Guest post: Secondary school teachers and careers: Implications for training and CPD

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Thank you to David Andrews (Visiting Fellow at iCeGS) and co-author of The Careers Leader Handbook for this guest post. In it, David looks at the role of secondary school teachers in supporting careers education and guidance and considers how initial teacher education and continuing professional development could support teachers in this role.

David Andrews

For many years it has been argued that every teacher is a teacher of careers. Through the informal conversations and more formal reviews that form tutors have with students, and the links that subject teachers make between the curriculum and careers, all teachers contribute to young people’s career development. Now that schools in England have been given total responsibility for the provision of careers support, the role of the teacher has become highlighted even further.

This has generated a debate about the implications for teachers’ training and professional development, with calls for training on careers to be a compulsory part of initial teacher training/education (ITT/ITE). In January 2021 the Government committed to include training on careers in all levels of teachers’ professional development, from ITT to education leadership, (see Skills for Jobs) but nearly three years later this has yet to be implemented.

In this article I examine the options and propose a way forward in both the short and longer terms. The purpose is to both stimulate an informed debate and hopefully prompt practical action.

The teacher’s role

In 2014-15 iCeGS was commissioned by Teach First to research the role of teachers in careers (see Teachers and Careers). We identified a taxonomy of six roles that teachers in secondary schools could play, including three that every teacher contributes every day: career informant; pastoral tutor; subject teacher.

The six roles that teachers can play in careers education and guidance

The introduction of the Gatsby Benchmarks into the Careers Strategy in 2017 focussed more attention on the role of teachers, particularly in relation to linking their subject teaching to careers (see Gatsby Benchmark 4), but also their role as tutors reviewing students’ progress and plans and referring them for personal guidance. This in turn has revived calls to include training on careers in all forms of ITT for secondary school teachers in England. This is not a new idea: there have been similar calls for as long as I can remember, but giving schools the responsibility for careers has brought fresh attention to them.

Possibilities for ITT

A few providers of ITT have organised sessions on careers in their programmes but these have been relatively short (often less than a day) and usually optional. Career education and guidance is not part of the Core Content Framework (CCF) for ITT, but should it be? I would argue yes, but we should not rely on this alone. The specification for ITT is already quite full and providers will not have the capacity to include more than a short introduction in their programmes. Furthermore, even if it were to be part of the compulsory core, trainee teachers are likely to give it a lower priority than their principal concerns of subject teaching, assessment, and classroom/behaviour management. While we persist with an education system built on a heavily knowledge-based curriculum and where schools are judged on exam performance, career education and guidance will be seen by teachers in ITT as what Bill Law used to refer to as a ‘non-urgent’ issue.

Some will view this argument as defeatist but I think I’m being realistic. I can envisage a time when careers might be given more attention in ITT, but only if and when we reform the curriculum to place greater emphasis on skills and competences and give a more central role to career development. The role of the teacher would then change and this would necessitate changes in teacher development. At the moment careers education has the unique distinction of being the only part of the school curriculum that was once statutory but is now not mandatory. We have a long way to go before we reform the curriculum into one that will better prepare young people for adult and working life in the 21st century.

What next?

So what do I propose in the meantime? There should be a short introduction to careers in ITT, as part of the CCF, but then this should be followed up with more in-depth CPD as an integral part of the secondary school teachers’ Early Career Framework, the structured programme of CPD for all newly-qualified teachers in their first two years.

This is where we should concentrate our efforts. When they are in role, in a school, teachers will be asked by the careers leader to contribute to the careers programme in various ways and the training will have relevance and be of direct application. The careers leader is likely to be asked by the school leadership to take an active role in leading such in-house CPD so this has implications for their own CPD. We need to make sure that the specification for the careers leader training courses includes how to plan and lead in-school CPD.

In summary, my proposals are:

  • amend the Core Content Framework for ITT to include a include a short introduction to career education and guidance for all secondary school teachers;
  • incorporate training on the teacher’s role in career education and guidance in the ECF for all secondary school teachers;
  • amend the specification for the Careers Leader Training courses to include planning and leading in-house CPD.

The current review of ‘the Gatsby Benchmarks, the next ten years’ provides an opportunity to move forward on these issues.

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