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This week we published our latest State of the Nation’ report – the most comprehensive assessment of school and college careers provision in England to date. What does this mean for young people?

There is positive news. Nearly a thousand schools and colleges have assessed their progress against best practice twice – and on average they are showing improvement on every dimension of careers support.

In particular, they are showing strong progress on encounters with employers and employees and – crucially – linking the curriculum to careers. Many recognise the latter as the holy grail in careers and one that requires a comprehensive school or college programme.  This suggests the emergence of a more systematic approach to careers across our schools and colleges. This is backed up by recent Ofsted commentary that “the current picture is much more encouraging than has been the case in the past … careers guidance within schools is improving”.

A changing picture

Progress and disadvantage

Another encouraging sign is that performance is correlated with disadvantage. Schools and colleges serving communities with high unemployment and a low number of people in ‘professional’ jobs are providing a higher quality careers education. In other words, it appears that focused efforts to target resource, or school and college determination to address social mobility, or both, are leading to progress where it is most needed.

Average number of Benchmarks achieved by LEP (presented in quartiles)


A long way to go

However, the research also reveals what many have felt intuitively for years – that there is a long way to go before all young people are receiving the world class careers support that they deserve and that decades of underperformance will take time to reverse. The overall average is only 2.12 Benchmarks.

So what does this mean for young people?

While improvement in the delivery of careers education and guidance is a necessary part of a great careers system, it is not an end in itself. Quality careers education is an ‘input’ measure. It looks at what is going on in schools and colleges, but it does not directly measure the impact this is having on young people. We must also see progress on ‘outputs’ (the direct and immediate impact upon young people) as well as ‘outcomes’ (the longer-term impact on their lives).

In recent weeks we have gathered the results of the pilot of our ‘FutureSkills’ survey of young people, which gives us insight into these ‘outputs’.

The survey uses a set of validated measures and experimental approaches to look at the personal effectiveness, career readiness and employability skills of young people before and after they have benefited from careers interventions funded by The Careers & Enterprise Company. The latter builds on the excellent Skills Builder Framework.

Across all these areas, the survey found that:

  • 80% young people reported an increased awareness of different careers
  • 75% have a greater understanding of what they need to do to achieve their ambitions
  • 70% of young people felt more motivated to work hard at school or colleges
  • Perhaps most interestingly, young people’s resilience improved, with a 20 percentage point increase in a young people’s determination to keep trying if they cannot do something.

This data came from our initial pilot but we will now roll out FutureSkills across all of the organisations we fund and – as the measure becomes more developed – aim to make this available to all schools and colleges alongside our Compass self-evaluation tool.

Over time this presents the opportunity to better understand which interventions are most effective for developing young people’s skills and to focus on those ‘inputs’ which are most beneficial and deliver the right ‘outputs’.

Inputs, outputs and outcomes – a virtuous circle

Even outputs are only an interim measure. The longer term of success if of course destinations. ‘Destinations data’ is now published regularly by the Department for Education and is a welcome development.  This data tracks whether young people go on to employment, an apprenticeship, or further or higher education at the ages of 16 and 18.

The health warning is that there is a long lag in this data. This month the Department published the latest school level data which, for context, includes the cohort of young people who were in their final year of school before The Careers & Enterprise Company had started operations. Given much careers work is with students earlier in their school life, the lag is even greater.

The positive news here however is that the Department for Education has moved from reporting routes – simply whether a young person ends up in education, employment or an apprenticeship - to reporting levels, for example the type of degree or apprenticeship they are working towards.

This means we can begin moving to a more sophisticated notion of what a ‘good destination’ is. Combined with the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes data - which provides a longer-term feedback loop on future earnings and employment status - this data is significant.

There remains room for further improvement here. For example, the consistent collection of input data on careers at student level. However even with what we now have, these datasets mean that, over time, we should be able to connect the inputs, outputs and outcomes and, by understanding what has worked, deliver continuous and systematic improvements to the model of careers support in our county.