From education to employment

To see a genuine shift in careers advice, everyone needs to be on board

Emma Finamore, Editor,

The stars seem to be aligning for the Gatsby Benchmarks, or at least getting closer to being aligned, as the adopting of these standards gains popularity and central government throws its weight behind the approach. But it will take more than words to overhaul the UK careers advice and the future of our young people.

The eight benchmarks were developed in 2013, when the Gatsby Foundation commissioned Sir John Holman to research what pragmatic actions could improve career guidance in England and subsequently he developed the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks.

After six international visits, analysis of good practice in English schools and a comprehensive review of current literature, Holman wrote the The Good Career Guidance Report which identifies a set of eight benchmarks that schools can use as a framework for improving their careers provision. 

These were:

  1. A stable careers programme
  2. Learning from career and labour market information
  3.  Addressing the needs of each pupil
  4. Linking curriculum learning to careers
  5. Encounters with employers and employees
  6. Experiences of workplaces
  7. Encounters with further and higher education
  8. Personal guidance

Many careers and education organisations have already embedded the benchmarks into their work, including the Careers and Enterprise CompanyTeach First and the Sutton Trust.  But this year the benchmarks were underwritten by central government, when they were included as a central part of the Education Strategy 2018.

“The Gatsby Benchmarks have set world-class standards, and now we want every school and college to use them to develop and improve their careers provision,” the strategy says. “Government will ask schools and colleges to meet these standards, publishing new statutory guidance in January 2018 setting out how to meet all of the benchmarks. By adopting these Benchmarks, schools and colleges will be putting employers at the heart of the careers programme. Support will be tailored to address the needs of every young person, especially disadvantaged students, and data and technology will be used to drive improvements.”

There are now incentives for schools to meet the benchmarks too, the 2018 strategy outlines. Schools and colleges can gain formal accreditation of their careers programme through the Quality in Careers Standard – the national quality award for careers education, information, advice and guidance.

The strategy says this Standard offers an opportunity for providers to undergo an external evaluation of their careers programme and so is distinct from the Compass self-assessment – the careers self-evaluation benchmark tool for all secondary schools and sixth forms in England.

“We strongly recommend that all schools and colleges work towards the updated Quality in Careers Standard, incorporating Compass, to support the development of a world-class careers programme for all their young people,” the strategy states.

Earlier this month, the Careers and Enterprise Company held its third annual Join The Dots conference, updating people from the education and careers industry on their work implementing the Gatsby Benchmarks so far, and what they plan to do in the future. But one of the most interesting aspects of the conference – and for me, the most hopeful – was that a team of 50 young people from local schools and colleges joined the Careers and Enterprise Company for a day of work experience, getting hands-on events experience. This demonstrates a genuine, real-life commitment to helping young people, and innovative use of real-life situations to meet careers guidance needs.

And it’s on the ground, in real life, that we can see how the theory behind all these strategies, reports and conferences really does work when the moving parts work together.

St Thomas the Apostle College in Peckham, south London, for example, held its annual Aspirations Evening this month, bringing 170 employers into the school to chat with pupils one-to-one. These employers ranged from Twitter, the Metropolitan Police and top City law firms, to those in the medical, legal, finance, engineering, media and public sectors, as well as those offering apprenticeships and small business owners.

The approach was simple: Each employer sat at a desk and every two minutes a bell rang, and a new pupil would sit down opposite them to ask questions about their profession, the industry, what opportunities it offered and which education/career paths could be taken to access those opportunities.

The school’s sixth-formers and some alumni were also in attendance to chat with pupils, offering advice on A-levels, university and general post-school careers.

One Year 10 pupil said that had made useful connections in construction at the event and afterwards secured work experience at a construction company, he is now interested in construction management – and particular job roles on a construction site that he would never have known existed without that invaluable time on the ground.

One alumni of the school (he finished A-levels last year) was there to help out, and said he had made his first connections with the engineering industry at the Aspirations Evening last year.

From that he got inspiration, and he is starting a degree in engineering this September, demonstrating how the event – with real-life conversations between pupils and employers – makes a very real-life difference in pupils’ career paths.

Many UK careers advisers feel under-appreciated, as well as classroom teachers often feeling under extra pressure, but simple (and free) solutions like inviting employers into schools for “speed dating” type events could help alleviate this, as well as improving careers guidance. Research last year showed that of 40 schools, just four were providing adequate careers advice to their students, but if we all work together (careers advisers, teachers, head teachers and employers), we can turn it around.

Emma Finamore, Editor,

Copyright © 2018 FE News


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