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Compass and Quality in Careers self-review and external assessment: David Andrews. March 2020

Last month’s article looked at the differences and relationship between reviewing and evaluating a careers programme and went on to present a summary of the main frameworks and tools available to careers leaders to assist with these processes. Here I will examine in more detail two of those frameworks and tools: Compass Classic and the Quality in Careersstandard.

Both are used for reviewing a school’s or college’s provision of career guidance. The principal difference is that Compass Classic is for internal self-review, although the outcomes may be reported beyond the school or college, while the Quality in CareersStandard involves assessment by an external body.

The origins of the Quality in Careers standard pre-date the Compasstool by over 20 years. In the 1990s many careers services worked in partnership with the schools and colleges in their area to develop a set of quality standards for programmes of careers education and guidance. These local quality awards served two main purposes: to provide a framework for the review and development of careers programmes in schools and colleges and to recognise best practice. As careers guidance services changed from local authority careers services through privatised careers companies to Connexions, so the number of local awards and their coverage across the country changed.

By the time the external careers guidance service was closed down in 2012 only a few local quality awards remained. However, the standards set out in the various awards that survived were broadly similar and in recent years these different local awards have been brought together into a single, national standard, the Quality in Careers standard, and the organisations that previously managed the local awards have become licensed awarding bodies for the national award. A further key development is that the assessment criteria for the national standard have been aligned fully to the Gatsby Benchmarks.

The Quality in Careers standard therefore provides a means of accrediting a school’s or college’s programme of career guidance as meeting the national standards as set out by the Gatsby Benchmarks. Assessment involves compiling a portfolio of evidence of having achieved the assessment criteria and a visit from an external assessor, usually for a day and involving interviews with staff, students and external partners. Because the process involves external assessment there is a cost to the school or college. The awarding bodies differ in the amount charged and the support provided. If a school or college achieves the Quality in Careers standard, the accreditation is valid for two or three years (depending on the awarding body), after which the school or college can apply for re-accreditation.

Compass Classic (formerly known as the Compass tool) was developed more recently, by The Careers & Enterprise Company in collaboration with Gatsby, and is designed as an online tool for a school or college to self-review its progress against the Benchmarks. It is free of charge and is principally for internal use, although the data from all the schools and colleges which complete the tool is collated annually, enabling national and LEP-level summary data to be reported. These reports provide useful comparative data for schools and colleges to assess their progress against the national and regional picture.

Although the Compass Classic questionnaire can be completed fairly quickly by a careers leader on their own, much more can be gained by taking time to work through the questions in a small group comprising, say, the careers leader, the careers adviser, the Enterprise Adviser or Co-ordinator and possibly also the SENCO/head of learning support and, where relevant, the head of sixth form. The school or college may also include the senior leader with overall responsibility for careers or, if they are not available to join the group for the full review, the outcomes should be reported to the senior leader. The Compass tool should be completed at least annually but ideally twice a year or even once a term.

The DfE’s careers strategy expects all schools and colleges to use the Gatsby Benchmarks to review and develop their provision of career guidance and strongly recommends that all schools and colleges should work towards the Quality in Careers standard. It would seem sensible therefore to use Compass Classic for regular internal reviews and when the school or college feels it is ready for external validation of its achievements against the Benchmarks, to then apply an assessment from one of the Quality in Careers standard licensed awarding bodies.

Full details of all the awarding bodies can be found at

David Andrews is an independent consultant, a former policy adviser to the CDI and co-author of The Careers Leader Handbook. He has recently published a second edition of his book on Careers Education in Schools.

March 2020

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