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Role for office spare parts

Guidelines aim to give work experience pupils a more relevant and structured placement. Stephen Lucas reports

Hyperventilating over male models and watching boy bands parade through the office is what work experience entails for the lucky few.

But unless you bag a week at Sugar or one of its sister magazines, work experience can land Year 10 pupils up to their necks in thumb-twiddling tedium.

That is the verdict of the Periodical Publishing Association which this month sent out guidelines to the 2,000 magazines it represents.

Lysanne Currie, the editorial director of Sugar, TV Hits and ELLEgirl, which has three 14 to 16-year-olds in each week, said: "The boy band DSide came in with Easter eggs for everyone, so the work experience girls got a bit excited over that. We had one that hyperventilated when a male model came in too."

Sarah Middleton, 16, from Thamesmead school in Shepperton, south west London, worked in John Lewis in Kingston for two weeks and was not as fortunate: "I spent a lot of time pushing cushions to the lift and back.

The people were really nice and helpful, but I was not old enough to work the tills, so there were times when they didn't know what to do with me.

"I remember quite a lot of people felt like a spare part. We all rang each other up after the first day and said that we had not known what to do with ourselves," she said.

Deborah Wasserman, 17, from the Jewish Free school, who did her work experience at Snaresbrook crown court, north east London, said: "The judge was very nice and had a few conversations with me, but I fell asleep in one case even though it was a really interesting one about a kidnapping. The barrister pointed at me and made a sleepy face. I was mortified.

"I contacted the court myself and they were really helpful and accommodated me. The only thing that would have made it better was a more varied schedule."

The Periodical Publishing Association's guidelines say magazines should provide structured timetables and feedback on attitude and interpersonal skills. Although the guidelines are aimed primarily at older students on longer magazine placements, they also include children on work experience.

In its document Work experience: a guide for secondary schools, the Department for Education and Skills says pupils sometimes become frustrated because they think work experience has no bearing on their school work. It suggests assessing what is learned on the placement.

Merete Juul, careers adviser at Barking Abbey school, in Essex, said:

"Pupils learn about the world of work from Year 7 here, so they will not see work experience as something isolated from their school work."

Peter Blenkinsop, head at Whitefield school, Cricklewood, north London, said: "We make sure pupils know they may not be doing the job they want to do - that they will not be flying the plane but will be making tea for the pilot."

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