work experience placements

Reply to the Amazing Apprenticeships T Level resources survey

T Levels will soon be a qualification offer available to small areas of the country as the pilot runs out from September 2020. Over the next few academic years the Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges offering the qualification is planned to expand and the industry areas for young people to choose from will also grow.

t level rollout1

I’ve posted previously on what Careers practitioners, Teachers, parents et al. might be mindful of when discussing this route with their cohorts. T Levels will be demanding Level 3 qualifications with 3 A Levels worth of equivalent UCAS points awarded. The academic work will be of a Level 3 standard but young candidates will also need to be mature and proactive enough to secure and blossom in an extended industry placement at work throughout the two year course.

t level rollout2

The time demands of the qualification will mean that young people will struggle to fit part time work around a T Level so will need to find flexible ways to fund themselves if they cannot solely rely on support from home. With all of that being said, T Levels could be very exciting routes for both young people and employers. While the 80% work/20% training model of apprenticeships is not right for many young people the flipped T Level model of 80% training/20% work could allow young people tentative about the world of work to find their feet while employers, reticent about committing to a contract of employment for a young person with little work history, could be more favourable to using an industry placement as an important part of their talent pipeline to finding future employees. At my FE College, as we have grown our industry placements to prepare for the introduction of T Levels, we have certainly seen employers using a recruitment process for the placements and then using the placements as a talent identifier.

With this in mind all and any resources to help explain to wary young people and their parents what these new qualifications are and what they involve are to be welcomed. Some official DfE channels have started putting out marketing content on YouTube and through a dedicated site but these resources are not weighty enough to hang a group or 1:1 session on so please complete this Amazing Apprenticeships survey

so that they can better understand what resources would help teachers and advisers at schools and colleges help spread awareness.

Get completing!

The logical failure of the 2017 CBI Education & Skills Survey

Like any membership lobbying organisation, the CBI support their members to make them look as good as possible and promote the greater value of and worth of business to society. They have their work cut out, surveys show that the general public is distrustful with less than half believing British businesses act ethically, so their annual survey of business leaders (The CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey) is a chance to shift the focus elsewhere.

The 2017 iteration is drawn from an online questionnaire completed by 344 employers. (It is worth comparing at the outset this methodology against other recent employer surveys such as the recent DfE Employer perspective survey (which I blogged on here) which was drawn from telephone interviews with over 18,000 establishments across the labour market including non-profit organisations but more on that later).

The scale of employer engagement in education is an important topic with the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) tasked with expanding this work to improve CEIAG provision and so prove the research evidence of the benefits to be gained for students. Future qualification and pathway policy is also heavily geared towards gaining employer buy in and engagement. This means that establishing a base point of employer engagement is vital in judging progress and knowing where to target resources. The CEC has already made progress in this area with their Cold Spots research. Using a range of data points and sources, this shows that outcomes for young people (much like HE progression and academic achievement rates) varies greatly across the different regions of the UK.


One of the data points used to model the amount of employer engagement is the UKCES Employer Perspectives Survey 2014. This is the preceding biannual release of the DfE Employer Perspective Survey mentioned above before the closure of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in March 2017 which the DfE then took over.

That the CEC is using this data on employer engagement and not information published by the CBI is the first hint that the two sources on employer engagement tell very different tales.

The CBI survey offers useful views on the value business leaders places on their required skills from school leavers


plus their satisfaction on school leaver skill levels


and a plea for more young people to be speakers of foreign languages (page 34). The Employer Perspectives survey meanwhile does not break down employer satisfaction with school leavers into skill areas but by age of recruits (fig 3.7) so comparisons are difficult but, at all ages, it found employers were more satisfied than dissatisfied with the skill levels of their young recruits.

The survey begins to raise eyebrows though with the claims of employer engagement with education including the number of firms that offer work experience. Let’s remind ourselves what the 2017 Employer Perspectives Survey reported,

  • That 65% of employers thought that relevant work experience is a critical or significant factor when taking on a recruit but only 38% of employers had offered a work experience opportunity in the past 12 months
  • There is a huge variation between the sectors that offer work experience (fig 3.9)
  • Only 10% of employers offered work inspiration activities to students

This differs drastically to the findings of the CBI Survey that 81% of employers had some links with education


and that these links were “extensive in all parts of the UK.” Not only is this claim widely divergent with the finding from a methodologically more detailed and comprehensive survey, it also undermines the very basis on which the CEC has prioritised its work across the country. Regarding employer links with education, the CBI says there are no cold spots.

The differences continue in the value of work experience with only 23% of businesses reporting that relevant work experience is an “important” factor when recruiting a young person (fig 2.1 pictured above) which is well below the 65% of employers reporting similar in the Employer Perspectives Survey. There is also a lack of consistency of expectations in the CBI results with employers also stating that 54% were not satisfied with school leavers relevant work experience (fig 2.3 pictured above). Why would employers be unsatisfied with something they’ve also deemed not important to recruitment?

The data on the types of provision employers offer through their links with schools is couched in a presentational sleight of hand as the percentages are offered as percentages of those business who have education links, not a percentage of the total businesses. Thus


So the CBI is not claiming that 81% of employers provide careers advice talks but that 81% of the 81% with links to education provide careers advice talks. Because we have the total numbers of employers the CBI received responses from (344) we can work this back – 81% of 344 = 279, 81% of 279 = 225, 225 divided by 344 = the CBI is actually reporting that 65% of employers offer careers advice talks. The Employer Perspectives Survey concluded that just 10% of employers offer careers inspirations activities including careers talks.

The differences between the two surveys continue when discussing work experience. The CBI concludes (using the same method above) that around 63% of employers offer work experience placements. The Employer Perspectives Survey reported 38% of employers offered placements and that differences between industries can be stark.

skills report4

The CBI survey also includes business views on both the work of the CEC and the current state of CEIAG provision. They find that the CEC still has plenty of scope to increase their connections with business as only 7% of respondents were engaged with the Company.


That 79% businesses were unaware of the work of the CEC is not surprising when you also consider that only 28% of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system.


The CBI though are wholly positive about the need and remit of the CEC

The CBI fully supports their work which has a focus on practical, enabling solutions.


Underpinned by sufficient resources, the CEC should play a major role in England in
supporting schools and businesses to develop productive relationships to the benefit of young people.

but the views of the businesses surveyed are extremely negative about the quality of CEIAG provision


84% of businesses reporting that Careers advice is not good enough is an overwhelming verdict but also similar percentage to the four previous survey results show in 3.16. The CBI goes strong on its verdict on current Careers provision

These are seriously troubling results. They highlight the urgent need for radical improvement.

This all adds up to a muddled picture offered by the CBI.

They and the employers they surveyed are claiming that 81% of business have links with schools across the country, 65% offer careers advice talks and 63% offer work experience placements. This equates to a large-scale engagement with education yet, it is these same employers from whom 79% had not heard of the work of the CEC. It is from these same employers that less than a third were aware of the introduction of whole new GCSEs and grading systems. The same employers who are engaged with education to offer huge amounts of careers provision but 84% of them also reported unsatisfaction with the Careers advice offered. The solution offered by the CBI to change these views? More engagement with education through the CEC.

Establishing hard quantitative data on employer engagement is not easy as previous studies have shown. Using only limited survey data though can mean results with the failures of logic shown above. The CBI cannot continue to claim that the majority of employers are playing their part in provision only to then be overwhelmingly critical of the scale, quality and outcomes of that provision.

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


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


  • 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)


  • 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


(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)


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.

Everyone says Year 10 work experience has value

I’ve posted before on my perceptions of the value of Year 10 work experience to students and schools but only backed it up with some anecdotal evidence of my own experiences. So, in the week before almost 190 of our own students go out to their placements, it was reassuring to read about some actual data that puts forward the case for the positive impact and worth work experience at this age can have. The data comes from a recent arrival into my reading pile, “Understanding Employer Engagement in Education” Edited by Anthony Mann, Julian Stanley and Louise Archer, specifically Chapter 2: “A theoretical framework for employer engagement” and takes the form of the results of attitudinal surveys.   The chapter discusses how the range of employer engagement with school age young people can have an impact on the future life paths of those involved and contributes to the growth of the human, social and cultural capital that are factors in successful education to career transitions and beyond. Historically, a large proportion of these engagement experiences will have been work experience placements and the chapter leaves you with no doubt just how worthwhile large majorities of all stakeholders consider this engagement to be. The data:

  • A survey of 203 UK employers who offered work experience found that 82% had offered paid work to someone who had previously been on a placement
  • A 2008 survey of over 15,000 British teenagers found that 87% Agreed or Strongly Agreed with the statement, “As a result of my work experience I have developed some new skills that employers value.”
  • The 2008 survey also reported that 90% responded that they Strongly Agreed or Agreed with the statement, “I understand better why I have to do well at school”
  • A 2012 National Foundation for Education Research survey of over 700 teachers found that two-thirds agreed that young people returned from work experience better motivated to do well at school

Stanley and Mann also tease the possibility that, now the entitlement to universal work experience for 14-16 year olds has ended, it will be easier to test the actual impacts on student behaviour and outcomes rather than just collect stakeholder’s perceptions of impact. I would imagine the educational charities and foundations behind the employer engaged UTC and Studio School movement would be extremely interested in such data being crunched.

At a time when, frankly, all areas of school expenditure are under pressure from Headteachers becoming nervous about budgets this sort of data is useful to know. It can add emotive weight to decisions of what (careers) work in schools should continue to receive the financial backing necessary to put on provision that can add real value to a youngsters educational experience. Everyone believes that work experience does, so let’s fight for it.

Let’s be clear about work experience for under 18s

It’s at this point of the academic year that one of the biggest frustrations of the job is in full effect for me. Namely, the short shift some of our Year 10 students receive when approaching employers about work experience placements due to the insistence that the company doesn’t offer placements to under 18s due to “insurance reasons.”

There seems to be no rhyme or reason between those who accept students, those who decline and the type of workplace environment involved.  Local aircraft engineering companies such as Gulfstream and Monarch go out of their way to offer us fantastic opportunities where students will be properly supervised working around mechanics and heavy equipment while retailers such as JD Sports and PC World decline to engage. Some of those businesses will genuinely believe that there is a special circle of Hell reserved just for the form filling needed to let anyone under the age of 18 into your place of work and some will just use it as a quick excuse (“If we let one do it, then it opens the floodgates!” they say, seemingly oblivious that the world’s 7 billion people aren’t turning up every morning expecting a paycheck despite the fact they do employ at least some of them). For those schools who still commit to providing Key Stage 4 work experience this belief and casual excuse is the biggest threat to securing worthwhile placements for their students. It is part of wider issue covered in-depth recently by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills in their report “Not Just Making Tea” in which they state that “74% of employers claim experience is significant or critical when recruiting young people. But despite the high demand for experience, just 27% of employers offer young people the chance to gain work experience.”

As Careers folk, we must shout this louder.

There are no “special insurances” that are needed to offer work experience to under 18s.

Under health and safety law, work experience students are your employees. You treat them no differently to other young people you employ.

There is no onerous mountain of paperwork to be conquered.

Schools and colleges or others organising placements need to check the employer has risk management arrangements in place. Conversations between the placement organiser and the employer could simply be noted for reference.

In fact, the Government have paid special attention to make this all as clear and straight forward as possible so that work experience could realistically be one of the core components of the 16-19 Study Programmes.

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said

There is no need for lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach. Employers who are already managing the risks in their business effectively for employees are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place. There is no need to conduct their own risk assessments

And, always remember, that the aims of work experience are fully supported by leading Business groups who want schools to engage with these sort of schemes.

Here is the official HSE leaflet you could print and distribute to your students and parents and use yourself when approaching employers.

Click to access indg364.pdf

Of course, some businesses will have had a poor experience in the past with a student, or won’t feel there are suitable tasks for a young person and some simply won’t be sure they have the capacity to properly supervise the student and, when they explain why they don’t offer placements, I listen, I try to encourage them to reconsider, I leave my contact details and (hopefully, however small) at least a moment of consideration to the idea. But at least they explain their reasoning and it’s based on experience and reality. Not a false idea of a barrier that doesn’t even exist. However long the journey may be to persuade more employers that this is indeed the case, we can do some of the legwork to persuade, cajole and engage.

.@bisgovuk survey into school and business collaboration

Yesterday I was contacted by a market research company on behalf of The Department for Business Innovation and Skills who wanted to conduct a 15 minute (actually took about half an hour but that was probably my fault) telephone questionnaire into our contact and interaction with businesses. They seem to be phoning a number of schools across the country to get data about this.

The questions covered the types of interaction my school has had with businesses and from which sectors those companies operate in. From work experience placements, to mentoring schemes to mock interviews and career talks, the conversation covered the full remit of the different interactions possible to highlight any gaps in provision from certain sectors.

The final question was a “Do you have any other points to make to Bis about this topic?” type comment and I pointed out that, really, there has been enough reports recently on this subject and that any data the Department gains from the survey will probably only duplicate the known picture already widely published.

The main issue I had with the survey though was that the questions were mainly phrased for “yes or no” type answers which leads to easier data outputs but won’t accurately reflect the situation. For example, when asked if I had any interaction with the Agricultural sector I answered yes, as the list of interactions read to me covered work experience but I would be the first to admit that, just because one student has been on a work experience placement at the Rothamsted Research station two years ago, that doesn’t mean our employer interaction in this sector is of the highest standard.

It’s also interesting to consider why Bis are conducting this survey now. Will the data feed into the forthcoming updated Guidance to aid schools with their Statutory Duty for Careers? That conflicts with previous messages that the Guidance was already written and merely awaiting approval for publication. It would interesting to hear if other schools have been contacted for this survey and their take on it – get in touch.