One of my top tips for gaining and maintaining the Quality in Careers Standard is getting parents onboard. However, it is not just the parents that we have got to win over, it is the students too.
Before we started considering applying for the Quality in Careers Standard, students saw careers education as a tack on to PSHE days, and their future as a distant thing that I kept going on about in assemblies! As Careers Leader at John Hanson Community School, I was starkly aware that there was no strategy or long-term plan for CEIAG. We had no means of making parents aware of what we were trying to do either. In order to really turn around our careers education we had to change the focus fast and we have done so through three main areas.
Visibility in school
This started with careers becoming more visual around the school.
First, myself and our brilliant careers advisor created two centralised displays that have evolved over time – one for careers (covering jobs, LMI, and application processes), and the other covering apprenticeships. Both displays are updated regularly and have become a resource that the students use as a point of reference. They stop and look, and take a flyer when something interests them.
Equally, we had a clear out in our Learning Resource Centre (LRC). Every year since, we’ve updated the books and the post-16 and post-18 prospectus’ available, including Trotman titles like Careers 2021, STEM Careers and Choosing the Right A Levels. This area in the LRC is due to be updated again over the summer; after student feedback we’re adding a laptop station and guides written by our careers advisor on application completion, job web searches and CV writing. These will all be available for the students to use independently following their 1-2-1 careers interviews.
Employing a careers advisor who is highly qualified, approachable and knowledgeable makes my job as Careers Leader so much easier. Not only does it mean the students feel at ease, but the contact with home is opened up.
Another success at making careers more visible around the school was an idea I pinched off Twitter (Twitter is great for this!). We have posters on staff doors – offices, classrooms, everywhere – that say ‘Ask me about…’ Members of staff have then listed what they are ‘experts’ in. This can be due to their qualifications or where they’ve gone to college or university, what apprenticeships they’ve completed and any previous careers. This means students have a wealth of adults available to them to ask job related questions.
Our assemblies too have come a long way since I started the careers leader journey. This last year has taught us new ways of working and our plan going forward is to record subject area careers assemblies that can also go on our school website. Students who are absent don’t miss out, and all students can re-watch any they are interested in again and again, even at home with their parents.
Our website needed a complete overhaul too.
We now have two separate areas: one for students, the other for parents. Every year these are updated. This year we added the Gatsby Benchmarks to try and make it even clearer what we cover.
When we launched our Twitter page it was really successful too. It is a fantastic tool for linking students and their parents with our local colleges and sixth forms as well as local employers. It is particularly useful for sharing information on apprenticeships. During Covid-19 times this has dropped off a little but the plan for next academic year is to have scheduled items that go on each week to ensure we are flooding it with information and useful links for parents and students alike.
Visibility within our community
In searching for links with local businesses, we met several parents along the way who became an invaluable source of information for our students. We started hosting mini-careers fairs at lunch time for certain career sectors, and through our school newsletter received many offers from parents who came in to talk about their career paths to their current roles. Again, this was a brilliant way of getting as many careers in front of our students as possible, whilst involving our parents too.
Another way to really engage our students and get them thinking about their future has been to widen which colleges and sixth forms get access in assemblies. We used to invite four in, and only one or two of those ever took us up on it. We now have eleven that regularly visit our school delivering workshops, talks and assemblies to our year 10 and 11 students. By listening to the students who told us how far they are willing to travel for college or sixth form, we are now fully engaging them all, as all their options visit us.
During the recent lockdowns we have had to think differently about CEIAG. We’ve managed to still hold 1-2-1 interviews with all our students, and even take some of our more vulnerable students to visit the colleges they will be attending in September, but we have had to be clever with technology too. Winchester University and the SUN group have been great at providing virtual sessions for our KS4 students, and we have used our weekly school newsletter, as well as our parent email system to keep parents engaged and aware of opportunities and events available to their children.
We have been really lucky; our students engage with careers education. They are interested in their future. They love listening to visitors talking about what they do and how they got there. But they are lucky too. We have supportive local businesses, as well as post-16 and post-18 providers nearby. Our students see at least ten career visitors per academic year so, by the time they leave us in Year 11, they have a wealth of information.
What has been hardest in this journey has been making parents aware of all that we are doing.
New tools like the Compass+ tracker has been brilliant this year, as for the first time this summer we plan to send home a copy of all of the careers education their child has participated in. This, coupled with their Futures Folder – where we store all of their CEIAG records throughout their 5 years – should mean both that students and parents alike are fully aware of their future options.
We are not finished with trying to engage parents and students in our Careers Education programme; every year in my development plan I include something I really want to build on the following year. This year I see two main areas for improvement.
Firstly, the website, our Twitter page, and the weekly newsletter are just not enough for our students to really see what is on offer with regards to careers education at our school. I want to create a half-termly newsletter that shows them what has happened that term, what is upcoming later in the year, and to share details of local apprenticeships. Our local college events will be listed, and we are even hoping that our Enterprise Advisor will write a short article for each edition. We want to celebrate all things careers at John Hanson.
Finally, the last year didn’t allow it, but now it is time to really build our alumni. I want to create a bank of parents and ex-students who can share their expertise in their chosen careers area with our students. These people are invested in our school so are in the best possible position to engage our students.
Engaging parents and students in careers education is multi-faceted, difficult and exhausting at times. But by trying new things, being relentlessly positive and by asking for help from others, it is totally worth it!
Anna Hall has been an assistant headteacher for 8 years, leading on professional development, quality of teaching and the personal development of students. She is Careers Leader at her school and, with the support of her team, secured the Careers Award in 2019.