Don’t confuse the Baker clause with actual careers guidance

17 Oct 2021, 6:00

Media reports about the Baker clause fail to understand it’s only one part of the careers guidance picture, writes Janet Colledge

There is much that’s positive in the move to strengthen the teeth of the Baker clause.

Coming from working-class stock, I particularly see the value in high-quality skills and technical education. I meandered into university by way of college rather than via A-levels. And I’m well aware that schools and society at present seem to value the university route over technical.

So I’m strongly behind any move to ensure that young people hear about all routes into working life, and as such, I welcome the Baker clause, which requires schools to do this.

But media reporting seems to conflate meeting the Baker clause with “you’ve done a great job in delivering careers guidance”.

Headlines such as “Baker’s back: could schools be sued for careers advice?”, or “Careers advice law change among three DfE amendments to Skills Bill” seemingly enforce this erroneous view.

But sorry, I have to tell you, it’s just not true. 

Twenty-first century careers guidance consists of multiple aspects. This is a natural consequence of the profession adapting to the changes in the working world.

We no longer leave school, get a job and stay in it for many years before retiring. We now change careers on average five to seven times in a lifetime. This has necessitated different, many-pronged approaches to career preparation.

It’s like someone trying to drink from a hydrant without a cup

In other words, the Baker clause when properly delivered ensures that all young people get information about all the routes open to them after their GCSEs. What it won’t do is provide careers advice or guidance or help them to make the decision. 

Think of it as like asking somebody to drink from a hydrant, with water gushing out at top speed, and what’s more, they don’t have a cup. There’s too much to make sense of.

Every training provider must recruit and, as such, has (an albeit well-meaning) bias. Every employer that visits a school has his or her own experience and the advice they give will be coloured by this.

The Department for Education’s own statutory guidance says advice given should be in the best interests of the child. Young people must be able to process the information they are given, and this requires two things:

1. A good-quality careers learning programme

To make sense of all the information students will be exposed to, and to be able to filter and make sense of it, a proper careers programme is crucial. Students must gain the skills needed to apply the knowledge they gain from the providers to their own situation. 

This aspect of careers learning can be demonstrated through the Gatsby benchmarks established by the Gatsby Foundation.

2. A trained careers coach

Young people also need access to good-quality careers guidance from what used to be called a “careers adviser”.

They’re not called that nowadays – “guidance professionals”, “coaches” or “counsellors” tend to be the terms used now. This reflects the extensive training they receive.

The DfE statutory guidance says that guidance professionals in schools should be qualified to level 6, post-grad level or above.

The career guidance profession uses theories of career development that are backed by academic rigour, plus coaching and psychological techniques to support those they work with.

They also undertake regular CPD which enables them to keep up to date with current labour market information, course information and dozens of other factors that could impact on a young person.

This helps students make a well-informed choice about their pathway, instead of a “stick a pin in a map and see where we end up” approach.

So to sum up, the Baker clause + careers programme + professional careers advice = careers guidance. 

If you want to know more about what really good careers guidance looks like in a college or school, have a look at the Quality in Careers Award. The DfE strongly recommends it.

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