education & employers

The COVID19 lockdown and the end of Gatsby by 2020

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

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

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

gatsby report1

Career guidance is important to social mobility

The original report also drew on a number of evidence sources to determine their Benchmark design and recommendations for provision across the different area of CEIAG as defined in the Benchmarks. This included references to the work of the Education & Employers Taskforce with particular regard to conclusions from two pieces of work

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

The influence on the Benchmarks and the wider recommendations from the Gatsby Foundation was substantive. Employer Engagement works to build social capital of young people to compete in the job market and the networks of employer resource utilised by the Independent sector should be mirrored by state schools. Through setting those particular Benchmarks the number of quality Employer Engagements would rise and so social mobility would become more fluid as those young people from across the strata of social backgrounds would approach progression into the job market more fully prepared. To help with the speedy progress towards the state school and College system meeting those Benchmarks, the Government set a target deadline.

Government’s expectation is that schools begin to work towards the Benchmarks now and meet them by the end of 2020.

The COVID19 lockdown, it’s differential impacts on the learning of young people from different backgrounds and the new delivery methods schools and colleges are having to implement to deliver curriculum will have significantly impacted CEIAG provision. In turn this will have consequences for deadline assigned to achieving Gatsby and the methods of CEIAG delivery that Gatsby includes. Lets consider some of the challenges facing a system trying to achieve those Benchmarks within the current time frame:

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

Well below the DfE suggestions that 10% of pupils that would attend school sites during the lock-down this is a measly figure. Of course there are and will be viable medical reasons and parental decisions affecting those attendance figures but the fact remains that those young people who have the most distance to travel in their learning and experiential gain by attending school are not currently participating in on-site learning and so their progress across all sectors of their curriculum is much harder to measure.

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

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

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

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

Huge swathes of the economy are on pause limiting employer engagement

Even for those Careers Leaders keen to put on virtual provision for their students the challenges continue with their employer contacts preoccupied with other issues. 7.5 million workers have been put onto the Job Retention Scheme by their employers, approx 27% of all workers.

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

As businesses focus on survival or adaption through this economic shock and the resulting new commercial world their participation in Employer Engagement with education is likely to be limited. The knock on effects to recruitment are already stark including to apprenticeship recruitment. This period is likely to have a long tail in a number of industries as the nation tentatively leaves lock-down while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. Travel, tourism, hospitality, retail and personal services are all likely to contract significantly and so offer less engagement to education. Those arranging work placements or looking for a range of employers to build into their comprehensive careers program may well find that previously reliable contacts are no longer able to support them.

The period of social distancing in education will impact provision for a long period to come

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

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

leaving huge numbers of potential new cases for second or third waves when lock-down measures are eased so Governments will likely have to reinstate strict lock-downs whether nationally or regionally depending on the movement in the R rate. This will mean much further disruption for education providers (potentially unevenly across the country) and the achievement of Gatsby by 2020 even less likely.

Impact on Gatsby

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

  1. Is there a need for Compass to amended so that virtual provision is accounted for and counts towards meeting Gatsby Benchmarks
  2. Is there an evidence base for virtual CEIAG provision so that a new edition in the “What Works” series can be published and is that evidence base substantive enough that virtual provision can, in some cases, replace real life experiences

Across many schools and colleges there will still be an amount of virtual and distance CEIAG taking place, especially to support to those leavers who’s immediate transition into the workplace or next stage of their learning is most at threat. There are significant positives to offering online guidance as part of a range of approaches

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

Where the real benefit from such experience comes from is in the Social and Cultural capital sections. The human networks gained from actual work experience are missing from the Pod experience, there is no individually tailored advice or interactions with older colleagues whose voices are seen as ‘authentic’ and there is no human link made to call back on for a reference or further opportunities later on in the student’s progression.

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

It would be interesting to see what the CEC and their research partners conclude.

Looking though at the wider challenges facing both education and business over the coming 12 months, I believe that we are approaching a period where the Compass rating system (and the Gatsby Benchmarks they are founded upon) will no longer reflect the reality of huge amounts of CEIAG provision and that the 2020 deadline is no longer remotely realistic as too much time has been lost for those students Gatsby is most designed to help.

The CEC is heading into tricky strategic waters


Since it’s inception I would hope that this blog has been viewed as being demanding but fair to the Careers and Enterprise company. While some of their early work seemed more suited to the corporate sphere rather than the transparent world of the public sector they have since been given an wider remit by the Government, weathered (what in my view) has been some grandstanding but empty criticism from Robert Halfon and expanded their offer to schools and colleges through Careers Hubs, online tools and other funding streams. With this context, my position is that the sector should welcome that the DfE is funding careers work and tasking the CEC with looking at a fuller variety of careers provision rather than just the original remit of facilitating employer encounters. The DfE Guidance for Schools and Colleges has done much to focus attention and add impetus and importance to the CEC in the minds of School and College Senior Leaders. This work should be continued and built upon further. My fear for the future though is that the CEC is having to stray into tricky political waters.


As an indicator of their increased transparency, the CEC now publishes it’s annual grant funding letter. This sets out the clear targets and expectations of the DfE for the CEC and indicates the funding allocated to each strand of work

The DfE has determined those targets to have value and some of the data points around training, allocation of funds and sharing of best practice seem sensible for system improvement but overall these outcomes are very technical and input based. Key performance indicators such as “55% of schools and colleges in the Wave 1 Careers Hubs fully achieving Gatsby Benchmark 6” or “70,000 young people reached in Wave 1 Opportunity Areas by August 2019” are admirable in their specificity and adherence to the Gatsby research but also bring a danger for the CEC as they are ultimately lacking in both political and public impact.

Since it’s inception the CEC has received over £95 million (with £24.3 million of that for 2019/20). The issue here is not in terms of figures (careers work needs funding) but when Ministers have to justify previous and future expenditure. The DfE will need to present outcomes for this flagship policy to both political audiences (at Education Select Committees and in Parliament) and to the pubic through achievements that, they hope, will resonate with voters at election times.

We have already seen the CEC struggle to articulate their progress and achievements at two Eduction Select Committee sessions where the questions focused on the need to prove outcomes for students while Claudia Harris and Christine Hodgson’s answers relied on data showing the input provision that had been enacted. In Parliament and in previous speeches by Ministers, there has been confusion over the aims of the CEC. This mismatch between expectation of delivery and what is achieved is what will prove to be tricky for the CEC to manage.

The need for a compelling message

In 2016 I attended a session at an Education and Employers research conference where two ex-DfE civil servants spoke about the need to distill research and outcomes down to the simplest, most concise summary possible so that Ministers can digest and cascade it. They did not quite advocate Trumpian levels of “put in as many pictures as possible” but their reasons as to why the “4 or more employer engagements” research broke through so successfully are worth the attention of the CEC when considering promoting their work to MPs and the public.

The narrative battle

However, the CEC is tasked with showing progress against those very technical key performance indicators in their grant funding letter. Previously they achieved this through annual State of the Nation reports but now have released data which has gone further by showing progress against the Gatsby Benchmarks broken down to Local Enterprise Partnership level. This shows a

contrasting picture across the country, with the top performing areas made up of largely coastal and economically disadvantaged communities, while the bottom is made up almost exclusively of affluent counties.

This (with the caveat of noting that Compass is self reported data) is a positive picture indicating a large swell of change in CEIAG provision levels for young people and work. Unfortunately this does not translate to the mantra of keeping your outcomes simple and easily understood. Compare that positive picture based on Gatsby Benchmarks and the accompanying TES article from Anne Milton with other policy and research data released in the very same week as the CEC LEP level data. First came the Impetus Youth Jobs Report which utilised the LEO dataset

In March 2017 (the latest date we can analyse using the data we have access to) 26% of disadvantaged young people were NEET, compared to 13% of their better-off peers. This is the equivalent of around 78,000 additional disadvantaged NEETs aged 18-24. Looking at the same data from the opposite end of the lens, 26% of NEETs were from disadvantaged backgrounds, despite being only 16% of the population

and that

A disadvantaged young person is about 50% more likely to be NEET in the North East compared to London

This was soon followed by the 2018-19 State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission. The key findings are stark and easily summarised:

  • The better off are nearly 80% more likely to end up in professional jobs than those from a working-class background.
  • Even when people from disadvantaged backgrounds land a professional job, they earn 17% less than their privileged colleagues.
  • social mobility has remained virtually stagnant since 2014. Four years ago, 59% of those from professional backgrounds were in professional jobs, rising to 60% last year
  • in 2014 only 32% of those from working class backgrounds got professional jobs, rising marginally to 34% last year
  • those from working class backgrounds earn 24% less a year than those from professional backgrounds, even if they get a professional job they earn 17% less than more privileged peers
  • by age 6 there is a 14% gap in phonics attainment between children entitled to free school meals and those more advantaged
  • by age 7 the gap has widened to 18% in reading, 20% in writing and 18% in mathematics
  • only 16% of pupils on free school meals attain at least 2 A levels by age 19, compared to 39% of all other pupils
  • twice the number of disadvantaged 16 to 18 year olds are at further education colleges compared to sixth-forms, and this segregation within the education system has risen by 1.2% since 2013
  • student funding for 16 to 19 year olds has fallen 12% since 2011 to 2012, and is now 8% lower than for secondary schools (11 to 15 year olds), leading to cuts to the curriculum and student support services that harm disadvantaged students
  • graduates who were on free school meals earn 11.5% less than others 5 years after graduating

The accompanying coverage resonated through articles across the media (some examples here and here) and gave enough political leverage for it to be raised at PMQs.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that these two reports and the CEC publication are talking about the very same disadvantaged communities yet through very different lenses. Of course, the CEC is reviewing current trends in provision which may not have an impact on outcomes for pupils for many years while adhering to reporting against it’s key performance indicators. Translating those KPIs when explaining the positive outcomes of their work to audiences without a CEIAG specialism is a huge hurdle for the CEC as they have to:

  1. explain what the Benchmarks are
  2. explain why they are good to achieve
  3. show that they are helping schools and colleges achieve them
  4. then outline the impact on positive outcomes for students in those disadvantaged communities.

I fear this means that achieving positive traction with politicians and the public will be extremely difficult.

Politically tricky waters

The political future of the country is currently in a highly unpredictable place but the CEC must be conscious of the need to persuade future Governments (of any colour ribbon) of their value. Labour’s Education Policy of a National Education Service is outlined in broad strokes without clarity on the need or role of a CEC type organisation. But whichever party is in power to make decisions on funding, they will not make those decisions merely based on research and evidence but research, evidence and outcomes that has been successfully communicated. If the CEC continues to constrain themselves to only communicating the value of the work in line with their key performance indicators then they will soon find themselves outmaneuvered by those able to use other statistics and research to paint a much more negative picture of the current state of CEIAG provision in disadvantaged communities to undermine any positive progress made.

Primary CEIAG and the preparation for choice

At the beginning of March Damian Hinds reannounced £2m of funding for the CEC to research and invest in CEIAG in Primary schools. This sparked a comment piece by the Headteacher blogger Michael Tidd which argued against this initiative. It’s worth saying that Tidd’s concerns seem to fall into two categories: 1) resources are tight and the funding for this initiative is small so any impact will be slight and 2) Careers Education is not a priority at this stage of education. Leaving aside the zero sum game view on resourcing (just because Primary CEIAG receives some funds, it doesn’t automatically follow that other areas shouldn’t or can’t receive funds), it’s his view on CEIAG that this post will concentrate on.

Tidd asks,

what are we hoping that 10-year-olds will take from these new lessons? I think many primary children have no idea what they want to do when they grow up – and I think that’s okay. Primary education shouldn’t be about preparation for the world of work.

And then goes onto reason that

The world of careers is enormous, and there should be no hurry to make any decisions. It’s bad enough that we force young people to deliberately narrow their curriculum at 14; I certainly don’t want children to be ruling anything in or out any sooner

I understand that any media articles have tight word counts so complexity and subtlety can be lost but I’ll take Tidd at his word and offer the following in rebuttal. The first point is the fact that Primary schools report that they are already offering CEIAG provision to pupils

primary ceiag

through a range of activities. So this funding is not for squeezing new things into crammed timetables but for improving the efficacy of provision that is already happening.

Second, is the need to tackle this conceptual view of Primary (or any) CEIAG as only a mechanism of immediate choice as this is a damaging and false starting point of the aims and outcomes of good CEIAG provision. That isn’t to say that some CEIAG provision does enable and facilitate choices but that other provision lays the groundwork for this. This has long been advocated by the Education & Employers Taskforce charity who established their Inspiring the Future offshoot, Primary Futures to achieve just this

Here the framing of the provision is not choice limiting or insistent on choices being made but as provision as a method for expanding and broadening horizons. The CEC publication, “What works: Careers related learning in primary schools” draws together much of the nascent research in this field to evidence why this is the correct approach.

The evidence suggests that career related learning in primary schools has the potential to help broaden children’s horizons and aspirations, especially (though not exclusively) those most disadvantaged.

Some of the challenges that all CEIAG provision aims to overcome is laid out

Robust longitudinal studies have shown that having narrow occupational expectations and aspirations can, and do, go on to influence the academic effort children exert in certain lessons, the subjects they choose to study, and the jobs they end up pursuing.Research has also shown that the jobs children aspire to may be ones that their parents do, their parents’ friends do or that they see on the TV and/or social media.

The passages (page 2) which describe how young children base their career knowledge and aspirations on their close circle of influencers (social capital), conceive their view on their place and opportunities in society (cultural capital) and establish their belief in their ability to determine their own outcomes against other factors (identity capital) lucidly offer the rationale for careers provision at Primary school age. The argument that Primary CEIAG is not beneficial because young minds would subsequently preclude routes falls away as the very rationale for informed Primary CEIAG provision is for young minds to expand routes and options.

How these aims can be achieved is explained in detail in a recent LKMCO/Founders4Schools report “More than a job’s worth: Making careers education age-appropriate.” In its sections covering the rationale and design of CEIAG provision at secondary and Post-16 level, the report retreads much ground already covered through the CEC’s What Works series and the original Gatsby report. Where the report adds value to the ever-increasing library of CEIAG publications though is the clear direction for practitioners as to what sorts of provision could be offered to children of different ages.

lmkco report1

The inclusion of the 2-4 Pre-school age group caused enough of a stir to get media coverage which also tended towards Tidd’s take on the concepts being discussed.

Finally, it’s worth saying that I agree with concern around the narrowing of options (read; curriculum) at 14 as the benefits of continuing with more a broader curriculum for longer is well evidenced. Where I would disagree with Tidd is that I would propose that the methods and age appropriate delivery of CEIAG provision the LKMCO publication outlines might actually prove to have benefits for students once they reach the later stages of secondary schooling. At these Moments of Choice (to use the CEC terminology), when students currently struggle through a complex choice system without the skills and knowledge to navigate that choice architecture, the pay off from the horizon broadening and stereotype challenging Primary CEIAG work he disparages could be evident.

The EDu Taskforce apprenticeship report didn’t have recommendations for employers so I added some

After writing this blog for all these years, a few returning themes certainly start to emerge. A regular concern I have posted about is the erroneous view (in my opinion) that the low percentages of young people gaining apprenticeships is not down to an awareness issue but due to more complex mix of lack of vacancies & demand outstripping supply, the negative perception of the quality of apprenticeships, employers hiring practices and views favouring older applicants and lack of efficacy in their applications due to their poor networks, work experience and failure to explain their transferable skills. Addressing these issues would take significant investment in student support mechanisms (eg staff) and a culture change in employment hiring so the far easier soundbite for policy makers has always been to bemoan the awareness of apprenticeships in young people.

The position that I disagree with has gained substantive backing with the release of new report from the Education & Employers Taskforce.

This is a piece of work from the researchers who’s previous findings have, I think it’s fair to say, had a substantial impact on the CEIAG policy direction in recent years.

The report uses the following statistic:

Recent government figures have shown that despite the overall number of apprenticeships increasing, the number of under 19s starts have stagnated at around 20%

as a launchpad for examining the methods and practices of schools from which a higher proportion of students do progress into apprenticeships. The Taskforce, quite sensibly, want to amplify those practices and see how expandable they are for all schools. Some of the useful lessons to be learnt are that

In seeking to address the negative attitudes and assumptions young people hold about apprenticeships, the literature suggests that increasing the level of authentic exposure of young people to the apprenticeship route could be helpful.

which is a branch of the previous findings of the Taskforce that employer encounters are beneficial to employment outcomes of learners.

Useful tips to consider when designing school CEIAG provision include altering CV writing sessions by using application form writing frames instead as

Only five of the employers surveyed mentioned using CVs at any point when hiring apprentices, with thirteen instead making reference to an online assessment or
application form which contained a number of write in questions. In our sample of schools, however, CV workshops were still highlighted by the majority of respondents as a method for preparing young people for job applications.

but also more generic recommendations such as promoting higher and degree apprenticeships more, promoting with students at a younger age and raising the profile of apprenticeships with parents. These are all aims which any school Careers professional would agree with and strive for. The survey findings acknowledge the transformative effect good careers work that utilises employers can have

Schools remain, based on the responses given by young people (see figure 1), a key source of information for future possibilities as much as employers. In particular, for those young people who do not have access to personal connection, schools may be major players in raising awareness and broadening aspirations

The report also looks at the desire of young people to want to pursue an apprenticeship

edu apprenticeships1

which, on the face of things, suggests that apprenticeships do not entice enough young people to even attempt to apply for them. What is missing though from this response is the contextual data that show that many more young people apply for apprenticeship vacancies than there are vacancies to begin with

so, even with that low-interest base, the current labour market intelligence shows any young person that securing an apprenticeship is much more difficult than gaining a place at a Sixth Form or FE College. This is acknowledged elsewhere in the report

Demand for apprenticeships from young people far outstrips supply. According to data from the National Apprenticeship Service and the governments FE data library, more than 1.6 million online applicants competed for 211,380 vacancies posted online in 2016

Which makes it odd then that, the report does not mirror the recommendations for schools and include recommendations for employers. So here are the ones which I think they should’ve included to achieve more young people transferring into an apprenticeship before 19.

1. Advertise more apprenticeship vacancies

Because of the above

2. Pay them more

Using current apprentices as role models is a wise method of provision. The Young Apprentice Ambassador Network should be in the toolbox of every school Careers Leader. But if you really want the value of good word of mouth to cascade down from those current apprentices, listen to their own feedback and increase the wages offered.

edu apprenticeships2

3. Make your hiring process more accessible

Careers Leaders understand that it’s their job to increase the employability of young people and that includes making them able to decode and navigate the application process but please, meet us halfway. Many apprenticeship application processes at larger companies are unnecessarily complex from the initial web search (no, vacancies in Doha are not of interest) to the language used. This was highlighted in a recent article by Paul Johnson, Director of the IFS

This could also include having downloadable pdf’s of your application form on your school leaver or apprenticeship website so that practitioners could print these off and use them in a group session.

4. Stop bemoaning the influence of parents

The report includes references to literature, surveys and feedback

Many parents of our generation were brought up during the old YTS days and perceptions have stuck for example parents calling it slave labour. Parents also question the loss of child benefit and many will prevent their children from doing an apprenticeship based on this factor. I recently had a conversation with a parent of a 17-year-old at our 6th form who is stopping her son because of this

that highlights parents as negative influencers on young people thinking about apprenticeships. But excludes data that suggests that attitudes are changing such as the recent Varkey Foundation global survey of parents


5. Be honest about your skill requirements & consider new hires instead

Many apprenticeships are not new jobs but training schemes for current employees. As the 2015 Ofsted report “Developing skills for future prosperity” noted

Nationally, considerably more 16- to 18-year-olds apply for apprenticeships
than those aged 25 and over, but far fewer become apprentices. Approximately 40% of the 19,000 learners on apprenticeships at the providers visited were aged 25 and over, whereas only 29% were aged 16 to 18. Most of these older apprentices were already employed in jobs that were converted to apprenticeships.

The Taskforce report also fails to acknowledge this, so the starting point assumption that all apprenticeships were open to school leavers to apply to is a false premise.

The Ofsted report also includes typical employer viewpoints such as

the employers interviewed frequently said that they were reluctant to take a young apprentice straight from school. Two factors dominated their rationale for this.

  • They believed too many 16-year-old school leavers lacked personal
    presentation and communication skills, or gave the impression at interview
    that they were immature and unreliable.
  • They recognised that employing an apprentice required a significant
    investment in time to train them in the generic employability skills and did
    not feel they could afford this.

which shows the hurdles that young applicants have to overcome.

This report and the accompanying sector news coverage paint a simplified view of the issues around young people and apprenticeship uptake which contends that, if only awareness was higher; then more young people would secure apprenticeships. The concern for me is that this view will find only too welcoming a home in the minds of policy makers looking for easy blames and quick fixes. As ever, the actual solution of not just improving awareness but also the employability, cultural capital, application and recruitment efficacy of young people and changing the hiring culture and stereotypical views of employers, is a challenge that would require a much more herculean level of investment, time and effort.


Geeking out with @Edu_Employers research conference talks

The theory and statistics behind education and employer engagement and youth transitions into the labour market is exciting stuff isn’t it?

No wait, come back, IT IS. Or at least I find it to be. I find the theory and narratives found in the data (and by “found” I mean presented to me in easy to understand graphs by Professor types) allow me to speak to parents and students with much more clarity on the prospects ahead of them, compare the value of the routes on offer locally in a wider context away from the marketing hype and just generally be confident in that I have a better idea in what the hell I’m talking about when people are looking to you for guidance on that hardest of things to predict; the future.

These videos are from the Education and Employers Taskforce Research Conference January 2014.

Professor Alison Wolf – On the death of the youth job market, how the growth of youth unemployment in the 18-24 age bracket is seriously worrying, the comparison with between the value of a degree in the UK to Europe and how the Apprenticeship system is failing the under 19s, the age group who needs them most.


Dr Anna Mazenod – On the difference between Apprenticeship policy and rhetoric for the under 19s and actual system delivery in the UK compared to other EU countries (spoiler: we’re still not doing right by just asking employers nicely to play ball and not requiring them to play ball).


Dr Anthony Mann & Dr Steve Jones – On how experiences of employer interaction can aid young people in their future labour market entry which, considering the very clear requirements in last weeks Guidance on schools to secure employer interaction for their pupils, is now central to Careers policy for young people in the UK. The quoted feedbacks from students are very interesting especially when comparing the school types they originate from.


All worth watching and all will help me place the decisions I make on the provisions I try to secure for students and the value those provisions should hold in the wider context of the increasingly challenging school to work obstacle course.

Piece on my school in the Guardian

Me: I spoke to the Guardian a few weeks ago about my role and how the school really supports our Careers work

Avid Reader: Oh nice, well done, but one thing..

Me: Yes?

Avid Reader: This fella they interviewed is called George

Me: No it’s me

Avid Reader: Are you sure?

Me: Well, they call me by full name in the first paragraph

Avid Reader: So your name is Russell?

Me: My first name is, yes

Avid Reader: But then it keeps saying “George” does this and “George” does that.

Me: Hmmmmmm

Avid Reader: So how come…?

Me: Believe me, it’s not the first time

Avid Reader: But…it’s only two words to get in the right order

Me: I know, I thought Russell Brand getting popular would solve this

Avid Reader: Ah, but he’s only get one first name!

Me: So have I!

And so on

Anyway, it’s here:

BITC and Ofsted “Going in the right direction?” roundtable event 14/01/2014

As my school was visited as part of the Ofsted survey into Careers guidance, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend this event in London this morning jointly hosted by Ofsted and Business in the Community which had the objective of defining the best routes for schools and business to navigate to work together to aid young people’s career decisions and readiness. It was an engrossing morning with contributions from national employers such as BP, Barclays, KPMG and the National Grid, professional bodies such as the CBI and CIPD, Careers sector leaders with a wealth of experience and knowledge such as Keith Hermann and David Andrews, representatives of the FE and vocational skills community, Ofsted and myself and one other school, St Mary’s High School in Cheshunt. The knowledge, commitment and range of ideas in the room on how to find solutions that would enable young people and schools to successfully achieve the benefits to be gained from employer interaction was considered, informed and of the highest standard. I thought I’d share some of the most salient points from the notes I took throughout the presentations and subsequent discussions:

Matthew Coffey – Director FE and Skills Ofsted

Was clear in his belief that destination measures would be a “game changer” for schools and that they would be a decisive lever for change in schools behaviour and attitude towards careers IAG and employability learning.


Points about the robustness & validity of the destination data and how this could lead to encouraging collaboration between providers which would improve careers provision and how, currently, funding mechanisms do not encourage this collaboration.

Karen Adriaanse – Ofsted lead on Careers Guidance & Employability

Summary of the Careers report – even though the media focused on the negative headline statistics there were a “middle band” of schools who were making efforts towards CEIAG provision but were not comprehensive enough or internally evaluated to sufficient a standard to be deemed compliant with the statutory duty. Ofsted have asked the Dfe to be clearer in the forthcoming guidance about a minimum standard of acceptable CEIAG provision.

From the interviews carried out with students as part of the survey Ofsted have a clear idea of the learners point of view of this work (I found this very useful):

What the students liked:

  • initial and follow-up individual interviews with a professional careers adviser
  • targeted online activities to explore some of the ideas presented in assemblies
  • a system for recording their ideas and subsequent research
  • a programme of visits from employers and colleges – not just one-off visits
  • a well stocked careers library, especially for those who felt ill at ease using websites
  • careers guidance as part of the curriculum, especially when the teacher had a good understanding of job opportunities

What the students said they wanted:

  • more information on the full range of courses run by FE colleges and other providers, since not everyone want to do A Levels and go to University
  • a higher profile given to vocational training and apprenticeships to help them make an informed choice
  • visits, presentations or social media pages from former students – one, two, five or even ten years after they had left the school
  • more purposeful work experience and opportunities to find out about careers from employers
  • better links between subjects and careers
  • better guidance on using websites

I’m going to type those bullet points up in a poster and stick it above my computer in my office to remind me whenever I start planning an activity or visit or session.


Contributions from employers asking for gatekeepers in schools – who do they contact? Ian Duffy of BP spoke about a forthcoming Gatsby (?) research document which would, after comparing Careers provision around the globe, offer 8 benchmarks of what good careers work would look like nationally.

Pirandeep Dhillon from the Association of Colleges outlined a vision for local “Careers Hubs” which would offer opportunities for all stakeholders including FE, LEPs, JobCentre Plus, National Careers Service, employers and education to engage with each other, receive  comprehensive notification of the variety of opportunities and routes and find space to build networks which would, in turn, lead to further collaboration and interaction with employers and schools on individual projects.

Nick Chambers – Director Employers and Education Taskforce

Nick outlined that, even with employer engagement, this is still a system that needs impartial and qualified IAG practitioners to aid young people. Also that the fragmentation of the school system over recent years has not helped with the collaboration of provision and can even put off employers from engaging as they are flooded with a multitude of requests that ask them to repeat work and struggle to find gatekeepers with a local overview.


This lead onto a discussion about how large-scale businesses can ensure that the work they do to offer resources does not replicate work already done by competitors in their field and how companies can work together both in and across sectors to offer resources that fulfill needs in schools.

Peter Lambert – Director Business in the Community

Peter had the unenviable task of trying to draw this wide-ranging discussion together to form some guidance that would be equally useful for both large multinational corporations and much smaller SME’s to engage with schools.


Discussions took place around the fact that businesses are also put off as they feel their specific bank of knowledge wouldn’t be suitable for schools as their expertise might not cover the full range of “employability” – at this point the schools were keen to allay these fears and say that, even if it is a specific area of advice the company can offer then this would still be welcomed by the schools. At this point suggestions were made of the need for local and regional brokerage such as the work of (now defunct in some areas) Education Business Partnerships and what role LEPs, Chambers of Commerce and potential Careers Hubs could play in building that knowledge bank of provision and how to access it. The “locality” issue was also discussed in relation to large-scale corporations who work with nearby schools but are unable to expand their work to reach other parts of the country. Plotr was discussed as an example of a solution to this issue.

The discussion was wrapped up by Faye Ramsson from Business in the Community who advised us that they hope to have a report ready around April time.

The right mix of inspiration and qualification in the CEIAG gold standard

While we await the publication of the promised improved guidance for schools to help them meet the Careers statutory duty, I’ve been picking over the noises emanating from those guiding the policy direction to see the direction of travel. In the immediate aftermath of the Ofsted survey, the response documents I mentioned here were clear in their message about increasing the involvement of businesses and employers from a wider range of careers in schools to provide “inspiration” to young people. It is a message that has been reinforced over the past few weeks:

In tweets from Dfe officials praising the Skills Show

In the Implementation Plan for the new delivery method for Apprenticeships (paragraphs 76 & 77)

And in Matthew Hancock’s policy update to FE Leaders

Combine this with the Government’s “freedom rules” stance on requiring QTS this does not bode well for those who wish to see some sort of mandatory requirement for schools to employ or engage with a Level 6 qualified Careers professional as a central tenet needed to satisfy the duty. This seems to be the focal point of disagreement between the policy makers and the Professional Organisations in what should be expected of schools to provide; where the balance lies between guidance offered by suitably qualified practitioners and inspiration for students provided by engagement with the working world. Both sides of the debate hope for the same outcomes for young people but the route of travel to get there seems to be causing disquiet.

It is vital to say here that this must not be an either/or debate. Both of the inputs can add great value to a school careers programme and, more importantly, should be adding great value to a school careers programme. What would be the point of CEIAG provision that either didn’t engage with employers or offer the practitioner chances to improve their practice? I wouldn’t be quite sure. The Government position seems to be though that one should happen in a school without much pressure to implement the other while the Professional Organisations think that one should only happen after the other.

The Professional Organisations face three problems though that make their expectations difficult to implement. First up is the sheer myriad of (perhaps semi) solutions that schools are adopting attempting to meet the Duty. My local experience is that more and more schools now realise the workload is too much for a teacher to take on as an extra responsibility around their teaching timetable and so are creating a specialised support role but there are also the options of buying in IAG services or even buying in whole CEIAG packages from companies such as Pearson’s Think Future. Where in this mixture of structures and responsibilities the requirement to hold or check a Level 6 qualification should lie would be difficult to judge and prescribe. Of course the other issue is money (isn’t it always?). Undertaking a Level 6 qualification costs money and school budgets are tight and getting tighter.

Thirdly, there is also the rationale to justify why the Level 6 in particular would ensure competence in CEIAG practice and why other CPD would not be sufficient enough. Mirroring the QTS debate, certification does not always ensure excellence while other CPD would offer many a chance to improve their practice. Of course, again like the QTS debate, those on the other side of the argument would argue that able practitioners should have no problems or qualms achieving the Level 6 and we should always set minimum standards for competence when public money is involved.

Data and research suggests that both inputs from each side of the debate can have positive outcomes for young people, employer interaction at school age can improve employment outcomes and quality, personalised support also decreases NEET outcomes. I hope that some kind of middle ground is found and the forthcoming revised guidance pleases all parties.

Why Andrew Selous’ Private Member’s Bill isn’t the Careers data we’re looking for

South West Bedfordshire MP Andrew Selous

Last week the column of the Conservative MP Andrew Selous in my local newspaper reminded me of his work on a Private Members Bill that would see the publication of a great amount of data with the intention of highlighting the earnings potential from each subject and qualification that young people take at school and college. In the Herald & Post Thursday 3rd October 2013, he wrote:

“A few months ago, I got the chance to bring a Private Member’s Bill before Parliament and it was an education issue that I chose to raise. My Education (Information Sharing) Bill will publish for the first time information on which vocational qualifications, GCSEs and A Levels lead to the highest and lowest earning returns. It will mean that young people and their parents will get reliable information on which courses and qualifications are likely to lead to a job and higher earnings. The Bill will allow schools and universities to link earning and employment information with the subjects and qualifications schoolchildren and university students have studied. Schools, colleges and universities need the information the Bill will provide to assess their own effectiveness in creating routes to employment and good earnings. Critically they will really help young people and their parents to take much more informed decisions. I think this is a poverty reducing measure.”

As someone who assists young people (and their parents) tip toe their way through a confusing array of qualifications and routes without clear pathways towards the road of employment, I should surely be at the front of the queue to welcome this Bill, but I won’t be because I very much doubt it will have the impact Mr Selous desires for these reasons:

1. Over recent years, some secondary school curriculum’s haven’t really been designed that way 

The pressure of accountability measures has greatly impacted school curriculum’s in recent years. Perhaps, to his credit, Mr Selous hopes that his Bill will help to highlight instances where schools are making curriculum decisions with themselves in mind and not the student but it will be starting from a point of irrelevance for two reasons. Firstly, the Dfe is soon to announce changes to the accountability structure with the hope to ensure broad and balanced school offers. Steps have already been taken and the list of approved qualifications that will count in these measures has already been published.  The second reason is that, because the Bill relies on historical data, it will overhang with the consequences of recent years. For example, the employment value of BTEC’s in IT, Business or Sport will be greatly overstated in the data because so many students will have been made to do them. The total number of entries will increase the correlation to the average of the salary data which is to be presented to show the positive or negative salary outcomes of taking those courses.

2. Unistats already does it for degrees

The degree is still, for many, the final stage of education before employment so, combined with the implications of annual fees, the employment destination and salary data may be important factors in choosing a suitable University or degree. Replicating this data on the Dfe website or elsewhere seems nonsensical.

3. Large sections of the job market just don’t work that way 

The importance of networks and building useful contacts to secure jobs before they even reach the stage where decisions are taken on “which candidate is the best qualified?” will be seemingly sidelined by this data.  It would also ignore the complications of nepotism, favoritism, racism and sexism or all of the other hiring factors which influence employment and career outcomes.

4. Studies show that other inputs have an effect 

The gaining of formal qualifications is not the only benefit an individual takes forward from their education. Research by the Education & Employers task-force shows just how significant an impact employer interaction at school age can have on future earning power. This impact will be completely discounted from the data as proposed.

5. Inequality in pay will distort the results

The current earnings landscape of the UK is a mixed picture of below inflation pay rises for the majority and comparatively large increases for a minority of higher earners. Combined with the static picture of social mobility in the UK this will taint the data as qualifications traditionally taken by private school students will certainly rate highly in a comparative pay measure. Will this reflect those qualifications intrinsic worth to employers? Or other factors?

6. Targeted data = informed choices. Too much data = confusion and ambivalence

Mr Selous’ Bill dovetails with the political viewpoint of his party colleague Micheal Gove that, through publication of data, parental choice will force a rise in standards from providers. Even within the ideology of that framework must come a point when the surety needed to choose is lost among the wave of statistics. The average school page  (that link is to the school featured in Educating Yorkshire) on the league table website is already a wealth of information for parents to consider (alongside Ofsted reports and Parental View) results and it is unclear where this new data would sit and if it would have the prominence to influence a parents choice of school for their child.

7. Who decides the capture point?

The Unistats data mentioned earlier is based on average earnings 6 months after leaving the course. I will leave the suitability of that timescale to others but it is clear that something similar would not work for Key Stage 4 qualifications so when would it be? 1 year after the new mandatory education or training leaving age of 18? 4 years? 10? The capture point will greatly affect the salary outcomes as individuals move through their further education or career choices.

8. Historical data won’t fit into a modern job market

Which follows on from the last point. The published data would be advising people currently making decisions based on data from in people in current employment who made those decisions X number of years ago. Without straying into the hyperbole and cliché of “future jobs” it worth noting that this proposal fails to acknowledge that the requirement in skills of the job market would change in the lag mentioned above.

Of course this is not to say that education should be oblivious to the realities of employment when planning curriculum. The expectation from Government is that the FE sector should be collaborating closely with LEPS and local employers to offer provision with the aim of fulfilling the local skill needs. Through the Statutory Careers Duty, the expectation also cascades down to secondary education and there are specific inputs for employer interaction in Pre 16 provision but ultimately the data from Bill seems to be a too simplistic measure of what is a complex reality. While the ideal of providing clearer guidance is one I welcome, I’m unconvinced this Bill and the subsequent publication of the data will have either have much effect on choices or help illuminate the highly individual path through education and into the world of work we all take.

Surprise! Nomis isn’t bookmarked by 13 year olds

This morning a survey report from Education & Employers has been released called “Nothing in common: The career aspirations of young Britons mapped against projected labour market demand.”

Click to access nothing_in_common_final.pdf

The news coverage of the report concludes that there is, “a “massive mismatch” between young people’s career expectations and the reality of the jobs available.”

“Career expectations” is a rather grand term when you compare this with what the children were actually asked.

“Young people participating in the survey were provided with a list of 69 occupations across a multitude of UK industrial sectors and instructed in the context of a survey exploring their career choices to “please click on your favourite three jobs from the list below”

“Your favourite three jobs” is an interesting choice of phrase to use here – I would put forward that it’s a very different question to a teenager to “what job do you expect to be doing in 15 years time” and, subsequently, you would get very different results.

The scope of the survey is impressive with almost 11,000 young people asked but the actual results will shock no one that actually works with young people.

Big surprise – they want to do exciting and enticing things with their lives

A few months back a news story about apprenticeships included an owner of a chain of old people’s homes bemoaning the lack of applicants for their apprenticeship scheme. Turns out it’s difficult to entice and tempt young people to be enthusiastic about applying for a job that involves wiping old people’s backsides for a fair few years. Who knew?

Big surprise – the media and branding influences they consume will have a greater influence over the positive connotations they assign to job roles and work areas then little old me (and all of the much better versions of me) can combat

The X factor contains many powerful messages. Magazines and newspapers are full to the absolute brim with interviews not with CERN scientists but some random who once walked across the background in TOWIE or dated a footballer and then stole the nation’s heart every Saturday night on Celebrities Skating on Ice in Skimpy Tops. This is a strong tide to fight against. They are given a glimpse into exciting and tantalising lives every day but then told that these exciting lives are not for them and, really, they should think about a career in the hotel industry. This is not to say that “the establishment” can’t fight back against this, witness the rise in interest in engineering as a career route over the last 12-18 months as the rhetoric from the Government has focused on this area.

Big surprise – they’re unsure of jobs they don’t know much about or that have mundane connotations.

I’ve blogged before about my take on why young people latch onto certain job titles as ones they aspire to here:

and the list of most popular options at ages 13-14 in the survey fits in with this

1. Actor/Actress

2. Lawyer

3. Police

4. Doctor

5. Sportswoman/man

6. Teacher

7. Chef

8. Accountant

9. Uniformed Services

10. Musician

When presented with a list of options, young people will revert to safe choices, job roles they are fairly confident they have a clear idea of what that job is either because they see it everyday (teachers, doctors) or see it enacted through their media input (lawyers, police). The clear answer to this is to make more young people confident in more job types at this age. Businesses of all types – get into your local schools!

Finally, the unspoken message of this report is that education should only be preparing a workforce ready to fit into the roles needed by industry. An Ofsted report last week encouraged FE Colleges to make the most of new freedoms and tailor their course offers to reflect the needs of the local labour market. It seems sensible to prepare post 16 learners for the needs of local industry but there is a big different to 13 year olds who have not yet started their GCSE courses. They are still children. Don’t put them on the treadmill to ‘suitable’ employment just yet. For a while yet at least, let them sing and dance and act and dream.