The concept of work related learning (WRL) is an important element of the 14-19 school curriculum in England and Wales; especially in the vocational business courses. It has been a statutory element at key stage 4 since 2004. Indeed, the role out of the new Diploma qualifications and their aim of introducing a more vocational element in the curriculum has made the focus on work related learning even more necessary. A recent DCSF Report has indicated that the number of work experience placements needs to increased as a result of introducing the new Diplomas. The work experience element of WRL is of particular interest to BEE and that is the focus of this paper.
Many teachers and even more students have been through periods of work experience. The effectiveness of the placements and the student’s experiences of them have varied from school to school and borough to borough.
However, has such work experience been of any benefit to students taking business studies? Is there a way of making such work experiences more applicable to the business curriculum? Is there a way forward to transforming existing work experience programmes and enhancing its value to students of business, economics and enterprise? There is a way of doing this.
Existing practise and approaches to work experience
I will start off by relating my exposure to work related learning and work experience. I believe that there are many readers out there that may be able to relate to these experiences. The school is a large comprehensive located in an inner city London borough. It has a sixth form college as part of its educational offering. A full time co-ordinator was assigned to undertake all the necessary planning and administrative work regarding work experience placements for the year 11 students. The same co-ordinator arranged the work experience placements for vocational Business Studies students. These placements were originally for a two week period but were eventually, in the last two years, reduced to a one week (5 day) period. A recent DCSF Report states that the aim, with regard to the diplomas especially, is to have at least a minimum of ten working days in place for work experience.
The placements were found through a combination of strategies. These were to work with the local education business partnership and as well as the neighbouring borough’s education business partnership. It also included approaching staff that had contacts with local businesses and organisations to try and obtain placements with those contacts. The placements were usually of an administrative nature and involved placing students in an office environment provided by the employer and undertaking mundane administrative tasks.
Teachers would telephone employers to enquire about the students and pay at least one visit to the student. The visit would usually include an observation of the student functioning in the work environment and having an informal chat about how they are finding the placement. The visit would also include a chat with the employer. The necessary documentation would also be completed at this time