The Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship Programme (SLMDA) at the University of Birmingham holds “considerable appeal with public sector employers in government, healthcare and education contexts where opportunities and access to funding for such workplace training has not previously existed,” say the University Vocational Awards Council in response to a consultation considering the validity of a Masters qualification in the Senior Leader apprenticeship standard.

Plans to remove the Master’s component from the Level 7 senior leader apprenticeship standard were announced earlier this year with a public consultation open through April 2020. As part of the consultation process both the University of Birmingham and UVAC have spoken in support of the Master’s element of SLDA programmes; citing the clear effects of the SLMDA as a key component in the workforce and career progression strategies of an increasing number of councils, linked to active engagement with apprenticeships at all levels.

At Birmingham, three bespoke programmes for emerging leaders working in local government and public sector organisations launched in 2018:

Developed in partnership with the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the Local Government Association (LGA), local and regional councils and the University’s Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV), apprentices on each programme are almost all senior practitioners where leadership and strategic management conceptual knowledge is critical for the effective delivery of crucial public services. Almost all of the employer partners use a master’s degree qualification as a hard sift criteria to attract the best candidates into senior leadership roles within their organisation.

The SLMDA experience has also developed a professional network for every cohort, with the support of academic expertise and resources at the University of Birmingham, that has ensured modules are relevant to the broad range of apprentices attending. The wide range of commercial experience across many industries combined with views from public sector organisations has inspired new thinking about policy and working across complex organisations.

“My MSc Degree Apprenticeship in Public Management and Leadership has assisted my understanding and appreciation of leadership models and management within a public organisation. The breadth and scale of the information covered has supported the development of wider corporate and partner understanding and has, individually, supported my promotion and appointment to an Executive Position within my organisation. A key personal motivation for signing up to this programme was the award of an MSc….and the MSc is now actively being utilised as part of our organisational succession planning with those identified as future senior leaders…The award of an MSc from a recognised international institution is a key motivator in this decision and ongoing support for this programme.”

MSc Public Management and Leadership Degree Apprentice, Assistant Executive Director (Governance and Assets) (Knowsley Council)

An SLMDA for the education sector has also been a welcome approach; one that is designed to integrate far better with the highly complex and demanding duties that stretch beyond the bounds of the typical school day and mitigate the risk of drop-out owing to work pressures.

“The MEd is the key component for me; I am not sure what value the apprenticeship would have without the MEd. The MEd so far has been incredibly valuable to me in broadening my perspective into areas of leadership I haven’t been involved in before as well as a greater depth of understanding in areas I have led for a number of years.  More than that though, I think the transferable skills it develops such as evaluating evidence and then organising and presenting arguments will strengthen my ability and confidence as a leader in many ways.”

MEd Educational Leadership Senior Leader Degree Apprentice, Assistant Head Teacher, Windsor Academy Trust 

The SLMDA offers a profound experience to apprentices across the public sector with the programme providing an otherwise scarce opportunity to learn skills at a strategic level including professional reflection and development which enables them to tackle leadership challenges.


Degree apprenticeships are an innovative approach to developing the nation’s workforce, bringing together the best of higher and vocational education. 

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