IfA boss likens reforms to ‘building an aircraft already in flight’

Further government reforms are the biggest danger to the future success of apprenticeships, warns Sir Gerry Berragan

Jonathan Owen

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The Institute for Apprenticeships remains a “work in progress” a year on from its inception, its chief executive Sir Gerry Berragan has admitted.

The institute did not get off to a flying start and was not fully up and running until last October. It has only had a permanent chief executive in post for less than six months, with board director Sir Gerry taking up the role last November after attempts to recruit a chief executive were unsuccessful.

Speeding up standards

Earlier this year, responding to comments by apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton that it needed to “really speed up” the institute pledged to become “faster and better” and has streamlined its processes in a bid to accelerate the approval of new apprenticeship standards.

In an interview with Tes to mark the first anniversary of the institute, Sir Gerry said: “We have achieved an awful lot”. To date, some 254 standards have been approved for delivery, with another 276 in development. He predicts that there will be more than 400 approved standards by this time next year.

Tipping point

The past year has seen a surge in starts on the new standards, which will eventually replace the old apprenticeship frameworks. A year ago, starts on standards represented around 3 per cent of all starts. They now account for around 40 per cent and we are “starting to reach tipping point between frameworks declining and standards growing”, according to Sir Gerry.

Yet the new apprenticeships have yet to be embraced enthusiastically by employers and apprentices. The number of apprenticeship starts has dropped significantly year on year and there are just 99 industry representatives on the 15 route panels – falling far short of the 250-300 that was previously envisaged.

“Building the aircraft whilst it is already in flight”

The biggest challenge has been trying to adapt a system that was not designed for employers, said Sir Gerry. He described it as “taking a process which was designed for a different structure, so an approvals process that was designed for approvals by ministers and decisions by officials, and taking that and applying it to a very different structure – an employer-led organisation with employer expertise at route panel and board level”.

The institute's chief executive remarked: “I would describe it as building the aircraft whilst it is already in flight”. The new system needs time to “bed in” and the “biggest risk” to the apprenticeship programme is being “knocked off course” by any further reforms, he warned.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The institute is already making progress to simplify and speed up the process of developing new apprenticeship standards and we are now looking ahead to plans for it to expand its remit to include oversight of technical education”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 20 April edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Jonathan Owen

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