Baroness Blackstone debates involving the Department for Education during the 2019 Parliament

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Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill [HL]

(2nd reading)
Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Friday 16th July 2021

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Education
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and his powerful contribution. I must begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for all his work on this Bill and his powerful, persuasive introduction to it today.

I possibly had the best introduction I could have had to this, unexpectedly doing two sessions of Learn with the Lords this morning. As I was speaking to those young people, I said what I often do: “On behalf of my generation, I am sorry to your generation for the mess we have made of things.” One of the reasons for that is that we have had an education system that has failed to explain to people—and a whole academic system that failed to understand—the nature of the world and the physical limits of this one fragile planet. But we now have the knowledge, and we have to make sure it is available to everyone. One of the pupils from Birchensale Middle School in Worcester asked me a very good question: “How can you Lords represent me?” Of course, the answer is we cannot. None of us knows what it is like to be a 14 year-old today. Think about what that 14 year-old’s life experience is like. We have to equip those young people with the knowledge and skills to work together with all the generations to build a society that works, functions and is truly sustainable.

I particularly commend the Bill’s focus on care. It encourages a notion of care—for oneself, for others and for the planet. That is such a contrast to the way our education system is being directed now, which is towards competition towards exams. The Bill is a step in the direction of something different. I speak in lots of schools, colleges and universities and attended, in pre-Covid times, lots of climate strikes. Lots of young people have managed to educate themselves; lots of teachers manage to squeeze in space for speakers like me to have debates to get students engaged and involved. But that is in gaps between the essential cramming for exam preparation. This has to be central.

Lots of good work is being done by the RSPB reaching 200,000 pupils a year, by Oxfam reaching 900,000 pupils, and by Reboot the Future reaching 15,000 teachers a year. These are good schemes, but they cannot be enough. We need legislation; we need a national change in approach to understand that we can live within the physical limits of this one fragile planet. We have to. That requires a co-operative understanding of the nature of our world.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, recent research has shown that 39% of nine to 18 year-olds thought they had learned little, hardly anything or nothing about the environment at school, and 71% said they would like to learn more. There is both a large gap in what young people have learned and a huge appetite to learn more. They also want to know what they themselves need to do to help protect the planet and thrive in a biodiverse and sustainable world.

In a year in which the UK hosts COP 26, we need to demonstrate our commitment to education and climate change and at least match what our co-host, Italy, is doing on sustainable citizenship provision. Our claim to want to be a global leader will be an empty one if the Government fail to take action. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth on his timeliness in introducing the Bill and his passion in doing so.

I hope when the Minister replies she will not say that the curriculum already covers environmental issues adequately, because it is simply not true. Current provision is piecemeal, with the issue covered in science subjects and geography, but not embedded in the curriculum as it should be—a point made by Ofsted, which has found it is often just an add-on.

In 2019 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on scaling up education for sustainable development, and UNESCO has now set a new target to make environment education a core curriculum component in all countries by 2025. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government are responding to UNESCO on this target?

My noble friend Lord Knight mentioned the views of teachers. Is the Minister aware of them? More than two-thirds of them think there should be more teaching on climate change in our schools, and nearly 90% say it should be compulsory—yet three-quarters of the teachers surveyed say they do not have adequate training in this area. There is not just a need to change initial teacher training; in-service programmes are urgently required for existing teachers. What discussions are taking place with providers on laying on these courses?

We have an admirable goal to reach net zero by 2050, but we risk not achieving it if we do not ensure that our population both understand the threat and know what actions are needed to reach this goal. It requires encouraging the right mindset about caring for the natural environment in the interests of present and future generations. It means instilling acceptance that behavioural change is necessary.

To give just one example, the Committee on Climate Change found that 62% of the reduction in energy consumption needed to meet our targets requires behavioural change. In this context it is not surprising that the committee said that reform of the Government’s education and skills framework should be a priority in 2021.

Starting to engage people when they are young, ready to learn and not set in their ways must be the right approach, so I strongly commend the Bill’s proposals on both the secondary curriculum and updating the teaching of citizenship, which, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, is so important.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to welcome this Bill and its very worthy aims, so passionately introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. I declare my environmental and conservation interests as in the register, particularly as a council member of the RSPB and chair of the Essex Climate Action Commission. I am also a member of Peers for the Planet and have had the pleasure of working on these issues with Jamie Agombar, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, in his opening speech.

It is my greatest fortune to have had an engagement with nature since my earliest days. I want as many people as possible to have that wonderful experience. Of course, now there is a real need to be aware of what my generation has done—and, indeed, left undone.

I have had the great opportunity over recent years to visit a good number of schools, and I can honestly say that the enthusiasm for learning about climate change and the nature crisis is extremely high. Whether that is reflected in all schools I cannot say—although we have heard some interesting statistics—but, to judge by those I have been in contact with, there is nothing but a very strong appetite. I think that is pretty universal.

Only last Friday I was part of a panel involved in a “Dragons’ Den”-style event for the Vanguard Learning Trust, a group of both primary and secondary schools in the London Borough of Hillingdon. Each school had held its own competition to find a project to represent the school, with the aim of reducing the school’s carbon footprint and improving its environmental profile. A generous donation from ACS International School Hillingdon enabled the schools to bid for extra funding to upgrade their projects. I pay tribute in particular to the trust’s principal, Martina Lecky, for coming forward with such an innovative idea that really engaged the pupils. I was really impressed by all the projects and look forward to seeing them progress, particularly the beehives at Ruislip High School.

I have a few questions about the Bill. The first, as just enunciated by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is how we ensure that teachers have adequate training and access to reliable resources to teach the subject to the level it deserves. I would love to see how schools can benefit from modern technology to engage with young people around the world, some at the very front line of climate change.

Finally, unless I have misunderstood the measures, they would be confined to secondary schools. I believe that primary school pupils are also immensely interested in and engaged in the climate issue and—just as importantly, in my opinion—in the crisis facing our natural world. As far as I can see, it is never too early to engage our young people in what will probably—almost certainly—be the biggest challenge that new generations face, because of our failures. I therefore commend the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, on bringing the Bill forward and wish it well.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

(Committee stage)
Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Tuesday 6th July 2021

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Education
Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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I will speak in support of Amendment 25 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Sheehan and Lady Morgan of Cotes, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. It contains a very interesting idea. It proposes that, when a local skills improvement plan has been devised for, say, Plymouth or Newcastle or Doncaster, the Secretary of State should examine it to see whether it accords with the national skills strategy and—this is of particular interest to the noble Baronesses—the UK’s climate change and biodiversity targets; it could include other things where there are clear targets as well, of course. The sadness of this is that the noble Lords talk about the national skills strategy when there ain’t no such thing, I am afraid. I wish that there were, but it simply has not developed. It ought to develop because there is no doubt that there is a substantial deficiency across the country in skills in a whole variety of different industries.

The Government used to publish skills gaps. The body that did it was called the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It was abolished by the Government in 2016 because a group of advisers said to them that they did not really think much about these skills gaps because they are often speculative guesses. I am afraid that this is a further example of a Government who are not listening because there is certainly a large number of skills gaps in our country.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I are both members of the Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, which now takes evidence twice a week. We are getting a lot of evidence not only from businesses but from students themselves that there are skills gaps. For example, we had evidence from one think thank that had examined 1,000 companies in Britain, large and small, stretching from national audio technology to pubs. Of those 1,000 companies, 76% of the CEOs said that the thing that was holding them back most was the absence of data employees—data analysts in particular—and people who understood artificial intelligence. That was the biggest inhibition on their growth and development. If that is not a skills gap, I do not know what is, quite frankly.

There are skills gaps in a host of other industries. One recent example that I am sure Members of this House have seen is that we have suddenly discovered that there is a skills gap of 10,000 HGV drivers. I would have thought that this might have been anticipated at some stage and we would have realised that we were desperately short of these people. So many of them have gone back to eastern Europe and the Balkans, and they are not being encouraged to come back. The transport ministry should have had some idea of what was likely to happen in this area.

One body, the education think tank the Edge Foundation, of which for a time I was the chairman, tried to fill in the gap. It produced a series of reports. It established large committees for each industry involving industry and academics, estimating what the skills gaps were. The first one was on engineering. The skills gap there was 203,000. That figure was agreed and supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. There was another one on digital skills. It was well over 100,000 two years ago; I suspect that it is much higher now. There was one on the creative industries, which showed a skills gap of 150,000. Yet, because these were not formal government statements, the Government took very little interest in and paid little regard to them. How can you fashion an education system if you have no idea what your national economy wants in the way of skilled workers? There is a dysfunction between the education system based on academic subjects and the needs of industry. There is absolutely no doubt about that. This is one of the causes of the high level of youth unemployment at the moment.

I suggest that the Government consider asking a department—not the Department for Education because it has very little connection with industry, but perhaps the DWP—to estimate and publish on a regular basis skill gaps for various industries. Without that, how can you shape education and training systems, and indeed an apprenticeship system, without knowing exactly what is needed by the local and national industries in our economy?

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, we listened with interest to some rather engaging and forceful Second Reading speeches on the first group this afternoon. I noted that my noble friend Lord Adonis took one view that this was a terrible Bill and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green took a different one that this was actually a good Bill. I find myself somewhere in between, but I want to be more pragmatic than they are. This is Committee. We have some opportunities in Committee to make a Bill better. I hope that that is what we will achieve at least in some respects.

At Second Reading I chose to talk largely about the missed opportunity in the Bill to try to link what we do in the educational system with the huge challenges that climate change and getting to our net-zero target by 2050 pose for us. I hope the Government will take the amendments in this group really seriously, because they at least begin to do just that.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

(2nd reading)
Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Education
Baroness Wyld Portrait Baroness Wyld (Con)
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My Lords, I add my warm congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Black of Strome—I am in awe. I also slightly wish that I had had my first job in a butcher’s shop, rather than packaging up the pear drops in the newsagent, then I too could have been an international high-flyer. It was a brilliant maiden speech.

I need to declare a few interests. I am a non-executive board member at Ofsted, from August I will serve on the Court of Newcastle University, and I had a temporary role on a committee at Ofqual towards the end of last year.

I of course welcome this Bill. As it so happens, my dad was an FE lecturer in Tyneside until his retirement. I remember very well when I was growing up meeting some of his students. We would bump into them in town or they would come round and thank him. A lot of them had come to education later in life and would talk about how their confidence had been transformed, so I am particularly pleased to speak on this issue today.

In my own maiden speech four years ago, I said that the pace of the technological revolution meant that the Government must use the tools they have to ensure that the labour market can adapt as nimbly as possible to an unprecedented pace of change. The Bill is certainly a step in the right direction, although there are areas I want to probe.

The Government are clearly passionate in their determination to level up and to ensure that we see a tangible link between skills and retraining and local jobs, and there is a very clear rationale for the local skills improvement plans. I agree that employers should be at the forefront of this. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister is aware that the pace of change in work- places means that we must think beyond the immediate jobs requirements of local employers, because we need to ensure a long-term employment market in which all can thrive according to their talent and hard work.

It is with this in mind that I gently ask my noble friend whether she can reassure me that we are definitely going far enough to empower local communities. Voters across the UK have just given a big vote of confidence in local leadership—for example, in re-electing local mayors. How will local leaders, with their in-depth understanding of demographic trends, existing skills, market trends and local infrastructure, be involved in the plans? Although I was unable to speak in the Queen’s Speech debate, I read it all back, and several noble Lords across the House expressed concern at a sense of “Whitehall knows best”. My noble friend absolutely has my sympathy, as she knows—this is an age-old dilemma for Governments who want to grip an agenda—but I would be grateful for some reassurance.

Like others, I turn now to lifelong learning. The Government are to be commended for the funding for level 3 qualifications, but I share concerns about those who could, in effect, be frozen out because they have an existing qualification. Does this not contradict the principle of retraining? As far as the loan entitlement provided for in Part 1 is concerned—the Government can consult on it—again, in principle all is good. It is absolutely right that we disrupt the status quo away from a one-size-fits-all approach, but I want to be sure as the Bill progresses that we really understand how gaining skills and/or retraining can work in practice, and do not make an assumption that policy and legislative change translates into easy decisions for, for example, a cash-strapped, time-poor 45 year-old.

There are lots of points on the detail that will need to be worked through, but there are immediately some glaring questions which others have raised and I share concern about, particularly regarding the equivalent or lower qualification rules, which my noble friend mentioned in her opening speech. Surely the pace of change we have discussed at some length today means that those with all sorts of qualifications will find themselves in need of retraining; again, I go back to the need for a nimble system.

More broadly, I support the Government’s optimistic message on lifelong learning and retraining but, ultimately, it is not me they have to persuade. We do not need a huge leap of imagination to understand how daunting the thought of taking on a loan in order to train or retrain can be to those who, through no fault of their own, have lost their job or have effectively been frozen out of the jobs market as a result of childcare pressures or caring responsibilities. Therefore, I urge the Government and employers—because I do not think government can or should solve every problem—to prioritise the social infrastructure that will enable more people to realise their ambitions and be part of a sustained recovery.

The Government acknowledge that the funding and loans system is complex. The more complex the system, the greater the need for clearer signposting. There is a lot of work to be done to develop a consumer- friendly system, particularly for the hard to reach. We are talking about lifelong learning, so we need to match that with a genuine understanding of the factors that affect decisions and resilience at every stage of life. But for all the challenges I have highlighted, I am absolutely confident that there is a way through. I look forward to working with the Government, who have my full support as they take the Bill forward.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome a Bill which focuses on lifelong learning and is committed to enhancing skills among the many young and indeed older people who do not go to university. I also welcome a Bill which aims to enhance the further education sector and support outstanding teaching as well as emphasising collaboration between employers and education and training providers, with the provisos made by my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley. Lastly, I welcome a Bill which seeks to correct the injustice of considerable financial support for students in universities against negligible financial support for students studying in FE colleges.

We undoubtedly have serious skills gaps compared to other OECD countries, with shortages of skilled employees in many sectors and low levels of productivity. This reflects too little investment by government and employers in alternative qualifications to university degrees. This has been particularly apparent in the last decade, when the coalition Government and the Conservative Government who followed them slashed further education, cutting colleges’ incomes by 50%.

Having welcomed the aims of the Bill, I turn to some of its limitations. As a piece of legislation, it is short on detail; it is a skeleton with too little flesh on it to allow us to understand how it will work in practice in key areas. This perhaps explains the long timescale for implementation, which will not be until 2024-25 for core proposals. The Bill reads a bit like a work in progress rather than the end of a detailed policy-making approach culminating—rather than beginning—with a piece of legislation. In a post-Covid world, action will be needed urgently and cannot be delayed for four years. This is especially true of training and educational support for the unemployed after furlough ends.

As others have said, the Bill’s implementation is also dependent on a large injection of resources, both in the short and the longer term. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned whether these resources will be forthcoming and whether detailed calculations of the costs entailed have been undertaken. What is the total price of the Bill when implemented, and when will the Government start injecting new resources?

Let me illustrate this with respect to FE colleges. Their funding has been insufficient. They need more, and they need longer-term funding settlements. This much was recognised, as the Minister knows, in the White Paper. It becomes even more salient when their funding is compared with that of schools and universities —as my noble friend Lord Layard has already mentioned—since they are much less well off in funding per student. Recent research by the IPPR found that to keep up with demographic pressures and inflation, over the last 10 years we would have had to invest £2.1 billion more per annum in adult skills and £2.7 billion more in 16 to 19 year-olds in FE. The Government must provide for future needs and redress the long-standing past underinvestment. Are the Government committed to starting the process in the next spending review, and will they move to long-term, multiyear simplified funding? Without this, the colleges will not be able to develop their curriculum and the range of courses needed to meet the outcomes of discussions with employers on local skills needs, nor will they be able to pay the salaries needed to attract high-quality lecturers to develop and teach new programmes.

I want to pick out one important area for new courses that may not emerge from locally based identifications of skills needs but requires a national scheme. This concerns the green economy. The Government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires a big shift to education and skills training to stall climate change. The Bill is a lost opportunity as it fails to link the Government’s goals on decarbonisation in energy, transport, and buildings, sustainable land management and carbon sequestration. Not only will those entering the labour force for the first time need to be prepared for green jobs, but many who currently work in fossil fuel sectors will need retraining. Why does the Bill make little or no reference to net zero? Should there not be a requirement for skills improvement plans to refer to national objectives on the green economy?

Lastly, I want to touch on the lifetime skills guarantee, on which the Government are still consulting. I am really glad that the gist of the Augar report’s recommendations on student support has been accepted, but the Government must provide more detail on eligibility, whatever the level or type of course the student is training in. Who will be eligible in terms of the range of subjects? I hope the range will be very wide and not narrow. They also need to consider, as others have said, how to support the maintenance needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds—or are the Government just going to ignore this? There will be a great deal of work to be done in Committee in this area and, I fear, in many other areas too.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I too welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Black of Strome, and congratulate her on an impressive maiden speech. I very much welcome this Bill, as it is clearly appropriate to revisit how current legislation is meeting the needs of students, employees, potential employees and employers, in a rapidly changing world. Let me declare my interests: I have been actively involved in encouraging the establishment of the institute for agriculture and horticulture, TIAH, which is under way, to help improve the image of the sector, provide signposting to quality-approved courses and CPD opportunities, and establish a national register. The support of Defra on this has been very welcome. I am also a fellow of City & Guilds.

The key objectives of the Bill are laudable and very welcome. Putting employers at the heart of post-16 skills policy has been the intention of previous policies. That is easily stated but more difficult to apply in practice. To devolve responsibility to local level, to have local skills improvement plans and employer representative bodies, must be the correct approach. What is unclear from the Bill is how this intention links to national skills priorities for each industry sector, how this relates to regional priorities—in particular, the involvement of local enterprise partnerships—and whether local employer representative bodies to be designated by the Secretary of State are intended to represent all industry sectors within a given local area.

Too often in the past, employer representative bodies have been dominated by large industrial employers and new high-tech sectors regarded as sexy and attractive. Other sectors, which are crucial but fragmented and characterised by SME employers, are sometimes not recognised and therefore not included. This is particularly true of the rural sector and agri-food businesses. They are not identified as sectors with skills gaps in the White Paper but are hugely important and provide exciting opportunities for those choosing a career. I hope the Minister can provide reassurance on this point and, in doing so, give a definition of “local”. Is local a county or parish definition, or something else?

The need to facilitate and encourage lifelong learning is vital; even more so as we emerge from the Covid experience, when many who have been furloughed or made redundant may have wished to retrain. A lifelong loan entitlement is an interesting concept and we await the consultation with interest. However, to wait until 2025 before this loan becomes available is regrettable. In my view, we will miss an important window, when such a facility would be very helpful. I hope that the Government have learned lessons from the student loan experience in determining the thresholds and timetables for repayment. I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, in this respect.

I will now comment on the changes to the regulatory framework proposed in the Bill. In my view, there is potential for significant confusion, as referenced by other Peers in this debate. Government support for vocational training and skills development, with T-levels et cetera, is very welcome. The ability of students to achieve degree-level qualifications as an alternative to attending university, with all its associated costs, must be correct. There is, however, some concerning potential overlap among the regulatory bodies. The Bill must be clear about the relevant roles of the Office for Students, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Ofqual and the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education—particularly the latter two bodies. Unless I have misinterpreted the wording, it appears that the new roles envisaged would create a two-tier and rather cumbersome regulatory approval system. The last thing we need is confusion, duplication and an additional load of bureaucracy. Within this new framework, it is essential that the authority of Ofqual and its accountability to Parliament are not diluted.

We also need to be aware of the administrative costs of regulatory oversight. I speak as a former chair of the Regulatory Policy Committee. Every new or amended regulator adds a new level of cost. The total cost of the suite of regulators in this space will be substantial.

I fully appreciate the need for nationally recognised industry standards. It is important that statutory control, as proposed in the Bill, particularly the role and influence of the Secretary of State, does not lead to overcentralised control or inhibit competition on skills provision in the marketplace.

I conclude by raising a concern about rural and land-based education. The Minister will be aware of the deep concern in the north of England about the proposed closure of Newton Rigg College in Cumbria. The failure to find a solution so far, and the possible loss of this geographically important college and its unique role in serving the needs of the uplands sector, as well as woodland and forestry management, is, I hope, not a signal that the Government do not regard rural as important. I left school aged 15 and the only formal education I received afterwards was in Northumberland, in what is now called a land-based college, very similar to Newton Rigg. As it was for the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, this was through evening classes and day-release courses.

As has been stressed a number of times today, we must ensure that young people and those who wish to retrain are well informed on course availability, including rural, land-based and agricultural courses, and have every opportunity to choose a career as a consequence. In the light of climate change, our net-zero ambitions, the importance of food security and opportunities within the rural economy, I hope the Government continue to regard this sector as important. I fully support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, on the need for seasonal workers in the agricultural and horticultural sectors.

Education Return and Awarding Qualifications in 2021

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 1st March 2021

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Department for Education
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, in the light of the Sutton Trust’s report last week on the hugely negative effects of university closures, especially on disadvantaged students, will the Government consider advancing the date of their review on when remaining students can return to university, particularly since leaving it to the Easter holidays will give little notice to universities, which need to plan to make a much-needed full return?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, there will be a one-week notice period for that. The reason for all these gaps is so that action is taken and data is collected and assessed. There are no plans to change the date of that review, but as the noble Baroness will be aware, students on practical courses should return by the 8th if they have not already done so.

Education: Supply Teachers

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 22nd February 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. A shortage has been identified in modern foreign languages, but we are seeking to address it by recruiting more permanent modern foreign language teachers. There are 1,687 new modern foreign language teachers in the new cohort. A bursary of £10,000 is available in shortage areas, as well as other arrangements. We have identified 25 local authority areas where modern foreign language teachers can reclaim student loan repayments as part of a way of encouraging them to work in those areas.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, given their commitment to a recovery programme to try to reduce the number of children who may never catch up following the school closures, will the Government ensure that supply teachers are available to contribute, given the pressures that there will be on permanent teaching staff? Will the Minister tell the House whether the necessary online training will be provided for supply teachers taking part in this programme and how such training might be resourced?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the guidance to schools helps them in this time of fluctuating staff absences to address their workforce issues. In particular, it draws attention to the use of supply teachers. Many resources are available, including teacher resources on the Oak National Academy, the remote platform with video lessons for all teaching staff. We are encouraging school leaders to make use of agency staff as and when they are needed to ensure the appropriate level of workforce in their schools.

Covid-19: GCSE and A-level Exams

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, the Government indeed recognise that there has been differential learning loss and—working alongside Ofqual, which has responsibility in this matter—we considered a regional approach, but that was quickly ruled out as unfair. However, we have established an expert advisory group whose job is to monitor and make recommendations about anything further that we can do to address differential learning loss.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Government’s decision to hold GCSE and A-level exams this year, and their admission that to cancel them last year was a mistake. It certainly was, as some of us said at the time. The measures that the Government now propose are, for the most part, welcome too, although more than a little late. However, the measures make no reference to FE or HE, even though public exams are a gateway to those sectors. Why have the Government no proposals for schools to inform colleges and universities of how much schooling applicants have missed and whether they had adequate access to online learning? This is vital information if university and college admissions are to be fair.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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I can assure the noble Baroness that we have worked closely, obviously, with FE and HE because the examination system of course bolts on to admissions, particularly in relation to the grade profiling that we have outlined. That will be similar but not identical to last year’s, because HE in particular was used to the system that there was last year. However, entry will be on the basis of grades and that is why we have maintained the exams at 16—the majority of English students move institution at that age.

Carbon Emissions

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(11 months, 1 week ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement by the Prime Minister on 6 October that all homes will be powered through offshore wind by 2030, what plans they have to align their skills strategy with their target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Baroness Berridge Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Department for International Trade (Baroness Berridge) (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom is the first major country to pass into law a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To build our capacity as an innovator and leader in cutting-edge technology, we will invest in the skills we need to drive those industries. We will develop and grow the workforce needed to meet this ambitious commitment through investment in apprenticeships, boot camps and higher-level technical qualifications.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer, but I do not think that she has given the House any kind of reassurance that there will be a proper strategy. Therefore, can she tell the House whether the Government are planning to have a national strategy, combined with regional skills strategies, to provide reskilling opportunities with low-carbon sectors and, if so, whether an assessment of funding for those strategies will be included in the net-zero review?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, there is a national skills and productivity board, which matches the local panels, and it will bring together leading experts to ensure that we know the emerging skills that we need. We know that at the moment a number of vacancies are due to skill shortages. We are particularly keen on investing in our ports and have invested £160 million in a fund to that end, because we know that at the moment we are the world’s leading market in offshore wind and we need to seize those opportunities, as the possibility of £2.6 billion of exports is ours to grab if we invest in the skills.

Schools and Colleges: Qualification Results and Full Opening

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, it is an integral part of catching up for disadvantaged students to have access to small-group tuition. We hope that this will be one of the changes that Covid-19 brings about, through the use of remote education, for example. In relation to the programme, Teach First is providing it where there must be a person physically in the building—certain schools will need one person to devote themselves to their cohort—but other tutoring will be delivered remotely. That is being delivered through the grant to the Education Endowment Foundation. If the noble Lord could send me details of those companies, the foundation is seeking to make sure that the best tutoring out there is made available to disadvantaged students.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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I want to press the Minister on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, because, regrettably, I do not think her answer was satisfactory. Was it not the Secretary of State who decided not to follow the example of the Scottish Government to bring back teacher assessments instead of Ofqual’s algorithms, which were leading to gross injustices to many students? In these circumstances, why did the Secretary of State not resign, when the Permanent Secretary was shown the door? Surely, this is an abrogation of our constitutional principle that Ministers take responsibility in the end.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, I have outlined to noble Lords that once issues were raised about the Scottish results, there were concerns that they should not be repeated in England. That was the moment at which that could be compensated for by the introduction of an additional appeal based on a valid mock. There was a response; it is not that nothing was done once we were aware. When issues were brought to our attention, matters were dealt with.

Schools: Online Support for Pupils

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Thursday 18th June 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge [V]
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My Lords, the pupil premium is around £2.4 billion a year and the Education Endowment Foundation gives schools information and evidence on the best use of that pupil premium. However, the Government have entrusted school leaders and school professionals to determine the best use of that pupil premium, because they best know the students in their classrooms.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab) [V]
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We now know that there is a huge and growing inequality in access to learning, with dire effects on children’s mental health. Given the ineffectiveness of remote learning, why have we seen such a pathetic failure in providing a can-do approach to getting all children back to some schooling, not just in September but before the end of this term? Why, for example, have separate morning and afternoon sessions not been introduced, which could double the numbers returning, and why has the Department for Education had so little success in getting a dispensation on social distancing rules in schools, given that the Minister told the House last week that it would be very pleased to move away from the two-metre rule? Is the Secretary of State for Education as invisible in government discussions as he is in the media?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge [V]
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My Lords, throughout this pandemic the Government have made it clear that we would be guided by the scientific evidence. The evidence we have at the moment means that there is the two-metre social distancing rule, but I must pay tribute to the teachers who are working hard out there. They have carried on running their schools throughout this pandemic and are now opening them up to reception and years 1 and 6, along with face-to-face time with years 10 and 12. Education is happening but, of course, along with all noble Lords, we want to see all children back at school in September.

Education Settings: Wider Opening

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 11th June 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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My Lords, even before the summer, the Government have been clear in their guidance to schools that they should use outside space wherever possible when they reopen. We have provided guidance even on how to introduce team sports for the small groups that are back. However, we are aware that many children will have been sedentary over this period and that is a concern. We have linked to resources to encourage people to get the 60 minutes of exercise a day that Sport England recognises. I will take back my noble friend’s specific question about summer provision of physical activity.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I want to re-put the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, as the Minister did not answer it. Why has the two-metre social distancing rule not been relaxed in line with WHO guidance, since this rule is the main block to all children returning to school at the earliest possible time? Will she accept that a failure to bring children—especially disadvantaged children—back to school poses much greater risks to their academic development, mental health and safety from abuse, whether on the streets or in their homes, than the negligible risks to their health of returning?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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My Lords, throughout the crisis, the Government have been guided by the science. The view at the moment—based on SAGE and the best science we have—is that social distancing should be at two metres. Should that view change, the Department for Education will of course be the first to welcome that, as it would ease many of the issues that schools have in relation to their buildings. As I said, it is important that the offer has been there for vulnerable children to come to school during this time. The provision for vulnerable children is made in addition to provision for the year groups as they come back.

BAME Students: Pupil Referral Units

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Monday 23rd March 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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I am grateful to the noble Lord. On the recruitment of teachers, a £2 million project with the diversity hubs is aimed specifically at increasing the diversity of the workforce, which is an important factor. On non-diagnosis, for every child who is not meeting the requisite attainment standards, graduated action on their attainment gap should be taken by teachers and SEN co-ordinators, regardless of a diagnosis. We are aware that 81% of the children in alternative provision also have special educational needs and disabilities, so we need to intervene earlier. That will be part of the SEN review, to avoid this correlation.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I am not clear on what the Minister said in response to my noble friend Lady Lawrence. Can she make it clear whether, in the current circumstances, all pupil referral units will remain open and take in all the children who have been to referred to them for treatment, care and education? If not, will those children be admitted immediately to mainstream schools to ensure that they are not left out, because they are among the most vulnerable?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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The noble Baroness will be aware that some pupils who are in a pupil referral unit are still on the roll of a mainstream school and are in alternative provision on a part-time basis. We expect alternative providers to remain open because we are aware that just under half of their cohort will qualify under the definition of vulnerable. We trust head teachers presented with somebody who might not technically be within the letter of “vulnerable” to make that decision, and we will support them in doing so if they view the young person in front of them as vulnerable; for instance, if they had contact with them two or three years ago, they can make that decision.

Educational Settings

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 19th March 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, raises some of the detailed issues that arise in this unprecedented situation. These matters are being taken into account. Whenever you think about the situation, another implication arises. All that she says will be noted and taken back. As I say, though, the assessment of grades for examinations is something that will be out, I believe, tomorrow.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I have to say that in the 33 years I have sat in this House this is by far the worst education Statement that I have ever listened to. It is wholly inadequate. As the National Association of Head Teachers has said, far more questions arise from it than answers. Before a Statement of this sort is produced, the work should have been done. The Department for Education and the Government have had plenty of time; they have been considering this issue for some weeks yet have come up with something that leaves parents, teachers and pupils in disarray.

I shall just give two examples—I would like to give many others but I must not take up too much of the House’s time. First, the Government have said that schools are going to be kept open for people in the workforce who are in key jobs, not only in the National Health Service but in many other areas. There is absolutely no clarity about how these schools will be chosen. The schools are closing tomorrow night, so what happens on Monday morning when a nurse who works in a crucial ICU does not know what to do or where to send her children? This preparation should have been done properly and it has not. How does the Minister think the system is going to work from Monday when there are so many uncertainties?

Secondly, there is the cancellation of GCSE and A-level exams. Any Minister who has been responsible for this area knows that you cannot play about with the exam system until you have done the necessary preparation so that pupils’ and teachers’ questions can be answered. We have a generation of young people now whose mental health is being jeopardised by the fact that they have not a clue what is going to happen to them regarding their university or job applications—or their college applications, if we are talking about GCSE.

Does the Government agree that it is vital that there is clarity about university entrance? Does the Minister agree that the simplest system would simply be to take the predicted grades, which are all centrally collected and every university has them for the applications they have received, and that any young person who has been made an offer at those predicted grades or below should be told within the next fortnight that their place will be guaranteed? If not, they will be left in extreme uncertainty and misery.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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I agree with the noble Baroness that this is the worst Statement, but considering the situation the country faces, if it were possible to provide all the certainty with one click, it would be done. However, parents can be certain that, under the announcement, all schools will be open on Monday, but only for key workers and vulnerable children. In her example, that mother or father needs to go to school as normal if they are a key worker or their child is a vulnerable child. There could not be more consideration and importance being given to the disruption that we are aware will be caused to families as of Monday and to this generation of young people. As the noble Baroness accepted, it is not simple to work out a fair and just qualification for students, but if students are unhappy with the grade that they have been given in whatever the system that will be announced tomorrow is, there will be a way for them to have some form of redress. I assure her that all our education professionals, local authority professionals and central education staff are working as quickly as possible to provide accurate guidance, which, unfortunately, takes some time.

Higher and Further Education: Rural and Coastal Areas

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Wednesday 18th March 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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Ed tech is literally just beginning to show us what is possible in relation to education—in international collaboration, yes, but particularly in flexible and distance learning, which can help students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access education further away from home, if they have caring responsibilities, and particularly in relation to special educational needs. We are having a rapid evidence assessment, because teachers need to understand fully the technology now available to best apply it to the students they are trying to teach.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, transport costs are often a barrier to students living some distance away, especially from FE colleges. It was gratifying to hear that some consideration is being given to support students with transport costs. Can the Minister say a little more about that, particularly in relation to students over the age of 19, and whether part-time students will be included in any support planned?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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Yes, what I have outlined covers both bus and rail, but the noble Baroness will be aware that the bursary funding given to institutions can also be given to disadvantaged students. I will have to come back to her about the part-time comment.

Innovation Economy: Skills

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 16th March 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Department for Education
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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My Lords, as part of our ongoing commitment to arts in schools, we are continuing funding of about £85 million a year for a range of music and cultural education programmes. Cognitive science shows that a knowledge-based curriculum is then the foundation for stimulating the critical thinking and creativity that we need. That is why the focus of our curriculum is on getting that bed of knowledge on which all students, including arts students, need to build. The Government believe that the short, online, intensive survey by PISA is not sufficient to give us a realistic indication of creative thinking in our students.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, as so often, the Minister made no reference to further education in her initial reply. Given the importance of FE in delivering skills training, will she say something about how the Government will tackle the problem of lack of trained staff in the FE sector, following the enormous cuts made to it? I know that the House will welcome the extra funding that has been provided for FE, but it will be useless if we do not have the relevant and appropriately skilled staff to do the training needed.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the role of FE, which often does not get mentioned in this space. Yes, £400 million has been invested into the estate, and I think that more money was announced in the Budget. There has not been a specific fund to skill up the FE workforce as well, but one initiative that the Government have embarked on are the new institutes of technology, 12 of which have begun to open from September 2019. They are an innovation of employers, universities and the FE sector. The Government are committed to the role of the FE sector in delivering the skills that we need for the future.