Month: March 2015

The March 2015 careers guidance update: Scrat gets his nut

In what is now becoming an annual event, last week saw the publication of the update to the Careers Statutory Guidance for schools. It’s now three academic years in a row that has seen updated Guidance released and, each year, the document has become more detailed in its outline and expectations of what quality careers provision should look like in England’s schools.

I’ve always felt that the first iteration of this document did a middling job as guidance goes while last year’s was much clearer and really left no room for school leaders to claim ignorance when offering reasons for their lack of support for CEIAG. In fact, the DfE picked up on my saying so and used it as a defence for sticking to their guidance guns when pressed by the Education Select Committee.

As I’ve acknowledged though, that view seemed to be against the grain as there seemed to be many knowledgeable voices who were deeply unsatisfied with the previous documents and bemoaned the lack of clarity over the must/should usage, the lack of priority given to securing face to face guidance from qualified professionals and the absence of a recommendation for schools to achieve some form of Quality Mark.

This latest publication should then satisfy some of those criticisms as it contains many strengthened references to including qualified face to face guidance and achieving Quality Marks. As a result the initial reaction has been noticeably warmer and welcoming.

That it’s taken a whole term of Government and a change of Secretary of State to release a document in the last week before purdah that professional bodies have at least faintly praised shouldn’t be forgotten but this is a comparatively small point to the larger one to make.

Which is the ongoing background story:

Running a CEIAG program is, like many other parts of school provision, not a cheap enterprise as so minutely documented by the Gatsby report that costed an average program at £44,676 per academic year. You can add another £1800 to that for undertaking a Careers Mark award.

In my posts here I’ve always tried to look beyond my own experience and try to link to wider evidence as often as possible but in making my point here I can’t get away from my own patch. This year there are three items that have cost the school money for a CEIAG program; my wage, a work experience contract with an EBP and a photocopying budget. Trips to Universities and employers happen in my car, trips to Colleges are organised so we meet the students there, a local College paid for our coach to the Skills Show, we’ve had EBP/National Careers funding for a Future First subscription, work experience diaries come from Barclays, lesson resources come from free websites, all our visitors are volunteers, our LEP has financed a careers speed dating event. Anything at all that costs is a non starter. Next year we’re not buying in a Careers Adviser from the Local Authority with the plan that increasing my (Level 6 qualified) face to face offer, a range of activities and visitors and the fact we don’t have a Sixth Form will enable us to meet the “impartiality” standard in the guidance. And, I would consider us a school that doesn’t have it really bad. I’ve had access to training and huge amounts of support from Senior Leaders. We are fortunate enough to currently have a fantastic new building being erected under the Priority School Building Program and, over time, are due to increase our intake numbers to 1400. Meanwhile, many schools are looking at their teaching and support staff and looking for ways to lower costs. And, this is before an election after which, no matter the rhetoric, significant further cuts will arrive (the larger academy chains know this and, to protect themselves as best they can against the coming drought, are looking to lever their brand to access private donors). This will not be in any way good for CEIAG.

In such a climate, even contemplating a Quality Award is a silly notion. It’s the furthest thing from my agenda for the next academic year. The final sentence of the CDI response to the new guidance pays the smallest heed to this mess in what is surely a case of putting the cart before the horse

Access to development funding to help schools build their capacity to take on the statutory duty would really help to ensure that all young people had access to the high quality careers support they both need and deserve.

As Deirdre Hughes writes,

Let’s hope the Government’s ring-fenced investment for careers work to reach more young people becomes a reality sooner rather than later.

Otherwise, we’ll soon find ourselves in a situation akin to that little critter in the Ice Age movies; while great time, effort and perseverance has been spent on the small prize of the nut of persuading officials to change some wording in a Guidance document, around us the glacier has been cracking.

Cleggy’s Post 16 course emporium

As trailed by this speech last year, yesterday saw the launch of the DfE’s plans to set up a nationwide course database for all Post 16 courses. They envisage that this will be a UCAS style, by Local Authority area, one stop shop for KS4 students to research all of the Post 16 routes available in that region. It will run alongside the current Apprenticeship.GOV site.

The operational guide describes the process that Post 16 providers will have to go through to upload all of their course information to the main database and the timeline they hope to stick to deliver the site(s).

post 16 site timeline

This could be a good thing and in use next academic year. There has been a definite push of Post 16 providers recently who (mindful of the costs) have done away with all written promotional material such as prospectuses and application forms and solely relied on their own websites so most schools are used to dealing with their students accessing course information and applying through online methods alongside traditional prospectuses and forms. That doesn’t mean though that there isn’t a few questions:

1) What does this mean for services already available in this area such as UCAS Progress? When Clegg first announced the idea they were quick to raise their hand in concern but it now looks like a fruitless protest. If the state does this right (always a big if), I can’t imagine Post 16 providers bothering to upload their course data to multiple IAG sites.

2) That timeline could cause issues. Clegg’s February 2014 speech says that the ultimate user websites for young people will be designed and maintained by Local Authorities

Your local authority will be responsible for providing that site, based on the latest information available from schools, colleges and employers

while the Operational Guide concentrates only on the input data. If LA’s do have to set up a site to use this data, the timeline doesn’t leave them much wriggle room depending on how far advanced their existing online IAG offer is.

3) Also on the timeline, Post 16 providers having to upload their Sept 2016 courses by Sept 2015 might cause a bit of head scratching with the changes to the A Level curriculum and the uncertainty over the AS/A Level decoupling that heavily relies on the outcome of the forthcoming election. A Level providers are taking different approaches to the change from Sept 2015, will they all know what they want to do in Sept 2016 by this summer? I’m by no means an expert on the submission of course data to the SFA/EFA that is already a mainstay of the requirements of Post 16 providers, but this is another duty at a time of lots of curriculum and qualification change.

Many years back I helped with the early incarnations of a local area prospectus that was canceled so am wary of big! new! shiny! I.T projects but, with some time behind it and the protocols of the data entry worked through a few times, the resulting course directories have the potential to be a useful addition to any school’s IAG toolkit and will no doubt will be mentioned as a core offer in any future DfE Careers guidance.

Futures Advice NCS “Get Inspired” newsletter



Last summer I posted about how the National Careers Service would be tasked with altering its remit to provide services for younger people. The ‘prime contractor’ for this work in the Central Eastern region contract was won by Futures Advice.

They have started by updating the local LMI sections on the National Careers Service website and by sending out their “Get Inspired” newsletter (which I can’t seem to find online anywhere? – please link below in the comments if you know where) which has a Q&A with some proper no mark on the front. The rest of the newsletter has sections for each county in the Region with examples of some great employability projects and people to contact should you like to get involved.

This introduction of a kind of “middle tier” for careers support for schools has a complicated landscape to map. On the business side of things, it will need the information and guidance of LEPs, Chambers of Commerce and Local Authorities to ensure its data is sound and the guidance is reflective of the local labour market needs. While on the education side of things, how integrated they will be with bodies such as Ofsted, Regional School Commissioners and the new Careers Company remains to be seen and will determine the consistency of message schools will receive about the importance of their CEIAG provision and opportunities to enhance it.


The Scottish conundrum

While the recent CEIAG landscape in English secondary schools has suffered the slings and arrows of funding cuts, critical report after critical report and the general disdain of prominent voices in the business community, the picture north of the border has been increasingly held up to be a much more structured and cohesive system.

Presentations were made, praise was given and, overall, those of us in England who take notice of such things, sat there pining for the way things could be.

Which is why it was interesting to see this article in the Herald Scotland, the report it covers and in particular this quote from CBI Scotland Director Hugh Aitken

He added that the careers system remained a “weak link” in the system with the “vast majority” of businesses think it was not good enough with vocational routes “undersold” to young people.

The report, Delivering Excellence: A new approach for schools in Scotland, goes on to say

cbi scotland careers views

Unfortunately the current provision in Scotland is simply not up to the mark and businesses are seeing no sign of improvement (Exhibit 17). Four out of five businesses (85%) across Scotland feel the quality of careers advice young people receive is not good enough to help them make informed decisions about future career options. Only 4% consider the quality of current careers advice to be adequate.

My point is not about which view is ‘correct’ on the quality of careers provision in Scotland but that, no matter what Careers practitioners or even clients think about the quality of service on offer, there will always be another taskmaster in the mix. A taskmaster seemingly consistently dissatisfied with the workforce prepared by all parts of the education system.

I’ve posted before on how business representatives regularly adapt their requirements on education to always have a further target or how a “what we need now is…” always turns up at the end of the press release. Like Sisyphus, the boulder never seems to stay at the top of the hill. It’s worth bearing this conflict of views on the careers service in Scotland in mind when you read the next education headline or news story with a quote from a business leader or MP starting with, “Businesses tell me….”

Through the other end of the Apprenticeship telescope

Timed to kick off this years National Apprenticeship week, Monday saw the release of the Education Select Committee’s report into “Apprenticeships and Traineeships for 16 to 19 year olds.”

The report makes a number of recommendations on how Apprenticeships for this age group can be expanded in number and improved in quality. The media reporting of the report jumped on the (many, varied and all previously aired by the Committee) concerns they have with the state of CEIAG in schools.

The Committee recommended (again) that schools should be required to publish a careers plan document, work towards a QiCs standard, that work experience should be “incorporated” into the KS4 curriculum and that the Government should “urgently review” the incentive levers they can pull to focus school leaders attention to this area. All of these recommendations, it is hoped, would encourage more young people to seriously consider and apply for Apprenticeship vacancies. Even with all of these recommendations though the Committee acknowledged that improved careers advice was only “part of the solution” and that “the central challenge for the Government’s reform programme is to drive up the quality of provision while ensuring that more employers commit to providing apprenticeships for young people.”

The numbers of young people starting apprenticeships is stark (just over 27% of starts in 13/14 where under 19s) but it’s the overall numbers of vacancies vs applications that should be receiving more coverage in this debate. In 2013 it was reported that every Apprenticeship vacancy was attracting 11 applications. As the chart below from this CIPD report shows, in 2014 this had risen to 13 applications per vacancy and there were 324, 971 more candidates than there were vacancies.

apprenticeship vacancies

As the further charts on pages 17 & 18 of the CIPD document show, this ratio varies greatly depending on the sector of the apprenticeship vacancy and the table on page 5 (below) show where the greater percentage of vacancies receive more or less applications.

apprenticeship vacancies by region

This is all very useful LMI for advisers helping candidates think about the levels of competition they face when applying through the vacancy matching service but it also clearly shows the “central challenge” the Committee speaks off. If Apprenticeship numbers are struggling to rise, it isn’t through a lack of demand.




The need, next steps and purpose of #NCW2015

This year’s National Careers week promises to be a fantastic celebration of guidance work and an opportunity for young people up and down the country to experience some wonderful career related events. From the central organisers there will be much promotion of a wide range of career areas during the themed days and a wealth of freely available resources that will help any CEIAG practitioner. From CEIAG and youth engagement folk in businesses, schools and colleges there will be the last-minute stresses of best laid plans clicking into gear as displays go up, visitors sign into reception, coaches arrive at the school gates and children are corralled into rooms not normally on their timetable.

The coverage gained by these events will help spread an important message among all levels and stages of educational and business communities; that CEIAG is a vital tool in building employable, confident, aspirational young learners better prepared to take their next steps in learning, work and training. The week will be spectacular, the hard work of the ambassadors will ensure that, but for CEIAG work in schools to prosper, the real test of the impact of NCW2015 will be in the weeks and months beyond the 2nd -6th March. The real reward will be all that happens beyond those five days of loud PR noise. For many CEIAG practitioners in schools or even like-minded teaching staff, the traction offered by NCW2015 will be a godsend. A real opportunity for their cash strapped and time constrained Senior Leaders to actually see the visceral enjoyment and positive feedback from young people participating in well run and well-managed career events. A starting point for further work, for building a growing careers program that stretches its web across the curriculum of the school and that is not just seen as an “add on” or something that is constrained to one week on the academic calendar.

The contradiction at the heart of National Careers Week is that, it exists because of the very struggle to mainstream CEIAG in schools and colleges. In my presentation at David Andrews’ conference I included a slide referencing the drip, drip versus drop methods of careers program delivery and how, it is the wider conditions of support and ethos in a school that will dictate the path of least resistance to a practitioner organising events. Either in small nuggets throughout the academic year or in large drops of off timetable days or whole school events. The very highlighting of “Careers” in a specific week shows how marginalised it can be. Of course, many causes and topics utilise the idea of a promotional period of time to raise awareness and hope to effect a snowballing of change (March will also squeeze in National Apprenticeship week and British Science week) but this can have downsides as well as positives.

Now, of course (I feel silly even having to type this exemplification but, this is the internet so…) I’m not comparing the cause of embedding CEIAG in schools with the struggle of an entire race against centuries of racist oppression but…there’s something in the wider message of Mr Freeman there about taking the PR short-cut. If we want great CEIAG to be the norm, then lets stop making it the unusual. But that isn’t the job of the folk behind NCW2015. Given the current state of  the sector, they’ve given us the push, the ignition key, the job of school leaders and CEIAG practitioners is to use that momentum and run with it beyond that one week and make every week we can in school into a “Careers week.”