What does the phrase “a good job” mean? How can CEIAG guidance in schools help students to aspire towards and obtain such a job? Clive Hill presents his view in his latest article for HWRK Magazine…
Careers advice has changed over the last decade, and despite the push from stakeholders involved in education we still see lower levels of engagement and success in higher education from those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. As a sector we seek to address the inequality within society by steering students towards university, and miss the real aim of careers advice. The Gatsby benchmarks do little to address this because they fail to address the needs of communities in areas of social deprivation. Delivering an effective careers programme in these areas needs to be more than a box-ticking exercise for Ofsted.
In 2013, Sir John Holman was commissioned with leading the Gatsby Foundation’s report on good career guidance. The aim of the report was to produce firm actions which had the ability to improve careers education, information and guidance (CEIAG) in England. Upon the report’s completion, the Good Career Guidance report presented “The eight Gatsby benchmarks of Good Career Guidance”; more commonly known as ‘the Gatsby benchmarks’ that would establish a good CEIAG guidance provision in England when measured by international standards. The Gatsby Benchmarks have been fully embedded into the 2019 School Inspection Handbook where Ofsted inspectors assess whether a school is “providing an effective careers programme in line with the government’s statutory guidance on careers advice…”. These eight benchmarks require consideration of their efficacy themselves. While they form the framework in which schools operate, due to the nature of Ofsted inspections, they are not all fit for purpose without consideration to the impact they have on school-communities.
Current research and literature linking CEIAG and social inequality is aimed at addressing the needs of individual students within a cohort. In many communities in England and Wales the socioeconomic demographics of a cohort present inherent challenges for schools serving them.
Teach First, the Education Endowment Foundation, and Careers and Enterprise Company have all carried out extensive reports to look at the efficacy of CEIAG education. While these are comprehensive in their nature, there is an absence of advice produced by these reports on how CEIAG education should be structured in order to be effective in areas of social deprivation.
CEIAG is the unfortunately pragmatic bedfellow of the education system. I’m a firm believer that education has its own worth, and should be enjoyed by all; I’m also a realist. The narrative around those living with social disadvantage comes from a middle-class positionality.
Literature from organisations such as Teach First uses terms such as “good job/employment” to address social disadvantage. Successive governments have argued for universities to address disparity regarding access to degrees for these students. But the problem with the terms used is that without firm definitions agreed, the lenses through which those terms are read are not the same for all people.
Yet, we have a definition, from the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices and the DBEI’s Good Work Plan. I believe that by adopting these principles we can all have a shared vision of what a “good job” looks like – good pay; participation and progression; wellbeing, safety and security; and voice and autonomy. By doing this we can prevent students from disengaging from education because they feel that a trade or apprenticeship is the best-suited route for them, rather than university, when it may not be.
This is not to say we shouldn’t be opening up the world of graduate careers to students in these areas. In fact it is crucial to present all the options available to students and their families (working with parents and carers is critical for real success), so that they can make truly informed choices about their futures.
Schools that are invested in breaking the cycle of social disadvantage need to ensure that the opportunities to engage with employers and universities are filled with purpose – simply putting on an external speaker doesn’t pass muster. Students need to be sold the point of these sessions. All too often these are put on KS4, after options have been taken, and the boat has been missed regarding ‘informed choices’.
CEIAG needs to start earlier; much earlier than the statutory Y8 proposed by Gatsby. Primary schools have a part to play in this; there’s evidence that student career choices are affected by their knowledge of employment opportunities though limited networking opportunities in their social circles; this is also a great place to start challenging stereotypes. This broadening of horizons needs to be carried on in secondaries, where engagement needs to be seamless right from the beginning of Y7.
Obviously this leaves those working in education in a difficult position. We have the evidence to show that graduate careers provide the best opportunities for social mobility, positively affecting health, life expectancy and life-time earnings. However, we also risk removing student voice, and damaging self-concept by not respecting the choices of the full range of students and families in our communities. I would argue that there is a time to park our inner-academic egos, and understand that our role is more than passing on a passion for our subject, but also to enable those in our charge to make informed decisions regarding their futures.
Admittedly, I do have a personal perspective here; I was one of the students from a socially deprived background – a living example of one of these statistics. I was written off at secondary school, as I wasn’t someone that was destined for university. I dropped out of sixth-form to take up an engineering apprenticeship in the Army. I’m a “black-hand trade”, that trade was key to me changing my outlook on learning and aspirations. It was only this year that during a presentation to a group of teachers that I checked myself as I said “I’ve never been an academic…”; this was a blatant lie. Three degrees, one of which involved research into the efficacy of careers provision in areas of social deprivation, were there on the board for me to reflect on.
Yet, right there at the start of it all was seventeen-year old me, learning how the internal combustion engine worked, and wanting to be the best mechanical engineer that I could be. I just needed to find my first steps in believing I could be really good at something – this is the role of the classroom teacher in CEIAG; to nurture the drive and passion of students and help them make the choices that will gain them “a good job”.