Is the Government ignoring the needs of the most disadvantaged pupils?
The Government points out that the highest performing education systems are built on a high level of autonomy and the right approach is to allow educational professionals to make the decisions about where to target resources. The principle of schools autonomy is sound. Surely it is best to ensure that Heads and governors are empowered to make the key decisions affecting their schools. School autonomy is the main justification for Minsters approach to Careers guidance in schools. So there should, they say, be no earmarked funds for careers advice and it is up to Heads and governors to decide how best to deliver Careers advice in their schools, whether its by telephone, face to face, or through a web portal.
But this fails to take into account one important point. We live in a world not as we would like it to be, but as it is. Schools have a poor record, to date, in ensuring that their pupils have had access to sound, independent, professional careers advice, with most experts rating it as ‘patchy’ and have a financial interest still in keeping pupils on their rolls, whether or not that is in the interests of the pupils concerned , a fact acknowledged, amongst others, by the Minister with responsibility, John Hayes. He now wants to trust their judgement to ensure appropriate advice, combining this with very weak accountability measures. Professor Tony Watts our leading expert in Careers Guidance has already pointed out the folly of such an approach.
It is also true that Hayes’ approach runs counter to a main thrust of Government policy-that is in supporting disadvantaged pupils, improving their opportunities and encouraging social mobility. Experts are as one is pointing out that if the Government is serious about reducing NEET, Truancy and in advancing the Social Mobility agenda (which I think they are) including ensuring that our most disadvantaged pupils can get access to Higher Education, then it is imperative that pupils, aged from 13 have good ‘face to face’ advice, that is given in context, with the full information available on that pupil and in which proper ‘ face to face’ interaction between the pupil and the professional adviser takes place. This optimises the chances that pupils will be given the best advice to suit their specific circumstances, and reduces as well the the chances of them making silly mistakes ie studying the wrong qualifications for the route they want to choose. It is worth noting that many admissions tutors remain frustrated that pupils often take inappropriate qualifications because either they receive poor advice or no advice at all.
The fact is schools, including those with the most pupils on FSM, will be under financial pressure to opt for the cheapest option -web based advice. True, for some pupils this might be adequate. However, nobody believes, certainly those with whom I have spoken ie those dealing with the most disadvantaged pupils and who are involved with the Inclusion agenda, that web based advice is appropriate for most disadvantaged pupils. As such, the current approach undermines the Governments key focus on improving the opportunities for the most disadvantaged, a worthy policy aim that has widespread support and the current approach is therefore deserving of a radical rethink.
As for school autonomy, it is, as we have said, a sound principle to guide policy. However, Hayes must be aware that under current arrangements schools have some of their autonomy circumscribed in certain specific areas for legitimate reasons (which are built in, for instance ,to their funding agreements, in the case of academies). Schools can do as they please but within certain parameters in order to ensure for instance that equity is safeguarded. It is perplexing that the Government is choosing to pursue a policy that is self-evidently going to harm the interests of the cohort of pupils its education reforms are targeted at, the most disadvantaged, who will benefit most from face to face advice.
According to the ASCL the Advisory Group on the All-Age Careers Service established by the Government has been reconstituted as the National Careers Service Advisory Group. After some discussion at a pre-meeting of the Group where resignation was considered, the lay members present agreed to continue to support this work. But they wish to place their concern in the public domain about the significant reduction in the Group’s remit and in the scope of the new service.