Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Learning and Skills Council will very soon publish its intervention strategy, which will set out its approach and the responsibilities of the LSC, the Quality Improvement Agency and colleges in dealing with poor performance. The intervention strategy will be published soon. I will ensure that it is made available before we go into Committee so that it can be a basis for our discussions on those particular powers. Indeed, in many respects, the proposals are quite closely mirrored by what takes place in schools, where again intervention follows Ofsted reports and has to be based on strong evidence.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury raised the issue of the spiritual and moral needs of pupils, which is an important area. I echo what the noble Baroness said in the best wishes we send to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who we are sorry cannot be in his place today. We believe it to be important that colleges consider how best to meet the spiritual and moral needs of their students. We emphasised this point in the White Paper, where we said that the governing bodies should consider how their pastoral arrangements meet student needs, including faith needs. I know that the Church of England has done excellent work with the National Ecumenical Agency in Further Education in developing guidance and support materials to help colleges deliver on this role. We have given strong encouragement to that work. However, we are not at the moment persuaded that a new statutory duty to promote spiritual and moral development would be a sensible step. We see further education colleges in the sector in a different position from schools in terms of the age range of their students. We do not believe it to be appropriate to impose the same statutory duties on FE colleges as apply to schools educating under-16s but we look forward to continuing this debate in Committee too.

The issue of foundation degrees has sparked much interest in the debate. Launched in 2001, foundation degrees were the first new higher education qualification introduced in 25 years and they represent a significant step-change in the design and delivery of degree-level education, bringing institutions and employers together to create a blend of academic and work-based learning. I should stress that they build on the concept of HNDs with distinctive benefits and they are a distinctive qualification in that sense—they build on a qualification which was not itself awarded by universities. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, quite rightly stressed that the HNDs are accredited by national awarding bodies. They have always been in a different position and they are foundation degrees—they are sub-degrees, they are not full degrees in the sense of what was understood by the word degree before their introduction. As my noble friend Lady Morgan said, 79 per cent of foundation degrees are delivered by further education colleges, which have close proximity in terms of geography and values to a huge number of learners and employers.

The proposals set out in the Bill are a sensible, incremental step which recognises the significant role that colleges play in teaching for foundation degrees.

13 Dec 2006 : Column 1613

If colleges were to be accredited to award the foundation degrees in their own right, they would need to meet the QAA criteria. There would be stringent quality thresholds. My noble friend Lady Warwick was particularly concerned about that issue. The letter dated 23 November from my department to a number of interested parties stated:

As my noble friend will know, those QAA criteria are stringent. I am advised that only a small number of FE colleges would be capable of meeting them, but many more would wish to do so—a point rightly made by my noble friend Lady Morris. The nature of the criteria themselves, which are very demanding, would limit the number, and we can debate the desirability of whether even that small number should be allowed to do so. The Government are on the side of deregulation because we believe that that will best serve the needs of students. Based on the criteria on which we intend to consult, our view is that the number able to take advantage of this power would not be large.

As I am running out of time, I shall reply in writing to a number of the many points that have been made. I shall deal with the important issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, in respect of students with special needs. It is an absolutely critical area of further education provision. The House responded very strongly to the points he made about the importance of that work being sustained and enhanced. The noble Lord asked whether the composition of regional councils would ensure that the voluntary sector was fully represented. The Learning and Skills Council has set up a Working Together strategy committee, which focuses on the council’s work with the voluntary and community sector, and we will take full account of its needs when we appoint the membership of the councils. He asked whether due regard will be paid to the representation of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities in the development of proposals and policies under Clause 7. I can assure the noble Lord that guidance will reflect learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and those not yet in learning.

The noble Lord, Lord Low, also asked whether we would publish the disability equality impact assessment during the course of the Bill. I can assure him that we intend to publish that during 2007. We have already published the DfES’s disability equality scheme, which was published on 4 December, and I shall see that that is forwarded to him and circulated to noble Lords. That will help us to understand the importance we give to this issue before Committee stage.



13 Dec 2006 : Column 1614

The noble Lord sought assurance that there would be a duty on the council in relation to diversity and choice and that it would extend to encompassing national residential colleges for students with specific learning difficulties as well as mainstream colleges. I assure him that the duty will extend to considering all relevant matters. The guidance from the Secretary of State will advise on how learning and skills councils should best engage with groups and persons with learning difficulties and disabilities, including persons not yet in learning.

On London—an important issue raised by many noble Lords—I hope we do not get into a debate about “may” or “shall”. We have established the board; indeed, it had its first meeting last week. It was chaired by the Mayor of London and its vice-chair is Harvey McGrath, who is chairman of London First, an organisation close to the heart of the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine. We have no intention of seeing its work being wound up at an early date. Points were made about a future Secretary of State. If the skills board develops the strength, expertise and voice that we expect, I do not think that there will be any question of any future Government seeking to wind up its work.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, have the Government entered into contracts with members of the board before the legislation has gone through the House? That is making an assumption.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am sure that we have acted absolutely properly in every decision we have taken in respect of the London Skills and Employment Board, but I will write to the noble Baroness and set out precisely how we have done that.

In conclusion, I return to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Moser, which in many ways is where we started in terms of the crusade to enhance further education. He said that he doubted whether our commitment was as strong now as it was back in 1998, when he produced his important report. Let me emphasise to him that our commitment is every bit as strong. We have met all the targets we set in respect of the improvement of the basic skills of the adult workforce in 1998. They were ambitious targets, as the noble Lord knows. We worked closely with the Basic Skills Agency in doing so. Funding has increased every year since then to tackle the basic skills deficit in the adult population and it now totals £500 million per year. We expect another target to be set in the spending review next year that will further enhance our work in this area.

I simply say that by way of conclusion, because a great deal of the debate has rightly focused on the interface between further and higher education. But let none of us forget that in many ways the most valuable work that further education does is to give second-chance opportunities to those who, alas, for whatever reason, were not able to make effective use of their first chance in the school system. Their own career prospects and their lives are too valuable to us to allow them to slip through the net and not have

13 Dec 2006 : Column 1615

those opportunities. For many tens of thousands of young people and hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, who are later in their lives, further education offers the only prospect they have of being able to equip themselves with the skills and the life chances that those of us who are more fortunate in our initial education take for granted. This is central to our

13 Dec 2006 : Column 1616

work. It is why everything that we do in further education is so important. On that basis I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page