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Primary Education News
News School careers advice – is it leaving pupils to sink or swim?
Pupils are being short-changed by the new schools-based careers advice, according to research out today. Janet Murray reports
Jack Gardner didn't want to do A-levels but, having received very little careers advice at school, he was unsure of his options. He ended up dropping out of sixth form and is now working as a lifeguard at a holiday camp. "If I'd had some decent advice earlier on, I think I'd have made a better decision, perhaps started an apprenticeship," says the 17-year-old, who earns £5 an hour. "I enjoy being a lifeguard, but it's not going to suit me forever. I know I need a plan. I'm just not sure where to start."
Sonny Grant, 16, is also at a crossroads. He has always wanted to be a doctor, but has just found out that the BTec science qualification he took recently is not recognised by some universities for entry to medicine (most require GCSE double science). In fact, it may even prevent him from doing the A-levels he'd like to do. He says: "My whole careers education consisted of a five-minute interview in year 11, in which he [the careers adviser] told me I'd done the wrong subjects to do the job I wanted to do and my grades weren't going to be high enough. Then he handed me a leaflet about becoming a prison officer. I was gutted."
Both young people say they feel let down by the careers guidance they received at school, but under legislation that came into force in 2011, more may be at risk of missing out on the support they need.
Previously, careers advice was the responsibility of local councils, and primarily delivered by the government-funded agency Connexions, which was disbanded at a national level last year. The new legislation placed the duty on schools, which now have to provide impartial information, advice and guidance for pupils in years 9 to 11 (and, from next month, years 8 to 13) – despite being given no additional funding to do so. The government's National Careers Service (NCS), which was set up last year, offers telephone and web-based support for young people, but face-to-face advice is offered only to adults.
New research published on Tuesday by the children's charity Barnardo's suggests the new system could already be failing pupils – largely because they are not getting enough face-to-face support with careers guidance. The report, based on in-depth interviews with young people, service managers and professional careers advisers, found that the government's online and telephone support services were not reaching young people: not one of the 29 young people interviewed had heard of the NCS or dedicated youth careers website, Plotr. This echoes the findings of a recent report from the National Careers Council, which found that fewer than 1% of young people had used the National Careers Service's telephone helpline. The call rate – 40p a minute – may be at least partly to blame: though the website offers a free call-back to all mobile users, the cost of the initial call may be off-putting for some young people, says Kay Tarry, a service manager for Phase 2, a Barnardo's project that supports young people at risk of dropping out of education and employment.
"I think there is an attitude that all young people have access to IT – but, actually, some don't have mobile phones or they are on pay-as-you-go contracts and can't afford the internet on their phone," she says.
And even young people who can access these resources need face-to-face support, Tarry says. "We do a lot of work with young people on telephone skills, and often they do need that coaching to be able to get them to a point where they are confident enough to be able to say, 'This is the question I want to ask', or 'I want someone to ring me back with information about this career'. If they do go online and look at the information, they may need someone to sit down with them, talk about the careers that interest them and maybe unpick that a bit further."
Many of the young people interviewed for the Barnardo's study said they were offered just one face-to-face session of careers guidance – others, none at all.
The biggest losers are not necessarily those not in employment, education or training (Neets), who often qualify for additional, funded support from their local authorities, but the in-betweeners who may have few qualifications or simply feel disengaged from school. Young people like this can be easily influenced by their peers and don't always trust the advice on offer, says Tarry.
One young person is quoted in the report as saying: "The school counsellor could arrange for someone to come in and give advice, but I heard from other people that it wasn't worth it. They had it from the adviser and they said it was terrible, so I just didn't bother. I thought, 'What's the point of going to all that trouble to find out that you can actually do better than they are saying?'"
Jack admits he skipped careers interviews because he was unimpressed with the support he was offered. "In the one I did attend, a teacher just asked me what my hobbies were, had a look on the computer at what subjects I was doing and told me to go to university to study sport. I couldn't be bothered after that."
Paul Chubb, executive director of the trade association Careers England, is not surprised to hear this. What young people often need most from careers guidance is challenge – something that can only be provided face to face, by suitably qualified people, he says. "It's not just about informing somebody about a particular career or advising them about different routes or training provision they can go through … it's about saying, 'What makes you think you would be good at this?' or 'How much do you know about [this job]?'"
Though he is keen to acknowledge that some schools are doing a "super job" with careers guidance, there are plenty of examples where "nothing is being done and nobody is making people do it," he says. A report commissioned by Careers England at the end of last year found that just 16.5% of schools had managed to maintain the level of careers advice offered under the previous arrangements for careers guidance – while an estimated 3,300 schools had reduced their provision.
A select committee report published in January concluded that it had been a mistake to take responsibility for young people's careers guidance away from local authorities – that this had led to a worsening of the advice available. The report called, among other things, for a guaranteed face-to-face careers interview for all young people, the reinstatement of the statutory duty for schools to provide work experience for 14- to 16-year-olds, and the introduction of quality standards for careers guidance in schools – all of which were rejected by the government.
The recommendation that the NCS expand its remit to include the provision of consultancy support to schools is being considered, and a decision will be made based on the outcome of an Ofsted report on careers education and guidance due to be published early next month.
Speaking to Education Guardian earlier this year, the shadow junior education minister, Tristam Hunt, suggested that, should Labour win the next election, it would be keen to take swift action to address the issue of careers advice and guidance, saying: "The careers guidance reforms are very, very damaging. They've [the coalition government] given schools the entire responsibility to deliver careers services at the same time as withdrawing £196m of funding, so they've landed it on schools and said you've got to do it all, and, by the way, there's no money." But he admitted that it was unlikely Labour would be able to replace that funding. "We can't commit to saying 'here's your £200m back'."
After taking advice from a family member, Sonny is starting a public-services course at college in September and is considering a career in the police force. Jack is also seeking advice from family and friends – the people most teenagers are likely to turn to, according to recent research by the publisher Pearson. The report also shows that 37% of young people look to television programmes and 8% to celebrities for their careers guidance.
Both agree that more guidance is needed from a much earlier age (perhaps as early as the last year of primary school) so that young people have a much better sense of the different careers available to them and, crucially, says Jack, how much different jobs pay.
Barnardo's is calling for face-to-face guidance for all young people who request it, for a revamp of the online careers guidance services to make them more attractive to young people, and for the government to make the National Careers Service helpline free from all mobiles (and accessible via Skype).
Jonathan Rallings, assistant director of policy at Barnardo's, says: "The near-total lack of awareness among the young people interviewed about the government's website and helpline means that they are effectively offering 'ghost' services in the place of meaningful advice.
"It's crucial that the government doesn't miss the opportunity to step in at this pivotal age, especially when access to trusted, personally tailored careers advice at an early stage can help to make the difference between young people sinking and swimming in the world of work."
A DfE spokesperson said: "For the very first time, this government has introduced a legal obligation on schools to deliver independent and impartial careers advice for all pupils up to 18. This replaces the previous system, which was patchy, costly and often of poor quality.
"The National Careers Service provides a high-quality helpline and webchat service, which has been used over 67,000 times in its first year alone, and a website that has attracted seven million visits. The website offers a free call-back service and there is also a smartphone app coming soon.
"We have issued guidance to schools and colleges to help them fulfil this new obligation and Ofsted has said it will prioritise the inspection of careers guidance."