From education to employment

Former Apprentice Gillian Keegan confirmed as Apprenticeships and Skills Minister – Sector Response

Gillian Keegan was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education

@GillianKeegan has now been confirmed as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships and Skills. Here is the link to the DfE Ministerial portfolio confirmations.

After the recent Cabinet re-shuffle Gillian Keegan was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education on Friday 14th February 2020. Gillian was also a former Apprentice and grew up in Knowsley in Liverpool. In fact, she was the first degree level apprentice in the House of Commons. She previously worked with previous Skills Minister Matt Hancock at the Department for Health and Social Care. 


 Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for the Department of Education, had been personally heading up the brief for Apprenticeships after Anne Milton had resigned in July 2019.

So how has the sector responded to the news?

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) comments:

“It’s great news that Gillian with her first-hand experience and knowledge of apprenticeships has been appointed to the post. Her corporate background also helps her understand the levy issues very well and she knows the power of work based learning. AELP looks forward to discussing with her the immediate challenge of funding SMEs’ apprenticeships as well as wider skills provision. Gillian’s apprenticeship for Matt Hancock at the Health department is now over and we see how it leads to a well-deserved promotion!”

Kirsti Lord, Deputy Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) comments:

“AoC looks forward to working with Gillian Keegan as she takes up her role within the Department for Education. With a renewed focus on colleges, skills and apprenticeships it is a crucial time and absolutely right that we have a designated skills minister to prioritise this work. I hope this latest appointment means that holistic reform to the post-16 education system and making sure everyone can achieve, regardless of their background and circumstances, will be priority for this government.”

Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) said:

“FAB welcomes the appointment of Gillian Keegan. Our Chair, Paul Eeles, wrote to the Prime Minister at the start of the year for the reinstatement of a skills and apprenticeships minister. What is great about this appointment is that the new Minister has herself been an apprentice. She has worked extensively in industry before entering Parliament; and she has been a champion for education and skills as a back-bencher.

“In truth, though, the new Minister is going to find the “best job in government” quite challenging initially. There are big decisions ahead on the future of the Apprenticeship Levy; and public support for qualifications at Level 3 and below. It will be interesting to see if Keegan takes on the “Whitehall knows best” tendency. Too many skills policy reforms are driven from the top-down. It makes decision-making sclerotic. The regulatory burden is growing. As a result, there is a lack of transparency and accountability of who is responsible for what, or sufficient challenge of unelected officials running large agencies. 

Tom Bewick continues: “The Minister should not be in the day-to-day running of England’s skills and apprenticeship system, but she should take the lead on policy formulation and driving higher levels of performance. Crucially, I would say, the Minister should chair a monthly Skills Alliance Board, where the statutory bodies and key representative organisations, like FAB, are brought together to plan out how working together we can create a lifelong learning system that is the envy of the world. If this doesn’t happen, Ms Keegan will join some of the other recent skills ministers who have struggled to make a real impact on improving the life chances of young people and adults in England. Data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example, shows that 4 million adult learners have been lost to the system since 2005; and young people are increasingly missing out on apprenticeships. This is perhaps the yardstick by which most of us working in the sector will want to hold the new skills and apprenticeship minister to account.” 

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of the Learning and Work Institute said

“I’m really pleased at Gillian’s appointment. She has a great job and, as a champion of skills and a former apprentice, is ideally placed to do it.

 “Learning and skills are central to the Government’s ambition of levelling up opportunity across the country. However, improvements in skills have stalled over the last decade as investment has been cut. One of the new Minister’s first jobs will be to make the case for more investment in learning and skills in the Budget and spending review. We argued for an extra £1.5bn per year across England to take participation in learning back to 2010 levels.

“But as well as investing more, we need to invest wisely too. That means taking action on the apprenticeship levy. Our research showed this is running out of money with funding for SMEs being squeezed. The Government needs to tackle this head on, either investing more, increasing levy contributions, or asking employers to contribute more for apprenticeships for some employees.

“On top of this, we need details on the Shared Prosperity Fund that will replace ESF funding now the UK has left the EU, and to plan the design of the National Skills Fund for England. In all of this, I hope the Government will take a collaborative approach to working with people across the sector who want to get this right.

“There’s a lot to do, but a great chance to make a real difference.” 


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