Work Experience

Work Shadowing
Year 12 Summer Term

Sixth Formers at SWCHS take part in a work shadowing programme, with a five day placement following exams in the summer term.  Government guidance makes it clear that all schools should offer such an opportunity:

A meaningful work placement can provide valuable experience of the work environment and help students decide on future careers or study options and demonstrate their potential to future employers or universities. 16-19 year olds will benefit more from work experience than students at key stage 4, because at 16 they are better placed to begin preparation for progression into employment or higher education.”

‘Post-16 work experience as a part of 16-19 study programmes’, DFE, October 2013

Our programme starts in Year 12, with all students preparing a CV ahead of an interview with a member of the Saffron Walden Rotary club.  CVs are critiqued along with interview performance, and students then have time to improve and polish their document.  It has become increasingly difficult for Sixth Formers to secure a placement, as they now find themselves in competition with graduates seeking unpaid internships. As a consequence, we encourage students to start searching for a placement early on in Year 12, before the Christmas break.  

Many students are fortunate to have good contacts among their friends and family, so for them, securing a placement is relatively straight forward.  However, in order to help less well-connected students, we maintain a database of past placements. Where an employer has agreed to have a student the following year, students are encouraged to research the opportunities in our database, to see if there is a good match for their career or university aspirations.  Students then post or email a letter of application along with their CV, outlining why they are interested in the company and the placement.  The process can be demanding and outside a student’s comfort zone; we encourage students to follow up initial email contacts with a telephone call. This is something students are often uncomfortable about, but it demonstrates the resilience they will need to secure employment in a competitive environment. It is a valuable skill to learn. 

Once a placement has been secured, students identify what they are hoping to achieve in the week and complete a student ‘Aims’ sheet. This can be helpful in allowing the provider to tailor a programme that meets the needs of the student.

Once the placement is completed, employers complete a short reference form which assesses how well the student met employability skills such as:

  • Attendance
  • Punctuality
  • Team working
  • Independence
  • Reliability

This becomes the focus for a debrief session with the student’s tutor. It can provide evidence that is invaluable for either a UCAS or job application reference.

Our students have succeeded in securing some amazing placements, working both in the UK and further afield. One student went to New York for a week, another to a yacht broker in the South of France.  Our close proximity to London also means there are a wealth of fascinating placements in, for instance, the financial services sector, the insurance industry or one of the many creative businesses in our capital.  All placements, whether local or not, allow our students to gain a valuable appreciation of the world of work. There have been many instances of a placement experience causing a student to change direction, in terms of either university course or career route.  All students are encouraged to network and make contacts that may be useful to them in the future.  We are enormously proud of the numerous outstanding references our students have received following their work placements, and know they have gained a tremendous amount from this element of their Sixth Form education.

Feedback from Work Placement Providers

Business Placement

“She approached all aspects of the week with a professional demeanour and a willingness to absorb, learn and understand the nature of our business. She was able to demonstrate an attention to detail and accuracy in tasks that she contributed to. She gained an insight into how we approach market analysis to identify our strengths/weaknesses and that within the market.”

“We felt as if she could seamlessly fit in within the working environment as her productivity, care and attention to the pieces of work presented to her where executed very well. She contributed to a market appraisal of competitors with sensitivity and maturity, contributing ideas, grounded in a clear understanding of business processes from a practical level.”

 “We had said to her if she would like a part-time job alongside her university holidays in the near future, we are sure she would fulfil a position with us with ease and effectiveness. It is not easy to find the professional qualities that she possesses, and we recognise she will be very successful in the future as she enhances and enriches her experience.”

Medical Placement

“She was always very helpful, assisting staff and patients alike. She was punctual, polite and of  smart appearance. She showed compassion and empathy towards the patients she had contact with and was always willing to help them with little tasks. She was also keen to experience the daily running of the ward and was inquisitive throughout her time with us, ensuring she took every opportunity to have the best experience available to her.”

“She is very self-aware and realises that she can be over-sensitive and could, and did, find being in an acute ward emotionally challenging. She faced a challenge when two patients with dementia proved rather demanding. She was able to talk through what happened with a member of staff and learned from the experience. It also helped her to know how to approach and talk to patients more easily, as she found this a bit daunting at first.”

Costume Department Placement
“She demonstrated a variety of skills while working in the costume department of ‘Through the Mill’.  She has good practical sewing skills and attention to detail and I felt confident delegating tasks to her.  She also had strong social skills and fitted in easily with the company, many of whom thought (and hoped) that she was a permanent member of the team on the show!
I would absolutely recommend her for employment.  She was a huge help – I really don’t know how we managed without her before!  She is very talented and has very interesting creative ideas.  She will have a brilliant career ahead of her if this is something she chooses to pursue.  I am looking forward to her help again on future projects.  She will always have a glowing reference from me to give to future employers!”

SWCHS Languages Department
“She had an excellent, mature approach to all aspects of the work within the department.  She has shown a real interest and maturity way beyond what one might expect. She had a good manner in lessons, helping and supporting pupils with their language and focus.”

Student Feedback Regarding Work Placements

Cambridge University
I was lucky enough to spend the week with a research director and professor at the Faculty of Education in Cambridge. I was given various research tasks that were both relevant to the real world (my work will be part of a paper that advises government policy), and gave me a taster of university-style study. I also received invaluable advice about which universities to apply to, tips for applying, and had many insightful discussions about my subject (economics) as a whole. Throughout the week I was constantly learning new things, whether it be Masters level statistics, or the latest research into global ageing and public health. When I go to university next year, I will have a much better idea of what to expect and of how academics work together to research the world, and use their knowledge to improve it. “

Stansted Airport 
Shadowing the Financial Directors and Managers
“During my week at Stansted Airport I found that finance is just more than numbers on paper. I was given the chance to see exactly how the money was being spent, and of how they would forecast their budgets well into the future. After shadowing the managers in charge of the analysis of the figures, I found that they had a very important role. This role enables the whole airport to see exactly where the money was going, and of how they could use cutbacks to ensure future savings. I thoroughly enjoyed my time looking at the assets of the airport, as well as their diverse sources of income. Through having the opportunity to have access to this information and to be able to have my own say in the way that the airport worked, I have decided on a future in finance.”

“The most empowering aspect of my placement was that it was closely linked with my studies. After having learnt about business plans and financial accounts in class, it was easy to see what I had learnt put into action, on a much larger scale. My work experience has made it easier for me to progress into Year 13; I would thoroughly recommend this placement to anyone with an interest in the financial world.”

Home Design Company

“I thoroughly enjoyed my work experience with the self-build home design company, Potton, as it enabled me to use my design skills I have already developed during my A-level studies. It also helped me to further improve these skills and work alongside designers to construct 3D images and scale drawings of key interior spaces, such as the kitchen. This work experience has also influenced my university course choices as I am now looking to continue my studies in architectural design.”

Other Interesting Placements

Institute of Women’s Health – The student helped with a range of experiments, including DNA extraction.

Acorns Equine Clinic – The student learnt about x-rays, blood results, etc. Despite being around horses her whole life, this student learnt a great deal more on this placement.

Addenbrookes Hospital – The student observed consultations in the allergy clinic and gained a real insight into a doctor’s life.

Mousetrap Theatre Projects – The student experienced how this charity brings West End Theatre to disadvantaged groups in and around London, by running courses and theatre events.