An apprenticeship has allowed me to learn in a way neither school nor a BTEC prepared me for

Aaliyah Cadogan: level 3 apprentice teaching assistant, Sports Future Training

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I became a sports coach for children through an apprenticeship, and I feel so lucky I took that route. It wasn’t a route my school told me about when I was a student, but it’s just been brilliant.

When I finished sixth form, I knew I didn’t want to go to university. I didn’t want to be sitting in lectures for three years – I learn by doing, and so when I saw an advert for a PE apprentice, I went for it.

I have been on the apprenticeship for three years currently, working towards completing a level 4 diploma in primary physical education practice qualification alongside my level 3 teaching assistant apprenticeship standard.

From the very start, I was getting first-hand experience with the children and doing a proper 9-to-5 job.

Employers always want work experience, and

that’s not something you get on a degree. But the apprenticeship is like a two-in-one. It helped me to get a job as a paid sports coach from this September.

The money is fine for me as well. I’m still living at home and don’t have bills to pay, so obviously that helps, but out of me and all my friends I’m usually the only one with money. Their student loan money doesn’t seem to stretch very far. I’m getting paid to work and honestly, anything is better than getting into debt from university.

Out of me and my friends at university, I’m usually the only one with a

ny money

My friends are also quite stressed out at university, but I’ve found my apprenticeship supportive, and I actually feel quite relaxed. On Friday we’re in training and my tutor goes through my coursework with me.

Sometimes I go to my training provider to learn about safeguarding, managing behaviour, first aid and useful skills, with the other apprentices.

But when I started the apprenticeship, I wasn’t confident at all. I didn’t know what to expect, and I had to learn quickly how to be organised and communicate with others.

There are so many people in a school, you have to make sure your communication is on point. It’s a really big learning experience. I used to be quite nervous about taking a whole lesson, but now if someone asks me to, I can do it.

The thing that’s motivated me a lot is the children. In my first year as a PE apprentice I was helping out with the after-school netball club. There was a girl who was trying to learn how to shoot, so I helped her technique. She got the ball in, and she said, “Thank you, thank you”, to me, and I thought, “This is why I want to do this”.

It’s the same feeling when the students ask me, “Miss, are you taking us for PE today?” and if I say no, they are disappointed. It makes me smile. Just seeing the children happy in PE too, especially the ones who previously found it difficult – it gives me something to live for.

At some points it is hard too, of course. Working in a school is very busy and you don’t know what is going to happen on that day. You might have to cover an extra class suddenly, and you have coursework to focus on, on top of that.

My BTEC didn’t really prepare me for my apprenticeship

I was lucky that the first school I worked in had an apprentice before me, so they knew what they were doing when I arrived.

But my own school where I was a student didn’t tell me anything about apprenticeships. I just feel like secondary schools only really care about university, and they make you think if don’t go to university, it’s the end of the world.

If I hadn’t found this apprenticeship, I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing right now.

My BTEC was also quite theory-based, and it didn’t really prepare me for my apprenticeship either. I once had to lead a warm-up for younger students, but apart from that, there wasn’t a really practical aspect to the BTEC.

Without the apprenticeship, I wouldn’t have been able to get this sports coach job, so it’s genuinely been a lifesaver. I just wish they’d talked about apprenticeships more at school.