The government has pledged to act over careers guidance problems in schools but, asks Martin Doel, is it going to do enough?

Not many of us can have been surprised by the conclusions of Ofsted’s report on careers advice, but that doesn’t make it any less of a concern. Nor does it mean the report should be ignored by ministers and officials at the Department for Business, Innovation
and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education (DfE).

For those of us across the education world who warned government in 2011 that the careers advice clauses in the then-Education Bill were weak and ill thought through, we can now see the results.

Schools are under a statutory duty to secure advice from a careers service dominated by funding from the government department concerned with adult skills — BIS.

But some schools are not securing independent advice at all.

The law isn’t ideal, but changing legislation is time-consuming and often difficult so we need remedies now.

Let’s be frank about this, the DfE contribution to the NCS has been extremely disappointing”

Ofsted produced some very sensible recommendations, some of which were accepted immediately by DfE, including the need to update the statutory guidance.

But I fear that, yet again, we are going to take a few tiny steps towards assuring good guidance when what we actually need is a step change.

That is why we have launched a campaign, entitled Careers Guidance: Guaranteed, with four simple aims.

They surround firstly, inspection. Ofsted should inspect and report on the quality of careers guidance and on whether staff delivering that advice are qualified.

This would be an improvement on the new Ofsted handbook which states only that inspectors should check, “how well leaders and managers ensure that the curriculum provides timely independent information, advice and guidance to assist pupils on their next steps in training, education or employment”.

We think this could be much stronger and the provision of careers advice should be a limiting grade.

Secondly, we want to see local career

‘hubs’. Colleges, job centres and local councils should work together to ensure there is such a hub in every area.

Everyone should then know where they can go to get advice about local career options and available courses.

We also want sign-posting to the National Careers Service (NCS).

All colleges and schools should have a widget on their websites linking to the NCS website, making it as easy as possible for young people to find their way online.

But even this is essentially a 20th Century answer to the problem. We also need to think of cleverer ways of using internet search engines for a wiki generation.

Our fourth aim is the most difficult to achieve politically because it involves money. But let’s be frank about this, the DfE contribution to the NCS has been extremely disappointing.

In 2012/13, Michael Gove’s DfE gave £4.7m to the NCS, compared to £85m from BIS, £14m from the Ministry of Justice and £1.5m from the Department for Work and Pensions.

As an organisation seeking to influence Government we are, of course, very aware of the challenging public funding situation and the fact that DfE is focusing on school funding, often to the detriment of funding for the education of 16 to 18-year-olds.

So, it is not without some hesitation, but absolute certainty of its value, that I state our fourth aim as for DfE to match-fund BIS with regard the NCS.

The NCS will be able to provide a better service to school pupils, ensuring fewer end up not in education, employment, or training; and that fewer drop out of education at the age of 17 after poor choices at 15 or 16. It could also be that more that more pupils become apprentices.

Simply asking keen employers to speak to classes of 14 and 15-year-olds will help widen some horizons, but will not by itself address systemic problems in ensuring careers guidance: guaranteed.

 

Martin Doel, chief executive, Association of Colleges