The funding requirements now for 16-19 year olds states that full time education and training programmes with the exception of apprenticeships and traineeships must follow the 'study programme' route.
This involves learners undertaking a main course of study, whether academic or vocational that may cover entry through to advanced level which is then supplemented by English, maths, enrichment activities, information advice and guidance and a period of work experience related to a learner's main course of study or potential career aspiration. In essence, although learners will clearly be more motivated by what they consider to be their main learning goal, the wrap-around study programme components could and should provide the opportunity for learners to successfully prepare for the next stages in their progression which ultimately will be to enter meaningful paid employment.
Clearly a significant amount of planning, preparation, co-ordination and the need for a good quality delivery of these activities is required to make sure the study programme holds together and delivers its aims. However, Ofsted are identifying many providers who fail to deliver these programmes to a high quality and in a significant number actually fail to provide the basic components of a study programme? Surveys reveal that less than half of learners actually participate in a planned, structured work experience programme.
Providers can often find arranging and managing external work experience to be problematical. Insufficient time to devote to developing employer links and preparing learners for this experience, a lack of placements and unresponsive employers are often cited as reasons for not prioritising placing learners on work experience. Ultimately the priority for work experience is often reduced to a bolt-on arrangement where it may or may not happen and if it does it is questionable as to how successful this will be for both the learner and employer.
And yet, how different this can be and how life changing a successful period of planned and structured, meaningful work experience can have upon a learner. Improving their skills and understanding in a real working environment, achieving their qualification, progressing into employment and develop their employability skills and work ethic. All significant benefits that will help learners to take their place in society, providing them with constructive and worthwhile use of their time. For those learners who have such a work experience it may prove to be the most memorable component of their study programme.
Let's not stop there – what about the benefits to employers? The right learner who has been well prepared and trained in a range of skills to be able to fully contribute can be beneficial to business.
And finally, what about the evidence work experience can provide for an Ofsted inspection? Consider the positive impact on outcomes concerning success rates, skill developments and positive progression. For the personal development, behaviour and welfare it can cover almost all the requirements and provide excellent evidence to show a significant impact upon the life and welfare of learners.
The Education and Training Foundation have commissioned a number of initiatives to support Study Programmes such as programme modelling and teacher development, in addition to the work experience project delivered by the Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN). This project works with colleges, training providers and employers to explore how work experience can be a success. Under the project name of 'Study Programmes – Developing work experience readiness', significant numbers of providers and employers have contributed to in depth research across a wide range of industries and provider types. The programme also includes training events and focus groups to investigate what makes a successful work experience programme and how issues and barriers that are causing problems can be overcome.
Interim findings indicate that where work experience is planned well in advance, where learners are well prepared, where business benefits of employers are fully explored and considered, where the period of the placement is structured and monitored, and where a diary/log linked to a developmental course related assignment is undertaken then the essential components are in place for a successful experience both for the learner and employer. Interestingly, many employers state that for learners to have good communication skills, a strong customer focus and the ability to use their initiative are more important attributes than product knowledge. A further challenge for providers is to ensure that the examples of good practice that they have are shared across the whole organisation to ensure all learners have a rewarding and motivational opportunity to develop and practice their skills in the workplace.
Kerry Boffey is the director of the Adult learning Improvement Network and an established authority in curriculum management and quality improvement in the education and skills sector