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3. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What proportion of apprenticeships have been commenced in the manufacturing sector in England in each of the last three years. [209675]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): The Learning and Skills Council collects data by broad area of learning. Of the apprenticeships started in 2002–03, 17 per cent. were in the engineering, manufacturing and technology area of learning. In 2003–04, the proportion was 18 per cent. Data for previous years are not available on a consistent basis.

Mr. Kidney: I am delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position. Tomorrow in Stafford I shall host, with Perkins Diesel, a seminar on apprenticeships in manufacturing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that after the Tories in government devastated manufacturing and apprenticeships, Labour in government restored both to good health? Manufacturers attending tomorrow's seminar can be confident that British manufacturing has a bright future, and that they therefore can and should invest in apprenticeships.

Ruth Kelly: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to the work that he does with representatives of the manufacturing sector in his constituency, which I have had the pleasure of visiting twice. He is right to pay attention to the role that apprenticeships will play, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The Government have set up sector skills councils, which
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will take forward a programme to ensure that the vocational education, training and apprenticeships that we are delivering are relevant to the employment that young people will later enter. Overall, the number of young people participating in apprenticeships has risen from 75,000 in 1997 to 242,000 today.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The national employers' skills survey found that 2.4 million workers lacked the necessary skills to do their job. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to focus on providing more support for modern apprenticeships? What will she do to provide more training places for plumbers, electricians and other trades in Essex, where there is a dire shortage of such skills?

Ruth Kelly: I agree that there are skills shortages, particularly in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. We need to raise skill levels so that we can compete on the basis of quality, not of price. We will not be able to do that unless more young people aim not only for level 2 but for level 3 and the specialised level 4 skills. I do not want to pre-empt any announcements that I shall make in the House in the weeks to come, but we intend to prioritise vocational skills and apprenticeships in response to the Tomlinson report on 14 to 19-year-olds' education, and we shall seek to take that even further in the forthcoming skills White Paper.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I join other hon. Members in welcoming my right hon. Friend to her post. It is certainly richly deserved. I acknowledge the progress that has been made on the recruitment of modern apprentices. Does she agree, however, that in trying to fill the skills gap that still exists in manufacturing industry, it is necessary to raise the level of interest in manufacturing industry among high-quality young students in schools at a much earlier stage? Will she undertake to support initiatives that are designed to do just that?

Ruth Kelly: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We need not only to raise the interest of young people in manufacturing as a career, but to give them experience of what it is like to work in the sector, if they feel attracted to it. That is why, in our response to the Tomlinson report, I shall seek to achieve just that, by ensuring that we put the same emphasis on vocational education and workplace experience as we do on the academic side. It is really important to the future of our economy that young people are allowed to raise their aspirations, so that they think it is worth continuing to learn and raise their skill levels, and end up with skills that are recognised and valued by employers.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware from her previous jobs that manufacturing industry is one of the main sources of sustainable non-inflationary economic growth. There is a college in my constituency that works in conjunction with BAE Systems and is known to be a centre of excellence for aerospace studies. I fully support the question that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) has just asked the Secretary of State. What further initiatives are the Government prepared to
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take to encourage young people to go into manufacturing and to undertake the apprenticeships that are so vital to the manufacturing sector?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, who is sitting beside me, tells me that the facility in the hon. Gentleman's constituency is indeed a very good one. Perhaps I shall have the chance to visit it at some point. I know that the hon. Gentleman shows a consistent interest in manufacturing, and he is right to draw attention to its needs and to say that we need to encourage young people into the sector. The Government are setting up sector skills councils, which bring together employers to identify the appropriate skill needs and to think of ways of tailoring to their needs courses that will be appreciated by young people.

The sector skills agreement, reached by the sector skills council—which, unfortunately, I believe the hon. Gentleman's party is set to abolish—provides a means for employers not only to shape training, but to challenge each other to work together and put funding directly into training, which is relevant to industry's needs and also offers ways into employment and future career progression for young people.

Higher Education (West Cumbria)

4. Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the development of higher education in west Cumbria. [209676]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Dr. Kim Howells): The Higher Education Funding Council for England has been undertaking a review, in consultation with interested bodies, of higher education provision in Cumbria, including west Cumbria. Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of the funding council, met with local partners last week to discuss the outcome of that work and I expect that an announcement will be made soon on new plans for higher education in Cumbria, along with a timetable for implementation.

Tony Cunningham: A big thank you to my hon. Friend for that very encouraging reply. West Cumbria is one place in the country that does not have easy access to a university. Progress is being made in that direction, but will my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State take a personal interest in ensuring that the dream of a university in west Cumbria, which has long been held by many people, becomes a reality?

Dr. Howells: I take great pleasure in assuring my hon. Friend that I will take a personal interest in that matter, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will, too. There is no doubt that universities are great economic drivers, and regions that do not have universities are the poorer without them. In view of the great manufacturing and extractive industrial history of my hon. Friend's constituency and the surrounding area, the potential for a university there should be tapped, and we must ensure that it is. That applies especially to parts of industry that are in decline, such as the nuclear industry. It could provide a great research base for a university in Cumbria.
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Foreign Languages

5. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What proportion of A-level candidates took at least one foreign language in 2003–04. [209677]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Twigg): School and college performance data collected by the Department show that in the 2003–04 academic year, 9.8 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-old A-level candidates took at least one modern foreign language.

Hugh Bayley: Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to encourage more students who are doing A-levels in science subjects to continue to study a modern language? We live in a globalising world, and in a typical career nowadays, a scientist or engineer is likely to work in several different countries. We need to find more flexibility in the sixth-form curriculum to allow scientists to continue to study languages.

Mr. Twigg: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. When we look at the A-level figures, it is quite striking to see that there has been a slow decline in the number of young people taking A-levels in modern foreign languages. At the same time, however, the number going into higher education to study modern foreign languages has been broadly stable, and the number combining languages with other subjects in higher education is increasing. There are lessons to be learned from that positive experience of higher education, which we can apply to A-level study, as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is the Government's decision to remove a modern foreign language from the core subjects of the national curriculum likely to improve the situation? The Minister has already admitted that the situation is fairly dismal, with the number of students opting for foreign languages at A-level declining year on year.

Mr. Twigg: I believe that we took the right decision, because languages are an option that many young people do not want to take at 14. If they have to, they may not only lose out themselves, but hold back other young people who are motivated to learn languages. The key to whether the hon. Gentleman is right lies much earlier in our schools system. That is why we are placing such great emphasis on primary school language teaching and learning.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Should we not be ashamed of the poverty of our foreign language teaching? I encourage the Minister to follow up what he said at the end of that answer. There is a great deal of evidence to show that the neurological development of children makes it much easier for them to learn foreign languages at infant and junior school level. That is buttressed by evidence from Welsh language schools, Scottish Gaelic schools and Gaeltacht in the Republic of Ireland, showing that people who learn foreign languages at a very early age prove more successful across the whole range of academia. We should
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therefore be teaching French, German and other languages in our infant and junior schools for children of all abilities. That is where we need to make progress.

Mr. Twigg: My hon. Friend is right. In 2001 only one in five primary schools provided any foreign language teaching. I am delighted to inform hon. Members that the most recent survey suggests that that figure has doubled; indeed, it is now 44 per cent. That is not good enough, but it constitutes major progress by primary schools in the past three years. By 2010, we want every seven to 11-year-old to have the opportunity to learn at least one foreign language in classroom time, and we are working hard to achieve that.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): We are a pretty lazy nation at learning languages. We think that everyone else should learn English and that we can simply sail along. When the Minister encourages young people to learn foreign languages so that they can go on to take A-levels and perhaps go into businesses afterwards, will he examine the teaching of Mandarin? China will be vital to the younger generations, and we need to train teachers now so that young people can learn Mandarin at an early age.

Mr. Twigg: This is a very consensual discussion; the hon. Gentleman is right. We are doing specific work on Mandarin now. When the languages strategy was first published, we talked about enabling children to learn a European language. We have revised our definition for several reasons, including the persuasive case for Mandarin to be part of that strategy. We would like that to be extended across the board.

6. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the teaching of modern foreign languages in schools. [209678]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Since launching the languages strategy in 2002, we have trained more than 1,200 new primary language teachers and committed around £10 million to supporting early language learning initiatives. At secondary level, the key stage 3 strategy continues to have a positive impact on pupils' language attainment, while the alternative qualifications and vocational options at key stage 4 allow pupils more flexibility in their language studies.

Mr. Dismore: Two weeks ago, I joined French, German and Japanese classes for a day at Hendon school, a specialist language college. The teaching quality was excellent and teaching methods were in a completely different league from when I was at school. The teachers engaged students of all abilities effectively. Does my hon. Friend agree that learning a language is not only for able and enthusiastic linguists but that it provides a key life skill to enable all students to become effective world citizens? It should not be limited, because it enriches horizons and aspirations and has a positive impact on all aspects of the curriculum.

Mr. Twigg: I agree with my hon. Friend and I am delighted to join him in congratulating Hendon school on its success. We have 207 specialist language colleges,
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which are critical to providing the highest quality of language teaching and learning, not only in language schools but in others, including primary schools. I gave the figures for the increase in the number of language lessons in primary schools. Part of the explanation for that increase is that teachers from schools such as Hendon not only teach in their own schools but go out to neighbouring primaries and teach there.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP): We in Northern Ireland, on a small island, have realised for a long time that we must pay attention to foreign languages. Indeed, in many primary schools foreign languages are exciting for our children. We must get away from the stiff, academic approach. Does the Minister agree that the involvement of assistants from overseas plays a big part in making foreign languages real? Can we do more to encourage more schools to involve foreign language assistants?

Mr. Twigg: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right to talk about making language learning exciting. Part of the reason for our action on language teaching for 14-year-olds was because of the number of young people who were demotivated and switched off. We need to start teaching and learning earlier, but we must also use work force reform as an opportunity to bring others into the classroom, including the language assistants to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. I have seen some great examples of schools in this country being twinned with schools in Spain. There is a positive process for the development of the teachers' skills and for better learning opportunities for the children and young people.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Montgomery high school in Blackpool? It is a language college, is actively engaged with primary and secondary schools across the whole town, and is also twinned with schools in other countries. With the council, it has embarked on an exciting initiative to send pupils to Bottrop, Blackpool's twin town, for a week's work experience. That means that students have to use their language skills in a work placement in a foreign country.

Mr. Twigg: That is excellent. I am delighted to congratulate Montgomery high school in my hon. Friend's constituency, which offers a really good example of what I referred to when I spoke about the 207 specialist language colleges. We must encourage schools to have direct links with schools and communities in other parts of the world. That is why, late last year, we launched the "global gateway", which is a very good way of promoting more understanding and of breaking down barriers between people. It is also a way to encourage the excitement about language learning that a number of hon. Members have mentioned.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I speak some foreign languages, which I found immensely useful in my legal practice work in Brussels and in the European Parliament. Will the Minister reverse the Government's decision to end compulsory language
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teaching for 14 to 19-year-olds? It has had a dire effect on the number of people studying languages and, as a result, on the business community around the country. Is he concerned that the students who drop out of school foreign languages classes tend to be boys rather than girls?

Mr. Twigg: I am concerned about the second point that the hon. Lady raises. We intend to address the problem, but there is no intention to reverse the proposal to which she referred. We want there to be more choice and flexibility in the phase of education for 14 to 19-year-olds. We do not want to return to greater compulsion being placed on schools and learners, and I do not think that the way to improve our country's very poor record on languages is to force young people aged 14, 15 or 16 to do them against their will. We must do it by tapping into the excitement evident at a younger age, which is why our strategy deliberately focuses on primary school language teaching and learning. That is where we are putting in resources, and our approach commands very wide support.

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