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Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot – The Link School 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: Gina Nesbitt

Job title: Senior Leader for CEIAG (Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance)

Name of school/college/organisation: The Link School (an alternative learning provider working with learners and their families in Sunderland).

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

In 2015, we were offering very little in terms of careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) for our students to access. Staff would help students apply for college and training courses but there was no formalised programme and the level of students who went on to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) was high.

2. Before taking part in the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot, did The Link School have established links with local businesses/employers?

Apart from one small group of children who occasionally went to do hair and beauty on an ad hoc basis, we had no links with businesses or employers.

3. How did the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot change the way careers education was implemented and delivered at The Link School?

Being a part of The Good Career Guidance Benchmarks Pilot afforded us a clear, structured framework to work to and provided us with clear guidance and support to ensure we implemented the Benchmarks correctly in order to achieve the best outcomes for our students. The Benchmarks have enabled us to have a clear vision and ambition for all pupils at The Link School. They have provided us with a scaffold to ensure that we deliver high quality careers education; enabling pupils to achieve well and develop the personal skills they need for the future.

4. How did the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot improve The Link School’s connections with local businesses/employers?

We have gone from a position where we really didn’t connect with any businesses to having a range of employers that take our pupils on regular training programmes. For example, we now formally work with a local hair beauty training provider. We send a group of KS4 students two days a week and they have already achieved industry-recognised qualifications, meaning they are ready for further education or employment well before others their age. We also have pupils going out to do sports, mechanics, bricklaying and joinery. This has been a real success. The links we’ve got are improving all the time. Businesses are starting to realise we have a lot to offer them.

5. How has taking part in the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot changed The Link School’s long-term approach to careers education?

We now have a cohesive careers strategy and the overarching principle is that we have equal and fair access for all pupils to good careers guidance with the aim of supporting them to achieve their ambitions.

We work with a great company called CareerWave who come in and provide the students with personal guidance from a qualified careers adviser. We have built this relationship up over a number of years now. The students have responded really well and have found it hugely beneficial.

We are focused on the continuous improvement and development of our careers programme so no matter what we do, we always strive for more.

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

Yes – our students are definitely much more aware of the types of jobs that might be available and how to access them. They know about the local employers and the options for their careers. The framework has meant we can put the right guidance in place, in the right lessons, at the right time. It has become a normal part of our conversations with the students.

7. Why is it so important for careers guidance to be embedded across the school/college?

Good careers guidance underpins everything we do across the whole school, from Key Stage One all the way through to Year 11. The earlier you start having the conversations about careers, the more normal it becomes. Our Head Teacher, staff and governing body are all 100% behind us and were fully committed to achieving the Benchmarks, which has helped us do the best we possibly can for our students. Our careers link governor in particular has offered her expertise throughout the process and is an invaluable source of support.

8. How has adopting the Gatsby Career Benchmarks improved outcomes for students?

One lovely example is a student who went on a placement at a company that is part of the Nissan supply chain in the first year of the Pilot. He did so well he got an apprenticeship and still works there today.

We are pleased to say we have just had our best ever GCSE results and the lowest ever level of school leavers going on to become NEET (not in education, employment or training). Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, we have managed to get the vast majority of students post-16 placements during lockdown. This is absolutely fantastic and testament to the hard work and dedication of the team.

9. How important is personal guidance in delivering careers education?

At The Link School, everything is very focused on the personal relationships we have. We try to do the very best that we can to get the children where they want to be and make them realise that opportunities are out there. Unfortunately, a lot of the children come to us feeling like they’ve failed in education so far and they can’t get the job they might want so it is up to us to change that perception. One of our strengths at The Link School is how well we know all of our students as individuals, and how we build on this to provide the right personalised advice and guidance.

10. How would you describe the impact the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot has had on The Link School?

The impact that working towards the Benchmarks has had on our school and students has been incredible. We have been able to show other schools that achieving the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks is not only possible but also brings with it so many other benefits in terms of aspirations, engagement and academic progress. As a school we are delighted to have been involved in the pilot and would like to thank the Gatsby Foundation and the North East LEP for their continued support.

11. How has the expansion of the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks through the North East Ambition programme contributed to the improvement of careers education at The Link School?

North East Ambition provided us with an Enterprise Advisor from Bell Group. Through our links with them, we created the Bell Decorating Hubb, a site in school where Bell Group will provide the children with an in-school course in painting and decorating with the possibility of expanding into plastering and tiling skills. This was sponsored by Crown Paint and supported by other local companies. This link through North East Ambition has meant we can offer our own painting and decorating course leading to qualifications, work experience and possibly a route to apprenticeships for the students.