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Advising students on what to choose

With so many changes to the education and training system coming through, this year’s task of advising young people on their choices at 13, 16 and 18 has become even more challenging.

For staff advising on options at 13+, two new pieces of information are relevant. The first is that fewer colleges are offering courses for 14-16-year-olds. Only 18 colleges plan to do so in 2016/17. The other is that the government is committed to the UTC model although five university technical colleges have closed recently and several are struggling with low numbers. Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, believes that public exams at 16 should be replaced by exams at 14 which would bolster the idea of transfer at 14. Where transfer opportunities exist in the local area, careers staff must make it clear to parents/carers and students that options at 13+ is not only about subject choice.

Careers staff working in schools and colleges need to keep abreast of the post-16 Skills Plan proposals which are designed to overhaul vocational education in England. Note that the government dislikes the ‘V’ word and refers to ‘technical and professional’ education instead. The main proposal is to create 15 new vocational routes and a new qualification structure. The details are hereThis is the latest attempt by England to create a sustainable and credible vocational qualifications system and parents/carers and students may be cautious about being the guinea pigs for it. It is particularly important, therefore, that careers staff find out what is happening both nationally and in their area. They and their schools have a duty to ensure that parents/carers and students are well-informed about new opportunities. Schools that sit on their hands to preserve their sixth forms are culpable.

For many careers staff, knowing what to tell students about apprenticeships is a real concern. Most employers and members of the public still believe that high quality careers education and advice is essential. Students say they value it too. Little do they know that access to initial and continuing professional development for careers staff in schools is seriously deficient. While those working in the sector continue to hope that the situation will improve, there are clearly problems for careers staff who find that only promotional and marketing information about apprenticeships is easily available. (The same is largely true of higher education information). This makes the 2015-16 data from the DfE particularly useful. 130,000 people aged under 19 years of age started on an apprenticeship while 14,600 under 19s embarked on traineeships. Of 29,700 higher level apprenticeship starts, 9,400 were at under 19-24. This pathway for 18-year-olds is still quite small but is likely to grow rapidly. Large companies seeking to recoup their apprenticeship levy payments could be a big factor in this. Read more here. It's also useful to know that he launch of the new Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers has been further delayed. Read more here. Careers staff may wish to tell their students about apprenticeship opportunities at Ofsted. 31 posts in business administration have been announced. Can the launch of a new cadre of apprentice inspectors be far behind?

As for HE choices at 18+, it is interesting to note that universities recruited around 7,000 more students onto undergraduate courses this year than they did last year. Subject to parliamentary approval, from September 2017 annual university tuition fees in England will rise to £9,250. There will be a further across the board rise in fees in 2018. Only in 2019 at the earliest will universities have to meet demanding teaching quality standards before they will be allowed to increase tuition fees.

With so much happening in the education and training system, the need for dedicated careers teachers and advisers with sufficient time and backing to support students with their career exploration and choices has never been greater. The trouble is it can’t be done without proper levels of funding and that isn’t about to happen any time soon!

Much of the information in this blog came from Alan Birk’s October newsletter for Clickalthough the opinions are my own. You can register for your own copy at

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  • Christopher Jones

    As an independent Careers Adviser I strive to deliver the best service I can but the irony of someone on a short term temporary contract paid hourly with no CPD, or indeed employment rights, empowering young people cannot be lost on those who care to observe.

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