Ofsted Independent review of careers guidance in specialist settings

Ofsted Independent review of careers guidance in specialist settings

Monday 26th February 2024
Janet Colledge

Please note this blog uses the term careers guidance to denote ALL careers activity in line with the Government and Ofsted's usage.

Last week Ofsted published a review of careers guidance in specialist settings. That is special schools and colleges, alternative provision etc. Or as Ofsted so succinctly put it

The scope of the review was careers guidance for 11- to 19-year-olds (and for young people up to age 25 with a current education, health and care (EHC) plan) in special schools, independent specialist colleges (ISCs) and pupil referral units (PRUs). In the summer term 2023, we made 12 research visits to 5 special schools, 3 PRUs and 4 ISCs. We also gathered evidence from:

  • interviews with HM Inspectors (HMIs) and with local authority officers
  • focus groups with key stakeholders and employers
  • a review of a sample of inspection evidence

This is my attempt to abbreviate the report for those hard working people involved in careers preparation for SEND pupils. I do hope it helps.

Leadership of Careers

This differed widely but in general worked well where schools concentrated on the pupils' next steps, quality guidance and transitions. There was a well developed strategy that usually was embedded within the provider and informed the providers plans for continued improvement.

Many providers are small and whilst each had a careers leader, many had multiple roles. This led to many careers leaders being short on the time necessary for a good careers provision. Also not all careers leads hold a careers qualification despite free training being available. Some sited lack of time as a reason for not pursuing qualification.

The Gatsby Benchmarks are seen as positive but there is difficulty in meeting the Compass and Compass+ criteria at times, especially those for benchmark 8 One responder said

Benchmark 8 is a challenge... Because of the ability of pupils to be able to talk openly with a sense of meaning (it) feels like a box tick exercise. There are a lot of people in school with the right knowledge, they know the pupils exceptionally well, but don't hold the qualification.

In general where things were working well staff pulled together and worked in concert with each other e.g the careers leader and transitions leader. However, in providers where this wasn't the case programmes were often disjointed and failed to have a positive outcome.

Personalisation Independence and High Aspirations

Personalisation is something that special provisions often do incredibly well and this seemed to be the case in all the providers that Ofsted encountered. However many said they failed to received much information from mainstream when pupils joined part way through their education. It was also noted that many pupils had received little or no careers guidance before moving to the SEND setting.

Providers carried out initial assessments on pupil transfer and used information from ECH plans along with information from pupil, involved professionals and parents/guardians to support development of personalised career plans.

Looked after children were catered for via the personal education plans and it was noted that staff and foster parents benefited from a basic knowledge of what good careers education and guidance is.

Good relationships between the pupil and staff ensured engagement was improved and pupils and parents noted that understanding of opportunities how their interests linked to their ambitions.

Careers leaders understand the link between careers guidance and independence and life skills such as travel, making choices and everyday activities supporting career ambitions.

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation which concentrates on pupil needs was seen as vital in all providers but how it is undertaken varied. Some did termly reviews, others used Compass, others the Gatsby Benchmarks.

Schools involved parents and other stakeholders in the evaluation process and seemed to put more effort into gathering pupil views than mainstream schools.

It was felt in some providers that the Compass system wasn't 'bespoke' enough for an SEND setting.

Schools having a governor for careers, especially those governors with a 'careers background' supporting holding the provider to account in providing careers guidance.

All providers tracked destinations and used this information as part of their monitoring and evaluation process.

The Careers Curriculum

I've tried but failed miserably to condense the contents of this section but have failed so here it is as a quote

Almost all leaders in our sample had developed their curriculum with careers education and preparation for adulthood in mind.

Careers guidance was integrated into transition planning and preparation for next steps.

There was a cross-curricular focus on understanding future career pathways and developing confidence, independence and employability skills.

When this was working well, leaders planned how to equip learners with the knowledge they needed to make informed decisions. The curriculum was well planned and clearly structured. It addressed individuals' needs, gaps and barriers and helped them to plan and make good decisions. Leaders ensured that the curriculum built progressively and were clear about how to target and focus careers activities.

Leaders felt that maintaining high expectations and aspirations for their learners was one of the most important aspects of careers guidance. Almost all leaders recognised that the curriculum for careers should be ambitious and provide sufficient challenge.

However, this was not always the case. For example, in one ISC, there were insufficient external work placements for learners with higher levels of independence and academic ability. As a result, these learners could not practise and apply skills in a real-life setting, and in a minority of cases were not prepared for their next steps.

Linking the wider curriculum to careers

This section gives some useful examples of excellent practice and is worth reading through for ideas but highlighted that the standard and quality of provision was variable between providers.

As with (my viewpoint mainstream) teachers had little training in careers guidance which led to inconsistency. However, some providers had plans to introduce training on topics such as understanding the Gatsby benchmarks, linking curriculum learning to careers, using labour market information related to their subject and learning how to embed employability skills in the curriculum.

Impartial careers guidance

Some schools didn't have qualified careers guidance professionals at all, saying that staff knew pupils better than an external provider. Some providers employed staff directly and others commissioned external services. The report points out that the providers without qualified careers professionals, either internal or external were technically non compliant with the statutory guidance.

Many schools cited having a person external to the school as beneficial as they are seen as impartial saying

That's what the careers adviser does - breaks down why, offers alternatives. Trying to also give them a range of different things to experience. They [learners/families] don't know what exists.

( My input here - the CDI code of ethics requires all CDI registered professionals to be impartial whether they are employed by the provider or not)

It was noted that building a strong relationship between the provider, pupils and the careers professional was vital to preclude pupils feeling that they couldn't talk to the professional who was not well known to them. For example in one provider the professional only came in 2 days per year and that meant it could be a long time before pupils even met with them and there was little chance of building a relationship which often meant that advice was too generic.

Overall it was noted that guidance was more effective when:-

  • learners could build a trusting relationship with the person giving the guidance
  • the guidance was highly personalised
  • the person giving the advice was highly knowledgeable about the range of next steps
  • the person giving the advice had a background or training in an area relevant to the learners in that provider

Working with employers, the local authority and other external partners

Where experience of the workplace took place it was beneficial to pupils and in some cases led to paid employment. However careful planning and tailoring of placements was essential and could be problematic, e.g. where independent travel was an issue.

Employers often felt that they didn't receive enough information and support from providers with a quote from a courier company stating

As long as we agree to take them for a week, there doesn't appear to be a concern with what the student is actually doing. We ask the school how can we ensure they engage and they just say, "Do anything you can, it's fine." [...] I know there is work being done on work experience to improve it, but that hasn't reached SEND schools yet. Not enough guidance for employers on what to do with work experience.

Where providers worked with employers to build relationship, often with the help of the careers hub, there was a great deal of positivity within the employer focus group for working with SEND provision, however, it was noted that employers could lack skills, resources or understand to provide experience for SEND pupils. Providers had to spend a lot of time and energy on building links with employers and it was generally felt that more support is needed to develop employers that are able to cater for SEND learners.

Supported Internships

The benefit of supported internships in developing employability and life skills was noted especially when:-

  • they are ambitions
  • provided real life working environments
  • pupils are well prepared
  • provider and employer work closely together AND
  • supported pupils confidence building

It was generally felt that ore funding and support is needed to develop this option in order for pupils to benefit from the possibility of paid employment in the future.

It was also noted that the[Supported Internship Quality Assurance Framework-https://www.base-uk.org/supported-internship-quality-assurance-framework-siqaf]

Working with the local authority

There is a wide regional variation in how well providers and local authorities work together.

Where things were working well, local authority officers said there was good communication, early planning, and close relationships with staff in the providers. This helped to ensure that children and young people and their families got the right level of support.

When things were not working well, lots of issue arose, among them:-

  • local authority did not always help them to find the right destination for their child or young person through the EHC plan placement and annual review process
  • parents/guardians could not always get hold of the right person in the local authority
  • plans were not in place early enough
  • the local authority did not confirm placements at selected and agreed settings, even when, for example, the learner had a successful college interview.
  • The local authority sent out inaccurate or out-of-date paperwork, meaning the placement was delayed or could not be agreed.

This means that providers have to devote a lot of time and resources into working to ensure transitions are successful and timely and often meant important transition work could not be started in time.

Post-16 options

Leaders in all types of providers we visited felt there had been a reduction in the number of options for learners with SEND

  • Decline of L1 courses available
  • The planned demise of many BTECs
  • It was anecdotally and empirically stated that It's difficult for a pupil to gain entry to apprenticeships with an ECHP
  • The difficulty that some pupils have in obtaining required maths and English qualifications is a significant barrier to access to many qualifications
  • Students attitudes to punctuality and attitudes to learning and work is needed to build understand between provider, employer and pupil is needed to mitigate these issues.

Involving parents and families in careers guidance

Reading between the lines of the report, it appears that whilst staff in providers are committed to communicating well with parents/guardians, the recipients of the communication often did not feel that was the case. This was often because familial needs are complex. E.g :-

  • parental additional needs
  • aspirations of family
  • Socio-economic family background etc

When things worked well it was observed that providers :-

  • used a range of strategies to engage parents, such as regular newsletters, careers fairs, parents' evenings, annual review meetings and parent workshops.
  • well-established communication systems and a well-planned programme of events and meetings over time. Leaders understood the needs of their parents, what would work for them, and what they were most likely to engage with
  • addressed all parties concerns and worries and
  • Providers ensured there was individual, personalised support for learners and their families when attending open evenings and visiting colleges.

The full document can be found here

That's all folks, I'm bushed.