Wake-up call for work experience

12th March 1999 at 00:00
Placements 'must not be a bit of a skive for students or a bit of tiresome community service by employers', reports Neil Munro

THE RECORD of work-related activities in schools is patchy, according to the head of the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department. Gerald Wilson, addressing a conference last week to launch the latest guidance on education for work, said there was no room for complacency.

Mr Wilson acknowledged existing initiatives but added: "Some schools take a more traditional view of the school's role. Some engage in token activities which can be referred to when a schools inspector calls. Some may regard work experience as an unwelcome interruption to the school's pattern of work."

Work experience, on which curriculum advice will be issued later in the year, was valuable only if done properly, Mr Wilson said. "It must not be a bit of a skive for students or a bit of tiresome community service by employers."

The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, which has been seeking views on work experience on behalf of the Scottish Office, reported last week that there was demand from both education and industry for clearer national criteria and monitoring.

But Denis Stewart, the council's 14-18 curriculum director, pledged that guidance will be "non-prescriptive". It would reflect already successful practice and stress the importance of integration with the rest of the curriculum.

The Scottish Office hopes contact between teachers and employers will be improved as a result of the pound;1 million "industry and enterprise awareness programme", which will fund up to 3,600 teachers on a placement with an employer or entrepreneur over the next three years.

HMI has also been investigating the wider field of education-industry links, following the former Education Minister's milestone speech at South Queensferry in November 1997 in which Brian Wilson said the Government expected education for work, including enterprise education, to be "at the heart of the curriculum". The Inspectorate is expected to report in September.

Also launched last week was the latest set of case studies illustrating examples of good practice in "enterprise and creativity" in a wide variety of schools. More detailed help is promised later in the year in the form of assistance for school managers and subject guides for teachers.

In addition, the curriculum council published an updated version of the 1995 paper on education-industry links. The latest framework places much more emphasis on the importance of the connections links should have both with core skills and progression in pupils' learning.

Despite - or perhaps because of - the flurry of initiatives on education for work and enterprise, which is increasingly being seen as an avenue for encouraging "creativity" in pupils, Mr Wilson made it clear the Government does not undervalue general education.

But he warned: "We are doing young people a disservice if we do not recognise that preparing them for life includes equipping them to earn a living." Education for work should also give teachers and parents confidence that what schools are doing is relevant.

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