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On other types of training, the Gwent Association of Voluntary Associations has brought into our community a CAT scheme, or community apprentice training. That provides training for youth workers and community development workers. There is work for those people—
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much needed work—where I live and in other such places. The voluntary organisations have a big part to play not just in formal education, but in providing opportunities for young people. We should maximise the opportunities that exist within the voluntary organisations.

I have a concern about the numbers game. We have spoken about having over 200,000 apprentices. We have also spoken about needing people from other countries to come in to fill skills gaps, so where are the 250,000 apprentices going to go? As we continue to train more and more, will that mean that we will need fewer people coming into the country? How do we balance the books?

My area suffered from a steelworks closure some six years ago. An American gentleman by the name of Leo Schostack came in to help to regenerate the area. The statement he made about the area was that it was inspirational but we did not know it. That point was important. The way out of poverty is through education, but we need that inspirational element of education to get young people interested. To force them down a route is the wrong way to go. Encouragement is the right way.

7.2 pm

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to make a few remarks about this important Bill. First, I apologise for being absent from the Chamber for a short while; it was unavoidable but I am pleased to be back and to be able to make a contribution.

I warmly welcome the introduction of the Bill. I believe that, at their root, its proposals will be very good for young people and good for our economy. The Bill will give more young people the opportunity to take part in learning and, crucially, training, beyond the age of 16, giving them more options, and more time to learn and to develop skills.

The logic is clear. Young people will have more opportunity to fulfil their potential and a more widely skilled population will be good for our employers, because it will help us to increase productivity and capacity for innovation. That in turn will boost our economy at home and in the world, and help us to achieve world-class skills by 2020.

We in Britain currently have one of the lowest rates of staying on at the age of 17 in developed countries, and at any one time around 10 per cent. of our young people are classed as NEETs: not in education, employment or training. That is a matter that must be tackled, and we have a duty to do that. It is my view that this Bill will go a long way to help address that issue and I welcome it on that basis.

By creating a Bill in which young people will have access to learning in a range of ways, be it through traditional academic education, or on-the-job apprenticeships, the Bill raises the status of work-based learning and vocational education, bringing it on to a par with academic education. That is long overdue and necessary. That is an important step in raising our skills level and young people’s self-esteem.

For too long, vocational education has not been wholly successful, or respected save for some outstanding instances. There are some well-recognised vocational
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colleges and some very good vocational qualifications. I would also point to modern apprenticeships, which have delivered a good model of the way forward. In Enfield, however, we have a low participation rate for such apprenticeships. I believe that the introduction of diplomas for 14 to 19-year-olds, along with the Government's commitment to create 60 per cent. more apprenticeships by 2013, will further address that issue and again help to entrench vocational learning in our education system and views of learning. Young people undertaking vocational courses and employment training should not feel that they are second-class compared with those pursuing academic studies, or the poor relation. That is not good for them and it is certainly not good for our industries.

However, as with all matters, it is vital that the detail is practicable. After all, the Bill proposes a major change for deliverers, practitioners and businesses, not to mention the young people themselves, and we have to get it right. From my perspective as the Member for Enfield, North, most important of all are the views of those affected by these proposals in my constituency.

I have therefore contacted head teachers, education advisers and business representatives in my constituency, as they are experts in my area and they are on the front line of education, training and employment. I thank the practitioners from my constituency, who work tirelessly, for their contribution to developing skills in Enfield and for corresponding with me on issues in the Bill. It is crucial that we as Members of Parliament involve practitioners locally in those issues and do not just stand here and discuss them among ourselves.

In particular, I thank Dr. Steve Dowbiggin of Capel Manor college, and Giles Bird, head teacher at Kingsmead secondary school, which has just had the most wonderful report from Ofsted. It is breathtaking. It is a matter not of luck, but of sheer hard work. Those at the school deserve to be congratulated. I also thank Tahsin Ibrahim of the Enfield Business and Retailers Association, Jean Carter, principal of Enfield college, Bridget Evans, head teacher at Bishop Stopford's school, Sarah Knowles, Enfield's 14-to-19 strategy manager, Peter O'Brien, partnership manager at the Enfield learning and skills council and Hugh Jones from the North London chamber of commerce.

Overall, my constituents welcome the Bill and support its principles. Indeed, the chief executive of the Enfield Business and Retailers Association has told me that he believes that increasing the compulsory education-leaving age will provide young people with space to develop as individuals, to discover what they want from life, and to better prepare themselves for adult life.

Of course, this is not a Bill to force young people to stay on at school or college full-time. The proposals are flexible and are designed to meet the wide-ranging needs of young people. To date, leaving education at 16 has meant that, for some, learning has been about exams, tests and competition, but learning is of course broader and far more exciting that that. As the chief executive of Capel Manor college in my constituency states,

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I know that teachers in schools and colleges and trainers in my constituency will welcome such a challenge.

It is vital that we provide young people with the best possible careers, education and learning advice. That point has been raised this afternoon by a number of Members. We need to make clear the range of opportunities available after leaving school, and to ensure that young people understand how they can realise those opportunities.

The Bill’s provisions for transferring such support services from Connexions to LEAs give rise to some questions, including in my constituency from Unison, which is concerned that LEAs might use the transfer of funds to make savings. Some local authorities would not dream of doing such a thing, but I fear that some would and that Enfield’s Conservative council might be one of them. I should be grateful for reassurance from the Minister that the transfer of funds to LEAs will not mean a reduction in funding for careers advice and support.

An enforcement system is needed alongside the requirement to participate, but as several organisations, including some in my constituency, have pointed out, it is important that such a system does not criminalise young people. The Association of School and College Leaders suggests extending the truancy system used for schools, and the Association of Colleges acknowledges that the penalties will act as a necessary deterrent. In Enfield, the manager of our 14-to-19 education strategy expressed concern that the tracking of young people will give rise to difficulties, as is sometimes already the case in the education system pre-16. It is important to ensure that penalties are based on incentives and punishment, not just the latter, which could further disengage young people and even criminalise them.

There is no question but that raising the compulsory education and training leaving age to 18 will create a better-skilled work force. In the long term, employers will realise the benefits for businesses provided by the Bill and its outcomes for young people. However, it is important to acknowledge the short to medium-term impact and the possible challenges for employers, especially for small businesses. The North London chamber of commerce has outlined the challenges posed by the Bill and states that the proposals may create difficulties for smaller businesses, which might suffer capacity, logistical and financial problems from the duty on employers to release under-18s for training. The chamber of commerce also points out that such legislation would have a particular impact on the retail sector, which employs the highest number of 16 to 18-year-olds.

The challenges will be cushioned by the phased introduction of the legislation—2013 for 17-year-olds and 2015 for 18-year-olds—which will give employers time to adapt. I welcome the provisions to ensure that employers receive support to accredit their schemes and that there is a brokerage service to help people choose appropriate training. It is reassuring to note that models with logistical challenges can work—for example, the modern apprenticeship scheme—but it remains crucial that the Government work closely with employers and their representative organisations to ensure that implementation of the new way of working is as smooth as possible.

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Schools, education and training institutions and employers will face challenges from the Bill, but rising to the challenges will help to develop our nation’s skills and prepare our young people for the realities of working life in the global economy. People working on the front line of education and training delivery in my constituency are fully committed to meeting that goal and will continue to be so. I hope that the many important points made today about the practical implementation of the Bill will be addressed in Committee, which is the right place for dealing with more detailed matters.

The Bill is important and I wish it good progress. It has the potential to deliver a huge amount for our young people and our economy, and thus our country, in the coming years.

7.13 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I welcome the aims of the Bill. We seemed almost immediately to reach consensus in welcoming the fact that if the Bill is passed every 18-year-old will receive education and/or training. They will have the skills for employment or to go into continuing or higher education; into full-time education for those who choose it, part-time education with an element of work or voluntary work—an important aspect of the Bill—or an apprenticeship. However, we need to be careful in our definition of “apprenticeship” to ensure that it includes a proper workplace component, so that apprentices learn the real, practical skills that will make them attractive to employers.

The debate seemed quickly to focus on whether the measure should have an element of compulsion or whether it should simply be about the provision of opportunity. Debate in Committee will no doubt concentrate on those points. The Opposition are not in favour of compulsion, although we are in favour of the Bill’s aims. We believe that what happens in school pre-16 is absolutely crucial in reducing truancy, disaffection, under achievement and lack of aspiration and ambition. In addition to the quality of teaching in schools, pastoral care, especially through personal, health and social education, has an important role to play in preparing students for adult life. Students should have proper information and warnings about, for example, the pitfalls of substance and drug abuse and the dangers not just for their education but for their health, motivation and progress to adult life.

Time and again, when young people are interviewed, I notice that their speech is almost unintelligible. Some of that is teenage affectation and style, but often they simply do not enunciate properly, especially in our part of the world where they speak “estuary English”. They try to speak without using their tongue or any of the muscles in their mouth or jaw—without any movement at all; it is almost as though they are ventriloquists. I hope that PHSE can help young people to understand that if they want to find a job, or even be enrolled on an apprenticeship scheme, they need to be able to communicate with non-teenagers who do not speak their language. Being understood is an important part of communicating with adults.

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Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that drama can do a lot in that regard and that it should be encouraged?

Angela Watkinson: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Drama and dance are helpful. I am glad that the profile of dance is being raised as part of physical education. Young people who are not keen on sport or physical education might enjoy dance, which has as many health benefits as traditional PE lessons. Activities such as art, drama and dance all help to improve young people’s confidence and communication skills, all of which prepare them for the adult world of employment, training or further education.

Several organisations are picking up on the importance of fiscal education, which my hon. Friend mentioned earlier. When young people go into the adult world, especially when they start to earn, it is essential that they understand that the amount at the top of their payslip, which is what they have earned, is not the same as the amount at the bottom, which is what they actually receive. If nothing else, they need to learn the Micawber principle: if they live on slightly less than the amount they have earned they will stay out of debt.

We all know how big an issue personal debt is at present. The year before last, personal debt in the UK reached the £1 trillion mark. Given the habit of borrowing on multiple credit cards and transferring debt from one to another, people need to be educated about the long-term effects of not living within their means.

The group of young people who care for their parents was mentioned earlier. Such children can be quite young; they may even go to primary school. Every year in Havering, a young people’s awards ceremony is organised by local police, and I am always surprised at how many very young children who care for their parents feature each year. Their parents have disabilities or are ill. Such children often have to go home in the lunch hour to make sure that their parent is all right. They do shopping on the way home, keep house and do laundry and all the nuts-and-bolts household tasks. They bear tremendous responsibilities on their shoulders and need as much extra support as they can get, at school and elsewhere, to help them to achieve their educational potential so that their opportunities in adult life are not blighted by their caring responsibilities as children.

I am sure that every Member here has received various items of briefing material. I should like to raise one or two comments that have been made to me. The Professional Association of Teachers, or PAT, raises points about the compulsion element in the Bill:

It feels that there is not a strong case for introducing compulsory participation, although the aim of participation is a laudable one that it would support.

I have to confess that another organisation, Working Links, was new to me. It places young people in employment or training and says:

I have also received briefing material from Barnardo’s. I had not realised what a large proportion of its work is education-related. It states:

Barnardo’s works with the most disadvantaged children and tries to give the opportunity to re-engage with learning. It provides

All that is laudable. The organisation lists the sorts of problems that affect the children with whom they deal, including

Barnardo’s also mentions early parenthood, which has been raised several times in the debate and links in with PSHE. Girls need proper warnings about the dangers to which they expose themselves if they engage in promiscuous sexual activity. They can end up literally holding the baby and having responsibility for a young child when they are still children themselves. Some are lucky enough still to be living at home and have the support and protection of their parents, who may take responsibility for the baby so that their daughter can go back to school and continue her education. However, not all such girls find themselves in those circumstances. We need to find ways of supporting the young girls who do not have the support of home and family, so that they are not left isolated in a council flat with 24-hour-a-day responsibility for a demanding baby when they are still children themselves. We need to consider ways in which the baby can be cared for while the girl continues her education and training so that she has long-term prospects of joining adult life. Barnardo’s comments:

That reinforces my comments about the importance of pastoral care. There are good examples of secondary schools that take their pastoral care roles extremely seriously in Havering.

I turn now to children with special educational needs, who are most difficult to place in continuing education or employment. This year, 2008, is the year of reading and I hope that in Committee there will be an opportunity to improve opportunities for partially sighted students. The parents of such students have contacted me because it is not possible to get school textbooks on disc. In this day and age, I would have thought that a fairly simple thing to achieve. Partially sighted children need very large, bold font and are unable to access their textbooks until their teacher has photocopied and enlarged the relevant pages for the lesson. That is a waste of the teacher’s and students’ time—the students cannot get on with their lessons and, particularly, their homework. Making school textbooks available on disc so that they can be accessed by computer and partially sighted students can get on seems a fairly simple solution. If 2008 is the year of reading, let us grasp that issue and try to help partially sighted students in that way.

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