WHERE HAS THE FUNDING GONE FOR THE PROMISED ALL AGE CAREERS SERVICE ?THE GREAT VANISHING ACT
Shortfall of funding for young people’s careers advice and guidance threatens vision for an All Age Careers Service
The Coalition Government, acknowledged the importance of independent professional Careers advice early on and declared its commitment to establishing an all-age careers service, and committed itself to revitalising the professional status of career guidance practitioners. So far,so good.
Our young people have, to date, been receiving patchy school- based advice, as John Hayes, the Minister, has acknowledged, and it is often delivered by teachers with no appropriate professional qualifications. And, schools have also been accused of not giving impartial advice, as they have a financial interest in keeping pupils on their rolls.
There was much initial discussion, between officials and professionals, resulting in agreement that there should be a greater focus on quality assurance, to help raise the status of the profession and standards and to deliver a partnership model . The essence of the partnership model is that schools provide careers education, while external professional providers offer impartial guidance. However, in the new Education Bill, currently in its Lords Committee stage, the careers education element is being withdrawn .Instead, schools will have a statutory duty, under Clause 27, to provide access to professional Careers advice. But it is up to them to decide how to deliver this ie through a web portal, telephone support, or face to face advice. Crucially, in line with Government policy giving more ‘autonomy’ to schools there will be no funds earmarked for this service in schools. So there will be ,self-evidently, much pressure on them to choose the cheapest option, rather than what is most appropriate for their pupils-which, in many instances , particularly, for the most disadvantaged pupils, will be face to face advice.
It was understood by Careers guidance professionals that to deliver the all age Careers Service ‘vision’ both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education had to cough up funds. However, the two respective Departments have committed very different levels of funding -and there is now a significant funding shortfall . DBIS has committed just over £84m in the year from April 2012, this to be focused on adult guidance. The expectation then, certainly among most stakeholders ,was that it would be complemented, for young people by Department for Education funding, of around £200 million – ie the current notional spending on the careers guidance component of the Connexions service (Connexions services are being drastically cut nationwide) . But it now looks like the DfE will be committing not very much. Indeed, fears are growing that the DFE contribution may be confined, largely or wholly, to the £7 million currently provided for the telephone/web-based services provided by Connexions Direct.
So, for the crucial ‘face-to-face’ services for young people, (in his June speech to ICEGS Hayes only mentioned face to face advice for adults) the Government has indicated that, in future, it expects schools to purchase these services, either from the all-age service or from other providers. Yet, as we have seen, there has been and will not be any discernible transfer of funding for such services to schools. In effect, as Careers England has pointed out, in a briefing for Peers, the new National Careers Service will be funded at the rate of £12 for each adult compared with £1 for every young person . Hardly a beacon of excellence that John Hayes envisages and champions. This doesn’t look very clever , given the current record levels of NEET and youth unemployment. This was decidedly not the initial vision articulated by Ministers – that young people be given easy access to independent, impartial professional advice to help them make informed choices as to their pathways into training and work, from the age of 13. As things stand this “new careers service” will be denied access to any school unless the head invites it in and indeed buys its service.
Good advice, of course, is essential to support the social mobility agenda, so that young people choose the right qualifications and routes into training, Apprenticeships and Higher Education. Too often pupils reach 16 or 18 with qualifications that don’t match their professional aspirations because they have not received good professional advice at 13 and 14.
Professor Tony Watts wrote to the TES earlier this year reflecting the visceral anger of many professionals in the guidance sector. He said ‘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.’ (29 April)
The Bill is still with Parliament so there is time for the Government to come clean and to provide reassurances to key stakeholders, not least young people having to decide on their options in a pretty hostile environment. In the meantime ,during the transition, the wheels are falling off as Connexions partnerships shed professional advisers and schools based advice remains ‘patchy’ to use the Haves description. And the Careers summit to discuss the transition and the future scheduled for 15 July should clearly have happened at least six months ago .