Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to lead on FE, Skills and #Apprenticeships - it's official! Sector Response
Earlier this week DfE announced that the new Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will be leading on the skills brief with ministerial support from Children’s Minister Kemi Badenoch.
As already announced Jo Johnson will return to the department. This will be in his previous role as Universities Minister, in addition to also returning as a minister at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Confirming that Gavin Williamson's 'skills brief' includes Further Education, Skills and Apprenticeships, a Department of Education spokesperson said:
"All ministerial appointments have now been made and the Education Secretary will be leading on the skills brief, with support from the new Children’s Minister Kemi Badenoch.
"As the Prime Minister has said, further education and skills will be a priority for this government - and the Education Secretary taking the lead for this vital work is a reflection of that commitment."
Expressing the priority he will be placing on Further Education and Skills Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, said:
"Further education and skills will be a big priority for this government and it’s fantastic to see first-hand today how apprenticeships can help people land a great job and embark on a brilliant career.
"We are reforming technical education and apprenticeships are offering excellent options for everyone while helping our country build the skilled workforce it needs for a productive economy.
"That’s particularly important as we prepare to leave the EU and I’m determined to do all I can to make sure more people and businesses take advantage of these excellent opportunities."
So what is the sector response to the news?
Andrew Harding, Chief Executive, The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), said:
"We must take the appointment of Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary and his commitment to lead on the skills brief as an opportunity to reform the Apprenticeships Programme to increase productivity and social mobility in the United Kingdom.
"The U.K. doesn’t have strong track-record when it comes to investing in skills and higher-level skills in particular. In fact, our 2018 Mind the Skills Gap research revealed that one in four UK workers was not participating in any in-work training.
"We must better support current workers to reskill and upskill throughout their careers, not just at the start of their working lives, if we want to make the most of the digital revolution and boost our country’s productivity. This is why we need to review our national and education and skills policies, in particular the Apprenticeships Programme as it currently stands, to expand to provide for reskilling and lifelong learning, and continue to fund higher-level apprenticeships."
Lawrence Barton, Managing Director of GB Training has said:
“The decision to hand the skills and apprenticeships brief to the Education Secretary is encouraging, provided skills policy is given the attention it deserves and doesn’t end up playing second fiddle to the wider education brief. It’s also right that further education, like higher education, is given proper representation in Government and at the Cabinet table. This decision, together with the Government’s pledge for further skills and apprenticeships funding indicates the Prime Minister is matching his rhetoric on further education with action.
"Despite this development, however, more action is needed. While extra funding is required, money alone is not a magic bullet. The skills funding system is riddled with a systemic bias in favour of FE colleges that comes at the expense of independent training providers. This bias is leading to funding bottlenecks, which mean money isn’t getting to where it’s needed. The ultimate losers of this system are learners themselves who are being deprived of the opportunity to train. A simplified, streamlined skills funding system is a key priority and an essential component to successfully delivering the skilled workforce this country needs to stay competitive in a post-Brexit world. This must be a key priority for Gavin Williamson as he adjusts to his additional responsibilities as Education Secretary.”
Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) Chief Policy Officer Simon Ashworth said:
"The fact that the Secretary of State is assuming responsibility for the skills portfolio definitely sends out an important signal that the Prime Minister was serious about his leadership campaign promises for apprenticeships and further education. AELP has already written to Mr Williamson about the immediate funding challenges that have arisen from the levy’s introduction, especially the shortage of funds for non-levy SME employers. We would also welcome dialogue with Kemi Badenoch about other pressing issues such as the funding of adult care worker apprenticeships and IfATE’s refusal to approve a level 2 standard for business administration even though her own department is employing apprentices on the framework at the same level."
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) comments:
"Since receiving the keys to Number 10 last week, Boris Johnson has talked consistently about the importance of further education and skills, with DfE confirming today that the Secretary of State will have direct responsibility for the brief. We are taking this as a very positive sign that the words of support will soon be followed by new and significant investment in policy, relationships and funding of colleges. The task ahead for us at AoC and for colleges is to keep up the #LoveOurColleges campaigning to ensure that FE and skills do not get lost in wider government business, and that the new leadership continues to see colleges as central to delivering for our economy and communities.”
Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) comments:
“The decision to put the skills brief directly inside Gavin Williamson’s portfolio is either a masterstroke that will ensure real clout at the cabinet table for the FE sector; or it is a crafty way of ensuring there will be little bandwidth available day-to-day to focus on the big issues the sector really cares about. Given how busy the education secretary has been historically, in terms of sorting out schools and universities, this move will potentially go down as a real cause for concern amongst many across the FE sector.
“The Secretary of State will need to provide a clear direction to officials that he does not want all his time taken up by non-FE issues. Instead, he should get on top of the Augar Review, the Spending Review; the two major reviews of qualifications that his department is currently consulting on; and unblock the issues that are holding back the sustainable financing and quality assurance of apprenticeships. If he throws real energy and verve behind these matters, then I suspect the concerns out there about the deletion of the minister of state for skills post will start to dissipate.”
Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute comments:
“The new prime minister and education secretary have both clearly stated that Further Education will be a priority. Inevitably there are lots of competing priorities within departments and across government and our test, regardless of the division of ministerial responsibilities, will be the extent to which this clear focus translates into increased investment. This is essential for the UK to kickstart stalled progress in improving learning and skills. That must be at the heart of a strategy to secure our future prosperity and make sure everyone has a fair chance in life.”
Mark Farrar, CEO of AAT, said:
“Following on from the Prime Minister’s statement that it is ‘vital we invest in further education and skills’, it’s good to see that the skills agenda is going to sit right at the top of the DfE house with Gavin Williamson assuming personal responsibility in this area. Hopefully, given the size and nature of his overall brief as Education Secretary, skills will be one of his top priorities and receive the required time and attention. We can also hope the necessary funding commitments will follow, targeted at improving adult education alongside apprenticeship needs.
“The UK’s skills needs ultimately extend well beyond the scope of apprenticeships, and there are various requirements across different sectors of the economy. As such, AAT believes the Apprenticeship Levy should be extended – renamed as the Skills Levy, and allowing Levy monies to be spent on traineeships and other forms of high quality training, benefitting individuals, employers and the economy. We also believe that a Skills Levy would be more appropriate than the Apprenticeship Levy to help meet the needs of Britain’s 5.7 million small businesses, who are vital to our economic success.”
Jan Richardson Wilde, Group Deputy Managing Director, NOCN, said:
"We welcome the new secretary of state taking the lead on the skills brief, it will hopefully be a positive move to ensure the post 16 sector receives the focus and funding it requires."
University and College Union response to loss of skills minister:
"The University and College Union (UCU) do not believe axing the skills minister was a positive move. Former skills minister Anne Milton will not be replaced and that new education secretary Gavin Williamson will personally take on the skills brief. The new administration has appointed ministers to fill the schools and universities briefs. Last week Boris Johnson said further education was a priority."
UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said:
‘We have gone from having a minister for skills last week to not having one now, unlike universities and schools who have kept theirs.
‘We shall have to wait and see if commitments from Boris Johnson in the leadership campaign translate into proper funding. We do not believe losing the dedicated skills minister is a positive step for further education or suggests that the sector is held in high regard by the new administration.’
Louise Tweedie, risk assurance director and education specialist, RSM UK said:
‘With each visit and interview it is becoming increasingly clear that the focus of the Education Secretary and the Government for post-18 provision is apprenticeships, further education, skills and technical education. Post Augar, universities will be concerned by the lack of comment and clarity about the plans for three year undergraduate degrees and the future of fees and funding for the higher education sector.’