Clause 4

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 5th February 2008.

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Appropriate full-time education or training

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The explanatory notes say that the clause

“defines appropriate full-time education or training as efficient full-time education or training suitable to the person’s age, ability, aptitude and any learning difficulty they have, provided at a school, college of further education or otherwise.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton drew this to my attention. We want the Minister to comment on "otherwise". It is certainly true that some full-time education and training currently provided would struggle to meet the definition in those explanatory notes.

We have talked about the test for the kind of education that we discussed at length today—vocational education in particular—as being its likelihood to provide the trainee with increased job opportunities and greater employability. That seems to me to be a test on which the whole Committee can agree. If a qualification does not confer real competence and does not teach and test practical skills,  it does not meet the definition in the clause. There is evidence that a substantial number of qualifications do not add to employability.

I wish at this juncture to highlight the effect that certain training has on the employability of young women. There is a substantial disparity between the outcomes for young women and for young men in pre-apprenticeship training and apprenticeship training itself, as the Minister will know. Some academic research, including that by Professor Lorna Unwin, who gave evidence to the Committee, suggests that there may be no benefit to women who study apprenticeships—level 2 apprenticeships in particular—in sectors such as retail and hospitality. The sectors in which employability is increased most significantly tend to be those that disproportionately train young men, such as engineering and construction.

While the economic outcomes of apprenticeships and other training vary enormously, the gain in wages for men who complete an apprenticeship is about 7 per cent. for the system overall and about 14 per cent. for level 3 apprenticeships. Level 3 apprenticeships are equivalent to the level that all apprenticeships used to be at, which we now call advanced apprenticeships. For women, the results are much less impressive. There is a positive return for vocational qualifications at level 3 and above, but there is no statistically significant return for many women in completing a level 2 apprenticeship in the service sectors that I have described.

The clause states that the training provided should be suitable

“to the person’s age, ability and aptitude”.

However, and as we discussed earlier, the lack of adequate advice means that some young people do not get the kind of match that they need between their aptitude and ability and the training provided. That matching is very important. In speaking about apprenticeships earlier, the Minister talked about the matching service and I welcomed that new direction. Nevertheless, if we are going to pass the Bill into law with the stipulation that the training must meet people’s aptitudes and skills and reflect their abilities, tastes and strengths, it is important that we be absolutely certain that the training provided will do the job.

I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances about the changes he envisages being made to ensure that the clause’s stipulated requirements can be met—not just in theory or as an ambition, but as a reality for young people. In the eyes of many, the Bill puts the cart before the horse. It establishes compulsory participation before the system has been reformed sufficiently to provide training of a quality in line with the requirements in clause 4. I hope that the arguments that we have put forward throughout the Committee’s deliberations will go some way toward encouraging the Government to bring the horse back before the cart and to reform the system properly, instead of creating extra pressures and demands on the unreformed system, which will surely lead to disaster.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

It would be timely to finish our debates on the clause rapidly, but I want to raise a couple of important issues, including the “or otherwise” element that we discussed last week. I have two questions for  the Minister, the first of which is about subsection (1) and was touched on by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings. It mentions

“full-time education or training which is suitable for the person”.

We would like to know how that will be defined, and what would happen if there were a course in a local further education college that a young person might consider suitable and that might meet their needs, but which is either full or closed because of lack of demand. That happens quite frequently at FE colleges that try to provide a wide range of opportunities.

The main issue that I want to discuss brings us back to our debates last week on amendment No. 70. I should like to know what other types of provision there might be for young people with high needs for whom education or training is not the right setting. In its briefing note to the Committee on this clause, the National Youth Agency said that it seeks confirmation that “or otherwise” includes provision of non-formal education as a recognised form of learning outside the classroom.

You will recall, Mr. Bayley, that we had a long debate on this issue on 31 January, when we debated amendment No. 70. In that debate, I referred to the suggestion by James Cathcart of the British Youth Council that the Government should consider a fourth option beyond those in the Bill, which are education or training, employment and sanctions. He wanted, and we want, the fourth option to be support that may help a young person to get back into education or training at some stage, but which may not narrowly meet the definition of education or training.

When we raised that issue on 31 January, the Minister, who was in one of his flexible and helpful frames of mind, said that I was right to refer to

“clause 4 and the breadth of the definition of appropriate full-time provision for which it provides.”

He went on to say:

“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.”

That was very helpful. I now want to find out how forensic the Bill and how important the word “otherwise” are going to be. I want to find out whether the Minister will be able to deliver on the commitment that he made on 31 January, when he said that he was

“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.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 31 January 2008; c. 297-98.]

That is very helpful and important because there are young people for whom going straight into education and training, particularly if they slipped out of it before the age of 16, might be difficult, yet they may be precisely those youngsters who do not clear the high hurdles that our local authority colleagues set as a reasonable excuse not to be in education and training.

I referred in a previous debate to an individual in my constituency who did not meet the standards that meant he would be sectionable, or have such mental health or drug problems that he would automatically be given flexibility by those who police the system. From what I now know about him, he would be unable to engage in a formal education and training process of any sort. Indeed, how quickly would he be able to get on to the escalator that the Minister envisages? A small number of people would find it incredibly difficult to engage with education and training, even within the time that the Minister foresees. He said further on 31 January how he could envisage

“intensive engagement over a few months”.——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 31 January 2008; c. 298.]

However, I think that he said elsewhere that he was not willing for that to go on for a long time, such as 18 months.

I appreciate that we are discussing a small group of young people who might need intensive support for a time before being able to engage with education and training, but I put it to the Minister that there are such people and that, if he fails to accommodate their needs in the Bill, a large number of them will end up having to be dealt with by the panels that will be considering enforcement. As a result, we could have different enforcement patterns throughout the country.

If the Minister accepts the wide definition of “or otherwise” that is possible under the clause, I hope that he will follow through that logic and make sure that funding will also be available to local authorities for such services. We know that they are often expensive and that they are not always available in the types of supply that we would like. For example, I can think of relatively recent examples of the drug service in Somerset having extremely long waiting lists of people who needed assistance in getting off their drug habit.

I want to know not only that alternative support will be available as a later pathway into education and training, and that patience will be shown to such people by allowing them to proceed to education and training in the right time for them, but that the money we shall spend on youngsters who follow the conventional route into education and training will be available in full to support intensive support activities that could be far more expensive in conventional education, inner-school, sixth-form or even employment settings. If the Minister can give us reassurance on those matters today, that would deal with one of our major practical concerns about the Bill.

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) 7:00 pm, 5th February 2008

I shall not delay the Committee too long, but naturally I do not want to short-change it when answering the debate. Given the importance of the clause, I was surprised that it was the first clause not to have amendments tabled to it, but perhaps that is because it is so perfectly formed.

It is right for us to expect all 16 and 17-year-olds to be in full-time education or training unless they are fully occupied elsewhere—working or volunteering, for example. We want full-time education or training to be one way of fulfilling the duty to participate, and clause 4 is essential as it describes what is meant by that. As  for the question of the hon. Member for Yeovil about the use of “suitable” in the clause, it mirrors section 7 of the Education Act 1996, on pre-16 learners. There is quite a lot of case law on what constitutes suitable education. In practice, it will be a matter for local authorities. Clearly, there is an important role for impartial advice and guidance, as provided for in part 2 of the Bill, in negotiating with an individual regarding what is suitable for them. However, in legal terms we will be drawing on the case law that is informed particularly by the 1996 Act.

The definitions in the clause are drawn broadly and refer to what is appropriate for the age and aptitude of a young person, with reference to any learning difficulties that they may have. Again, that is a wide definition of “learning difficulties”—a phrase used quite narrowly in popular parlance—but difficulties in accessing learning would be another way of interpreting it.

Underpinning the clause is a large programme of change that is designed to transform the opportunities available in education and training in this country, so that every student studying full time will have a route to success through hard work and dedication. The aim of the programme is simple: to ensure that every young person—no matter where they are, what level they are learning at, or what their preference for a style of learning is—has the opportunity to follow a route that will suit them and help them to progress in learning and in life.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Minister has mentioned people with learning difficulties. He will know that there are statutory protections for those people, particularly in respect of suitability. The education that they are offered, if they are statemented young people, must be suitable for them in terms of their statement. How does the Bill interface with that existing statute?

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)

Chapter 2 makes some changes to that statutory arrangement. Perhaps we will have a chance to debate that when we get to chapter 2.

The new foundation learning tier will provide, for the first time, a coherent body of units of qualifications at level 1 and at entry level, which often address the needs of those with learning difficulties. That will ensure that every young person can progress. Learners will, through clearly defined progression pathways, be able to follow routes that are carefully designed to support their progression.

Apprenticeships, which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings mentioned, are being expanded. There is a gender gap in respect of apprenticeships and apprenticeship pay. Such indicators tend to mirror the wider labour market pattern, but we recognise that such patterns are sometimes more pronounced in apprenticeships, and addressing that is a priority for us. That is reflected in the proposals in the apprenticeship review, which contains a number of practical measures. They include positive action and targeted funding support for learners making non-traditional career choices; pilots to drive a critical mass of learners in non-traditional occupations to encourage more such applications; the appointing of super-mentors to support atypical apprentices through their experience; and the full enforcement of the Learning  And Skills Council contract for all minimum pay requirements, pending a future investigation of apprenticeship wages by the Low Pay Commission.

There are also 17 new diplomas in areas ranging from engineering, creative and media, to science and hair and beauty, which will be available throughout the country. Those will provide, for the first time in our national system, qualifications that mix the best of theoretical and practical learning. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire will be the first to welcome the provision enabling every young person to have the chance to work toward new functional skills qualifications in English, maths and science.

The opportunities afforded by the clause are wider still. We heard from many of our witnesses last week how important informal learning and programmes of re-engagement activities are in bringing some of the most vulnerable and disengaged young people back to learning in a way that is relevant to and enjoyable for them. The hon. Member for Yeovil mentioned that.

The voluntary sector has many years of experience and great expertise in delivering such programmes effectively. Among our witnesses were some of those who are most successful with young people through such programmes. The clause is drafted to ensure that these highly valuable programmes and activities will come within the definition of full-time education and training. The use of “otherwise” refers to where that happens—whether in school, college, home or anywhere else—but definitions of full-time education and training will be interpreted so that we can engage the fourth option that the hon. Member for Yeovil is so keen on.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

This is an important point and I want to be clear about what the Minister is saying. One of the options offered to these young people would look very different from education and training as most people understand it; from the Minister’s description, it seems that it might not contain a clear education and training component.

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)

For the sake of clarity, a fourth option might be full-time support. That option would be fine, but it should be provided en route to education or training; it should not be seen as a separate route altogether with regard to its outcome. That is why the hon. Gentleman referred earlier to the comments that I made on 31 January. I do not have much to add to those comments at this stage, except to say that I fully see that someone who suffers from addiction-related problems, for example, should address those problems before they can engage with education or training. The problems should be addressed with a view, implicit in the whole treatment, that they should be going on to education or training as soon as they are ready to do so.

As part of our drive to implement the raising of the participation age, we want to build further on such informal training programmes. In the children’s plan, we announced that we would pilot a new return to learning programme. That programme aims to ensure that the system is better able to take advantage of the excellent work of informal learning programmes and activities in re-engaging young people.

The programme will ensure that as young people complete such informal programmes, they are supported in continuing learning, and it will gradually bring them back into formal learning through personalised progression routes. The programme will support organisations working to re-engage young people and will ensure that every young person can find a well-defined route into more formal learning at an appropriate level for them. It will also ensure that the personalised support that many young people experience on informal programmes can continue for longer.

Clause 4 ensures that those routes and the informal opportunities about which we heard from some of our witnesses are included as forms of participation. The Bill as a whole galvanises the system to ensure that such provision will be available wherever it is necessary to engage a young person. It is also worth noting that the breadth of the clause allows young people to attend independent schools—that will please the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton—or to be educated at home if that is what they want.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.