Interpreting Documents and Making Sense of Public Policy Goals for Career Guidance in Secondary Schools: a Multi-Perspective Comparative Study
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Given the significance afforded to career guidance as public policy within compulsory education, increasing our understanding of the role of policy documents in the enactment of career guidance programing is fundamental. Through a qualitative hermeneutic phenomenological study, I explored how different levels of policy actors interpreted policy documents to make sense of career guidance as public policy and enacted their interpretations into career guidance programing. The 2014 revised policy for career guidance (first implemented in 2012/2013) in secondary schools in England, where I lived and worked for the first 43 years of my life, and the simultaneous introduction of a new policy and program for education and career/life planning in secondary schools in Ontario, where I now reside, provided logical locations for this study. By purposefully including a variety of levels of job roles, this study acknowledged Ball et al.’s (2011a) assertion that policy actors undertake complex and differentiated activity during policy implementation. Document analysis revealed the Ontario Creating Pathways to Success (2013) policy included the most far-reaching contributory content, outlining a comprehensive education and career/life planning program for K–12 students, that must be delivered through classroom instruction linked to the broader school curriculum. By contrast, the England Statutory Guidance and Non-Statutory Guidance (2013) policies consisted of guidance that schools must have regard to when providing advice and guidance to their students. The contextual policy landscape of each jurisdiction situated these interpretations, and clearly contributed to a number of challenges that needed navigation, as part of the interpretive process and decision-making regarding provision. The data collected from 25 policy actors underlined nuanced individual definitions of career guidance and interpretations of policy documents, that supported decision-making in all sample schools. The study examined the intersection of document analysis, sensemaking, and policy implementation; and provided rich descriptions of situated policy contexts and nested working practices that were peppered with learning, labour market, and social equity related terminology. Implications for future conceptual and empirical work include, reaching consensus in defining career guidance and associated terms, roles of external stakeholders as policy actors, and opportunities for learning conversations to build policy legacy.