Richard Evans is the Chairman of the CIPHE’s Education and Training Group. In this issue of ETM, he explores the importance of collaboration between the worlds of education and industry.
The weakest link
Evidence shows conclusively that students perform and achieve much better in their studies and future employment if they have undertaken work experience, whether they are on so-called academic or vocational programmes. Furthermore, the evidence shows conclusively that the earlier that experience occurs, the better prepared the students are to more fully understand the needs of employment, which in turn assists them to make better informed decisions about their future employment and/or further studies.
One of the strengths of Further Education Colleges and their staff, is the long established culture of effective links with employers. However, the weak link at present in this activity is the school sector, where currently the curriculum following current reforms is becoming more prescribed and academic. In addition, staff in schools have little or no direct experience of the world of work outside their own profession, following the traditional route of school, university/training college straight into teaching.
Typical comments from school managers/teachers about work experience programmes are:
- Too little time for me to arrange non- essential topics in the timetable (note the word non-essential, which indicates little understanding or sympathy for such activities).
- The curriculum is driven by tests and examinations, which allows little time for other activities.
- The curriculum has become a straight- jacket, a treadmill coupled with an obsession with academic subjects.
- It’s difficult to establish industry-based projects that require cross subject involvement, as colleagues are pinned down by form filling and petty bureaucracy.
- No time to release students onto programmes of work shadowing/ sampling, work placement and arranging for visits by and to employers.
- Students can undertake work placed experience at a later stage when at college; schools need to maintain an academically focused curriculum.
- The need to study as many subjects for GCSEs is often mentioned; it would appear that schools have accepted that cramming the curriculum is the norm and success is measured by grades and number of subjects gained.
- Employers cannot afford to expend resources especially at this time of recession and too often show they do not understand education.
Many of these factors are not necessarily the fault of the teachers; many are precipi- tated by present government policies, which continue to heavily prescribe a narrow academic curriculum as evidenced by the replacement of functional skills by GCSE English and mathematics. Also implicated is the acceptance by the government of a recommendation of the Wolf Review to stop funding to facilitate work experience in schools. Yes, academic drift is alive and thriving under this government, whatever they say about vocational and apprenticeship programmes being a priority.
Colleges can play a significant role in improving links between schools and industry by exploiting their existing links. Many colleges have established excellent links with employers, that also involve local schools. After all, such colleges and students benefit when these students progress onto their post 16 vocational and technical studies; they have had experience of work based practices whilst at school and can further advance this through their college.
Establishing networks now could be very productive for all parties, as was the case when the Technical Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) was in operation in the 1980s. Although that worthy initiative was eventually destroyed by government with the support of many schools’ teachers and a number of LEAs, who were uneasy and suspicious of the introduction of vocational subjects into the school curriculum. Other initiatives suffered the same fate e.g. CPVE, GNVQ, vocational diplomas et al. This reflects a long standing historical and cultural hostility to work-based education at school level, an attitude which is detrimental to the progression of many young people.