Velda Bartholomew, quality improvement officer at the Alliance, introduces the tailored apprenticeship programme that lies behind Ellie Lloyd’s selection as Apprentice of the Year at the Nursery Management Today (NMT) Awards 2016.
At a time when so many early years providers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit practitioners, apprenticeship schemes can be an incredibly useful route for developing skilled and talented individuals and supporting the ongoing delivery of high-quality early years care and education.
Of course, apprenticeships are not just a way of recruiting new staff and tackling staff shortages; they are also a long-term investment for childcare businesses, with qualified apprentices providing settings with the skilled workforce they need for the future. With focused support and a collaborative approach between settings and training teams, apprentices can feel empowered to share their learning and, upon qualification, take on key roles within the early years workforce.
In this way, providing opportunities for apprentices can be mutually beneficial, with early years settings gaining as much as apprentices – but this does involve investing time to support the development of the apprentice, and liaising with training providers, who offer expertise from the knowledge side of the programme.
In our experience at the Pre-school Learning Alliance, the most successful apprentices work in settings with enthusiastic and committed mentors who ensure that the required learning is incorporated into the daily planning and take a personal interest in their apprentice’s development. Such an approach also means that the mentor gains the valuable skill of training support.
The time invested in supporting and developing an apprentice, alongside releasing them for identified training in line with their learning plan, pays dividends for their setting, as it offers the a great way for them to share their new knowledge and provide an enthusiastic approach to develop and discuss fresh ideas.
How apprenticeships work
Apprenticeships offer the opportunity for a work-based learning programme.
They provide a framework for each person to work from, ensuring each candidate studies a vocational based qualification (at the appropriate level) where both the knowledge and skills are regularly assessed throughout the programme.
As part of the framework, apprentices also work on Functional Skills / GCSE qualifications, which provide a range of transferable work-related skills in English, mathematics and Information and communication technology (ICT), all supporting and promoting excellent communication with parents, colleagues and other professionals, as well as providing many of the skills required to implement the Early Years Foundation Stage.
"...the most successful apprentices work in settings with enthusiastic and committed mentors who ensure that the required learning is incorporated into the daily planning and take a personal interest in their apprentice’s development"
The Alliance approach
All apprentices have an in-depth interview and assessment before acceptance on the programme. The Alliance’s training team works in partnership with the early years settings throughout their recruitment process.
As an organisation, we invest the time to ensure all applicants have a one-to-one interview where they discuss their goals and ambitions, alongside completing an initial assessment in English, mathematics and ICT to determine if they have the required skills to complete the knowledge elements of the programme.
This information is then discussed with the applicant, the manager of the setting and HR, who carry out a recruitment interview for any other position. The managers and the training team subsequently have a clear picture of the level of skills the apprentice possesses, and if they are sufficient to meet the demands of the training.
The interview then adds to this process by determining if individuals will make a suitable addition to the early years profession and can add to the team by supporting the ethos of the setting. This careful selection provides us with the foundation for retaining apprentices and presents the training team with a clear starting point, determining the strengths and specific areas for focused development.
A visiting assessor then carries out several visits during the programme to determine whether the learner is developing, progressing and achieving the criteria set out by the awarding body. These visits provide the opportunity for communication with the employer where their views and those of the learner will be regularly sought to ensure the programme is meeting the needs of all concerned.
The knowledge aspect of apprenticeships is achieved through an online training programme, where apprentices are assessed through written tasks which have to be completed by a given deadline. The assessor then provides the feedback required to constantly develop and apply these skills within the workplace. Areas of study such as how legislation changes can be applied in the work environment mean that apprentices remain up to date with sector changes, a knowledge base that can be shared with, and benefit, the whole setting.
Case Study: Best of the best
Ellie Lloyd’s apprenticeship journey started when she spotted an advert for an open day for early years apprentices in her local newspaper.
Having always preferred learning in practical situations, she saw this as an opportunity to embark on a rewarding career.
Ellie explains: “I’ve always been a practical learner - I pick things up much more quickly from real life experience than sitting in a classroom. Plus, I really wanted to be able to earn while I was learning.”
She attended the open day and liked what she saw. Following a successful interview, Ellie joined Storkway Neighbourhood Nursery – a setting directly managed by the Preschool Learning Alliance – as an early years apprentice in November 2015.
The apprenticeship programme is structured so that alongside working full time, Ellie also has to complete various distance-learning modules online in her own time. As well as support from her manager and mentor at Storkway, she also has contact with an Alliance tutor / assessor, who offers help and advice while also ensuring that she is achieving her goals. Ellie says:
“Having good support from the staff and management team has been really important to me. They have been extremely dedicated and amazingly supportive in lots of ways – they always take the time to explain the theory behind the practice, and my manager’s door is always open. “Although it has been hard-going at points, my tutor is sensitive to the fact that I am working a 40-hour week while also studying by distance learning. I have had to develop good personal time-management skills to strike the balance between working hours and learning hours.”
The impact of the award
As testament to her hard work and dedication, Ellie was awarded the NMT Nursery Apprentice Award in 2016.
The judges chose Ellie because her involvement in early years is giving children life chances they might otherwise not have encountered. “It meant so much to win the award,” says Ellie. “To be recognised in this way has really boosted my confidence in myself, my abilities and my job – I can’t believe how much I’ve managed to achieve in a year!”
Ellie’s manager, Pauline Bush-Soethoudt, said: “The positive impact of Ellie’s presence in the setting is enormous. Her confidence continues to grow and her positive and enthusiastic approach is making a real difference to the children in her care.
"Ellie has quickly developed positive relationships with parents, children and the nursery team in a very short time. She inspires children and parents alike to embrace early years learning in a fun way.”
Ellie completed her apprenticeship in May 2017, and she is looking forward to enjoying a long and successful career in the early years.
Find out more about the Pre-school Learning Alliance's apprenticeship and training schemes.
Alternatively contact our training team advisors on 01732 363070.
This article originally appeared in Nursery Management Today's Special Report on the NMT Award Winners 2016.