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Form tutors: how to have positive career discussions with your students

You don't have to be a careers adviser to have focused and helpful career conversations with students looking for guidance on their future.

Careers expert Janet Colledge shares some essential advice for form tutors - who are often the ones on the front line when it comes to advising on courses, higher education, jobs and career choices.

Difficult conversations for form tutors

One of the certainties in your professional life as a teacher is that you will have conversations with pupils' about their career aspirations, plans and worries. 

This is one of the many types of difficult conversations that teachers and pupils negotiate every day. Some of them go well, some not so well, others disastrously.  

Having a discussion about careers may seem simple on the surface, but there are some pitfalls to navigate.

Positive careers conversations: what to avoid

1. Not being up to date on careers options

  • If you left education more than 12 months ago, some of your advice will likely be out of date. Courses change, entry requirements vary and recruitment methods change.  
  • If you’ve been out of education longer than three years, then there is a high likelihood that you'll be inadvertently giving outdated advice.
  • If (like me) it's been far longer, then be aware that all sorts of things have changed.

New jobs and courses appearing

New roles and technologies are cropping up all the time. Educational admissions consultants, for example, now support parents and children in deciding which pre-school, prep or uni to apply for, as well as helping them to prepare for tests and selection.

Data mining, making sense of data and the science of obtaining it, means that Library Science is a hot degree choice right now.

Changing finance and funding

The student finance system continues to change and can be a minefield of rates, rules and jargon to contend with. Needless to say, many people are concerned about the cost of going to university and the resulting effect it might have on their finances in the future.

You can head to our student finance advice for the essentials.  

The fresh face of apprenticeships

Do you know what's on offer in the world of apprenticeships these days? It's important that you highlight them to your students, as apprenticeships are a key part of the government's new careers strategy.

You can learn some quick key facts by downloading a free copy of our higher and degree apprenticeship guide.


None of the above should stop you having careers conversations. Your knowledge is valuable, but it's important to ensure it's up to date, too. 

You should make pupils aware that they also need to be proactive when thinking about their future by looking up fresh information for themselves and not relying on parents, siblings or friends.

2. Not being impartial with your advice

The government's guidance is very clear that any support or advice given to pupils must be 'presented in an impartial manner, showing no bias or favouritism towards a particular institution, education or work option.'

Read through the new guidelines to understand how you can present students with all options available to them.

3. Thinking that careers shouldn't be discussed until Key Stage 4 (KS4) 

The statutory guidance makes careers education compulsory from Year 8. However, there is much research into this thorny question suggesting that we should start at primary level.

So even if you're a Year 7 tutor, take time to consider what you can do to encourage these conversations. These handy career planners for KS3, KS4 and KS5 list lesson ideas and activities by year group.

How to brush up on your careers knowledge

1. Have some trusted resources up your sleeve

Never be afraid to say 'I don’t know' during a conversation - but do follow up with the suggestion of some useful websites that can help pupils find out the information for themselves.

If possible, arrange some time to sit down together to go through these or arrange a follow-up conversation to see how they got on. We've got an index of recommended careers websites to direct your students to.

2. Make friends with your school or college's careers adviser

They have the skills, experience and knowledge to support you. Even ending your conversation with 'make an appointment with our careers adviser and check out how they can help you' is a very positive step.

3. Start a careers display board in your classroom

A class member can be allocated to keep it refreshed on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Keep an eye out in the news for articles of interest and invite pupils to bring in items of their own, too - for example, news of a new local company opening or unusual jobs they may have read about.

Use it to publicise any relevant activities in school, such as National Careers Week activities or visits by employers. It can be used as a prompt for class discussions on careers and aspirations.

4. Get to know your class

Find out what aspirations each member of your class has, as part of the 'getting to know you' routine. It can lead to pairings for activities and new friendships being formed. For example, you may have three aspiring entrepreneurs who could support each other and can be drawn into conversations.

5. Keep the conversation light

Steer away from using career sessions to address individual behavioural issues. For example, avoid using phrases such as: 'Mr X has spoken to me about your behaviour in maths yesterday… you’ll never get to be an Y if you continue to…'.

This negativity might result in a pupil saying they're no longer interested in the career they'd previously mentioned. Try to keep conversations positive and aspirational, making sure to highlight the soft skills that school can teach students.

6. Keep up to date in your subject 

It can be difficult with workload and time pressures, but your subject association can be a helpful source of new information on careers that use your teaching subjects. Try to weave in examples of people using key subject skills or information in real-life jobs to bring your teaching to life. A 'careers using your subject' board is a good way to focus gather and display materials to inspire broader thinking about careers.

About the author

Janet Colledge  - Careers Defender Janet Colledge is a qualified teacher who now specialises in careers education.

She is also a director of National Careers Week, a community interest company providing free careers education resources and information for teachers, and is a council member for careers education of the Career Development Institute.



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