Author: fecareersiag

Where are Careers Hubs starting from and ending with?

I think it’s safe to say that the Gatsby Benchmarks have been a game changer in the CEIAG world. Not because they offer new ways of working with young people or reinvent the purpose of CEIAG but because they included practice with a solid research backing and standarised what a comprehensive careers programme in schools and colleges looks like. This standarisation has enabled other stakeholders and professional to quickly understand a common rationale and purpose behind such a programme and so buy in to the shared goals.

The benchmarks have been supercharged in some areas of the country with the support of local CEC supported Careers Hubs. With the second wave of 20 Hubs to come online in September 2019, the CEC has been keen to show evidence of pacy progress towards meeting both technical goals around Benchmarks but also highlight that this work is happening in disadvantaged areas of the country. 

Schools and colleges in this first wave of Careers Hubs are already outperforming the national average across all aspects of careers education. After two terms, schools and colleges which are part of the first wave of Hubs are:

  • outperforming the national average on every single one of the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of good careers guidance
  • the majority (58%) are providing every student with regular encounters with employers
  • the majority (52%) are providing every student with workplace experiences such as work experience, shadowing or workplace visits

Most striking is that improvements are strongest in disadvantage areas including in Careers Hubs located in Tees Valley, Lancashire, the Black Country and Liverpool City Region.

There are a two issues which should provoke some discussion about the work of Hubs.

Starting from a higher base point

The CEC Prospectus for the Careers Hubs bidding process was clear on the criteria areas had to meet to put forward successful bids.

cec hubs 1

It would logically follow then that Compass data for those schools and Colleges involved in Hubs should be, on average, at a lower point than School and Colleges not in Hubs at the start of the scheme. Sure, other factors such as destinations and achievement feed into the definition of Cold Spot areas but CEIAG and employer engagement provision is a central metric. There may also be some individual exceptions of providers offering high Gatsby compliant provision within those Cold Spot areas of course but, taken in the round, if the self reported Compass data is a consistent picture of practice and provision then it makes sense for the initial Hub Compass data to be below the national average. Yet this wasn’t the case. Using the July 2018 data (the left hand blue bars) from the CEC tweet below

and comparing it to the nationwide State of the Nation figures from 2018

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we can see that the Hubs were reporting a higher percentage of schools and colleges meeting already every Benchmark than the national average (apart from one – Benchmark 3) before the Hub scheme had even begun. The CEC is right to say in it’s press releases that by March 2019, Hub schools and colleges were

outperforming the national average on every single one of the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of good careers guidance

but what they don’t include is that this was the case for all but one of the Benchmarks before the Hubs had even started work.

This is concerning for the questions it raises on the reliability of the Hub awarding process, Compass as a self evaluation tool but should also prompt queries for the CEC over the pace of progress of those institutions involved in Hubs. Is it easier to roll the CEIAG snowball down the far slope once it’s already closer to the summit?

2. The more you know, the more you doubt

At the recent National Careers Leader Conference in Derby I was fortunate to attend some brilliant sessions including this from Dr Jill Hanson who is undertaking the Gatsby Pilot evaluation for ICEGs. I posted about the interim report back in March 2019 and it was great to hear about the positives the Pilot resulted in. After 2 years of the pilot young people at pilot schools and colleges were more likely to recall participating in CEIAG provision

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and the 2018 cohorts reported much higher scores on a career readiness index

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with clear correlation for higher readiness scores for those in providers who had fully achieved more Benchmarks.

A pause for concern though comes in responses from the same students who completed the career readiness index in both 2016 & 2018. These show significant drops in pupil confidence in career management and planning and information and help seeking skills but not work readiness skills.

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As Tom Staunton notes in Dr Hanson’s slides, there could be a number of overlapping explanations for this. In the room, the practitioners present concluded that this might be a case of young people being introduced to a wider variety of routes that had pushed them beyond their comfort zone and in doing so reduced confidence and certainty in the routes they had previously been aware of (if any). If suddenly the world seems larger, your place in it will seem smaller. This is a theme which has been described in previous CEC research “Moments of Choice” and it will be interesting to see if a) this trend in the data continues and b) what steps the providers involved should take to address the issue (if any). Potential remedying work through personal guidance offering more support to those students reporting a lower level of confidence in those areas or more “nudge” based interventions aimed at groups? Or nothing at all?

Going forward

Up-scaling a model such as the Gatsby Benchmarks comes with pitfalls to avoid, particularly the temptation for providers to over-rate their progress or look for tick box filling solutions that don’t translate into substantive outcomes for learners. As Sam Freedman notes here

about a different education policy proposal, compliance isn’t always the full recipe and the intangible’s that can help make a good school CEIAG program (parental relationships, drive of the practitioner, heck, even office placement in the school) are difficult to measure. The forthcoming Compass Plus has the potential to address some of those issues as it more closely ties provision to self-evaluation.

Regarding the negative effects on student confidence in their future planning skills, the results of the Careers Registration Learning Gain project in Higher Education are a useful longitudinal comparative. Using a similar method (asking students to complete a career readiness set of questions year on year), these show that more mature learners can move towards higher rated career ready states. By the final year of a degree an increase of 18.28% of students reported themselves to be in the Compete category (see NICEC Journal April 2019). Could it be that the less confident younger students Dr Hanson found are a perfectly natural, even desirable outcome of Gatsby compliant CEIAG provision and that confidence in career planning only comes with greater maturity? Should CEIAG practitioners in schools revel in the fact that their students are less confident about their route but more aware of the diversity of options? These are fascinating questions that we have the potential to find answers to as the Gatsby Benchmarks standarise provision across the country.

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Degree Apprenticeships: The balance of promotion vs opportunity

A often repeated recommendation in lots of reports in the education policy sphere is to improve the Careers advice on offer to young people as authors conclude that this would have beneficial outcomes for the focus of their research. Sometimes these pleas have merit but sometimes they feel to me that the authors are reaching for a scapegoat to direct attention from more relevant failings elsewhere in the system. A recent example of this can be found in this report on degree apprenticeships from Universities UK.

The report reaches a number of sensible conclusions on the worth of degree apprenticeships to the economy and the skills pipeline but also on how to grow and promote the route. The CEIAG related recommendations are that

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Which, on the face of it, is a recommendation (alongside the wider belief of the report that degree apprenticeships are extremely valuable routes) that I’m sure much of the Careers community would agree with. Investment in the system is certainly towards the top of the concerns of Career Leaders who are tasked by law to provide information on the variety of routes open to school leavers. What intrigued me though is the assertion that a “fit for purpose” CEIAG system dedicate equal time to degree apprenticeships considering the current data on opportunity and that this would increase their numbers

The report includes some survey data that highlights the distance to travel with improving the knowledge of students about degree apprenticeships.

universities report 4

(which includes a mistake in the height of the “I know everything/ a lot” response bar for eligibility requirements) but that still shows roughly a quarter of students believe themselves to be knowledgeable about the route. We also know from other survey sources that over half of students are now receiving information about apprenticeships but some of this isn’t then getting through to parents.

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Which, even at roughly a quarter of students, equals a lot of young people being told about degree apprenticeships. There is a lot more to dig into here around the weighing of positive vs negative messaging that pupils are receiving about apprenticeships. The report includes concerns aired by parents about the route

Parents, in particular, expressed the anxiety, in focus groups, that degree apprenticeships are a cheap form of labour and exploitation of young people. They raised concerns about the quality of the learning provision and the kinds of skills and knowledge that students would gain through these apprenticeships, often  voicing the belief that these would be narrowly and mechanistically focused on the needs of the employer, rather than advantaging the learner.

but, surprisingly to me, no concerns over the numbers of opportunities actually accessible to their children.

18 year old population

In 2017 there were 766,000 18 year olds in the UK with the ONS forcasting numbers to fall until 2020 when the population bump will cause them to rise. As 18 year olds are the youngest cohort to be able to apply for degree apprenticeships, Universities UK are roughly saying that 191,500 students come into the labour market potentially informed about degree apprenticeships as a route.

From a labour market intelligence standpoint this is a huge mismatch between demand and opportunity. Degree apprenticeships (Level 6) are a relatively new route in the labour market

apprenticeship starts1

but a route that is growing in starts year on year. The report says

the number of degree apprenticeship starts has increased, from 1,614 in 2016–17 to 7,114 in the first four months of 2018/19 (IfATE, 2019). The top five degree apprenticeship standards are Chartered Manager, Digital and Technology Solutions Professional, Senior Leader, Chartered Surveyor and Registered Nurse, and the range of degree apprenticeships increased from 11 in 2016–17 to 32 currently.

Those 7,114 degree apprenticeship opportunities is still tiny in number though compared to the number of 18 year olds entering the post Level 3 labour market as shown above. The previous qualification levels of that cohort should not be a barrier to applying for degree apprenticeships as over 275,000 of them are applying for University courses.

Even then the 7,114 number is a false figure as many degree apprenticeships are currently taken by older learners

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and the growth in degree apprenticeships is being driven by firms enrolling older workers onto these schemes.

82 per cent more people aged 25 and over doing higher-level apprenticeships at levels 4 and above, according to FE Week analysis.

Meanwhile, starts at level 2 have plummeted by 51 per cent and starts by 16- to 18-year-olds have dropped by 23 per cent since the year before the apprenticeship reforms were introduced in May 2017.

In that time, starts by those aged 25 and above at levels 4 upwards increased by 69 per cent.

There is, as far as I know, no publicly available data on how many degree apprenticeship starts are new hires from an advertised vacancy. Many, including some highlighted in the Universities UK report are not new jobs but training opportunities for already hired employees.

On one nursing degree apprenticeship programme, delivered in a collaboration between the University of Sunderland and four NHS trusts, all 64 of the degree apprentices are currently healthcare assistants working within the trusts

Other examples include

This even further reduces the number of available opportunities actually open for young school leavers to apply to. The Universities UK report is silent on how the expansion in careers learning dedicated to degree apprenticeships should tackle the issue of those opportunities being the third, fourth or even fifth steps in a school leavers progression.

There is a balance to be found in raising awareness and promotion of a route with the labour market intelligence of that route actually being obtainable to your audience. Even when opportunity is scarce, LMI does not have to be a negative influencer but a motivator to inspire clients on the steps to take but at some point those wishing to promote degree apprenticeships are going to have to acknowledge that a) overly positive framing can result in negative perceptions as many young people will this exciting route far too difficult to obtain and b) there are other routes in that market that appeal to clients and so deserve the focus of careers learning exactly because of their widespread opportunity.

Compass Plus

Coming soon to your school computer that takes a solid 30 minutes to boot up in the morning is a new website service from the Careers & Enterprise Company called Compass Plus.

A revamp and an expansion of their Compass self evaluation tool and Tracker provision recording tool, this new method of planning, recording and evaluating your Careers provision has the potential to have a number of benefits throughout the system. Currently being presented around the country after a period of development and testing, the tool will help (initially only school based) Careers Leaders.

compass plus 1

For ease of understanding, imagine that the CEC had taken that spreadsheet with your activities throughout the year mapped against the Benchmarks, reached into your drawer and added the student registers you scribbled down at those activities and also pinched your other Excel sheet with your employer contact details and the stack of slowly returning student destination forms on your desk and put all of that into an online tool that you could share with colleagues – that’s Compass Plus.

The improvements this could offer a Careers Leader are clear. Rather than completing cumbersome spreadsheets, your activities can be uploaded against the Benchmarks immediately updating your Compass completion scores both for planned and completed activities. The ability to integrate with your school’s MIS so that activities are added at a pupil level is potentially a huge positive for the both Leaders and Careers Advisers working in schools.

compass plus 3

As the CEIAG record of an individual student will be there for a Personal Guidance session to build upon or for a Leader to then tailor registers for future events so that all learners have access to CEIAG.

Your employer engagement could also benefit from the ability to store your employer contact details so that all of your colleagues access them for their own activities plus, the soon to come Tracker Enterprise which will allow Enterprise Co-ordinators to also add provider and employer details who can then connect with your activities and opportunities for engagement.

compass plus 4

The CEC is managing the on-boarding process quite tightly

compass plus 2

which is an effort to manage the demand pipeline so that the technology copes with the growth in usage. The potential for Plus to work with other systems such as Unifrog or Start Profile is also exciting.

For the CEC, the rollout of this type of system is logical as it will also offer benefits to their data collection. Currently, Compass evaluations are based on Leaders judgement without the link to activity to evidence those claims. The structure of Compass Plus, (a school’s Gatsby Benchmark compliance rating being automatically generated from actual provision and activities recorded at student level) provides a much stronger evidence base on which a school will self evaluate and then how the CEC collates that data across LEP, region and national pictures for publications such as their annual State of the Nation report. This tool should make it clear to Enterprise Advisers and Co-ordinators (and perhaps in time even Ofsted) that 39 weekly Careers lunchtime drop in sessions that the same 4 students attend isn’t a Careers programme that meets the standard required. With this in mind, I could envisage, even expect, that some schools who had previously scored highly against the Benchmarks, even those achieving full compliance, would see lower Benchmark scores when using the Compass Plus tool.

As a Careers Leader working in FE, much of the Compass Plus tool struck me as processes that already happens in FE. Student level activity recording will already happen in most FE Colleges not only for Careers activities but also other enrichment provision. Those with helpful data teams will have their own versions of the reporting ability that Compass Plus offers to show how many students have attended a Personal Guidance interview or been present at X number of employer encounters. When ever the FE version is developed and tested, the CEC might find that Colleges are much more reluctant to give up systems they have designed to achieve similar aims.

There is a FAQ on the CEC site

https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/compass-plus-faqs

and I would encourage all secondary school Careers Leaders to set up their on-boarding as soon as possible.

https://www.careersandenterprise.co.uk/schools-colleges/compass-plus

The numbers in the Careers Hubs Benchmark 8 progress stats are pretty wild

Launched in September 2018 with 20 Hubs across the country (plus the orginal North East pilot area), the Careers & Enterprise Company is now expanding this policy with another 20 Hubs. When launched, I was positive about the structure of support they would be able to offer local areas and could see the rationale behind expanding the North East pilot but was concerned that the funding model those schools and colleges enjoyed was not also being replicated. The initial wave of hubs covers locales across the country:

  1. Black County – 36 schools and colleges
  2. Buck Careers Hub – 21
  3. Cornwall – 40
  4. Cumbria – 40
  5. Greater Manchester – number of schools & colleges involved not clear
  6. Heart of the south west – 40
  7. Humber – 26
  8. Lancashire – number not clear
  9. Leeds City Region – 35
  10. Leicester – 20
  11. Liverpool City Region – 34
  12. New Anglia – 32
  13. North East – 40 (plus 10 colleges?)
  14. Solent – 32
  15. South East – ?
  16. Stoke – 20
  17. Swindon – 40
  18. Tees Valley – 35
  19. West of England – 25
  20. Worcestershire – 40
  21. York – 35

The CEC says the total number of schools and colleges involved is 710.

As we reach the end of the first academic year of their existence, the CEC claims that schools and Colleges in those Hubs are progressing faster towards meeting the Gatsby benchmarks than schools and colleges not located in Hubs and large proportions of them are already meeting a number of the Benchmarks.

 

Which shows rapid improvement in the percentage of Hub schools & Colleges reporting that they are fully meeting Gatbsy benchmarks. Within those figures though a truly eye opening amount of work must be happening.

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Let’s take one benchmark in particular – Benchmark 8, Personal Guidance. The claim from the CEC is that 61% of Hub schools and colleges are reporting that they are fully meeting this Benchmark.

The School Guidance for this Benchmark is clear that to achieve it, every pupil should have a guidance interview with a Careers Adviser by the age of 16 and, if the school has a sixth Form, another if required by the age of 18.

gatsby8

While in the Sixth Forms & Colleges Guidance the wording is slightly different to take into account that students can complete Entry, Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 study programmes at different ages up to 19 so the age of the student isn’t the limiting factor, just as long as the IAG interview occurs during the learners study programme.

fegatsby8

But the aim remains the same; every young person gets a 1:1 Careers meeting with a qualified professional.

Across the 710 schools and colleges in the Hubs it’s hard to find published the exact numbers of schools and the exact number of dedicated Post 16 providers (I’ve included the total number of providers for each Hub above where I could find it) but whatever those figures are, the CEC is now claiming that 61% of Hub providers are fully meeting Benchmark 8. This is extraordinary in itself but what I find even more remarkable is that 56% of those providers were reporting that they were already fully compliant with Benchmark 8 back in July 2018 before the Hub started. That is a very high level of provision in terms of pupil numbers.

Dfe data is that, on average, there are 948 pupils in a secondary school.

Across the 20 Hubs lets say, conservatively, 700 schools of the 710 participants are secondary schools that gives a total school pupil population of 663,600.

That leaves around 10 Sixth Forms or Colleges (in reality, it’s likely that these Post 16 providers take up a greater number) and these providers can vary tremendously in size. For example, Sunderland College has around 4,800 full time learners while Sixth Form Colleges have, on average 1,823 and School Sixth Forms even smaller at 202 students on average.

Sunderland College were part of the North East pilot Hub so I’ll include their learners but be conservative on the other participants and say the rest are smaller Sixth Form Colleges. That would result in a total of 21,207 Post 16 learners included in the Benchmark 8 figures in the pilot.

So the total number of students covered by the Hubs = 684,807 pupils (although this is likely to be larger)

If 61% of providers are now reporting fully meeting Benchmark 8 then that’s approx 423,832 young people in those 20 areas that have had a Careers interview. In July 2018, before the Hub started, 389,092 (56%) of young people were having a Careers interview. This is a huge amount of Careers and guidance provision occurring in those localities.

There should be huge lessons for those practitioners in the rest of the country to learn from these figures.

  1. What was the practice and structure already in place that allowed those 56% of those providers to already meet everyone of their students for a Careers interview? Considering that Hub areas were chosen specifically in response to the CEC’s own cold spots research which was meant to indicate a dearth of Careers provision,

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There should be learning opportunities here for the CEC as well as their Personal Guidance fund is another pot of money looking to support innovative practice in this area of CEIAG. Their publication in the “What works series: Personal Guidance” shows though that there are not many short cuts to providing provision in this area and how time and cost intensive Personal Guidance is by it’s very nature.

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In a 948 roll secondary school, a Year 11 cohort would equal around 190 pupils. Seeing 5 of those pupils a day for a Careers interview would take nearly 38 days or over 7.5 weeks so this is a significant staffing allocation and that is just one year group. As a practitioner in an FE College with around 3000 full time students attending, I am another Careers Leader looking for ways to offer a guidance service that meets all of the quality points above but is also flexible enough to maximize capacity.

Hopefully the CEC is learning from those providers in the Hub areas how, despite rating lowly on the Cold Spot metrics, over half of them were able to previously achieve Benchmark 8.

2. How does that level of provision compare to providers outside of Hub areas?

Other sources offer insights but not directly comparable data. The most recent DfE omnibus survey (surveying pupils in Year 8 to 11) reports 47% of (under 16) pupils say the experienced a face to face guidance session

face to face iag

while the 2019 Youth Employment Survey (3008 young people aged 14-24) reports that 67% of young people had an interview with a Careers Advisor.

face to face youth iag

The most recent CEC State of the Nation report shows that 48% of all schools and colleges completing Compass reported that they were fully meeting Benchmark 8 in their first submission but this figure has risen to 55.4% on second rating.

personal guidacne2

So the Hub areas were already starting from a higher base than the rest of the country before the Hubs had even started.

3. Is this stable and should a new Benchmark 8 rating be submitted by the provider every year?

As Deirdre Hughes asks here for Benchmarks 5 & 6 but her question is equally applicable to Benchmark 8

 

 

Each academic year will bring new students for a school or college to work with and many things (loss of staff, internal restructures, expanding school roll) could result in a provider not maintaining their 100% compliance with Benchmark 8. Could the percentage of providers meeting Benchmark 8 in a Hub area fall as well as rise?

4. What changes have lead to the increase in capacity to be able to offer more or attain more take up of Careers interviews since the Hubs started?

Is it more schools and colleges dedicating more staffing towards this provision or something else?

It will be interesting to see how the new Hubs add to the lessons the CEC is learning over the next academic year and whether the rate of progress against Benchmarks continues particularly in areas which require high resource allocation.

The CEC is heading into tricky strategic waters

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Since it’s inception I would hope that this blog has been viewed as being demanding but fair to the Careers and Enterprise company. While some of their early work seemed more suited to the corporate sphere rather than the transparent world of the public sector they have since been given an wider remit by the Government, weathered (what in my view) has been some grandstanding but empty criticism from Robert Halfon and expanded their offer to schools and colleges through Careers Hubs, online tools and other funding streams. With this context, my position is that the sector should welcome that the DfE is funding careers work and tasking the CEC with looking at a fuller variety of careers provision rather than just the original remit of facilitating employer encounters. The DfE Guidance for Schools and Colleges has done much to focus attention and add impetus and importance to the CEC in the minds of School and College Senior Leaders. This work should be continued and built upon further. My fear for the future though is that the CEC is having to stray into tricky political waters.

Targets

As an indicator of their increased transparency, the CEC now publishes it’s annual grant funding letter. This sets out the clear targets and expectations of the DfE for the CEC and indicates the funding allocated to each strand of work

The DfE has determined those targets to have value and some of the data points around training, allocation of funds and sharing of best practice seem sensible for system improvement but overall these outcomes are very technical and input based. Key performance indicators such as “55% of schools and colleges in the Wave 1 Careers Hubs fully achieving Gatsby Benchmark 6” or “70,000 young people reached in Wave 1 Opportunity Areas by August 2019” are admirable in their specificity and adherence to the Gatsby research but also bring a danger for the CEC as they are ultimately lacking in both political and public impact.

Since it’s inception the CEC has received over £95 million (with £24.3 million of that for 2019/20). The issue here is not in terms of figures (careers work needs funding) but when Ministers have to justify previous and future expenditure. The DfE will need to present outcomes for this flagship policy to both political audiences (at Education Select Committees and in Parliament) and to the pubic through achievements that, they hope, will resonate with voters at election times.

We have already seen the CEC struggle to articulate their progress and achievements at two Eduction Select Committee sessions where the questions focused on the need to prove outcomes for students while Claudia Harris and Christine Hodgson’s answers relied on data showing the input provision that had been enacted. In Parliament and in previous speeches by Ministers, there has been confusion over the aims of the CEC. This mismatch between expectation of delivery and what is achieved is what will prove to be tricky for the CEC to manage.

The need for a compelling message

In 2016 I attended a session at an Education and Employers research conference where two ex-DfE civil servants spoke about the need to distill research and outcomes down to the simplest, most concise summary possible so that Ministers can digest and cascade it. They did not quite advocate Trumpian levels of “put in as many pictures as possible” but their reasons as to why the “4 or more employer engagements” research broke through so successfully are worth the attention of the CEC when considering promoting their work to MPs and the public.

The narrative battle

However, the CEC is tasked with showing progress against those very technical key performance indicators in their grant funding letter. Previously they achieved this through annual State of the Nation reports but now have released data which has gone further by showing progress against the Gatsby Benchmarks broken down to Local Enterprise Partnership level. This shows a

contrasting picture across the country, with the top performing areas made up of largely coastal and economically disadvantaged communities, while the bottom is made up almost exclusively of affluent counties.

This (with the caveat of noting that Compass is self reported data) is a positive picture indicating a large swell of change in CEIAG provision levels for young people and work. Unfortunately this does not translate to the mantra of keeping your outcomes simple and easily understood. Compare that positive picture based on Gatsby Benchmarks and the accompanying TES article from Anne Milton with other policy and research data released in the very same week as the CEC LEP level data. First came the Impetus Youth Jobs Report which utilised the LEO dataset

In March 2017 (the latest date we can analyse using the data we have access to) 26% of disadvantaged young people were NEET, compared to 13% of their better-off peers. This is the equivalent of around 78,000 additional disadvantaged NEETs aged 18-24. Looking at the same data from the opposite end of the lens, 26% of NEETs were from disadvantaged backgrounds, despite being only 16% of the population

and that

A disadvantaged young person is about 50% more likely to be NEET in the North East compared to London

This was soon followed by the 2018-19 State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission. The key findings are stark and easily summarised:

  • The better off are nearly 80% more likely to end up in professional jobs than those from a working-class background.
  • Even when people from disadvantaged backgrounds land a professional job, they earn 17% less than their privileged colleagues.
  • social mobility has remained virtually stagnant since 2014. Four years ago, 59% of those from professional backgrounds were in professional jobs, rising to 60% last year
  • in 2014 only 32% of those from working class backgrounds got professional jobs, rising marginally to 34% last year
  • those from working class backgrounds earn 24% less a year than those from professional backgrounds, even if they get a professional job they earn 17% less than more privileged peers
  • by age 6 there is a 14% gap in phonics attainment between children entitled to free school meals and those more advantaged
  • by age 7 the gap has widened to 18% in reading, 20% in writing and 18% in mathematics
  • only 16% of pupils on free school meals attain at least 2 A levels by age 19, compared to 39% of all other pupils
  • twice the number of disadvantaged 16 to 18 year olds are at further education colleges compared to sixth-forms, and this segregation within the education system has risen by 1.2% since 2013
  • student funding for 16 to 19 year olds has fallen 12% since 2011 to 2012, and is now 8% lower than for secondary schools (11 to 15 year olds), leading to cuts to the curriculum and student support services that harm disadvantaged students
  • graduates who were on free school meals earn 11.5% less than others 5 years after graduating

The accompanying coverage resonated through articles across the media (some examples here and here) and gave enough political leverage for it to be raised at PMQs.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that these two reports and the CEC publication are talking about the very same disadvantaged communities yet through very different lenses. Of course, the CEC is reviewing current trends in provision which may not have an impact on outcomes for pupils for many years while adhering to reporting against it’s key performance indicators. Translating those KPIs when explaining the positive outcomes of their work to audiences without a CEIAG specialism is a huge hurdle for the CEC as they have to:

  1. explain what the Benchmarks are
  2. explain why they are good to achieve
  3. show that they are helping schools and colleges achieve them
  4. then outline the impact on positive outcomes for students in those disadvantaged communities.

I fear this means that achieving positive traction with politicians and the public will be extremely difficult.

Politically tricky waters

The political future of the country is currently in a highly unpredictable place but the CEC must be conscious of the need to persuade future Governments (of any colour ribbon) of their value. Labour’s Education Policy of a National Education Service is outlined in broad strokes without clarity on the need or role of a CEC type organisation. But whichever party is in power to make decisions on funding, they will not make those decisions merely based on research and evidence but research, evidence and outcomes that has been successfully communicated. If the CEC continues to constrain themselves to only communicating the value of the work in line with their key performance indicators then they will soon find themselves outmaneuvered by those able to use other statistics and research to paint a much more negative picture of the current state of CEIAG provision in disadvantaged communities to undermine any positive progress made.

Careers apps

Back in December 2018, the DfE announced two winners of a £300,000 funding pot open for digital IAG tools that would help young people make more informed choices about their University choice both in regard to provider and subject. Now, in April 2019, both of the tools have launched.

Offering IAG through digital platforms to young people has a mixed track record (we’ll always have the memory of Plotr) but practitioners know they can be a fundamental resource to use with your client base.

The two apps take different approaches to how they inform and advise their users with the Higher Education data now available. It’s worth saying that both platforms are (at the time of writing) still in beta testing so improvements in design, layout and usability will be ongoing and any judgments should be made with that in mind. The first app, ThinkUni is described as a “personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare” and is from a team that has a good track record in offering social mobility enhancing schemes through the Brilliant Club. The current site looks fairly basic with text drop down boxes asking users on their preferences on University study (city or campus, course reputation or earnings outcomes etc).

think uni1On first impressions, I found there isn’t much to be impressed with here. The very first question assumes that the user knows what subject they want to study so relies on a baseline that simply isn’t there for a lot of young people and then site assumes that the user will be studying A Levels so widening participation also doesn’t seem to be a concern (I’m sure that other Level 3 qualifications will be incorporated into the site at some point but soft launching without them isn’t a good look). The “digital assistant” selling point is also over played with the course suggestion results being much the same as would result from a search using advanced filters on the UCAS search facility. If the user already knows their views on subject, location, course type etc. to input, then why not just go or be directed to the source site? Currently, the “assistant” part of ThinkUni seems extremely inactive.

The other competition winner comes from The Profs, a team who have previously built a Professional Tutor finding platform, and is a much more interactive looking experience. “The Way Up” games tasks users to pick an avatar and make choices on learning and earning routes at each step of their journey.

way up game1This approach develops a greater sense of ownership in the process and the results as the user is able to modify the route to reflect their own interests while still following the linear structure of the game. The interface isn’t the most aesthetically astounding you’ll see and I also thought that some of the presented LMI was easy to miss on-screen but, once you notice it, the format does incorporate a significant amount of LMI data into each stage. I also think that the biggest learning gain for young people using the platform might not be regarding their career choice or route but the realistic balance to be found when budgeting monthly in-comings and outgoings.

As a format for simulated learning, turn based, point and click games were also used back in the days of late 2000s Aimhigher University visits when one of the regular activities was a web-based game that allowed secondary school students to take control of a new University student avatar and make choices for their study, work and social life. The implications of those choices displayed in a character health chart which valued balance above partying too hard or studying too much. The user was able to see the realistic choices on offer and the consequences of those choices and reflect on how they would react in that possible environment. So the format isn’t new but the inclusion of the LMI and HE data is.

The “Way Up Game” is designed to have the widest possible capture point so that it includes career routes and choice options for lots of young people. At the more specific and detailed end of the simulation market, flight and even truck driving simulations are PC games that can require high level computers to run with the amount of detail their fan base demands while still offering career learning opportunities. More accessible versions of this format can be found in sector skills funded apps such as Construction Manager from the CiTB. Allowing users to take charge of a construction business, hire employees, pitch for contracts and then take on those jobs all presented within a SIMS type graphical interface make for an engaging career learning experience. Place these alongside digital diagnostic tools and digital communication tool there is a rich variety of online CEIAG resource.

Research

Research evidence on the value of digital and online IAG experiences offers some guidance to both of the creative teams on what could help their products have the impact they are looking for with users.

Two excellent summaries of research in this area are the CEC What Works edition: “Careers Websites” and this recent webinar from Tristram Hooley “Approaches to online guidance”

Neither of the two apps offer any links to expanding social networks or sharing results so building users social capital does not seem to be on the agenda.

The CEC document references research from Dunwall et al (2014) which evaluated the MeTycoon careers game and found that

87% of participants said playing the game had given them new career ideas and 66% said they had shared or discussed the game with friends.

The format of “The Way Up Game” more closely matches MeTycoon so those developers will be hoping for that level of impact with their users. The ThinkUni platform perhaps gains research backing with its slight nod towards the user involving CEIAG professionals in the findings from using the site. The CEC summary states:

The use of careers websites should be integrated into schools’ careers education provision, and may be more effective for pupils when use, at least initially, is mediated and supported by careers and education professionals.

Once the user has contemplated their suggestions, the final screen ThinkUni suggests

think uni assistant1

This is only a very slight prompt though. The user is not asked, for example, if they wish to email their results to a named individual which could be a CEIAG professional or school tutor so perhaps both developers would benefit from designing accompanying session plans that could enable teachers/CEIAG practitioners to use the apps in group sessions and build upon the learning experiences of the young people in the room. A further step could even be to incorporate “nudge” techniques by communicating to both user and professional so conversations could occur to see if further research tasks have been undertaken by the user. Neither of the platforms require the involvement of CEIAG professionals in the learning journey of the user.

This failure to build in involvement of practitioners places both of the apps well behind more detailed digital offers such as Start Profile. This program combines both personalisation lead by the user lead and exploration of career routes with LMI drawn from LMI for all and the ability for practitioner oversight and involvement. As this ICEGS evaluation of Start concludes

Start builds on much of what the existing evidence base tells us about the efficacy of online products. It brings together information and advice for a young person and allows them to personalise their learning journey. It offers a blended learning technology in which the school can connect the online learning to classroom based career learning. It builds on longstanding career assessment practices by building a personal profile of work preferences, qualities, skills and interests and using this to match users to jobs and learning opportunities based on their suitability and how available those jobs are in the labour market.

Differences do remain though between Start Profile and these two new apps in their data sources. LMI for All utilises a range of sources (detailed on page 10 here) but they (and so Start Profile) do not seem to include data from the Office for Students on HE access, continuation, attainment and progression.

By side-stepping CEIAG professionals both apps purely user focussed offers but this could still offer positive impact. The CEC Moments of Choice research concluded that young people desire the presentation of careers data that:

moments choice1

and it would be fair to conclude that both apps achieve at least 7 of those requirements to varying degrees. Young people can access the data in a method that is convient to them, when they require it, be safe in the knowledge that it is using reliable sources, receive suggested future actions and be able to personalise it. Only the involvment of influencers is missing.

International comparisons

These formats for offering HE focused CEIAG learning are also available in other countries. For example, Australia has Campus Quest which offers users two games, Campus Quest based on a student attending a University campus and E-Study Quest based on a student studying from home.

The graphical interface is slightly more interesting than both of the new UK apps but in particular the 3D presentation is more eye-catching than “The Way Up” game.

Value

For the DfE to offer funding, policy holders must hope that any resulting resources will add value to the marketplace of existing CEIAG digital products either through successfully filing a niche or building upon existing products. For me, currently the two apps (still at testing stage remember) do neither and they also choose to set aside a proportion of the research in this area. It may be more politically satisfying for the DfE to achieve a new CEIAG platform through this process but questions should be asked whether a more worthy platform could have been achieved through the adaption of existing products and how any resulting products are able to fit into, adapt and shape for the positive the current CEIAG landscape supporting young people.

Primary CEIAG and the preparation for choice

At the beginning of March Damian Hinds reannounced £2m of funding for the CEC to research and invest in CEIAG in Primary schools. This sparked a comment piece by the Headteacher blogger Michael Tidd which argued against this initiative. It’s worth saying that Tidd’s concerns seem to fall into two categories: 1) resources are tight and the funding for this initiative is small so any impact will be slight and 2) Careers Education is not a priority at this stage of education. Leaving aside the zero sum game view on resourcing (just because Primary CEIAG receives some funds, it doesn’t automatically follow that other areas shouldn’t or can’t receive funds), it’s his view on CEIAG that this post will concentrate on.

Tidd asks,

what are we hoping that 10-year-olds will take from these new lessons? I think many primary children have no idea what they want to do when they grow up – and I think that’s okay. Primary education shouldn’t be about preparation for the world of work.

And then goes onto reason that

The world of careers is enormous, and there should be no hurry to make any decisions. It’s bad enough that we force young people to deliberately narrow their curriculum at 14; I certainly don’t want children to be ruling anything in or out any sooner

I understand that any media articles have tight word counts so complexity and subtlety can be lost but I’ll take Tidd at his word and offer the following in rebuttal. The first point is the fact that Primary schools report that they are already offering CEIAG provision to pupils

primary ceiag

through a range of activities. So this funding is not for squeezing new things into crammed timetables but for improving the efficacy of provision that is already happening.

Second, is the need to tackle this conceptual view of Primary (or any) CEIAG as only a mechanism of immediate choice as this is a damaging and false starting point of the aims and outcomes of good CEIAG provision. That isn’t to say that some CEIAG provision does enable and facilitate choices but that other provision lays the groundwork for this. This has long been advocated by the Education & Employers Taskforce charity who established their Inspiring the Future offshoot, Primary Futures to achieve just this

Here the framing of the provision is not choice limiting or insistent on choices being made but as provision as a method for expanding and broadening horizons. The CEC publication, “What works: Careers related learning in primary schools” draws together much of the nascent research in this field to evidence why this is the correct approach.

The evidence suggests that career related learning in primary schools has the potential to help broaden children’s horizons and aspirations, especially (though not exclusively) those most disadvantaged.

Some of the challenges that all CEIAG provision aims to overcome is laid out

Robust longitudinal studies have shown that having narrow occupational expectations and aspirations can, and do, go on to influence the academic effort children exert in certain lessons, the subjects they choose to study, and the jobs they end up pursuing.Research has also shown that the jobs children aspire to may be ones that their parents do, their parents’ friends do or that they see on the TV and/or social media.

The passages (page 2) which describe how young children base their career knowledge and aspirations on their close circle of influencers (social capital), conceive their view on their place and opportunities in society (cultural capital) and establish their belief in their ability to determine their own outcomes against other factors (identity capital) lucidly offer the rationale for careers provision at Primary school age. The argument that Primary CEIAG is not beneficial because young minds would subsequently preclude routes falls away as the very rationale for informed Primary CEIAG provision is for young minds to expand routes and options.

How these aims can be achieved is explained in detail in a recent LKMCO/Founders4Schools report “More than a job’s worth: Making careers education age-appropriate.” In its sections covering the rationale and design of CEIAG provision at secondary and Post-16 level, the report retreads much ground already covered through the CEC’s What Works series and the original Gatsby report. Where the report adds value to the ever-increasing library of CEIAG publications though is the clear direction for practitioners as to what sorts of provision could be offered to children of different ages.

lmkco report1

The inclusion of the 2-4 Pre-school age group caused enough of a stir to get media coverage which also tended towards Tidd’s take on the concepts being discussed.

Finally, it’s worth saying that I agree with concern around the narrowing of options (read; curriculum) at 14 as the benefits of continuing with more a broader curriculum for longer is well evidenced. Where I would disagree with Tidd is that I would propose that the methods and age appropriate delivery of CEIAG provision the LKMCO publication outlines might actually prove to have benefits for students once they reach the later stages of secondary schooling. At these Moments of Choice (to use the CEC terminology), when students currently struggle through a complex choice system without the skills and knowledge to navigate that choice architecture, the pay off from the horizon broadening and stereotype challenging Primary CEIAG work he disparages could be evident.