Robert Halfon’s appointment as the new skills minister following Nick Boles’ resignation and the decision to hand the skills brief back to the Department for Education has received a cautious welcome from the training and apprenticeships community.
Halfon takes over the skills portfolio, having previously been minister without portfolio (attending cabinet) and will arrive at a beefed-up department, which includes FE and HE, under Justine Greening as secretary of state.
David Russell, chief executive, Education and Training Foundation said his organisation welcomed Halfon’s appointment, and said it was “looking forward to working with him on the crucial challenges facing the sector”.
“Robert’s passion for apprenticeships is clear,” Russell said. “The Sainsbury Review sets out a vision for technical education, which starts from rigor and excellence. Skills gaps around maths and English remain significant, but the reform of functional skills is one part of a strategy to tackle this. Excellence in teaching and training, and the best working relationships between employers and educators, will help learners into work, to the benefit of productivity and society as a whole”.
The sector had earlier given its views on the shakeup, welcoming the move but raising concerns it could adversely impact the momentum around introducing the Apprentice Levy.
‘A distinct focus on apprenticeships’
Meanwhile, Halfon’s ‘distinct focus on apprenticeships’ was lauded by Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), who said, “We know Robert Halfon MP well from his previous work in supporting his local college and in raising awareness of apprenticeships. He was also a key advocate in our campaign for disadvantaged college students to be able to access free meals in the same way as students in schools.
“It’s also good to see that the Government has retained a distinct focus on apprenticeships and skills by appointing a dedicated minister.”
Mark Dawe of the AELP said he hoped that Halfon would help ‘maintain the momentum to ensure that the three million [apprenticeships by 2020] target is hit’.
“We’re delighted that with his credentials for championing apprenticeships Robert Halfon has been given the skills brief. Downing Street said on Friday that growing apprenticeships would remain a priority under the new administration so we will be asking the new minister to stick to the current levy timetable and to publish the next set of guidance as soon as possible. This is because there is a lot of work for training providers to do in supporting employers in preparation for April 2017 for both levy and non levy payers.”