Ofsted and the evolution of careers recommendations for schools.
15th May 2016
Adrienne Briggs looks at how Ofsted's recommendations on careers have evolved since responsibility was devolved to schools.
Do the changes to the Ofsted framework improve the way that careers advice is delivered within schools?
In September 2013, a year after responsibility for careers advice for students aged 14 to 16 had been transferred to schools; Ofsted reported that careers guidance in schools was not working well enough.
Many schools had issues with delivering impartial careers advice and vocational routes were neglected: Apprenticeships were under-promoted as were alternatives to A levels; Employer engagement with schools was also lacking, with a detrimental impact on employability. While the National Careers service was underused and seldom promoted, perhaps partly because of an unappealing web presence; it was also found that very few schools had bought high quality services from external providers either.
However, a big part of the problem was that because the guidance on what was expected of schools’ career services was not explicit, schools did not know where the goalposts were.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Head of Ofsted, made the following recommendations in the wake of the report:
The government provide more explicit guidance to schools on careers advice;
The government monitor students’ progress and achievement when they leave school through accurate collection of ‘destination data’ to give a better understanding of a young person’s journey to employment;
The National Careers Service markets its services more effectively to all young people aged 13 to 18 and does more to disseminate information on national skills shortages so that young people gain a greater understanding of where there are likely to be greater employment opportunities;
Ofsted inspectors should attach greater importance to careers guidance and students’ destinations when conducting future school inspections.
With greater Ofsted scrutiny, it seemed certain that delivery of careers advice schools would alter, with improvements being seen in the quality and consistency of guidance being offered across the UK.
But have there actually been any changes in the quality of careers provision in the three years since the report? Sadly, it seems that Ofsted are still not impressed with what they are seeing. In November 2015, Sir Michael Wilshaw reported to the House of Lords, condemning the current standard of careers advice in schools. His strongly worded comments that young people were being failed by “selfish” head teachers who are more concerned with the state of sixth form budgets rather than giving unbiased advice on vocational alternatives to A Levels, highlighted the need for real reform to careers advice in schools.
He also commented on the drive to create apprenticeships, which, on the surface may seem like a positive step, in reality has led to the creation of many sub-par placements. However, he does not solely lay blame at the door of schools. He remarked “It's not just up to Ofsted to say careers advice is important and to make sure careers guidance is balanced, it's also up to [the] government as well to say we're going to promote both. A successful school is about developing both.”
It was not just apprenticeships that were under scrutiny either. Wilshaw also pointed out that many schools are failing to appoint suitable senior leaders to coordinate careers education. There is also a lack of one to one tuition that is available to students, and local colleges are often not represented at careers fairs.
Although it would appear that the necessary improvements have not quite filtered down to raise quality of provision to students, is it all bad news? The most significant change has come from Ofsted rhetoric itself. In 2013, where the recommendation was made for inspectors to focus more closely on careers advice, the language of the inspection framework did not change to reflect this, undoubtedly mitigating the progress in careers advice that Ofsted wanted to see.
However, as of 2015, the recommendations on careers advice are supported by robust and explicit references within the Ofsted framework. The new language is referenced at several points throughout the inspection criteria (for example, the need for careers guidance is mentioned in relation to leadership and management, separate sixth form judgement, within pupil observations and actually within the criteria for “outstanding” - something which should lead to faster and more pronounced changes in schools). However, the fact that there was such a delay between the initial recommendations and the supporting language has meant that any improvements that schools have made as a consequence of the new Ofsted criteria have only had a few months to take effect. This makes it hard to see whether there have been significant and lasting changes in the way that careers guidance is implemented in schools over an extended period of time.
Any profound changes will undoubtedly take time to be embedded within institutions. It will also take time for the effects of such changes to be noticeable. Many schools will find the implementation of such changes difficult, particularly in light of ongoing budget cuts, where many schools will squeeze careers budgets to make ends meet. However, with the weight of Ofsted behind the reform, change will surely happen, perhaps just a little more slowly than desired.