|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Dormand of Easington: I rise to ask the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, a question for clarification. We all know of his great enthusiasm for the whole range of education, but it seems to me that in the two paragraphs of his amendment he seeks to cover the whole range of education. There is nothing wrong with that, but I am wondering how it will be carried out in practical terms. My question is quite simple. Can he give the Committee some indication of what kind of curriculum will deal, not only with employment, which, obviously all schools and colleges must have in mind, but will also,
Lord Northbourne: With the Committee's permission I shall answer the noble Lord. The quotation is, of course, taken from the Education Reform Act 1988. I always believe that the House in its entirety is more likely to accept a provision already on the statute book than one invented by me. In Amendment No. 37 I shall come to the question of what will be included alongside vocational education. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has already raised the issue as to whether the Bill is mainly or even wholly about vocational education. I know that it is not because the Minister has kindly written to me about the matter, but I believe that the point should be on the official record. My Amendment No. 37 deals with that issue, so, with the noble Lord's permission, I shall leave the answer until we reach that amendment.
Lord Tope: I shall not detain the Committee for long. I want to join the general welcome given to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising those particularly important issues and thereby giving the Minister an opportunity to inform us of the Government's thinking on the matter. We look forward to that with some anticipation.
There is no doubt that the social inclusion agenda--if I may use that term--is an extremely important part of what we are trying to achieve. Members of the Committee have already clearly stated the reasons for that and I do not need to repeat them. I am therefore grateful for the amendments. We have had a useful little debate and I am sure that we shall receive a useful response from the Minister in a moment. However, I have some doubts as to whether, important though the point is, it should be alone the principal objective of the learning and skills council. The principal objective is rather broader than that and relates to the whole area of post-16 education. Having said that, I welcome the amendments and look forward to the Minister's response.
Baroness Blackstone: I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his welcome for what lies behind the Government's thinking in bringing forward the Bill. I was extremely grateful to him for his support for what he more or less described as "the boldness of our vision". I am grateful also for all the contributions to the debate, which are in a sense probing, as are the noble Lord's amendments.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, the last thing that the Government want is a Bill that is only utilitarian in its approach. All Members of the Committee will share the view that we do not want simply financially-driven provision or to confine what the Bill eventually delivers when it is enacted to narrow, utilitarian and purely vocational kinds of provision. Indeed, the Government want to develop a much less rigid distinction between vocational and non-vocational education. I shall cover that issue when we debate later amendments. I entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the importance of all other forms of lifelong learning. I shall not be remotely tetchy in responding to any suggestion that that is what the Bill should be about. It is also about trying to be more socially inclusive and trying to help those young people--and, indeed, adults--who, for one reason or another, have missed out on education in the past.
I am not absolutely sure that it is right to include in Acts of Parliament mission statements in the sense that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, meant, but it would be absolutely right for the LSC to have its own mission statement. It will need to develop that in consultation with the Government and all the external partners with which it will be working.
I turn now to our intentions. I shall respond more specifically to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Young people of course deserve the chance to be better qualified and to have the best possible start to their working lives. Over 160,000 young people between 16 and 18--around one in 11 of the age group--are not in learning or in work. We are already tackling the shortcomings in current arrangements. We have given young people aged 16 to 18 who are in employment the right to time off for study to enable them to achieve the qualifications that many of them failed to achieve at school.
We are trying to tackle financial barriers through increasing access funds for college-based provision and piloting education maintenance allowances to target financial support at young people who might otherwise be excluded from continuing in education after the age of 16. Through a combination of pressure and support we are trying to build on the best work carried out in schools and colleges--and, we must not forget, in work-based training--to drive up both quality and standards across all modes of learning and to retain such young people in learning.
The LSC, including through the work of its young people's committee, will be responsible for developing a high quality system offering all young people post-16 learning opportunities appropriate to their needs. It
However, we know that many young people reach the age of 16 without the proper preparation for productive further learning or without the skills employers will look for as a basis for offering them work with training. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield pointed to some of those problems. We are broadening the options available at 14, including through the new GNVQ Part One. We are opening up opportunities in key stage 4 for 14-16 year olds to study in a range of learning environments, including in FE sector colleges where appropriate. We are strengthening those arrangements further through the Bill by giving the LSC a power to fund them directly. Last week, we set out in more detail our plans for a new ConneXions service to help young people from the age of 13 to stay in education and training and to help tackle the social exclusion which blights the lives of too many of our teenagers in ways that may hold them back throughout their adult lives. We shall have the opportunity to debate those provisions in Part V of the Bill in detail at a later stage.
The objectives set out by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, are shared whole-heartedly by the Government. Perhaps I may also reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield in that regard. However, we do not believe that adding to the Bill the proposed amendment to Clause 1 would enhance the likelihood of our shared objectives being realised. Indeed, I fear it could serve to reduce the focus of the LSC on the important area of adult learning--we must not forget that the Bill is not just about young people but is about people learning throughout their lives--and in particular the task of re-engaging those many adults who did not succeed in learning at the conventional time as young people. I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw that amendment.
I now turn to the two proposed amendments to Clause 5 which follow on from the proposed amendment to Clause 1. Both would empower the learning and skills council to fund specific aspects areas of provision outside formal learning which are of particular help to the most disadvantaged young people. The first would empower the learning and skills council to fund advice and support services of the kind that the new ConneXions service will provide. It would also empower the council to fund supported accommodation for homeless young people. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, mentioned foyers. The Government recognise the valuable work that foyers can do for homeless young people. The learning and skills council will want, particularly at local level, to work with foyers in the provision of support and advice about training and educational opportunities.
The second amendment would empower the learning and skills council to fund the kind of recreational and leisure activities for young people which are currently provided by the statutory and voluntary youth services. We recognise the enormously valuable contribution made by the statutory and voluntary youth services in re-engaging some of the most vulnerable young people in society, and we are keen that that contribution is both supported and strengthened. But we do not intend that the LSC should have responsibility for funding those services which will fall within the remit of the new ConneXions service. The resources for this service will come from pooling existing central government resources and from those currently devoted by local ConneXions partners to youth support and guidance. Of the resources that we expect existing agencies and partners to contribute, around half will come from the existing Careers Service budget.
We must ensure that the ConneXions service is adequately funded to perform its essential task. So we are also considering what additional funding will be required as part of the Government's year 2000 spending review. I hope that that gives the noble Lord the reassurances which he seeks. I believe that there are already sufficient powers in the Bill for the LSC to fund the learning for young people which is provided in hostels, foyers and other supported accommodation. There will be scope for the ConneXions service to fund the advice and support services offered within these organisations, where appropriate. But I do not think it would be appropriate for the LSC--a body set up to fund education and training--to add funding supported housing to its portfolio. The housing elements of foyers will have to be funded from quite different sources.
Furthermore, while the LSC will have responsibility for post-16 learning, it not our intention that it will take on responsibility for the activities provided by the statutory or voluntary youth services. The Bill places a duty on the LSC to provide for vocational, social, physical and recreational activities in connection with post-16 learning. But LEAs retain that duty in respect of secondary education, so a duty remains with LEAs in respect of all 11 to 16s and all over-16s in school sixth forms. Local education authorities also retain all the powers they need to provide for youth service activities right across the spectrum.
Our objective is that LEAs will continue to provide youth services in collaboration with other providers of services for young people. There is no question of the LSC setting up a "youth service" or of the money which currently goes to LEAs in respect of the youth service being diverted to the LSC.