Good practice in organising work experience placements

It’s easy to forget that, below the headline announcements and big speeches, Government departments are usually just chugging away with administrating policy, managing change and commissioning and learning (hopefully) from research. A recent (March 2017) 148 page research report by the NatCen Social Research and SQW was published by the DfE entitled “Work experience and related activities in schools and colleges” whose aim was “to consider current provision and operational practice of work-related activities at schools and colleges in England.” Which isn’t really what it does, for it only really focuses on work experience provision and pays scant regard to other kinds of employe engagement.

Based on the results of over 700 survey responses and 278 interviews (all conducted in the 2016 Summer term) the report paints a picture of what methods schools and employers make use of and which they struggle with when planning, sourcing and organising work experience placements. (The report covers this process in both schools and Further Education Colleges but it’s the work with Pre 16 students that I will concentrate on here) It is full of interesting data regarding participation of students and barriers some perceive to taking up placements, how schools prepare students for placements, quality control of those placements and evaluate the impact on students post placement.

This all results in is a good practice guide that can help practitioners to offer effective work experience schemes

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and a recommendation to the DfE

Despite widespread acceptance of the importance of work-related activities in preparing young people for the world of work, and some common agreement about what constituted good practice, it was noted that the absence of clear guidance from the Department for Education in relation to work-related learning pre-16, meant that it was not always prioritised (whether in the curriculum or in staffing). The absence of guidance was felt to be particularly impactful when governors/ senior leaders needed to be persuaded of the benefits of delivering a structured programme of work-related activities. Detailed guidance related to pre-16 provision, therefore, is to be welcomed

which, I would imagine, is a plea that would be welcomed by CEIAG practitioners in schools.

Throughout, the report is full of interesting titbits, some of which caught my eye were:

  • Funding constraints are restricting school work in this area

It was felt that, in order to support an expansion of work related activities at a time when school and college budgets were tight, additional (central) funding was required

  • Employers are keen for placements to be longer than one week
  • Work experience is still the most common form of employer engagement offered by schools at KS4

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  • 66% of respondents send students out on placements in the Summer term and 86% organise block placements rather than separate days.
  • The most popular reason for timing of placements is to fit around programmes of learning 55% which suggests schools are not being flexible to the needs of employers or learners when planning such provision.
  • 24% report that “not finding enough placements” is the largest reason for not all students accessing placements while “lack of confidence” (89%) and “fear of the unknown” (81%) where the biggest challenges to students taking up placements which shows how important the personal support practitioners offer their students in the build up to placements is.
  • That some sectors of employment are clearly failing to find ways to offer enough placements to meet demand as schools report common difficulties (% of respondents reporting employment sectors where it was difficult to find placements)

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  • That concerns around health and safety and insurance are still holding employers back from offering placements
  • That schools are working with a range of organisations to help source placements

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(although note the low % working with Enterprise Advisers through the Careers & Enterprise Company is likely due to the Summer 2016 date of the survey when the organisation was much newer)

  • That far too few schools spend any time following up with employers post placements to provide feedback or assess how the placement went (% of schools who undertook follow activities with employers)

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The report also looks at the rationale and reasoning for running a work experience scheme in the first place and it is cheering to see the range of impacts and employers that schools believe such provision can have on young people, which makes the practical barriers that do exist when organising KS4 placements all the more frustrating.

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