The general election was also announced a day before the Technical and Further Education Bill went back to the House of Commons. The Bill has had much scrutiny and debate in Parliament but, crucially, there has been support for the principles underpinning it from all parties. There is also much support, and goodwill, emanating from industry – certainly, I know that the employers I speak to overwhelmingly want to get on with the job of working with the Institute for Apprenticeships to make employer leadership in developing standards a success. The Bill will now go back to the Lords, the peers’ amendments having been rejected by MPs; we are fast running out of time to get that Bill through the commons and onto the statute book. We cannot afford to have the Institute being left in limbo, and industry needs MPs and peers from all parties and none to work to ensure that doesn’t happen.
There are, of course, parts of the reforms which employers would like to see given further thought, or would like to see reformed. The blanket imposition of End Point Assessment on all apprenticeships across all sectors and subject areas remains a bone of contention; as a recent Semta-published academic report made clear, England will be going it alone in using them as the sole recognised assessment method for all apprentices. We will continue to encourage government to soften its policy and to help employers to build apprenticeship standards which genuinely meet their needs – as with the inclusion of recognised qualifications, which a third of standards lack but which engineering employers have successfully argued for in many cases.
The timing of the general election means that the new Institute for Apprenticeships may not even have appointed its permanent CEO by the time the new government takes charge, and it means a wait of nearly ten months between polling day and the Institute becoming the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. We are only halfway towards even building the foundations of the strong, world-class skills system industry needs and the young (and older) people going through it deserve – and as a recent Institute for Government report says, if we keep churning through structures and policies before letting existing structures and policies prove their effectiveness, we will never get there.
So my plea to the parties, ahead of what promises to be an energetic and hard-fought election campaign, is this. You’ve been so forward-thinking and sensible in finding consensus on the skills system in Parliament – so as the election campaign wears on, and you look for eye-catching policy announcements which will seize headlines and command voter attention, please resist the temptation to use skills as a political football. Instead, let’s finish what we’ve started, let’s make the Institute work, and let’s deliver that stability that everyone accepts we need.