Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training - Education Contents

5  Careers services

141. A great deal of the written evidence submitted to our inquiry stressed the importance of good careers guidance for young people if they were to be able to make suitable choices for learning while in compulsory education or training.

142. At present, schools have a duty to provide pupils with "a programme of careers education ... during the relevant phase of their education": that phase lasts from the start of Year 7 and lasts until the end of Year 11.[245] Careers guidance services, as opposed to careers education, are provided for young people by Connexions services: these have been funded, since April 2008, by local authorities. Section 68 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 safeguarded this provision by placing a duty on each local authority to make available to young people "such services as it considers appropriate to encourage, enable or assist the effective participation of those persons in education or training".

143. Connexions services have provided careers guidance to individuals alongside wider support services targeted, in general, at more disadvantaged groups; and some Connexions services have been more successful than others in discharging these two duties equally successfully. The final report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, chaired by the Rt Hon. Alan Milburn, stated that "throughout our work, we have barely heard a good word about the careers work of the current Connexions service", and it concluded that the focus on the minority of vulnerable young people was distracting Connexions advisers from offering "proper" careers guidance to the majority.[246]

144. In the light of these criticisms, the Coalition Government has decided to transfer responsibility for career guidance for young people to schools. The Education Bill contains a duty on schools to provide pupils in Years 9 to 11 with "independent careers guidance", to be presented in an impartial manner, and including information on options for education or training at the ages of 16 to 18. Schools are otherwise free to determine how to fulfil the duty, and the Department says that "this approach recognises that education professionals are best placed to make arrangements for careers guidance that fit the needs and circumstances of their students".[247] Ministers intend that the duty should come into force from September 2012. At the same, time, schools would be relieved of the duty to offer a programme of careers education.

145. In parallel, the Government is developing proposals for an all-age careers service, to be known as the National Careers Service, funded jointly by the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. John Hayes MP, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, explained his intentions for the all-age careers service at a speech at the Institute of Careers Guidance's annual conference in November 2010:

    A single, unified careers service would provide major benefits in terms of transparency and accessibility. And a single service with its own unique identity would have more credibility for people within it as well as users than the more fragmented arrangements that are currently in place.[248]

Professor Tony Watts, Life President of the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling, told us that the all-age service was "one of the things which this Government has got right", in that it would professionalise and strengthen services.[249] The Government's intention is that "as much as possible" of the all-age service should be in place by September 2011, although it will be April 2012 before the service is fully established.

Services during the transitional period

146. Neither the duty on schools to secure career guidance nor the all-age careers service is therefore in place; yet the Connexions career guidance services which they would replace are already being cut back by local authorities seeking savings as a result of tighter budgets. The £311 million total in-year reduction in 2010-11 in Area-Based Grant, from which Connexions services are funded, led to service reductions from September 2010 in some areas and further closures or reductions from April 2011.

147. This dramatic shrinkage of careers advice services is taking place even though local authorities' statutory duties, described in paragraph 142, remain in place until the new services are established. Indeed, the Department for Education reminded local authorities in April 2011 that they continued "to play a crucial role in the provision of support to young people up to age 19", as set out in section 68 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, and that the Early Intervention Grant would support their transitional responsibilities.[250] The Department also made clear that there was no expectation that local authorities should provide universal careers services once the all-age service had been established and the duty on schools had commenced.

148. It is arguable that the reductions in Connexions services in some areas are of such a scale that local authorities could be deemed to be failing to meet their statutory duties. Unison has claimed that only a quarter of local authorities in the south-east, for instance, were meeting their obligations, and it has hinted that it might take legal action against some of them.[251] We recognise the difficult financial circumstances in which local authorities find themselves. However, the sharp reduction in the availability of career guidance services for young people outside schools is damaging and should not be allowed to continue. Any reductions in Connexions services should be proportionate, and local authorities should respect the duty imposed by Parliament. The Government should assess local authorities' compliance with their statutory duties and should not hold back from taking legal action, if necessary, to ensure compliance.

Long-term provision of face-to-face careers advice for young people

149. There is unease about the quality of career guidance services available to young people even once the all-age service and the duty on schools to secure independent advice are in place. It appears that the Department for Education's funding contribution to the all-age service is designed to cover only the provision of online and phone services for young people transferred from Connexions Direct, and that face-to-face services will be offered by the all-age service only to people aged over 18.[252] Funding for Connexions Direct in 2010/11 amounted to about £7 million,[253] whereas funding for the career guidance services provided through Connexions is estimated to have been nearer £200 million.[254] Professor Watts concluded that the estimated £200 million allocated by the DfE or its predecessors for face-to-face career guidance services in previous years was simply "being allowed to vanish".[255]

150. The duty on schools, meanwhile, does not amount to a duty to provide face-to-face services; nor is there any identifiable enhancement to school funding specifically to recognise the cost of career guidance services.[256] Professor Watts told us that in the two countries which had so far enabled commissioning of careers advice services by schools (New Zealand and the Netherlands), there had been "a significant erosion in the quality of the help that was available and its extent"; but in both cases, funding had at least been transferred to schools, which is not to be the case in England.[257]

151. Some written submissions were apprehensive about schools' abilities to ensure that guidance was impartial. The fear is that schools, however legislation is worded, will provide it in such a way that pupils are encouraged to stay at school post-16, even though it might not be in the child's best interests. The Association of Colleges noted "powerful financial incentives for schools to retain their pupils",[258] while LEACAN was more critical and described the Government's proposal as "a high-risk strategy, when perverse incentives such as league tables, school autonomy and funding methodology will cause some schools to prioritise the needs of the school above those of the learner".[259] There is evidence that young people themselves do not believe that the careers guidance which they received in school was impartial.[260] Witnesses had experience or knowledge of schools resisting approaches by employers to give career guidance. Bill Sutton, Operations and Development Manager at SEMTA, spoke of employers who had "been rebuffed" and who had not been given access to schools; and Jane Connor, representing Kwik-Fit Ltd, also reported that the firm had been turned away from schools.[261]

152. Professor Watts pointed out that other stepping stones between school and work were being removed. The Government has decided to end the statutory duty on schools to provide all young people in Key Stage 4 with work-related learning;[262] funding for Aimhigher[263] is being withdrawn; and the duty on schools to provide a programme of careers education (as opposed to career guidance) for pupils in Years 7 to 11 would be removed by the Education Bill now before Parliament.[264]

153. The new requirement for schools to secure impartial careers guidance is well-intentioned, but schools have a history of seeking to promote their own interests.[265] Mr Doel suggested that Ministers were planning to trust schools to carry out a duty without taking steps to verify what was happening, and he was concerned that changes were being made without any way of establishing whether they were succeeding in their aims. He envisaged a role for Ofsted in evaluating schools' compliance with the proposed statutory duty, although he recognised that this would be resisted by the Government.[266]

154. We note with interest the Department's response to a recent Parliamentary Question asking what plans it had for inspecting the quality of schools' career guidance services. The Department replied:

    The revised school inspection framework will have a sharp focus on the quality of teaching, backed by excellent leadership and management, and good discipline and behaviour. Ofsted will consider outcomes such as pupils' achievement and progression rather than inputs such as the type or amount of careers guidance. The introduction of new destination measures will ensure that schools are held to account for the way in which they support their pupils to progress to higher levels of education and training, or into employment. The Government have also accepted the recommendation of the Careers Profession Task Force to ask Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of careers guidance as a means of identifying excellent provision and establishing a baseline for future policy development.[267]

155. The Department seems content to rely upon destination measures and thematic reviews by Ofsted to ensure the quality and impartiality of career guidance services in schools. However, years will elapse before age 19 destination measures are available for children receiving career guidance in schools from September 2012; and we do not see how those measures will identify or isolate poor careers guidance as a factor in low achievement at 19.[268] We believe that there should be some form of clear accountability measure for the quality, impartiality and extent of career guidance services in schools. We recommend that Ofsted school inspections should, as part of the pupil achievement strand within the framework for inspection of schools, assess specifically whether schools are meeting their statutory duty to secure the provision of independent and impartial career guidance.

156. Professor Watts told us that "we used to have a careers service for young people, and all we had for adults was a strategy—an IAG framework. What we now have ... is a careers service for adults, and a very loose IAG framework for young people".[269] Online career guidance, which allows young people to explore at their own pace and according to their own interests, is valuable; and we heard praise for the online careers services offered by DirectGov.[270] However, this is no substitute for personal advice, given on the basis of an understanding of a young person's circumstances and ambitions. We recommend that the all age careers service should be funded by the Department for Education for face to face career guidance for young people. Even if this is not essential for most, there will be some who are not in school or who do not have confidence in services provided in a school setting, but who nonetheless need or seek professional advice. Indeed, these may be people who are in greatest need of what the all age careers service can offer.

Age from which career guidance services must be provided

157. The effect of the Education Bill as it stands is to specify that schools should provide careers guidance to pupils from the start of Year 9 through to the end of Year 11. However, the Government indicated in a memorandum to the Education Bill Committee that the Secretary of State would extend the duty to cover people over the age of 16 and up to the age of 18 attending schools[271] and further education institutions.[272] The Government intends to consult on the proposal, and that consultation will begin in the summer.[273]

158. The Education Bill Committee considered an amendment which would in effect have extended the duty to children in Years 7 and 8. The Minister argued that personalised guidance was "unlikely to be of huge benefit before the age of 13, because the first major decision point relates to post-16 options", although he noted that schools would have the freedom to make their own decisions about "how to introduce their pupils to the world of work". On that basis, he agreed to extend the remit of the Department's forthcoming consultation to include a proposal for the duty to apply additionally to children in Year 8.[274]

159. There was some support in evidence to our inquiry for careers guidance to be offered at an earlier stage of a child's schooling. Caroline Blackman, Head of Organisational Effectiveness at Laing O'Rourke, recommended that children should receive careers advice from the start of secondary school, at which point relevant aptitude and "hands-on" skills were beginning to become apparent. She argued that "if you don't open their minds at an early age, what success looks like is purely academic for them".[275] Professor Watts thought that career guidance should be available from the age of 13 "at the latest".[276]

160. As we noted much earlier in this Report, loss of interest in an academic curriculum and lowering of aspiration often occurs earlier than Year 9. For these children, good career guidance could help to retain their focus on learning by linking study to destinations which have more immediate appeal. We note that the Minister appears to accept that there is a case for extending schools' duty to secure career guidance so that it applies to pupils from Year 8 onwards, and that he will include the proposal in a wider consultation this summer. We have taken limited evidence on this issue and have not been able to test the case thoroughly; but we see value in the provision of career guidance to school pupils from the start of Year 7. We recommend that the Department's consultation on the age of pupils for whom schools should provide career guidance should be extended to examine the case for the statutory duty to apply to pupils in Year 7.

245   Education Act 1997, section 43 Back

246   Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, July 2009, page 75 Back

247   HC Deb 28 June 2011 col 765W Back

248   See Back

249   Q 210 Back

250 Back

251   Children and Young People Now ,19 April 2011 Back

252   See HC Deb 22 June 2011 col 93WH Back

253   Information supplied by Professor Watts Back

254   Based on information supplied by Professor Watts. The total allocation for Connexions services in 2010/11 was £467 million. A study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2006 indicated that around 42% of allocations for Connexions was spent on career guidance services, as opposed to the more holistic advice service provided for young people in need. Back

255   Q 205 Back

256   HC Deb 29 June 2011 col 889W Back

257   Q 205 Back

258   Ev 74 paragraph 21 Back

259   Ev w29, paragraph 21. See also memorandum from London Councils, Ev w40, paragraph 17 Back

260   Raising the Participation Age: Developing an Engaging Offer to Young People: summary of research by the National Youth Agency in partnership with the Local Government Association, April 2011. See  Back

261   Q 142 Back

262   Wolf Review of Vocational Education - Government Response, page 12 Back

263   A programme to widen participation in higher education Back

264   Q 205 Back

265   See for instance memorandum from Hull College Group, Ev 89, paragraph 3.3 Back

266   Q 207 Back

267   HC Deb 28 June 2011 col 762W Back

268   See Professor Watts Q 208 Back

269   Q 211 Back

270   Annex 1: note of a meeting with students from Brooke House Sixth Form College  Back

271   Only those types of school listed in the proposed section 42A of the Education Act 1997, to be inserted by the Education Bill Back

272, E86 Back

273   HC Deb, Education Bill Committee proceedings, 29 March 2011, col 715 Back

274   HC Deb, Education Bill Committee proceedings, 29 March 2011, col 715 Back

275   Q 140-1 Back

276   Q 211 Back

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Prepared 19 July 2011