Advice often too little, too late

Much of Britain's careers service is being reduced to giving information and advice instead of well-focused education and guidance, the TESInstitute of Careers Guidance survey shows, writes Ian Nash.

More cash, staff and time for training are needed if the service is to provide the individual attention expected of it, employees of the service have warned. (See the careers officers' wish-list, left.) Most careers education and guidance officers believe their work has improved since the 1993 Employment Act, which privatised the service formerly controlled by local education authorities.

But the continued financial squeeze has undermined efforts to target individuals' needs more eff-ectively, the survey shows. There is too little time for "troubleshooting", designing individual career plans or helping the growing numbers who need a career change.

More than half the advisers and counsellors responding to the survey called for a national careers service, with careers education having a statutory place on the national curriculum. More than two-thirds (72 per cent) said the labour market information from training and enterprise councils and employers was inadequate.

As Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett sets about a wide-ranging review of careers education in schools and colleges, the Institute of Careers Guidance will be pressing him particularly on the training questions.

Lack of suitable training for school and college career teachers is as damaging as any shortfall within the service, the survey suggests.

Problems revealed by the survey are already being studied by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which is currently working on a series of studies commissioned for the Department for Education and Employment in advance of Government reforms.

SCAA is developing guidelines on careers education, drawing up recommendations for a single national career development programme, aiming to improve the links between work experience and careers education at key stage 4 and promoting good practice in schools. Recommendations on work-related learning will be with ministers later this month. Other recommendations will be published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is about to replace SCAA.

The TES\ICG survey results suggest that a new model for careers education should be developed, with a cradle-to-grave curriculum. Opinion was strongly divided over when careers education and guidance should start. Many recommended a start "as early as possible", but advocated an element of "fun" or "pleasure".

One school careers liaison officer said: "If we show primary pupils that industry can be a fun place to work, we will see a better attitude towards industry and manufacturing when they come to choose a career."

The largest minority of people replying (44 per cent) said that serious careers education and guidance should begin around the age of 13 or 14.

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