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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 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.