It is a pleasure to participate in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. I think that everyone agrees that top-down careers guidance under the old Connexions-type service did not work effectively. As we have heard, the damning 2010 Ofsted report proved that point. The opportunity for the coalition Government was therefore immense. It was a good opportunity to have a hugely coherent policy, while getting value for money for the taxpayer. The verdict is still out on whether that has been achieved, and we as a Committee look forward to revisiting the new policy to assess its effectiveness and value for money.
I want to highlight the issue of careers guidance becoming a postcode lottery for many students, particularly young people from poorer and deprived backgrounds, because of the removal of a statutory duty on schools to provide work-related learning.
I have personal experience of growing up in a small outback Australian town, based purely around the production of steel, where aspiration among our peers, our parents and the educators tasked with inspiring us was low, not because we all grew up in households that were not loving and caring—in fact, quite the opposite—but because, in those days, our parents quite often did not understand what aspiration was beyond their lot. Top that with teachers who had never done anything apart from being in education, and it was almost a recipe for most of us in our small country town to be destined for much the same.
Of course, 20 years on—okay, 40 years on—some things are very different, and we live in a very different world. However, for young people from backgrounds where aspiration is low, in many cases because people know nothing different, it is vital that when they are away from their family home they are given every opportunity not only to aspire, but to understand aspiration and to have signposting to the steps that they need to take to unlock a world that is enabling.
Many people need to play a role in that journey, not least the family, but I am concerned about what happens when, for whatever reason, parents cannot give that support. As our Committee saw in Bradford, some areas are pooling resources for a coherent policy for all schools that takes away the postcode lottery. What about schools and areas that do not do that? How do we ensure that each child has free access to support the unlocking of each step of their journey?
I agree that schools have the second biggest role to play after the family, so their role is increased when that support is not available in families. We all remember our inspirational teachers, but I bet we remember more those teachers we hated or who did not inspire us. When the Minister gave evidence to the Committee, he said that teachers come from a variety of backgrounds. Yes, they do, but not enough come from a different career background, so they have very little experience of what the jobs market needs or offers as opportunities for young people.
The fact that almost 1 million young people in this country are NEETs—they are not in education, employment or training—highlights just that point, as does the fact that we herd our young people through university, often with no collaboration between them and the economy or job opportunities.
Only last year, I wrote to several of my secondary head teachers in Calder Valley after attending their A-level awards evenings, to say what an honour it was to attend. Although each celebrated the young people who were going to university, not one of them highlighted apprenticeships or vocational achievements. That is an ethos that I find sadly lacking in many of our schools, and one that perhaps needs direction from Ofsted or, indeed, the Government.
Only yesterday, the Committee heard how even the Government have made a “dog’s breakfast”, to quote the Chair, my hon. Friend Mr Stuart, of some of the programmes of study in the curriculum. The proposals seem to take no account of what opportunities are available for young people in the jobs market. I would highlight the proposed design and technology programme of study, which has little regard to the annual 5,000 shortage of engineers in this country.
When the banking crisis hit a few years ago, we discovered that Calder Valley has the third most vulnerable local economy in the UK, based on the potential failure of the financial system, because of Lloyds TSB’s base there. Yet there has been a partnership between that bank and our local college on apprenticeships for only two years, despite the bank’s reliance on more than 6,000 employees from the area. Just now, as we speak, the local college is constructing courses to tie in with the area’s high-end manufacturing base. Although 20% of people in Calder Valley work in manufacturing, only now is there a manufacturing-specific vocational course. Why does it take an MP to drive those things? They should have happened many years ago.
My first job as MP was to open a technology centre in one of my local high schools. It was a £2.2 million centre for construction, catering, computer-aided design, hair and beauty. Not one local business was asked to get involved in the design of the building, and only last year did we see a local business taking over the hairdressing course. That was another huge opportunity missed, sadly letting down our young people.
I understand that the Government have removed the statutory duty around work-related learning to enable schools themselves to decide on what is the best vehicle for young people, but as I have highlighted, we have a huge way to go to change the experience and the ethos of our educators to deliver such a huge aspiration. Sadly, we have missed a huge opportunity to encourage business to play a much bigger role. The countries around the world that do exceedingly well in this area show that a partnership between education, business and family contributes not only to producing high aspirations among their young people but towards their economies as well.
I support our Committee’s recommendations that guidance to schools must be strengthened to require them to provide work-related learning as part of their duty. I also believe that the Government must do much more to encourage business to play a bigger role in that process. A recent briefing from the Federation of Small
Businesses suggests that it is eager to help and get involved, but its offer has not been taken up nationally, so we are missing out on a huge opportunity.