It’s never too early to get pupils thinking about their future careers. After all, they cannot aspire to what they have no knowledge of – but one of the difficulties teachers can face with Year 7 students is that they may know very little about the options open to them, including the role of apprenticeships.
They are not alone in this either. Research by ABM's Junior Engineering Engagement Programme (J.E.E.P.) suggests that 68 per cent of young people do not know what an apprenticeship is and, perhaps even more notably, 36 per cent of UK parents do not know either. Clearly then there is a need for schools to provide comprehensive, objective information to both students and parents about the options they have. So how best can we do this?
Apprenticeships education: Starting early
What tends to happen is that careers education kicks in only when students are choosing their GCSE options. However, if pupils have not already been introduced to a full range of training and career options, their choices will often be based on a limited understanding of where particular GCSEs might take them.
This problem is compounded by the fact that students might assume that the careers they have heard of may not be appropriate for them. Research from 2016 suggested that career stereotyping begins very early, with 63 per cent of four-year-old girls, for example, opting to role-play as cabin crew rather than as pilots. As such, it’s important that teachers and parents try to encourage children to have as broad a view of their future as possible from a young age, so they do not fall into old-fashioned ways of thinking.
Even if you begin careers education at the age of 11, though, students will likely still have all sorts of assumptions that you will have to counteract.
One of these assumptions may be that apprenticeships are a second-rate option compared with a university course. A good way to dispel this myth is to present students with a list of organisations that clearly do see the value in apprenticeships – from the BBC to Goldman Sachs. Even better, introduce them to former students or others who are enrolled on great apprenticeship schemes.
Find the right project
Another positive approach might be to create a context in which apprenticeships receive the respect they deserve. This could be showing students a project that involved pupils at a girls’ school in Hong Kong building a full-sized, working twin-seater plane.
This project had everything you would want to see in a great apprenticeship: the students learned by doing, they learned by working alongside experts – in this case pilots – and they learned over a long period of time. The practical experience they gained created an appreciation of the kind of learning that apprenticeships could provide in a way no careers talk ever could.
Encourage hands-on working
Demonstrations of working methods don't have to come from adults, either. I encourage our sixth form to run a club for key stage 3 students that explores science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) challenges. It’s a win-win-win situation. The Year 7s can enjoy working with older students on experiments such as creating an underwater volcano or making ping-pong balls float; the sixth-formers gain valuable experience; and teachers can just help to oversee the process. Conversations about apprenticeships can easily flow from such work, either between well-prepared sixth-formers and younger students or between careers staff and younger students as a follow-up to the practical sessions.
And there are plenty of organisations that offer similar opportunities, including those you may not expect. The Bank of England, for example, offers an annual film-making competition for students aged 11-18 as well as talks for schools, which can focus on career opportunities (including apprenticeships) in addition to a range of financial topics.
Get students engaged
Another way in which Year 7s can gain hands-on experience is by taking part in one of the increasing number of engagement programmes offered by business and industry. Many companies have educational outreach programmes. ABM’s J.E.E.P. initiative, for example, offers students the chance to broaden their horizons by taking four immersive modules and going on a field trip. The modules cover subjects ranging from sustainability and public speaking to motors and magnets, and students get to carry out experiments involving heat and currents.
Through such experiences, young students quickly learn about the wide range of settings in which engineers work and can learn about careers such as sports facility management that may well have been completely unknown to them.
The value of such programmes is fourfold. First, educational outreach programmes such as ABM’s help younger pupils to decide which GCSEs they wish to pursue; if they have excelled on the "Motors and Magnets" module of the J.E.E.P. initiative, for example, they know that science subjects will be a good fit. Second, students enjoy the experience of learning in the way that apprentices learn. Third, they see apprenticeships in a positive context from an early age. Fourth, some of the myths about the careers associated with particular subjects are busted before they have a chance to solidify into pseudo-fact. It simply isn’t the case, for example, that a career in engineering has to involve oily rags and engine parts. An apprenticeship in engineering is a great way into management, as well as a direct route into a whole range of engineering jobs, too.
Another way the J.E.E.P. has tried to make courses like this accessible is creating the teacher pack. The pack incorporates everything teachers need from experiment guides, equipment lists, presentations and worksheets.
All this is good news for hard-pressed teachers. We do not need to push for more curriculum time in order to improve our careers provision: we already have the resources we need to innovate inside and outside of the classroom.
Roy Peachey is director of curriculum development at The Cedars School, Croydon