Charlotte Blant is the CEO of Youthforce

Charlotte Blant is the CEO of Youthforce

By significantly increasing the number of apprentices that they employ, schools would give a clear and positive message about apprenticeships to young people, parents and employers.

‘Our system has been wary of vocational education for far too long. This gulf between university tuition and industry-led training is harming our economy and minimising the number of real routes to success available to young people’

The quote above comes from Sir Keith Burnett – Vice Chancellor of Russell Group; Sheffield University in the Telegraph this week. He is concerned about our message in the education sector, to young people, parents and employers –  that vocational education is second rate. This message prevails despite the widely reported benefits of apprenticeships in terms of job prospects, lack of debt, and an increase to the economy through a more skilled and expert workforce. I use the word ‘expert’ because I believe that the reflective practice that accompanies learning on an apprenticeship leads eventually to expertise – not just skills.

The clear business case for schools and local authorities, above all else, is the development of a clear through-route for local talent. Schools can develop and ‘grow their own’ staff with lower national insurance contributions and lower wages for the first year. Challenges in recruitment and staff turnover need a long-term systematic solution – this can easily be part of it.

Mayfield School in Portsmouth have taken on around 15 apprentices in the last 3 years. Matt Steadman Deputy Head Teacher says,

“The challenge for each of our apprentices when they join us is to ‘make themselves indispensable’.  The vast majority of our apprentices have risen to this challenge and have made themselves integral parts of our staff team.

Our apprentices are treated exactly the same as our permanent members of staff and we have the same expectations of them in terms of conduct, attendance and work ethic.  It has been a pleasure to see young people grow from nervous school or college leavers on the first day of their apprenticeships to be confident, self-motivated and highly valued colleagues by the end of their placements”

With over 27,000 in England, schools are well placed to own a substantial stake in the government’s 3 million target and shape the future agenda of apprenticeships. After all schools are part of an important industry called ‘education’ – we too need high quality training programmes to shape and grow our workforce. We have a powerful heritage of training on the job to offer to the apprenticeship table.

Schools as communities have the capacity to communicate messages about how children and young people prepare to navigate a career path from very early on. For instance, learning skills in sharing, team work, basic Maths & English are seen as basic building blocks. These building blocks are the foundations of an apprenticeship alongside learning on the job. Children and young people are also aware of the adults supporting them and have a strong sense of their role and status within the school.

Apprentices working in schools are modelling a valuable route into a wide range of potential careers. Apprentices can begin in entry level jobs such as learning support assistants at level 2 (equivalent to 5 x A-C GCSE’s) and level 3 (equivalent to 2 x A levels) through to degree level apprenticeships which are gathering pace, with a wide variety of subjects such as IT Technicians and a new a trailblazer planned for an apprenticeship in teaching. What better way to explain how an apprenticeship works than to see apprentices in action every day?

The recent enterprise bill has a provision to alter the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning act 2009 to set targets which are being proposed at 2.3% of all FTE. This target includes Academies, Free Schools and of course Local Authority maintained schools.

The government is calling on schools to employ apprentices and rightly so, but I don’t think this should just be about the numbers or about the business case. This should be about the challenge of maximising ‘the number of real routes to success available to young people’ as Sir Keith Burnett suggests.

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