Month: August 2013

How does the CEIAG community feel about early and multiple GCSE entry from an employability standpoint?

Careers guidance in schools is tied to a (sometimes) unmovable anchor; the framework of routes, options and qualifications that each school either offers or requires it’s students to study. To further complicate this mix of multiple Key Stage 4 pathways and compulsory BTECs are the early and multiple entry for core subjects that an increasingly large number of schools are asking their pupils to take and retake in a long treadmill towards that 5A*-C milestone and the glory of those top school league table positions.

The statistics and comment on the recent GCSE results have opened the debate both of the value of these practices and the impact on the education of the learners involved. My question is, how does the Careers education and guidance community feel this impacts the career readiness of young people?

On the one hand you have the CBI no less (an organisation that must surely guide the thinking of those of us in schools endeavoring to close the gap to the business community) being extremely disparaging in their criticism of multiple entry and continuous exam preparation.

“The sheer scale of multiple and early entries is astonishing. Employers don’t want exam robots – they want young people who are academically stretched, rounded and grounded.

“Turning schools into exam factories and cramming two years’ syllabus into one benefits no one. A GCSE should be an assurance of ability, not a consolation prize for surviving months of continual testing and retesting.”

The alternative of terminal, all or bust, one chance exams is the clear preferred scenario of the current Dfe administration and one they are moving towards with each of their reforms. The belief is that this will enable teachers to open new depths of study for pupils as they are not continually jumping through the next hoop on the path of exam preparation drudgery. Yet, this structure is one unrecognisable to anyone learning their way through a working life or educating young people about those working lives. Professor Patrick McGhee concisely covered this in a few tweets on results day:

Of course, the wiser, more considered minds will stress the need for balance between these two positions. A qualification framework that offers variety of assessment methods but tied to a public accountability measure unplayable by school leaders which, by extension, grows the best of employability and entrepreneurial skills in each learner. Unfortunately it seems that the extremes of the current debate, the stresses on the exam system, the pressure of league tables and the sheer will of schools to find whatever chink in the armour of regulation they can mean that any compromise is deemed a “muddle” and a decisive shift towards one position or another is the solution. Will an outcome of this story be the erosion of the career preparedness of young people?

The National Careers Service is doing a stand up job for young people…says the National Careers Service

I would just like to draw your attention to a recent document released by the National Careers Service.

“A Difference That Counts” seems to be a brief overview of the Service’s progress and achievements in the year since it’s inception.

My focus is immediately drawn to the section on page 7 about their work with young people under the age of 18.

Young people are supported by the dedicated webpages
for 13 –18 year-olds, which include FAQs, real-life
stories, quizzes and career guides on everything from
preparing for interview to finding an apprenticeship.
Forging links with youth-oriented sites such as plotr and
mykindacrowd is helping the Service provide a trusted,
credible source of advice to young people. This is in
addition to advice via telephone, email, text, webchat,
a user forum and textphone

“a trusted, credible source of advice to young people”

my reaction something along the lines of…

The NCS has a long road to travel before the majority of school age children are even the slightest bit aware the organisation exists, let alone what’s it for and what it can offer them.

Another tool for the toolbox: #LMI for All – Employment Demand in 2020 site

If there’s one thing last academic year taught me, it’s to have a well organised website favorites bar when speaking to young people about their future course choices and career plans. Whether it’s researching Colleges in Canada or the job prospects for being an extreme sports instructor, you never know what individual route the conversation is going to cover.

Another site has launched recently that I will definitely be added to my armoury. The FE sector research and marketing body, RCU, has utilised recently released UKCES LMI data to create a webtool that clearly shows  the skills and employment prospects of many career areas in 2020. On one page you can clearly see how the demand for an occupational area is predicted to grow or shrink in the coming years and also find valuable info about current pay, demand across the country and qualification levels.

This is the first site I’ve seen that uses the UKCES data and, as such, certainly isn’t perfect for use with teenagers and wouldn’t be suitable for every session but I can foresee myself using it with some students to challenge some of their preordained views of certain career areas.

10 things this Government has done which could improve CEIAG in schools

OOOOooooh, controversial headline but, hey, stick with me and hopefully, you might even agree with a few of the points!

1. Provided a policy focus on continuing Literacy and Maths until 18 

Recently this article

took a well argued stance that young people were being rushed through an education system that forced them to take decisions that greatly affected future career pathways too early. There’s much in that piece that provoked a nod in agreement from me as I would concur that a large number of young people leave school before finding their magnetic north to help guide their career route (if they ever do). Well, if we agree that a large number of young people are not making subject decisions at 14 and 16 with an identified career area in mind, then surely we should welcome the current Government’s policy focus on some subjects being important enough for all students to continue to study up until 18. While not limiting specialism, keeping a shared focus of literacy (for some) and maths (for all) will surely allow more students to move between career streams at higher ages.

2. Increased specialised routes for those who wish to take them at 14

For those youngsters that have settled on a distinct path early, this Government has increased the range of providers such as University Technical Colleges, Studio Schools and, from September, opened the opportunity for some students to enroll at FE Colleges from 14. The breadth of industries and career areas these pathways will cover is growing and will offer enticing and motivating routes for some students.

3. Given more freedom than ever before to Headteachers

Even with the spurious nonsense over the battle between Academy chain or Local Authority, school leaders at all kinds of schools have never had so much freedom over how they wish to run their institutions and are searching for programs and interventions that work. If we are convinced that good Careers work has positive outcomes with students, we should be at the front of the queue to persuade Senior Leaders to fund these programs in schools

4. Issued a Statutory Duty and follow-up guidance to shape Careers IAG in school

Whether or not you think the Duty is robust or comprehensive enough, it is there for all schools to follow and, combined with the sensible suggestions and examples of good practice in the subsequent Guidance, no school Leader should be under any confusion about what a good careers program looks like.

5. Cultivated a culture of “choice” & “competition” between schools

The implication of this worldview on the wider education of children tempts fierce debate but, purely in the context of CEIAG, it provides an opportunity. A more market based system requires schools to pay much more attention to marketing and reputation management. The positive outcomes and stories achieved by a good careers program offer much scope for Heads to take advantage of to get these messages across. Look how many of our students made successful transitions into Apprenticeships! Look at our students on this wonderful Oxbridge taster day! Look at our students in this engineering workshop run by a local company! You get the picture but this could be another persuasive weapon for establishing good career learning activities in school.

6. Published Destination Measures as part of the Performance table website

It has never been easier for all stakeholders to see if a school is enabling its leavers to make suitable, sustained transitions into future pathways. Schools with good career programs should be highlighting this data at every opportunity.

7. Enabled Ofsted to include a school’s CEIAG provision in their inspections

It would be fair to say that neither Dfe or Bis has had any influence over this decision by the regulator of schools but it’s happened under their watch so they get credit.

8. Enabled Ofqual to crack down on the practice of early and multiple entry in exams

Again, the Dfe has had no influence whatsoever over this decision. Despite it being the publicly expressed opinion of Gove numerous times. Nope, nope, nope. None. But for Careers workers in schools this will have two benefits. Firstly, more students will not just be satisfied to ‘bank’ a C as soon as they achieve it in the Core subjects in which this practice flourished but will continue to hope and work towards higher grades, thus improving the variety of pathways open to them for further study. Secondly, combined with the move to more terminal exams at the end of Year 11, the timetable will be freed up through Years 9 & 10 for (carefully planned of course) targeted careers work. The sudden boom in recent years of controlled assessment and the continual build up to end of module exams and resists has severely constricted the timetable to squeeze in career activities.

9. Set up a National Careers Service

Which does offer some services to young people.

10. Worked with the policy Advisory Group ‘The National Careers Council’

Which continues to advise The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and included much about school based careers work in its first report an Aspiration Nation

Disclaimer time – I don’t necessarily believe that all of these interventions will be as successful or work out as the current administration intends and there are many, many more decisions they could have taken that, in my eyes, would have improved standards. But I did want to point out that much has happened to shape CEIAG work in schools and it is not always a case of light and dark, purely positive and purely negative with policy decisions. There is room for shade and, with hard work and inspiration from all involved in school CEIAG, there is potential to achieve positive outcomes for students within the framework that is now established.

How Ofsted will inspect Careers IAG in schools from September 2013

2015 Update here:

A possible light at the end of the Careers IAG tunnel in schools has always been that Ofsted would start to investigate whether schools were fulfilling their new Statutory Duty in this area. While we await the Survey of Careers IAG provision being released in September, we know that Sir Micheal Wilshaw had pre-empted this to some degree and already announced that, in some form, Ofsted would be looking at this area as part of their inspections. I blogged about that here:

Well, finally we have confirmation of what this will mean in reality as the new Handbook for Ofsted Inspectors has been published:

The Handbook is, in effect for schools undergoing a Section 5 Ofsted during the forthcoming academic year, the goalposts. It tells them where they’re aiming for and how they will judged to see if they’ve scored or not.

In relation to Careers IAG there are two mentions that I can see.

In Paragraph 110, as part of advice on how to reach a judgement on the overall effectiveness of the school the handbook says:

When reporting on the quality of education, inspectors must evaluate evidence for each of the four key judgements and judge the extent to which the school meets the needs of the range of pupils on the school’s roll. They must take into account the destination of pupils when they leave school and consider how well they have been prepared for their next steps.

Which would need the Inspectors to have done some homework and taken note of the school’s destination statistics before visiting and, I assume, would involve a conversation with the CEIAG lead in the school (or maybe the member of SLT responsible) with questions around why the data is as it currently stands. Will they challenge the data and ask, for example, why more students are not progressing onto Apprenticeships or why the % of students who go onto to make a sustained destination isn’t higher? We will see but it would be good for the Careers profession in schools to network with this sort of information once Inspections start in September.

The real weight of accountability lies though  in Paragraph 135, in the guidance for what Inspectors should look for when assessing the quality of leadership and management in the school. Inspectors should consider:

how well leaders and managers ensure that the curriculum provides timely independent information, advice and guidance to assist pupils on their next steps in training, education or employment

the placement of this dovetails nicely with the guidance around it requesting Inspectors check for breadth and balance in the curriculum but that’s it, That’s the check to see if schools are fulfilling the Duty.

What this will actually look like during a busy Ofsted Inspection will be very interesting to see. There is a massive amount of work and information for Inspectors to get through in a 2 day Inspection and the time dedicated to specifically looking at Careers IAG will not be extensive. The new framework already requires Inspectors to focus much more rigorously on teaching and learning in the classroom and spend less time sitting in offices poring over paperwork so I can imagine conversations with the relevant staff and feedback from students about IAG and perhaps requests for action plans, policies or calendars of Careers events only if those conversations have uncovered discrepancies or concerns.

Will that be enough to hold schools to account of their responsibilities under the new Duty? Will a judgement of Careers IAG be mentioned in the written Ofsted reports that follow an Inspection? From September we will be able to see.

The disconnect between young people and vocational routes

As long as can be remembered by anyone who takes notice of such things , Post 16 vocational routes have always been perceived by UK students and parents as the B road to travel on, the slow lane to success, the ITV Tactics truck to Gary Neville on Monday Night Football.

After involving myself in recent Twitter exchange about this phenomenon…

I spent a bit of time thinking about why that might be and, I concluded once my head started to hurt, there are lots of answers. But it’s the first of my tweets I wanted to concentrate on here.

From a young person’s standpoint taking the chance to pin your future on a vocational route is pretty scary. There are lots of seemingly unknown parts of the puzzle you have to factor in, it’s a web of maybes and possibles that lead to less certain outcomes like applying for jobs or apprenticeships then the welcoming to all ‘Uni.’ Meanwhile, their peers have chosen four distinct areas of A Level study which are usually recognisable from school subjects, they know what they need to get to be accepted, their parents approve of it and they have the comforting safety blanket of University waiting for them at the other end.

There’s some recent evidence that has captured this nervousness about this lack of clarity. Britain Thinks released “(Ex)Aspiration Nation: A study on the aspirations and expectations of young people and their parents”

and part of the problem is captured in their focus group results. Page 36 shows how they have grouped individuals into either ‘Optimists’ or Pessimists’ dependent on the number of barriers they believe they will have to overcome to achieve success in their future. Just look at how the Pessimists define themselves on page 38, 53% describe themselves as more practical than academic (compared to 39% of Optimists) and 61% didn’t realise the impact their subject choices aged 14 had on their career path (compared to only 28% of Optimists).

This shows that the very students that should be enthused about the wide range of vocational routes on offer to them, aren’t, and they see many more obstacles to overcome because of this preference. Combine this with the general anxiety about the job prospects in the future and you are left with a dispiriting mix. Many of those Pessimists have reached the conclusion that academic learning is not a strength and yet the alternative does not seem to inspire confidence either. It is difficult to unpick causation and correlation here and see how these results feed into the wider societal view of vocational learning but really that doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is how to change this mindset of young people.

We all know fantastic examples of FE College outreach and collaborative working with High Schools but this needs to be improved to show with much more clarity how the courses and qualifications on offer fit with entry to workplace sectors. Taster sessions and VQdays are excellent but more immersion seems to be needed. The introduction of Learning Pathways should increase the amount of employer interaction for learners and help demystify the world of work that become accessible from the FE route, this needs to cascade down to Pre 16 learners. The expectation for the FE sector to work with Local Enterprise Partnerships should encourage more employers to become involved in the sector thus providing clarity on job roles and routes into those roles. And finally, the new rules allowing Colleges to enroll students at 14 should be utilised by outstanding providers to help spread the word through the peer group of the success possible through vocational routes. Liaising and organising this work between schools and FE to promote the very best of vocational learning is another responsibility that the CEIAG leader in schools should embrace.