Memorandum submitted by TUC (E&S 06)
1.1 The TUC welcomes the opportunity to submit its initial comments on the Education and Skills Bills as set out below. It should be noted that the TUC has also previously published a detailed submission to the Government's earlier consultation paper -'Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post 16' - and this is available on the TUC website at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/skills/tuc-13463-f0.cfm.
Raising the participation age
1.2 The TUC welcomes the thrust of the policy of raising the participation age for young people to 18. The TUC's submission to last year's consultation stated that 'if young people are to be given the best chance of succeeding in the world of work, it makes sense for them to remain in education or high quality training until they are 18. This is also important to ensure that the UK is able to compete internationally.'
1.3 The TUC welcomes an approach where options for participation will include school, college, work-based learning, or accredited training provided by an employer, especially through workplace apprenticeships.
1.4 However, the TUC also has some reservations, in particular around a compulsory approach that could result in young people being forced into learning. The TUC believes that the primary focus should be on support, encouragement and an attractive learning and skills offer for young people. All young people need to be able to make informed decisions based on independent advice and guidance. There needs to be capacity in the system and resources for such guidance, which must also particularly take into account the needs of young people most at risk of disengaging. Advice also needs to actively break down stereotyping on the grounds of gender, race, disability and class, and be resourced to do so.
1.5 The TUC prefers a more positive approach, for example around the idea of entitlements to stay on in education and training including via the workplace. The TUC would also like to see the entitlement for young people up to the age of 25 to receive free level 3 tuition, to be expanded over time to the age of 30. This should be supported by statutory rights to paid time off up to level 3. In this light the TUC is particularly concerned that the legislation will bring about the repeal of the existing right to paid time off for 16 and 17 year olds who do not have a Level 2. The Leitch Review of Skills recognised the importance of adult learners attaining level two qualifications and stated that if there has not been sufficient progress by 2010, a statutory entitlement should be introduced. There should be a parallel process for paid time off up to level three for young people.
1.6 Employers have a significant role to play in raising the participation age, and TUC identifies this as one of the most significant challenges. It is welcome that there are duties on employers around ensuring that young workers working over 20 hours per week access education and training. However raising the participation age must not by default become a policy of raising the school leaving age. To ensure this does not occur, the TUC believes that levers should be considered to increase employer engagement in training for young people such as through sector levies and procurement policy.
1.7 Young people's employment is concentrated in a number of sectors. The biggest employer of young people without training as the distribution, hotels and restaurants sector (52%). Over 30% are in retail alone. Other sectors that employ 16-17 year olds without training include construction (11%), manufacturing (10%), banking, finance and insurance (8%) and public administration, education and health (7%).
1.8 The sectoral basis of young people's employment highlights the important role for sector skills councils in taking forward proposals to raise the participation age to 18. As the consultation document highlights, sector skills agreements can play an important role. In particular, targets for Apprenticeships could be included in SSAs. Sector training levies are another mechanism for facilitating employer investment in young people's training that should be investigated to increase the pool of funding available to train young people. Licences to practice are another approach that could be considered.
1.9 The duties on employers apply where employees work at least 20 hours per week and have a fixed term of 8 weeks or longer (or are expected to have such a contract in place in the future). It is important to ensure that safeguards are in place to avoid employers hiring young people on successive contracts of less than 8 weeks.
1.10 It is also vital that the training offered particularly in the workplace is of high quality. For example the TUC has concerns over inconsistencies in quality of Apprenticeships. The TUC is hopeful that quality will be at the heart of the forthcoming findings of the Apprenticeships Review. High quality, employer based Apprenticeships that provide transferable skills are essential to the success of these proposals.
1.11 The Apprenticeship programme, and its extension, should be underpinned by strategies to increase both quality and equality. The Government should promote a 'vision' for a high quality Apprenticeships, with good pay and high quality training, including the role of workplace mentors, including union representatives. The Government should lead by example as an employer, both in boosting provision of high quality Apprenticeships and tackling issues of equality and diversity. Further, there needs to be transparency on Apprenticeship opportunities, pay and training through, for example, a national website to help drive up standards. Establishing a legislative definition of Apprenticeship could also be an effective means of boosting quality.
1.12 While concerns remain around compulsion, it is preferable that the approach being taken forward is via fines rather than prosecution via the criminal justice system. However the TUC remains concerned that a compulsory approach may create negative associations with learning that may mean young people are less likely to re-engage with education and training later in life. Further, the use of financial penalties may have unintended outcomes and create additional barriers for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
1.13 There is a strong role for trade unions in supporting young people in the workplace, including bargaining with employers to expand training opportunities, which would be supported through statutory rights to collective bargaining over training. Unions and in particular union learning reps also have a role in providing information to young people as well as mentoring support to young people. Young people should be actively encouraged to join trade unions.
1.14 Ensuring there is a suitable route for every young person has resource implications, and it is crucial that there is sufficient funding for additional teachers, lecturers and support staff. There also needs to be levelling up of pay between staff in schools and further education. These resource issues need to be considered over the long term. It is also important to ensure that there is appropriate workforce development.
1.15 The TUC has welcomed the decision taken by the Government to give statutory backing to the existing administrative rights for adults to access basic literacy and numeracy programmes and also training leading to their first full Level 2 qualification. Although these new rights will not create any new obligations on employers, it is nevertheless highly significant that the Government is enshrining in legislation a requirement on the LSC to secure proper provision to enable adults to access training leading to such qualifications.
1.16 Clause 70 in the Bill actually amends the 2000 Learning and Skills Act by inserting new sections and schedules that will place a new duty on the LSC to 'make proper (rather than reasonable) provision for facilities to enable adults who lack particular qualifications to obtain relevant qualifications.' The original 2000 Act had clearly prioritised funding the training needs of young people and Clause 70 will go some way to rebalancing the role of the LSC in this area by requiring it to increase the priority it gives to the funding of adult skills.
1.17 The establishment of two new Government departments - DCSF and DIUS - and the recent funding guidance to the LSC from both Secretaries of State (LSC Grant Letter, 2008/09, 16 November 2007) will also have the effect of giving greater protection to the budget for adult skills. The Grant Letter makes it clear that the LSC will no longer be able to vire between its budgets for young people and adults unless this is specifically authorised by the two Departments and this should go some way to safeguarding the adult skills budget.
1.18 While these new rights do not constitute new employee rights to access training, the TUC believes that enshrining the rights in legislation will support the Government's overall policy aim of encouraging many more employers to increase the amount of training made available to individual employees who currently lack such qualifications. For example, the TUC and ifs affiliated trade unions will be using the new statutory basis as additional leverage for persuading more employers that they should be signing up to the Skills Pledge and accessing Train to Gain provision as a means of allowing individual employees to access these rights.
1.19 The TUC and unionlearn are also currently engaged in a programme of work to support union learning representatives (ULRs) to use the Skills Pledge and associated initiatives to further build on their expertise in engaging and supporting low-skilled employees to take up training opportunities in the workplace. Establishing statutory backing for the rights of such employees to access training in the future will reinforce the idea that responsible employers should deliver such training as well as requiring government agencies to ensure that adequate funding and provision is in place to meet the demand for such training .