This week’s blog post is based on the first of a series of roundtable discussions, hosted by Eton CIRL, focused on how schools can better understand the process involved in degree apprenticeship applications and support students in their applications for these. The event’s speakers all presented their views on the experience of degree apprenticeships, which transferable skills are most desirable, and the role schools have in fostering their development.
The consistent themes to emerge from the speakers’ presentations and the ensuing discussions were:
- With the UK the apprenticeship landscape is regularly shifting and expanding, and apprenticeships are becoming increasingly attractive as an option for school leavers. The support for apprenticeship applications within schools and colleges has not however developed at the same rate, leaving students under-prepared and at a disadvantage in the selection process, specifically in relation to the complex assessment centres that feature in the process.
- Recent research has shown two drop-offs in apprenticeship up-take: one in 2017 with the new apprenticeship levy, and the second in 2020 coinciding with the COVID pandemic. The data also shows an increase in the uptake of Level 4 and 5 apprenticeships at the expense of Level 2 apprenticeships, alongside an increased representation of affluent and high academic achievers taking Level 6 apprenticeships. The number of students from ethnic minority and deprived areas taking apprenticeships has also reduced over time.
- Due to the demanding nature of degree apprenticeships, the fundamental character traits of a successful apprentice are their ability to multitask, adapt and be a good time manager. This route also appears to suit those with drive and self-determination, as the pressing nature of the apprenticeship programme requires the student to manage their own priorities in both academic and work settings.
- The leading benefits of degree apprenticeships focused on funding [graduating debt-free; being paid to study; commanding a more competitive salary after completion] employability [accelerated career path; credible on the job training and networking opportunities] and graduating with additional qualifications.
- In contrast, the challenges encountered during a degree apprenticeship focused on the complexity of the application process; the rigorous nature of studying and working simultaneously; and ensuring the quality and level of support offered by the course was sufficient.
- The key questions to emerge from the roundtable discussion to be addressed by schools and colleges with regards to apprenticeships focused on preparing students: firstly, to understand apprenticeships as an alternative route to university; and secondly, to provide appropriate scaffolding for the application process.
- To prepare students for the rigorous and competitive apprenticeship application process, schools should focus on developing key competencies (such as team building, public speaking, leadership skills, and resilience) which would reach across different styles of assessment centres. These could be incorporated into standard classroom practices, or embedded in additional qualifications such as the EPQ. Schools could also explore internal tracking systems for apprenticeship applications and encourage more applications from, and offer application support to, students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Schools can work with a number of external agencies to increase student knowledge and understanding of apprenticeships. These could include visits to / from universities, employers, degree apprentices, as well as charities and institutions set up to enable the apprenticeship application process and to match candidates with opportunities.
- There is much work that could be done to standardise the application process for apprenticeships, bringing it in line with the UCAS process. Educational establishments should be working with existing bodies such as UCAS, Institute of Apprentices, DfE, Ofsted, universities and employers to provide a consolidated platform for comparison of apprenticeship offers and application processes.
- There is also work to be done to change entrenched views of degree apprenticeships as a ‘lesser’ route than purely academic degrees; and more importantly, to ensure that access to degree apprenticeships is available and promoted to students of all backgrounds in an equitable manner.
If you want to read the full report, please click here.