Pulling my hair out over Ofsted
Thursday 17th June 2021
Many of you will know that I have a special interest in the way Ofsted inspects careers education and that I deliver workshops throughout the country on that topic. Indeed I did some research into the experience of careers leaders who had undergone inspection under the new framework, that is before Covid hit. I use this research to inform my training courses.
One of the key takeaways that I always hammer home is that it's potluck how much interest Ofsted takes in CEIAG. (Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance) I've heard of very clued up inspectors and conversely those who have literally said "That's enough about careers thank you." to a very well respected careers leader that was trying to get across just how much they were doing.
What has sparked this blog?
Yesterday, Robert Halfon MP stated in the Education Sub Committee meeting picked up the fact that Ofsted was awarding outstanding ratings to schools that did not comply with the Baker Clause. My research confirms this.
The Baker Clause is a legal requirement for all secondary schools to have a policy which sets out how external organisations such as apprenticeship providers and colleges can gain access to pupils to inform them of what they can offer allow and allow access to said organisations. I fully agree that this is an important aspect of careers work and any school doing a good job of CEIAG should be doing this routinely.
Does it not send the wrong message that even providers with poor careers advice can be rated 'outstanding'," Mr Halfon asked Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman. "My feeling is that careers advice is very much secondary for Ofsted.
Amanda Spielman responded with
it was "unlikely" a school would receive an 'outstanding' rating if its careers guidance, namely compliance with the Baker Clause, was not up to scratch.
Which appeared to directly contradict Ofsted's deputy director for FE Paul Joyce who told the Association of Employment and Learning Providers national conference last week
...limiting inspection grades based on the quality of careers advice is not the "best way" to improve it, and "should not be the sole determining factor of what grade the school gets"
So does that mean that the only thing a school needs to do is put a Baker Clause policy on its website?
The headlines and quotes make it sound like careers learning is nothing but letting young people know about opportunities. I'm sure Mr Halfon didn't mean to imply that but that is the headlines in theTES and elsewhere implied. Nothing could be further from the truth. Careers ed is about developing skills, confidence and understanding as well as providing information. A key part of this is ensuring that young people have UNBIASED information and guidance. They key word is guidance.
What should Ofsted be looking for?
I stress, this is my opinion, based on many years of delivering careers education. The Gatsby Benchmarks are a key indicator of a good careers offer. Ofsted should also be looking at how well a school is meeting these benchmarks. Gatsby benchmark 4 - linking careers to the curriculum and benchmark 8 providing one to one guidance are in my humble opinion the most difficult to meet for different reasons. All are important but given that without 4 and 8 it's almost impossible to support young people effectively, I'd say that Ofsted should be looking for schools meeting ALL the benchmarks but watching out and delving more deeply into those not meeting 4 & 8 especially.
Helping young people see how to apply info and skills to their own situation is a very nuanced job requiring a high level of skill and up to date knowledge. The DFE recommends that careers advisers in schools should be qualified to level 6 or above, that's the same level of qualification as a post grad.
Sadly, I'm frequently asked "Will Ofsted mark us down if our adviser isn't level 6?" Or "Will Ofsted mark us down if our adviser isn't qualified.?" or even "Will Ofsted mark us down if we don't have a careers adviser?" The answer given to me by Sean Harford last year is no they won't. He explained the simple fact is that the DFE statutory guidance says that CAs 'should' be level 6 or above. If it said 'must' then it would be a different matter. Well then, it's a legal requirement to have a Baker Clause policy so why doesn't it mean that non compliance means downgrading?
So what happens next?
I've spoken to various people within Ofsted via my work with the CDI and have been involved in writing a document outlining what Ofsted could be looking for when inspecting careers learning. I also know that Ofsted are planning a thematic study into careers learning. This is where they visit a small number of schools and examine one particular area in depth and use the information to tailor their work and recommendations further. All we can do is watch and wait. What am I hoping against hope for?
Let me paraphrase Robert Halfon
Your remit is careers guidance. I am not asking you to do anything more, I am asking you to do your job properly and weigh up the efficacy of the schools careers offer in its entirety. It part of your job. It appears that Ofsted sees it as a lesser priority because it is about skills and apprenticeships and not academic study.
In the meantime I'm off to update my next Ofsted for Careers Leaders Session. Details can be found here