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Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Can I take the Secretary of State back not to 1918 but to 1997, when the Labour party pledged that fair funding would mean equal funding per pupil, regardless of local education
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authority? Perhaps it might be better to live up to that pledge, rather than moving forward to his great vision. Currently, Leicestershire languishes at the bottom of the education funding league. Apparently, across the Braunstone lane, my constituency boundary, a child will get £600 more in 2010 than a child in Leicestershire. How can that be fair, especially given that pledge that I suspect he was involved in, in view of the job he was doing in 1997?

Ed Balls: If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail of the figures that we published yesterday, he will see that Leicestershire is 34th out of 149 local authorities over the next three years. It is in the top quarter of all local authorities—

Mr. Robathan: Leicestershire.

Ed Balls: Leicestershire, over the next three years, will have a 13.4 per cent. increase in spending, which makes it 34th out of 149. Rather than having a go at me for my pronunciation, the hon. Gentleman should congratulate me on delivering for Leicestershire in education funding. If he is still confused, I will explain it to him later.

Those who leave school early without good skills and qualifications are less likely to get a good job or gain further qualifications. Because those young people who leave education and training come disproportionately from poor families, raising the education participation age is also about social justice.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is stating clearly one of the central points of the Government’s case, which is that we need more skills and more vocational qualifications in the work force. Does he agree that, at a time when that ambition is being lauded across the sector, it is extraordinary that Opposition spokesmen should appear to be doing their utmost to undermine the focus on vocational skills by what they are saying?

Ed Balls: I would not be so pessimistic. I was disappointed to discover that Opposition Members oppose the reforms in the Queen’s Speech on raising the education-leaving age to 18 and the proposals for diplomas, but it is not too late. Later in my speech, I will urge them to change their minds and consider backing those reforms.

In Britain today we need all young people to be in education or training until 18. That is why our Bill will establish new rights for young people to take up opportunities for education and training, and the support they need to take up those opportunities. It will also establish new responsibilities for young people, and a new partnership between schools and colleges, and between local government and employers, so that every young person will be in education or training until 18 from 2015. It is my aim to build a consensus in the country in the next few years on that proposal, even if we cannot manage that in this House.

There are also serious and proper concerns about the legislation. There will be extensive opportunity for debate over the coming months as the Bill moves through each stage, but I wish to address three of those concerns now. First, let me make it clear from the very
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beginning that this is not a Bill to force young people to stay on at school or college full time until they are 18. I have heard many people refer to our plans as raising the school-leaving age, but we are not raising the school-leaving age; we are raising the education and training-leaving age.

Not all young people will want to continue in school or college, so our proposal is for young people to continue their education and training in the way that makes best sense for them. That could mean full-time education at school or college; work-based learning, through an apprenticeship; or one day a week in part-time education or training, if they are employed, self-employed or volunteering for more than 20 hours. That means that we will expand the number of apprenticeships in the next few years. We have already doubled the number since 1997, and we will increase that number further by 90,000, to 240,000 a year by 2013.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and I have agreed that we will legislate in the Bill to ensure that there is the proper statutory basis for apprenticeships for 16 to 19-year-olds. That will set the framework for an entitlement by 2013 to an apprenticeship place for every young person who wants to continue their learning on a work-based route and meets the entry requirements.

With our Bill, all individuals will have a legal right to train to their first level 2 qualification. Up to the age of 25, young people will have the same legal right to train for their first level 3 qualification. But because my right hon. Friend and I recognise that it is not only young people who need to achieve their full potential, and because 70 per cent. of those who will make up the 2020 work force will be beyond the age of compulsory education, our Bill will also ensure that all adults have the right to access proper free provision for basic literacy, numeracy and first full level 2 courses. That will enable all low-skilled and unemployed adults to improve their skills and secure sustainable employment.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ed Balls: I have given way once already to the hon. Gentleman.

Young people who want to combine continued education with work will therefore be able to do so. But no young person should be left out on the basis that it is just not for them, or that it is too hard—

Mr. Stuart: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ed Balls: Oh, go on then.

Mr. Stuart: I just wish to clarify the point that the Secretary of State made about compulsory education and training to 18. What is the minimum number of hours of education or training that an 18-year-old would be expected to receive?

Ed Balls: If a young person is in full-time education or college, it is normally 16 hours a week. If a young person is working more than 20 hours—at a job, self-employed or volunteering—over the course of the
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year they will have to do the equivalent of one day a week, although that would not have to be one day every week. The hon. Gentleman can work out what that would mean and we can discuss the detail when we consider the Bill.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Before we leave the question of 14 to 19-year-olds and the welcome increase in the participation rate, will my right hon. Friend tell us whether he has given any thought to the transport implications of this greatly increased number of young people moving from school to college and to the workplace? Does he think that there is a powerful argument for reviewing the concessionary fare arrangements for young people, and has he discussed that with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport? If not, will he do so?

Ed Balls: The Minister for Schools and Learners, who is travelling to Canada, texted me at 5 am Canadian time to make sure that I raised this very point. Members will understand that he is an MP for a Dorset constituency and that travelling issues in rural areas are very close to his heart. That is why he and I have discussed the issue with our transport colleagues to see what can be done. These are early days in the process, but the issue is certainly on our radar.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What my right hon. Friend said to dispel the myth that we will keep children in school until they are 18 is very welcome and he knows that I had a private Member’s Bill along similar lines to the Government’s proposals. I think it was Leitch who said that we were aiming for 500,000 apprenticeships, but will my right hon. Friend nail down whether apprenticeships will always be linked to a qualification?

Ed Balls: It is important that apprenticeships lead to a qualification. I was talking about apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds in England by 2013. Clearly, we can attempt to go further than that as we go up the age range over more years and for the whole UK. It is our determination to match the Leitch ambitions, but there is clearly a lot of work to be done over the next few years.

Although we want to make sure that young people can combine education and training with work, it is also our view that no young person should be left out on the basis that education and training are not for them or that it is too hard to meet their needs. That is why the Bill is about both rights and responsibilities. Under our proposals, young people will receive advice and guidance. They will achieve enhanced educational support in the form of education maintenance allowances and they will have a wide range of opportunities to take up opportunities in school, college, apprenticeship work with training or on a place on a pre-apprenticeship course or an entry-to-employment programme.

If young people fail to take up these opportunities, however, there will from 2013 be a system of enforcement. It will be very much a last resort and, as now for young people aged under 16, it will be at the discretion of the local authority, but it is necessary. I
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make no apologies for saying again that it is necessary to strike the right balance between new rights and new responsibilities. Some will need extra help, but that does not mean that they should be exempt. We will apply the same approach for 17 and 18-year-old mums as we do for school-age mothers now. Of course, they are allowed time off from learning before and after giving birth; of course, local authorities exercise care and discretion in relation to enforcement; and, of course, teenage mothers will need the extra support for child care that we currently provide through programmes such as Care to Learn. However, they should not be excluded from the opportunities and nor should people with special educational needs or people in custody. They will also receive education and training up to the age of 18. When we say that everyone will participate, that is what we mean.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): What the right hon. Gentleman says about opportunities for people in custody is of the greatest importance. Given that something like more than 60 per cent. of the 12,000 people in our young offenders institutions suffer from speech, language and communication problems that prevent them from accessing education and training courses, will he agree that it is absolutely essential if his Department is in the lead to take steps to ensure that those people’s problems are identified, that they are referred to provision and that that provision is provided sooner rather than later if they are to have any chance of striking out on a constructive path in the rest of their lives?

Ed Balls: I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work on this subject. In fact, I am pleased that he is carrying out a review and reporting to both me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health on these very issues. The hon. Gentleman has always shown a willingness to expand the terms of reference of that review and is clearly trying to do so again today. I am sure that we will be accommodating.

Tomorrow I will speak about youth justice issues at the Youth Justice Board’s annual conference. In particular, I will talk about what more we need to do to improve the standard of education and training for young people in custody. I am happy to say to the hon. Gentleman that I will refer to the particular needs of those young people.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that no fair-minded person can possibly disagree with the objectives and vision that he is outlining? However, will he accept from someone who has represented an area for 25 years that over that time we have had real problems when trying to engage a number of young people—some as young as 12—in secondary education? We need to rethink what we might be able to offer them in a way that might not yet be contained in the Bill.

Ed Balls: I agree that we need to think hard. However, I do not think that those young people should settle for second best, or be excluded from opportunities. If I were proposing to implement the new obligation from tomorrow, I would share my right hon. Friend’s concerns. However, we are talking about legislating for a group of young people who are nine
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and 10-year-olds today and will be 16 and 17 when the Bill comes into effect. We should be working between now and then to ensure that we offer a better set of options for those young people so that they are not permanently excluded from education, employment or training. That is our ambition and we have six years to deliver it. If we work together, we can ensure that we end the problem.

Of course, in the mid-1980s, the level of young people not in education, employment or training was much higher—youth unemployment was at a record high. It has come down since then, but not by enough. Some 25,000 young people in our society are long-term NEET. We should reduce that number to zero over the next six years, and I hope that the Bill will provide us, as a society, with the compulsion to achieve that. I only wish that I had the support of Opposition Members.

Ms Dari Taylor: The Bill is warmly welcomed on the Tees. We have serious problems attracting sufficient skilled individuals to the chemical process industry. There is a problem that many youngsters see the chemical process and engineering industries as dirty and unglamorous, so we really have a job to do—the employers are prepared to do that with the Government. Will my right hon. Friend engage with employers to ensure that young people are shown the seriously exciting opportunities that both those industries offer them?

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have six years between now and 2013 to make the progress required so that the legislation works. That involves raising our sights and building a culture of enterprise and learning for all, not just some. It means putting in place plans for the curriculum and new qualifications that will not only engage all 16 to 18-year-olds in learning, but get them ready for work. That could be achieved through our apprenticeship programme, but it will also be delivered through our new diplomas, which, I am pleased to say, are winning support from leading universities and employers alike. The diplomas will offer a combination of academic and practical skills that will be fit for purpose for young people, whether they want to go into work at 16 with training or an apprenticeship, go into work at 18, or go to university. With my hon. Friend’s support and that of local employers, I hope that we will be able to achieve that between now and 2013 so that we have a programme that will be really exciting for all young people when the obligation comes in.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I welcome the legislation regarding staying on until 18, but the Government have addressed only partially the problem of the gap in education funding for 16 to 18-year-olds. There is much less per capita funding for those in further education colleges than for those in sixth forms in schools. There is an even bigger funding gap for 16 to 18-year-olds in the secure estate who are trying to get an education, a large proportion of whom are illiterate, as well as having speech and language difficulties, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give me that those gaps will be closed and that education funding for 16 to 18-year olds in the secure estate and FE colleges will be increased to the per capita level for 16 to 18-year olds in schools?

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Ed Balls: As my hon. Friend knows, we are integrating for 14 to 19-year-olds. We are involving employers in our diploma programme and in education and training in schools and colleges. We have brought the funding of 16-to-19 education into my Department and local authorities precisely to allow that integration to work more effectively. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and I are working on that; we shall set out our proposals in due course. I cannot promise to close that gap quickly, but I can say that it is our long-term ambition to do so. The provision of fair funding is an important part of the preparations for 2013.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con) rose—

Ed Balls: I shall take one more intervention.

Mr. Taylor: The Secretary of State is being very generous in taking interventions. May I urge him to go further than the measures on social inclusion and wider participation, which I support? One of the big challenges in the next few years will be to increase the number of young people who are prepared to learn the individual science subjects and mathematics. Some 40 per cent. of our manufacturing industry depends on physics, yet maths, physics and chemistry are declining in our schools. What will the new Bill do to meet that challenge?

Ed Balls: Had the hon. Gentleman been present at Education questions yesterday, he would have heard my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners lauding the fact that we have had such a large increase in the number of physics teachers seeking qualification. [ Interruption. ] Or praising it; it depends which word one wants to use. I hope that our science diploma will help us to provide the integration of single subjects up to the age of 18, which the hon. Gentleman wants.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ed Balls: No. I said that I would not take any more interventions.

Through the reforms in the Bill and our work on the curriculum, NEETs, advice and guidance, education maintenance allowances and apprenticeships to drive a culture of greater learning, I believe that we can achieve our objective of having every young person in education or training by 2013. I am pleased to tell the House that we are winning widespread support for our plans— [ Laughter. ] But not from the Tories. In response to this summer’s Green Paper, the Confederation of British Industry said that

Last week, the British Chambers of Commerce said:

We will work closely with business in the coming months to ensure we get the detailed implementation right.

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However, rather than support our plans to get every young person into education or training until the age of 18 and to extend educational opportunity for all, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has announced that he will oppose our plans—indeed, he dismissed them as “a stunt”. He has also said that he will not support our plans for new diplomas for 14 to 19-year-olds.

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman might be in favour of our reforms to end the old damaging divide between academic and vocational qualifications and to offer alongside A-levels—I have postponed the planned 2008 A-level review until 2013—new diploma qualifications, which I believe could emerge as the qualification of choice for all young people. However, when I announced the next stage of our new diploma qualifications a few weeks ago—three new diplomas in science, humanities and modern languages, developed with the support of the CBI and many leading employers such as Cisco Systems, Toyota and Microsoft and of leading universities such as Cambridge, Leeds and Exeter—the hon. Gentleman opposed the new diplomas. He said:

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