Report finds mixed picture for careers education

Schools have improved their progress towards the Gatsby benchmarks for careers education, but are struggling to engage their students with a full range of further and higher education providers. These are among the findings of a new report Careers education in England’s schools and colleges 2020 from the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC). The report also examines how careers education has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The CEC was established in 2014 by then education secretary Nicky Morgan to drive improvements in careers education, and improve links between employers and educational providers. It also oversees a network of Careers Hubs, groups of secondary schools and colleges which collaborate to help each other meet the eight ‘Gatsby’ benchmarks of good careers education. Overall the report shows that across England performance towards all eight of the Gatsby benchmarks has doubled since 2016/17 - when schools and colleges achieved 1.87 of them on average – to a figure of 3.75 on average as of March 2020. The latter figure rises to an average of 4.8 when looking only at schools and colleges in Career Hubs.

However, in March 2020 just 47 per cent of schools which were part of Careers Hubs were fully meeting the benchmark for encounters with further and higher education providers. This benchmark sets a target for every pupil by the age of 16 to have had a ‘meaningful encounter with providers of the full range of learning opportunities, including sixth forms, colleges, universities and apprenticeship providers’. Even fewer schools outside Careers Hubs met this benchmark, with 26 per cent of schools in the wider CEC network doing so, and just 13 per cent of schools outside the CEC network. Success in engaging with education providers compared unfavourably with how schools were meeting the benchmark for encounters with employers, with 75 per cent of schools in Careers Hubs achieving the latter in March 2020. The figure for schools in the wider CEC network was 55 per cent and for those outside the network 39 per cent.

The report argues that the public investment in careers education via the CEC is making a difference to young people and improving the quality of careers provision. It cites the increased performance of schools in meeting the Gatsby benchmarks, and especially the figure being higher for those in Careers Hubs, as evidence. However, the report also notes that the coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive to careers education in schools and colleges. A survey of schools and colleges in the summer term found 61 per cent of Careers Leaders (the professionals responsible for the delivery of a school’s careers programme) said they had not been able to deliver the same quality of careers provision as prior to the pandemic. Only 5 per cent felt than coronavirus had not had any effect on the quality of provision. Looking to the future, nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of school and college leaders surveyed by the CEC believe careers guidance has become even more important as a result of the pandemic, and say it will be either their top priority or among their top five priorities in the year ahead. The CEC lay out a number of recommendations in the report for continuing to develop careers education in England. They include expanding the number of Careers Hubs by and empowering Careers Leaders through investment in their professional development to increase capacity and capability.

Commenting on the publication of the report, John Yarham, interim CEO of the CEC, said: ‘This pandemic is having a disproportionate and damaging impact on the prospects of our young people. Careers guidance has a vital role to play in supporting them through the ongoing uncertainty and challenges they face. Good career guidance matters. It helps young people understand the world of work, make the most of their talents and realise their potential. It also drives positive outcomes for our economy and society such as developing skills, improving productivity and providing a pathway for social mobility.’

Full CEC report:

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May 3, 2021 (PDF 6.84 MB)

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