Claudia Harris

The CEC in front of the Education Select Committee May 2018 – not the one sided thrashing you were led to believe

Link to the Education Select Committee Video here:

https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/90b1eb8a-1eca-40c2-8916-0956c5cce7a0

So far in its existence (at least to those of us in the Careers community that don’t work for it) it seemed that the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) was the golden child, arrived here to save careers work for young people in England. Central funding wise, they essentially are the only show in town as they scale up their pilot work and their communications, PR and branding have been a fresh breeze of modern professionalism in a sector that (if I may) has always been behind the curve in shaping its own public perception. This period of cosy positivity ended though with a bruising session for the CEC in front of Robert Halfon and his Education Select Committee. The trade press reported the session in typical combative framing and the CEC did itself no favourites with a poorly judged call for social media support afterwards.

The Select Committee (well the 7 present of the 11 members) seemed aghast at a number of areas of the CEC’s work and track-record

  • that the CEC had spent £900,000 on research publications which were monies that had not been spent on the front line
  • that the CEC was not yet able to report on the destinations impact of the provision that their work had funded
  • that their board meeting minutes were not made public
  • that the long mooted Enterprise Passport had been put “on hold” despite it being one of the three main strands of the CEC’s original remit
  • that funding pots supposedly dedicated to providing provision for disadvantaged areas were not being totally allocated to those areas
  • paying Enterprise Co-ordinators and other central, senior roles significant salaries above comparable school based roles

Some of these criticisms hold an element of truth but what was also apparent from the session was (yet again) just how woefully ignorant of the Careers landscape (and by extension the work of the CEC) the MPs were.

Of course, it is only fair for MP’s to ask for the upmost transparency and compliance when investigating the value gained for the spending for tax payers money and beginning to focus on the actual impact (rather than merely the quantity) of provision would have been something you might have read about on this blog back in July 2017. Funding from Government comes with strings attached, it must be accounted for so taking the CEC to task for not being clear on the destination data of the pupils receiving CEIAG provision funded by the CEC is to be expected. What was not expected was just how difficult it was for the MPs to grasp that this destination data was;

a) only part of the impact feedback with evaluations and further social mobility measures, employer feedback, skill shortage data etc also to be taken into account

b) not going to be ready yet as many of the young recipients of CEC funded provision were probably still in school at this moment – Mr Halfon seemed unable to comprehend this fairly simple point

and

c) extremely difficult to collect and place comparative value on as the inputs (the type of CEIAG provision) are varied and delivered by a multitude of different providers funded by the CEC

It was also astonishing to see Emma Hardy, the MP for Hull West, at one moment criticize the CEC for not publishing pupil level destination data to show the impact of their work only then to also harangue them for not funding grassroots organisations such as National Careers Week who also do not publish or collect pupil level destination data. NCW are a fine organisation but they are not providers of provision, they are a banner organisation whose launch events and social media exposure allow others to brand their own work. Their own reporting reflects this with the number of tweets and resource downloads indicating a successful impact rather than the actual outcomes of young people. Moments such as this highlight a complete lack of mastery of the Select Committee brief from some of the Members and this was only to continue throughout the session.

Trudy Harrison was the most clueless of the bunch, at times advocating that the CEC should only be judged on the hugely reductive measure of rising or falling youth unemployment in an area in which they are funding provision and showing her utter unpreparedness for the session by repeatedly asking what a “Cold Spot” was. In the end I admired Claudia Harris’ restraint as the Member for Copeland asked for definitions, clarifications and to be sent information that was published on the CEC website back in October 2015 and forms a fundamental basis for all of the subsequent work of the organisation.

(I also enjoyed Lucy Powell noting that the advertised circa £80k CEC Director of Education role is “more than we get paid” considering that an MP’s current salary is very close at £77,379 and Mrs Powell also enjoys income from a number of rental properties according to the Register of MP’s Financial Interests)

Despite the general ignorance of the line of questioning some important points were raised. The fact that the Enterprise Passport is “on hold” to use Christine Hodgson‘s phrase is of note but it was more a pity that the MPs did not have the forensic insight to ask how much had been spent on this project to date. The figures for the amount of applications for funding the CEC received should also have caused a greater swell of interest. For the original £5m funding pot, they received over 10 times (£50m) worth of applications which just shows that there could be vastly more CEIAG work happening with young people if only the funding was there. Again, the MP’s did not pick up on this huge appetite for provision that is currently being unfilled.

As the session progressed, both Hodgson and Claudia Harris struggled gainfully and mostly unsuccessfully to overcome the MPs preordained views. At times, this was the fault of the two representatives of the CEC as they struggled to recall funding amounts or specific data that would’ve helped their push-back and appear more in charge of their remit. This was clearly apparent as they struggled to articulate the processes and structure of the biding and allocation of both the Personal Guidance funds and the Career Hubs monies. This was not helped by Robert Halfon confusing his brief over the remit of two distinct pots of money but also the failure of Harris to explain why biding processes had been designed with certain methodologies and if the £5m allocated for disadvantaged young people was definitively going to be spent on disadvantaged young people. The promises that current schemes (Compass and the 2019 publication of destination data of pupils involved with CEC funded activities) would soon bear fruit also failed to appease the Committee. The central point remains though, it is clearly fair for Select Committee’s to ask for clarity on expenditure and impact and the CEC, with their multitude of funding pots and provision schemes, certainly dropped the ball in explaining this coherently.

Equally though, dissatisfaction arose due to the fact that the roles of the CEC still seem undefined to those MPs who oversee them. Despite Hodgson’s appeals to the contrary that their DfE grant letter provides a clear remit, throughout the session the CEC was tasked by different Members with being a provider of CEIAG provision, an umbrella organisation channelling funding to organisations on the front-line and a research intensive body such as the Education Endowment Foundation only finding what does and doesn’t work (somehow despite their earlier criticisms of too high a research budget) or all of those things or even some mixture of those things.

Perhaps, through no fault of its own, by the time of its creation, the marketplace the CEC hopes to shelter under its umbrella and stakeholder’s perceptions of CEIAG provision had grown so distinct and varied that bringing all of the partner organisations and oversight bodies together will provide a much harder task than they imagined. It’s not that everybody isn’t yet singing from the same hymn sheet, it’s that, despite the huge research investment, the debate over which hymn sheet to use is still happening.

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The outcome measures of the CEC

Now two years since it gained a Chief Executive and began to hire its network of staff, the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) released its 2nd Annual Round-up earlier this month. The report updates on the Company’s progress in expanding its networks of employer engagement and building it’s research base.

As with previous communications, the Round-up is a polished document full of the praises and progress the Company has made since it’s inception. I’ve posted previously on the difficulty on pinning the Company down on the exact numbers of Enterprise Advisers they have hired but this document does update an exact number.

cec2

While, on the previous page, the less precise term is used for the number of schools enrolled in the scheme.

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If “more than” 1700 schools are signed up to the scheme does that mean that some schools are waiting for Enterprise Advisers to be matched with?

With the most recent DfE release showing that there are 3401 Secondary Schools and the AoC Key Facts showing 359 Further Education Colleges in England that means around 45% have now been paired with an Enterprise Adviser.

The Round Up continues to outline the progress and plans across four areas:

  1. Building local networks (Enterprise Advisers)
  2. Finding out what works (research)
  3. Backing proven ideas (investment funds)
  4. Providing online CEIAG resources (the Compass rating tool and the forthcoming Enterprise Passport)

Which are all full of detail on the admirable ambitions of the CEC. Much providence is given to the underlying research backing for this type of work provided by the studies from the Education & Employers Taskforce and the Gatsby Standards.

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This reliance on the evidence base is to be welcomed and the Taskforce is clear that quantity of engagements is vital to improved outcomes for young people.

  • Quantity matters: greater volume of school-mediated employer engagement is associated with better economic outcomes, demonstrating relationships between the number of school-mediated teenage engagements with employers recalled by young adults and significantly reduced incidence of being NEET.

What isn’t mentioned in the Round Up though is any judgement on the quality of those interactions which their networks have enabled. The Taskforce is also clear that this is a factor in the value of the outcomes achieved by young people

  • Quality matters: more highly regarded employer engagement is associated with better economic outcomes. Analysis presented here shows a consistent relationship between higher regard for school-mediated provision and adult economic outcomes.  It suggests that the instincts of young adults were right: that the schools had prepared them better than comparator peers. Wage premiums in excess of 20% are found linked to higher volumes of employer engagement activities described, in general terms, as having been helpful.

More provision matters but more provision students remember as being helpful really matters. Which shows that, as any practitioner who has run an event with a before & after student view questionnaire will know, evaluation of provision is a vital step in ongoing quality control. While this is something individual providers and organisations will (should) be doing to monitor their own impacts, it is not mentioned that the CEC is collating or monitoring this feedback.

This lack of information on the quality of provision is a hint at the lack of wider absence from the Round-up of outcomes for students, whether gleaned from qualitative or quantitative data.

In the announcement of its formation, the DfE said that the new Company would fulfill a number of remits including

  • provide feedback to government on how well young people are being prepared for work

This was expanded on by the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who at an Education Select Committee appearance on the 9th September 2015, said the Company would be judged by “asking young people at the end of this academic and going forward, where they aware of all the options, when did they receive advice, who came into their school to tell them about all the options” and by asking employers “are young people more work ready, more aware of the options that are out there” and listening to employer feedback. In an answer to Ian Mearns MP, she then said that “more emphasis on destination data, tracking where pupils go” would be a key indicator. When asked if she would return to the Committee with evidence of progress from the CEC Morgan promised to return within the Parliament. Of course since September 2015 a lot of water has passed under the political bridge including Cabinet reshuffles, Brexit and a fluffed General Election. With, at the time of writing, a new Education Select Committee chair and membership waiting to be elected, one of the items in a hugely packed education sphere competing for attention from the Committee should be to ask for this promise to be followed up by Morgan’s successor.

There have also been questions in the House to the DfE Ministerial team about the progress of the CEC in meeting its remit. Firstly on 25th January 2016, Sam Gyimah fielded questions with the claim of “significant progress” as evidenced by the hiring of enterprise advisers, the launch of a fund and the forthcoming (then and still now) enterprise passport. There was also the promise of a Careers Strategy in the (for what it’s worth, ahem, still waiting) Spring to further assist schools in their work with the CEC. Again none of this includes monitoring or evaluating the outcomes of any of this work.

On 7th March 2016, Gyimah again took questions on the CEC and again claimed “excellent progress in opening up schools to the world of work.” As well as taking a swipe at Careers Advice, Gyimah promoted the CEC Mentoring scheme and that “every school will have an “Enterprise Adviser.” The session passed with no information on measuring outcomes for students.

The CEC has also appeared in front of MPs during a session of the Sub-Committee on Education Skills and the Economy on the 26th March 2016. With Sam Gyimah unable to attend because of illness, Claudia Harris (alongside Ofsted and the National Careers Service) took questions from a bunch of fairly unprepared MPs who had not heard of the CEC’s work on cold spots or on Government’s own research on employer engagement. The MP’s mainly focused on the “umbrella” work of the CEC to raise engagement provision in areas where this was not happening, on understanding the structural layout of the CEC and the National Careers Service and testing the potential overlaps between the two. Harris was asked about the quality assessment of the work of Enterprise Advisers and promised that schools and colleges will be surveyed on their views of the work of their Advisers. The most important question on the outcomes for students comes at 16.52 in the link above. Harris says the CEC will be measuring 3 outcomes:

  1. Penetration – the numbers of pupils and schools involved
  2. Satisfaction – asking schools if this provision is helping
  3. Impact – working from a baseline in every school, the CEC will monitor how provision has increased

Then Catherine McKinnell MP asks a vital follow-up question “Is there not a risk that there will be a focus on quantity rather than quality,” to which Harris offers

  1. A literature review conducted by the CEC looking at the effectiveness of mentoring as an employer engagement activity so directing funding what works
  2. A series of “deep dive” focus groups where representatives from the CEC will speak to students on their views of engagement provision they have attended and what help it offered them

The absence of two of the outcomes mentioned by Morgan in her session is noticeable. The omission of feedback from employers and student destination statistics is perhaps wise as these are outcome measures not wholly in the control of the CEC and those with conflicting data points with no clear definition from Government on what would be measured. Would a reduction in the of 16-19 NEETS be a plus mark for the CEC or a rise in employer satisfaction of school leaver skills be evidence of the impact of provision? And from which survey source would this be, those conducted by Government or those conducted by business? Or would the only satisfactory judgement be made by the sort of longitudinal research conducted by the Education & Employers Taskforce? This lack of clarity of definable targets continued in a further Committee session (27th April 2016) with the witnesses Nick Boles MP and Sam Gyimah MP where the conversation on quality monitoring of the CEC is sidetracked onto the Dfe Statutory Guidance.

Having to scour Select Committee archives for definitions of the student focused outcome measures of the CEC is indicative of the lack of clarity from the DfE around this issue. If we take Morgan’s comments (as the initalising Secretary of State) as gospel then achieving the tasks set of assuaging the concerns of business and reshaping destination statstics will be no mean feat for the CEC to achieve. Only today the CBI released it’s 2017 Annual Skills Survey. The results include businesses views on the workplace skills of school leavers

cbi1

with much to be improved upon and contained the fact that only 21% of businesses “are currently aware” of the activities of the CEC. The fear must be that this is a taskmaster who will never be satisfied.

The ultimate quality of the enabling and linking work the CEC delivers will be decided by those volunteers, staff and practitioners on the ground organising and running the face to face provision with young people. Through its short operating period so far, the CEC has focused on the growth of its structure and operations as evidence of its progress. Soon this attention should change though onto the impact of provision and student outcomes to evaluate that public investment committed to the Company.