Education and Skills Bill

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Clause 8

Sufficient relevant training or education
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: It is appropriate to say a word or two about the clause standing part because, according to the explanatory notes:
“Clause 8 provides that, if a person fulfils the duty to participate by working and pursuing part time education or training towards an accredited qualification, then the training provided by a person’s employer, or any other education or training towards accredited qualifications, must be equivalent to 280 guided learning hours”.
The phrase that matters is “guided learning hours”.
The Committee heard from Professor Lorna Unwin during the evidence sessions, and I recommend her work to you and the Committee, Mr. Bercow. She is an authority on training and particularly on apprenticeships. She told the Committee that some apprenticeships contain little or no guided or mentored workplace learning. That is a shocking fact. Who would believe that an apprenticeship can be worthy of its name if it is not mentored, does not contain a workplace element or is not employer-engaged?
To be fair to the Minister and the Government, they have recently issued an apprenticeship review, which I have critiqued—as you will know, Mr. Bercow, because I sent you a copy. That review suggests provision for a statutory definition of what constitutes an apprenticeship. That is something that I have called for, as the Minister with responsibility for skills acknowledged before the publication of the review. It would be an important point of progress. I presume that that definition will include a minimum baseline requirement for workplace training, mentoring and—by definition—employer engagement.
It is critical that the Bill reflects the Government’s change commitment. I do not blame the Minister that that provision is not in it because it was drawn up before the review was published. However, he could reflect on whether thought needs to be given to guided learning hours to bring it into line with current Government thinking.
I want to say a little more about Lorna Unwin. Professor Unwin told the Committee that sometimes
“the employer does not really play any role in the actual training for a number of apprenticeships. What is happening—this links again to the concept of the competence-based NVQ—the training provider goes into the employer’s premises and assesses the young person against the competences and the key skills, and perhaps even having the apprenticeships for their off-the-job training in the training provider’s premises. I meet many employers whose role is entirely that of employer, in the sense that the young person is there to do a job of work.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 24 January 2008; c. 106, Q270.]
In other words, there is a gap between their role as an employer and their role as an organisation assisting with the training of young people. The Bill goes some way to bridging that gap by creating new duties, but we need to be absolutely clear what guided learning hours mean in this context.
Jim Knight: To help the hon. Gentleman, the clause does not apply to apprenticeships. It is about part-time education and training alongside full-time work.
Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to the Minister. That is helpful, but it does not entirely deal with the issue about what constitutes guided learning hours. I am pleased that apprenticeships themselves are not included, but Lorna Unwin’s work deals with training in a broader sense. I referred in particular to apprenticeships, but her work deals with all kinds of training. National vocational qualifications are part of that package. I suspect that many of the young we are dealing with, who are some of the most disadvantaged and challenging of young people, will first find themselves in pre-apprenticeship training. That might include a range of NVQ options because to get on to a full apprenticeship without that training will simply not be possible because of their competences. I take the Minister’s point, but it is not an entire answer to the argument advanced by Professor Unwin.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): It is important that we ensure that training for young people, even at entry level, trains them for future career advancement. I would not like to see a sort of tick-box mentality to training where young people leave school at 16, work at a cash till for two years with no prospect of career advancement, and a training certificate is produced at the end of it to keep the authorities happy. Although they will have learned important skills from having to go into work, such as arriving on time, interacting with colleagues, getting up in the morning and being punctual, it is not entirely clear that they will have a skill that they can go on to leverage into future careers and future jobs. I hope that the Minister can also respond to those brief points.
Jim Knight: The clause specifies the number of hours that a young person must spend participating in guided learning, and defines the latter. I point the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings to subsection (3), which states that a person is in “actual guided learning” if they are
“being taught or given instruction by a lecturer, tutor, supervisor or other appropriate provider of training or education, or...otherwise participating in education or training under the immediate guidance or supervision of such a person, but does not include time spent on unsupervised preparation or study, whether at home or otherwise”.
We want such training to be accredited, because we want to ensure that it is useful. Some would argue that we could accredit any old thing. We must ensure that that is not the case and that accredited training helps people to get on and to improve their skill levels, rather than keep them where they are and give them certificates for the hell of it.
We have debated the importance of accrediting training undertaken by young people alongside employment. That training needs to be for a period sufficient to lead to an accredited qualification to help young people to make progress in their careers, adapt to changes in the labour market and provide skills demanded by employers and the economy. We regard 280 hours a year as the minimum time that a young person needs to achieve a further qualification by the time that they are 19. That equates to roughly a day a week over the course of a year, although the Bill does not prescribe that it must be delivered in that way. As ever, we want to be flexible. Participating for less than an average of a day a week would reduce a young person’s likelihood of achieving a worthwhile accredited qualification.
Without clause 8 there would be no minimum participation requirement for those young people undertaking part-time training alongside employment. It also provides the definition of guided learning, which I read out, and which is also needed for clause 5 to clarify the type of learning in which young people must participate alongside employment to fulfil their duty under clause 2. Without clause 8 we could not ensure that young people access appropriate learning for the amount of time necessary to gain an accredited qualification.
That provision will not normally apply to apprenticeships, because they are normally full-time. To reassure the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, programme-led apprenticeships will not count towards the target of expanding apprenticeships that we announced. A person will be counted only after he or she has a contract of employment. Programme-led apprenticeships will be a useful pre-entry route for some young people. The 90,000 extra apprenticeships that we want to develop as we bring in this duty must involve a contract of employment.
Mr. Hayes: I do not want to digress into apprenticeships, for you would not allow me to do so, Mr. Bercow. I used apprenticeships as an example owing to the doubts supported by evidence and expressed by a number of people that in those programmes—not only programme-led apprenticeships, but level 2 and 3 apprenticeships—there was insufficient mentoring and guided learning. If that applied to apprenticeships, would it not apply all the more so to other training? I think that the Minister has made it clear that the Bill sets out a series of parameters. However, to be even more helpful, how will that vary according to the size of companies and sectors? Clearly different sectors of the workplace have different imperatives and that it will be a much greater imposition on very small companies than on very large ones.
Jim Knight: There would be some flexibility, but in the end all would have to be accredited. Accreditation must ensure that all the factors have been got right and allow for the flexibility to appreciate the different sectors. We are expanding the number of occupation sectors to which apprenticeships would apply, some of which will by necessity provide much more practical training, as he said. That is for the accreditation to define.
1.30 pm
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): On a point of clarification. I may have misunderstood the clause, or not read it clearly enough, but is it possible that a young person could fulfil their obligations in respect of this legislation by undertaking 280 hours of guided learning, which, if we use a 40-week school year, equates to one day a week, without doing anything else? In the Minister’s previous comments, he made it clear that the young person should also be undertaking another occupation. I may not have understood it clearly enough, but I wonder whether the clause can be interpreted as meaning that the young person had totally fulfilled their obligations by doing 280 hours and nothing else.
Jim Knight: No, the way the Bill is drafted means that that section refers to those who are in full-time employment, but fulfilling their duty by also taking on part-time education or training. I hope that that is helpful. On that basis, I hope that the Committee is happy to agree the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Assignment of numbers of hours of guided learning to external qualifications
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Will the Minister explain to the Committee the purpose of the clause and why it is that we need the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to assign a number of guided hours to every qualification? Is it to fulfil the functions in clause 8 so that we know whether a particular qualification requires 280 hours of guided learning? Will it, therefore, apply to all existing QCA accredited qualifications, or will it apply just to new qualifications? The clause does not make that clear. It states:
“Any accreditation of a qualification under paragraph (g) of subsection (2) must assign to the qualification a number of notional hours”.
It is not clear to me whether that phrase requires the QCA to go through all several hundred qualifications, in which case could the Minister say how many qualifications are to be assigned those hours and what the cost to the QCA would be? If the exercise is being conducted solely because of clause 8, it is a very large commitment for the QCA to undertake simply to fulfil one part of a Bill. If it is just new qualifications that are to be assigned hours as part of the accreditation process, that begs the question of how clause 8 will be fulfilled. How can people use existing qualifications that do not have notional hours assigned to them? An explanation from the Minister will be very helpful.
Jim Knight: It is important that guided learning hours are assigned to all qualifications so that it is easy and clear for young people in full-time employment and their employers to tell whether they are doing enough training to fulfil the duty to participate. The QCA already assigns guided learning hours as part of its accreditation process, but it is not legally required to do so. The clause ensures that guided learning hours will continue to be assigned to qualifications in the future. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, the QCA already does it in relation to all the qualifications that it accredits. Therefore, we know the number of guided learning hours for existing qualifications. By law, the QCA will have to do it for all new qualifications. I think, therefore, the issues of consistency and of burden are addressed for him.
The definition of sufficient part-time training in clause 8 relies on guided learning hours being assigned to qualifications. Therefore, it is important to put beyond doubt that that will continue to happen. The clause must stand part of the Bill and I, therefore, ask the Committee to agree it.
Mr. Gibb: Given that the QCA already assigns guided learning hours, why is it necessary to legislate? I do not see why the Minister thinks that the QCA will not continue to assign notional hours as part of the accreditation process.
Jim Knight: On one level, I could expect the QCA to continue do so, but, given that it is fundamental to the design of the legislation that it should do so, it seems as well to legislate to ensure that it happens by statute rather than by my encouragement. However, I do that confident in the notion that the QCA has already assigned notional hours as part of the accreditation process for pre-existing qualifications, so there will be no problems with the inheritance of that responsibility. The QCA does it now, and it will be done in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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