Careers advice in schools can’t be offloaded to employers or websites

Janet Downs's picture

Young people need careers education in schools which is embedded into and fits alongside the curriculum and is informed by labour market information. At the appropriate time, they will also need professional careers guidance that is independent of schools or colleges, delivered face-to-face, helping them to choose their individual routes forward. Both forms of support are vital in preparing young people for work…

House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility report ‘Overlooked and left behind: improving the transition from school to work for the majority of young people’ April 2016

The quality of careers education and guidance (CEG) has plummeted since the days of the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative (TVEI) which did much to improve the status of vocational education in its widest sense: generic work-related skills.

But CEG’s demise isn’t just down to the death of TVEI.  Connexions, the nation-wide careers service in England was axed in 2011 and former-education secretary Michael Gove had a visceral loathing of professional careers advisers   CEG is now in a pitiable state as I explain more fully in my Schools Week article here.  

Schools are supposed to be responsible for providing independent CEG but this is often little more than ‘advice’ which acts more in the school’s interest than in the pupil’s.   Schools with their own sixth-forms, for example, are unlikely to promote a nearby further education college or a vocational route which they don’t offer.  And judging schools by the number going to university doesn’t encourage schools to suggest high-level apprenticeships as an alternative.

This lack of incentive to schools to provide genuinely impartial careers advice has been recognised by Robert Halfon, the minister for skills.  He told a Parliamentary meeting this week that schools were to blame for England’s skills deficit because of a fixation on ‘university, university, university’.   I don’t agree with him that schools alone are responsible for the skills deficit.  Employers, surely, have a major role in training?  And English snobbery which promotes a hierarchy of academic first, vocational second and which reveres ‘brain’ work over practical skills doesn’t help.  But Halfon is correct when he highlights poor quality and biased careers advice in schools.

Preparing pupils for their lives after school isn’t just about giving them careers advice especially if that advice is offloaded to employers or websites.  Careers advice should be embedded in a comprehensive programme of careers education and work-experience overseen by properly-trained careers teachers.

This is unlikely to happen, of course.  Schools are already inadequately funded.  And, as Private Eye (27 January 2017, not available on-line) pointed out, ‘cash-strapped schools now rely on private “employment advice and inspiration” firms especially those offering freebie online psychometric quizzes that spit out job suggestions’.  Paper-and-pen versions of the questionnaires have been around for decades, of course, but they aren’t and never were an adequate substitute to face-to-face interviews with careers professionals as part of a well-constructed CEG programme.

Note:  For much of my teaching career I was in charge of careers education and guidance at a non-selective school in Lincolnshire.   Our school was part of a TVEI group comprising three non-selective schools, one grammar, one special school and the local authority careers service.  We met regularly to share ideas and best practice.




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