sixth form colleges

February 2018 Careers Guidance for FE & Sixth Form Colleges

The final chapter in a slew of recently published careers guidance documents and reports is a pair of publications focusing on CEIAG provision in FE & Sixth Form Colleges in England.

Coming after the Careers Strategy, the Gatsby benchmarks for schools, the Statutory schools Guidance and it’s sister document Good Career Guidance Benchmarks for Young People in Colleges, Careers Guidance: Guidance for further education colleges and sixth form colleges, it’s important to note, is not a Statutory document for the Further Education Sector. The exempt charitable status of many of the providers in the sector does not allow for such diktats. Where the leverage comes from for the compliance with the standards and expectations set out in the document are the clear warnings that failure to adhere could result in the withdrawal of ESFA grant funding (which would be a major decision to take).

Following from their work on school CEIAG standards which was well received by both practitioners and policy markers, Gatsby again supply the backbone of the standards document. In this instance though a critical piece of work is missing which then damages confidence in all that follows. The original Gatsby report used a number of sources to build their recommended standards. As well as looking at provision in other countries, reviewing research and interviewing stakeholders, the Foundation also commissioned PWC to figure how much this would cost an average school. For the College document, conversations with Colleges seem to have happened but no specific costing documents have been published. This missing building block means that the recommended standards of provision that follow ring a little hollow, especially in the sector of education that has a building consensus of agreement in its underfunding.

The guidance in the document itself falls into three categories:

  1. Provision that makes perfect sense
  2. Provision that makes perfect sense but is going to need a lot more resource
  3. The Brexit Unicorn is riding into town before this happens

Provision that makes perfect sense

Much does. Asking every College to have a “Careers Leader” to mirror the forthcoming role in schools means that each Post 16 provider can still tailor their student service offer but ensures that a named individual is responsible. An embedded programme of CEIAG that is reviewed regularly, that keeps learner records of interactions and challenges stereotypical thinking would please all practitioners. It’s good to see destinations data achieve clear priority and the requirement for employer interactions is only sensible considering the relevant research and the entire remit of most Further Education provision. Asking for clear links between Careers Leaders and SEN provision at previous stages of the learners journey is welcome. Building the work of the CEC into Post 16 Careers work, after the work of the Local Area Reviews, continues the link to local labour market demand. Finally, the clear recommendation for guidance interviews to be conducted by Level 6 and above qualified advisers is a clear signpost for dedicated student support teams in Post 16 provision rather than “one stop shop” offers.

Provision that makes perfect sense by is going to need a lot more resource

As the forthcoming T Levels will also demand, ensuring that work experience is a standard component of a study programme is a desirable outcome but one which will require a lot more opportunities for work experience placements.

Expanding the remit of the CEC to enable Colleges and schools to meet all of the Benchmarks across both Guidance documents is sensible but, I’m sure Enterprise Co-ordaintors would agree, they would need more support than just new provision mapping tools to achieve this. A release of a College specific Compass tool in September 2018 is welcome but will not be near enough.

The Brexit Unicorn rides into town

Benchmark 8 is the steepest mountain to climb. It requires that every 16-18 learner has at least one guidance interview before the end of the course. This would be a huge demand on staffing levels across many Colleges. I think that, comparably my own College is well staffed. We have 4 Advisers (including myself) and part-time resource support working across 3 larger sites and another 4 satellite sites. Approximately 4000 Post 16 learners study across the full spectrum of post 16 provision. We strive to make our service as accessible as possible but it would be true that if all of these learners were to take up a full guidance interview then our work with Adult learners, part-time learners and the community will be impacted. Achieving this benchmark would require a fundamental expansion of our staffing levels and, I suspect, the vast majority of Post 16 provision would have to invest from a lower base .

Another requirement that, I think, is pie in the sky is the Benchmark 3 guidance that

records of advice given should be integrated with those given at the previous stage of the learner’s education (including their secondary school) where these are made available

I just can’t foresee standard practice across the country of Careers Leaders in secondary schools getting permission from pupils and then sharing guidance records of all students to all of their destinations. It might happen in pockets across MATs or school to adjoined or local Sixth Form transitions but not to Further Education Colleges.

Post 16 careers provision is a different, more varied beast than provision in secondary schools. The landscape of curriculum, qualification and delivery are all more diverse meaning that the journey and destinations are also wider. This means challenges for any standardization guidance but one that would really want to make a change would be a project that took upon itself the, admittedly considerable, work of finding out how much this would all cost separate from the previous school costings.

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Revised Careers Guidance for FE and 6th Form Colleges

In the interests of completeness, here is the revised Guidance document “Careers guidance and inspiration – Guidance for general further education colleges and sixth form colleges” that was released yesterday.

For those familiar with the corresponding schools careers guidance the document is much of a muchness with the requirements of the duty for independent guidance on all routes to be provided for students in a number of suitable methods. Case studies highlight different ways of achieving this (including utilising organisations such as Career Academies) and Destination Measures are held up as the  method of accountability. The document then runs through a number of online resources that can help achieve Sixth Forms and Colleges achieve these aims.

 

Putting the shoe on the other foot

Continuing a recent theme on this blog about the growing market for student movement at 14 and the interaction this has with CEIAG, I thought I’d just highlight potential for some localised apple cart unsettling.

September 2014 will see another small cohort of FE Colleges join the trailblazers that opened their doors last year to 14 year olds. This is part of the wider Government policy push for Key Stage 4 students to consider moving to alternative providers who offer a curriculum focus more suited to their goals. Alongside the already vaunted, opened and (in some cases) closed UTC’s and Studio Schools these FE College and Career College establishments will aim to enrol students already part way through their secondary school journey and will no doubt utilise substantive marketing budgets to those ends.

The growth of these provisions will only strengthen the FE sector’s resolve to air their ongoing concerns about the access and the guidance available to the majority of school students before these important transitions. There is now though, potential for the tables to be ever so slightly turned in this regard. The accompanying guidance documents for “Full-time enrolment of 14 to 16 year olds in FE and sixth form colleges” specifically states:

Careers guidance
66. The college is required to secure independent careers guidance for all students up
to and including the age of 18. Independent careers guidance secured under the
requirement should:
a) include information on the full range of education and training opportunities
b) be provided in an impartial manner
c) promote the best interests of the student to whom it is given
67. Colleges should review existing support and take steps to ensure this meets the
needs of their of 14- to 16-year-old students. They should also ensure that the young
person has received sufficiently robust information, advice and guidance prior to
commencing at college to ensure they are following the most appropriate learning
pathway.
68. The DfE has published guidance for institutions on securing independent careers
guidance. The DfE has also published statutory guidance and departmental advice for
schools on careers guidance and inspiration which can be used by colleges to review
support for of 14- to 16-year-old students.

Of course, we shouldn’t all expect school Sixth Forms near to the Colleges in Middlesbrough, Leeds or elsewhere mentioned in the FE Week article above to suddenly start banging on FE College doors to demand access and offer IAG to the young people soon to be studying within them but at least it shows that, on paper, the level playing ground for collaboration to grow has been laid.

 

The stories told and not told by school Destination data

A common theme throughout all of the recent commentary on the state of CEIAG in schools has been that the publication of Destination statistics for all schools is a ‘good thing.’ In the modern world, the argument goes, transparency of outcomes for schools should not just rely on qualifications gained by students but on the stability and suitability of the progress those students then make in their first steps beyond the school gates.

With this in mind I wanted to post something concentrating purely on the Destination Data of my own school’s leavers to show how this does and does not offer insight when looking at figures on a school size level.

I’ll be using 4 sets of Destination data to give some context.

Firstly, there is the data currently on the DfE performance tables website. This relates to our 2009/10 leavers.

Second, is the data for the 2010/2011 cohort that is due to be published on the performance table site in June.

So, what to notice between those two? The trend in our numbers to FE seem to be falling while the numbers to Sixth Form College are rising, Apprenticeships are steady and “Destinations not sustained” are falling. The FE and Sixth Form trends have the biggest swing in numbers so could tell the story of a more definitive trajectory. The Apprenticeships and Not Sustained numbers are pleasing but I’m wary of hanging out the bunting because, as you can see from the second table, the numbers of students involved are small. One or two students either way and those percentages alter significantly.

A hugely important factor to bear in mind is that this data is based not on a snapshot but on an extended time period. As the guidance tells us Participation is determined as enrollment for “the first two terms (defined as October to March) of the year after the young person left KS4″ and not sustained destinations are defined as  “young people who had participated at an education destination during the academic year but did not complete the required six months participation.” There is much to commend on the longer term measurement being used here which does more thoroughly test a school’s CEIAG legwork to suitably place their students post KS4. A negative consequence of this more considered approach though is the sheer amount of time that has to be allowed before publication to let the students travel through the system. The most recent set of data above covers students who left us 3 years ago. 3 years can be a lifetime of change in a school with new initiatives, new curriculum, staff turnover, Leadership changes, new priorities and events so to use this to judge that school in the here and now seems to be a little redundant.

The third set of data for our 2011/2012 cohort is from our Local Authority, who, alongside their Youth Service partners, work their way through enrollment lists, phone calls and house visits to get all of the stats which the DfE then utilise in future.

The first thing to notice is that some of the Destination terms are not the same. This immediately causes issues in comparison. Compared to the first two sets of data, the trend away from FE routes and towards Sixth Form (not differentiated between School Sixth Form and Sixth Form College here) reduces but continues. The NEET category (not known in the DfE data) is pleasing again (with the same caveat as above) while the Part Time Education numbers are odd and appear towards the larger end of the local spread (more about this below) but they lead to another concern; any conclusions we draw are only as sound as the data collection and entry job that went before them.

The biggest difference in the data sets is that the Local Authority data is a snap shot taken on the 1st of November 2012, just a few short weeks after the GCSE results. If published then, the immediacy of this data could provide interested parties such as Ofsted or parents much more reactive numbers on which to judge local secondary schools but this immediacy could also cause problems. Any snap measurement could offer a warped view of a reality that would produce very different data if captured on a different date (were the statistics exactly the same on the 2nd of November?) and perhaps not highlight gradual drop out as those learners went through the first term of their KS5 routes. To combat this and to show trends the Authority repeat the exercise in the following April with the same year group and the results of this follow up snapshot for the 2012 leavers are in the columns on the right below.

Clearly the largest change between the November and April is the Part time Education number now reads zero and the number of Apprenticeships has jumped by the same number to 12. How much of this change can be attributed to data entry decisions or to the steady progress of our leavers securing Apprenticeships in the year school would only be known to those with local knowledge of our alumni. It’s a tale not told in the stats.

So, what can we learn from all this data?

1) The considered publication timeframe on the DfE performance tables has both good and bad sides for judging school performance

2) When you drill down to school level, the numbers of actual students involved moving from category to category can be small enough so that only a few students fluctuating between them can significantly impact the percentages

and that

3) Trends in destination growth or reduction for different routes can only be properly identified with multiple data sets over a longer period

If Ofsted and stakeholders such as parents are to get the most out of Destination data in its current form, a considered and measured view and a desire to understand the stories behind the figures really will be required.

 

No good can come of: Online FE applications

Working in a secondary school with no Sixth Form has its benefits for providing independent CEIAG as I would have to be performing whole feats of invention to not be impartial. One of the challenges is that, when they leave at the end of Year 11, they all leave and your preparation and tracking of students to minimise potential NEET risk and ensure suitable progression pathways has to reflect that.

An increasingly common phenomenon that is making  this much more of a task is the move of FE Colleges, Sixth Forms and other providers to only accept online applications through their websites. It must be a very appealing move for them; they are able to both cut the costs of printing hard copies of forms and reassure themselves they are taking steps to appeal to young people by going online.

Set against a backdrop of Raising the Participation Age, Local Authorities struggling to track their 16-18 residents and the pressure on schools to ensure productive destinations for students, this is an unhelpful step for those of us who work in schools.

Hard copies of application forms mean that we can work with students to complete them, we can use the ‘officialness’ of the form to everyone’s benefit when motivating revision weary minds and it means we can track who has applied to what at where and intervene if necessary. I really hope our students don’t apply for 7 A Levels but if I don’t see their application I can’t promise it. I really hope that our students don’t apply for the Level 3 Public Services course without 4 C’s in their predictions but if I don’t see their application I can’t promise it. I really hope they manage to apply in time and by seeing their application I can promise this.

The obvious push back from the FE sector already severely concerned about school IAG will be that none of the above happens anyway so what difference will it make. There isn’t much of a concrete, data based rebuttal I can give to that other than to plead for more time for schools to begin to grasp their new responsibilities with this work. However this transition conundrum is solved, it will require partnership and collaboration from different education providers that relies as little as possible on hard pressed Local Authorities who will be braced for the full storm of austerity to come. Where ever the fault lines run for current any disconnects between schools and FE providers, removing the major part of the transition equation we do have the potential to assist with won’t help.

Securing Indepedent Careers Guidance – FE & Sixth Form Colleges – the mid point of the funnel

Should schools be at the widest point of the funnel?

Following on from the Guidance for secondary schools on securing Independent Careers Guidance, a similar document, but for Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges, has now been published by the Dfe

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/securing-independent-careers-guidance

It’s a good policy document. It’s snappy but covers what it needs to, gives some excellent case studies to spark ideas, offers resource links, busts some myths and speaks glowingly of the good that Careers work can do to guide life chances.

I think though, it’s a document that doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in its own little bubble. Alongside it coherently fits a recent report from Ofsted into the Local Accountability freedoms which FE Colleges and Sixth Forms should be embracing to drive the skills agenda to match the needs in their communities from their nearby employers.

http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/slow-start-for-policy-give-colleges-more-curriculum-freedom

The call is for FE Colleges to:

tailor their provision to meet more specifically the needs of various community groups, local residents, businesses and employers in their locality

The findings of the report, that they hadn’t been utilising their new freedoms to achieve this goal yet, isn’t my focus. My focus is how that vision of College provision should drive Careers work both Colleges and feeder schools.

Because, the vision that FE Colleges should be important skills factories for local areas, sending work ready students out into the local labour market is an exciting one and should have a great impact on the required day-to-day work carried out by FE Careers IAG. If FE Colleges truly do embrace these freedoms and, working collaboratively with Local Enterprise Partnerships, continuously moulded their offers and provision to meet the local skills needs, then Careers workers in those Colleges would need a flexibility to build new links into specific business areas, become experts in routes into those industries and adapt to match the changing subject areas of the College. Their IAG input would happen at a mid-point in the funnel above and their area expertise will need to be all the more in-depth because of it.

So, if they are at the mid-point of the funnel, schools then should surely be the widest point of the funnel. The establishments with employer engagement and interaction from the biggest range of business areas that might skim the surface of those careers but would entice an interest from the young learners. So much variety might seem scatter shot in its execution but, it’s through this provision that hitherto unknown interests could be uncovered. Research from the Education & Employers Taskforce shows how vital these encounters can be

http://www.educationandemployers.org/research/taskforce-publications/its-who-you-meet/

not even at the more complex level of networking or mentoring but purely at the most basic level of igniting a spark or providing a guiding beacon to aim for through the complexity of Post 16 choice.

Is either of these scenarios the case currently? Ofsted say not for FE Colleges and will soon report a verdict for schools, but I think it’s a compelling vision for a section of how things could be for the student journey and where Careers IAG fits into that journey.