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Should we rely on Ofsted to tell us what good career guidance is?

The publication by the organisers of National Careers Week of What you need to know for Ofsted is a welcome resource for Careers Leaders packed as it is with good practice ideas and tips. However, I do have reservations about encouraging an approach to managing career guidance which is predicated on not getting caught out if the inspectors call.

Since its formation, Ofsted has been inconsistent in its approach to inspecting career guidance and only too willing to do the bidding of the government of the day in the various iterations of its framework. This has not led to consistent support for career education and guidance as an essential element of the whole curriculum. (For that, you have to go back to Careers Education 5-16 published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate as far back as 1988). Ofsted’s thematic careers surveys have been insightful, but their standards and performance table driven inspection system has not been fit for purpose.

Currently, Ofsted has too easily bought into a reductionist view of careers work which assumes that preparing young people for their next steps and sustainable destinations is sufficient. They have been encouraged in this by the blunt instruments of DfE and Gatsby. Counting the number of meaningful encounters with employers is an example. The definition of meaningful is problematic and why only employers, why not inspirational young people of the climate emergency movement with their commitment to sustainable livelihoods, family and community figures, teachers, careers advisers and workers and trade unionists?

Destination measures are a flawed measure of career guidance. The point is not just that a destination is positive but that it is valued by the individual.

Ofsted is a long way from endorsing a model of transformative career learning which promotes social justice, decent work and sustainable development, in other words, outcomes that make a real difference to individuals, families, society and the economy.

So two cheers to Ofsted for raising the profile of the quality of education and personal development; but rather than put all their efforts into preparing for an inspection, Careers Leaders would be better advised to build their careers programmes on the vision and values of their own schools. Even better, they should learn about the innovative developments in career guidance around the world in other European countries, India, Canada, Australia, Japan and the Global South. They should be more concerned about preparing to emulate best practice around the world than waiting for the stick that is Ofsted.

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