When I was at school, careers education consisted of a single appointment with an advisor and a trip to look around the neighbouring polytechnic.
That was a very long time ago and I assumed things must have moved on. But even as recently as 2013 Ofsted was reporting that only one in five schools were being ‘effective’ at providing careers information to students.
In 2015 the Department of Education issued new guidelines for schools and admitted that careers provision had long been seen as patchy or inadequate.
Today, schools tick all sorts of boxes when it comes to preparing their students for the future. They build links with industry, bring in motivational speakers, find mentors and organise careers fairs. One thing they no longer have to do is send their pupils on stints of work experience, but they must promote the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and encourage girls not to give these up.
Some schools are better at this than others, although Huddersfield is well endowed with solid careers guidance provision. Take Moor End Academy in Huddersfield, for example, which has been awarded the Quality in Careers Standard by C & K Careers, a social enterprise that offers careers information advice and guidance in the area’s schools.
The academy, which was found to be ‘outstanding’ at its last Ofsted inspection in 2012, does all of the above. And last week I got the chance to see first hand what contemporary careers guidance is all about.
I was asked to speak at a Discover Your Future session provided for Moor End by members of the workforce from Cummins Turbo Technologies in Huddersfield. The company, which has an ongoing series of education projects in local schools has provided 15 mentors for Year 9 students making their GCSE choices.
The students, who all applied for a place on the scheme, will get a total of six sessions of inspirational talks and one-to-one mentoring - all intended to improve confidence and enhance their personal development. The ‘course’ covers everything from goal-setting and time-management to team work. It has been developed by Joanne Gwilliam, Cummins Corporate Supply Chain Manager, and Alex Stelfox, Purchasing Engineer, and is based around the American businessman/educator Stephen R Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and his son Sean Covey’s follow-up The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. While the students taking part are only 14-years-old, they are being introduced to the concepts of life/work balance; the need to identify their strengths and weaknesses and the notion of stepping outside their comfort zones. It’s all very grown-up and a far cry from the ‘have you considered hairdressing or teaching?’ that my generation faced.
My part in the proceedings was to talk about the skills journalists need and what working in the media industry is like in the 21st century. I was, in fact, what the Department of Education refers to as ‘speaker from the world of work’.
Debra Awty, Assistant Principal at Moor End Academy, who has responsibilities for community and employer engagement, says modern careers provision is tailored to the individual pupil but has to fit around the considerable demands of the new Ebac (English Baccalaureate) strongly-academic curriculum, which affects 90% of pupils. She explained: “There is no statutory duty any more to provide work experience so most schools don’t do it, but for certain groups who would particularly benefit from vocational experience we do set up placements and encourage students to set up their own. Our careers service identifies those students who are vulnerable or at risk of being disaffected and would benefit.”
The school begins careers guidance in Year 7 through the tutorial system, talks in assemblies and its citizenship programme. As children progress through the school they will be offered everything from taster days at universities and mock interviews to learning about apprenticeships.
Moor End has close links with colleges and universities, training providers, businesses and two of the town’s major engineering employers, Cummins and David Brown Gear Systems Ltd. It also has plans to employ a dedicated careers advisor that would be shared by other schools.
Like most schools in the area it buys careers expertise from C&K Careers, which is jointly owned by Kirklees and Calderdale Councils, Huddersfield University and the National Children’s Centre. Company Chief Executive Gerald Hey says the majority of schools in the area have full quality standard accreditation and are “going the extra mile.”
Motivational speakers at Moor End have included Baroness Warsi of Dewsbury, Britain’s first female Muslim Cabinet minister, but many more have come from the everyday world of work.
The D of E’s document Careers Guidance and Inspiration in Schools stresses the importance of giving children a realistic view of future work possibilities and points out that pupils who are uncertain or unrealistic tend to spend more time out of work or training. Two of the key words used in the document are ‘resilience and grit’, qualities deemed important for life in modern Britain.
Perhaps this is where projects such as Discover Your Future can help because they encourage youngsters to think about what they might be suited to and encourage them to develop the skills needed by business. A Cummins statement explains that feedback from employers and school leaders in the UK has shown that students are not equipped with the correct skills needed when applying for jobs. “Such skills include goal setting, working in a team, prioritising and the ability to listen actively,” it says. “Cummins’ goal within the Discover Your Future programme is to explain the skills used regularly across the business as well as advising the students on their preferred career paths.”
After giving my talk I chatted with some of the girls taking part in the project and discovered that they have a positive view of the future and real aspirations to succeed (see below). And by the time they leave school they will have had many more opportunities to think about what direction they take. Careers guidance certainly has moved on.
Ayman Malik, 14, from Crosland Moor, already had designs on a career in engineering before signing up for Discover Your Future. She has been inspired by a family member who works as a mechanical engineer. “He has a really good job,” she says, “so it’s something that I’ve thought about.” The Government wants more girls to go into STEM careers so Ayman will get plenty of encouragement. Her Cummins mentor Darren McGlynn, who works in service engineering and customer care management, says he has been discussing alternative ways to go into engineering with Ayman. He explained: “I did a degree, but when I went to university I found that the business engineers who had already done apprenticeships were at a real advantage because they had practical experience and understood the world of work.” Darren was one of the Cummins employees who helped to set up a STEM club at Batley Girls High School, encouraging the girls to consider engineering. Ayman says the Discover Your Future sessions have helped her to identify her strengths - she likes drawing, ICT and working as a member of a team - and she feels more confident.
Iqra Rashid, 14, from Lockwood, has ambitions to become a cardiologist - her sister is a psychiatrist. Her Cummins mentor, facilities engineer Jennifer Hirst, says they have been looking at personality traits and how they affect confidence. She explained: “When we match mentors up with the students there is some consideration given to personality. Iqra is a lot like I used to be. At her age I never put my hand up or got into trouble and I still struggle with confidence. She is a perfectionist who works very hard. I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to somebody and identify areas I could expand on for the modern work place.”
Iqra says she signed up for Discover Your Future because she thought it could help her be more effective at studying and boost the grades she needs to study medicine.