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Clause 1

Part of Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 31st January 2008.

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 2:15 pm, 31st January 2008

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.