Marsden ‘very disappointed’ as assurances on IfA announcements fail to deliver

Marsden 'very disappointed' as assurances on IfA announcements fail to deliver

Delays to the release of key details about the Institute for Apprenticeships are “very disappointing” evidence of a “haphazard” approach from the government, shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden has said.

In a Public Bill Committee hearing on November 22, Peter Lauener, shadowlauener-and-collier2 chief executive of the IfA (pictured right), suggested to Mr Marsden that information – including a draft of the government’s strategic guidance for the institute, an operational plan and the successful candidates for posts at the institute – would be revealed before Christmas.

But a ‘Trailblazer Times’ newsletter, sent by the Department for Education to apprenticeship employer groups today (December 22), has confirmed that these important points will now be delayed until “early in the New Year”.

The newsletter, which was signed by Carl Cresswell, deputy director for apprenticeships at the DfE, said that the department will be consulting on a draft of the government’s strategic guidance for the institute and an operational plan will be launched for public consultation in January.

This plan will “set out further detail on the role of the institute, including proposals for how it will deliver its functions; and key objectives for its first year of operation and up to 2020”.

The IfA’s board members, chosen from 300 applicants, will also be announced next month.

Speaking in November, Mr Lauener told Mr Marsden: “The process for appointing members of the institute is substantially complete … I would be surprised if there was not an announcement before Christmas.

“Incidentally, we are also planning to publish for consultation the Government’s remit letter in draft to the institute, and I would also expect, again before Christmas, a draft of the institute’s first strategic plan.”

Mr Marsden told FE Week today that the delayed release of information about the IfA was frustrating for the progress of the Technical and Further Education Bill through Parliament, as it sets out the government’s proposals to expand the role of the institute in April 2018 to include college-based technical education.

He said: “It’s very disappointing that the department has failed to deliver any of the assurances that Peter Lauener gave the bill committee in parliament last November that we would have an announcement about the new institute’s membership, its remit, and its strategic plan.

“This is not good for a proper and thoughtful discussion with employers and stakeholders, which will now have to come later in January with a very tight timetable for the implementation of the institute, and with the bill itself coming back for final decision in the commons straight new year.”

He added: “It’s rather symptomatic of the haphazard way in which the government has been dealing with the institute all along.”

FE Week had previously asked the DfE for details on the release date of new information about the IfA, but had not received a response or any comment at the time of publication.

It is not the first time Mr Marsden has been left waiting for answers about the IfA -in November he told FE Week the government’s handling of the institute was “shambolic”, after it evaded a series of parliamentary enquiries about its capacity.

Despite the tight timeframe and the IfA’s new responsibilities, Mr Marsden was told that the government was “not yet able to set out initial staff numbers”, because the “detailed structure” of the IfA was still in development.

At the time he said it was “absolutely pressing” that plans were finalised.

The Trailblazer Times newsletter also announced that the department will now be asking bidders who want to introduce new apprenticeship standards to explain which of the 15 technical education routes outlined in the recent Skills Plan their proposal aligns to.

It said: “Over time, occupational maps will be become available for each of the 15 routes.

“As and when they become available we will ask bidders to specify which occupations within the route map their proposed standard covers.”

Mark Dawe, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, responded to this, saying: “When Sainsbury was published, we highlighted that 57 per cent of jobs in our economy are outside the review recommendations’ scope, so we are in danger of creating an elitist system that would deny many young people a work based learning route to level two or three. 

“What are employers on the trailblazers in areas such as retail supposed to do if their sector doesn’t fit into one of the 15 routes?  Will their standard get rejected?”

He added: “AELP has been saying that putting apprenticeships and technical education under the same IfA roof is going to throw up some big challenges that only can only be overcome if we see proper joined-up policymaking. 

“This newsletter suggests that we have some way to go towards achieving this and it underlines why we really need a pause on the whole standards and end-point assessment process.”