Choosing your A-level (or equivalent) subjects carefully is vitally important – especially if you have aspirations to study at a leading university. Universities look for students who not only have good grades, but grades in the right subjects for the course they want to apply for. Ministers frequently stress the importance of social mobility, and the need for the most disadvantaged to access the best universities, yet too many, because of poor,  or no,   guidance in schools, are choosing subjects that limit their opportunities to apply to the top universities and their courses  and  to  ease  their access to  the professions. Guidance remains a post code lottery , and delays in the governments Careers strategy are not helping. Ministers love talking about ladders of opportunity,and creating rungs on this ladder, but what happens too often is that young people start the long climb then  find that the rungs above them  are missing.

The government’s current policy is to promote and incentivise participation in the so called facilitating subjects at A level.  Indeed this is a 16-18 Accountability Measure for 16-18 providers ( that  applies to A level students only) . A student must have achieved three A levels, of which at least two are in facilitating subjects, at grades AAB. The percentage of students achieving this measure is shown for each provider. These subjects are known as ‘facilitating’ because choosing them at advanced level leaves open a wide range of options for university study.

The facilitating subjects are biology, chemistry, English literature, geography, history, physics, modern and classical languages, maths and further maths and Classical/Modern Languages


The Classical modern languages that  will count towards the AAB in 2016 16-18 Performance Tables indicator are: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek (Classical), Greek (Modern), Gujarati, Irish (second language), Italian, Japanese, Latin, Modern Hebrew, Panjabi, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu, Welsh (second language)


In 2016, 50.6 per cent of A level entries were  in facilitating subjects, a slight drop compared to 50.8 per cent in 2015 shadow data.


Please also see Russell Groups ‘Informed Choices’


And DFE 16-19 Accountability Measures: Technical Guide For measures in 2016 and 2017



Gerard Liston, an enterprise and employability consultant, told Schools Week,  that  he had “real concerns” about a “lack of progress and lack of sustainability” at the CEC, and said its funding – £70 million over this parliament – would be better spent on training teachers to deliver guidance in classrooms.

“There is a real limit to what can be achieved in a school through one day a month with a volunteer from business,” he said, adding that he was disappointed with the “lack of results and the superficial nature” of projects from CEC so far.’

There are fears that the CEC, is front loaded, meaning its heavy on marketing itself but light on delivery. Within a year of its establishment the then Minister Sam Gyimah talked of significant achievements omitting to  mention  what they were. Inputs are clear outputs less so. There is nothing on the CEC web site about the impact it is having on the guidance offered to  young people.  There is also a  perception developing that it is almost entirely focused on employer engagement  and ‘enterprise’ rather  than in  ensuring that pupils have easy access to professional independent guidance, including face to face guidance which evidence tells us  benefits the most disadvantaged more than anyone else  . Nor does it seem to understand what Careers ‘education’ means.    Its beginning to look like an expanding  Quango, with  as much being  spent on its  25  staff , (at least three are on six figure salaries)  its contractors  and  central London rent, as is going in to  ensuring that the quality of professional  guidance is raised throughout the system, that guidance is no longer a lottery and that the end user, the pupil , confronted with  hard and complex  choices, benefits directly.  Its most recent research confirms what we already knew, that with so much information out there pupils find it all rather bewildering, with information overload- and don’t know where to start. Which is precisely why many of  them, indeed most, would benefit from  a  meaningful,   face to face chat with a guidance professional. Very few get this though. Instead employers are being turned into proxy guidance specialists, but without the  necessary qualifications, information  and knowledge to offer real support, or guidance.

Meanwhile, pupils making crucial early choices about what routes and qualifications to take are too often not able to make informed choices. Putting an employer or Enterprise Adviser into a school does nothing to address this.  No surprise then that social mobility remains stagnant. As Dr Deirdre Hughes , a leading Guidance expert, has said “It’s great that they want to be known as an evidence-based organisation .But we don’t need to have a quango producing what’s there already. What we need is to get independent, impartial careers advice back into communities” Hughes would like to see the CEC  funding making a difference at grassroots level. Wouldn’t we all.

So rather  than paying lip service   to the Gatsby  benchmarks and cherry picking, CEC  should revisit Number 8 ,on Personal Guidance. It says:

‘Every student should have opportunities for guidance interviews with a career adviser, who could be internal (a member of school staff) or external, provided they are trained to an appropriate level. These should be available whenever significant study or career choices are being made. They should be expected for all students but should be timed to meet their individual needs.’ Why has the CEC done so little to make this happen?

And  why is it paying out so much taxpayers money to its senior members of staff ,  with such limited accountability,  and without addressing  the most fundamental challenge- to transform the quality,  accessibility and scope of professional guidance available  to our  young people .

See Schools Week Article

£70m government-funded careers company insists it has ‘achieved a lot’





Strong on sentiment and the need to raise the game on careers guidance  but , weak on detail

The Minister responsible for Careers Advice in schools, Sam Gyimah, in a recent speech ,strongly backed the need for good professional careers advice but chose to focus much attention on the role of employers in giving advice  in schools.

The government   has for a while now  been keen to get employers much more involved in schools, linking student choices to job prospects and the local job market, as well as improving the offer on work experience. The government seems   to equate good careers advice with employers telling pupils about their work and routes into their respective sectors. But this raises a host of practical issues and challenges. First off, how many employers will have the time and inclination to do this? Indeed,  how many will be needed to  traipse into schools  giving  pupils a clear idea of the full range of job opportunities and apprenticeships available to them? How, good will these employers be at presenting their cases, to pupils  and  indeed how   objective can  they be or afford to be ?   Why sell the idea of going into a competitors business or into a different sector altogether? How much of the school day will be allotted to these (many) interactions with, and presentations, from employers? And where exactly are the incentives for employers  to do this?

The truth is that Employers are neither professional careers advisers ,nor are they necessarily knowledgeable about other sectors, the routes into other sectors, nor local  employment and training  opportunities, nor, indeed, necessarily   the local jobs market and skills gaps .They will also not be qualified or able to look at an individual’s background and needs and give personalized advice. . This can only be provided by a professionally qualified. independent adviser.

However , to be fair, Gyimah did make some good points. For example:

For too long the careers provision in schools has not been taken as seriously as it should be – instead, treated with disdain, as a kind of relic from the days before the internet put the whole world at our fingertips.”

“When you couple that with that the fact that an Ofsted study found that only 1 in 5 schools gives effective guidance and advice to its year 9, 10 and 11 pupils, it’s no wonder that 80% of employers think that young people don’t leave school equipped with the right skills for the workplace.”(This Ofsted finding was from  a 2013 report  yet nothing has changed)

Gyimah also said: “I know that careers advisers are dedicated professionals who genuinely want young people to progress onto the best courses and into the best job.”  (so this begs the question – why not give them more opportunities to do this?)

And : “Imagine trying to study for your GCSEs, A levels or even your degree without having any idea about what your future might hold, and with no idea how the qualifications you’re working towards can shape and influence the rest of your life.

During this tricky phase of life, young people desperately need sensible, practical advice and guidance.” (from whom, exactly-Employers?)


He continued:

“I want a strategic approach that brings all of these people and organisations together so that every single child, no matter where they live or what school they go to, has the same access to top-quality advice.

So if we’re going to get careers advice right, if we’re going to harness the talent of the next generation and help young people make sensible choices about their future education and employment, we all need to raise our game.

Over the coming months, I want to see the Careers and Enterprise Company go from strength to strength, spreading what works to all schools and colleges, filling gaps and making it much, much easier for schools, employers, and careers and enterprise providers to connect.

“Putting the experts in the classrooms, the people that understand business, and careers opportunities in the local area and beyond. ( Ok-Its early days but as things stand  the Careers and Enterprise Company has delivered  thus far no measurable outcomes-so what is this from strength to strength  thing about?)

“In turn, I want to see all of those companies who have said time and time again that school leavers don’t have the right skills for the workplace step up and help to solve that problem.

“Of course, some companies are thinking about this already, but many more can consider offering work experience placements, sending staff into schools, mentoring pupils – there are so many ways to help bridge the gap between education and employment.”


The government really does think that the future of careers advice lies with employers getting into schools and giving advice and mentorship to pupils. Employers are central to their plans.   But, Employers can only ever be, at best, one side of the guidance  coin. The other consists of high quality professionally qualified, independent careers advisers, who if you look at the rhetoric, have a bit part in the current vision , hanging onto employers coat tails. This presents a cause for concern. There is neither evidence that employers want to do this nor, arguably, that they are either   equipped or  able to do it. Worse they could exacerbate the problem by offering poor, self-serving selective advice. The key is -look at the evidence of what works here and internationally. This should be evidence led.  Rather obviously its not. Point me to any system where employers are central to giving effective careers advice to pupils.  The Careers and Enterprise Company at present neither has the resources nor clear joined up vision of how best to ensure that all pupils get easy access to high quality  independent careers  education and guidance and that the most disadvantaged are given the direct face to face support they require. By all accounts Sam Gyimah really wants to make a difference and understands the importance of careers guidance, as reflected in his speech. But he needs to look much more carefully at what options can work best on the ground, what resources are available within this system and across departments to ensure pupils are much better supported in schools both in terms of careers education and guidance.  The system now is no different from  what it was  when Ofsted reported  back in 2013. So it is still letting down far too many young people.


The government’s Careers and Enterprise Company announced this month the roll-out of its piloted system of ‘enterprise advisers’ to go into colleges and schools. The plan, announced in July, is for all 39 local enterprise partnerships (Leps) across the country to employ ‘enterprise co-ordinators’ to work with the advisers — with 28 Leps initially taking part from this month. The advisers will work on the co-ordinators’ behalf with schools and colleges, briefing learners about employment options and any vocational training needed to secure jobs, a careers company spokesperson said.