Action is long overdue to tackle careers guidance crisis

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Yet another report has laid bare the crisis in careers advice services. Pete Henshaw says action is long overdue.

It is depressing and disappointing that yet another major report into careers advice services across England has highlighted key problems with the availability and consistency of provision for young people (see news pages).

These issues have been raised repeatedly during the past few years – ever since, in fact, the government decided to cut funding for the national network of Connexions centres and instead ordered schools to fill the resulting black hole in careers advice without any additional funding.

Since then, there have been numerous reports, all damning, compiled by a range of organisations and bodies, including MPs on the Education Select Committee, Ofsted inspectors, the Confederation of British Industry, the Gatsby Foundation, IPPR and others. This most recent report has come from the National Careers Council (NCC), which itself has previously raised similar concerns in other reports published since its inception.

The question now is: How many more times do we need lengthy investigations producing in-depth and damning reports before ministers take notice and take action?

A year ago, I wrote about the careers situation in this very column (see http://bit.ly/WN0prE). That editorial was sparked by Ofsted’s report into careers advice.

Then, inspectors found that many schools were failing to deliver effective, independent and impartial advice to pupils in years 8 to 11, as they are required to do by law. 

It seems that nothing has changed. The NCC report says that action to tackle the careers advice crisis has been too slow and highlights the continuing lack of consistency in services for young people – it calls for a “culture change”. 

A key finding of the NCC report – although again by no means a revelation – is the huge variation between different areas. It is clear that some schools and some areas have developed incredibly effective strategies to deliver good, independent careers advice to all students. This best practice needs to be spotted and spread as a matter of urgency.

However, we cannot blame schools for the national picture. With no additional funding, they have been stitched up. 

Effective careers guidance is one of the most crucial responsibilities that an education system has – it ranks alongside quality teaching, exam preparation and pastoral care in terms of its importance. (I have said this before in this column too.) However, despite this fact, schools have been told to deliver this most vital of services without any additional resource and with very limited and often vague guidance.

The government has invested in the National Careers Service (NCS) to the tune of £109 million a year, but this is adult for careers advice. And we have seen notable success in this area, with more than 1.3 million face-to-face career sessions taking place for adults in 2013/14. But it remains the case that the NCS’s face-to-face services are not targeting young people, who have to make do with telephone lines and a website. Furthermore, young people’s use of these online services are in decline, with the latest figures showing that just 27,400 took part in NCS calls and webchats in 2013/14.

The NCC report, like others before it, has called on the government to provide “urgent support”. A good starting point for ministers would be to augment the £4.7 million set aside to fund the NCS online services for young people and to expand its remit to allow it to offer its face-to-face services to anyone who needs them. It has long been an issue that the remit of the NCS is focused almost solely on adults, giving it no licence to go after young people aged below 19. If the government acted to change this, schools would be hugely supported. There needs to be much firmer links between the NCS’s expertise and resources and our schools.

As I said a year ago, schools do need to do better and the best practice that is undoubtedly out there needs to be spread, but let’s be clear – ministers must also up their game as well.

To quote my editorial from last September: “We have dumped schools in at the deep end and they are sinking fast. And sadly, the longer the careers catastrophe continues, the more damage we are doing to our young people’s career prospects and the future economic success of our nation.”

I just hope I am not saying the same thing again this time next year.


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