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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Education Bill

Education Bill

Column Number: 589

Standing Committee G

Thursday 24 January 2002

(Morning)

[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]

Education Bill

9.30 am

Clause 171 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 172

Training and education provided in the workplace for 14 to 16 year olds

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I beg to move amendment No. 555, in page 99, line 37, at end insert:

    '(2A) In section 6 (financial resources: conditions)—

    after subsection (6) there is inserted

    ''(7) Regulations may be made under this section making provision requiring any person to whom resources are provided under section 5(1)(ea) to satisfy conditions relating to any matter referred to in subsections (3), (4) or (5) of this section or to any other matter as the Secretary of State may consider appropriate.''.'

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike. This is the last morning sitting and, perhaps with a bit of luck, the last sitting of the Committee.

These two amendments are important.

The Chairman: Order. We are debating only amendment No. 555.

Mr. Willis: I was trying to move swiftly, but I bow to your chairmanship as ever, Mr. Pike.

Amendment No. 555 deals, importantly, with financial resources for 14 to 16-year-olds who may be in the workplace for part of their education and training. The Liberal Democrats support the principle of the clause, which fits in with our thinking in relation to the 14-to-19 continuum. We must look for other routes for young people, and the Government are right to ensure that employers become part of the solution. We have often regarded education as separate from employment, and never the twain shall meet. One of the saddest features of curriculum provision since the Education Reform Act 1987 is that the curriculum has been seen as ''one size fits all''. Although there have been attempts to move away from that, that is generally how schools view the curriculum, and it has been difficult to get young people into the workplace.

However, hon. Members will know that there is work experience and work experience, and employers and employers, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) found. If the scheme is to work, we must ensure that there is quality. We must ensure that it is not just a method of getting young people out of school and putting them somewhere else because they were difficult to manage in the school setting, as sadly it so often used to be. The amendment would ensure that the provision was properly resourced and of sufficient quality.

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The Modern Apprenticeship Advisory Committee was set up by the Secretary of State and chaired by Sir John Cassels to prepare advice for the Government on this issue. The conclusions of its ''Way to Work'' report made depressing reading. The evidence made it clear that young people do not choose the vocational route as they do not see it as option, and parents do not see it as worth while. Part of the problem is that our education system is hierarchical. Certain levels of academia are seen as more important than others. Sadly, many careers advisers also share that view. Worse still, so do employers. Sir John Cassels made it clear in his report that there was a problem.

Completion rates for people who take the NVQ level 1 route rather than the GSCE route are also poor. Only 41 per cent. of young people complete NVQ at foundation level and only 49 per cent.—less than half—at advanced level. There is a challenge for, not only the Government, but all of us interested in making this area work. It is interesting to make comparisons with Germany, where two thirds of young people aged 14 to 19 become involved in vocational training with great success. In Denmark about one in three young people are in vocational training. Ninety per cent. complete the courses and gain worthwhile qualifications. We must ask what we are not doing right.

The 1998 inspections highlighted the problems affecting the sector: weak initial assessment of provision; poor induction of young people on to the courses; and poor tackling of key skills, which was a bit hit and miss. Where provision was properly inspected and there was a proper regime pointing out to colleges and employers how the courses could be improved, 90 per cent. of all provision improved radically. It is not beyond us to achieve a good solution. That is the principle of the amendment. I hope that the Minister can accept it. If he cannot accept it in its current form, I hope that he will ensure that an amendment to deal with the problem is tabled on Report.

I should like to ask the Minister four questions. First, if students transfer to a further education college at 14-plus, as is envisaged through the legislation, and then go on an employment related NVQ-type course, does the further education college look after that provision for them or does it remain with the host institution; the school?

The second question is about costs, which is an important issue. I suspect that in parts of the country it will be particularly pertinent. Who is going to pick up the costs? Will it be the Learning and Skills Council—in which case, will it be additionality—or will it be like post-16 funding where it is taken away from local education authority budgets and then transferred back? If this is to be another slice out of LEA budgets, it is important for us to know now so that we do not have the debacle currently occurring in school sixth-form funding, where there is huge under-provision in many areas, and over-provision in others. Some areas and schools have done better out of the new arrangements than others, depending on how LEAs funded the provision previously.

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When we were debating the Learning and Skills Bill, the Government made a commitment—of this I am sure—that there would be no incursion by the Learning and Skills Council into the compulsory school age sector. There was a clear guarantee of a demarcation between the work of the Learning and Skills Council post-16, or post-compulsory, and that of local education authorities and schools before that. Now, however, we are talking about a change in that policy. To be fair, the change is in the Bill; it has not been hidden. My party and I are fairly relaxed about the change, but it opens the door for the LSC to take over the whole 14-to-19 funding regime.

My third question is whether that is the Government's intention. Are they saying that, with the 14-to-19 reforms, it would be logical to place all post-14 provision in the hands of the LSC, avoiding the to-ing and fro-ing that has taken place, particularly between school sixth forms and the LSC? I understand that logicality.

Fourthly, I appreciate that we are talking about young people in their last year of compulsory schooling, including in Wales. We do not want to exclude the Welsh from these wonderful provisions—although I have forgotten all about Cardiff since the team lost its next game. Will employers be able to draw down, say, the current LSC funding of post-16 students, which is £2,600, to support work-based training? If not, how will they be paid and by whom?

I generally support what the Government are doing, but some issues need to be addressed. I hope that quality and funding will be at the heart of these measures, rather than an added extra.

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): I welcome you to the Chair of the final morning sitting, Mr. Pike.

I welcome the support expressed by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) for the changes that the Government are making, particularly the prospect of opening up work-based learning for young people from the age of 14. That will be a way to enthuse some young people and engage them in learning. Currently, far too many people switch off from learning much too early.

I agree that there is a big challenge and much to do, but I do not agree that the report by Sir John Cassels is depressing. It identifies the challenge to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention, but it also presents an optimistic vision of how things could be in future. The report was well received, achieving a high level of consensus on its proposed way forward. It is now within our reach to effect fundamental changes that benefit many young people.

On the amendment, I hope that I can persuade the hon. Gentleman that we already have all the levers that we need to ensure that the Learning and Skills Council acts in accordance with our policy priorities. In particular, the annual grant letter goes to the LSC, and other guidance is provided from time to time. Under the Learning and Skills Act 2000, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can back that up if

Column Number: 592

necessary with directions to the LSC on achieving objectives.

It is important to ensure that there is good-quality workplace provision, but that concern does not arise only in connection with that aspect of the LSC's activity; it applies to the LSC's activities across the board. The way in which the LSC is set up under the 2000 Act gives the Secretary of State the necessary levers to assure that quality in all parts of its activity. It would be slightly odd to introduce the regulation-making power for that element of the LSC budget, which will always be a relatively small part of the overall budget.

9.45 am

The hon. Gentleman asked several questions. First, who would have overall responsibility for a child—I presume that he means a child at school—going into work-based learning. The answer is the school. There is no requirement to interpose an FE college between the school and the workplace. We envisage direct collaboration between schools and workplaces with the school retaining overall responsibility for what happens to the child. The cost of the provision could be met from the LSC budget or the school might contribute to it from the school budget, depending on the local arrangement. We do not propose a transfer of resources of the kind that we have seen with sixth forms, but we are considering the funding of mixed programmes. The issue will be looked at in the Green Paper, which as the hon. Gentleman knows, will be published before long.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about our intentions on the funding of 14-to-16 learning and whether we envisage the prospect of an LSC takeover in that area. I can give him the clear assurance that we have no intention of removing from LEAs the clear lead responsibility for funding 14-to-16 learning for the great majority of young people. Most 14 to 16-year-olds will continue to spend most of their time in schools funded by LEAs. We do not envisage the wholesale transfer about which the hon. Gentleman was asking. His final question was whether employers could draw down the sum of money to which he referred. The answer is that they could well do so, but I envisage a variety of local arrangements and funding sources being drawn down. There should be no barrier against the sort of drawing down to which he referred.

I hope that I have been able to persuade the hon. Gentleman that the amendment is unnecessary. I agree with him about the importance of ensuring quality in future provision for 14 to 16-year-olds; the levers that we need to provide that reassurance are already in place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will therefore withdraw the amendment.

 
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