HL Deb 20 May 1991 vol 529 cc49-59

5.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, this may be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. The Statement is as follows: "With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the plans for which I am responsible which are set out in the White Paper Education and Training for the 21st Century announced by my right honourable friend.

"This White Paper will transform the prospects for Britain's 16 to 19 year-olds. We have already laid the foundations; now we are moving ahead. The proposals we are announcing today will mean that, for the first time, all young people in the country up to the age of 19 will be encouraged and entitled to continue in education or training or both—which will take them to higher levels of qualifications than ever before. And the artificial barriers between the academic and the vocational, which have bedevilled us for so long, will be swept away.

"The plans in this White Paper represent a clear recognition of the importance of preparing our young people for the world of work, and the priority we attach to it.

"I turn now to the specific proposals which I am putting forward. First, we plan to attract many more young people into training by giving a training credit to every 16 and 17 year-old leaving full-time education. Training credits are a new way of promoting youth training. The credit puts buying power in the hands of young people. It encourages them to take up their entitlement to vocational education and to take full advantage of training, and the opportunity to qualify with a national vocational qualification at level 2 or higher.

"Credits are now being offered to 10 per cent. of school leavers in pilot areas. With the experience of these pilots to build on, we will progressively extend credits from April 1993. Within the life time of the next Parliament we aim to offer a training credit to every 16 and 17 year-old in the country who is leaving full-time education.

"Secondly, we shall also extend across the whole country the Compacts approach to bringing together young people and employers in raising attainment at school and college. At present Compacts are working highly successfully in urban programme areas and similar areas in Scotland and Wales. We shall invite Training and Enterprise Councils in partnership with local education authorities and others to extend this approach to all parts of the country. We shall provide financial support to start up Compacts, matching the support that they will attract from private sector and local authority sources.

"I turn next to vocational qualifications. A great deal of progress has been made in developing and extending practical job-related qualifications. Our proposals will create a structure of qualifications which offers the breadth and choice that young people and their employers need, and in which academic and vocational qualifications will have equal status.

"National vocational qualifications will be available for all major sectors of employment by the end of next year. We are inviting the National Council for Vocational Qualifications to work with others to develop more general job-related qualifications within the NVQ framework suitable for young people who want a broad preparation for employment. We shall promote equality of status for academic and vocational qualifications by developing the new system of ordinary and advanced diplomas which my right honourable friend described in his Statement.

"Our plans in the White Paper, especially training credits, will increase the importance of having high quality career services, linked closely to employers. I have been consulting about ways of organising the careers service for its future tasks. There is considerable support for my proposal that Training and Enterprise Councils should be involved as partners with local education authorities in overseeing the operation of the service locally. We shall encourage local education authorities to work with TECs in partnership for this purpose. We shall provide financial support to start such partnerships where they are proposed. We intend also to legislate so as to open up a range of other options, including direct TEC management of the careers service and contracting out to the private sector. We shall increase investment in the training of careers service advisory staff and in careers libraries in schools.

"Employer commitment is essential if young people are to be well prepared for the demands of working life. The measures I have announced today will give employers through TECs extended roles in training credits, Compacts, and the careers service. Moreover, my right honourable and learned friend's proposed reform of further education will include measures to involve TECs closely in the new funding arrangements.

"The range of proposals in the White Paper will provide greater opportunities for young people to unlock their potential, a much wider choice in how they develop their talents, and a strengthened support system to guide their progress. These proposals will open doors for all our young people, whatever their background and their aspirations. They will strengthen the foundation of skills that the economy will need in future. I commend them to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.40 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. I welcome, as I am sure we all do, any initiative to improve arrangements for training for young people between the ages of 16 and 19. I was a member of your Lordships' Select Committee that reported recently on vocational training. We carried out a good deal of research and took evidence from a number of organisations. We looked at what was happening in other countries, particularly countries where there was a tradition of providing good training. In Germany, for example, we noted that all young people between the ages of 16 and 18 were expected either to remain in full-time education or go on to an approved training course. I emphasise the fact that it was compulsory that they should do so.

I notice that the Statement refers to "encouragement" and to the training credit system. On this side of the House we welcome training credits although we question whether relying on encouragement will be sufficient in the circumstances that now exist. The Government guaranteed places on YTS in 1988. Despite that, as we know, not all young people secured a place. Moreover YTS itself had a lack of credibility among many young people. It was not perceived as providing a quality programme. A great deal depends on the quality of the training on offer. If this new initiative is to be successful, it must be seen as providing education and training of quality.

TECs are already complaining about the lack of resources available to them. If the initiative is to succeed, the appropriate organisations will need the resources to carry it through. I commend the NCVQ for the work that it is doing. It was an excellent idea to establish the NCVQ and the system of levels of qualification. I welcome the statement that it is intended to do away with the differences—the artificial barriers—between the academic and the vocational. That is a progressive development. On the other hand, I wonder whether some additional confusion may be created. My noble friend Lady Blackstone referred to that point in some detail. I should not want to see further confusion added to what has been described as the jungle of vocational qualifications.

Furthermore, it seems to me that young people in training will need support. I refer to the question of my noble friend Lady Hollis about income support. That issue has to be addressed. There is not much point in providing opportunities for young people if the resources are not there to assist them during their period in training.

We have to regard training not as a cost but as an investment for the future. The only way in which we in this country will bring up our training levels to those existing in some of our competitor countries, particularly in some EC countries, is by investing more money in it and by ensuring that opportunities are broadly available and that young people have the necessary background to take advantage of them. For that reason I agree that the education side and the training side are both important. There is not much point in allowing resources for training if the basic education has not previously been available.

Having made those comments, perhaps I may say that on this side of the House we welcome the initiative and we hope that it succeeds. I should like to know more about resources. I should like to see the recommendations made by the Select Committee of which I was a member put into operation. I wonder whether we can rely on encouragement. I should like to see young people between 16 and 19—certainly, 18 —either remain in full time education or undertake an approved training course. The only way in which we shall succeed in improving our training is if that is brought about.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and give it a qualified welcome. It is a step in the right direction but I fear that the Government have not grasped the nettle as to what needs to be done.

I can never quite understand what is meant by "16 to 18". I take it to mean the two years after the compulsory school leaving age, which takes one up to the 19th birthday. I am talking about the two years after the compulsory school leaving age. In those years, people should be either in full-time education or in work which is training and not production work. They should stay on at school or go to college—the sixth form colleges or the tertiary colleges to which reference was made a few moments ago—or they should be in employment. Their employment should provide a properly planned training programme, with at least two days a week of off-the-job training of some kind or another, possibly inside the place of work if it is properly organised, as some of the best places of work are, or in a college. Those should definitely be years pf training and education.

I am a little sceptical about relying on encouragement. Not all youngsters at the age of 16 are vested with the desire to do training. A good many of those I meet are vested with the desire to get away from school I and to earn as much money as they possibly can. I do not know how large the training vouchers are to be but they will have to be fairly large to induce some youngsters to spend them on training, in particular those youngsters one wants to get involved in training. They are the very people who will not use them. I cannot say that this takes us all the way we want to go.

I should like to ask a question which may have been covered in an answer to a question on the previous Statement. If so, I did not fully understand it. If youngsters opt to stay on full time at school, what precisely is the financial position? The initiative will not be successful until there is no financial disadvantage in staying on at school. I am not clear on the matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may have explained the point; if so, I obviously did not take it on board. I am not clear whether people will be worse off if they stay on at school than if they leave.

These training vouchers are to buy the training but they do nothing about maintenance. If a youngster goes into work and uses the training voucher to pay for part-time courses or something of that kind, he is earning and has money. But if he stays on at school, will there be anything like the same amount of money going into the household or into the pocket of the young person himself? We need to be clear about that.

A sentence in the Statement could be very interesting. 1 should like to know what is really meant by, We are inviting the National Council for Vocational Qualifications to work with others to develop more general job-related qualifications"— I take it that the emphasis is on the word "general—" within the NVQ framework suitable for young people who want a broad preparation for employment". That could imply something very interesting but it does not really tell us what is intended. Perhaps we should not expect that in answers on a Statement. My only other point arises in relation to the careers service. A strong well-informed careers service is absolutely essential if the whole training scheme is to work properly. Youngsters leaving school, all types of school—my experience was with university students —simply do not know what opportunities are available. I believe that a really good careers service is an integral part of getting training in this country right.

The theme running through what is said about the careers service suggests that it will be strongly oriented towards local labour market needs by putting the TECs in the position where they will have a considerable say in the working of the service. It is right that in giving advice to youngsters about careers the careers service should be well informed about local employment possibilities. But, on the other hand, it has been maintained for years by many people that its primary responsibility is to the school-leaver or the young persons whom it is advising on what is best for them and their career in the long run; in other words, it should not be too labour market oriented. Can the Minister say whether that factor is being borne in mind when it is suggested that the TECs should have a prominent part to play in the development of the careers service?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I should like to thank both noble Baronesses for welcoming the Statement, even though the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, gave it only a qualified welcome. The Select Committee report which was published a short while ago indicated a number of proposals which, if the White Paper is studied, will be found to be wrapped up in that document. However, one point does not accord with the Select Committee report. I refer to the compulsory as opposed to the voluntary approach which both noble Baronesses mentioned.

The Government feel that the commitment of young people and their employers to training should be secured by voluntary means. Compulsion is unnecessary. Other major industrial countries achieve high levels of skill without compulsion. The effects of compulsion would be damaging in that young people would be forced to follow routes that they did not choose and employers would be burdened with bureaucratic requirements.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, commented on the quality of youth training. She wondered whether it was serving the young people who were undertaking the training. I can inform the noble Baroness and the House that 89 per cent. of all youth training leavers who complete their training go into jobs or into further training and education. Moreover, of that figure, 67 per cent. gain a vocational qualification. Those are very high percentages. I believe they indicate that youth training is a quality product and that young people are gaining not only qualifications but jobs through undertaking such training.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the noble Viscount said that young people are gaining a national vocational qualification. However, if it is only a qualification at level I, we must not boost this as being a great achievement.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, when I mentioned vocational qualifications I was referring to all sorts of qualifications. I was not necessarily referring only to those attained at level 1.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, also paid tribute to the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and commended the work that it has done. The council has indeed now put its mark on 250 qualifications.

In answer to the claim that these new qualifications may bring about confusion among young people, I should point out that at present there is a jungle of some 4,000 different qualifications set by 300 different bodies. The idea of the national council is to bring these qualifications into a single nationally recognised structure—that is most important—which is clear and which young people can recognise. It will also assist them in identifying where they fit in with academic standards. They can use all this as building blocks for further training, improvements and qualifications.

Both noble Baronesses asked whether the training allowance currently paid to trainees on youth training will continue to be paid. It will indeed continue to be paid while training credits are being used. It will be the same as youth training; that is, so long as the young people are not undertaking their training while in employment, in which case, their employer would be paying their wages. However, the minimum amount which would be paid to them if they were not in employment will be maintained. Therefore, young people in training will certainly receive the level of payment which they receive at present.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that we had not grasped the nettle and that we were talking about the two years after the completion of full-time education. The whole point of youth training, and of course now the extension of training credits to young people, is as follows. Ten per cent. of those young people are now in pilot schemes and receiving their credits. By 1993 a further 10 per cent. will be in receipt of them. Thereafter, an increasing percentage of young people will have the opportunity of receiving these credits. That is the guarantee which the Government are giving of a place on a training scheme if young people decide to leave school.

The two Statements today have indicated that this is an exciting moment in the lives of young people regarding their qualifications. I say that because here for the first time we are balancing academic achievement with vocational achievement. With the level of NVQs, young people will be able to read across and assess how they would be getting on with GCSE and A-level standards, which is most important for them. If they are following a vocational path, they will also be able to assess where they are as regards the academic side. Therefore, I hope that the Government's guarantee will attract fewer people and that many more people will be going on into further education. As I said, it is an important time for young people.

The introduction of training credits is important. It will allow young people to plan much more carefully what they will receive from the training provider. For example, some TECs have already provided passports, cheque books or smart cards. Students will be able to use them to identify not only how much they have spent but to assess how far they have progressed. Moreover, if they achieve a level 2 qualification in a short time, they can use their credit for further training. It is a flexible way of helping young people to progress in training and get them qualified for jobs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked exactly what the general NVQs mentioned in the White Paper were. The general NVQs will help young people to keep their options open. They will offer preparation for a range of related occupations and keep open the possibility of moving on to higher education. They will help develop general skills as well as specific working skills. They will be part of the NVQ framework and have equal standing with academic qualifications at the same level. They will also be clearly related to occupationally specific NVQs so that young people can progress quickly and effectively from one to the other. They will also form part of the element that can be put towards a diploma at the ordinary or advanced level. The academic and vocational qualifications together will form a diploma at the ordinary or advanced level, depending upon the level of the NVQs. The general NVQs are non-specific in terms of vocational qualifications and will help to prepare young people for the world of work.

6 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, I shall press the Minister a little further on what he said about general skills. I am not convinced that he answered adequately the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about the fundamental purpose of education. I am sure that we are all glad to hear that education will to a considerable extent be related to future occupations, and yet education is surely more than that. There is such a thing as education for life. There are matters of citizenship, personal relationships and personal development. Some of us become nervous when we hear that education at this level is being thought of too narrowly, in terms of matching people to jobs, without consideration of the much deeper qualities which will make all the difference to the way our country develops in the years ahead. Perhaps the Minister will say a word or two about that point.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate identified what the general NVQs will be. I said that they would prepare young people for the world of work, but that is only part of what they will do. What is most important is that they are, to some extent, non-academic. They will increase the awareness of young people, as he said, of personal skills—skills for life—to a level where they will equate with other academic qualifications. Young people will then be able to understand what level they have achieved vis à vis the academic side, so that they can, as I said. put them towards the award of a diploma.

Baroness David

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about the careers service, to which I do not believe she had an answer. The Statement says that the Government wish to increase the importance of a high quality careers service, linked closely to employers and that there has been consultation about ways of organising the careers service. I support what the noble Baroness said about the careers service being important to young people at school, because it is then that they need advice about what they are going to do. The advice should not just be about employment. Is it intended to remove the careers service from the local education authorities and hand it over to employment? If so, the link with the schools will be much more difficult to maintain.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Baroness reminded me that I have not replied to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about the development of the careers service. We see the careers service as being one of the most important links in the chain of development of young people. Because there is closer working now between the LEAs and the TECs, which are the providers of youth training, we propose that a partnership arrangement could be considered or developed. That will not be forced on careers services or LEAs; it is a consideration that is going forward. Consultations are taking place to see whether such a careers service development is possible. No decisions have been taken as to the future of the careers service. There are a number of options which will take account of the local needs of the careers service either in partnership with the TECs or as a contracted-out service, but that will require legislation.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend two short questions— one general and one specific, the latter largely for information. I do not know whether my noble; friend was as disconcerted as I was to hear the right reverend Prelate imply that there was no necessary ethical content in specifically matching men to jobs. My first question is: is it not a fact that all jobs have an ethical and spiritual content? My specific question, which is based on my ignorance is: legal education spans the academic and the vocational to a peculiar degree, although the law is not the only profession of which that is true. Where does legal education occur as between the two Statements?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I have to agree with what my noble and learned friend said about the matching of young people with jobs. Young people should be encouraged to develop according to their vocational wishes, although the general and academic side of their lives must not be ignored. The diplomas are being developed so that young people can gain a diploma with a match of the academic and vocational qualifications. I do not have the answer to the question my noble and learned friend asked about legal education. I shall of course ask and write to him about it.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Seear also asked whether the Government had any proposals which would encourage more 16 year-olds to stay at school by ensuring that they were not at a financial disadvantage compared to people entering employment at that age. I do not believe that the Minister answered that question. In the same context, does he agree that the wage earned by school leavers entering employment is often too high in relation to the adult wage, and that therefore employers and trade unions should be urged to widen the gap between the school leaver wage and the adult wage as new pay agreements are made?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I believe I went some way towards answering the question asked by the noble Baroness when I said that the training allowance would continue to be paid to young people receiving youth training. There will be no change in that respect. It will continue as it is whether they receive youth training under the present scheme or training under the credit scheme. There is no difference in the money paid.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, the Minister must think that I am being stupid about this, but what I was trying to get at was this: if a young person stays on in the sixth form and does such an old-fashioned thing as A-levels in—shall we say, English, French and History, which could not be regarded as vocational —I suppose French might be—will that young person receive any financial help for maintenance? If not, that young person will be discouraged from staying at school to do the traditional A-level work and encouraged to take up training when he will receive money through a training grant.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I understand that there is no change in the present position. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, commented on the fact that the wages paid to young people are too high. I shall not be drawn on that point. It is for employers to decide what to pay young people.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, will the Minister deal with two points which I concede may be rather detailed for the Statement he has given to us today? I feel some answers are necessary for the smooth working of the scheme. First, what is being done about training the trainers? We tend to talk in broad terms about the trainers and there is no doubt, as we all know from our visits to training establishments, that the quality is very good indeed, with enthusiastic and dedicated trainers. However, it does not necessarily mean that someone who is good at his specific trade, or whatever it happens to be, is a good teacher. We are talking about training, so this can be crucial. I hope that the Government are examining the point and setting up some kind of in-service training to ensure that the standard of training is given importance.

Secondly, an unrelated matter is that I had the pleasure some weeks ago of visiting an organisation called TAP—Training Access Points. I am not sure whether it is a national organisation. What impressed me was that all the courses available in the area were on the computer. The centre was based in Middlesbrough and on the computer there was information on all the types of courses which could be obtained simply by pressing buttons. The aim of the Government and those on this side of the House is, so far as is possible, to expand training. That is what the Statement is about. It seems to me that unless youngsters are in a position to find out where specific types of courses are available much effort will be wasted. Has the Minister any information on TAP, particularly considering the necessity for financial aid to such bodies, to keep them going and to expand them? There is no doubt that they are doing a useful job.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, is quite right to inquire about the standard of trainers and the training that young people will receive. That is an aspect which, by their contract with the Department of Employment, the TECs will maintain. They will supervise the approval of trainers and the quality of training they give.

The noble Lord also asked about Training Access Points. They are usually found in the careers service. Through the computer links I have seen what is available for young people in training provision in their locality. I understand that this is a national provision which is constantly updated. The noble Lord will see from the White Paper that the Government intend to provide further finance for the development of the careers service and also to upgrade its facilities.