15 Baroness Cohen of Pimlico debates involving the Department for Education

Mon 27th Mar 2017
Technical and Further Education Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 8th Mar 2017
Higher Education and Research Bill
Lords Chamber

Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 1st Mar 2017
Technical and Further Education Bill
Grand Committee

Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 27th Feb 2017
Technical and Further Education Bill
Grand Committee

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 22nd Feb 2017
Technical and Further Education Bill
Grand Committee

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 1st Feb 2017
Technical and Further Education Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 18th Jan 2017
Higher Education and Research Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 11th Jan 2017
Higher Education and Research Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 11th Jan 2017
Higher Education and Research Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL]

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Thursday 21st October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Duties are important to ensure that all schools are required to provide these opportunities and that all students will receive at least three chances during the course of their secondary education. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has had to revisit his work from four years ago. I worked in schools for over 30 years and I know that, unless instructions are on a statutory footing, advice will be ignored in an already overcrowded curriculum in England. As a former teacher, I understand how important it is for students to receive such advice, on both a statutory and regular basis. We would have preferred a mandate that pupils receive such advice at least once a year. However, we support what has been placed in front of us and will give further support if the noble Lord, Lord Baker, tests the opinion of the House.
Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, anybody who has sat in a meeting with heads of education can imagine discussions to work out how not to offer pupils at age 16—I do not have much knowledge of provision below that level—a full and free choice as frequently as possible, because of worries about redecorating classrooms, hiring more teachers or the other income-related things that heads need to think about. While I am sympathetic to this worry, I am even more sympathetic to the absolute need to offer pupils a full and informed choice at as many stages as we can afford. I too intend to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I once again thank my noble friend for his amendment and his commitment to this issue. Before I respond to the points raised by noble Lords, I would like to express my support and thanks to head teachers, who received a certain amount of criticism in this debate regarding where they place their priorities. After the last couple of years, when they have shown unstinting strength of leadership and courage in the face of incredibly difficult conditions, I would like to put on record that we owe them our thanks, first and foremost.

I will try to answer the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on why the Government are not supporting this amendment and the role of Ofsted in monitoring the Baker clause. Ofsted has updated its school inspection handbook to strengthen the focus on careers guidance, including by clarifying that inspectors will always report when a school falls short of the requirements of the provider access legislation—the Baker clause—as well as considering how it affects a school’s inspection grade. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, regarding his detailed questions about the careers framework.

Turning to the amendment itself, I will clarify for the House my understanding of the difference between our government Amendment 35 and Amendment 35A. On a number of occasions, your Lordships referred to three provider encounters under Amendment 35A; the provisions are for three encounters per phase of education, so a total of nine—I think my maths is right. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, spoke about having at least one encounter a year, but it is more than one a year. Amendment 35A seeks to increase the number of provider encounters to nine per pupil: three during each of the first, second and third key phases of a pupil’s education.

The Government’s amendment has three mandatory offers on the part of the school, two of which are also mandatory for the pupil and would take place in the first two phases of their education, with the third, optional encounter then taking place in the last phase. My noble friend acknowledged that schools are incredibly busy places. We are trying to find a balance which underlines the priority we place on this education without taking up too much curriculum time.

I thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her remarks regarding bureaucracy, something that everyone, not just the Government, would like to minimise. That is another reason why consulting on the detail of implementation to make it as streamlined as possible is helpful.

On the question of timing, raised by my noble friend Lord Baker, I should clarify that the implementation of our amendment is not dependent on secondary legislation. The principle and number of encounters would be set out in the Bill, as my noble friend knows, while the secondary legislation would just provide further detail on the types and numbers of providers and some other points. Our amendment would come into effect at the same time as the amendment from my noble friend.

As my noble friend set out eloquently, his amendment also seeks to name university technical colleges in the Bill as one of the providers that every pupil must meet where practicable. This would give more weight to one provider over the rest. While we understand and absolutely respect his commitment, we want to act in the interests of all providers and therefore pupils, not just university technical colleges.

We include in our amendment the power for the Secretary of State to set out further details about the number and type of providers in secondary legislation if needed. We can, as part of this, consult school and provider representatives on these matters. We must be careful not to prejudge the outcome of any consultation by giving a guarantee that we will name UTCs in the secondary legislation. Putting this detail in secondary legislation also allows us to retain more flexibility to update the legislation in line with future policy changes.

In conclusion, the Government believe that Amendment 35 supports the interests of schools and all providers and allows flexibility for future changes in secondary legislation. We are absolutely committed to making the Baker clause work better, in a way that works for pupils and providers. I therefore hope that my noble friend—

Technical and Further Education Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
There was a fairly broad sweep within that, but the main thrust of what I wanted to say was in respect of apprentices being denied the rights of their peers—that is, students of further education at universities. On that basis, I beg to move.
Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the amendment. The Bill has cross-party support; it is potentially the greatest engine of social change that can be imagined and rights the injustice of the many years when technical education has been regarded as much less important than formal academic education. The effect of cancelling benefit for 16 to 18 year-olds embarked on apprenticeships will be to deter a small but important group of these young people from taking them up. Since the apprenticeship is not just education but a route into a job, this would be entirely wrong. In families with very low incomes, budgets are extremely delicate. Allowing one child to do an apprenticeship when they are not fully funded could damage the rest of the family and is therefore not likely to happen. I therefore hope that the Government will think again on this.

I will also speak to Amendments 14 and 16, which provide slightly different versions of guarantees if trainers go bust. I remind the House that I am chancellor of BPP University, with 2,000 degree-level apprenticeships, and my sister company has 2,000 16 to 19 year-old apprenticeships. It is not very difficult for long, well- established training operations to contribute to a contingency fund, if that is what is wanted, or to get a bank guarantee. I am thinking of new people who may want to come into this field, whom I believe the Government want to encourage. I suspect that having to contribute to a contingency fund, which is difficult and requires special provision, is possibly a barrier to entry, whereas producing a bank guarantee is—as my noble friend Lord Watson said—a well-understood route and I believe a lot of banks know how to do this. I would, therefore, much prefer any measure to require providers to produce a bank guarantee rather than a contribution to a contingency fund, or their own private contingency fund.

Baroness Wolf of Dulwich Portrait Baroness Wolf of Dulwich (CB)
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My Lords, I also support the amendment and share its concern for the small but important group of young people who may be denied an apprenticeship. I will also speak to Amendment 16 tabled in my name and lend strong support to the general argument that we must provide financial guarantees and security to young people in the training field. I declare an interest that, as a member of the Sainsbury review, I was part of the panel which lies behind other parts of the Bill. I also strongly welcome the provisions to ensure that, should an FE college fail, special arrangements will be in place to make sure that students are looked after; that clearly set out procedures will swing into place; and that they will not just go to the bottom of the list after creditors, in the hands of administrators whose responsibilities and skills are essentially commercial. It is absolutely right that the Government have recognised this as their duty. It is their duty because, by funding young people and adults, encouraging them to enter training—and, in very many cases, to take out loans—the Government have implicitly promised that an institution to which they are lending money will give a good-quality education and will endure to see students through. The introduction of loans is a mammoth change and lies under much of the Government’s conviction that they need to change the HE regime. We must recognise that the Government’s ambition for huge increases in adult learner loans changes the environment in which young people and adults are studying and training.

Many noble Lords will know that failures are not unheard of—one wishes that they were. In the United States, huge companies have gone under, leaving many thousands of people with loans. These are not all at degree level; they are often at associate-degree level, which comprises two-year courses. On the one hand, therefore, it is very welcome that we have these provisions for FE colleges, but, on the other, I find myself completely unable to understand why equivalent protections should not be introduced for people training and studying in institutions which are not FE colleges and which also offer—and are being funded to offer—technical education. Many of these people have loans, and many of them are not mobile. The loans represent large sums of money for them, and they have made big changes in their lives to undertake this form of training. Again, it is tremendously welcome that the Government are putting so much effort and money into technical education. However, we have to ensure that the promise, encouragement and—sometimes—pressure to enter technical education is matched by a guarantee that the Government will deliver on their implicit promise.

Against this background, the repeated failures—that is what it has felt like—in recent weeks of a number of private training providers should make us aware that this is not a hypothetical situation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Watson, I was not very convinced by the letters from the department and the SFA. My noble friend Lady Watkins will speak in a moment. She and I had a very productive meeting with the Bill team. We appreciated their willingness to listen to our arguments. However, the letters that we received seemed to amount to a combination of the statements, “We are muddling through” and “There aren’t very many of them anyway”. That is not adequate at a time when we are embarking on a major rethink—and, I hope, a major expansion—of technical education.

In Committee, the Minister noted that you cannot treat private businesses as though they were public organisations. That is indeed true. Although many private training providers are small charities, many others are commercial organisations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, said. Many of them survive entirely on government contracts and are very small. That is why I have proposed a mechanism which I think would be entirely appropriate for this situation. We have heard about it already, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, for first bringing it to my attention. It is well established, costs the Government nothing and would not cost providers anything that would begin to wipe out their margins. It is well and frequently adopted in other sectors and I cannot see why it should not apply here.

That brings me to my final point—the idea that we do not need to worry about this matter because only a few people are involved and the risks of failure are quite small. Even if the figure is less than 1%, that is hundreds of people a year on current levels of loans. If we have the expansion that we hope for, thousands of people a year will be affected. To give a medical analogy, if 1% of life-changing operations were cancelled and eventually lost because people got older and were never able to have their operations and had to go back to the bottom of the waiting list, I do not think that anybody would find that acceptable. Therefore, I strongly hope that the Minister will assure us that at Third Reading he will be able to bring concrete proposals to this Chamber and that we will see the same acceptance of the importance of looking after students in the entire technical education sector that we so happily see in further education colleges.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Portrait Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve (CB)
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My Lords, I believe we can get this right. I declare, or confess, a life spent in higher education. We saw a great wave of—let us say—enthusiastic assumptions that we could get rankings, and then sobriety struck. I was very pleased to see this morning on the BBC education news that Singapore, which was a hotbed of ranking, has decided that it is not the way in which to assess children’s learning, and I do not think it is the way to assess undergraduate or postgraduate learning. It is important that we should be looking not for rankings but for excellence. The reason we should not be looking for rankings is fundamentally that we are looking for excellence, as far as it can be achieved. If you merely rank, you do not know who is excellent. It could be the case that the top-ranked were nevertheless not excellent or that, very fortunately, there was a great deal of excellence even in the middle of the rankings, so let us get rid of rankings and look for excellence.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the amendments. In allowing the simple-minded rankings of bronze, silver or gold, we would be substituting for all other measurements or assessments a fairly crude system of three measures. Nobody is going to read beyond “bronze”, which probably does not give enough credit. It is a very unsubtle method of ranking. I would like to see the test used for assessments and not for rankings, and I speak as one whose university would expect to be highly ranked. The system is too crude, and we would very possibly lose the “bottom 20%” fairly sharply, which would not be a good idea at all.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Portrait Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB)
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My Lords, I too very strongly support this group of amendments. I share the very great concern expressed around the House, particularly at the thought of blackening the names of a number of our universities, on which we depend so very much for all sorts of reasons. The criticisms made around the House are compelling as to the obvious deficiencies of the present scheme.

One hopes that this is not the case, but if at the end of this debate the Government remain disinclined to change the approach of using gold and silver stars, ratings and that sort of thing, I urge that universities at least—there are a group of clauses in the Bill which specify what an institution has to do to justify that title—should be spared from the nonsense involved in the scheme as presently envisaged. They should not have to do this. They are already assessed through more sophisticated, nuanced approaches, and they should not have to be ranked in the way that this absurd scheme proposes.

Technical and Further Education Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, I support these amendments. It probably is important that any education administrator should be familiar with further education because it is a very distinct type of education. I have a question that I would like the Minister to clarify. Clause 22(4), which it is now proposed to delete, indicates that the administrator must,

“carry out his or her functions in a way that achieves the best result for … the company’s creditors as a whole”,

yet Clause 14 says that the primary,

“objective of an education administration is to … avoid or minimise disruption to the studies of the … students”.

There seems to be a slight contradiction here regarding whether the education administrator is going to put students or creditors first. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, that perhaps the problem is with creditors: if they feel they are going to be last in line to get paid back, that might make more problems for colleges in getting funding. Can the Minister perhaps clarify the apparent contradiction between those two clauses?

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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I generally support the amendments. I started from a very particular consideration: I wondered whether I would be prepared to be an education administration person, because I think I am qualified to be so. The first thing I would want to know is where my financial backing was. The first thing I would ask for would be a guarantee that I would not end up personally liable, as under normal insolvency law I would be. I would need a back-up. The problem here, as with all public sector bodies—I have been through this before when we were thinking about what to do about a failing nationalised industry—is that if the Government are the guarantor or provider of last resort, the creditors will be perfectly happy but I am not quite certain how the education administrator gets out of it. I do not think I would be prepared to be an education administrator without an underwriting behind me. Mere appointment by a court would not do it for me. Have the Government thought about this bit?

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have put their names to this group of amendments. I shall begin with Amendments 40 and 44. I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, also referenced Amendment 46A, regarding creditors. I will get to that but if he and other noble Lords could bear with me, it would be rather easier if I could do this sequentially.

On Amendments 40 and 44, then, as is the case with other special administration regimes, Clause 15 provides that the person to be appointed as the education administrator must be someone who is qualified to act as an insolvency practitioner in relation to the FE body. This is the only criterion that must be satisfied for appointment as an education administrator.

Amendment 40, however, would require the person appointed as the education administrator to have relevant experience and knowledge of the further education sector, as noble Lords have said, in addition to being qualified to act as an insolvency practitioner. Saving the blushes of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, he is a very good example of accountants who have a breadth of perspective—indeed, I should declare an interest as I am married to an accountant who has a fantastic breadth of perspective—so we should not underestimate their ability to address different sectors with the same amount of expertise.

While such experience may be desirable, it is certainly not essential. Noble Lords familiar with the company insolvency regime will know that insolvency practitioners are often appointed to administer companies in sectors where they have little or no experience. That does not prevent them carrying out their duties successfully; it is their ability to understand and apply the different options available to them in the insolvency toolkit that is of most importance, not a detailed knowledge of the sector or the company. It is no different in an education administration.

In his evidence to the Committee in another place Mr Stephen Harris, an experienced insolvency practitioner with Ernst & Young, said that:

“From an insolvency practitioner’s perspective, it is worth standing back and recognising that insolvency practitioners are not train drivers, or people who spend their life in the railway or the London Underground, when it comes to a special administration regime, nor are they specialist property developers. They come to each situation afresh. One comforting thing that insolvency practitioners bring is recognising when they need to keep in place the existing management structure in a corporate sense, or the workforce in a pastoral sense, recognising that those people have skills and qualifications that they as an office holder do not necessarily have, and also”—


this is key—in bringing,

“outside specialist help to continuing the duties of education administrator should the need arise. That is … part and parcel of any trading insolvency regime”.—[Official Report, Commons, Technical and Further Education Bill Committee, 22/11/16; col. 46.]

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Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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I did actually reference this while the noble Baroness was talking to a colleague. There is no contradiction. As I said about five minutes ago, the creditors’ objective is secondary and subject to the special objective of protecting students’ studies. Only when it is consistent with the special objective does the education administrator have regard to creditors’ needs. This reflects normal insolvency procedure. It is right that the education administrator has regard to creditors’ needs. I hope this is helpful.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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May I have another go at this point? In the days when I was a civil servant, a bust company would arrive on the doorstep of the Minister. Since it was in the Industry Act that we had the power, and indeed a duty, to preserve jobs, the administrator would usually ask us, “How far do you want to go? I can keep this company going for another five weeks, while we look for a buyer, but I want an underwrite. My client, the bank, is not interested. It is going to close this company”. There is the same problem here. Who authorises the administrator to go on putting the students’ interests first and to what end? The legislation is clear: the administrator puts the students’ interests first and tries to get a satisfactory answer. After two months, it becomes clear that nobody wants these students, nor this institution. I would not start out as the administrator without having a pretty clear view of what I had to do, when I was asked to stop and to whom I should go back and say, “This one is not going to work. May I now go back and satisfy the creditors?”. The process is worrying me. The words are all right, but I do not understand the process. I am sure we would all prefer not to have the process tested in practice, as it were, and have it come unglued there.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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I am clutching a response to the noble Baroness’s earlier question which is on point. Clauses 26 and 28 allow the Secretary of State to provide the education administrator with indemnities or guarantees where that is necessary or appropriate. The education administrator will be able to apply to be discharged from office when they believe that they have achieved the special objective.

It may also help if I move on to Amendment 46A which specifically references creditors. Although we share common ground in our commitment to ensuring that if a further education body were to become insolvent, students would be placed at the heart of the subsequent administration process through the special objective, we do not share common ground here.

Clause 5 applies existing company insolvency law to further education colleges. The long-standing insolvency regime ensures that the interests of creditors are protected when a company becomes insolvent. Without such protection, lenders would rightly change their lending behaviours, such as by imposing higher interest rates and lending lower amounts. Other businesses would also become more cautious in trading with companies they perceived to be at risk of failing. This would ultimately paralyse growth. The same is true of the further education sector. So, while we are all agreed that there is a need to protect students’ studies—and that is the purpose of the special administration regime—there is also a need to have regard to the interests of creditors.

Through the special administration regime, we are rightly placing the protection of students’ studies ahead of the interests of creditors. However, as I said, this does not mean that the interests of creditors can, or should, be ignored. That would undoubtedly damage the further education sector, and I am sure that colleges themselves would be opposed to such action.

Subsections (4) and (5) make clear, therefore, that where the education administrator has a choice between courses of action that equally meet the special objective and protect students, they must follow the approach which achieves the best result for creditors and, where the college is run by a company, the company’s members. This delivers both protection for student studies and the reassurance that creditors, particularly lenders, need to ensure that the further education sector continues to be able to grow and improve to meet the needs of young people.

I want to respond to questions about the banks. Gareth Jones of Santander said:

“Overall, from our perspective, we are still very supportive of the sector—still looking to grow our exposure to the sector and grow our lending book. On the Bill and the proposed insolvency regime, we are actually supportive of the clarity that they provide”—[Official Report, Commons, Technical and Further Education Bill Committee, 22/11/16; col. 38.]


I was asked whether we are afraid that commercial debt will dry up for colleges as banks reassess their risk profiles, which is a critical point. The answer is no. Banks make lending decisions based on many considerations, and of course we expect them to reassess the risk profile of the sector now that exceptional financial support will no longer be available, but we expect them to continue to lend, particularly in light of the good work being done through the area review to build financially stable and resilient colleges. If this means a careful assessment of an individual college, its business plan and management, that is a good thing.

I hope that I have been able to answer all noble Lords’ questions on this group of amendments. If not, I will be happy to write to noble Lords but, on the basis of what I have been able to say this afternoon, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey
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In that case, there is merit in considering the amendment.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I support what I think the amendment is about. There is a worrying set of complications, in my mind. Someone has provided the money to keep the FE college going while the special administrator decides that actually it cannot be kept going. Where does the person who provided the money rank among the creditors? We are talking about selling assets at the end of this. For a start, the bank might have a charge on those assets, in which case I guess that is the answer, but somebody has put money in to keep the business going. I have done this on behalf of the Department of Industry—we took back the money that we had put in to keep it going. What is the order of batting in relation to the local authority, or whoever it is, who put the money in to keep the institution going, and the rest of the creditors?

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash
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My Lords, I start by saying that I recognise that the amendment is driven by noble Lords’ good intentions. They are concerned that assets that have been paid for largely by money from the taxpayer should not then find their way into the private sector at an undervalue, when they can then be sold and used to make a profit at the taxpayer’s expense. I recognise and share those concerns. FE colleges are statutory corporations with significant freedoms to deal with their own assets, but the key check on those freedoms is that any such dealing must be in the interests of the colleges’ charitable education—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, the basis on which they have their charitable status.

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Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey
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My Lords, I support this important amendment. As we said at the beginning and keep underlining, the insolvency regime is highly unlikely to happen, but that does not mean that we cannot give comfort to staff working in further education, particularly at a time when all the changes, area reviews and, indeed, the Bill have created uncertainty when they need certainty. As we have heard, often through no fault of their own, they could be in a poorer financial place. When we have just heard that BHS staff are to get their full pension entitlements, would it not be nice if the Minister would agree the amendment?

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I raise another worry that has come to me, which is the reverse. If a public or private company is in danger of takeover, one very good way to prevent that is to introduce a poison pill. The quick way to do it is usually through a very generous pension scheme, or a pay-off scheme for your senior staff. If I were a threatened institution, I might be tempted to consider either of those. It is a hard life, but do we have any means of dealing with threatened institutions which introduce financial measures which will make it much more difficult if they need to be closed or otherwise dealt with?

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate and will do my very best to reply and, I hope, reassure—notwithstanding that I think that noble Lords accept that some of the important issues raised go beyond the scope of the amendment.

I recognise the well-intentioned purpose of the amendment, which is to ensure that those staff employed by a further education body in education administration continue to accrue their pension entitlements. I hope to reassure the Committee that pension rights will be protected in the unlikely event that the further education body becomes insolvent and is placed in education administration.

In developing the special administration regime, the Committee will see that we have sought to mirror many of the provisions that exist in the ordinary administration regime that applies in the event of a company insolvency. As noble Lords will know, in an ordinary company administration, the administrator has 14 days to decide whether to adopt staff contracts. Those who continue to be employed by the company will continue to be paid in accordance with the contract, including payment by the company of any pension contributions that fall due. These payments are an expense of the administration and continue until the staff are transferred to a new employer, if the business is sold to a new owner, as is often the case, or until their contract is terminated. We propose to adopt similar provisions for an education administration.

We have been clear that, for the education administration to be successful—for the special objective to be achieved—it will be necessary for the Government to provide funding to achieve the special objective: for example, to allow the college to continue to operate while the education administrator prepares his proposals for the college’s future. The Bill provides at Clause 25 powers for the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers to provide that funding, where necessary, whether through loans or grants. In addition, the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers may choose, where they consider it appropriate, to give indemnities under Clause 26, or guarantees under Clause 28, during the education administration.

Any funding provided under Clause 25 can be used to meet the cost of the education administration, including ongoing staff salaries and associated contributions, such as employer pension contributions. For as long as pension contributions are being made in accordance with staff contracts, pension entitlements will continue to accrue. The education administration changes nothing in this regard. However, once contributions cease, so too will the accrual of benefits. This would happen where staff were made redundant during the education administration. As with any employer pension scheme, once an individual’s employment ends they can no longer continue to pay into that scheme, but that does not mean that the benefits individuals have accrued in the scheme at that point are lost. Although they can no longer be added to, the benefits accrued will remain in the scheme and increase, as provided for by the terms of the scheme. Individuals will be able to access these benefits as and when the terms permit.

I believe that the way in which the regime will operate in practice means that the amendment is unnecessary. The Secretary of State may not provide a guarantee during an education administration, whereas it is almost inevitable that the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers will provide funding through a loan or grant during an education administration. This funding will enable the continued operation of the further education body, and this in turn will mean that pension contributions continue to be made for all staff, whether teachers, caretakers, cleaners or support staff. I hope that that gives some reassurance.

I turn to some of the wider issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen. Further education colleges report that they are seeing a marked increase in the risks attached to their LGPS pension deficits. The question is: what are we going to do to counteract that? Further education bodies underwent the triennial revaluation of their LGPS pension deficit positions last year, and are still in the process of receiving and reviewing their results. We are aware of the outcome of a few, but not the majority, of the positions of colleges across England. The picture we have is mixed, with some coming out with results better than anticipated, and a minority even seeing their deficit repayment cost reduced for the forthcoming period. Others are seeing their costs increased. In some cases, that may be because they did not increase substantially in the previous revaluation period. There is residual adjustment being made in this period.

The assessment of repayment obligations is a function of many factors, including fund performance, the size of the deficit and fund managers’ overall analysis of the financial position of the relevant college. Reports from colleges received so far suggest that in only a few cases has a pension fund’s assessment of the risk of further education insolvency specifically contributed to revaluations with significantly increased repayment costs. Further education bodies have freedoms and flexibilities in law to be financially and operationally independent of government and are therefore classified by the ONS as private sector. Pension revaluations are a matter for negotiation between individual FE colleges and their pension fund, and final revaluations are normally based on a variety of factors as assessed by actuaries.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, mentioned Sandwell, and I shall reference that and West Midlands. Only two of the 91 LGPS pension funds expressed in response to our consultation that the special objective in the insolvency regime was inappropriately formulated, one—which was actually West Midlands—suggesting that creditor protection should be placed on a par with learner protection and the other suggesting that creditor protection should be prioritised over learners. The others that responded to the consultation supported the premise of learner protection or were silent on the point.

As was set out in our response to the consultation, it is right that learner protection is prioritised and that approach is widely supported, even by other creditors. That is the point of the special objective. A few pension funds also questioned not limiting the length of the time for a SAR. We are clear that this is so as to not constrain the education administrator. In reality, an education administration may well last a similar length of time to an ordinary administration. Ordinary company administrations often last at least 12 months and then are often extended for a further 12 months or so, so an education administration lasting this length of time would not be unusual for insolvency proceedings. Several pension funds, as well as other creditors, sought greater certainty on how a SAR would be funded, and the Government responded by providing additional flexibility in the funding power set out in the Bill, removing the requirement that loans from government be made on a basis of priority to other creditors. So the Government can choose, in each individual case, to pay for the costs of the SAR up front by a loan and to not require that loan to be repaid unless any funds remained after other creditors had been paid out, meaning that the assets normally available to creditors remain available to creditors in the usual priority. This will be a matter to be decided case by case, but it does not appear that all pension funds have taken this change from the stricter position in normal insolvency into account in their assessment of the risk.

With regard to the wider issues, which go beyond the scope of the amendment, I hope that I have been able to reassure noble Lords. If there are issues outstanding, I shall write to noble Lords and place a copy in the Library for the benefit of all. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord withdraws his amendment.

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Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey
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My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has spoken wise words. In local government, the quality of officers advising elected members is hugely important—the independence of those officers and their ability to challenge and scrutinise with neither fear nor favour. In further education, we are talking about multimillion pound budgets. You have only to flick through the pages of the further education press to see some of the horrendous accounts of what has gone on in the past. I do not want to go into those lurid details; I shall leave it to people to have a look at them if they so desire.

What that suggests to me is that the governing body of those institutes has to be of the best possible calibre; it cannot be a friend of a friend, not wanting to offend the principal. It is often difficult to attract calibre governors, so the role of the clerk cannot be some sort of part-time lesser role; they have to be people who are confident in themselves. Those three words—“scrutiny, challenge, transparency”—are really important. This is the tail-end of Committee, but to get the Bill right is important. The points that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has made are also important. I hope that between now and Report we can look at this in a little more detail, because it is crucial.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I support the amendment. I am new to the business of voluntary governorship in state-funded institutions. I have been fortunate for most of my working life to have been in organisations that had admirable company secretaries, who had the equally difficult task of standing up to chairmen and chief executives—but these were well-trained, qualified and well-paid people. The problem in all education is, of course, that anything that is not a teacher reads like an unmerited overhead.

I am not quite certain what I should propose as a remedy, but this point is key. Many of the messes that schools and further education institutions get into have to do with governance, and that has to do with a clerk who is not actually qualified and probably not properly paid.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
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I hesitate to speak because I can see that a Division is pending and it would be nice for us to be able to finish at just the right point, but I realised when my noble friend was speaking that I was that clerk. In an earlier career, I was the clerk of an FE college. The spectre of the buccaneering principals who were around in FE at that time came crowding back, and I felt I ought to share that with the Committee. The problem was that these institutions were very often the creatures of the local authority that owned and fronted them, and there were pressures at play. The principal wanted to be the person who was the main conduit to the local authority and would not brook any interference. Absent the principal, the company secretary, who was indeed a demon of great skill and ability to maintain her position in the structure, took over and ran the place very adequately. But with the growth of corporate structures and, now, the whole question of how that must be used to mature and operate organisations of some scale and scope, I would have thought there must be a way of ensuring that, when corporate structures such as companies are established, there has to be a company secretary, and that company secretary must fulfil at least the minimum standards required of those who operate in the private sector. So there may be a way forward.

I agree entirely with what my noble friend said: the pressure to keep those who are academics—and who should be academics—away from trying to do things that they are patently unable to do, just because they happen to occupy the position of principal or vice-principal, has been an enduring theme with those who have worked in the education sector at FE and HE level. It is only recently that appropriately qualified and suitably remunerated members of that profession have been operating in the way that they should. I support the amendment.

Technical and Further Education Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, I know personally several young people who will probably have to pursue a course much less suited to them than an apprenticeship because their welfare-dependent families will otherwise lose too much in benefit. That seems wrong. The Bill is surely not entirely about getting us a skilled workforce; it also has a social purpose—rescuing children from unsuitable parts of the education system, places where they will never learn what they need, when they really need to be in a decent apprenticeship. Finance must not stand in the way, but stand in the way it will—nobody wants their mother to lose housing benefit—unless we can find a way around this issue, which I suggest is by treating people in apprenticeships as if they were in further education.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal
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My Lords, I wholly support what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, while equally recognising that benefits are not directly a matter for the Department for Education.

There are anomalies in the way in which we treat young people. For those in approved education or approved training, child benefit continues until the child 20 years-old. Reading the list of what counts as that, it seems even more incongruous that apprenticeships are not included. For instance, it includes A-levels, Scottish Highers, NVQs up to level 3—which, of course, can be closely linked to apprenticeships—a place on the access to apprenticeships scheme, foundation apprenticeships for traineeships in Wales, the Employability Fund programmes and places on Training for Success. There is a whole raft of education and training courses on which young people continue to get their benefits, but they lose them for apprenticeships.

We know that only 10% of apprenticeships are taken up by young people on free school meals, which is surely an indicator that that is a disincentive, particularly for families, because they will lose out on additional benefits when a child goes into an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship salary on minimum wage may be barely over £3 an hour, so the loss of child benefit and tax credits may be a significant penalty for that family to bear.

The National Union of Students said:

“If apprenticeships are going to be the silver bullet to create a high-skilled economy for the future, the government has to go further than rhetoric and genuinely support apprentices financially to succeed”.


We urge the Minister, in the interests of joined-up government, to talk to his colleagues in the benefits department to see whether something can be done to ensure that disadvantaged young people do not feel that this is a major disincentive to taking up apprenticeships.

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Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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Is there not a fairly simple way of bringing this within the scope of the Bill, as was suggested by my noble friend Lord Young? All you have to do is get the new Institute for Apprenticeships to design apprenticeships that count as further education, attract child benefit and do not interfere with benefits in the same way as a child in normal sixth-form education would? Is that not the short way home? I wonder what my noble friend Lord Young thinks.

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Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey
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My Lords, this is a very important amendment. The Government have set an ambitious target of 3 million apprentices, and it is good to have a target to work towards. However, as we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Young, those have to be quality apprenticeships. In a sense, I would rather have 2.5 million apprentices, knowing that there was real quality in the education and training.

I went to look at the apprenticeship scheme run by the BBC. I was struck by the diversity of the apprentices and the quality of the training and education component of the scheme. Young people deserve quality education and training. It is not enough to say, “Here are some books—go and sit in that corner. Here is a day off—go and learn that”. Somebody has to direct the training and education. If a scheme is to work, we need to make sure that somebody is responsible for that quality.

I hope the Minister will not mind me saying that, when we met before the Bill, I raised this question with him. He said then that Ofsted would be “sampling” some of the providers. To me, that is not good enough. We have to be absolutely sure that every apprentice gets only the best.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I support the amendment. I feel that, in all this, there is tension between what the Bill would like to see and what the Bill will be able to achieve. I keep looking for measures of enforcement, and not just because I am a native head girl or predisposed to police-type solutions. The history of apprenticeships in this country shows that they have mostly failed because of the employers. Indeed, why would it not be because of the employers? They are in charge; they are the ones with the power.

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Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green
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My Lords, I support the principle of Amendment 16. It is right and important that the institute should have regular input from those actually undertaking apprenticeships and technical education. That will be essential if they are to have a state of awareness about what is actually happening.

I also support the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, in relation to training providers. Whether or not they are involved with student loans, they will still be involved in providing apprenticeships and, allegedly, in ensuring that those young people whom they recommend to employers are in a state of preparedness to undertake those apprenticeships.

My recent experience of one provider, which I will not name, leaves me with a great deal of doubt because the not-so-young person concerned—I think this one may have been 22 years old—arrived with little or no understanding of what was required of her when undertaking an interview. She arrived without us being supplied with any CV. We decided to stick with this organisation to see whether it had improved the next time we used it, after it promised us that that was an oversight—and the next time it still did not provide a CV until, on the morning of the interview with the next potential apprentice, it emailed one to us.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, is quite right to bring it to our attention that a significant amount of government money goes into these organisations and they ought to come under scrutiny. I was assuming that Ofsted has some sort of role in scrutinising training providers, but it was probably an unwarranted assumption on my part. When the Minister replies, it would be welcome if he covered this point.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I too support the amendment, although I think I may have got out of my depth with training providers. I should remind the Committee that I am involved with the BPP group and that we not only have a university but are training a lot of 16 to 19 year-olds. However, we are not providing all the training. If an employer comes to us and says, “Will you train our apprentices?”, then we do that. That is not the same as training apprentices to be interviewed; they have already been interviewed and are the employer’s pigeon. Indeed, I had barely heard of these training providers who are leaving people in a mess.

However, this inclines me the more to support the amendment because there is very little in the Bill about who students should complain to. Hopelessly, I asked my son, who lives in Germany and is a veteran of German apprenticeships, who German apprentices complain to. The question meant absolutely nothing to him because they do not do that. Apprenticeships work there because they have worked for 20 years, and I think you would be drummed out of the local CBI, or hung or something, if you abused your apprentice in any way. I am not thinking of physical abuse but of people being given a broom or a photocopying machine rather than proper training.

I do not know, and do not think that the Bill says, to whom the learner or student may complain if the employer is not doing its bit. I think they know to whom they can complain if the trainer is not doing its bit—they can complain to us, for a start—and we know that structure. However, we do not know the structure for what to do if an employer is looking after an apprentice very badly and not offering proper training. I do not think that this amendment totally resolves that. Input from students would be very useful but, again—and I feel as if I am banging on a bit—enforcement will matter in this area. Can the Minister tell me what that will be?

Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare (CB)
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My Lords, I want to make a couple of points on these amendments. First, as I said at Second Reading, I very much welcome the desire and requirement to have learners themselves represented in the governance of the institute. I welcome also the fact that the Government have announced an apprentice panel for the institute, but I think it would be good if that was a statutory requirement in the Bill.

Secondly, it is important we ensure that the bodies creating the standards are employer-led but, at the same time, represent a cross-section of organisations. However, there is a further point to make on that. Yes, we should have SME representation, but that is easier said than done. Most SMEs find it hard to devote the time, resource and energy to being involved in these quite complicated standard development processes. I am very interested to hear the Government’s thinking on how the views of SMEs—which, after all, deliver more than half of all apprenticeships—can be represented in a way that is comparable to the others that will be represented.

I very much agree that independent training providers need to be subject to accountability and scrutiny, and that learners need to know who they can complain to. However, at the same time, I believe that independent training providers deliver a very substantial proportion of the training needed for apprenticeships, and we should be rather careful that we are not killing that golden-egg-laying goose. It is very important to have the right balance. Again as I said at Second Reading, I have a feeling that the role of independent training providers, including commercial training providers, is not very well reflected in the Bill as it stands. It is a key role and we should make sure we understand how it is going to be delivered in a way that meets suitable standards and scrutiny.

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Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey
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I remember that my nursery nurses were terribly upset when their NNEB qualifications went and they became NVQ level 3. They were devastated, so there is something in a name and perhaps in a bit of tradition. I am a bit torn. I understand the Sainsbury review and the Government saying: let us create and agree a standard for the different pathways and maintain it. That is the qualification we will have so, presumably, various organisations can bid for it and, if they win the contract, the Government will ensure that they maintain the quality and standard.

However, as has been said, there is something about having competition. You have to look only at GCSEs, where the Secretary of State at the time wanted to have a single provider. There was a sort of rebellion against that and it did not come to pass. Schools and young people themselves can choose which awarding body to go for. Different awarding bodies suit pupils for different reasons—the content may match their study. We must think carefully about this. It is important for parents, young people and employers. Getting the name right is important but sometimes people also like letters after the name—there is a later amendment from my noble friend Lady Garden about that. I am caught on this, but I hope that we can explore the best way forward.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I am responsible for 2,000 degree-level apprentices and about the same number of others. At the moment, we do what the employer wants. If the employer arrives and says: “I would like the formal training to have these outcomes”, we say, “Right”, then we discuss it and bid for it. I had been assuming that we could adjust to the new regime. If the Institute for Apprenticeships stated the outcomes that it wanted, we could teach to those outcomes because that is what we do. We would be able, in essence, to do a wraparound to suit a particular employer, which would include the vital bits that the Institute for Apprenticeships wanted. I am a little puzzled if we are to be told that we all have to teach the same thing on, say, the finance course by the bit of the Institute for Apprenticeships that is working out finance training. At the moment, let us say that KPMG tells us how it wants us to do finance training. We would do that but if someone else wanted it to be slightly different, our competitive advantage over the years has been built on adjusting to do a different sort of finance training.

I am not quite sure where I am going with this, but are we providers still to be allowed variation in any way if an employer asks us to do it slightly differently, provided we include a certain number of outcomes and standards, as set out by the institute? To take an example from my experience, with our graduate law course we made our name by introducing a City law course that the City wanted. “Wait”, we said, “we’ll do that”. Of course, it is all the same law but it was specialist. We did that and not some other bits of law. I can imagine that being the outcome still: some City firms want varieties of law taught that nobody else cares about, as in shipping law, and some accountants want things that nobody else much cares about taught, as in shipping finance. Are we to end up with an agreed set of standards to which we must adhere, but around which we can wrap something that employers might want, or not? I am arguing for a setting of outcomes and standards by the institute but with a little deviation allowed, provided those apprenticeships include the basic standards and outcomes. Will the Minister tell me about that?

Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare
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My Lords, I share the concerns that have been expressed about a single awarding body. I would have thought that the idea would be to have the sort of single recognised qualification that the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, is looking for, but delivered in slightly varying ways by two or three highly qualified, well-regulated and well-managed organisations. Having all one’s eggs in a single basket worries me from the point of view of what happens if it does not work and what happens if you want to change the franchisee.

Amendment 17 would require,

“at least one recognised technical qualification”,

in the outcomes. I very much welcome the fact that standards are to be employer-led. That should ensure that they are focused on skills for which there is a market and which will lead to jobs, but it is also very important to ensure that the needs of the learner or trainee are properly reflected. One of those needs is to acquire portable skills and attainments that are transferable to the different jobs or activities that trainees might move into. Having recognised technical qualifications included in the standards is a way of doing that. Many of those qualifications already exist in the form of NVQs, diplomas and what have you; new ones will no doubt emerge under the new process.

When I used to run employability training programmes for young Londoners not in employment, education or training, we quickly learned the value of including recognised qualifications in our programmes. Many of the young people we worked with had what you might call relatively chaotic lives and did not necessarily follow what might be considered a well-organised career trajectory. The fact that at the end of the programmes they could demonstrate achievement of some specific qualifications, whether in English, communications, basic employment skills, or ASDAN qualifications, which we also used, or health and safety or creative skills, gave them something to work with when it came to taking a new and possibly quite distinct step into a job or a career.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, mentioned that her courses are geared to what employers need, but the employers which tend to be predominant in defining those needs are the larger employers. Very often the requirements do not necessarily reflect the needs and realities of SMEs and the sort of young people seeking jobs in SMEs, as I define them. For that reason, there is great value in the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

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Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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Off the top of my head, I cannot give a particular example. The noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, talked about shipping law. Perhaps a technical qualification is not so appropriate for that.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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A lawyer’s qualification would be required, but it does not necessarily have to be called “shipping law”.

Baroness Buscombe Portrait Baroness Buscombe
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Surely that is a good example.

I have been talking plumbers with officials so that I can understand what we are trying to achieve here. The noble Lord is absolutely right: it is about achieving occupational competence. However, if that panel decides, through time and through outcomes, that something is not right, we do not want the hands of the institute to be tied. The point is that the primary legislation will allow flexibility so that those standards could be changed in the light of any perceived failure or lack of occupational competence through practical application of the examinations of the qualifications. I hope that is helpful.

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Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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I remind noble Lords of my fellowship of the Working Men’s College. I support Amendment 20, not only for all the reasons so eloquently expressed by my noble friend but because it also offers a much more solid opportunity for young people from the Gypsy and Traveller communities to enter apprenticeships and to gain qualifications. These people have often dropped out of secondary school. A high proportion do so, for a variety of reasons. High among them are bullying and discrimination, and there is also a degree of alienation. However, these young people want to earn a living. They live in a work culture, an entrepreneurial one even. Their traditional trades—tarmacking, tree-lopping and scrap metal dealing—now need a high enough standard of literacy and numeracy to understand quite a lot of documentation, such as safety regulations and all sorts of papers. They do not often acquire these at school, so the implementation of this worthwhile amendment could result in many more such young people gaining a credential and raising their earning potential, so allowing them to join a society which, in the past, has tended not to be sympathetic.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I support Amendment 20. I had hoped that one of the most important things we were doing in the Bill was providing a route to employment that did not involve crossing apparently insuperable academic barriers, which some children seem to have no way to get through. These are children who, for some reason or another, have been unable to follow conventional education paths, such as the Travellers of whom my noble friend spoke, or who have suffered parental negligence or have been in care—those children have a notoriously poor track record in conventional education; or are children whom I did not know existed until I was in my 20s who learn not from books or from being told things but through their hands.

We had a nanny for my children who, after six years decided to leave us to train as a nurse, but she could not muster the necessary two O-levels to become a state-enrolled nurse. With the aid of very good references, we managed somehow to persuade the Royal Free to take her for that training. She passed third in the hospital because she was one of the people for whom, if your hands can do it, she can write it down and explain it.

I so hope that this will be another group of children who will be rescued, if you like, from misery in conventional education by the way out of an apprenticeship. I do not want them retaking their GCSEs. I want a special provision, and I hope that the Institute for Apprenticeships will be able to make it, while, by all means, if they need it, providing for further maths or other education. By the way, this proved a very successful way of integrating some of our immigrant population who do not have an academic background but are well capable of undertaking apprenticeships. The more enlightened jobcentres have been pointing them in exactly that direction, but you have not to disqualify them before they start. That goes back to the point that we were all making earlier about the benefit trap: many of our children will be unable to access an apprenticeship without paying an unaffordable financial penalty.

The Bill must be about rescuing many of our young from insuperable barriers to employment, and I very much hope that we can manage not to put any more in their way.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green
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My Lords, I support the amendments and shall speak specifically to Amendment 20. When I ask employers what they value most about young apprentices, the qualities are what I often hear referred to here as soft skills, but they are not, really they are essential skills. They are the skills of being able to turn up on time regularly, work as part of a team, show enthusiasm and so on. Often, ironically, the complaints that you get from employers are about those who are technically well-qualified but lack those essential skills. This amendment is about creating flexibility and recognising that there are young people who will, for a variety of reasons explained today, find it difficult, as my noble friend Lord Hunt said, to go through the demoralising impact of resits for qualifications that will not assess their innate capabilities, as my noble friend Lady Cohen described. I hope that we will get a constructive response.

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Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 32. I am trying to follow up on Second Reading and make a couple of suggestions to the Government which I hope are helpful.

First, if they have got this system of issuing certificates, they should make sure that, at the same time, they get the ability to communicate with apprentices. If I were in government, I would use this as a means of making sure that quality was being delivered, by sending questionnaires out to apprentices as a means of improving the quality of apprenticeships by asking what needed to be done better, particularly by asking them a couple of years after their apprenticeship what, with the benefit of experience, might have been improved. I would also use it as a way of getting information with which to celebrate the schools that apprentices went to. Schools pay far too little attention to the apprentices they have educated, mostly because they do not know anything about them. With university it is there; it is easy; it happens immediately. Apprenticeship information is not gathered in the same way; it is not celebrated by schools or made available to them. There are lots of things that the Government could do on the back of having the ability to communicate and I encourage them to give themselves that.

Secondly—I am echoing what is being said in Amendment 31—let us give these young people something really worth having, something to which they can put their name. The point of GCSEs and A-levels is that they are recognised. If we are taking away the plethora of sometimes well-valued names that attach themselves to technical qualifications, let us create a name and be able to give young people some letters to put after their name, such as BA—I do not actually know what these letters should be, but they should be something that say that the young person has done this and have got the right to this. I am not a wordsmith to create this, but once they are not an apprentice they are nothing—they are a former apprentice; it is like being a former priest, something suspicious. We should give them something that celebrates what they have achieved, in the same way that we do for people who have followed the academic path.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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My Lords, I support both amendments. I add—and would venture to do so only in Committee—a private loop around the question of naming and how apprentices get to be made more important. On further consideration, I do not like the title of the Bill: “Technical Education” does not seem to cover it. I have no idea how this could be done, but I wonder whether we could consider changing the name of the Bill to the “Professional and Technical Education Bill”. Among the groups named in the Bill that will be considered are lawyers, accountants and other variants. We tend to refer to ourselves as professionals. It would cheer up apprentices in those fields no end to know that they were recognised as professionals. In fact it would cheer up apprentices generally if it was not just about a technical education, but about a professional one, indicating that they will be a professional in their field. I am thinking also of some of the nursing and auxiliary qualifications that would sound a lot better if they were named as the professional qualifications that in fact they are.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking
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We are learning such a lot this evening, and it is really very interesting. Clearly, the Government are taking draconian measures—and perhaps they should—to clear out a vast number of technical qualifications. That would be the consequence of this particular Bill finding its way to the statute book.

As a result of the process of establishing, with the help of industry, standards and outcomes, the Institute for Apprentices might apparently come to the conclusion that one particular technical qualification, for example in plumbing, is best done by City & Guilds. That seems to be the purpose behind what we are doing in this part of the Bill. The other awarding bodies would presumably not think it worthwhile to attempt to replicate that and have another plumbing qualification that is different, because that is the one that has the real stamp of approval with the Institute for Apprentices. Presumably, someone who is apprenticed to be a plumber will actually work for that qualification and hopefully get it.

This is a different system from that which has operated so far, but it is authoritative. If it is so perfect, are the Government intending to do this at GCSEs? If this wonderful system of technical awards is developed, should it not also be done for maths, English, history, geography and French? If what the Government are going to do is so wonderful and perfect, why should one stop with just technical subjects? If they are really persuaded that they have the best system for determining the best qualification in a technical subject, surely they should be able to decide what the best is in maths. If you are going to standardise things to this level, it might be GCSEs that would be the most effective. We must try to appreciate how thorough and complete a transformation will occur as a result of this.

Technical and Further Education Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I want briefly to add my support for these amendments, particularly Amendment 1. There needs to be a real commitment to assembling the data we need to assess how well apprenticeships are working and whether there are areas that need improving, looking at or changing. I also agree with a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that this is a key part of being able to raise the esteem for apprenticeships and vocational education. I add to the issues covered those relating to whether we are meeting the skills needs not just of the UK but of all the employers concerned. Are there sectors that are not doing as well as they should? Are SMEs being suitably addressed by the system and is it working? The amendment is a helpful way of ensuring that we are committed to collecting the data we need to measure, assess and demonstrate that apprenticeships are working.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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I, too, support the amendments and thank the noble Lord, Lord Nash, for his helpful letter. My heart lifted when I saw in it that there would indeed be controls to prevent employers refusing to release apprentices for training. That is jolly good; it will improve the quality of apprenticeships no end right there.

I retain an area of muddle in my head. We are all talking about apprenticeships, and degree-level apprenticeships operate rather differently. I thought degree-level apprenticeships would be designed by the Office for Students. I believe the Bill says that their conditions will be enforced, including the formal condition that people must be released for training, by the SFA—that is fine if I have understood it; there is nothing wrong with the SFA—while the design of all other apprenticeships and the setting out of conditions will be done by the new Institute for Apprenticeships. Do I still have this wrong, or will the new Institute for Apprenticeships design all our apprenticeships, including degree-level apprenticeships? There is a cross in responsibilities between the higher education Bill and the technical education Bill. To be frank, I am still “Slightly Muddled” of the House of Lords here. I would welcome assurance on this point.

Baroness Donaghy Portrait Baroness Donaghy (Lab)
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My Lords, I apologise for not being present at Second Reading. I hope that when the Institute for Apprenticeships is up and running the first apprenticeship it approves will be to teach the acronyms in this complicated area—it might do the whole country a service. As an educational administrator of 33 years, I do not understand the Bill, which I think is because we have a very complex and inadequate system which we are trying to turn into an adequate one. I fully accept the Government’s intentions; I am not absolutely clear whether they will be achieved.

I understand from the Minister’s briefing that the work to develop the detail of what the new system will look like is yet to be done and that the measures in the Bill are the first step, so I recognise that he will not have all the answers. However, in echoing the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, who takes the final decision about judging the quality will be a measure of the success or failure of the scheme. If the 20% off-the-job training works, the compliance issues are reliable and the Skills Funding Agency has the material—

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Baroness Donaghy Portrait Baroness Donaghy
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I will be brief, because some of these issues will come out when we deal with other amendments. In supporting issues of quality, it is first important that we know what the organisational chart will look like. A valiant attempt was made at an organisational chart, but whether I was any wiser at the end of reading it, I am not sure. I am not sure that an individual applicant, their parents or providers would be clear either. It seems to me that there is a separation of important issues of quality, not unlike the break we had just now—we were talking about one subject and have come back to talk about another. I am interested in the 20% off-the-job training. How will compliance with that fit in? To what extent will the integrity of the employer be relied on? How will it fit in with the qualifications that will be subject to either the Institute of Apprenticeships or the successor body to HEFCE? I am just not clear what the organisational chart is.

I do not expect the Minister to give me an answer straight away, but if I cannot see my way through this, acronyms and all—I have a bit of background in this area—I do not think we have necessarily got it right when it comes to the function of the Bill. Who exactly is in charge? Who will enforce compliance? Will it be separated out? If so, that relates to the issue of quality that my noble friends Lady Morris and Lord Young have spoken to very clearly. I am asking for clarity as the Bill goes through Committee, rather than for all the answers now.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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I, too, am not asking for all the answers now. I think we have a muddle with providers here. As I think everybody knows, I am chancellor of BPP University, which provides degree-level apprenticeships. We had expected that to be looked after and designed by the Office for Students. Fine—but the Bill says that all apprenticeships will be looked after by the Institute for Apprenticeships. Outside the university, we do skills training and proper apprenticeships, and I think I am clear that that part of our work will be looked after, regulated and designed by the Institute for Apprenticeships. If the Bill said that it applied to all apprenticeships, including degree-level apprenticeships, I would know where I was, but is this what we mean? I thought that bit of the university, of which I have the honour to be chancellor, was to be regulated, along with the rest of the university, by the Office for Students. There will be more and more universities doing this—they are natural providers of degree-level apprenticeships—but I think they will be in as much of a muddle as I am.

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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, I also apologise that I was not able to speak at Second Reading and I remind the Committee of my interests in respect of my employment at TES, which is probably where I was when the Second Reading debate took place. As others have said, careers education has been a failure under successive Governments, including the one of which I was a part. It is a hard area to resource well and it is hard for professionals in this area to keep up with the real world. From the contacts I have had with careers education professionals, they feel that the situation is getting worse, but that is for people generally to judge. I certainly mourn the loss of the education business partnerships that were part of keeping schools in touch with employers in their localities.

I join with those who are looking forward to a careers strategy from the Government, as set out in Amendment 2, but I am not sure about Amendment 9 and the need for a platform. I remind the Committee that UCAS itself has apprenticeship routes on it. You can search for apprenticeships on the UCAS website. I also remind the Committee that there are other providers. There is a company called Unifrog, which has been set up by a young man who is a Teach First ambassador. It takes the API feed from UCAS, provides a range of advice around apprenticeships, higher education and various learning providers, and as far as I can see it does that very well. I have some scepticism about requiring the Government to set up websites when others are providing them perfectly well and are probably better able to keep up with how technology is being used on the ground by young people.

I am very pleased to see that Amendment 11 would apply to all schools, including academies. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has added his name to it. I remember a similar amendment to the Education and Skills Act 2008 requiring the provision of impartial careers advice, but that applied only to local maintained schools because my then fellow Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, did not want it to apply to academies. However, there were not very many of those at the time. I also remember that in the following year the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act came in which required all post-16 institutions to give specific advice on apprenticeships.

To an extent, we have been here before. That is why the comments of my noble friend Lady Morris are so important on the incentives, and indeed the disincentives, in the system around giving impartial careers advice. So much is loaded on the intellectual, academic route and, in the end, that is what our schools system is designed for. It was designed in a bygone age to route people towards intellectual destinations in the knowledge that there would be a lot of wastage along the way but that those people would be picked up by the labour market employing them in factories or by marriage to someone who worked in a factory. However, we do not live in that labour market any more.

The substantive point I want to make to the Committee is this: how are we going to keep up with the rapid changes in the skills environment that are going on in the labour market? How do we ensure that these apprenticeship qualifications continue to have currency with the level of technological and demographic change that is altering things so dramatically? How do we ensure that careers advisers know the reality of what is changing? Demographic change means that a child starting school last September has a more than 50% chance of living to be over 100. The only way it is affordable for them to live to such a ripe old age is for them to carry on working into their 80s. They will have a 60-year working life and will, therefore, change career on many occasions. We need a skills infrastructure that allows them to be credited for the skills they acquire in work, to take short, intensive breaks from work to acquire new skills, and to take longer sabbatical periods to reacquaint themselves, if they have been there before, with higher education. How we design that is a big challenge, as is how we give young people through their educational journey, particularly their statutory one, a fundamental love of learning and the skills to learn so that they can retrain as technology deskills them. That way, they will have the resilience and reflective ability to understand that need.

Yesterday, I was discussing an Oxford University study, being done jointly with NESTA, on the skills needed for 2030. It is a bit of a mug’s game trying to predict what those might be, but a good projection is that the particularly vulnerable skills are in transport, customer services and sales, administration, and skilled construction and agricultural trades. These are among the themes that are picked up in the letter we were so pleased to receive from the Minister yesterday and in the 15 routes set out in the Sainsbury review. But some of those will go. For example, we have seen huge investment into driverless vehicles, particularly in Silicon Valley, and know the number of people who will be affected if that investment achieves a return—we can be pretty sure that it will over the next 20, 30 or 40 years. We have also seen the first humanless retail outlets being opened by Amazon. We can start to see some of these changes taking place, and I question how we are going to keep the advice, qualifications and structure sufficiently agile to keep up with the rapidity with which these changes may come and the new sectors that will emerge. We should not be wholly pessimistic about what will happen to the labour market, but advanced cognitive skills will undoubtedly be in increasing demand as artificial intelligence and robots take over some occupational categories.

How often does the Minister see the occupational categories set out in Schedule 1 being reviewed? How often are we likely to review the agility of the qualifications themselves? Qualifications generally are losing credibility with many employers because it takes too long to design them and get them approved. In particular, the suggestion set out in the letter—of procurement on a single licence for each one—means that whoever wins the qualification has to get a return on investment for delivering it. That might lock them into a period that removes the very agility that I am talking about. Finally, and most importantly, how will the new institute work with employers to ensure that that agility is informed by the best possible predictions about future skills needs five and 10 years hence?

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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My Lords, I support the amendments in general. I declare an interest as a director of Parkside Federation Academies Multi-Academy Trust and as a governor of the UTC Cambridge UK. We have had all the difficulties recruiting for the UTC that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has so eloquently adverted. No school has wanted to let us come in and take their kids.

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Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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My Lords, before we continue, I have a special request. Because the loop is not working, could noble Lords speak up when they are contributing? Thank you.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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My Lords, I had got as far as noting that the university technical college in Cambridge had encountered major difficulties with recruitment. The jury is still out on this, but the technical college has joined the Parkside multi-academy trust, and we believe that because the multi-academy trust has financial responsibility for all four secondary schools in our charge, it is probably going to be a little easier to envisage recruiting children from one of our schools over into the academy trust, if they would be better suited there. But it seems to me a possible route to help the UTCs, because the money does not go away from the multi-academy trust—it stays in. We hope this will be a little better.

On careers advice generally, I support the amendments. However, I have been wondering, particularly in view of the provisions that make the Institute for Apprenticeships responsible for producing careers advice, whether one ought to take it away from schools. It is very difficult for a school to keep up with its expertise, but then I was horribly reminded by my noble friend Lady Morris that individual teachers at a school are very influential in what their students choose to go on and do. So I wonder whether we could group schools’ careers advice. We could probably do that inside a multi-academy trust, and I will take home from this debate the suggestion that we try. For example, the University of Cambridge provides a perfectly effective careers service, with professional, HR-trained people, who will never have met the people whose careers they are advising on but seem to be doing it perfectly satisfactorily. Providing experts in careers, rather than forcing teachers to become experts, might have legs as an idea. Indeed, I know there are parents paying for professional careers advice because it works better than what they are being offered by the school. I do not want to propose it as a formal amendment, but I would be interested to know the Government’s thinking on that.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green
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My Lords, I will endeavour to be brief, because we have had a very extensive debate on this. I particularly support Amendment 11, because that is probably the most practical way forward. On careers advice, I incline to the point that my noble friend Lady Morris made. Whatever you do, you cannot take away the role of teachers, who are a very powerful and continuing day-to-day influence. However, as my noble friend pointed out, the problem is that the incentives are to direct their young people towards the sixth forms, which we encouraged or allowed many of them to set up. The point about the financial incentive is a difficult one, but nevertheless will not go away.

As for where people get information about apprenticeships, I cannot help but remind my noble friend Lord Knight that we set up the Apprenticeship Vacancy Matching Service, which I think is referred to in the letter, and that is still there as part of the National Apprenticeships Service. It is true that not all employers register their apprenticeships there, but there are certainly significant numbers on there and we should not ignore that.

What I really want to address is what happens when I go into secondary schools and speak to the sixth form: when I ask the students where they are going I get the inevitable response that mostly they are going to uni. Then when you ask them what the alternative career paths are, if you are lucky you will get one or two answers. They might mention apprenticeships. Apart from all the compulsory stuff that is outlined in Amendment 11, which I am not opposed to, it seems important that every school ought to have links with business, as has been said, such as the collaborative links that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to, which are good.

If you want to really enthuse and inspire young people about apprenticeships, the best thing you can do is send successful apprentices back into the schools. There is no better influence than sending young people back in to say, “Look, I’m doing it. I’m not going to get a £50,000 debt. I’m likely to get to a job at the end of it”. Young people are not stupid. They soon begin to think about the attractions of earn while you learn, with a definite job destination as well. I do not know how we will encourage that but we certainly should. If we are talking seriously about trying to improve the brand image of apprenticeships—the esteem in which they are held by both pupils and parents—this surely has to be a part of that process.

Again, it is interesting when you go into secondary schools and look at what they are proud of—on the walls you always see the number of people who have gone on to university, especially Oxford and Cambridge. I have yet to go to a school which has another board saying, “These people were our successful apprentices. They had degree-level apprenticeships. These people graduated in apprenticeships”. Some companies are now beginning to realise the importance of having a graduation ceremony on the completion of apprenticeships. That is another important way of improving the brand.

I will address the point made by my noble friend Lord Knight about the 15 routes and whether they will survive. The good thing about them is that they are generic. Look at transport and logistics: the nature of transport might change but it will still be there in one form or another. I am not too worried about that. However, how they actually work out in defining future skill needs will be a real challenge for the Institute for Apprenticeships. We have some very powerful indicators of what the needs are. If we look at the demographics of the engineering industry or the construction industry, we see that there are huge numbers of vacancies. The biggest age groups there are those in their 50s and 60s. We know there is significant demand there, as well as in information technology. Taken at its broadest description, there is significant demand there. I hope that when the Minister replies he will address some of these points.

My noble friend Lord Knight was right to remind us that if you look at the career path of young people who are starting their careers, they will require lifelong learning and probably will change their careers a number of times. Who knows, we might even get to the point of introducing significant sabbaticals for everybody, so that they can take career breaks. We still have a very fixed attitude towards employment. I welcome the amendments and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Technical and Further Education Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare various interests as set out in the register. I am chancellor of BPP University, where we have a current enrolment of 2,000 students on degree apprenticeship courses and an expected substantial increase for September 2017. I am also a member of the Parkside Federation Academies Trust and a governor of the University Technical College in Cambridge, which has just voted to become a member of the Parkside Federation Academies Trust.

I welcome the thrust of the Bill. My clever eldest son ceased to engage with conventional education at about 16 because he really wanted to be a show jumper. He was returned to us, to the world of work and to a highly successful career as a management consultant via an apprenticeship in the German city of Münster to a company engaged in tiling. He loved it. It taught him to speak German properly as opposed to fluently and ungrammatically; it taught him everything he needed to know about how to run a small business. In return, he taught the company, interestingly, how to work out on a computer how to lay tiles rather than running around with tapes and taking measurements. This was a boy who, had we had proper technical education in this country and had he had more sensible parents, would have been doing that. In the end he came back. He had to do the rest of his education here because the Germans refused to make him a finance director without any qualifications, and we refused to sympathise, so he had to come back and do a master’s degree at Cambridge.

I have serious questions, however, about the way in which the new Institute for Apprenticeships will interact with existing providers and regulators. I shall deal first with degree-level apprenticeships because it is an easy place to start. BPP is one of no fewer than 94 university providers, and there is no clarity on whether the new Office for Students being set up under the Higher Education and Research Bill, or the QAA or the board of the new institute will regulate these degree-level apprenticeships. At the moment—at least at BPP and I am sure at other colleges—apprenticeship proposals go through our own academic processes, led by the academic council, we vet our employer partners carefully and then we go through a couple more bodies.

In that sense, it would not be a lot of trouble to go through yet another body but, as a matter of public policy, I am concerned that the new institute could be overwhelmed by the need to deal, ab initio, with 94 current university providers. Delay will be the likely result but, more seriously, it could result in the institute being unable to devote enough time to what it is there for—to devise new apprenticeships and to deal with one of the problems the Bill seeks to address, namely the regulation of poor and ill-thought-out apprenticeship programmes at the 16 to 18 year-old level. It might be well worth leaving the arrangements for approving degree-level apprenticeships where they are, if only for a few years, in order to enable the new institute to concentrate.

I understand that the new institute is to have a staff of 20, which does not sound enough to do all of this and, unless the DfE is going to hire armies of people, I suggest we might try to lighten the load. In winding up the debate, will the Minister elucidate on what the thinking is on the arrangements for approving degree level apprenticeships in the future, specifically on whether they will all have to go to the new institute, and what will happen to the range of existing bodies currently involved in the process?

If it is the settled intention that the new institute will be responsible for all degree-level apprenticeships, could the Minister also tell the House what the staffing numbers envisaged will be? I am sure he agrees that these apprenticeships are vitally important and popular with students and employers alike. They are an important way of increasing social mobility and it is important that their growth is not checked by adding another layer of bureaucracy if it can be avoided.

I shall speak now about technical education in general at secondary school, FE and specialist institutions, and about apprenticeships other than at degree level which are closely linked. I was saddened that the Prime Minister’s speech on the importance of technical education contained no reference to the 41 university technical colleges set up under the auspices of the Baker Dearing Trust. I am sure that many Members of this House will recall the debates that were part of this process. My friend, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is in his place to hear all this today. I very much enjoyed his speech.

These schools are new and are meeting with mixed success in attracting pupils—and of course pupil numbers are key to finance and to being able to produce the best teaching. In Cambridge, the university technical college has just voted to become part of the Parkside Multi-Academy Trust which will enable it to spread its overheads and share some teaching. The college is already successful academically as well as getting its students on to good apprenticeships and wherever else they want to be, but the governors have accepted that being under the wing of a bigger group is helpful. However, our unique governance and ethos will be maintained within the structure. The multi-academy trust is extremely pleased to have the college because in a way we are setting our own transfer system so that we are now able to offer within the group a proper technical education for those of our children in other schools who would relish it. There is some difficulty, noted by me when collaring parents and saying, “I think that your kid is going to be better off in the technical college”, because that is not an altogether popular view, particularly with the 11 to 16 college that we have under our wing. It is a difficult situation.

Overall, the growth of university technical colleges is threatened not only by the fact that they are out on their own but by two other factors. There is a history of local authorities being unwilling to advertise university technical colleges for fear of losing students at the age of 14, particularly from the 11 to 16 colleges. I understand that, and I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that from June this year local authorities will be required to inform parents of the possibility of student transfer. This will enable the university technical colleges to visit local authority schools and tell their students about these colleges.

There has also been a problem with the Department for Education not being willing to recognise that getting an apprenticeship is an outcome for the purpose of its progression statistics. This is deeply unhelpful to parents and students and depressing for governors and staff, who can see that the apprenticeships which many of our students are taking up with the new science-based groups in Cambridge is a very good outcome indeed. I have been told by the Minister, I think, that this practice will change, but I would be grateful if he could specify how and when the method of collecting statistics will be altered.

Finally, I would like to raise the issue of finance, without which of course this Bill might as well not be under discussion. I know that the Government are putting in money and that they have great hopes for the levy, which will require all employers with an annual payroll of £3 million or more to contribute. That might be thought to be the answer to my question, but I have concerns about this. Large employers must be tempted to conclude that the levy is going to replace their existing training budgets, so they will set out to do the best they can to ensure that they get value for their contribution—essentially outsourcing training and the organisational load that goes with it. Trust me on this because I am a provider and I know that it is happening. In seeking bids to undertake their training, employers are also asking providers to compete and to specify how much of the administrative burden they will take over.

None of this is irrational or wrong, but I wonder whether enough government money from the levy or otherwise will be left over to enable small and medium-sized enterprises to develop valuable apprenticeships at any level. It is inevitable that providers are going to be less interested in taking over the administration and in tailor-making courses for the smaller numbers. Will the institute have funds to help it once the larger employers have done their best to spend the levy contribution? Surely I am not the only Peer in this House to hope that the Minister will deal with this vital point in his summing up.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said. I am a thoroughgoing supporter of getting more information out there to enable students to evaluate the quality of teaching that they will experience at university. We have allowed things to drift a long way in the wrong direction. However, the idea that by waving a wand we should decide that 80% of British university education is sub-standard and promulgate that across the world on the basis of a collection of experimental and rather hard-to-understand metrics just seems to me daft. It is not really helpful to anyone. All we are doing is “dissing” these universities. We are not enabling anyone to choose them. If someone is choosing a university, they will look at what is going on on a course. They will not experience the university quality of teaching; they will experience what is going on on a course. That is the level at which they need data. Nor do they need the Government to say, “This is a bronze-level course”. They need the data to make their own judgment because different things matter to different students. Some students want strict, hard teachers who will push them to do well, others want someone who will get them excited about a subject and will be a source of inspiration—I imagine the noble Lord, Lord Desai, is like this—and will drive students to work extremely hard in their own time. Different students need different things. What we need is a lot of information so that students and those who advise them can make up their own minds. In that context, the amendment of my noble friend Lord Norton is a great deal better than any of mine. My noble friend’s Amendment 177 seems to me the right way to go.

I support what my noble friend Lord Willetts said: this is experimental. We need to go on down this road and have the courage to continue. However, we should recognise that this process is experimental and that we have not yet got to a point where we know that we are defining quality in the right way. It is a very difficult area to assess. On the basis of students’ experience of only one course at one university, how do you compare whether the teaching on the engineering course at Loughborough is better or worse than the teaching on the engineering course at Oxford? They are different kinds of students with different predilections on two excellent courses, but how do you compare them on a single measure? It is very difficult to understand how we get to that point or what we should be doing with that information. None the less, we want to drive up the quality of teaching and make progress in that direction.

There seems to be a wish on the Government’s part to incorporate some measure of teaching quality in their decision whether to allow a university to raise its fees. That seems to me fair enough. However, if there is to be a collection of metrics for that purpose, they should be used for that purpose. We should not try to use a set of metrics for that purpose and at the same time say that they reflect the quality of the student experience or decisions that students should make. In its dialogue with universities the department should use its own process in arriving at a decision; it should not publish its decision as if something that was good for setting fees was good for telling students what decisions they should take.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, says that there are metrics we could use. Yes, absolutely, there are things with which to experiment. If I think back to my own university days, attendance at courses rather depended on the timing of boat club dinners and whether I was supposed to go to something the following morning. I am not sure that that should reflect on the mark given to my teachers, whoever they were. So let us aim at something that encourages the creation of metrics and their publication. Let us make sure that these metrics cannot be summarised by the Government at the level of course, let alone university. It should not be the Government’s purpose to arrive at verdicts based on difficult-to-interpret information; it should be something they allow other people to do and make the best of. We certainly should not allow the Government to use these metrics for anything to do with immigration. I still remain entirely in the dark as regards the Home Office’s intentions. Let us see what response we get from the Government and be firm in our resolution not to let this measure through as it is.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, I remind the Committee that I am chancellor of the biggest private for-profit university in the country. We gain high marks in student surveys and in terms of employability. However, we regard both these things as at best very partial measures—student surveys, for all the reasons adduced by other Members of the House, and employability because we teach subjects, mostly law, accountancy and nursing, in which employability is slightly easier to expect. However, as part of getting degree-awarding powers, which took us four long years, we were assessed by the QAA. One of the things that was assessed was teaching quality. People who knew what they were talking about in terms of teaching quality, including from the Law Society and the Bar Council, sat in on lessons to see how we taught. When our licence was renewed in 2013, the whole thing happened again: people sat in on lessons and lectures to decide how well we were teaching. We passed with a very high standard. That might be the ideal supplementary measure because it is objective and is done by people who know what they are looking for. With the best will in the world, I do not think one can suggest that students, with their somewhat partial attendance, know what they are looking for. We need people with experience of teaching who know what they are looking for.

That leads me to the observation that the figure of 400 new entrants strikes me as amazingly high. The QAA says that it has passed through somewhere between 60 and 70 of us for degree-awarding powers since 2005, not more than that. Some of us have the title of university, some do not. These figures suggest to me that a much smaller number of higher education providers are outside the university sector than I thought. I wonder whether teaching quality assessment might not turn up as part of the duties of the new quality assessment committee, which appears later in the Bill. Might that not be part of its task, so that you have one expert assessment as opposed to the various useful consumer-type assessments which come from students liking and understanding what they are doing and getting jobs? I do not suggest that we should avoid those elements—they are excellent measures—but we need something objective as well to be sure that we are being fair to all institutions and that teaching quality is assured. I would like to come back to this later in the Bill.

Earl of Listowel Portrait The Earl of Listowel (CB)
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My Lords, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, which was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. These measures should not be used as a means to punish academics but should rather be used to support them in developing their game. As a trustee of a mental health charity that works with schools, I am well aware of the morale among teachers and head teachers and regret to say that it is very often extremely poor. They are of course at the opposite extreme. As a former Chief Inspector of Schools has said, we have the most measured pupils in the world, and we probably have the most measured teachers in the world. So many of them are worrying, “When is an Ofsted report going to come along to tell me how badly I’m doing?”.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, I support all the amendments and in particular the comments that my noble friend has just made. For the university of which I am chancellor, part-time study is a key part of the business model, and for my noble friend Lady Blackstone it is a key part of her business model at Birkbeck. Why, we ask ourselves, are part-time students reducing in numbers? I have to say that I do not have a good answer to that, but it is enormously important. It would be very hard to find anybody who does not support the extension of part-time teaching, but we do not seem to be getting it right—even those of us whose core business it is. I would like to ask the Government to think about this.

Baroness Wolf of Dulwich Portrait Baroness Wolf of Dulwich (CB)
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My Lords, I also would like to support this amendment and all the amendments in the group, one of which bears my name. The comments we have just heard go to the core of the problem. Everybody believes that part-time and mature students are very important—the Government believe it and every previous Government in my memory believed it—and yet, at the moment, we see not a rise but a decrease in their numbers, and they are not more evident as part of the higher education system but less so than they were quite recently. My view is that the root cause of this lies with the current funding system for higher education, which clearly cannot be dealt with by this Bill. However, the Bill can and should make explicit the responsibilities of the OfS to make these groups central to its concerns and mission and not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, something to be added on at the end.

I will mention one other group mentioned in the amendment: workplace students. Again, those students are tremendously fashionable in political statements but do not tend to be very numerous in reality. Twenty or 30 years ago, we had a well-developed ONC/HNC route for those students, but we no longer do. Since I totally agree with those noble Lords who have underlined the rapidly changing nature of the jobs market, I think that this group, too, needs explicit attention from the Office for Students.

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Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I hope that we are not going to lose the main point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. In light of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, I refer back to what the Minister, Jo Johnson, said to the Public Bill Committee about delegation by the OfS to the Director for Fair Access and Participation. He said:

“We envisage that in practice that will mean that the other OfS members will agree a broad remit with the future director for fair access and participation and that the DFAP will report back to them on those activities. As such, the DFAP would have responsibility for those important access and participation activities, including—critically—agreeing the access and participation plan on a day-to-day basis with higher education institutions”.—[Official Report, Commons, Higher Education and Research Bill Committee, 8/9/16; col. 136.]

That seems to me to deal effectively with both those points, although I would welcome the Minister confirming that.

But in looking at that, I do not want us to lose sight of the practicalities of the negotiating position on the ground. There have been two very distinguished directors of OFFA—Sir Martin Harris and the current, excellent director, Les Ebdon—and the current director has made it very clear that having the independence to engage in negotiations free from conflicts of interest has been crucial in securing high levels of commitment by institutions to date and a key factor in OFFA’s success. We need to capture that particular element of the role, and I hope that when the Minister replies he can reassure us that the amendments he has down will accede to and confirm that point, so that this will be very clear to the rest of the Committee.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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My Lords, I have a couple of perhaps slightly random points to make. Access and participation go together. If you do not enable participation either by disabled students—although access for physically disabled students is much easier if you have modern buildings—or by students who do not come in at your normal expected entry level, you have not widened access, because they will struggle and may well fail. You have to count participation as part of access. One talks about disadvantaged students in one breath, whether one is speaking of physical disadvantage or the kind of disadvantage that comes from being badly educated. Physical disadvantage is really not that difficult to cope with provided you have modern buildings—although it is horrendously difficult if you do not. It is also made a great deal easier of course by modern technology.

However, there is also the kind of disadvantage which means you are coming in with much worse academic experience and less academic practice than your colleagues—for example, people who turn up at Cambridge without the kind of essay-writing practice which the best schools provide are at a serious disadvantage and can struggle for the whole of the first year. Unless you support people, for example by getting them to come up early, as we are beginning to think about at Cambridge—any gradation from that to a foundation year—you have not widened access. It does not seem to me that this can be mixed up, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, suggests, or subsumed in general provision. It is specific.

None Portrait Lord Willis of Knaresborough (LD)
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My Lords, I did not mean to speak on this part of the Bill, and was absent at Second Reading, but I want to raise a key issue that follows on from the noble Baroness. With previous Acts of Parliament, and when we set up OFFA, we were totally consumed by the whole idea that access to higher education was about getting into Oxford and Cambridge, and that has bedevilled the whole system.

What worries me about what is being proposed at the moment—this was referred to in our earlier debate by the noble Lords, Lord Rees and Lord Lucas— is what happens not with individual universities but between universities. Quite often we see students from poorer backgrounds, or indeed from all backgrounds, who gain credits in parts of courses but then move, either with their spouse or because they want to move for work elsewhere, and find that the pre-learning that they worked very hard for is simply not accepted in other universities. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, mentioned the California situation, which applies in virtually all the community colleges in the United States, where those accumulated credits can be used and cashed in, not simply at other community colleges but at universities right up to the very highest levels, including the Ivy League, because those are high-class students. Unless we start to think about this office as dealing not with single universities but with the whole of the higher education sector, and encourage higher education institutions to work together for the benefit of all students, then, frankly, we will have missed a great opportunity to make a fundamental change to the way in which we look at the whole system rather than at individual institutions.

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Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased that what has come to the fore in this debate has been the concern of this House for the qualitative impact on our universities. I look at the world as someone who has done international work all my life, and what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, was very important. He underlined that the day that Brexit comes into effect, we become more dependent on our relationships with the world than we have ever been. It is not just a matter of what markets we will get; in every dimension of our security and well-being, we are inescapably linked to the world community.

I do not understand how a university can be a relevant centre of learning and higher education in the modern world unless it represents, in its character and being, the world of which it is a part. It is essential in virtually every discipline. On Monday, we emphasised the importance of interdisciplinary studies. It becomes even more important within those studies to include the reality of what the world is. I just hope that any reporting that may be introduced will take those wider dimensions into account, not just the quantitative dimension.

As a young MP way back in the 1960s, in the first debate in which I cut my teeth, I was up against the Secretary of State, the almost irreplaceable Anthony Crosland. It was about overseas student fees increasing. I remember thinking then what a pity it was that the vice-chancellors put so much emphasis on the impact of fees on their income. Of course that is crucial, but I wondered why they were not making the important point that the quality of their education itself was desperately dependent on that international reality.

I thank those noble Lords who have made this debate possible. I am glad to hear from those who know him better than I do that the Minister is on our side. I sincerely hope that he is, because we shall damage the quality of our education—academic freedom and the autonomy of universities—which we took so seriously for many hours of debate on Monday. Why? Because we wanted to preserve that quality. How can we have that unless it is international in character?

I add just one point, which is anecdotal, so far as I can make out—it is not established in statistics—but I think it needs to be taken to heart. Already there are indications of overseas academics being offered an enhanced future in their profession but unwilling to take it because they are not sure that Britain is a place in which they want to live and work. That is a tragedy of the first order. There is already anecdotal evidence that sensitive, imaginative students at undergraduate level across the world are saying, “Hang on a moment. Is this hostile Britain really the place we want to go to pursue our learning and higher education?”. There is a fundamental issue at stake here, and we need to get it right very fast indeed.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico
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My Lords, at the risk of lowering the tone after my noble friend Lord Judd’s speech, I say that I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Not only are we cutting ourselves off from the intellectual, social and international contribution from the students we are refusing or discouraging, we are behaving with staggering ungraciousness to those students who have already made an enormous financial contribution to the welfare of our universities. It would serve us right if they stopped doing so. Anyone who, like me, has been instrumental in raising money for universities knows how we can depend on the generosity of foreign students educated here to support our universities. I cannot bear it that we are treating them with such ungraciousness.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie Portrait Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab)
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My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, was quite relieved when the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, delivered his intervention—because, up to that point, he was very much cast in the role of guest at his own party. As ever, I enjoyed his contribution. His amendment is an important one; it highlights the need to pursue transparency, accountability, equality of teaching and how it is to be assessed—issues that you would think cannot fail to command the support of all noble Lords, although I suspect that the Minister will find a way to disagree.

I diverge a little from the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who prayed in aid the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment as products of high-quality university scholarship of their ages. I have to say that two out of three ain’t bad—but, as a fellow Scot, he will know what I mean when I say that I hae ma doots about the Reformation.

Higher Education and Research Bill

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Excerpts
Baroness Brown of Cambridge Portrait Baroness Brown of Cambridge
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I thank the noble Lord for that clarification, which I strongly support.

I shall speak briefly to Amendment 56, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Wolf. The Office for Students is tasked with promoting quality. Promoting quality seems a modest ask, and we feel that the Office for Students should be given a more dynamic and assertive challenge—not just to see that a particular objective or standard has been reached, but to be active in ensuring that quality is delivered in an environment of continuous improvement. We urge the Minister to consider some more active wording about the need to secure and improve the overall strength and quality of higher education provision in England, with a stress not just on ensuring quality but continuing to improve it.

Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Portrait Baroness Cohen of Pimlico (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the amendments. I would like to see something more definitive in this package of clauses. One of the most important developments in higher education is the growth of the degree-level apprenticeship. It has not had the fair wind that it deserves, but it is immensely important, because people come out of it without debt and, usually, with a good job, but there is a distinct feeling that it is looked down on as being in some way trade training rather than degree level. I have 2,000 such students in my university and we expect to expand, not as a matter of principle but in response to huge demand. There is very little in the Bill about degree-level apprenticeships, and perhaps there is not meant to be, but since it is such an enormously important development, I would like something in the Bill to say that we will encourage it.

That goes along with geographical diversity. We have eight establishments all over England—again driven, I fear, not by social purpose or a plan but by the market. We discovered that we had students coming to London who did not mean to be there. They were making great sacrifices to be in London and a lot of them seemed to come from York or Leeds. We thought that the local profession would have welcomed them and given them a hand to get started. So I fear that demand did that but, as many noble Lords have said, you cannot expect everybody to travel to London or the great southern centres to go to university. It is enormously helpful to a locality to have a decent university. Much of the demand for degree-level apprenticeships will not be in London; it will be outside London and geographically spread. I am looking for a way to say this in the Bill.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, several of the amendments seem linked to some of the issues that we were discussing on Monday. That is, there is a sense of unease in the sector that the system is not being looked at in a holistic way. That came through in an awful lot of the evidence that went, first, to the Commons Select Committees, but also came to us in this House, in the form of the briefing we received. I very much focus on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on promoting choice and serving the public interest. It is entirely right to expect universities to serve the public interest, and it is a role for the Office for Students to try to ensure that they do that as a sector, particularly with regard to the need to maintain confidence in the UK’s higher education sector. There is a real anxiety that some of the major changes in the Bill will rather undermine the sector rather than maintain confidence in it.

I have one anxiety, which we can come back to later, about the role of OFFA. When I asked the civil servants whether there were any changes, and what the difference was between the new Office for Students and HEFCE, they did not perceive that there were any real, or major, differences. But there is one difference on which we should focus, and I hope the Minister will consider this—that is, the role of HEFCE as it is now, which I hope the Office for Students will be able to take on board, of reflecting the needs and interests of the sector to government, not necessarily formally but certainly to ensure that there is an unasked-for dialogue. I hope that the Office for Students, in knowing the sector as it will, will be able to transfer that to government. It all goes to the sense of maintaining confidence in the sector and the public that they are getting the value for money that their taxes, having been spent on higher education, really deserve.