Why schools should engage with apprenticeships

The apprenticeship levy will be a game-changer for many young people, especially those who get little benefit from being stuck in a classroom, says Mark Dawe. But first they need to know all their available choices.

The introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April next year will be a game-changer in young people’s choices. Many large, household-name employers that have never engaged with apprenticeships are now starting to offer programmes.

But whether or not young people will take up these opportunities will depend on their exposure to the full range of choices at hand. And in this, schools have a huge part to play.

As every teacher knows, for many young people being stuck in a classroom for a day longer than necessary is of no benefit to either them or the school.

Many will be motivated to learn only once they understand the practical application of learning.

We need to sort out careers advice

An apprenticeship is a job with built-in training and education. It is in work where the employability skills are developed; it is working that motivates the learner to develop the skills and understanding.

As for English and maths, many pupils who struggle throughout their time at school suddenly see the relevance and fly through English and maths qualifications that are geared to the world of work. Once we have managed to remove the diabolical GCSE retake policy, we will see young people thrive not just in job-related learning, but also in these core subjects.

Higher and degree apprenticeships are the really new opportunities and there is likely to be a significant shift away from traditional university attendance. They offer the opportunity to go into work at 18 (or later) and earn, learn and avoid substantial debt while getting a full degree. This is a degree with a salary every month rather than a debt mountain – and a job at the end, appropriate for a graduate.

If you need just one example, listen to the recent Radio 4 Bottom Line podcast, where a Barclays apprentice talks eloquently about how she was running a number of branches during her apprenticeship before any of the graduate intake had even started their first day.

So what do schools need to do?

My advice is to engage with your local providers of apprenticeships: and independent training providers, who offer more than three quarters of all apprenticeship opportunities and colleges. Often there are local networks who will be happy to coordinate with a school, but, if not, AELP will help.

There are national websites and listings of opportunities, but our members understand the local environment.

Across the education sector as a whole we need to sort out careers advice so that this information is easily accessible in all schools. I still don’t see any evidence of this happening consistently, coherently and in a sustainable way, as one imposed initiative fails after another.

Ideally we would like to see a single, all-age national careers service for England that engages schools with employers and all types of providers, especially provider networks that have local employer contacts at their fingertips. The new government’s commitment to a social justice agenda means that the service will have to be universally accessible and knowledgeable about work-based learning options such as apprenticeships and traineeships.

A single organisation will also be able to work more closely with Jobcentre Plus, thus increasing the chances for many people of securing sustainable employment. Even better, it would strip out some of the current expensive duplication.

Finally, the government needs to ensure that the destination into an apprenticeship from school is considered equal to further learning or university.

Many headteachers tell me that until this is changed, there will always be a bias away from apprenticeships. This one is 100 per cent in the hands of the Department for Education – such a major impact, such an easy thing to change. And why wouldn’t it, if it genuinely believes in apprenticeships giving parity of opportunity for young people?

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

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