21 Baroness Blackstone debates involving the Department for Education

Thu 24th Mar 2022
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Thu 3rd Feb 2022

Higher Education

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 7th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said in his excellent speech, higher education has been one of the UK’s most successful sectors and we must do all we can to sustain this success. Our universities have a well-earned international reputation, which we must not sacrifice because of underfunding. Our target must be nothing short of excellence, so that the great contribution they make to our national economy and to their local communities continues.

In the last decade, we have witnessed so many aspects of public life in this country threatened by lack of resources and failures in government policy, so I say to the Minister: please do not let this happen to higher education. I include in HE not just universities but FE colleges, which are so often neglected but provide much needed vocational and technical degrees and diplomas close to their students’ homes and workplaces. I hope that the Minister will not forget them when she responds to this debate.

I start with funding. I do not think the fees charged to undergraduates can be ratcheted up again to reflect inflation, because the debt that graduates face is already high and some will take a lifetime to pay it off. While high fees have not been a disincentive so far for most students, they have for some, notably part-time mature students. Instead, government grants to universities to support their teaching and various innovations in their economic contribution should be restored.

It was a mistake to move entirely to a fee-based system of financial support. UUK is right to ask for direct support from government and for strategic funding. The Government need to have the means to incentivise activities in universities which will support economic development in the regions where they are located. This will provide additional funding for knowledge exchange schemes, bringing together HE, businesses and non-commercial partners. More grant aid where possible, and matching funding from commerce and industry for start-ups and spin-offs, would be welcome.

There also needs to be a more strategic approach to lifelong learning, with government funding to support part-time short courses, backed by public and private sector employers, as a route to bedding in improved contributions to greater productivity by universities. There is a need, in a rapidly changing economic climate, including with the spread of AI, for graduates to update their skills and knowledge throughout their working lives. There is good evidence that having a degree helps graduates to be more productive, but there is still more to be done to enhance lifelong improvements in their productivity.

Universities can make a substantial difference to the well-being of their local and regional communities. Again, this can be enhanced by kick-start funding from government to tackle low levels of innovation and applied research in the local economy. Do the Government accept the UUK recommendation that university enterprise zones in specific geographical areas, working to increase growth and innovation locally, should be expanded to all universities? If they do, what are they doing about it? I ask the same question about enterprise and opportunity hubs, which UUK also advocates on a national basis so that all universities and colleges can reach out to places which have been left behind.

These examples are ways of enhancing the fundamental role of universities in national growth and productivity. Many of them also relate indirectly to levelling up by helping reduce the divide between prosperous and disadvantaged communities. There will be many young people and adults in the poorest areas of the UK with the potential to benefit from higher education who never make it. The disastrous decision to close all schools for such a long time during the Covid epidemic will increase these numbers. It is incumbent on higher education to reach out to schools and FE colleges to promote more access to university courses. There should also be government funding allocated to universities, for example, for running remedial courses for new entrants needing such help. If levelling up is to become a reality, the number of mature students who missed out as school leavers must be restored.

I end by asking the Government not to neglect the humanities and social sciences by attaching too much priority to STEM subjects. Teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences is also vital in a knowledge economy.

Higher Education Reform

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 20th July 2023

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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In relation to where qualifications might be phased out, I think that my noble friend is referring to the imposition of recruitment limits by the Office for Students. To be clear, that will happen after it has judged that an institution has not met the quality standards known as the B3 standards. The scale of limit will be a judgment for the OfS to make. There could be a limitation on growing a course. At the other extreme, the OfS might judge that it is not suitable to be delivered at all. I am not taking a view on either of those. I am just saying that it would follow an investigation by the OfS into quality.

I hope very much that universities are considering alternatives. Obviously, they are autonomous organisations, but there is a great human opportunity in offering some of the qualifications to which she referred. Also, from their responsibility for the financial viability of their institutions, there is an opportunity as those courses grow in popularity. For building, construction and other areas, from T-levels through to apprenticeships and other higher technical qualifications, the Government are trying to make sure that there is a pipeline of skills to meet the opportunities to which she refers.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, the last time I got up and asked the Minister some questions I was able to be very congratulatory to the Government in relation to the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill. Regrettably, I cannot be for one second congratulatory about this Statement. I think it is both retrograde and ill thought-out. In implementation, it is going to end up as an unholy mess.

Let me begin with the criteria that the Government are using to define quality, which is essentially drop-out and earnings. I thought the Minister was equivocating in her response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Twycross and Lady Smith, on this subject, saying that it is not only about earnings and that she knows that other facets of higher education are important. But, when it comes to the criteria for closing down courses, this Statement makes it absolutely clear that the level of earnings from different courses is going to be a factor. It is a ludicrous thing to take, because there are many areas where people are badly paid but will have done very good degrees. There are other areas where people will be well-paid graduates but will not have done especially strong degrees from the many different academic criteria that you could use. This needs to be thought about again. It is just so mechanistic. Moreover, there is a well-established system of regulation of the quality and standards of degrees in universities, and that is what should be used to try to do something about those which have low standards.

Take the criteria of drop-out. I spent 10 years running an institution, Birkbeck College, with part-time mature students where there were very high levels of drop-out. But if anybody dares to say to me that it was because the courses were poor, I shall tell them they are talking nonsense. The reasons for drop-out are very rarely anything to do with the quality of the course. It is something about the problems students face, particularly disadvantaged, part-time or mature students. It would be far better if the Government focused a bit more on trying to find support for universities which have a large number of these students so that we do not have fewer disadvantaged students getting to the end of the courses, which of course we want to avoid.

I must not talk for too long, but I will comment on a couple of other things. I do not know how the Office for Students will collect evidence about all of this that is up to date, clear and valid. It will be enormously expensive and extremely complicated, and the OfS is bound to end up with errors about which courses it decides should not be continued and which should continue. What kind of discussions have the Government had with the Office for Students about exactly how to implement this particular programme?

I will make a final point about the social sciences. As a social scientist myself, I was somewhat offended to see that they have been identified as an area where we perhaps want fewer students doing foundation courses. I do not know why that should be the case; they are popular among students who want perhaps to come back to university a little later. Incidentally, economics is a social science, and it has some of the most highly paid graduate jobs that exist. The whole thing is an awful muddle, and more attention needs to be paid to the details of how to implement this, because standards are not static; they change all the time.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am obviously disappointed that the noble Baroness did not give the same feedback as in the Statement the other day, but I am more concerned because I think that there is still a misunderstanding about how this would work in practice. I will try to go through the noble Baroness’s points in turn.

I am not equivocating about earnings: the criteria are clear. They are the new B3 quality criteria, which are continuation, completion and graduate-level or further study or employment 15 months after graduation. However, obviously, higher earnings normally correlates with graduate-level jobs—not across every sector and industry, but frequently. If I was confusing, I apologise, but we are not equivocating.

On how it will work, the regulation and the potential for recruitment limits will happen only after intervention. So the OfS will have gathered evidence—this goes to the noble Baroness’s later point about evidence—that shows concerns about whether an institution is meeting the B3 standards. It will investigate and, if it finds that those standards are not met, it will consider recruitment limits.

The noble Baroness referred to her experience at Birkbeck. On the profile of students accessing different courses, I tried in my earlier answer to give examples of how one compares some courses. Obviously the noble Baroness is right: we know that, overall, the profile of non-completion is higher among mature and disadvantaged students. However, it is when a particular course at a particular institution appears to be an outlier in that that we think it is appropriate to apply recruitment limits.

On the social sciences, let me be clear that we are reducing the foundation year funding for classroom-based subjects, among which by far the biggest growth has been in business and management—I gave the numbers earlier. There have been some other subjects where it has grown, but business and management is the outlier. We are reducing it to the same level as that at which an access to higher education course is funded. The question I put back to the noble Baroness—perhaps unfairly, because she cannot reply—is this: is it fair to ask a student to pay almost twice as much and take on almost twice as much debt for two courses that purport to get students to the same level?

Unregistered Schools

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Wednesday 5th July 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government absolutely recognise that there was cross-party support for this element of the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I feel extremely disappointed by the complacent reply that the Minister has given to these questions. It is all very well to refer to religious schools doing a very good job—they often do—but these are not schools. These are institutions that describe themselves as carrying out religious instruction, yet the pupils—and they are pupils, because they are there all day long and they are not getting any other form of education—are being treated appallingly, with a lack both of any proper curriculum and of safeguarding, so abuse of a really serious kind is often taking place. In these circumstances, surely the Government should move now to bring back that legislation that will close the loopholes that allow these institutions to continue to act without any proper prevention of the appalling damage that they are doing to children and young people.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I really hope that I did not give the House any impression of complacency. There is no complacency where there are serious safeguarding concerns. There have been more than 1,000 investigations by Ofsted of different out-of-school settings and, of those, 122 were offering a religious education, but there were also a number of other settings; 146 suspected illegal settings were found, 129 of those were closed or otherwise changed their operations, and we completed seven prosecutions.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, like other speakers, I welcome the Bill. My main regret is that it has taken so long to introduce a radical new system of finance for schools, universities and colleges to support study by part-time mature students. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who was involved, that the coalition Government’s introduction of the £9,000 per annum fee loans system was a disaster for those students, leading to an enormous fall in their numbers over the last decade. That this was happening became apparent soon after the fees were trebled, but nothing was done.

It has also taken too long to respond to this element in Sir Philip Augar’s report, published in 2018, which contained a range of proposals to reform the financing of courses, in FE as well as HE, and promote lifelong learning and a more skilled workforce, but better late than never. At last, we have government recognition that many learners, especially mature students, will benefit from a system of properly financed modular courses with flexible start and end dates, and the possibility of building up the credit needed to graduate at the rate that is most suitable for the individual student. We should now be able to move away from a structure that has been completely dominated by inflexible three-year, full-time undergraduate degrees, at the expense of promoting both the supply and demand, which the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, referred to at length, of flexible alternatives.

Our economy has been blighted by low productivity for many years, much of which is caused by poor skills and too few opportunities to continue developing old skills and to apply new ones throughout our lives. The Bill is focused on higher-level courses, but there also needs to be far more funded support at level 3. We must not forget that 60% of young people reach this level by the age of 19, so 40% do not. Employer investment in training per employee has fallen by some 28% in real terms since 2005. Will the Minister say what the Government intend to do to boost level 3 study? This is, after all, a pathway to level 4. Will she say something about the reforms required to respond to the existing need for technical skills as well as technological change? Surely, defunding level 3 is not the answer.

The Bill is currently very broad-brush, as others have said, leaving much of the detail of how the new system will work to secondary legislation. Can the Minister tell the House when this will be introduced, presumably with much more detail on how fee limits will be determined? There are also a number of immediate questions to be asked about how the Bill’s proposals will be implemented.

First, what do the Government intend to do about maintenance support and eligibility for those taking the modular route? Secondly, what preparation has been done to ensure that the Student Loans Company will be properly prepared to support the provisions of this Bill? Thirdly, what will be the range and extent of the credit-based method? More clarity is needed on whether most courses will eventually be eligible for modular funding. What is the Government’s intention regarding the speed of introduction of the lifelong loan entitlement? Given that it will not be available for all courses and all students at level 4 in 2025-26 or at level 6 two years later, it is important for us to understand the criteria for what is selected initially. For example, as the Minister mentioned earlier, how will “high-quality” be defined and how speedy do the Government intend to be in implementing the full programme that this Bill intends to develop?

Clearly, the Bill proposes a new direction in how programmes are funded. Some changes will therefore be needed to the system of regulation by the Office for Students. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, mentioned the issue of drop-out; some new thinking needs to be done by the Office for Students in this area.

I am sorry to ask so many questions, but every speaker today will want to do so because we do not know very much about exactly what this will look like in the end. The HE and FE sectors will certainly need more clarity, as will future students trying to make decisions about their mode of study as well as about what subject they choose. It is also vital that employers are fully engaged with the new system but do not exploit it to fund their own training. That would be a disastrous misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Lastly, there will be a need for carefully thought-out monitoring of the outcomes of this Bill. I hope the Government have plans for more initial pilots and then really rigorous monitoring, especially of the extent to which it reaches genuine new lengths as the system develops and expands.

I end on an optimistic note. I hope that what is proposed will be the beginning of a great cultural change whereby the nation truly embraces lifelong learning, and every man and woman realises that it is never too late to follow a course and will be helped and encouraged to do so. Then the vision of George Birkbeck and others 200 years ago starting the mechanics’ institutes, of Michael Young and Jennie Lee, who created the Open University, of the founders of the Working Men’s College, and of countless others who worked for the Workers’ Educational Association, will at last be realised.

British Baccalaureate

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Tuesday 21st June 2022

(2 years ago)

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Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister’s reply was extraordinarily complacent and very disappointing. I cannot understand how the Government can have such a closed mind to a sensible suggestion of the kind that the Times Education Commission has made. Is she not aware that no other OECD country has such a specialised curriculum for their able 16 to 18 year-olds? Surely it is now high time to look at this again and try to come up with a more sensible solution where young people have the opportunity to study a wider range of subjects, rather than being confined to just three as is the case with A-levels at the moment.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thoroughly hope that I did not give the noble Baroness the sense that the Government are complacent. We are not complacent. She need only look at the measures we are taking in relation to technical education, I hope, to demonstrate that. Obviously, every country has a different education system. We have worked to build the best system for our children. We believe that it plays to our strengths and recognises the structure of the school system we have, rather than one that other countries have.

Baroness Wolf of Dulwich Portrait Baroness Wolf of Dulwich (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare an interest because, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, I am currently working as a skills adviser at No. 10. I was therefore quite involved in the skills White Paper, which led to much of the legislation today.

I very much appreciate the interest the House has taken in this Bill. Like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and many other noble Lords, I have been bashing away at skills and vocational education for many years. It is wonderful to see that it is now a subject of such importance to so many of you.

I will say something about the local skills improvement plans and Motions 4, 4A and 4B. There is a danger that we are losing sight of what these were meant to be, can and should do, and what the White Paper set out to do. They were meant to be a simple way to create a stable mechanism to make sure that local employers’ voices and insights would be brought together and made available to providers. Colleges do not have to follow these plans in detail; they just have to take note of them. I am concerned that, with the best of motives, we are in danger of creating a vast, complex and bureaucratic process that will not do what it was meant to do, which was to take employers into account but also to reverse the 20-year trend of colleges and providers generally spending all their time worrying about ticking boxes for Whitehall and whether they have met regulations and requirements, but far too little time looking out to their local communities.

I put it on record that I am also bemused by why six pages of dense text are needed to put this simple idea into legislation. I am genuinely concerned that, in trying to enforce something that says, “You must take account of schools, and of this and that”, instead of creating a simple mechanism for employers to be part of the thinking about what is provided in a locality, we will create a new series of tick boxes.

I raise a question particularly on independent training providers, because I simply do not see how this will work. Independent training providers range from huge national providers, which are dominant in apprenticeship sectors, to tiny commercial companies of literally two people in a room above a chip shop. I tried to get my head around how you would take their views into account, when many of them are commercial concerns in determined competition with each other. I really wonder whether this will achieve what people want it to.

As I said, I take this opportunity to say, first, how very much I think the Bill and the support expressed for its purposes show how this country has moved on and really understood the importance of this, but also that local skills improvement plans are meant to be simple. They are meant to be not tick-box or expensive bureaucratic exercises but a way to ensure that employers are part of a process. They are something of which to take account, not an attempt to introduce central planning into what colleges decide to put on.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, who has fought so hard for the skills agenda. I associate myself with much of that fight and I very much welcome a great deal of what is in the Bill. However, I will say a few words in favour of Amendments 15A and 15B. All the key points on these amendments have already been made very eloquently by my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Watson, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I strongly support the arguments they put forward and I will underline three points.

First, it is true that too many qualifications can be confusing. I have no doubt about that, so I understand what the Government are trying to do here. Nevertheless, I think they have got it wrong. There is no confusion about BTECs. They have been going for nearly 40 years. They are long established and well tried and tested. They play a really important role in the range of qualifications at level 3. It is particularly important that they combine the development of skills with academic learning. They are the only qualification focused entirely on that.

For all the positive aspects of T-levels, they do not do this. They are mainly designed to help those enrolled on them to become successful in specific occupations. Again, I do not want in any way to criticise their introduction—that is an important role—but BTECs allow those who are successful in completing them to go into higher education and in particular to take applied vocational degrees, of which there are many, or into the workplace, or, in some cases, into both, because there are quite a lot of part-time students at BTEC level. Therefore, they should not be ditched to try to bolster T-levels. It is not necessary to do that. I know the Minister has indicated that there are certain niche areas where they will survive, but they should survive as a whole. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, we need some time to see how T-levels bed down, who they are successful for, who is attracted to them and whether they are really working for employers.

That is my first point. My second is that the Government seem to have ignored the results and outcomes of their own consultations. Some 86% of respondents to its level 3 consultation disagreed with the proposal to remove funding from qualifications deemed to overlap with A-levels and T-levels. As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, there is a big issue about what is meant by “overlapping”. The fact their content might be the same does not mean that the approach to teaching and learning is the same. In fact, they are profoundly different. Neither of the two reviews the Government have cited, one undertaken by the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, favoured the Government’s approach. In her review, the noble Baroness recognised the value of BTECs, and the Sainsbury review did not cover BTECs at all because they were not part of its remit.

My third point is that abandoning BTECs is likely to severely damage social mobility. It will block a route to university or skilled employment for large numbers of disadvantaged young people. This is reinforced by the evidence of the Social Market Foundation that 44% of white working-class students who entered universities studied at least one BTEC. I am familiar with this from my past role as a vice-chancellor. Many of these students do extraordinarily well when they get to university, often better than those who come in with rather poor A-level qualifications. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned, 37% of black students went to university with only BTEC qualifications. Surely we should not block the route of these young ethnic-minority students into our higher education system by taking away a qualification deemed valuable for them.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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If I may, I will respond to that very valid point about the scale-up of T-levels when I come to it in just a second.

I am tempted to expand on the Crossrail/Central line analogy, but I think time does not permit.

On timing, and my noble friend Lord Willett’s question about giving a greater sense of which technical qualifications will be recommended for defunding, I am not in a position to be able to say that today. We intend to publish a provisional list of overlaps with waves 1 and 2 of T-levels shortly. We want to provide as much notice as possible about the qualifications that will have public funding approval withdrawn from 2024.

On the definition of “overlap”, which a number of noble Lords raised—

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I wonder whether she can give some indication of the proportion of BTEC qualifications that the Government are intent on keeping and the proportion that are likely to be dropped because of the so-called overlap. How many of the 250,000 students currently taking BTECs will be able to continue to do so?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am afraid that I am not in a position to be able to confirm that today, but I can confirm that “scorched earth”, “niche” and “most” are not a reflection of where we are on this policy.

On the definition of “overlap”, in our policy statement in July last year we published the three tests that would be used to determine overlap: first, is the qualification in question a technical qualification; secondly, are the outcomes that must be obtained by a person taking that qualification similar to those set out in a standard covered by a T-level; and, thirdly, does the qualification aim to support entry to the same occupation as the T-level?

Turning to the number of people and the scale-up of T-levels, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, suggested that 230,000 students start a BTEC each year. In fact, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, clarified just now, there are 230,000 students taking BTECs or similar qualifications at any one time, rather than as initial starters.

My noble friend Lord Baker suggested that the number of people starting BTECs is in the hundreds. Around 5,450 students started their T-level last September, at just over 100 providers across the country. That was up from 1,300 students, who were the pioneers and are now in their second year. We now have more than 400 providers, all over the country, signed up to deliver T-levels. All the current T-levels will be available by 2023, and of course those providers include FE colleges and UTCs, which deliver significant numbers of those qualifications.

Higher Education Reform

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 28th February 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am delighted to reassure my noble friend that we will not be introducing the sweeping caps to which he alludes. As he said, universities have been extremely successful in terms of social mobility. By consulting on student number controls, we are not taking a position on what the correct proportion of people going to university should be, but we want to tilt provision towards the best outcomes for students and, as I said, make sure that our further education system also offers fantastic pathways to success.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I admire a great deal of what the Government are trying to do in relation to the future of higher education but I suspect that there is a bit of a muddle going on: the Government’s right hand does not seem to be doing the same as their left; that was just very ably put by the noble Lord, Lord Johnson. I start by asking why it has taken so long—it is two and a half years since the Augar report was published. If the Government are so concerned about having a high-class higher education system, with large numbers of international students, to reach out to the most disadvantaged and to ensure better outcomes, there is some urgency in this. Of course it is complex but perhaps the Minister can say why it has taken so long to reach any kind of conclusions on this report. Moreover, we are going to have a lot more consultation. I am not against consultation, but this one could have started two years ago, in which case we would be rather nearer to getting some kind of conclusion on where we are going next.

I also want to pick up what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about the effects of the proposed changes in student finance. How can the Government justify the much higher repayments that the least well off will pay because of the many years of interest charges—a lower rate of interest than now but, nevertheless, a much longer period for which they will be paying interest—whereas the wealthier students will pay off their loans very quickly and not incur all this interest? Is it not time to introduce a truly progressive graduate tax, rather than the regressive system of repayments being put forward today?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Baroness partly answered her first question herself. She understands it very well. This is hugely complex and sensitive. The issues around repayment rates and the relative burden on the taxpayer versus the student all need careful consideration. Obviously, there are huge financial implications. The noble Baroness will have seen the figures on the projected size of the student loan book in 2043 if we did not do anything about this, which is half a trillion pounds—I was about to say dollars, because “trillion” always sounds like dollars, but it is pounds.

On the consultation, I feel slightly that as a Government we are damned if we do and damned if we do not. If we had not consulted, I am sure we would have been criticised. I know that the noble Baroness was asking about the timing of the consultation; that also had to align with the work done on the policy. We hope that the consultation will help to answer some of the disadvantage questions to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on the Front Bench and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred. We really do want to understand how those groups that might feel the most difficulty in accessing higher education, particularly this new modular approach that will be offered, will be impacted so that we can structure the policy in a way that makes it most accessible.

School Absences

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 3rd February 2022

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My noble friend is right to highlight this. I will try to set out for the House that our approach is genuinely comprehensive. Last week, we announced a consultation on new attendance measures and we are consulting on behaviour and exclusion, which, less at primary but more at secondary, is a material issue for attendance. We made direct investments through the £1.3 billion of recovery funding and the £1.5 billion tutoring programme. Schools have the flexibility to direct that to the most disadvantaged children, so that they can catch up fastest.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, following the answer the Minister has just given, I wonder if she is aware that, unsurprisingly, a survey by Teach First found that teachers in the most disadvantaged schools strongly believe that attainment would be greatly improved if attendance could be improved. What specific measures are being brought in to improve the attendance of children, particularly in primary but also in secondary schools? What kind of monitoring is being done to find out which of these measures are most effective and which do not work?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me the opportunity to set this out in more detail. Attendance is an absolute priority for this Government, both because children obviously cannot learn if they are not in school and because of the well-recognised impact on their mental and physical health. We have already announced a team of attendance advisers, who will support schools, and we are open to piloting new approaches to supporting attendance. The Secretary of State has established a national attendance action alliance with key actors from across the sector and we will focus in the consultation on getting consistency in both the attendance policy of a school and the use of different sanctions for non-attendance, which very much vary across the country.

School Openings: January 2022

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 16th December 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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With the leave of the House, I share the initial sentiments of the noble Lord opposite and send my condolences to all touched by the tragedy in Tasmania.

As my honourable friend in another place said, we will do everything in our power to keep schools open throughout January and beyond. All in this House acknowledge the great price that children have paid over the last two years. I hope the noble Lord acknowledges that there has been a very active communications plan about the importance of getting vaccinated and having a booster jab. We press on with that, but we are exploring every avenue. I am pleased to tell the House that over 350,000 CO2 monitors have been delivered to schools—above our target of 300,000 before the end of term—and 99% of eligible settings now have that equipment.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, it is not very often that I am able to get up and congratulate the Government on an Answer to an Urgent Question, but I do so today because it is absolutely right. As the Answer says:

“Protecting education continues to be our absolute priority.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/21; col. 1061.]


What kind of communication strategy is being developed to provide parents with the reassurance they need and to tell them just how important it is that their children continue to go to school, given what we know about absence from school at an earlier stage in the pandemic? Could the Minister also tell the House what kind of encouragement is being given to schools and local authorities to keep extracurricular programmes going? These are so important for disadvantaged children.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right. I thank her, and I will frame her acknowledgement of our progress in this area. The Secretary of State is absolutely clear about the importance of education, that we should do all in our power, and that the best place for children to be is in school.

On our communication campaign, we are targeting the whole nation for reasons the noble Baroness understands very well relating to vaccination and the importance, particularly given the transmissibility of the omicron variant, that all of us get boosted and jabbed. We are moving as quickly as possible with that.

On the wider issue of support, we are working very closely with schools and local authorities. We have offered them financial and practical support, particularly during the Christmas holidays, for some of the additional food and holiday clubs we offer through our schools.

Education: Industrial Strategy

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 24th June 2019

(5 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton
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My Lords, we have protected the base rate of 16 to 19 funding to 2020 and we are putting in money in slightly different ways. For example, we are providing some £500 million this year for disadvantage funding—uplifts in addition to the base rate—and we have provided additional funding to support institutions to grow participation in level 3 in maths and additional funding for T-levels, which will come on stream in the next year or so.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, can the Minister explain why the cuts that the Government have already made were instigated in the first place?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton
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I am afraid that I did not hear the noble Baroness because of some interruptions. My apologies.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone
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I am sorry; I shall quickly repeat it. Will the Minister explain why the cuts were instigated in the first place? I do not think that he answered my noble friend’s question about the various changes that will be made from now on. Why did the Government make them in the past?