work experience placements

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.

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.