All 8 Alex Burghart contributions to the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022

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Mon 15th Nov 2021
Tue 30th Nov 2021
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee Debates: 2nd Sitting & Committee stages: 2nd Sitting & Committee Debates: 2nd Sitting
Tue 30th Nov 2021
Mon 21st Feb 2022

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
Committee Debates: 2nd Sitting & Committee stage
Tuesday 30th November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 30 November 2021 - (30 Nov 2021)
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.

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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 (First sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Education

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (First sitting)

Alex Burghart Excerpts
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room and will be circulated to Members by email in the usual way.

The Committee will now proceed to line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sitting is available on the table; it shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or a similar issue. Please note that decisions on amendments take place not in the order in which they are debated, but in the order that they appear on the amendment paper. The selection and grouping list shows the order of debates. Decisions on each amendment are taken when we come to the clause to which the amendment relates.

A number of newer Members are present, so I will go through this for clarity. A Member who has put their name to the leading amendment in a group is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye to speak on all or any of the amendments in that group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate.

At the end of a debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the leading amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment, or seek a decision—a vote. If a Member wishes to press any other amendment in a group to a vote, they need to let me know. I am not a mind reader—bear that in mind.

Clause 1

Local skills improvement plans

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 21, leave out “subsection (6)” and insert “subsections (6) and (6A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 5.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 5.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Miller? I have no doubt that you will guide us, chivvy us and harry us through the six sittings ahead of us. It is my pleasure to speak to amendments 4 and 5 in my name, relating to local skills improvement plans and the involvement of mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority in their development.

Mayoral combined authorities and the Greater London Authority play a vital role in supporting local communities, developing local economies and strengthening local skills systems. The Government recognise the importance of their work in their area as a commissioner and convenor with devolved adult education functions. As part of devolution, a sizeable proportion of the national adult education budget has been transferred to them. Their views and priorities therefore need to be brought to bear in the development of local skills improvement plans to help ensure that they are effective. That is already happening in our trailblazer areas, which deliberately feature a number with mayoral combined authorities. In recognition of their important role, the Government are bringing forward amendment 5, which will place on the Secretary of State a duty to approve and publish a local skills improvement plan only when satisfied that the designated employer representative body has, during the development of that plan, given due consideration to the views of the mayoral combined authority or Greater London Authority, where it covers the specified area.

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

I knew it was Warrington. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments—I worked in the industry for many years myself. Businesses have an important part to play as consultees, but my concern is about the balance struck between what business wants and wider needs—we have to get an absolute balance between that.

To give the hon. Gentleman a small example, Warwick University, which is close to my constituency, was founded back in the 1960s, but it was founded off the back of the automotive industry. That did not mean that it should be an automotive industry establishment, and it is not. It happens to be one of the best universities in the UK and globally, but it was part founded by industry. That is where collaboration can work, and the last Labour Government certainly looked very closely at that when developing regional plans to promote industries. I take on board his point that industries and businesses have an important role to play as consultees, but plans should not be explicitly or purely at their direction.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

What an interesting debate to start off the Committee stage of the Bill. There are so many comments to come back to. As a general observation, it was very nice to hear the hon. Member for Chesterfield praise Conservative predecessors of mine for their comments about an employer-led system, which we have indeed been building up during our time in power. The Bill is simply the next stage in that process.

The fact that that process was required was first highlighted in a 2011 report by the Labour peer Lord Sainsbury. I do not want to get into the deep politics of it—we have the Bill to consider—but that report was written after Labour had been in power for 13 years. He felt that it was necessary to begin long-term reform of the skills system to make it more responsive to the needs of business and to make sure that students could get the qualifications they needed and the technical skills to go into the jobs that the economy demands. It is a great honour to present the Bill as a means of taking those ideas on to their next stage.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chesterfield for saying that Labour will support the amendments and the local skills improvement plans. However, I need to clarify a point made by a number of Opposition Members: the Government are not removing clause 1(6). That seems to be a point of confusion. Clause 1(6) stands part of the Bill. Government amendment 5 would insert subsection (6A) to clause 1, on page 2, in line 32. It does not do anything to clause 1(6).

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of clarity—forgive me if I have this wrong— amendment 4 does seem to leave out subsection (6). My mistake—it says

“leave out ‘subsection (6)’ and insert ‘subsections (6) and (6A)’”.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

With that in mind, and in answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield on the impact of Government amendment 4 on clause 6, there is no friction at all between Government amendment 4 and clause 6. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to have regard to clause 1(6) and (6A) when deciding to approve and publish a plan. I hope that has cleared that up.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle raised a point about LSIPs and colleges, which will be dealt with in statutory guidance. The Secretary of State will lay very good statutory guidance on how employer representative bodies will work and how local skills improvement plans will be written.

We expect the whole process to be collaborative. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish spoke very well about the existing collaboration in the system. It is something that we recognise in all of our combined mayoral authorities. We do not see there being any great friction or need for friction. We want to see authorities, businesses and providers working in harmony, as many of them already do. What we are doing in the Bill, and in these clauses, is simply creating a process that helps establish that good working.

I was up in Salford not long ago, in MediaCity, where I saw some of the Government’s fantastic digital boot camps. Young people—and some not so young people—are learning the skills of tomorrow at speed in 16-week courses, getting apprenticeships in MediaCity and meeting people who have previously done the apprenticeships, who now have jobs in MediaCity. We saw that Government initiative backed by local business is not in friction with the good work the local Mayor was doing—instead, it complements it. We also saw the local economy boosted as a result.

Some of the remarks made by hon. Members suggested that there is always going to be a terrible tension between what local political leadership and businesses are trying to do, and what local providers want to do. I do not think that will be the case. In fact, there is an enormous amount of goodwill in the system and people are desirous of working towards the same aims.

On the points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich and for Mansfield, do I see before me two future leaders in their respective areas? Well, one leader already, but who knows if they will become greater leaders still? Obviously, at the moment combined authorities have a greater responsibility for adult skills than local authorities do, which is why we put them on the face of the Bill. In the course of statutory guidance and as situations evolve, perhaps it will be possible for us to set out how we expect that work to evolve.

I do not recognise the comments made by some Opposition Members about this Government not having an appetite for devolution. Success has many fathers. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish talked about how Labour’s devolutionary reforms led to mayoral combined authorities, but I remember the Manchester devolution deal being done under the Conservatives.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can second-guess where the Minister is going and I am grateful to him for giving way, but I was merely pointing out that the piece of legislation that permits combined authorities was one of the last pieces of legislation that was introduced by a Labour Government. It was clear that was where Labour was heading, but credit where it is due. David Cameron and George Osborne did allow significant devolution to my city region.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. As interesting as devolution is, can we remind ourselves that we are talking about local skills improvement plans?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Thank you, Mrs Miller, and with your prompting I will refer to one more point.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise if I am being tiresome, but just so I have understood this correctly, can the Minister confirm that the amendment leaves out subsections (6)(b), “adaptation to climate change” and (6)(c), “meeting other environmental goals”, but leaves subsection (6)(a)? Does the amendment remove paragraphs (b) and (c), lines 30 to 32, with those specific references to “climate change” and “other environmental goals”?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I believe I am right in saying that the amendment keeps clause 1(6)(a).

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, and removes paragraphs (b) and (c).

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

In the amendment, subsections (6)(b) and (6)(c) will not stand part of the Bill.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

So that we are all clear, does that mean that “adaptation to climate change” and “meeting other environmental goals” are being removed?

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Minister, would you like to complete your remarks and maybe others can provide you with a little bit more information?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

That is very kind, Mrs Miller. I will seek absolute clarity on this point, but my understanding is that the Secretary of State will still have to have regard to section 1 of the Climate Change 2008. That is an important concession that was made in the House of Lords, for obvious reasons.

To go back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South, one of the major players—perhaps the major player—in what this Bill seeks to achieve is business. It is often business that drives, through its work with local providers, a responsive system, which means that the employers of today ensure that the employees of tomorrow have the skills that they need.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In Warrington, we have used the town deal to put a focus on skills, with the employer at the heart of it. A digital skills academy has been created in Warrington, driven by employers but facilitated by the local authority, allowing the focus for colleges and for future growth in those areas. Businesses have really been at the heart of that work, which for me is so important.-

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

That point is well made, and I very much hope to visit Warrington in the near future and see that good work.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister may have received guidance that might help him, but as I understood it, paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (6) all remain in the Bill; he is simply adding proposed new subsection (6A), which we have just been debating. The amendment does not take out any of the paragraphs in subsection (6), unless I have misunderstood it.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

To bring a bit of clarification to proceedings, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. Contrary to some of the messages that Opposition Members gave earlier, we are keeping all of clause 1(6)—that means paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).

Amendment 4 agreed to.

Amendment made: 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

‘(6A) Where a specified area covers any of the area of a relevant authority, the Secretary of State may approve and publish a local skills improvement plan for the specified area only if satisfied that in the development of the plan due consideration was given to the views of the relevant authority.

For this purpose “relevant authority” means—

(a) a mayoral combined authority within the meaning of Part 6 of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 (see section 107A(8) of that Act), or

(b) the Greater London Authority.’—(Alex Burghart.)

The effect of this amendment is that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that due consideration has been given to the views of a mayoral combined authority or the Greater London Authority before approving a local skills improvement plan for an area that covers any of their area.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We had some quite general debate on that group. I hope people have got things off their chest. Perhaps we could have a slightly more focused debate as we move forward.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 1, page 2, line 35, leave out from “body” to “for” in line 37.

The effect of this amendment is that a local skills improvement plan will be a plan developed by an employer representative body which is designated for a specified area. This amendment, together with Amendments 7, 8 and 9, reverse an amendment made at Lords Report.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 7, 8 and 9.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The amendments strip back some of the detail in clause 1(7), which can be better dealt with in statutory guidance. As well as engaging a wide range of employers, a designated employer representative body should work closely with all relevant providers, local authorities and other key local stakeholders to develop its plan. Without such widespread engagement, the resulting plan is not likely to be very effective. Key stakeholders with valuable local intelligence include, but are not limited to, the Careers and Enterprise Company, local careers hubs, National Careers Service area-based contractors and Jobcentre Plus. Our expectations on local stakeholder engagement will be set out clearly within the statutory guidance. The guidance can be updated regularly to reflect evolving needs and priorities, as well as best practice. It also enables the required level of detail to be captured.

Clause 1 already places duties on relevant providers to co-operate with employer representative bodies to ensure that their valuable knowledge and experience directly inform the development of the plans, so that they are evidence-based, credible and actionable. Clause 4 makes it clear that relevant providers include independent training providers and universities. I therefore do not believe that the Lords amendment is needed, particularly given the MCA and GLA amendment that we have just discussed.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

These are four significant amendments. Notwithstanding the assurances that we have just received from the Minister, they specifically take out what I think was a very strong amendment, supported by Members across the House of Lords, that added the importance of a collaborative approach to the Bill. For all the Minister said in that contribution, and the one before, about the importance of these partnership arrangements, it is not really a partnership arrangement. It is clear that all those consultees are subservient to the chamber of commerce which, ultimately, holds the pen and makes the decision. That report will then have to meet with the approval of the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Mansfield raised in a previous debate the question of what happens, given the huge variety in the strength of different chambers of commerce, different local enterprise partnerships and so on, in the event that a local skills improvement plan goes to the Secretary of State and is considered not be adequate? Obviously, we can only assume that the Secretary of State would send it back.

Chambers of commerce are very varied organisations; I think everyone would recognise that there are some excellent ones—I count those in Derbyshire and the east midlands as an example of that. However, there are others that are much smaller and have very different areas of responsibility. Chambers of commerce are membership organisations that represent some of the businesses in their community; that is unlike chambers of commerce in Germany, which are compulsory for businesses to join, and therefore are representative, quasi-governmental organisations. In this country, chambers of commerce are one of many different business organisations that businesses might choose to join. Different chambers have different areas of priority and expertise and different industries that are particularly important to them. Even among their memberships they have, in my experience, a small number of members who are very active within them, and large numbers of members who take a much less active role.

What we have in the context of many of the consultees that the Minister referred to going into the guidance notes, are a number of organisations that are in some ways more consistent, and will definitely offer a breadth of approach. Therefore, the fundamental difference of the approach that Labour would take in the Bill, compared with the Government, is around whether it is a true partnership. The difference is whether it is a partnership that recognises the voices of public and private sector employers and of further education colleges, that recognises the power of those independent training providers that do such great work across the country, and that recognises statutory organisations such as jobcentres, all of which have a role in this, or whether, as the Bill says, they are all consultees, but the chamber of commerce ultimately writes this plan. We would like to see far greater parity in that power; we think it is a local skills improvement plan that would have more buy-in and more belief in the local community, and would be much more respected on that basis.

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

It has been another lively and interesting debate on this group of amendments. The Government want to build an employer-led system, but the statutory guidance—yes, statutory guidance—will make it clear that the employer representative bodies that the Bill creates must consult a range of partners and collaborate with them.

On the removal of schools and other providers, the Bill is already clear that all relevant providers, including further education colleges, independent training providers, universities and sixth-form colleges need to be involved in the development of the LSIP—that is stated in subsection (4)—and if designated employer representative bodies do not have regard to relevant statutory guidance on engaging with relevant providers and do not comply with the terms and conditions of their designation, the Secretary of State may not approve or publish the local skills improvement plan and could remove their designation.

The national dimension is very important, and we expect local skills improvement plans to be informed by national skills priorities and to help address national, as well as local, skills needs. However, where there are national skills shortages in critical areas, we can expect the Government to carry on playing a role in helping alleviate them, as we are doing at the moment. We put £17 million into rapidly upskilling people to help meet the needs of the heavy goods vehicle sector, where we have significant shortages, and I have been pleased to see that that is going very well. That will not fall away.

Turning to the question of dropping the reference to long-term national skill needs, the Bill already makes reference to the fact that LSIPs will need to look at future skills needs—that is stated in subsections (2) and (7)(b)(iii). The Opposition made a very important point about the role of the public sector. Let us think about the phrase “employer representative bodies”: there is a very big role for business, but in many areas, the public sector is a major employer and will need to be involved in this process. We want ERBs to reach beyond their existing membership and cover both public and private employers.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has mentioned the employer-led bodies in the public sector. Could he pick up on my point about SMEs, which might not be part of an employer-led body but, in some regions, are the main employers?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

We are expecting ERBs to draw up local skills improvement plans that take account of the economic area that they represent, which should absolutely include small and medium-sized employers, as well as self-employment opportunities.

While Opposition Members may feel that these things can be done only if every detail is written out in primary legislation, we know that that is not the case, because we have eight excellent trailblazer areas at the moment that are doing this job without a mite of primary legislation. With that in mind, I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [ Lords ] (Third sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Education

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

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes another incredibly important point. It is something that people should naturally accept. I will be very interested to hear the Minister’s response. That was another important intervention from my hon. Friend, and I appreciate the interventions both she and my other colleagues have made—if any Conservative MPs want to involve themselves in the debate, they would be very welcome to do so. It is important that everyone gets to know what is being said, who is saying it and on what basis it was said. That is the reason for the amendment. We do not need to continue describing it, but I am very interested to hear what others have to say on it.

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Efford, and I look forward to making even more rapid progress today, as we continue with clause 2 of our 39-clause Bill. I rise to speak to amendment 43, tabled by the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Warwick and Leamington, regarding specifying certain conditions for the designation of employer representative bodies. It is obviously right that a designation may be subject to terms and condition, such as the terms and conditions that the hon. Member for Chesterfield has set out. However, the precise terms and conditions need to be flexible, and may change over time in the light of wider circumstances. They also need to be tailored to the specific employer representative body in question. That is why the specifics should be set out by the Secretary of State in a notice of the designation, which can be modified from time to time, rather than in the Bill.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I thank the Minister for that very brief response—the Opposition have heard it. It is important that there is clarity about where people are able to find these conditions. We are once again being asked, “Vote for it now, and we will let you know what it means tomorrow.” It sounds almost like the coalition agreement. I believe that a commitment at this stage to having those aspects in the Bill would have been useful. I do not believe the Minister touched upon decarbonisation at all in his response, which seemed quite an omission, but we are of the view that a decarbonisation strategy should play a central role in these LSIPs. For that reason, we will seek to test the mood of the Committee by pressing the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Clause 2 is important for placing employers at the centre of the local skills system, shaping post-16 technical education and training so that it is more responsive to local labour market skills needs. It gives the Secretary of State the power to designate genuine employer representative bodies to lead the development of local skills improvement plans, working closely with employers, providers and local stakeholders. Employer representative bodies will be well placed to give a credible articulation of local skills need and drive greater employer involvement in local skills systems.

The Secretary of State will designate employer representative bodies based on criteria. They must be satisfied that a body is capable of performing the duties of developing and keeping under review a local skills improvement plan in an effective and impartial manner, and that it is reasonably representative of employers in the area. The body must also consent in writing to being designated. Designated bodies should draw on the views of a wide range of employers of all sizes, as well as other relevant employer representative and sector bodies, to inform the development of those plans. This should ensure it is as easy as possible for employers, especially small employers, to engage and have their voice heard. The success of the plans will depend on sustained and effective engagement between employers, convened and represented through the designated bodies, and providers.

Clause 2 requires the Secretary of State to provide written notice of the designation detailing the designated body, specified area, effective date, and any terms and conditions the employer representative body will be subject to. Introducing this power to designate is crucial to ensuring there is an effective employer-led body in place that is capable of leading the development of a robust local skills improvement plan for an area, working closely and in co-operation with relevant providers and stakeholders.

New clause 3, tabled by the hon. Members for Chesterfield and for Warwick and Leamington, is concerned with the performance management of employer representative bodies. It proposes a requirement for the Secretary of State to periodically

“publish a report on the performance of employer representative bodies”.

We agree that employer representative bodies need to be accountable for their leadership of local skills improvement plans, and the Bill already provides a framework for this. The Secretary of State must be satisfied that an eligible body is capable of developing a local skills improvement plan in an impartial manner before they are designated. The Secretary of State can then specify terms and conditions to which a designation is subject and modify them as necessary. In its role, the designated employer representative body will be accountable to the Secretary of State, and the Department for Education will monitor and review its performance.

If a designated employer representative body does not have regard to relevant statutory guidance—as we were discussing last time—or comply with any terms or conditions of its designation, or if it ceases to meet the criteria for which it was originally designated, the Secretary of State may well decide not to approve and publish the local skills improvement plan, and has the power to remove its designation. If that power is exercised, the Secretary of State must publish a notice, which must include the reasons for the removal. The Secretary of State is already accountable to Parliament, and Members can of course raise questions on this issue if they wish.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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With regard to clause 2, we remain of the view that without amendment 37, which the Committee decided to vote against on Tuesday, the Government will be introducing a good idea badly. As such, local skills improvement plans will not enjoy the holistic representation or offer the breadth of experience they could have done, which is hugely regrettable. I do not propose to repeat all of the arguments we made last Tuesday, or even any of them, but it remains our view that not incorporating amendment 37 in the Bill will fundamentally undermine local skills improvement plans.

New clause 3, which we have proposed,

“requires the Secretary of State to publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament an annual report on employer representative bodies to allow for scrutiny of their role and performance.”

We think it is essential that there is proper scrutiny and oversight of employer representative bodies, that they enjoy the confidence of elected representatives at local and national level, and that local communities, local businesses and, crucially, learners—who are so absent from the Bill—can see how an employer representative body has performed and assess the quality of the plans they have produced. Given that employer representative bodies will control much of the adult education and skills budget and their direction through the formation of these local skills improvement plans, due diligence and accountability will be vital. All we ask for is an annual report to Parliament that will enable Members to analyse the performance of employer representative bodies and ensure they are doing the role they are intended to.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I want to clarify a point regarding something the hon. Gentleman just said. It is important for us all to realise and recognise that employer representative bodies will not be commissioners. They do not control budgets; they set out plans that local providers of education then have to respond to. He may not have meant that, but I just wish to clarify that point.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Clause 3 is an important accountability mechanism, which gives the Secretary of State the ability to remove an employer representative body’s designation in certain conditions. Hopefully, that will not be required, but we need to be clear on when such circumstances may arise, and ensure there is a process—

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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On a point of order, Mr Efford. I do not think we have dealt with new clause 3. Did we?

None Portrait The Chair
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The new clauses are dealt with at the end of the proceeding. So we will deal with all of the new clauses and any votes then. You will move new clause 3 formally at that stage and we will vote on it.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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As I was saying, we need to be clear when such circumstances may arise and ensure that there is a process for taking appropriate action, which will be through a published notice.

The ability to remove a designation is needed for a range of important reasons, for example in the event that an employer representative body does not comply with the term or condition of their designation, or does not have regard to relevant guidance on carrying out their role. This clause helps to ensure that the employer representative body designated for an area remains representative, and capable of delivering and keeping under review a local skills improvement plan in an effective and impartial manner.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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This clause is obviously necessary, given the votes that have taken place already. It outlines the circumstances in which the Secretary of State can remove the designation of an employer representative body.

It would be useful to get clarification from the Minister about the reasons why the Secretary of State would look to replace an employer representative body, such as the performance of that body; any representations made by anyone within the body, be it further education colleges or other institutions; representations by other employer representative bodies that perhaps did not consider that the body was being consistent or was properly declaring interest; or any other criteria that might require an employer representative body to be replaced.

The other real concern is that the Secretary of State has awarded himself huge powers. He will be the person who will decide who to appoint; he will be the person who approves the local plan; therefore, he becomes the person who decides whether it is right policy for Bishop Auckland, or for Bishop Stortford, or for anywhere in the country—the Secretary of State is the man who decides whether or not a plan is the right one. If he then decides, “Oh, well, I don’t really like this plan”, or, “I don’t like the way the employer representative body is carrying out its business”, he can choose to get rid of the employer representative body as well.

The Secretary of State is taking a lot of powers under the guise of devolution to set policy in individual local areas. Although we understand the purpose of the clause and do not intend to vote against it, it would be useful to hear from the Minister a little more about the criteria that will be used. It is also important for these employer representative bodies to have clarity and that it is not just a case of, “Look, if you annoy the Secretary of State, he might get rid of you”, and that instead we have a proper process and proper criteria.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Chesterfield, and I refer him to clause 3. The Secretary of State will set out terms and conditions for each employer representative body, and those terms and conditions will be public. Statutory guidance to govern how employer representative bodies behave will also be public. In the event that a Secretary of State wishes to remove the designation of an ERB, he or she will have to do so in writing. Under the terms of clause 3(3)(a), he or she will have to

“include reasons for the removal of the designation”.

Obviously, the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament. I imagine that there would be further urgent questions on the matter, and that Select Committees might want to look into it. I believe that our mechanisms for parliamentary accountability are sound and good—particularly when they are overseen by noble Chairs such as yourself, Mr Efford. With that, I resume my seat.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Interpretation

Amendments made: 11, in clause 4, page 5, line 35, after “institution” insert “in England”.

Amendments 11, 12, 13 and 14 ensure that a relevant provider, to whom the duties in clause 1(4) apply, must be in England. This amendment ensures that, for an institution within the further education sector to be a relevant provider, it must be in England.

12, in clause 4, page 5, line 38, leave out “a” and insert “an English”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 11. This amendment ensures that a higher education provider will be a relevant provider only if it is an English higher education provider.

13, in clause 4, page 5, line 40, after “provider” insert

“whose activities, so far as they relate to the provision of post-16 technical education or training, are carried on, or partly carried on, in England”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 11. This amendment ensures that an independent training provider is a relevant provider only if the provider’s activities that relate to providing post-16 technical education or training are carried on, or partly carried on, in England.

14, in clause 4, page 5, line 41, at end insert “in England”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 11. This amendment ensures that the only schools that can be relevant providers by virtue of regulations under clause 4 are schools in England.

15, in clause 4, page 6, line 9, leave out “in respect of which amounts are”

and insert

“funded, wholly or partly, by amounts”.

This amendment, together with Amendments 16 and 17, ensure that education or training is treated as English-funded where amounts are paid directly to providers of the education or training in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State (as, for example, where payments are made by the Student Loans Company).

16, in clause 4, page 6, line 10, leave out “by the Secretary of State”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 15.

17, in clause 4, page 6, line 11, after “made” insert

“by the Secretary of State”.—(Alex Burghart.)

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 15.

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

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Clause 4 is important in providing clarity as to the providers who will be subject to the duties relating to local skills improvement plans and the employer representative bodies eligible to be designated to lead them. It also gives the Secretary of State the ability, through regulations, to include additional providers.

The clause enables the Secretary of State to specify further types of providers that deliver English-funded post-16 technical education and training in England to be encompassed in the future. However, those regulations would be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution in either House of Parliament. I hope members of the Committee agree that this is an important aspect of the LSIP provisions.

None Portrait The Chair
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The question is that clause 4—

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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We are moving at such breakneck speed, Mr Efford, it is hard to keep track.

The clause is an interpretation clause, clarifying what is meant by the various terms of eligible body, employer, training provider and so on. We have no reason to vote against it. Amendments 11 to 17 have just been made. It would be useful if the Minister could inform the Committee what the consequence of the proposals on local skills improvement plans will be for the Barnett consequentials. How may they be considered by the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly and Northern Irish Assembly?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for the clause. My understanding is that there are no Barnett consequentials as a result of this measure. If that turns out to be incorrect, I will let him know at the first available opportunity.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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Given the amount of money that is being spent on local skills improvement plans and the initial budgets towards the trailblazer, I am slightly surprised to learn that there is no equivalent expectation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I will take the answer that the Minister has given me as the one that will stand for now, and forever into the future, unless I hear otherwise.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Institutions in England within the further education sector: local needs

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

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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There is strong agreement on the importance of the provision of high-quality technical education and training that is responsive to local needs. For many colleges, the delivery of technical education is a key part of a wider curriculum that responds to different local needs.

The wider curriculum can include, for example, academic provision for students hoping to move on to university, English or maths provision for adults, or high-needs provision for learners with an education, health and care plan. Colleges also need to deliver other functions that support education delivery, such as careers education and advice, support for students with special educational needs and pastoral support.

We will only achieve our goal of provision that is responsive to local needs where there is effective strategic curriculum planning within every college. Such curriculum planning needs to reflect both the priorities set out in the local skills improvement plan, and the needs of different groups of learners.

The clause therefore places a duty on governing bodies of institutions within the further education sector to periodically review their provision against local needs and to consider changes that might improve the way those needs are met. The duty applies to further education and sixth-form colleges, and to institutions designated under section 28 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. That reflects the importance of those institutions in many local communities and the breadth of their curriculum offer.

In carrying out the review, the governing body must have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State. A draft of the statutory guidance has been published by the Department. The guidance sets out the principles that should be followed when carrying out reviews and how reviews should be conducted, including working with different stakeholders and other governing bodies.

While the new duty builds on the existing good practice within the sector, there are also cases where improvement is required. That might include, for example, cases where intense local rivalries have led institutions to prioritise the needs of one group of learners over another, even if that is at the expense of learners in the local area as a whole. By putting in place a legal duty requiring reviews to be published, we are strengthening transparency and accountability around decisions on provision that are vital for local communities. When carrying out reviews, colleges will need to be mindful of their other relevant statutory obligations, including those in relation to learners with special educational needs and disabilities.

The clause strengthens the legal framework in which colleges, working both individually and in collaboration with each other, regularly review their provision to identify how it can be improved. That will help to deliver more responsive further education provision and will benefit local communities in all parts of England.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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Clause 5 sets out the duty for institutions such as colleges to review provision in relation to local needs. The review must be published on the institution’s website and must be conducted in line with the Secretary of State’s guidance. The Opposition do not propose to divide the Committee on the clause. I am grateful to hear from the Minister specific mention of special needs. He will be aware that we are very concerned that that area should be reflected in local skills improvement plans, so I appreciate his reference to it. It is important to ensure that the review takes into account local circumstances and has the broadest possible base. We support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Functions of the Institute: oversight etc

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Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
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It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I rise to support the Opposition amendment—a modest amendment that simply asks for a review of the apprenticeship levy, paying particular regard to ensuring that sufficient apprenticeships at level 3 and below are available. This is really important. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has set out in great detail why we believe the apprenticeship levy is not working in the way in which the Government promised. The intention of the apprenticeship levy is a good one, but the practice of it in our constituencies is not working. We can see that in all the data and all the facts that my hon. Friend has laid out. The professional bodies responsible for training also support that view.

If the Minister has not already read the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee report, I encourage him to do so because it is very clear about the failings of the levy and the negative impact it has had on apprenticeship opportunities for younger people. It acknowledges that there has been an increase in higher-level apprenticeships, which is good, but drilling down into the data we see what the Opposition have already outlined—employers ensuring that their existing workforce are trained up to higher levels. That is good, and continuous improvement in the workplace is something we should support, but I do not believe the apprenticeship levy should pay for something that has always been paid for by employers. It goes against the ethos of the apprenticeship levy. Why do I speak so passionately about apprenticeships? I want to take the Committee back to 1990 when we had a Tory Government. We were in the 11th year of Baroness Thatcher’s premiership.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Hear, hear.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
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I know how to warm up a Committee. It was also the year that 16-year-old Andrew Gwynne left Egerton Park High School in Denton with a clutch of good GCSEs, but I did not know what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I did not want to go to college, so I took the rather unusual decision, given how it was painted at the time, of applying to go on youth training, the successor to the old YTS—the youth training scheme. I was very fortunate in the opportunity that youth training gave me. As I say, I had a clutch of good GCSEs and could have gone on to study A-levels, but I did not want to do that. I wanted to go down the vocational route.

I had to have a job interview at ICL—International Computers Ltd, now part of Fujitsu—in West Gorton in Manchester. I got my new suit from Burton and got on the 210 bus, nervous as anything. I had my job interview and got the two-year placement. When I think of the real responsibilities that they gave that 16 to 18-year-old, I look back in horror because I am not sure that I would have given 16 to 18-year-old Andrew Gwynne those opportunities—[Interruption.] I can see you staring at me from the Chair, Mr Efford—I do not think you would have given 16 to 18-year-old Andrew Gwynne those responsibilities either.

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Let us not belittle level 2 apprenticeships either. As my hon. Friend said, there is a skills shortage for a lot of jobs that require level 2 apprenticeships, so we need to ensure that, through a review, we get the right skills in the right places, and motivate and encourage young people to take those opportunities to develop themselves. Who knows, a 16-year-old leaving high school today might, in 30 years, be the hon. Member for somewhere or other.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I could listen to that all day. What a heart-warming story of great education and training achievement under a Conservative Government. Although I do not agree with all the detail given by Opposition Members, I echo their sentiment. We all care deeply about apprenticeships, and the good news is that we will get more of them, because the Chancellor committed to spending a great deal more money on apprenticeships, taking their budget to £2.7 billion a year by the end of the spending review period.

I am pleased that the amendment was tabled because it gives us an opportunity to go over some of this ground and talk about the great work that we have been doing on apprenticeships. Alas, we lack the time to go into all the detail raised by the Opposition, but I remind them that although there have been changes in the numbers of people doing apprenticeships, that has happened for a reason. It has happened because when the coalition came to power, there was a need to review the quality of apprenticeships in our country. The Richard review—a famous and widely respected review—found that apprenticeships were not giving employers the skills that they needed, and that one fifth of apprentices reported receiving no training and one third of apprentices did not know that they were on an apprenticeship. That is why we decided to go for quality, and that quality is now paying off.

I was lucky enough to be at the national apprenticeships awards last night—I was sorry not to see Opposition Members there—and it was a fantastic evening. We saw many people—some young; some not so young—who were doing apprenticeships at all levels, and fantastic employers, from big companies and small schools to the Royal Navy, which is a fantastic provider of apprenticeships at all levels. It was a real celebration of the new landscape of high-quality apprenticeships to provide young people, and not so young people, with the skills that employers need.

I recognise the points made by the Opposition about level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships, of which I also want to see more. However, in 2020 and 2021, those levels made up 69% of apprenticeship starts. The majority of employer-designed standards are still at levels 2 and 3—345 out of 630.

It has been this Government, during the pandemic, who have paid employers and providers £1,000 when they take on apprenticeships for young people aged 16 to 18. More than 80% of 16 to 18-year-olds were participating in education or an apprenticeship at the end of 2020, the highest number on record.

More than one third of apprenticeship employers are still SMEs. We will see that number increase as the excellent levy transfer scheme continues to go great guns. Already millions of pounds are being transferred by large employers to smaller employers in their supply chains and beyond. Some of the case studies I have seen so far are wonderful. I do not know whether they are in the public domain, so I cannot talk about them, but we are seeing providers pass their money on in really creative and interesting ways.

We must almost remember that 95% of the costs of training and assessment for smaller employers are still covered. The figure is 100% for the smallest employers who are taking on young people.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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Someone listening to the hon. Gentleman who did not know about the subject might well think that he was talking about a record of success. The figures that I have referred to, and which the CIPD described as having “failed on every measure”, are the reality of apprenticeships. It is one thing for the Government to say there is a problem here and they are seeking to address it, but the Minister seems to be talking as though everything is going well as the result of this policy. Is there any sense that this Government believe that the levy needs reform or that there is anything they are going to do to increase the number of opportunities for young people?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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We are increasing the number of opportunities. We got an excellent settlement in the spending review. We are going to have more apprentices at every single level. This is a Government who believe in apprenticeships, who back them and who put their money where their mouth is. Listening to Opposition Members, one could be forgiven for thinking that apprenticeships in this country were worthless. That is not a picture I recognise. It is not a picture that providers I meet recognise. It is not a picture that the apprentices I meet recognise.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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No Opposition Member has said that apprenticeships are worthless—quite the opposite. We really value them. I think the frustration is that businesses are saying that the system is not working, whether that is large businesses paying in and not getting any return, or the smaller businesses not getting any gain. The money seems to be being lost to the Treasury, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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If the hon. Gentleman had been at the awards ceremony last night, he would have struggled to find any provider saying that they were not getting any gain from the scheme, which is what he has implied—in fact, not implied; it is what he said explicitly. Equally, the small and medium-sized employers who were there were getting a great deal of gain from it. The people who are on the apprenticeship schemes are getting a great deal of gain. Where we absolutely agree is that there is a need for more apprenticeships. This Government are going to provide more apprenticeships. We have already provided more apprenticeships at a higher quality than we have ever had before. We are going to see that continue.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just to be clear, I do not think I implied that at all. What I am saying is that, speaking to businesses, including some major businesses in and around my constituency that I talk to regularly, as I do with Warwickshire College, one of the largest colleges in the country, they have been saying that, while the programme is good and the apprenticeship levy had good intent, it is not working. That is why we tabled the amendment. We want to be constructive and help the Government make it work better.

Sadly, I was not invited to the awards last night. I will check my email, but I do not believe I was. I very much look forward to coming next year.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman is invited next year. I look forward to seeing him.

Tahir Ali Portrait Tahir Ali
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Have him as your guest.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green suggests I take the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington as my guest. I was myself a guest. I am sure those organising will have heard his appeal for a ticket.

We want more apprenticeships. We have a great many fantastic employers in this country, providing wonderful opportunities for people at all levels at the moment. We are going to see that increase under the commitment that the Government have made. It is for the Government to consider when might be the right time for a review of apprenticeship reforms, through consultation with stakeholders. For now, we want to focus on improvements to apprenticeships to make them attractive to employers in more sectors. We want to focus on making apprenticeships relevant in new and changing occupations, and on improving quality.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [ Lords ] (Fourth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Education

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

Alex Burghart Excerpts
Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

It is good to be back, as we cross the halfway point in Committee proceedings for the Bill. Clause 6 provides an important oversight duty for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. It will ensure the overall coherence of the system of technical education and training, and will help to ensure that we have the right balance of provision to meet the skills needs of the economy. That includes apprenticeships, technical qualifications and other types of technical education, and training across all 15 technical routes.

Those routes underpin the institute’s occupational maps. They are the groupings for occupations in relation to which apprenticeships and technical education might be approved by the institute. Routes include hospitality and catering, construction, creative and design. The clause places a duty on the institute to keep under review the technical education and training within its remit and, through that review, to consider the impact of its activity on the range and sufficiency of that technical education and training. That means that different types of technical education, such as apprenticeships and qualifications at different levels, will not be looked at in isolation.

The institute will consider whether there is anything further within its powers that should be done, or that should be done differently, to safeguard the coherence and sufficiency of the technical education and training in its remit. The institute may provide the Secretary of State for Education with reports on the range and availability of apprenticeships, qualifications and other technical education and training in the system, raising any matters that arise during its review.

In addition, the clause brings into the institute’s remit other technical education and training that supports entry to occupations that are published by the institute in its occupational maps. That will allow the institute to play a role where education and training links to employer-led standards but does not lead to a qualification—for example, traineeships and skills bootcamps. That role might include, for example, advising or publishing guidance to support alignment with employer-led standards.

Aligning that type of provision to standards, where it is appropriate to do so, will create a joined-up system. It will benefit learners by supporting progression into skilled jobs, as well as further technical training. The institute is best placed to have oversight of the system as a whole because it has oversight of the occupational maps that bring together the occupations for which technical education is appropriate. It guarantees that the employer voice is at the heart of our skills system.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We do not oppose clause 6. We tabled amendments on apprenticeships, but we are not opposed to the role of the institute in itself. It was an interesting debate, with some really valuable contributions from some of my colleagues. We also had another Conservative who enjoyed himself at a party, and another lesson about the importance of who we invite to our parties. It was very much in keeping with the debates of this week, but we do not oppose the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Additional powers to approve technical education qualifications

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Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not want to rehearse points that have already been made, but I highlight the fact that BTECs are written into the Bill, which refers on page 10 to

“BTECs, AGQ or a Diploma”.

When we refer to BTECs, we are referring to them very honestly. There is no preference for any provider or qualification; they just happen to be a significant part of the skills agenda and, as I say, are written into the Bill.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

May I make a small point of clarification? The hon. Gentleman says that BTECs are written into the legislation. They are, but only because of a successful amendment tabled by Lord Watson in the upper House. They are not in the Government’s original drafting of the Bill.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the Minister’s point, but that decision was reached and agreed across the parties in the House of Lords. The Lords accepted that BTECs are a qualification, along with AGQs and diplomas. As a point of reference, that is a pretty honest point made by noble Lords, and we agree. I just clarify that we are not favouring one provider or qualification over another; we are simply using the parlance of the FE sector.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield mentioned, the issue is about criteria. I am really concerned, having spoken to colleges and universities in the higher education sector about the associations between FE colleges and universities. There are so many young people who may struggle through school and the normal academic process, but who have the chance to do a BTEC and rediscover learning and what is right for them. Qualifications such as AGQs and BTECs have provided a real opportunity for those young people. That is why we believe it is important that, rather than pursuing T-levels almost exclusively, as the Government have done, we should make a much more open choice available to young people. We are concerned about the move towards assessing the quality of level 3 courses and about what will be taken into account—hence our amendment.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Let us get to the amendments themselves. Amendment 47 would require the Secretary of State to appoint an alternative body, rather than the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, to determine whether approval should be withdrawn from technical qualifications at level 3. The Government think this amendment is unnecessary. Institute approval is a mark of quality and provides currency with business and industry. It shows that employers demand employees who have attained the qualification, and that it delivers knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for particular occupations. Approval would be withdrawn when a qualification no longer meets the criteria against which it was approved and no longer delivers the outcomes that employers need.

It is entirely appropriate that approval and withdrawal of approval decisions based on the same set of criteria should be made by the same body. That body should undoubtedly be the institute. It is best placed to manage our system of technical qualifications and will actively involve employers when making approval and withdrawal decisions, including through its route panels of employers, who hold national sector expertise and knowledge of occupational standards. To be clear, the institute does not have the power to make funding decisions about qualifications. Those powers rest with the Secretary of State. However, we want to fund technical qualifications that hold currency with employers; institute approval will provide a robust basis for this.

Amendment 48 has three elements to it. The first is that the Secretary of State must publish criteria defining what is meant by “high quality” when it comes to deliberations around the defunding of level 3 vocational and technical qualifications. The second is that an independent panel of experts be appointed to review the defunding of any qualifications in accordance with these criteria. The final one is that a proposed list of qualifications in line to have their funding removed is published within three months of this Bill achieving Royal Assent.

On the first point, the Secretary of State was clear on Second Reading that the removal of funding for level 3 qualifications that overlap with T-levels will be based on the extent to which they overlap with T-levels. High-level criteria for the removal of funding for technical qualifications that overlap with T-levels were published in the summer alongside the response to the consultation. Further detail about those criteria will be published in the near future, alongside a provisional list of qualifications in scope for funding removal in 2024. These will include grounds for awarding organisations to appeal against the provisional decisions made the Department for Education.

On the second point, both Ofqual and the institute will play an important role in approving new and reformed qualifications independently from the Department, and the institute’s approval will be a necessary pre-requisite for funding decisions taken by the Department. There is no need for any further independent body being built into the system. On the third aspect of the amendment, we want to have transparent processes for the removal of funding for qualifications and the approval of new ones. I have already made it clear that we will shortly publish the first list of technical qualifications that are in scope for the removal of funding because they overlap with T-levels. The funding of new and reformed qualifications will be based on strong quality standards, to be published next year, and decisions based on approvals involving two expert and independent organisations.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That was an interesting contribution from the Minister. On the first aspect of amendment 48, which calls for the Secretary of State to publish criteria to define what is meant by “high-quality qualifications”, he seemed to be saying that, effectively, that has already been published—although there will be more to be published in future. This is so obviously a moving situation; the Government are desperately trying to recover from the position that the previous Secretary of State has put them in. I think amendment 48 is a constructive way of supporting them to get out of the situation they are in.

It appears from what the Minister says that he does not need to vote for the amendment because that will happen anyway. If it will happen anyway, what is the problem with voting for the amendment? Having specific criteria to define what is meant by high-quality qualifications —removing the case-by-case approach and any political agenda, and once again enabling decisions to be made according to academic and, one might almost say, evidence-based criteria, which is what the Secretary of State told us he would be all about—would be entirely sensible, so I do not understand why the Minister will not vote for the amendment.

On the second part of our amendment, the Minister suggested that we do not need an independent body because we have IATE. The whole point about amendment 47 is that an organisation having ownership of a qualification and also being the referee on other qualifications is a pretty complicated and worrying situation. It is a bit like saying that Toyota, which makes electric cars, can also say whether everyone else’s electric cars meet the criteria.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

It is worth bearing in mind that there really is not a conflict of interest here. The institute is not a market participant. Toyota manufactures and sells cars. The institute will not sell T-levels.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister says that there is no conflict of interest. People in the sector believe that there is. Clearly it is a matter of opinion, but the perception of a conflict of interest exists. That is why we tabled the amendment, and I suspect it is why we were asked to do so.

The Minister suggests that he will vote against proposed subsection (12) of amendment 48, but at the same time he says, “Don’t worry. We’re going to publish it shortly. We don’t want to be committed to three months, but it will be shortly.” I do not know what the definition of shortly is if three months is too short. I understand that we are only in a position to press one of the amendments to a vote. We have not been given any encouragement by Government Members that they will support amendment 47, so even though we remain of the view that it would have been sensible, on advice I will withdraw it, but we will seek to divide the Committee on amendment 48. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 18, in clause 7, page 10, leave out lines 38 to 40.

This amendment leaves out subsection (3) of section A2D6 (approved technical education qualifications: approval and withdrawal) to be inserted into the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. The subsection was inserted at Lords Report.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 19.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Amendment 18 removes an amendment from the Opposition Benches of the Lords that sought to delay the withdrawal of public funding from level 3 qualifications until 2026. The Lords amendment is not needed. We listened to the issues raised in the other place and, as such, the Secretary of State announced an extra year before public funding is withdrawn from qualifications that overlap with T-levels, and before reformed qualifications that will sit alongside T-levels and A-levels are introduced. Our reform programme is rightly ambitious, but we know that it would be wrong to push too hard and risk compromising quality. I believe that that additional year strikes the right balance between giving providers, students and other stakeholders enough time to prepare while moving forward with our important reforms.

The changes are part of reforms to our technical education system that will be over a decade in the making from their inception, building on the recommendations in the Sainsbury review, published in 2016, which itself built on the findings of the Wolf review of 2011. Both reviews found that the current approach is not serving learners or employers well. It fails to incentivise the active involvement of business and industry in technical qualifications, whereas our reforms will place employers at the heart of the system. We need to ensure that we get this right, but it is also important that we act quickly to close the gaps between what people study and the skills that employers need.

T-levels are a critical step change in the quality of the technical offer. They have been co-designed with over 250 leading employers and are based on the best international examples of technical education. We have already put in place significant investment and support to help providers and employers prepare for T-levels. By 2023, all T-levels will be available to thousands of young people across the country, and over 400 providers have signed up to deliver them so far.

We have learned from past reforms that, for T-levels to embed successfully, we should not continue to fund all competing qualifications alongside them. That is what we did when we moved from apprenticeship frameworks to apprenticeship standards: the frameworks were removed. Apprenticeship standards are the same employer-led standards on which T-levels and higher technical qualifications are based, and soon there will be a broader range of qualifications as part of our ambition for a coherent system in which employers play a leading role throughout the technical qualifications landscape. The Government’s amendment will allow those vital reforms to be implemented so that more young people and employers can benefit from a high-quality technical offer, with one extra year to help providers and other stakeholders to prepare. That extra year does not require legislation.

Amendment 19, which also stands in my name, seeks to reverse another amendment from the Lords. That amendment said that no student would be deprived of the right to take two BTECs, an applied general qualification, or a diploma or an extended diploma. All learners should be able to attain the skills they need to succeed in higher education or progress into skilled employment. A-levels and T-levels will be the best academic and technical options for most 16 to 19-year-olds, and we want as many young people as possible to benefit from them. However, that does not mean that we are removing all applied general qualifications. We see a valuable role for such qualifications in the reformed landscape where there is a need for them and where they meet our new quality and other criteria. I assure Members that we recognise that there is a need for other qualifications —ones that provide knowledge and skills that are not covered by T-levels, or are less well served by A-levels.

In our response to the level 3 consultation in the summer, we set out the qualifications that we intend to fund alongside A-levels and T-levels. They include large academic qualifications, such as BTECs or similar, as a full programme of study in areas that do not overlap with T-levels and are less well-served by A-levels: performing arts or sports science, for example. Students will continue to be able to study mixed programmes, with applied general-style qualifications alongside A-levels, where there is a need and where they meet our new other criteria. That includes areas such as engineering, applied science and IT, in which T-levels are also available.

Successive reviews have found that the current approach has led to a complex and confusing market that is variable in quality, which does not serve students or employers well. Streamlining the qualifications landscape will help to simplify the market and provide students with both quality and clarity of choice. I therefore commend these amendments to the Committee.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a really important moment in the passage of this Bill, because Government amendments 18 and 19 seek to remove two of the most important amendments that were secured in the House of Lords. The Minister described the first of those as an Opposition amendment, but we should remember that it only passed because of the votes of Conservative peers, as well as Labour, Liberal Democrat and other peers. Indeed, the Conservatives who voted for that amendment included such renowned and respected peers as Lord Willetts, former Minister of State for Universities and Science, who was largely seen as one of the pioneers of policy in this area during his time in government; Lord Clarke, former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer; and Lord Howard, former Conservative party leader. These are not people who often vote against the Government—well, Lord Clarke did quite a bit. [Laughter.] On the whole, they are not people who regularly vote against the Government. They do so only with the greatest of regret and the greatest of persuasion, so when people such as Lord Howard, Lord Willetts and Lord Clarke say that this is a moment for the Government to pause before they get this wrong, then joking aside, they should be listened to seriously.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby said she speaks to employers in her constituency who say that they are not able to attract employees with the skills they need. We have all heard that refrain. That is precisely why introducing a reform that could see 130,000 students without the qualification they are currently getting is a hugely retrograde step.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby says that she is concerned that people watching this debate will be misinformed. I have to say to her that the only people watching the debate know the sector very well indeed—there is not widespread competition for the number of viewers that “Coronation Street” gets. Those watching this debate already understand the sector. They are precisely the people who have responded to that consultation in great numbers—86% of whom have said that we should support this Lords amendment rather than get rid of it. I think that her worries about people in the sector being misinformed are very much out of line. Actually, it is the sector that is coming to us and saying, “Slow down. T-levels may well have real value, but we don’t yet know. Before you chuck the baby out with the bathwater, take it steady. Let’s support the Lords amendment and vote against the Government one.”

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

This is another interesting debate. It is another opportunity for the Opposition to fawn over former Conservative Secretaries of State and to think back to the wonderful childhoods they had under Baroness Thatcher—[Interruption.] There are some great opportunities for 16-year-olds in Greater Manchester, it would appear.

I appreciate that there are cross-party points to be made. I do not need to remind the Committee that a lot of this work originates from the pen and mouth of Lord Sainsbury, who in 2016 put together the review that would ultimately lead to the design of T-levels, which he has been intimately involved in. I imagine that most members of the Committee have received communication from his lordship in the run-up to this debate, in which he has made it very clear that the reason we needed T-levels was because there was a need at level 3 for large qualifications, designed by employers, that met the needs of employers and offer serious work placements, and that this would enhance the level 3 offer immeasurably.

Lord Sainsbury is a very strong Labour advocate for this policy. On his advice, we have designed a new suite of qualifications at level 3, designed with 250 employers, with nine weeks of work experience put in. It was wonderful to hear a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby, because I have had the same experience. I have had the pleasure of doing this job for 11 weeks or so now, and I have travelled across the country meeting T-level providers. The level of enthusiasm among staff, pupils and employers who are providing the work placements is enormous. It is an electric moment in education.

I fully respect the serious point that the hon. Member for Luton South made about capacity for work placements, an issue that the Department is taking very seriously. My officials have absolutely busted a gut during the pandemic to make sure that young people on T-levels at this uniquely challenging time do not miss out on their work placement. I am pleased to say that the vast majority of young people who started their course in September 2020 have found a work placement, though a few have not, and we are working very hard to make sure that they do. It is a promising sign that even during a pandemic, we managed to do that, but we know that we will have to work hard on this issue, and we do not take the challenge lightly.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope that the Minister will appreciate my concern. There are 10,000 students in the T-level pilots. He says that the Government are almost there on work placements, but nearly 250,000 people are studying for level 3 BTECs, so there would need to be a significant transition. I hope that he accepts those concerns about placements.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes a serious point of which we are mindful, but obviously there are lots of areas where there are no T-levels at the moment, and there are great opportunities for work experience; we are already engaging with employers and colleges.

Access has come up repeatedly. There is absolutely no good reason why a young person at 16 to 19 who is ready to study at level 3 should not do a T-level. The idea that large numbers of young people aged 16 to 19 will be shut out of studying at level 3 because of T-levels is simply wrong. There was a potentially serious obstacle in the English and maths exit requirement, which is why we removed that. I say in all seriousness to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that if there are colleges out there still using an English and maths entry requirement, I would like to know which ones they are—I will happily speak to their principals. I do not expect him to put that on record in Hansard, but I would be grateful if he supplied me with that information.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for that, because as I said, we really need to bottom this out. We absolutely need to make sure that we apply not just the spirit of what the Minister said on Second Reading, but the letter of it. I will certainly supply him with that information.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that undertaking, because this is about creating more and better opportunities. On the point about destinations, a number of MPs here have said that BTECs have led to higher education. That is excellent. There is no reason at all why T-levels should not do the same thing. Many universities have already come forward to say that they will recognise them, and we are very confident that the number will increase.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield raised a point about capacity. I am afraid that he may have got his figures slightly confused. In steady state, there is absolutely no cap on the number of people who can do T-levels. I think one estimate was that each cohort could be 100,000 people. There is plenty of space for anyone who is at the right level to do a T-level.

The Government are moving at pace, but over quite a long period. This process started in 2011, and was boosted by the work of Lord Sainsbury in 2016. We introduced our first T-levels in September 2020, and we will not begin defunding until 2024. We are taking proportionate steps to introduce a new generation of level 3 qualifications that will present great new opportunities to students, providers, employers and the economy.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 6—T-levels: Duty to review

“(1) Two years after the date on which the first T-levels are completed, the Secretary of State must perform a review of the education and employment outcomes of students enrolled on T-level courses.

(2) No qualifications may be defunded until the Secretary of State’s duty under subsection (1) has been undertaken.”

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I rise to speak in support of clause 7. Much of the debate so far has centred on the level 3 qualifications that will be funded for young people in the reformed landscape. This is an important matter, and one that we have consulted on extensively as part of the post-16 qualifications review. We are making changes based on feedback. We are allowing that extra year before implementing our reform timetable, and we are removing the English and maths exit requirement from T-levels, bringing them more in line with other level 3 study programmes, such as A-levels.

However, I would like to bring us back to the specific purpose of this legislation, which is focused on the approval and regulation of technical qualifications. For the majority of technical and vocational qualifications, little scrutiny is applied to the content before they enter the publicly funded market under existing arrangements. That is in contrast to the more rigorous arrangements in place for general qualifications such as A-levels, and we do not think that it is right. We want students and employers to be confident that every technical qualification is high quality and holds genuine labour market currency.

Clause 7 introduces powers to enable the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education to approve a broader range of technical qualifications than it is currently able to, with a particular focus on alignment with employer standards. Standards are developed by groups of employers and are managed and published by the institute. They set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are essential for a person to be competent in an occupation. Apprenticeships, T-levels and higher technical qualifications are based on those standards. T-levels have been co-designed with more than 250 leading employers and raise the quality bar of the technical offer at level 3. We want to ensure that all technical qualifications are high quality and meet the skills needs of business and industry. Extending the institute’s role will make it certain that the majority of technical qualifications available in England are based on standards and deliver the skills outcomes that employers have told us they need.

This clause places a duty on the institute to regularly review the qualifications that it approves, upholding quality over time and ensuring continued labour market currency. It will give the institute the power to manage the number of qualifications in targeted areas—by issuing a moratorium on the approval of new qualifications—if the institute judges that there is a risk of inappropriate proliferation. Furthermore, it will enable the institute to charge fees for the approval of qualifications, subject to regulations published by the Secretary of State.

As the Sainsbury review found, the current approach is not working, with over 12,000 qualifications at level 3 or below. It has led to a complex and bloated landscape of qualifications, which is confusing for learners and does not serve them or employers well. Our reforms to technical qualifications will set a new quality bar, where the content of qualifications lines up with the skills needs of the workplace.

New clause 6 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to undertake a review of the education and employment outcomes of T-level students two years after the first cohort has completed the programme. It would also prevent the removal of funding from qualifications until the review has been carried out. T-levels are a much-needed step change in the quality of the technical offer for 16 to 19-year-olds, based on the same employer-led standards as apprenticeships. Their design draws on the best international examples of technical education.

A number of mechanisms are already in place to keep T-levels under review, including the institute’s arrangements for reviewing T-level technical qualifications in live delivery. We are working closely with students, providers, employers and universities to ensure that stakeholders are clear on the range of progression opportunities that T-levels present. From 2024, we will publish statistics on the attainment of the T-level technical qualification and the employment outcomes of T-level graduates. That is set out in the technical guidance of the 16 to 18 accountability measures.

In addition, the Bill already provides for the review of approved technical qualifications. New section A2D8 under clause 7 places a duty on the institute to regularly review the qualifications it has approved. That includes T-levels, higher technical qualifications and the other qualifications it will approve as part of our reforms. I therefore do not support the inclusion of new clause 6 in the Bill.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Labour welcomes T-levels in principle but has concerns about their implementation. The current cohort of pupils in the first year is pretty small, and there is insufficient evidence to assess the success, or otherwise, of the qualifications at this stage. We have real concerns about the work experience element of T-levels. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South spoke about whether there are enough employers able to offer work experience, whether that work experience will be relevant and meaningful, and how it will be assessed. What safeguards will be in place to ensure that the work placements are relevant? Will there be a way of pupils failing their work experience other than by not attending?

We are also concerned that the amount of work experience required will restrict the number of institutions that are able to offer a broad suite of these qualifications. We think the failure to achieve the amount of work experience placements might mean that not enough of the qualifications are available at different institutions. A lot of students are finding that if they want to do the T-level that would take them towards the career they want, they might have to travel a very long way, because there will not be the same availability nearby.

The Government are attempting to trash the reputation of alternative and established level 3 qualifications in the minds of employers, students and their parents, while the T-levels are still standing on shifting sands. They were announced initially as a vocational route to take 18 to 19-year-olds towards the world of work. When a study in September 2020 showed that Russell Group universities were not willing to take T-levels as entry qualifications on to science and engineering degrees, the Government were entirely sanguine, describing them as ladders to work, not to university. Yet the Secretary of State’s current favourite anecdote is of a student he met at Barnsley College called Greg, we are told, who now believes that he has the pick of universities because he is studying T-levels, so the outcome destination for T-level students in the Government’s mind seems to have shifted overnight from the workplace to university, without any evidence as to why that is.

Just like the Minister, I recently visited a college to meet students and lecturers on T-level qualifications—I went to Derby College last week. I also met students who were doing other level 3 qualifications. I asked the 14 students doing the science qualification at Derby, “How many of you are pleased that you did this qualification?” Fourteen hands went up. They were very pleased with the qualification. They had been doing it for only a couple of months, but they were really encouraged. I went on later to meet students doing a BTEC level 3 qualification in digital technology, working towards gaming. I asked them the same question, and once again every hand went up.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I understand it, from what the Secretary of State has said, going forward there will not be the need to have a maths or English GCSE before a student does a T-level. In the future, it will be similar to how it is currently, but last year’s cohort—the first cohort—did have to have GCSEs in maths and English before they were allowed to do the qualification.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

To clarify the point that the hon. Gentlemen are discussing with each other, there was never an entry requirement for T-levels—there was an exit requirement. Someone could start their T-level without any GCSEs at all, but up until Second Reading it was not possible for them to get their T-level certificate unless they had by that stage passed their English and maths. They could have spent their education at 16 to 19 getting their English and maths; they would have it at the end. That is no longer the case. In the same way as a person does not need to have GCSEs in order to do A-levels, they no longer need to have GCSEs to do T-levels. We obviously encourage all students to improve their English and maths at 16 to 19 years old.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We all encourage them, absolutely. I am interested in what the Minister says. I had the impression that a GCSE in maths and English was being used as an entry-level requirement, but I hear the Minister’s point, and if institutions were to take a different approach, I dare say I would find out about them. I appreciate the Minister’s comments.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I understand it—from what the Minister said, and from my understanding—it was previously an exit-level requirement. We were arguing against that for some time and we are glad that we have managed to persuade the Government of that argument. The important point here is that the Government are learning, visibly and in plain sight, but they have already made the decision on what the conclusions are going to be, while they are still working out what they are doing with the qualification that is working.

It is essential that Ministers get this right, to ensure that T-levels enjoy the confidence of employers, FE professionals and young people and their families. The amendment would offer oversight and ensure that the quality and standards of T-levels are assessed thoroughly, and that conclusions are drawn about any improvements or observations made in that review. It is absolutely fundamental that the Government should review after they have established what the T-level students have done, as things settle down. Qualifications originally planned to be T-levels are still being cancelled. We may well find in a year’s time that further qualifications have not had enough take-up and they also start being cancelled. Let us see what is happening before any decisions are taken to defund alternative qualifications.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I do not wish us to keep treading over the same ground. I am very pleased to hear of the many happy students at Derby College, and that they are enjoying their courses. The key question before us is whether we want a system at level 3 that prioritises qualifications designed by employers and that offer a substantial element of work experience. I think we do. It is good for students, good for employers and good for the economy at large. We are designing a system of technical education, whereby a lot of students will go into level 3 technical and do T-levels. They will progress to apprenticeships and to work; some will progress to university. We will also have students at 16 to 19 who do level 2 and go into apprenticeships or traineeships, or work. There will be routes for everyone at 16 to 19 in our reformed system, but everyone will ultimately be doing a qualification that was designed with employers in the room, and many people will be doing a qualification with a serious workplace element.

We are advised to be cautious and careful, and I understand that; these are big reforms. Ten years have passed since we started this process, and it is five years since the Sainsbury review. By the time the first qualifications are defunded, four years will have passed.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Sorry, I have finished.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Functions of the Institute: availability of qualifications outside England

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

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The clause is an important first step in allowing qualifications such as T-levels to be made available outside England by the relevant bodies. To date, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education has not collaborated with bodies outside England for that purpose. The clause makes the power explicit.

We know that many qualifications taken in England are also taken by students elsewhere, both in the other nations of the UK and beyond. Those arrangements will remain unchanged for many qualifications. However, there are some qualifications for which the institute owns the intellectual property, such as those forming part of T-levels. If other nations decide that they want to offer T-levels, the clause would allow the institute to engage with relevant bodies, such as regulators or education authorities, as appropriate. That engagement would enable all parties to work together to consider the arrangements that might be needed for programmes of education such as T-levels to be taken by students outside England.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have nothing to add to that.

None Portrait Hon. Members
- Hansard -

Hear, hear.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Technical education qualifications: co-operation between the Institute and Ofqual

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

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The clause recognises and supports effective joint working between Ofqual and the institute. Under existing legislation, the two bodies share statutory responsibility for oversight of technical education qualifications. Their respective functions and professional expertise are vital in safeguarding the credibility and integrity of technical qualifications. In particular, the institute ensures that qualifications are relevant to employers and deliver the skills they need, while Ofqual’s regulatory role is vital to maintain educational standards and the consistency of technical qualifications.

Despite the close relationship between the two roles, the two strands of existing legislation governing them are currently separate. The clause fills the gap by reinforcing the co-operation that is necessary between the two bodies to ensure that they can each perform their respective functions effectively. The two bodies already work together. They have developed an administrative framework for co-operation. The clause, together with clause 10, will align the legislation with key elements of the framework that they have agreed. Clause 9 writes mutual co-operation clearly into their respective statutory remits, as well as their working relationship. The clause also empowers each of the two bodies to provide advice and assistance to the other and ensures that each will have regard to such advice. These provisions will reinforce the long-term stability of their relationship. In particular, they will reduce the potential for the two organisations’ priorities, systems and processes to drift apart over time.

By working together effectively, the two bodies will minimise the scope for confusing, duplicated and overlapping processes. That will support the setting of clear, demanding quality standards for the qualifications. It will minimise the potential for confusion and unnecessary bureaucracy that could burden awarding bodies if Ofqual and the institute do not co-ordinate their requirements, systems and processes.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Throughout the Bill we have been calling for greater clarity and understanding of the roles of various operators within the sector, so we are pleased to see that that is the case with clause 9.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Application of accreditation requirement in relation to technical education qualifications

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The amendment aims to retain Ofqual’s power to accredit technical education qualifications that are also subject to the institute’s approval processes. These two functions are very similar, so the amendment would undermine the intention to clarify the statutory approval process for technical qualifications.

By creating a single approval gateway managed by the institute, the Bill removes duplication in the processes for these qualifications and so ensures that the system is as efficient as possible. If we were to accept the amendment, awarding organisations might be subjected to two overlapping and very similar approval processes. The mutual co-operation requirements of clause 9 ensure that although Ofqual cannot decide to accredit technical qualifications, it will continue to play a key role in their approval. Ofqual will continue to exercise its regulatory functions in live delivery.

I should draw the Committee’s attention to the comment by Jo Saxton, the Chief Inspector of Ofqual:

“The Skills Bill heralds the acceleration of a unified system of technical qualifications based on employer-led standards, in which Ofqual has a pivotal role, providing students and apprentices with high quality qualifications…The Bill cements our close working relationship with the Institute, drawing on the strengths and expertise of both organisations, with our statutory regulation of technical qualifications continuing to underpin this system”.

I think we can take it from that comment that Ofqual is very happy with the Bill as it is drafted.

It is more appropriate that the institute leads on the approval process, because its work is essential in ensuring that both the content and the outcomes of technical qualifications are aligned to the skills that employers have told us they need.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I heard what the Minister said. This was a probing amendment to try to understand a little more about how Ofqual’s role would operate in the future. However, having heard what the Minister has had to say, I beg to task leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 10 is needed in addition to clause 9 in order to clarify the roles of the institute and Ofqual in the approval of technical education qualifications. Under the existing legislation and the provisions of the Bill, the institute has specific responsibility to ensure that technical qualifications meet the skills needs of employers and different employment sectors. In parallel, Ofqual has the discretion to decide that individual types and classes of qualification should be subject to an accreditation requirement before they can be taught in schools and colleges. The purpose of the two processes is similar—to ensure that qualifications meet a high-quality bar before they enter the market. Therefore, the current legislation means that individual technical qualifications could be subject to two similar and unhelpfully overlapping approval processes. That would be unnecessary double regulation.

Clause 10 will remove the potential for overlap and duplication by creating a single approval gateway for all technical qualifications. Taken together with the mutual co-operation provisions in clause 9, it enables the two bodies to work together to provide a clear single approval pathway for technical education qualifications. It will remove the potential for duplication and additional bureaucracy both for the two bodies themselves and for the awarding organisations whose qualifications are subject to approval.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given the concerns that we have raised with regard to the creation of the division between Ofqual and the institute, and the fear that that may lead to a two-tier approach and a sense that the investigations into academic qualifications that are seen with A-levels and other qualifications under Ofqual are different from those under the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and the technical qualifications, this is an issue that the Government need to be very careful about in future. They should ensure that there is real confidence that the technical qualifications are robust and subject to the same processes, and the same checks and balances, as other qualifications.

That is the key point that we make to the Government. We do not intend to oppose clause 10 stand part, but we seek reassurances that there will not be too much of a sense that the different pathways are of different merit.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Information sharing in relation to technical education qualifications

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

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The clause supports a critical aspect of the joint working needed to ensure that the whole technical education system works together to deliver the skills that employers need. It does so by ensuring that Ofqual can exchange information with the other bodies that have important roles in this framework. Under existing legislation, the institute can exchange information with other bodies to support its own functions and those of the other body involved. At present, similar powers do not apply to Ofqual. Ofqual’s explicit information-sharing power allows it to share information only with other qualifications regulators in the UK to enable or facilitate the performance of the qualifications functions of that regulator. There is no explicit function allowing it to share information to support the functions of other types of bodies.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Could the Minister clarify a little more the kinds of information that he anticipates will be relevant under this clause?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

It is—

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, he obviously cannot.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

It is part of that long day you were talking about, Mr Efford. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that whatever information the institute and Ofqual want to share with each other, they can. It is open-ended, and is there to serve their purposes.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I will make some progress. The clause tackles that limitation by providing Ofqual with information-sharing powers in relation to technical education qualifications that correspond with those that already apply to the institute. Specifically, the clause enables each organisation to share information either to support its own functions, or to help other bodies in their own roles. For example, it would allow Ofqual to share information that it already gathers from awarding body organisations with other bodies, such as the institute, to avoid other bodies needing to duplicate data-gathering exercises. That approach of “collect once, use multiple times” would help reduce administrative load. Hopefully, that answers the question that the hon. Member for Chesterfield asked.

The clause plays an important role in supporting coherent, efficient joint working between Ofqual and other relevant bodies, and will help to secure high quality across the technical education system as a whole.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are always concerns when it comes to this Government and information sharing. There have been many examples in which there has been real concern about the approach that the Government have taken to this sort of thing, which is why I was asking about the scope of these powers. We entirely understand sharing information about specific qualifications, but if it gets more granular than that—if it gets more into the area of personal data—there will be real concern. At future stages of the Bill’s passage it would be good to get a more detailed understanding of precisely what information the Government are seeking powers to share. Notwithstanding that, on the basis that these information-sharing powers mirror the current arrangements with regard to the institute, we do not intend to oppose clause stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Technical education qualifications: minor and consequential amendments

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

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

The clause sets out minor and consequential amendments to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and other legislation as a consequence of the other provisions contained in chapter 2 of the Bill. That includes amendments that result from extending the powers of the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education such that it will be able to approve a wider range of technical qualifications. These amendments are necessary to ensure that the statute operates effectively.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

They certainly are.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Renumbering of provisions relating to technical education qualifications

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

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The clause sets out changes to the numbering of existing sections to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, allowing for new and existing provisions to be sequenced and numbered in a logical manner. This is a technical but necessary consequential change to the legislation, resulting from other provisions in this chapter of the Bill.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It certainly is.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [ Lords ] (Fifth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Education

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

Alex Burghart Excerpts
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I can clarify that Government new clause 1 will be voted on later. It was grouped for debate with clause 14 stand part, but there was no debate.

Clause 16

Lifelong learning: amendment of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

Clause 16 amends the definition of “higher education course” in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 to make express provision for the regulation of modules and to make it clear what a module of a higher education course is, as distinct from a full course. 

The current post-18 student finance system does not specifically provide for modules. The lifelong loan entitlement will transform student finance by supporting more flexible and modular provision. This legislative change is needed to provide the explicit underpinning for the delivery of modular provision. This clause makes specific provision for modules by amending part 1 of HERA 2017, which relates to the regulatory regime under the Office for Students.   

 The amendments relieve higher education providers of certain additional burdens that would otherwise arise from the addition of the concept of modules under HERA.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for moving the clause; he was not here to move clauses 14 or 15 stand part. He has offered no apology to the Committee. As we did not have the opportunity to hear from him before those clauses were voted on, will he explain what happened this morning?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman, and I apologise to the Committee: I was unexpectedly held up on my way here. I apologise to everyone for the inconvenience and for any discourtesy, particularly to you, Mrs Miller. The amendments relieve higher education providers of certain additional burdens that would otherwise arise from the addition of the concept of modules under HERA. These relate to certain requirements to provide or publish information under section 9 of that Act. 

We want to reduce the bureaucratic burden on providers where possible, and these changes will ensure that the introduction of funding for modules through the LLE will not add to this. 

We will consult on the detail and scope of the lifelong loan entitlement in due course. We will take this and other wider engagement into account before we reach a final position on fee limits and will bring forward further primary legislation on this matter. 

Overall, the changes in the Bill will help to pave the way for more flexible study and for greater parity between further and higher education.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mrs Miller. I appreciate the Minister’s apology—these things happen—but I was under the impression that in the event of a Minister being unable to move a motion someone else stands in. As a result of no one being here, clauses to the Government’s Bill have passed without debate. For those who made representations, that feels like quite a discourtesy.

I accept the Minister’s apology for his being unavoidably detained, but people listening to our deliberations might well wonder what the Government’s intentions are as the Bill has been unable to be amended.

May we have your advice on how this unavoidable situation can be put right so that people can at least understand the Government’s thinking?

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None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 8— Benefit eligibility: lifelong learning.

The secretary of state must ensure that no learner’s eligibility to a benefit will be affected by their enrolment on an approved course for a qualification which is deemed to support them to secure sustainable employment.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 17 seeks to change the law so that some students could keep their universal credit entitlement while studying. 

It may help if I explain to the Committee that financial support for students comes from the current system of learner loans and grants designed for their needs. Section 4(1)(d) of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 sets out that one of the basic conditions of entitlement to universal credit is that the person must not be receiving education, which is defined in regulations made under subsection (6). 

Where students have additional needs that are not met through this support system, exceptions are already provided under regulation 14 of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, enabling those people to claim universal credit. This includes, for example, those responsible for a child—either as a single person or as a couple—or those aged 21 or under studying non-advanced education, such as A-levels, who do not have parental support. 

It is an important principle that universal credit does not duplicate the support provided by the student support system. The core objective of universal credit is to support claimants to enter work, earn more or prepare for work in the future. There is an expectation that people who are able to look for work or prepare for work do so as a condition of receiving their benefit. 

Let me reassure the Committee about the important work already that is under way. Officials at the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions are working closely together to help to address and mitigate the barriers to unemployed adults taking advantage of our skills offers. For example, DWP Train and Progress is a new initiative aimed at increasing access to training opportunities for claimants.  As part of this, in April 2021, a temporary six-month extension in the flexibility offered by UC conditionality was announced. As a result of this change, adults who claim universal credit and are part of the intensive work search programme can now undertake work-related full-time training for up to 12 weeks —or up to 16 weeks as part of a skills bootcamp in England—without losing their entitlement to UC. That builds on the eight weeks during which claimants were already able to train full time without losing their UC entitlement. This flexibility has now been extended to run through to the end of April 2022.  Such measures are helping to ensure that UC claimants are supported to access training and skills that will improve their ability to gain good, stable and well-paid jobs. Claimants who enrol on a longer course that is not advanced education can also retain their entitlement to UC, provided they can still meet their UC conditionality requirements. 

More broadly, we are continuing to support working families on UC. As we set out at the spending review, we have reduced the taper rate to 55% and increased work allowances to £500 per year, allowing UC claimants to keep more of what they earn. This is an effective tax cut worth £2.2 billion, meaning that almost 2 million of the lowest paid in-work claimants are better off overall by around £1,000 a year on average. We do not think it is necessary for the UC regulations to be amended in this way, and the clause should therefore be removed from the Bill. 

New clause 8 seeks to ensure that eligibility to benefit is retained for claimants undertaking certain courses deemed to support them to secure sustainable employment. In addition to what I have stated on universal credit and Train and Progress, claimants on new-style jobseeker’s allowance are able to undertake a full-time course of non-advanced study or training—not above level 3—for up to eight weeks if work coaches identify a skills gap and are satisfied that it will improve the claimant’s prospects of moving into work more quickly.

The time spent on the course can be deducted from the hours of work search that the claimant is expected to undertake. Claimants on new-style employment and support allowance can already receive benefits while in education, whether full or part-time study, as long as they satisfy the eligibility conditions.

The DWP is monitoring the impact of Train and Progress, with the review date due in April, and will make decisions on continuing based on the evidence available. This will include the potential to extend the legacy benefit groups that have not transitioned to UC.

New claims for legacy benefits are no longer possible, so this is a diminishing case load. Existing claimants can still study part time as long as they meet their conditionality requirements and are willing to give up their study for employment, which they have agreed to look for.

The core objective of universal credit and other working-age benefits is to support claimants to enter work where appropriate, earn more or prepare for work in the future. There is an expectation that people who are able to look for work or prepare for work do so as a condition of receiving their benefit. We therefore do not think it is necessary or appropriate to change eligibility criteria to benefits for those who enrol on a course, so the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is vital that the cross-party support in the House of Lords on ensuring that those in receipt of universal credit are not penalised for undergoing level 3 training is upheld in the Bill.

What the Minister just said, however, somewhat undermines other things that we have heard from him and other members of the Government about the importance of skills training and education. Much of the Government’s approach to skills, which we support, has been about the importance of qualifications and apprenticeships being proper qualifications that are given depth and that develop people’s learning. For that purpose, apprenticeships are a minimum of one year; level 3 qualifications are longer, and even level 2 apprenticeships are a minimum of one year.

It appears that the Government’s approach to universal credit is that those who are seeking to get themselves into the jobs market should be allowed to do very basic training of the sort I have seen on many excellent work programmes, but that if they want to develop the qualifications they would gain on a one-year course they will be unable to do so while claiming universal credit.

It is essential that those who are furthest from the labour market have every opportunity to find work.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

What one-year courses is the hon. Gentleman thinking of where claimants may continue on universal credit while studying?

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Apprenticeships are a one-year course. Many people might be on an apprenticeship and on universal credit. I have had the opportunity to see many courses that people are not on for longer than what the Minister said and face perhaps significant barriers to accessing the world of work. We have real concerns, which were shared by those in the other place, that rather than helping people to move from universal credit into work this programme will prevent them from doing so.

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Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Miller.

I support clause 17 and new clause 8, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and me. The new clause relates to the universal credit conditionality clause that was inserted during Lords consideration of the Bill by the Lord Bishop of Durham and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle. It relates to the issues surrounding adult learners who are unemployed and in receipt of universal credit, who would remain entitled to that benefit within law if they were on an approved course.

To put it simply, the current welfare system actively discourages people from getting the skills that they need. A person loses their rights to receive unemployment benefits if they take an educational training course. Surely that cannot be right. The “Let them Learn” report from the Association of Colleges that was published recently highlights the great work of colleges with Jobcentre Pluses to support unemployed people into work. In fact, the Association of Colleges described the current system as “unjustifiable and incoherent”. Indeed, the principal of my local college wrote to me ahead of our consideration of the Bill to express her concern about the universal credit restrictions. She viewed them as causing barriers to retraining and upskilling. That cannot be right.

The truth is that unemployed people, or those in low-paid jobs, are the least likely to take out a loan for fear of risking greater indebtedness and poverty for themselves and their families. As someone who in the course of their career did courses at evening classes, I know that access to such courses is really important. However, if someone cannot afford to get to them, they simply will not take them up. The truth is that this will impact far more on certain groups than on others. We know that 53% of those on universal credit are women. We know that, as of July 2021, 30% of claimants were aged 16 to 29; 40% of people on universal credit are working.

How can those workers justify taking a cut in their monthly pay and finding time to reskill? Indeed, the Department for Education’s impact assessment reveals that the cost of study is the greatest barrier to further study. That is why we propose new clause 8 and will vote against the Government. We believe that the clause introduced by the Bishop of Durham and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle should be in the Bill.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

We believe that it is important that the welfare system helps people to get into work as quickly as possible, but we are not blind to the fact that some people will need or desire additional training. I referred to the flexibilities we have introduced to allow people to do bootcamps—a very productive way of reskilling at speed. On my visits to Salford, Bedford and Doncaster I met people who had been referred by their work coaches and were acquiring new skills that would often lead them into new professions.

Similarly, as the hon. Member for Chesterfield mentioned, it is possible for people to be on apprenticeships while claiming universal credit if their pay is low enough, and courses for the new lifetime skills guarantee that the Prime Minister made will often be available to people who are on universal credit.

We have shown that the system is capable of flexibility. We do not believe that people ought to be able to claim benefit while on long courses. However, there are opportunities to skill up, move into work and still receive some protection from universal credit.

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

--- Later in debate ---
We do not oppose clause 18, but we believe the lifelong learning review is important, and that the Secretary of State should prepare and publish a report on the impact of the overall level of skills in England and Wales. In fairness to the Government, they have spoken in narrative terms but they have not been in a position to make clear their proposals. A review that ensures that there is a detailed investigation of the maintenance required by people to access the skills that they need would be of real value.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Amendment 50 would require the Secretary of State to publish a review of student maintenance entitlements, to be conducted annually, I believe. We agree wholeheartedly with the importance of ensuring students are supported to enable them to succeed in their studies. The Government’s ambition for the lifelong loan entitlement is to help those studying at higher levels to have the opportunity to choose the best course or modules based on their learning needs, rather than just choosing the funding system that is most advantageous for them.

In our forthcoming consultation on the LLE, we are seeking to understand better the barriers that learners might face in accessing it, and how the availability of maintenance loans and other forms of support could help. It is crucial that we consider the importance of creating a sustainable student finance system.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for taking my intervention. In the earlier part of the debate, when the Minister was not in place, we were not able to consider Sharia-compliant loans. Will the Minister please include that in his comments?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I believe we will come later in the debate to another clause that treats the subject of Sharia, and I will be happy to address the hon. Lady’s point then. It is something that the Government will consider.

It is crucial to consider the importance of creating a sustainable student finance system, alongside what will be necessary to ensure that the Government can offer all eligible students the opportunity to study. However, as with clause 18, imposing an annual reporting requirement would create an unnecessary burden upon Government and the taxpayer. The student support regulations are updated annually, as it is, providing the Government with a regular opportunity to introduce improvements. In addition, introducing a review requirement before the maintenance policy is finalised would be untimely, and would pre-empt the outcome of the LLE consultation.

The Bill already provides the necessary powers for maintenance support to be introduced as part of the LLE, if the decision taken is that it should, following the consultation. Advanced learner loans are currently available in further education. Learner support funds are available for adult learners aged 19 and over, and there are bursaries of up to £1,200 a year for students in specific vulnerable groups, such as care leavers. With that in mind, and given that the amendment is burdensome, pre-emptive and unnecessary, we cannot support it.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak in favour of amendment 50, which would require the Secretary of State to review maintenance support available to further education students and courses. The Augar review recommended that student maintenance should be extended to cover students in further education as well as higher education. That was one of the important findings in that review. We have been waiting two and a half years for some outcome from the Government, which I hope we will get soon.



The Association of Colleges reminds us in its briefing that many adults will be unable to take up lifelong learning opportunities, because there is no support for living costs when taking a course at that level. Such people will be prevented from transforming their life chances. The Minister will be aware that the Government’s own impact assessment reveals that one of the main barriers to adult learners is the cost of study, including living costs.

Right across the higher and further education landscape, there are calls from many, including the Open University, for an extension of maintenance support to FE students. The Welsh model is interesting: the Welsh Government introduced reforms to tackle that issue by extending maintenance support including, importantly, means-tested grants to all students, regardless of mode of study, while maintaining low tuition fees for part-time study.

Elsewhere, in the written evidence, Birkbeck University argued for a maintenance grant to prevent further hurdles to taking up study. Universities UK states:

“We would…welcome further details on the government’s plans for introducing maintenance support for individuals studying through the”

lifelong learning entitlement

“and, specifically, what would the minimum intensity of study be for individuals to be eligible for maintenance loans.”

Those factors are important. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish talked about his own experience the other day. I was lucky enough to go to university many decades ago—

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is hard to believe. The Minister is right on that point but, as a third child, I would not have been able to go were it not for the maintenance grant, back in those days. That is why being given a maintenance grant is very much a mobilising and enabling part of the provision of education, to allow young people the chance to study. Since the removal of the EMA—education maintenance allowance—many have not been able to access education, because they just cannot afford to take the courses without some form of maintenance support.

For those reasons, we tabled the amendment. I very much hope that everyone in Committee will support it.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Apologies for the slight delay, Mrs Miller, I was still musing on how long ago it was that my hon. Friend went to university. It was quite a shock. The points he made are important. For that reason, we believe the amendment has merit. We have heard what the Government have said. We will get the opportunity to vote on clause stand part, so we look forward to supporting it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The Government agree that many learners need to access courses in a more flexible way to fit their study around work, family and personal commitments, and to retrain as their circumstances and the economy change.

Existing equivalent or lower qualification rules, however, were designed to help maintain a sustainable system. As such, we are designing the lifelong loan entitlement not only to support students pursuing higher and further education flexibly, but to share the costs fairly. We want the lifelong loan entitlement to provide value for money to students, the education sector and the taxpayer.

The complexity of that balance and the transformative nature of the LLE is one of many reasons why we intend to consult on its detail and scope before legislating on eligibility. It is crucial that careful consideration of the needs of providers, learners and stakeholders informs our final policy design, and that we do not pre-empt the consultation’s findings; however, introducing an ongoing obligation to report annually on eligibility before the policy detail is yet finalised may prejudice the outcome of the consultation, as it could indicate a future path for ELQ rules before there has been a chance for open consultation to happen.

Beyond that, the Government believe that a yearly reporting duty in perpetuity would be an undue and disproportionate burden at this stage. Placing such a duty in primary legislation would be restrictive and out of kilter with prior similar legislation passed by Parliament on student finance. For example, the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 gave significant powers to the Secretary of State over student finance, with much of the detail of the policy covered in a complex suite of regulations, including eligibility, repayments and fee limits to name but a few.

It would be disproportionate to put a requirement to report in primary legislation when the system is already under continuous review and subject to frequent amendment. Previously, much of the detail on how the system works has been set out in secondary legislation, with necessary monitoring and review undertaken only after changes have been implemented and had time to embed. The Government will of course address plans for review and monitoring as we work towards the roll-out of the lifelong loan entitlement from 2025 and post implementation. I therefore believe that the clause should be removed from the Bill.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is regrettable that the Government will seek to remove clause 18 from the Bill. It was introduced by the Lords for entirely the right reasons. On many occasions we have all seen the Government having to be dragged to the House in order to answer for their performance. The country also faces significant skills challenges. Who would have known a year ago that we would have spent so much of the last few months talking about the heavy goods vehicle driver crisis? Such things arise suddenly.

Given the dynamic state of skills policy—particularly, at the moment, legislatively but also in terms of employers’ ability to access skills—we think that clause 18 is proportionate. It requires the Secretary of State purely to prepare and publish a report on the impact on the overall level of skills in England and Wales of the rules regarding the eligibility for funding of those undertaking further or higher education courses. There is a lot of scope within that. The level of tuition fees in this country is so disproportionate to any other nation around the world, or any of the other major competitor nations in Europe, that inevitably it pushes students to access the courses that will lead them towards the jobs that pay the most.

There are many crucial public servants in this country who might not end up earning king’s ransoms but are performing roles of incredible importance to our country. A regular review of funding and maintenance support in the context of the level of skills is of real value. As a result of that review, the Government might think about being more flexible on tuition fees for certain courses, or taking specific steps to support learners in a variety of areas to study for the specific skills that the Government think will be of most use to our country and economy, and providing incentives for them to do so.

There are all kinds of different professions for which the Government rack their brains about how they can get more people to study. Each year we hear of courses in medical environments, for example, where thousands of places go unutilised. Such a review could push the Government to take the steps required to ensure that the country addresses those areas of skill shortages. It was a sensible amendment by their lordships, and it is regrettable that that very minimal commitment expected of the Secretary of State should be too much for the Government.

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

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 23, in clause 19, page 22, line 34, leave out subsection (3).

This amendment leaves out clause 19(3) of the Bill (regulations about courses of initial teacher training for further education to include provision about special educational needs awareness training), which was inserted at Lords Report.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 2—Lifelong learning: special educational needs

“When exercising functions under this Act, the Secretary of State must ensure that providers of further education are required to include special educational needs awareness training to all teaching staff to ensure that all staff are able to identify and adequately support those students who have special educational needs.”

This new clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that there is adequate special educational needs training for teachers of students in further education.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

We can all agree that it is vital for teachers to be trained to identify and respond to the needs of all their learners. That must include those with special educational needs and disabilities. However, the Government do not prescribe the content of further education initial teacher training. We believe that experts from the sector are best placed to design training programmes to meet the needs of learners, using a clear occupational standard as their benchmark.

The new occupational standard for FE teaching, published in September, has been developed by representatives from the sector who themselves work alongside and employ teachers. The standard clearly articulates the key knowledge, skills and behaviour that FE teachers must demonstrate. That includes an explicit requirement to actively promote equality of opportunity and inclusion by responding to the needs of all students. We believe that the standard is the right place to set out the expectations of teachers and what their training should cover, and that view is shared by sector experts themselves.

The Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers has stated that the new occupational standard for teachers in the FE sector

“provides an appropriate framework for the design and delivery of FE initial teacher training programmes—including the new qualification that UCET and other sector groups are currently helping to develop”.

UCET is of the view that

“the standard and qualifications based on it will help to ensure that all new FE teachers are properly equipped to recognise and respond to the needs of their learners—including those with SEND”.

Furthermore, UCET has said:

“It is vital that providers of FE ITT should be able to use their expertise and judgement to tailor training programmes to the needs of trainees and learners within the framework provided by the occupational standard.”

It concludes that

“it would be unhelpful to remove this flexibility by mandating the content of FE ITT programmes in legislation.”

I believe that it is important that we listen to the voices of expertise in the sector and do not unduly tie their hands. We have been clear that we intend to make public funding available only to FE ITT programmes that meet the new occupational standard.

Clause 19(3) as drafted, although honourable in intent, is unhelpfully restrictive. It would require the Secretary of State, when making regulations for the first time under this power, to make provision relating to SEND awareness in FE ITT even if the regulations being made did not bear at all on the content of training programmes. This is, in our view, the wrong way to achieve the right aim.

I want to directly address new clause 2. The Government are already driving up the quality of teaching in further education and strengthening the professional development of the FE workforce. We provide significant funding for programmes to help to spread good, evidence-based practice in professional development. Examples are the T-level professional development offer, which integrates support for learners with SEND throughout its offer, and the FE professional development grant pilot. Making sure that teachers have access to high-quality training and professional development will ensure that learners, including those with SEND, receive the highest standard of teaching.

Our continuing professional development offer for teachers also includes provision delivered by the Education and Training Foundation. That training improves the capability and confidence of the FE workforce to identify and meet the needs of learners with SEND.

Ultimately, providers themselves must make decisions about what training is relevant and necessary for their teachers. That means that they can respond to the specific needs of their learners and those who teach them.

It is also important to note, outside professional development, that under the SEND code of practice there should be a named person with oversight of SEND provision in every college. Those people co-ordinate, support and contribute to the strategic and operational management of the college.

The Government are committed to ensuring that all learners, including those with SEND, are benefiting from outstanding teaching in the FE sector.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to oppose Government amendment 23, and to discuss new clause 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle. I believe that clause 19 is an important clarification added to the Bill by the Lords. The Minister spoke passionately about the need for ensuring that those who attended ITT further education courses have awareness of special needs. However, it is precisely because of that that we believe clause 19 is sensible. Government amendment 23 removes clause 19(3), which ensures the duty for initial teacher training providers to provide special educational needs awareness training.

That is particularly important because a huge number of people, later in life, are identifying that they have learning difficulties, be that autism, attention deficit disorder, or Asperger’s syndrome. These were not picked up throughout their school career because there has been such a low level of awareness about such issues within much of the teaching profession.

We know that awareness of issues like autism has improved a great deal in recent years, but there are still many people going through our school system with other conditions, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and others. With access to the right support, teaching could have been provided that recognised their disability and enabled them to access the curriculum to the best of their ability. It would have also enabled them to understand themselves. That is a crucial point about special needs; we must help people to understand themselves. I have spoken to many people who say, “I always knew I was different, but I never knew what it was. It was only in my 20s or my 30s that I realised.” There is a family member of mine in their 40s who has recently identified having a disability of this kind.

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It is vital that teaching staff have access to good-quality training in SEND as part of their continued professional development, which will help them to identify and adequately support those students who have special educational needs. That is why I am pleased to speak to and support new clause 2, which has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle. She is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for special educational needs and disabilities, which is why it is particularly important to give due support.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

We fully understand the sentiment behind the changes that the Lords and the Opposition are trying to make, but we disagree with the way that they are going about them. We think that the occupational standard is the best place to contain such provisions and that the occupational standard is best owned by the profession itself. We believe that the profession ought to hold the ring on such matters. We do not want to set a precedent that every detail of initial teacher training should be set out in primary legislation. For that reason, we are acting as we are.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

It is important that the further education sector has enough suitably trained teachers to deliver the high-quality outcomes all learners deserve and that we all want to see. That is why a consistently high-quality initial teacher training offer in further education is needed. Initial teacher training in further education is not regulated, nor is there any primary legislation to allow for regulation. The clause gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to introduce measures through secondary legislation to secure or improve the quality of further education initial teacher training provision. The clause does not place requirements on trainee or practising FE teachers. To be clear, the Government have no intention of reintroducing mandatory qualifications for individual teachers in the FE sector.

We are already working with the sector to bring about the change and improvement needed. For example, we worked with a group of sector employers to support the development of a revised employer-led occupational standard for further education teaching. The clause sends a clear message that the provision of high-quality FE initial teacher training is vital, and therefore that secondary legislation should be introduced to complement and strengthen non-legislative measures where appropriate.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We do not oppose the clause. It is of real importance that initial teacher training for the further education sector is put on a statutory footing. We think that this is of particular importance given the scope and scale of the sector, and that many people in FE—probably more than in any other academic establishment—move directly into lecturing from the workplace. There has often been a two-way path between people in all kinds of different vocational environments. For example, mechanics, plumbers and painter-decorators may sometimes practise their chosen trade and at other times move into the further education sector. For that reason, it is important that the best standards of training for those teachers is in place, so we welcome the Government’s putting this on a statutory footing.

Obviously, it remains a regret that clause 19(3) has been deleted. We will continue to press the Government to ensure that, although that provision has been removed from the Bill, there is a real commitment to ensuring a high standard of awareness of special educational needs. On that basis, we will not oppose the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Office for Students: power to assess the quality of higher education by reference to student outcomes

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The amendments are designed to ensure that the Government open themselves to true consultation with the sector to get its views and understand the work it is already doing and the great number of factors that we all appreciate come into play and impact on a student’s outcomes. That is important if we are to get a proper form of measuring university outcomes rather than using a simplistic measure for different universities and colleges when they are already doing a terrific job in their regions, perhaps against the odds.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I rise to speak to this monster group of amendments: 60, 57, 56, 58, 55 and 59. 

Amendment 60 would add to the power in clause 20 an obligation on the Office for Students to assess and consider mitigating circumstances such as the pandemic. The OfS is already required to take into account wider factors when assessing the performance of providers. It has a general duty to have regard to the need to promote equality and opportunity and is subject to the public sector equality duty. It also has a public law obligation to take all material factors into account when reaching a decision.   

The OfS will therefore consider a range of different contextual factors that may explain the reasons for a provider’s performance before reaching any final judgment. For example, this may include factors such as the relative proportions of students from disadvantaged or under-represented backgrounds. This could also include information from the provider about the actions it has taken, or plans to take, to improve quality, and external factors that may be outside a provider’s control such as the pandemic.  

The OfS has previously produced guidance on how it expects providers to comply with the quality and standards-related registration conditions in the light of the pandemic. It is well aware that particular circumstances may be in play at a particular time, including the disruption caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

Amendment 57 would leave out the word “not” and in doing so completely reverse the purpose of this clause. Students would be expected to accept that they might achieve different outcomes—and, in some cases, lower outcomes—depending on their background, which risks entrenching disadvantage in the system. That cannot be right. Every student, regardless of their background, has a right to expect the same minimum level of quality that is likely to improve their prospects in life. That is why we included the provision in this clause to make clear that there is no mandate on the OfS to benchmark the minimum levels of standards it sets based on factors such as particular student characteristics. The OfS will none the less continue to consider appropriate contexts, including student characteristics, and make well-rounded judgments when assessing individual providers.

Amendment 56 would require the OfS to consult before determining minimum levels of student outcomes. I reassure the Committee that, under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, the OfS already has a statutory duty to consult before publishing any revised version of its regulatory framework, including on quality measures. In relation to student outcomes specifically, it has already undergone one round of consultation, while a further consultation on specific outcome levels and how the OfS will take wider context into account will be published early next year. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Amendment 58 suggests that the OfS may be required to determine different expected outcome levels by reference to each subject, which would be inappropriate. Requiring the OfS to determine different minimum outcome levels for different subjects would mean that students studying certain subjects would be expected to accept different and, in some cases, lower outcomes than if they had chosen a different subject. All students should expect that minimum levels of continuation and completion rates, as well as the proportion of students that achieve employment commensurate with their qualifications, will be the same for all subjects.

Amendment 55 would require that the OfS has regard to widening participation for disadvantaged and under-represented groups.However, I assure the Committee that the OfS already has to take due regard of the impact of its decisions on disadvantaged and under-represented groups. The minimum expected levels of student outcomes will form only part of the overall context the OfS takes into account as it makes rounded judgments. When itexercises any function, it must, under section 2 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in connection with access to and participation in higher education, and that duty applies when the OfS looks at how disadvantaged students and traditionally under-represented groups are supported and what they go on to achieve. It includes access, successful participation, outcomes and progression to employment or further study. The OfS has a public law obligation to consider relevant wider factors, which could include, amongst other things, the characteristics of a provider’s students, where appropriate.

Amendment 59 would require the OfS to work with devolved Administrations to minimise different assessments of higher education quality. HE is a devolved matter, and it is right that each Administration should be free to drive up quality in the way they think best. I understand that there is a concern about the removal of direct reference to the UK quality code from the guidance in the OfS’s regulatory framework and its impact on the reputation of the UK’s higher education sector, but the OfS has already made clear that its regulatory requirements would continue to cover the issues in the expectations and core practices of the quality code, which will remain an important feature of the regulatory framework. The OfS is not proposing to abolish the UK quality code—indeed, it has no power to do so. The code will continue to be important in the sector and providers will still be able to use it.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce the Government’s intention to table an amendment on Report that will give the OfS an explicit power to publish information about its compliance and enforcement functions, in particular when investigating higher education providers for potential breaches of registration conditions, which will give the OfS protection from defamation claims when it does so. That increased transparency will be in line with other regulators’ powers and protections, including appropriate safeguards.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington and the proposed amendments, in particular those including the requirement to consult the higher education sector before determining the standards. My constituency, Luton South, is home to the fantastic University of Bedfordshire, which takes many non-traditional students—for want of a better term. The majority of its students are older and may be working and studying additional qualifications to support their work. Many come from disadvantaged and under-represented groups. It is vital that we understand the difference that universities like the University of Bedfordshire make to those people’s lives when considering the clauses and the amendments proposed.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Clause 20 clarifies the provisions set out in section 23 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, known as HERA, which relate to the assessment of the quality of higher education provided by a registered provider. Section 23 of HERA currently places no restrictions or stipulations on how the Office for Students might assess quality or standards. Clause 20 provides some much-needed clarity. It puts beyond doubt the OfS’s ability both to determine minimum expected levels of student outcomes and to take those into account alongside many other factors when it makes its overall and well-rounded assessment of quality. It also makes clear that if outcome measures are to be used, the outcomes can be any the OfS considers appropriate.

The OfS looks at important indicators of high-quality higher education that are hugely valuable to students. They may include student continuation and completion rates and progression of graduates to professional or skilled employment or further study. The OfS is already regulating on that basis. The Government believe strongly that every student, regardless of background, has a right to expect the same minimum level of quality and the same opportunities to go on to achieve successful outcomes. Students from underrepresented groups should not be expected to accept lower quality, including poorer outcomes, than other students. That is why the clause also makes clear that there is no mandate on the OfS to benchmark the minimum levels of standards it sets based on factors such as particular student characteristics. The use of minimum levels for student outcomes is not and will not be a blunt instrument that relies only on data.

Absolute outcomes are only one aspect of a provider’s performance. To make a well-rounded judgment on a provider’s absolute performance, the OfS will consider a higher education provider’s appropriate context before determining whether a registration condition has been met. Alongside that work on baselines, the new Director for Fair Access is tasked with rewriting national targets to focus on social mobility and ensuring that higher education providers rewrite their access and participation plans. New and ambitious targets will be set to raise standards in schools, reduce drop-out rates at university and improve progression into high-paid, high-skilled jobs.

Clause 20 is an important element of the Bill because it serves to ensure that higher education provision delivers quality for all students, the taxpayer and the economy.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not have any further points to make and will not press any other amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21

List of relevant providers

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a great pleasure to move the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington and myself. The amendments concern the Government’s plans to have a list of preferred providers. What could go wrong with this Government and a list of preferred providers, I hear hon. Members ask? There have been reasons to question the Government’s record when it comes to relevant providers. The particular concern that the hon. Member for Bury South and I, and others, have is that when it comes to the Secretary of State and his Whitehall colleagues providing a list of providers to be considered appropriate by metro Mayors and combined authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds or anywhere else, important local providers will be missed out.

The amendment was tabled because of those local providers, both private sector providers and social enterprises, which might not have the huge ability to do detailed tenders but are important and proven in many local areas. There is a real concern in Manchester from the metro Mayor, which I suspect is where the interest of the hon. Member for Bury South comes from, and in other areas, that their importance should be recognised.

The amendment says that provision should be made,

“for mayoral combined authorities or other authorities as defined by the Secretary of State, to keep a list of relevant education or training providers who meet the conditions specified by the authority in respect of that education or training”.

Amendment 30 would add,

“including mayoral combined authorities or other funding authorities”,

to clause 21. It is really important that those local providers can be utilised by local combined authorities and metro Mayors.

During the Bill’s stages, there has been much talk about devolution and the importance of local decision making, but at every turn, we see the opposite—the Secretary of State is clawing back power for himself. In this case, without the amendment, that would be at the expense of local decision making, because if the mayoral combined authority was in a position to say, “We’ve worked really closely with a provider,” but for whatever reason, the provider was not on the Secretary of State’s list, it could be missed out.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the Government, who once passionately championed devolution, do not allow Whitehall decision makers to prevent the continuation of local arrangements and relationships that are delivering for local communities. As I said, there is concern that the Secretary of State’s list of relevant providers will exclude local providers that may not offer the scale and scope of national providers but are proven and have a successful track record in local areas. I have been to Manchester and discussed in great detail the strong relationship that the Mayor’s office has established with local small and medium-sized enterprises and social enterprises that are doing great work locally.

It sometimes feels as though the Government have a love affair with major firms that promise them the world. We fear that smaller providers will inevitably be missed off the Secretary of State’s list and that local learners and local businesses will be the biggest losers. It is vital that mayoral combined authorities, and other authorities that have local expertise, can continue those agreements with existing providers and that there is no break in provision where funding contracts are in place for adult education. Again, it feels as though the clause seeks to centralise power in the hands of the Secretary of State without paying due consideration to local representation, which is why I am keen to support amendment 29.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The amendments aim to give mayoral combined authorities and other authorities the power to keep their own lists of relevant education or training providers, specify their own conditions and exercise discretion about whether certain conditions have been met by relevant providers. The list of post-16 education and training providers that can be established under the powers in the clause aims to put in place guiding principles for a coherent and consistent scheme to protect learners in the case of provider failure. This important, specific point is made in subsection (5), which says:

“A condition may be specified in regulations under subsection (1)(a) only where the Secretary of State considers that specifying the condition in relation to a relevant provider may assist in preventing, or mitigating the adverse effects of, a disorderly cessation in the provision of education or training by the relevant provider.”

The whole clause is there to prevent circumstances in which providers crash out of the market and leave those in training with nowhere to go.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has a tendency to sit down rather abruptly before he has had the opportunity to respond to things that have been raised, so I just wanted to catch him at this moment. Will he explain what about subsection (5) in any way secures the quality and robustness of those providers? Is it his view that the Secretary of State’s list will somehow ensure the finances or quality of that provider? What assurances can he give the hon. Member for Bury South and myself, and all those who have those local relationships, that those local relationships will not be the victim of this desire for consistency?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. If he looks at subsection (7)(b), he will see that one key thing we seek—this is relevant to the point I am making regarding preventing provider failure—is providers having relevant insurance cover, which we might consider through regulations. There have been a number of cases in the past where some providers have not had that, and there has been a real risk of a break in the provision given to certain students. We do not want to exclude small, local providers of the type he mentions at all. If ever it was felt that the Government were doing that, I draw his attention to subsection (10)(d), which says that an appeals process will be set out in regulations. I hope he can take some comfort from that.

Members will note written evidence from Learning Curve Group, an independent training provider, stating:

“Learning Curve Group welcomes the Government’s proposal…to include a register of providers who meet certain conditions as we believe this will increase overall quality and ensure high standards.”

We intend to work closely and collaboratively with mayoral combined authorities and other funding authorities on the creation of the list and the conditions that will apply. We will continue to engage with MCAs in designing the conditions and operation of the list. Through collaboration, we can ensure that we set a high bar for all providers for protecting learner interests. We certainly value the expertise and input that MCAs will have in this. As I said last week, we recognise the importance of the work of MCAs and their vital work in supporting local communities.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Subsection (7)(b) relates to the relevant provider having insurance cover. Will the Minister confirm whether that means insurance cover in the context of employer liability in the event of an apprentice or other adult learner being injured, or is it insurance cover in the event of the failure of the business and additional costs that might be attached to that? Will he clarify what the clause refers to?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

It is the latter—in the case of business failure. The Bill sets out that we will consult on the conditions and provisions for being on the list prior to making the first set of regulations, to help ensure that those conditions manage and mitigate the risk of disorderly exit. That consultation will allow us to take into account fully the views of those affected by the scheme, including MCAs.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [ Lords ] (Sixth sitting) Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Education

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

Alex Burghart Excerpts
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

A point of order was raised this morning about there not being a debate on new clauses 1 and 4 at the beginning of proceedings today. I am happy to cover the new clauses if the Government and Opposition want that. Although they could have been debated at the time, and Opposition Members did not take the opportunity to do so, out of a sense of fairness this is a way of getting through this slight wrinkle.

Clause 21

List of relevant providers

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

Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
- Hansard - -

What a pleasure it is to reach our sixth and final sitting on this important Bill.

Clause 21 will allow the Government to introduce a list of post-16 education or training providers. To be on the list, providers will need to meet conditions that help to protect learners against the negative impacts of provider failure. It will also help to protect public funds by preventing or mitigating the risks of provider failure. Currently, there is a risk that the short-notice exit of a provider from education and training can significantly disrupt the experience of many young people and adults. This can be because of delays in finding a new provider and insufficient planning on what happens next in these circumstances. This clause focuses the operation of a list on the types of providers that the Department considers are most at risk of an unregulated and disorderly exit from provision—independent training providers.

While we value the role of ITPs in helping to provide a more diverse and innovative learning offer, it is not right that these types of providers should operate with less in-built protection for learners than other types of further education provider. Fundamentally, we want to protect learners and public funds if providers cease to provide education or training. Where other regulatory mechanisms are not in place, we want to ensure that there is a consistent set of requirements placed on providers to protect learners and public funds, even where the provision is funded by local commissioning bodies or through subcontracts from directly funded providers.

Where a provider is not directly funded by the Secretary of State—as can be the case with ITPs—the existing levers for the Secretary of State to protect learner interests are not as strong. Contractual conditions of funding to prevent disorderly exits may also not be consistent. The Bill will allow commonality and consistency across funding streams to mitigate provider failure risks. The clause also allows the Secretary of State to set out other matters in connection with the keeping of the list of post-16 education or training providers.

We intend to consult before deciding on the detail of the way in which the scheme will operate. The Secretary of State is required to do so before making the regulations that establish the list for the first time.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I record my thanks, Mrs Miller, for what you said a few moments ago about ensuring that new clauses 1 and 4 may be debated? I appreciate your flexibility.

We do not intend to divide the Committee on this subject, but I re-emphasise the point that I made in the discussion on the amendment. I entirely appreciate what the Minister says about the need to ensure protection for learners, but a small number of providers have a long track record of providing a small amount of provision that is none the less important in certain sectors and geographies. If this becomes a bureaucratic or economic minefield, they will simply withdraw from the sector, which will be the poorer for it. We received representations from the Manchester combined authority, which has a long history of working closely with smaller providers. It has real concerns that a national list will lead to smaller providers being missed out.

We do not intend to divide the Committee but we will continue to scrutinise the Government and ensure that the provisions put in place do not, as we fear they may if they are not carefully handled, exclude important, worthwhile providers from the list.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22

Prohibitions on entering into funding arrangements with providers

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 24, in clause 22, page 28, line 15, leave out from first “to” to “paid” in line 16 and insert “an agreement for the funding authority to provide funding to the provider includes a reference to an agreement or arrangements between the funding authority and the provider by virtue of which amounts can or must be”

This amendment makes clear that an agreement between the Secretary of State and an education provider that must be in place in order for student loans to be paid directly to the provider counts as “funding arrangements” for the purposes of clause 22. It also covers arrangements other than agreements.

Amendment 24 is a minor and technical amendment that clarifies that advanced learner loan funding routed through the Student Loans Company is in the scope of clause 22. This has always been the intention of clause 22(9), and this amendment is merely a technical adjustment to the drafting. It ensures that advanced learner loan funding arrangements are captured by the “funding arrangements” definition in clause 22. Without the amendment, clause 22 may not be adequately applied in relation to providers who receive advanced learner loan funding.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We appreciate that clarification.

Amendment 24 agreed to.

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

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 22 is important in ensuring that a funding authority is prevented from entering funding arrangements with a provider that is not on the list. It also makes sure that the funding authority can take action to terminate funding arrangements in an orderly way should a provider cease to be on the list.

The short-notice exit of a provider from the provision of education or training can significantly disrupt the educational experience of young people and adults. The transfer of learners to another provider can take time, be extremely disruptive and increase the risk of learner disengagement. The provision of post-16 education or training is commissioned by various funding bodies and is often subcontracted. As a result, there is a wide variation in the range of obligations and requirements currently imposed on providers.

The provisions in the clause are intended to ensure that a consistent set of requirements is placed on providers and funding authorities to protect learners and public funds, even where the education or training is funded by local commissioning bodies or through subcontracts. The clause also sets out that a provider must not rely on anything in clause 22 as a reason for not carrying out existing obligations under a funding agreement. A funding authority could continue to enforce those obligations even if a provider was not on the list, as the contract would remain valid. This may be important to allow a provider to teach existing learners until they had completed their course where the risk posed by the provider could be managed.

The clause also includes the power for the Secretary of State to set out in regulations the particular characteristics of the funding arrangements that are subject to these funding controls. This is necessary so that the Department can ensure that the controls are applied proportionately. For example, de minimis requirements may be needed so that short-term and low-value arrangements for the provision of relevant education or training are not captured by the requirement for the particular provider to be on the list. The clause is essential in ensuring that there are certain restrictions and controls on the public funding of education or training providers in the scope of the list.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is important to ensure that information is shared widely, not only with providers that might be outside mainstream education provision but with funding authorities such as mayoral or combined authorities, to ensure dialogue and so that smaller providers are not missed out.

The clause clarifies that providers must be approved and have an agreement in place for them to be allowed to have student loans paid directly. Building on the contribution I made in the debate on clause 21, it would be useful if the Minister clarified the steps the Government will take to ensure that only providers with quality offerings and financial stability and robustness receive direct payments and that these steps will not prevent quality, innovative smaller providers from accessing the important opportunities to attract new students.

Further to that, does the Minister anticipate that the extension of student finance will mean that a greater variety of private sector organisations will be able to receive student loan applications? I have met people in my constituency, and have written to his predecessor about other courses whose students have previously been excluded from getting student loans to access them, despite having a long track record of their students going into employment. To what extent does the Minister think the Bill will increase the number of learners who can get student loans for their courses, and how will he ensure that quality, innovative, smaller providers can access those opportunities?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The Government are fully aware that ITPs come in all shapes and sizes, and play an essential part in the skills ecosystem. We are very mindful that we do not want to drive good providers out of the market by creating a list. The sole purpose of the list is to ensure that all providers have in place provisions to ensure that they have contingency plans for their students should they go under. That is something that exists elsewhere in the skills space. We are extending it to ITPs, and intend to do so in such a way that will not create a bureaucratic overload. To the hon. Member’s point on student loans, it will very much depend on how the system evolves from this point.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23

Funding arrangements: interpretation

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

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 24 stand part.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 23 provides definitions for key terms in this part of the legislation relating to funding arrangements with post-16 educational training providers, and ensures that the correct legal person and funding arrangements that they are party to are in scope of the relevant obligations. The clause is essential to the interpretation of the list of post-16 educational providers, and should stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24 provides that the regulations for creating or keeping the list, altering the categories of education and training in scope of it, or amending primary legislation will be subject to the affirmative procedure. That means that they will be subject to an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny over the use of those powers, and must be approved by both Houses prior to becoming law. The clause provides that the powers to make regulations in clauses 21 and 22 include the power to make supplementary, incidental, transitional or saving provision.

By way of example, once regulations have been made under clause 21, the Department may consider it necessary to amend statutory powers to provide financial assistance for relevant educational training so that they signpost the prohibitions that will apply, and which effectively constrain those financial assistance powers. One such power will be in section 2 of the Employment and Training Act 1973. Clause 24 will ensure that there is appropriate parliamentary scrutiny over the use of the powers, and should stand part of the Bill.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We appreciate that clarification. The clause and its subsections clarify the powers to make regulations under clauses 21 and 22, and we have no desire to oppose it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 23 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25

Provision of opportunities for education and skills development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

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

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The Government agree with the ambition to ensure that people in England have access to education no matter their age. We are committed to helping everyone get the skills that they need at every stage in their lives.

In April, we launched the free courses for jobs offer as part of the lifetime skills guarantee. That gives all adults in England the opportunity to take their first level 3 qualification for free, regardless of age. It is not right, however, to put the free courses for jobs offer into legislation. That would constrain the Government in allocating resources in future, and make it harder to adapt the policy to changing circumstances. The Secretary of State