Championing Apprenticeships in your school

Written by: Sarah Barley | Published:
Award-winner: Sarah Barley, the Apprenticeship Champion of the Year (Image: National Apprenticeship Awards)

How can schools support and promote Apprenticeships as a viable route for students? Apprenticeship Champion of the Year, Sarah Barley, offers her advice and tips

I spent the first years of my teaching career listening to students and parents talk about university. It was the only route young people took and that was primarily because no-one really knew about Apprenticeships.

When thinking about next steps after school, many students are unaware of all the options available to them. There is high emphasis put on UCAS and a limited understanding on the value of an Apprenticeship as the first step into a career.

When my line manager approached me to investigate Apprenticeship routes, I was surprised to discover just how many amazing opportunities there were in our local area – and also how many employers were struggling to find apprentices to join their organisations.

It was at this point I realised we needed to do more to create awareness of Apprenticeships and the wide variety of opportunities available. This is why I set up an Apprenticeship Preparation Programme.

The Apprenticeship Preparation Programme embeds Apprenticeship information, advice and guidance into our curriculum. Students who are interested in Apprenticeships are paired up with an industry mentor and complete a full employability skills development programme with two employer partners. They go out on trips and visits, listen to career talks and complete a variety of internships in the local area.

Not only does this give them more information about Apprenticeships, but it allows them to experience what an Apprenticeship will be like way before an application process begins.

Practical advice

Here are a number of practical steps that any local school can take to embed quality advice and guidance on Apprenticeships into their curriculums.

Encourage a member of staff to go along to local business networking events: This was the most important decision for me leading this Apprenticeships project, as events like this enabled me to develop connections with the local business community. There are many local business networking groups and clubs that will be delighted to connect with people in schools.

Book in employers to host assemblies: This is a great way for your local employers to talk about their organisations and share information on Apprenticeship vacancies. Employers love coming in to talk to a full year group to increase the awareness of their work in the local area. This can start in year 7 and run right up to year 13.

Book in an employer to run a workshop: Employers can be booked in to run employability skills development workshops and enterprise master classes. These workshops can cover a range of topics and sectors and will enhance and develop students’ commercial awareness and employability skills.

Build an industry mentor programme: Once you have developed your connections, ask those employers whether they are able to give up an hour or two a term to mentor a student who wants an Apprenticeship. HR teams in schools can make arrangements for the completion of Disclosure and Barring Service forms and induction programmes. This is a fantastic way for schools to develop their partnerships with the local business community.

Find quality work placements for those students who want to be an apprentice: There are many employers that can take on a student for a work placement. Students can be asked to find their own placement with the school’s support or the school can use their employer connections to organise one for them. This is an excellent way for a young person to experience what their Apprenticeship may be like and find out whether it is the right choice for them.

Use quality careers guidance software: We use the START profile from U-Explore – an online web app – but there are other options out there too. The software is free-to-use and students are able to take ownership of their own careers education. They can research industries, make their own employer connections, build CVs and covering letters, book in work experience, learn about the employability skills valued by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and keep a record of all of their wonderful experiences by storing it in their virtual locker.

Develop an alumni network and encourage your current students to play a proactive role in your alumni network: This is an excellent way to track the progress of your apprentices but also gives you the chance to invite them back in for talks or industry mentoring in the future. This is a great way to inspire your future apprentices.

#10kTalks: Schools took part in the 10,000 Talks (#10kTalks) movement during this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, which took place in March. The initiative saw schools inviting passionate apprentices or former apprentices in to talk to their students and share their story about how Apprenticeships work to help inspire the next generation. Just because National Apprenticeship Week is over doesn’t mean you can’t continue this work and a range of resources are still available online (see further information).

Train your subject teachers on what Apprenticeships are: Ask your teachers during lessons to mention Apprenticeships that link to their subjects. This is a great way for all members of the team to be involved and enables careers education to be an important part of each subject. One careers appointment a year is simply not enough.


The Apprenticeship Preparation Programme has had huge benefits for our students, parents and local employers. We saw students choosing better routes to their careers, parents who were happy that their children had experienced a variety of industries before applying for roles, and employers eager to engage with potential apprentices.

The aspirations of the young people were high, whether they were choosing to go to university or taking an Apprenticeship, which resulted in us achieving exceptional results in the classroom.

The success of the programme has led to meetings with the Queen, media coverage in the Parliamentary Review and my recent win of Apprenticeship Champion of the Year at the National Apprenticeship Awards in January.

However, more importantly, it has led to many more students choosing to take an Apprenticeship and making the right career choice for them – a choice which they may not have been aware of without the introduction of this programme.

  • Sarah Barley is trust director of careers and employability at South Hunsley School in Yorkshire and the Apprenticeship Champion of the Years.

National Apprenticeship Awards

Now in its 14th year, the National Apprenticeship Awards are run by the National Apprenticeship Service. The 2017 Awards took place in January in London and celebrated the commitment of employers and individuals to apprentices.
The awards aim to demonstrate how employers can grow their own talent by offering Apprenticeships and how apprentices are making a significant contribution to their workplace.

Among the winners this year, was Sarah Barley, trust director of careers and employability at South Hunsley School in Yorkshire, who was named Apprenticeship Champion of the Year. The award recognised the employer-led programme she developed, recruiting 60 local employers to support and inspire young people about their next steps. She also planned a range of open events to recruit employers interested in offering Apprenticeships.

For more information on the National Apprenticeship Awards, including the other winners, visit

Further information

For more on the 10,000 Talks initiative and resources, visit


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin