Sham Consultation- followed by weak Guidance?
What do you think?
Long delayed Statutory Guidance on Careers Guidance in schools has just been published (26 March). The delay suggests differences of opinion between Ministers about how robust and how detailed the Statutory Guidance should be. As Professor Tony Watts points out (see commentary) this delay means that schools have been setting their budgets for the financial year beginning April 2012, without guidance of any kind about the new duty they have to discharge from September 2012, and the financial provision required for this. The final published version of the Guidance does not according to Professor Watts, incorporate any of the substantive amendments proposed by members of the Advisory Group.
Section 29 of the Education Act 2011 places schools under a duty to secure access to independent careers guidance for their pupils in school years 9-11. Careers guidance secured under the new duty must:
be presented in an impartial manner
include information on the full range of post-16 education or training options, including Apprenticeships
promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given.
Schools ‘must have regard to it when carrying out duties relating to the provision of careers guidance for young people’ The purpose of this guidance is to identify the key responsibilities of schools in relation to careers guidance for young people. Academies and Free Schools will be subject to this guidance through their Funding Agreements
The Education Act 2011 inserts a new duty, section 42A, into Part VII of the Education Act 1997, requiring schools to secure access to independent careers guidance (Independent is defined as external to the school) for pupils in years 9-11. Careers guidance must be presented in an impartial manner (Impartial is defined as showing no bias or favouritism towards a particular education or work option )and promote the best interests of the pupils to whom it is given. Careers guidance must also include information on all options available in respect of 16-18 education or training, including apprenticeships and other work-based education and training options.
Crucially the Guidance states ‘ In fulfilling their new duty, schools should secure access to independent face-to-face careers guidance where it is the most suitable support for young people to make successful transitions, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who have special educational needs, learning difficulties or disabilities.
‘Schools may work individually or in consortia/partnerships to secure careers guidance services. Schools can commission independent careers guidance from providers engaged in delivering the National Careers Service or from other providers or individual careers guidance practitioners, as they see fit. Where schools deem face-to-face careers guidance to be appropriate for their pupils, it can be provided by qualified careers professionals.’
Note it says it ‘can’ be provided by a qualified professional rather than ‘must’ be provided.
Professor Tony Watts is absolutely scathing (see commentary) about the Statutory Guidance and the consultation, with the Advisory Group, that preceded the release of the Guidance. He described the consultation exercise as a sham and the document as ‘dismal’ saying -‘It effectively leaves it open for schools to decide not only what they want to do for their pupils in this area, but also whether they wish to do anything of substance at all. Most schools will do whatever they can, because they care for the futures of their pupils; but some will make minimal provision, because they consider that the Government does not require them to do more.’
The Guidance, he claims, largely ignores recent Ministerial assurances over the importance of face to face advice particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils. Watts writes:
‘The Statutory Guidance as published ignores these recent assurances. It offers no means for preventing a school from stating that it has discharged its responsibility bysignposting to a website or helpline. All the school has to do, in the terms of section 13 of the Guidance, is to state that it views such signposting, rather than providing independent face-to-face guidance, as ‘the most suitable support for young people to make successful transitions’. Despite the assurances sought and presumed to be given in the House of Lords, and the statements by Ministers …..the Guidance appears to provide no basis on which a sustainable challenge to such a position could be mounted.’
Watts continues ‘ There is no indication of who is to determine ‘where it is the most suitable support’, or on what criteria. Implicitly, it is left for schools to determine this, on whatever criteria they choose. If they decide that access to independent face-to face guidance is not ‘the most suitable form of support’ for most or indeed for any of their pupils, they are free to do so. No provision is made for young people or their parents to have any say in the matter, in the form of a right or entitlement.’
Watts adds ‘ The statement that such guidance is ‘particularly’ relevant to children from ,disadvantaged backgrounds or with special educational needs can easily be read as implying that it is only relevant to such pupils. The point was strongly made by the Advisory Group in the consultation that this should be balanced with a strong statement about the value of independent careers guidance for most, if not all, young people. No such statement has been included.’
There is genuine anger among many professionals who feel that expert opinion has been largely ignored in the consultation process and that the document doesn’t honour ministers very public commitments. The guidance is seen as too weak and will mean that many schools fail to offer access to face to face advice to those who need it most and that if and when it is provided, it doesnt have to come from a qualified professional.