Eight things we learned from Ofsted about school careers advice

Some schools' guidance still 'biased' towards academic routes, and home-working is hampering work experience

Some schools' guidance still 'biased' towards academic routes, and home-working is hampering work experience

29 Sep 2023, 15:41

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Some schools' careers guidance is still biased towards academic routes, according to Ofsted

Some schools are still providing “biased” careers advice despite updated statutory guidance to balance the weight given to technical and academic routes, while some teachers lack knowledge about apprenticeships, Ofsted has said.

The finding forms part of its independent review of careers guidance in schools and further education (FE) and skills providers.

Government asked the watchdog to carry out the review to help identify “potential developments” in inspector training and guidance, and help “share good practice and thinking across the inspectorate”.

Ofsted carried out research visits to 30 schools and 14 FE and skills providers in the spring term.

It also reviewed a sample of inspection evidence and held focus groups with inspectors, employers and independent learning providers (ILPs).

Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman said she was “really pleased to see that schools are improving students’ access to higher and further education, as well as apprenticeships and employers.

“I hope this review is helpful for the schools and colleges as they plan their career education moving forward.”

Here are the key findings.

1. Some schools still biased towards academic routes…

Ofsted said schools generally “understood their statutory responsibilities for careers” – including not to show bias towards any route. But it added that “not all are achieving this”.

Guidance biased towards academic routes was “usually not about schools deliberately choosing to direct pupils to particular courses that might benefit the school”.

“It more commonly happened due to schools’ lack of strategic planning around the careers programme and the needs of individual pupils,” the report added.

While schools generally understood and promoted apprenticeships, some teachers’ knowledge was “limited” and there were “more gaps” in teachers’ understanding of T levels.

Inspectors also found that some careers information from schools was “biased towards their own sixth forms”. One school was “reluctant” to allow other providers in to speak to pupils “because they were direct competitors”.

2. …and FE providers find it difficult to access schools

Some FE and skills providers told Ofsted accessing schools to deliver provider “encounters” with pupils could be “challenging”.

One college described careers events in schools as “managed access” and said schools with their own sixth forms “wanted to keep their pupils”.

Ofsted said this “reflected some of what we saw in schools”, but another college said the issue had improved following updated statutory guidance.

Providers also had “mixed views” on whether schools promoted technical and vocational routes “well enough”.

Ofsted recommended schools continued to develop staff knowledge of technical pathways and promote these “equally” alongside academic routes, while the DfE should “review approaches” to disseminating information about T-levels to schools and employers.

3. Home working impacting work experience

While “overall” the negative impact of Covid on careers guidance had “begun to dissipate”, changes in working practices were “affecting the arrangement” of work experience.

Increased home working meant some employers had stopped offering work experience, with schools finding it “difficult” to find alternative placements.

Some schools had still not restarted work experience since the pandemic.

Conversely, Covid had “stimulated some innovative approaches” to work experience that pupils were positive about.

For example, some FE and skills providers were using “hybrid work experience models” including both in-person and virtual elements.

But pupils found virtual work experience “less helpful”.

4. Careers hubs and Gatsby benchmarks ‘useful’ for developing provision

Almost all of the schools Ofsted visited were part of a careers hub and generally found it “a useful way” to build professional networks and “drive improvements” against Gatsby benchmarks for good careers guidance.

But some schools responded “less positively”, with one saying it received “minimal input” as its enterprise adviser “was supporting so many other schools”.

“A few” schools were not fully aware of careers hubs and felt communication about them could be “poor”.

Ofsted also noted that schools and FE and skills providers found Gatsby benchmarks were “useful to help strategically review and develop their careers programme”.

This reflected “a shift in thinking around careers provision” in comparison to its last review of careers guidance in 2013.

5. Guidance ‘underdeveloped’ in years 7 and 8

Inspectors found careers guidance was “often underdeveloped” in key stage 3, particularly for year 7.

The report said it was “not always as clear what the thinking was” behind the careers programme for this age group.

Leaders sometimes “lacked clarity” about the specific aims for each year group, “particularly in years 7 and 8”.

Ofsted recommended the Department for Education (DfE) make the aims for careers education for KS3 pupils “more explicit”, including help with KS4 options.

6. Schools limited by time and resources…

Many schools were “limited” by the time and resource available for careers guidance and were “working hard to provide the best…they could in this context”, Ofsted said.

Schools said they could not always dedicate as much time “as they would like” to careers guidance. A third referenced poor staffing levels and high turnover, which led to gaps in the breadth of what they were able to deliver.

A quarter of schools noted funding as “another barrier”, with one school saying this meant they were unable to offer work experience to year 10 and 11 pupils.

Inspectors also found that qualified careers adviser time was “sometimes limited”.

Some schools were prioritising career adviser time for one-to-one guidance interviews with pupils considered vulnerable or at risk of ending up not in education, employment or training (NEET).

But not all “were doing this effectively”. The report also pointed out it was “unclear” from nationally available data how “well resourced” schools are in terms of qualified independent careers advisers.

7. …and struggling to maintain destinations data

While providers can use data on destinations to improve their careers provision, some school leaders said collecting this was difficult, said Ofsted.

They were “concerned” about the time required to collect the data, while data protection requirements also made it harder to obtain.

Ofsted recommended the DfE considered the ways in which it could be possible to improve how post-16 and post-18 destinations data “is aggregated back to schools”.

8. Careers guidance sometimes not linked to broader curriculum

Most schools used PSHE lessons as dedicated time for careers education and subject teachers also made links to careers within their lessons.

In a quarter of schools, linking curriculum to careers “needed more development”.

The school “mostly saw it as a PSHE activity”, while PSHE teachers, subject teachers and careers specialists “did not collaborate enough”.

Meanwhile, a quarter of schools visited also had a specific focus of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects when it came to careers.

Ofsted found that careers was “typically integrated better” into the curriculum for science-based subjects than for others, such as humanities.

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