Subject-specific careers advice and education: A case study

Written by: Julia Rogers | Published:
Where to? Each subject at Thistley Hough Academy has created a careers board, showcasing the kind of jobs that study might lead to

A new approach to careers at one school is focused on early integration of careers education to promote subject-specific careers pathways across all year groups. Julia Rogers explains

In my experience careers teaching can be quite dreary. When I became a member of the senior leadership team at Thistley Hough Academy and took over the role as careers lead, my main goal was to shake things up and bring the whole approach to careers and the content more up-to-date.

As an area of deprivation where the traditional industries of pots, pits and steel have declined, in Stoke-on-Trent there is a real need to support students in developing their self-confidence, transferable skills and to raise their awareness of all the opportunities that are now out there, but which were not available when their parents were at school.

With support from our fantastic school careers advisor, Sue, in the summer of 2018 I began thinking about what we wanted our students to experience, what our ambitions should be, and what kind of process we needed to create in order to ensure that delivery was simple and measurable.

I wanted our careers education to be based more around experiences that the students could engage with while at the same time ensuring it was based within the Gatsby Benchmarks – the framework of eight guidelines that define the best careers provision in schools and colleges and which the Department for Education uses as the basis for its statutory guidance on careers education (DfE, 2015).

With calls nationally from the DfE to embed careers education from the first day a child enters the classroom, I began pulling together a long-term plan to integrate careers education into our form time from year 7 onwards, with each scheme of learning providing a solid base for the next year and building on the knowledge from the year before.

In putting the programme together, my priority was to make it as easy as possible for our staff to implement. As such, I broke down how to teach the key skills – for example teaching year 10s about budgeting and finance – through different topics to give it a structure and a formula.

Previously, we had done a lot of the usual things that many schools offer through PSHE days, but there was no structure and so we could not guarantee any continuity of the learning outcomes or prove that what we were doing was building on knowledge the students had already acquired.

However, in taking this approach, the challenge was to avoid creating a programme that was so prescriptive that it becomes little more than a box-ticking exercise for form tutors.

The solution was to set learning outcomes for the form tutors to achieve but to spread these over the course of the academic year and offer the tutors flexibility so they could decide how they met those outcomes.

Below is an edited version of this long-term form planning. For example, our year 7s begin thinking about what work is, then they have the chance to “create a city”, an exercise that involves thinking about all the elements which make up a city. This naturally leads to a discussion about all the different job roles.

Skills education: The long-term form time careers education planning gives tutors flexibility on how they introduce and teach key topics and skills, including employability skills and life-skills such as budgeting

In year 7 students are also encouraged to develop self-awareness by thinking about where their interests lie and how they like to learn, and we then build on this in year 8 when we start looking at all the different routes people have taken to get where they are, from their own form tutors to famous people. They are then asked to think about what they want to do with their life and they make dream-catchers to help set out their ambitions.

Within this schedule there are also very practical sessions looking at everything from writing personal statements and CVs to talking about important issues such as equal pay, budgeting and buying a house.

By year 10, as in many schools, a lot more time is devoted to talking about transferable skills, handling interviews, work experience, talks about further education, and support with applications for Apprenticeships and so on. This is an experience that students feel well prepared for because of the building blocks which have gone before.

In addition to our form time careers education programme we also took the step of appointing a careers co-ordinator for each curriculum area. There are 13 coordinators and their role is to support teaching staff within their subject area to bring their lessons to life through a range of careers experiences, helping to co-ordinate everything from workshops, talks and visits to events, work experience, focus days and challenge days – all aimed at making the range of potential career pathways transparent for each student.

My role is to oversee these projects to ensure they meet the needs of the students and the expectations of the DfE’s statutory guidance (2015).

So far this approach has resulted in some really innovative projects. For example, we have run a joint art and science project in conjunction with The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, where students looked at microbiology through the medium of clay and the part ceramics have played in the fight against bacteria.

Within my subject of design, we have strong links with Staffordshire Precision Engineering, so our students are now putting together a media project with them to help advertise their services on YouTube. As part of that project, students will be given the chance to visit their factory, which is also great experience.

Our year 9 to 11 science students have worked for six weeks alongside medical students from Keele University. They got to go through real patient cases and practise medical procedures, such as taking temperatures and so on. We have found that taking students out of the classroom like this for intense hands-on learning is really impactful and the students certainly remember those experiences.

None of this would be possible without the strong links we have worked to build with a broad range of local employers, beyond simply offering work experience.

We have been able to forge particularly strong links with the NHS, our largest local employer. This led to a health project co-ordinator joining our programme. She is based within our school, works in conjunction with the NHS, and supports our science and PSHE sessions examining issues such as oral health and hydration. She also talks about career opportunities within the NHS and has brought in guest speakers from our local hospital.

We are now planning a targeted careers week where students interested in careers in the NHS can have one-to-one sessions with relevant staff.

We also invited local employers into school for our year 9 options event, where they based themselves within the subject classrooms relating to their business areas. This included the likes of JCB, Novus Property Solutions, Franklyn Financial Management, University Hospitals North Midlands, Staffordshire Precision Engineers, Environmental Essentials and AutoNet. This helped both our parents and students make a direct link between the individual subjects and the range of career possibilities they open. It also gave them the chance to ask employers questions about their business and the opportunities they could offer.

That was the first time we had run the options event in this way and it proved a real eye-opener, not just for our students but also for our staff. For example, we discovered that Staffordshire University had recently launched a degree-level Apprenticeship programme which was perfect for a couple of our students.

The huge range of opportunities available within the NHS was a revelation for many of our students. When students think of the NHS they do not think beyond nurses and doctors, yet there are hundreds of specialisms and roles and our options event allowed them to see all those career pathways and have those one-to-one conversations. For example, we had a medical physicist and students were surprised that you could combine the two different subject areas.

While it is vitally important to come to school and teach children subjects, it is also essential to raise aspirations and their awareness of the opportunities that their studies can open.

At a time when so many companies are closing and there is so much negative press, it is also important for us to highlight that there are many businesses which are thriving and successful. This inspires students to see a clear and achievable future for themselves.

  • Julia Rogers is the careers lead at Thistley Hough Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, which is part of the Creative Education Trust.

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