I thought that I had lost the brief note of what I wanted to say, but I managed to find it over lunch, so I can pick up where I left off when the Committee adjourned this morning. I ought to issue a word of warning: it is really a housekeeping note, Mr. Bayley, to say that I am, as some colleagues will know, very deaf and my deafness is exacerbated by the fact that I have a heavy cold. I will be pleased to take interventions, as I always am, but I cannot guarantee that my response will bear any relation to the question or interruption.
That is a harsh judgment from the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I should have said that my response will bear even less relation than usual to the thoughts of the person who intervenes on me.
I was saying that NEETs—young people not in education, employment or training—whose number has grown so dramatically and tragically, face a cocktail of circumstances that are of grave concern to those of us who take an interest in these matters, as all hon. Members in this Committee do. The first ingredient of that cocktail is the declining demand for unskilled labour. Lord Leitch, in his report, is clear about that, as the Minister and others will know. I have his report somewhere, but I know it off by heart. He says that demand for unskilled labour will fall by 2020 to some 600,000 jobs. There are debates about the detail, but what is certain is that he is right about the trend, so if people do not have skills, they face a decreasing likelihood of being employed. It is worth saying that in the 1960s there were probably 3 million to 4 million unskilled jobs in the United Kingdom. The feature of an advanced economy is that it needs advanced skills, and the future of the British economy is in high-tech high-skilled industry.
The second ingredient of the cocktail is the high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy, by which I mean functional illiteracy and innumeracy, which were discussed at some length both this morning and during the evidence sessions. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire, who is not in his place, has, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, done the Committee proud in focusing on that matter, because it is critical to our discussions about skills and post-16 education. I shall make three points about that specifically.
First, of course there is a relationship between the problems that have been mentioned and methodology. My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton has made something of a personal crusade of his passion for synthetic phonics, but he does so knowing that the way in which we teach people to read, write and calculate is critical to their success. He is right to say that there was a period when those fundamentals were neglected.
I do not take the view that there is a single method of teaching people those core skills that should prevail in all circumstances. I am a fan, as I guess you are, Mr. Bayley, of “Janet and John”; you will remember them from your childhood. I am a fan of those “Look and See” books—which we all enjoyed—not simply because of the marvellous old-fashioned imagery that they contain, which is useful for inculcating certain values in children—my children are benefiting from that—but because look and see has a place in the business of teaching children to read. We may disagree on this, but I take the view that we need to apply a range of methodologies—those most suited to the individual child and that child’s progress. That is true across the subject range.
When training to teach history—it was in the relatively recent past; the Committee will know that I am a mere stripling—I was disappointed to find that the chronology of history was so out of fashion that the dominant orthodoxy was built around the teaching of themes, with almost no reference to the progress of history. We need to teach the themes of history and its chronology. Similarly, in the words of the hon. Member for Blackpool, South, there is a marriage between teaching skills and transmitting a body of knowledge.
There is truth in what my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton says. Although some of us believe in that marriage, for a long time the chronology of history, the core elements of core skills—the body of knowledge—was neglected by our education system. It gave way to what my hon. Friend describes as an ideological concentration on a range of progressive methods. Although it is certainly true that we should take a balanced view about these matters, the balance of argument tips in favour of my hon. Friend, given the history of the past 40 years.
The third ingredient in the cocktail—the first being the decline in demand for unskilled labour and the second high levels of functional literacy and numeracy—is the import of large numbers of unskilled migrant workers. It is a myth that most of the people we import into Britain are skilled. Most of them are not skilled in the way that we would wish; for example, many do not have language skills, and many have to acquire skills on arriving here. However, that is not necessarily or implicitly a bad thing.
There has always been a demand for itinerant labour in my constituency because its economic profile is heavily weighted towards agriculture, horticulture and the food industry. Nevertheless, the NEETs, who are central to our consideration, are competing with more people than ever for fewer unskilled jobs because of the number of migrants. Even in a constituency such as mine, which has a profile of low skills and high employment, unemployment among the indigenous population is rising. That is bound to be injurious to community cohesion, as it will breed resentment, particularly among young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who cannot get their foot on the employment ladder.
That is the cocktail faced by NEETs, and it is one to which public policy makers must pay regard. In doing so, it is legitimate that we debate whether compulsion is necessary to encourage the type of re-engagement that we all seek in order to give people the skills that they need to gain work, to access further educational opportunities and to engage in training. However, compulsion surely must be a last resort.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and the hon. Member for Yeovil that it is what young people want that really matters, and not what they ought to do or be. Unless we can encourage in them a thirst for learning or an appetite for training, I suspect that our endeavours will be unsuccessful. That encouragement depends upon a curriculum that they perceive to be relevant—relevant in terms of economic need and the skills base required to meet that need—and one by which they are inspired to progress. Good teachers have always understood that: good schools and good teachers inspire learners.
I am not sure that the case has yet been made convincingly that the alternative to obliging people to stay on would be fruitful. Having said that, I have no philosophical problem with the measure; some do—I suspect that the hon. Member for Yeovil does. His is a perfectly laudable and defensible position. I do not have a big philosophical problem with compulsion—at least not at core—because the arguments for liberty are often exaggerated.
I am not a liberal in any sense. I must not digress too much, but I have been asked a direct question and I will give a direct answer. As a student of these matters, the hon. Gentleman knows that the great philosophical clash is between a conservative and a liberal perspective. That has been the great clash of ideas through the 18th, 19th and the last century. We could debate the essence of that difference at great length—although we should not do so now—as it lies at the heart of the political tension that has driven public policy and this place for 300 years. We could, and no doubt will, talk about aspects of that in relation to the Bill, because a debate is to be had about the balance between obligation and liberty and the proper tension between freedom and duty. It is good to have that debate in connection with this legislation because it is rare that a Bill is introduced that embodies the essence of that tension.
I know of the hon. Gentleman’s deep interest in those matters, but I have the Chairman’s beady eye on me so I have no intention of going down that particular route in detail. However, when the hon. Gentleman says that he has no philosophical objection to the principle of compulsion, my ears prick up in the context of the Bill. What evidence would it take to demonstrate to him that, as a last resort, the principle of compulsion is the right and proper thing to do in the context of the Bill?
That is in the second half of my speech, which I shall come to some time this afternoon. In my mind—I am speaking very personally—there is no fundamental philosophical argument. I make that statement from an academic perspective rather than a practical political perspective. I have many reservations about compulsion, which I have described as a last resort. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I have said, it is better to inspire and engage young people through voluntary involvement. However, more than that, I have real doubts about whether the Bill will work. Let me say why.
Does my hon. Friend agree that even when one considers a matter of liberty and liberalism, it is still important to consider where the necessary practical accommodations can be made? The balance between what works and liberty is the issue for the Committee and is at the heart of the tension that he has described. That is outlined well in Burke’s speech on conciliation with America.
If we want to have a philosophical debate, for wider reading purposes, the case has been well made by Burke, Disraeli, Oakeshott and more recently Scruton. For the sake of the Committee, the practical arguments are paramount. We could reject the Bill or amend it wholesale purely because of the doubts of the hon. Member for Yeovil, which I have already described as reasonable, laudable and undoubtedly perfectly sincere. I admire the clarity of his position. We can also have doubts about the Bill purely on the pragmatic grounds that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire suggests, and those, in the end, may be more significant.
In public policy terms, I suspect that it is whether something works that makes the difference between a bad and a good law. Is the measure necessary, does it work and can it be done? I am not sure that any of that can convincingly be argued about the clause, which is why we have tabled the amendment.
There are fundamental weaknesses in the training system. We would be creating extra demand on an unreformed system. I have no doubt that the Minister will rise to his feet with the alacrity for which he is renowned and say, “This is not being introduced immediately. We have time to make the necessary changes. We will indeed reform the system in a way that can absorb and cope with the extra demand.” If the Minister were to do that, I would respond by saying, “You have had 10 years to do it, and you have not made much progress so far.”
There are real weaknesses in the way we deal with vocational education and training in this country. In truth, the Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool, South, who is a great expert on such matters, and others sometimes explicitly acknowledge that, and they may acknowledge it implicitly more frequently.
We know, for example, that the apprenticeship system, which the Government have reported on very recently in a new review, has real flaws and problems. The picture of an apprenticeship that you have colourfully painted in your own mind, Mr. Bayley, is of an eager young apprentice learning a vital competence by the side of an experienced craftsman in a workplace. That is how most people regard an apprenticeship. However, many apprenticeships do not meet that ideal. Many do: if one gets on to an apprenticeship course at Rolls-Royce, Honda, British Telecom, or a host of other large organisations and many small and medium-sized companies, that is precisely what happens, particularly in areas such as the construction and engineering industries.
The growth of level 2 apprenticeships has, to some extent, extinguished some level 3 qualifications. If we look at the graph, it is clear that level 3 qualifications have declined steadily since 1999 and level 2 have increased. The growth in the apprenticeship programme has meant that, as Alison Wolf, Hilary Steadman, Alison Fuller and other academics have argued—they did so again in the evidence sessions—some apprenticeships are disconnected from the world of work. Some schemes are not mentored, many do not have sufficient workplace element, and some have no employer engagement at all. They are virtual apprenticeships. That does not do any favours to learners or employers.
The Government, with an implicit acceptance of the problems, are now reviewing the system yet again, after at least three previous significant reviews, many of the recommendations of which have not been acted upon. Nevertheless, we give this latest review a fair wind because we want the apprenticeship system to work. It has some strength, but it does not deal with the central problem, which is that the Government have a centrally driven, target-based, controlling ideology when it comes to organising training. A system that was devolved, responsive and employer-led would be more appropriate because it would be more sensitive to genuine workplace need and the skills necessary to fill that need.
Order. It may be helpful to set some boundaries to the debate. The amendment is about the voluntary principle. We will have plenty of opportunity later to debate the Government’s broad training policies, and rightly so, but I want the hon. Member to focus on the nature of the amendment, which is whether individuals of the relevant ages should have such an opportunity.
I am delighted to do so, Mr. Bayley. If we compel people to stay in training, it must be fit for purpose. That point has been made repeatedly thus far, not only when the Bill has been scrutinised by the Committee, but in the evidence sessions. Government Members have argued that, in the end, compulsion can be legitimised only when the offer is appropriate. The hon. Member for Yeovil was concerned about the imposition of compulsion; we can argue for its imposition only if in return we offer people provision that will enable them to learn skills that will genuinely make them more employable. That is the trade-off. If there are doubts about the offer, compulsion is delegitimised.
The case that I am making—falteringly and imperfectly— is that the offer is imperfect in all kinds of ways, because the system has not been reformed to a degree sufficient to deal with the extra demands, or even with the current demands. We know that because if we measure our nation’s skills against those of Germany, France or the United States, we will find that we are wanting in intermediate skills, higher-level skills, and in those basic skills about which my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire has spoken at length. We have a problem with so-called life skills and the readiness and willingness to work. The system is faulted, and you will understand why that is so central to the case for the amendment, Mr. Bayley. Our doubts about compulsion stem precisely from our doubts about the system.
Given your strictures, Mr. Bayley, I shall not elaborate further except to add two other elements to my case for why the system cannot deal with demands that compulsion would create. The second—beyond apprenticeships—relates to the quality of the vocational offer leading up to the age of 16 in schools, which inevitably relates to what children and young people do afterwards. Speaking in my official capacity, I want to put it on the record unequivocally, so that there can be no doubt during future sittings of the Committee or elsewhere, that the Conservatives welcome vocational diplomas. I welcomed them sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton—I see him more often than I see my wife—when they were introduced in a Committee like this. The Minister will remember that we did not argue against vocational diplomas—indeed, we welcomed them. It was probably in this very room; you may have been in the chair, Mr. Bayley. We did so because it is absolutely right that we improve the quality of vocational education in school.
I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Llanelli. I think she was right to say that we sacrificed vocational education for a long time. Insufficient emphasis was placed on it in schools. We came to believe that the only form of accomplishment was academic, perhaps because most of us are academics. Most of those who make public policy are people who have followed the academic route: O-levels, as they then were, followed by A-levels, degrees, perhaps further degrees, and then into public policy. Because of the underestimation of the value of vocational learning, it played second fiddle in most schools and for public policy makers.
I welcome the diplomas because they give us the opportunity to elevate vocational education in the orchestra. It becomes a significant player, and no doubt the Minister is about to intervene to tell me why.
The hon. Gentleman persists in describing the qualifications as vocational diplomas, which is not language that we use any longer because it is important that they have rich academic content as well as rich vocational content. Does he agree that it is possible for a qualification to have both?
Some qualifications have to have both—indeed, most skills need both, although it could be argued that some vocational skills are entirely unacademic. At both school level and beyond, the chances are that acquiring a vocational competence involves some academic elements. That is true of all the vocational competences relating to engineering, to give one example.
One of the ways in which colleges attract people to core skills courses is by offering them vocational courses. If people want to be carpenters or plumbers, they must be able to read, measure, weigh and so on, which is why an implicit academic offer is part of such courses. Notwithstanding that, we should be proud of the vocational character of diplomas. I do not want them to be academicised. The reason there is so much emphasis on academic education is that we are embarrassed by vocational learning. I want us to be proud of vocational learning so that it can stand alone. I want us to understand that practical accomplishment can deliver individual work and is good for the community and the nation. I am not convinced by the addition of extra diplomas. They are unnecessary not only because they compete with A-levels, but they are an implicit attack—
Order. I say this quite genuinely to help the Committee. We will be discussing, under clause 3, level 3 qualifications; under clause 4, appropriate full-time education or training; and under clause 5, full-time occupation. It would be a great shame, and it would not serve the Committee well, if we reached those clauses and found that all the arguments that could be deployed about the quality of education had already been covered more generally at the start of the debate. I hope that we can concentrate on the central principle of voluntarism to which the amendment refers and save the debate about the quality, nature and parameters of training for the appropriate part of the Bill.
I shall speed back to that specific area, Mr. Bayley, with your advice and guidance in mind. We cannot indeed debate such matters at great length not do I think that any member of the Committee should underestimate the breadth and depth of the resources on which to draw to debate the matters at seemingly inexorable length.
However, one further pertinent matter is important to the amendment. Much of the debate on compulsion is about advice and guidance. It is crucial to the Government’s case that, if people are compelled to stay on between the ages of 16 and 18, they are advised in the right way and follow the right path. We have been told that repeatedly. If they were compelled to stay on and found themselves in school doing something that they had failed previously in the way described by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and were becoming increasingly disillusioned by learning, that extra two years as he suggested would do more harm than good. It is possible to extend the compulsory age of education and do more damage to particular individuals than to add any value. We should not assume that, by extending the time people spend in formal education, we necessarily and inevitably add to the likelihood of inspiring the thirst for learning that we have been discussing.
Critical to the Government’s case—I am mindful of the fact that the amendment qualifies their argument, given that we have agreed that there is little debate about the principle of greater participation—is the question whether people will be advised and guided in the right way, and the evidence is not good, is it? That evidence includes the Department’s own study, which we shall no doubt discuss later, and the work by the National Audit Office. It also includes the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report, “Apprenticeship: a key route to skill”, which I have to hand, although I do not know whether you have had a chance to read it, Mr. Bayley. As all these studies make clear, the current arrangements for advising young people at and beyond school are not fit for purpose. Given those doubts about the current system—about the training offer, the vocational route in school, the advice and guidance, and the clarity of the pathway that we want to establish, which should match the clear academic pathway—I hope that the Committee will give the amendment serious consideration. It would be irresponsible to move forward with compulsion before we are certain that such matters have been properly dealt with.
In conclusion—hon. Members will be sorry to hear that I have abbreviated my remarks, and the Minister was certainly looking to me to continue until at least tea time—the argument that I suspect we shall have in many forms over the coming days and weeks will be built around such doubts. There is understandable hesitation about our restricting people’s liberty without being able to offer them an equivalent benefit. Such doubts lie at the heart of the philosophical divide and the healthy tension that we discussed earlier, and which we shall perhaps have a chance to discuss again.
Let me take this opportunity, as others have done, to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Bayley, now that we are moving into the more traditional setting for a Public Bill Committee. Obviously, I extend the same welcome to Mr. Bercow. We all look forward to serving under what you have already shown to be your most sensitive and astute guidance. You will ensure that we remain on the subject that we are supposed to be talking about, as far as that is possible for Members of Parliament.
I also welcome the shadow Ministers. I was first appointed to my position as Minister of State with responsibility for schools at 5.30 pm on a Friday, and I was in Committee—probably in this room—at about 9.30 am the following Tuesday. We were considering the Education and Inspections Bill, and I was most grateful for the indulgent way in which my comments were scrutinised in those early sittings, as I strove rapidly to get up to speed with what on earth it was I was supposed to be talking about. I look forward to working in that spirit again with the hon. Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and for South Holland and The Deepings.
It is also a pleasure to debate these issues with my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Yeovil. It is a great pleasure that other members of the Committee will be able to add their wisdom and their obsessions. Indeed, we heard a bit of both this morning, and I was particularly struck by the expertise with which my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli was able to draw on her experience as an inspector and a teacher. I was most pleased that she was on my side, rather than on the other. I look forward to working with the Minister from the other Education Department, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, who will be working with me as the Committee proceeds.
I assume that we will not have a stand part debate on the clause, so I will make some relatively brief comments on it. I will then address the debate in all its glory and then briefly and directly address the amendment. It has long been our ambition as a nation for our young people to continue in learning until they are 18. As we heard on Second Reading, the Education Acts 1918 and 1944 stated that young people should continue their education, at least part-time, until the age of 18, although those provisions were never implemented. It is time to make a reality of this historical ambition; the school leaving age was last raised in 1972 and the world has changed a great deal since then. That is not to say that we should again be raising the school leaving age, but we should be raising the age at which people should be continuing to participate in educational training.
We have heard many of the arguments in favour of that. We know that continuing in learning post-16 has significant benefits for individuals, for the economy, for society, and increasing participation post-16 is therefore already one of the Government’s key priorities in education. We know that young people who continue in education or training are more likely to gain further qualifications by 18 than those who go into jobs without training or drop out altogether. People with qualifications find it easier to gain and keep employment, and earn more over their lifetime than those without. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton for quoting some of the statistics on the extra earnings that people get just by securing level 2 qualifications. The individual benefits in turn translate into gains for employers and the economy as a whole.
Our ambition is to realise those benefits for all young people. Every young person has the right to start their adult life equipped with the knowledge, skills and attributes that they will need to succeed. Without compulsory participation, the young people who are least likely to participate voluntarily are likely to be those who are already the most disadvantaged and therefore have the most to gain. I will return to the issue of compulsion, as that is the main subject that we are discussing, once I have addressed the wide-ranging issues in the debate. I will be arguing that compulsion should be a last resort, in agreement with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, but that beyond the effect that it might have on individuals in motivating them, more importantly, there is a galvanizing effect on the whole system and a cultural effect, much in the same way as seat belt legislation changed the culture around road safety. In that case it took a little while for some of the true impacts to be felt—if that is not too much of a pun—but it has reduced the extent of injuries on our roads and has been successful in changing driving culture.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton gave an interesting and wide-ranging speech. Much of it focused on the importance of pre-16 learning and improving the quality of education even further than we have already done over the last 10 years, to ensure that all learners have more momentum through their learning, to take them past 16 and carry on until they are 18. He quoted, as he did when I was questioned by the Committee last Tuesday, research from the National Foundation for Educational Research. That research found evidence that there are benefits to increased voluntary participation in education and in training. It found evidence that there are benefits to increased compulsory participation in education. I concede that there is currently no evidence of benefits to compulsory part-time training, but equally, there is no evidence to suggest that there is no effect—there is no evidence either way. If we are an international trailblazer in the area, I am not shy about it: I am proud that we lead the way. As other countries continue a trend of legislating in the area, between now and when the legislation comes into effect, we will seek to learn from their experience. The hon. Gentleman also said that he was not convinced by the causal link between teenage pregnancy and non-participation. We do not claim a causal link, only that non-participants are more likely to experience teenage pregnancy. Education increases aspiration, and rates of teenage pregnancy are a pretty good measure of low aspiration among the young people concerned.
You will be amazed to hear, Mr. Bayley, that we discussed issues about whether people were reading and writing well enough when they left school. I hope to have dealt with some of that through interventions, but I can add that there are a huge number of things that will happen with regard to the reform of the pre-16 school system between now and 2013, when the measures for young people start to bite. For example, at primary level we have introduced the Every Child a Reader programme. We are rolling out the Letters and Sounds programme developed by Sir Jim Rose, which I know is supported by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, given his obsessive advocacy of synthetic phonics. I was surprised to hear that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings was not such a rigid advocate of synthetic phonics and saw merit in some of the other options, but I am sure that that difference will be resolved on the Conservative Front Bench. Perhaps he was not speaking officially at that point.
As well as those, and many other changes at primary level, we will introduce personal tutors in order to improve the transition between primary and secondary education as set out in the children’s plan. Those tutors will be a constant thread that will run through the secondary school career of young people to assist the communication between home and school. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli talked effectively about her concern that the individuals in the class who miss out will be those that the teacher does not notice, those that keep quiet and keep out of the way. The introduction of personal tutors alongside the progression pilots that we are working on will ensure that a light shines on every child in the country and that they progress through their secondary education.
I welcome what the Minister is saying, but I have a question about transition. For most people, the question of reading and writing—which I keep going on about—is moving up from the infants school to the junior school, at which point there should be a good look at how people are going and whether anyone is falling behind. Are there any plans to tackle that?
Sir Jim Rose, who carried out the review that resulted in Letters and Sounds, is currently carrying out a review of primary curriculums. We have asked him to look at the transition from early years learning into more formal learning, and how we can smooth out that transition—it is a little clunky at the moment and that disengages some people—and then see the transition all the way through up to primary age. We look forward to hearing what Sir Jim has to say, and I am sure that we will look sympathetically at what he recommends. Beyond personal tutors, the social and emotional aspects of learning have worked extremely well at primary level, and we have started introducing that programme at secondary level. As well as teaching young people about behaviour and respect, it is giving them some of the skills that will enable them to find school more enjoyable and more engaging and to get on better with their peers.
We have a new secondary curriculum, which some are critical of but which is much more flexible. It will come in this September and it trusts teachers to pitch their teaching at the level that their class will find engaging. It allows subjects to be linked together more effectively while still being based on a robust set of knowledge that is required in the programmes of study.
We have the changes to Connexions that we are talking about under the Bill. There is the introduction of 17 new diplomas—possibly the bravest qualification reform that has been carried out for some time. We are on track to meeting every major milestone on time and on target in that programme. There is the introduction of the foundation learning tier for those who are below level 2 in their abilities, so that there is still a tiered set of qualifications and attainment that can be achieved by those who are less able. We announced the apprenticeships expansion on Monday. We are looking to one in five over-16s being able to access an apprenticeship. There is the introduction of the A* grade in the reforms at A-level. We are proceeding with a range of changes at pre-16 level.
It seems to me that the thrust of what my hon. Friend is saying and the bulk of the initiatives that will be implemented over the next four to eight years will answer most if not all of the points that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings made in relation to the arguments against compulsion.
Naturally, I believe that they do. I believe that this measure is the culmination of a much wider programme of reform and improvement of our schools system. It is undoubtedly ambitious to want to raise the ambition and aspiration of the whole education system to take everyone through to 18, but it is right that we should now do so.
I apologise for not welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Bayley; I do so now. Surely there is at least an equally strong—I put it no more firmly than that—argument that, having put those reforms in place, one would want to see the effect that they had had on participation. If we strengthen the product in the way that the hon. Member for Blackpool, South and the Minister describe, it may well be that many more 16 and 17-year-olds will participate anyway. At that point, one would want to take a view about whether compulsion was necessary.
I can see that there is a certain logic to the hon. Gentleman’s argument. However, we have carefully examined the trajectories and we have seen some improvement in participation, but it is incremental improvement. We think that the combination of all these measures will get us to 90 per cent. in the timeline that we have been talking about in relation to implementing the Bill. When we considered the challenge of the last 10 per cent. and the importance of doing something for that 10 per cent., because those are probably the most disadvantaged young people in our country and the ones who would benefit most from education and training, the view was that only through compulsion could we get to them. That is not because they will think, “Oh, goodness me, it’s now the law that I have to do it.” It is more that, for us in the Department, for local authorities and for our non-departmental public bodies—for the whole system—we have a much stronger driver, beyond our passion for social justice, to make the policy work. I am referring to developing things such as the range of informal training that we will talk about under clause 4.
The Minister mentions the 10 per cent. that the Government think that they may not get to through voluntarism. Is the 10 per cent. a snapshot of one point in time or does it represent some people who might be in education and training at some point during the year in question, but not at the snapshot point?
If I have the implication of the hon. Gentleman’s question right, I would say that that is true. As with the 10 per cent. who are NEETs, not all of those are not in education, employment or training for the whole of the period that we measure. The vast majority go in and out of employment, and some go in and out of education or training. Nevertheless, there are a few per cent. who remain consistently disengaged. We have to galvanise the system to re-engage them and to shift the culture. Equally, if people are dropping in and out, we have not got them sufficiently engaged to properly benefit from the education and training opportunities that are available.
The Minister understands my concern correctly. If his Department has any information and research available on this issue, describing this 10 per cent. and telling us whether such people are in education and training at any point in the year in question, will he make it available to the Committee?
I think that we have some good analysis of the 10 per cent. not in education, employment or training. It is fair to make a broad comparison between that 10 per cent. and the 10 per cent. that we are chasing after. We also want those in full-time work to be involved in some form of education and training. That is a fundamental part of the Bill as well, which we will discuss when we move on to clause 2. It is fair for the hon. Gentleman to take the analysis of the NEETs, and I will discuss with officials whether we have enough in the public domain to satisfy him and the rest of the Committee. If I have to furnish the Committee with more information, I will, of course, look to do so.
It seems to me that we have reached a salient point. The Minister has now said that the principal justification for compulsion—and that is what we are debating—is to chase after 10 per cent. of the cohort. If that is right, we are introducing compulsion for many for the benefit of a very important small number of young people. I wonder what proportion of those young people will be difficult to engage, even with compulsion. We know that in year 11 in secondary school, the combined total of authorised and unauthorised absence is between 8 and 10 per cent. of the school population. Of the people that the Minister most wants to get at, does he envisage that a number will not attend even if they are compelled to do so?
The 10 per cent. figure is what we are principally chasing after. However, we are chasing after it by seeking to shift the culture. I want to quote Paul Head, the fine constituent of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Innovation, Universities and Skills. He stated:
“The reason I welcome compulsion is that it changes the nature of the terms of the debate. You no longer ask, ‘How do we work our way up to 85 or 90 per cent.?’ You actually start asking, ‘Why are we not at 100 per cent.?’ That is a mindset difference that schools, colleges, local authorities, employers and private training providers need to get their heads around. We have to do it for 100 per cent.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 154, Q348.]
I felt that that was a compelling statement that was made by that particular college principal, and it sums up much of the argument around why we are seeking to do this.
In respect of the point about absence, I am sure that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire will be listening very closely to this. It is easy for people to associate absence with truancy because in normal use of the English language the two words are related. However, in respect of what the statistics actually measure, there is a strong difference between general absence, which includes authorised absence and truancy, and unauthorised absence, which includes a number of other things. For example, unauthorised absence includes instances when parents take children on holiday without the permission of the school. That has increased because in our guidance “Every Lesson Counts” we ask schools to enforce more rigorously the notion that children should be at school every day of the school year. Schools are responding to our encouragement and are authorising parents to take their children out of school for holidays less, but some parents do proceed with that sort of unauthorised absence.
Before we conclude our examination of the Bill, I am sure it will help the Committee to know that, assuming we continue with proceedings until 29 February, the latest statistical release of absence will be published on 26 February. For the first time that will include a breakdown of excuses, so we will finally be able to nail down more closely what numbers are truant and what numbers are not. I am sure that will be of huge comfort to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire.
While the Minister is reading his note, perhaps I could be helpful to him. The point still stands. He is right to say that we are dealing with three kinds of absence: authorised, other types of unauthorised but not truancy, and truancy. I chose my earlier words carefully for that reason. It is surely not unreasonable to assume that the pattern will be similar for people between the ages of 16 to 18. All those types of absence will apply in the same way to 16 and 17-year-olds as they do to younger people. It might be helpful to the Committee if he could say whether the Government have done any modelling on that matter—I did ask that question in the evidence session. We could then find out whether the Government predict that the pattern will continue or whether they take a different view.
If I received a submission and was asked to make a decision about whether to commission that sort of research, I would say that there are many factors to take into account. I have set out all the changes to be made to the schooling system pre-16 to make it more engaging and productive, and to improve standards. It is very difficult for any academic to properly predict what the effect on absence will be by the time the measure comes into effect. Assuming it is not a middle-school system, the current year 6 cohort that is currently in its last year of primary school will be the first year affected by the measure. To predict how that cohort will respond to the changes that are taking place and what they will do in respect of absence thereafter is too difficult an issue to provide value-for-money research. I shall consult my officials later, and if I find out that we have commissioned such research, I will let the Committee know and tell hon. Members what it says—but I will also ask the officials how they managed to get approval.
There is great concern in the EU about the informal—grey—economy. I know that the French presidency is planning to hold a major conference about the grey economy, to which I am sure the Minister will be invited. To what extent does this policy aim to remove young people between 16 to 18 from criminality, the grey economy and those sorts of activities? Do his figures, or his research if he has done any, show to what extent that 10 per cent. are involved in such activities?
I do not have any figures to hand on what proportion are involved in the grey economy. The hon. Member for Broxbourne asked me a question on Tuesday about criminality, antisocial behaviour and so on. I said then that although we did not include it in the impact assessment as a benefit, we are clearly mindful that those participating in education and training are less likely to be involved in criminality—and, I imagine, less likely to be involved in the grey economy. That may be a positive spin-off, but it is not the basis for our policy. The policy is intended to address the individual needs and raise the life chances of every young person, and also to address the skills needs of the country as set out in Lord Leitch’s review.
It has just occurred to me, in response to a question from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings on attendance, that clause 11 puts a duty on learning providers to promote good attendance. We may want to debate that issue more when we reach that point.
I shall pass over comments on the traditional rigour of the new secondary curriculum, because the Committee will want to move on and we will have other opportunities to debate the subject.
The hon. Member for Yeovil made some interesting comments in exchanges on the definition of adulthood, particularly in the context of whether compulsion was appropriate for people over the age of 16, given that people acquire any number of rights at that age. He mentioned marriage, but that is possible only with parental consent; and 16 and 17-year-olds are restricted in the number of hours that they can work: 14 hours, which is different from adults. As for benefits, there are limited benefits in cases of severe hardship below the age of 18. Yes, it is true that they can pilot a glider or sell scrap metal, but they cannot drink alcohol. I was fascinated that the hon. Gentleman should seem to advocate lowering the drinking age. If he wants to intervene and contradict me, I will happily give way.
I said that all those issues should be properly considered. Does the Minister see no contradiction between the suggestion of the Leader of the House that young people may be qualified at the age of 16 to determine the future of the country, but that under the Bill they are not deemed fit to make choices on their own future?
I note that the hon. Gentleman did not answer the question whether he advocated lowering the drinking age. He says that it should be properly considered, which suggests that he may have some sympathy with the idea. Perhaps a motion to the Liberal Democrat conference will help to guide him; his party is well guided by such things.
In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s question on the voting age, it is a debate to be had. Naturally, the Government look forward to that debate. We look to the Leader of the House for wisdom on such matters, but should we decide to lower the voting age to 16, it still will not contradict the notion that we are setting out clearly in the Bill that the period between turning 16 and turning 18 is period of transition from childhood to adulthood. That is why the Bill includes a duty on young people to participate in education. Up to the compulsory school leaving age of 16, the duty rests solely with parents. Some duties are attached to parents under the Bill, implying that they too have a role.
The driving age is 17, although some argue that it should be 18, and that the legal age for buying cigarettes should be 18, as it is for alcohol, but many other things happen at 16. The law generally acknowledges that it is a period of transition. It is therefore not at all difficult to suggest that compulsion should apply in respect of some form of education or training up to the age of 18.
Further to the intervention from the hon. Member for Yeovil, I appreciate that the views of college principals vary. Some principals tell me that the character of their college depends to some degree on the fact that the young people who go there choose to do so. They left school, to which they were compelled to go, but they want to be at college. The young people who will be obliged to go to college from age 16 onwards will not be in that position, which will change the nature of college communities.
In response, I shall quote the Association of School and College Leaders, which said:
“One of the strengths of the Bill is that it is not raising the school-leaving age—it is not saying to these young people, “You must continue in school or college.” Instead, it is giving them alternative routes, which potentially will lead them in the right direction.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 63, Q159.]
I agree with that. It would be wrong for us, or for young people’s advisers to tell them what choice to make. Equally, it is right to say to young people, “Doing nothing is not a choice”. Clearly, I disagree on that point with the British Youth Council. In an evidence session, Barnardo’s told us
“that children should be viewed as such until their 18th birthday... we do not share the view that a 16-year-old can make an informed, autonomous decision that...could have such a catastrophic effect on their future”.——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 13, Q27.]
On the final point about young people not having responsibility or not being entrusted with decisions until they are 18, does the Minister accept that there is an assumption in the Bill that parents cannot be held accountable in the same way when their child is over 16, and that the Bill is framed around the thinking that parental duties change significantly when a child turns 16?
As I said, during the period of transition, it is right to redefine the relationship between the learning institution and parents post-16, which is why we have imposed the duty on young people. We will go on to debate the duties on parents essentially not to stand in the way of a young person pursuing education or training. It is also worth noting the evidence given by my official Jon Coles, who spoke about the sanctions that will be available to the youth court. Parents might have to pay fines, so there is potentially a role for them, but the appropriateness of such a measure would be for the courts to decide.
There was some discussion of consultation. The Department is mindful of an opinion poll conducted before the publication of the Green Paper that surveyed a representative sample of the public, but not, admittedly, young people. It sampled a demographically representative 859 adults aged 16 or over, although I detect a slight contradiction in calling people aged 16 or over “adults”. Of the people questioned, 90 per cent. thought that young people should remain in education or training up to the age of 18, and 76 per cent. agreed strongly. When asked whether the participation should be a legal requirement, 66 per cent. were in favour, so there is a good range of opinion on the subject. We also heard from Opposition spokesmen a repetition of the argument that vocational qualifications were of dubious value.
Not all of them, but some. There was reference to Alison Wolf’s analysis. For the record, I repeat what I said in evidence: a wide range of qualifications at level 2 had substantial returns for lower-achieving school leavers. I refer to research by Jenkins et al in 2007: BTECs have a return of about 13 per cent., City and Guilds crafts of about 5 to 7 per cent., RSA diplomas of about 17 per cent., BTECs level 3 of about 16 to 17 per cent., and so on. It is worth saying that there are excellent wage returns to advanced apprenticeships at level 3, but there are equally good returns on apprenticeships generally.
I mentioned the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, who made the case for compulsion extremely well, particularly when she talked about raising expectations. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, in an intervention, said that the duty would be a burden on vulnerable people. If people are vulnerable and have support needs, those needs would be met rather than enforcement action being taken. I do not regard the duty as a burden on vulnerable people. It is a burden on those who want to stay under the duvet and have no good reason for not getting up and getting on with things, but not on vulnerable people.
When I made that point, I was referring to the Minister’s comments during the evidence sessions, in which he said that a key objective of the compulsorily element of the Bill was to galvanise officials into delivering services to those people and to energise them. I thought that that was a rather harsh method of management and that individuals holding a position of responsibility in education authorities should be galvanised and energised in other ways. It is a pity that we have to rely on a legal, criminal requirement for those vulnerable people to galvanise our officials.
I have set out my belief that the galvanising effect is important, but so is cultural change or the mind shift, as it was described by Paul Head in his evidence. The mindset difference is just as important in creating the necessary change to motivate the 10 per cent. of young people whom we are particularly keen to motivate.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings gave a typically robust and extensive oration. He mentioned many things to which I have already responded. In response to his point that apprenticeships are often not close enough to employers—I am sure that that is a point that he will repeat on a few occasions to the Committee and I am equally sure that both the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and I will have cause to repeat our responses to him—may I point out that there are more than 130,000 employers offering apprenticeship places in more than 180 different types of businesses at the moment? All of the existing 240,000 apprenticeships are work-based. We think that there is a role for programme-led apprenticeships, but they will not count towards our targets until the young person takes up a place with an employer. I hope that that is some comfort to the hon. Gentleman. He also made some important points about information, advice and guidance.
The Minister is correct. We can debate apprenticeships at greater length later, but I would just like to make one point. Although the review that was published this week although it offers some welcome changes, is it not the case that it cements the role of the Learning and Skills Council in the system, and diminishes the role of sector skills councils? In contrast with what Lord Leitch recommends, it does not produce an employer-driven system but one that is still centrally managed, funded and driven, and based on central targets.
When we have a longer debate about apprenticeships, we can explore some of those issues further, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State looks forward to doing so. However, as far as I recall, the LSC arrangement includes the notion that there will be a discrete apprenticeship service, which will work with local employment partnerships in the delivery of apprenticeships and in the brokering with employers that is required.
I attended the launch of the initiative earlier this week—I think that it was on Monday morning—at the QEII conference centre with a range of employers, led by the chairman of BT. There was a very warm welcome from those employers for the proposals, and I look forward to the expansion of apprenticeships heralded at that important conference, which was addressed by the Prime Minister. In respect of information, advice and guidance, I would again quote evidence that we received from the Association of Colleges, which said:
“The provisions in the Bill...are the right way forward...The provisions in the Bill will certainly aid the opportunities of young people to receive that information on an impartial basis.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 28, Q67.]
“If you take the new standards for individual advice and guidance—the quality standards—they provide a really strong framework for high-quality guidance within school. We really support what is in the Bill. If a school or a college were to audit their provision, going through these quality standards, and a local authority were to use the standards as an auditing tool, the quality of careers guidance would be very good indeed.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 66, Q164.]
The Minister is quoting remarkably selectively, as a number of witnesses in the evidence-taking session agreed that the optimal arrangement was some kind of all-age careers service. Indeed, representatives of the Association of Learning Providers and of Connexions were not unsympathetic to that proposal, yet that is not what emerges in the Bill or from other Government changes. If they did anything, the evidence-taking sessions cemented the idea that reform to advice and guidance is urgent and essential for the Bill is to spring to life.
Again, we will have the opportunity to debate information, advice and guidance and the Connexions transfer later. In passing, I recall the answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman asked a number of witnesses from the Prince’s Trust, who said that they were sympathetic to an all-age careers guidance service, but that if we had to prioritise, as inevitably in government one does, they thought that the changes were broadly right. Those are not their exact words, but that is the correct thrust, as I recall.
To address directly the arguments for compulsion, we are already working towards encouraging 90 per cent. of 17-year-olds to participate in education or training by 2015, up from 77 per cent. as it is now. That is one of the key aims of all the changes that we are currently making to the 14-to-19 phase. Achieving 90 per cent. will represent a significant improvement, but it will not put us among the world leaders and it will still mean that 10 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds will not be receiving any form of education or training. It would be unacceptable for even 10 per cent. of young people to be left behind and not have further opportunities to develop their skills, especially as they are more likely to be our most vulnerable and marginalised young people.
To get beyond 90 per cent. participation, we must significantly raise the aspirations of those who choose not to participate at present and we must change and develop the nature of the offer to them, so that perhaps those who struggle with literacy or numeracy have opportunities to be re-engaged and catch up with some of those skills, so that they are properly equipped later in life.
Without compulsion, young people with lower aspirations—those who perhaps come from poorer backgrounds and those who are most likely to gain from continuing their education—will be missed out. We believe that raising the participation age to 18 is the most effective way of galvanising the education system to provide better, for all young people.
It is perfectly reasonable to ask, “Why not just have an entitlement?”, which is in essence what the amendment argues. I would say that we have that already; the Learning and Skills Council is responsible for ensuring appropriate provision for all 16 to 19-year-olds. The September guarantee that came into effect this September guarantees an offer of a suitable learning place to all young people leaving year 11, and is about to be extended for 17-year-olds. We are strengthening that through the entitlement to different kinds of provision from 2013, including the entitlement to an apprenticeship. The amendment would leave us with the status quo. I say to the Committee that the status quo is not good enough for this country; it is not good enough for ensuring that every young person has access to education or training. We are simply removing one choice from young people, and that is the choice to do nothing.
The system will be flexible. There will be a range of choices to meet everyone’s needs—A-levels, GCSEs, diplomas, the foundation learning tier, return to learning or entry to employment. The foundation learning tier will be flexible, and it can be personalised. Many providers have already started to offer flexible start dates, and we have encouraged more to do so. There will be flexible times of learning, to fit in with those who are in full-time work. It is worth saying in passing that over half of young people aged 16 to 19in full-time work, work in the retail sector, which has extensive opening hours are extensive. Once the maximum of 40 hours’ work is completed—that is the legal maximum that 16 to 18-year-olds can work—there is still plenty of time, given the flexibility of hours that can be worked in retail or to devoted to courses offered by learning providers, for people to obtain useful, accredited qualifications.
May I tell the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, who moved the amendment, that in practice that would not change the current position? Young people who wanted to participate would continue to do so, and those who did not would fail to agree that the duty applied to them. Nothing would change, and we need to do better. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
The debate has been interesting. The hon. Member for Yeovil made a compelling speech setting out the arguments against the use of compulsion to raise the participation age to 18. Both parties share the Government’s aspiration and objective of raising participation in educational training—of course it is the right thing to do. The disagreement between us is about how we should do so, and whether simply passing a law or changing the criminal law is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. The Opposition do not believe that to be the right approach. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire made an illuminating speech that showed that his extensive experience of visiting projects that help the most vulnerable young adults—young youths—in the country, has informed his genuine concern about literacy. He is right: groups that are engaged, as opposed to just talking about it, with those people have a genuine concern about literacy. The hon. Member for Llanelli, who made a quip about how “Yeovil” was pronounced in the phonics alphabet, revealed herself as one of those people who oppose synthetic phonics as a method of teaching children to read.
I hope you will allow me, Mr. Bayley, to say clearly on the record that I do not oppose the teaching of phonics. I believe that there are a range of methodologies that can be used very successfully, and I think that more than one methodology is needed to master the English language.
That means that the hon. Lady is opposed to phonics. The synthetic phonics people argue that not even a combination of programmes should be used. One has to be faithful to one synthetic phonics programme—that is what Jim Rose says in his report. We are only talking about the first few months of formal education, but it is important to be faithful to one synthetic phonics programme. The notion that there is a range of strategies reveals either a lack of understanding of the issue, or opposition to synthetic phonics and its use in teaching of children to read in the early years.
The argument is that there are some children who cannot get it—I see you glaring, Mr. Bayley, so I will just make this one point, as it is important and covers some issues raised by my hon. Friend. There are some children who struggle with phonics; there is no question about that. However, the notion that those children benefit from look-and- say is nonsense. The children who can learn to read using look-and-say are the very bright ones: they will learn to read if you breathe on them with a book. It is the children in the bottom quartile of the ability range who suffer. They need more phonics, not less, and they need one-to-one tuition to ensure that they get it. That is the only answer for those children, and it is a tragedy that for 20, 30, 40 years, generations of children have lost out. That is why we have the projects that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire visited. The prisons contain too many people who have problems with their reading.
Moving swiftly on, the Minister talked about trying to change the culture. He drew a parallel with the culture of speeding and drink-driving. However, there is a difference between trying to change people’s behaviour when they are driving a car, and trying to encourage people to stay in education or training. People need to be motivated to learn. Alison Wolf cited evidence that showed that unless somebody is motivated to learn a trade or an academic subject, they will not acquire any knowledge during that process.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall what was said by a range of witnesses, including the Prince’s Trust, Martin Narey from Barnardo’s, and Fairbridge? They knew a number of people who had been compelled to attend educational training, and said that, as long as they had a choice about what they did after that compulsion, there were good examples of their succeeding in acquiring new skills and improving their life chances as a result.
My recollection is that Martina Milburn from the Prince’s Trust said they had great concerns about compulsion. Nigel Haynes, the chief executive of Fairbridge, asked what evidence there was that compulsion had an effect. He said that the fact that the young people with whom they deal came because they wanted to and stayed because they wanted to meant that there was a stronger motivation for change. Rainer said that it strongly opposed the proposed attendance orders. Those people actually deal with young people, and they do so effectively. Fantastic work is done by such groups. They are either opposed to, or concerned about, compulsion. Opposition Members are therefore not convinced that compulsion is the way to help those 10 per cent. of people to whom the Minister referred.
A few years ago, the Public Accounts Committee looked into the question of why dropout rates in higher and further education were so high. The National Audit Office found that one of the key reasons was a lack of preparation in secondary school for young people going on to further and higher education. If the NAO says that there is a lack of preparation in secondary education for further and higher education, what more lack of preparation do the young people whom we are talking about face in their school years? They are not equipped to go on to training or a form of further education: that was the essence of my argument this morning.
There are deep-seated problems why 23 per cent. of 16-year-olds do not go on to further education or training. The Minister said that 90 per cent. was not enough compared with other countries, but 23 per cent. of our young people are not entering further education. Something is fundamentally wrong. It is a more intractable problem than just changing the law and hoping that things will be put right.
My hon. Friend is speaking with his usual expertise and passion. A point well made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire was that the business of those young people agreeing to participate is significant in itself, because they have already made a commitment to re-engage. That commitment will not be forthcoming if we compel them to participate.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the history of using criminal penalties to persuade young people to do something that they do not want to do is not good? The National Audit Office report deals with community penalties, and it shows that people are not turning up on time and are breaching the orders. In fact, the probation service has so many problems with the orders that it is not enforcing them properly. Such a system does not work without the individual’s motivation.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, both in what he said and to cite the report.
I accept that the Minister is going to split the truancy figures and the figures on unauthorised absences as a result of schools clamping down on children being taken out of school during term time to go on holiday. I share his feelings. I am passionate that parents should not take their children out of school in term time. Education is an expensive service that the state provides. It is hugely important to every child in school. Children should not be taken out of school in term time because a holiday is £200 or £300 cheaper then. My answer is a holiday in Bognor Regis. It has fantastic facilities for young people. There is no need to go to Spain or the Bahamas.
The research commissioned by the Government is clear. Its executive summary states:
“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; in many cases change had only recently been introduced, and it was as yet too early to find evidence of impact.”
The Minister scrabbled around, not very convincingly, to find something to justify his case. I am concerned about the causal link in the Government’s claims about wider aspects of well-being. Of course there is a correlation between education and people’s health, well-being and wealth, but is there a causal link? If somebody is forced into education, will their health improve? Page 36 of the Government’s report states:
“Much of the evidence on the links between increased participation and associated health benefits is quite weak and fails to provide a robust relationship between the two”
On behaviour and crime, the report says:
“There is only very limited evidence on the link between not participating in education or training post-16 and the likelihood of criminal behaviour.”
The Government’s case is not well made. Of course we agree with the Government’s objectives, but the Opposition do not agree with the principle of compulsion. Whether that opposition is based on principle, as it is for the hon. Member for Yeovil, or on practicality, as it is for my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire and others—whatever the motivation, I urge the Committee to oppose the principle behind the clause and to support the amendment.
(d) is not participating in a gap year prior to pursuing a level 3 qualification in the following year.’.
The amendment adds a second exemption to clause 1, which imposes a duty to participate. The first exemption is in clause 1(c), and refers to a 16 or 17-year-old who has already achieved a level three qualification—2 A-levels or the equivalent. I am sure that you, Mr. Bayley, achieved your superlative A-levels by the time you were 17, if not when you were 16, but there are youngsters who, after GCSEs, are tired of academic study and wish to spend time abroad on an early gap year before resuming A-level study on their return. The Bill already provides for those who wish to pursue a gap year between A-levels and college or training, by providing the exemption in clause 1(c). However, for those who want a year out before they start their A-levels, or those for whom year 11 is their final year at school, this may be their only opportunity to take a year out before they start a three-year apprenticeship or a lifetime in work. It seems slightly unfair expressly to permit a gap year for those who are academic enough to do A-levels, but who have not yet reached the age of 18, but not to permit a gap year for those for whom GCSE will be the highest level of academic qualification that they achieve.
The British Youth Council, as well as opposing the whole notion of raising the participation age to 18 by law, has criticised the potential criminalisation of young people who choose not to participate. It says that the Bill
“takes away the choice from a young person, for example, to spend a year volunteering on a ‘gap year’, which is enshrined in the findings of the Russell Commission and underpins the Government’s volunteering initiative.”
In its fourth recommendation, the Russell Commission states:
“It should be commonplace for young people to volunteer whilst they are at school, college or in higher education.”
That is a worthy ambition. The report produced at the end of the Government’s consultation stated on page 11:
“Some young people felt that young people should have the opportunity to participate in schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, or be able to take a gap year to participate in some type of valuable project.”
In addition, some young people called for volunteering to count as participation, arguing that many of those schemes help young people to achieve valuable qualifications.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will agree to an amendment that allows 16 and 17-year-olds to take a gap year, provided that they can demonstrate that they intend to pursue a level 3 qualification on their return, or, by implication, if they do not have a level 1 or a level 2 qualification, that they will pursue a level 1 or 2 qualification. I also hope that the Government will consider the Bill’s effect on young 16 and 17-year-old athletes who are sponsored to train full-time. I wish to ask the Minister, particularly in the run-up to the London Olympics, whether that counts as full-time employment or is it training and thus counts as an exemption under the training provisions?
May I welcome you back to the Chair for this afternoon’s proceedings, Mr. Bayley? I will not detain the Committee long on this particular amendment. In the interests of our general, liberal and pro-freedom approach we support it, but I hope that either the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton or the Minister can enlighten us about the number of people who take up such opportunities. I do not know of many myself, and I do not know how the Bill would accommodate some of the examples that the hon. Gentleman has just given to us, although I read somewhere that athletes were going to be exempt in some way. That would cover precisely the types of youngsters to whom he referred, and who could be engaged in sporting activities in the run-up to the Olympic games. Perhaps the Minister will indicate whether the Department has any information on the number of people be involved, and clarify the status of any young person involved in training for the Olympic games or any other such high-profile event.
I hope to be able to deal with this very briefly. We should not be encourage young people to leave learning at 16. We know that being NEET at 16 is universally associated with poor outcomes, as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings explained earlier, and that staying in learning post-16 is hugely beneficial to young people. They are more likely to gain further skills and qualifications, which helps them to progress in learning in future, find and keep employment and earn more over their lifetime. Those who participate are also more likely to be healthy and less likely to commit antisocial behaviour or get involved in crime.
It would be difficult to define a gap year in law, or to identify who was taking one and who was simply using it as an excuse not to participate. If the point is that some young people want to leave or take a break from academic study at 16, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton suggested, that is fine—young people will be able to work or volunteer.
Paragraph 18 of the explanatory notes states:
“Regulations made under subsection 1(b) can prescribe any other kinds of occupation that should count for these purposes, including volunteering, agency work and working as the holder of an office (for example, police officers or public appointees).”
We want the regulations to make it clear that volunteering would count, as long as the young person did some part-time training as well. If a young person wished to travel or volunteer outside England, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton suggested, they would not be subject to the duty to participate, because they would be out of the country. Clause 1 states:
“This Part applies to any person who is resident in England”.
My understanding is that the duty would apply to full-time athletes and apprentice footballers training full-time; they would still have to work towards an accredited qualification. It might be possible to find a way of accrediting some of the training undertaken by full-time athletes or footballers, but it is important, given the possibility of serious injury that elite sportsmen and women can incur, that they have other options. Not every apprentice footballer, even those with the great premier football teams, such as Arsenal, makes it, and it would not be right for them to have to begin their education again. It is a positive aspect of the Bill that even they would have to take part in accredited training.
As I recall, Theo Walcott’s girlfriend did very well in her GCSEs or A-levels last summer. I am sure that he would want to acquire the necessary qualifications to enable him to compete with her intellectually as well as he competes for a place in the squad with the few English players at Arsenal. We will of course discuss later, under clause 6, the definition of relevant training and education, at which point we can perhaps return to Theo Walcott’s training.
He is a good example, and a rare one, of an excellent footballer and manager—although Reading are not my team—which is unusual for an Englishman these days, who pursued education alongside his football career. It is possible to excel in sport and attain a qualification. There are many other examples in rugby, rowing and other sports of people who have excelled in education and in sport. On the basis of those compelling arguments, I urge the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton to withdraw his amendment.
I am reassured by the Minister’s response to my point about volunteering, and I am grateful for his explanation. I was interested in his response to my concerns about people wanting to take a gap year abroad, and he has reminded the Committee that the duty applies only to people resident in this country. I do not know whether the Bill will result in a mass exodus in a few years’ time of 16 and 17-year-olds wishing to avoid the duty imposed by the Bill, he has reassured me that those who want to spend some time travelling before resuming their academic or training careers can do so. I was disappointed by the Minister’s response to my point about athletes, particularly given that we are entering the run-up to the Olympics. However, in view of his other assurances in this short, interesting and probing debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
This is a probing amendment, and we do not intend to press it to a Division. However, it raises some important issues, to which we will inevitably return when we consider later clauses of the Bill. Although I do not want to tread too much on the toes of those later clauses, it is quite a good time to raise some issues in the context of clause 1 and the sphere of its influence.
We have already discussed some of the philosophical objections to the Government’s approach to compulsion, which were an important part of the comments that I made on amendment No. 1. It might be possible to consider amendment No. 70 to clause 1 and amendment No. 77 to clause 10 as part of that attack on compulsion. Amendment No. 70 would give local authorities the power to allow young people a waiver so that they would not be affected by the proposals on compulsion. The amendment might essentially complement the amendment of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that would allow young people themselves to opt out of clause 1.
Having dealt with the philosophy of compulsion earlier, I do not want to discuss those issues again. In tabling the two amendments, our concerns are more about the practicalities of the Bill, which the hon. Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and for South Holland and The Deepings mentioned. The amendments raise two particular issues in relation to the practicalities of compulsion. The first is one that we took evidence on at the beginning of the week and concerns reasonable excuse and the extent to which a local authority should essentially allow people an exit route from compulsion. I want to talk about some of the groups that will be particularly affected by compulsion and some of their concerns. The second issue is whether there are more suitable options available for that group of quite vulnerable young people aged 16 and 17 and whether those options ought to be provided through the local authority route and the other agencies that may be able to intervene. I want to explore the extent to which those other options will be permitted.
As we proceed, I encourage the Minister to feel free to intervene if I get anything wrong, because that may help to clarify his intentions. We know from him and from the evidence session that he has undertaken to publish the guidance that will be provided to local authorities on reasonable excuse before the end of the Committee’s proceedings.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that he will be tolerant if I need to correct him. When giving evidence on Tuesday, I think I explained that we do not want to publish draft guidance because of the dangers of it becoming out of date, but that we would circulate to the Committee our thinking on a reasonable excuse—I think that was the phrase I used. I want to clarify that because I do not want artificially to raise his expectations.
My expectations are never raised by Ministers. I am grateful for that clarification and hope that the Minister will tell us what the Department’s thinking is on those issues at a relatively early stage in our proceedings because it may save us time when dealing with later clauses. That would be helpful to us and to Ministers.
Let me set the scene in relation to some of the groups that we are concerned about in connection with compulsion. Earlier, the Minister cited some of the supporters of compulsion and some of the potential benefits, but I thought that it would waste the Committee’s time if I jumped up to mention those who have opposed compulsion. The Minister knows that many Labour Members who have a lot of experience of young people who are excluded from, or are outside, the education system, are also sceptical about whether the approach is right, particularly for the group of vulnerable young people on whom I shall concentrate when discussing amendments Nos. 70 and 77. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who represents a part of the country with one of the largest numbers of young people outside education and training, went on the record in November 2007, saying that
“the idea that deeply damaged young men and women could somehow be fined and it would make them go into education or training;—I think it’s cloud cuckoo land”.
We want to explore whether local authorities should be able to grant a waiver from the Bill’s provisions on compulsion to groups of young people for whom the requirements may be unrealistic or undesirable. We also want to consider whether we can give other types of help to young people, because we are not suggesting that the alternative is to write them off and forget about them. Even where there are entitlements, many young people are not getting effective support to help them to re-engage in education and training later on.
Notwithstanding the evidence that the Minister cited from those groups that engage with young people and support compulsion because they consider it to be a galvanising influence, we heard, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, from many groups that have huge experience and are sceptical about whether compulsion is the right route. Only earlier this week, James Cathcart of the British Youth Council gave evidence to us and said that, although he could think of many young people who would be able to engage with some of the proposals in the Bill, there would be many who, even with sanctions, would not be willing to participate.
Nigel Haynes, the chief executive of Fairbridge, also said that a large number of young people who will be affected by the clause 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...to do it”— to enter into education and training—
He also spoke about the difficulties that Fairbridge has engaging with that high-needs group of young individuals and getting them to take part in the education and training that it offers. He said that among the cohort of young people whom Fairbridge deals with, who have after all come forward voluntarily, a large number still do not succeed in engaging with the process. He said:
“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”.——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 195-204, Q450-472.]
We heard similar comments and concerns about the group of vulnerable young people with higher needs from other witnesses. We also saw written evidence from Treehouse, the autism charity, and the Campaign for State Education, which said:
“CASE believes that a group of young people who have severe personal problems or have become disenchanted with or disengaged from schooling...are unlikely to be able to benefit positively from the processes presently envisaged in the Bill.”
Other groups cited specific evidence of young people with particular characteristics that might make it difficult for them to engage in education and training. The National Children’s Bureau gave us evidence that in England in 2005, there were about 10,000 mothers under 18 years old, and that only about 30 per cent. of them were in education, training or employment. The bureau emphasised that a large number of those youngsters suffer from post-natal depression and other problems and restraints, and may prefer to have an option to start training post-19 when their child is slightly older.
We are all acutely conscious from our constituencies and experience of the fortunately small but notably high-needs minority of young people who may be parents, and may have drugs and alcohol problems, mental health problems, special needs problems or housing problems, as the Minister for Schools and Learners said in his evidence, that it will be extremely challenging for them to engage with the compulsion envisaged in the Bill. In the evidence, even from some of the bodies that were fairly supportive of the Government—for example, Barnardo’s—there was a clear indication that they wanted flexibility to allow for that group of young people, both in giving exemptions and, I assume, ensuring that provision is available that meets their needs and does not merely tick a Government box.
In her evidence, Ann Pinney from Barnardo’s said that
“there will need to be flexibility and pragmatism by the attendance panel.”
I shall not touch directly on the attendance panel issue in this debate, because we shall come to that when we discuss clauses 40 and 41. She continued:
“We hope that such issues would be covered in the guidance issued to the attendance panel. Clearly, if a young person is suffering ill health or cannot attend for a short period for another reason, flexibility is needed.”
She made the same point as another witness that
“It might be more helpful to look at it as an entitlement that they could defer if there was a compelling reason why they could not attend.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 14, Q31.]
The same points were made, again powerfully, by Kim Bromley-Derry, vice-president elect of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, although in the evidence from that body the suggestion was that “reasonable excuse” in the Bill was likely to be defined very narrowly, which was precisely our concern. In her evidence, Kim Bromley-Derry referred to individuals
“suffering serious emotional or mental trauma, in in-patient facilities or subject to a high level of psychiatric or psychological support.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 81, Q187.]
She also referred to long-term medical conditions.
I think we all know that there are many poor young people in every part of the country who might not meet a hurdle that is quite as high as that. They may not have got to the stage where they are in a mental health facility or have been sectioned, particularly in the current environment when, for both budgetary reasons and wider social reasons, there is strong pressure to keep people in the community, even when they have mental health problems. There will be many people who do not meet that quite high hurdle, but who will find it almost impossible to engage with the proposals.
Without going into any great detail, for obvious reasons, I shall give an example of a recent case in Yeovil of a young man who was essentially homeless, and was considered by the local Somerset Partnership NHS and Social Care Trust not to have mental health problems that made him sectionable. He had had drugs problems, but did not seem to have severe problems at the time. He was receiving no help from the other agencies, who did not consider him to be in such a state that they could impose that help against his wishes, yet he frankly has zero probability in the short term of engaging with the Bill’s measures, and it may take a lot of care and attention to sort out some of his issues and to get him anywhere near being able to engage in the sort of education and training that we all want.
The amendment probes whether such individuals should be given a waiver. We are keen to understand the Government’s view of the extent to which they will invite some form of waiver process that can be implemented quickly and effectively, rather than going through the complex mechanisms outlined in clauses 40 and 41.
We also wish to explore the separate issue of whether other types of support that fall outside the definition of education and training will be on offer to youngsters. I want to be clear on the position of the Minister for Schools and Learners because the evidence that he has given on the subject has been a little unclear. In his evidence to the Committee on Tuesday, he said in answer to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton:
“I believe that we can effectively get to 100 per cent.” in take-up by the 16 and 17-year-old cohort.
“With the right levels of support for informal and formal learning, we can get to that point and achieve the cultural change that we require, particularly given that these measures do not come into effect until 2013 and 2015.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 207, Q477.]
But later in the sitting, he elaborated on what a reasonable excuse might mean in practice. He said:
“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.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 209, Q482.]
That raises as many questions as it answers, which is perhaps understandable at this stage. The fundamental question is whether the guidance will be pragmatic and allow for a large number of types of exception to deal with the concerns that the Opposition have, or whether it will be narrowly defined, as local authorities appear to anticipate. It appears that there will be very high hurdles to be cleared.
The opinion of the local authorities appears to be supported by the Minister’s evidence, which was that he thought we could get close to 100 per cent. I suggest to him that a potentially large number of people will have needs that, although not of the extreme type described by the local authorities in their evidence, are extreme enough to make it difficult to engage with them. The amendment invites the Committee not only to consider that matter at an early stage in the Bill’s progress, but to consider whether a more effective and faster route is needed to deal with such individuals and recognise their problems, rather than taking them through the attendance notice process, with its appeals and enforcement mechanisms.
I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that the group of people that he talked about the other day in the second part of his evidence—the homeless and people with medical and mental health problems—could be a large rump, if I can put it that way, of the 10 per cent. that we will be left with. Local authorities and others may find it extremely difficult to engage with those young people, who, sadly, in the rather fractured society that we have today, are found in large numbers across a large part of the country. We want local authorities to deal with them consistently. We need it to be clear in the Bill how flexible the Government are willing to be, because we are worried about the potential effects of a sledgehammer Bill on young people who deserve to be dealt with differently, but may not be if the Government are seeking to get to 100 per cent.
My other point touching on whether there should be a waiver certificate to be issued by a local authority relates to what obligation in respect of education and training will be set out in the Bill and the extent to which that will be flexible. If it is flexible, we might not need a waiver. If it is very inflexible, and education and training can take place only in educational and training settings, we probably need a waiver. I am unclear from what the Minister has said, and from what is in the Bill, whether other options will be available that will meet the needs of the very high-need group of young people who will not be ready to engage with education and training in any formal sense.
That point was made by James Cathcart, the chief executive of the British Youth Council, in the evidence session on Tuesday. He invited the Committee to consider a fourth choice, saying:
“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”.
He mentioned volunteering. He also said:
“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 sides——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 192, Q444.]
It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s views on that, and to know to what extent the options available in the Bill will include, for example, medical and other support, not simply to go alongside the education and training obligations, but potentially to tackle the problems that young people have before they engage in education.
When we touched on that issue earlier today—although it seems a lot earlier—the Minister intervened and mentioned and the obligation in clause 4 that an individual should be in full-time education or training
“at a school, at a college of further education, at an institution within the higher education sector or otherwise.”
He invited us to think that “or otherwise” was quite a significant concession because it implied that it might be in a much more flexible setting with a great deal of additional support. However, if we go further into the Bill and look, for example, at clauses 40 and 41 which deal with the way in which attendance notices will be applied, it appears to be more prescriptive regarding the young person’s obligation to be in education and training per se.
I suggest that, as regards the practicalities of the Bill, the Minister would command a lot more support from people from all parts of the House if he was offering not only the entitlement and obligation to be in education and training, but another option, which would not be the one that he described earlier of staying in bed under the blankets.
Thank you. Under the duvet is a much more modern way of staying in bed.
The fourth or third option, or whatever it may be, would give to young people the very intensive medical and social support that many of the hardest-to-reach core might need. The Minister must accept that those individuals might not remotely count as being in education and training because the support they receive from the agencies may look nothing like education and training in the first instance. That might be a very good thing, because some of the youngsters that I referred to earlier seem to be at a stage where the prospects of them engaging with anything that looks like educational training are so remote as to be close to zero.
It is possible—in many cases it would not be difficult—that other services could engage with those young people. Local authorities would have to budget to fund those services—often the budgets are not there for the young people who need support. If the Government were to allow a third or fourth option of support that might ultimately lead to education and training, without education and training being the obligation throughout that process, we would have considerably fewer concerns about that practical element of the Bill. It might ensure that many vulnerable young people who experienced a wide range of problems in their early life can suddenly access the type of care and support at the ages of 16 and 17 that they are currently unable to get.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton made a good point when he said that it was sad that we have to pass legislation with threats of criminalisation and fines in order to encourage other agencies to embrace their obligations. If the Government are insistent on pushing the measure through, we might as well ensure that the support that young people will receive is as relevant as possible to their needs.
I hope that the Minister will give us a little more information about the categories of people who may be considered to have a reasonable excuse not to be in education and training. Furthermore, does he have an open mind on the obligations on young people not being restricted to education and training, but taking in their support needs; and, in particular, those support needs not being conditional on being in education and training at the same time, but in some cases preceding the ability to go into education and training?
On how the opt-out would operate and whether there should be a waiver certificate, it is worth touching on a couple of other categories of people with whom there might be problems. In her evidence, Alison Wolf referred to people who might have left a course, as many young people over the age of 16 do. We assume that that would be dealt with by interpreting in a reasonable way the potential to opt out through a reasonable excuse.
We have not even begun to touch on the wider issue of all those young people who disengage from the education service before the age of 16. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings referred to the latest available figure of 10.5 per cent. of the year 11 cohort. Although that figure may be broken down to trim off some who are merely going on exotic holidays—not to Bognor Regis—we will still find that a large core group has disengaged well beyond the age of 16. It remains a serious concern that those young people, who might not have some of the justifications that I have described, may still be determined not to engage; they may be determined to avoid the process of local authority scrutiny and obligation and may, as a consequence of being criminalised, be even less likely to engage with some of the services they need and to go into employment. However, that is a wider issue, which relates to the Government’s decision to go down the compulsion route.
The hon. Member for Yeovil said that the amendments were probing amendments. I am grateful for that clarification, so I shall not dwell unduly on what their effect would be in practice. If they were accepted, some young people could be declared exempt from the new duty to participate and denied the opportunities that it offers because the local authority had given them a waiver certificate. That is different from a reasonable excuse exempting them from inappropriate enforcement action, because the waiver certificate would exempt them from the opportunity. We think that all young people should be subject to the duty, because it puts corresponding duties on local authorities to support them. The use of a waiver certificate by the local authority would allow it to get out of providing the support that it would otherwise have to provide because of the duty. I hope that I have explained the particularities of a waiver certificate.
It is also clear from evidence given to us last week by our local government colleagues that they do not consider it appropriate to exempt people from the duty to participate. John Freeman, of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, was very clear in his support for compulsion. We need to ensure that we have in place an appropriate learning route for every young person, whatever their circumstances, which is what we are doing through the changes being made to the 14-to-19 curriculum and the other things that I described earlier.
The hon. Member for Yeovil is right to refer to clause 4 and the breadth of the definition of appropriate full-time provision for which it provides. The Bill draws a broad distinction between full-time provision and the requirement for accredited part-time learning on those in full-time employment. However, I shall talk further about that breadth when we debate clause 4.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I have an open mind when looking at the range of support to be offered. I want to consider the evidence given by witnesses from Barnardo’s, during the first evidence session, through to Fairbridge at the end, from whom we heard about all sorts of good practice. We have also heard from other organisations such as Rainer, which did not give evidence. They all have something to offer, which is why I disagree with him when he describes it as a sledgehammer Bill. It is capable of being much more forensic.
May I test how forensic the Bill will be? Is the Minister minded to allow, in clause 4 and elsewhere, for the possibility that the support offered to a young person under an obligation to take up education and training might not include education and training throughout the entire period, in order to resolve whatever health or other problems that the young person might have?
I am certainly minded to support the notion that some individuals will need intensive, quite possibly full-time, support to get them into a position where they can access and engage with education and training. The important thing is that that support leads them towards a position where they can participate fully in what we would normally describe as education and training. Given the addiction problems that some people might have, it would be entirely appropriate that that support prioritises those problems before engagement in education and training.
That was a very helpful answer, but I would like to press the Minister further. How patient and forensic is he willing to be? Will he acknowledge that, on some occasions, the period of support required for young people with severe needs prior to education and training could be very long—more than one year and perhaps even two?
It might be, but Barnardo’s and, quite possibly, the Prince’s Trust quoted examples in which short, intensive engagement over a few months can really turn things around, get someone engaged, and ready and wanting to learn. The hon. Gentleman should not run away with the notion that I am conceding that people could go 18 months in support not related to education and training. The aim will always be for them to engage in the acquisition of useful skills and learning so that they can achieve better in life.
We must ensure that all young people have access to the right support to address their individual needs. Targeted youth support can play a very important role here, as well as the Connexions service. Flexibility, safeguards and local discretion must be built into the enforcement system so that no young person enters enforcement inappropriately. I could detain Committee for some time talking about how we intend to support re-engagement as well as prevention while the young person is still in learning. For example, local authorities have a duty under clause 10 to promote participation and a duty under clause 69 to promote their own co-operation with relevant partners; and under clause 11, education institutions have a duty to promote good attendance. There is a whole series of clauses about prevention and re-engagement.
There is also a series of clauses dealing with situations in which young people drop out of post-16 education and training. Under clause 54, all young people will have access to a Connexions personal advisor. Under clause 14, learning providers will have a duty to alert the Connexions advisor that a young person has dropped out. Under clause 54, the Connexions service will identify barriers to young people’s participation and will work with them to overcome them. That is defined as being part of the function of Connexions and could mean providing support and/or identifying appropriate provision.
I could detain the Committee talking about other clauses, as well. There are measures on safeguards both before and during any enforcement process. It is worth stressing that under clause 39, local authorities
“may issue an attendance notice”.
That is not a duty. Local authorities will use their knowledge of young people’s circumstances to judge whether it would be beneficial to do so, and they will do so only after they have provided support for the relevant young person and identified an appropriate learning option but the young person refuses to participate. In some ways, the clause, and the use of the words “may issue”, deliver what the amendment seeks to do, but more efficiently.
There are also measures on appeals and the way in which the attendance panel works, which we will debate later. I could talk about the support that we want to provide and develop over the next five years for people who are without or estranged from their parents, as well as for young offenders and young people with special educational needs, learning difficulties or mental health problems. There will also be support for teenage parents, young people in care or who are carers, and young people who are self-employed or employed in a family business. There is a long list; I have all sorts of wisdom here with which I could enlighten the Committee.
Support is an important part of the story and is an important reason why we need to have the duties I have described and to change the culture of participation up to the age of 18. We, the Government, are forcing ourselves to build capacity locally that gives a full range of support for the full range of circumstances in which young people live. There is a positive message attached to the Bill: it cannot be acceptable for any young person to be deemed too hard to engage and for us to give up on them. To some extent, that is the implication of some of the comments that the hon. Member for Yeovil made earlier. I know that that is not what he thinks, but some of his comments could be interpreted in that way. We must raise our expectations for such young people and their expectations of themselves. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response. The intention behind the amendments certainly is not to give up on the young people concerned. It is to ensure that the legislation will be shaped around people’s needs, rather than people having to be shaped around its needs or the Government’s desire to meet a particular target on participation. Sadly, a sledgehammer approach has often been taken in the past across all levels of government, not least in legislation on social security and dealing with vulnerable people. Such approaches fail to understand the acute and severe difficulties that many people face in their daily lives. I very much hope that the Minister will set out a system that is based on the forensic approach to people’s needs, as he described it, rather than a sledgehammer approach.
I am pleased that the Minister appears to be open to the possibility—I hope I do not misquote him; I am sure he will correct me if I do. I think that he said he was open to the possibility that young people with identified very high needs might, under the duties in the Bill, end up in a supported setting that might not have education and training as part of it. However, he is potentially open to a third or fourth option that will give young people with very high needs the support—medical and other—that they need to go on to education and training.
Let me just add the crucial bit at the end: the measure must move people towards full participation in education and training, so they can achieve the skills and qualifications needed in order to progress further and improve their life chances.
I accept that addition, although it is difficult for us to know whether a duty might then be placed on a young person to be in education and training for a two-year period, given that the longer they spend in a supported setting, the more they will use up that legal duty to be in education and training between 16 and 17. If the interventions work, it will be inevitable that after they successfully complete the process, those young people will be much more capable of engaging with society, including in the workplace, than they would otherwise have been. I ask the Minister to allow for the possibility that, for a small number of people, the process of being in support will be longer than many of us would like because of their acute needs. When we come to later clauses about how the attendance panels will operate, I hope that we will think about how their responsibilities can be influenced or expanded to ensure that they have that as part of their available armoury.
The Minister also sought to give assurances on the categories of people who might have reasonable excuse for not being in education or training because of their personal circumstances. There is an open field here, and I understand why the Government would do want to start citing examples of people who would be exempt—the list of exempt people could become quite large. I flag up, however, that at least in my mind there is still uncertainty about whether we are talking about a large number of young people who could potentially be exempt. That could include categories of young parents and people with mental health and drug and alcohol problems, who are sadly a much larger number of young people than we would like, and who are therefore a greater challenge than we might think.
I draw attention to the Minister’s comments about the discretion of local authorities in relation to attendance notices. He is right to say that they “may” issue the attendance notice rather than being obliged to do so, but that also raises the issue of an inconsistent approach across the country between some local authorities and panels that take a sympathetic approach, and others that do not. Given that we are talking about compulsion, that could raise various concerns across the country about individuals being dealt with in different ways.
I am mildly encouraged by the Minister’s comments, but I have experience from past Bills of being mildly encouraged without long-term benefit. The Minister’s comments are helpful, but we will want to pick at these issues on many further occasions during the proceedings. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.