Helping school children find out about the world of work – low cost high impact best practice from Winchester College, UK

An interview with David Baldwin –

July 2008

David Baldwin is a retired teacher at Winchester College

Winchester College is of the UK’s oldest and best known schools (for pupils from 12-18 year olds) – who has revitalized the careers function at the school. Making it better and cheaper than before he took over. This article is designed to highlight the simple, low cost actions that can be taken a parent, teacher (or pupil) by any school, anywhere in the world to develop local versions of this type of project.

Q1 When you took over the careers function, you weren’t happy with the business awareness seminar. What was wrong with it ?

DB it very expensive and done by people who were a bit past it.

Q.2 What did you actually do ?

DB “ with the assistance of the wife of a colleague who is quite high up in retail marketing, we set up our own introduction to the world of business. I got hold of two former pupils who are now well known successful entrepreneurs to talk about their own experiences. The boys taking part were then set the task of making a business pitch. For this coming term, I have the services of two more alumni entrepreneurs and we will give the boys more freedom to choose what they wish to pitch for and will run a sort of Dragon’s Den[2] with the entrepreneurs forming the jury.”

Q3 Is attendance at these events compulsory, or do boys choose to attend voluntarily.

DB Compulsory for the year group but the boys chose between a selection (up to 6) of speakers in each of the four speaking slots.

Q4 You’ve had visits from companies, such as banks and financial institutions. What are the most important things to make such visits a success?

DB We had Deutsche Bank here last term explaining how a big bank works and they have offered to have a party up to visit the trading floor.

Q5 You organize “careers days”. Who is it for and what do you do?

DB  The two careers events are pitched at boys of 15 and 17. I have managed to amass a very diverse range of speakers from former pupils and present parents through asking via school and alumni newsletters, and just asking people. My aim is to give the boys insights into all sorts of professions, not just “standard careers. The format is a carousel of 18 or so speakers, from which the boys choose to listen to 3 or 4, each talk/presentation to last no more than 25 minutes, but the whole thing followed by refreshments at which the boys can meet the speakers more informally and feel freer to ask questions. This worked well in Summer of 2007 and Spring 2008.

Q6 You have a list of people who do offer work experience of different types. How did you go about developing this?

DB Further to this we have also built up a bank of people who can help find work experience for boys seeking to do it, and we do stress the importance of doing so. And I recently asked for further help on this from present parents.

Q6 You are not sure about the value “interview guidance” courses. Is it more the cost and way it is done, or are there more fundamental problems ?

DB The cost is a factor, but I am not always convinced by the techniques employed. We have let one provider go, as they were increasingly out of touch and lacked dynamism. I have recently observed another company working in this area at Charterhouse and Bradfield School and was very unimpressed by their workshops on self-presentation skills. Their careers talks varied in quality depending on the personnel they had in on that particular day.

Q7 You offer ISCO/Morrisby psychometric profiling to older boys- What is the main benefit of this?

DB Psychometric profiling sometimes comes up with some good things for the boys but the main thing is to get them thinking about themselves and their aspirations.

Q8 What other services do you offer?

DB A major non work goal is advice about universities, and there is a good careers/university library full of brochures and guidance leaflets and boys come and go all the time, asking for advice.

Q9. If a school that has no tradition of careers advice is looking at this topic for this first time, what are the most important things that you would advise them to concentrate on?

DB My own feeling is that careers advice is unlikely to be very “professional”, in the sense that most teachers could not possibly be expected to be in a position to cover all possibilities (unless of course you have a careers advisor who has done the diploma and is full-time). My personal feeling is that a careers department should just seek to open students’ eyes to what is out there, to get them started on the business of thinking about their futures. But this is a personal view – the College feels that what I am doing is fit for purpose and fulfills the need.

Q10. School children are under a lot of pressure to pass exams, and need time “to be children”. What would you say to the idea that introducing children to the world of work this early is inappropriate?

DB It is a fair point. Because we do it in a very unpressurised way and make if possible for them to meet and listen to a wide range of, usually, interesting people, we don’t feel it is too early, although I need to make sure the speakers for the 15/16 year olds are not to “heavy”.

Q11 How much did it cost to organise the events you have initiated? How much money did you save by discontinuing activities that you thought were over priced.

DB I’m sorry, I don’t have full figures. We paid speakers’ travel expenses where they wanted to claim them – probably came to about £200 and we gave them a very good buffet lunch which cost no more than £400, so that the event was very cheap. (If we were to get in an outfit like the one used by other public schools, a day would cost anywhere between £3000 to £6000, depending on which services you use. I will not be using them).

[1] A ‘public’ school in the UK is a fee paying private school, in contrast to free government subsidized state schools.

[2] A popular TV show where contestants compete with business ideas. Many entrepreneurs do not think that this kind of show corresponds to reality at all.

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