Ditch the word ‘apprenticeship’ to make programmes appear more ‘high-calibre’, says leading head

3rd October 2016 at 14:23
Wellington College's master says the 'brightest students' do not see the appeal in the degree apprenticeship 'label'

The head of a leading independent school has said that degree apprenticeships don't appeal to high-flying students because the "apprenticeship label” is not perceived to be of a high enough calibre.

Julian Thomas, master of Wellington College (pictured), said that degree apprenticeships "do not appeal to bright students", and has called for the word "apprenticeships" to be removed from the title. He suggests that the qualifications could instead be called "career degrees".

“The government deserves huge credit for creating the degree apprenticeship scheme in 2014 and it has the makings of an excellent alternative for the brightest school leavers,” Mr Thomas said. “However, students have either not heard of it, or it does not appeal to bright students because these degrees, with the ‘apprenticeship’ label, are not perceived as a high-calibre option.”

Mr Thomas has also called for the entry criteria to be as high as for "a place at the best universities". A statement from the school said: "It may sound counter-intuitive to increase entry requirements in order to boost popularity but these excellent courses should not be undersold."

'As prestigious as Oxbridge'

In his first interview after being appointed apprenticeships and skills minister, Robert Halfon told TES that his ambition was for apprenticeships to be perceived as being as prestigious as Oxbridge.

“You can have all of the government policies in the world, but none of it will matter unless you change the culture and way apprentices are seen,” he said. “My dream is that if someone says at a dinner that they’re doing an apprenticeship and another person says they’ve been to Oxbridge, that people will be more impressed by the apprentice than the person who goes to Oxbridge."

In 2017, Wellington College is to host the inaugural “Third Way” conference, bringing teachers and students from around the country together with the best degree apprenticeship providers.

“I hope that the degree apprenticeship scheme will become a viable option for them,” Mr Thomas added. “Changes are certainly needed to produce a truly viable ‘third way’."

In August, research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the EY Foundation found that only 17 per cent of surveyed 16- to 21-year-olds were aware of Trailblazer degree apprenticeships.

'Get out and smell the coffee'

Mark Dawe, CEO of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said: "Mr Thomas needs to get out and smell the coffee. Degree apprenticeships are increasing rapidly in number with many of the biggest name employers signed up and Russell Group universities following the modern universities in setting them up – these apprenticeships are becoming more popular than many university courses.

"The apprenticeship levy will also further add impetus and opportunity. There is still a major challenge to persuade parents who are shelling out £30,000 a year that their children should go down this route, but it is much less a difficult conversation with other parents and young people."

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