Resignations ‘won’t hit’ council work

The resignations of two members of the National Careers Council amid accusations that it was watering down recommendations to appease the government have been described as “regrettable”.

Heather Jackson and Professor Tony Watts walked out around a month before its first report was due to be published.

However, council chair Dr Deirdre Hughes said their resignations would not hit the report’s release or investigations.

“The resignations are regrettable, but will not affect the council’s ongoing work and its report, which will be launched on June 5,” she told FE Week.

The duo’s damning resignation statement said the report — a draft of which was presented to Skills Minister Matthew Hancock this month — proposed a rebalancing of funding that allowed the Department for Education (DfE) “to escape its responsibilities”.

They claimed the report suggested adult funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which they claim funded the National Careers Service (NCS) with £83m in contrast to £7m from the DfE, might be used to pay for young people’s careers guidance.

They also criticised the report for failing to reference an Education Select Committee report critical of careers guidance services, and for not containing any proposal to boost “very limited marketing” of the NCS.

Their statement said these and other issues were left out to appease the government.

“We ultimately view this as a craven argument for a purportedly independent council to adopt,” it said.

“We are also deeply concerned about the way in which the report has been produced.

“The ‘rebalancing’ proposal, for example, was never discussed in any meetings of the council, and only emerged in a draft circulated three days before it was due to be submitted to the minister.”

Their statement added: “We asked for a postponement of the meeting with the minister, to enable the council to discuss the proposal in a considered way: this was refused. In our view, this is a totally inappropriate way for an independent council to operate.”

The resignations were raised when Mr Hancock appeared before the Education Select Committee on May 16. Committee members questioned him about the duo’s NCS funding concerns.

“Will the minister reassure us that the DfE is committed to supporting the work of the NCS properly? Will the DfE realise the opportunity that the NCS provides to ensure that we have an all-ages, competent, re-professionalised careers service?” said committee member Graham Stuart, Tory MP for Beverley and Holderness.

Mr Hancock said: “The funding issue has been raised many times. Times are, of course, tight for funding, but the central point is that the legal duty to secure independent and impartial advice in schools needs to be delivered from the schools budget.

“Schools have a whole budget to deliver this, not just the £7m the DfE put into the NCS.”

The council was set up by former Skills Minister John Hayes around a year ago to review careers policy at the Skills Funding Agency; the UK Commission for Employment and Skills; BIS; DfE; and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Members have since been involved in a number of investigations, including the Richard Review of Apprenticeships and Lord Heseltine’s report on UK economic growth. They have also given evidence to the Education Select Committee.