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Understanding and driving improvements in careers – reflecting on the OECD PISA data set

08 Jan 2024

The right evidence can help us understand complex systems, like careers education.

That is why at The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) we place such importance on the increasingly diverse range of data we and others collect to inform our understanding of the careers education system and how best we can drive efficiency, coherence and impact.

The latest PISA report findings for England are a good example of this. A well-established report on core curriculum subjects, it also asked head teachers questions about career development activities, using a consistent set of measures across countries. This allows us to place England’s Careers Education system in an international context of 81 OECD countries. Based on a sample of 165 schools in England, the responses told us:

  • The vast majority of reporting schools in England offered some form of career guidance, primarily integrated into school hours, which included guidance on future careers, educational opportunities, internships, and financing.
  • Over 98% of pupils were in schools where headteachers reported that they offered some form of career guidance at their school (OECD average of 84%).
  • Almost all pupils (95%) were in schools where the headteacher reported that it was formally scheduled into school hours in England. By contrast, an average of 29% of pupils across OECD countries were in schools where the headteacher reported that career guidance was voluntarily sought at their school. The report comments: “This indicates that the approach to career guidance in England was more structured than was typical internationally.”

On its own, one data source can only tell a part of the story. But when we compare analysis of PISA data with other data from across the system, we can take some confidence in the progress we are reporting at CEC in careers education and the direction we are taking. The points above align with the improving situation we are seeing in England:

  • Average Gatsby Benchmark achievement per institution (which sets standards for careers education) has improved from 2.1 (out of 8) to 5.5 in 5 years.
  • Over 3,000 schools and colleges now have a fully trained Careers Leader, using a wide range of resources and digital tools to drive a whole school approach to careers education.
  • 92% of schools and colleges are members of Careers Hubs. This gives them an infrastructure of support and relationships to continue to drive up performance, close gaps and deliver outcomes for young people.

Understanding a complex system through data doesn’t have to be complicated. Taking an evidence-based approach, choosing consistent and relevant data to the question in hand, we can draw insights that help target and shape a better careers system. We are currently working on our next system level analysis, drawing insights across data sets, which will be out in the spring.

Blog by Laura Hawksworth, Head of Policy & Impact at CEC

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