SPONSORED: Unifrog's four key strategies to support a blended learning approach to careers education

Young people aged 16 to 24 have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – they held 47% of jobs that were furloughed by 31st July 2020, and the number of young people claiming unemployment related benefits increased by 122% between March and August[1]. Research out this week gives a glimpse into the potential long-term impact; an ‘aspiration gap’ has been created[2].

This article explores four key strategies for delivering the best quality CEIAG this academic year, to ensure students can make informed, positive and aspirational decisions about their futures.

 

Context

Unifrog is a social enterprise working with over 2,000 schools and colleges across the UK. Our mission is to level the playing field when it comes to young people finding the best opportunities for them. We do this by supporting schools with their careers programmes through our online platform and staff CPD opportunities.

Research by the Gatsby Foundation found that 72% of schools and colleges thought careers provision became ‘even more important’ in the final months of the 2019-2020 academic year[3]. This was mirrored by the record levels of engagement with the Unifrog CEIAG platform by students and staff, as well as record levels of teachers downloading our CEIAG classroom resources. Over 2,500 schools and colleges engaged with our Distance Learning Resources during lockdown.

The aforementioned labour market statistics paint a bleak picture for young people, and it’s likely that we’ll be feeling the effects of the pandemic for many years to come. It’s never been more important to invest time and resources into supporting students to explore their future options.

Gain access to the latest information about post-school opportunities

Amongst the uncertainty, it’s essential that Careers Leaders are able to direct students, staff and parents towards impartial and comprehensive careers information. Choosing to pursue an apprenticeship or university degree was not a straightforward decision for school leavers in 2020. The number of 16-18 year olds beginning apprenticeships between March and the end of July 2020 dropped by 68% compared to the same period last year[4]. COVID-19 led to many questions about the number of young people moving on to university, the impact this might have on future cohorts, and what the university experience would be like this year.

Hundreds of Careers Leaders attended two Unifrog webinars with panels of university admissions staff in June 2020, and the bulk of questions focused on students deferring their place and if the university experience would be ‘worth it’ this year.  We’ve found that when there’s a whirlwind of considerations like in 2020, a one-stop-shop of information can provide clarity. The use of an online platform that does this helps to quality assure the information that students, staff and parents have access to.

Once you’ve accessed the latest careers information, the next step is to help your students make sense of it. CEIAG is rarely delivered solely through formal careers lessons; 1:1 adviser interviews, workshops, work experience placements and lectures from employers and external providers all usually contribute. During lockdown it became hugely difficult for schools to continue these aspects of CEIAG undisrupted, and those same challenges remain this term. Going forward, a blended approach will be best to make sure careers programmes remain stable and resilient.

 

Flexible approach

Current student attendance is below average at 87%[5], so it’s difficult for schools to deliver all careers sessions in class.  If we’re to prioritise doing what’s best for the most disadvantaged pupils, remote learning can’t be the only tactic either – research from the Nuffield Foundation found that engagement with remote learning was worst in schools with higher levels of deprivation[6].  We need a flexible approach that’s as inclusive as possible. To address this we released the Blended Learning Year Plan to partner schools and colleges – a flexible and adaptable scheme of work for CEIAG built up of sessions which could be delivered remotely or in-person.

This approach means that Careers Leaders are prepared for when some or all students aren’t able to attend school, maintaining a stable whole-school approach. For these resources to be used effectively, various strategies need to put in place, such as those which help schools to monitor progress and engagement. Online platforms help schools to communicate tasks remotely and quickly with targeted groups of students. The ability to track their progress in completing these tasks means Careers Leaders can evidence that they are addressing the needs of each student – the third Gatsby Benchmark.

The Gatsby Foundation recently found that “ensuring those that need it most are accessing support” was the most significant concern school leaders had for careers guidance this academic year, after work experience placements and employer encounters[7]. Making sure your careers programme includes a flexible plan for each year group, with opportunities to assess students’ progress, will mean you’re well placed to address the needs of each student.

 

Staff engagement and training

Access to information and a flexible approach to careers both rely on technology. Over the past six months, students and teachers have well and truly embraced technology as a cornerstone of good practice – now is the ideal time for us to really master it. Since the school closures, Unifrog has delivered over 1,500 remote staff training sessions and CPD events to partner schools across the UK. Staff training and CPD events are included for all Unifrog partner schools as standard, and we ramped up this aspect of our support to meet the needs of our partners as they shifted to online learning. Our COVID-19 impact report released in June found that 80% of students who reported being well-supported by their teachers felt optimistic about their future[8]. Effective staff engagement is crucial for making sure that  students benefit as much as possible from technology.

COVID-19 aside, whole-school staff engagement and embedding careers into the curriculum (the fourth Gatsby Benchmark) are often two key areas for development for Careers Leaders. The challenging labour market and online learning becoming part of standard practice, present Careers Leaders with a great opportunity to re-engage their colleagues with careers.

 

Parent and carer engagement

The school community is not just made up of the staff and students; it includes the students’ families too. For Careers Leaders, communication with parents and carers helps to ensure students are engaging with careers education tasks and not missing out on learning. This may be why we saw a distinct increase in the number of schools requesting parent and carer access to Unifrog over lockdown. The Gatsby Foundation found that 29% of school leaders think parents and carers will have more influence in careers discussions moving forward, and 30% believe their relationships with parents and carers in relation to careers guidance will improve[9]. Parental involvement with careers programmes can help schools to harness those relationships so that students can benefit from it. Establishing strong parent and carer communication channels can ensure everyone is prepared for learning to continue if we need to shift back to remote learning.

Careers education entered our homes thanks to COVID-19. Families across the country clapped for key-workers and for many of those still working, kitchen tables turned into office desks seemingly overnight. As with whole staff engagement, there has never been a better time for Careers Leaders to work on parental engagement to enhance their careers programme.

 

Conclusion

The pandemic has unquestionably pushed CEIAG to the forefront of how we best support students this academic year. The short-term economic impact of COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the opportunities open to young people, be it in work or study. To better deliver on our social mission we have adapted our resources, teacher training and platform to equip partner schools with the tools to support all students with their aspirations, regardless of their circumstances. The longer-term impact is yet to reveal itself, but what is clear is that we can utilise the new educational approaches COVID-19 has given us to ensure we’re supporting the students who need it the most. All staff, students and parents having access to the latest information about all post-school opportunities will ensure students can make properly informed decisions about their next steps. Having a flexible approach to delivering careers education will help to alleviate disruption in the event of students being unable to attend school, and in turn keep your careers programme stable. Effective staff and parental engagement will ensure students have wrap-around support to help them make the most of CEIAG.

The longer-term impact of COVID-19 is yet to reveal itself, but we can use the new educational approaches it’s given us to support the students who need it the most, using these four strategies:

 

  1. Careers Leaders should make sure they have access to the latest information about post-school opportunities so their students can make fully-informed decisions about their next steps.
  2. A flexible approach to delivering careers education will help to alleviate disruption in the event of students being unable to attend school, and in turn keep your careers programme stable.
  3. Use the current labour market conditions as a springboard to reignite conversations about careers in the classroom, and ensure your colleagues are trained to deliver on this.
  4. Effective parental engagement will make sure students have wrap-around support to help them make the most of CEIAG.

 

To learn more about Unifrog, access our Blended Learning Programme or get involved in our social mission – please email info@unifrog.org or visit us at www.unifrog.org

See our latest Insights report on students’ wellbeing, motivation and thoughts on their futures in light of the pandemic here link: http://bit.ly/2w7CzLG

 

Written by:

Charley Fowler

Unifrog Area Manager and Gatsby Champion

charley@unifrog.org

 

[1] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn05871/

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54329554

[3] Page 6, https://www.gatsby.org.uk/uploads/education/reports/pdf/secondary-school-and-college-leadership-views-on-the-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-on-careers-guidance-summer-2020.pdf

[4] https://www.fenews.co.uk/fevoices/53916-47-770-lost-apprenticeships-due-to-coronavirus-crisis

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-54250805

[6] https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/news/disadvantaged-pupils-less-engaged-in-remote-learning

[7] Page 38, https://www.gatsby.org.uk/uploads/education/reports/pdf/secondary-school-and-college-leadership-views-on-the-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-on-careers-guidance-summer-2020.pdf

[8] Page 10, https://cdn.unifrog.org/downloads/Unifrog-Covid-19-impact.pdf

[9] Page 8, https://resources.careersandenterprise.co.uk/sites/default/files/2020-09/1400_%20Careers_In_Context_Guide_Final_24_09_20_0.pdf