Developing young workforce strategy - impact on education: evaluation

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

4. Findings: Learner Journey


In this chapter, we set out findings about how the implementation of the DYW strategy has affected the learner journey, exploring: how work-based learning is promoted to pupils; the impact of DYW on young people; and how DYW has contributed to a reduction of workplace and educational inequalities.

Approaches to promoting work-based learning

Many interviewees suggested the DYW strategy has led to greater efforts being made to share information about vocational learning opportunities with pupils in recent years.

"We're really trying to encourage people to be involved in taking more vocational subjects, a different pathway to consider rather than just thinking that they need to go straight to university. We're really trying to raise the profile of vocational education and learning." (Class Teacher, rural secondary school)

In discussions about how schools promote DYW activities work based learning/vocational courses to young people, different approaches were described. At most schools, work-based learning options are raised with pupils during discussions about subject choice or transition meetings when pupils approach the Senior Phase of high school; this is usually led by a guidance teacher. Staff noted that pupils and parents are often introduced to the school's work-based learning options in the lead-up to these transition points through school assemblies and parents evenings. Interviewees emphasised the importance of promoting the benefits of work-based learning pathways to pupils and parents, both in terms of academic merit (i.e. UCAS points) and as opportunities to gain experience and build skills.

Some interviewees drew attention to the contribution of their school's DYW Lead in promoting work-based learning for pupils within schools, noting that they acted as a centralised source of information and disseminated opportunities to appropriate audiences throughout the school.

Different communication strategies to promote work-based learning pathways to pupils were described. These include targeted approaches (sharing opportunities with particular pupils or classes) and broader promotion efforts, for example through displays in the school building, or using the schools' social media channels, website, intranet or internal email systems.

"We now have all of our students on a careers and future planning Teams, and I set up tags for them so that when information has been put in the Teams that is relevant to their career choice - whether it be university course, job opportunities, webinars - they get an alert on their phones to tell them that there's something coming up. So that's been a really good way of highlighting to them what's going on in the world and what's available to them. They didn't have access to that before - it seems to have been very effective." (DYW Lead, rural secondary school)

Impact of DYW on young people

Interviewees discussed the impact of the DYW strategy on young people. Analysis of the benefits for young people identified four overarching themes:

  • access to a much broader range of work-based learning opportunities;
  • presenting as more prepared for the world of work;
  • improved prospects of achieving and sustaining positive destinations; and
  • being more engaged with and invested in their own education.

Each aspect of the impact of DYW is discussed further in the sections below.

Access to more opportunities

During interviews, it emerged that the provision of work-based and vocational learning pathways has increased significantly throughout the lifetime of the DYW strategy. Before DYW launched, teachers recalled experiences where pupils would typically only have access to a limited choice of work experience placements for one week per year. They noted improvements in the range and availability of options, and an increase in the number of pupils integrating work-based learning into their school timetable. Opportunities for work-based learning now span pupils' school careers, as opposed to only being offered once pupils reach a certain age or year group.

"I think it's opened up the number of pathways. The number of different subjects and different levels which we have offered over the past few years is definitely blossoming. The offer is out there and the various pathways are huge compared to five or six years ago." (Depute Head Teacher, rural secondary school)

"In the past few years, we have massively increased our offering of vocational qualifications. A part of our timetable is now set aside for college courses. I think we're definitely in a much stronger position than we were five years ago, where the students know they have options." (Stakeholder)

"Previously, they've done it in week blocks. So the pupils maybe only had a week's work experience in an entire career in secondary school. Whereas we now tend to get a long term work placement, so they are attending, maybe a morning, afternoon, full day a week. And sometimes that leads as well to apprenticeship opportunities for a full time employment." (Principal Teacher, urban ASN school)

Several teachers discussed how DYW activities such as work experience and careers talks have broadened pupils' horizons and exposed many to new career paths and industries which they wouldn't have known about or considered in the past.

"I think it gives pupils a wider perspective of what they can do with what they're learning in the classroom, because some of them are so closed-minded as to how many job opportunities are out there that they think 'I have to be a teacher or a doctor or a farmer'. So having somebody that can speak to them and dive into what opportunities are out there, I think really opens up their eyes." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

"It helps them to start to recognise what might suit them career-wise, and I think it starts to plant some seeds for them as well. Some careers they've never even heard of at all. A couple of years ago, I had one boy who said, 'I like ICT, I like computers, but I don't know what to do with that.' And a speaker came in and spoke about ethical hacking. It instantly planted a seed for him. And he researched the job and found universities that did that subject and companies that you could potentially work for. And I remember seeing him last year and he said, 'I'm really excited to do it, that's still my plan. I need to get X, Y and Z at higher level.' So sometimes it can be speakers talk about careers that they had never thought about before, not just your stereotypical doctor, nurse, dentist." (Class Teacher, urban primary school)

These findings were reinforced among responses to the survey - nine out of 10 (90%) respondents agreed that DYW has increased the range of opportunities available to pupils, with over one quarter (27%) strongly agreeing.

More prepared for the world of work

A theme across interviews with teachers was that embedding work-based learning into the school curriculum has made pupils more prepared for the world of work, and better equipped to move into employment. Work experience placements, foundation apprenticeships and careers events were described as critical in helping pupils to establish greater understanding of what is expected from them in the workplace, and then develop those skills and behaviours.

"DYW is helping young people to leave school with that complete understanding of what the workplace is and have the social and emotional capital to really move forward. We're sending young people out there that are ready and able to shape the workplace of the future." (Guidance Teacher, urban secondary school)

"Our young people that do foundation apprenticeships or go to college, we do notice a difference in them in terms of them being ready for the workplace." (Depute Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

"There's a lot of benefit that can be gained from pupils having access to business and industry before they go out into the workplace. It prepares them for what to expect, it raises their standards so that they know how they have to perform in order to keep a job. It's very important to get that hands-on experience so that they know what they're actually aiming for right from the very beginning." (DYW Lead, urban secondary school)

Several interviewees said they had witnessed an improvement in employability skills among the young people they work with in recent years, including technical abilities like IT siklls and soft skills, incluidng communicatoin and team working. Many attributed this to young people having the opportunity to practice these skills and learn from practitioners in real-life work settings outwith the school environment.

"They're gaining skills that you don't necessarily gain in school, and putting knowledge into practice. I do think it's very valuable for the pupils. I think seeing pupils on placement and the employability skills that they are developing, I do see it as very beneficial to the pupils." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

"When we see them interacting with partners who are not teachers, I find it really encouraging, we can see that they are showing the interpersonal skills and the resilience to make judgements and be asked difficult questions on something that they've put a lot of work in." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary schoolStaff identified other skills pupils had developed through work-based learning, including leadership skills, financial literacy and technical skills specific to different industries like hairdressing, graphic design and mechanics. Increased confidence, maturity and resilience among young people who participated in work-based learning was also discussed by interviewees.

"We've had some great successes. One that stands out for me is a young person in sixth year, who's had a very difficult journey, both personally and at school, looked after residentially by the local authority and had lots of very challenging issues when they were younger. We managed to get her a childcare placement, and that worked like an absolute dream, to the point that they were calling us up after a couple of sessions saying, 'can we have her for longer?' And all that confidence that built up in her was just amazing, and we really saw her thrive. It's been a really positive experience. So we know when we get it right, the impact is enormous." (Depute Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

"There was a girl who wouldn't even speak to me at the start of the year, she would only email me. Now she is on Teams with me, she's got a camera on and she's talking really confidently. She's in the workplace. She's a changed girl. And it's all down to this foundation apprenticeship." (DYW Co-ordinator, rural secondary school)

"The students find it very useful to have conversations with people that aren't school related. And their confidence really does build when they realise that the things they're doing are really relevant to what people in employment are looking for in future employees." (DYW Lead, rural secondary school)

Achieving and sustaining positive destinations

Many teachers felt that the implementation of the DYW strategy has helped young people to improve their chances of achieving and sustaining positive destinations, which was recognised as a key priority of DYW. They suggested that the support provided through DYW has helped pupils to develop a clearer sense of direction for the future and identify pathways which are most suited to them, which will boost their prospects of successfully securing long-term positive destinations.

"We always look at the positive destinations, and we're seeing that it is improving year on year. The doors that are opened from the foundation apprenticeships have been excellent. A few of our students have actually chosen to go down that apprenticeship route, they're following that." (Depute Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

"I think we'll see the dividends…in terms of destination rates, by having the focus on DYW and supporting young people. A lot of young people who, in previous generations, would have left school without a positive destination, now have an increased chance of getting something, and not just getting something for the sake of it, but something that they have put thought into, something that they have experienced and have made the decision that it is right for them." (Careers Advisor, urban secondary school)

"It's starting to work very well - it's filtering through and we are getting high percentages of our pupils are going into positive and sustained destinations." (DYW Co-ordinator, urban secondary school)

"We've got a lot of students that are going on to more appropriate courses, rather than pushing them through UCAS routes. They're definitely going into much more appropriate courses, which is not necessarily further education. A lot of them are going into employment, which is excellent." (DYW Co-ordinator, rural secondary school)

Some noted that DYW-themed activities like CV writing workshops and mock interviews have helped equip young people with the skills and experience needed to successfully navigate recruitment and selection procedures when looking for jobs.

"All of our Senior Phase students now get the option for a virtual online interview with employers that we've made partnerships with from industry. And I've seen students are now confidently going out there, getting part-time jobs and building those skills." (DYW Co-ordinator, rural secondary school)

A few discussed the tangible benefits of DYW for some young people, like gaining qualifications by completing foundation apprenticeships or other vocational courses. They noted that formal recognition of the skills and experience gained through such programmes can boost employability prospects. Some shared examples of young people securing future employment or training opportunities at the end of work experience placements or vocational courses.

"A lot of companies are very keen to keep on their apprentices. It's great when you get a young person who's really keen to do something like accountancy, and they get to stay in the accountancy firm where they've gotten to know the staff and the ways of working." (Principal Teacher, urban secondary school)

"We had about ten or twelve pupils come to a presentation from the owner of a local garage, and then they offered up six blocks of work experience at the garage. And at the end of that, they offered an apprenticeship to one of the girls who went." (Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

"Throughout the year, they do eight different courses: joinery, plumbing, painting, plastering, they get a wee shot of all these subjects. It's been really good because I've got three kids that have went on and are now plumbers. So we have had a lot of positive outcomes regarding that." (Pupil Support Team Leader, urban ASN school)

More engaged with and invested in their education

Exposure to different styles of learning has helped some pupils to improve their focus on and engagement with learning and personal development.

"The pupils who have completed foundation apprenticeships have really valued the experience. They love the different, hands on way that they are taught by providers." (DYW Lead, urban secondary school)

"There's been a massive impact from everything that we've done so far. It just completely brings a topic to life, having a different face come in and speak to the children. Their excitement levels just go through the roof and it makes it so real for them. They take so much more on board and it just becomes so much more real." (Class Teacher, urban primary school)

Teachers shared examples of the DYW approach resonating strongly with pupils who do not engage well with other aspects of school.

"A partner from the garage came into school and offered an after-school session where young people could find out more about getting into mechanics. And we had a number of young people who had never in their life stayed after school go to that session and really engage with it. And so once he had delivered the career session, he did mini interviews with them and then offered them work placements. And from that, we've seen massive engagement. With one young person who didn't really engage well with school, we were able to show him that there was a pathway and that he can go and get his chosen career. So even attainment wise, DYW can really help to drive young people forward in terms of them saying, 'actually, I will get my Nat 4 English, I will attend school, because now I've seen my pathway and where I can go and what I can do.' I think five years ago, a lot of young people like him would have just switched off." (Class Teacher, urban secondary school)

"I've seen pupils who aren't as engaged in school, but through this DYW approach and through the work that our DYW Co-ordinators have done, they are starting to find something that they can buy into, they've found something that has a hook for them." (Careers Advisor, urban secondary school)

Reducing inequality

Interviewees described how the implementation of the DYW strategy has helped to address educational and workplace inequalities through targeted interventions. Some schools ran DYW initiatives or programmes aimed at specific demographics or young people facing different disadvantages, such as those with care experience, learning disabilities or from deprived areas.

These findings were echoed in responses to the survey - respondents were asked whether their school has used DYW to address educational and workplace inequalities e.g. disability, gender, race, SIMD profile, care experience, geography, mental health, academic ability. Among those who answered (n=55), 26% felt this was the case to a large extent, 47% to a moderate extent and 18% to a small extent. One in ten (9%) indicated that this does not happen at all. More detail on discussions about the impact of DYW on addressing inequalities is provided throughout this section.

Gender inequality

Some schools make clear attempts to address gender inequality and imbalance in the workplace through DYW activity. For example, they encourage pupils to challenge their assumptions about jobs which they associated with a particular gender and confront these stereotypes when thinking about their future careers. Teachers also deliver lessons and presentations about workplace gender issues in their subject area.

"We've done work mostly around gender within science, looking at equality in STEM. On International Science Day, we did a presentation on awareness of the role of women in science." (Principal Teacher, rural secondary school)

A few schools run programmes about traditionally male-dominated industries and target them at female pupils, for example groups for girls interested in careers in STEM, IT, property and energy. Staff observed that these groups were well-attended and well-received by female pupils, and led to many developing an interest in new career paths.

One school has made concerted efforts to have representation from female speakers at careers events, and another has a school-wide approach to integrate more female role models into their classrooms, through physical displays celebrating their successes and by using them as examples during lessons. However, many felt that there is further work to do on gender imbalance across industries, noting that enrolment in many vocational courses still reflects traditional workplace norms. For example, staff observed that courses on IT and construction were largely dominated by male pupils, and beauty therapy and early years courses were far more likely to attract female pupils.

Interviewees also mentioned that DYW was effective with young people who do not thrive in the school environment, and in many cases, the examples they shared were about boys who struggled in school. From that perspective, DYW may also be making a contribution to positive outcomes for young male learners, who are more likely to underperform in school, compared to female pupils.

Poverty-related attainment gap

In discussing DYW activity targeted at young people from deprived areas or low-income families, interviewees described attempts to remove barriers to participation in DYW activities by organising travel arrangements and paying for all expenses.

"They paid for taxis for some of our pupils to go out. But that made an absolutely massive difference to some of our students who never ever would have been able to do those sorts of placements otherwise." (Classroom Teacher, rural secondary school)

"We have many trips and excursions for young people to attend. So if a member of staff wants to run one of those, before they start, they identify young people who may not be to access it, whether it's because of money, or because they're a young carer, or whatever the issue. We then try to take away that barrier by saying, 'don't worry about X, Y or Z, we'll take care of that'." (Head Teacher, rural secondary school)

Teachers described other ways their schools had committed to widening participation; for example, one school had a mentoring programme to support pupils from SIMD 1–4 areas to access university courses.

Teachers from schools with a high proportion of pupils living in deprived areas described the importance of pupils having role models from similar backgrounds, noting that it helped to boost aspirations. They made this representation a priority when hosting careers and industry events for pupils.

"We managed to get somebody in and the talk was brilliant. It was about how he was the first in his family to go to college, and how that was never really an expectation for him. So in terms of aspirations and looking at how we can help children and inspire them to think a little bit differently about their future, hearing from real people who are from this local area is the most important thing. It just absolutely inspires them." (Deputy Head Teacher, urban primary school)

"A career at JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley, if you come from SIMD 1 or 2, you might think that's unachievable, but if you can see a peer's dad from the same area as you working for these companies, that's quite a positive and powerful thing." (Class Teacher, urban secondary school)

Pupils with additional support needs

Interviewees described instances where DYW coordinators had sought out placements and experiences tailored to suit the needs and abilities of young people with additional support needs.

"We have a young man who is a bright academic boy but socially, he struggles, his social skills are a challenge. So we're aware there's a real employability gap for him there. And so [DYW Co-ordinator] has pursued a work placement in a local dog groomers. And he's head over heels in love with this new placement." (Depute Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

School staff described measures taken to improve access to work-based learning for pupils with additional support needs, by identifying individual's needs and offering enhanced support. Examples included tailoring resources and lessons to meet different levels of literacy, accompanying pupils to placements and providing emotional and practical support such as scribing and advocating for them, and working with external agencies to provide an equitable experience of DYW.

"We look at identifying young people who require enhanced transition and working with our partners such as SDS, youth workers, social work, trying to identify the support that's needed." (Depute Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

"I think with the college placements, we've got to work really hard at that, especially if they're going into somewhere unfamiliar. What we would do is take them for several visits first, familiarise themselves with where they're going, what's expected of them, what they're walking into, because that's so alien to our young people, if they're doing something different. And for them to be doing that, it's a big step to be able to do that. Especially if I'm taking them into a college environment, they're so used to a small school, a small environment, small numbers, but if I'm going into college with hundreds and hundreds of other young people, and young adults, that's a big shock. So even just getting through the doors is a huge achievement for them. But we all work together, all of our bases, work together collaboratively to try and get the best deal possible for our young people." (Pupil Support Team Leader, urban ASN school)

Other approaches to targeting intervention

While there was recognition among many interviewees that DYW principles inform the curriculum for all pupils, some schools focussed DYW efforts on those identified by staff as being furthest away from achieving a positive destination.

"Rather than stereotyping pupils by SIMD or anything like that, we go by pastoral care teachers who know the pupils really well. You're able to look at your class and say, this person has a really clear idea of what they want to do and they're on a good pathway to get there, so they need a bit less support from the likes of careers advisors, targeted information evenings, that kind of thing. And then at the other end, there is someone at risk of either not knowing what they want to do or leaving school without a clear plan - those learners would be targeted a lot more." (Pastoral Support Teacher, urban secondary school)

"DYW has allowed that forensic focus on young people that are furthest away from the employment market. Although, as DYW is a universal offer, it's not just do it for those kids, but it does allow us to focus more strategically on that cohort." (Stakeholder)

Interviewees set out different actions by schools to target DYW support at those who are less likely to achieve a positive destination, or are less suited to the traditional academic pathways. For example, a few schools have designed alternative curriculum models, offering courses and qualifications outside of traditional academic subjects, such as beekeeping and jewellery making. Some teachers organise industry visits and information events about careers which do not require higher level education, to inspire pupils who choose not to pursue university.

"There's now a movement away from the idea that it's all about academia. There is much more of a focus on recognising that university is not for everybody and there are jobs out there that do not need degrees. And there definitely is more of a push in supporting those individuals." (Careers Advisor, rural secondary school)

"In terms of equalities, it's about identifying young people early on and trying to come up with more bespoke approaches to their curriculum, whether it's work experience or skills for life, learning and work courses. We're working on an alternative curricular model to try and make it more inclusive to our range of learners, rather than just the traditional 'do your 5 Highers and then move on to university.' Some subject areas are offering a wider variety of NPAs (National Progression Awards) rather than just your traditional Higher Maths, English, Chemistry etc. We've got NPAs in energy, jewellery making and childcare." (Depute Head Teacher, urban secondary school)

Interviewees said that their pupils responded positively when exposed to different type of roles, industries and professions.

"I got in touch with a few people from jobs that you don't necessarily need a degree for. One of the popular ones this year was a salesman... One of the kids asked, 'do you need any qualifications?' And he said, 'no, you don't need any formal qualifications, but what you do need is X, Y and Z, social skills and the ability to develop relationships with the customer.' I think it's good for them to hear that having a degree or qualification isn't always the be all and end all. For some jobs you do need it but for others you don't."(Class Teacher, urban primary school)

However, some schools avoided offering targeted support based on pupils' backgrounds, characteristics or abilities, arguing that it is best to take an individualised, person-centred approach to each young person in order to identify the best path for them.

"They might be care experienced, they might have a learning difficulty, they might have a mental illness. But you've got some pupils that have those things but are absolutely fine, you know? You might have a pupil that is on the autistic spectrum, but they're really clear and well researched about what job they want to do, and they've got really good family support, so they don't need a lot of intervention. So you really have to go on an individual basis for each pupil." (Careers Advisor, urban secondary school)

"DYW shouldn't just be focused at young people that traditionally wouldn't go down the academic route. I think that it can be for all young people, no matter what their path is going to be, whether they're going to go straight into work, an apprenticeship, college or university." (Class Teacher, urban secondary school)



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