Careers advice worse at schools with sixth forms

Schools with sixth forms have been exposed as failing to provide students the same level of careers advice as schools without sixth forms, with experts concerned competition for pupils amid stagnating funding is fuelling the situation.

Exclusive analysis for FE Week shows schools with sixth forms are 16 percentage points less likely to give students information about other further-education or higher-education providers.

They are also 20 percentage points less likely to offer personal careers guidance to pupils than those without sixth forms, the Careers & Enterprise Company analysis found.

It is not the first time schools with sixth forms have been called out for restricting careers information for their students – however, the new data is the most wide-ranging to date.

Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said the government must increase the funding rate for 16 to 18-year-old learners, which is frozen at £4,000 per pupil, so sixth forms aren’t desperate to keep their pupils.

He added that competition for pupils is “not a situation that is going to lend itself to impartial advice and guidance”.

Colleges report schools with sixth forms being “reluctant to allow them to address their students at open evenings”, Mr Watkin added.

The education select committee warned five years ago that schools with sixth forms were “putting their interests ahead of their pupils” by restricting their access to other education providers to fill their own post-16 places.

Now the CEC has collected data from 2,937 schools and 355 further-education institutions for its 2018 State of the Nation report to see if they meet the eight Gatsby benchmarks, which are markers of excellence in careers advice.

Analysis seen exclusively by FE Week reveals a higher proportion of schools without a sixth form met every benchmark than schools with a sixth form.

The difference was especially pronounced for the seventh benchmark, which measures students’ “encounters with further and higher education”.

Only 46 per cent of schools with a sixth form met this benchmark, compared with 62 per cent of schools without.

The gap was even wider for the eighth benchmark on “personal guidance” – only 53 per cent of schools with a sixth form met this, compared with 73 per cent of schools without.

It comes despite schools being required under the Technical and Further Education Act to follow the Baker clause, which states schools must allow training providers and colleges to offer year 8-to-13 pupils non-academic routes.

Further analysis on the seventh benchmark showed only 45 per cent of schools with a sixth form gave students “meaningful encounters with further-education colleges”, compared with 78 per cent of those without sixth forms.

However Kevin Gilmartin, post-16 and colleges specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, warned the benchmarks don’t always measure “informal advice” offered by schools with sixth forms.

The CEC report also found the best-performing areas for the Gatsby benchmarks were in deprived communities including Hull, the Isle of Wight and Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, possibly because they “prioritise careers support” to improve social mobility.

Overall, schools and colleges are achieving 2.13 of the eight Gatsby benchmarks compared with 1.87 last year. Meanwhile, the proportion of schools and colleges not achieving any benchmarks has fallen from 20.6 per cent to 18 per cent.

But only 21 schools and colleges are achieving all Gatsby benchmarks, added the CEC.