PE apprenticeships solve Kent schools’ levy woes

Primary schools in Kent have found an effective way to make the most of the apprenticeship levy by taking apprentices on to support the delivery of PE lessons and sports clubs.

From last April, employers with an annual payroll of more than £3 million have to pay 0.5 per cent into the apprenticeship levy, which is ringfenced for training.

The government also wants public bodies with 250 or more employees to hire 2.3 per cent of their workforce as apprentices every year.

This week, the parliamentary education committee raised concerns that the nature of school workforces makes it “impossible” for them to take advantage of the apprenticeship levy they are obliged to pay.

But Kent primary schools are trying a new approach and taking on apprentices as teaching assistants who specialise in physical education, which is a one of the responsibilities of a primary school classroom teacher.

Alan Dennington, chief executive of KSports, the company which delivers the scheme, told Schools Week he started it two years ago to create a career path in education for young people who “didn’t fit the stereotypical teacher mould”.

If you use the levy right then you could end up with a member of staff out of it

So far KSports has placed 84 apprentices in 37 schools across Kent and 80 per cent have moved onto a full-time job at their partner school.

The apprenticeship in ‘Supporting teaching and learning in physical education and school sport’ is at level three, equivalent to A-level, and takes one year but can be extended to two.

KSports has partnered with Kent county council and delivers the apprenticeships through schools that pay into KCC’s levy pot.

The majority of the apprentices are 16 to 22 years old and are involved in PE lessons, sports clubs and one-to-one classroom support for pupils. They start shadowing a teacher with supervision from a KSports representative, then progress to working with small groups and full classes with the support of another teaching assistant.

Ten apprentices have gone on to a foundation degree at Canterbury Christchurch University, aiming to achieve qualified teacher status with a PE specialism.

A lot of primary schools have been confused by the levy requirement, Dennington told Schools Week.

“If you use the levy right then you could end up with a member of staff out of it, developing a career for somebody and providing a great service for your students,” he added.

David Knox, KCC’s apprenticeships officer, said schools are “switching on” to the idea because it’s “unique”.

Caroline Wilson, a year three teacher at Ospringe Church of England School in Faversham, mentors 18-year-old Liam Joy, who is the school’s first apprentice.

He is “an invaluable asset” and a good “male role model for our school”.

“He’s been really responsive and enthusiastic; our children love him,” she told Schools Week.

Liam said his apprenticeship has helped him “to progress and develop more skills”.

“The school have been extremely supportive and I would recommend this apprenticeship route to other young people.”

The school intends to employ him for an additional year.

The Association for Physical Education said apprenticeships are “an excellent opportunity” to get onto the career ladder, but “should not be seen as a quick fix approach to the teaching of physical education”.

“The AfPE is firmly of the opinion that only qualified teachers should teach physical education in order to ensure teaching is of high quality and safe practice is adhered to.

“It is important that apprentices should not be seen as a more cost-effective resource than a teacher. AfPE believes they should always be under the supervision of a qualified teacher,” a spokesperson added.