Jennifer Wilby
Careers Leader at Coleridge Community College (Cambridge, East of England)
Programme cohort
2020 Careers Leader programme

Lightbulb moments and building confidence on the Careers Leader programme

Jennifer was new to careers education when she took on her school’s careers leader role. She shared her experiences with us about the work she has embedded into the curriculum in spite of a challenging year. 

I first joined my school coordinating attendance, and then I became the manager for student services and the reception team as well. I then had the opportunity to enrol in the Careers Leader programme with Teach First. Careers education is something that really interests me, especially because of my experience of working with pupils who have attendance issues – it's often the pupils who don't come to school who really need that aspiration.

There's a certain amount of pastoral support within my role, including talking to families and encouraging students to attend school more. Helping students look to the future can be a large part of that – to get them more engaged with school and to realise how they can transfer the skills they learn at school into work.

“Getting careers education embedded throughout the school”

I'm not a teacher, but I'm learning quickly about how much we can ask of teachers and how Careers fit into different aspects of the curriculum. There's so much material available, but teacher timetables are so full that it's about how we can start dovetailing careers with what they're doing already, so it becomes natural. I think that's going to be one of the bigger challenges, although I know a few of the teachers are very keen on incorporating careers into their lessons. I want to encourage them to be our first careers champions and to spread their enthusiasm to other staff is something I definitely want to start next year.

“A lot of the content on the Careers Leader programme was new to me”

I came into careers education a novice. The breakout groups on the Zoom meetings were helpful, and as time went on, we all became more confident talking about what our experiences in our schools, sharing ideas and problem solving. We’ve probably missed out on that face-to-face contact, but doing it online does save a lot of travelling time.

I took advantage of the mentor programme, which I accessed through the Teach First Ambassador community. My mentor is amazing. We had a call and have had a few emails back and forth. She's a really experienced careers leader and it was great to be able to bounce around ideas with her.

I felt a little bit out of my depth, but now I’ve done the programme I feel a lot more confident. I know not just what the terminology means, but how to implement it.

I had regular one-to-ones with my Development Lead, Mike - he's so positive! At the beginning, I felt quite inadequate compared to some of the more experienced people that were on the programme, but now I definitely feel I've got the confidence to fully participate in events and to go ahead and implement the strategy I have written.

“I’ve been having lots of lightbulb moments with the students”

I was talking to a student about apprenticeships – he's only in Year 10 so he's not ready to apply just yet – but he wanted some background information. We were talking about where he might go, and we looked online together to see what was available locally. One of the nearby car dealers is a possibility, and as we went through it, I could see him think, ‘actually, yeah, I could work there and go to college’.

He’s not particularly excited to be in school every day, but I'm hoping this is enough to keep him focused. I've also got something to talk to him about on the days he's late or if he's just having a not-so-great day. I can remind him, “You're doing this so you can get onto that apprenticeship programme.”

“COVID-19 has had such a profound effect on the work we do”

We haven't really been able to do very much face-to-face careers work. And we're quite conscious that the Year 11s who have just left us applied to colleges they've never set foot in. I think that transition might be tricky for them.

But at the end of the academic year, we did carry out mock interviews for Year 10 students. We worked with a partner organisation who set it up for us. The students loved it – they really got a buzz out of it, even though some of them were a bit nervous to start with.

We’re looking to get much more involved with local employers. Although we haven't been able to do very much this year due to COVID-19. And improving our communication generally with stakeholders is something we’re looking to do. I've started a newsletter, a sort of bulletin about careers, and we've got a Twitter account going now – that was my pilot project as part of the Careers Leader programme. My background is in marketing, so I’m comfortable making sure we're telling everybody what we’re doing.

“We’ve got a lot more planned”

There'll be a lot more physical careers prompts, like posters and information around the school. I'm hoping for a career and resource space as well. We've got part of the library at the moment, but I want to grow that.

I want to set up an alumni programme as well. I need to build that and encourage pupils to sign up I’m planning to encourage them on results day, for example.

We'll also get our work experience going again, and get more employers to work closely with us as well as and build the relationship with our new Enterprise Advisor. So lots to do! To have more visibility of careers within the school community is really one of the key things, whether that is around the school or online.

For me, the most rewarding part of careers work is working with the students, supporting them to find out more about the options available and saying, “Let's see what you need to do to get there.” Just to be able to tie it all together for them, I really love that!

Jennifer was interviewed at the end of her time on the Careers Leader programme. Since then, she has gone on to work for a non-profit that specialises in CEIAG (Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance) that links schools and employers.

Are you looking to boost your school’s careers provision? Whether you’re new to careers education, like Jennifer, or you’re a seasoned careers leader, you can join our fully-funded Careers Leader programme and create a strategy that supports your school’s context. Find out more here. 

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