Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

Many head teachers underestimate how often subject teachers – who do not have careers advice training – are asked about careers by students, new research has found. The same survey showed that both subject teachers and head teachers are also unsure about the different levels of apprenticeship, and that heads have not been made fully aware of their obligations when it comes to careers advice provision, presenting questions about whether UK school leavers are receiving sufficient information about their options.

AllAboutSchoolLeavers surveyed 210 UK head teachers as part of its annual research into the school leaver careers market – alongside 15,200 students, 5,300 parents, 500 teachers and 380 careers advisers – to gain a broad understanding of relevant parties’ knowledge and opinions on school leaver options such as apprenticeships.

The resulting report – The School Leaver Careers Market 2017 – found that, despite not being trained specifically to do so, 67% of subject teachers say they their students ask them about school leaver options. And this is a frequent occurrence too: 44% say their students ask them for advice about the future more than once a week, and a further 19% say it happens more than once a month.

However, many head teachers underestimate how often their subject teachers are asked about careers: more than half think this only happens a few times a month or a few times a term. This contradicts what their subject teachers are experiencing on the ground.

The same research showed that many heads do not know what is legally required of them in terms of careers guidance. Just over 30% of head teachers do not think it is a legal requirement to “ensure independent careers guidance is presented in an impartial manner”, despite it being a duty of theirs.

Almost half of head teachers surveyed also believed “helping every pupil develop high aspirations and consider a broad and ambitious range of careers” was not part of their legal duty.

The Education Act 2011 places schools under a duty to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance for their pupils from September 2012. It inserted a new duty, section 42A, into Part VII of the Education Act 1997, requiring schools to secure access to independent careers guidance for pupils in years 9-11, which must be presented in an impartial manner and promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given. Careers guidance must also include information on all options available in respect of 16-18 education or training, including apprenticeships and other work-based education and training options.

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Despite being approached by both students and parents, subject teachers display a knowledge gap when it comes to school leaver options. While nearly all of them (97%) know about university options, less than half are aware of apprenticeships, school leaver programmes and work shadowing schemes.

When asked about Intermediate Apprenticeships, the number of teachers recognising their equivalence with GCSEs declined this year – 82% in 2015, down to 67% in 2017. Roughly the same is true of Advanced Apprenticeships: the number of teachers correctly identifying them as equivalent to A-levels dropped from 83% in 2015 to 68% in 2017. Over half identified Higher Apprenticeships correctly (59%), but a significant number did not. Head teachers’ knowledge is similar to that of subject teachers.

This suggests that schools need to provide subject teachers better, easier access to information surrounding school leaver options, if young people are to receive accurate careers advice and the government is to achieve its target of creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020 – this will not be possible unless young people are correctly informed.

Despite having access to careers advisers, the nature of student-teacher relationships (and far more frequent contact) means that these members of staff need to be better equipped to handle career-related questions. More should be done to help head teachers understand this informal careers-guidance role their subject teachers are playing, and the legal obligations placed on schools regarding careers advice provision. Perhaps then they could redirect school budgets towards careers-related activity and/or up-skilling subject teachers.

Emma Finamore, Editor, AllAboutSchoolLeavers.co.uk

You can access read the The School Leaver Careers Market 2017 for free here, and delve into four years of survey data and analysis, analyse regional variations of core survey data, download individual charts and data tables, and even create your own bespoke research report.

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