Major Education Speeches

In my time as Chair of the Education Committee, I have made several major speeches, centred around the changes I believe we need to make to tackle social injustice and boost levels of productivity. You can read and watch many of these speeches below.




Towards a Twenty-First Century Education System
Cabinet War Room (11 February 2019)

What I want to talk about this morning is one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation – how to create an education and training system that genuinely nurtures the talent we need for the future and creates a ladder of opportunity long and strong enough for each and every young person to climb.

This argument is too often characterised as one of polar opposites – between traditionalists and progressives – between knowledge and skills.

That is a false divide. The truth is that knowledge is only useful where individuals have the skills to interpret and communicate it, and skills are only useful where young people have a core knowledge to draw on.

Acceptance of this simple fact is now crucial so that we can begin to reshape education and support schools to become truly ‘knowledge engaged’. This means not focusing just on knowledge or just on skills but on the combination of those two critical factors.

To do this, first we need to redefine our view of the skills that employers consistently tell us they are looking for, like team working and problem solving. These are not ‘soft skills’ that detract from the development of knowledge, but rather the essential skills to manipulate and make use of it.

Second, now that we have raised the participation age, we must abandon GCSEs and move towards a holistic and far broader based baccalaureate at age 18.

Finally, we must give teachers back their autonomy in the classroom. We must give them the opportunity to work in partnership with local employers and community organisations to bring their curriculum alive with a rich mix of academic and work-life skills which will create a multi-skilled workforce for the future

  1. The Triple Threat to our economy

Barely a day goes by without a story in the news about skills shortages in one sector or another. They are a drain on our economy and on our society – real job vacancies that cannot be filled because employers are unable to find the right skilled individuals.

Latest research by the Department for Education itself showed that there were 226,000 skills shortage vacancies across the economy in 2017, two and half times as many as the 91,000 that existed in 2011. Yet the most recent figures from ONS showed that in the first quarter of 2018, there were 322,000 young people aged 16-24 who were NEET and unemployed.

Setting these two figures side by side provides the starkest illustration possible of the complete disconnect between our education system and the 21st century world of work.

The impact of skills shortages on our businesses is dramatic. The greatest concentrations of these vacancies are in some of our key infrastructure and growth industries – construction, utilities, transport, manufacturing and communication. They disproportionately affect the smaller businesses that are the backbone of the economy in my constituency and around the country. The Open University has estimated the cost at over £6.3 billion annually and growing.

There is a social justice deficit too. While businesses suffer from these skills shortages, hundreds of thousands of young people are faced with the despair of unemployment and unfulfilled job-seeking in a market to which their skills and education are simply not suited.

It is almost impossible to speak on any subject in 2019 without a mention of

the ‘B’ word and there is no doubt Brexit has the potential to add significantly to this challenge. The Employer Skills Survey showed that 38% of businesses facing skills shortages tried to recruit non-UK nationals to fill the roles. Of these, 90% of firms had looked to recruit from the EU. If Brexit restricts migration into the UK, we will have to redouble our efforts to improve the skills system here in order to foster home grown talent.

Looking further ahead, my Committee has recently been examining the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The number and nature of jobs are changing at an unprecedented rate. Driverless vehicles will automate road haulage and taxi operations, artificial intelligence will power medical diagnosis, big data will search hundreds of legal and insurance precedents in a heartbeat and 3D printing will be used to construct bridges and houses. In 2015 The Bank of England found that up to 15 million UK current jobs are at risk of automation. There are particular challenges for young people – PWC has estimated that 46% of jobs done by young men are at risk of automation.

The ‘March of the Robots’ and its impact on our economy and society is going to be huge. To complement our committee enquiry, the Government should establish a Royal Commission, headed up by the Chief Scientist, to examine the impact of the rise of the robots, artificial intelligence and automation. They should look at the effect on jobs particularly, and advise how we should respond to this challenge.

In Finland this is already happening with a programme called ‘anticipate’.

So our education system faces a triple threat, which we must step up to address.

1)  We must fill the large and widening skills shortages in the economy;

2)  We must foster home-grown talent, and;

3)  We must give young people the transferable skills and resilience they need for careers in a rapidly changing world.

2. The ask from British Business

One thing has remained remarkably consistent during my conversations with business leaders in my constituency over many years. When I ask them what they are looking for in their future workforce, their answer is simple – individuals who are good communicators, excellent problem solvers, strong team players.

This certainly does not mean that knowledge is not important – it is. Every young person deserves to understand this country’s rich cultural heritage, world history and the scientific principles that govern our daily lives.

But knowledge is not enough. It is essential that it is combined with the development of the key skills that employers are looking for. In the language of Ofsted’s recent work in this area, we need schools to be knowledge engaged.

The knowledge is not the end in itself – rather it is knowledge, understanding and the application of skills intertwined in the curriculum that creates rounded individuals.

The proof from employers is clear. In the Government’s own Employer Perspectives Survey, less than half of employers said that academic qualifications alone were significant or critical when hiring, compared to almost two-thirds for relevant work experience. Similarly, in the CBI’s annual education and skills survey, businesses made clear that the biggest drivers of young people’s success are attitudes and aptitudes.

Similarly, the skills that employers are desperately looking for are not a secret. In fact, the resounding message from 87,000 businesses surveyed is that there are two key areas: first, technical and practical skills and second, inter-personal and problem-solving skills. This chimes with the latest figures from the OECD on adult skills, which place the UK 14th on literacy, 18th on numeracy and 10th on problem solving.

So the requirement from businesses is clear. What matters is not just factual recall. What matters is knowledge combined with technical skills and the timeless employability skills that are required for success in any industry.

3. The response from Education Policy

A huge emphasis has been placed through performance measures like EBacc on knowledge in a narrow range of academic subjects.

While businesses emphasise the need for technical skills, EBacc has delivered a 57% reduction in Design and Technology GCSE entries since 2010. At the same time, the teaching of creative subjects needed to build broader communication and team-working skills have fallen by 20%.

Here it must be said that while the Gatsby Benchmarks are an excellent aspiration, the reality of their delivery leaves a huge amount to be desired. Under pressure to prioritise GCSE results, they risk becoming a box-ticking exercise in many schools. Recent evidence to the Select Committee clearly calls into question the effectiveness and value for money provided by the Careers and Enterprise Company, who are spraying money around like confetti with a wanton lack of strategic direction – they spent £200,000 on two conferences in 2017 and £900,000 on research with a lack of convincing data on hard outcomes and minimal oversight.

The crucial role of Further Education has also been largely overlooked. The sector has been subjected to decades of ‘initiativitis’ leaving it without a clear direction, while funding has been salami sliced year on year making their task almost impossible. Colleges must be recognised as having a key role in giving young people access to high quality technical education. They need to be seen as anchor institutions, collaborating closely with schools and Higher Education, as they are in Northern Ireland. And they should be properly funded – an issue I raised directly with the Chancellor ahead of last year’s budget. I will continue to champion this too often unrecognised sector.

In the world of adult education, latest research from the Social Mobility Commission shows that 49% of adults from the lowest socio-economic group receive no training at all after leaving school, making it all the more important that we get education right at this early stage.

4. Beacons of Hope

I very much welcome the recent announcements from Amanda Spielman beginning to establish a broader definition of success. As Luke Tryl, Ofsted’s Director of Corporate Strategy, has said ‘we have reached the limits of what data alone can tell us’.

Education policy needs to catch up to that vision.

In the meantime though, Edge has been working with a group of schools that are already bucking the trend in combining the teaching of knowledge and skill, preparing young people for life and work in the twenty-first century.

·        School 21 in Stratford sends all of its Year 10 pupils out for half a day a week to work alongside real businesses on live projects, applying what they have learned in school and getting real time careers guidance while developing the employability skills businesses look for.

·        XP School in Doncaster, who you will hear more from in our panel discussion, move beyond the restrictions of individual subjects to a holistic education taught through expeditions that challenge pupils and teachers alike. Their simple maths equation is one I wholeheartedly endorse – qualifications plus character growth plus beautiful work equals the best version of you.

In the North East, Edge are working with the LEP and with schools in Newcastle and North Tyneside to apply some of these transformational approaches and principles, already yielding strong results. We will hear more from Claire, Principal at Excelsior Academy in Newcastle, about this work shortly.

Most importantly, we know that these approaches work because there is clear evidence from other parts of the world. I recently met colleagues from Nasvhille, Tennessee, where this expansive approach to education was introduced a decade ago. They have experienced an increase of more than 25% in graduation rates, improvements in behaviour, attendance and most importantly in core subject attainment because young people can see the relevance of what they are learning. The bottom line is that this has added more than $100m to the local economy.

5. Towards a Twenty-First Century Education System

The argument in this area between traditionalists and progressives is a false dichotomy, based on inflexibility and unwillingness to change and adapt. As I have said before, when the Opposition paint a picture in which the Government as butchers of our education system, I respond by saying that is simply wrong. We should be seen not as butchers but as Bakers.

We should follow the very sensible proposals of Lord Baker, former Education Secretary and Chair of Edge, in moving beyond the extremes of this debate to a sensible middle ground where the acquisition of knowledge can co-exist and thrive with the development of essential skills.

First, we must rewrite the way in which we see those skills. We should stop referring to them as ‘soft skills’ developed at the expense of knowledge. Rather they are the essential skills that employers are looking for and which will enable young people to interpret, manipulate and communicate their knowledge.

What skills do I mean? Well Edge’s Joint Dialogue research answers that question by bringing together data from leading surveys and focus groups with employers: problem solving, communication, self-management, teamwork, creativity, numeracy and digital skills, together with confidence and resilience.

Again I repeat that I fully support the need for every young person to be able to access through their schooling a working knowledge of our – indeed their – cultural capital, our history and our literature.

But it is also essential that we develop our next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and designers. All young people should have access to the technical and creative subjects that will give them the skills that employers are looking for. We must move from knowledge-rich to knowledge-engaged. It is not enough for young people to emerge from school with a brain full of rote learned facts and figures. They need a core of knowledge but, just as importantly, the skills to interpret, adapt and communicate that knowledge in a variety of different situations.

This is perfectly possible, as Edge’s own work in the North East is already showing. Young people in schools are gaining a knowledge of robotics by working with students at Newcastle University to use Micro:bits to solve real life problems in their school. At the same time, they are practicing team working and communication skills and getting exposure to possible future careers.

Students at Excelsior Academy have gained a real understanding of the history of the Jarrow March, a protest against unemployment and poverty in the 1930s, by recreating it and working with a local food bank to understand how these issues are impacting their community even today. They are developing knowledge about their community and history, whilst simultaneously learning how to apply it and how to become caring future citizens.

Through these kinds of highly engaging projects, teachers are able to work in partnership with local businesses and community organisations to truly bring the curriculum to life.

Second, we must remember that since 2015 all young people have been required to participate in some form of education and training up to 18. Yet GCSEs are still widely viewed as the same high stakes tests that they were when many young people finished their education at this age.

We must take the opportunity to fundamentally reimagine this phase of education, turning the high-stakes GCSEs that drive so much perverse behaviour in the system into a simple data-led ‘progress check’ at 16.

You may worry that this could negatively impact students who move institutions at 16, but some have questioned whether GCSEs in subjects like maths are a perfect indicator of real numeracy, and institutions like Colleges are already skilled in assessing needs on arrival to tailor their provision.

In their place, what we need is a true baccalaureate at 18. Just as the International Baccalaureate does in more than 149 countries, this should recognise academic and technical skills together with the young person’s personal development. This would act as a genuine and trusted signal to

employers and universities of a young person’s rounded skills and abilities.

Schools would then be measured on two things – completion of the baccalaureate at 18 and the destinations of their pupils in the years after leaving, with apprenticeships explicitly counted as a gold standard destination.

Third, too many teachers are currently leaving the profession – analysis published at the end of last year showed that of 35,000 newly qualified teachers who had started teaching in London since 2010, more than 11,000 had already left.

The solution to this doesn’t lie in more costly advertising for new recruits. The solution lies in building on the Secretary of State’s recent retention strategy to return the profession to one that is attractive as a long-term career. Local teacher training colleges could give them a head start to that career, but then teachers should have more autonomy in their classrooms and more high quality CPD throughout their careers, connecting learning to real life.

Edge has piloted teacher externships, giving the opportunity for teachers to spend time in local businesses, understanding their workplace so that they can inject real life examples into their curriculum and provide relevant real world careers advice to their pupils. The evaluation of the pilot showed that 80% of teachers and 84% of students felt that the approach had given them a real insight into the world of work. This programme will expand in the north east during 2019.

These changes not only have the potential to transform the way in which young people learn and engage while in school. They also have the ability to equip young people to progress on to the full range of routes including T-Levels and Degree Apprenticeships.

This is not about an either – or. The acquisition of core knowledge is important. But dry rote learning for exams is not the way forward and GCSEs have had their day. Young people need the opportunity to develop that knowledge and the skills that they need for future employment through a broad and relevant curriculum that links explicitly to the real world and is assessed holistically.

I will leave you with a quote from Churchill himself, speaking at Harrow School in 1940, which is just as true today as we consider social justice in education: ‘When the war is won … it must be one of our aims to work to establish a state of society where the advantage and privileges which hitherto have been enjoyed only by the few should be more widely shared by the many and the youth of the nation as a whole.’

Seventy nine years on we have still not established that state of society. Unless we do so, more and more generations will lose out needlessly making society and the nation poorer in every way.


White disadvantaged boys and Educational failure

We need to be honest with ourselves. The educational prospects of white disadvantaged boys make for uncomfortable reading.

This starts in the early years. Some can barely string a sentence together by the time they start primary school. The proportion of Year 1 pupils meeting the expected standard of phonic decoding is 13% lower than it is for black disadvantaged boys, and 23% lower than it is for Asian disadvantaged girls.

As they continue to stumble uneasily through the rest of their education, their life chances dim further still, until what remains is just a faint impression of what was once an outline of promise and potential.

This is clear to see in GCSE results, where all disadvantaged ethnic groups outperform their disadvantaged white peers. For example, the average Attainment 8 score per pupil is just 29.5 for white boys eligible for free school meals, compared to 40.5 for Asian disadvantaged males.

The picture is equally bleak in higher education. Disadvantaged white pupils are 40 per cent less likely to go to higher education than disadvantaged black peers. And disadvantaged Asian students are twice as likely to attend the most selective institutions than disadvantaged white students.

While we have seen encouraging improvements in the performance of other social groups in recent years (including disadvantaged Chinese, Bangladeshi and black African pupils), white disadvantaged boys have not enjoyed the same rate of progress.

There are many reasons for the underachievement of disadvantaged white boys Some people like to talk about a lack of aspiration. I disagree.

It is not that white disadvantaged boys themselves do not want to succeed.

Who doesn’t want to prosper in life?

In fact, studies show that aspiration is high in all social groups.

Rather than obsess about lack of aspiration, we should instead focus on lack of social capital

Social capital allows people to identify opportunities and realise them.

And yet many disadvantaged children miss out on what their wealthier peers are so fortunate to draw on.

They do not have access to the same know-how, extracurricular opportunities and social networks as their peers, which allows the latter to play the game and build soft skills that boost their prospects in the labour market.

We must also understand what is driving disengagement with education

As front-line charity experts point out, culture, norms and values in schools do not always match those at home in white disadvantaged communities.

And disadvantaged white communities do not always make the link between educational success and getting a good job.

Once this perception is embedded, it undermines educational performance. Parents’ lack of engagement with education is associated with worse attainment.

However, rather than point the finger, as some unhelpfully do, we must understand what is driving disengagement. The reasons for this are, again, complex:

Parents who themselves had a negative experience of education in poor quality schools are less likely to feel confident that schools can equip their kids with the skills they need.

Lower literacy and numeracy make it harder to help children with homework.

Parents who experienced job loss and breakdown of community in the old industrial heartlands are more likely to lose faith in the status quo.

But educational failure is not all about social capital and disengagement. What happens inside the school gates also matters enormously.

Educational underachievement also reflects geography and poor access to good schooling.

Schools in many deprived areas struggle to attract experienced teachers and leaders, who are so instrumental in driving up quality. Instead, more experienced teachers tend to gravitate towards less disadvantaged schools.

And while careers advice can help level the playing field when it comes to accessing know- how and opportunities, our schools perform dismally when it comes to delivering this.

To illustrate the difference that investment in good schooling can make, we only need to look at what has happened in London in recent years. Previously riddled with underperforming schools, London now proudly boasts an education landscape that has helped transform many disadvantaged children’s’ lives.

And white boys in London who are eligible for free school meals perform better than those in other parts of the country.

There are so many things we can do to stem underperformance for white disadvantaged children

But to do so, we need a proper, focused government strategy.

This doesn’t necessarily mean a uniform strategy, to be applied rigidly in all areas. After all, white working-class communities are not homogenous, and different areas and schools face different specific challenges.

But it does require a concerted and focused effort to support a social group that is clearly struggling to find its feet in our education system.

What might such a strategy include?

Well, it should start with the early years.

We know that from a very young age, white disadvantaged children have poor educational outcomes, and that this becomes very hard to turn around.

Good quality childcare can help enormously. Children who attend high-quality provision for 2–3 years are around 8 months ahead of children who attend none.

But many parents struggle with affordable childcare and meanwhile, we are giving major concessions to wealthier families. The upper eligibility threshold for both 30 hours of free childcare (3-4-year olds) and tax-free childcare is, staggeringly, £100,000 per parent.

It is simply not justifiable to provide a couple earning £200,000 with 30 hours of free childcare (and tax-free childcare on top) when disadvantaged children need support. We should reduce the current thresholds for 30 hours/tax-free childcare and redirect funding to help disadvantaged parents with childcare support.

We must also make sure that all schools in disadvantaged areas are good.

We know that disadvantaged students tend to do better when they attend better schools.

And  we know  that around  two thirds of  pupils who are eligible  for free school meals at GCSE level are white.

This means that addressing disadvantage more generally, by making sure all schools in disadvantaged areas are good, would be a very helpful start.

Good schools need good teachers. But schools in disadvantaged areas are less likely to have teachers teaching subjects in which they are qualified, and more likely to have higher teacher turnovers.

We spend £72 million on opportunity areas, although we don’t really know exactly what impact they are having. How about using this money on things that are proven to improve failing schools, like great teachers?

Currently, access to top quality initial teacher training varies by geography. We should spend this money on supporting and incentivising our elite initial teacher training providers to set up shop in the most disadvantaged areas in the country.

Teacher training must also provide teachers with a better understanding of the obstacles, including negative stereotypes, that some groups face.

And we should improve the professional development of teachers in disadvantaged areas, to retain and nurture home grown talent. This is not necessarily about new money: according to one recent estimate, we already spend around £1billion a year on training and development, and not all of this achieves a great deal of impact (according to one study, just 9 per cent of teacher training and development actually results in teachers embedding new ideas).

We can learn lessons from countries that have a strong record in teacher development. Like Singapore, which gives classroom teachers more flexibility to hone their stock in trade and gives schools HR grants to cover gaps in supply; places an unusually strong emphasis on peer support (around four fifths of teachers are either mentored or a mentor); and has a clearly defined ladder of career progression.

Schools can also help level the playing field by plugging gaps in social capital.

Not enough white disadvantaged kids see education as a route out of poverty. It is crucial that the relationship between good education and sound employment outcomes is made clear.

Sound careers advice and guidance, and meaningful work experience, are core to this.

At the moment, we are way off the mark. Around one in five schools does not even meet any of the eight Gatsby benchmarks – a series of international markers of sound careers advice.

We must transform careers advice into careers and skills advice. We must avoid duplication and redirect the many millions of pounds that support careers advice into a one-stop-shop – a National Skills Service, with a UCAS for Further Education and Apprenticeships.

And schools should bring successful role models into their support for their pupils. People who have gone to similar schools. Lived similar lives. And who have used education as a launch pad for a better life.

We need to look at how character is being built outside education.

A lot has also been said about the National Citizen Service (NCS). The sentiment behind the scheme is right. Building soft skills, resilience and character is fundamentally a good idea. But the NCS only lasts for four weeks. And it costs a lot more per place (£1,863) than other programmes, like a place at Scouts (which costs £550 for four years). We need to invest wisely, and we should explore whether the voluntary, charity and community sector could achieve more impact in disadvantaged local communities.

We could also redirect spending on grammar schools to support disadvantaged students. £50 million has been earmarked for the expansion of grammar schools between 2018-19, with a further £150 million to come. Is this really the best use of funds to promote social justice? It is highly doubtful that every penny of this money will benefit disadvantaged pupils.

A far better use of these funds would be to spend them on targeted tuition for disadvantaged pupils. A typical effective one-to-one tuition programme (30-minute sessions, five times a week, for 12 weeks) delivers around five months’ more progress over a year, compared to a similar performing pupil who does not receive this. Such a programme could be extended to 285,714 people for the same money that is being spent on the expansion of grammar schools.

We can reach out to parents without being overbearing.

Children spend almost four fifths of their time outside the school gates. Any assessment of educational failure must also look at what is going on outside of school.

When done well, boosting parental engagement is associated with higher attainment.

And some schools do this brilliantly. Like Reach Academy Feltham, which has a very high proportion of pupil premium pupils and a highly impressive Progress 8 score of 1.11, placing it 15th nationally. The school recruits dedicated family experts and offers support sessions – there is currently an 85 per cent take-up of these sessions in the early years, which demonstrates that many parents appreciate the offer of constructive support when it is done in the right way.

But we need to find a way to spark further parental engagement programmes across the country.

A lot has been said about Children’s Centres. But Family Hubs make more sense if we want to support parental engagement for disadvantaged pupils. They take the principle of Children’s Centres even further by providing support to the whole family, and they build hubs for children from every age group, including teenagers.

And supporting the expansion of organisations like Home Start in the country’s most disadvantaged areas would also be a great leap forward – this charity enlists 16,000 volunteers to help 30,000 families with issues like post-natal depression, physical problems and isolation, offering a beacon of hope to those who are struggling.

Finally, it is crucial that all educational routes – not just the traditional academic ones – are top notch.

In other advanced economies, technical routes are a well-respected, and well-oiled, part of the educational machinery that exists.

In Switzerland, for example, around two thirds of students in the final part of their secondary education choose a vocational pathway – mostly doing courses that combine classroom learning and on-the-job training.

All children, regardless of background, should have access to easily accessible technical routes that will lead to good job opportunities. But this is even more important for individuals who currently tend to choose technical routes.

Like disadvantaged white pupils, who are more likely than other disadvantaged ethnic groups to go into apprenticeships. (They are, for example, more than twice as likely to do so than black disadvantaged students.)

When done well, apprenticeships change lives – they allow people to grow their skills, increasing employability and earning potential.

But for more people to benefit from them, we need to make sure that our apprenticeship offer is world class.

To do this, we need to be smarter about how we use the new Apprenticeships Levy. Many employers are frustrated. And focusing on three million starts risks compromising quality. The Government should introduce more flexibility in how the money can be used (for example in the supply chain), and it should use some of the underspend to help businesses offer higher starting wages and provide discounted travel for apprentices.

And degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped technical offering. Students earn as they learn, they do not incur mountains of debt, and they get good quality jobs at the end. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them. The Government should incentivise their growth and they could do this by drawing down on the Apprenticeships Levy. However, this is not just an issue of supply. Few families are aware of degree apprenticeships, especially from disadvantaged families where the returns could be most profound. Both the existence of apprenticeships and their value should be hard-wired into careers advice.

So, a fairer distribution of funding to boost access to quality early years provision; spending money more wisely to bring great quality teaching to all schools; revolutionising careers support to compensate for lack of social capital; steering money away from the expansion of grammar schools to schemes that focus exclusively on disadvantage; constructive engagement with parents; and putting rocket boosters on technical learning.

These should be the core pillars of a concerted and focused government strategy. The plight of white disadvantaged boys is a stain on all our consciences.

We must urgently focus our minds, and energy, to sweep aside the hazards that prevent their safe passage through education and beyond.

We know that, now more than ever, people must have a good education to climb the ladder of opportunity.

And it is well within our collective ability to make sure this happens.





Careers Support Fails To Provide Social Justice, Economic Opportunity Or Value For Money –It’s Time For Change

One of our defining traits is our ambition to better ourselves.

We do it from the day we are born.

We learn to communicate and interact. We harness skills and get jobs. We seek recognition in qualifications, prizes, and promotions.

We aspire to do tomorrow what we didn’t quite achieve today.

However, millions of people are missing out on the chance to achieve their potential because careers support is in a dire state.

Our schools and colleges fall way short in the eight Gatsby benchmarks, which are based on respected international standards. One in five does not even meet any of the eight benchmarks at all. Schools on average meet just 2.13 of them. And just 21 schools and colleges are reported to achieve all eight.

69% of businesses do not think secondary schools adequately prepare children for work.

And advice is often biased against technical routes in a system that is overwhelmingly stacked in favour of academic routes – even after the introduction of the Baker clause which, at least in theory, forces schools to open up to technical options.

This has deep roots culturally in our education system – fuelled by the fact that teachers have academic university backgrounds.

When we think about society’s gravest social problems, we might not immediately

think about careers support. But we should.

Poor careers support is the enemy of personal fulfilment and of prosperity and full employment.

It narrows people’s perspectives on opportunity and it erodes ambition.

It means deep reserves of human potential remain frustratingly untapped.

This is true across the board but it is especially harmful to those who are already disadvantaged.

Why? Well, disadvantaged pupils are far worse placed to convert solid school attainment into good jobs.

Even when they get similar GCSE results and live in the same neighbourhoods, for example, pupils on free school meals are 34% more likely to drop out of post-16 education, and 47 per cent less likely than their peers to attend top universities.

Wealthier students have more access to social capital: access to know-how, social networks, extracurricular opportunities, work experience, and all those extras that help people on to and up the career ladder. They have access to a far broader perception and understanding of the job options and how to take open the door to them.

Because disadvantaged children have less social capital, it is even more important they can access good careers support.

This widens the range of careers young people are aware of and expands the range of careers to which they feel they can aspire.

Good careers guidance engages pupils, boost grades, and improves their job prospects. For example, pupils who have good quality exposure to employers are up to 20 per cent less likely to fall into the category of NEETs. They are also likely to earn around 18 per cent more, than those who do not have this.

And it helps pupils prepare for changes in the labour market. This is even more vital in a world in which people are required to study longer; where labour market conditions are changing so rapidly; and in which up to a third of jobs could disappear by 2030. Ironically this is set against a background of an uncertain post-Brexit climate with employers agonising about skills shortages.

The Government’s recent careers strategy is a small step forward in the right direction

The evidence suggests that leadership in schools is key to successful guidance and advice, and the Government strategy rightly emphasises the need to have dedicated careers leaders in schools and colleges.

It also rightly places more of a rigorous focus on schools achieving the Gatsby benchmarks, including more meaningful interactions with businesses, with a focus on STEM subjects.

And it ensures that Ofsted will now hold schools and colleges to account for their careers provision.

But the current strategy alone will not fix the problems that exist. What is needed is fireworks… what we got were damp squibs.

There are many worthy intentions to admire in the strategy. But it does not go far enough.

It was a missed opportunity.

Careers support is still far too fragmented

We have a confused mish-mash of offerings of support with different government agencies providing bits here and un-coordinated pieces there.

For the student it must be like trying to negotiate a way through spaghetti junction with all the signs pointing the wrong way. No wonder so many get lost.

How can they know and understand the difference between The National Careers Service and the Careers and Enterprise Company: Networks for Collaborative Outreach and local authorities: combined authorities, city mayors, or Local Enterprise Partnerships: Jobcentre Plus or individual university outreach or National Collaborative Outreach Programme?

On top of this are employers’ own initiatives and third sector organisations. Some working with government agencies, some not.

And no overarching entity to bring it all together, far less a decent roadmap to guide baffled students to good quality help and advice.

It all reminds me of a passage from Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit: “If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.”

Some of these agencies face serious problems.

Like the Careers and Enterprise Company. My colleagues and I in the Education Select Committee are deeply concerned by what we have learned in two recent hearings.

I don’t doubt for a second that the company is passionate about its work, and that there are good people working there. But I’m worried they are not providing us with value for money.

This body can be ludicrously wasteful. Last year it spent £200,000 of taxpayers in a time austerity on two conferences – money which should have gone to the front-line. One cost around £150,000 and the other was about £50,000 and held at KidZania! Salaries are too high – its CEO earns almost as much as the Prime Minister. And it has spent £900,000 on research, with another projected £200,000 a year to come.

There is a lack of convincing data on its impact. And a lack of data on hard outcomes: like education and training decisions, or employment outcomes.

The quality of employer encounters is key. But in one recent hearing, it confirmed that a school assembly is a meaningful encounter.

It does not always take its own advice. Take mentoring. Its latest accounts suggest it has spent £4 million on mentoring. In one of its own research reports, it says: “Few effects can be seen from mentoring relationships that last for less than six months… There is a widespread consensus that a year-long relationship constitutes a quality mentoring interaction.” And yet several of the programmes it funds fall far short of this.

There is a scandalous lack of oversight. The National Careers Service is heavily scrutinised. I’m talking the works: Ofsted inspection, mystery shoppers, quality standards, and payment by results linked to customer satisfaction and job/learning outcomes. But the CEC? Nothing evenly remotely comparable.

Despite this, it has been lavished with new roles, without really demonstrating that it has mastered its initial brief. It is now broker; grant controller; research organisation; designer of careers toolkit; running a fund for disadvantaged pupils; supporting careers hubs. And I’m still not clear why grant-making decisions cannot be made by the DfE.

Our overall careers offer suffers from many other problems.

For example, we are ignoring the need for professionalism

The evidence shows that access to personalised, impartial and professional advice is at the heart of delivering effective careers support.

They are key to providing objective advice, unrestrained from cultural bias. They bring important up-to-date knowledge of the labour market and the routes people need to take to make the most of likely opportunities. They are trained to understand students’ strengths and motivations, and match this with good advice.

But recent policy has banished large portions of the career development profession.

Teachers and employers cannot do the job alone. Careers leaders can play a part, but students must have access to independent advice. This is particularly important when it comes to technical routes, which have not always been championed by all schools.

There is also not enough emphasis on starting early

It is vital that we start careers support early. Anastasia de Waal understands this with her “I CAN BE” programme for young girls that focuses on primary schools in deprived areas.

According to the OECD, career expectations at around 13 are a good predictor of actual choices. And the evidence shows that even before they start school, children are already forming their own clear perceptions of different occupations.

UCAS calculates that being confident about entering higher education at the age of 10 makes it twice as likely that a child will end up at a competitive university.

Despite the importance of an early start, the Government’s careers strategy devotes just four of its 105 paragraphs to it. It allocates £2 million “to test new programmes, or expand ones that work”.

We do really need to be SO much more ambitious.

And the strategy makes little mention of students who are the hardest to reach

Like those who have been excluded from mainstream education. Children who are home schooled. Looked after children.

We must urgently improve our careers offer in England and build a National Skills Service.

What do I mean by this?

·         A one-stop-shop under the direction of a single rigorous backbone organisation.

·         It must devote extra focus to those who have fallen on hard times.

·         It must serve all ages.

·         Provide top-class independent, impartial support from qualified professional advisers, and –

·         A clear line of accountability.

·         And, most of all, a better use of money with demonstrably and measurably improved outcomes.

Let me take each of those in turn

A one-stop-shop under the direction of one backbone organisation.

Our careers offer in this country is a sprawling mess. We need a single entity to take charge.

To provide leadership and bring it all together.

To focus resources where they are most needed and promote social justice. To bring together revenue streams, avoid duplication and improve efficiency. To offer strategic oversight.

And ultimately to be accountable for delivering.

A National Skills Service would allow us to do all of this.

We can draw on international examples to help inform our thinking.

Like the Scottish careers support system, which has been applauded by the OECD for its coherent structure.

Scotland funds a national public entity – Skills Development Scotland – to run the country’s careers information, advice and guidance offer; support work-based learning; and broker constructive engagements with employers.

It has a multi-agency approach. It works with schools and colleges, through a network of high street centres, with job centres, with local authorities, through outreach centres, and with employers.

But, crucially, Skills Development Scotland is the strategic leader, which means it is easier to enact Government policy and be consistent.

The National Skills Service would bring all the information individuals need to make informed career choices under one roof. One website for everything.

Funding options. The latest information on the labour market and skills needs. FE league tables. All the educational and training options that might be available to someone at any point in their lives (and know-how about how to take each path).

Like the brilliant Career Colleges, which specialise in vocational areas that are linked to local needs, and bring together employers and FE colleges to give students relevant skills that meet skills gaps.

National Careers Week, which flies the flag for careers and skills education and provides important resources for schools.

And, Middleton Murray who have recently published a new book and created free “i- want-to-b-a” podcasts to help students, parents and schools learn about different careers.

Serving those who have fallen on hard times

Because a National Skills Service would drive the overall careers support offer, it could also take a helicopter view and focus resources on those who need them most.

This matters enormously. Our careers offer should contain all the elements of necessary to underpin social justice. It needs leadership which is motivated and trained to spot the gaps and decide where to steer support.

Like supporting apprentices from the poorest areas. Currently, there is a £60 million support fund for apprenticeships in disadvantaged areas. This currently goes to private providers and we can be a lot smarter about how we use that money.

Some disadvantaged pupils are just not ready for work and face many complex challenges. They’re not even at the foot of the ladder of opportunity. We need to help them get there so they can start apprenticeships and work their way up.

Serving all ages

A single backbone organisation makes it easier to offer an all-age approach, which can be used to support children in primary school all the way through to second-chance learners.

The evidence suggests that all-age approaches can be more cost-effective by avoiding duplication.

And the evidence also shows we must start early. “All ages” means starting in primary school.

I repeat, career expectations at around 13 are a good predictor of actual choices. Evidence shows that even before they start school, children are already forming perceptions of jobs; that early intervention can shape these perceptions and tackle negative stereotypes; and that children in primary schools are receptive to learning about skills and occupations.

We must start in primary schools.

Of course, this needs to be carefully considered. I’m not talking about sending 8-year- olds to Deloitte for an internship. It is more about helping to expand children’s ideas about what is possible from an early age.

Don’t take my word for it. In Finland, they have really gripped this. They have a world- renowned all-ages careers education system. And they recognise the need to start young. In primary and secondary education, school career services offer 76 hours of careers counselling.

Some of the best primary schools in this country are already doing the same. Gateshead College hosts classes of primary school children to try their hand at coding and broaden their perspectives.

I mentioned them briefly earlier, but “I CAN BE” is another example of this. They are currently helping two hundred 7- and 8-year-old girls to experience the world of work by taking them to visit women in workplaces in their local area.

Offering top-class impartial support from qualified professional advisers.

The evidence shows that independent and impartial support delivered by experts is crucial.

Our new National Skills Service should recruit the very best professional careers specialists. It should treat careers support as a distinct field of expertise – not one that can be shipped out to teachers (whom we already ask to do so much) or generalists on the cheap.

Again, we can learn some lessons from other support systems.

The offer in Scotland has been commended by the OECD for its professionalism. Its career support experts are professionally qualified and top-up regularly to develop.

Its advisers have access to up-to-date labour market intelligence, including data on labour market trends and employer skills demand – split geographically and by sector. They are also updated on different qualifications and training routes, including earn and learn options.

All this information helps them to tailor the services they provide. And its offering is also parent focused. All of which the evidence shows is really important – particularly to tackle unfounded assumptions about technical routes.

We used to have a healthy number of experts in our own workforce. Tragically, many are now leaving the profession, or going elsewhere, because we have reduced our demand for their skills.

What a complete waste.

We must welcome them back and allow them to play their part in a new, world-class offer.

A clear line of accountability.

We have seen how clear and visionary oversight and rigorous accountability to go missing when we create too many delivery vehicles.

A single entity would restore this. It would also make it possible to ensure oversight, transparency and accountability.

And we should demand the same level of rigour that we currently apply to the National Careers Service.

We should also test and learn. Evaluating all the way.

And a better use of money

Operating individually, in an un-co-ordinated manner and too often in a vacuum, our current smorgasboard of government-funded careers schemes cannot solve the present acute careers problem.

But put together and properly structured, they would have a real chance of doing so.

We would reduce waste and duplication. We would achieve economies of scale. We could improve organisational efficiency. And we would be able to plan expenditure more strategically.

Perhaps, most importantly, we would present a world class careers offering which was actually comprehensible to those who need it most – today’s lost youth.

But a world-class offering will need a world-class budget.

In 2001, we spent around £450 million on careers support for young people in England; today the figure is closer to around £100 million. That is a scandalously false saving which must be reversed.

Making wiser choices about how we spend money also means thinking about how

we’re spending money in other parts of the education system.

To give careers support the shot in the arm it needs, we should divert spending from other areas.

Like the planned expansion of grammar schools.

£50 million has been earmarked for this between 2018-19, with a further £150 million to come. Is this really the best use of funds to promote social justice? It is highly doubtful that every penny of this money will benefit disadvantaged pupils.

It must be far better to spend it on careers support for disadvantaged pupils that would help compensate for their lack of social capital. The very social capital, after all, that helps more comfortable students get to places like grammar schools in the first place…

And we can surely also use some of the £800-odd million a year that universities will spend on outreach, to provide another boost to our new service.

Our National Skills Service can also be a one-stop-shop for other key sources of skills advice and guidance for technical education

In other advanced economies, technical routes are a well-respected, and well-oiled, part of the educational machinery that exists. In Switzerland, for example, around two thirds of students in the final part of their secondary education choose a vocational pathway.

All children, regardless of background, should have access to easily accessible technical routes that will lead to good job opportunities. But this is even more important for disadvantaged individuals who rely more on technical routes.

We need to make sure that our apprenticeship offer is world-class. To do this, we should bring the National Apprenticeships Service into the National Skills Service, where it can play a more integrated role with the skills and careers offers that exist.

And, as part of a single online resource, we desperately need a UCAS style portal for technical education – not a wishy-washy imitation of the existing one, but a proper, comprehensive online portal.

We need this to communicate and signpost the options that are available to people.

And we need it because it would empower students to see for themselves the opportunity in technical education, unconstrained by the biases that tend to seep into advice they might receive elsewhere.

So, what I am calling for today is:

A one-stop-shop under the direction of one backbone entity.

One that focuses heavily on those who have fallen on hard times. Serves all ages. Offers support from qualified professional advisers. With a clear line of accountability. And brings into the fold the National Apprenticeship Service and a UCAS style portal for technical education.

These are the core pillars of a National Skills Service.

Top-class careers support is a lifeline for those who may stumble blindly into a life of unfulfilled promise.

It also taps into a whole new reservoir of latent talent and endeavour to help in the vital task of continuing to build the UK economy.

Altogether, it is a win-win proposal serving the interests of fairness, social justice and the economic prosperity of our country.

We must treat it as such.

So that more people know how to climb the ladder of opportunity.

And that social justice is the real engine of the careers support we offer.




Education, Social Justice and the Ladder of Opportunity

Education, Social Justice and the Ladder of Opportunity

Today, I’d like to explain why access to quality education is about social justice, how we can improve the current system, and why doing this will benefit all of us.  I’ll do this by talking about the educational ladder of opportunity. 

Rung 1: Identifying Social Injustice

Access to quality education is a social justice issue.

Without it, people find it hard to develop the knowledge and skills required to succeed in life. And, it is the most disadvantaged members of our society who are more likely to lack quality options.

If we are to unlock opportunity, the first step is to identify what these social injustices are.

The first few years of a child’s life, including their pre-school experiences, are crucial to their prospects. But only 54% of children eligible for free school meals reach a good level of development by the age of five (compared with 72% of their better off counterparts). 

Disadvantaged pupils perform a lot worse at school. Just 33% of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs (including English and maths) compared with 61% of their better off peers. 

Geography shapes prospects. A child living in one of England’s poorest areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in its richest areas.

Children who are taught in alternative settings, rather than in mainstream education, have terrible prospects. Just 1.3 per cent of this group get five good GCSEs.  

The quality of technical education needs parity of esteem with our academic offering, otherwise many pupils do not get the skills to thrive in the labour market.   

Disadvantaged students are less likely to go to prestigious universities than better off ones. They are also more likely to get lower grades, and more likely to drop out.   

Rung 2: Broadening Access to Quality Provision  

Once we have identified where social injustices lie, we must make sure that all people, regardless of background, have access to quality education.  

But what does quality look like? A less complex system of childcare subsidies so that families claim the support that is available to them. And affordable and quality childcare in the most disadvantaged areas.

Better performance in our worst schools. A system that encourages our best leaders, teachers and multi-academy trusts to take on failing schools. And stronger engagement with employers. 

A system of alternative education that encourages early intervention, better decision-making about appropriate provision, and transparency of outcomes.

A technical route that rivals the strong reputation enjoyed by its academic cousin, and one that is marketed well and has such prestige that pupils understand their options. Careers guidance should be dedicated towards skills and schools and skills go hand-in-hand. 

A system of higher education that is open to all and empowers people to make informed decisions about the return they are likely to get on their investments.  

To be clear, the government has made great strides of progress in improving education in recent years. For example:  

It has announced 12 opportunity areas, which will channel £72 million into some of the poorest areas in the country to build teaching capacity, boost technical options and work with employers to improve careers advice. 

Under its watch, the proportion of good and outstanding primary schools has risen from 69% to 90% in the last five years. 

It has overseen a major overhaul of the apprenticeships system, which will ensure that funding is doubled by 2020 from 2010 levels, to £2.5 billion, and that employers have a stronger say in how they are run. We know that over 90% of apprentices go into work or further training, and this investment will boost productivity and broaden our skills base.  

But, as the figures I outlined earlier clearly show, there is still much more to do. 

 Rung 3: Offering Suitable Provision

To maximise social mobility, we must do more than deliver quality education; pupils also need the right type of education to prepare them for the world of work.

As things stand, our workforce struggles to meet the skills demands of our economy. 

In December 2015, nearly a third of workers did not hold suitable qualifications for the jobs they were doing.  

Basic skills are inadequate. More than a quarter (around nine million) of all working aged adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills.

There are skills shortages in many sectors. In 2015, areas with the highest proportion of vacancies affected by skill shortages included electricity, gas and water; construction; transport and communications; and manufacturing.

To improve people’s prospects, education needs to build relevant and high value skills. This is particularly important in an increasingly competitive global skills race. 

Here are some of the things we need to look at if we want to offer the right type of education.   

Technical education needs to be overhauled, so that it produces a much smaller number of prestigious qualifications that employers recognise and value. Employers should have a strong voice in determining what these qualifications look like, and qualifications should meet skills shortages.

Further education colleges are key players when it comes to delivering technical education. But, we need to find better ways to support them.

There is no point in creating new opportunities if people do not know they exist, or how to access them. Sound careers advice is key, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have less social capital. The number of pupils who received careers advice or work experience fell dramatically in the last twenty years and the quality on offer is too often inadequate.  

Adults, too, must be able to retrain and upskill throughout their careers. Currently, we do too little to support this and employers should also be encouraged to offer professional training.   

The government’s post-16 skills plan does an important job of addressing some of these issues, but we will need to ensure that each and every step of that plan is executed well to build on its successes.   

Rung 4: Unlocking Jobs, Security and Individual Prosperity  

By identifying where poor access to quality education exists (rung 1), addressing those challenges by offering quality education (rung 2), and making sure that we offer the right type of education (rung 3) we give individuals every chance of building secure and prosperous lives.  

There is a real need to realise each of these steps, as many people do not have skills and jobs that provide them with security or prosperity.  

Many are trapped in low-skill, low-pay jobs. (One in five working adults is on low pay.)

People on low pay are more likely to lose their jobs and experience depression.

 16.8 million people in our working population have less than £100 in savings.

On current trends, just one in eight children from low-income families has a realistic shot at becoming a high income earner later in life.

Rung 5: Building a Better Society 

But it is not just individuals who gain by improving access to quality education. By giving individuals the tools to succeed in life, we also build a stronger society.   

By providing people with the chance to develop high-value skills that are in demand, we will build a thriving economy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.  

This means we can boost productivity, drive wage growth and raise our living standards.   

It also means fewer people will need to rely on state support, which will free up funds for investment in public services and enterprise.  

It means that more people can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in deprived areas and replace it with a virtuous cycle of good quality education and strong local employment.

And it means that more individuals will feel positive about the society in which they live.

In the years ahead, the Education Select Committee will play its part in shaping an education system that works for all.  

In the short term, we will do so by focusing on three themes.    Alternative Provision.

Children who fall out of mainstream education do so for a range of complex reasons, ranging from special educational needs, to severe behavioural disorders (often caused by severely challenging circumstances at home) and physical illness.   

These children have truly awful prospects. Just 1.3 per cent of this group get five good GCSEs.

While some providers do an excellent job in very testing conditions, the system is broken.

We need to ensure that alternative provision is not used as a dumping ground. Where possible, schools should be supported to intervene early and when alternative education is appropriate, decisions about where to send children should be well thought through. If children require alternative education, provision should be suitable for their particular needs. And the outcomes of children who spend time in alternative provision should be transparent.

In our inquiry, we will look at all these issues and more.  

Quality apprenticeships

The government has transformed the way that apprenticeships are funded, which will double our investment in this crucial area of education. And sensibly, it is giving employers a much stronger say in how they are designed and delivered.

We need to monitor these new measures to ensure that the apprenticeships they generate are high in quality. According to the latest figures, the number of good or outstanding apprenticeship programmes has improved by 12%. But 37% of programmes are still less than good, which means that 90,000 apprentices are receiving a poor deal. Apprenticeships should be set up in sectors that suffer from a shortfall of relevant skills. And we must make sure that sub-contracted apprenticeships are subjected to proper checks and balances. 

That is why we have decided to take a closer look at the quality of apprenticeships, and in the coming months the committee will be publishing a report that outlines our concerns and recommendations.

Value for money in higher education  

More disadvantaged students are going to university than ever before. But outcomes are still not as good as they should be. Affluent students are still 3.6 times more likely to attend Russell Group universities than students who were eligible for free school meals at school. And employment rates, and salaries, vary according to university and degree type.

University should be an option for all, regardless of background. But potential applicants need to know whether they will be getting a good return on their investment. For this to happen, we need to improve the quality and transparency of data on graduate outcomes.  

We also need to understand why poorer students are dropping out at a higher rate than other students. And we must take another look at the debts students incur, so that people feel they are getting on in life and not trudging through the mud when they pay back their loans.  

By reviewing these three areas, and others to come, we want to embed social justice in our education system.  

We know that quality education is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. But disadvantaged people still do not have the same access to this as their more fortunate peers.

I want us to help build the ladder of opportunity that I have described today. I want to be able to say with confidence that all people, no matter what their backgrounds, will have a genuine shot at improving their lives.   And if we build a ladder that is sturdy enough, we will all be better off.

Education, Social Justice and the Ladder of Opportunity

Today, I’d like to explain why access to quality education is about social justice, how we can improve the current system, and why doing this will benefit all of us.  I’ll do this by talking about the educational ladder of opportunity. 

Rung 1: Identifying Social Injustice

Access to quality education is a social justice issue.

Without it, people find it hard to develop the knowledge and skills required to succeed in life. And, it is the most disadvantaged members of our society who are more likely to lack quality options.

If we are to unlock opportunity, the first step is to identify what these social injustices are.

The first few years of a child’s life, including their pre-school experiences, are crucial to their prospects. But only 54% of children eligible for free school meals reach a good level of development by the age of five (compared with 72% of their better off counterparts). 

Disadvantaged pupils perform a lot worse at school. Just 33% of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs (including English and maths) compared with 61% of their better off peers. 

Geography shapes prospects. A child living in one of England’s poorest areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in its richest areas.

Children who are taught in alternative settings, rather than in mainstream education, have terrible prospects. Just 1.3 per cent of this group get five good GCSEs.  

The quality of technical education needs parity of esteem with our academic offering, otherwise many pupils do not get the skills to thrive in the labour market.   

Disadvantaged students are less likely to go to prestigious universities than better off ones. They are also more likely to get lower grades, and more likely to drop out.   

Rung 2: Broadening Access to Quality Provision  

Once we have identified where social injustices lie, we must make sure that all people, regardless of background, have access to quality education.  

But what does quality look like? A less complex system of childcare subsidies so that families claim the support that is available to them. And affordable and quality childcare in the most disadvantaged areas.

Better performance in our worst schools. A system that encourages our best leaders, teachers and multi-academy trusts to take on failing schools. And stronger engagement with employers. 

A system of alternative education that encourages early intervention, better decision-making about appropriate provision, and transparency of outcomes.

A technical route that rivals the strong reputation enjoyed by its academic cousin, and one that is marketed well and has such prestige that pupils understand their options. Careers guidance should be dedicated towards skills and schools and skills go hand-in-hand. 

A system of higher education that is open to all and empowers people to make informed decisions about the return they are likely to get on their investments.  

To be clear, the government has made great strides of progress in improving education in recent years. For example:  

It has announced 12 opportunity areas, which will channel £72 million into some of the poorest areas in the country to build teaching capacity, boost technical options and work with employers to improve careers advice. 

Under its watch, the proportion of good and outstanding primary schools has risen from 69% to 90% in the last five years. 

It has overseen a major overhaul of the apprenticeships system, which will ensure that funding is doubled by 2020 from 2010 levels, to £2.5 billion, and that employers have a stronger say in how they are run. We know that over 90% of apprentices go into work or further training, and this investment will boost productivity and broaden our skills base.  

But, as the figures I outlined earlier clearly show, there is still much more to do. 

 Rung 3: Offering Suitable Provision

To maximise social mobility, we must do more than deliver quality education; pupils also need the right type of education to prepare them for the world of work.

As things stand, our workforce struggles to meet the skills demands of our economy. 

In December 2015, nearly a third of workers did not hold suitable qualifications for the jobs they were doing.  

Basic skills are inadequate. More than a quarter (around nine million) of all working aged adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills.

There are skills shortages in many sectors. In 2015, areas with the highest proportion of vacancies affected by skill shortages included electricity, gas and water; construction; transport and communications; and manufacturing.

To improve people’s prospects, education needs to build relevant and high value skills. This is particularly important in an increasingly competitive global skills race. 

Here are some of the things we need to look at if we want to offer the right type of education.   

Technical education needs to be overhauled, so that it produces a much smaller number of prestigious qualifications that employers recognise and value. Employers should have a strong voice in determining what these qualifications look like, and qualifications should meet skills shortages.

Further education colleges are key players when it comes to delivering technical education. But, we need to find better ways to support them.

There is no point in creating new opportunities if people do not know they exist, or how to access them. Sound careers advice is key, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have less social capital. The number of pupils who received careers advice or work experience fell dramatically in the last twenty years and the quality on offer is too often inadequate.  

Adults, too, must be able to retrain and upskill throughout their careers. Currently, we do too little to support this and employers should also be encouraged to offer professional training.   

The government’s post-16 skills plan does an important job of addressing some of these issues, but we will need to ensure that each and every step of that plan is executed well to build on its successes.   

Rung 4: Unlocking Jobs, Security and Individual Prosperity  

By identifying where poor access to quality education exists (rung 1), addressing those challenges by offering quality education (rung 2), and making sure that we offer the right type of education (rung 3) we give individuals every chance of building secure and prosperous lives.  

There is a real need to realise each of these steps, as many people do not have skills and jobs that provide them with security or prosperity.  

Many are trapped in low-skill, low-pay jobs. (One in five working adults is on low pay.)

People on low pay are more likely to lose their jobs and experience depression.

 16.8 million people in our working population have less than £100 in savings.

On current trends, just one in eight children from low-income families has a realistic shot at becoming a high income earner later in life.

Rung 5: Building a Better Society 

But it is not just individuals who gain by improving access to quality education. By giving individuals the tools to succeed in life, we also build a stronger society.   

By providing people with the chance to develop high-value skills that are in demand, we will build a thriving economy that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.  

This means we can boost productivity, drive wage growth and raise our living standards.   

It also means fewer people will need to rely on state support, which will free up funds for investment in public services and enterprise.  

It means that more people can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in deprived areas and replace it with a virtuous cycle of good quality education and strong local employment.

And it means that more individuals will feel positive about the society in which they live.

In the years ahead, the Education Select Committee will play its part in shaping an education system that works for all.  

In the short term, we will do so by focusing on three themes.    Alternative Provision.

Children who fall out of mainstream education do so for a range of complex reasons, ranging from special educational needs, to severe behavioural disorders (often caused by severely challenging circumstances at home) and physical illness.   

These children have truly awful prospects. Just 1.3 per cent of this group get five good GCSEs.

While some providers do an excellent job in very testing conditions, the system is broken.

We need to ensure that alternative provision is not used as a dumping ground. Where possible, schools should be supported to intervene early and when alternative education is appropriate, decisions about where to send children should be well thought through. If children require alternative education, provision should be suitable for their particular needs. And the outcomes of children who spend time in alternative provision should be transparent.

In our inquiry, we will look at all these issues and more.  

Quality apprenticeships

The government has transformed the way that apprenticeships are funded, which will double our investment in this crucial area of education. And sensibly, it is giving employers a much stronger say in how they are designed and delivered.

We need to monitor these new measures to ensure that the apprenticeships they generate are high in quality. According to the latest figures, the number of good or outstanding apprenticeship programmes has improved by 12%. But 37% of programmes are still less than good, which means that 90,000 apprentices are receiving a poor deal. Apprenticeships should be set up in sectors that suffer from a shortfall of relevant skills. And we must make sure that sub-contracted apprenticeships are subjected to proper checks and balances. 

That is why we have decided to take a closer look at the quality of apprenticeships, and in the coming months the committee will be publishing a report that outlines our concerns and recommendations.

Value for money in higher education  

More disadvantaged students are going to university than ever before. But outcomes are still not as good as they should be. Affluent students are still 3.6 times more likely to attend Russell Group universities than students who were eligible for free school meals at school. And employment rates, and salaries, vary according to university and degree type.

University should be an option for all, regardless of background. But potential applicants need to know whether they will be getting a good return on their investment. For this to happen, we need to improve the quality and transparency of data on graduate outcomes.  

We also need to understand why poorer students are dropping out at a higher rate than other students. And we must take another look at the debts students incur, so that people feel they are getting on in life and not trudging through the mud when they pay back their loans.  

By reviewing these three areas, and others to come, we want to embed social justice in our education system.  

We know that quality education is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. But disadvantaged people still do not have the same access to this as their more fortunate peers.

I want us to help build the ladder of opportunity that I have described today. I want to be able to say with confidence that all people, no matter what their backgrounds, will have a genuine shot at improving their lives.   And if we build a ladder that is sturdy enough, we will all be better off.

L&WI Open University and CSJ Skills Speech

I’m here today for two reasons: social justice and better skills.

Both have been my compass since I entered politics. I can’t think of better proponents of these goals than the three organisations that have organised this event.

The CSJ is a tireless advocate for our very poorest citizens. It brings voice to those who have none; hope to those who are in our peripheral vision; and social justice to the heart of British politics.

The Open University is a bastion of social justice too. It is an outstanding institution of learning that provides opportunities to those who may otherwise have fallen by the wayside.

The Learning and Work Institute is an earnest and longstanding devotee to learning, in work progression and personal development. We have made major progress on education. However, we can build an even brighter future by addressing our skills problem.

There is no doubt that education has improved.

We now have a system that encourages schools to innovate and raise their game. Since 2010, 1.9 million more pupils are in good or outstanding schools. We are stripping out many qualifications that hold no real currency with employers. And we have some of the finest universities in the world.

We can go even further. But we can only do this if we address our skills problem.

Over a third of workers in England do not hold suitable qualifications for the jobs they do. Around nine million of all working aged adults in England have low basic skills.

Employers are crying out for skills in a whole range of different sectors, from electricity, gas and water to construction, transport and manufacturing.

28% of jobs taken by 16-24-year-olds could be at risk of automation by the 2030s.

An enormous wave of lost opportunity is about to come crashing down on the next generation of employees – staggeringly, a third of England’s 16-19-year olds have low basic skills.

Our skills problem is a social justice issue.

While the lack of skills in society ultimately touch us all, our most disadvantaged individuals pay the highest price.

They have the most to gain from skilling their way out of deprivation, but are the least likely to do so.

This is plain to see across our schools, where millions of disadvantaged children are on a collision course with failure. Just 33% of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs, compared with 61% of their better off peers.

Without a solid nucleus of skills, it is hard to thrive in the jobs market. Instead, the most likely outcome for these individuals is a grim concoction of wage stagnation, fading hope and inertia.

We can change this.

To spark a skills revolution, we must first transform the way we view education.

It is customary to talk about building “parity of esteem” between technical and academic education.

But pursuing “parity of esteem” reinforces the split that exists between them. It implies a division between the two routes when in fact, they should be seen as intertwined – two parts of the same system of self-improvement, and both equally well supported.

Education should be a continuum of learning. This means:

·         one train-line with a series of academic and technical stops;

·         the ability to jump back on and travel to other stations to build credits and reskill or upskill; and

·         all without fuss within a seamless infrastructure of opportunity.

How do we do this?

First, let’s look at post-16 technical education

The government is starting to create more connectivity between academic and technical education through its post-16 Skills Plan.

The Plan will produce a much smaller number of qualifications (T-levels) in 15 different clusters of skills. These qualifications will have a standard currency that the thousands of existing qualifications currently lack. And pupils will be able to move between technical and academic routes through bridging provisions.

But we can do more…

We need to make sure everybody gets the basics right.

Around nine million of all working aged adults in England have low basic skills. And a third of 16-19- year-olds have low basic skills.

Literacy and numeracy are the bedrock of academic and vocational success. Without them, it is hard to build a skills-set that will unlock higher value jobs.

FE can be a vital player in helping the current and next generation build the basic skills they need. However, rather than swallow valuable resources by insisting on retakes for those who fail English and Maths (with failure rates of over two thirds in each case), we should be offering these individuals functional skills courses to improve their basic literacy and numeracy.

We should also capitalise on enormous potential of apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships can bring excellent returns. 90 per cent of apprentices go on to a job or further education.

But, all apprenticeships must deliver a top-rate return. 48 per cent of apprentices are not in good or outstanding provision. The government should urgently review the sector to ensure we are providing quality as well as quantity.

We also need to be smarter about how we use the new Apprenticeships Levy. We could, for example, introduce a taper allowing employers to pay smaller contributions if they develop apprenticeships for disadvantaged pupils, and if they address skills shortages.

Once we are clear about what works best, we could then make a powerful case for expanding the levy.

We need more balance in our higher-level offering so that there are pathways into intermediate and higher technical education

We have become obsessed with full academic degrees in this country.

We are creating a higher education system that overwhelmingly favours academic degrees, while intermediate and higher technical offerings are comparatively tiny.

The labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees. Between a fifth and a third of our graduates take non-graduate jobs. The “graduate premium” varies wildly according to subject and institution. For many, the returns are paltry.

Instead, there is enormous opportunity in rebalancing higher education.

There is a strong need for intermediate skills. There are skills shortages in several sectors. And there are millions of people who want to get on in life – preferably without a lead weight of £50,000 dragging from their feet.

If we are going to continue to lavishly furnish universities with taxpayers’ money, we need to think about how universities can specialise in these areas. Existing universities that do not provide a good return on academic courses could reinvent themselves as centres of technical excellence.

And FE colleges, which are ideally place to offer flexible and local options for those who need this, could be better supported and incentivised to deliver intermediate and higher technical courses.

Either way, we must urgently redirect some of this funding towards courses and degrees that have a technical focus.

We can also be creative about blending technical and academic education. Degree apprenticeships are a remarkable example of a vehicle that does just that.

Degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped technical offering.

Students earn as they learn, they do not incur mountains of debt, and they get good quality jobs at the end. They also help us meet our skills deficit, so they benefit society too.

I want to see more universities offering these apprenticeships. There are currently just 11,600 degree apprenticeships. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them.

The government should incentivise their growth. One way to do this would be to ringfence some of the enormous public subsidy that still goes to universities, so that universities can only draw down on this protected funding stream if they offer degree apprenticeships.

We could also redirect some of the £860 million that goes on outreach. After all, the most meaningful form of outreach is a tangible opportunity to learn and get a job, which degree apprenticeships deliver.

However, this is not just an issue of supply. Few families are aware of degree apprenticeships, especially from disadvantaged families where the returns could be most profound. Both the existence of apprenticeships and the value they bring should be hard-wired into careers advice.

Academic study at universities should be just as accessible, regardless of background

For individuals to make informed choices about academic courses, we must be transparent about the return they will bring.

The way we recognise universities is all wrong. We place far too much emphasis on research excellence, and not enough on teaching quality and employability.

Universities are an integral part of the machinery that feeds into the jobs market. It is reasonable to hold them accountable for the extent to which they prepare students for the world of work.

To do this, the Government will need to generate sophisticated data on destinations following graduation, so that prospective candidates can make informed choices. And in future, participation in the Teaching Excellence Framework must include all universities.

In part, the problem is also nestled away in the system of incentives we have created for our universities. They are rewarded disproportionately for the research they do, rather than the teaching they offer or the employability skills they confer. Membership of the Russell Group is widely seen as a proxy for elite performance, and the branding power this brings is substantial.

While some Russell Group universities deserve their recognition as elite institutions, others appear to trade well on their brands, while their less reputable counterparts remain unrecognised.

Out of the 59 higher education providers that received a gold standard in the government’s Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework, 51 were not in the Russell Group.

Portsmouth University came top of the Economist’s “value-added” university rankings, which compares graduates’ wages with what they would have been expected to earn if they had not gone to that university.

Aston University came second in the same rankings.

And both received gold in the government’s Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework.

These universities deserve all the prestige we can muster. They are powerful engines for social mobility and put rocket-boosters on the life chances of those who may otherwise have stagnated.

It is time for a broader measure of success. The Office for Students should publish a league table that places more weight on teaching quality and employability.

To build a continuum of learning, we must also make it easy for people to learn flexibly throughout their lives

For those who are not able to build high value skills the first time around, or whose skills have been wiped out by a fast-changing labour market, it is important that our system offers a way back.

As Open University’s model clearly demonstrates, flexible learning can be a powerful vehicle for social justice.

Its students are not required to have completed A-levels (or equivalent qualifications), and so prior achievement is not a hindrance to personal development. It is able to reach some of the hardest niches within our system and is the primary provider of higher education in UK prisons and secure units. Its flexible online learning model makes higher education possible for those who live in areas where there is no local university.

The mere idea of taking one penny away from the flexible/earn and learn sector, while continuing to prop up mediocrity in some of the traditional sector, is scandalous.

Flexibility is a vital part of continuing learning. We need to protect the sector and we can start by ring- fencing the Part-time Premium element of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Widening Participation funding allocation.

It is also vital that we create clear routes from further education into higher education. These could be supported through ‘Next Step’ loans for individual higher education modules.

Good education is the high-speed train that propels social justice. But it needs a proper line. And a series of stops that lead to thriving, dynamic places of opportunity. Not deserted platforms and decaying stations.

For that to happen, we must craft a more fluid and balanced system. And we must build excellence all along the way.

I invite you all to join me in driving this vital agenda forward.


JRF: Poverty

I really welcome the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s UK Poverty 2017 report as it will play an important part in addressing social injustices in the UK. I would like to speak to you today specifically about the social injustice in our education system.

The trickle-down fallacy

The Conservative government of the 1980s turned this country around. Today we are more prosperous because it had the vision and conviction to set our markets free. And today the virtues that it championed are alive and well: aspiration, hard work, enterprise, independence, resilience.

But it did not get everything right. One of its mistakes was to assume that individual flourishing would flow automatically from economic buoyancy – that building economic capital would automatically mean social cohesion too.

We now know that not to be true. As David Cameron realised in his vision of the “big society”, for people to truly thrive they must pair economic freedom with social capital.

Today, we risk making a similarly simplistic assumption in our schools; that high standards alone can be an engine of individual prosperity; that success will trickle down to everybody if we just get standards right.

The truth is that, while high standards are vital, they are not sufficient alone – particularly for our most disadvantaged students who face many social injustices.

Today, I want to outline some of those injustices, before explaining why high standards must be accompanied by human capital and social capital.

I also want to promote a debate focused on solutions and offer a few ideas that could go some way in addressing the injustices in our education system. I hope that our committee and experts in the sector will be able to flesh them out in more detail.

Social injustice

First, the injustices.

While education is the best it has ever been, social injustice is still endemic in every part of our education system.

Around 195,000 children use government-funded childcare in settings that are less than good.

Just 33 per cent of pupils on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with 61 per cent of their better off peers.

A child living in one of England’s poorest areas is 27 times more likely to go to an inadequate school than a child living in its richest areas.

Children who are taught in alternative settings, rather than in mainstream education, have terrible prospects. Just 1.1 per cent of this group get five good GCSEs.

And in one recent intake, no pupil on free school meals from the entire North East of England went to Oxbridge.

The importance of high standards

To tackle these social injustices, high standards matter. For pupils to climb the ladder of opportunity, our education system needs to be rigorous.

And here we do very well.

We have a proud intellectual heritage in this country.

I also have a great deal of admiration for all the work the government has done to improve academic standards since taking the reins in 2010.

It has furnished our children’s education with more rigour, and it has built an infrastructure that propels our strong tradition of scholarship into the 21st century.

The evidence is clear to see:

We now have a system that actively encourages schools to innovate and raise their game. 1.8 million more children are in good or outstanding schools.

Exams are more challenging, which is raising our children’s skills levels so they can get good jobs and compete in a global skills race.

And we have some of the finest universities in the world.

Human capital

But high standards alone won’t do the job. Disadvantaged pupils also need human capital and social capital. This is something that the Centre for Social Justice has recognised for over a decade.

Let me start with human capital – or skills capital, as I like to call it. This is about building the specific skills required to thrive in the jobs market.

Problems

We have ‘Nightmare on Skills Street’ in this country.

In December 2015, nearly a third of workers did not hold suitable qualifications for the jobs they were doing. And basic skills are inadequate – more than a quarter (around nine million) of all working aged adults in England have low literacy and/or numeracy skills.

Solutions

All routes of learning should be open to every child.

But we must also be honest about the fact that many disadvantaged children take technical routes. And we need to fill our skills gaps and capitalise on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Both these facts expose an inevitable truth: technical education needs to be dramatically improved so that it carries the same prestige and opportunity as its academic cousin.

The government is starting to do this in its post-16 Skills Plan, which will produce a much smaller number of qualifications that employers recognise and value. And it has introduced the Apprenticeships Levy, which will double investment in apprenticeships to £2.5 billion by 2020.

But we can do so much more.

1) Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships work. 90 per cent of apprentices go on to a job or further education. We need more apprenticeships and we need them to go to the most disadvantaged students.

To do this, we should rethink how we spend the existing £60 million support fund for apprentices from the poorest areas. This currently goes to incentivise providers and we can be a lot smarter about how we use that money.

Some disadvantaged pupils are just not ready for work and face many complex challenges. They’re not even at the foot of the ladder of opportunity. We need to help them get there so they can start apprenticeships and work their way up.

There are remarkable grassroots community groups that already do this well. Let’s allow these groups, steered by organisations like the Prince’s Trust, to bid for funding from this £60 million pot so that they can help young people overcome their challenges and start apprenticeships.

Alongside this, we need to transform careers advice into careers skills advice, avoid the duplication of the National Careers Service, Careers Enterprise Company and the like, and reallocate the many millions of pounds that go to careers and create a one stop shop of a National Skills Service, with a UCAS for FE and Apprenticeships, and a careers skills passport as designed by Lord Young.

2) Degree apprenticeships

Degree apprenticeships could be the crown jewel in a revamped system of technical education.

They have enormous value. Students earn as they learn, don’t incur mountains of debt, and get good quality jobs at the end.

Degree apprenticeships also help us meet our skills deficit, so they benefit society too.  We need to re-gear money into higher education to help combat social disadvantage and meet our country’s skills needs.

I want to see more universities offering these apprenticeships. I hope that one day, half of all university students are doing them.

To fund more degree apprenticeships, we should increase and ring-fence funds from the Apprenticeships Levy. And we could do this by broadening the levy’s remit, so that employers with a salary roll of £2 million qualify.

Social capital

So far, I have explained why standards must be accompanied by skills capital.

But we can’t stop there.

Children and students also need social capital.

And in some ways, this is the most important component of them all. Why? Because if they come from broken homes and cannot develop social capital elsewhere, they can have all the Rolls Royce teaching in the world but are still likely to face colossal disadvantage.

What exactly do I mean by social capital?

The OECD defines this as:

“the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to work together.”

As it points out:

“access to information and influence through social networks confers private benefits on individuals.”

Equality of educational opportunity can only get disadvantaged pupils so far. Prosperity is contingent on what people do with those opportunities, which in turn is shaped by social capital.

Problem

Disadvantaged pupils lack social capital because:

1.    They tend to face more challenges in their personal lives and ruptured relationships destroy social capital.

2.    Their lack of access to information and networks crowd out the opportunities they might have otherwise had.

Their absence of social capital is enormously damaging. It means that talent does not always lead to prosperity.

And this is reflected in the evidence. Even when they get similar GCSEs and live in the same neighbourhood as non-FSM pupils, FSM students are:

1.    34 per cent more likely to drop out of post-16 education.

2.    29 per cent less likely to study two or more facilitating A-levels.

3.    47 per cent less likely to attend a Russell Group university.

Graduates from richer backgrounds also earn more than their poorer counterparts, even when they have the same degrees from the same universities.

Solutions

Good schools can bring the ladder of opportunity to the feet of disadvantaged pupils.

They are not just bastions of learning but also places of community.

It is simply wrong that people who have the same aptitude and work ethic as their better-off peers are not converting that ability into similar successes. All because they do not have the same confidence, networks, soft-skills or know-how.

That is not social justice; that’s a recipe for inertia.

So we must do more.

1) Free early years/childcare for foster carers

First, we could help foster parents. The exclusion of fostered children from the additional 15 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds in England is indefensible.

Foster carers raise some of society’s most vulnerable children, many of whom would benefit from high quality childcare, which would help boost social development.

We could pay for this by reducing the generous threshold that exists for parents to claim tax-free childcare, a subsidy that does not capture society’s most disadvantaged families. For instance, by dropping the eligibility cap to £65,000 from the exiting £100,000 mark, we could free up £150 million, which would easily cover the additional outlay.

In time, we should also reduce the similarly generous earnings cap for the 30 hours of free childcare that is available for three- and four-year-olds. And we should channel this to non-working parents, whose children need it more.

2) Private schools/charitable status

Our most disadvantaged pupils could also build social capital by attending our best private schools – if only they could get to these schools.

As Schools Week has highlighted, just 1 per cent of the 522,000 pupils in private schools receive full bursaries for their school fees – a proxy for the lowest income earners.

The current social contract between government and private schools is clearly not working.

The government should radically redefine its relationship with them. It should set up a private schools’ levy for to encourage the wealthier private schools to bring in society’s most disadvantaged pupils, which may include FSM students, Children in Need or foster children.

A levy is not a tax and schools would be able to reclaim their investment if they in turn invested in the futures of our most disadvantaged pupils.

Just imagine: for disadvantaged pupils, a private schools’ levy could unlock not only quality education, but also allow the skills capital and social capital that must accompany this.

3) Exclusions

It seems astonishing that 35 children are excluded from school every day, and the destination prospects for excluded children in alternative provision are so dire.  Given that we know pretty well the kind of children that are likely to be excluded – children in care for example, it is clear that early intervention is the answer.  

But, another way to make a difference is for the Government to support charities like The Difference, recruiting teachers to work in Alternative Provision, to be trained to look after the most vulnerable children, and then placing them in mainstream schools in senior positions for career development.  Their knowledge and expertise, will be invaluable to mainstream schools and will make a real difference to the social capital in those schools.

My committee is currently doing an inquiry on Alternative Provision so we will be looking at this issue in further detail in the near future.

4) Universities

Universities, too, can play their part.

We constantly boast how proud we are that more disadvantaged pupils are going to university than ever before. This is, of course, good news. But they are also less likely to attend top universities; more likely to drop out of university; and more likely to get lower qualifications than their wealthier peers.

One of the biggest problems, of course, is prior attainment. But it is also about a lack of effective outreach by our best universities. Universities should rethink how they are spending their access budgets so that they give disadvantaged pupils the kind of support their better-off peers get.

Like private tuition.

They could provide tuition to those who need it most – either through other organisations or by mobilising the thousands of students on their books, many of whom will be looking to give back or polish their own skills.

And universities must also make sure that disadvantaged students have the pastoral support they need to stay at university and achieve their full potential once they get there.

4) Outside education

We also need to look at how character is being built outside education.

A lot has been said about Children’s Centres. But Family Hubs make more sense if we want to build social capital. They take the principle of Children’s Centres even further. They do this by providing support to the whole family, strengthening relationships, and improving parenting. And they build hubs for children from every age group, including teenagers, when support is often needed most.

A lot has also been said about the National Citizen Service. The sentiment behind the scheme is right. Building soft skills, resilience and character is fundamentally a good idea. But the NCS only lasts for four weeks. And it costs a lot more per place (£1,863) than other programmes – like a place at Scouts, which costs £550 for four years. We need to invest wisely, and we should explore whether the voluntary, charity and community sector could achieve more impact in local communities.

High standards, skills capital and social capital are the sturdy, interlocking foundations of educational success.

Remove one, and the rest come tumbling down.

Before introducing any new educational reform, as the rightly Government works to increase academic capital, it should make sure it boosts skills capital and social capital alongside.

So, 30 hours a week of child care for foster care children, an innovative scheme to train and incentivise teachers for the most vulnerable pupils, a private school levy for poorer children, funds targeted carefully to help the most disadvantaged learn new skills and finally, rocket boosting degree apprenticeships to transform higher education, are all designed to increase social and skills capital.  

To root out social injustice in our education system.

To give advantage to the disadvantaged.

Until everyone, whatever their background can climb the ladder of opportunity – to get the education, skills and training they deserve, to achieve the jobs, security and prosperity, they and our country need.