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Careers is at the heart of our school's ethos

Posted on: 15/07/2019

Careers is at the heart of our school's ethos

Rachel Warwick is the Executive head teacher of Didcot School for girls. Here, she talks about the careers provision in her school and their brilliant Careers Leader. 

Our mission, as an all girls’ comprehensive school, is ‘to empower girls to become resilient and to fulfil their potential as future leaders.’ The success of our careers programme is that we have placed it at the heart of this ethos. We view it as a whole school focus rather than looking at careers education in isolation.

The delivery of careers education has become a distinctive strength our school. Like every school, we’re always looking to improve. But we’re proud of what we have achieved so far.

For example, careers activities are recognised as part of the Leadership Ladder, our whole school student leadership system, which recognises students’ involvement in the school and wider community.

As well as careers being delivered through our Personal Development curriculum, we have whole school careers weeks and assemblies and tutor time dedicated to careers campaigns and competitions.

Our brilliant Careers Leader

Our Careers Leader, Stuart George, has worked brilliantly to create a vibrant provision. Teaming up with Mike Foster, our Enterprise Adviser (the first one in Oxfordshire), Stuart has planned a careers provision which spans the entire school. Each year group has some form of meaningful engagement with local employers and businesses.

Particular highlights include the team of 30 business mentors who come into school to work with our sixth form students each year. And Year 7 and 9 students undertake a day of work experience whilst the rest of the school ‘take over’ teaching and support staff roles as part of National Take Over Challenge.

As well as the usual work experience opportunities in Year 10 and a week in Year 12, we link with First Give, a national organisation, which engages our Year 9 students in social action which gives them the opportunity to experience work in the voluntary sector.

Employers also actively engage with students – for example through a Careers Convention and workshops in the highly successful WOW 360 (World of Work) event. This helps pupils learn about the key skills and qualities that are required to succeed in a range of careers sectors.

Of course, it is hugely valuable for students to have a taste of the working world, to whet their appetite for the sheer variety of careers available to them, and to engage with the wider community.

Strengthening our reputation

Unintended benefits for us, though, have been the deep partnership that we have built with local businesses. This has further strengthened our reputation in the community. Our students are our best ambassadors and we enjoy universally positive feedback about them.

Because Stuart has a direct link into the Senior Leadership team, he is able to angle his work towards supporting whole school priorities. For example, our work is focused on increasing opportunity and aspiration for our most economically disadvantaged students.

This has led to Stuart paying particular attention to this group of students and supporting them to access ‘challenge placements’ for work experience. These are placements which give our students access to aspirational professions and careers. Our success has been marked - in 2014 only 24% of our disadvantaged students accessed challenge placements whereas this figure has risen to 62% in 2018.

Bringing business to life

Mike’s involvement has been key. His entrepreneurial flair, significant network of contacts and active social media presence have enabled so many of our students to enjoy the buzz of bringing a business idea to life, not just planning it in the abstract. Mike deserves honorary membership of our school and (now that he is working his magic at St Birinus School, the boys’ school in our Trust) of Ridgeway Education Trust.

It is no accident that we have record numbers of girls volunteering for the National Citizens Service scheme and an award-winning team this year (all of whom are Pupil Premium students) who participated in the Young Enterprise program. Stuart has developed a culture where it’s normal to volunteer and to get involved with life beyond the school gates, whatever your background.

Thanks to the involvement of a very active and brilliant governor, Paul Smith, we have recently secured the Quality in Careers Standards Award. This is wonderful, but more wonderful is the fact that, between them, our ‘Careers Trio’ have transformed, and continue to transform, the life chances of so many of our young people. This, after all, is why we are in the business of education.

Careers champions

Beyond the trio, another key ingredient in our schools success has been the development of a group of representatives from each subject in school called the ‘Careers Champions’. It is their responsibility to drive careers initiatives at department level and promote careers within their own subject areas.

It’s heartening to know that school leaders are getting behind careers provision in schools, reaching out to work with Enterprise Advisers and embracing the Gatsby Benchmarks.

My advice to other school leaders is threefold: give your Careers Leader time to do the job; give them access to a member of the Senior Leadership Team to create status and visibility for their work; and dovetail the work of the Careers Leader into the ethos of your school and whole school development priorities. Enjoy - and good luck!

Rachael Warwick

Executive Headteacher of Ridgeway Education Trust Vice President of ASCL 2018-2019


The Careers & Enterprise Company



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