Question for Short Debate
My Lords, in April the Government published the statutory guidance and non-statutory departmental advice on careers guidance. The House has not had the opportunity to debate the new statutory advice. Some was published the year before, but it has been superseded by this advice and I thought it was important that the House should have an opportunity to debate it.
The importance of good information, advice and guidance for young people in careers is obvious. Businesses are saying that they have 735,000 vacancies. In engineering alone, we have a shortfall of 87,000 engineers. Yet we know from survey evidence—and often also from personal experience—that many young people feel that they have had little, if any, useful advice on the complex choices that they have to make about, for example, their GCSE choices, whether to stay on at school and do A-levels, whether to pursue other opportunities, their choice of degree, or what to do when leaving university. It is too easy for our young people to follow the well trodden route through school whereby the teachers expect them to take GCSEs and go on to A-levels and, if they achieve well, to go on to university.
However, the choices before them get, if anything, more difficult and much more complex as time goes by, as the National Union of Students points out. They are now facing a situation in which A-level choices are decoupled from AS-levels. That makes it much tougher to decide precisely what they are going to do. They cannot put their toe in the water to see how they do and, if it does not work out, perhaps switch to another area. Modular exams and coursework assessment are also being phased out. The world is changing fast: jobs for life are gone.
Sir Steve Stewart, chairman of Careers England, gives two reasons why good-quality information, advice and guidance are necessary. One is,
“a moral-principle issue that, as a civilised nation, we should give our very best support to young people to help them make the very best decisions in life”.
The second is,
“simply the purely economic issue. As a nation we cannot afford to have too many of our young people in the wrong places doing the wrong things and not contributing”.
In order to put this Question into context, it is necessary to give a little background history. In 1974, local authorities were required to set up careers services for young people, to provide careers information, advice and guidance in schools, while the schools themselves provided background careers education. Background guidance was issued by Her Majesty’s Government and careers services were to be inspected by a dedicated careers service inspectorate.
That was changed in 1994, when local authority services were outsourced to a series of specialist service providers. In 2002, those providers were again reconstructed, together with youth services, to form the Connexions service, with which I think we are all very familiar, with a joint remit to provide youth support work, especially for the group not in employment, education or training—the NEET group—alongside careers guidance in schools. By the end of Labour’s term in office, in 2008-09, it had become clear that that joint remit was just not working and that careers guidance in schools had been marginalised. Ofsted, the CBI, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the Milburn report on social mobility, teachers, parents, social workers and the careers professionals themselves all admitted that the careers service in schools had more or less collapsed.
The Education Act 2011 brought a radical shift. In line with the coalition Government’s wish for schools to have more independence and autonomy, the responsibility for providing careers education, information, advice and guidance services was placed firmly with the schools themselves. The age range was extended in line with the raising of the participation age downwards to year eight and upwards to year 13. The duty of schools was to provide independent and impartial careers advice, which was to include information on a range of options available, including apprenticeships, and to provide face-to-face guidance for those for whom it was considered appropriate—especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Act came into effect in September 2012, and was supplemented by both statutory guidance and, a little later, by a practical guide detailing best practice.
At the same time, the Government set up the new National Careers Service, working in conjunction with the DWP, which was to provide adult careers guidance. The original aim was to provide an all-age service covering both young people and adults and, importantly, to provide continuing support for those in transition from education to jobs. In the event, school access to the National Careers Service has been limited to the use of its very good web-based information service and its telephone advice service. The irony is that we now have a rather good adult careers service, including face-to-face advice with qualified professionals, when in the past we had none; whereas provision has been largely lost for schools.
The arrangements came in for considerable criticism. For example, the House of Commons Education Select Committee, although acknowledging that Connexions itself had generally failed to provide the careers guidance needed, noted,
“a worrying deterioration in the overall … provision”,
and that the,
“quality, independence and impartiality of careers guidance offered to young people was a central concern”.
In particular, it found that far too few schools were taking their duties seriously. Vocational options were not being covered and, all too frequently, further education colleges were refused permission to explain or even distribute literature about their post-16 provision. Face-to-face guidance was available only to the few, while considerable reliance was placed on web-based services. Ofsted undertook a thematic review of the careers service, published in October 2013 under the title, Going in the Right Direction?, which noted:
“Very few of the schools visited knew how to provide a service effectively or had the skills and expertise needed to provide a comprehensive service. Few schools had purchased an adequate service from external sources”.
The CBI’s director-general, Sir John Cridland, described the careers service system in schools as being on “life support” in many areas as schools struggled with the statutory duty. He and Ofsted were particularly critical of the cutting back in years 10 and 11 of work experience provision.
In a response to those criticisms, Matthew Hancock issued a vision statement that in many senses underlies these new provisions, which provide for much more input from industry and have moved enthusiastically into what might be called a very radical change to develop real-world connections, with firm visits and work experience very much on the agenda, urging schools to link up with local businesses and inviting them into school to talk about what they do, using alumni who are enthusiastic and passionate about their career, to act as ambassadors to inspire and raise expectations. As required by the Act, the schools still have to ensure that their pupils get impartial and independent advice from external services, which should include face-to-face support. But it suggests that this comes from mentoring activities and employer linkage as much as careers guidance.
The question is whether this is enough. Will the new guidelines result in careers education in schools? I start by saying how much I welcome the emphasis on schools linking up with local employers and the recognition of the need to work with and for the local labour markets, seeking to enthuse pupils and raising their ambitions. Work of organisations such as Future First is admirable, and I am very proud that Guildford boasts one of the schools—St Peter’s Catholic School—that was regarded as an exemplar of what schools should do. But I still have some questions to raise.
I do not understand why the coalition Government have ignored the recommendations from Ofsted and the House of Commons Select Committee. These suggest that to provide effective careers advice and guidance, as St Peter’s does, they should implement a clear strategy for careers guidance; ensure that they make use of the National Careers Service resources, which are not well used at the moment; have well trained staff in charge of the area; use careers guidance professionals as well as employer networks; and foster links with local colleges and other trade professions.
On a point noted by the Select Committee, I am concerned that the £200 million provided for the Connexions services in the period 2009-10 has disappeared from view, and we no longer see that. Why have the Government been so resistant to including face-to-face guidance by qualified careers advisers? What has happened to the £200 million which, given the transfer of responsibilities, should have been available to help schools take on new careers responsibilities?
My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for introducing this debate and doing so in such a splendid manner. The whole point and purpose of education is to discover and exploit the talents of each and every child who goes to school and that can be successful if that child, on developing into an adult when he or she leaves school, finds a career that is sufficiently challenging and rewarding in every sense. One problem that has bedevilled education—and I speak as a former schoolmaster, a parent and a grandparent with four grandchildren at school at the moment—has been the lack of comprehensive careers guidance. Many schools implant the idea that, unless the pupil goes to university, somehow or other it is a failure. That is so wrong. What we need to have is a careers guidance system that says to every child that there is a place for you—you can give of your best and achieve of your best and make a real contribution. I quote George Herbert, who said:
“Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine”.
Whatever is done, if it is done to a high and proper standard, can be intrinsically rewarding. So we have to get rid of the notion that those who do not go to university have somehow failed—and we have to emulate those in Germany, for whom being an engineer is as high a calling as anything else. As the noble Baroness referred to, why are there 87,000 vacancies in this country for engineers? It is because our young people have not been sufficiently motivated.
I am particularly involved with craft apprenticeships, and I chair the William Morris Craft Fellowship Trust. I believe that we ought to get into our schools and tell our young people about this, and demonstrate to them that a career in the crafts can be as richly rewarding as anything else. I live in the shadow of Lincoln Cathedral, one of the most glorious buildings in Europe. How could that cathedral survive from generation to generation without dedicated craftsmen and craftswomen? We need to get into our schools and explain to the children that there are exciting opportunities for them.
How do we do that? One thing which we can and should do is ensure that every school has a panel of careers advisers, drawn from the local community. This should consist of successful business men and women, professionals and those accomplished in the crafts and what would in a previous age be referred to as the manual skills. Our young people would then have the opportunity not only to hear from those who have succeeded, but also metaphorically to sit at their feet.
Properly constructed work placements should be part of the education of every child, with work experience during the last two or three years of education. I have a granddaughter who just had some work experience in Lincoln itself, in the archives and so on. Her horizons expanded, and she went back to her school in Edinburgh —she lives up in Scotland—feeling much more aware of opportunities than she was previously.
I want a proper panel in every school. Guidance is fine, and the guidance to which the noble Baroness referred is admirable, but we have to give the policy some teeth. I know that the Minister is reluctant to prescribe this and prescribe that, but we are talking about the future of our children and therefore we have to ensure that they all have breadth of opportunity and experience. I beg of my noble friend to toughen up on this guidance. He also knows that I am a great believer in the importance of citizenship studies, and the two go side by side. As he knows, I would like to see every child coming out of school having undergone some form of citizenship ceremony, aware of his or her responsibilities and rights in the context of the wider world. That can come about only if these young people have an opportunity—and, indeed, an obligation —to do not only community service, but also properly constructed work placements.
We have to bring to this a sense of urgency, so that those at school at the moment do not feel that they are failures if they do not get three A* grades. They must not feel that they are failures if they do not go to university, and should feel that they are successful if they are attracted to vocational training, which tends to be denigrated. My six minutes are up so I will finish on that point, but I urge this upon the Minister.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for allowing us to have this debate. I did not realise that we had not had the opportunity to discuss the guidance, which is very important. I thank her for giving us that opportunity. There are problems with careers education guidance at the moment, and I want to say something about that, but let me be clear that there were problems with Connexions as well. We have not got it right for 20 years, so it is not a party-political point. Successive Governments just have not got this right, and I want to address why that might be the case.
One point that has not been said is that we all understand and know about the importance of careers education and guidance for everyone, but for no one more than the youngster trying to break away from the pattern of employment that their family has had for generation after generation. How it plays into that social mobility agenda and opportunity agenda is huge.
When I look at the guidance, I cannot argue with any single aspect of it. Having employer engagement is great; having employers in school is fantastic; work experience is wonderful; raising aspirations and showing people new visions is just what we want. It is right that schools should have a choice in who provides the services for the children in their care. I also like the encouragement that schools are getting to use destination information. When I look at the component parts that address the careers problem, I cannot argue against them. So why is it not working? That is what I really wanted to look at. In truth, the problem is that it does not hang together. Although all the elements are good and sound, every single one of them risks failing and is likely to fail in a considerable number of schools throughout this country.
If we take businesses, it is great that there is business involvement but, during my very early years of teaching, I used to be a careers teacher, and I can tell your Lordships that some of the most difficult classes I had were when I had an employer in who was not very good at talking to recalcitrant 14 year-old boys. So the notion that the minute you get employers in it is all wonderful is just not true. Our children get good-quality work experience, but if you are in an inner-city comprehensive school, trying to get that quality work experience with no external help for a cohort of 200 students a year is very difficult.
If we look at the structure of schools themselves, none of them do not care about what happens to their children but all the levers are against them doing the careers education and guidance right. It is not just that there is a history of saying that the best thing is to stay until the sixth form and go on to university, as has been said today. Schools carry that weight and history with them, but they are also rewarded for saying that. They are seen to be better schools because sixth forms mean more money and more pupil funding for that age range. All the incentives are for them not to send children into apprenticeships or down to the local college.
Children have to make a decision, but the areas of the curriculum where that used to be encouraged—PSHE and citizenship—are no longer there. The problem is that Ministers will always be able to give us examples of where there is really good practice. However, to be really honest, the chances of all those elements hanging together to provide universal careers provision across the country—of them being brought together by a school that puts it top of its priority list—are next to none. This cannot be a subject where some kids miss out. We have to be able to guarantee that it is available for everyone.
I want to look at something which I think is not often mentioned. I remember that when I was a young careers teacher, I always used to think that there were really three elements to it. You had to give the child information and aspiration—the tools to get some stuff into his or her head. You also had to give them the skill to assess their own strengths and where they were—what was and was not reasonable. But the most difficult thing was getting them to make the decision and, having made it, to stick with it for the rest of their school life. We sometimes underestimate how difficult it is, especially with some children, to equip them with the skills to make the decision and stick with it. I often think of this analogy: anyone who has been house hunting knows of the huge gap between really liking a house and saying, “Yes, I’ll buy it”. It is exactly the same thing as saying, “I really like that job. I wonder if I could do it”. But jumping in and staying with it for years, throughout the rest of your career, is very difficult.
I hope that I do not often say this, but I do not think that we have ever had anything as good as the careers service that we had in the 1980s, when I was teaching. Certainly in my area, which was Coventry, we were an exemplar. As a careers teacher, I taught careers guidance lessons, but we had, devolved from the Coventry careers service, a careers officer who was full time and two assistants. I pay tribute to Bill Grantham, who was our careers officer. So what the children had in our office was not just my skills as a teacher but his skills as a careers officer and those of his team.
It was he who gave the impartial advice; it was he who said, “Is that what you want to do? Well, this is how you need to go about it”. Most crucially, it was he who gave the school leadership and the teachers the confidence to put careers at the centre of what they did. We were not equipped to do it, but with him there, by our side, on our senior management team, we had the cohesion that is so often lacking. I hope that, on this occasion, learning some lessons from the past may stand us in good stead for the future.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for initiating this debate. Having spoken a number of times in your Lordships’ House on the issue of apprenticeships and preparation of young people in schools to enter the world of work, I am very glad that we have the statutory and non-statutory guidance which has clarified a number of issues that needed resolution, following Ofsted’s report which concluded that three-quarters of schools were not executing their statutory careers duties satisfactorily. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, who is right that the new structure needs to hang together. However, following the publication of the guidance, I am now reassured that Ofsted is giving a higher priority in school inspections to careers advice and guidance. I also welcome the clarification in the guidance of the role of governing bodies.
It is important for the Government to be more interventionist. There is a lot of evidence that we have to get more employers into schools, albeit employers who contribute positively to the young person’s experience and motivation, and to get more school students to experience the world of work. Neither is an island. A few months ago, IPPR North produced a report entitled Driving a Generation: Improving the Interaction Between Schools and Businesses. Interestingly, a number of its recommendations have been addressed in the statutory guidance but I will quote one of its conclusions:
“In order to deliver a well-informed careers service with a broad range of job destinations, advisers located in schools need to be aware of the local employment opportunities around them. This means that they need to have some form of contact with local employers. At present, too few have any.”
I emphasise the word “any”, for I find that a very worrying conclusion. It is not simply a question of money; it is as much about culture, knowledge and a clear definition of roles. Students are in schools and the careers guidance they receive needs to be related to the curriculum they are taught. I am unsure whether Ofsted was right to say it was an error to transfer responsibility for careers guidance to schools from local authorities. Schools are best placed to give guidance to students. They need help in doing that, but the core delivery should be in schools.
I draw attention to what IPPR North said because it specifically recommended the following strategy, based on research it undertook. In year 7, students should know about the different careers available in the subject area and the qualifications and education choices needed to enter those careers. That is information and knowledge-building. In year 8, there should be visits from employers, relevant to subject classes. In year 9, there should be visits by school students to major employers in the local area. As the Browne review of higher education recommended, there should be more individualised career support for students in years 10 and 11.
All this means that secondary schools need to develop much stronger relationships with major employers in their catchment areas. It also means that more employers have to be engaged in the education system. I was somewhat surprised by research published by the Federation of Small Businesses, which showed that 40% of its members have no engagement with local schools. One way of improving things is to use former students to raise aspiration and I am aware of the work of Future First, which builds alumni communities with former students as role models. The guidance says that schools should engage with their former students and get them to raise aspiration. That is wise, because students who lack confidence or knowledge need far more than occasional advice; they need real, sustained motivation.
One of the consequences of the way in which our careers system has worked over so many years reveals itself in the lack of women in engineering. Of the UK workforce, 8.5% are women. When you look at Scandinavia, which has a quarter, or Italy and France, which have a fifth, you realise the extent of the cultural problem we have. As my noble friend Lady Sharp said, the UK needs almost 100,000 new engineering graduates each year to meet current demand; that is twice current levels. Half of our state schools send no girls to university to study maths and sciences, which is a massive loss of talent. Early career support and mentoring to choose the right courses to enter careers in engineering and sciences would help, as would promotion of vocational provision. Again, as has been said, too many schools still focus only on A-level provision.
Overall, I welcome the guidance that has been issued and hope that the implementation will be such that no school will be found to have few contacts with local employers, and few local employers will be found to have no contact with schools.
My Lords, the new statutory duty requires governing bodies to ensure that all registered pupils at school are provided with independent careers guidance. There must be,
“a range of activities … including employer talks, career fairs, motivational speakers, college and university visits, coaches and mentors … In-house support for students must be combined with advice and guidance from independent external sources to meet the school’s legal requirements”.
Searching for the word “entrepreneurship”, I found:
“Schools should offer pupils the opportunity to develop entrepreneurial skills for self-employment”.
This is what the Government are asking for. Matthew Hancock, who was the Minister for Skills and Enterprise at the time, said:
“There is now no excuse for schools and colleges not to engage local employers to support students in the transition from education to employment”.
However, as we have heard, Ofsted, in its report Going in the Right Direction? said that the link with employers was the weakest aspect of careers guidance in the 60 schools that it visited. About two-thirds of schools reported that they had cut down on their work experience provision for students in years 10 to 11. Can the Minister explain this? Most of the schools visited, especially those with sixth forms, are generally poor at promoting vocational training and, in particular, apprenticeships. Is the Minister aware of this?
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on leading the debate. As she said, the move from state-sponsored careers guidance through the Connexions service to school-mandated careers guidance started in 2011. Only three other countries leave the responsibility of careers guidance to their school systems: New Zealand, the Netherlands and Ireland. In the case of the latter two, this has led to a reduction in the extent and quality of careers guidance provision. Have the Government taken this into account? In England it is estimated that the careers guidance element of the Connexions services received funding of £196 million in 2010-11. However, none of this was passed on to the schools after the transfer. It is therefore estimated that schools have to make an investment of £25,000 each for something that they had previously had for free. Can the Minister confirm this? Is this about means before ends?
The statutory guidance is very weak in that it is spread across two different documents. Ofsted has said:
“We were … told of a head teacher, who, when faced with the option of either buying careers guidance or extra tutorial support for maths and English, commented ‘If I do not hit the floor targets, I get fired. If I do not do careers, I am not sure that I do get fired’”.
The National Careers Service is all very well but there is a lack of face-to-face support for young people. Young people are going to be making the wrong choices about their careers. The recommendation is that the National Careers Service be expanded so that it has capacity-building and can play brokerage role for schools.
There have been so many comments in the press when employers have spoken about youth unemployment hitting 20%-plus, yet the manufacturing industry cannot attract young people to work in the sector. Works Management said that a survey revealed that 42% of people polled thought that careers advice in secondary schools was poor. Furthermore, 42% of people think that the secondary school teachers have a poor understanding of business and industry in general, while 57% of people believe that teachers should undertake two-week work placements. Would the Government encourage teachers to undertake work placements? Are they doing anything about this?
According to HC online, more than half of employers believe that young people receive inadequate careers advice, and almost two-thirds said that the young people they recruited lacked insight into the working world. That is really serious. Another CIPD survey found that more than two-thirds of UK employers have expressed willingness to be involved in the education system; but they need the opportunities to do that.
I am a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and today I sit on the advisory board of Economia magazine. ICAEW’s manifesto policy on skills and social mobility says that work experience should be mandatory in schools. How are the Government encouraging work experience to be mandatory in schools? They have a programme called BASE—business, accounting and skills education—which is a competition for students aged 16 to 19. It is fantastic; it is working really well. Yet this is being done on a voluntary basis; the responsibility is on schools. If we take the extreme example of a school such as Eton, its entrepreneurship society gets the entrepreneurial stars in this country, week by week, coming in and inspiring its students. How can the other thousands of schools in this country have access to that?
If we look at the destination measures system, what confidence is there that it will actually work? This is a serious situation. According to Ofsted, not all the schools visited had accurate and complete data on the students’ actual destinations. How are the Government going to deal with that challenge? Only one in five schools had well developed provisions for careers guidance.
I conclude with the private sector, which has such a huge advantage in this. For example, ISCO has training courses for the staff. What provision are the Government making for staff to be trained in careers guidance? This country has changed in the last three decades. It was a country with a glass ceiling; it was the sick man of Europe. Today it is an aspirational country. Our careers guidance needs to harness that aspiration, encourage our children and give them a really bright future.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for initiating this debate. I hope your Lordships will indulge me at the beginning of my contribution to the debate and allow me to explain a little about my professional background.
In the 1990s I was the vocational co-ordinator in a comprehensive school in north Wales. Among my duties was responsibility for the school’s careers policy and its implementation. I believe that we delivered high-quality careers education and guidance for our pupils. Careers lessons in the school were delivered through modules in the PHSE curriculum. We had an effective relationship with our careers service, which provided impartial advice that the pupils needed. Careers teachers were helped in their professional development by the education departments of the local authorities—and yes, we did take up work placements in local industries.
In common with many schools at that time, we used the system many noble Lords will remember—the Jiig-Cal programme. Jiig-Cal—or Job Ideas and Information Generator-Computer Aided Learning—did exactly what it said it would do. It generated ideas and information about jobs after pupils had completed questionnaires and the forms were read by a computer. Jim Closs, the designer of the system, has admitted:
“Sometimes pupils would react quite negatively to jobs of that kind being suggested to them, but one of the principles of careers guidance is to broaden the pupil’s horizons by putting before them ideas that they would never otherwise have considered”.
I agree with that. Although the system has received some criticism, studies have shown that 70% of the pupils who went through the system actually ended up in the jobs suggested for them.
From a teacher’s point of view, the most important factor was the process pupils went through before they completed the forms—being guided, and taking time to reflect on their own interests, skills and abilities, whether they felt they were academic or not, or preferred working indoors or outdoors. All those factors need to be considered when choosing a career. Above all, that led to pupils learning about themselves, valuing aspects of themselves and their choices and valuing and respecting the choices of others—whatever those choices might be.
I argue that almost everything that appears in the new guidance for schools in Section 29 were things we were doing then—except for bringing speakers from the world of work into our schools, and the emphasis on mentoring and coaching. Those aspects of modern careers guidance, inspiring pupils to consider other careers, would have greatly enhanced our provision at that time. However, there is increasing concern among professionals about the diminishing role of the classroom teacher in careers education and guidance. For me, there is a fear that inspiring young people on the one hand, without the reality checks of the processes we went through on the other hand, could lead to what I call the “Britain’s Got Talent” phenomenon—when someone appears on stage and nobody has ever told them that they cannot sing.
Perhaps we should learn from Australia, where, last year, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research reported on its study of more than 2,000 pupils. It found that while many pupils had planned to be lawyers, psychologists, designers and vets at age 15, when interviewed again at 25 the majority had ended up as sales assistants, primary school teachers and retail managers. The centre blames a “patchy” careers advice system which inflated pupils’ expectations, only for them to be dashed 10 years later. Psychologist Professor Helen McGrath said that parents—and, I would argue, teachers—need,
“to focus more on giving their children some realistic feedback about what their strengths are rather than giving that message of ‘you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it’ … You simply can’t do everything, and the end result is that you fall flat on your face when you realise that even if you work hard you’re not getting anywhere”.
Career Development Association of Australia vice-president Dr Peter McIlveen said that parents and educators must encourage kids to aim high but not aim for the impossible. He said:
“It’s vital that our kids dream big but also make those dreams realistic through good guidance”.
Good careers guidance has many aspects, and I welcome the detail we have been given in the documents. Those aspects include: mentoring, inspirational speakers, work experience and work visits, careers fairs, and interviews with careers officers, yes—but the input of dedicated careers teachers who help the child to understand his or her ambitions, abilities and skills, is also needed. Take away any one of those aspects and one is left with a system that is unbalanced and perhaps ultimately unfair to the child.
I congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on securing this debate.
We have all heard those stories from politicians and everyone else in the public eye; they go along to their school careers adviser at the age of about 14 or 15 to discuss their burning ambition, only to be told that they should shelve the dream and instead stack shelves. My careers adviser gave me slightly better advice. “What do you want to do?” she asked. “Become Prime Minister,” I answered. “Do you like reading?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “In that case, I suggest you become a librarian”. I do not have anything against librarians, and I am extremely glad that they exist. However, given both my personality and my interests, I honestly had less chance of becoming a successful librarian than Prime Minister. Okay, I blew both my options, but my career advice highlights that unless advice is bespoke, professionalised, and inspirational to young people it is simply a complete waste of time.
In contrast, when I told my mum that I wanted to be Prime Minister, she replied, “And would you like to do that before or after you’re 30?”. I should add that I had to work in the Prime Minister’s office for only 10 minutes to realise that being Prime Minister is a terrible career choice, and not something I would wish on my worst enemy. However, the point is that my mum’s response instilled in me a matter-of-fact belief that I could have whatever career I wanted. That is why I am answering this debate today in the Lords instead of misfiling books in a library. Many people who are deemed to do well in life do so simply because people believe in them from a young age and give them both the tools and the expectation of success. That is precisely the job of an inspirational careers adviser: practical advice combined with great expectations.
What is the situation on the ground? As we have heard, the £200 million a year for the Connexions service has been axed and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, noted, we do not know where it has gone. Schools now have an unfunded mandate to provide careers advice. An Ofsted report last year found that a staggering 75% of schools offer poor careers advice. This surely is not a moment to withdraw resources from that area. Written evidence from Unison, the main union for careers service staff, is equally damning. Unison states that it is,
“extremely concerned about the future quality and availability of a viable careers service in England and we are particularly concerned that schools are not well prepared to fulfil their new duties as providers of careers guidance”.
Research by the University of Derby, with Unison, found a declining level of local authority involvement in youth and career support—as noble Lords would expect—and a consequent decline in the quality and quantity of overall support available. In general, therefore, local authorities have followed the direction of government policy and transferred responsibility to schools while focusing their resources on targeted services. In theory, that might not be such a bad thing, but those who were interviewed for the report were clear that the Government’s policy changes are unfortunately impacting negatively on young people. Many who work in the sector said that young people were now making educational and employment decisions without support and in many cases this led to unwise choices.
The Government make high-level inspirational statements. As we have heard, no one could disagree with a word of them—they are fantastic, we all agree with them and sign up to motherhood and apple pie. I do not really mean that sarcastically, but it comes back to the points made in the debate, particularly by my noble friend Lady Morris, that it just does not hang together and, unfortunately, cash-strapped schools are forced to go with the lowest bidder in terms of careers advice.
The CBI conducted a survey of 2,000 14 to 25 year-olds and 93% said that they were not provided with enough information to make an informed career choice. Only 26% received advice on apprenticeships and only 17% on vocational qualifications, another issue raised by my noble friend Lady Morris. This means that young people without parents to help or who are not connected have very little chance of fulfilling their potential. That brings us back to the heart of the matter. Good, targeted careers advice, critically offered early enough to make a difference, is one of the most effective policy tools that we have to increase social mobility and reduce inequality. That is why it is so vital and why it breaks my heart to see standards in this area eroded. As for the guidance itself, whether it is statutory or non-statutory, it cannot on its own rectify problems identified by employers, unions and Ofsted. There comes a point when the Government have to put their money where their mouth is.
The Government’s inspirational vision statement says that:
“The responsibility now lies with schools and colleges, who we have given a powerful new accountability to secure independent and impartial careers guidance”.
Yes, they have been given a powerful new accountability, but not a penny. I might be wrong. I hope that the Minister, magician-like with rabbits to pull out of his hat, can clarify which extra funds schools will have access to, to provide this inspirational careers guidance.
I do not have much time left, so I will mention the importance of enterprise education, which is absolutely critical. It is also timely, because in an interview today in the Daily Telegraph, the Employment Minister said that middle-class children should believe that setting up their own business is every bit as good as going to university or working for a big company. All children should believe that, and A4e is one of the organisations working in that area.
I end by asking the Government if they will provide the well trained staff and structure that are needed, and end their resistance to face-to-face sessions, which are so important. Let us ensure that we provide inspiration for our young people, regardless of whether they want to start their own companies or become librarians or, God forbid, Prime Ministers.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for securing this important debate and for her excellent summary of the history and status quo of the Government’s position on careers advice. I also thank other noble Lords for their valuable contributions.
There seems to be an assumption underlying the debate that there was once a golden age of careers advice and that we have to go back to it. I do not recognise that. Even if it was the case, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that the careers system that the Government inherited was clearly a long way short of that. I think that we all recognise that the Connexions model did not work. As Alan Milburn said, hardly one person had anything good to say about it.
I do not believe that we have ever had it right in this country since the days of choice emerged, probably about 60 years ago—before which people basically went into jobs that their parents did or that their parents organised for them. The system of careers advice that I recognise is one that I saw on a bookstall once, when I was in an airport in New York late one night—I cannot remember which; all airports look the same. It was a book written by Jack Welch and his wife. He was the inspirational head of GE. He had written a book about his experience as a manager. Then he and his new wife had gone around the world promoting the book for 18 months. When they came back, they wrote a small pocketbook on the best questions that they had heard. The best chapter was entitled,
“What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”.
He said that basically what you do is: you get a job; you do not like it very much; you get another job; and after about five jobs, if you are lucky, you find something that you enjoy. That was certainly the pattern of careers advice that I recognise in this country for the past 50 years, and certainly that experienced by many of my friends.
Of course we can do a lot better. We in this Government believe that people in jobs they love are best placed to enthuse and inspire a young person. For too long, careers guidance in our schools has been weak, characterised by an expensive, top-down approach and one-off careers interviews that did not prepare young people to take their place in the world of work.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to Ofsted stating that the links with employers are weak. Frankly, for many schools, the links with business and the professions have been extremely weak for years. In our view, it is clearly getting better. Evidence from the McKinsey report on youth unemployment conducted across Europe was absolutely clear that the best careers advice is active engagement with business, but that face-to-face careers advice experience was extremely patchy. As for the head teacher to whom he referred who could not see the value of careers advice and was focused only on core standards, in my experience, for many successful head teachers in the country, the one way to get their pupils working for those exams is to engage them with work so that they have a clear line of sight and understand why they are working.
I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Shipley that schools should have responsibility for that advice, because they know their pupils, their aptitudes, interests, passions, strengths and weaknesses. Through our reforms, this Government are driving closer working between schools and employers. We welcome business input into our schools—probably more so than anywhere else in the world.
We need to equip our pupils with an understanding of how their learning will help them to progress in a rewarding career, and schools and employers can do this by investing in the workforce of tomorrow through careers talks, mentoring, coaching, work tasters and work experience. From September, our guidance will encourage all schools to do what the best schools are doing: securing innovative advice and guidance on a range of ambitious careers. That is why this Government have given responsibility to schools and colleges.
Evidence from the Education and Employers Taskforce highlighted the positive relationship between the number of employer contacts that 14 to 19 year-olds experience in school and their outcomes—including the likelihood of their being NEET and their earnings if salaried. I am delighted to see a growing number of excellent organisations already working with schools to facilitate greater business involvement—organisations such as Business in the Community’s Business Class, which has 300 clusters around the country, as well as the Cutler’s Made in Sheffield programme, the Glass Academy in Sheffield, Make the Grade in Leeds, career academies, U-Explore, Barclays LifeSkills, the Education and Employment Taskforce’s Inspiring the Future, and the Speakers for Schools programme. All those organisations are building those vital links—the plumbing between schools and business.
At Pimlico Academy, my own academy, we have a substantial raising aspirations programme, bringing businesses and professional people to speak at the school. At Westminster Academy they have transformed the schools performance with the help of 200 business partners. At the Bridge Academy in Hackney the sponsor UBS runs a huge mentoring programme for the students and at Stoke Newington School and Sixth Form in Hackney, they have an excellent programme of engagement with businesses including a speed-dating careers fair.
The guidance gives schools a responsibility to act impartially and make sure pupils can find out about the range of options available. The accompanying non-statutory guidance paints a clear picture of what good careers guidance looks like, highlighting case studies and examples of good practice. To further support schools, from October the reshaped National Careers Service will expand its offer to schools and colleges, making it easier for employers and educators to engage. Importantly, schools will now be held to account for the destination of their pupils, be that an apprenticeship, university, job or further study in school or college. The Chief Inspector of Schools has made clear his commitment to give careers guidance a higher priority in school inspections. We are strengthening our focus on that, to answer the point made by my noble friend Lord Cormack.
We have set out a clear vision for careers guidance, clarified responsibilities for schools through new statutory guidance and enhanced the role of the National Careers Service, alongside Ofsted’s tougher scrutiny.
On the point made by my noble friend Lady Sharp about the recommendations from Ofsted and the Select Committee, we have considered these and implemented a number of them. We published our action plan on the same day as Ofsted published its response to all the recommendations. We have strengthened the guidance in relation to a clear framework for schools. We have made it clear to schools that they must build relationships with other education and training providers.
As for the money—on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady King—we are in a difficult economic climate, as we all know. We have protected the school budget, which is a fairly remarkable performance given the state of the public finances that we inherited, and we believe that there is money there for this, compared to other sectors.
My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to the culture—that unless one goes to university one is seen as a failure. We are determined to change this ethos, which is why this Government’s reforms have ensured that vocational qualifications are rigorous and can be as highly valued as the alternatives. That is why our new guidance focuses so clearly on apprenticeships. My noble friend referred to his concept of a careers panel, which is an excellent idea. As was noted, we have updated the guidance for school governors this year, which makes it clear that governors can play a key role in helping to connect schools with the local business community, since we know that governors from an employer background can help schools in this way. As for the citizenship ceremony, perhaps the idea could be promoted by forming a new charity or a co-operation with other charities, or through a pilot with a certain number of schools. I know that my noble friend has some interested schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to the fact that not all schools have a complete set of destination data. The DfE is publishing key stage 4 and 5 destination data annually, and Ofsted is using this in school inspections to inform judgments on schools’ career guidance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to work experience. Hundreds of employers are offering work experience, including major national companies, and the offer of work experience has risen over the last couple of years from 63% of employers to 81%.
I think that the real picture is somewhat different from the one that has been painted. We have never had this right and we think that the model of engaging with business is the way forward. We need to get it developed—I have referred to a number of excellent organisations that are doing this. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that giving young people a clear line of sight to the workplace, particularly those from intergenerational unemployment backgrounds, is important in enabling them to fulfil their potential. It is not just economically important but also, as my noble friend Lady Sharp said in opening, a moral imperative. Once again, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions.