Financial Support for Students Undertaking Apprenticeships

Technical and Further Education Bill – in the House of Commons am 2:47 pm ar 19 Ebrill 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

This Bill was introduced to transform the prestige and culture of technical education, providing young people with the skills that they, and our country, need. It provides necessary protection for students should colleges get into financial difficulty, and ensures that the most disadvantaged are able to climb the ladder of opportunity. It left this House after thoughtful scrutiny and, after similar diligence in the other place, I am delighted that it returns for consideration here today.

I ask hon. Members to support the Government on all amendments made to the Bill in the other place except amendments 1 and 6, where we have tabled an amendment in lieu. Amendment 1 impinges on the financial privilege of this House. I urge the House to disagree to that amendment and will ask the Reasons Committee to ascribe financial privilege as the reason.

The amendment, costing more than £200 million per year by financial year 2020-21, would mean that the parents of apprentices aged under 20 would continue to be eligible for child benefit for those young people as if they were in approved education and training. It is an issue in which I have a great interest. Apprenticeships provide a ladder of opportunity, and we should seek to remove obstacles to social mobility wherever we can.

A young person’s first full-time job is a big change for them and for their family, and it marks a move into financial independence that should be celebrated. I know that the adjustment can be challenging for the young person learning how to manage a starting wage and new outgoings and for parents who may experience a fall in income from the benefits they previously received for that dependent child. One of the core principles of an apprenticeship is that it is a job, and it is treated accordingly in the benefit system. It is a job that offers high-quality training and that widens opportunities. Moreover, more than 90% of apprentices continue into another job on completion. Most apprentices are paid above the minimum wage. The 2016 apprenticeship pay survey showed that the average wage for all level 2 and 3 apprentices was £6.70.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

Although what the Minister is saying is correct, in that those apprentices will be paid, taking child benefit away from low-income families will be a disincentive for them to take up apprenticeships. Those families will be pressed to stay in education so that they can continue to get child benefit. Is that not the case?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

The crucial point is that the vast majority of level 2 and 3 apprentices are paid more than £6.30 an hour, and 90% of them go on to jobs or additional education afterwards.

The apprenticeship programme already supports low-income groups. The funding system gives targeted support to the participation of care leavers, and this year we are making £60 million available to training providers to support take-up by individuals from disadvantaged areas. We are committed to ensuring that high-quality apprenticeships are as accessible as possible to people from all backgrounds. We will take forward the Maynard recommendations for people with learning difficulties and our participation target for black and minority ethnic groups.

With regard to the amendment’s suggestion of a bursary for care leavers, I understand that some young people have greater challenges to overcome. That is why we are providing £1,000 to employers and training providers when they take on care leavers who are under 25. We will also pay 100% of the cost of training for small employers who employ care leavers. There is scope for apprenticeships to benefit social mobility even more. We are working across Government to use the apprenticeship programme to extend opportunities.

I am grateful to Lord Storey for tabling Lords amendment 6, which introduces a new clause into the Bill to require Ofsted to take into account the quality of the careers offer when conducting standard inspections of further education colleges. I welcome the work that Ofsted has already done to sharpen its approach. Matters relating to careers provision feature in all the graded judgments made by Ofsted when inspecting FE and skills providers. Destination data—published in 16 to 18 performance tables for the first time this year—are also becoming an established part of college accountability. Those are important steps.

I pay tribute to the good work that is already being done throughout the FE sector to prepare students for the workplace. Ofsted’s annual report for 2015-16 cites the excellent work of Derby College, which has set up employer academies so that learners benefit throughout their course from a range of activities, including workplace visits, talks from specialist speakers, masterclasses and enterprise activities. However, Ofsted noted in the same report that the quality of information, advice and guidance in FE providers can vary and does not always meet the full range of students’ needs. That is why I want us to take this opportunity to go further.

Lords amendment 6 signals our determination to ensure that every FE student has access to good-quality, dedicated careers advice, which I know this House supports. That is vital if we are to tackle the skills gap and ensure that we make opportunities accessible to everyone. We have proposed some drafting changes to the amendment to ensure that it achieves its intended effect. The amendment makes it clear that in its inspection report Ofsted must comment on the quality of a college’s careers provision. I urge hon. Members to accept the amendment. FE colleges are engines of social mobility, and this is our chance to ensure that students from all backgrounds can access the support they need to get on the ladder of opportunity and to benefit from the best skills education and training.

I will now turn to the amendments that the Government are asking the House to accept without any further amendment. The Government support Lords amendment 2, which requires schools to give education and training providers the opportunity to talk directly to pupils about the approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships they offer. I would like to place on the record my significant gratitude to Lord Baker of Dorking for tabling the amendment, and for his unstinting support for the Government’s technical education reforms. As I have explained, high-quality careers advice is the first rung on the ladder of opportunity and will play a key part in realising our ambition for high-quality skills education and training. The amendment will strengthen the Bill by ensuring that young people hear much more consistently about the merits of technical education routes and recognise them as worthy career paths. I urge the House to agree to it. I hope that never again when I go around the country will I meet an apprentice who was refused access to the school they were taught in to talk about apprenticeships.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I actually welcome that proposal. We have heard lots of evidence that schools are not allowing FE colleges and apprenticeship providers to access their students and to tell them what the options are post-16. That, of course, is because of the “bums on seats” funding regime for post-16 studies in schools. How are we going to get around the deep-seated culture in schools that prevents careers advisers and others from providing that independent, impartial advice to young people in schools?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman speaks a lot of sense on this issue. Every time I meet an apprentice, wherever I am in the country, I ask them, “Did your school encourage you to do an apprenticeship?” Nine times out of 10, they say that their school taught them nothing about apprenticeships and skills. We have already changed careers advice so that schools have to offer advice that includes apprenticeships and skills. I believe that Lords amendment 2 will make a huge difference, because technical bodies, apprenticeship bodies and university technical colleges will be able to go into schools, and schools will publish policy guidance on this.

I agree that a huge part of this is about cultural change. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State always talks about parity of esteem. Until we ensure that we have parity of esteem between skills and technical education and going to university—that is also a wonderful thing to do—we will not achieve the cultural change that the hon. Gentleman talks about.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

There is a problem with that, because training providers themselves have a vested interest—just as much as the schools do—in securing those students for their courses or apprenticeships. Is it not true that we need a much more robust process for the provision of impartial advice and guidance that does not include anyone’s vested interests?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

We are looking at careers guidance in the long term, and at how we can make it more independent and skills-focused. I think that the work of the Careers and Enterprise Company in getting more people to do work experience, along with the money we are investing in these things, will help, but there are no easy answers. There are some great private providers, FE colleges and university technical colleges that I would love to see going into schools. However, I think that this is an important step forward to change the culture and ensure that pupils have the access to learn about apprenticeships and the technical education and skills that they need.

Lords amendment 3 introduces a new clause specifically providing for regulations to be made about the delivery of documents about an insolvent FE body to the registrar, and how those documents are kept and accessed by the public. Essentially, the new clause allows for the proper management of the paperwork of an insolvency procedure for an FE body.

I am pleased that the Government were able to accept amendment 4 in the other place, which deleted the words “if possible” from clause 25(2). The original drafting of subsection (2) was intended to offer reassurance to creditors and the education administrator that the education administration would not continue indefinitely while we waited for the education administrator to achieve the impossible. Instead, it caused concern, both in this House and in the other place, that student protection was in some way lessened. That was not our intention. Having sought the confirmation of lawyers that there was no change to our policy objectives, we were content to delete the words in order to address those concerns.

Lords amendment 5 replaced the original clause in the Bill with a new version in order to fully apply, rather than replicate, the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 to further education bodies in England and Wales. The new version of clause 40—formerly clause 37 —still allows the court to disqualify any governors whom it finds liable of wrongdoing from being governors, and now also from being company directors in any part of the UK. It fully prevents disqualified individuals from being able to repeat the mistakes they have made in a different way, potentially at the expense of another FE institution. We have amended the clause to close a potential loophole in the Bill and more fully protect learners at FE institutions from the potential actions of any governor who acts recklessly.

The existing CDDA regime is effective as a finely balanced deterrent for company directors. It is rare that directors are found liable, and its existence in insolvency legislation does not inhibit people from choosing to become company directors, but helps to prevent poor financial management. The presence of the CDDA regime causes company directors to reflect carefully on their financial decisions and the potential consequences of acting wrongfully in relation to creditors. We want to ensure the same deterrent effect for college governors. Governors might not appreciate the full consequence of disqualification if they are still able to act as company directors and could set up a company to run a college. They might be prepared to operate with a greater degree of risk. The amendment ensures that governors of FE bodies are on a par with governors of academies, to whom the CDDA also fully applies.

Lords amendment 7 to clause 47, formerly clause 43, inserts an additional provision, in so far as it relates to section 426 of the Insolvency Act 1986, to the parts of the Bill that extend to all parts of the UK. That does not change the application of the FE insolvency regime only to FE bodies in England and Wales. It ensures co-operation, if necessary, between the courts of the different parts of the United Kingdom in matters regarding insolvent FE bodies. We expect cases where co-operation is needed to be very rare.

I turn to Government amendments 8 to 10. The Bill as introduced allows the Institute for Apprenticeships to share data with Ofsted, Ofqual and the Office for Students, and vice versa. The amendments will enable the Secretary of State to extend the information-sharing gateway to other persons not stated in the Bill. The provision is necessary because the bodies with which the institute will co-operate and share information are expected to change over time. The amendments ensure that the institute can function effectively.

Lords amendments 11 to 18 were prompted by the helpful discussions we had in this House. It was clear then that we shared a common concern to ensure that care leavers receive appropriate help and support should their college become insolvent. Opposition Members, including the shadow Minister, Gordon Marsden, were very clear that care leavers are particularly vulnerable. I agree, which is why I undertook to reflect on how we might best support such individuals. I am pleased that we were able to table these amendments to schedules 3 and 4, requiring the education administrator to send a copy of their proposals to the director of children’s services at the relevant local authority. That will ensure that the director of children’s services is formally notified of a college insolvency and can take appropriate action to provide support for any of their care leavers affected by the proposals.

I ask hon. Members to support the Government on these amendments.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 3:00, 19 Ebrill 2017

I am grateful to the Minister for his considered exposition of the Government’s position, particularly regarding the amendments, with which we are not in dispute. I shall say something about Lords amendment 2 after turning to Lords amendment 1. We welcome the Government’s changes, particularly those to the technical parts of the Bill. The devil is in the detail, and we do not always get these things right first time around. I am grateful to the Government for reflecting on that.

I particularly take on board what the Minister said about care leavers and local authorities. Without straying outside the narrow confines of today’s discussions, may I say that I hope that the recent debates in the House on the Children and Social Work Bill, in which my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck played a strong, positive and constructive part, have been a useful focus for the Minister and his Department in tabling the amendments that he has spoken to today. I am grateful to him for that.

I am also grateful for the widened information sharing in schedule 1. As the Minister knows, I have described the present structure as a bit of an alphabet soup. To strain the analogy, I hope that this change will enable us to fish some of the letters out of the soup and make them work together a little easier than they would otherwise have done.

As the Minister says, the issue in Lords amendment 1could be regarded as one of financial privilege. I accept that he has great interest in matters of financial support and the rest of it. I hope that he understands that I have never, in any shape or form, and in any of the Committee sittings in which we have debated, disavowed his good intentions and commitment to issues of equality. But, of course, warm words of themselves do not necessarily carry through the projects that we all want to see. When he says that most apprenticeships have benefits, one has to ask about the fate of people who do not get those benefits. He says that this proposal will cost £200 million but, as he said, we are already committing £60 million to training providers, so I am not sure that that is a strong or powerful argument.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I will give way in a little while. I want to make some progress on the main issue before giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

I am proud of the fact that the noble Lords considered the matter addressed in amendment 1, which I support, in considerable detail. In doing so, they revealed how much further the Government needed to go and, in my view, still need to go. In February, The Times Educational Supplement published an eloquent chart that spelled out in graphic detail the current gap in support between students and apprentices. It showed that apprentices have no access to care to learn grants, and that their families have no access to universal credit and council tax credit. Most trenchant and relevant when it comes to amendment 1, they have no access to child benefit.

Amendment 1 would enable families eligible for child benefit to receive it for children aged under 20 who are undertaking apprenticeships. The Opposition understand, as I am sure Government Members do, that it is not simply about the benefit itself, but the doors that that benefit opens to other benefits.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Ceidwadwyr, Dover

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s argument, which seems to involve a spending commitment of £200 million. How would he pay for that?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

First, we do not recognise that figure of £200 million. Secondly, as I have said, the Government are already committing £60 million to training providers, so I really do not know why the hon. Gentleman is raising the issue of £200 million, which would be aggregated over a period of time.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

No, I will not give way again. The hon. Gentleman has had one go. I want to make progress.

The amendment calls for the Secretary of State to use regulations to make provision to ensure that apprentices are regarded as being involved in approved education or training. The Government’s apprenticeships programme has seen the introduction of the Institute for Apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy this month, while setting the target of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. However, many commentators have continued to raise real question marks about the potential quality of those new apprenticeships. It is really important that in reducing the growing skills gap in this country apprentices are not given a raw deal. My noble Friend Lord Watson spelled this out vividly in the House of Lords when he said:

“Why should families suffer as we seek to train young people desperately needed to fill the skills gaps that I mentioned earlier?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 March 2017; Vol. 782, c. 361.]

We simply ask that question.

I am well aware—we discussed this in Committee in this place and it was also discussed in the other place—that apprenticeships are not currently classed as approved educational training by the Department for Work and Pensions. That is one of the reasons we have raised this issue so many times. The Minister needs to reflect on the situation of apprentices who live with parents and whose families could lose out by more than £1,000 a year through not being able to access child benefit, and could lose more than £3,200 a year under universal credit. If the Government want to reach this target, it cannot be in anyone’s interest for doors to be closed to young people keen to take up and embark on an apprenticeship.

The predecessor Government—perhaps this has not been heard so much under this Government—were very fond of the concept of “nudge” to achieve results, but, as I have said on other occasions, people can be nudged away from things as well as towards them. In some circumstances, parents may prevent young people from taking up apprenticeships because the economic consequences for the family of loss of benefit payments in various forms could be considerable. Their lordships made this point in their debate on 27 February. Baroness Garden noted that

“only 10% of apprenticeships are taken up by young people on free school meals”, adding that

“the loss of child benefit” was

“a significant penalty.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 February 2017; Vol. 779, c. GC99.]

Baroness Wolf spoke very strongly when she said, echoing the Minister, that there needs to be genuine parity if the Government want to fulfil a holistic vision.

As I have said, the exclusions printed in The Times Educational Supplement justify the anger and disappointment of the National Union of Students and apprenticeship organisations, which feel that they are being treated like second-class citizens. I accept that, as the Minister said, some apprentices are being paid well above the minimum rate, but research has shown that some apprentices earn as little as £3.50 an hour.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Ceidwadwyr, Dover

Since the hon. Gentleman is talking about financial matters again, will he return to my earlier intervention when he said that he did recognise the figure of £200 million? How much would his policy cost?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

As I say, those issues would be taken forward over a five-year period. The £200 million figure that the Minister quoted has not been recognised, and I do not intend to engage with it any further because no further detail has been given to us on this point.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

No, I am sorry, but I am not going to give way again. The hon. Gentleman has had two shouts and he is out. [Interruption.] I am going to continue, so he can stop chuntering.

This will inevitably have a negative effect on the family income in circumstances where the household budget is not covered by the earnings in an apprentice’s salary, given that the apprentice minimum wage is barely over £3 an hour. The National Society of Apprentices made that point in its submission to the Committee, saying:

“It seems inconsistent that apprentices are continually excluded from definitions of ‘approved’ learners, when apprenticeships are increasingly assuming their place in the government’s holistic view of education and skills”.

If apprenticeships are to be seen as a top-tier option, then the benefits should be top tier too. University students receive assistance from a range of sources, from accessing finance to discounted rates on council tax. Apprentices currently do not receive many of those benefits. Their lordships believe, and we agree, that the system must be changed so that both groups are treated equally.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he is approaching these amendments. He mentioned that some apprentices were paid more than the apprentice minimum wage. Is he aware that 82% of apprentices are paid at or above the appropriate level of the national minimum wage or national living wage?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 3:15, 19 Ebrill 2017

Those figures come from the Minister’s Department, and I am not going to dispute them on this occasion. We are trying to set, in legislation, provisions that will be valid for five, 10 or 15 years. It seems far more appropriate to have a principle under which everybody has equal access. We can trade figures all day about whether this is acceptable or whether it is 10%, 15%, 20% or 25% of apprentices who are not in this position. I do not believe that we should go down this route, and Members of the House of Lords agreed when they passed this amendment.

Shakira Martin, the NUS vice-president for FE, says:

“If apprenticeships are going to be the silver bullet to create a high-skilled economy for the future, the government has to go further than rhetoric and genuinely support apprentices financially to succeed.”

In support of this amendment, the Learning and Work Institute has said:

“There are currently participation penalties for low income and disadvantaged young people who take an apprenticeship compared to an academic pathway. This amendment would help towards treating apprentices and students in further and higher education equally in the support and benefits system.”

The Government’s decision to exclude apprenticeships from the category of approved education or training will serve as a deterrent to young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Together with that, and without any change to the category that apprentices are placed in by the DWP—FE has to accept that, as things stand at the moment—the Government are providing a severe financial disincentive for young people to enter into an apprenticeship as opposed to other routes of education. The National Society of Apprentices agrees.

In the other place, the Minister’s colleague, Baroness Buscombe, said that there would be discussions about this issue with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, but that did not happen. The Minister has told me on previous occasions that this needed to be addressed and discussed with other Departments, but that has not happened. This is a Government who are long on rhetoric but short on delivery, and it is young people and their families who are suffering. The Government are now blocking a modest proposal from the House of the Lords to begin to remedy their inability to do joined-up government.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman will know that, as I have mentioned before, we are carrying out a social mobility review of a whole range of issues, from benefits to incentives to providers and employers, to get more apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is entirely wrong to say that we are not doing so, as a significant amount of work is going into these areas.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful to the Minister. The broader perspective of social mobility is a perfectly reasonable way of going forward. However, to be honest, particularly at a time such as today when we are moving to a general election, I think that most people would be interested in some movement—some jam now rather than a promise of jam possibly in future from the social mobility study. I will come on to talk about other areas where, I am afraid, the Government have moved at, to put it at its kindest, a reasonably glacial pace. That is one of the reasons I am not terribly impressed by the Minister’s argument, although, as I say, I understand and appreciate his commitment to trying to do something.

I want to speak in support of the second part of the amendment, which talks about opening benefits to care leavers by opening up access to a bursary that has traditionally been available only to university students. Young people in local authority care who move into higher education can apply for a one-off bursary of £2,000 from their local authority, and the amendment would enable care leavers who take up apprenticeships to access the same financial support.

I remind the Minister of what the Children’s Society has said. Every year, around 11,000 young people aged 16 or over leave the care of their local authority and begin the difficult transition out of care and into adulthood—to be fair to him, he recognised that in his opening remarks—and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields tabled an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill to provide such a local offer to care leavers. The Government have a golden opportunity to follow up on that by focusing on support that could be provided by the DWP. I am at a loss to understand why the Government are ignoring this possibility. They could make provision from the apprenticeship levy for local authorities to administer a £2,000 grant to all care leavers.

When care leavers move into independent living they often begin to manage their own budget fully for the first time, and that move may take place earlier for them than for others in their peer group. Remember that a care leaver in year one of an apprenticeship may be, and often is, earning as little as £3.40 an hour before being able to transition to a higher wage in the second year. Evidence from their services and research has revealed how challenging care leavers may find it to manage that budget, because of a lack of financial support and education. As a result, young carers frequently fall into debt and financial difficulty. The Minister really needs to put himself in their shoes. The Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families, Edward Timpson, could tell us all, from his own family’s perspective, how vulnerable young people who come from disturbed and difficult family backgrounds can be.

The question remains: why are the Government not prepared to retain this amendment? Fine words are all very well, but you may know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that according to the old Tudor proverb, “Fine words butter no parsnips”. Just what are the bureaucratic arguments for doing nothing to support hard-working young people and their families—and, even more so, those who do not have families to support them—to fulfil their hopes of better times via an apprenticeship? We talk about parity of esteem between HE students and apprentices, but some of these young people, because of their circumstances, struggle to have a strong sense of self-esteem.

Why have the Government not moved on this? Once again, why have the consultations with the DWP not taken place? Was the Minister nobbled by No. 10 trusties or by those in his own Department, in the same way as Department for Education Ministers seem to have led us down the garden path of reforms to GCSE resits only to slam the door shut? I say as gently as I can to the Minister that if the Government do not retain the amendment, people will know that the Government’s rhetoric has been somewhat hollow, and apprentices and their families will suffer.

I join the Minister in supporting amendment 2, which was carried in the Lords, and I also want to talk about amendment 6. The lack of parity of esteem for apprentices starts at an early age, and, as my hon. Friend Ian Mearns illustrated in his useful and constructive exchange with the Minister, the rhetoric on careers advice still does not match the painful reality that faces many young people.

The reality is that careers advice has been devastated over the last Parliament and since 2010, certainly at a local level, and young people who want to take a vocational and apprenticeship route are in danger of being short-changed again in their careers advice. Despite the work of the Careers & Enterprise Company, which is still in its infancy, support in schools remains poor. Careers England—the trade body for careers advice and guidance—and the Career Development Institute have confirmed to me recently that in their view, nothing has greatly changed. They estimate that only a third of schools can adequately deliver careers advice. Taken alongside the shortage of careers advisers and the fact that the remaining advisers earn far less than they used to, it adds up to a very difficult position.

That is one of the reasons why last November the co-chairs of the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy, Neil Carmichael and my hon. Friend Mr Wright, said that the Government had been complacent over careers advice. They said:

“The Government’s lack of action to address failings in careers provision is unacceptable and its response to our report smacks of complacency.”

I know that the Minister challenges that strongly, and I know that he has put on record that the Government are working towards a thorough careers strategy in that respect. But we have to deal with the situation as it is today, not with what it might be under a careers strategy developed by whatever Government are around at the end of the year.

In the survey conducted by the Industry Apprentice Council last year, just 42% of respondents found out about apprenticeships from school or college, and using one’s own initiative remained by far the most common way for a young person to discover apprenticeships. The council also said that there needed to be a change in careers information, advice and guidance because the proportion of respondents who said that theirs had been very poor remained high across the three surveys.

That is why the House of Lords has produced these two quite detailed and comprehensive amendments; those overall issues are not being addressed. Strong careers guidance is critical to promoting apprenticeships in schools. If we are to make a success of the institute, it is crucial that young people are alerted early enough in their school life to the importance and attraction of technical routes. That is one of the things that amendment 2 from the other House, which we supported, makes very clear.

If the Minister does not think that the Lords amendment on careers advice is necessary, perhaps he would like to explain just how and when the Government are going to get a grip on the existing fractured landscape of careers advice revealed by his own Department. Last month—it was not bedtime reading, so I will not be surprised if hon. Members have not read it—the Department for Education published a research report, “An economic evaluation of the National Careers Service”. The report was produced by London Economics, which was originally commissioned by the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to evaluate the impact of the National Careers Service.

The National Careers Service has changed considerably during the five years since it was introduced by the Minister’s predecessor, Mr Hayes. I had the benefit of discussions with him at the time, and he was very clear when it started that the National Careers Service would principally be for the over-24s. That process has changed. I am not necessarily criticising that, but the process has certainly migrated in an unplanned fashion. The National Careers Service website says that anyone aged 13 and over can have access to the data, and that adults aged 19 and over can have access to one-to-one support. The problem is that only 15% to 22% of the customers—again, I am taking statistics from a report that the Government have commissioned—were referred by Jobcentre Plus, while the remainder were self-referring. Does that not speak volumes about the lack of joined-up government between the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions?

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

In some respects, my hon. Friend is actually being generous to the Government. I do not believe that the careers service as it existed has been decimated; I believe it has been laid waste by the Government’s policy since 2010. We really need to get back to youngsters having independent and impartial advice and guidance on their future career available to them. Without such independence and impartiality, we could unfortunately get back to having those with vested interests giving advice to young people. I remember the late Malcolm Wicks referring to this in the 1990s, when he said that much of the advice given to young people about their future careers was akin to pensions mis-selling because the service was packed with vested interests.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 3:30, 19 Ebrill 2017

My hon. Friend makes a very important and valuable point, as he did earlier to the Minister, and we certainly need to think very hard about those things.

As I have said, the National Careers Service process has migrated substantially, which may not in itself be a bad thing. I genuinely want to know from the Minister what connectivity there is between the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company if the coverage starts as early as age 13. I would really like to know what the connectivity is in that process.

The very disappointing fact is that, as the impact report says, researchers were

“unable to identify a positive impact of the National Careers Service on employment or benefit dependency outcomes”.

Arguably, those outcomes are its main purpose. This is another example of why it is essential for the Government to act on the careers strategy, and of why their failure so far to do so makes Lords amendments 2 and 6 so important. With the expansion of apprenticeships and the addition of technical education to the institute, it will be even more important for students and apprentices to have all the information that they need to make informed decisions.

Young people who get the best careers advice in college or schools are more likely to be able to seek out the better apprenticeships. That is why I warmly welcome Lords amendment 2, Lord Baker’s amendment, which had our support and cross-party support. It would ensure that schools have to provide access to advice about apprenticeships. Why does that matter? It matters because, as my hon. Friend has said, knowledge in general is power, and unbiased knowledge is very important indeed. Incidentally, that is also why my hon. Friend Nic Dakin introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to require schools to give access to their premises to representatives of post-16 education institutions to enable them to provide pupils with advice and guidance.

All of that is why Lords amendment 6 is also important. I am encouraged by the fact that the new chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, to whom I have spoken recently, is sympathetic to Ofsted making a much stronger case for ensuring that apprenticeships rate more highly in the information provided in schools. Incidentally, the Lords have already pointed out that that will require Ofsted to have more resources; my noble Friend Lord Watson pointed that out on Report on 27 March. If we do not get integration between the Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service, what we ask Ofsted to do will not work. Just what is the Minister’s response to these arguments? Why are the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company apparently working on different lines? If he does not want to accept Lords amendment 6, what guarantees can he give to this House or to noble Lords that the necessary work will be done?

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I want to speak very briefly on the Government motion to disagree with Lords amendment 6 and Government amendment (a) in lieu, as much as anything else to probe what amendment (a) will achieve. As a preface to that, let me give an impression of what the noble Lord Storey sought to achieve with Lords amendment 6. We have all acknowledged during the course of the debate so far that careers advice is incredibly variable and has been for some considerable time. Lord Storey tried to set in place a mechanism for monitoring careers advice so that we know precisely how good or how bad, and how valuable or useless, it actually is.

In Committee stage in the Lords, Lord Nash described careers advice as always having been “pretty poor”. There was, of course, an Ofsted report in 2013 that established that three quarters of schools were not providing effective advice or, as Ian Mearns pointed out, impartial advice. It said that the guidance given to schools was not sufficiently explicit, employers were not engaging in many cases and the National Careers Service was not effectively promoted. A key conclusion of the Ofsted report was that schools’ advice should be assessed when taking into account general school leadership, or sector leadership in the case of further education—Lords amendment 6 also applies to the FE sector.

I think that the Minister accepts all that, and I know that he has produced a variation on Lords amendment 6. I would like him to satisfy me and the House that it complies with what the Lords intended in their amendment.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

I thank John Pugh and the shadow Minister for their speeches. I understand that the hon. Member for Southport is stepping down. He is an experienced Member of the House, and I send him every good wish for the future.

To answer the hon. Gentleman we are essentially accepting de facto Lords amendment 6, which was suggested by Lord Storey. We have just made it tighter for legal reasons and, in fact, stronger. Ofsted will now be required to comment on college careers offers in its reports. However, we accept the principle of Lords amendment 6.

I set out earlier the Government’s position that the majority of the Lords amendments serve to strengthen the measures in the Bill and ensure their success in practice. I urge hon. Members to accept all the amendments made in the Lords, with the exception of Lords amendment 1. As I explained earlier, that amendment is subject to financial privilege and I ask Members to reject it on that basis, while noting the work I have set out, which demonstrates our commitment to finding the most effective ways to address barriers and support the disadvantaged into apprenticeships.

The shadow Minister said, in essence, that we should put our money where our mouth is. It is worth remembering that we have 900,000 apprentices at the moment, which is the highest on record, and that 25% of apprentices come from the poorest fifth of areas. The Careers & Enterprise Company has more than 1,300 enterprise advisers going into schools, and they are set to target something like 250,000 students in 75% of the career coldspots in the country. The National Careers Service is there to give careers advice and CV advice, and to provide personal contact either face to face, over the telephone or on the internet. The bodies have different roles.

I ask Members to accept our amendment in lieu of Lords amendment 6, on which many noble Lords spoke. I spoke earlier of the positive activity at Derby College. It is by no means the only college taking active steps to provide high-quality careers advice to students. I have seen incredible work in my own college in Harlow and in Gateshead in the north-east of England. We want to ensure that all young people can access such support, and I ask Members to support that ambition by accepting the amendment in lieu.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I know that the Minister is determined and full of good intentions, but good intentions do not provide sound careers advice and guidance to young people who are in the system now. We need to see more urgency from the Government in backing up his decent intentions, to make sure that young people get the impartial advice and guidance they so deeply need as soon as possible.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

Let me give the hon. Gentleman our intention. Given the financial climate, £90 million is no small sum of money to spend on careers, predominantly with the Careers & Enterprise Company, which has enterprise advisers going into schools. There is £20 million for mentoring services in schools. As I mentioned, enterprise advisers are going up and down the country to coldspots. The National Careers Service alone is getting more than £75 million this year to advise on careers. That is real financial backing for two very important services.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I am listening to the Minister. I was a member of the National Careers Service national association board prior to the invention of Connexions. I seem to remember that the national budget for careers at that time was something like £130 million. That was more than 15 years ago. In the current climate, the figures the Minister is talking about are inadequate.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Department of Education) (Apprenticeships and Skills)

Given the financial climate, the £90 million to be spent predominantly with the Careers & Enterprise Company and the £77 million that is going to the National Careers Service this year alone are sizeable sums of money. As I have said, we are developing a careers strategy. Obviously the election is occurring, but I hope very much that we will see careers with much more of a skills focus, and do much more work in schools on mentoring and on work experience.

I have said that the Bill is a Ronseal Bill. It is very much part of our reforms to create an apprenticeships and skills nation and to give millions of young people the ladder of opportunity to get the jobs, security and prosperity that they need. It is a Bill to ensure that technical education is held in the regard it deserves. In the unlikely event of a college insolvency, students will be protected. The measures in the Bill make vital changes to support young people to build the essential skills that our nation needs, and they provide the right support to enable young people to climb that ladder. Many Members on both sides of the House and in the other place have spoken in support of that ambition, and I take this opportunity to thank them for their ongoing commitment to the Bill and for supporting all our young people to reach their potential.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.

The House divided:

Ayes 298, Noes 182.

Rhif adran 197 Technical and Further Education Bill: Lords Amendment 1 Motion to disagree

Ie: 298 MPs

Na: 182 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.

Lords amendment 6 disagreed to.

Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendment 6.

Lords amendments 2 to 5 and 7 to 18 agreed to.

Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment 1;

That Robert Halfon, Michelle Donelan, Chris Heaton-Harris, Gordon Marsden, Henry Smith and Karl Turner be members of the Committee;

That Robert Halfon be the Chair of the Committee;

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Christopher Pincher.)

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.