21 May 2009

As we get into the throes of the academic summer term the thoughts of teachers and students in Years 10 & 11 turn to the question of work placements. What should be one of the most important choices of the whole year for school and student alike is so often an afterthought and appears to be a “tick the box” exercise. There are some brilliant exceptions of course but my experience suggests that these are unfortunately in a minority.

One of the key tasks of a school is to prepare their students for a life of worthwhile work (although some teachers disagree with me!) and this – often first taste – of work experience is crucial. Chose correctly and it can be the catalyst for making important career choices; get it wrong and options can be cut or unfairly restricted.

So what makes a good work placement? I have a few simple thoughts which should be at the core of any decision:

1. The student and the placement have to be carefully matched to ensure that both parties benefit from the experience.
2. Pre and post placement reviews are a necessity to agree a learning programme and then assess what was achieved.
3. Placements with employers should all have a full and detailed work plan to ensure that the charge of “unpaid tea boy/girl” is unfounded.
4. Identify what motivates each student and use this in the matching process in 1 above – as any employer will tell you, a motivated employee is worth looking after.
5. The placement lasts for the normal working day whatever that may be. For a student to understand what work entails they need to experience the real thing not a truncated version.
6. Incorporate the work placement into the curriculum and use the experience gained in appropriate lessons e.g. Business Studies

Employers are delighted to help schools with rich work placements but find the bureaucracy and lack of real ongoing engagement to be deeply unfulfilling. Businesses understand the need to look after the workforce of the future but find it frustrating to come up against obstacles when offering to help. A lot of good work is going on but perhaps now is the time to have a radical rethink about how these placements are organised and what they should achieve. With the advent of the new diplomas a different tack needs to be taken so when better than now to think radical thoughts?

In Norfolk “The Exchange” is the place to go for advice on placements and any company wanting to know how to participate should contact them as the first point of call. I know that The Exchange is looking at many exciting innovations to come in over the coming year so keep watching!

One final thought ……perhaps ALL teachers should also undertake a two week work placement EVERY year in the private sector – it would help them understand the importance of placements, provide material for lessons, re-invigorate “tired” teachers etc. Could it ever happen?

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