Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
MP AND LORD
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
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
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
Chairman: We have got some spare time
at the end to cover careers education. Andrew Pelling is going
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
necessaryto ask in a sceptical fashionto 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
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
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
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
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.