|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
A number of other issues on apprenticeships came up in the debate which merit a mention. My noble friend Lord Cotter and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, raised the role of small and medium-sized businesses. They will have a real problem in handling the bureaucracy. The Select Committee in this House suggested group apprenticeships, which I believe are compatible with the Bill, but, again, there is no mention of them in it. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, there is a great danger of the bureaucracy becoming overwhelming for a firm which has only half a dozen employees.
Secondly, the issue of whether apprentices should be required to be employed or to meet minimum qualifications has been raised by quite a number of people. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, I, too, will take on board the points that Barnardos and Rathbone make. Many people would benefit greatly from the work-based route to learning; they can achieve a great deal, if somewhat slowly, and need a way into an apprenticeship. We do not want to shut that door or create barriers there. The same is true of the points made by my noble friend Lord Addington about dyslexia. At the college where I am a governor, there was a case of a girl who came in regarding herself as a dummy to do a level 1 course. Because we put every new young person through an assessment test, the college picked up immediately that she was badly dyslexic. She has been at the college for five years and is doing a national diploma, which is a higher education qualification; she will end up with a foundation degree. So, provided that you support people with dyslexia, they can actually achieve a great deal. The initial assessment is of vital importance.
Careers advice has been mentioned by a lot of people. My noble friend Lady Garden mentioned it, and very many people have said how inadequate they feel that Clause 35 is. Clearly, we will all be looking at thatand the Minister is on notice that there is a lot of feeling around the House about that one.
The noble Lord, Lord Layard, referred to progression. It is very important that apprentices are not stopped in their tracks. The point that he made was that if a young person had only a level 1 qualification they could only do a level 2 apprenticeship; then they are stymied because they cannot go on to a level 3 apprenticeship. That is madness; they really should be allowed to do that.
I turn to the two organisations that will inherit the mantle of the LSCthe YPLA for the under-19s and the SFA for the over-19s. I have already questioned the role of the YPLA. We have also very serious misgivings about the SFA. Above all, we do not understand why that organisation, which will have wide-ranging responsibilities and wide funding responsibilities for adult skills as well as running four important further servicesnot just the National Apprenticeship Service but Train to Gain, which has a budget of well over £1 million a year now, the Adult Advancement and Careers Service and the National Employer Service, all set up as part of a Civil Service department with the Civil Service at the topis an agency. It is not even an NDPB. It has very little autonomy and is said to be under the thumb of the department. Surely such an organisation needs to be able to do its own thing and have the same degree of autonomy as its 16 to 19 partner, the YPLA. Yet here it is, sitting right under the thumb of the department, and indeed an integral part of the departmental machinery.
At one of the very many meetings that we have had over the last few months to discuss the Bill, I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Siôn Simon, why there was that differentiation between the two organisations. He replied that the two departments had just taken different views as to what they wanted. I cannot really accept that that is why they differ. I
2 Jun 2009 : Column 196
This is a wide-ranging Bill and there are a lot of issues to discuss. One that many noble Lords have addressed is that of Ofqual, including the key issue of whether it will have real autonomy and the extent to which the Bill gives undue power to the Secretary of State to interfere in Ofquals remit. I was much encouraged by what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said. We need to look at Ofqual against the criteria that he established for Ofsted. I found his analysis very helpful in terms of what we should be looking at and how we should measure this.
There is also the QCDA, which remains under the wing of government, no one being quite certain what its function will be. My noble friend Lady Garden asked how far it would develop assessment techniques. In many senses, the assessment organisationsthe City and Guilds and so forthare those with the expertise here. It is madness for the QCDA to be working in these areas. The national curriculum remains the responsibility of the department and the Secretary of State, and it is right that somebody should put some thought into the development of the curriculum. In fact, lots of people are doing that, but there should be an organisation that advises the Secretary of State on these things, and I see that as the QCDAs role.
It is unclear precisely what that role is. What does promoting quality and coherence mean? What is coherence? That is not at all clear. Then there is this shadowy JACQAthe Joint Advisory Committee for Qualifications Approval. What is JACQA going to do? Nobody quite knows, which raises a lot of questions.
On young offender education, my noble friend Lady Garden made it clear that we Liberal Democrats very much welcome the fact that there is a clear remit for local authorities here. I echo her views that there is an opportunity perhaps to do more, to really look at young offender education and do something worth while about it. It would be lovely to seize the opportunity of the Bill and do something like that.
The big question in lots of peoples minds is whether local authorities can live up to the expectations. The problem in all these young offender institutions is that there is such churn. We know very well from other areas that it is difficult for local authorities to ensure that the information about the young people actually travels with them; too often it takes six weeks to appear, by which stage they have moved on yet again. It raises many questions about whether local authorities have the capabilities to handle this. Have they got the funding to handle the responsibilities? Have they got the people with the skills to do it? I am not sure that they have. However, I hope very much that they will. We need to do a good job here because we have let these people down far too often.
We generally welcome putting childrens trusts, safeguarding boards and childrens centres on a statutory footing, but we have a general worry that this sector has already seen so many changes and initiatives. It is time to stop changing the goalposts and let it settle down. The knock-on effects of the Baby P case on
2 Jun 2009 : Column 197
My noble friend Lady Walmsley spoke about the power to search and the recording and reporting of the use of force. A number of other noble Lords also mentioned this issue. It is an important issue, and it is important that we recognise childrens dignity and privacy. It would be lovely if we could see the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporated into British law. We have been asking for that for a long time.
This has been a long debate. I have not found it easy to sum up because the Bill covers so wide a range of issues. Many have spoken about only one or two aspects of the Bill. In general, I sense that many welcome its main provisions on boosting apprenticeships and setting Ofqual up as an independent regulator in the area of qualifications and assessment. One theme of the debate has been the perception that the structures being put in place are unnecessarily complex and leave too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State. That has been a recurring theme of Second Reading debates in this House and reflects the Governments tendency to think that they can fix problems by changing structures rather than by plotting a more evolutionary approach. We have a prime example here of getting rid of the LSC and setting up two more organisations to replace it, rather than merely changing its terms of reference and allowing it to grow into a new role. The resultI echo some of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, mentionedis that we have a churning of institutions, acronyms and, above all, people. There has been a tendency to think that this churn is good, that it keeps people on their toes and stops them becoming complacent. However, there is also a downside in the loss of team spirit and morale. As the Foster report on the capital funding crisis in the LSC reminded us, with all their jobs up in the air it is hardly surprising that the LSC staff took their eye off the ball.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, it is a great privilege to hear so many noble Lords speak with such passion and insight about the provisions that the Bill sets out to deliver. When I first read the Bill, I was struck by the droning sound of a cacophony of instruments conducted by a maestro who was missing large parts of the score. It is reassuring that we have so many expert minds in this Houseminds galvanised by the arduous task ahead of writing those missing scores and making sense of this extremely wide-ranging Bill.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I will not speak about every part of the Bill today as I hope to have much more time in Committee to look in greater detail at every measure that it proposes. As my noble friend Lord De Mauley pointed out in his excellent opening speech, this is a huge Bill which skips, hops and jumps across probably three Bills
2 Jun 2009 : Column 198
The cost of this inequality in times of recession is dear. In the UK there are fewer manual jobs for those with no or low skills, and fewer avenues to prosperity for those with little by way of qualifications. But rather than pointing the way out of inequality, the Bill plays the old encore of bureaucracy, confusion and disparity. As my noble friend Lord Eccles pointed out in his most informative speech, the Bill will cause the Governments interference to grow rather than be reduced. Opportunities will be lost as processes are overly complex. In the PISA international league tables of school performance, Britain has fallen from fourth to 14th in science, from seventh to 17th in literacy and from eighth to 24th in maths. Graduate unemployment among the under-25s is running at 17.2 per cent. Universities are finding it hard to distinguish between students on the basis of A-levels alone. While independent schools are tackling this challenge by introducing new, more rigorous exams, the Secretary of State has refused funding for those exams and so has placed state-educated pupils at a further disadvantage.
Organisational change and reorganisational change over the past 12 years have left the teaching fraternity angry and frustrated. The Bill should raise standards, reward successful schools with greater independence, stretch the brightest pupils and create opportunities for all to shine. Instead, it lumps together a hodgepodge of ill thought out proposals. How they all fit together nobody quite knows. We must now, more than ever, create a framework which empowers our young folk with skills and opportunities to shine and equips them with the resources to excel in the tough workplace once they leave education. I listened very carefully to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, who rightly highlighted the need for the education that we deliver to be far more aware of and responsive to the countrys demographic demands. Skilling, reskilling and training for the older workforce and those from different minority backgrounds is crucial to ensure that we successfully deliver equality and opportunity for all.
However, stopping inequality must begin with provision at birth. As my honourable friend Maria Miller pointed out in another place, despite spending more than £17 billion over the past decade on early years provision, the Government have not significantly improved every childs ability to reach their potential. We can see this right from the beginning in key stage 1 results. According to the Governments own figures in 2005, 71 per cent of the most deprived 10 per cent of children in this country achieved national standards in writing, but by 2007 this figure had fallen to 68 per cent. This Government have a poor record of delivering not only equal education opportunities but equal well-being. In April of this
2 Jun 2009 : Column 199
The original inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, published six years ago, recommended effective joint working as a remedy to this culture of disadvantage and so arrived childrens trust boards. However, the Audit Commissions report of October 2008 stated that after five years there was little evidence that the Government had improved outcomes for children and young people. Although we support the measures in the Bill that put Sure Start centres on a statutory footing, we must ensure that childrens trust boards acquire the partnership of their missing partners, as the Audit Commission recommends.
My noble friend Lady Morris has so eloquently argued about the inequalities in funding private, voluntary and independent nurseries. Will the Minister give assurances that the issue of funding and disparity in funding will be addressed in the Bill? As my noble friend Lady Morris said, we are poorer in the provision of excellent childminders and PVIs as they struggle to access funding and places remain unfilled.
This Bill not just extends unequal access to education in the early years, but continues to do so throughout secondary education. Working from the Conservative city technology college model, Tony Blair recognised that his academies needed to be freed from the constraints of local authority control and local bureaucracy in order best to serve the socio-economically deprived pupils they sought to help. But since the current Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families arrived, this independence has been diluted. My noble friend Lord Bates provides real-life evidence of what academies can do when the freedoms are given to them to govern to suit the needs of the students and to raise their aspirations.
Local authorities have become more involved in academies sponsorship, establishment and operation, and academies have enjoyed less freedom over the curriculum. In a letter to the Minister of 23 February, Mike Butler, chairman of the Independent Academies Association, fervently articulates the wider view among other academy principals when he says:
Furthermore, the regulation and supervisory management of academies have been tagged on to one of the three quangos that this Bill creates. They appear almost as afterthoughts. As we have read in the briefings, many fear that academies will be so heavily controlled by the YPLA that they are unable to respond to the needs of the pupils they serve. Sadly, the real losers here are some of the most disadvantaged students whose chance of being offered opportunities in academies which make the most of their talents may be stolen from them. What seemed strange to me were Jim Knights comments to a Lords committee last week when he said that the Government were looking into giving every school in the country some of the freedoms afforded to academies. I must say, I for one am most confused. We are all set to debate a Bill in this House
2 Jun 2009 : Column 200
Another area of education this Bill dusts around but fails to spring clean is the provision of special educational needs. Twenty per cent of school pupils have special educational needs, but the Government have a poor track record of helping them. Despite their spending £5.1 billion on the education of pupils with SEN, Brian Lamb, who conducted the government-commissioned review into SEN services, wrote to the Secretary of State in April of this year noting:
Furthermore the Bill gives local authorities responsibility for the education of students aged up to 25 who have learning difficulties. There are currently 3,000 pupils with severe learning difficulties in residential specialist national institutions. As briefing from the Association of Colleges points out, by locally commissioning the provision of education for students with SMLD and special needs, we run the risk of sidelining successful national providers of education, regardless of the fact that the national specialist providers may better equip a pupil with tools to flourish in lifeproviders such as the brilliant National College for the Blind, which was ably alluded to by my noble friend Lord Lucas, who has great knowledge in the provision of home education and the importance of not discriminating against families and parents who wish to build on the ability to have home education. Will the Minister guarantee that local bureaucracy and localised commissioning will not obstruct pupils with learning difficulties from going to education providers that best suit their needs?
This Bill not only changes the way in which education is provided, but provides us all with a delightful new language to learna language built on an alphabet of acronyms. My noble friend Lord Baker laid out far better than I can the many different acronyms that the Bill introduces. I wonder whether the Minister plans to legislate for this new language in the Bill. These acronyms from the CESF to the SFA, the YPLA and beyond, are not just the basis of a new language but new quangos, which come with even greater bureaucracy.
Worryingly, as my honourable friend Graham Stuart in another place pointed out, nobody knows how the relationship between these quangos will work. The lines of responsibility are organised locally, regionally, sub-regionally and nationally. The fear is that this reorganisation will lead only to even more paper pushing between agencies and further divert attention away from providing funding for the learner, thereby distracting education providers from the task of giving every individual in their establishment the opportunity to
2 Jun 2009 : Column 201
As we debate this Bill, I hope that we can begin to untangle this convoluted web of quangos and make amendments that will help the education provider deliver greater educational opportunities to their learners. Teachers must be handed back control for discipline in their classrooms. Schools should not be, as they currently are, punished for suspending unruly pupils. When 344 children are suspended every day in schools in England for violence against other children it is clear that the Government have failed to get to grips with the rise in poor, disruptive pupil behaviour. When will the Government stop paying lip service to the educational fraternity and instead begin to trust them? If the Government claim to trust the professionalism of teachers, why is there nothing in the Bill to protect teachers against false accusations? If we are to deliver a better educational system then we must begin by trusting the very individuals who deliver it. My noble friend Lord Sheikh, in his wide-ranging and informed speech, raised many of the difficulties that teachers will face in trying to implement parts of the Bill. Teachers should be able to instil discipline as they see fit and should not shy away from lawful, proportionate measures to improve behaviour and discipline because they live in fear of time-consuming, confidence-sapping false accusations.
There are parts of the Bill that we support, but its size and muddled, confused content mean that part of it has not received the level of scrutiny required for legislation in the other place. The Bill has arrived as a bureaucratic muddle, saddling schools, teachers and funding agencies with unclear lines of responsibility and wasted bureaucracy. Ultimately, the Bill diverts education providers attention away from creating the opportunities that our children need to shine.
I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the expertise and knowledge of this House. I know that the Minister values line-by-line scrutiny, in which we are at our best here. With my noble friends, I look forward to working very closely with the Minister and her team.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I join many noble Lords who have started by saying how sad it is that we are not joined by our very dear Lord Dearing, whom we all know from our experience of debates on Bills and other topics of substance was always a great source of wisdom and thoughtful guidance for all of us on all sides of the House. I join those who have made that point more eloquently than I.
I have been grappling with the etiquette in your Lordships House on whether I should welcome the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, to his position, but I would very much like to congratulate him on what I consider to be an outstanding opening speech. Although I do not necessarily agree with him, I know that I will very much enjoy debating with him in future and I congratulate him on his speech.
We have had some wonderful contributions this afternoon and this evening, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma,
2 Jun 2009 : Column 202
Like my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, I found the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, very entertaining. Like my noble friend, I found that I could not agree with the noble Lords analysis, but I wholeheartedly agree with a couple of points that he made. The first is the excellent design of the Middlesbrough College building, which is an absolutely fabulous building. The second is the importance and value of the work that he did with Lord Dearing and elsewhere to promote the technical school idea. I was very interested to hear about that.
I was particularly taken by the contributions of my noble friends Lady Blackstone and Lord Layard, and many others who highlighted the significance of the Bill in setting out the historic nature of the law with regard to apprenticeships. Those who are belittling the importance of the Bill should take heed of their remarks, particularly with regard to the role of apprenticeships in tackling inequality.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|