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A systematic review of recent research (1988 - 2003) into the impact of careers education and guidance on transitions from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4. Teacher perspective

Summary of the review

The broad aim of this review was to look at the role and impact of careers education and guidance (CEG) on young people's transitions from Key Stage 3 (ages 11-13) to Key Stage 4 (ages 13-16).

The initial search found 6,766 studies, and after three stages of screening, 10 studies were identified that met the criteria.

The review found that, overall provision of CEG varies in schools depending on a range of factors that can be seen as 'indicators' of quality. These include: school policy and management, content and organisation of CEG programmes, qualifications of teaching staff designated to deliver CEG, the standard of students' work and library resources. The research implies that these factors affect the transition of young people.

The review considered three further questions. First, the impact of specific CEG programmes on transition, learning and development. Second, how CEG affects the transition process and third, other factors affecting the impact of CEG. Briefly, the review found evidence that the provision of CEG at Key Stage 3 may be critical in enabling young people to prepare for transition to Key Stage 4, (all of the 10 studies supported this). The review also identified three key factors influencing people in transition, parents, socioeconomic background and gender.

The review has identified gaps in the research and shortcomings in the evidence. The results raise concerns for policy-makers, practitioners, researchers and other end users about the quantity and quality of published research that considers the impact of CEG during this transition period.

Responses from a practitioner perspective

Overall the review, albeit from a limited base, does raise an awareness of what has taken place in schools. It puts the findings into a historical context; however (given the accelerated development of the last two years in which we have seen a National Framework for careers education 11-19 in England and a national support programme and the new statutory requirement for careers education to be delivered from year 7) aspects of the review still reflect current practice.

The review identifies a number of actions and influences that may impact on transitions from Key Stages 3 to 4. Where there is a CEG policy embedded in the School Development Plan that embraces both Key Stages, students, parents and other adults will be aware of how careers education and guidance affects the learning and motivation and ultimately impacts on the transition process for all.

However, it is common to find that the two Key Stages are treated independently and that there is little or no coherence between providing progressive opportunities for learning. Equally, if as stated, CEG was primarily delivered through personal, social and health education (PSHE), students may not be explicitly aware of the links nor be able to evaluate the impact on transition from Key Stage 3 to 4. The shift of balance from discrete CEG lessons to delivery in PSHE over the period of the review highlights how schools may perceive the importance of careers education in general.

Where there is good senior leadership that supports delivery staff and recognises the need for regular training, along with an organisational structure that encourages a programme of study to aid progression of learning that develops career management and decision-making skills, this is seen to be a strength.

However, as Ofsted has highlighted, nearly half of teachers observed in 1998 were insufficiently trained and issues had arisen with non-specialists delivering the careers education programme at Key Stage 3. This is of particular interest to my role as an in-service education and training (INSET) co-ordinator. Influences such as league tables have resulted in more pressure being put on schools to deliver the National Curriculum and staff have not been released to attend training. Staff knowledge of progression routes and curriculum pathways is limited and there are issues around providing impartial advice and guidance. Here students making the transition from Key Stage 3 to 4 were more likely to make inappropriate choices or be dictated to by organisational limitations - this still occurs.

It is not clear from the review what the full impact of the careers service is and whether it was involved in planning and delivering the CEG curriculum or was only deployed to offer guidance interviews within the time frame, 1988 - 2003. The review puts more emphasis on the schools perspective. It does highlight the importance of other factors such as parents, but does not look at whether the wider community and employers might be able to influence students' career decisions and support transition. It does make reference to the focusing agenda and the start of the Connexions Service.

What the review does not make clear is whether this evidence gained from the 10 studies is taken from 11-16 or 11-18 establishments when analysing the Key Stage 3 and 4 provisions. The outcomes would have a bearing on whether students were prepared for post-16 transition. Here the review raises the question of limited knowledge and understanding of the changing nature of the workplace and a limited understanding of post-16 courses. Are we to assume that labour market information (LMI) was only given by the careers service (ETAs) and only to those who would benefit from it covering local needs?

The review highlights that this is not pupil focused and that it does not address learning outcomes from a careers education programme, (although the study carried out in Scotland does look at the impact of guidance with students). Recommendation for further study would have to include an end-user perspective from the students. There is little evidence to suggest that students have evaluated their CEG programme and in turn help to shape what is required by them in making the transition from Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 4.


I have found this review to be very relevant as it provides an opportunity to be reflective on how schools support students through the transition process. In particular, it has highlighted good practice that can be applied within my area of work as an adviser. It has focused attention to supporting staff in delivery as well as raising awareness with senior managers. The review is about factors and influences, it is not about the skills required to make transitions.

This perspective was written in a personal capacity by an advisory teacher of CEG external to the review and advisory groups.

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