It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again, Sir David, in the new year, chairing this very interesting and far-reaching debate, in which there have been widely differing views. I congratulate Judith Cummins on securing an important debate. I am a member of the Select Committee on Education. Many of the topics she discussed are close to my heart. I have learned very much from being on the Committee in the past three years about English education and about the differences within education.
There are huge differences between Scotland and England with regard to the ways in which modern apprentices are trained, and how apprenticeships work. In fact, when I was a further education lecturer at West Lothian College, I delivered programmes as part of modern apprenticeships, and it was always a delight when the college took on modern apprentices who went right through the programme and also picked up academic qualifications. Some also worked hard to gain a degree in their chosen subject.
It is always a pleasure to be part of people’s development, and the Scottish Government feel strongly about apprenticeships and skills development in Scotland. One of the first things that happened when Tata Steel was sold was the securing of apprentices by Dalzell Works in my constituency to ensure that they were able to continue and finish their apprenticeships. It is important that Scotland is seen as a world leader in that area, so let us ensure that the figures are correct. In 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18, the Scottish Government beat their own targets for apprenticeships. In England over the same period, apprenticeship targets fell, which is an absolute disgrace.
This morning the Education Committee took evidence from experts on the fourth industrial revolution. It is imperative across the UK that skills are fostered and encouraged so that we can meet the challenges of the future. I must give credit to Stephen Pound. I did not know anything about ornamental horticulture and landscaping, but he gave such an eloquent performance that I feel I must mention it as it I sum up the debate.
“Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for all employers to invest in their workforce and provide the skills the economy needs now and in the future…We are continuing to enhance the apprenticeship opportunities available to provide the right balance of skills to meet the needs of employers and the economy, including prioritising higher skilled apprenticeships and STEM occupations.”
Some Members have mentioned schools. Last year I had the pleasure of attending a meeting at Dalziel High School in Motherwell along with the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney. Prizes were given to students who were doing work placements. Those placements were not just for one or two weeks a year—pupils went from that school every week to work with Morgan Stanley in Glasgow, or the engineering firm WorleyParsons, which does a lot of work in the energy sector in Scotland and across the UK. The enthusiasm and experience that those young people gained from that weekly commitment was outstanding, and they fed that back into the school. There is an ongoing programme between that school and education and industry trusts in Scotland, and they are all to be commended on their work.
I do not think anyone in this room underestimates the issues involved, but as Emma Hardy said, this is about parity of esteem. When, years ago, I did my teaching qualification in further education, I made a comparative study between vocational education in Scotland and in Germany, although because there was not yet a Scottish Parliament, it was really about UK-wide education. The lack of esteem, especially in a country such as Scotland whose engineers are renowned all over the world, given to people who worked with their hands was amazing. We still need to break down those barriers and show parents, students and pupils that there is a good future for them if they take on an apprenticeship. Indeed, last year I saw the enthusiasm and interest of apprentices at Gateshead College who were doing degree apprenticeships. The fact that they had to persuade their parents that it was a good idea to do those courses is testament to the work that still needs to be done.
I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. I have learned a lot. I realise that many issues are still to be covered, so I will let Gordon Marsden sum up on behalf of the Labour party and ask hard questions of the Minister.