Alternative Pathways Evening at Priestnall School

Sue Arthur, Head of Careers at Priestnall School, details the recent event at the School designed to support students and their families to make the important ‘what next?’ decision… Priestnall School is an academic 11-16 school with a high A*- C pass rate and many of our students go on to sixth form college and further education. With the significant changes occurring, in particular to the A level qualifications, we became aware that for some of our students this pathway might not be the most appropriate. Over the past 12 months we have tried to ensure that all post 16 pathways are presented equally and students have exposure to Apprenticeship training providers and to hear first-hand from young Apprentices themselves through the Apprenticeship Ambassadors scheme. Whilst our students are open to investigating these alternative pathways it is often parents and carers who, through lack of knowledge and understanding of the changing face of Apprenticeships and the value of vocational qualifications, continue to see A levels as the gold standard qualification and the only viable post 16 pathway.

In light of this we decided to organise an evening for parents, carers and students that would give an overview of the wide variety of vocational qualifications now available and to dispel some of the myths surrounding Apprenticeships. We wanted parents and carers in particular to have a greater understanding of the benefits and career progression that these alternative routes could offer their son or daughter. We also wanted them to hear about real Apprenticeship opportunities from employers and from apprentices themselves. We felt it important to present the vocational pathway as a route into university and provide examples of students who had taken this option and had successfully moved on to higher education. Being part of the GM Enterprise Adviser Network, our Enterprise Adviser Andrea Holt, from Balfour Beatty, agreed to support the event and I approached SKY Stockport. They would talk about the varied Apprenticeship programme offered across the country by SKY as well as the specific opportunities in Stockport. Through my college contacts the deputy principal of Xaverian College came on board to present a positive look at the vocational pathway.

We held the event on Thursday 24th November and invited parents carers and students in Years 10 and 11. The event was very well attended and over 130 parents, carers and students packed into our Year 11 cafeteria. I had invited a range of training providers so that parents and carers could find out first-hand about various apprenticeship opportunities across Greater Manchester and there was a buzz of interested conversation around the room at the start of the evening.

We started the evening by looking at vocational qualifications with Xaverian and Aquinas. SKY followed and three young apprentices supported the presentation. Their confidence and enthusiasm was fantastic and it was a real treat to feel their excitement and passion not only for Apprenticeships but working for SKY too. A former student shared his story next, articulating his change of plan from A levels to an Apprenticeship with BOC Aerospace in an honest and open way. It was amazing to listen to this young man who only left school in 2014 and was now embarking on his HND, having grown and matured into a confident and skilled Apprentice.

Sophie Hope, from New Economy, outlined the importance of increased employer engagement in schools to help identify local labour market skills shortages, growth sectors and also the vital importance of students being made aware of a range of different industries and pathways in order to help them make the most informed decision that they possibly can. Sophie was followed by Chloe Derbyshire, a graduate apprentice at Capgemini, and Chanice Wood, from Stockport Local Authority. Both shared their individual stories highlighting the benefits of the newly developed graduate apprenticeships

Andrea, from Balfour Beatty, closed the evening by outlining the number of different and varied opportunities that exist within this large and exciting company. It was a very successful evening on a number of levels. The evaluations from parents made comment on how valuable hearing from the Apprentices was and that the information presented had been “put across in layman’s terms, was easy to understand and very useful”. A number of students said that listening to the Apprentices was very inspirational, had helped them understand more about the Apprenticeship pathway and made them more determined this was the route they were going to take after their GCSEs. As Head of Careers it was so useful being able to talk to parents and carers in a more relaxed atmosphere. There was time to listen to their thoughts and concerns, offer support where necessary and to highlight where extra guidance might be needed in the future. It was very obvious that the evening did dispel some of the myths that parents held around in particular the Apprenticeship route and the applause at the end of the evening was very heart felt!