Careers education: Going above and beyond

Written by: Sian Gresswell | Published:
Experiences: Students from Nottingham Academy are exposed to a range of careers education and inspiration activities, including this visit to nearby Nottingham College (image: supplied)

The Greenwood Academies Trust has implemented a programme of careers education and inspiration that goes above and beyond the statutory requirements. Sian Gresswell explains

When the new leadership at Greenwood Academies Trust came on board they recognised that raising aspirations and broadening horizons was vital to our young people.

We have high levels of Pupil Premium and economic challenges in several of our communities so it is crucial for us to make sure our pupils have access to great role models and that we support them into employment, Apprenticeships or give them a path into university.

We didn’t just want to concentrate on areas of challenge though. The leadership, under Wayne Norrie and his team, wanted to raise the profile of careers and employability across the trust as a whole. They created a role to support this across all academies in the trust and it really appealed to me.

My remit was to create a programme of delivery with a careers lead in each school, from early years to sixth form, so that we could be sure we were doing the best by our students.

Aims of the programme

We want our young people to have information about the workplace and to meet inspirational people in a wide variety of roles. We want to raise their aspirations, challenge stereotypes, we want them to have information about the routes available to them and, crucially, to have the career management skills they need to succeed in the workplace and in their lives. With 17,500 students across the schools, that’s quite a challenge.

Aside from managing this programme and supporting each of the career leads, a part of my role is to create key partnerships with organisations and explore the different funding organisations that exist around careers and employability to make sure we can access all the opportunities that are available for our young people.

We have a statutory obligation to deliver the Gatsby Benchmarks, which were adopted by the government in its Careers Strategy (December 2017), but our aim is to go beyond that. We also think it is important to start this really early on and so we begin at primary level and focus on giving access to a great range of role models that will help broaden horizons and challenge stereotypes.

The eight Gatsby Benchmarks, as featured in the Good Career Guidance report (2013) are:

  1. A stable careers programme.
  2. Learning from career and labour market information.
  3. Addressing the needs of each pupil.
  4. Linking curriculum learning to careers.
  5. Encounters with employers and employees.
  6. Experiences of workplaces.
  7. Encounters with further and higher education.
  8. Personal guidance.

And our own key aims are to:

  • Follow the statutory guidance.
  • Challenge stereotypes.
  • Raise aspirations.
  • Broaden horizons.
  • Make people aware of the pathways available to them.
  • Increase self-confidence, positivity and key employability skills.
  • Improve financial awareness.

Not every academy is the same

We have a strategy that every school in the trust works to but the specifics of how to deliver the objectives is up to our schools. Each school is different and we understand this. We support them by putting them in touch with different businesses and organisations that can help and by letting them know about the different programmes that exist. We are not a trust that wants to make every school fit the same mould, we want our schools to have ownership over what they do. This approach does take longer, but it is more sustainable and it is unique to each school, so people have really bought into it.

Two of the things that we do insist on is that we have a careers lead and that they go through a programme of training. As a trust, we have been part of a pilot for an employability leadership programme with Teach First at secondary level, and by the end of next academic year all our secondary schools will have a trained careers lead.
The programme of training helps to give them a one, three and five-year strategy for how they will implement the Gatsby Benchmarks for all of their students in a sustainable programme. The careers leads receive an accreditation but are also strongly encouraged to work towards an external accreditation because of the impact this could have on their careers. Several of our schools now have the Teach First award and we treat it as a quality assurance measure. This year, the key stage 2 version of the award was achieved by Hazel Leys Academy in Corby, only the third primary school in the country to achieve it.

Apprenticeships, business insight, alumni

We know that some of our students might not want to go to university so we make sure that they have information about Apprenticeships. Frida Nzaba is one of our alumni and she has shared her experiences with us so we can inspire more young women to follow their dreams. She did a business and engineering A level at Nottingham Academy and went on to do a degree level Apprenticeship at Rolls Royce.

She was the first female to achieve degree level in mechanical engineering at Rolls Royce and she’s now an ambassador for them, and a STEM ambassador in Nottinghamshire. She shared her story with Nottingham Girls Academy and the impact was great – hearing from a former student really resonates with them.

We listen to the children to make sure we are giving them access to people who work in the areas that they are interested in. For example, more than 20 per cent of our students said they were interested in a career in sports, so we got the secondary schools in our trust together and invited people from a range of different sports roles so that the students could see the range of jobs available.

Real-life and using businesses for support

We partner with DHL and Capital One, both of whom are large employers in one of our areas. Using them means that we are able to offer insight into different roles within each organisation and we can use the expertise of their staff to help inform our young people. To make sure we are representing all routes, we ask for people who went in as an apprentice as well as via the university route.

In Corby, which is a bit of a cold spot in terms of social mobility, we worked with local businesses during British Industry Week, inviting them in to share their career stories. RS Components is a big local employer in the area and they brought in a virtual reality truck that allowed young people to try different pieces of equipment and think about the careers of the future.

While at primary level it is about raising aspirations, at secondary it is important to wrap everything together with a face-to-face interview to help young people discover where they need to go with the information and hopes that they have.

We make sure we have that in place at key transition points, from year 8 through to leavers in year 13, where we become more targeted with the information and guidance we give them.

Skills for employability and lifelong success

Our Your Character Counts initiative was launched last year and it forms a fundamental part of our careers strategy. We want all our students to have career management skills because we realise it is not just about knowing what you want to do – it is actually crucial to have the right skills to navigate a rapidly changing world. Confidence, independent research skills, team-work and collaboration are all vital.

Key research done on careers and employability education found that if young people have four memorable and meaningful interactions with employers before leaving school then they’re five times more likely to be successful in getting a job. We aim for this as a bare minimum, and doing so has had a huge impact.

Since we started this work, we have seen the impact on our students and it has engaged them with the local business community in a great way. Ultimately our job is to teach, inspire and help young people get the best start in life. To us that means giving them a head-start on what comes after school. Life can be a challenge and we want students to have the skills and information they need to meet that challenge head on. 

  • Sian Gresswell is education advisor for careers and employability at the Greenwood Academies Trust.

Further information

  • Good Career Guidance, The Gatsby Foundation, 2013 (including the Gatsby Benchmarks):
  • Careers Strategy: Making the most of everyone’s skills and talents, Department for Education, December 2017:


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