Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 120-139)


22 OCTOBER 2008

  Q120  Mr. Timpson: The next point is about reasonable travel areas. Who will define them and will they be different for different age groups? For instance, a 16-year-old would have a different reasonable travel area from a 19-year-old. How will it be defined and who will be responsible for doing that?

  Jim Knight: In the end it is defined in law. The concept of reasonableness is pretty familiar to us as lawmakers. The Bill sets out that the guaranteed work is at an appropriate level and within a reasonable travel area. How the courts would interpret reasonableness in this case depends upon the nature of the occupation. If you wanted to do space science there would only be a few places where it was reasonable to study that. If you want to do marine engineering then it is probably reasonable that you will not get that in Birmingham, but you might get it in Dorset. If you want to be an electrician or a plumber, then it is reasonable to expect that you can do that in your backyard. That familiar concept of reasonableness will be interpreted by the NAS service in delivering the guarantee as to what they think is reasonable, but ultimately the judgment would be made in the court.

  Chairman: A reasonable answer?

  Q121  Mr. Timpson: I was going to go one step further and ask how much of a factor funding will be in deciding whether it is reasonable.

  Jim Knight: Funding is not covered in clause 21(2). The apprenticeship place is there in respect of two available sectors at the appropriate level. Obviously, guidance will be issued about "the person's reasonable travel area". Inevitably, funding will be in the background of judgments of reasonableness when it ends up in the courts as well, but how the guarantee works is set out pretty clearly. The Bill as drafted does not refer to funding.

  Q122  Annette Brooke: I want to ask about diversity. You have touched slightly on that. The Government acknowledge that there is a problem, and the YWCA has exposed the gender pay gap in apprenticeships enormously, because of the nature of apprenticeships into which girls are likely to go. How significant is the problem?

  Lord Young: There is a problem. It is important that young women are engaged in apprenticeships. It is important, too, that we tackle minority ethnic groups and deal with disability. Eventually, apprentices are employees and the employment relationship is governed by employment and equalities legislation. The Bill does not tackle that, but that is not to say we see it as something that we do not need to focus on. It is not just a question of driving up apprenticeship numbers, but of ensuring that we engage as wide a range of young people as possible. But if you are talking about wage discrimination, the Bill is not the vehicle to deal with it.

  Q123  Annette Brooke: I am not talking about wage discrimination. It is a fact that a plumber is likely to earn more than a hairdresser. I am talking about the actual entry.

  Jim Knight: We talked about some of the disparities in London. Some ethnic groups are less attracted culturally to apprenticeships and they value them less than others. We need to work with those groups to build the demand for apprenticeships. We are looking explicitly at the gender pay gap as one of the reasons behind the minimum apprenticeship wage. We are aware that it would have more of an impact in the hairdressing sector and the care sector than in others. As Tony rightly said, that is in aspects of the work of the NAS and the two Departments. It will not be in the Bill because it will be underpinned by other legislation, such as the single equalities Bill and so on.

  Q124  Annette Brooke: I wanted to know a little more and I accept that, other than the careers advice point under the Bill, it is not the right place to tackle the issue, but there is clearly a lot more that needs to be done. I attended the Dorset skills festival a fortnight ago. The girls were around the health and beauty, and the boys were around the bricklaying. What is the Government's overall agenda actually to support what is going on in schools? We have had lots of initiatives, but from what I witnessed at the skills festival, they have not made much difference. Incidentally, one of the grammar schools did not participate.

  Jim Knight: I shall not get too distracted by grammar schools now. The wider point about how we tackle some of the gender stereotyping is important. It is as much a challenge for GCSE and A-level choices and diplomas as it is for apprenticeships. It is something that we must address throughout schooling. When I went to school, boys did woodwork and girls did home economics. We have moved on from that position, but we could do much better. It is still the case that not enough girls are doing physics. It will still be the case that when the hair and beauty diploma starts next year, we are more likely to see girls than boys choosing to do it. That is something that we need to address through Key Stage 3 with a new, more flexible curriculum and, as a result of that flexibility, some of the project-based work that schools will develop to get people of both genders to try different things. I am happy to say that, as I go around, I see more cooking in schools. A lot of boys are really enjoying cooking, and there are some positive role models. Gordon Ramsay may not be the most positive in certain respects, but Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein, as well as Delia Smith, are great television cooks. They are highly professional, earn a lot of money, and are good role models for guys. Perhaps boys could learn from some of the highly paid hairdressers as well. They could get into and be very successful at those professions.

  Q125  Annette Brooke: It is Josephine the plumber I am looking for.

  Jim Knight: And Josephine the plumber. We made sure in one of our documents—I cannot remember which one. I was looking at World-class Apprenticeships, but it was not that one, so it must have been one that the DCSF published on its own when Alan Johnson was Secretary of State. It may have been the one about raising the leaving age, which had a picture of a girl rather than a guy in overalls working on a motor car. We are looking at some of our images and the marketing that we do. We are spending £8 million a year on marketing apprenticeships over the next three years, and we will ensure that there are positive images that address some of those gender stereotypes.

  Q126  Chairman: Could the images be supplemented with information about earnings?

  Lord Young: Absolutely.

  Q127  Chairman: What do you earn in hairdressing compared with plumbing? What do you earn as a nursery nurse compared with being a painter and decorator? It seems to me that many young people going into a profession are not told straight out how much they will earn, or how much their lifetime earnings will be. I am absolutely in favour of Jim having lots of pictures of girls in overalls, but I would like young people to know very clearly, when they make their choice, what their lifetime earnings will be. That information must get to them. I am keen on earnings, as is everybody else, but those poor benighted people do not seem to be able to get the information that they need.

  Lord Young: I just thought that I should share with you a useful bit of information about an atypical mentoring pilot starting next year to support non-traditional, non-stereotypical apprentices. The NAS will be working with the TUC and others to provide targeted mentoring of such groups. That is one thing. The only other thing that I would say to you, Annette, if you do not mind my being familiar—

  Chairman: Through the Chair, please.

  Lord Young: Through you, Chairman. The only other thing I would say is that you now see more young women recognising the earning potential of being a plumber, a bricklayer or a surveyor. The numbers are nowhere near enough, but the message is beginning to get through, and they are thinking, "I can do this." I have always said to my wife that she is a damned sight better engineer than I am. She is much better at many craft skills jobs.

  Chairman: I think you mean better at everything, Tony.

  Lord Young: That goes without saying, but certainly she is when it comes to craft skills. Attitudes are changing, but too slowly, I think. The point that you make, Chairman, about earnings potential is perhaps one that schools ought to explore.

  Jim Knight: I would just add that the guidance on careers education that we are putting out will stress the importance of challenging gender stereotyping. We are also doing some work with sector skills councils in the same area. It is work that we are taking seriously and trying to develop and deepen.

  Q128  Annette Brooke: May I ask—very briefly, because of the time—why the Bill makes no mention of young apprentices? Would not a programme for 14 to 16-year-olds with a combined college or school approach be a useful add-on to what you are doing?

  Jim Knight: I asked the same question, and received an excellent answer. It roughly went along the lines that young apprenticeships are not apprenticeships in that they do not have to conform to the standard that we are setting out, and they do not have the apprenticeship frameworks. They are a different beast. However, we are looking to expand and develop them. There are just over 9,000 young apprenticeships this year. We are looking at 11,000 next year, 2,000 of which will be piloting the development of young apprenticeships from within diplomas. We see them as a real success story in dealing with young people of middle and higher ability who see what occupation they want to get into and are engaged by that form of learning. They are going extremely well and we are keen to develop them, but we do not need to legislate in order to develop and deepen them. They are not apprenticeships. They are using the brand because they are similar, but they are not the same in a number of different aspects, and that is why they do not appear in the Bill.

  Lord Young: Essentially, we do not include them because they do not have the employment-based connection. The young people might do a bit of work experience, but there is not the same contract with an employer. It would confuse the situation more. We cannot deny that there is a bit of confusion anyway because of the shared brand name, but in a young apprenticeship there is no contract of the sort that exists between the employer and the young person in an actual apprenticeship. They might do a bit of work experience, and the young apprenticeships are certainly a good pre-entry means for young people to embark on actual apprenticeships.

  Q129  Chairman: We hear that the resistance to 14 to 16-year-olds spending time on employers' premises very often arises from concerns about health and safety. Could you not use a clause in the Bill to give comfort to employers who would like to take 14 to 16-year-olds into their workplace but feel nervous about it? Although I understand the difference between young apprenticeships and apprenticeships, there is that continuing problem of nervousness on the part of employers about having young people on their premises. Should there not be something in the Bill to give them comfort in that regard?

  Lord Young: As I am told by my officials when we discuss this, we are in the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. It is a draft Bill and the honest answer is that we ought to examine that. I do not want to go any further than that, but I understand your point.

  Jim Knight: We can look at it. We would have to look at what added value we would get by putting a clause into legislation, what it would effect in law and whether we can address the problem.

  Q130  Chairman: Do you recognise the problem?

  Jim Knight: Yes, we recognise it and need to address it consistently and in the same way that we are trying to address similar fears about learning outside the classroom. We might be able to do that just as effectively by non-legislative means as through legislation.

  Q131  Mr. Chaytor: Can I pursue the point about minimum entry requirements? The Bill is very specific in requiring a Level 1 qualification for a Level 2 apprenticeship, but do you feel that in certain industrial sectors that might exclude some young people who could benefit from an apprenticeship? Clause 21 defines the Level 1 qualification as five GCSEs. If a youngster had four GCSEs, should they be disqualified from applying for a Level 2 apprenticeship?

  Jim Knight: I think that it is right that we should set that floor that people have to achieve. Someone might have four GCSEs and needs to retake a fifth and is close to getting it; there could be some flexibility about them starting some of the learning that they would do as part of their apprenticeship while they do that retake, but they will not be able to complete it until they have got their Level 1, and I think that that is right. We need to be very clear about the basic standard we need.

  Q132  Mr. Chaytor: Why does the Bill only define the level of qualification in terms of GCSEs and not in terms of acquisition of the diploma, given that the diploma will provide the basic structure of qualifications post-14? Why are the levels defined purely in terms of GCSEs and why is there no reference to a diploma?

  Jim Knight: That reminds me of some of the discussions we have had when I have taken other Bills through Parliament. It is just a case of finding a qualification with which everyone is familiar and which you can use for equivalence purposes. The fact that we specify GCSEs does not mean that the equivalent qualifications are any better or worse; it just means that people are pretty familiar with the grading of GCSEs, so the established qualification seems the clearest way of doing that.

  Q133  Mr. Chaytor: But you agree that there ought to be some flexibility over the rigid application of Level 1 five GCSEs?

  Jim Knight: It is absolutely the case that one of the great benefits of diplomas as the bridge between academic and vocational learning is that they are an extremely useful way of discovering a path from academic learning into vocational learning, quite possibly and probably through diploma-type learning.

  Q134  Chairman: Minister, have you had a word with NG Bailey? The chief executive of that company gave evidence to the Skills Commission, which I co-chair, yesterday. It is one of the largest construction engineering companies in Britain, with one of the largest apprenticeship programmes in the country. That firm is worried. It takes three A to Cs, interviews everyone that applies and balances motivation and the determination to succeed in an apprenticeship, because that is an important part of the qualification. It would be worried that a requirement to have five A to Cs, if that were too prescriptive, would hamper its apprenticeship recruitment process.

  Jim Knight: Certainly, it would be important for him to understand that the five A* to C relates to the entitlement; it does not regulate who can be taken on by an employer. In terms of the delivery of the entitlement, which is what clause 21 refers to, you get the entitlement once you have your five A* to Cs. But if you have three and an employer like NG Bailey wants to take you on, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent that.

  Chairman: Okay. We are now going to romp through the relationship between apprenticeships and diplomas. Graham is going to lead us.

  Q135  Mr. Stuart: Jim, what impact do you think the introduction of diplomas will have on your hopes for apprenticeships?

  Jim Knight: I think they will help to deliver the expansion of apprenticeships that we want to see over the next few years. We have the ambition, as you know, to drive up completions. If we are going to deliver one in five by 2020, we have to be able to get to 250,000 annual starts overall. To do that, you need to get clearer, stronger pathways into apprenticeship, given what we have been discussing about trying to sustain the quality of the brand. That means that you want good prior attainment going in. There will be people who, as they go into Key Stage 4, are clear in their minds that they are going to be more engaged with a style of learning that has practical elements and is sector-based, but do not yet know what occupation they want to do. So they can then go on and do Level 1 or Level 2 diploma in a sector, without having to pin their colours to an occupational mast—if that is not stretching things too much—and find a style of teaching and learning that mixes the academic and vocational in an engaging way. They then enjoy their learning and prosper. I do not know if you have visited any places offering diploma learning, since it started in September—

  Mr. Stuart: Not since you asked me yesterday and I told you I had not.

  Jim Knight: That's right; I had forgotten that conversation. I visited Macclesfield College in Northwich last week and saw some creative and media diploma students. They were extremely excited by their learning. Such students are motivated. At the end of Level 1 and Level 2, they may say, "Actually, I now know, having studied the engineering diploma, that I want to be a car mechanic, a civil engineer or a railway engineer, so I will go on and do an apprenticeship in that area." Even going on to do a Level 3 diploma, they may then realise that, having achieved their Level 3 diploma in whatever sector, although there are only four levels, those in turn may be routes into apprenticeships.

  Q136  Mr. Stuart: That sounds great, so why does the Bill block transfer between diplomas and apprenticeships at certain levels?

  Jim Knight: In what way does it block it?

  Q137  Mr. Stuart: Andy Powell of the Edge foundation told us last week that moving from a Level 2 diploma to a Level 2 apprenticeship was blocked by the Bill. Does that accord with what you know? British Chambers of Commerce in its evidence referred to the need to get interoperability between the two, and there are difficulties with that.

  Jim Knight: Andy is a fine man, and Edge does a wonderful job, but just occasionally I need to go back and educate them. I think I had better brief them, but as far as I am concerned, and as far as I am advised, there is no block in the Bill.

  Q138  Mr. Stuart: Nick Edwards said, "Somebody who has done a Level 2 construction diploma" for instance "could not transfer to a Level 3 construction apprenticeship—they would need to go back and do a Level 2 construction apprenticeship." Does he also not know what he is talking about?

  Jim Knight: Perhaps we need more messaging about that, and to improve our communications. We shall be spending quite a lot on communications about apprenticeships over the next few years.

  Chairman: Some people behind you are finding this interesting,

  Mr. Stuart: And scribbling very fast.

  Lord Young: Your first point was about general blocking, and we dealt with that. It was not true. The point you are now making is a little more refined, and we need to get the answer right.

  Jim Knight: If we need to drop you a line on this, I will be happy to do so to set the matter out more clearly, but I would be extremely concerned if anything in the draft legislation prevented people from moving between diplomas and apprenticeships. If they are right, we must address the matter; if they are not, we will advise the Committee.2

  Q139  Mr. Stuart: Do you think you have done enough thinking about the relationship between the two, and understand how they will work as they go forward?

  Jim Knight: Yes. We set out in the qualifications strategy that we published earlier this year the broad, three-pronged approach to qualifications underpinned by the foundation learning tier—the three prongs that I previously set out at length for the Committee of the traditional academic line of GCSEs and A-levels and the traditional vocational line of apprenticeships, and then the one that bridges the divide between the two in the form of diplomas. We are looking through the JACQA (Joint Advisory Committee of Qualifications and Approvals) process for ways to fund qualifications and to be more consistent in those three options so that employers, parents and learners understand them. We are absolutely clear, and always have been, thatif someone decides at 14 that they want to pursue a diploma, they are allowed to change their mind. Trapping people from 14 to 19 into a decision that they made at 14 would be wrong.

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