Plans to allow school leavers to train as solicitors could help young people bypass the costly university route.

I’ve never been keen on the Gradgrind view of education – that its sole purpose is to pour students’ heads with facts so they can go on to become productive members of society.

There are plenty of reasons to go to university without falling back on the cold, economic argument of social utility. (Although being an ex-arts student I suppose I would say that.)

However, while there’s a lot to be said for education for its own sake, it’s also worth questioning the monopoly of expensive postgraduate courses that teach skills which could also be learned via structured on-the-job training.

I’m not denigrating anyone who has chosen the university post-grad training route (it’s one I took myself). But in the current debt-heavy, tuition fee environment, why shouldn’t those with a clear vocational calling have the option to bypass these costs altogether?

Social mobility tsar Alan Milburn has reported that apprenticeships are a key route for diversifying the profession.

In that respect plans unveiled last week to allow school leavers to train directly as solicitors through an apprenticeship route could be a positive move.  

Of course this is not an entirely new idea: the days of five-year articles of clerkship ended not that long ago. In the grand scheme of things the outsourcing of training to universities via a degree/legal practice course is still the new kid on the block as the primary route to qualification.

Naturally the devil will be in the detail. Employers, regulators and university providers have until July to flesh out the apprenticeship standard.

And of course we’re still awaiting the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s competency statement in autumn, which will outline the standards for educational bodies providing alternative routes of training. Those bodies will then respond with their own implementation plans.

While we’re yet to see anything concrete it’s still too early to judge these alternative routes.

I think it would be a pity to deny anyone the experience of university if they want to go: but it would be a crying shame not to embrace routes that could also help lower the barriers of entry for others.

Kathleen Hall is a Gazette reporter