Roadmaps and Roadblocks: Career and life planning, guidance, and streaming in Ontario’s schools
New report finds that Ontario is falling behind in preparing students for their future
One of the main purposes of schooling is to prepare young people for adulthood and jobs. At a time when there is growing pressure to prepare students for a future that is rapidly changing and increasingly complex, our latest report finds that Ontario may be falling behind.
The report, based on results from our Annual Ontario School Survey, focuses on the policies, programs, and resources that support young people as they move through school and prepare for a range of post-secondary pathways. It calls for improved resources to support students’ career and life planning, the end of streaming in grade 9, and a more comprehensive strategy to ensure that students leave school with the competencies and skills they need to support their success, no matter what their destination after graduation.
Schools struggling to implement career and life-planning policy
In 2014, Ontario introduced policy to support career and life planning for students from kindergarten through grade 12. Five years later, it is clear that the policy has not achieved the desired outcomes. Principals report a number of implementation challenges, including a lack of resources and competing priorities.
Among the findings in the report:
- Despite the fact that Individual Pathways Plans (IPPs) are mandatory, only 57% of high schools report that all students have them. IPPs are online portfolios that are supposed to be updated twice a year, with support from guidance counsellors, teachers, and parents. IPPs help students keep track of who they are, what they want, what they’re learning, and what the next steps are on their path to adulthood.
- All high schools are required to have career and life planning advisory committees (including teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and students), but only 34% have them.
- Schools with advisory committees are more than twice as likely to provide professional development for teachers about career and life planning, and are much more likely to report that all students have IPPs.
- While provincial policy says that competencies and skills to support career and life planning (knowing yourself, understanding how to achieve goals and manage transitions, having capacity to explore opportunities and make decisions) should be embedded throughout the curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12, Ontario lags behind British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec in this area.
More guidance counsellors, but regional disparities remain
Guidance counsellors can play a vital role in supporting students as they navigate their journey through school and on to their destination after graduation.
According to the report:
- Only 23% of elementary schools have guidance counsellors, and there are significant regional disparities in access to them.
- In secondary schools, the average ratio of students to guidance counsellors is 375 to one; and in 10% of schools, the average ratio is 687 to one.
- Increased funding for guidance counsellors in grades 7 and 8 has resulted in a significant improvement in access. This year, 33% of schools with grades 7 and 8 have guidance counsellors, up from only 20% in 2018. However, in the summer of 2018, the government changed the policy so that what had been targeted funding for guidance counsellors in grades 7 and 8 can now be used on any strategy relating to careers or mental health, in either elementary or secondary schools.
Streaming: a roadblock for some students
The report points to research from the EQAO, the Toronto District School Board, and the OECD suggesting that taking the majority of courses at the applied level disadvantages certain students, and closes doors for many.
In Ontario, students must choose their high school courses in grade 8. While principals report a range of ways that parents and students receive information about course choices, they are not routinely provided with data showing that students in applied courses are less likely to graduate or go to college.
A number of secondary school principals described initiatives to circumvent streaming and “de-stream” grade 9 courses such as geography, science, English, and mathematics, however 47% report students rarely (“never” or “not very often”) transfer from applied to academic courses.
Changes in policy and funding required
Ontario’s career and life planning policy provides a potential road map to ensure that students develop the vital competencies and self-understanding that will prepare them for long-term success, no matter what their destination. To realize its full potential, there needs to be a more comprehensive and coherent approach to curriculum, resources and course choices.
The report recommends that the province:
- Develop a coherent strategy and consistent language to integrate foundational competencies and transferable skills across the curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12.
- Improve resources to support collaboration time and professional development focused on career and life planning.
- Hold consultations with school administrators, and conduct research to understand and address the barriers to effective career and life planning in schools.
- Evaluate policy and funding for guidance counsellors and clarify their role in schools.
- Ensure that parents and students have sufficient information about course choices in secondary school, including data on outcomes, graduation rates, and post-secondary access.
- Eliminate applied courses in grade 9 by the fall of 2020, and provide resources and supports to ensure that students can more easily transfer between courses throughout secondary school.
Bruce Lawson, President of The Counselling Foundation of Canada, which funded the research, is also calling for change. According to Lawson, “There is an urgent need for new policies and practice to support effective guidance programs in schools. It is time to ensure there are adequate resources to support Ontario’s career and life planning policy, and to ensure that the competencies and skills included in it are embedded throughout curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12.”
Read the full report.