Top Head urges schoolgirls to look for employment rather than uni

At the annual conference of the Girls’ Schools Association, which represents 180 private schools, president Hilary French will predict “a shift of focus away from university as the automatic first choice next step for sixth formers and a turn instead to employment”.

“I’d like to challenge independent school heads to embrace this,” she will say. “Parents too. There is huge potential in employer training courses and the new calibre of apprenticeships emerging. We must not be sniffy about them. Yes, at the moment we may associate apprenticeships with lower level vocational training, but this need not and should not be the case.”

French, headmistress of Central Newcastle High School, where old girls include Miriam Stoppard, has started inviting employers to her school to publicise their job opportunities for 18-year-olds.

Her comments follow similar remarks by Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, who called on Friday for an increase in work-based training to match the numbers going to university…

The number of high-level apprenticeships is small but growing: up from 1,500 in 2009 to an estimated 5,300 this year. Firms offering such openings include Accenture, GlaxoSmithKline and National Grid. They made up 2% of the half a million apprenticeships last year.

Employers still have a job to convince parents of the merits of apprenticeships. Bob Paton, of Accenture, which is taking on more apprentices at the expense of graduates, said: “We are looking to invite parents to apprenticeship open days because they remain a big influence on youngsters.”

Nikki Cusworth, 23, from Glasgow, turned down offers to study for a degree in product design at the universities of Dundee and Strathclyde to become an advanced apprentice at Rolls-Royce. She has since progressed to its leadership development scheme. “At the interview, the practical experience I would gain blew me away. I decided I was willing to do a HND through the scheme rather than an honours degree because the skills would be such an asset in my career,” she says. She is now working towards an MSc in engineering business management at Warwick University through the programme.

The government hopes to encourage people to follow Cusworth’s lead. “Apprenticeships are a crucial part of addressing Britain’s skills gap — concentrating only on academic training to the exclusion of technical training was a big mistake,” said Matthew Hancock, the skills minister.

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