How to move more school-leavers towards degree apprenticeships

3 Apr 2019, 10:00

Key stakeholders must understand that apprenticeships are as valuable as any other degree, says Jassiem Moore

The Department for Education is making worrying noises about having to make “hard choices” to avoid an overspend of the apprenticeship levy. Jonathan Slater, the department’s permanent secretary, told the Public Accounts Committee this week that if funding were constrained at its current level, “that would require choices to be made between level 2 and level 6”.

Removing funding for apprenticeships at levels 6 and 7 would, however, impact their potential to support social mobility. Degree apprenticeships have already proved they can increase female participation in male-dominated subjects (34 per cent compared with 29 per cent in similar traditional degree courses) and a higher percentage of learners from low participation areas access degree apprenticeships (30 per cent) than go to university (26 per cent), according to the Office for Students’ analysis of degree apprenticeships.

While we do not want to promote degree apprenticeships as a tick-box exercise for widening participation, they do open up another route to higher education for those who may be traditionally disengaged.

At DANCOP, we present degree apprenticeships and university as different sides of the same coin. However, when working in schools and colleges we regularly see the lack of parity. So where are we missing the mark, and what can we do to address the misconceptions?

It can be difficult for young people in schools and colleges to get accurate information and guidance about apprenticeships. In sixth forms and colleges, pupils are still steered towards the traditional university route.

Knowledge within schools can be lacking and there may be other pressures on teachers and advisers to promote university. Schools often see it as a badge of honour when many of their pupils progress to university – end-of-year newsletters are filtered with images of young people who have won places at prestigious universities. Degree apprenticeships do not receive the same attention.

However, this lack of knowledge and encouragement could also be for practical reasons –teachers and advisers now have less time to support learners with their apprenticeship applications, which can be an unknown beast. With no centralised system or standardised procedure, proofreading personal statements for university courses is a piece of cake compared with supporting prospective apprentices with assessment centres, psychometric tests and reference requirements.

Of course, support is not limited to that provided in school. Parents/carers and friends are key influencers in a pupil’s decision of what to do post-school. Peer pressure, for example, remains key for young people: when all your friends are preparing their personal statements it may be difficult to consider a different higher education experience.

Parents/carers may still hold views that stigmatise higher-level apprenticeships by conflating them with traditionally vocational routes. If a young person is surrounded by these views, as well as being influenced by their school or college’s heavy promotion of the traditional university route, it is easy to see where their preference comes from.

If we hope to achieve parity between apprenticeships and university, we need to focus on raising awareness among key stakeholders so they understand apprenticeships are as valuable as any other degree. We should also work towards a centralised platform for accessing information about apprenticeships and enforcement of legislation to provide information to young people. If Ofsted had the powers to assess compliance of the Baker clause, it’s likely there would be an increase in the uptake of information sessions from employers and training providers, so increasing the awareness of the opportunities apprenticeships can offer.

There is a long way to go until degree apprenticeships are viewed in the same light as university. At DANCOP we always try to reframe the conversation from choosing “one or the other” to applying to “both together”. Removing funding for degree apprenticeships, as Robert Halfon, the chair of the education select committee, has warned, would be a “retrograde step” and would only increase the difficulty in accessing degree apprenticeships for young people.

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