| Views |

When I first began to look at how to improve career guidance in this country, I could scarcely have believed that we would reach the point at which we now stand.

The eight Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Career Guidance have been adopted by Government as a framework for world-class careers provision, and schools and colleges across the country are working towards them.

We now know that the effect of good career guidance isn’t just to be seen in the long term. Recent research from Education and Employers1 indicated that meaningful encounters with employers, in line with Benchmark 5, can change students’ attitudes to education, motivate them to study harder and improve their GCSE grades.

And thanks to the Careers Leader research published today, we also know that 94 per cent of Careers Leaders in schools believe that the Gatsby Benchmarks have helped to improve career guidance.

Making the Benchmarks a reality

It’s right that Careers Leaders are receiving such focus today, for they are the critical factor in making the Benchmarks a reality in schools and colleges.

In 2015, the Gatsby Foundation began a pilot of the Benchmarks with sixteen schools and colleges in the North East of England, in partnership with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. The pilot was a great success, with all involved significantly improving their performance in line with the Benchmarks over the two years.

We learned many lessons from this pilot, for example, the benefits of regional coordination, and best practice examples of employer engagement, but the clearest message from the schools and colleges who took part was the importance of the Careers Leader.

Having a dedicated professional, working directly with senior leaders, to oversee the development and implementation of a strategic Careers plan, proved invaluable. I was glad to see the Government place such an emphasis on the Careers Leader role by choosing to incorporate it into its statutory guidance for schools and colleges - since September 2018, schools and colleges have been required to publish the name of their Careers Leader on their website.

Autonomous schools

Critically though, schools and colleges are autonomous, identifying their institution’s priorities and allocating funding accordingly. Therefore, how they decide to interpret this new role is down to the discretion of their senior leaders.

So I am very pleased to see that this research shows that the majority of schools are adopting the model of the Careers Leader that the pilot advocated, and ensuring the role has the full support of the senior leadership team. Two thirds of Careers Leaders are working at senior or middle leadership level, and 81 per cent of those who are not report directly to a member of the senior leadership team.

What has also become very clear is that available time and training makes a real difference to this role. Where schools can give their Careers Leader full-time equivalent hours (compared to only a few hours a week), the school performs better against the Benchmarks. And when senior leaders have been able to send their Careers Leaders on training or to be qualified, the school meets more Benchmarks.

Empowering careers leaders

These decisions lie with school leaders across the country, who have the ability to empower this important cadre of the workforce. I hope that by reading this research, school leaders will see the difference their decisions can make, and how even at a time of significant financial pressure, there is long term value to be gained from investing in Careers Leaders.

The positivity of schools and Careers Leaders towards the Benchmarks and careers guidance is tangible throughout this research, and in the schools and colleges I visit. Separate research on Careers Leaders in colleges is planned, and I hope to see this positivity replicated there.

As school leaders take a well-deserved break before a new school year, I hope this research can provide them with both inspiration and confidence in the value well-resourced and empowered Careers Leaders bring to their school.