'Why schools are perfect places for apprenticeships'

Taking on apprentices can be a way to create exciting opportunities and intricately develop schools' involvement in teacher training, writes one leading headteacher

Brian Walton

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There’s a lot of talk about apprenticeships at the moment, including the dreaded apprenticeship levy.

I can imagine some schools are furious that they are going to have to pay for something that right now has no meaning to them.

I believe in the apprentice programme. My school has a strong track record in supporting apprentices.

We currently employ 13 apprentices across the school, specialising in skills such as sports tuition, business administration, finance, nursery education and specialist education.

Apprentices spend one day a week at our local college to gain a qualification in their specialist area. After two years they can seek employment or higher education.

Since 2010 we have employed 29 apprentices and have supported their progression to full employment contracts both within the academy and externally.

Plans for the future include increasing the areas in school where apprentices can work, a formal mentoring programme for those who find full employment in the school and a regional "best practice" club for schools new to the apprenticeship scheme.

I know that there will be questions about this scheme – about the "levy"; cheap, inexperienced labour; and a "deskilling" of the skills needed in education. But I believe that the opportunities presented by working as an apprentice in a school are incredible (for the employer and for the apprentice).

I believe schools are the perfect places for an apprenticeship. Education could be leaders in this field for the following reasons:

1) Learning and care is at the heart of all we do

An apprentice will be learning alongside some of the best practitioners in the world.

2) Developing others is central to the ethos of every school

In teaching we constantly review and research what we do.

3) Community is where we serve

The idea of community apprenticeships really interests me – especially for more rural or coastal areas where we do struggle with recruitment.

We did not win any "gongs" at the national awards but we have been Somerset’s mid-level employer of the year for the past two years, and were highly commended at the South West finals.

A couple of weeks ago we found out that we were named in the top 100 national employers for 2016. Our little old primary school was suddenly sharing the stage with other listed organisations such as Lloyds, Asda, Plymouth City Council, Siemens, Virgin Media, BT and BAE Systems.

Teaching is a job where an apprenticeship approach could thrive.

Learning on the job is vital; learning from skilled and knowledgeable practitioners in the act of teaching and learning is how I sharpened my abilities as a teacher and as a headteacher. Learning from the many mistakes I made at the chalk face made me a better teacher.

With links to the right colleges, I see this approach as an exciting way forward.

When I left university after a four-year BEd, my teaching journey was only just beginning. I have always questioned much of those four years but the "time" to observe and "reflect" on the craft of teaching was vital.

I think that teaching apprentices needs to be very carefully thought through, and that professionals need to be at the heart of how this will work – not politicians, who meddle in far too much in education.

There still has to be rigour around the academic aspects. There has to be deeper reading and understanding around the craft of teaching and learning.

Again, within the right school setting, this is achievable. No one is an expert driver before they get in a car.

I do not see apprentices as being "teacher-training-lite" but I do see them as a way in which to create exciting opportunities and intricately develop schools' involvement in teacher training.

Brian Walton is headteacher of Brookside Academy in Somerset. He tweets as @Oldprimaryhead1

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