Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I shall talk about a few numbers, because for me, as a scientist by training, numbers are always very important. Yes, we have a clear expectation that we will meet our target of 130,000 completions by 2010-11, unlike the prediction of the honourable David Willetts. We need to be clear about the fact that we are measuring completions, which are so important. Completions have more than trebled from 39,000 in 2001-02 to more than 113,000 last year. It is fair to say that we have rescued and expanded apprenticeships over the past 10 years from the position in 1997 when only 65,000 people started apprenticeships—a different measure from completing them. Two hundred and fifty thousand people started an apprenticeship in 2007-08—a record number, and an increase of 22,000 from the year before. Those figures speak for themselves. They are significant achievements.

I will think very carefully about noble Lords’ comments on the need for stronger information, advice and guidance on apprenticeships, but I should say that the 2008 Act requires schools to provide impartial careers advice to pupils that promotes the pupils’ best interests. This will be underpinned by statutory guidance that is currently out to public consultation. The new section in the Bill builds on this by requiring schools when fulfilling this duty to consider apprenticeships, but, as I have said, I will consider noble Lords’ thoughts very carefully.

I was going to say at the start—I warned the Bill team that I was going to say this—that I want to ensure that we pick up on all the questions that have been raised during this debate and, with our best endeavours, get back to all noble Lords before Committee on 16 June. I hope that we will be able to give some pace to our debates then.



2 Jun 2009 : Column 203

My noble friend Lady Wall challenged me to reiterate that sector skills councils must remain responsible for issuing apprenticeship frameworks. I applaud the work particularly that Semta and all the sector skills councils do on apprenticeships. I reiterate that the intention is that sector skills councils will continue to issue apprenticeship frameworks and that we are committed to ensuring that sector skills councils continue to play a pivotal role in delivering our apprenticeship ambitions.

My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and others talked about the importance of progression from apprenticeships to higher education. This is in our sights. We are committed to a range of progression routes into and out of apprenticeships that include higher education. The Learning and Skills Council is working on a project to align UCAS tariff points with a small selection of advanced apprenticeship frameworks, providing a clear route into HE. Plans are currently being developed to align all advanced apprenticeship frameworks to this model: clearly a very important development.

My noble friend Lady Prosser raised a number of key issues, but talked particularly eloquently about non-traditional occupations. Again, the Learning and Skills Council is running pilots to encourage people to consider apprenticeship routes that are non-traditional for their gender or ethnicity. These aim to get a critical mass of people into particular careers through pre-apprenticeships and by offering support through mentoring. That is very important work, although I am sure there is much more that we need to discuss.

The noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Low, and my noble friend Lady Wilkins highlighted the importance of accessibility to apprenticeships to people with disabilities. We are very committed to ensuring that apprenticeships are accessible to all young people and adults. We are grateful particularly to the work of the Special Education Consortium, Skill, the RNIB and others for their assistance so far in seeking to achieve this, and we look forward to working with the co-ordination group.

We are happy to confirm that Clause 81(2)(b) provides that when securing apprenticeship training for all 16 to 18 year-olds, as well as to 19 to 25 year-olds with learning difficulties, the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency must have regard to any learning difficulties that a person may have. A complementary duty on local authorities to provide significant apprenticeship training is included in Clause 40. I know that noble Lords are very concerned about these important areas.

The noble Lords, Lord Rix, Lord Low and Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, talked about the qualification criteria for apprenticeships and how this should not act as a barrier to young people with disabilities. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked specifically about dyslexia. I understand noble Lords’ concerns about this and I am committed to looking afresh at pre-apprenticeship routes. It is important to note that the qualifying criteria in the Bill relate to the apprenticeship entitlement and not to the individual apprenticeship framework. Anyone who meets the

2 Jun 2009 : Column 204

qualifying criteria for an individual framework will still be able to pursue that, but I can see that this will be an important area for us to debate further.

My noble friend Lord Layard talked about a number of important issues, including whether 16 to 18 year-olds completing a level 2 apprenticeship will be able to extend that entitlement to a level 3 apprenticeship. I am advised that there is nothing to prevent a young person going on to a level 3 apprenticeship after completing a level 2. We hope that they will do so. However, the entitlement relates to a first entitlement at either level. I am sure that we will come back to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Moser, very importantly talked about the need for a continued commitment to basic skills. I am particularly grateful for his comments on the success of the skills-for-life strategy, and I pay tribute to him on his role in its inception. We remain committed to a further £3.9 billion investment through to 2010-11 and we will build on the £5 billion already invested since 2000-01, which has enabled 5.7 million people to attend 12 million courses with more than 2.8 million people achieving first qualifications. Again, it is worth noting the numbers.

My noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth talked about the right to request time to train and whether it should be extended to part-time workers. Part-time employees will be eligible to make requests for training. A key point is that they should have been in employment for six months, which we will propose through regulations. Agency workers, as with flexible working arrangements, are excluded, but they can access training through Train to Gain via their agency or the organisation to which they are hired. It is important to have that on the record.

The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, talked about Ofsted as the first non-ministerial department. For all of us here today his contribution was particularly helpful and illuminating. Ofsted has largely been the legislative model for Ofqual, which we expect to be as independent in its judgments and regulatory activity as Ofsted had been. Along with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady O’Neill, he raised important questions about the relationship between Ofqual and the Secretary of State. In Committee, we need to explore these points in detail. In particular, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to Clause 126, which allows the Secretary of State to direct Ofqual to have regard to government policy. We believe that that does not encroach on Ofqual’s independence. It is only a requirement to “have regard to”. How it does so is left entirely up to Ofqual. This clause is a replication of a power that the Secretary of State has with regard to Ofsted. Without it, we could not rely on Ofqual’s assistance in implementing policies such as ensuring that there is a range of qualifications to engage young people who are, for example, at risk of disengaging from education. I have got rather too much detail to go through on that, but I am sure that we will have some important debates.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, asked what the annual report of Ofqual to the Northern Ireland Assembly will include. The report must state how Ofqual has performed in its functions in the reporting period. In

2 Jun 2009 : Column 205

reality, the report is bound to range more widely. Ofqual may, for example, want to report on its plans for the coming year. Of course, it will be for the Assembly to consider and set out what issues it wishes Ofqual to cover.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and many other noble Lords referred to the reform of the Learning and Skills Council. He suggested that the reforms would not save money. This is not a cost-saving measure, but is intended to transform the support that we can give to young people through the raised participation age and to upskilling adults. We are also committed to retaining the expertise of Learning and Skills Council staff. Some savings, though, may be realised—for example, through reduction in accommodation costs—but that is not the objective. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, also talked about the LSC and made some very sharp comments, which are always important to listen to. I make a couple of points. The LSC has made excellent progress in driving up participation and achievement among all age groups. I pay tribute to the work of its staff. We now need new structures to deliver a raised participation age and even more responsive support for adult learners and employers.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, teased me about whether I knew what SSSNB stands for. I was delighted when I had a quick look at the list of acronyms at the back of the notes, which tells us what all sorts of things stand for. One is DCSF, which stands for the Department for Children, Schools and Families. EYSF is early years foundation stage, FE is further education and LSC is the Learning and Skills Council. Also in here is SSSNB, which stands for School Support Staff Negotiating Body, which I accept is not an easy abbreviation, but it is an extremely important body. It will, for the first time, bring together school support staff and employer and employee representatives to negotiate the pay and conditions of school support staff. This will end the era of widespread pay disparity for this group, which my noble friend Lady Jones referred to and has been a real challenge for many schools.

My noble friend Lady Jones expressed concern that the Secretary of State could reject and refer back to the School Support Staff Negotiating Body any agreement that it has reached. The Secretary of State would only do so after fully considering the context and examining the likely impact. It is not a step that the Secretary of State would take lightly. We expect that it would be highly unlikely for the Secretary of State to need to do so, given how the body has been set up and how it promises to work. A good example to illustrate why we might need such a power would be if implementing an order in relation to an agreement would be detrimental to schools or pupils. That is an extremely unlikely event. Again, I am happy to provide reassurance on that. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln was concerned about representation on the negotiating body. The membership of the SSSNB includes the Church of England education division, which will be well placed to protect the interests of dioceses. I hope that I can reassure him there.

My noble friend Lord Rosser talked about data collection and analysis to assess the benefits of the investment made by employers in training. The UK

2 Jun 2009 : Column 206

Commission for Employment and Skills produces a monthly skills and employment policy research briefing which aims to provide up-to-date intelligence relevant to its partners. I am happy to discuss this further, or any other matter which my noble friend would like to raise, and to offer him some further background and reassurance.

Many noble Lords referred to the important role that academies have to play in driving up standards for some of our most disadvantaged young people, particularly my noble friend Lady Morgan and the noble Lord, Lord Bates. They spoke passionately about the achievements of academies and I listened with great interest. I pay tribute to the work that they do. In particular, there was a question about the inclusion of academies in behaviour partnerships. I can offer reassurance that this is about building on accepted best and current practice; that is the driver there.

My noble friend Lady Morgan asked what experience the YPLA will bring to assist academies. They should benefit from the YPLA’s experience of funding education and training of all 16 to 19 year-olds as well as its regional presence, which will enable it to provide a more local and personalised service than the department can as we move forward into looking after the 400 academies that we expect to establish. That is one point. Importantly, many of the staff of the academies division, to whom my noble friend paid tribute and acknowledged the role that they have played, will be moving across to the YPLA. We will endeavour to ensure that that corporate knowledge and experience is safeguarded.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about behaviour partnerships and why primary schools are not involved in them. She made a very interesting point. While we agree that there is value in partnerships being forged with primary schools, we need to recognise that behaviour issues at primary and secondary level are not always the same and adding primary schools to partnerships could make them unwieldy. However, we will encourage school partnerships to involve feeder schools.

The noble Baroness also asked why the power to search for weapons under previous legislation was being extended without review. We are implementing the recommendations in Sir Alan Steer’s report. Some schools need these extended powers to deal with the disruption caused to other children’s education by a minority of students bringing alcohol and drugs into school. That is very much what Sir Alan Steer was talking about in his widely welcomed comprehensive report on promoting good behaviour in schools, so that is where that driver comes from.

On the question about teacher training and appropriate training for those required to search for drugs, alcohol or stolen items, nothing in the Bill will give anyone any power to force teachers to carry out searches. It is important to say that on the record. We will be providing new guidance, which will give the comprehensive background to support this new power, and we will be consulting on that guidance in due course.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked about home education. I should make it clear to the noble Lord that there is no intention whatever to introduce new clauses into this Bill in relation to home education.

2 Jun 2009 : Column 207

Many Peers have commented that there is plenty in the Bill already and it would not necessarily be a good thing to attempt to put more into it. I can give the noble Lord that reassurance now; I hope it is what he is looking for.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Garden and Lady Howe, talked about the importance of arrangements to support young people as they move into and out of custody, and whether they will work in practice. I believe that new duties on home and host authorities will go a long way towards addressing the issues of continuity of education for young people in custody. We are making historic changes in the Bill for the education of young people in custody, and I am sure that those will be welcomed as we scrutinise them in Committee.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made profound comments, as always, about the importance of supporting looked-after young people and the importance of the education of young people in custody. I agree that it is vital to ensure that staff in the secure estate work in partnership with the staff in local authorities. As I said, we will be looking to draw on the experience of all those who have something to offer and particularly on the experience of Ireland, as the noble Earl described.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, asked what the targets will be for local safeguarding children boards. The Government have stated that we will review the range of safeguarding targets and will publish a new safeguarding framework this autumn. In developing that framework, we will draw upon the range of expertise in this area and will consult widely. It is not an easy area to define, as the noble Lord pointed out.

My noble friend Lord Bilston talked about a funding gap between FE colleges and school sixth forms, and asked if there would be a funding formula. I am happy to confirm that the Young People’s Learning Agency will operate a national funding formula, so I hope that reassures him.



2 Jun 2009 : Column 208

My noble friend Lady Wilkins asked about the needs of deaf pupils. We share the National Deaf Children’s Society’s ambition to ensure that our new school buildings meet the needs of all children. That is why the new Building Bulletin 93, The Acoustic Design of Schools, will include a new section setting out the legal responsibilities to promote inclusion and access to education in all settings. We hope that this will have a significant impact on quality, and look forward to continuing our ongoing dialogue with the NDCS on this important issue.

This legislation builds on our work over the past 12 years to enable young people to fulfil their ambitions. It also helps equip the country to meet the economic and social challenges of today and tomorrow. It is a significant Bill, reflecting the scale of our ambition to ensure that from the earliest age everyone must have the opportunities to achieve the very best that they can.

I make no apologies for the broad range of the Bill; it is important legislation. We need to take a holistic approach that ensures that the structures are in place to support parents, teachers and schools and, most importantly, to support individuals in realising their own ambitions. The Government are ensuring that young people have a wide range of learning opportunities that meet their needs. The measures in the Bill are fundamental to delivering a world-class education system, to building a strong economy and ensuring that every learner has the opportunity to pursue their talents, realise their ambitions and secure for themselves a successful future. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 9.59 pm.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page