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I feel some considerable surprise about the second paragraph of subsection (1) of Amendment 59, which says that,

I am particularly surprised at this coming from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who has so much experience in education. It is surely absolutely acceptable for apprentices to be set a specific assignment, which they will do as private, unsupervised study, provided that the assignment that is produced is of sufficient quality and is on time. It is very important that young people between 16 and 19 learn to study privately, in an unsupervised way; it is one of the skills that they will carry through life. Provided that they are doing it in a guided way, with an assignment expected—

Lord Layard: Our amendment is not saying that they should not do unsupervised study; it says simply that that would not count to the minimum number of hours of supervised study.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his clarification, but my objection remains. Part of the number of hours that count should be the hours that pupils spend conducting their own study and direction of research or learning, as they do at university level, for people of 19 to 22,

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provided that there is evidence that they have done it—in other words, that they have an assignment that they produce at the end of it. That is a very important part of the skills that they learn. I would be very sorry if this proposal were incorporated into the Bill.

Lord Elton: The last two noble Baronesses said everything that I was going to say. I just wish to endorse what they have said.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Layard, is trying to achieve by this. When someone becomes an apprentice at 16, he should not be expected to spend his life just in the training part of it, acquiring the skills in engineering or the skills he would learn in apprenticeship in, say, the building trade. He must have a more rounded education, particularly in English and maths and, I would imagine, IT. For any young apprentice, whatever they are studying—and this comes back to the point about technical skills that the noble Baroness made—IT should be included.

The dilemma that the noble Lord is trying to answer is the one at the heart of the Government’s policy of extending education to 18. What do you do with 14 to 18 year-olds? That is really the dilemma. I happen to be a very strong believer in the 14 to 19 curriculum—and I speak as one of the authors of the national curriculum. The Government were right to identify the 14 to 19 curriculum four or five years ago, with Sir Michael Tomlinson. It has taken a long time to get to it, but the instrument for delivering it will be the diplomas. The Government are starting out on that course this year. The problem is that a youngster who becomes an apprentice at 16 need not have any institutional framework at all; he leaves school and just becomes an apprentice. There is no institutional framework for him to go to, unless he happens to enrol himself at a local FE college or his employer says that he should.

Therefore, to deliver the 14 to 19 curriculum and obtain to a large extent the ends sought by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, you need new institutions. You need 14 to 19 technical colleges. Before Lord Dearing died, he and I were pioneering those with the full support of the Government, I am glad to say. We got one off the ground, with a few more about to be announced, we hope. The idea is that youngsters can be recruited at 14 as young apprentices. Half the intake will be young apprentices. Because they are still at a school, the young apprentices will still do GCSEs in English, maths, science and IT, and possibly a diploma. They could do a mixture of English, maths and a diploma. The diploma counts as three GCSEs. The point is that even the young apprentices would get that rounded experience from 14 to 16.

If they are still part of the institution, as they are expected to be at 16, they have an anchor—the institution—to come back to. As that institution is backed by a university or FE college, they also have its prestigious help and advice. My point is that by coming back to an institution—to a university technical college—they would have a framework around them to encourage them to have exactly the sort of rounded education that the noble Lord is talking about, with which we all agree.

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I hope that we will be able to establish more of these colleges. They are, of course, experimental, but it is the only way that 14 to 19 education can be delivered effectively. It is one of the best solutions for telling youngsters, “You are going to stay on at 16”. The institutions will be technical and vocational, but youngsters will also take the subjects that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, mentioned.

I have some sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, said about having half standards between NVQs. I was one of the Ministers who launched NVQs a generation ago. It has taken a bit of time to get them established over the years, but they are now and I would not bring in variations of halves and all the rest of it. I am not suggesting that the Government should commit themselves totally to what I have advocated for university technical colleges, but a solution along those lines will eventually emerge in English education and they would be very popular.

Germany has had such colleges since 1945. Rab Butler left them. They were disbanded in the 1950s because they were infra dig, greasy rags, and everybody wanted to go to the school on the hill. But I submit to the Committee that a technical college from 14 to 19, with young apprentices and apprentices working alongside students towards foundation degrees, is the long-term solution.

Baroness Blackstone: On the halfway point between level 1 and level 2, which was raised by my noble friend, I would not die in a ditch for this. One way of solving the problem would be to say that any young person starting an apprenticeship who had not achieved level 1 would have to be helped to achieve level 1. That might apply to some young people with learning difficulties. All those who had achieved level 1 should be asked to try to achieve level 2. But we would have to be realistic if we went down that road. Quite a lot of young people starting on this framework would find it impossible to get to level 2. In a sense, there would be a built-in element of failure. However, as long as we allowed them to proceed to the next stage in the apprenticeship system even if they had not acquired level 2 in the basic apprenticeship, I would be willing to modify the new clause in order to take into account the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and my noble friend Lady Wall.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I want to supplement what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, just said. In terms of reaching level 2, achieving an A to C grade in English or maths GCSE is quite difficult, but we are introducing a new qualification called functional skills. Nobody quite knows yet what functional skills will involve, but to take the English element, one of the things that employers constantly complain about is that employees cannot do such things as put together a short comprehensive report, or write a business letter. I would imagine that when you are talking about English functional skills, this is precisely the sort of thing that you are going to be involved with; similarly for maths, that this would include some elementary concepts of statistics and accounting. If you are an apprentice working in this sort of area, it is extremely important to have some knowledge of

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elementary accounts. One would hope that these functional skills are going to be perhaps more approachable for the general run of students, as opposed to the more academic maths and English GCSEs.

Lord Lucas: I hope we will not make the mistakes we made with GCSEs, in producing a curriculum at least half of which has no relevance to at least 90 per cent of the population. I have spent my life with figures, one way or another, and when I took my sons through GCSEs, I recognised that I had never used, and could not conceive of using, about half of the curriculum. I suppose they might be used in certain specialist circumstances.

If we are going to produce a functional skills curriculum, then let us use the flexibility we have in the system to make sure that what we are asking of an apprentice is a set of mathematics and English that has a relevance to the apprenticeship that they are doing and the career they might follow. First, that produces the motivation to get it right, and secondly, it produces a real qualification at the end of it. I do not really care if my plumber can parle Shakespeare—I would be delighted if he does, it will add to the quality of his life, but it should not be a requirement of an apprenticeship, even at the advanced level.

I support my noble friend in what he says about flexibility, but I am worried about who the guardian of this flexibility is supposed to be, if we allow it into the system. If it is entirely the employers who are running this system, and who are saying how many guided learning hours should get into an individual qualification, then the pressures on the whole are going to be all in the direction of reducing the amount of guided leaning hours, until we get to the situation we have now in universities. I would be hard put to identify more than about 10 that my daughter received in an entire three years’ education—she was either being lectured at or reading by herself. Actual contact with academics, even at quite decent universities, has been reduced to extremely low levels. You can get lectures off a computer and you can read from a computer. The equivalent is staying at your workstation and absorbing some computer-generated learning, all of which is becoming much better designed and is working much better. That surely must be the pressure that employers will be under as apprenticeships evolve.

If we want something other than that, what mechanism are we putting in place to make sure that there is pressure in that direction? Otherwise we get into the same problems we had with examination quality, where the pressure is all in one direction—to make them gradually easier. That is why we have Ofqual in the Bill. I would like at this stage to avoid that problem by making sure that we design in pressures in the right direction. However, I do not see what the pressures are to keep the independence and quality of learning up, rather than letting it all be absorbed in direct learning at the workplace, which is, as I say, getting better and easier.

I like the idea in subsection (2) in Amendment 59 of the two separate qualifications. This has worked extremely well for music examinations. If you get level 5 in flute, there are two level 5s—level 5 practical and level 5 theory, and you can go through the whole system

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without touching theory. One of the finalists in the BBC’s conducting competition was a man who had made his career in music without being able to read it. It was a challenge to him to come up against something where he was required to learn to read music. I think he did it extremely well. There are a lot of careers for which the practical knowledge is an amplification, and is necessary to some elements of it, but is not tied in to the ability to perform it to a very high level. So I think that the separation of the two—again, if done flexibly; if it is right for that particular qualification—seems to have attractions and to let through particularly people with learning difficulties of all sorts of varieties who find, for one reason or another, the theoretical side hard.

I do not know whether we still do it, but there was a moment when we suddenly insisted that you could not be a teacher of dance in a school unless you had GCSE mathematics. I have always thought that that was totally ridiculous. You just do not need maths to teach dance. It is an enhancement to your life, but it should not be a qualification. We should not, particularly when dealing with practical qualifications, build in obstacles that are irrelevant to people's eventual performance in the workplace. Yes, the economic side is an enhancement, it may enable people to reach higher. It should always be there as part of the offering and encouraged, but it should not be put in people's way in terms of getting a qualification.

I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on subsection (5) of the new clause. I think that it is a great help to a young person to have an individual mentor. You may end up with a nightmare of a mentor but most people adapt to this extremely well, particularly with a little training. Mentoring schemes run very well in many good schools where the older pupils mentor the younger ones. Most people are capable of it. As I say, with a little support and training in how to be a good mentor, it is something that is enormously supportive. I think that it should be built into the requirements.

6.30 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I congratulate all those who have taken part on an absolutely fascinating debate which has spanned the full spectrum of opinion regarding whether we should have clearly defined standards or a large amount of flexibility. I shall endeavour to address all the contributions. I do so with trepidation as two former education Ministers have entered the debate in addition to my noble friend Lord Layard. I used to wake up worrying about these kinds of scenarios.

My noble friends’ amendment sets out five specific requirements for the SASE. I wholeheartedly support the intention behind their amendment, which I believe seeks to establish what we all want. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has come back and embraced quality again, because that is what we all want. We want to protect the integrity of the brand. We want to ensure that young people are provided with relevant valuable training which not only forms the basis for the job they may currently be doing, although that

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may satisfy one group of them, but will produce a productive and successful future career. That is a common goal in what we want from apprenticeships. It really is a joy to behold when you see it working well—when you see the development of young people, and some not so young people, and find them going back into learning again. There is then no holding them back. There is a real shared consensus on the objectives. I suspect that the problem will be how we get there.

One of the difficulties is that we talk about apprenticeships as if there were just one version of an apprenticeship. There is not. My noble friend Lord Layard, whom I esteem highly, referred to serious apprenticeships, but they are all serious apprenticeships. It does not matter whether they take place in Tesco or McDonalds or at the high end of British Aerospace, they are all serious apprenticeships. They are just addressing different workplace environments. We have to remember that.

In my remarks I want to address the genuine objectives described by my noble friends Lord Layard and Lady Blackstone and other noble Lords and pick up some of the points made. First, my noble friend Lord Layard described merged qualifications as the slippery slope. We hope that it will not be a slippery slope. Although there will be merged qualifications, I assure him and others who expressed a concern that the competence component and the knowledge component of the merged qualifications will be a separate assessment. We understand the importance of ensuring that we address both aspects of that.

My noble friend also made a reference to functional level 1, saying that everyone has achieved it. Actually, I wish that that were the case. I was at an academy recently, and there was a stall for young people who were interested in electrical apprenticeships. I spoke to the person who was supervising it and explaining to young people what it entailed. His comment to me, out of their earshot, was that it was unfortunate that many of the young people interested in the apprenticeship had not yet met the basic standards of functional literacy and numeracy. So we are making strides, but we must not underestimate that. Many young people will need help before they can embark upon an apprenticeship, which we aim to give them. I will come back to some of the other points.

The provisions in Part 1 are the key building blocks that will deliver an outcome of quality and relevant valuable training. But these structures need to be flexible to allow for the apprenticeship programme to develop over time. That is why, rather than dealing in the Bill with the matters referred to in the amendment, our firm intention is to deal with them through the specification of apprenticeship standards in England, or SASE.

During the consultation on the SASE, one of the areas that attracted the most attention was the issue of guided learning hours. We have been throwing terms around rather indiscriminately in this debate. We have a requirement of 280 guided learning hours from the previous Act, when we raised the participation rate, but that merely said “guided learning hours” and made no reference to whether they should take place

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either on or off the job; whereas, of course, my noble friend Lord Layard proposes a minimum of 250 guided learning hours off the workstation.

I assure my noble friends that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that all apprenticeship frameworks contain a minimum specified number of guided learning hours. There remains debate to be had about the definition of guided learning hours and how many guided learning hours apprentices should be expected to undertake overall and away from the workstation. I commend my noble friend Lord Layard in that he was trying to be helpful in talking about, for instance, apprentices receiving new material online at their regular computer. I saw that as a helpful acknowledgement, addressing a real situation. We are currently working through the responses to the consultation on these questions, and I will certainly take careful account of the views expressed through their amendment by my noble friends in that context.

I do not accept the inference of Amendment 58A tabled by the Conservative Front Bench that it would impose an unreasonable and inflexible burden on employers to include in the SASE a minimum requirement for off-the-job training. It would depend on the minimum. It should be a core part of any apprenticeship, and it is the minimum that anyone embarking on an apprenticeship should have a right to expect.

I shared the noble Lord’s concern about the question of too much rigidity and the important point he made when he said that we must be careful that we do not end up constructing apprenticeships where employers say, “Quite frankly, it’s not worth the trouble; I don’t want to do it”. I am as conscious of that as he is. That is why I recently met both representatives of the CBI and a wide range—and I mean a wide range—of employers. During that discussion, it became evident that there was no clear understanding about what we meant by “off the job”. When we started to explore it, there was much more receptiveness to the idea that they probably could meet a basic minimum; notice that I have not said what that should be, because we are talking through that.

There is a balance to be struck here, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that he sort of hovers between the two. He feels that there is currently no requirement on employers. The vast majority of employers take this seriously. We have very few examples of employers taking on apprentices and then not honouring their obligations. Nevertheless, we have to take into account what we feel should be a reasonable set of minimum standards that could be relevant across a wide range of apprenticeships. Most of the more traditional apprenticeships that we talk about will easily meet those requirements by a mixture of day release, weekly release or online learning. I am still concerned to ensure that we do not imagine that all apprenticeships are of one kind. I stress how important this consultation is. We were there to hear their views on several issues in the consultation, but specifically on the proposals on guided learning hours. As a result of those discussions, I am confident that we will be able to reach a compromise that addresses the points raised by the contrasting amendments that we have debated today. Just as an aside, we also discussed whether ICT should form a

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part of basic skills and there is a possibility that we might even reach an agreement on that, provided we set the right levels.

On the second limb of my noble friends’ amendment, I am happy to confirm that the SASE will make it clear that all apprenticeship frameworks must contain a competence-based and a knowledge-based element. In the vast majority of instances these will be undertaken as two separate qualifications. However, it is worth noting that with the creation of the qualifications and credit framework, there will be an opportunity to simplify the existing qualifications system by including both elements in one qualification to make the system more flexible and responsive to employer need, while maintaining quality through separate assessment. The framework has been applauded by employers for giving them the kind of modular qualifications that they want. It also embraces NVQs, for which I share the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. We took a long time to establish NVQs but we need to retain them.

I am also happy to endorse the principle that apprentices should be encouraged to improve their skills in English and mathematics. Every sector requires a varying level of competence in English and maths. In many cases an apprentice’s skills in these areas will develop as a natural consequence of being in the workplace on a daily basis. In other areas, more formal instruction and qualifications in English and mathematics may be more appropriate. We prefer not to be overly prescriptive. Some apprenticeships, including all at level 3, will require level 2 English and maths, for example. Requiring apprentices to pass particular exams could have the unintended effect of discouraging young people from taking up the valuable opportunities provided by apprenticeships, particularly those for whom the main attraction is to focus on gaining the sector-specific knowledge and competences that apprenticeships provide. It is about getting the balance right. It is better for the employer and the individual to decide upon the precise nature and level of English and mathematics knowledge included in the apprenticeship. Such flexibility creates opportunities for learners with learning difficulties or disabilities.

On the fourth limb of their amendment, I can also reassure my noble friends that functional skills in English and maths at level 2 will form part of an advanced apprenticeship if the individual has not already reached that standard. I can reassure my noble friends that every apprentice should have a mentor. We propose that the prescribed terms of the apprenticeship agreement would require that the level of mentoring support is set out as part of that agreement. I can speak only from my own experience as an apprentice. Sometimes you had more than one mentor as you progressed through various parts of the business.

I want now to pick up some of the other points that were made. I have already made some reference to the question of those learners with learning difficulties and the requirement for literacy and numeracy qualifications. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was worried that the requirement might put off some people in those circumstances. Our view is that all apprentices should be encouraged to improve functional

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English and maths. We are considering, with the Special Educational Consortium, the RNIB and others how frameworks can be made more accessible and meet an accessibility benchmark. We are working hard on that area.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, was concerned about how you would deliver targets if you do not ensure that there is sufficient flexibility for employers. There is flexibility for sector skills councils to set framework requirements in line with their employer needs, subject to meeting the specifications and standards framework, obviously. We are looking at how much flexibility can be given on guided learning. We certainly do not think that we are dumbing down progression by having only a level 1 requirement for functional skills. Level 1 is the minimum, but employers and sector skills councils have flexibility to raise that level where they deem it appropriate, depending on the demands of the framework. I have dealt with the question of merging qualifications.

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