Let’s make work experience purposeful

 20 July 2015

How do you develop purposeful work experience that gets the Ofsted seal of approval? Ian Goldthorpe, Head of Amersham Campus at Amersham and Wycombe College, addressed this question at a 'Tutor Hack' session with other tutors in the Skills Academy. He shares his thoughts.

Work experience with Belfast Metropolitan College students (Image: Simon Mills, Photos by Si)
Work experience with Belfast Metropolitan College students (Image: Simon Mills, Photos by Si)

Developing appropriate work experience for the new Study Programme is a growing concern within further education. Not only are there a high number of hours involved, but there’s also the emphasis on it being external to the college.

So how do we approach it? The Skills Academy has taken on the challenge of getting every student appropriate experience by putting the subject through a Tutor Hack. I ran one of these sessions with Ofsted inspector Janet Mercer in early July.

Janet focused the debate on what is actually written in the new Ofsted Common Inspection Framework, emphasising "purposeful work-related learning, external where relevant."

Purposeful work-related learning

Work experience needs to be about gaining employability skills and links into industry. This may be ‘behind a desk', it may be learning how to sell your work online, or it may involve many other things that help you to understand a work environment.

Work in external environments should be tailored to the ability and ambition of the students.

Take musicians. The act of delivering gigs independently and performing in the workplace rather than a college event is of real value to the learner.

The same would apply to visual arts students learning how to sell their work and exhibit externally, developing their entrepreneurial and business skills.

The key is how the hours are evidenced for the Study Programme to ensure the build up and preparation are given equal value to the final experience.

This is particularly important for learners who may not be ready to go into employment, but can gain a strong foundation of college-based jobs and skills insights as an appropriate progression to external work experience.

Tailored to the learner's needs

The new Common Inspection Framework demonstrates that no one size fits all, and it’s about what is right for the individual learner.

Work in external environments should be tailored to the ability and ambition of the students, involving organised planning with the employer in advance to ensure mentoring is in place.

Employers may need to be aware that students have individual learning plans, and work out how they feed into these.

Live briefs as the basis of work experience

For a creative industry that involves much commissioned work, often by a self-employed, non-office based workforce, a live brief can form the basis of the best work experience. They even lead to actual work placements for some.

Best practice includes colleges setting a live brief with an employer, allowing a large volume of learners to take part, followed by employer feedback and a form of work placement for a focused number of students

5 work experience recommendations

By the end of the Tutor Hack, we had come up with five recommendations for excellent, purposeful work experience:

  1. Be led by a clear vision and rationale on how the experiences build employability
  2. The unfamiliarity of a workplace can be at least part created in a college through employer mentoring and by critiquing live briefs in the role of a client or employer
  3. Focus on students gaining a better understanding of their progression route after training
  4. Students should evaluate their experience and what further skills they need to gain
  5. Tutors should demonstrate the impact on learners.

A live brief can form the basis of the best work experience.

This meeting certainly gave us a great starting point to work out a clear vision and rationale and enabled us to plan ahead with more confidence and argue our case.

Creative & Cultural Skills will be doing further work with employers to find out what they value in work-related learning and work experience.

Tutor Hacks are built to find new solutions, as well as share current good practice. Follow the education updates for future sessions and see the full programme for Skills Academy education members.

The partners that contributed to this Tutor Hack were: Amersham & Wycombe College, Birmingham Metropolitan College, Colchester Institute, City College Norwich, Hertfordshire Regional College, and Lewisham Southwark College.

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