A report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)
Prior to the September 2004 introduction of the statutory requirement that all Key Stage 4 (KS4) pupils in English schools should experience some work-related learning (WRL), the QCA undertook a baseline study to elicit attitudes of students and teachers towards WRL, prevailing structure and provision of WRL and the quality of this provision, with the key aim of establishing data for future comparison studies of the impact of the new requirement.
This research is based on the MORI School Omnibus survey of 838 KS4 students, telephone interviews of 500 KS4 teachers and the QCA’s Monitoring Curriculum and Assessment (MCA) questionnaire of senior managers and WRL co-ordinators. The latter sought to elicit the attitudes of parents and teachers on the importance of WRL and its prominence in the curriculum.
In terms of attitudes towards WRL, the majority of students and teachers consider learning about jobs and working life to be important. 86% of students consider WRL helpful in achieving their goals regardless of their intention to go to university, although teachers tended to see it as most useful to lower-achieving students. While the majority of teachers claimed to be familiar with their school’s WRL provision, they often failed to recognise certain activities as ‘work-related’ and did not mention their school’s provision of certain activities without being prompted to do so. Other factors appearing to affect attitudes towards WRL are also mentioned, such as urban/rural location, gender and socio-economic background. For example, students in urban areas are significantly more likely to say they enjoy WRL than those in rural areas. Many employers state that they would like to engage in schools, but many are unsure as to how to go about this.
In terms of the structure and provision of WRL, almost all schools provided some form of work experience (98%) and careers education and guidance (98%). Other WRL activities were present in the following proportions: involvement with local Further Education colleges (84%), extended work-related programmes (80%), enterprise activities (60%), industry days (56%) and business mentoring (36%). 80% of schools offered at least one new vocational GCSE, 30% offered at least one NVQ and 47% offered other qualifications such as GNVQs and BTECs. Connexions provided the most overall support, with Education Business Partnerships providing most support for work placements and LEAs providing most funding support. Grammar schools tended to give less prominence to WRL in the curriculum than non-selective schools as it was deemed less important.
The report calls for further research of parents’ attitudes, WRL practitioners and WRL qualifications, pointing out that the timing of research is very important this affects the accuracy of data about activities that have taken place during the academic year. Of particular interest for further study are patterns of participation and effects on attainment, especially as this relates to gender and ethnic difference.
The major limitations to the current study were in relation to the quality of WRL provision due to poor data availability, for example 322 Ofsted reports mentioned WRL but only six areas of WRL provision could be judged in terms of quality.