Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Further—and this has eluded us for a long time—we must define precisely the object and nature of vocational education so that it gains massive respect, such as it enjoys on the continent, from society, industry and,

10 Jun 2008 : Column 513

more importantly, the pupils themselves. At this point, I must pay respect to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my noble friend Lord Baker in providing pilot schemes for vocational colleges in Birmingham and the West Midlands. I must also add my respects to the Minister himself, who has given enormous support to these schemes. Therein lies the hope for applying them to the whole country.

I turn to the vocational diplomas, another pillar of this project, and here I enter areas of controversy—as is the nature of my life. I maintain, and I hope that the Minister can find a certain agreement here, that the prestige of these new diplomas will be weakened if they are designed so as to satisfy not only the needs of vocational learning but those of traditional courses based on book learning and the traditional university processes. It has proved very difficult to have one diploma satisfying two masters: that has failed on a number of occasions. Of course, this business of trying to combine diplomas that satisfy vocational education and traditional university courses is not followed anywhere in Europe, where these vocational diplomas enjoy substantial prestige.

This landmark legislation—and I agree with the Minister that that is what it is—will fail unless we get the issues of the colleges and diplomas right. Making education part or full-time to the age of 18 is a risky business. It is crucial to provide a structure that works well—that is important, and I support the Bill to that extent. If we fail in that, the ramifications will go on for many decades. Let me assure your Lordships that pupils aged 16 to 18 are not the easiest; I taught them for 30 years of my life, and they included quite a number of Members of this House. If they are being bussed from place to place, they can also be rather elusive. If we do not provide the right patterns for these diplomas and colleges, the young people will not accept them. At 16, they are old enough not to accept that. They will vote with their feet and the whole edifice will fall to the ground.

Having said all of that, I am jolly glad that I am not a Minister. I am too old to even think of it, but I congratulate the Minister on this bold step and hope that he succeeds where that great Liberal historian, HAL Fisher, did not even dare to go. I hope that he avoids the fate of HAL Fisher, who lost office two years afterwards—I am sure that he will.

5.02 pm

Lord Dearing: My Lords, the three Front Benches have promised us a challenging summer and autumn in their admirable contributions. Those Back-Bench speakers who preceded me have also set the rest of us a standard in coming forward with ideas. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, had a crafty idea to deal with and expiate the problem of criminality. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has just spoken on the technical college proposal. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans introduced the moral and social dimension of education. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, introduced something which, for a moment, seemed not concerned with the Bill but is relevant to its purposes: how to better the transition from primary to secondary. I regard that as utterly fundamental.

10 Jun 2008 : Column 514

In welcoming the Bill and its purposes my concerns will be over how it responds to a fundamental need to invest in the intellectual and skills capital of our people and how it addresses a moral and social issue of great weight: how to engage those who have not been successful in education and who feel to an extent rejected by society. They in turn reject society, with sad consequences for their lives and for the quality of our civilisation.

I have four issues to raise, the first of which is the imperative to raise the standards in skills and education. The second is the motivation to do that. Thirdly, related to motivation is creating a perception in the minds of employers and students that what is on offer to them is relevant to them and of high quality. Finally, we must be careful to ensure that in perfect administration we do not create so much red tape that we cause people to back out of our good intentions.

I start with the economic imperative. References have been made to the report by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, and his finding that we need to lift the proportion with a level 4 qualification to 40 per cent by 2020, compared with 29 per cent at the time of his report. It is a big increase. I have said before, and I say again, that talking of at least 40 per cent can be misleading, because the Germans and the Americans are there already. We are talking about where we will be in 2020. In other words, in 2020 we will be as far behind as we are now.

On how far behind we are now and the prospect that the Germans will advance, our Select Committee on Economic Affairs, in its report on apprenticeships, told us that, by their early 30s, 78 per cent of Germans are at level 3, compared with our 42 per cent—a gap of more than 30 percentage points at the moment. If you dip down, there is still a big gap at level 2. It is not only the Germans who are 20-odd percentage points above us, the French are too. So they are at a higher level to move up beyond their high levels in excess of ours already. That is a tremendous challenge and there is an imperative need to make a success of what is intended in the Bill.

That brings me to the important issues. The first proposal on my agenda is to increase the entitlement to free level 3 qualification up to the age of 25. Bearing in mind how far we are behind, surely it must not be limited to that. People between 25 and 35 are still raising a family and getting the money together for a first home. Our problem is so great that we must be a touch more generous than 25. I am pushing it up not just for their sakes, but for all our sakes.

Then there is the statutory provision for free courses for a level 2 and for those at the most basic levels of mathematics and English. Great, but if you can look at the sums in the impact statement, you see that the extra expenditure and, through that, the extra places must be very few. I have looked into that with the help of officials and it is an issue that we ought to go into further as we proceed. The ideas are good, but I am concerned—this is my only concern about the Bill—that we use the opportunity that it gives us to do what the Government and all of us want. I am concerned that we shall not adequately exploit the opportunity.

10 Jun 2008 : Column 515

That brings me to the question of motivation, my second point, which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raised. Compulsion is one approach. The successful approach is: “I want to do it” and, from employers, “I want to be engaged in this” rather than being forced and driven by laws, requirements and penalties. We need some new thinking on what will motivate young people, especially those who have been least successful in education, and have left it and shaken the dust of education off their sandals—I am talking about adults now—to come back in to remedy what they have missed in the past. I wrote to the government department concerned, the DIUS, about a month ago suggesting the need to bring together people with a wide range of experience and expertise to consider the issue of why those people do not come back and how to entice them back. It is not the kind of committee I want, but this layman is saying: “Offer them something they want—it may be studying Spanish to go on holiday, just to get them going and back into learning. It may be learning how to play rock music. Get them engaged in something they enjoy doing and you can develop from there”. You have to get them through the door to get them started. That is the big problem.

Perhaps government departments can be helpful in getting people to move up from level 2 to level 3—where the Germans have been so immensely successful—by laying down job specifications. For example, languages are very important in the health service and the police, and such a specification would stimulate some people to do things they would not otherwise want to do. Motivation is the key issue behind everything we hope to achieve.

One piece of brilliant new thinking from this Government, in which I played a small part for a time, was the creation of Learn Direct. This system made it easy to learn from home by providing first-class learning materials and allowing you to use modern technology to do it when you wanted, how you wanted and wherever you were at any time. It has been a great success. About a quarter of a million people are engaged in programmes at level 2 or, if they are not at level 2, they are ready to lift their attainment in the basics or a vocation. This kind of approach could also be relevant in schools education as a back-up to teachers. I may, if I remember, come back to that if I have sufficient time.

The Government have been innovative in qualifications and opportunities. That is great. One such opportunity is the young apprenticeships scheme which now involves 9,000 young people, I think, in extended pilots. They are going well and had a very successful report by Ofsted. However, it is one thing to do it when it has been carefully nurtured, managed and helped for 9,000, but to go national is a very different business. We need a huge investment of mind in how to achieve that and how to motivate and encourage employers to want to offer the opportunities. There have to be schools which can provide the back-up.

When schools move to the 14 vocational diplomas they will be the biggest challenge that secondary schools have faced for decades. They will be dealing with 14 diplomas at three levels in addition to what they do

10 Jun 2008 : Column 516

already and the three new “academic” diplomas. How on earth can we do that? We have to invest in teachers in order to have the capabilities to offer this to a high standard. If it is not to a high standard and if it is not seen to be relevant by employers then it will not succeed. People will have to want to do it and see value in it. There is a big challenge not in the concept but in the implementation of the policy.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for raising the question of technical colleges. I have worked with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on this and have made tentative enquiries in various parts of the country about offering to 14 or 16 year-olds the opportunity of diplomas that require highly specialised and costly equipment and facilities that have continually to be updated. Those should be offered by specially built, designed and equipped technical colleges of high standing, perhaps sponsored by universities and major employers. The initial response we are getting is encouraging. These are very early days. However, just as there has been creative thinking about the options offered in secondary schools—the young apprenticeships and the diplomas—we have to be prepared to open our minds, while accepting the comprehensive as the basic rock of the system, to develop our minds and reach out to new ideas. I am glad, incidentally, to hear that government is opening the door to all-through schools. There may be an issue here about the age of transition from primary to secondary, but perhaps we will discuss that on another day.

There is provision, which I welcome, for the local authority to be responsible for seeing that the lads and the lasses do their stuff, but there is no responsibility in the Bill to provide the resources. I do not see how you can do one without simultaneously doing the other, and one must not assume that if you have done one, Parliament will approve the other.

My time is up. In conclusion, the key issue behind all this is that, having created an excellent framework and highly desirable objectives, we must provide the underpinning in terms of teachers who are well qualified to teach and the capability in specialist colleges, where they are needed, to offer highly technical subjects. We must also be sure that the employers want to engage because they can see that this is what they want and that it is not bound up in red tape. It is being made easy for them and it is so relevant. On that basis, the Bill can be a great success.

5.16 pm

Lord Layard: My Lords, this is the Bill that many of us have wanted for decades. I suppose that, if we were old enough, we would have wanted it since 1918. The Minister and others have mentioned that, but they have not mentioned the fact that the requirement for education to 18 was repeated in the Education Act 1944 by the Conservative and Labour Government. The only proviso was that it would not be implemented until resources permitted. It is extraordinary how many things resources have permitted since then, but not apparently this. The result has been one of the most unequal education systems in the advanced world. It is bipolarised, with many people leaving at the minimum school leaving age, which is low, and many people

10 Jun 2008 : Column 517

going on to a good higher education system. Associated with that has been a very unequal distribution of earnings, which we all deplore.

We have seen huge advances in A-levels and university education, but for the other half of our children there has been far too little progress since the raising of the school leaving age to 16 in the early 1970s. Now, at last, we have a Bill that is almost entirely devoted to that group of children. It is extraordinarily unusual to have an education debate that is confined to this group of children. I totally welcome it and I congratulate the Government on having proposed the Bill.

I have two important questions about the Bill. First, will it actually deliver the quality that one hopes for for the people who will get more education because of it? Will the education be good enough? Secondly, can we achieve the quantity that is implied by the universal requirement in the Bill?

On quality, how much education will people have to have, and of what kind? The Bill says that a person must be either in full-time education or apprenticeship or in part-time education or training while in work. What is the definition of part-time education or training? The Bill says that a person must be working towards a qualification accredited by the QCA and be getting 280 hours a year of guided learning. That is wonderful, but there is a proviso. If he is not getting 280 hours of guided learning, he must be working for a qualification for a which 280 hours that are assigned by the QCA. This is a most awful weakness. Surely we should specify that people should get some education, not be signed up for something for which they will have to do some education if they want the qualification.

I understand the thinking, but let us suppose that the employer thinks that a person could get the qualification with less than the 280 hours of guided learning. Obviously, such a person should be doing a higher qualification or aiming to achieve more than a bare pass. We do not want people to be signed up just for a qualification; we want them to get education. Equally, another employer might sign up a person knowing that he or she was not likely to get that qualification. We must have a specification of how much education a person should get, not just what they are signed up for. I hope that the Minister can look again at this weak link in the description of extra education.

Another aspect of quality is where this education is provided. Where will the guided learning happen? The Labour Party used to talk about off-the-job education and training. I do not think that these words appear in the Bill, although I may not have read every word. However, in general, that is not said. The Bill should refer to education away from the individual’s workstation, although it quite possibly could be on the employer’s premises. People can learn a lot at their workstations, but the basic purpose of the Bill is to stop people spending all their time at their workstations. They need to be able to think about what they are doing, as well be able to do the job in front of them. We are concerned about getting an educated workforce with the ability to analyse what it is doing as well as just being able to perform rote operations. That is lacking in parts of the British workforce, which is why we have

10 Jun 2008 : Column 518

an Education and Skills Bill and not just a skills Bill. We want an educated workforce whose members learn and think about their jobs. I urge the Minister to think about a requirement for most guided learning to be away from the workstation. If that does not happen, we can easily see in what direction this will lead.

On quantity, could we get everyone up to the age of 18 into education by 2015? As things are, I very much doubt whether we could do that. It would not be for the reasons of penalties that have been discussed; it would be to do with what is required from employers in order to make this possible. No one thinks that we will have everyone in full-time education. A great part of this expansion will have to be in part-time education and apprenticeships.

A striking feature of the Bill is that, in order to satisfy the law, young people will have to be not just in part-time education but in employment for more than 20 hours a week or on an apprenticeship. This will require a huge response from employers. My sums suggest that there will have to be something like a doubling in the number of young people on apprenticeships or in jobs with training, which would require at least 250,000 extra places of that kind. Can that happen? Some existing employers who now do not provide training will provide training, but others will say, “If we have to provide training, we are not going to be bothered with young people”. We need to find an additional incentive to get them interested.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is no longer here, but the report on the apprenticeship system by the Economic Affairs Committee, which he chaired and on which I serve, addressed the question of how we could get enough employers to provide enough apprenticeship places to satisfy the Government’s undertaking that any young person with adequate minimum qualifications should be guaranteed access to an apprenticeship in the same timescale as that in which we are raising the age of participation in education. That is an important question. It is clear that increasing the number of people on apprenticeships will be the single biggest factor in making it possible to engage everybody in the extended educational experience, so we considered how it could be done. We came to the conclusion that, unless we pay employers something for taking on apprentices, it is unlikely that it will be possible.

That costs money, but we need also to think about the implications of moving to a system of compulsory education. Currently we are trying to increase participation in education and to encourage more young people to demand it by bribing them with education maintenance allowance and through child tax credits. However, if education is compulsory, those become less important. What will be absolutely crucial is a sufficient supply of places of a kind that people will want to take up if they are all going to be engaged in education up to 18. We should be spending significant sums of money now on generating an adequate supply of places to ensure that young people aged between 16 and 18 can have their meaningful educational experience.

I am not sure that I can make a specific suggestion but I believe that, without any mechanism for generating a supply of opportunities, in a way the Bill lacks conviction. It is no good saying that young people

10 Jun 2008 : Column 519

have to remain in education without showing what will be in place to ensure that there is something for them to do. The education maintenance allowance was a simple way of encouraging young people to remain in education, but now we should use at least some of that money or other funds to ensure that there is something for them to go to. That is a thought worth pursuing. Of course it could be too complicated to tie the provision of places to whether someone is entitled to EMA. As has been said, most of the people whom we are talking about come from deprived backgrounds, in which case we could make a lump-sum payment to every employer who takes on an apprentice or an employee aged under 18 with training needs. Sensible sums of money would go a long way towards motivating employers. Unless we have something like that, in enforcing the Bill we will be marching young people unwillingly into full-time education because there will not be the part-time opportunities to make them, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, get up and go.

The Bill is very welcome, but I hope that the Minister can make it more ambitious in terms of quality. We should be talking about what is actually going to happen—the actual provision of education, not the qualification that someone signs up for. We should ensure that most of the education takes place away from the workstation and we must have a realistic strategy for making available enough of the kind of places that young people will want to take up. It is wonderful that the Government have grasped the nettle of undereducation, but let us really root it up.

5.29 pm

Lord Elton: My Lords, your Lordships will be relieved to hear that in Committee I hope to address a number of issues beyond those I shall speak about this afternoon. There has been for years a crying need for some change for this age band in education, so those who listened to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer making his Budget speech on 21 March 2007 were delighted to hear him say that it was the Government’s intention to,

It was a surprise, therefore, to find that page 1 of the Explanatory Notes said with absolute accuracy:

I wish that I knew what happened to change that opinion. I cannot believe that the choice of language was fortuitous in either case.

So we come to the question of whether compulsion will achieve the admirable aims that the Government have set themselves. I think that it is not the right approach. We are talking about what is now the end of compulsory education and the carry forward from that—the point at which children fully engaged in good education should have a momentum towards more learning, which would carry them into it when it was readily available, of good quality and free to their

10 Jun 2008 : Column 520

use. What concerns me is the failure of the secondary system to deliver that momentum. Attention should be paid to that and I am glad to see that the Long Title of the Bill addresses that. What is needed—this is not entirely amenable to legislation—is to get what, years ago, was called the behaviour of the children right in school, so that they actively engage with their education. That is done by confirming every child’s value as an individual, however handicapped they may be and whatever their SEN, by welcoming every little advance in behaviour and learning with congratulation, not brushing it aside or ignoring it if the pupil is difficult.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page