Speakers for Schools Written evidence (EDU0046)


  1. About Speakers for Schools

1.1     Speakers for Schools is a leading youth social mobility charity, launched in 2010 by ITV’s Political Editor Robert Peston and supported by the Law Family Charitable Foundation. Our mission is to raise career ambitions among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK and provide the necessary inspiration, experience and networking opportunities for them to succeed. We think beyond checkbox exercises and focus on fairer and better outcomes for young people.

1.2     We believe every young person in England should have the right to high-quality work experience and are passionate about ensuring that every young person can realise their potential, regardless of their background, where they live and where they go to school.

1.3     Our core programmes are:

1.4     We have a network of more than 13,00 employers and work with an extensive network of schools and colleges across the UK (2,400 schools and colleges). In the last academic year, we supported over 420,000 young people across all programmes and offered about 140,000 experiences in the workplace. We are the only non-profit organisation with a significant regional operation offering free UK-wide work experience on this scale supported by digital technology. Our programmes are fully funded and available exclusively to state-educated students, meaning there is no cost to young people, their parents and guardians, and their school or colleges.


  1. Executive Summary

2.2     Last year, Speakers for Schools launched our Work Experience For All campaign[1], calling for all young people at state schools to have two meaningful experiences of work before they finish their formal schooling. Through our work with young people, we know that the education system is not doing enough to address the barriers that young people face, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. While we recognise the ambition of the existing Gatsby Benchmarks, their implementation is patchy across the country, meaning they don’t have the desired impact. That is why our campaign is calling for more.

2.3     Through our research, we know the impact that work experience has. A YouGov poll[2] commissioned by Speakers for Schools showed that attending work experience is linked with better employment outcomes. Yet despite its benefits, only half of the respondents recalled doing any work experience.  We also hear from young people how much work experience improves confidence and self-belief and their essential transferable skills, such as communication and problem-solving.[3]

2.4     Our fuller response to the call for evidence follows, and we would welcome the opportunity to meet with or appear before the Committee and further expand on our submission.



  1. The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress into post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy.

3.1     From our work with young people and employers, it is clear the system needs to develop young people for their potential and future labour market needs. This is especially true for young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In our experience, it needs to make young people aware of their pathway to education and work. Young people continuously share their uncertainty about the future. Despite reported progress against Gatsby Benchmarks and higher levels of employer engagement in education, they feel unprepared and concerned about transitions to education and employment[4].  The future is indeed uncertain, and we cannot predict it, but we need to be ready for it. The young people in secondary schools now will be young adults in the 2030s. What they learn in school now can prepare them for jobs that have yet to be created; for future technologies we need to innovate, grow, and solve problems that have yet to be anticipated. To navigate through such uncertainty, students will need to develop curiosity, imagination, resilience and creativity; they will need to respect diversity and work in a globally connected economy; and they will need to cope with failure and rejection and to move forward in the face of adversity. Their futures won’t be an upward journey but a portfolio of different careers across various sectors. Their motivation will be beyond getting a good job; it will also be about serving their communities and saving the planet.

3.2     The current curriculum, however, focuses much on preparing young people for exams rather than jobs of the future. For students to be career ready, the core curriculum needs to be broadened and linked to possible careers, so students are not learning maths but learning to think like a mathematician. Educators are often doing a great job despite the constraints on them. Still, more needs to be done to empower and support them to go beyond teaching the curriculum and deliver careers in the curriculum.

3.3     Young people also need a wider range of skills to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world scenarios. Many schools have recently been forced to remove non-core subjects from their curriculum due to a lack of resources. This is especially true for more specialist or non-core subjects requiring materials or teacher support that is unavailable. As traditional education providers strive to meet Ofsted standards for varied and diverse curriculums while still maintaining high-quality teaching, removing specific courses has become necessary to ensure other areas remain well supported. But these are the very subjects through which some of the skills we desperately need for future growth and innovation in this country are simply declining.

3.4     Since the introduction of the Gatsby Benchmarks, we have seen examples of best practices where educators across the country linked the subject they teach with the world of work using principles of good career provision. By making career-related learning a core part of the curriculum, as part of their everyday learning, young people can realise the real-world application of the knowledge they’re gaining in the classroom. It will also help them understand how their passions and likes can translate into future careers.

3.5     However, there are challenges in delivering high-quality Gatsby Benchmarks:

3.6     Educators often cite a need for more resources, difficulty connecting with employers and time in the curriculum as barriers to delivering activities that result in better preparation of students for life beyond school. The data by the Careers and Enterprise company shows that progress is made in Gatsby benchmark 4, from only 38% of schools meeting GB4 in 2018/19 to 71% in 21/22. Yet our evidence and reports by others show that many schools still need help to link with local employers to bring education to life through the curriculum. 

Recommendation 1: Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) must be adequately funded so that schools can access equal resources to deliver activities that prepare students for future jobs. Funding should cover specialised staffing and budget for employer engagement activities.

Recommendation 2: A more joined-up relationship between Ofsted, Gatsby Benchmarks and inspection frameworks for personal development is required. At the moment, we have a fractured system that could be more data-driven, and discrepancies in evidence portray realities that are not representative across the country.

Recommendation 3: To ensure young people are developed as a whole as part of their education journey through a continuous development plan from the lower secondary to key stage 4 and beyond. This could entail a legal entitlement to access an agreed number of hours of CEIAG and reinstatement of work experience for the 14-16 age group.


  1. The impact of the 11-16 system on the motivation and confidence of pupils of all abilities

4.1     There is a plethora of evidence that engaging with the world of work in education and linking subjects to careers increases young people’s motivation and confidence. An example is the pilot RCT led by our Head of Research and Policy during her tenure at the Education and Employers Charity in 2017, where young people reported better education outcomes from participating in three additional career activities on top of their schools’ provisions[6]. Research shows that students who participated in the three extra career talks showed improvements in confidence in their abilities, attitudes about the usefulness of school and confidence in fulfilling their career aspirations. As a result of the three encounters young people had, 7% of the students changed their future plans, while around 20-28% of them questioned their career and education choices.

4.2     Through increased motivation and engagement with their subjects, confidence in abilities and seeing the value of what they are taught at school, the researchers then explained the positive observed impact on educational achievements. The impact is notably higher for young people who are less engaged, have lower academic performance, and are sceptical about the usefulness of schools for their future aspirations. The evaluation of the Gatsby Benchmarks pilot in the North East LEP further validates the findings of this study.

4.3     The combination of a narrow curriculum, patchy career-related learning with varied quality and budget cuts to enrichment activities outside the curriculum deteriorate young people’s motivation and confidence. Too much emphasis has been put on exam results; this has impacted young people’s bandwidth for activities that would support them in pursuing their ambitions, developing the essential transferable skills they need to thrive in a changing and uncertain world and, ultimately, their excitement for learning and exploring new things.

4.4     Furthermore, since 2010 and the removal of mandatory work experience for school-age students, young people’s chance of getting quality work experience regardless of their background or location has declined. We have evidence of the impact of our work experience programme showing that, on average, 81% of young people feel more motivated to find out additional information about potential future careers with the employer who hosted their work placement. Access to authentic insight into careers of interest opens their eyes to the possibilities of the future while they learn more about themselves and reflect. This is especially true for young people with limited access to social and cultural capital and from lower socio-economic backgrounds with special education needs.

4.5     Our Work Experience for All campaign calls for a universal right for every young person in England to access opportunities where they can gain confidence about their future aspirations, develop essential skills required by the employer in any sector and prepare for and get excited for the world of work. We believe it is through opportunities like work placements, as part of holistic and school-wide provisions and linked to subjects taught at school, we can give individuals meaningful experiences that bring education to life and equip them with the know-how to apply their knowledge in uncertain and unfamiliar areas.

Recommendation 6: a review of the education system, fit for the 21st century, and to allow for more time and resources for career-related learning in the curriculum across all key stages of secondary education. The positive impact of a balanced curriculum enriched with a wide range of experiences of the world of work cannot be overlooked.


  1. The availability and attractiveness of technical and vocational options in the 11-16 phase

5.1     There is cross-party recognition that we will need a highly skilled talent pipeline if the UK is to realise its Net Zero ambitions and be an epicentre for innovation, science and advanced technologies. We are committed to helping young people – and their parents – understand the opportunities ahead, particularly the green jobs of the future. We welcome the updated provider access legislation (PAL),[7] which specifies that schools must provide at least four encounters with approved providers of apprenticeships and technical education for all their students between years 8 and 11; however, it is essential that these encounters also ensure young people see the impact of those careers in the context of the economy. When young people are children, they often dream of what they want to be when they grow up; the impact is that they are more likely to believe they will work in certain professions than they ultimately do[8]. This will influence how they approach their education and the choices they make. A lack of knowledge of the range of career pathways and opportunities available via technical or vocational routes amplifies this disparity. A work experience placement can fill that knowledge gap.

5.2     Last year, we surveyed over 1,200 state school students to understand their knowledge of and appetite for green jobs. It’s clear that more work needs to be done to raise awareness of the opportunities and potential. The survey showed us that 57% of respondents had not been given guidance on green job options. While young people are likely to know what green jobs are (63% of respondents said they knew what a green job was), there is a lack of understanding about the skills and qualifications needed to get one. This highlights the importance of developing strong partnerships between schools and businesses to help bridge that awareness gap.


Josh Evans, Darlington

Josh is an A-Levels student and was on the DfE Green Youth Advisory Panel, which advised on the Government’s climate change strategy for schools. Josh is passionate about sustainability and would like a job in the tourism industry, to help it become more environmentally friendly. He recently undertook work experience with British Airways through Speakers for Schools. He wants to create a sustainable package holiday provider.

For a while, I have known that I’d love to pursue a career in the travel industry after studying tourism and travel at college. However, I am equally aware of the environmental impact the industry has on the planet, and so I am keen to help it become more sustainable, applying my passion for climate change.

The ability to learn about the green economy at school is vital as not only does it give students a chance to pursue a green job in the most direct sense, but it also nurtures the mindset that any job can be green if you are committed to making a difference and have the right skills and knowledge.

5.4     Our career education system could be more robust when providing access to information about vocational pathways and alternative qualifications to academic routes into employment. The renewed focus on the schools’ duty to provide encounters with further education colleges and technical education institutions is extremely welcomed. However, educators’ level of knowledge about pathways to employment through vocation and technical education is varied and somewhat limited. In some circumstances, their views about these qualifications are biased, especially if they work in schools with sixth-form colleges. More investment in specialised staff who can provide independent guidance around future possibilities is one way to tackle this. In addition, access to experiences of the workplace where young people can see and hear first-hand the

5.5     Speakers for Schools Inspiration and Experience programmes seek to address this by ensuring young people are aware of their options and understand what those future careers are like in reality. For example, as part of the work experience programme last year, Speakers for Schools ran a campaign dedicated to green jobs. We partnered with leading companies, including SSE, Fat Face and Bentley Motors, to help 4,000 young people understand more about how engineers can deliver wind technology, develop sustainable products, and green accountancy. Sustainability leaders complemented this by giving inspirational talks to provide further advice and guidance.

5.6     Finally, there is a disparity of esteem regarding technical and vocational among parents and carers; years of campaigning and policy work around return on investment for a university degree resulted in them thinking less about apprenticeships and technical education. The recent efforts by government departments and in partnership with employers may have changed that slightly, but you can’t be what you can’t see; certainly, parental influence will enforce that.

5.7     Involving parents in career conversations is an afterthought; there are pockets of excellent practice nationwide. The government also recognises that an element of parents’ engagement was embedded in the ESFA-funded apprenticeship awareness-raising campaign. However, a national effort to inform parents about alternative qualifications and pathways to employment is much needed. One thing to note, however, is through experiences of the work, young people develop the knowledge base that could help them overturn the influence of parents and carers; if they have encounters with early-career employees who chose apprenticeship or technical education, they feel empowered to with the insight and information to make informed decisions about their future.

Recommendation 7: Government-funded national initiatives to connect local employers and schools to jointly design and deliver career-related learning opportunities that promote vocational and technical education as a comparative alternative to academic routes. An example of this initiative is the Creative Careers programme funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sports.  


  1. How spending for this phase of education should be prioritised in the context of the current fiscal climate

6.1     The evidence base suggests that we have a strong social and economic case for more investment in school-mediated career-related learning as part of a whole-school approach to prepare pupils ready for the future and equipped with the skills they need for the jobs of the future. The tangible benefits of CEIAG for secondary school students include improved social and emotional skills, employment outcomes and enhanced social mobility.

6.2     Yet these opportunities are not equally distributed across different communities of young people and locations, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

6.3     Closing the attainment gap has been the centre of education spending, but their evidence shows a long road ahead, particularly after the pandemic. During the past decade, the government has decided to shift the focus solely on accommodating knowledge development. The core curriculum concentrates on English, Math and Science, which are crucial but, at the same time, it needs more ambition to nurture a growth mindset, curiosity, creativity, resilience and the skills every young person needs to thrive in this ever-changing world.

6.4     We believe spending on this phase of education shouldn’t just focus on closing the attainment gap but on directing funding to close the opportunity gap, especially for the most disadvantaged young people. And we believe there is a huge potential here. For instance, improving students' social and emotional well-being is listed in the 3-tiered guidelines for spending pupil premium; but this is not addressed in the same scale as effective teaching practices. By investing in improving young people's social and emotional skills, we might have a better chance of closing the attainment gap. However, this needs further evaluation and investigation.

6.5     Speakers for Schools sees participation in work experience opportunities, enrichment activities and career-related learning as a vehicle to deliver the skills that would set young people up for future employment and life.

6.6     Our commissioned report to Social Market Foundation[9] sets out a series of policy recommendations around the realities and practicalities of delivering work experience for every young person in England. The cost for school-age students is about £30-£35 million the estimated cost for two work experience placements is £75m). This is a very small fraction of the entire school budget (£55 billion in 22-23) or pupil premium spending (£2.9 billion in 23-24).  Universal work experience will deliver positive outcomes for young people and save the Treasury money in the long term.

Recommendation 8: Review the education spending to unlock the potential of curriculum-linked activities that improve young people's social and emotional skills to succeed in education and their transitions to employment.


28 April 2023



[1] https://www.speakersforschools.org/work-experience-for-all

[2]  https://www.speakersforschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/SP-2074_SFS-Work-Experience-For-All-YouGov-Report_v1.pdf

[3] 31% of young people who undertook work experience at school age believe their confidence and self-belief improved ., while this figure is 55% for an older age group.

[4] https://www.youthemployment.org.uk/dev/wp-content/themes/yeuk/files/youth-voice-census-report-2022.pdf

[5] Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance

[6] https://www.educationandemployers.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Motivated-to-Achieve-Final-Full-report-Embargo-6th-June-1.pdf

[7] In effect from January 2023

[8] https://johnjconlon17.github.io/website/Conlon_Patel_stereotypes.pdf

[9] https://www.speakersforschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Learning-from-experience-March-2023.pdf