Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 123-139)


27 OCTOBER 2008

  Q123 Chairman: Could I welcome to this, the final evidence session of the IUSS Committee's examination of the draft Apprenticeships Bill 2008, and indeed congratulate him on his new appointment, Lord Young of Norwood Green? We welcome you to the Committee and congratulate you on what is an interesting appointment in the Lords. We also welcome Jim Knight, the Minister of State for Schools and Learners in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and last but by no means least, an old friend of the Committee, Stephen Marston. It is very nice to see you back. Lord Young, why on earth do you need this Bill?

  Lord Young of Norwood Green: We have had that question before and it is a reasonable one. We believe the raison d'être is that it gives legal effect to the apprenticeship entitlement, which is contained in clause 21, and that is a high level duty for the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that there is a place for every suitably qualified young person who wants one. It gives statutory effect to apprenticeships, ensures the high quality and integrity of the apprenticeship programme, it establishes the programme as employer-led, an important—

  Q124  Chairman: I know, but, with respect, Lord Young, all that could have been done quite easily, without a full bill. You could have tagged a couple of clauses onto any passing piece of legislation if you had wanted simply to put in that formal structure. Does it not now appear that every time you want any change to the apprenticeship structure you have to go back for primary legislation?

  Lord Young of Norwood Green: There are two things. First of all, we do not think it would have been the right thing to tag it on to anything else. We do think that in the light of the Leitch Report[1] and the importance of the skills and apprenticeships programme it does merit a piece of primary legislation, certainly for the first couple of reasons that I laid out for you. It emphasises the legal nature of this in relation to apprenticeships, so we believe it does merit it. We do not think that every time there are any further changes we will need primary legislation. I think we can take it that within the Bill there are enough powers for the Secretary of State to give effect to any further change that might be required.

  Mr Marston: That is right. The things that we think may well need revising tend to be in the secondary legislation. What we are trying to set up here is a long-term stable framework for ensuring the growth and quality of the apprenticeships programme. That should not change. On the contrary, what we are trying to do for the very first time is give statutory force and backing to that framework in order to position apprenticeships as a permanent part of the education and training landscape.

  Jim Knight: If you look at it in simple terms, which helps me if nothing else, you have got the specification of the standard. That is variable by clause 13 by order. You have then got the framework, and that is really quite a flexible thing. Obviously, there is some legislation there, but the framework is developed by the Sector Skills Councils and employers, and then you have got certification. The bit that would really burden this would be if we were specifying the standard in detail in primary legislation that we then could not vary by order.

  Q125  Mr Boswell: Can I ask a question about Wales? I have a Welsh educational involvement myself to a limited extent, which tends to be the statutory question on this. We made some enquiries of the National Assembly and also the Welsh Affairs Committee here, and I think it would be fair to say on their evidence that they really want to know how the legislation is going to work. Frankly, we had a similar problem when the FE[2] legislation went through and there were some queries about that. I am sure it can be made to work, but, given that there are these doubts, I suspect this may reflect a failure to consult adequately with the Welsh Assembly. Do you think you have got through that now? Are you on track with them and are you going to produce something which will be aligned with their interests and requirements? If I may just say, and it may save a point later on although I think the Chairman may want to say something about this, they have, for example, an ability to offer a portfolio rather than a specific set of qualifications. Is that kind of thing going to cause some unease, although I am more concerned now with the general issue?

  Lord Young of Norwood Green: It is up to the Welsh Assembly to consider it; that is the first point, but are we on track with them? Yes, I believe we are.

  Q126  Mr Boswell: Why do you think they did not think they were, or do you think this was just a misunderstanding?

  Lord Young of Norwood Green: I was not aware that they did not think they were, but I suppose in any consultative process there are bound to be misunderstandings.

  Jim Knight: Obviously, there is discussion going on between us as to which aspects of the Bill they would want to be a part of. The current state of play is that they would want to be a part of the majority of it, but there are aspects of it, for example, clauses relating to IAG[3] and to the entitlement, which they do not consider to be something they want to pursue in Wales, and that is fine, but some of the fundamentals about the apprenticeship programme, and, crucially, the way apprenticeships are designed and the way they can move across the border, across Offa's Dyke, we will be doing for England and Wales and I think that is quite important.

  Q127 Chairman: There is an issue within the Bill that Wales is virtually never mentioned other than in the title and yet the provisions of the Bill will apply to Wales. There does not seem to be any recognition that Wales in many ways has been ahead of us in terms of developing the framework for apprenticeships. Why is that?

  Jim Knight: To some extent it is a creature of a draft bill and the timing of parliamentary business. Obviously, you could take more time in coming up with a firm draft where you have ironed everything out with Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, or you can publish the draft Bill and have this sort of scrutiny, while we carry on our discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government, and then once it comes into something that is then introduced into Parliament, obviously, we will at that point have to be clear with our friends in the Welsh Assembly Government which bits they want and which they do not.

  Chairman: Okay, that is a very fair answer.

  Q128  Mr Marsden: Lord Young, could I warmly welcome you to your new position, both as a member of this Committee but also as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Skills Group. Obviously, in that capacity I have looked quite closely at the list of responsibilities you have, which I gather include the Sector Skills Councils. Clause 26 of the proposed draft Bill would require the Secretary of State to specify sectors of skill, trade or occupation for the purposes of the legislation. I was just wondering whether you could give us some examples of how that might happen, but, perhaps as importantly, whether this cuts across in any way the process of re-licensing of Sector Skills Councils that is currently being undertaken by the UK Commission for Skills.

  Lord Young of Norwood Green: I do not think it cuts across the re-licensing. I think that is a separate activity. Can you just restate what you said about the specification so that I am clear?

  Q129  Mr Marsden: My understanding is that clause 26 of the Bill requires the Secretary of State to specify sectors of skill, trade or occupation for the purposes of the legislation and I was just wondering if you could give us some examples as to how that might happen in relation to apprenticeships.

  Mr Marston: Our expectation is that we will use the framework of the Sector Skills Councils. We have 25 Sector Skills Councils now. They are already developing the national occupational standards that drive the apprenticeships frameworks. Our assumption is that they will carry on with that primary role in defining the apprenticeships frameworks for each sector. The reason it does not state that goes back to the Chairman's comment that it is possible that there may be an apprenticeship framework you want outside of the Sector Skills Councils network and so we are expecting to use the Sector Skills Councils 25 structure but this allows us in exceptional cases to do it a different way if we need to. On the re-licensing, we have said that we will consider proposals for changing Sector Skills Council footprints, the definition of the sector that they cover, as part of re-licensing if people want to put forward proposals for different and better footprints. We are not assuming that that will necessarily happen. If it does then the new licensed Sector Skills Council with its newly defined footprint will take on the role of occupational standards frameworks for its new sector.

  Q130  Mr Marsden: Just to be clear, you do not see the provisions of clause 26 having any implications for either expanding or contracting the existing number of Sector Skills Councils?

  Mr Marston: No.

  Chairman: One of the things as a Committee we were very enthusiastic about was this entitlement to an apprenticeship, Lord Young, particularly for young people, and perhaps you might want to start with this, Jim. I will ask Tim Boswell if he would like to follow up on how this is going to be done.

  Q131  Mr Boswell: Can I just ask the legalistic question first, which is, is this right to be offered an apprenticeship something that is going to be enforceable in the courts? If a young person wants to be an apprentice and is refused that, for whatever reason (I am not seeking to canvass that but it might happen), will he or she have legal redress and can they sue and, if so, do they sue the LSC[4] or its successor or the Minister but, I presume, not the employer? What happens?

  Jim Knight: Although I am not a lawyer, the legal advice that I have been given is that the effect of this clause is that technically the duty applies to the Learning and Skills Council or the successor organisations and that, yes, there would be the ability of the individual to pursue through the court a failure of the Council to fulfil its duty as set out in clause 21. I think in practice, like, for example, the duty on a local authority to ensure there is proper provision for every child and every learner to go on until 18, which is another piece of legislation, having that as the last resort is the driver to making sure that the authority does the job. Nobody is expecting there to be a huge number of court cases as a result of this. It is just that you have to have something that is the last resort in order to change the behaviour.

  Q132  Mr Boswell: I will accept that. Is there any differentiation in relation to the skill or competence of the apprentice? They will have to meet certain entry conditions for the framework. Supposing they cannot meet any of those, whether it is because of learning or other disability. Does the duty fall? What happens then?

  Jim Knight: Yes, there are entry requirements in respect of the entitlement and it is quite important to understand that there is a difference there between entry to the entitlement and entry to apprenticeships. For example, you could go on to go into a Level 3 apprenticeship with three GCSEs A*-C equivalence even though the entitlement would say that that only kicks in when you have got five, so there is that difference. In respect of those with the SEN,[5] Stephen might be able to help me out.

  Mr Marston: I will try. It will depend whether the nature of the SEN means that they do or do not meet the entitlement conditions.

  Q133  Mr Boswell: They have an entitlement, do they?

  Mr Marston: Yes. If they have a particular form of SEN but still meet all the qualifications and other requirements the entitlement is triggered and then all of the wider legislative protections around disability will apply.

  Q134  Mr Boswell: I just wanted to ask one other question about the distribution issues. We will do one which is double-headed to save time. Rurality or distance—it is not going to be much use if, say, one of our children is offered an apprenticeship in Northumberland if they are 350 miles away. Is there an understanding that it has to be within a reasonable distance?

  Jim Knight: Yes, and we all know as law-makers that "reasonable" is often used in law. You will see in clause 21(2)(c) that it says within the person's reasonable travel area. How that would be interpreted I think depends upon the nature of the apprenticeship they are interested in pursuing and they will be specifying two sectors that they want to pursue apprenticeships in. For example, if they were living in rural Northamptonshire and they wanted to pursue an apprenticeship in marine engineering then it is different from plumbing or hairdressing, in which case you would expect it to be within reasonable travel distance of home.

  Q135  Mr Boswell: My final question is the other one: what about programme-led apprenticeships? British Chambers of Commerce are very leery on this. Perhaps Lord Young would like to oblige us. Do you think there is a case for them continuing? Are they a second best or are you seeking to phase them out?

  Lord Young of Norwood Green: They do not come within the meaning of what we define as apprenticeships because there is not a contract of employment with the employer, so we want to be absolutely clear that if it is going to be an apprenticeship under this definition there has to be an employment contract.

  Q136  Mr Boswell: So any provider of a programme-led apprenticeship would not be able to offer it as an apprenticeship?

  Lord Young of Norwood Green: Not as an apprenticeship, no.

  Q137  Chairman: Jim, in terms of this subsection (2)(c) that you just mentioned, which says "within the person's reasonable travel area", that is a massive cop-out, is it not? Will you define "reasonable travel area"?

  Jim Knight: As I say, there is that difference between different sorts of apprenticeships. When you are setting this out you have to do so in a way that is sufficiently flexible to cope with not just well over 100 apprenticeship frameworks that we have at the moment but also that we would want the National Apprenticeship Service to be able to develop in new sectors and new areas. You will understand that in Harrogate there will be some that are like Dorset, where you would expect hairdressing and plumbing and electrical, the care sector; there are some that are pretty much universal economic activities that take place all over, and so my definition of a person's reasonable travel area is that they would be available locally to them.

  Q138  Chairman: So if a student in Harrogate, seeing as you mentioned it and not I,—

  Jim Knight: I am trying to relate to you.

  Q139  Chairman: For instance, to do an apprenticeship in fishing, which is perfectly reasonable because the east coast has a number of fishing ports, you would regard that travel of roughly an hour and a half to two hours as reasonable, each way, each day?

  Jim Knight: Ultimately, technically it would be for the court to judge and people who are commissioning and making those decisions about reasonableness will have in mind what would stand the test in court, if it ever got there, but yes, you may make provision for them to be able to travel, perhaps not on a daily commute, perhaps on a weekly commute, in order to be able to access that apprenticeship.

1   HM Treasury, Leitch review of skills: Prosperity for all in the global economy-world class skills Final report, 2006 Back

2   Further education Back

3   Information, advice and guidance Back

4   Learning and Skills Council Back

5   Special Educational Needs Back

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