Clause 25 - Provision of opportunities for education and skills development

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 7 Rhagfyr 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 2:15, 7 Rhagfyr 2021

I beg to move amendment 53, in clause 25, page 30, line 17, leave out from “education” to end of line 17.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Ceidwadwyr, Basingstoke

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 54, in clause 25, page 30, line 17, leave out from “has” to “level.” and insert

“is earning below the Living Wage, as identified by the Living Wage Foundation.”

New clause 7—Level 3 qualifications provision—

“(1) Employer Representative Bodies may prescribe additional Level 3 qualifications, as part of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

(2) Additional Level 3 qualifications may be prescribed under subsection (1), in instances where the Employer Representative Body identifies a local need or skills shortage.”

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

The clause addresses the lifetime skills guarantee and the provision of opportunities for education and skills development. Subsection (1) says:

“Any person of any age has the right to free education on an approved course up to Level 3 supplied by an approved provider of further or technical education, if he or she has not already studied at that level.”

Amendment 53 would simply remove the final eleven words of the sentence. It is a probing amendment to test the reasons why the Government are seeking effectively to remove the word “guarantee” from the lifetime skills guarantee, and instead offer a significant limitation on the number of people who are able to study under it.

We think it is vital that people in low-paid employment have the chance to take additional level 3 qualifications to support them into better paid work or into new sectors. We also think it is crucial that people in industries or sectors that are diminishing have the opportunity to retrain. Substantial financial barriers would prevent them from accessing those courses.

When the Prime Minister made his speech announcing the lifetime skills guarantee in Exeter, he seemed to understand that point. The speech was all about the need for people to retrain and to be able to move from one sector where there were not going to be jobs in the future to jobs in other sectors. He wanted them to seize those opportunities. Unfortunately, the lifetime skills guarantee, which is going to take a long time to come into being anyhow, already has limitations.

Amendment 53 seeks to test the Government’s view on ensuring that more people are able to access a second qualification. Earlier, we gave the Government the opportunity to support a quite limited amendment on a second qualification.

I remind the Committee that a lifetime skills guarantee was in place for level 3 qualifications for everyone until 2013, when the former Chancellor George Osborne removed it. The decision to reintroduce this poor relation of that policy shows how the Government are learning at least some lessons from the mistakes they have made, but it lacks the ambition needed to reverse the failures of previous Government policy. More than 9 million jobs are excluded, many in sectors that have skills shortages and vacancies, such as tourism and hospitality.

I was speaking to a business in my constituency just this weekend that owns a number of establishments in the hospitality sector. It is desperate to attract members of staff into the sector. This is an organisation with a long track record of training up and developing members of staff, and ensuring that people make the best of their careers. It would be alarmed to hear that those kinds of opportunities are excluded from the lifetime skills guarantee. It is essential that the Government get this right. We hope they support our proposals.

Amendment 54 is an attempt to put on to a legal footing the promise made by the Secretary of State at the Association of Colleges conference in November. He said that

“from next April any adult in England who earns a yearly salary below the National Living Wage will also have the chance to take these high value Level 3 qualifications for free.”

That is precisely what the amendment seeks to do. It says that if anyone has a level 3 qualification and is earning below the living wage, as identified by the Living Wage Foundation, they would be able to take another level 3 qualification.

As we have laid out, we think that restricting the opportunities for students to take a second level 3 qualification is a huge missed opportunity. As the Committee has rejected our more ambitious amendment to allow all students the right to take a second level 3 qualification, we believe that the Government should at least be willing to support an amendment that supports what the Secretary of State has said.

New clause 7 relates to students wishing to do a level 3 qualification in an area where the local skills improvement plan has identified a local skills shortage. It would allow the local skills improvement plan to approve funding for a second level 3 qualification where local labour market shortages are identified.

The Bill contradicts itself. Reportedly, its aim is to ensure that skills policy is determined locally. New clause 7 would ensure that local skills improvement plans were able to identify that there was a skills need in the area and encourage people to retrain in that sector. Anyone who votes against that once again will seize power from local skills improvement plans and place it in the hands of the Secretary of State. We look forward to hearing what I imagine will be universal support for our amendments from hon. Members who are keen to support people in their constituencies.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield in his amendments 53 and 54 and new clause 7. We have had this debate already in Committee and I still think that the Committee made the wrong decision to prevent learners having a second chance at a level 3 qualification for the reasons that I set out.

Those reasons were as valid the other day as they are now for these amendments, because we live in a dynamic economy where industries come and go. The industry that my town was historically dependent on, and that the town of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South is equally famous for, is hatting. Those industries have pretty much died out, but the hatting industry made Denton famous. The Bowlers of bowler hat fame came from Denton, although they made their money at Lock & Co. Hatters in St James’s in London. However, that industry and those skills have gone.

In the past 50 or 60 years, my constituency has had to diversity and the workforce has had to retrain. That pace of chance will be prevalent in the decades ahead as technology advances, the global economy shrinks to make the world a smaller place, and international trade becomes the norm, meaning that we buy goods from other countries rather than make them here.

If we are going to have an industrial strategy that says that we want to be the lead nation in the new green industrial revolution, we need to ensure that we have the skills and the workforce to match that ambition. I am supportive of that and, if we are being honest, every Member of the House recognises the challenges and is supportive of it. That is not a top-level ambition, however; it has to be dealt with in the nitty-gritty of legislation.

We have a Bill going through Parliament that is rightly focused on skills and training and on ensuring that the next generation of the workforce has a built-in dynamism to be able to diversify, retrain and fill skills in the areas of the economy that have shortages. As the Opposition have said, that may mean someone has to have a second bite of the cherry at a level 3 qualification. If the subject in which someone has a level 3 is no longer fit for purpose, or relevant to the modern workplace, are we going to leave them languishing with inappropriate qualifications and skills that are no longer needed, or are we going to give them the opportunity to retrain, reskill and join the workforce, hopefully in highly paid, decent jobs? That is why I support amendments 53 and 54, which would put that idea on a legal footing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield rightly said.

The voice of local businesses and the economic partnership between local government, businesses, academia and training providers are setting out local skills improvement plans. They identify key skill shortages in their economic areas, and they should be given the flexibility to say, “You know what, in my area, we have an absolute shortage of skills in a particular sector. We want to make sure that our area is really dynamic in that sector and therefore it is a key priority for our partners to skill up to level 3 adequate numbers of the workforce.” That is sensible. It is devolution as it is meant to work, from the bottom up, and that is why I also support my hon. Friend’s new clause 7.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, because I agree with everything he said.

The amendments and the new clause address the issue from the relevant two angles. They are designed to offer a genuine lifetime skills guarantee for individuals—one that is aspirational and does not fall back on the argument that because someone got a couple of A-levels 30 years, they cannot now retrain for a level 3 qualification to meet a skills need in the local area. I think about the changing world of work, and how much more is now digital or IT-based. There has been a shift in skills, which is driving our economy. Unless we agree to the amendments, so many people will be locked out from making a genuine shift in their skillset and acquiring a higher skilled job, which would put them on a sustainable footing. It is short-sighted to attempt to restrict that opportunity.

We have heard much about the responsibility of employers to lead the development of skills plans for their areas, given that they understand their local economies. New clause 7 is positive because it would genuinely enable employer representative bodies to shape what that level 3 qualification should be, based on the skills shortages in their areas. The new clause would meet the purpose of ERBs in developing the skills plans and ensure the lifetime skills guarantee for local people.

I support the terms of the amendments and the new clause. I should add that there are still a few hat factories in Luton producing artisan hats, and very good they are, too.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I will speak to the amendments and the new clause that appear in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield.

Of course we all want to see a high-skill, high-wage workforce. We need that for our economy. A crucial part of that is the retraining of employees. I am sure that most people in the room agree that the evolving workplace means that we need a process of continuous development if we are to adapt and ensure that our economy thrives, against an ever-competitive global marketplace.

One need only think back to what happened to clerks working in yesteryear—the Minister might say that that was in my time—to see how they had to retrain and develop typewriting skills, and then progress to work on computers and so on. With the advent of computer technology and handheld devices, simply picking items in a logistics centre moved from literally picking things up against a piece of paper to the use of mobile technology. These are skills that demand more of the workforce. We have to put that in the context of having the lowest productivity of the major European nations and among the lowest in the OECD. That is why the skills agenda is important, and I commend the idea behind the Bill the Government have brought forward.

A lot of this work was developed by a former Member of this place, Gordon Marsden, who did a huge amount of work. That was well remembered by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish on the very Back Bench, who will have known him far better than me. Gordon Marsden was the one who really pushed the notion of a lifetime learning entitlement. It is right that we are looking to introduce that.

Amendments 53 and 54 would give any person the right to free education on an approved course to level 3 if they earn below the living wage as identified by the Living Wage Foundation. The wording of the Bill ensures that the LLE is available only to those who have not already studied at that level. That undermines one of the defining aspects of the LLE and what Gordon Marsden envisaged. The vast majority of people obtain a level 3 qualification between the ages of 16 and 18. This qualifier would limit the LLE too restrictively, as my hon. Friends have said.

Our amendments seek to expand the application of the LLE to those who need it most—those who are furthest from skilled work and who earn below the living wage—redefining the parameters to adapt the policy to fit the needs of the population. In fact, there was widespread support for the Lords amendments, including from Universities UK, that widened the eligibility so that an individual could access the LLE regardless of their prior level of study.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield highlighted, the Secretary of State for Education announced just a few days ago in a speech to the Association of Colleges that the Government will be launching a pilot, which will see adults who earn below the national living wage able to undertake national skills fund level 3 qualifications for free. That is to be embraced. I am sure many of us, certainly on this side of the Committee, think that that is right. Why not actually commit it to the Bill, as my hon. Friend said? If there really is true ambition and a will to see proper levelling up and the reskilling of our economy, we should commit it to the Bill. It seems bizarre, or perhaps it has not been considered as fully as the Secretary of State led us to believe in his speech. Elsewhere, many are calling for and supporting the removal of the restriction in the Bill for those who have not already done a level 3 qualification. That would facilitate those who want to reskill rather than upskill, which are both equally valid and necessary.

New clause 7 would widen the availability of courses that form part of the lifetime skills guarantee by allowing employer representative bodies to prescribe additional qualifications as approved courses falling within the lifetime skills guarantee. The Augar review—the post-18 review—recommended an all-age level 3 entitlement. The Government have put this into effect, but only for a limited list of level 3 qualifications. The Association of Colleges wants that to be changed. My local college, which I referred to before—Warwickshire College Group—is one of the finest colleges in the country and certainly one of the biggest. Its principal is very vocal about wanting to see that change.

My question to the Minister is, therefore, what is the justification for such limits? The reform has the potential to be wide ranging and revolutionary. Before further meat is added to the bones in the form of the subsequent White Paper, the Bill in its current state will introduce unnecessary limitations on the LLE. That is why new clause 7 and the two amendments are important to ensure that we can broaden the skillset of our workforce and our population, ensuring that we are able to adapt to an ever rapidly changing global economy.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 2:30, 7 Rhagfyr 2021

Amendments 53 and 54 taken together would alter the eligibility criteria for the proposed legal entitlement to a level 3 qualification for all adults. Amendment 53 in particular is intended to make anyone in England eligible for those qualifications, regardless of their prior qualification level; and amendment 54 is intended to make anyone in England eligible if they earn less than the living wage.

Amendments 53 and 54 highlight the reason why we are opposed to putting such an entitlement into the legislation in the first place: it could constrain our ability to respond quickly and flexibly to adapt such entitlements to benefit adults who are most in need of support. For example, if we wanted to change the offer within the legislative framework, we would have to change the legislation. We have already announced that, from April next year, we will also expand the free courses for jobs offer to include any adult in England who earns below the national living wage or is unemployed, regardless of their prior qualification level. We are able to do that without needing legislation.

By targeting eligibility on the lowest-paid earners and the unemployed, we will ensure that we support those most in need of support to access better job opportunities and to improve their prospects. I hope that the hon. Member for Chesterfield agrees with that, given that amendment 54 seeks to target those same adults. However, it is also not a good use of public funding to expand eligibility in a non-targeted way to anyone, regardless of their wages or prior qualification level, which is what amendment 53 appears to do. We therefore do not support the inclusion of amendments 53 and 54 in the Bill.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

That was a useful and interesting little debate. We heard a lot about the—I want say burgeoning, but at least still existing—hat industry. My hon. Friends the Members for Luton South and for Warwick and Leamington will be glad to know that I have seen at least two colleagues in hats recently—one was my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, who as they know is quite a trend-setter—so it might well be that a recovery in the hat industry is looming. It was a useful debate, and we heard some valuable contributions on why the amendments are important.

Turning to the Minister’s remarks, I accept that the amendment has similarities to and is possibly even more wide ranging than one that has already been rejected by the Committee, so we will withdraw it. However, we will press amendment 54 to a vote, because all that it seeks to do is to put on to a legal footing the promise that was made. I hear what the Minister says—“Don’t worry, we are going to deliver the policy; we just aren’t going to vote for it”—but I think there will be real value in ensuring that the Government commit to the thing that they say are going to do, which is about those who earn below the national living wage, as defined by the Living Wage Foundation, being able to access level 3 qualifications.

Given what we heard earlier in the passage of the Bill about the importance of local decision making, local skills improvement plans and local employers deciding their priorities, it would seem a sensible approach to allow them to identify local priorities and allow people to study a second level 3 qualification if addressing a known skills shortage. We will therefore look to press new clause 7, as well as amendment 54, to a Division. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment 53.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 54, in clause 25, page 30, line 17, leave out from “has” to “level.” and insert

“is earning below the Living Wage, as identified by the Living Wage Foundation.”—(Mr Perkins.)

Rhif adran 21 Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] — Clause 25 - Provision of opportunities for education and skills development

Ie: 5 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The Government agree with the ambition to ensure that people in England have access to education no matter their age. We are committed to helping everyone get the skills that they need at every stage in their lives.

In April, we launched the free courses for jobs offer as part of the lifetime skills guarantee. That gives all adults in England the opportunity to take their first level 3 qualification for free, regardless of age. It is not right, however, to put the free courses for jobs offer into legislation. That would constrain the Government in allocating resources in future, and make it harder to adapt the policy to changing circumstances. The Secretary of State recently announced, for example, that from April next year we will expand the offer to include any adult in England who earns below the national living wage or is unemployed, regardless of their prior qualification level.

Through the adult education budget, full funding is also available through legal entitlements for adults aged 19 and over to access English and maths qualifications and fully-funded digital skills qualifications for adults with no or low digital skills. In areas where adult education is not devolved, the adult education budget can fully fund eligible learners studying up to level 2 if they are unemployed or earning below around £17,300 per year.

The spending review has provided a fixed quantum for adult skills, and the level of provision that is funded in any year needs to fit that quantum. Funding increases to follow increased numbers of learners, or a higher-funded mix of provision, will have to be subject to affordability within the overall envelope. The spending review process, rather than legislation, is the appropriate way for determining how the Government allocate resources over the long term. Funding for the free courses for jobs offer will be available throughout the three-year spending review period, giving further education providers the certainty that they need to invest in the delivery of the offer.

Moreover, the Bill is not an appropriate place to create new legal entitlements when we are in the process of reforming further education funding and of carrying out a review of qualifications at level 3 and below. Those vital programmes will ensure our skills system is fit for the future. By creating a legal entitlement for anyone to access their first qualification up to level 3, we would cut across those vital reforms and pre-empt the consultation process.

I now turn to the proposal in the clause that any employer receiving apprenticeship funding must spend at least two thirds of that funding on people who begin apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3 before the age of 25. The Chancellor’s spending review commitment delivers the first increase to apprenticeships funding since 2019-20. Funding will grow to £2.7 billion by 2024-25.

There have been some changes in the make-up of apprenticeships since the reforms: a higher proportion of apprentices are now aged over 25. In 2020-21, 16 to 24-year-olds still accounted for 50% of apprenticeship starts. In the same period, level 2 and level 3 starts made up 69% of the total. I know that there are concerns about the fall in starts among young people. I recognise the value of apprenticeships to young people embarking on their careers, and I am determined to ensure that there are good apprenticeship opportunities at all ages and stages, but I am concerned about the implications of trying to address that in the Bill.

The clause restricts opportunities for older and younger employees, and it restricts employer choice. Eighty per cent. of the UK’s 2030 workforce is already in work, so it cannot be right that only a third of apprenticeships funding is made available to those who are over 25. We want older people to be able to use apprenticeships to progress or retrain. The Confederation of British Industry estimates that one in six workers—5 million people—will go through radical job change and require re-training by 2030.

Age should not be a barrier to opportunities to learn or a limiting factor in our ambitions. I do not want to restrict young people to starting at level 2 or 3 apprenticeships. I also want an 18-year-old with good A-levels to see an apprenticeship as a strong alternative to university. They should be able to start a level 6 apprenticeship and gain a degree.

Employers agree. In evidence submitted to the Committee, the Open University sets out that 82% of employers, both large and small, believe that it is important for apprenticeships to be available for those of all ages and at all levels. Our work on accelerated apprenticeships clearly shows our ambitions for young people. The institute has already published progression routes from T-levels on digital production, design and development, civil engineering and building services design to level 4 apprenticeships. As an example, a T-level graduate in digital production, design and development could move on to a level 4 DevOps engineer apprenticeship and reduce the length of the apprenticeship training by up to 12 months. I want the apprenticeships programme to be responsive to the different needs of individuals, employers and the economy. I therefore believe that we should remove clause 25 from the Bill.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education) 2:45, 7 Rhagfyr 2021

There is a real concern about the number of apprenticeships that are available for people between the ages of 16 and 24. The Minister makes an important point, which I would not remotely disagree with, that many people, for a variety of reasons, seek investment in their skills beyond the age of 24. Of course, opportunities should be there for them, but the lifetime skills guarantee, which might more accurately be described as a one-off skills guarantee, is really important. I do not agree with his description of 50% of apprenticeships going to 16 to 24-year-olds as a really big achievement. Too little apprenticeship funding is targeted at those under the age of 25.

Many people are concerned that since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy businesses have sat on this pot of funds, looking to utilise them. They have often not taken people on at entry level, but instead utilised the apprenticeship levy to provide MBAs for level 6 or 7 qualifications for their managerial staff. That is really what clause 25(3) seeks to address. Had the Minister said, “We’ve got a different approach to targeting that,” that would have been one thing, but simply to wipe the clause from the Bill is very concerning, and will be met by real disappointment from many of those who share the view that too little apprenticeship funding is being targeted at those under the age of 25.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Rhif adran 22 Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] — Clause 25 - Provision of opportunities for education and skills development

Ie: 4 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 25 disagreed to.