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Disabled people are around twice as likely as non-disabled people to have no recognised qualifications. The Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty found that young people aged between 16 and 18 who are not in education, employment or training are at a much higher risk of experiencing poor outcomes in adult life and passing on this disadvantage to the next generation as they themselves become parents. The Equalities Review, which was set up to identify the deepest and most persistent causes of disadvantage, found that not being in education, employment or training for six months between 16 and 18 was the single most powerful predictor of unemployment at age 21.

That is a dire situation for disabled people to be in. In today's society, anyone who wishes to secure sustainable employment and so enjoy an independent life requires at least basic skills in literacy, numeracy and information technology, some form of formal qualification and effective informal skills such as social and interpersonal skills. Research indicates that the number of jobs requiring no qualification has almost halved in recent years from about 18 per cent in 1994 to 11 per cent in 2004. We have also heard the Minister’s figures. This trend is set to continue, with the prediction that in 2020 almost half of all employment will be in higher-skilled occupations. No wonder, then, the recent emphasis in the Leitch report on the paramount need to upskill the British workforce, something that the Chancellor underscored in his Pre-Budget Statement last week and the Minister further stressed today. Yet in 2005 the Labour Force Survey found that 35 per cent of disabled people had no formal qualifications at all. As a result, they are more likely to be either unemployed or in low-paid, low-skilled jobs.

At a national strategic level, the Government have outlined, in a Cabinet Office report that was published at the beginning of last year, an ambitious vision for improving the life chances of disabled people. The report states that by 2025 disabled people should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and should be respected and included as equal members of society. The further education system has a vital role to play in achieving this vision. Appropriate and accessible further education can empower disabled people with the skills and knowledge that they need to help them to bridge the skills gap and to get into work.

However, earlier this year, the Adult Learning Inspectorate reported that,

In the introduction to the report, David Sherlock, the Chief Inspector of Adult Learning in England, was even more damning when he wrote of the post-16 education system,

This is all extremely gloomy when one thought that things were getting steadily better following the publication of the Tomlinson report a decade ago.

To tackle this state of affairs, the Learning and Skills Council recently launched its first national strategy for learners with a learning difficulty and/or

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disability within the further education system, which seeks to implement the recommendations of the Little review, Through Inclusion to Excellence.

Against that background, the present Bill is to be welcomed for the quest for excellence that it seeks to underpin through the establishment of an effective intervention regime by transferring to the LSC the Secretary of State's power to intervene where provision is unsatisfactory or not improving. In such circumstances, all that is needed here is an assurance that the needs of disabled learners will receive due consideration in any transition arrangements.

I very much support the inclusion agenda for all those who can effectively access mainstream colleges. Indeed, my own organisation, RNIB, has been proactive in seeking to establish college partnerships in all the English regions, in order to mobilise our specialist expertise in support of blind and partially sighted learners in mainstream colleges. At the same time, there is a need to retain some specialist college provision, particularly for those who have multiple disabilities and may be less able to cope in the mainstream and while mainstream colleges are not yet fully geared up for meeting the needs of all learners with learning difficulties and disabilities, especially the most complex.

In that connection, I am concerned that regional planning, funding and placement are placing excessive pressure on the viability of specialist colleges—pressure that it may sometimes be impossible to withstand. RNIB—and here I declare my interest as chairman—has recently had to withdraw from the provision of further education at its Redhill College in the face of the twin pressures of the funding regime, which failed to cover the cost of providing its specialist service, and regionalisation, which effectively forced a specialist college reliant on an inter-regional or national catchment because it catered for a minority impairment group to become more generic, thus losing the attraction of its specialist expertise.

In the recognition that the voluntary sector has an important part to play in partnership with the FE sector in delivering further education and training tailored to the needs of those with learning difficulties and disabilities, there are just three specific areas in which I would welcome some further clarification or reassurance from the Minister. I hope that he will not find it difficult to make a positive response to these modest requests, in comparison with the onslaught that his Bill has sustained from the previous two speakers.

First, with regard to Clause 2 of the Bill, regionalisation of the LSC will undoubtedly help voluntary bodies in working with the sector and make it more manageable for national providers to influence LSC strategy. Until now, it has been necessary to liaise with up to 47 different local learning and skills councils, with the variation in response that this inevitably entails. Now it will be possible to have a more strategic regional dialogue, which will make it possible to have a greater impact on a larger number of learners. As regards the future

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composition of the new regional councils, it would be good to have some clarification on the categories of membership in order to ensure that the voluntary sector is fully represented and that due regard is paid to the representation of learners who have learning difficulties and or disabilities.

Secondly, as regards Clause 6, on the functions of the council and in particular its duty in relation to diversity and choice, I would welcome an assurance that the opportunity for individuals to exercise choice will extend to the full continuum of provision encompassing, as now, national residential as well as local mainstream colleges.

Thirdly, on Clause 7, which concerns consultation by the council, I welcome the requirement for consultation with learners and employers to ensure that provision meets their needs, but I would like some reassurance that any consultation process will take account of the accessibility needs of persons with learning difficulties and disabilities. Furthermore, it would be helpful to have some clarification of whether consultation will be confined to learners and employers or whether it would be reasonable to expect a wider consultation process involving voluntary bodies with a relevant interest, and to know that the outcomes of such consultation will be acted on. I think that I heard the Minister say that charities could be involved, but it would be helpful to have his confirmation.

Finally, I refer to the fact that under the framework of the new disability equality duty, which came into force on 4 December, all prospective government legislation must undergo a rigorous disability equality impact assessment. This will show the impact of the changes on disabled people and highlight areas where adjustments are required to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged. I trust that, during the Bill’s passage, the Government will publish the disability equality impact assessment so that its findings can be properly considered and debated.

5.19 pm

Lord Sawyer: My Lords, I have the honour of serving as the Chancellor of the University of Teesside, and declare that interest. I shall address Clause 19. My university is proud to have developed over a number of years its University of Teesside Partnership, which is an extremely stable and strong partnership with further education colleges in the Tees Valley sub-region, referred to in a report by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education as one of outstanding mutual support and trust. I do not want that support and trust to be damaged.

That outstanding mutual support and trust have been built through a careful process, involving openness in the sharing of ideas and market intelligence, joint planning and curriculum innovation, and a major investment by my university in staff development for staff in further education colleges involved in the planning, delivery and quality assurance of higher education programmes. The partnership has also been facilitated by the university, with assistance from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, investing resources in capital

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infrastructure to support the partnership in the form of both buildings and resources, as well as learning and teaching delivery across the whole of its partner network. Indeed, my university is particularly proud of the recent investment supported by the funding council’s strategic development fund, which has led to the opening of a physical University of Teesside higher education centre on the new college site of our partner college in Darlington, which will shortly be followed by similar university higher education centres at Middlesbrough College and Hartlepool College of Further Education—a capital investment, I am proud to say, of over £6 million. I do not want that investment undermined in any way.

I endorse the QAA’s view that the partnership between my hometown college and my university is one of great stability and strength. It has grown to a level of maturity whereby the people of Darlington can now lay claim to a university centre within their hometown. Generations of Darlingtonians have only ever dreamed of such an aspiration. The University of Teesside Partnership has embraced a foundation degree award with great enthusiasm and rigour, holding closely to the Government’s aim of making foundation degrees truly vocational qualifications that engage closely with employers and involve extensive learning in practical work settings.

To date, the partnership has developed over 40 foundation degree awards, many of which are now being offered at partner colleges right across the Tees Valley region, with well in excess of 800 students enrolled in these programmes at colleges in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Redcar, Darlington, Bishop Auckland and Stockton in the last academic year. It is a great success story by any measure, which has actively and seriously addressed the Government’s commitment to fully engage employers and employer representative bodies in all aspects of planning, delivery, review and evaluation of higher education and higher education skills and training—and, importantly, in closing the education, training and skills gap between educational and vocational routes.

It is a success story that has sought to ensure that foundation degree students have the maximum opportunity to progress seamlessly to honours degree programmes, or other relevant programmes at a higher level. It is all based within a framework providing the structure, planning, systems and checks and balances that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a further education college—particularly one with limited experience of higher education—to have achieved in isolation. I do not want such difficulties to arise. As your Lordships know, foundation degrees are still relatively new qualifications, which are still establishing their credibility with some employers and potential students. My colleagues at Teesside, in both the university and the colleges of the Tees Valley, have worked hard and successfully to provide the resources, skills and infrastructure to ensure that the foundation degree can be a qualification on which employers can rely and in which public funds can be safely invested.

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However, I worry that proposals in the Bill have serious potential to significantly undermine the excellent progress that has been made by further and higher education institutions to date, and that they may well serve to damage the fragile brand of the foundation degree—a brand that, as I have said, has yet to be fully established as a success story. It is not clear to my colleagues and me at the University of Teesside how students or employers will be better served by the proposals than by the strong university/college partnerships, like ours, that currently exist across the country. Nor is it clear to us the basis on which Ministers have come to the conclusion that levels of participation, progression and attainment—or, perhaps more important, protection of standards—will be enhanced. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

I make it clear that I am a staunch supporter of the further education sector, which is, by any measure, an outstanding national success story, training over 4 million people annually and providing outstanding provision to local communities and local economies. In expressing that unqualified support, my point is that what further and higher education can do together is much more important and relevant than what they can do alone. I understand that consultation with the higher education sector on these measures has not yet taken place. I know that many in that sector, including my own university, have grave fears that further and higher education cannot simultaneously compete and collaborate on the same qualification. I argue that we have a system that has demonstrated that it works well and I urge the Minister to enter into a dialogue with universities such as my own and their partners to build on that success and on that track record of delivery of which we are all proud.

5.27 pm

Lord Baker of Dorking Dorking: My Lords, before referring to further education, perhaps I may make one observation about the Bill. The Bill is also a devolution measure. I remind noble Lords that, as a result of its passage, further education in Wales will in future be the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly—which I completely support—as further education in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. I remind noble Lords that the devolution settlement in our country is neither stable nor final. I think that your Lordships will appreciate my belief that Scottish Members of Parliament should not, when the Bill goes to the House of Commons, be allowed to vote on it since it has no effect at all on them. We are debating today English further education and not UK further education. That is the end of the commercial.

I think that every Secretary of State during their career in office has referred to further education as the Cinderella—I see a former Secretary of State nodding agreement—waiting to be taken to the ball. I made a modest start by releasing the colleges from the control of local authorities, because when local authorities were pushed for cash they always raided the capital or current budgets of the FE colleges. The colleges were freed from that. Some have stepped up

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to the mark and have been remarkably successful; others have not done so well. That was the beginning of trusting the colleges.

Despite the Minister’s eloquence, the Bill is a bit of a damp squib. I am not persuaded that the general thesis of regional councils is necessarily better. The replacement of 47 by nine is a good example of state supply-side planning. The old countries in the communist bloc thought that they were rather good at that. But all my instincts tell me that it is wrong and that training is essentially a local matter. In the south-east region, the capital is Guildford. People in Canterbury will never go to Guildford, nor will the people from Dover or from Brighton and Lewes. It has nothing to do with Guildford. If there is a deficiency and shortage of plumbing skills in Canterbury, it will be no consolation that there is an over-provision of plumbing skills in Guildford. So I am by no means convinced that the regional solution is the right solution in this matter. But the Government are going to do it. Let us see how it works out.

The Leitch report is interesting and important, but I do not think that it is fundamental enough. It looked at the whole of the FE area post-16. Leitch is trying to make up for the failures of the English schooling system. In effect, he is saying that we do not have enough young people post-16 with appropriate skills; we do not have enough young people with communication skills and we do not have sufficient young people who are literate and numerate enough. Therefore, measures have to be taken.

We have to be more fundamental and go back and look into the schooling system. Two years ago, the Government stumbled on the correct policy and, following the Tomlinson report, decided to develop a 14 to 19 curriculum. I thought that that would be the real breakthrough, so this morning I went to Google and typed “14 to 19 curriculum”—I find that quicker than tabling Parliamentary Questions—and found three or four websites. They were full of good will; earnest people are working on good websites trying to develop the 14 to 19 curriculum. I do not want to berate them because there is real effort, and I could see that they are trying, but no curriculum has emerged.

The problem is simply that on the main website of the qualifications body there are three columns: schools 11 to 16, sixth-form colleges and FE colleges. When you go into each one, you go into separate institutions with separate aims, purposes and objectives. If a young person of 16 tries to find out what the 14 to 19 curriculum is, he finds a morass. It is very difficult to see your way through. The QCA is correctly trying to get conformity on qualifications, so there is a continuum from diplomas up to degrees, but institutions that can deliver the 14 to 19 curriculum are missing.

Therefore, I advocate as a serious policy that the Government should establish as new secondary schools only schools for 14 to 19 year-olds. Call them what you will—skills schools or apprenticeship schools—but they are a new type of school. Tony

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Blair has already said that he is committed to 200 new academies as part of his legacy. I welcome that, but I wish that he would be more radical. It is no good him relaunching what I did 20 years ago. If he wants a good legacy, leaving 50 or 60 14 to 19 schools would be a legacy worth having.

Why do I support 14 to 19 schools covering leaving school and going on to further education? I do it because far too many young people leave school at 16. They do not necessarily end their education, because many of them will go into a job and have a day release at a local further education college for one day a week. Some will do more than that, but they leave the institution in which they have been brought up. It is a break. If the institution to which they went at 14 continued to 19, it would discourage leaving at 16. Therefore, instead of leaving at 16 and having four days in business and one day in college, in such a school you could have four days in school and one or two days in business. Continuing that process in an educational framework—a school or a college—is better than doing it in business. I think that there is only one 14 to 19 school in the offing, but I hope to try to persuade the Minister and the Prime Minister to do that.

I support what the noble Lord, Lord Low, said. I am president of a charity that maintains one of the most successful schools for the blind in the country. We are under pressure, just as the RNIB is, but that is another debate. In the school for which I am responsible for raising money, we take pupils from two to 25. There is a complete continuum: nursery, primary, secondary and a wonderful post-16 FE college that is bursting at the seams. The pupils seem more assured as they stay within the same institutional framework. Colleges for the blind have shown the way to do that. I do not see why other colleges should not follow.

We need inspiration in this. Last night, I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing”—quite a good title for the Bill, but leave that aside. It was a brilliant production set in Cuba in the 1950s, and I noticed lots of young people in the audience, which is unusual in a London theatre. There were not just older teenagers, but lots of 13 and 14 year-olds, too, so I talked to them in the interval and asked, “Why are you here? Are you just starting Shakespeare?”. They answered, “We haven’t started Shakespeare yet, but we read about the play and a friend said we should come and see it”. They absolutely loved it; they stood up and cheered, and they clapped and shouted at the end. The point of this anecdote is that they were inspired by a remarkable producer who really turned them on, which is what you have to do with children. Children get fed up with education, because there is not that inspiration behind it.

One phrase that I used quite a lot when I had responsibility for these matters was a quotation from another Shakespeare play,

Shows not till it be struck”.

Every child in our country has a little bit of flint in them. Even the most awkward or rebellious—the one you really feel you should have nothing to do

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with—has a bit of flint, and the success of education is to find that bit of flint and strike it. That is done better in a continuing institution from 14 to 19, and I hope that the Government will seriously address that possibility, as it would transform the learning skills in our country.

Finally, the Leitch report says some sensible things about involving employers more—not just in the supply side of FE colleges—but another voice should be heard, that of the students. Many 16 and 17 year-olds know exactly what they want to be trained in. Where is their voice? How can they be asked? I will give the House a solution, by using a term that is unpalatable in educational terms: education vouchers. Do your Lordships remember that mad idea from Keith Joseph, the mad monk, which never got anywhere? Well, on 23 November I found a speech by Alan Milburn—who seems to be the thinking edge of new Labour, or what is left of it—in which he said that he would like to see education credits, which is the same as vouchers. He was arguing that parents of children who go to failing schools should be given education credits, so that they can buy them out and send them somewhere else. That was not the mad monk or the right wing of the Conservative Party talking; it was Alan Milburn, a close friend of the Minister, who, if he did not have ministerial responsibility today, would no doubt be making the same sort of speech.

I would like students to be given a greater voice in all this. That is very important. Give them a voucher so that they can go shopping for the sort of course that they want. That would mean that we did not need nine regional councils or anything like that, particularly when there is per capita funding. Further education is an immensely important area, but this Bill does not do very much for it. This is a continuing debate, but I ask the Minister to consider most seriously my main proposal on schools for 14 to 19 year-olds.

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