The following officers were in attendance for this item:
- Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People)
- David Butler, Head of School Standards, Commissioning and Learning Access
- Julie Ralphs, Post-16 Education, Skills & Commissioning Adviser
Contributions to this agenda item were also made by Neela Choudhury, (Assistant Principal, Oasis Academy Shirley Park) and Martin Giles (Head Teacher of Meridian High School) and pupils from these two schools.
Head teachers were invited to make brief statements about the challenges faced in choosing a career and the right training, and in finding a job, and the work being done by the schools to support pupils in tackling these challenges.
In terms of challenges, Neela Choudhury highlighted the need to make pupils aware of the extensive range of careers available to them in the work place, and particularly in the Croydon area. She felt that the pupils in her school were ambitious and wanted to go far, but were not sure where their talents could lead them.
To help pupils make better informed decisions, the school has been promoting the use of work experience, despite the fact that it is no longer compulsory. Neela Chowdhury stated that all year 10 pupils in Oasis Academy Shirley Park went on work experience at the end of that particular year and that the school made strenuous efforts to match them with work places of relevance to them. However, she admitted that this was becoming increasingly difficult, partly because of the students' age and related insurance matters, and partly because of the limited range of employers who were able or willing to engage with this initiative.
Neela Choudhury explained that the school provided preparation for A-levels, but also provided support to engage with other types of qualifications and training such as apprenticeships. This support was given through the work of the school's designated director of work experience and information and advice evenings and one to one guidance. The school also engages with "Teach First" and the insurance firm Allianz to further the opportunities available to pupils, and looking to forge better links with local businesses.
Martin Giles highlighted the context in which his school was working, and reminded members of the fact that New Addington was one of the most deprived areas in the borough. Addington High School, as the establishment had previously been named, had faced a number of challenges in terms of underperformance over the years. Staff have had to do a significant amount of work over the last two years to try and address the aspirations of the community.
Martin Giles feels the school is continuing to face a challenge in terms of careers advice and is likely to continue to do so over the next few years as this work also needs to engage with families to help them understand the options available to their children. He affirmed that this was a rapidly improving school which had now reached the same standards as the national average, despite the fact that many pupils in the early years and primary classes have not had the support they should have had. He highlighted the mentoring carried out at the school as a powerful tool for raising the aspirations of its pupils and stressed the need for guidance in terms of future exam and training options from early on, from year 7 onwards.
Martin Giles emphasised the need for ambition, which he felt many pupils needed to develop further. He stated that there was very clear evidence that they were not always offered the best possible career paths. To counter this, pupils are advised that they have to fight for their future and to channel an "anger" for better prospects into assertive action to achieve better training options. He shared the fact that he himself grew up on a council estate on the outskirts of Dublin and is living proof of the effect of a successful education. He concluded his comments by emphasising the need to win the hearts and minds of pupils to bring about a deeper belief in their own potential and higher aspirations.
Pupils attending the meeting were invited to speak of their experiences of exploring career paths and opportunities for work experiences.
E. is in year 13. She did her work experience in the Houses of Parliament in the catering team, an unusual opportunity which had been highlighted at the school by the director of work experience. She observed that most pupils did their work experience with local employers, which evidently has practical advantages, but praised the director of work experience for working to create a broad range of contacts and opportunities.
G. has been given the opportunity to do an internship at an advertising agency through a personal contact established for her by the principal of the school, not a compulsory placement. She gained a great deal from this experience, which took her right out of her comfort zone and helped her to determine her career path
Members wished to know how Meridian High School worked with parents to raise their ambitions for their children. The head teacher stated that this was done in two ways:
- As regards the young people who are nearing the end of their studies at the school, the head teacher conveys messages regarding ambitions through the young people themselves. It is a matter of instilling the confidence in children so they can tell their parents "I want to do this career and am capable of doing so". This is usually very well received by parents, who have high aspirations for their children but not always the experience and contacts to help them fulfil them.
- For the pupils who have arrived since Martin Giles has become head, he organises year 6 open evenings and induction evenings at the beginning of year 7. He also speaks about his humble background and the benefits of a good education and high and yet realistic ambitions, and encourages parents to trust and support the school in fostering ambitious goals and encouraging the pupils to work hard towards them.
Members questioned school heads regarding careers advice and work experience opportunities for pupils with special educational needs, and the barriers faced by schools endeavouring to provide these opportunities. The head teacher of Meridian High School stated that the school did not provide work experience to any of its pupils because of their age range and the fact that there are very few high quality work experience opportunities for pupils aged 14-15.
The Assistant Principal of Oasis Academy Shirley Park stated that the school endeavoured to offer work experience opportunities to all its pupils. She conceded that finding placements for pupils with special educational needs represented a greater challenge, and explained that the school tackled these on a case by case approach. It involves being very mindful of health and safety issues, sharing key challenges with the prospective employer, and working with them to overcome them. The school endeavours to offer good placements to all pupils by developing a good range of contacts and good relationships with employers in Croydon and further afield. She emphasised that the school worked to instil a sense of ambition in all pupils including those with special needs, and to give them quality opportunities to develop them further.
Members asked the pupils about the age when they decided what careers they wanted to embark on, if they had already made that decision.
B. explained that he did not really know what he wanted to do when he was very young. In year 11, the school introduced mentoring for its pupils, which has helped students like him to find out about the choices open to them and to decide what careers they wanted to pursue. He added that because of where he lives, he has faced barriers to becoming what he wants to be. Now, thanks to his school, he has grown in confidence and feels able to become what he wants to be.
For some years, M did not know what he wanted to do when he grew up but agreed with B. that the reputation of the place where one lives can erect barriers to pursuing one's ambitions. He spoke of school assemblies where the head teacher urged pupils to obtain information on the types of salaries paid in different kinds of professions and the studies and training required to get into such professions. He added that pupils were provided with useful newsletters regarding different career paths, the qualifications they required and the level of pay they could command, to help pupils make decisions about their priorities for the future.
Mo. explained that she had always known what she wanted to do but like M., had concerns about the barriers presented by the reputation of her school and its location. She explained that she had a mentor who had encouraged her to think that she could strive to fulfil her ambition, whatever school she attended.
Me. did not know what she wanted to do in years 10 or 11. In year 12, she found out from studying geography A-level that she definitely wanted to study this subject at university. She explained that what made her school's students' experience at school really different was their relationship with their teachers. Discussing options with them, even if the teacher did not have specific subject knowledge, could really help the students think about their future in a different and more transformative way. In addition, the contacts developed by teachers could provide students with unique opportunities and experiences, such as her attendance at an environmental conference at Goldman Sachs at which Barack Obama was a speaker.
P. explained that before he got a mentor, he was considering fairly humble career prospects in the construction industry His mentor has instilled greater aspirations in him and he now felt able to pursue more ambitious goals, including A-levels and university studies, and not just planning to be "like everyone else" and do what "everyone else is doing".
Members asked whether there were situations where students' ambitions were thwarted because the subject they wish to study are not offered by their school because the numbers of pupils interested in the subject are too low. They also wished to know what support was given to pupils in such a situation.
The assistant principal at Oasis Academy Shirley Park replied that this situation did occasionally occur, as the low numbers of pupils interested in certain A-level and B-tech courses made it financially unsustainable to offer the courses, particularly in the light of recent cuts in government funding. In such situations, pupils have been guided to take up an equivalent or similar option, which would be viewed positively by prospective universities. For instance, while some students wish to study English language and literature, which the school would find difficult to resource under current circumstances, the school only offers English literature, which universities consider more favourably than a qualification in English language, and suggest other subject choices which can provide them the opportunity to develop their English language skills and are attractive to employers.
The Vice-Chair quoted a recent article in the Guardian regarding the annual report of the Social Mobility Commission chaired by Alan Millburn, which revealed that children from low income households differed markedly from pupils with the same GCSE grades but from middle and higher income households in their choices of training subjects and establishments. He asked what lessons had been learnt at Meridian High School on how to overcome barriers to success and maximise opportunity for all pupils, regardless of their background and school.
The Head Teacher of Meridian High school replied that what was needed was a large scale programme of encouragement and mentoring to instil ambition in all pupils. However, he pointed out that mentoring took a lot of personal commitment and time to be effective. He also highlighted the importance of making the right curriculum choices from as early on as possible to point a pupil in the right direction and maximise his/her chances.
He explained how mentoring time was prioritised and how, in 2015-16, the school had mentored 32 GCSE pupils who had achieved borderline C-D grades in their mock exams to help them improve their grades. When exam results were examined, it was discovered that those who had been mentored obtained the same level of grades as pupils who came from higher starting points but who had not been mentored, thus demonstrating the effectiveness of the support given. The head teacher also pointed out that the school's data showed that those who were making the least progress were deprived white working class boys, a group which has been known to underperform for some years, and that a priority for him was to use mentoring to help these pupils to improve their educational outcomes.
It was acknowledged that Croydon did not have the capacity or financial resources to extend mentoring to all pupils in the borough but that a number of charities did currently provide mentoring to local children. The head teacher of Meridian High School was asked whether he would consider it a good idea to offer mentoring by individuals in relevant voluntary organisations or working in local businesses - with the relevant training - to supplement the mentoring work carried out by teachers. He replied that this would be beneficial in principle, if these individuals lived locally and were committed and well suited to the work. However, he stated that experience showed that employing mentors who worked some distance away from the school could present practical problems and cause disaffection if they were unable to attend appointments with pupils.
The head teacher of Meridian High School paid tribute to the commitment of the Head of School Standards, Commissioning and Learning Access and to his achievements within the very limited resources available to him. He also commended his vision to help every pupil in the borough to achieve the best possible educational outcomes, regardless of their background. He stated that good quality mentoring could be made available to a wider range of pupils if the council were given additional resources for such an initiative.
The Head of School Standards, Commissioning and Learning Access expressed his thanks for this kind comments. He stated that local employers have a great deal to contribute to help young people develop and pursue appropriate career goals in a mentoring capacity. He felt that the council should engage better with local businesses in this regard, to encourage suitable individuals to give advice and encouragement to pupils, particularly as it is known that many are willing to take on such a role. Indeed, members were advised that this was currently happening through a number of small scale initiatives in the borough. He cited the example of work with PRUs in the borough to link pupils with suitable mentors from Croydon's business community to improve their aspirations and educational outcomes.
The Head of School Standards, Commissioning and Learning Access stated that the challenge of offering qualifications in subjects which did not have a high take-up had been exacerbated in the last two years by falling school rolls, leading to very small A-Level classes and to a reduced range of subjects on offer. As a result of this trend, a number of schools had had to close their sixth form temporarily. In addition, schools have had difficulty in recruiting high quality specialist teachers for some subjects.
To widen the A-level offer in Croydon, the council has been working with the Croydon Head Teacher Association to pool the teaching of subjects such as Mandarin in common timetabling blocks to attract interested pupils from schools across the borough to these courses. This initiative would this create viable size classes in those subjects, both from a financial perspective and an educational point of view. Members were advised that six schools and one sixth form college were taking part in this project, which was due to go live in September 2017 and to be publicised with year 11 pupils in the new year.
A student in Oasis Academy Shirley Park highlighted the case of two students, one studying Portuguese and another doing a Turkish qualification, both of whom were provided a tutor in these subjects. He praised the school for making efforts to address the academic preferences of its pupils whenever this is financially viable. The Assistant Principal of the school explained that the school was lucky enough to have a large, established 6th form and that many students were staying on rather than choosing to prepare for A-levels at a different establishment.
Members expressed concerns about schools with small A-level classes and limited subject options, and enquired whether the borough had the right number of 6th forms in the right locations, offering the right subjects. Officers were asked whether the borough should perhaps have a more limited number of schools with 6th forms, which would be larger, offer a wide range of subjects and attract pupils who might otherwise opt to study in neighbouring boroughs.
Officers explained that Bromley has a very long-established A-level offer whereas many of the sixth forms in Croydon are relatively new. They added that to be viable, a sixth form needed to have a minimum of 250 students, and Croydon only has a small number of schools with a sixth form of that size. By 2023, school rolls should have grown considerably in line with demographic trends and 6th forms are set to grow considerably at that point. Schools strive to have a 6th form for two main reasons: a school with a 6th form attracts good quality teachers more easily, and can provide greater continuity for its pupils, particularly if they wish to take A-levels. However, council officers cannot oblige schools to have or close a 6th form, as today's schools are far more autonomous than decades ago. All officers can do is advise and influence if their working relationship with schools is positive.
Pupils were asked what they thought of the current 6th form offer in the borough. Members heard the following points of view from them:
- Two pupils felt they would not necessarily be choosing training in his vicinity as the best work choices in future might not be located near where he lived.
- Another student explained that applications were sometimes made not on the basis of location but on the reputation of the college or university, in order to maximise one's chances of getting into the university of one's choice.
Council officers remarked that the key point was to find a college that was right for the pupil, and could help him/her to flourish and fulfil their needs and aspirations. They highlighted that the borough still has a post-16 prospectus, given to every year 11 pupil, which can really help them research what is available for them and make well-informed and well-founded decisions about their future.
Members asked whether Meridian School had aspirational teachers, who could inspire pupils to aim high and reach out beyond their current circumstances. The head teacher expressed his appreciation of the question and said that yes, despite difficulties with recruitment, the school had acquired teachers who could encourage pupils to be ambitious and to work hard to reach their objectives. He spoke of the recruitment process and explained that his adverts for teaching jobs highlighted the challenges that working at his school represented and felt that this approach had encouraged some very able and committed teachers with strong moral purpose to apply.
Pupils were asked what types of careers they were aiming for. Many of the respondents had clear views about the career paths they wished to pursue in the future, in areas such as musical theatre, the law, merchant banking, creative media and child psychology. Some spoke of unrealistic hopes of becoming a footballer in their childhood but had reassessed their options since then in the light of emerging new skills, interests and opportunities.
Pupils stated that not everyone knew what they wanted to do and that this was an acceptable situation to be in, and involved obtaining a broad range of qualifications enabling one to have a good range of choices at the end of school. They added that while one might not have a clear idea of one's future career, one had to decide what general areas of interest one should pursue as young people usually know what they are interested in and what they dislike, and what strengths and weaknesses they have.
Students asked members what they wished to get out of these discussions. Members explained that one of their key ambitions was to improve the support local services provided to residents, including young people. The Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Learning explained that her objective in such meetings was to obtain first-hand reports of young people's experiences to ascertain whether council policies were appropriate to young people's needs and whether local services were achieving what they were supposed to achieve. For instance, from discussion at this meeting, she had concluded that mentoring was progressing along a positive path.
Members thanked the staff and pupils of Oasis Academy Shirley Park and Meridian High School for their inspiring contributions to discussions.
Officers and members agreed that equipping young people with good communication skills was of great importance in maximising their chances of succeeding at interviews and obtaining a job or a place at a chosen college or university. One reason why the pupils' contributions were so impressive was that the two schools represented at this meeting took such communication skills seriously - these form part of the "toolkit" that can help young people to be resilient and to tackle a wide range of challenges in their adult lives.
Officers explained that up to GCSE, the national emphasis was on academic achievement and that vocational preparation has shifted to post-16 classes. It is now compulsory to do employability training in one's post-16 studies, in which one can choose to pursue an academic route or technical skills. Members heard that shortages in the work place were in the technical skills area and that the national curriculum was changing to address these shortages with specialist courses to be offered principally by colleges. Officers explained that they were now working much more closely with employers to establish where skills gaps lay and to broker more links between them and schools.
Members asked how young people could be equipped to deal with evolving circumstances and risks, such as Brexit, which might lead to reductions in careers prospects in a number of fields. The Executive Director (People) remarked reassuringly that Croydon had the fastest growing economy in the UK. She added that a new emphasis on entrepreneurial jobs was emerging which could lead to the creation of small and medium sized businesses in the borough.
In answer to members' questions on work experience and employment opportunities for disabled young adults, the Executive Director (People) stressed the council's commitment to working with partners to help this group of young adults find routes into employment and overcome hurdles to such opportunities. Members also heard that officers representing the interests of people with learning difficulties take an active part in the Croydon work steering group as well as in the council apprenticeship and work experience steering group.
Members observed inequalities between schools in terms of work experience opportunities, particularly in the professions, and asked what the situation was in Croydon, at year 10 level and at post-16 level. Officers reminded members that there was no longer a statutory requirement to do work experience at year 10 level, although they remarked that most schools still offered it to their pupils at that stage. However, it is now compulsory at post-16 level and the requirement is that it has to be linked to a pupil's aspirations. The challenge is to find a placement that matches the needs of pupils who in the majority of cases have formed clear ideas about their future careers, when a school has limited or non-existent links to certain types of employers. Officers added that work was being done with 6th form pupils to give them the skills to find and secure employment as well as work experience opportunities.
Officers were thanked for their fulsome answers to members' questions.
Members agreed that mentoring had been shown to produce significantly improved aspirations and educational outcomes, and resolved to make the following recommendations.
In view of:
1) the proven effectiveness of mentoring in raising young people's aspirations as they prepare for exams and explore future careers
2) current budget constraints currently restricting access to this form of support
The Council is recommended to work with schools, businesses and the third sector to identify innovative ways of increasing the pool of effective local mentors, to encourage all pupils in the borough to raise their aspirations and work towards more ambitious qualifications and careers.