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The Secretary of State currently has the power to remove members of college governing bodies under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This Bill transfers these powers to the Learning and Skills Council but also adds to the powers by allowing the LSC to dismiss senior college postholders.
The Government seem to have an enthusiasm for transferring their responsibilities to quangos such as the Learning and Skills Council. I ask this more in sorrow than in anger but why, when we campaigned so hard for so many years to get back into government, are we handing over so many responsibilities and key decisions to people with no democratic accountability?
In saying this, however, I would not be completely enamoured with the idea of the Secretary of State having a power to dismiss a college principal or other senior postholder. Of course, he has a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers money is well spent, but a lot of money also goes into other areas of the public sector. For example, should we expect a proposal for the Secretary of State to dismiss university vice-chancellors? I think not.
I agree with that. If and when Ministers bring forward amendments to replace the clauses that this House deleted, I ask that they address the concerns that noble Lords have raised. In particular, we must avoid passing bad law which results in the only winners being lawyers.
In conclusion, I ask noble Lords, if they have not already done so, to visit their local further education and sixth-form colleges to see their excellent and often unsung work. Colleges truly do change peoples lives. In Wolverhampton, I have seen lives literally transformed by the local collegemothers returning to work, youngsters who failed their GCSEs returning to education, adults achieving a lifetime ambition of running their own business, and more personal fulfilment than in any other area of our education system.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I apologise for not being in the House at the start of this short debate. There were good reasons for that, but they are not sufficiently good for me to detain noble Lords by elaborating. I apologise and hope that I may make two comments.
The first is to thank the Minister for the characteristic thoroughness and courtesy with which he listened to points made and dealt with them in discussion outside the Chamber. Secondly, I wish simply to emphasise that Amendment No. 2 is important for the reputation of British degrees. The buccaneering spirit is alive and well in the world of educationfurther, higher and elsewhereand as long as that is the case, there need to be tight constraints on the whole business of franchising. The stronger they are, the safer our future heritage.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, there are occasions in life where absence is more eloquent than presence, and I took the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to indicate such wholehearted agreement with the Government in their endeavours in this area that he did not even feel the need to be present to move his amendments. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, stepped in at the last moment to ensure that we could have this debate and I was not able to get away with the Third Reading taking only 10 secondswhich was my expectation at the beginning.
First, I echo the tribute made by my noble friend Lord Bilston to the work of the further education sector, which does absolutely outstanding work in communities up and down the country, and this Bill will enable that sector to flourish still further. I also pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord in the further education group in this House, which does a great deal to raise the flag for further education. I reciprocate the compliments and thanks given to the Government by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on behalf of her and her colleagues, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The three parties have been engaged in a highly constructive process to get the best legislation we can to enable our further education colleges to develop their missions to serve their local communities more effectively. I thank other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Sutherland, and my noble friend Lady Warwick, who wears a double hat in these debates. She sits behind me in more senses than one, watching what I do in relation to reforms that affect universities, and she very properly safeguards their interests vigilantly.
I shall divide my remarks into two and speak first on articulation and progression, raised by the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. For many students taking foundation degree programmes, the qualification will represent the first step of a higher education career. It is essential that all students have the assurance that their qualification will allow them to progress to further, higher-level study; and that is why the articulation agreements that form a core part of all foundation degree programmes are so vital, wherever they are delivered. The draft criteria
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Clear routes that facilitate opportunities for successful progression from Foundation Degrees towards another qualification are an important feature of Foundation Degrees. Such routes should be established when Foundation Degrees are validated, and identify the link(s) between the Foundation Degree and other qualification(s).
We have given a good deal of thought in response to the earlier debates in the House to whether there should be a statutory underpinning for progression. In response to the arguments made in our earlier debates, the Government have concluded that a statutory requirement about progression arrangements would be an additional means of building the confidence that both learners and institutions can place in the foundation degree and ensuring that the interests of learners are kept at the forefront. We therefore intend to bring forward a government amendment in another place to address progression.
Our aim is to frame an amendment flexible enough to ensure that the criteria are able to evolve over time. It is also extremely important that in adopting this approach we should not inadvertently impose unnecessary restrictions or obligations on institutions. New degree courses are constantly being devised, and some students may not wish to progress directly on to further study once they have completed their foundation degree. We need to take account of that. We would also be concerned to ensure that the amendment does not have a prescriptive effect on the admissions policies of higher education institutions, which are of course independent. We would therefore consult widely on the form of an amendment which underpins progression but which meets the other points I have just made. I hope that this undertaking is sufficient for the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to feel able to have his amendment withdrawn.
The proposals on foundation degree awarding powers were amended on Report to enable the Privy Council to specify restrictions on how a further education institution may exercise these powers. One of the restrictions is that a further education institution with the power to award foundation degrees may not authorise other institutions to award foundation degrees on its behalf. The other restriction is that the further education institution may only award foundation degrees to students enrolled at that institution at the time they complete the relevant course of study.
The revised QAA draft criteria document that I have circulated to noble Lords specifies that if an institution has been granted this restricted category of foundation degree awarding powers, it is unacceptable for that institution to delegate a significant level of provision to another FE institution without foundation degree awarding powers. The revised criteria also make clear that suitably rigorous controls will be in place to ensure the standard of provision wherever it is delivered, and that includes the workplace.
Only after a probationary period of at least six years, when the QAA is satisfied that an FE institution with degree awarding powers has developed a robust track record in awarding its own foundation degrees, would the QAA be in a position to recommend to the Privy Council that the FE institutions powers be upgraded to include the power to award foundation degrees to students enrolled at other institutions and the power to authorise other institutions to award foundation degrees on its behalf.
The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is rightly concerned to maintain high standards while accepting the principle of further education institutions having foundation degree awarding powers beyond the six-year period. During the initial six-year probationary period, an FE institution that is granted foundation degree awarding powers will be expected to establish strong quality-assurance credentials. The QAA will carry out an interim review of the institutions provision during the six-year period, which will give early warning of any possible area of concern. There will of course be a full assessment at the end of the six years of an application for renewal, if one is made.
This means that the institution will have satisfied quality-control checks at three separate points: during the initial application, at the interim review, and with the application for renewal of the powers. However, let me provide reassurance beyond the six-year period. The QAA will continue to play an audit role in relation to the institution thereafter. If the institution is judged inadequate, it will not achieve a judgment of broad confidence from the QAA. Judgments of limited confidence or no confidence would have very serious and adverse consequences for the institutions reputation. Furthermore, the independent report on the effect of Clause 17, which we have undertaken to publish and lay before Parliament, could consider franchising. We propose to publish draft terms of reference for this report and will be happy to look at suggestions as to how they can be improved, including whether franchising should be a specific term of reference in that review. I stress that the inquiry is now to be independent; we took that decision in response to the point that my noble friend Lady Blackstone made on Report. I confirmed that in my correspondence with her. My honourable friend Bill Rammell, the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, is prepared to repeat this commitment on the record in the other place.
Having said all that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will feel that his concerns have been addressed. In conclusion, I pay tribute to him personally for all his work to enable a consensus to be formed in this important area.
Lord Dearing: My Lords, how could I resist such an invitation to have my amendment withdrawn? I am grateful to the noble Baroness for holding the fort until I arrived; that enabled us to hear the Ministers response. We came with great expectations, and we were not disappointed. I assure the Minister that we will give him every possible help in drafting the amendment that he promised us and I thank him very much.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor, technical amendment to Clause 19 to ensure that companies and charitable incorporated organisations are treated equally in Section 19 of the Further and Higher Education Act.
Our intention is to enable further education institutions to collaborate with a range of partners, including schools, universities and others, to develop flexible and innovative models of delivery which will improve quality across the system, increase learner choice and enable efficiencies. Further education corporations may form or join companies and charitable incorporated organisations. In the case of companies that are to deliver publicly funded education, this has to be with the agreement of the relevant funding body. As drafted, the Bill does not permit institutions to form charitable incorporated organisations for the purposes of delivering publicly funded education at all. It was always our intention that this power should be available to further education corporations. The amendment ensures that companies and charitable incorporated organisations are treated in the same way. I beg to move.
Clause 25 enhances the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales in a number of policy areas in the field of further education and training. These are listed as matters to be inserted into field 5 of Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. This is a minor, technical amendment that changes the wording, but not the effect, of Clause 25. A draft Order in Council, which converts framework powers in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, has been laid before the National Assembly for Wales. This conversion order inserts matters into field 5 of Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, and so does Clause 25. This amendment ensures that the wording of the matters to be inserted into field 5 under Clause 25 is consistent with the wording of the matters to be inserted into field 5 under the conversion order.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 8 to 10. These amendments are required as a consequence of the removal of the clauses covering intervention powers in both England and Wales. They will ensure that the Bill is in the correct working order before its introduction to the other place. I beg to move.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
The Board must make and maintain effective arrangements for consulting representatives of practitioners and consumers on the extent to which its general policies and practices are consistent with its duty under section 3.
The noble Lord said: The Legal Services Bill requires the Legal Services Board to consult before exercising a number of functions. For example, Clause 49 requires the board to consult before issuing policy statements; Clause 52 requires consultation before the board exercises its powers in relation to regulatory conflict; and Clauses 30 to 36 require the board to consult the approved regulator concerned before exercising powers relating to setting performance targets, making directions, issuing public censure and imposing financial penalties. However, there is no overall requirement to consult on the approach that the board is taking to the discharge of its functions and, in particular, on whether the scale and scope of its proposed activities are both appropriate and proportionate. The new clauses that we propose would fill that gap. A general duty to consult suggested in Amendment No. 139FA would require the board to consult about its general policies and practices. The more specific duty suggested in Amendment No. 139FB would require the board to consult about its annual work plans.
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