Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Clause 35

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 12th March 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Careers education

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 208, in clause 35, page 16, line 7, leave out from ‘concerned’ to ‘receive’ in line 9 and insert

‘must include a presumption that all pupils aged 14-16 should’.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 23, in clause 35, page 16, line 10, leave out ‘apprenticeships’ and insert

‘an apprenticeship as a programme of training which leads to competence in a chosen trade, profession or occupation.’.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Clause 35 specifies that careers advice in schools must give consideration to apprenticeships as an option, but fails to give any grounds on which such advice and guidance would be given. Furthermore, it makes no account of the fact that an apprenticeship is a specific programme of training, relevant to a specific occupation. Our amendment relates advice on apprenticeships to consideration on apprenticeships as a path to a particular option.

This is an important aspect of the Bill. It is widely acknowledged that, if we are going to grow the apprenticeship programme in the way that the Bill intends and the Opposition advocate—the whole House  would acknowledge that we have been the champions of apprenticeships, certainly since I have been in my current job—

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Well, there are one or two people in the deep recesses and far corners of the House who have not recognised that, but we continue to make our case with force so that even they will ultimately appreciate that the Opposition intend— when elevated to government, should the people of Britain grant us that great honour—to create 100,000 new apprenticeships. That would be a massive boost to the apprenticeship programme.

However, I must not test the Committee’s patience too much, and I will return to my main theme. In order to achieve the objective of the growth in the apprenticeship programme, it is critically important that we provide the right kind of advice and guidance. That does not apply just to young people, about whom I shall say a few more words in a moment, but to all those who might consider an apprenticeship. It is too easy to categorise apprenticeships around school leavers. However, particularly in the current economic circumstances, adult apprenticeships are a vital means by which people can reskill, upskill, gain new employment, fulfil their potential and gain new opportunities. We need good advice not only for young people, but for all who consider an apprenticeship as a path to an occupation.

The failings of careers advice have provoked a great deal of criticism, particularly concerning the range of opportunities in vocational training and qualifications. Schools too often overlook those pathways in their effort, albeit well intentioned, to ensure that students progress along more traditional academic routes.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Chair, South West Regional Select Committee

The hon. Gentleman speaks of students pursuing traditional routes. Does he share my concern that careers advice in schools often points females down traditional routes for young women and does not encourage them to consider a broader range of careers and less familiar routes?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Yes. Questions were raised a few hours ago on that matter at Innovations, Universities and Skills questions, which interrupted our Committee considerations. It is absolutely true that the advice that is offered should be gender-neutral. I hate to sound politically correct because I am not politically correct, as you know, Mrs. Humble. That is about as politically correct as I ever get. Every option must be made known to all who might wish to pursue it.

As I am sure the hon. Lady is indicating, the record speaks for itself. There is a gender slant in apprenticeships in different areas. For example, many boys go into engineering. Girls are often directed into hair and beauty or caring roles. That is partly because of choice, but it is also due to the lack of the information that would open people’s minds to alternative opportunities. I endorse the sentiment behind her intervention and I gather from her contributions so far that she takes great interest in these matters.

A more fundamental issue is that we are not balanced in our articulation of the vocational opportunities. Irrespective of gender, we do not make enough of the vocational opportunities. That is a cultural phenomenon. Some people in positions of influence—I do not include the Minister, of course—fail to understand the sense of worth and value that can come from non-academic accomplishment. As a society, we have become preoccupied with the notion that only through academic prowess can people gain a sense of achievement, worth and pride. I do not buy that for a moment.

I frequently visit FE colleges and see the wonderful things that are being taught and learned. I often think, “If only I were clever enough not to be academic. If only I were clever enough to be practical, as my father was.” I am tied to the route that I guess most members of the Committee have pursued. The careers advice that we offer young people and mature apprentices should be more objective. It should be more comprehensive and open up vocational pathways. It should be more fair-minded in emphasising the value of practical learning and the importance of craft. We must elevate the practical.

As I have already said, there are doubts that that is currently happening. The House of Lords’ Select Committee on Economic Affairs, of which we have heard a great deal already, said in its report, “Apprenticeship: a key route to skill” that

“schools fail to inform young people about the opportunities offered by apprenticeship and other work-based training such as Entry to Employment. This failure is further compounded by the failure of government to provide a service that offers basic information on local labour markets, earnings, career prospects and training opportunities. A number of our witnesses expressed concern at the lack of suitable careers guidance and information for young people.”

The Bill should have been an opportunity to put that right.

When Professor Alan Tuckett, who is very respected in the field of adult and community education, described the Bill as a “missed opportunity”, he was not speaking about the particular matter, but he might have been. The Bill is a missed opportunity not only in terms of adult learners or community education—as the professor meant—but in terms of careers advice and guidance. We could have had measures in the Bill that put into place an independent, all-age career service, which sits alongside Connexions, with a presence in schools and colleges up and down the country. In the witness sessions, I made that point to the representative from Connexions, and he broadly agreed with me. I asked whether an all-age adult independent career service of that kind would re-professionalise careers advice, and he answered in the affirmative. When I asked him whether the Government should have been firmer about the matter, he agreed that they should have been more determined to put into place the kind of advice and guidance that is essential if we are to rebuild the nation’s skills and rejuvenate the apprenticeship system.

In July 2005, the then Department for Education and Skills recognised that Connexions was not able to provide information on training opportunities for young people at formative stages of their school career—that was in its own review on advice and guidance. The Department was concerned that Connexions was trying to do that,  and also provide all kinds of other advice, in particular, to a number of vulnerable young people, who faced many challenges. The effect of creating that jack-of-all-trades has been to de-professionalise careers advice and dilute what it offers to many young people, who might, if given personal information, have considered an apprenticeship or other forms of vocational training.

The alternative vision, as I said, is of an independent careers service for all ages, as it is in other parts of the UK—we are disadvantaged in England in this respect; Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have a different system altogether. The service should also have a presence on the high street, because if we look at the shocking statistics on social mobility, it is clear that those people who have the wherewithal tend to be those who prosper. The most disadvantaged in our society—the most detached economically and socially—often do not have that wherewithal because of familial inexperience of the available options, the social groups that they operate in, or simple access to information. By having a paucity of good advice, we cement social disadvantage and frustrate social mobility. Good advice and guidance is essential for giving those who currently have a raw deal the chances that they deserve. As a champion of the dispossessed, hon. Members would hardly expect me to advocate anything other than the best deal for the most disadvantaged of our countrymen.

The clause recognises these failings and the Government have taken some tentative steps in the direction that I have outlined, but they simply do not go far enough. In failing to inform learners about the true opportunities that apprenticeships offer, they limit the ability of students—specifically those for whom academic studies is not the best option—to understand the full potential of the vocational pathway.

I shall say a word or two more about the prejudice built into the system. It is true that some schools—typically independent schools—offer extremely good careers advice. However, not many disadvantaged and dispossessed people go to independent schools.

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) 2:00 pm, 12th March 2009

I do not want to denigrate in any way the fine work of independent schools, but is the hon. Gentleman aware of a consistency in relation to independent schools offering advice on apprenticeships to all of their pupils?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I have no doubt that, given the history of independent schools and the good quality advice they offer, the mechanisms are in place in many of those schools to offer a full range of options to their students. Given the kind of people who are giving the advice, it might be that they slant it in favour of the academic route. However, certainly compared with elements of the state sector, typically more time, resources and energy are put into advice and guidance given in independent schools than in many state schools.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Chair, South West Regional Select Committee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on that issue. I have, anecdotally, picked up on concerns from people in the further education sector that certain schools, including independent schools, are simply not inviting the FE sector in to offer careers advice. If they do invite them in, they insist that they talk only about the HE options with which they are linked. That cannot be right.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I bow to the hon. Lady’s better knowledge. I am certain that if an independent service with a presence in schools and colleges were free to operate and offer the range of advice that I seek, the outcomes would be more positive than the current situation where, frankly, whether someone gets good career advice is a matter of chance, rather than being something on which someone can rely.

I suspect that it largely depends on how advice is handled in the curriculum, which teachers do the job, and the resources that are allocated—typically, independent schools are much better resourced. However, the hon. Lady is right. The situation may well be as the Minister implies: although independent schools allocate a lot of time to offering advice and it is well resourced, it is skewed towards particular routes.

I want all learners to understand all the options that are available to them. However, as I said, it is also important that we do not close the door on advice when people leave school or college. Adult advice is critical, and the Bill takes some steps in that direction, as I said, but why not have an all-age, independent careers advice service? Why not take this opportunity to re-professionalise careers advice in that way?

We must ensure that children can dream of their future and that those dreams can be made real. They should be free to dream of craft in the way that William Morris did with such superb results. How wrong it is that the political descendants of Morris should place so little emphasis on the significance of craft that they are not prepared to put advice and guidance in place to ensure that a new generation emulates that great man’s achievements. Our amendment aims to go some way to achieving that, tying apprenticeships to careers and to a real future for real apprentices, enabling young people and mature learners to see the path down which they can travel if they wish to become vocational learners and the craftsmen of the future.

I hope that the Minister will give a full reply, because advice and guidance, as I said at the outset, is pivotal to whether his ambitions to build the nation’s skills succeed or fail.

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

This is one of the more important clauses in the Bill. We have 256 to get through, and I doubt whether we can do so if we continue to have such long speeches. The clause is important and deserves a lot of time and consideration. As it is the only clause that deals with information, advice and guidance, it is surprising that it is not right, and that it has attracted a lot of criticism from outside this place. The heart of that criticism is that the Bill requires a careers adviser to consider only what they believe is in people’s best interests. We and many other people believe that that is simply not strong enough, particularly as one of the drivers of the Bill, as we have heard so often from the Under-Secretary, is to enhance the status of apprentices and to encourage more young people in particular to consider apprenticeships and other vocational courses as a viable career option. It is a shame that the clause does not require a careers adviser to mention specifically those opportunities that are open to young people.

Good careers advice should be independent, and that has been touched on. Indeed, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings thought that independent schools were good at giving independent advice. The advice  should be not just independent, but impartial and independent of the setting in which it is delivered. The Minister for Schools and Learners seems to support that. On 22 October 2008, he gave evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole is a member, and I used to be a member—and said:

“We think that there is sufficient evidence that some schools are advising pupils to carry on in that institution not because it is necessarily the right thing for that pupil, but because it is the right thing for the institution.”

It seems that the Minister believes that it is vital that the person giving the advice should do so without regard to the particular interests of the institution—the school or college—in which it is delivered.

Good advice and guidance should be aspirational and challenging—the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport mentioned that during Innovation, Universities and Schools questions this morning—particularly in the context of challenging gender stereotypes. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that his political correctness could go only so far, and that advice should be gender neutral. I do not think that is strong enough. There are entrenched differences in the career opportunities that people believe are open to them, and the advice should challenge those preconceptions that people or their families hold. Parents especially may not always see clearly what opportunities are open to their children if they and their families have had the same occupation, and have lived in the same community, for several generations. My father, both grandfathers and all four great-grandfathers were miners; I was the first Williams—to paraphrase Neil Kinnock—to go to university rather than down a mine, and I was lucky to be encouraged to do so.

Some stereotypes in the career options taken by young people, particularly in apprenticeships, need to be challenged. On advanced apprenticeships, the Library briefing, which we are using to help us in our deliberations, states that, of the number of entrants for vehicle maintenance and repair apprenticeships, only 1 per cent. are women. I do not know whether the women in the room will sympathise with this, but my women friends often tell me that they feel that garages mislead them about the nature of the work being done on their cars. Indeed, I have often felt that myself, so maybe having more women going into motor maintenance would counter that.

Child care has been in the news today, and 98 per cent. of entrants into child care apprenticeships are women. That means that some young boys may not have a male role model, which could have a detrimental effect on their development. The only occupation that is more or less balanced is hospitality and catering, where 51 per cent. of the entrants are women.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education) 2:15 pm, 12th March 2009

Does my hon. Friend agree with the YWCA that that is leading to a gross inequality in wages and lifestyles? Girls tend to go into lower-waged occupations.

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

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I refer back to vehicle maintenance. I am sure that, every time we take our cars for repairs, we  have an almighty shock when we discover how much they often cost. Such highly valued, in terms of remuneration, and highly skilled occupations seem to be closed off to young women.

Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Chair, South West Regional Select Committee

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will also recognise that many of the skills and trades on offer through the apprenticeship system—plumbing, electrical trades and so on—offer significant opportunities for young women, once they are qualified, to work on a self-employed basis. That offers enormous flexibility to manage children, and all the other things that women often have to do, as well as providing a good income.

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

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, which speaks for itself as an entirely valid point.

I support the amendments. It is important that advice is aspirational and challenges stereotypes wherever they are held. In the new educational landscape that we are embarking on, it is vital that by 2013 every young person should be able to access a diploma. Furthermore, it is an aspiration of the Government’s that every young person who wants to enter an apprenticeship should be able to do so. We can disagree over whether the 50 per cent. target for entry into higher education is a valid one, but we all want everyone who could benefit from HE to enter into it, which leads me to the importance of progression. Not only is it important that people receive advice on the different academic and vocational pathways that are open to them, but also that, once they access those pathways, they continue to receive inspirational advice and guidance to ensure that they understand the available progression opportunities.

For example, the universities of Derby, Sunderland and London South Bank, which is just across the water from us, already recognise apprenticeships as an entry qualification for HE. I hope that other higher education institutions that now offer foundation degrees and other vocationally oriented higher educational qualifications will look at the new diplomas and apprenticeships as valid claims for entry.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman, who is making a cogent argument, supports our view that there should be a better route from apprenticeships into HE that creates a pathway for a vocational learner from a diploma through to an apprenticeship and beyond? Many will not want to take such a path, but those that will should have it facilitated for them; barriers could be removed via financial support, for instance.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am not sure what the Conservative proposals for smoothing the path from apprenticeships into higher education are, but they sound like a worthwhile objective, which I share.

I conclude by referring to an amendment that for some unknown reason was not selected for discussion. Whatever the nature of the advice and guidance that is offered to young people, it should be open to inspection by Ofsted. Will the Minister comment on how an assessment of the careers advice and guidance that is provided for in the Bill will be made? Much store has been set by it, but how will we know that it is of sufficient quality to deliver the objectives that we all share?

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)

It is a pleasure to take over the ministerial baton from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and I pay tribute to the excellent way in which he started our proceedings. I have discovered a charming and conciliatory side to his character—I knew it was there, hidden away. It is an equal pleasure to respond to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings. He is iconic of a certain type of parliamentarian. I will not start to guess what type, but he has certainly demonstrated that in our proceedings so far.

I want to put to rest the misconceptions about the effect of the clause and explain how it fits with the duties that are already in place. Legislation under section 43 of the Education Act 1997, as amended by section 81 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, which we remember debating just last year, already requires secondary schools to provide a programme of careers education to their pupils—the change that was made last year—and in discharging this duty, to provide impartial information and to give advice that promotes the best interests of their pupils.

The clause will be underpinned by the statutory guidance that is currently in preparation and which I have been considering. My Department will consult formally on the guidance later in the year, and I expect it to set out core information and advice on 14-to-19 learning options, including apprenticeships, which all young people should receive. I reassure the Committee that every young person will get information on apprenticeships, thanks to the implementation of the amendment made last year, which was implemented through statutory guidance.

Some evaluation of those matters will be included in the self-evaluation process. The delivery of information, advice and guidance by local authorities, as delivered by Connexions, which was also the subject of the 2008 Act, will be assessed as part of the comprehensive area assessment carried out by the local authority.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

Indeed, Kieran Gordon, the expert witness from Connexions, referred to the 2008 Act. He said that it “might” make the matter more assertive. The matter he was referring to is the independent advice and guidance that we have been discussing. Why does this Bill not mirror that in the strength of its provisions? Mr. Gordon feels that it does not go far enough. Is he wrong?

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 will go on to develop that point and directly address it. It is important to establish in the minds of the Committee that every young person will get information about apprenticeships as a result of the statutory guidance. Mr. Gordon has not yet seen the guidance and so he is not in a position to judge—no one is—because we have not yet agreed it or published it.

Some young people will have specific needs and will want further advice on apprenticeships that reflect those needs. The clause emphasises the duties of schools with regard to apprenticeships by requiring them to consider the best interests of each pupil when giving advice. The effect of the clause will be to ensure that schools provide appropriate and differentiated advice that is tailored to meet the needs of individuals.

Having established that every pupil gets information on apprenticeships, there will be some who are not suitably qualified for them. It would be unreasonable to  burden schools and make them give pupils advice and guidance on apprenticeships if they are not suitably qualified. That is an example of why the stance taken in the Bill is correct, when the matter is considered in conjunction with what we are doing in statutory guidance.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

That is a good point, but it is not a very good point, if I might say so, because we are talking about a pathway. The sort of advice given to a young person who was not suitably qualified, in the Minister’s terms, might be about pre-apprenticeship training, which, once they had gone down a path, might lead to an apprenticeship. I am not sure that we would not give advice about the destination as part of giving advice about the journey.

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 sure that that is the kind of matter that will be well covered by the information in the comprehensive element of the statutory guidance which we want to see in every school. How those sorts of pathways, as set out in the qualification strategy last year, will affect people’s options later on in life as they continue learning and move into work will be set out in that guidance. I hope that I have briefly and relatively accurately set out for the Committee why we think that we have taken the right decision.

Gender and other equality issues, as explored by the hon. Member for Bristol, West and by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport, are important. At the moment, in terms of the apprenticeship routes, some apprenticeships are very much dominated by one gender, and the ones dominated by women tend to be the lower-paid apprenticeship routes. We have recently been raising the minimum apprenticeship wage to assist those working in the care sector and hairdressing, for example.

I hope—it is certainly our intention—that, through the new information, advice and guidance standard, which will apply to all local authorities, and through the changes that we are making in the Bill and through the previous Act, we will raise considerably the standard of information, advice and guidance for young people. However, those are not the only things that we are doing.

We are establishing a network of advocates from among school leaders through the National College for School Leadership. We are delivering classroom materials and case studies as part of the Department’s careers education support programme and making personal, social and health education, which is where much of the careers education takes place, a statutory subject. In addition, 800 14-to-19 briefing sessions are taking place with schools and colleges to explain the options for 16 to 18-year-olds so that there is better information in the school system as a whole. We are currently reviewing the information, advice and guidance element of the schools self-evaluation form in terms of the Ofsted inspection and we are improving the online guidance and services, which so many young people are now using, to improve the quality further.

I was glad that mention was made of the diplomas, which offer routes into apprenticeship as much as into the full range of higher education institutions and into  work. The experience so far of those who have been learning through the diploma route is that we have still got a bit further to go on the gender of pupils taking options in diplomas, but there are good opportunities for us to use the engagement offered to learners by their involvement with diplomas. Those learners are really enjoying the diplomas. We are getting positive feedback, which in turn can allow us to challenge things. On the elements of the equality duty, getting more young people of all genders who want to go on to be architects, surveyors, estate agents, builders, electricians or plumbers into the construction and built environment diploma, for example, is a route into an apprenticeship that would help to break down some of the barriers.

Schools could do more to ensure that young people receive advice about apprenticeships. That said, there is good evidence of Connexions offering some success between the autumn of 2002 and 2004. Ofsted carried out four inspections of 28 Connexions partnerships, and 89 per cent. of those were rated as satisfactory or better and 60 per cent. were rated as good or better. Since its inception, Connexions Direct, the national service, had handled more than 1.3 million contacts from young people by the end of last year, with around 25,000 young people now contacting the service. The service is popular and, from assessment and feedback, the vast majority—92 per cent.—of young people are satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of service that they received. We want to do better, so we are including the measure in the Bill.

Amendment 23 would address some of the points in different ways. I noted that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings did not want to table an amendment on an all-age careers service, so I shall not take up too much of the Committee’s time responding to that element of the debate. Suffice to say, there are differences between the needs of adults and young people in the issues that they face and the solutions that they require. There is a difference between an all-age service and an all-age strategy. We are in the process of developing our all-age careers strategy so that we can link the common issues, but in terms of the service, one size does not fit all, and it is important that we have discrete and articulated services to suit the needs of different groups in our society.

The amendment would ensure that when young people receive advice and guidance, they have a clear understanding of what apprenticeships are about and what they can mean for developing a career. I am happy to agree that any advice they receive should cover those points, which would help young people come to an informed decision about which route is for them. I shall certainly ensure, as we develop our guidance to schools later this year, that that is achieved.

A different interpretation of the amendment might be that it is another ingenious means by which the hon. Gentleman can perpetuate his contention that the apprenticeships that we have delivered, and will continue to deliver, are somehow less than real apprenticeships. That ground was covered so eloquently and ably by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I do not propose to go over it again. On the basis of my assurances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will, with his customary good grace and good manners, feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education) 2:30 pm, 12th March 2009

It is true that I am immensely well mannered. I make no comment about grace, because that would be far too bold.

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

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that to describe himself in Committee as immensely well mannered is a little vulgar.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

I am both well mannered and a little vulgar. That is because I do not come with the gilded history of the Minister of State for Schools and Learners—public school, Oxbridge and all that stuff. I share the antecedents of the hon. Member for Bristol, West, which is perhaps why I empathise with his remarks about the importance of giving all young people the best advice, so that we can feed social mobility by that means.

My point about independent schools, which the Minister did not fail to comprehend, but with which he was incapable of empathising, was that if the wherewithal resides with those who are already disproportionately advantaged, we will cement social division and inhibit social mobility unless we redistribute advantage. Advice, information and guidance is critical to such redistribution.

Much of what the Minister said was fair, and occasionally good, but it was certainly not good enough. I do not cite my views—he might take them to be prejudice and feel that I am partisan on such things. Instead, I cite the expert witness, Kieran Gordon. He could scarcely have been more critical of the Bill. I asked:

“Has the Bill gone far enough on strengthening the mechanism by which quality independent advice can be offered to young people?”

He said, in a simple sentence:

“I do not think it has.”

Similarly, I asked him whether the kind of careers service that I have advocated herein would reprofessionalise careers advice as a separate professional discipline. He said, in an even shorter sentence, “It would.” He went on to say:

“The issue we might have with apprenticeships—referencing back to those schools with sixth forms—is that the young people entering apprenticeships tend to be the same cadre of young people that the school wants to attract back in to do A-levels or the 16-to-19 elements of the diploma.”

He said that there can be “a conflict of interests” accordingly. He also said that the Bill does not go far enough in respect of the ability

“to promote and make young people aware of apprenticeships.”—[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 57, Q155 and 156.]

I could go on. What was clear was that Mr. Gordon’s analysis was altogether closer to that of the Opposition than that of the Government.

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 know that the hon. Gentleman has quoted at length from what Kieran Gordon said and I am sure that Mr. Gordon was an excellent witness. However, does he not recognise that Mr. Gordon did not have the benefit of my excellent contribution to this debate today, where I have explained in some detail the interplay between the Education and Skills Act 2008 and the provision in this Bill?

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

As I said in an intervention, Kieran Gordon referred to the 2008 Act, and although it is certainly true that he would not have heard the Minister for Schools and Learners today—unless he had the power of prophecy or something similar—he understood that the 2008 Act was firmer about this issue than is the Bill. I think that what he had expected was, as I indicated earlier, a Bill that mirrored the 2008 Act with a firm commitment.

Let me put this issue in context. In 2008, a study by YouGov found that only 24 per cent. of teachers agreed that apprenticeships are a good alternative to A-levels. That is a far smaller proportion than the same survey found among parents, for whom the figure was 43 per cent., or among young people themselves, for whom the figure was 52 per cent.; as for employers, 55 per cent. felt that apprenticeships were a good alternative to A-levels. The Skills Commission’s report on progression through apprenticeships, which will soon be published, reveals that teachers consistently underestimate the extent to which young people, parents and employers value apprenticeships. For example, although 47 per cent. of teachers believe that young people think that apprenticeships are not a good alternative to A-levels, only 19 per cent. of young people think that they are not a good alternative.

The 2008 YouGov survey also found that teachers have less knowledge of apprenticeships than of any other learning route, except for the Welsh baccalaureate. I know almost nothing about the Welsh baccalaureate, but I am sure that either the hon. Member for Bristol, West or the Under-Secretary will be able to enlighten us about it in due course.

That is why we need this all-age professional career service. The hon. Member for Bristol, West is right that it needs to be independent, but it also must have empiricism and offer advice that is not slanted and gives real emphasis to the vocational pathway. That means talking about apprenticeships to people who are not yet ready to pursue them, so that they can understand where they might end up. If we do not articulate a strong case for apprenticeships at all stages, people will not dream of an apprenticeship as the outcome that they might achieve.

Young people start to think about university long before they can go there—when they enter secondary school, perhaps even earlier. My own son told me when he was five that he wanted to go to Trinity college, Cambridge. I said, “Why Cambridge?” He replied, “Because it is in the fens and you could still read me my bedtime story and I would be able to come home for my hot dinners.” That seemed to me as good a reason as any to go to Cambridge. However, it illustrates that, very early in their lives, people start to dream of what they might achieve. If we do not make enough of vocational pathways, those dreams will be slanted very much by their familiar experience, the social group to which they belong and the interfaces that they enjoy during their childhood.

The amendment, as the Minister fairly said, does not go as far as we would wish. A new clause might do just that. Perhaps we will have a chance to debate one later on. But the amendment would at least take us further than the Minister is prepared to go and further down the line that Mr. Gordon wants us to take. It would take us towards the elevation of the practical, which lies at the heart of all of my considerations of this matter. In so doing it would feed social mobility by adding opportunity to those across society, but particularly those who are  most disadvantaged. For that reason, and because of our passion for vocational education, because of our belief in independent, free and fair advice, and because of our support for the careers profession too, which we feel has lost out since it was absorbed into Connexions, we will press this amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division number 7 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 35

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: 180, in clause 35, page 16, line 16, after ‘under’ insert ‘Chapter 1 of Part 1 of’.

This is a technical drafting amendment to clarify the reference to the provisions of he Bill under which apprenticeship certificates will be issued.

181, in clause 35, page 16, line 18, leave out from beginning to end of line 19 and insert

‘English certifying authority (within the meaning of that Chapter);”.’.—(Jim Knight.)

This amendment is consequent on amendment 152.

Clause 35, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.