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The Apprentice.

We are not talking about the Alan Sugar kind but the physiotherapy kind!!  Over the last few months a hot topic for the CSP has been the possibility of training new physiotherapists through apprenticeships.

The proposal of apprenticeship training, made by the United Lincolnshire NHS Trust and supported by Sheffield Hallam University, was submitted to government last year.

The idea behind the apprenticeship is to be able to train physiotherapists in line with the need for healthcare professionals in the economy, to put more onus on the employers to ensure the training of physiotherapists aligns with the current research and guidelines, and to ensure that work place learning is the main focus of the training. 

When reading about this potential significant change to the way physiotherapists will be educated, I got to reflect on my time as a physiotherapy student.

3 'full on' years of hard graft. Straight out of school and used to being in full time education, it wasn't such a big step to get used to the lectures, tutorials and constant course work. However, what was entirely new, was being thrown out to placement, to have my knowledge and newly acquired skills put to the test around the people that needed it.

If this apprenticeship proposes more time spent in the work place learning from front line professionals, then it seems to be a positive plan. However, I find myself asking the question, can all of the training, practise and classroom learning acquired from a full time degree be captured and delivered as an apprenticeship? Will physiotherapy students feel they will have acquired the necessary knowledge and practise time to be confident to go into the work place and interact with patients and educators?  This sparked my interest in trying to find out a little bit more. Here are the key objectives of the apprenticeship so far proposed:

    1. To develop skills in all parts of the economy, in line with distinct occupational roles
    2. To enable employers to define and develop the skills and workforce they need
    3. To enhance the quality of work-based learning and its standing alongside academic routes
    4. To increase the transferability of skills between and across employers
    5. To widen participation and increase social mobility, and also boost opportunities for career progression
    6. To strengthen partnership-working between employers and education providers.

(CSP website )

A real interest point is that the employers will be expected to define the skills that the physiotherapists need. Having worked in frontline physiotherapy and contributing to the profession, in striving to keep up to date with current healthcare research and guidelines, it seems to make total sense that the employers will have the ability to ensure all new physiotherapists will graduate their apprenticeship with up to date, applicable knowledge. Employers will still be required to adhere to nationally agreed standards, signed off by governing bodies.

The CSP is also involved in this proposal. They have agreed to develop a standard for a degree level apprenticeship scheme in England. They want to influence developments, mitigate risks and create a high educational standard to ensure graduate level knowledge and skills, and the breadth and depth of the professional practise is maintained.

Although not much has been stated about the cost and funding element to the proposal, in recent months we have also seen the emergence of the apprenticeship levy. This would suggest that there would be financial support for those in the program and being in part time study would enable students to hold down a job. With the cost of student fees ever increasing, it potentially makes the proposal desirable and affordable for a wider population of people.

There is obviously lots to be discussed and a concrete framework for this has not been set out as of yet. Questions that come to mind ask how long will the apprenticeship be, if proposed as a part time course? Will physiotherapists be able to choose a speciality during the apprenticeship to enable them to go straight into that field of work after graduating? Will the role of clinical educators in the work place change and how will this happen?

In the coming months I am sure we will have more information on the proposal and I am looking forward finding out more. If we can continue to educate highly skilled and knowledgeable physiotherapists, helping to keep the population healthy, pain free and managing disability, but enable a wider, more diverse group to access this education, then I for one am all for it.

You’re hired!!  


Stephanie O'Neill


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