Over recent years there has been an increased focus on the Gatsby Benchmarks relating to good careers guidance to young people, with the new statutory guidance advising that schools/colleges should use them to develop and improve their careers provision. One of the more interesting Benchmarks is number 6 – Experiences of the workplace.

Every pupil should have first-hand experiences* of the workplace through work visits, work shadowing and/or work experience to help their exploration of career opportunities, and expand their networks.

By the age of 16, every pupil should have had at least one experience of a workplace, additional to any part-time jobs they may have.

By the age of 18, every pupil should have had one further such experience, additional to any part-time jobs they may have.

The years since the 2009 withdrawal of Government funding that supported work-related learning and the 2012 removal of the statutory duty on schools to provide work-related learning at Key Stage 4 (as recommended in the Wolf Report) has seen a steady decline in the number of schools offering their students work experience in Years 10 and 11. Indeed research conducted by the Careers and Enterprise Company indicates that only around half of schools (54.5%) are now offering the majority of their students a meaningful experience of the workplace by the end of Year 11.

Parents are often surprised and disappointed when they learn that their children’s school doesn’t offer work experience in Year 10 or 11. For many adults, their memories of their time on work experience are often some of the most vivid that remain of their school days. The reason is clear – that first exposure to the “real world” outside the closeted environment of the school and that first taste of what others may expect of them once they enter the workplace is often a profound experience.

Although not a compulsory framework that schools must adhere to, the incorporation of Gatsby Benchmark 6 into the statutory guidance does however represent a soft U-turn in government policy on work experience for 14-16 year olds. The wording is clear in one respect: schools should be providing students with at least one experience of the workplace by the age of 16 as a minimum. However the wording is also phrased in a way that will allow schools to interpret this differently. The traditional week-long placement at the end of Year 10 that many schools will be familiar with is not mandated as the only way to achieve the Benchmark. The “and/or” in “work visits, work shadowing and/or work experience” means that many schools will be taking the opportunity to consider if alternative ways of providing students with experiences of the workplace are more suitable at their school.

At CSW Enterprise, we welcome the renewed emphasis that Benchmark 6 puts on workplace experiences at Key Stage 4. Through our work experience service we work with over 180 schools and colleges to support the delivery of work experience for 17,500+ of their students each year. We provide a range of services including access to an employer database of 30,000+ employers, placement suitability checks, tailored placement finding and a support helpline for school staff and employers. We are already receiving enquiries from newly-appointed Careers Leaders who are looking at their careers provision afresh through the lens of Gatsby Benchmark 6 and we are working with them to relaunch or revamp their approach to experiences of the workplace. If you are in a similar position, we would encourage you to get in touch – workexperience@cswgroup.co.uk

We will shortly also be conducting a Workplace Experiences survey of schools to help us gain a better understanding of the challenges schools/colleges face in providing experiences of the workplace with a view to improving the services we offer – watch this space.