Education is like all other areas of public policy in that there are always plenty of people offering plenty of solutions. As any practitioner in the field will tell you, many of those suggested solutions can take more inspiration from the ideals of the proposer rather than the actual state of affairs on the ground and, sometimes, even getting a clear enough picture of the state of affairs on the ground can be tricky enough.
With this in mind I thought it would be useful to compare and contrast five (semi) recent surveys and reports that are actually attempting to do just that in regard to the scale and scope of the links currently held between schools and the world of business. This is a hot policy potato with the Government having already prescribed the medicine with early steps of the newly formed £20m Careers Company expected in September.
So, what do we think we know:
1. REPORT: Inspiring Growth: Pearson/CBI Education & Skills Survey 2015
SCALE: “The survey was conducted online in the spring of 2015. Useable responses were received from 310 employers”
The positive balance of firms expecting to need more employees with higher skills stands at +65% in 2015
55% Employers not confident of being able to recruit sufficient high-skilled employees in the future
Around two thirds (66%) of the businesses responding to this survey are involved in apprenticeships
By far the most important factors employers weigh up when recruiting school and college leavers are attitudes (85%) and aptitudes (58%). These rank well ahead of formal qualifications
A majority of businesses remain concerned about the preparation of school leavers in important areas including business and customer awareness (66%), self-management (61%) and foreign language skills (60%)
Across respondents as a whole, three quarters (73%) have at least some links with schools or colleges, with connections most widespread between businesses and secondary schools (55%) and FE colleges (53%)
The biggest obstacles to extending and deepening business involvement are uncertainty over how to make work experience worthwhile (28%), lack of interest among schools or pupils (25%) and problems in fitting involvement with the school timetable (23%)
Among employers with links to schools and colleges, the two most common forms of support are offering work experience placements (74%) and providing careers advice and talks (71%).
The overwhelming majority of employers believe the quality of careers advice for young people is not good enough (by a balance of -70%)
Nearly two thirds of businesses (60%) report that they are willing to play a greater role in supporting careers provision in schools and colleges.
Katja Hall – Deputy Director General CBI
“Of course, the long-term solution to the skills challenge lies in education, and some of the reforms in recent years have brought improvements. But we still have a system where too many young people are allowed to fall behind and never catch up. The system must change, with more focus on developing the aptitudes and attributes that set young people up for success in both work and life – which matter much more to employers when recruiting than academic results alone.
More and more businesses are playing their part – engaging with schools, colleges and universities and investing in workforce training – though there is a need for more. But government at all levels also needs to raise its game in helping young people to develop the higher skills and workplace readiness that are increasingly necessary to ensure a prosperous future for them and for the UK as a whole.”
As you would expect from the CBI, this is a document that places high demands and expectations on the public sector while also showing its members in the private sector in the best possible light. Considering that, in England, around only 8% of employers offer apprenticeships, the fact that 66% of respondents to this survey are “involved” shows how selective the base of employers involved here was. The expectations and demands on the education sector are in many cases clear and sensible but the bemoaning of too many students not achieving C grades or above in either English or Maths shows a clear lack of understanding of how Ofqual’s comparable outcomes system works. The clear messages from the results show employers are frustrated with the overwhelming focus on qualifications to the detriment of soft skills they value even more should be very useful to add more power to the elbow of those pushing for a more rounded approach from school leaders. Also the percentage of respondents who are already involved and wish to increase their involvement in schools is very positive.
2. REPORT: Mapping careers provision in schools & colleges in England DfE July 2015 research report
SCALE: In total, there were 107 responses to the survey, a response rate of 21%. The response came from a range of providers: 34 schools with sixth forms, 34 schools without sixth forms and 39 further education providers.
Schools without sixth forms were more likely to offer work experience to Years 10 to 11 (88%) compared to schools with sixth forms (74%) and more colleges provided work experience to Years 12 and 13 (90%) compared to schools with sixth forms (71%)
Lecturer or industry specialist visits were more commonly used for Years 10 to 11 in schools without sixth forms (94%, versus 77% of schools with sixth forms)
The majority (88%) of respondents reported that students received skills development or employability education (e.g. time management, interview preparation) in the form of lessons/class time.
In terms of creating formal arrangements with employers for work experience, the response was mixed. Over half of respondents said that their institution did not have these in place (54%), with the remainder (46%) stating that they did have such arrangements with employers.
Budget limitations were most commonly reported to be a key challenge to providing excellent careers provision that meets the needs of staff, students and parents/carers.
Nearly all institutions helped students to gain contact with employers to learn about careers/jobs. This was through a range of methods, common ones being, external employer speakers, lecturers or industry specialists visiting schools/colleges, workplace visits and work experience. These links were more likely to be offered to older year groups (Year 10 onwards). Some institutions did not use these methods at all, 13% said they did not provide workplace visits and 8% said they did not provide work experience
If the findings from the CBI data are potentially skewed by the small number of already invested respondents, then this report is even more in danger of falling into that trap. To be fair, it is something the authors are at pains to point out throughout the document,
As with any self-reported assessment, we should exercise a degree of caution as to whether the respondents would have a particularly positive or representative view of the provision within their school, since careers guidance was a significant part of their job.
Even with these dangers of too positive a response, this did not dissuade the TES in finding a negative slant in their story on it.
With these large caveats there are some positive figures, the survival of KS4 work experience surprised me and the range of employer interaction is great to see, but ultimately I am extremely hesitant about standing firm on any of the results as a stand alone piece of work.
3. REPORT: CDI Survey of Career Education and Guidance in Schools and Links with Employers May 2015
SCALE: From an online survey: “A total of 319 responses were received, which represents 10% of all secondary schools in England. Just under a half (46%) were from academies with a sixth form and a further 10% were from academies without a sixth form; 27% were from local authority maintained schools (16% with a sixth form, 11% without a sixth form); eight percent of the responses were from independent schools. The remaining responses came from special schools (5), sixth form colleges (5), UTCs (3) and a studio school, free schools (2) and a pupil referral unit.”
Although some questions did have a large percentage of non responses.
24% of respondents used a member of staff, more often someone who was not a teacher. Five schools responded to say that they did not provide access to impartial career guidance and a further 24% of respondents skipped this question in the survey.
66% of respondents reported that the person providing impartial career guidance held a recognised professional qualification in career guidance, but in only 57% of cases was the qualification at QCF Level 6 or above
17% of all respondents used a local or regional education-business partnership (EBP) to help broker links with employers and 32% used Inspiring the Future or other link organisations.Over 40% of respondents said they organised all the links themselves, and 35% omitted to respond to the question.
In 56% of respondents a member of the senior leadership group had overall responsibility for career education and guidance but in only 35% was there a senior leader with overall responsibility for school-business links.
37% of respondents reported having a link governor for careers and employer links.
From the press release:
Worryingly, the survey indicates that now career education is no longer compulsory, up to a third of schools have dropped it from the curriculum, and a larger proportion have no career education in the early years of secondary education
Many, but by no means all, schools are making impartial career guidance available to at least those students identified as needing support but in over 40% of the schools that responded to the survey the interviews are not provided by an adviser qualified to Level 6.
Schools are providing a wide range of employer activities but many would welcome more support with identifying relevant contacts and organising activities.
Like Report number 2, this includes responses from only the education side of the fence but still strikes a better balance between highlighting some positive work (the range of employer interaction) and voicing concerns about the outcomes that they disapprove of (the falling amount of dedicated careers education time and the number of practitioners not qualified to Level 6 standard). The high percentage of non responses to some questions does cause me to pause though. It is a natural tendency to assume that a lack of a submitted answer means the respondent did not want to include a negative truth but as the aims of the survey are to, “inform the work of the new independent careers and enterprise company recently established by the Department for Education (DfE) as it prepares its initial work plan” getting this right is a must. The Careers Company has the relatively meager budget of £20m to make an impact and allocating its resources should rely on more than assumptions. Again, like Report 2, the results are better placed as part of a wider context.
4. REPORT: Understanding the link between employers and schools and the role of the National Careers Service – BiS December 2014
SCALE: Survey data were collected from 301 employers and from 98 educational establishments (78 schools and 20 colleges). Whilst the sampling was not representative, data provide vivid indications of patterns and trends illustrative of the types of interactions currently existing between schools and employers. Survey data were supplemented by in-depth interviews with career representatives in 12 schools/colleges selected from the survey sample. Additionally, six case studies were undertaken on schools/colleges from the sample of 12 to provide detailed examples of good practice
Of all employers surveyed, nearly half had previously been engaged with schools/ colleges. Employers who offered apprenticeship or other types of training to young people were more likely to engage with schools/colleges and there is some evidence that larger companies were more likely to engage with schools/colleges than smaller companies. The most frequently mentioned types of engagement were work experience and/or visits from school or college students. Altruistic reasons were the most important for engaging with schools/colleges, with employers thinking that it was a ‘good thing to do’, and/or that it facilitated local community engagement.
More than half of all engaged employers had undertaken some type of activity in the last half-year. Main reasons for a lack of more regular engagement were threefold: lack of time and resources; unwillingness of schools (unable or not interested); and the age restriction preventing employment of staff under the age of 18 years. Approximately half of all engaged employers indicated that these activities had not had any benefit to their business.
Approximately half of all employers surveyed had never engaged with schools or colleges. Nearly all indicated that they were not interested in linking with schools or colleges in the future, because of lack of time and resources; financial reasons, and/or barriers created by health and safety and insurance regulations. Some stated that they could not see any potential benefit to their businesses of this activity.
So we come to the only survey whose methodology tasked it with gaining views from both sides of the conundrum. The mix of survey and interview results allows for both some headline percentages and some longer form answers to emerge across the reports 140 (!) pages. The most striking aspect of the findings is how well they agree with the answers from one side (education) and much they disagree with the results from the other (business). It would seem that asking CEIAG folk in schools gets you a pretty positive picture about the work they do. Who would guess? On the other hand, the large disparity between the amount of employers involved in engagement activities (and those wanting to be involved) in these findings and the CBI results is noticeable. From a similar number of employers, the differences are pretty big; the CBI says 74% offered work experience while here only 32%, the CBI says 71% had performed careers talks while here the figure is a measly 7%.
5. REPORT: UK Commission’s Employer Skills Survey 2013: UK Results – January 2014
SCALE: Fieldwork for the core survey was undertaken between March and July 2013, and involved over 91,000 interviews. Fieldwork for the follow-up Investment in Training Survey was undertaken in May to July 2013, and involved more than 13,000 interviews with employers who had taken part in the first survey. An overall response rate of 44 per cent was achieved for the core survey.
HEADLINE STATISTICS/SUMMARY QUOTES:
The main obstacle to (more) young people getting new jobs is competition in the market place. Half of recruiting employers who had not recruited young job applicants had opted instead for older candidates who were better placed; in this instance young people who applied for these jobs may have been suitable, but the recruiters opted for a candidate over the age of 25 to fill the role. Where young applicants were not considered to meet the requirements of the role, the main reasons cited were lack of skills and experience, and sometimes both. Three in five recruiting employers (61 per cent) who had not recruited a young person said they had had no applications from young people.
Most employers find the education leavers they take on to be well or very well prepared for work, although as many as four in ten employers taking on school leavers at 16 from schools in England, Northern Ireland or Wales described the recruits as poorly prepared
Where employers considered young applicants not to meet requirements, the majority (63 per cent) said they lacked the necessary skills and 61 per cent relevant work experience. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they lacked both.
This is a huge piece of work and covers a much wider remit than just school/employer interaction which is why the Executive Summary is such a godsend. It is the oldest of the reports as the scale of the survey means it is only carried out every two years and data is currently being collected for the next one.
What it does add to this post though is a scale of respondents not seen in all of the other reports and a divergent view. The much more positive view (still with room for improvements) of the employability skills of young people from employers is at odds with the more downbeat findings of the CBI. The context around these findings and the steps that should be taken to improve the chances of young people finding work were covered brilliantly in this blog at the time. If it’s work experience they lack, offer young people the chance to gain it. As we’ve seen, the CBI says the business community is doing this, the education community and the report from BiS seem less convinced.
As I hope you’ve seen, finding the balance of truth in all of this is tricky. Out of five reports, only one bridges the divide between employers and schools and spoke to both sides of the fence. Where only one side was consulted, the simplistic take is that the home view is always that most things are rosey and there is plenty of goodwill to find further improvements. Of course it’s not that simple, the CDI report is not afraid to point out where it thinks schools are failing and the CBI report consistently says that businesses should be doing more to work with education. Perhaps though the lesson for policy makers should be that, when making policy decisions in this area in future, they should be more demanding for data work that bridges the divide and takes views from a balance across both sides of the employers/schools fence.