Schools with sixth forms are giving students biased advice and restricting the access of colleges and training providers, according to a report by the 157 Group.

The policy paper, titled ‘Information is not enough: the case for professional careers guidance’, calls for more schools and colleges to offer impartial guidance, as well as face-to-face careers advice from a specialist.

It states: “The lack of impartial advice and guidance in many schools with sixth forms has been well documented over the years and is acknowledged to be a major problem in many communities.

“As more schools acquire sixth forms, and thereby a perverse incentive to restrict the awareness of the full range of options for their students, the problem will get worse.”

The 157 Group says they are concerned how the Department for Education (DfE) has removed earmarked funding for the careers service and left securing careers guidance down to the discretion of individual schools.

The report states: “While some schools will no doubt provide an excellent service, it is equally probable that many will not; and a school based system will never be able to relate systematically with provision for adults to provide a seamless service for users at each stage of their learning journey.”

Sarah Finnegan-Dehn, President of the Institute of Career Guidance (ICG), said: “The recent changes in the way careers support in schools is organised put at risk the chances of many school leavers in the future to have the help they need to help them understand the different progression routes including opportunities in FE, the up and coming jobs of the future, the implications of their choices in terms of jobs and to really understand their own potential.”

The DfE has admitted that current careers advice is “poor quality” and “patchy”.

“We make no apologies for giving schools responsibility for providing independent, impartial careers advice,” a DfE spokesperson said.

“They know their students best – so it’s right they should decide what provision is right and that they have complete control over their budgets to buy in the support that pupils need.”

The spokesperson added: “Young people need good quality careers advice – but the sad fact is that too much provision at the moment is poor quality and patchy.

“We are due to consult shortly on expanding this duty on schools and colleges for pupils up to the age of 18.”

The 157 Group says cuts in entitlement funding for schools and colleges is making it increasingly difficult to fund visits, work experience and high quality guidance for learners

The report adds that while many learners will appreciate the online and telephone services offered by Learndirect and Next Step, most will want face-to-face contact to be able to interpret the information available to them.

“Although we are supportive of Next Step, we are still pushing for an entitlement to face-to-face careers guidance for people of all ages, as this is what we feel makes a real difference to achieving effective IAG with positive outcomes for all,” said Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director of the 157 Group.

The report says cuts in local authority funding are causing a huge loss in the number of qualified advisers, and that school pupils are often ill-informed about the qualifications they are achieving.

Steve Higginbotham, Immediate Past President of the Institute of Career Guidance, said: “With the demise of Connexions and major reforms to the careers service taking place at a time of rapid economic change, we fear that many young people will lose the option of face to face guidance, and that services for adults will not be able to meet the demands placed upon them.”

(The report can be downloaded from the 157 Group website here


Lynne Sedgmore Q&A

Q) The report says many schools with sixth forms are restricting the access of colleges and other providers. Is this a new issue?

Unfortunately we understand there have always been examples of restrictions on access, intentional or otherwise, but there are also examples of strong partnerships in existence and we encourage more schools and school sixth forms to work in collaboration with colleges and other providers. It would be speculation to say whether this has grown into a much larger problem, but of course with recent policy changes and challenges, the climate is much more competitive out there, so it is understandable, if not helpful to learners, that institutions would want to protect their own interests.

Q) If a school pupil is ill-informed about the currency of the qualification they are receiving, how will this affect their progression into FE?

It is inevitable that this would affect their progression into FE or into any other pathway that they desire to break into, and in some cases individuals would not be able to enter a course for which they thought they had qualified. This is why in our paper we argue for the importance of impartial guidance around qualifications and options. Early prevention and the flow of effective IAG from school days and beyond improves the chances of progression into further and higher education as it keeps learners engaged with the curriculum and system.

Q) Is the role of face-to-face support, either from qualified staff or advisers under threat?

This is under threat for young people but it is of paramount importance. Although we are supportive of the government’s Next Step and Learndirect services, this is not enough if we are to take seriously the issues around effective careers education and guidance. For many people face-to-face support is much more accessible, personal and encouraging than over-the-telephone services.

Q) Do you think the National Careers Service will solve some of these problems? Does it have the capacity to cope with FE?

We need to be optimistic about the National Careers Service. With the support of key stakeholders we think it does have the capacity to work with FE and to help solve some of these problems for adult learners. We are more worried about the loss of services for young people as in a changing and complex landscape, we need more than ever accurate information, advice and guidance to be made available via a professional workforce.

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