Rob Halfon: Supporting people’s life chances should be at the very front of all our thinking
From early years through to university, the role of the education system in improving people's lives is at the centre of everything our Committee does, writes Rob Halfon
From examining how we can better support children in foster care to ensuring the quality of apprenticeships and value for money for our young people from their university educations, the work of the Committee this year has been focused on making sure everyone in life has the chance to reach and climb the ladder of opportunity.
Our forthcoming reports this summer will continue to press our agenda of securing social justice for all, and with nine million of all working-age adults in England and a third of 16-19-year-olds having low basic skills, we will continue to promote the importance of skills and productivity.
Some of the most vulnerable young people in society are educated outside of mainstream schools and the Committee has been looking into whether those in alternative provision are receiving the best possible support.
In the past, alternative provision has wrongly been an overlooked part of the education sector and quality is patchy. Students outside of mainstream schools are less likely to achieve good exam results and go on to well-paid jobs. This cannot be allowed to continue and it is vital that we improve the educational outcomes achieved by those in alternative provision and boost their life chances.
Our report will also have something to say about what it is that is going wrong in mainstream schools that is leading to the number of exclusions going up. Astonishingly, 35 children are excluded from school every day. There should be a very good reason for pupils to be excluded and it should be a last resort. Parents and children need to be aware of their rights in the process.
Further up the ladder is higher education and apprenticeships – two areas of education that need to be much more closely linked if we are to boost our productivity, solve our country’s skills shortages and provide opportunities for all.
Through our inquiry and report into the quality of apprenticeships and skills training, we are committed to pressing the Government to ensure safeguards are in place to crack down on those providers who exploit the system. Worrying reports have emerged of some subcontractors, who receive often large amounts of public money and provide little benefit to the taxpayer or learner.
The Government should also do all it can to remove barriers faced by those that want to take on an apprenticeship. We also need to be better at promoting their benefits to all through careers advice.
Our third report of the summer on value for money in higher education is set against a background of as many as a third of graduates currently taking non-graduate jobs when they complete their studies.
It is clear that the labour market does not need an ever-growing supply of academic degrees – there are not the jobs available and for many graduates the return on their investment is paltry. There needs to be more transparency about the return that degree courses will bring, with more emphasis on teaching quality and employability and less on research excellence.
Here, degree apprenticeships have a role to play and fit in with the aims of boosting skills, productivity and social justice. Students earn as they learn, do not incur mountains of debt, and get good quality jobs at the end.
Our recommendations will be focused on what more can be done to help disadvantaged students and ensuring more openness from teaching institutions so those entering higher education are equipped with all the information they need to make proper and informed choices about their futures.
We are determined as a Committee that how our education system helps to improve people’s lives, from early years right the way through to lifelong learning, should be at the very front of our thinking and work. Only by helping people on the ladder of opportunity can we ensure social justice and prosperity for all.
Rob Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow and chair of the Education Select Committee