The government announced in August that from next May they will be cutting some 16-18 apprenticeship framework funding rates by over 50% in the most deprived parts of the country.
Well, when I say announced, what I mean is they published a searchable spreadsheet with the new rates, so I had to work out the implications myself.
On Wednesday we launched our first official campaign in parliament, with the simple ambition to encourage the government to rethink this part of their reforms.
For all those that sent in their support, or anyone in any doubt of our ability to mobilise around a worthy cause, the following is an account of how the day unfolded.
Before midday, during an Education Select Committee, the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, was quizzed by Catherine McKinnell MP about “very serious concerns” to 16-18 apprenticeships rate cuts. Ms Greening responded, “It’s a consultation. And we need to get on with the apprenticeship levy” and also added “we need to try and make sure we get it right.”
Reference to a consultation was a promising start to the day, as the government had barely acknowledged the cuts. Until this point they had been holding the line that there would be much more apprenticeship funding overall and they were just simplifying the system.
Ok, so the three-week consultation might have officially ended on 5 September, and change to the rates didn’t feature as a consultation question, but at least there was an acknowledgement now that the government was listening on this specific issue.
Less than an hour later, the Prime Minister came to the dispatch box – literally – for her weekly question time. To her surprise, she was asked by Richard Burden MP about the 30 to 50 percent apprenticeship rate cuts and her view on the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) “car crash” criticism.
They agreed with the analysis, concluding “some popular apprenticeship schemes for 16-18 year olds could receive between 30% and 50% less funding for each apprentice”.
As for the IMI, well, their boss was less than impressed, going on record with FE Week to say it was “typical of this administration. They are either deliberately misunderstanding or, like a drunk man in a china shop, they are unaware they’re about to break everything,”
Shortly after PMQs, the official #SaveOurApprenticeships campaign event began in a parliament committee room, as well as online, where it was at one point trending on Twitter as the fourth most used hashtag in the whole of the UK.
Even before my welcome, the event started with the new Skills Minister Robert Halfon encouraging me to get over 100 people into the committee room early and he then shook everyone’s hand personally.
So, Mr Halfon, prove you can be persuaded by measured and evidence-based debate
I had invited the minister to address the room, given he holds the key to undoing the rate cuts, but he was of course not supporting the campaign, which runs against his own policy.
However, on the specific purpose of the campaign, to reverse the rate cuts, he conceded: “We need to look at all of those figures and we are, that is the purpose of the consultation, I expect that there will be some people who are concerned but again, as I say, that is the purpose of the consultation.”
At the end of his speech he directly addressed Gordon Marsden and David Lammy, who had helped organise the launch event, and said: “I am not annoyed by what Gordon and David are doing, I actually welcome it because it helps us with our thinking. If I were them, I would be doing exactly the same thing.”
So, where does that leave us?
It leaves us with nobody in any doubt, right up to the PM, that this is an issue many MPs are now campaigning about.
The impact on 16-18 funding rates first reported by FE Week has now been verified by a fact-checking charity, so who would dispute that left unresolved, it will damage the government’s credibility around boosting social mobility and justice?
So, Mr Halfon, this is perhaps your first opportunity as apprenticeships minister to prove consultations can be influenced by measured and evidence-based debate.
To date, you’ve said all the right things, now do the right thing and put an end to any apprenticeship funding cuts that hit the youngest and most disadvantaged hardest.