CBI

Dot Joiner

 

If we’re being honest, CEIAG conferences can be a real mixed bag. Some of the events that I have attended over the years have enthused and enlightened me and helped formulate the targets I then attempted to achieve over the subsequent period. Unfortunately, other events rely too heavily on unstructured “networking” time, outsource seminars to speakers without checking quality and run panels which are glorified puff spaces for participants to plug the work of their employer. The lack of funding available for CPD and the pressure to keep services running at practitioner’s home sites also means that the events colleagues do get out to attend need to be of a high quality.

With this in mind I attended the Careers & Enterprise Company 2nd Annual “Joining The Dots” Conference this month. Held in Sheffield at the English Institute for Sport, over 750 delegates attended for a day of speeches and breakout sessions while the Company then continued into Day 2 with meetings for their Headteacher advisory group and an awards ceremony.

Annual conferences such this do have a slightly different remit to the news sharing and highlighting of innovative practice that many CPD events do. Annual conferences are usually more to rally the troops and build a positive collective feeling around the work of the organisation. “Joining the Dots” definitely seemed to aim for the second of those remits with a morning session led by both the Chair, Christine Hodgson and the CEO, Claudia Harris updating the audience on the progress of the CEC in building its infrastructure of personnel and networks. Both speakers were disappointingly light though on the actual impact of these new structures the CEC is building but more on that later. Delegates were then treated to the personal story of British Olympian Beth Tweddle which, while interesting, to me felt out-of-place and stuck out as a grasp for celebrity endorsement. Plenty of other delegates seemed to enjoy it though. Tweddle is also a Patron of the STEM based Your Life campaign so does have links to this area.

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MC’d by Oli Barrett the session then moved quickly onto a Q&A with Claudia Harris and Carl Harris (Association of School & College Leavers) and Josh Hardie (CBI). The discussion moved through the broad themes around the interaction between employers and education with positive and conciliatory noises from both participants. It was noticeable though that, in one answer, Josh Hardie said that, “over 80% of businesses work with schools” which was not challenged by the other participants. This is a statistic from the CBI’s own annual Education & Skills Survey which is not consistent with findings from other research in this area as it claims a much higher rate of business involvement with education than others. The CEC has also looked at this in its “Cold Spots” report and if the organisation truly wishes to position itself on a standing of evidence based work, then it needs to balance out misinformation when it encounters it.

Then it was time for a lunch break. During this period delegates could browse a good range of exhibitors with products and services to offer in the CEIAG field.

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The afternoon moved into two breakout sessions with a range of titles that looked at CEIAG Mentoring, offering provision for SEND pupils and updates on the forthcoming Enterprise Passport. I opted for “Effective Employer Engagement in Further Education” and found the panel full of useful advice regarding the role of Enterprise Advisers and FE. Approaching employer engagement is different in a FE College compared to a secondary school and the ways other Colleges had used Advisers as conduits to wider networks was thought-provoking.

My second session was back in the main hall for the “Building Capacity for Careers Leadership is Schools” which, while interesting, I later regretted not attending “Virtual Employer Encounters” as, the more I thought about this, the more concerned I became. On the face of things, it would seem like an easy win for the CEC, using the information from their Cold Spots report, to then offer the technology links for employers to offer virtual provision for young people in those regions. This type of provision though has its failings and it would also struggle to meet the Company’s own conclusions in its “Moments of Choice” report about the need for personalization for young people.

The day then finished with Lord Young offering an update on the plans for a national Enterprise Passport for young people to be able to evidence their achievements, skills and experiences outside of their usual qualification certificates.

Overall, I felt that the event was very ‘input’ orientated with a lack of substantive consideration for the outcomes the CEC is trying to achieve. Celebrating the employment of Enterprise Co-ordinators, the growth of the Enterprise Adviser network and the funding of localised CEIAG projects is worthwhile but these are structures, not the results. At it’s launch the outcomes of the CEC were to be judged as part of the wider performance management of the Post 19 education and skills sector.  But this was under the 2010-2015 Coalition Government and much water has passed under the political bridge since then. Judgement on the impact of the CEC should be made against control groups or counterfactual analysis. Be it an improvement in employers satisfaction with the employability skills of young people (although the uncertainty over who will carry the skills survey once the duty of the now defunct UKCES won’t help that), lowering the number of NEET young people in the CEC’s designated “cold spot” areas or tracking the destination data of leavers from schools who meet the Gatsby benchmarks (via the Compass benchmarking tool) or who have been involved in the Mentoring scheme, the CEC has to show impact of its spending of public money. With this being it’s 2nd Annual conference, I was hoping for more detail of this area but, perhaps, the Company are mindful of the election and the impact this will have on the long-delayed Careers Strategy which may define these criteria.

(Photos from the CEC facebook page)

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According the CEC’s literature, young people have now so conclusively lost the demographic battle, after the General Election they will all be put into a rocket and blasted off into space

 

16/17 KS4 leavers and apprenticeship schemes

Now that we are a way into the 2016/2017 academic calendar it is a good time to look at a huge test for how the worlds of education and business interact over the coming months.

This academic years Key Stage 4 leavers will be the first to receive their GCSE grades in English Language, English Literature and Maths in the new grading system of 9 – 1. How this compares to the historic A-G grading system is show below

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As the description says, this means that 16/17 leavers will receive a mixture of 9-1 and A-G grades from their GCSE qualifications. Students may also be taking Btec L2s (which report as Distinction, Merit, Pass) and other qualifications such as the much maligned ECDL so will also have different grading schemes in their set of results.

So, a student opening their results envelop in August 2017 might see something like this (from this Ofqual PP):

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This will continue for 17/18 leavers as more GCSEs such as Art, the Sciences, Drama & Geography are accredited in the new manner and then into 18/19 as subjects such as Sociology, D&T & Engineering join them.

The wider impact of these changes throughout the systems of education and employment dependent on understanding the context of those grade indicators could be messy. Getting the message through about the changes to students and their parents is a challenge in itself and one which Ofqual has been keen to gain help from schools but the bigger challenge remains of explaining this to employers. Hints at the scale of the communication challenge can be found in the employer response to the forthcoming apprenticeship levy

If a new funding system that will directly impact a company’s bottom line and their immediate training pipeline is struggling to gain widespread understanding then a seemingly (to those outside education) superficial change to GCSE grading is a difficult concept to gain traction. As anybody working in careers in schools will attest, many speakers from employers still come into school and wish the students good luck in their “O Levels.”

This lack of understanding has immediate impacts. Over the past few and forthcoming weeks many of the school leaver and apprenticeship schemes from larger employers will begin to be advertised for September 2017 starts.

The Airbus Group Engineering Apprenticeships, the Glaxo SmithKline Engineering Apprenticehips and the Manufacturing Apprenticeship at Selex Leonardo are all open for applications at the time of writing (November 2017). All three schemes are for September or Summer 2017 starts, all three are open to applicants who will be leaving Key Stage 4 in summer 2017 and all 3 ask for A-C GCSE requirements.

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Not a mention of 9-1 grades. Yet many of the opportunities at larger employer require applicants to apply via the employers own website where, on the GSK site, the 9-1 scale is mentioned:

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These are just a few examples of the many schemes that will be opened to 16/17 leavers over the next few months. It may add complexity but HR managers need to be including the new grading system in their job descriptions and adverts to smooth applications from younger students. Otherwise mixed messages and the inflexibility of drop down menus on online applications holds potential to discourage and confuse 16/17 leavers and parents from engaging with apprenticeship routes.

In recent years, business organisations have successfully positioned business as a sphere that is keen to engage with education, dissatisfied with the current skills on offer from young workers and with the ability to rapidly react to change. Publications such as the annual CBI Education & Skills survey place the emphasis on what business requires from education. Well, over this application season building up to the summer results, education needs a rapid and clear response from business.

 

 

Apprenticeship levy griping

Every Autumn statement or Budget announcement delivers a lot for newspapers to spin and economists to pore over. November’s effort introduced one new “levy” (read: tax) specifically to be used to meet the Government target of 3 million apprenticeship starts before the end of the parliament. The Apprenticeship Levy will, from April 2017 to 2020, raise £3bn by imposing a 0.5% payroll tax on companies whose annual wage bill is greater than £3m to be used exclusively to fund electronic vouchers which all companies can redeem with colleges and training providers to pay for apprenticeship training. An insight into how this may affect different industries can be found here.

The eternal cry from the business community is that the “skills gap” is a huge headwind on the strength of the economy. This 2013 document from the CBI says that,

One way to address the skills mismatch is to develop more partnership-based provision, with greater levels of business involvement in colleges and universities, as well as boosting apprenticeships

and that

It’s time to stop talking about Germany and start building a British skills system that works

So now the Chancellor has proposed a method of funding that provision. It’s by no means a comprehensive plan, there are no targets for the Levels of apprenticeships to come and many believe the entire concept of a 3 million starts target is barmy to begin with for the risk it proposes to the quality of the jobs on offer.

With this dearth of available skills from the work force you would imagine that the levy would be welcomed by the business community for the opportunity to take charge of a large pot of training funding. The Federation of Small Businesses (whose members won’t pay the levy) said, “We support the decision to use payroll as a measure to determine which businesses pay the levy, as opposed to headcount. It recognises that not all businesses will be able to afford to pay.” Larger firms (who will be paying the levy) reacted with much less warmth claiming that this, and other costs such as the forthcoming Living Wage, will hurt businesses. The CBI also weighed in, “The Apprenticeship Levy, set at 0.5%, is a significant extra payroll tax on business and by widening the net it will now catch more smaller firms.”In contrast, the IFS predicted the levy will only require contributions from 2% of firms.

To my mind, it’s hard to find much sympathy with those complaints for a number of reasons:

  1. These rises are against of backdrop of falling taxes, the Chancellor’s budget plans to lower what is already the G20s lowest corporate tax rate to 18% by 2020.
  2. The stories about the low amounts of tax paid by firms that corporation tax is meant to tempt into the country keep coming.
  3. The OBR prediction that firms will just lower wages to compensate so won’t actually feel the pinch of this new tax themselves anyway.
  4. And let’s not forget that if firms hire a 16-18 for their Apprenticeship vacancy the full training cost is met by the Government, from April 2016 they won’t have to pay NI for Apprentices under 25 and there is a lower minimum wage for this age group so there’s plenty of incentives on offer to use these routes when recruiting.

Whether or not the levy in the proposed format is the right tool in the tool kit to increase the number of high level apprenticeships on offer seems up for genuine debate. The distance the UK has to travel in this regard is stark

but business groups who bemoan that Higher Education (annual Government funding: £12.1bn) is seen as a more desirable route than Apprenticeships (annual Government funding: approx £1.4bn page 5 on the Parliamentary briefing linked above) but then also bemoan paying for an increase in spending on apprenticeships will find their protests ring a little hollow.

 

Just what is the truth about the scale of school + business interaction?

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”

HEADLINE STATISTICS: 

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.

SUMMARY QUOTES: 

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.”

COMMENT:

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.

HEADLINE STATISTICS:

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.

methods for contacting people who work july 2015

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.

SUMMARY QUOTES:

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

COMMENTS:

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.

HEADLINE STATISTICS:

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.

SUMMARY QUOTES:

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.

COMMENTS:

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

HEADLINE STATISTICS:

employer engagement bis report Dec 2014

school engagement with employers Dec 2014

SUMMARY QUOTES:

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.

COMMENTS:

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.

COMMENTS: 

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.

OVERALL:

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.

The Scottish conundrum

While the recent CEIAG landscape in English secondary schools has suffered the slings and arrows of funding cuts, critical report after critical report and the general disdain of prominent voices in the business community, the picture north of the border has been increasingly held up to be a much more structured and cohesive system.

Presentations were made, praise was given and, overall, those of us in England who take notice of such things, sat there pining for the way things could be.

Which is why it was interesting to see this article in the Herald Scotland, the report it covers and in particular this quote from CBI Scotland Director Hugh Aitken

He added that the careers system remained a “weak link” in the system with the “vast majority” of businesses think it was not good enough with vocational routes “undersold” to young people.

The report, Delivering Excellence: A new approach for schools in Scotland, goes on to say

cbi scotland careers views

Unfortunately the current provision in Scotland is simply not up to the mark and businesses are seeing no sign of improvement (Exhibit 17). Four out of five businesses (85%) across Scotland feel the quality of careers advice young people receive is not good enough to help them make informed decisions about future career options. Only 4% consider the quality of current careers advice to be adequate.

My point is not about which view is ‘correct’ on the quality of careers provision in Scotland but that, no matter what Careers practitioners or even clients think about the quality of service on offer, there will always be another taskmaster in the mix. A taskmaster seemingly consistently dissatisfied with the workforce prepared by all parts of the education system.

I’ve posted before on how business representatives regularly adapt their requirements on education to always have a further target or how a “what we need now is…” always turns up at the end of the press release. Like Sisyphus, the boulder never seems to stay at the top of the hill. It’s worth bearing this conflict of views on the careers service in Scotland in mind when you read the next education headline or news story with a quote from a business leader or MP starting with, “Businesses tell me….”

This Your Life campaign

Launched earlier this week is a new scheme backed by Government and numerous large employers across the sector called “Your Life.” Aimed especially at girls but keen to claim the attention of any teenagers, the campaign aims to massively increase the numbers of students taking STEM subjects and following those through to impact on career choice.

As is the norm for these sort of campaigns it has gained a large amount of media traction on its first morning (BBC & Telegraph) and is (attempting) to turn this initial buzz into a sustained social media presence. At the launch event CEO’s and STEM advocates looked vaguely uneasy while being interviewed by some hand-picked teenagers, spoke about the forthcoming advances in robotics and automation (seemingly oblivious to the fact they’re at an event which was all about lots of people having lots of jobs) and told us how that shady looking guy in the Oxford SU bar is probably just a producer from Countdown. Everyone then heard from the Education Secretary about the target to increase by 50% the number of girls taking STEM subjects at A Level. (Small side note – how many more students will be taking those subjects over the next years 3 just through the increase in population?)

This is flashy stuff with some big corporate names attached. On the morning of its launch though, the main channel for actually getting young people involved is a video competition called Formula 100. And that’s it. An email update for teachers or careers advisers to sign up to? Not yet. A commitment from those businesses present at the launch to visit X number of schools this academic year? Not yet. The announcement of a single large-scale event like the Big Bang Fair? Not yet.

All of those initiatives and many others may yet still to be announced, it’s a three-year program so to pass judgement two days into it is harsh but there is worrying air of PR flash, like the smoke after a firework, hanging around. The Events page of the campaign’s Partners website looks particularly barren and, at the time of writing, many of the events are those already held by organisations such as Semta and Wise.

On the very same morning the CBI held their annual conference and launched a number of priorities they would like their members and the main parties to consider in the build up to General Election 2015. The Education polices included asking businesses to “Step up and offer valuable, inspiring and engaging work experience opportunities for young people from a wide socio-economic background and increase commitment to collaborating with and supporting schools.” While one of their requests for Government is to, “Reinstate the duty on schools to provide work-related learning at Key Stage four and introduce a national network of Local Brokers to support schools in delivering it.” The structural change required there shouldn’t be underestimated, the financial commitment to implement work experience for all and a system of Local Brokers shouldn’t be underestimated, the power of the message needed to change employers attitudes to offering placements shouldn’t be underestimated. That’s a huge amount of work but work which, in my view, would have a significant positive impact on career and learning choices of young people.

Over the coming months, for the Your Life to achieve anywhere near the positive impact on young people as those two suggestions from the CBI would, the substance of the campaign really needs to live up to the PR wow.

 

 

The moving employer bullseye for GCSEs

This years GCSE results have brought forth the usual comment and think pieces about the exact value and worth of exam grades on sign posting a young person’s future success. One of the most important voices in this period to shape the debate is always the CBI, the employer body with the ear of Government and seemingly the widest PR reach.

Their GCSE response this year bemoans, among other things, the removal of speaking and listening from the final English grades and how that, “more must be done to ensure a GCSE pass is an accurate measure of not just how well a young person does in the exam hall, but also the skills they can bring to the workplace.” They also request that, “schools should be judged not only on their position in the league tables, but how well-prepared young people are for life beyond the classroom” acknowledging the power that league tables have on school decision-making. Estelle Morris makes a similar point today in the Guardian,

“On the one hand, we bemoan a culture that only values the things that can be measured and we fret about the pressures placed on “the most examined generation of children”. Yet, on the other, when it is our children or our school, exams are hugely influential on the decisions we make.”

Seemingly this is true not just on the decisions education or parents make, but also on the decisions employers make

We all know the stories of the fantastically successful entrepreneur who left school with only a frayed tie and some crumpled detention slips to their name but, it seems, the odds are severely against these outliers.

Which takes me back to the CBI. Their call this year for more rounded school leavers, equipped with those vital employability skills (and a system that recognises schools progress towards achieving this) would find many agreeing murmurs from the Careers sector (even without mentioning their joint desire to see improvement in CEIAG) but it also shows how their view on exams results is evolving over time.

The 2013 CBI response also had an axe to grind (this time against early entries which brought a quick reaction from the DfE) but did try to bridge the gap between the importance of results and the importance of wider skills,

The plan to make GCSEs tougher, although necessary, is not an end in itself

Going back further, the 2012 CBI response acknowledges how changes in the system were then affecting pass rates but places the importance on attainment and standards,

“Improving attainment in our schools is critical to the future success of our economy and society. Raising ambition and aspiration for all should be the focus of our school system. Creating a thirst for learning and delivering a rigorous, meaningful curriculum is a national priority, which needs to be urgently tackled.”

While in 2011, the response the focus is solely placed on numeracy and literacy skills,

“It’s good to see the proportion achieving a C or above in Maths and English continuing to rise. Being able to show you have good ability in reading, writing and maths is more important than ever and opens the door to work or further study.

“However, too many students are still failing to pass Maths GCSE.

“With the highest number of young people for five years not in education, employment or training, we cannot afford for young people to miss out on basic Maths skills.

While there is a slightly Sisyphean nature to these evolving targets for GCSE exams to hit, now that many of the GCSE and league table reforms enacted by the DfE during this parliament are in place with the support of the CBI this call for a wider skills recognition and greater emphasis on preparation for a working life is a theme that will grow as we move towards the 2015 election (witness Tristram’s Hunt character education focus) and one that should benefit CEIAG in schools.