Julie Ashton, senior Her Majesty’s inspector, and Nigel Bragg, Her Majesty’s inspector, explain why good-quality careers guidance should be available to help young people make informed decisions, and outline what Ofsted looks at in inspections when it comes to careers education
Not so long ago, the career decisions we made as teenagers set us on a path that lasted until we received our free bus pass. For many, the days when we had a job for life are now long gone, yet it’s fair to say that the career decisions we make as young adults are still important.
We can all agree that careers guidance matters. Schools and colleges have a vital role in preparing pupils and young people for life beyond education, and that is not just limited to exam grades.
But if you’re a school leader, how can you make sure that the guidance you offer your students is high quality?
First, let’s be clear what we’re talking about. Careers education means pupils in schools and students in further education colleges and other providers learning about different kinds of work. Sometimes this is by gaining experience of different workplaces, whether that’s a factory, office or something else. It means offering pupils and students a range of support and resources about future jobs and face-to-face careers advice, too.
Careers information, advice and guidance
Careers information includes resources about courses, occupations and career paths. In short, it’s the information that young people need to explore large and rapidly changing career options, many of which simply did not exist before smartphones became ubiquitous.
Careers advice involves more in-depth explanation of information and how to access it and use it to make decisions.
And then we have careers guidance, which helps pupils and students think carefully about their skills and interests. It’s a process that allows a young person to develop realistic career aspirations.
For example, let’s take a pupil named Anna, who gets the opportunity of working in a police station one day a week for two months. She finds forensic science particularly interesting. She then has to think carefully about that line of work. Is it competitive? Does Anna have the ability and drive to gain the necessary qualifications? And if she doesn’t succeed, what are Anna’s alternative career options?
Good-quality careers advice clearly matters to young people like Anna, but school leaders have a legal duty to provide it, too. Since September 2012, schools and colleges have been legally responsible for securing access to careers guidance for pupils between Years 8 and 13. This applies to academies and free schools as well.
I should stress that Ofsted approaches inspecting careers education in the same way we approach inspecting schools and colleges generally. We do not have a tick list. We are not here to check on compliance. What we do care about is that whatever you offer to students serves them well and gives them the information and support they need to succeed.
High-quality careers support
In our inspection handbook, we offer a clear description of what "good" and "outstanding" careers education is. It stresses, under "leadership and management", the importance of "high-quality, impartial careers guidance that helps pupils and students to make informed choices about which courses suit their academic needs and aspirations".
Research shows that good-quality careers guidance can:
- Inspire young people to succeed in their chosen careers;
- Lead to better exam results – those who have a clear career goal do better at exams than those who do not;
- Increase pupils’ knowledge of the world of work;
- Reduce young people’s anxiety about the future;
- Help to improve social mobility.
We are currently consulting on the education inspection framework, which will take effect in September. We’ll continue to place just as much emphasis on good-quality careers education under our new inspections.
The Gatsby benchmarks
In the meantime, if you are looking for practical guidance on improving careers education, then you could do worse than check the Gatsby benchmarks. These say that an effective careers programme is one that is stable and structured, and has the full backing of school leaders. The benchmarks have been effective since January 2018. They are published online, so that parents and employers can read them. The programme is regularly evaluated with feedback from pupils and students.
We welcome all feedback on our own proposals. We’d like to encourage anyone with an interest to respond to our consultation before it closes on 5 April.