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Schools: Careers Service

Volume 748: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they address concerns about the schools career service highlighted in the Barnardo’s report Helping the Inbetweeners.

My Lords, we want all schools to follow the example of the best and provide inspiring careers advice for young people. The new statutory duty is an important step towards this. However, evidence from Barnardo’s and Ofsted’s review of careers guidance confirms that there is considerably more to do to bring all schools up to the standard of the best. On 10 September, the Government announced further support for schools in this regard. Proposals include publishing revised statutory guidance and improving national careers service resources.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that reply. Clearly, the best is regular individual face-to-face sessions with all young people from key stage 3 when they enter school. Unfortunately, that is the very thing that Ofsted and Barnardo’s say is lacking in many schools, particularly for the middle-attaining inbetweeners who are still expected to get their career advice from computers. How much longer will the Government stand by and let this poor practice continue when what is needed is a very simple guarantee of face-to-face careers guidance for all young people who would like it?

I think that the noble Baroness’s ambitions and objectives for careers guidance are the same as mine. However, I disagree that the gold standard is a face-to-face interview with a careers adviser. The gold standard is what all good schools do, which is to seek to identify their pupils’ passions, interests, aptitudes, strengths and weaknesses at an early stage and to work with them throughout their time at school to provide a direct line of sight and contact with the workplace. That is what a good education is all about. A few interviews at the end of your time in school is a poor substitute for that.

My Lords, given that the Ofsted report said that three out of four schools were not working well with the new arrangement, despite a handful of excellent examples, this is a devastating indictment. The Barnardo’s research shows that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds need that face-to-face quality, independent advice. In the recent Education Act, the new code of practice said that vulnerable pupils need this face-to-face advice. Will the Government tell us whether this is happening and, if they do not have the figures, should they not be asking for them?

My Lords, the noble Baroness uses the expression “a devastating indictment”. The previous Connexions regime did not work and hardly anyone, from Ofsted to Alan Milburn, had a good word to say about it. That is pretty devastating. There is clear guidance on pupils who will specifically benefit from face-to-face advice—disadvantaged pupils and those with learning difficulties or disabilities. I think that I have made my position clear. What we regard as a really first-class education is what I outlined rather than last-minute careers advice.

Since the Government gave sole responsibility to schools for careers advice we have seen eight in 10 schools dramatically cut the careers advice they provide, according to a survey by Careers England. Even the director of the CBI has questioned the laissez-faire approach of this Government, so will the Minister explain why the Government are against benchmarking careers guidance to national standards which can be assessed within Ofsted inspections, as recommended by the Barnardo’s report?

My Lords, Ofsted inspects careers guidance through the leadership and management strand, and the extent to which the school is offering a broad and balanced curriculum. Schools are also held to account by destination measures.

My Lords, in a debate in this House in the summer, my noble friend responded positively to the suggestion that each secondary school would be well served by having a panel of local businessmen and women and professionals to advise on careers. Has he made any progress on that front?

My noble friend’s example of a careers panel is an excellent example of good practice. I have seen other such examples. I recently visited Stoke Newington school and sixth form college—not an academy—where they follow excellent practice in offering careers advice. They have a speed dating careers day, which is very useful. There is a wide range of good practice that schools can use and a wide range of organisations such as Business in the Community, Business Class and the Education and Employers Taskforce with which schools can engage.

My Lords, when most students go to university, there is a hall of residence available to them and that is quite right and fitting. However, when young people are offered apprenticeships far away from home they have to look out for lodgings or digs in the vicinity of their workplace. Could the noble Lord look at this problem?

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Barnardo’s has estimated that 65% of the children of prisoners end up in prisons themselves. What specific measures are the Government taking to support this particularly at-risk group in making the difficult transition from education into the workplace?

I am afraid I cannot answer that question now. I will write to the noble Lord on this very concerning issue. We must break the cycle of the perpetuation of children’s backgrounds, of which this is an example.

My Lords, an investigation by the Engineering Employers Federation and SEMTA, looking at careers in science and technology, showed that more than 80% of careers advisers in schools come from an arts and humanities background. How likely is it that students who aspire to careers in science and technology will get good advice from people who have no experience of that at all?

I agree entirely with my noble friend that we do not expect teachers to be careers experts. That is unrealistic, which is why we expect all schools to engage with their local business and professional communities. I was recently in Leeds and Sheffield, where the Glass Academy has been formed by glass manufacturers specifically to engage with their local schools extremely effectively.