What does the Journey to a Million mean for Careers Information, Advice and Guidance to students about their choices?

Oli De Botton, Chief Executive, The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC)

Investing in careers education is not often the first answer people reach for when responding to difficult questions in education. But the Journey to a Million challenge points to doing just that.

Careers education helps young people find their next steps in a world of uncertainty. It allows them to weigh the options, however daunting and whatever the competition, and put their best foot forward. At its best, careers support re-balances towards high-quality technical and vocational pathways and removes barriers for young people who battle the odds — meeting a challenge of our times.

This work is a process not an event. It relies on students seeing and experiencing possible futures as well as receiving specific advice. Decisions are made over time and so like other important areas in education, such as safeguarding and literacy, it requires a whole-school and college strategy that builds a positive, embedded culture. Mainstream not marginal.

In schools and colleges, this means helping all teachers to have informed conversations about what could come next. It means having a curriculum that shows young people the real-world application of their learning. It means making sure meaningful work experience is built into the process — planned for in advance, assessed and reflected on afterwards.

This is perhaps a daunting challenge for the sector. However, in a world of a million applications, where competition for places is more intense and those from disadvantaged backgrounds risk falling further behind — it is a challenge we must meet together.

Having been Chief Executive of the Careers & Enterprise Company for over a year I’m convinced the careers system is ready to excel. We do this by building on the foundations that have been put in place in recent years, scaling our efforts where the most impact has been achieved and continuing to innovate and learn. 

A curriculum for the future

We are already seeing the curriculum being enriched in important ways. 

Engineering companies like EKFB are stepping up to explain the importance of modern languages and challenging students to use those skills in a professional context. International film studios like Pinewood are developing resources to show young people how maths applies to the film industry, from set design to commissioning. And major retailers like Tesco are working with schools to show how reading and comprehension are essential to the business planning process.

A future focused curriculum builds in experiences of the workplace too. As a Headteacher in Stratford, East London, I made sure Year 10s spent half a day a week in industry, instead of a ninth GCSE. Students were asked to work on projects, were given feedback and presented products at the end. We asked employers to test the skills we were working on in school like communication.

More broadly, interactions with employers help young people build networks and social capital. This is critical for social mobility. That’s why we’re now working intensively with employers to redefine and codify what excellence looks like when it comes to employer engagement. A new set of measurable employer standards to make sure school outreach is high impact and integrated into the wider curriculum.

Young people at the heart of the system

We’re increasingly hearing the voice of young people; how they feel about the system and what support they want. Our Future Skills Questionnaire — drawing in the views of 35,000 young people last year — gives a sense of how ‘career ready’ learners feel.

We know so far that young people’s awareness of different careers increases as they progress through secondary school. This gives rise to optimism that the work of careers educators is having a positive impact. We can also see that by Year 10 students are reporting a similar level of understanding about apprenticeships as they do of A-Levels.UCAS has a role to play here. The developments in the UCAS Hub, for example, allow students to view academic and technical pathways side by side — opening them up to a range of possible routes. UCAS’s recent announcement that students will be able to search and apply for apprenticeships, alongside degrees, by 2024 will also help put technical and vocational education on an equal footing with traditional academic routes. But there is more to do — especially when it comes to signposting younger students to trusted sources of information. 

This feedback not only helps schools and colleges shape their own programmes and respond to the needs of their students, it also allows us to take system-wide view of young people’s career readiness and target our work where it can have the most impact. 

Teachers leading careers conversations

Like anything in education — teachers matter. They have the power to make a huge impact whether it’s Careers Leaders working to develop and implement whole-school strategies or subject teachers bringing careers into the curriculum in new and innovative ways.

And the evidence is clear, students are seeking out teachers for advice. As an English Teacher I passed on messages, often unwittingly, about careers both through the curriculum I taught and the relationships I built. So training for school staff so they are aware of different pathways — particularly vocational ones they may not have experienced — is critical.

The challenges posed by the Journey to a Million are complex. At the core are the important issues of places, applications and competition. But careers education is one of the answers. It’s part of the long-term support young people need to prepare them for what’s to come, arming them with insight and a plan for the future.

i The Careers and Enterprise Company (2022), Insight briefing: Mid-year update on student career readiness.

Oli De Botton

Chief Executive, The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC)

Oli is the CEO of The Careers & Enterprise Company – the national body for careers education. Prior to this Oli was a Headteacher at a school that pioneered new ways of working with employers - including introducing extended work placements for all Year 10s and 12s Oli co-founded the national charity Voice 21 that seeks to promote speaking in schools. Oli was one of the first cohort of Teach First teachers in 2003. He has been Head of Sixth form and Assistant Headteacher in previous roles and has worked in education policy and strategy as a government education advisor.