Last week we had a poke at Nicky Morgan for being in slow-motion. Slo-Mo, we nicknamed her, and said she needed to get her skates on with some reforms.
But, like the headteacher who says at 2.30pm on Friday that “things are remarkably quiet today” inevitably finds herself confronted with a fight five minutes later, our words also appear to have unleashed unintended consequences.
On Sunday, we were hit with two pieces of news. One, schools would be forced to let apprenticeship providers and colleges into their hallowed halls so university “alternatives” can be promoted. And two, new rules mean only local parents will be able to make complaints about the (sometimes really quite dodgy) practices employed by some faith schools to skew their intake in a wealthier or smarter direction.
Both changes are quite something to think about. In the case of the ‘university alternative’ access, the plus side is that pupils really will have access to a breadth of options, and it limits a schools’ ability to puff up its own post-16 offer while hiding alternatives from view. (This doesn’t happen everywhere, or even commonly, but it is naïve to think it doesn’t happen at all).
But how will headteachers pick which ones get time with their pupils? And how much time? There are six colleges within a couple of miles of where I live, and the area has more small businesses than any other part of the UK. The local schools are going to be deluged.
I am also reminded of a memory from my first year of teaching when Transport for London were running an enormous campaign to recruit bus drivers.
Posters were emblazoned on every stop, vehicle and available sign. “No qualifications required,” the adverts proclaimed, “plus £18,000 starting salary and paid holiday”.
I spent the entire year battling with year 11s who previously wanted to go to college but now thought exams pointless as they could get a bus licence as soon as they turned 18.
Helpfully, my dad – an actual bus driver – came in to give them a reality check. But the point was stained in my mind that if pupils are told there is an easier path, they may be tempted to take it.
Which is not to say apprenticeships are easy or wrong for pupils. I have written before that I think it is often a tough and very good approach for pupils to take.
But caution will be needed to ensure they are not sold as an easy option by people anxious to sign pupils up to their wares, just the same as schools must not promote their own sixth forms simply to keep the cash that comes with bums on seats.
With that reform announced, a second one related to apprenticeship then raised its head. New plans will mean all public bodies with more than 250 employees must have 2.3 per cent of their headcount employed as apprentices each year. Maintained schools where teachers are employed by the local authority, will be added to the council’s headcount – and could be asked to employ some of the apprentices. Academy trusts employing more than 250 will also be included.
So how does the schools sector cope? One way would be to increase the number of admin staff on apprenticeships, or to create more teaching assistant apprenticeships (which already exist). But one group of school leaders are hoping they can get approval for teacher apprentices that go all the way to qualified teacher status (QTS).
And why not? It would solve several problems for the government. It has pledged to have more teachers trained in classrooms, but numbers so far are low. It has pledged to have three million more apprentices across Britain by 2020 – but where will they come from? It has pledged to take the teacher recruitment “problem” seriously – but how do you get more people in the doors? Mandating schools to take on a set number of apprentices, and then offering a teaching qualification route within this would solve all these problems.
There is just one downside: the profession is unlikely to be happy about it. In the minds of many teachers “apprenticeships” are a weak sibling to “universities”. And while a level six apprenticeship would be equivalent to a degree, similar to the Bachelor of Education that many primary teachers hold, I can’t imagine any move to apprenticeship models for teachers being taken lightly.
I guess we shall have to wait and see.