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Ryan Gibson, National System Leader at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), shares his reflections on the time we’re living in and sheds light on how Careers Leaders can be fully prepared and ensure careers is at the heart of a school or college’s recovery plan.

20 years ago, I remember sitting down to write my UCAS application form. Being the first in my family to consider applying to university, I didn’t really know where to start. “Think of something that will grab the admission tutor’s attention” I was told and “start with something that relates to the subject you want to study” my form tutor said. After much consideration I opted for the quote attributed to the famous historian A. J. Taylor “He who understands the past, shapes the future”.

As we begin a new academic year, we always do so by looking forward, creating our plans for the year ahead, building on the results of last year and setting our course for success in the weeks and months to come. Whilst this is true again this year, it does feel different. It has been said that we are living in unprecedented times and the events of the last six months have certainly been some of the strangest.

Everything seemed to change - lockdowns, face coverings, social distancing and the closure of school buildings all became a way of life. Yet, in many ways, beneath the surface, our core functions continued, they just looked and felt different. We continued to shop - but online, we continued to see family and friends - but through screens on our devices, and we continued to work - from the spare corners of our homes. Technology and new ways of working quickly emerged and we adapted. 

The same can be said of education. Schools remained ‘open for learning’ - only remotely. Teachers continued to teach - but virtually and students continued to interact - through technology.

Innovation across Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)

Across my own organisation, Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), we innovated as a family of schools to create the AET Virtual Learning Academy, with teachers delivering live and recorded lessons in over 30,000 Google Classrooms. Through this platform every child was able to continue their learning, ‘attend’ lessons, tutor group activities and even virtual school assemblies. 

Virtual work experience & careers guidance

In relation to careers provision we were able to innovate too. Between April and July, 2,000 students completed ‘virtual work experience’ with REED Group, all of our Year 11, 12 and 13 students completed 14 accredited employability skills courses created by employers and delivered through the BeReady platform and schools such as Maltings Academy in Essex delivered ‘virtual careers days’.

In response to the growing need for extra careers guidance, we ensured all students had access to a common careers information platform and we pooled our Level 6 Careers Advisers across the Trust to form a virtual careers advice helpdesk, giving parents and children direct access to qualified careers advisers whenever they needed, as well as signposting them to the National Careers Service.   

Supporting wider programmes

We were delighted to support the wider careers family too, working with The Careers & Enterprise Company to create  content for the ‘My Week of Work lessons delivered through Oak National Academy and to release case studies of good practice through the Career Development Institute’s National Community of Practice. Careers Leaders across our 21 secondary schools have been, and continue to be, at the forefront of our provision.

How can Careers Leaders feel prepared this time?

In March, the entire education sector had to respond to the challenges of Covid-19 with essentially no more than 48 hours’ notice. This time it is different. This time we can plan and prepare. Should a student, a class, a bubble, a year group or even an entire school have to isolate, we can be ready. We have plans in place to switch to high-quality remote and virtual learning almost instantly. As schools and colleges, we now have experience of delivering in this way and our students are now more familiar with what it means to study and learn through this medium. The inspirational innovation shown by Careers Leaders over the past six months means that we are much more experienced now and better prepared for whatever Covid-19 can throw at us.

We will continue to achieve the Gatsby benchmarks. They set out the world class standard of inputs, outlining what we need to be doing as Careers Leaders to provide the highest quality careers provision. Getting the vast majority of these inputs right and achieving them for each and every one of our students in our own context inevitably leads to improved outputs and eventually to improved outcomes. 

After a series of results days that felt very different this year, I am sure you, like me, felt a burning desire to help every student secure the destination of their choice. In this moment, we were reminded again about the critical importance of high-quality careers provision.

Examination results are only one of the outcomes of education. Destinations and Career Management skills are another - supporting students in their next steps, preparing them for the next stage and equipping them with the skills that they will need to be successful in the workplaces and communities of the future. Therefore, careers provision must be central to every school and college’s recovery plan.

Preparing young people for the world of work

At AET, we want every one of our pupils to go on and lead a remarkable life. Making sure they are fully prepared for their future and for the world of work is key to this. Providing strong careers education has always been a priority for us and is an essential facet of our school offer. As we move forward this year and beyond, we want to build on the innovation shown by our Careers Leaders and integrate it alongside previous good practice.

Careers provision is an integral part of every young person’s personal development and therefore, now more than ever, it must remain a core part of our provision going forward. There is an undeniable link between the skills pupils will learn and develop through school/college and what employers tell us they will need to thrive in the workplace. Careers provision therefore is at the heart of our recovery planning, linking to the overall intent of our schools and helping us to fulfil our core objective of helping students secure the best possible destinations.

To paraphrase the poet Robert Penn Warren, ‘history cannot give us a programme for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding so that we can better face the future’. As Careers Leaders in schools and colleges across the country planning for the year ahead, that is exactly what we have done. This time we are ready, and we know we can do it.

Ryan Gibson, National System Leader at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET).