The launch of the government’s new careers strategy is expected shortly but may yet suffer the same fate as the government’s life chances strategy which was put on hold after the referendum vote (http://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/1157966/life-chances-strategy-shelved-after-brexit-vote).
Nevertheless, the Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy comprising Members from the Education Committee and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has published its advice to government on what the strategy should contain. Its principal recommendations are:
- Government policy should be to incentivise schools to bring their careers provision up to standard and to hold them to account when they fail to do so. Ofsted’s role should be strengthened, and schools downgraded if careers provision is not effective.
- The complex web of national organisations should be untangled. There should be a single Minister in charge of careers provision for all ages, and a rationalisation of the Government-funded organisations delivering careers programmes. The Careers & Enterprise Company should be empowered to act as the umbrella organisation it was intended to be.
- Steps should also be taken to bring order to the congested market place of service providers and websites. The Quality in Careers and matrix Standards should be merged into a single brand.
- Careers advice and guidance should be grounded in accurate information about the labour market. The Government should ensure that Local Enterprise Partnerships have the capacity—and are encouraged—to provide up-to-date, good quality labour market information to schools, colleges and careers professionals in their areas.
- Finally, all young people should be given the opportunity to understand better the world of work, through engagement with employers and meaningful work experience.
The sub-committee has argued that the government should use the threat of a negative Ofsted inspection as an ‘incentive’ to get schools to take careers advice and guidance seriously. In March this year, Ofsted national director of education told the inquiry that schools would not be downgraded for poor careers advice (http://bit.ly/22I7J57). It is sad that the sub-committee has had to play the Ofsted card, but pragmatically it recognises that schools these days will do whatever it takes to get a good inspection report. Ironically, we have had a spate of research reports that have confirmed the benefits to young people of high quality careers provision, but without putting some kind of pressure on the education system, only about a third of schools show any inclination to make it central to their ethos and vision. Sir Michael Wilshaw to his credit has been using his last few months as HMCI in almost a personal capacity to champion high quality apprenticeships and to criticise high performing schools for merely promoting traditional, safe professions.
The recommendation that the careers strategy should be better coordinated at the national level is again to be welcomed. This will help to ensure that the meagre resources thrown at careers provision can be better deployed. DfE spending on careers guidance is pitiful and a new source of funding will have to be found for the National Careers Service when financial support from the European Social Fund is lost. The sub-committee recommends that the relatively untested Careers & Enterprise Company should be the coordinating body (for example, by taking responsibility for the Jobcentre Plus Support for Schools Scheme) but if it is to have any chance of succeeding it will need a more realistic budget and a wider remit. The company has studiously kept out of the debate about whether careers advisers should be level 6 qualified, but the sub-committee now recommends that those delivering advice and guidance in schools should hold, at a minimum, a relevant level 6 qualification (para.56). This is long overdue, but a gap in the sub-committee’s report that will need to be addressed is how to establish well-defined qualifications for teachers, curriculum leaders for careers and senior leaders with overall responsibility for careers.
The sub-committee has endorsed the careers sector’s three-pronged approach to quality, i.e. recommending that careers guidance providers hold the matrix Standard (now is the time to get rid of the silly lower case ‘m’ in matrix!), that individual careers staff are level 6 qualified and that schools hold a nationally validated careers award. It will take time to find a solution to their recommendation that there should be a single award that schools should be required to hold. Governments and schools are likely to baulk at this level of regulation and there may indeed be better ways of achieving these ends.
A solution also needs to be found to the problem of how to give young people access to better quality labour market information. The sub-committee expresses its disappointment that the high quality analysis provided by the UK Commission on Employment and Skills (UKCES) is to end and recommends that the government sets out a clear plan for what will replace it. Unfortunately, the sub-committee’s recommendation that LEPs should be given a key role in providing LMI is too parochial. Where will young people get access to European and global LMI relevant to their aspirations and potential? We will still have the LMI for All dataset and the government needs to be more proactive in ensuring that digital technology is used to turn this into high quality LMI that can be accessed nationally by all.
The sub-committee does not neglect the important agenda of employer engagement and makes some common sense recommendations about retaining flexibility while encouraging LEPs through the Careers & Enterprise Company to do more. We are still not achieving as much as we were during the heyday of the School Curriculum Industry Partnership (SCIP) and Education-Business Partnerships but the sub-committee has put down an important marker in recommending that all students at Key Stage 4 should have the opportunity to take part in meaningful work experience. It also recommends that the government should ensure that there are mechanisms in place to ensure that work experience is being effectively delivered through Key Stage 5 study plans.
The sub-committee has taken a significant step in reaffirming the importance of careers education, information, advice and guidance as a public good and reversing the disastrous policies of the last six years. It remains to be seen whether Ministers can or will support this change of direction.
Access the report here