I welcome all colleagues to this evidence-taking session of the Public Bill Committee considering the Education and Skills Bill. On behalf of all Members, I extend a particularly warm welcome to the three wise men—the three college principals who are our first witnesses this morning. I ask them to introduce themselves briefly and formally before going straight into questioning. Over to you.
The Association of Colleges gave evidence to this Committee on 22 January, as I am sure you know. I asked them what they felt about the new duty placed on colleges to promote good attendance. Sue Dutton of the association saw this duty as an extension to collect information on education maintenance allowances. Her view was that:
How do you interpret the duty contained in the Bill to promote good attendance? How will colleges work with local education authorities to enforce these arrangements —are you resourced, geared up and staffed specifically to do this job?
Ioan Morgan: I am happy to take that one. My college has recently benefited from a full Ofsted inspection which finished last Friday. One of the features of the outstanding grade that the college got was its very high attendance rates—well into the 90s. That is done through the fact that we offer very good teaching and an appropriate product. If those two elements are in place, attendance is something that follows. The element of compulsion is interesting, but I think that the success or failure of the volume of attendance at a college is about the issues and characteristics that I have mentioned.
Colleges are now very much measured on attendance performance. When inspectors come into a college one of the first things they look for are measures of attendance as an indicator of health. At Warwickshire college we have many systems in place for monitoring attendance. We have at-risk systems which flag up students who are not attending and so on. Working with the local authority to co-ordinate and correlate that information is something that we could do.
I would go further. One of the issues for us is the compulsion element for students who would be on work experience, working with employers, and the onerous duty that employers would have. In our partnership work with companies, we try to relieve companies of that burden now. Colleges could have a role in helping companies, small and large, to look after the compulsion and monitoring element within the Bill.
So what you are really saying is that the Association of Colleges representatives are wrong and this provision is not onerous? Perhaps you might comment further and say whether they are right about the Connexions database, which they say is not fit for purpose in these terms. I appreciate that your college is exceptional in this regard—I have visited and it is a model of good practice—but this duty is going to apply to all colleges. Is the Association of Colleges wrong about the Connexions database not being fit for purpose and about this duty being onerous? This is not about promoting the best; it is about what you have to do in every case.
Paul Head: I do not think it is onerous, because it is exactly what a college should be doing. If you are a skills-based college, preparing people for the world of work, the expectation of 100 per cent. attendance is what should be there. All the colleges that I have visited have systems in place to monitor attendance and punctuality. We already work with the local authority on the 14 and 15-year-olds who have not been successful in school and who attend our institution full time—we have to do attendance reports on them. We also have more than 300 14 and 15-year-olds doing tasters every Wednesday and every Friday and we have to do attendance reports on them. So we have to do it and good colleges will do it. The vast majority of colleges will not see it as onerous but as part of their key task.
My view on the Connexions database is that it would be a mistake to take a database that has been developed for one set of purposes and believe that it can suddenly fulfil another set of purposes. I do not know the detail of whether it can be adapted or changed but, having worked in the sector for a number of years, all my experience of IT systems suggests that you cannot take one and make it do something else. The AOC is dead right to flag up a concern now, when we have plenty of time to plan for implementation. It is right to say, “If you are going to do this, look carefully at what the Connexions database was designed to do and work out what you want it to do now.” I suspect the transition from one to the other will be quite complicated.
Ian Pryce: Yes. We have similar systems to the two colleges that have just reported. I do not see the reporting requirements as a major issue. It is hard to talk about the Connexions database because we do not come into contact with that. Our role is more about providing information about our own students. I do not see an issue.
I am very grateful for your legendary and typical indulgence.
The Government, as you will know, said in a document published yesterday, that companies such as McDonald’s will be allowed to issue their own qualifications. The Foster report of 2005 talked about a galaxy of oversight bodies in the further education sector—17. Given the new obligations in this Bill and the, hopefully, central role FE will play in extending educational opportunity for people from 16 onwards, do FE colleges have the autonomy they need to develop strong links with business and their communities? Do you feel that the machinery of government changes have been helpful in respect of funding in particular? Would you like to see a move to greater self-regulation?
Ioan Morgan: The opportunity for self-regulation that is being extended to our sector by the present Government is something that I welcome and I know that a significant number of my colleagues feel the same way. It is an element of recognition of the trust in and the maturity of the sector.
The Foster report, which I was happy to contribute to, was an opportunity for the sector to focus on what was important in terms of the skills agenda in this country. The Foster report gave us the opportunity to concentrate and develop close, meaningful links with companies. Some colleges were doing it before but since the Foster report and that energy injection in to that agenda, the majority of colleges have now formed very good links. That was something commented on in a number of recent Ofsted reports—really deep and meaningful links with companies, sharing a vision of the future, picking up the skills agenda and helping companies who want to inward invest in an area or indigenous companies to grow and develop. Good-quality FE colleges are now among the first ports of call to see what they can contribute to the skills agenda.
So my response in terms of self-regulation is an enthusiastic welcome. As for working with companies, that absolutely central to the role of a college such as mine.
Ian Pryce: Autonomy has been very important for colleges and it is one of the reasons why the sector has been very successful over the past 15 years. It is important to have a good relationship with the local authority, but as long as that autonomy is preserved we will continue to be successful.
We would prefer a national funding system, partly for administrative reasons. At Bedford college, we draw students from more than 100 local authorities, so having a relationship with that many bodies would be very difficult and might deny people the opportunity to come for specialist subjects such as sustainable technologies.
I welcome the McDonald’s development. On balance, I come down in favour of compulsion to stay on, with the necessary proviso that all employers must be able to offer apprenticeships so they have to become more flexible. We have to achieve an increased volume of apprenticeships, and I see that development as part of the way of doing that—as long as companies can offer high-quality programmes. Quality is clearly an issue, but as long as there is high quality, then I have no problem with that.
Paul Head: I agree completely with all of that. I think we can only welcome that the big national companies actually want to have nationally recognised qualifications for their employees. Nobody has any problem with Microsoft-accredited IT training, because that qualification has industry currency. So, it can only be welcomed that big employers can become Qualifications and Curriculum Authority-approved. And I think the big bit is that it is QCA-approved—that there is quality control over those qualifications. I think the same applies to the Bill’s clause that gives colleges the ability to award qualifications. My own view there was that, if they have local, regional and national currency, and they meet a market demand, colleges should be able to do them. And that is part of a strong self-regulated sector.
On the machinery of Government changes, I personally welcome the fact that we have a Cabinet Minister sitting in Cabinet now. I hope that, regardless of the nature or flavour of the Government, that will continue in the future. That someone actually gets up in the morning and is worried about Britain’s skills base, and is not just dominated by schools and universities, is a really good thing. We have to do some detailed working through on the relationship between the Department for Innovation, University and Skills and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
I welcome the re-engagement of local authorities in a leadership role through local area agreements, multi-area agreements and all those kind of things, as that has to be in the interest of children up to the age of 18 under Every Child Matters, and so on. It is down to the Government, in the detailed administration of colleges, to find ways of actually working together in the interests of young people, so I think the machinery of government changes have to be welcomed.
To be honest, people worry too much about galaxies of organisations covering further education; I cannot get too upset about it. Everyone creates new things; they come and they go. Our job is about delivering high-quality education and training, and doing that in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible. That is about having good employer links, good links to local authorities, and, most of all, an undying passion that what matters is student success rates, be it in the workplace or your own institution. You ignore the noise that we all have to live with—we are paid to deal with it—and focus on the learner.
Ioan Morgan: May I come back on that? I think one of the areas I would flag as a potential danger, though, is that we have to make sure that we distinguish between qualifications and skills. We happen to measure lots of targets in terms of qualifications, but what industry wants is skills. There is a difference. Qualifications are often a convenient measurement, but we must not take our eye off the fact that we have to look at real, hard-nosed skills that will make a difference in the future—and they are different.
The AOC has been quoted already this morning on a couple of occasions. They said to us that colleges already concentrate on the hard to reach and on widening participation by young people. I do not think that is desperately controversial, but in the Bill we are chasing after perhaps the last 10 per cent. who are not participating. How well placed do you think colleges are to respond to that challenge to raise the participation rate for that last 10 per cent., and to respond to the adult skills elements of the Bill?
Ioan Morgan: I think colleges are very successful where they try to prevent young people getting to the stage where they are not in education, employment or training. It is pre-NEET activity that is important, and that is about partnership with schools. There are some very effective examples in our sector, with intervention at 14. A college like my own has nearly 1,000 14-year-olds attending two days a week, and the transformation and our success in keeping them away from entering that NEETs group is very significant. Further education is doing a really powerful job in that area.
Ian Pryce: The college environment is a good one for disaffected pupils from school—e have proved that. The majority of our students do not have five good GCSEs, and when they come to us it is a fresh start. It is very much moulded around a culture of the workplace rather than the school, and deliberately so. Of the 3,500 16 to 18-year-olds we have, we discipline about 150, and last year we excluded two. We are expecting about another 300 to 600 students as a result of the changes, but we think that we can cope with that. The more practical issues are actually about buildings and accommodation rather than the behaviour.
Ian Pryce: Well, it is interesting because we as work, as Ioan said, with the NEET group and we at Bedford have developed something called an intensive care unit with the regional development agency, so we can work specifically, on a different site, with some of the most challenging pupils. That works, but it costs.
Paul Head: The key element here is the partnership between schools, training providers, employers and colleges working on that final 10 per cent. It has to be about partnership and college’s role within it. I think that we are well placed to do that. I think colleges have responded well to efforts to tackle those currently categorised as NEETs, and as Ioan says, building up beforehand with 14 to 15 year-olds. The reason I welcome compulsion is that it changes the nature of the terms of the debate. You no longer ask, “How do we work our way up to 85 or 90 per cent.?” You actually start asking, “Why are we not at 100 per cent.?” That is a mindset difference that schools, colleges, local authorities, employers and private training providers need to get their heads around. We have to do it for 100 per cent. For me, it is an investment in 20 years down the line: if we can get it right with this generation coming through, we will not have the skills gaps identified by Leitch for adults.
You mentioned the adult element, which has to be welcomed, particularly the level 3 entitlement for the 19 to 25-year-olds. I did my stats before I came and we have 250 19 to 25-year-olds doing full level 2 and 250 doing full level 3 this year. There is real demand there, and I think recognition for that entitlement has to be welcomed because what frightens me is, we cannot afford to end up in 20 years’ time having missed the opportunity to tackle a systemic problem. It will be tough and it will sometimes be a bit more expensive to deal with them, but my college is certainly well placed to work with the local authority and schools to do that.
The part of yesterday’s announcement that I really welcome was of more flexibility on apprenticeships, which should enable us to bring on board those employers that currently look at apprenticeships less enthusiastically than the really big ones. We will be able to say to them that the flexibility is there and if we work together, we can make a real difference.
Thank you. I noted what you said, Paul, that you thought compulsion would make a mindset difference. I wonder whether our other two witnesses agree on welcoming compulsion and why they have formed the view that they have, whatever it is.
Ian Pryce: I do, provided that there are enough apprenticeship places, because for a lot of that 10 per cent., that would be a good route. I do have one slight concern, which is about culture. Now, if somebody does not attend the college, we tend to look internally and ask what is wrong with us that is causing that non-attendance, rather than look at that person as a truant. That might be a subtle thing, but we still have to look to ourselves—to ask, if people are not turning up, what we can do better to encourage attendance, rather than immediately go down the support-penalty route.
I have a final question related to that, on information, advice and guidance. I agree with you: we must make sure the culture continues to be one of support rather than blame. What role do colleges have in IAG for young people to fulfil the duty in future? Specifically, do you think they should have a duty to provide impartial careers education along the lines we have described?
Paul Head: We already do. We are quite proud of the fact that we have a Matrix-accredited advice and guidance operation in the college. We work very closely with Connexions within the institution, picking up young people who are coming to us rather than going to schools. Any college that aspires to be outstanding, or is outstanding, would have an independent advice and guidance system, because you are driven by making sure young people and indeed adults get on to the right course for them rather than on to the course for your finances.
It is a leadership issue right at the top of organisations—at head teacher level, principal level and governance level. It is about saying that this is the expectation we set on independent advice and guidance. It is about the culture we set for the sector, and then rigorously using the mechanisms that we have through inspection—through Ofsted for example—to double check that those sorts of processes are taking place. I say yes to independent advice and guidance for young people.
There is a slightly different question about adults in the way that you deliver independent advice and guidance, but I welcome the opportunity to sit down with my head teacher colleagues locally and work out what genuine independent advice and guidance is going to look like, because that debate is long overdue.
If you think that it is already vital and it is already there, do you think that it is necessary to have a duty on colleges to do it?
Ian Pryce: I am less concerned about colleges, because it is generally in colleges’ interests to do that. If I have any concerns, they are more about whether schools are set up in such a way as to provide it. Our local evidence suggests that the advice of parents, schools and colleges tends to be taken ahead of the advice of Connexions locally; they have more influence on choice.
Ioan Morgan: The debate is going on. I have been a principal for 23 years and from the start we were concerned about independent advice and guidance at school level. I still do not think that that has been cracked. I think that it would be an enormous step forward if we can take as given that people were coming with balanced knowledge and that parents had a full idea about what the menu is at the local college. It would contribute hugely. I am convinced that the Government’s aim is to remove the vocational-academic divide, and this is a big step in doing that.
Paul Head: The other thing that will help with this is the new 14-to-19 diplomas. Our experience of being a lead for the construction diploma, working with two local schools and a local authorities, is that it is already making us rethink. You have to work in partnership to deliver a 14-to-19 diploma; that is the only thing that you can do to deliver it. Advice and guidance becomes absolutely crucial as part of the debate. I think that it is a combination of the duty—I do not mind it being a duty—on the one side to provide independent advice and guidance, and then using curriculum change through the new diplomas. That would be a twin-track approach and it will change the culture.
Thank you very much. I wish that calling three such fine witnesses had been my idea.
Perhaps I can tempt you into upsetting Jim instead of pleasing him. Jim asked a question which led to some discussion about capital bids and capital costs. Looking at the Government’s assessment of what all this is going to cost, the provision that has been made for additional capital costs for the further education sector is quite modest. It is £5.3 million per year or something like £90 million over 15 or 20 years. Does that sound realistic?
Ioan Morgan: We would look at that in the context of what we have managed to do in terms of capital over the past few years. In my view, there has been a significant injection of capital into the FE sector, which puts us in a pretty good position to take on this additional challenge. I think that to deliver on the exciting agenda—perhaps I should say challenging, rather than exciting—that we are presented with in the Bill, we will have to work smart. It is not all about bringing people into colleges; it is about working with employers on employers’ premises and about partnership work in schools. To think that you actually have to build new edifices to do the work probably is not smart thinking.
Obviously, the characteristics of the group of youngsters who need to be included in employment, education and training once the Bill has gone through are quite wide ranging, but a lot of them have extremely high needs such as mental health needs, special educational needs, and needs stemming from drug and alcohol abuse. They may also be young parents and so forth. One suspects that a lot of those youngsters will not end up in the employment environment as a consequence of the Bill, but they will end up coming heavily through your type of institution and others. Do you have any concerns about coping with some of those youngsters? Do any of them have needs such that they would be better coped with in a different way from that set out in this Bill?
Ioan Morgan: I keep coming back with this mantra—and I apologise if it is getting boring—but good colleges are coping with a huge range of problems experienced by young people. It is an increasing agenda. Some of the students whom we help—and I am sure that colleagues will echo this—have immense physical, mental and educational problems with which we are increasingly able to deal.
When I was in America, I heard people say that further education is about turning tax eaters into tax makers in the shortest possible time. FE is very good at that. It is even good doing it at the extreme end of the spectrum. There is a relatively small number of students for whom we have to turn to partnerships to support, and we are doing so increasingly.
Paul Head: To follow up that point, colleges play a key role in their local communities by working in local strategic partnerships with the health authority and the local authority, and that is crucial in getting this cocktail right. We are heavily involved in partnership work across the piece, looking at what we need to do to support young people to re-engage and stay engaged with education and training. We can do some of it on our own. One decision we took was to employ our own full-time mental health worker, because we recognised there were particular mental health issues. We worked with the mental health authority to make sure that person we employed worked with the mental health teams, particularly to support young people in staying re-engaged.
We have, for example, nearly 70 young people under the age of 19 who are classified as having special learning difficulties and disabilities. We are working with the health authority and the local authority to make sure the package of support keeps those young people on the programme. It is not just about getting them into the college as somewhere warm to go, but about getting them on to programmes where they make genuine progress. For example, going to your question on capital, we have just won a capital bid to run a virtual shop on site for SLDD students, so that they can train to work in a shop. Just because you are SLDD does not mean you cannot aspire to have some form of active engagement as a volunteer or employee.
It is about partnership as we deal more with this difficult set of groups. Ours is not an alcohol and drugs specialist institution, but I know four voluntary organisations that are specialists. Working together, we have been successful with a small handful of students, removing them from exclusion resulting from drug and alcohol abuse, and getting them into education and training programmes.
I appreciate that you have a lot of experience of working with youngsters with quite challenging needs. Possibly—and one anticipates this will be the case—the group of youngsters who will be swept into the education and training system as a consequence of this Bill will take in even more challenging youngsters. Can you think of any people who would need some other type of setting initially to deal with their needs rather than an education and training setting? In other words, would other problems, including medical problems, need to be resolved first before it was accepted that the college setting was the right one for them?
Ian Pryce: That could be true but I imagine that to be a fairly small group.
Going back to the overall financial arrangements, our sense is that because we are talking about a substantial new cohort, on average it will not be that much more expensive. Generally, colleges can cope with that. We have a number of programmes for very challenging young people at 14 who come to college full-time, and we have found that we do not need to spend much more than the average quantum of funding given to schools to provide that service. It is slightly more, but not a huge amount more. The odd one or two might be three or four times as much.
So you do not think that the unit costs of this latest group of youngsters who will potentially be swept into colleges, taking into account all their needs, will be higher than the existing average of your students?
Ioan Morgan: Further education is the sink for a lot of this activity at the moment. The students whom we get in at 14 at Warwickshire college range from the gifted and talented right through to those with very extreme problems. It is a matter of training staff and having the resources to cope. For example, at Warwickshire college, we have a deaf centre and a centre for the visually impaired. We specialise in trying to bring those students into the mainstream and allowing them to benefit from as much mainstream activity as possible. It is an integration model, but there are some people for whom you cannot take that model forward. For example, we run a course for acquired brain injury students, where success is measured not so much by traditional success rates but by the ability to lift a paintbrush—that is quite a success over 12 months if you have suffered a brain injury. These are the types of extreme students with whom further education is already dealing on a day-to-day basis. So we do not have any fears about taking in further challenging cohorts because we are equipped to respond—we have the experience to respond with partnerships.
I have one final, brief question, which comes back to Mr. Hayes’s point about absenteeism. In year 11, the persistent absenteeism figure is between 10 and 11 per cent., as you know. For youngsters on school action plus across the system, it is about 20 per cent. Are you as confident as you indicated earlier, that you will not see a bit of a spike in absenteeism rates once people are brought in on a compulsory basis, rather than through the current system of voluntarism?
I am sorry to interrupt, but we are now more than halfway through the time allotted for questioning these witnesses. That is fine—we have had some very good exchanges—but I appeal to colleagues to ask pithy questions, and to witnesses to provide extremely succinct answers, and only to provide answers when they feel it is essential to do so, then everybody will get in.
In my constituency, one of the things that colleges and schools have noticed is that the drop-out rate within the first six months, or even the first year, is higher than they would like. Do you think that that is because they are not getting the proper advice and guidance from the schools—you hinted at this, saying that you think things will improve with the duty on the schools to do that—or do you think it is because they do not like the environment in college? At the moment, if they choose to drop out, it is not really your responsibility, although I am sure that many colleges try to encourage students not to drop out. However, when we bring compulsion into it, will you consider it more of a responsibility than you already have, or do you think it goes back to getting the right advice and guidance to make sure that the students are on the right course in the first place?
Ian Pryce: In Bedfordshire, the drop-out rate from schools is higher than the drop-out rate from colleges. I do not know if that is true elsewhere, but it is certainly true in Bedfordshire. One of the reasons that get people drop out is because of the choices that are made at 16, so we get a lot of people coming to us at 17. There is a big issue about people dropping out of school at 17 in Bedfordshire and again, I think that comes back to the initial advice and guidance issues.
There are internal issues about transferability—with the curriculum it is often quite difficult to transfer someone who has changed their mind and wants to transfer halfway through a course on to something else, rather than wait until the following September. There are curriculum issues that we need to deal with as well, but a large part of it is about advice and guidance.
Paul Head: For me, the important part of the process is getting students on to the right pathways and programmes initially. Inevitably some students find that they are not succeeding on the programme they are on, and they need to move on to something else. They are then at risk of dropping out. I think the important bit is having the right learner support environment surrounding young people in particular. We do not have a sixth form centre separate from the rest of the college, but we try to provide an experience where everybody has a tutor and a learning mentor. At-risk students go on to the at-risk process and we try to manage the drop-out process.
We have moved from saying, “If they do leave, they’re no longer our problem” to immediately getting in contact with Connexions if someone leaves, saying, “This person has gone from us, where have they gone?” We follow it through. Good colleges do that—I know that it sounds a bit of a mantra from the three of us—and most colleges will do so. I think it is a matter of having sufficient resource as an institution to be able to provide the individualised, personalised support. As my colleague was saying earlier, as you get into the final 5 and 10 per cent., some of them drop out for reasons other than their experience within the institution. Therefore, we need to work with children’s services, the health service and the criminal justice system to make sure that we can all identify why an individual has disappeared, and who is responsible for seeking to get them to re-engage.
Ioan Morgan: It is about personalised care and individualisation, I think. The drop-out rate on our 14-to-16 programmes is very low, and I think that the comments from school colleagues show that we have retained them in the system, whereas if they stayed at school they would probably have been lost. It is about the product. It is the way in which they are treated. If you are trying to deal with a cohort that has had difficulty in school, and you throw more classroom-based activity at them in college, they are going to run away. You have to have a differentiated product that is appropriate.
That is exactly where I want to come in. Many youngsters who do not learn to read end up bunking off. We know that 40,000 youngsters each year leave school unable to read, write or add up properly, and we know that the persistent truanting in year 11 is about 11 per cent.—that is more than 60,000 young people.
I am worried about forcing youngsters who have not learned to read, write and add up, to stay on at school, or go to college, or have some work-based training forced on them, when really it is the system that has failed them. If you have been in statutory education for 10 to 12 years and not been taught to read, write and add up, assuming that you do not have special needs or anything of that sort, it is just a huge failing. I worry about forcing these people to go on and on, to nil effect. Would you like to comment on that?
Ioan Morgan: If you force them to have more of the same, you have a problem. I think the success of further education, where it is successful, is about a complete change. It is about valuing the individual; it is about a more adult environment.
If I can take an anecdotal approach, we have a number of campuses attached to our college, including the state-of-the-art Trident technology and business centre, which we built to celebrate our activity and links with major companies such as Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and so on. When it was built, it was pristine and beautiful, and we had a long debate as to whether we would expose 14-year-olds to that environment. We did so, and it was the best thing we ever did, because they have responded to that environment. They see that they are in a professional set-up; they see that we are measuring things on a commercial and professional basis, and the response has been enormous.
Paul Head: You can get them to read and write, and—Ioan is dead right—it is about the nature of the curriculum. So we do—and I am sure other colleges do so, too—entry to employment work, in which we take youngsters who have not had the best experience at school. It is important not to put them back in the same environment. In our case, we have a focus on the construction of the built environment, and they get working—by the end of the second week they realise that, unless they have some numeracy, they are not going to be a particularly good carpenter or bricklayer.
Paul Head: Exactly. What happens is that those youngsters suddenly become engaged—they can see the value of numeracy and of literacy in a vocational context—and nine out of 10 fly through that process, and get a literacy and numeracy qualification alongside a practical skills-based qualification that gets them on to the skills ladder. It is about doing that kind of work. Not every place can do that, so it is about making sure that that is our specialist contribution to the local environment. Up the road, however, the horticulture college does an entry to employment programme for young people, getting them into the horticulture industry. It is about making sure you find the right curriculum mix for them: you do not, as Ioan says, give them the same as before.
I completely agree, but of course it is voluntary—they want a job, they like the work environment, they need that certificate to work, so it encourages them. Is compulsion the answer?
Paul Head: I think it is—it sets the framework in which we need to work. To return to what I said earlier about setting the highest aspirations, it is for 100 per cent. of young people. Frankly, it is pretty compulsory at the moment. You are harassed by Connexions if you are not engaged in something. If you want an education maintenance allowance, you have to be in full time education, so compulsion is partly in place. If you talk to lots of youngsters, you can see they have already made the mental trip, and know that they have to do something at 16, 17 and 18. Compulsion is about setting out the state’s expectations of the bits that it pays for, and what they should be doing. If we do not do it, we are not going to get ourselves in the right competitive position with our international competitors.
Ian Pryce: It is unlikely that they will get those skills, if we do not do something. As long as there are sufficient alternatives—good alternatives—I have no problem with compulsion. As Ioan said, we tell all our students that it is a fresh start, and if we put them on course, we expect them to succeed. If they do not succeed, that is our problem, not theirs, and we offer a success guarantee. We turn it round, and it tends to work.
We talked about guidance, and the prejudice in schools that results from the fact that the ordinary teaching staff—not the professional careers staff—have very little experience of anything outside the school, so the advice is not very broad. I would like to look at the advice within the colleges and ask about gender stereotyping. Do you think additional guidance is needed to ensure that young women are given the full range of options and not thought unsuitable for certain areas of training?
Paul Head: Absolutely, I think that it is essential that traditional vocational subjects associated with men are challenged, for example, by encouraging women into construction or men into hairdressing. We have been involved in various programmes trying to break down gender and, indeed, race stereotyping about what people do. I think that you do that by engaging with employers and trying to get the best people for their jobs. We recently undertook an event for construction employers aimed both at ensuring that the disproportionately high number of people from black and minority ethnic communities who are unemployed in our area see construction as an option, and at what employers need to do to attract such employees. So, yes, I completely agree with you: there are ways of doing it through the frameworks and the incentives in the system to make people think differently about how they do it. Again, it is about partnerships and working through things like the area-based grant, to ensure that we are not using that money to spend on more of what we already have, but on the excluded groups, where we want to use it most effectively. We are about to begin a programme on the Broadwater Farm estate for women returners to construction. Research has identified the fact that lots of women want to get into “handy person” activities. That idea is the direct result of work with local authority outreach workers, and we want to try to achieve that.
Ioan Morgan: Further education is uniquely placed for role modelling. It is possible to have vocational role models that can overcome the stereotyping. We found it is about environment, too. We have a very clean engineering facility, which looks like a business foyer until you go out the back to the workshops. There is no reason why those buildings cannot be freshly painted, clean, tidy and welcoming. I think that that helps to reshape the image of an industry.
On the issue of compulsion, I was very interested to hear Paul Head’s comments about it being as much about state recognition as about the practical implications, because you are already doing so much. As teachers, college lecturers and, dare I say it, politicians, we tend to bend over backwards to blame ourselves and do everything that we possibly can. Do you accept that there are some young people who are just so lazy that they will not get out of bed and need the occasional kick? Having taken on the idea of compulsion, how do we deal with sanctions? What should they be? How do you see any part of the sanction process fitting into your role?
Ioan Morgan: I come back to role modelling; often, young people do not get out of bed, because they have never seen anybody get out of bed. Further education can, and does, contribute hugely to work-readiness skills: the ability to be there on time, appropriately dressed and all the rest of it. I think that it a huge role for further education. The softer side of employment skills is terribly important.
Paul Head: Two years ago, we wrote to every single person on the NEET register in north London, and invited them to the institution. The most chilling remark that I received from one youngster was that it was the first time that anyone had bothered to make college feel like an option. I learned a big lesson by virtue of the fact that we were trying to achieve something on the NEET programme: do not make assumptions about people on the NEET register. They want you to provide a supportive way into the process and so, when it comes to sanctions, what about the one who does not get up in the morning, or the one who turned up to our NEET event in a brand new BMW series 3, who clearly was economically active, but perhaps not as we would want him to be? What do you do about those people to get them to engage? Ultimately, yes, we do need a sanction. I think it is like interviewing people who are non-attending: we do all the bits about why they are not attending, but it is important to follow through to the ultimate sanction. The expectation is: we are making opportunities for you, you will engage. I suspect that there will be a tiny number of people who do not engage at the end of the day, but the big benefit will be the change in the culture.
The additional students who will attend your colleges and are targeted by the legislation are the ones least likely to stay on post-16 at the moment, so they will be high-maintenance, perhaps with complex social backgrounds, special needs, or learning difficulties. How do you envisage the impact on your budgets of the additional teaching staff, learning spaces and equipment?
Ioan Morgan: I come back to the point I made before—I do not think this is necessarily about volumes of students heading towards their local college. It is about partnership work, and much of it will be work-based. I think, too, it is a matter of working smart. The capacity issue you anticipate may not be a problem to such an extent. As for care and support, I have always been an advocate of larger colleges, which provide the ability to put in a very sophisticated pastoral care environment. Our students and their parents constantly comment on that environment, and it has contributed in no small part to the success of my college.
Paul Head: It has been a five-year journey with my institution. Since I have been principal, we have gone from only six in 10 ten students getting a qualification to over nine getting a qualification. It has been about learner support, as Ioan was saying, and having those systems in place. The change process that has been going on in the sector is massive: we are dealing with the presumption of local sixth forms, and we have a new sixth form centre in our area. There were certain people who traditionally came to FE colleges at 16 to 19, even when I started working in the sector six years ago, but the position is very different now, so we have to shift the resources around. There are challenges for work force development, and there will be changes to the nature of teaching, learning and the curriculum we have to deliver. However, the amount of public money that has gone into education in the UK is at an historic high, and whenever my staff say, “We can’t do this without more money”, I tell them that we have an awful lot of resource—£30 million-odd a year just in public money, and we have to bend it to the new priorities.
That is the challenge facing the sector. Yes, we can always argue for more, but we have to make what we have work better. I passionately believe that, because the only way you get more money is if you can make the case for using the existing resource to its maximum benefit. Finally, let us not assume that everything that DIUS or DCSF puts in is all the money we need to be able to tackle this particular problem. The local authority, through local area-based grants, also has a responsibility to put resources into this.
I would like to take up the issue of local and regional qualifications. How grave a risk do you see in those being developed, and should there be something in the Bill requiring qualifications to be widely available? I would also like to ask about transition. We have done a lot of work, and recognised the importance of the transition from primary to secondary school. A huge amount of effort has gone in to making sure that that transition is eased. Do we need to take into account the importance of the transition for 14 to 19-year-olds to the adult world of work, adult responsibilities and expectations? Is the unique thing that you offer that 10 per cent.—and I am very impressed by your comments about not giving up on students and the importance of building aspiration—a crucial opportunity to ease the transition into the adult world and adult responsibilities? Do you help them to deal with those things, given that they have not had the role models and the experience on their journey so far?
Ian Pryce: Transition is very important. The pre-16 work we have done for a decade demonstrates, as Ioan said earlier, that the 14 to 16-year-olds do better in school work because they suddenly get it, and we get almost guaranteed progression and achievement post-16. If you give us somebody at 14 we will give you a work-ready person at 18, almost 100 per cent of the time. That is very important. It is obviously difficult where there are school sixth forms because not everybody transits from one to the other.
On the subject of entitlement qualifications, I am slightly sceptical of entitlement, because it may have perverse consequences. If you require certain things to receive an entitlement, the things that you do not require could get lost as an unintended consequence. The wider you make entitlement to all sorts of courses, the more difficult it is to plan, so I would am wary of that proposal.
Ioan Morgan: May I add that a distinguished colleague, Ruth Silver at Lewisham college, talks of readiness, and says that the work of an FE college is about stages of readiness. For me, that starts pre-college at the age of 14 when we are preparing people for the move into the college environment and the adult environment that you mentioned. It is about work-readiness and the readiness to progress to higher courses—it is all about stages of readiness. In most colleges, we recognise those stages and put resource into the total package: it is not only about qualifications but about the person. It is about the softer skills that are needed to ease that transition. That is a very important part of what we do.
Paul Head: The recognition and currency of qualifications are crucial. The sector skills councils have a key role to play in determining what employers say are the qualifications needed for a particular sector. I have a concern that there are so many awarding bodies that it is very difficult for an employer to make a choice. There are certain qualifications that need to have currency. I have no problem with McDonald’s. I can see how a McDonald’s award qualification would have currency. I am more concerned about a small place just doing it because that is what they want to do.
It is about working with sector skills councils. The QCA’s role in approving qualifications is crucial, and both employer and funder must buy into the qualification that is being delivered. I agree with Ioan that the skill level that is being delivered through an activity is crucial, and it must be properly and rigorously inspected. We must never forget that with self-regulation comes accountability, and accountability has been well delivered through Ofsted. We must not lose that accountability and self-regulated structure.
I have met scores of college principals—perhaps hundreds—since I have been doing this job, and I have yet to meet one who thinks that the current funding and management arrangements through the Learning and Skills Council is the best way to do the job. Why do college principals tell me that?
Paul Head: Any principal in the world will moan about the Government intermediary body between them and the state. When I worked in higher education, it was the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Everybody loathed HEFCE. There is always going to be some form of Government agency between public providers using public money and the state. The LSC has strengths and weaknesses like all public organisations. I could give you a list of weaknesses and a list of strengths, the weaknesses probably outweighing the strengths. There has to an intermediary body. It has to be appropriate to its mission, and what the state wants to get out of it. It has to have a light-touch in a self-regulating environment. It has to be consistent in its funding methodology.
Ian Pryce: The policy priorities sometimes turn into overly complex mechanisms for determining the funding, so the frustration is that you often find a surprise change in the funding too late—that happened with some of the adult funding a few years ago. Perhaps you cannot have a general conversation about the sum total of your budget; you almost have to go for a bottom-up approach, which is data driven. That tends to be the frustration—not with the policy, but with the practice.
Ioan Morgan: Going back to fundamentals, in 1993, when colleges were given their independence from local authorities and were incorporated, we hoped that that would allow us to make an appropriate localised response to need. I take a good, healthy look at anybody who comes between my customer and me. The LSC, in my experience, has some able people who, when they are working at their best, are facilitating matters. Occasionally, however, that has not made us flexible enough in our local and perhaps regional responsiveness. That has been the only issue for me. But I share the concern that, if the LSC disappears, I will have nobody to blame.
Indeed, two of the wise men were Welsh. That may or may not be recorded for posterity. Thank you, Madeleine. Thank you, colleagues.
I welcome our next set of witnesses. Perhaps I can ask you to introduce yourselves formally, and then we will move into the questioning process.
Thank you for giving evidence, it is very much appreciated. Your response to the question in the consultation document asking whether you agreed that there was a case for introducing compulsory participation, was a bold-typed “No”. Will you expand on that opinion, please?
Mike Harris: There is a general acceptance that we would like to see a greater proportion continue in education and training, but the root cause of that is a failure to inculcate a greater degree of skills earlier in the piece. We felt that in throwing resources at 16 to 18-year-olds the problem was being tackled at the wrong age. While not discounting the importance of intervening early, if extra resources and support were being offered, they would be better targeted at primary education. That was the fundamental point.
We are also concerned about the impact that this policy would have in its implementation, not just on the young people we are specifically targeting—we need to think about whether compulsion is the right way to encourage them to participate—but on small employers. That is why Alex is here today.
Alexander Ehmann: I am happy to do so. The first point is that if we accept provisionally that Alison Wolf’s document is correct in suggesting that 20 per cent. rather than 10 per cent. of the cohort would be in reach of the Bill, it would boost the cost of employer checks from £8.4 million to £16.8 million. That £16.8 million is based on an estimate from the Department that suggests that a process of discussion, checking, any changes to rotas and/or agreeing an employee’s needs will take a maximum of 10 minutes. Doing some very rough work in the IOD before the meeting, we think that that is a very conservative estimate. It is much more likely to be something in the region of 20 minutes, so that doubles again the figure up to £33.6 million.
Any understanding of the guidance that would be necessary for employers about what they can and cannot do or ask of their employees is also missing from the figure. Conservatively, I assume 20 minutes to read any guidance; that is based upon my reading of the document on the “Raising Expectations” consultation last night, which took me 17 minutes. So, that doubles the figure yet again, and we end up with a figure, very roughly, of £67.2 million. The interesting thing is that if it were imposed before 2010, it would eradicate all of the Government’s efforts within the Department to remove the administrative burdens of regulation. In fact, it would add 7 per cent. to the current regulatory burden on business. So, we have some serious concerns about the impact of the regulation.
Let me add that the upshot of our argument is that the necessity to check the status of an employee—if they have registered at a college—seems to us an unnecessary process. I am happy to elaborate on that in some detail later.
Thank you, I would like you to do that later, if we can come back to you on that. Do you have an opinion about the youth market, the employability of 16 and 17-year-olds and the impact the legislation could have on that market?
Mike Harris: There is a risk of increasing unemployment in that cohort, but it is impossible to predict to what extent. It was picked up in the impact assessment itself produced by the Department, which estimated something like 5,500 16 to 17-year-olds will be displaced because of the lack of small employers’ ability to respond flexibly to the requirements. They may replace those 16 to 17-year-olds with 18-year-olds. It is impossible for us to say whether that is a valid figure, but it is a genuine risk and an example of how you would end up with an unintended consequence of a well intentioned proposal.
Alexander Ehmann: No, nothing to add except that that is a very possible real consequence for many small employers. If you look at IOD members, 75 per cent. of those with less with 50 employees have no human resources support whatsoever. There is a very real possibility that small businesses may choose to employ older members of the work force.
I was a director of a small business, employing roughly a couple of dozen staff, for a number of years before becoming a Member of Parliament. When we took on new members of staff we would always have a discussion with them as part of induction about what their induction, support and training needs may be. Do you think that I was unusual, or is that commonplace among employers?
Mike Harris: Certainly among IOD members it would not be unusual. To an extent, dealing with the sort of organisation that joins the IOD, the British Chambers of Commerce or the CBI is dealing in a favoured universe. Such organisations tend to invest very heavily in skills and training and take it particularly seriously; they tend to have all of those sorts of processes and tend to be interested in that aspect of developing young people. Generally speaking, however, among small employers it is safe to assume that if there is a choice between certainty and the unknown risks of doing the wrong thing—completely unintentionally—some will opt for certainty and employ 18-year-olds rather than 16 to 17-year-olds.
You are answering a slightly different question about the effect on the youth labour market. I am asking whether there are that many employers—and I would be interested in your source if it is not from your members—who do not have some form of induction when a new member of staff starts working for them?
Is it reasonable to suggest that, for those employers who have a conversation when a member of the work force starts work with them, as part of that conversation they could ask them a couple of questions about how they are planning to fulfil their duty to participate in education or training up to the age of 18?
Alexander Ehmann: That sounds a perfectly reasonable assertion. There are clearly a number of discussions that take place—in both the interview process and at the point of employment. A lot of the assumptions within the impact assessment about this policy, where it is assumed that the process of checking would take place on the first day or first week of employment, seem to contradict that discursive possibility of an employer engaging with potentially a young employee about the nature of the course that they will undertake. I think that those discussions certainly take place, and it is possible to do that, but we are slightly sceptical about whether they are valuable in that first week of employment.
But in terms of fulfilling the duty in the Bill, they would be sufficient, would they not?
Alexander Ehmann: In my understanding of the Bill, the production of the piece of paper proving that the employee concerned has enrolled with a college is the transaction that needs to take place—the discussion is slightly deprioritised. The issue with the piece of paper, as we see it, is that is has a potential for rather large costs on a business associated with the administrative nature of it and the guidance that one needs to read before doing so. Moreover, there seems to be no protection, as there is no process suggested here where the employer would be audited in any way in respect of the piece of paper—indeed we would not suggest that this should take place. It is an administrative process that exists within a vacuum and, seemingly, without much purpose.
We also have some concerns about how much flexibility an employer has within employment law and age discrimination law to ask questions during interview about the age of the person they are interviewing.
So if the guidance issued once the Bill was enacted—should it be agreed by Parliament—made it clear that the bureaucracy surrounding the piece of paper you talk about was minimal, and if the guidance was clear about what kind of ongoing burdens there were on employers to monitor that process and that they would be kept to a minimum, could you then be sufficiently happy that you could see the benefits of increasing the level of training and skills in the work force? Would that change the balance of your opinion?
Finally, let me just turn to that question because I am interested in the answer. Clearly, you think the priority of resources should be pre-16 rather than post-16, which is not an unreasonable position to take, but is it not reasonable to ask Government to do both—to tackle pre-16 education and make sure that we are ever improving the standards of literacy and numeracy and work readiness of people when they get to the age of 16, and to try to address their engagement and their level of skills post-16?
Mike Harris: I think that is reasonable. Nobody is arguing against the idea that what we want to see are better educated young people—young people with better skills, who are better prepared for the work place and for life generally. Put simply, the argument is about what is the most effective mechanism for ensuring a greater degree of post-16 participation. Is it support, which is very important; or is it equipping people at 11, which enables them at 14 and then at 16 to have the skills they need to participate effectively post-16?
I agree with you on that. I just disagree with you about one or the other.
In your exchanges with Mr. Gibb, you were talking about the risk to the work force and to the employment prospects of 16 and 17-year-olds, and you talked about the regulatory impact assessment. What would be the maximum impact in lost jobs for 16 or 17-year-olds, in terms of those who are presently not getting the training that would meet the requirements of the Bill?
In its paper on the Bill, which it sent us some time ago, the CBI used a figure of about 65,000 as the total number in employment but without certified training. Does that sound like the right number?
In terms of the sectors where youngsters are likely to be employed, but are not necessarily getting the training that they need—we have had the publicity yesterday about certification with McDonald’s and other employers—would it be possible to provide qualifications and certify those in the workplace for many of those youngsters and employers, or does the size or nature of the employers mean that that would be extremely difficult or impossible?
Mike Harris: I think the certification work is very important. I know there was some negative reaction yesterday but I think the principle is right, that you will be enabling employers to accredit skills and achievement in the workplace and that may well, in the longer-term, mitigate some of that risk of not employing 16 to 17-year-olds. But I think it is very much a long-term objective rather than a short-term aim. That is especially true for smaller employers, because the sort of employers that have the resources to do that tend to be the blue chip companies and the big internationals.
In terms of the sort of sectors, you would note from the figures that the most—about two thirds—are in the restaurant, distribution and hotel sector. We have no specific information on that sector. It happens to be a very small part of the Institute of Directors’ membership—about 5 per cent. of our membership compared to the economy at large—so I have no additional figures on that.
Do you think it would be difficult for that sector to develop a means of training and certification that could be used even by smaller employers?
Alexander Ehmann: If I might add—from a small business perspective, Mike is absolutely correct. It will be about the size of the business—absolutely. It will also be about the number of 16 and 17-year-olds employed within a business of that size; it will not necessarily be relevant to conduct those activities otherwise. So, particularly in small—less so medium-sized—businesses, I think there will be much less of a propensity to go down the accreditation route.
If we do not persuade Jim that all of his big proposals on compulsion and criminalisation are wrong, and he does not change his mind, but you manage to strip out some of the policing elements from the Bill that put duties on employers to regulate and check up—elements that therefore present a risk to employers that they will get it all wrong—what sort of amendments would you want to see to those parts of the Bill? To what extent do you think they would reduce the employment risk you talked about earlier? Or would they be drowned out by the smaller employers not wanting to have anything to do with the process of releasing people to do qualifications, or of providing them in the workplace?
Alexander Ehmann: I think very broadly that there seem to be two duties on employers within the Bill. One is to check and the other is to give access to the course— to allow the time off. Although we are not in favour of the Bill, we are not disputing the fact that access to that time off should be granted. What we are saying is that the activity of transacting a piece of paper between the young person and the business seems to sit in a vacuum, which—based upon the reassurances we have had about the way in which this will be policed and monitored—will actually have no purpose whatsoever. So, if those costs could be as high—could be—as £67.2 million, and effectively invalidate all the work done over the next four years by this Department to reduce administrative burdens on business, it seems to be an unproductive measure.
Mike Harris: It would be a big help. The duty to do it should be removed, but there are other things that could mitigate the Bill’s impact. We should be talking about how the education system responds to employers’ needs. There may be ways of offering courses at different times of day and at weekends, so that people could be employed for five days a week and the young person could then attend their course either in the evenings or weekends. That would be a help. We talked about the work in certifying employers’ training, and that may also help. If we remove the duty in that part of the Bill—the duty to check—that would be a great help to small businesses.
So it is about seven in 10, hence your focus. Is not the challenge to strike a balance between what the Government or other agencies do about skills and training for SMEs, and the practical problems that you have touched on? Do you have any initial comments on the new proposals that the Government brought forward yesterday to support SMEs through the skills and training process, particularly the proposals to provide some subsidy to employers who are prepared to go down that route?
Mike Harris: I have not had a chance to read them thoroughly, but I understand that there will be some support for small employers, particularly to offer apprenticeships, which is welcome. There is clearly huge emphasis on apprenticeships as a scheme to fulfil a duty to participate. That depends fundamentally on more SMEs offering apprenticeship places.
We are supportive of apprenticeships. About 13 per cent. of IOD members use them, and they tend to reflect well. Our members think that they are good at delivering the skills and training that young people need, but there are specific problems for small employers in offering them. Any measures that the Government introduce to help small employers and to make that easier are welcome. For example, group training associations help employers to pool administrative resources are helpful. Having more flexibility about what goes into apprenticeships is helpful.
May I probe you a little on the balance between what training employers can be expected to deliver and what training or education must come from elsewhere? Again, we saw in the media yesterday many comments in a different context on building in-house training into broader qualification frameworks. Is not that sort of in-house training something that small and medium-sized enterprises can be expected to do, particularly with the support that is being offered?
Mike Harris: In broad principle terms, it is the employer’s responsibility to train employees, whether they are young or old, in the skills they need to do their job more effectively, but we would argue that it is the Government’s or the state’s job to educate them to the basic level that gives them that platform to progress in employment and in life generally. It is very much the minimum that, at 16, people should have a good grasp of the basics, and preferably with a level 2 qualification as a basis for progression from there.
What about the employer’s responsibility to allow time for or to structure the working day around agreed training? You referred to problems with that, but is not it the case that further education colleges and other specialist colleges are being much more flexible about the hours when they deliver training?
Mike Harris: You are correct, and it is positive story. About half of IOD members use FE colleges to train some of their employees, and the majority are satisfied with the quality of training. That, to us, is not indicative of a sector that is unresponsive, so we anticipate that the FE sector would be able to provide in great degree the flexibility that would help employers to meet their duties.
Indeed. I accept that point, but I put it to you that it does not put a disproportionate burden on employers in respect of young people compared with other age groups.
Mike Harris: You will not find us arguing against the importance of training. That is something in which IOD members believe fundamentally, because almost all—97 per cent.—invest in training. Beyond that, 70 per cent. invest in training that leads to qualifications, because they believe that is important: it delivers a better quality of training and increases employee motivation and retention. On the principle that it is important for employers to invest in training, we agree with you.
Mike Harris: There are two things. There are general procedural difficulties—the administration that is required. When we talk about apprenticeships, we want to be clear that we want high-quality work-based training, preferably backed by an older mentor and underpinned by off-the-job training, with regular reviews and appraisals and full employer involvement. Those are the apprenticeships we want to see, but of course that is correspondingly more difficult in many instances for small business to deliver. You can go so far in helping small businesses to cope with that, particularly with the administrative side, but sometimes they will simply have alternative methods of meeting their training needs. It will not necessarily be an apprenticeship. You can do so much, but businesses may have very valid alternatives to that.
Small businesses are not social enterprises at the end of the day; they have to turn a profit. Is there concern among small businesses that offering apprenticeships would not be cost-effective for them in the long term?
Mike Harris: I do not know whether they would take that specific a view of apprenticeships in particular. It would be a case of whether they have the resources to offer an apprenticeship. I do not think they would say that an apprenticeship in itself would be economically not valuable, but they may not be able to provide the access and the support that are so vital in an apprenticeship. That may be addressed by collaborating with other smaller employers through something like a group training association.
I am probing you on this issue because most people who run small businesses are commercially rational; they make rational decisions as far as their businesses are concerned. Surely if they felt that apprenticeships would advance their profitability and enable them to grow their business, they would be investing in them. It would seem they are not investing in them because they are not convinced that there is a commercial advantage to investing in them. We can beat around the bush and dress this up as nicely as we like, but if apprenticeships were more commercially viable, more businesses would be offering them.
Mike Harris: It might, but in the research that we have done—this goes back a few years; we last did research on this in 2003—the reason was not necessarily financial. People were saying, “We believe very firmly in training and we invest in training, but we choose to do something else.” It was not a negative view of apprenticeships per se, or that there was a financial barrier or that they simply would not offer it in their sector. People were saying, “We just have a different way of meeting our training need.”
I think most businesses would say, “Yes, we passionately believe in training. That is something we really value, but we don’t do it, for these reasons.” Do you think they genuinely believe in it or is that what they feel you want to hear?
Mike Harris: I can speak only for IOD members of course, and with the research that we do, as I said before, you are dealing with a slightly favoured universe, because almost all of them invest in training and spend quite significant sums doing that. They compete on the basis of high skills and they value the skills of their employees, so they are very much committed to that agenda, but they may not necessarily use apprenticeships to meet those needs.
Just for clarity, when you say that they might not have the resources to invest in apprenticeships, do you mean resources beyond just the financial ones and including the means to deal with the administration and the qualifications that come about as a result of apprenticeships?
For that reason, although apprenticeships must of course have a work-based element, do you have a view on whether the contract should lie with the employer or with the training provider that the employer is working with, or do you support the flexibility of the current arrangement, under which it is up to the employer?
Mike Harris: In an ideal world, there would be a much greater degree of employer involvement and, in that sense, the contract resting with the employer would seem to make sense. Of course, people have asked questions in the past about the extent to which apprenticeships have responded to employer demand, as opposed to the Government pushing them as a supply-led process. There have been indications that employers have been sidelined through that process. However, we want them to be absolutely centre stage. The barriers to that are on the administration and support side. If we can start to tackle that more effectively, it may make sense to more SMEs, which are crucial to delivering the numbers that we need.
That is a bit surprising, because although you say that you have members who might be concerned about the administration that goes with apprenticeships, including members who are SMEs, presumably you would favour their choosing to have the apprentice working in their premises and so on, but with the training provider dealing with some elements of the bureaucracy, and all the rest of it.
Mike Harris: We want to minimise bureaucracy, but we also want employers centre stage, because you can characterise a really effective apprenticeship as one where the employer is fully involved in its delivery. The off-the-job training is important and, if the training provider can take care of a lot of the administrative burden that goes with that, that is all to the good. We want to see mentors and regular reviews and appraisals. If an employer has ownership of the apprenticeship in that sense, it is more likely to deliver the completion rates and high quality that we want to see.
Earlier, you talked about your members wanting to see 16-year-olds with the appropriate literacy, numeracy and other skills. Do you recognise that two thirds of the 2020 work force are adults now and therefore would you support the aspects of the Bill that support proper provision and a duty to provide facilities for adults?
Mike Harris: I think that the adult skills provisions are very useful. That is an important part of the whole package. Of course, 70 per cent. or 66 per cent. of the adult work force has already gone through compulsory education, so we have to deal with the weaknesses in the current work force. IOD members are already engaged in that process. However, we also need a much greater flow of skills through the education system into the work force, which is why these particular measures for 16 to 18-year-olds are misplaced and should be introduced earlier on in the education phase—but they are both central.
I do not know the demography of your membership, although it might be quite interesting to find out. We have heard evidence from organisations including Barnardo’s and the Prince’s Trust about some young people in this country who are living chaotic lives—young people whose parents have drug and addiction problems and young people in care. Do you accept that there will always be a cohort of young people—including those arriving in this country at 14 or 15 from other countries, seeking asylum—whose needs can sometimes be met in FE post-16 and who require some of the elements in the Bill? We do not all live in a leafy shire where it is all wonderful at 16.
Mike Harris: No, of course not. I agree with you: some young people face an incredible challenge—there is no question about it—whether due to familial or personal problems. But the real question is: what is the best way to encourage the motivation and desire to engage? We must also ask whether that can be achieved effectively through compulsion with attendant threat of sanction or whether it is better to focus on the support side with that group of young people. FE provides a second-chance option for so many, and it is important that we recognise that, but the emphasise must be on support rather than compulsion.
Alexander Ehmann: May I add that Alison Wolf suggested that there is some chance that this is a much tougher nut to crack than the Government impact assessment has said. She suggested that, as I said earlier, 20 per cent. of the cohort by the time this Bill is live and running is much more likely than the 10 per cent. on which the estimates are based. So there is an argument to say that it is a very tough thing to break through.
Could you clarify for me the research you have done that leads you to say that investment in primary education rather than where this Bill is taking us would make the difference, so that by the time people came through primary education and were coming up to 16, we would not have the problems that we have now, with some young people who have disengaged or who lack the skills and the capacity to engage in the world of work and who need the help and support that this Bill gives them to make that transition into the world of work? Is this based on gut reaction, or have you done some research and what would you want to be changed in the primary curriculum that you think would actually prepare people for that world of work?
Mike Harris: We have not done any specific survey on this Bill, but the consistent theme that comes back from our research is that the number one priority that employers have in the education system is that people emerge at 16 or later with at least a firm grasp of the basics. That is why we place that emphasis on the primary and early secondary curriculum and this is why we are supporting diplomas. We think securing a genuine diversity of choice in qualification and curriculum is very important to engage young people. That is part of the mix; the support is part of the mix; and careers advice and guidance is part of the mix; but all these things must come together. At the very basic level, employers need to see young people with a grasp of the basics.
You said that members of the institute were very committed to training and you had some concerns about the amount of time that smaller employers in particular might have to give to supporting young people when they first come into their employment. Would you not accept that one of the great comments that was made by the college principals was about the importance of partnership and the work that they as college principals had been doing with small employers and with local authorities and their economic development units to make sure that the advice and guidance that the smaller employers you say are worried about is actually there, so the problems you are anticipating in terms of time commitment should not arise? Is it not about partnership—working together to make sure that those skills and the support is there for young people—rather than employers standing on their own and feeling they are isolated and at risk?
Mike Harris: Our concern about that duty to check is that it was not necessarily a valuable thing from the employer’s point of view, or added value to the checking process and that it could be removed just to get rid of an unnecessary burden. I would not disagree that it is about partnership. We know there is a very high engagement between our members and the FE sector, and 97 per cent. of our members invest in training. It is not a question of whether training is valuable or whether young people or older people should be training; it is how we best facilitate that. On how we best get the outcome we want in terms of participation, we would argue the emphasis should be on primary. On how we best get a streamlined solution for businesses, we would suggest that removing that duty to check would be a great aid.
The number of youngsters leaving school unable to read and write properly is 40,000 and we are told that in year 11 more than 60,000 are bunking off. What the Government seems to be proposing is that FE colleges should try to rescue these young people and teach them to read and write and add up and that there should be work placements as part of the package. What do you think about that model?
Mike Harris: Of course, with some you will have to. That is just a fact of life, but we would say that we ought to be able to get to a much better situation at 11, which is such a crucial stage. If you do not get the basic skills at 11, it is unlikely you will get there at 16. Then you are unlikely to get the five GCSEs including English and Maths.
Yes. So, is it your view that the ones who are not learning to read and write before the age of 11 are the ones who are bunking off from school, leaving school unable to read and write, and that many of them are NEETs?
Mike Harris: That is a fact. If you do not have a mastery of the basic skills, you are more likely to be in the group post-16 who are not in education, employment or training. The FE sector will always have a role in providing a second chance, that is true, but that is not to say that our first emphasis ought to be to say as a first principle we will try to get as many at that stage as possible at 16.
Mike Harris: I do not think they should in literacy and numeracy. That is why schemes such as Train to Gain are facilitated through the Government. Employers have a huge role to play in skills development generally and—beyond literacy and numeracy—in employability skills which they can inculcate in the workplace. No one doubts employers’ role in delivering training. The real question is, at what level should they deliver that training?
Our previous witnesses this morning, the college heads, spoke about the soft skills, the employability skills, that the FE colleges can help with. I know you said you have not had a chance to look at the apprenticeship announcements made yesterday, but I was particularly struck by the programme-led apprenticeships which will focus on learning that develops generic employability skills. One of the SMEs in my constituency was worried that they were taking on apprentices who did not understand the rigours of employability, such as the requirement to turn up on time. The world of work is very different from the world of learning. Do you think SMEs are more likely to take on apprentices who have been through this type of programme-led pre-apprenticeship work, where the FE college takes on the training in those general employability skills?
Mike Harris: Those skills are very important. They are increasingly important for employers. We did a survey at the end of last year which emphasised this, not just at this age but also for graduates. It was not just about literacy and numeracy; it was about turning up, it was about reliability, punctuality, team working, and a good work ethic. My only concern with the pre-apprenticeship programmes is that, if these skills are inculcated, that is very useful, but we do not want to develop the pre-apprenticeship programme in isolation from the demand for employers for full apprenticeships. You do want to be stacking up young people in a pre-apprenticeship when there is not an apprenticeship place for them to go on to. The other feature of apprenticeships is that we have seen a decline in level 3 apprenticeship as opposed to level 2. In the context of the Leitch review and the need to shift that emphasis from level 2 to level 3 training, that would be another worry.
It is possible to look at the level of prior attainment and qualifications those currently not participating have achieved. About 20 per cent. of 16-year-olds and around a quarter of 17-year-olds have reached level 2 on leaving school and are therefore perfectly capable of going to do A-levels, for example. Would you agree that there is therefore not an issue for them around the quality of their pre-16 education? It is more a question of motivating them to carry on learning. How do you suggest we achieve the culture shift that is necessary to raise the expectation and aspiration of those young people?
Mike Harris: That is not easy to answer. If the question is that they have achieved level 2 at 16, so why are they not continuing their training, and if the thrust of the answer is because the opportunities are not there for employers, I can only say that would not be supported by research we have done. How do you encourage employers to offer more training opportunities?
My question is more around how you shift the culture of aspiration and ambition for those young people. I think you agree that it is desirable both for those young people and the wider economy for them to carry on learning beyond level 2 to get to level 3. So my question is this: we are suggesting compulsion, but what are you suggesting to help raise the culture of aspiration, so that those young people who have the necessary prior attainment to carry on to do level 3 do so?
Mike Harris: I do not have a short answer about what would be more effective to do currently within the education system that will result in people being more motivated and more engaged. However, it is absolutely crucial to motivate people, because unless you are motivated to do it you will not be fully engaged in that learning process. You have to want to learn.
How you achieve that motivation of people, I simply do not know. I would have thought that the primary responsibility is with schools and parents, but how you effect a culture change of that nature I am really not sure, beyond equipping people with a much firmer grasp of the basics, because that is the majority of people that you are talking about. There will be that minority who have obtained their level 2, and then it is a question of how they progress to level 3. The real problem is the much greater volume of people who do not have the basics and have not even got level 2 at 16.
On apprenticeships, you will know that in the latest figures level 2 and level 3 numbers are down for apprenticeships. Why do you think that is? In particular, why do you think that level 3 apprenticeship numbers have declined steadily for so long?
Mike Harris: I do not know. We have only done a one-off survey in 2003 on the volume of apprenticeships being delivered by members of the Institute of Directors. We do not have a subsequent track, so I cannot say if our experience is the same as the national figures. It may simply be that people, particularly the small employers, have alternatives of offering that level, as we suggested. In particular, it is a concern that the level 3 number has declined, because that was the reason for the introduction of the apprenticeship programme back in 1995 and it is so crucial to meeting the aim of shifting the emphasis from level 2 to level 3 in future. I do not know why there has been that decline in apprenticeships in particular.
Might it relate to the question that was asked earlier by Mr. Lammy about employer engagement? You perhaps might shed some light on this issue. The employers involved in apprenticeships are sometimes training providers, whose only business or whose principal business is to train rather than to do anything else. Do you have any feel for the number of other types of employers—one might say genuine employers—that are involved in apprenticeships?
Mike Harris: No, I do not. I can only go from the research evidence that we have, which would suggest that they are proper employers and that they are delivering as part of their training package, rather than that being their total business.
It is a problem. It is something that the Government are engaged on. e have had taskforces, tweaks and reviews. I hope that we can get to a situation where there is a greater degree of support for smaller businesses in particular to operate apprenticeships. The feedback that we have from our members is that those who use apprenticeships are very keen on them. They examine the quality of training and find it to be very high. However, that is not necessarily reflected across the economy, as we know.
Would one of the ways of assisting that mission be to make the system rather less opaque? If the funding was more straightforward and the system less bureaucratic, would that attract more employers to deal with apprenticeships?
When you say that your employers are very happy with the apprenticeships that are being offered, presumably, they are happy with level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships.
Colleagues, thank you very much indeed. There is no time for any further questions. I think that we have explored the issues very thoroughly and I would like to thank Mike Harris and Alexander Ehmann very much for sharing their time and expertise with us this morning.
We now move on, as efficiently as we possibly can, to our final witness of this morning’s evidence session, who represents the Connexions service. Come in, Mr. Gordon; the water is warm. Welcome, my name is John Bercow and I am chairing this Public Bill Committee. You are the last witness this morning and we look forward to what you have to say. Will you introduce yourself formally and then we will go straight into questions?
“a lack of clarity regarding the respective role of schools and the Connexions Service in providing careers advice to young people.”
Will the Bill provide additional clarity in respect of the role of schools and Connexions? Can the Bill be amended to make more improvements in that regard?
Kieran Gordon: I think that the Bill goes some way towards addressing the points made in the National Audit Office report, but it could go further; specifically, in the context of ensuring that, where the Bill relates back to the Education Act 1997 and the duties on schools and colleges to provide careers information and careers education, the scope of those duties are extended beyond year 11, to which they currently apply, to age 18 and 19. If we are raising, or proposing to raise, the statutory leaving age, young people should have a right to careers information, careers advice, careers education and careers guidance up until the age of 18, which fits them for the choices that they need to make from 18 and beyond, as well as the respective choices that they make during the 14-to-19 pathway.
As you know, the Government are intent on establishing an adult careers service and, I believe, are thinking of 10 pilots. Is there clarity of purpose about those pilots and if so, what is it?
Kieran Gordon: There is not great clarity. We are still waiting to hear how those pilots are expected to operate and through which means. I think that there is a key issue relating to the Bill, particularly parts 1 and 2, which is that we need to be preparing young people increasingly for decisions and transitions that they make at age 19. If you look at the performance of young people, particularly those who are NEET or who are at risk of becoming NEET, you see that the older they are in the 16 to 19 age group, the more likely they are to be NEET and, secondly, they are more likely to be NEET who are not available to the labour market. We will miss a great opportunity, if we do not address that.
There is a lost generation of young people that a future adult careers and advancement service probably would have to try and re-engage with and work with. If we could provide some vertical integration of services, particularly information, advice and guidance services for those young people, into an adult careers and advancement service, I think that we would have a much more efficient and effective working system.
You have discussed with me and others in the past the fact that Connexions clearly focuses on some of the most challenging young people and, by the way, does an excellent job in that respect. Is there not a case for having a parallel careers service—an all-age careers service—sitting alongside Connexions? As you know, it is done elsewhere with some success elsewhere, and might be an appropriate way of bringing to light some of the provisions in the Bill for the young people that you describe and for older people in similar hopeless circumstances.
Kieran Gordon: I believe that there is certainly a case for an all-age careers service and I think that we could look in further detail at how that is provided in the context of Connexions services currently provided for young people. It is true to say that Connexions has been very effective in reducing NEETs, and particularly in targeting those young people who are the most vulnerable in society. There is a strain, and the National Audit Office to which you referred showed that strain in terms of providing universal services for all young people to enable them to plan and make transitions into adult and working life. We need a clearer statement on that, and clearer ring-fencing of resources to ensure that that is not lost in the Government’s concern for vulnerable groups.
There should be more attention to the career service element of Connexions services, and I believe, as I said earlier, that an all-age approach to provide links and transition points throughout life for young people and adults is critical, particularly as the changing face of employment and skills does not happen at specific points in a person’s life. People need to be equipped throughout life to be able to go with those changes as they occur.
Welcome, Mr. Gordon. We shall debate the transitional arrangements for local authorities taking over Connexions, as well as some of the issues concerning data and the information management systems that are used. It would be helpful to the Committee if you could describe how Connexions currently keeps track of which young people are participating in education and training and supports those who are not, with particular reference to the Connexions client information system.
Kieran Gordon: Connexions engages with young people from the age of 13, which is around the transition to key stage 4 or year 10 in schools. Connexions normally makes contact with young people through the school in the first instance, by providing support to careers education and guidance programmes in schools. We therefore get a fair bit of information on young people from local authorities and individual schools. We use that to populate the database that is aggregated at national level in the national connexions customer information service database.
From there, once an engagement has been made with a young person, a client record is effectively created on the system. That record is constantly and continually updated, according to the various interventions that Connexions personal advisers have with a young person throughout their journey through to age 19, and beyond for young people with learning difficulties.
It is fair to say that the majority of young people and, happily, an increasing proportion of them are staying in learning voluntarily and participating and progressing. It is easier to maintain contact with them because they are in some form of education—in school, in a school sixth form, in a college or in a training establishment. But a significant number of young people, as we know, do not participate or progress in that way beyond 16. That is when the individual tracking of young people becomes detailed and resource intensive, but very valuable to the wider partnership.
A Connexions personal adviser will work with a young person and record the intervention, the progression routes and the steps that have been agreed with that young person. The personal adviser will follow up that young person and record at various points whether they become NEET, go into learning or, as happens to a significant number of young people who are NEET, churn in and out of learning. That is resource intensive.
It is interesting that tracking has improved markedly during the life of Connexions. The percentage of young people who are not known has fallen radically through better engagement with young people. Connexions does not always have the right answers and offers for young people, which may depend on what is available in their locality, but maintaining that contact is critical.
That was very comprehensive answer, for which we are extremely grateful, but it was quite long and if you could give pithy replies, we can get more people in. I am extremely grateful for the information that you have provided.
Particularly for NEETs and the more detailed and difficult work that personal advisers carry out, I presume that there is data sharing with other agencies. Is that done with the consent of the young person?
Kieran Gordon: Yes, there is a data protection agreement—an information-sharing agreement—between the various partners and the young person must understand that the information is shared. The only exception to that, of course, is where we think that a young person may be at risk or if they are putting somebody else at risk in the terms of the law.
And all the arrangements that you have just described would transfer to local authorities under these proposals?
Clearly, you and your advisors are working with the target group that we are after in respect of raising the participation age in this proposed legislation, so you have a good understanding of their needs. What are the priorities for ensuring that the right provision is in place to enable all young people to have access to appropriate options by the time that the leaving age is raised in 2013?
Kieran Gordon: We should bear in mind that those young people who are less likely to participate and engage voluntarily are likely to be more susceptible to becoming NEET. We can characterise those young people in different ways, but essentially they are usually looking for some form of employment or employment-related training. The critical fact for them is that they should feel that they are on a pathway to a job or in a job. We certainly need more employer-led provision, whether in apprenticeships or through further education collages.
In the context of the welcome growth in apprenticeship figures that has been announced, we need to ensure that that is employer-led, not programme-led. The danger is that if people go into programme-led provision, they might get a qualification at the end of it, but if they do not have the essential on-site experience, assessment and training, they are usually considered by employers to be not fit for employment at age 18. Many of the young people that we are talking about are more likely to drop out because a programme is not serving their needs.
Can I ask about the database that Connexions uses? When I asked the Local Government Association last week about the duty that will be put on it to promote participation, it said that it would rely heavily on the existing Connexions database, yet the Association of Colleges said in its evidence that it is seriously worried about whether that database is fit for purpose. Do you accept that? If you do, what enhancements are needed before 2013?
Kieran Gordon: I do not accept the view of the Association of Colleges. It is the most robust database that we have on young people and the most robust statistical evidence that we have about their progression. It tracks every young person as an individual, apart from those with whom we cannot maintain contact, and plots their route. It is the most robust database that we have ever had and it is reliable. It can be improved; I accept that.
Okay, there seems to be a conflict of opinion.
Would I be right in assuming that the main focus of Connexions’ work at the moment is with 16-year-olds and people who are about to leave current compulsory education? Yet in future, particularly as diplomas are rolled out, young people will have to make a critical decision, probably at 13 and 14. Is that a group that the service is used to working with or will there need to be developments in that area to ensure that people make the right decision early on in their lives?
Kieran Gordon: We in Connexions currently work with that group, but you make a valid point: the focus of resources tends to be on young people in transition at age 16—year 11 and sometimes in year 10. The important thing is that, if we are preparing young people to plan a pathway from 14, the intervention needs to be made earlier. It is not purely Connexions or careers advisors that would do that, although they are essential to that cause. Schools have an important role to play in the planning and provision of careers education and information. I would certainly welcome earlier intervention, but there are resource implications arising from that.
What role do you think that the service currently plays or will play in future in raising aspirations? I do not mean just the aspiration to stay on, although the Government and we in the Opposition wish people to stay on in education and training. I am talking about the aspiration for people, particularly those from disadvantaged groups, such as black and ethnic minority boys or white working-class boys, to make career decisions that will help them go into employment, and or the aspiration for young women to go into employment patterns that offer higher future earning potential. Quite often, we hear evidence that young people are guided down a safe route by their teachers, rather than an aspirational route.
Kieran Gordon: That is still a major challenge. It is certainly something that Connexions partnerships have been addressing in how they provide services, and in the information, advice and guidance that they provide to individuals. Their aim is to be impartial, independent and to be there for the young person and to rise above the options that may be placed before them by certain providers. But there is still a long way to go.
The attitudes and choices of young people are influenced by many things—not only by their teachers, but by what they see in their home life and in society in general. Far too many young men still prefer to go for a manual, practical career and would not regard nursing or care-related professions as appropriate to them. The opposite is true of young women in technical areas of work. We need to do more to address that. Certainly advice and guidance can help in supporting people, but it is a wider education matter.
Kieran Gordon: I am not confident that that is the case. I can relate it to one clause in the Bill that considers the matter of assessing young people with learning difficulties. The Bill proposes enhancing the current power under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which is exercised by Connexions partnerships, so that over-16s who are likely to leave education and go into some form of further education or training would have right of access to assessment. It suggests, therefore, that there would need to be more assessment of young people, as currently specified in section 140 of the Learning and Skills Act. There need to be more assessments in the future. If the volume increases and local authorities only have the funds devolved to them that are available currently, those may not be sufficient to ensure that the services are provided and that existing services provision, in terms of the universal service which is capable of being targeted, is maintained.
Kieran Gordon: I think that funding will be an issue and, in my opinion, the Government would be well advised to look at what those extra resource requirements might be for local authorities. If they are required to implement the provisions under statute and no further resources are given, they will have to find the resources from elsewhere. That could denude other services that are equally valuable to a wider group of young people.
There is a dividend, however, in the Government’s development of integrated youth support services, in that we will bring the wider range of agencies together and we will see efficiencies in the way that that is done and in the way that that service is provided. Extra resources can be found within that dynamic.
Kieran Gordon: With the introduction of the Bill, raising the statutory leaving age to 18 will obviously require Connexions services to look at the role that they play and the way that they commit resources to working with young people who have voluntarily opted out of learning between the ages of 16 to 18. I sincerely hope that we do not become a police force for young people who continue to show signs of reluctance. To answer a previous question, with the passage of the Bill, there is a progressive role for Connexions to do more preventive and enabling work at an earlier stage in the system.
Kieran Gordon: There needs to be an element of compulsion. Yes, young people have rights, but they also have responsibilities. We need to ensure that young people understand the benefits of staying in learning longer and progressing. For some people you need to be more challenging than simply explaining that to them. That said, compulsion can only work if the right opportunities are there for the young people. It is essential to that that we get the work-based route and employer engagement right.
The Bill requires education and training to be suitable for the person. Do you think that the Bill is clear enough on how that suitability should be assessed and defined, and who should be responsible for that function, or would you wish to see the Bill amended to clarify those things?
Kieran Gordon: I would wish to see an amendment—I do not think that the Bill is clear on the matter. The Bill makes that statement. In written evidence from the guidance sector, we picked up on that point. How would the applicability or appropriateness of guidance be determined and who by? That is important. Our view is that there would need to be a trusted worker who has the right skills and a good knowledge of the range of learning and employment opportunities that are available to young people. That person would need to be not overly or unduly influenced by providers’ interests—they would need to be enabled or supported to provide independent advice and guidance.
The new standards for information, advice and guidance that the Government have launched will be valuable in ensuring a quality of service. However, for us, the key issue is who will enforce and monitor those standards and who will report on them. That is a big role—it is a big role for local authorities—and the Bill could address the matter more fully.
Mr. Gordon, I want to ask you about the transfer process. An independent report by Professors Watts and McGowan suggested that current provision arrangements were highly variable across local education authorities, and that the transfer process was unlikely to make any changes to that. In fact, Professor Watts said:
“The next couple of years are likely to see a growing diversity in local arrangements made for careers services for young people.”
Do you agree with that analysis and, if so, are you concerned about it?
Kieran Gordon: I agree with that analysis. Clearly, when you move from an arrangement by which you have 47 providers of Connexions services, as there were the year before last, to having 150 different arrangements for ensuring provision, there is greater scope for fragmentation of the service. That concerns me. The fragmentation will affect who is chosen by local authorities to deliver the service—I would hope that such decisions are taken on the basis of ensuring future effectiveness, quality and value for money—but there will also be a fragmentation of services between providers. There is a danger that we could lose the national brand. I am pleased to see that the brand is protected in the Bill and in guidance from the Secretary of State to local authorities, but how long will that continue?
You mentioned money. The money for the transfer process is not ring-fenced. Are there aspects of the current provision in Connexions that you feel will be squeezed or potentially put at risk under the transfer process?
Kieran Gordon: Yes, I think that the provision of a universal entitlement for young people to impartial and independent careers advice and guidance could be under threat. The Employment and Training Act 1973, as amended in 1993, contains provision that local authorities must take account of. There is no clear reference to that in the Bill, so we urge that a clear reference to the provision is put in the Bill, and that local authorities are made fully aware of their duties.
There is a lot of noise in the system about targeting vulnerable young people—I fully understand and support targeting resources at young people, but if that is at the expense of providing quality services for all young people, we might be running an inefficient system.
You mentioned vulnerable young people. I want to ask you particularly about the provisions in clause 65, which relate to children with special educational needs and learning difficulties. The Bill places a duty on LEAs to assess the training and educational needs of young people with special educational needs, but the number of young people with statements is not entirely inclusive of the number of young people with SENs. Do you think that the Bill will do enough to address those issues?
You will be aware, perhaps, that the Education and Skills Committee, in its 2006 report on special educational needs, was particularly concerned about the availability and quality of post-16 provision and said that there was a danger of children with special educational needs and learning disabilities being let down during that transitional phase. Do you think that the Bill will strengthen post-16 provision, or does more need to be done for young people with SEN?
Kieran Gordon: I welcome the extension or enhancement of the availability of assessment for young people post-16, which means that 17 or 18-year-olds, who would have been assessed previously, can be assessed further, and that consideration can be given to their needs, which will change over time. That is a welcome enhancement to the Bill. However, it could be strengthened by ensuring that both sides of the assessment system work in tandem. In specifying the needs and how best to address them, provision should be made available to address them at the individual level, rather than just a global offer into which we try to fit young people. Very often, those young people need bespoke provision. There is an interesting issue for local authorities, which in the future will be responsible for assessments, given the changes to the Learning and Skills Council and the duties moving to local authorities. However, on the other side of the fence they will be making the provision available to young people. We must ensure against undue influence.
With your indulgence, Mr. Bercow, I have a quick final question specifically on further education and colleges, where, again, there has been some concern about delivery for young people in those categories.
You will be aware that the Government will introduce new regulations on colleges incumbent on the implementation of powers under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 in the summer. Do you have a view on whether those regulations have begun to, or will, make a significant difference to the delivery in FE for young people with special educational needs?
Kieran Gordon: Personally, I have seen no evidence to confirm that yet, but I think that they could do. For young people with learning difficulties and special needs, particularly those with severe difficulties, retention rates are often very good, and colleges do a very good job in looking after such young people during further education provision. For me the big issue is about what happens at the end of that, because generally progression rates are very poor, which colleges acknowledge as well.
On the subject of those who cannot read, write or add up when they are 16—about 40,000 leave education each year—is it right to say to them, “Well, look, you have had 10 to 12 years in school, we have not managed to teach you to read, write or add up, so we will force you to stay in education or training.”? Is that not presumptuous?
Kieran Gordon: I do not think that it is presumptuous. We engage with those young people, and they will have not-too-different aspirations to very well qualified young people. A very high proportion of them will tell you that what they really want is a job. They might have struggled with the education offer made available to them—traditionally, an academic route—which might not have been applicable or relevant to their needs as they see it.
This is my point. We know from talking to people from colleges and representatives of employers that it is possible to teach those young people to read, write and add up. Will we be satisfied with a system that says, “Oh yes, you spend 10 to 12 years in school and then we rescue you and teach you to read and write using these methods.”? Surely, that is a cock-eyed system.
Kieran Gordon: The system is being revised with the introduction of the new diplomas. I am hoping that we will see a more applied route for those young people, because that is what is required. We know that when you apply the concept of functional numeracy and literacy, more of those young people can grasp it and achieve than under the traditional GCSE English or maths offer. The hope is that the new 14-to-19 diploma offer will provide the more applied route that these young people can engage with and succeed through. For many of the young people you referred to, it is a question not simply of a lack of ability—in some cases, it is not a lack of ability at all—but of a lack of engagement with the school system as it currently stands. Some of those young people are very creative, and that is usually proven in formal and informal ways, and you will see that post-16 with young people. We have got to tap into that.
Do you have any information from talking to 16-year-olds about when they feel that they cannot read and write and start to go off the rails? Is it seven or eight? What sort of age is it? It is pretty clear that they start truanting once they are in year 7.
Kieran Gordon: Yes. Certainly by the time we in the Connexions service get them, some young people already have sporadic attendance at school. That is often linked with poor levels of academic attainment. That causes a problem for those young people. For some young people, it becomes a spiralling problem, because if they do not feel confident enough to present themselves and read a vacancy board in a Connexions office, for example, they will rather absent themselves than embarrass themselves. We have to tap into that. It is about engaging with the individual, recognising problems early on and trying to put things right.
Do other colleagues want to contribute? There is a deathly hush. If there are no further questions, we can conclude this sitting, which is the last of this morning’s evidence-taking sessions. I thank Kieran Gordon on behalf of myself and all the members of the Committee for his very clear and lucid evidence. We are grateful for it and we have benefited from it.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]