Improving Careers Guidance Takes Time And Effort

Issue 43

The North East LEP has been working in partnership with the Gatsby Foundation for three years, with the aim of improving careers guidance for all young people in the North East.

Sir John Holman, Senior Adviser to the Gatsby Foundation, shared his insights on how schools can be supported to provide world-class careers guidance with TES online.

We have known for years how important good careers guidance is in supporting each young person in making the best decisions for a fulfilling future. However, I was also acutely aware of the criticism levelled against career guidance in English schools and colleges.

For this reason, with the backing of the Gatsby Foundation and with colleagues from the University of Derby, I conducted an international study, a literature review and a survey of schools in England to delineate just what world-class careers guidance looks like. This resulted in the eight Gatsby Benchmarks, which are now placed at the heart of government’s Careers Strategy, launched in December 2017.

As we pass this milestone, there is cause to celebrate. In 2015-17, Gatsby ran a successful pilot of the Benchmarks in the North East, where we saw the positive difference they can make on the ground. From all of this evidence, I can confidently say that the Benchmarks really do make an impact on the lives of young people.

Moreover, when the government placed the Benchmarks at the heart of their drive to make career guidance world-class in this country, I was pleased when I saw how schools and colleges quickly embraced them as a serious driver for change. The government also committed money to the strategy, announcing funding for Career Leaders and the rollout of a national Careers Hub network, based on the North East model in our pilot of the Benchmarks.

However, we still have a way to go. The government has committed funding to train over 1,300 Careers Leaders and create 40 Careers Hubs, but this is just a start: over half of schools in England will still be without the support of a Careers Hub, for example.

From a recent analysis done by Gatsby, we know that the vast majority of headteachers are aware of the strategy, but we also know that not all governing boards are yet aware of the changes. One of the clearest messages from those involved in our pilot in the North East was that having a governing board that is fully engaged in careers provision leads to a stronger careers programme and more successful interventions. Without this support, meeting all eight Benchmarks is that much less achievable.

And it is all eight Benchmarks that need to be achieved – no single benchmark is more important than any other. They make a coherent framework that needs to be considered as a whole. The recent State of the Nation report by The Careers & Enterprise Company highlighted how progress towards certain Benchmarks is slower than others, which goes to highlight the need for trained Career Leaders and the support of hubs for every school.

Alongside this, we must remember that the Benchmarks work best when the whole school understands the opportunities they offer.

Perhaps most importantly, I believe that what career guidance policy needs now is a period of stability. World-leading administrations like Germany and Ontario show the value of a stable system where students, teachers, parents and employers all understand what they can expect from the career guidance system. Such stability takes years to establish.

We knew when we developed the Benchmarks that they set a high bar, and that fully achieving them across a school or college takes time and a sustained effort. I urge the government to allow schools and colleges the time and support they need to make the most of this opportunity so that our aspirations of world-class career guidance for every student can be achieved.

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