Phil White explains the steps they are taking to prepare students for the world of work

The past 12 months have seen some exciting new developments in Careers and Employability Skills Education at The Cotswold School. As Head of Sixth Form in two comprehensive schools (in south London and Gloucestershire) over the past decade I have enjoyed leading/managing post-16 aspects of Higher Education and Careers provision, so when I was offered the chance to add the whole-school role of Careers Leader to my job as Head of Sixth Form I happily accepted. I hope this article gives you a useful overview of some of the new initiatives we have introduced and why they have been successful:

Employability Skills & Qualities posters in every classroom: Borrowing ideas from various sources, we selected the “top 10 skills and qualities that employers are looking for”. Our Displays Manager (indispensable!) made it into an eye-catching acrostic, an A3 colour poster for every classroom in the school. Rather than bunging them in pigeon holes and asking teachers to put them up, we went round every classroom and tacked them in a prominent position – right next to the whiteboard where possible! Lower, middle and upper school assemblies focused on unpacking these employability skills. Ideas for how these posters could be used were shared with staff – perhaps the best and simplest being: in lesson plenaries, ask the students to reflect on how the lesson activities have helped them to develop the skills (e.g. problem solving, creativity, communication…)

Practice Interviews for all Year 11 students: Two days in February were set aside for all Year 11 students to have a 20 minute practice interview with a guest professional. The Careers & Enterprise Company sourced and trained the 18 professionals, from across the spectrum of age/gender/ethnicity/industrial sector, and managed the logistics of the two days. Key to its success was the preparation work done by our Year 11 tutors in the two weeks leading up to the practice interviews: consistently using high quality resources such as video clips of good and bad examples of interviews. The students went in to the practice interviews (note: we did not call them mock interviews!) confident and ready. They obviously did not all go flawlessly, but all students had great constructive feedback from the interviewers and had plenty of opportunity to reflect on their performance and draw up a plan for addressing areas they wanted to improve upon (e.g. examples of how they’ve demonstrated teamwork or resilience).

Spring Term Careers Talks: We sourced and enthusiastically promoted (posters in every classroom!) six talks from local employers, which were held at lunchtimes in the Spring Term. These included: marketing, law, engineering, police, arboriculture and GCHQ. Attendance was entirely optional, but numbers were strong, ranging from 15 to 70+ (I’ll leave you to guess which was most popular)! The talks were informative, but the best bit was leaving a good amount of time for Q&A at the end. After the usual 30 seconds of tumbleweed, I couldn’t stop the students asking questions! Next year we plan to invite a different six (or maybe more) employers in to school to give careers talks.

Improvements to Year 10 Work Experience: For many years, our work experience week has been in the last week of the summer term. This year, we moved it a few weeks earlier, to allow time for meaningful follow-up. This took the form of an off-timetable day two weeks after the students had completed their work experience. During this day, all Year 10 students created and delivered a presentation to a small group of their peers. Plenty of guidance (and support where necessary) was given to the students about oral presentation skills and about the content, structure and format of a good PowerPoint. The best five of these presentations were then delivered to their whole tutor group and one person from each tutor group was selected to progress to the grand final. In the afternoon, the nine finalists presented to an audience of 3 invited judges (employers from local businesses) and their 200+ Year 10 peers. Some of them were very nervous… but they all did amazingly well. The top three received Amazon vouchers and the overall winner received our inaugural “work experience cup” (a rather nice engraved glass trophy which I call “the shard”) at our Speech Day in September.

“Jobs I’ve Had” posters: Most staff in schools have had other jobs or careers before (or alongside!) teaching. I’ve devised a template for a “Jobs I’ve Had” poster and asked as many staff as are willing to participate to list their current and previous jobs. I have then encouraged (via assemblies) our students to ask questions and talk with staff about their jobs. At the time of writing this article about 25 completed posters have just been pinned up on various office and classroom doors, so I can’t yet tell you how successful this initiative has been! The idea is that students will ask staff about what a particular job they’ve done involved, what was good/not so good about it, how they got in to it, skills and qualifications needed etc. A couple of example posters can be seen attached to this article. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues – teachers and support staff – for their fantastic help with all of the above and particularly to Stuart Langworthy (Business Studies teacher with a wealth of Careers and Enterprise experience) and Graham Ramsay (our school’s Enterprise Adviser) who have provided me with lots of ideas and encouragement to be ambitious with our Careers programme. More is planned for the year ahead, as well as embedding the above. I’m looking forward to it. This stuff is important and makes a real difference to our students’ future prospects as well as their current progress.