Posted on 7 June 2019
High Returns From Employer Engagement With Schools
Employer involvement in careers education yields a big return on investment, with a new study supported by the Commercial Education Trust (CET) suggesting that even short interventions can make a real difference.
The study used a randomised control trial to investigate whether attending just three career talks given by employee volunteers had an impact on students’ GCSE results, the hours they planned to spend revising for these exams, their attitudes towards learning, and confidence in their career prospects. Around 650 Year 11 students from five schools taking part in the trial were split into an intervention group that attended the three 20 to 30-minute careers talks, and a control group that did not attend any.
A research team from the Education and Employers charity found that the career talks appeared to drive small but consistent improvements in the attitudes of students in the intervention group. There was also what the team describes as “a positive and statistically significant” relationship between revision hours and the career talks. Students who attended the talks reported an average increase of around 1.5 hours, compared to their peers in the control group. Each talk, in other words, resulted in a 30-minute increase in revision time.
When it came to academic performance, the results reveal an indicative, direct link between career talks and the intervention group outperforming their predicted GCSE results relative to the control group. The study also found that lower achievers and less engaged learners responded best to the intervention. That is very encouraging. So, too, is the finding that students who had initially expressed the most scepticism about education – calling it a “waste of time” – reported a greater increase in planned revision hours.
The way ahead
This was a small-scale study, but for CET it marks an important step in increasing our understanding of the relationship between employer involvement in education and student performance. CET seeks to encourage this involvement by supporting initiatives such as the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Young Chamber pilot project to improve business engagement in schools. We recognise, however, that many businesses, especially SMEs, genuinely want to work more closely with schools but are held back by lack of time and resource. With the discovery that even short interventions can have an impact on young people’s achievements and prospects, perhaps these businesses will now be more willing to step up and work with local schools.
The study’s findings also raise some intriguing questions. If three short career talks led to improved student attitudes, how many more interventions would be needed before GCSE results also started to show marked improvements? Could it be that the modest impact of the career talks on GCSE performance says more about the failure of these exams to capture learning that is relevant to work than it does about students’ achievements? And how can this kind of learning be assessed in ways that have meaning for employers and other stakeholders?
Further research is clearly needed to explore these questions.
The research report Motivated to Achieve can be downloaded from http://www.educationandemployers.org/new-report-published-motivated-to-achieve/