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Funding cuts have damaged work experience opportunities for school students, says report

22 Jun 2023 4 minute read
An engineer checking a student’s work on the factory floor

Martin Shipton

Financial cuts affecting Careers Wales have had a negative impact on the availability of work experience to school students, according to a report written by a Labour MS.

Hefin David, who was an academic specialising in the world of work before being elected to the Senedd in 2016, undertook a piece of research for the Welsh Government following discussions with Ministers.

The report, Transitions to Employment, states: “Schools that we spoke to were keen for their learners to engage in and find meaningful work experience as part of their GCSE and A Level programmes. However, they stated that a scaling back of operations and resources at Careers Wales meant that they were now far more reliant on informal parental networks for securing placement opportunities, and on teachers carrying out the relevant administrative work in addition to their classroom duties.

“Furthermore, Careers Wales were no longer able to carry out the necessary risk assessments and health and safety checks for learners ahead of their placements, leaving schools to take on responsibility for this.

For example, Mr Jarvis at St Martin’s School, Caerphilly, told us that: ‘You’d have to do all the checks, health and safety checks on a car garage down the road as a school, and then if something happens, all of that responsibility is back on you. Whereas Careers Wales used to do it…and they don’t now.’

Austerity measures

Careers Wales did not contradict this statement, attributing the organisation’s reduced capacity to UK-wide fiscal austerity measures that necessitated a change in its remit in 2015. Mark Owen, Head of Stakeholder Services, stressed that his organisation was committed to providing the best possible service within its current budgetary settlement.

However, he added that: ‘Up until 2015, at Careers Wales we had a remit to support work experience. So, we used to arrange for 90 plus percent of Key Stage 4 students to go out on work experience, and then a big chunk of sixth form students who needed it for vocational progression, we used to put them out as well. And that obviously was taken out of our remit in 2015. We used to offer services like employer mentoring, teacher placements, so there are whole things that we can no longer afford to do.’

“Mr Owen at Llanidloes High School also recognised the situation facing schools and the challenges caused by reducing the capacity at, and remit of, Careers Wales, although expressing sympathy for the latter: ‘I mean, it’s a question of resourcing, isn’t it? And, you know, the reason why a number of schools stepped away from doing work experience was because there was, you know, cutting the resourcing of Careers Wales.

“And they had to take decisions on what they could and couldn’t achieve realistically. And so schools, I think, that are really committed to work experience have stepped up with that, and still work in close partnership in maybe a more sort of tailored way, which in particular focuses on supporting those who are at risk of not being in education, employment or training. And in a really sort of bespoke way, according to local needs … So I wouldn’t want to criticise too heavily colleagues in Careers Wales because I think with very stretched resources, they probably do as much as they possibly can, and their support is appreciated’.”

Meaningful experiences

The report recommends that learners should be provided with “authentic and meaningful” experiences of the world of work supported by the new Curriculum for Wales provision for Careers and Work-Related Experiences from 3-16. The Welsh Government should ensure that further education institutions, employers and other relevant stakeholders have appropriate access to learners throughout their school career, particularly at age 11-16.

Among the other recommendations are that the Welsh Government should ensure that learners have full clarity on what options are available to them in post-compulsory education at an early stage, allowing them to make viable and informed choices. Learners should also be able to map learning pathways according to their ambition and skills.

Also, the new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER) should work with academic and vocational education providers in order to reduce the fragmentation of the sector and provide mutual benefits to learners, schools and further education.

The relationship between FE, employers and schools is vital to underpin this. Equally an offer of a meaningful work experience placement should be made available to all learners aged 14-18 in Wales, including a supported targeted offer of tailored work experience for Key Stage 4 learners who are disengaging with education and are at risk of becoming NEET {Not in Education, Employment or Training].

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Mr Williams
Mr Williams
11 months ago

Cuts to the budget for young people’s education is unacceptable. Work experience is a vital part of the preparation for the world of work for teenagers and it is a disgrace that it is not being funded adequately. Careers Wales are a marvelous part of the education system so this needs to be resolved as a priority.

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