Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

More than one option

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In recent years more and more schools have appointed non-teachers to the role of careers co-ordinator. David Andrews looks at the advantages and the challenges this presents for school leaders.

For the past 18 years I have been involved in tutoring a professional studies course for careers co-ordinators. When I started, the course members were all qualified teachers; now they come from a range of professional backgrounds. This year, half were not qualified teachers.

With the new teaching and learning responsibility payments, and workforce remodelling continuing to embed itself, it is likely that more schools will consider going down this route.

Early in 2005, the six Connexions partnerships in our region commissioned me to undertake case study research in schools that had appointed a non-teacher to the role to identify advantages of this arrangement, as well as any challenges and the strategies put in place to overcome them.

The purpose was to produce a report, comprising mainly case studies, that other schools could use when considering similar appointments.

Value for money

First, the benefits. There are advantages to be gained from careers co-ordinators not having a teaching commitment. They have more time to devote to the role and the flexibility to respond to the needs of students, staff and visitors at times most convenient for them.

Furthermore, careers is often their sole, or at least primary, responsibility and so they are able to devote more time, energy and enthusiasm to the role.

The arrangement is certainly not cheaper than having a teacher in the role, but, as Nick Daymond, head of Roundwood Park School in Hertfordshire, says: "It represents better value for money."

A teacher appointed to the position would have been typically allocated one or two additional non-contact periods and one or two management allowance points. Therefore the marginal staffing costs are one or two teaching periods a week plus the costs of the management allowance.

These total less than the salary costs of a non-teaching staff member for, say, 20 hours per week, but this person has more time to spend on co-ordinating careers work and does not have a major subject teaching commitment.

Professional expertise

Secondly, there are benefits that come from having particular professional expertise. The non-teacher careers co-ordinators in the 11 case study schools came from a range of professional backgrounds.

Four were school librarians/heads of resources, four were teaching assistants or learning support assistants, two were careers (personal) advisers, and one was a policy development officer with the Institute of Personnel Management.

The librarians bring to the role their expertise in teaching information skills, their knowledge of resources and their skills in guiding students to appropriate sources of information.

The careers advisers bring all their experience of careers work, and the policy development officer is particularly adept at producing effective strategy papers for the senior leadership team.

Finally, several heads and other leaders talked about the advantage of having a careers co-ordinator who can network with employers, FE colleges, universities, training providers and external agencies, and can attend courses without disruption to students' teaching and learning and without incurring supply cover costs.

Curriculum gap

Of course there are also potential pitfalls. The careers co-ordinator has responsibility for all four aspects of careers work: careers education in the curriculum; careers information, including the careers library; careers guidance in partnership with Connexions; and aspects of work related learning, particularly work experience.

It was no surprise that individuals from non-teaching backgrounds found the most challenging aspect to be the curriculum, including planning a scheme of work, teaching careers education lessons, briefing other teachers and tutors, and monitoring teaching and learning in careers education.

The Blyth Jex School in Norwich has resolved this challenge by transferring those aspects of the job to the PSHE co-ordinator (a teacher), leaving the careers co-ordinator (also the learning resources manager) to lead on careers information, careers guidance and work experience. The two work together on providing careers education within the wider provision of PSHE.

In the other ten case study schools, the careers co-ordinators retained responsibility for all aspects of careers work. To support them, school leadership teams have used a range of strategies:

  • enabling the careers co-ordinator to attend relevant professional development courses

  • making good use of the free curriculum support for careers education and guidance from Connexions

  • providing active line management support, particularly early on

The careers co-ordinator's line manager is typically an assistant head. He or she helps the co-ordinator to plan the scheme of work, attends tutors' meeting with the co-ordinator to brief the teams teaching careers education, and shares the monitoring of teaching and learning.

Staff resistance

A further potential challenge is some teachers' response to having their lessons directed by a non-teacher. Although a few such instances were reported in the case studies, experience indicates that once the teachers see the careers co-ordinator doing a good job and providing well-prepared materials, their response is quite the opposite.

Leadership teams can help to ensure positive reactions by giving clear messages from the top about the role, by providing effective line management support and by including the careers co-ordinator in relevant staff meetings and training sessions.

Workforce remodelling is making the situation easier as staff become used to people other than teachers taking over roles. David Crowe, head of The Boswells School in Chelmsford, says: "We are moving from a situation where there were 'teachers and other staff', to one where there are 'staff, some of whom are teachers'."

A third challenge occurs when a non-teacher careers co-ordinator is appointed from outside the world of education and therefore has not experienced how schools operate, with all the peculiar jargon and terminology.

In nine of the case study schools, the careers co-ordinator had been appointed from within the school, and in another she had been the Connexions personal adviser linked to the school. In the one remaining school the person had been recruited from outside education, through an advert in the local press.

She discovered how easy it was to make mistakes simply because she did not understand the language and the systems. A planned programme of induction would have quickly resolved this problem.

Workforce remodelling

In light of workforce remodelling, many schools have already moved more routine tasks (for example maintaining the careers library, administering work experience, photocopying resources for careers lessons) from teachers to a careers support assistant.

Appointing a non-teacher to the role could be seen as an extension of this. However the key difference is that curriculum leadership is given to someone other than a teacher.

There is evidence that the replacement of management allowances with TLRs is causing more schools to consider non-teachers as careers co-ordinators.

Some will take the view that the careers co-ordinator does have significant responsibilities for teaching and learning beyond her or his own classroom, particularly where careers education is taught by a large team of tutors or where the careers co-ordinator also leads on PSHE and work related learning. These schools are likely to continue to appoint a teacher, with a TLR, to the role.

It is likely that there will be a variety of models in the future. Each school will choose the arrangement that best ensures their students receive top-quality careers education and guidance.

My research indicates that non-teachers can be highly effective as career co-ordinators, provided that they are given sufficient line management and professional support.

David Andrews is an affiliated lecturer at the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Education. Copies of his research report, which includes all 11 case studies, can be obtained by contacting him at davidandrews_ceg@hotmail.com

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