FE Bill: this week’s Commons debate in brief

Thursday 12-01-2017 - 13:28

The Technical and Further Education (TFE) Bill was debated for the final time in the Commons on Monday and will now pass to the Lords. Here’s a summary of the key moments from the day…

The headlines

During the TFE Bill debates, NUS saw steady progress on some of the key priority areas for learners and apprentices:

  • Greater commitment was given about including apprentices’ and learners’ voice within the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE). NUS had been demanding a place for them on the board.
  • The Minister told us to expect something “in the coming weeks” on the Careers Strategy, which was promised over a year ago and we have explicitly called for in this Bill.
  • The debate saw a win for NUS on the support that care leavers will get if their college becomes insolvent. They were previously missing from the Government’s plans; now, they’ll have detailed support.

This is all positive progress, but we’ll continue pushing the government for more.

"I’m pleased to see that the Minister is listening to NUS and is publically committing to protecting the interests of learners in the Bill. Whether it is guaranteeing that their voices are heard by the Institute for Apprenticeships or confirming that their needs will be protected if a college becomes insolvent, we have helped to ensure that learners are getting the best possible deal out of the bill.

There is still more to be done. There needs to be an apprentice and a learner on the Institute for Apprenticeships and the minister cannot keep delaying the release of his Careers Strategy. I will keep fighting to ensure that learners concerns are at the heart of the bill "

- Shakira Martin, NUS Vice President (Further Education)

As it happened

Gordon Marsden MP opened the debate as the Opposition’s spokesperson He proposed a number of amendments which we have been calling for.

These included:

  • A clause that would put the government’s commitment to create panels of apprentices and learners that will advise the IfATE
  • A clause that would require a Careers Strategy to be published
  • An amendment that would require the Secretary of State to report to parliament on outcomes of completed apprenticeships.

Marsden pressed the Government about setting up a panel of apprentices - something the minister had committed to in an earlier stage of the Bill - and asked for confirmation it would be set up before April 2017, when IfATE will be formally established. He also raised concerns about the quality of new apprenticeships and the state of careers advice, claiming that “careers advice still does not match the woeful reality facing young people”.

Robert Halfon MP, the Government’s Skills Minister, confirmed the panel of apprentices will be ready by April 2017, but emphasised the importance of flexibility. He spoke about how the panel will decide for itself which issues to focus on and what learner voice will look like. Because of this he opposed establishing these panels in legislation, as we had recommended.

As for the Careers Strategy, Halfon outlined some of the work the government is doing on a careers education and identified how much funding has been put into it, claiming the new clause is unnecessary. But, he did say that he would be making further announcements about careers education “in the coming weeks”. Hopefully this time the Strategy we’ve waited months for won’t be delayed again.

MPs from both sides of the Commons raised concerns with the Bill, from how the Government will make sure that vocational and academic routes are seen to have equal value, to how the Bill will provide opportunities for those with learning difficulties.  A lot of vocal support also came from MPs calling for a clear Careers Strategy, applying further pressure to the Government on one of our key priorities in the Bill.

Later in the debate, an amendment was discussed that would help to protect learners if their FE provider becomes insolvent (goes bust). It would ensure that an assessment is made into any potential impacts on students if it was to go into something called “education administration”.

This amendment covered issues experienced by care leavers, as well as the issue of travel costs. The amendment was tabled at the urging of the National Society of Apprenticeships, and NSoA research from 2014 was referenced – specifically, that apprentices spend £24 a week on travel, and that some young people were choosing the apprentices that they could afford to get to, rather than those they were keen to do.

NUS Vice President (Further Education) Shakira Martin was also quoted, with MPs referring to her evidence to the TFE Bill Committee. They mentioned her concerns around ensuring that the quality of a student’s education is protected by the government if a college becomes insolvent.  They also referenced research released in 2015 by NUS and AoC that showed only 49% of FE students could always afford their travel costs.

When responding, Robert Halfon raised the issue of care leavers and the additional support they might need. He confirmed the government will ensure that the new guidance being developed as part of the Children and Social Work Bill, will specifically outline the role that personal advisers must play if a college insolvency affects a care leaver they provide support to.

Halfon also confirmed on public record that the “education administrator” who oversees a college insolvency will be expected to assess the things that were of concern to NUS as part of their job. This will include a power for the administrator to set up a funding pot to help with travel costs, if a learner’s costs increase as a result of an insolvency.

The government rejected the amendment, arguing it would be too bureaucratic and unnecessary; but we now have further commitments on record about how college insolvencies and ‘education administration’ will play out in practice.

Want to know more about the TFE Bill and how NUS is fighting to get the best deal for further education students? Read Shakira Martin’s latest blog.


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