Does Skills Minister Nick Boles have any idea about Institute for Apprenticeships’ policing?

— ‘I have no idea — or if I had an idea I’m not going to share it’ Skills Minister tells FE figures

— Former SFA director David Hughes tells of worries about employers policing employers

Skills Minister Nick Boles told key FE figures that he had “no idea — or if I had an idea I’m not going to share it” about how big the Institute for Apprenticeships should be to police employers once reforms took effect.

At a Policy Exchange round-table discussion, sponsored by the Learning and Work Institute (LWI), Mr Boles was tight-lipped as to how the employer-led body, that is due to be fully operational in just over a year, would oversee the new system.

He was asked by FE Week, which was granted exclusive reporting access to the event, how big he expected the institute to be in order to police the reformed apprenticeship system of thousands of new standards, 600,000 starts a-year to hit the government’s 3m starts target, 1,000 or more providers and half a million employers.

Mr Boles said: “I have no idea — or if I had an idea I’m not going to share it with you.”

Among those at the roundtable event, in London on Thursday (January 21), was LWI chief executive David Hughes, who told of his grave concerns that government would step back from a “policing” role for the institute to step in.

Skills Minister Nick Boles (centre) speaks at the Policy Exchange round-table discussion, sponsored by the Learning and Work Institute

“The idea that employers will police themselves is nonsense. That really worries me,” he said.

Mr Hughes, who previously had responsibility for apprenticeship funding as a Skills Funding Agency national director, added: “It worries me because the employers that want to game play will ignore those that want to do it right. That’s what history shows us over the years.”

Plans for the new apprenticeships institute were announced as part of November’s spending review and autumn statement, which said the government would “establish a new employer-led body to set apprenticeship standards and ensure quality”.

It would be “independent of government and will also advise on the level of levy funding each apprenticeship should receive”.

The round-table discussion focused on apprenticeships quality and featured LWI plans for an apprenticeship charter, first mooted in the FE Week Annual Apprenticeship Conference last year, to act as an employers’ quality mark.

Mr Boles described the new apprenticeships institute as “a body that has quite a narrow remit but has very, very deep power within that remit”.

He added: “The way the institute is set up and the processes that it will be running will be ones that should ensure that collective policing of self-improvement.”

Mr Boles did reinforce the idea that the institute “is not a body that is constantly subject to directions by ministers and the latest whims of the latest politician”.

He said: “We will be bringing forward clauses in the Enterprise Bill that will set up the new Institute which will explain, and I hope clarify to everybody’s satisfaction, that that is exactly what it will be.”

Editor’s comment

Boles bottles it

‘I don’t know, or if I did I wouldn’t tell you’ — it’s quite a statement for Skills Minister Nick Boles to make to FE Week readers.

And to be clear, our presence at this exclusive round-table had been cleared with him.

So it’s disappointing to hear his refusal to give straight answers to simple questions about apprenticeship quality.

As a holder of public office, he cannot simply bluster away such questioning and nor should he want to considering the question asked could well be key to paving the way for standards. Employers and providers are understandably anxious about the shift from frameworks — and on page 5 there’s just more evidence of this.

So if the Apprenticeship Delivery Board serves just one purpose then it would be most helpful if that purpose were to get Boles to be more forthcoming.

David Hughes is quite right to air concerns about giving employers the job of policing employers. We’ll just have to wait and see if it’s a view heard by Boles.

And while the minister may well not want to share his views with the public, the sector would like to share its views with him on this with a consultation — it might just be the only hope of slowing down the mad dash to launch the Institute for Apprenticeships.

Chris Henwood

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  1. Chris – the roundtable was about the wider quality issues of apprenticeships and how the reforms will try to use employer peer pressure as well as standards to deliver high quality. My blog – – sets out how our Apprentice Charter will help young people know they are going to get a good experience and outcomes from their apprenticeship, and allows good employers to show how they value and support apprentices to succeed. All of this is more important than the numbers of staff in the new Institute for Apprenticeships.
    We need to engage with GOvernment, with the minister and with the new Institute to help ensure young people are getting a good deal and to suport the employers who want to use apprenticeships to improve their success.
    David Hughes, CEO, Learning and Work Institute.

  2. Andrew G-H

    It worries me that Mr Boles can be so blasé about something that will impact on people’s careers! Is the minister even aware of the consequences of his reforms and the need for more definitive guidance? I think not.

  3. As a tax payer, I am very worried about these reforms. History indeed does show that there will be fraudsters looking to make a tidy sum from this. It has happened many times before and it will happen again if it becomes easier for people to set themselves up as employers in order to access public funding on a large scale. Remember previous failed attempts to set up Individualised Learning Accounts? ‘Courses’ were being run from market stalls. Laptops galore being given out as enticements but no genuine training taking place. I hope the government will have the sense to stop themselves and listen to the many people warning them that this WILL NOT WORK! Many genuine employers do not want these changes either. A few might, but many are more than happy with the arrangements as they are. There are many other ways of putting the genuine employers in the driving seat without leaving the doors of the public vault ajar.

  4. A Torbitt

    I don’t think this Government has any idea what an apprenticeship is for , or should produce. None of them have been near a real job and none of them actually have to work to provide for their families.
    Most of the actions taken by this Government serve to provide one thing – more income for the rich at the expense of the poor.
    Who does Housing benefit go to? Landlords . How many of the Government are landlords ? Who will take money for Apprenticeships ? Employers . How many of the Government have links to businesses which benefit them or their families ?