Sherry Coutu

State of the Nation 2017: Careers and Enterprise Provision in England’s Schools

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By Sherry Coutu, CBE

Times have never been more challenging for educators, who have been tasked to transition the academic assessment of young people while keeping an eye on their prospects beyond school, at this critical point in the UK’s history. It would be easy for adequate careers provision to fall down the gap, but in truth hundreds of schools across England and Scotland are making significant efforts to improve careers and enterprise provision.

The recent report from the Careers and Enterprise Company:  State of the Nation 2017: Careers and Enterprise Provision in England’s Schools, is a welcome contribution to the debate about how we equip our young people for the world of work. The CEC have built on the 2014 research published by Sir John Holman in Good Career Guidance (2014) and allowed us to see schools’ progress against the standards set by Gatsby Benchmarks since then.

At Founders4Schools, we understand the challenge, having worked with more than 500 teachers, schools and businesses and brokered requests for over 250,000 student-employer encounters for 100,000 students to date.

Our mission is to ensure every young person gets encounters with employers each year, while they are between the ages of 8 and 16, and 140 hours of work experience while they are between the ages of 16 and 24.

Our services, which take just minutes to set up, include a wide range of employer engagement activities such as careers talks, careers fairs, work shadowing days, employability programmes and work experience. We work with partners including Department for Education, Careers and Enterprise Company, LEPs and enterprises such as LinkedIn and Duedil to help schools meet requirements quickly and easily.

No other provider makes it as easy for educators to subscribe to twenty-three diverse types of student-employer encounter and our personalised guidance builds upon research commissioned by the Royal Society, Education Endowment Foundation as well as the CEC.

So, why is it so important to connect young people with business leaders? 100% of net new jobs in the economy come from companies less than 4 years old….just the scaleups that our services are set up to reach. Bringing these founders into schools and encouraging them to offer work placements locally, makes perfect sense.

94% of students who have met business leaders via F4S tell us they are inspired, and their teachers report they are three times more likely to go on to consider studying a STEM subjects that will give them critical science, engineering and technology skills. This could help close the gap in skills shortages that the Open University reports are costing UK businesses £2bn a year, and re-assure the 40% of businesses who are concerned about a lack of skills post-Brexit (IoD).

I’m a strong believer in the standardisation that the Gatsby Benchmarks bring to delivering achievable standards of schools’ careers and enterprise provision, and the consistency with which they are used provides an excellent foundation for planning and measuring performance. In fact, we have mapped F4S services to Gatsby benchmarks to help schools edge closer to fully reach more benchmarks as part of a planned programme of activity.

For example, we provide personalised guidance based on the latest research in careers and enterprise (personal guidance benchmark), have a mission to get every pupil in the UK to four annual employer-encounters (encounters with employers & employees) and our advanced filtering system allows educators to choose speakers best suited to inspire their pupils (addressing the needs of each pupil).

The CEC report is encouraging in showing that, of those schools that completed the survey, more are achieving more benchmarks compared to 2014. The excellent Compass tracking tool that CEC employs also found that there is no statistically significant relationship between the characteristics of the school or the labour market in which it is situated, and the number of Benchmarks achieved. This is great as it demonstrates the true universality of Gatsby Benchmarks in enabling a level playing field between schools in challenging circumstances and more advantaged schools.

But my big concern is that we are not moving fast enough and so will let down a generation of young people, as well as the growing base of potential employers who need a new skills base to emerge, at this crucial time. Work we have done in Stirling this year has demonstrated a significant uplift to nearly 800 Student-Employer Encounters (SEE’s) per 1,000 students (surpassing every local authority in the UK) due to the collaboration and leadership provided by the local council and by the provision of a workshop for headteachers which got them directly involved.

Only by working at the most senior levels within schools did we unlock resistance by helping them understand how with just a little investment of time we can create great outcomes for young people and significantly improve Ofsted results around effective careers provision at the same time.

cumulative SEE's per 1000 Students

It is clear from the CEC Report that most schools are not reporting in Compass. Progress is being made, but it is disappointing that even those who are reporting show that over 20% of schools are not achieving any Benchmarks at all.

At F4S we are working with the CEC to help with:

    • Guides for head teachers to demonstrate what works and offer local insight reports;
    • An Insight report based on the Gatsby Benchmarks that can celebrate each school as it ‘moves up a level’, and help guide those who need help to progress;


  • Ways to enable us to feed results from schools that work with us directly into Compass and so make reporting easier.

F4S can embed employer feedback of encounters in our Teacher Dashboard. We provide clear guidance on which encounter types to book and when, using algorithms to recommend the most impactful encounter types in the local jobs market to enhance the combination of encounters that young people under their care receive. We want to scale this to enable educators to achieve more Gatsby Benchmarks, and be able to track students’ experience in the process.

So, how can schools embed a successful careers strategy? The Careers and Enterprise Company report highlights success factors from schools that do it brilliantly:

    • A careers programme must be fully embedded within the school;
    • Educators need to draw on a wide range of employer engagement activities, including careers talks, careers fairs, work shadowing days, employability programmes, work experience;
    • Access to local careers information is critical. F4S makes real-time local market information easily available to help students understand where their passions lie and connect them with the most relevant local employers;


  • Meeting with universities, colleges and apprenticeship providers is helpful. This should extend to new Institutes of Technology;


    • Personal guidance from a dedicated head of careers. Working with a committed ambassador within the local authority has proved very powerful for getting things moving, and maintaining momentum;
    • The work of the Enterprise Advisor Network is vital in connecting valuable services to schools;


  • The use of tools, such as Kudos, can connect careers education through a range of subjects and help all staff to become more involved in the careers programme, gaining CPD points along the way;


  • The opportunity to serve up work experience placements for older students is crucial. We developed Workfinder, our work experience app, as a service to that allows young people to not only rate work experience but to discover local opportunities, right there in their pockets.

We can help support schools in all these ways, and so build your schools’ success in relation to the Gatsby Benchmarks.

Sherry Coutu, CBE

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