February 2018


  • Relish the change
    Geoff Barton reflects on his personal journey at ASCL over the last few months and how 2017 has led to a shift in thinking around wider education policy and context. More
  • Real world, real learning
    Businesses can support schools and colleges in preparing students for life and even help develop resilience, says Confederation of British Industry (CBI) President, Paul Drechsler, but they need to understand the challenges that educators face if they are to help young people gain the skills and knowledge the country needs. Here, he talks to Julie Nightingale. More
  • Getting ahead
    Deputy Headteacher Allana Gay explains the philosophy behind Black, Asian and minority ethnic educators (BAMEed), the network helping ethnic minority staff aspire to leadership roles. More
  • Shaping careers
    Senior Research Manager Claudia Sumner says the government's new careers strategy is a step in the right direction, but research shows that a combination of measures are required for a successful, long-term solution to careers guidance. More
  • Next steps
    Two essential questions to answer in the quest for a headship or principal post are: Is it what I want and, Am I what they want? Aiming to join a Senior Leadership Team (SLT) as its leader requires you to consider these in order, says former ASCL President Allan Foulds. More
  • Plan for all seasons
    A curriculum represents the entire daily experience of each pupil, so designing it and evaluating its impact requires deep and detailed thinking. ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist Suzanne O'Farrell sets out the key areas for consideration. More
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Senior Research Manager Claudia Sumner says the government’s new careers strategy is a step in the right direction, but research shows that a combination of measures are required for a successful, long-term solution to careers guidance.

Shaping careers

In December last year, the government published its long-awaited careers strategy (https://tinyurl.com/y7y6dtsj) and is expected to follow up with statutory guidance early this year. The strategy aims to reduce the considerable variability that currently exists in the provision of careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG), and indicates that there will be some extra funding for a minority of schools in areas facing particular challenges.

In the five years since schools were given the statutory duty to provide independent and impartial careers guidance, many have begun to develop their own strategies for CEIAG to support students in making important decisions about their future. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), in partnership with London Councils, has recently explored how London schools are shaping an effective careers offer following the introduction of the London Ambitions careers offer in 2015.

The NFER study, London Ambitions Research: Shaping a successful careers offer for all young Londoners, was based on five institutions – a primary school, a special school, two secondary schools and an FE college – and explored what they had in place and how effective it is to ensure that students are prepared for the world of work (www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/LAMB01/).

The new careers strategy calls for a named Careers Leader in every school but the NFER found that, although a critically important first step, this alone is unlikely to be enough to ensure a comprehensive offer to all students. The research found that embedding effective provision through a whole-school approach to CEIAG – where senior leaders support and drive it forward and all school staff understand its importance – is vital to the success of any strategy, and appropriate staff and lesson time must be provided in order to deliver it effectively. It cannot be an add-on but should be fundamental to the wider curriculum.

For all schools, a first step towards underpinning effective provision is to conduct a proactive audit of existing careers provision (either formally or informally) – based on an expansive interpretation of CEIAG – to ensure that they are able to respond to their students’ needs. An audit can provide a structure for a school to develop the next steps, which could include a commitment by governors to review provision regularly or a decision to publish a careers strategy on the school or college website.

Why carry out an audit of existing careers provision?

  • to inform the development of the careers curriculum/ framework and policies
  • to ensure that CEIAG activities and experiences are further developed and progressed regularly
  • to place activities in a logical order to create a ‘learning’ journey
  • to make certain that CEIAG has a clear, visible and important role in students’/pupils’ whole experience so that it can raise aspirations and inform decisions about their future

An effective careers offer draws on the resources of the whole school (including governors) to ensure up-to-date knowledge of the local labour market and to utilise business contacts with local employers so that students have access to a comprehensive understanding of the options and opportunities available within their own communities. Tailored face-to-face advice from trained professionals is particularly valuable for those in Year 11 at risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) or with specific learning needs.

All the schools and colleges that participated in the study recognised the importance of prioritising meaningful interaction with employers, an aspect that is given prominence in the government’s new strategy and the NFER found that employer engagement is most effective when it is flexible rather than prescriptive.

How to provide students with meaningful experience of the world of work

  • on-site careers events/days and workshops (possibly for all the family)
  • external visits and taster days to workplaces and places of further study
  • work experience/placements (block or day) including in community settings
  • mentoring, especially for more vulnerable pupils
  • information about apprenticeships

The creation of careers ‘clusters’ was identified by school leaders and governors as a way of supporting and disseminating good practice as well as of providing a forum for employers to engage with a number of institutions in an efficient and effective way. Sharing good practice across the cluster can provide more students with direct access to professionals and ensure that they have access to up-to-date labour market information. Clusters, which can be organised geographically, through multi-academy trusts (MATs) or other groupings, can maximise the opportunities for work placements and provide a forum for developing expertise and understanding across a range of sectors.

How to engage and maintain employer links

  • Use personal contacts of staff, governors and parents to arrange talks and visits.
  • Protect time for a member of staff to network locally, use websites, knock on doors and attend events.
  • Once engaged, invest in mutually beneficial arrangements with employers.
  • Start small, building solid links with one or two employers first before finding further partners.
  • Nurture employers as clients.
  • Use careers clusters and other links to tap into resources to secure work experience.

One of the factors determining any school or college careers offer will be access to sufficient funding. The government’s careers strategy includes “£4 million to fund the development of new training programmes [for careers leaders] and support at least 500 schools and colleges in areas of the country needing most support”. This minimal extra funding (which works out at approximately £6,000 to £8,000 per school) to support the most disadvantaged students means that most school leaders will have to think creatively to fund effective careers provision. NFER found that schools are drawing on alternative funding sources, including the Pupil Premium, or collaborating with stakeholders to access funds or other resources. Providing in-house opportunities can minimise the cost of external trips and target activities towards the students who need them most. Career clusters can provide an efficient way for schools and colleges to pool resources to fund CEIAG CPD for teachers.

How to motivate the unmotivated and undecided

  • Take young people into the community to try new experiences.
  • Create a culture that is forward-thinking and outward-looking post-16.
  • Work with parents to help their children develop informed, realistic options.
  • Consider developing a specialist induction programme for potential NEETs.

Harnessing the support and expertise of parents can help students make better decisions and schools and colleges should keep parents informed about the options and opportunities available to their children. It is important to clarify parents’ expectations at an early stage and engagement will be most effective if they feel included in the process through family careers days, careers fairs and enterprise activities.

The new careers strategy includes plans for colleges (immediately) and schools (by the end of the decade) to be held accountable for their careers offer through the revised Ofsted framework. NFER and London Councils have developed an accessible PowerPoint guide, which provides evidence-based illustrations of delivery of careers education and guidance (CEG) within some London schools and colleges. The PowerPoint, available on the NFER website (https://tinyurl.com/y92pbqm8), can provide all institutions, from primary and secondary schools to FE colleges, with a place to start.

Claudia Sumner
Senior Research Manager at the National Foundation for Educational Research.