Informed careers education.

Using our data to inform excellent careers education information advice and guidance.

In common with all post-16 providers, we want all our students to be ambitious and progress to positive outcomes. It’s one of our key values – Ambition: we have the highest expectations of everyone. We are very proud of our high standards of careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) and last year 91% of our students who applied progressed to university. Our data confirms that more disadvantaged students progress to university from our college than from any other provider in England and more young people progress to university from our college than from any other Newham sixth form.

Given that many of our students are only with us for 2 years, we are having conversations with them about their aspirations before they even join us. Pretty much every interaction includes a focus on planning for progression; whether at open days, interviews, induction, enrolment and from then on. Helping to inform and guide young people through these big decisions is a natural and integral part of their post-16 educational journey.

Some of the more formal ways we do this include: careers guidance from specialist careers advisors, exploring career options and pathways including through work placements, visits and internships, an explicit tutorial unit focused on progression, help with the university, apprenticeship or job application process, mentoring, coaching and interview practice and, where appropriate, help preparing for specific admission tests: BMAT, UKCAT, LNAT etc.

Everything we do has to start from the needs of individuals, building on their own understanding and relationship with society and the economy and we need to see this work in terms of developing young people’s self-knowledge and self-development. Inevitably, this is inextricably linked to their identity, their self-image and their sense of status and worth.

Young people’s choices will be influenced by their own experience of study and work, their level of responsibility and self-confidence, their resilience and their appetite for risk-taking. They will be thinking about the support they need and the networks they can draw on from key people in their lives: family, friends, professionals, colleagues and mentors. They will also have to face a number of fears and anxieties about possible obstacles to success; real or perceived.

We need to remember that our students’ journeys are not always smooth linear paths from ambition through to progression and we need to keep as many doors open as possible and allow for the possibility of changing routes.

Our careers work must be integrated and embedded into the student experience and we need to avoid deterministic assumptions about fixed pathways or simplistic binary choices such as ‘HE versus work’. We need to bust the many myths which young people pick up about their possible options and help them to embrace the possibility of change and manage a degree of uncertainty about the future.

The aggregated data we generate and use are about groups but they are built from individual personal decisions and achievements – each of which is highly specific and contingent. Those data help us answer key questions about our student journeys:

  • Who? The demographics of different choices and pathways, by gender, by ethnicity, by learning needs…
  • From where? Based on students’ prior institutions, their prior achievement, the course or course type they have followed…
  • How? What do we know about their journeys, the support they did or didn’t receive, the development or enrichment activities they engaged in and how they reached their destination, eg: first choice, insurance, extra, clearing etc…
  • To where? What their first and later destinations are; what university degree course, at which university, what job, in which sector…

The data we collect can help reveal important underlying issues and trends, inform our practice and support improvement. While they can answer many questions we need to beware of assuming causation where we have only found correlation.

We can use these data to target or prioritise particular relationships with key stakeholders, for example with a local university with a great course in a field which is not currently attracting its share of applicants from your sixth form.

We can also use these data to benchmark against ourselves and others, for example if we are not getting the same proportions of equally qualified applicants into similar courses.

We can use these data to help us develop our careers resources, processes and staff training and to work with others to share good practice.

Ultimately, we also need these data in order to demonstrate value added and improvement but we need to be very clear about what we mean by success. Setting ourselves arbitrary or inappropriate success measures does not help our students, so ‘increasing the proportion of applicants who progress to their first or insurance choice rather than through clearing’ is a better target than ‘getting more students into university X’.

The following are all possible fruitful sources of data to inform practice:

  • Those students who haven’t progressed or remain NEET.
  • Those students who progressed to apprenticeships or employment rather than higher education.
  • Those students who delay entry to university and progressed more than a year after leaving.
  • Those students who progressed having started at college at Foundation or Intermediate level.
  • Those students who progressed having come to the UK at 15 or 16.
  • Those students with learning difficulties or disabilities.

Our own data need to be held in a single authoritative and up-to-date database to make it easy to analyse and question. We also need data from elsewhere: from government statistics of course but also from partner organisations. This is where we need to develop better data sharing protocols and systems as we still do not have any entitlement to comprehensive data about the achievements and journeys of our former students. The occasional letter from a university informing us of the graduation of one of our former students only begs the question ‘what about all the others we know attended your institution?’

Data are essential tools to help us inform the vital, individual and human-centred business of doing careers work. We need to see our data set as a rich, dynamic seam to mine; starting points for further questions which can help us better understand and enhance our contribution to young people’s decision-making in a complex world.

Based on my talk at the ‘Excelling at Careers Education and guidance’ conference on 29th March 2017 with Modern Government.

See also:

Is vocational education in England really ‘inadequate’? (Jan 2016)

University progression for the NewVIc class of 2015 (Dec 2015)

NewVIc breaks all its university progression records (Sep 2015)

Where do all our A level students go? (Jan 2015)

Vocational education: rejecting the narrative of failure (Jan 2015)

How to achieve high university progression rates (June 2014)



About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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