Embedding the Good Career Guidance benchmarks in schools and colleges

Good career guidance has never been more important. Changes in technology, the technical education system and in the labour market mean that the jobs available and the skills and qualifications needed to reach them are changing all the time. The COVID-19 pandemic has added further disruption, with a disproportionate impact on young people as they enter the labour market. Many skilled jobs require specific education and training, and young people need more support to make better-informed decisions about their future.

Embedding the Good Career Guidance benchmarks in schools and colleges

Since the publication of the government’s careers strategy, The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC)’s role has expanded to support the implementation of all the Gatsby Benchmarks across schools and colleges in England. By publishing information for schools and colleges, developing tools to encourage the use of the benchmarks, conducting research on good practice and encouraging better use of data in careers, we are contributing to the work of partners including the CEC to support schools and colleges to implement the benchmarks and improve career advice and guidance for all young people.

School and College Careers Leaders

Every school and college needs strong careers leadership if they are to design and manage an effective careers programme. We saw in the North East pilot that a high-calibre Careers Leader is the cornerstone of change. This is not necessarily the same person as the careers adviser delivering personal guidance interviews (who may be employed by an external agency), but a core member of the school or college middle leadership team. Their job is complex and requires the authority to coordinate the breadth of career guidance activity being delivered across the institution. Careers Leaders need to understand the Gatsby Benchmarks, develop a strategy alongside school leadership, and act as a contact point for the many external organisations that offer support.

The Government’s statutory guidance now requires all schools and colleges to appoint a named Careers Leader. Along with key organisations such as The Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC), the Career Development Institute (CDI) and Teach First, we are working to understand how the Careers Leader role is being embedded and supported in schools and colleges. Our research from 2019 in secondary schools further underlined the importance of Careers Leaders having buy-in from, and regular access to, the school leadership team. Through working with partners, we aim to ensure that all school and college leaders recognise the vital role of careers and empower their Careers Leader to deliver an effective programme.

The impact of COVID-19 on Career Guidance

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing widespread disruption to education and a shift to remote learning, Gatsby has worked with The Careers & Enterprise Company to help the careers community respond. Clarification around remote encounters and experiences with employers to meet Gatsby Benchmarks 5 and 6 was developed in collaboration between the two organisations, and was followed by Careers in Context: A can-do guide, which provided best practice guidance to Careers Leaders on delivering all the Gatsby Benchmarks under pandemic restrictions.

We have also funded research to understand how COVID-19 has affected career guidance in schools and colleges. Encouragingly, our research with senior leaders from summer 2020 revealed that while students’ timetables had come under increasing pressure, nearly three quarters were viewing careers as a top priority for the new academic year. Our research has also explored how the attitudes of parents and carers to career guidance have been altered by the pandemic – more information on this and our wider programme of work supporting parents and carers can be found here.


The importance of labour market information (LMI) as part of a school or college’s careers programme is enshrined in Gatsby Benchmark 2. We are further exploring use of LMI to inform good career guidance through research to understand the range of sources available to young people and how they are interpreted and presented. Through this work we will also hear directly from young people and their schools and colleges, to help identify what they consider most useful in LMI and uncover good practice to support improved take-up.

On Gatsby’s initiative, in 2013 the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) developed the LMI for All tool, which connects existing sources of high-quality, reliable LMI with the aim of informing careers decisions. Rather than act as a website that presents data to young people, LMI for All makes data freely available to web developers to create tools to support career guidance. This service presents a powerful opportunity to give high-quality, up-to-date, LMI to young people making decisions about their future.

The government also now publishes pupil destination data – the information about where students go onto after they leave school or college – as a headline accountability measure. This is a positive step in helping schools and colleges prioritise career guidance. We also see pupil destination data as useful information for individual institutions to evaluate and improve their own career guidance programmes, as took place during the North East pilot.

Benchmark Research

Gatsby frequently works with partners to research activity around particular Benchmarks and uncover key barriers and obstacles to successful implementation.

This includes a collection of research focused on Benchmark 8 – Personal Guidance, published in March 2021. The findings, contained in this summary report, are derived from insights from three individual projects: a quantitative workforce analysis of the careers adviser population conducted with the Institute for Employment Studies; a qualitative investigation of practice among school Careers Leaders with CareerWave Ltd; and a series of roundtables with Careers Leaders, focused on practice in Further Education and special schools.

We have also been researching how information is shared with students about different qualifications and education pathways. A 2021 Gatsby-funded report from Pye Tait Consulting found persistent inequalities in frequency of information and student satisfaction between academic and technical routes, with staff most comfortable sharing information about A-levels and doing so much more frequently than for other options. The report also explored good practice in how school and college staff interact to provide 'encounters with Further Education' in line with Gatsy Benchmark 7, with ways in which institutions overcome logistical challenges and finding that a clear majority of school staff believed in the value of these encounters for their students.


Compass is a self-evaluation tool designed to allow school and college Careers Leaders to plan and assess their careers programme against the Gatsby Benchmarks. It was first created based on insights from Gatsby's Good Career Guidance pilot and in partnership with The Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), in collaboration with Teach First, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Local Enterprise Partnerships and teachers across the UK. CEC has since launched an upgraded tool, Compass+.

Compass+ is designed to help Careers Leaders benchmark, manage, track and report on their careers programmes. It integrates with institutional Management Information Systems (MIS) for effective and targeted planning and delivery based on individual students’ data which reflects their needs. Compass+ is currently available for all secondary schools, special schools, sixth forms and pupil referral units in England. To find out more and upgrade to Compass+, visit the CEC website.

Support for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

Good career guidance ensures that all young people, whatever their needs, background or ambitions, know the options open to them and can make the informed choices needed to fulfil their potential. This is particularly important for the more than one million young people in England recognised as having SEND. Far too often, these young people can be held back by negative stereotypes and assumptions about their limitations.

A group of specialist practitioners and national advocates for SEND, formed during the pilot of the Gatsby Benchmarks, gave the clear message that it would not be appropriate to define a separate set of Benchmarks for students with SEND. But we recognise that some of the Benchmarks may be implemented in a different way in special schools, specialist further education, alternative provision, and with some students with SEND in the mainstream.

Gatsby has produced Good Career Guidance: Perspectives from the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Sector, in partnership with The Careers & Enterprise Company and Disability Rights UK. It brings together the views of leading practitioners and national experts on the importance of career guidance for students with SEND. They each describe how they, or those they support, have successfully used the Benchmarks to deliver better career guidance for students with a wide range of needs and disabilities.

The publication can be downloaded here, and more information can be found on the Good Career Guidance website.