All 3 Lord Knight of Weymouth contributions to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] 2021-22

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for International Trade

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
2nd reading
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, what a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, particularly in her last comments, as part of what has been a really interesting debate, with an excellent maiden speech in it. I remind noble Lords of my interests in the register relating to education, particularly my work with my clients, Purpose and 01-Edu.

There is of course much to welcome in this Bill but, sadly, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, time prevents me from dwelling on those elements. However, it is welcome that the Government are prioritising adult skills and to hear the Minister stress the need to focus on the needs of those not going on from school to university but going on to learn other skills. The combination of globalisation, new technology and climate change mitigation means continued rapid changes in the demand for skills. The World Economic Forum projects that almost half the skills needed for employees to work effectively will change in just the next four years—so deskilling is rampant. It is therefore the urgent responsibility of every Government around the world to transform their skills infrastructure so that it is highly flexible and to anticipate as well as react to the needs of the labour market, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said. Skills policy is now as much about changing in-work skills as it is about helping those at the start of their working lives, which appeared to be an assumption in the Minister’s opening speech.

Here in the UK, decades of underfunding of an overly complex skills system, persistent low productivity, Brexit uncertainty, and widening regional prosperity gaps make an emphasis on this all the more important. The Institute for the Future of Work’s recent report, The Amazonian Era, highlights recent trends, with worker management platforms rapidly deskilling people, from the warehouse floor to hollowing out supervisor roles—deskilling by algorithm. Yet this Bill seems to assume that skills qualifications act like a ratchet and that, once you have got a level 3, the only way is up, to level 4 and beyond. But skills are not like a platform computer game moving up through the levels; they are less Super Mario and more Snakes and Ladders. Personally, I would advocate the development of individual skills accounts over the loan system advocated in this Bill, using a mix of funding from the Treasury, employers and individuals, rather than what is being proposed.

In my remaining time, I want to focus on the diverse needs of three very different groups: the deskilled, the always reskilling, and the perennial professionals. On the deskilled, can the Minister confirm that the local skills improvement plans will fully integrate with welfare-to-work provision? In 2009, when I moved as a Minister from the DfE to the DWP, I struggled to get effective integration of skills and welfare policy—perhaps my weakness. But one department measures success in qualification outcomes while the other does so in job outcomes—and they work to very different timeframes. That has to be fixed through changes to the universal credit regime.

We also need an all-age careers advice service—and I enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan —that aligns with a business advice service. For example, the move to a net-zero economy will create huge opportunities as we transition to new ways of living in our homes and at work. We will have new skills systems and businesses growing to meet those opportunities and anticipate these changes rather than just reacting to them. The fact that Wrexham College only recently became the first FE college to offer training in electric vehicle maintenance is truly shocking. For this group—the deskilled—the qualification ecosystem needs to be more dynamic.

Then there are those sectors, especially in the digital economy, that will always move too fast for qualifications to keep up. I am currently working with Nicolas Sadirac and 01 Founders, which is opening its first school in London later this year to train full stack software engineers. This proven system does not charge tuition fees, is a two-year course and has virtually a 100% employment rate at an average starting salary of over £40,000.

This model—no prior attainment, applying by playing an online game, no teachers and no qualifications—freaks out policymakers because it explodes all the foundations of what we understand about good education, but employers are desperate for this talent because it works. It has a highly dynamic curriculum and does not wait for qualifications to adjust to labour market demand. What is this Bill doing to support more innovative skills training like this, which is hardwired to deliver the shortage skills we need to grow successfully across the country? Does the Minister foresee funding skills measured by job outcomes as well as qualification outcomes?

Finally, I must say something about the training of professionals and here I will focus on teachers. The Government are currently engaged in a review of initial teacher training. Last week they quietly published a document titled Delivering World-Class Teacher Development, which does not mention universities once. It is part of a move that appears to be one of statist centralisation where they want to control the content and method of teacher training to fit Ministers’ judgments on what is best.

This is a grotesque attack on the academic freedom of universities that may destroy the very system supplying teachers into our schools. It betrays a view that teaching is little more than a craft skill, rather than a profession that needs both continuous academic and practice-based development. Can the Minister reassure me, and the many ITT providers I am talking to through the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Teaching Profession, that there will always be a place for universities like Oxford, UCL and Sunderland in teacher training? Our adult skills infrastructure must meet the needs of great professions like teaching, as well as traditional trades and emerging jobs. In doing so, it must fully respect the role of academic vocational training.

This is a really important Bill, but it is no more than a start. I look forward to trying to help improve it and I hope that Ministers are listening to the real-world reality of change and reflecting that policy thinking needs to change to take account of rapid deskilling and the diversity of needs we all face.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for International Trade

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
Committee stage
Tuesday 6th July 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister did a noble job in trying to prevent us wanting to come back to these issues, but I am sure that we will on Report. I was particularly interested in the comment that she made about local areas defining themselves. Looking back at some of the places where I have lived, I am interested in what happens if no one wants you in their area. I was once mayor of Frome, which is right on the edge, and in the east, of Somerset. It is economically more in west Wiltshire: lots of young people might go and study at Trowbridge college, but they might go to Radstock college or Yeovil College. Frome is a wonderful place, but in those areas they might not want it. I used to represent Swanage, which is on the edge of the Bournemouth and Poole conurbation, but it is in Dorset, so it is in the wrong county, just as Frome is in relation to Wiltshire. I am interested in that area.

I am also interested in national colleges. There is a National College for Digital Skills in north London, a national college for the creatives in Purfleet and a National College for Nuclear in Cumbria and Somerset. Will they have to have regard to all of the local skills partnerships’ needs for their particular skills? If so, it is a bit of a nightmare for those colleges to go through all of them.

Finally, I ask the Minister whether she sees a move to a genuine all-age careers service? In particular, would the DWP have to refer people to it if they are coming through jobs schemes? With the National Careers Service and the extra money that the Chancellor agreed for it during the pandemic, we have seen that it is struggling to spend that money because DWP is not really aware that it exists and is not referring people over. On the Government’s thinking around all of this, which is critically important, with all of the deskilling that is going on in our economy, can she give us some assurance that they are properly working through what an effective all-age careers service that everyone will want to use will look like?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, I was smiling at the noble Lord because I asked this precise question about a national plan. There is a balance here between not dictating from the centre, drawing a map and chopping things up and allowing economic areas to define themselves in our complex local geography. This has not been an issue with the trailblazers, but that was obviously a small number of areas—but, yes, we will ensure that there are no cracks between the areas and that every area will be covered by a local skills improvement plan.

As far as I am aware, there are no plans to change the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company, which have different roles. The noble Lord is correct that we obviously need to make sure that all of this is joined up. Previous noble Lords have asked me about how this will join up with people on universal credit—this is a work in progress, but I was pleased to learn from DWP Ministers that there have been some slight changes to UC to make sure that those people could take up the digital skills boot camps, for instance. So we are aware of the need, with all of this, to make sure that this is one system that is working together.

One of the issues that I spoke of in preparation for this is the need for the job coach to understand which job requires which level to get those competences. Everyone needs to be able to understand this. I am sure that a job coach would understand that to be a translator you need GCSE French—but, to be a crane driver, what do you need? So we get that currency of understanding for employers, learners and job or work coaches sitting in DWP, who can advise people on what qualification to go away and do. That will make sure that you have the competences to walk through the door at that interview, in the same way as you would in relation to GCSE French, as I have said.

I am afraid I do not have a specific answer for the noble Lord. I think he was referring to Ada college in Manchester and north London. I will write to the noble Lord on how national colleges will engage. Obviously, we are hoping that, under the duty in Clause 5, a provider will not just say “Well, I’m in this LSIP area”. If they are on the border, they should be looking dynamically at where their students come and travel from—so they may end up looking at what the provision and the LSIP are for a number of areas.

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Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, thank you. I was confused, but I am happy to go with the flow.

This group of amendments addresses the green gap in this Bill. A large number of amendments have been tabled in this group, all of which are very worthy and have my support. I single out for special mention that in the names of my noble friends Lord Oates and Lord Storey, signed also by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. However, in the interest of time, I will speak only to the set of amendments to which my name is attached.

I turn first to Amendments 3, 9 and 25, all in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Morgan, the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and myself. In doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her work in establishing the Peers for the Planet group, which is such a professional asset to this House. Her work and words in introducing these three amendments mean that I can be much more brief. The opening clause in this Bill, which fixes a strategy for the skills that we will need to fill the jobs of the future, is silent on our net-zero biodiversity targets. This seems rather inadequate, for want of a better or stronger word. This is a real weakness in the Bill, not least because it presents a risk that skills or education plans that are incompatible with our green targets—both national and international —might pass without remark and without basis for challenge.

These three amendments are therefore very necessary. They are designed to ensure that consideration of net-zero and biodiversity targets is embedded in the decision-making process around assessing future skills needed in each local area through the local skills improvement plans. Amendment 9 gives the Secretary of State the responsibility for ensuring that any approved LSIP is compliant with net-zero and biodiversity targets. Amendment 25 places a duty on the Secretary of State to report on how approved LSIPs meet the net-zero and biodiversity targets. These amendments will ensure that we have the right jobs in the right place in the future, which will be critical if we want to build back better and greener.

I turn to Amendment 34, in my name with the welcome support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. Supporting and generating green jobs is a lynchpin of the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. This amendment will help the Government meet those aims by ensuring that, when designating an employer representative body, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that,

“the body has prepared a climate change and sustainability strategy”.

It would serve to demonstrate that ERBs are making the link between the local and the national skills needed and are taking heed of the opportunities regarding climate change and biodiversity.

Amendment 42, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, asks that a governing body, in reviewing how well education or training meets local needs, must also consider whether it aligns with the net-zero target. This amendment would consolidate the link between local and national skills needs with respect to the UK’s net-zero target from the perspective of governing bodies of general FE colleges, sixth-form colleges and designated institutions. It would be an important requirement that would open welcome collaborative discourse between institutions, ERBs and the Government, the lack of provision for which is a weakness of the Bill.

In subsection (2) of the new Section 52B inserted by Clause 5, the review is bolstered by guidance that provides an opportunity for the Secretary of State to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to the way institutions are factoring in net zero when considering how well education or training aligns with our net-zero target. Subsection (3) requires the governing body to publish the review on its website, which would allow for transparency and the identification of best practice, along with any barriers, gaps and inconsistencies, including in relation to net zero.

I turn to Amendment 73, in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Blackstone, and Amendment 75 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. These amendments seek to introduce conditions for inclusion in the list of relevant providers kept by the Secretary of State. Amendment 73 seeks to introduce a condition that relevant providers on the list must have either adopted or be in the process of developing a climate change and sustainability strategy. Amendment 75 seeks to link the provision of funding for relevant providers with either the adoption or development of a climate change and sustainability strategy. Both amendments seek to incentivise progress within the further education sector in embedding climate change and sustainability within their overall strategies, recognising, however, that some providers will be further on in this process than others and that funding and capacity might be an issue for some. Amendment 73 therefore allows for relevant providers to be in the process of developing a strategy.

Taken together, the amendments to which I have spoken reflect a holistic joined-up approach to ensure that all stakeholders working to deliver the right jobs in the right place are conscious of their responsibility in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. We must not forget that the people who will fill these jobs —especially the younger ones—want jobs that will secure their future, both in terms of longevity of work and in terms of protecting our planet and their physical futures. As it happens, their priorities and needs align with the nation’s priorities and needs, and this Bill must be amended to reflect those.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my interests in the register, particularly my advice to Purpose on climate education, my membership of Peers for the Planet and the advice I give to 01 Founders on skills development. I thank my noble friend Lady Blackstone for adding her name to my Amendment 52.

The effect of my Amendments 52 is that, when the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is approving or withdrawing qualifications, it must describe how its decisions align with UK climate change and biodiversity targets. Amendments 60 and 61 aim to ensure that any conditions or guidance to initial teacher training for further education must consider whether they incorporate the UK’s climate change and biodiversity goals. I think that these are important, along with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which I very much support and to which I have added my name. I support the other amendments in this group as well. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, when she introduced this group and said that she considered herself no great expert in this area of skills. I consider myself no great expert on climate change, so we sort of meet somewhere in the middle.

There is a bit of a problem, in a way that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was referring to, that in education debates, when we start talking about climate change, people glaze over and say, “Well, it is not really our concern; this is not really our business.” Equally, when we have climate change debates and start talking about education, people say, “Why are you talking about education? That is not really anything to do with it.” The reality is, however, that the two are critically important. It is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, shocking that the Government ultimately do not quite get it, in that the policy and the Bill are silent on sustainability and that we need to address that somehow or other in this Bill.

First, at the time of chairing COP 26, if we are going to be credible, we need to show that we are meeting our treaty obligations that we signed up to in 2015 in the Paris Agreement, particularly in Article 12, which says that,

“Parties shall co-operate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education”


and training.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
Report stage
Tuesday 12th October 2021

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised points regarding the role of independent training providers. I would like to reassure him that the Government absolutely recognise the importance of an inclusive and collaborative relationship with ITPs. Placing duties on them, alongside colleges and higher education institutions, recognises absolutely that they are an important provider, and we hope this will support greater collaborative working.
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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What the Minister said about the net-zero strategy and the Skills and Productivity Board was really reassuring, but how does that work connect directly to local skills improvement plans, so that we can be sure that there is join-up?