Month: January 2014

BITC and Ofsted “Going in the right direction?” roundtable event 14/01/2014

As my school was visited as part of the Ofsted survey into Careers guidance, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend this event in London this morning jointly hosted by Ofsted and Business in the Community which had the objective of defining the best routes for schools and business to navigate to work together to aid young people’s career decisions and readiness. It was an engrossing morning with contributions from national employers such as BP, Barclays, KPMG and the National Grid, professional bodies such as the CBI and CIPD, Careers sector leaders with a wealth of experience and knowledge such as Keith Hermann and David Andrews, representatives of the FE and vocational skills community, Ofsted and myself and one other school, St Mary’s High School in Cheshunt. The knowledge, commitment and range of ideas in the room on how to find solutions that would enable young people and schools to successfully achieve the benefits to be gained from employer interaction was considered, informed and of the highest standard. I thought I’d share some of the most salient points from the notes I took throughout the presentations and subsequent discussions:

Matthew Coffey – Director FE and Skills Ofsted

Was clear in his belief that destination measures would be a “game changer” for schools and that they would be a decisive lever for change in schools behaviour and attitude towards careers IAG and employability learning.


Points about the robustness & validity of the destination data and how this could lead to encouraging collaboration between providers which would improve careers provision and how, currently, funding mechanisms do not encourage this collaboration.

Karen Adriaanse – Ofsted lead on Careers Guidance & Employability

Summary of the Careers report – even though the media focused on the negative headline statistics there were a “middle band” of schools who were making efforts towards CEIAG provision but were not comprehensive enough or internally evaluated to sufficient a standard to be deemed compliant with the statutory duty. Ofsted have asked the Dfe to be clearer in the forthcoming guidance about a minimum standard of acceptable CEIAG provision.

From the interviews carried out with students as part of the survey Ofsted have a clear idea of the learners point of view of this work (I found this very useful):

What the students liked:

  • initial and follow-up individual interviews with a professional careers adviser
  • targeted online activities to explore some of the ideas presented in assemblies
  • a system for recording their ideas and subsequent research
  • a programme of visits from employers and colleges – not just one-off visits
  • a well stocked careers library, especially for those who felt ill at ease using websites
  • careers guidance as part of the curriculum, especially when the teacher had a good understanding of job opportunities

What the students said they wanted:

  • more information on the full range of courses run by FE colleges and other providers, since not everyone want to do A Levels and go to University
  • a higher profile given to vocational training and apprenticeships to help them make an informed choice
  • visits, presentations or social media pages from former students – one, two, five or even ten years after they had left the school
  • more purposeful work experience and opportunities to find out about careers from employers
  • better links between subjects and careers
  • better guidance on using websites

I’m going to type those bullet points up in a poster and stick it above my computer in my office to remind me whenever I start planning an activity or visit or session.


Contributions from employers asking for gatekeepers in schools – who do they contact? Ian Duffy of BP spoke about a forthcoming Gatsby (?) research document which would, after comparing Careers provision around the globe, offer 8 benchmarks of what good careers work would look like nationally.

Pirandeep Dhillon from the Association of Colleges outlined a vision for local “Careers Hubs” which would offer opportunities for all stakeholders including FE, LEPs, JobCentre Plus, National Careers Service, employers and education to engage with each other, receive  comprehensive notification of the variety of opportunities and routes and find space to build networks which would, in turn, lead to further collaboration and interaction with employers and schools on individual projects.

Nick Chambers – Director Employers and Education Taskforce

Nick outlined that, even with employer engagement, this is still a system that needs impartial and qualified IAG practitioners to aid young people. Also that the fragmentation of the school system over recent years has not helped with the collaboration of provision and can even put off employers from engaging as they are flooded with a multitude of requests that ask them to repeat work and struggle to find gatekeepers with a local overview.


This lead onto a discussion about how large-scale businesses can ensure that the work they do to offer resources does not replicate work already done by competitors in their field and how companies can work together both in and across sectors to offer resources that fulfill needs in schools.

Peter Lambert – Director Business in the Community

Peter had the unenviable task of trying to draw this wide-ranging discussion together to form some guidance that would be equally useful for both large multinational corporations and much smaller SME’s to engage with schools.


Discussions took place around the fact that businesses are also put off as they feel their specific bank of knowledge wouldn’t be suitable for schools as their expertise might not cover the full range of “employability” – at this point the schools were keen to allay these fears and say that, even if it is a specific area of advice the company can offer then this would still be welcomed by the schools. At this point suggestions were made of the need for local and regional brokerage such as the work of (now defunct in some areas) Education Business Partnerships and what role LEPs, Chambers of Commerce and potential Careers Hubs could play in building that knowledge bank of provision and how to access it. The “locality” issue was also discussed in relation to large-scale corporations who work with nearby schools but are unable to expand their work to reach other parts of the country. Plotr was discussed as an example of a solution to this issue.

The discussion was wrapped up by Faye Ramsson from Business in the Community who advised us that they hope to have a report ready around April time.

Careers work in schools has a literacy blindspot

A recent report from the National Literacy Trust attempted to shine a light into the dark space between statistics that show improving English GCSE grades across the country and yet employers surveys still showing dissatisfaction in the literacy skills of young recruits and applications and, at the heart of the issue, how young people themselves view the relationship between their own Literacy skills and their employability potential.

The report attempts to bridge the rhetoric between what employers actually demand in Literacy skills, which of these skills the recent curriculum equips school leavers with and how current changes to assessment and curriculum could impact this. For me, the report isn’t very strong on identifying the reasons behind the mismatching opinions of young people of whom a large majority realise that “communication skills” will be fundamental to their future potential but then struggle to see how the traditional skills of writing and comprehension are beneficial to this future. It will come as no surprise to any English teacher that the two topics of English study that students claim not to the see the relevance of would be the same ones many students would find the toughest to master, especially as so few of them are unwilling to flex those particular learning muscles outside of school. It seems obvious that young people should be under no doubt, through the lessons they are taught and the interactions with employers they have, that these skills, no matter how hard they seem, are worth the effort.

There is a gaping black hole in provision here which the CEIAG community and organisations seem reluctant to impose on. Far from only signposting courses or enabling career discovery, careers work aimed at this age group should surely empower learners by clearly decoding for them the expectations the gatekeepers of business and the worlds of work they wish to one day explore will have of them. Maybe because these expectations cover so many skills they have historically been so poorly communicated by business leaders that schools themselves are investigating to properly define them but the regular wish for greater literacy standards does cut across the divide as a clear expectation.

Where is the drive and focus from the sector to address this blindspot? At a time when the Minister for Education clearly isn’t convinced (to put it mildly) of the worth of the sector what better time to make ourselves relevant to the national discourse by offering resources that enable students to improve their writing and comprehension through employment and work related activities. Diaries to complete after work experience placements requiring reflection on the skills they gained and displayed, marketing and advertising briefs set by real life companies for real life products, customer brochures for new products, scenarios with contract disputes, even tasks on questionnaire design to show how different language choices can achieve very different results could all be examples of lesson plans offered on a website for teachers to utilise. The skills these lessons could cover are all pertinent to the new English Language GCSE to be taught from September 2015. There are already good free resources to aid spoken word communication skills such as the BT Moving On job interview series of lessons and accompanying videos but, to my knowledge, there does seem to be a dearth of provision for the writing and comprehension topics mentioned above. Of course, if I’m missing some fantastic resources out there please let me know in the comments!

This would require the careers sector to be the fulcrum of collaboration and facilitation with teaching groups, national literacy organisations and business to ensure that the resources were of sufficient quality but what better way to move careers education out of the box of irrelevancy it has been placed into and make inroads into showing just how central to the work of schools it both could be and that business demands it to be.