From education to employment

Rob Halfon resigns as Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education

Robert Halfon

In a surprising and saddening move, Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow and current Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, has announced that he will be standing down at the next general election. He has also resigned from his ministerial post effective immediately.

Following Rob Halfon’s resignation, Luke Hall has been appointed Minister of State in the Department for Education. Although his official roles and responsibilities have not been confirmed, there is thought that he is taking over as the new Skills Minister.

In an exclusive interview with YourHarlow, Mr Halfon revealed that after much consideration, he felt “it was time” to move on from his roles. He wrote letters to both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Mike Garnett, chair of the Harlow Conservative Association, informing them of his decision.

Mr Halfon has been a regular contributor to FE News on matters of further education and skills. We at FE News are deeply saddened by this announcement, as Mr Halfon has been a champion for the FE sector and a valued voice on our platform. His contributions and advocacy for skills, apprenticeships and higher education will be sorely missed.

Mr Halfon has had a long career representing Harlow, first being selected as the Conservative candidate back in 1999. He faced setbacks in the 2001 and 2005 general elections before finally winning the seat in 2010. He went on to increase his majority in subsequent elections in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Longest serving MP for Harlow

This week, Mr Halfon was set to become the longest-serving MP for Harlow since the constituency was formed in 1974. In his resignation letters, he highlighted his achievements over his 14 years of service, both in terms of his work for Harlow locally as well as in his ministerial roles focused on education and skills.

Mr Halfon expressed to YourHarlow that he remains committed to championing causes to benefit the people of Harlow in his remaining time in Parliament. The process will now begin for the Harlow Conservatives to select a new candidate to contest the seat at the next election.

Reaction from the FE sector and speculation about the future direction of skills and apprenticeship policy is sure to dominate discussion in the coming days as the sector comes to terms with the surprising news of the impending departure of their long-time ministerial advocate. His presence and advocacy will be deeply missed by many across Further Education.

Sector Reaction to Rob Halfon Stepping down as Skills Minister

Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said:

“I am sorry to hear of Robert Halfon’s resignation as the skills minister. He has been a passionate champion for further education, skills and apprenticeships throughout his tenure as chair of the education select committee, and as minister, bringing to the roles a commitment to colleges and to understand from students and apprentices as much he can about what works for them. I am confident that he will continue to be a passionate supporter of our sector and a fervent advocate of students and their needs when his time as an MP comes to an end. His drive to promote inclusion and to back further education will be missed.”

Commenting on Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP’s statement, Ben Rowland, AELP Chief Executive, said:

“We are sad to hear that the Skills Minister is planning to stand down at the next General Election, set to take place later this year. He is somebody that has spent his political career fighting for the skills sector.

“AELP has seen first-hand how Robert Halfon has understood the important role independent training providers play in delivering high-quality skills provision right across the country. As a former Chair of the Education Select Committee, he had a phenomenal impact in promoting skills. As a Government Minister, he has championed apprenticeships every step of the way. He also deserves recognition for campaigning to open up apprenticeships for prisoners, his tireless work on introducing the Provider Access Legislation and the successful passage of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act in 2022. More recently we thank him for his support in championing an increase in funding for functional skills qualifications and the removal of co-investment for young people.

“We need champions for the skills sector on all sides in Parliament, so it is a shame that Robert Halfon won’t be able to continue that work after the next election. However, it is clear that without his work over the last 15 years, the apprenticeship system would not be as strong as it currently is and everyone at AELP would like to wish him all the best for the future.”

Baker Dearing Educational Trust Chairman Lord Baker said:

“I would like to pay tribute to Robert Halfon, who has been a continuous and tremendous supporter of technical education including University Technical Colleges throughout his time in Parliament.

“From Level 1 courses to degree apprenticeships, he has pushed the Government to make better skills policy in his roles as an MP, as chair of the Education Select Committee, and as a minister.

“We are sad to lose him as a champion in Parliament. The House of Commons will be poorer without his expertise and passion for changing young people’s lives and for helping them climb the ladder of opportunity.

“I hope he continues his good work on skills and technical education outside Parliament and Baker Dearing looks forward to continuing to work with Robert.”

Clare Howard OBE, the Chief Executive of Natspec, has made comments on what the sector needs from Rob Halfon’s successor:

“It is unfortunate to see that Robert Halfon, a passionate supporter of further education (FE), is resigning from his role as the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education.

“Robert Halfon’s successor has a challenge ahead of them. As I have recently written, policymaking for specialist further education is disjointed and confused with little coordination within government. The incoming minister must address this. For specialist colleges to work effectively, it’s vital that FE policy is properly joined up with SEND policy, as pledged in the SEND and AP Improvement plan.

“The sector is crying out for a cohesive policy approach. This requires the incoming minister to actively collaborate with the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing to make specialist FE a priority. With a dedicated effort to integrate these sectors effectively, the path will be clear for the government to finally address the long-standing issues of neglect and underfunding that has blighted the sector. It is a crucial step not only for the benefit of our young people with complex needs but also for the government’s broader goals of closing the disability employment gap and boosting growth.

Faiza Khan MBE, Executive Director, Corporate Affairs & Foundation, City & Guilds, says,

“I’d personally like to thank Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP for his unwavering support for FE and apprenticeships and his longstanding commitment to both. 

“Throughout his years of service, Robert has been a true champion of the FE sector – from his ministerial roles, to becoming Chair of the House of Commons Education Select Committee. This is something we have witnessed over time at City & Guilds – from Robert producing the foreword to our Recovery and Resilience report, to joining me during an interview with members of our Young Learner Advisory Team during National Apprenticeship Week, this year.

“We wish him all the best.”

Halfon’s resignation “another nail in the coffin” for Sunak, says UCU

Responding to the resignation of the minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education Robert Halfon MP, University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘It is no wonder our sector is in crisis when we have a government that has all but ceased to function. Halfon’s resignation is yet another nail in the coffin for this beleaguered Prime Minister. We now urgently need a general election and an incoming Labour government to fund higher and further education properly.’

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