Turning up on time and being presentable are just two of the life lessons a good spell of work experience can reinforce (or indeed, enforce). Marina Gaze explains how they fit into the new 16 to 19 study programmes.

A couple of weeks back, I enjoyed a stimulating debate with college leaders on issues relating to work experience at the Association of Colleges conference.

Work experience is not compulsory for all learners, but it should be an important part of vocational programmes and we would consider it good practice if all on the academic route have opportunities to develop employability skills in the workplace.

This is why we believe it is important to offer some form of tailored work experience to all learners outside of college.

We understand that many learners have busy lives, some juggle employment as well as study.

However, learners joining the 16 to 19 study programmes, introduced from August this year, are expected to follow a learning programme that is tailored to their individual needs, education and employment goals.

These new arrangements allow for more time to be spent on work experience or non-qualification activities.

Tailored work experience, like this, will mean that learners are able to find work in the future that directly links to their study.

We have not developed specific guidance for the inspection of 16 to 19 study programmes as the Common Inspection Framework for FE and skills adequately covers all aspects of the programme.

However, inspectors do look at outcomes for learners in relation to the extent to which learners develop personal, social and employability skills.

Examples of these would be personal awareness, such as appearance, attitudes, behaviour and punctuality, problem solving skills, and the ability to work in teams.

Learners are expected to make a real contribution in the workplace and develop their skills

We also explore the extent to which learners develop awareness of customer and business needs, as well as the ability to communicate effectively, apply numeracy skills and use computers — all in the context of work.

Ofsted is very clear that where work experience is a planned aspect of a student’s 16 to 19 study programme, at least some of the placement should be external to the provider.

We are fully aware that provider-based working environments, and provider-based employers, such as college companies, can provide a good step-up for learners who need more intensive support and training to build their confidence and skills.

However, these opportunities should not be seen as a complete substitute for an external placement where the students work in an unfamiliar environment and where they are more likely to have to react to situations and circumstances that are new to them.

Learners should progress to external work experience placements at the earliest possibility, especially if work experience is a substantial part of their programme.

We are also fully aware that some learners develop good employability skills while on paid employment they have arranged privately.

Having discussed this with the Department for Education (DfE), we can confirm that this activity can be included as part of the 16 to 19 study programmes, but only if the provider is involved in the learner’s development.

For this to happen, the provider should, firstly, assess the workplace to check that the learner is working in a safe environment and, secondly, agree with the employer and learner realistic and relevant learning objectives linked to developing the learners’ employability skills.

The provider should also arrange for the learner’s progress to be assessed and for constructive feedback to be given.

Inspectors also explore the extent to which work experience provides purposeful work that offers challenge, and is relevant to the each learner’s study programme.

Learners are expected to make a real contribution in the workplace and develop their skills.

They should also have opportunities to apply practical work-related skills in English and maths in the context of work experience.

Above all, we expect leaders and managers to ensure that work experience is well-supervised and that learners obtain a genuine learning experience suited to their needs and, where applicable, their future career plans.

Marina Gaze, Her Majesty’s Inspector, deputy director for FE and skills, Ofsted