HL Deb 30 January 1997 vol 577 cc1241-3

The Earl of Bradford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the performance of the catering colleges.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, students who take catering courses generally leave with good levels of knowledge and skill, well fitted for careers in catering. We cannot be precise about how many enter the catering industry. Some colleges already collect substantial amounts of student destination data. We should like to see all colleges publish such data, and we announced in the recent White Paper, Learning to Compete, proposals for an additional college performance indicator on student destinations.

The Earl of Bradford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. Does he realise that the catering industry will be delighted with the proposal that, in future, catering colleges will have to publish the results of their success or failure? However, will he give an undertaking that that will be carried through? There is enormous concern within the catering industry at present that the colleges are training the wrong people in the wrong way, and that those people are not entering the catering industry at the end of their courses. Indeed, too many students are not completing their courses at all.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's response. I give the undertaking that we shall publish some sort of student destination data, in the form of tables, in due course. It is important to make sure that the information published is not over-detailed, thus impairing the effectiveness of the tables. We should like to see other information coming from colleges so that local communities can see just how well they perform.

To respond to my noble friend's second point regarding concerns about the kind of courses that various colleges pursue, I assure him that there is considerable inspection of courses in the further education sector. Of the hotel and catering classes inspected during 1995-96 only about 7 per cent. were found to have weaknesses which outweighed their strengths.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how many colleges plan to close down the courses that they offer because there is not enough demand? How many new courses are being proposed? And, if everything is so good in those colleges, why do 30 per cent. of those who enrol on the courses drop out?

Lord Henley

My Lords, one can never give absolutely definite reasons as to why people drop out of courses, whether in further or higher education. In the main, we have relatively low drop-out rates compared with those of our international competitors.

I assure the noble Lord that there is a total of some 218, 700 students in colleges taking qualifications in hotel and catering programme areas. Of those, some 129, 000 were funded by the Further Education Funding Council; a further 89, 000 were funded from other sources such as TECs or employers. It is important that employers have an involvement in these matters.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, what is the position regarding raising the status of people working in such positions? Is he aware that, by introducing training for butlers, Ivor Spencer has produced a great feeling of status among those wishing to take up that type of work? Will my noble friend say what the Government are doing to ensure that those in the catering field are also encouraged to look upon it as a real profession?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I hope that by providing appropriate training we are playing our part, to the extent that governments can play any part in these matters, in raising professional status. It is for the industry itself to make sure that the status of the profession is raised to the appropriate level, just as pay is a matter for the industry itself.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, are not the implications of the noble Earls Question rather worrying? I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me, as we are both members of the same club. If you hire catering staff and you cannot rely entirely on candidates coming from catering colleges, where on earth are you to find people to fill the posts?

Lord Henley

My Lords, catering colleges are not the only means by which students can be trained for the profession. There are modern apprenticeships which have been very successful, particularly in the catering industry.

As I made clear, we train a large number of students on various hotel and catering courses. There is a degree of concern in the industry that not enough people come out of those courses into catering. That is why we would like to see indicators in the performance tables as to the destinations of students so that we know where those students go having completed their courses.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one good way to make sure that there is a proper match between the courses provided in the local colleges and the needs of local industry is for industrialists to serve either on the governing body or advisory committee of colleges, or on the local TEC?

Lord Henley

My Lords, that is exactly what we do. The more involvement by the appropriate industries in training the better. It is obvious that the Government themselves cannot decide precisely how many people any given industry is likely to need. That must be a matter for the industry concerned.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, as the Minister was unable, for good reasons, to give me any explanation as to why 30 per cent. of trainees drop out of the courses—it is a high figure—can he also take into account the other question that I asked? Perhaps he would write to me about it. It was: how many colleges are planning to close the courses for which there is a reduced demand, and are new courses being proposed in any colleges?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I have no figures for possible closures of courses by individual colleges. If there are figures, I should be more than happy to write to the noble Lord. As I made clear, considerable numbers of students are being trained in the hotel and catering sector. The problem seems to be that not all those go into that sector for employment.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that hospitality is a huge growth industry employing more than 2 million people in hotels, restaurants, pubs, the public sector, private catering and so on? Is he further aware that there are considerable job opportunities in that field? Is he convinced that the Further Education Funding Council is providing adequate resources so that the colleges concerned can provide an adequate supply for the growing demand?

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to point to the size of the industry. I am satisfied that the Further Education Funding Council has sufficient money to meet the demand.

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