There is much the Careers community would like to see happen to improve CEIAG provision in schools, the use of Level 6 trained, CDI registered guidance professionals, dedicated funding, a published careers plan for each school and the widespread use of Careers Quality Awards as a road-map towards and validation of improved provision have all been mooted. Not many of these seem to have much chance of ever becoming DfE policy but all (in the eyes of the professional Careers bodies) would achieve in some way what we’re all looking to achieve; they would aid improvement. Or…would they?
In this post, I want to cover some of the issues and unanswered questions I have with Careers Quality marks both as a method of improvement and validation of a high standard of provision. Currently, according to Careers England, there are 12 Quality Awards that have met the Quality in Careers Standard which is the quality award for careers quality awards. The careers rubber stamp king of careers rubber stamps if you will. Some of these 12 awards have their own websites:
but all follow roughly the same procedure – School pays membership fee and gains access to the Standards document > School prepares evidence to meet standards > School sends in evidence for assessment > School pays further fee for assessment day costs > Assessment day > Award of standard > Perhaps two or four years later, re-validation
The reasons usually given in praise of careers quality marks plus my issues with them are:
1. They provide a roadmap for schools to guide them on their journey of CEIAG improvement
The standards documents I have seen from some of the different awards do seem to be very thorough and the evidence base that would be needed to comply with them would be significant but they are documents held behind a paywall, in the case of CareersMark a £90 fee for an annual membership. What value is held in those documents which isn’t found in the DfE guidance documents for CEIAG in schools? The NFER audit and guidance documents? The CDI toolkit? Janet Colledge’s website? These and other resources freely available just a Google search away perform exactly the same function. To justify a pay wall those standards must truly hold some individual value which leads me to point 2.
2. They are validation of not just good practice but practice that works
With the introduction of Destination Measures into league table data and Ofsted inspections schools already inhabit a world where the value of their wider careers work can be judged by outcomes. It’s not perfect but it’s a start and with the planned (postponed but definitely coming at some point) inclusion of more detailed Destination Measures into the forthcoming 2016 accountability changes, the focus on the actual employment and learning outcomes schools achieve for their young people is only going to increase.
With this in mind, a school, paying up to £2000 for a Careers Mark inspection, should be asking, “Is what they’re looking at, not only good practice but practice that has an impact?” Do the activities and CEIAG provision which would meet the Award’s Standards actually have a discernible impact on outcomes? The research work of the Education & Employers Taskforce has raised the bar in this area and is symptomatic of a growing trend in education now that the budget squeeze is really being felt. Policy makers and school leaders want to know what works, they want clear direction on what outcomes will be achieved for what investment. Proof of this can seen in the rise of the ResearchED movement, the spreading work of the Education Endowment Foundation and the rapid uptake and dissemination of the Sutton Trust pupil premium toolkit over the last few years. When school leaders were given a dedicated funding stream for pupils on free school meals, they wanted clear guidance on how to get the most bang for their buck. CEIAG expenditure in schools will be no different so the data needs to show
a) For schools that hold your Quality Award, how much lower is their NEET average over the last 3 years of leavers compared to the national average?
b) For schools that hold your Quality Award, how much lower is their Education Destination not Sustained (using the formula on the DfE Performance tables) percentage over the last 3 years worth of leavers than the national average?
c) Using the data sets utilised by the Education & Employers Task force, how much higher is the average wage of leavers from these schools than the national average 5 or 10 years after they left Year 11?(granted, there may be lag issues with this one)
d) For schools that hold your quality award how higher is the percentage of students securing an Apprenticeship within 12 months of leaving Year 11 than the national average?
Crunch the data for those questions and Careers Quality Awards have a chance of justifying their initial short-term costs to school leaders.
3. They add value to your school with current and future stakeholders
Schools like certificates to hang in their receptions and logos to put on their letterheads. Artsmarks, Investors in People awards, Challenge Awards, Sports Marks and all sorts of other validation proudly adorn Headteacher office walls up and down the country. School leaders feel their institution benefits from holding such awards, that they carry some weight with the public, parents and potential staff and help raise their reputation and standing. Ask any potential parent or member of staff though about what really influences their view on a school (other than results or perhaps the local grapevine) and your answer is likely to be “Ofsted.” Their verdict is near paramount and, as Ofsted are now specifically tasked to monitor CEIAG provision, more schools will* have an official verdict on the quality of their provision to highlight to stakeholders if they so wish
(*at this point some readers may raise their hand and point out the recent Careers England work which showed a majority of inspections last academic year did not include a reference or verdict on CEIAG provision. The solution to this simply cannot be to ask schools to find funds from existing budgets to pay other organisations to do this work but to actually ensure that the inspectorate with the £168m annual budget of public money is doing what it has been tasked to do)
The value that the wider public associate with a verdict from the Ofsted brand (despite the current whirlwind of criticism it is facing from the educational world) simply can’t be matched by a careers quality award.
It is these doubts over the perceived benefit versus the £ cost, the worth of what is actually being validated versus the data already publicly available and what extra opportunities it would bring to my school that have, so far, held me back from journeying along the careers quality mark route.