When I first started thinking about careers and our pupils, I couldn’t understand how a programme could be developed for them in a meaningful way. The thought of entering the ward bedroom of a young person on bedrest, chronically depressed, anorexic and deep in trauma, and asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up did make me question my own career choices. For most of these young people, they have already been out of education for an extended time. They have had many choices taken away so that the medical team can ensure their basic survival, but the choice they can be active in is to reject education and signal to everyone ‘I’m ill and have no future.’
Conversely, we do also have very high-achieving pupils who are fixated on the numbers – grades 8, 9 – who never look up from the endless past papers they’re working through. But for them too, careers is about a future which is scary, unsafe and also hopeless.
Often the work we do is equivalent to an education A & E. I have to admit, when I revisited careers after taking on the post of Assistant Head, it was because I felt the pressure that ‘careers information, education, advice and guidance is one of the key areas that informs inspectors’ overall judgements on Personal Development.’ (Careers guidance and access for education and training providers DFE).
I wasn’t sure that an OFSTED inspector could understand the trauma these young people were going through and how careers discussions had the potential to trigger further trauma.
And so, I began by reading through everything I could around careers, reassured by the same guidance stating that ‘schools and colleges should always focus on the student and what is best for them.’ I needed to know what was expected of mainstream schools and then what was possible for us. In doing this, I was able to re-educate myself on careers guidance and, in the process, learn that I had many misconceptions. It was absolutely possible to develop careers provision in our alternative school, although it most definitely still posed a challenge.
The approach set out within the Gatsby Benchmarks made it conceivable for us to have a careers programme that runs through school, rather than having to take a scary individual careers conversation to a young person. I took each of those benchmarks and adapted them to our hospital school, understanding why some were more possible than others. Gatsby Benchmark 4 allowed enriching conversations amongst staff, and then specific work was done for each subject teacher to embed it in their curriculum. We then took this a step further and began writing in careers development into each young person’s IEP, even if the first step was 10 steps away, beginning with acknowledging their teacher is in the room.
Our young people come from all over the UK and so it’s not possible for us take on the role of a careers advisor that is tapped into what their local area provides. However, almost all are on dual roll and so, if able, and if appropriate, they can access their careers advisor in their home school, which when it does work can be transformative.
Careers provision, much like our PSHE programme, is now embedded across the school. Recently, Joanna Welch from Complete Careers ran a fantastic training session on careers for us. It was wonderful to have someone signpost us to all the resources that were available and give us additional tips. It left teachers feeling that, when the time was right, those individual conversations were possible because they were gathering a bank of tools that was expanding their own knowledge.
So, in February, we did have that OFSTED inspection I was worrying about. However, our HMIs not only sought to understand our context, but were also sensitive to it. At the same time, we had also become sensitive to the value of careers education. Beyond the incentive of preparing for a potentially nightmarish OFSTED inspection, we were motivated by the realisation that, although our pupils are incredibly ill, there is still a space for careers. Even if they couldn’t believe it yet – we believed that their future wasn’t hopeless.
And, it all started with educating myself first.
10 Mar 2023
25 Jan 2023