In the middle of the cold dark first few weeks back after the merriness and relaxation of the Christmas holidays, Ofsted launched its draft common inspection framework (CIF) ready for educationalists, and the public at large, to comment upon. Why should I get involved in this? Where do I get the time? These sorts of things are for people much higher up the ladder than I might be your reaction. My article is an attempt to convince you otherwise.

For far too long, careers work has been an afterthought in education. If schools have had careers leaders, or whichever title was in vogue at the time, it was one person’s job and they did the lot. Often in isolation and often against the tide of other professionals, who, seeing careers learning as being of lesser value than exam results, were often hard to engage. This often resulted in pupils being barred from leaving lessons for careers interviews.  Heads of sixth form and/or SLT refusing to allow access to apprenticeship providers and other sixth form or college opportunities but most importantly of all it resulted in lack of funding and resources.

Historically, many schools of course, didn’t have a school careers leader and once Connexions was abolished in 2012 and responsibility was handed to the schools, along with, naturally, no funding to support the development or delivery of careers work; it became a postcode lottery as to whether your school had careers work going on or not.

The publication of the careers strategy in December 2017 marked a key turning point. The Government finally, after almost 5 years, realised that schools needed support and guidance to provide a worthwhile career offer. If the country was not to find itself with significant skills gap problems in the future something had to be done. Finally, there was recognition that schools needed support and the Gatsby benchmarks were made central to our existence as careers professionals. However, schools still concentrate on other educational areas such as UCAS entry figures and exam results. There needs to be an added carrot or stick to finally incentivise the recalcitrant schools into action. I’ve long felt that, sadly, Ofsted inspection was the only way to promote CEIAG up the agenda sufficiently to ensure that all schools give it sufficient importance.

So, isn’t there any mention of careers in the draft CIF?

Well yes there is. In fact, it’s much improved, with a whole new reporting area called personal development, which covers careers along with many other important areas such as sex and relationship education, resilience and ‘British Values’.

However, the key issues that pertain to careers leaders are the following: –

  • promoting equality of opportunity so that all pupils can thrive together, understanding that difference is a positive, not a negative, and that individual characteristics make people unique
  • providing an effective careers programme that offers advice, experience and contact with employers to encourage pupils to aspire, make good choices and understand what they need to do to reach and succeed in the career to which they aspire
  • supporting readiness for the next phase of education, training or employment so that pupils are equipped to make the transition to the next stage successfully.

The important thing to understand is that notes which accompany the draft CIF freely acknowledge that judging the efficacy of careers work can be problematic, but they go on to confirm that they will look at nationally published information aka destinations data. As part of the workload agreement they have already suggested that they wouldn’t look at internal data, so just how will inspectors judge CEIAG?

One thing that we need to take onboard is that Ofsted inspectors are rarely experts in CEIAG and may well need guidance in understanding what good CEIAG looks like. There are exceptions obviously, but most inspectors have had a half day training workshop and have little other knowledge. Whilst not wishing to be condescending or negative, the framework has been written by educationalists who whilst consulting experts, may not have extensive knowledge of how CEIAG works in many schools and the challenges that are faced on a daily basis by careers leaders.  So, should we not take some time to ensure that they are aware of the challenges and also some of the ways CEIAG can be evaluated?

So, my thoughts on some areas of clarification needed and how to respond?

The response document is lengthy and gives a lot of information but basically breaks down into 11 questions. You don’t need to answer them all, in fact I’d restrict my answers to proposal 1 and 2 as being the most pertinent to CEIAG. Of course, you’re free to make your own suggestions but here are mine.

Proposal 1 “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposal to introduce a ‘quality of education’ judgement?”.

Responses here might include comments welcoming the move but pointing out the need for an explicit reference to the provision of careers learning opportunities across the curriculum i.e. seeing references to careers learning in departmental schemes of work or the required ‘planned programme’ (Gatsby 1) showing inputs from departmental areas (Gatsby 4).

They also state they will look at “the quality of careers information, education, advice and guidance, and how well it benefits pupils in choosing and deciding on their next steps.” I think they may well need support in defining what is good.  Are they looking at the knowledge or the skills of the learners? CEIAG is an area of the curriculum that should be fostering the acquisition of skills. It’s not just about getting the exams needed, it’s about being able to master interview nerves, speak about one’s skills and qualities in a professional manner. How do we want Ofsted to acknowledge that?

Also, there is no mention of the Quality in Careers Standard in the draft.  A major oversight in my opinion. Over 1000 schools across the country have obtained a QICS which could be used as evidence of delivery of quality of CEIAG.

Proposal 2 “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the proposed separation of inspection judgements about learners’ personal development and learners’ behaviour and attitudes?”.

Again welcome, but not explicit in what is required of CEIAG. Where is mention of the school’s compliance (or not) to the statutory guidance and the Baker Clause and of course the Gatsby benchmarks? There is a proposal, number 6, not to look at internal data which is linked to the workload issue. Does this rule out the Compass and Tracker tools supplied by the CEC?

So how will they evaluate the CEIAG section of behaviour and attitudes? I’m sure they will be using their tried and tested format of triangulation, looking at destination data, looking at evidence the school provides and talking to pupils.

Additionally, there is no mention of careers in the outstanding judgement descriptor although there is in the good and inadequate. You may wish to suggest exemplar texts for such a descriptor.

How do we communicate this to Ofsted?  Well go to the consultation page and let them know what you think.