Thursday 30-03-2017 - 12:14
On Monday 27 March, peers in the House of Lords debated a number of amendments to the Technical and Further Education Bill. Here’s a summary of the key topics and issues discussed during the session.
What’s happening with the Bill?
With a Skills Plan, Industrial Strategy and recent announcements in the Spring Budget, the government’s sweeping reform of further education has been high on the political agenda for a long time.
As part of this reform, the government is passing a ‘Technical and Further Education Bill’ through Parliament. This Bill will expand the Institute for Apprenticeships and create a legal framework to protect students in risky colleges.
The Bill had its ‘report stage’ in the House of Lords on Monday – which means the Bill is coming close to finishing and should conclude by the end of April.
The Bill has given students a number of opportunities to push for better support and representation for apprentices; to call for better safeguards for learners in colleges that become insolvent; and to demand better careers information, advice and guidance.
Financial support for apprentices
In Monday’s debate, apprentices saw a big win on an amendment that would improve the levels of financial support they can receive.
Building on NUS’s ‘Forget Me Not’ research in 2015 and our recent work with TES to highlight how apprentices miss out on financial support and benefits that other students get, this inequality has begun hitting the headlines in Parliament. MPs held a debate at the start of March on this very issue, where the work of NUS and the National Society of Apprentices was mentioned repeatedly!
This political pressure continued on Monday when the House of Lords debated an amendment that would make apprentices eligible for child benefit and also ensure care leavers doing apprenticeships are entitled to the same level of bursary than those in higher education receive.
The debate covered the much lower minimum wage for apprentices and discussed how different people can be discouraged from doing apprenticeships they want to do – or even from doing one at all! – because of support being unavailable.
This amendment passed, which means we’re one step closer to achieving more equal support for apprentices and learners.
There are still many more parliamentary hurdles to jump before this amendment will be a permanent part of the Bill, but it’s crucial that we now put the pressure on the Government so they commit to giving apprentices fair support.
“NUS and the National Society of Apprentices highlighted the lack of support for apprentices back in 2015 when we published our Forget Me Not report. I’m pleased to see the Lords recognise that the apprentice wage isn’t enough to cover the needs of particular apprentices.
"When I gave evidence to the Bill Committee for this Bill back in November, I spoke to MPs about how apprentices too often miss out on financial support because it’s unclear whether they’re classed as in work or in education.
"It’s great that this has been taken forward by the Lords with this amendment and I hope the Government listen to these Peers – and to apprentices – who are saying clearly that apprentice minimum wage is not enough.”
- Shakira Martin, NUS Vice President (Further Education)
On Monday, there was even more progress in making sure this Bill improves careers advice.
Despite the government repeatedly stressing that improving careers information, advice and guidance is central to their ambitions for skills and FE, the Bill did not originally mention careers education once.
In the previous stage of the Bill, Lord Baker made an amendment – with the agreement of the government – that would allow colleges and apprenticeship providers to go into schools to let students know about the different types of education they deliver.
We welcomed this but argued it should go further with a fuller strategy.
On Monday, Lord Storey pushed forward an amendment that would require Ofsted to include the quality of careers advice in its considerations of rating a further education college. This amendment will need Government support – in the same way that Lord Baker’s had – in order to become a permanent part of the Bill, but this is still another step to gradually improving careers provisions in parliament.
Going forward, NUS will keep making the case in Parliament that there are pragmatic and important changes that should be made to this Bill to make it work better for learners and apprentices.
If you missed the debate, you can watch it again in full online.