Apprenticeships – coming soon to a school near you

New apprenticeships, and a levy to fund them, are likely to mean more apprentices in the school workforce – and UNISON has been involved in designing some

A 'school' road sign against a wall

Schools across the UK will see an increase in apprentices after the government introduced new schemes, and a levy to fund them, which came into effect last month.

“Good apprenticeships with high quality training can be an enormously valuable employment opportunity,” commented UNISON national officer Joanna Parry.

As part of the shake-up in England, apprenticeships are available as an option for all workers, not just young people.

Under the scheme, they must be for a real job and take at least 12 months. They can be full-time or part-time, with at least 20% of the time committed to off-the-job training.

The new schemes will include a teaching assistant apprenticeship, which UNISON is proud to be involved in developing. The union is the only one involved in developing the new standard.

Like all the new apprenticeship standards – which replace what used to be called apprenticeship frameworks under the previous system – this has been designed by a group led by employers. That involved a coalition of schools working with vocational education provider City and Guilds, as well as UNISON.

The group has proposed that apprentices should be required to complete a level 3 ‘supporting teaching and learning’ qualification as part of the apprenticeship. The government has not yet agreed that this should be mandatory, but the apprenticeship standard will include it as a recommendation at least.

UNISON has also been involved in developing a new apprenticeship standard for school business directors.

Other apprenticeships may be available to school staff, such as those in catering and technical roles, although they have not yet been designed specifically for schools.

While apprentices must be paid at least the relevant national minimum wage, UNISON will always try to negotiate higher wages.

But given the funding pressure on schools, the union is also concerned that employers might try to use apprenticeships as a cheaper alternative to current jobs, said Ms Parry.

“With schools also being stretched for resources, we are keen to ensure that the right supervision and mentoring is put in place for anyone taking on an apprenticeship.”