“Have you got any information about soliciting?” How would a careers website answer this question?

Janet Downs's picture
The fifteen year old was serious. “Have you got any information about soliciting?” she asked. Careful questioning revealed she wanted to find out about the legal profession. I had plenty of leaflets about that.

During my years responsible for careers* I didn’t just provide up-to-date information about jobs, training, further and higher education. I was responsible for the school’s careers education and guidance (CEG) programme delivered through Personal and Social Education (PASE).

CEG is essential in helping young people become aware of their own attributes and abilities so they can make realistic choices. It’s important to widen horizons by asking pupils to, say, discover what careers are available to people with a science qualification while at the same time pointing out that dropping a subject after Year 9 may have negative consequences further down the line.

Our CEG programme tackled gender stereotyping to challenge the perception there were male and female jobs. WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering) was one such campaign. I used to say there should be a similar one to get more boys on nursing and childcare courses (but it would need a more suitable acronym than BONCC).

Our programme also delivered work-related activities. Year 9 pupils took part in an Industry Day. All 15 year-olds had two weeks of work experience. All Year 11s had mock interviews with local employers. Pupils interested in particular careers could have informal fact-finding chats over coffee with people employed in the sector. We arranged visits to careers conventions and to open days at the local further education (FE) college. One year some pupils took part in an outreach session with Cambridge University. All pupils were guaranteed at least one face-to-face interview with a professional, independent careers advisor.

This was between 15 and 25 years ago.

Schools are now legally obliged to give impartial careers advice to their pupils – this wasn’t the case when I was a careers teacher. Sadly, careers education has disintegrated since I left teaching. There’s evidence 11-18 schools act in their own interests: pushing their own sixth forms and restricting access to information about other post-16 routes.

If schools are judged on how many pupils go to Russell Group universities they are more likely to stress this route and downplay other options irrespective of the best interests of individual pupils. And CEG has been sidelined further because of increased emphasis on “academic” subjects, EBacc and the GCSE benchmark of 5+ GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English.

When education secretary Michael Gove was asked if careers education in schools was now in crisis, he replied careers advice had never been very good (untrue) and employers could do the job better than professional careers advisors. He went so far as to describe the latter as “self-interested” lobbyists who spoke “garbage”.

But CEG is essential if pupils, employers, colleges and universities are to avoid making demoralising, time-wasting and potentially expensive mistakes.

It is shameful that CEG has deteriorated so badly. Underfunded and neglected, it has been taken away from state-funded professional careers officers and replaced by outsourced careers advisers paid out of schools’ own budgets or, worse, substituted by the cheap option, access to a website.
I wonder how a computer would answer the question, “Have you got any information about soliciting?”

*NOTES: I became responsible for careers in an 11-16 comprehensive school in 1983 after two years in charge of the school’s library. I retained responsibility for careers (and was given additional responsibility for IT) when the school amalgamated some years later.
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agov's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 10:18

Well, since you ask, if it was in Victoria -


Mind you, there was a TV programme some time ago about female undergraduates paying off their student loans...

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 06/05/2014 - 12:57

Thank you - perhaps these could offer their services as "guru lecturers", mentoring pupils and even offering internships. At a cost, of course.

Seriously, when I had responsibility for careers it cost the school nothing. The Careers Service provided advice and one-to-one interviews to pupils (at least one but also available on demand). These were structured so pupils made their own decisions about their future depending on accurate self-knowledge of their abilities, attributes and possible achievement combined with access to accurate, up-to-date information. These interviews were not simply conveyors of information which is what the DfE seems to have in mind when it talks of face-to-face meetings.

Now schools have to pay for their pupils' careers advice themselves (hence the temptation for the cheap option of websites). Help that was once free to schools (including the volunteer employers who took part in work experience, information sessions etc) now has to be paid for.

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