Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

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Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
35: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—
“Information about technical education and trainingInformation about technical education and training: access to English schools
(1) Section 42B of the Education Act 1997 (information about technical education: access to English schools) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1), for “is an opportunity” substitute “are opportunities”.(3) After subsection (1) insert—“(1A) In complying with subsection (1), the proprietor must give access to registered pupils on at least one occasion during each of the first, second and third key phase of their education.”(4) After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The proprietor of a school in England within subsection (2) must—(a) ensure that each registered pupil meets, during each of the first and second key phases of their education, at least one provider to whom access is given (or any other number of such providers that may be specified for the purposes of that key phase by regulations under subsection (8)), and(b) ask providers to whom access is given to provide information that includes the following—(i) information about the provider and the approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships that the provider offers,(ii) information about the careers to which those technical education qualifications or apprenticeships might lead,(iii) a description of what learning or training with the provider is like, and(iv) responses to questions from the pupils about the provider or approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships.(2B) Access given under subsection (1) must be for a reasonable period of time during the standard school day.”(5) In subsection (5)—(a) in paragraph (c), at the end insert “and the times at which the access is to be given;”;(b) after paragraph (c) insert—“(d) an explanation of how the proprietor proposes to comply with the obligations imposed under subsection (2A).”(6) In subsection (8), after “subsection (1)” insert “or (2A)”.(7) After subsection (9) insert—“(9A) For the purposes of this section—(a) the first key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 13, and (ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;(b) the second key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 15, and(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;(c) the third key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 17, and(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that providers of technical education and apprenticeships are given reasonable access to pupils in secondary schools in England at key points during the course of their education to provide relevant information about technical education and apprenticeships and that pupils meet with providers on at least two occasions.
Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 35 is in my name. I am pleased to bring this amendment to the House. The Government believe strongly that young people and adults, at all stages of their career, need to be equipped to make informed choices. They need to know about the range of qualifications and training available to them so that they can progress to their chosen field. I know that it is rightly a matter of great concern for this House that all young people are introduced to the benefits of technical education and apprenticeships, so that they can make informed decisions about the next step in their education or training.

In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Baker for his tireless commitment and vision in focusing on this important issue and for his amendment to the Technical and Further Education Act 2017, which led to the commencement of the Baker clause. This means that schools have a statutory duty to provide opportunities for pupils to meet technical education or apprenticeship providers and learn about technical education options.

As part of the original Baker clause, the Government set out clear requirements and expectations in statutory guidance, and offered support through the Careers & Enterprise Company. Despite some examples of excellent practice, the Government are still seeing too many schools failing to comply with the duty. They have seen providers blocked from going into schools or schools limiting provider encounters to selected groups of pupils. In March 2021, the UCAS report Where Next? showed that almost one in three young people said that they did not receive any information about apprenticeships from their school.

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Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, anybody who has sat in a meeting with heads of education can imagine discussions to work out how not to offer pupils at age 16—I do not have much knowledge of provision below that level—a full and free choice as frequently as possible, because of worries about redecorating classrooms, hiring more teachers or the other income-related things that heads need to think about. While I am sympathetic to this worry, I am even more sympathetic to the absolute need to offer pupils a full and informed choice at as many stages as we can afford. I too intend to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I once again thank my noble friend for his amendment and his commitment to this issue. Before I respond to the points raised by noble Lords, I would like to express my support and thanks to head teachers, who received a certain amount of criticism in this debate regarding where they place their priorities. After the last couple of years, when they have shown unstinting strength of leadership and courage in the face of incredibly difficult conditions, I would like to put on record that we owe them our thanks, first and foremost.

I will try to answer the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on why the Government are not supporting this amendment and the role of Ofsted in monitoring the Baker clause. Ofsted has updated its school inspection handbook to strengthen the focus on careers guidance, including by clarifying that inspectors will always report when a school falls short of the requirements of the provider access legislation—the Baker clause—as well as considering how it affects a school’s inspection grade. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, regarding his detailed questions about the careers framework.

Turning to the amendment itself, I will clarify for the House my understanding of the difference between our government Amendment 35 and Amendment 35A. On a number of occasions, your Lordships referred to three provider encounters under Amendment 35A; the provisions are for three encounters per phase of education, so a total of nine—I think my maths is right. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, spoke about having at least one encounter a year, but it is more than one a year. Amendment 35A seeks to increase the number of provider encounters to nine per pupil: three during each of the first, second and third key phases of a pupil’s education.

The Government’s amendment has three mandatory offers on the part of the school, two of which are also mandatory for the pupil and would take place in the first two phases of their education, with the third, optional encounter then taking place in the last phase. My noble friend acknowledged that schools are incredibly busy places. We are trying to find a balance which underlines the priority we place on this education without taking up too much curriculum time.

I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her remarks regarding bureaucracy, something that everyone, not just the Government, would like to minimise. That is another reason why consulting on the detail of implementation to make it as streamlined as possible is helpful.

On the question of timing, raised by my noble friend Lord Baker, I should clarify that the implementation of our amendment is not dependent on secondary legislation. The principle and number of encounters would be set out in the Bill, as my noble friend knows, while the secondary legislation would just provide further detail on the types and numbers of providers and some other points. Our amendment would come into effect at the same time as the amendment from my noble friend.

As my noble friend set out eloquently, his amendment also seeks to name university technical colleges in the Bill as one of the providers that every pupil must meet where practicable. This would give more weight to one provider over the rest. While we understand and absolutely respect his commitment, we want to act in the interests of all providers and therefore pupils, not just university technical colleges.

We include in our amendment the power for the Secretary of State to set out further details about the number and type of providers in secondary legislation if needed. We can, as part of this, consult school and provider representatives on these matters. We must be careful not to prejudge the outcome of any consultation by giving a guarantee that we will name UTCs in the secondary legislation. Putting this detail in secondary legislation also allows us to retain more flexibility to update the legislation in line with future policy changes.

In conclusion, the Government believe that Amendment 35 supports the interests of schools and all providers and allows flexibility for future changes in secondary legislation. We are absolutely committed to making the Baker clause work better, in a way that works for pupils and providers. I therefore hope that my noble friend—

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Before the Minister sits down, could she say a little bit about the enforcement of these provisions? My understanding of her reply to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, is that Ofsted will keep an eye on this. Is that all that happens? If you do not keep detailed records in the educational space, what happens to you? Perhaps this is not an issue as it is not the norm to keep them. I am mystified as to how this would work in practice.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her incredibly kind comments earlier about how quickly I have picked up this brief. I cannot confidently respond further than I did in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Storey. Schools take Ofsted inspections extremely seriously, so I hope the fact that the inspection framework and handbook have changed to accommodate this will give my noble friend some reassurance. I will also write to her and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare (CB)
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can I ask her for a point of clarification? She mentioned that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, required nine meetings. My understanding is that it is

“on at least three occasions during each of the first, second and third key phase”.

I may be misunderstanding this, but I understand a key phase to be a two-year period, so it would be six rather than nine.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I think trying to do mental arithmetic at the Dispatch Box is risky, but, as I read it, it is three times three because of the first, second and third key phases. Maybe we both need to go to numeracy boot camp, but I think three threes are nine —or at least they were when I was at school, which admittedly was a very long time ago. I believe the correct figure is nine, because the amendment specifies the first, second and third phase of education and three encounters in each phase.

I therefore hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all the Peers who have spoken, and I am glad to see I have some support—

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Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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I am glad we have got that little bit right. I first thank all the Peers who have spoken, including some Conservatives, in support of my amendment.

As regards the number of days, I make it absolutely clear that there should be three meetings. These meetings will not last for the full day; they will last for two or three hours at the very most, with maybe two providers coming in. There would be meetings at ages 13 to 14, 14 to 16 and 16 to 18. That is not what the government amendment says—it says that they will have “at least one”. The legal advice I have is from Mr Stephen Ravenscroft, who is well known to the department because he is the leading figure on educational law, but I managed to get at him first before the department. He has given me a very clear legal position on this: the point about “at least one” is that if a provider gets in first, the others do not have a right to be heard. The school can say, “We have had at least one meeting”, so I think my amendment is actually stronger than the Government’s.

I seek to test the opinion of the House.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, I am genuinely concerned that we have a fundamental understanding of the number of encounters that the two amendments seek to deliver. The government amendment says that

“the proprietor must give access to registered pupils on at least one occasion during each of”—

that is, every time; those are my words, not the amendment’s—

“the first, second and third key phase of their education.”

So there would be three mandatory encounters. The following part of our amendment says that, during each of these phases,

“The proprietor of a school … must … ensure that each registered pupil meets … at least one provider”,


so, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, a single provider is not sufficient. That is what our amendment says, so I would just like to make that point clear.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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I would like to seek the opinion of the House.

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13:15

Division 1

Ayes: 180


Labour: 82
Liberal Democrat: 57
Crossbench: 21
Independent: 10
Democratic Unionist Party: 5
Conservative: 3
Green Party: 2

Noes: 130


Conservative: 125
Crossbench: 3
Bishops: 1
Ulster Unionist Party: 1