What is a School Leaver Programme?

  • Last updated 12 Jan 2021


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School leaver programmes aren’t as easy to define as apprenticeships and will vary from company to company and industry to industry.

Some employers have retitled their Higher Apprenticeships as ‘School Leaver Programmes’; others have veered away from the whole apprenticeship structure completely.

We’ve put our heads together to pin down exactly what a school leaver programme is and give you a little bit more information about the sort of opportunities you’ll find on this website.

The lowdown on school leaver programmes

School leaver programmes are having a bit of a moment. They are the new “black” of the recruitment world.

Since university fees have gone up, more and more companies are offering school leaver programmes for A-level (or equivalent) students who don’t fancy shelling out on university.

They tend to be offered by the large companies in industries like accountancy and finance, engineering, retail, hospitality and tourism, and IT.

Employers offer programmes that give A-level students or career changers the chance to work towards a university degree and/or professional qualification.

Most companies will sponsor or part-sponsor your education and, in return, you might work full-time or part-time for them.

That’s one of the best bits of school leaver programmes: you receive education and training while working for a company and earning a wage.

What qualifications will I gain?

As school leaver programmes aim to provide a genuine alternative for students who would have otherwise gone to university, employers put plenty of emphasis on the kind of qualifications you might gain whilst on the programme.

Some programmes are centred on attaining a bachelor’s degree or foundation degree, while others might focus on the achievement of a professional qualification.

A few will combine them both, offering their trainees the chance to obtain a degree and a postgraduate professional qualification.

It’s your choice: you can opt for a school leaver programme where you’ll get a degree as part of the scheme, or bypass university altogether and aim for a professional qualification.

How long do school leaver programmes last?

School leaver programmes tend to be lengthier than the average apprenticeship. Most school leaver programmes can last anywhere between three and seven years.

It might seem like a long haul, but that’s the time you’ll need to gain some serious qualifications.

The years are usually broken down into stages. For example, students might spend one year at university, before working full-time for the company for the next two years, or they might work at the company and study for a degree or professional qualification on a part-time or distance learning basis.

Am I eligible for a school leaver programme?

You’ll need a PhD, a 5,000 metre swimming certificate and balls of steel. No, not really. The whole point of a school leaver programme is that they don’t expect you to be an expert in the industry already.

However, since they are positioned as the more ‘elite’ school leaver opportunities and competition can be tough, most companies will usually specify a minimum number of UCAS points or a minimum number of A-levels in their entry requirements.

This could be anything from requiring two A-level passes to asking for a whopping 320 UCAS points.

Entry requirements will vary from company to company, but overall they will be looking for bright, young, ambitious candidates with an interest in their industry, who are keen to leap straight into the world of work.

School leaver and sponsored degree: the difference

There’s plenty of crossover between the two, with some school leaver programmes more akin to sponsored degrees and some sponsored degree programmes more like school leaver programmes.

Take a look at our What is a Sponsored Degree? article to get the lowdown on the different types of sponsored degrees and how they compare to school leaver programmes.

Examples of school leaver programmes

Enough talk, here are examples of some actual school leaver programmes offered by some of the top companies in the UK:

BDO School Leaver Programme

Deloitte BrightStart Scheme

National Audit Office

National Audit Office School Leaver Programme

National Grid Engineer Training Programme

Read more:

Choosing a school leaver programme

School leaver career fairs

Searching for school leaver programmes

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