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
- the attainment of students;
- their retention in the education system;
- their transition to further learning and employment; and
- 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.