An open letter to schools, colleges & Heads – Academic and careers advice fit for the future. (And mild apologies.)

Let me begin by saying that the title of my book, ‘Is your school lying to you?’ merely posits the question. It is not accusatory per se and whilst it deliberately courts potential spluttering, we are after all in a commercial market. Despite the glib title though there is a genuine question here, one that has been fomented in the work I do with schools and the wealth of evidence presented by everyone from the DfE and employers to Ofsted and The Sutton Trust. Lord Young’s 2014 report emphasized the need for a greater focus on careers related learning and in a recent study of 40 schools only 4 were deemed to be doing enough. Since then the NFF has kicked out the legs from the many schools who were already struggling to balance the books and find the money for additional resources and the lack of structured careers advice is the elephant in the room that is getting ever harder to ignore set against the changing economic backdrop.

As a governor I know too well how stretched schools are and have every sympathy for the overworked, overburdened staff that are expected on a quotidian basis to become masters of all trades, juggling therapist, counsellor, teacher, friend, mentor, athletics coach, confidante and the list goes on. Working as an academic/careers consultant I’ve seen how the cuts have forced what is seen as non-core activity deeper into the shadows, with schools simply unable to offer the kind of provision they’d like. The question of the book’s title enjoys the luxury of the theoretical, I don’t have to find the resources and consequently it’s easy to finger point.

The lack of meaningful, real world careers and academic advice is the elephant in the room that everyone is stoically trying to ignore. But for how long?

However, I believe the purpose of a school is to shepherd their students through their academic careers and help prepare them for life beyond the school gates. Too many conflate that lofty ideal with getting them into uni at any cost in the relentless push for social mobility. It’s a rigged game though, schools are rated on their students’ immediate destinations and so the push for uni goes on as an easy codifier for success but it’s reductive to regard careers in this way.

So what small changes can you make today, what can be done, simply, easily and most importantly cost effectively?

1/ Start earlier – By introducing the idea of careers earlier students are more likely to attach importance to their studies as it will demonstrably be in service of a potential future rather than an abstract sense of learning for its own sake. Knowing where they want to be headed, or at least ruling out options will help inform their GSCE choices which will impact their A Level choices which in turn will dictate which subjects are accessible to them at degree level or in an apprenticeship.

2/ Develop your alumni network – every student who has ever left your school, every parent, every second tier connection that you can co-opt into the fold could and should be encouraged. Too often links to a local company are relied upon to provide a keynote speaker to box-tick a careers afternoon, by accessing a much wider network the students will gain valuable opportunities and information. Encourage informational interviewing, work experiences, internships and do it all throughout their schooling rather than the last 2 weeks of Year 10.

3/ Be honest about what you can and cannot offer – I spent time talking to a chair of governors who described careers education as the ‘latest fad’. I spoke to high-profile colleges and schools who assured me they were doing it all, despite my working with the families who were horrified at the lack and quality of guidance available. Where there are gaps in knowledge seek to fill them through the newly established brain trust from point 2. We always encourage students to seek help when they don’t have the answers and schools should do so too, don’t be protectionist.

4/ Encourage enterprise – work with the community, get them to start businesses, try things, design apps, gain skills and experiences that will enhance their future opportunities or even just look good on a personal statement. The internet is a playground and offers every business an affordable global marketplace. Give them the tools needed for the workplace of the future not just the grades.

5/ Professional comportment – how to shake hands properly, how to interview, how to conduct yourself in the adult world, how to articulate what you want, what you can offer. Do it early enough and it becomes second nature.

6/ Buy several copies of my book and populate the library with it. (He says, also glibly).

Follow Edd Williams at

Is your school lying to you? Get the career you want. Get the life you deserve. £11.99 Published by Ortus Press is available at Winstone’s Books now.


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