Helen Everett, Careers Leader, Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar School – winner of the Apprentice Champion of the Year category for the London region in the National Apprenticeship Awards

In schools the main route to higher qualifications has tended to be university but this provides only a very narrow focus on career paths. A vast range of talented people are not necessarily academic and university is not necessarily for them.

They learn far better 'on the job' and if we are to tap into these talents, we need alternative qualification routes; apprenticeships are that vital and rigorous alternative. I learnt this whilst working in industry.

When I was at school careers education was non-existent and when I went into teaching, after twenty years in industry, I was saddened that little had moved forward.

Staff, students and parents knew no other routes; apprenticeships were for car mechanics and if you didn't want to go to university you had failed.

I was determined to change that, so when I was asked to develop the Careers Role at my current school, I made sure it focused on a comprehensive understanding of apprenticeships as well as the traditional focus on universities.

Getting buy in from the Senior Leadership Team and Governors

My first step was to get buy in from the Senior Leadership Team and Governors and bring them along on the journey, with a shared vision for the need to present apprenticeships as an equal alternative.

I’ve also worked hard to equip and empower a wider group of teachers across a range of subjects, to ensure they feel confident to talk about apprenticeships linked to their specialist topics and are aware of apprenticeship vacancies in these areas amongst both local and large employers.

As teachers, we need to be able to advise students on the application and recruitment process – this is different for apprenticeships compared to the more familiar UCAS route, and many teachers have not had exposure to this.

With that in mind, building confidence in understanding this process is key; expanding the pool of staff who can coach our young people through how to find, apply for and secure the apprenticeship that is right for them.

Raising awareness through assemblies, workshops and one to one sessions

When it comes to the students themselves, it is so important to integrate apprenticeships into classroom teaching, so they can see how what they are learning could be applied to future opportunities. I have also run assemblies, workshops and one to ones with them specifically on the recruitment process, offering advice and feedback before and after each stage.

This year, I have turned my attention to educating parents in Year 11 and 12 – a critical advisory audience for young people – and spreading the message to other schools via presentations at local schools in the Bexley Borough and in national workshops.

Next year, I hope to extend this parental engagement to years 8, 9, and 10, with evening presentations and workshops. It really does take the collective effort, training and encouragement of staff, students and parents to shift long-held perceptions and drive real change.

The power of testimonials

One of the most powerful tactics I can recommend to other teachers looking to raise awareness and understanding of apprenticeships within their schools is to encourage ex-students to come back in and talk about what they’re doing, and how good it is.

They can quickly, and authentically dispel any worries that our Year 12s might have around the “FOMO” factor of not going to university, or any concerns about getting ‘pigeon-holed’ into a career too early.

If anything, the testimonials we see show that an apprenticeship offers quite the opposite – exposure to a wide range of different roles and departments within a business, that often open the apprentice’s eyes to other avenues they may wish to pursue in future that they hadn’t previously considered.

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I firmly believe that it is our responsibility as teachers to ensure that our students have a full and informed view of all the possible routes into work, as part of our role to inspire, and build aspirations. An apprenticeship is an absolutely excellent qualification that anyone should be proud of going for and achieving.

Helen Everett, Careers Leader, Chislehurst & Sidcup Grammar School – winner of the Apprentice Champion of the Year category for the London region in the National Apprenticeship Awards

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