From education to employment

Cost of providing work experience for every state-school student is “modest” at £75 million a year, argues new report

students sat in classroom
  • Social mobility charity Speakers for Schools commissioned independent think tank Social Market Foundation to research the cost and practicalities of delivering high-quality work experience for all state-educated pupils in England;
  • Independent report recognises the importance of work experience and shows that work experience for all is achievable and affordable;
  • Speakers for Schools is leading the campaign to provide work experience for all young people in state education after revealing that only a third of 16–18-year-olds recall completing any, with tangible benefits on wages and outcomes;

The cost of ensuring every state-educated student in England has access to work experience would cost the government as little as £75million a year*, according to a new report from the Social Market Foundation, commissioned by the social mobility charity, Speakers for Schools.

£75million is the economic cost of ensuring every student in England gets two quality work experience placements. The cost equates to 0.1% of the annual schools budget.

Titled ‘Learning from experience: How to make high quality work experience for all a reality’, the report was commissioned by Speakers for Schools as part of its campaign to push for every state-educated person to undertake meaningful work experience.

The charity launched its campaign last autumn, revealing that only a third of young people aged 18-30 can recall doing work experience while in education, with participation declining over time[1]. The same research identified a tanglible wage premium attached to completing a placement when in full time employment (more than £1,000 annually).

Robert Peston, Founder of Speakers for Schools and ITV’s Political Editor, comments: 

Gaining direct experience of workplaces before leaving school is important for acquiring vocational knowledge and skills, and to reinforce ambition. This report demonstrates both the practicality and affordability of a universal right to work experience. At a time when there is near universal agreement on the need to improve skills in Britain, a cost of 0.1 per cent of the annual schools budget does not look expensive”.

Key recommendations of the policy paper include:

  • The government and other national organisations should do what they can at a central level to increase supply and coordinate placements.

The Department for Education (DfE) should oversee the development of a single online platform showcasing nationally available opportunities. A coordinated approach at national and local level is required to implement this effectively, by collating virtual work experience opportunities, opening up more options that would not be physically accessible to students, particularly those in rural or deprived parts of the UK. Local engagement should prioritise building links with regional employers including SMEs, prioritising the organisation of in person opportunities.  

  • A phased implementation will avoid making the same mistakes of the past. Disadvantaged students should be prioritised.

Forcing schools to roll out a universal offer too quickly risks creating a ‘tick box’ exercise, with dilution of quality, as some have suggested occurred in the past. Meaningful work experience requires careful planning to ensure personalisation and integration within the curriculum. It also requires engagement with employers to build a large enough supply of placements. Therefore, the the report argues that implementation should begin with a set of ‘pathfinder’ areas where the infrastructure around work experience is more developed, with particular priority given to those serving more disadvantaged students.

  • Greater flexibility will help employers engage with work experience.

The report argues that a two-week block placement over the summer term can prove challenging from employers’ perspectives.  While recognising the challenges schools face with timetabling, the report suggests more schools could adopt more flexible approaches such as a series of shorter placements, or where a single placement itself is spread out over multiple weeks.

  • Standardisation of the administrative processes is essential to scale the offer

Both schools and employers require clear guidance on planning work experience, particularly in the case of SEND students. Within the report, teachers cite the heavy administrative burden of coordinating work experience, which varies from school to school and is often unnecessary.

Organisations like Speakers for Schools can support with the creation of a national toolkit with guidance and case studies showcasing best practise. The report calls for standardisation of administrative requirements, with some of the burden lifted by broker organisations who are already doing this.

Dr Elnaz Kashef, Head of Research & Policy at Speakers for Schools, comments:

This report is a roadmap for raising the aspirations of state-school students across the country who might not have the networks or experiences to make the important transition out of school and into employment. Although the Labour Party has committed to mandatory two weeks’ work experience; all parties should heed this report which shows work experience for all is achievable.

“Many of us can relate to the struggle of finding good work experience, which for far too long, has relied on parental connections, benefitting those from more affluent backgrounds. Our campaign is pushing for a new model of work experience, and this report by the Social Market Foundation highlights a sensible approach to rolling out placements nationally, making them more feasible for educators, beneficial for employers and inspirational for young people.”

Aveek Bhattacharya, Research Director at the Social Market Foundation, and an author of the report, comments:

“Work experience for all is an achievable and affordable ambition, but it needs to be carefully implemented in order to ensure students get meaningful experiences that genuinely support their career ambitions. There is a job of work to be done, finding the employers that might be interested in offering work experience, but have never been asked, helping them to design effective placements and matching them to students.

“That means we need to invest in our work experience infrastructure, rather than hoping schools do it out of goodwill from their already-stretched budgets, as we currently do. We estimate the policy would cost £75 million, which is a modest figure given the potential of work experience to change lives.”

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