Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill [HL]

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, recent research has shown that 39% of nine to 18 year-olds thought they had learned little, hardly anything or nothing about the environment at school, and 71% said they would like to learn more. There is both a large gap in what young people have learned and a huge appetite to learn more. They also want to know what they themselves need to do to help protect the planet and thrive in a biodiverse and sustainable world.

In a year in which the UK hosts COP 26, we need to demonstrate our commitment to education and climate change and at least match what our co-host, Italy, is doing on sustainable citizenship provision. Our claim to want to be a global leader will be an empty one if the Government fail to take action. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth on his timeliness in introducing the Bill and his passion in doing so.

I hope when the Minister replies she will not say that the curriculum already covers environmental issues adequately, because it is simply not true. Current provision is piecemeal, with the issue covered in science subjects and geography, but not embedded in the curriculum as it should be—a point made by Ofsted, which has found it is often just an add-on.

In 2019 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on scaling up education for sustainable development, and UNESCO has now set a new target to make environment education a core curriculum component in all countries by 2025. Can the Minister tell the House how the Government are responding to UNESCO on this target?

My noble friend Lord Knight mentioned the views of teachers. Is the Minister aware of them? More than two-thirds of them think there should be more teaching on climate change in our schools, and nearly 90% say it should be compulsory—yet three-quarters of the teachers surveyed say they do not have adequate training in this area. There is not just a need to change initial teacher training; in-service programmes are urgently required for existing teachers. What discussions are taking place with providers on laying on these courses?

We have an admirable goal to reach net zero by 2050, but we risk not achieving it if we do not ensure that our population both understand the threat and know what actions are needed to reach this goal. It requires encouraging the right mindset about caring for the natural environment in the interests of present and future generations. It means instilling acceptance that behavioural change is necessary.

To give just one example, the Committee on Climate Change found that 62% of the reduction in energy consumption needed to meet our targets requires behavioural change. In this context it is not surprising that the committee said that reform of the Government’s education and skills framework should be a priority in 2021.

Starting to engage people when they are young, ready to learn and not set in their ways must be the right approach, so I strongly commend the Bill’s proposals on both the secondary curriculum and updating the teaching of citizenship, which, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, is so important.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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I will speak in support of Amendment 25 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady Sheehan and Lady Morgan of Cotes, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. It contains a very interesting idea. It proposes that, when a local skills improvement plan has been devised for, say, Plymouth or Newcastle or Doncaster, the Secretary of State should examine it to see whether it accords with the national skills strategy and—this is of particular interest to the noble Baronesses—the UK’s climate change and biodiversity targets; it could include other things where there are clear targets as well, of course. The sadness of this is that the noble Lords talk about the national skills strategy when there ain’t no such thing, I am afraid. I wish that there were, but it simply has not developed. It ought to develop because there is no doubt that there is a substantial deficiency across the country in skills in a whole variety of different industries.

The Government used to publish skills gaps. The body that did it was called the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. It was abolished by the Government in 2016 because a group of advisers said to them that they did not really think much about these skills gaps because they are often speculative guesses. I am afraid that this is a further example of a Government who are not listening because there is certainly a large number of skills gaps in our country.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I are both members of the Select Committee on Youth Unemployment, which now takes evidence twice a week. We are getting a lot of evidence not only from businesses but from students themselves that there are skills gaps. For example, we had evidence from one think thank that had examined 1,000 companies in Britain, large and small, stretching from national audio technology to pubs. Of those 1,000 companies, 76% of the CEOs said that the thing that was holding them back most was the absence of data employees—data analysts in particular—and people who understood artificial intelligence. That was the biggest inhibition on their growth and development. If that is not a skills gap, I do not know what is, quite frankly.

There are skills gaps in a host of other industries. One recent example that I am sure Members of this House have seen is that we have suddenly discovered that there is a skills gap of 10,000 HGV drivers. I would have thought that this might have been anticipated at some stage and we would have realised that we were desperately short of these people. So many of them have gone back to eastern Europe and the Balkans, and they are not being encouraged to come back. The transport ministry should have had some idea of what was likely to happen in this area.

One body, the education think tank the Edge Foundation, of which for a time I was the chairman, tried to fill in the gap. It produced a series of reports. It established large committees for each industry involving industry and academics, estimating what the skills gaps were. The first one was on engineering. The skills gap there was 203,000. That figure was agreed and supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. There was another one on digital skills. It was well over 100,000 two years ago; I suspect that it is much higher now. There was one on the creative industries, which showed a skills gap of 150,000. Yet, because these were not formal government statements, the Government took very little interest in and paid little regard to them. How can you fashion an education system if you have no idea what your national economy wants in the way of skilled workers? There is a dysfunction between the education system based on academic subjects and the needs of industry. There is absolutely no doubt about that. This is one of the causes of the high level of youth unemployment at the moment.

I suggest that the Government consider asking a department—not the Department for Education because it has very little connection with industry, but perhaps the DWP—to estimate and publish on a regular basis skill gaps for various industries. Without that, how can you shape education and training systems, and indeed an apprenticeship system, without knowing exactly what is needed by the local and national industries in our economy?

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, we listened with interest to some rather engaging and forceful Second Reading speeches on the first group this afternoon. I noted that my noble friend Lord Adonis took one view that this was a terrible Bill and my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green took a different one that this was actually a good Bill. I find myself somewhere in between, but I want to be more pragmatic than they are. This is Committee. We have some opportunities in Committee to make a Bill better. I hope that that is what we will achieve at least in some respects.

At Second Reading I chose to talk largely about the missed opportunity in the Bill to try to link what we do in the educational system with the huge challenges that climate change and getting to our net-zero target by 2050 pose for us. I hope the Government will take the amendments in this group really seriously, because they at least begin to do just that.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome a Bill which focuses on lifelong learning and is committed to enhancing skills among the many young and indeed older people who do not go to university. I also welcome a Bill which aims to enhance the further education sector and support outstanding teaching as well as emphasising collaboration between employers and education and training providers, with the provisos made by my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley. Lastly, I welcome a Bill which seeks to correct the injustice of considerable financial support for students in universities against negligible financial support for students studying in FE colleges.

We undoubtedly have serious skills gaps compared to other OECD countries, with shortages of skilled employees in many sectors and low levels of productivity. This reflects too little investment by government and employers in alternative qualifications to university degrees. This has been particularly apparent in the last decade, when the coalition Government and the Conservative Government who followed them slashed further education, cutting colleges’ incomes by 50%.

Having welcomed the aims of the Bill, I turn to some of its limitations. As a piece of legislation, it is short on detail; it is a skeleton with too little flesh on it to allow us to understand how it will work in practice in key areas. This perhaps explains the long timescale for implementation, which will not be until 2024-25 for core proposals. The Bill reads a bit like a work in progress rather than the end of a detailed policy-making approach culminating—rather than beginning—with a piece of legislation. In a post-Covid world, action will be needed urgently and cannot be delayed for four years. This is especially true of training and educational support for the unemployed after furlough ends.

As others have said, the Bill’s implementation is also dependent on a large injection of resources, both in the short and the longer term. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has questioned whether these resources will be forthcoming and whether detailed calculations of the costs entailed have been undertaken. What is the total price of the Bill when implemented, and when will the Government start injecting new resources?

Let me illustrate this with respect to FE colleges. Their funding has been insufficient. They need more, and they need longer-term funding settlements. This much was recognised, as the Minister knows, in the White Paper. It becomes even more salient when their funding is compared with that of schools and universities —as my noble friend Lord Layard has already mentioned—since they are much less well off in funding per student. Recent research by the IPPR found that to keep up with demographic pressures and inflation, over the last 10 years we would have had to invest £2.1 billion more per annum in adult skills and £2.7 billion more in 16 to 19 year-olds in FE. The Government must provide for future needs and redress the long-standing past underinvestment. Are the Government committed to starting the process in the next spending review, and will they move to long-term, multiyear simplified funding? Without this, the colleges will not be able to develop their curriculum and the range of courses needed to meet the outcomes of discussions with employers on local skills needs, nor will they be able to pay the salaries needed to attract high-quality lecturers to develop and teach new programmes.

I want to pick out one important area for new courses that may not emerge from locally based identifications of skills needs but requires a national scheme. This concerns the green economy. The Government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 requires a big shift to education and skills training to stall climate change. The Bill is a lost opportunity as it fails to link the Government’s goals on decarbonisation in energy, transport, and buildings, sustainable land management and carbon sequestration. Not only will those entering the labour force for the first time need to be prepared for green jobs, but many who currently work in fossil fuel sectors will need retraining. Why does the Bill make little or no reference to net zero? Should there not be a requirement for skills improvement plans to refer to national objectives on the green economy?

Lastly, I want to touch on the lifetime skills guarantee, on which the Government are still consulting. I am really glad that the gist of the Augar report’s recommendations on student support has been accepted, but the Government must provide more detail on eligibility, whatever the level or type of course the student is training in. Who will be eligible in terms of the range of subjects? I hope the range will be very wide and not narrow. They also need to consider, as others have said, how to support the maintenance needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds—or are the Government just going to ignore this? There will be a great deal of work to be done in Committee in this area and, I fear, in many other areas too.

Education Return and Awarding Qualifications in 2021

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 1st March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, in the light of the Sutton Trust’s report last week on the hugely negative effects of university closures, especially on disadvantaged students, will the Government consider advancing the date of their review on when remaining students can return to university, particularly since leaving it to the Easter holidays will give little notice to universities, which need to plan to make a much-needed full return?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, there will be a one-week notice period for that. The reason for all these gaps is so that action is taken and data is collected and assessed. There are no plans to change the date of that review, but as the noble Baroness will be aware, students on practical courses should return by the 8th if they have not already done so.

Education: Supply Teachers

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Monday 22nd February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. A shortage has been identified in modern foreign languages, but we are seeking to address it by recruiting more permanent modern foreign language teachers. There are 1,687 new modern foreign language teachers in the new cohort. A bursary of £10,000 is available in shortage areas, as well as other arrangements. We have identified 25 local authority areas where modern foreign language teachers can reclaim student loan repayments as part of a way of encouraging them to work in those areas.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, given their commitment to a recovery programme to try to reduce the number of children who may never catch up following the school closures, will the Government ensure that supply teachers are available to contribute, given the pressures that there will be on permanent teaching staff? Will the Minister tell the House whether the necessary online training will be provided for supply teachers taking part in this programme and how such training might be resourced?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, the guidance to schools helps them in this time of fluctuating staff absences to address their workforce issues. In particular, it draws attention to the use of supply teachers. Many resources are available, including teacher resources on the Oak National Academy, the remote platform with video lessons for all teaching staff. We are encouraging school leaders to make use of agency staff as and when they are needed to ensure the appropriate level of workforce in their schools.

Covid-19: GCSE and A-level Exams

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, the Government indeed recognise that there has been differential learning loss and—working alongside Ofqual, which has responsibility in this matter—we considered a regional approach, but that was quickly ruled out as unfair. However, we have established an expert advisory group whose job is to monitor and make recommendations about anything further that we can do to address differential learning loss.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Government’s decision to hold GCSE and A-level exams this year, and their admission that to cancel them last year was a mistake. It certainly was, as some of us said at the time. The measures that the Government now propose are, for the most part, welcome too, although more than a little late. However, the measures make no reference to FE or HE, even though public exams are a gateway to those sectors. Why have the Government no proposals for schools to inform colleges and universities of how much schooling applicants have missed and whether they had adequate access to online learning? This is vital information if university and college admissions are to be fair.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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I can assure the noble Baroness that we have worked closely, obviously, with FE and HE because the examination system of course bolts on to admissions, particularly in relation to the grade profiling that we have outlined. That will be similar but not identical to last year’s, because HE in particular was used to the system that there was last year. However, entry will be on the basis of grades and that is why we have maintained the exams at 16—the majority of English students move institution at that age.

Carbon Emissions

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement by the Prime Minister on 6 October that all homes will be powered through offshore wind by 2030, what plans they have to align their skills strategy with their target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Baroness Berridge Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Department for International Trade (Baroness Berridge) (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom is the first major country to pass into law a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To build our capacity as an innovator and leader in cutting-edge technology, we will invest in the skills we need to drive those industries. We will develop and grow the workforce needed to meet this ambitious commitment through investment in apprenticeships, boot camps and higher-level technical qualifications.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer, but I do not think that she has given the House any kind of reassurance that there will be a proper strategy. Therefore, can she tell the House whether the Government are planning to have a national strategy, combined with regional skills strategies, to provide reskilling opportunities with low-carbon sectors and, if so, whether an assessment of funding for those strategies will be included in the net-zero review?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, there is a national skills and productivity board, which matches the local panels, and it will bring together leading experts to ensure that we know the emerging skills that we need. We know that at the moment a number of vacancies are due to skill shortages. We are particularly keen on investing in our ports and have invested £160 million in a fund to that end, because we know that at the moment we are the world’s leading market in offshore wind and we need to seize those opportunities, as the possibility of £2.6 billion of exports is ours to grab if we invest in the skills.

Schools and Colleges: Qualification Results and Full Opening

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Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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I want to press the Minister on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, because, regrettably, I do not think her answer was satisfactory. Was it not the Secretary of State who decided not to follow the example of the Scottish Government to bring back teacher assessments instead of Ofqual’s algorithms, which were leading to gross injustices to many students? In these circumstances, why did the Secretary of State not resign, when the Permanent Secretary was shown the door? Surely, this is an abrogation of our constitutional principle that Ministers take responsibility in the end.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, I have outlined to noble Lords that once issues were raised about the Scottish results, there were concerns that they should not be repeated in England. That was the moment at which that could be compensated for by the introduction of an additional appeal based on a valid mock. There was a response; it is not that nothing was done once we were aware. When issues were brought to our attention, matters were dealt with.

Schools: Online Support for Pupils

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Thursday 18th June 2020

(4 years ago)

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge [V]
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My Lords, the pupil premium is around £2.4 billion a year and the Education Endowment Foundation gives schools information and evidence on the best use of that pupil premium. However, the Government have entrusted school leaders and school professionals to determine the best use of that pupil premium, because they best know the students in their classrooms.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab) [V]
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We now know that there is a huge and growing inequality in access to learning, with dire effects on children’s mental health. Given the ineffectiveness of remote learning, why have we seen such a pathetic failure in providing a can-do approach to getting all children back to some schooling, not just in September but before the end of this term? Why, for example, have separate morning and afternoon sessions not been introduced, which could double the numbers returning, and why has the Department for Education had so little success in getting a dispensation on social distancing rules in schools, given that the Minister told the House last week that it would be very pleased to move away from the two-metre rule? Is the Secretary of State for Education as invisible in government discussions as he is in the media?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge [V]
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My Lords, throughout this pandemic the Government have made it clear that we would be guided by the scientific evidence. The evidence we have at the moment means that there is the two-metre social distancing rule, but I must pay tribute to the teachers who are working hard out there. They have carried on running their schools throughout this pandemic and are now opening them up to reception and years 1 and 6, along with face-to-face time with years 10 and 12. Education is happening but, of course, along with all noble Lords, we want to see all children back at school in September.

Education Settings: Wider Opening

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Thursday 11th June 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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My Lords, even before the summer, the Government have been clear in their guidance to schools that they should use outside space wherever possible when they reopen. We have provided guidance even on how to introduce team sports for the small groups that are back. However, we are aware that many children will have been sedentary over this period and that is a concern. We have linked to resources to encourage people to get the 60 minutes of exercise a day that Sport England recognises. I will take back my noble friend’s specific question about summer provision of physical activity.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I want to re-put the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, as the Minister did not answer it. Why has the two-metre social distancing rule not been relaxed in line with WHO guidance, since this rule is the main block to all children returning to school at the earliest possible time? Will she accept that a failure to bring children—especially disadvantaged children—back to school poses much greater risks to their academic development, mental health and safety from abuse, whether on the streets or in their homes, than the negligible risks to their health of returning?

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge
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My Lords, throughout the crisis, the Government have been guided by the science. The view at the moment—based on SAGE and the best science we have—is that social distancing should be at two metres. Should that view change, the Department for Education will of course be the first to welcome that, as it would ease many of the issues that schools have in relation to their buildings. As I said, it is important that the offer has been there for vulnerable children to come to school during this time. The provision for vulnerable children is made in addition to provision for the year groups as they come back.