From education to employment

What have the Tudors ever done for us?

If you are currently engrossed in Wolf Hall, you will have just witnessed the birth of Elizabeth, daughter to Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. While Anne and Henry are bitterly disappointed not to have a son and heir, we must all be thankful for the arrival of this Tudor princess, who went on to establish the beginnings of the apprenticeship programme as we know it today.

It was in 1563 that Queen Elizabeth I first brought apprenticeships into statute law, with the Statute of Artificers. At that time an apprentice had to serve a minimum of 7 years, and it was illegal to practice a trade unless you had completed an apprenticeship – such was the value placed on proper training.

At this time, apprentices worked in mainly artisan trades such as building and printing. Indentures from some 200 years later, around 1760, shed some light on how strict the training regime was. Apprentices still had to serve at least 7 years, and had to sign a contract which usually had a long list of conditions attached such as not to drink, fornicate, gamble, embezzle or even marry during their apprenticeship. Funding (usually from the church, acting as an early SFA) was given directly to the employer in a one off payment, and the employer had to provide food, clothes and lodgings whilst imparting their knowledge and skills to the young apprentice.

There was no portfolio building, but there was a test to see if the apprenticeship had finished. The apprentice would have to undertake a piece of work and complete it to the same high standard as his master. If it was deemed to be as good, then the apprentice passed and could be counted as a successful completion. This is where the term ‘masterpiece’ comes from.

Elizabeth set in motion a long tradition of Apprenticeships coming under statute law, and it wasn’t until 1814 that her law was finally repealed. The minimum term of 7 years was abolished, it was no longer illegal to practice a trade if un-apprenticed, the working day was limited to 12 hours and mandatory key skills of reading, writing and arithmetic made their first appearance.

Apprenticeships have had a roller coaster ride since then, dipping in popularity in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s with the tarring of the YTS brush. By 1990 apprentices were only around 50,000 in number.

The programme has undergone many reforms since then, and since 1995 and the re-branding as Modern Apprenticeships the numbers have steadily climbed to around the 800,000 we see today. Today major employers such as Virgin make headline news when they announce a recruitment programme of 1,000 new apprentices.

As we approach the general election, all political parties have apprenticeships high on their agenda, which has to be good for the FE sector as a whole.
As promises are made on either side about what they will do about apprentices if they get into power, I wonder what the Virgin Queen would make of her legacy.

Amanda Sayers is a marketing consultant working in the FE sector, currently delivering apprenticeship awareness workshops into schools and colleges

Related Articles