What the IfA will lose without an apprentice on the board

27 January 2017

According to the Department for Education, the function of the Institute for Apprenticeships is to:

  • improve the quality of apprenticeships
  • regulate the quality of apprenticeship standards and assessment plans
  • provide advice to government on the pricing of apprenticeship standards
  • establish how the institute will collaborate with partners to drive quality across the apprenticeship system
  • gain more information and insight on how we will lead the reforms to technical education. 

Now that the IfA Board members have been revealed, we can see that DfE has put together quite a small group but with only some of the expertise and perspectives required to meet the objectives of the organisation. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers have expressed their disappointment that independent training providers, who deliver more than three-quarters of apprenticeships in England, don’t have a voice.

Neither do apprentices. We have an Institute for Apprenticeships without apprentices involved in its leadership. 

As Wes Streeting MP said on the representation of students on the Office for Students last year, “the name is on the door, but there is no seat at the table.”

It would appear that apprentices are to be heard, but not seen. There are proposals within the Institute for Apprenticeships’ ‘draft strategic guidance’ currently out for consultation whereby DfE would “strongly encourage” the Institute to form an Apprenticeship Panel to feed into the Board. Learning and Work Institute has argued that not only should there be at least one apprentice on the IfA Board, but that meaningful engagement with apprentices and former apprentices should be built throughout the structures of the organisation, including when it’s remit expands to encompass technical education in 2018. 

As it’s currently built, the IfA’s Board has two strong FE college principals who will do an excellent job in providing leadership, insight and perspective. Employers including the Army and representatives from STEM, creative and food sectors will provide an essential employer voice. I am confident they will all do a great job. 

What’s clearly missing is the perspective, insight, expertise and leadership that comes from the other ‘end-user’ – apprentices. At it stands, nobody on the IfA’s board has any experience in searching for and going through an application process for an apprenticeship, nobody has experience using the services of apprenticeship referral agencies, nobody has experience being employed as an apprentice, nobody has experience being enrolled as an apprentice. With none of that experience comes none of the ideas to make all of those things work better at Board level from that perspective. 

Apprentices have so much value to add the Board. The quality of scrutiny of the IfA’s leadership team; discussing ideas and asking unique questions and monitoring performance, particularly around apprentice engagement throughout the IfA’s work. With apprentices at Board level, the IfA can have a better strategy and be more operationally efficient. It would be led better and would set the bar explicitly that the interests of apprentices matter just as much as the interests of employers.

The Apprenticeships Panel PLUS a Board Member would be the best start for the Institute for Apprenticeships. There is no sensible reason why apprentice engagement throughout the IfA’s work and presence on the Board have to be mutually exclusive, as some have argued. 

I hope that through the consultation processes for the IfA’s draft guidance and operational plan, and perhaps through the remaining Parliamentary stages to the Technical and Further Education Bill, the debate is at least had and, better still, appointing at least one apprentice to the IfA Board is on the agenda at their first meeting.