Virtual picketing

Today those of us who are UCU members are on strike. We are striking because our pay has got progressively worse over the last four years. Times are tough and our employers have taken the opportunity to use this to hold down pay despite the fact that they are sitting on considerable reserves. Sally Hunt makes the case for the stike on the UCU website.

Clearly the decision by higher education employers to hold down pay has to be seen within a wider policy of cutting public sector jobs and pay. The current government believe that it is economically right that during a recession the costs of the public sector need to go down. I don’t buy this, I think that it has a responsibility for further deflating the economy and leading us into a spiral of increasing inequality. So I’m on strike because I want better pay, but also because I want to send a political signal about the direction in which the government is taking us. Of course I want higher education workers to be better paid, but I’m not interested in arguing that we should be a special case. I want to see consistent investment across the public sector in jobs and pay, today’s action is one way to put some pressure on for this to happen.

I’ve written about being on strike before in 2011 and again in 2011. I talked about the challenges of having to pick sides and then in 2012 I talked about the importance of standing together and hoping for the best for the future.   I stand by all of this and I believe that all of these actions have served a purpose. We haven’t got everything that we’ve asked for, but the actions have clearly signalled, along with lots of other actions by other workers in the public and private sectors, that people are willing to take action and that democracy is not just putting a cross in a box and then doing what ever the government that emerges tell you to do. Democracy is active, it is lived every day in a thousand acts that you make. We stand up for what we believe in and what kind of world we want in numberous ways, though the things we buy, the causes we support, the clubs we join and the discussions that we have. Going on strike is one of these, but it is a critical and uniquely important one because it comes about as a collective decision taken by a group of people organised through one of the most powerful democratic institutions that we have built (the trade union). Our individual decisions assert our integrity and communicate our beliefs, but our collective decisions have the potential to actually change things.

I always liked this picture.

While we are divided we achieve no change and things get worse for us. When we come together we can turn the tables and exert some control.

There are lots of assumptions about how our politics change as we get older. We are supposed to give up on our ideals and accept “reality”. We are also told constantly that society is changing and that things like trade unions, decent pensions and good quality, freely available public services are no longer an option. Recently this argument has been bound up with the “there is no money left” rhetoric that has been serving instead of policy for this government. Personally I don’t buy any of this. I believe now roughly what I believed when I first got involved in politics at the age of 16. I believe that there is a lot of wealth and that it is currently distributed in a way that is inequitable and fails to represent and reward those who do the work in society. I believe in collective ownership (not necessarily state ownership) of key stratic elements of the economy, I believe in progressive taxation, I believe that there should be a universal entitlement to a full range of public services regardless of how rich or poor you are and I believe in extending democracy so that we all have more control over the services that we use and the workplaces and communities that we live and work in.

Such beliefs are well outside of anything that any current political party is offering. But, such ideas, based on hope for humanity and optimism about the future, at least can get an airing on those days, like today, when we all stand together.


Wendy Hirsh asks how we can create Career Support for Grown Ups

Dr Wendy Hirsh will present the Sixteenth iCeGS Annual Lecture on Tuesday 19 November 2013 in the Dovedale Suite at the University of Derby Kedleston Road Campus, Derby. The title of the lecture is ‘Career Support for Grown Ups – A tiny profession or everyone’s business?’. In this lecture and discussion, Wendy will use research and practical examples to explore what career support for ‘grown ups’ can be about, who may be best placed to give it, what it can look like and how it can be encouraged in the workplace and through wider networks. The Lecture will be from 2.30 pm onwards with drinks and refreshments afterwards (registration from 2.00, Lecture 2.30-4.00pm including questions, and refreshments after this until approximately 4.30pm.

Book your place

Dr Wendy Hirsh works as a researcher and also gives practical advice to many public and private sector organisations. She has a lifelong interest in how individuals and employers can help people to do work which needs to be done, which they enjoy and can be good at. In HR speak this is about career development, strategic human resource planning, succession and talent management. Wendy is a NICEC Fellow, Principal Associate at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), a Visiting Professor at Kingston University and an Associate of Roffey Park Institute. In 2012 she was voted 13th Most Influential UK Thinker in the HR field in HR Magazine’s poll – not unlucky she hopes!

Lifelong guidance bibliography

I’m trying to write a summary of the evidence base in career guidance across a range of different life stages. I’ve discovered the Cedefop Lifelong Guidance Bibliography which is very helpful. I thought that I’d blog partially to help me to remember where it is and partially because others might find it useful

View the Lifelong Guidance Bibliography

What I’m going to say to the Westminster Employment Forum tomorrow

Tomorrow I’m down to sit on a panel at the Westminster Employment Forum Keynote Seminar on The next steps for careers advice and guidance. The panel that I’m contributing to is about school commissioning of career guidance. I thought that I would probably say something along the following lines.

Schools can be funny places for outsiders to understand. They are places where policy matters a whole lot, but where often staff haven’t got any time to engage with the latest twists and turns of law and statutory guidance. Schools are also places where despite  considerable amounts of centralisation, diversity still flourishes. When you go around a range of schools you are often struck by how different they are. Teachers and head teachers have different styles and interests, backgrounds and ways of organising things. My colleague Jo Hutchinson recently published some research showing how much of a difference these factors of school context and leadership style  make to  a schools’ careers provision.

In some senses it was ever so. Some schools cared about careers work, others emphasised other things. However, underneath it all was the careers service or Connexions, ensuring that there was some minimum entitlement to career support regardless of what the school decided. In its infite wisdom the current government chose to move all responsibility for careers to schools themselves. School didn’t ask for this, many missed that it was even happening, and for those that were unsure about how to deal with this there was little help. The governments guidance on what schools were supposed to do was vague and unhelpful. Schools were supposed to “secure careers guidance from an external source” but they were “free to make arrangements for careers guidance that fit the needs and circumstances of their pupils.

The requirement makes little sense. While an independent external partnership body like Connexions did provide a bulwark to the  advice and guidance given in schools, a school commissioned service puts the school in the position of paymaster. If a school doesn’t like the advice that is being given they can switch providers. In fact it is arguable that an external provider is in a weaker position than an internal (unionised) member of staff.

This is not to suggest that most schools are in the process of pursuing their vested interests, just to challenge the logic of the governments policy. In fact what has happened has been much broader than just concerns about school’s vested interests. The impact of the government’s policy has been a very substantial collapse of career education and guidance in schools. Lots of research has shown this including some that we’ve done, as well as that done by Pearson and Ofsted. Our experience is that some schools are stepping up and finding creative ways to develop career education and guidance for their students, but that many are not. In essence this is the story, not the question about how services are delivered (in house or commissioned).

This matters because there is some good evidence on the benefits of career education and guidance. In a literature review we did a few years ago we argued that good school based careers work could contribute to

  1. the attainment of students;
  2. their retention in the education system;
  3. their transition to further learning and employment; and
  4. their life success and happiness.

Don’t get me wrong. The evidence base for career work needs to be developed – we don’t know enough. One thing that the current government should have done is evaluated its own approach in a systematic fashion. Or even paid some attention to what was happening following its policy changes. In fact it ignored them and burried its head in the sand. This is a shame because, it is clear that where it is done well school based careers work makes a difference and that the current governments policies mean that it is less likely to be done well.

So I wanted to finish by highlighting some things that schools should be doing (and policy should be supporting) if we want to do this stuff well.  This is drawn from a publication that we did with Pearson and from wider research in this area.  Careers work is most effective..

  • where it connects to curriculum
  • provides extra-curricula opportunities
  • makes use of careers professionals
  • uses teachers and other school staff
  • involves parents, employers and the wider community
  • provides up to date information
  • offers meaningful experience of the workplace and post school options
  • connects learning to individuals own experience
  • starts early and continues throughout the lifetime
  • focuses on lifelong career management rather than short term choices

This is the stuff that schools should be doing and where appropriate commissioning. This is also what I’d like to see government supporting ideally through extending and resourcing the National Careers Service.

I started by saying that schools can be funny places. But, it is clear that at the moment the DFE is funnier still. Policies are implemented on whim, evidence is ignored and an attempt is made to studiously ignore the impact of the decisions that are made. Unfortunately it is clear that such an approach is failing our young people. I hope that the time has come to think again.


School organisation and STEM career-related learning


I wanted to flag a new publication that has been written by my iCeGS colleague Jo Hutchinson called School organisation and STEM career-related learning. In the report Jo explores schools roles in supporting young people to learn about STEM careers and to make better informed decisions.  The report is based on a two year project which explored practice in case study schools followed up by a
national survey.

 The report introduces three key types of learning that are relevant to STEM careers.

  1. STEM subject learning – which focuses on how schools explore the themes that cut across learning in science, design & technology, engineering, and mathematics
  2. career-related learning – in particular, what activities schools undertake and how they organise their career education curriculum, work-related learning, and information, advice and guidance provision
  3. STEM career-related learning – the extent to which the activities which schools undertake to support STEM subject learning connect with their students’ career-related learning

 It sets out a lot of examples of how schools utilise these three concepts to support learners to develop their understanding of STEM and STEM careers. Most interesting (to me at least) is the way in which Jo traces some examples of what she calls STEM career-related learning ie how people can learn about careers in the context of curriculum and disciplinary knowledge.

The report also explores how the schools that are doing all of this innovative stuff come to be doing it.  She defines a series of factors that support the development of innovative STEM career-related learning curricular as follows:

  • school leadership and delegated
  • responsibility
  • teachers’ prior work experience
  • careers provision
  • school networks
  • the local economy
  • student attainment and progression
  • school structure

 The report provides further detail on how each of these supports STEM career-related learning and is essential reading for any schools that wish to move in this direction.

I think that if it is going to have a meaningful future, career learning will have to build links with broader curriculum areas. Jo’s report points one way in which such links might be realised.