Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 140-159)


22 OCTOBER 2008

  Q140  Mr. Stuart: We come again and again to the concern about the guarantee obligation on the LSC and the difficulty of being able to deliver that without the co-operation of employers. The other problem with centrally driven targets and guarantees is that they tend to lead to distortion. They may have an impact, whether on health service clinical priorities or elsewhere, and have a diluting quality. How confident are you that we will not see a big increase in virtual apprenticeships as a result of the LSC's need to deliver the guarantee, and to be seen to do so? If it fails, as you say, the LSC could end up in court, so it will try desperately to tick the box. Is there not a danger that quality could go out of the window?

  Jim Knight: That is why we have been clear in the way in which we framed the legislation to ensure that you cannot complete an apprenticeship unless you have an apprenticeship agreement, which is an agreement between an employer and a learner.

  Q141  Mr. Stuart: Yes, but again the law of unforeseen consequences suggests that they will go any lengths to get some form of contract so that they can tick the box, and it might not be a true apprenticeship as understood. Is that not the danger of the guarantee? It is laudable to want to ensure that everyone can have this, but if you do not provide the resources or the powers for the LSC to deliver, it will try to deliver anyway because you told it that it must.

  Jim Knight: You can never rule out the law of unintended consequences, but you can try to anticipate consequences. We are trying to

2  See Ev 44

anticipate that possible unintended consequence by making it clear in law that you must be employed to be an apprentice.

  Q142  Mr. Stuart: Do you think that that is enough? Are you convinced?

  Jim Knight: Yes. There will be a place for what we have been calling programme-led apprenticeships, and there will be places for college learning, which is not a bad thing, but to complete an apprenticeship and to be able to say that you have been an apprentice, and for us to be able to deliver on our target of one in five by 2020, all the statistics about starts and completions must be about apprentices who have an apprentice agreement between the employer and the learner.

  Lord Young: The reason for being so emphatic about that is the point you made. It is not up to the employer to say, "We'll throw this in. This will count as an apprenticeship." No, it will not. It has to be a proper agreement. They have to ensure that they fit within the frameworks that are negotiated with the sector skills councils. I think we have put the necessary safeguard in place. It is right to have a target. If we want to reach the objectives on skills as defined in the Leitch report, and if we believe in the value of apprenticeships, then we have to have an overall target. However, we also need to ensure that people do not meet it by subterfuge or merely pay lip service to it. There is a quality that is clearly defined.

  Q143  Mr. Stuart: How useful do you think programme-led apprenticeships are? Do you think that there will be a big increase in them as a result of the Bill?

  Chairman: Are they diluting the currency?

  Jim Knight: I think that the problem is when you add the word apprenticeship at the end of their title. Right at the beginning of this evidence, when asked to describe the perfect apprenticeship, I set out the four elements that you would want to see. One is the theoretical knowledge that you need to go with your practical skills. Some of that theoretical knowledge and some practical skill, as you know from visiting colleges, can be learnt quite effectively in colleges, but they have to end up being put into a context in the workplace. If, while looking for a work placement, you can do in college some learning and some qualification modules that would make up your apprenticeship, that is not a bad thing. Just because we are concerned about the way that they have been labelled apprenticeships, we should not write them off as being a bad thing.

  Q144  Mr. Stuart: But is not the great fear that they give a false promise? In terms of the brand and not diluting the currency, the Chairman is absolutely right. When people get switched on to another course because there is not an employer to be found, does it not end up diluting the currency?

  Jim Knight: If it is called an apprenticeship then it does.

  Q145  Mr. Stuart: So you would not call them programme-led apprenticeships? The Government say: "Programme-led Apprenticeships are a helpful way of catering to the demands of prospective Apprentices where there is not the immediate offer of a job available." It seems that the Government are as guilty as anyone else here.

  Jim Knight: We can get wrapped up in what language we should use.

  Q146  Mr. Stuart: It is important, is it not?

  Jim Knight: It is important how we brand things, but in terms of giving evidence to you, we need to ensure that you understand what we are talking about. It is in the common parlance that these things are called programme-led apprenticeships. We referred to them in the evidence so that you would understand what we are talking about. In terms of how we move forward, we are extremely clear that what we might all call programme-led apprenticeships are not real apprenticeships. They are not what we will measure when we talk about completions and starts and our 2020 aspiration. If we can end up starting to talk about them without using the A-word it might be a good thing.

  Lord Young: We need to be careful that we do not give them a false promise. We cannot guarantee employment. It is not a false promise in that we are enhancing their skills and their job potential. That is a good thing, but we have to be careful that they are aware that there is no absolute guarantee of employment.

  Q147  Mr. Stuart: Okay, so you drop the A-word and you have this programme-led course. It is applied learning, but mostly learning. It sounds remarkably like what the diploma is supposed to be. Are you sure that there is room for both programme-led non-apprenticeships and diplomas? Should not this be thought through a bit better?

  Jim Knight: Obviously we would not want you to fall into the trap, which some people easily do, of thinking that diplomas are vocational learning. They are a mix of academic and vocational. They are a particular style of teaching and learning. It is also important to understand that an apprenticeship is effectively a wrapper around a range of modular qualifications and learning, so aspects of that, which you might otherwise call an applied A-level, could be part of that framework. It is a framework. There will be other things that are in there and I would imagine that people are not going to be enrolling in something called the programme-led something or other; they will enrol on some of those other qualifications. They can then use those as credits when they go on to their apprenticeship.

  Q148  Paul Holmes: Graham has covered most of it, but I shall expand on what he has been saying. Is there not huge confusion? There are diplomas that are not vocational but academic; programme-led apprenticeships that are not apprenticeships; and apprenticeships. If you are confused and we are confused, what will the kids out there be?

  Jim Knight: I would never say we are confused. Are we Tony?

  Lord Young: We are not confused, but I have to agree that there is a level of complexity that we need to think carefully about.

  Q149  Chairman: Are you sure you have only been a Minister for three weeks?

  Lord Young: I think that is being damned with faint praise. Sorry, I did not mean to put it that way, but I share your concern. At this stage, given it is a draft Bill, we ought to think carefully about the way the terminology is used and drafted.

  Q150  Paul Holmes: That is refreshing to hear. Again, earlier in the conversation, you made the point that diplomas are academic and not vocational.

  Jim Knight: I am not saying that they are either academic or vocational; they are a rich mix of the two.

  Q151  Paul Holmes: But you were also making the point that there should not be a block in going from a Level 2 diploma to Level 3 construction, whereas we were told by the colleges that you would have to redo Level 2 as an apprenticeship, in order to be vocational. Again, there is huge confusion about where we are going with these things.

  Jim Knight: I guess what Nick from Lewisham might have been driving at is that, particularly in terms of practical skills, there might be aspects where you need to be able to acquire those skills at a Level 2 before you can develop them further at Level 3. In some sense, that goes back to our initial conversation about how much time it would take to do an apprenticeship. It might be that you have got all the elements through your Level 2 diploma, instead of some of the practical skills that you need to acquire. You can fairly rapidly acquire those practical skills and then be accredited with a Level 2 apprenticeship as a result of that, and having done most of the learning during your Level 2 diploma, you can then move on to Level 3. That might be what he is driving it, but it is quite a coherent pathway for the bulk of your Level 2 apprenticeship to be acquired through your Level 2 diploma.

  Q152  Paul Holmes: Does not a lot of this confusion stem back? Tomlinson said that there should be an overarching diploma that you arrived at through different academic and vocational routes but that led to the same qualification. The Government ducked that because the 2005 election was coming up and all these problems stemmed from that. A year or more ago, we were taking evidence from the early developers of the diplomas. Ken Boston of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority sat in that seat and said that diplomas must be high-level academic thinking. We had people from colleges and employers sitting in those seats saying, "No, no, no, they must be very vocational." We are still not really sure what they are. It all stems back to ducking what Tomlinson recommended three years ago.

  Jim Knight: With all respect, if we had ended up going with a single wrapper around apprenticeships as well as A-levels, for example, all that would have happened in terms of all the conversations that we have had about how to engage employers is that they would not be saying, "This learner has got this level of attainment in their diploma." They would be saying, "What's in the diploma? I need to know what they have actually learned in terms of their practical skills for an apprenticeship." It is quite helpful to employers to have clarity around what the style of teaching and learning is. Is it an academic style, is it a mix, is it vocational, and what level have they achieved? That is at the heart of the qualification strategy.

  Chairman: We have got some spare time at the end to cover careers education. Andrew Pelling is going to lead.

  Q153  Mr. Pelling: Obviously, the Minister has a real enthusiasm for pursuing this step change for apprenticeships, so I do not want to appear cavilling in asking a question about the part of the Bill on careers education. He is obviously driven by a concern as to whether or not schools will give impartial advice on careers education. That was what our two witnesses said at last week's meeting. In terms of requiring schools to advise in their pupils' best interests, is it really necessary—to ask in a sceptical fashion—to put that burden on schools? What sanction will there be if they do not comply? Also, to pose a question in another direction and bearing in mind that there are questions about schools' impartiality, do you agree with our witnesses from last week that the clause does not go far enough?

  Jim Knight: The first part of the question refers, pretty much, to clause 68 of the Education and Skills Bill, which is going through Parliament at the moment. That will be underpinned by statutory guidance. We do think that it is necessary. We think that there is sufficient evidence that some schools are advising pupils to carry on in that institution not because it is necessarily the right thing for that pupil but because it is the right thing for the institution. We needed to be able to address that. Parliament willing, once that becomes legislation, if schools break section 68 of what will be the Education and Skills Act, they will be breaking the law, and the consequences will follow in terms of being vulnerable to legal challenge. As we have discussed in the context of other things, schools will not want to break the law. They will change their behaviour as a result of our putting that in law. The second part of your question was whether the measure goes far enough. We wanted to move things on from clause 68 in the draft legislation and to consider how to reflect that in any subsequent legislation that we bring forward in the next Session. We wanted to be really clear in moving it on that every young person needs to be advised about their suitability for an apprenticeship, particularly for those parts of the country and those ethnic groups or in addressing gender stereotypes. If we are going to be able to address all of that and build demand evenly across the country and across different groups of people, we need to ensure that they are given appropriate advice that includes apprenticeships. In saying that, we are not saying that they will be right for everybody, but they need to be included in the conversation.

  Q154  Mr. Pelling: Would it have been right to go on to the principle of requiring all or some careers advisers to be entirely impartial, and requiring somebody independent from schools to be provided?

  Jim Knight: We are doing more work on the development of information, advice and guidance. Although with the movement in the Bill from Connexions to local authorities, and with the application of the new quality standard in IAG, we are changing things and improving quality, the relationship in turn to careers education, schools' statutory duty to provide it and, now, their statutory duty for it to be impartial is something that we have more work to do on. We will have to make more announcements in the fullness of time. As ever, any advice that we get from the Select Committee will be listened to carefully. In the end, I think that saying to schools universally, "You're not doing a good enough job, and we're therefore going to fund this enormous organisation to come in and deliver careers education for every young person," is probably going a little bit too far.

  Q155  Mr. Pelling: The usual parochial refrain—

  Jim Knight: I would be disappointed if there was not one.

  Mr. Pelling: Absolutely. When you come from Croydon, you have to be parochial. What resources will there be to ensure that careers staff can give good-quality advice about options and apprenticeships for young people? Will that flow?

  Jim Knight: Yes. At the moment, a lot of careers education is delivered through personal, social and health education. That is something that we are looking at very closely, to see how we can improve the standard, quality and consistency of PSHE (Personal, social and health education) learning. Ofsted tells us that that is improving, but there is more that we can and should do. We set up the subject associations for PSHE, which has again improved things, but in the context of careers education, financial literacy, managing money, sex and relationship education and the drugs and alcohol work that we have been doing, it all comes back to PHSE. Therefore, there is a lot of reason for us to want to invest further in improving skills in that area.

  Q156  Mr. Chaytor: There is a huge difference in detail and length between clause 21, which specifies the entry requirements and the obligation to provide places for apprenticeships, and clause 23, which is essentially four-and-a-half lines about careers education. The wording in clause 23 does not do what the Government have said that it ought to do. It does not require advice about apprenticeships to be given to the young person. It simply requires the teacher, who is acting as the careers adviser, to consider whether advice should be given. In reality, it is meaningless, futile and completely unenforceable.

  Jim Knight: In this area, we are interested in what the scrutiny of the draft legislation tells us. Clause 68 in the current Bill allows us to issue statutory guidance to schools, which they will have to act in accordance with. The statutory guidance gives us the opportunity to address things in some detail. We may not need to add anything in the fourth Session Bill, or we may need to. If the Committee and others want to feed back their thinking on the best way of doing that so that it works, we are all ears. Obviously, a lot more detail can be included. The Bill refers to an amendment to section 43 of the Education Act 1997. I am not sufficiently agile in my recall of the 1997 Act to know how much detail there is in that. As I said to Andrew, the substantive point is that we want to ensure that apprenticeships are part of the conversation that young people have in their careers education.

  Q157  Mr. Chaytor: But you accept that clause 23 does not require that? It simply moves us in the direction of considering whether it should be part of the conversation.

  Jim Knight: It moves us in that direction, and if we need to go further, we will.

  Q158  Mr. Chaytor: Do you not accept that the basic structural problem is that the financial incentives are all at the level of the individual school maximising the number of young people it should retain post-16. However, the curriculum that is emerging is far wider and more varied. Until the Government can reconcile that contradiction, we will have this debate about impartiality year after year. Do you see a way of reconciling that and somehow adjusting the financial incentives so that the budget works to provide impartial advice?

  Jim Knight: There are all sorts of levers to bring to bear on this. We have used the blunt instrument of legislation in terms of impartial advice. We are currently in a consultation on the school funding system for the next spending period. One of the things that we floated there is whether we go to a 14-to-19 system of funding. In part, that would acknowledge the need for all 14-to-19 providers to be in a consortium to deliver the diploma entitlement. We are also working on our vision for the 21st-century school, which will undoubtedly be one that is clustering and working in partnership. It will still be important for our accountability structures, which are another key part of the leverage that we have on the system, to hold individual institutions to account as well as the partnerships that they are in.

  Q159  Mr. Chaytor: Finally, in view of the raising of the participation age to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015, where does that leave the Connexions service if careers and education advice is still rooted at the level of the institution? What will Connexions do when it does not have large numbers of young people free floating after the age of 16? Young people will be attached to one institution or another.

  Jim Knight: Connexions will still perform a critical role.

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