On Monday I got to spend a very interesting day with Ben Owen (Head of Student Services) and Amy Woolley (Guidance and Admissions Manager) from Chesterfield College. They showed me round the College and we talked about the way in which they have reworked their careers provision in the College.
What was most impressive about the provision that they have developed was the fact that careers and guidance are conceived as an integral part of every student’s journey into, through and out of the College. Ben and Amy have been actively working with schools and careers providers in the area to ensure that pre-entry information and guidance is available. Once a student applies to a college they receive an admissions interview undertaken by a trained guidance practitioner to help them to decide whether they are a good fit for the course that they are applying for.
The linking of guidance with admissions usually raises all sorts of concerns about impartiality. How can you give guidance at the same time as being essentially part of the recruitment process? Amy and Ben were clear that, for them, this was not an issue for two reasons. Firstly the staff who are undertaking the guidance are professionals and understand their appropriate professional role. Secondly the College has no interest in recruiting students who are a poor fit for the courses that they are seeking to study on. Consequently, every student begins their course with an opportunity to think about how the course fits into their wider life goals.
Once they are on course the College uses a mixture of group work and one to one support to support students progression and to help them to achieve post-College outcomes. Perhaps the most interesting element here is the way in which this in-course guidance function has been combined into a single team with the pre-course guidance function. This provides the College with a larger pool of career experts who are naturally focused holistically. Ben spoke passionately about the dangers of having the recruitment and admissions functions divorced from delivery. In Chesterfield College this can’t happen as pre-entry and on course careers support are part of the same thing.
We discussed the poor evidence base that exists in relation to careers work in Colleges. Schools have always been the focus of most educational research with universities a close second. The FE and vocational education sector has always struggled for attention. This is as true in relation in careers work as in any other aspect of the educational process. My visit to Chesterfield College suggests that this is a shame as there is much good and interesting practice that deserves closer attention.
If anyone has any ideas on how we could fund a new study of careers work in FE I’d be very interested to talk further.