My book journey of 2017

Stealing an idea from the excellent Laura McInerney, here is the list of books that I consumed through 2017

  1. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History – Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)

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A fascinating take on the disaster facing many species around the world as they deal with a contended man-made or “sixth” extinction event currently occurring. Not a cheering read as the impact of human expansion and disinterest in how our species impacts others is laid bare. The predicted loss of between 20% to 50% of all living species on the planet by the end of the 21st Century is hugely sobering. The mix of author travelogue and scientific analysis is very well done.

2. The Good Immigrant – edited by Nikesh Shukla (2016)

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An unflinching and demanding series of essays that force the reader to consider how immigrants of colour are perceived by mainstream British society and media. The impossible balancing act of trying to please a society that demands assimilation but will forever distinguish ‘otherness’ is highlighted by each author, some focusing on their own stories and family history, others on the wider societal clashes of having to conform to a stereotype not requested by individuals. I’ll admit, some of the essays seemed trite or lacking in weight to me but I hope that was only because of the sheer brilliance of some of the work. “Airports and Auditions” by Riz Ahmed in particular, was breathtaking in laying bare the contradictions we demand.

3. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Yuval Noah Harari (2017)

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A kind of road map of the human journey of the future, Harari looks at what humans have found important throughout our history and how those interests will shape our tomorrow. The talent of humans to find meaning in our collective experiences and constructs but also to place importance on the desires of the individual are forces that will drive our progress towards medical advancements in living longer or automation and artificial intelligence. Harari is a clever man but I found the book attempted to cover too much, the themes too big for the message to have any real impact. It reminded me of Gleick’s The Information as the central ideas of the book seemed too big for the author to wrestle under control.

3. Television: A biography – David Thomson (2016)

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Thomson is one of my favourite writers on film and I loved his previous mix of media and personal history, Moments that Made the Movies (2013). This, unfortunately did not live up to me expectations though as many of the touchstone television series or moments focused on are very American (Lucille Ball for example) and the personal stories seemed more jumbled up. The joining thread in previous books isn’t there and the whole project could have done with a firmer hand by his publisher.

4. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II – Mitchell Zuckoff (2013)

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After previously devouring Unbroken (2010), I was on the look out for another book that illustrated the remarkable true stories of survival and perseverance in World War 2. I wasn’t disappointed with Frozen in Time, the truly amazing story of two US planes that crashed into Greenland in 1942, the epic survival of (some of) the crews for 148 days on the glacier and the 2012 mission to locate one of the rescue planes that went looking for the crews only to also crash into the ice. The feats of endurance are remarkable and, while at times it’s difficult to keep track of which crew or rescue or location is being discussed, the narrative is kept driving on for the reader to truly care about each man and their outcome. An astonishing tale of human spirit.

5. The North Water – Ian McGuire (2016)

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Apparently continuing my need to feel frozen, I then moved onto a novel set in the violent and gruesome 19th Century whaling industry. The novel follows the misadventures of a harpoon ship called the Volunteer and the men abroad each with their own dark histories particularly Sumner the doctor and Drax, a seaman with a heart of darkness. The book is bloody and filthy in places, not scrimping in its descriptions of the work of whaling or the evil actions of its protagonists but, through the horror comes a character that you do end up rooting for. A man willing to put the effort into surviving but also attempting to hold onto a shred of decency and moral goodness through it all. A brutal but worthy read.

6. The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (2014)

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As a massive fan of his earlier novels number9dream (2001) and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010), I was looking forward to this almost Neil Gaiman like story. Mixing mundane reality with fantasy and otherworldly aspects such as immortal warriors and psychic abilities is tricky to pull off and I never felt totally comfortable that this novel achieved this. Other readers who might be more enthusiastic fans of fantasy might disagree but, for all the clever jumps in time across the chapters, I could never quite shake off the feeling that this was a little silly.

7. The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land – Thomas Asbridge (2010)

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A wonderful work of historical non-fiction that manages to lead the reader through the Medieval period 1095-1291 and multitude of characters, faiths and empires that battled across the Levant for control of religious sites and trading routes. As well as being a fascinating period of history, The Crusades now have modern connotations placed upon them and Asbridge is excellent at cutting through the noise to describe the motivations of the main players and the historical detail that illuminates the period. Major characters of history such as Saladin and Richard the Lionheart are painted with the precise pen of author who has done the research and is able to humanize these giants of history. The individual motivations of leaders, the internal politics of both the Franks and the numerous Islamic sects and the religious zeal of many of the crusaders is all discussed to paint the complex picture the period deserves.

8. Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (2016)

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The book I finish 2017 reading is a novel telling the story of a farmer in 1920’s Alabama caught siphoning off electricity from the grid when a tragic accident occurs. It’s a thin book that failed to grab me like other spare, sparsely written novels. The story seems stretched over its pages, the tale of Roscoe T. Martin, a quiet man, is perhaps too quiet for its own good with too much unsaid for an emotional impact or resonance with this reader.

So that was my 2017 reading, it strikes me that I haven’t actually got through many this year and will have to improve my numbers in 2018.

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The 2017 Careers Strategy: Making the most of everyone’s skills and talents

This morning at the annual CDI conference the Government has announced the publication of it’s long awaited Careers Strategy.

Link to the Strategy:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/664319/Careers_strategy.pdf

Link to the Press Release:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/careers-guidance-for-modern-country-unveiled

Links to media coverage:

https://www.tes.com/news/further-education/breaking-news/government-launches-new-careers-strategy

https://schoolsweek.co.uk/careers-strategy-the-4-main-proposals-for-schools/

 

Links to stakeholder reaction:

http://www.naht.org.uk/welcome/news-and-media/key-topics/leadership/careers-guidance/

http://ersa.org.uk/media/news/government-launches-its-long-awaited-careers-strategy

http://www.cbi.org.uk/news/introducing-dedicated-careers-leaders-should-give-careers-inspiration-much-needed-prominence-in-schools/

 

 

There are lots of smaller announcements in the document. Whether or not these add up to form a coherent strategy will remain to be seen. Some of the announcements of new provision do come with added funding but, it should be clear, that these funding levels are well below the historic Connexions funding and below the required funding outlined via the Gatsby report.

Practitioners will go through the document with a fine tooth comb looking for sections which most impact their work, accordingly I have concentrated on announcements to do with school and college careers work. There is plenty in the Strategy to do with adult careers services as well.

Below are some of the bits that jumped out at me on first reading

A: A new website for the National Careers Service is coming

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B: A Careers Leader job description will also be published while schools will need to publish the contact details of this person and the provision their schools provide from September 2018. The list of responsibilities of a Careers Leader may well end the historic careers in schools cliche of teachers taking the role in a few free timetable slots.

The funding for training Careers Leaders is welcome but it should be acknowledged that is it for 500 schools (approx £8000 per school). There are currently 3408 secondary schools.

Previously Connexions was funded approx £200m annually while the Gatsby report concluded that (from it’s second year) a funded schools Careers programme would cost £44,676 per academic year or over £152m an academic year for the current number of secondary schools.

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C: 20 “Careers hubs” look like an expansion of the North East Enterprise Partnership Gatsby pilot. Will these match with Opportunity Areas and will each Hub employ their own Co-ordinator as the pilot did

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D: A firm challenge to the Quality in Careers Consortium. Despite lobbying for a required status, the Strategy retains the “recommeded” nature of Quality Standards and clearly demands that their invigilation and inspection requirements are strengthened to meet the Gatsby Standards. The recent results from the Compass self evaluation tool show that this will be a big change.

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E: CEIAG provision in primary schools will be getting it’s own funding boost and research to see what works for young people at this stage of education

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F: A handy timeline of when all the components of the Strategy will come online

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G: For many years policy makers have been calling for a centralised portal for applying for vocational courses – the Strategy says this could happen and it would be hosted on the National Careers Service website

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H: Schools should be putting on a Careers Fair, speed dating or work experience type event for every year group, every academic year

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I: New Statutory guidance is coming in January 2018 – which is also the crux of the biggest problem with the strategy

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There are other small pots of funding allocated throughout, £5m in 2018 for a further round of Careers & Enterprise Company investment funding for example, but the ultimate aim of the document is to push the system towards offering a Gatsby Standards level of provision without the Gatsby Standards invoice.

Also missing is any notion of accountability or monitoring for these changes. The research arm of the Careers & Enterprise Company is churning out publications highlighting impact of past provision but the Strategy makes no mention of tracking impacts of provision on cohorts of students.

Careers Advice for an unpredictable AI future

All Careers practitioners know that a portion of their professional skills toolbox should be dedicated to gaining an understanding of the future labour market and the winds of change that are likely to shape that market.

For years, Careers Advisers and the wider education system have been accused of practicing their roles with a lack of regard of the skill demands of the business world that young people will enter into. In recent years, curriculum’s have been rewritten, qualification routes come and gone and entire new types of schools founded all with the aim of aligning education to be closer to the labour market.

Careers practitioners know the barometer for the requirements of this word of work that is forever in the future is known as Labour Market Intelligence (LMI). Through the data of job growth and decline in regions, in industry areas and at qualification entry points, the future demand for certain skills, qualifications or numbers of workers can be predicted.

This data isn’t always easily obtainable or decipherable for the (young) members of the public who it would benefit so it falls to Careers practitioners to be the translator and broadcasters of these resources. Sites such as Nomis, services such as LMI for All and local resources such as LEPs offer the data and practitioners determine when to use it, how to use it and what messages to amplify. We rely on the clearness of the message. If the data says that manufacturing jobs are not likely to grow in the north of England, then we paint a clear picture of the challenge facing a young person wanting to work in that area. If our local LEP is clear on the growth prospects of the nearby airport, then we work hard to get to those employers in contact with our young people to shape their employment prospects view.

Facing the Careers profession today though is a very muddled picture of what is surely the most fundamental disruption of the labour market in the next five to ten years; the growth of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation across a wide swathe of workplaces.

For some, T2 is just a skull crushing step away

On the one hand, the prophecies of doom make for more arresting headlines and grab the attention.

These predictions build likely or probable scenarios onto small-scale tests of technology

Consider: Last October, an Uber trucking subsidiary named Otto delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser 120 miles from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs—without a driver at the wheel. Within a few years, this technology will go from prototype to full production, and that means millions of truck drivers will be out of a job.

to extrapolate out disaster scenarios.

That isn’t to say that they don’t consult expert opinion but the futurists they do consult are unwavering in their belief in the progress of AI.

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And these experts, such as Max Tegmark, MIT Professor, or Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, are explicit in their advice that, not only should society and the State start preparing for the consequences of AI (through policies such as Universal Basic Income) but that children should be receiving advice on this future work space now.

For others, AI will complement people skills

Other studies are reaching similar conclusions that automation and AI will fill the labour market in roles requiring logic, process or repetition but that it will be the very human skills of community building and socialisation that will still lead to in-demand employment.

Research by David Deming, a professor of education and economics at the Graduate School of Education and a professor of education and public policy at the Kennedy School, shows that workers who combine social and technical skills fare best in the modern economy

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And that, educators and advisers, should be nurturing the skills of change management, teamwork and project work in their students to prepare them to succeed in this labour market.

Other skills such as literacy or numeracy (which the current UK education system places heavy emphasis on) are also ones which will computers will (and already do) outperform humans.

Almost a third of workers use these cognitive skills daily in their jobs and yet their competency levels have already been matched by computers. About 44 per cent are still better than the machines. The remaining 25 per cent have jobs that do not use these skills every day.

This is not to say that low skilled jobs will completely vanish but that even those workers will need to build their human skills to be able to work alongside technology

Research by Richard Blundell, an economics professor at University College London, suggests the low-skilled tend to fare better in big companies that invest heavily in research and development. They have higher wages than other low-skilled workers and tend to stay with their employers for longer.

This collaborative ideal is still a fundamental change in the labour market due to the numbers of low skilled roles that will be affected. The question remains on the scope of this new market to soak up the displaced and provide employment at the levels we see today.

And that Governments should act upon the things they can control. If the capital and resources gained by technological progress is more fairly redistributed by the State, then the offsetting factors of commercial expansion and growth would provide new employment opportunities elsewhere in the labour market. The pool of employment opportunities would change shape but not drastically shrink.

In this scenario, Careers Advice becomes a sign poster of the future jobs such as Drone Traffic Controller or Augmented Reality Designer.

And for some, AI won’t make much of a difference at all

Here, the faith is placed in the churn of technological progress and investment in new areas of business to bring new jobs to replace those lost to automation. Economies with high levels of automation such as Germany and Japan have strong job growth. The percentage of people in full-time work in the USA and the UK is growing steadily. In short, there just isn’t any evidence that AI is effecting the jobs market.

How can the CEIAG profession react

In a recent post, Professor Tristram Hooley covered much of the same ground in this post and suggested that, due to this uncertainty between competing visions of the future labour market, advice could be offered across three frameworks:

  1. Adaptive Guidance – Preparation for change
  2. Expanded Career Guidance – broaden concepts of meaningful work
  3. Emancipatory Guidance – encourage realisation of and challenge of the system

and that a possible curriculum

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would plan opportunities for clients to grow these capabilities.

Which is all work Advisers would be happy to cover and would provide clients with enriching learning experiences but what strikes me is the fact that the profession is tasked with preparing for this wide range of eventualities. The lack of clarity from both Governments and Business voices on the shape of the future labour market is unhelpful. The Business lobby is not shy on coming forward with the skill demands they place on education and CEIAG to meet more definitive labour market needs. Whether looking at the strategic needs of nation economies or drilling down to an oversupply of graduates from a particular vocational area, Business leaders are clear on what they require from education. For such a large disruption potential to employment, the lack of clarity on what we should actually be expecting is noticeable. The type of preparation work outlined by Professor Hooley would be much better served alongside as clear guidance from business leaders on what will likely be the reality of the impact of AI and automation on the labour market.

Karren Brady & walking the walk on public services

It’s a truth that any nationwide structural improvement in the offer of Careers Education Information Advice & Guidance for school children is going to need to the fundamental support of employers and the business community. Clearly that has been acknowledged by the early work of the Careers & Enterprise Company as they have built a network of Enterprise Coordinators and Advisers and positioned themselves as a professional facing organisation.

Practitioners know that the networks needed for this work are built through finding gatekeepers in other companies with shared goals, working on achievable projects and, sometimes, through being complimentary

to help build a positive image of engaging with education. There are times though when this flattery seems like an easy public relations win glossing over past actions that are not in the spirit of great public concern.

Karren Brady (Baroness Brady CBE) is a regular media contributor to the national debate on the transition of young people into the world of work

sometimes calling out companies for not offering quality work experience but also offering opinions

“One of the biggest challenges employers face is that school-leavers are simply not ready for work. They lack even basic soft skills like confidence, engagement, conduct and punctuality.”

(that do not reflect business survey data)

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and offering advice to young people on how to be well prepared for the world of work via stakeholders such as Barclays LifeSkills.

Her day job though is Vice-Chair of West Ham Football Club, owned by two majority shareholders David Sullivan and David Gold. In was in this capacity that, in 2016, she completed the negotiations of the “deal of the century” with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) for West Ham to move into the ex-Olympic stadium for a 99 year period. This was the result of a tortured and controversial bidding process. The stadium, after a £272m conversion to be suitable to host both football and other events, cost the taxpayer at the time of the deal £701m. In a complicated deal that includes further add-ons if the club is sold, reductions in fees if the club is relegated and splits of hospitality income and upkeep costs, the bare bones were that West Ham would pay a £15m upfront fee and £2.5m a year in rent. Costs continued to rise for the taxpayer even after the deal was agreed due to further conversion complications.

I have previously calculated that, for every secondary school in England to be funded in line with the costs determined by the Gatsby report, £181m would need to be found each academic year.

Warning: extremely simplified accounting follows:

£701m – £15m, – £5m (rent for 16/17 & 17/18 seasons) = £681m

£681m divided by £181m = 3.76 academic years worth of Gatsby standard careers provision the West Ham deal currently removed from the public purse.

Of course, this is not a cut and dried case. Many pointed fingers at the time at the LLDC for negotiating such a one-sided deal for the taxpayer and the continuing losses that mount up. Others blamed West Ham for taking advantage of the public purse, especially when the revenues of Premier League clubs have never been healthier.

Brady had previously, as a Conservative Peer, voted through Tax Credit cuts for working families and promoted the party line that Labour were profligate with public money (both on Twitter and in person at the 2013 Conservative Party Conference)

while then leading a negotiation that resulted in the taxpayer covering some huge financial losses while the business she advocated for, gained a substantial commercial asset.

Employer engagement is a vital part of Careers work and employers should be congratulated and encouraged to get involved with building the skills of the next generation. What this sort of community work should not be treated as though is a way of keeping up a positive profile while at the same time taking business decisions which do not aid the wider community. This is not a zero sum, either or, game, plenty of Careers practitioners will be working with colleagues from business who not only dedicate time to helping young people but also lead their business with an ethical mindset, the EY Foundation being just one example of the sort of work organisations such as Business in the Community want to encourage. Supporting the Public Sector prepare young people for the world of work is more than just an afternoon at a speed dating interview event.

 

 

The CEC State of the Nation report

The latest publication from the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) continuing their expanding library of research, State of the Nation 2017: Careers and enterprise provision in England’s schools was published earlier this month. Utilizing the “State of the Nation” title also employed by the annual updates from the Social Mobility Commission (and so helping affirm the aims of the CEC with policy makers), this is a publication which shows the Company moving on from earlier releases which audited the CEIAG landscape and onto a new stage of updating on progress made.

The report is based on 578 responses from secondary schools who have completed the online Careers program auditing tool, Compass, and the comparison of this set of data with the data collected for the original Gatsby Good Career guidance report in 2014.

The CEC makes a number of claims from this exercise but the accompanying media coverage focused on the responses which indicate an improvement in school provision since 2014 as more schools report that they are meeting more benchmarks.

There is evidence of improvement since the original Gatsby survey in 2014. Schools in 2016/2017 are achieving an average of half a Benchmark more than they were in 2014/2015 (1.87 versus 1.34). The proportion of schools not achieving any Benchmarks has fallen by one third from 31% to 21%. The proportion of schools achieving half the Benchmarks has more than doubled from 6% to 16%

Which sounds positive but these are figures which should be treated with caution and, like the rest of the report, taken in the round alongside other data. These are the points I found most interesting in the report:

1. This is a small number of schools and a narrow method of evidence collection

As can be seen in the Appendices, the 2014 Gatsby report used multiple sources of evidence to form it’s benchmarks, recommendations and costings. Six overseas visits took place with interviews with practitioners, policy makers and stakeholders in these countries conducted. Visits and interviews with six Independent schools also added to the evidence base as well as reviewing eighteen previous reports on CEIAG provision. Finally an online survey was completed by 361 secondary schools in winter 2014.

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The breakdown of the responding schools

As a baseline, 361 schools (from approximately  3329 secondary schools at the time) is a thin slice so it’s positive that 578 have used the Compass tool but this is still small. The 2014 figures included only 9 schools then judged as Requiring Improvement by Ofsted, the 2017 report does not include this figure. In 2017 there are now 3408 secondary schools in England so 578 equates to roughly 17% of secondary schools responding.

2. This is based on self evaluation

Asking any professional if they do a good job isn’t going to get objective responses. Both the 2014 and 2017 reports are clear to point out that questions of validity could arise both from the bias of the overall sample (those taking the time to complete the survey could be more likely to be interested in CEIAG for example) and responses being overly generous to the CEIAG provision on offer in their establishment (via the Overconfidence Effect).

None of this data relates to outcomes. No students are asked by an objective third party on their view of provision, no destination data monitored, no LEO data cross referenced, no employers surveyed. Self evaluation via online questionnaire is an extremely limited (but cheap) method of providing reference points and progress evaluation.

This is typified by the inclusion of one of the case study schools that reported itself to be meeting “seven or eight” of the Gatsby benchmarks. Looking at the most recent KS4 destination data (2015) for that school, you can see that all of the data that a school with a strong CEIAG offer should be achieving well on, the school isn’t:

  • Pupils staying staying in education or employment for at least 2 terms after KS4 is 86%, well below the 94% average for English state funded schools
  • Pupils not staying in education or employment for at least 2 terms after KS4 is 11% well above the 5% national average
  • The percentage of KS4 leavers moving into Apprenticeships is 3%, half the nation average of 6%

It’s important to remember that behind all of those statistics are the actual students who each had their own story, background and challenges to overcome but these are not the statistics to highlight the positive social justice leveling work of CEIAG,

The report references these omissions on page 26 and makes the somewhat valid point that

One limitation of attainment and progression data is that it is backward looking and thus if we look for relationships between the Compass data and outcomes, we are comparing one cohort’s career provision with another cohort’s outcomes

and conclude that the destination data sources mentioned above could be used to correlate with Compass data over a longer period of time. This would enable relationships (if any) between consistent quality CEIAG provision and student outcomes to be found. This is an admirable goal to be supported in future but it isn’t how accountability in education works. Ofsted gradings are held by schools for years after the inspection took place, a young person leaving Year 11 this summer might have attended an “outstanding” school but could be based on a verdict of provision that happened seven years ago. There is always a lag between monitoring of provision and actual provision.

3. Further bad social mobility vibes

Another of the included case studies is also a little tone deaf for an organisation that is keen to show that it playing it’s role in the Government’s social mobility agenda through the Opportunity Area policy. Including Simon Langton Girls Grammar School, a selective entry school whose pupils, including the 5.6% eligible for free school meals, must take the Kent Procedure for Entrance to Secondary Education tests to enrol is at odds with the overall aim of both the document and the CEC.  The CEIAG work at Simon Langton might be exceptional, it certainly features prominently on their website, but this is not helping disadvantaged pupils. Areas with selection at age 11 fail the poorest children and the CEC should steer clear of involving itself in work that perpetuates these outcomes.

4. If the survey responses are to be believed, then Quality Mark Awards are far too generous

The 2017 data survey data reports that schools that hold a Careers Quality Mark (now all joined together in the Quality in Careers Standard) achieve a higher number of Gatbsy benchmarks than those schools without but that this still only reaches an average of 2.63 of the 8 benchmarks for those schools. This is a blow to those who advocate that Quality Marks are a valid indicator of provision quality. The results of a self reported survey, including the biases mentioned above, are reporting that their CEIAG provision does not meet the benchmarks the external monitored Quality Marks claim they do. That there is so little congruence between these results is evidence that Careers Quality Marks assessment and monitoring processes have not been anywhere near stringent or demanding enough and need to improve. As the report says

As the Quality in Careers Standard works towards aligning fully with the Benchmarks we would expect to see schools achieving the Quality in Careers Standard reaching all eight Benchmarks

but this will be a challenge for a service paid for by the schools who have volunteered to be inspected to achieve.

Showing the impact of the type of strategic work the CEC is involved with is always going to be difficult. With so many stakeholders involved in the delivery of provision and so many factors influencing the outcomes for young people, concentrating on the input factors to begin with is sensible but, due to a total reliance on self evaluation, this is also with it’s downsides. Over the forthcoming months I would expect to see the CEC to transition towards utilizing more quantitative data sources on which to base their judgments of progress.

Halfon’s barmy apprenticeship idea

Individual MP’s are perceived differently by members of the public, some work hard to even be noticed, some work hard on their public persona and some just work hard. One MP who I usually place in the last of those categories is the ex Education Minister Robert Halfon. Not being a constituent of his, my perception of his work was mostly formed by seeing his tenacious but effective style on the BBC documentary, Inside the Commons and his work as Minister of State for Skills July 2016 – June 2017. His recent election to the position of Chair of the Education Select Committee shows both his interest to remain at the centre of the education policy process and his ability to get the support of his fellow MPs.

At the recent Conservative Party conference, Halfon appeared with his Skills Ministerial successor, Anne Milton, at fringe event entitled, “Lost Learners: Delivering a skills revolution and providing opportunities for all” in which he suggested that

“We should look at things like the pupil premium and whether or not certain parts of it can be based or dependent on how many students they get, especially from deprived backgrounds, to go into high-quality apprenticeships,”

and that this would be part of a “carrot and stick” approach to improving the breadth of  careers advice on offer schools.

Let’s make no bones about it, this is an extremely bad idea. Lots of bad ideas will be floated at fringe conference events of all parties but that this came from the chair of the Education Select Committee is what makes it noteworthy. Previous holders of that post, particularly Graham Stuart MP, who championed and challenged Careers provision in schools while in the role, were much more judicious in their public offerings on Government policy.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

1.

As I’ve covered (it feels exhaustively over the years), there are not apprenticeship vacancies to fulfil the demand from young people.

In 2016/17

over a quarter of a million 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies

And that’s the number of total apprenticeships, if Halfon means by “high quality” those at the higher levels and (usually) pay scales then the opportunities on offer are even further away from fulfilling demand.

apprenticeship vacancies by level

With Higher and Advanced level apprenticeship vacancies totalling 44,930 or 26.5% of the total number of apprenticeship vacancies in 16/17. There were over 1.5 million 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. If the ratio of students to vacancies is so high, then Halfon’s suggestion would lead to schools losing pupil premium money no matter the quality of CEIAG on offer.

2.

Pupil Premium is becoming a core budget stream for schools.

As detailed in this House of Commons library Briefing Paper, Pupil Premium now equals different funding amounts for pupils dependant on their age and personal circumstances. In total though, the funding is worth £2.5bn each academic year to English schools. Surveys report that around a third of heads are having to use their Pupil Premium funds to cover other costs in school, not purely for closing the attainment gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and it is the schools from the most disadvantaged areas most often affected. This would mean that the schools having to work hardest to propel their pupils along Halfon’s own “ladder of opportunity” metaphor would be the most affected by any cut in Pupil Premium funding dependant on employment outcomes. This would make it even harder for future cohorts of those schools to provide provision and so positive outcomes.

3.

The proportion of pupils claiming Free School Meals (and so receiving Pupil Premium funding for their school) is falling.

free-school-meals-graph

Pupils do not automatically receive FSM, they (their parents/guardians) have to apply. Only those who have applied are used to calculate a school’s Pupil Premium funding so it is in the schools interests to encourage as many eligible pupils as possible to apply but not all do. Uptake is also linked to other factors, eligibility for FSM can be dependant on income related benefits which, as the linked article above points out, means that Government changes to benefit eligibility have a knock on effect. Larger scale changes such as Universal Credit can be introduced without their consequences on reliant funding streams being fully determined. These are factors which all influence a school’s pupil premium funding before any CEIAG provision to help a student gain an apprenticeship has even taken place.

Monitoring and reporting on a school’s CEIAG provision and including actual destination data of that school’s students in that monitoring are all sensible levers for policy makers to pull to build up CEIAG focus and provision in schools. Policy makers should use data rather than anecdote to form policy and conclude that to increase the numbers of young people securing apprenticeship vacancies there needs to be more vacancies and young people need funded, dedicated support to have the skills and experience to successfully apply for them. Suggesting that a school’s funding be removed if it’s pupils do not secure rare and highly sought after routes would make the job even harder for the schools who find this most difficult already. It is a baffling proposition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HE Careers support and consumers

The trend for Higher Education students to think of themselves as consumers of a service rather then learners in a place of education is a wider societal change accelerated by tuition fees and qualification demands of and competition within the labour market. A recent survey (“Education, Consumer Rights and Maintaining Trust: What students want from their university”) carried out by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK found that 47% of student now considered themselves “customers” of their Universities. There will be diverging views on this as some will welcome the customer focus and efficiency this brings while others will mourn the loss of a sense of the value of learning for it’s own sake.

An offshoot of this growing viewpoint seems to be an increase in the quality of support services students expect to access during their time at University which, in turn, is both a boost to the standing of Careers departments in Higher Education but also a raising of expectations. The survey results show a clear desire from students to receive personalised support and advice from their University with 80% responding that this was one of their top three priorities and 34% (which was the second highest after “a service for the fees you pay”) placing it as their top priority.

universities uk report

Students expect their university to take an active interest in them as an individual and to help them progress through their education, as well as providing careers guidance and support.

The importance of their University experience in helping their career progression is also clearly apparent in student views on what makes a course good value for money.

universities uk report2

The inclusion of “future career prospects” here is interesting because it would seem to include not only stand alone Careers Service offers but also the employability offered by the degree being studied. The collaboration needed to embed Careers work into programmes of study and academic departments is a strategy that colleagues in Higher Education would be more able to give their view on but the example in this recent article in the Times Higher Education from the Director of Graduate Advancement at Liverpool John Moores of “faculty teams” developing “academic school career plans” seems to be a model to emulate.

The growing importance of Careers Service provision to student satisfaction levels (and so marketable statistics for a HE institution) will be a boost to colleagues in HE who, like many practitioners, are conscious of the need to justify their departments. The slides below from a presentation at last month’s AGCAS conference by Nalayini Thambar, Director of Careers & Employability at the University of Nottingham, are a neat way of approaching this task

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Lists of types of provision won’t cut it

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But how problems are solved does

All of this adds up to a promising time for Careers support services in HE as they become central to the future plans of any UK University. The recent news that almost half of young people in England are now progressing onto Higher Education and the potential growth of other employer linked courses such as Degree Apprenticeships shows that (bearing in mind fears over Brexit restricting recruitment) the demand for Higher Education places is still very strong. With the right promotion, collaboration and support from Vice Chancellors and their Executive teams, Careers provision in HE has the drivers to go from strength to strength over the coming years.