I want to start by congratulating my Honourable Friend, the Member for Workington, on bringing forward this important Bill.
Giving every child the best start in life is a guiding principle of this Government’s approach to education here in England. We Conservatives believe that no matter the background of a child, the wealth of their parents, their race, gender or sexual orientation, every child deserves a fantastic education, and the opportunity to build the foundations they need to thrive in the world of work and become upstanding citizens in their communities.
When I speak of fantastic education, I do not just mean rigorous exploration in science labs, the unlocking of imagination in English classes, the stimulation of solving maths equations, or the exhilaration that comes from competing in sports lessons. Those are crucial foundations that all children should enjoy and be exposed to, but a fantastic education must offer more, and release the ambitions and talents of young people, so that they can expand their horizons, widen their future opportunities, and gain deeper skills.
That second element of the school environment is sometimes neglected and forgotten, but it is crucial if a child is to succeed in work and take full advantage of the opportunities available to them, whether that is moving to university, embarking on an apprenticeship, starting a business, or even travelling, volunteering and much more. Part of that aspect of school life is careers advice and support, and I wish to share one example of that local to my constituency.
Not so long ago, a group of pupils in my constituency—my beautiful constituency of Hastings and Rye—were taken to the City of London through the Hastings opportunity area Broadening Horizons programme, organised by the charity A Capital Experience. Hastings Opportunity Area has given invaluable funding over the past five years, which I would like to be extended further—hint, hint—as it has been so beneficial to young people in my constituency.
Hastings Opportunity Area benefits from amazing board members, including Helen Kay, who successfully set up the new Flagship free school in Hastings, and Lorraine Clarke, the regional Ark Academy director. She has shown me and proved that although funding is essential, the most important thing is to have good leadership, good structure and professional support and development for teachers to become outstanding. That is key to excellent outstanding schools. Carole Dixon is chief executive of the Education Futures Trust, and the board is chaired by Richard Meddings, with all his huge success in financial institutions at national and international level. They all give our children in Hastings and Rye the chance to broaden their horizons.
They were taken into one of the huge buildings that housed this company, and as the kids arrived, they noticed the security guards, the receptionists, the cleaners and others, and it wasn’t long before they were seated in an imposing room, a place where decisions of great importance and impact were made on a daily basis. That room would have a monumental impact on each of these kids.
As they sat listening, they were asked a simple question – how many of you could see yourselves working here?
The kids looked surprised, but some piped up that they could maybe seem themselves at reception or guarding the doors. Then the kids were told that they were here to be told that if they worked hard maybe one day they could be cleaners or guard the entrance doors – although there was nothing wrong with that. No, he was here to tell them that one day they could be Directors, CEOs or maybe even the Chairman of an international bank. The kids were amazed.
Never before had anyone told them to reach for the top, to dream big, to realise their deepest ambitions. That if they worked hard at school, nurtured their talents, then they too could be banker, or other type profession, making the big decisions.
I recount this story because it goes to the heart of why I support my Honourable Friend’s Bill today. It is no good us having an education system that solely teaches children to learn their timetables, do their spelling and memorise equations. We need a system in place that is ambitious for our young people, that offers them hope, but also supports and guides. Our children are capable of doing what they set their minds to do, regardless of their backgrounds or where they come from. Sometimes, life deals a bad hand, but with the right support, encouragement, aspiration – including from teaching staff, our young people can make this bad hand work for them and turn it into a good hand.
The speaker in that story was ambitious for these children and gave them encouragement and inspiration to dream bigger and reach further. The teacher offered them support with their education, but the system was letting them down because there was no career support for them.
Careers support and advice is crucial. This Bill will see that this advice is offered independently to all pupils from year 7 onwards, no matter what sort of state school they are – including academies. I completely support this.
The two main parts of the Bill will firstly see an extension of the existing duty to provide independent careers guidance to all pupils in secondary education. Currently, there is no duty for this to begin until pupils are in Year 8. The measures in this Bill will ensure the duty applies from the beginning of Year 7.
Secondly, the statutory duty to provide independent careers guidance would be expanded to cover academy schools and alternative provision academies. Currently, the duty only applies to maintained schools, special schools and pupil referral units.
This Bill before us today, builds on the excellent work the Government has been doing in this area, including with the White Paper published in January this year - The Skills for Jobs White Paper.
The White Paper lays out the strategy from post-16 education and training and careers provision. It also addresses the Government’s renewed strategic approach to careers education, including continued public investment in the expansion of the infrastructure.
Commitments include the roll-out of Careers Hubs and investment in the professional development of Careers Leaders to all schools and colleges across England. In line with these commitments, as the new academic year begins, new Careers Hubs are being established across the country, and many more are expanding:
1,000 more schools and colleges will benefit from this network of support.
2.2 million students, up from 1.45 million at the end of last term, will now be in schools and colleges that access enhanced careers education support from Careers Hubs.
The White Paper coupled with this Bill today could transform the way in which we provide careers advice and guidance to young people across England.
There is one final aspect I want to mention today, that links in with all this, and that is the role of businesses and employers in the provision of careers advice to young people. It is vital when independent careers support is given, that colleges and schools engage with local businesses and business leaders to ensure that students are able to hear directly from employers on what skills and attributes they are seeking, and also what opportunities there are locally for young people in the world of work.
In Hastings there is a fantastic company, Focus SB, who is doing great work with the local college to help make sure local students are getting the training and education they need to go into the high-skilled, high-wage jobs locally.
Gary Stevens, the Managing Director of Focus SB recently said the following on this “As someone who came through the ranks as an apprentice, I am keen to provide opportunities for young people to join us on our exciting journey and to grow with the company, which is why I have agreed to become an Enterprise Adviser in East Sussex. I am also keen to encourage applicants from all corners of the community with all levels of ability and mobility to contribute to our growth and development as well as theirs. At Focus SB we have employed three apprentices over the past three years, have widened our own in-house graduate scheme and we have built links with local schools, colleges and universities. I personally have become an Enterprise Adviser and sacrifice some of my time to build relationships with local educators but we all need to do more if we want this valuable asset to remain.”
It is this sort of drive and dedication that business leaders like Gary have, that give me hope for the future, that collaboration between our schools, colleges and businesses will equip young people with the skills and career advice they need to achieve their dreams and ambitions.
In conclusion Mr/Madam Deputy Speaker, this Bill today will go a long way in supporting students with the advice and guidance they need to make reasoned and timely decisions to help them into the world of work. I want to thank my Honourable Friend again for bringing forward his Private Members Bill for second reading, and he has my full support in it.