College and Co-op lead way with paid day release on two year course - but it’s not an apprenticeship

A sixth-form college in Manchester is set to offer paid work experience for some of its learners, in what is believed to be the first programme of its kind.

The course, run by Connell Sixth Form College from September 2019, is not an apprenticeship programme, despite being promoted as such by the Co-op Academies Trust which the SFC will join in November.

Instead, learners on the college’s new BTEC extended diploma in business course will spend one day a week doing paid work at the Co-op Group’s headquarters in Manchester.

The learners’ £7.71 an hour wages will be paid by the group, which sponsors the trust, in the form of a grant.

Jane Hopcroft, Connell SFC principal, told FE Week that the group was “keen to work with local young people in order to develop their opportunities” and paying them for the work experience was “the right thing to do”.

“Their view is that industry should be investing in our young people, and this was a good way to do it,” she said.

The two-year BTEC course was chosen because it “links up with aspects of the Co-op Group’s business” including marketing, accounting, economics, HR and ethics.

Ms Hopcraft described the Co-op cash as a “kind of bursary” for the college’s learners, many of whom “have to do paid part-time work in order to fund their time through college”.

“We felt that this would really help us to project who we are and what we’re trying to achieve. A lot of the young people that come here are local, and the area is quite deprived,” she said.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said he wasn’t aware of a similar programme being run by another SFC.

“This is a really interesting and innovative example of how to incorporate work experience into the sixth form curriculum,” he said.

“Students can earn while they learn and a major local employer is able to shape the workforce of the future.”

Frank Norris, director of the Co-op Academies Trust, told FE Week the new programme built on the trust’s existing work placements with the Co-op for pupils in year 10, .

“The Co-op has got value out of that, and those young people are adding value to the business,” he said.

Paying post-16 students would be a recognition that “it’ll be a work placement, but you’re going to work,” Mr Norris said.

“This isn’t just about sitting next to me and finding out what’s going on, you’re going to get actively involved in the business.”

Helen Webb, the Co-op Group’s chief people officer, said: “This new initiative shows how business and education can come even closer together to create a win-win for pupils and employers alike.”

Connell SFC, rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in January, was set up in September 2013 as a 16-to-19 free school.

It’s currently sponsored by Bright Futures Educational Trust, but will transfer to the Co-op Academies Trust in November.

The first Co-op backed school was opened in 2010. The trust had 12 academies across the north of England under its umbrella in April, when it announced plans to expand that number to 40 over the next three years.