Louise Doyle, Director, MESMA and Senior Associate at Strategic Development Network

LOUISE DOYLE, a further education consultant and director of quality assurance experts MESMA, argues that apprenticeships should be considered as a relevant and plausible path to a career in teaching despite the political protestations.

Coverage in the national press has again highlighted the development of teaching apprenticeships with some like Mike Kane, MP among other voices, stating ‘…teaching is not a craft, it’s not an apprenticeship’ and dismissing such moves as ‘…trying to downgrade what being a teacher is’.

Regarding the central point as to whether or not apprenticeships will downgrade the teaching profession, I’m unclear as to where the evidence for this is being drawn from.

If we focus on professions that offer Level 6 or 7 apprenticeships, they’re aligned to professional body recognition and include a significant proportion of academic learning, at least at undergraduate level. The emphasis must be, as it would with any academic content, on designing and delivering a quality programme of teaching.

In the case of the teaching profession, without seeing the detail of the proposed apprenticeship, it’s hard to see how any of us can make a judgment call that it will ‘downgrade the profession’.

We can make an assumption based on what has been made available in the public domain to date, that it will lead to qualified teacher status. Thus the content is more likely than not going to include a post-graduate degree. It will almost certainly have university professionals engaged in its development at some point in the process.

Surely it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the real issue here is our own cultural bias towards traditional routes into professions, alongside a view that apprenticeships are for those who are less academically able? I would argue that it is. At a basic level, an apprenticeship is simply a combination of paid work and off-the-job study, which can deliver the skills employers actually want from their workforces together with professionally recognised qualifications.

If utilising apprenticeships allows people to find a route into a career that isn’t otherwise available to them, why shouldn’t we look to create these opportunities while applying the same rigour to quality education as we would with a more traditional route?

If it helps to develop and retain the high levels of skill the country requires to remain competitive and move forward, particularly in regions such as my own in the North East where there is plenty of potential waiting to be unleashed, this is something I can support. If it helps small businesses to up-skill their existing workforce, by maintaining their employment while allowing time for study towards higher level qualifications, this surely ha to be a positive outcome?

I’m heartened by both the conversations and narrative that my colleagues and I are having with universities at the moment about degree level apprenticeships. It’s heartening to say with some confidence that in eight years of working with universities, I haven’t had as many frank and earnest discussions about the delivery of apprenticeships, as I have in the last six months. While we often talk of the potentially negative, unintended consequences of the reforms and the levy in particular, I optimistically see this increased engagement of universities as a positive.

I’ll go as far as to say I believe that the engagement of universities will be the single biggest factor in helping to shifting some of the highbrow perceptions of apprenticeships as being somehow a lesser alternative to traditional classroom-based further and higher education learning. We owe our young people already in successful careers, as a result of being brave enough to follow an alternative route into a profession, that respect surely?

These views are echoed by Mandy Crawford, senior associate at the Strategic Development Network who says that apprenticeship reforms have created exciting possibilities for individuals to access - in some instances for the first time - opportunities in new sectors, at new skill levels and in some professions otherwise the preserve of a traditional cohort of (typically graduate) learners.  

She says that a key government policy objective is not only achieving raised productivity, but also supporting progression in terms of social mobility and widening access.

“The creation of apprenticeship standards has led to a shift in the demand from roles such as business administration and customer service to higher and degree apprenticeships in digital, law, engineering, construction, management and health and social care among other professional occupations,” says Mandy Crawford.

“Employers will focus on the use of those apprenticeships and occupations that have most benefit. There is no suggestion that the outcome achieved by someone working towards a professional occupation in teaching via an apprenticeship should be considered anything other than equal to those who have followed other learning paths. Indeed in many ways the apprenticeship provides far more: a fully competent, work ready employee from the moment they complete their training."

Emily Dunn, founder and director of Gateshead-based Keyfort Group, which provides specialist support to individuals with brain injuries in the community, adds that apprenticeships have played a big part in the success not just of her company but also workforce.

“Historically, when looking to fill management positions, a pre-requisite would be that the individual is qualified to degree-level. This is no longer the case. We equally value not just workplace experience, but qualifications gained ‘on the job’ via apprenticeships and NVQs.

“Close to half of our management team has no degree qualification and has been developed internally, with the use of apprenticeships. I feel strongly that in today’s business world, apprenticeships mixed with learning invaluable work skills, are an excellent combination and make for a successful profession, regardless of what that profession may be.”

Louise Doyle, Director, MESMA and Senior Associate at Strategic Development Network

About Mesma: An online quality assurance tool kit specialist which was set-up in response to changes implemented by education watchdog Ofsted, which led to schools, colleges and independent providers receiving reduced notice of inspection.

About Strategic Development Network: Provides strategic programme services for educational policy reforms and is predominantly focusing attention on transitioning to the new Apprenticeships model in England.

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