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Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot – Castle View Enterprise Academy case study

In 2015, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership began the two-year Good Career Guidance Benchmark Pilot in partnership with the Gatsby Foundation and 16 secondary schools and colleges from across the region.

The success of the pilot in the North East LEP area led to government launching new statutory guidance for schools on how to deliver careers education, with the Gatsby Career Benchmarks at its very heart.

We spoke to some of the participants in the Benchmarks pilot about the transformational impact it had – and continues to have - on the delivery of careers guidance in their school / college.

To find out more about the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, visit

Name of interviewee: Emma McDermott

Job title: Assistant Vice Principal and Careers Leader

Name of school: Castle View Enterprise Academy

1. How was careers guidance delivered prior to participating in the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot?

We’ve always had a key focus on employer engagement and we worked with local businesses as part of our careers programme, but before we took part in the Benchmarks pilot we didn’t have a whole-academy ethos around careers. We did lots of standalone, ad-hoc activities and our approach wasn’t joined-up enough.

2. How did the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot change the way careers education was implemented and delivered at Castle View Enterprise Academy?

The pilot has massively changed things for us. We now have a whole-academy approach, with all staff involved in linking careers to the curriculum. We’ve done staff externships, where members of our team have gone out to employers to learn more about careers there, we’re delivering projects together with employers, and overall there’s a greater awareness of careers education and its importance. There’s been a massive shift in how our staff approach it.

3. How did the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot improve your connections with local businesses and employers?

It’s changed how we use those connections. We’ve become a lot more strategic and employers are involved in our planning. For example, when we developed our school leaver profile, which details the characteristics we would like our students to have developed by the time they leave us, we included input from local employers. Basically we now have a more sustained relationship from planning, through to execution and evaluation.

4. Do you think students better understand the opportunities in the local labour market and the full range of pathways available to them?

In conversations with students we can see that they’re thinking more broadly about different careers. And instead of saying they’d like to be an engineer, for example, they can now talk about what type of engineer they want to be. They are also more eloquent and confident when it comes to talking about skills and demonstrating the skills they have. They’re raising their aspirations and understanding a broader range of opportunities.

5. How has adopting the Gatsby Career Benchmarks and the pilot improved outcomes for students or changed their attitudes to careers?

We’re seeing students going on to a wider range of destinations and we’ve had our students go on to Oxbridge, as well as people studying medicine and an uptake in apprenticeships. Overall they are making more informed decisions about what’s best for them as an individual.

6. Did being a part of the pilot, or generally using the Benchmarks, help your school during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes, as having that framework in place means you always have something to guide you. We had to be inventive and look at delivering some elements virtually but the framework meant that we were able to measure, audit, and continue to develop our practice.

7. How would you describe the impact the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot has had on Castle View?

It’s one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever done. It’s totally transformed our careers provision and the perceptions and understanding of our staff and students towards careers. A key driver has been the opportunity to work with other people, find out what other schools are doing and learn from them.

8. How has the expansion of the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks through the North East Ambition programme contributed to the improvement of careers education in your academy, and across the North East?

The region is now a lot more collaborative. We have regular Careers Leader meetings and I also chair the Sunderland Careers Leaders group where we share good practice. The pilot has had an impact on students’ life chances and creating a more level playing field across the region in terms of the quality of careers education. And through the involvement of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, we have a better understanding of local job opportunities now and in the future, which is used to develop and enhance our careers programme.