Employer Engagement

Using the Gatsby Benchmarks as a measure of improvement.

Using the Gatsby Benchmarks as a measure of improvement.

Friday 27th May 2016

Let me be loud and clear at the start of this blog. I think the Gatsby Benchmarks are a great tool for improving CEIAG (Careers Education, Information Advice & Guidance) in schools. I'm not in any way diminishing their validity or saying that schools should ignore them. I speak from the position of a pragmatist. I'm not a researcher or academic, I'm an expert in delivery of excellent CEIAG in the 11-19 sector. My credentials are years spent running CEIAG in schools and my subsequent years supporting schools as a consultant.

Why I'm speaking out now.

How to meet the Gatsby benchmarks and still deliver a poor careers offer

A week or so ago, I started tweeting the table here, mainly because as an expert in CEIAG, it was apparent to me that there is scope for improvement. Then in Schools Week, Sir John Holman the 'face' of the Gatsby Benchmarks, expressed the opinion that they should not be used as an accountability measure.

I agree they shouldn't! Let me explain.

Moving from zero to satisfactory using the Gatsby Benchmarks

It has been widely documented that the since the dissolution of Connexions, the majority of schools are delivering little or no CEIAG for their pupils. The percentage with no provision has without doubt lessened since the statutory guidance documents have been strengthened in 2013-15. However, there is still scope for improvement.

The Gatsby Benchmarks are high profile, being backed by the Government and the Careers & Enterprise Company and have been widely circulated and quoted as a measure for success. This being the case, some schools started using the information in the report as an unofficial guide to the efficacy of their offer. This was the prompt for the development of the Gatsby Assessment Tool which is to be released shortly. I have not as yet seen that tool and I await its appearance avidly.

In a school where there is little or no provision there is usually a culture of "Well this is something we have to do but we don't think it's important" or "We just don't have the money or capacity for this" alternatively "I know we ought to do it but we don't know how" Using the Gatsby Benchmarks to improve from these starting points can and should have a positive effect. Having ticked off 1, 2 or even 4 or 5 of the benchmarks shows that there is a growing commitment to CEIAG or at least parts of it. So there is improvement.

Work in progress -Moving from satisfactory to good or outstanding

The crux of my thinking comes at this point in the improvement cycle. Your school is at the stage where you can tick off most or all of the benchmarks. You can sit back and say I've got a great CEIAG offer. Or can you? Look again at the table above. I'm not saying any teacher or careers adviser would knowingly accept the level of service that I have documented in that table. However, the fact of the matter is that most schools lack capacity to manage the complex model of CEIAG that has evolved from schools being given the responsibility for CEIAG but no money to do it. This can and does lead to inexperienced staff, doing their best on a minuscule budget, often with little or no CPD to support their professional development and understanding of CEIAG and its unique demands.

The importance of SLT support for CEIAG leadership

I'm lucky enough to go into lots of schools and see great practice which I endeavour to share with other schools. However, I keep in mind that if a school is willing to spend money on engaging my services, they've obviously got a SLT commitment to CEIAG and will have staffed it accordingly.

My concern is with the schools that don't have the leadership support to build the CEIAG programme. I've used the analogy "Would you ask your dentist to do your appendectomy?" on a number of occasions. I feel it corresponds to the situation in schools. Teachers and Careers Professionals are complementary practitioners with similar and overlapping skills both are needed to ensure the best CEIAG provision for schools.

In a school that lacks experienced, qualified and motivated staff to drive improvement in CEIAG, the danger is that the Gatsby Benchmark boxes will be ticked without evaluation and improvement processes being put in place to ensure quality.

So how can a school ensure that it is providing good quality CEIAG?

I've been saying for some time now, that Gatsby needs a 9th benchmark. Evaluation & Improvement. What does good CEIAG look like. Thankfully, there is already an accepted model of good CEIAG which can evidence good practice to staff, parents and stakeholders alike - A Quality in Careers Standard Award. (QICS)

Currently the statutory guidance for CEIAG recommends that schools acquire a Quality in Careers Standard Award. These awards are not something that you 'go for' when you've got things right. They are an improvement tool, Working towards the Quality in Careers Standard is a powerful driver for improvement of CEIAG and is unique in that the awards validate not only IAG but also the careers education element of the schools' offer. Further details can be found here.