Schools in less-affluent areas are performing the best against the Gatsby Benchmarks. We take a look at why this might be and what it means in the long run for careers education.
Written by Charley Fowler
The government’s new careers strategy
In 2017, the UK government announced a new careers strategy aimed at improving the quality of CEIAG (Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance). According to its policy paper, the strategy was introduced in an effort to ‘end the generational cycle of disadvantage, which means that people from poorer backgrounds earn significantly less than those with wealthier parents, even if they have the same job, experience and qualifications’.
A key part of this strategy was the inclusion of the Gatsby Benchmarks, which provide schools with a defining list of standards to measure the quality of their CEIAG:
- A stable careers programme
- Learning from career and labour market information
- Addressing the needs of each pupil
- Linking curriculum learning to careers
- Encounters with employers and employees
- Experiences of workplaces
- Encounters with further and higher education
- Personal guidance
How are schools performing?
Over the past two years, The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) have used Compass Tool data to give a national picture of CEIAG, and this year’s report is particularly interesting. The key finding is that less affluent areas are outperforming the most affluent. In the CEC's words, ‘the bottom is made up almost exclusively of affluent counties’. For example, a 2017 report showed that the East Midlands and the Humber were two of the worst-performing areas for social mobility, yet the CEC’s report puts The Humber and Birmingham in the top five performing areas for careers strategy.
Nationally, schools are struggling the most with benchmarks 1, 3 and 7. The Humber are above the national average for every benchmark and their score for benchmarks 7 and 4 is almost double the national average. However, their unemployment rate is also above the national average.
It will be interesting to see the discourse that follows about why less affluent areas are outperforming the most affluent, and some of the ideas which have already cropped up are:
- Less-affluent areas often have higher levels of unemployment, and so schools have a greater sense of urgency to make sure they're doing what they can to support CIEAG.
- Less-affluent areas have received targeted interventions, sometimes in the form of funding, which means they've improved their ability to deliver top quality CIEAG. For example, the government’s new strategy included the CEC investing £5 million into supporting the most disadvantaged pupils.
What does this mean in the long run?
Just because less affluent areas are performing the best against the Gatsby Benchmarks, this doesn't necessarily mean they’re outperforming more affluent areas in terms of student destinations. The government’s new strategy was introduced in part to ensure that disadvantaged students were accessing the same opportunities as their more advantaged peers. The Compass data appears promising in this respect, as it shows that schools in the most disadvantaged areas are leading the way, but is this positive trend reflected in the destinations data?
The short answer is that we can’t be 100% sure, as the destinations data the government publishes each year is for students who finished Key Stage 4 or 5 two years ago. The data released this year is for students who finished Key Stage 4 or 5 in 2017 and it shows that 88% of disadvantaged pupils went into a ‘sustained destination’ after Key Stage 4, compared to 96% of non-disadvantaged pupils. The same is true for disadvantaged students finishing Key Stage 5 – 85% of disadvantaged pupils go onto a ‘sustained destination’, compared to 90% of non-disadvantaged pupils. In terms of destinations type, it seems that disadvantaged pupils are less likely to progress to higher education and sustained apprenticeships compared to their non-disadvantaged peers.
I recently attended a conference where Jules Steele (Senior OFSTED Inspector) spoke about how OFSTED will evaluate CEIAG in schools, in light of the new strategy. She said, "We focus on the impact and quality of careers guidance and how well a school or college is preparing their students for their next step – whatever that might be." Student destinations data is a key measure of the impact of a school’s careers provision, and is part of the government’s recommendations for ‘good practice’. This suggests that if a school’s positive performance against the Gatsby Benchmarks is not mirrored by positive destinations data, then there is still work to be done.
How does Unifrog come into this?
At Unifrog, one of our three core company values is that we put having a positive social impact before anything else. We also believe that destinations, or where students end up, are of the utmost importance. Therefore, there is always more work to be done if some students aren’t progressing on to the best opportunity for them, especially disadvantaged students. We will continue to work with all of our partner schools to support them in meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks and make sure their students progress onto the best destinations for them. We take the time to understand the contextual challenges our partners face, and work with them to develop a careers strategy underpinned by Unifrog, which serves each student’s needs as best we can.