Education and Skills Bill

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Clause 66

Careers education: information and advice
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 58, in clause 66, page 37, line 9, leave out from ‘manner’ to end of line 16.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 46, in clause 66, page 37, line 12, leave out from ‘concerned’ to end of line 16.
Mr. Hayes: We are back to where we left off this morning, discussing careers education. Clause 66 amends part 7 of the Education Act 1997, which requires state schools to provide all pupils with a programme of careers education, appropriate information and up-to-date reference materials related to career options. Section 44 of the 1997 Act requires schools to provide access to external careers advisers to provide careers advice and guidance to pupils.
The amendments are designed to ensure impartial careers advice. As I said, clause 66 amends part 7 of the 1997 Act, which requires state secondary schools to provide pupils with appropriate careers advice and appropriate information of the sort that I have detailed.
Amendment No. 58 would leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) of proposed new subsection (2B) to section 43 of the 1997 Act. How can those giving careers advice in schools, many of whom kindly take up this extra responsibility, know exactly what is in the best interests of pupils with regard to their future? In many schools, only those who give up time in addition to their teaching responsibilities are able to provide advice and guidance to pupils, but they cannot always do so with the degree of expertise, and therefore empiricism, that should be required by the law and is certainly needed by pupils.
The legal requirement is that all options should be made known to pupils. The information should be made available to them. Proposed new subsection (2B) states that
“Any such information must be presented in an impartial manner”.
Both things are more likely to happen if we are clear now about the expertise and impartiality required in every type of school and every set of circumstances. That is what the amendment is designed to achieve.
Similarly, amendment No. 46 would remove paragraph (b), because if careers advice is both full and impartial, it clearly will not be promoting the interests of a particular school or institution. By definition, it is likely to offer a range of options, detached from those narrow considerations. My suspicion is that the paragraph was inserted as a result of the Government’s desire for more pupils to take up the new diplomas.
My support for the diplomas is known; indeed, in Committee I welcomed them on behalf of the Opposition. It is important that we do all that we can to ensure that diplomas are a success, but we will not do it by skewing the advice that pupils are given to promote diplomas rather than letting them stand on their merits, with people choosing them because they feel that they are the right option.
There are worries about the future status of A-levels and how advice might play a part in that. Those worries have been broadcast in the media and I will deal with them, perhaps more appropriately, when we discuss amendments Nos. 47 and 48. At this juncture, however, it is worth saying that certainty about the empiricism of advice would to a large extent assuage fears that A-levels were likely to be undermined by a Government determined to make diplomas work at all costs.
I do not want to say more than that at this stage, but I hope that the Minister will give an unequivocal assurance that he is as committed as I am to professional, independent and empirical advice and guidance being offered in schools.
Jim Knight: Clause 66 aims to ensure that schools discharge their statutory duty to provide careers education impartially. If the intention of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings is impartiality, we are as one in that respect.
Schools should not seek to promote their own interests over those of the pupils, and that is the clear intention behind the clause. As the range of learning options increases in the coming years, and particularly as the set of qualification choices distils down, by and large, to A-levels, diplomas and apprenticeships, it will be important that young people are provided with high-quality and, importantly, impartial advice on the full range of options that are appropriate to them as individuals. Research evidence suggests that some schools are not acting impartially and are, for example, directing pupils into their own sixth forms, where they might not be able to pursue a full range of learning options.
Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): Does the Minister concede that the existence of league tables sometimes encourages schools to act in such a perverse way that is perhaps in the interests, not of the pupils, but of the school, the perception of the school, and perhaps the career of the head teacher?
Jim Knight: We are talking about careers advice and, in that regard, about choices that are made at 16. League tables, in so far as they are published by local and national newspapers that rank the assessment and attainment tables that the Department publishes, focus largely on GCSEs rather than on post-16 qualifications, so I do not think that the hon. Gentleman’s point, interesting though it is, necessarily applies in this case.
Stephen Williams: I am not sure that I accept that the media focus entirely on GCSEs. When I was in my previous shadow ministerial role, August was ruined for both the Minster and me because we had to comment on a succession of exam results. I think that he would probably agree that there was far more media interest the day before and the day of the A-level results, when we were both on duty from about 5.30 in the morning until after midnight. That was not the case for GCSE results a week later.
Jim Knight: Indeed, the media take a huge interest in broadcasting images of attractive young women opening A-level result envelopes. That is a truism that will continue for many generations to come, I am sure. I am not saying that the media are any more or less interested in A-levels over GCSEs, but on the hon. Gentleman’s specific point about league tables, there is a difference between how A-levels and GCSEs are used.
The clause requires information given to pupils to be impartial and that any advice promotes the pupil’s best interests above those of the school, as I have said. Amendment No. 58 would remove entirely the specific duties placed on schools when giving advice. There would no longer be an explicit duty to give advice promoting the best interests of the pupils over those of the schools. That strikes at the heart of the intention of impartiality behind the clause.
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Mr. Hayes: The Minister implies that, unless instructed to do so, schools and teachers will not give high quality and impartial advice, is that right? He suggested that only by stipulation is that degree of impartiality likely to prevail. That is a bit of a snub to the head teachers and teachers throughout Britain, is it not?
Jim Knight: Naturally, I would love to believe in the notion that every school will act perfectly. However, as I said earlier there is evidence—a departmental research report, a National Foundation for Educational Research report for the Nuffield review of 14-to-19 education and training, and a further departmental research review— showing that there are schools that do not act impartially in their advice and guidance, and put the interests of the school over those of the individual pupil. Therefore, regardless of whether I would like to believe that everyone will act in the best interests of the pupil over the school, the evidence is to the contrary.
The amendment seeks to remove only paragraph (b) of proposed new subsection (2B). The intention of the inserted paragraph is to clarify the importance of presenting pupils with advice covering all the options available to them, rather than those available only at the institution at which they are studying.
There is some relationship to the new 14-to-19 curriculum and set of qualification choices that we are offering. We have said that the full entitlement that will be available from 2013 to every 14 to 19-year-old of all 14 diplomas plus the new three that will also come on stream and the new expanded apprenticeship options, will not be deliverable by one institution alone. We have always been explicit about that, even when describing only the original 14 diplomas. It is therefore important that we make it absolutely clear to educational institutions that they should not be partial in favour of an institution.
The amendment substantially reduces the degree to which impartiality is defined by the clause by removing the paragraph that makes it explicit that schools, in giving advice, must not seek to promote their own interests over those of the pupil. We believe that the paragraph that would be removed is a key element of the clause, as it makes clear the type of impartiality we are seeking to address. Its removal would have no benefit and would undermine the potency of the clause. I am sure that, as a potent politician, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will therefore wish to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Hayes: The Minister is not entirely convincing on the matter. The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers—a gentleman for whom I know that the Minister, like other members of the Committee, has the highest possible regard—states:
“If there is a major educational reform, then the professional judgment of teachers has to be trusted. You can’t put a set of restrictions in there about their judgment.”
He was speaking specifically in relation to the clause and to this matter.
There are doubts about whether the purpose of the Bill, as it is currently drafted, will deliver the impartiality—the empiricism, as I described it earlier—that the Minister says that he wants, or whether it is designed, in its critics estimate, to slant the system towards a particular outcome that the Government want.
That is the view of some parliamentarians. From the discussions that I have had with my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, I think that he has doubts in that regard. It is certainly what a number of people in the media think. In no less a paper than The Times, a headline on 14 January stated, “Teachers told not to promote A-levels—Ministers accused of favouring new diplomas”. Again, that is specifically in relation to the clause and to the Minister, so it is worrying.
Jim Knight: Let me make it absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman that he really should not believe everything he reads, even in The Times. Even in “The Thunderer”, they sometimes get it wrong and they got it wrong in this case. The hon. Gentleman quoted the NUT. I would reply by quoting the CBI report “Shaping up for the Future”, which says:
“There is a worrying bias. This is particularly the case in schools with sixth forms which promote academic options above other post-16 routes of progression.”
The hon. Gentleman is an advocate of vocational learning; he should surely understand that there is evidence of impartiality and he should withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Hayes: How things change. How we are truly now the people’s party. The Minister quotes the CBI, and that must be taken into account. But I do think that our shared ambition for high-quality, independent advice is best guaranteed by the quality of those offering that advice. As I said when I moved the amendment, it is critical that both the people giving and receiving the advice are made aware of all the options and the implications for subsequent employment opportunities.
To that end, I will go with the Minister as far as to say that I have little doubt that he believes in vocational education as strongly as I do. I hope that by the end of our considerations, he will share a faith in A-levels with a similar passion to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. If we can reach the balance in Government that we already have in Opposition, we will have travelled a very long way indeed. In hope, rather than expectation, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Chairman: Just before we move on the next group of amendments, I heard a mobile phone go off. It may not belong to a member of the Committee—it could have been in the public gallery—but I ask everybody to switch their phones off so that the Committee can concentrate fully on the Bill.
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 47, in clause 66, page 37, line 16, at end insert—
‘(c) any such advice should include encouragement to study one or more GCE ‘A’ level courses provided such courses would be in the best interest of the pupil concerned.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment
No. 48, in clause 66, page 37, line 16, at end add—
‘( ) any such advice should include, where appropriate, advice about studying for a degree course at Oxford or Cambridge universities.’.
Mr. Hayes: This set of amendments is very much on the same theme. Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 suggest that the advice that is given to young people in respect of their educational options should include encouragement to study one or more A-level courses, provided such courses would be in the best interests of the pupil concerned. So it is a “caveated” amendment, because clearly, it would not be in the best interests of all pupils to study one A-level. Indeed, the Minister has alluded to this, so I will rise to the challenge and say that I am strongly in favour of a vocational route with the same rigour, integrity, transparency and accessibility as the well-established academic route.
As I have said, there are doubts about the Government’s commitment to A-levels, and, both in the Government’s interest and certainly in the nation’s interest, those doubts should be assuaged. The Government have done themselves no favours in this respect, by introducing the so-called academic diplomas. The Minister said in response to the previous debate that “he was a great advocate of vocational education, so what was I talking about?” That was the gist of what he said, but in a slightly more elegant way—I do not want to undersell him. However, he really should have drawn attention to not vocational diplomas but the academic diplomas, which will be direct competitors to A-levels.
Jim Knight: I hate to seek to correct the hon. Gentleman, especially when he has been so generous in giving way, but we do not recognise such a thing as “either” academic “or” vocational diplomas. They all will offer both.
Mr. Hayes: It is the tragedy of the Government’s unwillingness to accept the integrity of vocational learning, that, in their view, to have legitimacy the subjects must be academicised. The Government have so little faith in practical competence, so little belief in the idea that the acquisition of practical skills could deliver individual worth and do good for the country, that they have to dress them up as quasi-academic qualifications. I do not buy that any more than William Morris or John Ruskin would have bought it, both of whom the Ministers should see as people who inspired their side of politics when it was a more noble thing than it is now.
The Minister does himself no favours when he admits that the qualifications will not be rigorous, vocational ones, but some kind of halfway house between practical and academic subjects. That is why we have tabled the amendments. If people want to study an academic subject, it is much better that they go by an academic route towards well-established, highly-regarded, already-accepted A-levels—accepted by both the world of work and the world of learning.
The second amendment deals with Oxbridge. That is an interesting subject about which I have interesting things to say. The Minister is a product of Cambridge university. With the greatest respect, Mr. Bayley, I am not so sure that you are not yourself an Oxbridge graduate.
The Chairman: I am not to be brought into the debate.
Mr. Hayes: I am from a red brick university and am proud of that. The university of Nottingham is an Ivy League red brick university, but it is not Oxbridge. Nevertheless, I am more than happy to emphasis that Oxford and Cambridge universities are widely regarded as being among the best in the world. Yet, we read once again in The Times—the Minister has said that he is not a great fan of The Times —that there are alarming misconceptions in state schools about the opportunities that exist for pupils at Oxbridge. It said:
“The MORI survey of 500 teachers was commissioned by the Sutton Trust, an educational charity committed to increasing university intake from deprived backgrounds. It found that nine in ten teachers underestimated the number of Oxbridge students from state schools. Sixty per cent. thought that fewer than 30 per cent. of Oxford and Cambridge students were from state schools. The correct figure is 54 per cent.
More than half thought that it was more expensive to study at Oxbridge, although both charge the same tuition fees as most other English universities, and offer generous bursaries.”
The take-up of bursaries is a problem, however, which it is not appropriate to go into now.
Most disturbingly, and highly relevant to the amendment is the fact that while 54 per cent. of teachers said that they always or usually encouraged their most able and gifted children to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, 25 per cent. of the teachers surveyed said that they would very rarely do so.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that among the group at which the legislation is aimed—the 10 per cent. least likely to go on to further education—there might be individuals who have been disaffected at school for any one of a number of reasons, but who are extremely able and if given the right encouragement could catch up and so should aspire to just the sort of course that he is mentioning?
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Mr. Hayes: Absolutely. It is vital that we broaden access to higher education and my hon. Friend is a persuasive advocate of that cause. The Government and the Opposition share that objective, but access should be broadened not by imposing curious sociological targets on universities, but by providing the right information and support to young people early on about the opportunities that are available. If young people’s expectations are changed, mountains can be moved. If we combine that with a more creative approach to modes of learning—part-time study, modular study and so on—we can broaden access in a much more effective way than we are doing now.
Amendment No. 48 states that any advice offered in respect of the obligations in the Bill should include, where appropriate, advice about studying for a degree course at Oxford or Cambridge. Much more must be done to dispel the myth, which is prevalent among many young people and, according to the study that I have described, among many others including those who are advising young people, that Oxbridge is for the very few and are not the sorts of places that disadvantaged young people should aim to go to, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster mentioned. I think that this amendment will at least oblige the Minister to consider that. If it is pressed, it could have a legislative effect. However, at this stage let it be taken as a means of doing the former, not the latter.
Stephen Williams: I shall speak briefly to amendments Nos. 47 and 48. Despite what the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said about the parity of esteem that exists in his own mind between vocational and more traditional academic courses, that is not the signal that is sent by the amendment. There is a lack of consistency compared with his normal logical strain of argument.
Despite his mention of William Morris and his interest in arts and crafts—perhaps he should have mentioned Pugin in this setting—I find it rather strange that the hon. Gentleman is asking to put in the Bill the deliberate promotion of one course of study that is open for somebody aged 16. If that proposal was framed in the legislation, it would suggest that that course is held in higher esteem than all other courses open to young people now and in 2013 when the provisions will become law. I have heard him talk many times with passion and interest about apprenticeships and diplomas, which is probably quite out of character compared with most of his colleagues, so I am rather surprised that he is seeking to promote one course of study over another in the amendment.
I have more sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve with amendment No. 48. I would have even more sympathy if he had included Bristol and Nottingham and not just Oxford and Cambridge in the proposal.
Mr. Hayes: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to discuss his sympathies, I wish to ease his doubts about supporting the amendment. I remind him that it specifically talks about the course being
“in best interest of the pupil concerned.”
It is worded in that way precisely because it is not in the interests of all pupils to go down that route.
Stephen Williams: I had noted that caveat. I read the amendment several times, and I wished to support it—we have been fairly consensual so far. However, if such a caveat were in the Bill, it would send the wrong signal to young people at 16 that a course of study should be specifically promoted over and above all other level 3 alternatives that will be available by 2013, when compulsion kicks in.
Amendment No. 48 would promote Oxford and Cambridge universities. I would perhaps have more sympathy if it promoted my own university, Bristol, or the hon. Gentleman’s, Nottingham. There is still a mystery, Mr. Bayley, as to where you went, but I gather that you are not going to enlighten us on that. Perhaps it was York, which is a fine university.
I am sure that we agree that the advice that should be offered to young people of whatever age should be as aspirational as possible to ensure that they aim high and that they are stretched to their full potential. They might not spot that potential in themselves, and perhaps some of their teachers or their own family would not spot it. However, quite often—the hon. Gentleman is right whether he is citing The Times or any other source—young people are held back not by their own limitations, but by the limitations that are placed upon them, perhaps by the community that they come from or because of their family background.
I have some empathy. As the hon. Gentleman and other members of the Committee may know, I come from a deprived community in south Wales. My father was road worker and my mother was the school dinner lady. It was considered almost heresy in my school in the south Wales valleys when I rebelled against what was traditionally expected and applied to English universities. The teaching staff in my school had been to either Swansea or Aberystwyth. They are undoubtedly fine establishments—I do not wish to denigrate them in any sense whatever—but if I had gone to Swansea or Cardiff, I might have had to live at home. Part of the attraction for me at the time was going away from home to study at another institution and at a top-rated history department, which Bristol university certainly had. The advice and support that I got at the time was sorely lacking. That was 20 years ago, so I hope that the situation now would be different for somebody in similar circumstances.
We hear—perhaps from research from the Sutton Trust to which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings alluded—that young people can be held back by a lack of encouragement; encouragement that they need if they are to see those dreaming spires that they might not otherwise recognise. Ironically, when I was at school, the only teacher who really encouraged me to apply over the border to Oxford was the needlework teacher—her brother had been to Oxford. It will not surprise people to learn that I did not take needlework myself; I am vocationally self-taught in such matters—being single, I had to be. Seriously, that was the only encouragement that I was given. None the less, I ended up at Bristol university, which certainly changed my life for the better.
Twenty years on there are still some serious issues. We have discussed them, so I shall not go too far down this path, but when we discuss widening participation or higher education in general in the Chamber, we find that there are still some serious issues about the intake at some of our top research-intensive universities. I have some sympathy with the amendment, but I wonder whether it is right to put the measure in the Bill.
The amendment is designed to ensure that schools specifically promote the take-up of A-levels if they are in the child’s best interest. It is unnecessary. A-levels are one of the range of options on which the young person would be provided with information. Under the clause as drafted, if the careers adviser believed that A-levels were in the young person’s best interests, they would already be required to advise them of that.
I fear that the reality behind the amendment is that Opposition Members are seeking to anticipate the 2013 review, which the Government are doggedly refusing to anticipate. We remain impartial. Opposition Members have made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions that they are partial in respect of the future of A-levels, so they want to make explicit provision for A-levels in the Bill. I disagree: it is important that we approach the review with an open mind. I will therefore resist the amendment if it is pressed, but I respectfully ask the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings to withdraw it. Incidentally, I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, West that it is inappropriate to promote one qualification over others in the Bill.
Regarding advice on studying at Oxford or Cambridge, that will, of course, be one option available to the highest-achieving young people and will, I hope, remain an attractive option, as has always been the case. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings was right: I studied at one of those two universities. I was the product, first, of an independent school. One of that school’s reasons for being appeared to be to get as many people as possible into Oxford or Cambridge. In relation to getting sufficient numbers of people from state schools and poorer backgrounds into those universities, I think that the ambition of the school is as much a part of the problem as the efforts of the universities themselves to attract and admit those sorts of young people. I was delighted, when I studied at Cambridge university, to meet the person who is now my wife, who was the first person from her institution to get into either Oxford or Cambridge and who had a very different educational background from mine.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): I am wondering to what extent the type of advice that we are talking about would cover the advice that schools of the type that the Minister attended give their sixth formers on applying to Oxbridge. It is quite a complicated process. There are many interviews, which need to be tackled in a particular way, and so on, as he will know. Will that type of advice and guidance be given in further education colleges and similar places? It is very hard to get into Oxbridge colleges unless someone has had that little bit of extra training on what they are looking for in interviews and, indeed, the whole process.
Mr. Hayes: Will the Minister say something about the mentoring that that implies? As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire suggested, children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds often have the additional disadvantage of not having parents who have been through the process. The middle-class child not only has a school environment that is supportive of such an opportunity, as the Minister suggested, but will commonly have a familial link to education that is not enjoyed by working-class children who might well have the potential to enjoy going to Oxford or Cambridge.
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Jim Knight: It is probably common sense that the more it is familiar and normal for young people, through the experience of their friends, family, parents and teachers, to have accessed the full range of universities, the more their sights and ambitions are set at the appropriate level rather than being artificially capped.
The proportion of students entering higher education from state schools has risen in the last 10 years from 81 per cent in 1997 to 86.9 per cent. in 2005. I am sure that it has increased further since then. The statistics for the lower socio-economic class backgrounds, show that participation in higher education has risen from 27.9 per cent. in 2002 to 29.1 per cent. in 2005. That implies that there are more families who are experiencing higher education who can then pass on that experience and that expectation to their children.
Mr. Gibb: I am sure that that is correct. But what does the Minister think about the staggering survey which showed that 45 per cent. of teachers either rarely or never recommend pupils in their schools to apply to Oxbridge? I know of comprehensives with 2,000 students that send nobody, or perhaps one pupil who has parents who are very keen on Oxford or Cambridge, to those universities. But 45 per cent. of teachers rarely or never make such a recommendation and a fifth of teachers would never encourage a bright pupil to apply to Oxford or Cambridge. What is the Minister’s opinion on why teachers would hold such a view?
Jim Knight: As I have said, there is more that schools need to do and that those who work in schools should do to raise the ambitions and sights of young people. I do not want into be drawn, or even distracted, into thinking too much about why such a large proportion of teachers in that survey seemed to have ruled out Oxford and Cambridge for their young people. I certainly would not condone it. If it is an appropriate choice for young people, whatever their background and whatever school they are attending, that choice should be promoted as an option for them.
The purpose of the clause is not to prevent teachers from promoting any particular option or to force them to promote any other option, but rather to ensure that the advice and information given to pupils in each case has at its heart the pupil’s best interests. I therefore believe that the amendments are unnecessary as their intent is already covered in the clause as drafted. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Hayes: We have had a good debate about the importance of extending opportunity to all kinds of young people and the need to make available to them high-quality advice about the opportunities at Oxford and Cambridge universities. We have also discussed the need to advise them on the right route to take in terms of A-levels or otherwise leading to opportunities in higher education or elsewhere. These were probing amendments designed to highlight the concerns that I have articulated and the concerns reflected by some of the evidence that my hon. Friends and I have brought to the Committee’s attention today.
Having made the point, I acknowledge that it would probably be wrong to put this information into a Bill. It is very specific. As the hon. Member for Bristol, West argued, it might be something that would be included in guidance, particularly in relation to the second of the amendments. I hope that the Minister will consider that. The survey data which my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and I cited are compelling. It may mean that we have to soup up the guidance to schools about offering Oxford and Cambridge as an option to those children whose families would not typically have a knowledge or understanding of those options and who would not historically have enjoyed a close relationship with those colleges.
Jim Knight: All I want to say is that the reason I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment and why I would not consider naming a specific university in the Bill is that I do not want a situation where a teacher advising a young person on careers almost has to tick a box and say, “The law says that I am supposed to think about whether or not you are going to Oxford or Cambridge,” and then they give an answer. I do not think that is the right approach. We need to change the culture, and I do not think that we will do that just by naming individual institutions in legislation.
Mr. Hayes: I acknowledge the sense of that comment. However, we need to reflect closely and carefully on how we can counter some of the misapprehensions that are clearly abroad about the opportunities on offer at Oxford and Cambridge universities, so that we can ensure that all those children with the potential to do so can enjoy the very best chances. Notwithstanding that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I beg to move amendment No. 206, in clause 66, page 37, line 16, at end insert—
‘(c) any such advice must challenge gender stereotypes.’.
Thank you, Mr. Bayley, for the opportunity to speak to this amendment, which is designed to ensure that those involved in giving advice to young people not only avoid gender stereotyping in giving their advice, but actively challenge gender stereotyping and ensure that young people, both young men and young women, consider all the options available to young people with their qualifications and experience. Young people should be encouraged to consider all the options, both those in what are traditionally thought of as male jobs and those in what are traditionally thought of as female jobs.
When the institutions involved have probably signed up to equal opportunities principles, why is it necessary to challenge gender stereotypes? The Committee has heard evidence from the further education sector that, in some schools, there can be a tendency to push the type of courses provided by that school; indeed, we have been debating that precise point just now. That may happen even though it may not be in the best interests of the pupils.
I think that there are two reasons why that happens. It may be a conscious effort to boost the numbers in the school, so that people stay on in that school and take the courses available there. In many respects, one can understand the legitimacy of a teacher pushing their own subject area and wanting to encourage and inspire pupils. However, to ensure that the advice given is impartial, each institution should ensure that the opportunities are there for young people to meet with and speak to advisers, lecturers, tutors and so on coming from other institutions, who can put in front of them the full range of options.
I also think that this type of academic-focused advice sometimes happens unconsciously; it is simply a matter of people reiterating their own experiences. Those who have only ever been in a school environment, an A-level environment and a university environment will inevitably have some difficulty in talking to young people about the many other options that could be available to them.
It is very easy to forget that it is not just the careers adviser and the careers interview that has an influence on the young person. The young person also comes into contact with form tutors, personal tutors, mentors, parents and other adults in their lives, who will all have a significant influence on them. Of course, it is precisely for that reason that clause 66 emphasises the importance of having information presented in an impartial manner.
Naturally, we are influenced by our own experiences and what we have seen around us. I must tell the Committee that I was quite shocked to hear the hon. Member for Bristol, West suggest that he needed needlework because he was single and that if he were not single he would no longer need to sew anything. That certainly suggests to me that he was a product of that Welsh “mam” who spoilt her son rotten and never expected him to do anything at all in the house.
Stephen Williams: I am not sure if I should say this. The hon. Lady probably does not know much about my biography, but I would not be marrying a woman.
Nia Griffith: I shall continue to talk about the way that our own experiences influence us. It is very important to be aware of the fact that we all tend to reiterate the things that we have seen around us. Of course, that can have very serious consequences for our young people.
I would like to give you an example of a training exercise that I have carried out with numerous teachers over the past few years. Surprisingly, even in recent times, the results do not seem to be very different from what they might have been 20 years ago. In this exercise I give out a CV of a fictitious young person and I ask the participants in the course to suggest what suitable courses and jobs they would offer to the young person. Shockingly, depending on whether you give the fictitious young person a distinctively male or distinctively female name, the list provided by the participants in the course tends to vary extremely. In other words, if you tell them it is a boy, they will give you one set of suitable options; if you tell them it is a girl they will give you a completely different set. That is illustrative of the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. Although we are striving to create equal opportunities, in practice we still bear the prejudices that we have been brought up with.
Mr. Heald: Is the hon. Lady not confusing two things? Obviously equal opportunities is absolutely crucial, but is it not the case that girls may want to do some things in a job that boys do not want to do and vice versa? It may be that we are different.
Nia Griffith: What is important is that all the options are presented to every young person, because what often happens is that young people are bundled into one area or another. Some of the research by the Equal Opportunities Commission suggests that many young women are shipped into placements in areas such as child care even if they have never expressed an interest in child care. Likewise, young men are shipped into various placements in manual work in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs when they have never expressed any interest in those types of work. Because we have prejudices and because we all know that we come from a certain background and we have seen certain things in our lives, it is important that we make that extra effort to put things on an even keel and say to young people that they can equally well do this or that.
Young people will also be subject to a fair amount of peer-group pressure which will pressurise them into taking options which are stereotypical. It is very difficult sometimes to be one of two or three women in a very macho male environment or, conversely, to be one of two or three men in a very female environment. That can lead to bullying and other difficulties. It is important that we send a positive message about choosing options—a message that a young person should choose whichever option they genuinely want to do, rather than something that merely reflects other people’s expectations. Just as we want young people to aim high, we want them to challenge some of the stereotypes that they have been brought up with. As the clause requires, we want to give pupils the advice which will promote their best interests.
The problem is that so many people influence young people. It is not just careers advisers. There is a training issue here for the many adults who are in various ways involved with the 16 to 18-year-old group, including the various support agencies and the people in both the educational world and the voluntary sector, to make sure that we try to combat gender stereotyping.
Mr. Gibb: Does the hon. Lady share my view that we should be optimistic about this problem? When I joined KPMG in 1984, there was one woman partner out of several hundred partners. Now at that firm, just 23 years later, the majority of new trainee chartered accountants are women and there are thousands of female partners at KPMG. That is the continuing trend. I am therefore optimistic about the future, though I share the hon. Lady’s concerns.
5.15 pm
Nia Griffith: If we are going to reminisce on our own experiences as we seem to have been doing in this Committee, I would say that at the institution I attended, when I attended it, only one fifth of the places available there were open to women. We have come a very long way. In many respects the progress has been made largely in white collar areas of work. Where we are really falling down is on what one might call the more industrial side, the trade side, or the more working-class side, where there tends to be far more pressure on young people to conform to stereotypes, and where there is far less confidence to break through the barriers. I think that is why, particularly in respect of the 16 to 18-year-olds we have been talking about, we really need to push the boat out and challenge gender stereotypes.
I am talking about the young women who do not have the confidence to say, “I am as good as any man,” or—for a man looking at a more female-type job—“I can do this just as well as a woman.” It is very important that we give them those opportunities, and that we do not just say, “Oh well, what do we do with this one? Let’s shove her into this option, because that is what we have done with girls before.” That is what I think we are trying to challenge in the Bill and in this clause in particular. It is a serious issue, which affects not only the choices young people start off with, but their whole life, because so much of our pay structures are clearly linked to initial options that people take in courses and jobs.
We have had equal pay legislation for some time, but we are still seeing the problem of an enormous pay gap, quite simply because those jobs known as traditionally male jobs very often attract better wages than those known as traditionally female jobs. I have, over the course of many years, met many women who have simply not pursued skills, training and careers in trades and technological areas, because they were steered away from them.
This problem has been particularly highlighted by the YWCA, which does excellent work with some of our most disadvantaged young women. It is not easy to be one of the only two or three in an environment, and that is why it is important that we work towards achieving critical mass and give young people proper opportunities to take part in placements where they feel they are with a good mix of male and female, rather than with two or three females in a big male macho environment, or vice versa.
Although we have made progress, it is very worrying that some very recent research, done in 2005 by the Equal Opportunities Commission, has shown that we are still directing young people in very stereotypical ways. For this reason, the amendment is very important. It is absolutely essential that guidance and training on the implementation of the Bill should include guidance on how to tackle gender stereotyping and how to give advice that is genuinely in young people’s best interests.
Angela Watkinson: I find that I jumped to completely the wrong conclusion when I first read the amendment, because I thought it referred to the gender stereotyping of the young people themselves. Having listened to the hon. Lady’s presentation of the amendment, I realise she is referring to gender stereotyping among teachers and careers advisers, which rather dismays me. I recall the only careers advice I ever received at my co-educational grammar school. One day the girls were all herded into the hall and told that there were only two respectable occupations for girls: teaching and nursing. Anyone who did not choose either was considered to be a lost cause.
I rejected that advice. So did my youngest daughter, who is a member of the London fire brigade, and has been for about 10 years. A more male-dominated working environment one could not imagine. She is also very philosophical and of independent thought. That is an example of an occupation which is unlikely ever to attract 50:50 applications from men and women, simply because it is a job that does not appeal to large numbers of women. It also requires a lot of physical strength, which some women could not achieve. We would not say that all men are physically stronger than all women, but it is probably true to say that most men are physically stronger than most women. My daughter is 6 ft tall and well able to do the job. She has survived in a very male-dominated environment. I am the only woman in the Opposition Whips Office, so I, too, am used to dealing with a male-dominated environment.
I was extremely dismayed to hear the hon. Member for Llanelli. I wondered why she felt it necessary to have “must” in the Bill. Would “may” not meet the requirements? However, I started with the bare presumption that it was the students themselves who were limiting their own opportunities by not looking more widely at the whole range of career of possibilities. I changed my mind while the hon. Lady was speaking. I hope that all teachers and Connexions advisers will ensure that all ranges of opportunities are made available to young people, including things that they might not normally have considered. There may be predisposition in the genders towards certain careers, but the opportunities should be as wide as possible. I thank the hon. Lady for tabling the amendment.
Gender stereotyping is often as much a problem for boys as it can be for girls. It can limit what boys and those who advise them see as appropriate career options as much as it can girls. In education, we only have to look at the comparatively small proportion of primary school teachers who are male to recognise that gender stereotyping can cut both ways.
I very much hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic hearing to the amendment. If he cannot accept the amendment, he might at least assure us that the guidance, which will go with the Bill once enacted, will give clear encouragement to all involved in advising young people not just to avoid gender stereotyping, but to challenge it.
Mr. Heald: When I intervened on the hon. Member for Llanelli, I had misunderstood her point. As her remarks continued, I found that I agreed with them.
Stephen Williams: Despite the hon. Lady teasing me about the teacher at my school who was a needlework teacher—I nearly said my needlework teacher—I have considerable sympathy with her amendment.
In my role, I get to visit lots of universities and further education colleges. When I visit universities, it is very apparent to me that 57 per cent. of undergraduates now are female. The medical profession, the accountancy profession—which the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton mentioned earlier—and the legal profession will in the future be dominated by women. That is a marvellous thing.
When visiting further education colleges, however, what with usually being shown the bricklaying or plumbing courses and the hairdressing salon, it is noticeable that gender stereotypes are certainly active. They do not usually have much luck suggesting services to me in the hairdressing salon—probably not to the Minister for Schools either. They often offer to wax my legs, which I have had to decline many times. Gender stereotypes seem to have fed their way through into the more vocational courses that people take at further education colleges. If the hon. Lady were to press her amendment, I would support it.
Mr. Hayes: I started my adult life—I remember it well—thinking that men and women were probably more alike than was generally supposed. Having reached the age of 49, I have now concluded that men and women are probably less alike than people generally suppose. That is reflected in the choices they make and the aptitudes they have.
The hon. Member for Llanelli has tabled a useful amendment, on which we have had a useful debate. What is absolutely clear is that the options available should not be tarnished by prejudice. However, we should not be surprised if, even with the sort of objectivity that the hon. Lady wants in the advice that is offered, a preponderance of one gender or the other go in a particular direction. I want to ensure that if women choose to be bricklayers, plumbers, or any of the other jobs that are usually mentioned in such discussions, there should be no bar to them, and we should celebrate that fact. Similarly, if men want to go down one of the roads that stereotypically tends to be associated with women, there should not be any restriction or bar to their so doing. None the less, I would not be surprised if, notwithstanding that, there were differences in the numbers involved in different professions based around their gender, nor would I be even slightly worried about it.
Nia Griffith: Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is perhaps what people thought about medicine years ago—that it was something that only men did, and that women would never do?
Mr. Hayes: My deafness is so profound today that I did not pick up a word of that. I am sure that it was extremely apposite to the debate and my contribution to it.
The only other comment I wish to make is that in making such advice available, it is critical that we take account of expectations, which we discussed earlier. It is likely that expectations are set much earlier than the point at which people reach college at 16-plus. They are often formed in primary school. You and the Minister will be pleased to know, Mr. Bayley, that my seven-year-old son wants to go to Trinity college, Cambridge. That is because we live in the fens, and Cambridge is in the fens. He does not want to have to stay in college for hot dinners. He wants to come home and have his story and be tucked in at night. He knows that if he goes to a different university that might not happen. He has already set out his ambition. Whether he can achieve it with our help remains to be seen.
That illustrates the fact that children get ideas very early. Those ideas may be gender reinforced at primary and secondary school. Therefore, even if the amendment were successful and the spirit which inspired it were to be reflected in what happens in schools, there are other issues which have a bearing on the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Llanelli and others in its pursuit. I believe that all those with potential should be able to fulfil it and not be prevented from so doing by the prejudices around gender. I am completely confident and entirely happy that men, because they are men, will tend to choose one direction and ladies a different one. That is the way the world is and the way that I want it to be.
5.30 pm
Jim Knight: What a wonderful debate, led by an excellent contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South. We heard the hon. Member for Bristol, West waxing lyrical briefly and, having had concerns earlier in our deliberations about the personal details of Mrs. Hayes, we have probably now heard more personal details about Hayes Junior than he would like to be on the public record if his classmates were to read the Committee’s proceedings.
Naturally, I completely agree with the intention behind my hon. Friend’s amendment and I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue, which I have also discussed with the YWCA. It is often the case that the sectors that pay the highest wages, provide the most hours of training and have the best future job prospects are those that are overwhelmingly male-dominated. At the same time, we know that there is an urgent need for more men to enter traditionally female careers, such a child care. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South made that point well. The Connexions service and schools, as well as employers and parents, have a role to play in providing young people with information and guidance about future career choices. As the Secretary of State outlined on Second Reading, it is important that young people have the chance to consider all the options. For example, evidence shows that many potential apprentices make stereotypical choices and tend to be influenced by tradition and peer pressure in terms of the industries in which they work.
The needs of a modern economy are such that we cannot afford for the talents of young people to be closed off because of stereotyping. This is an extremely important issue and we want to ensure that, as we raise the education leaving age, the problem is tackled head on. Traditional gender stereotypes and other stereotypes, such as those concerning race or sexual orientation, must be broken down if they stop young people fulfilling their potential.
However—there is always a “however”—although I agree with the intention, I do not think that the amendment is necessary. As well as requiring schools to deliver impartial careers advice that provides young people with information on the full range of options available to them, we are also using clause 66 to introduce a requirement on schools to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The guidance, which was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Llanelli and for Leicester, South, will include a set of core principles, one of which will state explicitly that students should be helped to challenge all stereotypes and widen their career aspirations. If women want to enter the fire service, they should feel free to do so; it is an honourable tradition. The first female firefighter to die in a fire was Fleur Lombard who died in a fire in Gloucester. Such women, who have provided extraordinarily good service to this country though the fire service, have provided good role models.
Equally, young people should feel free to make choices about diplomas. Next year we will introduce the hair and beauty diploma, which is not one that I will be engaging in, waxing or otherwise. However, some extremely high-earning hairdressers are men and it is a choice that men should think about seriously. I fear that the hair and beauty diploma may be ridiculed by some of our friends in the media as not being substantial in comparison with engineering. That will simply display their prejudice; such views are perhaps also informed by gender prejudice.
In addition, the recently published children’s plan outlines measures to present young people with more exciting and challenging careers education in schools. There will be opportunities such as taster sessions and other experiential learning that will help to open young people’s minds to different ideas and challenge traditional learning and career routes. I hope that this range of measures demonstrates the importance that we attach to the issue. The amendment is unnecessary and I invite my hon. Friend to withdraw it.
Nia Griffith: Listening to the Minister, I understand that his sentiment is genuine and that he has already met organisations such as the YWCA that have highlighted this problem. In the light of his comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Stephen Williams: I beg to move amendment No. 177, in clause 66, page 37, line 18, after ‘“subsection (2B))”;’, insert
‘“( ) In subsection (5)(a) leave out ‘14’ and insert ‘13’”’.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil and I tabled the amendment to provoke a discussion on when will be the appropriate time to offer independent advice and guidance. By 2013 when the legislation will kick in, the educational landscape will be quite different. We presume that there will still be the traditional academic pathway of GCSEs leading through to A-levels, but diplomas, whether they are the original 14 lines or the additional diplomas that the Government have announced, should have been rolled out nationally and there will also be apprenticeships and other vocational pathways for young people to choose from, albeit in a compulsory environment.
The advice given to young people will be crucial, not just at 16, but at a much younger age. I cannot remember whether you were in the Chair, Mr. Bayley, but in the evidence sessions I asked several witnesses, including those representing Connexions, what they felt was the appropriate age at which to start giving full independent advice and guidance to people who will be affected by the legislation. When I asked Connexions directly what was the main focus of its work at the moment, it said that it was 16-year-olds looking forward to leaving compulsory education and deciding whether to follow a career choice or go on to further study. The concentration of its resources is in advising children in year 11.
By 2013, it will be more appropriate to concentrate that advice on children in year 9 because the choices that they make at that stage will require independent and impartial advice. They could be deciding what they will do in years 10 and 11, whether to exercise their choice in another educational setting such as a local college or whether to achieve their diploma through a combination of the two. As we have said during debates on earlier amendments, that advice must exist in every school in the country.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the Government can assure us that the full range of independent advice and guidance will be available to students in year 9, who are likely to be aged 13. That advice should be not just on the courses and pathways that are suitable for them, but on the settings so that there is no bias in favour of staying in school if that is what the school advisers want.
During the evidence session, we heard from Connexions that the main focus of its work is currently aimed at 16-year-olds. If the ambitions that the Government have for this legislation and through their support for the Leitch programme are to be achieved, the career and educational choices that people make at age 13 will be crucial. There is no point in giving them that advice when they get to 16 if they have made a wrong decision at 13 because their pathway in life will to a great extent already have been determined.
I am looking for an assurance from the Minister that the focus of the independent advice and guidance that is provided for in the Bill will shift to a lower age. It should still be offered at 16, but also at 13. I am looking for an assurance that sufficient resources will be in place to ensure that Connexions, local authorities and schools are able to provide that vital impartial advice.
Jim Knight: The amendment seeks to extend the relevant phase of a pupil’s education during which he must be provided with a programme of careers education so that it should start from 13, rather than 14, as originally specified in the Education Act 1997. I should make it clear—it is an understandable oversight—that the age range has already been extended in England to include pupils in school years 7 and 8, for 12 and 13-year-olds. That was done by regulations made under section 46 of the 1997 Act: for those who are interested, it was the Education (Extension of Careers Education) (England) Regulations 2003, which came into force on 1 September 2004. That means that section 43 of the 1997 Act, as it currently has effect in England, already includes 13-year-olds in its scope. To that extent, the amendment is unnecessary. Of course, the resources go with the extension of the age period down to year 7, so I hope that that is an adequate answer.
Stephen Williams: I got the impression that the Minister was about to draw his remarks to a close. I hear what he says about regulations that were passed before I became a Member of Parliament, but could he assure me that there will be sufficient emphasis on that early advice in the guidance that his Department prepares for Connexions or whoever provides the independent advice and guidance, because Connexions told us during the evidence sessions that the current set-up is geared mainly towards 16-year-olds and those in year 11?
Jim Knight: It is certainly the case that the activity of the Connexions service does not kick in until someone has reached 13. It is only at that point that they are notified of the individual’s existence through the data transfers that we discussed last Tuesday. However, the wider obligations for careers education, as set out in the Education Act 1997, do apply from year 7, so schools would take forward those obligations. Certainly, the guidance will make it clear that the obligations in law extend from year 7 onwards. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Hayes: I am moved to speak by what both the Minister and the hon. Member for Bristol, West said. I think that the hon. Gentleman made a valid point about the stage at which advice is given, which reflects remarks that we made earlier about choices that are made early and affect people’s subsequent opportunities and options. There is considerable evidence to suggest that there is a paucity of advice in schools. It is variable, of course, but I refer particularly to the advice on apprenticeships from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which I have quoted a number of times. It states that
“by ignorance of or indifference to apprenticeship opportunities in schools,”
young people are often not given the information from which they would benefit. It stated that Connexions
“is failing to reach a great many of those who need its services”
“should explain the advantages of”
in schools. It also suggested that
“Special attention should be paid to informing girls about non-traditional apprenticeships and to providing information on earnings in different sectors.”
That was reflected in the debate on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Llanelli. I use that merely as one illustration of the critique that has been made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West and others of advice that is given early, particularly in schools, that does not always fulfil the sort of ambitions that we would want for our young people.
If the Bill is to work, we have to soup up that advice, improve its quality and ensure that it is consistent and appropriate. That may mean that Connexions has to refocus some of its energy—the hon. Gentleman is right about that, too—because most of its work tends to be focused on post-16.
5.45 pm
As the House of Lords Select Committee and others have argued, Connexions penetration of schools is limited and, as I suggested earlier today, it may mean rethinking our whole approach to careers advice and guidance in the longer term rather than relying on Connexions. That might mean having an all-age careers service alongside Connexions, as I suggested in debates on earlier aspects of the Bill. At the very least, it would ensure that we give advice that does not preclude opportunities, shut down options or drive people in the wrong direction—all things that happen now.
The amendment may be probing—I do not know—but it is useful, and it covers a subject to which we should return. I am not sure that we have it right in the Bill. When debating these matters this morning, I thought that the Minister was a little complacent about advice and guidance and that he underestimated its significance in the Bill. I have come to the conclusion that unless we can get advice and guidance right most of the other provisions will flounder.
To be fair to the Minister, rather than being indicative of negligence, that complacency may be merely an illustration of the Government’s failure to recognise that the current system for advising and guiding young people—the current careers system—is not up to scratch. Connexions is fine for what it does best, which is providing high-quality and wide-ranging support to those young people who need a multi-faceted approach. I am not sure that it is best at providing high-quality careers advice to the majority of young people who do not need that kind of broad-brush approach, and I am not sure that it is as effective as it might be in the early years to which the hon. Member for Bristol, West pays attention in his amendment. It is a pity that the Minister was not more comprehensive in his winding up, but it is for the hon. Gentleman to decide what to do next.
Stephen Williams: First, I thank the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings for agreeing with the underlying purpose of the amendment. I heard the Minister’s assurances—he cited various regulations—that everything that is necessary is already in place. The purpose of the amendment was simply to get on the record the fact that the Government recognise that if the legislation is to succeed, full and independent advice needs to be offered much earlier in the young person’s educational journey.
I think that the Minister was giving me that assurance, although he seemed to be hiding behind regulations that he said would already achieve that aim. None the less, during our evidence sittings, we heard full confidence being expressed in the fact that people are adhering to those regulations. However, we still have some years to ensure that we get it right. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Hayes: I beg to move amendment No. 59, in clause 66, page 38, line 4, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’.
The amendment is straightforward enough. Clause 66(4) is about discharging a relevant duty; the schools
“must...have regard to guidance to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.”
There is a subtle but important difference between “must” and “may”. “Must” implies that the Government will tell schools and teachers—the professionals—exactly what they should do and how they should do it. “May” represents the Government facilitating good practice throughout instead of forcing the great, clunking, centralising Labour fist—that is what I have written in my notes; it is a rather partisan remark. When preparing for this debate, I must have been feeling rather spiteful, which is unusual. [ Laughter. ]
We are also concerned that, by insisting on the word “must”, the Government are forcing schools to comply with short-term headline-grabbing policies, rather than ones improving the advice and guidance given to students. The amendment allows schools and advisers breathing space, without harming the possibility for pupils to receive full and impartial careers advice.
Jim Knight: We believe that the duty to have regard to the guidance is vital to support the schools in delivering the impartiality requirement and to raise standards in careers education, which is something that we all agree is necessary and desirable. In practice, schools could disregard the guidance, as long as they met the duty to provide impartial careers advice. If, however, they disregarded the guidance and were subsequently found to be failing in their duty, it is likely that questions would be asked as to why they had chosen not to follow it. In many ways, the amendment is therefore unnecessary.
I wish to ensure that schools are under a duty to have regard to guidance that includes a set of core principles. That has been supported by key stakeholders we consulted on the Bill. Along with other measures, I believe that it will drive up quality so that students receive high-quality and impartial careers advice and information. On the basis of my assurances, I hope that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings will withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Hayes: The Minister’s fist is never clunking. At most, it is the fist of an accomplished and subtle pugilist. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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