Almost certainly not according to the experts
‘Schools now have a legal duty to secure independent careers guidance for all 12-to-18 year-old pupils. They can choose the type of careers advice they offer: for whom and by whom, whether by telephone, through a web portal, or face to face. All this is in line with the government’s drive to make schools, and their decision-making, more autonomous.
The only problem is, it isn’t working: rather than getting careers advice more appropriate to their local job market, many pupils are now forced to make do with advice that’s barely up to scratch. In early March, business secretary Vince Cable triggered a row when he said that teachers weren’t even in a position to give good careers advice. The teaching unions reacted angrily to his suggestion that their members were unfamiliar with the world of work – but few seem to have a response to suggestions that they can’t do the job the government has handed them.
The range of providers from which schools are now buying services includes local authorities, private careers guidance companies, sole traders and new social enterprises. Elsewhere in the market you’ll find education business partnerships, which offer schools integrated careers guidance or work-related learning support services, as well as FE colleges and universities, all selling careers guidance services to schools.
At present, though, relatively few schools are buying in face-to-face careers guidance from an external specialist careers provider. Even those which are commissioning services are buying fewer days than they had received before.This matters, because schools’ own efforts don’t seem to be up to scratch. A 2012 Careers England survey found that there was a postcode lottery in both the quality and the scope of careers guidance on offer to pupils. Overall, what’s more, provision was deteriorating.
A range of other organisations have also expressed concerns about the quality of schools careers guidance. Ofsted has found that three out of every four schools they had visited had not been delivering an adequate service. The CBI’s John Cridland has said that “careers advice is on life support in many areas”. As for Parliament, the Education Select Committee said in 2013, “We have concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people.” In February, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that schools were to receive new statutory guidance on what was expected from them in providing careers advice – hardly a ringing endorsement of the status quo.
None of this has surprised the guidance profession. Its members had warned ministers from the outset that, with no additional funding allocated to schools to pay for this new duty, many were likely to pick the cheapest, rather than best, option for their pupils. There were no prescribed quality standards, nor even a recommended professional guidance qualification; and the accountability framework was weak to non-existent. In short, schools do not need to account for the quality of careers advice they offer their pupils. The result is a growing perception that the government is marginalising careers professionals and careers education in schools.
In the past, there’s been an overarching consensus that young people need access to high quality, independent careers education and guidance: to make the right choices for them, to manage the transitions from one stage of their education to the next, and to ensure they have access to information on the local job market. There’s been a consensus, too, that all this is best delivered by an independent, qualified professional, and to come with embedded contributions from employers. Some experts have argued, plausibly, that the delivery of interlinked government policies – improving social mobility, reducing exclusion and NEET figures, filling the skills gaps or improving the opportunities and access for disadvantaged pupils – all stand a better chance of success if young people have easy access to good advice.
But not everyone agrees. Education secretary Michael Gove is on record as doubting the need for “a cadre of careers advisers”. He recently claimed that the new guidance, due out this month, is “all about cutting out the middle man and getting inspirational speakers in front of students to spark their ambitions”. The line seems to be that young people need inspiration, not just information. But does Gove really believe you can cut out the careers advisers in favour of employers? Few doubt the importance of employer engagement, but they and careers professionals have important complementary roles. Young people need access to both.
When the government introduced its overarching National Careers Service as part of the 2012 reforms, many hoped that this would be the organisation tasked with ensuring that no one fell through the guidance net. That, though, has turned out to be a re-branded careers service for adults. For those under 19, access is limited to its website and telephone advice service. NCS has no remit to provide face-to-face careers guidance to young people, no remit to work with schools, and no funding for services to young people beyond its online and telephone facilities.
The government has a number of possibilities open to it. Radically tightening up accountability measures with some additional funding targeted on careers guidance is one option. Bolstering the NCS, and extending it to providing face-to-face careers guidance in schools, possibly with regional contracts, is another. Or perhaps schools could be required to employ their own qualified careers advisers, responsible for providing face-to-face careers guidance to pupils, with teaching staff planning and delivering programmes of careers education.
But one thing is clear: carrying on as things are today is not an option.
(Published in Education Investor- March 2014 Edition)