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Careers education that works for everyone

I may have misheard her, but I think she said that was her mission. Mind you, I thought Tony Blair had said that his mission was ‘careers education, careers education, careers education’!

Right now, we have a system that’s broken. Instead of raising the standard of careers education, the coalition government decided to make it non-statutory. What they should have done is to introduce courses in initial teacher training and funding for CPD for teachers so that we could improve the quality of careers teaching instead. That goes for the training of senior leaders and governors as well! Then, if we were to give teachers sufficient time to manage and deliver careers education that meets the needs of ALL students, they might have been able to do a good job.

Careers education is not the only part of the system that’s broken. The work of careers advisers has been undervalued and undermined since the beginning of the new century. We could also do more to involve and support parents and carers in their role as primary careers advisers. And we could engage employers properly instead of expecting them to fund and deliver the system in England. The latest example of the shambles we’re in, is the scandalous waste of public money spent on Plotr which was awarded without an open competition to a company that has now gone into liquidation (See buzzfeed article) .

Latterly, the strongest advocate for making improvements to the careers education system has been Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector for Schools, who steps down from his role in December. He has focused on the shortcomings of the present educational structure to provide young people with first-class routes into vocational education and apprenticeships to complement the existing academic pathways. Careers education cannot promote opportunity awareness, social justice and economic wellbeing when the routes and openings just aren’t there. More grammar schools, he rightly points out, are not the solution.

Now, Jonathan Baggaley, the new Chief Executive of the PSHE Association, has announced the next stage of the campaign to get statutory status for PSHE education. The momentum for this is building with wide support from the Association’s strategic partners, and if the government can be persuaded, this could contribute to rebuilding the broken careers education system as well. Schools have taught careers education alongside personal and social education for many years, sometimes out of timetable convenience but also sometimes with a deeper understanding of the concepts they share and the synergies to be gained. Indeed, the PSHE lens is just what is needed now to refocus careers education which has become too narrow and too limited. Of course, the tools of economic self-sufficiency such as employability, enterprise and resilience are important but a PSHE perspective can encourage a more holistic approach to careers education in which discovering personal happiness, contributing to the wellbeing of others and living in sustainable ways are equally valued.

Careers education can do much to build the human, social and cultural capital that disadvantaged and vulnerable young people need to succeed. It can help to tackle stereotyping, discrimination and inequality in all its forms. It is not a complete solution on its own but works best in conjunction with a wide range of interventions including PSHE education. We will judge the government’s forthcoming careers strategy not on the rhetoric but on whether it really can deliver careers education that works for everyone.

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