The Minister Lord Nash, responding to a PQ in the Lords on Careers Guidance this month, said there is clear evidence that if one relies on face to face careers guidance that this is a very ineffective strategy. Most studies have concluded ,he intoned, that the best careers advice comes through activities with employers, and there is evidence that five or more employer engagements during secondary school means that students are seven times less likely to be NEET. Really? Come again. Does the Minister truly think that face to face careers advice from a trained guidance professional is ineffective- and that the best careers advice comes from employer engagement and that this engagement is the same as professional careers guidance ? The alarm bells are ringing! If he does then the careers strategy will be a dogs dinner, marginalizing professional advisers and yet another missed opportunity. And , guess what, its the most disadvantaged students who will suffer the most. (talking evidence, its disadvantaged students who benefit the most from face to face professional guidance)
Employers are not trained in giving guidance. Giving information is not the same as guidance. At a time when the guidance sector is focused on improving quality assurance, for guidance professionals , Ministers want to send lots of employers into schools. So where is the quality assurance in this process? Do they have the right skills? Do they have the knowledge base ? Are they good communicators? Have they worked with young people before? Do they know the routes into different professions, outside their own sectors and the qualifications required.? Will they be impartial and disinterested , or will they promote the merits of their company sector or profession? Would they know what a facilitating subject was ? Where are their guidance qualifications? In short, Where, on earth is the quality assurance in this engagement process? Ministers endlessly quote the same one piece of research which they manage to fundamentally misunderstand and misuse about the importance of employer engagement. To base policy on such a narrow and selective evidence base will lead to poor policy design and ultimately a hopeless strategy. .Nobody suggests that its only about careers advice from professionals. This has to be combined with (quality assured) employer engagement, of course, careers education ie equipping young people with the tools to make informed choices ,and high quality work experience.
Ministers though are stuck on one track. Employer engagement with schools, and, err, that’s about it. They should adhere to all the Gatsby benchmarks on careers guidance, one of which, number eight as it happens, covers personal face to face guidance from a trained professional. Rather than specifying a particular model it said ‘ , the indicator for our benchmark is that the interview should be with an adviser who is appropriately trained to have the necessary guidance skills, the knowledge of information sources and the essential impartiality to do the job.’ It continues ‘ This person might be an external adviser (the professional association for career guidance practitioners, the Career Development Institute, maintains a register of qualified practitioners), or might be one or more trained members of the existing school staff, whose careers role could be part-time or full-time. School leaders told the authors of the Gatsby report that they thought personal guidance important because it:
– Tailors advice to individual needs;
– Can direct pupils towards the information sources of most use to them, and the actions most relevant to them;
– Can (and always should) give impartial advice that has only the pupils’ interests at heart.
The authors stated ‘Alongside our evidence from international practice, there is research evidence that personal guidance has an observable impact on young people’s careers and progression.’ So Ministers should stop cherry picking. Stop cheery picking both the empirical evidence and the Gatsby benchmarks. Otherwise the Careers strategy will be dead in the water..