The Norwegian research institute NIFU has evaluated the Certificate of Practice Scheme, a pilot project intended to reduce the dropout rate in upper secondary education during the period 2008-11.
Fifty-one students who started upper secondary education in 2008 were accepted onto the Certificate of Practice Scheme, a two-year training programme during which participants worked in a company four days a week and attended school one day a week to study general subjects. After obtaining a Certificate of Practice, participants could apply for an apprenticeship or a job.
There was a degree of ambiguity about the aim of the scheme and about whether it should be considered a distinctive alternative to the Craft and Journeyman’s Certificate, albeit at a lower level, an alternative path towards the Craft and Journeyman’s Certificate, or an alternative solution to the dropout problem.
Half of the participants in the scheme had failed or not taken exams in lower secondary school, and in general they had obtained low grades. Previous experience and research suggested that those with such a background would drop out of education, or at least lag behind. However, the results were quite different for the participants in the Certificate of Practice Scheme:
- Of the 51 participants, 41 completed the scheme in the two-year period. Seven transferred to other training programmes during the same period, two left to work, and one was neither in education nor in work.
- Of those who started in the scheme in 2008, 49 percent succeeded in obtaining an apprenticeship afterwards, compared with only 29 percent of those in ordinary vocational upper secondary education.
- Of the 16 who completed the Certificate of Practice Scheme but did not apply for or obtain an apprenticeship afterwards, nine are in paid work or military service, four in education, and three are neither in education nor work or their status is unknown.
The number of candidates with a full Craft Certificate as their ultimate goal increased during the life of the project. Those who warned against setting such ambitious goals on the ground that it might demotivate participants, appear to have been wrong. The most important difference between the scheme and ordinary vocational education is the amount of practical work and training in an enterprise. Around 80 percent of the Certificate of Practice participants worked in an enterprise for the whole two-year period. There is little doubt that this is the most important factor behind the high completion rates. Working in an enterprise seems to have boosted applicants’ self-esteem.
Initially there was considerable scepticism about the applicants’ ability to succeed in maths, Norwegian and social studies. Their success may be explained by the way the scheme was organised, with teaching in very small groups and considerable efforts made by teachers to link the subjects to practice and make them relevant to workplace settings.
Adolescents who are bored of school and want to do practical work should be seen as a resource for working life instead of a burden to the school system. In today’s situation with low unemployment, this should be particularly relevant.