Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
MP AND LORD
22 OCTOBER 2008
Q66 Chairman: May I welcome
the right honourable Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, and Lord
Young, the new Minister from the House of Lords? We are very pleased
to have you in front of our Committee. We are looking briefly
in this pre-legislative inquiry into the new Apprenticeships Bill.
We agreed with the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills
Committee that we would do this pre-legislative inquiry jointly.
We are holding two sessions, of which this is the second. The
Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is working
closely with us; it is the lead Department. First, Minister, because
a lot of young people out there are worrying about their education
maintenance allowance, and whether and when they will be paid,
before we get started on apprenticeships, would you say something
about the progress of paying people their EMAs?
Jim Knight: Sure.
Obviously, I would like to underscore what I said to the Committee
before about how regrettable the situation is, and we will continue
to update you by letter as well, as we have been doing. There
are essentially three aspects to the processing that I have been
reporting to you on. In terms of processing the applications,
you will recall thatI think that it was at oral questions
last week, when many of you were awayI reported that the
backlog was around 111,000. It is now below 50,000. That is making
good progress. Once those are processed, notices of entitlement
are issued to learners, stimulating payment through the learning
providers. These notices are going out but there is still an issue
about whether they are going out fast enough. We are chasing that
up and making progress. The number of notices of entitlement issued
as of 20 October is 389,196 and there are 237,392 young people
who have received payment. There is a gap there which we are trying
to reduce rapidly. The challenge is for the colleges to process
those notices of entitlement into the system. That involves, for
example, putting in all the attendance information for six weeks
and that can clearly take a little time. That is in essence the
answer to the backlog. The other aspect that we have been reporting
on is helpline volumes. They have improved, although they could
still be better. They are now at a level where a reasonable service
is offered. It is not as good as I would like, but it is reasonable.
Q67 Chairman: Thank you. Will the
Department be looking at the way that it awards contracts, given
the ETS saga this summer? There is now a problem with this particular
company delivering the results on time, which we expected to be
a lot sharper and quicker than this. Are we going to look at the
Jim Knight: Certainly. Some time
ago I agreed with David Bell, the Permanent Secretary, that we
should be looking widely, as you say, at some of the procurement
and contract management arrangements to see if there are lessons
to be learned across the events of the summer. We need to be informed
by Lord Sutherland's findings when he reports later this year
because there may be broader lessons to be learned than just the
issues around standard assessment tests. We can also translate
the internal work that we are doing on lessons learned. I met
staff from the Learning and Skills Council yesterday and they
are also doing a lessons-learned exercise in respect of the processing
of education maintenance allowances.
Q68 Paul Holmes: On another aspect
of the issue, the whole point of the EMAsand they have
been very successfulis to get children from poor backgrounds
to stay on. I have anecdotally heard of examples in my constituency
of Chesterfield of kids who dropped out in September because the
EMA was delayed. I have heard that some colleges and schools have
used their money temporarily to tide students over. What advice
or support have you and the LSC given to schools and colleges
about providing that sort of interim help?
Jim Knight: We have been saying
consistently to providersschools, colleges and othersand
reinforced in a letter that I sent at the beginning of last week,
that we provide substantial amounts, millions of pounds, of hardship
funds to providers and we expect providers to use them to provide
some payment to young people who would otherwise be at risk of
dropping out because they are still waiting for their EMAs. When
they arrive the EMAs will be backdated to when term started and
we have extended the deadline for applications to the end of October.
We have reinforced and keep pressing that problem. I am pleased
that the number of applications for EMAs is just above what it
was at this point last year. Overall, we are not seeing an impact
on numbers applying. You could perhaps attribute that slight growth
to the amount of publicity that we have inadvertently managed
to attract to EMAs. It is extremely regrettable if any individual
has felt the need to drop out because they have not had an EMA
but in global terms I am confident that it has not put people
Q69 Paul Holmes: Have you
any feel for how widespread the temporary support being provided
in schools and colleges is?
Jim Knight: It helped that we
reinforced that message last week, because we were getting some
feedback from some colleges through the Association of Colleges.
A few colleagues in Parliament have also raised with me the fact
that colleges in their area are concerned about this. That is
one of the reasons why I wanted to get that letter out, so that
people were reassured that they should use their hardship fund.
If, in turn, they were concerned about whether they had sufficient
resources in the fund, they were told that they should go to the
Learning and Skills Council and discuss what is effectively a
cash-flow issue for them, while awaiting the back payment.
Q70 Paul Holmes: What about
schools, post-16? They do not have hardship funds in the same
Jim Knight: It would apply through
the local authority, in that case.
Q71 Chairman: Thank you, Minister.
Anything more on that? Let us get on with the apprenticeships.
Lord Young, I have not welcomed you yet.
How long have you been in your post?
Lord Young: I am in my third week.
Q72 Chairman: Your third week?
Lord Young: Yes, I bring you the
vast experience of three weeks.
Q73 Chairman: But you do have
vast experience; we have never had a Skills Minister who has served
an apprenticeship. Did you serve an apprenticeship?
Lord Young: I did indeed.
Chairman: Well then, you are very welcomeyou
will know something about the subject in a different way.
Lord Young: It was one or two
Q74 Chairman: I am sure Jim
knows a lot about it. You are trade union-backed and you have
kept in touch with that. Could you give us a micro-bio of your
Lord Young: I started as a telecom
apprentice when I was 16, in a grand organisation called the GPO.
We had not even advanced to BT status in those days. It was a
two-year apprenticeship. I got involved in trade union activities
in the mid-'60s as a shop steward and eventually became elected
general secretary of what was the National Communications Union
in 1989. We merged with the postal workers in 1995, where my partner
in crime, as I sometimes refer to him, was Alan Johnson, now Secretary
of State for Health. That is a very potted biography.
Q75 Chairman: That is excellent.
It gives Members of the Committee a good introduction. Let us
get on with apprenticeships. Minister, why is the Bill before
the House? What is its purpose? I do not ask that in a silly way,
but there are a lot of people who ask whether we really need legislation
in this area.
Jim Knight: I think we do need
legislation. We need to put in place a more focused delivery body
in the National Apprenticeship Service. We need to put in place
an apprenticeship guarantee, so that we can create some leverage
over the providers, particularly the Learning and Skills Council
and its successor body, to ensure that every young person, regardless
of where they are and their circumstances, can identify two sectors
where they would be interested in pursuing an apprenticeship and
then be able to take that forward. We need a coherent and consistent
framework that sets out what would be in each apprenticeship.
Technically, it is probably not a framework; we tend to refer
to them as blueprints. We need to have that blueprint for all
the apprenticeships and then the sector skills councils, and others,
can deliver frameworks based on that blueprint. It is right that
we set that out in legislation and obviously ensure that young
people are getting the right information, advice and guidance
about apprenticeships and that, up to the age of 16, regardless
of their setting, they are being given advice that includes apprenticeships
as they make their decisions as to how they will carry on their
Lord Young: I think that most
of it has been encompassed by the Minister. The only other thing
I would say is, given the importance we now attach to this in
our contribution to developing the skill base, following the Leitch
report and other publications on world-class apprenticeships,
there is also a symbolic importance of embedding this in legislation.
So it has a practical function, but it also signals the importance
that we attach to what we are trying to achieve in apprenticeships
up to the year 2020.
Q76 Chairman: Describe the
perfect apprenticeship for me. What are the essential ingredients
of a good apprenticeship?
Jim Knight: The essential ingredients
would be that the learner has the theoretical knowledge, combined
with practical skill and key skills such as literacy and numeracy,
and a good understanding of the industry in which the learner
is working and wants to continue working in. Those are the four
core elements in every apprenticeship. Obviously, the ideal apprenticeship
would have been developed by employers to suit their individual
needs, for the individual occupations that they want to bring
people into through this form of training.
Q77 Chairman: So there are
some apprenticeships that would involve employer engagement and
some that would not.
Jim Knight: Well, if you are referring
to the debate about programme-led apprenticeships
Q78 Chairman: I was referring
to your description. As you described it, it looks as though the
employment bit was an optional extra.
Jim Knight: No, we are being very
clear that you have to be in employment in order to be doing an
Q79 Chairman: Okay. So, all
apprenticeships should have a positive link with an employer.
Jim Knight: Absolutely.