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Sarah Noble is Strategic Lead for Modern Foreign Languages across the Central RSA Academies Trust and Lead Coach for ITT (Initial Teacher Training) in Worcestershire.

Alongside her French and Spanish teaching commitments, she has been the Careers Leader at the Outstanding Ofsted-rated Academy Arrow Vale since September 2017. The school teaches students from Year 9-13 – a critical age group for making careers-related decisions.

Sarah shares her experience of being in the Careers Leader role and how much she has benefitted from completing the online training.

What’s your experience been like so far as a Careers Leader?
It was overwhelming at first but the online training and being part of a Careers Hub has been invaluable. Its allowed us to meet up with other Careers Leaders who are experiencing the same challenges – and can offer solutions. It’s brilliant.

As we are based in an area of high deprivation, a lot of our young people may come from homes where mum and dad don’t work, and this may well be across many generations. They might not see the point of going out and earning a living. Often those disengaged individuals benefit the most from targeted careers support. They start seeing the point to school and understand why they need to tuck their shirt in – not because the teacher wants them to but because they’ll need to at work.

Although I’m immensely busy, I love it – the role takes me out the classroom and into business, where I originally started my career. I’ve done everything from working in a brokerage firm in London, owning a café in Portugal, working as an auxiliary nurse and a stint in transport and logistics. This gives me gravitas because I can talk to young people about the transferable skills I have learnt: communication, leadership, teamworking, initiative and flexibility.

What was most valuable about the training? 
The training has allowed me to learn about best practice while not having to take any time out of the classroom – I completed most of it during the weekends, at my own pace. There is also an online forum where you can exchange ideas with other Careers Leaders.

The most valuable modules were around maximising internal resources, managing external partners and linking careers to the curriculum – as like many schools we have struggled with Benchmark 4.

There is a section on how to use and access labour market information which was particularly helpful as teenagers can find this part really dull! They suggested quick and easy wins to incorporate it into lessons in an engaging way.

How have you been able to put this learning into practice?
As part of National Careers Week, I asked teachers to display on their classroom doors what jobs they have been in before and the skills they learnt. This sparked lots of conversations and the kids were really inspired.

After watching a video in the training of a guy talking about how he approached his school’s needs through a careers education audit, I asked every department to list what they were and were not doing, and after identifying the gaps have asked them to build careers activities and opportunities  into their curriculum maps and schemes of work.

I have also introduced a more targeted approach to ensure employer encounters are meaningful for every child. Teachers conduct a short interview with each student and draw up a spreadsheet to record their interests and career aspirations. We found it quite useful to rate the students too – some that don’t need much intervention through to those who don’t know what they want to do at all. We can then target those in most need of support and have identified employers like the NHS to come in and speak to young people who showed an interest in becoming porters, nurses or doctors.

What are your three top tips for new Careers Leaders that you have learnt from the training and your experience?

  • Build careers into your school improvement plan which feeds into departmental improvement plans to ensure it is a clear target
  • Ask each department to run a careers activity regularly (i.e. one per half term) so that it becomes a core part of their planning and teaching
  • For teachers struggling with time, suggest including a video from a website like www.icould.com at the start of the lesson to introduce a careers topic – and have some questions ready to engage young people – this is really effective and gets them thinking about the world beyond school.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a Careers Leader?
Firstly, you can get pulled into doing everything, but we need to lead our colleagues and encourage a whole-school team effort.

The biggest challenge however is getting buy in from the rest of the team – if I stand up in the staffroom and say that careers is important – it doesn’t always carry much weight. It’s finding evidence that this works. And we are seeing this through the transformation of individuals who have improved attainment as well as motivation.

The biggest difference has been in the most disengaged young people who have consistent attendance of 80% and below. Once they start going on workplace visits and interacting with employers, they start coming to school every day and engaging.

How has the training met your needs and influenced your careers provision?   

Along with ideas for engaging external partners, the training suggests inviting alumni back to share their success stories. One alumnus came into our school to talk about her career writing novels. She was from a very disadvantaged background, a recipient of free school meals and labelled as a low achiever. She was the perfect inspiration for our students studying English.

Another alumnus who works with animals came in to speak to a group of our students who have strong ambitions to embark on a similar career. Despite many of them not having the grades to become a vet, the workshop demonstrated lots of achievable career options including jobs in a zoo or sanctuary.

It’s fantastic that alumni can offer the perspective that “I was once sat where you are now, and this is what I’m doing now!” Especially for those who are lacking in resilience and confidence.

What do you enjoy most about being a Careers Leader?
I love seeing students who can be challenging in the classroom but are then able to interact maturely and politely to employers – it makes me so proud. They go to the effort to present themselves smartly, tuck their shirt in and articulate what they want to say in a place of work which they usually struggle with day to day. It blows my mind and makes me see them in a different light.

One boy who was completely disengaged had a couple of interactions with an engineering company and is totally focused now. He’s also turned around his poor attendance and homework, since having a goal of where he is heading in the future.

I have also been delighted at the willingness of business – we have been inundated with offers to work closely with us. One employer stands out (local pest control firm Rentokil) – who after speaking about all their career pathways, held an interactive “bug buffet” where students could eat chocolate-covered crickets. The children went wild and absolutely loved it, even though it was completely out of their comfort zone.

Sign-up the free, flexible online training for Careers Leaders at https://careersleadertraining.careersandenterprise.co.uk/.