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The Learning Skills and Development Agency (LSDA) revealed in a report this week that there needs to be an overhaul of the attitude towards and portrayal of work based learning in Britain to attract more school leavers into the area.

The report, which was commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and is due to be published later in June, calls for teachers, training providers, careers advisers and school leavers to be better informed about the opportunities for post "“ 16 work based learning as a real option and alternative to further or higher education. This comes at a time when private initiatives are being ever more avidly sought in this area as the government's budget begins to feel the strain of the burgeoning FE market.

Apprenticeship Confusion

The research indicates that parents of school leavers are often confused by the recruitment processes behind the apprenticeship schemes, and many of them were signally unaware of the opportunities in front of them for job "“ based learning, and therefore unaware of the benefits of such a course over traditional further or higher education routes.

The report included interviews with teachers, school pupils, Connexions (the Government's career advice service), training providers, employers and members of local Learning and Skill Councils. Amongst its aims was to determine how school leavers found out about work based learning "“ which provides both on and off the job training that lead eventually to National Qualifications "“ and the best way to promote work based learning as an attractive option for school leavers.

Competition

One finding was that the fierce competition between schools, colleges and training organisations often hampers the dissemination of accurate and objective information for school leavers attempting to determine their best course of action. Many school leavers indicated that the careers advice that they received from schools was aimed at encouraging them to remain on into the sixth form. This difficulty was further strengthened by their own lack of awareness of the wide range of non "“ academic options open to them.

Whilst it is important to note that there have been some recent successes within schools who participate in Pathfinder projects (which sees the students introduced to vocational subjects and spend one day a week at a college), the provision of careers advice during years 9, 10 and 11 (from 13 "“ 16 years of age) often focuses work "“ based learning information (which schools are obliged to provide) towards students deemed to be less academically gifted. This further cements the image of work "“ based learning as being something for the less able.

The material provided for information on work "“ based learning was also criticised, both for its scarcity and also for the quality of the material itself. Teachers complained that the information was often incapable of giving clear and objective information, and that they did not regularly receive updated information and professional development training regarding work "“ based learning issues.

Four Campaign Points

The research addresses four key areas that it is believed need remedying to resolve this lack of information and awareness. The first was to improve careers education provision in general, and specifically about work "“ based learning. Marketing materials, it is said, need reforming and need to be clearer and easier to understand. The need to promote work "“ based learning so that it is not viewed as the "poor relation" of academic learning is also stated.

A national package with both national and locally relevant programmes is recommended to be made available to all students. Further training of careers staff is also desirable, with many Connexions employees saying they would favour obligatory training on work "“ based learning opportunities and access to online training information.

The report also points out that a greater initiative on the part of the employers is needed, especially in simplifying the recruitment process onto work "“ based learning programmes such as apprenticeships. There are, it appears from the reports findings, shortfalls in the broad publicity of the availability of these programmes, and employers should be encouraged to give advice to young people regarding placements with local employers.

The need to counter the impact of the minimum wage on 16 "“ 17 year olds is also taken under consideration, as is the impact of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (the EMA, which has recently caused some controversy). The research calls for parity in funding and allowance allocation between the EMA (which encourages students to stay on into the Sixth Form) and work based learning initiatives. Better transport in rural areas, it is believed, would also help, allowing better access to work "“ based learning placements.

There is also a marked deficiency in the provision of information on the possible progression from work based learning into Higher or Further Education. And alongside the need to further publicise those case studies where a student has followed this route, the competition issue could be resolved through schools co "“ operating in the provision of work "“ based learning and thus bringing together the best of both worlds.

Welcoming the Report

Maria Hughes, the LSDA's Research Manager, said: "This research highlights the need to change the perception that work-based learning is for "under-achievers". Much has already been done to promote apprenticeships. But we still need better and clearer marketing materials, more training and updating for careers professionals, and a simpler recruitment process to apprenticeship programmes."

Meanwhile, the Director of Work Based Learning at the Learning and Skills Council, said: "The young apprenticeship programme and work with the 14-19 group will really help position apprenticeships as a serious career option for young people whilst at school."

Jethro Marsh

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