Debates between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 21st Feb 2022
Tue 30th 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

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Monday 4th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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Nine out of 10 T-level providers have failed to meet even the Government’s own modest recruitment targets, and an FE Week investigation found that employers’ refusal to offer work placements was cited as a key reason for that failure. Labour wants T-levels to be a success, but courses in crucial areas such as digital, health and science have the lowest enrolment, and employers and students are being failed. We know that the Secretary of State wears the T-level badge with great style, but does he actually understand why the policy is failing? Can the Minister assure the House that, in 2022, the Government will meet the enrolment targets that have been set?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support for T-levels in principle. T-levels are going extremely well, and we have very good uptake. The first year of T-levels was conducted in perhaps the harshest circumstances imaginable during covid, but thanks to the hard work of my officials and the hard work of principals, we managed to get almost all students—well over 90% of students—their work placements. If we can do it in the conditions of covid, I think we can do it at other times.

Draft Industrial Training Levy (Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2022

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Tuesday 26th April 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

General Committees
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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I know that my hon. Friend is championing exactly that sort of work in his area and giving us lessons that we can transpose to other areas. The new centres of excellence will be fundamental to how we build the next generation of skills in our country and create that pipeline for young people and those who are changing careers to enter the workforce with higher levels of skills. I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he is seeing in his area.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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The Minister rightly referred a moment ago to the nation’s skills deficit. The order effectively doubles the amount that the construction industry pays, but undoes the reduction that the Government previously put in place. We are not hostile to that, but it returns us to where we were two years ago when the deficit existed. What can he point to in the order that makes anything better? It effectively represents a continuity strategy. We have got a skills deficit, which has built up over a number of years—we can debate why that is. Are the Government doing anything to make the situation better rather than just returning us to where we were?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The hon. Gentleman asks a fair question. He rightly points out that, during covid, we reduced the burden on construction companies to help them get through the pandemic, and the order is a return to normal. However, it is only one part of the interventions we are making to create the next generation of people working in construction. I am pleased to say that apprenticeship construction starts are doing well and are above their pre-pandemic level. We are introducing new T-levels in construction and we see a real appetite for the skills bootcamps that the Government have brought in. Those short, intensive courses, which help people skill up over 12 to 18 weeks, with a guaranteed job interview at the end, are popular with potential employees, employers and, I am pleased to say, the Treasury.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I very much hope that the CITB will engage with all relevant stakeholders.

I will try to make some headway. The remit is broader still. The CITB develops and maintains occupational standards so that employees and employers are assured training is of sufficient quality. That also means that construction skills become more readily transferable, benefiting both employees and employers. The CITB has a critical role in horizon scanning, too. It uses research and labour market intelligence to understand the skills needs of the sector and to work with industry and Government to help ensure that construction has the right skills both now and in future.

Before turning to the details of the draft order, I want to highlight that the most recent levy order—the 2021 order—was for one year, not the usual three years. As we discussed a moment ago, a 50% reduction was prescribed in that year relative to the 2018 three-year order. That was to accommodate the CITB’s decision to allow levy payers a payment holiday in response to cash-flow pressures the industry was facing during the first covid lockdown. This three-year 2022 order returns to the levy rates prescribed by the three-year 2018 order: 0.35% of the earnings paid by employers to directly employed workers, and 1.25% of contract payments for indirectly employed workers such as contractors, for those businesses that are liable to pay the levy.

The industry, having been consulted on the CITB’s delivery strategy and levy rate, supported the retention of the higher exemption and reduction thresholds for smaller employers contained in the 2021 order. To run through those very quickly, construction employers with an annual wage bill of up to £119,999 will not pay any levy, while still having full access to CITB support. It is projected that approximately 62% of all employers in the scope of the levy will be exempt from paying. Larger companies will carry the burden. Employers with a wage bill between £120,000 and £399,999 will receive a 50% reduction on their levy liability, while also receiving full access to CITB services—that covers about 14% of employers.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I understand the reason for the tapering that the Minister refers to, but has any analysis been done of whether this creates a cliff edge that disincentivises employment? There will be companies that know that the next person they take on will move them either from being a non-payer to a half-payer, of from being a half-payer to a full payer. In an industry with huge amounts of subcontract work done anyway, it would not be amazing if this was a disincentive to employment. Has any analysis of that been done, and if not does the Minister think it would be a good idea for inquiries of that kind to be made?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point; I will consult my notes while he is speaking, and perhaps return to it in my closing remarks.

The CITB has consulted the industry on these levy proposals via the consensus process, which is required under the Industrial Training Act 1982. Consensus is achieved by satisfying two requirements: both the majority of employers likely to pay the levy, and those employers who are, together, likely to pay more than half the aggregate levy raised, consider that the proposals are necessary to encourage adequate training. Both requirements were satisfied, with 66.5% of likely levy payers in the industry, who between them are likely to pay 63.2% of the aggregate levy, supportive of the CITB’s proposals.

The draft order will enable CITB to play its role in aiding employers to secure and retain a sufficient supply of highly skilled labour in the construction industry in these fast-moving times. I commend it to the Committee.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Absolutely; how could I forget my visit to Suffolk New College in Ipswich last week? I saw a fantastic appetite for our skills agenda there. Suffolk New College is a great provider of T-levels. It works closely with employers to give students a work placement, so that they can gain skills on the job while learning the background in the classroom. I very much enjoyed my trip and hope to return to Suffolk before too long.

With reference to T-levels and BTECs, the construction T-level route that we have set up is very popular. I have been pleased to see colleges across the country taking advantage of that and giving students new opportunities, as well as employers providing work placements. With BTECs, we have been clear on our course from the start: we are shifting from BTECs to T-levels in those areas where T-levels exist, but in the areas where T-levels do not exist and there is no overlap, I would expect those BTEC courses to continue.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I am not sure if the Minister has just made an announcement, because we do not yet have the list of the courses that will not be carrying on. Is he saying that the BTEC in construction is one of those that the Government are intending to get rid of to be replaced by the T-level? That is what it sounded like. If that is not the case, can he provide an update on what he sees as the future for the BTEC in construction? He mentions that the T-level is very popular, but actually far more students are studying the BTEC at the moment. Can he clarify that matter?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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We are only in our second year of T-level delivery and I am very much looking forward to seeing the first results in August. The hon. Gentleman sat through many days of debates on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, where he heard both myself and the Secretary of State say that where BTECs and other level 3 qualifications overlap with T-levels, we expect T-levels to be the successor course—I remember a long debate we had about that issue in a Committee Room down the corridor. Obviously, in those areas where there is no T-level, there will be no overlap. I fully expect the Government to say more on that in the coming months.

It has been wonderful to serve under your chairwomanship, Ms Rees, and to find that we have cross-party agreement on the CITB statutory instrument.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Industrial Training Levy (Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2022.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords]

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Monday 28th March 2022

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am always anxious to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I believe his comment is a reference to amendment 15B, which I am coming to in a moment, but I hope he will forgive me if I finish talking about 17B first.

I hope this House will agree that we have reached a sensible compromise position, with the help of my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Education Committee. This middle ground of six provider encounters will help to give every pupil information about what further education colleges, independent training providers, university technical colleges and other alternative providers can offer.

Turning to Lords amendment 15B on the roll-out of our technical education qualification reforms, I begin by reiterating the announcement made in this House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Second Reading. We are allowing an extra year before public funding approval is withdrawn from qualifications that overlap with T-levels and before reformed qualifications are introduced that will sit alongside T-levels and A-levels.

Our reform programme is rightly ambitious, but we understand that it would be wrong to push too hard and risk compromising quality. The additional year strikes the right balance, giving providers, awarding organisations, students and other stakeholders enough time to prepare while moving forward with these important reforms. That is why we cannot accept the three-year delay that the amendment proposes.

These changes are part of reforms to our technical education system that have been over a decade in the making; they have their origins in the Wolf review of 2011 and were taken further by the Sainsbury review in 2016. Both those crucial pieces of work showed that we must close the gap between what people study and the skills employers need. As Lord Sainsbury said:

“Whatever their background, individuals need access to a national system of technical qualifications which is easy-to-understand, has credibility with employers and remains stable over time.”

T-levels will deliver on that pledge. They are a critical step change in the quality of the technical offer. They have been co-designed with more than 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 to prepare for T-levels. By September 2023, all T-levels will be available to many thousands of young people across the country. The change to our reform timetable means that all schools and colleges will now be able to teach T-levels for at least a year before overlapping qualifications have their funding removed.

Last November, the Secretary of State also announced the removal of the English and maths exit requirement for T-levels. That is about making the landscape fairer so that talented students with more diverse strengths are not prevented from accessing this important offer. The change brings T-levels into line with other level 3 study—notably A-levels, which do not have such an English and maths exit requirement.

In addition, this amendment given to us by noble Lords would require consultation and consent from employer representative bodies before withdrawing funding approval from qualifications. As hon. Members will be aware, we have twice consulted on our intention to withdraw funding from qualifications that overlap with T-levels. T-levels were designed with employers to give young people the skills that they need to progress into skilled employment, the skills that employers need and the skills that our economy needs.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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The Minister refers to the consultation that the Government did on the defunding of BTECs and the twin-track approach. Am I right in saying that 86% of respondents to the Government’s own consultation said that the Government should keep the twin-track approach? If so, why is the Minister highlighting that consultation, which has come back to him telling him that the approach he is taking is wrong, as a reason not to vote for the amendment the Lords have proposed here?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Our consultation showed that there was widespread support for having a system of technical qualifications that offered both co-design with employers and entrenched, embedded work experience. The choice before Parliament in debating this Bill is whether we wish to push ahead, following the best international examples, on technical qualifications that are designed with employers and give students the best work experience opportunities as part of that qualification. That is the choice. We on the Government side know where we stand. We wish to have gold-standard qualifications that rank among the best in the world. I am afraid the Opposition do not seem to wish to follow us on that journey.

The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education will continue to involve employers actively when making decisions about qualification approval, including through its route panels. Those panels hold national sector expertise and expert knowledge of occupational standards that have portability across employers. Institute approval will be a mark of quality and currency with business and industry, and will ensure that both employers and employees have the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need. The requirement for a public consultation and consent from employer representative bodies would duplicate existing good practice and introduce an unnecessary burden.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [Lords]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
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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
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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
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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
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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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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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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
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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
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What one-year courses is the hon. Gentleman thinking of where claimants may continue on universal credit while studying?

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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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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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
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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
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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 between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Tuesday 7th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Alex Burghart Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Alex Burghart)
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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)
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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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
- - 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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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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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.)

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

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Colleges and designated institutions play a crucial part in their local communities by enabling young people and adults to gain the skills they need. In the small numbers of cases in which an institution is failing to deliver an acceptable standard of education or training, or is failing in other ways, Government must be able to intervene to secure improvement.

Existing powers under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 to intervene in colleges in the FE sector can be used in certain prescribed circumstances in which there are serious failings: mismanagement, for example, or financial or quality failures. In those circumstances, action can be taken to remove or appoint members of the governing body, or to give direction. Clause 26 extends those existing powers to allow for intervention where the education or training provided is failing, or has failed, to adequately meet local needs. Where the prescribed circumstances are met, clause 26 also enables the Secretary of State to direct the governing body to transfer “property, rights or liabilities” to another body.

The statutory intervention powers that we are amending through clause 26 are intended to be used only as a last resort. Our core support and intervention activity is delivered through administrative processes set out in the published guidance, “College oversight: support and intervention”. The Government are not seeking these powers in order to implement a new wave of mergers across the college sector—that is not the purpose of intervention. However, there is good evidence that structural change can, in the right circumstances, play a valuable role in securing improvement. We have also been clear that decisions on the college curriculum are for the governing body, not for Ministers to second-guess. We are working with Ofsted to increase the focus of inspections on how well colleges are meeting skills needs. The Government’s primary focus is on supporting colleges and designated institutions, and preventing things from going wrong.

In conclusion, strengthening the existing statutory intervention powers is necessary to ensure that, as a last resort, the Government are able to act where there is failure and there is no alternative means of securing improvement.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

Clause 26 sets out in detail some additional powers relating to further education colleges in England, and the desire of the Secretary of State to intervene. The intervention regime for colleges is already complex, having been noted as a cause for concern by the Independent Commission on the College of the Future. Dame Mary Ney’s independent review of college financial oversight also identified the complexity of the regime, and in this Bill the Secretary of State is looking to find additional reasons to intervene, beyond financial failure. There is a real risk that this clause will just add to that complexity, going precisely against the apparent aim of establishing a simpler system.

Crucially, the Bill proposes new powers of intervention for the Secretary of State without giving colleges the freedoms to deliver. Last week, the Government passed an amendment that removed colleges from being strategic partners in the establishment of local skills improvement plans, so colleges are left accountable, but not empowered. Indeed, in a way, it goes further than that: if a college were to disagree with what was in the local skills improvement plan—if it were to consider that a local skills improvement plan that had been approved did not meet the needs of all of its learners—its failure to follow that plan could lead the Secretary of State to intervene and its being considered to be a failing college.

We accept that there needs to be an understanding of interventions, but there are questions that we would like to test the Minister on. First, why is it appropriate to hold colleges accountable for the delivery of LSIPs, but not treat them as strategic partners in developing those LSIPs? Secondly, do the new intervention powers apply equally to all post-16 education providers? If not—if they apply only to FE colleges—what consultation has the DfE undertaken with the Office for Students in order to ensure that this aligns with its approach to the oversight of higher education provision? Thirdly, what happens in circumstances where colleges believe that a poor or inappropriate LSIP has been produced that is not in the long-term interests of their locality? Do they simply deliver on a plan that they believe to be inappropriate, or are there mechanisms available to them to make representations on that point? If the needs of the local learning community have altered but the LSIP has not, how would a college be able to raise that? What consequences would be available to the Secretary of State if a college was seen not to fit in with what the LSIP said, even if the circumstances on the ground had changed?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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As we have made clear throughout the Bill, the Government are on a mission to create an employer-led system in which the provision of skills reflects the skills that employers in a community need. We are absolutely set on ensuring that we get qualifications designed by employers to give students the skills the economy needs, at both local and national level. The clause sets about creating an accountability framework that places colleges in that sphere. We want colleges to respond to the ideas set out in a local skills improvement plan. However, as I have also made clear, these are absolutely powers of last resort. What we are really looking for is a profitable relationship between employer representative bodies and local providers. For that reason, we hope the clause will stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27

Further education bodies in education administration: application of other insolvency procedures

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 61, in clause 27, page 33, line 19, at end insert—

“(2C) Before applying to a court for an education administration order in relation to a further education body in England, the Secretary of state will conduct a review of the impact of the closure of a Further Education institution on learning opportunities in the local area and provide a report to Parliament on steps taken to ensure that the opportunities for learners are not restricted by his application for an education administration order.”

Amendment 61 is a probing amendment that would require the Secretary of State to review further education provision prior to applying for an education administration order for a college. There should also be a review of the impact of closing a college; if the impact of such a closure would be a reduction or complete removal of provision, we would request that the Secretary of State report to Parliament to allow for appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.

It is crucial for the Secretary of State to ensure that local areas have adequate further education provision before deciding to merge and close colleges. The colleges most likely to be closed are often those in more rural areas, those that are smaller, those that are facing specific challenges or those in communities that face specific challenges because they do not have the density of population. Although we recognise that there may be financial collapse as a result of their geographic isolation, that should not necessarily mean that the provision their students rely upon disappears with the merger of the college.

It is important to have scrutiny at both a local and national level. We believe that it should be parliamentary scrutiny, to ensure that the Secretary of State commits to reporting to the House before announcing such a decision, and to ensure that there is a review of the impact of a closure on the local labour market and on the courses available to people in that local community.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

Amendment 61 would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the impact of the closure of an FE institution on learning opportunities in a local area and provide a report to Parliament on the steps taken to ensure that opportunities for learners are not restricted ahead of an application for an education administration order. We will hear about education administration orders in the next few minutes.

I appreciate what Labour Members are trying to do, but the effect would be to delay an application for an education administration order, which would run counter to the purpose of the amendment. First, if an FE body becomes insolvent, it risks being placed into a regular insolvency procedure by a creditor or its board. The primary objective of a regular insolvency procedure is to prioritise the interests of creditors. This means that any closure scenario could result in the best returns to creditors being prioritised over the needs of keeping the body open for learners. Going down a standard insolvency route with a college will prioritise creditors, risking students studying there being pushed to one side.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Clause 27 proposes to clarify ambiguities in the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 regarding the use of company voluntary arrangements—a procedure allowing a company or corporation in insolvency proceedings to come to an agreement with its creditors over the payment of debts. Company voluntary arrangements can be used as an exit route for normal administration, as set out in insolvency legislation.

Company voluntary arrangements can also be used as an exit route from education administration under the FE insolvency regime, which we have just been debating. That has been clarified in case law, which has been in place since March 2020, when the High Court of Justice Business and Property Courts of England and Wales ruled that in the education administration of West Kent and Ashford College, education administrators had the power to propose a company voluntary arrangement.

We are using the opportunity to legislate in the Bill to clarify ambiguities in the current legislation and cement that existing case law into legislation. To be clear, we are cementing what the courts have already decided on. To achieve that, clause 27 proposes to extend the existing power of the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations related to the application of insolvency legislation to FE bodies so that express provision may be made in respect of the use of company voluntary arrangements.

Clause 28 deals with the potential conflict related to the treatment of secured creditors as between the transfer scheme provisions of the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 and the provisions of the Insolvency Act 1986, as applied by the 2017 Act. Specifically, the proposal amends schedules 2, 3 and 4 to the 2017 Act, making it clear that, where a transfer scheme looks to transfer secured assets free of the security, that can happen only with either the consent of the secured creditor or a court order. That is in line with protections for secured creditors in normal administration in insolvency proceedings.

Clause 28 also cements into legislation the Government’s response to the technical consultation for the insolvency regime for further education and sixth-form colleges, which was made in June 2018. We have informed the three main lenders to the FE sector—Barclays, Lloyds and Santander—of our proposed changes, and I am pleased to report that they are supportive. Barclays said:

“As a lender with significant loan exposure to the English FE sector (and desire to continue to support colleges with new loans) we are in favour of the changes proposed. The Transfer Scheme changes in particular provides welcome clarity on a point that had previously had a negative impact on sector risk profile and our appetite to lend.”

These clauses are good for the sector and good for the law, and I believe they should be good enough for us.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

As the Minister was reading out that very positive quote from Barclays about his clause, it occurred to me how rarely he has had the opportunity to read out support for his Bill over the course of its passage. That is unsurprising, of course, when he is pressing ahead with amendments that 86% of respondents to his consultation are against. None the less, it was good to hear that full-throated support for this proposal from Barclays.

We do not intend to vote against clauses 27 or 28. I will simply make the point that the financial pressures facing our further education sector over the past 11 years, and particularly the past 12 months or so, have been truly unprecedented. I regularly meet representatives of colleges who are absolutely at their wit’s end, and not only about the scale of the funding cuts they have experienced over the past 11 years, but about the extent to which last-minute decisions are constantly made that leave them in a position in which they have to make redundancies in order to stay afloat, only then to discover sometimes that there is a change in the Government’s policy and they have to recruit for some positions that they had made redundant only a few months before.

So it was with the recent announcement about the adult education clawback. I have asked parliamentary questions on this issue. A number of colleges received a clawback from their adult education fund and were told that there was no right to any appeal. Then the previous Secretary of State said that they would allow appeals and I believe that in some cases the appeals were granted. In the meantime, however, those colleges were forced to cut their cloth accordingly.

Consequently, I say to the Government that although we do not oppose clauses 27 or 28, we believe that there needs to be a much greater sense of responsibility about the Government’s role in the financial distress that many of our colleges are currently suffering, which my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to earlier, and about the impact on those colleges of the constant last-minute decision making that they have suffered over the past 11 years.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29

Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions

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

None Portrait The Chair

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 30 stand part.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

Clause 29 is the first of a chapter of clauses that relate to the criminalisation in England and Wales of contract cheating services, which are more widely known as essay mills. Taken together, this chapter of clauses will make it an offence for an organisation or individual to complete, or arrange for another person to complete, all or part of an assignment on behalf of a student. It also criminalises the advertising of these cheating services. Essay mills threaten to undermine the reputation of our education system and to devalue the hard work of those who succeed on their own merit. They also prevent students from learning themselves and risk students entering the workforce without the knowledge, skills or competence they need.

Clause 29 provides clarity on the exact meaning of the key terms used throughout this chapter of clauses; removes the potential for unintended consequences to arise from the clause; and allows for fraudulent essay mill companies, their employees and contractors to be captured by the legislation. Because of the way that we have defined “relevant service”, we have also ensured that generally permitted study support, such as revision guides, will not be in scope, but essay mill companies that complete assignments on behalf of students will be in scope.

Clause 30 criminalises providing essay mill services or arranging for such services. It is therefore crucial in our fight against essay mills. It provides a powerful legislative tool to tackle these deplorable organisations and individuals.

I will talk briefly about the practicalities of the offence that we are creating. It will be for the prosecution to prove that the cheating service has been provided to the student. However, the burden of proof in relation to the defence is on the defendant. For example, the defendant would need to prove that they could not have known, even with reasonable diligence, that the student would or might use the material provided to complete an assignment. For example, simply asking a student to sign a contract that states that they will not use the work in a certain way is not a defence. Clause 30 states that clearly.

If someone were to be found guilty, they would be liable to be punished with a fine. The appropriate fine will be determined by the courts in accordance with Sentencing Council guidelines. Clause 30 will help to tackle the existence of these companies and to fine them appropriately if they continue to carry out these illicit services.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

Clause 29 defines the term “relevant service” and other key expressions. We have no desire to vote against it.

I am interested in the representations that the Minister has received about the way clause 30 is drafted. Subsection (4) will immediately set those with more experienced legal minds than mine—there are such people in this place—to consider how difficult it may be to achieve a successful prosecution under these provisions. If there is a defence that enables a defendant to say, “I had no idea what the legislation was”, that starts to bring home how difficult it might be to get successful prosecutions in this area.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I am pleased to see that the Opposition support our move to legislate on this matter. We are all of one mind that cheating services actually end up undermining the good work of the vast majority of students, and they introduce an unnecessary element of doubt.

I reassure the Opposition that the Bill has been carefully drafted with some excellent Government lawyers. Clause 33 is designed to ensure that convictions are much more likely and that some of the easy defences—for example, that these services were just providing information and had no idea that it would be used in cheating services—cannot be used as a get-out-of-jail card. We are confident that it is a major step forward in combating this insidious crime and we look forward to its enactment.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31

Offence of advertising a relevant service

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 61, in clause 27, page 33, line 19, at end insert—

‘(2C) Before applying to a court for an education administration order in relation to a further education body in England, the Secretary of state will conduct a review of the impact of the closure of a Further Education institution on learning opportunities in the local area and provide a report to Parliament on steps taken to ensure that the opportunities for learners are not restricted by his application for an education administration order.”

This probing amendment is designed to find out the Government’s anticipated tariff for such offences. To what extent is it seen as a serious offence? To us, it is absolutely obvious that the fine needs to be of a sufficient sum to make it not worth providing such services. Although we support the Government’s intentions, we seek further clarification about the level of the anticipated tariff for such an offence. Will perpetrators get off with a fine that costs them the equivalent of a week’s dinner money, or are the Government taking such offences seriously? Will they set the fine at a high enough level to act as a deterrent?

To return to the question to which I do not believe the Minister responded when we considered clause 29, in the event of a cheating service that is utilised by five students, would that be judged as five offences or one?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

I am sorry, I forgot to reply to that. It would be five offences.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

That is useful clarification. Can the Minister also clarify whether perpetrators would be guilty of a civil or criminal offence? Would they get a criminal record? In the event that a business was perceived to be providing those services, what would be the impact on that business? Or is an individual judged to have committed the offence? I would be grateful for that clarification.

Overall, we believe it is vital that there is a level playing field. We support the Government’s intention to prevent the use of fraudulent services, such as essay milling, and we believe that the fines should be such to act as a deterrent. We also believe that there should be a corresponding damage to reputation provision when people or businesses commit that offence. It is crucial that the amount of the fine and the publicity surrounding those fines reflect the severity of the offence. As we have said, the practice significantly undermines the efforts of all students who work hard to achieve their qualifications legitimately.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- - Excerpts

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister what form of penalty the Government imagine. We heard the probing question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield about the case of five individuals. Can the Minister elaborate on what sort of penalties he envisages for the business behind the essay mill? If he does not agree with our suggestion, what scale of punishment does he believe would be appropriate? Is it more akin to dropping litter, fly-tipping or another offence?

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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My hon. Friend is extremely prescient, and I congratulate him on that. This is a criminal offence and we want to see it seriously punished. However, for reasons I will set out, we do not think that amendment 62 would solve the problem in the right way. It would amend clause 31 by setting a minimum penalty of a fine of no less than £5,000 for the offence of advertising a cheating service. As drafted, the Bill does not state the level of fine payable on conviction. Instead, conviction of either offence carries the penalty of an unlimited fine—as the name implies, that is a fine imposed without financial limit. That approach carries serious potential consequences and provides a significant deterrent effect to those planning to advertise contract cheating services.

The Government do not believe that setting a minimum amount is appropriate, where maximum fines are unlimited. Setting a minimum fine of £5,000 risks that level of fine being seen by essay mill providers as a likely fine, rather than a minimum. Sentencing and the precise size of a fine should be matters for the independent judiciary, in accordance with Sentencing Council guidelines, based on the full facts of the case. I would draw hon. Members attention to the fact that Ireland, which has a similar legal system and a similar offence, imposes a fine of up to €100,000 per offence and/or a prison sentence. That is the sort of thing that might go through the minds in our justice system. We do not therefore think that the amendment is necessary.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

I accept what the Minister says. I do not accept that introducing a minimum fine of £5,000 would necessarily lead to essay mill services thinking that that would be the likely level, but I take his point. The amendment was a probing amendment to try to reach some understanding of the Government’s position. If there have been fines of the level that he outlined, that will be heartening for all those who want to see the issue addressed. 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
-

Clause 31 makes it an offence to advertise essay mills. Marketing and advertising are the lifeblood of any successful industry, and we do not want this industry to be successful or to have lifeblood. Many essay mill companies use marketing techniques that seem to indicate that they offer legitimate academic writing support for students, when in fact they are providing cheating services. Students who use essay mills risk their academic education and future employment prospects if they are caught cheating. Anecdotal reports indicate that some essay mills are even seeking to blackmail students who have used the services, as the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington mentioned. The clause will put beyond doubt that advertising cheating services in England and Wales is not just unethical but illegal, and will provide the means to prosecute those who fail to comply with the law in England and Wales.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

I have already outlined our support for this move. We believe that this is a serious offence. It is important that any perceived legitimacy of essay mill services is aggressively challenged. On that basis, we will support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 31 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32

Offences: bodies corporate and unincorporated associations

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

None Portrait The Chair

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 33 stand part.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

Clause 32 relates to which bodies can be prosecuted under the essay mill provisions in the Bill. Cheating service providers can range from UK-based organisations registered at Companies House with offices and permanent staff to lone individuals operating with minimal infrastructure. Where offences are committed by companies, unincorporated bodies and partnerships, the clause enables certain individuals, such as the directors of companies, to also be prosecuted in particular circumstances. It also sets out some relevant procedural rules. For example, it clarifies that proceedings for offences committed by an unincorporated body should be brought in the name of the body and not its members, and any fine imposed on conviction of an unincorporated body should be paid out of the funds of the body. The clause will enable the legislation to function with legal certainty. Clause 33 sets out the definitions of certain terms in this chapter, allowing for absolute clarity on the intended purpose of the clause.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

We welcome clause 32. It is important that where offences are committed by bodies of this sort there are consequences for their officers. The clause ensures that directors, managers, secretaries or other similar officers of the body corporate are guilty of an offence, if an offence under this chapter is committed by their body corporate and either they are known to have consented and been in connivance, or it is attributable to neglect of their duties under the organisation. We will therefore support clause 32. Clause 33 is simply an interpretation clause that makes sense of the terms in clause 32.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 32 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

16 to 19 Academy: designation as having a religious character

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

None Portrait The Chair

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 35 and 36 stand part.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Clause 37 sets out the territorial extent of the provisions. Obviously, Westminster does not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the relevant devolved Administration. However, we have sought the support of the Welsh Government to lay a legislative consent motion where there is an impact on the competence of Senedd Cymru. We have agreed with the Scottish Government and with the Northern Ireland Executive that legislative consent motions are not required.

Clause 38 sets out when provisions in the Bill come into force. General provisions on extent commencement and short title come into force on the day of Royal Assent. Subsection (2) sets out the provisions that will come into force two months after the Act is passed. All other provisions will come into force on a day, or days, appointed by the Secretary of State through regulations made by statutory instrument.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

Clause 37 sets out the extent of the Bill. I heard what the Minister had to say about the Welsh Assembly; can he just confirm that he has consulted the Welsh Assembly on the extent to which this Act applies to Wales and, given that there are differences between what is offered in England and in Wales, that there is nothing in the Bill that has led to problems in that relationship? Notwithstanding that point, we agree with the extent to which the clause applies to England and Wales, and also the specific provisions that extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland. We agree with clause 38 on commencement and understand what it is saying.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have consulted Welsh Ministers, and we are of one mind with our counterparts in Wales.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 37 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39

Short title

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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I beg to move Government amendment 26, in clause 39, page 42, line 13, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment removes the privilege amendment inserted in the Lords.

For Bills starting in the House of Lords, a privilege amendment is included to recognise the right of this place to control any charges on the people and on public funds. It is standard practice to remove such amendments at this stage of the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

The Labour party is always enthusiastic for powers to be centred in the hands of those with democratic accountability, so we are very keen on clause 39. The Government have not yet had an opportunity to explain why they thought it was sensible to start the passage of the Bill in the other place, notwithstanding the excellent job that their lordships have done, which the Minister has sought to wreck over the course of the past week and a half. It would be interesting to hear from the Government why they made the decision to start the Bill in the other place. Notwithstanding that, we have no reason to oppose the amendment.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

I have been a Minister for only a short time, and I have to say I am unaware why the Bill started in the Lords, but I have nothing but admiration for their lordships, who did a wonderful job. Obviously, we have had to amend some of their amendments in order to make the Bill as good as it can be, but I am sure that everyone can see that the parliamentary process is being done to the full, even if it is being done this way round.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 39, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Information about technical education and training: access to English schools

“(1) Section 42B of the Education Act 1997 (information about technical education: access to English schools) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), for “is an opportunity” substitute “are opportunities”.

(3) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) In complying with subsection (1), the proprietor must give access to registered pupils on at least one occasion during each of the first, second and third key phase of their education.”

(4) After subsection (2) insert—

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

(a) ensure that each registered pupil meets, during each of the first and second key phases of their education, at least one provider to whom access is given (or any other number of such providers that may be specified for the purposes of that key phase by regulations under subsection (8)), and

(b) ask providers to whom access is given to provide information that includes the following—

(i) information about the provider and the approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships that the provider offers,

(ii) information about the careers to which those technical education qualifications or apprenticeships might lead,

(iii) a description of what learning or training with the provider is like, and

(iv) responses to questions from the pupils about the provider or approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships.

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

(5) In subsection (5)—

(a) in paragraph (c), at the end insert “and the times at which the access is to be given;”;

(b) after paragraph (c) insert—

“(d) an explanation of how the proprietor proposes to comply with the obligations imposed under subsection (2A).”

(6) In subsection (8), after “subsection (1)” insert “or (2A)”.

(7) After subsection (9) insert—

“(9A) For the purposes of this section—

(a) the first key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—

(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 13, and

(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;

(b) the second key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—

(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 15, and

(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year;

(c) the third key phase of a pupil’s education is the period—

(i) beginning at the same time as the school year in which the majority of pupils in the pupil’s class attain the age of 17, and

(ii) ending with 28 February in the following school year.””—(Alex Burghart.)

This new clause replaces clause 14. It removes requirements about university technical college access to pupils, requires access to pupils to be given in each key phase once (rather than three times), requires proprietors to ensure pupils meet at least one provider (or a prescribed number), and makes technical changes.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

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

I will now discuss new clause 1, which seeks to replace clause 14. We all agree that we need to strengthen provider access legislation. The Government introduced provider access legislation in 2018 to ensure that all young people get information about technical options when planning their careers, but too many schools have disregarded the law and are reluctant to promote alternatives to A-levels and university. We announced our three-point plan to improve compliance with that legislation in the “Skills for Jobs” White Paper back in January, and that included plans to strengthen the duty.

As it stands, clause 14 would require schools to deliver nine provider encounters per pupil—three during each of the first, second and third phases of their education. We are concerned that nine encounters would place unnecessary pressure on schools and risk taking up too much curriculum time. The clause would also name university technical colleges on the face of the Bill as one of the providers that every pupil must meet where practicable. That would give more weight to one provider than the rest, and we want to act in the interests of all providers, not just university technical colleges. The new clause strengthens existing provider access legislation by requiring schools to provide a minimum of three meetings with providers of technical education or apprenticeships for pupils in school years 8 to 13.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

We understand the reasons for the new clause, but what is the Government’s view about why the existing Baker clause has not been as successful as they might have liked? Has it taught the Minister anything with regard to the limitations of the statutory guidance, on which he may have chosen to reflect, and to why having things on the face of the Bill often carries greater weight than purely putting things into statutory guidance or secondary legislation?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that Governments often keep things in statutory guidance in order to retain flexibility. The last Labour Government did that time and again. As a mere parliamentary researcher, I remember consideration of what is now the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, in which there were many examples of powers introduced through statutory guidance and secondary legislation. It is a time-honoured custom that is there for good reason.

In this case, we believe that there is a need to strengthen practice. In particular, I want to mention the need to strengthen quality. The other day, I was talking to a friend who has a 16-year-old daughter and who is herself in education. Her daughter had come home saying, “There is absolutely no way I’m going to do an apprenticeship.” My friend asked why and her daughter replied, “Because the man who came to talk to us today was so boring it has put me off.”

We need to ensure that we have interventions of quality. That is very much where our position is centred. The new clause includes the power for the Secretary of State to set out further details about the number and type of providers that pupils should meet under the terms of this duty. Putting the detail in secondary legislation will give us flexibility.

The new clause strikes the correct balance between widening pupil access to information on technical options in apprenticeships, without placing undue pressure on schools. It will set out in primary legislation that every state school must provide the three encounters of which I have spoken. Of course, we must ensure that those provider encounters are of high quality. That is why, for the first time, we are setting parameters for the content of the encounters in primary legislation.

We want to ensure that every encounter is meaningful and gives pupils the opportunity to explore what the provider offers, what career routes those options could lead to and what it might be to learn or train with that provider. We intend to consult school and provider representatives on the underpinning statutory guidance to ensure that we have provider access legislation that works for them and, most importantly, for young people.

With the Government’s large-scale reforms to technical education, it has never been more important for every young person to understand the full range of options that are available to them. The new clause will be crucial in ensuring that every pupil, whatever their ambitions, can explore apprenticeships, T-levels and other technical education qualifications. We want to send a clear message that schools must open their doors to other providers, so that pupils get broad and balanced information about all their options.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

The Minister outlines why he believes the new clause is necessary. Given his remarks at the end there, I have to say that he would have better achieved what he set out to achieve had his party not voted against clause 14. All new clause 1 does is weaken the clause 14 that was in the Bill and that the Committee voted against this morning.

Notwithstanding that, we recognise that the new clause will be better than not having it at all. It removes requirements for university technical college access for pupils. The Minister suggested that that would be prioritising UTCs above other organisations, but I did not see it like that. I thought that they were simply referred to as another provider, and no doubt ones that Lord Baker is particularly enthusiastic to see given access.

The points that Lord Baker made in his contribution in the House of Lords are important, however, and they need to be considered. The noble Lord suggested that many schools—through either lack of time or a deliberate attempt to ensure that their students looked only at the school’s own sixth form, for financial or other reasons—were not implementing the original Baker clause and were indeed subverting the opportunities that were placed in front of children. I would be interested in hearing whether the Minister agrees with Lord Baker about that, or whether he believes that there are other reasons why alternative providers are not getting access to young people at each of those three crucial stages.

The Committee will be aware that, as part of the Labour party’s offer at the next general election, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has brought forward a plan for the equivalent of two weeks’ compulsory work experience for every pupil, and for face-to-face professional careers advice to be something that every student can rely on. We think it vital that children and young people have access to professional and appropriate careers advice. Work experience can be genuinely life-changing for many young people, particularly those from more deprived backgrounds. It is crucial that work experience is seen as a mark of an excellent school provision, rather than an additional thing that is nice to do.

It has very much been my experience that many schools leave the responsibility for work experience to the child and their parents to sort out. Effectively, the only commitment that schools require is that the child does not die or get injured while they are there. There is no real assessment of the quality of that work experience, so the milkman’s son ends up doing a milk round, while the MP’s son spends a week in an MP’s office—everyone just does the stuff that they already know. Worst of all, some children do work experience in a school, which is the one environment that they have been in for their entire lives, and that is considered acceptable.

Alternative opportunities for young people to look at different environments and learn about different opportunities are absolutely crucial. As clause 14 was rejected, we will support the new clause, but we believe it less ambitious than what their noble lordships had already introduced. Much of what the Minister said about the importance of the sector is undermined by his tabling of a clause that is weaker than the one that came from the Lords.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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.”—(Mr Perkins.)

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.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

--- Later in debate ---
Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- - Excerpts

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

The new clause, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), relates to access to sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans. It is important that students do not feel excluded from applying for lifelong learning loans because they are not sharia-compliant. There are many different aspects to loans under sharia law. Though their effect may be similar to that of other loans, the way in which they are set up and implemented is different, and the funds are also utilised in different ways.

It is incredibly important—and I think this is recognised by Members of both main parties—that action is taken on sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans. It is regrettable, however, that thus far nothing has been done. We have been given to believe that the Augar review may result in sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans, but we have not yet seen anything to that effect. My right hon. Friend’s new clause therefore encourages the Secretary of State to

“make provision by regulations for Sharia-compliant student finance to be made available as part of the lifelong learning entitlement.”

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
-

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss sharia-compliant student finance. The Government have been considering an alternative student finance product, compatible with Islamic finance principles, alongside their other priorities as they conclude the post-18 review of educational funding.

New powers were taken in section 86 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 to enable the Secretary of State to make alternative payments, in addition to grants and loans, to enable the implementation of ASF. Clause 15 already makes provision for such alternative payments to be made as part of the lifetime loan entitlement. As such, when coupled with the existing provisions in HERA, the new clause would not give the Secretary of State any additional powers. The clause 15 provisions for alternative payments would come into force should the Government decide to commence the provisions in HERA that enable alternative payments to be provided to students. The Government will reach a decision on the availability of a sharia-compliant student finance product as part of the full and final conclusion of the post-18 review, and will provide an update on ASF at that time.

In relation to the second part of the new clause, the Secretary of State may already lay student support regulations using the affirmative procedure contained in section 42 of the Teaching and Higher Education 1998, should he choose to do so. The new clause would not add any powers beyond those already under the Bill or existing legislation, and so should not be added to the Bill.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). It would introduce a national review and plan for addressing the attainment gap and intends to ensure that everybody is supported to obtain the level of English and/or maths skills they need by requiring the Department for Education to have a plan to close the attainment gap based on a review of current policies and barriers to attainment in English and/or maths. Our attainment levels as a nation, particularly in maths, are noticeably behind many of our competitor nations, and particularly the major nations in Europe. It is crucial that there are both local and national strategies to raise attainment for English and maths at grade 4.

I think there is widespread agreement on that across the House. The Government’s approach has often been to say, “Well, until you have achieved this, you cannot do that.” The Labour party’s approach has always been much more of a carrot. We recognise that there needs to be greater investment, specifically in picking out those students who, for a variety of different reasons—whether as a result of learning disabilities or of social disadvantages—are less likely to attain grade 4 level in English and maths. We think it is crucial that we have a strategic approach to attaining that.

A large amount of the recent catch-up funding that was identified by the Government was never actually provided, and there has been a discrepancy between the amount of the catch-up funding that was directed to those in the most deprived communities and the amount that was provided overall. Catch-up funding, more than anything else as a result of the lockdown, particularly needed to be focused on those in the most deprived communities, who saw that attainment gap grow over the course of the covid pandemic. That the Government have a strategic plan and are operating a national review of the attainment gap—particularly setting out to achieve the reduction in their cap within six months of the passing of the Bill—is an important amendment. We therefore support the new clause.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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New clause 5, tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham, seeks to require the Secretary of State to undertake a national review and have a plan for addressing the attainment gap within six months of the Act passing in relation to those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in GCSE English or maths. The Government are clear that supporting people who are yet to achieve GCSE grade 4 or above in English or maths—the equivalent of level 2—is of the utmost importance, given that good levels of English and maths are linked to better economic and social outcomes. We want young people and adults to have the literacy and numeracy skills to thrive in work, education and life. That is why we already have a clear plan and are taking significant steps to support those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in English and maths.

All learners aged 16 to 19 are required to continue studying English and maths if they do not have a level 2 qualification in these subjects already, including, for example, those studying T-levels. Additionally, apprenticeships in particular have an exit requirement in English and maths in order to complete the programme. We also support adults by fully funding GCSE and functional skills qualifications in English and maths up to level 2 through the adult education budget. In addition, as of next year, we are rolling out Multiply, a new £559 million programme for adult numeracy, announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the spending review. This will significantly increase the provision and opportunities for adults to improve their maths skills.

More broadly, we have reformed functional skills qualifications, which are a widely acceptable alternative to GCSEs, improving their rigour and relevance. The Government have also established 21 centres for excellence in mathematics, designing new and improved teaching resources, building teacher skills and spreading best practice across the country through their wider networks. In response to disruption to education during the pandemic, a further £222 million has been provided to continue the 16-to-19 tuition fund for an addition two years from the 2022-23 academic year, allowing students to access one-to-one and small group catch-up tuition in subjects that will benefit the most, including English and maths.

Improving English and maths attainment is already a key part of the Government’s plans across higher, further and technical education. In 2020, 68% of 19-year-olds held grade 4 or above in both English and maths GCSE, which is an increase of 6 percentage points since 2013-14, the year before we required students to continue studying English and maths. This is a major step forward. The OECD’s 10-yearly survey of adult skills showed that in England people aged 16 to 65 currently perform significantly above the OECD average for literacy and around the OECD average for numeracy. The Government continually review the impact of policy, so a formal review at this time is not necessary.

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

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
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.

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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.

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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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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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Colleges and designated institutions play a crucial part in their local communities by enabling young people and adults to gain the skills they need. In the small numbers of cases in which an institution is failing to deliver an acceptable standard of education or training, or is failing in other ways, Government must be able to intervene to secure improvement.

Existing powers under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 to intervene in colleges in the FE sector can be used in certain prescribed circumstances in which there are serious failings: mismanagement, for example, or financial or quality failures. In those circumstances, action can be taken to remove or appoint members of the governing body, or to give direction. Clause 26 extends those existing powers to allow for intervention where the education or training provided is failing, or has failed, to adequately meet local needs. Where the prescribed circumstances are met, clause 26 also enables the Secretary of State to direct the governing body to transfer “property, rights or liabilities” to another body.

The statutory intervention powers that we are amending through clause 26 are intended to be used only as a last resort. Our core support and intervention activity is delivered through administrative processes set out in the published guidance, “College oversight: support and intervention”. The Government are not seeking these powers in order to implement a new wave of mergers across the college sector—that is not the purpose of intervention. However, there is good evidence that structural change can, in the right circumstances, play a valuable role in securing improvement. We have also been clear that decisions on the college curriculum are for the governing body, not for Ministers to second-guess. We are working with Ofsted to increase the focus of inspections on how well colleges are meeting skills needs. The Government’s primary focus is on supporting colleges and designated institutions, and preventing things from going wrong.

In conclusion, strengthening the existing statutory intervention powers is necessary to ensure that, as a last resort, the Government are able to act where there is failure and there is no alternative means of securing improvement.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 26 sets out in detail some additional powers relating to further education colleges in England, and the desire of the Secretary of State to intervene. The intervention regime for colleges is already complex, having been noted as a cause for concern by the Independent Commission on the College of the Future. Dame Mary Ney’s independent review of college financial oversight also identified the complexity of the regime, and in this Bill the Secretary of State is looking to find additional reasons to intervene, beyond financial failure. There is a real risk that this clause will just add to that complexity, going precisely against the apparent aim of establishing a simpler system.

Crucially, the Bill proposes new powers of intervention for the Secretary of State without giving colleges the freedoms to deliver. Last week, the Government passed an amendment that removed colleges from being strategic partners in the establishment of local skills improvement plans, so colleges are left accountable, but not empowered. Indeed, in a way, it goes further than that: if a college were to disagree with what was in the local skills improvement plan—if it were to consider that a local skills improvement plan that had been approved did not meet the needs of all of its learners—its failure to follow that plan could lead the Secretary of State to intervene and its being considered to be a failing college.

We accept that there needs to be an understanding of interventions, but there are questions that we would like to test the Minister on. First, why is it appropriate to hold colleges accountable for the delivery of LSIPs, but not treat them as strategic partners in developing those LSIPs? Secondly, do the new intervention powers apply equally to all post-16 education providers? If not—if they apply only to FE colleges—what consultation has the DfE undertaken with the Office for Students in order to ensure that this aligns with its approach to the oversight of higher education provision? Thirdly, what happens in circumstances where colleges believe that a poor or inappropriate LSIP has been produced that is not in the long-term interests of their locality? Do they simply deliver on a plan that they believe to be inappropriate, or are there mechanisms available to them to make representations on that point? If the needs of the local learning community have altered but the LSIP has not, how would a college be able to raise that? What consequences would be available to the Secretary of State if a college was seen not to fit in with what the LSIP said, even if the circumstances on the ground had changed?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

As we have made clear throughout the Bill, the Government are on a mission to create an employer-led system in which the provision of skills reflects the skills that employers in a community need. We are absolutely set on ensuring that we get qualifications designed by employers to give students the skills the economy needs, at both local and national level. The clause sets about creating an accountability framework that places colleges in that sphere. We want colleges to respond to the ideas set out in a local skills improvement plan. However, as I have also made clear, these are absolutely powers of last resort. What we are really looking for is a profitable relationship between employer representative bodies and local providers. For that reason, we hope the clause will stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27

Further education bodies in education administration: application of other insolvency procedures

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 61, in clause 27, page 33, line 19, at end insert—

“(2C) Before applying to a court for an education administration order in relation to a further education body in England, the Secretary of state will conduct a review of the impact of the closure of a Further Education institution on learning opportunities in the local area and provide a report to Parliament on steps taken to ensure that the opportunities for learners are not restricted by his application for an education administration order.”

Amendment 61 is a probing amendment that would require the Secretary of State to review further education provision prior to applying for an education administration order for a college. There should also be a review of the impact of closing a college; if the impact of such a closure would be a reduction or complete removal of provision, we would request that the Secretary of State report to Parliament to allow for appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.

It is crucial for the Secretary of State to ensure that local areas have adequate further education provision before deciding to merge and close colleges. The colleges most likely to be closed are often those in more rural areas, those that are smaller, those that are facing specific challenges or those in communities that face specific challenges because they do not have the density of population. Although we recognise that there may be financial collapse as a result of their geographic isolation, that should not necessarily mean that the provision their students rely upon disappears with the merger of the college.

It is important to have scrutiny at both a local and national level. We believe that it should be parliamentary scrutiny, to ensure that the Secretary of State commits to reporting to the House before announcing such a decision, and to ensure that there is a review of the impact of a closure on the local labour market and on the courses available to people in that local community.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Amendment 61 would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the impact of the closure of an FE institution on learning opportunities in a local area and provide a report to Parliament on the steps taken to ensure that opportunities for learners are not restricted ahead of an application for an education administration order. We will hear about education administration orders in the next few minutes.

I appreciate what Labour Members are trying to do, but the effect would be to delay an application for an education administration order, which would run counter to the purpose of the amendment. First, if an FE body becomes insolvent, it risks being placed into a regular insolvency procedure by a creditor or its board. The primary objective of a regular insolvency procedure is to prioritise the interests of creditors. This means that any closure scenario could result in the best returns to creditors being prioritised over the needs of keeping the body open for learners. Going down a standard insolvency route with a college will prioritise creditors, risking students studying there being pushed to one side.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 27 proposes to clarify ambiguities in the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 regarding the use of company voluntary arrangements—a procedure allowing a company or corporation in insolvency proceedings to come to an agreement with its creditors over the payment of debts. Company voluntary arrangements can be used as an exit route for normal administration, as set out in insolvency legislation.

Company voluntary arrangements can also be used as an exit route from education administration under the FE insolvency regime, which we have just been debating. That has been clarified in case law, which has been in place since March 2020, when the High Court of Justice Business and Property Courts of England and Wales ruled that in the education administration of West Kent and Ashford College, education administrators had the power to propose a company voluntary arrangement.

We are using the opportunity to legislate in the Bill to clarify ambiguities in the current legislation and cement that existing case law into legislation. To be clear, we are cementing what the courts have already decided on. To achieve that, clause 27 proposes to extend the existing power of the Secretary of State for Education to make regulations related to the application of insolvency legislation to FE bodies so that express provision may be made in respect of the use of company voluntary arrangements.

Clause 28 deals with the potential conflict related to the treatment of secured creditors as between the transfer scheme provisions of the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 and the provisions of the Insolvency Act 1986, as applied by the 2017 Act. Specifically, the proposal amends schedules 2, 3 and 4 to the 2017 Act, making it clear that, where a transfer scheme looks to transfer secured assets free of the security, that can happen only with either the consent of the secured creditor or a court order. That is in line with protections for secured creditors in normal administration in insolvency proceedings.

Clause 28 also cements into legislation the Government’s response to the technical consultation for the insolvency regime for further education and sixth-form colleges, which was made in June 2018. We have informed the three main lenders to the FE sector—Barclays, Lloyds and Santander—of our proposed changes, and I am pleased to report that they are supportive. Barclays said:

“As a lender with significant loan exposure to the English FE sector (and desire to continue to support colleges with new loans) we are in favour of the changes proposed. The Transfer Scheme changes in particular provides welcome clarity on a point that had previously had a negative impact on sector risk profile and our appetite to lend.”

These clauses are good for the sector and good for the law, and I believe they should be good enough for us.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Minister was reading out that very positive quote from Barclays about his clause, it occurred to me how rarely he has had the opportunity to read out support for his Bill over the course of its passage. That is unsurprising, of course, when he is pressing ahead with amendments that 86% of respondents to his consultation are against. None the less, it was good to hear that full-throated support for this proposal from Barclays.

We do not intend to vote against clauses 27 or 28. I will simply make the point that the financial pressures facing our further education sector over the past 11 years, and particularly the past 12 months or so, have been truly unprecedented. I regularly meet representatives of colleges who are absolutely at their wit’s end, and not only about the scale of the funding cuts they have experienced over the past 11 years, but about the extent to which last-minute decisions are constantly made that leave them in a position in which they have to make redundancies in order to stay afloat, only then to discover sometimes that there is a change in the Government’s policy and they have to recruit for some positions that they had made redundant only a few months before.

So it was with the recent announcement about the adult education clawback. I have asked parliamentary questions on this issue. A number of colleges received a clawback from their adult education fund and were told that there was no right to any appeal. Then the previous Secretary of State said that they would allow appeals and I believe that in some cases the appeals were granted. In the meantime, however, those colleges were forced to cut their cloth accordingly.

Consequently, I say to the Government that although we do not oppose clauses 27 or 28, we believe that there needs to be a much greater sense of responsibility about the Government’s role in the financial distress that many of our colleges are currently suffering, which my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to earlier, and about the impact on those colleges of the constant last-minute decision making that they have suffered over the past 11 years.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29

Meaning of “relevant service” and other key expressions

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

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 30 stand part.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 29 is the first of a chapter of clauses that relate to the criminalisation in England and Wales of contract cheating services, which are more widely known as essay mills. Taken together, this chapter of clauses will make it an offence for an organisation or individual to complete, or arrange for another person to complete, all or part of an assignment on behalf of a student. It also criminalises the advertising of these cheating services. Essay mills threaten to undermine the reputation of our education system and to devalue the hard work of those who succeed on their own merit. They also prevent students from learning themselves and risk students entering the workforce without the knowledge, skills or competence they need.

Clause 29 provides clarity on the exact meaning of the key terms used throughout this chapter of clauses; removes the potential for unintended consequences to arise from the clause; and allows for fraudulent essay mill companies, their employees and contractors to be captured by the legislation. Because of the way that we have defined “relevant service”, we have also ensured that generally permitted study support, such as revision guides, will not be in scope, but essay mill companies that complete assignments on behalf of students will be in scope.

Clause 30 criminalises providing essay mill services or arranging for such services. It is therefore crucial in our fight against essay mills. It provides a powerful legislative tool to tackle these deplorable organisations and individuals.

I will talk briefly about the practicalities of the offence that we are creating. It will be for the prosecution to prove that the cheating service has been provided to the student. However, the burden of proof in relation to the defence is on the defendant. For example, the defendant would need to prove that they could not have known, even with reasonable diligence, that the student would or might use the material provided to complete an assignment. For example, simply asking a student to sign a contract that states that they will not use the work in a certain way is not a defence. Clause 30 states that clearly.

If someone were to be found guilty, they would be liable to be punished with a fine. The appropriate fine will be determined by the courts in accordance with Sentencing Council guidelines. Clause 30 will help to tackle the existence of these companies and to fine them appropriately if they continue to carry out these illicit services.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 29 defines the term “relevant service” and other key expressions. We have no desire to vote against it.

I am interested in the representations that the Minister has received about the way clause 30 is drafted. Subsection (4) will immediately set those with more experienced legal minds than mine—there are such people in this place—to consider how difficult it may be to achieve a successful prosecution under these provisions. If there is a defence that enables a defendant to say, “I had no idea what the legislation was”, that starts to bring home how difficult it might be to get successful prosecutions in this area.

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

I am pleased to see that the Opposition support our move to legislate on this matter. We are all of one mind that cheating services actually end up undermining the good work of the vast majority of students, and they introduce an unnecessary element of doubt.

I reassure the Opposition that the Bill has been carefully drafted with some excellent Government lawyers. Clause 33 is designed to ensure that convictions are much more likely and that some of the easy defences—for example, that these services were just providing information and had no idea that it would be used in cheating services—cannot be used as a get-out-of-jail card. We are confident that it is a major step forward in combating this insidious crime and we look forward to its enactment.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31

Offence of advertising a relevant service

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 61, in clause 27, page 33, line 19, at end insert—

‘(2C) Before applying to a court for an education administration order in relation to a further education body in England, the Secretary of state will conduct a review of the impact of the closure of a Further Education institution on learning opportunities in the local area and provide a report to Parliament on steps taken to ensure that the opportunities for learners are not restricted by his application for an education administration order.”

This probing amendment is designed to find out the Government’s anticipated tariff for such offences. To what extent is it seen as a serious offence? To us, it is absolutely obvious that the fine needs to be of a sufficient sum to make it not worth providing such services. Although we support the Government’s intentions, we seek further clarification about the level of the anticipated tariff for such an offence. Will perpetrators get off with a fine that costs them the equivalent of a week’s dinner money, or are the Government taking such offences seriously? Will they set the fine at a high enough level to act as a deterrent?

To return to the question to which I do not believe the Minister responded when we considered clause 29, in the event of a cheating service that is utilised by five students, would that be judged as five offences or one?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I am sorry, I forgot to reply to that. It would be five offences.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is useful clarification. Can the Minister also clarify whether perpetrators would be guilty of a civil or criminal offence? Would they get a criminal record? In the event that a business was perceived to be providing those services, what would be the impact on that business? Or is an individual judged to have committed the offence? I would be grateful for that clarification.

Overall, we believe it is vital that there is a level playing field. We support the Government’s intention to prevent the use of fraudulent services, such as essay milling, and we believe that the fines should be such to act as a deterrent. We also believe that there should be a corresponding damage to reputation provision when people or businesses commit that offence. It is crucial that the amount of the fine and the publicity surrounding those fines reflect the severity of the offence. As we have said, the practice significantly undermines the efforts of all students who work hard to achieve their qualifications legitimately.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It would be interesting to hear from the Minister what form of penalty the Government imagine. We heard the probing question from my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield about the case of five individuals. Can the Minister elaborate on what sort of penalties he envisages for the business behind the essay mill? If he does not agree with our suggestion, what scale of punishment does he believe would be appropriate? Is it more akin to dropping litter, fly-tipping or another offence?

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is extremely prescient, and I congratulate him on that. This is a criminal offence and we want to see it seriously punished. However, for reasons I will set out, we do not think that amendment 62 would solve the problem in the right way. It would amend clause 31 by setting a minimum penalty of a fine of no less than £5,000 for the offence of advertising a cheating service. As drafted, the Bill does not state the level of fine payable on conviction. Instead, conviction of either offence carries the penalty of an unlimited fine—as the name implies, that is a fine imposed without financial limit. That approach carries serious potential consequences and provides a significant deterrent effect to those planning to advertise contract cheating services.

The Government do not believe that setting a minimum amount is appropriate, where maximum fines are unlimited. Setting a minimum fine of £5,000 risks that level of fine being seen by essay mill providers as a likely fine, rather than a minimum. Sentencing and the precise size of a fine should be matters for the independent judiciary, in accordance with Sentencing Council guidelines, based on the full facts of the case. I would draw hon. Members attention to the fact that Ireland, which has a similar legal system and a similar offence, imposes a fine of up to €100,000 per offence and/or a prison sentence. That is the sort of thing that might go through the minds in our justice system. We do not therefore think that the amendment is necessary.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept what the Minister says. I do not accept that introducing a minimum fine of £5,000 would necessarily lead to essay mill services thinking that that would be the likely level, but I take his point. The amendment was a probing amendment to try to reach some understanding of the Government’s position. If there have been fines of the level that he outlined, that will be heartening for all those who want to see the issue addressed. 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 - -

Clause 31 makes it an offence to advertise essay mills. Marketing and advertising are the lifeblood of any successful industry, and we do not want this industry to be successful or to have lifeblood. Many essay mill companies use marketing techniques that seem to indicate that they offer legitimate academic writing support for students, when in fact they are providing cheating services. Students who use essay mills risk their academic education and future employment prospects if they are caught cheating. Anecdotal reports indicate that some essay mills are even seeking to blackmail students who have used the services, as the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington mentioned. The clause will put beyond doubt that advertising cheating services in England and Wales is not just unethical but illegal, and will provide the means to prosecute those who fail to comply with the law in England and Wales.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 32 relates to which bodies can be prosecuted under the essay mill provisions in the Bill. Cheating service providers can range from UK-based organisations registered at Companies House with offices and permanent staff to lone individuals operating with minimal infrastructure. Where offences are committed by companies, unincorporated bodies and partnerships, the clause enables certain individuals, such as the directors of companies, to also be prosecuted in particular circumstances. It also sets out some relevant procedural rules. For example, it clarifies that proceedings for offences committed by an unincorporated body should be brought in the name of the body and not its members, and any fine imposed on conviction of an unincorporated body should be paid out of the funds of the body. The clause will enable the legislation to function with legal certainty. Clause 33 sets out the definitions of certain terms in this chapter, allowing for absolute clarity on the intended purpose of the clause.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We welcome clause 32. It is important that where offences are committed by bodies of this sort there are consequences for their officers. The clause ensures that directors, managers, secretaries or other similar officers of the body corporate are guilty of an offence, if an offence under this chapter is committed by their body corporate and either they are known to have consented and been in connivance, or it is attributable to neglect of their duties under the organisation. We will therefore support clause 32. Clause 33 is simply an interpretation clause that makes sense of the terms in clause 32.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 32 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

16 to 19 Academy: designation as having a religious character

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

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 35 and 36 stand part.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

Clause 37 sets out the territorial extent of the provisions. Obviously, Westminster does not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the relevant devolved Administration. However, we have sought the support of the Welsh Government to lay a legislative consent motion where there is an impact on the competence of Senedd Cymru. We have agreed with the Scottish Government and with the Northern Ireland Executive that legislative consent motions are not required.

Clause 38 sets out when provisions in the Bill come into force. General provisions on extent commencement and short title come into force on the day of Royal Assent. Subsection (2) sets out the provisions that will come into force two months after the Act is passed. All other provisions will come into force on a day, or days, appointed by the Secretary of State through regulations made by statutory instrument.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 37 sets out the extent of the Bill. I heard what the Minister had to say about the Welsh Assembly; can he just confirm that he has consulted the Welsh Assembly on the extent to which this Act applies to Wales and, given that there are differences between what is offered in England and in Wales, that there is nothing in the Bill that has led to problems in that relationship? Notwithstanding that point, we agree with the extent to which the clause applies to England and Wales, and also the specific provisions that extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland. We agree with clause 38 on commencement and understand what it is saying.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have consulted Welsh Ministers, and we are of one mind with our counterparts in Wales.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 37 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39

Short title

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I beg to move Government amendment 26, in clause 39, page 42, line 13, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment removes the privilege amendment inserted in the Lords.

For Bills starting in the House of Lords, a privilege amendment is included to recognise the right of this place to control any charges on the people and on public funds. It is standard practice to remove such amendments at this stage of the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Labour party is always enthusiastic for powers to be centred in the hands of those with democratic accountability, so we are very keen on clause 39. The Government have not yet had an opportunity to explain why they thought it was sensible to start the passage of the Bill in the other place, notwithstanding the excellent job that their lordships have done, which the Minister has sought to wreck over the course of the past week and a half. It would be interesting to hear from the Government why they made the decision to start the Bill in the other place. Notwithstanding that, we have no reason to oppose the amendment.

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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

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

I will now discuss new clause 1, which seeks to replace clause 14. We all agree that we need to strengthen provider access legislation. The Government introduced provider access legislation in 2018 to ensure that all young people get information about technical options when planning their careers, but too many schools have disregarded the law and are reluctant to promote alternatives to A-levels and university. We announced our three-point plan to improve compliance with that legislation in the “Skills for Jobs” White Paper back in January, and that included plans to strengthen the duty.

As it stands, clause 14 would require schools to deliver nine provider encounters per pupil—three during each of the first, second and third phases of their education. We are concerned that nine encounters would place unnecessary pressure on schools and risk taking up too much curriculum time. The clause would also name university technical colleges on the face of the Bill as one of the providers that every pupil must meet where practicable. That would give more weight to one provider than the rest, and we want to act in the interests of all providers, not just university technical colleges. The new clause strengthens existing provider access legislation by requiring schools to provide a minimum of three meetings with providers of technical education or apprenticeships for pupils in school years 8 to 13.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We understand the reasons for the new clause, but what is the Government’s view about why the existing Baker clause has not been as successful as they might have liked? Has it taught the Minister anything with regard to the limitations of the statutory guidance, on which he may have chosen to reflect, and to why having things on the face of the Bill often carries greater weight than purely putting things into statutory guidance or secondary legislation?

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that Governments often keep things in statutory guidance in order to retain flexibility. The last Labour Government did that time and again. As a mere parliamentary researcher, I remember consideration of what is now the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, in which there were many examples of powers introduced through statutory guidance and secondary legislation. It is a time-honoured custom that is there for good reason.

In this case, we believe that there is a need to strengthen practice. In particular, I want to mention the need to strengthen quality. The other day, I was talking to a friend who has a 16-year-old daughter and who is herself in education. Her daughter had come home saying, “There is absolutely no way I’m going to do an apprenticeship.” My friend asked why and her daughter replied, “Because the man who came to talk to us today was so boring it has put me off.”

We need to ensure that we have interventions of quality. That is very much where our position is centred. The new clause includes the power for the Secretary of State to set out further details about the number and type of providers that pupils should meet under the terms of this duty. Putting the detail in secondary legislation will give us flexibility.

The new clause strikes the correct balance between widening pupil access to information on technical options in apprenticeships, without placing undue pressure on schools. It will set out in primary legislation that every state school must provide the three encounters of which I have spoken. Of course, we must ensure that those provider encounters are of high quality. That is why, for the first time, we are setting parameters for the content of the encounters in primary legislation.

We want to ensure that every encounter is meaningful and gives pupils the opportunity to explore what the provider offers, what career routes those options could lead to and what it might be to learn or train with that provider. We intend to consult school and provider representatives on the underpinning statutory guidance to ensure that we have provider access legislation that works for them and, most importantly, for young people.

With the Government’s large-scale reforms to technical education, it has never been more important for every young person to understand the full range of options that are available to them. The new clause will be crucial in ensuring that every pupil, whatever their ambitions, can explore apprenticeships, T-levels and other technical education qualifications. We want to send a clear message that schools must open their doors to other providers, so that pupils get broad and balanced information about all their options.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister outlines why he believes the new clause is necessary. Given his remarks at the end there, I have to say that he would have better achieved what he set out to achieve had his party not voted against clause 14. All new clause 1 does is weaken the clause 14 that was in the Bill and that the Committee voted against this morning.

Notwithstanding that, we recognise that the new clause will be better than not having it at all. It removes requirements for university technical college access for pupils. The Minister suggested that that would be prioritising UTCs above other organisations, but I did not see it like that. I thought that they were simply referred to as another provider, and no doubt ones that Lord Baker is particularly enthusiastic to see given access.

The points that Lord Baker made in his contribution in the House of Lords are important, however, and they need to be considered. The noble Lord suggested that many schools—through either lack of time or a deliberate attempt to ensure that their students looked only at the school’s own sixth form, for financial or other reasons—were not implementing the original Baker clause and were indeed subverting the opportunities that were placed in front of children. I would be interested in hearing whether the Minister agrees with Lord Baker about that, or whether he believes that there are other reasons why alternative providers are not getting access to young people at each of those three crucial stages.

The Committee will be aware that, as part of the Labour party’s offer at the next general election, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) has brought forward a plan for the equivalent of two weeks’ compulsory work experience for every pupil, and for face-to-face professional careers advice to be something that every student can rely on. We think it vital that children and young people have access to professional and appropriate careers advice. Work experience can be genuinely life-changing for many young people, particularly those from more deprived backgrounds. It is crucial that work experience is seen as a mark of an excellent school provision, rather than an additional thing that is nice to do.

It has very much been my experience that many schools leave the responsibility for work experience to the child and their parents to sort out. Effectively, the only commitment that schools require is that the child does not die or get injured while they are there. There is no real assessment of the quality of that work experience, so the milkman’s son ends up doing a milk round, while the MP’s son spends a week in an MP’s office—everyone just does the stuff that they already know. Worst of all, some children do work experience in a school, which is the one environment that they have been in for their entire lives, and that is considered acceptable.

Alternative opportunities for young people to look at different environments and learn about different opportunities are absolutely crucial. As clause 14 was rejected, we will support the new clause, but we believe it less ambitious than what their noble lordships had already introduced. Much of what the Minister said about the importance of the sector is undermined by his tabling of a clause that is weaker than the one that came from the Lords.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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.”—(Mr Perkins.)

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.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

The new clause, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), relates to access to sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans. It is important that students do not feel excluded from applying for lifelong learning loans because they are not sharia-compliant. There are many different aspects to loans under sharia law. Though their effect may be similar to that of other loans, the way in which they are set up and implemented is different, and the funds are also utilised in different ways.

It is incredibly important—and I think this is recognised by Members of both main parties—that action is taken on sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans. It is regrettable, however, that thus far nothing has been done. We have been given to believe that the Augar review may result in sharia-compliant lifelong learning loans, but we have not yet seen anything to that effect. My right hon. Friend’s new clause therefore encourages the Secretary of State to

“make provision by regulations for Sharia-compliant student finance to be made available as part of the lifelong learning entitlement.”

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss sharia-compliant student finance. The Government have been considering an alternative student finance product, compatible with Islamic finance principles, alongside their other priorities as they conclude the post-18 review of educational funding.

New powers were taken in section 86 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 to enable the Secretary of State to make alternative payments, in addition to grants and loans, to enable the implementation of ASF. Clause 15 already makes provision for such alternative payments to be made as part of the lifetime loan entitlement. As such, when coupled with the existing provisions in HERA, the new clause would not give the Secretary of State any additional powers. The clause 15 provisions for alternative payments would come into force should the Government decide to commence the provisions in HERA that enable alternative payments to be provided to students. The Government will reach a decision on the availability of a sharia-compliant student finance product as part of the full and final conclusion of the post-18 review, and will provide an update on ASF at that time.

In relation to the second part of the new clause, the Secretary of State may already lay student support regulations using the affirmative procedure contained in section 42 of the Teaching and Higher Education 1998, should he choose to do so. The new clause would not add any powers beyond those already under the Bill or existing legislation, and so should not be added to the Bill.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

The new clause was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). It would introduce a national review and plan for addressing the attainment gap and intends to ensure that everybody is supported to obtain the level of English and/or maths skills they need by requiring the Department for Education to have a plan to close the attainment gap based on a review of current policies and barriers to attainment in English and/or maths. Our attainment levels as a nation, particularly in maths, are noticeably behind many of our competitor nations, and particularly the major nations in Europe. It is crucial that there are both local and national strategies to raise attainment for English and maths at grade 4.

I think there is widespread agreement on that across the House. The Government’s approach has often been to say, “Well, until you have achieved this, you cannot do that.” The Labour party’s approach has always been much more of a carrot. We recognise that there needs to be greater investment, specifically in picking out those students who, for a variety of different reasons—whether as a result of learning disabilities or of social disadvantages—are less likely to attain grade 4 level in English and maths. We think it is crucial that we have a strategic approach to attaining that.

A large amount of the recent catch-up funding that was identified by the Government was never actually provided, and there has been a discrepancy between the amount of the catch-up funding that was directed to those in the most deprived communities and the amount that was provided overall. Catch-up funding, more than anything else as a result of the lockdown, particularly needed to be focused on those in the most deprived communities, who saw that attainment gap grow over the course of the covid pandemic. That the Government have a strategic plan and are operating a national review of the attainment gap—particularly setting out to achieve the reduction in their cap within six months of the passing of the Bill—is an important amendment. We therefore support the new clause.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

New clause 5, tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham, seeks to require the Secretary of State to undertake a national review and have a plan for addressing the attainment gap within six months of the Act passing in relation to those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in GCSE English or maths. The Government are clear that supporting people who are yet to achieve GCSE grade 4 or above in English or maths—the equivalent of level 2—is of the utmost importance, given that good levels of English and maths are linked to better economic and social outcomes. We want young people and adults to have the literacy and numeracy skills to thrive in work, education and life. That is why we already have a clear plan and are taking significant steps to support those who have not achieved grade 4 or above in English and maths.

All learners aged 16 to 19 are required to continue studying English and maths if they do not have a level 2 qualification in these subjects already, including, for example, those studying T-levels. Additionally, apprenticeships in particular have an exit requirement in English and maths in order to complete the programme. We also support adults by fully funding GCSE and functional skills qualifications in English and maths up to level 2 through the adult education budget. In addition, as of next year, we are rolling out Multiply, a new £559 million programme for adult numeracy, announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the spending review. This will significantly increase the provision and opportunities for adults to improve their maths skills.

More broadly, we have reformed functional skills qualifications, which are a widely acceptable alternative to GCSEs, improving their rigour and relevance. The Government have also established 21 centres for excellence in mathematics, designing new and improved teaching resources, building teacher skills and spreading best practice across the country through their wider networks. In response to disruption to education during the pandemic, a further £222 million has been provided to continue the 16-to-19 tuition fund for an addition two years from the 2022-23 academic year, allowing students to access one-to-one and small group catch-up tuition in subjects that will benefit the most, including English and maths.

Improving English and maths attainment is already a key part of the Government’s plans across higher, further and technical education. In 2020, 68% of 19-year-olds held grade 4 or above in both English and maths GCSE, which is an increase of 6 percentage points since 2013-14, the year before we required students to continue studying English and maths. This is a major step forward. The OECD’s 10-yearly survey of adult skills showed that in England people aged 16 to 65 currently perform significantly above the OECD average for literacy and around the OECD average for numeracy. The Government continually review the impact of policy, so a formal review at this time is not necessary.

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

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
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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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ] (Third sitting)

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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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Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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.

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

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Tuesday 30th November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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.

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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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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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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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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—

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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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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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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.

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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

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

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

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

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

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Tuesday 30th November 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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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
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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
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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.

--- Later in debate ---
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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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
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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.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill (First sitting)

Debate between Alex Burghart and Toby Perkins
Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart
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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
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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.