So, sorry, I am a bit on the fence here.
Trish Hartley: I take a slightly different view. Broadly we support compulsion and this is quite a step forward for us because we tend not to support draconian measures, as they might be seen. However, we have heard discussion around the need for something that galvanises the system. I do not believe the system needs galvanising, because all the people out there in the system that I work with have had enough shocks and do not need any more. On the other hand, we do agree that there needs to be a step change in terms of culture and aspiration.
If every young person who is 11 now has an expectation that they are going to stay in learning until they are 18, and their parents and employers know that, we think that will be effective in making a difference to the way people think, but only if it is accompanied by work in schools to make the curriculum relevant, innovative, exciting, engaging and the kind of thing that young people want to do; work with work-based learning providers; and a range of much more flexible arrangements between schools, colleges and employers in local partnerships. We have seen exceptionally good practice on that in some areas, but not by any means in all. If we can get that sort of thing right, then hopefully we can get the majority of young people wanting to stay. We are still going to have a percentage of people who do not want to stay—we have that now and we will have that in the future.
We need to take a more joined-up approach. Research like the Cabinet Office “Families at Risk” study is really helpful because it will say that we have a small percentage of people who, for whatever reason, do not fit our expectations. Is that because of us and our expectations, or is it that because of them? Is there something fundamentally wrong with them, or are we starting from the wrong place? I think that more attention, and more research needs to be done into the needs of people who are really outside the system. We need to look in more detail at how we address their needs to try to draw them in and offer opportunities.
In terms of a joined-up approach, we would be very keen to see such an approach to budgets, because if you get a young person into the system and you keep them there and they have good potential for work, it contributes to citizenship, to the reduction of costs in the criminal justice system, the health system, and all the way along the line. We would be delighted to see Departments working more closely on this and look at investment now to save later.
Mr. Bayley, thank you for calling me to ask my first question. Can I now ask my second and third, for which I hope I will get briefer answers?
Thank you. Information, advice and guidance has been touched on briefly in earlier answers. Do you think the provisions in the Bill go far enough in terms of giving youngsters independent advice? They are going to face a very complex series of options by the time we get to 2013 and 2015.
Graham Hoyle: I have a good news-bad news answer. One of the areas of Government policy during the past decade—one of the comparatively few—that my association is not happy with is the whole approach to information, advice and guidance. We have been incredibly happy with the whole skills approach and demand-led system, and we talked about the apprenticeships in Train to Gain; overall we are very comfortable with much of what has gone on. The one area we have always been at odds with is the direction of information, advice and guidance. Quite frankly, to have it moved back into a schools-local authority children’s trust area is the wrong answer. We believe the employer influence is under threat. Although information, advice and guidance will point people to learning routes in the short term, the end product for virtually everyone going through their teens is going to be work, in some shape or form. We believe that that balance is probably not right. We are not very comfortable with the general direction.
Graham Hoyle: Yes, it comes back to your earlier point. I bemoaned the fact that we have not got the balance right about those who are staying on through 18, A-levels and university. They have acted on the back of whatever information, advice and guidance they have got from wherever. We know that parents are powerful as are schools and the messages from the teachers and their own, if I may say so, vested interest, even if it is unintentional. That has contributed to what I believe is an imbalance in choice of routes from 16 and 18 onwards. I am concerned about that. Having said that, we are where we are, and that is not going to change overnight.
The provision in the Bill that schools are going to be accountable and will be checked by Ofsted is something that we have long been calling for. There has been a requirement for schools to attempt to give impartial advice, we have argued that if you are going to do that, you have got to make sure that Ofsted—or someone, and Ofsted is the obvious choice—can check it out to make sure that they are honouring the expectation. So we fully support, if you like, that element—if you are going to put careers guidance as a responsibility primarily of schools and local authorities, then for goodness’ sake can we make sure they do it properly and impartially. I think it is a tall order.
Trish Hartley: I think we support that broad approach, but what we are very keen on is to see a range of access points for information, advice and guidance for young people, parents and employers. We want to see face-to-face services; telephone helplines; something in your local community centre, or local job centre or whatever, that you can access via a pod; something on Facebook. Wherever young people congregate, there should be something that they can access if they are interested. Having a whole range of channels through which that can come, but it being quality-assured, as Graham said.
Looking at the choices facing employers about whether to provide apprenticeships or not, is it not the case that, now that we have a job market that includes the whole of the continent of Europe, in effect, the choices for employers are broader than they used to be? Do you think one of the reasons that there has been a decline since 2000 in the number of advanced apprenticeships on offer is that, since 2000, a lot more people who are skilled and well-trained in engineering and other skills have become available through the European Union changes?
Graham Hoyle: I think the cause and effect are difficult to unpick. I certainly do not have the data to do that. Clearly we have experienced skill shortages in recent years. Plumbers are always mentioned, so let us just stick with that for now, but it is not the only area. Five or six years ago, we all read about the £50,000 plumbers and so on, and my members trained them and produced them. Clearly, some skill shortages have been met, in part, by skilled immigrant labour, and thank goodness for that. So I think that has probably been a plus and not a minus. However, we have to make sure is that future demand is understood by employers not just as that, but to make sure they are investing in training up the next generation of plumbers and whatever, and not simply relying on what might a short-term availability of immigrant skills.
But is it not right that, if our education system is turning out people to go into the workplace—and get trained there—who cannot read, write or add-up properly, employers are more likely to choose the European option?
But it is true, is it not? I have actually met them. I have been out to social exclusion projects and met them, desperately learning to do their health and safety certificate. They cannot read, write or add-up, so they have to learn how in order to work in the building trade. Anyway, I must not give evidence myself.
I would like to get back to what Graham Hoyle said, that compulsion does not serve the most vulnerable necessarily. Now, it is the most vulnerable who tend to fall below the radar, and the ones that we do not see. The idea of compulsion would be that there was a statutory duty to follow up those young people. Now, if we do not have that statutory duty to follow up those young people, how are we going to ensure that those most vulnerable do get followed up?
Graham Hoyle: We have to differentiate the compulsion to follow up, which is eminently sensible—absolutely essential—and the sanctions that may or may not be imposed at the end of a certain period. My concerns are at the sanctions end. I really do not know where that should be positioned.
In terms of compulsion. If we are saying, as Trish did, that people should see it as a right or entitlement to stay on in a quality learning opportunity until 18, if that entitlement has statutory backing, and if people with problems are followed up and helped—that comes back to my comments about the foundation learning tier and entry to employment and so on—if that infrastructure is in place, then presumably the need for sanctions will be reduced. I would build a very strong positive infrastructure to make sure there is a route for everybody. So I would differentiate sanctions and compulsion to follow up, which I would support.
Most employers would claim that they have always given training to new young employees on what to do, perhaps by putting them under the wing of a more experienced employee. However, it might not be recognised as training as envisaged in this new legislation and certainly might not lead to accreditation.
Where small employers are concerned, do you foresee a resistance to going the extra mile and beefing up what they have always done, or would they avoid employing 16 and 17-year-olds at all?
Trish Hartley: We have a worry that they might avoid employing 16 and 17-year-olds because I think that we have not got some of those messages across to employers as well as we should have done, but we have the opportunity between now and when the Bill comes into force to do something about that. You are right that most responsible employers have already done a lot informally, and we welcome the increased flexibility around the qualifications and curriculum framework that will allow for a more unitised approach so that somebody can get credit for what they have done rather than having to look at a monolithic qualification.
It is a question of how we sell it to employers. We are back to the issue that Graham raised around brokerage and people who are face to face with employers. How are they going to get that message across to say, “Actually, you are already doing most of this. All you have to do now is that, and that will help you to be quite clear about what you have got with the young person. It will give the young person a qualification that they can then carry on through life.”?
Graham Hoyle: Your question sets out the classic threat-opportunity. The danger is, if we get it wrong, that employers will turn their backs on 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. That is a real threat and we must make sure that does not happen. We talked about brokerage. Having re-established the apprenticeship brand over the last 10, 12 or 15 years, it is now a real quality offering. We know that from the performance. If we come back to apprenticeships, certainly level 2 apprenticeships, the time is ripe to flex up the framework for apprenticeships, certainly on a sector-by-sector basis, and to start to recognise the high-quality, on-the job, work-based informal training that is going on and that that is at the core—and always has been—of apprenticeships, however they have been positioned. We should look for ways of recognising that and pulling it into the framework so that we are going to employers, large and small, and saying that the formal framework is not a million miles from what you are doing anyway. Yes, we need a little more discipline and a little more formality. It is not going to be impossible. The gap between what you do and what is recognised is much smaller than you think. That is how we have to do that and we have to do it with a bit more flexibility without jeopardising the standard and quality. If we can crack that, we can avoid the problem of employers turning their backs on 16 to 17-year-olds and having all that they are doing now disregarded.
Trish Hartley: May I pick up on your point about the traditional way of putting somebody under the wing of a more experienced employee? That is a really good point that has not come through in what I have read around this. We could possibly build more into the sort of recommendations that we are making to employers by saying a lot of this goes on anyway and why do we not make this a standard approach because it is beneficial from the young person’s point of view, and for the more experienced employee who is consolidating their own skills.
I have a very good college in my constituency, Hertford regional college, which has a huge warehouse where young people are building virtual houses and wiring up virtual offices. With the Olympics coming, all that is very exciting, yet how can we make a case for employers to hire 16 and 17-year-olds?
In premier league football, the apprenticeship system is completely dead; the clubs go overseas and are not interested in bringing young talent through. I do not want to make only football analogies, but that is the case; they go overseas and get the finished article. How can we persuade employers that giving these youngsters a chance is sort of good for their business and that they have some kind of duty as members of society? Does that make sense?
Graham Hoyle: Using the argument, “You have a duty on behalf of society and the youngsters,” is something that we would like to do within a mix—I am not suggesting that you are using just that rationale. Yet, if we go down that track, we are not, with the greatest respect, going to persuade the bulk of business people that that is a good enough reason.
We simply have to demonstrate that it is happening—it is not as if it is not happening—and put this message over: the skill base of any employer’s work force is absolutely key to their prosperity. Frankly, if they are going to go and buy it direct from the marketplace, that is sometimes a good answer, but normally quite an expensive one. That is true of a whole range of industry sectors, not just for training. It is far better, as we know from our own domestic situations, to develop and do it yourself. It is cheaper to cook a meal yourself than to go down to the restaurant on the corner.
Fundamentally, we have to get people to understand that skill development—of themselves and of their staff—is absolutely critical. The most inexpensive, long-term way to do it is to train them up yourself. You are also then exercising a fair amount of control over the exact framework that you train them in. Now, that is not such an obvious answer that it works every time, or else your question would not arise, but we have to go down that track.
There is lots of concern about people from overseas and the skill sets that they bring to the employment market over here. Do they make our own youngsters less desirable to employ?
If I was an employer with a big building firm, I would be hugely attracted, as a business man, to the idea of these bright Polish workers coming over, already skilled up and being willing to work for less than their UK counterparts. I would think to myself, “Well, I could go down the training route, but quite a lot of hassle and regulatory burden comes with that. I will just take those very able Polish workers on.” I am not saying whether that is right or wrong, but it is a factor influencing the decision makers and business people in this country. It will be hard to persuade them that it is in their interests to take on youngsters coming through the college process, so this really is a difficult question.
Trish Hartley: Graham is right that you need a range of messages going to employers. You also need to be looking at the social responsibility angle—“How would you feel if it was your kids?”—but that will not work on its own. We have to make the business case for investing in a young person.
From research and experience, we know that a lot of an employee’s loyalty to their employer comes from the amount that they feel invested in. That is a more important factor in their loyalty than pay. Overall, they are more interested in asking things like, “How much does the employer value what I am doing? Are they putting money into my training?” We need to look at that, at the development of soft skills, and at a whole range of issues—possibly something the previous questioner said about putting someone under somebody’s wing. Within that range of things, there are the teamwork benefits of training up a young person and all the other intangible benefits that come from that.
We have statistics saying how much it costs to recruit someone. It is a lot, but if you invest in a young person now, you can keep them with you and move them up through the structure. They will be bright, loyal, and so on.
Graham Hoyle: We have to be careful here. I do not think this is an either/or. Should training up our youngsters be the route, or should employing skilled people from Poland and eastern Europe be the route? The answer is no to both of them; it is a balance. It will be the case at different times that, based on the demand of the economy and skills, the mixture will suit us quite rightly. I think that the attitudes are quite dangerous. When we were simply training up our own, we finished up with a skills shortage and imported people. Clearly, that is not the long-term answer either, because there are other countries, especially if we go further east, whose economies and standards of living will start to go up, and there will be a return route at some stage. We have invested in them as our skills base and not trained up our own. We are going to catch a big cold further on. The question is: where do we put the balance between those two? It must not be an either/or.
I have just two quick questions. The first is to you, Graham, and it is very blunt. You said that you had a problem with the advice and guidance stage available to young people. Do you think that you have it wrong at the moment with Connexions, and do you favour an all-age careers service that acts in parallel with it—yes or no?
Graham Hoyle: I have supported the concept of an all-age guidance service for many decades. I can back that by saying that an all-age service has to be comprehensive and an information service that is available to everyone, even if you are going to split it by age. We have moved away in recent years—certainly with young people—from what I would consider to be a universal service to a focused service. It has been focused on those with greatest need, and you have got to support that. I am very happy to focus on those in greatest need, but not by putting in a full stop of exclusivity. I think that we have missed the boat for some time now. We need to have really high-quality information available to the whole cohort, wherever they are and whatever problems they have. We have the balance wrong, and as industry and jobs change and redundancies come up, that logic works in the adult community as well. So, yes, we need an all-age guidance service so that information is available throughout life to make the key decisions that we increasingly have to make.
And to Trish. To be absolutely clear for the record, are you in favour of criminalising—as the Bill does—those young people who, under the Bill, would be obliged to attend training, college or work-based learning, but did not?
Trish Hartley: We are in favour of the raising of a leaving age for an entitlement to learning. If you want to say it is criminalising young people, at the end of the day, the answer is yes. However, we would expect it to go alongside a range of other work, which we hope would mean that the young people who did not participate would be a very small minority, and a great deal of intensive work would be done with them. We would not expect to get to a stage where there was a need for prosecutions to take place.
Trish Hartley: We would favour—actually, I do not know, but we would want to see a great deal of work going on between now and then.
There is an interesting parallel with what is happening in adult learning with employers and the whole issue of the skills pledge, and whether we are waiting for employers to do it voluntarily or we are going to do it to them. I would like to see work going on that would make it less likely that we would have to go with compulsion, but if that is what it takes to embed a culture, we would go with that.
The third question that I was going to ask Graham earlier was about whether, from his perspective as a learning provider, there were enough resources in place to deliver the extra learning that will undoubtedly be required. Given the big regional variations in the number of NEETs—for instance, there are relatively few in the south-east, because of the nature of the job market, compared with the north-east—do you think that there are sufficient learning providers to absorb all the NEETs that will have to be in education and training in every part of the country?
Graham Hoyle: That is a difficult question. In resource terms, overall—I shall get the easy stuff out of the way and then come back to the difficult area of the NEETs—the evidence demonstrates that there probably are sufficient resources for apprenticeships and adult training, in as much as we have huge targets and the money to go with them, and, currently, we are underspending. That has to be addressed. At the moment, there are massive resources available, and welcome resources for apprenticeships, Train to Gain and adult learning. I am very comfortable with that. I think that it is a challenge to make full use of the resources alongside employer contributions, which is another debate and has to be a big part of the equation. So, I am reasonably relaxed.
Graham Hoyle: I am sorry. You were talking about the infrastructure.
The infrastructure needs development, certainly with reference to my membership, which includes 50 or 60 colleges of further education, and not just independent providers. We dip into the public sector market alongside the Association of Colleges. The infrastructure potential exists to undertake the tasks under discussion, but we must be careful that the capacity building is based on quality. We have had a big clear out of providers over the past five or six years, and rightly so, because we got rid of the rubbish, including ex-ALP members. I was glad to see them go, and I effectively told them so. I was very comfortable about that, but where we have quality providers who are able to deliver across the spectrum, irrespective of the provider, they must be given the maximum opportunity to expand and develop on the back of their skills. We have been slow to reach that open market, and there have been too many protective walls around certain types of provider. The protections have been eased, but we must do more.
On the growth targets for apprenticeships, Train to Gain, and the 1 million non-employed claimants that we need to get into the labour market over the next few years, mainly under the auspices of the Department for Work and Pensions, there are some big volume challenges. We cannot afford to hold back any provider, of any sort, who has the capacity and potential to deliver in that market. Currently, although the potential exists, the realisation does not fully.
Trish Hartley: Can I emphasise the importance of localness in the issue, particularly with young people who may be inclined to drop out of education and training? One of my organisation’s concerns is that as we develop an agenda around specialism, particularly in FE, we have a cheerful assumption that a young person will get on a bus or train and go to the other side of the county because that is where the grade 1 provision is. Young people like your kids and mine might, but many young people who are at the margins will not. I have worked with young people in an urban setting who will not cross a certain street because it is a no-go area of the town, so we must ensure that there are many good routes in for young people in their local communities and in accessible locations, but without compromising quality. We cannot expect the entire aeronautical engineering facility to be down the road, but we must create a route that the young person acknowledges will lead to that facility, and we must offer them good-quality provision on their doorstep, as far as we economically can.
If there are no further questions, it remains for me to thank Trish Hartley and Graham Hoyle for giving evidence, and to invite the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers to take the stand.
Good afternoon. Thank you for coming to give evidence to the Committee. Let me introduce John Bangs, the assistant secretary for education and equal opportunities of the NUT, who is accompanied by Chris Brown, the parliamentary officer of the NUT. I also introduce Mick Brookes, the general secretary for the National Association of Head Teachers and his colleague.
I put this question first to Mick. Your written submission to the House of Commons Library talks about the issue of compulsion which, because of the negative impact that it will have on both the younger generation and on schools, you suggest is emphatically not the route to choose in terms of raising the age of participation. Can you expand the NAHT’s view about the issues of compulsion and raising the participation age as set out in the Bill?
Mick Brookes: Yes, we do think that is the case. Compulsion is a risky route to go down because it presumes that the curriculum changes that are in place, which we think are a very good idea in terms of the diplomas, are going to be successful. We want that to happen and I want to make our position clear from the start: it is essential that we get young people staying on in education or training in the same way as our colleagues in other countries do. The idea is absolutely right, but, if the opportunities open to young people at that age are not attractive, we will have a real problem in schools about policing that compulsion. It is a risk because we must ensure that the diploma agenda works, so that the young people who leave school as soon as they can—and I think that the Leitch report puts that at about 24 per cent.—do not choose to stay on because they have to, but rather because they want to.
Therefore, we need to ensure that we have a curriculum that is meaningful to them, and that when they have finished their course of study, they will leave with something rather than not a lot. That is how it should go. Compulsion is quite a risk, and the policing—perhaps even literally—involved in keeping young people in education or training beyond 16 will be extremely difficult, unless we get it right.
Thank you. This question is to John Bangs. You suggested in your briefing to us that personalised support and incentives, rather than punitive measures, would be more productive. Do you agree with the criminal sanctions? Can you set out your position on compulsion, which I expect is slightly different from that of the NAHT, and could you include in that your view about the criminal sanctions provisions in the Bill?
John Bangs: The NAHT and the NUT agree on lots of things. We have a gentle, personable disagreement on the nature of compulsion, but we are not that far apart. However, we are convinced. Today I read Alison Wolf’s paper. It is a good paper, but she says that the Government are obsessed by position on OECD league tables. That is not what we read into the OECD data at all. What we read is that in the UK, young people who do not have a good upper-secondary qualification or a higher education qualification gain half as much in terms of financial premium over adult life, than those who do have those qualifications. The evidence from the OECD is that unless those qualifications are attained, a person can lose out for the rest of their lives. That is the key issue.
The ambitions of the 1918 Act to secure involvement in education to 18, is something that may then have been grounded in altruism, but is now grounded in very hard data. It is the right ambition if we want to have a highly-skilled work force for the 21st century. That said, there is a lot of work to be done to get to the position where it is entirely reasonable for the 10.3 per cent. of those not in education, employment or training to be in a form of high-quality education skills training. There is a lot of auditing to be done, and a lot of thinking outside the box in terms of the curriculum. There is a lot of work to be done to establish partnerships between voluntary organisations, schools, FE colleges and industry in order to start looking at that curriculum. That can be done, but a lot of ducks need to be in a row before it can be done. We believe that training should be compulsory until 18, but it is important that the offer is reasonable, and the penalties can come in after that.
On criminalisation, I looked at the time line in the Bill and the stages that lead to penalties. Once someone has reached 18, anything that is on their criminal record should come off; for example, if they have been fined. But the point is that if this is going to be compulsory, there has to be some kind of consequence. As I said before, the most important thing is that all the ducks are in a row in terms of provision before the penalties cut in.
That is very helpful. This is our second day of taking evidence from witnesses. On Tuesday, my colleague Oliver Heald highlighted the great concern about the literacy levels of young people in this category. Given that you are both from teacher unions, may I ask each of the unions how effective the introduction of synthetic phonics has been since it became a statutory requirement in September last year? How effectively has it been implemented in the schools that your head teachers run and that your teachers teach in?
Fine. The Bill talks about basic skills. There is a whole part on basic skills. To what extent will we need the provisions, and to what extent are your members tackling the problem at the school level?
Mick Brookes: The misconception is that phonics have been out fashion. I cannot quite think who said that. I was in school for well over 30 years, and a head teacher for 27 years, before I took this job. I have never, ever been in any school or spoken to any of my colleagues who have not used a form of phonics as part of teaching children to read. It is embedded practice, as are tables and spelling. All those things that some of the press like to say do not exist in our schools any more are there, and they are working well.
Synthetic phonics is another form of teaching, and it works very well. We now know a little more about how the brain works and about preferred learning styles. Synthetic phonics works very well for children who have a tendency for oral learning, but children who have a visual learning style will learn just as well from looking at patterns of words. To say that look and say is not a tactic to be used in schools defies the knowledge that we have about how children learn. Basically, we are saying, yes, of course we want children to have high standards of literacy and numeracy and a delight in being in school, and there are technical ways of making that work.
I have been in the business long enough to know that people from outside the system have always said, “This is the only way.” I remember distinctly the initial teaching alphabet system, which ruined spelling for a generation of children. My view from my long experience of working in schools is that there are good ways of teaching children to learn, but one size does not fit all.
I should say both to the witnesses and to other questioners that we should not pursue this line of questioning. I am required to ensure that the debate follows the proposals in the Bill, and I think that this is a bit wide of those proposals.
To fulfil the duties set out in part 1 of the Bill for various people, it is clearly important to ensure that participation up to 16 is maximised, to make the job easier post-16. Clearly, there are some who confuse truancy with unauthorised absence. What experience can we draw on, in terms of reducing the full range of unauthorised absence pre-16, to keep them going post-16?
John Bangs: I actually think that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority conducted a fairly exemplary review of the secondary curriculum. It involved all the stakeholders; we felt involved, we felt that we were able to contribute to the curriculum. Our only concern is that the freedoms inside the curriculum are actually passed down to schools, and that a mechanistic and routine approach to the new curriculum is not taken. I say that because all the evidence shows that young people from years 7 to 9 want a practical and engaging curriculum, not something that is ground down in a heavy, systematic approach involving detailed texts and so on—there should be variety and innovation in there.
In moving towards children staying on at 18 and being involved in either education or training, we need to think about how the secondary curriculum at key stage 3 links into key stage 4, and then on from 16 onwards. There is a continuum there and I think that there are some really imaginative projects, which I have seen in one or two schools, to build on that. That means, for the most alienated and disaffected young people, following through on an area of interest in which they are very much engaged and which they can explore in depth by doing a particular project, for example. Some of the influences for that project can come from outside, for instance from industry or a voluntary organisation, and you can do that in partnership. That is where the enthusiasm for staying on can be fostered and engendered.
I cannot resist coming back to what Mick said, because I agree with a lot of what he said. I do think that the changes to the literacy strategy in primary have been disturbing and disrupting to a certain extent—although I am always amazed at schools’ capacity to accommodate change—but unnecessary as well. I think that over the last 10 years, the strategies have provided a good basis for going forward. There is always more to do, particularly in terms of oracy and what we know about the hard-to-reach young people who simply cannot grapple with recognising words, but it is an issue of building on it and I hope that we do not get another seismic change like the one that we have had with the literacy strategy recently.
Before you do, I should explain the distinction. It is perfectly right and proper, as Mr. Heald has done, to question whether people will be quick to do apprenticeships if they cannot read or write because this is a Bill looking at, among other things, the 16-18 provision. The point at which I draw a line is whether in this Committee we should be debating the different strategies or learning methods used at earlier stages of education to make children and young people literate and numerate. That is not something that is covered by the Bill.
Mick Brookes: I think we need a proper definition of unauthorised absence. The unauthorised absence that we should be most concerned about is the old word: truancy, and not so much, for instance, parents taking children away during term time. I know that my colleagues in schools are being much tougher now about recording that as unauthorised absence, which is why the figures may appear to have risen; it is because there is a tougher stance. There is no doubt that one leads to another. When parents condone absence, that gives a message to children and young people—“If it is all right for my mum to say I can go off school, I will take the time off school.” It is truancy that we really need to concentrate on.
I go back to what I was saying in my first answer. We have to have a curriculum that engages young people—we call it a really useful curriculum. I believe that elements of the diplomas will engage young people, who will leave with a qualification. Some of the curriculum that we are asking young people to engage in these days seems irrelevant to them, and probably is. The much-maligned media studies is not a soft option, it is an extremely tough course, but because it appeals to young people’s everyday, real world, they are interested and engaged in it, and therefore do well. That is an example of how we might move forward the curriculum for the future.
Thank you. Mindful of what Mr. Bayley has said, I shall try to relate my questions much more directly to the Bill.
This one is a question for John and Chris. In your submission you suggest what I would describe as a dawn clause, as opposed to a sunset clause, whereby some provisions would not come into effect until certain requirements have been met. Do you think that it is important that we change the culture of education so that people going into year 7 in September expect to stay on until 18? Do we stand the best chance of shifting the culture if we do not have the certainty of a time deadline?
John Bangs: I think you need a provisional time deadline—2013 has been floated. You need it because you need a target for local authorities and schools to aim for. It would perhaps be useful for an audit to be conducted annually prior to that date, to find out exactly how prepared schools are.
We need to put the matter in context a bit: I understand that those not in education, employment or training comprise about 10.3 per cent. of the population. A further 11 or 12 per cent. of young people are actually in work post-16, so that makes about 22 per cent. In a sense, we are considering the core of young people who cannot be touched and are unemployed, which is a small number—about 10 per cent.—who really need some focus. That is why it is important that an audit is conducted at local authority level of the provision available, and that a discussion takes place between schools, FE, partners in industry and local authorities about the innovative provision that needs to be put in place. At national level, there needs to be a discussion about whether the diploma lines will cover every aspect of interest to those not in education, employment or training. We have some doubt that they are all covered by the current diploma lines.
It should not be assumed that young people who drop out at 16 are on the lower achievement levels. They may be very high achievers but incredibly alienated. There may be bits of the curriculum, such as art, that they are really keen on. A local offer that could be put together by a local voluntary organisation—we work closely with Barnardo’s, for example—and teachers, focusing on the needs of young people and constructed from the bottom up, could be really attractive to those young people. We do not want to be bound by the requirements of accreditation all the way down the line, either. Accreditation should follow the innovative nature of a course.
You described it as a sunrise clause, Jim. I think that there is a strong argument for Parliament to follow and audit the preparation of the requirement until 2013, so that Parliament is satisfied that you have got there. Then you introduce the penalty aspects of it, if you are satisfied that it is entirely reasonable that all young people are required to stay on.
The only other thing I would say is this. I think people were amazed at the impact of the smoking ban. Most people voluntarily do not smoke inside public buildings or public houses. The impact of saying, “This is now our expectation”, will move everything forward. The penalty is a minor issue.
Lastly, a question to Mick, which builds on the point made by John. Do you agree that we need that sort of cultural shift, which means that the expectation of parents, teachers, peers and all who influence young people, is that what will be the first cohort, the current year 6, will be carrying on in some form of educational training until 18 as necessary; and, if so, how do we achieve it if we do not have the compulsion elements that we propose in the Bill?
Mick Brookes: Expectation is perfectly okay. I go back to my previous answer. We need to have a curriculum that young people engage with. Actually, 14 to 19 is much too late, because there is disengagement at the end of key stage 2. We will not go into the assessment system at the moment, but we believe that that is part of the reason. We need to have a curriculum that engages young people, and we need ways to assess that curriculum that do not alienate the 20 per cent. or so of young people. It is interesting to note that that is similar to the number of people who leave as soon as they can.
Kathryn James: It is worth saying that what concerns us is that compulsion is going to be looking at the disaffected, and I do not think that you change a culture of disaffection by compulsion. What John says about expectation is one thing, but moving to a compulsory requirement too quickly will be more damaging than positive. In terms of actually engaging the youngsters that you need to engage, you want to ensure that all the provisions are in place before you even get there. To say to a child who is going to secondary school now, “You will be expected to stay,” is one thing. Say, “You will have to carry on into training,” and you are going to lose them possibly even earlier.
I am talking of a very small percentage, but those are the ones we want to capture. For quite a large majority, there is an expectation that they are going to stay on or go to training anyway. It is attracting those people, that small percentage, those known as the NEETs, and it has to be done carefully and sensitively
I return to compulsion. The question is for both unions. I start by quoting from paragraph 9 of the written evidence submitted by the NUT. In justification for its support for raising the age to 18 and the compulsion aspects of that, it says that
“The premium enjoyed in later life for those who have good offer secondary and higher education qualifications is far greater than those who leave school without qualifications.”
That is fairly obviously the case, given that we already have compulsion to age 16, yet a majority of young people who leave school or college at 16 do not achieve those good level qualifications that lead to a “premium” in later life. Compulsion at the moment is not achieving the premium in earnings that you say will follow if we introduce compulsion at 18. Would you comment on that?
John Bangs: There are a couple of things. The last thing we would want is youngsters who have failed at 16 at GCSE, or have not got very good GCSE results, doing repeats when they are 17. All the international evidence is the repeat years are on a hiding to nothing in terms of motivation and achievement.
John Bangs: No. What would be better—it is vital—is that you have an approach to the 14 to 19 continuum that builds from the age of 14, and conceptually the diplomas do that, only you move up two levels as you move towards 19. Actually, the offer and the mix within that diploma is really attractive. That is why a time line moving towards 18 is integrally linked with the development of the diplomas, and whether there are other qualifications, or lines that could be developed within diplomas, that could be attractive to that core bunch of young people who are alienated from the system.
In a sense, the future of the diplomas and the future of the success of staying on until 18 are integrally linked. We want the diplomas to work—we had a strong view about Tomlinson and believe that it was an opportunity missed. 2013 is beginning to become like 2008—one of those big, crunch years—because there will be a review of the success of the introduction of the diplomas and whether we need to have another look at other forms of qualification or to do an audit. However, actually, the evidence I was drawing on, and that on which the union drew for its submission, is that the OECD makes it clear that it is talking about upper secondary qualifications.
But were you citing that in support of raising the participation age? At the moment, compulsion does not deliver those higher level qualifications, so what faith can you have that increasing the age of compulsion will have that step change at 16, 17 and 18?
John Bangs: The improvement of the qualifications framework goes hand in hand with enthusing and engaging young people to stay to 18—it is integral. In fact, the Government and Parliament need to audit the progress of moving together and the success of moving toward the introduction of the diplomas, and the addition of the lines, alongside whether provision is in place at local authority level. Those things are integral.
Mick Brookes: We may be going on to this subject, in which case I shall take it later. We have focused so far on the role of schools and further education colleges, but we must also look at in-work training. The role of industry is key. We know from all sorts of research that industry in this country does not have a very good track record of being involved meaningfully in training and apprenticeships and those kinds of things. The involvement of industry is very important. We want a connected curriculum in schools, but we also need meaningful work placements and training from industry. That is a part of the jigsaw that we have not yet looked at.
I favour, and the former Education and Skills Committee, of which I was a member, recommended, that all schools should have a school council in place so that young people could participate in the framing of their learning. If we are going to have collaboration between lots of different education providers in a local authority area that deliver education and training to 16 and 17-year-olds, would you favour a youth forum that is able to participate and to comment on the quality of provision of education and training that is offered to them in their area?
Mick Brookes: Yes, absolutely, it is wider than school councils—it is about student voice. We are missing a huge breadth of knowledge and understanding. Young people, or at least some young people, understand themselves better than we do. We need to use student voice through its various means, including schools councils.
John Bangs: The NUT does not see student voice as a threat, we obviously see it as a major contribution to teaching and learning—it is integral. We support Schools Councils UK and participated in the launch of its latest publication at Forest Gate community school back in September.
I am glad you asked that question, actually, because one of the most important things in developing an appropriate offer for some of the most alienated young people is hearing what they have to say about what they want. Actually, one important precondition is intensive and focused study of alternatives for young people and of what would engage them in education, and building an offer informed by the results of that study.
The Bill will place a duty on local authorities to promote participation for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. However, in paragraph 15 of its evidence, the NUT states that
“an additional duty needs to be placed on local authorities to identify the individual needs of young people.”
Could John Bangs or Chris expand on that?
John Bangs: Over the past three or four years, we have done a lot of policy work—for instance, our document, “A Good Local School for Every Child and for Every Community”, which we just published, and our “Bringing down the Barriers” statement. One thing that we are absolutely clear about is that local authorities are probably in a bad position if they are imposing extended services on schools, but in a good position if they are enabling the bottom-up development of services with schools and helping them along. In that context, we have argued strongly that local authorities should be required to establish children’s services forums where a discussion could take place about how the needs of particularly vulnerable young people can be met by a range of services. However, parents and their representatives, providers, such as teachers and support staff, and local industry can be involved in that discussion. We believe very much that placing a duty on a local authority to promote effective participation is also integral to the idea that you provide a forum in which to have that discussion. We are seeking an amendment to the Bill, therefore, which would require authorities to promote effective participation and to establish children’s services forums for that kind of discussion.
Mr. Bangs, I was interested in and rather heartened by what you said about the need to think very creatively within schools about how to hit that potential and crucial NEET group. It reminded me of some years ago when I was in the United States and the way in which children who clearly did not have an academic bent were identified very early, after which intensive work was done almost within a skills—I was going to say “academy”, but that is a loaded term now. I think that you know what I mean though: a school within a school that had that sort of focus. Leaving aside the compulsion aspects for the moment, if we are to encourage people to stay on beyond 16 and 17, do we need to do far more at an earlier stage in secondary education to focus that creative approach on those sorts of children? What are the implications for that, pre-14, on observing the national curriculum?
John Bangs: That is a very good question. Truancy, which came up earlier, or rather the majority of references to it, are couched in secondary, not primary terms. We need to ask why truancy becomes a big issue at secondary level. The NUT has always taken the position that secondary schools have been hamstrung by a curriculum about 40 or 50 years out of date with segmented subjects and young people coming from primary school at various stages of personal and physical development. They are all anxious about going to secondary school, and yet those schools, constrained as they are by the rigid subject-based curriculum, have not been able to respond.
I think that a couple of things are really important that need to be in the background: first, primary-secondary liaison has to be improved massively. We cannot allow a situation—this is the case with how key stages are constructed at the moment—in which secondary schools feel that they have to retest and reteach children who have reached good levels of achievement in primary school. The fracture between primary and secondary is still stark in very many cases. A situation in which you have been in primary school, with teachers and friends who you know very well, and then suddenly you are lugging your bag on your back around several classes in year 7 is a classic recipe for alienation, particularly for anxious and vulnerable youngsters. That goes right the way through key stage 3.
We are putting a lot of hope and emphasis—I hope we can really bolster this—on the review of the secondary curriculum, because it should mean, and we are very enthusiastic about it, starting to think out of the box when it comes to tailoring curricula for children who have been identified as vulnerable, and being much more focused on that, without the anxiety and worry that an Ofsted inspector will come in and say that x, y and z aspects of the curriculum are not being covered. It seems to me that that relationship with accountability and being innovative about meeting the most vulnerable children’s needs must take place, as you imply, at year 7. It needs to build on some of the good things at primary.
I am glad you said that, but you might not be entirely happy with my using it as a preamble to my question. We have been talking this afternoon about expectations loaded on to children by the curriculum and by outside society, but is it still not the case, despite many improvements, that there is not enough understanding of the value of the vocational route within schools among head teachers? Yesterday, I was at the launch of a report where we were discussing attitudes towards further and higher education. The point was made in the room that in too many schools head teachers still regard students who are not going to go down an academic route as not necessarily role models. It is the people going to university or doing other things whom they regard otherwise. What responsibility do the teaching profession and unions like yours have to change that attitude among your own members?
Mick Brookes: That is an extremely good question. It is one that we need to look at very carefully. If we are not careful with the diploma initiative, we will be thrown back to the 1950s: if you were academic then you would get all the good lessons, and if you were not, you would be out in the greenhouse, or with the PE teacher, or wherever. We have to be very careful about how we frame all this, as it is important.
I got into trouble in our 2006 conference for saying that in primary school we need to start preparing children for diplomas. When asked for an example, I said that perhaps bicycle maintenance would be a good idea, but that did not seem to go down terribly well with the Daily Mail. I think that it is important that we have what we call a really useful curriculum, which will equip children and young people with the skills that they need for life. I agree entirely with John: I am not sure the current curriculum does that. Yes, I agree that with you: I think that we should focus far more on those vocational, practical skills in schools. But if, at the end of the day, schools are judged and my colleagues lose their jobs because do not meet certain standards and Ofsted come in and berate them, you cannot blame them for focusing on keeping their jobs.
The additional numbers that the system is going to have to provide for will necessarily come from groups that are under-represented. They will possibly have difficult social circumstances and they might have learning difficulties—children with special needs are included in the provision of the new legislation. Would you give me your assessment of the physical capacity to absorb the extra numbers, in terms of teaching areas and staff? What are the funding implications for taking on lots of new—high maintenance, if you like—students?
Mick Brookes: In short, this is extremely worrying, and the funding implications could be huge, at a time when we are looking at shrinking school budgets—in some places only 2.1 per cent. I know this is not just the schools’ responsibility, but if you are tagging two years on for 20 or 22 per cent. of young people, there are clearly costs attached to that. We need to make sure that, through SFIG—the school funding implementation group—and other means, that provision of resources is readily available. Otherwise, it will simply draw resources from elsewhere in the school to the detriment of the education of all the rest of the children.
John Bangs: I agree that obviously there has to be the funding and resources to meet those needs, but there are very important regional issues. The north-east has the highest number of young people not in education, employment or training and the south-east has the smallest number, so there are major implications. I am talking about dedicated and specified funding for those not in education, employment or training and grants having to be focused on a regional basis. It is clear that there are two options in the north-east, where there is a declining student population. We could take into account the need for additional resources and not make cuts to school budgets follow the school numbers; money needs to be retained to prepare for that. Yorkshire and Humberside are pretty well up there for large numbers, and a strategy is needed. Were we on SFIG, we would probably be saying this, Mick.
I heard some very positive statements from the panel about diplomas. Mr. Bangs, your statement that “We want them to work” was extremely positive and good to hear. We have also heard Professor Alison Wolf’s evidence. I do not know whether you have read it. Can I have some views from you about whether diplomas will work? What things need to be put in place to ensure that they work?
John Bangs: The mistake was made and I think it is being corrected—I hope it is being corrected—in the second five lines. There was, rightly, enormous enthusiasm for involving employers in the construction of diplomas, but there was a problem with that. I have to hand it to the engineering diploma development partnership, because it did a good job of involving the teacher organisations, and has done so consistently. I wish that all the partnerships followed the engineering DDP in involving us, and involved not just teacher organisations but those who had a major stake in the past, including universities, in the construction of specifications for the diplomas. I hope that the situation will change as the diplomas roll out.
We will survey our members in schools and FE—in fact, we have just sent the survey out—to find out their views about the introduction of diplomas and their likely success. The information we are beginning to get is that those involved in the diplomas know about them, see their importance and relevance, and are enthusiastic, but there is not yet a wider group of teachers with that same understanding and knowledge who are directly involved. There is still, as they say in the trade, a lot of embeddedness to happen.
As for whether the individual lines will be successful, it is quite obvious that the Russell group is very interested in the engineering diploma. We want the other diploma lines to have that attractiveness to universities as well, and not in a tiered fashion; we do not want the Russell group cherry-picking one diploma against another. There is a lot of work to be done with university admissions procedures, tutors and everyone else on the importance of the diplomas. It depends on a number of things. We must get the assessment right for teachers. If a massive weight of assessment is attached to the diploma lines, teachers will start going off them and they will not be the best proponents of diplomas, so that has to be got right. At the moment, it is on a cusp. The enthusiasm of people who proposed the engineering diploma is infectious. It is going forward. We want it to be a success, because there is a hell of a lot of investment and if young people fail in it, that is their chance gone. We think that there is a slightly brighter prospect for diplomas than there was a year and a bit ago. We are now beginning to go forward on this.
Mick Brookes: There is certainly a framework for success, but we need to make sure that we have the logistics right. If, as I understand it, a large number of schools is queuing up to get through a very narrow gateway for the diplomas pilot project, that is quite encouraging. In a sense, it is not a question of “Do we want it to work?” or “Will it work?”. It has to work because this is the only game in town for making sure that we have a skilled work force for the rest of the century. If we do not, we are sunk, all of us.
I was concerned, Mrs. James, when you made your statement about how you would lose people if you said to them, “You have to stay on”, and that compulsion was one of the things that would alienate young people coming into secondary schools. I wonder sometimes whether in fact the message of the Bill has been misconstrued. That message is not, as I interpret it, “You have to stay on”, but rather, “We will commit to working with you and supporting you to achieve to the best of your ability, by ensuring that courses are attuned to your needs and will support and assist you to reach your potential”. That is the message that I think is in the Bill. I am concerned that you think there is another one. What is the message?
Kathryn James: I agree with you wholeheartedly. That is the position it should start from. That is why we are very keen to see the entitlement, and we would want to see that put into sharp focus. There is a difficulty: having four children of my own, I am conscious of the fact that we say, “Look what we can do for you. Here you are”, and they say, “You’re trying to make me do something”. It is an attitudinal thing.
We talked about the need to change the culture—that is where I was coming from. If you want to change a culture—and we do need to change it, I wholeheartedly agree—I am not sure that we will achieve that change by saying, “Look what we have got on offer and you will be there to stay. We will guarantee that it will be there”. The young people will see that as, “You say I’ve got to do it, but I don’t want to”. It is adolescence—you automatically rebel. That is what concerns me. If everything is put in place so that the cultural change starts before we get to this punitive notion, I think that we are in with a fighting chance. Can I also comment on the diplomas. I think that it is important to say that the association would agree with the NUT position that Tomlinson was an opportunity that was missed, but we have to see the diplomas work.
John Bangs: Clause 2 poses everything in terms of a duty. We seek an amendment that talks about entitlement rather than duty. That is about culture shift; you can retain the requirements, you can retain the compulsion, you can have, as Jim Knight said, the sunrise clause in terms of penalties. However, for the mood music of the Bill, it is better to describe it as an entitlement rather than a duty. That is where I think the shift could take place.
Local authorities have a massive responsibility in this area, and I argued earlier for authorities to set up children’s services forums. I find it an oddity that local authorities are not required to promote community cohesion. I think that that is what this is about. Community cohesion is not simply deemed in terms of how you address ethnic segregation or social segregation; it is how you address the kind of segregation that is brought about by alienation and social deprivation. It would be good to see an additional amendment to the Bill requiring local authorities to promote community cohesion.
In relation to compulsion, on Tuesday, we heard evidence from Barnardo’s, the Prince’s Trust and the Association of Directors of Social Services. One thing that they all said, interestingly, was that having compulsion often meant that you did not need to use it. Having that power there, and people knowing that it was there, meant that often you did not need to bring it into play, but there was a clear demonstration of the seriousness of your commitment. Do you agree with that?
Kathryn James: I come at it from a different perspective. You have to remember, as I said before, that we really have to get to the small element of the disaffected. That is why the notion of compulsion concerns me. What John said about how the Bill is phrased—I loved his phrase about the mood music of the Bill—was absolutely right. He was right about entitlement and making—I was going to say we should make it a privilege—people feel that they want it rather than that they were forced into it.
John Bangs: The fact that it is a requirement to stay until 18 triggers a culture shift on its own. I have explained the NUT’s reservations about the premature introduction of penalties and the notion of criminalisation post-18. One of the best things that we did was to work with Barnardo’s all the way through the party conferences. We went to its public meetings, spoke at meetings and all the rest of it, which meant that we worked closely with a voluntary organisation that deals with some of the most disaffected young people. Some of its projects are very innovative and exciting.
There is no difference between Barnardo’s and ourselves on compulsion. The really big issue is how to get the innovative projects and programmes in place and use all the resources available at school level. I wish that we could lower the radar on compulsion. We have given our view on the impact and importance of young people not being alienated by a lack of training or education. The evidence is that if they are alienated, they drift away from jobs and are often unemployed for the rest of their lives. How do we get to those young people? Compulsion is about building a framework to do something about them.
At the moment, the number of children persistently absent from year 11 is 67,660, or 11.6 per cent.; and 3.5 per cent., or 20,140, have been absenting themselves since year 7—that is the period of compulsory, statutory education. How are we going to bring them back to participate up to 18? We have heard a lot of opinions from all sorts of groups, and I think that you share them to an extent, that it will not be at all easy. Whatever the penalties are, do you feel that that group of 10 per cent. or more will come into education? If not, what is the answer for the NEETs?
Mick Brookes: If there is to be compulsion, we have five years to change the culture, so that those young people would sooner be in school than out of it. That is the crucial thing. If we cannot do that, even if they are in school, they will not be learning anything and it will just be more of the same. We really must shift that culture, starting now, to stand a chance of not having all sorts of problem in 2013.
I am sure that you all agree with that. May I add a further question that some of you may wish to comment on? I met quite a lot of NEETs last year, and some of them were trying to get back into work by learning to read and write. It is obvious that there is a significant group, particularly if they have absented themselves for that length of time, who cannot read, write and add up properly. Is compulsion, whereby we say, “You’ve got to go to an FE college, work-based training or some other school-based option,” the answer, or is the voluntary approach, which Barnardo’s, Rainer and others currently take, the answer? Surely, if it comes from the student, it is better than trying to force them to stay on.
John Bangs: It is, but the right conditions must be in place, and schools cannot do it on their own, which is why we argued for a cross-service approach that also links with local firms and industry, and, to be honest, why we called for a children’s services forum. Schools cannot do it on their own, but if families or the young person’s parents do not care at all about school, and school is utterly irrelevant to that child, there must be a lot more concentration from a lot of other people on those families. That is why diplomas, a proper, integrated children’s services agenda, an education maintenance grant that is attractive enough and a curriculum are all parts of the answer. What you cannot do is say, “It is either this or that.” It is about having—I hate to use the word, but it is the only one I can think of at the moment—a 360° approach to the needs of that small minority of young people. If they do not stay on until 18 and get on the education ladder, the impact of their social alienation will be felt by literally thousands and thousands of other people.
Mick Brookes: You have two groups of people who are outside, and we must ask what is happening to them if, at the end of key stage 2, about 80 per cent. of young people have gained good skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. The two groups are the can’t group and the won’t group. In the can’t group, there are two subdivisions: people who have told themselves that they can’t pick up the skills, so they will not focus on it, because it makes them feel bad when they fail; and people who really can’t—people who have severe special educational needs. That is the difference. I come across to the NUT position on the won’t group—the “I’m not going to do it” individuals; the belligerent and the disengaged. Perhaps there needs to be compulsion in that situation, but I do not think that it is the driving force.
Mick Brookes: There are several things. There are certainly those practical skills that young people need to survive—the mathematical skills of reading a bank account, for instance, if they have one and if there is some money in it. So, there are the domestic skills, if you like. There are also artisanal skills, which, again, we in this country have an unfortunate history of downplaying. I would love to be able to plaster a wall as my plasterer can. What is important is making sure that those skills are better appreciated. The other element—the really useful curriculum—is about an engagement and delight in learning, whatever that means. All young children should be able to leave school with positive experiences that light them up, so, for example, there is a lead into musical appreciation and, indeed, musical skills. All those things are important skills and a curriculum that young people should be able to access.
Following up on that, do you think that schools do enough to attract youngsters to the idea of business and success? Some of the successful secondary schools in my constituency run business courses, they have business lunches and business people come in to talk to them. That really engages youngsters; they like it. Is there space to do more of that?
Mick Brookes: I think that is a really good idea. Quality careers guidance is absolutely essential—unlike my careers guidance. When I was 16, the head teacher said to me, “What do you want to do when you leave school, Brookes?” I said I would quite like to go to university and be a teacher, and he said “You’re aiming a bit high, aren’t you?” That was not terribly helpful to me. Quality careers guidance and advice is essential, and the way you have described it sounds like an extremely good idea indeed.
I have two terribly quick questions. The first one follows from your very interesting remarks on diplomas. I am an enthusiast for diplomas. I welcomed them from the Front Bench when they were introduced. You implied, however, that there might be some inconsistency in rigour. How critical is it that diplomas are consistently strong, so that the brand remains valued by learners and employers?
John Bangs: I do not know whether they are inconsistent in terms of rigour. That is the problem. The DPPs’ relationship with the teacher organisations has been erratic, so I do not know what the situation is and what happened with the specifications. I have no reason to think that they are inconsistent, but the teaching profession’s relationship with their development has been erratic, as I said, and dependent upon the chairs of the DPPs. I am arguing for us to be open and up front. I say that because there is a well attested, tried and tested mechanism for evaluation and comments on specifications for GCSEs and A-levels through the examination boards. We have not had that same process for the diplomas.
We need a golden route for vocational education to elevate the practical, as Mr. Marsden said. Even given an amended curriculum that will inspire young people who may have been put off schooling previously, I guess that a proportion will still truant. Notwithstanding the changes we all believe in, is it likely that that proportion will be greater between the ages of 16 and 18 than before the age of 16?
John Bangs: This is why 5 years—or a decent lead-in time—is quite important. A lot of the work has to be done when young people come into secondary school. Enthusiasm for staying on and learning has to be engendered when they are in year 7, and the structures of the school have to be tailored to that. I hope that has answered your question.
There is an argument about criminal sanctions. You do not deny that some people will truant between the ages of 16 and 18, and will be criminalised.
John Bangs: I think the issue is how you drive down the percentage of NEETs, and how you see the percentages go down over time. They have really got to start going down. It would be alarming if, after the legislation is introduced, they suddenly started going up. The raising of the school leaving age in 1972 was a disaster, because it simply mandated that children would stay on. There was no preparation for it. It simply happened, and teachers had to deal with the ROSLA year group. The reason we are in favour of the mandate, instead of the aspiration, is that once you make a requirement, it has to carry resources into schools. That is the important thing.
Mick Brookes: I agree with John—he is absolutely right. I will say again: we have five years to get this right. I think human nature is such that we will probably never see the end of people taking the occasional day off, as people do in the workplace. We cannot be so idealistic as to make an impossible target for ourselves. Certainly, as John says, driving the percentage of truants down is what we need to do.