Examining the quality of career guidance in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

Careers advisor meeting female university student, photo by Monkey Business Images/Adobe Stock

Monkey Business Images/Adobe Stock

Surveying 54 secondary schools and colleges and interviewing 10 career guidance service providers, researchers produced a comprehensive picture of how career guidance is provided in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and how these services meet the needs of children and young people.

The study found the majority of surveyed schools have a stable and embedded careers programme in place, however schools seem to prioritise academic over technical and vocational career routes.

What is the issue?

Schools and colleges in England are required to provide impartial career guidance to secondary school pupils, from the ages of 12 or 13 onwards. Statutory guidelines are provided by the government on what this career guidance must look like, with schools needing to consider eight benchmarks set out by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation of good practice in career guidance. All schools must meet these benchmarks by the end of 2020. A number of external providers offer services and support for schools and colleges in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough region in meeting these requirements.

How did we help?

Cambridge Ahead asked RAND Europe to conduct a study to understand what schools in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough (Combined Authority) area are doing to help students make informed decisions about career opportunities and what would help them do more.

Through an online survey of 54 secondary schools and colleges in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area, as well as interviews with 10 career guidance service providers, the study offers a comprehensive picture of the provision of career guidance in the region and how these services meet the needs of children and young people.

In providing novel insights into the provision of career guidance in the region, the study aims to open up a discussion about policy and practice relating to career guidance at both the local and national levels.

What did we find?

The majority of surveyed schools have a stable and embedded careers programme in place offering a wide range of activities and opportunities and covering a broad range of topics.

However, schools seem to prioritise academic over technical and vocational career routes, and do not sufficiently cover matters related to job demands and working life. Schools rarely integrate parents into career guidance provision.

Engagement with local employers is typically integrated into schools’ career guidance programmes.

However, some of the respondents from surveyed schools indicated that they had experienced challenges building relationships with local employers, for instance in relation to arranging work experience for students or engaging employers as mentors. Around two-thirds of schools wished to expand or develop their career guidance programme to include new or increased opportunities for work placements, experience and shadowing, and a closer relationship or greater collaboration with local employers.

All surveyed schools work with at least one external career guidance provider.

A number of providers operate in the region and schools can be overwhelmed by the range of choices in career guidance services, with some overlap in the services offered by different providers, combined with a complex funding landscape. A schools’ choice of provider(s) is often constrained by time and funding.

Interviewed career guidance providers stated that they monitor the quality of their services by proactively seeking feedback from schools.

There is, however, a lack of sector-wide measures of quality, one reason for this being insufficient recognition of career advice provision in the Ofsted assessments frameworks. As career guidance services often aim to achieve longer-term outcomes that are only measurable when students have left school, it is also challenging to assess and measure longer-term outcomes and impact.

What do we recommend?

  1. Guidance should be maintained for all schools to have a dedicated careers leader whose main responsibility is to deliver high-quality career guidance provision.
  2. Awareness-raising activities are needed to ensure that schools cover both academic and technical education as part of the career guidance programme.
  3. Providers and schools should facilitate further engagement opportunities for employers.
  4. The expansion of mentoring opportunities and training relating to job demands and working life should be expanded across the region by giving guidance and funding opportunities.
  5. Providers and schools should engage with parents at times when students are making key career decisions.
  6. The information available to schools about providers of career guidance should be centralised and regulated, for example by widening the virtual wallet system (or creating a new system) to include a broader range of providers offering a diverse range of activities and open this up to all schools and colleges.
  7. Providers should consider their key strengths vis-à-vis other providers, and tailor their offer to capitalise on their strength.
  8. The national regulatory body (Ofsted) should develop standard metrics to assess and monitor the quality of career guidance provision. This assessment should constitute an integral part of the Ofsted evaluation of all secondary schools and colleges.