The UK’s focus on Open Banking commenced in 2015 through the creation of the Open Banking Working Group (OBWG) set up at the request of HM Treasury.

The Government has an ambitious education, qualifications and apprenticeship policy suite including: proposals to progress the policy reform legacy of the previous Cameron / Osborne administration; building on the Trailblazer programme; introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy; setting a target of delivering 3 million quality apprenticeship starts by 2020; devolving the Adult Education Budgets down to the new Mayoral Combined Authorities; and rolling-out the new T Level programme as part of a renewed focus on the creation of a new technical and digital education system highlighted in the Autumn Budget (November 2017), and Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future White Paper (also published in November 2017).

Indeed, during her first Prime Ministerial reshuffle, Theresa May announced a radical restructure of the departments responsible for the delivery of skills and Apprenticeship policy, by moving responsibility from the reshaped BEIS department to the Department for Education under new Secretary of State, Damian Hinds (appointed in the January 2018 reshuffle) and Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton. Following his appointment as Secretary of State, Hinds confirmed that his policy ambitions for the department included, raising education standards by “giving people the chance to learn and upskill throughout their lives with high-quality degrees, apprenticeships and other technical and vocational qualifications”. He acknowledged that the global economy is changing and added, “it is through education, skills and training from the early years into adulthood that we will make sure no one is left behind – delivering a modern country that is globally competitive and fit for the future.” Hinds has a strong interest in social mobility and chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility before he joined the government.

The new reforms and evolving technical education system are, however, underpinned by a complex regulatory landscape of competing stakeholders, inspectors, and regulators including the: Apprenticeship Directorate; Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA); Institute for Apprenticeships; Ofsted; and Ofqual.

Such a complex regulatory system has inevitably caused implementation problems for the government particularly in relation to who is accountable for apprenticeship quality and assessment. Indeed, at a recent oral evidence session of the Education Select Committee, Anne Milton acknowledged that it was unclear whether it is a job solely for Ofsted or the ESFA and admitted responsibility needed to be defined “more clearly”. She added that the relationship between the ESFA and Ofsted over quality is “quite difficult to define”.

It has also been a challenging year for employers and providers. The Apprenticeship Levy has required a different relationship with employers. There have been challenges in applying for, and receiving, non-levy allocations. There have also been problems getting on the Register of Apprenticeship training providers. And, in too many instances, in finding a replacement standard for a framework–particularly at levels two and three. The fall in Apprenticeship starts is largely due to a combination of these factors. Indeed, the first quarter of 2017 to 2018 saw almost 50,000 fewer starts than the same quarter in 2016 to 2017. In response to employer and provider criticism, the Chancellor Philip Hammond announced during his Conservative Party Conference speech on 1st October, that he will be looking to reform the policy in favour of employer and employee interests and will be consulting with businesses about further changes to the Levy from 2020.

Furthermore, despite calls to extend the timescale for the development and implementation of the first T Levels (the incoming technical alternatives to A-levels) to at least 2021 but preferably to 2022 to ensure parents, learners and employers understand the new qualifications, the government has confirmed that the roll-out of the 11 T level routes will be phased, with a small number of providers delivering some pathways within 3 of the routes (Digital, Construction, Education and Childcare) in September 2020, and the remaining routes being launched in two waves in September 2021 and 2022. Indeed, on 3 September, the Department for Education launched the bidding process for groups to win the right to develop and deliver the Digital, Construction, Education and Childcare qualifications. The Invitation to Tender will remain open for organisations to submit bids until 26 October 2018, with the contracts for the first three T Levels expected to be awarded in early March 2019.

This is a critical time for the development of technical education, qualifications and apprenticeship provision in the UK as the country grapples with historically poor levels of productivity. The government clearly has ambitions to develop a new technical education system and implement ongoing apprenticeship reforms. However, it will be important to allow enough time to build understanding amongst parents, employers and learners; and have greater policy continuity and coordination amongst regulators to ensure the government’s aspirations for a world-class technical education system and apprenticeship programme in the UK are fully realised.

How TFA can help

TFA has supported skills and membership organisations including the Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards and Creative and Cultural Skills on skills, qualifications, and apprenticeships policy – specifically concerning quality and standards – assisting them in all aspects of public affairs and government relations. We can help your organisation to shape the education and skills debate in support of your corporate objectives.