A critical moment for schools Careers guidance

I believe we could be at a critical moment for schools Careers guidance, and I want to explain why.

Five years ago, I set out to discover how England could make Careers guidance in its secondary schools world-class.

Working with experts from the University of Derby, and with the support of the Gatsby Foundation, I started by visiting six countries where careers guidance is known to be good, where we met with pupils, teachers and ministry officials to form a picture of what makes those countries successful. We also visited schools in England and carried out a literature review of Careers guidance in the state education system.

From all of this work we set out to define what excellence would look like in England, and to create a common framework for schools to use – this resulted in the creation of the eight Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Careers Guidance. We carried out a survey with 10% of English schools, to see how well they performed against the Benchmarks and used this data to come up with 10 policy recommendations for government.

But now we had a framework, we wanted to go further. We wanted to find out how the Benchmarks could be implemented day-to-day, on the ground in schools and colleges, and to discover what the main barriers would be to achieving them.

In 2015 we began a pilot of the Benchmarks with 16 schools and colleges in the North East of England, supported by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. The schools and colleges chosen to take part represented a range of institutions, all with their own individual needs and challenges, from a small school in a highly rural location to an inner-city pupil referral unit.

In just two years we saw rapid improvement –  when our pilot began, no school or college fully achieved more than three Benchmarks, and eight achieved zero Benchmarks. By September 2017 every school and college achieved at least four Benchmarks, with three achieving all eight.

This showed conclusively that when an institution has a clear focus and a way of measuring progress, the Benchmarks are fully achievable and can transform the life of a school.

But the pilot also showed us something else. Progress towards the Benchmarks was significantly more rapid in the institutions that had a Careers Leader supported by the senior leadership team. We had first seen the impact of having a designated careers leader in the Netherlands, where we met with the ‘Schooldekaan’, but the pilot showed us just how integral that role is.

A Careers Leader is many things – they have to show strong leadership, as well as an ability to manage others effectively. They need to bring about a coordinated approach across their school or college and they need to be ready to network with employers and external organisations. Finally, a Careers Leader provides a school’s careers programme with the stability that it needs to succeed by being a champion at a senior level.

In December 2017 the Government announced its Careers Strategy for schools and colleges in England, making the Gatsby Careers Benchmarks the defining framework for the strategy. It is an exciting moment for Careers Leaders. The Strategy places this role at the heart of schools, and the accompanying Statutory Guidance asks all schools to publicly identify their designated Careers Leader. Supported by the Careers and Enterprise Company, schools and colleges across England are using this time to  re-evaluate their careers programme, providing an unrivalled opportunity for individual Careers Leaders to make a lasting difference to their setting.

This could not come at a more critical time. The UK is looking to the industries of the future – industries that will need young people with the right skills and abilities to help them thrive, and to ensure that the UK economy stays resilient on the world stage. Brexit shines a bright light on this need. At an individual level, young people need good, robust careers guidance, which takes account of labour market information, to understand the workforce they are entering into. They need to be able to adapt to our changing labour market: the rise of AI and automation means that the jobs of the future will look very different from the ones that exist today, and our young people need to have the right tools and knowledge to make the right decision for their future.

This combination of macroeconomic necessity and a growing realisation of the importance of careers guidance for social mobility means that the need for good careers guidance is more widely accepted than for many years. Coupling this with a new high-profile government Careers Strategy means that Careers Leaders have an opportunity to make a difference to young people’s lives in a way they have rarely had before.

I hope that all Careers Leaders, however experienced they already are, will take up the opportunity of government-funded training through the Careers and Enterprise Company [link], and use it to bring about truly positive changes to the lives of the young people they work with.

For more information on the pilot of the Benchmarks please see www.goodcareerguidance.org.uk

For copies of the report, or for more information, please contact faye.riley@gatsby.org.uk

About The Author

John Holman is Emeritus Professor in the Chemistry Department, University of York, UK, and adviser in Education at the Wellcome Trust and the Gatsby Foundation. He is author of the Gatsby Foundation’s Good Career Guidance report and Immediate Past- President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge, John has created curricula and written books for science learners of all ages in the UK and in 2014 he was named one of UK’s 100 leading practising scientists. In 2010 John was knighted for his services to education.