Month: December 2012

In defence of KS4 work experience

A growing trend at the moment is dedicated funding for provision, run by external agencies but through schools and in conjunction with them, being withdrawn to be followed by a message from the top “Well, you’ve got the money, if you want to keep it, you can pay for it” It happened more prominently with Connexions but it has also happened with organisations that assist schools organise Key Stage 4 work experience. Funding that previously paid for Education Business Partnerships all over the country to facilitate the bridges between schools and business and fulfill the necessary health & safety and legal barriers to work experience suddenly vanished from sight.

Schools have the money,” we were told. “If they want the service, they can pay for it,” said the guidance. “Freedom for Head teachers to make the decisions,” announced the press release. Of course, no money was allocated to this freedom so it wasn’t really a freedom. Heads, faced with the choice that asks them to pay for a service they had always previously got for free, are likely to retract to covering bases they need to cover or provision with a clear evidence base of the impact on results.

And work experience is neither of those. Or at least extremely difficult to prove that it is. Sure, I’ve done pupils surveys once they return to school after work experience which show how much they valued their experiences but this still may not convince cash strapped Heads with the need to prioritise funds to league table boosting intervention.

More and more of the rhetoric around 14-19 pathways is that we need to focus on a core curriculum right up until 18 and any activities which allow learners to focus on specific areas should either come after that or only be for students who have made the decision to study at specific institutions such as University Technical Colleges. Unfortunately, it feels more and more that work experience has been deemed to be one of those ‘narrowing’ activities. Which is strange as employers consistently advocate that producing school leavers with experience of the work place and all of the associated soft skills should be a core goal of the education system.

This report is full of that message:

A few of the positives of work experience in Year 10:

  1. We’ve got two current Year 11’s who, with a fair wind, should start in apprenticeships at the firm they did their work experience at when they leave us. They took their chance and made enough of a positive impression on their placements that both businesses have been in touch with the school and sound very positive that it will happen. Fingers crossed.
  2. It leads to more work experience and wider networks. Over the summer holidays and in the Autumn half term break in Year 11 we regularly have students continuing to go to work at their ex placement to learn new skills.
  3. It’s a cliché but for a few every year (mostly boys interesting in vocational or trade based careers) it is a real motivator. They come back into school suddenly aware of why the subjects we’re teaching them and the grades they will get are important.
  4. Or, for able but coasting students, it’s a look into the abyss. A few years back a very able young lady spent two weeks shifting heavy boxes around the massive freezer out the back of a local Iceland. She HATED it. Every minute of it felt like it was destroying her soul but she stuck at it. I know this because I read her diary (they all write a diary of the two weeks) and it was the most amazing piece of writing. Like a pean to the quiet misery of the working man, she wrote how the experience had inspired her to use the most of her intelligence and get working at school so that the insight into a working life she saw then, did not become her own future.
  5. It introduces them to a world where people can fail. The Head of the school featured in the Educating Essex program had a great phrase, “we are a no fail organisation.” He didn’t mean it in the “prizes for all” sense that politicians can sometimes twist that ethos into but in the sense that for every student we must find what success means for them. Teachers must always look to positive to encourage their students and give them yet one more chance to build their own version of success piece by piece. Year 10 seems a very good point to me to give them a small insight into the world awaiting them where the patience, encouragement and security afforded them are values to be sought and cherished, not routinely expected.

But still, all of this needs to be quantitatively assessed to prove it’s worth. With the forthcoming improved destinations measures for schools it will be very interesting to note if a Key Stage 4 offer of work experience is a factor in improving outcomes for students.

Footnote: None of this is to say that the traditional two week block of work experience in the summer term is still the best way to offer these opportunities. The offer of KS4 work experience has a chance to change with the array of forthcoming changes to KS4 assessment. Some of those potential models were briefly discussed in a recent Education Select Committee hearing – Q22 here:

Employer Engagement – Thank you to these Luton companies!

There has been a lot of focus from the recent Education Select Committees on careers guidance for young people on how schools interact with employers and business to offer inspiring opportunities for students. On a national scale I feel a slight sea change coming here, as UTC’s and Studio Schools embed themselves into the soon it will be a badge of honour of schools to talk about their links with business

With this is mind I wanted to write about the local companies who go out of their way to work with us and offer a range of different provision that, each in its own way, adds to our student’s school experience. Think of this as a prestigious list of local businesses, the Booker prize of Luton companies who make that extra effort and, of course, I want more of them to get in touch and work with us! If your fantastic company isn’t on this list, why not?!?

1. Selex Galileo

These guys are great. Every year ourselves and two other local schools organise a careers fair for Year 11 and, without fail, these guys send a couple of enthusiastic young employees to man a stand all day long. On of the few local businesses we can rely on to attend. Last academic year they also, jointly with the charity Heads, Teachers & Industry, worked with us on a scheme that saw three of their current apprenticeships visit school once a week and work one to one with three of our underachieving year 10s. The three students also visited the Selex site. It was a wonderful scheme and one I would LOVE to see run again this year as I think both parties got a lot from the experience. I think I would also be more experienced at picking the right students for the program.

2. Gulfstream Aerospace

Based at Luton Airport, these guys are so, so helpful. The link came through the STEM Ambassador scheme – an engineer at the firm volunteers his own time and has, so far been out three times to speak to groups of students at school. We’ve taken a small group of Year 11’s to the hanger for a tour and see the jets and, this year, we hope to run a two-week work placement for two Year 10’s. Lots of young people do see engineering as an aspirational route but it’s schemes and links such as this which can turn that dream into reality. Massive, massive thanks has to go to Andy Jenkins, the engineer in question, for the dedication, enthusiasm and fresh ideas he offers to keep the relationship with the school working and for being so approachable to both us and the students. Gold stars all round.


It wouldn’t be a Luton post without mentioning Vauxhall. Despite some testing times recently, their outreach programs have never wavered and they regularly send out emails offering visits to the production line, apprenticeship fairs and in school workshops. We have one of the school design and marketing workshops booked for the new year for Year 9 and are already looking forward to it. We need large, local employers like this to carry on reaching out to us for talented students to believe that staying in the local area is a positive option in their future.


I guess that logo should really be the NHS but, every year, the hospital host the local NHS jobs fair for schools which really help us increase the awareness of all of the career pathways to do with medicine and health care. I’ve covered in a recent post how young people’s career aims can sometimes be seduced or tainted by what they see in the media and nowhere is this more apparent than in medicine. Many dream of being a doctor, and some will be, but after talking to the employees at the hospital they begin to understand that radiographers, paramedics, health records staff etc all go into making a hospital run and offer promising careers


Another firm based at the airport who offer some of the best work experience placements our students go out on. Every year they are kind enough to take a few students on placements and the young people always come back with smiles across their faces; they love the two weeks there.

Of course a massive, massive thank you to all the firms, charities and public services that offer our students work experience – we really do appreciate it!

I will update this list from time to time but if you run a local firm or work in a nearby company would like to work with the school then get in touch!

I’d love to add your company’s name to the list one day!

Rachel Wolf has a vision for education – how would careers IAG fit into this?

On 2/12/12 the Public Accounts Committee sat in session taking evidence about the expenditure on the Dfe’s much vaunted Academies program. One of the main supporters and advocates of the Academies and Free School’s policy is Rachel Wolf, previously head of the New Schools Network who gave evidence to the panel. She spoke very succinctly and with great determination about her belief in the program’s mission to raise standards and the comparisons in possible organisational structures to the education system in the United States.

Her evidence can be found here:

Her vision of how the system will evolve over the next few years is clear.

 I would expect that in five years, you will have self-creating middle tiers, which are school chains. I think that within five years, there are going to be very few academies, and certainly free schools, across the country that are not in groups of schools

We know the Dfe is planning substantial cuts to its staffing numbers and is currently reorganising internally to best manage the demand, alongside it’s sub-department the Education Funding Agency, of thousands of Academies and Free Schools that no longer report or receive guidance from, a traditional middle tier of bureaucracy such as a Local Authority. Wolf sees monitoring and accountability at this level being replaced by the expansion of Chains or Federations of Academy providers. Currently Academies are run by larger charitable trusts who may oversee education establishments at all Key Stages. Wolf envisages these coagulating into larger chains of establishments who, through competition between brands and the strong threat of closure if baselines are not met, would improve outcomes.

In education circles, her views on how education should structure itself in the UK are well known but it was still gave me a jolt to hear them so soon after the recent Education Committee hearings on Careers IAG for young people.

Let’s imagine that future landscape that Wolf describes and how Careers work would fit into that.

Today’s starting point isn’t perfect. There are a multitude of providers open to students at each transition point of 16 or 18 which help offer choice through competition but this is still diluted through traditional and institutional promotion of the establishment’s own offer in the next key stage. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time but it happens enough that a Secretary of State very adverse to legislating rules for all did just that (with a slight twist of his arm admittedly).

So here’s some things I think would happen in this scenario:

1) Some chains would tie in employers to only working with their schools and colleges and offering exclusive apprenticeship routes for their students. There is already talk of the cash strapped FE sector closely working with specific employers to sponsor colleges. Current UTC’s proudly display their employer links on their promotional material and there is an increasing expectation on FE Colleges to provide clear routes into employment.

2) As a follow on from point 1 – Career guidance and marketing will become more intertwined as, where there are chances to input new student cohorts into the chain establishments, the promotion of employ-ability or HE destination statistics will be key

2) As an overall comparison method though, destination measures as a league table or yardstick measure for secondary schools will become pointless extremely quickly as students will only move from establishment to establishment within the chain. The movement for students between different chain establishments between at each transition point will be minimal (perhaps students moving home etc) as each chain protects its income streams.

3) Competitors who run alternative Sixth Forms or FE Colleges will not be permitted to promote their institution in schools run outside their parent chain. Local Authorities will stand in the background, wringing their hands over the lack of coherence in their area, but will be ultimately powerless. We have a Statutory Duty which is mostly ignored now by small, mostly self-reliant schools. Once they become part of a bigger chain, responsible for funneling a cohort each year into the next establishment to continue the funding, the Careers Duty will become a minor footnote in education policy.

4) Voucher systems might play a part in this. It’s a policy that is probably a long way away in this country but if the child/parents are giving the purchasing power of a voucher led system then the need for each chain (or brand) to be associated with “employ-ability” will accelerate at pace.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Micheal Gove said:

“only last week I was talking to Arne Duncan, the reappointed Secretary for Education in Barack Obama’s Administration, and he outlined to me how important it is that the two of us work together on a reform programme identical in every detail, to ensure that, however well we have done in the past, we do yet better in the future on behalf of all our children”

So, be under no illusion, this is the model that is coming and, without stringent, clear and monitored regulation, there are large difficulties for the world of Careers guidance within that model.