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Making the most of the apprenticeships levy

4 Feb 2020 | by Daniel Meekin

The apprenticeship levy was introduced in April 2017, as part of government reforms on how apprenticeships were funded. Almost three years down the road and many schools still aren’t taking advantage of the funding. The government set an aspirational target for public sector organisations, that 2.3% of the workforce (if more than 250 staff) should be apprentices each year. For maintained schools this target would be calculated as a percentage share of the Local Authority target. Critically, most schools are contributing to the apprentice levy to a tune of 0.5% of their annual pay bill, where their annual salary costs are over £3 million. Last year the government admitted it was way off its own target, in terms of number of apprenticeships created. Irrespective of the governmental target, as school business leaders we should do everything we can to make use of the funding.

Funding is available to support the following:
- To provide qualifications and training for existing staff
- To support the recruitment and training of any newly appointment apprentices

In discussions with colleagues in schools there are common barriers to utilising the grant which may account for the lower than planned uptake. Below are my thoughts and experience on the barriers and some options to overcome them and make use of the levy.

Barrier 1: No one in my organisation/ in my experience is interested in training.

This is often down to the fact that staff in current roles have been in the role for some time, are quite happy in their position and don’t see how the qualification would benefit them.

Possible solutions
Make sure that the apprentice qualifications are part of any annual appraisal process. Provide the link to employees in advance with a guidance note that as part of the process training courses will be discussed and ask them to identify a course that would enhance their skills. As managers the same should be done to identify any courses that would enhance the skills and knowledge of existing staff. Clearly not all staff want to carry out further CPD, however we have a duty to encourage and develop the school workforce. It’s often useful to talk about potential opportunities that may arise in the future, for example new developments or changing roles. Positively encourage staff to consider training opportunities as a way to refresh their role and skills set, acknowledging their work to date and how training will enhance their role. In some cases, discussions can open up untapped talent and enthusiasm to do something different or extra to their current role. A full list of courses is available here:

Barrier 2: How can we afford to let someone out for school for 1 day per week?
Apprenticeship training must include 20% off-the-job training. This is a statutory requirement as defined by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). Off-the-job training must be relevant to the apprenticeship, teaching new knowledge, skills and behaviours which are required to reach competence in the particular occupation. Immediately for some posts, particularly classroom based, this becomes a challenge to overcome.

Possible solutions
There is flexibility in how to make this time up. In my school we have an apprentice who has approached their qualification (L3 Business and Admin) with boundless enthusiasm. As a result, they have been keen to develop their skills as part of the assessment criteria, enabling us to agree project-based activities which were in addition to their normal day job. We provided shadowing opportunities to develop their knowledge, with attendance at governors’ meetings and involvement in faculty budget meetings. Multiple journals and school business papers have been shared, with reading time added to her 20% calculation. None of these tasks have been onerous and all have added value to the role. For classroom based practitioners this can be more difficult, however much of the time can be found through job shadowing, mentoring, e-learning, attending workshops or completing assignments as long as it teaches new knowledge, skills and behaviours which are required to reach competence in the particular occupation. The criteria are clear that it can include training that is delivered at their normal place of work. Be creative!

Barrier 3: We don’t have any positions suitable for a young apprentice.

In some cases this is down to the thought of training someone from scratch or the apparent lack of maturity in potential candidates.

Possible solutions
There are two key areas to consider. Firstly, when vacancies arise, either through natural wastage or organisational change, consider if the tasks could be assigned to an apprentice. Secondly, consider if there are any roles within the organisation that would benefit from support (exams, departments, premises and IT) which could offer contingency for sickness absence. In a previous school we appointed two apprentices in the PE faculty. As a popular route to teaching we had a great field of applicants, we gained fantastic support for the faculty, but also a new resource for extra-curricular and lunchtime activities.

It’s often safer to opt for applicants with school experience, but with the right support and training an apprentice can provide a fresh look at the organisation, along with providing mentoring and trainer opportunities for existing staff.

Final thoughts…
Appointing apprentices can provide an opportunity to re-look at tasks and workflow. As Henry Ford once said: ‘you keep on doing what you've always done, you will keep getting what you've always gotten.’

As levy paying schools, we have a duty to get value for money. So many schools aren’t utilising their digital training fund. If you are paying the levy but not getting anything back, consider what else you could have spent that money on. If it’s the equivalent of a Teaching Assistant, ask yourself would you pay the salary of someone just to sit and do nothing?

For full details on the Apprenticeship Levy and the technicalities involved follow this link: