Skills Route Blog

One team’s musings on the world of careers education, information, advice and guidance intertwined with the story of a new startup.
We're working to help young people make better informed choices about what to study after GCSEs.

New Skills Route tool available for post 16 course options

As the first half term of the year comes to a close and young people across the country are planning their options for sixth forms and colleges, we are pleased to make available a new Skills Route tool. 

Skills Route PLAN helps students explore all the courses that are available for them to study after GCSEs. Using this online tool they can learn about and select courses that reflect their interests, ambitions and academic ability.

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Get ready for *new* Skills Route tools in 2016

It’s a new year and a new term - a time for new timetables, new textbooks and soon, new technology. The original Skills Route tool has been through an evolution over the last few months and a new version will be available in October 2016 - hopefully just in time to help Year 11 students find their ideal course combinations and places to study.

We will announce the launch of these tools in mid-October via our newsletter and social media accounts. If you don’t already subscribe, follow us on twitter here or sign up to receive our newsletter here.

A preview of the new tools...

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Making sense of study options after GCSEs

Skills Route exists to help young people make informed decisions about what to study after GCSEs so that they can set great foundations for the future. We do this by providing tailored suggestions to each young person for what to study, and where. We base these suggestions on the information that they share with us - for now it’s primarily their academic ability, their interests and their life goals. 

Anecdotally, we often hear that schools struggle to share and explain all the options to young people. There are a myriad of reasons for this - the incentives that exist to encourage students to study A levels, the complex nature of the apprenticeship application process, the constantly growing list of possible qualifications not to mention the crazy levelling system (that sees GCSEs listed across two levels depending on the grade scored) to name but a few. 

Time and again teachers and careers advisers lament the complex nature of the options that are available ...

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Taking Skills Route back to the Classroom

In May 2016 we took Skills Route back to the classroom and ran a session for 23 Year 10 students in North London. Together we explored options after GCSEs, we reflected on our personal priorities and we learnt some new terminology (BTEC, Vocational etc.). The students spent some time working as a group to reflect on their priorities and favourite subjects and worked individually to test Skills Route and see what the data could contribute to their careers education and decision making. 

The Skills Route team got a lot out of the session: we saw how students responded to the platform and took away some key observations and improvements - not least the need to simplify the sign-in procedure. We also took the chance to remind ourselves about lots of important aspects of working with children in the field of careers education:

  • It’s unclear to children that the different elem ...
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6 Insights from Social Tech Seed Startups

This blog was originally written and posted by Nominet Trust, see the original here. As one beneficiary of their Social Tech Seed Fund, we're pleased to repost it here:

By: Charlotte.Knight
On: 18th May 2016 

Last month, we caught up with our October 2015 cohort of Social Tech Seed funded ventures to hear about their experiences, six months into their Nominet Trust funding.

From developing life-saving heart rate monitors to gamified learning apps, it’s safe to say this group of social tech ventures are doing some incredibly inspiring work and learning a lot along the way. We thought it would be useful to share some of their key insights to help other social tech startups just starting out. 

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Make great decisions for Sixth Form study with tailored tools and insights

Earlier this month, we were interested to read this article by Adi Bloom in the Times Educational Supplement. Adi outlines a newly released piece of research from Which? University that took a sample of over 1,000 A level students who had applied for university. The article explains that:

"Almost a third of university applicants wish that they had chosen different A-level subjects, a new survey reveals.” 

“And 41 per cent wish they had thought more about what subjects might help them to secure a place at university.” 

For Skills Route, this is validation of the reason why we exist. We have spent time listening to teachers, parents and students (not on the ...

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A quote worth pondering

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

This quote (attributed to Howard Thurman) appeared in my email inbox courtesy of the marvellous Escape the City community newsletter a week ago. It gave me pause for thought as I agreed deeply with the sentiment. But then I stopped and pondered what this way of thinking means for careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) in our classrooms, schools and homes in the 21st century.

Surely in order to truly appreciate what makes you come alive you need to explore, to take risks, to overcome challenges and to have an open mind. And the question I have for us all is - 'did your experience of childhood and education help you to explore and find out what makes you come alive?' and ...

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Our theory: When kids make good decisions...

The team at Skills Route have had a hunch for a while that there’s a gap in the market for a website (or portal) that brings together all the options for post 16 study into one place. We have encountered young people, professional bodies, teachers, careers advisers and organisations who struggle to explain the current landscape of vocational and academic opportunities - and to truly do justice to all the options that are available for a given student in a given time and place.

Beyond that, there’s a growing body of reports and evidence that suggest the current status quo of careers education, information, advice and guidance isn’t quite hitting the mark. Ofsted have highlighted that the “the promotion of other post-16 options was particularly weak” and that parents are dissatisfied with the support their children receive in making decisions about post-16 study. In fact, “only 40% of parents think that the school helped them mak ...

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Skillsroute: Using wellbeing data to help young people make more balanced decisions

Briony Phillips, our Product and Innovation Manager provided some thoughts for the launch of the latest version of the What Works Wellbeing Centre's wellbeing by occupation data. Read the original blog post (with all the images) here.

How did you decide what to study in your final years of school?

Perhaps you picked the subjects taught by your favourite teachers; maybe you picked the subjects that came most easily to you or you might even have had a clear career or study goal which you were working backwards from.

Let’s take this a little further, cast your mind back to when you were 16. Your hormones were probably raging and if you were anything like me, you were more interested in sport, shopping and socialising than in serious study decisions. Nonetheless, the choices that you make at the age of 15 ...
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School Statutory Guidance: Making sense of careers advice and guidance

Since the advent of Skills Route and for some time before, we have enjoyed exploring the changing landscape of careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG). It seems unnecessary to recount the potted history of changes, so we have chosen to focus this post on the wealth of recommendations for best practice. These have largely been issued since the significant shift that occurred in September 2012 after nearly 40 years - careers guidance moved from having been a publicly funded service to becoming a statutory duty for schools to provide 'independent and impartial careers guidance' for their pupils. 

It's perhaps useful to name just a few of the most well-known resources written to help schools make an effective provision:

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"Don't ask kids what they want to be..."

This quote was originally shared by the Sustainable Human Community on Facebook. For me it captures the importance and challenge of careers education and guidance just perfectly. Beyond this, it highlights the vital role that intuition, information, experience and reflection all play in finding your path - whether you're searching as a child or as an adult. 

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Understanding how students select courses for post-16 study

We recently spent some time talking to sixth form students about how they decided what to study. We very much enjoyed our conversations and it has given us a fresh perspective and some new ideas about what tools and technology could do to help young people to make better informed decisions in the future.

Through a workshop-style session we explored what they did, read, used and who they spoke to in order to make their decision about what to study in sixth form. Their answers ranged from specific books like Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ to conversations with siblings and friends, from taster sessions to university requirements. It’s clear that the breadth of information sources is vast but that the skills required to elicit the information you need are fairly high level - and require a degree of personal commitment and reflection. Ultimately the young people that we spoke to reaffirmed our view that much of the process is driven by who you are and what your personal i ...

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Exploring teacher’s experiences of CEIAG for post 16 education

Over the last 14 days the Skills Route team has undertaken a series of short forty minute research interviews with teachers and ex-teachers across London. The purpose of this exercise was to gain insight into existing careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) practice in schools. We were particularly interested to find out how teachers currently help young people make the right decisions about what to study in sixth form or college, and how this fits into their day-jobs and school routine.

Alongside these informal research interviews, we invited parents of teenagers to share their views on the support that they receive to make good decisions about sixth form study.

Before we went out and met people in person, we spent some time exploring the existing research and studies that have been released over the last few years. These insights led us to a couple of hypotheses:

  • There is little time left wit ...
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Academic vs. Vocational: A question for everyone

This morning I asked a colleague a question which I thought would have a straight-forward answer: in what circumstances should we recommend vocational courses over academic ones? I had spent a day yesterday at a couple of contrasting London schools and had been idly pondering the best design for a sixth form curriculum offer - should all children have the opportunity to learn vocational subjects regardless of their academic ability?  

This question is answered unwittingly time and again across the country when a school chooses not to offer vocational courses, and focuses their efforts to help students achieve C grades at GCSE so that they can access A level courses - even though they might not be the best match for them academically. Often only those students who are less academically able are introduced to vocational courses. And by making this distinction, we reinforce the suggestion that voc ...

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Announcement: Making Change Happen with Nominet Trust

Today marks a special occasion - we are now officially funded by Nominet Trust! As their website will tell you, the Social Tech Seed Fund run by Nominet Trust “is an open grant-funding programme that offers entrepreneurial organisations early-stage investment to develop innovative projects harnessing the power of the internet and digital technologies to deliver significant social change. The programme supports projects tackling pressing social challenges such as the environment and sustainability, education, employment and healthcare.”

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The complexities of the English post 16 qualifications

On more than one occasion this year I have found myself with my head in my hands as I try to make sense of the qualifications that are available to young people in this country and which ones are appropriate (let alone available) for different students.

As a team of data specialists, ex-teachers and recent graduates, you would think that we would have a pretty good handle on the qualification landscape for post 16 options, particularly as our startup relies on it. Thankfully, we’re pretty blessed in that department, but as a returning educationalist after a few years out of the sector, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the world of qualifications and it really hasn’t been easy.  

The challenge that I have set myself is to create a comprehensive understanding of what the options really are for a kid with particular prior attainment, and a particular learning style. It really shoul ...

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Skills Route at the Cabinet Office Jobs Hack Day

On Monday 19 October 2015, MIME Consulting Director Steve Preston was invited to take part in the Cabinet Office Job Hack Day. The event was attended by 60 volunteers from a range of government departments, charities and data companies. The activities and talks were designed to encourage attendees to come up with innovative ideas to help young people to access training and employment opportunities. 

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Discussing the power of ‘open data for social good’ at the ODI Summit

Last week Steve Preston, Director of MIME Consulting and founder of Skills Route, was invited to speak at the ODI Summit on a panel chaired by Martha Lane Fox. The discussion focused on the potential to use open data to achieve positive social impact and drew on the experiences of Steve and Gail Ramster, creator of The Great British Public Toilet Map and Will Perrin, Founder of Talk About Local. 

The wide-ranging and fascinating discussion explored advances in open data, the challenges of working with this raw material and the ramifications of technical advances for our work across sectors and across borders. Steve focused on the importance of open data within the education sector. He spoke about how lucky we are in the UK to have so much widely available data within the sector and highlighted the important challenge - to create innovations that use data in a meaningful and useful way. 

MIME's own produ ...

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Skills Route wins the Education Open Data Challenge

We are very proud to reveal that Skills Route has been announced as the winner of the Education Open Data Challenge after 10 weeks in incubation. The team at MIME would like to thank everyone involved in setting up the competition and providing specialist support to help develop the initial concepts behind Skills Route. In this post, we are excited to announce our plans for the coming months. 

The team now plan to rebuild Skills Route for the whole country, with more user consultation, working closely with our group of pilot schools. We want to ensure that Skills Route is as useful as possible to young people, parents and schools. It's important that everyone, no matter what their previous attainment or particular strengths, has a fulfilling pathway ahead of them, whether this is academic, applied or vocational.

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Get to know the Finalists in the Education Open Data Challenge

** This article was originally posted on the Nesta website, if you'd like to see more related content, check it out here

Nesta and The Open Data Institute have been running the Education Open Data Challenge, part of the Open Data Challenge Series. The challenge process is designed to find and support teams to create open data products and services that could help parents engage with their children’s education and help them find schools or institutions that suited their child’s learning priorities.

On 15 and 16 March 2014 at the Education Creation Weekend, we were excited to announce three finalists who won £5000 and a package of incubation support. Now those three teams will go head to head in the run up to the final in June, where they will pitch to win £50000 to fully launch their product.

Our finalists were Skills Route, illustr ...

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Update: Education Open Data Challenge Progress

Following a weekend of consultation, refinement and website development we are delighted by the latest news from the Education Open Data Challenge. After a successful pitch by Steve, Skills Route was chosen as one of the three finalists and move forward through into the incubation phase with project support from a host of subject matter experts.

The whole weekend proved to be really exciting and we particularly enjoyed watching everyone’s ideas come together in the final pitches. As part of the weekend we had the opportunity to share our concept and initial designs with parents from Haringey. They had generously given up their time to provide direct project feedback and we hope to work with them further as the competition develops. We were pleased to hear the positive reception that they gave to Skills Route and excited by the potential impact that they felt it could have.

The weekend also allowed oppor ...

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An Education Open Data Challenge

We have recently been doing some extra-curricular work on a new product idea called Skills Route. We have been looking for opportunities to develop and fund this idea further. We are pleased to announce that, following a successful competition entry, we have been invited to attend the creation weekend for Nesta and The Open Data Institute's Education Open Data Challenge

There are some great entries and so the competition is going to be tough. Prior to this announcement, we have already done some work to develop our concept and ensure it responds to the brief set by Nesta and the Open Data Institute.

Our team came up with the idea for “Skills Route” which is an app that uses open data on the post-16 performance of schools and colleges to help parents and their children ide ...

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