Careers Guidance – Cinderella of Education

3 Jan

I           Schools falling short on careers guidance

On 15 October 2014 the Sutton Trust published a report commissioned from Derby University, called Advancing Ambitions which looks into the role of career guidance and its relationship to social mobility. The report suggests that young people are being subjected to a “postcode lottery” with quality career support available to some but not others.

In his Foreword, Deputy Chair of the Sutton Trust, David Hall, rues the decline in good careers guidance in secondary schools, which is impairing the futures of young people, especially those who come from the lower echelons of our society. This is mainly due to the poor quality career advice they are receiving at schools and academies.  As a consequence, their chances of becoming upwardly mobile are severely diminished.

In the 1970s, the Careers Service worked very successfully in partnership with schools.  At the turn of the millennium, Connexions replaced the Careers Services and the provision was weakened, according to the Sutton Trust report.  The problems were exacerbated in 2011, when the coalition government decapitated Connexions and transferred responsibility for careers advice to schools.  The government’s statutory guidance was weak and there were few or no additional resources to give schools the wherewithal to do the business.  They were expected to discharge this additional function mainly within existing resources resulting in a decline in the quality and quantity of career guidance to young people.  Notwithstanding, some youngsters continue to have better careers guidance than others. This had led to a postcode lottery.

The National Careers Service has an overarching responsibility for ensuring that young people are given a lift into their futures.   However, all it appears to do is provide web-based advice and a telephone hotline.   The report recommends that the remit of the NCS be extended to offer specialist advice to schools and students where and when required.

The Sutton Trust has also called on the government to frame stronger statutory guidance, improved accountability and access to real work experience.  The charity is concerned for all students but most especially those who find it most difficult to become socially mobile.   They observed that some teachers had deep-seated misconceptions of elite (Russell Group) universities and were unwilling to recommend to their (financially poorer) students – even the brightest – that they apply for them.

Teachers, apparently, were also lacking in awareness of the apprenticeship scheme.

The University of Derby academics make 10 recommendations most of which are directed at the government.  They are to do with strengthening the legal requirements.  The report also urges the government to make more resources available to schools.  However, the sixth recommendation is directed at schools and colleges who are requested to develop and publish (on their websites) their policies and plans on career guidance to demonstrate that they meet their statutory responsibilities of apprising pupils, parents and employers with information about their schools’/colleges’ activities.

II          Stakeholders critical of government

Training providers have criticised the government for not going far enough to promote apprenticeships.  The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) – an arm of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (DBIS) – announced on 26 November 2014 that for the academic year 2013/14, 851,500 funded apprentices participated – a small decrease on 2012/13.  Altogether, 440,400 young people took up apprenticeship for the first time during the academic year 2013/14 – down from 495,100 in 2012/13, a decrease of 13.7%.  However, there was an overall increase in apprenticeship achievements to 255,800 and 10,400 traineeship starts for the full year.

In late summer 2014, the government began a campaign urging young people to “Get in. Go far.”  But when the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) asked delegates at their autumn conference 2014 how many had been contacted by employers or young people as a result, none responded. Stewart Segal, chief executive of the AELP stressed that the government’s attempt to motivate employers and young people to create and take up more apprenticeship places through a government website would be fruitless until and unless its representatives followed this up with visits to the employers.  He added that the government should put more resources into helping training providers and colleges to coordinate follow-up action with employers.

Nick Boles, the Skills Minister, admitted to the TES that he had already been apprised by officials about what was happening.   However, he thought that the “most important point is that the campaign is directed at young people and their parents.  It is not aimed at the sector.”

A spokeswoman for the DBIS added that the early findings arising from the campaign were encouraging with more than 700,000 views of the advertisement on YouTube and a “significant” increase in the number of visitors to the apprenticeship website.   Further television and press advertising is planned for 2015.

Jennifer Coupland, deputy director of the DfE/DBIS apprenticeship unit observed that the government was still on course for two million apprenticeship starts by the end of the life of the current Parliament.  However, the Sutton Trust had the last, jeremiad statement on the subject with an observation that fewer than 20% of employers offered apprenticeships and a fifth of small firms could not find a framework to meet their needs.

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