Missed opportunities

Maggie JonesMaggie Jones on a shaming new report that highlights the Coalition’s failings on careers advice

Today at Lords daily question time, I will confront Education Minister Lord Nash with the growing evidence of deterioration in careers advice for young people. It’s a shameful story that goes back to 2011 when the Coalition forced through changes to careers provision in the Education Bill. 

At the time, careers advisors and teachers warned that transferring responsibility to schools without sufficient safeguards and appropriate funding was bound to affect the quality of advice. Labour fought hard to amend the Bill, particularly to guarantee face-to-face careers advice for every child. We even thought we had the support of the LibDems, who made all the right noises in the chamber but conjured up a vanishing act when the vote was called – even refusing to back their own amendments on the issue. 

Regrettably, we have been proven right. The transfer of careers advice from local authorities to schools came into force last September, although the service had already been phased out in anticipation of the change. So the first thorough examination of the impact of the changes has now been carried out by the House of Commons Education Committee. The result is a damning report that should make uncomfortable reading for Ministers.

The Committee identifies ‘grave shortcomings in the implementation of the Government’s policy’, and make it clear that there was never a coherent argument for shifting the responsibility to schools, with international evidence showing this is not the best model of delivery. The report then goes on to conclude: ‘The weaknesses of the school based model have been compounded by the failure to transfer to schools any budget with which to provide the service. This has led, predictably, to a drop in the overall level of provision.’

Perhaps most critically, the Committee regret that the government did not see the advantage of every child having access to face-to-face careers advice from a qualified, independent advisor. Instead, there is evidence of too many children being forced to rely on websites for advice; a lack of teacher understanding of the employment options in the world of work; and conflicts of interest with teachers pressurising young people to stay on at school post-16, rather than focus on the most appropriate courses elsewhere. These concerns all reflect the issues we raised at the time the Bill was being debated.

There has never been a more important time to get careers advice right. The continuing high levels of youth unemployment, the changing face of employment opportunities and the raising of the participation age all require professional advisors to give young people the best start in life. They need tailor made guidance; and need it before they begin to make potentially career – and life – restricting subject choices. 

By failing to intervene and impose more stringent obligations on the provision in schools, Ministers are letting down a generation. There is still time to rethink the policy and tighten up the regulations, and we will continue to put pressure on the Coalition to do so.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Shadow Education Ministers in the House of Lords

Published 4th March 2013


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