Up until now school based career work in the UK has been largely based on the partnership model. Essentially this means that schools have had an external agency (the Careers Service and then Connexions) to draw on in order to deliver a careers curriculum. AS our recent Collapse or Transition report argued, this model is currently under some threat. There is some international evidence to suggest that the partnership model is superior to more school based approaches to delivering career guidance (see Tony Watts recent summary for the DfE). In general the main points that are made are the fact that a partnership approach offers greater connections with the labour market and with colleges and universities, that it can enable a school to mobilise a wider range of expertise and that it is more impartial and independent.
However, there are also some downsides to having an external agency delivering career in schools. Schools are pretty closed insular communities and it can be difficult for external partners to really penetrate into them. This can result in an external offer that is pretty much a disconnected bolt-on to what the school does. I think that career learning is most likely to happen when it is well integrated into peoples lives and day to day experience. It is about making the connection between where you are now and where you might go in the future. If there is not much of a link with where you are now the whole learning experience is weakened considerably (again the evidence backs this up – have a look at our College and Career Readiness paper to see some discussion of this).
So while there are clearly some strong advantages to the partnership model, there are also some downsides. Of course where schools and external partners work closely together you can really have the best of both worlds. However one of the things that has interested me is the school-based guidance counsellor model that exists in the US, Canada, Ireland and a host of other places. I’m familar with this from films and TV, but shows like Glee don’t give you much of a sense of what the impact on career learning might be. So I’ve been asking some questions about this while I’ve been in Canada. A system where you have a guidance counsellor in each and every school who knows the kids and the teachers and works with them every day clearly has some advantages. It looks like it should offer an infrastructure through which a career curriculum can be established and integrated into the mainstream of the school.
However, what I’m hearing from a variety of people that I’m talking to in Canada is that school-based guidance counsellors aren’t really able to deliver on this kind of vision of career learning. People seem to be advancing three main reasons for this.
School-based guidance counsellors are counsellors first and foremost. In general they didn’t get into this kind of work because they were interested in career. They got into it because the wanted to help kids who were struggling in the school system. This is a laudable aim, but it is a very different one from the aspiration to work in the careers field. The delivery of a careers curriculum is a cross-school activity which isn’t particularly targeted at struggling students (although it should help them) and potentially one which draws on different skills and interests from one to one supportive counselling.
School-based guidance counsellors are busy. They have huge caseloads and are expected to deal with every problem kid that the school has. Accute needs around excessive sex, drugs and rock n roll tend to trump less accute needs around career development.
School-based guidance counsellors are not very powerful in the hierachy of the school. The kind of school-wide curriculum based career learning programmes that seem to be most effective take up time and require a strategic lead from someone higher up in the school. Even where guidance counsellors are committed to this kind of approach they can often find it difficult to get whole school buy in.
Do these points ring true with those who are involved in school-based guidance work?
So, all of this perhaps leads us back to somekind of partnership model? Alternatively it would be possible to make the argument for a strengthened role within the school and a more strategic engagement with the idea of careers. However, in the UK we are not moving from the partnership model to a guidance counsellor model. We are throwing away the partnership model with no real idea about what will replace it…