Apprenticeships and Technical Education: The bias is in the room

In this article a Secret Careers Leader airs their frustrations regarding the bias that still suffocates Apprenticeships, how they’re discussed and still negatively thought of.

National Apprenticeships Week 2022 has just finished – everyone puts on apprenticeship assemblies, does activities during form time, gets the Army in, shows inspirational videos of apprentices. It’s a really great week that showcases the opportunities that apprenticeships can offer.

It’s a really great week.

Unfortunately, the fact we must stipulate a National Apprenticeships Week highlights a key problem within our culture: apprenticeships are still seen as the ‘lesser option’ compared to A Levels and University. Where’s the National A Levels Week? National Universities Week, anyone? Oh, right… you’re supposed to know that A Levels and Uni are the correct option – no need for a dedicated national week, then.

I should probably go back to the apprenticeships are seen as the lesser option comment as this will be, for some people, an uncomfortable comment to make. Here’s some stats:

UCAS student poll:

  • Only 4% of students linked the word ‘prestigious’ to apprenticeships. 76% linked the word ‘prestigious’ to universities.
  • Only a third of students sampled reported receiving their legal entitlement to information from apprenticeship providers and /or FE colleges. Yes, we are talking the Baker Clause here – we’ll come back to this later.

Secondary Teachers’ view on post-18 education:

  • If you do open the link, Figure 2 (qualifications held by teachers who took part in the survey) is a good stop off point. Spoiler: not an apprenticeship in sight.
  • Teachers are more confident in explaining a Bachelor’s degree option to students than any other form of education

Youth Employment UK – Youth Voice Census:

  • 77% of the young people surveyed have never been spoken to about apprenticeships
  • 62% of respondents plan to attend or are attending university. 9% plan or have started an apprenticeship

Statutory Careers Guidance: July 2021 Update

  • The update needed to include text to ‘make it clear that schools and colleges should not promote Higher Education as a better or more favourable route then Further Education and apprenticeships’
  • The DfE has evidence that some schools are not complying with the Baker Clause (allowing colleges and training providers access to students in secondary schools) – the department are looking into enforcing this law.
  • Schools with Sixth Forms should take care that their own Sixth Form is not promoted disproportionately compared to alternative academic and technical study options.

Okay, stats attack over. The next difficult point of discussion has already been alluded to but does need spelling out…

The bias is in the room

The overwhelming majority of secondary school teachers have been through the academic system. The majority of teachers have a PGCE and a Bachelor’s degree. A few have Masters and above. Teachers are most confident in explaining the bachelor’s degree route over any other route. Therefore, it is no surprise that teachers can explain their own lived experience of the academic pathway compared to a vocational pathway. They have no knowledge and experience of the vocational pathway. The bias is in the room.

Now, I am not pinning the blame on hardworking teachers here. Far from it – it is only natural to draw on your own lived experiences. But appreciating there is bias in (almost) every classroom in every school in England goes some way to unravelling why the statistics above are there.

There should be more training available for schools. There should be more time for teachers to get out of the classroom and go and see vocational workplaces – yes, teacher work experience! There should be way more support than there currently is. To stand a chance of being compared equally, there needs to be a huge societal shift in our collective understanding of vocational and technical education. This can’t be achieved in a (National Apprenticeships…) week.

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