Many of the problems facing careers advice and guidance in schools stem from government policy and not a lack of knowledge among teachers, it was claimed this week.
It comes after the business secretary Vince Cable said that teachers “know absolutely nothing about the world of work”.
Speaking to manufacturing industry executives last week, Mr Cable said that successive governments had failed to get careers advice right but that teachers, particularly in the secondary sector, were an “underlying problem”.
However, a commentary on the careers situation, released by the University of Derby last week, highlights a range of other issues that are hampering the delivery of effective services. It identifies the abolition of the national Connexions network, the axing of statutory requirements for work experience, a lack of funding for schools, and delays in government guidance as key problems.
At the same time, school leaders and teachers have accused Mr Cable of “passing the buck”, saying that government cuts have led to thousands of careers advisors being laid off.
Schools were given the statutory duty to deliver careers guidance after the government axed the £200 million a year it cost to run the national network of Connexions careers services.
Since September 2012, schools have instead been responsible for giving “independent and impartial” guidance to all students in years 9 to 11. Last year this was extended to year 8 pupils as well as 6th formers. However, none of the £200 million has been forthcoming to support schools to meet the new duty.
The University of Derby has published a number of papers on careers policy and developments with the latest, commissioned by Careers England, being issued last week. A statement published alongside the report acknowledges “many problems with how careers guidance in schools is delivered”, but adds that many of these “have resulted from recent government policy”.
It continues: “This has included the abolition of the Connexions careers advice service, the loss of statutory duties for career education and work experience, and the fact that schools have been asked to take on this new role with no funding or advice.”
The report also argues for the role of careers professionals to be placed at the heart of services. Dr Tristram Hooley, reader in career development at the university, said this position would “provide support to young people, help teachers to understand how their subjects link to the world of work and facilitate employer contributions to schools”.
This week’s debate comes after a number of high-profile reports have criticised careers provision. In September, Ofsted found that only one in five schools are effective in ensuring students get a good level of advice, while in January last year, members of the Education Select Committee said the decision to transfer the careers duty to schools was “regrettable” and that “urgent action” was needed to reverse a decline in services.
In June, the National Careers Council found that the lack of direct links between the National Careers Service (NCS) and schools had become a “major barrier” and called for the government to expand the NCS remit to help tackle the fragmentation of services. A key issue has been that much of the NCS is aimed at adults, with those aged under 18 only having access to a website and phone line.
Teachers and school leaders this week accused Mr Cable of “ignorance”. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “It is in fact this government that removed the Connexions career advice service and replaced it with websites and a phone line. Thousands of school careers advisors have been laid off during Mr Cable’s time in office.”
She added: “Schools and colleges need the funding to employ appropriately qualified staff to provide face-to-face advice and guidance to young people.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Vince Cable is speaking from ignorance. Many teachers enter the profession from other careers and all are deeply engaged with the world their students will enter. They do everything in their power to guide students and to get employers into schools.
“This rather feels like Mr Cable passing the buck: the current government has dismantled careers guidance services. How much longer will we blame schools for the ills of society while withdrawing the resources they need to do something about it?”
The University of Derby report also criticises delays to revised statutory government guidance. It states: “The revised guidance was intended to be issued before Christmas, but has been persistently deferred. The delays have meant that the new statutory guidance has not been available to inform crucial decisions being made within schools about their budgets for the next school financial year.”
The report stresses that we are entering a “pivotal phase” in the careers services debate. It states that while ministers are now arguing that adequate careers support can be provided exclusively by school engagement with employers and people at work, others, including the Education Select Committee, are stressing the complementary role of careers advice professionals.
Dr Hooley urged the government to provide greater clarity. He said: “We need a clear statement from government that schools should support young people to think about and plan for their futures. Such support should include the involvement of a careers professional, subject teachers, employers and other perspectives from outside the school.”