The government has been urged to “bite the bullet” and call Ofsted in to inspect careers guidance services after concerns over the quality and objectivity of advice given to young people.

Association of Colleges policy director Joy Mercer said the watchdog should look at careers guidance during school inspections following a report on the subject by the Education Select Committee.

It identified a “deterioration” in advice since the service became the responsibility of schools in September.

Committee chair Graham Stuart MP questioned the advice of schools who, he said, “put their own interests ahead of that of their pupils, restrict access to other education providers and make the filling of their sixth form places more of a priority than their statutory duty to provide independent and impartial advice and guidance for pupils.”

And the dim view on careers guidance was mirrored by Ms Mercer.

“The Departments for Education and Business, Innovation and Skills need to bite the bullet and encourage the regulator to include careers guidance in its regular inspection of schools,” she said.

“The committee has recognised that careers advice must be delivered by qualified staff and schools should hold the matrix standard. This would mirror colleges’ service to their students.”

City & Guilds chief executive Chris Jones said the committee’s report painted a “shameful picture of how the system is failing young people.”

He added: “Receiving ill-informed, inappropriate career guidance can have an extensive impact on young peoples’ lives, and in turn hinder business and the wider economy.

“What we now need are careers counsellors that are given appropriate training to a recognised standard.

“In addition, colleges and training providers must be better linked with local employers and local enterprise partnerships, to ensure young people have access to high quality work experience.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “The committee’s conclusions about the state of guidance in schools are worrying.”

However, a Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said it was too early to judge how careers guidance was delivered with the new system having “only been in place for a term”.

The committee looked at how careers guidance was affected by the Education Act 2011, which saw provision of the service shift from the duty of local authorities and delivered by Connexions, itself described by the DfE as “often costly, patchy and of poor quality.”

The committee heard from a number of education sector big-hitters, including Dr Deirdre Hughes, chair of the National Careers Council, who said there was a potential loss of £28bn to the UK economy if young people were not given the right career guidance.

“We have concerns about the consistency, quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance now being offered to young people,” said the committee report, which said the transfer of responsibility for careers guidance to schools was “regrettable”.

Committee chair Mr Stuart called for the National Careers Service (NCS), which he described as “a great innovation for adults,” to be extended to support schools.

He said: “We found that the quality and quantity of guidance for young people is deteriorating.”

He also called for schools to produce annual careers plans to “ensure they can be held accountable for what they do”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We introduced this new duty [on schools to provide careers guidance] to replace the previous system that was often costly, patchy and of poor quality.

“The duty requires schools to secure independent and impartial careers guidance for their pupils.

“We want head teachers to decide what careers guidance is right for their students and have control over their budgets to provide it. The duty has only been in place for a term — far too early to pass judgment on
its success.”

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Editorial : Advice for colleges

Expecting schools to offer impartial careers advice is unfair and unrealistic.

Sixth forms are part of an increasingly competitive market, in which every 16 to 18-year-old learner represents three to five thousand pounds.

If you were running a business would you promote the competition?

Would government investment in face-to-face professional careers advisers solve this problem?

Perhaps, but schools would still have budgets to protect, and where would this army of advisers come from?

Then there’s the thorny issue of paying for them – what services would have to miss out?

I’m told learners are increasingly savvy consumers, often making decisions heavily influenced by social networks both off and online.

Therefore, in this competitive market, FE providers need to quit feeling hard done by and promote their unique selling points better.

A good place to start would be promoting their success at getting learners into work with training.

Every FE provider website should have easy access to progression and destination data, which is also shouted about in the course prospectus and,
for example, the back of buses.

Expecting schools to refer learners is wishful thinking, you’ll need to
earn them.



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10 Comments

  1. Shane Chowen

    Expecting schools to deliver impartial careers advice is neither unfair or unrealistic. In answer to Nick’s ‘what would you need to scrap’ question, the report cites evidence which says that schools are being asked to invest in IAG services worth about £25,000 which they got for free last year so you’d probably need to sack a teacher or something. It is an outrage that no additional funding for this has gone to schools or LAs.

    Checking to see if schools are indeed procuring these services shouldn’t be difficult to police – but it’s the quality of these IAG providers that concerns me. I hope the occupational standards are up to scratch and there’s some kind of professional registration system up and running. The issue here is as much about the quality of information as its availability.

    As for it being unfair to expect schools to talk about the competition, I argue it’s the opposite. Actively denying young people information about 16+ options is, in my view, criminal. Whose side are you on? Schools are places of education before places of business. At the very least, all of the players in this “market” need a level playing field to start from and if they don’t it isn’t a functioning “market”.

    Nick’s right to point out that young people are increasingly savvy customers. But surely that is another argument in favour of independent and impartial IAG? It doesn’t matter how many posters a college puts on the sides of buses or how many followers it has on twitter or how much data is on its website if the talk of the school playground is “don’t go to the college, it’s substandard” (I’ll leave you to add your own adjective) you have no chance. Your materials need to be in the careers section of the school library and young people should have access to an independent person who knows what they’re talking about, can correct misrepresentations and rumours and whose only KPI is getting young people where they want to go.

    • rathernotsay

      Schools delivering impartial careers advice is great in theory – but I have practical experience in an area where every school has a sixth form, and every sixth form will do everything they can to keep their Students, including cash incentives for Students to return to their sixth form. We know this because the Students who we keep tell us about their experiences of school advice and guidance. I agree it is criminal, but many crimes today go unpunished….

  2. For the past few years we as a niche work based learning provider have attended local school careers events to discuss alternatives to 6th form, apprentices, vocational options. However this year although still invited we are only allowed to advertise and discuss those courses that the school does not offer, thus we can talk about childcare but not Admin or IT! The only people missing out here are the learners! What happened to choice? How much was it quoted that is lost every year due to A level drop offs? Good grief!

  3. Absolutely agree Shane-Nick has obviously bought into the market place theory of education which has no place in any society I want to be part of. Colleges are expected to demonstrate impartial IAG through OFSTED and MATRIX, and they often do, and yes, they do refer to the ‘competition’. Schools can and should do the same, and be inspected on it-it’s their job.

  4. More years ago than I care to remember (probably 17?) if a college published all of their success data schools had to pass it onto their pupils. Being rather savvy to the type of practice in the cartoon where nothing was passed on by schools, or put in their libraries, we resorted to attractive prize draws for returning your contact details to be told of open days. Needless to say this and other intelligence from pupils with parents working at our college proved schools were not passing on information. When the local authority put pressure on them to do so they counteracted by threatening to withdraw from the main careers events. The youngsters of today research using the internet and it would be sensible for government to develop that further and independently. Something like 95% of young people I have interviewed over the last two years interested in apprenticeships were aware of the NAS website, but it did not give them all the information they required about particular apprenticeships.

    The problem with having independent ‘individuals’ is that it can take a couple of years to get them up to speed with everything they need to know, with colleges and employers putting in effort to help them first time, but getting fed up when asked again and again as they they leave and the standard of advice and guidance plummets. Technology is the obvious answer to quick updating and availability of independent information, but in the current climate who would run it.

    So the lack of impartial advice will go on and school sixth forms that are not meeting the needs of many of our young people will continue to flourish and many pupils not suited to A levels will continue to waste another one or two years of their lives.

  5. Lynne Sedgmore

    We really do need to align together to ensure all learners receive the best possible advice and guidance, in their interests, an open and fair assessment f the matter to really as retain the situation can only be a good thing surely?

  6. Marguerite Hogg

    I remember our school careers bod telling my sister she’d never amount to anything and she’d probably end up ‘working on a supermarket checkout’. Very helpful!! Luckily she had the foresight to ignore him and believe in herself and apply for a College course and then went on to university. She is now a HE lecturer but she might not have been if she’d taken his advice!

  7. Rathernotsayeither

    I think saying easy access to destination and progression information would open another can of worms and probably isn’t the whole answer. As far as I know there is no definitive guidance to determine destination (after 1 week?, 1 month?, 3 months?) and no standard formula that governs progression (upward, downward, sideways – all could be progress). So the sector will end up wasting money hiring some whizzy number crunchers to come up with suitably high figures at provider level and the learner won’t benefit at all – Surely it would be better for some standardized process if using these data points is part of the answer.