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 http://www.isco.org.uk 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 http://www.outstandingcareers.co.uk. 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 (https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/Pages/Home.aspx) 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:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/careers-guidance-for-young-people-in-schools

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.

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