A key function of secondary schools is to prepare students for the future. A significant component of this function involves students achieving academic success. It also includes support for learners to develop the passions, goals and directions that will contribute to their families, society and the workplace. From this perspective, high quality careers information, advice, guidance and education (CIAGE) can help transform a young person’s experience of schooling. Learners can become much more engaged in education and highly motivated about the future with a clear understanding of themselves and how they might live and work when they leave school.
In this evaluation ERO examined the approach of 44 secondary schools to CIAGE. Four schools had high quality approaches to CIAGE, characterised by their innovative school-wide focus on helping students identify, plan and strive for their aspirations for the future. The school-wide focus on student futures at these schools meant that students were well motivated to achieve their goals and had frequent opportunities to develop career management competencies. These schools also had high quality approaches with priority learners, especially Māori students and students with special needs.
The remaining schools in this evaluation did not have the same level of innovation or
school-wide commitment to careers (or student aspirations for the future). These schools had a more conventional approach to careers that centred on the work of a careers department. These schools are divided into three groups – Conventional-Established, Conventional-Developing and Low Quality.
The Conventional – Established group comprised of 17 schools which provided familiar CIAGE opportunities for students in Years 9 to 13. This included initiatives such as:
- Year 9 students visiting the careers centre and completing a self-awareness unit in health
- Year 10 students developing a learning plan to inform their options for Year 11
- senior students visiting tertiary organisations and Year 13 students having individual interviews with a trained careers advisor.
Typically, the staff in the careers departments of the Conventional-Established schools were well organised and could demonstrate their success in terms of the development of student pathways. While staff understood the need for students to develop career management competencies, this was not a top priority for the school. In this regard, student aspirations or futures did not have the same level of focus as observed in schools with a high-quality, whole-school approach. This meant that students did not have the same day-to-day opportunities to consider their personal developmental and vocational goals, or the same opportunities to develop career management competencies.
The term Conventional - Developing describes the largest group of schools in this evaluation. Most of the students in these 19 schools did not have consistently good opportunities to set goals, develop self awareness, explore opportunities and make decisions about their future. Although the approach to CIAGE by these schools was linked to the career education guidelines, there remained significant areas in which they needed to improve their performance. Overall, the schools in this group did not demonstrate the same level of leadership and coordination, in terms of their pastoral and curriculum systems, as those schools with more developed approaches to CIAGE.
The schools in the last group had low quality approaches to CIAGE. These four schools required much more leadership in the careers department and/or across the school. Their focus for student career planning tended to be at Year 13 and there were no expectations for curriculum departments to develop careers-based units or classroom materials.
This is ERO’s first national report on CIAGE since The Quality of Career Education and Guidance in Schools in 2006. That report used a different evaluation framework to that used in this evaluation. In this regard it is not possible to measure the extent of any systemic changes in Careers in the last 6 years. Despite this, the understanding school leaders have shown of career management competencies suggests that there has been a moderate system-wide improvement in schools’ approaches to CIAGE. The fact that many schools were developing new CIAGE initiatives also provides some scope to expect improvement to continue.
Despite these positive factors, it was evident that significant system-wide improvements in CIAGE will require schools to move from having efficient careers departments to having innovative school-wide systems and processes that are consistent with those developed by a small group of schools in this evaluation. This potentially represents a significant shift for schools and policy-makers, as it involves a broad range of secondary school staff actively supporting students to develop career management competencies, and focussing on their futures.