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‘I’m not sure whether nursing apprenticeships are a good idea’


When I was six years old I was one of a number of children in my class who contributed to an assembly about the ancient Greek literature Aesop’s Fables

When I say chosen, I mean we all got a fable except Anne Wilkinson – because she got very nervous when she had to stand in front of lots of people, and when she got nervous she spontaneously wet herself – and Robert Richardson, because he used to sneak up behind Anne Wilkinson to scare her to see if she would wet herself.

The rest of us got to tell the assembled and largely disinterested infant school a fable and invite them to tell us what it might mean. My fable was The North Wind and the Sun. You will recall, particularly if you were at Park Lane Primary in the late 1960s, that the wind and the sun took it in turns to see who could get a cloak from the shoulders of a beleaguered stranger. The wind tries to blow it off and fails. The sun makes him warm, so he removes it. The sun wins. And the meaning of this fable is… Er, anybody? Anybody at all?

I learnt the story off by heart, so when I came to speak it was with enthusiasm  (and fortunately no weeing). But I had no idea what the point of the story was.

Would anybody like to have a guess? Anyone at all? Anne Wilkinson, might you like to say a few words? Oops… sorry!

I should have said something about how kindness or warmth have a more profound effect than severity or violence. I believe I was forced to go with something along the lines of “The sun is good”.

Long Pause. “And the wind. Not as good. Thank you.” I believe I saw nodding.

Anyway, I have made it a habit since then to try to notice when I don’t understand something and to try not to be too embarrassed to ask for it to be explained. So here goes.

I don’t understand nurse apprenticeship plans. I mean, I understand it amounts to a ‘different’ way of providing nurse education and may target talented healthcare assistants. It will be delivered to degree standard (like existing nursing degrees), will have a 50/50 theory and practice split (like existing nursing degrees), will have to meet all of the NMC requirements (like existing nursing degrees) and will result in people qualifying  with a degree (like existing nursing degrees). So what is the difference between one and the other?

There’s an old saying that suggests if something looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, behaves like a duck and hangs out with other ducks, then it is a duck. Well, surely this scheme is a duck?

The skills minister, Matthew Hancock, says he wants students of the future to have a choice between going to university or taking up an apprenticeship, which is lovely, but if both routes require 50% of their time to be spent in an academic setting and 50% in clinical, what is it that distinguishes them?

Perhaps as details emerge we will find that there are funding differences, but, again, given that both routes require the same educational and clinical investments it is hard to see how. And if there is a way of offering apprenticeships in a way that is cheaper, why would anyone choose to go to university? Particularly as they are going to be there anyway.

I’m sure this is a great idea, especially if it means we are not simply developing recruitment schemes that act as a safety net in case university applications fall when fees are introduced. It seems like a knee-jerk and unsustainable response to chronic nursing shortages. I’m hoping this is helpful, innovative, inclusive and well funded. It is, right?

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on Twitter @markacradcliffe


Readers' comments (3)

  • After the enormous changes we experienced as a profession in the late 1970s, with a distinct move away from the traditional apprentice-style training to University-based education, I feel like I am having a 'deja vu' moment. Are we really sitting at that same table, having that same debate......?!

    All I can say is that we need to be very clear about what we are trying to achieve here. When the decision was made to shift nursing students to University, it left a gaping hole in the then workforce, as students contributed between 20 - 25%. They had to be replaced, and were, with healthcare assistants, en masse. Who we now want to offer apprenticeships to, so they can become registered nurses, to fill the gaps in staff shortages........

    Like Mark Radcliffe, I'm struggling with this one.....!

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  • I agree with Mark and suggest that the policy has a more insidious undercurrent of de-professionalization about it.
    Nurses are expensive because there are a lot of them, so if we reduce their number and supplement them with "nearly nurses" patients wont really notice and before we know it there will be 1 nurse on duty surrounded by non professional workers. Just like in the US and South Africa. Nursing is a shrinking profession.

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  • As there is a Registered Nurse Level 2 qualification on the NMC, then surely it would be straight forward to reintroduce that training to Diploma level.....2 years? They should then be Band 4 and a qualified clinical nurse. Apologies to present Band 5 RN2's.
    Getting rid of the SEN is a huge error.
    Good luck to all entering nursing and I wish you well.

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