Since the Education Act 2011, schools have been required to offer career guidance to their students. Some of this responsibility has inevitably landed at the door of teachers, but their exact role remains a bone of contention.
My colleagues and I at the University of Derby have just published a paper for Teach First exploring this question. What became clear was that teachers shouldn’t be expected to be careers guidance professionals. Instead, it’s about a partnership. Career guidance professionals bring expertise in theory and knowledge of the labour market and links with employers to the table, while teachers bring pedagogic knowledge and have sustained relationships with their students. Other key stakeholders – such as employers and post-secondary learning providers – are also important. Together all of these different people help young people to explore the opportunities open to them and make purposeful steps towards their future.
There are six main roles teachers can play. The first two are based on the relationships they build with students. Teachers have had careers of their own. They have made decisions about whether to go to university, what subjects to study and what jobs to do. Their experiences are useful for young people. These things need to be presented carefully, as what worked for the teacher may not work for the students, but teachers should be having career conversations.
Teachers also have a well-developed pastoral duty. As trusted adults, young people approach them with concerns and dilemmas, many of which relate to future aspirations. Working through these issues with young people in ways that keep their options open is important. Career is a context for many life decisions and teachers need to be able to offer some solutions when it is important (including referring young people to professionals and other specialists).
The next two roles are more focused on teaching. Teachers can link their subjects to the world of work. For example, highlighting how a particular scientific process is used in research or industry can increase the perceived relevance of curriculum. Similarly, a discussion of the job of publishers in English literature can enhance the understanding of the text. This is also an ideal place to involve employers and working people by inviting them to talk about how they use the knowledge and skills that are covered in the curriculum.
Teachers can also apply their pedagogic skills to the delivery of career learning. It’s a distinct area with its own knowledge base, but career education can be enriched through connections with curricular and cross-curricular themes such as writing and communication skills.
The final roles relate to who heads up this area in school. Other countries have developed a middle leadership post – the career leader – who has responsibility for spearheading this area of education in school. They may have management responsibility for careers professionals or work closely with the PSHE team, and a willingness to represent the school externally with employers and post-secondary learning providers. This is a post that requires training and reward. When established properly, it’s a position that could lead to senior leadership, offering valuable whole-school experience and a chance to develop contacts beyond the school building.
Finally, senior leaders must make sure that careers work in schools is effective. Ultimately they will be held to account under the statutory duty and our research suggests that they are critical in setting the agenda so this area flourishes. At present there is little training to develop world-class careers provision.
The six roles discussed here provide a framework for teachers to think about. This area should be seen as an integral part of teaching, something that is exciting and helps unlock students’ potential. If the job of the careers leader and the careers responsibilities of school senior leaders can be better established, this should help teachers develop in their own jobs.