Time, money and expertise: how to negotiate the barriers to a good progression programme in schools
28th April 2016
John Hillis, one of our area managers reflects on what stops many schools giving their students the best possible information and advice about careers and how these barriers can be negotiated.
Barriers to giving good career advice in school
Careers advice is a hot topic in schools about which everybody seems to have an opinion. Not a month goes by without Ofsted slating schools for ‘inadequate careers education’, head teacher’s giving ‘selfish careers advice’, and, ‘too few students knowing about apprenticeships’. Are you surprised? Probably not. I’ve talked to various people who are involved in education and careers from different perspectives, Local Authority, National Careers Service, independent careers advisers, and Senior Leaders, and largely everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. For those working in the field, the issues that it continually comes down to are shortages in time, money and a lack of expertise. To give a little perspective, I’ll also be reflecting on some examples of positive trends in careers provision in schools where we can see schools successfully negotiating these barriers and providing an excellent service.
There seems to be a consensus that part of the problem originates from a lack of expertise. Since Connexions’ dissolution in many schools there has been a perceived lack of knowledge and impartial guidance. A relatively small proportion of schools have a level 6 accredited Careers adviser, or have been awarded Career Mark as part of their CEIAG provision. Head of Careers sometimes becomes an SLT function, but it takes time for that person to understand the role fully. By then, that person often has changed roles or moved, and effective succession planning isn’t always in place. There is often a well-travelled UCAS route in 11-18 schools, but for non-UCAS or undecided Year 13’s, and in 11-16 schools, there is very little apprenticeship knowledge and expertise. There is often short term planning for leaving school, rather than actual career goals.
We all know that schools have a legal duty for careers guidance. But, due to pressures and preoccupation with the measures of attainment and progression, Ofsted inspections, and league table results, it can easily become an afterthought, box ticking exercise, or a token gesture. Careers advice can often be reactive, rather than proactive, and the focus is directed to potential NEETs. There are so many demands on core subjects and less and less time within the curriculum to devote to careers and employability. There often isn’t enough spent with Year 9, before they take GCSE options, to give quality advice that helps make longer term decisions. So many students get into the sixth form and realise that they chose the wrong subjects, but that thought process could have started earlier.
The Simply Red classic, ‘Money’s too tight to mention’, often rings through my head when it comes to the budget for careers in schools. Careers funding, unlike pupil premium money, isn’t ring-fenced so the school decides its own budget and works according to their own strategy. Under a proposed Government formula, pupils will attract the same amount of funding regardless of where they live. Talking to the head teacher of an inner city school in Birmingham, they suggested that if all schools are awarded the same funding irrespective of demography, as has been recently proposed, some schools will be forced, to cut back their careers advice provision. For schools in rural areas like Cornwall, where per-pupil funding is £4,782, compared to the national average of £5,225, overhauling the system could mean more money. For others it will mean much less. Even now sixth form schools sometimes cloud the issue by pushing students into their sixth form provision for the sake of funding, rather than provide completely impartial advice to Year 11.
So we know what the barriers are. What did the same contributors say that was positive and working effectively in providing quality, independent and impartial careers advice?
Career Mark award schools that are demonstrating high quality CEIAG provision at a relatively inexpensive cost. In order to obtain the award, the school must have a careers advisor who is qualified (or working towards) a Level 6 qualification in the field. This can be an advisor employed by the school, or someone they contract to. This is ideal if a school has a clear careers strategy driven by SLT, and wants to have a high standard instead of just ticking boxes.
Forum Talent Potential have a free ‘Unlocking Talent & Potential’ model which helps schools to connect employers’ needs with classroom teaching, creating meaningful learning experiences for young people. You can find out more from this fact sheet. NCS will be delivering teacher training events across the country later this year to introduce the Unlocking Talent and Potential model to schools and providing further support.
Innovative schools are developing ways to improve such as careers coffee clubs during lunch breaks or after school and collapsing timetable to provide whole year activities.
Some schools and colleges have close links with local employers who engage well with young people. In these instances, business can visit schools/colleges and provide students with clear information on different careers within their companies, how to apply, entry requirements etc. These kind of links and events help to bring awareness of what careers are available locally, motivate young people, and build bridges between education and employment.
Compulsory careers sessions to all students, and to work through a specifically designed portfolio that will result in identifying career plans, routes and how to achieve them.
There are many other ways of overcoming barriers to giving good career advice in schools. Try to attend networking events and conferences arranged by organisations such as The PiXL Club and the CDI. Unifrog is also arranging several progression conferences free of charge this year for Heads of Careers and Sixth Form and for any others that may benefit. Have a look below for a conference happening in your vicinity. It might offer a good place to start as you look to provide a better careers service with the resources at your disposal.