Diary of a Headteacher: The Apprenticeship Levy

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
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Like many headteachers, Tom Donohoe is facing the prospect of paying the Apprenticeship Levy...

So, how are we all feeling about the Apprenticeship Levy? Here in Hampshire we are not at all happy! In fact we are so unhappy a headteacher has started a petition and nearly 1,000 school leaders have signed it. In my 15 years as a headteacher I don’t remember a petition like this, so clearly at a time when budgets are tight and getting tighter, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I have signed the petition, I can no more afford to lose a few thousand quid than any other school. It might be that in other areas of the country, you are not as affected.

In Hampshire, as we have pretty much all stayed with the local authority, the £3 million wage bill rule affects all primaries regardless of size. Despite the fact that as individual schools our salary bills don’t exceed this figure, in total as a local authority we are way above it, so we all have to contribute.

I understand that if Anton Junior was a standalone academy we would not be liable to pay this bill, but if we were part of a reasonably sized multi-academy trust we would probably be stung in the same way.

As well as signing the petition, I have also contacted my local authority, not to complain, because this is clearly a government decision and the local authority has little choice – I contacted them to ask what they will be doing with the couple of million quid that this will generate and how we as schools can access it to benefit our staff and ultimately our pupils. To be fair, I received a fairly encouraging response that will at the least form the basis of some interesting discussion over the coming months.

I have a particular interest in this because as a Teaching School we place a very strong emphasis on providing clear career routes for aspiring and experienced teachers. We provide a number of very cool professional development opportunities for staff – starting with graduate teaching assistants who are aspiring to be teachers, through to the gaining of QTS within our SCITT, to NQT and RQT training and we are about to launch our first leadership CPD. We provide these opportuni-ties for free to any school that wants to work with us, so if there is a pot of money the local authority has that we can tap into as a consortium of schools I want to know about it!

From what I have read, the Levy seems to be purely about encouraging Apprenticeships and even then there are clear limitations on what the money can be spent on – the training and end point assessment of an Apprenticeship is allowed but a contribution towards their salary costs is not.

It will mean schools will have some tough decisions to make: in Hampshire, the local authority policy (that we legally have to adhere to) is to pay all apprentices, regardless of age and previous experience, the national minimum wage of around £8 an hour.

But the benefits of apprentices in schools is clear. Last year we employed our first ever apprentice, who is working with us and the local college to train over a 12-month period to become a teaching assistant. She was 16 when she first came to do some voluntary work with us and she was clearly a really nice person with a lovely gentle manner with the children. As well as her main role and training, she also does some extra hours in our after-school care provision.

I will be watching how this all pans out with interest. Last year across 500 Hampshire schools and other educational settings there were 30 apprentices employed. But we have been told that the target set by the government for the local authority this year is 2,000! Clearly schools are not the only ones with challenging targets...

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.

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