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.


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