AoC survey finds schools providing ‘poor, limited or no access’ to vocational options

Schools with sixth forms are restricting pupils’ access to information about alternative education options, according to a new study.

The survey, conducted by the Association of Colleges (AoC), shows half of schools which have their own sixth forms are providing GCSE pupils with “poor, limited or no access” to information about courses available in their local FE or sixth form colleges.

However, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the report only shows one side of the story and believes schools and colleges should be working with each other.

Nevertheless, the AoC study is being presented to the Department for Education as a benchmarking analysis of advice and guidance in schools.

It comes after the AoC and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) last week called on Ofsted to grade careers guidance as part of their inspections.

The study also found:

  • Schools without sixth forms were much more open to providing pupils with access to information than those with sixth forms.
  • Where schools were providing pupils with limited access to information, the most regular problems were: restricting pupils’ access to college liaison officers, refusing to distribute prospectuses and barring pupils from attending college ‘taster’ events.

The study will be repeated later this year, say the AoC, to assess whether the new duty on schools to secure independent advice and guidance, as set out in the 2011 Education Act, improves the range of information given to pupils.

Joy Mercer, director of education policy at the AoC, said: “We can see from this initial study that there is a long way to go to ensure all pupils have access to information about the post-GCSE options available to them, including apprenticeships and other vocational options.

“In giving young people access to the widest possible range of information about their post-16 choices we make sure the right students are on the right courses, improve success rates, help tackle youth unemployment, minimise the number of sixth form drop-outs and save the taxpayer money.

There’s never been a more important time for young people to have access to high quality, impartial guidance.”

“So we welcome the new duty on schools to provide impartial and informed careers advice, but we’re putting a marker in the sand now.

“We will see whether the situation improves later in the year after the guidance which accompanies the new Education Act comes into force.”

However, Mr Lightman was disappointed to find that schools had not been consulted when the survey was conducted.

He said: “It only shows one side.

“Schools will have a perspective and many schools are trying very hard to find the right level of impartiality and work well with their local colleges.”

Mr Lightman also revealed the ASCL is currently working with the AoC on a “guidance document” for school and college leaders which will “highlight the best practice” for both parties. The document is due to be published in mid-April.

He said: “There’s never been a more important time for young people to have access to high quality, impartial guidance.

“It’s very important that both schools and colleges work together in the interests of young people. Where things aren’t working well, we think the solution is for the schools and the colleges to work together to find the best way to work with this.”

He added: “The new requirement will not make it easy for schools. There are still many uncertainties about what will be available.”

New College Swindon principal Graham Taylor said his college is “generally barred from presenting to and interviewing pupils” at some schools and academies with their own sixth forms because they are seen as “a major threat” in their area.

He said: “This is unfair on students, who should have the freedom of choice to move on at 16.

“Making an informed choice implies freedom of access and information. This is simply not the case in many parts of the country.

“We would welcome any government intervention which would help the learner obtain the information, advice and guidance they need about all available options.

“If Ministers are keen on competition they should encourage a level-playing field.”

Gordon Marsden MP, the shadow minister for FE, described the survey as “a wake-up call to government, emphasising how much more the  Department for Education has to do to make IAG a reality for all students post-11” in any setting.

He said: “It’s crucial for personal fulfilment, economic growth and successful access to apprenticeships that more young people have proper vocational pathways available to them.

“The failure of ministers to put dedicated funding into support will inevitably blight the impact of the new All-Age Careers Service about to be introduced.

“The government needs to listen urgently to the warnings of career professionals and those who teach secondary students in all settings and give both encouragement and proper funding to them in the new careers set-up.”