- Strategies being used in Slovenia which are similar to those in City of Dublin Education and Training Board
- Work based learning (WBL) is an integral part of all programmes, the minimum number of days/weeks a student must do on WBL is prescribed by the educational programme
- Schools must prepare own syllabus, organise own WBL, prepare programme plans and a plan for each year within a programme.
- Schools support students working abroad through the Leonardo Da Vinci Programme
- Students encouraged to find own WBL as mirrors the ‘real world’ but school/college will assist
- WBL documentation required from students upon return to college after WBL, in addition to evaluation by employer (mentor)
- Some strong relationships built between school and certain employers
- School members/staff involved in WBL (In Ireland, W/EXP teachers, class tutors & W/EXP A-post if applicable)
- VET programmes have a modular structure, based on learning outcomes – skills, knowledge, competence
- Some students submit major projects (L6 Business Management & Strategic Planning) that directly relate to their ability to contribute to the running/management of their WBL organisation
- Strategies which are different or working differently?
- Open curriculum – 20% of curriculum developed at school level – allows for flexibility within a local environment and is done in conjunction with local employers
- Employers (through Chambers at the CPI) are involved from beginning to end, involved in setting occupational standards, providing WBL and input into exam content.
- Employer & school committees set up to determine what competences or knowledge are required to meet labour market needs (open curriculum). Usually one committee meeting per year but there is on-going contact between both. Duration of WBL – however, duration of courses is also different (2-4 year courses, with 1 or 2 year add on courses for transition). WBL ranges from 1 week to 24 weeks depending on course, e.g. the 2 and 3 year technical courses have 3 weeks WBL in year one. WBL may be extended to up to 53 weeks if individual learning contract in place and alternative assessment options available.
- Nature and content of student WBL documentation provided by and returned to the school (diary vs. report, learning logs vs. diary, daily basis vs task basis etc.)
- ‘WBL organiser(s)’ – the organiser is the link between the companies involved in WBL and the school. The organiser deals with all employers and students, organises the WBL and informs students and companies of what they need to do re WBL, manages the WBL company database and makes sure all documentation required from company and student is returned/registered with the college. It appears to be a post of responsibility with significant time allocation (10-12 hours per week)
- Maintenance of database to manage WBL in the school. Includes all contact details, learning contract information, listings of meetings between employer and WBL organiser etc. This information is updated on an on-going basis to give a clear picture of what the nature of the relationship is between the school and each employer listed on the database
- Very strong relationships between school WBL organiser and local employers
- Only employers that have ‘verified learning placement’ status can be used for WBL, In order to be verified the company has to have a suitable workplace i.e. relevant to the course of study the student is engaged in and at least one person in the company must have completed a course to gain formal mentor status
- Chambers maintains a public database of ‘verified learning placements’ available and Chambers will assist companies wishing to attain verified learning placement status.
- In each validated company there must be at least one trained/certified mentor. Mentors gain certification through attending at least 18 hours of lectures and 17 hours of ‘homework’. This training includes an outline of the educational system, planning for WBL, the role of the mentor, monitoring and evaluation of learning outcomes.
- Learning contract – there is a legal contact between either:
- The employer and one student – individual learning contract OR
- The school , an employer, and a student – collective learning contract
- The learning contract covers the duties of the school, the employer & the student regarding WBL and is invaluable in the event of disputes between the parties
- School and employer share the insurance costs of WBL
- There are statutory obligations on the employer re WBL e.g. employer must provide lunch, transport to work, payment for work etc. Minimum monthly payments are legally set for students on a sliding scale. In year 1 – €90, in year 2 – €120, in year 3 – €150, in year 4- €150.
- All students provide a ‘systematic medical check’ during first and final year of education to ensure that the student is medically fit to undertake WBL
- There is financial support for WBL from the government; subventions are given for the cost of the student and the mentor, which can be applied for when the student is in their final year. Subventions are not automatic and amount to €800-€1000 in general. There are some conditions to the subventions and the college WBL organiser goes through all the subvention application process and documents with the company.
- Employers are given suggested ‘learning outcomes’ for the student whilst on WBL, although it is not to be seen as prescriptive, nor a list of what skills/competences the student should attain during WBL most employers try to tailor the WBL to match the suggested learning outcomes
- ‘Project week’ is directed towards students, where they overcome problems through teamwork and try to create new discoveries. The students tend to work in small groups of 3-5 and the responsibility for the projects lie with students, with teacher support. Much of the work of ‘project week’ is based on WBL. Students present their outputs from ‘Project Week’ in a number of ways – external competitions, presentations within the school, presentations to parents/employers etc. Students not directly involved (at a given time) in project week are out visiting companies, or companies come into the school to talk to these students about their industries. Inception of ‘Project Week’ – part of the 2001 guidelines on reforming VET and technical education as there was a need for:
- Goal-oriented and problem-based planning
- Better connection between theoretical and technical knowledge
- Teaching of practical work alongside theory
- Creating innovative teaching methods
- ‘Learning Hotel’ – Hotel Astoria, Bled. This hotel provides WBL for students of the Catering, Tourism and Wellness College in Bled. The hotel has 29 permanent employees paid for by the government – all other employees are WBL students. The government owns the hotel and its run as partnership between the government and the vocational college. The hotel gets no funding from the government and therefore has to make a profit so pricing is standard market pricing. Students spend 10 days per year in this hotel for years 1 and 2 of their course. The hotel has a collective learning contract with the college.
- ‘Teacher and mentor internships’ already in place and funded by the government. The model is for the mentor to teach in place of the teacher and the teacher to take the mentor’s place in industry. In Northern Ireland a system is in place for teacher internships ‘Lecturers into Industry’.
Strategies or aspects of the Slovenian System that are regarded as Innovative?
20% of curriculum is ‘open curriculum’ and developed at local level between school and local employers
Role of WBL organiser in terms of form& content
‘Verified learning placement’ status required in order to host WBL students and public database available which lists companies with ‘verified’ status
Mentor training & certification required for ‘verified’ status
Binding ‘learning contracts’ with detailed duties of school, employer & student
Statutory obligation on employer to pay WBL students on sliding scale
Government subventions to mitigate against company costs in taking WBL students
Hotel Astoria, Bled – the ‘learning hotel’
Funded teacher internships for a significant period
Factors that are regarded as important to the success of the Slovenian model?
Government funding/subvention to defray costs of WBL and mentor training for organisations
Positive attitude of CPI (national organisation for VET in Slovenia, social partners – Ministries of Education & Labour, and Chambers) to the importance of WBL
Recognition of WBL by employers as valuable e.g. as a marketing tool in the local area, as a source of future employees, to contribute to the learning of the next generation etc.
High level of communication between schools/colleges and employers, not just for WBL purposes but also in terms of drafting/updating the ‘open curriculum’
Role of WBL organiser/coordinator at school/college level and time allocation for same
National Culture, where the VET sector and WBL is valued by students, parents and employers, and ‘certification’ is a prerequisite for almost every part of daily life
Elements observed which could potentially be adopted into our current arrangements in City of Dublin Education and Training Board
The ‘Open curriculum’ type of model is available to us currently as market/labour force needs demand but perhaps the format and design of same could be changed. There would need to be significant input from local employers to mirror the Slovenian system.
Expanded/new role in schools of WBL coordinator(s), or redesign a post of responsibility to expand the role of Work Experience coordinator. This is a critically important role in the Slovenian model and many employers stressed the impact a good school/college WBL organiser had on their experience of WBL
Centralised (in every school/college) database of all WBL employer contacts, updated at least annually. This would provide schools with an overview of what college/employer relationships are working well (for all parties, including students) and where more relationship-building effort needs to take place. Relationship building would be a very important part of a new model of WBL and could take place at school/ETB leadership level or through the WBL coordinator(s), as appropriate
Redesign of some WBL documentation in line with Slovenian model – the content of the documentation appeared to be more student and employer friendly, with a greater focus on the skills acquired or tasks completed by the student. In addition, the format appeared preferable as much of it was designed as a single portfolio of work (a copy of which could be retained by students as proof of skills acquired)
Training of workplace/employer mentors – although it would be unlikely to happen in the same way as the Slovenian system, school/college personnel (WBL coordinator) could spend some time with individual or groups of employers explaining the WBL model, the duties of all parties under WBL, any WBL documentation required and mentor evaluation of the learner, where appropriate
Learning contracts’ could potentially be introduced into a pilot/new WBL system, as long as not overly onerous on any one party. A fair and equitable contract would clearly set out the duties/responsibilities of all parties (school, employer and student). In addition, although the Slovenian learning contracts are ‘binding’ any designed here could be more a ‘statement of intent’ than binding but the signatory parties may become more conscious of their duties by doing so.
Either individual or collective contracts could be used but collective contracts may be preferable from a school perspective in terms of relationship building and process control.
It is worth noting that much of this information is currently provided to students during Work Experience classes and employers through Work Experience correspondence from the Principal (in our context anyway)
A WBL ‘Project week’ could potentially be implemented across some subject areas or certification levels. In Slovenia this is a requirement of VET programmes but any Irish version may not be required to mirror the Slovenian model. However, a variant of ‘project week’ may give students the opportunity to work (individually or in groups) on a major or technical project based on their WBL. The project itself may already be a prerequisite in certain subjects but the ‘group work’ and potential ‘presentation to stakeholders’ (peers, teachers, employers etc.) elements of it may be new/not applicable to our context.
Teacher/mentor internships – teacher internships, with the assistance of partner employer organisations are certainly feasible and the duration need not mirror Slovenia’s (where we met a teacher who had completed a 2 month internship). However, if the intent of teacher internships is to share knowledge between industry and education, the duration should not be ‘token’. In addition, arrangements may have to be made on a school by school basis to facilitate time away from teaching or other duties whilst a teacher is engaged with an internship
- Increased demands on the school/centre and its personnel under a new/pilot WBL model would need to be resourced properly in order to build goodwill for the future. Any perceived lack of support may damage the credibility of the project.
Areas of the Slovenian model seen as presenting challenges
- Government funding, at the level it appears to be available in Slovenia, for WBL subventions, mentor training and teacher internships simply may not be forthcoming in Ireland
- ‘Open curriculum’ – the migration to common awards removed many LDMs, would a formalised ‘open curriculum’ model mean moving back towards the old system in some areas?
- Any additional time/effort/cost required of employers under a new WBL system may only deter employers from engaging with WBL. Similar care would need to be taken regarding teacher/mentor internships. Some potential aspects could refer to
- Mentor training (time and opportunity cost to the business)
- Mentor transfer to a school/college under teacher/mentor internships (same issue as above)
- ‘Verified learning placement’ type requirements
- Payment to WBL students (as per Slovenia)
- Excessive WBL documentation or monitoring of WBL student /skills
- Onerous ‘learning contracts’ where employers feel the ‘duties of employers’ under the contracts are excessive