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How can schools do more to support young people facing an increasingly uncertain employment future?

Sarah Newbery, Head of Careers & Work Experience at St Mary's School, Cambridge, discusses her work with MyBigCareer in supporting schools to deliver satisfactory careers education.

Posted on: 26 Apr 2016
Posted by: Sarah Newbery

The world of work and employment continually bleats "Schools should be doing much more to prepare young people for the adult world of work". "Young people today are leaving school with little or no employability skills". "We need more scientists, engineers, technicians, medics and nurses in this country - schools must educate the young in the realities of the labour market today”. Professor Tristram Hooley, Head at International Centre for Guidance Studies, University of Derby reckons that Careers education “has to be a slope of activity in schools from Years 7 – 13”. At first this slope is gentle but it gets steeper. He advises that schools even consider beginning the journey up the slope in primary school.

No doubt fellow school CEG personnel in the independent sector are accustomed to hearing these cries from those who administer the adult world of work and academic world of Higher Education and who pass on their concerns over the various skills shortages in the labour market. No doubt you are rising to this challenge with an enterprising and creative approach if you work in an independent school with a department and an agreed annual budget, but what about our counterparts in the state system? How can this beleaguered sector easily rise to this clarion cry when funding has been cut back and back year on year since the financial downturn? As in so many other areas of their community life, schools are depending on volunteers and charities to fill the vital gap; there are not yet enough of these bodies.

Teachers have the best intentions of helping students onto individual career pathways; the stark reality is that lack of time and resource are likely to get in the way of those intentions. Three years ago Deborah Streatfield, an independent careers advisor, decided to do something about the woeful lack of affordable CEG support to state schools and academies by founding the charity MyBigCareer. MBC is staffed by CEG volunteers from the independent sector who give freely of their time and expertise. The qualifying criteria are that the school has an above average level of pupils on free school meals and in receipt of the Pupil Premium grant. MBC is not the only body concerned about the widening discrepancy of opportunity between schools but our sole focus is on schools that are in locations with recognised social mobility challenges and where there is little or no careers provision.

I am a volunteer of more than two years’ standing and have visited several schools in London and the Midlands. I am typically received, along with the other members of the MBC team, by a dedicated, enthusiastic member of staff who is often that school’s designated career co-ordinator; this teacher, like many other teachers, is usually a responsible, concerned member of the school’s staff struggling with multiple other areas of responsibility and working within limits imposed by necessity. I know this because more than once these individuals have told me how much they regret not having time to do what I have come to do in their school - give each child the attention necessary to support that youngster as he or she makes important choices and decisions that will potentially affect the rest of their lives.

I read by chance about MyBigCareer at its beginnings and by coincidence so did the principal of my school: we compared notes and by the end of our conversation I was pledging the school's support to the charity and my services as volunteer. I have visited schools and academies in several London boroughs as well as Essex, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. I work with Year 9s selecting GCSE subjects, Year 11s deciding A Levels, Year 12s making Higher Education and Career choices and Year 13s drafting first personal statements. MBC volunteers give independent and impartial advice; each student is seen on a one to one basis and considered according to their particular needs. There are plenty more schools clamouring for MBC services: there are not yet enough of us to meet all the schools who have requested our support.

MBC would be delighted to hear from anyone who can join the ranks - we need more volunteers in particular for The Midlands and East Anglia. The independent sector should be co-operating with those sections of state or academy status hard pressed to deliver satisfactory careers education. Indeed there is a crying need in some areas of our country and if you think that an exaggeration please look back to my opening paragraph. How can schools do more to support young people facing an increasingly uncertain employment future without the means to give that support?


About Sarah Newbery

Sarah Newbery is Head of Careers & Work Experience at St Mary's School, Cambridge, an independent girls' day and boarding school.