Russell Group

T levels are going to be tough

During the recent years of GCSE and A Level qualification upheaval a CEIAG practitioner working with young people has always had to have a quick mental check of future implementation dates before opening their mouths.

Another forthcoming change that (I hope) school based practitioners are now including in their guidance is the introduction (phased from 2020) of T Levels, a new qualification to be offered by Post 16 providers.

When anything new launches the challenge is to persuade potential first adopters that they will be making a choice that places them at the forefront of a soon to be popular wave and not left to flounder as initial enthusiasm dries to a dribble. I remember students gamely studying the 14-19 Diplomas despite being surrounded by teachers and parents who never understood the thing and who were then left high and dry after the Government PR push failed to inspire buy-in from important stakeholders.

We are promised that T Levels will be different and form one of the main choices for students in the Post 16 landscape alongside A Levels and apprenticeships when they begin to be introduced from September 2020. Many post 16 providers are already in the midst of preparing for them by working on new content outlines and building relationships with employers to offer longer and more in-depth industry placements.

Will, though, suitable advice and guidance about the qualification have percolated through schools and CEIAG practitioners to students and parents?

Getting the message out

It’s safe to say that the full complexities of the new GCSE grading system have still to land with a lot of parents/carers so getting across the workings of an entirely new qualification is going to be a challenge.

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Added to the fact that, despite CEC optimism over benchmarks not withstanding, many secondary school pupils are not hearing directly from FE providers.

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Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/786040/survey_of_pupils_and_their_parents_or_carers-wave_5.pdf

So getting advice from the source might not be the norm and the central marketing which has already launched will have to work hard but the increased awareness of apprenticeships shows this can have an impact.

What should the message be?

Mainly that T Levels are going to be a demanding route of study that will be employment specific. They are a combination of learning

T Level courses will include the following compulsory elements:

  • a technical qualification, which will include
    • core theory, concepts and skills for an industry area
    • specialist skills and knowledge for an occupation or career
  • an industry placement with an employer
  • a minimum standard in maths and English if students have not already achieved them

and each section is significant.

The baseline for the total programme hours matches the total learning hours for Level 3 BTEC Extended Diplomas

We expect the total time for a T Level to be around 1,800 hours over the 2 years, including the industry placement. This is a significant increase on most current technical education courses.

while the Industry Placement aspect takes up a great allowance of those hours meaning 16 year old starters will have to be work ready to impress employers enough to sign up to a significant programme of work experience.

Every T Level will include an industry placement with an employer focused on developing the practical and technical skills required for the occupation. These will last a minimum of 315 hours (approximately 45 days) but can last longer.

The academic learning required will also be of a high standard as evidenced by UCAS’ decision to award Tariff points equivalent to 3 A Levels.

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The content to be covered by each T Level is slowly being confirmed by the Institute of Apprenticeships as consultations complete.

A quick scan through any of those “Finalised Outine Content” will show readers that a lot of “stuff” has to be covered in both the Core knowledge and Technical Occupational Specialism components of the qualification and that the Specialism is a vital component. For some young people, the specificity of the route may be a turn off.

All of this though is meant to, according to the T Level Action plan not only prepare students for the workplace in their specialism but also provide a base of skills that will allows for progression onto Higher Education routes, thus the importance of the UCAS tariff inclusion despite reluctance to accept them from the Russell Group.

Entry requirements

In the past month the TES seemed baffled by the fact that these demanding Level 3 qualifications were being assigned entry requirements similar to other demanding Level 3 courses by the first cohort of providers recruiting students in 2020.

There is a point to their story that if, system-wide, choices for those school leavers who do not achieve GCSE qualifications that allow them to access A or T Levels narrow then those young people could be left with fewer options. Moving on from the obvious (“Huh, who knew, better GCSE grades give an individual more choice”) any rebuttal should be based on that it is not beholden on FE providers to lower entry requirements to qualifications that demand potential students to have the capacity to succeed at Level 3 (and wouldn’t be able to fit in GCSE retakes anyway). The rightly much maligned “parity of esteem” phrase beloved by politicians usually desperate for something to say about FE has an actual value here; you can’t possibly expect FE routes to achieve “esteem” by only offering routes for young people with low GCSE achievement. The other mitigating factor are the plans for a T-Level transition year for those

who are not ready to start a T level aged 16, but could be expected to complete one by 19.

It is always a challenge to elicit interest in young people about routes they know very little about and this challenge has been reflected in the small recruitment targets for the first wave of T Level providers. Perversely what might actually help recruitment though is the lack of knowledge of Applied General FE qualifications among stakeholders who say that they are trusted qualifications that offer good value and prepare young people for the world of work but then also claim that nobody really understands what their results mean.

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If parents and potential students are already inspired by careers in any of the areas offered at a College local to them as a T Level, then that will probably be enough to tempt an application. Where CEIAG practitioners can offer support though is on the challenge to the young person and the work readiness needed to make those transitions a success.The reality of this and the entry requirements may alter the cohort of students they routinely talk to about FE altogether.

Career & Social Justice: Recognitive perspectives and the hero factor

At a recent NICEC seminar on social justice the discussion coalesced around two of my favourite interests; Careers and films.

Social Justice Careers work asks CEIAG practitioners to not only be versed and mindful in the wider socio-economic and sociological factors that may face their clients but also involve into their practice information, guidance and challenge to enable individuals to better recognise and navigate the adverse winds of a system weighed against them. Hooley, Sultana & Thomsen have published two collections of chapters on this subject with the aim of shaping a new dialogue around pluralistic approaches to careers guidance and advocating a place for socially minded guidance in a neoliberal world.

A focus of both one of the chapters and the session that I attended was a workshop for practitioners devised by Kristin Midttun and Phil McCash about Social Justice which introduced and allowed discussion of the work of Barry Irving who proposes a four concept model.

irving social justice

For Irving, a recognitive perspective tasks practitioners to take the point of view that clients will have influences and factors that shape any basic wish to participate in the labour market. A client’s family and community will influence their choice making process and may even cause options to be ruled out completely and have faced socio-economic repression as a community that has molded those views. With this recognition, then CEIAG practitioners can play their part in helping the clients they serve overcome oppression,

Hence, I am in agreement with Arthur (2014), that “A just society would be one in which the constraints of oppression and domination are eliminated, allowing people from all groups to develop and reach their full human potential”

These “group identities” can result in a wide range of macro outcomes, for example the lower number of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds employed as apprentices or lower application rates to Russell Group universities from those with suitable grades but from lower income areas.

It struck me that the tensions that rise to the surface in those groups (family, community, culture) when the non-recognitive perspective is challenged is also a rich sourcing ground for film makers looking for stories. A number of films concentrate on the tales of individuals breaking molds created by or forced upon groups who face social injustice.

A non exhaustive run down of films in this category could include:

Blinded By the Light

Blinded_by_the_Light_(2019_film_poster)

A young Muslim teen in 1980’s Luton discovers the lyrics and music of Bruce Springsteen which opens his eyes to a career in writing and life beyond what his family have imagined for him. Based on the biographical writings of the Luton journalist Sarfaz Manzoor, the film is a coming of age or Bildungsroman tale in which the protagonist discovers artistic and cultural influences that initially clash with his own family identity but ultimately allow him to discover a talent upon which to base a profession. From the same Director, Gurinder Chadha, who previously had success with Bend it like Beckham, a film with similar themes of family and religious tradition (in this instance, the main character is from a Sikh background) clashing against the protagonists non traditional career choice.

Billy Elliott

Billy_Elliot_movie

The hugely successful film based on a play that went onto become a hugely successful musical is a core example of this genre as a young boy from a northern, mining community breaks the expectations of gender and class to embrace a career as a ballet dancer. A recurring theme of these films is the main character’s need to embrace a career with an artistic or expressive aspect that eschews the practical vocations in the local labour market.

Hairspray/Flashdance/High School Musical

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This films are grouped together as the main characters share the same wish to forge a career in singing or dancing. Characters face initial resistance to achieve their career goals as their appearance (Hairspray), interest in a non macho pursuit (High School Musical) or lower class background (Flashdance) do not conform to the traditional sourcing pools for these areas.

Legally Blonde

Legally_Blonde_film_poster

Another film in which a protagonist breaks loose of class and appearance stereotypes to achieve a desired career is Legally Blonde. Based on a book which found it’s inspiration from the author’s real life experiences attending Stanford Law School. Our protagonist here uses knowledge and skills gained from her interest in beauty and presentation and, with plenty of studying hard montages, uses these traits to break free of the expectations of her community to win the case and show her suitability for the academic world of law she wishes to gain entry to.

Pad Man

Padman_poster

An example of this genre of film from outside Western Cinema would be the highly enjoyable 2018 Hindi film Pad Man. Based on a true life story of a social entrepreneur who battled against societal, family and gender conformity to design, market and sell hygienic sanitary wear for women across India. This is an interesting example to include as the protagonist of the film is male and so coming from a more traditional position of holding societal capital within the depicted community but entering a career field in which he faces obstruction due to community tradition, religious separation and family expectation. The self-developmental motivations of the character are important to note and the wish for societal change that empowers previously oppressed individuals. A vital aspect of the success of the invention is the establishment of small sanitary pad factories, staffed mostly by women, that can produce and sell them throughout the rural villages.

Hidden Figures/Men of Honour/Marshall/42

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A sub-genre within a sub-genre are films which (usually based on true stories) tell of the hard won advancement towards equality for African Americans across professional spaces. Hidden Figures details the important work of woman of colour in engineering and maths for NASA, Men of Honour focuses on the first African American Master Diver in the US Navy while Marshall and 42 tell the tales of Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson breaking barriers to succeed in their chosen fields of law and baseball.

These films have their own tropes which, through audience familiarity, can cause subsequent films to achieve diminishing cultural returns despite telling important stories. This phenomenon is brilliantly teased in this Bill Burr stand-up bit on the subject of race in movies

But, despite the ribbing because of the similarities, a social justice issue remains in the construction of the protagonists career in each story depicted.

When looking at these films, it struck me how the construct of the narrative ensures that the protagonist is presented as the hero to the audience with their goal of forging into a new world beyond the limits that family/religion/community/society impose upon them.

The Hero’s Journey

In his defining text “The Hero with with a Famous Faces” Joseph Campbell outlined the  monomyth structure of the Hero’s journey. The protagonists in the films described above all experience the call to adventure that Campbell describes sometimes even through happenstance,

The adventure may begin as a mere blunder… or still again, one may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man

Billy Elliott is sent to the gym to learning boxing and only happens upon a ballet class by accident. Elle Woods in Legally Blonde applies and starts at Harvard Law with the initial aim of winning back her boyfriend who has enraged her by not proposing.

A little way into the journey a mentor appears,

the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass

such as Robert De Niro’s Master Chief Petty Officer in Men of Honour.

An initiation period starts

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.

such as Jimmy’s (Eminem) initial rap battle in 8 Mile when, defending his co-worker, he causes a significant set back and a further challenge to rise again from his mentor Future.

The build up of the pressure between the hero and the barriers inhibiting his journey now has to come to the forefront

In this step the hero must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his life. In many myths and stories this is the father

such as Jess admitting to her mother that she has secretly been playing football and wants to take up the offer of a scholarship at an American College in Bend it like Beckham.

The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal such as Alex’s successful audition at the end of Flashdance but then our hero finds acceptance with those who implemented the barriers that inhibited them originally,

The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet or the ten thousand worlds

such as the example of Billy’s father attending a performance of Swan Lake.

Impact on CEIAG & Social Justice

Is it too far to propose that the presentation of these protagonists as positive heroes and heroines shapes perceptions and views of those who do not enact this positive self-identity and break out of the restraints that hold them back? Do CEIAG practitioners allow such media to shape their own practice when working with clients facing repressive barriers in their own lives and do practitioners take their clues from such media about what is even repression to begin with?

This can raise complex professional issues for practitioners when working with clients from a wide range of backgrounds that can influence career choice; those from ethnic minority backgrounds, faith backgrounds, from areas of social deprivation or, indeed, areas of relative prosperity may all have career options defined to some extent by their background and upbringing. and the social in/justice levied on their community.  For careers practitioners a moral question of practice results; is the role of practitioners to be a disruptor in that space, an agent of challenge to a group identity that has been formed from influences either within or outside the group?

The issue of what can be considered a social justice issue and the difficulties of framing are addressed by Rice in Career Guidance for Social Justice

social justice 1

and Nancy Fraser who

argues that many social justice movements in the 1960s and 1970s argued for recognition on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity, and that the focus on correcting misrecognition eclipsed the importance of challenging the persistent problems of maldistribution. In other words, Fraser asserts that too much of a focus on identity politics diverts attention from the deleterious effects of neoliberal capitalism and the growing wealth inequality that characterizes many societies.

which could be considered a warning to CEIAG practitioners who answered “yes” to the questions above.

Films which tell stories from diverse spaces and with diverse characters are to be welcomed. For reasons of representation and richness, we should all want stories with and about communities and characters beyond the mainstream but those stories which focus on career goals can cause ripples beyond the positive of greater inclusion by establishing inspirational role models who create deviant archetypes that those outside of those communities believe to be more desirable or more frequent than reality. Treating clients as individuals and utlising frameworks such as the recognitive perspective is part of a CEIAG practitioners skillset but more vital to enacting social justice is enabling CEIAG practice to flourish in communities and groups who struggle to access CEIAG support and the social capital it can bring.

The power of role models on education pathways choice

Much of the recent focus in CEIAG has been on growing the evidence base (and so being able to bend the policy ear) of the benefit of employer interactions on pupil’s employment and earning outcomes. Meanwhile the other side of the CEIAG practitioner coin of inspiring pupils to transition onto successful future education pathways has been left to happen purely on its perceived value. This is often achieved through similar activities such as site visits, taster type activities, assemblies and visiting speakers so it is interesting to see the growing evidence base for what type of provision is most successful in this area as well. The Behaviour and Insights Team have now published two studies which boost the evidence base for two practices in encouraging young people to apply to high tariff Universities

  1. That letters of encouragement to Year 12s from older students from similar backgrounds increased applications and acceptances to Russell Group Universities

and a more recent publication that shows that talks and mentoring sessions from current students at high tariff Universities also encourage higher application and acceptances rates at high tariff institutions. Any CEIAG provision requiring role models is time and commitment intensive which is a step change from their previous work on arm’s length interventions.

That these types of provisions work isn’t going to be much of a surprise to a CEIAG practitioner, it’s bread and butter stuff, but I found the four-year study interesting because of the positive impact the talks and mentoring had on the applications from disadvantaged backgrounds and also the age of students with which the provision had the most impact. The study showed that the outcome impact on acceptances was much higher for students in the program who were studying at FE or Sixth Form Colleges than those in schools.

insights team1

The working paper speculates that this finding could be a result of

college environments, which typically contain more students, are less conducive to personal support for application to university and selective university in particular. Alternatively, it could be that the selection of students into these further education colleges is a relevant factor. Because colleges offer a wider variety of courses, it could be that students who select into these institutions are interested in pursuing less typical careers and may not be aware of the benefit or options for university in the absence of our intervention.

Which reminds the practitioner around the dangers of stereotyping. Leaving aside the type of educational institution the young person was attending, it’s interesting to see that in-depth provision such as offering role models can still have large impacts with this age group. Practitioners will know that by 16-18 young people can be blinkered in their belief of the possible future pathways that are suitable for them. By this age, their horizons have been defined by the family, school and societal pressures around them. As the working paper describes

the concept of ‘social norms’ can explain how, by seeking to emulate the attitudes and actions of those in their social group, students adopt the idea that academic education is ‘not for them’

and this is just one of the modifiers of future plans. The study also follows previous findings that information giving is not enough to alter student plans as

information-only interventions have proven ineffective at encouraging college application behaviour. This is convincingly demonstrated by a randomised controlled trial in which over 1 million US students were targeted with emails and letters about the financial support available to college applicants. Despite the scale of this trial, it was found to have no discernible impact on college enrollment

This may lead practitioners to speculate that horizon broadening should occur at an earlier age but by KS5, more intensive interventions are needed.

I also found the study interesting as it adds to other psychological studies which show that once formed, a person’s impression of a situation can be remarkably perseverant, even when irrefutable facts or evidence is then produced which disproves the individuals stated belief. The reasons for this psychological trait and the many concerning consequences of it are covered in this fascinating New Yorker piece, “Why Don’t Facts Change Our Minds.”

The theory of cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber that irrational beliefs persist because reason evolved due to our need to live in collaborative groups

Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective

This roadmap in our minds left over from evolution leads to confirmation bias (or in Mercier’s and Sperber’s terms “myside” bias) which is all to the benefit of winning arguments

This lopsidedness, according to Mercier and Sperber, reflects the task that reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.

One can easily imagine this effect leading to the “social norms” constraints mentioned in the Behaviour Insight’s paper limiting young people’s percieved realistic choices. Wishing to retain standing within their social group and not stand out results in young people building their own beliefs and arguments for not pursuing less trodden routes no matter the weight of evidence provided to them that those less traveled paths could be more beneficial to them.

That this and previous studies on mentoring interventions can overcome these inherent traits is very interesting. Introducing role models into a young persons social sphere injects new views and so shifts the framing of acceptable/not acceptable choices and how they are perceived. It alters the height of the parapet of which the young person is comfortable sticking their head above.

When dealing with perhaps even more ingrained beliefs, it is why mentoring is so central to the Prevent Strategy and the work to reintegrate those with extremist views.

I would suggest that the practical outcomes from these studies and the associated cognitive science for the CEIAG practitioner thinking about pathways provision would be:

  1. Information signposting is not enough to impact choices
  2. Provision that does (role models, mentoring) is in-depth
  3. Never stereotype your pathway focus for different groups
  4. Hold onto the contact details of successful and varied alumni so that they can become the role models and repeat the cycle

 

 

 

 

State of the (careers) nation SMCP report

In the dying embers of 2015 the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission released their annual “State of the Nation” report which included numerous references to careers work in schools and how, as part of a wider raft of measures, this work could restart the mobility engine of the UK.

So, as the new year and the new term is already chugging along at full steam, a reminder of why we do what we do and some ideas for what we could be involved with.

So, the UK’s current situation is not good

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The report is clear that the current school accountability system is not conducive to placing an importance on careers work

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The report calls for a strengthening of this accountability measure including

• A new destinations measure, which relates all students’ outcomes post-18 to their secondary school, regardless of whether or not they conducted their post-16 study at the same institution. Government should seek to use new data-linking models to build in data on the destinations of students who are not in higher education post-19.

Interesting, the report also takes a stab at the continual problem of the ‘chicken and egg’ scenario undermining non HE routes in the UK

Today non-graduates tend to come from low income backgrounds and often end up in low pay, low-progression careers. There is a jungle of qualifications, courses and institutions which students find hard to penetrate. Quality is variable and there is little or no visibility about outcomes. Nor is the system working as well as it should for the economy with skills shortages in precisely those areas – construction, technical and scientific skills – that vocational education is supposed to supply. Unlike higher education, where the cap on student numbers has been lifted, there is more demand for apprenticeships than there are places and a dramatic under-supply of higher-level apprenticeships.

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In short, there are too few top apprenticeship opportunities, and they are not shared fairly. The lack of top-end, non-graduate options reduces the attractiveness of the route, despite some leading to better earnings than university degrees. So most of the brightest young people simply opt out of this route altogether. Young people who do well in exams at the point of the 16-plus choose the A level option because they believe it is better. This is reinforced by teachers, parents and careers advisers. It has led to the current situation where the non-graduate track is perceived as a route for those who are less capable.

The incessant call from bodies such as the CBI and the AoC for schools to promote apprenticeships better should be heard and relate squarely to the accountability measures issue mentioned above but a bigger target remains. To misquote a great movie, “build it and they will come” is surely now the objective for the apprenticeship route.

The report also looks at the gap in participation in HE and is particularly scathing about the gap at selective universities

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Lots of recommendations are made for both the state and the private sector which CEIAG work can and should support.

For schools:

Recommendation 2: The Government should make clear its absolute commitment to narrowing the educational attainment gap at a national level and confirm it by launching a new set of social mobility measures at a national, local authority and school level.

For the vocational sector:

Recommendation 1: New apprenticeships should be targeted at higher-level courses and young people: there should be 30,000 young people starting a higher-level apprenticeship a year by 2020.

Recommendation 2: A new UCAS-style website should be created for vocational education within two years so that young people can see what progression, employment and earnings opportunities they are likely to achieve.

Recommendation 4: By 2020 the Government should reduce the NEET rates of 16–18-year-olds to 3 per cent or less (or around 55,000), in line with the best performing OECD countries. This should be underpinned by a new social investment fund worth around £50 million to pay for the successful outcomes of NEET prevention schemes

For the graduate sector:

Recommendation 1: The Government’s widening participation commitment requires around 12,000 more students from low participation areas to enter HE in 2020 compared to today. To ensure outreach activity accelerates to meet this vision, 5 per cent of universities’ widening participation funding – around £40 million – should be ringfenced for collaborative action and coordinated by OFFA and the new Office for Students.

Recommendation 2: The Government should create a single online portal for young people to access public sector internships by 2017.

In the week that maintenance grants for the poorest students were scrapped, how much attention will Government pay to such suggestions or how much impact their own policy ideas will have, will have to wait to be seen.

Should careers advisers tell young people “the truth?”

The obvious answer is “yes, always” right?

Without hesitation and by compulsion we should adhere stoically to the truth when offering guidance to clients. Perhaps delivered with compassion and understanding but ultimately the truth should always be aired. Whether we are utilising statistics and figures to illuminate the benefits or downsides of certain routes and destinations or to explain the expert guesses at the future labour market landscape awaiting our clients, the onus is on the professional capability of the adviser to be prepared and competent enough to have a range of sources on which to draw from that reflect the “truth.” The importance of this skill is considered such a key element of the role it is given it’s own Unit in the Level 6 Career Guidance Diploma.

Sometimes, the actual reality of what statistics show is happening can be lost in our own personal experiences or subjective views as Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, discovered when confronting a room full of careers advisers convinced that the introduction of University fees was discouraging students from lower-income backgrounds to apply to H.E despite no current data to support this. Perhaps those advisers had personal, anecdotal stories which had blinded them to the wider world view or perhaps the data had just failed to get through the avalanche of numbers, figures and headlines that advisers try to keep up to date with about future labour market trends. The media (and those PR folk whose sole job it is to shout purely about their corner of the education world) don’t make this part of the job easy as the recent spate of headlines proclaimed that apprentices were now earning more than graduates shows.

Graduates are more likely to find themselves in low-paid jobs and are earning less than people who decide to do an apprenticeship instead of going to University, figures from the Office for National Statistics show

Which is all striking enough to get a Careers Adviser to take notice and feed into their messages of guidance. But was it the whole truth? A graph of recent ONS data shines a very different light on those claims.

Which clearly shows that, on average, graduates still outperform all other qualification routes on earnings. Some apprentices may be earning more than some graduates but HE leavers “on average” are still earning more over the course of their working life. When speaking to a confused 15-year-old about comparing the benefits of their possible future routes, which source would you use? Which one is closer to the “truth?”

Questions around subjectivity can significantly impact and influence the message conveyed by individual guidance givers. Despite our own professional best intentions, our own media intake, reading and decisions will drastically alter the range of data and the perception of that data we use with clients even before we interweave the personal stories and experiences of both ourselves and our client into the mix. The impact of influences on the truth we convey and omit can be drastic.

Let’s invent a client, a 15-year-old female student called Laura, studying at a regular English secondary school. Let’s imagine she’s bright and able to do well in her subjects with hard work. She’ll need to be, Laura is from a home eligible for Free School Meals so is 26.5% less likely to achieve A*-Cs in her Maths and English GCSEs than her classmates who do not receive FSM. If the school Laura attended was in Grimsby or Bradford, this hard work would be needed to insulate her from becoming the quarter of her age group who will become NEET upon leaving school. Let’s say Laura is on course to negotiate these initial hurdles and has expressed an interest in studying at the local Sixth Form College, which has navigated the pressures on their funding to still offer the STEM courses Laura is interested in. The closer she gets to her GCSE exams, it becomes clear that Laura may be on target for some excellent results which, considering her Afro-Caribbean heritage, means she would be outperforming her peers who remain the lowest performing ethnic group in British schools (para 1.3) . Teachers start talking to her about the differences in University options and light a fire in her to investigate the exclusive world of the Russell Group. Her fears about the average £44,000 of debt her studies will leave her paying into her 50s are allayed (much to Nick Hillman’s cheer) with the tantalising promise of  bursaries to help her despite that just a third of students receive £1400 a year. Achieve the outstanding grades required and you’ll have a great chance, she is told, despite the truth that her heritage and her state school education make it much less likely she would receive an offer compared to other students with the same grades.

Let us say Laura battles through to graduate with a valued STEM career to take one of the 13% of STEM roles currently held by women then to find that her pay is well below her male colleagues

and could be even more greatly affected by her decision to stay near her family home in the north of England.

If Laura was shown this version or each chunk of this version of the “truth” at the start of her journey, at which point would the enormity of the challenge laid out in front of her weigh her down and halt her efforts? At which point would the “truth” stop being beneficial and become a hindrance and a drag on aspiration? As Tristam Hooley comments on the  Nick Hillman piece

Careers advice, like politics, is the art of the possible. In fact much of the rationale for the existing of career guidance as part of public policy is the fact that helps individuals to make their way through sub-optimally organised systems.

so at which point should the full extent of just how “sub-optimal” the system is be shown? At which point does the “possible” become narrowed to reflect the reality rather than expanded to reflect the ambition? I’ve blogged before on framing Labour Market Statistics not as a dissuading element but as a motivator to encourage students to push on and achieve their dreams but Nick’s piece made me consider a deeper truth in my own practice in adhering to the statistics. Through omission and selection, I do not always “tell the truth.” I choose which facts and statistics to unveil to students that I think will motive and encourage them at opportune and transitional points and through that, hope to play a small role in the process as they move forward to see their version of the “truth” themselves.

I am not here to promote routes that shout the loudest. I am here to promote routes.

Last week saw the annual Vocational Qualifications Day with much fanfare of awards and tasters and reminders of the need to improve the image and take up of vocational routes.

http://www.vqday.org.uk/

It’s a worthy cause and gives much to celebrate but amid all of the build up and Press Release snippets a familiar picture is emerging.

#VQDay has a seedier side as #BashCareersDay

For the build up sees the daily news cycle spiked with stories about the “terrible state of careers advice.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22771846

And the day sees the great and the good step up to the plate to deliver negative soundbites about the failure of careers advice.

This bashing though sows the seed for a potential side effect to grow, that the short cut for “Good careers advice” will be “well, we promote vocational routes.”

A seed that the future influx of destination statistics into a school’s data profile could nurture as schools begin to use this information in their own press interactions.

Careers leaders must not allow this to happen and stay the course of promoting ALL quality routes.

It feels lost, amid the razzmatazz, that LMI and the genuine needs of the future job market alongside a considered reflection of their own interests and strengths, should be the real elements of persuasion for young people to consider a vocational route.

A few years back now, I took  some students to a local event that introduced the Labour 14-19 Diploma to them. The venue was awash with balloons, touch screen computers and quick-moving presentations by two twins who were ex contestants on the BBC reality TV show The Restaurant. The youngsters were bowled over by the flash. The problem is those young learners that then took the qualification are probably still waiting for the bang.

I am not here to promote routes that shout the loudest. I am here to promote routes.

Introducing Russell Group routes to KS4

The direction of the current Dfe is clearly one that holds great reverence to the Russell Group Universities and the route they offer for young people. And, I’ve found, that over the past few years more and more KS4 students have wanted to discuss what they would need to achieve to ensure that the top Universities are still a viable option for them when it comes time to apply.

So what resources are out there to use with, particularly KS4, Secondary school students to satisfy this and nurture this desire to study at our best institutions?

First Introductions

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BMhwvyHyogA

Education is…

A short video from Cambridge University, which in a superficial marketing way, tries to get across the point that people from lots of different backgrounds from all over the country can go to top a highly prestigious University. I’ve used this after a group task where I’ve asked students to draw what they imagine a Cambridge student to look like and then compared their highly stereotypical drawings (some Year 11s seem to believe that Cambridge is basically Hogwarts) with the people in the film.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/01/university-preferred-a-levels?intcmp=239

A Guardian article about which A Levels some Universities prefer, which might be useful to spark small group work of looking at prospectuses for entry criteria and reporting back to the class

Unistats

http://unistats.direct.gov.uk/

The recently revamped Unistats site is a brilliant compare and contrast tool for this sort of thing. The employment and entry statistics are clearly laid out and it’s simple to compare to other institutions to highlight both the high UCAS points needed but how this is, usually, shown to make a massive difference to the salary statistics after finishing the course. PPE at Oxford or Economics at LSE are both good for eliciting interest as their graduates quickly achieve high earnings after their course finishes.

Another thing KS4 students love to do on this site is track down the course their older siblings are currently studying at and laugh dismissively at the puny wages and terrible employment chances their brother or sister faces.

More In-depth

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54kKLOkoFxk&feature=youtu.be

To accompany their indispensable booklet, ‘Informed Choices,’

http://russellgroup.ac.uk/informed-choices/

the Russell Group have also released a video which reinforces the “facilitating subjects” line while Dr Wendy sits about in graveyards looking concerned (no, really). The actual booklet is a photocopying budget assassin, so don’t print it off. When working with individuals I tend to email the link to their school email address so they can look at it after the session.

PROVISION

Subject matters

The University of Cambridge run these sessions for Year 11s, usually in the winter months, to also advise on suitable A Level choices. They do charge £5 a pop and, from feedback from parents who have attended in previous years, they don’t cover anything different to the “Informed Choices” booklet or in the pdf on the site

http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/events/docs/sminfopack.pdf

I think, to be quite honest, this fulfills a need for the parents to go along to Cambridge and make themselves known by asking questions rather than a need for the students.

Year 10 Challenge Days

Cambridge promote these as enrichment opportunities for able or gifted students which is true, but they can also fulfill a useful need for widening participation and IAG. If I’m lucky enough to get some students on them, I will usually get there early and do a bit of a walk around the town centre and, if you’re fortunate enough to find a nice proctor, you might get to walk around the grounds of Kings which gives them a bit of a wow.

http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/access/challengedays/year10.html

Outreach teams

At this point geography becomes important. Outreach cannot be underestimated in its impact and, to give them their due, both Oxford and Cambridge have always been very flexible to offering outreach visits and work with us. Maybe it’s because we’re easily reachable by road from both. Over the past few years both Universities have sent representatives to our Year 11 Careers Fair and Oxford have sent a team of current students who presented to a KS4 group

http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/teachers/wp.html

http://www.ox.ac.uk/visitors_friends/oxford_in_the_community/widening_access.html

Alumni

This can be very important. Keeping in touch with past students who are willing to come back into the school and talk about their own journeys can be very powerful IAG and it’s something I know I need to take more advantage of.

Companies such as Future First

http://www.futurefirst.org.uk/

offer paid for services to assist schools to build up alumni networks. Although, in the days of more and more official school twitter accounts

https://twitter.com/stopsleyhighsch

and official Facebook groups, keeping up to date with ex students should be easier than ever.

As ever, I would be very interested to hear of other people’s experiences of getting KS4 to begin to investigate Russell Group options and resources you might have used. Get in touch!