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When it was first introduced, Lord Baker himself acknowledged that the Baker Clause could be a ‘hard sell’ to schools. For apprenticeships to become a productive route for young people into the workplace we need a huge collective effort from Government, education and business.  

A year on since the introduction of the Baker Clause, the IPPR have published their take on compliance. This reflects what we recently found in our State of the Nation report and what I am seeing on the ground in my regular engagements with schools: steady progress, but much more to do. After all, the statutory requirements are still relatively new and coincide with many other simultaneous reforms. I want to share what I have learnt and what The Careers & Enterprise Company is doing to help inspire and prepare young people about the apprenticeship opportunity.

The Baker Clause and Gatsby Benchmarks

The Baker Clause requires schools to allow education and training providers access to their pupils, so they can provide them with information about the technical and vocational routes available to them. It was created to address a long-standing issue in education, exacerbated by some more recent pressures but a consistent feature of the school and post-16 interface over decades.

The Gatsby Benchmarks share this end, although by different means. Benchmark 7 requires schools and colleges to provide ‘encounters with further and higher education’. This includes both academic and vocational routes, such as apprenticeships.

While the Baker Clause is about opening-up access, Gatsby Benchmark 7 is about facilitating engagements. The two requirements are separate but overlapping. While we don’t have a formal role in ensuring compliance with the Baker Clause, we do have a role in supporting schools to meet the Gatsby Benchmarks. By increasingly enabling such connections to be made, I believe that we will see increased compliance with the Baker Clause.

Steady progress – but a long way to go

In November, we published our State of the Nation report. This is the most comprehensive picture of the state of careers education in England to date, informed by returns from more than 3,000 secondary schools and colleges.

One in every eight schools (13%) were fully achieving Benchmark 7. Six in eight schools (74%) were partially achieving it. This is the first time most of these schools will have measured themselves against the Benchmarks, and represents a low starting point, reflecting what was found by the IPPR.

But our data also provides insight beyond the headline figure. We use ‘sub-benchmarks’ to see how close a school is to meeting an overall benchmark. These show that schools are not just struggling when it comes to apprenticeships.

In fact, schools are doing pretty well on ‘providing information about the full range of apprenticeships’ to their pupils, with two thirds (66%) of schools meeting this requirement.

But while around half of schools facilitate meaningful encounters with further education (55%), and universities (47%), just under a third of schools (32%) do so with independent training providers. And the sub-benchmark with the lowest score was actually visits to university campuses, with just one in five (20%) meeting this requirement.

Together, this evidence strongly suggests that the barrier is less about the preference of schools for one route over another, and more about their capacity and where established relationships lie. That is why networks are so important.

The good news is that the picture is improving. Among the cohort of a thousand schools and colleges to complete more than one assessment, the number meeting Benchmark 7 has increased from 13% to 19%. Still a long way to go, but steady progress.

Supporting schools

Simply placing a requirement on schools is a blunt instrument. Schools need support to get this right. There is a wealth of fantastic work going on and we are pleased to be part of a community of organisations involved in this. 

Our Enterprise Adviser Network has matched more than 2000 schools with a volunteer Enterprise Adviser from the world of business, to support schools with careers. The Network provides a direct route for the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s (EFSA) Apprenticeships Support and Knowledge (ASK) partners and training providers to reach schools.

We have a partnership with the National Apprenticeship Service to help train our Network. And in partnership with AELP we are working in 12 areas across the country to pilot specialist apprenticeship Enterprise Coordinator roles. Many of these areas overlap with Government’s Careers Hubs and we are working with the Young Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network (YAAN) to embed them amongst hub schools.

We fund a number of programmes that have a focus on apprenticeships through our investment funds. To date, we have invested £2m in 12 providers delivering programmes that have reached 150,000 young people.

And we work in partnership with employers across the country, including over 60 Cornerstone Employers in the Government’s Opportunity Areas, who support the promotion of apprenticeships in a number of ways.  

Many of our Cornerstone Employers have their own apprenticeship programmes, and invite current apprentices into schools as young ambassadors, support and guide young people with their apprenticeship applications, or provide existing apprentices as mentors to prospective apprentices.

We’re on the right path

No one doubts this is a long road, but we’re confident we are moving in the right direction. Opening up schools to the full range of education and training providers will require a huge cultural shift.

The Government’s Careers Strategy has raised the profile of careers again after it was rightly described as patchy before. We see first-hand that schools are engaging with the Network and with the Gatsby Benchmarks.

This year we should begin to see the impact of these changes. The North East Careers Hubs pilot – which provided the forerunner for the 20 Careers Hubs we launched last year – showed particularly strong progress on Gatsby Benchmark 7.

We expect to see accelerated progress against all the Gatsby Benchmarks in these hubs areas, and the new workforce of trained Careers Leaders has huge potential to transform careers education. In the many schools I visit I see a huge appetite and a great deal of energetic work to embrace this.

With a consistent, evidence based approach we can make a long term impact on this persistent issue.