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Perhaps that is not an enforcement issue; perhaps it is a regional economic issue. Because of that one thing, what very much surprised me is that the department does not publish or collect NEET information on either a regional or a local authority basis. It has to rely on the Connexions data, which uses a different set of criteria from the Government in the Labour Force Survey published in the Statistical First Release. Therefore, is this not a regional economic issue, and how can the Government address it without having to hand regional figures on what NEETs are? We could do more in our school system to give a very clear signal that children do not leave school at 16. Why do we have GCSEs? GCSEs were a school leaving examination. That is why they are published in the tables. That is why mums and dads are very keen on what their kids do. That is the history of them. As long as we have at the end of year 11 the biggest, most important exam that a child has taken since the day they were born, children will get the message that they can leave school. Indeed, we still talk about whether a 16 year-old will stay on whereas the Americans talk about whether a 16 year- old will drop out. While we have an important school leaving exam and while we have education from five to 11, 11 to 16 and 16 to 18, we will have a structural problem in giving that message to young people.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I realise that it is not etiquette to say this, but, as a product of the north-east where I was brought up and educated, I have to say that from a family that had never gone to university, five of us went to Oxford and Cambridge. I am talking about the early 1950s. I have to defend my locality; it was not as bad as the noble Baroness says.

Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, tomorrow I shall be going to the north-east, to Sunderland university, where I do some work. I am very aware of the skill of the people of the north-east, but I am also aware of the chronic educational underachievement in that area. We should not ignore that.

I conclude by saying that the Bill is ambitious. It sets an agenda for trying to yank ourselves off the bottom of the OECD table. I am ready to be persuaded that the Bill is the right way forward. However, after the speeches we have had today, I very much look forward to the debates that I am sure will ensue.

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6.04 pm

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill’s commitments to extend education and training beyond the age of 16. Evidence shows that the economic well-being of a country is increased by higher rates of literacy and numeracy, and that continuing learning after compulsory schooling brings rewards financially and in personal fulfilment. However, it is apparent from the debate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, set out, that we are disputing whether it is better to have entitlement and encouragement or compulsion and even criminalisation for the post-16 age group. In extending the education leaving age, it may well be more complex to motivate and engage young people and to win hearts and minds, but it would reap dividends in comparison with a cohort of the press-ganged.

The current years of compulsory education provide a unique period of opportunity. Of course, the fact that that is compulsory can be a deterrent to some young people who are impatient for independence. If school does not seem relevant to them and it is associated with failure and boredom, they will be unwilling to continue to learn. So, as other noble Lords indicated, it is particularly important to have a choice of learning programmes leading to appropriate accredited qualifications. That full range of options is not yet fully developed and embedded.

A-levels have been around for over 50 years, long enough to be a familiar concept, but they have changed and developed over the years—changed in subjects and assessment methodology, and even in the numbers of passes, moving from a pre-set percentage of pass/fail to criterion assessment where all those who meet the agreed standard are awarded a pass. That in itself has led to increased numbers of passes with higher grades, causing ongoing problems for universities and institutions in delineating the best from the excellent. There is also the international baccalaureate, which is gathering champions in independent and state sectors.

To balance that provision, practical alternatives have to contend with the familiarity and status particularly of the A-level. It may be a mere 90 years since the Fisher Act failed to be implemented, but I think we can go back generations in seeing the disregard for practical skills as against academic achievement. We have suffered as a country and as individuals from the undervaluing of the practical crafts and technical skills that are now represented in the diploma. But it is a real challenge for apprenticeships, vocational qualifications and now for the diploma. For the diploma to succeed—and too much is at stake for young people for it not to succeed—we would do well to look at past initiatives.

Rather more recently in history, in the 1990s, I was involved in developing the general national vocational qualification. GNVQs were introduced as the main alternative to A-levels, to be of equal esteem based on practical work-related achievement. They were developed at some speed to a political rather than an educational timetable. They came under attack from the start by the media. Their undoubted value for a

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great many students was undermined by lack of external confidence in them. After various rebrandings and reforms they disappeared last year. The diploma must not be allowed to go down that route.

Diplomas need a simplicity and clarity of purpose to attract young people, parents and employers. There is a danger that in the rush to have a full range available, they may be rolled out too speedily at the expense of thorough piloting, good resource materials and, above all, full engagement from teachers and assessors. They also need some inspiring case studies. It is early days but there are examples around. We hope that some exciting publicity will be generated when the World Skills Competition comes to London in 2011. It will provide real visual examples, incentives and enthusiasm, and show the achievements possible in the craft and manual skills: catering, hairdressing, construction and engineering—the range of topics covered by the diploma. Meanwhile, skills competitions provide real incentives for young people to see what can be achieved.

Perhaps I may turn to Chapter 3 of the Bill and touch on the duties placed on employers. As other noble Lords have said, those duties are onerous. Many organisations and, indeed, other noble Lords have urged a close look at these clauses. With respect to 16 to17 year-olds, as we mentioned, some 100,000 young people are NEETs and not fulfilling their potential. That number would be greater but for the fact that many with few or no qualifications have left school with sighs of relief and found work, often with small employers in garages, restaurants, hairdressers, shops and offices. Professor Alison Wolf from King’s College, London, states:

If it is easier to employ those over 18, many employers will choose that option. As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, in the process, disaffected 16 year-olds may be lost to the job market and, perhaps more importantly, may not be willing to try again or have the confidence to acquire new skills.

That adds to the case for adult skill training. There are currently 6.2 million economically active adults without a full level 2 qualification and even more who lack numeracy and literacy skills. This figure will not change by itself. As we know, well over 70 per cent of the 2020 workforce have already completed compulsory education. They are beyond the reach of diplomas, although not now, thankfully, of adult apprenticeships. Training for adults becomes of greater importance as demographics show fewer young people entering the workforce but an increase in skilled jobs. Some jobs previously considered low-skill now have higher skill requirements. Sectors such as care and cleaning have not been rated as highly as they deserve. They require considerable skill and knowledge, and they play key roles in society. Both are dominated by women and that gender imbalance may be an added hurdle to full recognition of the commitment involved and the need for training.

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Training also makes demands on the individual. The impact assessment assumes that Skills for Life participants forgo £2,500 in earnings and incur course costs of £250 while studying. The implication is that this is a good thing, but however well motivated adults may be, they will also have other commitments. Women are likely again to be disproportionately affected through their lower earnings and by bearing the greater load of domestic and family responsibilities. We therefore welcome the encouragement and financial support for adults to acquire new skills, currently up to level 2. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, we would like to see those plans extended so that they fund tuition fees up to a greater age than 25, as currently planned. I also share my noble friend Lady Walmsley’s concern about the disclosure of data and sharing of information. We shall seek reassurances on those clauses in the Bill.

The opportunities for adult training should be as flexible as possible. Ideas such as spreading the entitlement over a period of time or ensuring that unit and module accreditation can also be transferred will help to attract and retain learners. As ever, FE colleges are key players in all of this. They have the expertise to respond to the changing requirements of government, employers and individual learners. Their full involvement is essential in ensuring that adult learning is accessible and deliverable. When the Learning and Skills Council gives way to the Skills Funding Agency in 2010, as planned, we hope that its £4 billion budget will allow a more generous view of adult training and that the changeover in institutions will not cause additional red tape.

The Bill sets out aspirations which we welcome. Although legislation can change the climate of opinion and do much to promote good practice, the measures set out rely on enthusiastic participants, wide-ranging opportunities and the active involvement of employers. There is work to be done on all these fronts. Meanwhile, we welcome the direction of the Bill and look forward to working on the detail in Committee.

6.13 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, this Bill threatens to become the Terminal 5 of the education world: wonderful in every way except that it does not work. It does not work because the people have not been trained and the systems are not in place. Although it will not be baggage being lost, it will be children who are failed, or continue to be failed as they are at the moment. An illustration of the problem is what the Minister said about diplomas: that they will offer extensive work-related experience which turns out to be 10 days. That is what students doing GCSE and A-level get at the moment. This is not a successful vocational system because it is not being taken carefully enough. We have not put the employer side of it properly into place. We have got to take these things at the pace at which they naturally develop if we want to make a success of them.

The Bill has been written from a centralising, symptoms-focused, punitive point of view when it ought to be flexible, local, imaginative and supportive. Above all, it ought to recognise that in 16 to 18 year- olds we are dealing with people who are becoming

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responsible for their own lives and ought to be treated as responsible people. Among the people we are most focused on will be the likes of teenage mothers, Travellers and people who have been failed by the educational system. All these groups require specialist, focused and understanding provision. You cannot try to hit them with more of the same that they have fallen out of or lost interest in or that is not focused on them.

I have seen examples of how this can go wrong in the prison system. Some while ago prison education was taken over by DCSF. The department has no one in it who has any experience of working in prisons. It has subcontracted a lot of the work to the Learning and Skills Council, which is similarly ill-equipped to understand what goes on in prisons. A lot of specialist work has been done on how to re-engage prisoners. As has been said, many of them have completely dropped out of the education system, hate the idea of sitting in a classroom and require to be remotivated. Much of that specialist work, a lot of it done by the voluntary sector—my wife is involved in this side of things—has gone by the board because the LSC will only fund standard qualifications aimed at employment. If you have a criminal record, employment is immensely difficult to get. Prison is an immense impediment to overcome when you are looking for work. You need a strong motivation and an understanding of your own abilities to get through that. Not to equip prisoners with that—not to give them back a basic place within their own family and society—is a fault that is developing in prison education because of a centralisation, a lack of understanding and a lack of appreciation about what can be done at a local level.

A lot of these people who end up outside education are just teenagers. They got bored with it and want to do other things. They are not focused on education. They need space and time. That is what the gap year evolved for, to give pupils a breather, but some kids need that earlier on. We ought to be allowing these children to come back to education at their own pace—looking after them, keeping in touch with them as the Bill proposes, but giving them space. It should be enough to get where they ought to be in education by the age of 25 if they have been doing useful things before that. By extension, we ought to be happy to see people taking several years out before university so that when they come back to education they come back to a course that they really want to do, are motivated to do and are actually going to work at, rather than spending time in the bars and clubs, as is advertised by many universities at the moment. There is a lot to be said for taking this whole business more gently.

In Committee I will focus on trying to find ways of making the Bill more flexible and allowing room for the voluntary sector to get involved and to be innovative. I will try to make sure that the local authorities’ role is supportive and that we do not let them get back into running things, as the Government have rightly had as a policy aim. The local authority should be there as a friend of the pupil, trying to make sure that he develops his life right, rather than as a provider itself. The idea of individual budgets is

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constructive in that respect. Money should be attached to the pupil and spent in any way that the local authority considers useful taking regard of the requirements of that pupil. Why should the local authority’s options be restricted by what some central body has said is appropriate for children in general? These will often be specific cases.

I will certainly oppose making non-attendance a criminal offence. There are lots of things that are good for us. It is good for us to play sport, and you are supposed to play sport at school; but once you are an adult, I am jolly glad to say that you are not criminalised if you do not do so. It is entirely inappropriate that we should seek to criminalise not doing something just because it is good for you to do it. Again, this comes back to the DCSF’s lack of experience in these matters. It does not realise how problematic it is to get employment once you have a criminal record. It will absolutely blow a hole below the water line in those kids’ prospects if they have a criminal record. That is not the way to help people under any circumstances whatever. I shall join my noble friends on the Front Bench in opposing that.

I do not know whether I shall be as enthusiastic as those on my Front Bench about removing Part 4 but I want to understand what it is about. I have not seen anything anywhere that explains to me what advantages the Government see in the changes that they are proposing regarding independent schools. As has been said, the system seems to be working well at the moment, and the changes are not in themselves obviously logical. I do not necessarily believe that independent schools are perfect in all respects, but the Government need to show the benefits of the changes that they are proposing to themselves, to the wider community and to independent schools.

I shall look carefully at what is being proposed for the Careers Service, which frankly has been a laughing stock for many years. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she wants it to break gender stereotypes; it does that to a certain extent. My son went through one of the processes to be told that he should be a beautician. He is a great deal larger than I am and would make an imposing person behind the nail varnish.

Most of all, I hope that we—particularly my Front Bench, but perhaps also the Liberal Democrats, who might hope that in 2010 this endless game of piggy in the middle that they have been playing will end and they will catch the ball at last—will recognise the importance of getting this right and that we will learn through the discussions that we have in Committee and later what it is that we would do if we were given the chance.

I absolutely support my noble friend Lord Pilkington in talking about specialist vocational colleges. They would be centres of innovation and centres of excellence that would be able to do far more in advancing the cause of vocational education than could ever be done by central diktat. We always suspect what comes out of the centre, but where we have individual schools and colleges leading the way, we are prepared to admire and to follow. They would fit so easily in the academies programme. As happened in West Dunbartonshire, once you have some real examples of

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what can be done for children to inspire them and to lead them in that direction, there would be a large number of people who wanted to follow. That would solve a problem that we have all faced unsuccessfully for a very long time.

6.23 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I readily acknowledge that the logic and the timing of raising the school leaving age, some 30 years after it was last changed, makes sense. Ironically, I have a particular affection for the Education Act 1944, one of the two education Acts that have been mentioned, which had the same purpose of raising the school leaving age. That Act also put to an end the pernicious practice of requiring women teachers to retire on marriage. That was one of the UK’s earliest anti-discrimination legislative steps for equalising opportunities for women, even if it was a shortage of teachers, rather than any passion for equal opportunities, that was the real motivation behind putting that provision in the Act.

Like many noble Lords who have spoken, and like many of the experts in this field, although I welcome the Bill I wish that the Government had decided to give the first generation involved the choice of whether to continue in education—suitably accompanied by the maximum number of carrots—rather than going straight down the compulsion route. It is surely significant that the Government’s consultation with young people showed that 47 per cent were against the compulsory duty imposed by the Bill, with only 30 per cent backing the idea. It would certainly have helped to make a stronger case for entering the dangerous and potentially counterproductive route of applying sanctions if that was to happen only after the duties imposed on the parties concerned—parents, schools, colleges, the LEAs, employers and, above all, the young people themselves—had not been met.

Be that as it may, I am glad that the legislative framework that your Lordships are asked to approve in this Bill tries to ensure that the right choice for each individual’s extra years, once made, is adequately supported and that the individual young person’s wishes are taken into consideration. That is required by Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—it has not been mentioned so far, but it is an important provision—which also requires that due weight should be given to their views. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that will indeed happen.

I welcome, too, the Government’s commitment to improving the quality of careers advice to ensure that stereotypes about gender, disability, race and employment are challenged in schools and elsewhere. A number of noble Lords have mentioned that. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the YWCA particularly stressed in their evidence the need to challenge gender stereotyping. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, made that point forcefully. We are seeing many more men in well paid apprenticeships and so on, while women are still going for low-paid areas. That has to be challenged. This commitment is key to the future. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that this is the intention.

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It is good news that this is only enabling legislation. The school leaving age will rise to 17 by 2013 and to 18 by 2015. There are a number of years to prepare the young people concerned. That should enable most students by that time to become alert to the advantages, both to the economy and to their own future prospects in the global nature of the world in which we live, of the extra years of compulsory education and training. I also find it encouraging that considerable flexibility is built into the legislation as to how those years can be spent. Particularly important will be the ability to combine employment with part-time education and training, which is far more likely to attract those who feel that they have nothing further to gain from school. We have heard a lot about them and I am concentrating on them still further.

There are, of course, some large dark shadows across the scene. I have in mind, for example, the announcement about the 638 secondary schools that have a struggle ahead if they are to get back into their own ownership rather than becoming other forms of school. That clearly illustrates the concern that many schools are failing a considerable number of young people, a large proportion of whom will come from the poorer sections of the community, as was illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. We should note, of course, that it is those children who this autumn move from primary to secondary school who will be the first to be affected by the school leaving age hike.

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