HC Deb 11 September 2003 vol 410 cc466-7
14. Vera Baird (Redcar)

How many education authorities provide only (a) a sixth-form college and (b) school sixth-form provision for post-16 education; and what plans he has for diversity of supply in post-16 education. [128982]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Ivan Lewis)

There are eight local education authorities in England where 16 to 19 education is provided solely in a mixture of sixth-form colleges and genera further education colleges. There are no local education authorities where post-16 provision is delivered only through sixth forms. There will be no national blueprint for the pattern of learning. However, popular and successful sixth-form provision, whether in schools, sixth-form colleges or new, distinct sixth-form centres in FE colleges, will be encouraged, especially where there is little or inadequate provision.

Vera Baird

I am grateful for that answer. Will my hon. Friend consider the position in Redcar, which is one of the authorities with only college provision for post-16 education? The take-up rates are very low. A beacon school has now proposed a sixth form with specific outreach into the areas with the lowest take-up rates. Does my hon. Friend agree that that represents progress that we should encourage?

Mr. Lewis

Our objective in every community is to increase significantly the number of young people staying on in education and training post-16 to achieve qualifications that lead either to higher education or to skilled employment. We have asked local learning and skills councils to conduct strategic reviews in the next two years, to consider post-16 provision in both those areas and to make recommendations for improvement. Alongside that, local education authorities have the right to publish proposals for consultation on the creation of new school sixth forms. I would expect my hon. Friend's local learning and skills council and local education authority to engage fully with her views, in the best interests of her constituents. If she felt that that was not happening appropriately, I would be more than happy to meet her to discuss the matter.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

In drawing up his plans for post-16 education, will the Minister be guided by the views of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who seems to think that training to be a plumber is less valid than doing an academic degree?

Mr. Lewis

My right hon. Friend did not make that point. The tragedy of this debate is that the Conservatives are repeating the reason why vocational education and training has never worked before in this country. They want a system of sheep and goats, in which able young people receive academic education and young people from different social backgrounds receive vocational education. We want a system that supports every individual young person in fulfilling their potential. We want a society that has adequate numbers of plumbers and of scientists and lawyers.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney)

Will the Minister explain why the No. 10 policy unit—and in particular Mr. Andrew Adonis, who I know is loved by Labour Members—is so keen on delivering sixth-form education through sixth-form colleges, rather than on the more varied approach about which the Minister has just spoken?

Mr. Lewis

We have made it absolutely clear that there is no national blueprint for appropriate 16-to-19 education. We want the local organisations in every community to look at the best interests of those young people to ensure that far more of them stay on in education and training and progress into higher education or skilled employment. We recognise that between the ages of 16 and 19 young people have distinct needs and are vulnerable. We need a system that can respond to those specific needs. It is for local agencies, such as the learning and skills councils and LEAs, and professionals and parents in each community, to determine the provision that will deliver improved participation and higher attainment.