education select committee

The CEC is heading into tricky strategic waters

careers_logo

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.

Targets

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.

The calls for a “UCAS – Apprenticeships” portal

Over the years I have been keeping up to date with CEIAG policy and news, a recurring recommendation in Careers reports and speeches has been that Government should establish or encourage a UCAS style portal (let’s call it AAS – Apprenticeship Application Service) through which young people (or anyone I assume) could apply for an Apprenticeship vacancy. It’s promoters believe that this will encourage more young people to apply for and gain apprenticeships and it has resurfaced in the recent Education Select Committee report “The apprenticeships ladder of opportunity: quality not quantity

We recommend that the Government introduces a proper UCAS-style portal for
technical education to simplify the application process and encourage progression to
further training at higher levels. (Paragraph 89)

It has also been raised by Gerald Kelly & Partners in their report “Not for them: Why aren’t teenagers applying for apprenticeships?” which surveyed young people to find that

While almost two-thirds (63%) say if they could apply for apprenticeships using an UCAS-style format they would

While the Social Mobility Commission under Alan Milburn called for

a UCAS-style body to give young people better information about which apprenticeships are available and what career prospects they could lead to

Vocational and Technical education supporters such as the Edge Foundation also promote

 A well designed portal could explain each option in detail and give advice on how and where to apply. The portal would also make signing up for apprenticeships easier and more managed, as this can currently be a lengthy process and students taking GCSEs already have a lot to focus on.

and opinion pieces have called for a “one stop shop” website to be designed.

UCAS is a monopoly service but it does gain buy-in and brand reach beyond education because it offers a consistency of service year on year. The dates of the application cycle are clearly predetermined and the format of a learners application set, no matter whether the learner is applying to the highest tariff Russell Group Universities or a Foundation Degree at the local FE College; the application form is the same. The institutions in receipt of these applications may also add their own requirements post application form submission before making an offer decision (such as an interview or portfolio assessment) but those institutions all still use that initial form and stick to communal deadlines. The application deadline for Oxbridge, Veterinary, Dentistry & Medicine may be sooner than the main application deadline but, within those categories, there is still agreement across all of the institutions offering those courses on a common deadline.

Would a UCAS style portal for Apprenticeships achieve the same goals and how would it be different to the already established “Find An Apprenticeship?”

  1. Timing and deadlines

Employers can hire apprenticeships throughout the year

apprenticeship starts sept 2018

so there isn’t much agreement on common deadlines. You can see from the graph that the trends do show an increase in starts at the end and beginning of the academic year as (mostly larger) employers have moved their recruitment cycles to capture school and college leavers and also start the off the job training component of the apprenticeship in line with the academic year yet a common deadline is still nowhere to be seen. Whereas now UCAS applicants are clear on the common deadline and Advisers are able to structure application advice towards that deadline the proposals of any AAS system do not seem to envisage that employers could only advertise apprenticeship vacancies in certain periods of the year so this would mean that individual employer deadlines would still apply. As the 2016 Employer Perspectives Survey (p 113) shows that around 18% of all UK institutions offer apprenticeships so this would still mean a multitude of deadlines to hit and advisers to be aware of.

2. Employer control over applications

Much of the Government rhetoric over the reform of the Apprenticeship system through the introduction of standards and the levy has been built around the theme of placing employers “at the heart” of apprenticeship training. Presumably this also includes allowing employers to determine their own apprenticeship recruitment processes. Currently employers can list their apprenticeship vacancies on the “Find An Apprenticeship” site (plus their own sites or third-party sites such as “Get My First Job“) and support and advice is offered on how to recruit, but the employer remains in charge of the process. Sometimes an employer will choose to use the more generic application questions and form contained within the Find An Apprenticeship site

Such as this mock application

or require applicants to apply through their own website

site management apprenticeship

This seems to be a flexibility required by employers. The recruitment process an SME will need to source a suitable applicant for a Level 2 vacancy will be very different to the procedure a multinational corporation will undertake on their annual recruitment of a multitude of apprenticeship standards at higher levels. So forcing a common application form onto all employers offering apprenticeships also seems beyond the reach of an AAS.

3. Age of applicants & references

Higher Education applicants of all ages use UCAS to apply but it would fair to say that the majority of HE starters come from applicants who are of a school or college leaving age.

ucas stats

This is not true of those starting apprenticeships

apprenticeship starts

where the majority of current starters from the applicant pool would not be in education to receive support from an Adviser. Of course the very point of the AAS would be to increase the number of younger applicants but that site would have to be one that would accommodate and be user-friendly for applicants of all ages, whether in education or not.

4. Numbers of applicants

All of the reports suggesting a AAS do so in the commendable hope that it would increase the number of young apply for and so starting apprenticeships. With its title, the Gerald Kelly report is particularly flagrant in its acceptance that young people aren’t applying for apprenticeships. This is strange, as I’ve posted about previously, the DfE no longer publishes the data showing apprenticeship applicants by age, only starts. Misappropriating the number of Apprenticeship starts by age as an indicator of the number of applications by age is not acknowledging the historic data we do have which showed that young already apply for apprenticeships in far greater numbers than the number of vacancies posted. For as AAS portal to be truly warranted, the data on applications by age needs to be regularly shared by the DfE.

5. Differences between Find An Apprenticeship

In any of the reports linked, AAS recommendations come seemingly without reference to the Find An Apprenticeship website which already exists or, if they do acknowledge it, they are unclear about what differences the proposed UCAS style Apprenticeships portal would have. Find An Apprenticeship already allows people to search on a common site for all apprenticeships, research opportunities laid out in a standard format and, in some cases, complete an application through the same site. As I have shown, just establishing a new portal with aspirations to be more like UCAS fails to acknowledge or offer solutions to the fundamental differences between the Apprenticeship and Higher Education processes and routes which would leave any new portal looking and performing much the way as the current Find An Apprenticeship already does.

An AAS portal also offers a suggested quick fix which fails to address the central issue. The Gatsby Benchmarks have shown us what works in CEIAG provision. This is time and cost intensive provision as Apprentices themselves acknowledge

and Gatsby evidenced but it is that support that would really enable young people in greater numbers to strive for and successfully secure Apprenticeships.

 

 

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.

Halfon’s barmy apprenticeship idea

Individual MP’s are perceived differently by members of the public, some work hard to even be noticed, some work hard on their public persona and some just work hard. One MP who I usually place in the last of those categories is the ex Education Minister Robert Halfon. Not being a constituent of his, my perception of his work was mostly formed by seeing his tenacious but effective style on the BBC documentary, Inside the Commons and his work as Minister of State for Skills July 2016 – June 2017. His recent election to the position of Chair of the Education Select Committee shows both his interest to remain at the centre of the education policy process and his ability to get the support of his fellow MPs.

At the recent Conservative Party conference, Halfon appeared with his Skills Ministerial successor, Anne Milton, at fringe event entitled, “Lost Learners: Delivering a skills revolution and providing opportunities for all” in which he suggested that

“We should look at things like the pupil premium and whether or not certain parts of it can be based or dependent on how many students they get, especially from deprived backgrounds, to go into high-quality apprenticeships,”

and that this would be part of a “carrot and stick” approach to improving the breadth of  careers advice on offer schools.

Let’s make no bones about it, this is an extremely bad idea. Lots of bad ideas will be floated at fringe conference events of all parties but that this came from the chair of the Education Select Committee is what makes it noteworthy. Previous holders of that post, particularly Graham Stuart MP, who championed and challenged Careers provision in schools while in the role, were much more judicious in their public offerings on Government policy.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

1.

As I’ve covered (it feels exhaustively over the years), there are not apprenticeship vacancies to fulfil the demand from young people.

In 2016/17

over a quarter of a million 16-18 year olds are making over 900,000 applications, going up against 262,970 other 18+ applicants for 169, 290 apprenticeship vacancies

And that’s the number of total apprenticeships, if Halfon means by “high quality” those at the higher levels and (usually) pay scales then the opportunities on offer are even further away from fulfilling demand.

apprenticeship vacancies by level

With Higher and Advanced level apprenticeship vacancies totalling 44,930 or 26.5% of the total number of apprenticeship vacancies in 16/17. There were over 1.5 million 15-18 year olds in English schools last academic year. If the ratio of students to vacancies is so high, then Halfon’s suggestion would lead to schools losing pupil premium money no matter the quality of CEIAG on offer.

2.

Pupil Premium is becoming a core budget stream for schools.

As detailed in this House of Commons library Briefing Paper, Pupil Premium now equals different funding amounts for pupils dependant on their age and personal circumstances. In total though, the funding is worth £2.5bn each academic year to English schools. Surveys report that around a third of heads are having to use their Pupil Premium funds to cover other costs in school, not purely for closing the attainment gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and it is the schools from the most disadvantaged areas most often affected. This would mean that the schools having to work hardest to propel their pupils along Halfon’s own “ladder of opportunity” metaphor would be the most affected by any cut in Pupil Premium funding dependant on employment outcomes. This would make it even harder for future cohorts of those schools to provide provision and so positive outcomes.

3.

The proportion of pupils claiming Free School Meals (and so receiving Pupil Premium funding for their school) is falling.

free-school-meals-graph

Pupils do not automatically receive FSM, they (their parents/guardians) have to apply. Only those who have applied are used to calculate a school’s Pupil Premium funding so it is in the schools interests to encourage as many eligible pupils as possible to apply but not all do. Uptake is also linked to other factors, eligibility for FSM can be dependant on income related benefits which, as the linked article above points out, means that Government changes to benefit eligibility have a knock on effect. Larger scale changes such as Universal Credit can be introduced without their consequences on reliant funding streams being fully determined. These are factors which all influence a school’s pupil premium funding before any CEIAG provision to help a student gain an apprenticeship has even taken place.

Monitoring and reporting on a school’s CEIAG provision and including actual destination data of that school’s students in that monitoring are all sensible levers for policy makers to pull to build up CEIAG focus and provision in schools. Policy makers should use data rather than anecdote to form policy and conclude that to increase the numbers of young people securing apprenticeship vacancies there needs to be more vacancies and young people need funded, dedicated support to have the skills and experience to successfully apply for them. Suggesting that a school’s funding be removed if it’s pupils do not secure rare and highly sought after routes would make the job even harder for the schools who find this most difficult already. It is a baffling proposition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some kind of bliss – on timing for Careers reports

Today saw (yet another) report on Careers work in school added to the library of publications released on the matter. The sub-Committee on Education, Skills & the Economy published a report on the findings of it’s inquiry into the state of CEIAG in schools.  The recommendations and conclusions within retread old ground of those previously recommended by Education Select Committees and takes a lot of direction from the report du jour, the Gatsby Foundation report on Careers.

Some of those detailed recommendations make sense, for example:

We invite the Government, in its response, to set out a comprehensive plan for improving destination data, including the timescales for doing so. This plan should include steps to make the data available in a more timely way and to ensure that they cover a longer period of time, and give more details on how the data will draw on information held by other Government departments. The Government should also consider how best to present its destination data, to mitigate the risk that schools are judged primarily on the number of their students going onto higher education.

 

We recommend that the Government, in its careers strategy, take steps to simplify the delivery of its careers policy at the national level. It should put a single Minister and a single Department in charge of co-ordinating careers provision for all ages, and set out how it plans to rationalise the number of Government-funded organisations delivering careers programmes.

 

We recommend that the Government work with employers and schools to produce a plan to ensure that all students at Key Stage 4 have the opportunity to take part in meaningful work experience.

all get a big thumbs up from me.

Other points such as for the Careers & Enterprise Company to take on the “inspiration agenda” work of the National Careers Service might be good strategic ideas but, as an end facilitator of that provision, I’m more concerned that high quality provision is on offer. How the email invites actually make their way to my inbox doesn’t bother me.

What does concern me though is the sheer unfortunate timing of the whole report and seemingly oblivious to external factors the report (actually written on the 29th June) is.

Firstly the report is published in the post-Brexit maelstrom. We currently have a barely functioning Parliament as both main parties are gripped in their own internal struggles. Getting traction from Ministers caught up promoting their favoured candidates in the Conservative Leadership election will be difficult before the summer recess and, with a General Election a possible blot on the horizon (and so a new Education Secretary) not likely after. If Brexit can scupper an entire White Paper, what hope a report from a sub-committee? Will the report be championed by the opposition? Well, it would need a quick grasp of a new brief from a new Shadow Education MP only a few days into her role after the previous incumbent lasted two days.

The aftershock of the Brexit vote on Government business cannot be underestimated. The Institute for Government rates the Life Chances Strategy (of which the Careers & Enterprise Company is a component) as “delayed” and highly dependent on whoever takes the Tory leadership crown.

Another iceberg in the way of traction is the Chilcot report on the Iraq War. Released the day after the sub-Committee Careers report, it is sure to consume news headlines and, already hard pressed, Parliamentary focus.

Then there is the reliance in the report on Ofsted to monitor CEIAG provision in schools which doesn’t appear to quite realise what’s happening to Ofsted.

We recommend that Ofsted introduce a specific judgment on careers information, advice and guidance for secondary schools, and set clear criteria for making these judgments. The Common Inspection Framework should be amended to make clear that a secondary school whose careers provision is judged as “requires improvement” or “inadequate” cannot be judged to be “outstanding” overall; likewise, a secondary school should be unable to receive an overall judgment of “good” if its careers provision is judged to be “inadequate”.

For context, this academic year has seen a sharp fall in the number of schools Ofsted is actually inspecting due, in part, to a new “targeted” inspection framework. One goal of a “self improving system” is to have this more targeted Inspectorate but the £31m funding “black hole” Ofsted faces over the next four years will drive the inspection framework just as much. Add to this the appointment of a new Chief Inspector from 2017 who will have her own views and priorities and it becomes concerning that relying on an Office for Standards without resources to monitor those standards perhaps isn’t the most effective driver of then improving those standards.

Back in 1997, Kylie Minogue released a track called “Some Kind of Bliss” as the opening to a new direction in her career. An expensive video was shot, indie credibility from the Manic Street Preachers brought in and a whole promotional blitz was planned. Then, on the Sunday before, Princess Diana died, the country had a collective weep and went out in their millions and brought Elton John instead. Kylie’s dalliance with indie was consigned to the musical dustbin. Releasing reports designed to improve CEIAG in the wake of the Brexit vote will have as much impact as when an Australian pop princesses tried to grab onto Britpop’s vanishing coat tails.

The C.R.E.A.M of CEIAG

As, it seems very likely they will, those Gatsby benchmarks form the foundation of the forthcoming new Careers strategy to be published post EuroRef I thought I would make a preemptive point on a black hole that might appear.

For those of you cool (ahem) enough to get the reference in the blog title, you will have realised that the hole to which I refer is one of funding.

The CDI are confident in their predictions for the Gatsby benchmarks taking a core role and, in a recent news update to members (and in a comment on this blog) set out their requests from Government for funding to follow to enable schools to progress towards these benchmarks by achieving a Quality Award.

cdi email

In my opinion, whether funding dedicated for (further) assessment of provision rather than funding for actual provision would help schools do this is debatable and even necessary at all with both the forthcoming launch of an online Gatsby Benchmarking tool and the rise of the use of evidence to inform effective careers provision. If what works is what works and schools can see what works, a greater weight of assessment of provision should be on actual student outcomes rather than quality assessment and funding should be dedicated towards provision, not quality assessment of that provision. Again, this is only my view and there are experienced voices who disagree.

What is interesting though is not just that the CDI are asking for ringfenced funding which, in a post acadamised landscape, is a request that would be difficult to account for, but also the value of that funding.

The Gatbsy report which set out their benchmarks also set out the costings for achieving a level of careers provision which would schools to meet those benchmarks. The report (aided by the expertise of PriceWaterhouseCoopers no less) calculated

gatsby pic1

There are around 3381 secondary schools in England, so 1st year funding alone to meet those benchmarks would be over £181m. That’s a substantial amount of money and, as the CDI themselves noted in their response to the Educational Select Committee

Schools have been allocated no additional funding to take on responsibility for a service that previously cost local authorities £200 million per annum to provide.

when pointing out the loss of Connexions. The starting point seems to be then that this £181m will come from existing school budgets. They go onto say though

We accept that in the current economic climate we cannot expect an immediate return to this level of resourcing, but we do suggest that schools should be given some financial support to put in place careers support of a sufficiently high quality. A short-term development grant, linked to a requirement to gain a quality award, would offer an approach that has been shown to work in other settings.

Th figure allocated to this in the email is £1500 per school a year, or £5.71m for all secondary schools. A figure widely short of the Gatsby requirements and, when you remember that Careers Quality awards cost around £1600, a figure that wouldn’t even cover the cost of provision assessment let alone leave any funding for provision.

It is noticeable though how this is a specific request alongside an un-costed request for CPD “investment.” The call for CPD support is something other bodies with an interest in CEIAG echo but those bodies have also been making unspecified demands for funding for provision.

The position of the National Association of Headteachers is that “more legislation isn’t the answer” and is seeking the restoration of full funding for CEIAG.

The National Union of Teachers calls for “funding for professional development and resources for teachers in all schools, particularly in light of schools’ responsibilities for careers education, and advice” and for local authorities to be funded to rebuild careers advisory services lost due to cuts.

In their submission to the Select Committee, the NASUWT point out

In particular, careers and work-related learning and IAG services have declined substantially or, in some cases, have disappeared entirely as a result of significant and ongoing reductions in public investment in this area since May 2010

but don’t go into detail on how much funding they think would be necessary to restore a quality level of provision.

The ATL, meanwhile, called for funding for CEIAG specialists so that schools can meet their statutory responsibilities.

All of those demands, while lacking in substance, would require more funding from the Government who, for their part, would no doubt point towards their announcement of £70m towards mentors, enterprise passports and the Careers & Enterprise Company as offering a funding commitment. While though this should strengthen services on offer to schools to help meet some of the Gatsby benchmarks, none of this money will go directly to schools to enhance provision to meet either the statutory duty or the benchmarks and, again, is well below the total cost outlined in the Gatsby report.

Politics is the art of the possible” is a quote which has stood the test of time so there may be sense in the CDI asking for smaller funding levels tied to an easily measurable outcome from the Government. It certainly offers a clearly defined “win” for any Minister brave enough to find the money to support it. While it may succeed in gaining a positive response it will still leave schools short of funding to provide what is being asked of them. Asking for schools to be judged on the quality of their provision while simultaneously asking for the benchmarks of that provision to raised without the funds to back this leaves CEIAG departments in school facing an act of miracle making. If the new strategy does cherry pick the detailed benchmarks of quality provision as defined by Gatsby then it should not be forgotten that this provision comes with a funding cost of implementing it.

 

 

Through the other end of the Apprenticeship telescope

Timed to kick off this years National Apprenticeship week, Monday saw the release of the Education Select Committee’s report into “Apprenticeships and Traineeships for 16 to 19 year olds.”

The report makes a number of recommendations on how Apprenticeships for this age group can be expanded in number and improved in quality. The media reporting of the report jumped on the (many, varied and all previously aired by the Committee) concerns they have with the state of CEIAG in schools.

The Committee recommended (again) that schools should be required to publish a careers plan document, work towards a QiCs standard, that work experience should be “incorporated” into the KS4 curriculum and that the Government should “urgently review” the incentive levers they can pull to focus school leaders attention to this area. All of these recommendations, it is hoped, would encourage more young people to seriously consider and apply for Apprenticeship vacancies. Even with all of these recommendations though the Committee acknowledged that improved careers advice was only “part of the solution” and that “the central challenge for the Government’s reform programme is to drive up the quality of provision while ensuring that more employers commit to providing apprenticeships for young people.”

The numbers of young people starting apprenticeships is stark (just over 27% of starts in 13/14 where under 19s) but it’s the overall numbers of vacancies vs applications that should be receiving more coverage in this debate. In 2013 it was reported that every Apprenticeship vacancy was attracting 11 applications. As the chart below from this CIPD report shows, in 2014 this had risen to 13 applications per vacancy and there were 324, 971 more candidates than there were vacancies.

apprenticeship vacancies

As the further charts on pages 17 & 18 of the CIPD document show, this ratio varies greatly depending on the sector of the apprenticeship vacancy and the table on page 5 (below) show where the greater percentage of vacancies receive more or less applications.

apprenticeship vacancies by region

This is all very useful LMI for advisers helping candidates think about the levels of competition they face when applying through the vacancy matching service but it also clearly shows the “central challenge” the Committee speaks off. If Apprenticeship numbers are struggling to rise, it isn’t through a lack of demand.

 

 

 

Being part of Nicky’s package

In recent years an appearance by the Secretary of State in front of the Education Select Committee has always proved engrossing viewing not least the few times careers in schools was mentioned. The craters of destruction left by Mrs Morgan’s predecessor in front of the Committee on this subject have left many a pothole for her to stumble into so I can’t imagine last weeks session was an enticing date in the diary.

Ably handed by (a sometimes visibly exasperated) Graham Stuart, the session covered the DfE’s plans on the problems the new Careers company would solve (all of them apparently) and what problems would still be outside of its remit. The role of accountability and getting Destination Measures right loomed large, the conflict of interest caused by funding following those Post 16 bums and the role of those ever inspiring business leaders all appeared as seems to be now the norm in debates about school careers. In truth it was all a much of a muchness as Morgan said pleasant things about all the different players and parts of the school careers hotpot without actually committing to do anything differently. Indeed, the lukewarm platitudes on offer almost left me pining for Gove’s scorched earth splutter of disdain at the very mention of careers work. However misguided, at least it was a position arrived at with conviction.

The nugget in the session that the watching journalists found most newsworthy was the anecdote that some schools are now asking their receptionists to deliver careers advice. This was picked up by the BBC and the Independent as both a damming indictment of the lack of mandatory of quality standards required by the DfE and the lip service schools are seemingly paying to this work.

Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton South, said public service union Unison had undertaken research which showed that 83 per cent of schools no longer employed professional careers advisers or teachers. The role, he added, had been “picked up by people including, in many cases, teaching assistants and other support staff who are totally ill-equipped”.

Graham Stuart, the committee’s Conservative chairman, said he had received evidence that one of the new University Technical Colleges – which specialise in vocational education for 14- to 19-year-olds – was training its receptionist to be their careers adviser “while running the reception”.

This contrast between the warm words from Morgan and the reality of decisions being made by schools is a contradiction that echoes the timelines of other education policies from the Coalition. At first freedom for schools, then criticism of provision and then the carrot/stick of new accountability measures to realign the actions taken by schools with the outcomes desired by Government. If Destination data is done right and the accountability of leavers sustained outcomes firmly included in a school’s evaluation by both the general public and Ofsted, in my view, it would go a long way to focusing school leaders efforts into providing a quality careers offer in their establishment. It wouldn’t be the whole solution, brokerage, funding, quality CPD and coherent local and national networks would all have a role to play but this view, of placing the accountability ahead of mandated standards to lead change, does seem different to other views I’ve seen on-line. It’s one based in the realism that, just because schools are told to do something, it doesn’t mean they then do it and that changing accountability measures have made distinct changes to school behaviour in the recent past.

(Incidentally, how Morgan’s claims that Destination data is getting more robust as “just 2% of the cohort were not captured in the data” fits with the statistic used by Ofsted’s Lorna Fitzjohn in her recent FE annual lecture that in some Local Authorities up to 40% of young people’s destination is unknown, I’m not sure).

Those who wish to defend and enhance the professional stature of the sector were clear that policy makers should assign prominence to careers practitioners as a panacea for the ills of the sector. The reporting of the belittling of the role of a school careers adviser seemed, to me, an exercise in finger-pointing that misses those other parts of the jigsaw I’ve mentioned above. Those support staff delivering careers programs to young people might not currently hold the relevant standard of professionalism to gain the immediate seal of approval from the sector but that doesn’t mean they won’t become brilliant careers advisers who then go onto to be trained by their school to a suitable professional standard. It doesn’t mean that, through their endeavour and determination to fulfil their careers duties well, they show the school the benefits of doing careers work properly. I hope we are not sneering at them because their immediate professional background was a receptionist or a teaching assistant but because of fears that they are being asked to fit careers work around other duties. Across the wider sector even teachers can become qualified while doing the job; certification and ‘professionalism’ don’t have to be gatekeepers, they are staging points on the journey then travelled. Of course, for this scenario to be a tale with a positive outcome the school would then be required to play it’s part in up-skilling their employee by providing resources for CPD and quality provision. That’s more likely with welcoming, persuasive and accessible offers of support and training from the national careers bodies.

Being a stickler for professional school careers appointments fails to acknowledge the wider realities of funding constraints and the lack of importance in the accountability system that isn’t leading to oven ready roles that match an ideal of professionalism. It is by far the more difficult task to challenge the wider realities which contribute to the decisions behind those type of appointments, but, in this ex teaching assistants view, it’s those realities which need challenging if we are to achieve an integrated youth careers provision in schools that can positively influence outcomes for young people.

MP’s ask for student views on Apprenticeships; get some help, the odd crazy but mostly tumbleweed

(all post counts etc correct at the time of writing)

As part of their inquiry into Apprenticeships for 16-19 year olds the Education Select Committee have, to be fair to them, tried to be proactive and reach out beyond the usual suspects to gain views from both actual apprentices and their peers in this age group by hosting a number of threads on studentroom.co.uk

They’ve posted 4 threads:

1) Where you told about about Apprenticeships as part of your careers guidance?

Which has 9 actual replies including the helpful from recent school leavers who all reinforce the line that Apprenticeships were offered as an option for students with expected lower grades and the not so helpful (“I was shipped off to fight in **** holes across the world. So, no.” – ok chief, thanks for that).

2) Who should provide information about Apprenticeships?

Which has a small number of contributions from 4 posters who all suggest that there should be a central online portal for young people to access apprenticeship vacancies. The marketing team at NAS, to the back of the class with you immediately.

3) What did you get out of your Apprenticeship?

Currently overflowing with the grand total of 3 responses, all of which has positive feedback from posters regarding their Apprenticeship experience but perhaps the lack of response to this question might reinforce what the Committee already knows. There just aren’t that many young people completing Apprenticeships.

4) Why do an Apprenticeship? What puts people off?

Compared to the others this thread is Times Square on New Years Eve. Over 3 pages of comments ranging from the thoughtful (“A degree is for life, not just for one business”), to the very well informed to positive views from employers but throughout a common complaint about the perception of the low level of pay recurs, perhaps summed up best by this comment:

They are seen as being low paid, because nobody realises/cares about the qualifications. More needs to be done to highlight the issue. Going to uni gets paid nothing (well, you get a loan to pay back, and sometimes grants) but most people don’t say they’d be better off working in Tesco than getting a degree.

But I think this is part of a wider problem, in that unless you have parents to support you an apprenticeship is not an option. You’re generally not eligible for a student bank account with overdraft, and can’t live in student accommodation. Some apprenticeships will provide accommodation, but probably most don’t. So for people from low-income families it’s unrealistic – their family can’t support them whilst they earn £2 an hour.

I hope that what little response they’ve had through this route doesn’t put the Committee off in future trying to access young people’s views using non traditional routes like this and the small nuggets of insight they have received are useful in guiding their recommendations.

Submission to the Education Select Committee follow up Careers inquiry

In a continuing series of posts that should really be tagged “Russell gets ideas above his station,” back in July (which means that Ofsted quote isn’t now from our most recent report) I submitted a response to the Education Select Committee’s call for written evidence for its follow-up session in their Careers Guidance investigation. You can find my submission here (PDF) and the rest of the submissions here.

There are some conflicting views and differing opinions but also plenty of common ground in those submissions about which drivers of change the Committee should recommend the DfE to enact and it will be interesting to see what response the raised profile of CEIAG will elicit from the Education Secretary in her session with the Committee on 3rd December compared to the utter dismissal the previous post holder gave.

July 2014

Submission to the Education Select Committee Careers Guidance Follow Up inquiry.

Russell George (personal submission) Careers Co-ordinator Stopsley High School.

Post holder for 5 years as part of a Work Related and Curriculum team at our 11-16 school. Our most recent Section 5 Ofsted Inspection in 2012 rated the guidance for students moving as “Outstanding” and we were visited as part of the Ofsted “Going in the right direction?” Careers report in February 2013. Following this I have been fortunate to be invited to present at national conferences and events. I also blog at https://fecareersiag.wordpress.com/

Executive Summary:

  • The DfE must realise that asking schools to commit staffing and resourcing to this work requires a significant budget commitment and a dedicated member of staff
  • A scale-able system for organising school/employer interaction already exists in the Inspiring the Future website and any overlap with the forthcoming expansion of responsibilities of the National Careers Service should be avoided
  • The current accountability stick of Destination Measures is not enough to override short term decisions made by institutions to funnel students into or keep them on learning routes for funding reasons. Further detail and onus is required
  • Local Authorities have a central role to play in the collaboration across transition points of all local providers of all routes and must improve their post 14 learner data collection but confusion around their input, role and monitoring powers of FE, UTC’s, Studio Schools and Academies means that many gaps, overlaps and dead ends in curriculum and qualifications have been allowed to flourish

Submission

1. Since the Coalition Government came to power, schools that have committed to succeeding in careers work have taken on two large financial commitments to enable this work to continue at a service level similar to what went before. Firstly, they will have either employed or paid to buy in a Careers practitioner to provide guidance to students and to organise employer facing activities which previously were secured through a free service offered by Connexions. Secondly, those schools which still offer some form of work experience in Key Stage 4 now have to pay a service provider for those placements to still occur. Previously local Education Business Partnerships (EBPs) were centrally funded to perform this work. These standard offers of a Careers program can then be further supplemented with trips to national events such as the Skills Show or the Big Bang Fair and tasters to more localised progression routes but still with the costs of staffing and transport to overcome. More overarching schemes such as Career Academies or Pearson’s Think Future scheme allow schools to buy in a wholly packaged service but this has a cost price that reflects this plus they would still need a nominated co-ordinator in school. This sudden extra demand on school budgets was noted in the recent Gatsby Foundation report “Good Career Guidance1” and the figures they quote for organising each of those activities are, in my experience, realistic. Placing a new requirement on schools and then having Ofsted monitor the implementation of this requirement is sensible but does beg the question that, if Careers, Education, Information & Guidance (CEIAG) work is deemed now to be an accountable aspect of a school’s purpose, should this not be funded as such?

2. Since the updated Careers guidance was released in April 2014, it has been trailed that The National Careers Service will have an extended role to play in encouraging and facilitating school and employer engagement. The Committee should note that a working and highly successful model for this is already in place. The free Inspiring The Future website2 run by the Education & Employers Taskforce allows volunteers from a vast range of organisations and job roles to sign up to offer their time to schools. Schools are then able to contact the volunteers through the site and organise bespoke events from assemblies to group sessions to Careers fairs. Any new offer from the National Careers Service would need to tread carefully so not to needlessly overlap the Inspiring The Future service and find a niche not already catered for. In recent years a raft of organisations and schemes with similar employer/school interaction goals have sprung up such as MyKindaCrowd or National Careers week, employers such as Barclays have set up their own Lifeskills offer, business groups such as Business in the Community and CIPD have their own schemes and regional bodies have grown out of the ashes of EBPs to facilitate this work. For employers wishing to engage with schools this landscape is extremely confusing with all of these competing bodies offering structure and access. This area needs simplification, not the addition of a repetitive new organisation. Without the political will to implement or fund a national structure for school/employer collaboration the Committee should stress to the Government to look to support and expand what is already there.

3. Working in a secondary school without a Sixth Form immediately changes the freedoms and onus of my role. In his evidence session with the Committee on Careers in December 2013, Michael Gove refused to acknowledge the negative impact on CEIAG that the pressures and assumptions placed on students to stay in the school’s own Sixth Form can have. Anybody who has worked in secondary education can tell you this is a palpably false assertion. The DfE has introduced the inclusion of Destination Measure statistics as a monitoring tool to, in some extent, combat this practice but felt that the publishing of a Careers Plan as suggested by the Committee was an administrative step too far. Destination Measures in their current form do not have the accountability clout to alter school’s behaviour in this regard. The forthcoming changes to the accountability system in 2016 have been universally welcomed for placing the progress of every child at the heart of school accountability. Destination Measures must be included in these changes. In the DfE document “Reforming the accountability system for secondary schools3” October 2013 it is stated that a fifth statistic of a sustained destination percentage is desired but that the underlying data must be “robust” enough for this to be including as one of the headline figures schools will be required to publish in a uniform format. The Committee should press the Government to ensure that progress is being made in ensuring the stability of this data from Local Authorities and secure a commitment that these statistics will form a headline part of the new accountability structure. This public accountability would then dovetail with the welcome inclusion of a CEIAG focus in Section 5 Ofsted inspections and the future data to be collected on school alumni employment and benefit outcomes as recently included in the Small Business bill.

4. As well as the impetus on Local Authorities to secure robust 14-19 transition and destination data, further clarification should be requested from the DfE on their requirements to ensure collaboration of education and training providers across Key Stages in their region. A number of recent policies have aims and outcomes which, with local oversight, school led CEIAG can aid. Without local oversight the recent growth in school Sixth Forms at academy schools have the potential to prove poor value for money and increase the pressure on schools to protect revenue streams. Without local oversight the recent growth in UTC and Studio School provision to offer new choices to students at 14 will continue to struggle to enrol students leading to more high-profile closures. Without local oversight, employers will struggle to inform Colleges and training providers of their future labour force needs and the demands of the future localised labour market. Without local oversight, CEIAG becomes a threat to providers conscientious of their reputations and of the competition for enrolment numbers. With local oversight, transparent and informed CEIAG can motivate students to succeed in the routes and paths most relevant to them benefiting all local providers, the regional economy and, most importantly, the students themselves.

  1. http://www.gatsby.org.uk/GoodCareerGuidance
  2. http://www.inspiringthefuture.org/
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/249893/Consultation_response_Secondary_School_Accountability_Consultation_14-Oct-13_v3.pdf