Gillingham FC Community Trust’s Apprenticeship scheme is thriving with great success for the schools and the apprentices involved.  

The programme has been running since June 2015, in partnership with Canterbury College and JACE training, and has provided 43 young people with placements in 25 different schools across Kent – to the benefit of themselves and the students they work with.

Apprentices are given training and qualifications alongside completing a placement as a Teaching Assistant and Sports Coach in a local school.  The programme aims to get more male staff into primary schools, while also helping schools to get more female staff role models in sport too. 

One particular school has had great success with the programme – Oakley School in Tunbridge Wells.  The school is a co-educational Special School for pupils aged 4-18, all of whom have severe and/or complex needs.  So far they have taken on six apprentices, with two now having been offered full-time employment as Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) following their successful placements.

18-year old Honour Wheeler joined the school in September 2015, working with ‘Pathway One’ students who range from ages 10 to 16.  After initial reservations about the apprenticeship programme, and battling her nerves in her interview, she has excelled at the school, developing her skills and knowledge of working with children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

“At first I did find it a bit of a struggle” she admitted, “but as I began to build a relationship with the students, I’ve grown to love it.”

“The biggest skill I’ve developed is to have more patience.  I’ve also learnt to be more approachable – as many of the students here are autistic they can struggle with approaching you, so I’ve made it as easy as possible to help them feel comfortable.”  

Josh Epstein, 21, has also been working at Oakley School since autumn 2015.  He’s been working with the further education students, a role he has really thrived in.  “I’ve enjoyed working with the older students, because I’ve been able to relate to them because of my age” he said.  “I also support them with things like going to college and helping them to apply for jobs.”

Like Honour, Josh too has seen himself grow in the placement.  “Communication is the big skill I’ve developed – I’ve become more confident about what I’m teaching.” 

Roz Leach, Further Education Lead at Oakley School, agrees.  “Both Honour and Josh have excelled in their own areas – they’ve both developed massively,” she said. “They were both quiet when they first joined, [but] now they are both confident in their abilities and are able to make decisions that help all of the students.  They’ve really adapted to their environment.” 

The key to a successful placement it seems is support from both the school and the Trust.  “I’ve never worked with SEND students before, so I was not sure initially what to think,” admitted Josh, “but with the support of the school everything has worked out well.”

“The support from the Trust has also been really good,” added Honour, “they are always there to reply to questions or provide help whenever you need it.”

It’s not just the apprentices who benefit from the placements though – the schools and students who they work with gain a lot too.  Through their role, the youngsters enable schools to broaden their sports provision, while also providing invaluable support in the classroom. 

“The skill set a young person brings is so varied – they have an understanding of being in school, and an appreciation of the issues that the students are facing,” explained Roz.  “The apprentices have a lot to offer, [and] their lack of qualifications shouldn’t be an indicator of their quality.  The scheme has worked so well for us – it’s been absolutely brilliant – and I’m really keen to take on more.”

It’s not just at Oakley that the apprentices are thriving either – the future looks bright for many of the others on the programme.  17-year old James for example is in his second year at Fairview Community Primary School, and has adapted quickly to his new-found responsibility in the classroom.  He’s now hoping to become a PE teacher. “Building relationships with the children is the best part," said James. "I work with all year groups and it’s great to see the children develop both in sport and in the classroom.”

For Josh and Honour, their commitment and hard work during their placements has paid off, and having been employed by the school, they are both now planning to become fully qualified teachers.  Many of those still undertaking their apprenticeships have also got big ambitions to take their Level 5 qualifications (equivalent to a Foundation degree) to boost their skills and experience.  

“Taking on an apprenticeship has been a really good opportunity, as you get to earn while you lean, and can gain valuable skills in the workplace,” said Josh.  “My advice to anyone else considering doing this is to be open-minded, and to work hard at whatever role you go into – push yourself and try hard to succeed.”

“Don’t doubt yourself or question whether you have the skills,” added Honour. “The apprenticeship is about helping you to learn those skills you need. When I started out I was new and inexperienced, but now I’m not!”

If you are interested in joining the Apprenticeship programme, or would like to take on an apprentice at your school, contact Wayne ‘Freddie’ Wilson on or 01634 350 125, or check our vacancies page for current opportunities.