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Careers Advice in Schools Still isn’t Working

It’s been over seven years since responsibility for careers guidance was placed with schools – but are your students any closer to a system that works for them, asks Anna Blewett...

  • Careers Advice in Schools Still isn’t Working

When education PR Ruth Sparkes chatted to her teenage son about his career plans, little did she realise that his experience of careers guidance would prompt her to launch a careers magazine for secondary schools.

“I launched Future in anger really,” explains Ruth, “to fill a big gap. My son wanted to study maths at uni but nobody mentioned he’d have to do further maths at A-level to get to the university he wanted to go to.

“When he realised – one year into AS levels – he was told there would be no funding for him to pick it up because he’d be 19. It was money over matter and for him that was really unfortunate.”

Ruth’s story is a common one; raise the issue of careers guidance with most young people and at best you can expect a shrug of the shoulders.

Older generations are more likely to unleash a shower of expletives.

“Provision has been very patchy and it’s still patchy,” says Ruth.

“Schools don’t have the money, the time or the resources. And it’s the students who get chucked out at the end trying to make sense of the question ‘what happens now?’”

Slow progress

So just why does careers guidance have such a bad name, and is it warranted? To an extent, says Chris Webb, careers lead at Ruth Gorse Academy in Leeds and passionate CEIAG advocate – whose views expressed here are very much his own.

“Context is important,” he points out. “Once the duty for the provision of careers information, advice and guidance was removed from the Connexions service in 2012 and the onus put on schools, none of the funding previously attached was passed on.

“Schools were essentially asked to provide something they hadn’t had to for 10 or 11 years with none of the funding attached. So yes, until 2015 or 2016 things weren’t very well coordinated, with pockets of very good practise but a disparity between good areas and bad.”

Progress has arguably been made: in December 2017 the DfE announced it would adopt the recommendations of Sir John Holman, a former headteacher commissioned by The Gatsby Foundation to come up with practical steps to bring provision up to international standards.

But forging links with business – as recommended by Gatsby – has proved controversial.

Whilst £40 million of taxpayers’ cash has given to the Careers and Enterprise Company to build links between schools and employers, MP Robert Halfon, chair of the education select committee, has heavily criticised the organisation for overseeing “an obscene waste of money.”

Tricky business

For Jason Smith, careers lead at East London Science School, joining up with business is easier said than done.

“I’ve had companies – PR firms, engineering firms, marketing companies etc – come in to school to do workshops with pupils, and the issue is always the same,” he starts.

“The company is motivated to get involved in the community, often to help solve the ‘crisis in education’. As such they don’t ask teachers how to plan sessions or what might work with pupils, largely because they see teachers as part of the problem. So, they make rookie mistakes and leave having a negative view of schools and teachers.

“There’s a cultural problem with work experience, volunteering and interacting with school-age pupils,” suggests Jason.

“Most companies won’t get involved with pupils under 16, citing insurance issues or risk assessments, or even employment law, which is incorrect. Later on these same companies blame schools for not making pupils work-ready, something they cannot do. Schools educate; society makes pupils work-ready by allowing them to have part time jobs from 13, the legal working age.”

The real world

The clunky fit experienced by those trying to bolt real-world skills onto the current curriculum shouldn’t be overlooked, says Chris Webb.

“In an ideal world they’re not two different topics, they’re one and the same,” he suggests.

“The provision of education and careers education work much better when they’re symbiotic. The issue with that being that teachers are incredibly time poor and are bound by whatever directives from above.

“Careers practitioners are campaigning for recognition from Ofsted that this needs to be a core part of any school’s framework and reflected in the writing of curriculum maps and curriculum framework.”

Not that Chris is suggesting subject teachers deserve an extra ball to juggle.

“It’s almost going to take a restructuring of how we look at education,” he explains.

“A huge number of employability careers guidance theorists – and also employers – have reached the end of their tether with the education system. They really don’t believe it’s fit for purpose in terms of the skills it’s providing young people.

“It’s still very exams-focused, focused on the acquisition and retention information rather than the skills that employers are telling us they need for the workforce.”


“I was told I’d have to study at a Russell Group university; I took my own route”

When advice goes bad: freelance journalist Tara Lepore, 22, shares her story…

“I always knew I wanted to be a journalist or write on a magazine.

In Year 10 my school set up mock interviews with people invited in from relevant industries; I chose ‘features editor’ from a list of options.

The school made a big thing of it – we had to do lots of prep – so I was a bit nervous.

Afterwards the feedback wasn’t great, my interviewer said he didn’t like my outfit, but I got the chance to ask his advice on getting into journalism.

He told me ‘Well you’ll have to study English at a Russell Group university, of course.” That seemed odd; I’d read that there were other routes. I didn’t want to go to university – I just felt it wasn’t for me and it would be really expensive.

The event really affected me; I decided to abandon journalism and follow drama for my A-levels, though when I struggled to get into drama school I ended up working in John Lewis.

Moaning to a friend one day she mentioned that her dad, a publishing director, was looking for a trainee journalist who’d learn on the job. As soon as started I loved it so much and realised it was what I always wanted to do.

I worked on a trade magazine for 18 months – and learned so much from it – and then did a six-month NCTJ diploma.

I was the only one on the course without a degree but they let me on because of my experience. I’ve been working as freelance journalist or staff writer ever since.”


Then & now – the careers advice timeline

  • 2012
    The Education Act 2011 comes into force, moving responsibility for careers guidance from the local authority to schools, whilst removing statutory duties for careers education at KS4.
  • 2013
    Ofsted publishes damning report Careers Guidance: Going In The Right Direction? As a result the Gatsby Charitable Foundation commissions Sir John Holman to research pragmatic actions to improve careers guidance until considered good by international standards.
  • 2017
    The DfE launches a new careers strategy requiring schools to provide independent careers guidance and implement the eight Gatsby benchmarks.
  • 2018
    September brings the deadline by which all schools should have a named careers leader and publish details of their careers programme.
  • 2020
    By December of this year all schools are required to meet all eight of the Gatsby benchmarks, and provide pupils from years 7 to 13 with at least one encounter with employers per year.

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