Apprenticeships as a route to downgrading a profession?

Over the last week, I’ve had numerous conversations with colleagues and peers on the back of this Schools Week article. It relates to the development of an apprenticeship in teaching.  In it, Mike Kane, MP said: “<Teaching> is not a craft, it’s not an apprenticeship. They are trying to downgrade what being a teacher is.”

My post specifically relates to the question ‘does an apprenticeship directly result in the downgrading of a profession?’

I don’t intend to make any comment on a perceived wider government agenda designed to undermine teaching. There are others who would be in a better position to debate this point.

Equally, I don’t particularly want to focus on the notion of apprenticeships being craft-based, regardless of how outdated I consider this demarcation between professions and crafts as being. I suspect the digital, science, nuclear or legal professionals involved in developing their respective apprenticeships would be very open to such a discussion, should Mike Kane like to speak with them.

To the central point concerning apprenticeships as a vehicle to downgrade a profession. I am unclear where the evidence for this is being drawn from. If we focus on those professions with a Level 6 or 7 apprenticeship, they are aligned to professional body recognition and include a significant proportion of academic learning, at least at undergraduate level. The emphasis must be, as it would with any academic content, on designing and delivering a quality programme of teaching.

In the case of the teaching profession, without seeing the detail of the proposed apprenticeship I do not understand how any of us can make the judgement that it will ‘downgrade the profession’. We can make an assumption based on what has been made available in the public domain to date, that it will lead to Qualified Teacher Status. Thus the content is more likely than not going to include a post-graduate degree. It will almost certainly have university professionals engaged in its development at some point in the process.

Would it therefore be reasonable to suggest that the real issue is our own cultural bias towards traditional routes into professions, alongside a view of apprenticeships being for those people who are less academically able?

At a basic level, an apprenticeship is simply a combination of a paid role and off the job study which leads to a recognised qualification.

If utilising apprenticeships allows people to find a route into a career that isn’t available to them otherwise, shouldn’t we look to create these opportunities whilst applying the same rigour to quality education as we would with a more traditional route? If it helps to develop and retain high levels of skill, in regions such as my own in the North East, this is something I can support. If it helps small businesses to upskill their existing workforce, by maintaining their employment whilst allowing time for study towards higher level qualifications this must surely be a positive outcome?

I am heartened by the number of conversations I and my colleagues are having with universities at the moment about degree level apprenticeships. I can say with some confidence that in my 8 years of working with universities I haven’t had as many discussions about the delivery of apprenticeships as I have the last 6 months. Whilst we often talk of the potentially negative unintended consequences of the reforms and the levy in particular, I optimistically see this increased engagement of universities as a positive.

I’ll go as far as to say I believe that the engagement of universities will be the single biggest factor in helping to change perceptions of apprenticeships as being a lesser alternative to traditional classroom based further and higher education.

We owe the young people already in successful careers, as a result of being brave enough to follow an alternative route into a profession, that respect surely?

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