21 August 2023

Swapping the classroom for the workplace

Foundation Apprenticeship (FA) students have been speaking about their experiences in swapping the classroom for the workplace.

FAs are work-based learning opportunities for senior phase secondary school pupils. They last for one or two years with pupils able to start them in either S4, S5 or S6. 

Industry sector knowledge is delivered in school and youngsters also spend time out of the classroom with employers and specialised subject tutors, allowing them to complete their apprenticeship as part of a suite of qualifications offered such as National 5s and Highers.

By the end, pupils receive a qualification at the same level of learning as a Higher and they are recognised as entry qualifications by all Scottish colleges and universities.

At Westhill Academy, Madison Taylor recently completed a health and social care placement and is going on to study medicine at university.

The 17-year-old said: “You get to work as part of the team and you’re interacting with the staff and the service users - it definitely gave me more confidence and communication skills. 

“I got to shadow junior doctors, work with the pharmacy and call operators and I got to draw on all that experience during my university interviews, which they really liked.”

Madison’s step mum Kirstie, who is also a guidance teacher at Aboyne Academy, said: “As parents, we were really keen she undertook the FA. 

“Madison is amazingly academic - the FA was her fourth course this year - but the value of the work experience and the boost in confidence and working with lots of different people really made an impact.”

Aberdeenshire Council offers 14 different apprenticeships including children and young people, health and social care, engineering, automotive, construction and hospitality.

Employers of all sectors and sizes support Foundation Apprenticeships across Aberdeenshire.  

Katie Rendall did her FA in children and young people, completing her work placement at Banana Moon nursery in Westhill.

The 18-year-old, who is following through her newly gained skills with children and young people into college, said “It was good work experience that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school, but I came out of my placement and was like - this is what I want to do. I learnt that I had a lot more confidence than I thought I did.”

This year’s FA results indicate at level four/five, of 326 students who took an FA, almost 70% successfully completed the full FA award and over 80% achieved at least some parts of the award.

At level six, 455 students took part with over 80% successfully completing the full FA award and over 90% achieving at least some parts of the award.

Depute headteacher at Westhill Academy Susan Taylor said the school runs seven FAs and attracts huge interest from pupils with high numbers choosing to do them.

“There might be that perception that we’re about the Highers and the Advanced Highers and yes, they’re really important, but these FAs are adding another string to our young people’s bows.

“The world is a different place and what employers are looking for are not necessarily the grades on a certificate, but what are the courses they’ve studied, what can they talk to and speak about.”

Emilia Kowalski is hoping to move into construction or engineering and recently did her FA in construction.

“It really developed my confidence a lot. I was in a class full of boys so when we were doing the group project, I felt I developed my leadership skills,” the 16-year-old said, adding with a laugh:

“Being in a group with boys I had to tell them what to do sometimes.”

Listening to the young people’s experiences with FAs was Education and Children’s Services Committee chair Cllr David Keating who was hugely impressed.

“We all agree that FAs are great and offer a fantastic opportunity for our young people,” Cllr Keating said.

“Work-based learning helps give pupils the skills and experience they need to reach their potential and secure the skills they need for future careers.”

He told the students: “You have an advantage because when you go to an interview, you can use the word ‘I’ – the interviewer wants to hear you - what you have done, and you’ve got a great ability to do that because of your broad experience.” 

Aberdeenshire Council’s Head of Education Vincent Docherty says the FA programme is one of the most successful in the country: “Our success didn’t happen overnight,” he said, “it’s a result of hard work and investment, but it’s worth it. 

“Students who do an FA with Aberdeenshire have a huge increase in their attainment and this leads to an increase in positive destinations for our young people, giving them an enhanced career pathway and get a head-start in their profession.”

Education and Children’s Services Committee vice chair Cllr Anne Simpson thinks FAs are a fantastic way of testing out what pupils are interested in as a further career.

She said: “It allows our children and young people to test it out while still at school, and being able to see how what they’re learning can be applied in the work setting. 

“We’re great supporters of FAs and it’s fantastic that we’ve been developing the programme and that we’ll be offering 1,000 apprenticeship places next year.”

Should any employer be interested in the Foundation Apprenticeship programme please contact Aberdeenshire’s FA Team at