Are we doing justice to Careers Education in our schools?

We all know that our work is not just about preparing our young people for exams.  Our schools have a range of pastoral provision, extra-curricular activities and links with employers and universities to support students’ progression; some have qualified in-house advisory staff, and many schools buy into services that provide careers guidance as a one-off event as if that is ‘the’ careers discussion dealt with, ticked off the list.  These activities come under the banner commonly referred to as Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) but are seldom recognised as part of a bigger whole: are all the tutorial and extra-curricular activities organised as part of a progressive framework of career learning?  Or are they just a selection of disparate activities?

Gone should be the days of a careers master or mistress saying ‘you should go to university and then you can work in the forces, the law or the City’.  Are our members aware that there are some superb apprenticeships in law and finance that lead to university-level qualifications? Do we recognise and promote apprenticeships as a viable alternative to university? Is the careers information up to date and engaging or a set of old books gathering dust in a cupboard?  Do our students understand labour market information?  Do they know that a job is not for life, even in the City?  Since this is part of our role, is it part of the inspection framework that guides and judges us?

In the maintained sector there has been much debate on the matter of CEIAG since report after report brings into question the postcode lottery outcome of the Education Act of 2011. Since 2012, state schools have had the responsibility for providing impartial and independent careers guidance, without funding.  The previous statutory requirement for careers education (lessons) has been repealed. Last year, Ofsted reported that only 1 out of 5 schools was adequately delivering the statutory requirement, and this week, The Education Committee of the House of Commons published written evidence for its follow up inquiry on careers guidance for young people. The written evidence can be viewed from the publications box on the inquiry page.

How do we know whether what we are doing in the independent sector is working? Are students adequately prepared for the demanding and changeable world out there, where employability and portfolio careers are part of a patchwork of career progression?

The messages from the evidence to the Education Committee highlight a range of deficiencies in state provision, but what many leading organisations and individuals point to as part of a way forward is the focus on CEIAG quality standards and we should be using these too: a number of independent schools have successfully achieved standards such as Career Mark and Investor in Careers. In England these are overseen by Careers England with its Quality in Careers Standard which now has eight approved standards available, providing both a framework for development and a means of recognition for provision.  My school achieved one of these, Career Mark, and is due for its third assessment next year.  We also employ a fully qualified careers adviser to lead and deliver the careers provision in the school, inviting in a range of providers to ensure balance and impartiality.

Five independent schools formed part of the research into good careers provision by The Gatsby Foundation which led to recommendations around eight quality benchmarks.   We should all – at the very least – evaluate our CEIAG provision against these benchmarks. The world out there is not the same as when we left school and we are not doing our job if we ignore the need for high quality CEIAG.

By Chris King, HMC Chairman-Elect and Headmaster of Leicester Grammar School