Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be invited onto BBC 3 Counties Radio to talk about our free advice service for the community. A client, who one of our fantastic Advisers has helped get into a new apprenticeship after being made redundant from his previous one, couldn’t make the call on the day so I stepped in.
We’ve become a National Careers Service Sub-contractor to help fund our capacity to deliver IAG services to adults in the local area. Take a listen below:
BBC Sounds link (only available for 30 days after broadcast) Time stamp: 2.20:26
Over recent days two swells of social media uproar have focussed on Careers related stories. In both cases, I believe, the CEIAG tools and techniques involved are valuable and, used in their intended context, actually help clients and that the criticism of them has completely lost all basis in reason as people have allowed their view of the Government’s (woeful) response to the economic issues caused by the COVID19 pandemic.
As the waves of consequences of the COVID19 lockdown and continuing local restrictions (plus people’s reasonable caution in returning to everyday life) spread throughout the labour market, focus is turning to the systems and support in place to help those made redundant back into work. The perception of the Government view for what these people should do was hugely shaped by the reporting of an interview that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, gave to ITV News in which he was originally quoted as saying that people in the arts sector “should retrain and find other jobs.” This caused much consternation amongst many voices, quite rightly, defending the contribution of the UK arts sector both to the cultural life of the country but also to the tax and tourist coffers. It was later clarified that he did not say this
but the groundwork had been laid for the reaction that followed.
and it is a trait and match tool which, in 10 minutes, can give participants some useful starting points for further discussion or reflection (hopefully with a qualified Careers Adviser) on what transferrable skills are, what skills they have and what interests they would like to take forward into work. When working with early career clients such as College or school students, it is a useful tool for sparking reaction or discussion in a 1:1. National Careers service advisers will be using it regularly in impactful 1:1 and group sessions with adult clients of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, those that discovered it, did not treat the results in this way and any strange or surprising results where quickly amplified through social media sharing
Suddenly, lots of people were completing the quiz as a joke, getting less than serious results and sharing those as evidence of a failure of the tool. The site now includes a disclaimer outlining it’s pre Covid19 design.
Both of these storms in a social media teacup are the consequence of many factors not least that the labour market consequences of the pandemic are landing at people’s doorsteps now and so looking for immediate support. The Government response so far has been sporadic and hard to track with increased funding announced for the National Careers Service and Job Centre Plus but also a myriad of pots announced for job and sector support. There will be a lag between this funding and (some) new services appearing but the support needed by people affected now means that tools and resources people can find suddenly receive much more attention and consider them from a perspective they were not meant to be considered from. The Careers sector should speak out to place into context the benefits of the tools and resources we do use while still applying pressure to ask for more.
The Careers & Enterprise Company has released these two webinar recordings on their Youtube channel which take you through the Compass+ system of tracking your CEIAG scheme.
As a practitioner based in FE, this has less appeal to me as a) we don’t use SIMs or another similar compatible student database system that many schools use and b) the system we do use (Prosuite) is a malleable range of software. College data teams can build onto it so many Colleges will have their own personalised guidance and employer engagement tracking systems built by their own data teams already up and running. In fact, one of the recent AoC CEC Beacon Awards was to a College for achieving exactly this.
School colleagues will be working with more off the shelf systems though so may find the compatibility of Compass+ a selling point to incorporating it into their way of working and tracking their provision.
Prompted by a typo in an online enquiry to our Careers team
I’ve been thinking about the value of contracting in 1:1 guidance sessions. Now, faced with the client above, even the most experienced of careers practitioners would need to pause to collect their thoughts before attempting to gently reign in that level of expectation and find a way of stressing that there would be a low probability of achieving Deity level competence in a Further Education college course while, at the same time, still trying to establish a positive rapport. Some clients (and with some age groups, their parents and guardians as well) certainly come to a 1:1 pre-equipped with expectations that are wildly optimistic (or just plain inapplicable) and ones that a skillful, compassionate practitioner will gently pull back to reality. Sometimes this can be achieved through a well judged dose of labour market or educational information. Sometimes a practitioner will play devils advocate and adopt a point of view to purposefully test their clients assertions or ask open questions which allow the client to speak more freely and uncover what they actually want to be supported with. All of these techniques are there to help agree the purpose and limits of the interaction.
So this is clearly a skill which requires ongoing refining and a high level of proficiency from all practitioners. An experienced ex-colleague of mine once observed that careers work is “at the end of the day, customer service” which I have always found illuminating and a useful re-centering mantra whenever I have been faced with a client with complex or intransigent requests. When thinking about contracting, this also explains the dilemma in play because contracting is not always immediately “giving the customer what they want” but can be taking time to making the customer feel comfortable enough to reveal what they really want and, even then, molding, shaping and highlighting what the customer could want that they previously didn’t even realise was a possibility of wanting. All clear?
“This relationship between the professional and the student is often referred to as the ‘working alliance’ and is understood to focus on three main components: (1) agreement about the goals the interview will address; (2) the tasks needed to achieve the goal; and (3) the relationship developed between the adviser and the client”
and that from the authors own research
“Skills that were identified as important by the case study institutions involved in the interviews and focus groups included listening, questioning, effective contracting, and challenging assumptions”
The 2/3rds negotiated, 1/3rd imposed split there is extremely interesting and I think confirms many practitioners natural inclination to ask for input from clients as so to confirm the basis on which to proceed. I would also wager that more imposed or less collaborative contracts are more frequent in educational or insular settings (eg prisons) where the client and their background can be more known to the practitioner so a purpose to the 1:1 has already been shaped through referral dialogue with a colleague or establishing dialogue with the client. In other words, a type of contracting has occurred but prior to the actual 1:1.
In this type of community environment were the practitioner is already known to the client achieving the “Bond” arm of the tripartite model may be a slightly easier job
as the practitioner is able to speak from a position of knowledge about the clients current experience but the challenge still remains to establish all three early in a 1:1 to have the best chance of achieving an intervention that the client reported resulted in positive outcomes. These studies find evidence that a strong working alliance does result in improved outcomes for clients and improved rates of satisfaction with the careers intervention. In 1:1s where the client is unknown to the practitioner or vice versa, the ability to secure a bonding connection is a great test of a practitioners skill
With the importance of getting contracting right, this places pressure on the other housekeeping duties that must be covered towards the beginning of a 1:1. To find a balance between building a bond with a client keen to gain support and dedicating the necessary time to covering boundaries, confidentiality, data protection..etc isn’t easy. Just take a look at this suggested script for a National Careers Service advisor to run through at the start of a phone call with a client,
“Hi, my name is …………, I’m calling from name of organisation, we deliver the National Careers Service. I understand you have requested some help with ……….
We do work under a Customer Charter and I will email this over to you after the phone call. I also need to make you aware that anything you say to me is kept in confidence, however should you disclose anything that indicates you or someone else is at risk of harm, I am duty bound to share that information with others as part of our Safeguarding process. Are you happy to proceed?
To access this fully funded service I will need to ask you some statements and you will need to provide confirmation of your answers and acceptance. This can be done via voice recording, or you will need to reply via email or text during todays call. If you chose to do this via voice recording, we will only record and keep the section of our discussion that relates to me asking you and you answering these statements. How would you like us to collect this confirmation?”
to understand how the substantive work of a 1:1 can be delayed by the required permissions. For a practitioner, the temptation can be to treat these as box ticking and the repetitive nature of having to cover them every session is draining but we all know they are necessary for everyone’s peace of mind.
Treating these required questions with brevity and and a lightness of touch each and every time but also conveying their importance before swiftly placing the client at the heart and focus of the intervention is the bar that practitioners have to reach to each and every 1:1.
This years exam process has been tumultuous to say the least. After a Gavin Williamson interview on Radio 4 during which he failed to explain the most basic steps of the 2020 process, it seemed to me a good idea to look what the Exams fiasco can tell us about public policy and the lines of accountability between the organisations that govern us.
Let me remind us of the sequence of events that have lead Ofqual and the DfE to here.
“We note your direction that we should adopt an approach to standardise those assessment grades across centres. In line with our statutory objectives, it is vital to adopt an approach that is consistent, fair and maintains standards as far as is possible. We are therefore launching today a consultation that, among other things, seeks views on the principles that we propose should underpin the approach we take to the standardisation of centre assessment grades. The outcomes of our consultation will inform the choices we make, as we have due regard to your direction that, as far as is possible, standards should be maintained and the distribution of grades follows a similar pattern to that in previous years.”
“Our aims are: • to ensure students can receive grades in these qualifications this summer so they can progress to the next stages of their lives without further disruption • that the grades will be as valued as those of any other year • that the approach will be fair
The consultation includes questions and responses to the practical issues on the differing approaches to collecting Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs), where the lines of malpractice should be drawn and, most relevant to what subsequently happened, how the standardization process should work. Qfqual found the majority of respondents Agreed or Strongly agreed with their suggestion that the fairest way of standarising grades would be to take into the account the past performance of the centre.”
One of the questions directly relates to the DfE instruction to keep grades in line with past performance
(The splits in the types of respondents for each response are interesting. Schools are fairly split across the disagree/agree line, Employers & Exam Officers were more weighed to agree while Teacher Union representatives were much more likely to strongly disagree)
“To make sure grades are as fair as possible, exam boards will standardise centre assessment grades using a statistical model which will include the expected national outcomes for this year’s students, the prior attainment of students at each school and college (at cohort, not individual level), and previous results of the school or college.
Because these arrangements have had to be put in place very quickly due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it would have been impossible to provide school and college staff with national training to support them in making standardised judgements. As such, it is highly likely that all centres will see some adjustment, in at least one subject, to their centre assessment grades, however carefully they have made their judgements. Such adjustments are in the interests of fairness to all students because they will ensure, as far as possible, that individual centres have not been too severe or too generous in comparison with other centres.”
The public mood was that these young people had suffered an unfair conclusion to an unfair process through no fault of their own. The Ofqual response that, overall grades for low SES students were up, that overall more disadvantaged young people were progressing onto Uni and that their model replicated what would happen (again, overall) in a regular year with some improvement, did not wash. The given reasons for the lowered grades for some students of the difficulty of standardizing small cohorts and the (approved by consultation remember) desire to anchor a centres results to past years, meant that all paled under the weight of the lack of agency that an individual student held over their own future. The failure of the Government to a) foresee the actual implications for individuals of their policy decision and then b) to have an appeal process in place ready to deal with the fallout then lead to a vacuum of direction which the U-turn of adopting CAGs as a solution which, unfortunately, only potentially shifts the unfairness onto other students.
This whole episode has shown the power that stories of the individual still hold over public policy making. Ofqual were instructed by Government to achieve a hugely difficult task with clear directions. Whether they should have been or not is a moot point, once instructed they were bound to do this and achieve it in a manner that ensured fairness between year cohorts. They relied on published research to guide them. They asked the public, stakeholders and experts who replied in large numbers and guided their direction of travel and decisions. They told the media, the public and Government repeatedly what they were then planning to do and what it would likely lead to and yet still, when their solution began to impact individuals, the political pressure grew so quickly that the policy soon crumbled. Yet, it is those who have tried to enact the policy set for them who are no longer in their positions. Those who determined the course of action from the outset remain.
Meanwhile, the lesson seems to be for those in positions of advocacy wanting to shape public policy, Exams 2020 has been a frantic reminder that data, research and results in the aggregate can be trumped by the stories of individuals.
This had led many to summarise that the fairest solution is to follow Scotland’s lead and use only the Centre Assessed grades (CAGs) as the awarded grades. This would be an incredibly unfair outcome on, I believe, a much larger number of young people than have been negatively affected by Ofqual’s substandard process. It’s worth saying at this point that I won’t be offering a complete solution to the issue; there are many who believe that you simply can’t award grades this year. No exams were taken and you can’t accurately conjure up grades from nothing. Others will point out that this chaos shows that placing so much weight on single exams is not the correct method of assessment. All are valid points but let’s consider outcomes of awarding CAGs in the situation we have.
Teachers’ predicted grades have been shown to be inaccurate but the majority of inaccurate grades are over-predicted – in other words, too high.
There is limited research on the impact of predicted grades, though studies of prediction accuracy by individual grade (e.g. how many As were predicted to be As) by Delap (1994) and Everett and Papageourgiou (2011) showed around half of all predictions were accurate, while 42-44% were over-predicted by at least one grade, and only 7-11% of all predicted grades were under-predicted.
Studies of prediction accuracy according to a student’s best three A Levels show even higher rates of inaccuracy (unsurprisingly, since it is harder to predict all three A Levels correctly). For example, Wyness and Murphy find that only 16% of students received accurate predictions for all three, with 75% over-predicted and just 8% under-predicted.
The actual results Ofqual’s process has resulted in
To counteract some of the reporting, let’s first consider the actual results Ofqual’s process awarded this year. 60% of CAGs submitted have remained the same. Results are higher this year and they are higher for disadvantaged students (low SES) than their peers
Overall low SES students were awarded more As and A*s than previous years and were also awarded numbers of As and A*s which were less affected by the standardisation model. In other words, despite the tone of much commentary, middle class and rich students had their As & A*s “downgraded” more than working class students.
This was not a system which was completely biased against those from poorer backgrounds. It has already resulted in the highest numbers of those from low SES backgrounds progressing onto University
It is undeniable though that the Ofqual algorithm (as described in the blog linked above) has resulted in issues for high achieving low SES students in large cohorts, especially in Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges and those attending centres with poor previous results (as well as the odd Eton pupil). These are individuals who deserve an appeal process that works and to be treated like an individual with consideration.
What would awarding CAGs look like?
On page 134, Ofqual shows what grades awarding just CAGs this year would result in.
Compared to previous years, this would mean that grades, especially at the top end, would significantly rise.
It is this which would cause huge ripples of unfairness across cohorts and groups of other students.
but relying on only CAGs would eliminate even those.
2. Increasing the number of A*s and As awarded to 37.7% of all grades this year causes huge implications for Oxbridge and other selective Universities. How are they going to decide to award a limited number of places to those students? It has been suggested they would revert to a lottery system. The weight of unfairness of having your place at University purely on the chance of your name being selected from a hat is a whole new extreme of unfair. Another option would be to ask some of this year’s cohort to defer to next year but this would impact the chances of next year’s cohort who have already missed large amounts of learning and will not get the uplift from CAGs.
3. With nearly 38% of A Level leavers now getting A*s and As, how do employers offering Level 4 and 5 Apprenticeships begin to shift the larger number of academically qualified applicants? Placing a greater burden of selective responsibility on recruitment processes such as assessment days only disadvantages low SES applicants less likely to have the support around than their peers to make it successfully through the application process.
4. What impact would this sudden influx of more highly achieving A Level students have than peers also applying for University and Apprenticeships who took other qualifications? 274, 567 students have taken A Levels this summer:
5. The negative impact of awarding CAGs would also be felt by cohorts from previous and future years who will be competing in the labour market against this year’s A Level cohort for those important first steps in employment. This would be a huge number of students placed at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. The economy will take a long period to recover post COVID19, yet awarding CAGs would hand an advantage to a small group over a much larger number of students.
6. The unfairness continues as awarding CAGs penalises those students who attended schools where their teachers submitted grades internally moderated against their centre’s past performance, against students who attended schools where teachers submitted more optimistic predictions. Through no fault of their own, students whose teachers were more conservative in their assessments will be punished.
This is clearly a situation with no easy answers and one that is causing hurt and stress to young people and their families right now. A blog post considering statistics is no balm to them but I hope that I have at least asked you to consider that just awarding CAGs is not a quick option with no negative consequences. The repercussions of that decision would, I believe, negatively impact huge numbers of young people, many of whom will be from disadvantaged backgrounds, studying qualifications other than A Levels and trying to work hard for their own future in all the uncertainty that COVID19 has brought.
Before starting this review, I have to say that books or research on Career Theory are usually texts which demand from me a moments pause to steady myself before delving into paragraphs usually thick with abstract terminology, references to research papers and sentences that strive their hardest to convolute the simplest of concepts. I remember the first Career Theory books I read (this and this) left me feeling that I hadn’t grasped the realities of many of the theories mentioned (for which I’m sure the blame lies at my door) but also wanting to read more to better distinguish the lines in the sand between different concepts. It was helpful though that some models, concepts and theorists would be sited frequently so that, as a new entrant to the subject, I could begin to see the influence of core frameworks for myself. I later discovered that many of these are included in the recommended theories, concepts and sources for the OCR Level 6 Unit on Career Guidance Theory.
Each of the 43 chapters focuses on one model or theory but all adhere to the same structure
An overview of the theory
A case review or vignette that displays the theory or model in action with a (sometimes fictitious) client
Biography of chapter author(s)
A one page summary, with numbered points for practitioners to take away and embed in practice
which I found extremely helpful for noticing points of comparison or overlap between theories or just in general comprehension of the models described. For balance, it could be said that this repetitive structure could lead to a dull read (Careers theory?? dull?!?) but I don’t agree that this is fair accusation as the editors do outline in their preface that they wish for the book to be used in a flexible way for practitioners to dip in and out of when informing their practice. It should also be noted at this point that this method of digesting the book would enable you to get the most from it rather than taking on the large number of chapters in substantive chunks of reading.
The considered structure allows readers to be much clearer on the objectives of each model and gives space for the chapter authors to cite studies, research and previous work to explain or provide rationale for the methodology described. I found that the overviews were varied enough to give some personality to each chapter and a vision of the aim of the author. Some of the theories included in chapters such as “The Career Development Assessment and Counselling Model of Donald Super” or “The Theory of Work Adjustment: Seeking and Maintaining Satisfaction and Satisfactoriness” are perhaps more well known to practitioners but I still found the case vignettes offered a refreshing view of how the theory related to practice. That is, I should add, when the client in the case vignette was a real person or at least a believable person. A minor criticism of mine would be that some of the invented fictional clients in some chapters stretch the boundaries of plausibility to showcase all the different elements of a model. I found this occasionally grating even when the fictional client was clearly signposted as invented. Although respect should be given to Robert Pryor and Jim Bright for leaning into this fully for their invented client, ex rock drummer Horace Tudor.
Any practitioner reading the book will naturally have affinity towards some of the models over others. Perhaps in chapters in which they sympathise or find much to recognise in the case vignettes that reflect clients of their own or in models that offer potential solutions to scenarios they regularly encounter. I certainly did. The flip side to that coin though is there will be models which you feel don’t offer a substantive or rigorous enough framework to offer much to your practice. Again, I did and found a small number of the theories prescribed amounted to nothing more than “try and be welcoming to get your client talking” or “find an topic which interests the client to get them to open up to you” which are more core professional competencies to my mind.
A major takeaway for me though was the (you may say probably belated) realisation that career theories are not formulated or conceptualized to arrive in neat, compartmentalized and separate boxes. Many of the models here overlap and expand on others using similar techniques for practice, devising similar client frameworks and desiring similar outcomes and this is not a negative. Reading this publication has persuaded me it is through their clear transmission in publications such as this that models and frameworks can be more easily compared and contrasted and those with more distinct boundaries or valued content can rise to the fore as practitioners find sources of support in their pages. This mission also has a greater significance if the models presented are from a variety of countries, practices and practitioners so the inclusion of such a wide range of international backgrounds in this book is very welcome.
I would recommend Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice as a very helpful resource for practitioners.
The original report also drew on a number of evidence sources to determine their Benchmark design and recommendations for provision across the different area of CEIAG as defined in the Benchmarks. This included references to the work of the Education & Employers Taskforce with particular regard to conclusions from two pieces of work
The influence on the Benchmarks and the wider recommendations from the Gatsby Foundation was substantive. Employer Engagement works to build social capital of young people to compete in the job market and the networks of employer resource utilised by the Independent sector should be mirrored by state schools. Through setting those particular Benchmarks the number of quality Employer Engagements would rise and so social mobility would become more fluid as those young people from across the strata of social backgrounds would approach progression into the job market more fully prepared. To help with the speedy progress towards the state school and College system meeting those Benchmarks, the Government set a target deadline.
Government’s expectation is that schools begin to work towards the Benchmarks now and meet them by the end of 2020.
The COVID19 lockdown, it’s differential impacts on the learning of young people from different backgrounds and the new delivery methods schools and colleges are having to implement to deliver curriculum will have significantly impacted CEIAG provision. In turn this will have consequences for deadline assigned to achieving Gatsby and the methods of CEIAG delivery that Gatsby includes. Lets consider some of the challenges facing a system trying to achieve those Benchmarks within the current time frame:
Well below the DfE suggestions that 10% of pupils that would attend school sites during the lock-down this is a measly figure. Of course there are and will be viable medical reasons and parental decisions affecting those attendance figures but the fact remains that those young people who have the most distance to travel in their learning and experiential gain by attending school are not currently participating in on-site learning and so their progress across all sectors of their curriculum is much harder to measure.
Huge swathes of the economy are on pause limiting employer engagement
Even for those Careers Leaders keen to put on virtual provision for their students the challenges continue with their employer contacts preoccupied with other issues. 7.5 million workers have been put onto the Job Retention Scheme by their employers, approx 27% of all workers.
Latest furlough figures are 7.5 million jobs covered, costing £10.1 billion.
So that is 27% of all jobs, wages paid by the taxpayer – possibly for 8 months.
As businesses focus on survival or adaption through this economic shock and the resulting new commercial world their participation in Employer Engagement with education is likely to be limited. The knock on effects to recruitment are already stark including to apprenticeship recruitment. This period is likely to have a long tail in a number of industries as the nation tentatively leaves lock-down while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. Travel, tourism, hospitality, retail and personal services are all likely to contract significantly and so offer less engagement to education. Those arranging work placements or looking for a range of employers to build into their comprehensive careers program may well find that previously reliable contacts are no longer able to support them.
The period of social distancing in education will impact provision for a long period to come
leaving huge numbers of potential new cases for second or third waves when lock-down measures are eased so Governments will likely have to reinstate strict lock-downs whether nationally or regionally depending on the movement in the R rate. This will mean much further disruption for education providers (potentially unevenly across the country) and the achievement of Gatsby by 2020 even less likely.
Is there a need for Compass to amended so that virtual provision is accounted for and counts towards meeting Gatsby Benchmarks
Is there an evidence base for virtual CEIAG provision so that a new edition in the “What Works” series can be published and is that evidence base substantive enough that virtual provision can, in some cases, replace real life experiences
Across many schools and colleges there will still be an amount of virtual and distance CEIAG taking place, especially to support to those leavers who’s immediate transition into the workplace or next stage of their learning is most at threat. There are significant positives to offering online guidance as part of a range of approaches
Where the real benefit from such experience comes from is in the Social and Cultural capital sections. The human networks gained from actual work experience are missing from the Pod experience, there is no individually tailored advice or interactions with older colleagues whose voices are seen as ‘authentic’ and there is no human link made to call back on for a reference or further opportunities later on in the student’s progression.
It would be interesting to see what the CEC and their research partners conclude.
Looking though at the wider challenges facing both education and business over the coming 12 months, I believe that we are approaching a period where the Compass rating system (and the Gatsby Benchmarks they are founded upon) will no longer reflect the reality of huge amounts of CEIAG provision and that the 2020 deadline is no longer remotely realistic as too much time has been lost for those students Gatsby is most designed to help.