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Clause 1

Part of Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 pm on 31st January 2008.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 1:15 pm, 31st January 2008

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.