In Skills

It’s been a great year for our skills programme; we’ve really seen our plans start to come to fruition, and have received local, regional and national recognition from government and other organisations for the pioneering activities we’re delivering. Good career guidance for people of all ages is just one of our areas of focus, and with the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot at the centre of this, we’ve seen impressive results, great examples of collaboration and a real sense of cohesion in this space.

We’re very proud that practitioners and school groups from across the country are reaching out to us and wanting to visit our region to see the pilot in action.

Here, our pilot lead, Ryan Gibson, tells us about the recent visit from the Ark Schools Group, who were interested in finding out more about our implementation of the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot:

When I was appointed to lead the national pilot, looking to improve the quality of careers guidance for all young people, I was not only tasked with supporting schools and colleges in the region but to build a model that could potentially be replicated in every area of the country. To do this, we needed to test the benchmarks in action and work directly with schools and colleges to understand the strengths of their current provision and enable them to devise actions that would drive rapid, sustained and measurable improvement.

At the North East LEP we have started to pilot various approaches as to how we can share learning with others across the country who wish to improve the quality of their careers provision. We have explored and developed various models, including visits and practice-sharing events and recently hosted a learning visit from 12 schools from across the country who are members of the Ark Academies Trust.

Hannah McAuley from Ark provides an insight below:

At Ark schools, we have a mission to ensure that every one of our students will access the university or career of their choice.

As a central university and careers team we have always worked with a range of different partners to provide skills development opportunities, financial bursaries, access to role models and engagement with a host of businesses and universities, but of late we have been grappling with how we can ensure that the vital work that is done in schools to prepare young people for their next steps is the same no matter which Ark school you attend.

Last month, I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of 12 colleagues from across Ark schools to visit those taking part in the Career Benchmarks pilot in the North East. Meeting with the North East LEP and the community driving this work was an extraordinary experience for us and there are a few key lessons that we have taken away:

  • The importance of shared language: If 2015 was the year of the selfie and 2016 of post trust then I am pleased to announce that ‘Gatsby Benchmarks’ is well on its way to be the new phrase of choice for 2017! Every business leader, teacher, careers leader and university we met had aligned themselves behind the Gatsby language. This not only created shared expectation, but started to build community of purpose amongst this diverse group of stakeholders. Even after the first day we found that by adopting the language we were better able to articulate the challenges we are facing with this work in our own schools and use it to develop our actions for the future.
  • No careers lead is an island: While it was clear that the careers lead was the central spine driving the work in each school, partnership and a supportive senior leadership team was clearly fundamental to its success. Investing in strategic and lasting partnership work with businesses, colleges and universities provided a richness to the conversations on all sides about what we were preparing students for. This was complemented by a staff body who were bought in to the framework and whose leadership team understood how all school roles were being deployed to support this work.
  • Meaningful over many encounters: A relentless focus on making existing work more impactful meant that pilot schools were not overwhelming themselves or their students with numerous activities. Led by the North East LEP, there is a relentless focus on making existing work in the region much more impactful. One of our group called this process “Squeezing the maximum value” out of every activity and engagement”. For us at Ark, this was the understanding that it isn’t enough to just send a student out to a workplace if you don’t scaffold the experience and help them to learn from it. This is something that we expect in every lesson we teach and the same principles should be applied to any experience we provide for our students.

There is no doubt that being involved in the pilot has been transformational for the schools and colleges in the North East. What I found most inspiring was how the career benchmarks framework had brought alignment between purpose and process.

Every school leader and teacher wants the best possible future for their students, but so often, this work can feel intangible. Whilst the Gatsby benchmarks don’t necessarily tell us how to achieve this work, they force us to have high expectations and set out what it is we need to achieve. I have no doubt that over time; these benchmarks will transform the way schools prepare students for life beyond school.

Hannah McAuley is Head of University and Careers Success at Ark Schools. Ark is an international charity, transforming lives through education. In the UK, Ark has a network of 35 schools, educating more than 21,000 pupils with a mission to ensure that every young person can access the university or career of their choice. These schools are all non-selective and in areas where they can make the biggest difference.

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