The role of the careers leader is fundamental to ensuring that young people have the opportunities to experience the world of work and to gain insights into the types of careers that match their interests, qualities and aspirations. However, not all experiences of the role are equal.
I conducted some small-scale research in 2018 into how careers leaders perceived their roles and the support they received from SLT in their schools. This article highlights the findings of my research, which I also presented at the NICEC Conference in April 2018, and provides details of the perceptions of careers leaders and their experiences of delivering the careers programmes in their schools.
I invited careers leaders in my network to answer three questions about their experiences. I asked the following questions:
- How are careers leaders appointed and selected for the role in their schools or colleges?
- How do careers leaders perceive their identity?
- What strategies do careers leaders adopt to prepare students for the complex world of work?
We know that the role of the careers leader is not new. Previous titles have included ‘Careers Teacher’, ‘Head of Careers’ and ‘Careers Coordinator’ (Andrew et al., 1998). In the publication, Understanding the role of the Careers Leader, a careers leader needs to have confidence and authority to lead their colleagues, make decisions, enact reforms and ensure that their school is reaching the Gatsby Benchmarks.
Eight careers leaders participated in my research. The careers leaders told me about their job titles, the nature of their role, and the challenges associated with being a careers leader. The job titles of the careers leaders in my research included ‘Librarian’, ‘Director of Careers’, ‘Director of Learning’, ‘Higher Education and Careers Manager’, ‘Operational Lead Employability’, ‘PSE and Careers Leader’, and simply ‘Careers Leader’.
It was apparent that careers leaders’ roles vary depending on their school contexts and the headteachers’ perceptions and interpretation of the role. What was also evident was that careers leaders hold senior leadership, middle leadership or support staff roles, with varying levels of experience of careers and leading on whole school projects.
Some of the careers leaders recognised that they did not have the authority that went with the job title. Headteachers allocated aspects of their roles to others or excluded them from strategic careers decisions. For example, the Librarian shared her experiences and felt held back in her role. She completed the Teach First Careers and Employability Leadership Programme and received the training required to become a careers leader. However, her headteacher, who was her line manager, led the careers meetings. He had responsibility for the strategic leadership of the careers programme and did not consult with her in the decision-making process. This had a demotivating effect on her and caused her to consider whether she should continue in the role.
“I have full responsibility for the school library, oversee careers and delivery to ensure that the school meets the Gatsby Benchmarks, but I am not involved in the delivery of careers education.” (Librarian)
Other careers leaders talked about the challenges of the role but also how deeply rewarding it was. There was unanimity on the vast range of activities they had to carry out. For the PSE and Careers Leader, this was largely due to others’ expectations that she would be involved in the day-to-day delivery of all aspects of the careers programme.
“A rewarding, demanding and interesting role. [It is] very much in the development stages. [It] can become overwhelming with [a] lack of admin support and [a] shortage of PSE staff. Extremely long hours.” (PSE and Careers Leader)
“It is expected I will personally deliver or organise/resource on all aspects connected with PSE and careers. My role is to liaise and support at all levels, sometimes it can be problematic to maintain correct levels of contact with all parties; this can have an adverse impact on personal effectiveness.” (PSE and Careers Leader)
What is evident is the need for administrative support. Where careers leaders had administrative support, the role was easier to manage and allowed them to focus on the strategic leadership aspects of the role.
All the careers leaders spoke about the rewarding nature of the role. Despite the challenges, they all commented on the importance of the role in supporting young people. They also spoke of how the role has given them the opportunity to work with a range of people to promote careers, both within the school and with employers and Enterprise Advisers outside the school.
“It’s a fantastic role, deeply rewarding and essential for the students.” (Careers Leader)
“Positive on the whole. SLT are very supportive.” (Higher Education and Careers Manager)
“[It is] something I have had to ‘fit in’ with other responsibilities. [It is] something I would dearly love more time to devote to.” (Director of Learning)
Whilst the role of careers leader can be carried out by a range of people, the person appointed must have the confidence and authority to carry out all aspects of the role in order to make strategic decisions and support colleagues. This is dependent on the individual, but SLT have a role to play in ensuring the person has support. Careers leaders need support and guidance to carry out the role effectively, regardless of whether they are senior or middle leaders, or support staff.
During her 19 years in the teaching profession, Claudette has held a range of roles including Head of Faculty, Head of House and Assistant Headteacher. She now works as a careers leader and is passionate about providing students with amazing careers-related opportunities.