Getting careers advice right

Written by: Joyce Rendell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Using the Careers Strategy and the Gatsby Benchmarks as a starting point, Thomas Keble School has developed a wealth of careers education activities to support their students. Joyce Rendell explains

Thomas Keble is a mixed comprehensive school for 11 to 16-year-olds of all abilities. We are situated in beautiful surroundings on the edge of the Cotswolds and serve families from a wide area. Pupil numbers have increased as a result of the many school achievements and its distinctive atmosphere.

We have worked hard at Thomas Keble over the last six years to transform careers education which, in 2014, was recognised by Ofsted as “outstanding”.

The government’s Career Strategy (2017) now presents new challenges for schools and is built around the Gatsby Benchmarks framework.

The eight Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance, first published in 2014, 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 work places.
  7. Encounters with further and higher education.
  8. Personal guidance.

At Thomas Keble we have managed to achieve the Gatsby benchmarks and the careers strategy vision through the Career Mark, which has been awarded to us twice (Career Mark is one of the licensed awarding bodies for the Quality in Careers Standard – the national CEIAG quality award).

The entire careers programme has now been mapped against the Gatsby Benchmarks to show how we achieve them and our programme is always evolving.

We have focused on a curriculum for years 7 to 11 with our careers education embedded into the tutorial work. I devise the schemes of work and produce all of the materials for tutors to use with their tutor groups. We regularly evaluate our work through both staff voice and student voice and respond positively to ensure that we meet the needs of all students.

Staff taking the lead

To ensure that all staff realise the importance of careers education and their own responsibilities towards careers, whole-staff training has been held as part of CPD.

From the small beginnings of a staff working party who designed a range of careers materials, we now have departments who run their own careers events, such as the PE department who hold annual Careers in Sport sessions with a host of different providers talking to students about the opportunities that are open to them in sport and how to achieve these aspirations.

Our modern languages department holds an event with local businesses encouraging students to consider the importance of languages before they make their GCSE choices. Other departments embed careers into their lessons with reference to a range of jobs linked to their subject as well as visiting speakers and theatre groups who talk about their jobs. A whole-school audit has also been completed which maps careers within the school curriculum.

Careers Week

We make every effort to enhance the careers education with additional activities to ensure that careers education remains foremost in the minds of all students. Our employer networks are crucial and, although we are an 11 to 16 school with 750 students we have more than 150-plus employers who support us with events.

We hold annual Careers Week activities, with the help of our Careers Ambassadors from year 9. A host of local employers visit the school during the week to set up their stalls. Furthermore, all key stage 4 students are given the opportunity to chat in depth to the employers during their lessons. This is followed up with key stage 3 students being given the opportunity to chat to the employers during lunch-times. Alongside this I lead key stage 3 and key stage 4 assemblies based on careers as well as the latest labour market information.

Careers Week is a highly successful event and we end with an Apprenticeship Fair targeting year 9 as an introduction to their options procedure. As part of Careers Week, year 7 also invite local employers/employees into school and hold their own “Name that Job” events.

Other activities

Drop-down days are invaluable and help us to achieve the Gatsby Benchmarks. We have year 8 who work on The Real Game – The Next Generation which we have designed ourselves based on the more widely known version.

Year 9 have careers lessons leading up to and during the option procedure including a visit to our local and very large Ambitions Fair which targets all year 9 students within the local area. This is followed up with impartial advice to year 9 from the careers advisor.

In year 10 we hold a day entitled Ask the Professional whereby a large number of employers are happy to be asked lots of prepared questions by the students within a speed dating arrangement.

This is followed up by a post-16 evening event where many post-16 providers from near and far come into school to chat with students and their parents. Four workshops run throughout the evening for parents to opt into – Moving on to Apprenticeships, University Life, Employability Skills, and Moving On.

At the end of year 10 students are given taster days at local colleges/6th form centres prior to their week of work experience which is organised by themselves and can be anywhere in the world – the sky is the limit!

At the beginning of year 11 we hold a Life after Thomas Keble day with mock interviews for all, the opportunity to write a professional CV and personal statement, the chance to find out about how to make college and Apprenticeship applications and the opportunity to find out from Santander how to manage money after the age of 16.

Pre and post evaluations are completed for each event by students and staff which helps us to plan for the future.
All local post-16 providers then speak in a number of assemblies about what they are able to offer post-16. In addition students are issued with a very informative booklet outlining all the local providers and their open days. This is also made available through our website.

Destination data is important to us and we carefully track applications made to colleges as well as the final destinations. These records are maintained to help us work with past students and follow their years after leaving us. Very often these students return to us and help out in a range of ways giving inspiration to our current students.

The careers advisor

The role of the careers advisor is vital within our careers programme to provide personal and impartial guidance to satisfy one of the Gatsby Benchmarks. We are lucky enough to work within a tight cluster of Stroud schools and the careers advisors work two to three days in each school. Our own careers advisor visits for one whole day each week to conduct interviews with students, primarily in year 11 but with additional drop-in sessions for anyone who wants impartial advice.

Selected year 9 pupils also have the opportunity to receive impartial advice regarding their key stage 4 options. In addition the careers advisor is an integral part of the careers team taking part in each drop down day as well as helping to plan and resource the day.

I am also fortunate to be able to work with the school receptionist who coordinates all the local employers who come into school through the year as well as the work experience programme for all year 10 students. In addition she organises the drop-in sessions held during lunch-times with our larger local employers.

A team of people is vital to help a school achieve the Gatsby Benchmarks with all students having a whole range of encounters with local employers and employees.

It is vital that we address the needs of each student. We achieve this with a range of different strategies such as special careers advisor one-to-one meetings with a teaching assistant in attendance, taking students to the local college to introduce them to the new surroundings, and planning for them to do a series of lessons there. We ensure that our Pupil Premium students are organised on suitable courses after they leave us and they have additional one-to-one meetings. Consequently for the past four years we have had 0 per cent NEET.

Leadership support

To enable such a comprehensive careers programme to take place it is vital that the school management team is supportive of the range of events that take place as well as recognising that the Gatsby Benchmarks are the basic framework around which to build.

We always try to ensure our students have “equality of opportunity”. Governors are kept fully informed of all Department for Education publications and how careers education is thriving within the Gatsby benchmarks. We are now viewed as a leader of careers education within Gloucestershire and help other schools with their careers education programmes and we were delighted that all our hard work resulted in the second Career Mark award last year.

Advice to others

What would be my advice to other schools? The most valuable starting points for me are:

  • Produce a whole-school audit to find out where the careers education is currently being delivered – begin with what you have already in place. You may be surprised at how many boxes you are able to tick.
  • Map the audit results to the Gatsby Benchmarks to find out where the missing elements are.
  • Use the missing elements from the audit to form the careers education package for all students. Go out and chat to employers – invite them into school or arrange small group visits to their business sites.
  • All careers events are carefully monitored and evaluated with both students and staff so that development is carefully planned and informed.

I hope that our work at Thomas Keble will spark ideas among other schools to meet the Careers Strategy and the Gatsby Benchmarks to ensure that all students have a well-planned careers education that will be of benefit to them.

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