CEIAG Policy

Getting started with Compass+ webinars

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.

What Exams 2020 tells us about public policy

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.

18th March – The Department for Education announces that all schools are to close expect for the children of key workers and that the summer exam series are to be cancelled

20th March – The DfE announces plans to still award grades from 2020 qualifications and that they have instructed Ofqual to devise a method to achieve this aim

26th March – Ofqual releases a holding statement explaining that they are working on achieving the task set for them and will publish updates soon

15th April – Ofqual launches a public consultation on their plans. They receive over 12,600 responses

15th April – The Chief Regulator, Sally Collier, writes to Gavin Williamson updating him on their progress. Collier writes:

“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

(A similar response regarding Vocational qualifications follows on the 9th April)

A quick look at Ofqual’s statutory objectives that Collier refers to there shows us that they would have to abide by these instructions

22nd May – Ofqual publish an analysis of the responses to the consultation. This reiterates their guiding principles

“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)

22nd May – At the same time, Ofqual also release a press release and accompanying inforgraphics to explain their plan. This includes:

“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.”

9th August – The Ofqual Chair has a piece in the Sunday newspapers explaining the process of awarding grades this year

13th August – A Level & Level 3 Vocational results day and huge amounts of criticism and unrest with individuals results are reported

13th August – Ofqual release a 319 page report on how they approached the standarisation of awarding grades in 2020

17th August – the DfE confirms that students will receive their CAGs instead of the Ofqual awarded grades

20th August – GCSE and Level 2 results day

20th August – Ofqual release an updated (to include the changes around mock grades) guide for teachers, students, parents and carers. This includes specific reference to

25th August – Sally Collier, Ofqual Chief Regulator, resigns from her post

26th August – DfE permanent secretary, Jonathon Slater is asked to step down from his post.

The fallout

The criticism of the process Ofqual embarked upon was fierce in the days following the A Level results. In the fallout the nuances of what the process had resulted in were lost. Those critical of the process showed that Independent schools had been rewarded with higher grades. Those who defended the process showed that students from higher socio-economic backgrounds were actually “downgraded” more at A*/A than those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The nuance of why this had happened (smaller groups, more prevalent at Independant schools are impossible to standardise so the CAGs were left alone) failed to find sympathy or traction in the debate. In the end, it was the stories of those individual young people who received grades lower than their teachers expected them to achieve overwhelmed any other message.

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.

Public policy

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.

The COVID19 lockdown and the end of Gatsby by 2020

The COVID19 lockdown has and will have many sustained and substantive impacts on educational providers of all kinds. One of these may be the end of the Gatsby Benchmarks in their current format.

Before I explain why this might be the case, let’s remind ourselves of the evidence base which informed the design of the Benchmarks and the problem they intended to address.

The rationale for the Benchmarks is clearly outlined on page 13 of the original report

gatsby report1

Career guidance is important to social mobility

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

  1. Huddlestone, P., Mann, A. & Dawkins, J. (2012). Employer engagement in
    English independent schools. London: Education and Employers Taskforce.
  2. Mann, A. (2012). It’s who you meet: Why employer contacts at school make
    a difference to the employment prospects of young adults. London: Education
    and Employers Taskforce.

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:

The attendance of pupils at schools and colleges has hit 1% during lock-down

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.

This includes significant numbers of vulnerable and disadvantaged children staying away from school

Just 5% of those considered vulnerable were attending school the DfE believes. Those that would have most to gain from attending, were not. Of course, this will have impacts on a range of different and serious needs of those children above their CEIAG input but they are the cohort that Benchmark 3: Addressing the Needs of Each Student has the most to offer.

Disadvantaged children who stay home do not have the technology to access virtual provision

Schools and Colleges will have moved heaven and earth to provide as much remote technology to their students as possible but resources are finite which is why the DfE established their own scheme which suffered delays in getting those resources to the students in need. Throughout this period then, the very students who’s progress Gatsby was most meant to rocket-boost will not have had the technology required to access much of the CEIAG provision offered by their school or College.

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.

And, at the time of writing, we are just starting to see the data from the resulting recession which will be deep

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

At the time of writing the Government and Teaching unions are in a standoff about a proposed 1st June return for some expanded on-site provision for a limited number of year groups. All stakeholders will have concerns and the DfE guidance gives an insight into the sort of rules that could still be followed even in larger scale openings come September 2020. Dividers in corridors, class sizes of no more than 15, pupils remaining in a class base while teachers move to them, and whole class isolation if one pupil tests positive all complicate the most normally straightforward provision, let alone complicated CEIAG activities with many moving parts and outside visitors.

Early COVID19 data is suggesting that, despite high numbers of deaths, significant proportions of populations are still yet to be infected

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.

Impact on Gatsby

The CEC recently sent out a survey for Careers Leaders which included questions asking on how COVID19 has affected CEIAG provision in schools and colleges. If you haven’t responded already, I would urge you to do so. The results will be interesting. It may influence the CEC thinking on two points:

  1. Is there a need for Compass to amended so that virtual provision is accounted for and counts towards meeting Gatsby Benchmarks
  2. 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

and some CEIAG activities are also achievable through virtual methods. Back in 2016, I posted about a virtual work experience simulator and compared it to the benefits as designed by the Education and Employers taskforce research. In my opinion it was a useful resource as part of a mix of approaches to CEIAG but wanting as a direct replacement for real life work experience as

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.

In 2018, I posted about the rise in live streaming employer engagement events and compared the learning to a study which found that Universities who offer catch up lectures through online videos found students who watched the videos achieved worse than those who attended the live lectures.

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.

Why is Apprenticeships IAG exempt from LMI?

A criticism leveled at CEIAG and the wider employability provision of schools has always been that Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) is not utilised to it’s fullest effect when designing curriculum and qualification pathways or to guide young people towards aspiring to career areas and gaining relevant skills for roles with staffing supply needs. Employers and their representatives regularly complain that too many young people aim for careers in over represented areas thus leaving corners of the labour market bereft of attention due to their less than appealing perception (care work) or their rigorous subject matter (STEM work). The Head of Ofsted is fond of a critical trope against Further Education Colleges for selfishly enrolling too many students on Performing Arts or Media courses (despite high employment of FE graduates in careers outside of their study area).

The expectation is that LMI should play a vital part in quality school and college CEIAG provision and those institutions should wield LMI to specifically steer young people (and their parents and guardians) towards career areas with a higher staffing volume demand and away from areas with lower demand. Guidance demands this of schools and colleges.

lmi 3

The wish for LMI to be utilised with these goals in mind can have many beneficial outcomes such as breaking down barriers and stereotypical thinking around certain careers and even, perhaps, spur on those who down want to work in highly sort after industries such as media or sports to strive harder to achieve their goals so the positives are there to be gained.

The problem with LMI though is that it is changeable. Data on pay, numbers of vacancies, location of vacancies, required entry qualification levels and many other data points all move with the times and this can cause headaches for policy makers and lay bare inconsistencies in approaches to CEIAG.

This is apparent in the way IAG on apprenticeships is treated. Apprenticeship starts are falling

and the numbers of young people starting them have been significantly affected.

apprenticeship starts

there are varied reasons for this but a substantive factor seems to be that, in an employer lead system, employers have taken the decision to fund older workers on higher level courses to the detriment of school leavers.

Following the commencement of the levy, there has also been a decisive shift from lower to higher levels of training. The proportion of training at Level 2 (equivalent to GCSEs) has fallen by around 15 percentage points, whereas training at Levels 4 to 7 (equivalent to the first year of university up to Masters level) has grown by 9 percentage points. These trends are even more pronounced for levy-paying employers. Higher-level apprenticeships are typically more expensive to deliver, which has obvious implications for the financial viability of the levy both now and in future.

In addition, the levy appears to have affected the age of those who start an apprenticeship. Since the levy began in 2017, there has been a drop of 5 percentage points in the proportion of young people starting an apprenticeship as older (and often more experienced) workers are attracting more of the funding. Over the last two years, 66 per cent of higher-level apprenticeships have been started by workers aged 25 and over. The latest data also shows that 46 per cent of ‘apprentices’ have been with their employer for at least six months before they started their training. In other words, the bulk of the levy is being spent on existing adult workers instead of supporting young people into the workplace.

This quickly leads to a branding problem as the actual reality of an apprenticeship is far removed from what the public perception of an apprenticeship is thus storing up disappointment and disillusionment when the reality becomes apparent.

Despite the low vacancy and hiring data, schools are still tasked with offering IAG to all students about apprenticeships. This is enforced to such a degree that they are written to to remind them of their obligations which, in this era of academisation, is a strong rebuff from a stand-offish DfE. This though is still not enough for those keen to promote apprenticeships. Advocates bemoan surveys that show 11% of 15-18 years olds are advised to pursue an apprenticeship

despite the fact that this more than double the percentage of school leavers progressing into apprenticeships. We no longer know how many young people are actually applying for apprenticeships through Find An Apprenticeship as the DfE no longer publish this data.

This leads me to ask why is the expectation of the use of LMI different here? Why are educators meant to put aside the LMI suggesting that apprenticeships are highly competitive, highly sought after and young people will find it hard to secure one against their more experienced competitors but then also declare loudly that LMI shows that media and arts careers are hard to get into? If we are tasked with using LMI to design curriculum and skills needs than surely we must take these signals from business that apprenticeships for young people are subservient to up-skilling older workers. If we are tasked with using LMI to inform career education and guidance and, in turn, young people and parental decision making, then we surely must be comfortable doing that for all routes and sectors even if it means injecting some reality into IAG on apprenticeships.

Is it time to admit that LMI needs a rethink?

Every Careers practitioner understands the value of Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) and the worth of placing advice and guidance in the context of the reality of the world of work their clients will be engaging with. Be it the skill requirements of tomorrow, typical salary expectations for roles or the projected demand and fall in employment sectors, there is no debate on the importance of targeting LMI activities and information throughout an employability program or guidance interview. And, looking at the range of data that is considered LMI,


What is LMI?

you can see why.

This is reinforced by guidance

gatsby lmi

DfE School Careers Guidance

cdi lmi

CDI Employability Framework 2020

so it’s presence becomes a fundamental aspect of any CEIAG quality monitoring process.

LMI also has the backing of research both in graduate employability schemes

ise lmi

and in the wider theory context

theory lmi

and is a unit in Careers Adviser training.

Despite this though, there seems to be a lot of evidence that LMI, or rather how LMI is currently being used isn’t winning the hearts and minds of young people in a whole range of career related decisions.

When making decisions about Higher Education for example it seems that the views and opinions of parents are the most valued by young people

he progression

and LMI as presented can fail to remold the inner beliefs of young people that have already taken hold.

Over the past few years, we have spoken to hundreds of students about their next steps. They have consistently emphasised that their parents are their most trusted sources of information and often the “makers or breakers” for students weighing options. Students in Teesside, for example, explained that their sense that colleges or universities are “selling” HE courses was a major turn-off.

Many parents can hold sceptical views about HE, sometimes based on misconceptions. Our 2018 report on parental engagement with university outreach showed that although most, regardless of socio-economic group, want their children to go to university, they also have deep fears about debt, living costs and employment prospects.

These positive or negative views the young person holds towards certain educational pathways are subsets of the general views they have already soaked up regarding the value education can bring to their lives.

It also seems parents and siblings can have significant sway over young people’s decisions and views across the range of career related decisions.

1. Family members remain an important source of information

It is to be expected that family members are a key influence on young people’s educational decisions, with many pupils telling us they discuss their options with their parents and siblings. Some though were surprisingly aware of biases their parents may have.

There should be important lessons here for those who design LMI materials, those who deliver them and those who hope that LMI can assist with their future talent pipelines and, I would propose, lessons could be found in a controversial place.

Much LMI delivery is based around data and presenting statistics in memorable ways through display


or regional websites to improve the awareness of relevant data. Publishing these statistics in charts and graphs is following the Rationalistic use of LMI described by Staunton

lmi 1

I would argue though that, as the studies above show, their impact is brief and and insubstantial compared to pull of the family, tradition and community.

This was something that the marketing minds behind the Brexit campaign (in it’s many guises) gleefully and successfully embraced during and after the referendum campaign. Brexit is (still) an emotive issue but putting aside your reaction to the outcome, any observer would surely conclude that the messages of the Leave campaign resonated and hit home with greater impact than anything the Remain campaign produced.

The Remain campaign forlornly churned out numerous press messages based on sourced economic impact work with data and statistics hoping to sway voters by pointing out the economic risks of leaving the EU

Rather than accentuating the positive, Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought to scare the electorate into voting their way, arguing that a vote for Leave would plunge the U.K. economy into a recession and cost the average household about sixty-two hundred dollars a year.

Almost all economists agree that the E.U. has been good to Britain. But the sixty-two-hundred-a-year figure was so large, and so specific, that many people didn’t believe it.

Without rehashing an issue that has divided families, generations and the country for three years now, my concern is not with the economic validity of those arguments but that they are weaker arguments to make than the more emotive campaign waged by the Leave side.

Remain also had problems with the message. Its task was inherently more difficult than that of Leave: the arguments for staying in the EU are complicated, economic, numerical, hard to explain and often dull, while the arguments for leaving are simple and emotional.

Posters using queues of refugees to criticize historic immigration levels under EU control or proclaiming that Turkey will soon join the EU are both clearly reprehensible in their message of fear and the highly debatable nature of their accuracy but these were the wilder extreme of the messages disseminated by the campaign to Leave.

Overall their brand and communications tapped into key narratives felt by, demonstrably, a majority of the country; that immigration was too high, that public services were not coping, that the old adage that working hard will bring success had been broken and that the very politicians elected to represent them were not listening to those communities. Again, it is not the validity of those grievances or how culpable the EU is for them that I want to raise, only that they landed with their target audience. One of the main players behind the campaign, Dominic Cummings outlined the reasons for this as

The closest approximation to the truth that we can get is that Leave won because of a combination of 1) three big, powerful forces with global impact: the immigration crisis, the financial crisis, and the euro crisis which created conditions in which the referendum could be competitive; 2) Vote Leave implemented some unrecognised simplicities in its operations that focused attention more effectively than the other side on a simple and psychologically compelling story, thus taking advantage of those three big forces; and 3) Cameron and Osborne operated with a flawed model of what constitutes effective political action and had bad judgement about key people

and it’s his point 2 that LMI campaigners can learn from. Find what resonates with your target audience and tell a story that appeals to that narrative. As we have seen from the studies above, these messages should not just land with young people but also their parents and carers as well if you want to appeal to culture and change decisions.

It feels remiss in a post such as this to not offer some suggestions to clarify how I think this could work for LMI messaging so here goes:

If you want to encourage more young people from disadvantaged or traditional working class backgrounds to apply for your historically privately educated or middle class industry? Those communities feel that there is an us/them approach in those employment spaces and remove those roles from their realistic routes because of this. So use role models at the center of your campaign materials but not, as many firms currently do, as inspirational beacons but as disruptors, shaking up the establishment. Paint them as people who had to fight hard to succeed but they did and no they need your help to battle for their space alongside the more privileged colleagues they work with every day. The pitch is not to follow in the role models footsteps but to join them in this space. This approach would build motivation about wanting to overcome barriers to industries that have been erected to keep people some different backgrounds out.

Trying to increase aspiration to work in your historically low wage sector such as the care industry? Use the lack of local, respected industries that many communities feel do not exist in their area. So forget about using LMI to increase awareness of the growing demand for workers in the sector and use LMI to show the accessibility of work in local communities and show how the work is valued and relied upon in those communities. This would alter the perception of care work to position it as a bedrock of the community with a higher status within that local community.

These are quick suggestions that would still be highly reliant on targeted advertising spending using digital marketing or behavioural science expertise to have any hope of achieving impact on decisions and culture but, I hope, they show how LMI could be framed using narrative to appeal to audiences that require more tailored approaches to reach them. This is something that FE College marketing departments are already utilising based on market research

We discovered we could split our prospects into five distinct groups, ranging from Career-Driven Chris, who has always known that he wanted to become a chef, to A-level Ali, who is very open about the fact that applying to college is only a back-up to A levels.

Both these students could apply to your college, but clearly both will need very different communications to maximise the chance that they will convert. Chris isn’t interested in “college vs school” type blogs or content; he wants to know the latest news from the hospitality team and the restaurants at which former students have gone on to work. Ali, on the other hand, needs to be convinced that a vocational option is a viable alternative to A levels.

Weaving LMI into these more tailored messages aid the narrative the institution wants to tell. For the Career minded applicant, they want to hear of the specific local employers hiring graduates directly from the College catering course while for the back-up applicant, the general wage premiums from a range FE courses would be useful data to include in the messaging sent to them.

Returning to the approaches to LMI proposed by Tom Staunton, these proposed uses of LMI are part of the Radical approach

lmi 2

for they aim to change the status quo by highlighting certain data or choosing to share certain data points over others. This is a much less prosaic use of LMI than the Rationalistic which comes with the danger of hyperbole but, as the Brexit campaign shows, it is this kind of messaging that can elicit stronger and more lasting reactions and decision change from audiences.

A recognisable CBI song

An annual stop on the CEIAG/Skills report Wurlitzer ride is the CBI & Pearson Education & Skills survey which this year served up some rehashing of past hits but also some valuable suggestions for sector improvement.

Now that the Gatsby Benchmarks are in place and that schools are, on the face of things, showing progress towards achieving them, the CBI must find a balancing act between spurring on the education sector to achieve policy outcomes for it’s members while also acknowledging that the employer engagement it has long called for is now being reported from respondents from the world of education. Previously, the CBI’s position of decrying schools for not involving employers while simultaneously praising businesses for working with lots of schools was a standpoint that fell apart the moment anyone considered the logic of such a claim.

This agreement on the wider direction of travel is missing more nuanced interrogation though. The current CBI survey does not include questions on the awareness of the CEC or it’s work among the business community

When, in 2017, the CBI did ask members  they found that

cbi skills2

Which is strange to not then follow up on.

Of course, much of the work of the CEC is to create the space for Schools and Colleges to achieve bottom up, system wide improvement in CEIAG but without the view from business on their efficacy and reach this leaves open questions on the value of the Cornerstone employers scheme or their wider employer engagement work.

The challenge now facing the CBI is to highlight other positive offers and promises from their business respondents but while doing so sidestep the problem of merely rehashing previous predictions. For example, the claim of future growth in apprenticeship recruitment in this year’s survey rings hollow following similar claims from previous years that did not then materialize. In 2016 the survey (with suitable pre-Levy caveats) was positive about future growth

Across all of our respondents this year, 71% are either already running an apprenticeship programme or are planning to expand one. In addition, 16% are planning to create a programme in the next three years. This means the number of businesses that do not have a programme or have no intention of getting involved, has fallen 6% from last year

while, even post Levy introduction, the positive picture was still present in 2017

Business is already heavily invested in apprenticeships and committed to doing more to meet business needs. Across our respondents this year, 83% are either already running an apprenticeship programme or are planning to expand one

and continued in 2018

cbi skills3

Yet, over this period, the actual number of starts declined

cbi skills4

Of course, the wider winds of policy change can blow and alter plans so the CBI would point out their member’s view on the hindering impact the Apprenticeship Levy has had on investment in apprenticeship training while other stakeholders take the view that public money comes with necessary regulatory checks or limits. Time will tell if the 2019 claim of

Six out of ten respondent firms (63%) say they plan to expand their apprenticeship training programmes in the future, with only 5% of firms having no plans to offer apprenticeships

come to fruition.

The voice of CBI should be heard though when judging the employability preparation work of education and they do put forward interesting suggestions. The recommendation to include creative subjects in the Ebacc would find much support among educators


while the shared attributes would be an authoritative resource to help define the goalposts for student employability. They also task their own members with work to increase the opportunities for work experience

cbi2019bwhile the call to increase the number of Careers Hubs is an achievable ask and a bellwether for the direction of travel. Also welcome are the recommendations for employers to pay regard to the careers advice needs of their own employees.


Looking at the wider value that annual reports such as this or the CEC State of the Nation series add to the understanding of the impact of CEIAG provision or our ability to judge the progression towards mutually desirable goals is another matter. Member surveys can be useful tools to discover where to prioritize support but if all we have to rely on are the CEC State of the Nation reports based on self reported Gatsby data from schools keen to promote their work and the CBI annual surveys from business also keen to promote their community impact then there the risk is of two distinct, uncommunicative bubbles emerging. While these two stakeholders must work in collaboration and as allies sometimes it would be nice if this environment of partnership spurred a challenge or two to overly enthusiastic claims.

NICEC @instcareer Seminar: Careers provision in Further Education – 18th November 2019


The next NICEC seminar on Monday 18th November 2019 5.00pm-6.30pm will be focusing on Careers Provision in Further Education. We’re planning for the event to spark thoughts and conversation from attendees on the similarities and differences on the Careers provision in Further Education compared to other settings as well as putting the spotlight on a sector not always well represented in Careers policy conversations. Sometimes referred to as the “forgotton” sector in Education, Further Education is currently enjoying a rare period in the national spotlight as new vocational qualifications come on line and policy makers raise the importance of the sector to a post Brexit skills landscape.

We’re fortunate to be joined by Anthony Barnes, one of the authors of the Gatsby Benchmark toolkit for Colleges and Emily Tanner from the Careers and Enterprise Company who will revealing new Compass data based on responses from the FE sector.

Speakers include

Russell George – will introduce the session with an overview of the context of work in FE including the roll-out of T-levels and funding constraints and provide a case study of delivery in Milton Keynes College

Anthony Barnes will share insights from the development of the Colleges Gatsby Tool Kit on challenges and good practice in careers provision.

Emily Tanner will share insights from The Careers & Enterprise Company drawing on the Compass benchmarking tool.

There will then be a discussion on similarities and differences with delivery in other settings.

Register for tickets to join us at Hamilton House (WC1H 9BB) for the seminar here:


T levels are going to be tough

During the recent years of GCSE and A Level qualification upheaval a CEIAG practitioner working with young people has always had to have a quick mental check of future implementation dates before opening their mouths.

Another forthcoming change that (I hope) school based practitioners are now including in their guidance is the introduction (phased from 2020) of T Levels, a new qualification to be offered by Post 16 providers.

When anything new launches the challenge is to persuade potential first adopters that they will be making a choice that places them at the forefront of a soon to be popular wave and not left to flounder as initial enthusiasm dries to a dribble. I remember students gamely studying the 14-19 Diplomas despite being surrounded by teachers and parents who never understood the thing and who were then left high and dry after the Government PR push failed to inspire buy-in from important stakeholders.

We are promised that T Levels will be different and form one of the main choices for students in the Post 16 landscape alongside A Levels and apprenticeships when they begin to be introduced from September 2020. Many post 16 providers are already in the midst of preparing for them by working on new content outlines and building relationships with employers to offer longer and more in-depth industry placements.

Will, though, suitable advice and guidance about the qualification have percolated through schools and CEIAG practitioners to students and parents?

Getting the message out

It’s safe to say that the full complexities of the new GCSE grading system have still to land with a lot of parents/carers so getting across the workings of an entirely new qualification is going to be a challenge.

parents t levels

Added to the fact that, despite CEC optimism over benchmarks not withstanding, many secondary school pupils are not hearing directly from FE providers.

parents t levels1

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786040/survey_of_pupils_and_their_parents_or_carers-wave_5.pdf

So getting advice from the source might not be the norm and the central marketing which has already launched will have to work hard but the increased awareness of apprenticeships shows this can have an impact.

What should the message be?

Mainly that T Levels are going to be a demanding route of study that will be employment specific. They are a combination of learning

T Level courses will include the following compulsory elements:

  • a technical qualification, which will include
    • core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area
    • specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career
  • an industry placement with an employer
  • a minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved them

and each section is significant.

The baseline for the total programme hours matches the total learning hours for Level 3 BTEC Extended Diplomas

We expect the total time for a T Level to be around 1,800 hours over the 2 years, including the industry placement. This is a significant increase on most current technical education courses.

while the Industry Placement aspect takes up a great allowance of those hours meaning 16 year old starters will have to be work ready to impress employers enough to sign up to a significant programme of work experience.

Every T Level will include an industry placement with an employer focused on developing the practical and technical skills required for the occupation. These will last a minimum of 315 hours (approximately 45 days) but can last longer.

The academic learning required will also be of a high standard as evidenced by UCAS’ decision to award Tariff points equivalent to 3 A Levels.


The content to be covered by each T Level is slowly being confirmed by the Institute of Apprenticeships as consultations complete.

A quick scan through any of those “Finalised Outine Content” will show readers that a lot of “stuff” has to be covered in both the Core knowledge and Technical Occupational Specialism components of the qualification and that the Specialism is a vital component. For some young people, the specificity of the route may be a turn off.

All of this though is meant to, according to the T Level Action plan not only prepare students for the workplace in their specialism but also provide a base of skills that will allows for progression onto Higher Education routes, thus the importance of the UCAS tariff inclusion despite reluctance to accept them from the Russell Group.

Entry requirements

In the past month the TES seemed baffled by the fact that these demanding Level 3 qualifications were being assigned entry requirements similar to other demanding Level 3 courses by the first cohort of providers recruiting students in 2020.

There is a point to their story that if, system-wide, choices for those school leavers who do not achieve GCSE qualifications that allow them to access A or T Levels narrow then those young people could be left with fewer options. Moving on from the obvious (“Huh, who knew, better GCSE grades give an individual more choice”) any rebuttal should be based on that it is not beholden on FE providers to lower entry requirements to qualifications that demand potential students to have the capacity to succeed at Level 3 (and wouldn’t be able to fit in GCSE retakes anyway). The rightly much maligned “parity of esteem” phrase beloved by politicians usually desperate for something to say about FE has an actual value here; you can’t possibly expect FE routes to achieve “esteem” by only offering routes for young people with low GCSE achievement. The other mitigating factor are the plans for a T-Level transition year for those

who are not ready to start a T level aged 16, but could be expected to complete one by 19.

It is always a challenge to elicit interest in young people about routes they know very little about and this challenge has been reflected in the small recruitment targets for the first wave of T Level providers. Perversely what might actually help recruitment though is the lack of knowledge of Applied General FE qualifications among stakeholders who say that they are trusted qualifications that offer good value and prepare young people for the world of work but then also claim that nobody really understands what their results mean.

applied general 1

If parents and potential students are already inspired by careers in any of the areas offered at a College local to them as a T Level, then that will probably be enough to tempt an application. Where CEIAG practitioners can offer support though is on the challenge to the young person and the work readiness needed to make those transitions a success.The reality of this and the entry requirements may alter the cohort of students they routinely talk to about FE altogether.

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

state of the nation2

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


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


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.


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.

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

universities report 3

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.

apprenticeships survey1

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


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.