Monthly Archives: March 2014

National Careers Week 2014 – Day 5 – What is Good Careers Education?

When I started teaching Careers it was because the usual (and truly excellent) member of staff was seriously ill and I was asked to plug the gap until he returned.  Always keen for a new challenge I accepted. I had no qualification other than having taught careers in his department. Up to that point, I followed his suggested lesson plans and just did as I was told.

Then, suddenly, I was in charge. It took me several months to realise just what I had got myself into but I threw myself into the task regardless – and loved it! Naturally, behind every role in school there is a lot of theory and I felt it would be advisable to get a CEIAG qualification so that I felt less like I was sitting on a wobbly stool! I was not a Careers Advisor – but the overseer of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) in my school. This is an important point because you do need to draw on the services of a trained and impartial Careers Advisor in school.  Some schools are using companies like this where services can be bought in for a daily rate. There will be times when you are on the receiving end of questions you can’t answer but your CA can. There’s no disgrace in telling students that you don’t know an answer but that you will find out. A great port of call is this site With loads of pointers, information and resources, you are sure to find help there. Don’t be afraid to point young people in the direction of sites like the National Careers Service ( where they can chat to an Advisor or perhaps your area still has Connexions and their site sometimes has an online chat facility.

There are some key principles of good careers education. Firstly, it should be impartial. It is not your job to make them change their minds. I remember feeling particularly annoyed when one of my Year 10 boys, with a huge potential for enterprise, was told by a Careers Advisor ‘You can do that later in life. What will you do when you leave school then?’

In my area, one of the big problems we had was that other local schools with sixth forms did everything in their power to ‘encourage’ their students to stay at their school and not look at other options. They had a vested interest in keeping their own numbers up. Personal feelings must be pushed aside and children will sometimes have to overcome stereotypical views at home. In one case, a boy told me ‘People like us don’t do University’. His parents had killed off any hope that he, quite a clever boy, might be able to succeed in Higher Education. I disputed this, of course, but his parents’ views won in the end.

One of the hardest areas of Careers Education is expecting students to be realistic. Many are not! How do you help little Billy understand that he probably won’t be able to be a brain surgeon? Left to their own devices, children will want to be pop stars, footballers – or simply just not work as they are going to win the Lottery. Letting them down gently whilst not shattering their dreams is tough. One of the reasons I loved using The Real Game with younger students was that it was governed by five main principles. One of these was ‘Follow your heart’. But this was backed up with a hefty dose of reality and stressed the need to know yourself, be realistic and always have a Plan B. One of my students was a truly excellent footballer. He was selected for Manchester United boys and from that day did no really meaningful work in school. As far as he was concerned, his future was sorted. Why did he need qualifications? Three years later he was dropped from the Junior team and found himself in the predicament of having no qualifications and no experience other than football. There was no Plan B.

As a Careers Co-ordinator or a member of the Leadership team you need to know what your responsibilities are. This document should hopefully clarify your statutory duty:

Although this document focuses on Key Stage 3 and 4, recommendations from other agencies and businesses say that some element of Careers Education ought to be present from Primary school so that young people are more aware of opportunities, their own strengths and weaknesses and have direct experience of the workplace.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given was to be in touch with other schools in the area, meet up if you can and discuss what each school does. This way you can share resources, maybe organise events together to keep costs down and tap into the expertise of others.

Did I provide good careers advice? I hope so. One of the best parts of doing this job is knowing that you have made a difference. Recently I got an email from an ex-student. In it he told me:

“The point of this email was to thank you for your help through school. If it wasn’t for you I don’t think I would have near enough confidence as I do now to walk into meetings with clients and be able to hold my own.”

To me, this is what matters and makes the job absolutely worthwhile.


National Careers Week 2014 – Day 4 – Work Experience

Whether you are working in Secondary school and have to set up a block placement for a group of children or in a Primary school and want to allow children to experience workplaces for a half-day or day visit, you will rely on local businesses to help you with your task.

In Primary school, any school visit will contain a careers thread and relevant questions will help draw out from the children some ideas about working life. I had the joy of visiting some Northumberland schools where they had this down to a fine art. Topic-based learning is particularly useful for Primary careers work. One example was a school where they were looking at food production from farm to fork. As part of this they visited a farm and a baker’s shop. The Careers opportunities were massive and the culmination of this was that the children planted their own wheat, invited a local artist in to make a clay oven in the school garden, harvested and ground their wheat, made bread in the outdoor oven and then ate it hot in the garden. Those children had the opportunity to meet and speak to a farmer, a baker, a shop assistant, a potter and a chef in just a few weeks. These may or may not have been careers that they were interested in but at least it gave them a clear picture of the pros and cons of each job. This type of activity shows the link between careers and enterprise education really clearly.

As far as a block placement in secondary school is concerned, your school may not wish to go through this process. In that case, it would be a good idea to try to build in some type of business experience in a voluntary capacity. It is worth asking your students if they already do this – you might be surprised. Many young people work at local stables or kennels, have a paper round or run errands for elderly neighbours. Some may be young carers and have experience of taking responsibility for a parent, grandparent or younger sibling. Encourage those who do these things to add their experiences to their portfolio. For those who don’t, try to make links locally for options e.g. in charity shops or care homes.

A vital part of work experience is the preparation that happens beforehand. Despite all the organising, if your students don’t have a grounding in and awareness of work skills, they will be at an immediate disadvantage. I have some horrendous personal experience of this and learned my lesson for future occasions. Don’t just assume that they know how to behave in the workplace. The way they dress, speak to people, their attitude and punctuality are so vitally important. The build up to work experience week must cover all aspects of how things should be in the workplace. It is very different to school and they need to know that!

The big headache comes with the block placement week, if your school does this. Again, I was lucky to have the services of the local Education Business Partnership and they took a huge amount of weight off my shoulders – but it is still a big job. We used to send out all of Year 10 en masse. They were prepared for this event weeks in advance and given a set time to find their own suitable placement. I use the word ‘suitable’ as have had some strange requests in the past. One girl wanted to work with a blacksmith and one in a tattoo parlour. Clearly there are limits to what you can do due to health and safety. Placements in hospitals and police stations are limited and those who fully expected to go into a hairdressers and start perming, cutting and colouring had big shocks ahead. In my experience, students who found their own placements were much happier than those who didn’t.

The process is long and difficult and I used to dread the early morning phone calls to indicate that something went wrong, but on the whole the students gained such a lot from the experience. I remember going to see a girl who was working on the shop floor in Iceland. The Manager pointed me in the direction of the staff canteen. There I found her asleep with her head on the table. She could not believe how hard it was, on her feet, working from 9 o’clock until 5:30. Another looked at me as if I were completely insane when I showed her the details of her placement and she had to work Saturdays.  The issue of insurance and health and safety is massive – and yet another reason why I was delighted that the EBP covered that side of things. They were definitely money well spent!

Of course there were success stories, just as in Primary. One girl went to a local dog grooming parlour, to work on the administrative side of the business. She suggested a better way of keeping digital records and set up the system for the business. They were absolutely thrilled and still use her system today. The business owner said she would have had to pay someone to do that for her and so in that particular case it was clear to see the gains to the student as well as the business.

Even though work experience is a mammoth task to organise, it is well worth the time and trouble. Our students kept a diary each day and noted what they had learned and where they felt they could do better. This was then used in feedback after the placement. Having talked this through, it was then an experience they could add to their careers file.

Once back in school, a good work placement or an engaging school visit can be just the encouragement some children need to raise aspiration and work harder to achieve their goals.

In tomorrow’s blog, we will try to ascertain what makes good careers and guidance.

National Careers Week 2014 – Day 3 – Business Links

Where do children find most of their role models? The answer is probably at home or on television. This gives them a fairly limited view of what careers are available to them. At school they are surrounded by teachers – some of whom may well have had previous careers but many have not. Children need to have the opportunity to meet and talk to adults from the world of work in order that they may discover the wealth of opportunities open to them. My personal preference was to invite people into school who broke the stereotypical mould. It was so enlightening for me to see the children’s reactions in some cases.

I was lucky that we had an amazing Education Business Partnership that offered a package of events aimed at different age groups. It wasn’t cheap but was certainly money well spent. The presentations they did were all fun but with a serious message and certainly opened the eyes of the students. Meeting a male nurse and a female engineer helped to widen their horizons and see that the world was indeed their oyster.

Creating good business links takes time and a lot of communication. As teachers, we must remember that business people have jobs to do and for some of them, getting away from that job and giving up time free of charge is almost impossible. We must also remember that there needs to be a gain for both parties. Many businesses worry that students do not have the right skills for their workplace. Creating a link where they can meet and talk to students helps them understand what happens in school and gives them an opportunity to shape what happens. Before any visit is made to school, the teacher and business person must sit down and plan timings, aims and outcomes. Both parties must feel confident that they will gain positively from this venture and have a clear understanding of classroom rules and procedures. I have seen some disastrous business links due to inadequate planning. As teachers, we have to remember that the visitor may not know at what level to speak to children of a particular age group or to vary the activities to prevent boredom. An open and honest relationship is a necessity.

One of my local Academies started inviting local business people in for breakfast. This meant that the business person didn’t have to eat into their working day and students could still attend all lessons as normal. The meetings were fantastic to witness.

Schools have other great resources, untapped in many cases – Governors and parents. Try to create a database of people who will happily come and talk to a class for thirty minutes about their career path – even if it has not been particularly successful. Children will gain as much hearing about a career failure as listening to someone who has really made it successfully. Again though, make sure they know what to expect before facing the children. The only time this backfired for me was when I invited in a successful business man who proceeded to tell the whole class that they really didn’t need to work hard in school because he hadn’t and still did fine. Not really the message I wanted to get across!

Encouraging good links with local business will pay back in spades when you are asked to organise work experience – and that’s my next blog topic.


National Careers Week 2014 – Day 2 – Getting Started

‘Careers and Progression’ – it is a huge area to take responsibility for. This may include whole class teaching, one-to-one guidance, preparation for interviews and CV writing, work experience, business links and a whole raft of other tasks. You will need to keep up-to-date records and encourage the students to do the same. You will need to maintain a library of resources, University prospectuses and local college courses. You will certainly need information about current and predicted job market trends.

If you are in the Secondary sector you will need to establish good relationships with your post-16 and post-18 local providers. If you are in the Primary sector you will need to start them young, thinking about their futures, providing them with people from the world of business to talk to and ensure that they know the options available to them.

These things take time to set up and the best way is to take small steps and build from one year to the next. Here are some ideas for getting started:

Careers noticeboards

One of the best ways I have found of sparking interest in children of all ages is to have a careers noticeboard in school. For Primary, this might be one board in a prominent place, changed regularly with interesting information about a variety of jobs or training opportunities. In Secondary, I like to see a careers board in each subject area, along the lines of ‘What careers can I do with Science?’  I found Heads of Department in Secondary quite enthusiastic about this as it promoted their subject in a meaningful way. It also kept my mail down as when I got flyers or booklets related to a particular type of training or subject, I passed them on to the relevant Heads of Department!

Careers Library

In most cases, a Careers Library can be built up within the school library. One of the best ways to access information these days is via the computer. This also keeps the quantity of paper down in your school. Clearly I am not talking about children randomly finding advice but teachers providing a list of recommended sites to use.

Here are some suggestions of sites which teachers might find helpful:

Student Involvement

Another valuable tool for creating a Careers ethos in school is to encourage the students to build their own portfolio. This could include their hopes and dreams, their strengths and weaknesses, some target setting as well as snippets and print outs of jobs that interest them now which may exist in the future. Help them to gain self-awareness, to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, so that they can create a path that will get them close to their dream but reflect reality. What I mean by this is, it is fine to want to be a footballer, but they need to be aware of the shortfalls – the need for talent as well as hard work, the length of time that the career is viable, the need for a Plan B in case it doesn’t work out.

Despite there being some great resources out there for both online and hard copies of portfolios (which cost lots of money) I found it just as easy to ask them to make a Powerpoint or keep a scrapbook. These methods enabled easy updating and helped them look back to see what progress they had made. Some of my students were immensely proud of their files and took them to College interviews to discuss with the interviewer.

I hope that these ideas could work no matter which phase you teach in. In my opinion, there should be a constant drip feed of careers references during lessons and activities. I would advise an extra box on lesson plans which might indicate where an opportunity to mention careers could arise. For example, during a Mathematics lesson on area, the teacher might ask which jobs rely on the ability to calculate area. Hopefully the children will then come up with several suggestions such as carpet fitter, tiler, roofer etc.  The benefits are two-fold as the child begins to make the link between ‘stuff’ done in school and the real world, whilst the teacher shows that the subject is important in the world of work and beyond.

One of the most important and valuable aspect of careers education (yet one of the biggest minefields if it goes wrong) is business links. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog.


National Careers Week – Day 1 – Introduction

Looking back, I consider myself very lucky to have taught through an era and in a school where Careers Education was valued, supported with funding and timetabled as a discrete subject. I also had access to outside agencies who provided, at reasonable cost, support with business links and impartial advice. We had a good work experience programme, events targeted at each age group, mock interviews, one-to-one interviews and workplace visits. How times have changed.

If you have now been tasked with guiding young people with regard to careers, you may feel alone and confused. You may be left to just ‘get on with it’ and feel that you have neither the expertise nor the knowledge to do the job well. My daily blog posts during National Careers Week 2014 will hopefully give you some ideas and make the role feel more comfortable. Let me add at this point – I am not some amazing Careers Education guru – just a classroom teacher who was thrown in at the deep end and had to learn to swim very quickly.

My own experience was in secondary schools. I loved careers teaching and make no bones about the fact that it was the total freedom to do what I liked that made it so appealing. One morning, I gave Year 11 some Plasticene to play with. It was just meant to be a starter activity. It was a gamble, as they could have seen it as infantile and thrown it at me. But they didn’t. In fact, they loved it and begged me to let them keep ‘playing’. They used the Plasticene to create a picture or a model of what they hoped for in their future. It was hugely successful and we photographed their creations for a display (well, we photographed all except the one created by the boy whose career aspiration was ‘to be a porn star’).  I loved careers because there were no tests to groom for, no rigid plans to stick to and very little interference from outside the classroom. That’s not to say I could forget accountability, of course. At the end of each year, I had to provide information for the school SEF, showing that progression was good and that the numbers of NEETs were falling. I’m pleased to say that during my tenure, both of these improved year on year.

I did have lesson plans, but if someone asked a good and relevant question during the lesson, it was fine to go off track and pursue that topic. After all, the important thing was that students wanted to know more and it would be very wrong to plod on regardless with the planned lesson at that point. The unexpected nature of these lessons was what thrilled me most and kept me going in what was a highly challenging role.

Careers teaching is rather different now, sometimes being covered by class tutors with no real experience other than their own career history. I have known many teachers who groaned as they saw their new timetable and realised that they would be teaching careers. It might be bundled into Personal and Social Education or be hidden away in some other subject or even be the responsibility of every subject area. It may not even be there at all.

So, where are we now? This article from The Guardian is rather useful in summing up and highlighting the changes that have taken place in recent years:

Without that contact, guidance, information and impartiality, how can young people possibly make the best choices for their future? Who will give them the advice they need? Parents? Friends? Naturally I am biased and believe that they really need the right person to turn to for advice and guidance with their careers questions.

If you have been charged with this duty and feel a little lost, I hope that my experience will help you this week and make you feel some of the excitement that Careers teaching can bring to yourself and those who rely on you for guidance. Tomorrow’s blog will look at getting started.