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Written by Sam Glanz, Assistant Consultant

 

It has been a tumultuous six months for the education sector. May saw the publication of the higher education white paper and the Government u-turn on forced academisation; June was, of course, Brexit and the subsequent expansion and reshuffle of the Department of Education; and now the debate on grammar schools, for better or for worse, is raging. In amongst the climb-downs and the policy debates though, the issue of the incoming apprenticeship levy has taken something of a backseat in the national news agenda.

Within the sector however, the levy – which will see businesses with a payroll of over £3million pay 0.5% of that payroll to the Government  – is becoming a more prominent point of discussion with every passing week. Speaking at the Education Investor Summit earlier this year, the Vice Chancellor of BPP University, Carl Lygo, said the levy “has the hallmarks of a game-changer for the sector.” Just this month Skills Minister Robert Halfon used exactly the same phrase in rejecting calls from ten major professional bodies to delay implementation of the levy, going on to say that a postponement “would mean delaying millions of opportunities for both business and people.”

The levy is an excellent idea in principle and, despite the question marks over its implementation, possibly in reality. But aside from concerns from businesses there is another key question that still needs answering before the education world is convinced.

How is the Government going to convince high-achieving students – and their parents – that an apprenticeship is a serious alternative to university?

The Get In, Go Far campaign has put the wheels in motion, but for the Government’s grand plan to really succeed – that is to provide three million apprenticeships for young people by 2020 – the public perception of apprenticeships needs to change. Too many people see apprenticeship schemes as a less academic, less valuable alternative to further and higher education. A last resort if you don’t get your grades. The inaccurate stereotype that apprenticeships are reserved for those entering a vocational trade, and only doing so because they’re being forced to stay in education, needs to be shed. Higher level and degree apprenticeships equivalent to undergraduate degrees are currently available in over 40 different subjects, covering hundreds of different job roles, and those numbers will rise as the levy draws closer.

The first step to easing the concerns of parents and potential students would be assurances from employers, from local to international, that higher apprenticeships will carry as much value as a degree. The message needs to be conveyed loud and clear to secondary schools and colleges across the country.

To do this, vast improvements are going to have to be made on what are currently tenuous at best links between schools and employers. The Government needs external advocates, and if employers were to begin going into secondary schools, emphasising the benefits of apprenticeships, that would certainly go some way to addressing the apprehension.

Young people who have successfully used an apprenticeship as a springboard for their own career also have a part to play. If students could see with their own eyes a young professional with a promising career ahead of them, who began working life with an apprenticeship, that too could turn the doubters into believers.

The foreword of the Government plan for apprenticeships, published last year, states that the “goal is for young people to see apprenticeships as a high quality and prestigious path to successful careers.” A noble aim, but more work is needed if the goal is to be achieved.