Careers education is too important not to be compulsory, and too important to leave to busy, cash-strapped schools. Ruth Gilbert offers an alternative for delivering the Gatsby benchmarks
Despite the Gatsby benchmarks, careers education tends to get bundled in with all the things schools are told they should do but don’t have time to. But calls to simply enforce the benchmarks miss the point. It’s a question of capacity, and where that capacity is going to come from. Failure to answer that question is bad for young people and for our future economic prosperity.
The fact is that the £7.5 million invested by government into careers education hardly scratches the surface of what’s needed. Beyond renewing virtual ‘career hub’ brokering services and maintaining highly unequal employer engagement, without additional funding there is little hope of delivering equal opportunities for young people to make informed, impartial decisions about their future.
Amanda Spielman’s reported comments about heads ‘squandering’ any extra money they might get in the upcoming budget may have gone down badly with cash-strapped schools, but the fact is that until careers education is a core, time-alloted activity, there is no way to ensure it is delivered at all, let alone well and equally across the country.
Yet when it comes to pressure on schools and teachers, there is little worse than curriculum change. Every interest group out there wants to see the bee in their particular bonnet reflected in what schools teach. I’m no different in that sense, but careers education really is, for two reasons: first, because it is intimately entwined with aspirations, motivation and attainment, and second because, with the greatest respect to the teaching profession, it can’t be left to them. It is a constantly evolving field, and different in every locality, and no teacher training could ever adequately account for it.
It is up to employers to get involved
Excellent career education tailored to local need requires industry experts. We can’t expect teachers to be specialists in data analytics, engineering, healthcare professions, sustainable green technology, cyber-security, digital construction and the many other industry areas with huge skills gaps (and, consequently, huge career opportunities). In fact, it is asking too much of them to even keep up with the evolving jobs market, let alone to communicate it to students and their parents.
If there is a lack of clear, coherent, industry-relevant information getting through to the people who we need to fill these jobs in the future, then it is up to employers to get involved. For most, that is a local and/or regional concern, and what the schools sector needs is to be able to respond and engage at that level too – not individually as is currently the case.
That’s why careers education could be exactly the kind of national curriculum shake-up the school system needs. If we agree that more time must be dedicated to inspiring young people about current and emerging careers opportunities, and that the time must come from industry, then the upshot can only be workload reduction for teachers. As a previous teacher and principal, I know how important that is.
Today, I work with Manor Property Group, who are spearheading a unique development in Melton, Yorkshire. Their Qdos Careers Hub will serve its region by offering impartial and diverse careers advice in a purpose-built, modern work environment, meeting local skills needs and delivered by industry experts. The cost of building and setting up the hub will have no pull on public purse strings as the full capital costs are funded by Manor, along with the revenue costs for a two-year pilot, demonstrating impact and with independent evaluation.
Given a per-pupil rate of careers education funding and a compulsory time allocation, it’s a vision for a sustainable model like we’ve never seen before. Ultimately, a network of similar hubs throughout the country would be good for our economic prosperity, and ensure it is shared fairly across the country. It would be good for schools and teachers, and reduce the pressure they are under to serve multiple purposes. Most importantly, it would be good for students, for whom informed decision making about the future is such an important determinant of success.