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How schools can make teaching apprenticeships work

There have been a few hiccups with teacher apprenticeships – but schools can still make them a success, says Emma Hollis

Teaching apprenticeships: how can schools make them work?

The initial year for the postgraduate teaching apprenticeship has been beset with a number of difficulties – many of these related to the ability of providers to enter themselves on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers due to short application windows and exceptionally complex application systems. 

The result is that fewer providers than might have been hoped for have been able to offer apprenticeship provision for 2018-19. In many cases, even where providers did get on the register, they made the decision to hold off developing the programme due to financial constraints on the provider, concerns about uptake and the lack of appetite from schools who, in some cases, saw this as a route that was not financially attractive. For 2019-20, additional financial incentives have been put in place and the Department for Education is hopeful there will be a significant increase in the 90 apprentices that were recruited in the first year.

The Recruitment and Retention Strategy makes a clear commitment to continuing to invest in the apprenticeship route. DfE officials have been clear, however, that there are no immediate plans to close down the School Direct-salaried route. At this stage, it seems unlikely that an apprenticeship linked to the Early Career Framework will be developed ahead of national roll-out but as the apprenticeship landscape develops, we may see more apprenticeships available for teaching staff at all levels.

Today I am speaking at Inside Government’s Establishing and Delivering Teacher Apprenticeships conference, where I am delivering a keynote on "Making Apprenticeships Work for Every School". So how can we make them work?

Teaching apprenticeships: my top tips

  1. You cannot do it alone – partnership is key. Teaching apprenticeships can only be delivered by accredited training providers so it is vital that, early on in the process, you find a partner offering apprenticeships.
  2. If you are in a local authority-maintained school, you must establish conversations with them as soon as possible. Not only do they hold the levy purse strings (so you will need to be sure that they will pass some of the levy back to you), they may have complex procurement processes that determine which provider you have to work with.
  3. Consider carefully how you balance the role of a teacher with the support and development that a brand new entrant is going to need. They are employees and you will want to ensure value for money – but expecting an apprentice to step straight into the role of a teacher from day one is unreasonable, unethical and unrealistic.
  4. If you are "growing your own", and appointing from within, consider how you are going to help the apprentice transition from their previous role. It can be notoriously difficult for a teaching assistant, no matter how competent they are, to make the transition to "teacher". Much of this depends on the ethos of the school and how supportive and understanding the team around them is. This starts from the top of the organisation.
  5. Involve everyone on your team in the apprentice’s development. They will have a "named mentor" but mentorship goes beyond the formal relationship or the one-to-one meetings (although these are really important). They say "it takes a village" and this is especially true when developing new teachers. Mentorship is about the teacher next door popping their head around the door with a smile of encouragement, it is about the sharing of plans, top tips from the whole staff, sage advice from the teaching assistant who has seen it all – and a cup of tea and sympathy from whoever happens to be in the staffroom on the day it all goes wrong.
  6. Make time for the mentor (or as we prefer to refer to them, school-based teacher educator). An apprentice will fail fast if they are not given sufficient time and support, and their mentor is the biggest single factor in determining success. If the mentor is under pressure, busy, disinterested or worse, annoyed at being given an apprentice to "look after", you have a recipe for disaster before you even begin. It is also important to value the role of the mentor – offer support, training and time for them to do the role justice and it will pay you back in spades.
  7. The impact of not looking after your apprentice goes far beyond just one potential new recruit. Apprentices train together and talk to one another. If their experience of your school is not a positive one, word will spread like wildfire among the rest of their cohort – do not be the one left wondering why no NQTs are applying for your post. Your apprentice can be your greatest advocate or your harshest critic. Do everything you can to make sure it is the former.

Schools wishing to employ an apprentice teacher should contact their local ITT provider, either a School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) provider or higher education institution, to explore their options further. NASBTT, as the voice for school-based teacher trainers, can also provide some advice on apprenticeships.

Emma Hollis is executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT)

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