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Is the new Careers Strategy all mouth no trousers?

Edd Williams, academic and careers consultant, looks at the new Careers Strategy from the Department for Education

Posted by Lucinda Reid | January 26, 2018 | People, policy, politics

In December 2017, we saw the DfE issue a new guidance on the necessity for a reinvigorated approach to careers related learning. The new Careers Strategy, as introduced by Anne Milton MP, is certainly to be welcomed but is it all mouth no trousers?

Certainly, there is much to be applauded in the 36-page briefing, but lofty goals and high-level wish lists are hardly a rarity in government documents. A lot of the back patting regarding the work they've been doing over the last two years, whilst I'm certainly is factually accurate, doesn't seem to gel with my own experiences. If anything, there has been a decrease in activity in step with a funding decline and consequently schools I had previously worked with were unable to continue to fund activities they knew were needed and wanted.

I also worry about the reliance on co-opting businesses to go into schools, whilst there is undoubtedly benefit to these kinds of enrichment activities, the type and quality of the presenter and the business are key and that will vary wildly based on geography. Also, forging links with a business or even a handful of local businesses can only ever represent a fairly myopic view of the career paths that can be forged and will by definition marginalise many students not interested in that particular sector or job type.

Certainly, there is much to be applauded in the 36-page briefing, but lofty goals and high-level wish lists are hardly a rarity in government documents

The best part of the new strategy are the timetabled, very specific targets that will now be statutory for schools to be answerable about their provision; no longer will it be the case that a wafty assurance that 'we do all this' will be considered enough - that is to be applauded.

The focus on encouraging technical and apprenticeships routes is also to be welcomed but I worry that societal pressure and league table performance based on A Level results and destinations, may still lead to a disproportionate push toward university regardless of its suitability for everyone.

There's a push on STEM jobs as well which is excellent, and they are finally starting to see the sense of starting this process much earlier; as has been done in the USA for years (because of the high cost of university people start their personal portfolio at a much earlier age to ensure the best opportunities and return on investment).

Fundamentally, there is much to be applauded in the strategy, but successive governments, Ofsted, the Sutton Trust and employers have been screaming out for better provision, which has hitherto been paid lip-service to. Having an appointed Careers Leader is a great thing to encourage but most schools will already have ticked that box. The true test of this initiative is in ensuring that it's not just a title and the person will have the necessary and relevant skills to effectively provide that advice which to date has not been the case. This is not something that can be juggled around also being Head of Geography and nor should it be, it should be a standalone, 40 hours a week full-time professional. Outside expertise should be brought in when necessary for specialist provision to help co-ordinate a breadth of activities and offer counsel to the students, as well as advice to staff. Anything less than that is a slap in the face to the students and no better than the current system. So, I keep my fingers crossed but don't hold my breath.

Edd Williams is the author of Is Your School Lying To You? Get The Career You Want. Get The Life You Deserve.

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