Curriculum Design Manager at Teach First Susie Kendall
Susie Kendall
Curriculum Design Manager for the Careers Leader programme

Top 3 tips for new careers leaders

Careers education empowers young people to navigate the complex world of work, helps them understand the job market and supports them on the road to success.

Too many young people from low-income backgrounds face barriers accessing high-quality careers advice and education.

These young people are less likely to have family connections into specific industries or opportunities for gaining work experience. This is especially true in coastal and rural communities.

In schools, careers leaders play an important role by nurturing positive outcomes for their pupils.

They support their pupils’ development by helping them build skills and knowledge to feel confident about their options once they’re ready to leave school.

What is the role of a careers leader?

Careers leaders oversee and deliver your school’s careers information, advice, education and guidance.

They’re unique in that no one else in your school or college will have the same responsibilities.

Sir John Holman, author of the Good Career Guidance report, describes the careers leader as the “conductor of the orchestra”.

Careers leaders have many responsibilities including:

  • networking and building employer relationships
  • coordinating and managing careers activities
  • above all, being a leader

If you’re new to being a careers leader, it can seem daunting to know where to begin.

Our top three tips will help you take the reins of your new role, understand the basics and know what’s needed to give your pupils the best start in life after they leave school.

Tip 1: Know the basics

You may already be familiar with terms like ‘Gatsby Benchmarks’ and ‘the Careers & Enterprise Company’ (the CEC). Or you may not have come across them yet.

As the careers landscape has been constantly changing in the past few years, our first tip is to get up to speed with the basics.

Gatsby Benchmarks

Start with the Gatsby Good Career Guidance report (PDF), which introduces the Gatsby Benchmarks.

They’ve been around for nearly 10 years. They’re currently being reviewed, but we don’t expect any changes for the next year.

CEC guidance

Your next stop should be the CEC’s website, where you can work through the Careers Leaders: Induction module.

This module describes the Gatsby Benchmarks and introduces you to the importance of having a strategic plan for careers in your school.

Formal Careers Leader training will help you with that, too – but more on that later.

For the most up-to-date review (2021/22) of careers education in England, read the CEC’s Ready for the Future report (PDF).

The CEC has also produced a handy guide with information about statutory guidance and your school’s legal duties (PDF).

Now you’ll be really fired up!

Tip 2: Find out what’s going on already

There may already be amazing careers work going on in your school. That’s the problem with careers education – it’s often not well ‘branded’. So your first job is to find out what initiatives are already in place.

Benchmark tool

The CEC has a careers benchmark tool called Compass.

It measures your progress in achieving the eight Gatsby Benchmarks.

Schools are encouraged to do this assessment every year, so there should be a recent one you can review.

But that’s not going to show the whole story.

To get a crystal-clear picture of what your pupils are experiencing through the careers programme, you might need to do some detective work.

Questions to ask

Where is the careers programme? (Hint: it should at least be on your school’s website – as required by law.)

Where are your predecessor’s files, databases and plans?

Who can you find out more from?

What great stuff is happening that you can build on?

Tip 3: Get out there!

You’ll want to start getting out and about in your school for two main reasons:

  1. To find out more about your school’s current careers work (see tip 2).
  2. To get support from your colleagues.

You probably have multiple roles and limited hours, so you’ll need as much help as you can get.

To start, speak to heads of departments to find out what they’re doing.

You’ll also want to talk to your SEND coordinator to find out what tailored support certain pupils or groups have been getting.

You may also want to speak to your senior leadership team (if you aren’t already in it). It’s helpful to speak with someone who used to be responsible for careers or line managed your last careers leader.

And you should speak with your link governor about the careers guidance in your school. If there isn’t a link governor, put it on your ‘to-do’ list.

Lastly, your school should have an enterprise adviser allocated by the CEC to support you with building your employer network.

Speaking of networks – there’s plenty of support for career leaders out there.

For starters, join or sign up to:

Networking is a great way to hear about what other careers leaders are doing and to be inspired about the careers activities you could be doing in your own school.

Careers Leader programme

Now, back to our earlier point about formal careers leader training.

If you’re looking to improve your knowledge and create a careers strategy with a whole-school impact, our Careers Leader programme is available for all careers leaders, whether you’re new or experienced in the role.

Over 34 weeks, you’ll access:

  • online learning
  • in-person and online events
  • peer collaboration
  • one-to-one support

This will help you develop a three-year strategy that’s personalised to your school’s needs.

What’s more, the Careers Leader programme is fully funded, meaning it’s free for you to join.

Find out more about our Careers Leader programme.

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