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Philippa Hartley, Careers Leader, Huntcliff Academy, North Lincolnshire shares her experiences of stepping up levels support for young people during lockdown and how the move to online careers guidance is offering opportunities for more personalised and bespoke engagement with the world of work and facilitating the expansion of networks. 

When the rumours started to circulate around the nation that schools were going to be closed down, we like everyone else couldn’t quite believe it. I suspect we were thinking it might be a couple of weeks which would give a little bit of time to catch up on the mountain of paperwork.

Never did we imagine what the summer term 2020 would evolve into as we diligently began experimenting with online technology and printing thousands of home learning packs to keep students busy and in the habit of learning for a few weeks.

It wasn’t long before the reality and gravity of the situation hung heavily as we struggled to engage all our students, due to poor rural internet signals and limited access to the right IT equipment.

Additionally, we turned from school leaders into a home delivery service for welfare - checking on individual students and families, dropping off food parcels which we had cooked ourselves on-site and keeping education going in school for some of our key worker and vulnerable children. Within a very short time, we realised the need to adapt our careers provision to suit the new digital world.

Our careers programme from Y7-11 runs throughout the year with a variety of activities spread strategically to cater to the needs of our students. We had just had our largest and most significant event – a whole school full days careers event with each student receiving 5 hours of face to face interactive high quality encounters with industry, further education and inspirational guests and employers.

However, in March there was still much to do: the Y11 programme was nearing completion but at this point in the year comes the annual post-16 wobbles that require thoughtful guidance and support; Y10 work experience programme, post 16 taster events; Y9 options; Y8 & Y7 had careers days to come as part of our step-up programme and of course Y6 transition was only just beginning in earnest.

We looked carefully at the programme of events and adapted most of the activities for students to do at home, either through online or through paper copies which were sent weekly to students. We spent hours communicating with students and the response was very good. If anything, we became more adept at meeting individual needs.

As opportunities arose, we targeted individuals rather than full year groups. Communication channels became seven days a week and at most hours.  Many students became confident in contacting us for help, to check work and ask questions. We trawled the internet for alternative opportunities for activities and we communicated these to students.

Engagement was mixed. Those who engaged with online work – virtual events such as WiME, virtual work experience and My Week of Work were highly motivated to follow the programme and gained nearly as much insight as they might have done in school.

Others chose not to engage, typically, students who were already disadvantaged and did not have the necessary tools to sustain motivation throughout lockdown or those who had little encouragement from home.

As a school, we recognise how important our careers provision is in helping develop young people who are confident and have the skills to move forward post-16, find opportunities and develop their employability.

We will continue to identify individual needs and provide the input needed to support them and to develop our curriculum to meet the needs of the local economy by liaising with the colleges and industry and promoting opportunities within our local context. This is even more important than ever to ensure positive future outcomes for our students.

We are determined to make sure our careers programme continues to move forward. So far, we are finding ways to hold all the events we plan from assemblies to guest speakers, to step up day and to involvement with FE and HE, together with employer recordings shared across the network of CLs.

The year is beginning with on-line versions and we are building in opportunities for students to engage directly with guests and employers. Online events can be more flexible, and often offer a more personal and bespoke experience for students. Activities can also reach a wider audience and be shared with other schools and colleges in an easier way than ever before, without the constraints of travel and school day timings.

Employers are keen to work with us and are offering a variety of solutions: some pre-recorded with future visits planned where we can socially distance them to enable the engagement to continue. It will be different and we will continue to evaluate their impact with our students. What we are seeing id students are becoming more willing to engage in out of hours online events if they understand the benefit of the event.

We must exploit the opportunities that the new ways of working are bringing.


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