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Students prefer praise to pounds

You can prevent apprentice drop-out and bewilderment, writes Sue Jones

So what happens if you offer to pay trainees to take up courses? One company that introduced such a policy as an experiment was surprised by found the results. It offered rewards to workers to attend courses and would pay them if they successfully completed a work placement.

When they compared their achievements with students from other centres offering the same courses but with no financial incentives, they found that the unpaid students did better. Closer investigation showed that trainees valued congratulation and celebration more highly than cash. When the company examined questionnaires completed by trainees before the courses, they discovered what they thought motivated them most. Top of the list was teaching and learning. Money came sixth on the list.

"This provider concluded ruefully that 'concentrating on improving teaching and learning may have had far more significant results than spending money'," reads a report* for the Learning and Skills Development Agency into work-based training .

It says that such learning needs to follow the example of schools and put the learner first. People drop out when their individual needs are not met, the reports says. It believes that programmes are so interdependent they may need overhauls rather than being patched up. Having an excellent analysis of a trainee's learning needs, for example, will be of little use if the training itself is poor.

In one project, pupils about to enter post-16 education spent one day a week at a training centre. There was an introductory open evening for students, parents and teachers. Then applicants had to take tests for aptitude, literacy and numer-acy. Only those who passed were interviewed by employers for acceptance on to the course. Thus the scheme had prestige and was not regarded as a Cinderella option. At the end of the course, in which students had worked for NVQ units, they had a clear idea of whether they wished to go on to an apprenticeship or continue with academic work.

Another project looked at supporting vulnerable learners on a life skills course, students with multiple problems who were often "at risk". They needed their progress to be acknowledged in ways other than accumulating NVQ units. Celebrating small steps in achievement in attendance and punctuality, personal skills and team working helped them enormously.

Other projects looked at portfolios, assessor visits and progression from foundation to advanced app-renticeships. A portfolio mapping exercise found that some skills were assessed again and again because they appeared in more than one unit. Need-less repetition was then cut out. Assessor visits could also be tailored to individual need. Some learners were happy to be seen once a month while others respond to more frequent monitoring.

The report concludes that vocational pathways need to be clearer. Some learners will go to the next level, while others may want to move sideways to broaden experience or reinforce skills. Credit transfers could encourage further participation.

Advice and guidance systems should be more finely tuned: agencies such as Jobcentre Plus could look at individual needs rather than automatically sign people up to general courses.

And support needs to be carefully targeted, whether it is financial, such as childcare costs, or more personal. Buddy systems using more ex-perienced learners in the same workplace can help vulnerable learners to stay the course. Training providers could also make more use of specialist agencies to help with problems such as alcohol abuse and anger management.

* "Practical ways of Improving Success in Modern Apprenticeships". Companion reports focus on preventing early drop out, working together and integrating on- and off-the-job training. See

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