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The first new subsection proposed by Amendment 59 repeats the corresponding provision in the draft specification of apprenticeship standards but takes away the brackets from “250 hours”, as suggested in the draft specification, and adopts this number as the standard. This corresponds to the concept of day release, or its equivalent, which is already strongly associated in most people’s minds with a serious apprenticeship. There is nothing new about this; it simply reaffirms what people think an apprenticeship should be. However, we have added a line and a half at the end of proposed new subsection (1), allowing some of these guided learning hours to be satisfied when a student receives new material online at his or her work station. We have included this as a concession to employers who are worried about the rigidity of the specification for the hours of off-the-job guided learning.

Many employers are doubtful about this proposal. Individual employers do not necessarily understand that the aim of the operation is that, in return for the money that taxpayers are spending on apprenticeships, the employer accepts that the apprenticeship is providing not just specific training but general training in the interests of the apprentice and of the economy as a whole, because it adds to the flexibility of the workforce.

It is important that the Government should stand up for what they proposed in the specification. To make sure that it survives in years to come, it should be put in the Bill. There is a great deal at stake here and without this subsection of our amendment there is no robust guarantee that apprenticeship will be a truly educational experience or that we will, at long last, have in this country the truly educated workforce that the Bill is supposed to produce. It is vital that this provision should be in the Bill.

Subsection (2) has the same objective as subsection (1), but focuses on the qualification. At present, most apprenticeship frameworks have separate evaluation of the on-the-job training via the NVQ and of the off-the-job underpinning knowledge via the technical certificate. This is a well established brand and is how apprenticeship has been for most of our lifetimes: a mixture of an off-the-job technical certificate with on-the-job learning. This brand was endorsed in 2001 by the Cassels committee, of which I was a member, and we should stick to it. However, the draft specification now opens up the possibility that the NVQ and the technical certificate could be merged, although it insists that there should be distinct units of knowledge within each qualification. That is a slippery slope because the most likely purpose of the merger is to diminish the knowledge content required. If we want to sustain the analytical content of the apprenticeship, we should insist that the knowledge component normally comes via a separate qualification, the technical certificate.

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Subsection (3) relates to functional skills in the level 2 apprenticeship. In the draft specification, there is a funny situation because as it stands there is no reason why most apprentices should study functional skills at all during their apprenticeship. The specification states that, to complete an apprenticeship, the person has to have at the end of it level 1 qualifications in maths and English—that means a pass at any level at GCSE—but most students will already have those qualifications when they enter the apprenticeship. If we are serious about wanting people to improve their literacy and numeracy during their apprenticeship, it is essential that the qualifications in functional skills required to complete it are higher than the level 1 with which most people enter. However, it is also true that level 2 is a stiff hurdle to insist that they all jump because it is equal to grades A to C at GCSE. We suggest that there should be a level halfway between as one of the required components for completing an apprenticeship.

Subsection (4) would put in statute what is already in the draft specification. It relates to functional skills at the next level, the advanced apprenticeship. That is fine, but let us have it in the Bill. Subsection (5) is simply a statement about good practice. Good apprenticeships already include continuous mentoring, but there are apprenticeships that do not and they should have to fall into line.

I apologise for the length of these remarks, but I think that the broad content of an apprenticeship is too important to be left to regulations. I urge the Minister to consider including our amendments in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord De Mauley: We agree that off-the-job or classroom learning is an important component of an apprenticeship. It helps to ensure that the apprentice obtains a firm grasp of the underpinning knowledge needed to develop the relevant technical skills, that they develop an understanding of the sector in which they work and that they have time to review progress and reflect on what they have learnt. There is no doubt that a combination of both on-the-job and off-the-job learning is desirable. As we have argued in our party’s Green Paper, there is a need both for job-specific skills to be taught via training in the workplace and for broad transferable skills that can be taught in the classroom.

In that sense, we support the premise of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, particularly on the provision of training to improve functional literacy and numeracy, as he says. However, our position is that, because there is significant and necessary variation between industry sectors in the amount of underpinning knowledge, theory and understanding that apprentices need before they are fully competent and qualified to carry out their respective jobs, we believe that specifying a minimum number of hours for each apprenticeship framework is a step too far—hence our Amendment 58A, which specifies the opposite.

The criteria laid out in Amendment 59 might prove too onerous for some employers who would otherwise desire to run an apprenticeship scheme. That view is shared by the CBI, which states unequivocally that the flexibility of the employer should not be lost in a maze

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of new rules and regulations. It may be the Government’s opinion that a rigid system of apprenticeship standards will increase quality, but the reality of such restrictive regulations is a minimum amount of guided learning hours at a location other than the workplace, which could hamper employer involvement.

Such regulation does not take into account the varied nature of apprenticeships. One industry will evidently require different levels of off-the-job training from another and an apprentice’s age and individual needs must also be considered. For some sectors and businesses, notably the more traditional apprenticeship sectors such as engineering, a significant part of apprentices’ training will take place off the job. For others, most training will be more effectively taken on the job. A 2007 survey by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills showed wide variation in the quantity of off-the-job training required. For example, 70 per cent of engineering apprentices’ time is spent in off-the-job learning in comparison with 46 per cent for the construction sector and 38 per cent for the retail sector.

Most important, employer involvement itself is the key part of any successful apprenticeship programme. As your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee highlighted, completion rates improve when the apprenticeship programme is linked to strong employer involvement, rather than when an employer is,

If the Government seek to increase the number of apprenticeship places offered by employers, more must be done to ensure that the programme meets business needs, particularly given the current economic climate when training budgets are under pressure. One can only imagine the frustration on the part of both the employer and the apprentice in a sector where a specified minimum time exceeds the time actually needed for off-the-job training. The introduction of a minimum period of off-the-job training would, we suggest, stifle flexibility for companies to adapt training programmes to meet their business and their employees’ needs and mean that fewer firms would see value in becoming involved.

Such a change would mark a significant departure from the Government’s ambition to create a demand-led skills system. A statutory framework for apprenticeships could place burdens on firms that, during this time of financial uncertainty, might discourage their participation in apprenticeships. This would be an error and would compound the Government’s record in working with businesses and SMEs to provide quality apprenticeships.

This time last year, a submission to the Conservative Party from a business that undertakes an apprenticeship scheme identified nine areas of administrative burden involved in running an apprenticeship programme. Surely it would be wrong to further encumber businesses that provide apprenticeship places in this manner. Regulating for the same minimum amount of off-the-job learning for each of the 180 apprenticeship frameworks now in existence could seriously damage the attractiveness of the programme to many employers.

On a different note, there is a concern that these amendments could have a negative impact on the participation in apprenticeships of people with learning

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difficulties who may not be likely to attain a certain level in mathematics and might, therefore, be unable to gain an apprenticeship. The Alliance for Inclusive Education has argued that this sort of requirement could risk precluding young people with learning difficulties from entering apprenticeship schemes. We suggest that that prescriptive approach is not justified, given the existence now of apprenticeship schemes such as the Tesco level 2 retail scheme, which currently makes no such demands and is thus open to young people with learning disabilities. I look forward to the Minister’s reassurances on this matter.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Layard on the rigour with which he wants apprenticeships to be specifically defined, but I question the wisdom of two areas of his Amendment 59. Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause suggests that the,

At the end of their training, apprentices are very proud of the qualifications that they receive, which are acknowledged by employers as involving work that includes both on-the-job and off-the-job training. That suggestion would complicate things and may even devalue one of the qualifications. I also question the wisdom of subsection (3) of the proposed new clause. Hard work has been done to get NVQs the credibility that they have. To suggest that there should be a halfway house between level 1 and level 2 would devalue both levels. Some students have a hard struggle to achieve either of those levels, but they then know the value of them. Where do we start defining what should be level 1 or level 2 and what might or might not fit? From my point of view, that would be a disastrous road to go down.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I was somewhat surprised at the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, given that we have previously voted on an amendment that included the mix of on-the-job and off-the-job training. I am reassured by the words of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that he supports off-the-job training because we on these Benches are very much with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in the notion that an apprenticeship includes not only training on the job but also an element of off-the-job training and that it is a continuing process of education. As the noble Lord rightly points out, if people move into an apprenticeship at the age of 16 and we want to increase the learning leaving age to 18, it is appropriate that there should be some continuing process of education within that. As we all know, in the current framework, quite often the off-the-job element is delivered within a college of further education. The concept of key skills has been very important within the framework. Sadly, rates of achievement in key skills have often been very low, but they have been rising considerably and a lot of emphasis is being put on this.

The noble Lord, Lord Layard, is probably the person whom I should ask this question. Am I not right in saying that the Education and Skills Act 2008 raised the learning leaving age to 18? Did it not include the stipulation that any young person going

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into work aged between 16 and 18 should have a minimum of 280 hours of off-the-job training over the course of a year? If that is the case, it is seven hours a week, 40 weeks a year, off-the-job education and training.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I do not want us to continue on a false premise. The Act did not specify off-the-job training; it talked about 280 guided learning hours.

6 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: In relation to guided learning hours and the concept of 250 hours off the job, we would expect those who are doing apprenticeships —in some senses, we regard apprenticeships as superior to jobs that have only guided learning hours attached to them—to have at least the equivalent if not better than that. I do not find difficulty in accepting the notion of seven hours a week, 40 weeks a year, or something equivalent, but I have difficulty in understanding what the words “off the work station” mean. Helpfully, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, has spelt out in his amendment what he thinks it means, but as far as I can see it could mean that you go to a company training room, rather than sitting right beside the machine that you are working with.

Equally, there are occasions when, frankly, you need to be at your work station for training rather than away from it, such as for health and safety training. There has to be some flexibility in the way in which we consider training. Yesterday I was talking with people from the building industry, the core of whom were roofing contractors. A lot of separate skills are involved in the building industry—plastering, tiling and so on—and the training, particularly the tool training, of people needs to take place at the work station. I rather mirror the thoughts of the noble Baroness, Lady Wall: we are with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, in regard to the general concept of off-the-job training and off-the-work-station training, but there has to be some element of flexibility to reflect the circumstances of particular trades.

Lord Elton: I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Layard, can put me right on one matter. As I read his amendments, they are designed to have effect solely in England and not in Wales. Am I right in deducing that that is his deliberate intention and, if so, what is the reason? Does he have greater confidence in the Welsh than in the English, or is there some other reason?

Lord Layard: I have not reflected on the detailed geographical aspect of the amendment but I am sure that it can be tidied up in one way or another.

Baroness Blackstone: I support everything that my noble friend Lord Layard has said and the Committee will not be surprised that I have put my name to the amendments. However, I want to pick up on one or two of the issues that have been raised by other speakers in this short debate.

I shall go through the five subsections of the proposed new clause but, before I do so, I wish to underline what my noble friend said. This goes to the heart of the Bill—at least the apprenticeship section of it. Unless we can secure high standards and high-quality apprenticeships, all our work in this House and in

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another place, and all the work that employers are doing, will be wasted. It is absolutely essential that apprenticeships are held in high regard by the young people who take them, by the other areas of the education system to which they might progress and by all employers. Unless we establish in the Bill that there are to be high standards and good quality, none of those things will happen. I make a plea to my noble friends the Ministers to take this seriously. Even if there are details in what is proposed that they may wish to modify or amend, I hope that they will accept the principle behind it.

I was a little surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said on 250 guided learning hours. I am delighted that the Conservative Front Bench supports the principle that an apprenticeship framework should be of a higher standard, that there should be a technical element in the qualification and that basic skills are important, but there is some inconsistency in the noble Lord’s commitment to those things and his suggestion that 250 hours of guided learning are not necessary. I do not understand how one can achieve that higher level of key skills in a young person, and a growth and development in their knowledge, without taking them off their particular daily tasks and teaching them in order to help them to develop in this way.

Day release is not a particularly new concept, as my noble friend said: it goes right back to the 1918 Act. It should not be enormously revolutionary for the employers who are taking part. Perhaps I may speak with my employer’s hat on for a moment. We are considering taking on some apprentices. However, I know perfectly well that wherever the apprentices go to work in the university that I run—helping in an office, helping a group of people responsible for security or helping with the transport that we provide, for example—they will not acquire that knowledge and those basic skills if they spend all their day in the workplace just being given some guidance. They will need that guidance, of course, but we will not achieve the quality that we want.

Perhaps I may pick up one other point made by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. There is of course a wide variety of apprenticeships. The amendments would merely establish a basic level. There may be some more demanding areas where the time off work needs to be greater—all the percentages that the Minister specified represented far more time off and away from the workplace for guided learning than the seven hours per week, 40 weeks a year that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to. There is therefore room for flexibility, as there should be, but it is the basic minimum that we are trying to establish here. It is surprising that the CBI should have taken the position that it has. I often want to support what the CBI says, but I do not in this respect. Responsible employers will see this rather differently.

The second issue is whether an element of the qualification should be concerned with knowledge and competence. I say to my noble friend Lady Wall that I have no problem if it is a single certificate; all that I am asking is that there should be a technical as well as a skills component, because otherwise we will not have the quality that I referred to earlier. That

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must be specified in the Bill. It would be better if the young apprentice went away saying, “I’ve got this technical certificate which I can take to another employer and I’ve got this certificate which is all about my skills”.

I think that every employer in the country would say that far too many young people and adults do not have decent basic skills—the noble Lord, Lord Moser, spoke about this at Second Reading. Their skills are sometimes so low that they can barely function in any job that makes any demands on them. It is of fundamental importance that every young person should continue. As a university vice-chancellor, I can say that many young people who even get as far as university do not have basic skills at the level that they should have. I therefore believe that we owe it to young people who are going through the apprenticeship system to help them in this way. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree with the proposal and support it and that he will accept that we need to specify this in the Bill.

Again, I was a little surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said about young people with learning difficulties, arguing that this would put them off. Young people with learning difficulties in particular need to be helped with these basic skills so that they can operate effectively not just at work but in their lives. They need to be given even more help in this respect, not less, and I do not think that in any way they will be put off.

On Second Reading, I mentioned the provision of a mentor. Many young people need a lot of help and support. They are not yet mature adults and many may not get a huge amount of help and support at home. They need someone who will provide them with encouragement, who will hold their hand when something is going wrong for them, who will give them a bit more confidence, who will praise them when praise is due, but who will also give them constructive criticism when needed. I do not believe that a mass system of apprenticeship will work unless we can put something of this sort in place. It should be a requirement that every employer does that. I do not believe that it would be difficult for employers to provide a mentor; they would want to have someone who takes responsibility for the young person on a day-to-day, week-by-week basis.

I repeat that the new clause would put into the Bill a series of small changes that would bring about an apprenticeship system of which we could all be proud and that was of a standard and quality that is absolutely necessary and fundamental.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I have a great deal of sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard. The provision is even more important because we are dealing with a group of young people who until now have not been required to stay at school until 18. That is quite a change in their lives. I would hope for the maximum flexibility in dealing with those aged 16 to 18.

I take the same line as the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, in that I would think it a pity if one had to lay down a certain number of guided learning hours. I

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would certainly want flexibility in that and I would hope that some of that learning could be conducted off the premises. However, I am more concerned about the apprenticeship framework and the intention to move from level 1 to level 11/2, as it were. That could have problems for those with learning difficulties. I am more for encouraging people to move slowly up to this level, but one does not want to put them off.

Thirdly, a mentor is crucial because this is a new situation. You are dealing with something that the vast majority of these young people will not want to do anyhow—that is, stay on at school. As we heard in Question Time, a number of young people of this age are already out of school and we have the terrifying task of trying to get them back into the educational system. I have a lot of sympathy with both points of view, but the ideas behind the amendment are important. I hope therefore that they will be taken away by the Minister and that on Report he will come back with an amendment that will be easier for us all to agree with.

6.15 pm

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I think that we are agreed on all sides of the Committee that equality is the most important aspect of the apprenticeship scheme. We have reiterated that many times during the debate. We have had a great deal of discussion on earlier amendments about the importance of the right degree of supervision of apprentices when they are in the workplace. Where differences occur is, perhaps, in the degree of rigidity in the frameworks that should be specified; I have a great deal of sympathy with amendments from my own Front Bench asking for a certain amount of flexibility in the number of hours. It is fine to lay down a minimum number, but there should be flexibility beyond that.

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