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Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Paymaster General said that there must be informed choices, and I am genuinely asking for information. Who is responsible for ensuring that youngsters have the information that enables them to make choices? Will there be an opportunity for each pupil to have an interview with Connexions or other people at a specific stage of their school career? There is an understandable tendency for schools to try to persuade everyone to stay on as long as possible because of capitation rates and weighting, so we would benefit from knowing who will ensure that an informed choice is made.
Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman is right to pinpoint the fact that informed choice is necessary as one of the pressure points. Connexions plays a crucial role, but that must be enhanced and developed. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is working on that, and the youth Green Paper will need to build on it. The hon. Gentleman rightly points out not only that opportunities must be available, but that young people must know that they are available and be able to decide which are most appropriate so that they can build on their potential.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Following on from the discussion initiated by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), I can add that Amber Valley has an incredibly positive programme running from early years through to a 16-to-19 programme for those who are not in education, employment, or training at that age. We also have a sports development programme, to re-engage children from an early age right through. How restrictive will the criteria for who will qualify for the different types of training and the courses be? I want to ensure that the 16-to-19 programme, which might not necessarily lead to a formal qualification, but is very successful, will fall within the parameters of the Bill.
Dawn Primarolo: The main criterion must be entry to employment. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) talked about doing the basics, and I told him about the primary school programme. Of course, any child who has benefited from the primary school reforms that the Government have already undertaken has not yet left school. We are intervening in the system at every level, especially to address the quality of action.
Dawn Primarolo: Will my hon. Friend allow me to make a little progress because I shall talk about access to training later in my speech? If I do not address her point then, I shall be more than happy to give way again.
Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab):
I would like to follow up the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). The learning and skills council, the Connexions service and the local education authority in my area have organised the offer of post-16 education and training as part of the strategic area review. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that information about that, and the benefits
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available to all young people, is disseminated? Similar areas have different rates of success, so will she and the Department for Education and Skills examine best practice in increasing in the use of post-16 provision? This is a matter of national importance, so we must keep a microscope on what is happening locally.
Dawn Primarolo: I agree with my hon. Friend, who is a distinguished member of the Education and Skills Committee. The review of financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds that was jointly organised by the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury examined the quality of advice and support available to young people. Young people whom I met, and those who contributed to the review but whom I was unable to meet, said that that was a high priority, because many had found out that they could have received advice, support or guidance only when it was too late.
The third and final element of our strategy is removing the financial barriers to young people staying in education and training after 16. The Chancellor announced in the 2003 Budget that the Government would review financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds with the aim of delivering an accessible system of support, and incentives to reduce the appeal of a job at the age of 16 compared with that of the route of learning, which pays far more in the long run.
The review sought to build on the success of the education maintenance allowance pilots, which have already demonstrated how important financial incentives are to encourage young people to stay in learning. The evaluations of the pilots found that the education maintenance allowance was projected to have the biggest impact on post-16 participation levels since the introduction of GCSEs in 1987.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Dawn Primarolo: I will give way once more, and then I must make progress. I tried the patience of the House too long in a previous debate by giving way more than I should have done.
Ms Keeble: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the skills shortage in areas such as mine, and the importance of measures to ensure that young people stay on at school and are encouraged to undertake the type of training that will provide the skills necessary to meet that shortage in Northampton? That will relieve the heartache experienced particularly by lone parents who have difficulty in supporting their children.
I agree with my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will visit her constituency and others in the area early next month and will have detailed discussions on a number of issues, in particular the role of employers in connection with access to quality training and the removal of barriers facing young people, whatever their background. That is crucial.
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The Government's decision to roll out the education maintenance allowance nationally from September 2004 is increasing Government funding for 16-to-19 education by 10 per cent., and demonstrates our commitment to realising the potential of all our young people. The EMA is paid direct to the young person who has decided to stay on at school or college, on top of the financial support already available to their parents or carers through child benefit and child tax credit. It is a bold initiative that only pays something for something, making young people aware of their responsibility in committing themselves to learning and development.
The review of financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds sought ways in which these principles could be extended to other young people, including those continuing their learning after 16 outside school or college. We published the resulting report, "Supporting young people to achieve", alongside the Budget last year. The evidence collected during the review clearly indicated that the complexity and anomalies in the current system of financial support create major barriers to learning for many young people, especiallyunfortunately the most vulnerable. To remove those obstacles, the review proposed a long-term vision of a radically simplified model of financial support designed to support young people's post-16 choices and transitions, ensuring decent minimum income levels and improved accessibility.
The vision builds on the successful model of support already in place for the two thirds of 16 to 18-year-olds who stay on in full-time education and live at home. As I explained earlier, that involves a combination of financial support paid to the parents or carers in the form of child benefit and child tax credit, and a financial incentive paid directly to the young person in the form of the education maintenance allowance. Our intention is to extend this model of support and incentives to more marginalised groups of young people in order to encourage them to participate in learning. Our extensive consultation with young people, parents, voluntary sector organisations, businesses and learning providers indicated that there is strong support for this approach.
Jonathan Shaw: Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Dawn Primarolo: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall make a little more progress before giving way to him again.
In "Supporting young people to achieve" we set out a package of short-term measures to improve the delivery of benefits to young people, together with some interim steps towards our long-term vision of a single coherent system of financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds. At the centre of those are two proposals to extend child benefit, child tax credit and education maintenance allowance to unwaged trainees, and to extend financial support until young people finish their course, rather than stopping it on their 19th birthday. The Bill is an essential step in implementing those proposals.
The current disparity in the financial support available for full-time education and unwaged training is one of the worst distortions identified by the review. A
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young person aged 16 to 18 is eligible for child benefit and child tax credit if they stay in full-time education at school or college, but not if they enter one of the unwaged work-based training programmes arranged by the Government to help trainees progress to paid apprenticeships. This differential treatment can distort choices for young people, particularly for the most vulnerable.
Together, child benefit and child tax credit constitute an important stream of income for a young person's family, and the loss of that money may mean that some low-income parents are no longer able to support their child in education. I am sure many hon. Members have received, as I have, letters from constituents who are desperate to keep their son or daughter in training on a course, but who cannot do so because the child benefit and child tax credit have stopped. The young person may have only six months left to complete their NVQ level 2, but everything is destroyed or lost because of the financial pressure on the family. That cannot be right. The Bill provides for arrangements to be put in place to prevent that from happening.
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