HC Deb 22 March 1988 vol 130 cc244-63

'The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision requiring local education authorities to provide educational maintenance allowances for pupils aged 16 to 19'.'—[Mr. Fatchett.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Fatchett

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider the following: New clause 2–16–19 Education—

  1. `(1) Within 6 months of Royal Assent to this Act the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report on education and training for 16 to 19 year olds.
  2. (2) Such a report shall deal with financial support to enable 16 to 19 year olds to remain in full time education, the need to integrate education and training provisions for 16 to 19 year olds; and a review of all examinations and forms of continual assessment for 16 to 19 year olds to ensure they are compatible and will enable a young person to build up a range of skills and knowledge for their own sake or for entry into Higher Education or work.'.

New clause 18—Further and Higher Education

  1. '(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, within three months of the date of Royal Assent, to lay an Order in draft before each House of Parliament for approval to make provision for the matters specified in subsection (2).
  2. (2) The Order specified in subsection (1) above shall provide for local education authorities to have the duty to undertake functions in relation to strategic planning of post-16 education provision outside schools, including
  1. (a) the drawings up of strategic plans for such post-16 provision;
  2. (b) the undertaking of negotiations with the Manpower Services Commission over the provision of courses;
  3. (c) the submission of plans to the Secretary of State; and, in relation to (c) above, the Secretary of State shall have regard to such plans in making any determination relating to the funding of provision to which this section applies.'.

Mr. Fatchett

It is a pleasure to have yet another opportunity to debate with the Minister of State. She has told me privately that there were certain difficulties last night and that she was about to lose her voice. Therefore, she found that moving the money resolution formally had certain advantages. I explained subsequently that I was in a somewhat similar position. I will try not to move the new clause formally, so as to give the Minister some time to be ready to answer the debate.

I note that there is an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). It is typical of amendments moved by the hon. Member for Yeovil and I wondered whether, at some stage, he would be moving our own new clause. He has just failed to get the amendment right in those terms. Those of us who watched the hon. Gentleman's performance in Committee will be interested to note that today he has brought with him reinforcements—or should I say, reinforcement. For this important debate on 16-to-19 education we now have with us the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes). Therefore, the two spokespersons on education for the alliance are present.

I realise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that poses a problem for you. If both hon. Members were to stand and seek to catch your eye, there may be some difficulty in deciding who gets preference. I realise that the hon. Member for Yeovil may be gallant enough to give preference to the hon. Member for Greenwich. He may be gallant enough to secognise that, according to the recent opinion poll, the hon. Member for Greenwich now represents more people in the country than the hon. Member for Yeovil. There may well be a problem in terms of the normal courtesies of the House in respect of making a choice there.

Before we begin this important debate I should like to say that the Secretary of State was in a slightly unhappy mood during the first debate. He said that the Labour party had resorted to personal criticism of him. I am sorry that it has pricked him in that way. I can say genuinely that we will not do it again, and we promise the Secretary of State—I shall convey this promise to him when he is in the Chamber with us—that we will not criticise him if his colleagues stop doing so, particularly if the Prime Minister stops. We can then all work on the same basis.

There was little chance in Committee to debate the important educational area of post-16 provision. It is a crucial area and one that all political parties need to address as we move towards the next century and the problems that will be created for our economy in terms of new skills and the education and training for those new skills.

It is not an understatement to say that in many respects post-16 education faces a crisis. It is not a crisis of under-performance, because the HMI reports have spoken favourably of what is performed in further education in our tertiary colleges and our sixth forms. I believe that it is a crisis of identity. It is a crisis of future orientation and a lack of innovation and direction on the part of the Government.

The Government tell us regularly — they are right; there is no criticism of this—that a modern economy needs to give its labour force the ability to adapt to new technologies and jobs. That is the basis of a skills economy. It is the basis of a knowledge economy for the next century. We need people with adaptable skills who will enable Britain to compete successfully with other countries. Other countries are already investing in adaptable skills and we feel that Britain is not making the same necessary investment.

If we look at the way in which the Government meet the challenge, we can see that on all figures of international comparison the Government fail in their ability to persuade youngsters at the age of 16 to stay on in full-time education or in high-quality training. That is a loss not just to the country but to the individual. Leaving school early and putting good education and high quality training behind one is a loss to the individual in terms of future opportunities. Every time a youngster leaves good-quality education or training at the age of 16, that youngster is having certain doors closed on him or her. As I have said, it is a loss to the individual and to the economy.

If one looks at the comparisons that can be made between this country and our major competitors, one can see that we perform badly in terms of persuading youngsters to stay on in education at the age of 16. About one third of youngsters in this country stay on in full-time education. Our competitors improve on that substantially. In countries such as Sweden, it is a rare exception for a youngster to leave good-quality education and training at the age of 16. The same is true of Denmark, the United States, Holland, Japan, France, Italy and Germany. All our major competitors fare better than we do in this area.

I am not making a partisan or party political point here. There is a deep cultural problem in this country and staying on rates have not been good under any previous Government. But we must face this crisis if we are to compete in the skills and knowledge economy of the next decade and century. What has happened before is irrelevant to the way in which we build for the future.

One of the Government's arguments is to say that we now have the youth training scheme and that if we take youngsters on that into account our figures bear some international comparison. Two things need to be said about that. First, all hon. Members know that there are good-quality youth training schemes — and appalling ones. The YTS varies in quality. The best schemes can compete internationally, but the medium and worse ones cannot. So including YTS figures makes the figures biased.

Secondly, there is an interesting irony in the British education system. In the debate on special education that we have just had, there was a genuine concern about children performing at one end of the spectrum and about those at the other end. There is an irony that is germane to this context, too. Our post-16 provision does not give a broad enough base in training and education to equip our youngsters with the skills and abilities that they need to manage their economic performance and their lives.

The YTS provision is specific and narrow. We do not build up a range of skills in youngsters on YTS; we build up one specific skill that enables them to find some opportunity in the labour market. A-levels, too are very specific, which is the other part of the irony. We offer youngsters doing A-levels an equally narrow education and training until the age of 18. By contrast with every other western European country, therefore, we have two specific forms of training. Those other countries aim for broader post-16 training.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. Is he saying that 16 is the wrong age at which to test people? Many of the countries that he has mentioned do these examinations at 17½ and 18. Is the fundamental flaw in this country our obsession with exams at 16—and probably with doing so many examinations?

Mr. Fatchett

The hon. Gentleman has touched on a point that I shall come to later. It is a valid point about the nature of the qualification and examination system in this country. It should be an important item on the agenda for future discussions in the education world.

There are other problems, too. Government statistics show that the number of youngsters going into full-time and higher education will inevitably decline because of demographic factors during the next decade. That decline is an opportunity in some respects and a challenge and worry in others. It is a challenge and worry because, unless we persuade more youngsters of the post-16 age group to stay on, we shall not reinvest in the skills base that the British economy will need into the next century. Also, we shall not have the opportunity to develop that generation if we miss this chance to invest more in youngsters, because there is now a smaller age group than before. That is the opportunity.

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Another aspect gives rise to anxiety, and I do not want to sound critical about it. In the past few years, during which there has been an increase in youth employment, many youngsters have gone out to find the jobs that are available. That makes economic and domestic sense for families, but we must be worried about the jobs that many of them are taking in the labour market. There are figures to support the argument that some jobs lack skills, training, and the chance to hold aspirations or find future opportunity.

We are creating a two-tier labour market and the youngsters going out into the second tier will find that their futures hold little in the way of training or enrichment of their jobs and lives. So, while we welcome the increase in youth employment, we are also concerned that many of the jobs to which youngsters go will offer little training or hope of satisfaction.

The picture of British education for post-16s shows that the system is not performing well on international comparisons, that it is too specific and narrow and that it is not necessarily adaptable to future requirements. It shows, too, that fewer youngsters are staying on after 16, partly for demographic and partly for employment reasons. There is a potentially damaging lack of investment in young people and their future skills, and we need to do something to reverse the process.

It is a great shame that the Secretary of State, who had all this legislative time, has not thought post-16 education important enough to go on the education agenda. The crisis exists and I should have hoped that the Secretary of State, the Ministers and the Government would have responded to it.

How can we change the depressing cultural feature of many youngsters being driven away from educational opportunities at the age of 16? As a country, we must set ourselves a simple target, which has been achieved by many of our competitors. It is the single most important target for the education system: the goal of making it possible for all our youngsters to stay in education and of effectively raising the school-leaving age to 18—not on a compulsory basis, but by creating a cultural climate in which they will all expect that it will be possible for them to stay on in good schools and training in which to build their future lives and satisfactions.

I offer the Government two suggestions on how this is to be done. First, the crucial precondition for effective post-16 education for all our youngsters is to recognise that there is a need to provide a financial incentive for the youngsters of many working-class families to stay on after the age of 16. All the available evidence is that many families face a financial burden in supporting youngsters staying on post-16. There is a financial incentive to persuade the 16-year-old youngster to join the labour market and take those jobs which I have described, which are without hope and training.

How many families in each of our constituencies include youngsters, especially girls, who have been told that the best thing for them—in fact, the only thing that is necessary in the context of the family—is to find a job rather than stay on in good education and training? We must create an incentive for youngsters to stay on in education. The Government must seriously consider the possibility of educational maintenance allowances.

Secondly, we must consider the whole system of post-16 qualifications. There is a plethora of qualifications, many of which are not understandable to employers, parents or youngsters. We need to be radical and have a system that is understandable. Such a system should have two characteristics. First, it must be modular and portable so that youngsters can build up the skills and qualifications to take with them into their future lives and employment. Secondly, the qualifications should not become specific so that they are divisive and provide categories of youngsters who are either technically qualified or academically qualified. The qualifications should be sufficiently broad to give the technically able youngster a broad general education.

We have had a debate on the national curriculum. Sadly, I have not noticed one Minister—I apologise if Ministers have done this—consider the need to provide basic literacy and numeracy skills for our post-16 education system. We have failed miserably in providing our youngsters with an understanding of the society in which they will make their living. How many of our youngsters leave school at 16 with an understanding of our great institutions? There are many opportunities post-16 on which we should build. Qualifications should not be divisive. They should be broad, which would fit in with the objective of the system being modular and portable. I hope that that partly answers the point made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel).

One of the great weaknesses of the British education sysem is that we live in a culture of failure rather than success. Someone once said to me, appositely, that the British education system would probably get its ultimate satisfaction in failing someone with a PhD thesis. We should find a way to provide an education that assesses youngsters' abilities and considers those abilities in terms of success rather than failure. We create barriers when youngsters are 16 which limits them to being seen as either failures or successes.

I remember commenting at a meeting in Weston-super-Mare that the most effective way to assess youngsters would be to judge what they can perform against their ability. I made the point that, if I were to be thrown into the sea at Weston-super-Mare, it would be a great success if I could swim 10 yards. Some wag in the audience said, "If anyone from this place can find the sea at Weston-super-M are, he would also have great success." The ability of an individual to swim a metaphorical 10 yards and to see that as a success is crucial in our education system. Rather than praise success, our education system often seems to look for failure and to limit people because of that failure.

There is an urgent need to re-examine all our provision post-16. That should be given an important place towards the top of our education agenda. Post-16 provision is a crucial investment in this country's future. It is about time that the Government acted with the urgency that the need for good post-16 education requires from a Government who are thinking about the future.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the House that there is a lot of ground to cover in a short period; brief speeches will be very much in order.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

I shall follow your instruction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) has made an important and interesting point. I agree that we need to give young people more encouragement for what they have achieved from their education. I agree that, because of the continuing high unemployment in certain parts of the country, it is important to encourage people from homes where there is unemployment to stay on at school or go into further education.

We should look at the new clause in the context of the Government's forthcoming publication on the future of student grants and loans. I note that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) is here. He too, served on the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts between 1979 and 1983 when we considered the possibility of grants and loans and concluded that there should be a mixture of the two, although we were not specific as to amounts.

We must let the GCSE settle down. It is one of the greatest upheavals that we have ever had in the education system. I pay tribute to the enormous amount of work that teachers are doing in trying to get it right. It is a mere six or seven weeks before the first examination.

To encourage people to have greater faith in and enthusiasm for education, there should be much greater use of school buildings, homework should be done at school rather than at home and there should be much greater use of libraries for education purposes. There must be a sea change in attitudes to staying on at school from not only pupils but their parents. Whether they change will depend on what is on offer. I hope that, once the GCSE has settled down, people will feel that the curriculum is wider, better and more relevant and provides a better opportunity to get a job.

Before we allow new clause 1 to be passed, we should consider possible changes in child benefit and in tax allowances for people whose children stay on at school. I do not disagree with the spirit of new clause 1, but there are many other matters to be considered. I agree with the comment of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central that there should be urgent re-examination of post-16 education. After this huge Education Reform Bill has been passed, we want gentle and cautious experiment, rather than another great upheaval.

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East)

I found a great deal with which to agree in the speeches of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), both of whom believe, as I and other Opposition Members do, that education should be an enabling experience, extending opportunities to all our citizens, as well as equipping society with the skills and knowledge that it will need for the 21st century.

Any major educational reform worthy of the name should therefore address at its heart the extension of opportunity and access, both through adequately resourced arid properly planned provision and by encouraging and supporting participation. It should especially encourage the participation of those people whose social and economic disadvantage is compounded by their under-representation in education and training, which too often bequeaths poor opportunities and limited expectations from one generation to another.

There is no group for whom that is more important than those in the 16 to 19-year-old band who will be among the principal victims of the divisive and still half-baked aspects of the legislation. They will suffer as a result of the destructive competition which open enrolment and opting out would usher in. They will suffer especially as a result of the attack on planning and co-ordination, as the role of education authorities is undermined. They will pay the price for the absence from the Bill of an effective strategy for education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds.

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Moreover, the Bill is inflicting that damage on the already scandalously unsatisfactory situation in which only 32 per cent. of young people in the United Kingdom remain in full-time education after 16, compared with 79 per cent. in the United States, 70 per cent. in the Netherlands, 69 per cent. in Spain, 58 per cent. in France, 48 per cent. in Italy and 44 per cent. in West Germany.

That neglect of education and training for young people is unique in the industrialised world and is further aggravated by the shortcomings of the youth training scheme. Unfortunately, the good projects in that scheme are vastly outnumbered by those which are no more than cheap labour devices and which have a great deal more to do with manipulating the unemployment figures and undermining wage levels than with developing real skills or providing real jobs.

As the Government have palpably failed to provide any effective strategy for the education and training of 16 to 19-year-olds, the House owes it to our young people and to the cultural and economic future of our society to amend the Bill to provide such a strategy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central referred to some of the elements of that strategy. I want particularly to address the question of financial support for those staying on in full-time education after 16. Anyone who considers the evidence cannot dispute that there is a need for such financial support. The longitudinal analysis by the national child development study showed the benefits for those who stayed on at school and the extent to which young people were leaving school for financial reasons. As we would expect, those who were disadvantaged at 16 were most likely to leave because, as they put it, "The family needs the money."

Similarly, an analysis by Brown and Madge of the Social Science Research Council and DHSS-funded studies into the cycle of deprivation concluded: The provision of funds to enable older children to stay on at school is grossly inadequate and should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Such evidence and pleas have fallen on deaf ears so far as the Government are concerned, and the Bill will do nothing to help the situation.

The Government deny both independence and opportunity to young people under 18. The Bill especially penalises those families who are low-paid or unemployed and for whom maintaining a young person in full-time education imposes a cost which is all too frequently insupportable. I do not suggest that the introduction of an allowance will, of itself, remedy the situation and compensate for the cultural failing within our society to expect and encourage young people to stay on at school, but it is indisputably necessary for us to make progress towards greater participation in education and training after the age of 16.

We need mandatory allowance provision which can make a real difference. No one would deny that such provision would have a substantial cost and that further consultation on the details of its operation and relation to child benefit and tax allowances, for example, would be necessary. We should consider that not simply as a cost, but as an investment, which is more than worth while in terms of extending opportunity and of equipping society with the skills and knowledge that we need for the future.

In the past week, the Government have spoken a great deal about incentives. We have seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer redistribute colossal sums of money to the very rich for totally unneeded and unproven incentives. It is high time that the country and the House rose to the challenge and created incentives where they are really needed to enable all our young people to have a good education. That is why the Opposition have tabled new clause 1. I urge the House to support it.

Mr. Ashdown

In such debates as this there is always a sense of deja vu. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) commented on that. I had a sense of deja vu when he spoke because, as so many times in Committee, it was a pity that he spoiled a good speech by making puerile comments at the start.

I have always believed that the Labour party was unfit to govern Britain, not because it is shot through by the extreme Left, but because it is out of date. When the hon. Gentleman spoke about my party, he clearly showed himself to be out of date and does not even appear to have read the weekend newspapers.

What was even more telling was that the hon. Gentleman accused me of falling back on the device of amending new clause 2, thus omitting completely the fact that I have tabled new clauses 24 and 25. However, Labour Members have constructed events in such a way that those new clauses are unlikely to be debated. I have had to take the Labour party's wishy-washy, generalised, unspecific and soggy new clause and seek to put some flesh on it. That happened time after time in Committee because Labour Members never did any hard thinking about alternatives.

The Labour party is in the middle of what I can only call "reviewitis". Rather than tackle any of the problems, its initial reaction is to have a review and to call for a report. The Labour party is currently reviewing and reporting on its policy as a whole. If we consider the new clauses tabled by Labour Members, we find exactly the same thing. Whenever Labour Members need to take a hard decision, as in the case of education for 16 to 19-year-olds, they call for a report. On the issue of staffing nursery classes, Labour again calls for a report, rather than putting down any specific proposals. If we consider new clause 8—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is taking too many new clauses at a time. Let us stick to the new clauses 1, 2 and 18.

Mr. Ashdown

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely saying that, of the 11 new clauses tabled by the Labour party, no fewer than five make no specific recommendations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has not heard me. We are debating new clauses 1, 2 and 18, and I hope that he will confine his remarks to them.

Mr. Ashdown

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but surely it is in order to answer the attack made upon me by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. I have one sentence to say. Of those new clauses, a full five make no proposal but simply call for a report. That is why I put down the particular amendment that was attacked by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman should have taken that view at the start of his speech.

The Labour party's new clause is welcome, so far as it goes, because we shall have to move towards the establishment of educational maintenance allowances. The question really is what will happen if we do not do something in that area. The evidence is perfectly clear. The number of students in further education in Britain is depressingly, perhaps even tragically, low.

Compared with other nations, about 30 per cent., depending how one calculates it, of students in Britain stay on in education, whereas, in most cases in the more advanced industrial nations, the rate is at least double that, and frequently more. In Japan, the rate is about 90 per cent., depending on how it is measured. Therefore, there is no question but that we must take some steps now to ensure that an appropriate number stay on in education after the age of 16.

To pick up a point tellingly made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel), we shall soon come to a point in our education system where we are not talking about the 14-to-16 age hand but about a 14 to 18-year-old band. Within a decade or so we may well find that GCSE, although an entirely admirable model of an exam, will have withered away in importance and we shall be looking much more at the 18 age group. We must encourage the rate of participation in further education.

According to the Government's statistical bulletin of November 1987, participation rates post-16 rose in the early years of this Administration between 1979 and 1982, but since 1982, in the last four years for which figures are available, there has been a full 7 per cent. fall-off rate, while other nations have been making commitments to increase theirs. France, whose participation rates are roughly equivalent to Britain's, has made a public commitment that by the middle of the 1990s it wishes to see participation rates rise from 30 per cent. to around 75 per cent., at which point the British participation rate will still be languishing at less than half that of the French.

The new clause addresses the question of what should he done. The conclusion reached by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central is that we should have educational maintenance allowances. Those have an important part to play, but they will not be the whole story. First, they will be expensive. According to answers to parliamentary questions, even at current participation levels, with an educational maintenance allowance set at supplementary benefit rates, the cost will be about £300 million. If the educational maintenance allowance was set at youth training scheme rates for 16 and 17-year-olds, the cost would be in excess of £600 million. That would be the cost at current rates of participation.

I hope that when the Minister replies she will tell us whether the Government have made any studies into how the establishment of educational maintenance allowances would raise participation rates, and, if so, how much. I know that that would be a prediction, but it is important to know whether there are any such figures so that we can have an adequate debate.

I strongly suspect that participation rates are held down in Britain, not just for financial reasons, but for cultural reasons. That matter must be tackled. If raising participation rates is our aim, we should be tackling that cultural question by beginning to build a system which widens our definition of participation. It is my view, and that of my party, that we should be constructing a youth training scheme which is not separated from Britain's educational system, but is tied into it, both in terms of qualifications for the participant being drawn within the general framework of national qualifications, and also so that a YTS pupil can obtain credits which could then be accumulated and enable the pupil to pass into further education on a more academic basis, or, indeed, on a higher education basis later.

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I look to a further and higher education system which encompasses training and vocation, bringing training and education within the same department, and academic qualifications. That should be flexible and there should be an easy transfer between the vocational and the academic routes.

If we could achieve a system whereby even those who went through YTS could accumulate credits which would enable them to participate as late developers in the academic process, we should be reaching a valuable position. Educational maintenance allowances have a part to play in that, but setting up a much more flexible system of the sort that I have described would tackle the fundamental problem of the level of participation.

The Government have missed a great opportunity. In their review of student support, they could have taken into account the 16-year-olds. It may well be that they could not reach a conclusion, for reasons which we can well understand, but if that review of student support had taken into account the 16-to-18 age group, we would have begun to tackle that which must be tackled in the future by a Government of whatever party if we are to face up to our needs as a developed industrial nation.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I do not want to pursue at any length the preamble of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), but, since he drew attention to his own amendment, I looked at it and saw that it begins with the possibility of containing recommendations as to the possible need for an advisory committee. I do not know the definition of sogginess, but that description would seem to apply to his amendment.

Mr. Ashdown

There is no mention of "possibility".

Mr. Rowlands

It says, "as to the need". It is all about possibilities.

Financial promises for 16 to 19-year-olds in communities such as mine are in a hopeless mess and have been made worse by the changes in the Social Security Bill 1988 and the removal of benefits from 16 and 17-year-olds. Youngsters who go to college or university from my area receive a grant from the council. If they go on a youth training scheme they receive a training allowance, but if they stay on in further education at a technical college or in the sixth form, they are entirely dependent on child benefit.

In other words, the vast majority of those who want to stay on in full-time further education in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and, indeed, in most other communities, are dependent on their parents and on child benefit. Moreover, that benefit has been frozen and is looked at askance by Conservative Members. It is time that, irrespective of the solution, we recognised the hopeless mess of financial provision for 16 to 19-year-olds which militates against making sensible choices in further forms of educational development.

At least the Government should respond to appeals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) and others to look at the whole question. After all, it should be part and parcel of their objectives. I do not know whether the Manpower Services Commission's corporate plans are approved by the Government, but I am sure that they are supported by the Government. Let me draw the Minister's attention to the corporate plan of the Manpower Services Commission in Wales for 1987 to 1991. Under the heading "Implementing the New Training Initiative," it states: The aim of NTI Objective 2 is to move towards a position where all young people enter the labour market with a qualification relevant to employment. By 1991 the Commission would like to see the vast majority of young people in Wales entering the work force with recognised and relevant vocational qualifications. We all agree with that objective.

The corporate plan continues: To achieve this, there will need to be a comprehensive and coherent provision for all young people under the age of 18 to allow them to choose between continuing in full-time education entering training or a period of work experience combining work-related training and education. The role of the YTS and TVEI in achieving this aim would need to be developed in conjunction with other developments. That is exactly what we lack, in financial terms. In communities such as mine, youngsters between 16 and 18 cannot make reasonable choices between staying on in full-time education, adopting a YTS and going on to a university or polytechnic. The local education authority funds no one except those taking up university or polytechnic education.

Parent after parent comes to me—especially around September—saying, "Mr. Rowlands, we cannot afford to send our youngster to the technical college for Further full-time education." Some used to take the opportunity of the under 21-hour rule, but that has disappeared as a result of the changes contained in the Social Security Bill. The choice between full-time education, training and a period of work experience is not open to many households in communities such as ours. The choice is made for them—it is a financial choice.

How could anyone possibly recommend a family to keep children on into the sixth form, or put them down for the technical college, when they could receive £28 or £35 a week on YTS? The present financial provisions are distorting the choices that should be available to those youngsters, no doubt throughout the nation but certainly in my community, in which financial provision becomes paramount when youngsters reach that age.

I have teenage kids. It is not much to say that they are taller than I am, but they are taller than most people. They eat like horses. They are fit and healthy 16 and 17-year-olds.

Mr. Pawsey

They would make good forwards.

Mr. Rowlands

Yes. We produce very good forwards as well.

The notion that youngsters should be kept on child benefit at 17, 18 and, indeed, 19 is nonsense, and it has been made even more nonsensical by the mixing and merging between the Manpower Services Commission and further education. The Merthyr technical college now has MSC-funded courses, with people on YTS allowances working alongside youngsters in full-time further education whose parents are in receipt of child benefit. That mixing and merging of post-16 education—which the Government have encouraged through large-scale back-door financing of technical colleges through the MSC—along with the growth of TVEI and the growing percentage of non-A-level sixth-form courses, demonstrates the change in further education which has become something that we can no longer recommend. The financial provisions, however, do not reflect that change.

We may not have all the answers, but the maintenance allowance suggested by new clause 1 is certainly a start. If we make that a statutory duty, we can then work out how to finance and organise it. If the Government do nothing else, let them recognise that we must not allow the distortion of choices on narrow financial grounds to continue.

The other problem in my community has arisen from the decline and destruction of the manufacturing sector — the collapse of the other form of training, the in-service apprenticeship schemes created by many of our companies. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry speaks interminably about new training and the need for modern technology. But, in the past decade or so, we have seen the destruction of effective apprenticeship schemes in company after company as a result of the pressures on the manufacturing sector. We have also seen young people with great potential chasing the poorer jobs that demand less qualification. They are going down in the labour market. It is even more difficult for the poorly trained and unqualified to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder.

That has been one of the saddest features of the past decade. Young people who could have proceeded to A-levels and polytechnics have opted out to get a job and an income, and to get a foot in the door. They have gone for the lowest possible clerical jobs in the Civil Service rather than stay on in education—partly for financial reasons, and partly because of worry that, however well qualified they are, they may not subsequently obtain a job. As a consequence, those at the bottom of the ladder have been pushed even further down—even further from a proper job and training opportunities.

Even if the Minister is not prepared to accept new clause I, I hope that she will make a clear commitment, as a matter of urgency, to review financial provision for 16 to 19-year-olds, so that we can remove the anomalies and distortions in communities such as mine and people can make a choice based not on money, but on their aptitude and training abilities.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

When confronted with a cart and horse, for both of which one has some admiration, it is difficult to say that because the cart is before the horse, it should be rejected. I believe that a great deal of what we have heard, both from the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and from the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), has much in its favour. The provision for 16 to 19-year-olds is indeed in a muddle, partly because of the creative ways in which the Government have begun to try to gnaw away at the traditional distinctions between one kind of education and another, and between one kind of pupil and another. I do not consider it inappropriate to suggest that the funding should be carefully examined.

I have no clear picture in my mind of how many 16-year-olds leave school because they know that they have got as much out of the education system as they are likely to get. Far too many of our pupils leave school, having attended it from the age of five to the age of 16, with very little to show for it. It would be crazy for them to continue in a system that has so far provided them with nothing that they or the world outside appear to value.

The purpose of the Bill is to alter that, so that schools provide those children with something that they need and the world respects. To pump hundreds of millions of pounds into a system that is in such a state of chaos, without any clear vision of who will profit from it and to what extent, would be a serious mistake.

I also feel strongly that we are stirring up a major philosophical exercise, which should perhaps have been stirred up during the great debates. I was not on the Standing Committee—I was in no position to be—but I feel that these are fundamental debates about re-entry to the education system. I agree with the hon. Member for Yeovil that one of the important questions is how it is possible to get back into the education system. I know that very many people of all ages will benefit most from education when they want it, not when it is handed to them as the next inexorable stage in process.

Mr. Ashdown

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at new clauses 24 and 25, which produce precisely that effect.

Mr. Rowe

I must confess that my knowledge of all the complexities of the Bill suffers from my not having been a member of the Committee. However, the business of reentering the education system is very important. I am not at all clear that the provision of maintenance allowances across the board would benefit anyone at this stage.

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Dr. Thomas

I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) about re-entry. My short-lived teaching career began with teaching re-entry students in adult education. It was a very valuable experience for me, but perhaps not for the students. It enabled me to understand the importance of students returning to the educational system.

It is clear from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) that all hon. Members agree about the variety and unevenness of financial provision in the post-16 sector. I want to stress the positive aspects of the curriculum content of some of the activities of TVEI and YTS training. Although one may disagree with the way in which this is carried out, and where it is carried out, we must accept that we have seen for the first time an introduction of a form of curriculum at 16-plus for a group of young people who were not catered for previously. That is why I want to address my remarks to new clause 18 and develop the ideas that it contains.

New clause 18 refers to the need for local education authorities to have the duty to undertake functions in relation to strategic planning of post-16 education provision outside schools in their areas. That is crucial. People outside Government have accused the Government of undermining the role of local education authorities in terms of school provision. In the local co-ordination of the 16 to 19-year-old sector, the LEA is best placed to deal effectively with the coordination of courses.

As we have already heard, much MSC, YTS and TVEI funding is allocated to schools and FE colleges. It is important that those funds should be properly co-ordinated. We often see what I regard as duplication and unnecessary competition. Although I accept that the Government like competition, there is unnecessary competition among managing agents. Various public authorities compete against one another for the provision of courses. That does not seem to make much sense.

The training and educational experience of the post-16 age group should be better co-ordinated. It is important that we break down the distinction between traditional non-vocational education and education related to training. These are skill and knowledge-acquiring experiences. They are useful, however they are described, or however specific or general they may be.

Every technical piece of education requires a conceptual understanding and some kind of theory, even if that is only theory in the practice. Every form of theoretical teaching must have a base—dare I say it—in a material practice of some kind or other. Without lapsing into sociological jargon and therefore entertaining Conservative Members, I want to emphasise that there should be no distinctions between the kind of knowledge that we provide in our schools, and particularly in our post-16 system.

The reorganisation being carried out in so many areas of the tertiary sector provides an opportunity for local education authorities to be involved in planning across the range. New colleges are being created for those aged 16 plus in which the traditional FE pupils, sixth form pupils and students on MSC schemes come together in the same building, or at least within the same provision. The LEA is the lead agency and should have the kind of provision set out in new clause 18. That would provide us with a "national curriculum" at 16-plus. At the moment, that is not included in the Bill.

I explained several times in Committee that the Government were very keen to introduce the enterprise culture and so-called educational standards to pupils in public sector secondary and primary schools. However, we believe that it is equally important that there should be an effective form of curriculum planning for 16 to 19-yearolds. I do not believe that that should be centrally determined; it should be locally controlled.

That would give the post 16-plus sector of education a new impetus. In particular, it would bring the educational system in England and Wales —I dare not speak for Scotland, even from the Plaid Cymru Bench on this issue — into the 20th century. It would provide an age participation at this level and hopefully increase the class and gender participation. That would bring us into line with the reality of what is happening in most Western developed countries and most countries in central and eastern Europe.

My colleague from the Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is right. There is a cultural problem. Obviously there is a financial problem and we have discussed this at length already, and I shall not repeat the argument, which I certainly endorse, about the need for an educational maintenance allowance.

There is also a cultural argument about remaining on at school and then going on to college. We must break that down. The position is so very different in Europe and America. Going to college there is regarded as the norm, while in Britain it is not. That is a historical failure of our educational system. It can be restored only if we plan for it. That is why we must take on the initiatives in MSC schemes, develop them and make them locally based so that they become part of the local education authority system.

I know that the Minister will not accept new clause 18. However, I hope she can say that the Government will insist that local education authorities should be involved in strategic planning in the 16-plus sector.

Mr. Dalyell

I make no complaints about the point that I want to make because I understand the reasons, but there was no Scottish Member on the Committee. However, there is a considerable Scots involvement in various parts of the Bill.

My speech will be much shortened because the points have been made most eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). I hope that the Minister will reply to what he had to say about the MSC involvement. That experience is repeated in many constituencies. I assure the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney spoke for a great many of us in our constituency roles when he outlined the problems in relation to the MSC.

I want to stick to new clause 2 and the review of continual assessment. That is obviously something that bothers Downing street. I want to refer to two different points made by the Prime Minister by way of her private secretary, Mr. Paul Gray, to Mr. Tom Jeffrey, in the letter which found its way to the desk of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). Has there been a ministerial reply to that letter?

The Prime Minister's private secretary states: The Committee seem to have designed an enormously elaborate and complex system. They suggest it requires setting up two new powerful bodies, the Schools and Examination Council and the National Curriculum Council, and a major new role for the LEAs. Is this necessary? Downing street asks: Has the sort of approach advocated in the Report in fact been put into practice with the proposed degree of elaboration in any large group of schools? That point is very germane to new clause 2. I wonder if one of the leading ladies of the Conservative party, a senior Minister after all, will reply to it.

The letter continues, to outline the Prime Minister's fourth point: The Prime Minister also notes that, presumably as a result of the complexity of the proposals, the new assessment system could not be introduced in less than five years. Although she recognises the importance of careful preparation and introduction of the new arrangements"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I find it difficult to understand how any of this arises on new clauses 1, 2 or 18.

Mr. Dalyell

New clause 2(2) deals with the role of continual assessment. My points are highly relevant to continual assessment.

Mr. Straw

Quite right.

Mr. Dalyell

The recipient of the letter, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, says, "Quite right."

I shall be very brief. I want to know, on which side of the argument is the Minister of State? Is she on the side of the Secretary of State? I suspect that she is on the Prime Minister's side. If she is, she ought to explain why. I am going to try my luck, and ask her the question about which the Secretary of State seemed a little coy. Why did Mr. Ingham's office authorise the disclosure? As the Minister is so close to Downing street, she will know if there is to be a leak inquiry. Is there to be a leak inquiry? The Minister is like the Secretary of State, in that there is a deafening silence when she is asked whether there is to be a leak inquiry. I have not had much luck.

Mr. Flannery

I shall be brief. I want to take up one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe). It seems that he believes that our children are somehow different from young people in Japan, Germany, France, Italy and America, because our young people are clamouring to leave school at 16. When the school leaving age was 14, ordinary working-class children had to go out to work—Conservative Members do not kick out their kids at 16, it is always our children who have to go out to work. The point I wish to make—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) has only just come into the Chamber. You should go back to sleep.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I am very much awake.

Mr. Flannery

I would never dream of saying that about you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You would not have made that comment if you had not been wide awake.

The maintenance allowance in new clauses 1 and 2 is absolutely vital. In other countries there are tremendous incentives to stay at school. When children left school at 14 and did not stay on, there were scholarships. People said that they left school at 14 because the teaching was bad and there was no point in staying on. When the school-leaving age was 15 the same argument was used. That same argument is being used now, when children are leaving school at 16.

The lack of provision deters children from staying on, and we are asking for a maintenance allowance for those between the ages of 16 and 19. Our children are no different from other children. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) put the case splendidly for all of us, because he comes from an area like my constituency, which is a steel area, where large numbers of our young people do not have a chance to stay on. Of course they want to stay on, but they have to get what bit of work there is when they can. That is the reality.

Therefore, we want some inducement for them to stay on at school and have an education. They are no more clever in other countries where they stay on up to the ages of 18 and 19, as they do in Denmark, Sweden and the countries that I have already mentioned. Does the Tory party think that our children are not as good as they are? Of course our children are as good: it is a question of money and incentives.

There is a difference between young people in Britain in areas such as Merthyr and Sheffield, and those in the leafy areas of the south where a large number of young people stay on at school because people are well-to-do and have the opportunity to keep them there even if there is no allowance. We want an inducement for our children not to leave school. We profoundly believe that, if that money is forthcoming, and if there is a maintenance allowance for 16 to 19-year-olds, we will prove that our children want to stay on and get a better education to equip them for life.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

The debate on new clauses 1 and 2 and the amendment to new clause 2 raises a number of issues about education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds. Indeed, the debate has been interesting and valuable for all concerned.

My first point is that provision for 16 to 19-year-olds will always be complex. We do not need to accept that we are currently in crisis, but we have to accept that there are a variety of needs, interests, skills and ambitions among 16 to 19-year-olds which are considerable and wide ranging.

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A corresponding variety of education and training provision is needed to cater for that. Clearly we must try to make it as coherent and comprehensible as we can, but not, I hope, at the risk of reducing the breadth of choices and opportunities available to our young people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire South-West (Mr. Madel) made the sensible and interesting point that we do not yet know the outcome of the GCSE, because that new examination introduces a number of new concepts which we hope will lead to a larger number of young people within the school system having an interest in continuing and furthering their education. It may be that they will continue and further their education in schools or colleges; it may be that they will choose to continue their further education on a part-time basis; or that they will consider the possibility of re-entry. We hope that the GCSE will encourage young people so that what they learn up to the age of 16 will give them sufficient grounding to know that they can continue their education later on if they wish to do so.

During the past few years the Government have been working to increase the range of opportunities available to youngsters. We have introduced a number of important new programmes and forms of provision, including the two-year youth training scheme and the technical and vocational education initiative. The TVEI aims to increase technical and vocational relevance across the curriculum for all pupils from 14 onwards. This is particularly important, as it has an impact on technology and science. It is invaluable in introducing the world of work and the relevant skills into schools so that youngsters in school have an insight into the kind of people with whom they may ultimately work and the things that they might do when they leave school.

Our aim is to ensure that suitable education and training programmes are available to all young people aged between 16 and 19 who want them.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Rumbold

I shall give way in a moment.

It is very important that young people should be properly prepared for adult and working life, and that they should be equipped with the skills that employers are looking for. Opposition Members will recognise that there is already a legal duty on local education authorities to ensure an adequate level of provision. The Education Act 1944 places a duty on every local education authority to secure the provision of sufficient schools for senior pupils. Clause 99 of the Bill restates the explicit duty of LEAs to secure the provision of adequate further education—including for those 16 to 19-year olds who have already left school.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

On the question of training and education provision, will the Minister explain why it is logical to give people on training a grant or payment, but it is not logical to give those in education any payment? Surely that pushes some people into training rather than into education, because of their home circumstances or poverty at home.

Mrs. Rumbold

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In fact, the YTS scheme attracts a large number of youngsters and has attracted a higher proportion of youngsters into post-16 work. It offers an allowance to young people because they are receiving education and working and making contributions to the output of their employers. For that reason, they are getting an allowance. Young people who remain in full-time education enjoy the advantage of child benefit going to their parents. Furthermore, 82,000 youngsters are supported by discretionary grants from their local education authority.

An important subject has been raised in this debate. The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) blamed the Government for not providing young people with an allowance that would permit them to remain at school, but there has been a failure to motivate young people to remain in education. They have not been told why it would be so much better if they continued with further education or, at a later date, re-entered the education system.

Ms. Armstrong

The Minister is missing the point. In areas of high unemployment there are no jobs on which to graft good skill training schemes. Furthermore, in areas of high unemployment young people who might want to remain in full-time further education, because they recognise that adequate skill training is not provided outside that system, cannot afford to do so because their contribution to the family income is essential.

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Lady says that there are no opportunities for young people to get skill training under the YTS scheme. She also says that they cannot remain in education. There appears to be a dichotomy in her statement. If young people stayed on in education, their families would receive child benefit, and they themselves would benefit from further and higher education.

Provision is already available for any 16-year-old who wants it. Those aged 16 can stay on at school, or go to college, or join a YTS scheme. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) pointed out that not all youth training schemes are good, but many of them are improving and they are much welcomed by employers.

The youth training scheme was introduced for young people who are able to benefit from a mixture of training and work experience. There is a wide range of different types of courses and programmes. However, the Government believe that it is important to avoid unnecessary duplication of provision and to ensure that the provision is well monitored. If it is not well monitored, both students and employers become confused.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central referred to the plethora of qualifications and examinations. That is why we set up the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, whose remit is to bring greater coherence and order to the pattern of vocational courses. We hope that the council's work will ultimately make it easier for all concerned to understand what is available and how the different levels of vocational courses relate to one another. This is an important part of this Government's strategy, and it subsumes new clause 2, which has been tabled by the Opposition.

The Government also accept that it is important that young people should know what opportunities for training are open to them and where they are. It is especially important to acknowledge the fact that the number of people in this age group is declining and that we shall continue to want as many young people as possible to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them for further education and possibly higher education.

For that reason, my Department, together with the Department of Employment and the Welsh Office, in October last year produced a booklet and an accompanying video that explained the main types of courses on offer. Copies were made available for all I 5-year-olds in the country for use as part of a wider careers programme to help them to make the right choices at 16. I think that that programme has been a great success.

A particular issue that is raised by new clause 1 is educational maintenance allowances. The clause would give my right hon. Friend the power to require local education authorities to provide allowances for 16 to 19-year-old students, but, like successive previous Governments, we do not believe that that would be right. The Government do not wish children anywhere in the country to fail to benefit from skill training. It is essential that such training should be offered to as many youngsters as we can persuade to take it. However, until young people in schools fully understand that it will be relevant and beneficial, they will not be persuaded to remain at school or to undertake training or further education.

It is wrong to think that some youngsters stay on at school simply because of the maintenance allowance. To do so would do no more than delay a difficult decision that will ultimately have to be made by them. Young people in full-time education are regarded as dependent on their parents for financial support until their 19th birthday. That is why child benefit is paid for them. Families receiving income support from the Department of Health and Social Security receive an additional payment for those students. The local education authorities also have discretion to pay a maintenance allowance.

The Government share the view that more young people should stay on in full-time education and training beyond the age of 16, but not all young people are suited to such education. For many, the youth training scheme is better suited to their needs. YTS trainees receive an allowance in recognition of the fact that during their work experience they make a useful contribution to production, alongside paid employees.

For those who are suited to education beyond the age of 16, I am not aware of arty evidence that mandatory allowances would have any significant effect on participation rates. However, they would have a significant deadweight cost. The net additional cost of paying an allowance at the first year YTS trainee level to all 16 to 19-year-olds in full-time education would be £650 million in England alone. That sum would have to be paid to young people who stayed on in full-time education, anyway. I cannot tell the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) what the participation rate would be, because we have not yet made the kind of studies to which he referred.

Mr. Ashdown

The hon. Lady will be doing such studies. Will she make the results available?

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Mrs. Rumbold

We shall be doing some studies on the YTS participation rates and I can certainly let the hon. Gentleman have those.

The Government believe that a far better way of persuading young people to stay on in education is through measures to improve that education. Our policies are designed to raise school standards and make education in schools and colleges more relevant to adult and working life. That will result in 16-year-olds who are better educated and more ready to take advantage of education beyond 16 and have the ability to benefit from that education.

The 16 to 19-year-old provision is unquestionably complex—it always has been—but it has to be if it is to cater effectively for the wider range of needs of our youngsters. It would be impossible, I submit, for us so to codify, so to straitjacket, the provisions for 16 to 19-yearolds as to persuade all to stay on for compulsory education. That would simply not work in this country. The Government are working to increase the range of options available, reduce unnecessary duplication and make sure that young people know what is on offer.

We do not believe that new clauses 1 and 2 are necessary, or that they would help to improve the range of opportunities available. I therefore hope that they will be withdrawn.

Mr. Fatchett

We have had a very interesting debate. The Minister's response left a great deal to be desired. She said that the problem was one of motivation. She did not offer that motivation in two important respects. First, there needs to be, as the Minister almost acknowledged, a sharper definition of provision of qualification post-16. Secondly, there has to be recognition of the financial considerations.

The Minister simply failed to answer the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), in particular, about the financial requirements of families and the pressure upon families for youngsters to leave school and go into training or employment. If the Minister believes that the child benefit allowance, at £7.50, will resolve that problem, she has very little experience of some of the problems about which my hon. Friend spoke so eloquently.

The Minister lacks the urgency that I think is essential on this question of post-16 education. We shall therefore seek to divide the House, not on new clause 1, but on new clause 2, which is much more extensive in its provision, and we hope that we shall carry all hon. Members with us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman seek to withdraw new clause 1?

Mr. Fatchett

Yes. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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