Education Business Partnerships

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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The March 2015 careers guidance update: Scrat gets his nut

In what is now becoming an annual event, last week saw the publication of the update to the Careers Statutory Guidance for schools. It’s now three academic years in a row that has seen updated Guidance released and, each year, the document has become more detailed in its outline and expectations of what quality careers provision should look like in England’s schools.

I’ve always felt that the first iteration of this document did a middling job as guidance goes while last year’s was much clearer and really left no room for school leaders to claim ignorance when offering reasons for their lack of support for CEIAG. In fact, the DfE picked up on my saying so and used it as a defence for sticking to their guidance guns when pressed by the Education Select Committee.

As I’ve acknowledged though, that view seemed to be against the grain as there seemed to be many knowledgeable voices who were deeply unsatisfied with the previous documents and bemoaned the lack of clarity over the must/should usage, the lack of priority given to securing face to face guidance from qualified professionals and the absence of a recommendation for schools to achieve some form of Quality Mark.

This latest publication should then satisfy some of those criticisms as it contains many strengthened references to including qualified face to face guidance and achieving Quality Marks. As a result the initial reaction has been noticeably warmer and welcoming.

That it’s taken a whole term of Government and a change of Secretary of State to release a document in the last week before purdah that professional bodies have at least faintly praised shouldn’t be forgotten but this is a comparatively small point to the larger one to make.

Which is the ongoing background story:

Running a CEIAG program is, like many other parts of school provision, not a cheap enterprise as so minutely documented by the Gatsby report that costed an average program at £44,676 per academic year. You can add another £1800 to that for undertaking a Careers Mark award.

In my posts here I’ve always tried to look beyond my own experience and try to link to wider evidence as often as possible but in making my point here I can’t get away from my own patch. This year there are three items that have cost the school money for a CEIAG program; my wage, a work experience contract with an EBP and a photocopying budget. Trips to Universities and employers happen in my car, trips to Colleges are organised so we meet the students there, a local College paid for our coach to the Skills Show, we’ve had EBP/National Careers funding for a Future First subscription, work experience diaries come from Barclays, lesson resources come from free websites, all our visitors are volunteers, our LEP has financed a careers speed dating event. Anything at all that costs is a non starter. Next year we’re not buying in a Careers Adviser from the Local Authority with the plan that increasing my (Level 6 qualified) face to face offer, a range of activities and visitors and the fact we don’t have a Sixth Form will enable us to meet the “impartiality” standard in the guidance. And, I would consider us a school that doesn’t have it really bad. I’ve had access to training and huge amounts of support from Senior Leaders. We are fortunate enough to currently have a fantastic new building being erected under the Priority School Building Program and, over time, are due to increase our intake numbers to 1400. Meanwhile, many schools are looking at their teaching and support staff and looking for ways to lower costs. And, this is before an election after which, no matter the rhetoric, significant further cuts will arrive (the larger academy chains know this and, to protect themselves as best they can against the coming drought, are looking to lever their brand to access private donors). This will not be in any way good for CEIAG.

In such a climate, even contemplating a Quality Award is a silly notion. It’s the furthest thing from my agenda for the next academic year. The final sentence of the CDI response to the new guidance pays the smallest heed to this mess in what is surely a case of putting the cart before the horse

Access to development funding to help schools build their capacity to take on the statutory duty would really help to ensure that all young people had access to the high quality careers support they both need and deserve.

As Deirdre Hughes writes,

Let’s hope the Government’s ring-fenced investment for careers work to reach more young people becomes a reality sooner rather than later.

Otherwise, we’ll soon find ourselves in a situation akin to that little critter in the Ice Age movies; while great time, effort and perseverance has been spent on the small prize of the nut of persuading officials to change some wording in a Guidance document, around us the glacier has been cracking.