Career education in secondary schools

Attending career talks with people in employment may change the attitudes of Key Stage 4 pupils regarding their education, according to new research published by the UK charity, Education and Employers.  

Year 11 pupils in five schools took part in the trial and were randomly assigned at class level into an intervention group (n=307) and a control group (n=347). Pupils in the intervention group received three extra career talks by employee volunteers on top of usual career activities organised by their schools. These talks took place either during tutor group time or private study time rather than during class.

The results of the study indicated that pupils who attended the career talks reported feeling more confident in their own abilities, feeling more positive about school, and having greater faith in their ability to fulfill their career aspirations. It also seemed to provide the incentive for increased study time. Pupils in the intervention group reported, on average, a 9% higher increase in the amount of time spent each week on individual study for GCSE exams than those in the control group.

The intervention programme also had a small positive effect on achievement, with pupils slightly more likely to exceed predicted GCSE grades relative to the control group. Lower achievers and less-engaged learners responded best to the career talks, with 74% reporting that they felt more motivated as a result of the talks. These pupils also exceeded their predicted GCSE grades compared with the control group (+0.14 of a grade effect size for English, +0.05 for maths, and +0.05 for science).

Source: Motivated to achieve: How encounters with the world of work can change attitudes and improve academic attainment (June 2019), Education and Employers Research

Reviewing the evidence on career and technical education

A new report by Rachel Rosen and colleagues at MDRC reviews the available research evidence supporting various types of career and technical education (CTE) programmes, examining both the amount of evidence available in each area and its level of rigour. The report details several CTE programme types (eg, instruction and training, apprenticeships and readiness skills training) and provides a literature review of the available evidence to support each programme type.

Key findings were as follows:

  • The most evidence exists for CTE course work and training. In that area, there are multiple studies suggesting that participation in CTE can improve pupils’ outcomes. In addition, multiple studies found that career-related certificates and associate’s degrees are linked to increased wages.
  • Several career pathway models, particularly career academies and early college high schools, are also supported by strong, rigorous studies that provide evidence of positive benefits for pupils.
  • The evidence for other models and for individual programme components is weaker. The authors suggest that these models and components probably need to be evaluated further.

Source: Career and technical education current policy, prominent programs, and evidence (September 2018), MDRC

The positive effects of vocational schools

More than 90% of high schools in the US offer a vocational training option for pupils, and more than one in five pupils participate in these career and technical education (CTE) programmes. Traditionally in CTE, career-training courses are offered during each school day, and non-career classes contain a mix of CTE and non-CTE pupils. Massachusetts has taken CTE a step further by offering 32 regional vocational and technical high schools (RVTS), where all pupils participate in CTE, alternating one week of schooling with one week of career training.

Shaun Dougherty of the University of Connecticut recently studied the effects of attending an RVTS. In this study, pupils had to apply to attend, with admission based on middle school (Key Stage 3) record of attendance, standardised test scores in maths and disciplinary record. Using state data and admissions applications, Dougherty compared 4,000 ninth grade pupils (Year 10) in three RVTS schools, 2,000 of whom were just above and below the cutoff points for admission, inferring that RVTS participation would be the main variable affecting their performance. Following these ninth grade pupils through to twelfth grade (Year 13), he found that, as compared to pupils who barely missed the cutoff, pupils who had participated in RVTS:

  • Were 7-10 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school
  • Were more likely to earn industry-recognised credentials while in high school
  • Were likely to receive comparable state test scores that qualified them for graduation

Given that state test scores in core subjects were similar for the pupils who did and didn’t participate in the RVTS, Dougherty concluded that RVTS schools positively influence graduation rates without sacrificing knowledge in core subjects.

Unlike traditional CTE programmes, where pupils may study one course one year and switch the next year, RVTS pupils stay within the same course of study from tenth to twelfth grade (Years 11–13), often with the same teachers and peers. They offer a larger selection of courses, and classes are taught within the same building, allowing vocational-training teachers to confer with traditional-course teachers and carry over career training into the traditional realms of maths, English and social studies.

Source: The effect of career and technical education on human capital accumulation: causal evidence from Massachusetts (October 2017), Education Finance and Policy doi: 10.1162/EDFP_a_00224

Are young people overwhelmed by too much information?

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in the UK was commissioned by the Careers and Enterprise Company to look at the experience of young people making career decisions in order to inform policies on the use of data and careers information.

The team conducted interviews and observations with young people aged 11-18 and careers guidance professionals in 11 schools and colleges across England in order to understand the career decision journey. In addition, they considered how careers information was presented and how young people reacted to the information in their decision-making process.

One of the key findings of the report, Moments of Choice, was that despite having access to all the information they might want, young people demonstrated a lack of knowledge and research about their career options. The report suggests that too much information and the wrong sort of information, rather than too little, is the problem when it comes to making decisions about the future. Young people are overwhelmed by the amount of information and the way that it is presented and feel there is no way of making sense of it all. As a result, they switch off from decision-making altogether. This highlights the importance of presenting good careers information, advice, and guidance in a way that young people find useable in order for them to make informed decisions about their future study and career options.

Source: Moments of Choice (2016), The Behavioural Insights Team

The value of careers education

The Education Endowment Foundation in the UK has published a review of the international research into careers education, defined as careers-focused school- or college-mediated provision designed to improve students’ education, employment, and/or social outcomes.

Deirdre Hughes and colleagues from the Warwick Institute for Employment Research found that research in the field is weak and fragmented, due mainly to the complexity of differing aspects of careers education being identified and reported in differing ways. Overall, there are significant shortages in quasi-experimental and experimental studies in the career development field.
However, longitudinal studies suggest that the way in which teenagers think about their futures in education and employment has a significant impact on their future as working adults. Teenagers who have underestimated the education required for their desired profession, for example, are statistically more likely to end up not in education, employment, or training. Young people from poorer backgrounds are more likely to have career aspirations that are misaligned with their educational ambitions.

Teenage experience of work—in particular part-time employment—has been associated with improved economic outcomes for young adults. Overwhelmingly, studies identify positive economic outcomes for adults who worked part-time as teenagers while in full-time education. There is evidence of a negative impact on immediate achievement outcomes, although impacts are modest when hours worked are low.

Of the 73 studies included in the review most (46) were carried out in the US, with a smaller number (18) from the UK.

Source: Careers education: International literature review (2016), Education Endowment Foundation