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My second example is the unique foundation degree in crime science and forensic investigation at Queen Mary College, University of London, to which I was formerly attached. It has a long and successful track record of working in partnership with business. Begun last year, the idea was born out of academic forensic expertise inside the university and from an existing biomedical collaboration with the excellent City and Islington College in London. The degree is taught jointly by Queen Mary and City and Islington College and is designed for students who wish to pursue a career as a scene of crime officer in the police service or as a serving police officer. It was developed in collaboration with the Metropolitan Police’s directorate of forensic services, offers scientifically robust training and develops skills in pure and applied biology that mean that the world is the oyster of the people coming out of that training course. That mix of expertise is possible only within the framework of this joint higher education/further education collaboration.

What have been the spin-offs of other foundation courses between Queen Mary and Tower Hamlets College? One of the spin-offs of the developing joint foundation degrees has been, for example, the links to all the schools in Tower Hamlets looking at curriculum development on a wider framework, in particular, as noble Lords will realise, because of the abiding deep interest of Professor Adrian Smith, the principal of Queen Mary, in improving maths education. Putting together foundation degrees has generated a profound collaboration in raising mathematics education in schools throughout Tower Hamlets. It would not have happened without some kind of incentive to such work.

Like others, I see no sense in creating competition for the awarding of foundation degrees when we have only just started on a collaborative approach that is already beginning to show real, tangible benefits for the local communities. I am seriously concerned that those collaborations will be undermined by Clause 19.

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7.40 pm

Baroness Valentine: My Lords, before commenting on the Further Education and Training Bill, I declare my interest as the chief executive of London First, which has members from the commercial and educational sectors. It is from the perspective of fostering closer working relationships between business and education that I shall contribute to the debate. I shall begin by making some observations about the Bill and then move on to address briefly the broader skills issues that have been raised by the publication of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Pre-Budget Report last week.

Overall, the Bill represents a welcome, if relatively modest, step forward in enabling the further education sector to become more effective in providing the skills that this country needs to compete globally. Among its specific provisions, businesses and other employers will, I am sure, appreciate the move to open the market for government-funded training to more competition and hence widen the choice of training provider for learners and employers. However, an important proviso is that it will be vital to ensure that principals of further education colleges are given the additional powers and flexibilities that they need to respond to increasing competition. In short, a more open contest for skills provision on a level playing field is a good thing, so long as some of the players do not have one hand tied behind their back.

It is also good news that the Bill increases the ability of employers to guide the funding and development of training courses in line with requirements as they see them. It also seems a sensible development to provide for sector-wide training levies, where the majority of the employers in that sector support the proposal. There is a more general provision to ensure consultation with employers over the development of the Learning and Skills Council’s regional skills strategies. However, the process for that consultation is not defined in the Bill and, somewhat ominously, it will be covered by further guidance from the LSC. All too often, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away, and I hope that during the passage of the Bill, we shall have some assurance about the nature of the guidance.

I am delighted that the Bill enables the formation of the London Skills and Employment Board. Essentially, that devolves the responsibility for developing a London-wide skills strategy and steering the capital’s adult education training budget to a new board chaired by the mayor and with the majority of members being London business employers. That is a significant development, not only for London, where it will bring decision-making about skills training closer to the social and commercial realities of the capital but for the rest of the country, where it will provide a pioneering step towards devolution that I am sure others will want to follow.

The Bill provides the much-needed legislative basis for the board. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who noted that new Section 24B provides that the Secretary of State “may” provide for the

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establishment of such a board. I suggest to the Minister that substituting the word “shall” for “may” would deliver the Government’s stated intention of giving the mayor,

To coin a phrase, that would be a small step for the Department for Education and Skills’s drafting department but would be a giant leap for the future of skills training in London.

My final point is to note with approval the Department for Education and Skills’s accompanying assurance, in the guidance notes, that no additional expenditure or manpower will be required to bring the Bill into force. However, I also note with some concern its estimate that up to £4 billion will be required for investment in the new shared support service systems described in the Bill. That is a significant figure in anyone’s budget, and I ask the Secretary of State to review the plans in this area particularly carefully to ensure that the investment is truly necessary and that the taxpayer is receiving a full return on investment.

The Bill, the publication of the Leitch review and the Chancellor’s Pre-Budget Report last week have once again brought to the fore the role of skills in creating and maintaining our national prosperity. I shall make three observations before I close. First, I welcome the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, that this country must develop a world-class skills training system that will enable our economy to compete with the best. I also share his view that our current skills system is not delivering what is required. It must be driven much more strongly in future by the needs of the job marketplace, and we must prioritise government spending to place a much higher value on the economically valuable skills that the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, speaks about so eloquently in his report. In that context, I look forward to Sir Digby Jones’s involvement as head of a new national skills and employment commission. The very phrase, “skills and employment” implies the Government’s intention to provide joined-up thinking and better integration between the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions who are currently, so far as many businesses are concerned, working on disconnected agendas.

Secondly, I agree with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, about our current qualifications system. In a nutshell, the system is far too large, obscure and detached from the jobs market. More than 22,000 vocational qualifications are recognised by the national Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and more than 500 different qualifications are available in literacy and numeracy alone. So I strongly believe that the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, is right to emphasise in his report the critical importance of the employer as skills consumer. However, I fear that his recommendation to set national numeric targets for this country to achieve in level 2, 3 and 4 skills by 2020 runs exactly in the opposite direction. That represents a return to the centralised predict-and-provide approach and is couched in language that is understood by educationists but is incomprehensible to the wider

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world. The decision about whether skills policy in future is to be driven primarily top down and by central planning or primarily by the dynamic needs of the marketplace is the most important issue for the Government to address as they consider their response to the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch.

Lastly, I shall quote briefly from a previous government report on skills and international competitiveness:

That was in 1884. The urgency remains.

7.47 pm

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I shall address a number of points on Clause 19. I shall start by underlining the point made by a number of speakers—including the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and my noble friend Lady Murphy—about the dangers of putting at risk the achievement that is already in the system: the good partnerships between universities and FE colleges. There is a myth that that is largely, perhaps only, to do with post-1992 universities, but that is not the case. I was in King’s College, London, this morning—and I declare an interest as pro-chancellor of the University of London, of which King’s is a significant member—where concerns were raised with me about precisely this point. King’s has invested a great deal in linking up with FE colleges and putting on foundation degree programmes that integrate well with its own degree offerings as part of the wider college. The word “dismay” would be too strong because King’s is a robust institution with a robust principal and good leadership, but there was some concern and uncertainty about the messages coming from this legislation to institutions already in this business.

That being said, the core of my comments has to do with quality assurance in the Clause 19 proposals. Clause 19 covers the granting of powers to award both foundation degrees and honorary foundation degrees. I decided that it was a step too far to talk about quality assurance in the context of the award of honours, as that is a rather hot topic around this building these days, so I shall confine my remarks to quality assurance in foundation degrees.

There are two separate tasks in quality assurance: to assure the quality of the process in the education being offered; and to assure quality in what we used to call standards, which are now called outcomes. Those are separate needs that must be met in any adequate quality assurance programme.

It might be worth while to remind your Lordships how that works in the two parts of the education system that, so to speak, straddle the further education sector. The first is schools. There is a clear process for looking at how education is delivered in schools and providing an assurance of quality, and that is the mechanism of inspection. There is also a clear process for looking at how standards and outcomes are maintained across the system. That

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operates significantly through having a national curriculum and national external tests and examinations. In the school sector, those deal together with quality assurance in process and in standards and outcomes. In the university sector, quality assurance in process follows the academic audit route, which is the responsibility of the Quality Assurance Agency. Quality assurance in standards and outcomes is significantly the responsibility of external examiners.

People may argue about how effective such mechanisms are, but there are mechanisms in place that can be used to test the quality of what is being delivered in process and in standards or outcomes. In the university sector, significant tests are set also by professional bodies such as those for accountancy, the General Medical Council, the General Dental Council, the institutes of engineering and so on. There are professional bodies that to help determine and assure the quality of outcomes and standards.

One has to ask what equivalent processes are being proposed for the further education sector. I stress that there are two needs here: one is process, and one has to do with outcomes. Those have clearly not been thought through in any detail. Noble Lords would want some reassurance on how those processes are to be operated and indeed about what they are to be. I do not think that we can simply pick up the system operating in the schools or in the universities. However, there is a need to develop a means of assuring ourselves on process and on outcomes and the quality of both. Could the Minister—perhaps in his concluding remarks, but certainly in Committee—elaborate on how the Government envisage these processes taking place? If this system is to work—and I am not presently taking a view on whether we should go ahead with it, though it is clearly the Government’s intention that it should work—then quality assurance processes must be out in the open to give confidence about the system and to those who operate within it.

I have two final, short comments. One does not have to be a card-carrying church member to see the point of what our two right reverend Prelates discussed. I am not sure that I would agree with them on every detail of what social, cultural, moral and spiritual education amounts to, but there is an issue there that they are addressing. As a non-card-carrying church member I simply underline the importance of those issues.

Finally, I commend to the Minister the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, not simply about how Scots should vote—I do not know how that applies in this House—but about looking more broadly at the possibility of pilot studies of institutions operating for 14 to 19 year-olds in an integrated fashion. Now is the time for bold thinking. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides room to experiment with ways of conceiving new patterns of education. The 14 to 19 year-old bracket is worth thinking about very seriously indeed. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on quality assurance.

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7.54 pm

Lord Jones: My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and I acknowledge his academic insights. I was also glad to hear the right reverend Prelates standing their corner in the field of FE.

I welcome the Bill and appreciate the Minister’s expert introduction. To improve the skills of young men and women and of adults in the 21st century must be one of the most important strategic objectives of any British Government. Surely one spur to the Government’s increasingly urgent and determined approach to the skilling, reskilling and upskilling of the British workforce must be the persistent decline of Britain’s manufacturing base. Today, manufacturing accounts for less than 15 per cent of our economy.

Under successive Administrations manufacturing in Britain has declined alarmingly. We face cutthroat competition in Europe while the challenge from the Republic of China, for example, is colossal. Wales, Scotland and our English regions will have a better economic future if this legislation is deployed in part to assist and promote our manufacturing industries. Are there plans for that? It is unnerving to observe the bidding by overseas companies for Corus plc, the remnant of Britain’s once supreme steel industry. Steel was the one-time foundation of our worldwide industrial pre-eminence. Do we not need manufacturing to create wealth, or some manufacturing to create some wealth?

In 1970, manufacturing employment was at its peak of 9 million; today, it is just over 3 million. Is it the aim of Her Majesty’s Government to use this legislation to end the erosion of Britain’s manufacturing base? However, it has to be said that our invisible City exports are priceless in their national value; that added value is a necessary clarion call; that collaborative ventures are the way forward; and that leading-edge technologies are priorities. But surely British skills and FE colleges can also be deployed to sustain Britain’s remaining manufacturing jobs.

I now offer the Minister a particularly positive report. Airbus UK manufactures the wings of thousands of aircraft, not least the giant futuristic A380 passenger aircraft. It has, in total, over 7,000 skilled and semi-skilled workers engaged on wing production. On its site, the airbus company trains 380 school leavers, 170 adult trainers and 25 graduates. That Flintshire plant is the jewel in the crown of north-east Wales and the north-west region’s economy; it is a huge earner of export moneys in a British aerospace industry that earns Britain more than £6 billion annually through exports, and which is the biggest employer of skilled labour in Britain.

On Monday, I was present at the Flintshire plant when the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling, pledged £35 million for research and development—a truly red-letter day for Wales and the north-west. The plant has a brilliant, youthful management team led by Mr Brian Fleet MBE, a training specialist, while Airbus UK’s managing director is the greatly respected Mr Iain Gray,

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who always promotes skilling and retraining. The company is, I believe, one of Europe’s biggest and best trainers. It should be acclaimed by this Government. In this, the Deeside further education college plays a central role. It trains hundreds of school leavers and adults on the airfield site in Flintshire and at the college. My compatriot, Mr David Jones, is its able principal.

Will this legislation enable further education colleges to enhance skills in our remaining manufacturing factories? What initiatives does the Minister have in mind to get more female school leavers into training and apprenticeships? Apprenticeships in this industry are the routes to well-paid permanent posts of very high status. However, there must be more for young women leaving high schools. Will the Minister spell out the consequences of his proposals for Wales, to which he made a passing reference? Will there be more discretion and power, as I think there will be? Wales is a mature democracy. The Wales Assembly Government have come of age and, I believe, are equal to the challenges. The Minister should be confident that Wales can deliver. Wales needs its remaining manufacturing—it has lost enough in steel and coal—but it has embraced skilling and retraining under the leadership of Mr Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister.

Overall, Britain’s manufacturing continues to erode. Are the Government sufficiently active in sustaining what we now have left? If they are not, manufacturing will end up like the fictional Cheshire cat, with just the grin. I believe that for Britain to remain a truly great nation in this century, we need a substantial, viable and wealth-creating manufacturing base, aided by excellent, constant retraining. In this cruelly competitive world, invisible earnings, service industries, supermarkets, call centres and foreign takeovers will not be enough to sustain our free schools, hospitals and pensions provision—certainly not in the generations ahead. More than that is required, and this Bill just might help.

8.02 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to make a short intervention on this extremely important Bill. I will not detain your Lordships for long, because a good deal of what I wanted to say has been said with great eloquence by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, from the basis of her own experience. I am particularly interested in the situation in London, where there are problems. There is a high level of unemployment—around 7.5 per cent. There are far too many low-paid jobs, and too many employers make use of immigrant labour in order to undercut wage rates. I am glad to say that union involvement has begun to get to grips with that situation and unions have begun to organise among such workers. The intention is to ensure that, through campaigns, employers will be prevented from exploiting immigrant workers. Of course, low skill levels influence employment, which is clear from our discussions today.

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The Bill devolves powers to the Mayor of London, whose office has been in touch with me. The mayor welcomes the intention behind Clause 4, which will provide for the establishment of the London Skills and Employment Board, an employer-led board that will lead on the formulation of a strategy for adult skills and employment in London. However, this would be only a temporary delegation of powers to London, rather than the devolution of powers as discussed in the review, and it could be overturned by the Government at any time. While the mayor and the current Secretary of State agree on the need for the new board, a future Secretary of State could cut its powers and reject its strategy without the need for new legislation.

It is important for the board and its strategy to be given a permanent basis in London to ensure the highest level of business engagement for the board and to enable the new arrangements to develop long-term strategic plans for the capital without the risk of being disbanded by a new Secretary of State at any time. Depending on the response of the Minister, I think that it may be necessary to return to this point in Committee with an amendment.

The proposal for restructuring the Learning and Skills Council is particularly welcome. I understand that, during the consultation review on the powers of the mayor and the GLA, it became apparent that there was a broad consensus in London that the division of the city into five learning and skills councils areas had not served the city well. The approach to funding further education, training and skills development was inconsistent, random and lacking in strategic focus. The mayor argued that there was a need for a city-wide structure to address the pressing skills and employment issues facing London. The establishment of a regional structure allows for a more co-ordinated approach to meet the needs of London learners and employers. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who, unfortunately, is not in his place. I noted that he had reservations about regionalisation. As far as I am aware, London has no reservations. It welcomes the whole idea of the regional structure.

I was also interested in the comment made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I do not decry the contribution that I am sure the church has made to further education, but we have already had a long debate about faith schools. With great respect to the right reverend Prelate, I do not think that it is appropriate to have “faith FE”, if I may put it that way. This is a very secular area and I would prefer, as would many people, FE to be regarded as a secular enterprise. It ought to be, because we are involved in skills training and so on, which essentially is a secular operation.

8.07 pm

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