My lads are doing ‘work experience’ this week, in an e-learning company, and loving it. Exposure to a real, adult, work environment has certainly made them think. “We didn’t finish until 5.30!...People are really nice” You can see them mature as they have to arrange travel to work, buy their own lunch and generally get organised. This is a really worthy initiative. However, there are some peculiarities to the whole thing.
Kids with ‘connected’ parents get better placements, so that placements mirror socio-economic structures. Wouldn’t it be better to get a list of placements and then match, or do a lottery, based on interests and so on. The current system seems to set aspirations according to parental interest, connections and class, not student interests or ability. This system seems to have evolved as, in the absence of an organised system within many schools, the middle-class parents organise placements for their own kids.
Last minute approach
Rather than establishing long-term links with employers, much is left to the last minute resulting in panic, cancelled arrangements and a scramble for placements. Organisations and businesses should be invited into schools to talk to students about their businesses, organisations and work. For example, Business Studies is often taught by people who have no real experience of running a business, yet with this wonderful free resource on their doorstep, why don’t they use it. The truth is that many schools have an old-fashioned anti-corporate ethos. I’ve experienced this hostility personally as a Governor. Both business and education should be more entwined.
Health & safety nuts cause chaos by demanding too much costly paperwork and too many visits. Many good placements were cancelled in my local schools because the H&S forms/visits hadn’t been completed in time. Surely one could assume that a major company adheres to health and safety standards at work, as they are mandated by law to do so. It doesn’t need all of this paperwork and site visits.
What was fascinating about my boys’ reactions to their work experience was their reverse reflections on how odd ‘school’ was. They were surprised to find the workplace as a normalised environment, where people generally behave well towards each other and get on diligently with their tasks. They were surprised that managers didn’t have to whip the workers into action.
School suddenly seemed very odd. Full of teachers shouting, demanding and corralling students into doing things they often don’t want to do. School is a crowded, unnatural environment, with lots of marching around corridors on the hour and bells. You’re stuck in a single age group and crammed into classrooms. Schools, I suspect, have a lot to learn from the modern workplace.