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Mr. Lewis: I will deal with attendance and truancy later. I have already dealt with the point made by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).

The country's secondary schools all have the opportunity to become specialist, and there will be at least 2,000 specialist schools by 2006. It is also important to focus on school leadership through the leadership incentive grant and the national college for school leadership. All hon. Members will acknowledge that effective leadership and a strong ethos are central to improving attendance and behaviour in all circumstances.

We are also embarking on a radical reform of the 14 to 19 phase of education, designed to create a fit for the purpose curriculum and learning pathways that motivate and engage young people. Changes that we have begun for 14 to 16-year-olds include the introduction in 2002 of eight new GCSEs in vocational subjects. A reduced core curriculum from September allows schools increasingly to build a curriculum around the needs, strengths and aspirations of each young person. There is also the 14 to 16 flexibility programme, benefiting 80,000 pupils in 1,800 schools, with young people spending a couple of days a week at school, a couple of days at college, and some spending a day with a local employer—again, building a learning experience that turns young people on, motivates them and shows them the importance of education.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to say a word about the education maintenance allowance, which has been introduced and piloted in a number of areas, including my own, and which is encouraging young people to stay on at school for academic subjects? Is it possible, now that we also have the possibility of a £3,000 a year grant for children from lower-income families going to university, to extend the EMA into a FEMA—a further education maintenance allowance—and then on to university, the HEMA, so that there is a seamless transition, with young people being able to see from the moment they start secondary school that they will be paid to learn at whatever level they need to qualify?

Mr. Lewis: The education maintenance allowance is one of the Government's proudest achievements. It is extremely positive that it will be available in September for all 16-year-olds to support them in making the choice to stay on in education. This is particularly for those from low-income families: young people who have been the most disadvantaged and have found access to further and higher education most challenging.

I also agree that if there is to be a variety of ways in which young people can stay on and progress and make achievements within the education system, down both an academic and a vocational track—a mixed pathway—we must ensure that the financial arrangements incentivise them to follow the path that is

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most appropriate to meet their needs. The Treasury is leading a review of all the financial support arrangements impacting on 16 to 19-year-olds, so that in due course we can create a level playing field providing equal support to all young people to encourage that progression and attainment.

Training allowances are being paid to young people participating in the entry to employment programme. It is often forgotten that modern apprentices are, on the whole, paid a wage. We need to ensure that we have a level playing field and that there is financial support to help young people progress in an appropriate way.

At Question Time recently I made the point that it will be exceptionally difficult to tell young people, "We want you to stay on in education to 16, to have high aspirations, and to aim to achieve your potential", if post-16 we have the situation that the Conservative party advocates of capping the number of young people who can go on to higher education. We all know full well that the consequence of that policy would be that young people from the poorest families—those most likely to be eligible for education maintenance allowances—would be denied the opportunity to participate in higher education.

I return to the reforms to the provision for those aged 14 to 16. Work-related learning is to be made statutory from next year. We are also determined to introduce enterprise education as part of the curriculum.

I come now to our changes to post-16 education. More than 25,000 young people are now participating in the entry to employment programme, which is for young people who reach the age of 16 and want to pursue a vocational route. They may have special education needs and so not be able to enter a foundation modern apprenticeship. We want to make sure that for even those young people who are the most challenged and who face the most barriers, we have a programme that supports their personal, social and educational development and, if possible, enables them to go on to foundation modern apprenticeships.

Mr. Allen: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. He is being very generous, as we have come to expect of him.

There is a further area that I am sure my hon. Friend would want to look at: the myriad of possible qualifications that face a young person from the age of 16 onwards. There are initials galore, and it is extremely difficult for a young person to navigate through the various options. Do the Department and the Government have it in mind to review the plethora of qualifications, so that we may simplify the system and, as well as having a simple route for funding for these youngsters, have a simple progression through a series of understandable qualifications?

Mr. Lewis: I agree with my hon. Friend; that is why we are embarking on the review of 14 to 19 education by Mike Tomlinson, who will report during this year, to ensure that we have credible, easy to understand pathways for young people. It is also why the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is undertaking the most radical shake-up of adult vocational qualifications that we have ever seen, in terms of unitisation and credit transfer.

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One of the barriers in education—in lifelong learning, and not just for young people—is the complex nature of the qualifications framework and the confusion that it brings to the system. Simplifying the system, making it easier to access and to understand, is vital so that people may make the link between lifelong learning and education and life opportunities. Therefore, the reform of qualifications is exceptionally important. We have to get it right. It is important that the Government were prepared to tell an external group, "Have a look at 14 to 19 education. We have tried to make this work through the generations, but have never succeeded. Therefore, we want a genuinely objective expert job done so that we can look at putting in place for the first time a 14 to 19 phase that really works."

It is also important in debates such as this to refer to modern apprenticeships. When I go to meetings with business people or speak to educationists, or even occasionally read the editorial columns of our newspapers or listen to Opposition politicians seeking to make dubious points about higher education, I could be led to believe that there is no apprenticeship system in this country, that we do not have apprenticeships and that apprenticeship is on the wane. In fact, 230,000 young people are undertaking modern apprenticeships this year, something that we should celebrate and promote. The Government are determined to build upon this.

We recognise that there are real obstacles, barriers and challenges in relation to modern apprenticeships. The non-completion rate is one. Moreover, we need modern apprenticeships that are more fit for the purpose, in terms of the needs of employers and sectors. We are embarking on that programme of reform, but the fact that 230,000 young people are making the positive choice to undertake modern apprenticeships is a positive and important step forward.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab): I am a great supporter of modern apprenticeships, but in my area—I do not know how typical it is of the country—it is extremely difficult to get employers, particularly in the private sector, to take them up. A vast number of young people willing and able to go on the apprenticeships cannot be found a place.

Mr. Lewis: That is the very reason why we established the modern apprenticeship taskforce, chaired by Sir Roy Gardner, one of our country's leading business people. It is sad that he is also the chairman of Manchester United plc. If I had known that, perhaps I would not have agreed to his appointment as I am a Manchester City supporter.

One of the great challenges facing the taskforce is to reach out to employers of all sizes to get them to offer far more opportunities to young people. We have to have a correlation between supply and demand. I am optimistic both about the work that the modern apprenticeship taskforce has already undertaken—in engaging businesses that have previously been reluctant to participate, or had not been participating, in the taskforce—and about its plans to go further over the next 12 months and reach out particularly to small and

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medium-size enterprises. That should ensure that we have not only the volume of apprenticeships that are needed, but the variety of modern apprenticeships that young people genuinely want to undertake.

I have mentioned the Tomlinson review of the 14 to 19 group. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) mentioned education maintenance allowances. In that context, it is also important to focus on the Green Paper "Every Child Matters", focusing first on the need to protect children, at a minimum, but also on the need to nurture children so that they can achieve their full potential.

What is important about the Green Paper is that it seeks to bring together every body, both statutory and voluntary, as well as people from different professional backgrounds, and harness their talents, expertise and resources so that in every community we can focus on the needs of individual children and particularly of those young people with special needs—those who find that the existing system does not work for them and those who over many years have presented the greatest challenges to our system.

"Every Child Matters" maps out a framework, and is an important step in bringing resources and expertise together. There can be no doubt that all those reforms at every stage in a child's life will, over time, lead directly to an improvement in attendance and behaviour. We are providing support in the earliest years for the most vulnerable children. There are more adults in the classroom than ever before—since 1997, we have appointed more than 24,000 more teachers and 61,000 more classroom assistants. A personalised curriculum excites and motivates young people, plays to their strengths, and supports every individual so that they can fulfil their potential. Aspirations and ambitions have been raised in families, neighbourhoods and schools that have for too long been cut off from opportunities that hon. Members take for granted. Children are far more likely to behave well if they and their parents understand and experience the full value of education.

It is important to make a link between what we are doing to improve adult skills and the school standards agenda. If we get parents and grandparents back into learning so that they can experience the dignity of self-improvement, it is far more likely that they will understand the direct benefits to their children and grandchildren of education. It is not just about the work that we are doing directly for young people, but the tremendous progress that we are making in adult basic skills. The new level 2 entitlement for adults, for example, enables any adult who does not have the equivalent of five decent GCSEs to receive free training and support, which is brokered by the Government. All that incredibly important work enables us to challenge directly some of the culturally low aspirations that form a barrier to education in many of our communities.

Last year, the Secretary of State announced the country's first coherent national behaviour and attendance strategy. For years, politicians from all parties have bemoaned deteriorating behaviour and attendance, and there has been a lot of hand-wringing and rhetoric. We are the first Government to tackle directly the problems of truancy and deteriorating behaviour. Our programme consists of both a universal and a targeted element to address problems at different levels. The universal element deals with issues that affect

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every school and local education authority to a greater or lesser extent. The targeted element deals with problems that are particularly acute in certain areas.

Before we can achieve improvements, we need to identify strengths and weaknesses, so we are making behaviour and attendance audit materials available to every secondary and middle school in the country. Audits will identify training needs.

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