PROFESSOR WATTS –LAUNCHES SCATHING ATTACK ON GOVERNMENT OVER CAREERS ADVICE POLICY
Funding shortage threatens to face to face professional advice
In a letter to the Times Education Supplement last week Professor Tony Watts, an international expert on Careers information, advice and guidance, came pretty close to accusing the Government of deceit and hypocrisy in its policy over the future of the Careers service.
In leaving it up to ‘autonomous’ schools to decide the type of careers advice they offer to their pupils, we may well be witnessing the beginning of the end of face to face professional careers advice in schools , unless there is a re-think, and soon. In short, the Government is not coming up with the funds to establish an all age careers service. Watts’s pointed out that BIS funding is earmarked for the components of the Careers advice addressed to adults. But, so far, there is little evidence of funds being available from DFE to support advice for young people.The assumption had been that BIS’s contribution would be complemented by the existing funding for the career guidance component of Connexions services, estimated at £203m. But a parallel funding announcement from DfE has Watts points out been conspicuous by its absence. Fears are growing that its contribution will be confined largely or wholly to the £7m currently given to the telephone/web-based services of Connexions Direct. Hence the fears that advice in future will be limited to no more than the telephone/web-based services provided by Connexions Direct, meaning the end to face to face advice.
Professor Watts writes (TES 29 April) ‘For the crucial face-to-face services, the Government has indicated that in future it expects schools to purchase such services, either from the all-age service or from other providers. Yet there has been no discernible transfer of funding for such services to schools. The DfE appears to be cynically using school autonomy as a smokescreen to conceal the fact that it is not just pruning its funding for face-to-face career guidance services, but withdrawing it altogether, thus effectively undermining the BIS plans for the all-age service. Unless a credible announcement on this issue is made very soon, the DfE will be open to charges of collective deceit and hypocrisy.’
There are concerns among professionals that despite the rhetorical support for universal access to independent professional advice and a statutory duty in the Education Bill on schools to give pupils access to professional advice, this could mean that internet web -based access is seen as adequate (not because it is but because no funding is available). The danger is that schools in trying to balance their books and short of funds will decide on the cheapest option to try to satisfy their statutory obligations. On top of all this Ministers are claiming that they are consulting the profession on their plans for the future but as far as the professionals are concerned they remain largely in the dark about any detailed plans, including how the landscape will look and how it will all be funded. These are deeply unsettling times for those who value impartial professional careers advice accessible to all our young people from 13-18.
School autonomy, that is school Heads and Governors making decisions on their schools priorities and how they spend their money and manage their resources is a sound principle. Evidence suggests that it helps raise attainment. But there is also evidence, highlighted by Professor Watts that, historically, schools have offered patchy advice of variable quality that is too often not impartial. The danger is that due to a shortage of funds and lack of commitment this situation will be allowed to continue and may even get worse. This was not the Governments intention but given what was said in the Commons Committee stage of the Education Bill that appears to be the direction of travel. Minsters should act.