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.

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