Boosting careers education in schools

Mary Bousted, General Secretary at ATL

Careers education has come under considerable criticism over recent years. Just recently, a new report by Pearson and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said that the quality and availability of careers information and advice is a very serious concern, particularly around vocational training routes and the offer of face-to-face guidance.

And last year, the government's newly created Careers and Enterprise Company identified 'cold spots' across England where young people are missing out on the support they need.

Since 2010, schools have been legally required to provide impartial careers guidance on all post-16 options, taking the place of a nationally coordinated service, Connexions, axed by the coalition government. While teachers are keen to rise to the challenge, there is a feeling that careers education has been imposed with minimal external support.

The reality is that very few schools – as reported by Ofsted – have the skills and expertise needed to deliver effective careers guidance. It is no surprise that many schools have struggled to pick up the mantle.

The consequences of this are significant. Poor advice to teenagers costs the economy £814 million each year. And the lack of good careers provision in some parts of the country is creating a postcode lottery that limits social mobility (Sutton Trust research, 2014).

"Poor advice to teenagers costs the economy £814 million each year."

As part of the ATL manifesto, we called for more funding to enable schools to provide the careers information young people need to transition successfully from school to further and higher education, and to the world of work.

This was not forthcoming. In times of squeezed budgets and ever increasing workload, inevitably, careers education has suffered. In an ATL survey of members in 2014, over 40% of respondents stated that their pupils were not served well by the amount of careers guidance they received.

These problems persist in 2016. Careers education provision is more fragmented than ever, with a plethora of websites, charities and government-funded initiatives filling the gap left by Connexions, making it difficult for schools to know where to turn for quality support.

Meanwhile, students are left adrift without coordinated and comprehensive information about their future options. And employers continue to express concerns about young people's lack of preparedness for the world of work.

In February, ATL told the House of Commons Select Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy that adequate funding and proper employer engagement is now urgently needed to rebuild careers education provision. That means providing a network of careers
professionals in schools, excellent CPD provision for teachers and lecturers, and strong partnerships between schools, colleges, employers and other stakeholders.

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