Careers guidance

February 2018 Careers Guidance for FE & Sixth Form Colleges

The final chapter in a slew of recently published careers guidance documents and reports is a pair of publications focusing on CEIAG provision in FE & Sixth Form Colleges in England.

Coming after the Careers Strategy, the Gatsby benchmarks for schools, the Statutory schools Guidance and it’s sister document Good Career Guidance Benchmarks for Young People in Colleges, Careers Guidance: Guidance for further education colleges and sixth form colleges, it’s important to note, is not a Statutory document for the Further Education Sector. The exempt charitable status of many of the providers in the sector does not allow for such diktats. Where the leverage comes from for the compliance with the standards and expectations set out in the document are the clear warnings that failure to adhere could result in the withdrawal of ESFA grant funding (which would be a major decision to take).

Following from their work on school CEIAG standards which was well received by both practitioners and policy markers, Gatsby again supply the backbone of the standards document. In this instance though a critical piece of work is missing which then damages confidence in all that follows. The original Gatsby report used a number of sources to build their recommended standards. As well as looking at provision in other countries, reviewing research and interviewing stakeholders, the Foundation also commissioned PWC to figure how much this would cost an average school. For the College document, conversations with Colleges seem to have happened but no specific costing documents have been published. This missing building block means that the recommended standards of provision that follow ring a little hollow, especially in the sector of education that has a building consensus of agreement in its underfunding.

The guidance in the document itself falls into three categories:

  1. Provision that makes perfect sense
  2. Provision that makes perfect sense but is going to need a lot more resource
  3. The Brexit Unicorn is riding into town before this happens

Provision that makes perfect sense

Much does. Asking every College to have a “Careers Leader” to mirror the forthcoming role in schools means that each Post 16 provider can still tailor their student service offer but ensures that a named individual is responsible. An embedded programme of CEIAG that is reviewed regularly, that keeps learner records of interactions and challenges stereotypical thinking would please all practitioners. It’s good to see destinations data achieve clear priority and the requirement for employer interactions is only sensible considering the relevant research and the entire remit of most Further Education provision. Asking for clear links between Careers Leaders and SEN provision at previous stages of the learners journey is welcome. Building the work of the CEC into Post 16 Careers work, after the work of the Local Area Reviews, continues the link to local labour market demand. Finally, the clear recommendation for guidance interviews to be conducted by Level 6 and above qualified advisers is a clear signpost for dedicated student support teams in Post 16 provision rather than “one stop shop” offers.

Provision that makes perfect sense by is going to need a lot more resource

As the forthcoming T Levels will also demand, ensuring that work experience is a standard component of a study programme is a desirable outcome but one which will require a lot more opportunities for work experience placements.

Expanding the remit of the CEC to enable Colleges and schools to meet all of the Benchmarks across both Guidance documents is sensible but, I’m sure Enterprise Co-ordaintors would agree, they would need more support than just new provision mapping tools to achieve this. A release of a College specific Compass tool in September 2018 is welcome but will not be near enough.

The Brexit Unicorn rides into town

Benchmark 8 is the steepest mountain to climb. It requires that every 16-18 learner has at least one guidance interview before the end of the course. This would be a huge demand on staffing levels across many Colleges. I think that, comparably my own College is well staffed. We have 4 Advisers (including myself) and part-time resource support working across 3 larger sites and another 4 satellite sites. Approximately 4000 Post 16 learners study across the full spectrum of post 16 provision. We strive to make our service as accessible as possible but it would be true that if all of these learners were to take up a full guidance interview then our work with Adult learners, part-time learners and the community will be impacted. Achieving this benchmark would require a fundamental expansion of our staffing levels and, I suspect, the vast majority of Post 16 provision would have to invest from a lower base .

Another requirement that, I think, is pie in the sky is the Benchmark 3 guidance that

records of advice given should be integrated with those given at the previous stage of the learner’s education (including their secondary school) where these are made available

I just can’t foresee standard practice across the country of Careers Leaders in secondary schools getting permission from pupils and then sharing guidance records of all students to all of their destinations. It might happen in pockets across MATs or school to adjoined or local Sixth Form transitions but not to Further Education Colleges.

Post 16 careers provision is a different, more varied beast than provision in secondary schools. The landscape of curriculum, qualification and delivery are all more diverse meaning that the journey and destinations are also wider. This means challenges for any standardization guidance but one that would really want to make a change would be a project that took upon itself the, admittedly considerable, work of finding out how much this would all cost separate from the previous school costings.

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Grofar

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Being online means, occasionally, companies and providers of services will get in touch to promote their Careers Education related products or ask for advice.

Last academic year I gave some time, alongside other Career Leaders and the CDI, to help the team at Grofar develop their Careers management platform. The Managing Director, James, visited me at my old school a number of times to test out new features and get feedback on how these would work in the practical day to day life of a school. I saw this week that the team at Grofar have been shortlisted for a CDI Career Development Award in the “Best Practice in the Use of Technology in Career Development” category. This is a deserved accolade as I saw how many iterations of the software the team worked through to shape the features of the final product to be as responsive as Careers Leaders in schools need it to be.

Grofar is a complete careers program management product. It is a database and recording tool, a planning and mapping tool, a central hub for all of the desk based stuff a Careers Leader in a school or college would do.

It allows you to plan your academic year of career events and provision, add to it as things pop up throughout the year, see where the gaps in your provision for each year group or subject area lie so to improve on for next year and then have your plan ready to show senior leaders or Ofsted at the touch of a button.

It allows you to integrate student data from CSV files or SIMS, track interventions for each student and send out meeting reminders through student emails. Destinations of leavers can be tracked and reports generated. Alumni records can be kept to use as a resource in future.

It can also help with the organisation and paperwork trail needed to secure properly vetted work experience placements if the school runs such a scheme.

In short, it offers to replace those folders of excel workbooks neatly saved on your school or college shared drive and post it notes stuck all over your monitor and school planner with a joined up record keeping and planning platform.

This isn’t free though and comes with a cost that Grofar do not want to make easily findable on their Pricing page. (I only vaguely remember what James said they would be aiming for).

To my mind, it’s frankly amazing that there are still companies out there willing to commit time and funds to developing careers products for an education system that is running on financial empty. Combine that with the wide range of free resources that can be found with a bit of research, then each sale must feel like pushing a boulder over a mountain. If you’re at a school that does purchase an annual licence for computer software or regularly buys physical products such as magazines or books, do let me know in the comments below as it’s good to hear the reasons why this is helping your practice and students in your setting.

A number of suppliers offering Careers products to schools still exist, Cascaid probably being the most well known who offer a range of both physical and computer products. But U-Explore, Trotman & Prospects Educational Resources also offer a number of physical & computer products.

All of these firms and more will be offering their wares at the National Career Guidance Roadshows coming up through February & March 2017 for you to go along and compare their products. For how long, there remains a market with funding able to allocate to such products, remains to be seen.

(This blog is not a sales pitch, I’ve included the links to Grofar so you can see for yourself the capabilities and layout of their product. You know your school budgets and priorities so, as a practitioner, you can make your own mind up where to allocate your resources.)

 

Moments of choice

The emergence of evidence led research to direct careers policy in recent years has been a welcome branch of a wider evidence led trend across educational policy making. Using longitudinal data to not only show that employer faced careers interventions have positive outcomes but also to pinpoint the wage premium value these type of interventions have had has been a hugely persuasive headline for policy makers.

Keen to show that they are fulfilling one of their briefs to “show what works,” the Careers & Enterprise Company recently released a research paper “Moments of Choice – How education outcomes data can better support informed career decisions”. The document is based on two pieces of research: 1) an 84 page commissioned report also called “Moments of Choice” by the Behavioural Insights Team and 2) a piece of work by PricewaterhouseCoopers which looked at the current landscape of careers information providers.

The work of the Behavioural Insights Team is fascinating as it mixes psychology, sociology and economics to enable the state (or now that it is a standalone company, any paying client) to get the reaction from the public they desire. When the Department of Health wanted more people to join the organ donor list or HMRC wanted more people to pay their taxes on time, it was the Behavioural Insights Team they called. The potential overlap of Behavioural Economics and nudge theory to the student CEIAG process in schools is obvious and the scope for young people to make decisions and choices that are more informed and considered is huge.

The Insights Team research is based on a small number of interviews with young people and career professionals and a number of round-table events attended by a range of stakeholders. I attended one of those round-tables and noted at the time just what a task the Team had undertaken

and, looking back, it was stark just how misunderstood the event was by the stakeholders attending. The aim of looking at all of the influencing elements of career choice was too nebulous a concept for many to engage with or too wide for those only attending to reinstate their patch.

This complexity extends into the source research report but essentially outlines the following:

  • That, for each young person, a huge variety of contextual factors play differing roles in shaping their views on their careers possibilities. Parents, socio-economic background, peers, media and social media and other trusted adults can all play some part in a young person constructing a flight path and dismissing non desirable destinations
  • That the sheer number of possible options open to young people leads to a wealth of information across multitudes of providers. This wildly confusing landscape causes young people to retract and be hesitant to engage and prefer to stick to well trodden paths. They struggle to find information that they think will aid their decisions and find the information impersonal and hard to contextualize to their own lives.

Throughout the document popular behavioral psychology writers such as Daniel Kahneman are referenced (and the work in his book “Thinking, Fast & Slow” on decision bias and different judgement systems is very pertinent) but it was the work of Barry Schwartz that sprung to my mind.

Who theorizes that

  • A choice architecture system with many options to choose from can cause paralysis especially when the choices have been built up to be ‘important’
  • And that, the variety of choice leads the individual to believe that there must a choice that is a perfect fit for them. When the choice disappoints, the dissatisfaction for the individual is greater as they curse their (or the advice frameworks) inability to find the ‘correct’ choice for them (Which many would agree is consistent with the stereotypical adult reflection on past careers interventions).

To my mind though, it is noticeable that some elements you would expect at least a passing reference to are missing from the Insights Team report. When looking at how young people engage with career decisions, it is odd that any reference to the wealth of publications on career theory is absent. As anyone who has waded through Unit 3 of the Level 6 careers qualification will attest, plenty has been written on careers theory. Perhaps this decision was taken as the report only focuses on a specific age section of the employability journey while career theory can take a more holistic approach. Even then though, there is much the Team could have taken from Holland (1997), the importance Super’s (1953) Life Span theory places on “self concept shaped by feedback by the external world” or Gottfredon’s (1981) theory of Circumscription and Compromise considering the Career Enterprise Company’s overall aim of improving social mobility. There is also the disregard for the kind of career trajectory that Krumboltz’s Happenstance theory outlines. For a report whose aim is to outline an architecture that places the choices of individual as the author in control of their story, it is perhaps understandable but still striking to omit a theory which proposes that it is not even desirable for this to be the case.

There is also the lack of reference to the psychology of habit. Career decisions are not taken by individuals as single events in a vacuum. The habit loops of an individual will already be affecting their engagement with education and possible adult influencers well before career choices are tasked to be made. The work of Charles Duhigg and the concept of feedback loops

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could have added value and helped place the behavioral psychology of choice into the wider context of a young person’s experience and how to positively interject into this.

Published simultaneously was the response to the research by the Careers & Enterprise Company which contains proposed actions such as disseminating further research and data such as longitudinal earnings figures to help individuals make more informed decisions. They also propose to convene an experts group to spread ‘advice’ statements on what works. The Company also sees a remit for itself in communicating advice to schools and CEIAG practitioners,

We will highlight key messages, alerting schools and colleges to the types of conversations that young people should be having and when they should be having them; the types of information they should consider in those conversations; the mistakes that young people typically make and, perhaps most importantly of all, the things that they do not need to worry about.

but that it

does not intend to provide individual advice to young people or create information tools designed to produce individualised recommendations. Our focus will be solely on high level advice i.e. advice that is true for large numbers of people.

This is slightly ironic considering the preceding thoughtful passages on ‘choice architecture’,

Personalisation is central to the creation of good choice architecture in complex scenarios. Personalisation means the degree to which the construction of choice sets and information sets is determined by what is known about an individual. Zero personalisation occurs when everybody has access to the same information and has to identify what is relevant to them. Weak personalisation occurs when information sets are created which are relevant to very large numbers of ‘average’ people – for example when information about career choices tells you about the average for a whole population of people entering into a particular career.

Which covers the nub of a paradox in the current UK Careers structure for young people. Distilling advice on the choices of individuals managing a trajectory through a hugely complex system such as the transition through education to work and beyond into career will only result in impersonal generalised statements. The report discusses the possibility of careers personalisation for young people being delivered by websites programmed with similar algorithmic processes to Amazon recommends. It acknowledges though that the bulk of responsibility of personalisation comes from the interactions with professionals involved in the day by day careers conversations, group work, trips and lessons designed to aid those young individuals. It is that very part of the process which, for all its strategic work with Enterprise Advisers and cold spot funding, the Company will remain at arm’s length from.

The tightrope of generalisation is even there, tripping up the Company in the Executive Summary

However, we can identify choices as ‘poor’ if, on clearly defined criteria such as ‘likelihood to increase earnings’, an individual has made a choice on a misconception

which fails to acknowledge that a misconception does not automatically lead to failure. A learner could choose a course on false information, love that course, be nourished by meeting like-minded people on that course and find happy, fulfilling work in the course area after graduating. A choice based on ‘wrong’ information can still turn out ‘right’: it’s a complex world and, as with general medical advice, there are always exceptions to the rule.

All of the strands of the Careers & Enterprise Company’s work can drive engagement between young people (and parents) and exploring careers decisions; bringing businesses into schools can illuminate job roles, publishing earnings data can lead to greatly informed decisions, sign posting ‘approved’ advice and notifying important calendar times can all help clear the fog of the unknown. It is though, the balances to strike between acknowledging complexity and simplification, between generalisation and personalisation and good advice and diktat that the Careers Company will have to find to succeed.

Hat tip to Tristram’s blog for bringing this report to my attention.

 

When a report about a report might be a good thing

If there’s one thing the world of school CEIAG doesn’t need, it’s another report into the failures of school CEIAG. So when “Year 11 student’s views of Career Education and Work Experience” from Kings College London turned up in the week, I was a little nonplussed. Though, on further examination and when follow up news later came, it seemed to me that this report might warrant greater attention.

Firstly, this is no small scale survey with little in the way of statistical controls and a PR axe to grind that sometimes grab the headlines. These are the findings of the Aspires 2 longitudinal 5 year study which includes results culled from views of over 13,000 Year 11s. Subsequently, there are lots of interesting nuggets in the document on young people’s views and experiences of CEIAG

kings college report 1

but it’s the findings on the discrepancy in careers support for those students from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to the average that might have the greatest impact.

Social Class: Students from less advantaged social backgrounds (with lower levels of cultural capital) Findings receive significantly less careers education and report being less satisfied – students from the most advantaged backgrounds are significantly more likely to receive careers education. For instance, a student with very high cultural capital is 1.49 times more like to receive careers education compared to a student with very low cultural capital.

(Btw – All careers practitioners should take a look at the conclusions of the report even if just to recentre and remind ourselves to ensure that students from across the background spectrum should be included in our work.)

Ultimately though, the findings wouldn’t shock too many of us careers folk working with young people. When you close a large scale State intervention (Connexions) and leave the market to plan the unfunded provision left it turns out that it’s the easier wins that get won. Huh, who knew.

The follow up to this report came swiftly with the news that the Education Endowment Foundation will look into, “the current state of careers education and identify the most effective ways to provide this service.” The work will be carried out by Dr Deidre Hughes and Dr Anthony Mann of the Education & Employers Taskforce. Now, usually at this point my “policy wonk” patience limit would have been reached as, rather than actually enact some change, all we had was news of another report. Yet, it’s the possibilities of this forthcoming work which hold some hope.

Government departments, just like schools, in tight financial times, want to know what works and what bang for your buck you’re going to get from each intervention. CEIAG work has a growing evidence base to show worth across it’s different forms be that employer engagement or career guidance but what this work actually looks like in schools is less clear. Frameworks try to define this and guidance can include best practice case studies but this still can leave school leaders unclear about what this work looks like in their institutions. Compare those to publications such as the EEF’s Teaching & Learning  toolkit which clearly sets out costs, evidence strength and impact to learners for each type of provision. School leaders welcome this sort of clarity, “More than half of secondary school leaders now say they use the Toolkit.” Imagine a similar tool for CEIAG interventions showing just how much worth a careers fair vs an employer visit vs a mentoring scheme vs face to face guidance vs an enterprise day has. Maybe it would make schools focus on what really works in CEIAG. Perhaps it would force practitioners, including myself, to reflect on our own practice and alter our own programmes to focus on interventions with the most impact not just to do what we’ve always done because “it fits.” It could even help position careers work to be seen by schools leaders not as an add on, but as an intervention they can deploy to help disadvantaged learners just like any other they currently do. Presented and communicated well to school leaders, this forthcoming report could be a real positive for careers work in schools.

 

 

What would a new careers law solve?

A central voice in the “school careers is rubbish” choir has always been the FE and training provider sector. Seemingly not a week goes by without their spokespeople regaling tales of struggle to tunnel their way under the gun turrets on the school gates, dodging the sharp incisors of the hounds and avoiding the searchlights just to get their prospectus into the grateful hands of vocationally impoverished Year 11s. Okay, so that is a bit OTT but we’ve all heard the stories of FE Colleges requests to speak to students being ignored, careers advisers having to hide prospectuses out of the watchful eye of Sixth Form staff and open evening posters being hidden under school cake sale flyers on noticeboards. All, the FE sector claim, with the overarching aim of keeping more students in school sixth forms to protect funding streams rather than then letting students choose what is best for them and, by extension, the wider economy.

With our halos shining brightly (ahem), Careers practitioners in schools have been at the sharp end of these local politics and funding bottlenecks.

With this in mind, a new careers law has been mooted that will “ensure” that apprenticeships and vocational routes are given equal and prominent airtime as academic routes to students. The world of FE welcomed the move, Martin Doel said,

We have long been calling for an improvement to the system and welcome the changes outlined. Colleges recognise the critical nature of good careers education and will be very keen to continue to work together with their local schools. This announcement will make that a reality.

while Stephen Exley, the editor of TES Further Ed, was positively ecstatic,

It’s about time to crack open the champagne. At long last, the government is prepared to get tough on the “outdated snobbery” towards further education.

Stewart Segal of the Association of Learning and Employment providers used the historically low percentage of 16-18 year olds starting an apprenticeship as a reason to celebrate the mooted new legislation

Statutory guidance for schools followed but the fact remains that only around 6 per cent of school leavers start an apprenticeship and this proportion hasn’t changed for years. We, therefore, called for that statutory guidance to be strengthened.

only for Nick Boles to rain on that particular parade at his appearance at the sub committee hearing into CEIAG

What mystifies me about the reaction to this announcement is that this legislation already exists, and has done for a number of years, as a statutory duty on schools, that is, policies schools are already required to hold by law.

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This possibly reflects on a failure of all involved in the Careers Duty, a failure of Government strategy, of school implementation and Ofsted monitoring, that vocational providers still feel no discernible impact from it.

What difference would any new legislation take? That this “information” must be delivered to students by outside sources (e.g. FE Colleges)? As this article suggests, the age old standard of a careers fair could be the outcome most schools turn to to meet that requirement. Hardly revolutionary and without the “support and funding” that Russell Hobby calls for in that piece, unlikely to deliver the outcomes desired by the FE community.

 

My stab in the dark at where that £70m is going

Politicians have many tricks up their sleeves, one of which David Cameron recently deployed in a speech more widely about life chances but in a section about launching a mentoring scheme aimed at students “at risk of underachieving or dropping out.”

The trick is in the section below:

mentoring1

AKA Announce one initiative, then mention a large amount of funding that isn’t just for that one initiative.

“We’ll direct £70 million towards careers in this Parliament

If we take that to mean ‘youth’ careers services (the accompanying press release elaborates “government will spend £70 million on its strategy to improve careers education and guidance in this Parliament”) then the announced mentoring scheme is only a tiny, tiny percentage of that money.

Before we do the math, let’s remember as well that “in this Parliament” now means by statute, a period of 5 years.

Last financial year, the young people’s helpline section of the National Careers Service cost £3,369,000. (x5 = £16,845,000) The financial year before this cost £4.165m so funding there is falling.

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The Careers & Enterprise Company was established with a one off £20m investment with the hope that employers would pay for it in future years.

We know the Government also funds advice channels such as YourLife, Big Bang Fairs and others. The 14/15 cost for all of those initiatives was £7.85m. If they were to be continued over 5 years that’s £39,250,000 (which means they won’t be on that scale).

Without taking into account future cuts to those figures (and there will be, the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills has to cut £2.4bn before 2020), that takes the total to over £80m already.

We also know that trials are currently being run by Job Centre Plus in schools. I’ve been unable to find a cost for this trial but I would assume that will be funded by the Department for Work and Pensions so might not be included in Cameron’s headline figure. Likewise the funding for the Skills Show is from the European Social Fund so comes from a wholly different pot.

Even with that rough and ready maths, you can see how quickly the figure of £70m is soon soaked up by current commitments without nary a penny thrown in the direction of a mentoring scheme.

 

It took a while but we got there in the end

It’s been a journey with a few stops and starts along the way but we got there. If you’re in the midst of tackling your own CEIAG qualification, keep going and, unit by unit, assignment by assignment, you’ll drag the finish line closer to you.

Thanks to the guys at White Rose Training for their organisation and guidance on the journey.