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What impact do teacher-employer partnerships have on teaching and students?

Written by: Emily Tanner and Chris Percy
9 min read
Emily Tanner, (formerly) Head of Research, The Careers & Enterprise Company, UK
Chris Percy, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Derby, UK 

Why teacher-employer partnerships?

There has been renewed policy interest in the role of subject teachers in supporting student career choices, raising the question of how best to equip teachers with the knowledge and skills to do this. This article shares findings from two pilot projects that tested the feasibility and impact of teacher–employer partnerships with positive results. 

Within the government-adopted framework of the Gatsby Benchmarks (Gatsby Charitable Foundation, 2014), the most explicit role for subject teachers in careers education is to highlight to students the relevance of their subject for future careers. This can be achieved through employer-based projects, linking the curriculum to real-world applications and teaching skills that are valued by employers. Teachers may also connect students directly with employers, conveying labour market information or having informal career conversations. Recent data shows strong progress in careers-related teaching over recent years (The Careers & Enterprise Company, 2021). 

There is recognition that while teachers are key influencers for young people (Stewart, 2021), they often feel ill equipped to provide up-to-date information about careers in sectors related to their subject (Holt-White et al., 2022) and about study pathways, particularly vocational routes, which they are less likely to have experienced personally. 

Proposals put forward in recent white papers include reform of initial teacher training, strengthening relationships between teachers and employers in relevant sectors (DfE, 2021) and improving CPD (continuing professional development) for teachers and leaders on careers education, particularly on understanding of apprenticeships and technical routes (DfE, 2022). There is a call for teachers to have more direct contact with employers and businesses related to their subject. 

Two Careers Hubs (Oxfordshire and Berkshire) piloted small-scale projects in the 2021–22 academic year to test two models of teacher–employer partnerships in increasing teachers’ capability to support students’ career learning. The projects were designed to address local needs around skill shortages and teacher difficulties in accessing employers and employer-enriched curriculum resources. The projects built on previous examples, such as the Edge Foundation’s teacher externships, the Thames Valley Talent Transfer Programme and the limited published evidence available (Collins and Barnes, 2017). The projects were part of The Careers & Enterprise Company’s (CEC) programme of ‘Hubs Innovation Projects’, designed to develop impactful approaches that could be scaled nationally. Hubs are well positioned to deliver these projects because of the place that they occupy in the local careers system and the role that they have in bringing organisations together.

What did the projects involve?

Project name ‘Inspiration Beyond the Classroom’

Berkshire 

‘Find Their Future’

Oxfordshire 

Challenges – Local STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) skills shortages

– Challenges in recruiting local talent

– Lack of opportunities and process for subject teachers to engage with employers

– Recruitment challenges, especially in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) roles and apprenticeships

– Low student/teacher awareness of local breakthrough/cornerstone sectors

– Teacher difficulty in accessing good locally relevant resources/activities

Target group Year 10 teachers of STEM subjects in Berkshire schools Year 8 teachers of STEAM subjects in Oxfordshire schools
Activities
  1. Matching of local employers from STEM industry to STEM subject teachers
  2. Four teacher placement days with the matched employer
  3. Four round table meetings following each placement day
  4. Co-created lesson plans/schemes of work that were delivered to students
  1. Creating and collating resources, e.g. LMI and teaching materials 
  2. Hub-led CPD and community building with 21 employers: five employer-led webinars, two employer visits and facilitated exchange for teachers and employers
  3. Teachers then delivered three to 10 activities for their students, enriched with employer support, e.g. employer talks, lesson content and projects
Evaluation design – Pre/post survey of teachers (15 pre, nine post)

– Qualitative evidence from round tables with 15 teachers

– Details of participation

– Focus groups with nine employers

– End-of-year survey of 211 students

– Pre/post survey of teachers (15 pre, 13 post; 11 matched)

– Pre/post survey of students (435 pre, 175 post; 142 matched)

– Information about student background, academic metrics, activity participation

– Survey insight from Careers Leaders and employers

Table 1: Overview of two Hubs Innovation Projects

The two projects (see Table 1)addressed similar challenges in neighbouring areas – skill shortages in local industry, perceived to be driven in part by low awareness of the local labour market among young people and their teachers, translating into a pipeline of new recruits that was insufficient to meet demand. Both projects identified their key target group as subject teachers and aimed to increase their knowledge, confidence and ability to integrate careers learning into the curriculum. 

The projects took different approaches to building teacher–employer partnerships. In Berkshire, the Careers Hub worked with a provider organisation, Pathway CTM (careers, training and mentoring), to match 15 science and maths teachers with nine local STEM businesses, where they could spend up to four placement days finding out about the application of science and maths in industry, the range of roles and career pathways, commercial practices and the skills valued by employers. The teachers and employers agreed the structure of the placement days together and shared their experiences with other project participants through virtual meetings. As an output, teachers and employers co-created lesson plans for Year 10 to be delivered during the summer term. Teacher cover costs were paid for as part of the project budget. The overall time commitment for each teacher was approximately six days (four days fully out of school on placement, up to one day for the meetings and celebration event, and up to one day to prepare lesson plans).

In Oxfordshire, the Careers Hub recruited 16 teachers from 10 schools to partner with 21 local employers on three key activity phases. The first activity phase was geared to providing CPD on creating careers-related curriculum resources, local LMI (labour market information), guidance, employer visits, virtual employer panels, with opportunities to ask questions of employers from a variety of sectors, and information about the variety of pathways available to young people post-16 and -18. The second phase was community-building and regular meetings with partner employers, including the co-creation of in-class activities and industry virtual events. Finally, teachers delivered the employer-enriched activities to their classes, e.g. employers coming into the classroom to run lessons, set projects or give inspirational talks, and teachers delivering lessons drawing on the employer-created content. The Hub led on coordinating the first two activities, with teachers leading on the third. Excluding classroom delivery time, the overall average time commitment for each teacher was approximately the equivalent of three to four days spread over short activities, like meetings, webinars, organising activities and preparing lesson materials, and one long introduction day that included employer visits. 

Across the whole national programme of 10 Hubs Innovation Projects, each project typically received £60k to £100k. The main costs for Inspiration Beyond the Classroom were teacher cover and project management by the delivery organisation. The costs for Find Their Future were mostly for Careers Hub staff project coordinator time and materials/resources, with £750 per teacher provided to schools to contribute towards internal and backfill costs. 

A key limitation of the evaluation design was the relatively small sample, which limits the ability to generalise and assess statistical significance. Attrition meant that follow-up data was not captured for all participants.

What were the benefits for teachers?

The evaluations of both projects found strong evidence of three key benefits for teachers.

1. Increased knowledge of local businesses, career opportunities and pathways

Following the placements with Berkshire businesses and meeting different employees, the STEM teachers were more familiar with local STEM career opportunities. For example, a teacher matched with the NHS was struck by there being 350 different roles in the NHS, and tasked her Year 10 class with researching these. Similarly, in Oxfordshire, teachers reported significant improvement in confidence about Oxfordshire’s strong and growth industry sectors. Eleven out of 13 respondents said they had learned ‘quite a lot’ about the kinds of jobs and career opportunities in and around Oxfordshire over the course of this year (plus one said ‘a lot’ and one said ‘not sure’). 

All the survey respondents in Berkshire said that they had found out about different roles and pathways into the business, often meeting apprentices and staff who had not pursued academic routes. As one teacher said: ‘Spoke to a degree apprentice who hadn’t done well in exams but has now been at [business] for five years and is doing extremely well.’ By the end of the project, the teachers were, on average, more confident in discussing apprenticeships and traineeships with students. 

2. Increased commitment to employer engagement

Between the start and end of the Berkshire STEM industry placement project, teachers were more likely to agree that ‘Engaging with employers helps students to make informed decisions about their future career’ and ‘Employers are best placed to advise on the skills that students need in the workplace’.

In Oxfordshire, confidence in engaging local employers to support activities and learning increased from three out of 11 at the baseline to six out of 11 at the end of the project, with no teachers declining in confidence. Teachers also reported increased frequency of engaging employers in activities and lessons, with four who originally said ‘never’ or ‘almost never’ reporting an increase to ‘once a year’ or ‘two to three times a year’. 

3. Increased capacity to link curriculum to careers 

Following the placement days, the participating STEM teachers in Berkshire developed lesson plans that incorporated the real-world application of a Year 10 science topic. For example, a physics teacher, matched with a construction company, obtained the company’s crane radius charts to use with students when teaching about turning moments and levers. This enabled him to make a direct connection between curriculum content and a real-world use.

In Oxfordshire, the survey responses pointed to an appetite for more curriculum-based career learning. Ten out of 13 teachers thought that they would draw on local labour market insights and relationships to a greater extent in the coming year (six said a ‘bit more’ and four ‘much more’).

What were the benefits for students and employers?

For students involved in both projects, the increased exposure to career knowledge within the curriculum enabled them to make clearer connections between the subject and career pathways. For the majority of the Year 10 students in the Berkshire project who recalled real-world learning, learning impacted on their understanding of jobs and careers (82 per cent), thoughts about future careers (77 per cent) and specific plans after Year 11 (60 per cent). 

In the Oxfordshire project, the Year 8 students reported a greater increase in motivation and relevance of the target subject compared to other subjects. Forty-five per cent of students also said that the activities influenced their thinking about post-16 or post-18 pathways, although any influence on GCSE choices was modest, perhaps because ideas are already fairly established at this age, with little change between the start and end of the year for most students. 

Employers welcomed the opportunity to build partnerships with local schools, fulfil community, social and environmental commitments, and increase brand awareness. They anticipated achieving a wide reach to young people through engaging with teachers, and expected this to bolster their talent pipeline in the future. Several planned to continue or extend this kind of work with schools in future years.

What are the key takeaways?

These small-scale projects tested two of potentially many different approaches to teacher–employer partnerships. One focused on depth, with each teacher spending up to four days with one business, while the other achieved greater breadth in learning from a range of employers. They achieved similar immediate benefits for teachers and students, suggesting that a range of approaches to teacher–employer partnerships can work.

Project partners reflected that beneficial elements included having a specific target (e.g. a particular visit or lesson plan) to drive the project, while being flexible to other benefits; establishing a local coordinator; and planning for the long term, including how to maintain relationships, share lessons plans with others and connect into the wider school programme.

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