Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 160-167)


22 OCTOBER 2008

  Q160  Mr. Chaytor: What will that role be?

  Jim Knight: A fundamental role in raising the participation age. Its service has a universal aspect. For example, Connexions Direct is a national helpline and website for people to access to see what is available and to gain information.

  Q161  Mr. Chaytor: Is that not the role of the individual school?

  Jim Knight: Certainly some of our further work will be through the relationship between careers education advice that people receive in schools that are delivering their statutory duty and what Connexions will do, but a substantial bulk of the detailed work of Connexions will be more targeted on young people who need personalised support because of particular circumstances. They will be at particular risk, so we would need to deliver a discrete service to them through Connexions, which, in turn, would form the commissioning decisions of the local authority.

  Chairman: A very quick bite from Paul, and then we shall wind up.

  Jim Knight: A bite?

  Chairman: A bite of the action. He is not savage.

  Q162  Paul Holmes: When I was head of the sixth form, I did careers advice post-16, and two careers teachers did careers advice pre-16, but both pre-and post-16 teaching brought in excellent, independent careers experts from the LEA each week who saw each year 10, 11, 12 and 13 pupil and gave them outside, impartial advice. After Connexions, the general picture throughout the country is that that service has been massively diluted. The careers experts became general advisers on drugs, health, housing and the rest of it, and the general advisers were supposed to become careers experts. It has not really worked. What will you do about that so that we can have impartial, outside expertise?

  Jim Knight: Fundamentally, we are passing the responsibility for Connexions back to local authorities. It seemed the only logical thing to do. If we are giving, as we are, local authorities a duty to ensure that they are making proper provision for every young person in their area until the age of 18, it is logical that they should have the responsibility for Connexions so that they can offer information, advice and guidance.

  Q163  Paul Holmes: So why take it away in the first place, when they were doing pretty well in my experience?

  Jim Knight: That is back in pre-history.

  Q164  Chairman: It may be back in pre-history, Minister, but why are local authorities no longer asked to put careers services out to contract? They were in the past. Some hired private sector companies or not-for-profit companies, or they did it themselves. Why is that no longer the rule?

  Jim Knight: I think that, unless I am advised otherwise, as we move forward, it will be up to local authorities to make those decisions for themselves. If they want to contract out their Connexions service, they can do so, or they can provide it in house.

  Q165  Chairman: Would it not be healthier if there were a contracting process? Let us be honest. Some of us do not share Paul Holmes's view of how good the careers service was under local government in deepest, darkest history. What is wrong with the contracting-out process?

  Jim Knight: There is nothing wrong with the contracting-out process.

  Q166  Chairman: Most them are not going to do it now, are they?

  Jim Knight: In the end, they are accountable at the ballot box for how well their service is working, and they will decide how they will drive up quality. We regard contracting in certain circumstances as a useful way in which to move forward. For example, we believe in school competitions as a way of testing whether we have the right answers.

  Q167  Chairman: Two very quick things to finish the sitting. First, I hope that you will look at the recent report on information, advice and guidance of the Skills Commission that I co-chair with Ruth Silver. It is important to revert to one of my opening questions in the last section. I was concerned about who decides whether a young person will do an apprenticeship. We found that 65% of decisions are still made on the advice of family and friends. Yes, careers advice comes in, but tails behind even the advice that people gain increasingly about careers on the internet. Lastly, there is a highly complex bit in the Bill that I could not fathom about giving the public sector the right to provide apprenticeships. To me and to anyone who has read it, that is a dense part of the Bill. Does it mean that there will be real opportunities and a real movement for public sector hospitals, local government, universities and this place to run apprenticeships?

  Jim Knight: There is a whole section on this place—on Crown staff and Parliament. We are absolutely committed to expansion in the public sector. If, when drafting clauses and the explanatory notes, we need to make things clearer if they are too dense, we shall obviously look at it and, as ever, follow your advice.

  Chairman: As you know, if the Governor of the Bank of England is right and we are indeed entering a recession, a big investment in training might be the best thing that we can do in this country, but we need it now.

  Jim Knight: Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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