Until 2012, formal work experience was a compulsory element of the curriculum for all pupils in Key Stage 4. This is no longer a statutory requirement, although there are pressures, notably from the Federation of Small Businesses for this to be re-introduced. Work experience has long been accepted as providing a useful introduction to adult life. For this reason, many schools continue to arrange placements for Key Stage 4 pupils.

For students from the 16 to 19 age group the position is different. With this group work experience is a key component of their study programmes and will include all forms of work-related activity, including running student enterprises, volunteering or working with an external employer. Students who are intending to apply for higher education and students who are preparing for employment, are likely to follow different activities.

Careers education and guidance are an entitlement for all young people and work experience can play a major part in this. The Education and Skills Funding Agency reports that two-thirds of employers rate work experience as being of significant or critical value for young entrants to the labour market and that half of them believe that a top priority for schools and colleges should be to develop an awareness of working life. Placements can make an important contribution to a wide range of vocational qualifications. They can also help to re-motivate disengaged pupils.

Work placements must be carefully planned, to ensure that pupils and placements are compatible. Schools also need to be sure that issues like child protection, disability access and health and safety are addressed and that the employer has suitable insurance arrangements in place.

Many schools work with education business partnership organisations and other specialist third party organisations to arrange placements, while many pupils organise their own placements.

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