HC Deb 28 January 1997 vol 289 cc249-53
Mr. Win Griffiths

I beg to move amendment No. 62, in page 32, line 19, leave out subsection (3) and insert— (3) The Secretaries of State may by regulation make such provision as they consider appropriate for the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority in England and the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales to co-operate in the exercise of their functions as set out in subsection (2)(a)-(g) above and section 45(2)(a)-(g) below respectively.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendment No. 21.

No. 61, in clause 41, page 33, line 36, after 'question', insert 'in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State'

Government amendment No. 22.

No. 64, in clause 42, page 34, leave out lines 21 to 23 and insert— (b) shall include among those members persons who have been nominated to him by persons representative of occupations, trades or professions having experience and an interest in education or training.'.

No. 63, in clause 45, page 35, line 24, leave out from second 'Wales' to end of line 34 and insert the functions set out in subsection (2) with respect to external qualifications. (2) The functions are—

  1. (a) to keep under review all aspects of such qualifications;
  2. (b) to advise the Secretary of State on such matters concerned with such qualifications as he may refer to them or as they may see fit;
  3. (c) to advise the Secretary of State on, and if so requested by him assist him to carry out, programmes of research and development for purposes connected with such qualifications;
  4. (d) to provide support and advice to persons providing courses leading to such qualifications with a view to establishing and maintaining high standards in the provision of such courses;
  5. (e) to publish and disseminate, and assist in the publication and dissemination of information relating to such qualifications;
  6. (f) to develop and publish criteria for the accreditation of such qualifications;
  7. (g) to accredit, where they meet such criteria, any such qualifications submitted for accreditation.'.

Government amendments Nos. 23 and 24.

Mr. Griffiths

Unfortunately, we shall have to be brief as time is pressing. The amendment would remove the uncertainty and potential confusion in clauses 39 and 45 with regard to the Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority, the QNCA, and Awdurdod Cymwysterau, Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru, or ACCAC. We also want to ensure that the membership of ACCAC truly represents those with expertise and interest in education and training. Finally, the amendment deals with a technical matter relating to fees.

The Bill allows for considerable confusion. The two bodies—the QNCA for England and ACCAC for Wales—have many functions, some of which are clear and some of which are not. The QNCA's functions are clearly stated in clause 39(2)(a) to (g), but ACCAC's role is dependent on the Secretary of State for Wales and the QNCA. The Secretary of State can, by order, decide that ACCAC runs its affairs concurrently with the QNCA or, at some stage, on its own. In the meantime, however, under schedule 6, the QNCA may authorise ACCAC to act as its agent in Wales in relation to external academic and vocational qualifications.

Although the underlying education and training needs in Wales are similar to those in England, there are differences that need to be recognised and tackled specifically by the QNCA and ACCAC in their own spheres of responsibility. In relation to the national curriculum and assessment, that has already been recognised in sections 358 to 361 and schedules 29 and 30 to the Education Act 1996. The existing Awdurdod Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru, or ACAC, and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority are designated as bodies of equal standing with responsibilities for the national curriculum and assessment in their respective countries, but with a duty to co-operate with one another and, indeed, to be represented at each other's main board meetings and committees. That model should be the one used in creating the QNCA and ACCAC. The possibility of that happening is foreshadowed in the Bill, but it remains only a possibility.

I trust that the Government will respond positively to the amendment, which is intended to give a clear and consistent role to ACCAC by homing in on one of the options that the Government have provided in the Bill. I hope that the Government will have the courage to take up that option by accepting the amendment; otherwise it will appear to people in Wales that, when facing the serious problems involved in creating a skilled work force at all levels of activity in Wales, the Government have chosen to dither by offering three options for which no timing is proposed for action. That seemingly flexible but in fact uncertain programme is a recipe for failure. The Government have had the courage in the past to create separate bodies, as with ACAC and SCAA, and I hope that they will have the courage to accept our amendments, which offer a clear and purposeful lead for enhancing vocational and academic qualifications in Wales.

Finally, I wish to refer to a matter that was raised earlier when we discussed the principle of a general teaching council. It would be Labour's intention to have a body in England and in Wales, once there was an assembly.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I support the proposals in the Bill and the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). It strikes me that the whole of our education system has been bedevilled by the 40-year-long dispute about the respective values of academic and vocational education. I hope that, by bringing the bodies together, we can introduce the ideas of parity and respect for the vocational routes to education as well as the academic, because that seems to me both fundamental and important, especially in Wales.

There could be a Welsh solution to the problems. In that respect, I support the amendments, which make it clear that we could bring the bodies in Wales together to promote the values and importance of vocational education alongside those of academic qualifications The original Education Act 1944 envisaged a tripartite development of education, with grammar, secondary and technical strands It was the absence of the technical education route that caused many of the later problems Fortunately, that absence was filled in Wales by the development of the HND and OND qualifications and the growth of apprenticeships, which provided an alternative educational route for a whole generation of young people and were promoted by the gas and electricity companies and the then National Coal Board, Hoover and other major companies in Wales. As a result of the collapse of those training schemes, we have lost much of the vocational education that was once available. We need to restore that education; we need to restore respect for it and the qualifications that come with it.

It is vital that we establish respect for national vocational qualifications They should be rigorous, reliable and respected and we should look for ways to achieve that. We can do that in Wales and we can do it best by bringing the two organisations together to promote a powerful vocational educational route, down which so many of our young people should go. That is the single most important action we can take to promote and assist a generation of children who do not necessarily desire to take a purely academic route forward. They need vocational qualifications that will be seen to be valued and to command the respect and support of employers in the Principality. For those reasons, I support the amendments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Jonathan Evans)

In essence, four issues have arisen in the debate. The first relates to the power to limit examination fees. One position has been adopted by the Opposition in amendment No. 61 and another by the Government in Government amendments Nos. 22 and 24. The issues were highlighted in the debate in Committee, when the Opposition tabled an amendment that was identical to amendment No. 61, which required that any limit could be put in place only in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State". The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), said in Committee that she believed that it might be appropriate for there to be a role for the Secretary of State, although she was resistant to the idea of a whole new regulatory framework. Government amendments Nos. 22 to 24 give effect, therefore, to a role for the Secretary of State in limiting such fees and, in the circumstances, I hope that that proposition will be accepted by the House.

Amendment No. 62 stipulates co-operation between ACCAC and the QNCA, but we believe that that is unnecessary. Under the existing arrangements, such co-operation already exists. We are resistant to the idea that it would be appropriate to set up a whole new regulatory framework and an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to achieve that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who is shouting from a sedentary position, need only look to the existing co-operation between the organisations to understand how unnecessary the amendment is.

Amendment No. 63 deals with a substantive point, and I have endeavoured to give reassurances about it. It would make the functions of ACCAC for Wales identical to those of the QNCA. However, Sir Ron Dearing, in his review of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds, recommended that SCAA and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications should be merged, but he did not propose what the amendment suggests: that NVQs in Wales should be the responsibility of ACCAC. He did not recommend that, and neither did the Welsh Office as a result of its consultations.

I can give the assurance that we anticipate that a conferment of functions order setting out what ACCAC will do will be introduced in the House. That will be broadly along the lines of what is contained in clause 39(2)(a) to (g), although it will introduce the flexibility of being able to change those arrangements in the light of experience.

9.30 pm

The hon. Member for Bridgend referred to the appointment of representatives to ACCAC. There is a clear divergence of opinion between us. He proposes what in essence should be a representational role for those who come from representative bodies or trade unions. We are of the view that the body should draw upon the experience of a wide range of people in both education and training, but we see no representational role, so we resist the amendment.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I am a trifle disappointed by the Minister's response because, as I read the Bill, the third option is more or less what we proposed in detail in the amendments. We put the amendments down as a marker for what will happen when there is a Labour Government and the Welsh Assembly is created.

Amendment negatived.

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