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Careers Guidance in Schools

Volume 706: debated on Tuesday 11 January 2022

Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test before coming on to the estate. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. We are expecting a vote and I will suspend the sitting for 15 minutes when that occurs. I call Esther McVey to move the motion.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered careers guidance in schools.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I thank the Speaker for granting the debate. I should start by saying that my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Chair of the Education Committee, wanted to be here today, but unfortunately he has tested positive for covid and cannot join us. I know that careers guidance is a matter close to his heart, and I thank him for all the work that he has done on it.

One of my very first speeches in this House was on career guidance and extending opportunities to all. That was over a decade ago. It included reaching out to young girls and supporting them to climb the career ladder. It was about smashing glass ceilings, stopping stereotyping people, and knocking down the barriers that prevent people from achieving, succeeding and fulfilling their potential. I have written academic papers on this issue, worked on reports such as the “Genda Agenda” report and the Ideopolis report, and worked on the Merseyside Entrepreneurship Commission, which looked at the reasons why pupils from deprived areas were often half as likely to set up in business and twice as likely to claim benefit as people from more advantaged areas.

We looked at how to go about breaking those cycles, and the answer kept coming back to good-quality, consistent, regular careers advice and meeting inspirational role models—people young girls could learn from and, where possible, people from similar backgrounds who had managed to succeed, often against the odds, as well as people who young girls could really relate to and who would have an influence on what they were going to do as they got older.

Most advice, for most people, comes from people they know—from parents and friends. How big that pool is will determine how much those people come into a huge and different array of careers, so that pool needs to be widened if we want to widen opportunities for as many people as possible. How can children know what they want to do when they leave school if they are not told about the career opportunities available to them, the qualifications they will need and the different educational paths they can take to get there?

I hope Members can tell that I am as fired up by these issues today as I was more than a decade ago. I will declare an interest because, caught by the bug of supporting young people, I set up my own charity to do just that in 2013. It is called If Chloe Can and it provides careers advice to pupils up and down the country, particularly in years 8 and 9, and predominantly to disadvantaged pupils. It is supported by 200 role models who are successful individuals: Debbie Moore, the first woman to run a public limited company; Jo Salter, the first woman in the UK to fly a fighter plane; Professor Sarah Gilbert, who developed the AstraZeneca vaccine; and people such as Nick Knowles and James Dyson. The list goes on.

The charity provides careers advice, role models and confidence. It is about goal-setting, planning, communication, resilience and assertiveness. The charity used to go into schools and hold performances and plays, but all of that changed because of covid and lockdown, and so too must careers guidance.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about familiar networks providing advice and about the way that that disadvantages those who do not have good access to such support. That is why, when I was the Minister responsible for these things, I introduced a statutory obligation on schools to provide independent advice and guidance. The problem is that that needs to be face to face—it needs to be direct. It is not enough for it to be via a website, or a remote connection. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the key thing for the Minister to assure us of—I know that the Minister is very keen on this matter—is that that degree of face-to-face guidance will be available to all children in sufficient quantity and quality to make up the difference for those who suffer from disadvantages?

I thank my right hon. Friend for the work he has done. To go back to covid and lockdown, many of us wanted to make sure that schools were not locked down, and he is right that pupils need face-to-face connections, inspiration and support. But when that was not possible, the work that I did with Zoom to engage directly with pupils, play videos and allow pupils to meet inspirational role models online was important too. As my right hon. Friend says, it is the number of times that a pupil connects with people that is important; it cannot just be once, and then they forget it in the years to come. If the pupil can do that consistently, week on week in the summer holidays or in the school term, wherever they are—in school or not; with covid or not—then they can engage. That is the programme I have been working with Zoom on.

We have done some great initiatives, and lots of good things have been done over the last 10 years. I congratulate all the groups, businesses, local enterprise partnerships and charities that are doing so much. Before Christmas in my area of Cheshire, AstraZeneca showed 480 pupils how artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics, 3D printing and drones could be used remotely to diagnose problems in the manufacturing process. There are companies doing it, and across Cheshire and Warrington, the local enterprise partnership has been co-ordinating online work experiences too. In two months last year, 1,750 young pupils were given a workplace challenge with 43 local employers; those employers worked with the pupils to open their eyes to what was right on their doorstep. Equally, that allowed the businesses to influence what subjects the pupils might like to—and could—do.

I welcome all that is going on, but it is a bit piecemeal; it depends on where someone lives and what school they go to. We need to broaden that. That is why I welcome the Government’s Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, because it will allow local school skills improvement plans to be created by employer representative bodies, to make sure that schools are working locally with businesses in their area to develop programmes for pupils. Embedding employers in the heart of the education system is key. The Bill also looks to transform the current student loan system, which many of us have called for quite some time. It will give every adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university and college, and it will be usable at any point in their lives.

All of these great things are happening, but more still needs to be done in schools to provide better guidance. The latest report from the Centre for Social Justice says that there is a growing need for tailored, innovative and inspiring career guidance with links to role models and employers. Some good work has been done, but lots more needs to be done.

Why is that so important? A young person who has four or more interactions with an employer is 86% less likely to not be in education, employment or training—to not be a NEET—and they can earn 22% more during their career compared with a young person who has had no interaction with an employer. Sadly, the Centre for Social Justice points out that there seems to be no single place where a young person can go to get comprehensive Government-backed careers information. It has also found that schools are not consistently delivering good-quality careers advice. About one in five schools does not meet any of the eight Gatsby benchmarks—a series of internationally respected benchmarks that help Government to quality-assure careers advice in schools.

The Centre for Social Justice also drew attention to the fact that careers advice in school often leads strongly towards academic routes. According to one study, only 41% of 11 to 16-year-olds said that a teacher had discussed the idea of an apprenticeship with them at school, and just 21% of teachers always or usually advised high-performing students to opt for an apprenticeship over university. We are not really looking at the pupil’s needs and what would be best for the pupil; we are still focusing on the institution. We need to ensure that it is pupil-centric advice and support.

I want to acknowledge the work done in this area by Lord Baker. He secured the amendment to the Technical and Further Education Act 2017 that allowed further education colleges, university technical colleges and apprenticeship providers into secondary schools to explain to students the various alternative pathways for their education and training. That will be strengthened by the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, and that is key. Knowing the options, knowing the benefit of an option, having sample days in colleges and workplaces and meeting people who actually do the job is really important, because it is usually when a young person meets the person doing the job that the job is brought to life.

Also important is starting careers guidance at a very young age. Teach First is really pushing for it to go into primary schools, and I agree with that too. Sometimes I meet pupils and they do not necessarily really know what school is for; they do not realise that it is a journey to get them into work. They feel that it is for killing time for a number of years and perhaps getting exams. In fact, this is a journey to help them to do whatever they want to do for the rest of their life, so I would agree with going into primary schools.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) on his private Member’s Bill, the Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Bill, to give careers guidance to those in year 7. It should complete its passage through the House on Friday. I welcome the advice going to younger pupils. I know that the Government will be supporting that but, again, can the advice go to even younger pupils? We know that we have the National Careers Service and the Careers & Enterprise Company, but this feels a bit piecemeal. I am wondering whether they can merge, so that we can really get value for money with those two organisations.

I appreciate that the Minister who will answer this debate is standing in for one of her colleagues, who also has covid, so if she cannot answer today all the points that I am about to ask, it would be most appreciated if she could perhaps arrange a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), who is the Minister for skills. The questions I am asking are these. How do the Government plan to ensure that careers guidance is of a high quality for all pupils, irrespective of where they come from? How do they plan to link pupils to the local businesses in their area? How do they aim to support schools to bring in role models, whether that is in person or in the new, innovative way I am doing this—with Zoom, online? How do we stop piecemeal careers guidance? Pupils need to know, in this fast-paced, ever-changing world, what works for them—where they can get the education and the support that they need.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

Good timing, superb. We now move on to Back-Bench speakers. If you can confine yourselves to five minutes or less, we should get everyone in.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship today, Ms Rees, and to follow my parliamentary neighbour, the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey). We share the second runway of Manchester airport; I could run from my end of it to her end of it, crossing the River Bollin quite smoothly, if they would let me through the security barrier. We should attempt it one day.

I do not want to make too much of a party political point, but I want to say, particularly with my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) in his place, how much Labour Members are beginning to take careers really seriously. At our party conference this year, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) pledged to reintroduce two weeks’ worth of compulsory work experience and give every child access to quality careers advice in school. When was the last time a leader of a political party of any colour used their flagship conference speech to talk about the importance of careers education? Indeed, I cannot remember a time when careers education was at the forefront of any keynote speech. It is clearly not a regular occurrence—perhaps once in a blue moon, but I would say that as a Manchester City fan.

Careers education is important to us, particularly for the Opposition, because it is vital for the future of this country, and vital for securing a socially just society. Social justice can be achieved only when we do everything in our power to ensure that our young people can find where their best talents lie and to empower them with the knowledge, skills and understanding to find the route that will help them to realise their potential and aspirations. Evidence shows that high-quality careers education is linked to improved academic attainment, both in academic motivation and in exam results; increased wages; and, after entering the workplace, reduced chances of dropping out and becoming NEET—not in education, employment or training. It creates a better alignment of careers aspirations with the jobs market.

A step change in delivering the best possible careers education for our young people would be ensuring that we do more to inform all our young people about apprenticeships and technical education, which is something about which I am passionate in my constituency. That is why I am encouraged to see the latest report from the Careers & Enterprise Company on trends in careers education, which says that progress is being made in the area. However, clearly, as the report points out, there is more work to be done.

I was shadow Schools Minister for over three years. I had the privilege of visiting many schools all over the country, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree that there is no feeling quite like going back to the school that you attended as a child. I was particularly pleased to visit Saint Paul’s Catholic High School, in my constituency, where I went to school, to see how it was using careers education to drive whole-school improvement. The school comes out as the poorest in England year on year, as it did when I attended it in the 1980s. I was inspired by how the school had embraced and embedded the role of a careers leader to drive forward its careers programme, and by how its career strategy was being supported by a senior volunteer from the world of business—at that time it was Jaguar Land Rover. It was making a real difference. This year, the school has also joined its local careers hub, which has been accelerating the quality of careers education across Greater Manchester, which includes my constituency.

During the visit, I had a chance to talk to year 8 pupils about my career, which ranges from digging roads as a labourer to selling tickets on a zero-hours contract at Maine Road—as a Manchester City fan, it was the lowest-paid, highest-status job I have ever had. I now have a quite well-paid job, but I will let Members in the room decide what they think its status is. The point that I wanted to drive home, however, was the number of options they have available right on their doorstep. As the right hon. Member for Tatton knows, we are fortunate that we have Manchester airport in our constituencies. I was able to unpack all the types of roles one could do at the airport alone. I was also able to name-check opportunities at local employers such as Chiesi, a pharmaceutical group; The Hut Group; Cardinal Maritime, a logistics company; and Broderick’s, a huge vending business, with lads I went to school with. The point is that there are many options.

It is vital that we link local employers to schools and colleges, and ensure that young people have the best chance of finding the best route possible for them. Every year, I host an International Women’s Day event where I invite young women to meet female business professionals in Wythenshawe and Sale East, so that they can meet people just like them, and find out how to get a foot on the ladder. They also make valuable links to those businesses, so when work experience or apprenticeship time arrives, they are confident in applying. It is one of the most rewarding parts of my role as a constituency MP.

I want kids in Wythenshawe and Sale East to know that behind the warehouse doors on the industrial estates in my constituency we have tech jobs, marketing jobs, legal and financial roles, research and development, engineering—the list is endless. I want those kids to have aspirations to take on those roles, and not just become a Member of Parliament. Owing to the work that has been done in my constituency in recent years, we are in a better position to deliver those aspirations for our young people than we have been for a long time. There is a long way to go, but I am pleased that my party, particularly, is stepping up locally and nationally at the moment on this vital agenda.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) for securing this important debate. I know that this topic is particularly important to her, as we welcomed her to my constituency, to Carlton Keighley, where she gave a fantastic presentation to many of the children going to school there and really instilled in them her energy and enthusiasm about the careers service. It was great to have my right hon. Friend there, because her charity, If Chloe Can, is a fantastic, dedicated careers programme charity. The work goes on to empower many young people to follow their dreams: talent is spread across our country, but opportunity is not. It is vital that through providing a great careers service, we make accessible the journey towards fulfilling that opportunity in life, and instil knowledge of how to get there in our young people. That is why careers guidance matters.

It is crucial to ensure that no type of education is prioritised over another, which in turn will help to fill the skills gap that exists across this country. In my opinion, the education system is slightly unbalanced in how different institutions are viewed, whether they are schools, colleges or universities. We still need to get over the stigma that is attached to going to a further education college, because going to university is not for everyone, and—as has been picked up in this debate—too often careers guidance, particularly in the school environment, is focused on providing guidance specifically on the academic route. Representing a fantastic constituency such as Keighley, where we have many manufacturing, engineering and tech-based businesses, I know we must ensure that those skills opportunities can be filled by the many young people who are growing up there and further afield by making sure that those young people know how to secure those opportunities. There is nothing wrong with people choosing any route in life.

As I have said, that feeling that everyone must go down an academic route is helping to fuel the skills shortage in this country, where certain industries are not getting the talent they need. I have some fantastic businesses in my constituency such as Byworth Boilers, which has its own agenda on getting people into the apprenticeship route. It openly goes out to schools to provide direct communication to students who are going through their educational journey, to let them know about the range of opportunities that exist, because too many people are still not grasping the opportunities that are available to them, particularly with regards to the technical courses at further education institutions.

Career guidance can help with that: it is how young people can find out about not just the opportunities that are made available through universities, but the great opportunities that are made available through Keighley College, which is a fantastic further education institution in Keighley. It is pleasing to hear that the Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), is slowly working its way through the House and becoming law. That Bill will help to achieve exactly that aim, and it was a pleasure to be able to speak on Second Reading and support its passage through Parliament, because there is so much to support in it. The measure will help to establish greater consistency across the education system by bringing schools and academies in line with one another when it comes to providing careers guidance. The Bill will also help to fulfil the commitments laid out in the Government’s “Skills for Jobs” White Paper by extending the duty of careers guidance to all students throughout their time at secondary school. Of course, it is absolutely vital that we provide that opportunity through secondary schools and, earlier on, through primary schools—instilling that enthusiasm, and giving young people the chance, opportunities and willpower they need at an early age to explore and achieve anything in life if they wish. It will also achieve greater parity between different types of education institutions.

By extending career guidance to those in year 7, young people will be able to make much more informed decisions about what to do post-16, whether that is attending a further education college or going to university, or anything else, such as exploring the fantastic manufacturing, engineering and tech-based businesses in my constituency. I am delighted that the Government are supporting the Bill and I wholeheartedly hope that it passes through the House in good time.

Before I call the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), we have worked the intricate maths. The debate will finish at 5.41 pm. I will call the Opposition spokesperson at 5.23 pm, allowing the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) a couple of minutes to wind up the debate. Is everyone happy? Great.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to serve under your chairmanship once again, Ms Rees, renewing the relationship with you in charge and myself making a small contribution, as often happens in this Chamber. I thank the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) for setting the scene so well for each and every one of us. I know that the Minister has no responsibility for Northern Ireland; however, I will give a Northern Irish perspective, as I often do, to replicate and support what the right hon. Member for Tatton has said on the importance of careers choice and guidance in schools, and where we want to be on that matter.

It is a pleasure to be here and to participate in this debate. I have stated all too often that children are the future, and I believe that it is our responsibility to ensure that they have the platform and the opportunities to make the most of their lives in terms of employment. I think I recall intervening on the right hon. Lady when she spoke in a Friday debate—while I was in Parliament for my Automated External Defibrillators (Public Access) Bill—to support her as she once again pursued careers guidance for young people.

It is a great reassurance to know that the correct strategies are in place for schools. As the right hon. Lady and other hon. Members have said, it is very important for where we are with our schools and the guidance that they give. The preparing for success strategy, set out by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, aims to develop more effective career decision makers, leading to increased and appropriate participation in education, training and employment. Schoolchildren in Northern Ireland choose their GCSEs in year 10, when they are 14 or 15 years old. It is fair to say that children are forced—albeit gently—to think about their futures at a young age, so it is essential that the support is in place to enable them to start doing that.

I have served on the board of governors of Glastry College, one of the schools in my constituency for—my goodness; I am just trying to think—more than 30 years. Although I did not attend that school, my boys did. What I have learned from being on the board of governors was that there is a chance to guide young people to where they want to be. Not everybody will be educationally inclined; some are more physically focused and want to work on farms or in factories, and there is plenty of choice for that in my constituency. The main thing is that young people understand the opportunities they have.

There are many schools in my constituency of Strangford that offer sixth-form education. In particular, I would like to mention the South Eastern Regional College in Newtownards, which has countless specialities for teens to take an interest in, whether in mechanics, beauty treatment, working in shops or managing a business—those courses are all there.

Recent statistics have shown that a massive 65% of those studying for a degree admit to having regrets about their academic choice. Further statistics show that two out of five schoolchildren in their final year of school would feel like a failure if they did not progress to university. Not everybody can, should or needs to go to university, but it is good to know that they will have that opportunity if they have the ability to do so. I must say that better careers guidance in schools has the potential to reduce those figures, which I find quite shocking. I have spoken to younger constituents who have said that their schools allocate each of them a careers adviser, with whom they have one-to-one chats throughout the years they are at school. I strongly encourage that not only in schools but in universities and colleges. Some children have little or no idea what they want to do in life, and that is just the way it is, but they do focus. I certainly ended up doing something that I never expected—I always had an interest in politics, but I never thought I would be here—and it is the same for many people.

The lack of careers guidance and support can factor into this. The JobReaders Academy has revealed that the second biggest factor in why six in every 100 pupils drop out of university is poor secondary school preparation. If that is where it starts, that is where things need to start improving. We must remember it is not solely down to secondary schools to teach our young people; the correct careers advice must be readily available in universities, too.

We must ensure that our schoolchildren are encouraged to start thinking about their futures. Yes, it is scary, and I cannot stand here today and say that when I was a wee boy, I was 100% sure what I wanted to be—apart from wanting to be a Royal Marines soldier, a train driver, a shopkeeper, a salesman and ultimately to have my own business. All those sorts of things go through someone’s mind when they are aged nought to 10, or nought to 16, and they may end up somewhere they did not expect to be.

Ofsted has revealed that schoolchildren want to see more information on the full range of courses run by FE colleges and other providers, since not everyone wants to do A-levels and go to university. It is essential that there is the opportunity to do that through careers guidance. We want all young people to have the same opportunities, if possible, but they will go their own ways.

I urge the Minister and the Department to work with their education counterparts in the devolved nations to ensure that children have access to all sorts of careers advice, and so that we can exchange ideas. I am sure that she does so regularly with her counterparts in the other regional Administrations. I believe that careers guidance should start in schools and not stop at university. Many young people from Northern Ireland end up at universities here in the mainland. Guidance should be available inside and outside education settings, and we must not let our youngest be hindered from reaching their full potential because they did not have the means to get there in the first place.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) on securing this important debate. Evidence shows that the best careers education in schools has the potential to promote social equity and enable greater social mobility. That is why preparing all students for the world of work must be a key element of the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

I am pleased that Stoke-on-Trent is leading the way as one of the 20 areas taking part in the Government’s careers hubs programme. It is fantastic to see the cluster of 20 secondary schools and colleges working together with partners in the business, public, education and voluntary sectors to deliver and implement the Gatsby benchmarks and improve careers outcomes for young people.

St Joseph’s College in my constituency is one of the schools taking part in the programme. The school provides a shining example of a rounded careers education programme, including lessons on skills and aspirations, financial decision making and goal setting from year 7 onwards. We must ensure that every student in this country has the tools to achieve their full potential.

The world of work is ever changing, and the options for careers today do not resemble those of even a decade ago. We also need to recognise that the values of this generation are different from those of their parents and grandparents. For many young people, the social value of work is more important than earning the highest salary, for example. Indeed, careers advice as a term is rather dated. The knowledge and skills that young people acquire during their education are often transferrable, and the range of work available in a digital age is incredibly broad.

We should not underestimate the longer-term impact of the global pandemic on career choices for the next generation either, because jobs that were considered secure a few years ago may not look so risk-free now. The travel and leisure industries, retail and hospitality all faced enormous challenges during the pandemic. I have been told by several engineering companies that the status of jobs in their sector is poor, and that young people are not encouraged to consider work in an industrial setting as a good career option. The attitude that it is a career of last resort is typified by one managing director’s comment that parents and teachers are still likely to say, “You’d better work hard at school or you will end up in a factory.”

I recently visited the LiDR contract furniture company in my constituency and saw the state-of-the-art design systems and complex high-tech equipment that bespoke contract furniture manufacturers need. The director said that he preferred to train up an apprentice with the right attitude than to employ a graduate with all the technical skills but not the wider understanding of the whole operation, which relied more on knowledge of the whole than simply on a knowledge of computer-aided design systems. Attitude and aptitude are the key qualities employers look for. Time and again, I hear the comment that too many young people do not stay the course or simply do not show up after a few days or weeks in the job.

In summary, it is essential that careers guidance is integrated into the personal development journey of all young people to instil aspiration, self-belief and an understanding of the opportunities available to them. It is a core function of education to prepare young people for the best possible future.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), who has been an extraordinary champion in this area; the fact that so many of us are here today pays testament to that. I also wish to put on the record my support for the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) on education and careers guidance, which will be debated on Friday. I am particularly pleased that the Government’s “Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth” White Paper has seen a commitment to a national rolling-out of careers hubs, digital support, careers leader training and the enterprise adviser network, all of which complement the Gatsby benchmarks. I understand that Sir John Holman has been tasked with delivery. Can the Minister tell us where we are with progress on that?

As ever, there is much to be done and there is great regional disparity, not least within the south-west, and I am working to close that gap in south Devon. On my patch, a post-18 career fair will be held to invite year 12 and 13 students to meet local employers, working with Kingsbridge Academy, King Edward VI Community College, or KEVICC, Brixham College, Churston Ferrers and South Devon College, to name but a few. Those career hub events seek to promote the opportunities available in south Devon and to highlight the extraordinary variety of businesses, but most importantly to provide our students with an understanding of what is available to them. All too often, there is a perception that we have to move away from home to find the work we want to do. I want to be able to try and disprove that perception.

I want to make three quick points—I will sit down at three minutes. First, we need to start early, as my right hon. Friend said. Secondly, we need hands-on experience; people need to try and test different jobs. I started off my life as a waiter in Royal Hospital, as well as in The Queen’s Gallery, and then I went on to be a shepherd on the Isle of Mull. I went on to be a ship broker and then to work behind a bar. Now I have sadly failed and become a Member of Parliament. Such hands-on experience allows people to see what can be achieved. I am hoping to get money for the fisheries and seafood scheme to build such a school in Dartmouth at Noss on Dart to make sure people can get into the fishing sector.

Thirdly, we need to promote the local opportunities across the country, and part of the levelling-up agenda has to be about providing those jobs and those interests for people.

I want to make a quick point about parents and their importance in influencing their children’s career choices. What does my hon. Friend say about that?

That is very timely; I know how much of a champion my hon. Friend is for local schools, working with educators, parents and employers alike to make sure we can find the right opportunities. We have to engage all our communities together to make sure that those opportunities can be found.

In summary, we have to ensure that our children’s horizons are broadened, that the opportunities are made available and that they are made aware that we can provide the support and insight for them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and also to point out to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) that I was born on the council estate in Wythenshawe and made it to be an MP. So there we are: there is one already—more to follow.

We have a difficulty in Leicestershire in that all too often people get their first job, which is low paid and low skilled, and then remain in it. That is fine when people are living at home with their parents and single, but when they move on to have a family or want to move to another place, then it is more difficult. I have been working on a life skills project for a couple of years, alongside Barclays, Communities that Work and East Midlands Housing, to try and promote ways of being able to pay rent and move on in life by getting additional skills. Really, I am just following on from my predecessor, the wonderful Baroness Morgan of Cotes, who worked on a project with Loughborough College called Bridge to Work and is now on the board of the Careers & Enterprise Company, working along the same lines as Bridge to Work when it started out.

Since setting up the Careers & Enterprise Company and the careers hubs in the area, we have retrieved all sorts of good statistics that meet the Gatsby model. For example, more than six in 10 schools nationally are taught maths and English in a way that links lessons to jobs and careers—a 44% increase on 2019. Nine in 10 colleges also taught the curriculum in a way that highlighted the relevance of a subject to future career paths, and 84% of schools provided information about apprenticeships to their students. Those are some of the achievements that the Careers and Enterprise Company has highlighted.

I want to highlight three excellent examples in Loughborough. Limehurst Academy’s work is spearheaded by the proactivity of its wonderful head, Jonathan Mellor. It has embedded careers education across the academy’s curriculum, from subject areas right through to personal development, citizenship and targeted interventions, as has Rawlins Academy, which is also leading the way. It has rewritten its careers education programme from start to finish to build careers conversations into every subject area. Finally, there is the Careers and Enterprise Hub that is funded by the town deal fund in Loughborough. It is central to the town, providing careers advice and a way to access jobs and to meet with employers; there are interviews and seminars within the building, and it really works.

One of the points I want to raise with the Minister is access to careers advice from a younger age. I believe that the Careers and Enterprise Company focuses on years 8 to 13, but we should look at year 7 or even younger. After I passed my 11-plus, I went to a state grammar school in Congleton in Cheshire, and I had only been there a matter of weeks, when, at 11 years old, Mrs Hall said to me, “Which university have you thought about going to?” I had never even thought about going to university—I was the first in my family to do so—but these points need to be considered.

Thank you, Ms Rees. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) gave a storming speech. The quickest way to summarise my speech would be to say I agree with everything she said—I thought it was marvellous. I declare my interest as a governor at two schools in my constituency.

When it comes to the challenge of levelling up, careers guidance is absolutely central to what we are trying to do. Effectively, levelling up is correcting market failure in one of four areas—housing, infrastructure, skilled jobs or having a skilled and educated workforce. As an MP who represents an ex-mining area as I do in Bolsover, the problem is very specifically about looking at having a skilled workforce and skilled jobs in the area. We do not have a history of that.

We have a history of mining, and that creates a cultural challenge, and a gap in aspirations that needs to be corrected. Whether that comes from parents, schools, the community, or—even better—from all three together, we need to be able to change the culture of an area over time, and careers guidance is absolutely central to that. I am not going to look the Chair in the eye because it is very off-putting—I do not know when I have to sit down—so I will carry on regardless.

There are three incredibly important points to make. The first is about pathways. My right hon. Friend outlined quite beautifully that young people need to be able to understand what careers are available to them, which can be incredibly difficult unless they come into contact with those careers. We need clear role models—identifiable, local role models—and to work with employers in the local area to be able to say, “This is what you can do.”

The second point is about aspiration, and the mindset—encouraging young people, wherever they are from, that they can achieve things and making that clear. The third point is reinforcement—saying over and over again that someone can achieve what they need to achieve.

I could not agree more with the need to start young, and to continue with careers guidance. That is such a crucial point—I ruined my notes by scribbling it down. It is unbelievably important. The point on supporting not just academic pathways, but technical ones, and the importance of having provision—

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) for bringing forward this timely and helpful debate, on an issue that is vital to the future of young people and to our country. I know all Members will watch the progress of the private Member’s Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) with interest. It has Labour’s support.

We have heard from a number of speakers on a range of important issues, including access, quality, frequency, variety, consistency, and how fruitful partnerships are between businesses and schools. They make a real difference to the outcomes for young people. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) reminded us how seriously our party takes the issue; my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) made it a centrepiece of his speech at party conference. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about how early young people can make decisions that affect their lives, and how those should be backed up by good advice. A number of Members raised how good-quality careers advice helps social mobility, the impact of the pandemic on the jobs market, and the importance of getting advice early.

At the heart of the debate is a desire to ensure that young people are ready for work and for life. There has been a noticeable surge in that sentiment since the pandemic. While parents will always want to see their children succeed academically, with high attainment in subject-based learning, many are increasingly concerned that their children should leave school as well rounded individuals with the skills to succeed in the wider world; yet the availability and quality of careers advice remains patchy, and the Government must move further and faster to outfit children with the skills that they need.

Teachers, parents, children and business communities agree. According to Parentkind’s 2021 “Parent Voice” report, just half of parents say that their school offers good careers advice. The Centre for Education and Youth’s “Enriching Education Recovery” report makes it clear that the vast majority of teachers, parents and children agree that there should be improvements to access. That is echoed by the business community. In 2019, a CBI survey said that 44% of employers felt that young people leaving education were not work ready. It also highlighted the geographic variation in engagement with employers in education settings. I visited St Edmund’s Catholic School in my constituency last week, which has a very good offer, but more broadly students in rural and coastal communities face a postcode lottery in access to joined-up support.

The Sutton Trust has concluded:

“All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice”;

yet a recent Careers England survey tells us that three quarters of schools have insufficient, limited or no funding with which to deliver what is needed. About a third of secondary schools say that they receive the equivalent of £5 per student, with 5% receiving just £2. The inclusion of the Gatsby benchmarks as part of the DFE’s statutory guidance on careers education represents welcome and modest progress, but ultimately, despite a northern powerhouse strategy in 2016, a careers strategy in 2017, the “Skills for Jobs” White Paper in January 2021 and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, little action has been taken to address the postcode lottery that our children face in accessing the skills and opportunities that they need in school to navigate the world of work.

Labour is backing pupils, parents, businesses and educators with its pledge to give every child access to quality careers advice in their school. Our plan would allow children to access a professional careers adviser one day a week. That would be achieved by increasing the Careers and Enterprise Company’s grant funding, allowing it to employ more advisers in every school. That would enhance the ability to strengthen links between schools and local employers across the board, guaranteeing standards and eliminating the current postcode lottery.

Practical careers advice is closely linked to the invaluable hands-on experience that children get during periods of work experience. Here again, we find a record of failure from successive Conservative-led Governments. The next Labour Government would introduce six weeks’ worth of compulsory work experience, reversing its removal from the curriculum by the coalition Government and equipping young people with the skills that they need. In addition to support for schools, we will work with businesses, communities and others to ensure that they offer the placements needed. Once again, Labour is restoring a skills-led agenda for our children, while successive Conservative Governments have mortgaged their future.

The hon. Member makes an interesting point about the need for careers advice. We would all love for young people to spend more time with business, engaging with different kinds of work and getting to grips with what they want to do in life. He says that the Labour party is committed to a statutory six weeks of work experience per child. How does he envisage that he will find all those placements in his communities, and where will the capacity come from to deliver that level of experience?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. We have already heard a number of examples of how businesses are working closely with schools across the country, and we want to amplify that message even further.

Improved careers advice in schools must be a key building block in our children’s lives, and I therefore have a number of questions to ask the Minister. Alongside academic attainment, enhanced vocational and technical qualifications, and university, does the Minister agree that careers advice must play a much larger role in getting young people ready for work? Will she adopt Labour’s pledges to ensure that schools have the funding and structures in place that are needed to deliver this? I would also be keen to hear her reflections on the availability and quality of careers guidance in schools, and particularly on the disparity in access that exists for students at maintained schools.

We owe it to the next generation to get this right. From an economic perspective, we cannot afford not to.

I want to start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) on securing this really important debate, and on building on her years of pioneering work in this space by setting up the charity If Chloe Can, which is empowering thousands of young girls and women in Cheshire and beyond. Like her, I know from personal experience that role models can inspire and change lives. I am sure that many of us would not be sitting in this room had it not been for role models in our lives, but not everybody has that luxury. The value of having people whom we look up to and turn to for guidance and support at a young age is something that I see every day in the Department for Education, so I am delighted that If Chloe Can is helping to connect schools to leaders and mentors from many different industries and sectors.

Having spoken in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber a number of times over the last two years about the exciting skills and careers revolution that is taking place in education, I must say that I am pleased to be here today to talk specifically about what we are doing to improve careers guidance across all our schools and colleges. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) highlighted, all the evidence shows that improving careers guidance fuels ambition, lifts aspiration and encourages young people to reflect on their strengths and interests, to find careers that they are interested in pursuing, and to develop the skills and attributes that they need to succeed in those careers. The foundation of making that a reality is careers guidance in our secondary schools.

As I am sure right hon. and hon. Members agree, every secondary school pupil, regardless of background or geography, should have inspiring careers resources available to them, just as the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) outlined. Clear, universal careers guidance from an early age not only ensures that everyone has a fair opportunity to get on in life; it also levels up the playing field. That is why we are strengthening the legal framework so that every secondary pupil is guaranteed access to high-quality, independent careers guidance. Careers guidance, in itself, is not the panacea; the quality is absolutely crucial.

My hon. Friend is right to say that high-quality careers advice should be available to everybody throughout their time at secondary school. I once asked a former Secretary of State for Education what happens if the Baker clause is not enacted by the school and it is not delivering such education or allowing outside bodies to come in and deliver careers advice. He replied that the Department would write a strongly worded letter to the school in order to insist that they should, but that did not really have a great deal of leverage. Can the Minister confirm that the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill strengthens the ability of the Government to direct that and ensures that it is much more likely that children will have access to external education providers?

I can confirm that. Ofsted is now playing a much more active role in looking at the careers support and guidance that is available to schools, including their utilisation of the Baker clause, so that we do not have the postcode lottery to which the hon. Member for Portsmouth South referred. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton spoke in support of the Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Bill, which is sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson). The Government wholeheartedly support that important Bill, which will, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) outlined, extend careers provision to all pupils in state education, bringing year 7 and upwards into scope for the first time—something that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) called for in the debate. The Bill will also place a duty on all academy schools and alternative provision academies.

Through the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, we are also improving access to colleges and opportunities so that young people can hear directly from providers of approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships about the wide range of opportunities that are open to them beyond school. A recent report by The Careers & Enterprise Company shows why that is so important. Uptake of apprenticeships was 16% higher in the schools that provided information on apprenticeships to most or all of their students, compared with the schools that provided information to a small minority.

It is for that very reason that we have taken such committed action in this area. First, we have put in place support to help schools to develop their careers offer so that pupils have much more comprehensive support, something that was stressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). That support helps them to plan for the next stages in their lives.

The Gatsby benchmarks, for example, are eight clear benchmarks recommended in the “Good Career Guidance” report produced by Gatsby, a leading education charity. Data from schools in England has shown that when all eight Gatsby benchmarks are met, the proportion of students in sustained post-16 education, employment or training rises by nearly 10%. In disadvantaged areas, that same figure rises by a staggering 20%. We have adopted the Gatsby benchmarks as our career framework for secondary schools and colleges. They are based on robust international evidence and they provide a clear definition of what world-class careers guidance really looks like.

In fact, we are investing £28 million this year for the CEC to support schools and colleges to implement the Gatsby benchmarks. That is part of a total £100 million investment in careers guidance for the financial year 2021-22. New careers hubs allow schools and colleges to form strong local partnerships with businesses, providers and the voluntary sector so that they can collaborate and improve careers guidance. By September 2021, two thirds of schools and colleges in England were already part of the careers hub. Additionally, careers leaders are a brand-new workforce of specially trained staff who will drive forward careers programmes in schools and colleges. Since the launch of the training in September 2018, more than 2,200 careers leaders have engaged in the funded training. In addition, around 4,000 senior business volunteers are now working as enterprise advisers to schools and colleges.

Already 21 secondary schools and colleges in the Cheshire and Warrington LEP are in a careers hub, and enterprise advisers are already matched with 90% of schools and colleges across the area. Of those enterprise advisers, 64% are sourced from small and medium enterprises, and I am pleased to say that 52% are female.

To return to the importance of role models, our funding is helping to increase young people’s exposure to employers and the world of work. That includes schools and colleges linking up with providers and employers that offer mentoring opportunities.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton also raised important points about the work of the CEC in relation to the National Careers Service. Sir John Holman has been tasked with making recommendations to drive greater alignment and collaboration between the CEC and the service. I am pleased to inform my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) that those findings will be published in the summer. I am sure that hon. Members will be updated as and when those responses are forthcoming. It is a brilliant achievement that, through the CEC, we are now working with 300 cornerstone employers to challenge those negative stereotypes identified by Members to—as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) put it—instil aspiration and understanding of the opportunities available. Those employers are working closely with local partnerships at schools and colleges to support employer encounters and ensure that young people are exposed to the world of work and the broad possibilities of potential career paths lying ahead.

Employers such as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Gatwick airport and Hilton hotels have seen benefits from their roles as cornerstone employers in developing their pipeline of skilled employees. As a cornerstone employer, Pinewood Studios has recently co-designed immersive maths lessons for pupils at 21 different secondary schools. Thanks to that partnership, 14,000 young people are now learning about careers in new ways, and the ambition is to showcase those lessons to hundreds more schools in the coming years.

With those achievements in mind, I want to conclude with a look ahead to the future. Our skills revolution, combined with an innovative new careers guidance system, will help to lead millions of young people into the careers that suit them. Initiatives like If Chloe Can are helping to drive us forward. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton is due to meet the Secretary of State for Education to explore how we can collaborate and build on that excellent work. I am sure that the skills Minister will be only too happy to join that meeting.

In one minute, I want to thank everyone who has spoken today. It has been a positive, uniting and uplifting debate, showing that we all understand the importance of good-quality and consistent career advice, work placements and educational pathways. I am confident that the Government also understand the importance of those, and are taking steps to make them better.

This is not to put extra work on teachers’ shoulders; they have a lot to be getting on with. This should be making life easier for them and their pupils. If any pupils or teachers have been watching today, I want them to know that we are not all fusty old Members of Parliament. We actually have their best interests at heart and are fighting to bring opportunities to the next generation.

Question put and agreed to. 


That this House has considered the matter of careers guidance in schools.

Sitting adjourned.