No Careers Guidance required?
In September schools in England will take over statutory responsibility from local authorities for providing their pupils with independent and impartial careers guidance. Local authorities will remain responsible for ensuring young people are either in education or training, but will no longer be expected to provide a universal careers service.
Many in the careers information, advice and guidance sector believe that the new duty on schools will not be robust enough and are concerned that it can be met by merely securing access to telephone and online advices resources. They have also been left disappointed by the realisation that the much trumpeted all-age National Careers service is anything but, with schools (and indeed colleges) free to commission from whatever source they may choose.
The trouble was the sector took all their signals from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Not from the Department for Education who saw the Connexions Service as another target in Michael Grove’s drive to break the link between schools and local government, and not increasing professionalism, safeguarding the partnership model or establishing an all-age service, however worthy these aims might be.
These concerns may be unfounded as a recent Institute for Guidance survey found schools’ plans for the service to be a “resounding endorsement for face-to-face guidance” with nine out of ten schools planning to use a blend of teachers, visiting speakers and externally commissioned specialist providers. And, despite the concerns expressed telephone helplines and similar self-serviced services were found to be the least popular approaches.
A blended approach would respond to National Youth Agency research which tells that the advice young people receive in schools cover the options they are most interested in. And, while they would welcome a personalised discussion they want that to come from “a trusted adult who knows them well” rather than a careers ‘expert’ and want to meet people actually working in the career they are interested in.
To simply to say, as the sector have been arguing, that the solution lies within a profession operating independently, albeit working in partnership with others, does not sit easily with the fact that despite the considerable investment in the Connexions Service by the last Government, Ofsted, the Wolf report on vocational education and the ACEVO Commission on youth unemployment all report that many young people have a poor understanding of jobs available in the labour or opportunities in further education and what they need to do to secure them.
Regardless of your view on the reforms themselves the situation is challenging as schools have suddenly been allocated a new responsibility to procure a service which they had previously received free of charge losing not only support from Connexions but also Education Business Partnerships. School autonomy means that schools will have to solve these problems largely on their own and, importantly, out of their existing budgets.
Many schools are not starting from a standing start, as they may employ Careers Co-ordinators or careers professionals to deliver services and, it does seem from the Institute of Careers survey that schools are willing to pay for careers guidance. But when it is competing for funds with a range of other services not to mention staff budgets it remains to be seen whether they will have enough funding to secure the kind of support that will reasonably meet the needs of their pupils.
The current spending cuts to local authority general and specific grants has, already adversely affected careers services within schools ahead of the transfer. And, within the reforms and the changes in the funding streams it has been widely acknowledge – though not by the Government – that £200 million that had previously been used to pay for career services (in schools) has not been passed onto schools.
That dedicated funding has found its way into the general schools grant, as was the case with schools sports funding, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review negotiations but not its presentation. So Ministers can claim that school’s central grant has been relatively protected. Consequently funding has not just been pruned in line with cut elsewhere in public expenditure, over which there has been much debate, it has been allowed to vanish altogether without any public announcement. So schools have been passed a legal duty to provide a service for which they previously receive for free and not obligated to provide with no funding.
Whether schools will have enough funding to make a difference in part is dependent upon the market coming up with products and services which are more benefiting the new environment, affordable and have an increased focus on effectiveness. Simply cutting down the current service offer to size might not offer schools the best way forward. Providing value is more likely to be achieved by conceiving career support as part of a school’s broader flexible staffing needs, targeting pupils who require more support and collaborating with other sources of capacity including local employers and volunteers.
Whatever the argument, and given the current dire situation on youth unemployment and NEETs the loss of £200 million is so clearly a false economy, which cannot be explained away with the funding and support through the Youth Contact and the Work Programme for a Government who claim to be interested in prevention rather than cure. That is not to say that all was perfect in careers advice provision for young people, before. The current problem has its roots in around 2004. But neither the Government nor the profession have come up with convincing solutions, with the Government serving up a simple transfer of functions, as reform. What is lacking, aside from funding is:
– The lack of a strategic vision for careers services for young people at a time when, it is most needed and when schools should see it as central to their job to prepare all their pupils for progression towards work;
– The Government has failed to properly explain the rationale for repealing the requirement on schools to provide careers education, which does not logically sit with the transfer of careers information, advice and guidance to schools;
– The reforms do nothing to encourage schools to work in an essential partnership with local authorities in discharging their respective duties, not only local authorities’ duty to encourage, enable and assist young people participation in education and training but also their role in economic development and regeneration; and
– When the evidence tells us that not only young people want more contact with employers in their education, but that it increases their chances of not only getting a job, but a good one, it is time for business and employers to step up to the plate to create a high quality offer for work experience, business education and apprenticeships which, far from exists today, but is badly needed.This post is based on a Local Government Information Unit member briefing by Mark Upton, LGIU Associate, and Consultant at Public Policy Strategies (www.publicpolicystrategies.co.uk)