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'Heads want to provide top-class careers education. But the money isn't there'

Like the new education secretary, students want to enjoy the thrill of careers success – and the chance to make a difference, writes the NAHT general secretary. Especially in Brexit Britain, the government must make the funds available

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Like the new education secretary, students want to enjoy the thrill of careers success – and the chance to make a difference, writes the NAHT general secretary. Especially in Brexit Britain, the government must make the funds available

The cabinet reshuffle this week has meant new jobs for lots of Conservative MPs.

By now, they will all be settling down, almost certainly relishing new challenges, possibly worrying about grasping their new brief, probably thinking about how to get off to a good start. Just like anyone else would in any new job.

That mix of excitement and fear, of anticipation and anxiety, is a healthy feeling to experience. It tells you that you’re in a job that matters and that just maybe, if you get stuck in, you’ll be a success. It’s a feeling that all young people studying in schools and colleges today deserve the chance to experience for themselves one day.

I can’t imagine that too many young people dream of being a government minister eventually but there are plenty of other options, in engineering, in science, in business, and yes, in teaching. 

It is in schools where young people first think in detail about what they might become when they are older. That's why it's vital that we get school-based careers advice and guidance right. We need to show all young people that anything is possible.

I didn't get that kind of assistance at school myself. Instead of helping me make up my own mind about what I wanted to be, my teachers made their minds up about me and pushed me towards a manual trade rather than an academic path. We can’t allow that to happen in 21st-century Britain. Schools have to be the places where we break the cycle of low aspiration. And there's no stronger weapon for that than the quality of teaching that you get.

Brexit is hurtling our way. Education is the key that will unlock future success. 

At the end of 2017, the government published its UK Industrial Strategy, setting out a vision for a post Brexit Britain. The prime minister said clearly that one of the goals of the strategy was to ensure that: “There is a clear and ambitious plan to help young people develop the talents they need for high skilled jobs.” I totally agree that without investing in our young people an industrial strategy won’t get past the starting blocks.

The end of the year also saw the publication of the long-awaited Careers Strategy, followed this week by statutory guidance for schools on how they should deliver it. This is the key to creating the linkages between a great education system, and meeting the skills that our country needs and on the whole, it’s a very good strategy. At least, it’s very good in identifying what good practice looks like and what should happen.

I’m particularly interested in what it means for my members running schools. I was pleased to see recognition of the need to start raising aspirations, particularly in disadvantaged areas, in primary education. Our own Primary Futures partnership with the Education and Employers Trust has shown the impact that bringing employers into schools can have in terms of raising awareness of what jobs exist, but also in terms of adding meaning to what pupils are learning.

The strategy also sets out some strong objectives for delivering careers programmes advice: that every school should have a designated careers lead with the skills to deliver a role that the DfE plans to define; that schools should offer every young person seven encounters with employers – at least one each year from Years 7 to 13; that schools offer pupils encounters with Stem employers; that every school and college meet the Gatsby Benchmarks for careers programmes.

The DfE also announced plans to increase the importance of careers provision in schools in the accountability system as they plan to “consider coverage of careers provision as part of the development of any planned changes to school and college inspection arrangements which will take effect from September 2019”.

What the strategy seems to assume is that each secondary school already has a team of dedicated careers experts to take on all these new responsibilities and deliver to this new accountability framework. It seems to assume this is in place because there’s no funding for schools to create it from scratch. There’s funding for the Careers and Enterprise Company to work with schools in the most disadvantaged areas, and there are new resources that schools will be able to tap into, but really nothing to support them to deliver these new obligations.

The reality before 2015 was that schools’ resources to deliver careers programmes were often ad hoc and over stretched, but since the funding cuts, those resources are even more scarce. We don’t have a dedicated careers team in most schools, we have a teacher who might deliver a few hours of careers programme alongside their other responsibilities. A teacher who is unlikely to be a specialist or to have received training. Our members would love to have the resources to be able to deliver this. Like me, they’re clear that what’s set out in this new careers strategy is what we need to improve the employability of our young people, to create opportunities for all young people and make sure that they are clear about the choices open to them.

This is the right thing to do, but it must be funded or it simply won’t happen. School budgets are at breaking point – creating a new set of obligations, building them into the accountability framework and then standing back to see what happens won’t work.

This, I suspect will be the way of things throughout 2018. The government has good ideas, supportable ideas, on social mobility, on mental health, and on careers. For school leaders, the issue is not one of opposition to the government's plans. It will be one of persuasion; to put the money behind these good ideas, to make sure they work, and to make sure that every young person has the same opportunity, no matter where they come from.

Paul Whiteman is general secretary designate of the NAHT headteachers’ union. He tweets @PaulWhiteman6

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