Careers and the curriculum

Written by: Gerard Liston | Published:
Careers curriculum: A local councillor launches the challenge focused on the New Wear Crossing to all year 7 students at Castle View Enterprise Academy
"Careers Across the Curriculum"! Need I say more? That said, I suppose all the staff who went ...

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The government has published its long-awaited careers strategy and updated statutory guidance. Drawing on his work with the Unlocking Talent & Potential initiative, Gerard Liston looks at strategies to help us meet the new requirements

Schools can now read the much-anticipated new statutory guidance on careers guidance, which the Department for Education (DfE) issued at the beginning of January.

Based on a national strategy published the previous month, the guidance is more comprehensive than previous versions.
Structured around the eight Gatsby Benchmarks (Good Career Guidance, The Gatsby Foundation, 2014), it gives prominence to the role of employers.

However, without further funding to schools, senior leadership teams are likely to question how they are expected to fulfil the obligation to appoint a “careers leader” with the skills, time and seniority to “ with subject teachers across the school so that careers provision is embedded within the curriculum”, and how, within a couple of years, they will be able to, “...offer every young person seven encounters with employers – at least one each year from years 7 to 13”.

The answer is not to tackle the Gatsby benchmarks as if they are isolated tick-box tasks that distract from a school’s core activity of subject learning.

For example, by combining Gatsby benchmark 4 (embed careers in the curriculum) and benchmark 5 (create multiple encounters with employers), schools can bring subject teaching to life in partnership with local employers. They can create a learning journey that both motivates students to see the purpose of classroom lessons and gives each child tasters of the wide range of opportunities that exist in life beyond school.

Careers guidance is too important to be squeezed into a mixture of drop-down days, packaged activities or a handful of PSHE lessons. Nor should it be the role of isolated champions in a school. It can become a shared responsibility of all teaching staff – probably fulfilling their original ambition when they first entered the profession.

For the past few years – well before it became enshrined in government policy and official guidance – Forum Talent Potential CIC (FTP) has modelled, piloted and rolled-out this approach.

A series of curriculum projects in the North East formed part of the Gatsby National Benchmarks Pilot last summer and the model is being offered to schools across the East Midlands through a £1.5 million local enterprise partnership-funded Careers Local initiative.

The underlying six-step process is highly flexible but does require planning, effort and creative thinking. It also demands a change in mindset and motivation among school leaders to develop and nurture internal capacity, rather than perpetuate a dependency on external CEIAG providers.

Changing the culture of a school does not happen overnight. Teachers are increasingly pressurised to get through extensive curriculum content and focus on attainment and progression. The last thing they want is something else that adds to their burden.
However, they are all likely to identify an existing scheme of work where they struggle to engage students or which involves a “dry topic”.

Spelling out the associated learning objectives is the purpose of Step 2 in the FTP process. Essentially, it asks teachers: “What would you like to be brought to life in your current subject teaching?”

Creating a series of exemplar curriculum projects covering a range of subjects provides a basis for subsequent staff CPD – encouraging other teachers to consider how their own classroom practice might be enhanced and enriched.

The ethos of the FTP process is to plan, develop and share good practice. This peer-to-peer sharing can take place within a school, throughout an academy trust or even across a network of careers leaders.

The careers strategy includes an objective to triple the number of “cornerstone employers” involved with schools to 150. However, small and medium-sized firms make up 99 per cent of all businesses in the UK and experience suggests that small employers are much easier to work with and more likely to form lasting relationships with their local secondary schools.

This bedrock of UK business is unlikely to be concerned about corporate social responsibility, but recognises the potential PR, recruitment and commercial benefits.

The FTP process places employer engagement at Step 4. So, instead of a cap-in-hand request for time-consuming work experience placements or guest speaker sessions, employers are presented with a clearly thought-through rationale about why they have been approached, what they are being asked to do and what might be in it for them.

Matching employers to curriculum projects is not simply a “brokerage” role. It requires both an understanding about classroom practice and the ability to deal with business people. External advisors may lack credibility in the staffroom and teachers tend not to have either the time or – in most cases – business experience.

However, the careers leader is ideally placed to take on this task. With the job description and training programme for these key individuals yet to be agreed, there is potential to create a valuable role.

Current work in the East Midlands shows that each careers leader could easily facilitate around 10 curriculum projects each year. Once employer partnerships are embedded in curriculum learning, they can be repeated. Simple arithmetic suggests each child could easily experience three to four “meaningful encounters” in each year, creating many more than the target of seven stated in the new government guidance.

The FTP process measures the impact of curriculum projects in terms of each child’s development of personal motivation, future aspirations and employability skills. An online form makes this quick and easy in the classroom and provides summary data to support the leadership and management of careers programmes.

More importantly, it provides each child with a record of what they learned from each of their encounters with employers. It is this accumulation of self-assessment records that presents them with an opportunity for periodic self-reflection about their own personal development and prepares them for self-expression – on a CV, in an UCAS personal statement or at an interview situation.

Turning a handful of exemplar projects into embedded practice across the school requires strategic decisions by leaders about the consistent use of an assessment framework and making timetable space for self-reflection. But, it is this commitment that ultimately results in each child being able to make an informed choice about their future education, training or employment, and to see the point of working hard at school.

Case study 1

The English faculty at Castle View Enterprise Academy in Sunderland had been using science fiction scenarios to consolidate and review learning about “writing for an audience and different types of writing” with year 7 students.

The ideal outcome was described as students completing “a series of tasks which assess their ability to write for a variety of reasons. Students produce a range of text types”.

A major construction project just down the road from the school is putting a new bridge across the River Wear. An informal visit to the site office led to discussions with Sunderland City Council’s communications officer for the New Wear Crossing.

Students were asked to respond to the statement: “The New Wear Crossing will take three years to complete and cost £117 million. How will this benefit young people?”

They were provided with background information and a local councillor spoke at an assembly to launch the challenge. Written work could be in the form of a press release, briefing or leaflet and was judged using the faculty’s key stage 3 assessment grid, but also took account of individual effort and creativity in the classroom.

Based on these criteria, a group of students was selected for a VIP visit to the construction site, where they met the project director and asked questions while on the viewing platform.

The project involved the whole year group of 160 students and was the basis for a press release from Sunderland City Council, resulting in local press coverage. Assessment data showed that students had particularly developed team-work skills and learned about opportunities in life after leaving school.

Case study 2

The maths team at Kenton School in Tyneside was exploring fresh ways of teaching statistics with year 8 students and suggested that “a live brief would make this topic much more engaging”. They also wanted a way to show that maths is valued in the workplace.

Emma Banks, the CEO of Datatrial Ltd, was already working with the school as an enterprise advisor (part of the Careers & Enterprise Company’s national initiative). Emma’s company specialises in data management for clinical trials, so was well-placed to support the curriculum project.

Emma also recognised that this project created an opportunity to contribute to careers guidance within a core subject across a whole year group.

The SME partner provided background information about Datatrial’s business and a set of edited statistics from an example clinical trial for students to analyse.

A further challenge was introduced, requiring students to come up with creative ways of displaying the data within the firm’s “nowEDC” software.

A visit at the end of the project by the employer partner provided both a motivation for students and an opportunity for feedback from the enterprise advisor.

  • Gerard Liston is director of Forum Talent Potential CIC. Dozens of case studies are published on the FTP website, which also explains how careers leaders can access the CPD resources. Visit

Further information

  • Careers Strategy: Making the most of everyone’s skills and talents, Department for Education, December 2017:
  • Statutory guidance: Careers guidance and access for education and training providers, Department for Education, January 2018:
  • Good Career Guidance, The Gatsby Foundation, 2014:
  • Creating long-term, sustainable employer partnerships, Gerard Liston, SecEd, January 2017:
  • Employability skills: Unlocking Talent and Potential, SecEd, May 2016:

"Careers Across the Curriculum"! Need I say more?
That said, I suppose all the staff who went through that process, setting up work experience programmes, writing prep and feedback sessions, using employers on Entrepreneurship days, teaching other 'vocational' aspects that some of the 'academic' untouchables thought beneath them, have now retired or moved on! Whatever it is called, it will be when learners, together with their teachers, tutors and lecturers find studying subjects together that can be relevant to their lives, working future and interests - by closing the barrier across Vocational and Academic (vocademia) that will eventually provide all with the motivation to pursue studies throughout life, not just for the purpose of passing exams.
When trust is returned to those who teach, through excellent modern training exams will not be part of the money wasting system in education, because any good teacher/lecturer will know when the learner is ready for the next stage of progression! Look at how it is is done in Finland and other countries who do not constantly use public exams!

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