Careers guidance: Is Ofsted the answer?

Written by: Gerard Liston | Published:
Gerard Liston, director, FORUM Talent Potential CIC

Despite national strategies and the Careers and Enterprise Company’s work, careers guidance continues to be patchy. However, Gerard Liston thinks that Ofsted’s proposed new Education Inspection Framework could change this – even though it doesn't mention careers...

More than a year after the launch of the National Careers Strategy and statutory guidance for schools and more than three years since the Careers and Enterprise Company started its work, is it just possible that Ofsted’s new draft Education Inspection Framework might achieve more than both combined?

Teachers remain under pressure to get through curriculum content or course specifications, leaving many feeling they are on a treadmill. So, it is not surprising that they resist efforts to squeeze in a bit of careers guidance.

In most schools, this remains the responsibility of careers advisers, work experience coordinators and other CEIAG specialists. But perhaps Ofsted has created an opportunity to bring this crucial school activity out of its silo.

Under the heading “quality of education”, the Ofsted framework describes a rich curriculum that gives young people “the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life” and “cumulatively sufficient knowledge and skills for future learning and employment”.

This probably reminds many teachers of the reason they entered the profession in the first place: to help young people fulfil their potential or to discover their place in the world. And, on the other side of the classroom desk, how many pupils still ask: “What’s the point of learning this?”

The foundations for the National Careers Strategy are the eight Gatsby Benchmarks. In its recent report Educating for the Modern World, the CBI effectively advocates Benchmark 4 (embedding careers in the curriculum) and Benchmark 5 (providing multiple encounters with employers) by suggesting that most links between employers and schools are forged at a local level and that employers have a “real opportunity to bring the curriculum to life”.

Further support came recently from secretary of state Damian Hinds when answering a question in the House of Commons: “I also agree ... about the importance of embedding careers deep into the curriculum.”

Bringing schemes of work and classroom topics to life in partnership with local employers involves a culture change. The author of Gatsby’s report acknowledges that “this is the most costly to do well because of the extensive training needed”. It involves switching from a dependency on external careers service providers to capacity-building and professional development within the teaching profession.

This might not happen overnight, but it is achievable. Indeed FORUM Talent Potential’s work (not-for-profit) has shown how a systematic process can both enrich classroom learning and make efficient use of an employer’s time, with projects often having an impact on a whole year group of students. The process starts with a teacher’s brief and ends with sharing good practice.

The draft Ofsted framework now provides “personal development” with a category all to itself, requiring schools to show how their curriculum and wider work helps pupils, “to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence” and how “the provider prepares learners for future success in their next steps”.

This challenges schools to progressively equip each child to make an informed choice about life beyond school, rather than proving the effectiveness of a service provider’s programme or justifying grant funding.

Criticism of the Careers & Enterprise Company by Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee, at a committee hearing in January particularly focused on impact measures, suggesting it, “does no analysis of outcomes – only about inputs. They don’t have any evidence about if what they’re doing is successful after”.

An essential component FTP’s free CPD toolkit is support for schools to monitor each child’s employability learning journey. This involves self-assessment after each employer-enriched learning experience and then making timetable space for self-reflection, which ultimately enables self-expression through a CV, job interview or course application form.

Deciding which skills are important is a challenge, particularly when schools and colleges select frameworks that best suit their students and curriculum plans.

Mr Hinds’ announcement of plans to draw up recommendations for developing “character and resilience” in pupils (February 2019) seems to present an opportunity for some joined-up thinking, when Ofsted appears to be advocating much the same.

It seems there is a glimmer of hope that Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework might actually make careers guidance a priority in all schools – without even mentioning the words.

  • Gerard Liston, director, FORUM Talent Potential CIC

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