This review of the engagement of English independent schools (and high performing independent schools in particular) with employers to support the learning and progression of pupils was undertaken by the Education and Employers Taskforce and Warwick University.
The project asks:
- To what extent do independent schools engage with employers?
- Why do they do it?
- How do they go about it?
- Desk research to identify the extent of employer engagement in 20 high performing independent schools.
- In-depth face-to-face interviews with a total of 15 staff in six of the schools (lasting on average half a day).
- Analysis of data from a survey of 987 young adults (aged 19-24) which provided evidence on the extent to which employer engagement practices identified in high performing independent schools are typical of the sector. In addition, a comparison of the impact of activity on pupils in both state and independent schools was undertaken.
Employer engagement in independent schools (work experience, careers advice from employers, enterprise activities, business mentoring, visiting speakers, workplace visits) is commonplace, although some activities are more prolific than others, and undertaken to an extent largely comparable with the state sector.
High performing independent schools primarily and consistently engage employers to:
- Help pupils decide on and achieve their career goals
- Support pupil admission to university courses of choice
- Help pupils develop social or personal skills, including employability skills
- Help pupils develop networks of value after leaving school
- Stimulate a culture of expectation and aspiration
- But not typically to increase pupil motivation or aid classroom learning
High performing independent schools are skilful in exploiting existing social networks to identify relevant workplace opportunities for pupils. To access employers, high performing independent schools make extensive use of networks of alumni, parents, governors and teachers. Pupils commonly approach employers directly themselves. Intermediary, or brokerage, organisations are rarely used.
A distinct advantage of such approaches is that many people in the social networks linked to schools work in occupational areas (notably, the professions) highly relevant to the career aspirations of pupils. Among the most effective practice identified was the systematic use of alumni aged in their late twenties to provide pupils with insights (through careers fairs or talks) into their transitions from education to early employment within a profession.
In all schools visited, there was an expectation that all pupils would take part in the majority of employer engagement activities (work experience, workplace visits, careers events), even though such activities might take place outside the timetabled teaching time. A minority of activities (enterprise competitions, visiting speakers) were seen as optional for pupils but were very popular with them. Staff did not see the majority of required employer engagement activities as extracurricular events. They saw the activities as part of a broadly defined curriculum which prepared pupils effectively for adult life. However, little evidence was found of links to the taught curriculum.
Reflecting much higher progression rates to higher education the delivery of work experience was found to be distinctive in comparison to the state sector. Pupils at independent schools would typically undertake work experience at an older age (16-17), in occupational areas closely tied to career aspirations and relevant to preferred university subjects of study. The experiences are used effectively to provide pupils with information for UCAS personal statements and often took place during vacation periods, in part to reduce the perceived health and safety obligations falling on the school.
In the most effective practice observed, employer engagement was embedded in careers advice and guidance provided by the school and was used effectively to help pupils clarify, confirm and support their progression towards career aspirations.
The relative impacts of employer engagement
Data from a February 2011 survey of young British adults, aged 19-24, segmented by school type attended asked respondents to reflect on the utility of work experience, careers advice (from employers), enterprise competitions and business mentoring in deciding on a career, getting a job after education and getting into university. The survey finds that in a number of important areas, the former pupils of independent schools felt that they had, for whatever reason, derived a significantly greater value from the activities which they took part in when compared to their state school-educated peers (and especially those attending non-selective state schools).