Opinion

Teachers won’t welcome an ‘apprenticeship’ route into the classroom



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.



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  1. Kevin Quigley

    It is interesting to see the reaction to this. Apprenticeships have an identity issue with the general public and academia. Mention apprenticeships at most high attaining schools and they ask why would a child capable of getting a degree want to go down that route? Well why not? Can that child not use their intelligence to carve out a career and business to employ others?

    I went to university in the 80s, then I did a masters then straight into a job before starting my own business. But I started that career with zero debt. My own children chose to go to university. My eldest was the first year to endure £9000 a year tuition fees. When she graduates, with her masters, she will have a debt of over £50,000. But it is not just £50,000, it is £50,000 plus interest, so by the time she pays it off it will likely be nearer £65,000.

    So let us review what apprenticeships actually mean. A new graduate, in any profession, will be expected to follow a graduate training programme that will be assessed and eventually lead to higher level vocational qualifications. Some of these programmes are paid well, some not, some not at all (read internship). In other words vocational training.

    So if there is a route to a profession that avoids crippling debt, what is the problem with that? People have mentioned concerns about subject knowledge. Why? I would suggest they look at what an apprenticeship actually involves. Typically you have work based learning and college or university based learning.

    Around 15 years ago I was a (volunteer) director of an apprenticeship scheme set up by a group of small manufacturing businesses in Mid Wales. It was called the Shared Apprenticeship Scheme, and we were very successful, won several awards and delivered exactly what the founders needed. Highly trained, skilled and motivated 20 year olds to work in a range of roles supporting the manufacturing sector. The model of sharing was very quickly copied and the same model now applies across many apprenticeship schemes in education, where a holding company employs the trainee and they are shared out to various institutions.

    Apprenticeship is just a title. This morning I was asked by an employee if he could have a title of Designer rather than Junior Designer. When I told him that his contract did not actually say he was Junior he was surprised. I explained that we don’t use titles as they are for ego trips. Ability is what matters. In the same way that each Spring and summer we get bombarded with CVs from design graduates with first class honours degrees who, frankly, would struggle to hold their own against some GCSE students, you have to seriously question the value of some degrees.

    I don’t blame the kids. I blame the HE sector and the rush to build empires without actually maintaining quality. Make no mistake, HE is HUGE business now. In the UK over 100 universities have student numbers over 10,000. Ten thousand students equates to a minimum of £90m revenue on tuition fees alone. Add in accomodation and services and you have a very nice, very large business.

    So, apprenticeships offer alternatives. Why not have professional apprenticeships? Vocation, after all, is something that implies lifelong learning and development. What is wrong with that?