The careers guidance shambles


Only the government is pretending that current arrangements for careers guidance are satisfactory, argues Mark Baker.

The quantity and quality of careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) are poorer just when teenagers need more help to navigate ever-changing qualifications, heavily-promoted Apprenticeships, a multitude of university courses, and break into a difficult labour market.

Only the government is pretending that the current arrangements are satisfactory. Its attempt to save money and cut public spending may actually cost more if it creates a “lost generation”.

It is not all bad news. Some careers education is excellent, but a young person has no guarantee that this will be the case where they are. Careers education should be about more than just getting a job. It should guide decisions about subject options and qualifications, develop rounded individuals and boost skills such as decision-making and the capacity to persevere. In an ideal world it would be embedded in day-to-day teaching, through the curriculum.

In an ATL member survey on CEIAG, just five per cent thought the government’s changes have improved CEIAG. And members highlighted a striking gap between the willingness and capacity to provide CEIAG. While seven in 10 said their school or college is willing to provide support, only half felt there was an ability to do so. Only a third said colleagues had the knowledge to provide CEIAG, just 29 per cent said they could call upon the resources needed, and almost six in 10 said teachers and lecturers did not have sufficient time to provide CEIAG.

For young people the outcomes can be devastating – be it youth unemployment, uncertainty about the future, insurmountable nervousness about making applications and attending interviews, or simply having low confidence and no obvious role-models. For politicians with family connections and elite school networks this must be difficult to relate to.

Many young people who really need support are being badly served. Following recent government reforms in SEN provision, schools need to support transition planning for students with SEN from year 9 at the latest, ensuring they have sufficient information to make informed choices. But without a national careers service and with no additional funding to provide this support, SEN pupils’ futures are at great risk. Our survey said CEIAG is particularly weak in suitability and effectiveness for a diverse range of people.

If saving money was the government’s justification for tearing apart the careers service, then it should think about the economic costs of a weaker one. In this year’s Good Careers Guidance report for the Gatsby Foundation, Sir John Holman suggests good careers guidance could be funded with less than a one per cent increase in a school’s budget – and that if one pupil is prevented from becoming NEET, the savings to the Exchequer would provide good careers guidance for 280 pupils.

Later this month, ATL is hosting a seminar looking at whether there is a moral demand to support and fund effective CEIAG. In my view, the moral case, coupled with the economic case is compelling.

Our education manifesto calls for policy-makers to promise excellent careers education. This means equal access to thorough, face-to-face support and advice from a range of professionals and employers. The isolated examples of good working relationships across professional and sectoral boundaries must become widespread so that effective CEIAG is a national entitlement, delivered locally, and not a postcode lottery. This requires facilitation and incentives from government, financial resources and serious, sustainable commitment from all involved whether employers, careers professionals, local authorities, youth offending institutes or teachers.

The transition from school to further and higher education and the world of work relies upon an effective careers service and it is also essential for improving the life chances of all young people.

  • Mark Baker is president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit



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