Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 60-65)


8 OCTOBER 2008

  Q60  Mr. Pelling: I do not always share the Carswellian approach—or aversion—to Government, but it is interesting that in the draft Bill, there is the obligation on the secondary school head teacher to ensure that the best advice and, where appropriate, advice about apprenticeships is given. Is that really necessary? Is it a bit too heavy-handed? And, what is your observation of the quality of impartial advice given in schools about training and apprenticeships in particular?

  Andy Powell: Far from it—it is the other way. The Bill as I read it says that consideration should be given to informing people about the different options. I think it should be a requirement. It is quite straightforward: all young people and parents should be made clearly aware of the different routes and options open to them. There should also then be consideration of how young people and parents get real experience of work, of talking to employers, of apprentices, and of college and university leading the way up there. That is very important. The Skills Commission did a very good report on that, and at the moment there is a lot of evidence that there is no impartial advice and guidance. Why would there be? It is in schools' interest, if they have a sixth form, for anyone who has reasonable GCSEs to stay in the sixth form. Again, one thinks of one's own life, and the chances of young people's parents being told that there is another option are very slim. Having said that, finally, I would say, let us think about different models. This is not about having to spend billions on loads of careers advisers; it is about giving the information, about new technology and about encouraging and enabling young people, which you can these days, to ask people who have been through it, and to go to websites, which is starting to happen. You get little videos of people who have gone to university and are apprentices and so forth, but there is a need for significant improvement.

  Simon Bartley: I concur with everything that Andy has said.

  Nick Edwards: Practically, I can tell you that within secondary schools in the area where I work, Lewisham, young people, through the career sessions that they have once a week in years 10 and 11, will at some point be told about apprenticeships, but when I attend careers and open evenings for sixth-form applications for 16-year-olds, apprenticeships do not have a stall or stand there. Only if the college attends will they get any information, so the young person will be made aware of an apprenticeship, but when the parent attends the school, there is not someone there—there is not a stand or information. The school is telling parents about what it can offer, but not about what it cannot offer.

  Q61  Mr. Pelling: Does that mean that we should not allow schools to have that primary role in careers education? Do you think that it should be an impartial or separate service, perhaps ensconced in a school but nevertheless free of the slightly slanted advice that you might get in schools?

  Nick Edwards: That is a challenge, though—is it not?—because Connexions is now part of and delivered by the local authority, which has responsibility for the schools. Connexions and careers guidance were at one point independent of local authorities, but now they are not.

  Andy Powell: The short answer is, yes, it should be independent.

  Nick Edwards: Yes, but I suggest that Connexions is not necessarily independent; it is part of the local authority.

  Q62  Mr. Pelling: There is one difficulty and one reason why the schools might give slanted advice, other than self-interest. The fundamental question with apprenticeships, I suppose, is whether they are regarded as being for those who get lower grades. I wonder how it is possible, through careers education, to get over that stigma, which is still in some people's minds.

  Nick Edwards: That is a problem, because that was the case with the old apprenticeship system, pre-1950s, when young people who did not achieve O-levels, as they were in those days, went into vocational areas in manufacturing and went on to apprenticeship schemes. The demands of the new apprenticeship programmes are substantial. They need gifted and talented young people who want to work in industry and want to learn in a practical rather than academic way. Demands are greater, but the message has not got through that apprenticeships are different. These are new models.

  Andy Powell: I want to mention two things. First, research and stories: there are plenty of examples of people who have given up A-levels, gone to apprenticeships and been successful. It is not better or worse; it is there. It is about research of understanding what has happened to apprentices, and about those stories. Secondly, there are areas in the Bill that need to be encouraged regarding progression. Whilst we should be quite clear that the primary purpose of apprenticeship is to learn that trade, skill, career and so forth, none the less, for those who wish to go on, for example, there should be higher apprenticeships. They exist but are little known about; one can get a Level 4 through an apprenticeship. That is important and should be in the Bill. Similarly, in our opinion, young people should be given a chance to access an HE course, if they so choose, at some later stage, because, of course, it is difficult for an apprentice to go straight into a university degree. It is like an extended project, but it involves different skills, and they should have the opportunity to gain those skills if they so choose.

  Simon Bartley: Most of the stories about progression for apprentices end up at university. Actually, that is a really bad route to be telling stories about, without telling them about other routes. In UK Skills—with my skills competitions hat on—we are looking for young people who are the best welders, the best farriers, the best electricians. Actually, what we want are the stories of when they go on and become the best in the country, when they are 35 or 55, at being an electrical foreman, doing complex works at Wembley Stadium or for the Olympics. Too often—as we have with diplomas, I have to say—we get diverted back on to the track of celebrating academic rather than vocational education. Some of the vocational degrees are equally responsible for that. The days when somebody does an apprenticeship in something that leads on to becoming a lawyer, doctor or dentist are few and far between. Let us have them celebrating the fact that they are an electrician or a plumber.

  Q63  Chairman: But there are lots of ways to do that. A chartered engineer does not have to go to university—you can just keep progressing.

  Simon Bartley: But no one ever sings about them.

  Chairman: They do not, that is right. David, do you want a quick blast?

  Q64  Mr. Chaytor: Perhaps we can stay on careers. Clause 23 of the Bill will require schools to make information about apprenticeships available. This is just completely hopeless, is it not?

  Andy Powell: It requires schools to consider—

  Q65  Mr. Chaytor: To consider that, yes. This is just a futile gesture, is it not?

  Andy Powell: Absolutely. It should require schools to provide all parents and young people with all options.

  Mr. Chaytor: That is right. This is a key clause for amendment if we are going to get impartial advice for all young people, and the key to that is getting it out of the individual school. I accept that there is Connexions within the local authority and still some shared interest, but getting the responsibility for advice away from the individual school must be crucial, and clause 23 is where that could be done.

  Chairman: On that, note, I thank you for your attendance. Thank you, Simon, for staying later than the time when we thought you had to get away. We have learned a lot, and I think we are well on course to being able to make a contribution to the proposed legislation. If, when you are travelling home or back to your day jobs, you think of something that we did not ask you but should have, please e-mail us and be in contact with us so that we can make this report as good as it can be. Thank you.

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