'Why schools must do better on apprenticeships'

Too many young people still don't find out about apprenticeships from their schools. This must change, writes Mark Dawe

Mark Dawe

Schools must do better on apprenticeships says Mark Dawe

Reading the case studies in Tes’ Inspiring Apprentices series is a great reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  They are a perfect reminder of why I love my job. So why, then, is it still the case that too many young apprentices have to find out about exciting apprenticeship opportunities for themselves instead of being informed about them at school?

We hoped that the implementation of the Baker Clause would have made a big difference. But the statutory requirement for schools to allow local employers and apprenticeship training providers through their doors to enable pupils to hear first-hand about the available opportunities has only been met with patchy compliance so far. Burdens on teachers are massive and letting in experienced providers relieves the pressure on school staff to become experts in a world which is largely unfamiliar to them.

However, let’s recognise that in a lot of schools, the onus still falls on teachers to inform pupils about the advantages of choosing to do an apprenticeship either at age 16 or 18. While we have come a long way in the last few years in respect of the quantity and quality of printed and online resources that offer information about apprenticeships, objections and myths persist which dissuade teachers from promoting the country’s flagship skills programme to young people. 

Read more: DfE unlikely to meet apprenticeship target, says NAO

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Apprenticeships: not as good as uni?

The obvious objection is still the belief that an apprenticeship is not as good as a traditional university degree, but it is a view that is now outdated in so many ways. Young people with good GCSEs and A levels are increasingly asking whether they want to embark on a degree course, which may not be up to date in terms of content and is accompanied by £50,000 of debt, that only gives them a 50 per cent chance of landing a graduate job at the end. Compare that with an apprenticeship that offers career progression within paid employment from intermediate level right up to bachelor’s or master’s degree level. And because the bulk of the learning takes place on the job, the person is often gaining skills and knowledge accessing the latest expertise or using the most modern technology. 

At the end of an apprenticeship, programme completers frequently find themselves far ahead of graduates in terms of responsibility and earning power. This explains why household name employers such as British Airways, Toyota and Specsavers are restructuring their recruitment schemes to have a broad mix of graduates and apprentices. The professions like law, accountancy and nursing are also offering apprenticeships as a route to qualification.

Russell Group apprentices

More teachers are becoming aware of degree apprenticeships but some believe that getting a place on one is harder than getting into Cambridge. Again, the picture has changed rapidly. In the early days of such qualifications, it was the modern universities like Sheffield Hallam and Manchester Metropolitan that led the way. But now over 100 universities, including Russell Group members, have teamed up with employers to make them available. It would not be a surprise in a few years if half of the higher education sector’s offer was made up of degree apprenticeships.

Another myth is that there is a shortage of apprenticeship vacancies but a quick look at the government’s own "Find an apprenticeship" website will show that there are opportunities available all over the country at all levels and in all occupations.  Many employers mark theirs as ‘Disability Confident’. Nor are apprentices poorly paid. In the first year of the training programme, an apprentice at the lowest level might be earning on average £14,000 a year but after 12 months, those who do well can expect to see wages increase significantly and salaries are of course much larger for the higher level apprenticeships. Case studies regularly feature young people with their own cars and taking steps to own their first home. And remember, no student debt.

Fantastic support available

I understand the desire to protect sixth-form numbers and therefore the corresponding fear about selling the advantages of an apprenticeship too hard. But under the new education inspection framework, which will be launched in September, Ofsted inspectors will be checking whether pupils are receiving impartial and independent advice about their post-16 choices.

Teachers should instead take advantage of the fantastic array of free support and resources that can help facilitate discussions within schools. A great example is the Amazing Apprenticeships website under the government-supported ASK programme which has plenty of information aimed at teachers, pupils and parents.  The downloadable leaflets in different languages for parents are proving really popular and, from next September, the programme will cover key stage 3 and increased support for SEND students too. 

We live in uncertain times and so we owe it to our young people to show them all the learning opportunities such as apprenticeships that can offer them a meaningful and fulfilling career.

Mark Dawe is chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers            

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