Schools have made a "notable improvement" in their provision of work- related learning, but are still failing to link it with other areas of the curriculum, according to a new HMIE report.
In some cases, pupils are missing out on other important subjects because of difficulties in fitting work-related activities into the school timetable.
Lack of long-term funding remains a concern, warns Working Out: a report on work-related learning for Scottish secondary school pupils.
"There will be a continuing need to use ingenuity in exploring all options for resourcing, including the contribution that can be made by Glow," it adds.
But schools were not using their ingenuity in connecting work-related learning to the rest of the curriculum, the inspectors noted. They stated: "While there were a few examples of schools planning sessions for structured reflection on work-related activities by learners, there was generally very little systematic planning by partners for connections across the curriculum. Most learners, therefore, found that their work- related learning was disconnected from other areas of the curriculum.
"In the majority of cases, learners' work-related learning was not converted into a deeper understanding of other subject areas or opportunities to extend their new skills. This restricted opportunities for learners to apply their learning in different subject contexts."
Although the report highlights some creative and innovative approaches to attracting girls into areas normally associated with boys, most activities tend to follow traditional gender lines.
Some learning activities offer complex and challenging workplace tasks, under appropriate supervision, such as making up the rota for heart operations at an Edinburgh hospital; working on the hospital's acute receiving desk for minor injuries; and acting as concierge at an Edinburgh city-centre hotel.
In other cases, the level of demand of the tasks was less challenging but benefited communities. Activities within a Duke of Edinburgh's Award programme included painting goal posts, helping with sports in primary schools, making litter bins, delivering leaflets, planting tubs, and making garden furniture and bird boxes.
There were some exceptions, but in general, the development of specific literacy and numeracy skills was not planned for systematically or monitored within work-related learning.
The feedback from staff and pupils was generally positive, however. "On numerous occasions," said the report, "learners described their work- related programme as the highlight of their week and one of the most positive experiences of their education".
Nevertheless, although most of the 20 centres sampled by HMIE aimed to help young people progress to employment or further and higher education, the evidence for progression was "generally informal and not systematically collected".
Lack of evaluation emerged as an issue. Inspectors said much of the information held by school staff about learners' progress and engagement in their learning was "anecdotal rather than gathered systematically and recorded".
Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education, said: "This report signals the need to overcome cultural and logistical barriers in order to build on the encouraging progress which is already being made as Curriculum for Excellence takes root."