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Clause 1

Part of Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 31st January 2008.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 2:30 pm, 31st January 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert ‘; and

(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?