Work experience may be put beyond the reach of the people who need it most as schools increasingly charge to arrange placements, according to careers experts.
The government’s decision to withdraw funding for work experience has led some schools either to drop it or to introduce a charge for parents.
The fee typically ranges from £35 to £50 to cover administration costs and a health and safety inspection, but experts warn that even small sums could exacerbate existing social inequalities.
Siobhan Neary, researcher in career development at Derby University’s International Centre for Guidance Studies, said that pupils in more affluent areas already had access to a wider range of placement opportunities through their parents' social networks.
“Those in more deprived socio-economic areas don’t have access to those sorts of networks and if you have got to pay £30 that is a lot of money if you’re on benefits,” she said.
“I would be very worried if a lot of schools were charging. Parents would have to take a view about what they were getting for their money and whether it was a worthwhile investment.”
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was inevitable that schools would look at ways of tackling the shortfall after the withdrawal of government funding for work experience in 2012.
“There is an organisational charge and schools have to pay for health and safety checks, and a number will undoubtedly go down the route that, as it is no longer seen as a core programme, there needs to be an element of funding from elsewhere,” he said.
After the cut in funding, Stonehenge School in Wiltshire, for example, introduced a £34 charge for placements, with an additional £25 for those beyond Devon and Hampshire and £25-£50 for those in London. In 2013 the school asked for an extra voluntary contribution of £30.
St Edmund’s Girls’ School in Salisbury is asking for a voluntary additional £25 from parents for 2015, on top of the £34 charge per placement plus another £30 if it is outside Wiltshire.
A survey published by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) this month found that three-quarters of firms believed that a lack of work experience was the reason many young people were unprepared for work.
Marcus Mason, head of employability and skills at the BCC, said: “It is important that all pupils in school have access to work experience and anything that hinders that or puts a cost on it is worrying.”
David Andrews, an independent education consultant and a fellow of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling, said: “It opens up the possibility that some parents will say they can’t afford it.
“It would be a bad thing if we got to a situation where some students didn’t have access to work-related learning. They will be entering an increasingly competitive jobs market and they will be at a disadvantage if they don’t have any experience.”