In August 2013, the Department for Education in England introduced 16-19 study programmes which all post-16 year old students must follow. Each programme is tailored to a student’s prior attainment by age 16 and their career aspirations. For a full definition of the study programme, please visit the Government’s 16-to-19 funding study programmes work experience page. 

Although the programme is tailored to the prior attainment of each individual student, it should have clear study and/or employment goals reflecting the student’s prior attainment and includes three key elements:

  • substantial qualifications such as BTEC Level 3, A Levels
  • maths and English for students who have not achieved grade A*-C GCSE in these subjects by age 16
  • work experience or other work-preparation programme 

As you can see, work experience is a key component of the 16 to 19 study programme, and all students are expected to undertake work experience or some form of work-related training as part of their study programme. This applies to academic, vocational and mixed pathways.

In the vocational pathway, a student can have work experience as the core aim of a study programme and this must be external, that is:

  • it takes place with an external employer, and
  • it is on a site external to the learning environment

Here, the purpose of the work experience’s element is to provide the student with the opportunity to practice skills in a supervised environment. This applied learning and practical training could take place in an institution’s workshop for example, or a college hairdressing salon, or on a college farm. It could also take place on employers’ premises.

Students can also do work experience as an enrichment activity, especially if the student is on an academic pathway where work experience is not necessary as part of the qualification. Work experience as an enrichment activity can add value to the study programme by preparing students for work, enabling them to explore the careers linked to the academic subjects they are studying and helping with their choice of further or higher education. 

Work experience within study programmes

As opposed to work experience undertaken in Year 10, work experience as part of the 16-19 study programme is more formal and specialised, and must include:

  • purposeful, substantial and challenging experience relevant to the young person’s study programme and career options
  • management under the direction of a supervisor to ensure the young person obtains a genuine learning experience suited to their needs
  • a structured plan for the duration of the placement which provides tangible outcomes for the student and employer
  • focus on the skills required for that occupational sector
  • clear roles, responsibilities and expectations for the student and employer
  • follow-up in the form of references or feedback from the employer based on the young person’s performance

The key to making work experience effective, relevant and useful in the long-term for students is to ensure that it takes place with an external employer, external to the place where they study, where they can experience the real demands of the working environment, independent from their peers and their tutors. In this way, they can develop the skills, knowledge, confidence, attitudes and behaviours they need to make that successful transition into paid employment. 

There is no single ‘correct’ way of planning placements - much of this will depend on employers’ capacity and could vary considerably. Work experience placements could follow a pattern of once a week for the duration of the term, longer block placements, or a rotation of shorter placements at different employers, so students can experience different aspects of a sector. 

The length of the work experience placement will depend upon the providers’ assessment of students and what level of work experience will adequately develop them for progression into employment, taking into account their abilities, prior attainment, career goals and work readiness. 

16-19 study programme regulations

Ofsted inspects the 16-19 study programme within schools and colleges, and states that work experience must be purposeful and planned. It should give young people that opportunity to develop vocational and employability skills in real working conditions. 

Work experience should contribute to students’ overall development. For example, when considering outcomes for students, inspectors will explore how well they can develop their employability and vocational skills and personal effectiveness (e.g. attendance, attitudes, punctuality, and behaviour) in relation to their starting points while on work experience. 

Similarly when inspecting teaching, learning and assessment, inspectors will explore how well students on work experience have been prepared beforehand, the tasks they are set and whether they receive detailed feedback on their progress. 

The inspection of leadership and management will evaluate the extent to which work experience is purposeful for each student, how well it fits into the other aspects of their study programme and that appropriate steps have been taken by the employers to provide a safe environment.