With rising youth unemployment, continuing recession, a bewildering range of career pathways and the introduction of FE loans there has never been a time when it has been more important for young people to have access to high quality, impartial careers information and guidance (CIAG). Yet the last two years have seen massive funding cuts and a period of great uncertainty as Connexions was dismantled.

The Government’s stated ambition for careers guidance is to ensure every young person has access to the independent and impartial support that they need. Its strategy to achieve this has been by legislating in the Education Act 2011 to place a new duty on schools to secure independent careers guidance for pupils in years 9-11 from this September, with a consultation currently underway on extending this duty to young people up to age 18.

ASCL, along with many other organisations, was hugely disappointed when it was announced that the replacement to Connexions, the new National Careers Service, would offer young people only a telephone service and a website.

This means that it is left to schools and colleges to procure face to face guidance from an open and largely unregulated market. The Careers Profession Alliance (an umbrella organisation of careers professionals) has worked hard to put in place standards and qualifications for all careers practitioners together with a national register. However, the fact of the matter is that there is a massive variability in the quality of provision.

With national policies that promote competition between institutions, it is easy to be drawn into unhelpful accusations of self-interest. However, it is in everyone’s interest, not least our young people’s, to get this right.

Improving CIAG is not going to happen through legislation, close inspection by Ofsted or the proposed new destination measure. The reality is that the key to a sustainable solution lies with the leaders of our schools and colleges.

We need to sit down together, learn from the best practice in each sector and engage in honest and frank debate about how we put the needs of the young people in our communities first. In doing so, some will have to face up to the elephants in the room, such as:

• A funding system in schools and colleges which encourages institutions to maximise their intake.
• The existence of competition between schools and colleges and between different FE institutions.
• The creation of additional provision such as UTCs, post 16 free schools and studio schools in areas where there are already surplus places.
• Cases where students in schools are not given access to full information about local provision.
• Aggressive marketing by some colleges.

ASCL and AoC have produced a briefing and statement of good practice which we hope will form the basis for discussion between schools and colleges (www.ascl.org.uk/resources/library/ascl_aoc_joint_paper).

We strongly believe that believe that schools and colleges have a responsibility to ensure that all pupils and students have access to timely, well-informed and impartial careers information, advice and guidance. Young people need to know about all pathways available to them and there are plenty of examples of best practice which can be emulated.

FE colleges have vast experience of providing CIAG. Too often communication between staff within the FE and school sectors is very limited. We would urge staff working in colleges and work-based learning providers to visit schools and host visits from school careers staff. In return we would expect schools to support their careers staff to attend these information sessions.

Likewise, schools should pass on information about students’ progress and attainment to date and any support needs they have. Colleges and work-based learning providers should share information with schools on the progress, achievements and subsequent destinations of their former pupils.

It is time for the leaders of schools and colleges to sit down together and learn from each other in the interests of all of our communities. For our young people, it is the right thing to do.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the
Association of School and College Leaders