Michael Britland holding a cup of tea
Michael Britland
Careers Programme Lead

Careers education: the next game changer in social mobility

Good careers advice can literally change children's futures. Here, Careers Programme Lead Michael Britland talks about how important it is for social mobility.

Have you ever taken time and reflected on how you ended up in the career or profession that you’re currently in? What advice and guidance were you given to get there? If you took the time to reflect further, is your current role in any way similar to the one you wanted when you were at school? 

I personally think the majority of us would say, no. The national careers agenda looks very different to how you remember your own experiences of it. When looking at it through the prism of social mobility, it’s fundamental in understanding the significance and importance to a young person’s education.

Cosmic Macca and the Gatsby Benchmarks

That sounds like the name of a band from when I was at school in the early 90s, but it’s not. The standard of careers advice back then consisted of a 30-minute chat with the careers officer shortly before you left school. Most of that time was spent persuading you that your dreams of being an astronaut or playing on the wing for Liverpool FC, were just that - dreams. In hindsight, Steve McManaman had that position all sewn-up a few years later anyway.

The outlook for careers advice and guidance looks much improved due to the significance it now plays in the recent iteration of Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework. This can be traced back in part to 2013 and the excellent research of Sir John Holman for Gatsby1

In releasing his findings, Sir John identified eight benchmarks that schools can use as a framework for improving their careers provision. These benchmarks identified that students needed more than just a brief careers interview or a computer-generated list of possible employment opportunities. They needed a multi-threaded approach. This, not exclusively, allowed students to gain exposure to varied employment-based environments, people, and an idea of where their GCSE in Spanish could take them. Spain being one sensible option.

The importance of careers education

We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of providing outstanding careers advice and guidance in the quest to improve social mobility. The key findings in the research ‘Elitist Britain 2019’, published this summer by The Sutton Trust 2, painted a picture of ‘a country whose power structures and professions are dominated by a narrow section of the population: the 7% who attend independent schools and the near 1% who graduate from Oxford and Cambridge’.

The issues are even more stark when you examine the work published in The Class Ceiling by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison3. The results from their work were brought into national consciousness this year through the BBC documentary ‘How to Break into the Elite’, by the former Editor of The Independent, Amol Rajan4.

Friedman and Laurison found that the majority of elite occupations went to children whose parents were already in elite occupations. Connections and exposure to those jobs were essential aspects of being successful in gaining access or employment into them. They found that barriers of class transcend those of race, religion and sexual orientation. Therefore, it’s essential – and there’s a moral imperative – to make sure students who face the hardest journeys to success, have the tools through which to navigate them.

Supporting careers leaders now

Where do we fit into this? Right at the heart! Teach First’s Careers Leader programme provides schools leaders with the tools to build a whole school careers strategy for change. The programme offers free training to develop great teachers into brilliant leaders. By combining both face-to-face and eLearning, teachers are empowered with the tools to create a careers strategy that fits the exact needs of their students.

I’m proud to be an alumnus of the programme. I’ve experienced first-hand the transformative effects of the programme and being able to share my knowledge of it brought me here to Teach First. Being on the programme showed me that it’s great informing students on possible destinations. However, unless you have a cohesive, strategic approach that encompasses all the benchmarks, then you’re not much better than the old approach. Furthermore, evidence shows that students who are taught about the world of work are more motivated to get higher GCSE results: ambition driving outcome5.

What’s clear to me is that to accurately frame the strategic objectives needed for a far-reaching careers strategy, you need to be ruthless when self-assessing your current careers provision. Identifying your areas of strength is good, but where are the gaps? Making sure you have a clear and progressive approach, built over time, is where real change will take place.

The Careers and Enterprise Company’s 2019 ‘State of the Nation’ report released last month, showcases the huge strides careers education has made since 2014 6. There can be no doubting the improvements made, but there’s still so much more to achieve. In 2014, across just 361 institutions, the average number of benchmarks hit was 1.34. Fast-forward to 2019 and that number has increased to 3.00, across 3351! This is a positive indication of success, but this number can and should be higher.

Schools continue to make great strides with the careers provision they offer to students and parents. As such, future generations will be able to answer the questions posed at the start of this piece more positively. With all those things combined, I envisage an even greater uplift in social mobility that will see more people smashing through the class ceiling.

To find out how we can help you boost careers education at your school, visit our Careers Leader programme pages.









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