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Clause 9

– in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 10th March 2009.

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Contents of apprenticeship certificate

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 19, in clause 9, page 5, line 27, at end insert

‘(e) the qualifications that have been successfully completed, and

(f) the employer or employers with which the apprentice has trained.’.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this we may discuss the following: amendment 108, in clause 9, page 5, line 27, at end add—

‘(e) the name of the further education college where a course of training has been completed.’.

Amendment 234, in clause 9, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

‘(e) the name of the further education college or other training provider where a course of training for the apprenticeship has been completed.’.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

We are now speeding through our scrutiny and have reached clause 9. It relates to the contents of apprenticeship certificates, but it does not include provision to specify which qualifications have been taken, such as NVQs, BTECs, or which employer has provided training. Those are important aspects of any apprenticeship. Our desire, as expressed previously, is to ensure that apprenticeships reach the highest standard. Everyone who completes one should be proud of having done so, in the knowledge that they have been through a process that is testing and has conferred real, practical competences.

As you know, Mrs. Humble, I am passionate about elevating the practical. I believe in the empowerment that comes from craft learning. I am wholly committed to the idea of vocational education, standing alongside academic achievement as a way of delivering personal fulfilment and collective value. That is why I am so keen on apprenticeships. If we are going to shape my vision into something practical we have to be clear about what we demand of every apprenticeship.

We talked earlier about work-based learning. Now we are talking about being specific about qualifications and the character of employer training. Critically that would ensure that the schools matched the specification and vice versa. The amendments ensure that future  employers are aware of the skills level and qualification of a candidate and that they have been through some form of employer-based training. That is directly beneficial to employers. David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce said in response to the Opposition Green Paper on the subject:

“The reputation of a good apprenticeship must not be undermined by the need to meet targets. We wouldn’t want to see young adults put through classroom led apprenticeships with only a small amount of work based learning just because they are easier to deliver. Real commitment to employer led apprenticeships is vital, otherwise the system will fail our young adults.”

We want the framework to be tight and the stipulations clear. We want everyone, both employers and learners, to know exactly what comprises an apprenticeship, hence the amendment in my name and those of my hon. Friends. It is in the spirit that inspired amendments on previous clauses.

The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendments 108 and 234, which no doubt they will speak to at some length. In a similar spirit, they would stipulate that the name of the further education college at which training occurred be added to the list that I have outlined. That would be a valid addition, in that it would ensure that training had occurred through a recognised supplier thereof. The presence of the name of an FE college on the certificate would make it even more important that the employer’s name be registered, too. That would prove that work-based training had occurred in one case and that training in a college—a proper place of education—had taken place in the other.

The amendments seem to me to be hand in glove, as the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are, thus far at least, on the Bill. I wonder whether there might later be a separation between the hand and the glove—let us hope not. With the intention of firming up apprenticeships in the way I have described, I happily commend the amendment to the Committee.

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

I do not know whether we are hand in glove, but perhaps we are part of a group training association just for the purposes of clause 9, because our amendments are indeed complementary.

The Minister, in our long discussion on clause 1, in effect admitted that no particular thought seems to have been given to the design of the apprenticeship certificate, because we do not even know who will be the signatory of the authority.

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, that is a little sweeping and harsh. I said that I was not absolutely certain whose signature would be at the bottom, but there is already quite a lot of detail and specificity in the Bill about what will be on the apprenticeship certificate. Obviously, a lot of thought has gone into that. I would hate to denigrate the thinking powers of all those who have been doing such work.

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

I accept what the Minister has said. It is certainly not my intention to be harsh to him or to denigrate the efforts of others; it is not in my nature to be like that. However, if I were an apprentice who had worked and studied in Bristol, I would be proud to have on my apprenticeship certificate—however it was designed and whoever authorised it—that I was employed by, for instance, Rolls-Royce or Airbus and  that I had done my engineering training at the excellent City of Bristol college facilities nearby. That would be similar to what is provided whenever someone receives a certificate from another training provider, such as a university. I have a BA in history and it is important to me that it was awarded by the university of Bristol. I think that an apprentice, whether from the city of Bristol or the west of England in general, would like it to be shown on the certificate on their wall that the City of Bristol college was the excellent institution at which they were trained.

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 would be fascinated to know whether the hon. Gentleman’s A-level certificates include the name of the institution at which he studied for them, assuming that he has some. If they do not, is he very disappointed that the name of the institution is not shown on his certificates?

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

The Minister is asking me a trick question in asking me to think back to when I last looked at the Welsh Joint Education Committee O-level and A-level certificates, or the S-level certificate; by the way, I got a distinction in history. Whether it was specified that it was at Mountain Ash comprehensive school, I do not recall.

Certainly, when one goes on to achieve a higher level of qualification beyond the compulsory age of school leaving, it is normal for the institution at which one has studied to be specified on the certificate. I do not think that my colleagues and I, or the Conservatives, have tabled unreasonable amendments. I hope that, in the friendly fashion that we are conducting our discussions this afternoon, the Government will be minded to accept them.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The virtue of the employer on the certificate is, of course, that it might add to the employability of the person who has received the certificate. If someone has done an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, it would be worthy, given the status of that business. It would be the same with many small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency. It seems extraordinary that we are embarrassed about putting the name of an employer on a certificate, given that we want only good employers that have some status, from which the apprentice might confer a benefit, to be involved in apprenticeships.

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

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is entirely reasonable for an apprentice to feel proud of wherever they have trained—whether with a multinational company, such as Rolls-Royce, or a SME, which may be a supplier of that multinational and therefore would have a working relationship with it.

Finally, this discussion leads me to ask the Minister about the responsibility for the training records of the apprentice. I have never been an apprentice, but I do have a professional qualification and one goes through much the same process of needing to have a job—as the Minister says, that is essential—and having to undertake work-based training and studying in relation to the job. In my case, that was with a private sector training provider. Normally, to get a professional qualification—mine is from the Chartered Institute of Taxation—people must present evidence of all their training for the certificate  to be issued. Therefore, I wonder what evidence the apprentice or the employer will have to present to show that all those components have been satisfied, and who is responsible for keeping that record?

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned how proud he would be to be an apprentice at Airbus in Bristol, I want to mention that I have relatively recently visited Airbus in Bristol and met some apprentices there. I can tell him that, although I am to my core a Welsh Brummie, I would also be very proud to have been an apprentice at Airbus in Bristol. It is a very fine company, which is providing some very fine training and learning in the workplace.

I understand entirely where Opposition Members are coming from with these amendments, and I have a good deal of sympathy with their approach. On balance, we have decided not to accept their amendments, although I should add that clause 9(2) provides the power to make regulations to specify that “other matters” be included on the certificate. I will go through the counter-arguments against their amendments, but I will do so with the proviso of saying that theirs is a good argument and that, over time, if matters appear otherwise, the ability will exist in the Bill for other matters to be included.

I need to stress a point that we mentioned earlier in our discussion about why the certifying authority is the NAS, rather than the sector skills council. One of the reasons is the uniformity of the certificate. For the first time, a consistent, clearly recognisable certificate will exist across England to mark the successful completion of an apprenticeship. That is good for both employers and apprentices, and it is an important part of what we are trying to do.

In specifying the information to be included in the certificate, it is essential to strike a balance between setting out a clear statutory framework, ensuring that the information that the apprentice’s and employer’s needs appear on the certificate, and placing unnecessary burdens on individuals, providers and employers and obfuscation through a surfeit of information, which, as we all know, is always a danger. That is why the clause keeps to a minimum the information required for the certificate to be effective. It will include the name of the holder, the level of the apprenticeship and the framework and sector to which it relates.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West and with which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings agreed. The stature of the institutions in which the work is done and the learning provided can attach to the apprenticeship and therefore to the individual. We need to be clear that the authority that the certificate is designed to express is vested in the NAS. It is a single national scheme, with a single national certificate. That is how we intend clearly to express the authority of the certificate, rather than by doing so through the institutions.

We considered the case for including additional information carefully, including the things that the amendments cover. We concluded that to include qualifications that have been successfully completed  would be a duplication and, as such, unnecessary. The apprenticeship frameworks will set out the qualifications that need to be achieved to be eligible for a certificate. That information will be publicly available, and more importantly, apprentices will also receive certificates from the appropriate awarding bodies for each qualification that they achieve. It is therefore unnecessary to repeat that certification on the apprenticeship completion certificate.

We also concluded that to include the employer or employers was, on balance, not desirable. First, we do not want an apprenticeship certificate to be a CV. We expect apprentices to list their career history on their CV, not on their apprenticeship certificate. Secondly, the counter-point to the one made articulately and elegantly by the hon. Member for Bristol, West is that we want parity of esteem for the programme across the sector. We do not want differentiation of esteem based on the institutions at which apprentices have studied or worked.

There is also a practical difficulty with the work aspect. As we said when debating a previous group of amendments, apprentices might have undertaken training with several providers. All of a sudden, there might be seven different workplaces and seven different providers on the certificate and things will start to look unclear.

As I have said, a good, valid case has been made, and we have considered it carefully. The power to add information later is in the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Secretary of State (Innovation, Universities and Skills) 6:00 pm, 10th March 2009

I do not think that the Minister has dealt with my point about training vehicles. He might have a case for saying that he may not want several employers and training providers to be listed on the certificate. None the less, having that information together in a training record is important.

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

There are two issues. On what training the apprentice has done, the assumption is that that will be covered by the apprenticeship framework, which comprises the syllabus that the apprentice studied. On what evidence of completion will be sought and who will seek it, the NAS will seek evidence covering all elements of the framework, including knowledge and competence in occupational and functional skills. A training record, such as the one described by the hon. Gentleman, will be held at the Skills Funding Agency as part of the individual learner record, although I am not sure whether it will contain the detail that he may have envisaged in his question. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Again, I take at face value the Minister’s assurance that he has some sympathy with my amendment and those of the Liberal Democrats. Furthermore, he has at least hinted that the Government might return to the issue in guidance.

Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I did not really intend to hint that we had a plan to return to the issue; I do not think that we do. We have concluded that the best way to proceed is as we have described. We recognise that arguments such as those made by hon. Members are valid and reasonable;  we considered them ourselves. We have included a power in the Bill, so that if an overwhelming case emerges in future, we will be able to include additional information further on. However, that is not quite the same as saying that we have a plan to return to it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

How clever of the Minister to recognise that that is not the same thing. However, that does at least provide the scope for a change of view at some later juncture, as he suggested. I share the view of the hon. Member for Bristol, West that, on balance, there are pros and cons. He is right that one of the cons is that there could be a gradation or differentiation between apprenticeships on the basis that some might be deemed to be taught at a better place and supervised by a bigger employer with a more famous name. However, I am not sure whether that is a bigger argument in the end than the one that says that clarity about apprenticeships brings value. If people are clear that someone has trained under an employer and been to a recognised college, such additional clarity about the process brings additional value.

I am particularly anxious that the details should be put on the certificate, so that there is absolute certainty about the work-based element, because in that respect there indeed needs to be a degree of gradation or differentiation. I am worried that what are known as employers for the purposes of apprenticeships may actually be training providers whose sole or at least principal job is to offer apprenticeships. That is not the same as doing an apprenticeship with a large degree of work-based, mentored instruction in a large company or an SME. In those terms, what we put on the apprenticeship certificate has value of a different kind that involves the certainty that real work-based learning has taken place. That would be made clear by what the certificate said.

For that reason and because of my determination that apprenticeships should be as rigorous as possible and that that rigour should be as clear as crystal, I am not inclined to withdraw my amendment but inclined to press it to a vote. If the Liberal Democrats wish to press their amendments, they will have the support of the official Opposition. It is not that we do not respect the Minister’s remarks, but we feel strongly about the definition of what an apprenticeship is and should be.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Division number 2 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 9

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

On a point of order, Mrs. Humble. I am still an apprentice in Committee procedure. Presumably that vote was on the first Conservative amendment in the group. Am I allowed to call for a vote on subsequent amendments? The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings implied that I could.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

The hon. Gentleman should have indicated that he wished to press for a vote during the debate when he spoke to his amendment. He also had an opportunity to do so before the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings sat down. Sadly, it is now too late.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.