Are apprenticeships as good as ‘they’ say?

That’s a good question. Are Apprenticeships as good as they say?

Who’s ‘they’ anyway?

Critics are fast to slam apprenticeships – often describing them as the modern-day Y.T.S schemes (Youth Training Schemes). Y.TS schemes offered on-the-job training for a rather reduced pay packet.

I stared my working life of a Y.T.S scheme, and while it was true about the pay and other details, it was a good thing. By working on a Y.T.S scheme I was eased into working life.

So, what of Apprenticeships? Are they as good as we like to make out?

Niamh Cain is on a level 2 Apprenticeship in business and administration and tells us:

“I was worked really hard at college to pass my GCSEs. I was also studying ‘heavy’ subjects such as politics. College was hard work, especially with a part time job.

I found that the amount of studying I was doing, along with holding down a par-time job was all becoming too much, and I was suffering with stress.

At college there isn’t enough information given regarding apprenticeships – it’s all about obtaining certain grades in order to gain a place at university. As a result of this, as well as myself, I have witnessed a lot of young people suffering with stress”.

Niamh goes on to tell us:

“I took the decision to look for an apprenticeship. I was fortunate to gain a place on the apprenticeship I am currently doing.

In the space of a year I have come a long way. I no longer suffer with depression, I have got a job I love and have also recently passed by driving test”.


Regarding barriers faced for young people accessing apprenticeship opportunities, Niamh goes on to tell us how certain processes my be putting young people off, such as interviews – more so, lace of interview preparation in college.

“I feel the interviews for the apprenticeship were more stressful than ‘normal’ interviews simply because there are more of them. For example. not only did I have to have an interview with my employer, I also had to have an interview with the college to prove I was able to complete the study required.

If I were to pass on any advice to other young people, then it would be to prep as much as possible”.

The best and worst bits:

“I’m a very hands on person, so on-the-job training is good. My manager is very supportive, and I am learning a lot of valuable work skills.

My assessor is very approachable, and I am not afraid to ask questions when I don’t understand something. Apprenticeships are a good thing if you have a learning disability – I’ve found it’s a win-win situation in the way my training is split.

Everybody says you won’t go far in life without a university degree -apprenticeships give you the same valuable qualifications without the debt racking up – you earn as you learn.

Worst bits – as I’ve already mentioned, the interview process”.

Michelle Graham


Mental health issues affect us all

My Mental Health

I’m usually fairly good at writing about this. I don’t mean to brag, it’s just that I have experienced stress and mental health problems on so many occasions.

When I was younger I didn’t know I was experiencing mental health problems either directly or indirectly. The reason I didn’t know? Well it was simply my ‘normal’, and here lies the problem we now face which begs the question ‘What is normal?’ Who decides on ‘normal?’

For me it is as though Stress and Depression are old friends. Not particularly nice friend’s mind, maybe it would be more accurate to describe as annoying relatives you bump into from time to time.

Not only have I suffered the effects of stress and depression personally, I’ve also had the horrific experience of watching somebody close suffer.

Let me share a story with you. This is about a family member.

This was 24 years ago, so back then this person had very little help. Possibly because he was male, admitting to needing help was not an option. You have to realise that 24 years ago things were different. Men didn’t admit to problems as easily as they can nowadays.

So anyway, like I said (he) didn’t get any help so ended up paying the ultimate price in taking his own life. To put it bluntly, he hung himself.

This was his second suicide attempt and my god he meant it this time. Back then despite the first attempt, no red flags were raised as they might be nowadays. Nor was counselling offered, in fact I recall no support what so ever for him or family around him. Incidents such as this were simply brushed under the carpet and we were expected to never mention them again.

Twenty four years ago the stigma attached to mental health problems was horrendous. Following the suicide I remember how people acted in my company. Nobody knew what to say to me, so often it was easier for them to ignore me.
I was working in the factory back then. This was also a time before employment rights gave us protection from bullying and harassment, and so I was in the lion’s den. This was long before I became involved with the union. I was shy and quiet and often a target. This family suicide was a gift to some. I remember enduring whispering, gossiping and finger pointing regularly. People actually thought they had the right to judge something they knew exactly zilch about.

This treatment was unbearable, so foolishly I turned to my doctor. Remember what I said about this being 24 years ago and the response from my doctor was nothing short of appalling.

I visited the doctor in good faith because I needed help dealing with my grief. It turned out that narrow- minded views were not only those of general members of public, but also those in the medical profession.

I have never forgotten my doctor’s response …. and I quote….. “You would feel the same if your boyfriend finished with you”….. This before palming me off with a large prescription for Prozac.

Consider again the reason for my visit; a close family member had been suffering with severe depression which resulted in him being found hanging at home, and here was this alleged medical professional expressing the opinion that it was similar to a relationship break-up!

This was my first exposure to the affects serious stress and depression can have on the mind. I learnt that dark thoughts to a poorly mind are completely rational. Dark thoughts to a well mind are just that – dark.

Fast forward 24 years. We have seen a significant rise in awareness for mental health and the problems it can lead to, but is it enough?

Figures suggest that 1 in four of us will suffer from mental health related problems in our lives, but how accurate are these figures?

Let’s just have another look at that; 1 in four of us will suffer – these figures will be gleaned from statistics of reported cases. But what of those who don’t seek help? These people will not form part of these statistics. People still don’t seek help for a number of reasons, including stigma and fear – the fear part almost certainly being linked to workplace stress and the perception people have of how this will cause irreparable damage to their reputation.

I would be prepared to put my neck on the line and say that accurate figures would be likely to suggest that all of us will suffer from mental health related problems in our lives. Not 1 in four – all of us. That includes you. That includes me. That includes everybody you know, love and care about.

Workplace stress is also a terrible thing to suffer. It can lead to depression which is one nasty piece of kit.

I became involved in the union at my workplace in my previous working life as a result of suffering fools. I became involved in education as a result of becoming involved in my union, and I began working to help people as a result of becoming educated. In 2009, armed with new education and new opportunities, I began on this career path.

During this time I began to build (and continue to build) a lot of sessions and awareness for mental health problems. This includes domestic violence awareness and grief support groups. I was doing a lot of case work to help support people who were having problems at work, and I had also begun teaching. In doing this work I was able to identify where potential problems were (and still are), and was able to start doing something about it.

In 2012, and for a few years after, I began working in more of an educational capacity. Very rewarding work in the amount of people I could reach.

The downside was that I learnt first-hand how debilitating work related stress can be. I learnt this as a result of being sacked every year then having to reapply for my job. Work-related stress like this clouds you and leaves you switching from crippling fear to boiling anger, and all the emotions in-between, and this was only made worse by the lack of support from TU officials in the same workplace.

Let me say, when I was a workplace rep, the day would never have dawned where I stood back and witnessed colleagues suffer unnecessarily.
Obviously I left that particular workplace. In now work (doing similar work) for an organisation that cares. I’m not ashamed to admit to suffering, nor am I willing to turn a blind eye.

I used to be told to keep quiet about my experience of stress and work related stress in case I was judged. But damn it all, I stand loud and proud and admit I’ve suffered, I also stand loud and proud shouting out that I’ll do as much as I can to help educate and inform around this serious issue.

My thoughts; in this life I believe that we are judged just as much by our non-actions as we are by our actions.

My message is this: there is help out there, but first and foremost when I comes to mental health related problems, we must be able to identify them in ourselves before we can hope to stand any chance of helping anybody else.

For information, see gmbreachout short course on Stress and Mental Health Awareness – more will be added on soon……

Michelle Graham

Educational establishments hiring unqualified teachers – who really loses?

When it comes to our kids’ education, do any of us actually sit back and wonder whether the teachers will actually be qualified to teach?

Ask the question and the answer would generally be that teachers being qualified to teach goes without saying. Should it even occur to us that future generations are being shaped by unqualified teachers when we (rightly) assume those teachers will know what they’re doing?

Does this question sound peculiar? Just the notion that schools and colleges may choose to hire unqualified teachers may seem far-fetched. However, we are beginning to see a rise in unqualified teachers taking up teaching posts.
According to the Labour Party, with data from the Department for Education School Workplace Survey, the number of unqualified teachers has risen from around 15,000 to around 25,000 in the last three years. These figures would suggest that around 615,000 children are being taught by unqualified teachers. So, the question now arises – who actually loses?
Some schools and colleges see this as nothing more than a money saving exercise. With new teachers keen to gain valuable experience, some long fought for terms and conditions are being dismissed as ‘unimportant’.
Many teachers who are still working towards completing their qualification fear that secure work will be hard to come by. When faced with the prospect of being out of work, or struggling to find long term meaningful contracts, what should the priority be?

One unqualified teacher explains what has happened to him. “I am actually hired as a Teaching Assistant and have begun working towards my teaching qualification in the last few months,” he says. “Although I am not qualified and am still hired and paid as a teaching assistant, I regularly find myself having to carry out the duties of a Teacher.”
He then goes on to explain “I am on minimum wage yet doing the same job as a qualified teacher. I am fearful of raising this with my employer for several reasons, with the main one being that I need this job.
Initially I could not see the problem, though there are some areas in which I find myself constantly challenged. Classroom control is a particular challenge. The classes I work in are generally over 20 students, more and more of whom now have identified and varied learning disabilities.
All I can say is that I do my best. I realise that my best may not be enough, and I accept that for the job. I have chosen to remain anonymous as the teachers I work alongside don’t agree with organisational decisions, but I am not prepared to jeopardise my own progression.”

This opinion is in stark contrast to those who have been in the profession longer. What of those teachers who have fought to better terms and conditions in the workplace?
One qualified teacher currently employed at Craven College in Skipton explains: “As a qualified teacher, I think it should be a minimum requirement that all teachers are either qualified or working towards a qualification.” Regarding the issues around this, she goes on to say: This is a real issue for us, not least because new people coming in who don’t hold the relevant qualifications or have experience ultimately settle for less. This undermines not only the qualifications themselves, but also puts our long fought for terms and conditions at risk.
I know of educational establishments who hire people to teach who are neither qualified (to teach) nor do they hold qualifications in the subject they are delivering. This is a real recipe for disaster. When somebody is not qualified in a subject, but then goes on to teach in that subject, the only thing they are passing on is their own perception. This is very damaging and can literally ruin career opportunities for students, not to mention cause untold damage to how society actually thinks about certain subjects.”
One curriculum leader speaks of potential damage being done: “I have witnessed many potential discriminatory opinions being passed on to students which are based purely on the mind-set of the person stood at the front of the classroom. Realistically, we need to understand that many students take the teachers word as ‘final’ – and here is the danger.”

Reports tell us there is a shortage of teachers. What with class sizes getting bigger coupled with mounting pressure to pass exams surely the ability of the teacher to deliver is the crucial element? Rocket science this is not, yet the same question continues to arise.
Not all educational establishments are keen to hire unqualified teachers. For some minimum standards are indeed in place, with requirements for qualifications at a certain level – at the very least working towards.
Mud sticks. Once a school or college has gained a ‘bad name’ it is very difficult to shake off. People are judged on their education, and often before employers have met potential employees, the listing of a certain ‘bad’ school or college can seriously prejudice against people regardless of their knowledge or ability.
A final thought – if the children are our future, how does that future look?

Michelle Graham

Reading whilst sunbathing will make you read..

I speak English. I’m an English speaker. I like to think I understand English – or do I? I’ve grown up with English, yet when I think about it, it must be baffling for those who are learning English as a second language.

Just look at our words through the eyes of ‘Ivor Headache’…

“I know to use a comma is to take a breath. I know to use a full stop is to indicate where the sentence should end. I know capital letters sound ‘shouty’ when they’re used in text messages (and after a swift lesson from my nephews and niece, I know how to turn capitals off on my phone) – yes, I’m well over 40, so I grew up without a mobile phone superglued to my hand. I grew up having to talk to actual people. If I ever made a phone call it was with permission from my parents, and then I would get a full 2 minutes (on our posh, push button trim phone) before I was booted off (the bill you see….)
The mention of the trim phone made me think about my teenage years, which in turn made me think about teenage pressures. I was a teenager in the 80s, so the fashion was – how should I put it – interesting… yes, the fashion was interesting.
We thought we were the ‘bee’s knees’ back then with our back combed hair (because our perms weren’t quite big enough), our ‘Tucker boots’ were essential and don’t even get me started on the velvet peddle pusher suits we would wear…okay, enough said about that, the vision I’m portraying is a ‘right sight’ and I have a reputation to protect”.

Have another look at this writing and some of the words used. The English language has so many words that sound the same yet have totally different meaning.
Then there is ‘slang’ linked to local dialect and age – the words we used as teenagers when we were super cool compared to the words our parents used, which I imagine they also thought super cool when they were teenagers.
Not to mention the strange sayings we often use that make absolutely no sense yet we still understand all the same. True story; my Nana used to joke saying:
“if you get poorly you could wake up dead in the morning”.

I can almost hear my English teacher rolling her eyes at me as I speak.
Examples of everyday use of words that are either a form of slang, or have double meanings include:

1. Baffling – ‘confusing’
2. Shufty – ‘look at’
3. Know – to know something, also pronounced no as in opposite to yes.
4. To – to do something; two – as in the number; too – as well as or added on.
5. 80s – the number eight, like ate “I ate at eight”
6. Booted – ‘kicked off’, ‘removed’
7. Bees knees – ‘fabulous’, ‘wonderful’
8. Hear – listen; here – ‘here’ you are; ear – the device on the side of your head
9. They’re – they are; there – over ‘there’; their – they left ‘their’ phones at home
10. Where – a place and often asks a question’ we’re – we are; wear – to wear (as in clothing)
11. Cool – temperature; expression of something good (can also use hot!)

Hey, just a thought to ponder:
“if a cat were to meow in another country to which it was born, would other cats understand, or would there be such a thing as feline local dialect?”

“I’ll get my coat………”

Michelle Graham.

I don’t need help with Maths – I can get it wrong all on my own!

The thoughts of ‘Ivor Headache 2018’ as documented in this morning’s personal diary;

I was going to write about maths, but then I remembered that maths is for nerds, not to mention boring, why should I care to learn, I never use maths….

Well anyway, back to my day. On the way to work I needed petrol. I remember a time when I used to be able to drive to my place of work and back for £10 per week, now I’m lucky if it’s under £30 per week (that’s at least £120 per month) I mean really, that’s a staggering 300% rise in cost to me – if only my wage had risen at such a level.
Not to worry, I’ve got enough money on me today. Luckily this month I’ve managed to budget a little better, largely down to the fact that I’m spending less in other areas (who needs to eat anyway?). I really need to try harder to save money.
So, as I’m stood waiting my turn in the que at the petrol station, I’m beginning to feel agitated because there are seven people in front of me, none of whom appear to be in any hurry. This is taking ages. Yes, I admit I’m pushing it a bit, that extra half hour in bed this morning when the alarm went off a 5am hasn’t really done me any favours. I’m mentally picturing seconds ticking away into minutes as I tap my foot in agitation, willing people to hurry up otherwise I might be late for work and will miss out on that all-important coffee before I start; speaking of which, I think I’ve got enough loyalty tokens to now qualify for that coffee to be free (lets not mention the £12 it cost me to buy the other coffees to get this token) – happy days!
As I get to the till I notice a special offer on chocolate bars. “Mm mm” I think to myself, one bar of chocolate (king size obviously) isn’t going to break the bank – my figure maybe, but not the bank. What the heck, I’ll get one (or two). It’s only an extra pound and nobody’s watching.

Hang on a minute – aren’t I supposed to be slating maths? Have I not just said maths is for nerds, and that I find it boring, and that I never use it? If that’s the case, then why have I used maths at least ten times in the past ten minutes, add on the last two minor calculations and it’s up to twelve times…thirteen now…and so it goes on.
And that is exactly the point – maths is in engrained into almost every part of every day. It’s with the upmost confidence when I say that a day will not pass in anybody’s life when numbers hold no relevance. Simply – without maths, we couldn’t function (pardon the pun)…..

Michelle Graham.