What is career guidance?

Career guidance is the broad range of ways in which schools and colleges inform and prepare pupils for future learning and work1. High quality career guidance can improve students’ ability to make career decisions, increase their attainment, increase their likelihood of enrolling in post-secondary education, and increase their earnings after they complete their schooling2. It includes the provision of information, classroom learning, engaging with employers through employer talks or mentoring, experience of workplaces and work placements, and professional one-to-one support.

School governors are in a strong position to advise and support career guidance. Governors collectively are likely to have wide experience of the world of work – probably wider experience than the teaching staff. The governing body is well placed to give strategic guidance on the school’s careers policies and to provide contacts with employers.

Education Act 2011: statutory requirements on careers

The Education Act 2011 and subsequent statutory guidance3 place a duty on all state-funded secondary schools, including academies and free schools, to ensure that all registered pupils at the school receive a programme of independent [from the school] advice and guidance that is stable, structured and delivered by individuals with the right skills and experience. The governing body must ensure that the independent careers guidance provided:

  • is presented in an impartial manner;
  • includes information on the range of education or training options, including apprenticeships and other vocational pathways; and
  • will promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given.

It will not be possible for schools to achieve an ‘Outstanding’ judgement in an Ofsted inspection without delivering career guidance effectively. There is also a new duty to provide opportunities to a range of providers of technical education and apprenticeships to access pupils to inform them about technical education qualifications or apprenticeships.

Approaches to careers guidance provision

The Department for Education’s statutory guidance has been restructured around the Gatsby Benchmarks and by adopting them, schools can be confident that they are fulfilling their legal duties. The Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s approach to career guidance helps schools to deliver a good standard of career guidance and meet their statutory requirements – Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Good Career Guidance (London, 2014). Their report draws on international best practice to produce eight benchmarks and has been piloted in schools in the North East of England.

The Department for Education also sets out in non-statutory advice on the requirements for post-16 education providers to include work experience when delivering 16-19 study programmes.

This resource is structured to help you consider your school’s career guidance provision by asking questions that relate to the eight Gatsby benchmarks as follows.

What questions should governors ask?

You do not need to ask all the questions listed, it is possible to be selective and focus on one area at a time.

How can you assess how your school is doing?

A national approach to self-assessment against the Gatsby Benchmarks, ‘Compass’, has been produced by the Careers and Enterprise Company. This is free to use and can be accessed through the Careers and Enterprise Company’s website. Government statutory guidance recommends that schools baseline themselves using this tool, consider the opportunities to improve their careers programme based on their confidential results, and track their progress against the Benchmarks over time.

Schools can also have their career guidance work assessed and validated by an external careers quality award offered through the Quality in Careers Standard, an organisation recognised by Careers England. The Standard works alongside the Gatsby Benchmarks to provide an external assessment and recognition of a school’s provision against the Benchmarks.

There is a range of further sources of information that you can use to assess how well your school is doing in terms of careers guidance provision:

  • The Department for Education publish information on the destinations of Key Stage 4 and 5 pupils which can be used to compare your own school’s performance against national data.
  • Many local and regional groups for example Local Enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and Education Business Partnerships collect local information on pupil destinations and progression. Governors may wish to contact these groups to gather local benchmarking data.
  • The House of Commons Library has a briefing paper which sets out the requirements and commentary on career guidance in schools, colleges and universities. It summarises the key legislative and policy initiatives of the current government.

Ofsted: careers guidance

CEGNET, an online community for teachers, careers professionals and supporters of career development to share news and resources has produced a useful summary of how Ofsted will inspect career guidance (CEGNET 2015).


1 “Career guidance refers to services and activities intended to assist individuals, of any age and at any point throughout their lives, to make educational, training and occupational choices and to manage their careers. The activities may take place on an individual or group basis, and may be face-to-face or at a distance (including help lines and web-based services).” (OECD, 2004)
2 Hooley, T (2016) What works in career and enterprise? London. The Careers and Enterprise Company.
3 DFE (2018). Careers guidance and access for education and training providers: Statutory guidance for governing bodies, school leaders and school staff


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