Examination of Witnesses

Technical and Further Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Shakira Martin, Shane Chowen and Bev Robinson gave evidence.

Welcome. Witnesses, could you please introduce yourselves for Members and the record?

Bev Robinson:

Good afternoon, I am Bev Robinson. I have the privilege of being the principal and chief executive of Blackpool and The Fylde College.

Shane Chowen:

I am Shane Chowen; I am head of policy and public affairs at the Learning and Work Institute.

Shakira Martin:

Good afternoon, I am Shakira Martin. I am the vice-president for further education, representing 4.1 million students across the UK.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q I welcome all three members of the panel. Were any of you in the room and vaguely listening to our previous panel from the banks?

Bev Robinson:

I only heard the last three or four minutes.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q I only ask as an opener, on the back of the very interesting evidence that we have just had from the banks. We were talking about levels of risk in the situation of potential insolvency, and what the relationship between the education administrator and the actual creditors might be. Could I ask all three of you the same question? Obviously, as principal of a college that I know extremely well and rate extremely highly, you, Bev, would hope never to be in this particular situation. Do you think that in the particular clauses that establish, and balance the functions of, the education administrator, as opposed to the interests of the students and staff at a college that would be affected, the Government have got the balance right? Do you think that there is sufficient detail there for us to feel comfortable with this process?

Shakira Martin:

First, I would like to praise the positive step that we are taking in ensuring that students get the best out of this situation, if it were to occur. However, I would like to focus on the Bill, making the point about students not being disrupted in their education. The problem that we at the National Union of Students feel could be encountered is that, for example, it is not clear how the Government will make sure that the colleges that students are transferred to will have the capacity and scope to take on more students at that further time. It is also not clear how the Government will make sure that the education the student receives in the college is kept open and to a high-quality standard. For example, the area review process may have unintended impacts. There will be fewer colleges, further apart. How will travel costs and access be addressed?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q That point is wider than the one I asked you about, but it is very interesting. We heard the view—I will not say the evidence—of the FE commissioner this morning, who was slightly downplaying the implications of that and said that in some cases mergers could be very beneficial. I think the point that you are making brings us back to the overall point that we have been discussing with the banks: where does the liability—the funding, in other words—for the process actually sit? That is one that I am sure we will continue to explore.

Bev, from your perspective as a college principal of some long standing—not just in Blackpool—and from having had nearly a year, with your colleagues on the panel who produced the skills plan, to look at all the facets and aspects of the FE sector, if you were an FE principal wondering about the future, would you feel that there was sufficient clarity in the Bill? Would you feel that what the education administrator would want to do in that situation would win out?

Bev Robinson:

I am not an expert in the field of insolvency but I would make the following observation. First, the Bill is reasonably clear with regard to protecting students. What could be clearer, I feel, is protecting learning for a community in a reasonable travel-to-learn area. I welcome the idea of an education administrator with hopefully an FE background, but it might benefit from having clarity around the different roles of the different people in play—for example, the FE commissioner: how that would work. Because at the end of it all, colleges are businesses and students and learning are at the very heart of that business. Therefore, just to reiterate, I would wish to make sure that learning within a reasonable travel-to-learn pattern was protected as well as students.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

That is an issue. I think that is the point you were making, Shakira.

Shakira Martin:

Yes. May I add one thing? We would like an amendment to make sure that there are local impact assessments made on local areas, especially with the devolution that is happening and local authorities having more say over what is happening in a local area. I definitely feel that those individual areas need to be looked at really carefully in a bespoke way to make sure that we are meeting those needs.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Yes, I agree. There is very little in the Bill about the impacts of the devolution process except for a perfectly reasonable clause about data.

Shane Chowen:

I would not contradict anything that any of my esteemed fellow panellists have said. I would add that, following on from Bev’s point about protecting the learning opportunities in a local area, following area reviews we are looking at quite ginormous FE corporations with budgets of close to or over £100 million. So in some areas where you have quite large group structures, if there was an exceptional incident and that group became insolvent, the kind of ideas Shakira just highlighted around local impact assessments would be particularly important as well as in areas such as rural areas where there are very few colleges and providers that can swoop in and rescue those learning opportunities.

Bev Robinson:

With area review, obviously I have got limited experience in my own area.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

You are about to get a lot more.

Bev Robinson:

I am currently in the area review process, so I am happy to comment on Lancashire but not about across England. That has not been my experience in Lancashire. We are still midway through the process. There has been value in the process and I am not seeing any cold spots at the moment. But I think this is something to watch for in the Bill, so I do want to make this point again. If an unintended consequence is not in a reasonable travel-to-learn area, it could create a cold spot. I remember that words like sufficiency and adequacy were used back in the day to ensure there was sufficiency in an area, and I recommend the Committee considers that.

Secondly, the only thing I wish to question is one of the paragraphs in chapter 7, “Disqualification of Officers”. I question whether that should apply to the college boards and their non-exec directors. I am a little bit concerned that it may discourage students and the business community from serving on colleague boards. I would appreciate it if consideration were given to that point.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Incidentally, that point was raised by other witnesses this morning. I cannot remember who it was, but the palette was drawn wider to include local politicians as well. As I listened, I was worried who might be prepared to serve on a board. That is a similar point to the one that was made. I would just like—

Shakira Martin:

Gordon, may I add two vital points? Another concern regarding the education administrator is what qualifications and expertise they have within the sector. Are they familiar with the further education sector? When we are talking about widening access, can the Committee also consider care leavers, student parents and those with disabilities? That is it for this section.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q Right, okay. Can I come back to the institute itself? We had some discussions this morning with Peter Lauener about the genesis of the institute and my concerns about capacity, particularly at the moment. I would like to touch on the issue of representation. Bev, you have quite rightly made a distinction between the community and the learners and the actual organisation in a FE college itself. Do you all believe that learners should be represented on the board of the institute? Over and above the board of the institute, where else can they add value in a process and in a new institution that—at least initially, on the basis of what Peter Lauener said this morning—will have a somewhat limited capacity in terms of the number of people working for it?

Shakira Martin:

We 100% believe that there should be a learner on the board. I believe there should be two reserved places: one for an apprentice and one for a student, as their routes into education and experiences will be different. My membership—my apprentices and college students—are consumers, and they need to be around this board. As long as they are taking loan money out, they need to be getting the best deal. Additionally, we have taken the apprenticeship levy from a European model, which is fantastic. However, we have left behind the quality assurance part, which talks about collaboration and working in partnership with colleges, students and other stakeholders. I would like the Committee to consider that.

Shane Chowen:

I agree. As the institute is currently set up in statute under this Bill and others, it feels like there is huge value to be added by properly consulting and working with learners at every level of the organisation. I am about to celebrate my 10th year of working in further education, and one of the lines in legislation and regulation that I have learned to fear is “having due regard for learner views”. That relegates properly consulting and involving learners and apprentices to a compliance exercise, and it quickly becomes a tick-box process. The new institute has an amazing opportunity to not do that. Learners should absolutely be on the board.

Each of the 15 route committees can do quite a lot with learners, apprentices and former apprentices. At the end of the day, they are the ones who are looking at jobs, applying for jobs, brushing up their CVs and looking at job specs, so they will have a perspective to add to the development of apprenticeship standards, right from entry up to a higher level. It is not just about the board; it is throughout the organisation.

Bev Robinson:

I see merit in having a strong student voice on the board. At the moment, I do not see a strong argument for them on the 15 routes, but I would be open to that. I really welcome a debate on this aspect of the Bill. In this country, professional and technical education has been—I do not know how polite to be—woefully treated. It has been a second class and a last resort, almost. I welcome the Bill putting it where it should be, which is as a first choice rather than a last resort.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q I hope that is a view shared by everybody in the Committee. I want to probe a little more on the approval process for technical education, and both of you may have something to contribute here. Before being shadow FE Minister, I spent two years as a shadow Transport Minister and I found myself being lobbied by the maritime community because they had developed a series of qualifications—their trailblazers—that were perfectly adequate and excellent for the maritime sector, but then took nearly 18 months to jump through the hoops of the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That is a particular issue in a particular area, but it raises in my mind the question of whether better learner engagement—“learner” in that respect could be treated very widely—in the approval process for technical education would facilitate and improve some of the approval process, so that the lessons from the trailblazers are heeded.

Bev Robinson:

I strongly commend co-creation—by co-creation I mean the employer voice is really strong in that, and I feel it has to be. If we learn the lessons from qualifications and the proliferation of qualifications over the last couple of decades, we have lost the employer voice and therefore we have lost some of the value of some qualifications. For me, co-creation is really important. That is about employers and educationists as well as making sure that the student or customer voice—the consumer voice, as Shakira said before—is important. I commend the Committee to consider that.

Shane Chowen:

I do not want this to turn into a debate about why there may or may not have been a proliferation of qualifications, but some argue that it is because employers have argued that they did not particularly want it, so something else was developed. I have seen arguments that employers themselves have driven an agenda whereby they have been allowed to create and develop qualifications under a framework —under an employer-responsive model—so there are two sides to that coin. As I said, there are huge opportunities in this Bill to do a lot of great things in technical education and apprenticeships, and it feels like we are halfway there at the moment. An area I feel we can do much more on is widening access and participation in apprenticeships and technical education. If you had learners around the table with a serious voice and a vote, you would find much more innovative, creative and effective ways to engage with marginalised and under-represented groups than you would if you had a panel just of employers.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q On that point—after this, I will conclude, Ms Dorries—I am struck by the read-across between our discussions on this Bill and those that we had during the Committee stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, except we have substituted the words “apprentices” for “students”. There is a lot of read-across between this and the Higher Education and Research Bill, and it is right that there is because the Government’s aim is to have higher skills, whichever Bill that comes out of, and this is part and parcel of that.

Yesterday in the Report stage of the Higher Education and Research Bill, we introduced a new clause that would set up a standing commission to look specifically at how we expand adult education and learning. My question is: what more, in the context of this Bill, does the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education need to do to strengthen the argument for widening access and participation with the sorts of groups that we have talked about? I am talking about on the face on the Bill as opposed to saying simply, “Once it gets going I am sure it will think of looking at this.”

Shakira Martin:

The Government are talking about parity between the two routes—was it parity? The office for students has just announced that it is going to have a learner voice—a student—at the table and that is where this starts. It starts in this room, from the beginning. You also need to remember that we are not just creating students with qualifications; we are creating citizens. Getting students around the table to take ownership of their learning and of what is happening with them in society is actually having a domino effect. They have been enabled to make decisions, and they will give this back. Once you take ownership of something then you have a much better view, love and respect for it.

I do think that it starts there, by having two reserved places, because studying in the classroom and studying as an apprentice are two very different things. That is why I stress that it needs to be two reserved places. If we are saying that there is parity, then that is the beginning of where it starts.

Shane Chowen:

I would go further on that point about parity. I have heard Ministers and Secretaries of State call for parity of esteem and respect between the academic and technical route for many years, and that is laudable. This Bill feels like a good opportunity to move in the right direction with that. One of the first discrepancies is the enormous agenda to widen access and participation that there is in higher education, both in terms of what is in statute—which is why this Bill is important—and also in practice, in terms of what is funded on the ground. So in HE there is an established Office for Fair Access in statute, and the director has statutory responsibilities until the current Higher Education and Research Bill 2016-17 passes, and then that goes to the office for students.

There is a student opportunities fund managed by HEFCE that is worth about £41 million. Universities themselves spend between £700 million and £750 million a year on widening participation action in the form of bursaries and outreach activities. If we are serious about widening access and parity of esteem, there has to be a dual-pronged approach. We cannot have tonnes of resources pumped into widening access on the HE model and then not very much going into widening access on the technical and apprenticeship model, because there are still under-represented groups within the technical and apprenticeship system. There are still communities that are not engaging in the system as much as they should be. The system is not reflective of the employment sector or the general population, particularly when you look at students with disabilities and learning difficulties, and students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. They are not reflected in the sector in the way that they should be. There is a massive opportunity in this Bill to do something about that.

At the very least, the new institute can have some responsibilities to report annually on progress towards levelling the playing field on improving access and participation, as well as achievement and progression of individuals from under-represented groups. What we can learn from the HE work is that there are already sophisticated models and benchmarks to do that. I do not think that it would be a difficult job. We would not be starting from scratch. It is important that there is a dual-pronged approach if we are serious about parity of esteem.

Bev Robinson:

I would like to add something about the importance of careers advice and guidance. Understanding the many opportunities at a young age is key, and with positive models you then see them. Through careers advice and guidance, it is very simple: you can relate to that person and think to yourself, “Well actually if they can achieve that, then so can I.” That is very powerful for social mobility.

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Labour, Batley and Spen

Q I would like to ask about the opportunities of courses. My previous background was in the cultural industries, and it seems that culture and design are grouped. How would you like the choices within these brackets to be prioritised? Should the balance be about job creation, rather than careers? Have you had thoughts about the expectations of students and what they would be taking up within these brackets?

Bev Robinson:

May I clarify: when you say brackets, do you mean the routes?

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Labour, Batley and Spen

Yes—culture and design is one route.

Bev Robinson:

Indeed. I was involved in the Lord Sainsbury panel that contributed to the report, so I feel like I have spent a lot of my time and life in looking at that. I feel that there are real opportunities for both. It has to be about career, because it is about a journey. It is really important that we give everyone the opportunity to develop skills, to help them to secure employment for themselves and their families to have strong and healthy lives.

Because the routes are mapped against what the economy needs, it helps with advice and guidance and helps a young person of whatever age to think, “Here’s an opportunity for me. I can see my path and how that fits.” You do not always make decisions and stick to them. It is important that there is enough in there that one can transition across different pathways as well, and this proposal allows for that.

This also goes up to levels 4 and 5—a real engine of the economy in high-value jobs, for want of a better term. We talk a lot about levels 2 and 3 in technical professional education, but we must remember to include levels 4 and 5. I would like to think that this is very much about a journey—a career that enables you to move and develop further as you desire.

Shane Chowen:

I welcome that the Bill does not specify that there have to be 15 routes or what those routes are. It leaves that up to the Secretary of State to define the routes and the institute to define what occupations go into those routes. I think there is a clause that says that, if an occupation does not fit into one of the routes, the institute can pop it in somewhere that it sees fit.

I would add that it comes up against this parity with HE argument. In the 24-plus advanced learning loans system at the moment, where you can get funding to go on a course as an individual, in future you would only be able to get an advanced learner loan for a course that would fit in to one of those 15 routes. Most things probably will but the parity issue for me is as follows. No, I do not have a degree. No one will stop me going and doing my first degree in classics and I will get funding for that. If I wanted to do a course that was not within one of those 15 routes—at Bev’s college, for example—I could not get an advanced learner loan for that under the proposals. Sadly, that is the case at the moment—I am involved in the stakeholder group for the 24-plus loans. For me there is also a parity issue around access to funding for individuals. If we are saying in the loan system that the risk is on you—the loan is yours and you are responsible for paying it back—I do not think we can restrict people’s choices into those 15 routes, if there is a course that does not fit neatly within them.

Shakira Martin:

The skills plan proposes 15 routes. I have been speaking to my membership already, and this goes back to the reason and importance of why we need them on the board. The 15 routes do not cover qualifications in the retail industry, for example.

My members feel extreme concerns for the arts courses as there is only a route that proposes for arts “Creative and Design”. Those do not cover courses such as performing arts. Learners are already recommending that this route be split into two: applied art and design and performing arts. Again, I would like to reiterate why that is so important. It is this type of stuff we can address if they are around the table in the first instance, instead of learning by trial and error within the sector.

I would also like to draw your attention to how the clause is written. It is under “occupational categories” which, if you are not involved in the sector, you will not understand. That is again another reason why somebody needs to be around the board. The Secretary of State would be given more power to change the routes without consulting students. I would like to put to the Committee that we have an amendment to say that before any of these changes take place, learners should be consulted, as well as information, advice and guidance being part of the process. I agree with what David Hughes said this morning that IAG should be going into key stage 4. I went to the Skills Show this week and that provides an excellent example of IAG in those four days. I strongly recommend you to look into the Skills Show.

Bev Robinson:

May I clarify something, please? We are talking about technical professional education. There are other opportunities for learning—A-levels, applied general qualifications—that would cover retail and performing arts. The technical education was not meant to cover absolutely everything. It is meant to cover just technical and professional education, so this would not exclude a learning opportunity because that would be covered by applied general qualifications currently.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield

Q Thank you for your points. Like all of you, I believe this is very important to help people achieve their potential and to improve social mobility—no question. We are all saying this is a positive step forward. Obviously there is more to follow, but this in itself is a positive step forward. I am keen to focus on these categories for a moment. I know that you were involved with helping to create these, Bev. Obviously, they are important not just for learners but for businesses and employers as well. Does the panel believe that there is enough flexibility in that arrangement to have some defined pathways but to be able to evolve, given what will happen in the economy and in those sectors in future?

Shakira Martin:

I believe that, with devolution, we do need to be working at a local level, working in partnership with local organisations, such as local enterprise partnerships, local businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises, to make sure that it is relevant to the needs of that community and that area, and to the needs to the students. This is also why it is vitally important that we are training and educating our students not just for a job in a specific area, but giving them transferable skills to enable them to move out of their area and up into a different industry.

Shane Chowen:

Whatever the structures put in place within the institute around oversight of those routes, it is important that they have the necessary authority to make those kinds of recommendations, so if a route needs to be modified in any way, they have the authority to do that. The digital sector, for example, is probably one of the fastest moving of those 15 sectors. That will need to change all the time: the kind of occupations that are listed within those will need to be updated all the time. I would hope that the institute would have the flexibility to allow that to happen.

Bev Robinson:

I completely agree: currency is king. We have seen some of the qualifications in the market become terribly out of date. The Bill does allow for flexibility because the institute will be responsible, with those panels, for making sure that it is kept up to date. I really do welcome that.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield

Q Do you believe that businesses are currently engaged enough in helping to define those categories or routes, and are the mechanisms in place to ensure that will happen?

Bev Robinson:

I believe it is. The panels are not there to represent a particular business. Shane alluded earlier to the fact that the panels can sometimes be too narrow, as we have seen with the early trailblazers. Lessons learned from that would suggest that you are on that panel because of your engineering expertise, not because you happen to work for AA Engineering Ltd. It is about keeping that currency and making sure that you are representing not your company but the engineering field. Also, because it is co-creation, having educationalists there as well to make sure that pedagogy is also at the heart of the design of these products.

Shane Chowen:

I have nothing to add on that.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Q A very important question: what measures should be put in place to protect the quality of education received in a college that is struggling financially?

Shakira Martin:

As I said, I welcome the fact that learners are being considered in the insolvency regime. The NUS did put forward some recommendations in the consultation—I think that maybe some of that has not been considered before but, within this process, that is vitally important—of an independent FE ombudsman. When students do go through this process, if they are not satisfied with the end result, what steps do they take in appealing that decision to ensure that they get the best? At the moment there is nothing out there to represent students in that way. I am not really familiar with the HE sector and whether there is the equivalent there, but I am sure that there is probably something in place. After the process has happened and a student has been placed in a college and is not happy with that position—what next? How do they challenge that? I would strongly recommend an independent ombudsman.

Shane Chowen:

For me, if it has got to the stage where there are crisis meetings looking at how to recover teachers and get students to a place to learn, at some point along the way the system has already failed. The whole idea behind the commissioner’s office, for example, is to ensure that learners are protected long before a college even starts looking at insolvency as an option. The flags that are highlighted within the Department and the Skills Funding Agency at the moment to trigger a visit from the commissioner, should offer those protections long before an insolvency process.

Bev Robinson:

I agree with that; it is about early intervention, not waiting for a failure—it is seeing the signs and making appropriate interventions.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Q Pushing that argument further, you quite rightly said that colleges are now businesses after the incorporation in 1993. They have to perform like businesses, even though they are largely publicly funded. We may have a debate about whether that was a good idea or not, but nevertheless that is the situation we are now in. If a principal wants to make money, one way of making money is to squeeze more students in per class, to reduce the quality of the teaching by having less qualified teachers, to put people on courses and not worry about whether they turn up or not—to do all sorts of things that get the money in, but do not actually do the job particularly well.

I speak from some knowledge of a case exactly like that, where a college got into a terrible crisis. The principal disappeared and is now being picked up; I will not mention any names, but you may have been aware of it—it was a notorious national scandal. What is to prevent principals, especially with weak governing bodies, from behaving like this? Many students are not in a position to challenge and staff feel nervous about challenging, because if there is a wilful principal they might choose to get rid of staff, who cannot afford to lose their jobs, and so on. There are those possibilities, unless there are some controls. What would you suggest?

Bev Robinson:

What you are citing there is an extreme example.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

But a real extreme example.

Bev Robinson:

I appreciate that it was not fantasy—I appreciate that it was real—but such cases are an absolute minority. There are two golden threads in further education corporations—quality and finance—and it is about the balance of the two. In terms of what measures one could put in place, you have highlighted something: governing bodies—making sure that governing bodies are looking at the two golden threads of quality and money. It is about making sure that there are enough checks and balances within an organisation to allow for challenge; any good organisation would have that. I guess, ultimately, as we mentioned about the FE commissioner before, you would say the FE commissioner again, alongside Ofsted. Remember that with the desk research they do, they would spot within 12 months—if it was a dramatic example, as you cited—that quality suddenly went down very rapidly. That would be a red flag and a trigger. I would like to think that that would not happen, but obviously it does happen in a minority of cases.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Q Earlier today I was talking about governing bodies, having had 25 years’ experience on a sixth-form college governing body and some years before that on a college of higher education—which was really a high-powered FE college, with some HE and some FE. With that experience, I know that having the right governing body with the right kind of membership is absolutely crucial so that principals cannot get into that situation.

At the beginning of incorporation, all those years ago, the Government wanted small, tightly knit governing bodies made up of local businesspeople, thinking that that would make it work—the businesspeople would somehow guide the college into producing the right students. It did not actually work, and in the end the Government changed their mind and wanted broader based governing bodies including, of course, students— certainly, at the college I am at, the student council elect their own students on to the governing body—plus some accountants, some lawyers, and some headteachers from local high schools and primary schools. There was a whole range of different skills, so that the college is properly accountable— without having an elected body, but they do appoint their own governors. That approach is a way forward. Can we put that sort of thing into the Bill, to ensure the legislation is improved? I know that you and Gordon know each other very well. I am interested to know what your governing body is like.

Bev Robinson:

I am thinking of the unintended consequences. It is very easy to say that we can dictate exactly the constitution of a governing body, but if we are looking at further education corporations across the country, some of them are very different. My own, for example, is an outstanding college. We are very strong financially and so on, and we benefit from the mix and balance that we have on the board: we benefit from our business community and from two very able students on the board. I am hesitant about mandating exactly what that board would look like, because it varies by college. If, for example, I were a land-based college, I might want a slightly different mix, so I am hesitant about fully supporting that.

Shane Chowen:

There is an interesting overlap in what you are saying, in terms of what the new accountability and regulatory landscape would look like after the Bill, with the various new bodies. How does Ofsted interact with the institute? How does the OFS interact with the institute, which interacts with Ofsted? Who inspects HE, given that Ofsted does not have a role within that? There is definitely something in cleaning up that landscape and giving the roles and responsibilities within the sector some very clear and defined lines.

We have not spoken much today about the devolution elements within the Bill—I have been here all day, by the way; I’m a superfan. If you are devolving significant sums of money to combined authorities, the Government are absolutely right, on behalf of the taxpayer, to expect some level of accountability and assurance about that. That should be not only raw numbers of how many people are doing qualifications and at what level, but also the extent to which those funds are being managed and accounted for. There might well be another layer of accountability under devolution.

Having said that, combined authorities and LEPs often have representatives on college corporations, so they should be responsible, as governors, for noticing when something is awry—for example, a spike in student complaints when they get their spreadsheets. I am not sure the Bill currently delivers that, so it could be looked at in future.

Shakira Martin:

Can I remind everybody that FE has been cut to the core for a long time now? There might be some mismanagement, but when you are cut to the core and trying to change people’s lives on a budget, this is the kind of situation we get into. There is a big call for investment at the moment. I am going to flip this and talk about money and why we need it. Something I picked up from David Hughes this morning is the point about stability and certainty. We are often known as a Cinderella sector. It was welcome to hear the new Secretary for Education put FE at the heart and say that it is a priority. However, investment is needed in that area.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Q There were some striking figures this morning about the enormous difference between the spending per student in FE, post-16 and A-level students and in universities. I made the point that at university, you often have a small number of lectures with a couple of tutorials, whereas in FE, and particularly in A-levels and BTECs, you have constant contact with teachers. The level of engagement is much greater between teacher and student.

Shakira Martin:

Definitely. There is another thing that is quite frustrating. I welcome the money being put into the adults skills budget, but that is not an investment directly into further education, so I would like the Committee to consider direct investment in FE institutions.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

In my case, you are preaching to the converted.

Shane Chowen:

It might be worth pointing out, just on that point, that there were also figures out last week showing participation in FE and skills, and in the last 12 months we have had the biggest drop in adults participating in basic English and maths training that we have had in six or seven years. That comes at a time when—I think Professor Fuller mentioned this earlier—the UK is ranked bottom of the OECD league tables for literacy and second bottom for numeracy. At a time when we have to send out negotiators and a Secretary of State for International Trade to fly the flag for the UK, those figures look really bad.

Order. May I just interrupt here? The questions have to pertain strictly to the provisions in the Bill, as Mr Hopkins well knows. I know it is slightly difficult, but could you keep this answer as short as possible, so that we can move on to questions that do pertain to the Bill?

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Apologies, Ms Dorries. I have finished now; thank you.

Shane Chowen:

I would argue that there would be opportunities in the Bill to place extra emphasis on those kinds of issues that the country faces in international trade negotiations, such as basic literacy and numeracy.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Q I would like to ask this, while remaining within the scope of the Bill. There has been some interesting discussion about priorities, adult skills, training and so on. I want to return us to discussing the institute. If you had been here earlier, Shane, you would have heard a number of questions put to Peter Lauener about the nature of the institute, what its capacity might be and so on. I want to talk about one thing that strikes me about what the Bill is trying to do.

The institute had an interesting genesis, because it did not start out as an institute at all; it started out as a wish list in the Enterprise Bill by the previous Government as to who could actually look after apprenticeships. At one stage, it was going to be trading standards. Obviously, that subsequently was decided not to be the way forward, so the Government brought through, in the Enterprise Bill, the first genesis of the Institute for Apprenticeships, and like Topsy, it has just growed—very beneficially, I think, but that does raise some interesting questions that go to the heart of skills policy and of the new structure that will be set up, so I would like to ask the three of you, from your different perspectives, to answer this. We have heard a lot about apprenticeships. Obviously, that was discussed this morning with Peter Lauener. The technical qualifications are coming into this institute anew, but they bring with them the issue of how many people—actually, adults—need to be retrained and reskilled, the issue of what technical means for them. What should the balance be between the new institute focusing, obviously, on apprenticeships because that is a key Government target—

Order. Mr Marsden, we have a vote just before 4 pm, so if we keep to the point of the question, the witnesses will have a chance to answer.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Indeed. What do you think the balance should be in terms of the new institute focusing on apprenticeships, as opposed to focusing on other retraining and reskilling?

Bev Robinson:

I would probably go 50:50, because if you look at what we are asking in terms of technical professional education up to levels 4 and 5, there will be a considerable amount of work to do.

Shane Chowen:

I would agree, but I also think there is a lot of overlap between the two. One thing we have argued is that the institute could do much more to publicise and promote better data around outcomes for technical education and apprenticeships. That would be the same job for different forms of learning. I am talking about things such as employment outcomes, earnings outcomes, learner satisfaction and employer satisfaction. Those are things that the institute could do jointly between apprenticeships and technical education.

Shakira Martin:

One thing that the institute could do is define what an apprenticeship is—is it employment or work? There could also be better initiatives to get young people or just people back into work. An example is council tax exemptions. What does that mean for students who are estranged from their parents or whose parents are on low incomes? If it can be clarified whether an apprenticeship is education, work or both, perhaps we would be able to take steps forward in anticipating what we actually need.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

That involves the Minister discussing some of these things with his friends in the DWP and brings us back to the 16-hour rule and also to the conclusion of the sitting, I suspect.

Does anyone else have any questions? If there are no further questions from hon. Members, I thank the witnesses for travelling here today and giving evidence.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(David Evennett.)

Adjourned till Thursday 24 November at half-past Eleven o’clock.