A menu of careers education ideas for schools

Written by: Glenys Hart & Rosie Beach | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools must meet the Gatsby Benchmarks by the end of 2020. Rosie Beach and Glenys Hart offer a menu of strategies and activities to help you fulfil your statutory careers advice duties

This article aims to give practical advice and ideas to schools to enable them to provide superb careers guidance and inspiration. Like all other successful innovations it requires a whole school approach. The strategies suggested below recognise the continuum on which schools work.

If we use the analogy of a menu, some schools are at the starter phase where the careers issue has been low down the priority list. Most schools are in the main phase and the ideas below will help to improve their offering. Finally there is the dessert, those schools doing an exceptional job – and these strategies will confirm this.

The Gatsby Benchmarks

The Gatsby Benchmarks are a framework that defines the best careers provision. All schools must meet the eight benchmarks by the end of 2020 according to Department for Education statutory guidance (DfE, 2018).

The benchmarks are:

  • A stable careers programme.
  • Learning from career and labour market information.
  • Addressing the needs of each pupil.
  • Linking curriculum learning to careers.
  • Encounters with employers and employees.
  • Experience of workplaces.
  • Encounters with further and higher education.
  • Personal guidance.

More than 3,000 schools and colleges are now using Compass, the self-evaluation tool developed by Gatsby and the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC), giving us a good idea of the progress being made to achieve these eight benchmarks.

For starters...

The CEC analysis of Compass (2018) shows that the average number of benchmarks currently achieved by schools and colleges is 2.1. Schools below this level are at the starter phase. Here is a checklist:

  • Are staff familiar with the Gatsby Benchmarks?
  • Has the school used the Compass tool?
  • Do you know which benchmarks you are making good progress towards and which areas are your weakest?
  • Has the statutory guidance on careers guidance and access (DfE, 2018) been read?
  • Has the school carried out a simple audit of current career provision, then classified it by term and year group (using a red, amber and green rating system will help make things clear)?

The main event

According to the Compass analysis, around 20 per cent of schools are meeting half of the Gatsby Benchmarks and making good progress. Analysis suggests that careers leadership, clear strategy and resourcing are all key. Here is a checklist of ideas – how many are you delivering?

Careers-related events

Careers-related events are offered to students in all years, helping younger students to understand what skills and experience that they might need. These might include:

  • Careers fairs where students can visit around 20 exhibitors – local further education colleges, sixth form colleges, small and large businesses and nearby universities.
  • Along similar lines, Future Focus information evenings allow schools to invite a range of exhibitors to give students and their families a chance to learn more about post-16 options. Aimed at years 9, 10 and 11, the evenings allow students to better their understanding of next steps. Schools can invite younger students, including from feeder primary schools, too.
  • “Meet the Employer” events for year 11 students considering an Apprenticeship, including advice and information regarding the range of post-16 options.
  • Options evening and careers information in year 9. Students and parents/carers can learn more about what GCSE, BTEC and other courses are on offer. The evenings can be a mixture of presentations, informal discussions, and hands-on careers workshops. The evenings also allow teachers to keep up-to-speed with what options are out there.

Careers-related activities or lessons

  • A “Girls Week” as part of International Women’s Day celebrations could see students from all years take part in a week-long programme based on equality issues and breaking down career and gender stereotypes.
  • Students can be prepared for STEM careers through Citizen Science projects, which engage the public in scientific research, whether that be community-driven research or global investigations.
    Inspiring the Future is a free service for state schools to recruit volunteers doing a range of jobs to come and share their knowledge and experience with students face-to-face.
  • Personal and social education programmes can be designed to provide careers support. In one school, year 8 students have opportunities to participate in a variety of careers-related activities, including interviewing a local employer and taking part in “The Real Game”, a software programme showing the relationship between lifestyle, learning and earning.
  • In preparation for choosing their GCSE options, all year 9 students complete a careers and options module as part of PSHE using Kudos software to aid career exploration.
  • From year 9 onwards, each student has an annual meeting with a member of staff during which information and guidance as to future steps is offered (parents are also welcome).
  • During year 10, students prepare their own CV and experience a mock interview with a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, who offers feedback on the CV and interview performance. Students take on a week of work experience, too.
  • Year 12 students use Unifrog software to research various occupations and the further training requirements.
  • Year 12 students can receive email reminders of forthcoming university open days and occupational taster days.
  • Career Passports keep a record from year 6 to 13. Teachers can then understand changes in students’ planned careers. It is important that students are encouraged to recognise that working, listening to and discussing with experts in their field can have an impact on their choices.

Other careers provision

  • Engage with your nearest education and business partnership. They are normally open to all schools and offer support to both students and teachers, focusing on themes such as bringing the curriculum to life and work-ready skills.
  • Some schools have set-up careers departments which help to prepare students by working to raise motivation levels and awareness of current and future life choices. They also offer support with transitions and access to higher education, and help to develop students’ skills and talents for employment.
  • Many schools now have careers libraries including specialist careers software and resources.
    In year 11 tutors play a key role in helping students to decide on the next stage of their education or training and are supported by up-to-date resources, including information about current occupational trends. This requires staff to have on-going training and support.
  • Suitable Apprenticeships and training vacancies can be advertised to year 11 students regularly.
  • Year 13 applications to higher education can be supported by the sixth form team, who need appropriate support and on-going training. Students considering alternative routes receive email updates about opportunities. Workshops are run to offer interview and CV support.
  • The Mansfield Learning Partnership created “Career Champions”, whereby businesses commit to undertaking at least one activity each year to develop students’ employability skills.
  • Consider membership of CEGNET, an online community for teachers and careers professionals. Its Leading and Managing webpage offers various documents including a guide to evaluating your careers programme and advice on inspecting careers advice in schools.
  • It may be useful to join the Career Development Institute, a UK-wide professional body.
  • Signpost students to the National Careers Service, which in 2014 extended its offer to young people aged 13 to 18 to include local support for schools and colleges.

Dessert: The cream of the crop!

A present there only 21 schools meeting all eight Gatsby Benchmarks (CEC, 2018). Ideally they will get accreditation through a quality mark, support other schools, and receive a positive Ofsted report under the new Education Inspection Framework from September.

There are two main quality marks. The Quality in Careers Standard is the national quality award for CEIAG. Another award to consider is the Career Mark, which is validated by the Quality in Careers Standard Board (QiCS).

A feature of highly successful schools is their ability to share and network and respond rapidly to change.

More careers advanced schools are reaching out to include local primaries and other secondary schools in their activities.

They are also using apps to complement their work. Examples include ThinkUni (bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes) and Thewayup (a game to inform students about different graduate career paths).


The challenge we have is to make careers activities relevant, engaging and inspirational and to ensure that advice is threaded into students’ daily school experience from Reception to year 13.

Pupils can begin to think about the careers open to them from their first day at school – from the people that help them cross the road, to teachers and secretaries to newly emerging industries which, at the time of writing, might include drone operators, driverless car crash investigators, carers for re-engineered extinct animals, hydroponics technician and who knows what else...

  • Glenys Hart is an experienced education consultant and author, who has written a number of articles about careers advice in schools.
  • Rosie Beach is an independent education consultant and former careers practitioner.

Further information & resources


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