When it’s done right, careers education can boost work readiness and inspire pupils as this article by Julie Henry, originally published on the Evening Standard’s website, reveals. 

Sixth formers at schools in the Aspiration Academies Trust spend their careers programme working with real companies on real time problem solving.

Recent examples of projects tackled by students working towards their Aspirations Employability Diploma include how to ensure that Tower Bridge can open and close while being resurfaced, reducing the air miles of an indoor farm and designing an app to help primary schools manage their energy costs.

The mandatory post-16 careers programme at the trust, which runs five academies in London, is based on the idea that pupils learn to apply the knowledge they have covered in the National Curriculum in the real world.

Through visits, access to role models, mentored projects, and relevant hands-on activities, teenagers are taught about different businesses and careers alongside a focus on vital skills such as time management, project management, team work, leadership, and communications and presentations skills.

And schools in the trust are prepared to devote time to the endeavour: Year 12 pupils spend four hours per week on their diploma over a 39-week period. In one recent project, sixth-formers worked with gaming company Bossa Studios to help design a computer game, covering all aspects of the process from core idea and fitness for market to design, music, artwork, dialogue and launch.

Each project that pupils work on is commissioned by the company, much as they would appoint a team of consultants.

Year 11 pupil Annabelle Amponsah from the Rivers Academy West London, which has embraced careers education / Luke MacGregor

Partnering with Bam Nuttall on the conundrum of how to keep Tower Bridge functional while being resurfaced, pupils were able to develop an understanding of how to work with stakeholders and improve their project management and engineering skills. In another project with the construction giant, pupils helped draw up a masterplan for the new Old Street Roundabout redevelopment.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is also working with sixth formers across the trust on an engineering project, researching the opportunities of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the future.

“We have consistently found that the diploma helps students develop skills that are transferable to the workplace,” said Andrew Berry, senior programme manager at JLR, who is overseeing the project. “It is also beneficial for our Jaguar Land Rover mentors; developing their coaching skills which they can bring back to the workplace.

“To be successful in the workplace relies on more than just academic abilities. Being able to work in a team with unity, to love your customers, demonstrating creativity to have impact and showing emotional intelligence are key to a successful outcome, whatever the goal.”

Pupils had brought “fresh insights and new ideas” to the project, he added.

The diploma helps students develop skills that are transferable to the workplace

The priority given to the Aspirations Employability Diploma has earned plaudits from Ofsted, which said trust pupils were “exceptionally well-prepared for the next stage of their education, training or employment”.

Andria Singlehurst, director of learning at the trust, said: “Children need the knowledge of the national curriculum but they also need the skills to be able to apply that knowledge in the often unpredictable world of work that they will be encountering.”