Preparation for the world of work is a vital component of a balanced curriculum. The pace of economic change means pupils need to be equipped with a wide range of skills and the flexibility to learn new ones. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is committed to helping schools develop skills for employability.
A vital ingredient of any pupil's preparation for working life is time spent on placement with employers. It is essential that there are agreed quality standards for work experience. There is a need to move away from the idea that exposure to the world of work is a good thing in itself. In Learning from Work Experience, the authority has set out quality standards which focus on planning, implementing, reviewing and improving work experience programmes.
Schools should have a co-ordinated approach to their contacts with employers. Links between work experience and the curriculum need to be strengthened to make better use of work placements.
Schools need to take advantage of the opportunities within curriculum subjects to learn about working life. A work-based approach helps pupils to see the relevance of what they learn, broadening their career aspirations and improving motivation and attainment.
The authority has developed a range of vocational options for 14 to 16-year-olds. The broadly vocational Part One GNVQ, which has been piloted since 1995, will be nationally available from September 2000 and can be taken alongside other curriculum subjects and GCSEs. A 1998 report from the Office for Standards in Education on the pilot said it was particularly successful if strong links had been made with businesses to enhance learning.
Pupils can also choose more job-specific NVQs. NVQs in 15 occupations are now approved for use at key stage 4 (the GCSE years).
In addition to providing nationally recognised vocational qualifications, we need to create further opportunities for pupils who are in danger of becoming disaffected or have not experienced much success at school. Modifying parts of the curriculum at key stage 4 to give schools more scope to use work-related learning opportunities could help to motivate pupils.
An effective relationship with business is crucial to the success of all work-related initiatives. The authority is advised by industry on every aspect of its work. Our sector advisory groups comment on the qualification needs of individual business sectors and the relevance of the curriculum to working life. This business voice is at the heart of our development of a coherent qualifications framework.
Nick Tate The writer is chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority