Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education Contents

Chapter 7: Information and advice

244.In Chapter 3 we set out the problems with perceptions of the non-university routes and the role schools and careers advice can play in fostering the idea that the only valid post-school education through an undergraduate degree. In this chapter, we consider how to change these perceptions.

Information and careers advice

245.Since 2011 the duty to provide careers advice has rested on individual schools and colleges, who were expected to meet this requirement from their existing budgets.257 Support for schools to provide advice comes from a number of sources and schemes (see Table 9).

Table 9: Careers service information providers



Scope of work

Schools, Colleges and sixth form colleges

Arrange independent advice for students working with employers and other providers.

1.83 million (16 to 18 year older in education or training)

National Careers Service

Primarily for adults. Provides information advice and guidance through face-to-face, telephone and email services and via website.

474,000 face-to-face meetings;

200,000 calls in 2016/17

Careers Enterprise Company

Established in 2014 to co-ordinate schools, employers and providers and to provide funding for effect interventions.

250,000 supported by CEC funding

Job Centre Plus

Since 2015, working with young people in schools to advise on local education and training

1,000 schools

Source: Department for Education, Careers strategy: making the most of everyone’s skills and talents (December 2017): [accessed 24 May 2018] ; National Statistics, ‘NEET statistics quarterly brief: April to June 2017’ (24 August 2017): [accessed 24 May 2018]

246.London Colleges identified 240 careers providers in London, leading to a “congested and confused market place”. They said that the system was “fragmented” and led to:

“Vastly more activity takes place than any one school can realistically keep track of, let alone a young person or parent and there is both duplication and inefficient targeting in the system. There is duplication in approaches to employers, leading to engagement fatigue, while information sharing is also often poor.”258

247.Many witnesses criticised the advice that emerged from this fragmented system. It was of variable quality and gave unsatisfactory information about non-academic options. The Education Policy Institute described the provision of careers advice as “poor and patchy, failing to provide students with up-to-date information around qualifications and the labour market.”259

248.Gateshead College said that they, “like many others, [are] refused access by schools to talk to pupils about their options or often told that we can speak with select groups of students as decided by the school which [are] usually those who are less academic.”260

249.In an informal discussion with the Committee, staff at Aston University said that the quality of information on other routes was poor: “we are very worried young people don’t know about degree apprenticeships.”261 Ofsted reports published in 2013 and 2015 found that “vocational training and apprenticeships were rarely promoted effectively, especially in schools with sixth forms. The A-Level route to universities remained the ‘gold standard’ for young people, their parents and teachers.” 262

Recent and suggested improvements

250.There have been recent improvements. The Technical and Further Education Act 2017, as a result of an amendment moved by Lord Baker of Dorking, mandates that providers such as further education colleges and University Technical Colleges have the right to go into schools to explain to students the different types of education that they can offer. Lord Baker told us this may be “the biggest improvement for many years because the heads of alternative providers will be able to explain alternative ways forward to the children.” 263

Box 10: University Technical Colleges

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are technical schools for 14–19 year olds run under the academy system. Each UTC is sponsored by a local university and their curriculum is designed in consultation with the university and local employers. Currently there are 49 UTCs operating in England.

Destination data published by the UTC network show that in 2017 54 per cent of UTC students went to university or other education; 26 per cent secured an apprenticeship and 17 per cent found employment.

EEF, the manufacturers’ association, praised UTCs and said they should have a greater role in particular in the delivery of new T Levels: “ he focus should shift towards University Technical Colleges (UTCs) which already have strong employer engagement and offer technical pathways” [ … ] “manufacturers are strong supporters of UTCs. Over a third believe that increasing the number of University Technical Colleges would encourage more young people into manufacturing.” In written evidence Ofsted were concerned about under capacity within UTC’s “while some are popular and are providing high-quality training to students aged 14–18, most are operating well below capacity.”

We visited the Aston University Engineering Academy and University Sixth Form (University Technical College). Students we spoke to were very positive about their experience. They thought that the UTCs were “not advertised as well as they should be” and often students learned about the opportunities on offer through word of mouth or family connections, rather than school careers services.

251.In December 2017 the Government launched a new careers strategy to “address the issue of variable quality”. One of the main initiatives was to “connect the worlds of education and employment”.264 Sue Husband, the Director of the National Apprenticeship Service, explained that as a result of the new strategy, “schools will have to allow employers in to talk about their apprenticeship opportunities, and colleges to talk about opportunities for those young people.”265 Anna Purchas, Head of People at KPMG, said she had seen a change in schools: “We find that careers advisers see the apprenticeship route as a very attractive option and are working with parents to persuade them on that too.” She conceded there was however “a long way to go.”266

252.Russ Shaw, from Tech London Advocates, said that schools were doing a better job of bringing in outside organisations and companies “to expose their students to the world of work” but he said he was frustrated with businesses:

“We have to push them much harder and say, “You need to go into schools and colleges, and help teachers and administrators in those academic institutions understand what the world of work is going to look like in two, five and ten years” … A lot of the schools I have spoken to say that they are desperate for more organisations to come in and shed that light for their students.”267

253.Matthew Houlihan, Director of Government and Corporate Affairs at Cisco, pointed out that “a major barrier” was finding the time to go in and work with schools; “we have to make sure we put aside and dedicate time for that.”268 One business the Committee spoke to in Birmingham described the “huge” amount of effort that Jaguar Land Rover had made in working with local schools there but said “that was not a viable route for many smaller companies.”269

254.The prioritisation of the undergraduate degree in schools, through the use of incentives and targets, has helped fuel perceptions that other routes are inferior. Schools must present all post-16 and post-18 options as equal. Incentives aimed at schools which encourage them to promote sixth form and university should be removed. Every pupil aged 16 should spend one day learning about apprenticeships and how to apply for them.

Complexity of pathways

255.The complexity of the non-higher education route was also seen as a hindrance to good advice. Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said, “It is incredibly difficult to navigate the non-university route and incredibly easy to navigate the university route.” This was not the universities’ fault: “it is a problem of the rest of the system, which just does not work.”270 As Figure 8 illustrates: university students have a single point of access via the UCAS process. Further education and apprentices must seek out and apply to individual providers.

Figure 8: Applications process for higher education courses, further education courses and apprenticeships271

Graphic showing the applications process for HE, FE courses and apprenticeships

256.The Education Policy Institute said it was “challenging” for students to understand “the available options, and where they might lead”. They argued for a clearer system with “sound pathways and connected provision at different levels of skills.”272 Businesses we spoke to in Birmingham agreed.273

257.Apprentices we met described various options they used to find apprenticeships to apply for. Due to the lack of information from school many found out about apprenticeships through their own efforts. They used websites such as Not Going to Uni, Rate My Apprenticeship, or The Big Choice. One apprentice commented that the National Apprenticeship Service website was “not that helpful” and made it hard to search for apprenticeships.274

258.For older learners, finding options can be “difficult especially for adults who currently lack language or literacy skills and need additional support. It is not always clear where to obtain advice in the first instance, even assuming the prospective learner has the confidence and knowledge to make the first step.”275

259.In 2015 the then Minister for Skills said that the Government recognised this issue and was in “conversation with UCAS about the possibility of including higher-level courses in FE colleges but also apprenticeships in their system.”276

260.There is a clear and well understood process for university applications which is not available for other forms of post-school education. The process for students considering routes other than university should be clearer and less complex. There is merit in a single, UCAS-style, portal for covering all forms of higher education, further education and apprenticeships. The Government should ask UCAS how such a portal could be designed and implemented.

257 Education Act 2011. Prior to the Act the duty to provide careers advice rested on local authorities. Written evidence from Education for Engineering (HFV0053).

258 Written evidence from London Councils (HFV0022)

259 Written evidence from the Education Policy Institute (HFV0048)

260 Written evidence from Gateshead College (HFV0078)

261 See Appendix 5.

262 Written evidence from Ofsted (HFV0052)

263 Q 81 (Lord Baker of Dorking)

264 Department for Education, Careers strategy: making the most of everyone’s skills and talents (December 2017): [accessed 23 May 2018]

265 Q 139 (Sue Husband)

266 Q 124 (Anna Purchas)

267 Q 119 (Russ Shaw)

268 Q 112 (Matthew Houlihan)

269 See Appendix 5.

270 Q 2 (Paul Johnson)

271 UCAS: [accessed 9 May 2018], UCAS progress: [accessed 9 May 2018], National Careers website: [accessed 9 May 2018]. Apprenticeships search services accessed on 12 April and searched for all available options.

272 Written evidence from EPI (HFV0048)

273 See Appendix 5.

274 Ibid.

275 Written evidence from the Institutes for Adult Learning (HFV0087)

276 Oral evidence taken before the Select Committee on Social Mobility on 9 December 2017 (Session 2015–16), 197 (Nick Boles MP)

© Parliamentary copyright 2018