Careers education in a pandemic – British Council Event

Our Chair Mike Britland recently participated in the British Council webinar on Careers Education in a pandemic. The rationale behind the event focused on how the Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping career opportunities for pupils across the world. Mike was joined by educators from India, Bangladesh and a little closer to home in Kent. Each speaker provided some national context regarding careers education as well as offering ways on which we can pivot to maximise opportunities.

The webinar looked to address the following issues:

  • Whether the past year has made it challenging for pupils to undertake work experience
  • Whether the Covid-19 pandemic has made pupils rethink future career plans
  • How teachers have been supporting pupils to plan for the future

The whole webinar, including the Q&A, is available to watch below:

Below you will find a transcript of his contribution the webinar

Hi I’m Mike Britland and I work as a Careers Development Lead for the education charity Teach First where my role is to support school leaders across England in developing the careers education strategy for their school. At Teach First our main focus is building a fair education for all and to do this we work with schools that are in disadvantaged communities.

I also chair the TF Careers Network which is a network run by careers educators for careers educators, where we provide resources that have practical application in school and have been practically applied in school – this means it goes beyond a simple Word processed document or idea. We also provide policy ideas for which to improve Careers education and we also run events to support careers professionals and those who seek to learn more about Careers.

Before undertaking these roles I have had many roles outside of education including working as a freelance journalist and in media relations – above all else I was a teacher and school leader for 17 years working in schools in the most challenging of circumstances – in these roles I have held responsibility for careers education, Post-16 study, the SMSC development of young people with responsibility as well as a classroom teacher.

The programme I specifically deliver is designed to support schools in providing a great platform for young people to plan their careers – it isn’t about socially engineering students but providing schools with the tools in which to support the hopes and dreams of disadvantaged young people.

I work with secondary education schools, so students who are as young as 11 up to students who are 18. Like many schools across the world, all schools in the UK were physically shut to all but the most vulnerable students and those whose parents were considered essential workers from March to September of last year. Schools were closed again from December 18th 2020 until March 8th of this year.

All secondary education institutions and colleges have a legal responsibility to provide careers education to young people. Schools are required to work towards achieving 8 prescribed benchmarks of excellence, called the Gatsby Benchmarks – these areas of excellence cover different and specific areas:

  • Having a whole school plan that links into local business/education which fits the needs of the individual student and provides them with personal guidance to achieve their dreams.
  • The benchmarks also outline that Young People need to be provided with access to university and colleges, experiences of the workplace and opportunities to interact with employers and employees.

Access to and delivery of quality careers education in the UK has improved steadily over the past 7 years.  More and more schools have improved their provision and expanded access for young people to know more about the options that are available to them. Since the Pandemic we have seen interesting data come from educators on the importance they place on Careers education:

  • 3 in 4 teachers believe developing employability skills is vital for supporting students post COVID-19 (TeacherTapp Survey)
  • 63% Teachers believe engaging with employers is essential. ​​
  • 72% of schools and colleges indicated that career guidance provision had become even more important during that time. (Gatsby COVID-19 August Report)

It can’t be emphasised enough the effect that the pandemic has had on those benchmarks and  career planning in general, be it to those who have the responsibility to ensure that careers education is delivered in school or to the young people who have had to pivot or postpone their dreams. 

Traditionally, the baulk of a school’s careers provision has centred around individual events and activities involving external support from educational institutions and business. This has either involved young people leaving school site or guests coming into the school – obviously during a pandemic this hasn’t been possible so this provision has been delivered remotely. 

Often schools haven’t been able to mandate student attendance to these events so schools have ended up signposting young people to general external events which has meant tracking of student involvement is very difficult. Where schools have had some success is the remote delivery of personal guidance to core groups of students. Most schools have had to focus this personal guidance on students who are at the post-16 and post-18 study points. 

  • Over the past year schools have found it a real challenge to support students with the destinations of choice – with post-16 students finding access to the correct courses, apprenticeships or employment hampered. 
  • The UK also reported a record number of university applications, with 4-10 students applying for university due in part to limited options for employment from post-18 studies.

As already highlighted one of the elements of a school or university careers programme that has been most adversely affected during the pandemic has been young people’s access to work experience or experiences of the workplace and encounters with employers and employees. It has not so much made them rethink their plans but for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds it makes their journey into the employment routes of their choosing significantly harder.

As mentioned by James, many Careers leaders across England have been focusing on finding opportunities for remote or virtual work experience. This way young people can still build employability skills while working away from the norm – this has actually made businesses realise that by developing these offers they can reach more students across a wider geographical range. Young people having access to ‘quality’ work experience opportunities has always been a challenge so the increase of remote access to these opportunities are welcome. There is still a journey of travel to ensure that these opportunities are delivered as realistically as possible but there is a drive for change here.

Ensuring that all young people have access to the technology to access remote careers provision is essential so more investment is needed here. The biggest learning we’ve taken is that just because you’ve always done something in a particular way doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it – the pandemic has provided school leaders with time and space to be more innovative with the way they support student’s career planning and careers education. 

For instance schools have a great opportunity to further explore new recruitment practices being developed by employers. The traditional in-person job interview could now be seen as a pre-COVID method of employment – with more and more employers allowing their employees the freedom of working from home, there is a necessity for them to conduct remote job interviews. I was supporting a friend last week through what to expect on a remote interview on Teams where I pointed out that before the interview that tidying their room might be a good idea – young people need to be shown how to show themselves in the most positive way through these new practices and methods.

  • Looking at the camera not the screen
  • Good lighting
  • Using a headset to cancel external noise

Where schools can really have an impact on Career planning is the continued integration of Careers into curriculum areas/subjects – drawing the line or bridging the gap from isolated islands of careers education into where their learning can take them is vitally important. Embedding careers into all areas of school means that it is embedded into school culture and this is where real change and impact occurs. The pandemic has allowed school leaders to see how and why this is vitally important in supporting young people through the difficult and uncertain post-COVID world they now live in.


Here are some useful links to support careers education development:

The full biographies of the speakers involved in the webinar can be found on the British Council website here.

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