Great careers guidance can change the course of young people’s lives, says Tom Curran – so it’s vital that all interested parties cooperate to get it right
We cannot afford to conceive of careers guidance as a role performable solely by dedicated individuals, regardless of the level of their expertise or their commitment to students’ futures.
Good career guidance is meant to enable students to make well-informed decisions about their futures, and thus to provide them with agency over the course of their lives.
A well-trained career advisor who knows the job market; who understands which qualifications are valued by which employers, and who – perhaps most importantly – knows the student will of course plays a vital role in realising this ideal.
Yet the ability to choose well requires more than the provision of a set of options at critical junctures. It requires all students have the opportunity to experience as many potential professions as possible, so that they might better understand what it is they are aiming for.
It requires they become equipped with the skills needed to navigate their life after the choice has been made, in order to prepare them for everything that comes after embarking on a career.
And it requires they learn from a young age how the world of study relates to the world of work; how their likes and dislikes in the former can help direct them in the latter, and how the choices made now can impact their opportunities in the future.
In order for careers guidance to be effective, the successful coordination of numerous bodies across a variety of fronts needs to be achieved.
Professor Sir John Holman, author of the Gatsby ‘Good Guidance Report’ (2014), defines the matter simply: “good career guidance means linking different activities together to form a coherent whole.”
His report addresses schools, government, Ofsted and employers, sometimes all together, sometimes in twos or threes, and consistently identifies their enhanced participation and cooperation as the best means of improving the current state of careers education.
It also calls for coordinated input from the National Careers Service, National Centres like the NLSC, their funders, and a variety of independent organisations in order to help narrow the gap between the world of study and the world of work that it is the job of careers guidance to bridge.
To explain the ideal mechanics of careers guidance, Holman offers a basic ‘push-pull’ model in which schools provide the ‘push’; employers and businesses, ‘the pull’. In doing so, he emphasises that career’s guidance is about facilitating interaction between the worlds represented by each, for the student’s benefit.
Such interaction can be effective only if the push and the pull are consistently integrated and organised. This requires the administration of professional career advisors who understand the relations between work and study, and who know how to turn these to individual students’ advantage.
Moreover, if students are to benefit fully from that interaction, they must also be allowed to experience it often and in a sustained manner.
Careers guidance therefore cannot be confined to the walls of a designated ‘careers office’, but should be woven into students’ education at all opportunities.
In the classroom, this could be achieved through teaching by way of demonstrations taken from the world of work, or by inviting professionals whose field relates to the subject at hand to speak.
This last, of course, requires lines of communication between school and businesses, and it should be the aim of reforms to both government and school policy to institute and maintain these for the benefit of all students.
Other, more immediately implementable initiatives for embedding career guidance into lives of students might include:
• One-to-one interviews at year 9 to help select GCSEs
• Advice on learning and support through Year 10
• Providing information about the gains to be made from higher and further education and apprenticeships at an early stage
• Inviting speakers with experience of those different routes, so that students can better understand what each involves, and which might suit them best
• Helping set up engaging, varied work experience for Years 11 or 12
• One to one Interviews at the beginning of Year 11 to evaluate all Post 16 options
• Year 12 interviews on post 18 plans
• CV writing and application forms workshops
• Personal statement support and interview practice.
• Results day support post GCSE and post A Level
• Gap year planning.
Since in the end school leaders and faculty are those best placed to know what will work for their students, this list can only be provisional. Many more initiatives could no doubt be developed, and doing so will be essential to secure and maximise the potential of today’s students.
As well, a number of bodies, the present authors’ charity being one, have emerged in recent years dedicated helping schools realise this ideal.
Hopefully, as consensus grows over the need for a more robust, multidimensional approach to careers guidance, schools will be supported in making the necessary adjustments, so that all students will be allowed to flourish as they ought, regardless of background, region, or personal connections.
A new vision for how students will gain the experience necessary to succeed in the world of work is emerging, yet visions are, by their very nature, not reflective of contemporary reality.
As a recent Ofsted report (November 2016) demonstrated, whilst some schools display “a commitment to using their curriculum to prepare pupils for the world of work”, whether or not this was the case “was largely dependent on whether school leaders considered it to be a priority.”
Schools that did not do so were often either under pressure financially, leading to the perception of careers education as a “luxury”, or suffered from rating below “Outstanding”, with heads seeing it as their mandate to prioritise exam results above all else.
As is too often the case, this suggests that it that it is students attending poorer schools who will lose out most from insufficient careers guidance, raising the prospect of even deeper entrenchments of potentially divisive inequality in this country. It is imperative, therefore, that all parties come together and raise their game.
Three years ago Deborah Streatfield, an independent careers advisor, decided to do something about the woeful lack of affordable CEG support to state schools and academies by founding the charity MyBigCareer.
MBC is staffed by CEG volunteers from the independent sector and alongside volunteers from top professions, who give freely of their time and expertise.
The qualifying criteria are that the school has an above average level of pupils on free school meals and in receipt of the Pupil Premium grant. MBC is not the only body concerned about the widening discrepancy of opportunity between schools but its sole focus is on schools that are in locations with recognised social mobility challenges and where there is little or no careers provision; MBC volunteers are motivated by their shared passion for making career and educational opportunities available to all – regardless of background, affluence or connections.
Tom Curran is project manager at MyBigCareer.