Baroness Cohen of Pimlico debates involving the Department for Education during the 2019 Parliament

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Duties are important to ensure that all schools are required to provide these opportunities and that all students will receive at least three chances during the course of their secondary education. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has had to revisit his work from four years ago. I worked in schools for over 30 years and I know that, unless instructions are on a statutory footing, advice will be ignored in an already overcrowded curriculum in England. As a former teacher, I understand how important it is for students to receive such advice, on both a statutory and regular basis. We would have preferred a mandate that pupils receive such advice at least once a year. However, we support what has been placed in front of us and will give further support if the noble Lord, Lord Baker, tests the opinion of the House.
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—