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Improving School Careers Advice for Students

Schools often place such an emphasis on getting their students moved on to university that they neglect the members of each year group who either don't want to go to university or don't have the grades to do so.

A recent BBC article about student frustration with what The Student Room has called "a black hole" in careers advice highlights the wide variation in the ability of schools to counsel students reaching the end of their time with that institution. Some run careers schedules that are too narrow in scope. Some lack a way to relate to the students they are responsible for counselling, whilst others can't cope with the sheer number of students they need to look after. But what should a 'good' institution be doing to help students identify where their next step lies?

Put the student at the heart of the service

Schools often place such an emphasis on getting their students moved on to university that they neglect the members of each year group who either don't want to go to university or don't have the grades to do so. Careers advice will focus so much on the UCAS process that options such as apprenticeships or school leaver programmes will just get a footnote of a mention or even no mention at all. Considering the needs of all students within each year group is a must based on the good careers services in schools that we see.

School leaver programmes, apprenticeship options and general employability advice can all be sewn into a schedule that still has a focus on university applications. The personal statement that students have to write for their UCAS application for example, will use exactly the same skills as writing a CV and covering letter. This is just one way of getting students to learn new skills that they can apply in a variety of circumstances.

Make it fun and engaging

The best way for schools to get students interested in their next steps is to get external speakers in to help students understand their options. A fresh voice is often well-received and is likely to encourage students to explore opportunities they had previously not considered. Workshops, campus visits, presentations, taster days -- these are just a few of the different ways that students can be encouraged to explore their post-school opportunities.

Get students thinking backwards to go forwards

One of the best tips I regularly give to students when they are trying to work out what to do is to 'identify careers you would like to have, see what those who have those careers have done to get there, and work back to see what you'll need to do to follow the same path'. The BBC article mentioned previously refers on numerous occasions to students not choosing the right subjects for courses or careers that they later want to follow. I'd like to think that by identifying your goal and what you need to get there, that students can avoid some of these pitfalls, particularly when it comes to lacking relevant work experience.

Introduce them to people they can identify with

Students respond best to people only a fraction older than they are, or from backgrounds similar to them. Getting young people in who are at, or have just been to, university, or through a school leaver programme, or who are in a certain area of employment is a great way to give students a more 'real' taste of what each path would be like for them. Questions will be more forthcoming and they'll be able to relate to each pathway better.

Build themes rather than just one-off events

The best schools I work with ensure that students are aware of a careers schedule and that certain themes within that schedule are apparent throughout each year. It helps students keep the lessons from each session fresh in their mind and it also means that you can relate each session to others in the calendar. For example, if I was going in to a school for five sessions across the year, I would be able to refer the students back to other examples used in previous sessions. I would also be able to engage with staff to reinforce messages they had been giving throughout the year too. This results in a joined-up approach from school staff and visiting speakers that keeps the students focused and on track.


Giving students the chance to experience new and different opportunities should be an important aim of a successful careers service. Students respond so well to being engaged in a way that is different to the other 99.9% of their school lives. So developing sessions that innovate and deliver messages in different ways are always ones that go down well with the students themselves.

For information on the types of engagement work that Kaplan carries out with schools in the UK, please visit our website

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