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Linking subjects to careers is key to raising aspirations

So says Thistley Hough Academy's careers lead, Julia Rogers, who has seen first-hand the benefits of making strong links with local employers

Posted by Julian Owen | August 07, 2019 | School life

With calls from the Department for Education (DfE) to embed careers education from the first day a child enters the classroom, I knew when I became Thistley Hough Academy’s careers lead that I needed to shake things up a bit and bring a modern approach to the task. 

We know early careers engagement can have a hugely positive effect on academic attainment, motivating and inspiring both students and their families to see a future they can aspire to and which feels achievable.  

In Stoke-on-Trent, any conversation around careers cannot be separated from this need to raise aspirations. As an area of deprivation - where the traditional industries centred around pots, pits and steel have declined or disappeared - there is a real need to support students to develop their self-confidence and transferable skills, together with an awareness of all the opportunities that weren’t available when their parents were at school. 

From the start, I wanted it to be based more around experiences the students can engage with. At the same time, I had to ensure it had a basis within the Gatsby benchmarks, the framework of eight guidelines that define the best careers provision in schools and colleges. 

I began pulling together a long-term plan to integrate careers education into form time from Year 7 onwards, with each scheme of learning building on the knowledge from the year before. 

Putting the programme together I wanted to make it as easy for our staff to implement as possible - for example, I broke down how to teach Year 10s about budgeting and finance through different topics to give it a structure and a formula. The challenge was to avoid creating a programme so prescriptive that it became a box-ticking exercise for the form tutor; the solution was to set learning outcomes for the form tutors to achieve, spread over the course of the academic year, allowing flexibility for them to decide how they meet those outcomes. 

As a result, these form-time sessions can be really experiential. For example, our Year 7s had the chance to create a city. This meant thinking about the elements which make up a city and the different buildings, and this naturally led to a discussion about all the various job roles. 

With Year 8s we start looking at all the different routes people have taken to get where they are, from their own form tutor to famous people, and are then asked to think about what they want to do and create dream catchers. 

Within this schedule there are also very practical sessions, looking at everything from writing personal statements and CVs to talking about equal pay, budgeting and buying a house. By Year 10, as in many schools, a lot more time is devoted to talking about transferable skills, handling interviews, work experience, college talks and support with applications for apprenticeships, etc. Students feel well prepared for the experience because of the building blocks which have gone before. 

In addition to this, the academy also took the step of making a more direct link between teaching subjects and careers pathways by creating a careers co-ordinator post for every curriculum area. 

Any conversation around careers cannot be separated from the need to raise aspirations

There are 13 coordinators in total, and their role is to support the teaching staff within their subject area and bring lessons to life through a range of careers experiences. It has resulted in some really innovative projects, such as a joint art and science project run in conjunction with the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, where students looked at microbiology through the medium of clay, including the part ceramics have played in the fight against bacteria. 

Our Year 9-11 science students worked alongside MedPath students from Keele University for six weeks, where they enjoyed going through patient cases and getting to practice such medical procedures as taking temperatures, etc. So far, we’ve found taking students out for intense hands-on learning experience is effective; they really remember these experiences. 

As part of this shift to integrate careers firmly within every subject, the academy has also been proactive in building strong links with a range of local employers, beyond offering work experience. As the largest local employer, we’ve been able to forge particularly strong links with the NHS, which, from last September, led to the appointment of a health project co-ordinator to our programme. Based within our school, but working in conjunction with the NHS, she supports our science students and PSE sessions, looking at issues such as oral health and hydration. She also talks about career opportunities within the NHS and organises guest speakers and visits for our students. 

Julia Rogers

Another example of this integration is our Year 9 options event. This year, we invited employers in and based them within subject classrooms relating to their business. Businesses supporting the program include JCB, Novus Property Solutions Ltd., Franklyn Financial Management, University Hospitals North Midlands, Staffordshire Precision Engineers, Environmental Essentials and AutoNet, which all helped our students and parents make those links between the subject and the range of career possibilities.

The event proved a real eye-opener, as many of our students didn’t realise the huge range of career opportunities available within the NHS; they think of nurses and doctors, yet there are hundreds of specialisms and roles besides, as one-to-one conversations with people working in them revealed. 

Ultimately, this approach to careers helps everyone to grasp the bigger picture, and has resulted in our students, parents and staff being more informed. 

At a time when so many companies are closing and there is so much negative press, it’s also important to highlight that there are lots of businesses which are thriving, and to inspire and motivate our students. 

Because, while it’s vitally important to come to school and teach children a subject, it’s also essential to raise aspirations and awareness of the opportunities in our area and support student learning in whatever direction they want to go.    

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