Clause 70

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 28th February 2008.

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Learning aims for persons aged 19 and over

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 9:00 am, 28th February 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 52, in clause 70, page 40, line 14, after ‘their’, insert ‘aspirations and’.

It is nice to be in the final run, on the last lap of our marathon, which has been enjoyable and, we hope, valuable. The amendment that I tabled with my hon. Friends deals with the duty of the Learning and Skills Council to provide facilities for training adults at only basic levels. The explanatory notes on clause 70 state:

“New section 4A places a new duty on the LSC to make proper (rather than reasonable) provision for facilities to enable adults who lack particular vocational skills to obtain relevant qualifications. The qualifications will typically be those at relatively low levels of learning, which are designed to equip people with basic and intermediate skills for work and everyday living.”

Our concern is that the Government are implicitly encouraging the LSC to provide facilities for training at a too basic level, which is not in line with the findings of the Leitch review, on which we touched earlier in our considerations. The review explicitly spoke of the importance of upskilling and reskilling the work force to deliver what it called “world-class skills” because if we are to meet the skills challenge we need to deal with the demographic imperative. Even if we are highly successful with very young people, we need to upskill the existing workforce to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive world economy.

According to the Leitch review, we need

“a step change in skills investment if we are to meet those economic challenges.”

The review estimates that there will be 3 million fewer low-skilled jobs by 2020, and a demand for another 5 million highly skilled workers. We cannot rely only on improving on the skills of young people to meet this challenge. Demographic change means that more than 70 per cent. of the 2020 workforce will be over the age of 16. Leitch concludes:

“There is a pressing need to raise the rates of skill improvements among adults. The UK cannot reach a world class ambition by 2020 without this.”

We have a mountain to climb if we are to equip people with the skills they need to prosper. More than a third of British adults do not have basic school-leaving qualifications—double the proportion in Germany and Canada. One in six do not have the literacy levels expected of an 11-year-old, and half do not have that level of functional numeracy. Just 28 per cent. of  Britons are qualified to apprentice-skilled craft and technician level, as opposed to 51 per cent. in France and 65 per cent. in Germany.

There is evidence, however, that people do not have sufficient access to opportunities to raise their skills level. British workers spend less time in job-related training than workers in key competitor countries. Consequently, many workers below management level have relatively poor skill levels and little prospect of advancement. Participation in education and training can help to enhance prospects for employment and career advancement, and can also lead to wider benefits for the community and the individual concerned. Research suggests that participation in learning can have benefits for health, help to reduce crime and lead to greater social cohesion.

There is an entitlement to free tuition for any adult who has not achieved a full level 2 qualification. As I suggested to the Minister in departmental questions last week, the evidence suggests that there may be a declining rate of participation for those who are not already trained to level 2 standards. We tabled the amendment, because we are anxious that the offer to the people concerned should be appropriate to meet the skills targets outlined by Lord Leitch. There would be a real risk that we would not do so if we set the bar too low.

It is essential that we raise Britain’s intermediate and higher-level skills. As the Minister will tell us, it is a prerequisite to get people on the ladder in the first place so that they can subsequently climb to the top of it. However, I feel that there is a risk in the Bill as drafted that we will set the standards below where they should be, and that the Learning and Skills Council may set a common denominator that is insufficiently demanding to meet the Leitch challenge.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

Order. I say this to help the hon. Gentleman. We have 30 or 40 pages of amendments to get through in one day. This amendment is very narrow, as it deals with the question of whether the training provided by the council should meet someone’s aspirations as well as their requirements. On one level, it is entirely up to the hon. Gentleman how he uses his time, but if we have a very detailed debate on each of the first 20 amendments, we will have no debate on the remaining 50 or so.

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

Let me assure you, Mr. Bayley, that that fear will not be realised. On looking at the amendments on the selection list, I passed a note to my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. In respect of amendment No. 52, I wrote “longish”, referring to my speech, but in respect of subsequent amendments, I wrote “v. short”.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

If the hon. Gentleman is satisfied, he may make progress.

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

I assure you, Mr. Bayley, that we will make rapid progress following this extensive peroration. I think it important that we fill the Bill with aspiration. As you suggested in your reference to the amendment, Mr. Bayley, that is precisely the term that we have used. If we set individual and national aspirations at insufficiently  demanding levels, we will not only short-change those individuals but we will not face up to the realities identified in Leitch regarding the need to raise skills levels to maintain economic competitiveness. If we are to upskill and reskill to meet the skills challenges outlined by Leitch, adults will need access to education and training at various stages of their working lives and at various levels. We need a mechanism to ensure that the resources are there to provide support, when required, through a lifetime of learning. It is in that aspirational spirit that I have tabled the amendment.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

I am sympathetic to the intention behind the amendment. It is because we want to help adult learners meet their aspirations and aid the least skilled in achieving their potential that we are introducing, for the first time, the right to free training towards Skills for Life. That training would cover a person’s first full level 2—GCSE level—qualifications and, for those aged between 19 and 25, their first level 3—A-level standard—qualification. All the stakeholders I have met, from college principals to organisations representing adult learners, providers and employers, have indicated their support for the new duties on the Learning and Skills Council in clause 70. College principals indicated that support in the Committee’s oral evidence sessions.

The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is right to point to the Leitch review of skills, which is the backdrop to the provisions. Our stretching ambition is to have world-class skills by 2020, and that means that we need to go further in creating a system that responds to learners’ individual requirements to improve aspirations and increase demand for learning. To pick up on the language used in the Committee, clause 70 does much to “galvanise”—or as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings prefers to say, “catalyse”—the system so that it can respond to individual learner needs and aspirations. Ensuring that people have the opportunity to obtain a wide range of skills at basic and intermediate levels is the most effective way both to improve the life chances of those with fewer skills and to support social justice.

They key change in clause 70 is that, for the first time, we have placed a new duty on the Learning and Skills Council to secure the provision of “proper”, rather than “reasonable”, facilities for specified adult qualifications. To fulfil that duty, the Learning and Skills Council must secure the provision of facilities for education and training which are of sufficient quantity and quality to meet the reasonable needs of individuals and be suitable to their requirements. In practice, the new duty on the LSC means that adults have a right to expect free and appropriate provision for specified Skills for Life qualifications. In future, learners can expect a wide variety of courses on offer to suit their requirements: those courses should be made available within a reasonable time period and should be free.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for welcoming the spirit of the amendment. He will know that work-based training has declined over the past 20 years. What element of work-based training does he anticipate will form part of the range of products offered as a result of the Bill, and how does he explain that decline?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

The hon. Gentleman and I have had disagreements, ever since I took up my post, on the numbers behind work-based training, and I have continually tried to reassure him. I am beginning to think that he is the only person left in the country who believes that work-based training has declined. It has not. It continues to be something of which we can be proud, and the Government’s aspirations are to take work-based training further.

When the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics, he must concentrate his attention, particularly in relation to apprenticeships, on the number of young people who start work-based training and the number who complete it. He will see that on both accounts the figures have gone up and are moving in the right direction. If he concentrates on the number of young people as a snapshot, or as an average of young people in learning, there appears to be a decline. He has written to me in the past and told me not to do that in relation to the figures when his Administration were in power—that is where we have got the figure of 75,000 from. We want young people coming on, and coming off, work-based training—not staying on it and failing to complete it. If completions go up, the average number in learning at any one time appears to be lower—it is about starts and completions. That is the statistical difference. The hon. Gentleman might be using statistics to meet his argument, but he has also challenged me on statistics, when I have used them in that way. Work-based learning is not in decline, but going in the right direction.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 9:15 am, 28th February 2008

The Minister is always generous in accepting interventions. I do not want to prolong this too much. First, perhaps we can look at figures on work-based training later in the day and satisfy ourselves as to who is right.

Secondly—I raised this issue in a ministerial question last week, but I have not yet received an answer—what about the Learning and Skills Council data, which suggest that the number of adults without a level 2 qualification who are now participating is less than it previously was.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

Over the comprehensive spending review period, the Department will spend £1.5 billion per annum on learning below level 2, to get people up to level 2, precisely because that is the direction of travel and we want to see people moving in the right direction. That is what the clause is about.

Learner choice is paramount, so the Bill requires the Learning and Skills Council both to increase opportunities for learners to exercise choice and to encourage a wider range of education and training opportunities. That includes the provision of more part-time courses and ensuring a closer fit with the local, regional and national job market. Effective operation of our information, advice and guidance services under the guise of the adult advancement and careers service, too, will support learners, helping them to identify the right courses for them up front and, if necessary, to find a range of suitable alternatives to meet their needs and aspirations. Those services will proactively market the opportunities open to people, and ensure that they have information about courses and financial support. We envisage that  the advancement service will work with the LSC to address any gaps in provision. From what I have said so far, the Committee will see that I support the intention of the amendment, but believe that the provisions in clause 20 go a long way towards achieving what the amendment desires.

The inclusion of the word, “aspirations”, is inappropriate on two levels. First, on a practical level, the LSC is necessarily a high-level funding body, which must make strategic decisions on the funding of facilities and training across the country while acting to increase opportunities for learners to exercise choice. We might reasonably expect it to reach a view on whether facilities are suitable to the requirements of persons falling within subsection (3) of new section 4A. However, the LSC is not the body that will deal day to day with individuals and assess their needs according to their future goals. In other words, the LSC is not in a position to meet something as subjective as a learner’s aspiration. That would require it to engage at too deep a level with every individual in the bracket, because learners’ aspirations are highly subjective.

We consider that nextstep, learndirect and the future adult advancement and careers service are best placed to engage directly with learners to define their aspirations and access courses best suited to them. The legislation must be seen as an essential building block in the wider context of delivering commitments set out in the “World-class Skills” reforms, which, over the course of the next few years, will ensure that all adults have access to the learning opportunities and wider support that they need to achieve those skills, find work and establish careers in line with their aspirations.

Linked to that point is the fact that aspirations are subjective. The clause uses the word, “requirements”, which is much more easily defined in law through assessment of needs and can be costed. Aspirations are potentially unlimited and difficult to determine. The amendment would put the LSC in the position of being required to make provision to satisfy ambiguous aims. The clauses as drafted are carefully balanced to ensure that the duties of the Learning and Skills Council enable it to operate in practice, while enabling learners’ needs to be met. That is why it uses the word, “requirements”.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that part of the intention of the clause is to signal to the system that adult skills are as important as improving the skill levels of young people. We have had much discussion about the skills needs and participation of young people, but we should remember that, if we are to meet that Leitch ambition, two thirds of the 2020 work force are already in work and are adults. Indeed, it is at that cohort of people—and there are many of them—who have jobs that will stop being part of the British economy in this century, who never got an O-level standard qualification, and who do not have the appropriate literacy and numeracy levels, at which the provisions in clause 17 are aimed. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will withdraw his amendment.

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

This has been a useful opportunity to speak about skills and their significance, and how the Bill affects the ambitions that we share for raising skills  levels. One might argue that learning detached from aspirational intent is an impoverished affair. However, the Minister makes a plausible argument that the amendment would make the practical job of constructing learning very difficult, because aspirations are as various as the individuals in the system.

We hope, however, that the Government will be absolutely committed to ensuring that the learning put in place as a result of the Bill is progressive and aspires to allow people to achieve their potential. That is the spirit of the amendment, but, given what the Minister has said and his shared determination to bring about that aim, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

We have had a wide debate on the amendment, and I should tell the Committee that I am minded not to have a stand part debate when we reach that stage.

We now come to amendment No. 115. Seeing the text of the amendment, I am sure that I should call Mr. Gibb.

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

Yes, I am moving the amendment, Mr. Bayley, although it could easily have been my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deeping.

I beg to move amendment No. 115, in clause 70, page 43, line 33, at end insert—

‘(4A) For the purpose of paragraph (4) a level 1 literacy qualification must ensure that students can effortlessly decode any word using the principles of synthetic phonics.’.

In view of the time remaining for the Committee stage of the Bill, I will keep my remarks succinct. The purpose of the amendment is to introduce into the new definition of level 1 literacy that will be inserted into the Learning and Skills Act in new subsection (4A), the requirement that students must be able to

“effortlessly decode any word, using the principles of synthetic phonics.”

I wanted to make the point that in Britain and America, but particularly in Britain, we have a long tale of underachievement. That is a defining characteristic of the British education system in comparison with other OECD countries. According to the National Audit Office, 23 per cent. of adults cannot read the dosage on an aspirin bottle. The same figure applies in the United States. That is one of the highest levels of illiteracy in the OECD. Britain and the United States have one thing in common: since the 1950s, they have both gone down the route of using “look and say” as a method of teaching children to read.

The idea behind that method is that children will be able to sight read instantly, in the way that adults can when they read words. Bright or average children can pick up decoding techniques using that method. However, less able children do not grasp it. That bottom 25 per cent. of children have suffered for 50 years in this country and the United States from the “look and say” method of teaching children to read. That is an appalling tragedy, yet many people in the education establishment still advocate that method.

In the Clackmannanshire study, which was conducted over seven years, a synthetic phonics method was used  to teach children the 44 sounds of the alphabet and how to blend them together into words within the first 16 weeks of school. It was so successful that, after seven years, those children had a reading age of fourteen and a half at the age of 11. That is three and a half years above what was expected of their age group, and above the level that they would have attained, had they stuck to the previous system. The National Reading Panel in the United States is a multi-million dollar research project, and it shows unequivocally that synthetic phonics is how children should be taught to read.

When teachers say, “Yes we use phonics, but we need a range of measures as well”, it means that they are not using synthetic phonics. Synthetic phonics has to be an exclusive scheme. One cannot shift between schemes. The main characteristic is that children’s reading books should not include words that go beyond the child’s phonic knowledge. If children are taught to guess a word from the picture, the story or grammar context, they are not developing and honing their decoding skills. If they are not doing that, they are not learning to read.

People complain that it is “read and bark” and does not develop vocabulary, but we are only talking about the first few weeks of schooling. Of course, one can help children to understand words with comprehension too, but there must be a focus on teaching children how to decode the alphabet in the same way that a piano teacher teaches a child how to transfer notes from the written stave on to the keys of a piano and to practise their fingering.

I am delighted that the Government have commissioned the Rose review to implement the scheme. It is not a right-left issue—it is a right-wrong issue, and we have to work together to ensure that it is rolled out in all schools. It is the fundamental building block of education. I have seen many examples of schools around the country that have adopted synthetic phonics, which has transformed the life chances of children from very deprived backgrounds. We must ensure that synthetic phonics is used in every state primary school in this country, just as it is used in every independent primary school. That, more than any other single measure, will raise educational achievement in this country.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton on succeeding in having his amendment selected and his hobby horse debated. He has had more luck than my hon. Friends had in the Chamber on Tuesday when we were tried to have our amendment on Europe selected. While we were debating the Education and Skills Bill in Committee, we missed all the fun that was going on in the Chamber.

I, too, visit many primary schools, just like the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. I always ask teachers how they teach children to read, and there is real enthusiasm for, and commitment to, synthetic phonics as a valuable tool. Indeed, I sat in on a lesson, and by the end, I was able to pronounce several words quite differently from how I would normally do. I cannot remember whether it was Lord Lamont or the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) who said that he did not want to be a “one-club” Chancellor, with only one club in his bag: in other words, using interest rates as the only policy to bear down on inflation.

There are many ways of teaching children to read. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton referred to “look and say”. If there is just one method in the Bill, there is a danger that it will be promoted over and above all the others. Synthetic phonics undoubtedly works for all children, which is what the hon. Gentleman argued, but “look and say” and other methods are necessary to bring on other children who may get bored quite quickly with synthetic phonics.

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

This is an important point. There are no children for whom “look and say” is more appropriate. What teachers tell me is that some children simply do not get phonics. They are the least able children, and so the least likely to get on with “look and say”. If children cannot get the synthetic phonics and the phonics approach, they have to get it, which means taking them aside and giving them extra lessons to ensure that they can decode words using phonics.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills) 9:30 am, 28th February 2008

I do not think we disagree. I am just saying that there is more than one way of teaching children to read.

The Bill is primarily concerned with 16 and 17-year-olds, but the clause that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton seeks to amend sets a literacy target for those aged 19 and over. By the time someone is 19 and over, the ability to pronounce or decode a word in a phonics style is not necessarily an adult skill to which we would aspire or wish to visit upon our fellow countrymen. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman genuinely desires the literal interpretation of his amendment: that everyone aged 19 and over should be able to decode phonics. I would have thought that success with phonics meant that children, by the age of seven or eight, would be able to read in what we would describe as the normal way and would have forgotten that phonics was the method by which they learned to read. To suggest that those aged 19 and over should be able to speak in a phonics style seems rather bizarre, so I will not support the amendment if it is pressed to a vote.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

In special schools, where there are children with real barriers to learning, synthetic phonics is used, and it succeeds in teaching those children to read. It brings shame on our nation that 40,000 youngsters leave school each year unable to read, write and add up properly. The Minister for Schools and Learners puts his head in his hands, but the standard that those youngsters fail to achieve means that they cannot write to their bank to tell it they have moved.

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)

We are talking about adult skills, and many of the people whom we are talking about in relation to the Bill were educated under a previous Government. I think that it would be worth while for the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I am grateful to the Minister, who seems to have forgotten that his lot have been in office for 10 years, so we are talking about many youngsters who  have been educated under the Labour Government. It is not a party political issue to say, as a country, that our youngsters ought to be able to read and write. If we use synthetic phonics to teach children who face real barriers to learning, it is our duty to teach those who do not face such barriers. To have so many people leaving school unable to read, write and add up properly is wrong, and is an unacceptable scar on the nation. When one can read and write, one can of course educate oneself. In the great history of socialism, the Labour party had the Labour book club, and people educated themselves because they could read and write.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

They did not necessarily get the right answer. The truth is that the ability to read and write is such a huge engine for education and achievement that we need to do better as a country.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

I have often wondered what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton would sell if he were a salesman, and I think that the Committee has been provided with the answer. The new duty on the Learning and Skills Council to secure provision for proper facilities for learners includes the basic literacy skill level—literacy at level 1—that was identified in the independent report by Sandy Leitch as essential to changing people’s lives and upskilling the work force.

The amendment would add an additional level of complexity to the learning aims of learners undertaking a level 1 literacy qualification, as it would ensure that students can effortlessly—I am having literacy problems, as I cannot pronounce that word—decode any word using the principles of synthetic phonics. I should emphasise that these are adult skills courses aimed at people over the age of 19, and the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton directed his remarks primarily at children’s education.

The relevant clauses are aimed, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners indicated, at people who were in education prior to 1989. Learning to decode words using the principles of synthetic phonics involves a particular approach to the teaching of reading. Synthetic phonics is a particular branch of phonics, and is by no means the only method of teaching reading. I believe that it should be up to institutions, working with teachers and partner organisations such as Lifelong Learning UK and the Quality Improvement Agency, to decide exactly which teaching methods are appropriate for use with individual adult learners.

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

I counsel the Minister to be cautious about the notes that have been prepared for him. The amendment is a probing amendment, and I accept that he is talking about adult skills. However, if we apply the principle to children, the law that was passed by his Government says that primary schools should use one exclusive method—synthetic phonics.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

I acknowledge the progress made since the Rose review in relation to this subject. However, we should remember that the clause will affect adults from communities in which English is a second language,  adults who have had a bad experience at school but are able to read and get the gist, and adults with special needs. A whole range of adults are in that cohort, and we therefore believe it is right to give institutions the choice and flexibility to apply the pedagogy that they believe is appropriate. Some, indeed, will use synthetic phonics where it is appropriate; others will not. I suspect that is why the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton focused on children.

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

Perhaps I can be helpful. Is this not really an issue about the different levels of competence of those adults? We know that literacy and numeracy, in their functional forms are very different from literacy and numeracy per se. People can be illiterate—literally unable to read or write a word—or they can be functionally illiterate. Perhaps the Minister could be helpful to the Committee, to my hon. Friend and to me by giving us a feel for how those groups break down. Roughly 40,000 young people leave school at 16 each year functionally illiterate and innumerate. That total includes many people who are wholly illiterate. The methodology will apply differently to different people. What is the breakdown, and how many adults lack those very basic skills?

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

The hon. Gentleman is right in relation to literacy and numeracy. If, like him, one is in church every Sunday morning, it is possible to learn a hymn by singing it every week for six weeks, and yet still have serious problems with basic literacy. In the same way, it is possible to buy a round of drinks in the pub and to give friends the appearance of knowing what change to expect from a £20 note, while lacking the numeracy skills to know the cost of that round of drinks. Adults adapt and adjust in many ways to the numeracy and literacy challenges they face.

As for the figures, he will know that our ambition is that 95 per cent. of working adults will have functional level 1 literacy and entry level 3 numeracy skills by 2020. I do not have the figures for those who are completely illiterate to hand, but if I obtain them, I will let the hon. Gentleman know.

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

It would help if the Minister provided the Committee with a breakdown of the levels of competence—the paucity of skills—among different groups of individuals. That would give us a better opportunity to make a judgment about the application of different approaches—methods—to helping those people. If he cannot do that now—I accept that it is a tall order—it would be helpful if he could commit to coming back to the Committee with the breakdown.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

I think that the breakdown is in the Leitch review, which the hon. Gentleman has at his side. It goes into these issues in some depth. I am happy to come back him as to where those are contained within the report. The clause is directly aimed at meeting the 2020 ambition in Leitch.

We would question whether requiring students to be able to decode words—I do not like this word—effortlessly would set an unrealistic threshold for all adult learners gaining a level 1 literacy qualification. On the contrary, I would suggest that for these learners,  even at the conclusion of their literacy course, reading is likely to require some effort. It also begs the question how we would assess someone if he had performed a task effortlessly. That is ambiguous and difficult to apply. For that reason, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

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

The “toe by toe” reading scheme is used in prisons to teach children to read. That is a synthetic phonics programme. I do not agree that it is not a skill that all adults need, even at the age of 19. If you read the latest Michael Chabon book, for example, it is full of words I have never come across before. To say them to myself, I used the synthetic phonics approach of sounding them out. Whenever a person comes across a new word, it is possible to use that approach. It is a skill that people need. If someone was taught under the “look and say” method and had not encountered a word before, it would not be possible to ask someone else what it meant. It is a very important point, therefore. I was disappointed by the Minister’s notion that somehow the threshold is too high for some people. Again, that is the education of low expectations and low aspiration.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

To correct the record, I did not suggest that the threshold was too high. I was simply making the point that it cannot and should not be something that is directed by the Government and Whitehall. We cannot have it both ways. We are talking about adults and professionals, and many of those professionals gave evidence to the Committee. They must determine whether, at this level, phonics and the pedagogy that they wish to use is useful. There will be many who choose that option. There are others, however, who will rightly choose other options. The amendment would require them to go down one route. We should be more flexible than that.

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

As I said, this is a probing amendment so we could have a debate on the deep-seated causes of illiteracy in this country which causes a problem to 19-year-olds in the workplace and older young adults in the workplace who do not have these skills. The Government, the Opposition and some members of the Liberal party are all saying that there is one method of teaching children to read in primary school and it is synthetic phonics. This is not because we know better but because the evidence is unequivocal. There is no question when you read the evidence that it is the method to teach children to read, and those that do not do it are not using their professional skills according to best practice. The Government agree with that and we agree with the Government.

The way dyslexic children are taught to read is with an intensive synthetic phonics programme. Even for children with special needs, therefore, it is also the right approach. I do not care which Government were in power because the approach was not driven by Ministers until recently when, in a welcome way, the Government intervened to require synthetic phonics to be taught. That was driven by the education establishment. The academics and the colleges of education have peddled a “look and say” approach under our Conservative Government, the previous Government to that and under this Government as well until the Rose review.  “Look and say” reached its peak in the mid-1980s under Margaret Thatcher’s Government. I do not care, therefore, under which Government it occurred—it was wrong. I am delighted that we have now seen sense and that we are requiring primary schools to use the method that all the evidence in the United States, the UK and elsewhere says is the most effective method of teaching children to read. Indeed, it is now used in Australia as well.

We have had a brief but interesting debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 118, in clause 70, page 44, line 10, at end insert

‘or the Cambridge Assessment Pre-U qualification.’.

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

Having pleased my hon. Friend by not speaking on the previous amendment about my affection for “Janet and John” books and the “look and say” method of learning to read, I shall now please him and you, Mr. Bayley, by being very brief in speaking to these amendments.

They relate to part 3, which deals with adult skills. In particular, they would amend part 2 of proposed new schedule 1A that clause 70 would insert into the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which relates specific qualifications to the learning aims for persons aged 19 and over. The amendments would add to the list of qualifications the international general certificate of secondary education and the Cambridge Assessment pre-U qualification. We have debated both of them before, and do not need to do so again. The amendments speak for themselves and we look forward to the Minister’s equally pithy response.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) (Skills)

As has been said, we have already debated the IGCSE and pre-U qualifications at some length in relation to part 1, so I do not propose to go over the same ground, and I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman did not either.

Clause 70 is drafted so as to define the new duties on the Learning and Skills Council against generic and widely recognised descriptions of qualifications. As I have already said, for level 2 that is five good GCSEs or above, and for level 3 it is two A-levels. As they stand, the descriptions of the relevant level of attainment at levels 2 and 3 are appropriate and well understood by the Learning and Skills Council, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the further education sector. They are also easily understood by learners and employers. That is not an insignificant point when one of the aims of the clause is to signal the Government’s commitment to adult learning to the sector and to eligible learners.

Amendment No. 117 would insert IGCSEs in the description of level 2 qualifications in paragraph 6 of proposed new schedule 1A. We have used GCSEs as a  generic description and a reference point for level 2 qualifications because they provide a widely recognised standard of education. That, I am afraid, does not apply to the IGCSE, which is not so generally known.

As a descriptor for a level 2 qualification for adults, the IGCSE is wholly inappropriate. Paragraph 1(c) of new schedule 1A makes it clear that only vocational qualifications at level 2 will fall under the duties in the clause. We simply use GCSEs as a benchmark in our description of level 2 because they provide a generally recognised measure of the level of attainment.

Amendment No. 118 concerns the description of level 3 and would insert a reference to a specific qualification, designed by an individual awarding body, into primary legislation. Again, the addition would not be helpful, because the pre-U qualification is not widely recognised among learners. Nor would it be right to single out qualifications of particular organisations in that way at level 3. For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

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

The amendments are, almost by definition, probing amendments. We hear what the Minister says. We remain convinced that the qualifications that we have identified need to be considered carefully, because there is widespread support for them in the higher education community. There will come a point when the universities will want to accept them and will come to value them as at least equivalent to the existing qualifications that provide the entry route clarification, and their acceptance will become inevitable. However, this is not the time to vote on the matter, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 70 ordered to stand part of the Bill.