Ofsted’s careers guidance report pulled no punches in its criticism of schools. Nor did it come as a surprise to many in the FE sector. But now that it has arrived, so has the time to act — and to capitalise, says Ruth Sparkes.

Careers guidance in schools has come in for a rough ride this year from the Education Select Committee and the Mobility Commission — and now Ofsted is sticking the boot in.

Its boss, Sir Michal Wilshaw, is not at all happy with the careers advice that schools are dishing out.

I suspect that for most colleges this hasn’t come as a surprise.

However, the Ofsted report is a fantastic opportunity for colleges to show their mettle and raise awareness about what fantastic advice and guidance services they offer — and perhaps increase recruitment numbers at the same time.

Just days after GCSE results day last month, children’s charity Barnardo’s released a report with similar concerns.

As we know, A-level and GCSE results days are a period of intense anxiety and often distress for young people.

They could even offer advice from a caravan outside schools’ gates — there’s much that can be done”

They’re making what feels life-changing decisions about their futures, especially if their exam grades weren’t as good as they’d hoped.

There is a national shortage of expert advice and Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA) decided to tackle this head-on. It’s a lead that I think other colleges can look at and adapt to their own audiences.

BCA decided that it needed to reach out to young people in ways that made it as accessible as possible.

The college decided to set up a careers shop (literally) in the town’s shopping centre and it wheeled out resident careers expert Victoria Sellens via Twitter; via a Q&A in the local paper; via a national blog; and, of course she manned the careers shop (and just so you know, she’s has had a nice holiday since).

‘I was very nervous about it all,’ she said.

‘I am a Twitter and blogging newbie, but it turned out to be an ideal way of connecting with young people, especially using social media. It is the ideal platform to offer the guidance they need in a friendly and informal setting.’

Now, I suspect those diehards out there are saying: ‘Harrumph – it’s not FE’s job to pick up where schools have failed. We don’t get funded for that … blah blah. Next we’ll be having to offer level two catch-up in English and maths.’

Ahem… Now, I know the excitement and trauma of results’ days are over for another year, but young people need advice and guidance all year round.

So, what’s to be done?

And what can colleges do?

Most colleges already offer good quality advice and guidance to their students and prospective students. Why not open this service up to anyone who needs it?

Colleges could work with their local papers (like BCA did) and offer another very valuable service to young people.

You could contact your local schools and offer your services, or if that’s a non-starter… Colleges don’t have to fight to get into secondary schools, they can use Twitter (BCA used the #AskVicki hashtag); they can use empty shops in their local high street, they can offer drop-in sessions on their campuses to coincide with schools’ home time, or Saturday mornings. They could even offer advice from a caravan outside schools’ gates — there’s much that can be done.

All of this is about offering young people good quality, impartial careers advice. But, why should you?

My first answer to that is because it’s a good thing to do, and, because you can – you have the resources.

My second answer is because you will come in to contact with students who may never have thought about your institution, who may never have even heard about it or even realised that coming to you was an option. You stand a very good chance of increasing your student numbers by doing something good.