All 3 Alex Burghart contributions to the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022

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Tue 30th Nov 2021
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debates: 2nd Sitting & Committee Debates: 2nd Sitting

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords]

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
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As someone who has spent the majority of his life in education or education policy, it is a real honour to be presenting this Bill on Second Reading. The Bill forms a cornerstone of some historic reforms that we are bringing to the skills agenda in our country: reforms that will help us more closely align skills training with the needs of employers; reforms that will help us to help all students, at all ages and stages, find more reliable routes to employment; and reforms that will help us level up our country and build back better.

This has been a long journey, and I want to thank some of the people who have been involved in it: not least, in the other place, Lord Sainsbury and Baroness Wolf, who have done enormous work to get us here, but also my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson), the former Secretary of State, who gave such an impressive speech, and my hon. and glamorous Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), the former Minister for apprenticeships and skills. I also feel the need to mention another noble Lord in the other place who wrote a report for the Government in 2012—Lord Lingfield, who is genuinely one of the unsung heroes of education reform over the past 30 years. I put on record my debt to him and to his thinking. All of their work—the cross-party work that we have heard so much about tonight—has shown us the importance of building a skills system that can work for everyone.

There have been some powerful speeches, many delivered at high speed, and some important arguments made. I will try to deal with as many as I can in the time I have available. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the outset, our reform agenda is about both local prosperity and global competitiveness. It is about the needs of labour market and the needs of the student, and it is about our collective need for a more prosperous future. That is why this Government are putting the money down to get the job done: £3.8 billion more for FE and skills over the Parliament, the biggest increase in over a decade; £1.6 billion more for education at 16 to 19; £554 million for adult skills, a 29% increase in real terms over four years; and £2.7 billion for apprenticeships by the end of this spending review period—all this and more, to give people the skills the economy needs.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Chair of the Education Committee, said that skills had often been the Cinderella service; well, tonight it continues its journey to the ball. But if it is Cinderella, I wonder who the fairy godmother is. Is it my right hon. Friend himself, is it the Secretary of State, or is it the Chancellor, who provided this money? The Opposition have talked about the state of funding over time. I taught history for quite a long time, and one of the things we learn when we study history is that the left loves to rewrite it—when it is not destroying it. Some Conservative Members remember why there was a need for austerity in 2010. Indeed, in a powerful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) talked about a time when the Opposition were in power and things were not quite so rosy as they seem to remember.

Kate Green Portrait Kate Green
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This is not rewriting history but merely to point out to the Minister, who may not remember, that when Labour left office in 2010 the economy was growing, and what happened then was that it was thrown into reverse by the Government of the time’s austerity policies.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Rewriting history yet again: everybody knows that the last Labour Government left the economy of this country in the gutter and it required a Conservative Government to pick it up and to create the jobs miracle that we saw before the pandemic.

We want the skills system to become more responsive to the needs and knowledge of employers, creating dialogue between skills providers and industry. That is why the Bill establishes the employer representative bodies and local skills improvement plans.[Official Report, 19 November 2021, Vol. 703, c. 6MC.] Employer representative bodies will hold the ring locally on the needs of local employers, finding out what skills they are looking for and working with colleges to make sure that those skills are built up. For the first time, employers in an area will know exactly who to go to when they want providers to respond to that need. That is what I have heard when I have gone around the country in my first few weeks in this job. The other day I went to Doncaster and heard the people who are masterminding the first LSIP say that for the first time people know to come to them in order to speak to providers and get skills put on the table.

Using that sort of intelligence, ERBs will produce local skills improvement plans to nudge local learning in the right direction. An ERB is a body with a plan to help the next gigafactory, the next offshore wind farm, the next nuclear plant and the next electric vehicle factory to find the workers with the skills they need; a body to help the retrofitters, the digital networkers and the constructors of HS2 to get the skills that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) talked about in terms of the green revolution and our net zero plans; and a plan to help local areas get the skills they need to harness the talents of the people to build the infrastructure of tomorrow, led by employers, supported by Government and driven forward by our excellent further education colleges.

However, our work to align the needs of the economy with the desire of students for modern skills does not stop there. To do all this, we need technical qualifications that meet the needs of employers. T-levels—the new gold-standard qualification at level 3—have been drawn up with the input and expertise of more than 250 employers to ensure that they provide students with the right skills for the workplace—skills that will be relevant and recognised in the real world. This, we must remember, was done following the recommendations of the Labour peer, Lord Sainsbury, to whom I again pay tribute.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) spoke—I refer to him because my father-in-law was from Birmingham, Hall Green— powerfully and movingly about his experience and his son’s. I have no doubt that he and his son would have been able to do a BTEC in engineering, flourished through it and been able to enjoy some of the great advantages I have seen when I have visited colleges in south Essex, Walsall and south London, where students are studying T-levels and thriving.[Official Report, 19 November 2021, Vol. 703, c. 6MC.]

The hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) made a very good speech. Putney does not have T-levels yet, but she should visit one of her neighbours that does. She will see teachers and students who are inspired, working with employers, getting excellent work placements and seeing their destination as work. These are high-quality qualifications that will meet the needs of the local community.

I was pleased to hear the Opposition support our changes on level 2 English and maths as an exit requirement for T-levels, because we want these new gold-standard qualifications to be open to as many people as possible. What we see emerging is a new pathway to work for everyone at 16-19. For students at level 3, there will be world-class qualifications designed with employers leading to degree-level apprenticeships, work and, yes, higher education, because more than 50 universities already accept our T-levels. For students who are at level 2 at 16-19, there will be, thanks to our forthcoming consultation on level 2 and below, world-class qualifications designed with employers leading to traineeships, apprenticeships or work, or, indeed, the opportunity to take up the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee at level 3 and get the skills they want, that they might not have had the chance to gain at school.

I say to the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) that there will be choices for everybody and opportunities for everyone to progress towards work. Skilling up will not end when someone leaves college. We have bootcamps of the type I have seen in Salford and Doncaster. We have the multiply programme for numeracy skills—the great half-a-billion-pound project initiated by the Chancellor at the spending review. For literacy, which was understandably raised by a number of Members, I remind the House that full funding for adults who do not already have a GCSE pass is already available. We also intend to help people who have level 3 to progress. That is why the Bill lays the foundations for the lifelong loan entitlement, which gives adults who want to get a higher technical qualification the opportunity to invest in their future, to retrain and upskill.

This is a landmark Bill that will further the cause of skills in this country. It will give students the skills they need and that the economy wants, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords]:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 7 December 2021.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Steve Double.)

Question agreed to.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State; and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Nadhim Zahawi.)

Question agreed to.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] (Ways and Means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the charging of fees under the Act.—(Nadhim Zahawi.)

Question agreed to.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (Second sitting) Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (Second sitting)

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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I welcome you to your place, Mr Efford. I want to lend my support to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle and others on this group of amendments. They seek to ensure that the LSIPs take the needs of disabled people and those with special educational needs into account.

Currently, further education caters for a large number of students with such needs, which can be complex. The latest data shows that roughly half of disabled people are in employment—just 53%—compared with just over four out of five non-disabled people. The employment rate for disabled people with severe or specific learning difficulties was 18% back in 2019, the lowest rate of any impairment group. The House of Commons Library briefing notes that 52% of disabled people were in employment, down from 54%, which is really concerning.

The Workers Educational Association notes that

“adult learners in community provision are those with low or no qualifications, who require the most support in order to progress to higher level qualifications.”

Learning disabilities add to that complex state of affairs, which justifies the inclusion of an amendment to provide more support for people with learning disabilities. In its evidence to the Committee, Engineering UK said:

“38% of respondents…reported a lack of role models to be a barrier for pupils with special educational needs”.

One of the employers in my region, the National Grid, is doing extraordinary stuff in engaging and giving work opportunities to young people with complex needs, through its EmployAbility scheme. It is an exemplar project that it has been running for several years.

Those are some of the reasons why the amendments are important to the Bill. The Government’s impact assessment says that those from SEND backgrounds are “disproportionately” likely to be affected, and it is therefore a cruelty not to legislate where possible to mitigate that disproportionate impact. We think it is vital that such provisions be written into the Bill, which is why the amendments have been tabled. We need to highlight the challenges and make sure that we are as inclusive a society as possible, and that we allow for the needs of people with SEND in skills provisions.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I rise to speak to amendments 1, 2 and 3 tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham, amendments 27 and 28 tabled by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, and amendment 34 tabled by the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Warwick and Leamington.

Those amendments all relate to LSIPs and the importance that we all place on improving the employment prospects of people with disabilities. The criteria for designation of employer representative bodies in the Bill are intentionally focused on the key characteristics and capabilities required for that specific role. We do, of course, want all employers to demonstrate good practice in equality and diversity in employment, including in relation to disability. The Bill is clear that LSIPs should draw on a range of evidence, but we do not consider it appropriate to list all that evidence in the Bill. Instead, I assure Opposition Members that we will set out further details in statutory guidance and continue to engage key stakeholders representing learners with special educational needs and disabilities as that guidance is developed.

The guidance will make it clear that employer representative bodies should absolutely engage groups that can help them to understand the needs of learners with disabilities and the barriers they face, and consider how people with disabilities can be supported to progress into good jobs that meet local skills needs, thereby supporting activity to reduce the disability employment gap. In the work I have been doing in the run-up to the Bill, among many other stakeholders, I spoke to a specialist college in Kent, which had a very powerful message for me. They said that they had catered for a lot of young people whom they believed had a bigger role to play in the local economy, which would be good for employers and the economy, but particularly important for the individuals themselves. That very much reflects my own experience.

For eight years, I was vice-chair of governors at a special school for children with autism in west London. It was an excellent school, not because of my vice-chairmanship but because we had an exceptional head and exceptional staff. It started as a primary school, but went on to become an all-through school. The work the school was engaging in when I left to enter politics was to make sure that it could help young people—often with really profound needs—to transition into the workplace. The alternative for too many people is a life of isolation and loneliness.

I commend the work that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle is doing on the APPG. I am sure that the APPG will want to look at the statutory guidance when it comes out and feed back to us, and we welcome that conversation. There are great opportunities here for dialogue between the ERBs, local providers, and local disability groups to make sure that the needs and the talents of young people with special educational needs are reflected.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that it is actually the most logical fit for businesses to embrace and be accessible to those who have learning disabilities? As we know, they are often among the most unconventional, creative and brilliant thinkers.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is absolutely right; something I will come on to in a moment is that when we help young people with special educational needs overcome the barriers to employment, and when we help employers overcome some of the barriers that they may feel exist to employing those young people, it is an extraordinarily mutually beneficial relationship.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
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I want to push the Minister a little more on the guidance. He has mentioned that it will be statutory, which I welcome, but I wonder whether it will include some of the wording that is in this amendment, which looks specifically at what action will be taken to reduce the disability employment gap. Will that be seen in the statutory guidance?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Obviously, we are very keen to reduce the disability employment gap, and we are always mindful of ways in which we can achieve that. I am sure that it will be in the Secretary of State’s mind when he considers the statutory guidance.

Local skills improvement plans are not the only solution to this issue. Colleges already have a duty to use their best endeavours to secure the special educational provision called for by a student with special educational needs, as set out in the SEND code of practice. That should include a focus on preparing the young person for adulthood, including employment.

In addition to the duties on providers in relation to LSIPs, clause 5 introduces a broader duty for colleges and designated institutions to review how well their whole curriculum offer meets local needs. The duty requires governing bodies to consider the needs of all learners, including current and future learners, and those with special educational needs or a disability.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I appreciate the tone of the Minister’s response, but he has not really given us any detail on why he does not think it appropriate to have the wording in the Bill. Instead, he asks us to take it on trust that we will like the guidance when we eventually see it. We have to vote on the amendment. We have no idea what will be in the guidance. He has not said, “It’s written. It’s going to look like this—I just can’t show it to you.” There will be guidance and at some point we will see it, so can the Minister explain why it is not appropriate that we simply have a commitment in the Bill that LSIPs will have a strategy around supported internships?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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On supported internships, I was very interested to hear about what the hon. Gentleman has seen going on in his constituency. I assure him that we are continuing to work to improve supported internships in England, including updating our guidance and, through our contract grant delivery partnerships in this financial year, developing a self-assessment quality framework for providers and helping local authorities to develop local supported employment forums. I respect his desire to see supported internships improve and go further. We share his ambition, but we are not putting every particular intervention that we favour in the Bill, so we will not single that one out for special treatment.

Lia Nici Portrait Lia Nici (Great Grimsby) (Con)
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We already know that these kinds of activities are happening. I declare an interest as the chair of the apprenticeship diversity champions network. Employers are recognising that they need to offer these skills and support already. I am sure that the Minister knows that that is already happening.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Government are also developing an adjustments passport that aims to smooth the transition into employment and support people changing jobs, including people with special educational needs and disabilities. That goes back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich made. When I was on the Work and Pensions Committee with the great Frank Field, that was exactly the sort of thing that we were calling for. I am very pleased that this Administration have seen it go out.

The 12-month pilots of the adjustments passport that are under way in HE and post-16 provider pilot sites are capturing the in-work support needs of the individual and we hope that they will empower individuals to have confident discussions about adjustments with employers. It goes back to my point about breaking down barriers both for the individual and for the employer. More broadly, the Government’s national disability strategy sets out how we will help disabled people to fulfil their potential through work, to help reduce the disability employment gap further.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
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With respect to the comments made by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, if everything were all fine and dandy as it is, we would not have a 28 percentage points disability employment gap. The Minister talks about the statutory guidance. Will there be some sticks as well as carrots in the guidance? If employers and people do not feel that they are being represented, and they are not taking effective measures to deal with the disability employment gap, will there be sanctions?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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As I said in the previous sitting, statutory guidance is a powerful tool. If employer representative bodies do not adhere to statutory guidance, they may lose their designation. That is in the essence of statutory guidance. Given the significant amount of work already under way in this space, we do not believe that the amendments are necessary, but we agree with the direction in which they push.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I appreciate what the Minister has said. He has not really given us any detail on why he does not think that it is appropriate. I take his point on supported internships being one strategy: our amendment acknowledged that. However, in terms of amendment 1 on people with disabilities, we are not talking about a fractional thing that is not worth mentioning because there are so many other things that could be mentioned, but about a substantial body of people who have often been missed out by education providers. This is an opportunity to ensure that when the chambers of commerce, or whoever the employer representative bodies are, are writing their local skills improvement plans, those people do not continue to be left out.

I still think that amendment 1 should be accepted, so we will press it to a vote. I am willing to not press the other amendments in this group to a vote, but will look very carefully at the statutory guidance. I think that many people—such as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle and the cross-party group, which was very supportive of this—will listen to the Minister’s response and still wonder why the amendment is not appropriate. For future amendments, it would be useful if we had a bit more of a response as to why the Government are against it, rather than just the fact that they are.

--- Later in debate ---
Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
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Absolutely; my hon. Friend could not have put it better. The views of residents matter as well because, as we know, although public bodies, local authorities, LEPs and chambers of commerce operate within defined boundaries, people do not. They do not necessarily know where parliamentary constituency boundaries or council ward boundaries are, and they do not always know where council boundaries are—people are fluid throughout. My hon. Friend is right that there was an opportunity to include the views of residents in the development of the plans. Unfortunately, that amendment was not passed.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I rise to speak to amendments 33, 38 to 41, and 44. I will start with amendments 33 and 38 in the names of the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Warwick and Leamington.

Amendment 33 would require that local skills improvement plans draw on the views of local enterprise partnerships and the Skills and Productivity Board. We have been clear that local skills improvement plans should be informed by the work of the national Skills and Productivity Board and build on the work of local enterprise partnerships and their skills advisory panels. We will reiterate that in statutory guidance.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
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This is a quick one on statutory guidance. To clarify, will that statutory guidance state “act in accordance with” or “have regard to”? We all know that statutory guidance that states “have regard to” means “read and ignore.”

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am horrified to hear the hon. Lady’s attitude to statutory guidance. Our intention will be set out in statutory guidance, so that local skills improvement plans will be informed by the work of the national Skills and Productivity Board and build on the work of local enterprise partnerships and their skills advisory panels.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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The Minister talks about speaking to local enterprise partnerships, but he must see the point that this is precisely the kind of role that was envisaged for local enterprise partnerships when they were invented. The very fact that he now says that we will go to the employer representative bodies, which we assume are likely to be chambers of commerce, rather than to local enterprise partnerships, must make people wonder, “Is there a future for local enterprise partnerships?” Will he tell us why he thought that local enterprise partnerships were not the right organisation to be the employer representative body in such cases?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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We have been clear that we want to have an approach that is completely employer-led. Local enterprise partnerships, which have much to recommend them, are partially informed by employers, but they are public-private partnerships and we want an employer-led process.

Amendment 38 relates to local skills improvement plans taking account of providers of distance learning. I very much acknowledge the remarks made by Opposition Members about the importance of distance learning and how valuable it is to many members of the public who are studying. All relevant providers that provide English-funded post-16 technical education or training that is material to a specified area will have a duty to co-operate with the designated employer representative body for that area in developing a plan. That will be true even if they are based elsewhere and offer the provision by distance or online learning. That will help to ensure that the views of distance learning providers are taken into account.

Amendment 39, tabled by the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Warwick and Leamington, would require the Government to have a national strategy for education skills that is agreed across DFE, DWP, BEIS and DLUHC, and of which LSIPs would have to take account. The Government have already set out their strategy for skills reform in the “Skills for jobs” White Paper published in January last year, which was agreed by all Departments—not just the ones listed in the amendment. The proposals set out the aim to support people to develop the skills that they need to get good jobs. They form the basis of the legislation we are discussing.

On the local skills improvement plans, we have been clear that they should take account of the relevant national strategies and priorities related to skills, as well as being informed by the work of the national Skills and Productivity Board. The specific strategies and priorities will evolve and change over time. We think the best place to do that is in statutory guidance.

Amendment 40, tabled by the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Warwick and Leamington, relates to the publication of guidance setting out the criteria used to determine a specific area. The specified areas for local skills improvement plans will be based on functional economic areas. The Government are working with local enterprise partnerships to refine the role of business engagement in local economic strategy, including skills, and to ensure that the structures are fit for purpose for the future. That includes looking at geographies—

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am sure that the Secretary of State, as he engages in the process, will be mindful of the muddle that is Hull and, indeed, mindful of the many economic areas in which hon. Members find their constituencies.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
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I want to clarify that, whatever boundary it might be, defined boundaries will be set. If we do not set a defined boundary of any type, I cannot see how it will be possible to collect the data and the intelligence to know whether a strategy is working.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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We are clear that these will be based on functional economic areas, that they will have a defined geography and that we will ensure that no part of the country is left out.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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Will the Minister also clarify this? Is it possible that an area could be in two different local skills improvement plans? For example, Chesterfield was originally part of both the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire local enterprise partnership and the Sheffield City Region one. Both were considered functional drive-to-work areas. Is it possible that an area such as Chesterfield might be in two different local skills improvement plans, or is it the case that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle says, there will be a defined area and everyone will just be in one?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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We are working on the basis that there will be a defined area for each one, but we will be mindful of the fact that in some areas the geography does not neatly fit reality. That goes to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South was making.

We will consider this work, alongside evidence from the local skills improvement plan trailblazers, before making final decisions about the specified areas that local skills improvement plans will cover. However, let me reassure members of the Committee that through the designation process, the Secretary of State will ensure that there are no gaps in the coverage of local skills improvement plans across the country.

I turn now to amendments 41 and 44. Amendment 41 relates to consulting local authorities and mayoral combined authorities on guidance for the roll-out of local skills improvement plans. We regularly engage mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority, for example in relation to this Bill and the LSIP trailblazers, and we will continue to do so as we develop our plans for the wider roll-out of LSIPs and the accompanying statutory guidance. We will also engage the Local Government Association and other key stakeholders and make use of the evidence collected from the evaluation of our trailblazers.

Amendment 44 aims to allow colleges and other providers to propose revisions to local skills improvement plans. The Bill already places duties on relevant providers to co-operate with employer representative bodies in developing the plans and keeping them under review. That will give providers the opportunity to propose revisions and help to ensure that the plans are evidence-based, credible and actionable. We expect local skills improvement plans to focus on key priorities for change to make provision more responsive to local labour market skills needs, but it is important to note that those will be changes that providers themselves will have had a role in specifying.

Once an LSIP has been signed off, a provider will be required to have regard to it. The plan will not tell providers what to do. Providers will remain responsible for making decisions as part of their business planning, but they will have the benefit of those decisions being informed by a credibly articulated and evidence-based statement of priorities from business that they will, in turn, be empowered and incentivised to respond to.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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We have heard the Minister’s response on those issues. Amendments 33 and 38 to 40 were probing amendments through which we sought to understand the role of the different organisations and how Government would define the different areas. I understood the Minister’s response to mean that no area would be left out, but also that no area would be in two LSIPs —I think that that is what he was saying. That is quite important because if an area ends up being in two, because it is in two different functional drive-to-work areas, that will make the data collection aspect impossible.

There has been a lot of important narrative in this debate about recognising that areas may well look in two different directions. The point that the hon. Member for Warrington South made about looking towards Liverpool and towards Manchester, as well as towards the rest of Cheshire, is important. If Warrington does not end up being in one area or another, the data collection will become impossible, in terms of the success of those particular areas. We will obviously look to the statutory guidance and, if I have misunderstood what the Minister has said, he has the opportunity now to put me right. I think that it is really important to understand whether an area could be in two different local skills improvement plans.

On the basis of the responses and the fact that the amendments were probing, I propose to withdraw amendments 33 and 38 to 40. We would like to put amendment 41 to a vote, because we believe that it is not only consultation with combined authorities that is relevant; we are very concerned that areas that are outside a combined authority will have no democratic oversight whatever. We think that people within those areas will also want to know that there has been some consultation.

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Amendment 9 agreed to.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 1, page 3, line 10, after “any” insert “English-funded”.

This amendment limits the post-16 technical education or training about which a local skills improvement plan must identify actions that can be taken to such education or training that is English-funded.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 11 to 17.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Officials in my Department have engaged closely with counterparts in the Welsh Government, and we believe that we have reached a satisfactory position from a devolution perspective. Government amendments 11, 12, 13 and 14 provide further clarification as to the definition of ‘relevant providers’ that may be in scope of the duties relating to local skills improvement plans in clause 1.

The amendments make it clear that those duties can only apply to institutions within the further education sector in England, English higher education providers, and independent training providers that provide post-16 technical education or training in England. Local authorities, 16-to-19 academies and schools in England may also be subject to the duties in the future should the Secretary of State exercise their power to make regulations under clause 4. Relevant providers will only be subject to the duties relating to local skills improvement plans if they provide English-funded post-16 technical education or training that is material to a specified area in England, including by distance or online learning.  

Government amendments 10, 15, 16 and 17 provide further clarity in relation to the scope of local skills improvement plans. Amendment 10 limits the post-16 technical education or training about which a local skills improvement plan must identify actions that can be taken to such education or training that is English-funded. Education or training should be treated as English-funded where amounts are paid directly to providers in accordance with the regulations made by the Secretary of State under certain legislation, including, for instance, payments made in respect of student loans.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not intend to detain the Committee for long. The only question I wanted clarification on, given the conversation we have just had about areas, is about what thought had been given to the responsibilities of providers that are close to borders and provide services across them. We are supportive of Government amendments 11 to 14 and the clarifications established by Government amendments 15 to 17.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

As I made clear in my remarks, it depends on whether provision is English-funded; that is, whether the money comes from England. That is how we explain the jurisdiction.

Amendment 10 agreed to.

Amendment proposed: 41, in clause 1, page 3, line 12, at end insert—

“(7A) Before local skills improvement plans are introduced outside of trailblazer areas, the Secretary of State must publish guidance relating to their implementation, subject to consultation of all Mayoral Combined Authorities and, where there is not one, the relevant local authority.”.—(Mr Perkins.)

This amendment seeks to ensure that local and combined authorities are consulted on the Government’s plans for the roll out of local skills improvement plans and are in a position to highlight any issues before publication.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

--- Later in debate ---
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

It will be a great pleasure for everyone to hear that after three and a quarter hours of debate, we have nearly completed clause 1 of our 39-clause Bill. I will try not to detain the Committee for more than 45 minutes at this point.

With local skills improvement plans, clause 1 provides an important vehicle to give employers a more central role in local skills systems, working with providers, mayoral combined authorities and other key stakeholders to reshape provision to tackle skill mismatches and respond better to local labour market skills needs. To develop those plans, designated employer representative bodies will need to engage the widest possible range of employers and draw on a range of evidence, including existing analyses of skills supply and demand.

Local skills improvement plans will give providers an evidence-based summary of the skills, capabilities and expertise required by local employers, helping them to prioritise and focus investment in skills provision. The clause places a duty on providers to have regard to the plans, once developed, when making relevant decisions in relation to the provision of post-16 technical education and training in the area.

The clause will ensure the information, knowledge and expertise possessed by employers, providers and stakeholders is utilised to agree priority actions to align provision to better meet employer needs and support learners. The Bill is about making sure that we have qualifications, designed with employers, that ensure students get the skills the economy demands. Clause 1 is absolutely central to that mission.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I regret that the clause will leave this Committee in less good shape than when it arrived. The amendments agreed by the House of Lords were entirely sensible. They had cross-party support; they were agreed to only because they were voted for by Conservative Members who have tremendous knowledge and experience of these matters and who are much respected, alongside others. It is a matter of great regret that the Government have failed to take on board those helpful amendments, which were added in entirely the right spirit.

We believe that local skills improvement plans are an innovation that is of value, but we are very concerned that the way they are envisaged will make it difficult for them to achieve what might have been achieved. When we come to clause 2, we will get into the debate about how local skills improvement plans might be more representative. What will happen in the event that things go wrong with the employer representative bodies is important. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on those points.

We support clause 1 standing part, but we are disappointed that it leaves the Committee in less good shape than when it arrived.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Designation of employer representative bodies

--- Later in debate ---
Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Briefly, the amendments seek to reflect the reality on the ground, as we have heard. Let us think about HS2 and what has been happening. We have had years—decades—of plans for HS2, but we have seen skills sucked out of the regions so that we cannot get normal construction projects completed. That is because there has not been the co-ordination that there should have been. How was that allowed to happen? The result has been a huge impact on our regional economies.

Amendment 35 looks at the inclusion of public and private sectors as employers on the ERB. How can we not include the national health service, for example, and yet are able to include Virgin Care or Circle and others? It is bizarre that the public sector is not included.

On linking to the public sector, amendment 46 also seeks to include other employers, such as SMEs, the self-employed—as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said—and public and third-sector employers. Right2Learn, in a written submission, stated:

“We believe it is critical that local skills and training strategies need to look far more widely at including third sector organisations, as well as HE and FE providers. There must be far more opportunities for the direct involvement of SME clusters and organisations and the so-called gig economy which the Taylor Commission highlighted, including co-operatives and self-employed.”

I have said before, we must include charity-heavy provision and I gave the example of the Workers’ Educational Association.

Amendment 46 states that we need to include the third sector and the local health boards. As I said, we have seen how good that can be through the pandemic. Local primary care networks and public health in our localities really stepped up and showed that what they do is what they know, which is their regions, their populations and their geographies, to deliver good services. The same would apply to the provision of skills across our regions.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I rise to speak to amendments 35 to 37, 42, 45 and 46. Amendment 36 would require designated employer representative bodies to be reasonably representative of a broad range of local stakeholders. We have already been clear that we want local skills improvement plans to be employer led, which means led by genuine employer representative bodies, but we have also been very clear that designated employer representative bodies should work closely with key local stakeholders to gather intelligence and consider their views and priorities when developing local skills improvement plans.

That includes local post-16 technical education and training providers and mayoral combined authorities, which, through our Government amendment, are already specified in the Bill as playing a key role. It also includes local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, among others. This will be covered in more detail in the statutory guidance.

Amendment 45 seeks to test how the Secretary of State will determine what mix of employers is considered “reasonably representative”. When making a judgment on whether an ERB is reasonably representative, the Secretary of State will take into consideration the characteristics of its membership compared with the overall population of employers in the area. That speaks to the point that a number of Opposition Members have made.

We certainly expect designated employer representative bodies to draw on the views of a wide range of local employers of all sizes, reaching beyond their existing membership and covering both private and public employers. They will also need to draw on other evidence, such as other representative and sector bodies, to summarise the skills, capabilities or expertise required in a specified area. That type of engagement is already happening, and happening brilliantly, in our trailblazer areas.

Amendment 35 seeks to ensure that designated employer representative bodies are reasonably representative of both public and private sector employers. The Bill already ensures that that is the case. Clause 4 gives a definition of “employer” for the purposes of interpreting clauses 1 to 3 that covers public authorities and charitable institutions—to the point made by the hon. Member for Luton South—as well as private sector employers.

Amendment 46 seeks to ensure that designated bodies represent the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises, the self-employed, and public and voluntary sector employers. Public and voluntary sector employers are also already covered under the definition of employer in the Bill. Designated employer representative bodies must of course represent the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises in order to be reasonably representative.

Many existing employer representative bodies already do this effectively. For example, SMEs comprise the vast majority of the membership of local chambers of commerce. In drawing on other evidence, designated ERBs may also need to consider the key skills needs of the self-employed in order to effectively summarise the current and future skills required in the area, and that will be referenced in statutory guidance.

Amendment 37 concerns a scenario where the Secretary of State is not satisfied that there is an eligible body within a specified area that is reasonably representative of local employers. We have thought about that, but we really do not think it is likely to happen. Although the “Skills for Jobs” White Paper mentioned accredited chambers of commerce, there are other employer representative bodies with either a national or local presence. We saw evidence of that from the expressions of interest process we ran to select the local skills improvement plan trailblazers, for which we received 40 applications despite only looking for six to eight trailblazers. Many hon. Members today have spoken about chambers of commerce, but the Government are entirely open to representatives from the Federation of Small Businesses and other geographically based organisations that could also be eligible.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To clarify, how many of the trailblazer organisations were not chambers of commerce?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

All eight trailblazers were chambers of commerce. However, I believe there were expressions of interest and applications from others. For the record, we are not saying that this is solely the preserve of chambers of commerce. We are supporting the trailblazers with £4 million of funding this financial year, and we will continue to support ERBs as they are designated, so that they can develop credible and robust local skills improvement plans.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the Minister’s response. I remain of the view that public and private sector employers should feature in the Bill, so I will press amendment 37, which spells out Labour’s much more collaborative approach to this matter, to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 37, in clause 2, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“(iii) in the event that there is no body in the local area that is representative of the organisations listed under subsection (1)(a)(ii) the Secretary of State will instruct the Local Enterprise Partnership or Metro mayor to bring together a board which is representative of all the organisations outlined in subsection (1)(a)(ii), who will take on responsibility for drawing up the local skills improvement plan.”—(Mr Perkins.)

This amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State, in the event that the Secretary of State is not satisfied that an eligible body is not reasonably representative of the employers operating within the specified area.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Education
Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 1—Apprenticeships for prisoners

“Notwithstanding any other statutory provision, prisoners in English prisons may participate in approved English apprenticeships, as defined by section A1 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.”

The aim of this new clause is to ensure that prisoners can start Apprenticeships while they are serving their sentence.

New clause 2—Provision of opportunities for education and skills development

“(1) 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.

(2) Any approved provider must receive automatic in-year funding for any student covered by subsection (1), and supported by the Adult Education Budget, at a tariff rate set by the Secretary of State.

(3) 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.”

This new clause would provide for education and skills development up to a Level 3 qualification for any person of any age supplied by an approved provider if they have not already studied at that level.

New clause 3—Amendments to section 42B of the Education Act 1997—

“(1) Section 42B of the Education Act 1997 is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) In complying with subsection (1), the proprietor must give a representative range of education and training providers (including, where reasonably practicable, a university technical college) access to registered pupils on at least three occasions during each of the first, second and third key phase of their education.”

(3) After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) The proprietor of a school in England within subsection (2) must—

(a) ensure that each registered pupil meets, during both the first and second key phase of their education, with a representative range of education and training providers to whom access is given, 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 technical education qualifications and apprenticeships.

(2B) Access given under subsection (1) must be for a reasonable period of time during the standard school day.”

(4) After subsection (5)(a), insert—

“(aa) a requirement to provide access to a representative range of education and training providers to include where practicable a university technical college;”

(5) In subsection (5)(c), after “access” insert “and the times at which the access is to be given;”

(6) After subsection (5)(c), insert—

“(d) an explanation of how the proprietor proposes to comply with the obligations imposed under subsection (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.”

This new clause is intended to replace Clause 14. This clause will ensure that section 2 of the Technical and Further Education Act 2017, commonly known as the Baker Clause, is legally enforceable.

New clause 4—Green Skills Strategy

“The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish a Green Skills Strategy, setting out a plan to support people to attain the skills, capabilities or expertise through higher education, further education or technical education that directly contribute to, or indirectly support, the following—

(a) compliance with the duty imposed by section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (United Kingdom net zero emissions target),

(b) adaptation to climate change, or

(c) meeting other environmental goals (such as restoration or enhancement of the natural environment).”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish a national green skills strategy which would set out a plan to support people to attain skills which will directly contribute to or indirectly support climate change and environmental goals.

New clause 5Universal Credit conditionality review—

“The Secretary of State must review universal credit conditionality with a view to ensuring that adult learners who are—

(a) unemployed, and

(b) in receipt of universal credit

remain entitled to universal credit if they enrol on an approved course for a qualification which is deemed to support them to secure sustainable employment.”

This new clause is intended to ensure greater flexibility for potential students in receipt of universal credit to take up appropriate training that will better equip them for employment.

New clause 6—Skills levels in England and Wales: review

“(1) Within one year of the passing of this Act, and each year thereafter, the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report on overall levels of skills in England and Wales and their economic impact, including regional and demographic breakdowns.

(2) The report under subsection (1) must in particular examine—

(a) cohort sizes and compositions of all qualifications from entry level to level 8,

(b) cohort skill achievement rates, in terms of result breakdowns,

(c) cohort placement success rates, in terms of numbers in further qualifications or new employment within 12 months after achieving each qualification,

(d) job retention and labour market turnover,

(e) labour productivity, and

(f) job satisfaction and fulfilment.

(3) The report under subsection (1) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on overall skills levels and economic output across England and Wales.

New clause 7Lifetime skills guarantee—

“(1) All persons have the right to study a fully-funded approved course for a qualification up to level 3 supplied by an approved provider of further, higher, or technical education if they—

(a) do not currently hold a level 3 qualification, or

(b) currently hold a level 3 qualification and would benefit from re-training.

(2) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish a list of approved courses for the purposes of subsection (1).

(3) The Secretary of State must consult on the list of approved courses to ensure that they are compatible with national levelling up and skills strategies.

(4) The Secretary of State must review the list of approved courses at least every six months with a view to ensuring that they reflect the skills needed as the economy changes.”

This new clause places the Government lifetime skills guarantee on a statutory footing, ensuring that those without an A-level or equivalent qualification, or who hold such qualification but would benefit from reskilling, are able to study a fully funded approved course.

New clause 8—National Strategy for Integrated Education

“(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish a National Strategy for Integrated Education.

(2) A strategy under this section must—

(a) support the creation or development of courses offering integrated academic and vocational content, or a range of academic and vocational modules which can be combined into hybrid qualifications, at levels 4 to 8;

(b) support the creation or development of institutions offering courses under paragraph (a);

(c) set out a role for training programme providers in designing courses under paragraph (a).

(3) The Secretary of State must consult the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, Ofqual, and Quality Assurance Agency on any strategy to be published under this section.

(4) The Secretary of State must make regulations within 24 months of the passing of this Act to provide for such elements of the strategy as require enactment through statutory provisions.”

New clause 9—Integrated compatibility of modules and accreditation

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish a National Accreditation Framework for Modular Learning. A framework must include guidance on—

(a) the unbundling of modular components of courses and qualifications;

(b) the stacking of modular components of courses and qualifications; and

(c) the transfer of modular components between institutions,

for the purposes of ensuring—

(a) (i) transparency;

(ii) mutual recognition of qualifications across academic, vocational and integrated further and higher education institutions; and

(iii) clarity on the options available to learners for unbundling or stacking modules into an overall qualification which meets the needs of their own professional development, and skills gaps within the national labour-market.

(2) The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, Ofqual, and Quality Assurance Agency must assist in the preparation of any framework under this section.

(3) A framework under this section must set out a role for the Institute, Ofqual and the Quality Assurance Agency in ensuring the effective operation of the framework.”

New clause 10Role of employers in employee reskilling—

“(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations for the purpose of ensuring that employers provide—

(a) a minimum number of hours per year for in-work training and skills development for employees; and

(b) a minimum number of hours of retraining support for courses chosen at the discretion of former employees who have been made redundant, as part of an employer’s redundancy package.

(2) The minimum numbers of hours under section (1)(a) and (b) are to be set by the Secretary of State.

(3) In this section, “employer” has the same meaning as in section 4.

(4) The Secretary of State may, by regulation, establish a skills tax credit, for the purpose of—

(a) making allowance for funding the provision of time and training under subsection (1); and

(b) incentivising and rewarding employers for investing the skills development of their employees.”

New clause 11Transition to 16+ education—

“(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring local authorities to fulfil the function of an admissions authority with regard to admissions to further education courses provided within their administrative jurisdiction, for the purposes of ensuring admission to further education is allocated in an open and fair manner.

(2) Regulations under this section may require local authorities to run admissions processes in relation to further education in a manner comparable with the processes set out in Part III of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 in so far as they relate to the admissions processes for primary and secondary education.

(3) In this section, “further education” has the same meaning as in the Education Act 1996 (see section 2 of that Act).”

This new clause would allow the Secretary of State to require local authorities to run admission to further education in a manner comparable to admissions for primary and secondary education.

New clause 13—Access to Sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans

“(1) The Secretary of State must make provision by regulations for Sharia-compliant student finance to be made available as part of the lifelong learning entitlement.

(2) Regulations under this section are to be made by statutory instrument, and a statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

This new clause allows the Secretary of State to make provision for Sharia-compliant LLE loans.

New clause 14Recognition of skills in the energy sector—

“(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish an Energy Sector Skills Strategy, for the purposes of—

(a) achieving cross-sector recognition of core skills and training in the offshore energy sector, including the oil and gas sector, and the renewable energy sector; and

(b) ensuring training and training standards bodies within the offshore energy sector adopt a transferable skills and competency-based approach to training.

(2) The strategy must target all workers, whether directly or indirectly (sub-contracted or agency) employed, or engaged through day-rate or self-employed contract models.

(3) When producing the strategy, the Secretary of State must consult with—

(a) workers within the offshore energy sector;

(b) unions within the offshore energy sector;

(c) energy companies; and

(d) training standards bodies relevant to the offshore energy sector.

(4) The Secretary of State must implement the strategy within 12 months of the passing of this Act. The Secretary of State may make regulations to provide for such elements of the strategy as require enactment through statutory provision.”

This new clause would facilitate cross-sector recognition of skills and training between the oil and gas sector and the renewable energy sector.

New clause 15Retraining guarantee for oil and gas workers—

“(1) The Secretary of State must guarantee access to training, grants, resources and other support facilities to workers in the oil and gas sector, including—

(a) assessment of existing skills and training;

(b) understanding of skills matrices for careers in the offshore energy sector, including renewable energy and oil and gas;

(c) advice on alternative green energy jobs; and

(d) funding to complete training relevant to the green energy sector;

for the purpose of proactively supporting oil and gas workers wishing to transition to careers in the green energy sector, regardless of their current contract status.

(2) Support under this section must be made available to—

(a) all workers, whether directly or indirectly (sub-contracted or agency) employed, or engaged through day-rate or self-employed contract models; and

(b) workers who have recently left the oil and gas sector.”

This new clause would establish a retraining guarantee for oil and gas workers seeking to leave the sector, supporting them in transitioning to green energy jobs.

New clause 16—National review and plan for improving levels of adult literacy

“(1) Within two years of the passing of this Act, and every two years thereafter, the Secretary of State must review adult literacy levels in England, for the purpose of improving adult literacy levels.

(2) A review under this section must identify the number of adults with literacy levels—

(a) below Entry Level 1,

(b) below Entry Level 2,

(c) below Entry Level 3,

(d) below Level 1, and

(e) below Level 2.

(3) The findings of a review under this section must be published in a report, which must be laid before Parliament.

(4) A report under this section must include a breakdown of the levels of adult literacy by local authority area.

(5) When a report under this section is laid before Parliament, the Secretary of State must also publish a strategy setting out steps the Government intends to take to improve levels of adult literacy in England.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to, every two years, review levels of adult literacy in England, publish the findings of that review and set out a strategy to improve levels of adult literacy in England.

New clause 17—Availability of humanities, social sciences, arts and languages courses

“(1) The Secretary of State must review the availability of humanities, social sciences, arts and languages courses at Entry Level through to Level 4 in a specified area to which a local skills improvement plan relates.

(2) The outcome of a review under this section must be—

(a) provided to the relevant employer representative body for a specified area; and

(b) laid before both Houses of Parliament.

(3) Where a review under this section identifies inadequate availability of courses in a specified area, the Secretary of State must take steps to remedy this inadequacy, to ensure courses are available in all specified areas.

(4) A review under this section in relation to a specified area must be conducted each time the Secretary of State approves and publishes a local skills improvement plan for that specified area.”

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to review the availability of humanities, social sciences, arts and languages courses at Entry level to Level 4 in areas to which an LSIP applies. It would also require the Secretary of State to take steps to remedy inadequate availability of the courses.

Amendment 2, page 2, line 36, after “authority” insert

“and further education providers in the specified area”.

This amendment would provide for employer representative boards to develop local skills improvement plans in partnership with local further education providers.

Amendment 18, page 3, line 6, at end insert—

“(ba) draws on responses to a public consultation conducted by the relevant local authority for the specified area on the education and training that should be made available in the relevant area, and”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to draw on responses to a public consultation run by the relevant local authority, when publishing a local skills improvement plan for a given area.

Amendment 16, page 3, line 10, at end insert—

“(d) lists specific strategies to support learners who have or have previously had, a statement of Special Educational Need or an Education and Health Care Plan into employment, including but not limited to provision for supported internships.”

This amendment would require local skills improvement plans to list specific strategies to support learners who have or have previously had, a statement of Special Educational Need or an Education and Health Care Plan into employment, including but not limited to provision for supported internships.

Amendment 14, in clause 2, page 3, line 15, after “England” insert

“with the consent of the relevant local authority, Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and, where relevant, Mayoral Combined Authority”.

This amendment provides for local authorities to give consent in the designation of employer representative bodies, to ensure employer representative bodies are representative of the areas they cover.

Amendment 4, page 3, line 20, after “employers”, insert

“and any relevant community, education, arts, faith and third sector organisations”.

Amendment 5, page 3, line 41, at end insert—

‘(6) The functions of the Secretary of State under this section may also be exercised by a relevant mayoral combined authority in England, where the designation relates to an area within their administrative jurisdiction, provided that education and skills are within the relevant authority’s devolved competence.”

Amendment 17, page 3, line 41, at end insert—

‘(6) Representative bodies which are employers, and employer organisations which are members of employer representative bodies, must sign up to the Disability Confident employer scheme within six months of being designated, or becoming a member of, the employer representative body.”

Amendment 6, in clause 3, page 4, line 18, at end insert—

‘(5) The functions of the Secretary of State under this section may also be exercised by a relevant mayoral combined authority in England, where the designation relates to an area within their administrative jurisdiction, provided that education and skills are within the relevant authority’s devolved competence.”

Amendment 12, in clause 6, page 7, line 23, at end insert—

‘(2A) The Institute shall perform a review of the operation of the apprenticeship levy, paying particular regard to considering whether sufficient apprenticeships at level 3 and below are available.”

This amendment would require the Institute to perform a review of the operation of the apprenticeship levy, and would require the Institute to pay particular regard to ensuring that sufficient apprenticeships at level 3 and below are available.

Amendment 15, in clause 7, page 10, line 37, at end insert—

‘(2A) Subsection (2) does not apply to the withdrawal of level three courses for the period of four years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”

This amendment seeks to reintroduce the Lord’s amendment (amendment 29), preventing IfATE from withdrawing approval of established level 3 courses including BTECs for four years.

Amendment 1, page 17, line 28, leave out clause 14.

This amendment is consequential on NC3.

Amendment 8, in clause 14, page 17, line 28, at end insert—

‘(A1) Section 42A of the Education Act 1997 (Provision of careers guidance in schools in England) is amended as follows—

“(d) is provided by a person who is registered with the Career Development Institute, and who holds a level 4 qualification.”’

Amendment 13, page 18, line 5, at end insert—

“(aa) ensure that each registered pupil receives two weeks’ worth of compulsory work experience,

(ab) ensure that each registered pupil receives face to face careers guidance, and”.

This amendment would require every school to provide face to face careers guidance for every pupil and two weeks’ worth of compulsory work experience for every registered pupil.

Amendment 7, page 19, line 1, at end insert—

‘(9B) Local Authorities shall have oversight of the provisions in subsection (2A) and subsection (5), for the purposes of ensuring the provision of careers advice is consistent and high quality.”

Amendment 3, in clause 15, page 20, line 29, at end insert—

‘(3) After section 22(2)(c) of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 insert—

“(ca) for the establishment of a system of means-tested financial grants, for the purpose of ensuring that financial hardship is not a dissuading factor in the take-up of higher education or further education modules or courses.”’

Amendment 11, in clause 34, page 40, line 20, at end insert—

“(e) Sections [Recognition of skills in the energy sector] and [Retraining guarantee for oil and gas workers].”

This amendment is consequential on NC14 and NC15.

Government amendments 9 and 10.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to open the debate on Report of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. We had a very good debate in Committee, and I look forward to contributions from Members from across the House today.

I rise to speak to new clause 12 and amendments 9 and 10 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The Government announced their intention to table new clause 12 in Committee last November. It inserts three new sections into the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, and will give the Office for Students, the higher education regulator in England, an explicit power to publish information about its compliance and enforcement activity in relation to higher education providers.

It is important that the OfS is able to publish such information in the form of notices, decisions and reports, and it is in the public interest that it should be transparent in its work, particularly when it is investigating providers for potential breaches of the registration conditions placed on them by the regulator. Publication by the OfS regarding its compliance and enforcement functions will demonstrate that appropriate actions are being taken by the regulator, and that will ensure that the reputation of higher education in England is maintained, and that we bear down on poor provision.

Members can be reassured that this power will be discretionary, as there may be reasons why the OfS may not consider it appropriate to publish certain information. The new clause provides, in proposed new section 67A(5) of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, various factors that the OfS must take into account when deciding whether to publish, including the public interest, but also whether publication would or might seriously and prejudicially affect the interests of a body or individual. The OfS should be transparent about such work, showing the sector, students and the public that it is intervening when necessary, and consequently providing confidence in the regulatory system.

New clause 12 also includes provision in proposed new section 67C to protect the OfS from defamation claims when, for example, it announces the opening of an investigation or publishes regulatory decisions. This protection provides qualified privilege, meaning that there is protection unless publication is shown to have been made with malice.

Other regulators, such as the Competition and Markets Authority, Ofsted and the Children’s Commissioner, have similar powers and protections. We are seeking a power and protection in this new clause to ensure that the OfS has what it needs for the purpose of transparency, and note the need to be as consistent as possible across the statute book. We believe there will be little material impact on the sector as a result of this change, as it simply allows more transparency about what the OfS is already doing.

Publication of notices, decisions and reports will become increasingly important as the OfS scales up its work on driving up quality in higher education and on protecting freedom of speech and academic freedom under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

Amendment 9 brings new clause 12 into force two months after Royal Assent, and amendment 10 amends the long title to cover new clause 12. I hope the House will support these amendments.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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I rise to speak to amendments 12 to 16. I start by saying how much I welcome the interest among right hon. and hon. Members in improving this Bill. It is disappointing that the Bill was scheduled for debate on the first day back from recess, when the Government could have predicted that there would be a considerable number of other important statements, and so the House has less than two and a half hours to debate the 35 amendments before us. The further education sector has often been described as a Cinderella service and has often felt that its crucial role as the economic heartbeat of this country is undermined; there is nothing in the scheduling of this Bill or today’s debate to contradict that view.

Notwithstanding that, it is always a great pleasure to debate further education policy. Our country’s Government have presided over a productivity crisis, created a cost of living crisis because they are a high-tax, low-growth Government, and serially under-funded and undermined the institutions that are key to addressing those failings. Yet there is widespread recognition of the need for change, so there was considerable anticipation when the Government announced they were bringing forward a skills Bill to address a generation of failure.

We all remember that the White Paper that preceded the Bill was described as a “once-in-a-generation reform”, but Ministers seem determined to resist any substantive changes to the skills Bill. I wish those Conservative Members who have proposed amendments to the Bill well, but I am not hopeful that the Government are of a mind to allow their Bill to be improved.

We have a skills Bill here that is silent on apprenticeship reform. Our disappointment about the omission of apprenticeships from the Bill is compounded by the absence of any recognition that the apprenticeship levy has, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, “failed by every measure”.

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Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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Further education should be about creating a workforce that meets the needs of our national and local economies. It should be about lifelong learning that gives everyone the power to follow the path that best suits them. It should especially be at the front and centre of our covid recovery and, last but not least, it should help us with the transition to net zero.

There was plenty of room to improve this Bill when it was introduced, and there still is. I regret that, so far, the Government seem to be missing this opportunity, but it is never too late. I favour new clause 4, which would require the Secretary of State to introduce a green skills strategy for higher, further and technical education. There is a key opportunity for further education in our effort to reach net zero, but less than 1% of college students are on a course with broad coverage of climate education. I commend the work of the excellent Bath College, which is already making strides to embed climate education in its curriculum, but the Government should step up, too.

We all know how important it is to manage the transition to net zero, which brings me to new clauses 14 and 15 and amendment 11 tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). The offshore training regime is a barrier to offshore oil and gas workers transitioning their skills into the renewables sector. A new offshore training scheme is needed to facilitate cross-sector recognition of core skills and training in the offshore energy sector and to provide a retraining guarantee for oil and gas workers who wish to transition to careers in the green energy sector. What a missed opportunity it would be if we did not help people working in such industries, which will soon no longer be in place, to transition to a career in industries such as the renewables sector.

The Government say this Bill will transform opportunities for all, so why have they reversed changes that could significantly improve the accessibility and flexibility of qualifications—we have heard some powerful contributions on this—especially those aimed at learners with special educational needs and disabilities? Over a quarter of all 16 to 18-year-olds in further education have a learning difficulty or a disability, and I pay tribute to Project SEARCH, a partnership run by Bath and North East Somerset Council, Bath College and Virgin Care.

Nationally, too, many disabled people face huge difficulties in accessing employment after leaving school. Our disability employment gap stands at 30%.I therefore add my support to amendment 16, which would require local skills improvement plans to list specific strategies to help into employment those learners who have or have had an education, health and care plan. Again, this seems to be another missed opportunity to help those in society who face the biggest disadvantages to access employment, which is what they want. Whenever we talk to disability groups, what they want is employment; helping these groups into employment should be at the core of this Bill.

Although I will support the Bill on Third Reading, I am disappointed that the opportunity to transform further education has been so entirely missed.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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With the leave of the House, I will speak to some of the amendments that have been discussed this evening. It has been a real pleasure to have been involved with this Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report this evening. I feel the strength of feeling across the House for the skills agenda. This is an extraordinarily exciting time for skills, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) made clear. Never in my lifetime has there been such a hunger for skills in the economy, and that is a hunger that this Government will feed, because we are building a system in which qualifications, co-designed with employers, will give students the skills the economy needs. We will see good opportunities, allowing everyone to take a step forward in their life and career, and qualifications, backed by employers, that feed the needs of the economy.

In the time I have, I want to get through as many of the amendments as I can. First, I will address new clause 1, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, the Chair of the Education Committee. I pay tribute to his fight for the cause of apprenticeships for prisoners; I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor made an announcement to this effect on 11 January, and I am happy to put on record that my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow was instrumental in driving this forward. We do not need to accept this new clause because we have seen that this can be done in secondary legislation, and that changes to primary legislation are not needed.

I turn to new clause 2, also tabled my right hon. Friend, and to new clause 7, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), who did sterling work when he was on the Front Bench. Those provisions both seek to place a level 3 entitlement on a statutory footing. The Government are delighted by the enthusiasm of Members on both sides of the House and in both Chambers for our free courses for jobs offer and the lifetime skills guarantee that the Prime Minister announced last April. As the House will know, it gives adults who do not have a level 3 qualification the opportunity to get a qualification in high-value subjects for free, regardless of age. That major step forward will transform life chances. We do not think it is right to put this offer into legislation; that would constrain the Government in how they allocate resources and make it more difficult to adapt the policy to changing circumstances, including for adults most in need. For example, only last November, the Secretary of State announced that from this April, the offer will expand to include any adult in England who is unemployed or earns below the national living wage annually, regardless of their prior qualification level.

New clause 2 also includes a provision requiring any employer who receives apprenticeship funding to spend at least two thirds of that funding on people who begin apprenticeships at level 2 and 3 before the age of 25. We fully respect what the new clause is trying to do, but we point to the great progress we are already making on this score. In the first quarter of last year—the most recent one for which we have figures—62% of apprenticeship starts were for people under the age of 25, and level 2 and 3 apprenticeships accounted for 71% of all starts. That is wonderful stuff. Also, during the recent National Apprenticeship Week, I met a huge number of young and not-so-young people studying level 6 apprenticeships, which are making an enormous difference to their life, giving them huge opportunities in a way that is a greatly respected by employers. I do not wish to see arbitrary levels fixed in legislation.

Amendment 12, tabled by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), seeks to require a review of the operation of the apprenticeship levy, particularly at level 3 and below. We discussed this issue at some length in Committee. I reiterate that the Government have already radically reformed apprenticeships to put employers at their heart, increasing investment and improving quality. As I just said, we are starting to see major improvements at levels 2 and 3.