One of Scotland's most economically-deprived authorities has revolutionised its work experience programme for senior pupils after research showed it failed to match their needs.
West Dunbartonshire Council's approach was typical of the vast majority of local authorities - one week's work experience, normally undertaken in S4 and organised by school co-ordinators. A significant number of pupils did not take part, although this varied markedly from one school to another - from 1 per cent to 20 per cent.
Now it is rolling out a new "employability skills programme" which is more closely tailored to each individual pupil's previous experience and needs and will include volunteering and part-time working.
Terry Lanagan, West Dunbartonshire's director of education, hailed the new programme's flexibility, and Susan Wright, the authority's quality improvement officer in charge of its new programme, said it meant that pupils would be able to gain employability skills specific to their leaving destination.
Some would receive university or college experience if they were destined for further or higher education; pupils' part-time jobs would be taken into the equation; and some would be doing the Scottish Qualification Authority's unit on enterprise and employability.
The length of work experience will also vary considerably, reflecting research findings that a single week of work experience was inadequate; in some cases, pupils will do one day per week over six weeks which they and employers found more satisfactory, while others will go on extended work experience from three to six months.
Only S4 pupils expected to leave school this year are starting on the programme this session, but it will be extended to S5-6 in the next two years. The pupils receive one-to-one interviews at a SkillSeekers' unit.
Beverley Paterson, a principal teacher of pupil support who has been seconded as an education support officer, added: "We are trying to make it more meaningful, rather than everyone going out in S4 for a week. We are trying to provide personalisation and choice for the kids - an experience that will benefit them at the correct time."
The emphasis is now on acquiring transferable employability skills and the softer skills that employers are looking for, rather than a set of skills for a particular job.
The change of direction came after West Dunbartonshire Council commissioned research by Glasgow University. In its report, Preparing School Pupils for the World of Work in West Dunbartonshire, the research team of Andrea Glass, Alison Quashie and Alan McGregor examined the council's previous scheme and recommended improvements.
They identified four strengths in the previous model:
- it was a large-scale programme that achieved its aims;
- it provided a largely consistent approach;
- it was administered by a committed staff team in each school;
- employers considered that it prepared young people fairly well for the workplace;
But there were also weaknesses:
- the length of placement was considered too short by some employers, parents, pupils and school-leavers;
- the breadth and quality of placements were questionable;
- the matching of pupils to placements was not always appropriate;
- the timing of placements could pose problems, sometimes conflicting with exam study and other timetabled activities;
- the timing of placements during a pupil's school career was not always appropriate;
- mainstream work experience was not appropriate for all pupils - those who struggle with personal issues; who already have work experience skills; who intend to go on to further study; and who are engaged in specialist programmes;
- a small but significant number of pupils do not complete their placements;
- pupils' experiences on placements are not consistent;
- not all pupils are sufficiently well-prepared for placements before they go out on work experience;
- there is too little support for employers from schools;
- the programme was highly labour- and resource-intensive from the school's perspective;
- although most pupils enjoyed the experience, the majority did not feel it helped prepare them for work.
GOODBYE TO DTS
West Dunbartonshire Council is preparing to say goodbye to Determined to Succeed, believing it has embedded the principles of enterprise education in pupils from their early years.
"Implementation of the programme was helped by the fact the funds for it have been ring-fenced," Terry Lanagan said. "It meant its champions were able to concentrate on the work we want to do to roll it out in our schools. We are well on our way to embedding enterprise education into teachers' thinking," he added. DtS, "the brand", will be switched off nationally in 2011.
Education providers always wanted to see funding streams continue, but Mr Lanagan said he recognised the logic of DtS being embedded in Curriculum for Excellence and becoming part of its core businesses.