Skills and Vocational Education

– in the Scottish Parliament at 10:22 am on 7th June 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 10:22 am, 7th June 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-126, in the name of Hugh Henry, on skills and vocational education.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 10:29 am, 7th June 2007

I congratulate Fiona Hyslop, Maureen Watt and Adam Ingram and wish them well in a portfolio that is critical to Scotland's future.

I am disappointed that Labour has had to use its parliamentary time to facilitate a debate on education. I suppose that that reflects the relative priorities of Labour and the Scottish National Party.

When Gordon Brown unveiled his budget in March, he delivered nearly £2 billion for Scotland in the next three years. Jack McConnell committed Labour to investing all of that in education. By contrast, the SNP pledged only that the money would be spent on front-line services, with no special commitment to education. During the election campaign, Jack McConnell spelled out Labour's commitment to education. He promised additional resources for education, even if that meant squeezing other budgets. By contrast, the SNP has refused to say whether it will give education that priority. Labour promised an education bill within 100 days if re-elected. By contrast, all that we have had from the SNP is a series of press releases and statements, many of which had no substance—such as that on ship-to-ship oil transfer—or were simply a regurgitation of what was started by the previous Executive. At least today, we have forced the SNP to say something about education.

I believe that there is a consensus in the Parliament and beyond that 21st century Scotland needs a highly motivated and highly skilled workforce if it is to compete in the global market. There is general agreement that we cannot afford to compete on the basis of low wages and low skills. There is also general agreement that, although many of our young people are achieving to high levels, still too many are failing, for a variety of reasons, to develop to their full potential. They lose interest in school, they lack personal ambition or they end up in a depressing environment of bad behaviour and alcohol and/or drug abuse, and they are often lost to society.

I am glad that there is now general recognition that more has to be done to prevent young people from reaching that critical point of failure. I acknowledge that, at least in its rhetoric, the new Administration is committed to early intervention, but it needs to recognise that that will require significant additional investment for the areas that need to be addressed, rather than the application of universality throughout Scotland.

If we consider our motion and each amendment, we see that there is probably more that unites us than divides us. There is a broad understanding of the concerns of business and an acknowledgement that there is much that is good in our schools and further education colleges. However, there is also a recognition that the present situation cannot be allowed to continue and that more needs to be done to address the challenge that confronts us.

I do not disagree with the amendment in the name of Fiona Hyslop. I accept that we need a strategy. However, we also need action—and early action at that. The scale and severity of the problem has been well documented, so there is no need to dwell on the details.

In its manifesto, Labour proposed radical, imaginative and challenging ideas to tackle the problems. For us, more of the same is unacceptable. There are some who bridled at the idea of skills academies, but we wanted better motivation and more relevance for young people who are disengaged from school and for whom academic development holds little interest. We wanted to engage with them to develop the skills that they need to be employable. Frankly, we also wanted to give those young people some interest in life, which would allow them to develop their potential and personality.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the member explain how the establishment of skills academies and science centres of excellence could help people in my constituency and the great swathes of rural north Scotland where people currently have to travel many miles to go to normal comprehensive schools? Would skills academies not be a complete irrelevance to them?

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

We have not been prescriptive about where the centres would develop. There are further education colleges in north-east Scotland and the FE skills and talents that are already available in the member's area could be extended.

We wanted to widen young people's choice and study options. We wanted to add significant status and prestige to vocational learning options for pupils and to expand significantly skills for work courses. We wanted to build on the work being done to improve the links between schools and colleges, and we pledged in our manifesto to increase the number of modern apprenticeships to 50,000 per year by the end of the parliamentary session. Our skills academies are intended to deliver that.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

There is a genuine shared concern to improve skills opportunities. What the rest of us would like to hear about is where the skills academies would be sited. If they involve enhanced technical departments in schools and better use of links between schools and colleges, we can agree, but if they involve 100 separate and segregated institutions, we cannot.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

The plans were never designed nor stated to involve 100 separate institutions. Had the minister read our proposals in more detail, she would have seen that we were talking about developing much of the infrastructure that already existed.

Our proposals should not be dismissed out of hand. We envisage skills academies widening pupils' options. Academies would be located in either schools or colleges, depending on local opportunities and needs. Indeed, as Fiona Hyslop accepted in January's debate on skills academies, if the schools of ambition programme were extended as a means of extending skills academies,

"perhaps that would be something else that we could agree on."—[Official Report, 11 January 2007; c 30937.]

So let us not concentrate on our differences; rather, let us build on what we can achieve together. We should build on our different ideas for a common purpose.

The same applies to our proposals for science centres of excellence. We already have centres of excellence to encourage those with special talents in sport, music or dance. We want the same opportunities to exist for those with special talents in science. We want Scotland to lead the world in invention and innovation, so why should we not nurture the special talents that are needed to do so? The centres would concentrate on excellence in science without ignoring broader educational development. They would be within the comprehensive context but would deliver breadth and balance, as our current centres of excellence do.

Labour promised a stimulating, radical and challenging agenda. I accept that we are not in government and that it therefore falls to others to progress the skills agenda. I offer our support to Fiona Hyslop in confronting the decisions that must be taken to challenge the depressing reality for too many of our children, but I make it clear that we will challenge the new Administration at every turn if it fails to take the early and difficult decisions that need to be taken to start to make a real difference.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the concerns in the business community about the shortage of school leavers proficient in science and technical subjects; believes that there is a role for academic institutions concentrating on vocational skills and science, and calls for the introduction of skills academies and science centres of excellence as a contribution to improving both the skills needed for 21st Century Scotland and the life opportunities for our young people.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 10:36 am, 7th June 2007

I welcome the opportunity that the Labour Party has provided to discuss skills and vocational education, following the many speeches—including my own—that have been made on education as part of the Government's debate on the objective of a wealthier and fairer Scotland. I also welcome the support for the terms of our amendment, if not necessarily for the amendment itself.

The Government will support learning for life and learning throughout life—from early education to supporting children, families and communities; improving learning in schools; developing skills for and in work; and promoting excellence, innovation, science and research. We know that our teaching and learning are world class and that people can and do take advantage of them to improve their life chances, but there are key challenges that we must address. We must make it clear that learning truly is for everyone. We must demonstrate how it can have a lasting and positive impact on many areas of life and we must develop policies and processes that make things easy for everyone to understand and make use of Scotland's learning systems to improve their contribution to people's work, lives and communities.

We intend to start the process by developing a Scottish skills strategy that covers early years provision, schools, further and higher education, work-related learning and informal learning opportunities. The new strategy will outline our aims, ambitions and plans for making Scotland's skills base truly world class. I hope that it will be warmly received not only in the chamber but outside it.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

We will, of course, be interested in seeing the proposals that are made as the strategy progresses, but the strategy will be effective only if it is funded. Will the cabinet secretary give a guarantee that, in the spending review period, funding for the tertiary education sector in Scotland will increase in real terms under the SNP Administration?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I recognise that the Liberal Democrats have spent the money in the comprehensive spending review before it has taken place, but responsible government means that we must have processes. This morning, I will invite the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to provide more detailed proposals from the universities for the comprehensive spending review bid.

We have started work on the Scottish skills strategy. We intend to have a draft strategy available to take forward by the end of our Administration's first 100 days. It is important to us that we develop the strategy co-operatively, using structures such as the skills committee of the Scottish funding council and working with employers and trade unions so that the strategy becomes a vision that we can all champion for the benefit of Scotland.

The review of skills that was led by Lord Leitch was published in December 2006. That review sought to make the United Kingdom a world leader in skills by 2020. The Scottish skills strategy will be our response to that review. Scotland has distinct institutions, qualifications and experience and how we achieve our vision for skills will necessarily reflect that. With the exception of London, Scotland has fewer lower-skilled people and more higher-skilled people than anywhere else in the UK. However, there are productivity challenges that we must address. We will focus on Scottish approaches to Scottish issues—that will drive our strategy.

The modern Scottish workforce must be dynamic, responsive, creative and innovative. A wider learning culture is the foundation on which our future prosperity and success must be built. All learning must be relevant, exciting and inspirational. Learning is about more than teaching content and subjects. We must ensure that it develops young people who are excited by it to be creative, ambitious and conscious of their own health and well-being, and that it equips them with the core skills that they need—not only literacy and numeracy but team-working, communication and adaptability skills.

All our young people should have the opportunity to develop awareness of the world of work and the practical skills that they may need to succeed in it. I do not agree that there should be a segregated approach to skills for work, as presented in the motion.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am conscious of the time and must move on.

We will place science, modern languages and technology at the heart of education. We must enthuse young people about science from the earliest ages and not deal with the matter post-16, as the motion suggests. It is not a matter of making structural changes through creating skills academies or science centres of excellence—it is about challenging the perception that vocational qualifications are for the less able or that there should be only a post-16 focus on science.

I do not want a two-tier education system. I believe in vocational opportunities and active choices for all, based on individual aspirations and abilities. Everyone needs vocational skills, regardless of the industry in which they work or their occupation. There should be parity of esteem for all qualifications.

Learning does not stop when we leave school; every stage of life brings opportunities to participate in it. College learning opportunities in particular can help to tackle the biggest challenge that we face in education, which is improving the experience and performance of the lowest-attaining young people in our society.

We must harness the energies of our learning and education partners better so that we can become more adept at providing effective and relevant opportunities. That is why improved school-college links are the way forward. The Opposition parties must not underrate the ability of colleges or sideline them in the skills agenda.

In conclusion, our vision of a smarter Scotland is one in which educational and academic achievements throughout life make a real and measurable difference to the lives of all our people. We believe that skills are the key to unlocking the potential of all our people. The Scottish skills strategy that the Government has announced today will help us to do that. We look forward to developing the strategy with the Parliament.

I move amendment S3M-126.3, to leave out from "recognises" to end and insert:

"notes the concerns raised by the business community about the shortage of school leavers proficient in science and technical subjects; believes that there is a need for more vocational skills experience for 14 to 18-year-olds, including improvements in school/college links and increased focus on the teaching of science in schools, and notes the Scottish Government's decision to develop a Scottish skills strategy to help deliver the skills needed for 21st century Scotland."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 10:42 am, 7th June 2007

I welcome Fiona Hyslop to her new position as the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and her team of Maureen Watt and Adam Ingram. We look forward to engaging energetically with them in the years ahead.

The Conservatives welcome the opportunity to discuss skills and vocational education in the first education debate of the new session. We have long championed the cause of greater vocational education. As far back as 2002, a Conservative amendment was passed in the Parliament that urged the Executive to extend access to further education courses to school pupils from the age of 14. That position has often been restated in the Parliament, with support from all sides.

The Conservative party does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to education. We believe that a system that means that all children must concentrate fully on academic subjects after the age of 14 is increasingly out of date. Such an approach is failing to meet the needs of our economy, as the Labour motion recognises. The current system also fails too many youngsters, who are simply turned off by academic subjects but might welcome the opportunity for more vocational learning. Such learning might help to motivate them to engage more fully within the school environment, with all the benefits that that would bring.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the member answer the question that I asked Hugh Henry? What possible advantage would vocational schools have for my constituents in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, who must currently travel many miles to schools?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I will address that point later, if I may, but will make two brief comments now. As Mr Henry said, existing units in schools could be used. We must also recognise that urban areas have a higher concentration of schools and that those schools will have greater opportunities to develop specialisations than will schools in rural and remote areas—that is inevitable.

I am pleased that the Labour Party's motion recognises the business community's concern about

"the shortage of school leavers proficient in science and technical subjects".

I am sorry that it has taken the transition to opposition for Labour to become aware of it, but its concern is welcome.

I am pleased that Labour is again talking about the creation of skills academies. In January, the Conservatives lodged a motion supporting the principle of skills academies and we were rather disappointed that Labour members did not support us on that occasion. The idea is attractive in principle, but we are still waiting for further detail from Labour about how skills academies might operate in practice.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Given that I was talking about Labour, it is only fair to allow Mr Macintosh to intervene.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

We welcomed in spirit the debate in January, but we are still concerned that ideas, such as that in the Conservative amendment, on

"the introduction of specialist vocational schools", would mean a return to selection. Will Murdo Fraser reassure us that that is not implied?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I have no wish to intrude on a debate on this subject that is taking place in my party south of the border. I reassure Mr Macintosh that it is not the policy of the Scottish Conservatives to support selection.

Labour's new approach, which I commend, recognises the realities of modern Scotland and stands in stark contrast to the antediluvian approach of the SNP. As a party, the SNP has set its face against specialist schools and skills academies. SNP members must recognise the realities of 21st century Scotland. As a nation, we must be more ambitious and must set about creating an education system that meets the needs of modern Scotland, rather than, for purely ideological reasons, clinging to a system that is past its sell-by date.

Our amendment says that we should recognise the need for new specialist vocational schools—such as the skills academies that Labour is talking about—as well as the need to develop links between schools and colleges, which is what Miss Hyslop referred to in her remarks. Every Scottish youngster from the age of 14 should have the opportunity to access vocational education. That might not necessarily be done at a specialist school, which might answer Mr Rumbles's point. We do not support a two-tier system because every child should have the opportunity. A lot of good work has already been done in developing links between schools and local further education colleges, and much more could be done in that field.

I am aware that I am already over my time. Scottish education has reached a consensus that we should encourage more vocational courses. I believe that many in this chamber want to go further than that and encourage more specialist schools such as skills academies or science centres of excellence, although I have not had time to talk about those this morning. Scottish education should be going that way and we look forward to working with other parties to bring about those changes.

I move amendment S3M-126.1, to insert at end:

"but also appreciates the excellent facilities and expertise in further education colleges and believes that more use must be made of these for educating school-age pupils so that, taken together with the introduction of specialist vocational schools, this ensures that every young person can readily access vocational education courses from the age of 14, and further believes that each local authority should work with head teachers and local further education institutions to produce a strategy for teaching science and technology."

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 10:48 am, 7th June 2007

I welcome the chance to outline Liberal Democrat views on secondary education, skills and learning.

I commend Mr Macintosh for calling on the Conservatives not to promote in Scotland Labour's policy in England. If this is the new politics in Scotland, I want to return to the old.

In last week's debate on Scotland's economy, the Liberal Democrats took the opportunity to outline our disappointment that the SNP had not placed education, skills and training at the heart of its economic future. I wish the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning well. She is starting from the strong base of the statistics that have just been sent to all members, and which make for encouraging reading, showing 1,400 more teachers this year than last year and the lowest teacher to pupil ratio in primary schools since 1990. That is the strong record of the Liberal Democrats and Labour in Government. The cabinet secretary has received a dowry of success and I hope that she will carry on building up the quality of education in Scotland.

This is a good time for education in Scotland. We already have strong university, college and school links. As Mr Henry said, there is much that unites the parties. We have heard considerable agreement about developing those links and developing science in schools. I doubt that any MSP would argue against stronger relationships between colleges and schools. However, we are tasked with debating and voting on a motion that proposes skills academies—and it is welcome that it is not an SNP motion. We look forward to the new Government deciding at some stage—in the near future—on its spending and funding proposals and on the priorities that it will be setting. The mebbes-aye-mebbes-no approach that we heard in the earlier debate is not good enough to give direction to further and higher education in Scotland with the spending review coming up.

The Liberal Democrats do not share Labour's view that skills academies should be introduced in Scotland. Our view is shared by the two local education authorities that I represent. Scottish Borders Council and Midlothian Council have rejected the policy and, interestingly, one week after the former First Minister outlined his policy for developing skills academies in Scotland, Labour- controlled Midlothian Council rejected it, and for good reason.

I understand that there is a need for learning centres that create excellence, but we should be ambitious for every college and school in Scotland to be a centre of excellence. I do not agree that the way forward is through the essentially private-sector academies that are being developed in England. We need only look at the prospectus for the third round of the skills academies in England, which says that the role of the sponsors, the employers or the leaders of those academies will be to

"shape all aspects of the design of National Skills Academies and the delivery of the training they will provide".

Although Mr Henry said that there might be flexibility in how the academies are put together and where they are placed, we can look to what Labour has done south of the border. Paragraph 3.2 of the prospectus says about the relationship between the academies and the public sector in setting educational standards:

"We would normally expect the formal support of the relevant SSC"

—sector skills council—

"but there may be exceptions."

Private sector sponsors accepting support from the local sector skills council in not only paying for the academies but potentially setting fees and academic standards is not the appropriate approach for Scotland.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Does Mr Purvis accept that the English education system is quite radically different from ours and that it faces a range of different problems? Scotland has an almost entirely comprehensive system and the private sector is very small, although we have specialist schools in Scotland such as St Mary's music school.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am most grateful to Mr Macintosh for illustrating my point. We do not wish to import an English model.

Mr Rumbles's earlier point was absolutely appropriate. We want all colleges to have incubator units for business and to be able to develop skills training for their local areas. We do not want the specialism that will exacerbate a situation such as that in my constituency, where someone wanting to get training to introduce a renewables technology has to travel to Caithness College to get it. Developing separate skills academies could cost up to £1 billion and will detract. We do not want separate, specialist institutions; we want all colleges in all parts of Scotland to be centres of excellence. We do not want a situation such as that in England, where fees are back on the agenda. We want to move away from that.

Our amendment is clear and specific. It is precisely because we want all parts of Scotland to develop, because we want a comprehensive secondary, tertiary and skills system, and because we want all learners, young and old, to benefit, that we do not want private-sector, fee-paying academies, following the English model. That is why we have proposed the positive alternatives that I hope Parliament will support this afternoon.

I move amendment S3M-126.2, to leave out from "about the shortage" to end and insert:

"that opportunities should exist for school pupils to gain vocational and educational skills from the age of 14 through both school and college; believes that there should be closer links between schools, colleges and local businesses building on the highly successful school and college partnerships and the Skills for Work and Determined to Succeed initiatives; reaffirms its support for comprehensive secondary education; rejects the establishment of skills academies, and rather believes that Scotland's colleges should receive an annual 3% real terms increase in funding to help support partnerships with schools, that there should be a new target of 50,000 Modern Apprenticeships by 2011 to widen training opportunities for young people, that secondary schools and colleges should have business incubators to develop entrepreneurial skills and to ensure that Scotland remains competitive in delivering high-level skills and research and that the Scottish Executive should meet the funding bid from Universities Scotland for an additional £168 million funding over the next spending review period."

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party 10:54 am, 7th June 2007

I am sure that each of John Paul academy in Glasgow's Maryhill, Oban high school and Greenfaulds high in Cumbernauld deliver a vital service to students, parents and the wider community. Those schools are but three of 381 publicly funded secondary schools in Scotland. I am confident that every one of those schools is an asset to its community. Indeed, I am happy to describe them all as skills academies.

The Labour Party manifesto had a commitment to provide 100 skills academies. That is roughly a quarter of the overall number of secondary schools in Scotland—a significant proportion. It is important that the new Labour Opposition tells us whether the 100 schools that would have made the cut would have been the lucky ones at the expense of the others, or whether 281 schools would have been lucky to escape untouched. Who are the lucky ones, and who are the losers?

There is a sneaking suspicion that what is really being served up by new Labour in its motion is an end to the comprehensive education system. If so, the Labour Party should be deeply ashamed.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

Do you not want a dialogue?

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

If Mr Henry does not mind, I would like to continue without being shouted down.

Only recently, the Conservatives in England got their cravats in a twist over grammar schools, and now new Labour in Scotland may be offering us the converse—ghetto grammars by stealth in some of our most vulnerable communities. Labour's ghetto grammars would not be about selection but about deselection by social class.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

No thank you.

New Labour's motion could even be a TARDIS to take us back to the dreaded days of junior secondaries and the "quali".

If the Labour Opposition wishes to work constructively with our new SNP Government, I am sure that it will want to engage with the Scottish skills strategy. If so, I am sure that we will see an expansion of the school-college partnerships and links, and that we will ensure that an increased number of suitable courses are brought on line for 14 to 16-year-olds to address the skills gap and best meet the needs of our youngsters.

There is a real need to tackle the issue of the number of youngsters in the group that is now described as NEET—youngsters who are not in education, employment or training. The Labour Opposition needs to be careful that it does not confuse the acronym NEET with another demonised acronym—ned. I was alarmed during the election campaign by Labour's idea of compulsion—keeping 16 and 17-year-olds in schools unless they were in employment or training. Why is that not mentioned in the new Labour motion today? May I suggest that a few Labour MSPs pop into a few random staff rooms across the country and run the idea past the teaching staff? Indeed, they should gauge the opinions of the pupils who make a positive choice to stay on beyond 16. The MSPs would quickly learn that their idea is not popular. It is not reasonable, it is unworkable and, more important, it completely admits Labour's defeat.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am grateful. The chamber has noticed that the one member who has not followed the cabinet secretary's mode and tone happens to be an SNP member.

When in opposition, the SNP said before every spending round that further and higher education had to be a clear priority for funding. The SNP has now made funding commitments for road tolls and for accident and emergency centres. Why is it not prepared to make commitments for education?

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I am sure that Mr Purvis will put his views forward strongly during the spending review that is about to take place. Of course, we would all like more funding for schools; indeed, some funding might be available if we do not go ahead with the tram system in Edinburgh.

If, right now, youngsters had access to a worthwhile training course or job, they would be accessing that training course or job; and if any youngsters refused to do so, I could not think of a worse thing to do than to shoehorn them back into a classroom. We need imaginative and innovative plans to improve, expand or indeed replace existing training schemes—whether it is skillseekers, the modern apprenticeship scheme or the get ready for work initiative.

Let us work in an improved and more effective fashion with schools, local authorities, further education colleges, private companies and Government agencies, and let us improve the lot of our students and our business community. However, in doing so, we must ensure that no two-tier system is created whereby our most vulnerable, poor and disaffected youngsters are told, "You're off to the skills academy," while others from more affluent backgrounds can head off to the universities and be the professionals of tomorrow. Our Parliament must raise the aspirations of our youngsters, not stifle them. I fear that that would be the result of letting the Labour Party loose on our schools.

Let us reject the new Labour motion at decision time, and let us back our new Government's skills strategy, which is based on the needs of youngsters and businesses, and is based on fairness for all.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour 11:00 am, 7th June 2007

We will engage with the skills strategy—but, yet again, for the SNP the idea of engagement seems to be one-sided. It is already rejecting Scottish Labour's proposals and, indeed, misrepresenting them.

It is fitting that Parliament's first debate on education in this session has been brought forward by Scottish Labour, because our party has put education and skills at the heart of the success of devolution. It is also a pleasure to make my first speech in this session. It hardly seems four years since I made my maiden speech as the Parliament's youngest member, but now I look around me and see that I appear to be one of the older members. The last four years have clearly taken a very heavy toll.

I would like to welcome the new ministers to their positions. There is much on which Fiona Hyslop and I disagree, but I wish her every success in her new role. We have worked constructively together on keeping open rural schools that are sustainable; I hope that we will see progress on that issue.

As a fellow MSP for North East Scotland, I would like in particular to welcome Maureen Watt to her new role and to wish her every success in it. She will be acutely aware of the great concern in Aberdeen at the council's £2 million cuts in schools' budgets, despite extra funding for schools from the previous Executive. The SNP is now part of the administration in Aberdeen, implementing that decision. I hope that that will also be an issue that ministers can address.

There is much to do. When we consider national issues such as creating a knowledge economy and fostering excellence in education and skills, Labour's record in the coalition Executive is one of which we are proud. The SNP will have to live up to it. However, we want even more progress in key areas. We need more school leavers who are proficient in science and technology, and more opportunities for young people to gain vocational skills. That is why we want more science teaching in schools—which has never been simply a post-16 agenda—and it is why we created modern apprenticeships and wanted 50,000 people to benefit from them every year.

A skills agenda is crucial. It can give young people better life opportunities and enable them to contribute to a successful Scotland. Our motion is not about denying opportunities; it is about creating more of them. The link between lifelong learning and economic success in the previous Executive worked, and it is regrettable that this Executive has broken that link. However, adopting some of our proposals today would go at least some way in mitigation.

Our proposals for skills academies have been widely welcomed by people who are concerned about the skills gaps in our workforce, which represent an opportunity cost for thousands of people who could take up those skilled jobs.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does Richard Baker agree that a principle behind funding for education should be that it should go where it is needed? In other words, funding should be provided school by school and area by area. As has already been said, a danger is inherent in Labour's proposals: they would undermine the comprehensive system of education that we are all so dedicated to.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Mr Harper is rector of the University of Aberdeen and I know about his interest in these issues. We are certainly not seeking to undermine the comprehensive system, but extra funding is needed to give more people more skills and to encourage them to take up education and training.

In Aberdeen, employers, educators and trade unions are backing the proposal for a skills academy for energy and for oil and gas. Public agencies are taking those plans forward, and I agree with much of what Mr Purvis said, particularly the important points about higher and tertiary education funding. Some of the spectres raised about our proposals for skills academies do not apply. The skills academy proposed for Aberdeen will help to ensure that the city has a knowledge and skills base so that it can continue to be the energy capital of Europe. I would like to hear how this Executive will make progress with that initiative, as well as with proposals for skills academies in other areas.

I am proud that in the previous Executive, Labour and the Liberals hugely increased the funding for our universities and colleges, giving them a £1 billion budget for the first time. When will we hear about this Executive's budget for tertiary education?

I am proud that we put teaching and quality first. That must continue, because education is the key. Giving young Scots the skills to succeed, thus enabling Scotland to succeed, was the right priority for the previous Executive. We will do all that we can to ensure that it is a priority in this Parliament too.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 11:04 am, 7th June 2007

I imagine that our whips are relieved that my maiden speech is on education. Although I have been a teacher all my life, I am a frustrated engineer. I was brought up in and around mines, coal cutter works, shipyards and steel works, and although there was not much chance of that continuing after the 1960s, the mark of the skilled man remains. For a decade after 1969, I was technologising learning in the Open University. People such as Jennie Lee, Walter Perry, Arthur Marwick and a very young me put together the world's first distance-learning institute from planning group to taught students in 18 months—think of that. It was substantially a Scots achievement.

Latterly, I have lived by teaching regional studies to young German economists who, in the words of that notorious Scottish teacher, Miss Jean Brodie, are the crème de la crème from the best economics faculty in Germany. That does and does not make us nostalgic for the Scots past. My students' fathers work for Bosch and Daimler-Benz and are much the same men—wee men wi a micrometer in one pocket an a file in the other—as those who ran the Clyde, and colonised the North Sea in the 1970s and 1980s, which was best described then as outer space with bad weather. I wrote about that incredible achievement in my book, Fool's Gold, on North Sea oil.

When thinking about the future of technologised manpower, we must bear it in mind that we have a 30,000-strong engineering workforce out there in oil fields worldwide. They have gone offshore, but they are still skilled Scots. One of our objects must be to bring them back to teach our people here. It is only by using ecological high tech and combining knowledge systems with skilled metal bashing that we will survive—hence my repeated stress on the need to get high technology from Europe back into Scotland. What are the educational implications of that?

Two summers ago I was in the Tübingen clinic for a minor operation. I shared a room with Joachim, a skilled worker from a huge plant called Schwörers on the Swabian Alb. His job might have been right out of the Grimm brothers' tales—he was a woodcutter. However, he was a woodcutter in charge of a sophisticated laser cutter and his work was concerned with programming and adapting an enormously expensive box of tricks to do different jobs every day. He was a grandfather at 49, well educated, he cycled 14 km to work every day, voted for the Greens, got Der Spiegel every week and was well read.

Something about him struck me and gave me my argument for this morning. What language did that German skilled worker speak? He spoke German. The fachsprache, or shop language, of sophisticated engineering in Europe is not English; it is German. English is probably spoken less in that context than previously because Britain and America are no longer industrial nations in the same sense—we do not do the metal bashing that gives Germany its industrial culture. Our universal English is much more restricted than we think—it does not reach the wee man in the overalls. On the red Clyde before 1914, that man's equivalents would have had a good knowledge of French and German. They might have had an unorthodox knowledge of conventional English, but they knew those languages.

We do not get anywhere with the mentality of "shout louder and they will understand"—although that tends to be a southern English mentality. Nor do we adapt by having a purely specialised education that does not extend to understanding and learning from other systems. Joachim benefited from the German dual system of education, which provided from the ages of 14 to 18, half by a firm and half by the education authority, a combination of technical and humanistic education. His wages were low during that period because the surplus was spent on his technical training. That was the best that Europe could provide. At the beginning of this decade, only 9 per cent of young Germans reached 18 without such training. In Scotland, the figure was nearer 25 per cent.

If people want a programme for such education and training, I recommend that they look in a little-known book called Where There's Greed: Margaret Thatcher and the Betrayal of Britain's Future. I wonder how many people in the chamber have read it. It is a sensible book about how manufacturing creates productivity and social gains. Its theme is that we must manufacture or die and we must have appropriate investment and training. Thank you, Gordon Brown. He wrote that book in 1989, but Where There's Greed seems to have long vanished from the Chancellor's memory. Under Gordon Brown, United Kingdom manufacturing declined from being 21 per cent of gross domestic product in 1997 to 15 per cent in 2003. Manufacturing in unfashionable, metal-bashing Germany contributed 24 per cent of GDP in 2004. The numbers of people employed in metal bashing in Britain fell by 30 per cent between 1997 and 2005. Hot money sloshing into the City and takeovers have been the compensation. What results do we see? Think who owns the Clyde shipyards. Think of this morning's headline about the billion-pound bribes.

It gets more exciting. The intelligent German worker who reads Der Spiegel will tell us that we are on the edge of peak oil when world reserves will not match demand. Oil was sold at $10 a barrel during the 1999 elections and we are at $65 a barrel now. Peak oil will take us to $182 for the barrel. Although we can expect great changes in what we have to teach, it will not be so great if we do not have the industry, transportation and, above all, the training to do it.

We have a weather window, as the oil men would say, but only just. That is what has brought me back to Scotland and that is why I am speaking to members today.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 11:11 am, 7th June 2007

The last time that I spoke in the chamber, in the wealthier and fairer debate, I made the case that the people of Scotland are potentially our most valuable asset, but that if we do not help them to reach their full potential, we will lessen everybody's chances of becoming wealthier. I used the word "potential" deliberately. Today, we are not using that asset efficiently; indeed, in many cases, we are not using it at all. Scotland has the highest proportion in the developed world of teenagers not in education or employment. There are several reasons for that sad and shameful state of affairs, but first among them is the way in which our education system has not catered for the needs of those children.

We have spent so much time pressing the advantages of university education and opening the experience to as many people as possible that we have, by default, denigrated the career ambitions of those who neither want nor need the university experience. There have been two unfortunate consequences. Those who fall into the latter category often feel second rate. Many become demotivated and drop out of education and their job prospects suffer accordingly. Many of those who go to university also suffer. Pushed into degree courses that are sometimes inappropriate, although they end up with a degree, they have little chance of relevant employment. The car hire employee who recently drove me from my garage had a degree in media studies, but no hope of getting related employment. Her current job was her permanent job and she felt frustrated and let down by her experience.

In the widespread spirit of concord and co-operation that seems to permeate the Scottish Parliament these days, I welcome the intention behind new Labour's motion even if I cannot agree entirely with its content. By removing a cohort of children from mainstream general education and segregating them from others, as is implied in the motion, we would risk doing two things. We may give their schools a posh-sounding name such as skills academies, but the chances are that in a year or two they would gain the unfair and degrading reputation of being academic dustbins for those who are not university material. When I was a young pupil in England, the old secondary moderns had just that reputation. We do not want to take that risk and neither do the relevant trade organisations that are fed up with having their trades categorised as suitable only for those who are not bright enough to do anything else.

Bright, young would-be scientists, creamed off into science centres of excellence, would also suffer from not rubbing educational shoulders with their peers, whose abilities lie in other directions.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

Would the member apply the same logic to the existing centres of excellence that do exactly that, such as those in Plockton and Knightswood, but which still retain a good comprehensive education? Does he favour their abolition?

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I am not in favour of abolishing any institution that is working. I cannot comment specifically on the institutions that the member has mentioned. My point is that if we had a major policy that involved the creation of 100 centres of excellence or skills academies, we would alter the course of education in Scotland so radically that the consequences could not easily be foreseen.

To enter medicine, I studied science at school, but a parallel course in English literature certainly enhanced my educational experience. I doubt that that would have been possible if I had been transferred into one of new Labour's institutions. We do not need such educational apartheid. It is far better to keep all pupils in mainstream education, but to enhance the importance of vocational education by expanding school-college partnerships and emphasising the parity of esteem of vocational and academic qualifications. Anyone who wants to find a good plumber, electrician or joiner in Edinburgh knows that to be the case.

Such is the importance of science and technology to the future of all of us that we need a much higher standard of teaching of those subjects in all our schools. Far from segregating potential scientists, we need to ensure that every child is enthused by science. How to attract and keep suitable science and technology teachers in our mainstream schools is the main challenge, and it will not be solved by the proposals that new Labour has put forward today.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 11:16 am, 7th June 2007

The debate has been excellent and it is clear from all the speeches that we have heard that everyone recognises—albeit from slightly differing perspectives—the importance of skills training and education. There is undoubtedly a skills shortage in Scotland and the latest report from the Scottish technology survey reinforces the fact that work still needs to be done in that sector if it is to succeed. However, the same issue is faced elsewhere in industry and commerce.

No one would argue against the essential role that education plays in the success of our economy, the social development of our communities and the personal development of arguably the most valuable asset that our country has—our children and our young people. Sadly, in recent years there has been a tendency for some politicians and sections of the media to demonise our young people and portray them as a problem and, ofttimes, to offer solutions that are just a step away from house arrest for everyone until they are 21.

I am pleased to say that Liberal Democrats have not been party to that knee-jerk reaction and have been at the forefront of supporting the reality that our progress as a nation can be no faster than our progress in education. Nothing else has the power of education to inspire and enable people and to equip them to reach their potential. Liberal Democrats reject the English model of reform that the Labour Party seems to be offering. In England, excellence is trumpeted, but the city academies involve just 0.1 per cent of English schools. Like the Association of Scotland's Colleges, we are unsure how skills academies would differ from the academies of the English model. As members have said, schools already have the ability to become specialists in specific subject areas—St Maurice's high school in Cumbernauld, which has chosen to focus on sport, is a fine example. In my view, skills academies would add little value and might exclude many.

That said, in focusing on skills, the debate undoubtedly addresses, at least in part, one of the most challenging areas in education.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

Does the member agree that there is another set of skills that is just as important as the technical skills that have been mentioned? Does he agree that self-confidence, social awareness, adaptability, empathy and the ability to communicate and to perform risk assessment should be treated with equal importance in our education system?

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

As a member who is making only his second speech in the Parliament, I am slightly disturbed that Robin Harper has pinched some of my next lines; I will address his point.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

He may well be.

We must ensure that the prospect of learning enthuses our young people and that everyone who is involved in educational provision offers a curriculum that not only enthuses our young people, but equips them with skills for work and life. Around 14 per cent of the young people in Scotland between the ages of 16 and 18 face significant obstacles in education, employment and training, and many of them have been deprived of encouragement and positive role models throughout their lives. They might have been brought up not to expect too much and might think that the prospect of going to college or university, or even that of getting a decent job, is well beyond them.

Much of that disaffection is born during their time at school, which is why, in our 2003 manifesto, Liberal Democrats explored the idea of expanding and formalising school-college partnerships for 14 to 16-year-olds. Indeed, the Scottish Qualifications Authority supported that approach through the development of new courses to enable young people to understand the needs of prospective employers. The employability skills that they acquire help candidates to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

A number of issues remain to be addressed, but unfortunately I do not have time to consider them all. However, as my colleague Jeremy Purvis said, much of the progress that was made by the previous Administration was made in the context of a clear strategic framework. I was pleased to hear what the cabinet secretary said and look forward to reading the strategy that will be produced.

Education must go beyond being just the provision of a production line of drones suitably equipped to provide employees for sectors of industry and commerce, regardless of their value to the economy. The aim of education should be to teach us how to think rather than what to think. It must encompass, from cradle to grave, support for the development of the individual as a participating, functioning person whose value to Scotland and sense of self-worth go beyond a decimal point on a balance sheet.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 11:22 am, 7th June 2007

The Scottish Conservatives are delighted to have had an early opportunity to debate what is undoubtedly one of the most important policy issues that will determine the future progress of Scotland. In the Parliament's third session, it is important that we focus less on the ideology of education and far more on the practicalities that schools, colleges and universities face, of which there are many.

As Murdo Fraser said, the Scottish Conservatives have long been concerned about the need to develop a more consistent and coherent strategy on training in vocational skills, and we welcome Fiona Hyslop's recognition that the present situation is unsatisfactory.

In our view, future policy should be driven by three key themes. First, the overriding objective must be to provide a workforce that is fit for the challenges of the 21st century and which will allow Scotland to develop its full economic potential and its ability to compete successfully in the international community. We cannot ignore the concern of around a third of employers in Scotland—including many members of the Confederation of British Industry—that many school leavers are poorly prepared for work.

Secondly, the education system must be as flexible as possible so that it is better suited to the individual needs of youngsters whose aspirations may differ considerably. That means ensuring that youngsters at the age of 14 will have the opportunity to enter vocational training if they feel that pursuing full-time academic courses is not relevant to their abilities.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Last night I attended a sixth formers leaving ceremony at Beeslack high school, at which the catering was provided by third-year students who are doing a vocational catering course. Tomorrow, students will be operating at the community school's creche. Does the member acknowledge that instead of separating out such training, which I think would divert funds away from what she is arguing for, we can provide it in our schools?

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I agree that the practices to which Mr Purvis refers are important, but I do not think that what we suggest would divert resources from them—that would not be appropriate at all.

A vocational approach to Scotland's education system would provide our young people with a career-focused programme that was designed to give secondary pupils a head start in their post-secondary careers. The Conservatives support the introduction of skills academies and science centres of excellence, although we acknowledge that there must be much more discussion of them. We regard such schools as an important milestone on the path away from a one-size-fits-all system towards having a much more diverse range of schools that would operate with much lighter state direction.

As well as specialising in vocational education and science, it is only logical that schools should be encouraged to specialise in music, drama, art, sports and other areas for which there is demand, such as technology. However, the idea that our young people should, in effect, be forced to stay on at school until they are 18 is, at best, reactionary. The notion that we can solve the problems of those many young people who want to escape from an educational environment in which they do not perform well by making them, through law, stay on at school is, in our opinion, ill thought out. It will do nothing to help solve the educational issues that many pupils face.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Not on this one, thank you.

We must look at the practice in other European countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland, in which vocational training is incorporated in the education system. That removes the possible stigma of vocational skills being thought of as low-level skills, which they are not. Apprenticeships in such systems have a positive effect on youngsters' self-discipline. In that regard, I agree with Mr Harper's point about developing well-rounded individuals.

We should support much of the blue-skies thinking that is emerging from the curriculum for excellence programme. Much work remains to be done to put flesh on the bones, but there is a welcome recognition that more focus is needed on the teaching of life skills.

Thirdly, a coherent national framework that involves all levels of a youngster's educational experience must be developed. Many good initiatives exist throughout the country, but there is not always a national framework in which to fit them together, especially for the teaching of basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic.

I restate my party's commitment to putting skills and vocational training at the top of the political agenda. We welcome much of what the minister said.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 11:27 am, 7th June 2007

I thank Hugh Henry for bringing the debate to Parliament. I also thank members from around the chamber who expressed their good wishes to Fiona Hyslop, Adam Ingram and me.

I support the points that were made by my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Fiona Hyslop. I look forward to the work ahead in developing the skills strategy for Scotland. We are committed to building on the existing strengths of the Scottish education system and to making changes only when they will enhance the learning experience of individuals, regardless of their stage of life. As members have said, to grow our economy we must strengthen our skills. Scotland is below the UK level in GDP per head and output per hour—that must be remedied. The conundrum is that although our workforce is better educated than that in many other countries, the strength of our economy does not reflect that. The Government is determined to remedy that situation, which is why we must develop a skills strategy to release the workforce's potential, for the benefit of all.

I agree with Elizabeth Smith that the job-for-life era is long gone. We need a workforce with a high level of general education that is capable and flexible and which can meet the demand for multiskilled workers, whether in the offshore industries or the medical profession. We must develop a culture in Scotland in which learning and continuous professional development are an integral part of a person's career. Training courses should result in universally recognised qualifications and develop transferable skills.

On my first visit to Germany as a 15-year-old, I was mightily impressed that a hairdresser whom I met had many qualifications that showed what she had done in her training. On later visits, I worked in hotels and restaurants and saw how everyone, from waiters to cleaning staff, had their skills recognised. In that context, I welcome the contribution that was made by Christopher Harvie in his maiden speech. We would all do well to remember its content.

People must be so equipped that they do not fear changing jobs, but accept that as a challenge with which they can cope. We must rekindle in people the excitement of learning, whether that means someone becoming competent in a new language as their company expands its markets overseas or a joiner adding wood-turning to his list of skills. We must ensure that those who re-enter the job market, full time or part time, after leaving their main employment feel that they have access to relevant training courses.

I come from the same constituency area as Mike Rumbles and I agree that we must be mindful of the needs of rural Scotland. Members will be aware that, in the previous parliamentary session, Stewart Stevenson and his Westminster colleague at the time, Alex Salmond, had to ensure that courses for the fishing industry were retained at Banff and Buchan College of Further Education in Fraserburgh. We must not get into a situation in which rural industries are at a disadvantage because local colleges do not run certain courses.

As Mike Rumbles knows, there are many educational opportunities in his constituency. For example, the secondary schools there access the skills of professionals from Aberdeen colleges, who go out to the schools. Such initiatives must be enhanced to ensure that education in urban and rural areas does not develop into a two-tier system.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

What is the SNP Government's position now on specialist schools? Does it favour the creation of more such schools, or does it just want to keep the ones we have?

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Perhaps there has been a mix-up in the debate about what skills academies and centres of excellence are. Their different aspects will be taken into account when we put together our skills strategy.

We must ensure that we do not return to the old secondary modern model. However, such a system is exactly what many Labour members have suggested is about to happen. They want to return to having secondary moderns, but the last thing that we should do is to pigeonhole and categorise children at a young age.

I remind members that the SNP does not reject Labour's proposals. However, I feel that the electorate rejected them at the election. We will look at the proposals and take them on board when we develop our skills strategy.

We believe that we must increase the opportunities for work-related education and strengthen links between schools and colleges, universities and businesses. We must create new chances for everyone to flourish personally in education and employment. We will involve the trade unions, because we recognise their vital role in driving the development of the workforce's skills and encouraging employers to utilise the potential of their workforce. We want better management of the workforce, in industry and the public sector, to ensure that job satisfaction is increased.

The stakeholders to whom we have spoken would be appalled at the prospect of the SNP amendment being voted down, because that would mean a vote against a skills strategy for Scotland. Is that really the message that the Parliament wants to send out?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 11:33 am, 7th June 2007

I welcome the opportunity to wind up the debate. I also welcome what Christopher Harvie said in his opening speech, although I think that there are questions over the German education system—perhaps we will return to that another time. I warmly welcome the new ministerial team and I wish them well for the coming session.

I do not mind admitting that, many times over the past eight years, I dreamed of opening or closing a debate from the front benches; I also do not mind admitting that in none of those dreams was I standing on this side of the chamber. I intend no offence to the new ministerial team, but my dream was not to be the Parliament's next Adam Ingram—no offence to Adam. However, this morning, as I have done for the past five weeks, I woke up, looked at myself in the mirror and said, "Embrace the new politics." That mantra is repeated every day by my Labour colleagues, particularly my friend Hugh Henry, as members would have been able to tell from his opening remarks. In that spirit, I welcome all the speeches that have been made. Indeed, we probably could not have picked a better debate to allow us to embrace the new politics and reach agreement across party lines.

To echo a comment that my colleague Richard Baker made, my one disappointment—sorry, I am slipping into the old ways again; I mean my one surprise—is that, one month into the new Administration, it is the Labour Party that has introduced the first debate on education. I am genuinely perplexed by that. It was extraordinary that the First Minister did not mention education at all in his priorities for government speech. On growing the economy, two of the biggest weapons in the Parliament's armoury are the devolved control over transport infrastructure and the control over the key supply-side measure of developing skills through education, which we are debating. If I had been waiting all my life for the opportunity to govern Scotland, I would be a man in a hurry and would be desperate to put my policies in place. However, this morning we have had an announcement that we are going to develop a strategy. That is welcome, but I thought that we would have more dynamism.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I do not know whether the member was in the chamber when we debated the Government's wealthier and fairer objective, but if he was he would know that every speech in the open debate, and my closing speech, addressed exactly the points that he raises. We have put the education and lifelong learning portfolios together because we want a lifelong learning approach to skills, which, unfortunately, we have not had in the past. We want to build on the previous Executive's work. If we believe genuinely in the new politics, let us embrace it and have the Labour Party's contribution to the Scottish skills strategy.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

On a positive note, there is little in the SNP's amendment with which we disagree, so we have an opportunity for consensus. I reassure Fiona Hyslop, Bob Doris, Ian McKee and others that our proposals are not about segregation or separation. There is a difficult argument to be had about choice, but our proposals are not about selection.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

In a second.

I reassure the SNP that we have no intention of sidelining colleges, as they are one of Scotland's success stories and are at the heart of the skills agenda. However, from all the speeches that we have heard in the debate and from the views that we have heard from throughout Scotland, there is no doubt that we have a pressing skills shortage in Scotland, although there is also no doubt that we can address it. Of course, there will be pitfalls in any approach that we take. Many members, including Jeremy Purvis and Hugh O'Donnell, have flagged up pitfalls in our approach. I do not accept the comparisons with the situation in England, but I accept the fear, which Fiona Hyslop and Maureen Watt expressed, about creating a two-tier system. We must not promote one agenda—the needs of employers—over another agenda, which is the need to enthuse and motivate pupils and to engage those who are not engaged.

I have even been reassured that the Tories are making the right noises on the issue. Grammar schools, of course, are the flip-side of secondary modern schools, but we know from the debate of the past few weeks that there is absolutely, totally, finally no intention to return to grammar schools—unless, of course, they already exist or local parents want them. So that is absolutely clear. However, in the spirit of the new politics, I assure Murdo Fraser that we will support his amendment.

Another pitfall is that employers and tradespeople do not want the vocational option to be second best or to be used to provide schools for the disruptive, for academic rejects or for any other rejects. They want young people to choose the vocational route as a proper option and they want equity. I believe that skills academies and science centres of excellence address that. All sides have agreed for many years that the key to making the policy a success lies in driving up the status of vocational education. Young people must grasp such education as a genuine opportunity—to use the popular expression, they must have buy-in—and they must see the option as truly equitable.

The beauty of skills academies is that they achieve just that. They attract extra resources and build on the success of the skills for work programme. Labour has a range of policies to address the issue and the needs of the age group that we are talking about, such as the policies on skills academies and science centres of excellence and a full employment agency. We also have what has been called the policy of raising the school leaving age to 18, although it is actually about ensuring that all 16 and 17-year-olds are not allowed to drift, but are given a job, voluntary work, education or training. Those policies address young people's individual needs and the skills shortage that is being experienced throughout the economy. In the spirit of the new politics, I ask the new Administration to embrace Labour's manifesto.