Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

In my brief comments, I shall concentrate on one major aspect of the Bill which worries me—Part 1. I have no difficulty with increasing compulsory education until the age of 17 or 18. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, the case for it is overwhelming. It is moral, social and, as the Minister pointed out in his opening remarks, those between the ages of 16 and 18 in education are less likely to get involved in crime, less likely to go to prison, less likely to get pregnant or to engage in anti-social behaviour.

I am convinced that it needs to be done, but how do we go about doing it? I have no difficulty with compulsion; it is absolutely necessary. If one can show that individuals

10 Jun 2008 : Column 542

have certain responsibilities that they refuse to discharge, or if there are certain matters of national interest, compulsion in those cases has to be ensured. My difficulty is whether the balance between compulsion and incentive is right. I looked at the debate that took place when the age for compulsory education was increased to 16, and I heard echoes of that debate this afternoon. It had the same arguments—no compulsion is to be used, and why not make it voluntary—but we increasingly realised that compulsion was necessary. However, the two cases cannot be compared because until the age of 16 a child is the responsibility of his parents and a minimum educational requirement is a must. After the age of 16, the game begins to change. Individuals become responsible for their own behaviour. We therefore need to ask whether their autonomy is being respected and whether they are being persuaded to engage in education.

I have no difficulty with the argument about compulsion; my difficulty is with the balance between compulsion and persuasion or compulsion and incentives. My suspicion is that the Bill is a little too punitive and tends to rely a little too heavily on compulsion. That causes four difficulties. First, how can we guarantee that pupils between the ages of 16 and 18 will stay on? All the polls that the Government have referred to show that young people are not terribly happy about this. How are we going to compel them and how much punitive action can we take to make sure that they stay on? Secondly, if they do stay on, what guarantee is there that they will acquire the level 3 qualifications that we want them to acquire? They may get two or more NVQs, or something like that, but they have little market value. Thirdly, if they are alienated from the system, they could be a disruptive presence in the school and prevent others acquiring the desired qualifications. Fourthly, as many noble Lords have pointed out, young people tend to find work in small firms, which often find it economically unviable to give time off for training and cover absences. We can put pressure on them, as the noble Lord, Lord Layard, said, we can ask them to take the responsibility, but beyond a certain point, compulsion has its limits. If employers are not prepared to hire people aged between 16 and 18, what do we do?

I suspect that even if the Bill were to be implemented and enforced in its current form, it will not achieve its objectives. The important thing is to look for a more nuanced strategy with a better balance between incentives and compulsion. I shall suggest three or four ideas that the Government might wish to explore. If we were to ask why people do not stay on beyond the age of 16, we would find that there are four major reasons: they are bored with formal education; they find the curriculum irrelevant to their needs and interests; they need to earn money to help maintain their families or themselves; or they come from families where education beyond 16, or even 14, is not highly valued. If we are concerned to increase the school leaving age, we need to address these underlying factors. My idea for a nuanced strategy is to show how we might be able to address these underlying causes of pupils not staying on beyond the age of 16.



10 Jun 2008 : Column 543

I shall suggest four ways. First, we must find ways of making education attractive. A flexible curriculum might be one way, and a less intimidating formal environment might be another. Better advice and guidance from teachers and personal mentoring might be helpful, and if people do not stay on after the age of 16, we need to make sure that education is as personalised as possible, taking into account the needs and interests of those whom we want to persuade to stay on.

Secondly, alienation from education generally starts pretty early, long before pupils reach the age of 16. We need to find ways of making formal education until the age of 16 more attractive. That requires planting some love of learning—not that one is likely to be really successful, but one hopes—and, more importantly, giving them some competence so that they do not find education a drag and a source of low self-esteem.

Thirdly, since formal schooling does not suit everyone, we may need to involve youth and community-based projects, which are often less threatening or intimidating and tend to be better prepared to provide quality learning. We might also involve other agencies that have a better rapport with the young and can motivate them. For example, the trade unions might be able to play an important part.

Fourthly, but no less importantly, we need to look at the EMA. The maximum amount offered is £30, depending on the circumstances of the parents. That may not be enough to compensate those with adverse family circumstances. It is worth noting that the proportion of 16 and 17 year-olds who are not in education or training but who have jobs has been going down steadily since 2001. That statistic shows the importance of the financial incentive. This is particularly relevant in relation to ethic minorities, about whom virtually nothing has been said so far. It is unfortunate that we do not have reliable statistics on which ethnic minorities tend to participate in education beyond the age of 16 and why others do not. The little research that I have done shows that the reasons why many of them do not stay on beyond the age of 16 are the fear of unemployment and a lack of resources. That was not so until the mid-1990s. Until then the statistics always showed that ethnic minorities, unlike the indigenous community, tended to stay on in school, not only until the age of 16 but even beyond. For the past 10 or 12 years, the trend has reversed, and we might need to ask why.

We might also explore the possibility of encouraging colleges to create and award their own qualifications in the same way that the universities do. They can create specialist products to suit employers with whom they can be encouraged to work closely. The Bill points in that direction, but we need to go a little further. If we are going to go in that direction, colleges need to be better funded. It might not be a bad idea for colleges, in order to produce specialised products, to work closely with trade unions, which generally have a better rapport with, and understanding of the requirements of, 17 and 18 year-olds in jobs.

7.07 pm

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I must apologise to the House for being absent during many of the speeches today because I had to be involved in

10 Jun 2008 : Column 544

two meetings outside the Chamber. However, I shall read all the speeches with great interest. I am now in the dreadful and dreaded spot where most things of note have been said, so I shall confine my remarks to a few brief instances relating mainly to vulnerable young people, who were noted by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

During the debates on the Children and Young Persons Bill earlier this year, this House did a wonderful job of collaborating across parties to make a significant difference to that Bill and change it for the benefit of children. On this Bill, there is unfinished business from another place, and I look forward to improving it during our deliberations.

I welcome the Bill and the intention to have all young people engaged with learning and staying on in education or training until the age of 18. I entirely support the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. Participation in some form of education and training should be the norm. There need to be safeguards and support, but too many of our young people lack aspiration, which is fundamental to achievement and to accessing the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda. I mention that agenda because I believe that government policy should hang together and that this Bill is part of a scenario of laws, reports and so on that apply to children, including the recent Children’s Plan.

Earlier this week, the four Children’s Commissioners in the UK published their joint report, which made many valid points. In the context section at the beginning of that report, it is worth noting that there are good things about being a child in the UK. In England, for example, children are described as increasingly well educated, with the majority ambitious and engaged, motivated and making a positive contribution. That is good news: those young people will, no doubt, make full use of the 14 to 19 reforms that promise different types of provision to suit different needs and interests, including apprenticeships and diplomas. The Minister has described those offerings and I will not repeat them. However, the commissioners also expressed concern, at least for England, at

I, too, shall express that concern today.

The Institute for Public Policy Research recently published a report on youth justice, suggesting that the more affluent young people in society are involved in extracurricular activities while those less advantaged are spending their time unsupervised on the streets. I understand that a new Bill, referred to in the draft legislative programme, will address the educational needs of those in custody, but there are other vulnerable young people. My first plea, then, is for strong and co-ordinated programmes of social skill development. Social skills are often the prerequisite for any participation in other education. Some young people do not achieve because they are too angry, depressed and unsupported to allow themselves to do so. That is why I believe personal, social and health education to be so vital at all levels of education. I have seen it work miracles in schools; we must apply programmes of PSHE in all settings. I would be surprised if the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has not already had her say about that, and I wish that I had been here to hear it.



10 Jun 2008 : Column 545

The CBI, in its useful briefing on the Bill, discusses the importance of literacy and numeracy skills. It points out that 50 per cent of employers are dissatisfied with school leavers’ literacy and numeracy. Earlier this week, I was in a young offender institution where literacy and numeracy skills have improved dramatically in accordance with many programmes. It has intensive educational programmes, and support and personal skill development programmes to back up the education inputs. Young people lacking such skills cannot take advantage of education, so I hope that a good deal of preparation will go into making sure that support systems are operating well in advance of the changes proposed in the Bill.

I also hope that diversity of provision will be in place. In 2006, more than one-fifth of 16 to 18 year-olds in England were not in education or training, including one in 10 who were not in education, employment or training. That is simply not helpful to young people, or to society. We need work-based learning, alternative provision such as entry to employment and foundation learning tier programmes, and provision for young people with special educational needs. As the National Children’s Bureau points out, the new compulsory system must have choice and be responsive to the individual circumstances and needs of vulnerable groups in order to avoid serious setback. The NCB also echoes my plea to have pastoral and personal support systems available to young people in educational establishments or the workplace.

I know that Barnardo’s has consulted young people about alternative education and training services. A clear message from that consultation was that choosing to participate was crucial to motivation and achievement. I believe that choice is possible, and has to be made possible, within a compulsory system but, as my noble friend Lord Parekh just said, choices have to be made attractive. Barnardo’s accepts the need for an enforcement process, but is seeking safeguards to ensure that the level of the penalty notice is set at an amount that reflects the level of financial support available to the poorest young people, that advocacy is available to enable the voice of the young person to be heard at an attendance panel at every stage in the process, and that young people who fail to participate are not left with a criminal record.

Barnardo’s and others will be seeking to establish learning contracts to support young people who are disaffected and disengaged, to get them back into education and training. Those learning contracts are already used in several Barnardo’s services and are being piloted as activity agreements by the Government. Such contracts set out the responsibilities of each party including the young person’s support needs, their expectations and learning goals and the role of the LEA, the parent and provider or the employer.

Young people, especially disaffected young people, will be much more likely to engage with systems if they feel involved. They also gain in communication skills and confidence by being involved. Young people who have lacked support, or who have poor communication skills, are disadvantaged in many ways. They need structure and a relationship with a sympathetic adult to become involved in learning. By engaging

10 Jun 2008 : Column 546

with young people and providing opportunities and appropriate support, we may reduce the numbers who end up in trouble with the law or, indeed, in custody. Additional support is also necessary for young people coming out of custody in order to engage them in education or training, and learning support contracts could certainly benefit that group.

I welcome the Bill. Too many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not engage in education, which perpetuates the cycle of deprivation. A diversity of choice could improve aspiration. What, then, about these vulnerable groups? Will support for their engagement be built into new systems? What about personal support, such as counselling, advocacy and personal, social and health education? What about learning contracts to encourage participation and commitment? I look forward to my noble friend’s replies, and to the future stages of this Bill.

7.17 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, remarked in his introduction, this is landmark legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, have reminded us, it goes back not only to 1918, as the Minister mentioned, but to the aspirations that the Acts of 1944 and 1959 renewed. Indeed, it has taken us almost a century to fulfil the ambitions of that 1918 Act.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, remarked that what was notable in this Second Reading was the number of people who had spoken without actually discussing issues that the Bill addresses. That was right, but it can nevertheless be explained: the Minister rightly introduced this as part of a package of much wider education reforms being introduced by this Government, and aimed at improving the UK’s overall educational performance. That is necessary if we are to compete in the global marketplace, an issue picked up and discussed at length in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Leitch.

Much has been made of our 24th position, out of 29, in the OECD league tables but if those tables are looked at it will be seen that our failure is, above all, in the intermediate and lower ends of the spectrum. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, picked up that point. We have far too few young people acquiring the intermediate technician grade of NVQ level 2 and 3 skills, and far too many with no qualifications at all. As the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, said, if we are to acquire the requisite 40 per cent of the adult population with level 4 qualifications, they need to start by at least acquiring levels 2 and 3. That is the gap that the Bill aims to fill by either keeping young people in full-time education or training until they are at least 18 or making sure that they are in a job where they are receiving training that leads to some sort of qualification.

In doing so, it encourages those with lower level qualifications to stay on and seek better qualifications and puts particular emphasis on the 22 per cent of the cohort—120,000 a year—who are currently leaving school at age 16 and do not proceed to any further qualifications, and especially on the 10 per cent, 60,000 a year, who come into the NEET, not in education

10 Jun 2008 : Column 547

employment or training, category, most of whom have effectively dropped out of school when they were 14 or 15, have no qualifications to speak of, drift in and out of employment and are highly vulnerable to drink, drugs and criminality.

How is the Bill aimed to cope with those aspirations? It does so by making it a duty on all young people to stay in education or engage in work with training opportunities, in the hope that, although some will resist, the majority, recognising that there is no choice, will comply with the law and settle for staying in school, going on to college, getting an apprenticeship or finding a job which offers the requisite amount of training. It is to be made compulsory but, as with the ban on smoking, the hope is that most people will just fall in with compulsion without fuss.

Secondly, the Bill—well, not the Bill, but part of a whole package of reforms about which we have talked at some length—is about reforming the curriculum. It is widely acknowledged that for many young people—roughly 50 per cent of young people in schools—the GCSE/A-level secondary school curriculum has been too academic and a turn off. The aim of the new diplomas is to introduce a new curriculum that is practical and relevant, with opportunities to study subjects allied to the world of work.

Side by side with that is the reform of apprenticeships—again, not strictly part of this Bill but part of a Bill that we will be seeing next year, alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton—with an increasing number and range of apprenticeships, so that there are plenty of apprenticeships for young people who wish to leave school and do their learning and earning side by side. Indeed, post-2013, there will be an entitlement to apprenticeship for all who want it.

Lastly, the aim is to revamp careers guidance to provide better and more comprehensive information, advice and guidance for the general run of students in schools and colleges, especially for those 12 to 13 year- olds who have both complex choices to make between GCSEs, A-levels, diplomas and apprenticeships and to extend the mentoring, advice and placement services already provided by Connexions for the NEET group, responsibility for which is now to be handed over to local authorities.

It has been made clear in the debate that we on these Benches are not alone in sharing the Government's aspirations but are having some doubts as to whether this package will work. Our reservations come in several forms. First, we are a little worried that the cart has been put before the horse. The key issue mentioned by a large number of people is that of motivating young people and the reform of the secondary school curriculum.

As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned, we want these young people to commit themselves to, in the words of the noble Baroness, lifelong learning. We need to keep our fingers crossed that the diplomas will do that job. They remain something of an unknown quantity. We also have to keep our fingers crossed that they will prove popular with young people.



10 Jun 2008 : Column 548

I have been very surprised to learn that the hair and beauty diploma, due to be rolled out for a local consortium at Guildford College in September 2009, has no practical hairdressing for the first two years. Last week's Times Educational Supplement highlighted the lack of relevant practical work experience required by many diplomas. We have to hold our judgment on these things; there will inevitably be teething troubles with the diplomas during the next five years. It is crucial that in 2013, when the Bill comes into operation, which is, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned, when the diplomas are due to be up and running, the two things can coincide well together. We would have preferred to see the new diplomas successfully introduced before making the commitment to raising the learning participation age, but I understand the argument of those who say that unless you commit yourself, you do not get there.

Personally, I share the view of the noble Lords, Lord Pilkington, Lord Lucas and Lord Dearing: if we are going to make diplomas work, there is a lot to be said for having specialist institutions. Trying to move young people around from one institution to another to take little bit of the diploma here and there does not work. They need specialist equipment and we need to give them the high regard that there is in the technical high schools in Germany. I hope that some of the experiments that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, spoke about, will go forward.

Secondly, there has been the issue of compulsion; we have had a great deal of discussion about that. I think that we are all agreed that we do not want those who truant from school acquiring criminal records but, given the way that those young people flout the law at 15, why should we expect them to comply with it at 16 and 17? What will happen if they do so? We pressed the Bill team on the matter when we met them the other day and they told us that each individual would be assigned a personal mentor through the Connexions service, as they already have been, who would work with them one to one to ensure that they were helped and supported in finding a solution that fitted their circumstances.

The evidence is clear. If you have the resources, working intensively with that group can work. I shall read two pieces of evidence given by the Prince’s Trust in the early phases of discussion in Committee in the other place, when they had the evidence sessions. Martina Milburn, from the Prince's Trust said that,


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page