The state of school career guidance in the UK

I spoke recently at a North East Chamber of Commerce event about a subject that is really important to me. School career guidance and advice.

You see, careers guidance has long been ridiculed as a simplistic predictor of careers that individuals might be suited to. We’ve all heard the stories: Good at maths? Become an accountant (Why not a quantitative market researcher?) Good at Physics? Become an engineer (why not a computer games developer?) But despite the drawbacks of really bad careers advice, the profession as a whole remains far better than the alternatives.

What are the alternatives? Well they could involve either of two options:

  • No effective provision – meaning those with good family connections get insight into careers and figure it out for themselves, whilst those at the lowest end of the (still relevant) social and economic spectrum do not. Thus, some people have no way of making informed decisions at critical stages in their academic career, and the existing inequalities are exacerbated.
  • External support is utilised but it is partial and it is biased. Even the government, with its evangelical belief in ‘external’ provision acknowledges in the Statutory Guidance that this provision should involve multiple sources that, taken together provide the full range of options.

One major myth that needs to be challenged is that ‘external’ and ‘impartial’ are synonymous. In-house careers advice can be good or bad, depending on whether or not they are professionally qualified and have links to the ‘world of work’ that keep their advice well-founded. External suppliers can have limited viewpoints since they speak from experience of a narrow range of industries or sectors, or even a vested interest e.g. they recruit apprentices or they represent a single training option or provider. These forms of bias are so easy to spot. And they transcend the ‘in house’ vs ‘external’ dichotomy.

My contribution

So I wanted to talk about three key themes:

  1. What is the role of business in school careers provision?
  2. Key things to consider when engaging business
  3. How to get the relationship right

You can see my presentation on the NECC website at:

https://www.necc.co.uk/events/131/linking-business-with-education  – see ‘Graeme Jordan presentation’.

What is the role of business in school careers provision?  

The role is clearly set out and unanimously agreed in all of the expert reports and contributions from the education profession.

  • It should be to provide guidance and not advice, unless both of the following apply:
    • They are qualified careers advisors
    • They are not working in a position that represents a conflict of interest
  • Businesses should support the careers plan that can only really be developed by in-house education professionals. 

Key things to consider

  • You must carefully select which people from the ‘world of business’ to use. The fact that they work in a business or public sector organisation is not sufficient qualification. It must be ensured that they are not speaking outside their area of expertise, not simply giving their opinion and not contravening the obligation to avoid discrimination such as stereotyping. It should never be assumed that this will occur automatically.
  • Provision has to be focussed on student needs (hence coordination and planning).
  • It can consider employer needs; but it must consider all rather than some employers (two thirds of the workforce work for small companies!) and it must consider long term, not just short term interests.

 How to get it right

This basically involves not confusing or conflating terms. ‘Information’ and ‘education’ have to be impartial but tailored to individuals where possible. ‘Guidance’ covers a multitude of different issues around careers and can therefore be delivered by the widest range of different experts. ‘Advice’ on the other hand should be completely individually based, impartial and delivered by a relevant professional.

Nothing difficult or controversial here – and yet this is not a description of the current situation!

What do the experts say?

My literature review uncovered the following key themes:

  • Impartiality is vital but it is not being protected by government policy. Indeed the government policy forces external provision with absolutely no criteria for ensuring quality of expertise.
  • Whilst external provision can add great value, it should be coordinated by an impartial in-house professional to ensure best results.
  • The main considerations revolve around students being facilitated to make informed choices at key times in their academic career. This is done for the sake of their long term future first, and the state of the economy second. Thus, the best outcome is achieved for everyone. Equality and social inclusion naturally result from this approach.
  • Employers have a specific role in good ‘Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance’ – but not as the central provider. Their role is to provide any or all of: General guidance on the realities of the ‘world of work’, insight into particular careers that they know about and employability skills.

The Gatsby benchmarks for example involve multiple ways of saying that provision should be embedded in the curriculum, individually based and diverse in its coverage.

So the key thing is that it’s great to have employers talking about whatever it is that they specialise in. But let’s not pretend that this is a substitute for careers advice.

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Graeme Jordan

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CV Writer and Interview Coach. Blogging about ways to improve your CV writing and job searching experience.