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Good Career Guidance: Meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks

In this blog, Michael Barry offers expert advice on providing good careers guidance and meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks in your school. Michael has over 25 years’ experience in education, including five years as head of secondary and four years as principal of a mixed, all-through academy. Last year, he received an award from the Mayor of London in recognition of his outstanding achievements in careers education. 

What are the eight Gatsby Benchmarks? 

The Gatsby Benchmarks are a set of guidelines established by the Gatsby Foundation to support schools and colleges in developing a strong careers guidance programme for their students:

  • A stable careers programme 

Every school and college should have an embedded programme of career education and guidance that is known and understood by students, parents, staff, governors and employers.

  • Learning from career and labour market information

Every student and their parents should have access to good quality information about future study options and labour market opportunities. They will need the support of an informed adviser to make best use of available information. 

  • Addressing the needs of each student

Students have different career guidance needs at different stages. Opportunities for advice and support need to be tailored to the needs of each student. A school’s careers programme should embed equality and diversity considerations throughout. 

  • Linking curriculum learning with careers

All teachers should link curriculum learning with careers. For example, STEM subject teachers should highlight the relevance of STEM subjects to a wide range of career pathways. 

  • Encounters with employers and employees

Every student should have multiple opportunities to learn from employers about work, employment and the skills that are valued in the workplace. This can be through a range of enrichment activities including visiting speakers, mentoring and enterprise schemes. 

  • Experiences of workplaces

Every student should have first-hand experiences of the workplace through work visits, work shadowing and/or work experience to help their exploration of career opportunities and expand their networks. 

  • Encounters with further and higher education

All students should understand the full range of learning opportunities that are available to them. This includes both academic and technical and vocational routes, and learning in schools, colleges, universities and in the workplace.

  • Personal Guidance

Every student should have opportunities for guidance interviews with a careers adviser, who could be internal (a member of school staff) or external, provided they are trained to an appropriate level. These should be available whenever significant study or career choices are being made. They should be available for all students but should be timed to meet their individual needs.

When and how were the Gatsby Benchmarks introduced?

The Gatsby Benchmarks were introduced in 2014 as part of a report called ‘Good Career Guidance’ published by the Gatsby Foundation. The report was commissioned by the government and led by Sir John Holman, a former chemistry teacher, headteacher and founder of the National STEM Learning Centre.

Between 2015 and 2017, 16 schools and colleges took part in a pilot programme to test the Good Career Guidance benchmarks.

The eight Gatsby Benchmarks then became part of the DfE’s careers strategy (launched December 2017) and statutory guidance for secondary schools and colleges (published in 2015 and last updated in 2023).

Why are careers guidance and the Gatsby Benchmarks so important?

Careers guidance and the eight Gatsby Benchmarks are vital for students' future success. They equip them with the knowledge and insights needed to make well-informed career decisions. By offering encounters with employers, workplace experiences, and personal guidance, the benchmarks prepare students for the realities of the world of work.

The Gatsby Benchmarks also help bridge the gap between education and careers by linking curriculum learning with practical applications and possibilities for the future. This connection motivates students to engage more with their schoolwork and acquire and develop skills that enhance their employability. Click here for the ‘Skillsbuilder Partnership’ a useful tool to identify and develop these essential skills.

Careers guidance and the Gatsby Benchmarks also promote social mobility, helping to ensure that students from all backgrounds have equal access to opportunities. By empowering young people to explore diverse career paths, they contribute to a more diverse and inclusive workforce, fostering a stronger and more sustainable economy in the long run.

Five top tips on how to deliver good careers guidance and meet the Gatsby Benchmarks

1) Review what you do

The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) has free self-evaluation tools (see Compass below) to help you evaluate your careers activity against the eight Gatsby Benchmarks. The Career Development Institute (CDI) has a free framework which you can use to audit your careers guidance.

2) Use the right tools for the job

Compass This tool was built in partnership with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation to help you easily discover your strengths and identify areas for improvement. Once completed, the tool will provide you with a confidential report and resources to help you achieve each benchmark.

Compass+ This tool does everything Compass does, plus it can benchmark, manage, track and report on your school's careers provision at individual student level. Once populated with student data, Compass+ provides features that assist a school to:

  • assess their school’s careers provision against the Gatsby Benchmarks
  • track individual students’ career interests and what they intend to do after leaving school
  • track individual students’ actual destinations (what they do for three years after leaving the school)
  • plan and track careers activities for individual students
  • input and store details of third-party organisations and contacts that can support their school with careers provision
  • download key information into reports, to help with internal analysis and producing data

The CDI framework The main purpose of the CDI’s ‘Career development framework’ is to clarify the skills, knowledge and attitudes that individuals need to have a positive career. The CDI framework and audit tools identify six career development skills or learning areas that individuals need, and that career development programmes should focus on. The framework has appropriate versions and resources for primary, secondary and post-16 providers.

The six learning areas: 

  • Grow throughout life
  • Explore possibilities
  • Manage career 
  • Create opportunities
  • Balance life and work
  • See the big picture 

 3) Create an Improvement Plan

A careers guidance improvement plan on one side of A4 that is used and leads to improvement is better than a 60-page improvement plan that is never looked at and has no impact. Create an improvement plan that suits you and your school.

Use your careers guidance review from CEC Compass or Compass+ and the CDI framework audit to inform your improvement plan. It might be a one- or three-year improvement plan which aims to meet all eight Gatsby Benchmarks.

The CEC’s Compass+ and the CDI framework both have tools useful tools for careers guidance improvement planning.

4) Monitor Progress

Monitor progress towards the Gatsby Benchmarks by completing a compass review at the end of each term (and three Compass reviews per year). Respond to these reviews by updating your improvement plan. You don’t need to re-write it - writing by hand on your existing plan is quick, effective and shows evidence of engagement with it.

5) Evaluate careers guidance at least every three years

Evaluate the effectiveness of your careers guidance and careers programme at least every three years using systematic feedback from students, parents, staff, governors and employers. This can be done in a number of ways, such as through MS or Google Forms, individual or group interviews, using the school council, using feedback from activities, Compass+ future skills questionnaires and CDI audits.

How schools can evidence good careers guidance for Ofsted

Ofsted has strengthened expectations with respect to careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG), and specifically around provider access legislation.

Ofsted’s school inspection handbook sets out its approach to evaluating personal development and careers provision in graded inspections in paragraph 306. Ofsted’s grade criteria establish the expectation that a school with 'good' personal development will meet the requirements of the provider access legislation.

Before Ofsted inspectors even step foot inside the school, as part of their preparation for inspection, they will look at the school’s website. They will check to see if the school is meeting its statutory duty regarding what is published on the school’s website (see below).

When Ofsted inspectors are in your school they will talk and listen to the headteacher, other senior leaders, governors, staff, students and parents. Assuming they will remember all the wonderful careers guidance activities that have taken place is a mistake.

Don’t wait until Ofsted call and don't do it for Ofsted’s sake. Instead, take opportunities in assemblies throughout the year to share and celebrate careers guidance with students and staff. This can be a valuable activity in itself. For example, coach a group of students to make a presentation in assembly about a workplace visit they experienced and what they learned from it.

Good careers guidance includes regular communication with parents, which is part of the new (January 2023) expectations for delivering high-quality provider access legislation (PAL) visits.

If you’re a careers leader, and Ofsted inspectors don't plan to see you during an inspection, ask your headteacher if it would be OK for you to drop in at the end of the first day of the inspection, and make available the ‘Careers guidance: review and planning folder’ and ‘Careers guidance: evidence of activities folder’ (see below).

School Website

The following three items must be published on your school website – it is your legal duty. (Click here for an example of good practice.)

  • Careers programme
  • Name and contact details of the careers leader
  • Updated (January 2023) provider access legislation policy. Use Annex A (page 55) of the Careers guidance and access for education and training providers (updated 2023)

You might also have the following on your school website. (Click here for an example of good practice.)

  • Name and contact details of other members of your careers team
  • Details of your careers community, such as employers and businesses you work with
  • Careers YouTube channel. (Click here for an example of good practice)
  • Information about personal guidance interviews
  • Destination data
  • Alumni career profiles
  • Labour market information
  • Links to useful websites

Careers guidance: review and planning folder

  • Keep paper copies of your CEC Compass reviews and CDI framework audits, three-year evaluation and your career improvement plan in a folder

Careers guidance: evidence of activities folder

  • Print a copy of your careers programme and put it as the front page in a folder
  • As activities take place, print and keep evidence, such as photos, weekly news articles, letters and more
  • It is not time consuming if you do it as you go, eg, five minutes per week
  • It is very rewarding so see all things careers on paper in a folder
  • Click here for a few examples of good practice: Year 10 Engineering AECOM visit (page 4) 07.07.23 or SAS visit to Bexleyheath Fire Station (page 5) 14.07.23 or Year 9 Dragons’ Den (page 5) 21.07.23

Explore The National College platform for further resources on careers guidance to help you fulfil statutory requirements.

If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.