Contribution of Careers Education and Guidance to School Effectiveness in Partnership Schools

Peter Rudd, Marian Morris, Julie Nelson, Deborah Davies

19 September 2000

This report is from the first phase of a research project that was carried out by NFER between December 1998 and September 1999. The study, which was conducted in 30 selected schools across England, was commissioned by the DfEE in order to gain a clearer understanding of the impact that careers education and guidance might have upon the overall effectiveness of schools.

The report is available in hard copy from the DCFS website.


The publication of the present government's White Paper Excellence in Schools (1997) identified, for the first time, that aspects of careers education and guidance were a significant element of government strategy for promoting higher educational standards and more effective schools.

There is telling research evidence that appropriate careers education and guidance provision can contribute to the development of young people's careers-related skills and learning outcomes. Moreover, where such programmes are delivered within a school environment that facilitates curriculum links and effective partnerships with the careers service, previous research indicates that the development of skills, particularly those skills most associated with transition at 16, are enhanced. However, it is less clear whether such provision has any wider educational implications. To what extent, for example, does the provision of effective careers education and guidance contribute to higher educational achievement or aspirations amongst young people? Does a partnership approach to careers education and guidance 'add value' to the wider school curriculum?

The research sought to explore the link between effective careers education and guidance (particularly within the context of a guidance community or partnership approach) and:

  • educational standards, especially in terms of student achievement
  • the effectiveness of schools in terms of:
    • staff expectations, shared visions and continuing professional development curriculum enrichment
    • more effective use of external partners
    • student aspirations and personal development.

Key issues for the research were to:

  • establish the quality of careers education and guidance provision in the case study schools
  • establish the extent of interaction and integration of the careers education and guidance curriculum in schools
  • explore the question of how to define and identify school effectiveness.

The quality of careers education and guidance

During the course of the research it became apparent that there was no universal formula for effective careers education and guidance in schools. Instead, successful provision appeared to be the product of a number of different factors, combining appropriate internal mechanisms, such as systems to support the links between the careers education and guidance programme and the wider school curriculum, and external links (with the careers service, post-16 providers, including employers, and parents) within a clearly understood philosophy.

hools had variously adopted a range of strategies, using careers education and guidance as:

  • an agent of change - a few schools had used careers education and guidance as a means of re-focusing or re-structuring significant elements of their school curriculum or their organisational strategy.
  • a means of enhancing student self-esteem or motivation - many schools acknowledged the motivational potential of careers education and guidance and 11 of the case-study schools had made quite concerted efforts to capitalise on this aspect
  • a means of promoting lifelong learning and of reducing pre- or post-16 or 18 switching or drop out - although there was a stated intention in all schools to encourage young people to seek further education or training at 16, the extent to which they had made the links with the wider lifelong learning agenda varied markedly
  • a means of creating curriculum relevance - many of the schools in the study had set in place strategies to re-motivate the disaffected and bring about greater social inclusion. This included making a more overt link between careers education and guidance and the wider curriculum as well as differentiating provision in ways that would motivate a larger number of students.

The 'guidance community' or partnership approach

The term 'guidance community' was initially coined to describe a model of interaction, both between schools and careers services and also (perhaps more significantly) within schools, in the provision of careers education and guidance. In effect, guidance community schools operate within a multi-strand partnership between schools' senior managers and teachers and:

  • the school careers education and guidance coordinator
  • the careers service
  • external school partners.

All 30 schools in the study were originally identified by their local careers services as having 'guidance community' provision. However, in practice, a full partnership approach was not always apparent. In all, 12 schools demonstrated all (or most) of the characteristics of a guidance community, with a further 12 lacking certain crucial aspects (generally an understanding of the potential role careers education and guidance could play in the wider curriculum). In the case of six schools, there was little real indication of guidance community practice. This should not necessarily be seen as an indication of poor education and guidance programmes. Rather, some of the schools lacked the internal and external linkages, and some of the mechanisms necessary to enable successful partnership practice.

What enabled schools to adopt, or move towards, a guidance community approach? What were the features that acted as levers towards, or barriers against, partnership practice? And what were the gains for the schools?

The 12 partnership schools were characterised by strong senior management support for careers education and guidance. In addition, the degree to which guidance community practice became embedded within school practice was dependent largely on the extent to which:

  • professional expertise was used to support careers education and guidance and the wider work-related curriculum within schools;
  • the careers education and guidance programme was also used to support and inform other areas of the school curriculum;
  • external partners, such as business and community partners, were able to contribute to both the careers education and guidance and the wider school curriculum.

The gains for the schools included:

  • more effective use of guidance interviews and discussions with students;
  • more effective integration of careers-related knowledge and information into the subject curriculum;
  • more effective use of the outside community in the design and teaching of both careers education and guidance and the subject curriculum.

Effective schools

There is now a very large body of literature on school effectiveness and school improvement and there have been numerous attempts to identify and quantify the characteristics (and outcomes) of an effective school. Many researchers have taken the view that, whilst academic achievement, usually expressed in terms of 'hard' statistical examination outcomes, is a fundamental part of a schools effectiveness, account also needs to be taken of 'softer' qualitative indicators, including the quality of school leadership, pupil attitudes and the ethos or culture of a school. The research therefore used two different, but complementary, sets of measures to explore school effectiveness. These were:

  • publicly available, national statistical information about school performance (these provided the 'hard' or quantitative indicators of performance)
  • a series of qualitative indicators, based on the broader dimensions of institutional effectiveness, that were constructed and assessed on the basis of fieldwork visits to the case-study schools.

When the aggregated and contextualised performance data for each school was examined alongside the aggregated qualitative data, it became apparent that 11 of the case-study schools were very effective in terms of:

  • student attainment
  • the attributes that have been associated with a school's ability to continue to improve.

Others, while not yet necessarily as effective in performance terms, had instituted strategies and practices that should facilitate future progression. The key question for the research, however, was whether there was any link between such school effectiveness and a guidance community or partnership approach to careers education and guidance.

The link between careers education and guidance and school effectiveness

At the time the research was conducted, none of the 30 schools in the study combined the profile of a school that was effective with every level of ability, had all of the enabling characteristics of an effective school and had adopted a guidance community approach to careers education. Nonetheless, eight of the 11 most effective schools were guidance communities or had most, if not all, of the characteristics of partnership provision. This implies that there was some association between a guidance community approach and effective schools.

However, the situation is rather more complicated than that. It is possible to identify some impact of careers education and guidance on certain aspects of school effectiveness, including a positive impact on:

  • the development of curriculum management strategies
  • the enrichment of the wider curriculum
  • the promotion of effective student transition at 16 (and 18).

It is rather more difficult to make a similar claim for its impact on the wider effectiveness of schools; the link between a guidance community approach and educational standards, as expressed by student attainment, was more difficult to ascertain.

It is worth emphasising, therefore, that adopting a partnership approach to careers education and guidance is not, in itself, sufficient to ensure an effective school. Rather, it may facilitate procedures that, alongside other strategies, may contribute to school effectiveness.

About the research

The research adopted a predominantly qualitative methodology, drawing on both interview data and documentation, including Ofsted and other reports. Aggregated quantitative data (on GCSE attainment and student attendance, for example) was also collected from a wide range of sources, including DfEE web-sites, Ofsted Performance and Assesment (PANDA) reports and schools' value-added analyses.

During the spring and summer terms of 1999, a progressive series of interviews (176 in total) was conducted with senior management teams, careers co-ordinators and a range of other teaching staff in 30 selected schools in England. These were augmented by interviews with all link careers advisers (consultants) and with a number of external partners (including LEA personnel, governors and in some cases employers) as well as with discussion groups with 169 students from Year 10.

Key Findings

In examining the factors that led to the distinctive role played by careers education and guidance in each school, four driving forces became apparent. These included careers education and guidance as:

  • an agent of change, leading to a re-focusing or re-structuring of significant elements of the school curriculum or organisational strategy
  • a means of enhancing student self-esteem or motivation
  • a means of promoting lifelong learning and of reducing pre- or post-16 or 18 switching or drop-out
  • a means of creating curriculum relevance.

Where schools had been able to identify either a specific role for careers education and guidance, or were very clear about its intended outcomes, this could make a significant contribution to a number of aspects of school life. This was most evident in the schools that had adopted a partnership or guidance community approach. Careers education and guidance in these schools:

  • helped staff to take a more skills-focused approach to the curriculum facilitated curriculum management and development
  • encouraged stronger subject links
  • encouraged more productive links with employers and other local partners.

There was evidence that the partnership approach had most impact on areas such as curriculum management and external links. However, its influence on the 'hard' indicators of school performance, such as attainment and attendance, was more difficult to determine. Schools were most able to use careers education effectively where there was:

  • a clear and shared vision of the role and purpose of the careers education and guidance programme in the school
  • a series of clear and achievable aims and objectives
  • a firm grounding in 'information', with links being made between target setting, performance data and destinations data
  • an appropriate monitoring and evaluation system.