In a new series of columns, STEPHEN JONES, warden of St Edward’s School, talks about careers advice

Early in 2016, Oliver Colvile MP asked the Secretary of State for Education what plans the Government had to improve employment and careers advice. The answer suggested that the Government would produce a new careers strategy for schools at some point in 2016.

The Government did produce a briefing paper in June of 2017, a year later, and in July, Justine Greening became the third government minister in two years to announce a new careers strategy at some time this autumn… Whilst we wait for their view we might like to ask what we really want from our careers advice in schools and what is the best way to deliver it?

Many independent schools have long been attached to aptitude testing with feedback and potential job suggestions presented in tandem. Although these are still popular, I am a slight sceptic and believe that the best way forward for our young people is to get them to tune in to their real interests and strengths and help them move forward in the best possible direction incrementally.

My worry for careers strategies – and we have yet to see what the government proposes – is that they may encourage a teleological approach in careers advice; they may tend towards engaging pupils with specific futures and defining paths towards those goals.

For me, the most important part of the careers education process is having sensible conversations.

Few fifteen to eighteen year olds have a very clear idea of what they really want to do or are suited to; there are exceptions, of course, and those who go on to study medicine are notable in this category – there are others as well.

The point here, however, is that it is completely normal for pupils not to have real clarity about what they might want to do at some time in the future. So the trick is how to guide them sensibly and well.

I am always concerned when a pupil has too fixed a mind-set about their future.

Consider the following scenario… A pupil has the idea in her mind that she wants to be an investment banker and thus chooses Economics at A-level and then aims for Economics at university.

Perfectly reasonable, you might say. But what if she, ultimately, dislikes economics as a subject (interesting to be sure, but not to everyone’s taste) and, perhaps more worryingly, has no real aptitude for it. The result is misery.

For me the fundamental principle is that of understanding the present likes and aptitudes of an individual and then moving on from there.

Far better that pupils tackle a set of subjects which are in tune with their real enthusiasms and certainly in line with their abilities; this is far more likely to lead to a set of options which are both relevant and appropriate at the next stage, and with which they will both enjoy and be successful.

At my own school we run a careers department headed by a former head-hunter and our approach involves an initial interview with each year eleven pupil. During that interview they will sit, and receive feedback on, a psychometric assessment which provides insight into their potential, what motivates them, their core strengths and their possible limitations.

Year eleven is not the time to decide on a pupil’s future career in detail but rather the assessment, along with the individual meeting, enables and encourages discussion about future possibilities.

Options need to be left open and pupils should be given the opportunity to learn about wider aspects of the world of work before decisions are made which could have a lasting impact on their lives at university and beyond.

Stephen Jones


St Edward's School

NEXT WEEK: Caroline Jordan, Headmistress, Headington School