A private school with annual fees of £35,000 has been branded “a disgrace” by one of the UK’s largest trade unions for offering a rate of just £3.50 an hour for an apprentice to tend its grounds.
Cheltenham College, an independent coeducational boarding school in Gloucestershire, advertised for an ‘apprentice groundsperson’ on the gov.uk ‘Find an Apprenticeship’ website with a September start date.
But despite the 175-year-old school charging annual boarding fees of £34,650 for its secondary level year groups and £35,595 for sixth formers, it is offering far less to prospective apprentices, who would earn a level two diploma in sports turf in return for their work.
Jon Richards, head of education at trade union Unison, described the salary as a “disgrace”, and told FE Week that the college should be “embarrassed” with its offer, asking it to “think again”.
“The apprenticeship minimum rate of £3.50 an hour is a disgrace, especially when the government is claiming that apprenticeships are no longer aimed at young workers, but are for all,” he said.
“How many of the school’s privileged pupils will be encouraged to take an apprenticeship when they can see the poverty wages on offer?”
In the last academic year, over 200,000 young people under 19 took a funded apprenticeship, according to government statistics.
An apprentice taking up the training offer at Cheltenham College would work a 39-hour week over two years, according to the gov.uk job advert. The minimum wage for all apprentices under 19, or in their first year of the programme, is £3.50 – for those over 21 it is £7.05.
There are no rules preventing employers from paying more.
In the role the apprentice will “prepare surfaces for cricket, rugby, and also maintenance of artificial pitches”, “help the grounds team to keep the college and prep school site to its high standards”, and “learn machinery maintenance and how to operate them”.
Mr Richards said paying just £3.50 an hour for this type of work “makes a mockery of the government’s claim that the apprenticeship route is valued as equally as the academic route”.
The University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Just meeting the absolute minimum requirement is not something any employer should be proud of.
“One would hope schools, colleges, and universities would place a greater value on education and pay their apprentices in line with the national minimum wage.”
From next year the Technical and Further Education Act, which passed in April, will make it a legal requirement for schools to provide “an opportunity” for training providers to “access registered pupils… for the purpose of informing them about approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships”, in an attempt to encourage more young people to access a vocational route.
Dr Alex Peterken, the headmaster of Cheltenham College, told FE Week that apprentices would be supported to complete their training in 18 months instead of two years if requested.
“The role is advertised in line with government published minimum wage rates in force at the time and is commensurate with other similar posts elsewhere,” he said.