Children in poor areas don't get the work experience they need, study finds

21st March 2017 at 14:22
Government-commissioned report calls for clear Department for Education guidance to ensure that schools prioritise work-related learning

Children in deprived areas do not get the work experience they need, according to government-commissioned research which blames a lack of Department for Education guidance for the practice not being prioritised by some schools.

The study, "Work Experience and Related Activities in Schools and Colleges", follows findings from MPs in January that “patchy” careers advice was damaging the future prospects of children from the most deprived backgrounds.

Today's report says that, overall, satisfaction with work-related activities and work experience placements was high among schools, colleges, employers and students.

However, it adds: “Staff working in schools in high deprivation areas were significantly less likely to feel that their school or college offered students enough placements of the right type.”

In total, 42 per cent of staff in schools in areas of high deprivation said they did not offer enough work experience placements, compared with 58 per cent who said they did.

In areas with low deprivation, 74 per cent said they did offer enough placements, while 26 per cent said they did not.

Many people interviewed said extra central funding was needed, with one school-based work experience coordinator saying: “We are based in a deprived area... identifying appropriate placements for students is hard work... Why do we have to pay for it?”

'Not enough employers in our area'

Across all schools that had not found enough work experience places, half of staff surveyed said there were only a limited number of employers in their region, while 47 per cent said contacts with employers were not good enough.

A number of staff also cited internal issues at their school, including a quarter who said that staff did not have time, while 9 per cent said there was a lack of support from senior leaders.

In their concluding remarks, the report's authors say: “It was noted that the absence of clear guidance from the Department for Education in relation to work-related learning pre-16 meant that it was not always prioritised (whether in the curriculum or in staffing).

“The absence of guidance was felt to be particularly impactful when governors/senior leaders needed to be persuaded of the benefits of delivering a structured programme of work-related activities.

“Detailed guidance related to pre-16 provision, therefore, is to be welcomed.”

Interviewees highlighted a number of ways in which the impact of work experience could be improved, including:

  • Increasing the length of work experience placements, particularly those offered by schools. Employers felt placements of at least two weeks would be good for them and the students;
  • For colleges, offering a broader programme of work-related activities;
  • Introducing more precise guidance about what a school has to offer for work-related activities;
  • Extra central funding to expand work-related activities “at a time when school and college budgets are tight”;
  • A central or local database of work experience placement opportunities “to help schools and young people identify suitable placements in an increasingly competitive environment”.

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