Inspiring career advice

Can the independent sector support state schools to deliver more effective careers guidance? asks Virginia Isaac from Inspiring Futures

Careers guidance regularly receives a panning, but as anyone in education will appreciate, once you dig a bit deeper, there are often some gems to uncover. Inspiring Futures’ recent conference, ‘How Young People Succeed’ did exactly that. The focus of the event was to share good practice and identify what more schools can do for themselves in this important area.

The conference examined careers guidance from a variety of approaches and the overriding conclusion was that schools simply need to find more time. However, with its focus on academic attainment and league tables, the state-sector curriculum is already full.

Just as Professor John Holman from the University of York sought the input of independent schools when researching his recently published report ‘Good Careers Guidance’, I too believe that the independent sector has much to offer the state sector. Here I outline three simple steps that could be taken in this respect.

In many cases, what those in the independent sector have achieved is a coherent programme of careers education, information, advice and guidance. This has been enabled by there being fewer curriculum constraints and arguably more time in the working day, as well as in many cases a Saturday programme. The question is how much of this could be shared with the state sector? 

Seek out partnerships in the state sector

Later this year Holyport College will open in Berkshire. An all-ability co-educational day and boarding school, born of the Free Schools Programme, its sole educational sponsor is Eton College. At the conference, the head, Walter Boyle, spoke passionately about the relationship that he and his team have fostered with their peers at Eton and the benefits that will bring to the new school. Indeed, building on this, he is keen to forge further relationships with local schools and sees this as a way of tackling a lack of sufficient time to deliver non-core areas of the curriculum such as career guidance.

Work together to approach businesses

Businesses are often keen to support schools in their delivery of careers guidance, either via work experience placements, career insight events, mentoring or skills development sessions. However, as Alison Heron, head of recruitment at KPMG, explained at the conference, businesses are often faced with the challenge of knowing which schools to work with, who to approach within those schools and the best way in which to deliver meaningful support.

However, if schools make conscious efforts to partner with one another some of those challenges are addressed. It is often accepted that those in the independent sector are better connected, via their alumni, parental networks or otherwise. Whether this is universally the case or not is not the issue because for those where it is the case there’s a strong argument to be made for inviting their state sector peers in to benefit from those relationships and the expertise and insight that they deliver. This would fulfil both the public interest and the public good agendas, encourage social mixing and break down barriers at the same time.

Extend alumni relationships

There is also a strong argument for examining alumni networks. At the conference Dr Joe Spence from Dulwich College detailed how their active alumni relationships total in excess of 2,000 former students. They regularly invite key alumni in to engage with current students on defined employment sectors, recognising that young people often engage with these contacts in a way that they don’t with their day-to-day teachers or more elderly professionals! Given that very few state schools have formal alumni programmes, could this too serve as a way for the independent sector to better support their peers elsewhere?

The challenges facing careers education and guidance in the state sector can be attributed to a myriad of factors, political and otherwise, but those aside there are many advantages to be gained by a closer working relationship between the independent and state sector.

Virginia Isaac is chief executive of The Inspiring Futures Foundation


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