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Baroness Blatch: My Amendment No. 202C is in this group. We are back with the issue of local flexibility and institutional autonomy. As Clause 86 is drafted, it requires the LSC to seek to secure that public funding is not used to pay for the cost of qualifications from external bodies which are not approved by the Secretary of State or a body designated by him. It does not directly prohibit the LSC from providing funding for courses leading to such outcomes, but there is a great deal of concern that in practice it may well have that effect.

That may arise simply because, although there are other mechanisms which the LSC could use to try to ensure that its statutory obligations are met, such as imposing a condition for funding on providers not to spend LSC moneys on non-approved qualifications, any such mechanisms would be cumbersome to police and difficult to justify. For example, audit systems will need to check how providers have used LSC resources. In practice, it will be difficult to tell whether LSC or other moneys have been used to pay examination or assessment costs. In addition, in an environment in which the LSC is likely to face more demands than it has resources available to meet, it will always need to face the question of priorities. In such circumstances, it will be hard to justify funding a provision which does not lead to a nationally approved outcome, even where some form of certification of that outcome may be of benefit to learners. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

The effect of the clause is likely to be that the LSC will be driven to funding either a provision which leads to an externally approved qualification or one which leads to no certificate. If the LSC follows that path, it is likely to steer providers towards not offering certification routes at all to those who would currently

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gain a certificate which may not be considered an externally approved qualification. That would lead to a diminution in the opportunities available for adults for whom a certificate can provide a passport into a job, further study or increased self esteem, and it could also result in a diminution in the skills that employers need, both in technical areas which may not fall into obvious national categories, and in key or basic skills which underpin effective performance at work.

Exclusion from funding support of provision leading to a qualification which does not satisfy national approval criteria also fails to recognise the many thousands of courses that currently gain certification but are unlikely to gain the status of an external qualification. Sixty per cent of the courses studied by adults in further education colleges currently stand outside the national qualifications framework--that is, those courses accredited by QCA. While it is accepted that some diminution and streamlining of existing courses should take place, it would clearly be inappropriate to lose funding for a vast number of courses that are of considerable value to learners, have come through an approval process by an awarding body but are unlikely in all cases to gain accreditation via the QCA.

It will also be important to know whether or not courses--I shall give an illustrative list--which appear in current Schedule 2(a) will receive funding from the LSC under Clause 86, and indeed whether such courses will receive funding in full, as they do now, or whether support will be curtailed in some way. I shall give an illustrative sample of the courses: electrical installation; data processing and information systems; the Edexcel National Certificate in Civil Engineering Studies; the Institute of Legal Executives Certificate in Charity Administration; the Institute of Welfare Officers Certificate and Diploma in Welfare Studies; the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Fishing Vessel Deck Officer Class 2; National Proficiency Tests Council course in farm maintenance; the Basic Certificate in British sign language; Units in Desk-top Publishing, History of Theatre, Study Skills and Choral Singing; Photography; Certificate in Food Safety; Developing Childminding Practice; and Basic Expedition Leader Award.

As I said, that is no more than an illustrative list. But not only would any restriction of that list have an adverse effect on existing learners and their employers, it would negate the whole effect of abolishing the current divide between approved and non-approved learning embodied in Schedule 2. The purpose of abolishing that distinction was understood to be to open up a much wider range of learning opportunities than currently exist and in doing so to enrich and deepen the learning culture. If the Government intend to continue with an approach which seeks to draw a distinction between approved and non-approved types of learning, at what point do they draw the line between courses and qualifications, between those which lead to certification and those which do not? Or do they have some other definition in mind? It would be helpful to know what that is.

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Again we come back to local flexibility--reading the local skills and needs market--and actually providing those courses that not only lead to approved qualifications, but also enhance the learning experience of many people in the local area, which, as I understand it, is one of the aims of the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for tabling what are essentially probing amendments. I very much hope that what I am able to say will provide them with the necessary reassurance. The social exclusion agenda is extremely important to the Government and we have every intention of pursuing it with not just commitment but passionate commitment. That includes courses like basic skills for adults. I entirely accept that there is a need for some local flexibility. We shall expect the local learning and skills councils to look at the needs of the local labour market and respond to it.

The amendments are not necessary. In giving the reason, perhaps I may begin with the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Clause 85 applies only to those courses that lead to external qualifications; that is, qualifications which are awarded or accredited by an outside body. It does not apply to courses which do not lead to external qualifications, even if they are accredited in some other way, as is the case, for example, with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Such provision, of course, forms an essential part of the curriculum and there is absolutely no intention to preclude it from funding. Since the approval mechanism set out in Clauses 85 to 91 will not apply, it will simply be for the department and the LSC, for the National Assembly and the CETW, to make decisions about funding for this kind of activity. We very much welcome the work that is done under this provision.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 202B and 202C, I should start by saying that I believe that the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch, may have slightly misunderstood our intentions. That is understandable; I think I should have done the same given the technicality of the clauses. Let me repeat my earlier reassurance. Clause 86 does not apply to, and therefore does not affect, the availability of public funding for learning provision other than external qualifications. It does not apply to the costs of providing courses. And it does not apply to the costs of non-external qualifications--that is, those that are less formally certificated. Decisions about the funding of this kind of provision will be determined by the LSC and CETW, together with my department and the National Assembly respectively. I hope that that reassurance is helpful.

For adult learners, we want to ensure that payments made from public funds to awarding bodies for the costs associated with taking an external qualification provide a sound investment for the future. We therefore believe that such payments, whether or not they meet the full cost of the fees, should be made only in relation to external qualifications which have met robust approval criteria. Again, that is a matter of ensuring that the qualifications are worthwhile and

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worthy, so that students are not misled and are not taking qualifications which have not met those approval criteria. While QCA accreditation is a valuable and straightforward mark of quality, approval will reflect the appropriateness of the qualification for attracting public funding.

Although the funding framework is still being determined through consultation, it is clear that for most working adults, 100 per cent public funding will not be available in most cases. That has always been the case. There is an expectation that adult learners will contribute to the cost of their courses in further education. It will be important that public funding bodies such as the LSC, CETW and LEAs exercise control to ensure that any funds which are used for payment of fees to awarding bodies are used only in respect of approved external qualifications.

I hope that that reassurance is adequate and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

11.30 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for her reassurances on these issues. In the light of her remarks, and now that they are on the record, I am glad to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 85 agreed to.

Clause 86 [Persons over 19]:

[Amendment No. 202B not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 202C:


Page 37, line 39, at end insert--
("( ) The requirement in subsection (2) above shall not apply to any programme of study leading to a certificate or other award which does not constitute a qualification.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 202C. Before I decide whether to withdraw the amendment, perhaps I may clarify two matters. First, I was unsure whether the Minister suggested that the points I sought to make were in the wrong place. The noble Baroness appeared to suggest that Clause 86 was not the appropriate place. Therefore, is it simply a matter of these points being attached to the wrong clause, or are they dealt with more appropriately elsewhere in the Bill?

Secondly, currently 60 per cent of the courses studied by adults in further education colleges stand outside the national qualifications framework; that is, courses accredited by QCA. Does it mean that that will not be the case in future and unless they are approved by the Secretary of State they will not qualify even for partial funding?


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