Schools are more likely to promote apprenticeships than they used to be, a new report by Ofsted has found.
But many parents and pupils are "concerned about the quality and reputation of apprenticeships", inspectors found - and in “too many” schools, students' knowledge of apprenticeships was "poor to non-existent", the report says.
The report, Getting Ready for Work, states that in the course of visiting 40 secondary schools in England, two-thirds (68 per cent) were described as good or outstanding by inspectors for how they promote apprenticeships.
However, inspectors noted “divergent practice” in schools, with some encouraging all pupils to consider vocational courses and others just steering lower-ability pupils towards them. In “too many” schools, technical and vocational education was associated with lower-attaining pupils, or those with “challenging” behaviour, and university applications were prioritised before those for apprenticeships.
The report states that "in the worst cases", schools lacked a point of contact or a careers adviser. It continues: "The perception of apprenticeships as a worthier route for less-able pupils was still evident right across the views of the pupils themselves. One school’s pupils said, ‘It used to be for a trade like hairdressing', and 'It’s safer because it's more traditional to go to university’. Furthermore, pupils in four schools thought their parents would have negative views of them doing apprenticeships; one school said that 10 out of 11 of its pupils said it would be unacceptable."
‘Increased interest’ in apprenticeships
The schools visited included comprehensive, selective, 11-16, 11-18, mixed, and single gender institutions across both urban and rural areas. Inspectors found that there was an increased interest in apprenticeships at the schools among 18-year-olds. The report states that “an increasing minority of pupils were calculating the financial costs of taking a traditional university degree” and were choosing an apprenticeship instead. Vocational routes were most popular with students interested in engineering or finance. However, most students still wanted to go to university because they thought that no apprenticeships were available in their area, that their subjects and career aspirations were not adequately linked to an apprenticeship programme, or that it was the “normal” thing to do.
Inspectors also found that schools that began offering careers advice earlier had a better judgement of good or better for pupil knowledge compared with other schools (80 per cent, as opposed to 68 per cent). Out of the 40 schools, nine offered careers services from key stage 3.
Commenting on the report findings, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “The question of how well our school system is preparing young people for the world of work has never been more important. The future success and prosperity of the UK in a post-Brexit world will increasingly depend on our ability to harness home-grown talent and to encourage the creativity and innovation of our young people. That will mean making sure that pupils from all backgrounds have access to an education that prepares them well for the next stage of their lives, be that higher education, entering employment or setting up their own business."