Article - apprenticeships

Last week, I referred to the Melplash Show.

This week, I see that the Melplash Agricultural Society has awarded a set of handsome bursaries for young men and women who are training for the agro-industries.

This is very welcome news, since training up a new generation of skilled workers in agriculture and the related industries is crucial.

Sometimes, the most profound social changes go almost unnoticed. The re-birth of apprenticeship in Britain is beginning to fall into this category.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, one read about apprenticeship in the children's history books, as something that had enabled Dick Whittington to rise from rags to riches. But for "modern youth" all the talk was of universities, with something slightly mysteriously entitled "Further Education" (of which there were even more mysterious subdivisions such as "Non-advanced Further Education" and "Advanced Further Education" - labelled opaquely "NAEF and AEF" and accompanied by a bewildering variety of different "technical and vocational educational qualifications", each with its own incomprehensible and strictly unmemorable acronym).

The net effect was to make a lot of people believe, quite falsely, that universities were the only real answer.

By contrast, the Germans maintain a system of apprenticeships which offers fine training and is regarded as fully equivalent to university degrees.

Britain has finally begun to heal this self-inflicted wound.

Apprenticeships are now springing up everywhere, supported by a new employer levy, and they are beginning to acquire again the type of reputation they have always enjoyed in Germany.

The ghastly apartheid between training and so-called "Higher Education" is now being broken down, with increasing numbers of young people mixing apprenticeships and university in an effort to assemble a powerful combination of practical skills and a knowledge of the underlying science.

This unseen revolution, received little or no attention from the media or from educational commentators - and there are still many people in the so-called "educational establishment" who have not caught up with what is going on. But this is a change that does not require "PR" or "educationists" to make it a powerful reality.

But perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that the educational establishment has been slow to recognise this welcome development - since it was from these same quarters that we heard, as recently as last Spring, about an incipient funding crisis in our schools - only to discover from the figures produced this week that West Dorset schools will in fact all be seeing increases in funding when the new formula comes in. That, too is welcome.