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Session 2008 - 09
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General Committee Debates
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, †Mrs. Joan Humble
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Hayes, Mr. John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Knight, Jim (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Miller, Mrs. Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Sharma, Mr. Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Simon, Mr. Siôn (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol, West) (LD)
Chris Shaw, James Davies, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 24 March 2009


[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
AS 24 National Union of Teachers (Supplementary)

Clause 90

Power to amend apprenticeship scheme
10.30 am
Amendment made: 412, in clause 90, page 54, line 28, leave out ‘(1)(b)’ and insert ‘(1A)(b)’.—(Jim Knight.)
This amendment is consequent on amendments 410 and 411.
Clause 90, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 92

Education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): I beg to move amendment 346, in clause 92, page 55, line 29, at end insert—
‘(ga) have regard to the desirability of the core entitlement and the additional entitlement being satisfied for persons subject to adult detention but aged under 19 who have elected for them;’.
This amendment requires the Chief Executive of Skills Funding when securing the provision of education and training under clause 92 for persons subject to adult detention to have regard to the desirability of the core and additional entitlements being satisfied for those persons who have elected for them.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 347.
Mr. Simon: Good morning, Mrs. Humble. Amendment 346 requires that the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, in securing suitable education and training provision for persons subject to adult detention, but aged under 19-years-old, has regard to the desirability of the core curriculum and additional entitlements being satisfied for those who have elected for them.
The core and additional entitlements are designed to be flexible, and we want to ensure that offenders in custody can receive learning as closely aligned as practicable with that available in the mainstream sector. For that reason, the amendment would require the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to have regard to the desirability of the core and additional entitlements being satisfied.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council resigned yesterday. Should the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency resign, to whom would that responsibility pass?
Mr. Simon: Let me be clear about the question. Should the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency resign, to whom would the responsibilities of the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency pass?
Mr. Hayes: In what regard is the Minister thinking about?
Mr. Simon: I am assuming that such a position would be the same as in any other regard, in that the responsibilities would lie in the first instance with the permanent secretary as the accounting officer, who would then, I assume, immediately appoint an acting replacement, as happened yesterday with the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council.
I hope that members of the Committee agree that the amendments are necessary to align the education and training in adult detention as far as practicable with that available in juvenile custody and the mainstream sector.
Mr. Hayes: What a pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Mrs. Humble, after our deliberations last week in your absence. We look forward to making the same steady, considered progress, without hyperbole or unnecessary delay. Under the amendments, the Skills Funding Agency must ensure the provision of core and additional entitlements for those under 19 years old in adult detention. It is clear that clause 92 moves the provision of education of those in detention from the Learning and Skills Council to the Skills Funding Agency, hence my earlier intervention. I wanted to establish whether the same protocols would apply with the SFA that we could reasonably expect of the LSC in respect of accountability and responsibility. Given the crisis that led to the resignation of the chief executive of the LSC yesterday, that question is pertinent.
I wish to probe the position of OLASS, the offender learning and skills service, which would previously have looked after the younger people in adult detention, and to determine whether the amendment ensures that young offenders can progress beyond level 2 in the core and additional entitlements.
It is worth reminding the Committee that OLASS was established only in 2005 and is therefore at a relatively early stage of its development. The Prisoners’ Education Trust has indicated that it is moving in the right direction and that, in the new contracting round for learning and skills providers that is currently under way, OLASS intends to address many of the weaknesses identified in its first three years of work. When I speak of weaknesses, I am alluding to the National Audit Office report, “Meeting Needs? The Offender Learning and Skills Service” and the Public Accounts Committee report of Session 47 with the same title. Can the Minister indicate whether OLASS will become part of the SFA and whether the SFA has the ability to carry on the work that OLASS has been doing?
Secondly, though a significant proportion of prisoners lack even basic qualifications, and it is understandable that priority is given to enabling that group to reach level 1 and, if possible, level 2, can the Minister indicate whether there is to be any level 3 provision for those in adult detention who may already have level 2 qualifications, or indeed who may have acquired those during the education they received while detained?
Thirdly, could the Minister indicate what the provision in relation to core and additional provision will consist of, and whether there will be funding for those who may wish to engage in distance learning on the core and additional entitlement?
Finally, in relation to persons subject to adult detention, clause 92 states that the chief executive of skills funding must
“act with a view to encouraging diversity of education and training available to individuals...increasing opportunities for individuals to exercise choice”
“have regard to the desirability of enabling”
“to continue programmes of education or training which they have begun”.
OLASS is working hard—particularly after the comments made in the two independent studies that I mentioned from the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee—to provide and develop its services. Nevertheless, there are gaps. Does the Minister believe that funding core and additional provisions will fill the gaps?
I have a final question. I am sure that the Minister will want to say in his comprehensive concluding remarks something about those with learning difficulties, particularly language difficulties. We talked about that earlier in relation to other aspects of the Bill. It is highly relevant to the clause and the Government amendments.
Mr. Simon: The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he hoped we would continue to make steady progress today. There is an interpretation on this side of the Committee that we have not quite been making the speedy progress required if we are to have an even consideration of matters in the considerable time that has been allocated to us. I hope that, while keeping the progress steady and the consideration thorough, the hon. Gentleman will join me in perhaps upping the pace and cracking on a bit more smartly.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): I find those comments fairly concerning. Does the Minister not want a question put to him during deliberations on a Government amendment? Mrs. Humble, there are more than 200 Government amendments—pushing on 300—to a 256-clause Bill. For the Minister to complain when Opposition Members question amendments that have been tabled since Second Reading is unwarranted.
Mr. Simon: I am not complaining about being questioned. I am simply reminding the hon. Gentleman who was congratulating us on making steady progress that we have actually been going more slowly. We have spent 53 minutes out of 20 hours of debate on Government amendments. They are technical amendments. We have already spent nine minutes of our two and a half hours this morning debating Government amendments. I shall attempt to deal with all the questions that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings has mentioned as quickly and efficiently as I can.
The core and additional entitlements are designed to offer flexible learning and accreditation. We are looking at how adult offenders might be able to study for some components that can then contribute to a full diploma while they are in custody.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, the Offender Learning and Skills Service will continue and it will sit inside the Skills Funding Agency. He mentioned some of the issues that were raised in the reports from the PAC and the NAO. We are addressing those and have published our replies in detail. To answer his question about level 3 provision, there will be such provision in the same kind of circumstances that will apply according to the same criteria applied outside. There may be e-learning for diplomas, and we are exploring its possible applicability to custodial establishments. As for learning difficulties, the LSC is developing a comprehensive tool to asses learning difficulties for offenders and we hope that it will be in place by 1 August. It will allow OLASS to improve the service and address even better the needs of those learners.
Mr. Hayes: The only point that the hon. Gentleman did not cover in that pithy and appropriately concise summary was the issue about those whom the Government wish to engage in distance learning on core and additional entitlement. I should like to add to that the continuation of people’s learning once released. One of the big complaints that PAC and others made related to the issue of continuity, in the sense that they began things that they had finished rather than restarting training and education. That is critical because of the impact that the acquisition of education and skills has in preventing recidivism.
Mr. Simon: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind words about my conciseness and I am glad that we seem to have reached more of a consensus about that matter. I had intended to answer more clearly the question about e-learning. The current plan has provision for e-learning and distance learning and there are pilots in train now to examine how more can be done with that within the confines of the security and restriction requirements of being in detention. However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right that we need to do more to join up the prison learning experience with the after-prison learning experience.
Amendment 346 agreed to.
Amendment made: 347, in clause 92, page 56, line 5, at end insert—
‘( ) Sections 17B to 17D of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) (core and additional entitlements: interpretation) apply for the purpose of subsection (4)(ga) as they apply for the purpose of section 17A of that Act (duties of local education authorities in relation to the core and additional entitlements).’.—(Mr. Simon.)
This amendment is consequent on amendment 346 and provides for “core entitlement” and “additional entitlement” in clause 92(4)(ga)to be read in accordance with sections 17B-17D of the Education Act 1996 (inserted by clause 44).
Clause 92, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
That clause 92 be transferred to end of line 33 on page 50. —(Mr. Simon.)
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