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Careers provision – Ofsted’s checked it before, so what’s different this time?

Abstract illustration of a magnifying glass picking out one of ten 'people' icons

With Ofsted now reviewing schools’ careers provision, it’s worth revisiting the regulator’s previous forays into this space, says Adrian Lyons

Adrian Lyons
by Adrian Lyons
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Readers may have seen the DfE’s recent announcement that Ofsted will “Carry out a thematic review of careers guidance for young people in schools and further education and skills providers”.

This is interesting and welcome – but given that the personal development judgement in each Ofsted inspection already includes ‘careers’, you could be forgiven for wondering why there’s the need for a thematic review.

A random sample of 10 full (Section 5) inspection reports published across Ofsted regions from mainstream secondary schools in one week in November contained just three references to careers, of which two were descriptive, rather than evaluative. Pupils received impartial advice, yes – but was it any good? Did the inspectors think to ask how the school knows?

The Baker Clause

In the last few months, inspection reports have noted (as a standardised sentence in ‘Information about the school’) that, ‘The school meets the requirements of the Baker Clause, which requires schools to provide pupils in Years 8 to 13 with information about approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships’.

This seems to have become the required wording, after the Chief Inspector was questioned at the Education Select Committee and clearly had no idea what the Baker Clause required. In my experience, having spent over 16 years as an HMI, that statement is unlikely to be always accurate.

Indeed, as a serving HMI told me just recently, “I had two inspections, two weeks running, where I had to give the secondary specialist inspector looking at careers a quick tutorial on what the Baker clause was, as neither of them had heard of it before. And they were secondary inspectors! To this day, we’ve had no training on inspecting careers, or specifically the Baker clause.”

One thing inspectors should be checking is a school’s progress to meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks. It’s been my experience that schools are generally now able to say that they meet most of the Gatsby Benchmarks, but that the main barrier to meeting them all is work experience – chiefly the difficulty of securing placements in environments where COVID continues to pose workplace risks.

‘Realistic information’

Ofsted has carried out national surveys of careers before. When Sir Michael Wilshaw directed me to lead a survey entitled ‘Getting Ready for Work’, my team of HMI visited over 40 secondary schools across the country.

Despite the survey ostensibly being about how well schools were preparing their pupils for the world of work, the DfE asked us to not look too closely at actual career information and guidance. This was because the DfE had recently launched the Careers & Enterprise Company, in response to Ofsted’s previous thematic review of careers provision.

I was the deputy lead HMI on this one, which was led by an inspector from the Further Education and Skills Division. This survey’s final report, ‘Going in the Right Direction’, was published in 2013, back in the days when Ofsted was prepared to be highly critical of government policy.

The report begins thus: “It is vitally important that young people have access to good and realistic information and guidance about the full range of career pathways available to them.

“However, the new statutory duty for schools to provide careers guidance is not working well enough. Of the 60 schools visited for this survey, only 12 had ensured that all students received sufficient information to consider a wide breadth of career possibilities”.

There isn’t the space here to include all the key findings that followed – but it’s well worth revisiting that report, and checking for yourself as to whether things are any better in your school now, than they were just over nine years ago…

Adrian Lyons was one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors between 2005 and 2021 and now works with MATs, teacher training providers and LAs to support education; find out more at adrianlyonsconsulting.com

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