matthew hancock

The demise of Plotr and what free online CEIAG diagnostic tools are left

With news that the Plotr website is finally shutting down and merging with Start Profile (itself a brand of U-Explore) I thought I would give a rundown on the variety of free online CEIAG diagnostic tools available and see if readers have their own links and views to share.

Plotr came onto the scene back in 2012 with the backing of the then Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock who considered it as

an excellent example of employers coming together, to create an innovative website allowing young people to really understand what employers offer

Others in the Careers community were not so sure as the new website received significant financial backing from central Government with an initial £700,000 from the Cabinet Office and the (then) Department for Business Innovation and Skills

and launched without public tender or consultation from the sector bodies. I remember from conversations at the time, Careers colleagues were distinctly unimpressed with the lack of co-ordination with professional or non-profit organisations that were already working in the space and the fact that the first CEO, Andrew Thompson, was a Director at the then Government’s favoured outsourcing firm Serco did not sit well.

In 2014 another £1.3m was injected by BIS for a revamp which included the diagnostic tool “The Game.” This was an exhaustive set of questions based on psychometric research that suggested job roles to the skills and abilities suited to the young person answering the questions. As a CEIAG tool it wasn’t great but it was free and, with a lot of assistance, you could get results out of it to talk through with a young person.

The company behind the site actually went into liquidation back in October 2016 and the obituaries for it written at the time weren’t pretty. As the Buzzfeed report details, the significant taxpayer investment did not produce anything like the engagement or traffic statistics from its target audience hoped for so the initial employer buy-in soon frizzled out.

Which all leaves Careers practitioners with what available free diagnostic resources to use?

Start Profile

After registering, students can access 4 areas (My Skills, My Interests, My Qualities & My Work Preferences) to enter their responses. This information is then used to suggest courses, qualifications, study locations and jobs that might fit.

start profile

Requiring students to register before using the site has its positives and negatives. As a practitioner, you can register and then monitor your students work but the sheer faff of getting a class or even individuals to sign up and then check their email account for confirmations is off-putting. Students can also search by Job Sectors. It’s cleanly laid out as a site that seems easily navigable to me, the job suggestions make sense from the information inputted and, with a cursory tour, the course information at providers seems up to date.

National Careers Service Skills Health Check

Still hosted on the plain .GOV.UK platform, the National Careers Service website is a sorry state these days. The Skills Health Section is not a tool I would advise for use for young people, it’s simply too exhaustive. Adult clients of mine have used it and found useful feedback in the Skills Report produced once the numerous question sections are completed but to complete the entire check requires a significant time commitment.

skills health check

It is not something I would suggest that could be completed in a session with a client, they would need to complete this in their own time for a discussion of the findings to take place at a later date.

The Skills Report suggests job areas that may be of interest which you can then click-through to the National Careers Service Job Profiles to further explore. The results of the Activity Skills sections can need some tact when discussing with clients who find those academic tasks more difficult.

ICould Buzz Quiz

At the opposite end of the time commitment needs is the ICould Buzz Quiz. This is a quick set of either/or questions that then suggests jobs through the bank of videos on the site and assigns the user a personality type.


I have found the quick questions, videos and fun outlines of the personality types extremely successful when working with Key Stage 3 children or those with Special Educational Needs. Some of the skill terminology can need explaining to young ears (a “cold” personality doesn’t mean you’re always shivering) but these discussions can be beneficial in identifying skills and descriptive language. The lack of information inputted by the user though can be an issue, some of the suggested jobs can seem quite random and not allied to the interests of the young person at all. This can cause them to lose faith in the whole exercise so caution is advised. When leading groups, headphones are also required.

Prospects Job Match

Still in beta testing mode, this Prospects offer can be attempted without registering but the later stages of the job recommendations are only accessible after signing up. After 26 questions which are very on the nose (“Do you understand the law?”) and use language aimed at the graduate target market of the site, the user’s skill set is matched against job families. The user can then click-through to the recommended job profiles. I personally find the job profiles section excellent and use it regularly in one to one sessions, each profile has comprehensive and clearly written information on the skills required and duties likely to be encountered as well as the qualifications required. The links to associated job boards or industry organisations are also extremely useful and have broadened my bookmarks of useful sites to use with clients.



Pearson Career Interests Quiz

Similar to a section of the now defunct Plotr Game, the user is asked to rate duties in order of preference or select their top three most appealing tasks from a list. The questions are easy to understand and a typical student could rattle through them in 15 minutes. Some of questions require the statements to be moved into priority order and the design is all very intuitive. On completion of the questions, users are shown a sector matching chart


in which users can click on the sectors to encourage skill comparison but actual job titles or profiles are not then mentioned. Job profiles are held elsewhere on the site so why this connection is not made is strange and a real negative. Young people need to see what job titles fall into what sectors to begin to make connections between them and investigate what those jobs are, not making this link explicit is odd.

Skills Route Explore

Asks users to enter courses they are studying and suggests jobs associated with that course

skills explorer

so it’s fairly reductive and is not good at highlighting transferable skills. The job profiles then linked through as also fairly basic with little in the way of description that would help a young person understand what was involved. The charts showing the likelihood of automation, job satisfaction and wage are neat ideas but the job satisfaction one especially needs context as the average for all jobs is only 32% (it seems the data these charts is based upon asked a lot of unhappy people at work!).

Diagnostic tools are useful conversation starters when dealing with younger clients or those considering a complete career change and the more options you have to use in your toolbox, the more likely you are to use the right one for the right client. If there are any I’ve missed, please link in the comments below and let me know what you think about it!


Send your examples of Careers best practice into Matthew Hancock

In a recent letter to Chairs of Learning Providers and FE Colleges (4th April 2014) Skills Minister Matthew Hancock gave an update on the numerous changes happening across the sector. Attached to the letter was a briefing for FE Governors and, on page 7 of this briefing under a title of Careers/Inspiration, is a request for examples of good practice in Careers work to be emailed to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

Many organisations are
already doing important work in this area and there has been a high level of success and
positive impact being achieved by those we have spoken to. In order to find out more,
share successes and inspire more people to get involved in delivering this vision we
would like you to send us examples of good practice. These might be examples from
your own organisation or other organisations, web links, case studies, or a couple of
lines in an email that we can follow-up. Please send your responses to

The paragraph references the Inspiration Vision Statement published by the Department in September alongside the disappointing results of the Ofsted Careers survey. I assume that whatever submissions they receive will add to the data they collected from phone surveys in February 2014 and from some longer, more in-depth interviews I know they have also been conducting about school + employer collaboration to help shape the forthcoming revised Careers guidance (edit – not gonna happen as the revised Guidance was released the very day after this post) and the Department’s future policy in this area. So, get emailing your examples of good practice!

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.

After the Ofsted Careers Report: The new guidance will say…

Most schools attempts at fulfilling the Careers Duty captured on camera

So, the Ofsted Careers report is finally out and it’s pretty damming in its conclusions on the Careers Education Information Advice & Guidance that schools are currently managing to offer their students under the new Duty.

Clearly prepared for the verdict, within hours Matthew Hancock and the Department for Business team published a number of Action Plan documents and promised stronger guidance for schools in the forthcoming weeks. So, in true kneejerk internet blogging style, I’m going to totally jump the gun and predict what this reinforced guidance will mean for schools in reality. Except I’m not really, because the Government response to Recommendation 1 in that Action Plan tells us what it will include.

Greater pressure on schools to engage employers and build links

We will highlight the need for schools to build strong connections with employers, ensuring students can benefit from sustained contact with inspiring people from the world of work

Which is fine as any Careers program should be linked with the labour market and the needs of business but this needs to be somehow overseen by local Chambers of Commerce and Local Enterprise Partnerships. My fear is that this will, for want of a better phrase, evolve into a bit of a bunfight as schools deluge local businesses with requests for exclusive links to provide work experience, visits or mentoring for only their own students. The wave of Studio Schools and University Technical Colleges that are opening up across the country are at a major advantage here as their employer links are forged in their DNA. Those schools who are part of large academy chains may also find themselves ahead of the game as their sponsors hold the clout to arrange partnerships with national employers. There is significant work here for schools and organisations such as Inspiring the Future, FutureFirst and MyKindaCrowd should see interest rise. This is an easy check by Ofsted through conversations with focus groups of pupils on an inspection.

Schools will find it harder to resist offers of collaboration from UTC’s, Studio Schools, Sixth Forms, FE Colleges and Training Providers

We will…be much clearer in the guidance about what schools should do to ensure that students have information about all the types of education and training they could pursue, and hear directly from different types of providers”

and by “collaboration” I mean “getting their foot in the door.” Will the phrase “hear directly” mean the days of hiding prospectuses for competing institutions under the desk are over and open the doors to assemblies and tasters from these providers?

Schools will be told that only a range of provision is sufficient

we will be explicit that signposting students to a careers website is not sufficient to meet the careers duty

There is a difference though between saying what isn’t enough and saying what is enough and I think those advocates of face to face guidance with a highly qualified adviser being a core principle may again find themselves disappointed that is only included as a possible intervention.

The detail of Destination data for each school will be increased and will form the opinions of Ofsted before they walk through the door for an inspection

We will highlight the inclusion of destinations for 16 year olds in school performance tables, informing Ofsted consideration of the quality of careers guidance provided in a school.

Any figures dramatically divergent from the national or local mean will need to be explained and the percentage of students not going into a sustained destination will be scrutinised. Reflecting the conversations that follow the analysis of test data that informs Ofsted’s preconceptions about a school, wise Careers advisers will have an evidence heavy narrative ready to explain to inspectors why their school data is like it is.

“Going in the right direction?” Ofsted Careers survey & Bis response documents

A quick round up of all of the documents released today:

The actual Ofsted survey report “Going in the right direction?”

The accompanying press release:

In response the Government/Bis immediately published this press release:

And this, more detailed, Careers Guidance Action Plan:

And, later in the day, this Inspiration Vision Statement. No, I’ve no idea what one of those is either:

Statements from Professionals and Organisations:

Association of Colleges, both damming and constructive:

Association of School & College Leaders, lead by Brian Lightman who has always been a great advocate for CEIAG

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development takes the opportunity to flag up it’s Learning to Work Programme:

The blogger Patrick Montrose provides a summary:

David Hughes of NIACE takes a thoughtful and holistic approach:

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE links the report to recent and future work of the National Careers Council:

A short response from the CBI who have long championed the strengthening of the relationship between education and employers :

The 157 Group of Colleges are severe in their verdict:

The Association of Employment and Training Providers release a statement highlighting how they can aid schools:

The National Foundation for Educational Research echos calls for a culture change with a press release and a paper:

The Career Development Institute take the opportunity to repeat their call for the any new guidance to require Level 6 qualified advisers:

Media reaction

From FE Week:

The BBC take:

The Guardian reports:

Stephen Twigg has his say in the TES (includes the phrase “jobs of tomorrow” for the full careers bingo):

This Guardian article by Jan Murray was published on the 26th August but is an excellent and prescient piece:

I will update this page as more are published.

Much to think about and contemplate over the forthcoming months regarding Careers work in schools.

Westminster Hall debate on the Careers report for young people = meh


This afternoon I managed to catch bits of a Westminster Hall debate by MP’s that concentrated on the Education Select Committee report on Careers guidance for young people and the subsequent Government response.

It was heartening to see the majority of the members of the Education Committee present, including the Chair Graham Stuart, and the Minister for Skills Matthew Hancock. It was positive to see MP’s from outside the Committee also there such as Simon Hughes who I remember speaking vigorously in defence of careers guidance for young people in a debate in the Commons in September 2012. It was positive to note that the loss of a statutory need for Careers education and work related learning was also covered by the speakers.

It was not, however, positive to hear the dismissive conclusion given to the debate by Matthew Hancock.

Mr Hancock sat, sometimes scribbling determinedly, through lengthy and repetitive speeches from MPs from across the party divide that all condemned the Government response to their inquiry. He listened as even Graham Stuart, Conservative member for Beverley and Holderness, interjected into speeches to reinforce the conclusions of others that the loss of funding and the poor design of the statutory regulation had caused a decline in the quality of IAG and that, even in the pockets of the country such as Bradford where collaborative working was attempting to offer a service, it was still a shadow of what was and what could have been.

Those who have followed this whole drawn out process know those arguments. Those that have watched the evidence sessions and read the written submissions and kept up to date with the blog commentary and read the actual report and the following response know those arguments.

Within a few moments of phaff from Mr Hancock about “determination and inspiration” and “role models” those arguments were dismissed and the members were shuffled out of the room ready for the next session leaving the Government free to continue the course set.

To see such evidence and weight of comment fall onto predetermined deaf ears is so disheartening. It’s stuff like this that makes even interested and committed onlookers disengage with politics.