Anne Milton hasn’t met the IfA’s apprentice panel in its first year

Anne Milton hasn’t met the IfA’s apprentice panel in its first year

The skills minister has still not met with the Institute for Apprenticeships’ panel of apprentices – more than 12 months after it was established.

The panel, which first met last April, is made up of current or recent apprentices who discuss issues from the learner’s perspective and raise with the main IfA board.

Shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden lodged a written parliamentary question on April 16 asking about meetings Anne Milton had held.

“I am hoping to meet with the panel of apprentices in the near future,” replied the minister yesterday, who claimed she had attended a meeting of the full IfA board “by telephone” last December.

“The panel of apprentices is particularly important to help the IfA improve the quality of apprenticeships, as it reflects the importance of apprentices’ experiences across a broad range of different occupational routes.”

Mr Marsden was not impressed.

“It’s frankly ludicrous that this reply – which finally came after DfE officials had clearly struggled with how to answer my question – admits that not only has the minister not met the apprentices’ panel, but also she wasn’t at the IfA’s last board meeting other than ‘by telephone’,” he said.

Gordon Marsden

“With the IfA just having taken on a daunting set of new responsibilities for technical skills, isn’t it crucial that the minister does get face to face personal feedback rapidly, both from the apprentices panel and its board?”

IfA responsibilities include overseeing development and approval of new apprenticeship standards and assessment plans, advising employers on government funding for standards, and quality-assuring the delivery of apprenticeship end-point assessments.

It will also oversee T-levels, the government’s new technical qualifications, which will appear starting from 2020.

Ms Milton’s predecessor as minister Robert Halfon was an advocate of the panel of apprentices’ potential to allow learners to exert a positive influence on decisions affecting them.

There were initially fears that the IfA may not have any apprentice representation at all during the early stages of its development.

Mr Marsden and the NUS president Shakira Martin, who was then the union’s vice-president for FE, wanted apprentices to take up places on the board itself – but the government would not commit to the idea.

However, in December 2016, Mr Halfon confirmed that the IfA would “invite apprentices to establish an apprentice panel, which would report directly to the board”.

The National Society of Apprentices expressed fears last summer that his successor Ms Milton was less interested in the panel.

“We heard Anne Milton talk about wanting to listen to as many voices as possible so we hope that she backs her words up with action,” a spokesperson said at the time.