Month: June 2013

I’ll take Option 3 please David: The Future of Careers Work in Schools

It’s a generic sign post image!

This week, I was fortunate to attend a NICEC seminar on the Future of Careers work in schools and listen to some very thoughtful and knowledgeable contributions on the recent history and immediate future of CEIAG in schools.

The discussion about future changes was structured around David Andrews’ discussion paper, “The future of Careers work in schools in England: what are the options?”

It’s rare that a policy facing document a) actually knows how recent changes in guidance are playing out on the ground and b) is able to offer realistic suggestions for future evolution so it’s very much worth a read. And, as you might have spotted from the title above, one of the suggested paths forward makes most sense to me.

Option 3 – School-based career development advisers – “all schools would be required to employ their own careers advisers who would be responsible for providing face to face careers guidance to pupils and could work with teaching staff to plan and deliver programs of careers education.”

Reasons why I think this is a good structure:

“Top down” guidance that has the best chance of impact and success is policy that embraces and enables drivers of change that can happen from the bottom up and I think there are a couple of these drivers already in place in schools now to enable a structure for Careers work to flourish.

  1. Headteachers have never had more freedom to shape their school to how they see fit. They have the flexibility to change their provision on offer to the local community from the curriculum, to their staffing structures to the length of the school day. These freedoms spark a desire to find what works for their community, students and parents and put it in place. The Careers community needs to shout that good Careers work should be part of that offer. Stephen Twigg has said that he wishes to spread some Academy freedoms to all schools so this driver of change is here to stay.
  2. Heads have also never been so aware of the need for their school to have a good reputation, both nationally and in the community, and are using marketing and PR to take control of the message to form that reputation. The current legislators believe in choice as a driver for improvement in the school system and the natural offshoot of competition is reputation management and the need to promote positive stories associated with a school. Good Careers work in practice (employer visits, tasters to FE & HE, Enterprise activity days etc ) produces these positive messages and the data from sustained good Careers work produces positive outcomes. Again, we need to make this case to leaders in schools.
  3. Following on from that point, the publication of destination data on the performance table website is another lever to pull. To what extent schools will incorporate these statistics into their PR messages (or to what extent parents will pay attention to it) remains to be seen as the headline 5 A*-C % is still the all-powerful measure but it’s data that’s out there and can be utilised.

Other reasons it would work:

  1. It makes sense from the young people’s point of view – I’ve already posted about the benefits of having a dedicated Careers person as part of the school community that is known to the students and accessible to them here:  I haven’t seen the publication of the research talked about there; if it’s come out and I’ve missed it, please let me know!
  2. A Careers practitioner as part of the school staff also has a much better chance of folding careers work into subject curriculum’s through building relationships with subject leaders and fostering a reputation for offering quality stuff
  3. The cat is already out of the bag – any rigid, top down approach would struggle to accommodate the variety of solutions to the statutory duty already in place as some schools have already reacted to it. The Ofsted survey should help clarify the extent and diversity of these solutions but any national structure such as mooted in Option 2 would have to adapt so much to place its-self in local contexts that it would end up not being a national structure.

What it would take to ensure this would actually be a good structure:

  1. Monitoring & Ofsted – as David says, “the risk to impartiality is a big issue” with this option. Ofsted is going to be looking at Careers as part of inspections from September 2013 but how rigorous in regards to impartiality this will be remains to be seen. Ofsted and Local Authorities would have a key role to play here that cannot be underplayed.
  2. Training & forums for best practice sharing – National bodies such as the CDI and the NCS could take the lead here in offering inexpensive and comprehensive training for the school based Careers practitioner and maintaining the register of suitably qualified practitioners.
  3. LMI & links to employers – again the CDI and NCS, as well as local networks, could enable bridges across that divide building on the desire of schools to market themselves to the community and to prove the competency of their Careers programs to Ofsted

I’m acutely aware that I’m a Careers practitioner in school arguing the case for Careers practitioners in schools but I hope I’ve stepped outside of the bubble of self-interest in this post and presented a realistic scenario. Having experienced the recent lack of interest and investment in Careers work in schools from the Dfe (“this is isn’t delegation, it’s abdication!” copyright Tony Watts) it also seems to me that the evolution of the service I’ve outlined also has the best chance, with continued advocacy, of actually evolving in reality.

Luton Destination Statistics: Where are our students going?

Recently, lots of destination statistics for school leavers have been published by the Dfe. The stats focus on two sets on data, those learners who left education at Key Stage 4 (end of Year 11) and Key Stage 5 (end of 13) in 2010.

Added to that, the same data can now be viewed as part of a school’s profile on the Dfe performance tables website.

Here are the Luton tables:

Now, trainspotters confession here, this stuff FASCINATES me. Particularly on a local level as you can see the impact the personalities of different institutions have on the mindsets and outcomes of their leavers and you can fairly quickly identify where good practice is flourishing in the town.

So here’s my take on the figures to look out for:


The big singing point here is the massive % of learners now going onto any Higher Education Institution from Luton. 61% puts us 9th out of all Local Authorities and is a testament to the fantastic work throughout the education establishments in the town. In fact this figure has the potential to increase even higher as the Barnfield Federation offer more HE routes and local learners find access to such courses even more convenient. The picture isn’t completely rosy though with only 5% of leavers going onto Russell Group Universities and there is scope for improvement here for our IAG work throughout the Key Stages. Meanwhile at KS4 only 5% of leavers are continuing their education in school Sixth Forms which reflects the largely 11-16 tradition of the town with two big FE institutions in Luton Sixth Form and Barnfield College. The NEET figure of 2% (that is the number of learners who spent between 3-6 months from October to March out of Education, Employment or Training) is low compared to nearby Authorities.


With only 3 providers exiting students at KS5 is fairly easy to draw distinct comparisons between them. Luton Sixth Form far outstrips it’s neighbors for sending students onto Higher Education with 70% choosing this route but it only ties with Cardinal Newman for students going onto Russell Group Universities with 6%. As Newman has a much lower number of leavers, this shows that the school based Sixth Form is getting a much higher ratio of leavers into these highly competitive institutions. It would unfair to include Barnfield in that comparison as the vast majority of their qualification routes are not suitable for Russell Group entry but it is noticeable that 22% of their leavers are not even included in the statistics as this data was not known or could not be traced.

The figures that did strike me were the very low % of leavers from all institutions that went onto Apprenticeships. These figures will be slightly misleading as some learners will be under going an Apprenticeship while at Barnfield but even so, with the rise in the number of Apprenticeships, especially for older learners, I was expecting these figures to be higher.


It’s no surprise that two of the highest three schools for the % of students going onto a Further Education College are the two Barnfield Academies. Not all of these leavers will be going to Barnfield College (West’s proximity to Central Bedfordshire College should impact here) but their close sponsorship links with the College are bound to influence leavers choice of routes. It’s also no surprise that the school with the biggest % moving to a school Sixth Form is Cardinal Newman, the only school in the town (at the time) with an established school Sixth Form.

Seeing just how large a % of their students Denbigh, Challney Boys and Challney Girls send onto Sixth Form College is an eye opener for me. I’ve always know it was substantial just not that substantial. There are many reasons for this, not least the outstanding GCSE pass rates those schools achieve thus opening A Level routes for their students, but another factor will be that the intake of those schools is mainly from ethnic minority communities (for all 3 their percentage of students on roll for whom English is not their first language is above 88%) who (sweeping generalisaion alert) value and expect their children to inspire to traditional professions that require the academic qualifications only historically offered by Luton Sixth Form. It will be interesting to see how those percentages change with the growth of the Barnfield Sixth Form offer thus increasing the choice of school based Sixth Form route. It is also worth noting the that figures for the % of Apprenticeship leavers from Challney Girls is suppressed as it was so small it could have breached confidentiality reflecting the desire for traditional routes.

The Apprenticeship percentages across the schools in the town are fairly consistent with my own school tied for the biggest % of leavers taking this route and all of us would be looking to increase student’s awareness of this area.

The last set of figures to note is the “Education destination not sustained” column. It’s clear the school to aspire to here is Icknield High. Having only 3% of the largest total cohort of leavers fail to sustain their learning in a suitable pathway is a fantastic achievement and one I will be looking to learn from.

After saying all of that it’s worth noting though that these figures are not full proof; they are a snapshot and with any picture of a period of time they will not show the how picture. This point is neatly summed up by Brian Lightman here:

and it is worth bearing in mind when you consider them.

Securing Indepedent Careers Guidance – FE & Sixth Form Colleges – the mid point of the funnel

Should schools be at the widest point of the funnel?

Following on from the Guidance for secondary schools on securing Independent Careers Guidance, a similar document, but for Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges, has now been published by the Dfe

It’s a good policy document. It’s snappy but covers what it needs to, gives some excellent case studies to spark ideas, offers resource links, busts some myths and speaks glowingly of the good that Careers work can do to guide life chances.

I think though, it’s a document that doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in its own little bubble. Alongside it coherently fits a recent report from Ofsted into the Local Accountability freedoms which FE Colleges and Sixth Forms should be embracing to drive the skills agenda to match the needs in their communities from their nearby employers.

The call is for FE Colleges to:

tailor their provision to meet more specifically the needs of various community groups, local residents, businesses and employers in their locality

The findings of the report, that they hadn’t been utilising their new freedoms to achieve this goal yet, isn’t my focus. My focus is how that vision of College provision should drive Careers work both Colleges and feeder schools.

Because, the vision that FE Colleges should be important skills factories for local areas, sending work ready students out into the local labour market is an exciting one and should have a great impact on the required day-to-day work carried out by FE Careers IAG. If FE Colleges truly do embrace these freedoms and, working collaboratively with Local Enterprise Partnerships, continuously moulded their offers and provision to meet the local skills needs, then Careers workers in those Colleges would need a flexibility to build new links into specific business areas, become experts in routes into those industries and adapt to match the changing subject areas of the College. Their IAG input would happen at a mid-point in the funnel above and their area expertise will need to be all the more in-depth because of it.

So, if they are at the mid-point of the funnel, schools then should surely be the widest point of the funnel. The establishments with employer engagement and interaction from the biggest range of business areas that might skim the surface of those careers but would entice an interest from the young learners. So much variety might seem scatter shot in its execution but, it’s through this provision that hitherto unknown interests could be uncovered. Research from the Education & Employers Taskforce shows how vital these encounters can be

not even at the more complex level of networking or mentoring but purely at the most basic level of igniting a spark or providing a guiding beacon to aim for through the complexity of Post 16 choice.

Is either of these scenarios the case currently? Ofsted say not for FE Colleges and will soon report a verdict for schools, but I think it’s a compelling vision for a section of how things could be for the student journey and where Careers IAG fits into that journey.

I am not here to promote routes that shout the loudest. I am here to promote routes.

Last week saw the annual Vocational Qualifications Day with much fanfare of awards and tasters and reminders of the need to improve the image and take up of vocational routes.

It’s a worthy cause and gives much to celebrate but amid all of the build up and Press Release snippets a familiar picture is emerging.

#VQDay has a seedier side as #BashCareersDay

For the build up sees the daily news cycle spiked with stories about the “terrible state of careers advice.”

And the day sees the great and the good step up to the plate to deliver negative soundbites about the failure of careers advice.

This bashing though sows the seed for a potential side effect to grow, that the short cut for “Good careers advice” will be “well, we promote vocational routes.”

A seed that the future influx of destination statistics into a school’s data profile could nurture as schools begin to use this information in their own press interactions.

Careers leaders must not allow this to happen and stay the course of promoting ALL quality routes.

It feels lost, amid the razzmatazz, that LMI and the genuine needs of the future job market alongside a considered reflection of their own interests and strengths, should be the real elements of persuasion for young people to consider a vocational route.

A few years back now, I took  some students to a local event that introduced the Labour 14-19 Diploma to them. The venue was awash with balloons, touch screen computers and quick-moving presentations by two twins who were ex contestants on the BBC reality TV show The Restaurant. The youngsters were bowled over by the flash. The problem is those young learners that then took the qualification are probably still waiting for the bang.

I am not here to promote routes that shout the loudest. I am here to promote routes.

An Aspiration Nation – report by the National Careers Council

An Aspiration Nation > Creating a culture change in careers provision is the first offspring to pop forth from the new(ish) body, the National Careers Council.

It’s delivery comes with a bit of rumpus to help publicise it as two of the founding members of the Council resigned in pre-emptive unrest at what it was to include. But I’m not going to dwell on that as there’s already a never-ending LinkedIn thread you can find which discusses it all in great detail.

The report does though talk a lot about schools as it demands a “culture change” in careers provision on offer for young people and has a few suggestions for how the both Schools should tackle this and how the National Careers Service could spread it’s remit to provide an umbrella of structure to, what we’re constantly told has become, the very fractured and sporadic work of careers in schools across the country.

It asks the NCS to:

build capacity in schools, to ensure the effective and efficient dissemination of national

and local LMI, and to promote the wide adoption of quality standards.


provide more schools and colleges with professional development support, offer advice on lesson plans linked to the curriculum, and share exemplars of good practice, information for apprenticeships, traineeships, further education and higher education routes

In fact, that sounds a bit familiar, maybe someone else also suggested something along those lines….

*waits for applause*

Meanwhile us schools should:

Ensure that all students understand the range of career routes open to them and how to access information necessary to underpin informed choices

Make available face-to-face guidance to all pupils from Year 8 onwards

Have strong links with employers who are able to contribute to pupils’ education by raising their awareness and giving insights about the range of careers open to them

Have access to high-quality and up-to-date labour market intelligence
(LMI) and information about all education and vocational education
training routes pre- and post-16

Help young people develop competences to be able to transfer their
knowledge and skills, be resilient and adaptable within changing
sectors and economies

Work with parents to raise awareness about career routes and to
challenge stereotypes

Have access to quality-assured careers providers and professionally
qualified career development professionals to provide face-to-face

Ensure that all leavers have a planned progression route
Integrate career management skills into a broad and balanced

Which is extremely sensible and similar to the Guidance document the Dfe put out with the new duty.

It’s good stuff, couldn’t argue with any of it. No one in their right mind would.

But that’s also kind of a problem. The report reads as if it knows it’s stuck between a rock and a hard place and seems to offer all of its clearly diplomatic recommendations with a weary shrug that make it sound like a Goldilocks recipe for porridge. Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right. And don’t ever, ever ask where the money’s coming from to pay for it.

The Government has already responded to the Select Committee report on Careers with a stonewall rejection of the some of the best ideas like the requirement of schools to publish an annual plan of Careers provision. We also know that the Ofsted review will publish soon and will probably contain the sort of case studies of brilliant work included in Annex 2 of today’s report. Ofsted has already said it will inspect Careers in schools from September so the forthcoming report seems to me a good opportunity for them to disseminate best practice.

There are big ideas in the report, large scale ambitions for collaborative working across business and all stages of education, and the pleas for the NCS to get involved in the UKCES LMI For All Project and involve themselves in the large Careers based events such as National Careers Week make eminent sense.

Overall though, the section of the report dealing with schools reads like the authors knew that the Dfe well of patience had run dry and that, to best nurture the hope of getting things done, the colouring had to stay between the lines.

Your Career Journey – Key Stage 4 lesson plan

I’m putting this up on the blog as I think that lessons discussing Careers (which aren’t just application form filling) are very tricky to get right and would love feedback or to hear back if people have tried any bits of it with students.

The aim of the lesson is to get students to consider both what makes a successful or satisfying career and what choices need to be made so that an individual has the best chance of achieving that enjoyment from their work life. It would also work best if some previous work has been done with students on their strengths/weaknesses & interests.

It’s fairly rough around the edges and it would need a prepared teacher, ready to see where the lesson took them.

The lesson plan is here:

The PowerPoint to use is here:

A rough stab at the student worksheet is here:

These Personal Statement extracts are from two of our ex Year 11s but it would be better to use your own students so you could reveal who they were and what they actually went onto do at some point:

Credit for the original Journey diagram goes to @ukmarketinghelp – I just modified it a little.

[tweet 335427432448421888 hide_media=’true’]

Let me know how you get on!

Careers Support vs Careers Independence

When to let go?

A few months back, during the feedback for one of my Level 6 face to face observations, a point was made that highlights an interesting tension in careers work for teenagers.

During the meeting with the student, she mentioned that there was potential for her family to move overseas once she had finished school. In fact, plans were advanced enough that the family had even identified a couple of possible Colleges she might attend but we were both unclear about how her English qualifications would transfer into the new system. So, we went online, found the College and their admissions department and, together, drafted an email to write to them asking for clarification. I ended this part of the session by making a note in the student’s contact book (like a school diary) to come and see me a week later to let me know if the College had replied.

Later in the feedback session, my assessor and I had a conversation about the balance between offering advice & guiding the client’s future behaviour and ensuring that they enact what had been discussed. For me this conversation highlighted a source of tension with providing Careers IAG for young people and the ideal of IAG that is exhorted by the Level 6 and practised with adult clients.

Where do you draw the line on how much you actually do for them and how much they do for themselves?

This article reminded me of this conversation:

“It’s not our place to teach them that. They’ve got to learn”

As a head of department this phrase used to drive me mad. Good teachers in my department would make this claim when it was suggested we supported students as much as we could to get them to understand, and therefore pass the course.

“But when they go to university no one will tell them which bit to read,” or “If I have to correct every part of it…” are arguments that just don’t work. That’s like saying I shouldn’t feed my infant son with anything other than an adult knife and fork as he’ll only have to do it that way in the future. Our job as teachers is to get them over the line that’s set for them and to teach them the right things along the way. Developing independence? Yes, certainly. But don’t use it as an excuse for not giving all the support you can. Build their confidence with all the support necessary, then withdraw the support gradually. Let the university/college/secondary school figure out what to do with them once they get there.

as it neatly summarises the same quandary. When do those stabilisers get taken away? Because, have no doubt, as students take their tentative first steps into the world outside of school by thinking about their post 16 options or experiencing the world of work for the first time or writing an application for an apprenticeship, we are there, supporting their every move and being those stabilisers making sure they don’t (or as few of them as possible) fall. The world that awaits will expect them to arrive with the skills to use the big knife and fork to borrow the analogy above so the balance has to be found. 

Government policy can affect this:

  • The increase in destination data for schools and the anti NEET agenda, the expectation from SLT will be that this support will be there for students and will grow in an attempt to ensure positive outcomes.
  • Good Careers education should prepare students to be better equipped for when that support isn’t there which makes the removal of the Statutory requirement on schools to offer this so perplexing.

With those pressures, some schools may fall into the tempting trap of never taking that support away. 

Striving for this balance, between independence and support, is a skill I find myself learning with each student.