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

6  Quality of careers guidance

75.  The quality of careers guidance provided in schools was raised as a concern by many witnesses. This was expressed in terms of the form the guidance takes, its independence and impartiality, the limitations of those providing guidance and quality assurance.

Forms of guidance


76.  The vast majority of the evidence presented to us, from a variety of witnesses, suggested that face-to-face guidance was an essential part of any careers offer.[104] The Careers Sector Stakeholder Alliance outlined the findings of an Institute of Careers Guidance (ICG) survey which found that 98% of schools thought face-to-face guidance was either 'very important' or 'quite important'.[105] Of all forms of support available, face-to-face guidance from an independent careers adviser remained the most popular choice.[106]

77.  This was reinforced by the young people whom we met individually and by their representative groups:[107] one of the North Tyneside Youth Council's recommendations to us was that young people should have more opportunities to have face-to-face meetings with professional advisers.[108] Centrepoint argued that "for those with no parental support, poor literacy or other support needs, face-to-face support is crucial to help young people fully understand their options".[109]

78.  This unequivocal response in support of face-to-face guidance added to concern about the future provision of such guidance in schools. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) cited a survey of its members in 2011 which indicated that while 42% were still making face-to-face guidance from a qualified professional available to any student in need of it, 30% were extremely concerned about their capacity to meet the new requirements. ASCL believed that the provision of face-to-face guidance was likely to decrease and commented that "it is hard to see how such an entitlement could be universally honoured in the future".[110] In oral evidence, ASCL's General Secretary, Brian Lightman, explained that although he did not think there should be a "sheep dip"[111] approach to face-to-face guidance, where all pupils have an interview whether they need it or not, he did believe that access to it should be available to all.[112]

79.  The DfE statutory guidance states that schools can choose to secure access to face-to-face guidance where they believe it to be the most suitable option for the young person but it does not suggest that they should always do so. The Minister confirmed that it was his view that that "face-to-face with a professional careers adviser is not always and in every circumstance necessary".[113]

80.  As mentioned previously, we recommended in our Fourth Report of session 2010-12 that the careers service should provide face-to-face career guidance for young people.[114] Our view on the necessity of face-to-face guidance has not changed.

81.  Access to face-to-face guidance is an integral part of good quality careers guidance. All young people should have access to such provision from a qualified, independent provider, should they choose to take up the opportunity. We recommend that a minimum of one personal careers interview with an independent adviser who is not a teacher should be available for every young person and that this is made explicit in the statutory guidance.


82.  Online sources of information are a useful addition to the range of tools available to young people. However, as currently configured, the NCS website and other similar sources of information do not provide a replacement for a well-integrated schools careers programme. Several witnesses expressed concern at the limitations of online information.[115] Their number included the NASUWT who told us that "computer-delivered interventions and other counsellor-free approaches are the least effective".[116]

83.  Concerns centred on the sheer amount of information available as well as the way in which it is presented. Navigating a way through online careers information was likened by Dr Deirdre Hughes, Chair of the National Careers Council, as "drinking water from a fire-hose".[117] Young people—even those who described themselves as "tech-savvy"—spoke to us about the difficulties of finding the right information and of working their way through the vast number of available websites. Other witnesses raised concerns about the quality and impartiality of some websites and young people's ability to interpret the information on their own.[118] Heather Morris, Careers Co-ordinator at Thamesmead School, told us that websites are:

a useful source of information, but they cannot give guidance because you are relying on the student engaging with that information, sifting it, sorting it and, however good their careers programme is, they will not necessarily be able to extract the information that they need from that.[119]

84.  Fears were expressed that, despite the shortcomings of online information, many schools would rely upon websites to provide the independent and impartial element of their careers provision.[120] Witnesses were disappointed that the statutory guidance and practical guide issued by the DfE did not make it explicit that a referral to a website was not sufficient to meet the statutory duty to provide independent and impartial guidance.[121]

85.  When questioned about the use of websites, the Minister praised the National Careers Service website as a source of information. He also described the Government's new website for young people, Plotr[122], as "brilliant" and "exciting".[123] The Minister acknowledged that websites alone were insufficient but, in contrast to other witnesses, he considered that the guidance was clear that "pointing to a website is not enough".[124]

86.  Websites are a valuable source of information about careers for young people. They cannot, however, replace face-to-face guidance, nor are they sufficient in themselves to fulfil the requirement on schools to provide independent, impartial guidance. To ensure that schools do not over-rely on directing their students to websites, we recommend that the Department for Education amends the statutory guidance to schools to make it clear that the signposting of independent websites is insufficient to meet their statutory duty.

Independence and impartiality

87.  Evidence pointed to inherent problems in passing the responsibility to schools to provide independent and impartial guidance, because of a conflict of interest between that of the school and that of the individual learner. In an environment where schools are anxious to retain student numbers in post-16 provision, it may not be in their interest to advise students to study elsewhere.[125] The main reason for this was competition for pupil funding. As Robert Campbell, Principal of Impington College explained to us:

you do have this tension [...] in schools between wanting a healthy vibrant sixth form so that your numbers are sustained and your school continues to be successful, and, on the other hand [... ]doing the right thing for the children.[126]

This drive for "bums on seats"[127], as it was described by one oral witness, has led to schools with provision up to the age of eighteen facing, at times, a conflict between the interests of their learners and the school's interest in trying to keep learners with them because of funding.[128]

88.  This tension is particularly acute where there are alternative education providers "in competition" for the funding. The DfE statutory guidance says that schools have a responsibility to act impartially and recognise where it may be in the best interest of some pupils to pursue their education in further education colleges or UTCs. It requires schools "to establish and maintain links with local post-16 education and training providers, including further education colleges and work-based education and training providers".[129] Despite this, we heard evidence from a number of sources, including in oral evidence from the Principal of Truro and Penwith College, that schools with sixth form provision tend to restrict access to their pupils by rival post-16 providers.[130] A survey of colleges carried out by the Association of Colleges in March 2012 found that only 18% reported having significant access to school pupils to inform them of the courses they offer. 74% of colleges said that schools would not even distribute their prospectuses.[131] The ASCL, in their written evidence, agreed that "an increasingly competitive environment has increased tensions between institutions".[132]

89.  This creates a conflict for many teachers as well in performing the new duty to provide independent and impartial guidance. A report published by the Association of Colleges in November 2012 found that 57% of the 500 teachers polled felt obliged to encourage pupils to stay on at their school post-16 with 26% blaming this on overt pressure from school leaders.[133] We also heard from young people we met that they felt the careers advice in schools is devised to get them to stay on in that institution.[134]

90.  It is cause for concern if young people are not getting the necessary access to independent information about alternative education pathways. It is important that schools are made accountable for their activity in this area in order to encourage them to open their doors to alternative providers. We recommend that, as part of an overall careers plan, schools are required to publish details of the alternative providers they allow to meet with their pupils, including the name of the provider and the nature of the contact.

91.  We also heard evidence that employers were not being given access to schools to talk to young people. The interaction between businesses and schools was described to us by Paul Jackson, Chief Executive of Engineering UK as "piecemeal".[135] He added that "engaging with business as part of careers information advice and guidance is fundamental, but it will not happen if it is left to a random process".[136]

92.  The Government has taken steps to encourage businesses into schools and we welcome the enthusiasm with which the Minister spoke about it. He told us that the Government is "doing a huge amount of work to get companies and businesses into schools, to get careers advice from a whole broad range of people who can be inspiring."[137]

93.  We welcome the Government's support for the increased involvement of local employers in careers guidance in schools, which is vital for effective careers provision. We recommend that schools be required to set out in their careers plans their arrangements with local employers and how they intend to enhance them.

Teachers and careers guidance

94.  Under the new duty, the responsibility for providing careers advice and guidance may often fall to teachers.[138] A survey by the Institute of Careers Guidance in 2011 found that 34% of schools were planning to use teachers or non-teaching staff to deliver career guidance.[139]

95.  We heard from young people that they value the advice and guidance they are given by teachers and school staff.[140] As the Gatsby Foundation told us, "subject teachers are trusted by learners, and have abundant opportunities to bring careers awareness into their lessons".[141] Teachers can therefore be important partners for careers professionals, but there are dangers if teachers are expected to take on this role alone and without training and support. The Association for Careers Education and Guidance told us: "unless these teachers/tutors receive specialist training in maintaining impartiality and are regularly updated with information about all courses, employment or training opportunities available to their pupils they will be unable to meet the demand" to deliver the statutory duty.[142] The AOC survey, referred to above, found that 44% of teachers admitted giving a pupil bad or uninformed advice in the past, while 82% said they did not feel as though they had the appropriate knowledge to dispense careers advice.[143] Other research, carried out by City & Guilds in 2011, highlighted a perceived bias in advice given by teachers towards their own subjects. It also found "a widely held view across the 14-16 and 16-18 age groups that teachers could only advise on one thing: how to be teachers".[144]

96.  Many witnesses expressed concern at the ability of teachers to provide independent and impartial guidance, given the limits of their knowledge of the world of work and of alternative paths, including apprenticeships. Peter Searle, Chief Executive Officer of Adecco, told us that "many of our teachers today don't actually have any experience of industry themselves. They do not know what happens in a company or anything about the structure and the jobs that are available. They are therefore not personally able to inspire students themselves."[145] The suggestion was made by a wide range of witnesses that teachers should undertake professional development in industry and other workplaces to enable them to provide better quality careers support.[146]

97.  There was also evidence that, despite the statutory guidance that information on all options, including apprenticeships,[147] should be given, many young people were not receiving this. Research by the Edge Foundation found that one third of students had not discussed the option to start a vocational course.[148] An Ofsted report, Apprenticeships for Young People, found that the advice and guidance offered to young people on alternative paths was not of a good quality.[149] Similarly, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee said in their recent report on Apprenticeships that they found that awareness and resources about apprenticeships in schools and colleges was lacking.[150]

98.  The DfE acknowledges the apparent shortfall in teachers' knowledge of apprenticeships in its practical guide. It states that "the new duty sets no expectation that teachers need to become experts in Apprenticeships" and encourages teachers to point young people towards the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS).[151] At present, the NAS's remit does not currently extend to it operating in schools and there was consensus among our witnesses that this should change.[152] The Minister was not adverse to the suggestion of the NAS's remit being extended to provide direct services in schools, agreeing that the DfE would consider it.[153]

99.  We acknowledge the important role that teachers play in guiding and advising young people. We also recognise the constraints that they are under when performing the role and that they cannot substitute for fully-qualified, independent and impartial advisers.

100.  We agree with witnesses from business that it would be beneficial for teachers to have a greater understanding of the world of work, particularly that of the local labour market, and we recommend that teachers should undertake regular professional development to enhance their knowledge and understanding of the work place. The local focus and infrastructure of the National Careers Service could be invaluable in enabling this, and we recommend that this is incorporated within the NCS capacity-building role outlined above.

101.  We concur with our colleagues on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that awareness of apprenticeships is limited within schools. We recommend that the National Apprenticeship Service's remit be extended to include the promotion of apprenticeships in schools.

Ensuring quality

102.  The DfE's practical guide highlights the three quality assurance standards, known as the "three pronged approach", that schools may wish to take into consideration:

  • The Quality in Careers Standard for schools.
  • The Matrix Standard for careers guidance providers.
  • A newly developed set of professional standards for careers advisers.[154]

103.  In its written evidence, the DfE referred to the different quality standards but made it clear that schools have the freedom to make use or not of the standards as they wish. The statutory guidance further states that careers advisers 'could be qualified' rather than 'should be qualified'. David Milton, Chair of the Institute of Career Guidance, expressed his disappointment at this permissive wording, adding that requiring the use of qualified advisers "would have made a difference."[155]

104.  We welcome the moves to introduce quality standards to the careers market. This is a good way to improve the quality of the service; it can assist schools in their procurement decisions; and it can provide a clear accountability structure for schools. We believe, however, that the Government has not gone far enough to incentivise schools to follow the approach and that many will therefore neither aim to reach the Quality in Careers Standard, nor look to commission advice and guidance from quality-assured providers or qualified professionals. We believe that there is a role here for the NCS in helping schools to work towards the standards.

105.  We recommend that the Government requires schools to:

  • achieve the Quality in Careers Standard,
  • secure independent careers guidance from a provider with the Matrix standard; and,
  • ensure that advice is provided by a level 6 qualified careers advisers.

We further recommend that the National Careers Service's role should be expanded to include a duty to promote to schools the benefits of working to these quality standards.

Careers education and work-related learning

106.  The Education Act 2011 also removed the statutory duty for schools to provide careers education and work-related learning (WRL) was removed by statutory instrument in August 2012. The dispensing of WRL at Key Stage 4 was a recommendation in the Wolf Report but when put out to public consultation, 89% answered "no" to the question of whether work-related learning should be removed as a statutory duty. [156] Careers education was removed as a statutory duty without any public consultation.

107.  We received evidence from various sources which supported the need for careers education and WRL. We were told by The Work Foundation that "careers education prepares young people for school-to-work transitions."[157] Employers whom we met in Bradford were unanimous in regarding young people as lacking in soft skills and knowledge of the workplace[158]—exactly the sort of skills that careers education and WRL were in place to provide. This was echoed by the CBI, Business in the Community and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers.[159] Young people also spoke to us about the benefits they gained from work experience.[160]

108.  The Government's statutory guidance says that "schools should consider a range of wider careers activities such as engagement with local employers and work-based education and training providers to offer all young people insights into the world of work".[161] The wording of the guidance was criticised by witnesses for being permissive, leaving it to schools to determine the extent to which they will include such activities.[162]

109.  The Government's decision to remove the statutory duty on schools to provide careers education and work-related learning has been heavily criticised by witnesses to our inquiry. We are persuaded of the benefits of both these former provisions and we recommend that the Government's statutory guidance to schools is strengthened to require schools to provide careers education and work-related learning as part of their duty.

104   Ev w1, Ev w2, Ev w14, Ev w21, Ev w23, Ev w42, Ev w49, Ev w61, Ev w83, Ev w125, Ev w139, Ev w146, Ev w171 Back

105   Ev w49 Back

106   Ev w61, Ev 88 Back

107   Annex 2 Back

108   Ev w59 Back

109   Ev w103 Back

110   Ev 112 Back

111   Q149 (Brian Lightman) Back

112   Q 149 Back

113   Q 272 Back

114   Fourth Report from the Education Committee, Session 2010-12, Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training, HC 850-I Back

115   Ev 22, Ev w38, Ev w42 Back

116   Ev w63  Back

117   Q 179 Back

118   Ev w38, Ev 88 Back

119   Q 150 Back

120   Q 181, Ev 249, Ev w107, Ev w178, Ev w42, Ev w61, Ev 73  Back

121   Ev 107, Ev w139  Back

122   Ev 80,  Back

123   Q 236 Back

124   Ibid. Back

125   Q 24, Q 26 Back

126   Q132 Back

127   Q 36 Back

128   Q 24 Back

129   Statutory guidance, DfE Back

130   Ev w45, Ev w79, Ev w146 ; Q7 Back

131   Ev w79  Back

132   Ev 112 Back

133   TES 9 November 2012 p50-51 Back

134   Annex 1 Back

135   Q5 Back

136   Q5 Back

137   Q215 Back

138   Ev 29, Ev w34, Ev w45  Back

139   Ev w49 Back

140   See Annex 2 Back

141   Ev w148 para 10 Back

142   Ev w142 Back

143   TES, 9 November 2012, pp 50-51 Back

144   Ev w84 Back

145   Q 14 Back

146   Ev w2, Ev w 42, Ev w83 and Ev w148  Back

147   Statutory guidance, DfE Back

148   Ev w42 Back

149   Ofsted, Apprenticeships for Young People, April 2012 Back

150   Fifth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Session 2012-13, Apprenticeships, HC83-I Back

151   Practical Guide, DfE Back

152   Q 137 (Brian Lightman) Back

153   Q 278 Back

154   This standard was developed following work by the Careers Profession Taskforce. It was recommended by the Careers Profession Alliance, and endorsed by Government, that careers practitioners should be qualified to a level 6. Back

155   Q 176 Back

156   Explanatory memorandum to the draft Education (Amendment of the Curriculum Requirements for Fourth Key Stage) (England) Order 2012 Back

157   Ev w61 Back

158   See Annex 1. Back

159   Ev w175, Ev 29, Ev w 139  Back

160   Annex 2 Back

161   Statutory guidance, Department for Education Back

162   Ev w139, Ev 121 Back

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Prepared 23 January 2013