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How can arts organisations find valid work for students on work experience? Simon Tait on new guidance for improving performance

Alastair Tallon of the International Shakespeare Globe Centre has a problem with work experience for 15-year-olds. "I'm not keen, to be honest," he said. "You have them for two weeks but by the time you've got them something interesting and useful to do and shown them how to do it, you've wasted 10 days of your own time.

"If they're working on a time-scale of school hours it means they're starting here at about 9.30 and knocking off at 3.30, and I'm here from 8.30pm till about 7pm, so I'm not sure that they get the right feel."

He concedes that work experience, which the Globe does offer to Southwark schools, is worthwhile, but as development manager in the Globe's education department, he needs formal guidance on how to make the best of placements for both the company and the students.

Now there is such a thing, stemming from an initiative by the Eastern Arts Board. The Work Experience Handbook: a guide for arts organisations, is the first attempt to address the knotty problem of how hard-pressed arts organisations can best offer a worthwhile window for 14- to 16-year-olds to examine their particular corner of the arts world and also make the experience a useful one for the company. The handbook, written by Hannah Wilmot, springs from her earlier report into work experience in the arts in East Anglia. She concludes that despite adverse developments, such as the ending of the fund-carrying Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, the transition to independent careers services, and local funding of schools, work experience placements are generally continuing to grow in number.

The handbook details the whole process for arts organisations, from preparing themselves for making the first approach to the local work experience co-ordinator to evaluating a participants' contribution to and benefit from a placement. Each step is accompanied by a sample of the paperwork and record by which to measure such associations.

First, there is a policy document which suggests that the mythical Newtown Arts Centre might offer placements in marketing, administration, stage management, education and outreach, and programming. It is as well to have a job description, so there is one here for an arts assistant; there is also, of course, an application form, but also an employer report form for the end of the placement.

Work experience has been a statutory part of education since it was introduced in 1973 legislation, which said that young people in the last 12 months of their compulsory school life should have work practice.

In the beginning it was not a wholesale success, either because of abuses by both employers and students, or because the terms and possibilities were not properly understood.

Better scrutiny in more recent times has made the abuses rare, says Karen Dust, education officer for Eastern Arts, but schools have been slow to use the arts either because they did not get enthusiastic responses at initial approaches, or because arts companies were not thought to offer the right sort of experience.

"That is beginning to change, and what we are now establishing is a database on work experience in the arts for use by potential participants," she said. "The next publication might be a handbook for schools."

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