CHERRY PICKING MINISTERS THREATEN THE CAREERS STRATEGY

The Minister Lord Nash, responding to a PQ in the Lords on Careers Guidance this month, said there is clear evidence that if  one relies on face to face careers guidance that  this is a very ineffective strategy. Most studies have concluded  ,he intoned, that the best careers advice comes through activities with employers, and there is evidence that five or more employer engagements during secondary school means that students are seven times less likely to be NEET. Really?  Come again.  Does the Minister truly  think that face to face careers advice from a trained guidance professional is ineffective- and that the best careers advice comes from employer engagement and that this engagement is the same as professional  careers guidance ? The alarm bells are ringing! If he does then the careers strategy will be a dogs dinner, marginalizing professional advisers and yet another missed opportunity. And , guess what, its the most disadvantaged  students who will suffer the most. (talking evidence, its  disadvantaged students who  benefit the most from face to face professional  guidance)

Employers are not trained in giving guidance. Giving information is not the same as guidance.  At a time when the guidance sector is focused on improving quality assurance, for guidance professionals , Ministers want to send lots of employers into schools. So where is the quality assurance in this process? Do they have the right skills? Do they have the knowledge base ? Are they good communicators? Have they worked with young people before? Do they know the routes into different professions, outside their own sectors and the qualifications required.? Will they be  impartial and disinterested , or will they promote the merits  of their company sector or profession? Would they know what a facilitating subject was ? Where are their guidance qualifications? In short,  Where, on earth is the quality assurance in this engagement process? Ministers endlessly quote the same one piece of research which they manage to fundamentally misunderstand and misuse about the importance of employer engagement. To base policy on such a narrow and selective evidence base will lead to poor policy design and ultimately a hopeless strategy.  .Nobody suggests that its only about careers advice from professionals. This has to be combined with (quality assured) employer engagement, of course, careers education ie equipping young people with the tools to make informed choices ,and high quality work experience.
Ministers though are stuck on one track. Employer engagement with schools, and, err, that’s about it. They should adhere to all the Gatsby benchmarks on careers guidance, one of which, number eight as it happens,  covers personal  face to face guidance from a trained professional.  Rather than specifying a particular model  it said ‘ , the indicator for our benchmark is that the interview should be with an adviser who is appropriately trained to have the necessary guidance skills, the knowledge of information sources and the essential impartiality to do the job.’ It continues ‘ This person might be an external adviser (the professional association for career guidance practitioners, the Career Development Institute, maintains a register of qualified practitioners), or might be one or more trained members of the existing school staff, whose careers role could be part-time or full-time. School leaders told the authors of the Gatsby report that they thought personal guidance important because it:
– Tailors advice to individual needs;
– Can direct pupils towards the information sources of most use to them, and the actions most relevant to them;
– Can (and always should) give impartial advice that has only the pupils’ interests at heart.
The authors stated ‘Alongside our evidence from international practice, there is research evidence that personal guidance has an observable impact on young people’s careers and progression.’ So Ministers should stop cherry picking. Stop cheery picking both  the empirical  evidence and the Gatsby benchmarks. Otherwise the Careers strategy will be dead in the water..

CAREER EDUCATION – WILL SOMEONE TELL MINISTERS WHAT IT MEANS ?

Lack of  clarity at heart of government policy on careers  .

Sam Gyimah, the Minister responsible for Careers guidance in schools, has recently been referring to  the importance of career education. Well , it  is important ,but  it is not at all clear that he understands what it means. If you look at his comments, in context, he seems to be talking not about career education but  instead  about work related learning and employer engagement. Worthy though that might be, it  is not the same as career education.   But he  is not alone in repeating this misunderstanding. This week researchers from the University of Bath told us how important career education is, and its impact on young peoples   future earnings  The researchers say  ‘The ever changing education system confronted young people with a complex world. This has been partly addressed by government emphasis on career education while students are at school’. But the research  was focused on employer engagement with young people and its long term  benefits, not on career education.

The reality is -there   isn’t any emphasis on career education in schools. In fact, career education, as commonly understood, is  virtually non-existent in most schools  which lack a   strategic approach to the teaching, learning and assessment of career education . There may be more interaction between employers and students (although it would be interesting to see the data on this)  but that is not strictly speaking career education.

This could  go some way to explaining the confusion at the heart of the governments policy on careers and the fact that the Careers  and Enterprise Company are focused almost entirely now on employer engagement and championing what are termed  ‘Enterprise’ advisers.   They really do think that employer engagement is the same as career education (and Guidance too  it seems)

The Career Development Institute says about career education that it is   ‘Planned and progressive programmes of activities in the curriculum which help students to develop the knowledge and skills to understand themselves, research the opportunities available, make decisions and move successfully on to the next stage’.

Career guidance, offered by an independent qualified professional,  (signally lacking in too  many schools) plays a vital role in helping individuals make the decisions about learning and work that are right for them. But there is an underlying assumption that for this   to be  really effective,  young people  also need career education.  Meaning  young people   need to have the knowledge and skills to access and make good use of the information, advice and guidance they are given . They also need to be equipped with  the skills of career management to seek out opportunities, make successful applications and manage transitions. That is whats  accepted as  career education.  The OECD sees career education as integral to Career Guidance- so career education programmes involve specifically  help  and support  for individuals to  develop their ‘ self-awareness, opportunity awareness, and career management skills ‘(Career Guidance-A Handbook  for Policy Makers – OECD -2004)

And so its safe to assume that a Career educator is not  in fact an employer involved in an interaction with a young person but instead a qualified  professional  individual  with the right pedagogic approaches to develop individuals’ career management skills, to seek out opportunities manage transitions, and so on.

Work-related learning ,on the other hand, is a separate issue. This provides opportunities for young people to develop knowledge and understanding of work and enterprise, and  to develop skills for enterprise, something that Ministers talk about all the time. And this involves engagement between young people  with employers, enterprise advisers and, of course, combined with  access to  good quality work experience..

In a recent briefing paper for Careers England and CDI,   Tristram Hooley, Claire Johnson and Siobhan Neary gave an insight into the challenge faced by those who want to offer career education. . They   said  “The professional training and career progression for careers teachers and careers leaders in schools is less clearly defined.” But ,” While various attempts have been made to establish a CPD pathway for teachers who focus on careers work, these have generally had a limited reach into the teacher workforce.”

Tami McCrone of the NFER  in her recent evidence to the Select Committee wrote ‘I conclude that there is considerable robust evidence that suggests that quality careers advice provision would benefit from an equal focus on first laying the foundations with careers education and ensuring that parents are well-informed in terms of the careers education and guidance their children are receiving.’

So ,its pretty easy to conclude   that the government really  hasn’t been placing emphasis on career education, (if only it  had)

What it has been doing is  placing emphasis  on employer engagement and work related learning., important though that might be to the guidance offer.  But this is happening almost to the exclusion, of career education and genuine independent, professional guidance, including face to face guidance.(which evidence tells us benefits the most disadvantaged pupils, the most)

If you are unclear about what you are talking about, how will you get your policy right?

In the meantime the Careers and Enterprise company (CEC)  would have us believe that it is transforming career guidance. What it  actually means is that  it is  increasing the level of engagement that young people have with  employers and enterprise advisers, which  is not the same as improving career guidance or  providing career education.

The CEC will be able to measure its inputs fairly easily, but will have a challenge on its hands  to measure its outputs, both in terms of the quality of the employer interventions it facilitates , the value they add, and.  more broadly on the impact the CEC is having  on  on the availability and accessibility  of  high quality professional career  guidance in schools.,to young people, particularly the most disadvantaged. .

It remains the case that young people in our schools are not getting better access to independent  professional careers guidance  than they did five years  ago,     then rated as  ‘poor’ and ‘patchy’. And  with the modest  resources that are available ,  going mainly to employer engagement, under the aegis of the CEC,  this is unlikely to change.