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I need to say a few words about the amendments that deal with careers advice for apprenticeships. We originally proposed an amendment that was intended to ensure that schools provide information about apprenticeships as a key route to a particular occupation or trade
alongside other education and training options for 16 to 18-year-olds. Government amendment 158 does not make it necessary for young people in schools to be informed specifically about the value of apprenticeships as a route to a skilled job, and there is a great danger that pupils who would find such advice valuable will not receive it. It is vital that we improve careers advice.
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talked about a spirit of generosity. Will he therefore be a little more generous to the Government in the context of this amendment? The value and comprehensiveness of the advice that is given is dependent on the authority and wisdom of the provider, rather than on an amendment in Parliament.
Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman has a distinguished record as the chairman of the all-party group on skills, and he is a diligent and knowledgeable speaker and thinker on these subjects. I do not wish to embarrass him by creating a gap between his position and that of his Front-Bench colleagues, but he is not unsympathetic to the Conservative policy of an all-age careers service with a presence in every school and college and also a high street presence, sitting alongside Connexions. Certainly, that is the impression I have got from him informally, when discussing these matters over a number of years. I think that we ask too much of teachers when we expect them to be both good teachers and good careers advisers, and that we need to re-professionalise the careers service in the way I have just described-and, to be frank, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman and I are far apart on that.
My reason for holding this opinion is that, as the Government know, the polling evidence suggests that teachers are struggling to give advice on vocational routes, even when many young people would welcome such advice. In 2008, a YouGov poll on the issue revealed that only 24 per cent. of teachers felt that apprenticeships were a good alternative to A-levels. Interestingly, by contrast, 55 per cent. of employers and 52 per cent. of young people themselves thought that they were a good option. It is essential that pupils get the best possible advice and the most detailed and accurate information on both academic options and vocational routes. We were pleased that the Government accepted our argument on that point, to the degree in which this amendment deals with those matters-I hope that that is sufficiently generous for the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden).
"The Government propose amendments to the Education Act that would ensure that the provision of a programme of careers education includes information on education, training and apprenticeships."
"They have not, however, taken the opportunity to make statutory and effective changes to the careers education system. As things stand, in about two-thirds of schools in England, careers advice is given by teachers with no professional qualification
in the field. Further advice may come from the Connexions service, which replaced the careers service in 2001."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 2 November 2009; Vol. 714, c. 44.]
As this House knows, Connexions is a service that must provide advice on all manner and means of subjects-lifestyle issues, as well as careers. Again, I think we ask rather too much of Connexions advisers when we ask them to be authorities on every kind of career and also able to advise on drugs, sexual health and all sorts of other pertinent matters. A decline in the quality of advice, particularly about vocational options, seems to be the result of that change in 2001, and it must be dealt with promptly and decisively.
I should add at this point, because it is relevant to this amendment, that it is vital that we establish a clear and seductive vocational pathway that matches the well-established and transparent academic path which so many of us followed. Most of the people in this Chamber will have done GCSEs-the older among us will have done O-levels-then A-levels and then a degree, and perhaps then a further degree. The clarity of that option means that many take it who, given other advice, might perfectly properly, because of their tastes and aptitudes, take a vocational pathway. That pathway is altogether less clear and perhaps, as a result, less accessible. Our determination in all these matters is to create just that kind of clear, accessible pathway and proper advice on it.
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned that creating such an attractive vocational pathway would be undermined by his party's policy of excluding all vocational qualifications from the league tables? Would that not create a false incentive for people not to be encouraged to take vocational qualifications?
Mr. Hayes: I shall simply say to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) that I defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) in all such matters, and he tells me that "they will not be excluded"-quote, unquote. [Interruption.] We must move on. The amendments to clause 30 deal with certification. [Interruption.]
Mr. Hayes: I am immensely grateful for your benevolence, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton will have his chance to speak later. [Interruption.] Much later, actually.
The amendments relating to certification address concerns raised by Lord Layard that the Bill introduced the perception of a possible hierarchy of qualifications where "occupational competencies"-national vocational qualifications-were seen as more important than the demonstration of technical knowledge. The Government amendments remove that perception, so that it is obvious that the two component parts of an apprenticeship are
seen as being of equal weight and as equal conditions of completion. We welcome the further moves that the Government have made in this regard. Throughout the Bill's passage through both this House and the other place we have constantly called for further definition and clarification as to the composition and requirements of an apprenticeship.
That brings us back to the issue of reinforcing the brand in the eyes of all those concerned. Fundamentally, we need to ensure that what is taught and tested delivers real competences that match economic need and add to the individual's employability. That is the bottom line of an apprenticeship; indeed, it is what most people think that an apprenticeship should be in all cases. That seems to me to be relatively straightforward. The issues about certification are closely linked to the amendments on the other matters that I have raised-those on advice and guidance and on definition.
In summary on this group of amendments, because I know that we have a lot to consider and that other Members will be eager to contribute to the debate, they are important because apprenticeships are important. The Opposition see them at the heart of a policy to meet the nation's skills needs and to provide opportunities to thousands-indeed, to hundreds of thousands-of our citizens. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you take a keen interest in these matters, that the Opposition hope to create 100,000 new apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship training places each year. You will not be surprised to hear that we are pleased that grudgingly, falteringly and rather slowly, but none the less essentially in the right spirit, the Government have moved a little closer to the common-sense position of the Conservative party.
Mr. Marsden: In speaking about Lords amendments 31 and 158, I want to follow the spirit of the speech made by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who expressed his concern about the implications of the lack of support for apprenticeships and other career routes in school, although I must tell him gently that I think that he is slightly missing the point. I welcome the amendments because they go with the grain of what the Government are trying to do and not against it. The Government have, in their previous statements and in the statement this afternoon, rated information, advice and guidance very highly.
It is important to have the amendments on the record. It seems to me that there is a slight misunderstanding of, or mismatch in, what we expect to be provided in schools. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that we sometimes expect too much of teachers in this respect, and I suggest that one of the reasons why is that hitherto we have not provided structures for or enough focus on what information is to be given to students in schools and colleges.
The Government's policies and the amendments provide much greater flexibility for the provision of that information. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to refer to statistics that suggest that non-academic routes and qualifications are sometimes not as highly recommended to students by teachers and by careers advisers in schools as they should be. He quoted the YouGov poll and he will also be aware, as will my hon. Friend the Minister for
Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs, of the Sutton Trust's findings in this respect, which also showed a rather concerning low level of support for and endorsement of apprenticeship routes in schools. There is a job to be done there, but we need also to have a step change in the way in which we look at the provision of information, advice and guidance in schools.
The National Skills Forum and its associate parliamentary all-party skills group, which I have the honour of chairing, have produced two reports on the issue of information, advice and guidance. One was called "Inspiration and Aspiration" and it dealt centrally with information, advice and guidance. The other was produced earlier this year: it looked at the provision of information, advice and guidance in the context of women, especially young ones, and challenged some of the stereotypes. Again, I pay tribute to how the Government have engaged with both reports, as they have taken up positively many of the recommendations.
The amendments would make the provision of information, advice and guidance a duty, but that would not necessarily give teachers or careers advisers a raft of new tasks. What we need to understand is that more and more young people want to get information, advice and guidance online, and from people who have recently attended their own schools or colleges and then gone on into a particular sector. They want to hear from people with long experience in a particular field, and they also want to leave their educational institutions to get some on-site experience and training.
If the amendments are interpreted as generously as I would wish, they would provide a step change in that regard. It was very clear from the evidence that we took on the National Skills Forum reports, and especially the one on the gender skills gap, that experience is very important for young women in their 20s. For example, British Gas has been very successful in encouraging young women to join its work force and take up apprenticeships. That sort of hands-on experience is very valuable.
I hope that the amendments will not cause careers advisers and teachers to groan and say, "This is another lot of things we have to gen up on." They play a central role in schools and colleges and although they are not the sole providers of advice and information, they are certainly the prime enablers in that respect.
Mr. Hayes: I shall not delay the hon. Gentleman, but I am familiar with both of the reports from the all-party group. In fact, I was a witness for both. He made a point about older learners and, as he said, the report on women emphasises the importance of making training opportunities available to women in their 20s. He will be as shocked as I am, therefore, to hear of the leaked Government document that suggests that funding for adult apprenticeships-just the sort of people to whom he has referred-is to be cut by 10 per cent.
Mr. Marsden: I bow to your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is straying off the point. I think that the Minister gave a very full and robust response to that charge earlier.
In conclusion, I very much welcome the amendments, but I hope that they will be the beginning of the journey and not the end. We must make it very clear that a
21st century structure for the provision of the best information, advice and guidance to young people in schools and colleges can be achieved in a number of ways, and not just in one way.
Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): I would like to begin by welcoming the Minister to our proceedings on this Bill. Two different Departments were responsible for the Bill when we began our progress with it through the House of Commons, but since then not only has there been a complete transformation of the ministerial team, but a completely new ministry has been created. In fact, I think that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is the sole survivor of the joint Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Department for Children, Schools and Families ministerial team. Of course, if the rumours are true, he wanted to move somewhere else as well.
I should like to thank our colleagues in the House of Lords who have considered the Bill at great length in Committee because it is much improved from how we left it at the end of our proceedings. I thank my Liberal Democrat colleagues-Baroness Walmsley, Baroness Garden and, in particular, Baroness Sharp of Guildford, who has spoken for my party for many years on higher education and skills and who is now stepping down from her Front-Bench role. When summing up for the Government in the House of Lords last night on Third Reading, Baroness Morgan of Drefelin was generous in her tributes to my colleagues and mentioned the staff who back them up, and, in that respect, I should like to mention Tim Oliver.
The Lords gave the Bill serious consideration. It is rather disappointing that we have rather truncated proceedings today-just three hours to consider more than 200 amendments-and that is one of the reasons why I will try to be brief in my remarks.
I welcome three areas in the improved Bill-first, Lords amendment 16, which recognises that other people should be involved in developing the apprenticeship framework. Including the sector skills councils and further education colleges in the discussions leading to a framework was the subject of many amendments in Committee in the Commons, but those amendments were stoutly resisted. It is welcome that the Government now recognise that sector skills councils, as representatives of employers who know their industries in depth, have a crucial role to play. They, rather than regional development agencies, should be the drivers of speaking up for employers. I welcome the fact that other private sector providers will be involved also.
I welcome the assurances that were given in another place that full consideration will be given to ensuring that there is a good pathway for young people and adults who suffer from disabilities, to ensure that apprenticeships are genuinely open to all. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) spoke about those matters in Committee.
I want to concentrate on the subject that the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) made the centrepiece of his speech: the information, advice and guidance given to young people as part of their educational journey. Clause 35 as we considered it only allowed for the providers of information, advice and guidance-most likely to be teachers in their schools-to consider what
they felt was in the best interests of the young people in their charge and did not require them specifically to mention the opportunity of taking up an apprenticeship place. That was certainly resisted not only by me, but by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes). If that provision has been withdrawn and the expectation is that, as he said, apprenticeships and vocational training will be advocated by the providers of information, advice and guidance, that is certainly a welcome step forward.
As the hon. Member for Blackpool, South rightly said, information, advice and guidance must be aspirational if it is to achieve its purpose. He specifically mentioned women. Like him, I played a part in the all-party skills group report as well. We must ensure that people from all walks of life participate in apprenticeships in future. It is not right that only 2 per cent. of the people on engineering apprenticeships are women. Equally, it is not right that only about 2 per cent. of the people who take up a children and young people teaching apprenticeship are men. Both those gender imbalances need to be challenged.
It is also right that the information, advice and guidance must say that a vocational pathway is an attractive career option for young people. I have heard so many times, not just in Bristol but cited elsewhere as well-I do not think that it is an apocryphal story-about a teacher taking a group of young people around a high-tech factory and saying that it was important that her young charges saw it because, if they did not work hard, that is where they would end up. Unfortunately, some attitudes to vocational training need to be challenged, and the Bill will now at least contribute to challenging some of those long-entrenched views.
It is important that the providers of information, advice and guidance make it clear that an apprenticeship can be an end in itself, and a good one. I am slightly worried about a dislocation in Government thinking. We are still digesting the contents of the skills White Paper that was launched a couple of hours ago. There was much concentration in that report on a pathway from an apprenticeship to higher education. We must not assume that higher education is the ultimate aspiration that everyone should try to achieve. An advanced apprenticeship could be a satisfying career pathway for young people.
Kevin Brennan: I thank the hon. Members who contributed to this interesting debate from which we learned new things. Thanks to the intervention from the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), we learned that the Conservative Opposition will publish the vocational results in a separate league table. Presumably they will-
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): May I put the Minister out of his misery? What we want to do-what our policy says we would like to do-is to have as much information as possible made available to parents about the results that a school produces. Whatever those qualifications are, they should be published by the school to give parents the maximum information.
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