Education Bill Committee stage suggests eleventh hour scramble to clarify roles and obligations


John Hayes seems to rather enjoy making speeches dotting his with rather erudite references. But rhetoric goes only so far in politics .The  devil  is in the detail, and there was precious little of that in evidence in the committee stage of the education bill last week   when it comes to the future of the all age careers service and how schools are going to manage their new statutory  duty  to give pupils access to careers advice  from 13 to  16. Hayes intoned that following a meeting with the Careers Profession Task Force that he intended “to produce an action plan following the summits that we shall hold. That plan will contain staging posts that can be measured as we reach the destination of a fully-fledged service next year. We said that our first step will be in place this autumn and that the service will be fully operational from next spring. Working with the taskforce that is built around the summits that we have already introduced, I am happy to cement that timetable with those staging posts and to work with the sector to deliver outcomes that will mark progress along that journey.”  Hayes  said that  he was  writing to Local Authorities last  week to remind them of their statutory responsibilities regarding careers advice during the transitional period and reiterated that he expects schools to  ‘anticipate’ their statutory duty in respect of careers advice.

Hayes is also happy with what is being done within the profession and through the task force to establish ‘a set of arrangements where there is greater clarity than there ever has been about the professional standards that apply to the careers profession and the nature of training and accreditation.’ The Task Force has recommended that ‘ a thematic review of careers should be carried out to identify excellent provision and to establish a baseline for future policy development.’ Hayes added “The careers profession is committed to creating one professional body which will set standards, maintain a professional register leading to a licence to practice, and provide a range of professional services. That will give the careers profession one umbrella body which is independent and self-supporting. That has come about as a direct result of the Government’s policy on developing an all-age service. I am delighted with the progress and I congratulate all those involved in bringing it about. We have yet to reach the destination, but we are making significant steps along the road.” Hayes resisted pressure from the opposition to require Ofsted to inspect the Careers advice function in schools but is prepared to encourage Ofsted to undertake a thematic review to “make a direct comparison between the effect of the new arrangements and the problems that I have highlighted with the existing ones. It would also add to our knowledge of what schools are doing to secure careers guidance, provide examples of good practice from which other schools can learn and allow us further to improve as we progress with such a substantial public policy change.”

Hayes is keen to have a summit , as he said, for  all stakeholders to map out the future- but this  is hardly reassuring at this the eleventh hour.If its such  a good idea  then surely it should have taken place months ago.

Amendment 146, attempted to introduce the requirement that all independent careers guidance  be delivered by qualified careers advisers, although this was regarded by Hayes as too prescriptive.  He wants to trust schools. He seemed to think it was wholly inconceivable that schools would offer anything but appropriate professional careers advice and guidance to pupils. . However he did say “we will certainly encourage schools to use qualified advisers. I strongly endorse the view that a school that wants to have the best possible outcomes for its pupils would look first to the all-age service or other qualified advisers.  It would be a very odd school that acquired a service to meet the statutory duty from someone with no history, qualifications or accreditations in careers advice and guidance.”

Nonetheless the opposition has spotted a loophole here that could allow schools to use unqualified advisers to give pupils advice, a concern mirrored by Graham Stuart, the Tory Chair of the education Select Committee. Quite why the Government is unprepared to give such a commitment remains a mystery as we know that Heads and governors  with tight budgetary  constraints will be tempted to short-change pupils in an area which  some believe  not to be a top priority.


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