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Is giving careers advice an Ofsted rating a bad idea?

Parliamentary committees seem to be having an education moment. Hot on the heels of the economic affairs committee’s report on the inherent inequities of post-school education, comes news today in Schools Week of the public accounts committee’s concerns about the quality of careers advice in schools.

Edge shares those concerns. We have long been advocates of the value of quality careers information, advice and guidance – especially for more disadvantaged youngsters without the social capital of their better off peers – and champion the importance of profound employer engagement opportunities. We also recognise that provision is often patchy.

When the Coalition Government dismantled the Connexions careers service, not a penny of its £450m annual budget went to schools. Even allowing the Treasury to cream off 20%, each secondary school in the country could have had £106,000 a year to invest in careers advice and work experience programmes.

Instead, the burden of responsibility shifted onto schools and already hard-pressed teaching staff without any additional resources. At the mercy of a government invested in a curriculum designed in the 1900s which measures success solely by exam grades, teachers are inevitably under pressure to prioritise core EBacc subjects and train students how to pass their GCSEs. In many schools, critical creative and technical subjects such as art, design and technology and music have been forced off the timetable, so where is the room for careers advice?

Furthermore, teachers are not careers advisors. Many will have little experience of work in sectors outside of academia and teaching; most tell us they simply don’t feel confident talking about apprenticeships or other options. The Careers and Enterprise Company has been criticised for investing heavily in research, but delivering little on the ground leading to rumours it may be disbanded.

Using the Ofsted stick makes for a very blunt instrument to address a complex issue. In Our plan for 14-19 Education, Edge shares some of the best examples of initiatives to embed workplace skills in the curriculum and link learning in the classroom to the skills needs of the local economy. Building meaningful relationships between schools and businesses not only makes opportunities to meet and engage with employers and work experience more viable, but allows industry to feed into the curriculum and develop the talent pipeline so many sectors are desperate for.

For the last three years, Edge has partnered with Inspiring the Future to run Career Footsteps events in schools. Professionals who have experience of vocational education, training or an apprenticeship share their insight and career story with students in the classroom. It’s a great way to introduce young people to jobs they may never have thought of and demonstrate that you don’t have to go to university to have a brilliant career.

Inevitably, these events are most impactful in schools in poorer areas; youngsters in more affluent neighbourhoods will already have a wider breadth of high-skilled professionals in their family and social circle. Ofsted ratings are often seen as flawed because they can fail to take context into account; if evaluation of careers advice is added as another tick box, it will be similarly inadequate.

The Excelsior Academy in Newcastle is one of the schools to pilot the Gatsby Benchmarks. The school has facilities for on-site training, for example in construction, a key local industry and actively promote apprenticeships, some in roles in the school itself such as communications and catering. They work in partnership with local businesses like Virgin on projects which, not only cover key curriculum areas such as maths, but enable students to develop skills such as communication, team work and resilience.

The best careers information, advice and guidance should open up young minds to possibilities in the local community and beyond, challenge stereo-types, encourage ambitions and dreams and provide practical, insightful information on the different routes to help achieve them. It should be an intrinsic part of a holistic education, not just an hour squeezed into the curriculum in order to meet yet another government target.