Reformed Careers Advice Is Just One Part of a 21st Century Curriculum

James Flynn previews his chapter of the YF Education Network’s new pamphlet, Towards a 21st Century Curriculum. 

This month, the Young Fabians Education Network published a policy pamphlet on reforming the national curriculum. Towards a 21st Century Curriculum features contributions from sixteen Young Fabians who collectively argue that our curriculum is outdated and needs reform, as well as a foreword from Kate Green, Shadow Secretary of State for Education (at the time of publication!).

Contributors draw on their experiences as recent school leavers, students, teachers and councillors together making a powerful case for change to ensure that schooling truly reflects modern society, and supports young people in every aspect of their development. There are chapters covering gender equality, thinking practically about STEM subjects, decolonising the curriculum, integrating mental health and wellbeing, re-imagining relationship education, and many more. But I wanted to sum up the chapter which I wrote, on careers advice, to give you a flavour of the whole pamphlet and encourage you to read it in full.

Careers advice is an underappreciated and underutilised aspect of schooling which has not been working for young people for too long. It should help young people understand the breadth and depth of options open to them, but the evidence suggests that young people are not getting the kind of advice they need. According to UCAS, around half of all young people applying to university want more information on apprenticeships. Almost a third didn’t receive any information at all about apprenticeships from their school full stop. To put this into context, young people are at the point of committing to tens of thousands of pounds of loan repayments, and yet don’t know all their options.

Further research by UCAS found that students making the wrong choices have actually blocked themselves off from certain career paths (such as medicine or maths) because their post-16 choices just didn’t match the entry requirements for the courses they now want to study. Around a third of students would now choose different options. Good careers advice would help young people with making the right decisions through their educational journey, so fewer young people are in this position.

But careers advice is not just about the right subjects - it’s also about what qualifications you study for. Simply choosing to study the government’s new flagship T-Level can block you from further study. Some members of the Russell Group of elite universities don’t recognise the UCAS points T-Levels come with - even though this is a core part of the qualification. Meanwhile studying a BTEC - any BTEC, regardless of subject - makes you significantly less likely to attend an elite university. Only 3 per cent of students who hold a BTEC in any subject go on to study at an elite university, compared to over a quarter who hold A-Levels. This all builds the case that change is needed to ensure young people are empowered to make the right choices about their education.

Careers advice should not just engage with young people; parents are an important resource young people trust for advice. If your parent is a farmer, you are 20 times more likely to study veterinary science or agriculture-related subjects. A medical practitioner and you are eight times more likely to study medicine. An artist and you are three times more likely to study the arts. But since parents went through the education system, there has been widespread change in education - particularly in further education - and there is evidence that parents don’t understand many of the new routes. 30% of parents don’t know you can do a degree-apprenticeship, even though they were introduced in 2015. 40% don’t know anything about apprenticeships, and 65% don’t even know where to look for information on apprenticeships. Careers advice must ensure parents understand the options young people have.

Finally, while careers advice is often seen as a secondary school-focused offer, where decisions on pathways and subjects are actually made, there is a compelling case for this to begin at primary school. Education for Employers is an organisation which goes into primary schools, arranges guest speakers, including Arctic explorers and zoologists, and inspires the youngest of pupils to open their eyes about how the subjects they study link to a range of jobs. Education for Employers surveyed the pupils they engaged with, and they found pupils were inspired about school, understood the importance of English, Maths and Science and, for those from the most deprived backgrounds, that they can go on and get a job.For the girls in particular, at an age where jobs are often seen as ‘boys jobs’ and ‘girls jobs’, it dispelled these myths about what jobs they can and cannot do when they grow up.

 So to sum, careers advice must start early, engage with parents as well as pupils, and help guide you through your education journey while helping you understand the range of options open to you. This will require a new generation of careers advisers, with a consistent offer across the country. The longer we wait for a service which functions the way it should, the more young people will make the wrong decisions, at a cost to their future.

If you thought this was interesting, then the full chapter is in the pamphlet so please do read it in full.

This is just a summary of one of the fifteen chapters in the pamphlet as a whole. The pamphlet itself is the culmination of a year’s work and (though as an editor of the pamphlet I may be a little biased) it shows that young people have plenty of fresh and original ideas which can contribute to the big policy issues of the day - something which the Young Fabians has always stood to believe.

Towards a 21st Century Curriculum can be read here

James Flynn is a Policy Officer on the Young Fabians Education Network. He works as a Policy Analyst in the Higher Education sector. He tweets at @james_flynn.


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