Data Insight: How is careers guidance for school pupils prioritised?

This Data Insight explores how information is used to inform decisions regarding the provision of careers guidance interviews among key stage 4 (KS4) pupils in Wales. It explores the relative importance of background characteristics contained within administrative education records compared to information supplied by pupils via the Careers Wales diagnostic tool.

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In the UK, the transition from learning to work is becoming increasingly complex and young people face a daunting array of challenges. Given the complexity of the transition between school to work, school to post-compulsory education, and the demands of the contemporary labour market, the provision of adequate and timely careers guidance is felt to play a critical role in supporting young people to make the transition from full-time education. Research has shown that careers guidance is particularly important to young people who belong to families who have a history of unemployment or low-skilled employment and/or no experience of higher education. So how is the provision of careers guidance prioritised within Welsh schools? Within Wales, Careers Wales is responsible for providing independent and impartial careers information, advice and guidance service. Under its new Brighter Futures five-year delivery strategy, Careers Wales aims to offer a personalised service, targeting support at those most likely to face barriers to moving into a sustained, positive transition from statutory education. This strategy involves targeted support at KS4 to ensure resources address client needs. 

Careers Wales works closely with schools to identify those most in need of support. Firstly, schools share information with Careers Wales about the characteristics of pupils (levels of attainment, attendance, FSM eligibility) to identify those pupils who are most at risk of becoming disengaged and falling outside the education, training or employment system (requiring of Level 3 support). However, such characteristics may fail to capture all those who need help. To support the professional judgement of careers guidance practitioners, during KS4 pupils in Wales are given the opportunity to complete Careers Wales’s ‘Career Check’ survey. Mostly completed during Year 10, this diagnostic tool helps careers advisors to identify those pupils who are most in need of support and their likely service requirements. Career Check asks pupils a variety of questions that allow careers advisors to identify those pupils who have unrealistic expectations, are underachieving or who are lacking in focus, confidence or the motivation to make things happen (Level 2 support).

Why it matters

We have shown that KS4 pupils who have low levels of attainment and who are eligible for free school meals are most likely to receive guidance irrespective of the responses that they provide via Career Check. This highlights the primacy of these indicators for careers advisors in prioritising support for KS4 pupils.

A recent study of Year 11 pupils in England has again raised concerns that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to receive careers education. However, this and previous research on the provision and take-up of careers guidance within schools has generally been based upon voluntary surveys and could be subject to problems associated with response bias. Our analysis based on administrative data provides a more nuanced understanding of how careers guidance is primarily targeted at disadvantaged groups. By providing us with a better understanding of the population at risk, these findings also have important implications in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of careers guidance. However, among those with higher levels of attainment, Career Check does provide the opportunity to identify those where there is cause for concern regarding their career planning capabilities. These findings demonstrate the intricacy with which pupils are identified as needing support.

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