Clause 7

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 7th February 2008.

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Relevant period

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

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Briefly, given the importance of clauses 7, 8 and 9, I wonder whether the Minister would introduce them and allow us an explanation of the clause from his viewpoint.

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

I do not know whether this is helpful or not, but I wanted to draw attention to a couple of issues and questions around the meaning and effect of  the clause. I can either do that now or in response to an introduction of the clause by the Minister.

The clause defines a relevant period when a person will be subject to the duties set out in the Bill. The Bill provides for people to switch backwards and forwards between different classes of obligation in relation to formal education and training, apprenticeships and work-based education and training. How will the relevant period be viewed in circumstances where a young person withdraws from a course? We heard in evidence to the Committee that the take-up and withdrawal rates from some of these courses can be extremely high, particularly in the further education sector. There can also be cases, which I have experienced in my local area, where a course starts up and then collapses rapidly, usually because of the small numbers of people that are involved or because a specialist member of staff goes off sick or resigns. In the evidence that we heard earlier, there was some uncertainty about what obligations would then fall to a young person who, in the relevant period, was not in any of the education or training settings specified in the Bill. Will the Minister say something about how the relevant period will be viewed, where such a course falls away?

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)

The clause means that some young people in full-time employment, for example those changing routes mid-year, will know how much training they need to do. We recognise that some young people want to go into employment when they leave school at 16 and that they can gain very valuable skills and experience from doing so. At the same time, we believe that they should continue their formal learning, through part-time education or training, to enable them to gain the further qualifications that will help them to progress in their careers and adapt to changes in the labour market.

We must set out clearly for young people and their employers the time period within which they are required to undertake a certain amount of training. The basic requirement is 280 hours, as I am sure we will discuss shortly in respect of clause 8, but we need to allow flexibility for young people to change the way in which they are participating mid-year, and therefore for periods of less than a year. The period should start from whenever a young person starts participating in this way, otherwise they could have accrued enough hours by temporarily being in full-time education at the start of the year and then drop out and work for the rest of the year. The clause defines that time period and therefore must stand part of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Yeovil is looking perplexed. If it helps him, the relevant period begins either as soon as the young person is not participating through any of the other routes—full-time education or training or an apprenticeship—or immediately after the end of the last relevant period, such as when a young person has already been participating through full-time work and part-time training for a year, and the next year begins. The relevant period ends on a date to be prescribed in regulations, possibly the end of the academic year, or when the young person starts participating in a different way—full-time education or training or an apprenticeship—or when they stop being subject to the duty altogether, for example when they turn 18, or achieve level 3, or move out of England.

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

What would happen in the case of a young person aged 16, perhaps in employment, who was on a particular course that collapsed half-way through the year? If that is the course that is suitable for that young person, perhaps because it has a high support component or because of their career aspirations, and it is not possible to go on another local course until the beginning of the new academic year, how would the relevant period be viewed and would there be some disapplication of that?

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)

If the course stops, the young person should be assisted to find an alternative. Receiving such assistance or waiting for another course to begin are good reasons for not participating and, therefore, no enforcement action would be taken. The technical answer is that the relevant period would end when the course collapsed. That is because the way in which the young person was participating would change and a new period would begin. There is good reason for them having to wait before they take on a new course. Therefore, the interpretation is that during that time, no enforcement will take place.

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

That is helpful. The Minister said that the relevant period might end when a course collapsed. The implication was that the young person would not start again until it was clear what courses were available. Is that the correct interpretation?

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)

That is how I would interpret it given my current level of understanding. If my level of understanding develops and I interpret it differently, I will let the Committee know. I hope that that is helpful. On that basis, I hope that the clause will stand part of the Bill.

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

As ever, I find myself to be moderately reassured. I had a slight sense that the Minister was winging it a bit, which is not something that one usually associates with the hon. Gentleman. As the issue is important, I want to seek clarification again and give an opportunity for any pieces of paper to pass. I think that the Minister said that it was possible that the relevant period could be suspended and come to an end if a course collapsed and could remain suspended, not requiring a particular attitude by an attendance or appeal panel. The relevant period could stop for a time until courses were re-established at the beginning of a new academic year. I press the matter not just because of the uncertainty but because that could be quite a  frequent occurrence. We do know that a large number of youngsters—I cannot remember the exact figures that were cited in evidence to us—leave courses for various reasons during a year. Presumably, a minority of those will be because a course has collapsed, but in some cases, it will be because a young person has decided that the course is inappropriate for them. A different test may be applied to those individuals. I want to clarify whether it is true that the relevant period will be suspended when a course collapses, and whether the relevant period will restart when the new academic year begins. Also, will those circumstances be the same for cases in which a young person decides to terminate their involvement in a course, or will that be viewed differently by the Minister?

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)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. My understanding has developed as I have read further and reflected on the wording in the legislation. The relevant period starts whenever a young person starts to participate in full-time or part-time training. It does not stop when the course stops. The period ends when the young person starts participating in a different way. The new relevant period would commence when the young person starts the course.

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

I think that the Minister is saying that the relevant period will not be suspended, which is a refinement of what he was saying earlier. Is the assumption, therefore, that in all of those cases, a judgment would need to be made by an attendance panel as to whether the person had good reason not to be in an education or training setting? Would that then require an assessment to be made by the panel of whether or not the person could legitimately be on other courses that might be offered by the further education establishment, which might involve the panel in quite difficult decisions about which courses it felt obliged to compel a young person to attend.

Jim Knight rose—

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

There might be a little confusion about who is giving way to whom. My understanding is that the Minister did not make an intervention, but a request to speak.

It being twenty five minutes past Ten o’clock,The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.