Sarah Noble, strategic lead for modern foreign languages across the Central RSA Academies Trust and lead coach for Initial Teacher Training in Worcestershire, has been the careers leader at the Outstanding Ofsted-rated Academy Arrow Vale since September 2017. She carries out her role alongside her French-and Spanish-teaching commitments. The school teaches students from Year 9-13 – a critical period for making careers-related decisions.
Here, she shares her experience of being in the careers leader role and how she has benefited from completing online training.
What has your experience been like so far as a careers leader?
It was overwhelming at first, but the online training and being part of a Careers Hub have been invaluable. The hub allowed us to meet other careers leaders who are experiencing the same challenges and can offer solutions.
As we are based in an area of high deprivation, a lot of our young people come from homes where mum and dad don’t work, and this may well be across many generations. They might not see the point of going out and earning a living. Often, those disengaged individuals benefit the most from targeted careers support. They start seeing the point of school and why they need to tuck their shirt in – not because the teacher wants them to, but because they’ll need to at work.
You can get pulled into doing everything, but we need to move our colleagues and encourage a whole-school team effort
Although I’m immensely busy, I love it — the role takes me out the classroom and into business, where I originally started my career. I’ve done everything from working in a brokerage firm in London, owning a café in Portugal, working as an auxiliary nurse and a stint in transport and logistics. This gives me gravitas because I can talk to young people about the transferable skills I have learned: communication, leadership, team working, initiative and flexibility.
What was most valuable about your online training?
It has allowed me to learn about best practice while not having to take time out of the classroom — I completed most of it during the weekends, at my own pace. There is also an online forum where you can exchange ideas.
I asked teachers to display on their classroom doors the jobs they had been in before and the skills they learned
The most valuable modules were around maximising internal resources, managing external partners and linking careers to the curriculum — like many schools, we have struggled with Gatbsy Benchmark 4. There is a section on how to use and access labour- market information which was particularly helpful as teenagers can find this part really dull. They suggested quick and easy wins to incorporate it into lessons in an engaging way.
What challenges have you faced?
First, you can get pulled into doing everything, but we need to lead our colleagues and encourage a whole-school team effort.
The biggest challenge, however, is getting buy-in from the rest of the team. If I stand up in the staffroom and say that careers is important, it doesn’t always carry much weight. It’s finding evidence that this works. And we are seeing this through the transformation of individuals who show improved attainment as well as motivation.
The biggest visible difference has been in the most disengaged young people who have consistent attendance of 80% and below. Once they go on workplace visits and interact with employers, they start coming to school every day and engaging.
How has the training met your needs and influenced your careers provision?
Along with providing ideas for engaging external partners, the training suggests inviting alumni back to share their success stories. One alumnus came into our school to talk about her career writing novels.
She was from a very disadvantaged background, a recipient of free school meals, and labelled as a low achiever. She was the perfect inspiration for our students who are studying English.
Another alumnus who works with animals came in to speak to a group of our students who have strong ambitions to embark on a similar career. Despite many of them not having the grades to become a vet, the workshop demonstrated lots of achievable career options including jobs in a zoo or sanctuary.
One alumnus came into our school to talk about her career writing novels
It’s fantastic that alumni can offer the perspective that “I was once sat where you are now, and this is what I’m doing now” — especially for those who are lacking resilience and self-confidence.
What do you enjoy most about being a careers leader?
I love seeing students who can be challenging in the classroom but are then able to interact maturely and politely with employers — it makes me so proud. They go to the effort of presenting themselves smartly and clearly articulate what they want to say, something they may struggle with day to day. It makes me see them in a different light.
One boy who was completely disengaged had a couple of interactions with an engineering company and is totally focused now. He’s also turned around his poor attendance and homework since having a goal for where he wants to head in the future.
I have also been delighted at the willingness of business to work closely with us; we have been inundated with offers. One employer stands out (local pest-control firm Rentokil); after speaking about all their career pathways, the company held an interactive ‘bug buffet’ where students could eat chocolate-covered crickets. The children went wild and absolutely loved it, even though it was completely out of their comfort zone.