The Threat to Work-related Learning

Dick Evans analyses the Coalition’s approach to the 14-16 curriculum and WRL and points out the inconsistencies and risks implied by this policy.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the Wolf Review was the recommendation that Work-Related Learning (WRL) should not be a statutory requirement for 14-16 year olds. Equally sad was that the government endorsed that recommendation and removed the funding for education business partnerships. This decision is consistent with others of the government as it continues to narrow the curriculum and heavily prescribe and proscribe areas of it creating a bland and sanitised offering to the majority of 14 to 16 year olds. I find the decision perplexingly paradoxical as the government now seems committed to strengthen post-16 vocational programmes including apprenticeships. Evidence shows that stronger links between the education sectors and the world of work are valuable on a number of counts including:

  • The strengthening of links between education and work and teachers and employers
  • WRL programmes create effective and lasting partnerships between schools, FE colleges and local employers which again improve students’ knowledge of post-16 opportunities
  • Such partnerships also help to allay mutual suspicions between the education and business sectors
  • That the various forms of work placement/shadowing/experience/sampling greatly assist learner decisions about post 16 education and work opportunities
  • WRL programmes contribute to careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG) programmes in schools.

Anyone who has worked in the school and college sectors knows that very often students have career or further/higher education aspirations that are unrealistic and the opportunity to experience or observe that occupation via a WRL programme can confirm or change that intention. A student might for example wish to work with old people, children or animals but after a placement realise that career was not for them – surely that cannot be a bad thing!

Many commentators have welcomed the decision to remove funding for WRL programmes which is surprising given the Government’s commitment to review and reform vocational education and training pre- and post- 16. Commentators also defend the removal of the statutory requirement on the grounds that it reduces the government intervention in schools but I fear that it will weaken CIAG programmes and cause a decay of education business links and partnerships undoing positive developments of the past decades. Key stage 4 should be about providing learning opportunities and experiences that help students decide on which route they should pursue post-16 – WRL is essential to informed decision making.

Sadly the current educational reforms are reinforcing and perpetuating the myth that the best route leads to HE and degrees. The messages from ministers and policy makers are contradictory even paradoxical: they want to rebalance the economy and place greater emphasis on apprenticeships and vocational disciplines and yet they propose a significant retrenchment to a narrower core curriculum for 14 to 16 year olds. This policy will perpetuate academic drift when what the country urgently needs is to increase numbers of students pursuing technical, commercial and vocational programmes especially at the higher levels.

For a historical exploration of these issues see:

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