Developing young workforce strategy - impact on education: evaluation

An independent evaluation of the impact of Developing the Young Workforce Strategy on education.

3. Factors that encourage or hinder DYW implementation


As conveyed in chapter 2, DYW works best when it is integrated within curriculum delivery, rather than viewed as an add on. This chapter explores the factors that encourage, enable, discourage or hinder schools to embed work-based learning and embrace DYW.


An analysis of elements which support DYW implementation within schools identified five overarching themes: staff and leadership; teamwork; monitoring, resources and funding; partnerships with employers and colleges; and parental and community involvement.

Staff and leadership

During interviews it emerged that the extent of implementation of DYW links strongly to how it is valued and prioritised by the school's senior leadership. Participants discussed a range of ways that senior staff demonstrate a commitment to DYW including: head teachers and deputy head teachers promoting and encouraging DYW activities; DYW being regularly discussed at staff meetings, assemblies, and within planning; and time being allocated to DYW within the timetable and curricular structure. Over half (51%) of survey respondents selected their Senior Leadership Team as being the most influential driver of DYW in their school.

DYW prioritisation at the Local Authority or Scottish Government level, through the Young Person's Guarantee was also noted by some staff as helpful in their efforts to drive DYW. Others reflected that leadership from the top created a culture of support for DYW and facilitated wider staff buy-in, which was described as crucial to DYW implementation.

"I think that the new SMT definitely really, really support that. And putting that period on the timetable specifically for DYW- that's been a big move… some things that you try and drive in a school you get backlash from staff, but we've definitely not found that. And I think that comes from comes from the top and the leadership of that." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

Some highlighted the benefits of an appointed staff lead with responsibility for, and time dedicated to, implementing DYW, such as a Principal Teacher for DYW or a DYW Lead. Specific DYW roles were described as helpful in: generating a school-wide approach; organising and driving the DYW agenda; establishing systems and management structures; acting as a main point of support; linking with partner agencies; conducting admin, and maintaining the prominence of DYW within a school. Staff in schools without a DYW dedicated role noted this led to siloed delivery of DYW or acted as a barrier to embedding work-based learning consistently across the school. Some talked about those in lead roles being particularly passionate about, or creative around, DYW, or felt this was key to its success. A few interviewees reflected on the risks to sustainability of over-relying on individuals to drive the DYW agenda.

"We're so so lucky that we've got (DYW Lead) because she's so passionate about DYW she just lives and breathes it. And I think a lot of the times, you are relying on individuals, rather than it being formalised. So, you know, I don't know how long we'll have her for it. I hope we'll have her for a very long time. But I would hope that the next person in that role is as passionate." (Careers Advisor, urban secondary school)

Support from other school staff, such as Learning Assistants, Guidance or Pastoral Support Teachers, and departmental teachers, was also felt to be important. Examples were given of ASL staff supporting pupils to attend college placements, pastoral teachers coordinating vocational programmes and foundation apprenticeships, and departmental heads championing DYW.

A few commented on how the specific skills, backgrounds, or interests of teachers shaped DYW provision. Examples were given of a horticulture qualification being established because one teacher had a specific interest in this, and of the craft skills of another teacher being central to an enterprise initiative. Subject teachers spoke of, or were described as, drawing on their previous career experience, professional networks, or local contacts- in media, industry, business, science, woodwork, forestry, health and food technology, and ICT -to develop DYW content, activities and partnerships. Some identified subjects that seemed to fit more easily with the DYW agenda or highlighted specific departments as especially strong at implementing this, for example: ICT, Business, Science, Home Economics, and Geography. Others described structures that helped establish consistency across departments.

"We've got our DYW principal teacher of development, who's DYW link... And then as I said, it's filtering down through us, into departments as well. And there's a DYW Representative per department. So I'd say in terms of the management structure and the kind of cascade think it is quite strong-we're trying to make sure we've got every area targeted." (Pastoral Support Teacher, urban secondary school)

Interviewees often described referenced SDS staff and DYW coordinators as being integral to the school's DYW provision. This echoes survey findings, where over two-thirds of respondents (69%) rated Regional DYW coordinators in the top three most influential DYW drivers within schools.

Beyond this, the research identified that schools work with, and value, contributions from a range of external partners, including pathways co-ordinators, employability co-ordinators, social workers, youth workers, community learning and development teams, local authorities, third sector organisations, and social enterprises. Staff in a combined school noted the senior school's relative advantage through its DYW coordinator and were keen for this to be rolled out to the primary school.

"I think another factor is probably the local authority DYW co-ordinator. So not every local authority has had them. And potentially some local authorities have had more staff than others, which I think has been a big help. So some of your bigger local authorities... have committed more staff to it. And it's been a really good tool and support in the schools with the DYW engagement, because it's been a separate resource, rather than teachers themselves doing some of the work." (Stakeholder)


Many interviewees highlighted the benefits of having a staff with diverse DYW focused roles, or having a strong sense of team. Good communication, shared goals and responsibilities, and a collaborative approach were seen as central to help clarify roles, minimise duplication of work, engage pupils, and embed work-based learning. A few noted the importance of peer learning and receiving support and validation from colleagues.

A variety of different staff working as DYW teams, core groups, datahub meetings, working groups, strategy meetings and networks were referred to at both school and local authority levels. These were valued for: managing referrals, tracking pupil destinations and targeting DYW interventions; increasing DYWs profile; generating ideas; sharing good practice; disseminating information and opportunities; providing training and support with planning, fostering partnerships with employers and colleges; offering informal support; and developing a shared vision across the authority. A few felt teacher buy-in, engagement and consistency of DYW provision increased when staff members from each department began attending DYW groups.

"I would say, being honest, that I feel we've had difficulties in getting partnerships on board… but that's perhaps when we didn't have this new, amazing working group that we've got… A lot of staff would have thought, This is not my job. This is guidance or this is a careers advisors job. But I do think that the new working group was getting staff on board and thinking, Oh, this isn't really that difficult." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

Monitoring, resources, and funding

Data collection and monitoring was felt by some to support meaningful embedding of work-based learning. A few, for example, described tracking the intended destinations of pupils in the Senior Phase, allowing them to better target DYW opportunities, increase support for those at risk of a negative destination, and enhance workforce planning. One school tracks pupil's self-ratings of their employability skills over time, and uses this information to tailor support. Key Performance Indicators, positive-destination rate monitoring, audits and quality assurance reviews - with Attainment Advisors or senior staff - were seen as helpful to promote accountability and consistency and recognise good practice.

The benefits of engaging in specific DYW planning or of incorporating DYW into school improvement and departmental plans was highlighted across interviews; where this was lacking, some staff felt the limited planning in their school hindered implementation.

In discussions on planning, a few mentioned useful tool kits or calendars, such as the Target Operating Model (TOM), to plan and monitor partnerships with employers. Key strategy, framework and policy documents, such as the Curriculum for Excellence and the Career Education and Work Experience Standards, were noted by some to support DYW planning and implementation. A few primary schools mentioned local authority frameworks or the 'I CAN' statements as useful tools to support understanding of how DYW fits with the curriculum and desired outcomes for each age group.

There were different perspectives on flexibility around DYW implementation; some valued this ability to be responsive to context, the labour market and individual pupils' needs; however, a few school staff felt teachers had too much autonomy and called for more centralised planning support and guidance.

"It was on our school improvement plan for last session… sometimes if it's not written in black and white, it can be easily slipped off the radar especially in a busy school. But I think because we take the time at the initial planning stages to have a look at what the (I CAN) statements are and because they're very clear… they're quite easily slotted into different lessons." (Principal Teacher, urban primary school)

Training and peer support were described by some as useful facilitators for DYW implementation. Examples include DYW focused CPD, conferences, inset days, case studies, mentoring, shadowing, coaching, and budding up systems with other schools. Valued contributions from Skills Development Scotland, Education Scotland, local authority attainment or quality improvement advisors, DYW teams, and universities, were also mentioned in interviews. One stakeholder explained their main aim, when delivering DYW training, was to communicate the links between DYW and current practice. DYW materials and online resources such as My World of Work, Social Enterprise Academy, DYW Live, and Twinlk were described as helpful to guide planning and generate ideas.

"One of the ways that we support it as a team, is we have quite an extensive suite of professional learning that relates to DYW, or career education… The best words I could possibly hear from a practitioner, who might have gone in cautious or a bit dismissive would be, 'is that all it is?', that would be music to my ear. Or 'we do lots of that already'." (Stakeholder)

Some flagged funding as key to signalling DYW as a priority and said this enabled partnership working, embedding work-based learning, and securing its sustainability. A small number of interviewees identify specific funding sources such as DYW, and regional funding. While most used funding for dedicated posts and protected staff time, some described using this to commission support services or facilitate DYW activities. A few said they appreciated flexibility to use funding to adapt to the needs of their setting. One interviewee, who said their school had not been empowered to decide how DYW funding was spent, felt this lack of flexibility had been unhelpful.

Partnerships with employers and further/higher education

Over two thirds (68%) of survey respondents said supportive employers aided the implementation of DYW.

A huge variety of successful partnerships with employers were described, spanning industries including: agriculture, horticulture and forestry, armed forced, energy and renewables, health and social care, education, emergency services, legal, water, hospitality and tourism, IT and technology, banking and finance, planning, politics, hair and beauty, transport and automotive, retail, animal care, sports, media and culture and the arts, science and engineering and construction.

While some described actively seeking new partnerships, others spoke of trying to maximise the opportunities through existing contacts or the benefits of having the same employers back year on year, to build relationships and sustainability.

Partnerships with colleges and universities were also valued by some interviewees. They shared examples of pupils attending college courses or university access courses, college or university staff running in-house programmes, and universities providing schools with DYW resources. A few said they appreciated collaboration with colleges and universities around the widening participation agenda.

Interviewees identified a variety of partnership facilitators such as: DYW co-ordinators, SDS advisors, DYW Principal Teachers and subject teachers; local authority work experience units and vocational co-ordinators; DYW strategy groups; DYW websites, adverts and promotions; development awards, such as Saltire Volunteering or Princes Trust; Career Mentoring Programmes; Foundation and Modern Apprenticeship Programmes; Young Enterprise Networks; Scottish Enterprise; careers fairs and networking events; joint working with other schools; word of mouth; and employer-school partnership agreements. One stakeholder felt that pre-existing partnerships with colleges and the Chamber of Commerce had helped their region get a head-start on DYW implementation.

"We held an employer… engagement dinner, and we had pupils, you know, developing their culinary skills through providing that dinner and so on. And that gave us an opportunity to actually engage and start to generate a lot of employer links, and that shaped a lot of the stuff that we did for the kind of two or three sessions thereafter." (Deputy Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

Some interviewees described the benefits of pupils actively participating in work-based activities alongside employers (through completing challenges etc), rather than employers simply giving a talk, or conducting mock interviews. A few shared specific events or programmes they felt had helped increase their variety of partnerships such as a countryside day, or Future Friday afternoons. Others felt that partnerships developed from strategic direction for instance by encouraging every department to link in with a business. Openness, pro-activeness, and buy-in from employers was also highlighted as key. A few suggested employer engagement was driven by corporate responsibility agendas, or policies such as the Young Person's Guarantee, or the Recruitment Incentive Fund/No-one Left Behind funding stream.

Many interviewees recognised the benefits of partnerships with local employers. These made DYW activities easier to organise and more relatable for pupils. The importance of tailoring activities to the needs of local and future employment markets was also referenced. For instance, schools in the vicinity of renewable energy projects spoke about delivering classroom-based activities related to employment in that sector. Interviewees said this helped to increase pupil's work-based skills, competitiveness, and resilience.

DYW was also seen as important to support regional economic development and meet community needs, such as ageing populations and skills shortages. This was highlighted by some staff and stakeholders in rural locations, who spoke of a need to create and link young people with opportunities in the local area, so they do not need to move away for work. Some felt it was helpful to consider the job outlook for the region or be guided by local authority labour market intelligence when planning for DYW. A few mentioned that SDS labour market data informed their practice or curricular planning and was helpful to promote awareness of future training opportunities and employment trends. One flagged the importance of keeping staff informed about labour market patterns and accessibility of information here.

"Definitely the region keeps us on our toes.. and keeps us informed about what the labour market's looking at…Part of my job is to look at the labour market information. But if I'm honest, looking through numbers tends to not be my priority. If somebody else is doing it at the regional (level), and can tell me where I'm at, then that's, great. And we'll.. push the things that that we need to push." (DYW Co-ordinator, rural secondary school)

While a few commented that for successful DYW implementation, pupil interests needed to be at the centre of both DYW and wider curricular provision, others emphasised the need to balance this with labour market intelligence. Examples were given of creative ways staff had sought to strike this balance, make DYW relevant to young people, or engage them in DYW activities.

"You want them (pupils) to have their aspirations, and it's important that their aspirations are encouraged. But there needs to be meaningful conversations and meaningful understanding in terms of where the skill shortages are, what the emerging economy is, in relation to what the skills of the young person is, and in relation to what they're thinking is in terms of their pathway" (Stakeholder)

"So in PSE…they've had to look at whether what they want to do involves using digital technology or's really opened their eyes as to how much they need to use technology. Being in like a really central farming community, they're always like, oh, I'm just gonna work on the farm, I don't need to know about computers…actually, your tractor and all the farm equipment…and if you run the farm, you need to know all this stuff" (Principal teacher, urban secondary school)

Parental/community involvement

Support and involvement from parents and other community members, were seen as key for DYW implementation by some. Examples included parents helping to organise work experience opportunities, facilitating partnership links, encouraging pupil uptake of DYW activities, and contributing to careers fairs, alongside alumni. One interviewee shared an example of retired community members helping out at DYW activities. A few reflected that it had taken work to encourage parental buy-in, or felt that this needed further focus, in order to support DYW implementation.


The factors identified as discouraging or preventing schools from embracing DYW and embedding work-based learning largely fell into five overarching themes: staff capacity, skills and funding; coordination and information management; geography and school type; pupil needs; and barriers to partnerships with employers and colleges. The impact of COVID-19 is outlined in chapter 2.

Staff capacity, skills and funding

Survey respondents, most of whom were class or principal teachers, rated capacity issues as the biggest challenge to implementing DYW. Three-quarters (77%) reported difficulties finding time for DYW due to other responsibilities; three-fifths (61%) struggled to find time due to other curricular priorities. Interviewee comments support the survey results; there were many suggestions that workload, competing priorities and lack of capacity are barriers to DYW implementation. Examples shared included SDS advisors being stretched due to covering multiple schools; teachers being unable to prioritise DYW due to competing responsibilities, understaffing; and the DYW lead role being too much for one person.

Some suggested solutions to address capacity constraints, such as starting small or highlighting, celebrating, and building on current good practices. A few called for clearer guidance from the SQA or Education Scotland about curriculum links or argued for curriculum content to be scaled back.

"I'm talking to you today about DYW - but I could speak to 10 other people about other things that are priorities in the classroom just now. But I think that means more work needs to be done so that teachers don't feel as though it's an added-on thing - it actually becomes quite natural." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

Staff skills, confidence and understanding were also mentioned as barriers to DYW implementation. Some felt teaching staff were unsure of their role in implementing DYW or said they'd had to work on promoting an understanding that it is everyone's responsibility. A few interviewees suggested that a lack of buy-in from staff stemmed from negative attitudes towards work-based learning or beliefs such as "that's not my role".

Communication, relationships, pacing, and emphasising that DYW's natural fit with the curriculum, were felt important to overcome reluctance to implement DYW. A few stakeholders felt that DYW needed to receive greater focus within initial teacher training, or called for more teacher capacity building generally.

"I think we all understand the benefits of embracing it within every curricular area as much as you can… that's sometimes a bit tricky, and it takes a bit of practice, I suppose. And I'm still new to teaching so it will take a few more years until I feel totally confident." (Class Teacher, urban primary school)

As outlined under the 'facilitators' section above, the absence of a DYW dedicated role to drive the consistent embedding of DYW across the school, was highlighted as a challenge by some. However, amongst interviewees from schools with DYW dedicated roles, a lack of clarity about these was raised. This was noted to lead to duplication of effort, conflicting priorities, or confusion and lack of understanding for wider staff. One interviewee suggested clearly defined roles and responsibilities would be helpful.

Other barriers to joint working included different professional and personal backgrounds, a lack of shared language, different priorities amongst stakeholders, and historic relationship difficulties. Good communication and relationship building was seen as key to overcoming these challenges. Some stakeholders also advocated for better joined up working at strategic and policy levels. One felt the need for this was especially timely given the planned creation of a new qualifications body.

"We have one plan (for the local authority) and all of the council's work sits within that plan, and developing the young workforce is central to it... alongside employability and economic regeneration... the whole workforce for the future strategy." (Stakeholder)

Funding constraints were seen as another barrier to implementation and sustainability of DYW approaches. In discussions on funding, the workload associated with developing funding applications and the restrictive nature of funding criteria were flagged as challenges.

High staff turnover and general staff shortages were also mentioned as barriers, with temporary contracts and poor pay of DYW-focused roles mentioned as contributory factors. Staff from an ASN school flagged lack of funding and capacity among wider support agencies such as social work, mental health services, and third sector organisations. One Depute Head in an ASN setting expressed particular concern about gaps in suservice provision at the point of pupil's transition from school.

Co-ordination and information management

Some interviewees described being overwhelmed with DYW opportunities and information and the need for a centralised resource to help staff manage this was raised. One interviewee felt their DYW regional group could be more proactive at channelling the huge volume of information and distilling this down to schools.

"I must admit it felt like I was sinking under the weight of DYW.. as we've come through the second half of the pandemic… everybody and their granny has reached out throwing out opportunities and you are just bombarded by information, day in and day out… it's too much. There's no coordination. There's no central feeling to it all. There's no one DYW hub online that every school can go into." (Depute Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

One stakeholder felt that DYW progress was hampered by an over-focus on traditional qualifications and called for schools to increase their diversity of awards such as national progression awards. However, pressure on schools to perform well in academic league tables were seen by some to act as a barrier to achieving parity of esteem for, and implementation of, worked based learning. A move away from an 'attainment first' mindset was advocated for; the introduction of leaver destination tracking was identified by a few as helpful here.

"It almost feels to be a bit of a conflict between how schools are measured and what we help pupils achieve, because the way that we're measured, always, in league tables is about, you know, the number of A grades, the number of highers that pupils achieve on exit… I think that must be a huge frustration, to know the great work that goes on in (schools), and how much they've done for the pupils, and how much they've improved those young people's options, and life beyond school… I just think that nationally, it's not really helpful to be measuring schools, in that way." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

Practical and logistical challenges in DYW delivery methods and timetabling were also raised. For instance, one interviewee from a school where many pupils progress to higher education explained that DYW courses were sometimes not viable due to low uptake and finite staffing. They called for changes to course design to enable different pathways to be run within the same class.

Geography and school type

While some felt their school type or location conferred advantages, such as smaller schools being better able to tailor support to individuals, others experienced these as barriers to DYW implementation.

Interviewees in rural and island schools described challenges with: forming employer partnerships due to lack of career options in their area; limited travel links and travel costs and time burden, which impacted other studies or acted as a disincentive; lack of places/funding for pupils to stay overnight if required to access activities; pupil confidence to travel away from home; IT issues preventing online engagement; and staff shortages in rural areas. A few reflected on the inequality of opportunity their pupils experienced due to these factors. Appointing a dedicated DYW coordinator, additional DYW funding for travel costs and the introduction of free bus travel, were identified as helpful to overcome some of these challenges. Another suggested incentivising teacher posts in rural areas.

Staff from large schools commented on the volume of work experience placements they needed to find. Staff from ASN schools spoke of the logistical challenges to building partnerships, associated with a large catchment area and school bases being far from individual pupils' localities, or felt that their setting was deprioritised in terms of DYW partnership opportunities. Better communication and consideration of ASN or pupils with social, behavioural or emotional needs at a strategic level were called for to ensure inclusive DYW practice.

Pupil needs and aspirations

Another key theme under challenges to DYW implementation was meeting pupil preferences and needs. A few described pupils not wanting to be on a different timetable and away from their school friends as a disincentive to participation in DYW activities or courses. One interviewee from an ASN setting reflected that their pupil's "already feel different enough without them then becoming even more different when they're put back in with their peers". Some expressed concern about pupil resilience and confidence or their support needs not being understood within DYW activities and partnerships, which impacted their accessibility and sustainability. The importance of one-to-one support for pupils to help overcome the social, physical or mental health barriers to engaging with work experience placements was emphasised. Linking pupils with opportunities at the right time, allowing sufficient time to for them to get to know staff and the DYW setting, and the need for flexibility was also highlighted as important.

"By the time you start to build those relationships.. that's the work placement over. So we need longer sustained placements, with an understanding of the support our young people require… We do end up with young people, for example, who have got risk assessments… they might need a male member of staff that can supervise them at all times. That then places a difficulty on us in a working environment… the support they require can be a big challenge at times and getting partners to understand that." (Depute Head Teacher, urban ASN school)

Barriers to partnerships with employers and colleges

Many interviewees mentioned challenges associated with working with employers, including: a lack of employer awareness, proactivity or buy-in to DYW; competition for, and limited availability of, work experience placements and apprenticeships; red-tape and health and safety constraints; communication issues and lack of a shared language; misunderstanding among employers about school contexts and academic requirements; over-reliance on individual staff contacts; and issues facing businesses, such as takeovers.

A few stakeholders highlighted employers' criticism of teachers in the early days of DYW implementation as barrier to joint working. Conversely, some others explained that motivated employers sometimes struggled to gain access to schools. More joined up planning between DYW co-ordinators to address competition for opportunities, better communication to promote a shared understanding of DYW pathways, greater promotion of the national DYW agenda to employers; increased clarity around the mutual benefits to schools and employers, and support to help employers diversify their offer to schools, were called for.

"I think there's something about a disconnect between what employers deem is necessary for getting a job compared to the actual realities… a National 4 should be enough to get you into a modern apprenticeship - because a modern apprenticeship is a level five, training and employability opportunity. And I think perhaps it would be handy if we could all sit down round the table and share the structure of what everybody's all working towards (so) everybody knows what progression is." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

Although less frequently mentioned, challenges in partnership working with colleges were also raised. Issues included data sharing between school and college, timetabling constraints and clashes, historical relationship difficulties between education settings, duplication of curriculum content and outdated college curriculums. The need for collaboration and good communication was emphasised. One stakeholder also called for an increase in joint planning and communications between schools and colleges.



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