Careers Guidance in the Spotlight

It’s been a very busy year in terms of careers policy developments and guidance and it feels, not before time, that the spotlight is definitely on careers and its importance in terms of improving social mobility and addressing the needs of the UK workforce. This time last year, the long awaited government Careers Strategy came out, which outlined the government’s plan for raising the quality of careers provision in England, followed in January by further guidance aimed specifically at the schools sector. In February this year it was the turn of colleges with the release of the government’s Careers Guidance: Guidance for further education colleges and Sixth Form Colleges document, which was updated in October, with further guidance on how colleges can meet the Gatsby benchmarks. In terms of guidance on how colleges can meet the requirements, last month the Careers and Enterprise Company published the research paper What Works in Careers Provision in Colleges and a Gatsby Benchmark Toolkit for Colleges, which feature a number of our college partners as case studies of good careers practice, including Lambeth College, CONEL and the South Thames Colleges Group.

Few in the careers profession will argue with plans to raise the status of careers guidance or the rather ambitious goal, set out in the Government’s Careers strategy, to make it world class. Using the 8 Gatsby benchmarks, developed by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, to set a standard of excellence in careers guidance have also been well received by careers professionals.  Where there has been criticism of the government’s plans, it has been that at present there are no additional funds provided to enable schools and colleges help meet the requirements, which include an appointed careers leader in every institution. There are capacity issues in terms of meeting some of the benchmarks, specifically benchmarks 6, experiences of workplaces and benchmark 8, personal guidance.  Focusing on the latter, the strategy states every learner should have at least one such interview by the end of their study programme. A number of our FE college partners have several thousand 16-18 students studying a wide range of courses. Even with colleges who have several qualified careers advisers this is an enormous task. If we make the assumption that a guidance interview would last approximately 30 minutes it doesn’t need a mathematician to work out that this isn’t realistic unless further government funding is made available.

I’ve highlighted issues with meeting benchmarks 6 and 8 on several occasions with the Careers and Enterprise Company, most recently when asked to review a draft of the Gatsby Benchmark Toolkit for Colleges. At present there is little in the way of guidance about how colleges with considerable numbers of 16-18 year olds can work towards meeting these benchmark requirements. We need, in the absence of additional resource, to think innovatively about how we go about it and more clarity as well as  guidance from the CEC in how to square this circle. For example, does e-advice count or short 10-15 minute interventions? Does guidance from non-level 6 advisers count – i.e. coaches, tutors? What do we actually mean then when we talk about careers guidance interviews and how are they defined?

Looking ahead, Linking London will continue to keep partners up to date with the latest developments as well as providing opportunities to explore how to address issues and share good practice at future events and practitioner group meetings. This will include continuing to develop closer links with the Careers and Enterprise Company as well as City Hall, who have recently released the Mayor of London’s Careers for London Action Plan. This ambitious plan sets out the Mayor’s vision for careers provision in London, what City Hall will do to help realise this vision and the vital role that other organisations, including employers, schools, colleges and universities, but also government need to play.  We will be inviting both the CEC and representatives from City Hall to input at future events in the New Year and will be working closely with our college and HE partners to work collaboratively to help meet the benchmarks and ensure our college learners receive high quality careers advice and guidance.

Andrew Jones, Director, Linking London


Level 4 and 5 Education: The poor relation?

As you will have noticed technical education is very much at the forefront of policy debate. For example, the Industrial Strategy has as its focus addressing acute skills shortages by developing a world class technical education offer, we have the arrival of T-levels in 2020, Institutes of Technology in the process of being set up and the ongoing drive to develop higher and degree level apprenticeship opportunities.  As part of the Post 18 review of education and funding a review of Level 4-5 education is also currently underway.

This led to me reflect on my time working with students planning their futures post college. While level 4 and 5 qualifications were promoted alongside more traditional HE pathways, there was a limited and over time declining interest, particularly amongst younger learners, in these often overlooked qualifications. This one small example is mirrored nationally in terms of a declining take up of level 4 and 5 qualifications.  Why is this case then and does it actually matter are two questions I will return to in this article.

Firstly, it’s worth spending a moment clarifying what are level 4 and 5 qualifications. Put simply, they are qualifications above level 3, i.e.  A Levels, Access and BTEC Nationals and below a full undergraduate degree. They include Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNCs/HNDs), Certificates and Diplomas of Higher Education (Cert and Dip HEs) and Foundation Degrees (FDs). They also include a range of level 4 and 5 professional qualifications and are equivalent to the first 2 years of an undergraduate degree. Just over a half are offered by further education colleges, approximately a third by universities and the rest by other organisations including private providers. The majority of these learners are aged over 25 and almost half study part time. There are approximately 216,000 learners across universities and further education providers at levels 4-5.

Focusing on HNDs/HNCs, FDs and Cert and Dip HEs, there has been a steady decline in recent years of student enrolments onto these qualifications. Around 7% of all students between ages 18-65 are studying at level 4-5 and the UK fare poorly in comparison to many other countries. According to OECD data the UK are placed 16th out of 20 countries.

There are a number of factors I believe that have contributed to the lack of take up of these qualifications. The decline in part-time and mature learners has significantly impacted on these qualifications as they traditionally attract these learners, as has the increasing competition in the HE sector for students, particularly following the removal of the student number cap. The rapid growth in foundation years offered by universities, I suspect, is also a factor here. Funding incentives encourage the sector to offer three year full time undergraduate degrees and the focus of widening participation policy and delivery still in the main target younger applicants. A key issue is also that level 4 and 5 qualifications are often poorly understood, not only by prospective students but, until more recently, by government policy makers as well. Younger students in particular often view them as either somehow inferior to an undergraduate degree or at best, to be used as a stepping stone if all else fails, rather than as a stand-alone qualification worth studying in its own right.

Does any of this actually matter then? I think it clearly does on a number of counts. Brexit will only exacerbate the skills shortages that already exist in associate professional and technician occupations, jobs that typically require a level 4-5 qualification to enter and progress in. In addition, these occupations have an ageing workforce, leading to high levels of replacement demand. The impact of new technologies will also mean that more and more of the existing workforce will need to learn new skills and in some cases retrain.

In terms of improving social mobility these qualifications typically attract greater numbers of learners from under-represented backgrounds and increasing the numbers taking them will help to address the decline in mature HE learners.  Importantly these qualifications, if effectively promoted, are a potential HE pathway that will suit a number of younger learners who are not interested in the more traditional 3 year full time degree model.

So what can be done to ensure that level 4 and 5 qualifications not only survive but thrive? Improving both their visibility and perceived value would be a good starting point.

In terms of attracting potential learners to consider these qualifications there is much work to do both to raise their visibility and their value to individuals, as well as employers and the economy as a whole.  It doesn’t help that there appears to be no clear consensus as to what we actually mean by technical, professional and vocational education and how they relate to and at times overlap with academic education. Similarly, we need more clarity regarding what we mean by technical occupations.  More needs to be done then to both explain the wide variety of job roles and opportunities as well as provide a clear overview of progression pathways into these occupations.  We need better and accessible Labour Market Intelligence (LMI) and earnings data to evidence the skills shortages, opportunities and the added value in terms of earnings in undertaking level 4-5 qualifications, on both a regional as well as national basis. This lack of clarity presents challenges when providing information, advice and guidance (IAG) which is critical, as has been highlighted in several reports on increasing the take up of these qualifications. But IAG is only as good as the quality of information, including job roles, occupations and pathways, as well as LMI, available to support staff in an advisory role.

In short I think there is a lack of a clear line of sight from level 4-5 onwards. What’s in it for a student?  What careers can they progress on to and if they want to “top up” to a level 6 qualification in the future, where can they go, what can they top up to and how much will it cost?

We also need evidence that employers are actually asking for applicants to be qualified to these levels and not defaulting to asking for graduate applicants. In some sectors i.e. engineering, level 4-5 qualifications are highly valued. Where there isn’t a traditional or longstanding  level 4-5 qualification recognised by the sector and clear information available to inform them of the potential value of level 4-5 qualifications, employers are likely to focus their recruitment towards more established routes, including school and college leavers and graduates.

In terms of the perceived value of level 4-5 qualifications if we are serious about promoting growth it doesn’t help that they are referred to as sub-degree level, nor does it help while it continues to be designated as different from HE developed by universities.

The HEPI report Filling in the Biggest Skills Gap authored by Dave Phoenix, Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University, identifies the lack of a pipeline of level 2-3 and 3 onwards, due to the very large numbers of learners who fail to achieve even level 2 qualifications, as a crucial issue in addressing the lack of take up. This report also highlights that there are currently approximately 20 million working age adults without qualifications at level 4 or above. By comparison there are only 750,000 18 year olds in the entire population.  Perhaps we should focus a bit less on trying to ensure as many 18 year olds as possible progress on to HE and start to address the low level of skills in the current workforce, via part time and flexible learning.  After all it’s not as if at age 18 it’s now or never in terms of progressing on to higher level learning…

Here at Linking London we are exploring with partners level 4 and 5 developments, with a particular focus on HNDs and HNCs, at our HE in FE and BTEC practitioner meetings in November. This will include updates on the latest news as well as exploring how we raise the profile of these qualifications as a potential HE route to level 3 learners in partner colleges. Please view our events page on our website for more details.

Andrew Jones, Director, Linking London

Farewell NNCO, Hello NCOP

Hello Readers,

As everyone is beginning to wrap up for the year saying goodbye to 2016 and looking forward to all that may be ahead in 2017, Linking London is no exception. Our National Network of Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) will be coming to an end at the end of this year and we are now starting to look ahead and plan all the work Linking London will be doing in the New Year including our new project under the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP). In this blog post we look back, take stock and highlight some of the key outputs from our NNCO.

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Our NNCO has been one part of Linking London’s work over the last two years and has enabled us to work collaboratively with partners to support all colleges in London. Providing advisers with information, advice and guidance as they work with their level 3 students and focus on supporting progression to higher level learning.

Over the course of the NNCO project, Linking London has been able to provide workshops and information sessions for advisers, personal statement support and checking for learners, a website dedicated to London advisers, plus resource booklets and guides. We have also been working with our university and college partners who have developed innovative and collaborative projects funded by their formula funding associated with the NNCO.

So here we are in December 2016, with only a few more days to go before the Linking London office closes for the Christmas period and we end the NNCO project … but we didn’t want to go before we highlighted some of the useful tools, information and resources that have come out of the NNCO work that will be available to you post December 2016…so here we go:

  • HECAIL (Higher Education College Advisers in London) Adviser website: your one-stop shop for advice and guidance to help you support college learners as they explore their options, apply and progress to higher level learning.
  • UCAS Personal Statement Tool: supporting level 3 college learners who are applying through UCAS
  • Adviser Events: you can access the event reports and presentations from all the NNCO adviser events we ran
  • Printed Resources: here you will find all the NNCO resources we have developed including, a good practice guide to admissions, four subject-specific adviser guides, and HE in FE London mapping.

And finally here are a few examples of the collaborative project work that has come from our partners:

  • Reaching East Reaching London Dashboard map: an online tool containing information about schools and colleges in London, learner profile data, achievement data and outreach data.
  • GetAHEAD: an online personal development planning tool aimed at adults in the workplace who are interested in study at a higher level.

All that remains for us to say is we hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and we look forward to working with many of you in 2017. The Linking London team will be blogging again in the New Year.


Hello readers

This will be my final blog entry as Linking London’s Support Officer! As of Monday I will be moving on to pastures new. But never fear! The team will blog fortnightly in my absence, until a new officer is hired to take of the mantle of our weekly update within the blogosphere.

Pearson's David MacKay at our BTEC Meeting

Pearson’s David MacKay at our BTEC Meeting

This week we held our first BTEC Practitioner meeting of the academic year, which featured presentations from Brunel,  Birkbeck’s outreach team, and Pearson UK. In addition we were delighted to welcome Hugh Joslin from the University of Greenwich, who presented some of the key findings of Linking London’s latest data report on the progression of college learners to HE, which provides data up to the academic year 2014-2015.

Did you know that:

  • 76% of the BTEC cohort in London are classified as living in an area of educational disadvantage
  • When tuition fees rose for the 2011-2012 cohort, London college learner progression fell from 58% to 45%
  • Students from the most deprived areas of London progress at a higher rate than students from our most affluent areas

Hugh will be presenting the findings of the data report after our next Board Meeting on 7th December- lunch will be provided for attendees.

On Wednesday Director Sue and Project Officer Emily attended HEFCE’s event: ‘Widening participation together: Achievements of National Networks for Collaborative Outreach’ at Prospero House. The event showcased the key achievements of the NNCO scheme, celebrating successful projects and exploring how we can sustain collaborative working going forward.

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Emily has been preparing for our own NNCO End of Project event, which will be held on 5th December, and will feature partner presentations from (among others) UEL and GSM London . We will also be launching our 4 NNCO Subject Specific guides at this event, which examine entry requirements, career prospects and course provisions for Art & Design, Business, Computing and Psychology.

Emily and Andrew continue to provide Personal Statement support to learners through both workshops and our HECAIL personal statement portal.

Andrew and I answered our third partner LMI query using our EMSI analyst tool, helping Middlesex University investigate areas of London industry and job growth.

On a final note I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all our partners for their support during my time at Linking London. Thank you for reading my blogs, tweets and news updates over the past year.

My biggest thanks go to Sue, Andrew, Emily and Stuart, who work tirelessly to fight for social mobility through education, and have been the best team I could hope to work with.

More from the team in 2 weeks. Goodbye all, and good luck for the future.



It is now only 6 weeks until Christmas, but our term-time projects are still very much in full swing. Last week we held our final NNCO subject specific event: Spotlight on Computing. In spite of a last minute relocation due to a local power outage, attendance was good, and feedback on the presenters from UEL, LSBU and IBM was extremely positive

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The deadline for the second NCOP submission has been and gone, and we are now awaiting further feedback from HEFCE. In the meantime Emily (NNCO Project Officer) and Sue (Director) gave a presentation at the AoC HE Coordinators meeting, providing attendees with updates on the final stages of the NNCO and our plans for the NCOP (which officially starts in January 2017).

Sue also attended the Universities UK Action on Access Conference on the recent social mobility report. The event featured presentations from (among many others) HEFCE, The Open University, and King’s College.




Further to their personal statement surgeries in previous weeks, Emily and Andrew (Deputy Director and IAG specialist) have been busy preparing to hold a workshop and one-to-one sessions at City and Islington College for learners interested in studying Nursing, Midwifery or Allied Health Courses at HE level.

Emily and I have continued work on the NNCO subject specific guides to Art & Design, Business, Computing and Psychology, which we will launch at our Linking London NNCO End of Project Event on the 5th  December. Places are still available if you wish to attend .

Finally, you may have noticed a new feature on our NNCO website HECAIL – Andrew is now penning an article each month for the website, drawing on his vast IAG experience. So far he has given his thoughts on entry requirements, the new UCAS tariff and the progression of Access learners: read the articles in full here.

More on Friday from myself and the team.



What a week it has been! London has been rather chilly these last few days, but that has not stopped us from getting out and about! On Monday (Halloween) we held our first Access Practitioner Group Meeting of the academic year, which featured presentations from OCN London and SOAS University.  Delegates discussed the UCAS tariff and its impact on entry requirements for Access Learners, and shared examples of good practice


On Wednesday and Friday Andrew (Deputy Director) and Emily (NNCO Project Officer) visited City and Islington College, where they ran a personal statement surgery for BTEC learners. Between them they helped 21 students improve their draft statements!

Thursday was the day of the much anticipated HE in London Student awards. Emily Sue and Andrew attended the event on behalf of Linking London, as we are one of the three networks who support HE in London.  Emily described the event as follows:

“The Awards celebrated and recognised the achievements of 20 learners from London schools and colleges who have successfully progressed to university, despite the many challenges and barriers they faced along the way. Learners received a certificate to recognise their achievements which was presented by Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North. They each received a £500 cheque to help them with cost of their higher education courses, which was made possible through a generous anonymous donation to this project via the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Learners were joined by their proud guests, tutors, advisers and teachers to help celebrate their achievements.”


And on a final note I am sad to say I will be leaving Linking London later this month to start a new job at Sky! I will be writing a few more blogs for reader yet, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our partners, and most especially the Linking London team, for giving me such a wonderful opportunity . A new graduate intern will be hired later this year, and the job is advertised on the Birkbeck website.

More news from myself and the team next week.


Hello Readers

The last two weeks have featured two key events for us; one of which involved a trip to Kensington Olympia, while the other we held ourselves within Birkbeck, University of London.

Last week Andrew and I ventured out of the office to attend the HE Show at Olympia Central. The venue was packed with advisers and academics from across the country.

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Julia Goodfellow, Universities UK, provided the opening keynote: ‘Brexit’ and the higher education sector. Within her presentation she highlighted the importance of access to the Erasmus scheme, and that 14% of academic staff are from the EU.

Sarah Howls provided HEFCE’s presentation, which covered the young participation goal, widening access funds, and the NCOP – of which we are a part.

Gino Graziano and Andy Howard from Sussex University delivered a presentation entitled: Widening participation through the First-Generation Scholars Scheme. They noted the importance of evaluation, stressed how critical the lifecycle approach is to success, and explained how they try to cultivate a positive attitude with their target cohort (not treating them as a special case). An impressive 79% of their first generation scholars have engaged with the scheme.

Before we headed back to the office we also heard a brilliant presentation on employability from Tim Reed, University of Kent. Kent host a month long employability festival each year, where a third of the events are run by employers. The university boosts engagement with their employability service through social media, and has a strong employability presence at open days.

This week Linking London’s NNCO hosted our event ‘The Learner Journey: supporting progression to HE’. The event was extremely well attended, and included workshops and presentations from our colleague at SOAS, Birkbeck University of London, King’s College London, The Student Loans Company, UCAS and Employers & Education. Many thanks to all who attended and contributed to this event, where practitioners shared best practice and enjoyed many networking opportunities.

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More from myself and the team next week.



As usual this week has been a busy one for the Linking London team. We are thrilled to (quietly) announce that our joint NCOP bid with Access HE and Aimhigher London South has been successful. This means that together we will run one of the new HEFCE funded National Collaborative Outreach Programmes, starting in January next year. Following this good news we met with our neighbouring networks on Monday to discuss more detailed plans for the project.

On Tuesday we held our first IAG Practitioner event of the academic year, which featured speakers from CLC, Goldsmiths University of London, and the Student Loans Company. The event was extremely well attended (there were barely enough seats) and discussions included modes of outreach, degree apprenticeships and unconditional offers.

Wednesday was the date of the ‘Evaluation of the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCOs)’, which was held by London Metropolitan University.  Emily, our NNCO Project Officer, described the key points raised at the event upon her return:

“Overall all networks have had the focus of working in partnership collaboratively to help learners find out about HE and progress. As a result better relationships have been forged, learners and advisers have had their understanding and knowledge enhanced, and engagement has increased. The additional money from HECFE has enabled lots of innovative activities to take place.”

On Thursday Andrew (Deputy Director) met up with Birkbeck’s Caroline McDonald (Head of Widening Access and Retention) to discuss the university’s work with BTEC learners and their innovative Birkbeck Skills Programme.

On a final note we have been sending out even more copies of Andrew’s Studying Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions guide for Access learners this week. Any Linking London partners who would like copies of the guide should contact our team as soon as possible ( – they are proving rather popular!

More from myself and the team next week.


Hello Readers

Our Director Sue made her second partner visit of the academic year this week – she visited King’s College London on Monday afternoon, and later in the week attended a meeting with London Councils where their associate membership of Linking London was renewed for a second year.

Sue and Deputy Director Andrew attended a book launch on Thursday evening; they contributed a chapter to the publication: ‘A Race to the Top: achieving three million more apprenticeships by 2020’.



The two were up bright and early on Friday morning to attend the final ESRC HIVE PED event ‘Where do we go from here?’. The event was hosted by our partners Greenwich University and Sue featured as a panel member!



Back in the office Andrew has been working on our collaborative IAG offer, which will support partner colleges with HE events and personal statement surgeries. His Access to HE Student Guide for Nursing, Midwifery & Allied Health has finally arrived and we are thrilled with the look (and the content) of the publication. Boxes have been sent to all partner colleges which have a Health Access provision.



The entire team (apart from Stuart, who is still away on honeymoon) attended our NNCO Steering Group Meeting, along with representatives from the University of Westminster, Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Bromley College and UEL. This was our second to last steering group meeting, as the NNCO finishes at the end of the year. However, Emily and I have been busy preparing NNCO Guides for each of the subject specific events we have held (or plan to hold). These publications will be launched at the close of the project in December, and will cover Business, Art & Design, Psychology and Computing. Emily is also making the final plans for our upcoming NNCO Learner Journey event, to which places are still available if you wish to attend and have not yet booked.

On a final note, Emily visited our partners at GSM London this week to discuss their ‘Strengths Based Leaning’ scheme. We hope to find ways of incorporating this positive approach to students and their abilities (as opposed to the normal deficit model) into our HECAIL personal statement tool. There are a total of 34 identifiable strengths including empathy, positivity and focus.

More from myself and the team next week.



Now that term has well and truly started, we have been out and about this week at a variety of partner visits and meetings, while organising publication of the resources we have developed over the summer period.

Sue (Director) and Andrew (Deputy Director) travelled to City and Islington College for the first partner visit of the academic year. Andrew also visited Goldsmiths University of London to discuss future collaborative work with Linking London partner colleges.

Back in the office Andrew has been putting the finishing touches to our new Adviser Guide to Sports HE, which will be completed ready for partner distribution next month. The updated student guide for Access Learners applying to nursing, midwifery and allied health professions courses is due in the office any day now, and multiple copies will be sent out to Access tutors at partner colleges over the coming week.

Sue attended the steering group for one of our NNCO projects – Reaching East and Reaching London – at UEL, and has been busy finalising the 2016-17 Linking London Business Plan. Sue also attended the HE in London Management Group along with Emily (NNCO Project Officer).  Over the summer several new resources have been added to the HE in London website, including a Higher Education Activity Planner and three case study films which are designed to help advisers plan their outreach activities.

Emily has been orchestrating the introduction of the personal statement tool to our NNCO website HECAIL, which was trialled in a very successful pilot scheme last year. She has also been preparing for the NNCO Learner Journey event which is taking place on the 17th October. Places are still available for any interested practitioners, and as an NNCO event it is open to both partners and  non-partners! To book a place please click here.

Finally, congratulations are in order for Office Manager Stuart, as he got married at the weekend!  Stuart has been with Linking London from the very beginning, and I’m sure you will all join us in wishing him, and his new wife, well.

More news and updates from myself and the team next week.