Clause 86

– in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 19th March 2009.

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Suitability and availability of apprenticeship places: further provision

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment 116, in clause 86, page 52, line 42, after ‘(5) (a)’, insert

‘which may align with boundaries defined in sub-regional groupings’.

Yet again, Mr. Chope, our changeover is not taking place at quite the point in the Bill that we imagined, so I will be brief. This particular amendment is obviously again looking at boundaries of sub-regional groupings on which we have already had some discussion. Local  authorities, in the Bill, will directly fund and commission education which takes place in sixth-form colleges. There will be approximately 43 sub-regional groups of local authorities and they will be commissioning 16 to 19 education and training which takes place in further education colleges, although the funding as, we know, comes directly from the local authority. There is a concern that further education colleges will have to respond to at least two funding bodies—a point that we made the other day—their local authority and the Skills Funding Agency. An additional division of areas for the purposes of determining suitability of apprenticeship places is potentially going to add to confusion and bureaucracy, where we have splits across the sub-regions and two layers, so we have a horizontal and a vertical split in terms of these different agencies. We believe that in the interests of simplicity divisions made for the purposes of apprenticeships should align with the already determined sub-regional groupings.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

The apprenticeship scheme is a key element of our plans to ensure that an apprenticeship place is made available for every suitably qualified young person who wants one. How we define a reasonable travel area is clearly an important part of the apprenticeship scheme, and one that we are determined to get right. That is why I understand the motivation behind the amendment, and share the view that there needs to be a linkage between these reasonable travel areas and the sub-regional groupings, which are an important part of our 14-19 planning processes.

Our starting point in defining reasonable travel areas has been to use travel-to-work areas as defined by the Office for National Statistics. As apprenticeships involve a relationship with employers it is only right that we use travel-to-work areas as the basis in the first instance. We are mindful, however, of the need to take a practical common-sense approach. The definition of a reasonable travel area needs to be flexible enough to cover a variety of situations. There may be circumstances in which it is entirely appropriate for the reasonable travel areas to align with boundaries defined in local authority sub-regional groupings, which are based on travel-to-learn patterns, but there may also be situations in which reasonable travel areas mean that young people living near the boundaries of a sub-regional grouping can easily travel across those boundaries to take up apprenticeship opportunities. Previously in our debates the hon. Lady talked about Brockenhurst college, which would be on the boundaries of such groupings. Using legislation to link reasonable travel areas with sub-regional groupings might therefore have the unintended consequence of reducing learner choice. For that reason, and as this is an operational matter, there is no need to further specify the detail of how the process will work in legislation, and I encourage the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for his reply. I accept that the issue is complex but that is a result of having a number of complexities in the Bill. However, I am very mindful of unintended consequences and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 86ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 87 and 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.