Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Clause 81 gives the chief executive of skills funding the power to secure provision of facilities for apprenticeship training for two groups. The first covers people above compulsory school age but under 19, the second, those aged 19 or over but under 25 who are subject to a learning difficulty assessment. Amendment 175A would place a duty on the chief executive of skills funding when providing apprenticeship training to have regard to the provision of appropriate apprenticeship training facilities (that he would have to ensure were) suitable to the needs of the young person being trained. However, Clause 81(2) already sets out the criteria that the chief executive must have regard to when determining whether apprenticeship training is suitable, and that includes learning difficulties.

In our view the duty to provide suitable training would already cover facilities as it could not be delivered without them and, as such, we do not think that Amendment 175A is necessary.

We sympathise with Amendments 213 and 214 and welcome the recognition of the great importance of meeting the very different needs of apprentices, particularly those with learning difficulties and disabilities in accessing written, web-based and other materials. I am pleased to assure noble Lords that materials produced by the National Apprenticeship Service are developed to meet the guidelines set by the Government's Central Office of Information for design and print. They are based on the COI's principle of ensuring that printed and other materials are accessible to as wide an audience as possible, and in particular to disabled people.

I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the internet. Computers can be a boon to some but they do not solve all the problems, nor do they absolve us of the responsibility of ensuring that other materials, such as printed matter, are also available in the appropriate formats. I reassure him that the COI informability guidelines are still current. They should be available from our office but we will forward the exact location to him.

Clause 112 places a duty on the chief executive of skills funding to have regard to the needs of persons aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties, other than those with a learning difficulty assessment. Clause 81 requires that when securing the provision of facilities for apprenticeship training for 16 to 18 year-olds and persons aged 19 to 24 with a learning difficulty assessment, the chief executive of skills funding must have regard to any learning difficulties persons may have.

To discharge that duty, and duties under the Disability Discrimination Act, the chief executive must ensure that all apprentices are aware of the support available, including the two schemes specified in the amendment: the Additional Learning Support and Access to Work schemes. We are conscious of the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about the burden on employers. I recommend that smaller employers consider group training associations, where some of the administrative burdens and facilities may be shared.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 304

That is well worth it for smaller and medium-sized employers. Also, employers and disabled employees, including apprentices, can secure support in the workplace through the Access to Work scheme under the DWP. Support through Access to Work is tailored to the needs of individual learners, so avenues of support are there.

Indeed, the Learning and Skills Council has a specific champion to represent the interests of learners with learning difficulties and disabilities in policy-making and to promote their best interests. I fully expect those arrangements to continue under the chief executive of skills funding. Concern has been expressed about how that support can be marshalled to best support apprentices with disabilities. My department has offered to broker a meeting between the Special Educational Consortium, the National Apprenticeship Service and the Department for Work and Pensions to help ensure alignment of the delivery of Additional Learning Support and Access to Work. I have asked for a report on progress by the end of February 2010.

All learning providers and employers have existing duties under the Disability Discrimination Act not to discriminate against people with disabilities and to make reasonable adjustments for them through using either the Additional Learning Support or the Access to Work scheme. The National Apprenticeship Service is working to ensure that apprenticeships are accessible to learners with learning difficulties. I recently went to a scheme in north Hertfordshire, the ALLFIE scheme, and met some of the young people with significant disabilities who are involved in training and apprenticeships.

As the noble Lord, Lord Low, acknowledged, the two main websites meet internationally recognised standards. To be honest, I would expect nothing less as they are recent websites. If we could not get them to meet the standards, we would have been failing. The chief executive of skills funding will be under duties imposed by the DDA, and Amendment 213 would not add anything to those duties. I hope that, in view of these reassurances, and the fact that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that learners with learning difficulties and disabilities can access apprenticeships and training for work, the noble Lord will feel able that to withdraw the amendment.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his contribution. His point about putting information on the internet not in itself being enough is well taken. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for her support. I thank the Minister for his response. I will look again at the clauses that he mentioned and read carefully his words on the impact on employers. For this evening, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 175A withdrawn.

Amendments 176 to 178 not moved.

Clause 81 agreed.

Clause 82 : Arrangements and co-operation with local education authorities

Amendments 179 and 180 not moved.

Clause 82 agreed.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 305

Clause 83 : Encouragement of training provision etc for persons within section 81

Amendments 181 to 185 not moved.

Clause 83 agreed.

Clause 84 : Education and training for persons aged 19 or over and others subject to adult detention

Amendment 186

Moved by Baroness Sharp of Guildford

186: Clause 84, page 55, line 37, leave out "reasonable" and insert "proper"

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment 187. We now move on to education and training for persons aged 19 and over. Clause 84(1) firmly states:

"The Chief Executive must secure the provision of reasonable facilities for ... education suitable to the requirements of ... persons who are aged 19 or over".

The weasel word "reasonable" emerges. It is one that we are fairly familiar with. The definition of what constitutes "reasonable" in this section repeats the legal formula around reasonable used in the Learning and Skills Act 2000, but it differs from the more demanding duty set out in respect of provision leading to certain qualifications.

Clause 85 states:

"The Chief Executive must secure the provision of proper facilities for relevant education",

and the relevant education is listed in Schedule 5, which we will have a look at in the next group of amendments. It relates to education provided free of charge: basic literacy and numeracy, a first full level 2 qualification and a first full level 3 qualification for people aged under 25.

The overall effect of the reasonable/proper distinction, which is not made in the education and training of young people, is that most adult learning is pushed to the end of the queue for resources. Clause 191 uses the formulation,

in relation to children's centres for certain of their duties. It does not feel it necessary to use the convoluted wording of "proper" and "reasonable" that we see in this clause. Therefore, in Amendment 186, we have adopted that wording and suggested that in Clause 84 we leave out "reasonable" and insert "proper". Amendment 187 removes subsection (3) and inserts:

"In performing its duties under this section, the Chief Executive must make the best use of its resources and in particular avoid provision that might give rise to disproportionate expenditure".

That seems a reasonable formulation of what we would like to see.

When needs are greater than resources, some form of rationing is inevitable. The question is whether this formulation, based on chronological age, is fit for purpose. A public debate to consider alternative or more graduated approaches based on educational needs is required. One alternative might be to consider a broader range of educational entitlements available to all at different ages in the course of their lives.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 306

There is much talk about demand-led education. The distinction between pre-19 and post-19 education is that post-19 is now to be demand-led. The demand is to come from employers, through programmes such as Train to Gain and apprenticeships, and from individuals. The problem with providing education for individuals is that at the moment the only individuals for whom it is provided are in essence those who have either no qualifications at all or limited qualifications. We shall look at this again when we come to Clause 85, which says that it is provided only to those aged 19 or under who,

9.15 pm

The Government have had discussions about reintroducing some form of individual learning account. Quite clearly, if we are going to move to a demand-led system for individuals, we have to encourage them to demand education and training in this way, so some sort of encouragement in the form of subsidies of one sort or another might well be necessary.

I do not know how far the Government are moving in the direction of the individual learning account, or some equivalent whereby the individual can perhaps bank credits towards courses, but I bring to their attention the recent publication from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, Learning Through Life. One of its suggestions is that the Government should bring back some equivalent to the individual learning accounts in the form of entitlements that can be built on through life. The institute suggests that there should be a,

The Government are providing this.

NIACE also suggests that there should be a,

and a,

This suggestion-that there should be what some people call a learning bank into which the Government, employers and the individual contribute and which can build up over time and be used to help to fund the individual-is very important.

My amendments highlight the distinction between "reasonable" and "proper". It is hard that adult education is being pushed to the sidelines by this Government and that we have very limited provision. I beg to move.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, to be brief I will address only our Amendment 188A, which has been tabled in response to a concern expressed by the British Chambers of Commerce that Clause 85(3)(b) restricts the ability of people to reskill at the same level, for example in a new trade, or at one that the chief executive considers to be lower than a qualification that they already have. We would like to probe this area specifically to ask the Government to explain

14 Oct 2009 : Column 307

their views about those who wish to reskill at an equivalent or lower level in order to address their very real difficulties in light of the current economic climate.

Will the Minister inform your Lordships of the reasons for this provision in the Bill? Was it just a matter of funding? If so, will he say what it would cost to extend the provision and explain how his figures are calculated? I imagine that these calculations have been done. We understand that funding considerations are an important factor, but perhaps he can reassure businesses that are concerned that an important part of a skills policy agenda should be to place an emphasis on reskilling and not just on upskilling. What action are the Government taking in this regard?

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I very much support these amendments, particularly Amendment 186, which has been well explained, and Amendment 187, which, if anything, is a little tame. I would rather go along with the approach taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp: we should be looking at an entitlement to appropriate education during a lifetime. There are late developers and people who have been out of education for all sorts of reasons. They would, incidentally, cost us huge sums of money if we did not take advantage of a sudden change of heart; they could end up in prison and we know the cost of that. I hope, then, that we will not see for much longer adult education pushed to the sidelines, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said. It does not make sense and to me it all brings back how much we all miss Lord Dearing, who was very much on these lines. I willingly support the amendments.

Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I have a probing amendment in this group on Clause 87 that may go some way to adding to the questions, or possibly to producing part of the answer. Clause 87(1) says that regulations may make provision that,

In paragraph (b), it is the other way round; it says that,

I suppose that these provisions have been included to introduce the sort of flexibility that was just referred to and I am sure that we have all found that many people do not fit into any chosen bureaucratic model.

Flexibility to grant exceptions to rigid qualification rules is undoubtedly welcome. A rapidly changing and complex world demands flexibility, but is this clause not a clumsy way of going about it? Subsection (1), in effect, allows black to be ruled as white and white to be ruled as black, thus presumably allowing some study or employment for which the person was not originally qualified. The problem created by the clause, however, is large. I do not see how it can cope with individuals needing sensible dispensations from the rules. I suspect that regulations, if we need them, will not deal with individuals. Also, in all practicality it will not be possible to have regulations very often, so that when they appear they will need to cover classes of person, thus reducing flexibility and bringing in infrequent changes to what is otherwise a convoy system.

14 Oct 2009 : Column 308

Finally, if I have read the schedule correctly, this clause seems to have something to do with level 3-and, I therefore suppose, some release to start again on a way forward to level 3. Really, this clause will not do what is intended. Arrangements to achieve flexibility need to be much more clearly stated in the Bill, as people will need that flexibility; in this clause, however, it is discretionary and in the gift of Ministers. The Government need to amend this clause so that it can do what I believe is intended.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I thoroughly agree with my noble friend's last speech. It seems to me that the noble Lords on the Benches opposite ought to have sympathy for those many of their colleagues in another place who might find themselves needing to reskill at some stage next year, just as I had to reskill some 12 years ago. It seems to me that, as my noble friend says, individual flexibility is needed-that is, the ability to look at individual cases and say, "Yes, it is reasonable even for someone who has got to degree level to go back and get a vocational qualification in something for which there is actually a demand". This is particularly important for people in the last 20 years or so of their working lives where the original career in which they set out may no longer have room for them. They will have been displaced by younger, more recently trained people. However, there may be many occupations where their accumulated wisdom is appreciated, but at a substantially lower level than the qualifications that they have reached. It is important that we have a system that offers individual flexibility. I also have great sympathy for the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord De Mauley, which is very much on the same grounds.

I do not have much time for the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The problem is that this clause conflates the general run of adults aged over 19 with those who are in prison. If we go down the route proposed by the noble Baroness, we would end up with the DCSF paying half the rebuilding costs of the prisons in England because there is no way, with the kit that we have on the ground at the moment, that reasonable educational facilities can be provided, let alone proper ones. There have to be considerable let-outs in this clause to allow for the current condition of the prison estate. In this context I should declare that I am married to someone who runs a charity that works in prison education, so that gives me a particular interest in this clause.

I have two questions. First, what is the implication of the word "and" at the end of line 40 on page 55? It suggests that the two sub-paragraphs should be taken together so that the education that the chief executive is allowed to provide must be suitable for both groups. If that is the case, a pretty restricted range of education will be allowed. I would have thought that the proper word to use here is "or" so that the provision is for education that is suitable for either of the two groups. No doubt the noble Lord will inform me about this.

I do not require a response to my other question now if none is available, but will await some later thoughts. One of the problems with the old arrangements has been the focus of the Learning and Skills Council on education and qualifications that lead directly to

14 Oct 2009 : Column 309

employment. That is quite appropriate in its work outside prisons but within them there is a concentration of learners who have not even reached level zero. They have rejected education. They are illiterate, innumerate and do not want to be anything else. A suite of programmes designed specifically for prisoners is needed to get them on the ladder. It has been a long and difficult fight to persuade the Learning and Skills Council that such programmes are required. I think that the council had at last begun to accept it when it was told that it was about to be abolished. I would like to be sure that the new body picks up where the council got to rather than starts again at the position that the council was in when it was founded.

9.30 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, this Government have made a record level of investment in education and training, but public finances are finite. I reject the idea that these are weasel words. They are candid and recognise that financial resources are not infinitely available, so we must focus resources on those who will benefit the most. I must admit when I heard that adult learning was being pushed to the back of the queue, I asked for the figures on adult education. Something like £4 billion is being spent on it, including £1 billion on the Train to Gain scheme and nearly £1 billion on apprenticeships. It does not seem to me that the Government do not understand the importance of training and skills. We are aware that we might not have met every single demand, but we have made enormous progress.

Amendments 186 and 187 would remove the ability of the chief executive to exercise judgment about what training can be provided, taking account of the available resources, while Amendment 188A would give all those adults learners who already possess a certain level of qualification the same funding priority as those who have the fewest skills. There is the rub-where do we concentrate our resources? We believe that we should in the first instance ensure that the people who need it are getting a first qualification.

We cannot fund all requests for learning from all adults. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that taking current demand from adults for vocational level 2 courses as a guide, we would face increased costs of some £727 million over the next two years. It is not that we are not sympathetic; it is a question of where we focus resources.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke about the concept of lifelong learning and the individual learning account. I absolutely agree with her: we are supportive of that concept. In today's climate, there should be no situation where people somehow abandon learning. We know that it is good for people, whatever age they are at. We are therefore in the process of introducing a new skills account, learning lessons-as I think we need to-from the individual learning accounts, where we know we had certain problems. Trials of the skills accounts will be available in all areas from early 2010. I hope that that will be seen as good news.

We must set clear priorities for funding. The Bill gives higher funding priority to those adults who lack the basic platform of skills needed for employability and progression, and to live successful lives. This does

14 Oct 2009 : Column 310

not mean that other qualifications cannot be supported-far from it. Funding will continue to be safeguarded for informal learning and will be joined up with other public, private and voluntary sector activity.

The chief executive can also fund courses for individuals to take second qualifications at level 2 and higher, but it would not be right to create entitlements to this, as it would put unnecessary pressure on the chief executive's budget and potentially force down the quality of provision, as funding would be spread too thinly.

At the same time, we recognise that there will be some individuals who already have qualifications but who have lost their literacy or numeracy skills over time and need help to improve their basic skills in these areas. We intend to use the regulation-making power in Clause 87(1) to allow such individuals to do a second qualification in specified circumstances, because we recognise the importance of literacy and numeracy skills in providing the platform for people getting back into employment.

Amendment 197 would remove this regulation-making power. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, will agree about the unique importance of literacy and numeracy skills in enabling all individuals to function daily in work and to support their families. I stress that, other than for those particular exceptions, first qualifications should remain the focus of the duties of the chief executive.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page