Careers guidance for young people: The impact of the new duty on schools - Education Committee Contents

3  Coherence and consistency

Current provision

36.  We called for evidence on the overall coherence of the careers guidance offered to young people. Most witnesses interpreted coherence to mean the consistency—in terms of both the quality and amount of guidance—of the offer to young people across different settings and areas. The most common response was that there was no consistency in the careers guidance offer made to young people: a phrase that we heard continually was that it was a "postcode lottery", or even "more random than a postcode lottery",[40] with the extent and quality of the offer to young people varying not only between local authorities but also between schools. David Andrews, an independent education consultant who specialises in careers education and advice, explained that "the careers guidance a young person receives will depend largely on what his or her school chooses to make available and buy in."[41] London Councils argued that: "as more schools commission providers directly from the careers guidance market, it is likely that there will be a lack of a coherent offer available to young people attending schools in the same area and borough."[42]

37.  The Department for Education should encourage local authorities to promote greater consistency in the provision of careers advice and guidance in their areas so that, while there is room for innovation and variation, all young people have access to good quality, independent and impartial careers guidance, regardless of where they live or which school they attend.

Government guidance

38.  One way of encouraging greater consistency is through central guidance but, in keeping with the philosophy of greater school autonomy, the DfE's statutory guidance states that "The Government's general approach is to give schools greater freedom and flexibility to decide how to fulfil their statutory duties in accordance with the needs of their pupils" and that it is "for schools to decide the provision to be made available, based on the needs of pupils and the opportunities available".[43] Schools are only expected to "have regard to" the guidance.[44] Similarly, the practical guide aims to "offer additional practical information that your school may wish [emphasis added] to draw on when interpreting your new responsibilities and deciding on the most appropriate forms of independent careers guidance for your pupils."[45]

39.  The Government's approach to issuing guidance received a mixed welcome from witnesses to our inquiry. Although we heard that schools had found the guidance useful—in particular the practical guide[46]—a number of criticisms were made, including that the guidance was too permissive and did not go far enough in enforcing standards.[47] For example, David Walrond, Principal of Truro and Penwith College, was concerned that earlier drafts of the guidance were firmer on the need for schools to allow access to alternative providers for post-16 education.[48] This is not explicit in the published version.

40.  We welcome the publication of the statutory guidance and practical guide for schools. However, the statutory guidance is seriously weakened by its permissive tone and the practical guide can be disregarded by schools, should they so wish. The fact that the guidance for schools is spread across two separate documents further diminishes its impact and authority.

41.  We believe that Government could do more to promote consistency in the offer to young people through central guidance. We note that the Minister was not opposed to the proposition of combining the two documents into one, if there was "broad consensus around that".[49] We consider that this would help to encourage consistency between what was offered in different schools and different areas, and therefore we recommend that the statutory guidance and practical guide be combined in a single document. References to "statutory guidance" in the rest of this report should be taken to mean this unified document.

Approaches to collaboration

42.  It was put to us by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers that "the collaboration of all key stakeholders and delivery partners in shaping integrated CEIAG [Careers education, information, advice and guidance] [...] is crucial".[50] In considering coherence and consistency, we looked particularly at collaboration between local authorities and schools and collaboration between schools.


43.  There are differing views on the ways in which local authorities are working to support schools under the new statutory regime. The Local Government Association identified the support of schools as part of the new role for local authorities in assisting the delivery of careers guidance for young people. London Councils suggested that the role of the local authority should be to broker "relationships between schools, providers and employers".[51] The NASUWT went further in arguing that the local authority acting as a third party to buy in services could "help to maintain an economy of scale that will otherwise be lost."[52]

44.  This is played out on the ground in what the Institute of Career Guidance told us was "a diverse and sometimes confusing range of practice" across the country.[53] Some local authorities are leading on the establishment of partnerships with schools; others are restricting their involvement with the provision of careers guidance services to their duty towards targeted groups.[54] The DfE drew attention to the example of local authorities which were "drawing on their expertise to offer services to schools on a traded basis".[55] It also highlights in its practical guidance a case study from Blackburn with Darwen, where careers guidance services have been commissioned in a partnership between schools with the support of the local authority.[56]

45.  We visited Bradford Metropolitan District Council which is one of a small number of local authorities commissioning a careers guidance service for schools that wish to buy into the arrangement. The Council has procured careers services for 29 of its 32 schools.[57] We were told by the Council that this approach had "ensured that we are able to both target our resource at those most in need whilst retaining a consistently good level of universal provision for all participating schools and FE colleges."[58] A similar model is being used by Gloucestershire County Council.[59]

46.  We commend the efforts made by some local authorities to support their schools in taking on the new duty, particularly by working with them to form consortia and partnerships to procure independent and impartial careers guidance. We recommend that the Government's statutory guidance is strengthened to emphasise the benefits of this approach. We also recommend that the Government promotes the activities of the best performing local authorities so that best practice can be shared.


47.  We also heard evidence of schools working together to realise the benefits of economies of scale. We were told by Robert Campbell, Principal of Impington College that "clusters and consortia of schools are increasingly working together" to commission services.[60] Heather Morris from Thamesmead School explained that her school is working in a consortium of six, which together have bought in a careers adviser to work across all of the schools.[61]

48.  The DfE has recognised the advantages of school consortia in commissioning of careers guidance services and highlighted in its practical guidance two examples, in Sutton and Slough.[62] We note, however, that the statutory guidance does not actively encourage schools to form consortia or partnerships, stating only that "Schools may [our italics] work individually or in consortia/partnerships to secure careers guidance services."[63] The practical guide similarly advises schools that they "could [our italics] consider forming a consortium with other local schools and education and training providers to commission a shared, independent, expert resource."[64]

49.  We conclude that a collaborative approach to commissioning careers guidance services has many advantages for schools, particularly in promoting consistency and quality and in realising economies of scale. We recommend that the statutory guidance is strengthened better to reflect the benefits of this approach.

40   Ev 91 Back

41   Ev 163 Back

42   Ev 114 Back

43   Statutory guidance, DfE, para 3 Back

44   Ibid. Back

45   Practical Guide, DfE, introduction Back

46   Practical Guide, DfE Back

47   Ev 104, Ev w163 Back

48   Q 25 Back

49   Q247 Back

50   Ev w2 Back

51   Ev 114, Ev w125 (also Ev w171) Back

52   Ev w63 Back

53   Ev 104 Back

54   Ev 163 Back

55   Ev 80 Back

56   Practical guide, DfE Back

57   The total cost of the contract is around £2.3million, made up of £290,000 contributed by schools and FE colleges and a further £2.01million from the local authority. The latter amount includes £500,000 to provide a high needs intensive support service as part of the youth service. Back

58   Ev 188 Back

59   Ev w163 Back

60   Q 116 Back

61   Q 123 Back

62   Practical Guide, DfE Back

63   Statutory Guidance, DfE Back

64   Practical Guide, DfE Back

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Prepared 23 January 2013