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The Careers Strategy: making a lot of a little

The Rt Hon Anne Milton MP, Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills and Minister for Women, launched the long-awaited careers strategy in her address to the Career Development Institute’s annual conference at Solihull on 4th December. Careers strategy: making the most of everyone's skills offers a realistic small steps agenda for rebuilding careers provision in England but fails to provide direct funding for schools and colleges and careers guidance providers.

Aims of the careers strategy

As expected, the main lines of the strategy follow the principles announced by the then Minister of State, Robert Halfon MP, at Westminster Academy in January this year. As widely trailed, therefore, the careers strategy aims to improve the status of the careers system, support the industrial strategy, develop people’s skills, provide lifelong career guidance, promote fairness and social justice, and encourage the use of the Gatsby benchmarks by schools. Further information about the Careers & Enterprise Company’s work on careers passports for young people is conspicuous by its absence. The published strategy does show that the Department has clearly moved on its thinking since January. The role of the Careers & Enterprise Company is to be extended, the requirement on Ofsted to comment on careers-related provision in schools is to be extended to colleges, schools are to be expected to achieve the Gatsby benchmarks and to have a Careers Leader in post and work towards the Quality in Careers Standard. The strategy also has an important emphasis on overcoming gender stereotyping in relation to STEM careers, testing out careers activities in primary schools and making better use of data and digital technology. The overall message that Government cannot deliver the careers strategy on its own and that it requires a partnership between the education sector, the careers community, employers and other supporters evokes the spirit of the Working Together for a Better Future initiative from 1987.

What’s missing?

So what is missing from the careers strategy? The continuing marginalisation of localauthorities and the lack of ambition for the future role of the National Careers Service stand out. The announcement that the NCS will not complete its new and improved website until the end of 2020 is too little, too late. The level of support offered to the Career Development Institute is also disappointing. Grant funding from the DfE would help the Institute to boost the supply of trained professional careers advisers and to undertake development work on meeting the needs of young people and adults. (The PSHE Association, in contrast, has been generously funded by the DfE over a number of years.) Similarly, the careers strategy endorses the work of the Quality in Careers Consortium by strongly recommending that all schools work towards the Quality in Careers Standard but fails to help schools with the cost of doing so. Schools will also argue that their levels of funding are not keeping pace with the new demands being placed on them to develop Careers Leader posts and to set up seven employer engagements for every student in the course of their school careers.

Funding of the strategy remains opaque. In a previous speech, the Minister talked of investing over £70 million this year to make sure that young people and adults have access to high-quality careers provision. The published strategy, however, only mentions relatively small additional sums of money to support the strategy – an extra £10-£14million for the CEC, £2million for primary school activities and small but unspecified funding for a range of pilot projects.

Simplistic notions

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the strategy is the simplistic notions it presents. Every contact with an employer will by definition be inspirational. The careers system will enable everyone to have a successful and rewarding career. It will also improve social mobility and promote T levels and apprenticeships.

Employers can and do make an enormous contribution to careers programmes in schools, but their input is most effective when it is framed as a coherent learning experience by the school.

Similarly, the education and careers sectors know that career uncertainty is a growing problem linked to wider political, economic, environmental and technological changes that cannot be glossed over. What teachers and advisers can do well is to cultivate hope, optimism, adaptability and resilience in young people.

Teachers and careers advisers should and do embrace a social justice stance but they cannot single-handedly resolve the problems of stalled social mobility. The need for a wider response was thrown into sharp relief by the resignation on 2nd December of the Chair and all three fellow commissioners of the government’s social mobility commission at the failure of the government to match its rhetoric with reality. (It is worth remembering that Gillian Shephard, one of the commissioners, was the Secretary of State who made careers education compulsory before Michael Gove reversed the decision.)

The careers system too cannot be held responsible for ‘delivering’ apprenticeships and T levels if they are not of the highest quality. The Sutton Trust report, Better Apprenticeships – Access, quality and labour market outcomes in the English apprenticeship system, published on 30th November has highlighted a number of issues that present difficulties for teachers and careers advisers. For example, the majority of apprenticeships are at level 2 which means that most apprentices under the age of 25 start their training below their existing level of educational attainment. Even though data relating to 16-year-olds in 2003 shows a positive earning differential for those who undertook apprenticeships in many contexts, the gender differences in earnings differential for those educated to level 3 are striking with men earning more in higher paying sectors. Schools help young people to gain a positional advantage in the labour market. To this end, teachers and careers advisers must feel confident based on firm evidence in what thy are recommending to young people.

Small steps

The careers strategy is work in progress and much still needs to be done; but its commitment to rebuilding the careers system through a partnership approach is to be welcomed. Not surprisingly, many of the shortcomings of the strategy relate to inadequate funding and a limited vision which is in part politically motivated. Many of the planned steps are small and barriers remain but a start has been made.

Press releases

Read the press releases from FE News.


Key points for schools

  • Schools still have responsibility for arranging independent careers guidance for their students (paras.7 & 69)
  • The role of The Careers & Enterprise Company is being extended over the next three years to include support for all eight Gatsby benchmarks and not just encounters with employers and experiences of workplaces (para.17). It will be given a £5 million investment fund to support the most disadvantaged pupils. It will co-ordinate the work of 20 ‘careers hubs’ modelled on the Gatsby pilot in the North-East (para.62), increase the number of cornerstone employers from 50 to 150 (paras.27 & 28), provide every school and college with access to an Enterprise Adviser (with initial priority given to schools and colleges in Opportunity Areas) and support schools with offering every young person seven encounters with employers (para.20). Local CEC Enterprise Coordinators will work closely with Jobcentre Plus advisers working with young people in schools (para.10). Schools need to be proactive in tapping into the support that is available
  • Schools should aim to achieve all eight Gatsby benchmarks as the standard of excellence. The statutory guidance due in January 2018 will be framed around the benchmarks (para.50). They should use the Compass and Tracker tools and the new online Provider and Resources Directory to be launched in January to audit and plan how to improve their provision (paras.52 & 97). The government further strongly recommends that schools should work towards the Quality in Careers Standard which provides external assessment of the quality of their provision (paras.53 & 54). Ofsted is being asked to review its approach to assessing careers provision with a view to incorporating any changes in the new Common Inspection Framework due in September 2019 (para.56)
  • Schools in areas that have a local careers strategy should ensure that local priorities directly inform the provision of careers advice (para.22). The Government is establishing Skills Advisory Panels to produce information on local skills needs (para.103)
  • By law, schools will be required from January 2018 to give providers of technical education, including apprenticeships, the opportunity to talk to pupils about the courses and jobs they offer (para.31). Schools and colleges will also be expected to promote technical routes for learners who can benefit most from them (paras.14 & 73)
  • Higher education institutions will continue to be expected to target disadvantaged students through outreach interventions not just to support them into higher education but to support them into applying to the most selective universities (paras.34-35, para.72).
  • A £2 million fund to test careers activities in primary school will start in 2018 (paras.36-39)
  • Supported by the Government, schools and colleges will be expected to ensure that STEM encounters are built into their careers programmes (paras.40-47)
  • From September 2018, schools and colleges will be expected to publish details of their careers programmes and contact details of their Careers Leader on their websites (paras.57 & 67).
  • Every school and college needs a Careers Leader. Gatsby and CEC will set out what Careers Leaders should do; and organisations will be invited to submit proposals for a pilot scheme starting in 2018-19 to train Careers leaders. A £4 million fund has been created to train Careers Leaders in 500 schools with the greatest need (paras.64-68)
  • The Education and Training Foundation will develop two sets of online training modules to support careers professionals working with young people with SEND (para.86)
  • The CEC and Gatsby Foundation will publish a toolkit for Enterprise Advisers which sets out good practice on supporting young people with SEND (para.87); and the Government will fund work in 2018 to test new approaches and resources to improve careers IAG for young people who are disadvantaged or SEND (para.88)
  • A “new, engaging and inspiring” website for the National Careers Service will be developed in 2018 (para.90). Testing with selected colleges will start in 2018 to make it easier for students to apply for their chosen courses (para.94)
  • The Government has renewed the contract for LMI for All and will continue to encourage the design of new apps and websites to help young people access this information (paras.95 & 96)
  • The Government will make destinations and outcomes data more accessible to people (para.101)

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