|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Dearing: My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I welcomed the remarks made by the two right reverend Prelates, particularly because they associated themselves with the humanists. It is a change to see the churches and the humanists in alliance. I think that this is part of the development of the human
13 Dec 2006 : Column 1597
I have not studied Part 1 deeply, but I am instinctively a regionalist and welcome the approach. I am pleased that London is being seen as a regionit has major problems. In the constitution of these bodies, I hope that local authorities will be remembered as important contributors to an integrated approach. In a previous Bill, we talked about their strategic role in education. These bodies will be strategic and we need the involvement of local authorities.
There has been much discussion of Clause 19. Some years ago, I chaired a committee of inquiry into the future of higher education and we looked into a two-year programme. One of our central concerns, which is important today, was to maintain the value of the brand of a British degree in the interests of the student who earned it and paid for itthanks to meand in the interests of the universities and the nation. The British degree creates huge overseas earnings. It is one of our precious assets and I care very much that its standing should be maintained. That is not necessarily incompatible with a two-year foundation degree. That was not the course that we would have chosenwe would have preferred the HND, but there we have itbut I like the way it has worked out with the universities.
The Minister made some reassuring remarks about things that concerned me. He said, This doesn't come with the rations; it has to be earned, and somebodythe QAA, presumablyhas to be sure that the internal processes are sound. I welcome that. However, I think that he said that he did not see many institutions wanting this change. If there was so little demand for it, why do we need to make such a major change? It might have been better to examine the particular issues that have led to this dissatisfaction in a small number of FE colleges, to see whether they could be addressed successfully without structural change.
One thing that I care and admire about foundation degrees is the way in which these institutions, working with higher education institutions, have articulated the route from foundation to the final stage of an honours degree. That articulation between the two is so valuable. Without it, I would see the qualification not as a foundation degree, but as something separate. I worry that, once the link is broken and some begin down this route, others will follow. When people see an opportunity to do their own thing, collaboration tends to fall into second place. There needs to be a clasping of hands between the FE colleges and the universities, and the arrangement must be built in to enable that. Otherwise, the link will be gone.
The Bill refers to consultation with students. I suggest that, if the Government pursue these proposals, students in the institution should be consulted on whether they should no longer have a university foundation degree but have an FE degree instead. They are working for that degree and I suspect that the link with a university can be worth quite a lot to them in the marketplace.
My final substantial point is the whole issueand this is what Leitch was aboutof lifting our endowment in skills up to the highest levels. We all know that there has been a problem, which has been hurtful and damaging to us, of the way in which anything vocational has been seen as second rate. The Government's proposals for the 14 new diplomas, which are major building blocks equivalent to four to six GCSEs, are a major initiative to provide a coherent, valuable and high-standing qualification that will be attractive to our young people. But I have some concerns. The diplomas must be well devised. There is a risk. I remember when design and technology was introduced into our schools. It was a bright idea, but the schools were not kitted out to do a good job. You would go into a classroom and quietly laugh at the thought that these things could be done in an ordinary classroom.
One thing that stands out about this Government is their commitment to education and to providing resources. What the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said on different occasions over the past year has been great. There is an opportunity, linked with the need for major reconstruction of our schools, especially secondary schools, and that is one thing that he is keen to finance. The money is there for a big rebuild programme over 10 to 15 years. The new diplomas need excellence to lift the whole standing of this major initiative, so that it attracts not only those who are not successful academically, but some of our ablest, most ambitious young people. Therefore, I want to associate these things with excellence.
I now turn to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. There must be excellent qualifications, excellently taught in institutions that are capable of providing excellent facilities. They must be able to cover the full breadth and to do so through a continuum from 14 to 19, so that there is not a break point at 16 where people see that they can go. If there is continuity in one place, we have a better chance of succeeding. We are towards the bottom end of the leagues of nations for staying-on rates at age 17 plus. Through excellence, we have an opportunity to keep in the very people who are most prone to leave. We can raise the whole standard of this approach in peoples minds in first-rate technical colleges and technology academies in our major citiesperhaps 50 in total. This is an opportunity to change the whole way in which society values the vocational approach.
Baroness Morgan of Huyton: My Lords, at this stage in the debate I shall be very brief. I approach any policy decision in education, at any level from early years through to higher education, from the
13 Dec 2006 : Column 1599
Like many other noble Lords, I am a huge fan of foundation degrees. Perhaps that is because I am the daughter of an engineer or because I grew up in the north east, like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, but I saw many people travel successfully along the path of ONC or HND in the local techs and polytechnics, gaining skills and employability as they went. They were people who would never have gone to university nor did they have the qualifications to do so. To me, the great thing about the foundation degree is that it is the modern day version of that brood and offers the same chance of opportunities and same chance to get up the educational ladder.
As many noble Lords have already acknowledged, foundation degrees are new and still developing, but are becoming high quality. They are academically rigorous. They are designed in partnership with employers and delivered in ways that are interesting because they are flexible and innovative. They aim to get maximum participation from people who otherwise would struggle to take part at times. For example, many are part-time; any are done via distance and e-learning and are delivered partly in the workplace in many cases. These degrees are important as a recognised and valued qualification as they stand, in essence filling the higher technician level of education, but they can also be the crucial step on the next ladder to a full honours degree.
Nearly 47,000 students are studying for foundation degrees and there is a lot of support from employers across the sector. I have come across two. Airbus, about which we have already heard tonight, says that about 70 per cent of its top management team are ex-apprentices. The company is still looking for ways to get those same people through its organisation so that they get the skills at that level is run the company. Airbus is very committed to foundation degrees because it thinks that the rewards to the company are so obvious. In a completely different sphere, West Yorkshire Police say that because the degree is designed with them, it is a valuable investment because they are getting what they need. The sets of skills involved are very different, but they are getting what they need for the people that they are employing.
So far as my first question is concerned, I think that foundation courses fit the bill in terms of providing opportunities and raising aspirations. Like many noble Lords in the House, I want to see more of them. That is my starting point in this debate. I want to see them provided as efficiently as possible. There seems to be a real issue about the cumbersome nature of the present arrangements, so at the very least, we should be looking at ways in which they can be improved.
On standards, currently further education institutions wishing to award foundation degrees have to enter into an arrangement with a university or an institution with taught degree-awarding powers. At the moment, 79 per cent of those degrees are delivered through FE institutions and only 19 per cent are delivered through HE institutions. Many noble Lords are experts in this field; I do not pretend to be an expert at all in the fields of higher or further education. But it seems to me that we have a somewhat unwieldy and bureaucratic method of delivery that needs to be looked at.
The proposal to allow FE institutions the power to award up to foundation degree level should be considered seriously. I hear what other noble Lords have saidthat the proposal has possibly not had that necessary consultation and that we have not had the comprehensive level of information that is needed. It is also perfectly clear that many FE institutions would not even wish to take up the option. Indeed they should not do so unless they are satisfied that it is a good thing to do. However, it seems that the new approach would allow colleges to react more quickly to the skills needs of the local economy. There is clearly plenty of scope around, with student numbers projected to reach 100,000 by the end of the decade.
Of course, we must focus on standardsthat has to come first. I, like others, would want real assurances from the Minister that the Quality Standards Agency will be tough and rigorous in its judgments about whether an institution meets the necessary criteria. We must know that there will be absolutely no lessening at all of the robust quality thresholds that currently exist. But, if we get this assurance, we must be clear that we are taking decisions in the interests of studentsnot in the interests of universities or FE colleges. It is the students whom we have to focus on as we take the Bill through its stages.
My plea this evening, having listened to this debate, is that we demand the evidence and the assurances that we need on standards. We should take the proposals through the Committee in detail and not reject them in haste.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate on what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, called a damp squib Bill, which is turning out to be much more contentious than the Government thought it would be. As the Minister said, the skills challenge for the UK is enormousI think that we all agree on that. But we have heard tonight from the representatives of 10 fine higher education institutions about their serious concerns with regard to Clause 19. I must be almost unique in this House tonight in not having to declare an interest in either a higher or further education institution. But why did the Government feel it necessary to publish a Bill on further education a week before a major government-sponsored report on the same subject? Having looked at the Bill, we on these Benches have come to the conclusion that there is no need for it
13 Dec 2006 : Column 1601
The Leitch report has a number of important objectives for the UK to achieve by 2020, many of which will have to be achieved by our schools, underpinning as they do any attempt to lure young people and adults into further education and training. It is schools that must achieve 95 per cent of adults having basic literacy and numeracy. The reading recovery programme, which has recently been extended from a pilot scheme to a much wider programme, is a very welcome move in that direction. Without it I do not believe that we have a chance of reaching the Leitch target. The children who really struggle with reading are often those with particular learning difficulties, who need the expertise of a highly trained teacher to sort them out. That may be expensive in the short term but it is very cost effective in the long term.
The second Leitch objective of exceeding 90 per cent of adults qualified to at least level 2an increase from 69 per cent in 2005will also be achieved in major part by schools, although some of it will be achieved by or in close co-operation with FE colleges, especially when the new national diplomas come in during 2008. That is why the Chancellors announcement last week of more money for schools was so welcome. I am afraid that I have not had time to study how much of it is money already announced previously, but I would not be at all surprised if some of it was. What a pity that the funding gap between schools sixth forms and colleges was not addressed, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Sharp.
The Leitch report is an important basis for policy development. Structural change should follow policy development, not precede it; so why reorganise the LSCs now before taking into account the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Leitch. The watchwords of this Government seem to be, When in doubt, legislate. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, expressed concern about whether the LSC will be fit for purpose.
The Bill gives the LSC a duty to promote diversity, but this is more about diversity in the type of provider than anything else. Diversity in the curriculum offered is much more important than diversity in where and in what type of institution someone studies. In this situation, it is more important for colleges to concentrate on working with schools to deliver the new 14 to 16 diplomas and then the 14 to 19 diplomas on time than trying to become universities.
The changes in this Bill will have a major effect on the ability of young people with disabilities and special needs to access training and skills, as a number of noble Lords said, beginning with the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston. Already at 16, young disabled people are twice as likely not to be in any form of work or training as their non-disabled peersand that number seems to be rising. Disabled people are twice as likely to have no qualification and, in a marketplace where the number of jobs requiring no qualification has halved in recent years, that is a
13 Dec 2006 : Column 1602
Although the LSC recently launched its national strategy for learners with a disability, as has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, the Disability Rights Commission and Scope, which have briefed us, are very concerned that with the radical structural changes proposed in this Bill the new strategy will be lost, with serious consequences for disabled learners. Scope would like to see the members of the LSCs obliged to take disability equality training before their appointment in order better to understand the issues. It would also like to see specific reference made to inclusion of disabled students in the choice and diversity part of the Bill.
Scope is concerned about the intervention part of the Bill in Clause 17, which it believes may contravene the Charities Act 2006 by giving power to the LSC to remove college principals and give directions to the governing body. Unlike most FE governing bodies, governors of Scope schools and colleges may be appointed by Scopes executive council, and Scope is very concerned by the suggestion that the LSC might have the power to remove Scope trustees. Will the Minister clarify that point in his response?
Scope is concerned, too, about the duty in Clause 22 for college principals to obtain specific qualifications. While that duty is very welcome, can the Minister tell us whether that training will be available to private providers, such as Scope, and if so what the cost will be? We shall return to those matters and to others relating to students with special needs at later stages in the Bill.
On the reorganisation of the LSCs, as my noble friend Lady Sharp said, we on these Benches welcome the fact that the Government have at last accepted our original proposal that they should be based on regions. But we are puzzled that there is no mention of local partnerships in the Bill. The Bill abolishes the local tier of the LSC, but nothing in it takes account of the need for regional LSCs to consult local authorities while at the same time the Bill repeals Section 22 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, which requires local plans to specify what provision the local authority should make for further education. However, the White Paper, Further Education: Raising Skills, Improving Life Chances states in paragraph 7.37 that the LSC will,
that is, in the local area agreements that LEAs make to support their economic regeneration. How does this translate into the Bill? It is not clear where the link is between local and regional planning. Do the Government envisage that this will be brought about by the powers in Clause 4 or perhaps through Clause 10? Perhaps the Minister will share the Governments thinking on this matter.
This uncertainty prompts me to ask whether there will be conflict between local and regional objectives and, if so, how it will be resolved. The noble Lord, Lord Leitch, placed emphasis on post-19 provision being made via the private sector, yet there is unlikely to be cohesive leadership and planning from that direction. Strategies will be employer-led and not region-led if the noble Lords recommendations are followed. So where does this leave the LSCs?
Perhaps the Minister will explain the future role of local government in post-16 learning and skills; in particular, the funding and planning of provision in maintained schools, the funding and planning of adult education, and the local co-ordination of employment and skills issues and regeneration.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee spoke about the reorganisation in Greater London. Although welcoming it, she expressed great concern about the Assemblys lack of ability to scrutinise the actions of the Mayor. She was concerned also about the lack of clarity and transparency and the composition of the London board.
be set and monitored? Why not use the definition in Section 44 of the Education Act 2005 for a school causing concern? It is much clearer. As my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford said, why move intervention from the Secretary of State to regional LSCs if only about half the work done by colleges is funded by the LSCs? Where does this leave the so-called independent college corporations? Who pays any compensation for unfair dismissal if a principal is dismissed by the LSC? These are important points which we will no doubt explore further in Committee.
The powers to award foundation degrees are the most contentious part of the Bill, mainly because they were not consulted on. We have been lobbied by both Universities UK and the Association of Colleges, which take diametrically opposed positions. I accept that some of the arguments of both sides are valid. That only goes to show how very important it is to have a period of consultation and reflection. We need to test the allegations being made by both sides and the concerns that they express. The new power sounded attractive to these Benches and we gave it a cautious welcome when it was first announceduntil we carried out the consultation which the Government clearly had not done before making the announcement. It is outrageous that this provision was put in the Bill about a week before publication with no consultation at all. Why rush? Why not look at the unintended consequences and take the Leitch report into account before proposing this measure to Parliament?
There also seems to be an inconsistency here. As my noble friend pointed out, if further education colleges were allowed to award their own foundation degrees, those would be the only qualifications that they awarded. None of the other qualifications
13 Dec 2006 : Column 1604
I understand that this proposal was put into the Bill at the last minute in response to complaints from a few colleges about the time and cost involved in getting a degree programme accredited by a university. As the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, said, if it is a problem that universities are taking two or three years or taking too large a top slice, it should be dealt with by improving the system and not by legislating for a still very new tier of higher education qualifications to be delivered by institutions whose courses already range widely from NVQs through to A-levels, basic skills, HNDs, City and Guilds and foundation degrees. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, listed the wide scope of what we already ask of our FE colleges.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|