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The next issue is how to make sure that an apprenticeship is a meaningful learning experience with some rigour and a clear structure. The young person needs to learn skills, and acquire some knowledge, which is equally important. That should be embodied in a technical certificate, awarded on completing the apprenticeship. To ensure that the certificate is of value and a basis for progressing, there need to be clear minimum standards of when and how it is expected that the apprentice will receive instruction. It is excellent that there now seems to be an agreement about basic provision of 250 hours of guided learning, and I hope that that will not be eroded. The guided learning should on the whole be away from the work station. I am, however, a little disappointed—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—that the technical certificate will now no longer be required, as it has been until now. Surely it should be the normal expectation that every young apprentice coming through the system should get such a certificate. If that is not the case, I should like the Minister to explain why not. We should be as concerned about these sorts of issues as about quality of standards in GCSEs and A-levels, and the role of Ofqual in maintaining them.

Another element of apprenticeships appears to be missing, which is basic skills training in numeracy and literacy, which is vital. The next issue I want to touch on is drop-out. This is a challenge, as it is in other parts of post-16 education, and in existing apprenticeships

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it has been much too high. It would help to put in place, as happens in some other countries, access to a named mentor for every young apprentice. Some of these young people are not terribly mature, and others will be quite vulnerable when they start, before reaching level 2 at 16 or 17. There is nothing to suggest in any of the guidance that that will happen.

I move on to what will happen when level 2 has been completed. If young people are successful and are still under 19, should they not be entitled to go on to a level 3 apprenticeship if that is their choice? If a 17 year-old has five good GCSEs, he or she is entitled to pursue an A-level course, so why have a different system for apprenticeships? We sometimes neglect equity between different parts of the system. Again, I should appreciate the Minister’s response to that.

Assuming that a young person has a level 3 apprenticeship, can we make sure that just as diplomas for 14 to 19 year-olds can and should be accepted as a route into further and higher education, so should a level 3 apprenticeship? Surmounting the barriers will help to widen participation in higher education in particular, and will serve to reduce those educational inequalities, which I am sure worry all of us in this House. It might encourage school teachers to view apprenticeships as a genuine choice that does not cut off access to a university education later. The articulation of apprenticeships with higher education will be taken up by my noble friend Lady Warwick later, so I shall not pre-empt what I am sure she will say. It is a complex area and we need to do some work to ensure progress. No progress at all will be made in the establishment of a proper system of apprenticeship without employers playing their part. They will be vital to this Bill when it is enacted.

The new National Apprenticeship Service will have a huge challenge in securing the full engagement of employers and working with them to promote high standards. Doing that does not need to be bureaucratic in the way that the CBI seems to fear. I hope that the CBI will accept the need for basic minimum requirements. If they are put in place, the Bill will lead to the establishment of apprenticeships as a legitimate, mainstream, high quality alternative that can engage and motivate the young people who choose them.

4.25 pm

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I find little to welcome in the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, it is a ragbag, a mishmash, a thing of shreds and patches pasted together by a tired department at the fag end of a Government. If it were merely trivial, it would not merit discussion, but it is also harmful, because it also establishes an elaborate and burdensome bureaucracy of immense complexity which will not benefit technical and vocational education. The only question that must be asked about the Bill is: does it improve technical and vocational education in our country? I do not think that it will.

Back in the late 1980s, when I was Education Secretary, I visited many FE colleges. Several of them I found to be immensely depressing places, down at heel, dirty, shabby and with poor equipment. By any

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measures that we had at the time, 40 per cent were failing. I decided that drastic surgery was needed and I removed them from the control of local education authorities. Since then, the golden age of FE dawned. The noble Baroness will certainly support me in removing things from local education authority control, because by removing polytechnics from the control of local education authorities, I provided her with the institution which she now adorns as vice-chancellor.

Taking control away from local education authorities was necessary, because whenever it came to a choice in an LEA between a primary school and a nursery school and a new wing in the FE college, the primary school and the nursery school won out because there were councillors saying, “I want that primary school in my bit of the constituency”. When the FE colleges were removed and made independent, they literally made the best of it. A principal of an FE college only a few weeks ago referred to the period until now as a Camelot for further education.

As a result, today, how many FE colleges are failing? Not 40 per cent, but 4 per cent. That is the system that the Government want to mess up and change completely. It is a great success story. Go to Birmingham and look at Matthew Boulton College, the FE college in the centre of Birmingham. It is a magnificent building. It stands comparison with any building in the whole of the universities of Birmingham. When I went there, it was full of the latest equipment. There were hundreds of students full of self-esteem and pride at going to an institution which was as good as a university. That is very enhancing; they wanted to go back to study there. Go to Middlesbrough. Look at Middlesbrough College. Not only is Middlesbrough College the best building in Middlesbrough, it is the best building in the whole of Teesside. It stands alongside the University of Teesside and is better than any of the buildings in the university.

Those colleges cost more than £100 million. No local education authority would provide £100 million to build an FE college, but those are the colleges that will transform our country. That is the system that the Government are now dismantling—they are dismantling it because they will return the FE colleges to the control of local education authorities. In my view, that will be a disaster. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench are noting what I am saying, because, in a few months, they will be sitting over there and will have to defend this complexity, nonsense and chaos. They will be attacked by noble Lords opposite who are now Ministers who will say, “We left you a perfect system. What a mess you are making of it”. They have not left you a perfect system; they have left you a mess.

Just before I finish on the subject of colleges, I ask the Minister a specific question. I recently visited Lewisham College, which is at the junction of Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark. It has proposals before the Learning and Skills Council, in suspension at the moment, for a new college costing £140 million designed by Norman Foster—the noble Lord, Lord Foster. The contracts are about to be issued. This is spade-ready, so I hope that the Minister will give it her approval. Some of her colleagues, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Darling, and the Business Secretary,

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the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson—I think that they are still in post at the moment—have been saying that one of the things that the country must have is big public sector projects to stimulate the economy, so why has this college not been approved? Why is it on ice? I know that she will not have the answer in her brief, but perhaps she could ask one of her colleagues in the Civil Service to answer later.

The Learning and Skills Council is now in the doghouse because it went over its budget, so it is a very easy body to attack. Why did it go over its budget? It went over its budget because it was ambitious. What is wrong with being ambitious for further education? Ambition is all about reach and grasp. Let us remember what Robert Browning said—that,

“a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for?”.

I do not condemn the Learning and Skills Council at all; I find that it has transformed the state of further education in our country.

What is the Learning and Skills Council replaced by? It is replaced by three bodies that we have mentioned already: the Skills Funding Agency, the Young People’s Learning Agency for England and the LEAs. When the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, cited three bodies, she underestimated the Bill. I remind the House of the other bodies which the Bill sets up: the CYPP, the CTB, the CDL, the MIAP. Does the Minister know what the MIAP does? Does it report to her? Does she appoint the chairman? I am sure that she knows what she does with the QCDA, the NAVMC, the EYFS, the CCIS, the AACS, the ISA, the IEB or—last and best—the SSSNB: not one S, not two Ss, but three Ss. What does the SSSNB do? Does anyone in the House know? We are being asked to approve this Bill. This is the complexity of the organisation which the Government are creating. This is gobbledygook soup; it is a sort of deep Brown Windsor. I hope that my noble friends will look at this very carefully indeed and decide that it will be inoperable.

What will happen? LEAs will be responsible for 16 to 18 education, so they will sponsor it in colleges that they do not own; have staff whom they cannot appoint, control or change; and be unable to change the curriculum. That is really intimate, is it not? It is just there. The LEAs will provide the per capita funding.

What is the answer to capital? Let us suppose that an FE college wants to build a wing costing £20 million to increase its teaching of tourism and hospitality. Who will pay that: the SFA or the LEA? I ask the question because the Government have not answered it yet. They say that they do not quite know whether the SFA or the LEA will pay the £20 million. We should forget the LEA wanting to pay for it; no LEA will fork out £20 million. For £20 million, you can have a secondary school or two primary schools, so the SFA will pay. Why do we not leave the Learning and Skills Council where it was, because that is what it has been doing? This, again, shows the absurdity of the changes that the Government are making. This will add to the confusion and complexity.

I shall give an example of where this will be very confusing. At the moment, one body—the Learning and Skills Council—funds further education. In the

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future, a college will have to go to the Skills Funding Agency, to its local LEA, to the Department for Work and Pensions—a Minister from that department should be here; I do not think that the Minister is from it—and then to employers, because when Train to Gain is faded out, employers will be expected to step up to the mark. As a result, FE colleges have been made a political football. This will be very damaging indeed.

What should be done? Here I mention the work that Ron Dearing did. We regret his absence in this debate very much indeed. I first knew him when he was chairman of the Post Office. He was the most successful chairman of any nationalised industry I came across. I was the Minister responsible for the Post Office at the time, and I was fortunate to be the first one to appoint him to his first job in education as the chairman of the body that dealt with polytechnic qualifications. Thereafter he went to the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. When successive Ministers, both Conservative and Labour, wanted something fixed, they rang up Ron—the great Mr Fixit of education.

Ron Dearing was passionately dedicated to vocational and technical education, on which he did a great report. In the last year of his life, he and I worked together to establish a new type of school in our country. We agreed that the best age for transfer was 14 and not 11. I know that that is controversial: I will not debate it now because it needs a long debate. By 14 years old, most youngsters know which way they want to go. We set about trying to recreate the schools left by Rab Butler; that is, the old technical schools of 1945. He left grammar schools, technical schools and secondary modern schools. The first to go were the technical schools because they were infra dig, a bit greasy and everyone wanted to be the school on the hill. That was a huge mistake.

One reason why Germany has 55,000 workers in the automotive industry and we have 5,000 at Luton is that we have not addressed the problem of basic engineering technical skills, which are done by technical schools in Germany. German technical schools are now more popular than German grammar schools.

Ron Dearing and I set about trying to establish new schools, with the full support of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. We wanted universities to be involved. First, we went to Aston University and asked it to sponsor, under the academy programme, a new school in Birmingham for 14 to 19 year-olds. We said that there would be two elements of entry—half apprentices and half students—to do engineering diplomas. Aston University said that it would sign up for that. Then we went to Birmingham City Council, which had to provide the site. Fortunately, the council is again in the hands of the Conservatives with a very imaginative leadership. It said, “Of course we will do it”. The project was approved by the Government before Christmas. The project manager has been established. The new school in Birmingham will be built for 600 to 800 pupils aged between 14 and 19 and they will specialise in engineering, production, manufacturing and design.

I believe that that is the way forward and is the sort of thing to which the Government should be more openly committed. They should not tinker around

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with the measures that they are doing now. Beyond that, we have approached another dozen universities and we are well advanced with proposals. These schools will restore in Britain a capacity to produce specialists and technicians at all levels. If we are going to build nuclear power stations and Crossrail, and be able to do all the things we want to do in our country, we will have to have technicians at all levels. Because a university sponsors each of these schools, the path goes through to foundation degrees as well. That should be the answer to technical and vocational education in our country.

The Government were right to identify the 14 to 19 curriculum, but to have such a curriculum you must have institutions to teach it. The Government were right to have diplomas, but what will the diploma students do this year? They will do three days in their secondary school, studying English, maths, science and IT. On another day they will be bussed to a college somewhere to do engineering and on the final day they will be bussed for day release. They will have three different places for study, which cannot be right. You need institutions where specialisms such as engineering, construction or medical skills can be taught alongside basic subjects. The Government give nodding approval, but they do not go out trying to sell the idea in a big way. I believe that that is the way forward for technical and vocational education. I cannot see that this Bill helps us at all.

4.38 pm

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to contribute to the Second Reading of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. The Bill’s title is certainly a mouthful but I can assure you that I will be brief. I shall be focusing on the aspects relating to higher education, and I declare my interest as chief executive of Universities UK. Perhaps I may also say how much I share the appreciation of Lord Dearing and his contribution to FE and skills, which was so well articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Baker.

I suspect that the Bill will conjure up for many Members of the House nostalgic visions of craftsmen and artisans bending over wool, wood, glass or leather and learning their trade over many years. While that may still be true in some cases, it does not accurately reflect apprenticeships and apprentices in the 21st century. Apprentices can now be found in a far broader range of industries, ranging from leisure and fitness to health and social care, as well as to more traditional engineering or manufacturing industries.

Many apprentices will not have found a traditional academic education conducive to learning, nor found a suitable outlet for their practical talents until they joined an apprenticeship scheme. I endorse all the points that my noble friend Lady Blackstone made on this. Once an apprentice joins a scheme, the world could indeed become their oyster, which is why it is really important to get progression routes right. The Government are rightly committed to increasing the number of apprentices by 2013 and to offering apprenticeship places to all those who are qualified to

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take them up. Given the ever-increasing levels of skill required by apprentices, it is perhaps not surprising that many of them wish to enter higher education at a later date. Apprenticeships can be an effective way of widening participation in higher education, and with the acknowledged demographic downturn, apprenticeships could become crucial to HE participation levels.

On the face of it, the current Bill does not set out a progression path for apprentices who wish to enter higher education. I appreciate, of course, that there are some practical difficulties with this, since apprenticeships are not strictly qualifications but frameworks. In World-class Apprenticeships, a publication which the Minister knows well, the Government gave a commitment for an apprenticeship framework that could use a UCAS tariff rating. This is necessary to increase progression from apprenticeships to HE. It is also important since many apprentices on entry will not have traditional academic qualifications, either because they have vocational qualifications or perhaps because they are older learners. Many of the apprentices will not have moved directly from their apprenticeship to higher education and will be studying part-time. So, from the institutional point of view, it will be key to ensure that the apprenticeship frameworks fit smoothly with higher education. However, I am reassured by the fact that the two education departments, DCSF and DIUS, started a review on the expansion of apprenticeships in January this year. Following on from the review, I wonder whether the Minister could inform the House whether articulation to higher education from apprenticeships will be included in the Bill in Committee.

I turn to two other points on the Bill. First, I welcome the fact that the Bill includes a provision for increasing the amount of information, advice and guidance about vocational educational opportunities. It is good that the Government recognise that it is essential for our young people to receive the most appropriate information for them to make the best decisions about their future.

Secondly, I am less sanguine—indeed, I am a little anxious—about the adoption of foundation-degree awarding powers for further education colleges in Wales. As the Minister will be aware, I raised the issue of quality control for these measures when they were brought before the House in relation to England. I made the point then that universities are extremely well placed to offer such degrees, since they can provide the quality assurance necessary to deliver a high-level qualification, as well as the articulation arrangements to which I referred earlier, so that the students can undertake a full honours degree at a later stage with the same institution. I recognise that foundation-degree awarding powers are going ahead for colleges in Wales, but can the Minister assure the House that the quality arrangements for colleges will be as rigorous as those applied to universities?

Of course, all the positive work of upskilling and reskilling that universities do comes at a price. I hope the House will bear with me when I enter a perhaps predictable caveat. Public funding is key to keeping our institutions fit for purpose and world-class. It underpins all the other sources of income that institutions

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can raise for themselves. While I appreciate that budgets across Whitehall are much tighter than ever before, I stress to the Minister that without well-funded institutions we will not be able to achieve much of what needs to be done to pull us out of the downturn and prepare for the upturn in the economy, as well as to get the best out of our people. The sector has not yet had any guarantee that the vital unit of funding for teaching will be maintained. Cuts in the HE budget at this stage might provide short-term gains for the Government overall, but in my view they would certainly store up long-term pain. So, finally, I urge the Minister to offer her support for the maintenance of public investment in higher education at the necessary level.

4.45 pm

Lord Cotter: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate apprenticeships today and the Minister’s comments about bringing them back from possible extinction. Whenever I speak to people and say that apprenticeships are being actively encouraged and addressed in Parliament now, there is widespread approval—a chord is struck—and rightly so.

Having worked in business all my life—I ran a manufacturing business until a few years ago—I am delighted to welcome apprenticeships and the fact that they are not to be devoted only to industry and trades but to a wide range of other activities as well. It is very important to encourage young people to go into many spheres of activity. The job is to deliver on the aspiration and to provide work opportunities for young and old at a time when past certainties have gone and retraining and reskilling is a part of life.

I want to look at the apprenticeship issue from the business perspective. We have to make implementation easy and straightforward. It is concerning, however, especially with small businesses in mind, to see how complicated matters are becoming—with quangos, new regional and sub-regional groupings, new rules and regulations, red tape and registrations—and how confusion is generated by having so many organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has raised this issue with far more aplomb than I can, but I have my own list to share. It includes the NAS, the NSA, the SFA, T2G, YPLA, CDL, CASHE, AACS, GFCs, the ISA and JACQA. I could go on and on, but I shall not. I simply make the point that, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, so aptly asked, who knows much about what these organisations represent? Certainly the business community does not wish to be faced with such a list.

In addressing the issues affecting the business sector, one has to ask what the sector needs. Funding and help with the costs is clearly very important. The Budget announced a figure of £350 million for skills training in SMEs. Can the Minister say exactly how that will be distributed? We are well informed by the FSB and others on the SME issue. For example, the FSB states that 95 per cent of businesses are unaware of wage contributions for providing training. It is concerning that they are not aware of this provision, and the Government should do something about it. With 69 per cent of all apprenticeships taking place within small businesses, both funding and clarity about how to train are vital.



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Business needs to be listened to. Last Friday a consultation on retail finished which included a call for 250 hours of off-station learning time for retailers and those employed in the retail sector. That sounds okay, but the small shops sector is very concerned, their view being represented through Skillsmart Retail. We need practical and light-touch procedures, otherwise the very smallest businesses—the country’s backbone—will struggle to gain access. Changes in the sector and skills councils have been already been mentioned, and learning and skills councils are also a matter of concern. We need good communication between business and colleges. However, in many people’s opinion, the new agencies being created will add to the bureaucracy problem.


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