(2A) In this Chapter disability accessibility standard means specified criteria to ensure the inclusive design of framework and assessment processes to meet the needs of apprentices with learning difficulties..
The two amendments apply to framework specifications. Amendment 227 states that specifications must meet the requirements of the disability accessibility standard. Amendment 228 defines the disability accessibility standard. These are probing amendments so I will not press for a vote.
We want reassurances from the Government on the record that frameworks and assessments will be accessible for disabled apprentices. The Bill provides some wonderful potential opportunities for people with disabilities, but it is obviously important that wherever possible, assessment and examination procedures are fully inclusive of disabled apprentices. Reasonable adjustments such as certificate indications or enhancements should be considered only as a last resort.
The amendment was suggested by the Royal National Institute of Blind People. It is particularly anxious that there is recognition of how serous this issue is and of how inequalities for disabled people could be intensified for those who wished to become apprentices, if the framework and assessment procedures are not inclusively designed.
These Liberal Democrat amendments are designed, as the hon. Lady said, to ensure that the appropriate frameworks meet the disability accessibility standard. You will not be surprised to learn, Mrs. Humble, that I am particularly concerned about that, given my interest in disability issues. It is right to ensure that students with learning difficulties are not excluded from apprenticeships and that frameworks are fully inclusive. The Liberal Democrats have done the Committee an important service by drawing this to the Ministers attention and giving him an opportunity to comment on it.
Organisations representing the needs of disabled students support the argument. They make the case that a prescriptive stance on qualifications may disadvantage some disabled learners and that eligibility should be broadened beyond qualifications. However, Skill has also critiqued the lack of statutory guidance in the implementation of assessments in sections 139A and 140 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. That critique could prove pertinent to these amendments. Skill argued that there was little to no guidance on how local education authorities would identify and assess all learners who needed a learning difficulty assessment, which professional should carry out the assessment and how to identify those with hidden or progressively worsening learning difficulties. The amendments will suffer a similar fate, but having said that, I still think that they serve a purpose in highlighting these matters and by giving the Minister a chance to respond.
The reason for the critique is that it is easy to assume that disability is static; we think, for example, of someone with a spinal injury permanently confined to a wheelchair or someone with a permanent sight problem. However, many disabilities are dynamic in nature and their changing condition changes peoples learning needs and capabilities. Legislation must always be sufficiently flexible to take account of those changes. That would be a reasonable rationale for amending the Bill; nevertheless, the fundamental argument behind the amendmentsthat we need an inclusive programme of vocational learning and apprenticeship frameworks for disabled learnersis well made and deserves amplification and explanation in the Committee.
I am extremely sympathetic to the point made by both the hon. Members. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole for giving me the opportunity to say a few words on this issue. As I said in the oral evidence session this morning, under clause 101, the chief executive of skills funding may provide or secure a range of services to assist effective participation of learners undertaking apprenticeships. We interpret that to include such services as would assist learners with disabilities to access apprenticeships. Therefore, funding for any apprenticeships is designed to support the whole scheme, including any necessary and appropriate support for people with learning difficulties.
As the hon. Lady said, amendment 227 would require all apprenticeship frameworks to meet the disability accessibility standards as defined in amendment 228. Those employing apprentices are already required to comply with the existing Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and will be covered by the provisions in the single equality Bill when it is enacted.
For the benefit of the Committee, will the Minister let us know the approximate number of apprentices who are disabled? If he does not have that information to hand, could he bring it to the Committee? Is that number growing or falling and how does it break down in terms of type of disability? Those are highly important questions for disabled people and their champions.
I will look into that. I understand why he wants to know. I cannot tell him with certainty that that information necessarily exists in a collected and distributable form. I will look for it and if we can find it I will write to the Committee.
The Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for Englandthe overarching standard document which we issued for consultation last month, copies of which are here and have been sent to Members by lettersets out the standards for apprenticeship frameworks. We think that the details of these issues are more appropriately covered under SASE and in that consultation rather than in the Bill. We have invited all those with any interest in the apprenticeship programme, including everybody with an interest in disability and accessibility, to respond to the consultation, currently ongoing and due to report in May. Similar arrangements will apply in Wales, where Welsh Ministers will be consulting on the specification of apprenticeship standards for Wales. Once the respective specifications for England and Wales are in place, under the new arrangements we will also expect the sector skills councils to have regard to particular groups, including but not exclusively those with learning difficulties and disabilities, in preparing and issuing apprenticeship frameworks. We share the commitment of hon. Members to ensuring that apprenticeships are accessible to all members of the community and hope that on the basis of these assurances
I was going to defer to the hon. Member for Bristol, West but the Minister has given way to me. While I appreciate that the Minister does not have the numbers to hand, what he will be able to bring to our attention are the steps currently taken to facilitate the kind of outcomes that the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole and I want to see. He has mentioned sector skills councils. He will be able to collate and make available to the Committee information about good practice, where best practice currently exists and how it might be exported. That would be the least we might expect in order to support the assurances he has given about his commitment to the subjects raised by these amendments.
I will do my best to find the kind of information and examples the hon. Gentleman is looking for and bring those to the Committee. My point remains that we are committed to do what these amendments seek. There is the power in that phrase in clause 101 which puts a duty on the
The Minister referred to clause 101, suggesting that it would support what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole wishes to achieve with our amendments. The explanatory notes for clause 101 say that it simply provides for and gives statutory basis to the national apprenticeships vacancy matching service, which has already been launched. So I am not sure how clause 101 is helpful in this regard. Perhaps the Minister could explain that.
Unless I have my numbers wrong, the phrase that we interpret to confer funding of disabled people and those with learning difficulties is effective participation. We interpret that to mean any extra support that any learner might need for any reasons beyond the average or the norm. I have the number wrong, apparently. It is clause 111. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene again now that I have given him the right number. The phrase is effective participation. We take that to mean a duty on the chief executive to fund learners and to support learners with learning difficulties and disabilities. They are already covered by the DDA and will be covered by the single equality Bill. We share all the aims and ambitions for them of Opposition Members.
I am sorry to keep referring to the explanatory notes, but they appear to define clause 111 as assistance for adults with a learning difficulty. My amendment was suggested by the RNIB. We might have someone with a physical disability and no learning disability. I do not think that clause 111 answers my points.
In that case, I can only restate what I said to the hon. Lady earlier. Learners with disabilities will be covered under the existing Act. They will be covered in the future Act and they will be covered by the consultation that reports in May and to which disability groups have been specifically asked to contribute. In response to the hon. Gentleman, I am told that clauses 40 and 80 will cover 16 to 18-year-olds. I now realise, in response to the hon. Lady, that the definition of a learning disability in clause 111(3)(b) includes a physical disability.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I appreciate that there was a bit of thinking while standing. This Bill offers us a real opportunity. We have just been through a very tough process, for example, with Remploy shrinking its factories when it had been moving towards expanding them. It is people who might have gone into sheltered accommodation whom we are particularly looking to support. Not only should the minimum be there, but there should be genuine opportunities. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
(c) involve an agreement with an employer to train a person, using the practices, equipment and personnel of his or her enterprise in doing so,
(d) involve a mixture of on and off-the-job learning, and
(e) lead to a generally recognised level of proficiency in a trade, profession or occupation..
As I mentioned earlier, the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee criticised the draft Bill for not defining an apprenticeship, despite calling for the
ambitious expansion and strengthening of the Apprenticeship Programme.
The Government have yet to provide such a definition.
I raised the matter with Ministers during the witness session this morning, because there is a line to be trod between being clear about what constitutes an apprenticeship and the impossible business of trying to specify all available apprenticeships in detail. One would not do the latter in guidance, still less in the Bill. However, the Bill could contain a core definition of an apprenticeship. Indeed, amendment 20 would go some way to providing such a definition. It is not an unreasonable definition, but if the Government believe that they can do better, they can refine it. Accordingly, I would be happy to hear from the Minister.
The Minister may say that it is the Governments intention to tighten the Bill in that regard; following my searching questions this morning, Ministers may have put their heads together and agreed to introduce a Government amendment to define apprenticeship more clearly. However, in the absence of such an assurance, it is vital that we proceed with amendment 20.
The Select Committee provided a possible definition, drawn from the Cassels report on reforming modern apprenticeships, published in 2001. That is the inspiration for the amendment. Such definition would exclude programme-led apprenticeships and some level 2 apprenticeshipsones in which the employer has no involvement in training. The Committee argued that
so-called programme-led apprenticeships could provide a useful preparation for an employer-led apprenticeship but they are not apprenticeships within the meaning of the proposals in the draft Bill.
That is certainly in line with what employers expect and want. They want apprenticeships that deliver real competencies. To that end, they want apprenticeships that are carefully and clearly defined.
One reason for my scepticismI would never call it cynicism, for I am not cynical in any elementis that we have heard much about the Governments apprenticeship ambitions. In 2003, when he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister said that there would be 320,000 apprenticeships by 2006. In fact, there were about 239,000. In 2007, he said that he would double the number to 500,000, but the number fell by something like 13,000 in 2008.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness said earlier that the expansive targets that have peppered Government announcements on the subject have undermined faith in their determination to increase apprenticeship numbers. But more significantly, to do so with a product that is worthy of the name, apprenticeships should be in line with those in other countries, which are all at level 3, as that would be more in line with public expectations, too.
As I have argued, most people believe that an apprenticeship would be a serious qualification it if was pitched at level 3, if it was employer-based and mentored and if it was in line with learner demands that were truly seductive and that attracted more young people into a golden vocational routea pathway of quality, leading to the opportunity of employment.
The Government should have defined apprenticeships more clearly in the Bill if they were serious about reinvigorating apprenticeships as a core element in the mission to skill the nation more effectively.
In light of the data in this area, some of which my hon. Friend has shared with us, did he share my surprise when the Minister said categorically in this mornings sitting that the Government had not missed any of their headline targets for the provision of apprenticeships? If we are to make progress with the Bill, we must do so on the basis of the factsnot the facts as we wish them to be, but as they are. Does my hon. Friend share my hope that the Minister will set the record straight when he responds to the amendment?
There are targets, damned targets and the Prime Ministers hyperbole. When he was Chancellor, his hyperbole led us to believe that there was an intention to create 500,000 apprenticeships. I know that it will shock you, Mrs. Humble, as much as it shocked me and that it will distress Committee members to hear that there is a realistic prospect of France achieving 500,000 apprenticeships. Francea country with no history of apprenticeships equivalent to ourshas leapfrogged us in this area. It is a nation with which we compete and with which we aim to compete still more effectively.
As the hon. Gentleman is so knowledgeable about the matter, will he tell us whether France has a statutory definition of an apprentice?
All our principal competitors not only have statutory definitions of apprenticeships, but pitch them at level 3. An apprenticeship in France or Germany is what we call an advanced apprenticeship. As I mentioned earlier, all apprenticeships were level 3 before this Government came to power. That is why they are so fond of saying that there was a big leap in apprenticeship numbers after 1997. As the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee pointed out, that was due largely to the rebadging of much training that was already taking place as apprenticeships and the creation of level 2 apprenticeships accordingly.
We began debating apprenticeship numbers this morning. That debate is contentious because, historically, apprenticeship numbers have been measured using average numbers. The problem with that from the Governments perspective is that it does not necessarily reflect increasing completion rates. Ministers have fairly argued that there has been some progress on completionI freely acknowledge thatbut starts matter too, because they reflect how attractive the product is to young people and to adult apprentices. I am concerned that the record for starts is not as rosy, partly because people do not perceive apprenticeships as having the value that they should have.
I am not saying that there are no great programmes, that great apprenticeships are not taking place in SMEs and major employers or that I do not celebrate people who achieve apprenticeships. I celebrate the young people and less young people who through an apprenticeship gain extra employability and get good jobs. However, problems remain. The main problem is the clarity of definition, the rigour and the Governments willingness to be firm about what constitutes an apprenticeship. That is why we tabled the amendment.
The amendment is in line with the 2001 Cassels report and reflects the findings of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. It builds on the work of Select Committees that have looked into these matters and is inspired by the weight of academic evidence from people such as Lorna Unwin and Alison Fuller, whose work is broadly in line with my analysis. If we are going to get this right, let us be clear about it in the Bill. I can see the Minister becoming increasingly persuaded by my argument. As he looks at me across the room, I can see that my seductive oratory has begun
I intervene because the ironic satire with which the hon. Gentleman speaks might not be apparent in the written record.
I misinterpreted the Ministers tiredness as my persuasiveness. No, I can see that he is up for it, so I shall keep going. [Hon. Members: No.] I have him on the cusp, and if I can push him over it, he might accept the amendment. Let us have clarity and certainty, and let us send a ringing signal out from the Committee that employers would recognise as a genuine rejuvenation of the apprenticeship system, a statement in the Bill of what we expect an apprenticeship to be.
Hon. Members will be relieved that I do not propose to dwell for long on the amendment. We have a lot of ground to cover before 7 oclock. None the less, I congratulate the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings on making a reasonable fist of getting a definition of the triangular relationship between the employee, the employer and the training undertaken to complete an apprenticeship. I do not know whether all the words in the amendment are his or whether he had some assistance in the drafting, but the only word I would quibble with is profession. I think that to be in a professional someone must complete a qualification verified by a professional institute, so we should be careful about the language that we use and about whether we refer to apprentices or professionally qualified people. But on balance, if he wishes to press the amendment to a vote, we, or rather I as the only Member of my party left in the room, could support it.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol, West for his brevity. My friend, the hon. Gentleman who leads for the official Opposition on the Committee said that he has no bone of cynicism in his body. Knowing him as I do and have done for a while, I was then minded to rise in agreement and to say that he is one of the less cynical people whom I know. People who know him would say that he is far more a romantic than a cynic, and good for him. But he then disappointed by going on to the most cynical set of disingenuities.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the Prime Ministers moving targets, for example. He repeated the inaccurate statement about missing the Prime Ministers targets, and in the oral evidence session, he said that the Prime Minister, while Chancellor, led us to believe that there was a real intention to create more apprenticeships. We have lots of real targets about which we are scrupulous, all of which we have either hit or are well ahead of hitting. For instance, this morning in the oral evidence session, the hon. Gentleman said clearlyhe does this kind of thing oftenthat apprenticeship starts were higher in 2003 than last year. That is simply not the case. In 2003, they were at their highest level for a decade. Off the top of my head, there were something like 203,000 or 204,000 starts in 2003, and there were 225,000 in 2007-08. The truth is that completions and starts have gone up and up.
Numbers at level 3 are clearly up, and they were up last year from the year before. Level 3 as a proportion is also slightly up, although it has remained broadly stable for a long time.
This is the key point. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that what employers want is level 3 apprenticeships. If that is what they really want, why are almost 200,000 employers choosing voluntarily to recruit and pay for level 2 apprentices? Some employers want level 2 apprentices and some want both level 2 and level 3 apprentices. It is employers who lead this market and who determine the kind of apprentice that is employed.
Does the hon. Member for Bristol, West want to intervene before I move on to the substance of the amendment and away from the knockabout?
I can assure the Minister that this is not knockabout; I simply believe that factual information should be placed on the record and he said that he did not have that information. The House of Commons Library very helpfully gives us some statistics. The number of advanced apprenticeships is lower than it was 10 years ago, at 72,900 starts in 2007-08 as opposed to 76,800 in 1999-2000. Given that level 2 apprenticeships have risen over that period, as seems to be generally acknowledged, that means that advanced apprenticeships have also fallen as a proportion of the total. I am just putting this on the record to be helpful, but in both cases I do not think that the Minister was entirely accurate.
I am not going to continue the knockabout any further. I stand by what I said previously and I am happy to do the knockabout another time. I am conscious that I have only seven or eight minutes to deal with the substance of the amendment.
The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings clearly wants a very short definition of an apprenticeship in the Bill and the hon. Member for Bristol, West seems to want the same thing. The reason that there is not a short definition is that employers do not want one, because it is potentially constraining and inflexible. If it should happen that the 13th word of the definition does not fit with their slightly unconventional situation, all of a sudden their apprenticeship will not be deemed an apprenticeship.
The fact is that, as I said this morning, parts 1 and 4, as far as I am concerned, provide a definition of an apprenticeship. That is what the Bill does; it defines an apprenticeship in great detail, at great length and makes it absolutely clear. It does not define an apprenticeship in 14 words. That is because if we defined it in 14 words, we would hamstring the users and the employers and rob them of flexibility. There is no need to provide a short definition.
I can reassure the Minister that I am not cynical in the slightest; it is a mix of playfulness and insight, which he mistook for cynicism. Will he give me just one example of an employer who would regard the wording in this amendment as so inflexible that they could not build their apprenticeship around that definition? I cannot think of a single example. If he can give me one or two, or five or 10, I would be delighted to hear them.
The point that I am making is not that there is necessarily an inherent contradiction or an obvious flaw in the wording of the hon. Gentlemans amendment, but that to provide a very short and what might be called a core definition, as he wants to do, potentially hamstrings people and provides inflexibility, in the way that having a very detailed, substantive definitionwhich the definition in the Bill isdoes not do and specifically seeks to avoid doing.
I support the intention that apprenticeships must involve a mixture of on-the-job training and structured learning that takes place away from the immediate work station and leads to competence in the relevant trade, profession or occupation. We know that that is what an apprenticeship is and all those elements are provided in the Bill as drafted.
The SASE, which is currently out for consultation, requires all frameworks to set out the principal qualificationnamely, the level of knowledge and competence required to complete the frameworkand requires all frameworks to specify the minimum number of guided learning hours to be delivered away from the work station. The apprenticeship agreement will require both the apprentice and the employer to agree the levels of on-the-job training and structured learning away from the work station. We are committed to high-quality apprenticeships as an employer-led experience. That is why we are putting this whole specification on a statutory basis. We are strengthening the requirements that all frameworks must meet and we are introducing an apprenticeship agreement as a contract of service between an apprentice and his or her employer. Taken together, these will deliver a high quality apprenticeship.
Regarding the first point, the SASE specifies the amount of time to be spent away from the work station because, although we have not focused on it much this afternoon, that is an important part of an apprenticeship. The apprenticeship must be based in a job, but it must also include high-quality, guided and instructed formal learning.
As for why the amount of time that has to be spent at work is not specified, as I said, where else could that job take place? It is a truism to say that a job has to be at work. Who are these employers who are going to employ people, hire them, train them but divorce them from the workplace? We do not believe that that is an issue. The issue is the quality, specificity and the wide scope of definition that we have in the Bill. Parts 1 and 4 give us a high-quality definition of what an apprenticeship is, how the system works, and how it can deliver skills and training for learners and skilled learners for businesses and employers, which is what we need. On that basis, I encourage the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, although I understand his motivations, to withdraw his amendment.
If the history of apprenticeships were rather different, if we had not had analysis that suggests that some apprenticeships are not work-based, or at least have not been so historically, if academics had not claimedI think authoritativelythat it has been possible to be an apprentice historically without setting a single foot in the workplace, if we did not know that some of the so-called employers are training providers whose job it is to sell apprenticeships and nothing else, and if we did not have the difficulty of programme-led apprenticeships, which the Minister implicitly and intrinsically acknowledged were a problem, then I might be minded to withdraw the amendment. But as all those things are so, it is critical that we define what an apprenticeship constitutes on the face of the Bill. That is in the interests of all of us who want apprenticeships to be of growing significance in meeting Britains skills gap to make our country more economically competitive. I do not doubt that he shares that ambition and I invite him to vote with the Opposition when I press this matter to a vote.