When is careers education simply an education?

19th May 2017

I was involved this morning in an interesting conversation on the role of careers advice and guidance in schools. Chatting to a group of engaged and dynamic parents, I was reminded of the real desire and drive for schools to provide their pupils with specific and individualised discussions about the world of work from an early age.

Careers education is of course compulsory in schools. They must provide it in an impartial manner, and it should explore a range of education or training options whilst always promoting the students’ best interests. Ideas suggested, and indeed embraced in most schools, range from careers fairs, mentoring, and employer visits and talks, through to more general access to careers websites, telephone and helpline services and of course the opportunity to visit colleges and universities.

What is not mentioned on government websites, or indeed on any of the websites dedicated to careers guidance for young people, is the value and importance of a rigorous and skills based curriculum. And I don’t mean a careers curriculum. I mean an English curriculum that promotes interest in reading a wide range of material and responding to different media. I mean a Science curriculum which promotes investigation and exploration of theory. A Languages curriculum that promotes an interest in diversity and foreign culture. A History curriculum that promotes the ability to question sources of information and cut to the heart of a question to provide a balanced answer.

Essentially, I mean a curriculum which furnishes young people with the skills necessary to be able to enter the world of work rubbing their hands together in glee at the plethora of opportunities out there for them, confident in the knowledge that they can adapt and learn in a huge variety of work environments and conditions.

Of course schools must provide an exciting and broad window into the world of work. Networking evenings, careers fairs, university open days and work experience opportunities should all be part of what is offered. But this should not be a bolt on to the very real life and work skills that pupils are learning across their full range of subjects on a day to day basis. Teaching and learning in a way that promotes the skills mentioned above means that pupils will make the very best of the opportunities afforded them both at school and afterwards.

When they land that dream work experience placement with an award winning architect, or shadowing a barrister in the Inner Temple, or as a runner for the BBC, it will no doubt be down to excellent contacts and having had a decent insight into the different careers available to them. But the success they make of it once they are there will be down, in no small part, to the quality of their education in having developed the necessary skills of curiosity, independence and adaptability. Essentially, how well it has developed in them a thirst for learning for learning’s sake.

Rosie Gill