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Helping children better understand the careers they can have

There are over seven million schoolchildren in England, and all of them need to choose a career path to ensure a fulfilling future. Yet the delivery of careers guidance in the country has often been poor. Responding to this problem, Northumbria’s academics worked with three schools in the North East to design and embed into school curricula a new Workplace Investigation Framework that stretches beyond mere ‘site visits’ and allows children to gain deeper insight into the changing world of work. This approach was successfully incorporated into the Gatsby Foundation’s careers handbook that is now used by three quarters of schools in England.

Northumbria academics Dr Nick Spencer and Dr Mark Bailey argue that design stretches beyond creation of materials and products and should be applied to create more intangible ‘products’ – interactions, strategies and systems within organisations. After working across different sectors, including long-term collaboration with the multinational consumer goods company Unilever, they turned attention to education.

There are over seven million schoolchildren in England that are eventually going to leave school and join the national workforce. Figuring out what career to choose is often a hard task. Career guidance in schools is regularly delivered as ‘site visits’ as an add-on to the school curriculum and take place a couple of times a year, but unfortunately, they do not provide sufficient insight into the world of work. In order to change this outdated approach to career guidance, Spencer and Bailey have worked with three schools in the North East (Berwick Academy, Churchill Community College, and Shotton Hall Academy) for two years, creating a new framework for designing and delivering career guidance that could be applied in schools of varying sizes and locations and can be tailored to specific school circumstances. This new Workplace Investigation Framework guided schools in how to structure pupils’ learning about the changing world of work (e.g., how to explore the nature of certain professions, diversity within sectors and contexts, workforce needs), moving away from the narrow ‘site visit’ definition. Importantly, the framework allowed career guidance to be embedded into school curricula, making it an integral part of education.

Following the successful design of career guidance for schools, Northumbria’s framework was incorporated into the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks of the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. The Gatsby Benchmarks were used to create a core framework for the Department for Education Careers Strategy launched in December 2017, and the Statutory Guidance published in 2018. Moreover, a guidance handbook that incorporated Northumbria’s Workforce Investigation Framework was distributed to every headteacher in England, and the handbook is now used by three quarters of schools in the country, showing how design can lead responsible social innovation.

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