Previous Section Index Home Page

14-19 Diploma

4. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What progress has been made on the introduction of the 14-19 diploma programme. [119648]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): Having met the milestones for development of the new diploma qualifications that we published in the 14-19 education and skills implementation plan, we are on track for diploma courses to be provided for the first time from September 2008.

Mr. Cunningham: Does my right hon. Friend agree that business and industry should help to deliver the diploma for 14 to 19-year-olds, particularly in the manufacturing sector and particularly in the west midlands?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is an engineer and takes a great interest in these issues. We already have more than 300,000 businesses engaged with schools and helping to give some aptitude for working in industry. On the diploma, we will now have for the first time in this country the mixed vocational and academic course—providing a mix of theoretical and practical
8 Feb 2007 : Column 974
knowledge—that many other countries in Europe and around the world have had for many years. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of involving businesses. We have had a tremendous amount of interest in developing the diplomas, because they are industry-driven, through the sector skills councils. There can be no complaint about the enthusiasm and involvement of industries throughout the country.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is enormous enthusiasm in the sector—in colleges and schools, as well as among employers—to make the new diplomas a success? However, a visit by the Select Committee on Education and Skills to Lewisham college only this week—and my own personal visit to a Huddersfield further education college—found that there were still worries and concerns about the level of preparedness for getting them up and running at high quality on time. I know that we now have four champions behind them, but there is still a worry. Will my right hon. Friend give me a guarantee that we will provide new resources and put new energy into the Department to make them a success?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend’s Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the matter, and we would be grateful to discover the outcome of it. The qualification is tremendously fragile in that we have to get the first five diplomas up and running by 2008. That is a challenge, but we are putting energy, drive and commitment into meeting it—which is what my hon. Friend suggests we do. We are determined that, through the process we have introduced, we will be ready with those first five diplomas by 2008. No information has so far come before me that suggests that we are anything other than on track to achieve that. However, we always need the gentle persuasion of the Select Committee to ensure that we are on the right track. I welcome the interest of my hon. Friend and others, but I think that we will be okay by 2008.

Leitch Report

5. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on the findings of the Leitch report on skills. [119649]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): Lord Leitch’s final report, “Prosperity for all in the Global Economy—World Class Skills”, published in December 2006, gave a clear analysis of the future skills needs of the UK. It presented a substantial challenge to ensure that UK skills levels are world class by 2020. We have welcomed the report’s ambitions and recommendations, and we will publish an implementation plan to take forward the agenda in the context of the comprehensive spending review settlement.

Tony Baldry: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Is he aware that towns such as Banbury and Bicester need a skills centre—a one-stop location where employers and those who want to acquire skills can get information on initiatives such as the post-16 diplomas, train to gain, apprenticeships and adult skills training in general? The vast majority of businesses on the M40
8 Feb 2007 : Column 975
corridor are small or medium-sized employers. They want a highly skilled work force and to compete in the world, but they need to be able to get targeted information on how they can link in to all the various Government initiatives.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is right, but the exciting development has been train to gain; I refer Members to Lord Leitch’s report. We are using descriptions that the public might not understand, but the idea behind train to gain is to assist small businesses, which is where a particular problem lies in that they do not have the time to access lots of volumes of information in order to find out how to solve their skills problems. Under train to gain, we have trained brokers who meet small businesses to discuss their skills needs and then return with a skills package. That means that small businesses do not need to chase all over town to find the necessary information. train to gain is in its early stages, but it has been hugely successful. One of the most important of Lord Leitch’s recommendations is that all level 2 and level 3 provision should go through train to gain.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree with Lord Leitch, who said in his report that

Is it not shocking that only 41 per cent. of people under 18 and only 38 per cent. of people over 18 successfully complete their apprenticeships? Does that not tell us that many employers and employees do not find apprenticeships valuable? It is no good focusing on start rates if we have such low successful completion rates.

Alan Johnson: That question is relevant now, but it would have been more relevant a year ago, when the apprenticeship drop-out rate was extremely worrying. One reason for that drop-out rate—there have always been people who drop out of apprenticeships—is that some youngsters give up their apprenticeships to take jobs, sometimes in the same company. However, there has been a huge increase—about 15 per cent.—in the apprenticeship completion rate. Lord Leitch recognises the improvements that have been made and that we have increased the number of apprenticeships from 75,000—the figure when we came into government—to 250,000. He is right to say that we should work to ensure that bureaucracy does not get in the way of apprenticeships, but he also says that we should pledge that any youngster who is qualified and interested in taking on an apprenticeship should have a guaranteed place. He says that we need to reach the figure of 500,000 apprenticeships by 2020, and we agree. In putting that in place, we will examine the bureaucracy issue, but we are already tackling the problem of high drop-out rates and seeing stark and real improvements.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Can the Secretary of State explain the link between Leitch and his own declared preference for compulsion in post-16 training and education, bearing in mind that many
8 Feb 2007 : Column 976
young people may well prefer full-time work as the best mechanism for acquiring experience, disciplines and work-based skill?

Alan Johnson: One clear link is that Leitch himself says that we should look at lifting the education leaving age—it is wrong to call it the school leaving age—once the diplomas that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) referred to, which according to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are the most dramatic and revolutionary change in education in the world, are in place by 2013. The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is right, and it is why we believe that youngsters aged 16 and 17 can be in the workplace, but at that age they should not receive no education or training whatever. They should not be divorced from the world of education at such a young age. Leitch tells us—this is the other link—that by 2020, the number of jobs that require no qualifications will have shrunk from 3.6 million to just 600,000, which is the current number of vacancies in the economy. So both those factors link the Leitch report to the debate that we will have about lifting the education leaving age.

Academy Schools

6. Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the scope for extended school provision with the academy schools programme. [119650]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): Academies form part of the local family of schools and are at the heart of their communities. We hope that they will play a full part in offering extended services.

Ms Buck: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Extended schools are proving their worth in terms of community links and improving attendance and attainment. Nowhere is that more important than in academy schools such as those in my constituency, which serve exceptionally deprived populations. The Westminster academy will be located in a ward in which 83 per cent. of all children live in workless households. Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that it is therefore extraordinary that existing academy schools have to pay VAT on their community activities? That is an additional financial penalty and an obstacle to their providing precisely the extended sports, drama and other facilities that those communities desperately need. Will my hon. Friend please sort out the situation immediately?

Mr. Dhanda: I am very much aware of the difference that the extended schools activities in my hon. Friend’s locality are making—I gather that more than 60 local activities are being delivered through extended schools—and she is right to highlight that point. She is also right to make the point about VAT—an issue on which she has previously had an Adjournment debate. It is an anomaly that we need to work through, and our officials are engaged in that process. I have become immersed in the issue in the past 24 hours and have got to know more about VAT and schools than I ever thought I would. This is an incredibly technical and
8 Feb 2007 : Column 977
complex subject, concerning paid-for activities in new buildings such as city academies, which have charitable status.

It involves those activities that form more than 10 per cent. of the business usage, of the school day or of the area used of a school. We are taking a close look at the issue and I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to work with Treasury officials to get it sorted out as soon as possible.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Minister aware that Park high school in Gaywood in my constituency is considering relocating and reopening as a city academy school on a new development in South Lynn? That is obviously an exciting development, but it will be a long and complex process. Will the Minister agree to meet me, the chairman of governors and someone from the local education authority to discuss the project?

Mr. Dhanda: I am delighted to hear of the hon. Gentleman’s support for city academies, which is understandable. Places in city academies are three times oversubscribed—three applicants for every place—and they are seeing a sixfold improvement in GCSE results. City academies are doing some 20 per cent. better than the schools that they replaced, so I can understand why the hon. Gentleman supports the principle. Whether I meet him or whether I know a man who will—probably Lord Adonis, who has responsibility for city academies—I am sure that it will be possible. I expect that they will be able to correspond with each other to help to make that happen.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): Does the building schools for the future programme provide that all schools that are rebuilt or refurbished have to make sufficient provision for extended school activities?

Mr. Dhanda: I am told that such schools are expected to have 500 sq m for community provision, so the answer is yes. As highlighted already by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), a range of activities and extended services are taking place in city academies, involving not only pupils but their parents. I am sure that we will see more such activity in the future as we roll out the city academies programme. Our target is to have some 400 across the country.

Derbyshire LEA

7. Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effect of the new rules for competitive tendering for new schools on the incentive for the local education authority in Derbyshire to consider merging existing schools. [119651]

The Minister for Schools (Jim Knight): School place planning is the statutory responsibility of the local authority. Competitions will normally be held whenever proposals are required for a new or replacement school. School amalgamations can be
8 Feb 2007 : Column 978
effected in different ways and it is up to the local authority to act in accordance with local circumstances.

Natascha Engel: Derbyshire county council, which was recently audited as excellent again, has held an extensive consultation with the community of Clay Cross, where three schools are to be replaced by one brand new, state of the art primary school. From the consultation it was clear that Clay Cross mums and dads want the new school to be run by Derbyshire county council, but that that decision will now be taken by the schools adjudicator. Can my hon. Friend explain what account is taken of the wishes of the community when the adjudicator makes his or her decision on who is to run the new school?

Jim Knight: As ever, my hon. Friend is an excellent advocate for the mums and dads of Clay Cross. She is right to say that Labour Derbyshire is an excellent local authority. It is fulfilling its statutory duty to carry out an extensive public consultation on the proposals for new schools. The decision-maker’s guidance from the Secretary of State, which informs the work of the adjudicator, requires him to take account of the views expressed in the consultation by parents and the local community.


8. Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): What plans he has to encourage more pupils to take A-levels. [119652]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): The number of students taking A-levels is not a cause for concern. However, in order to make them even more attractive, we have announced proposals to revise A-levels. However, if we are to increase post-16 participation among young people, it is important that they have a range of qualifications from which they can choose. Therefore, in addition to our proposals to improve A-levels, we are introducing the new 14-19 diplomas and expanding the availability of the international baccalaureate.

Mr. Benyon: A recent reply from the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning about Kennet school in Thatcham in my constituency missed the point about the tortuous process of Learning and Skills Council funding, which means that schools such as Kennet are penalised for growing their sixth forms and the numbers of pupils that stay on beyond the age of 16. Complaints to the LSC bring the response that the Department and Ministers are being inflexible in the funding rules that they set. Will the Secretary of State look into the matter, so that schools that do the Government’s bidding and grow their sixth forms are not penalised?

Alan Johnson: I will look into that. I cannot think that the Department would ever be inflexible, under any circumstances, so I reject that remark entirely. However, there does seem to a problem in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and we will be happy to try and solve it.

8 Feb 2007 : Column 979

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of Luton sixth form college’s stunning success with A-level results, but it also offers the international baccalaureate. That is a better course for many students, and it is possible that in future it will be regarded as a better course for all students in that age group. What success has he had so far in persuading other authorities to offer the IB?

Alan Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the opportunity to repeat the announcement made by my Department last September. We believe that the IB should be much more widely available, and the gateway to the diploma that we are setting up will extend by about 100 the number of local authorities where state school pupils can access it—a very important step forward. I agree that the diversity that the IB represents means that it should be widely available to state pupils across the country.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will the Secretary of State say when he expects a significant rise in the number of grade A A-levels in maths and physics, or their IB equivalents?

Alan Johnson: An awful lot of work is going on, not least under the 10-year science and innovation plan, to get the right teachers in place and to establish science learning centres around the country that will ensure that stem subjects receive the attention that they deserve. More students are taking maths and physics, and more teachers are being recruited, but the plan is set to last 10 years precisely because we need a long-term vision. The same problems associated with encouraging youngsters to take those subjects are encountered in practically every developed country around the world. As the report from Adrian Smith a couple of years ago pointed out, mathematicians trained in universities are more likely to go to work in the City and other similar locations. It would be an enormous step forward if we could attract them into teaching, and that is increasingly what we are doing.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State look at funding arrangements for post-16 pupils? We need to ensure that all of them have access to choice and quality, but the new diplomas mean that money will follow the pupil. Schools that want to hang on to those resources will be less inclined to encourage pupils to do vocational courses that might be available at colleges. Will he look at funding routes to ensure that schools and colleges that provide choice and quality are rewarded, and that they are not obliged merely to hang on to students?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right to raise this matter. Part of the Further Education and Training Bill currently before the other place deals with the funding issue that she mentions. The diplomas resemble IBs, in that students have to undertake an extended project, but no institution on its own can deliver them. The fact that schools, sixth form colleges and FE colleges must collaborate in that provision has implications for the different levels funding that, for various reasons, have been inherited. We are trying to tackle the important point that my hon. Friend raises. When the FE Bill
8 Feb 2007 : Column 980
comes to this end of the House, she will see that an important part of the debate will be about funding.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The Secretary of State will be aware that the numbers of maths and physics A-level students have fallen by about 2,000 since 1997. Does he share the concern of the advisory committee on mathematics education, as we do, that students studying A-level maths will need to have passed both parts of the new, double-subject GCSE maths exam that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is piloting, rather than just the new basic GCSE in maths? Will he ensure that the option of studying both maths GCSEs is made an entitlement, so that we do not end up with hundreds of secondary schools in a few years’ time not offering the higher-level maths GCSE?

Alan Johnson: Again, this problem was highlighted in the Adrian Smith report and we are seeking to tackle it. The hon. Gentleman is right about the drop since 1997, but we are now seeing that situation turn around. I am willing to look at all the deliberations of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, providing that we do not sacrifice quality. That must be the central feature. There is a strand of argument that if we follow this route, it could affect quality, which is why we must be careful in taking this forward.

Next Section Index Home Page