Schools weren’t the only ones frowned upon by Ofsted when it assessed careers guidance. The National Careers Service came in for criticism too and also needs careful consideration, says Stephan Jungnitz.

If you’re working in the commercial sector, perhaps the quickest way to your P45 and the dole queue is to encourage potential customers to go and shop elsewhere.

Colleges and schools compete not just with each other for post-16 students, but with training providers, apprenticeships and the jobs market.

At a time of steep reductions in funding, is it realistic to expect providers to encourage potential students to look elsewhere?

Isn’t it obvious that an independently-funded careers service is needed?

The government’s attempts to ensure all young people have independent careers guidance are woefully inadequate, as Ofsted’s recent report “Going in the right direction – careers guidance in school” concluded.

While its report was critical of provision in schools generally, there was also strident criticism of the National Careers Service (NCS) and its web-based service.

Ofsted’s report suggested the NCS website failed to strike a chord with young people, which isn’t surprising if you’ve looked at it.

If you try to find providers, most schools and sixth form colleges are absent, as are many large FE colleges.

If you search for maths in Cambridge you’ll be presented with courses at the university and FE college mixed in with opportunities in Darlington, Grimsby, Macclesfield and Stockport.

The government has taken the criticism of the website on board in its action plan, pledging to “reshape and reprioritise what is available for young people, schools and employers” and to “explore opportunities to make sure careers professionals and school staff are made aware of resources”.

However, this is a sticking plaster that does not address the crux of the problem.

Replacing personal Connexions advisers with a website clearly is not working. This is a national experiment in careers guidance that is failing.

It might be worth reflecting upon how the current sorry state of affairs has developed.

Connexions was set up in 2000 to provide a national careers service.

It employed staff to give impartial guidance to young people.

Staff had expertise, and there was no pressure to recommend any particular choice post-16.

However, services did vary substantially in quality.

Instead of addressing these shortcomings Connexions was replaced and many of its services discontinued as funding ceased.

When directed by government to focus largely on those students most at risk, Connexions lost the ability to provide proper careers support to all students.

Ofsted reported in 2010 that students in schools with a sixth form were too often unaware of the range of courses and opportunities offered elsewhere, and recommended that all year 11 students receive impartial advice about options.

Of the £105m funding for the NCS last year, most came from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Justice prompting a headline in the national media that read ‘More job cash for jailbirds than kids.’

The Department for Education contributes a paltry five per cent of the budget.

There really should be resources made available nationally for independent careers advice for young people, and in particular for face-to-face discussions with an independent adviser.

It simply is not realistic to assume that schools will be able to do this.

This is a national experiment in careers guidance that is failing

Helpfully, Ofsted published another report in March where it may have identified some resources.

In Local Accountability in Colleges it reported that ‘planning for new sixth forms has not always been sufficiently well-aligned to demand and demographics in the local area’.

It seems that resources are being frittered away on superfluous new provision when they could be used to fund good careers advice for young people.

 Stephan Jungnitz, colleges specialist, Association of School and College Leaders