Facing up to the careers guidance challenge

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The government cuts to careers guidance has left schools in the lurch. Our headteacher diarist gives a frank appraisal of her school's struggles to meet the new duty to provide effective careers advice for students.

Each summer I steel myself for the feedback from the parents’ survey which has, it is fair to say, been a little bit more brutal than I would like in the past. 

This summer it was with some trepidation that I opened the attachment from the survey provider. While we have done a good deal of work to address some of the real concerns raised by parents, it is not always easy to shift some of the long-held perceptions about the school and some parents’ views seem to lag behind what is now happening in the school. 

However, I was delighted to see, as I worked my way through the numerous graphs and charts, that we had made significant progress since the previous year.

Despite this, the area with the lowest score was careers advice and guidance. It was no real surprise as our provision (or, if I am honest, lack of provision) has been high on my list of concerns too. 

Our local authority had previously funded all our advice and guidance, via Connexions, for a number of years. In the recent round of funding cuts it was inevitable that careers advice and guidance funding would go and that is exactly what happened. 

I was told not to worry – we would not experience any gaps in provision and that all would be seamless. Initially that was the case; we had visits from advisors who completed in-depth and highly complex audits of need and then disappeared. After a lengthy session of telephone ping-pong, I would be given another advisor who would complete another audit and – you can see where I am going − then disappear.

We have a number of internal strategies to deal with general careers advice and guidance, including all year 10 having a formal job interviews with local employers, students producing CVs and letters of application that are scrutinised by HR staff in larger local employers, and access to the vast array of diagnostic online tools. 

It was meeting the requirement for independent advice that we were struggling with. Not because we had not made the necessary funds available, but because there was no local provision available.

It was around this time that Ofsted issued its comprehensive review of careers advice and guidance. It is actually an accessible and reassuring read, in which school provision that is not too dissimilar to what we are providing is being signposted as best practice. It is the external provision that is being criticised for often being unsuitable, inaccessible and less than effective. 

Surely I am not the only one who sees the inevitable link between lack of funding and the breakdown of external provision. 

Yet again, there is a clear lack of joined-up vision. How can schools be directed to provide effective and timely advice from independent sources when that provision simply does not exist. Yes, we can seek the support of our local business community, but this is difficult in a recession and I fail to see how one profession (namely teachers) are deemed partial when everyone else is not. Is a lifelong accountant, for example, able to be more impartial? I would suggest not.

Back on the day job, I was over the moon when I received a flier about Adviza (why can’t careers companies spell properly?). I immediately booked them for a number of 1:1 days and key events, the first of which was due to take place on results day in order to mop up those students who may need a slight rethink of direction. 

I sat back smugly thinking this was nailed and I had one less thing to worry about. But guess what? The advisor failed to turn up! So, back to the drawing board.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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