Heads hit back after Ofsted slams careers advice failure


An Ofsted report has slammed the quality of careers guidance, calling for action from ministers and schools. However, frustrated headteachers say its findings are no surprise after they were left ‘stranded’ without funding or support. Pete Henshaw reports

The government has promised to revise official guidelines to schools over what constitutes a comprehensive careers advice strategy after its existing guidance was found wanting by Ofsted.

Action is also to be taken to improve the National Careers Service (NCS) after inspectors said it was not sufficiently focused on supporting those aged under 18.

It comes as a survey report by Ofsted into careers guidance in England’s schools found that only one in five schools – 12 of the 60 visited for the study – are effective in ensuring students in years 9, 10 and 11 get a good level of information and advice.

Three quarters of the schools are not implementing their duty to provide impartial careers advice effectively, Ofsted said.

Headteachers reacted angrily to the report this week, saying they had warned the government that the axing of the Connexions service and cuts to funding would hit provision.

Since September 2012, schools have had the legal duty to deliver “independent and impartial” careers guidance for students in years 9 to 11. From this month, this duty extends to year 8 students as well as 6th-formers or college students aged 16 to 18. 

The change came after government cuts led to the closure of Connexions services. However, while the duty has transferred to schools, none of the estimated £200 million cost of providing services has been forthcoming.

Despite this, the Ofsted report – entitled Going in the Right Direction? – finds that “very few of the schools visited knew how to provide a service effectively or had the skills and expertise needed to provide a comprehensive service”.

Inspectors cited a lack of employer engagement, saying that budget restraints and government moves to scrap compulsory work experience had not helped the situation.

The report states: “Links with employers were the weakest aspect of career guidance in the 60 schools visited. About two thirds of the schools reported that they had cut down on their work experience provision for their students in years 10 and 11, for budgetary reasons and because of the recommendation in the Wolf Report.”

Elsewhere, few schools had bought in adequate services from external sources, Ofsted found, with half using their own, untrained staff. Information given to students is often too narrow with many schools criticised for not promoting vocational training and Apprenticeships, especially institutions with their own 6th forms. Inspectors said the 

A level route remained the “gold-standard for young people, their parents and teachers”.

However, the government is also reprimanded for failing to provide sufficient guidance for schools to help them meet the new duty.

The government issued statutory guidance in 2012, but Ofsted found that while the DfE model is “flexible” it “does not prescribe clearly enough the way that schools should provide students with independent and impartial guidance”.

Ofsted includes a number of positive examples of good practice in the report. Where careers provision was good, inspectors said schools had made internal appointments and had staff with full or part-time responsibility for co-ordinating services. 

They also had external advisors and ring-fenced budgets for things like careers events and workplace “tasters”.

However, Ofsted said that few schools were promoting the NCS, the body set up to provide independent and impartial careers advice to young people from the age of 13. But they also found that students felt the NCS website offered “nothing different from other similar sites”, with a majority saying it was mostly aimed towards older students and adults. Teachers said it was too “adult focused to be useful”.

Furthermore, only eight per cent of the parents questioned about the NCS had heard of its telephone support line for students.

Frustrated headteachers this week acknowledged the struggle schools are facing to deliver careers guidance, but stressed that they had been left “stranded”.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Sadly the findings of this report, which reflect the warnings we and many others have consistently given to government, are no surprise to school and college leaders. 

“The duty to provide careers guidance was placed on schools at a time when most existing infrastructure and funding for such provision had been removed. School leaders know how important careers guidance is but have, in many parts of the country, struggled to meet this requirement.”

His counterpart at the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, added: “The infrastructure and funding for independent careers advice has been cut away, stranding schools and letting down young people. Schools need support on careers guidance, access to specialists and a national framework for delivering it. With the best will in the world, schools alone can struggle to track the latest developments in the job market or to be fully impartial about options between ages 16 to 19.”

Ofsted’s report calls on the government to provide more explicit guidance to schools on what constitutes a comprehensive strategy, how to secure independent, external guidance, and how to monitor provision effectively.

Inspectors have also urged the NCS to “market its services more effectively to all young people aged 13 to 18”. It should also do more to “disseminate information on national skills shortages” to give schools and students information on employment opportunities.

And when it comes to schools, Ofsted has recommended they ensure they have a “clear strategy” for careers guidance and make “good use” of the NCS, well-trained staff, careers guidance professionals and employer networks.

Inspectors also want to see vocational routes promoted on a par with academic paths, and say that every governing body should have an employer representative.

As the report was published this week, Matthew Hancock, the minister for skills, pledged that revised guidance for schools would be issued. A government statement said: “Due out in the autumn, the new guidance will be even clearer about what constitutes excellent careers guidance.”

The government has also confirmed that the NCS’s “activities will be extended to improve the careers resources that are available to schools, young people and parents”. 

The statement added: “(The NCS) will use its local networks to bring employers, schools, charities and social enterprises together.”

Elsewhere, Ofsted has also said that its own inspectors should “take greater account of careers guidance and students’ destinations when conducting future school inspections”.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “It is worrying that the new arrangements are failing to provide good guidance or to promote vocational training options and Apprenticeships. Given the high levels of youth unemployment, even among graduates, it is important the government, schools, local authorities and other agencies all work to improve the quality of careers advice in schools.”

Ofsted’s report follows a damning report from MPs on the Education Select Committee earlier this year, who called on ministers to take “urgent action” to stop the continuing deterioration of careers guidance. 

The Committee’s investigation concluded that the “quality and quantity of guidance for young people is deteriorating just when it is most needed”.  

Further information
CAPTION: Work woes: Ofsted says the ending of compulsory key stage 4 work experience had reduced employment experiences for students


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