Inspire ATA Case Study : Flexi-Job Teaching Assistant Apprenticeships in partnership with Thomas Bewick School.
Thomas Bewick School is a specialist provision for autistic children and young people, based in Newcastle upon Tyne and serving the whole of the city and its neighbouring environs. The school is part of Prosper Learning Trust, along with four other specialist and alternative provision settings, and currently has 336 pupils aged 3 to 19.
The school’s rapid expansion – it is expected to increase its roll to 360 pupils in September – is one of the main reasons why leaders are continually on the look-out for additional staff.
“There are a lot of families who want a place for their child at Thomas Bewick School and no matter how much we expand, that need seems to expand at an even faster rate,” says Deputy Headteacher Katy Harrison. “The additional pressure comes from the fact that we need to have a very high ratio of adults to pupils because of their needs and we are also facing, like schools across the country, challenges in recruiting staff.”
As part of its efforts to meet that demand Thomas Bewick School got in touch with Inspire-ATA, a government approved Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agency which recruits, employs and supports the apprentice, in 2022. “It was a really appealing approach that gave us another channel to train staff within the role, rather than expecting people to come in already with the relevant experience and training,” Katy says.
The first four apprentice Teaching Assistants began work at the school towards the end of the summer term 2022. These early pioneers worked well and Thomas Bewick School now hosts 15 Teaching Assistant apprentices through Inspire ATA, with three going on to permanent full-time employment at the school and more apprentices likely to follow in their footsteps.
The apprentices have become integral to the running of the school. Classroom support forms the bulk of their work and several apprentices have also volunteered to support pupils on residential trips or to undertake Personal Assistant work which supports Thomas Bewick School’s pupils in the community.
Thomas Bewick School’s teachers seem to agree that the apprentice Teaching Assistants make a vital contribution. One teacher remarked of her Teaching Assistant apprentice: “Since joining the team in September she has been such a reliable and enthusiastic member of the staff team. Very quickly (she) demonstrated a high level of understanding of our pupils and their needs. She is always adapting to their needs and thinking of ways we can help to support our pupils further…she is an integral part of our staff team and we could not run as effectively without her.”
Katy says that a large amount of time-consuming admin work is taken away from the school, as Inspire-ATA handle all of the administrative processes associated with Teaching Assistant apprentice recruitment, from devising job specifications and advertising, through to initial screening of applicants, contracts, HR support and pay.
Apprentices working in a special school face a more complex set of challenges than those working in mainstream schools, so Inspire-ATA worked with Thomas Bewick School to ensure that the advertising and the job description for the apprenticeship roles reflected those requirements.
The apprentices have slotted seamlessly into school culture, says Katy. “If you walked into our school you wouldn’t notice any difference between the apprentices and our other Teaching Assistants,” she says. “The calibre of these young people coming through is really strong in terms of their reliability and commitment to learning.”
“Having apprentices learning ‘the Thomas Bewick School way’ ensures them a smooth transition if they are successful in securing permanent Learning Support Assistant roles at the school”, says Katy.
“We’ve had some really strong applicants for our full-time positions because the apprentices are doing the job alongside their qualification
s. It also helps that Inspire-ATA retain them even if they’ve finished their apprenticeship so that we have time to get our employment checks finished before they start full-time with us. Therefore when they start with us, there is the added benefit of continuity for the children.”
Katy adds: “When we started, I didn’t envisage that we were going to end up with 15 apprentices, but it’s worked so well for us. If other schools were thinking about trying this approach I would recommend that they give it a go. Inspire ATA have been really supportive and in tune with what we need and they are always on the end of the phone or an email if we need them.”
Inspire ATA is a government approved Flexi-Job Apprenticeship Agency, approved to employ apprentices on the behalf of schools. Inspire ATA recruits, employs and arranges apprenticeship training, leaving the school to simply host apprentices. The school leases the apprentice for a monthly fee and Inspire ATA handles time-consuming management tasks such as payroll, holiday management and any employment issues.
For more information on apprenticeships please email firstname.lastname@example.org.