On Monday 2nd July, the Sutton Trust held its Better Apprenticeships summit, bringing together policy-makers, academics and apprentices to discuss how apprenticeships can be harnessed as a driver of social mobility.

The summit marked the launch of the Sutton Trust’s #BetterApprenticeships campaign, which calls for more and fairer access to high-quality apprenticeships that offer a genuine alternative to a degree.

The morning began with opening remarks from Sutton Trust founder Sir Peter Lampl. He stressed the importance of high quality apprenticeships for improving social mobility and highlighted that for every 1,000 employees in Germany, there were 4 times as many apprentices. He said this showed the need to learn from other models – and work with other countries – to improve the quality of apprenticeships in the UK.

Sir Peter’s remarks were followed by a panel of current apprenticeships, who spoke about their own experiences. The apprentices explained how rewarding learning within a working environment can be, and how rising tuition fees have made an apprenticeship a more enticing option in recent years. They spoke about the need to remove the stigma surrounding apprenticeships and each panellist agreed that schools and teachers must do much more to ensure that students and parents view apprenticeships as a legitimate option.

This concern echoes new polling from the Sutton Trust, which finds that while a growing proportion of young people are interested in starting an apprenticeship rather than going to university, teachers are still unlikely to advise their high-attaining students to take this route.

After this, there was a policy panel session. The session began with chair Robert Halfon MP stating that it should be the government’s main strategy to encourage wider participation in degree level apprenticeships. This panel session consisted of various interesting policy suggestions. One panellist urged the government not to become obsessive about their 3 million apprenticeship starts target, as increasing the quantity of apprenticeships does not necessarily ensure the quality of apprenticeships is also improved.

Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships Anne Milton MP then delivered her keynote speech. She echoed her support for the Sutton Trust’s objective of improving the quality of apprenticeships, and ensuring there is a clear pathway for apprentices to progress. She said her aim is to provide equal life chances to all students, to avoid unfulfilled potential.

Shadow Minister for HE, FE and Skills Gordon Marsden MP delivered a speech of his own, emphasising the need to promote the equality of opportunity, by increasing access and participation in apprenticeships. He also said that the government should be fully committed to increasing the number of quality apprenticeships, and apprenticeships should be promoted more by schools and teachers.

The summit was closed with a synopsis of events by Sutton Trust CEO, Dr Lee Elliot Major. He mentioned how good quality careers guidance is needed in schools, and discussed the numerous different opinions on the apprenticeship levy including possible reforms. Lee outlined the aims of the Sutton Trust’s campaign launch, and said that the Trust remains fully committed to campaigning for #BetterApprenticeships.

In attendance at the summit were Sutton Trust alumni who have gone on to undertake an apprenticeship. Pathways to Law alumni Jameel Malik and Hannah-Mai Flynn share their thoughts on the day:

As an apprentice myself it’s exciting to see an organisation like The Sutton Trust pushing forward the agenda of improving the state of apprenticeships in the UK. Not only that, but also to see that this campaign is being supported by senior ministers, politicians and academics.” Jameel Malik (Pathways to Law 2014)

“It was fantastic meeting so many people who are strong advocates for apprenticeships. I hope that through the Better Apprenticeships campaign and the support of employers, we will see an increase in the numbers of those taking up an apprenticeships as opposed to going to uni.” Hannah-Mai Flynn (Pathways to Law 2014)

Find out more about the campaign or the summit.

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