Ever since the publication of the UK Government’s 2017-2020 Careers Strategy and Careers Statutory Guidance (last updated July 2021), schools and colleges in England have been provided with a clear framework to assist them in developing effective careers education and guidance. More schools and colleges are making progress towards meeting all eight of the Gatsby Benchmarks, but the level of resource and investment in careers education and guidance still varies from institution to institution. For those careers leaders struggling to convince their SLT to invest in this important area of education, this article outlines why schools and colleges should always employ qualified careers advisers to deliver personal career guidance, vital to meeting Gatsby Benchmark 8.

Not just a ‘cosy chat’

The 1:1 encounter with a careers adviser has been subject to all sorts of unfortunate stereotypes over the years. To those outside the profession, there can be the temptation to imagine the interaction to consist of little more than the dispensing of information, or an encounter with an ‘expert’ whose job it is to tell the client what they should do career-wise. I have even heard career guidance dismissed as little more than a ‘cosy chat’. None of these stereotypes could be further from the truth; career guidance, when delivered by a trained, reflective, and skilful practitioner, is a powerful learning experience, helping people gain self-insight, identify areas of personal need, and be supported to take ownership of their next steps and nurture the motivation to work towards them.

This is because career guidance practice does not emerge from a vacuum; it is a professional activity that has developed over many decades, supported by an active engagement with diverse theoretical traditions and academic research. The hoary image of a careers adviser attempting a 1:1 match between a person’s skills and interests with a narrow job role is long outmoded. Modern career guidance practitioners draw on such contemporary developments as positive psychology, neuroscience, growth mindset and solution-focused therapy amongst others. They are keenly aware that how people make career-related decisions is rarely due to a simplistic matching process, but is subtle, as much to do with personal motivation, external influences, and (sometimes) happenstance as anything else. Young people in schools and colleges need access to professionals who can not only articulate this, but also help them practise how to navigate the various dynamics that impact their learning and career-related decisions and come to their own decisions regarding what actions will be right for them.

Key to this is a careers adviser’s impartiality. Of course, no person can be absolutely impartial in terms of their personal views, or their likes and dislikes – we are all human, after all – but central to a careers adviser’s training is the skill of not permitting one’s own preferences or prejudices to influence how certain options or courses of actions are explored during a personal guidance meeting. Ultimately, any decisions to be made are the client’s, not the careers adviser’s, and young people are best served if they are supported to come to their own well-informed conclusions, together with the confidence to take ownership of them.

Because the Government (and Ofsted) says so!

The foregoing discussion may in itself be enough to underline why qualified careers advisers should be employed to deliver 1:1 career guidance in schools and colleges. That said, busy school and college SLTs will often want to know what is laid down in legislation, particularly what is expected by Ofsted. While the current iteration of the Ofsted Inspection Handbook makes no explicit mention of whether careers advisers should have a qualification or not, it does nonetheless state that ‘all secondary schools are expected to provide effective CEIAG, in line with the statutory Careers guidance and access for education and training providers.[1]

The Government’ Statutory Guidance in turn is more explicit regarding what is expected in the delivery of personal guidance, stating that ‘schools and colleges should make sure that careers advisers (internal and external) providing personal guidance to students are trained to the appropriate level’,[2] clarifying that this means a recognised qualification in career guidance at Level 6 or Level 7. It goes on to signpost schools and colleges to the Career Development Institute’s (CDI) UK Register of Career Development Professionals to help with the task of identifying suitably qualified people who furthermore abide by the CDI’s Code of Ethics and undertake regular continuous professional development. So, it is clear that all schools and colleges are expected to ensure that students have access to properly qualified staff who know how to support young people ethically and in their best interests.

Research says it is effective

In their research, the Careers and Enterprise Company found that personal guidance delivered by a qualified professional was found to support personal effectiveness (self-image, self-efficacy, motivation, and resilience), career readiness (understanding of occupations, decision-making, self-preparation, and transition preparedness), and also educational outcomes (increased attendance, reduced drop-out, enhanced attainment, and progression to personally valued educational destinations).[3] All of these outcomes are valued by school and college leaders, and underline how investing in professionally qualified careers advisers can support the wider priorities of an educational institution as much as students’ personal development and growth.

So far from being ‘money for old rope’, qualified careers advisers are skilled, dynamic, ethically aware and dedicated individuals who can help students develop tangible gains in personal maturity and achieve better educational and work outcomes. All schools and colleges should invest in their services.

[1] Ofsted. 2022. Schools inspection handbook for September 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-inspection-handbook-eif/schools-inspection-handbook-for-september-2022#careers> [Accessed 27 July 2022].

[2] Department for Education, 2019. Careers guidance and access for education and training providers: Statutory guidance for schools and guidance for further education colleges and sixth form colleges. London, p.39.

[3] Everitt, Julia, Siobhan Neary, Marco Antonio Delgardo Fuentes, Lewis Clark. 2018. Personal Guidance: What Works?. London: Careers and Enterprise Company, pp. 3-5.