Making sense of nonsense

Trevor Fisher's picture
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It is a sign of a very bleak time in state education when trade union leaders agree with the leader of the Confederation of British Industry, but the recent speech by CBI head John Cridland on June 19th drew support from Mary Bousted of ATL and Christine Blower of the NUT. The CBI chief was pointing to a major fault line in Coalition policy, the absence of any serious attempt to devise an education system fitted for a modern economy, challenging the Tories to do better.

The key section of the speech pointed to careers guidance as a major policy failure. Cridland was explicit. He argued “We need to give every young person access to quality advice about the choices open to them. That's advice – not a website...."

“93% of young people surveyed for the Lifeskills barometer didn't feel they were provided with all the information they neeeded... Transferring the entire responsibility for careers to schools has not worked – as OFSTED set out in their review of the change. They found that – out of 60 schools – just 12 made sure all students got sufficient information to consider a wide breadth of careers...” (emphasis added TF)

The OSTED report is essential reading. Entitled Going in the right Direction? (September 2013), OFSTED aimed to assess Careers Guidance in English schools and the impact of the decision to make "schools legally responsible for securing access to independent and impartial for all their students in years 9-11. For this survey, inspectors visited 60 secondary schools and academies between December 2012 and March 2013 to evaluate how well this duty is being carried out”. (p1)

The Executive Summary states that “of the 60 schools selected for this visit, only 12 had ensured that all students received sufficient information to consider a wide breadth of career possibilities” (p4). Further key findings included the statement that “The information students received about careers was too narrow...Vocational training and apprenticeships were rarely promoted effectively, especially in schools with sixth forms. Note 45 is that “Most of the schools visited, especially those with sixth forms, were generally poor at promoting vocational training, and in particular apprenticeships”. The A Level route to university remained the 'gold standard' for young people, their parents and teachers. (p4)

Back up via the remote National Careers service was poor. OFSTED concluded that it “is responsible for providing independent and impartial careers guidance via a website and a telephone service for all users from the age of 13. However, the service made little contribution to careers guidance for the young people in the schools visited”. (4-5).

OFSTED's overall judgement was

“From the evidence gathered by this survey, too few schools are providing careers guidance that meets the needs of all their students. It is, nevertheless, possible for schools to provide good quality independent and impartial careers guidance to young people. This report provides a small number of examples of successful approaches in individual schools that have helped students to: broaden their minds about the options open to them: p5

This is not a system, depending on voluntary effort with poor back up for problems. Devolving power to school level has not worked for careers. The abiding message of the report, likely to have been taken on board in the two academic years since publication, is that the law does not matter. What action has been taken to improve the situation?

The Situation Since OFSTED reported:

The Coalition ignored the report and the 2014 CBI-Pearson survey of education and skills concluded that “The school to work transition is currently far too haphazard a process. Businesses believe that the quality of careers service is simply not good enough and in need of major improvement”. Still nothing happened and by June 19th Cridland was arguing:

“We've just 'pretended' to have a multiple route education system. Yet in reality there has been only one path the system values – GCSE, A Levels, University. For many, including me, and most ministers, that path was the right one. But for many others, its not”.

It is a sign of the deep rooted problems which curse the system that the 2014 CBI-Pearson report mirrored the problem by having no mention of the FE-College system, focussing on schools and universities. This cloak of invisibility is not good and the FE-College system is heading for massive financial crisis (see here, here and here). Alison Wolf's recent report HEADING FOR THE PRECIPICE - Can Further and Higher Education funding policies be sustained?” (Kings College London June 2015) is unequivocal. A gap of six times the funding for HE compared to FE is not sustainable.
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