Funding cuts, lack of investment and unrealistic timescales are all damaging prospects for reform
Careers England commissioned Professor Tony Watts, an international authority on Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance, to deliver a Policy Commentary ‘The Coalition’s Emerging Policies on Career Guidance’ which was published on 18 April
Careers England has expressed the professions deep concern ‘that over the past few months very little progress has been made in turning the Government’s vision for a world-class all-age strategic careers service into reality’ and there has been a failure to address ‘ the urgent issues of transition from current arrangements and statutory duties to the new proposals for careers services for all age groups, alongside the need for absolute clarity about the support to be available to young people in schools in the future.’
Recent Government announcements, in CEs view, have served to clarify some issues, but raised alarm on others. There has also been, despite Ministers claims, very little substantive consultation on the future of Careers guidance with professional bodies and indeed no discussion of detailed plans.
The views in this commentary are those of the author. However, the Careers England Board ‘commends this careful and thorough analysis to all who care for the future of careers services for all age groups in England.’
The current Government has affirmed its intention to strengthen career guidance services in England. Its main rationales are two-fold: promoting social mobility; and moving towards a user-led skills system. In pursuit of this intention, the Government has made three commitments, all of which have been widely welcomed: to establish an all-age National Careers Service (NCS); to revitalise the professional status of career guidance; and, in respect of support for young people, to safeguard the partnership model between schools and external career guidance providers.
The main sources of significant tensions lie between these policies and the Government’s policies relating to school autonomy. Schools will in future have a statutory duty to secure careers guidance services either from the NCS or from other providers (a contractor-supplier relationship); but they may also appoint their own ,careers adviser, so long as they provide, at a minimum, access to online resources (which they could not realistically deny). This undermines the partnership model; it raises issues about how quality is to be assured; and the minimalist option offered as fulfilling the new requirements effectively renders the statutory duty meaningless.
Veiled by these changes and confusions, there are also fears that much or all of the existing funding for face-to-face career guidance services for young people may well be allowed to vanish without trace, without any public announcement to this effect.
Such a dramatic erosion of services for young people would seriously undermine the potential to build better services for adults as well.
There are many issues on which clarification is urgently needed. These include:
The DfE funding contribution to the new all-age National Careers Service.
The structure of the NCS, and the extent to which it is viewed as a strategic body.
The quality standards to be applied to the NCS, and also to other providers within the market in career guidance provision (including suppliers from whom schools can purchase such services).
The proposed new kite-mark and other quality arrangements to encourage and help schools to develop high-quality careers programmes.
How the data for the proposed destinations measure in schools are to be collected; how “added value‟ is to be demonstrated; and what other accountability measures and procedures are to be introduced alongside it.
The role of and relationships between current consultative mechanisms on the emerging policies.
Meanwhile, amidst these uncertainties, many existing Connexions career guidance services for young people are being eroded or dismantled by Local Authority cuts.
If the main elements of the Government’s policies are to be implemented as planned, in a way which improves rather than damages services, there are a number of steps that need to be taken. These include not only establishing the NCS, but also persuading schools to pay for services they have previously received free of charge.
There are grave doubts about whether these steps are achievable within the timetable Ministers have set.
There are also concerns that:
By the time the new market is established, much of the expertise for its professional base will have disappeared.
In the meantime, there will have been a widespread collapse of careers help for young people.
The original BIS vision for the all-age service will have been fatally eroded by lack of serious engagement from DfE, with adverse impact on the services for adults too
There is a real danger that a combination of funding cuts, lack of investment for the future, policy contradictions and a lack of detail, aswell as a lack of consultation and unrealistic timetables will leave this policy in tatters damaging the interests and opportunities of our young people while undermining the governments social mobility agenda. Urgent intervention is required by senior Ministers to address this crisis.