A recognisable CBI song

An annual stop on the CEIAG/Skills report Wurlitzer ride is the CBI & Pearson Education & Skills survey which this year served up some rehashing of past hits but also some valuable suggestions for sector improvement.

Now that the Gatsby Benchmarks are in place and that schools are, on the face of things, showing progress towards achieving them, the CBI must find a balancing act between spurring on the education sector to achieve policy outcomes for it’s members while also acknowledging that the employer engagement it has long called for is now being reported from respondents from the world of education. Previously, the CBI’s position of decrying schools for not involving employers while simultaneously praising businesses for working with lots of schools was a standpoint that fell apart the moment anyone considered the logic of such a claim.

This agreement on the wider direction of travel is missing more nuanced interrogation though. The current CBI survey does not include questions on the awareness of the CEC or it’s work among the business community

When, in 2017, the CBI did ask members  they found that

cbi skills2

Which is strange to not then follow up on.

Of course, much of the work of the CEC is to create the space for Schools and Colleges to achieve bottom up, system wide improvement in CEIAG but without the view from business on their efficacy and reach this leaves open questions on the value of the Cornerstone employers scheme or their wider employer engagement work.

The challenge now facing the CBI is to highlight other positive offers and promises from their business respondents but while doing so sidestep the problem of merely rehashing previous predictions. For example, the claim of future growth in apprenticeship recruitment in this year’s survey rings hollow following similar claims from previous years that did not then materialize. In 2016 the survey (with suitable pre-Levy caveats) was positive about future growth

Across all of our respondents this year, 71% are either already running an apprenticeship programme or are planning to expand one. In addition, 16% are planning to create a programme in the next three years. This means the number of businesses that do not have a programme or have no intention of getting involved, has fallen 6% from last year

while, even post Levy introduction, the positive picture was still present in 2017

Business is already heavily invested in apprenticeships and committed to doing more to meet business needs. Across our respondents this year, 83% are either already running an apprenticeship programme or are planning to expand one

and continued in 2018

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Yet, over this period, the actual number of starts declined

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Of course, the wider winds of policy change can blow and alter plans so the CBI would point out their member’s view on the hindering impact the Apprenticeship Levy has had on investment in apprenticeship training while other stakeholders take the view that public money comes with necessary regulatory checks or limits. Time will tell if the 2019 claim of

Six out of ten respondent firms (63%) say they plan to expand their apprenticeship training programmes in the future, with only 5% of firms having no plans to offer apprenticeships

come to fruition.

The voice of CBI should be heard though when judging the employability preparation work of education and they do put forward interesting suggestions. The recommendation to include creative subjects in the Ebacc would find much support among educators

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while the shared attributes would be an authoritative resource to help define the goalposts for student employability. They also task their own members with work to increase the opportunities for work experience

cbi2019bwhile the call to increase the number of Careers Hubs is an achievable ask and a bellwether for the direction of travel. Also welcome are the recommendations for employers to pay regard to the careers advice needs of their own employees.

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Looking at the wider value that annual reports such as this or the CEC State of the Nation series add to the understanding of the impact of CEIAG provision or our ability to judge the progression towards mutually desirable goals is another matter. Member surveys can be useful tools to discover where to prioritize support but if all we have to rely on are the CEC State of the Nation reports based on self reported Gatsby data from schools keen to promote their work and the CBI annual surveys from business also keen to promote their community impact then there the risk is of two distinct, uncommunicative bubbles emerging. While these two stakeholders must work in collaboration and as allies sometimes it would be nice if this environment of partnership spurred a challenge or two to overly enthusiastic claims.

My book journey of 2019

My annual catch up of every book I read in 2019. Find the 2018 edition here and the 2017 edition here.

  1. Viking Britain: A History by Thomas JT Williams

viking britain

A history book that I admired rather than loved. This is a thoroughly expert look at the sometimes brutal Viking period of the British Isles. The book is at it’s best when it places the reader right there at the time through small narrative inserts such as catching sight of a longboat silently cutting through the river mist on a cold morning. The book successfully conveys the scale of the settlement from Scandinavia and I felt the author taking pride in addressing many of the misconceptions of the Viking period that have grown through history and modern media. Williams also successfully conveys the impact of the period and how this is still underplayed compared to other ages of these isles.

2. The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

italian teacher

A very rewarding novel with a lovely sense of place, time and character that, in it’s later stages, evolves into a thriller as a daring deception raises the stakes higher and higher. The depiction of the enthralling but ultimately repulsive artist Bear Bavinsky as the brilliant sun around which his meeker son, Pinch, and the rest of the characters orbit is a joyful one that turns sour. As a reader you want to be in those Italian restaurants just as much as the hangers on around Bear, listening to his stories and basking in his opinions before, as the novel progressed, you realise that his vices and relationship failures come at a cost. A very good book.

3. Chamber Music: Wu-Tang and America by Will Ashon

36 chambers

Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers) is a masterpiece of East Coast hip-hop and an album that blew my mind back in the mid-90s. This slight book contains interviews with the main players in Wu-Tang and contextualizes the album, its artwork and its skits in the city and upbringing of those Staten Islanders. The book captures the rawness of the initial ideas and recordings of the album and gives some useful depth to the stories behind the lyrics and the themes of the group. It’s niche, granted, but a must for Wu-Tang fans.

4. Any Human Heart by William Boyd

any human heart

The best book of the year. Recommended to me by my wife, this is a towering novel that will grip your heart and not let go. It’s rare to read a novel and find characters so well defined, so well drawn that you feel that you have always known them. Through the 20th Century we follow Logan Mountstuart who a brash, privileged young man who enjoys early success and the finer things in life but, as his disappointments and adversity stack up, your wariness of him diminishes and your empathy builds. It has been an age since I have read a novel with such exact and lifelike characters; they breathe from the page back at you. The diary format works brilliantly and captures the scale of a life well lived. Marvellous.

5. Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies by Hadley Freeman

life moves

A more disposable sashay then followed through some of the classic films of the 80s, this is part autobiography, part film culture appreciation that feels like an extended magazine article. As a child of the 80s who will still, even now subject those around him to long diatribes on the value of Trading Places as a Christmas movie or the worthwhile lessons on self-reliability in Witness, I am prime fodder for this sort of book and I did enjoy it, yet it left me as soon as I had closed the back cover.

6. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

washington

A novel that I wanted to like but found the mix of brutal reality and fantasy hard to find believable. We follow the unspeakably hard early life of a slave on a Caribbean plantation who is given a wing to shelter under when his master’s brother chooses him for a manservant. The themes of freedom and the safety of home follow our hero to adventures in the Arctic Circle, the Eastern coast of America and then onward to Britain. There is plenty of adventure to be found but the narrative seemed haphazard to me while the mix of the viciousness of the early chapters on the slave plantation seemed at odds with the more whimsical methods of escape and exploration that followed.

7. Snap by Belinda Bauer

snap

I didn’t like this one. The mystery of Jack and his missing mum whipped along but I found the tenuous links between groups of characters jarring before the greater depths of connection were later revealed. Another negative were the police characters drawn right from the top shelf of cliche detective tropes.

8. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

sam hell

A novel with a lot of heart and a central group of characters who’s humanity and goodness shine through. Sam Hell is born with red eyes immediately singling him out among his peers for unwanted attention from bullies and mean spirited teachers. Through his perseverance and the support of his hardworking and religious family he is able to find belonging and acceptance in a small group of friends who then, in the second half of the novel set forty years later, assist him confront old demons. A worthy story with a lot of hope.

9. American War by Omar El Akkad

american war

Again, a book I wanted to like but one that left me a little cold. Set in a future after a second American Civil war, the novel depicts a believable world full of distrust and danger but one without the necessary empathetic characters to really draw you into that world. Sarat, who grows to become our principal character, has guts and determination and battles through a whole world of hurt but never quite managed to gain my interest.

10. The English and their History by Robert Tombs

enhlish history

This was a great history book but one that took me a long time to get through. Tombs takes the approach of looking at how the English history has shaped itself, how our national stories and mythology have become separated from the reality and, in turn, affect the ongoing story the country is building for itself. Many times throughout the book, Tombs skillfully explains how the actual events have become detached from the popular history that has then flourished with interesting detail.

11. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

pachinko

A wonderful, epic novel that follows a Korean family from 1910 who, through twists of fate, eventually emigrate to Japan and strive to improve their lot against a society reluctant to embrace them. Pachinko is the name given to public arcades full of games machines which are associated with Koreans in Japan. The themes of chance and opportunity that spring from this are tightly woven throughout the book. The list of characters is long and a mix of family, friends and enemies but one, Sunja stands head and shoulders above them all. We first meet her as a young girl, diligently working in her parents guesthouse before her life is irrevocably changed first by the death of a parent and then by the attentions of a wealthy businessman. Throughout the novel surprises you with sudden twists of fate both hopeful and tragic and, by the end, you can only admire the scope of humanity that a even a simple tale of a family can include.

12. Straight White Male by John Niven

straight white

Throughout Straight White Male it is clear that Niven is a dexterous and skilful writer with an ear for dialogue and accent but, looking at his wiki now, I can understand why he has adapted so many of his works as film scripts. Our hero is Kennedy Marr, a mid 40s writer with oodles of success in his past, a brash, flash LA lifestyle and a daughter he barely sees back in England. Debts and events conspire to bring the two together as Kennedy moves back to work on big budget blockbuster and take up a teaching post at a University. There’s plenty of fun to be had here as Niven does build a main character holed with flaws but one who still holds your empathy even when making clearly terrible decisions.

13. How To Be Right…in a World Gone Wrong by James O’Brien

how to be

O’Brien is not a broadcaster I discovered through his radio show or the short, viral clips of him finding that some people who call talk radio during the day are not the sharpest tools that LBC use across their social media. I became aware of him through the podcast interviews he conducts with guests from a wide range of backgrounds. I liked his empathy and ability to draw thoughtful conversations out of guests and could understand where his brand of logical reasoning could find an audience in today’s polarised media landscape. The book is briefly entertaining in its clear sighted approach to some of the major political issues of recent years but I found the transcripts of radio phone in conversations less agreeable. It’s certainly true that modern politics is losing the war against opinion dressed as fact, falsehoods spread as truth and voters minds already being pre-set against opposing views but O’Brien struggles to find the most difficult tightrope of all to tread; to expose the fallacies behind the opinions of his challengers while also bringing them with him.

14. The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen

destroyers

I admired this novel rather than liked it. Following a group of wealthy young souls all escaping to (hiding on?) and reconnecting on a Greek island for a summer where past lies and misdemeanors come out. None of the characters are especially likable and so their problems in life and with each other don’t really engage or entice. It’s a long book without much payoff.

15. Elmet by Fiona Mozley

elmet

A book I rattled through in ten days (which is quick for me) which I very much liked in places, this is a seemingly simple tale of a brother and sister and their initially idyllic country life with their hulking giant of a father. A man built for fighting and the outdoors but who is still able to show compassion with his children. At times the descriptions of nature and of the simple meals the family prepare reminded me of Enid Blyton’s passages about prosaic day-to-day events before the brutality of the outside world invades the novel in the final third to end with more mature themes. It’s a sad novel about the loss of family and the safety of home.

16. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez

women data

I finished the year with a head spinning run through the consequences of the hidden data gap and biased data collected around gender and the enormous effects on women across the full spectrum of modern, daily life. Sometimes a book comes along that investigates an issue of such importance or striking obviousness that much reaction to it struggles to move on from disbelief; this is one such book. At time the statistics and figures come so thick and fast I found it hard to keep up with the impact and implications of such overwhelming evidence. Along with books such as The Spirit Level, a publication that you hope anyone interested in working in politics or public policy would read.

A really enjoyable year of reading!

NICEC @instcareer Seminar: Careers provision in Further Education – 18th November 2019

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The next NICEC seminar on Monday 18th November 2019 5.00pm-6.30pm will be focusing on Careers Provision in Further Education. We’re planning for the event to spark thoughts and conversation from attendees on the similarities and differences on the Careers provision in Further Education compared to other settings as well as putting the spotlight on a sector not always well represented in Careers policy conversations. Sometimes referred to as the “forgotton” sector in Education, Further Education is currently enjoying a rare period in the national spotlight as new vocational qualifications come on line and policy makers raise the importance of the sector to a post Brexit skills landscape.

We’re fortunate to be joined by Anthony Barnes, one of the authors of the Gatsby Benchmark toolkit for Colleges and Emily Tanner from the Careers and Enterprise Company who will revealing new Compass data based on responses from the FE sector.

Speakers include

Russell George – will introduce the session with an overview of the context of work in FE including the roll-out of T-levels and funding constraints and provide a case study of delivery in Milton Keynes College

Anthony Barnes will share insights from the development of the Colleges Gatsby Tool Kit on challenges and good practice in careers provision.

Emily Tanner will share insights from The Careers & Enterprise Company drawing on the Compass benchmarking tool.

There will then be a discussion on similarities and differences with delivery in other settings.

Register for tickets to join us at Hamilton House (WC1H 9BB) for the seminar here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/careers-provision-in-further-education-tickets-77371441063

T levels are going to be tough

During the recent years of GCSE and A Level qualification upheaval a CEIAG practitioner working with young people has always had to have a quick mental check of future implementation dates before opening their mouths.

Another forthcoming change that (I hope) school based practitioners are now including in their guidance is the introduction (phased from 2020) of T Levels, a new qualification to be offered by Post 16 providers.

When anything new launches the challenge is to persuade potential first adopters that they will be making a choice that places them at the forefront of a soon to be popular wave and not left to flounder as initial enthusiasm dries to a dribble. I remember students gamely studying the 14-19 Diplomas despite being surrounded by teachers and parents who never understood the thing and who were then left high and dry after the Government PR push failed to inspire buy-in from important stakeholders.

We are promised that T Levels will be different and form one of the main choices for students in the Post 16 landscape alongside A Levels and apprenticeships when they begin to be introduced from September 2020. Many post 16 providers are already in the midst of preparing for them by working on new content outlines and building relationships with employers to offer longer and more in-depth industry placements.

Will, though, suitable advice and guidance about the qualification have percolated through schools and CEIAG practitioners to students and parents?

Getting the message out

It’s safe to say that the full complexities of the new GCSE grading system have still to land with a lot of parents/carers so getting across the workings of an entirely new qualification is going to be a challenge.

parents t levels

Added to the fact that, despite CEC optimism over benchmarks not withstanding, many secondary school pupils are not hearing directly from FE providers.

parents t levels1

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786040/survey_of_pupils_and_their_parents_or_carers-wave_5.pdf

So getting advice from the source might not be the norm and the central marketing which has already launched will have to work hard but the increased awareness of apprenticeships shows this can have an impact.

What should the message be?

Mainly that T Levels are going to be a demanding route of study that will be employment specific. They are a combination of learning

T Level courses will include the following compulsory elements:

  • a technical qualification, which will include
    • core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area
    • specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career
  • an industry placement with an employer
  • a minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved them

and each section is significant.

The baseline for the total programme hours matches the total learning hours for Level 3 BTEC Extended Diplomas

We expect the total time for a T Level to be around 1,800 hours over the 2 years, including the industry placement. This is a significant increase on most current technical education courses.

while the Industry Placement aspect takes up a great allowance of those hours meaning 16 year old starters will have to be work ready to impress employers enough to sign up to a significant programme of work experience.

Every T Level will include an industry placement with an employer focused on developing the practical and technical skills required for the occupation. These will last a minimum of 315 hours (approximately 45 days) but can last longer.

The academic learning required will also be of a high standard as evidenced by UCAS’ decision to award Tariff points equivalent to 3 A Levels.

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The content to be covered by each T Level is slowly being confirmed by the Institute of Apprenticeships as consultations complete.

A quick scan through any of those “Finalised Outine Content” will show readers that a lot of “stuff” has to be covered in both the Core knowledge and Technical Occupational Specialism components of the qualification and that the Specialism is a vital component. For some young people, the specificity of the route may be a turn off.

All of this though is meant to, according to the T Level Action plan not only prepare students for the workplace in their specialism but also provide a base of skills that will allows for progression onto Higher Education routes, thus the importance of the UCAS tariff inclusion despite reluctance to accept them from the Russell Group.

Entry requirements

In the past month the TES seemed baffled by the fact that these demanding Level 3 qualifications were being assigned entry requirements similar to other demanding Level 3 courses by the first cohort of providers recruiting students in 2020.

There is a point to their story that if, system-wide, choices for those school leavers who do not achieve GCSE qualifications that allow them to access A or T Levels narrow then those young people could be left with fewer options. Moving on from the obvious (“Huh, who knew, better GCSE grades give an individual more choice”) any rebuttal should be based on that it is not beholden on FE providers to lower entry requirements to qualifications that demand potential students to have the capacity to succeed at Level 3 (and wouldn’t be able to fit in GCSE retakes anyway). The rightly much maligned “parity of esteem” phrase beloved by politicians usually desperate for something to say about FE has an actual value here; you can’t possibly expect FE routes to achieve “esteem” by only offering routes for young people with low GCSE achievement. The other mitigating factor are the plans for a T-Level transition year for those

who are not ready to start a T level aged 16, but could be expected to complete one by 19.

It is always a challenge to elicit interest in young people about routes they know very little about and this challenge has been reflected in the small recruitment targets for the first wave of T Level providers. Perversely what might actually help recruitment though is the lack of knowledge of Applied General FE qualifications among stakeholders who say that they are trusted qualifications that offer good value and prepare young people for the world of work but then also claim that nobody really understands what their results mean.

applied general 1

If parents and potential students are already inspired by careers in any of the areas offered at a College local to them as a T Level, then that will probably be enough to tempt an application. Where CEIAG practitioners can offer support though is on the challenge to the young person and the work readiness needed to make those transitions a success.The reality of this and the entry requirements may alter the cohort of students they routinely talk to about FE altogether.

Career & Social Justice: Recognitive perspectives and the hero factor

At a recent NICEC seminar on social justice the discussion coalesced around two of my favourite interests; Careers and films.

Social Justice Careers work asks CEIAG practitioners to not only be versed and mindful in the wider socio-economic and sociological factors that may face their clients but also involve into their practice information, guidance and challenge to enable individuals to better recognise and navigate the adverse winds of a system weighed against them. Hooley, Sultana & Thomsen have published two collections of chapters on this subject with the aim of shaping a new dialogue around pluralistic approaches to careers guidance and advocating a place for socially minded guidance in a neoliberal world.

A focus of both one of the chapters and the session that I attended was a workshop for practitioners devised by Kristin Midttun and Phil McCash about Social Justice which introduced and allowed discussion of the work of Barry Irving who proposes a four concept model.

irving social justice

For Irving, a recognitive perspective tasks practitioners to take the point of view that clients will have influences and factors that shape any basic wish to participate in the labour market. A client’s family and community will influence their choice making process and may even cause options to be ruled out completely and have faced socio-economic repression as a community that has molded those views. With this recognition, then CEIAG practitioners can play their part in helping the clients they serve overcome oppression,

Hence, I am in agreement with Arthur (2014), that “A just society would be one in which the constraints of oppression and domination are eliminated, allowing people from all groups to develop and reach their full human potential”

These “group identities” can result in a wide range of macro outcomes, for example the lower number of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds employed as apprentices or lower application rates to Russell Group universities from those with suitable grades but from lower income areas.

It struck me that the tensions that rise to the surface in those groups (family, community, culture) when the non-recognitive perspective is challenged is also a rich sourcing ground for film makers looking for stories. A number of films concentrate on the tales of individuals breaking molds created by or forced upon groups who face social injustice.

A non exhaustive run down of films in this category could include:

Blinded By the Light

Blinded_by_the_Light_(2019_film_poster)

A young Muslim teen in 1980’s Luton discovers the lyrics and music of Bruce Springsteen which opens his eyes to a career in writing and life beyond what his family have imagined for him. Based on the biographical writings of the Luton journalist Sarfaz Manzoor, the film is a coming of age or Bildungsroman tale in which the protagonist discovers artistic and cultural influences that initially clash with his own family identity but ultimately allow him to discover a talent upon which to base a profession. From the same Director, Gurinder Chadha, who previously had success with Bend it like Beckham, a film with similar themes of family and religious tradition (in this instance, the main character is from a Sikh background) clashing against the protagonists non traditional career choice.

Billy Elliott

Billy_Elliot_movie

The hugely successful film based on a play that went onto become a hugely successful musical is a core example of this genre as a young boy from a northern, mining community breaks the expectations of gender and class to embrace a career as a ballet dancer. A recurring theme of these films is the main character’s need to embrace a career with an artistic or expressive aspect that eschews the practical vocations in the local labour market.

Hairspray/Flashdance/High School Musical

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This films are grouped together as the main characters share the same wish to forge a career in singing or dancing. Characters face initial resistance to achieve their career goals as their appearance (Hairspray), interest in a non macho pursuit (High School Musical) or lower class background (Flashdance) do not conform to the traditional sourcing pools for these areas.

Legally Blonde

Legally_Blonde_film_poster

Another film in which a protagonist breaks loose of class and appearance stereotypes to achieve a desired career is Legally Blonde. Based on a book which found it’s inspiration from the author’s real life experiences attending Stanford Law School. Our protagonist here uses knowledge and skills gained from her interest in beauty and presentation and, with plenty of studying hard montages, uses these traits to break free of the expectations of her community to win the case and show her suitability for the academic world of law she wishes to gain entry to.

Pad Man

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An example of this genre of film from outside Western Cinema would be the highly enjoyable 2018 Hindi film Pad Man. Based on a true life story of a social entrepreneur who battled against societal, family and gender conformity to design, market and sell hygienic sanitary wear for women across India. This is an interesting example to include as the protagonist of the film is male and so coming from a more traditional position of holding societal capital within the depicted community but entering a career field in which he faces obstruction due to community tradition, religious separation and family expectation. The self-developmental motivations of the character are important to note and the wish for societal change that empowers previously oppressed individuals. A vital aspect of the success of the invention is the establishment of small sanitary pad factories, staffed mostly by women, that can produce and sell them throughout the rural villages.

Hidden Figures/Men of Honour/Marshall/42

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A sub-genre within a sub-genre are films which (usually based on true stories) tell of the hard won advancement towards equality for African Americans across professional spaces. Hidden Figures details the important work of woman of colour in engineering and maths for NASA, Men of Honour focuses on the first African American Master Diver in the US Navy while Marshall and 42 tell the tales of Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson breaking barriers to succeed in their chosen fields of law and baseball.

These films have their own tropes which, through audience familiarity, can cause subsequent films to achieve diminishing cultural returns despite telling important stories. This phenomenon is brilliantly teased in this Bill Burr stand-up bit on the subject of race in movies

But, despite the ribbing because of the similarities, a social justice issue remains in the construction of the protagonists career in each story depicted.

When looking at these films, it struck me how the construct of the narrative ensures that the protagonist is presented as the hero to the audience with their goal of forging into a new world beyond the limits that family/religion/community/society impose upon them.

The Hero’s Journey

In his defining text “The Hero with with a Famous Faces” Joseph Campbell outlined the  monomyth structure of the Hero’s journey. The protagonists in the films described above all experience the call to adventure that Campbell describes sometimes even through happenstance,

The adventure may begin as a mere blunder… or still again, one may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man

Billy Elliott is sent to the gym to learning boxing and only happens upon a ballet class by accident. Elle Woods in Legally Blonde applies and starts at Harvard Law with the initial aim of winning back her boyfriend who has enraged her by not proposing.

A little way into the journey a mentor appears,

the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass

such as Robert De Niro’s Master Chief Petty Officer in Men of Honour.

An initiation period starts

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.

such as Jimmy’s (Eminem) initial rap battle in 8 Mile when, defending his co-worker, he causes a significant set back and a further challenge to rise again from his mentor Future.

The build up of the pressure between the hero and the barriers inhibiting his journey now has to come to the forefront

In this step the hero must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his life. In many myths and stories this is the father

such as Jess admitting to her mother that she has secretly been playing football and wants to take up the offer of a scholarship at an American College in Bend it like Beckham.

The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal such as Alex’s successful audition at the end of Flashdance but then our hero finds acceptance with those who implemented the barriers that inhibited them originally,

The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet or the ten thousand worlds

such as the example of Billy’s father attending a performance of Swan Lake.

Impact on CEIAG & Social Justice

Is it too far to propose that the presentation of these protagonists as positive heroes and heroines shapes perceptions and views of those who do not enact this positive self-identity and break out of the restraints that hold them back? Do CEIAG practitioners allow such media to shape their own practice when working with clients facing repressive barriers in their own lives and do practitioners take their clues from such media about what is even repression to begin with?

This can raise complex professional issues for practitioners when working with clients from a wide range of backgrounds that can influence career choice; those from ethnic minority backgrounds, faith backgrounds, from areas of social deprivation or, indeed, areas of relative prosperity may all have career options defined to some extent by their background and upbringing. and the social in/justice levied on their community.  For careers practitioners a moral question of practice results; is the role of practitioners to be a disruptor in that space, an agent of challenge to a group identity that has been formed from influences either within or outside the group?

The issue of what can be considered a social justice issue and the difficulties of framing are addressed by Rice in Career Guidance for Social Justice

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and Nancy Fraser who

argues that many social justice movements in the 1960s and 1970s argued for recognition on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity, and that the focus on correcting misrecognition eclipsed the importance of challenging the persistent problems of maldistribution. In other words, Fraser asserts that too much of a focus on identity politics diverts attention from the deleterious effects of neoliberal capitalism and the growing wealth inequality that characterizes many societies.

which could be considered a warning to CEIAG practitioners who answered “yes” to the questions above.

Films which tell stories from diverse spaces and with diverse characters are to be welcomed. For reasons of representation and richness, we should all want stories with and about communities and characters beyond the mainstream but those stories which focus on career goals can cause ripples beyond the positive of greater inclusion by establishing inspirational role models who create deviant archetypes that those outside of those communities believe to be more desirable or more frequent than reality. Treating clients as individuals and utlising frameworks such as the recognitive perspective is part of a CEIAG practitioners skillset but more vital to enacting social justice is enabling CEIAG practice to flourish in communities and groups who struggle to access CEIAG support and the social capital it can bring.

Where are Careers Hubs starting from and ending with?

I think it’s safe to say that the Gatsby Benchmarks have been a game changer in the CEIAG world. Not because they offer new ways of working with young people or reinvent the purpose of CEIAG but because they included practice with a solid research backing and standarised what a comprehensive careers programme in schools and colleges looks like. This standarisation has enabled other stakeholders and professional to quickly understand a common rationale and purpose behind such a programme and so buy in to the shared goals.

The benchmarks have been supercharged in some areas of the country with the support of local CEC supported Careers Hubs. With the second wave of 20 Hubs to come online in September 2019, the CEC has been keen to show evidence of pacy progress towards meeting both technical goals around Benchmarks but also highlight that this work is happening in disadvantaged areas of the country. 

Schools and colleges in this first wave of Careers Hubs are already outperforming the national average across all aspects of careers education. After two terms, schools and colleges which are part of the first wave of Hubs are:

  • outperforming the national average on every single one of the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of good careers guidance
  • the majority (58%) are providing every student with regular encounters with employers
  • the majority (52%) are providing every student with workplace experiences such as work experience, shadowing or workplace visits

Most striking is that improvements are strongest in disadvantage areas including in Careers Hubs located in Tees Valley, Lancashire, the Black Country and Liverpool City Region.

There are a two issues which should provoke some discussion about the work of Hubs.

Starting from a higher base point

The CEC Prospectus for the Careers Hubs bidding process was clear on the criteria areas had to meet to put forward successful bids.

cec hubs 1

It would logically follow then that Compass data for those schools and Colleges involved in Hubs should be, on average, at a lower point than School and Colleges not in Hubs at the start of the scheme. Sure, other factors such as destinations and achievement feed into the definition of Cold Spot areas but CEIAG and employer engagement provision is a central metric. There may also be some individual exceptions of providers offering high Gatsby compliant provision within those Cold Spot areas of course but, taken in the round, if the self reported Compass data is a consistent picture of practice and provision then it makes sense for the initial Hub Compass data to be below the national average. Yet this wasn’t the case. Using the July 2018 data (the left hand blue bars) from the CEC tweet below

and comparing it to the nationwide State of the Nation figures from 2018

state of the nation2

we can see that the Hubs were reporting a higher percentage of schools and colleges meeting already every Benchmark than the national average (apart from one – Benchmark 3) before the Hub scheme had even begun. The CEC is right to say in it’s press releases that by March 2019, Hub schools and colleges were

outperforming the national average on every single one of the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of good careers guidance

but what they don’t include is that this was the case for all but one of the Benchmarks before the Hubs had even started work.

This is concerning for the questions it raises on the reliability of the Hub awarding process, Compass as a self evaluation tool but should also prompt queries for the CEC over the pace of progress of those institutions involved in Hubs. Is it easier to roll the CEIAG snowball down the far slope once it’s already closer to the summit?

2. The more you know, the more you doubt

At the recent National Careers Leader Conference in Derby I was fortunate to attend some brilliant sessions including this from Dr Jill Hanson who is undertaking the Gatsby Pilot evaluation for ICEGs. I posted about the interim report back in March 2019 and it was great to hear about the positives the Pilot resulted in. After 2 years of the pilot young people at pilot schools and colleges were more likely to recall participating in CEIAG provision

icegpilot1

and the 2018 cohorts reported much higher scores on a career readiness index

icegpilot2

with clear correlation for higher readiness scores for those in providers who had fully achieved more Benchmarks.

A pause for concern though comes in responses from the same students who completed the career readiness index in both 2016 & 2018. These show significant drops in pupil confidence in career management and planning and information and help seeking skills but not work readiness skills.

icegpilot3.JPG

As Tom Staunton notes in Dr Hanson’s slides, there could be a number of overlapping explanations for this. In the room, the practitioners present concluded that this might be a case of young people being introduced to a wider variety of routes that had pushed them beyond their comfort zone and in doing so reduced confidence and certainty in the routes they had previously been aware of (if any). If suddenly the world seems larger, your place in it will seem smaller. This is a theme which has been described in previous CEC research “Moments of Choice” and it will be interesting to see if a) this trend in the data continues and b) what steps the providers involved should take to address the issue (if any). Potential remedying work through personal guidance offering more support to those students reporting a lower level of confidence in those areas or more “nudge” based interventions aimed at groups? Or nothing at all?

Going forward

Up-scaling a model such as the Gatsby Benchmarks comes with pitfalls to avoid, particularly the temptation for providers to over-rate their progress or look for tick box filling solutions that don’t translate into substantive outcomes for learners. As Sam Freedman notes here

about a different education policy proposal, compliance isn’t always the full recipe and the intangible’s that can help make a good school CEIAG program (parental relationships, drive of the practitioner, heck, even office placement in the school) are difficult to measure. The forthcoming Compass Plus has the potential to address some of those issues as it more closely ties provision to self-evaluation.

Regarding the negative effects on student confidence in their future planning skills, the results of the Careers Registration Learning Gain project in Higher Education are a useful longitudinal comparative. Using a similar method (asking students to complete a career readiness set of questions year on year), these show that more mature learners can move towards higher rated career ready states. By the final year of a degree an increase of 18.28% of students reported themselves to be in the Compete category (see NICEC Journal April 2019). Could it be that the less confident younger students Dr Hanson found are a perfectly natural, even desirable outcome of Gatsby compliant CEIAG provision and that confidence in career planning only comes with greater maturity? Should CEIAG practitioners in schools revel in the fact that their students are less confident about their route but more aware of the diversity of options? These are fascinating questions that we have the potential to find answers to as the Gatsby Benchmarks standarise provision across the country.

Degree Apprenticeships: The balance of promotion vs opportunity

A often repeated recommendation in lots of reports in the education policy sphere is to improve the Careers advice on offer to young people as authors conclude that this would have beneficial outcomes for the focus of their research. Sometimes these pleas have merit but sometimes they feel to me that the authors are reaching for a scapegoat to direct attention from more relevant failings elsewhere in the system. A recent example of this can be found in this report on degree apprenticeships from Universities UK.

The report reaches a number of sensible conclusions on the worth of degree apprenticeships to the economy and the skills pipeline but also on how to grow and promote the route. The CEIAG related recommendations are that

universities report 3

Which, on the face of it, is a recommendation (alongside the wider belief of the report that degree apprenticeships are extremely valuable routes) that I’m sure much of the Careers community would agree with. Investment in the system is certainly towards the top of the concerns of Career Leaders who are tasked by law to provide information on the variety of routes open to school leavers. What intrigued me though is the assertion that a “fit for purpose” CEIAG system dedicate equal time to degree apprenticeships considering the current data on opportunity and that this would increase their numbers

The report includes some survey data that highlights the distance to travel with improving the knowledge of students about degree apprenticeships.

universities report 4

(which includes a mistake in the height of the “I know everything/ a lot” response bar for eligibility requirements) but that still shows roughly a quarter of students believe themselves to be knowledgeable about the route. We also know from other survey sources that over half of students are now receiving information about apprenticeships but some of this isn’t then getting through to parents.

apprenticeships survey1

Which, even at roughly a quarter of students, equals a lot of young people being told about degree apprenticeships. There is a lot more to dig into here around the weighing of positive vs negative messaging that pupils are receiving about apprenticeships. The report includes concerns aired by parents about the route

Parents, in particular, expressed the anxiety, in focus groups, that degree apprenticeships are a cheap form of labour and exploitation of young people. They raised concerns about the quality of the learning provision and the kinds of skills and knowledge that students would gain through these apprenticeships, often  voicing the belief that these would be narrowly and mechanistically focused on the needs of the employer, rather than advantaging the learner.

but, surprisingly to me, no concerns over the numbers of opportunities actually accessible to their children.

18 year old population

In 2017 there were 766,000 18 year olds in the UK with the ONS forcasting numbers to fall until 2020 when the population bump will cause them to rise. As 18 year olds are the youngest cohort to be able to apply for degree apprenticeships, Universities UK are roughly saying that 191,500 students come into the labour market potentially informed about degree apprenticeships as a route.

From a labour market intelligence standpoint this is a huge mismatch between demand and opportunity. Degree apprenticeships (Level 6) are a relatively new route in the labour market

apprenticeship starts1

but a route that is growing in starts year on year. The report says

the number of degree apprenticeship starts has increased, from 1,614 in 2016–17 to 7,114 in the first four months of 2018/19 (IfATE, 2019). The top five degree apprenticeship standards are Chartered Manager, Digital and Technology Solutions Professional, Senior Leader, Chartered Surveyor and Registered Nurse, and the range of degree apprenticeships increased from 11 in 2016–17 to 32 currently.

Those 7,114 degree apprenticeship opportunities is still tiny in number though compared to the number of 18 year olds entering the post Level 3 labour market as shown above. The previous qualification levels of that cohort should not be a barrier to applying for degree apprenticeships as over 275,000 of them are applying for University courses.

Even then the 7,114 number is a false figure as many degree apprenticeships are currently taken by older learners

newplot

and the growth in degree apprenticeships is being driven by firms enrolling older workers onto these schemes.

82 per cent more people aged 25 and over doing higher-level apprenticeships at levels 4 and above, according to FE Week analysis.

Meanwhile, starts at level 2 have plummeted by 51 per cent and starts by 16- to 18-year-olds have dropped by 23 per cent since the year before the apprenticeship reforms were introduced in May 2017.

In that time, starts by those aged 25 and above at levels 4 upwards increased by 69 per cent.

There is, as far as I know, no publicly available data on how many degree apprenticeship starts are new hires from an advertised vacancy. Many, including some highlighted in the Universities UK report are not new jobs but training opportunities for already hired employees.

On one nursing degree apprenticeship programme, delivered in a collaboration between the University of Sunderland and four NHS trusts, all 64 of the degree apprentices are currently healthcare assistants working within the trusts

Other examples include

This even further reduces the number of available opportunities actually open for young school leavers to apply to. The Universities UK report is silent on how the expansion in careers learning dedicated to degree apprenticeships should tackle the issue of those opportunities being the third, fourth or even fifth steps in a school leavers progression.

There is a balance to be found in raising awareness and promotion of a route with the labour market intelligence of that route actually being obtainable to your audience. Even when opportunity is scarce, LMI does not have to be a negative influencer but a motivator to inspire clients on the steps to take but at some point those wishing to promote degree apprenticeships are going to have to acknowledge that a) overly positive framing can result in negative perceptions as many young people will this exciting route far too difficult to obtain and b) there are other routes in that market that appeal to clients and so deserve the focus of careers learning exactly because of their widespread opportunity.