UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 1082-ii

HOUSE OF COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE

 

DRAFT APPRENTICESHIPS BILL

 

JIM KNIGHT and LORD YOUNG OF NORWOOD GREEN

 

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 66 - 167

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee

on Wednesday 22 October 2008

Members present:

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Chairman)

Annette Brooke

Mr. Douglas Carswell

Mr. David Chaytor

Mr. John Heppell

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson

Paul Holmes

Fiona Mactaggart

Mr. Andrew Pelling

Mr. Andy Slaughter

Mr. Graham Stuart

Mr. Edward Timpson

 

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Department for Children, Schools and Families, and Lord Young of Norwood Green, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills and Apprenticeships, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, gave evidence.

 

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 that-I think that it was at oral questions last week, when many of you were away-I 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.

 

Q67Chairman: 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 procurement process?

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.

 

Q68Paul Holmes: On another aspect of the issue, the whole point of the EMAs-and they have been very successful-is 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 providers-schools, colleges and others-and 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 off.

 

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 way.

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 welcome-you will know something about the subject in a different way.

Lord Young: It was one or two years ago.

 

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 career?

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 learning.

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 apprenticeship.

 

Q79 Chairman: Okay. So, all apprenticeships should have a positive link with an employer.

Jim Knight: Absolutely.

 

Q80 Chairman: Okay. Lord Young, with your background, you would be familiar with the kind of people that I am familiar with in my part of Yorkshire, who do an engineering apprenticeship-a two, three or four-year apprenticeship, which is very rigorous. When those people qualify, they are normally hotly competed for by employers. Are you familiar with that?

Lord Young: Very much so. Yes. You raise an important point when you talk about how we define the apprenticeship, because of the contract with the employer-we will not count them unless at the completion of their apprenticeship they have a contract with an employer. There will be no dubiety about the number of people in an apprenticeship programme-we are quite clear about that.

 

Q81 Chairman: Let me continue my understanding of a good apprenticeship. The good apprenticeship is with an employer; it is pretty rigorous training. What is the shortest time in which you can do an apprenticeship in this country, Minister?

Jim Knight: That depends. Given that an apprenticeship is a bringing together of other qualifications or modules of qualifications, you may have already completed some of the qualifications necessary to qualify as an apprentice prior to starting your apprenticeship training formally, in which case you would be able to go through that training more quickly than if you had to accumulate the whole thing. Clearly, having that experience in the workplace is the fundamental thing that we have been talking about. So, you are going to need to spend a reasonable period of time doing that in order to be able to qualify. That will be the thing that makes the difference.

 

Q82 Chairman: So, what is the shortest time in which you can qualify as an apprentice in any sector if leaving school at 16?

Lord Young: One thing that we should think about, with where they start from, is that we are talking about being employer-led, although there are blueprints, so there is going to be some variation. I would need to consult. Two years comes to mind, but whether it is possible to achieve something in less than that, I would need to check.

 

Q83 Chairman: What does Jim think?

Jim Knight: I would really struggle to be persuaded that anyone could do it in less than a year. There may be circumstances in which you could do it in less than two years, if you have sufficient-

 

Q84 Chairman: There are some figures floating around that say that the average length of an apprenticeship is a year.

Jim Knight: Obviously, we can let the Committee know if our understanding is different from some of the reality, but in terms of getting that practical experience and work experience, so much depends on what you have been doing before going into the apprenticeship. In simple terms, I would say that if you are doing less than a year, getting that detailed understanding is something that we would struggle with.

Chairman: You have been passed a note, Lord Young.

Lord Young: Can we compromise on 18 months? The apprenticeship you quoted, the engineering-type apprenticeship, is one end of a scale. There is a rich variety here. If in this country we want to drive up apprenticeships, they have to be related to employer demand-to their needs-within these blueprints, which determine the criteria of quality. At one end will be highly complex engineering, while at the other end there will be completely different types of apprenticeship.

 

Q85 Chairman: Have you heard of Gresham's law?

Lord Young: Yes. It is about the amount of work expanding to fill the time available.

 

Q86 Chairman: Well, the Gresham's law I know about is when someone adulterates the currency by melting it down and adding something. Is that not a problem with apprenticeships? You have not mentioned the families of children who might go into apprenticeships. Surely, when we want to sell them the new expanded apprenticeship programme, which is going to get bigger, they should have some guarantee of quality at the heart of it?

Lord Young: That is where the blueprint comes into it, along with the frameworks that are agreed in consultation with employers, the Sector Skills Council, and, at the moment, the Learning and Skills Council, which is going to change. If you are talking about ensuring that we do not have adulterated apprenticeships, I believe that we have quality controls.

 

Q87 Chairman: But in modern-speak, we could talk about brands. We might have a brand that at one end is a gold-plated and wonderful formal apprenticeship, and at the other end is something in retail and distribution that takes six months.

Lord Young: It would be more than that.

 

Q88 Chairman: More than six months? So you cannot do any training that would grant you an apprenticeship in six months?

Lord Young: Well, if you do not mind me saying so, Chairman, you have one vision of an apprenticeship. I remember this same debate taking place in British Telecom, where there was an argument about whether there should be a two-year or a three-year apprenticeship. When we moved to a three-year apprenticeship, we were working for most of the time in that third year. I do not think that it is the length of time that is important, but what is required in order to learn the vocational skills and all the other components that we talk about, such as acquiring reasonable qualifications and so on. What are the requirements? We are saying probably a figure of about 18 months, my officials are telling me. I would not get hung up on saying that if it is longer that must mean better.

 

Q89 Chairman: I never said that. What I believe and what most people believe is that there should be a minimum guarantee of quality-that is what I am trying to tease out.

Jim Knight: Clearly, quality is absolutely essential, and we have to secure the esteem with which this brand-to use your word-is held by the public. People do value apprenticeships very much, but in the end the quality is measured by the employers themselves and it is the employers who are designing the 180-odd apprenticeship frameworks that we have in place, either directly or through the Sector Skills Council. It is for the employer, while meeting our standard, which we have set at quite a high level around the four things that I set out for you earlier, to design things and look at what qualifications will meet their quality standards. You have to bear it in mind that apprenticeships are at level 2, level 3 and level 4, so there will be differences between the various levels, quite rightly. That is why it is quite difficult for us to come up with a time, because you have to account for prior attainment, different levels and different settings. So to come up with a magic figure for the amount of time that it takes in order to ensure quality is quite difficult.

 

Q90 Chairman: Okay. Lord Young, would you not say that many people in this country believe that an apprenticeship trains someone with a skill to do something useful and gets them into a good way of employment?

Lord Young: Absolutely.

 

Q91 Chairman: At reasonable pay?

Lord Young: Absolutely.

 

Q92 Chairman: Is it not something of a confidence trick if you get the parents and a young person to believe in going into an apprenticeship in retail and distribution, for example, when some of our wealthiest, biggest and most successful retailers pay on average 11,500 a year? Does it seem worth doing an apprenticeship if you end up in that situation?

Lord Young: I think that is a really interesting argument. The answer is yes, in my opinion.

 

Q93 Chairman: Could you live on 11,500 a year?

Lord Young: I would not want to live on that. Of course I would like to drive up pay.

 

Q94 Chairman: Many of my constituents have no chance of a decent life because that is all they can earn, even if they take an apprenticeship and work for one of our leading companies. I could not live on 11,500, and I do not think that you could.

Lord Young: I agree that I would find it a challenge. Are we then saying that we would not recommend that somebody go into that particular industry? I would recommend that, despite the point you make. If we do not train people in that industry, their chances of progressing anywhere are even more limited. We are talking about creating life chances for people, so notwithstanding the difficulties of the wages earned in that industry, we must ask, "Do we enhance their life chances and their skills, and do we make them more socially mobile by putting them through an apprenticeship?" The answer is emphatically yes.

 

Q95 Chairman: That is exactly what I wanted you to tell me. In the argument made by the Minister for Schools and Learners it is essential that there is an element of progression. I can see progression in many of the apprenticeship schemes, not just the gold-plated ones.

Lord Young: Whether it is hairdressing or retail.

 

Q96 Chairman: Yes, but what the Bill gets to the heart of, and something that I must ask you in searching terms, is whether there is a problem in that at one end of the apprenticeship market you tend to devalue the currency because the package is not strong enough and the security of employment and the payment at the end are not sufficient.

Jim Knight: We made an important announcement that we were raising the minimum wage, and from next August the minimum apprenticeship wage will go up from 80 to 95 a week. Obviously, 95 a week is still a long way off 11,500 a year, but it is important that we seek to push up that wage in the same way that we have the national minimum wage and the tax credit. We absolutely agree with where you are coming from.

However, in terms of increasing opportunities for people, they are raising their general skill level even by working in a low-paid industry such as retail or hairdressing, which is a very popular apprenticeship for women. There is a gender issue that informed our reasons for wanting to raise the minimum apprenticeship wage. When I go round colleges talking to people on apprenticeships, such as some women doing hairdressing apprenticeships in Brighton last month, I find that many of them want to run their own business. They need to acquire the necessary hairdressing skills, so they do a level 2 apprenticeship and then advance those skills through a level 3 apprenticeship, which includes some of the skills that they need to run a business as well as those required to cut hair and do other things that I do not understand because I do not have much hair. That is their ambition, and that will be their progression.

New Look, the fashion retailer, is based in my constituency. There is progression in that industry, either towards running your own retail business or up through the company. A member of my family started on the shop floor of Boots, doing temporary Christmas work, and worked her way up to be a well-paid HR professional in retail.

There is progression in those industries, but only on the basis of skill, and that is why it is important to enhance skills through apprenticeships.

Chairman: Minister, I understand what you say, but the background of the social structure of our country is changing. Anyone who saw the recent "Newsnight" item on Detroit will know that we face a great challenge as well-paid manufacturing jobs disappear and are replaced by jobs in distribution and retail which usually pay minimum wage-plus. That is a challenge to the whole concept of what you are trying to achieve through the Apprenticeships Bill, but I have had enough of berating you about that. Let me bring in John.

 

Q97 Mr. Heppell: My apologies-I have to leave early so the Chairman has allowed me to get in early. As someone who went through a five-year, time-served, indentured apprenticeship, I think that I have a little experience in these matters, and your explanation of what a good apprenticeship should be is probably as good as I have ever heard, but may I play devil's advocate for a minute? My view is that people who acquire apprenticeships will have greater opportunities in life. I know how much an apprenticeship has helped me-it has been a bedrock throughout my life. You know that you always have something behind you, and that gives you a sense of security, but people ask, "What is actually going to be in the Bill?" I hear what you say about it being symbolic, but if that is all it is, something is wrong. What is it that you can do with the Bill that you cannot do without it?

Jim Knight: For me, the most important thing is the apprenticeship guarantee. It is really important that we put in place a driver. I do not know whether you have taken evidence from the Learning and Skills Council about the guarantee, but the LSC is not that comfortable, in many ways, with the duty that is being placed on it, because it will be really tough. However, it is an absolute driver on the LSC that the guarantee will be in place by 2013. If we are to achieve our ambition of one in five young people being in an apprenticeship by 2020, we will have to get that guarantee in place. In the same way, we can put duties on the LSC in respect of diplomas-there are other examples of the way in which duties on public authorities work. In the end, however, the LSC can be taken to court by a young person if it has not delivered on its duty. In terms of creating system change-raising the participation age will create system change by engaging every young person-that is crucial. That is the most important thing. Specifying standards so that the frameworks reflect that is important, and that is a good reason to legislate, but if you wanted the main thing, I would say that it was the duty.

Chairman: Lord Young?

Lord Young: I was going to say the entitlement plus the standards. The Chair pointed out that we need to know precisely what we mean by an apprenticeship, and we do not want to see the currency devalued. The entitlement, plus defining exactly what we mean by an apprenticeship and what it will give you are important. We all understand the need to drive up the number of apprenticeships if we want to meet the challenges set out in the Leitch report. If we really want to give young people-those who might choose a less academic route initially-a chance to progress in their lives, we need something like the Apprenticeships Bill.

Mr. Heppell: I am not quite sure whether it was my question or the Minister's answer, but we have managed to empty the back of the room.

Chairman: I was warned that a group of young people were coming briefly to look at our Committee-it is nothing do with the Minister.

 

Q98 Mr. Heppell: What is the Bill actually going to do? There has always been a demand for apprenticeships from young people. People have always wanted to go into them, and there has never been a time when they have not been a popular choice-they certainly were when I was a young lad, and I suspect that they are now. The real problem at the moment is that there is clearly not enough demand from employers. When I was young, as I have said before, it was very much the public sector and the nationalised industries-big companies-that offered the apprenticeships. The effects of that flowed into the rest of the country, and the smaller firms picked up the skilled people from those companies. What in the Bill will induce employers to take on more apprentices?

Lord Young: It would not just be a Bill that did that. We have a number of strategies, including champions and apprenticeship ambassadors. We have the national apprenticeship vacancy matching service, the idea being that we will simplify the process of taking on apprentices for employers. I do not think that legislation of itself will do that, but we nevertheless see it as fundamental in enshrining rights and requirements.

You said that apprenticeships are popular, but we have two problems in terms of hearts and minds. One is convincing employers that apprenticeships are worth their while and that they do add value. The apprenticeship image needs to be enhanced for young people as well. When I asked my 18-year-old son why he did not choose the vocational route rather than university, he answered, "Oh, you are sort of second class. That is for the guys who can't hack it." That is a totally wrong perspective. We have a job to do with young people's perception of apprenticeships and with employers' understanding of why it is important to the success of their business.

Jim Knight: The demand side is weak in some parts of the country. There is not an apprenticeship culture in London and the south-east, for example. We need to build on that and get it up to the strength of demand and the culture around apprenticeships that we might have in the north-west. More work needs to be done. Measures in the Bill help to achieve that, such as clause 23 on information, advice and guidance to young people. Clause 22 covers the national apprenticeship vacancy matching service, which will work on both supply and demand, while clause 21, which is crucial, is on securing sufficient apprenticeship places to meet the guarantee.

You are right that the big focus needs to be on supply, particularly as we go into more difficult economic times. We need to do more, especially in the public sector. It needs to increase by half as much again to match the levels of private sector apprenticeships. We have an event on the 27th of this month when ministerial champions from each Department responsible for developing apprenticeships within the sectors for which they are accountable will come together with others to work through how to deliver significant growth in public sector apprenticeships. Clause 21 is important in that respect, as are the opportunities for sector skills councils and employers to bring forward frameworks in an easier, more coherent way under clauses 7 to 10. Stimulating strong supply and demand are necessary, and that is why we want to legislate.

 

Q99 Mr. Heppell: Lord Young said, "We will not validate something as an apprenticeship if, in the end, they are not in employment." That worried me a bit, because it almost suggested that people could go through a lot of training and then get a job a week or so before it was time for their pension. I want to be reassured. The beauty of apprenticeship for me was that people got both the theory and the practice, but it was understanding how they meshed them together that was important.

For my apprenticeship, I did a year's block release at college and went to work in the holidays. To be honest, the theory was great but it was never relevant until I was actually on the job and could do as much as I liked on the hydraulics. We opened up an Anderson Boyes coal cutter, looked inside it and the pipes did not mean a thing. We had to know how to match the theoretical work with the practical work. People need to be in work when they are in an apprenticeship. I want reassurance that it will not be a case of people attending a training school before getting a job.

Lord Young: There has to be proper workplace experience, too. There will be a contract with an employer. I was trying to distinguish it from programme-led apprenticeships where there is not necessarily a contract with an employer. It is not just a last-minute connection.

Jim Knight: Clause 16 through to clause 20 of the Bill defines the apprenticeship agreement as a contract between the learner and the employer.

 

Q100 Mr. Pelling: I want to follow up John's question and Lord Young's earlier comment. As for producing quality of apprenticeship, surely the kudos will really come when people feel confident that their earning power will be significantly improved by the apprenticeship. What will the Government be able to tell people about the prospects for improved earning power if you secure the step change in the quality of apprenticeships?

Lord Young: There is an easy answer to that. If people receive little or no training, their potential earning power is severely reduced. With an apprenticeship, they will get a guaranteed accredited qualification. They will get a quality experience both in what they learn while getting their technical qualification and in their work-based training, which John rightly emphasised. It has to enhance their potential earning power and their career fulfilment. People can unfortunately be described as a mere shelf-stacker, implying that they have no skills whatsoever. That has been limited to a tiny, narrow, experience and we are trying to lift people out of that description. That is why apprenticeships are important, not just across the areas that John described and the heavy engineering end that our Chairman described, but right throughout industry.

Jim Knight: It is fundamental to each one of the 180 apprenticeship frameworks that they can each tell a story. If you complete the apprenticeship successfully, and apprenticeship completions are up significantly over the past few years, that will improve your life chances, earning potential and so on. The Training and Development Agency is an example that will be of interest to this Committee. It has developed and renewed the apprenticeship framework for teaching assistants. I am keen to see an expansion of apprentice teaching assistants in our schools. We need to be able to tell the story of how that will in turn deliver work that is satisfying in every sense, including payment. We are setting up the support staff negotiating body. That will be part of telling that story. Obviously you have the opportunities, once you are trained and employed as a teaching assistant, to progress as a higher-level teaching assistant. We are developing those support staff roles on and on. That is a story that we can tell as we try to encourage people into that apprenticeship.

 

Q101 Chairman: A teaching assistant can become a teacher, eventually.

Jim Knight: Yes. I am sure that many of us know examples in our constituencies of individuals who have perhaps started by volunteering in schools, become a teaching assistant, continued training, done an OU course, got the degree and then gone into the graduate teacher training programme and become a teacher.

Chairman: That is proper progression.

 

Q102 Mr. Slaughter: Can I carry on a little bit about the employer side of the matter? I do not know about my colleagues, but I am not sure that I am persuaded by your answers so far. You rightly said that the Government's record is very good so far-since the Labour Government came into office, the numbers of starts and finishes of apprenticeship schemes have tripled-but is it not getting more difficult now to ensure that employer places are there? I cannot see much in the Bill that will do that. The Bill seems almost-John used the phrase-symbolic. It is almost as though the Government are drawing attention to what they have done so far and saying that they wish they could do more, and that that put the resources in and tried to make it attractive to young people. But if there is not a commitment by a substantial number of large and medium-sized employers to do this, will it not fail?

Jim Knight: I urge you to read clause 21, which is a long clause-it goes on for a couple of pages. It is principally about the duties of the LSC. To deliver on the guarantee set out in clause 3(e), the LSC will have to work extremely hard on engaging employers. To be able to do this it is, for example, expanding its current field force of 230 people to 400 staff, going out and working with skills brokers who have that day-to-day contact with employers to encourage them to take on apprenticeships.

We have some specific work going on at the moment with ConstructionSkills, the sector skills council for construction. Obviously with the decline in house building at the moment there is a particular issue there. We have managed to grow to over 20,000 apprenticeship starts in construction and we have aspirations to go much further, but we have to be able to work quite closely with them as the economy changes, to ensure that we can continue to fulfil those. Public sector construction will play quite an important part in that. For example, this autumn we are acting to specify the provision of apprenticeship places as part of constructors' obligations in getting involved in Building Schools for the Future; and on 27 October, the use of procurement will form part of our discussions with our ministerial colleagues on how the public sector can do its bit in apprenticeships.

In essence, the LSC will have to deepen the use of existing apprenticeship agreements. It will have to look at other sectors and parts of the country where there is not a strong tradition of apprenticeships and then forge strong relationships with employers and employer groups, to get them to see the value of getting entrants into their industries, particularly when times are tough economically. We can successfully ride out the economic circumstances only on the basis of skills. We share with the CBI and other employer organisations the strong message that now is the wrong time to stop investing in training and skills for the work force. Obviously, we also saw the announcements that John Denham and others made yesterday about trying to help small and medium-sized businesses by using some of the Train to Gain money to achieve that.

Lord Young: You are right to emphasise the size of the task. For a start, there is a battle for hearts and minds with small and medium-sized enterprises. I have been going out and meeting groups from SMEs that are signing up to the skills pledge, and we have had the 100,000th company sign up to Train to Gain, so interest is increasing, but it will be a difficult time.

What do we seek to do? Well, we seek to remove obstacles. Is engaging apprentices now complex and difficult? Yes, it is difficult for an employer, so we want to remove the obstacles. The national apprenticeship service will provide a single point of advice and guidance for employers interested in apprenticeships. We will soon be rolling out the first trials of the vacancy matching service, so that employers can register their vacancies and those seeking apprenticeships can find them.

It is also important to ensure that employers feel that those apprenticeships are relevant to their industry or occupation. The programme has to be demand-led, so we are working with the sector skills councils so that they can help to design the frameworks. They cannot just design any old framework, however; it has to meet the criteria defined in the blueprint.

To sum up, one part of this is about removing obstacles to make it easier for employers to engage apprentices. The other part is winning the battle for hearts and minds in the way the Minister just described. Employers have to believe that having better skilled staff will prepare them to survive the challenges they are going through and to come out of this situation with a stronger company.

 

Q103 Mr. Slaughter: Is not the problem that you are relying extensively on persuasion and on trying to convince people that something is in their interests? I am interested in what you said about procurement as a route, but are you not trying to push water uphill, in the sense that the whole organisation of the employment sector and the economic circumstances are going the other way? A generation or two ago there were large organisations, in both the public and the private sector, that were almost hardwired to provide apprenticeships. That was the case in central and local government, nationalised industries and big firms, but we no longer have that.

We are also possibly in an economic downturn in which there will be opportunities to come. My experience of local government, going back 20 years, was that we would take over something that had been privatised and where all the apprenticeships had gone, renationalise it and bring the apprenticeships back, and now it has been privatised again and they have all gone again. You can try to hold the waters back, but the general trend is towards cutting costs, whether by Gershon in central Government or elsewhere, but is not the net effect that apprenticeships are some of the first things that go, and all of the good will expressed here will not change that?

Chairman: We do not have time for both Ministers to answer each question.

Jim Knight: I cannot pretend that it is going to get easier, because of the economic circumstances. I discussed that yesterday with the LSC's chair and chief executive and others. I have asked them to do a piece of work about it-crystal ball gazing really, because it is very difficult to predict exactly what is going to happen in the future. More difficult economic circumstances will, in some ways, create a driver for young people to want to acquire more skills. It is not going to be as straightforward for them to go and get other work with lower levels of skills, so the demand may increase, but it is going make supply more difficult. That is why it is really important that the public sector steps up to the plate. John Denham has an apprentice working in his private office.

Lord Young: So have I.

Jim Knight: So has Tony. Even at that simple level, there is more that we can do. If I could get an apprentice teaching assistant in every school-a slightly ambitious aspiration-that would be 23,000 apprenticeships. There is a lot more that we can do across the public sector. At the moment, we are talking a lot about what the public sector is doing, as we take over a few of the things that the private sector gets up to. It is important that we drive this forward.

We have set up a structure at permanent secretary level-led by Ian Watmore, the permanent secretary at DIUS-with ministerial champions in every Department to drive it forward. The Ministry of Defence has a very strong tradition in this area, and we need to learn from those that are doing well. Obviously, we must work with the private sector as well, and we have some employers that are hugely committed to this-organisations such as BT and Rolls Royce-but we need to deepen and widen it into other sectors, perhaps with the public sector taking a lead. We also need to listen to voices such as the CBI, which is very strong on this.

 

Q104 Mr. Slaughter: Do you see part of the problem as being work force mobility? Again, when you go back a generation, an employer who was prepared to put the investment into an apprentice, might expect-although obviously the apprentice would not be indentured for life-that that investment would be repaid. That is no longer the case, for a number of reasons. Is there anything in the Bill that can deal with that issue?

Jim Knight: There is nothing in the Bill that deals with that specifically, beyond what is in the clauses around the apprenticeship frameworks, which are really designed to make it easier for sector skills councils. It is important that it be done sector-by-sector. There are employers who are working discretely themselves, and they have the confidence to be able to do it and to take the risks around mobility.

As we have also seen with Investors in People, if you can get a group of employers locally-we have training associations that are also looking to set up together at the smaller end of the employer range-they are not taking a risk on their own. They are sharing the risk. If they are training people who then go and work for one of their competitors, but they have confidence that their competitors are also training people whom they can then employ, they are sharing the risk and there can be a positive outcome at the end. We have seen that with IiP and, equally, we can we can see it with apprenticeships.

 

Q105 Fiona Mactaggart: I am glad that the effort is being put in, but it seems to me that the reality on the ground is different. I got an e-mail from the mum of a 17-year-old lad in my constituency, except he is not in my constituency anymore. The previous e-mail that I received from her told me that he had already written 99 letters to employers, that he had done all the college bit of his apprenticeship and that he could not find an employment placement. He has found one now-in Leeds. She quite reasonably feels that her 17-year-old son being based in Leeds to do his plumbing apprenticeship is a bit much, although she is very glad that he has got the place.

I am wondering whether we have sorted out the tension between the need for the young person to get broad and balanced training across a sector, so that they have the base that can give them the flexibility that they will need in future, and a world in which companies have become more specialised and cannot offer that flexibility. I do not see the Bill as providing any intelligent way of resolving the tension that exists in the modern world.

Jim Knight: The guarantee in clause 21(2), in proposed new section 3E(2) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, specifies a test of reasonableness in paragraph (2)(c), with the phrase "within the person's reasonable travel area." Say you want to be an apprentice plumber and you live in Slough. I do not think that any court would judge that Leeds was within a reasonable travel area of Slough. The Learning and Skills Council-the Skills Funding Agency, as it will become-and the NAS within that will have to work very hard in places such as the south-east to ensure that they have the engagement of employers wanting to take on apprentices within the reasonable travel area of every young person in this country, even those in Slough. I was pleased to see, when looking at the statistics yesterday for 16-to-18 apprenticeships, that there was some growth. Although the big growth that we are seeing is in adult apprenticeships, there is some in apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds. The really spectacular growth is in the London area. So, we are starting to see some signs of change, but we have a lot further to go. That is why we have placed quite a robust duty on the LSC in that important clause, by stating "within the person's reasonable travel area", to try and tackle exactly the problem that you are talking about.

 

Q106 Fiona Mactaggart: There is no mechanism that I can see for the LSC to deliver, because there is no duty on the employer. There is no bribe for the employer-no special arrangements. Employers are under greater tension now. I have had a really positive response from employers in Slough-one of the most productive areas in the country-to our demand for more skills training and so on. They all say, "Fine," but they really keep not turning up stuff-they say nice stuff, but they cannot do it, because they are so focused on their bottom line at the moment. I do not see how giving a duty to the LSC is going to make employers do what they need to do.

Chairman: Lord Young, how are you going to do it?

Lord Young: You used the word "bribe". I do not know whether you can bribe employers, but I think that, first of all, we have to remove the obstacles, because there are still obstacles. We have to make it easier for them to do it. Secondly, we are paying for the training. We are not paying wages, but we are paying for the training costs of apprenticeships. That is a significant cost.

What will make employers do it? I think that we are down to convincing people that, if they want to improve the performance of their company, a better skilled or better trained work force will do that for them. So, there will be a multiplier effect, if you like. Obviously, the more that we can persuade to do that, the better. I do not think that we are arguing that we do not have a job to do or that there are no difficult circumstances, but it depends whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. We certainly do not see it as half empty. We do not have a situation where there are no apprenticeships. Our task is to drive up the numbers and to persuade and demonstrate to employers that there really are tangible advantages. Now, contained in the Bill, as the Minister has already said-

Jim Knight: Please call me Jim.

Lord Young: As Jim said, there are a number of things that we believe will do that. The one-stop shop is a place for employers to go to-the vacancy matching service. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We are not in any way underestimating the size of the task. I think that our focus, not just on large companies, but on small and medium-sized enterprises, is also important.

Jim Knight: I think putting a duty on employers, tempting though it might be, would be the wrong thing to do. Employers have got to want to do this, if they are going to give apprentices the experience that we want them to receive. If they are reluctantly bringing in these young people to give them some training because the law says that they have got to, those young people will not get the experience that they need.

We have to engage employers and we are doing that through skills brokers. Train to Gain is starting to have an impact in being able to work with employers, understand their skills needs and offer subsidised or free training. It is easier to engage larger employers than smaller ones. We can work with sectors by looking at the supply chain of larger businesses. Having gone through their procurement, we can look at how they can encourage employers to offer apprenticeships. There are things that we can do. My take is that imposing a duty on all employers would be unwieldy and would probably not give the outcome that we want.

 

Q107 Fiona Mactaggart: I absolutely agree. I was not arguing for imposing a duty, because I do not think that that would work. I was shocked at a meeting I had with three cutting-edge biotechnology companies in Slough-

Lord Young: What size were they?

Fiona Mactaggart: They were reasonably large. They were medium-sized to large companies such as UCB Celltech and Lonza. I was talking to them about training because I wanted them to engage in this issue. They were talking about having difficulties with technician-level skills. Because the development of biopharmaceuticals is relatively new, there is no traditional route. I spoke to them about apprenticeships and suggested that instead of handing the problem to the Government, they should converse with each other and work together to develop an apprenticeship scheme. I was shocked that they had no ideas at all about apprentices. Their first response was that they cannot carry the cost of people who are not performing for a long time. That is an obvious point about apprenticeships.

We give tax breaks for research and development. Apprenticeships are like R and D. You are investing in your future in the same way that you do with R and D. However, we do not provide tax breaks for employers in the same way if they invest in apprentices. I am not saying we should mandate that they must be provided, but if we structure the financing using tax breaks for a group of companies like those in biopharmaceuticals, they could be up for it and put their management energy into making it happen. The brokers have not been anywhere near them and do not know what they are like. All of the goodwill at the moment is just not landing.

Chairman: I ask colleagues to keep their questions a little shorter and the Ministers to make their answers a little shorter, as we are still on section 1 of four sections of questions.

Jim Knight: Tony and I both have brief things that we want to say.

Chairman: Lord Young?

Lord Young: This is a point I had forgotten. Next year we will be starting a trial of wage subsidies for small and medium-sized enterprises.

 

Q108 Chairman: You mean providing wage subsidies?

Lord Young: Yes, that will be trialled. We are also talking about meeting over-training costs of some large employers to get them to train beyond their needs to support supply chains. Those are the two approaches being tried.

Jim Knight: From the scenario you set out, there are clearly areas and sectors that we have not got into. In addressing the geographical disparities, we will go to areas that have different sorts of industries from the rest of the country.

The relationship between apprenticeships and other qualifications is also important. One of the most enthusiastic backers of the phase 4 science diploma is the pharmaceutical industry. We are seeking to engage the biotech industries in that. For example, you could do a level 2 diploma at 14 to 16-years-old and go on to do a level 3 apprenticeship to develop the skills of a laboratory technician. The pharmaceutical industry is crying out for those sorts of skills. That underpins why companies such as AstraZeneca are on the diploma development partnership for science. They see a clear gap in the qualifications set-up for delivering those skills.

Chairman: Everyone wants to come in on this section so we will quickly hear from Sharon and Paul before we move on.

 

Q109 Mrs. Hodgson: You answered questions about employee mobility and the fact that employers might train up apprentices who will then take their skills elsewhere. I am interested in the employer commitment to offer real jobs to these apprentices at the end of their training, especially in light of the fact that we may be going into an economic downturn. I am wondering what safeguards or guarantees there will be for the young people, to stop what happened in the 1980s with the youth training scheme, where young people were trained up over a period but there was never a real job at the end of it. Employers used the YTS as a source of cheap labour, so I am wondering if there are any guarantees in this scheme that that will not happen.

Jim Knight: In terms of the Bill, this would be contained in the apprenticeship agreement, where we are making sure that this is defined as an agreement between the employer and the learner. In that respect, the agreement would be similar to an employment contract. In terms of guarantees, it is difficult to say that it would be more of a guarantee than an employment contract, but it would be difficult to say that it is less than the guarantee that you would get in an employment contract.

I think that the apprenticeship agreement is significantly more robust than the YTS in that regard. We have taken some care to define the agreement in clauses 16 to 20 of the Bill, to provide some clarity and some robustness in that regard.

Lord Young: The only thing that I could add to that is that we are talking about a much better product than the YTS for a start. What has the young person got? Unfortunately, regardless of apprenticeships, you cannot guarantee any job within a company necessarily; the company might collapse. What has the individual got? Well, they have got a clear set of both transferable skills and genuine craft skills.

What is the recipe for survival in a downturn? Is the recipe having no skills or having a range of skills? I would say that the recipe has got to be having a range of skills. There is no absolute guarantee, but we are saying that we will not have a situation where there is not a genuine contract between an employer and an apprentice in order to qualify for the term "apprentice".

 

Q110 Paul Holmes: To return to the financial issue that Fiona was talking about, the British Chambers of Commerce, in the evidence that it submitted to the Committee, said that businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, will require financial incentives and support for apprenticeships. Nick Edwards from Lewisham College told the Committee that, as long as colleges are well paid for delivering training for apprenticeships, employers should also be paid for the training part of it.

Jim talked about Train to Gain, but the fear is that witnesses have said that employers will use Train to Gain because it is free up to level 2 and they will not use apprenticeships because there is no money for them.

Jim Knight: As Tony has just said, we are trialling the wage subsidy for SMEs, because we need to build some evidence to see whether that is an issue. I think that there is varying feedback on whether wage subsidy will be the answer. Some people argue-that is why we are trialling it-that it is the tipping point that pushes employers into deciding that they want to do it. However, most people agree that people are involved in apprenticeships not because of the wage subsidy, but because they value these young people or adults who are working in their workplace and doing a good job for them.

In the end, that is where we want to get everyone to. We do not want them to be motivated to do it because of wage subsidy, but if wage subsidy creates the tipping point, it is worth pursuing. That is why we are trialling it.

 

Q111 Paul Holmes: But look at Denmark, for example. A few years ago, the old Education Committee looked at further education and adult skills training in Denmark. Denmark has a system where there was the employer levy on everybody and everybody took part in providing apprenticeships. We were told that they felt that they had already paid for that through the levy, so they might as well make use of it.

As I said before, the fear here is that you get Train to Gain, all the evidence for which so far says that most of it is deadweight money, with employers using that money for things that they were providing themselves initially. Now, however, they let the state pay for it, and that will just work against everything that you are trying to do.

Jim Knight: I am not sure, particularly at this point in the economic cycle, that imposing a levy on all employers is the wisest thing to do.

 

Q112 Paul Holmes: I was not suggesting that it was, although a year or two ago the skills White Paper was saying on every page that this is the last chance saloon for employers and that if they do not put the money up and start training, perhaps we would have to do something about it. That is what you said in the skills White Paper, but is Train to Gain going to undermine what you are trying to do with apprenticeships?

Jim Knight: No.

Lord Young: No, I do not believe that it is. I honestly think that we have to persuade employers that there is a real advantage to their survival in training their current employees and in bringing fresh blood into the company through apprenticeships. There is no side-stepping that, which is why we have the apprenticeship ambassadors, the other 400 people going out there working. There are no short cuts to this. I would not like to engage in what has become almost an ideological argument about whether to have a training levy or not. We are not in that situation at the moment.

 

Q113 Chairman: But Tony, people say that there is a lot of unspent money from Train to Gain. Can that be switched across to help apprenticeships or not?

Lord Young: We are trying to use some of that Train to Gain money to offer SMEs training to improve their business techniques, management training and so on. I do not know whether it will be pushed into the apprenticeship area.

 

Q114 Chairman: Could it be? It would be terrible if it went back to the Treasury unspent.

Lord Young: I do not think that it will be under-spent in the current circumstances.

Jim Knight: John committed 350 million of the 1 billion yesterday to the various packages for SMEs, in terms of relaxing some of the rules, breaking some things into bite-size chunks as regards qualifications, and allowing groups of SMEs on business parks in order to do things together. We must leave something for Train to Gain, having taken 350 million out. I am sure that Tony and his colleagues in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will be making sure that they use it.

Lord Young: The other issue is that Train to Gain is being used for apprenticeships, I am advised.

 

Q115 Chairman: Is it?

Lord Young: So I am advised by my officials.

Chairman: Edward, you will lead us through 16-to-19 apprenticeships and we are going to step up the pace.

 

Q116 Mr. Timpson: I shall be as brief as I can. We have spoken at some length about the careers opportunities for young people through the Bill, but also about career fulfilment. On that second point, one of the provisions in the Bill is that people seeking an apprenticeship need to have two sectors. First, what is the rationale behind that? Is there not a danger that you will have young people who have a desire in a particular profession or career path, for which they have also shown aptitude, but that because they have had to put forward two sectors they end up in the default sector, where they do not have the desire or potential career fulfilment that you are looking for?

Jim Knight: I think that two is the right balance. I understand your point-that if we limited it to one it would be the one thing that a young person might want to do-but a lot of people are not absolutely clear about one thing. There might be a couple of things that they would be interested in doing, and if you can offer the guarantee, it gives young people more rather than less. If we went beyond two, the guarantee would become very weak. The chances are that we would not be far off being able to deliver a choice of three as it is, so we need something that is a strong driver to the system, but I think that restricting it to one would deny some opportunities to young people and we do not want to do that.

Lord Young: That is right.

 

Q117 Mr. Timpson: Perhaps we can attack it from a slightly different angle and consider a situation where a young person has a particular career path that they want to follow, but there is no demand within that sector for the apprenticeship that they are looking for. What happens then? Does the Learning and Skills Council or its successor step in and ensure that there is an apprenticeship for them, or are they left to wait until it arrives, which may be too late?

Jim Knight: If a young person has said that they want to do-

 

Q118 Mr. Timpson: Suppose they say that they want to go into rail engineering and the response is, "I'm sorry, there are no opportunities for apprenticeship in that sector, however, would you like to go into retail?"

Jim Knight: They would specify their two sectors, so one of them would be rail engineering and the other would be something else. The duty in the draft Bill would be on the LSC to guarantee a place within a reasonable travel distance for them in one or other or both of those sectors. If they are in Falmouth and they want to do rail engineering, it may be reasonable to offer that at some distance away where rail engineering is taking place, perhaps in the wonderful town of Crewe. That is where the test of reasonableness will come in. There are some niche occupations where there will not be that many geographical locations where it is reasonable to offer that apprenticeship. That is why the vacancy matching service is very important. We can put all those vacancies up nationally and people can see, even if they want to get into a fairly niche apprenticeship framework, where they are available and where they can go to do them. If they want to become a plumber in Falmouth and everybody needs plumbers-

Mr. Pelling: Especially Joe.

Jim Knight: Joe is a plumber; he does not need one at all; he is his own plumber.

 

Q119 Mr. Timpson: What we need to establish is whether this will be an employer-led apprenticeship scheme or one where the young people who are looking for apprenticeships are given a helping hand by the duty placed on the LSC. Can you clarify whether a young person who is looking for a particular sector for an apprenticeship and it is not available to them can come to you for help?

Lord Young: Obviously you want to try to satisfy young people's requirements, but we cannot guarantee that there will be apprenticeship places in all occupations in all locations. It might be nirvana but I do not think that we are going to get there, are we? Life is full of difficult choices. When young people are making career choices now they are tending to think a bit more about what is likely to be available when they have gone through whatever it is that they are going to do, whether that is an apprenticeship or academic qualifications. They may want to do rail engineering, but they might find that it is not on offer locally and they might consider doing some similar form of engineering. We will obviously try to ensure that the maximum choice is available, but it would be wrong to imply that it will always be there. It will not in current circumstances. I do not think that is different from any time in the past when there were thousands and thousands more apprenticeships available. They were not always available in every place in the country. You had to look at the labour market. Our job is to drive up the number of quality apprenticeships that are available and to give people a reasonable choice, which we are trying to do with the two-sector definition. That will be quite a challenge in itself.

 

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. Much more clearly 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 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 31 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 out 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.

 

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 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, that if 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.

 

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 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 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.

 

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.