Welcome to this, the last public evidence-taking session on the Education and Skills Bill. My name is John Bercow and I am co-chairing the Committee. I appreciate that a third witness has been added at the last minute; you are very welcome too. I ask you to introduce yourselves briefly and formally, then we will go straight on to the process of question and answer.
Thank you for coming today, it is very much appreciated. My first question is to the British Youth Council. Your briefing says that the British Youth Council strongly opposes raising the participation age to 18 and the potential criminalisation of young people who choose not to participate. Could you expand on those views please?
James Cathcart: Yes, it is fair to say that there is a principled opposition to the raising of the age as an approach to engaging 17 and 18-year-olds in education and training, particularly because of the consequences if you do not participate—being taken through the sanctions that are outlined in the Bill. That is our general position.
James Cathcart: Yes, 45 per cent. of young people disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposal for the participation age to be raised. That was a survey that we conducted through our website; in fact, it is ongoing—young people can continually contribute to it and update it. It is something of a snapshot of their views, so it caused us to look at other research that might support or back that up. I refer you to the Learning and Skills Network research that took place in March 2007, where as many as 71.3 per cent. were in favour of retaining the right to choose to stay in education and training, as opposed to not having the choice.
Can you account for the fact that the Government’s consultation process seems to point to different figures? Their survey says that 66 per cent. were in favour of compulsion. Do you think this is because the Government conducted their own research on their own proposals? Are you sure your surveys are right?
James Cathcart: If you do surveys of different groups of young people at different times, you might get a variety of opinions. Of course, where you have a percentage who are in favour of something, you will also have a minority against—there will always be two sides to the argument. It would be interesting if we knew a bit more about the young people who are replying to the surveys. We do not have the resources to go into that depth, but if the majority of the young people who are replying to the surveys are already in education or training, they might have a different view from those who are perhaps more on the margins—the 10 per cent. that we might want to target and gauge. So I am not sure of the degree of sophistication of the surveys that were done as part of the previous work on this Bill.
Thank you. In your briefing about the youth market, you say that it needs to be considered whether the proposals could lead to more age discrimination and discourage employers from recruiting young people. Could you say a bit more about that? Do you think the Bill will damage the employability of 16 and 17-year-olds?
James Cathcart: I think it could discriminate against them. I think it is an area where we can forecast or project that it could. If employers, for example, feel obliged to recruit a particular age group, there is a possibility that they will then just seek to recruit people who are over 18 or 19, rather than take the risk of having unwilling or unable young people who would have to be released—whether it is one day a week—to take part in that training.
Thank you all for coming. The first question is informed by the British Youth Council’s evidence but I think it will be a question to all three of you. I agree with what is said in this evidence—that choice is really important for young people, as is voice for young people. Where I part company is in thinking that having the choice to do nothing is a good choice. Could you comment on whether you think young people should be allowed to choose to do nothing?
James Cathcart: I think all of us have that choice at any age. There may be circumstances in employment where, because of bullying or mental health or whatever, we have the ability to hand our notice in and leave our level of occupation. What is important is what is done with the choice—if the choice is education, work plus training or training. Is there a fourth choice? That does not necessarily need to be nothing, but it might be an opportunity for young people to do other constructive activities that have been so stimulated—volunteering, for example. If the choices are the first three or a sanction, I think that is where it feels rather limiting. I know that, indeed, in a lot of the research done prior to the Bill, many other options are explored and arguments put on both side—indeed there are considerable measures to stimulate young people to consider other alternatives. But it is the net result of there only being four choices, and the fourth one attracting a sanction, that rather prompts our opposition to that.
I shall follow that up, but I would first like to hear Nigel’s view?
Nigel Haynes: I think I have to set to set the scene by predicating that we work with the NEET group at the farthest end—we get referrals from the Prince’s Trust. So it is those in deep need that we are working with, and across a whole cross-section of issues, from crime, homelessness, drug addiction, youth truancy—the lot. So our work spans those.
First, on choice, I think choice has to have consequence, and as far as most of our young people in the Green Paper surveys are concerned, they do believe that if there is a degree of compulsion, for some that is going to be appropriate. I think the important thing for the Committee to look at and understand is that, if you have a number of choices, then they are alternatives.
One of the things we always ask is: what evidence is there that compulsion has an effect? With the young people we deal with, the fact that they come because they want to, and stay because they want to, is a stronger motivation for change. When you look at the choices, particularly with our group of young people, you have to think about what support measures are required to get them to enter. A lot of them are not going to go near it—they have walked away from institutionalised provision and there is nothing to say, with what you have on the table, that they are necessarily going to engage with this proposal.
You need to think, what are the gateways that lead into this particular process? If you think about that for the NEET group—for our lot—I think you will say, OK, support is appropriate, some diagnostic systems are there, which have been raised by other people before us, and therefore you need to get local authorities to sort out how that is going to happen. One of things missing from the Bill is that there is no compulsion, if that is the right word, for local authorities to engage with the voluntary sector. We are dealing with the hardest to reach in this instance.
Thank you. James, you said there should be other options such as volunteering and support. If those were there—the Bill does not rule them out and indeed I have talked about the importance of both those things—does that mean that you would come closer to supporting a duty to participate?
James Cathcart: The British Youth Council is a young person-led organisation and we like to refer back to the young people in developing our policies and views, but I know that the formation of those views has been influenced by the tone or the general approach of not having as many choices. If, in the procession of the Bill, amendments were to come in that mitigated the circumstances and offered alternatives, as indeed this process is designed to do, we would be happy to engage in that way and reconsider our position. However, I would be a little wary of making that commitment without referring back to my constituency, as it were.
A final supplementary, before I finish with Nigel, is on the research. Clearly your research had a slightly different answer from the Government’s research. Do you agree that it has been quite difficult within the nature of the public debate to differentiate a raising of the school leaving age, which a lot of the media and some people believed we were proposing, and the reality of what we are proposing around a duty to participate? Under our proposal, leaving school at 16 and going to work, for example, as long as you do 280 hours of training, is one of the options that would be available to young people. Do you think that might have corrected some confusion and explained some of the difference perhaps?
James Cathcart: It has been clear to me, in reading how the Bill has been summarised and presented. I think that is how it has been consequently presented through other avenues, and young people may have got the wrong impression. In our processes we have been careful to explain the distinction between the word “school” and being in employment and coming back one day a week to train. The principle of continuing to have education and training opportunities, particularly in the early days of your working career, is not something the British Youth Council is opposing. It is the nature and the context in which it is being presented in this Bill. Perhaps others have presented it in a way you would not have welcomed. There is a lot to be done and my understanding is that the Bill is looking for a cultural change in public attitudes, but I think the way to get a change in public attitudes, especially among young people, is not to include the sanction element. Perhaps that has been focused on in a way that does not suit your ends and desires.
Finally, Nigel, do Fairbridge have youth justice referrals that they then work with?
We heard from Barnardo’s and the Prince’s Trust that in their experience of people who are compelled to do some form of training, it works out quite well for them. Is that your experience?
For the sake of the Committee, would you explain those acronyms?
Nigel Haynes: A youth offending team and a youth inclusion project.
Such a young person will have two or three choices on the menu. So the voluntary nature of their commitment is taken a bit into account. That said, when we get them—particularly with one or two of the projects in high-density, high-crime areas—they have proved to be remarkably effective in terms of the move-on and progression for young people. However, I do not think that they look at it as mandatory, compulsory attendance, because they know that they can leave it at any time. Therefore, they do not have to stay if they do not want to. The trick in the book with us is to engage the want-to, and to get the commitment, and for them to realise that they have to change. When that happens, then you get big progressions.
I have indulged your patience too much, Mr. Bercow. Thank you.
Starting with James, may I ask you both a question focusing not on the principle of compulsion, but on the practicalities of it for the hard-to-reach group of young people? Can either of you think of hard-to-reach young people with severe problems for whom what is in the Bill would be either unreasonable or impractical?
James Cathcart: In terms of the compulsory element, I can think of lots of young people over the years whose disappointment or disengagement with the process of education, either through their circumstances, unwillingness or inability, has led to them being disengaged from society and the system, which means that another sanction is not a deterrent to them not wanting to participate in the first place. I know, having read the Bill, that it refers to the sanctions and to compulsion being a last resort; there are lots of measures and lots of other resources being put in there. But for some young people—it may be a minority who are already on the margin, and perhaps when we have got past the 90 per cent. that group may get smaller and smaller—the deterrent principle will not have an effect on them, perhaps in the same way that the criminal justice system does not continue to have an impact.
To follow on from that, if they then felt obliged to re-engage with the system, either because of the deterrent or a fine or whatever, would they be willing and beneficial participants in the education in which they subsequently felt obliged to engage?
Nigel, from your experience of dealing with this group, do you think that, with the right offer and encouragement, all of that group can reasonably be expected to come forward, or do you have reservations about that expectation?
Nigel Haynes: I do not think that all of them will. Do not forget that quite a lot of them have walked away from institutionalised provisions in one way or another, and they really could not give a damn. The secret is getting the commitment—the first step is to get them to want to do it voluntarily—and then sustaining that commitment by making them realise that there are options.
In the overall sense of the Bill, there are options and pathways for them to take that I think are opening up more than they were previously. It is how you get them to that point that is important. A large number of those coming from pupil referral units are long-term, persistent truants or absentees. The majority of young men between the ages of 14 and 16 are not going to go back into secondary education. What we have discovered really works is that, if you can open an interest, they will go into further education. There is a range of courses could stimulate them to think about what they might want to do—or could do.
If you have a cohort of young people who have no qualifications and a long record, getting them back to realise that they are of some value in the process is one of the important parts of the process. If you can spin the wheel and get the commitment to start, they will do it on their own; but you are not going to get 100 per cent. with that.
James referred earlier—this question is to both of you—to a fourth or a fifth option. The Government’s option, as I understand it—we can test this with Ministers later—is reasonably rigid. The expectation is education and training. From your knowledge of this diverse group of youngsters, some of whom obviously have severe needs, do you think that it would be desirable to have a wider range of options for them, even if those were pathways back into education and training, rather than education and training themselves?
Nigel Haynes: I think that is it. From looking at what there is on the book, I am not so sure that the range of options needs to be increased. The question is what you do to support the pathways in to get the commitment; then, you will not get the breaches. But if you do not do something about those pathways and you do not have the provision to build them, with our cohort, you will have a lot of absentees or non-attenders.
James Cathcart: That is my view, based on my previous experience in the Prince’s Trust and my knowledge of other charities. There are steps, levels and ladders to help people to re-engage, and those can prove successful if they are provided at older ages for young people. The issue is not the extra number of choices and the ladders, but the consequences if you do not participate. There are lots of carrots, but the issue is the stick at the back when you are leading the horse to water. If somebody is thirsty when they get there, they will drink, and if you have lots of different ways to get there, that is good. It is the stick at the back that is the rub.
Very briefly, what are the implications of having the stick there? Is it just undesirable philosophically, or is it positively damaging?
Nigel Haynes: I agree with the evidence given by the Prince’s Trust, Barnado’s and the rest. You are in a danger of isolating and criminalising a large number of people who do not care anyway. All you will do is add to the bill back to the Exchequer—the £156,000 it costs to deal with them. What will you do? Eventually, you will lock them up, because they will not pay.
James Cathcart: I think that there may even been some research that has been undertaken in advance on the cost of the administration of attendance panels and fines, which shows that there is a cost already being planned in terms of the consequences for those who do not participate. So we are expecting a number not to participate.
May I ask the British Youth Council about the survey? You said that it was an internet-led survey. Would you say that the people who responded to your survey responded on the basis of the training opportunities that are on offer today, or did your research open up the possibility of the myriad types of training that might be offered in the future? Were people answering, “No, we do not want to carry on with what is there today,” but were they also asked, “Would you want to carry on if such and such was on offer?”
James Cathcart: They would be informed of what they are aware of today. It was an online survey—a snapshot—and I would not call it research, because it was not done in the same rigorous way as other pieces of work. However, some of the questions were along the lines of, “The Government are planning to introduce education, training and employment with training, but if there is a sanction, what is your approach to that?” People would be more in favour of the measures that are being introduced were it not for the consequences of raising the age to 18 for all.
Both Barnado’s and the Prince’s Trust said that they thought that young people would benefit from the provisions, but they had a problem with the compulsion element. Do you agree that all young people could benefit from this extra two years of training and education?
Nigel Haynes: It certainly opens some opportunities that were not there previously. The question is how you deal with the cases of reasonable excuse. You have to think quite carefully about what categories of people you will have to give more support to. If you look at the number of mental health cases, you will see that we have increased engagement with them by 35 per cent. over the last year. Quite a few of those people will not be in a position to understand the consequences of choice. What, therefore, is a reasonable excuse? Some people have talked about carers, but there are other categories of people, such as those coming out of drug dependency, where they are still on methadone on scrip. That is one of the things that you will need to look at very carefully. Are those people in a position to make a choice and therefore to engage?
In answer to your question, I believe that for the majority of people the Bill will open up a large number of opportunities. What I am saying is that for some, you have to get pretty good support and provision in place for it to work.
James Cathcart: The target group that we are seeking to engage might comprise a range of constituent parts that are broadly those who are unable, so we can consider how to engage them, and those who are unwilling. We might engage them partly through persuasion, but at the end of the day some may still be unwilling. For the reasons that have just been outlined, neither of those groups can engage in some of the process.
A number of other measures have been identified, to the credit of the Bill, but even for the unwilling and the other categories of disengaged young people, the preferred approach is “Inspire us, don’t force us”. That is a catchphrase that young people we have been working with have adopted as a banner.
May I ask Nigel Haynes—I apologise, I do not know anything about Fairbridge—specifically what activities you undertake? I think you said you deal with under-16s. Is there anything in your activities that constitutes education, training or volunteering that could lead to accreditation? If you have very difficult young people who may not be ready to move on to another institution or whose confidence would be set back if they had to do so, do you have the capacity to offer that to any post-16 young people? If not, how do you envisage they will cope with moving on?
Nigel Haynes: I can briefly give you an overview. We do not work exclusively with under-16s. We work with 13 to 25, and 16 in inner cities. The process that we use is engagement through voluntary aspects and then through an access process that gets people to understand the frameworks, boundaries and disciplines within which we work. That progresses to the follow-on aspect of the programme, which offers a range of activities that they can select, in which we offer qualifications that we deliver for the Financial Services Authority, in how to deal with money. We look at basic skills in basic skills programmes, and we offer City and Guilds and ASDAN, which is an equivalent, nationally recognised qualification.
The programme is deliberately split into the 16-minuses, for whom the primary aim is to get them back into education, and the 16-pluses, for whom the primary aim has to be to get them into employment. The fact that it is sometimes a long way off means that sometimes more support and progression is needed. Everybody has an individual action plan in which their goals are identified towards their progression point, which is moving on into employment or education.
Perhaps I should declare an interest as a former member of the British Youth Council executive, although by now a pretty antique one.
I come first to you, James, with one or two questions about your submission. My colleague, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, has touched on this already. You put strong emphasis on the majority of young people not wanting to have any form of compulsion. You state:
“The government wants young people to take part in education voluntarily”.
Do you not agree that by using that sort of terminology in the survey, “education” is often seen as a cipher for “school”, which is part of the problem that we have had in attitudes towards the raising of the participation age?
James Cathcart: I would say that the aspiration of young people to engage with education voluntarily reflects more what they get out of the learning process if they are a willing participant and stimulated by the learning process, rather than a silently compelled person. It is more a reflection of that than the school environment.
This is an open question. If it is not the case, please let me know, but as far as I am aware, you have not asked any specific questions about work-based training, or training outside traditional educational establishments.
To follow that up, in a previous session I asked several questions about the position of young people with disabilities under the Bill. Has any survey work been done among your membership or organisations that are particularly concerned with the attitudes of young people with disabilities?
Okay. May I come on to an interesting proposal in your evidence? You suggested that there should be an amendment to the Bill to make personal, social and health education mandatory in the curriculum for key stages 3 and 4. That was interesting because personal, social and health education has been discussed by several Committees, including the Education and Skills Committee, which reported a couple of years ago on citizenship education. By PSHE, do you mean citizenship education?
Helen Deakin: We think that PSHE and citizenship allow young people to make informed decisions about their life, so if we were to improve pre-16 education by making those subjects mandatory, it would enable young people to leave school, go on to work and be able to make important decisions. That is why that we thought that the Education and Skills Bill was a great opportunity for introducing our amendment.
So that I am absolutely clear—again, without getting sidetracked—there has been a great debate about the distinction between citizenship education and PSHE. Are you suggesting to the Committee that we should have separate amendments to make PSHE and citizenship mandatory, or are you assuming that the two are the same thing?
I would like to ask a couple of questions of Mr. Haynes. I have worked quite closely with Fairbridge in Bristol over the past two and a half years, presenting certificates and being on the ship. Some of the people in Bristol cooked lunch for me, so I am a great admirer of what you do.
I have met many of the young people who have gone through the programme recently. Most are in their late teens or early 20s and have chosen to be there. It strikes me that, in order for them to stay there, there must be a great deal of investment and incentivisation by outdoor pursuits courses and others to make learning and training fun, so that they want to be there. That clearly cannot happen across the NEET group, because it would require a large amount of resources. Therefore, not everyone can offer what Fairbridge offers at present, if it were compulsory for NEETs to participate in training. Would you agree with that?
Nigel Haynes: Yes and no. To a certain degree, you have to start by looking at the NEETs base and coming up with a pretty good definition of who is in the deep NEETs spectrum—the persistent offender, the drug user and so on—and what you are going to do about it. The guys you met, if you met them on the first day, will be very different from the guys you met subsequently. You are right to say that the programme is cost-intensive. We work on a one-to-four basis, and keeping the participants interested and engaged is important.
But I put it to you, what are the options? If you make it compulsory, they will not turn up anyway, so you will be dealing with a problem on the street. The evidence from our group that compulsion works is not very strong at present, but the evidence for getting them to want to participate is very strong. This will not apply to everybody. As I started, where I am coming from, are those in deep NEET—the exclusion bracket for which you must make some provision. It will not apply to everybody, and I think that compulsion works in the majority of cases if there are interesting courses.
May I say one more thing? I totally agree with what Mr. Knight said about the publicity surrounding the programme. A lot of it has been about extended school, not extended opportunity for learning, or tracks into employment. A bit has been missing in the communication, in the fact that, for the majority of people—not all of them—you are opening up something that has not existed before. We know that 16 to 18-year-olds have always been difficult because they are out of education, not on benefits, and not into new deal. What are they doing?
Given that you also work with people up to the age of 25, might not a better alternative to compulsion up to 18 be an entitlement that people can access when they are ready for it, perhaps after 18?
Nigel Haynes: I thought that that was what the entry level diploma would be doing eventually, and that people could access in at the level they can, so that there would never be a door shut. Our survey with four teams for the Green Paper, for example, came up with just that point: that the 20-pluses were saying, “If I had had that opportunity earlier, I was not ready for it, but I am ready for it now, and would like that opportunity that I have not had or taken advantage of previously.”
Nigel, you spoke about pathways in the Bill that will assist, but the problem is getting young people to want to reach those pathways. Is there anything in the Bill that would assist that, and, even more, is there anything that you would like to assist those difficult young people that you deal with?
Nigel Haynes: Yes, there is. Lobbing responsibility—if I may put it crudely—at the local education authority to get sorted is not necessarily the answer. You must form proper partnerships at local level where there is a degree of understanding of the need in the local area, and therefore a degree of identification of the appropriate pathway. That is why the Bill needs to include the partnership between local education and the voluntary sector to make that happen. As other people have said, in some local authorities it is going well; in others it is not. With the whole business of children’s trust and trying to bring that together with Connexions fading out—they were the signposts or the yellow pages of direction—part of that is being missed. If we can retain that diagnostic and data information centralisation, young people will know where to go to get that information.
Where it has worked well with us, we have had Connexions personal assistants actually working in our centres, so they meet young people, know what is available in the pathways progressions and opportunities, and can give advice. Young people can then move on.
Would you like a tie-in with the new deal? How do you see young people progressing from your age group into the new deal?
Nigel Haynes: That is the question: how does the whole lot tie together? If you are talking about 18 or 19-year-olds, it is to do with that vexed question of how extended education maintenance allowances will work, and what the financial incentives are. We do not use financial incentives. Many people have done, but we found that they did not make much difference, except that we were tending to become a click-in, click-out centre so that people could get their ticket.
I cannot really answer. It is a good question, and I think that we must address how the new deal fits in and what are the gateway processes to both.
I have a brief question, probably to James. Obviously, there are twice as many male NEETs as female. Do you believe that there needs to be a different approach in terms of gender?
Nigel Haynes: It is an interesting one. The increase in the number of females from when I started 15 years ago is now up to about 35 per cent. of the total that we are engaged with. The needs basis is sometimes exactly the same across the issues, but we are finding that we are getting a better response from female progressions after the time of motivation than we are with males. One thing is stabilisation. All the programmes need time for young people to stabilise their chaotic life. In the main, of those that we are dealing with the lives of males are more chaotic than females. If you do not stabilise, you do not get progression or commitment moving on.
May I take you back to the impact and consequences of compulsion? One of the interesting things from this morning’s evidence from the principals of colleges and last week from the Association of Directors of Social Services, Barnardo’s and the Prince’s Trust, was that all felt that compulsion had a place but that it was almost the thing you kept in your back pocket and hoped never to need to use.
They felt that it is the nature of the relationship and the conversation that you have with the young person that is important; that dialogue and commitment, engagement rather than compulsion, would lead to success. Each felt capable of running projects that had that dialogue, had that adult relationship, but also had the adult consequences of failing to meet expectations and requirements. Can you see how that can work? Can you recognise their perspective on why compulsion is a useful thing to have in your back pocket?
James Cathcart: The model is more complex because the people offering the opportunity are not necessarily the same as those holding the stick. If you are obliged to attend a course because it is part of a probation order then the compulsory element is through the court system. The people providing the course come from a different organisation, the voluntary sector offering something beneficial.
If, in this context, the education, training and employment are offered and implemented by the local authority or government, who is offering the degree of compulsion? We have to think of a parent and child. It may be the parent who offers the opportunity but also has the potential sanction. It is the same person. We need to look at the nature of who is holding those two elements. That has an impact on the person on the receiving end.
I would move the debate towards wanting to engage with young people in a different relationship, where they want to be inspired and engaged without worrying about what is in the back pocket.
It is interesting because this morning one of the principals said that the question was always, “How did we fail you?” rather than placing the responsibility on to the young person who opts out. That is in the present system. They felt it created a different relationship between the provider and the young person who was engaged with the course.
Nigel Haynes: Your point about a conversation is essential. You also have to consider someone coming back from a long period of exclusion, absenteeism or, indeed, a sentence. If you ask them to attend a statutory number of hours a week you are not necessarily going to get that conversation. If you offer them two days as a pathway into the programme then you are more likely to be able to have the conversation, which is one not just of obligation and compulsion but one of personal need.
The sooner you can get a young person to recognise that change is important and that it is for their own benefit that they will gain education or experience and that they can succeed, then you will move it away from a mark of failure. You do not want marks of failure. I am talking about the cohort we work with. You do not need to reinforce failure. Goodness me, they know that it is there.
What you have to start doing is building value and that value comes from choice and it comes from being able to work in partnership with good choices and options and you will get them to move forward.
Part of the problem with young people who are failing is that they are not very good at exercising choice and that, when given choice, they will always take the line of least resistance and least engagement.
Nigel Haynes: I hope so, but again there will have to be discretion in deciding, if you like, the kite markers and the organisations that do fulfil that need. We would very much hope that through an association with local authorities, approved provider status will be recognised in the gateway process, which I have been on about throughout the question session. To my mind, it is not clear, and it is not clear to us in perspective. However, we hope that in positioning terms, we will be recognised as part of the provision.
Assuming that 100 per cent. of young people is a long-term aim, although there are caveats, how far to that 100 per cent. do you think we would get without compulsion, and how long do you think it would take us to get there? I know it is, “How long is a piece of string?” but—
James Cathcart: I do not think that you will get 100 per cent. How small the percentage will be, I would not like to guess, but I would like to think that there will be an entitlement to 100 per cent. and that young people will be aware of that pre-16, 17 and 18. The issue is not about how we close the 90 to 100 per cent. gap, but about whether young people, from 100 per cent. down, opt out from an entitlement through behaviour or through choice. Perhaps I have used your question to add that in the closing minutes.
Nigel Haynes: In our cohort, you have got to consider what you mean by an outcome. If you can get away from throughput, statistics and ticking the box, and consider an individual’s progression in their own journey, you might be lucky to get about 60 per cent. participation—you might be lucky. That is roughly what we get voluntarily. The compulsion will not cut it; most of them will just walk away anyway. We go back to the business of gateways and tracks until you get people to want to, and until you do, you will not get that participation. For the majority of people who are involved in the programme, they will want to, because they will recognise the value.
Helen Deakin, James Cathcart, Nigel Haynes, thank you very much for your valuable contribution this afternoon to our proceedings. In the case of the British Youth Council, thank you also for your written submission. We will now have a comfort break of just over 10 minutes, unless there is a public revolt against that proposition, and at 5 o’clock we will reconvene for the next set of witnesses, when the stars of the Department for Children, Schools and Families will be on parade for members of the Committee and any other interested observers to see and hear.
Welcome, colleagues and interested observers, to the last part of the evidence-taking procedure on the Education and Skills Bill. We have two hours—injury time could extend that to two and a quarter hours but absolutely no longer—for the ministerial witnesses and their officials. The first to appear is the Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Jim Knight, who is of course a member of our Committee and with whom we are very familiar; welcome, Jim, to your new seat. I wonder if your supporting officials would briefly and formally identify themselves before we go into questioning.
“The main aim of this external review was to collect and analyse national and international data relating to...the expected benefits of making education or training compulsory to the age of 18”.
The report concluded:
“There was little or no direct evidence of the likely impact of introducing a system of compulsory education or training to the age of 18”.
Given that research, why did you proceed with the proposals in the Bill?
Jim Knight: Obviously we went through a process of thinking through what we had to do to get beyond 90 per cent. participation, which at the time was the extent of the Government’s aspiration. We could see that the people who needed to realise the benefits the most to improve their own life chances of education and training were that last 10 per cent. excluded by our achieving only 90 per cent. participation.
We looked at international and national comparisons around the Bill. We also commissioned research on the economic benefits, which showed some significant economic benefits to the country and to learners who increased their level of qualification and skill. We were also informed by the Leitch report, which talked about the need for the nation to have a higher level of skill than it has at the moment, as the quantity of low-level skill jobs declines and the number of higher-level skill jobs increases.
Jon Coles: To add something about the NFER report, it is absolutely right that the NFER was unable to find direct evidence of impact, particularly on attainment. One of the most important reasons for that, of course, is that those countries that have introduced something analogous to the proposals in the Bill have done so pretty recently. We have therefore yet to see evidence of what that change does to attainment and qualification levels.
What the NFER set out quite fully in its report was a set of pieces of indirect evidence about places that had made changes that had certainly had a big impact on participation, even if that impact is not yet visible in attainment because it is too early to say. The report set out some analogous situations in this country, and gave us some clear pointers about the measures that have been effective and those that have been less effective in other countries that have chosen to pursue a policy of this sort. It was a piece of work in which some things were impossible to tell, because it was too early, but there were also some important pointers about how one might go about designing the policy and implementing it effectively.
The analogous situations in this country were about raising the school-leaving age, not the training leaving age. Page 3 of the report says:
“The evidence suggests vocational qualifications do not yield the same economic benefits as academic qualifications...and that the benefits of some vocational qualifications at Level 2 or below are negligible”.
The report goes on to say:
“It is worth noting that these studies do not show that participation alone made young people more likely to be employed...especially as” the evidence that they looked at related to
“voluntary rather than compulsory participation.”
The compulsory element is the key difference between us. We absolutely share the aspiration of higher participation rates and of getting more young people into work, training and vocational education, and to reducing the number of NEETs, which has increased quite a bit in recent years. We are absolutely with you on that. We are just not convinced, and the evidence is not convincing, that compulsion is the right approach. Your answer, Mr. Coles, does not move away from that either.
Jon Coles: All the previous changes to participation in education have been about the school leaving age, so, yes, this is fundamentally a different proposition. I think that there are some pretty clear reasons for saying that it should be different, given the variety of routes that are, and should be, available post-16. Therefore, there is not an absolutely direct read-across, and I think that that is something that the NFER quite rightly points to. There are some very interesting studies of the impact on attainment when changes to participation have been made. The most recent was at the end of the 1990s, when the decision was made to stop allowing people to leave before the end of the GCSE period. There is a very detailed and thorough economic analysis of what happened to achievement rates as a result, which shows a strongly positive correlation; those who stayed on were indeed more likely to achieve as a result of doing so.
I absolutely accept that that is a different situation, but it is the best analogy that we have available at the moment. On the rates of return to qualifications, it is true that they vary greatly between qualifications, but there are vocational qualifications with strongly positive rates of return; RSA diplomas for women have a plus 17 per cent. rate of return and BTEC qualifications for men over 20 per cent. positive rate of return.
Jim Knight: I think that I read some of those figures out in a question to Alison Wolf. I acknowledged then that our research showed that some NVQs did not have a great rate of return, but there are a range of them that do provide returns and which form the basis of the economic benefit analysis that we commissioned.
Moving on to subject of criminalisation, I understand your arguments about compulsion, although I do not agree with them. Even those witnesses who were in favour of compulsion were worried about the criminalisation element and the penalties. The TUC said that
“we are not in favour of anything which criminalises young people.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 55, Q139.]
Barnardo’s said that young people should not be left with a criminal record, and the Association of School and College Leaders and the Prince’s Trust both said similar things. Why does the Bill use criminal sanctions, as opposed to civil sanctions, as the ultimate penalty?
Jim Knight: We thought this through. There are a series of options. First, you can say, “We think it is desirable that everyone should stay on in some form of education and training, so we will just offer an entitlement”. We have already that, and we think that it can get us to 90 per cent, but how do we go get beyond that figure? We need to shift the culture, and we think that introducing a duty to participate starts to do so. If we introduce a duty to participate, but someone fails to deliver on that duty and nothing happens, that does not bear scrutiny. There is some evidence that creating such a duty has a negligible effect on participation, so we have to introduce a sanction, and introduce enforcement on top of compulsion.
We have therefore introduced a civil procedure, which is set out in the Bill. If that procedure does not work and someone is determined not to participate and not to pay the fixed penalty following the civil procedure, do we just give up or do we try a little harder to enforce it? That is why we have gone for the criminalisation option as the end of the road, but we have made it clear that we want to go through the youth court, using the new youth referral orders for which Parliament is currently legislating. We have said that we do not want a fine above £200.
The nature of the referral orders through the youth court means that any criminal record will be wiped out, if people are under 18, two and a half years after they have committed the offence, which is not a recordable offence. If they apply for employment, the offence will not be recorded on the national criminal database, and they do not have to disclose it. The latest that someone would still have that on their record would be at the age of 21. That is a reasonable approach that shows the seriousness of the measure and provides some momentum, which is important for young people. However, it is more important for those of us who are making decisions and are responsible in the public sector to ensure that the right support and the right choices are available and that we engage young people so that they are not taken down the enforcement route. As John Freeman from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services told us last week, he has available to him a range of enforcement options that he does not use, but the fact that he has them changes the nature of the conversation. That is the sort of outcome that we want from a raft of procedures along the continuum, ending with criminalisation and a £200 fine.
Yes, and directors of children’s services will probably get their way at all times when dealing with local schools. But what proportion of the people we are talking about will comply? Do you think you will reach 100 per cent.?
Jim Knight: We do not quite reach 100 per cent. for pre-16, because various circumstances have to be taken into account—I am sure that Mr. Heald will want to trot out his question about all of that at some point—and there are a number of reasons why people of compulsory school age are absent from school. There are reasonable excuses for people not participating. I do not know exactly how the statisticians measure participation, but it is always difficult to get 100 per cent.
Quite right, Mr. Bercow: we should have very brief answers. May I start with the impact assessment, Minister, which I think has your squiggle at the bottom of it?
May I clarify something on page 23? All the costings are based on the Government being successful, through voluntarism, in getting up to 90 per cent., from 77 per cent. now. Is that right?
So the cost figure of £774 million would be a bit more than doubled if the Government are not successful in getting to that starting point by 2013-15.
Given the time, I shall turn to page 23, and the details about the costs of enforcement. You give an £8 million cost of issuing attendance notices. There is 2 million for fixed penalty notices and £2 million for prosecution after failing to pay the fixed penalty notice. Could you, or one of the officials, tell us on what assumptions about volumes of youngsters facing sanctions those figures are based? If you have it, what level of compliance with each of those sanctions, is assumed?
Jim Knight: If we do not have the figures with us, I am happy to write to the Committee with the assumptions that we used. I looked at them quite closely, because they reflected a high level of enforcement. We wanted to ensure that we were at the bleak end of the scale of enforcement. I have been given some figures—how extraordinary that they have suddenly arrived.
Jon Coles: These calculations, of course, are based on projections and extrapolations and are intended to be on the high side. In so far as it is possible to obtain analogies from existing systems that work on similar bases for the level of default and so on, we have used that as the basis. Yes, the numbers are very precise—in a way, they are over-precise for extrapolations—but they are based very precisely on the nearest equivalent we can find in the existing system for the rates of default and so on.
Thanks. I would like to switch to another area. When local government colleagues gave us evidence, we asked them what would constitute a reasonable excuse for not participating in education and training. They set quite a high hurdle—they were talking about people who were almost sectionable. Is that your view, too, Minister, or do you have in mind a much larger group of people who would have a reasonable excuse?
Jim Knight: We have given thought to what a reasonable excuse would mean in practice. We have deliberately not defined it in legislation, because we think that local authorities should be able to take into account individual circumstances: the more we define it in the Bill, the less that will happen. However, we will issue guidance, as we are wont to do, to local authorities on how to interpret the provisions. Examples are: a young person who does not have a home; and suitable provision for the young person not being available, such as lack of entry to informal employment training appropriate for someone who has received full-time provision; and long-term medical treatment for a young person recovering from addictions. Those are examples of what might constitute a reasonable excuse.
That is very helpful. That seems a crucial issue in assessing the worth of the Bill. Your definition is far more generous than the definition we were given by some local authority colleagues. Before we debate this in detail, is there any chance that you can publish, or give us a bit more thinking behind that more expansive description of exemptions?
Jim Knight: I am sure it will be possible for us to write to the Committee with “thinking”, to use your word. I think this is the fourth piece of legislation for which I have been responsible since becoming a Minister, and those who have worked with me before know that I am not averse to circulating draft guidance. What is difficult in this case is the fact that the provision does not come into effect for some years. We would risk misleading people if we said, “This is the guidance that we think we will introduce in five years’ time”. Something that sets out our thinking on reasonable excuse is safer for us than draft guidance.
We heard from many people who gave evidence that they were nervous about compulsion, but recognised that it was the only way to achieve what we were aiming to achieve. There were many caveats about putting the support mechanisms in place before we went down the sanction route. There was a suggestion from Barnardo’s that if those support mechanisms were not in place, the duty to participate should not apply. Would that fit into “reasonable excuse”?
Jim Knight: If the local authority is failing in its duties, as set out in the Bill, to provide suitable provision, we would certainly not expect enforcement action to be taken, because it is not a failure on the part of the young person to fulfil their duty; it is a failure on the part of the local authority to fulfil its duty. In effect, I am saying yes, I think it would form a reasonable excuse. I would be nervous not only about the burden attached to audit but about saying that we would not bring these measures into effect until we had audited everybody and got it all going, because we would have to wait until the very last local authority had got its provision up to scratch before we could bring in the benefits for everybody else. Our way round it—what I have just said about a reasonable excuse and not taking enforcement action until the right provision is in place—allows the local authorities that are ahead of the game to get on with it.
These are new duties on local authorities. What monitoring do you intend to put in place to ensure that there is equality of provision? Will we take into account the fact that some local authorities will have a much larger proportion of NEETs and difficult and hard-to-reach people than others? How will we manage that?
Jim Knight: Jon and Peter might want to come in on that. We have regular conversations, both directly as Ministers but also through officials, with local authorities about how they are doing and performing in a range of duties that they have to fulfil in delivering services for children. I am defining those aged up to 18 as children in this context. It would be part of our performance management system for local authorities, at the end of which—a bit like the fact that at the end of the duty for young people to participate is enforcement—we ultimately have the power to issue a notice and withdraw the service from them, and put somebody else in to deliver the service for them. We have not used that power very often, but that intervention power is there and it helps us to have a conversation.
Jon Coles: I do not need to add much at all. We have a pretty detailed engagement with all local authorities, and where local authorities give cause for concern, we have a range of measures available to intervene, support and provide them with additional resources where necessary. Ultimately, the Bill is construed as one with other education Acts, which means that the powers in sections 496 and 497 of the Education Act 1996 give us the power to intervene. Where a local authority fails to comply with a duty, it can be directed by the Secretary of State. As the Minister said, there is ultimately a fall-back, hard-edged power, but there is an awful lot that we can do before that point to provide support and assistance.
Jim Knight: On differential demand for services because of different levels of need, if you look at the difference between the funding that Worcestershire and Haringey receive, you see that it reflects a fair assessment of the different levels of need in those two local authority areas. I would imagine that the same sort of system would continue in 2013 to 2015.
Why 2013 to 2015? Is it convenient, because people are going up to secondary school in September and it seems right? Was a shorter or longer lead-in period considered?
Jim Knight: You are partly right. This September, we hope that we will have much greater certainty as to whether the measure will come in, so that when people start their secondary school journey and go through the transition from primary to secondary, they will know that they are the first cohort to which it will apply. That is quite important in the culture shift that we are talking about. It will also be the first year when the new secondary curriculum applies, so they will be the first cohort to gain from the full entitlement to all the diplomas. They will be a cohort that gains from the NEET strategy and the new information, advice and guidance arrangements that we are putting in place. We are doing a raft of things to assist that cohort and those who follow it to engage them throughout their secondary school journey and on into post-16 education and training.
May I ask the Minister to reflect a bit more on the practical side of enforcing the compulsory element of the Bill’s provisions? Assuming that the extra 10 per cent. whom we are trying to reach will have a range of problems that might not be encountered in the average student, if a student came from a low-income or workless household and incurred an attendance order that they then breached, and then got a referral order and finally incurred a fine that they had no means of paying, would you plan to annex repayments of defaulted fines against their future earnings? If that is one of the proposals, will it be a greater incentive to that category of student?
Jim Knight: The attachment of earnings would ultimately be one sanction available to the youth court when sentencing in respect of a youth referral order, as I understand it. But, at every stage in the process, there are opportunities for young people to choose to participate. They will be squeezed all the way along the line, but also offered support to get into an appropriate form of education or training, which might include informal training or through some of the excellent work that we have heard about from the likes of Barnardo’s, Fairbridge and the Prince’s Trust, which has worked well with those who have come out of the youth justice system, for example. We need to ensure that we have a better range of choices and engage the voluntary sector to offer such things to people, particularly those from the type of workless family that you are talking about, and start to show them that there is a future for them in work that they might not have seen at home.
Jon Coles: A full range of options will be open to the court, and it will be for the courts to decide what happens in each individual case. They could cancel the fine, if that was appropriate, which it could be if the young person had subsequently got into education and training, had sorted themselves out and was getting on with it. They could make the parents pay if that was appropriate. They could provide additional time to pay, straightforwardly. They could make an attachment of earnings order, or they could say, “You must pay by instalments.” There would be a range of things that the court could do at that point. It would depend very much on the circumstances of the individual young person as to which of those choices the court might make in that last resort.
Minister, pursuing the voluntary sector issues a little more, I am very clear from what you have said—it is very clear from clause 5—that the Government see the voluntary sector as an important deliverer of the alternatives to school-based learning. However, I am more concerned about the mechanisms whereby local education authorities will seek pretty demanding targets as they might not necessarily exercise the full range of options. Will you say a little more about how that might work in terms of guidance?
Jim Knight: Clause 5 allows regulations to be made to prescribe what counts as full-time education. The explanatory notes, I hope, make clear that that could include voluntary work. Equally, it could include work with the voluntary sector. We would use regulation to help to define some of that, which would obviously have a lot of power with the local authorities.
In the meantime, however, we need to set out some of those progression routes—from people being disengaged, to re-engaging them generally with institutions, probably through the voluntary sector, and then engaging them more formally in learning and accredited qualifications. As long as someone is on one of those pathways, enforcement is inappropriate. People should continue on those pathways. Over the next five years, we have some work to do to build the capacity of the voluntary sector to deliver some of those pathways, and some work with local authorities to ensure that they use the capacity that is open to them.
Mr. Coles, given your 14-to-19 responsibilities—you and I have had conversations about them in other circumstances—I am particularly interested by the extent, for pre-16s, to which we have the capacity under the Bill to engage the very groups of young people who might be put off by traditional participation. I wonder what thinking is going on in the Department and in your group on how we engage young people who, as early as 11, 12 or 13, show clear signs of being switched off conventional academic education.
Jon Coles: Yes, this is part of that important reasoning for it being 2013 and not earlier. As the Minister said, those young people—the children now in year 6 who will make a transition to secondary education this autumn—will be the first to be taught under the new secondary curriculum.
The point of the new secondary curriculum is precisely to give schools more scope to tailor the education that they offer to the specific needs of the young people in front of them. For example, if they have disproportionately many young people in their intake that fell behind at primary school, they have more space to help those young people to catch up during the course of key stage 3, particularly in the key subjects of English and maths, and also to have a more flexible learning experience in key stage 3.
Then, of course, in key stage 4 and onwards, that group of young people will be the first to have access to the full range of diplomas, which becomes a national entitlement from 2013. They will therefore be given opportunities to choose the new diplomas, and they will have opportunities to choose GCSE. We are also developing the new foundation learning tier, a more coherent body of qualifications and units designed for young people who may have fallen behind and need a better route to help them re-engage and catch up. If you take all those things together—the greater flexibility in key stage 3 and the much wider range of options in key stage 4—the Bill is trying to say to the system, “Actually, you have got to serve 100 per cent. of the young people in this group sufficiently well every single day between now and 2013 so that on 1 September 2013, when they are required to participate post-16, not only will they have the offer they need on that day, but they will have been well enough engaged on every day of their lives up until then so that they want to participate and have had a better experience.” Those who do not have that now will get it through this set of measures. That is the ambition of this set of reforms.
That is laudable, but will it not inevitably involve some flexibility in, and derogation from, the requirements of the national curriculum?
Jon Coles: The new programmes of study, which will be taught for the first time in September, will give schools that greater flexibility. Instead of a long list of things that you must get through and ploughing through the content in key stage 3, schools will have much greater scope to shape the curriculum to the needs of the young people in front of them. That is an important part of this change. Of course, already, the requirements of the key stage 4 curriculum take up only 50 per cent. of the time in key stage 4, so, taken together, that gives schools much more flexibility.
Finally, I have a quick question for the Minister on the evidence sessions with Ofsted and the Independent Schools Council, which focused sharply on the reasonableness or otherwise of the Government’s proposals. The ISC does not seem to have moved its position at all, but based on its and Ofsted’s responses, are you convinced that the requirements that the Bill places on inspection for Ofsted and the ISC remain reasonable and proportionate?
Jim Knight: Yes, I am. Since that evidence session, I have had another look at the territory. The decisions were made by my predecessor at a time when officials consulted the ISC, which was when the ISC and the Independent Schools Inspectorate were part of the same body. In answer to my question, Jonathan Shephard said that the two had separated and were separate legal bodies, but the separation occurred only on 1 January, so when the conversations took place, they were part of the same body. The conversations with Ofsted also took place at that point. Although the measure will make a negligible difference for members of the ISC—the latest figures show that although that number was about 50 per cent., it has just tipped over, and now the majority are not members of the ISC and the independent sector—for the others it can make a significant difference by reducing regulation. For us, as a Department, it will save money, and therefore save the taxpayer.
How do you plan to ensure that young people do not slip through the system? You have an awful lot of providers of education, training and workplace learning, so how can you possibly ensure that none of the people slips through?
Jim Knight: The crucial aspect will be the use of the Connexions client information system, which the National Audit Office and the Prime Minister’s delivery unit have recently assessed and found to be robust. Obviously, we will need to make some changes over the intervening five years, but, in essence, as we heard from Connexions this morning, the system is sound. It is operated by the 40-odd sub-regional Connexions services, and it will be transferred to the 150 local authorities, subject to the Bill going through. As we heard this morning from Connexions, when learners reach the age of 13, the very basic data are migrated from schools to the Connexions database, and then every interaction that happens with schools, colleges and training providers is recorded on the CCIS, which allows that tracking to take place, and the local authority or the local authority’s information advice and guidance contractor will be able to do that work.
We have a degree of confidence that while, I agree, it would potentially be quite difficult to keep track of all this provision, the use of that central database will allow that to happen quite effectively.
I would like to ask a supplementary on that, but I have only got three questions, so on a separate issue—
Jim Knight: That is one of the reasons why I asked Connexions this morning about young people’s consent. At the point at which they go on to the database at 13, it is done on the basis of presumed parental consent, so parents can not give consent for it to happen, but that is just the very basic data. From then on in, the young person has to give active consent for the data to be shared with other agencies. That is what happens at the moment and when it transfers we do not foresee that changing.
On a separate issue, would exclusion be a valid reason for not attending full-time learning? Exclusion rates have gone down, which is very laudable, but can you envisage a situation where they would go up and what will happen in those cases, particularly in a rural area, where there may only be one educational institution?
Jim Knight: Jon will give the official answer in just a second, because he is good at that, but my instinct would be to say that if a young person is excluded from provision, it is then a duty on the local authority, as set out, to provide some appropriate alternative provision; and if the authority fails to do that, it would clearly be inappropriate for any enforcement action to take place.
Jon Coles: Yes, there would still be a requirement on all the agencies to provide support to re-engage that young person in education. There would still be a requirement—in this Bill, of course, it is the Learning and Skills Council who would have the responsibility, though we have announced that in future that responsibility will transfer to local authorities—to make sure there is suitable provision in place. The full range of opportunities still needs to be provided to that young person. It would not be possible, though, to enforce the duty—this is set out in the provisions about initial steps—in clause 39 of the Bill. It is not possible to go to an enforcement stage until the local authority is satisfied that the full range of support has been provided. The independent panel, in reviewing whether or not an attendance notice could be issued, would have to review both whether a suitable place had been offered to the young person and whether sufficient support had been given to make sure that young person had appropriate opportunities to re-engage. So the message of the Bill is that it is not good enough for the system to simply give up on a young person who has been excluded; the system still has to find a way of supporting that young person back into learning and making sure they find opportunities to attend and participate.
Have you done an impact assessment—I am speaking as a former further education lecturer—on the impact on other learners, including new learners, of a group of young people who do not want to be there and who want to be thrown out? What kind of effect might that have on the education of a whole cohort of young people?
Jim Knight: I am not sure that I agree with the premise of the question. It is important that young people have choice and that when they are advised under the improved information advice and guidance, measured on the new quality standard that we published in October, they are offered some choice in respect of the range of provision. Just as Nigel Haynes from Fairbridge was setting out earlier on, there is compulsion for people to do something, but they have a choice about what they do, so they will more actively want to be there. That opposes the notion, which has been punted around the media, that we will be chaining people to desks, whether in school or college.
Minister, you are embarking on a hugely ambitious programme and I sincerely hope that it is a success. I am sure that it will be a success for the vast majority of young people, but there is a hard core of 10 per cent. What resources will you need to focus on that group of people to ensure that they do not drift off into a life of casual crime and exclusion? I think that it is fair to say that many of them will, off their own bat, earn criminal records and will not need your help to get one. How will you approach them?
Jim Knight: Partly, it is to do with the pre-16 story, which John set out in answer to an earlier question. A lot of resource is going into that. We have hugely increased the amount of resource that we put into the school system. There is also the resource that we have already committed in respect of offering more engaging options post-16, to get to our 90 per cent. target. There are also those resources that we talked about in the exchange with David Laws, which are specifically intended to get us from 90 per cent. to 100 per cent. A great part of that process will be involved with building the capacity of the voluntary sector and some of the entry to employment and entry to learning-type schemes that we discussed in response to Gordon Marsden’s questions.
You will need to have some incredibly special and talented people to work with these youngsters. Do you think that there is a willingness on the part of your Department to find and recruit these people? Is there an understanding of the deep problems that you will be dealing with?
Jim Knight: In many ways, that goes right to the heart of why we go for compulsion and enforcement. That is what creates the driver for officials in our Department, officers in local authorities and people who are working throughout the system to find the answers for the young people who are the most difficult to engage. If we simply left it as an entitlement, as some have argued we should, there would not be the same sense of urgency over the next five years as we will now have, because nobody who works in the system wants to see a single young person criminalised. Everyone who is criminalised will, to some extent, represent a failure on our part to engage them.
Finally, when you look in your crystal ball, are you confident that, in 15 years’ time, the measures that you are taking now will reduce social deprivation and crime and will improve many communities, because young people will not have time on their hands and will not be hanging around on street corners, but will be engaged within the community and the work place?
Jim Knight: We have not included that in the impact assessment, because it is difficult to measure and to quantify it. However, we have said that we think that there will be those benefits, because the evidence is that where people are participating, they are less likely to be involved in antisocial behaviour and crime, and so on. We have not included such information because it is a much more difficult argument to get into. However, I am delighted that you have clocked that it is likely that there will be those benefits as well.
Quite a number of different bits of local authorities— not just one section or one department—will be at the forefront of delivering the measures in the Bill. I just wonder how you envisage making sure that they deliver, and respond appropriately.
Jim Knight: As someone with such a great record of service in local government yourself, Peter, you will be familiar with the relationship that local government has with central Government, sometimes through regional offices, sometimes through agencies—in our case, for example, the national strategies team—sometimes through our non-departmental public bodies such as the National College for School Leadership, the Training and Development Agency for Schools or the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and sometimes with the Department. As we have set out, we have discussions ongoing. With my colleague, Beverley Hughes, I regularly take part in sessions when the Department as a whole comes together as appropriate to look at particular authorities that are causing us concern on some aspect of delivery of children’s services. This week, the leader, chief executive, lead cabinet member and director of children’s services from an authority that we are concerned about came to my office so that I could have a personal conversation with them about some of our concerns. That was private, so I shall not tell you who it was. Such conversations take place, and ultimately we can intervene, as we have done in one or two cases, and impose another contractor to deliver services if we are unhappy with performance.
Jim Knight: Yes, it will be important that those who use local area agreements and those who want to use multiple area agreements look at how they can bring together a range of services and configure them around being able to achieve their duties, and that shift in the mindset that our friend the principal of the college in Haringey talked about this morning.
Jim Knight: Yes, we think we do. We have previously worked on the basis of 90 per cent. participation by the time the measure comes in. Getting to 100 per cent. averages out at about 100 learners per local authority, or about 50 per cohort. Obviously there is a difference between Rutland and Kent, but that is an average. I do not think that is an insurmountable number of learners to make provision for—50 per cohort is manageable. The demography makes it easier for us to implement, and that is another reason—responding to Sarah McCarthy-Fry’s question—why 2013 and 2015 are good timing. We will have a reduction in the number of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds that period, so that is a window of opportunity to bring in the policy at an easier time than when the numbers are increasing.
To go back to what was mentioned earlier about local authorities, they will have a great deal to do in implementing the Bill. What will you do about any inconsistencies between local authorities—how will you smooth out all the bumps? Obviously, some will perform better than others.
Jim Knight: That is a perennial challenge for us across the range of children’s services that are delivered by local authorities. On the second floor of Sanctuary Buildings we have something called the bridge, which at the end of last year won a civil service award for best practice. It brings together an awful lot of data and priorities, and it is at that point that we have our meetings to look at local authority performance. Obviously, we use traffic light indicators—red, amber, green—to provide a snapshot of how authorities are doing, but we can drill right down to individual schools and children’s centres, if necessary, to see how they are doing, so that that can then inform the sort of conversations that I was talking about in response to Peter Soulsby’s questions.
Jim Knight: It is important. It is as important in Dorset as it is in County Durham. Although the impact assessment does not show any extra cost attached to extending and improving transport provision, our 14-to-19 reforms do acknowledge it. We give £912 million annually to local authorities for their pre-16 transport duties. Diploma funding is currently adding £1,000 per learner for those on diplomas, and a £120 per learner sparsity factor is added for rural areas. That recognises, among other things, the extra transport costs that they face.
We asked York Consulting to conduct a review of 14-to-19 transport to identify the challenges and potential solutions. As a former Rural Affairs Minister, as well as somebody who has some rural parts in my constituency, I completely recognise that there are challenges associated with offering every young person in this country a proper range of choices for their post-16 learning.
I must say to our witnesses that the truth of the matter is that the Committee simply cannot get enough of you. Because I am aware that there are four colleagues who still want to come in at this stage —in one or two cases, again, and in at least one case for the first time—I am willing to let this session run slightly beyond 6, as discussed with the respective Front-Bench spokesmen. There is not a formal knife, and if we have to go a bit beyond, so be it. You should be proud of yourselves for securing an encore.
May I ask about the information sharing provisions of the Bill? In recent months, CDs with the records of 25 million people were lost by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, there was the Department for Transport fiasco, and the Army lost the details of all the people who inquired about joining. The Bill has many clauses requiring information to be supplied. In particular, clause 16 states that all the bodies listed can be asked to supply information about a young person to the local authority. The list includes another local authority, the Learning and Skills Council, a primary care trust, a strategic health authority, a chief officer of police, a local probation board and a youth offending team. Clause 15 deals with all the social security information. Are you confident that none of that data washing around the system will go missing?
Jim Knight: As I recall, those clauses repeat what is currently in the legislation in relation to Connexions. To that extent, I am happy with the way they are framed, in that we have not recorded any significant problems with data sharing between those bodies and Connexions to date. The national data for Connexions are anonymised and are there to give people like you in Parliament and others the statistics that they want in order to see how well we are doing in delivering on our targets.
Obviously, in common with the rest of the Government, we are going through a process of double-checking how all the personalised data that we are most concerned about are transferred. That work is going on now. If I need to report further to the Committee on the outcome of it, I will. However, in response to your question, given that such information-sharing currently applies and we do not have any problem with how it works, I have a good degree of confidence in it.
Thank you. On the youth employment market, Alison Wolf was worried about the effects that the legislation would have on the ability of 16 and 17-year-olds to get work. She said that the burdens were not confined just to a preliminary conversation. She said it was also the case that one could be served with an enforcement or penalty notice. The CBI is in favour of the proposals but is also worried about them. It said that firms offering valuable work opportunities will be discouraged by duties to police participation, and by financial penalties for falling foul of the law. Giving evidence, Susan Anderson said, very evocatively:
“Does the employer really want to have the official responsible hanging around the factory gate or invited in at lunch time?”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 41, Q102.]
At the top of page 27 of the regulatory impact assessment, it assumes that half of businesses are likely to start releasing 16 and 17-year-olds and replacing them with 18-year-olds. We heard from the Institute of Directors today that, based on Government figures, 5,660 places for 16 and 17-year-olds would be lost as a consequence.
Jim Knight: From my days of being director of a small business, I do not think that we would have had any problem in enforcing this, but, as ever, we need to make an extremely cautious assumption that there may be some problems. In essence, I am happy about the burdens on employers and have chosen not to agree with the TUC on extending them hugely further.
I do not believe that there is a duty to police participation. There is a duty in respect of initial arrangements in clause 24, but that is really about that initial conversation and being satisfied, as an employer, that the young person is going to fulfil their duty. That might involve producing a letter from a college to say that they are enrolled on a course, for example; that duty is then fulfilled. Clause 25—the only other clause where enforcement can be taken according to clause 27—concerns a situation where an employee comes forward and says, “I’ve changed my arrangements from those I initially set out when I commenced employment with you.” That is a conversation about whether or not that interferes unreasonably with the operation of the business, or whether or not the business can accommodate it. Those are perfectly reasonable employment practices, that even a small business can accommodate. As ever, we have been cautious in our impact assessment and we have allowed for that.
Finally, can I ask you why you are so determined to move the regulation and registration of the Independent Schools Council from the Department to Ofsted when all maintained schools, which cover 93 per cent. of people under the age of 16, are staying with the Department. Why are you so determined to move that small function, which is conducted by 18 people in your Department, to Ofsted?
Peter Houten: There are two things to say. First, it is a natural extension of where we have been going with the simplification of inspection and reducing the burdens on institutions—85 per cent. of institutions will benefit from these changes from not having to deal with both Ofsted and the Department. But it is wrong to say that we regulate maintained schools; local authorities regulate maintained schools and the Education and Inspections Act 2006 gave local authorities additional powers to manage that regulation, from adding extra governors to taking back delegation and interim executive boards. The Secretary of State has some reserve powers, but they are used in very limited circumstances and substantiate the role of authorities to regulate maintained schools.
Peter Houten: I think it is different when you are answering questions about what is happening in individual schools, the nature of what happens and who is responsible for individual decisions about schools. The vast majority of decisions about individual schools are taken by local authorities and it is only in relatively limited and extreme circumstances that Ministers use those reserve powers.
Undoubtedly, I am sure that is true. I have one final question. Is this part of a process of the Department handing over day-to-day decision- making powers about education policy, just maintaining a role as a strategic body and washing its hands of the day-to-day running of our education system?
Jim Knight: You are damned if you do and you are damned if you do not, really. I am constantly being criticised—indeed, by the current Opposition Front-Bench team—that we try and micro-manage everything from Whitehall. In fact, yes, we should take a strategic leap; we should set the strategic framework, local authorities should commission the services, and schools and colleges and training providers should deliver the services. That is basically the model. And we are not as centralist as some people would like to believe we are.
I would like to return to the issue of employers and qualifications, which was touched upon this morning. Quite clearly, there is a fabulous opportunity for young people to take up the opportunities with employers and one would want to see that used as much as possible to really broaden out the choice that they have.
You can understand that some of the national companies, with well known names, can perhaps get economies of scale by providing national qualifications, but some companies may take on somebody only once every two or three years, in a particular interest maybe. Now, how are we going to keep an eye on all of those qualifications and ensure that they are valid?
Jim Knight: It is important that we maximise the opportunities for employers to accredit their training as part of the options that are available to young people. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently piloting a number of different ways in which employers and providers can engage with the national qualifications scheme system, and the reporting around McDonald’s and Flybe and others yesterday reflects that. So, employers could have their training recognised as vocational qualifications; employers could have their training recognised as individual units in vocational qualifications offered by awarding bodies, rather than them being awarding bodies themselves—which was the former option—or, for the last option, employers can choose to be recognised as awarding bodies in order to accredit their own training. Those are broadly the three options that we are looking at.
I think the Bill will simplify the process, particularly where an employer wishes to become an awarding body—which works particularly well for the larger ones. But I think their supply chain can also benefit from that. In my constituency, for example, we have a number of engineering companies that are part of the supply chain to AgustaWestland in David Law’s constituency. If they were to become their own awarding body as a large company, and were able to offer qualifications to their supply chain, so that their supply chain’s skills training is improved, that is the kind of thing that I am sure companies such as that would really value. For them, with very high-quality engineering for the aerospace industry, skills are absolutely crucial. What they are looking at down their supply chain, more than anything else, is the quality of the work—certainly as much as price.
Jon Coles: It is just worth adding that the changes to the qualifications framework—and the introduction of a new credit and qualifications framework—means that it will be much more possible for a range of different awarding bodies to supply recognised units and qualifications from a national framework. And if they do that, there will be as much assurance about the quality of those units, whether actually provided by an employer as an awarding body, or whether the training is provided by the employer and accredited by an external awarding body. That will have as much validity in the national framework—and be just as transferable between different employers and different circumstances, as would be the case for any other qualification.
To wrap up very quickly, it was mentioned this morning that we can sometimes confuse skills and qualifications. Will there be a firm emphasis in these qualifications on the skills and their transferability?
Jim Knight: Yes—that is a point very well made. We have said that there were some concerns about some of the NVQs when we did the economic analysis, and clearly we are mindful of what people like Alison Wolf have said about that. We do not agree with her on a number of things, but we must make sure that the qualifications reflect skills and that we value skills. That is precisely why we are encouraging employers to have their own training accredited, because employers know very well what skills they need. So, if we can accredit the training that provides those skills, we are absolutely confident that the qualifications will reflect those skills.
A lot of people leave school unable to read and write, by which I mean that they are functionally illiterate and innumerate. The TUC said that those people feel very angry that the system has let them down and that they have gone through 10 years of school and emerged unable to read and write. Then, we hear evidence—
I will be brief. Then we hear evidence that, with the right kind of support, people come through that. My question is this; should this not be something that the person who feels all this anger does voluntarily rather than have the state trying to force them to do it, which may be counter-productive?
Jim Knight: First, regarding the figures, I would just say to you, Mr. Heald, that 60,000 pupils did not achieve level 1 in English and maths; that is 9.2 per cent. That is level 1 in terms of an NVQ. However, you must look at what you can do below that level anyway, so, look at 11-year-olds. 93 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved at least a level 3 in English and maths in 2007. That means that they can read a range of texts accurately and independently and that their writing is organised, legible and clear. Level 1 is what Leitch said is required to enter the world of work, so that is 60,000, or 9.2 per cent., who do not reach that point.
Obviously, we must do better for those young people and what this legislation will do is to create the environment whereby they are given a second chance. We are creating a better range of provisions to engage those young people to come back and to ensure that they reach at least level 1 in their literacy and numeracy. However, do not dismiss the achievement of those students who just get to level 3, which is a national curriculum level, at the age of 11.
Jim Knight: Yes, I have met some of them. For example, there is a young offenders institution at Portland in my constituency; there are about 500 young men there, many of whom are not sufficiently literate and numerate but who nevertheless engage with education. Some of them are angry, but they engage with education in order to give themselves a proper chance.
We have heard in this debate about inconsistencies of performance from local authorities, but there are, of course, huge inconsistencies in funding for local authorities. One of my constituency neighbours, the London borough of Newham, gets three and a half times as much money per head as the London borough of Havering. That funding has a huge impact on how local authorities provide their services. How will a Minister ensure consistency in the provision of this new service?
Jim Knight: I bet that Dorset and Worcestershire get less money than the London borough of Havering.
Very soon, we will start the process of consulting on a new funding formula for schools—obviously up until the age at which compulsory schooling ends. We will set out our intention there to explore 14-to-19 funding as an option at that point. So we will set out the beginnings of a process that will help us to arrive at a new system to start from 2011-12, when the current funding settlement completes. We accept that the spend-plus methodology that we have used to date can be improved to make it fairer. However, in the end we completely believe that it is right to reflect need in our funding allocations, as well as the ability to recruit where recruitment costs are greater and therefore you have to pay people more money. It is a complicated issue, as everyone here who is trying to understand it will appreciate, but we are confident that what we have got is relatively fair. For the next period, we want it to be even fairer.
Jim, is it really plausible to be able to pull 10 per cent. more of the cohort into education and training with no increase in the transport costs?
Jim Knight: Yes, I think it is. If you look at the non-participants, one fifth of 16-year-olds and one quarter of the 17-year-olds have reached level 2 in school, and a number have qualifications below level 2—20 per cent. of 16-year-olds and 31 per cent. of 17-year-olds. It is a cultural problem to re-engage them. In transport terms, because of what are doing on 14 to 19, we will, by necessity, create the service that is needed to get those young people to the provision or, in some cases, get the provision to them—we are considering the use of technology in certain circumstances. By and large, we have to get them to a centre of learning where they can access the range of choices.
The very last question. You mentioned earlier that you hope to cut the regulatory burden on independent schools, but doesn’t the impact assessment show that the regulatory cost for those schools is going up as a consequence of the Bill?
Jim Knight: What the impact assessment shows is that the better performing schools, which by and large will be those in the ISC, will pay lower fees—they will not have to be regulated as much, because they are performing better. The normally smaller schools that are underperforming and not members of the ISC might have to pay higher fees because they need more regulation. That is quite an incentive to them to improve their act. The impact assessment also states that we will allow them to spread their payments, which should make life a little easier for them if they are not performing well enough and we need to get actively involved in them.
Jim, Jon and Peter, thank you very much indeed for your evidence, and thank you to all colleagues for co-operating in the wider interest. Let us have a speedy turnaround and have David Lammy, with his officials Stephen Hillier and John Landeryou.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for skills requires no introduction, because I have just provided it. Perhaps his officials can briefly and formally introduce themselves, and then we will go into questions.
David, you can relax now, you are among friends. I shall start with a straightforward question. Why have level 3 apprenticeships declined in every year since 1999?
David Lammy: You will recall, John, that when we came to power, completion rates were at 25 per cent. There was no inspection and a large number of employers and some training providers were a very long way short of quality providers. We have sought to deal with that problem, and when you look at level 3 apprenticeships, you see that the completion rates have gone up in that period.
The other thing to say is that we introduced level 2 apprenticeships, and there has been a good uptake of them. It is also right to say that, in encouraging the momentum in what began as modern apprenticeships, a whole different range of employers and sectors have come into the story that is apprenticeships. In some of the more traditional areas, such as engineering, there are a number of advanced level 3 apprenticeships, but it is right to say that in newer areas like retail, there are a large share of level 2 apprenticeships. It is a journey, depending on where the young person starts, but it is broadly for that reason that there has been a reduction in the last period.
You say in your latest contribution to the debate, in this new paper, that you want less level 2 and more level 3. You said that the provision between level 2 and level 4 would be adjusted to suit increased employer demand for advanced apprenticeships. We are already travelling in one direction, but we are now going to travel in another. May I take that on a little further, and ask how many of the employers involved in apprenticeships are training providers—in other words, their principal or sole business is the provision of training?
I have looked at this quite closely—I am going to bring John in here, who has previous experience of inspecting apprenticeships—but I am advised that it is a small proportion of the employers; I think the number was around 1,000.
I indicated this morning that the important thing that we are getting, and certainly what you have been trying to get at in your penetrating questions and scrutiny on apprenticeships, is of course that young people must be engaged in work-based training. It has always been the case that the employer is in partnership with a training provider. Within that, a small proportion of training providers are offering apprenticeships; and there will be programme apprenticeships in which young people are largely engaged solely with a training provider.
The Committee has already taken evidence from the likes of the Prince’s Trust, Barnardo’s and others, who see a real need for programme-led apprenticeships for young people who are not ready to take up an apprenticeship but who need to be on a journey to get there. For those young people, training providers are providing them with what are called programme-led apprenticeships.
We said in the review that we want to look closely at the definition of an apprenticeship, and clearly the definition of an apprenticeship we have indicated is about being engaged with an employer. The contract may well be with the training provider, because it is up to the employer, frankly, whether he wants to be engaged in the administration of the apprenticeship.
Indeed, I know that you have also called for group associations; by definition those group associations for smaller employers are in the business of administration, and by definition many employers do not want to be in that, as it is not the mainstay of their business. I am indicating that we should not confuse programme-led apprenticeships with apprenticeships per se.
John Landeryou: I simply add that many employers prefer to work through an intermediary rather than contract directly with the Learning and Skills Council. However, the choice of which intermediary is used is entirely theirs; after all, the apprentice, who is an employee, belongs to them. If they are not satisfied with the service that they get from that intermediary, they can go elsewhere.
I suspect that what might be behind the question is whether apprentices are employed by training providers as proxies, rather than by normal enterprises functioning in the economy. That, I assure you, is not the case. The training provider acts as an intermediary only in the provision of training services. They do not act as the employer of the apprentice in the sense in which the system operates. As the Minister says, I have considerable experience of looking at the system at first hand through various inspection regimes over the last six or seven years.
I am interested in that and now when I table my written parliamentary question, again, about the number of employers, no doubt they will answer it with alacrity. On the issue of training providers and FE colleges and their capacity to deal with the extra challenge of young people whom they will educate, you know that in year 11 in schools, ONS statistics suggest that about 2.43 per cent. of young people are absentees without authorisation. Have you modelled what that number will be once the participation age is raised to 18? What assessment have you made of it? I assume that you have made an assessment of it. Do you expect it to be standard—that trend to continue? Do you expect it to grow? What modelling have you done?
David Lammy: We have worked closely with DCSF colleagues on this, I have certainly worked closely with Jim Knight, and our officials are in constant dialogue. First, Jim indicated that there is a challenge to the use of those statistics, because in that number, it is important not to include young people whose parents have taken them out of school on holiday, and for a range of other reasons. They should be in school, but they are not truants in the classic sense of the word.
Secondly, on capacity, we must acknowledge that there has been massive capital investment in further education over the past decade, and all the principals who were here and the associations have confirmed that capital investment. When it was put to them, can we deal with this, they all said yes, because they all said, “We are in the business of doing this anyway, actually.” Compulsion is about galvanising a response, but FE is already doing this anyway.
There is another part of the narrative, which we should not miss out although it is not directly in the Bill. It is Train to Gain, which is the story of upskilling our adult population through employees already in companies, and understanding that we are asking many FE colleges to engage in activity beyond their institutions. That feature also came up when the principals gave evidence, so there is capacity, largely because institutions are going into the workplace to deliver services, not delivering them in the classic classroom way that they have done in the past.
First, to the Minister, by 2013 when the first stage of compulsion is introduced for 17-year-olds, the aspiration is that the diplomas will be an entitlement nationally, but alongside that, the Government have pledged that each 17-year-old, or younger, who wants an apprenticeship will be entitled to that, too. Is that deliverable? The state has a role in delivering diplomas, but employers have a role in delivering apprenticeships, so you cannot necessarily guarantee that employers will co-operate with that national target.
David Lammy: Yes. We have made it clear that that is our ambition and our goal. We have also made it clear, which is why we published a review yesterday, that the employers must be there to offer the apprenticeships. We want to reform the system to incentivise employers further so that the apprenticeships are there. The programme obviously has caveats, and we are not departing from the idea that an apprenticeship is employer-led; in the end, this is to meet genuine skills needs in the country.
By definition, we must be in the business of ensuring that there is a service that employers want. Yesterday, in essence, the report said that we need a national service that is properly branded and identified, more flexibility on frameworks, to consider direct payments to larger employers so that they over-train and train more apprentices, group training associations, differentials for women and ethnic minorities, and a range of things, including the matching service, to ensure that employers come forward and we can meet our ambition. However, if we are to deliver that ambition, the Government must be in partnership with our colleagues in the CBI and sector skills councils if we are to deliver that.
It therefore seems that the Government have an aspiration or goal for apprenticeships by 2013, at the same time that they are going to introduce compulsion for 17-year-olds.
On a practical point, suppose that a 17-year-old has achieved a level 2 apprenticeship with an employer who does not require level 3 and, to meet the terms of the legislation, they will need to continue to level 3. What is that young person going to do before they reach 18? Are they going to leave their job and go to another job that needs level 3, in order to meet the requirements of the legislation?
But if they have reached level 2 by the age of 17, what are they expected to do before they are 18, in terms of education and training, if it is not to be level 3?
David Lammy: Young people today sometimes complete apprenticeships without a job being available for them, because the employer decides not to take them on, and they are then in the system looking for other employment. Some of them will get employment in their area, some will acquire skills allowing them to go to different areas and some will take further courses. That is the nature of the system and it does not change as a result of the legislation.
I should like to clarify something. In one of our earlier evidence-taking sessions Jim Knight replied to a question, but I shall ask you about it. He suggested that employees could do their compulsory training in the evenings or at weekends, rather than doing it 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, in the employer’s time. Is that what you would say as well? Should there be compulsion in the evenings and at weekends?
David Lammy: I cannot remember whether it was the Association of Colleges that said it, but it was said in evidence that further education providers are constantly providing evening courses. As we speak, FE institutions are providing courses on evenings and on Saturdays: that is their business. I visited one this Saturday—
David Lammy: But to meet our other objectives in relation to Train to Gain, for example, and depending on the nature of the employment, of course people can train at evenings and at the weekends. We want maximum flexibility. We have to meet the needs of business, principally, if we want to skill up the nation.
Listening to the CBI and the IOD, one could not help feeling that there is a gap in respect of the sense of urgency recognised by the Association of College Lecturers and the voluntary sector people that we spoke to about engaging with that 10 per cent. that is currently missing out on education and skills. How do you see yourself engaging with those organisations in the intervening years—you have until 2013—and opening a dialogue with the education providers, the voluntary sector and, perhaps more importantly, with the local authorities, which might have talked with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory, but have not engaged with the needs and experiences of the Department for Education and Skills or the Department for Children, Schools and Families? How will you get that sense of drive that Mr. Walker talked about earlier?
David Lammy: Can I talk about this in relation to apprenticeships, which is the area in which I connect principally with young people, working with colleagues in DCSF? We said yesterday in our review that we recognise that we need a national agency, but that it must have a field force in localities and regions. We recognise that that element has, perhaps, been missing from how we have driven apprenticeships in the past.
You are precisely right; if we are to get engagement at a local level and get young people—sometimes vulnerable young people—to come into that net, two things have to happen. We have to stand by our sector-led approach, and obviously require different sectors, like construction, to articulate how many apprenticeships they can offer in London, how many of those can be for young women, and how can we attract BME young people into those apprenticeships for, say, the Olympics. That conversation with the regional skills boards, the Mayor and local authorities has to be deep and meaningful, if we are going to deliver. I was in Salford—a very deprived community—a few months ago with the BBC and other media providers launching their new set of apprenticeships, they were tying to reach out to young people from non-traditional backgrounds. If you looked at the cohort of young people coming into the BBC, there was a girl from Moss Side working on “Panorama”, who had not been to university and many young people from Salford who had not been to university. It is a combination of the regional and the sector-led approach that helps us meet that.
I am concerned about local and regional qualifications and their portability, and the issue of how we talk to the sector skills councils and the manufacturing and employment federations and associations to ensure that all qualifications have portability. Are you going to be actively engaged in ensuring that no one is forced to stay locally, but can move with their qualification?
David Lammy: Absolutely, it is a fundamental point and there are two bits of activity that are central. Behind the clauses in the Bill are our 25 sector skills councils, and their work is relevant to adult skills and apprenticeships. Each of those 25 sector skills councils, which will be relicensed and refocused, is involved in the business of articulating the necessary qualifications in their sector and representing that sector in discussions with the QCA. That means explaining what is no longer necessary and what has been duplicated, but also what is absolutely necessary; that is the first tranche of work.
The second tranche is the work that we are doing with the qualifications and curriculum framework. We are the piloting work on units and increased modularity. We are also looking at accreditation and what employers are doing—obviously you will have seen the headlines about McDonald’s. That is about portability. I worked at McDonald’s and KFC, so I feel strongly about this. Young people who stay on in that sort of employment and make their way up should be able to demonstrate the levels that they have acquired if they wish to move on to other areas. Those are the two tranches of work that meet that need. You can move from one region or area of the country to another area and people will understand the level that you have reached.
Will that include conversations with devolved Administrations to ensure that there is portability across the whole of the UK?
This morning, the Institute of Directors told us that while it thought that the pre-apprenticeships—the programmed learning—were the right route to get those soft generic employability skills for the transition from learning to work, it was concerned that we would have a backup of pre-apprenticeships and there would not be enough proper apprenticeships for those people. What are you going to do to counter that?
David Lammy: We have to be as ambitious as possible about driving up apprenticeships in this country. We are asking people to come back to us and to tell us where they agree and disagree with the document that we published yesterday. I hope that there is a cross-party initiative to drive the figures up, which will be partly achieved by the matching service that we have talked about. It is not clear to young people where the particular apprenticeships are in their local area and how they can access them. There are also small and medium-sized businesses that are not aware of the opportunities that apprenticeships could offer them. They are just not on their radar. A new national service, with the advertising and the regional field force that goes with that, is part of that journey.
Sector skills councils must articulate the growth in their sector and—I suspect that the relicensing process will involve this—measure it. Apprenticeships are an absolute priority for us, and we will challenge the sector skills councils to come up with the apprenticeships that are appropriate in their area. In addition, training associations are important, as are further flexibility, direct payment pilots where appropriate and the need to galvanise the country. I hope that all the adverts about the value of skills will drive up demand among employers. Young people must continue to come into contact with work-based learning by, for example, acquiring the skills that are required on programme apprenticeships.
We should not be worried about young people in education who are on programme-led apprenticeships. It is a good thing if they are on a journey to an apprenticeship, but they may well be on a journey to a diploma or some other training, and going off on different routes. I expect that that number will increase over the next period. I see that not as a problem but as a good thing. The alternative is the NEET problem, where young people are not engaged in training at all. That cannot be good.
To follow that through, if we are to bring in employers who have never had apprentices before, what should we do to support those employers when they are training apprentices, particularly the smaller businesses? They may not have the support mechanisms within their own organisations because they do not have a huge human resources department to support young apprentices. Will there be some help for them?
John Landeryou: Yes, that comes back to the point about training providers: that is exactly the function that they have. They have expertise in organising apprenticeships, and work with a wide range of employers and, indeed, of young people. They employ staff who have a skill set that enables them to work at both ends of that equation. That is very much their role, and they will work well for small employers. If larger employers want to get more involved in apprenticeships, we see a role for the National Employer Service, which already does that sort of work with blue chip companies. For large regional employers that do not quite fit into that category, we envisage that the national apprenticeship service will play a role in helping employers to get themselves into a position where they are confident about organising and running apprenticeships for themselves. It will support them through that process until they feel they can cope with it independently.
In part 3, the proposal seems to be that an effort should be made to get people up to level 2 qualifications, with councils having a duty to provide facilities for that. However, I could not entirely follow what happens when a middle-aged person, has a qualification that is out of date and is looking to reskill. Proposed new section 4C(1)(b) states that
“despite not having a specified qualification, a person is to be treated for any of those purposes as having that qualification.”
Could you explain what that is all about?
David Lammy: We are doing two things in part 3. First, we are making it a requirement to provide proper provision for adults who have do not have basic skills: that brings in the family of qualifications within Skills for Life, which is a £1.5 billion Government programme. For the first time, we are making that an absolute priority, and it applies to adults of all ages, including the people with whom you, Oliver, are preoccupied, and who left school without numeracy or literacy, and are now adults. They left school before we were in government, but we are taking care of them under the auspices of the Bill. There is a requirement to give those people basic literacy and numeracy level skills, and I hope that you will support us in that.
Secondly, there should be fee remission for 19 to 25-year-olds in relation to our aspirations at levels 2 and 3. That is in line with what Lord Leitch recommended, and it supports our other objectives that are being piloted; we will come forward with further proposals in relation to skills accounts and the new adult careers service. You are right: we are not including a duty for people over 25 in relation to levels 2 and 3 in the Bill, because we believe that that provision is largely catered for through the Train to Gain programme, under which adults and employees can upskill through employment.
Stephen Hillier: I simply want to refer back to the Government document of last summer, “World Class Skills”, which said honestly and in the spirit of Lord Leitch’s report at the end of 2006, that we have to prioritise. The Bill and the Government’s adult skills policy build on the Government’s £3.5 billion contribution to learning by prioritising those who do not have skills. The nation needs to upskill and reskill, but employers are spending £38 billion on that, and other individuals are spending money, so everyone has to pull their weight.
Thank you. Seven colleagues are seeking to catch my eye. If my understanding is correct, and the Division in the House is not until 7.15 pm, we can continue uninterrupted until then but not a moment beyond. Again, a certain self-denying ordinance is required both from members of the Committee and witnesses.
We have seen the increased completion rates for apprenticeships, which are encouraging. What more can we do to increase those rates still further?
David Lammy: We will continue the drive in relation to quality. The further work that we are doing comes down to sectors, and there are still some sectors where performance is not as strong. It comes down to individual FE providers; I have met some of them, and we are continuing that dialogue. The Apprenticeship Ambassadors’ Network, our network of employers driving apprenticeships, is also engaged with work in demonstrating quality so that we can continue to get completion rates up.
We have talked about the need to get young women and certain ethnic minority groups to consider non-traditional sectors. How are we to get employers to make workplaces welcoming for those groups?
David Lammy: We deal with this at the end of our apprenticeship review. We are recommending critical-mass pilots, understanding that there are some areas of the economy in which a lone woman going into a particular industry or a particular employer is kind of scary. You have to get a cluster of apprenticeships. I hope, through some of our direct payment pilots to larger employers, to bring on groups of people such as women, so that we can make advances in that regard.
We are also introducing mentoring to support particular groups right the way through. We already have sector pathways projects. I was with Care Construction, looking at women particularly, in Islington. What is clear to us is that the adult apprenticeship route, which has not come up yet, is another huge opportunity for women in particular. By that I mean that we know from evidence that young women at the age of 16 or 17 may simply lack the confidence to feel that there is a job in construction for them. However, at 24, 25, 26 and beyond, they are far more confident about knowing or feeling that they want to work in the construction industry. So the adult apprenticeship route is also going to be very important.
There is no absolute rule on this, and I have a degree of discretion, but when this questioning process was conceived—as everyone knows, it is in its infancy—the idea really was that the 15 minutes extension would be injury time in the event of a Division. It is not an absolute. I am happy to go very slightly past 7 o’clock, but I would be reluctant for us to set a precedent of sitting until quarter past 7, simply on the principle that questions expand to fill the time available. So I will encourage people to be very brief, including—I say this with the greatest respect and admiration—the Minister and officials. Can you give us much tighter answers, if you can, in the remaining period? You have been extremely helpful so far, but we are under time pressures.
The balance in this Bill between young people and adult learners was always going to be a creative tension. What more can you do in the Bill to address the issue of hard-to-reach learners? You are putting responsibilities on the Lear