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Insight 06/03/2024

The future direction for careers in England: maximising opportunities for personalised guidance within school and beyond

During National Careers Week in the UK, Mark De Backer, EDT’s Deputy Director for Young People’s Services, considers whether 2024 could be the year that England shapes its careers system’s future. While there have been promising steps forward in shaping England’s careers provision in recent years, there remain significant opportunities for improvement.

The last careers strategy for England was written in 2017, but the Department for Education (DfE) has committed to the formation of a new Strategic Action Plan in 2024. This presents the UK’s careers sector with an opportunity to get careers provision right in the years ahead. In recent years, there has undoubtably been progress in some areas, including the Gatsby Benchmarks, Careers Hubs, and employer engagement. Much encouragement can also be gained by the DfE’s responses to recent reports, and most of the sector can firmly support the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP’s three key focus areas for careers: 

  • having a single unified system 
  • promotion and parity of technical pathways 
  • social justice. 

This Strategic Action Plan holds substantial opportunity to improve careers guidance provision in England, but it must ensure a focus on the right ideas - including some which are less widely discussed - to ensure world-class services and avoid the well-acknowledged problems of fragmentation, siloed services and postcode gaps continuing into the long term.


Personalised guidance

The provision of personalised guidance not only supports individuals, but also has the potential to support wider government aims of enhancing vocational and technical parity of qualifications and levelling social mobility. While wider support for schools is in a better position than it has ever been, individual student support, in the form of personal careers guidance, could be more readily accessible and relevant. While schools have the statutory responsibility to provide impartial careers guidance to their students, how they fulfil this responsibility is relatively open to an individual school’s needs and interpretation. This may mean that individual students miss out on guidance opportunities that are most relevant to their needs and preferences.  

With government support, the sector needs a clearer understanding of how personal guidance fits into the current careers typology, which is currently fragmented by the range of organisations and service providers. Too often, personal guidance is conflated with careers information and advice provided by employers or wider curriculum activities in schools. All of these types of information and guidance are needed, but they are not the same and should not be treated as such.  

Further independent assessment of young people’s entitlement and schools’ provision is also necessary to ensure a level of quality assurance and reduce postcode lotteries. This can be achieved via Ofsted, peer review, or further adoption of the Quality in Careers Standard, which the DfE already strongly recommends. Supporting schools to undertake and achieve the Standard would go some way to supporting improved provision by robustly assessing the impact and access individual schools provide, including to personalised guidance.


Work experience

Work experience opportunities for young people are an important component in the careers system, yet work experience hasn’t been a statutory entitlement since 2012. There have been steps in the right direction such as the Careers and Enterprise Company making work experience one of the Career Hubs’ strategic priorities but this is primarily for a relatively small number of more disadvantaged students. This entitlement should be encouraged and widened further.  The challenges of matching supply and demand for work experience placements have also been highlighted in the delivery of T-Levels 

While the traditional five days of work experience in Year 10 may not be the answer, the flexible, shorter, hybrid models that have been tested and brought on stream could be made available to all. There have also been calls for a national platform for work experience, which would be helpful in providing a single source of nationally available opportunities. However, creating more virtual opportunities, as well as bespoke matching, sourcing, preparation, and support services for localised in-person placements will likely require local resource and knowledge.


Careers support in specialist schools

As the recent Ofsted review into careers guidance in specialist settings commented: 

“Young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) are less likely than their peers to be in sustained education, employment or training, meaning high-quality careers guidance may be particularly important for this group.” 

In many ways, careers provision in specialist schools often reflects all that is good about a careers programme, in that it: 

  • is highly personalised 
  • builds good relationships with parents and carers 
  • embeds careers into the curriculum 
  • encourages creative thinking in careers practice 
  • develops close relations with local employers to provide employer encounters and ongoing work experience. 

Often the challenge is what comes next: the projects that provide the support for transitions from school to work. Our own experience supports the argument that there is clear benefit in timely programmes that provide 'stepping-stone' pathways to gradually increase their experience and qualifications. (For example, students who are not ready to go directly into apprenticeships are likely to benefit from pre-apprenticeship opportunities in their local area.) School-to-work transitional support also - as Ofsted has identified - needs to include work experience, which, as we have seen, requires local knowledge and resourcing. Funding is of course the key here. Local collaboration with employers or careers programmes is also important, and not so dependent on funding.  SEND schools can be very well networked but may lack knowledge of where to turn for suitable employer touchpoints/ careers interventions. Encouraging all specialist schools to join their local Careers Hub would be a step in the right direction.


Digital careers guidance 

While face-to-face services will always be needed by some, it would be naive not to recognise that digital services have a significant role to play in the future of careers guidance. Improved digital capacity, availability, and awareness could be a backbone of any future system. 

Enhancing current capacity and provision in this area may help in a number of ways: 

  • Digital methods could provide enhanced support for those individuals unable to access support provided via schools. 
  • Digital support could become more of a consistent thread for individuals, joining up youth and adult services. 
  • Beyond any nationally provided service, there is also scope for schools to ‘buy in’ services such as remote (digitally provided) career adviser time, to increase the availability of personalised guidance. This may help schools to fulfil requirements while easing the challenges of finding locally qualified advisers - and could also have a secondary benefit of preparing young people for online interviews and meetings.


Supporting transitions for those not in employment, education or training (NEET) 

At EDT, we have been involved in several programmes supporting vulnerable students and those at risk of NEET, using additional guidance and interactions to make a real difference at the points at which they transition to their next step. The challenge with such programmes is funding, which is often short-term. To make a real impact, schools need sustained funding to support those most at risk of becoming NEET. 

Where quality careers provision happens at a school level, the value is diminished if the support does not continue through students’ transition points. As the statutory responsibility for NEET young people sits with local authorities rather than directly with the DfE, delivery methods, priorities and approaches differ from authority to authority. England’s NEET support figures have remained largely static over the past ten years, highlighting the ongoing challenge of how to integrate continuous support for young jobseekers and those who are NEET into the careers system. 

The lack of an organisation which could provide NEET services nationwide - ensuring that young people are known, tracked, and supported by the same individuals who saw them through school into transition - as with the Connexions service of 2001-2012 - is worth noting. While there may be good local examples, there are no guarantees of such services for many across the country. This may be an argument for creating an organisation with national responsibility for NEET or a framework similar to that of the Gatsby Benchmarks for schools.  

Alternatively, a more short-term approach would be improved data-sharing between schools, local authorities, and the National Careers Service (NCS). Currently, Year 13 leavers without a known destination may only be referred to the NCS months or years later.  However, if these young people could be passed on seamlessly from school services to the NCS, it could reduce the chances of young people falling through the gaps. The value of the great work that is often done in schools, colleges, with adults, or elsewhere in the system, is inevitably limited if that support does not join up with other services at subsequent life stages.


Careers Hubs

Careers Hubs are making a difference in their local areas schools in these hubs have a better Gatsby Benchmark attainment, which has also been shown to reduce rates of young people becoming NEET. However, the wider, but less discussed, impact they are having is in joining services together in the local landscape. Careers Hubs are primarily focused on secondary education, and apart from any local variations, there are currently limited links to adult services, or indeed primary school approaches. This might open the question of whether Careers Hubs could be given a wider remit to be the central point for all careers activity in an area. While not necessarily being the deliverer of all services, they could potentially join up transition points, facilitate information exchange, and develop integration systems. 


Careers workforce

All this, of course, will not work without a strong careers workforce, and the careers sector faces continual recruitment and capacity challenges. There has been some political recognition of the issue, including pledges to bring new careers advisers on stream. Solutions could include: 

  • building training requirements into contracts 
  • developing apprenticeship or Teach First-type models 
  • ensuring contracts are sufficiently long and well-funded to encourage retention 
  • considering the language used to describe the sector and ensuring that it is given adequate recognition of its value. 


There is a real and welcomed opportunity this year to address some of the gaps in the careers system in England. Certainly, any strategic action plan should acknowledge, build on and mature some of the excellent work and services already in place, but due consideration of the factors above may help to create a truly world-class system which better serves young people and adults throughout their journeys.

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