How many times have you read Ofsted reports that state that ‘There are inconsistencies across the college/training provider in its’ management and delivery of work experience within Study Programmes’
What does this really mean? What and where are the inconsistencies and how can these be addressed?
Usually, inconsistency implies that there is a mixture of good and weaker practice that results in the overall level of performance falling to no better than satisfactory, which in modern day inspection speak implies that it ‘requires improvement’. A key challenge for both colleges and training providers is often linked to subject or curriculum areas and the perceived barriers that arranging work experience for learners in these subjects is problematical and too time consuming to deal with. A further challenge is for all organisations to be able to give the planning, preparation and management of work experience the time and importance that this element of a Study programme warrants. If work experience is simply a bolt-on to programme and is seen as a non-essential, or in some cases an irrelevance, then there is no wonder the judgement is made that it ‘requires improvement’
Where work experience works well is in areas such as child care and animal care where work experience is a mandatory element of the qualification, so consequently there is no option to ignore this requirement. Also, where colleges and providers have long standing relationships with employers and work experience is regarded as a key and prioritised element of the programme, then often there are examples of really strong co-operative working to make this a success. Learners value this experience and benefit greatly from real contact with the working world and a chance to demonstrate and further develop their occupational and personal and employability skills. Success stories abound with many learners using work experience as a springboard to an apprenticeship, employment and an enhancement of their career aspiration. After all, why are we educating and training our young people if not to develop them as thoughtful, optimistic and aspirational individuals to be able to contribute to the economy and society through being engaged in meaningful employment?
Some subject areas do, for a significant number of colleges, appear to throw up particular issues that cause difficulties. Learners on A level programmes often miss out on work experience as the academic demands upon their time take priority. In other subject areas it may be difficult to find sufficient employers such as in the arts where self-employment is often the majority employment status. In construction, legislation and insurance are often cited as barriers preventing the placement of young people on work experience. On Study programmes for transition (foundation level) learners, often arranging planned, structured and supported external work experience is sometimes regarded a challenge too far and sadly for many High Needs learners even more so.
The above represent just a few examples of the inconsistencies………but none of the negatives described are insurmountable, and a number of colleges and providers have turned these seemingly more difficult aspects into organisational strengths. It can be done and the benefits, both short and long term for learners, far outweigh the efforts to make actually make it happen.
During the 2015-16 academic/contract year the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) commissioned a three strand support programme that looked at modelling, work experience readiness and initial assessment. The success of these projects in instigating a ‘break through’ for participating colleges and providers has enabled ETF to continue to further support the sector and work towards raising the bar to the next level – ‘a good work experience programme for all’
There are THREE key challenges that are to be addressed through this new ETF sponsored programme, namely
- How to improve consistent good practice across an organisation/college to ensure all learners access and benefit from meaningful work experience
- How to fully explore and maximise learners maths and English skills in preparation for and during work experience
- How to accurately recognise and record learners progress and achievements from their involvement in work experience
There are clearly other challenges within the management and delivery of successful Study Programmes that require consideration and this ETF Study Programme support project also considers how all the components of a Study Programme can be coordinated and linked to meet all the intended expectations of personal development, achievement and progression.
The ETF Study Programme support package that has been specifically designed to address all these issues. It provides a ‘wrap around’ package of support that helps to identify the best practice across the organisation and ensures this is further developed and cascaded to all curriculum area and staff. Improvements to the management, planning and delivery of high quality experiences that meet both the needs of learners and employers will be developed. This will be further supported with help in providing a range of evidence to show the positive impact upon learner development. Assistance with developing organisational improvement and action planning will also be available.
Kerry Boffey is director of the Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN)