Lack of work experience sees ‘double disadvantage’ for state pupils

According to the charity Speakers for Schools, a lack of access to work experience, combined with the attainment gap, is creating a ‘double disadvantage’ for state school pupils compared to their peers from independent schools. Speakers for Schools, which organises school talks, work experience, insight days and other events for students across the UK, makes the claim in a new report Double Disadvantage.

According to the research, one third of university courses take work experience into account when assessing applications. Meanwhile at the prestigious Russell Group universities, nearly all include work experience in their admissions criteria for courses like dentistry, medicine and veterinary science. They also found that young people that took part in high-quality work experience go on to achieve better outcomes during their transition to early adulthood. These outcomes include lower chances of becoming not in education, employment or training (NEET) and a wage boost when in full-time employment. However half of students in the state sector leave school without any work experience at all, while applicants from affluent areas of the UK are nearly six times more likely to have a prestigious university offer than those living in a disadvantaged area.

The report also notes separate research from the Education and Employers charity, which found in UCAS personal statements independent school applicants were found to draw on 55 per cent more examples of work experience than applicants from other educational backgrounds. The nature of the work experience was also different: for state school candidates, it was more likely to be a ‘job’ (paid, unskilled, low prestige) than an ‘experience’ (such as a placement or internship). However, for independent school applicants, it was six times more likely to be the other way around.

It was compulsory for schools to offer work experience for pupils until 2012, when the requirement was scrapped by the coalition government. Speakers for Schools has been campaigning for it to be reinstated. With state schools under ‘acute funding and staffing pressures’, careers education and work experience “often get deprioritised”, it says. They cite research from The Sutton Trust, where 30 per cent of young people attending state schools stated they would have welcomed more help from their school or college on how to get into university, compared with just 13 per cent attending independent schools.

In their report, Speakers for Schools recommend that the Russell Group universities should extend their outreach activities to schools serving more disadvantaged communities. They also call on the government to ensure schools and colleges are adequately funded to support universal access to highquality work experience and enrichment activities, again targeted at more disadvantaged communities. The charity would also like school leaders to ensure all young people have fair access to multi-day, high-quality work experience and embed Gatsby Benchmark 7 meaningfully in their practice to ensure access to advice and opportunities around higher education.

Nick Brook, CEO of Speakers for Schools, said: ‘With intense competition for places, it is vital that young people can compete on a level playing field.’

Commenting on the report, Kevin Gilmartin, post-16 specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘We agree with Speakers for Schools about the importance of high-quality work experience and enrichment activities. The problem is that schools and colleges are poorly funded and under pressure on many fronts. They often lack the time, staffing and resources needed for many things including organising and providing these opportunities. More investment is urgently required to support this provision as well as for careers guidance and advice. The use of personal statements in university applications is also unhelpful as it creates the perception that work experience and enrichment activities are an important requirement, thereby creating a barrier to disadvantaged students who may have less opportunities in this regard. We are aware that UCAS is reviewing this system and we support any reform which removes such barriers.’

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