Careers education in the curriculum and access to individual career guidance: persistent problems and school-based solutions
In this article I focus on two challenges that the Coalition Government gave schools in England ten years ago and which still persist today, namely the removal of the statutory duty to provide careers education and the closure of the Connexions service. I argue that, in order to give young people the support they need to make decisions about future education and training opportunities and to navigate their career journey in a post-pandemic labour market, we cannot afford to wait for government to get round to rectifying these mistakes. Careers leaders in schools will need to proactively promote solutions to their senior leaders, as indeed they have been doing, particularly over the past three years supported by the national programme of careers leader training.
The Education Act 2011 removed from schools in England the statutory duty to provide careers education in the curriculum. I have yet to identify the rationale for this change. No other area of the school curriculum that has been made statutory over the past 30 years since the National Curriculum was introduced in 1989 has had its status rescinded. Young people need these key life-skills to plan and manage their progression through learning and into work. Many of the activities and programmes promoted by The Careers & Enterprise Company and others have that as their core purpose. Regrettably, when the DfE published its Careers Strategy in 2017 it did not include a commitment to reinstate the statutory requirement. And while Gatsby Benchmark 1 emphasises the need for a stable and embedded programme of careers education and guidance, the framework does not stress the need for a discrete provision of careers education in the curriculum to complement the work delivered through other subjects (ref. Benchmark 4). We await the next version of the DfE’s Statutory Guidance and it remains to be seen if this will strengthen the position of careers education.
One of the major achievements in recent times has been that, for the first time in England, the role of careers leader has been formally recognised and fully-funded training for this strategic leadership role is now available. The central aim of the training is to enable and empower careers leaders to develop and implement a strategic plan for careers in their school. Such plans provide an opportunity to make the case for ensuring that careers education features in the curriculum for all years. The CDI has published a reworked framework for careers education which identifies the knowledge and skills young people need to develop at each key stage: reference to this could support careers leaders in their discussions with curriculum managers.
The Education Act 2011 also led to the closure of the national external career guidance service for young people in England, by transferring responsibility to individual schools. While the legislation makes it clear that schools must secure access to independent career guidance, and Gatsby Benchmark 8 sets out an expectation that all pupils should have an opportunity for an interview with an appropriately trained careers adviser, schools have received no additional funding for this significant extra responsibility. It is to their credit that schools have found resources from other parts of their budget to pay for career guidance services. The Skills for Jobs White Paper published at the start of this year announced a longer-term review of the provision of career guidance in England but no timetable was given. In the meantime careers leaders across the country have identified securing the services of a qualified careers adviser as a priority in their school’s strategic careers plan.
The CDI has published a guide to commissioning career guidance services. This is supported by a briefing on personal guidance, which careers leaders can use to support the case for employing the services of a careers adviser. Further, the CDI maintains a register of qualified careers professionals which schools can search for practitioners in their area. The professional body has also produced a one-page summary of what a qualified careers adviser can provide and details of their qualification. Links to all these resources can be found at the end of this article.
Careers leaders might also consider seeking accreditation of their careers provision through the Quality in Careers standard. The standard is fully aligned to the Gatsby benchmarks. School leaders and governing bodies are attracted to the recognition and publicity that comes from gaining a quality mark and, as the Quality in Careers standard assessment criteria require a programme of careers education and access to independent career guidance, working towards the standard will inevitably mean schools having to commit to both.
Careers support for young people not in school
One of the weaknesses of the current careers policy in England is that it assumes all young people are in a school or a college, but we know that several tens of thousands of young people are not in school, including those who are home-educated. While many schools make their provision of support available, the circumstances of these young people often mean that they are reluctant to visit or contact the school. This gap in provision since the closure of Connexions remains a cause of concern which government needs to address, particularly as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is, however, one group of young people beyond their current pupils that schools are well-placed to help and that is recent leavers. Anyone who has children will tell you that their career decision-making is rarely complete by the time they leave full-time education. In particular the ages of 16-25 seem to be a time when help is needed. Although these young adults could seek guidance from the National Careers Service, the level of support provided is often limited if they are not in certain priority groups. Graduates could return to their university’s careers & employability service for assistance and, of course, those with sufficient money could seek support from private career counsellors.
I have recently learned of an example of a school offering a service to its alumni. Many schools can quote examples of former students returning to seek help from the careers department but not many proactively inform all their alumni of the service. Eton College makes its support, including access to careers professionals fully qualified to provide career guidance, available to all former students. There is no age limit although in practice most who ask for help tend to be in their 20s. Over recent years all schools have realised the valuable contribution that former students can bring to the careers programme for their current students by, for example, giving talks, attending networking events, mentoring, providing workplace visits, etc. The provision of a career guidance service to alumni seems like a good way of making the relationship between schools and their former students mutually beneficial.
Our state schools have learned a lot from the independent sector about building alumni networks and in my next article I plan to give more details of about how the service provided by Eton College operates. In the meantime I would be interested to hear about any similar services developed by other schools, state or independent (firstname.lastname@example.org).
New Framework for careers education New Career Development Framework (thecdi.net)
Guide to commissioning careers guidance services www.thecdi.net/Commissioning-Guide
Briefing on Personal Guidance www.thecdi.net/Personal-Guidance-Briefing
Register of careers professionals Professional Register (thecdi.net)
Summary of the role of career development professionals and of their qualification 2021-Blueprint_A4_flyer.pdf (thecdi.net)
Quality in Careers standard Quality in Careers