social mobility

This 2017 Election & CEIAG

The news of the Prime Minister’s decision to hold a snap election on June 8th 2017 will be, by now, news that you’re probably bored of hearing. In fact, the news of another election, a year after the European referendum, two years after the last General Election, three years after the Scottish Independence referendum probably brought out of you a wail of despair much like Brenda here:

Whatever the political maneuvering that caused Theresa May to decide on firing the start gun on the vote that needs to happen as part of the Fixed Term Parliaments act, it’s safe to say that the current poling does not point to anything other than a strong Conservative victory.

That is not to say, of course, that between now and polling day there won’t be swings in fortunes, catastrophic mistakes from key players, TV debate performances that catch the eye and movements in polls that add an extra layer to the narrative but, I think it’s fair to say, most will be putting their money on a resounding Conservative victory.

That result will have consequences on wide tracts of British life from public services, to individual privacy, social mobility to (perhaps the inescapable theme of them all) Brexit.

Education will not (or will depending on who you listen to) get much attention during the campaign and, when it does, the issues to be covered are likely to be overall funding, changes to the National Funding Formula, Grammar Schools and Labour’s free school meals policy. Education currently polls around 4th in voters concerns below Brexit, the NHS, and Immigration so will do well to gain much traction above those major issues.

Which leaves CEIAG where? As others have already noted, this will push long promised Careers policy documents into the even longer grass. A delay on a Strategy document that would have very likely included no funding or any structural changes to the Careers landscape is no great loss. The more narrowly focused current Statutory Duty on schools though will continue until the future Government replaces or abolishes it and, as that future Government is very likely to be formed from the same Party that conceived it, it’s likely it will stay. This could be complicated though by the progress of the Technical & Further Education Bill through Parliament which includes the Baker Amendment. At the time of writing it is still unclear whether this will pass through Parliament in time despite the optimism of Robert Halfon but that would add another facet to the duty on CEIAG provision in schools.

Other than, it’s hard to see what else would change specifically on CEIAG. The current Government have set their spending envelopes for, more widely education, but also the Careers & Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service. What is much more likely to have an actual tangible effect on CEIAG work in schools post #GE2017 will be the other education policies included in the Conservative manifesto and any post-election reshuffle.

Without any extra funding commitment out of the hat, the main education policy headline grabber will be the promise of new Grammar schools

or the relaxing of rules allowing existing schools to become grammars despite the overwhelming evidence that they are not engines of social mobility. Those CEIAG practitioners who believe in the social worth of Careers work to aid upward mobility should be deeply concerned at not only the damage a Grammar system will do in parts of the country but also the willingness of a Government to completely dispense with evidence to pursue a favoured route. In the coming weeks, perhaps the greatest opportunity for coverage or attention for organisations invested in CEIAG work and the social mobility agenda will be to add their voices to the Education community response to policies that, superficially at least, won’t have anything to do with Careers.

 

An example of misguided CEIAG blaming

As someone who likes keeping up to date with CEIAG policy changes and events, I read a lot of articles both in the mainstream and specialist media who give CEIAG a right good thwacking.

If it’s a think piece on the latest terrible social mobility stats, make sure to include a bash of CEIAG in schools.

300 words on the lack of esteem parents hold for vocational courses, make sure to include a swing at school CEIAG.

Are you a business owner baffled by the low number of young people starting apprenticeships, then Careers advice in schools is surely your issue.

Most of these type of articles will include a reference to the (now four years old) Ofsted report “Going in the right direction” on the standards of careers guidance provision in secondary schools to show the research has been done but not many will point to more recent Ofsted publications that say things are improving.

And, the bit that stings, is they usually have a point. An overblown point that fails to acknowledge other deficiencies in the system such as low apprenticeship pay, the poor reputation of vocational qualifications and the fact that demand for apprenticeships vastly outstrips supply but still a point.

This open goal for journalists and freelancers looking to add a few more shares and likes from the education community ready to reconfirm their suspicions that CEIAG is naff can sometimes be missed though.

A recent(ish) article in the Guardian spoiled what was a well researched round-up of the current CEIAG landscape by over reaching on it’s causality to what inspired the article in the first place.

Young people need to be better equipped for the world of work. This is something that schools and government agree on, but there have been frequent criticisms of the careers information they provide.

Last week a report for the Social Mobility Commission found that children from poorer backgrounds face a “class earnings penalty” when they enter the workplace. And a recent Ofsted report found that of 40 schools, just four were providing adequate careers advice to their students.

Which, on the face of it, seems like a fair connection to make, that is, until you read that section of the actual report.

social mobility report3

So let’s be clear on what those findings mean. An employee, despite having the same levels of education and experience doing the same job as a colleague earns over £2000 less a year because they come from a working class background.

The researchers found this pay difference is more pronounced social mobility report4

when they looked at difference aspects of the class divide but the fact that it remains when all of the factors are controlled for is remarkable.

The report goes on to speculate on some of the possible reasons for this finding on the “supply side”

As previous work suggests, the mobile may specialise in less lucrative areas (Cook, Faulconbridge, and Muzio 2012; Ashley 2015), may be more reluctant to ask for pay raises, have less access to networks facilitating work opportunities (Macmillan, Tyler, and Vignoles 2015), or in some cases even exclude themselves from seeking promotion because of anxieties about “fitting in” (Friedman 2015).

and the “demand side”

they are either consciously or unconsciously given fewer rewards in the workplace than those from more advantaged backgrounds. This may manifest as outright discrimination or snobbery (Friedman et al 2016), or it may have to do with more subtle processes of favouritism or ‘culturalmatching’, whereby elite employers misrecognise social and cultural traits rooted in middle class backgrounds as signals of merit and talent (Rivera, 2015; Ashley, 2015).

Which is where the link to CEIAG in schools falls down. While the supply side characteristics are qualities that (to different extents) public sector intervention in the form of CEIAG can contest the demand side factors are beyond our sphere. And it’s those practices which, only through fundamental changes of attitude and practice in the workplace, will progress be made on discrimination against employees from working class backgrounds.

 

 

 

How companies can help with social mobility

Themes rise and fall in education news land. Recently the topic of social mobility has risen to the top of the education news wave leaving stories of shrinking school budgets, degree grade inflation and the lack of support for pupils mental well-being sinking to the bottom.

Ahead of the curve was the Sutton Trust who released a report co-authored with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility entitled “The class ceiling: Increasing access to the leading professions” which laid bare (again, after previous work from the Social Mobility Commission) the static nature of social mobility in the UK. We are a nation where the privilege and wealth of your parents directly dictates the privilege and wealth you will enjoy.

Much of the subsequent press follow up concerned itself with the recruitment practices of employers that favour young people from well off backgrounds such as unpaid internships while the report took a bigger picture view of the wider education & employment system.

CEIAG and recent careers policy got lots of attention with a careful eye laid on the progress of the Careers & Enterprise Company

and plenty of stakeholder opinion on the quality of careers advice in schools. Much of the state of careers commentary is echoes of all that has gone before so it was the sections which looked at what steps business could take to change the situation which I found interesting.

  1. The use of Contextualized recruitment by firms such as Deloitte places an applicant’s academic achievement in the context of the institution and wider community in which they achieved this.
  2. The move away from traditional academic routes into the professions and toward new, work based schemes even in professional areas such as Law. CILex the example given.
  3. Open competition for young people to apply to work experience placements so not to insulate benefits seen by friends and families of employees. I’ve linked on this blog before on the general lack of work experience opportunities offered by business.
  4. To be involved in Mentoring programmes, which will give much power to the Careers & Enterprise Company’s new scheme.
  5. Local targeting of deprived areas and schools with the work of the companies on the Government’s Social Mobility Compact (no, I’d never heard of it either) praised for their work with (mostly) London schools
  6. Unconscious bias training to aid impartiality in recruitment although the example of practice given in the report is from the Civil Service so, as it’s not private sector, I don’t really think it should count here.
  7. The collection and publication of data on the socio-economic backgrounds of employees with the data collected by the Solicitors Regulation Authority given as an example.

These are all praiseworthy and socially responsible efforts by the private sector to, in small ways, stick an oar of movement into the static pool of social mobility in the UK.

Reading this report coincided for me in the same week as seeing a presentation on an EY summer work experience summer scheme called “Smart Futures.” A paid work experience scheme for Year 12 students, this is a fantastic opportunity that would excite many young people. EY though, are aiming the programme at pupils who have been

Eligible for free school meals at some point in the past six years

which is an altruistic and well intentioned clause but, as many of the other schemes and ideas mentioned above also do, it fails to take into account a hard reality of the educational progress and attainment of disadvantaged students by the time they reach this age.

In 15/16 43% of disadvantaged pupils gained A-C’s in GCSE English & Maths compared to 70% of all other pupils while 37% of disadvantaged pupils achieved 5 A-C’s compared to 65% of all other pupils.

At Key Stage 2, 39% of disadvantaged pupils reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths while 60% of other pupils do.

In fact, disadvantaged pupils are already 8 months of learning behind their peers when they start school.

To tackle this, companies that truly wish to make an impact on social mobility should step away from their own comfort zones and deal with very young people and families in settings perhaps they have not so far ventured into. The Smart Futures programme is delivered through EY’s charitable arm The EY Foundation. It would require strong leadership but, ultimately, a bigger structural impact on their investment would be found from, for example, offering small scale, localised provisions to fill the gaps that the closures to large numbers of Sure Start and children’s centres is leaving.

 

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

smcp 1

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

smcp2

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.

smcp3

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

smcp4

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.