HL Deb 09 January 2002 vol 630 cc551-4

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose to fund the new vocational GCSE courses for 14 to 16 year-olds in maintained secondary schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, the department will fund an extensive programme of training and support for schools and colleges to coincide with the introduction of the new GCSEs in September 2002. This will help to prepare all those offering the new qualification and will include staff training and free support materials. In addition, a general programme aimed at increasing work-related learning opportunities at key stage 4, with funding of £38 million, will be made available in 2002–04.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can I press her further as regards precisely what is being proposed? She will know that schools have relatively little in the way of surplus funds and badly need to know whether this money constitutes a special line of funding, such as a challenge fund, or is to come through the standards fund. Will the £38 million really be made available as an extra resource for schools?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, funding of £1.7 million will be made available specifically for the new GCSEs. That money will be used to provide conferences, workshops, advice and support networks, as well as teaching and other materials directly through the Learning and Skills Development Agency. The £38 million I outlined in my original response will pay for up to 40,000 part-time vocational placements, support for local planning, training for teachers and co-ordinators specifically in schools, supporting young people with, for example, equipment costs and providing funding for specialist courses for those schools wishing to emphasise a particular subject area. I hope that that explanation is sufficiently explicit for the noble Baroness.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, have the Government given any thought to what has taken place across the Channel where specialist vocational courses are devoted to vocational qualifications which, in their turn, are highly regarded? Does the noble Baroness agree that insufficient regard is being paid to what is happening in other European countries? The new proposals strike me as being a mere palliative. The great problem with regard to English education is that the authorities have tried to make vocational courses parasitic on academic courses. Is the Minister prepared to give real thought to vocational courses?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, on many occasions we have debated in your Lordships' House the need to ensure that those who choose to take vocational courses should see them as just as relevant and valid as those who choose to take other courses. The main thrust of our approach seeks to emphasise that this development is very much concerned with equivalence; that is, parity of esteem and parity of approach. That is why, for example, the grading system A to G will be applied to the new GCSE courses, thus ensuring that that parity is achieved.

We are always keen to look to the experience of other countries and to learn lessons from that. We keep a watchful eye on what has proved successful in other European countries.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I take some comfort from the Minister's reply to the Question on vocational courses. However, is it not a fact that so large a proportion of the educational budget is being held back both nationally and locally that schools are finding it extremely difficult to get on with the business of delivering many of their core functions?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I believe that noble Lords from all sides of the House would agree that it is important that schools should be able to take responsibility for managing their own budgets. Indeed, we have devolved a huge amount of finance directly to schools. The main thrust of holding funds centrally is specifically in order to tackle at local educational authority level issues such as special educational needs, school transport and so forth. It is essential to ensure that strategies for those matters are put in place at a national level in order that services can reach every child across the country.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, have the Government given any consideration to the question of where the teachers are to come from for these vocational courses? FE colleges are already finding it difficult to recruit teachers for some of their own vocational courses. Will schools be competing with FE colleges to recruit the same teachers? Furthermore, has any consideration been given to offering teacher training to graduates in suitable subjects, tints enabling them to move into this field?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, it is interesting that the response rate from FE colleges that wish to become involved in our new proposals is running at over 95 per cent. Noble Lords will perhaps be aware that the proposal to offer increased flexibility to 14 to 16 year-olds allows for partnerships to be established between FE colleges and schools, thus creating the conditions that will deliver the programmes. A great deal of enthusiasm has been expressed for this approach.

As I mentioned, part of the funding will be used to address questions of teacher resources, not the least of which will be to examine the need for additional training. The more general point about teacher numbers has been made previously in your Lordships' House. As always, I would reply by saying that the Government are mindful of the need to ensure that the right numbers and quality of teachers are in place. Our programmes support that aim in terms of golden handshakes and so forth.

Lord Elton

My Lords, assuming that a number of the subjects to be taken as vocational educational qualifications are practical, a considerable amount of equipment will be needed in secondary schools in order to cope with the new demands. I believe that I heard the noble Baroness tell the House that £1.8 million would be made available for this purpose. I cannot recall exactly how many secondary schools there are in England and Wales, but I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell the House what will be the average figure received by each school out of that £1.8 million. I do not believe that the sum will be all that large.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct to point out that the new GCSEs will cover extremely practical subjects. I can describe them briefly as art and design, business, engineering, health and social care, information and communications technology, leisure and tourism and manufacturing and science. Not only the £1.7 million that I mentioned earlier will be made available to provide training and support. From within the £38 million that is to be made available over the coming two years, we anticipate that the average partnership—the link to be created between FE colleges and schools—will receive around £100,000. From that funding, we would expect around one-third of pupils involved in the partnership to be working specifically on the new GCSEs. I have already mentioned to noble Lords that equipment will be made available through that funding, guaranteed to students.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, can the noble Baroness advise the House why music is not included on the list that she read out?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, music is a GCSE subject in any event. These are the new vocational GCSEs. I anticipate that the reason music is not included is because it is already a GCSE subject—and an important one.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, can the Minister say how much money local education authorities are expected to find to complement the use of the £38 million to which she referred?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, £38 million is the amount needed to develop the scheme. So far as I am aware—and I shall certainly write to the noble Lord and other Members of the House if I am wrong—it is not anticipated that LEAs will have to put huge resources into it. LEAs and the learning and skills councils, of course, will take responsibility for students beyond the age of 16. They will be constantly looking in their areas for ways in which to enhance the vocational and other studies of students—as happens already, in any event. This is specific money designed to support the new strategy. It will be a helpful contribution to it.

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