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Boost for careers prompts cash fear

Neil Munro reports from the Institute of Careers Guidance UK conference in Edinburgh. The Education Minister set a brisk pace for the careers service in the opening address of the conference, which had delegates asking "Where's the money coming from?"

Raymond Robertson announced a major review of the performance targets for the new careers service companies, and he has summoned the chairs as well as the chief executives of the 17 company boards to a select invitation-only session to be held in Dunblane at the end of October.

Mr Robertson told the conference: "I expect companies to demonstrate how every young person has access to careers education and guidance at appropriate stages of their secondary schooling.

"I expect companies to produce significant increases in the work they do with employers, both in terms of quality and quantity.

"I expect to see evidence that the guidance provided produces results. I want to see an increased commitment to common standards of service to customers. The forward agenda for careers has to be founded on the continuous search for improvement and innovation."

The setting of targets for careers advice has proved controversial, especially south of the border. Several delegates voiced their concern during a special conference question time. Staff said they felt under pressure to draw up career action plans for pupils, whether this was appropriate or not, particularly as 15 per cent of funding is triggered by successful completion of these plans.

There is no such requirement in Scotland and it was unclear from Mr Robertson's remarks whether he envisaged the introduction of a similarly prescriptive regime north of the border. The only direction which the Scottish Office has issued, in its Forging Ahead document, is that it expects 85 per cent of young people to be furnished with career plans during their final year in school, and that the whole age group should be covered eventually.

The pressure in Scotland hitherto has been to ensure senior pupils get proper advice, which the Higher Still proposals have reinforced. In England, however, the Government has allocated special funding to enhance careers education for pupils in years 9 and 10 (the equivalent of S2S3).

Mr Robertson's remark on careers advice at "appropriate stages" implies a similar move in Scotland, and the Labour's party's proposals on careers advice for younger pupils also suggest this will become an all-party political imperative nationwide.

The Education Minister also urged careers staff to step up their involvement with schools and employers. He called on the guidance professionals to become more actively involved with schools in producing careers education material and in staff development.

Mr Robertson added that careers staff needed to spend more time "to get under the skin of business" finding out what employers are looking for in young people, not simply concentrating on big employers or keeping up to date with job vacancies.

The final item on the minister's list of chores for the careers service was keeping employers informed about developments in education.

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