Careers leaders are now an identifiable workforce in schools and progress is encouraging, according to two major surveys by the Careers & Enterprise Company. Joe Lepper reports.
Careers education is “improving everywhere” in England according to the Careers & Enterprise Company’s (CEC) State of the Nation report for 2019. Drawing on data collected via its Compass self-assessment tool from 3,826 state-funded schools and colleges, it concludes that progress can be seen across the country, with schools serving disadvantaged communities among the highest performers.
More than 2,800 schools and colleges have completed the Compass audit twice – and show improvements on every dimension. Headway has been particularly strong around ‘encounters with employers and employees’, ‘linking curriculum learning to careers’, establishing ‘a stable careers programme’ and ‘encounters with further and higher education’.
Over half of schools and colleges are achieving benchmarks 8 (personal guidance) and 7 (encounters with employers and employees).
An identifiable workforce
The report highlights the vital role of careers leaders in sustaining improvement. However, it adds that this workforce needs to become “more embedded to achieve the step change needed within schools and colleges” and acknowledges that educators “will continue to need support through resources, training and networks to achieve across the benchmarks”.
You want everyone to talk about careers
To gauge the views and perspectives of careers leaders themselves, the CEC and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation undertook a separate major survey between March and April, involving 750 participants across state secondary schools and colleges in England.
Entitled Careers Leaders in Secondary Schools: The first year, its findings show that careers leadership is fast becoming a staple element of secondary school life. Since the government’s 2017 Careers Strategy recommended the official establishment of the role, more careers leaders have been recruited, there is a greater commitment to their training and many are either sitting on, or reporting directly to, schools’ leadership teams.
This new body of careers leaders is highly motivated, and members feel confident in their work, according to the survey. The “game-changing” Gatsby Benchmarks are helping them to identify and address weaknesses in careers programmes.
Careers leaders are now “an identifiable workforce”, the report states, with the recruitment of careers leaders by schools and colleges on the rise: four in ten careers leaders (42%) were hired during 2018-19 and 84% of schools and colleges have underpinned the role with training or are planning to do so.
Close to two-thirds (65%) of careers leaders say that careers guidance has become a higher priority for their school or college’s senior leadership team since the Careers Strategy was published, while a third believe it has stayed the same. Just 2% think the importance of careers leadership had reduced. Overall, the vast majority (88%) of careers leaders believe they are having a positive impact on young people’s lives and 81% are optimistic about the future of careers support in schools.
However, notable challenges include apathy demonstrated by some teaching staff towards careers guidance, plus limited budgets in many schools.
Headteachers are encouraged to focus on:
- Strategy: Integrate career guidance into the school’s strategy so that it is delivered collaboratively across the school
- Leadership: Appoint careers leaders at middle or senior leadership level so that they can work effectively with staff across the school and with external partners
- Governance: Engage the governing body with the school’s work on careers to ensure that careers leaders are supported and challenged at a senior level
- Time and resource: Allocate sufficient time and resource for careers leaders. Discuss priorities with careers leaders to ensure that the time available is used to best effect
- Training: Encourage and enable careers leaders to take part in training
While two-thirds of careers leaders are in middle or senior posts, a third deliver the role at an administrator or coordinator level. A lack of seniority can affect how well leaders can embed careers support across a school, warns CEC head of education Lesley Thain.
“The schools that have been most effective in implementing the careers leader role have ensured that the person appointed is sufficiently senior to influence change at a whole-school level. If a principal has not appointed a middle or senior leader to the role of careers leader, it may be that they don’t fully understand the need for this role to be strategic and drive change across the school.”
This strategic approach is particularly important in ensuring the wider educator workforce can champion careers advice. The survey shows that almost half (43%) of careers leaders believe the engagement of teaching staff is a barrier to careers in school.
Among those already embedding careers support within school is Jake Armstrong, careers leader at Addey and Stanhope School in Lewisham, south London. In addition to sitting on his school’s senior leadership team, he is a subject teacher and manages a number of departments. This gives him broad access to members of staff from the ‘top table’ down and ensures teachers are able to attend careers events. He is also on hand to advise teachers on using careers guidance within lessons.
Referring to a recent event, designed around the Gatsby Benchmark 4 ( linking the curriculum to careers), he says: “Now I have three or four members of staff who are actively coming up to me to asking if they can take something off my hands, saying, for example, that they’d love to work with colleges.”
But he stresses that such staff should not be labelled ‘careers ambassadors’. “Careers needs to be integrated and embedded around the whole school,” he argues.
“If a few people are seen as the ambassadors, everyone else can have a tendency to say, ‘it’s not my problem, someone else is doing it’. You want every member of staff to engage in some ways; you want everyone to talk about careers.”
Many schools are benefiting from regional careers hubs (groups of 20-40 secondary schools and colleges in a dedicated area which work together to deliver the Gatsby Benchmarks) established by the CEC to help educators speed up progress towards meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks. These have access to funding and support, including bursaries for individual schools and colleges for careers leader training. Initially piloted by the Gatsby Foundation and North East Local Enterprise Partnership, North East Ambition, the hubs bring together schools, colleges, employers, universities, voluntary organisations and training providers.
North East Ambition regional lead Matt Joyce argues that the key to engaging teachers in careers education is understanding their busy workloads and demonstrating the practical advantages, so that they “don’t see ‘careers’ as simply ‘another thing to do’, but as an opportunity”.
Achieving this involves helping teachers to make links with employers and integrate careers learning into the curriculum. Specifically, this should allow them to set work “in an applied context so that students can connect what they are studying in the classroom with its application in the wider world”, says Joyce. Problem solving, communication and leadership are all important employability skills that teachers should integrate into lessons, he adds.
Including careers guidance within lessons improves grades, stresses Thain. She cites Motivated to Achieve research conducted by the Education and Employers charity, involving 650 students. This found that those who had careers sessions in schools with employers were more likely to exceed their predicted GCSE grades. English grades, in particular, were boosted through such sessions.
“We would encourage careers leaders to use this research when delivering career professional development to subject staff,” she advises.
Case Study: Parkstone Grammar School, Dorset
The Gatsby Benchmarks have helped provide schools with a structure for careers guidance, according to Julia Wilkinson, head of careers and employability at 11-18 academy Parkstone Grammar School in Poole, Dorset.
“A lot of what is covered in the benchmarks was already happening, but it has enabled me to fully focus our careers programme and add the benchmarks to the school delivery plan,” she explains.
In 2018, Wilkinson received the Careers Leader of the Year award at the Career Development Institute’s UK ceremony. However, she began as a careers coordinator five years ago, having retired from the police force due to ill health.
“While in the police, I was keen to help young people and, in my spare time, ran a Brownie unit and was the local commissioner in charge of a number of other units. When I left, I naturally gravitated to a job working with young people,” she explains.
To enable her to gain the knowledge, understanding and skills to fulfil her new role, the school immediately invested in her training, beginning with an NVQ level 3 in advice and guidance. She progressed to the full Level 6 Diploma in Career Guidance and Development, selecting the three optional units that make up the Certificate in Careers Leadership.
By the time the Careers Strategy was launched, in December 2017, Wilkinson was working in the dual roles of careers coordinator and careers adviser, becoming the named careers leader after presenting a report to the headteacher, reviewing the school’s careers provision against the Gatsby Benchmarks and other elements of the strategy.
She reports that she has found Gatsby Benchmarks particularly useful in building support among teachers. “It’s much easier to get buy-in from colleagues when there is a set format of what is expected and is seen as good practice,” she concludes.
Creating sustainable systems
Armstrong’s multitude of ‘hats’ is typical of many careers leaders, juggling their careers role with other responsibilities. Of those surveyed, 84% report ‘lack of time’ as a barrier to making progress around careers. On average, careers leaders spend two days a week on their careers leadership role. Around a third are subject teachers, while other roles cited include special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), librarians and business managers.
Armstrong is only able to spend between half a day and a full day each week on his careers leader work but has put in place measures to ensure he can make the most of this limited time, taking care to make elements sustainable. For example, with every careers initiative he designs, he considers whether this could be replicated annually and also how it could be used for different year groups.
“For me, the careers part of the job has always been about systems and sustainability; can we run it again year after year? And making sure that whatever we do, the kids enjoy it,” he says.
He also ensures that the Gatsby Benchmarks are linked in with the school’s central IT system, explaining, “I can then plan around, say, benchmark 5, and see what we can do, setting up reporting structures around that. Now, that day a week is tidying up and looking at analysis.”
His focus on systems and sustainability also extends to relationships with employers; Armstrong wants such partnerships to last for years. For instance, he has formed a relationship with the Ernst and Young Foundation over the next five years to run employability workshops. The locally based Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust is another long-term partner.
“There are a lot of schools who go to employers and take, take, take,” notes Armstrong.
“But I try to say to employers, ‘if you have any junior employees and you’d like to develop their skill set in public speaking, we could invite them in to the school, to talk in front of 120 kids. It’s great development for them.’ Otherwise you have these awful one-way relationships.”
Case Study: Global Academy, London
Established in 2016, London-based secondary school Global Academy specialises in teaching creative media subjects. It is sponsored by the media group Global, plus the University of Arts, London.
“Our focus is very much about getting young people prepared for a career in the creative media industry,” explains Jonathan Jacob (pictured below), the academy’s head of external relations and careers. I’m fortunate as the careers leader. Everything we do, the whole mentality around this building, is about getting people ready for a career.”
In 2018, 82% of the school’s year 13 students secured roles in the creative industries with firms including the BBC, Facebook and Global itself. Staff ensure that careers support is embedded within the wider curriculum, including within traditional subjects. “For example, using maths in planning a radio show,” suggests Jacob.
He joined the academy from Global (where he worked as a radio producer and in sales roles), initially running a weekly enterprise, careers and business workshop. This expanded into a wider careers leader role, and he also teaches enterprise, industry and radio production at the school, reporting to the principal and taking part in middle-management teacher meetings.
His mix of roles keeps him close to teachers, pupils, senior managers and partners in supporting careers initiatives, while he admits that the school’s focus on the creative sector simplifies his careers role.
“If I’m organising a ‘drop-down day’ I’m not having to get the police, the RAF and the NHS in. I’m just focusing on one sector,” he says.
Meanwhile, his media background helps him to connect students to employers:
“For example, one of our students created his own social media brand and has 200,000 followers on Twitter,” he explains.
“One of my clients used to be a social media agency. I could connect the two, creating a nice relationship.”
No matter how keen schools and colleges may be to invest in young people’s employability skills, austerity measures have hit all public sector organisations hard in recent years, with schools no exception. Around a third (31%) of careers leaders say they do not have a budget for careers.
“Budget was frequently cited as a barrier to delivering the role effectively,” states the report.
“Having a budget was associated with achieving a higher number of benchmarks.”
Joyce is confident that “protected funding” for careers leadership, especially to offer personal guidance “would undoubtedly be beneficial”.
Thain admits that funding for careers support is “challenging, given the current climate”. But she adds that headteachers are “now prioritising adequately funding and resourcing the role of careers leader to lead this work”.
For Armstrong, extra money would enable careers leaders to offer a wider range of innovative, immersive activities. He cites Medical Mavericks as an example of an innovative organisation available to support schools’ careers programmes.
Aiming to inspire the next generation of medics and scientists by taking real medical and sports science equipment into schools, colleges and events all over the UK, its health experts provide engaging activities (such as mocking up an operating theatre), giving young people “a tantalising taste” of a career in healthcare, “to drive their ambition and inspire them to find out more”. “I’d love to do more immersive careers work like that,” he admits.
Case Study: Mowbray School, North Yorkshire
Being assistant head and a member of the senior leadership team at Mowbray School in North Yorkshire puts careers leader Nigel Wilford at the heart of decision making.
His role as the school’s lead on ‘preparing for adulthood’ (PfA) also helps him embed careers guidance across departments, linking it to the curriculum and gaining buy-in from teaching staff. The Department for Education- led PfA initiative supports the life chances of young people who have a special educational need or disability, and Mowbray caters for pupils with a wide range of needs including moderate, severe and complex learning difficulties and autistic spectrum conditions.
“We assume that children will continue their learning, but it’s not always with that pure academic focus,” he says. “Being a valuable contributor to society is important for us.”
The school has embraced the Gatsby Benchmarks and has a farm and wildlife area, providing students with farming skills – highly sought-after by employers in this largely rural county. It also has its own shop, to offer experience of the retail sector to its pupils, while local authority internship placements are being explored as another way of boosting students’ employability. “All this is part of our routine curriculum because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” says Wilford. “It gives pupils the chance “to get that foot in the door” with future employers “and show that they can”.
He believes that connecting a school’s ethos and curriculum to careers support can be replicated within mainstream settings (in which he previously worked for 20 years). “We are finding out what the children can do, what interests them and what they might want to do in future, as opposed to delivering an abstract curriculum,” he explains.
Leaving no one behind
As the State of the Nation report makes clear, there is still much to be done across the board to support young people’s future careers. The average number of Gatsby Benchmarks schools and colleges have achieved this year is only three out of eight; 10% of schools are still failing to achieve any of the benchmarks.
There is still much to be done
The highest proportion of non-achievement has been for benchmark 5 – for 10% of schools and colleges completing Compass, none of their students has an employer encounter every year that they are at school or college. Similarly, for 9% of schools and colleges, none of their students is receiving an interview with a qualified careers adviser.
For these schools, the stick of motivation may be Ofsted’s new inspection framework, launched in 2019, setting out the expectation that schools provide an “effective careers programme” that offers pupils careers advice, experience of work and contact with employers to promote aspiration, good choices and understanding of how to succeed.
However, the carrot of support will extend to 20 further careers hubs over the next year, building on the learning of the first wave.
Overall, the survey shows that careers leaders find the Gatsby Benchmarks a valuable structural support, particularly when it comes to involving employers and universities, offering students first-hand experience of workplaces and linking careers to the curriculum.
Among those surveyed almost all (94%) think the benchmarks have helped to improve careers guidance in secondary schools.
“The benchmarks define what good looks like and make it clear what schools need to be doing,” says Joyce. “They are fundamental.”
Thain concludes: “The Gatsby Benchmarks force schools to think about each and every student which means that no students are left behind.”