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Schools: Careers Advice

Volume 756: debated on Monday 20 October 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to change the current system of careers advice for young people in schools.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that she wants to see improvements in the quality of careers advice and guidance available to young people, with many more schools and employers working together to provide excellent support. That is a clear priority for her. We have made a number of changes in this area, including issuing revised statutory guidance to schools; we are keeping the impact of those changes under review, and are considering what else we can do to improve the links between schools and the world of work.

I thank the Minister for that quite helpful reply. However, I am sure that he is aware that in providing careers advice, schools face an inherent conflict. The funding regime for senior schools depends in part upon numbers of pupils being retained in the sixth form to study GCSEs and A-level subjects, and of course the position of schools in the league tables is a hugely important pressure on them. Together, those two things deter many schools from advising pupils of the opportunities maybe to study BTEC subjects, applying for apprenticeships, or moving on to further education colleges. Can the Minister therefore tell the House what the Government intend to do about that conflict?

The noble Baroness is right—there is an inherent conflict in this. Schools have a clear responsibility to ensure that their pupils achieve and progress to positive destinations, whether that is university or another, high-calibre, vocational route. Our revised guidance clearly states that schools should act impartially and recognise that some students would be better suited to educational training beyond schools, and it makes it clear that schools should give other providers the opportunity to inform pupils about the offer. We believe that our new destination measures will also help considerably in that area.

My Lords, may I once again urge my noble friend to contact all secondary schools and encourage them to appoint a careers advisory panel drawn from local businessmen and professionals who really know about jobs and careers?

My noble friend has raised this before and I think it is an excellent idea. In fact all schools should have at least one person focused on the careers function. I know that a number of schools do this and we are considering encouraging more of them to do so.

With the school leaving age now raised to 18, is it not the case that all 16 to 19 year-old students are engaged in special 16 to 19 study programmes which are formally and specifically geared to career aspirations? How, then, can it be that Ofsted last week published a report complaining that there was very poor use of the extra time for 16 to 19 year-olds and, specifically, that careers guidance is poor “at all levels”?

The noble Lord’s comment about 16 to 19 study programmes is quite right. I am aware of what Ofsted has said and we will be reflecting on what other guidance about this we can give to colleges.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the founder and champion of the Reach Out Lab at Imperial College, London. Each year we connect with around 7,000 schoolchildren from the state sector drawn from all over London, plus another 30,000 through collaboration with the Mayor of London. It is very clear, as the Minister accepts, that there is grossly inadequate careers advice. Does he not also accept that it would be much more sensible if universities were better integrated with schools, and is it not about time that we consider that all education should be under one government department?

I am aware of the excellent programme to which the noble Lord refers. I am sure he is delighted with the increase in STEM subjects which has taken place under this Government. Schools should have a thoroughly close relationship with their local business professional communities and universities and, as far as his last point is concerned, it is one that I am sure all future Governments will consider carefully.

My Lords, a UNISON survey in June this year showed that 83% of schools surveyed were no longer employing a careers adviser. Have the Government made an assessment of this situation?

Yes. We believe that one-to-one careers advice is appropriate in certain circumstances but obviously all schools seek to identify their students’ passions and interests at an early age and develop them. The evidence is quite clear from a number of reports, including those from McKinsey and Education and Employers Taskforce, that the best careers advice for young people comes through activities and contact with the world of work. For many of our young people, particularly those from workless households, careers advice these days is as much about inspiration as actual advice on detailed careers.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the importance of face-to-face careers advice for pupils, but particularly for those with learning disabilities, special educational needs and conditions such as autism, only a small number of whom are actually able to access jobs. Can the Minister assure the House that all those disabled people requiring or requesting careers advice will receive it from fully trained careers advisers who are well trained on disability rights and matters?

Our guidance is quite clear that particularly for children with SEN, whether they have autism or are in other situations, one-to-one careers advice may well be appropriate.

My Lords, having accepted the proposal and explanation by my noble friend Lady Prosser about the challenges faced by secondary schools, further education institutions and universities, how are the Government going to achieve their goal of having more apprenticeships—a major problem for employers—when most young people going into apprenticeships find out from family rather than from any other available careers advice?

My Lords, we have an active programme to encourage people to consider apprenticeships. We have a range of marketing materials available from the National Apprenticeship Service, and Not Going to Uni is also an extremely good source of information. The National Apprenticeship Service funds the Education and Employers Taskforce, and more than 70 advisers from the National Careers Service, the National Apprenticeship Service and jobcentres are actively embarked on this at the schools show.