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Careers boost for schools

Careers Scotland is on its way out of Scottish Enterprise, heralding a much stronger presence for careers officers in schools, The TES Scotland understands.

It is believed that the enterprise agency was having difficulty convincing Scottish Executive ministers that the uneasy marriage between the careers and economic development agencies should be dissolved. Ministers are now thought to have given the go-ahead - although the exact structure for the careers service in the south of Scotland has yet to be decided.

Careers Scotland could go solo, as one of Scotland's largest quangos with a budget of almost pound;60 million and around 1,100 staff. Another option is to merge it with Learndirect Scotland, the national broker of skills provision.

Speculation about the future of the careers service has been intense since Sir Jack Perry, chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, gave a fairly clear hint to the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and culture committee, during a private meeting in January, that he would like the two bodies to part company.

Alex Neil, the committee's convener, agrees that "this would be the right way to go".

Mr Neil said: "The merger of Careers Scotland and Scottish Enterprise was never a happy one, as I advised Wendy Alexander, the minister at the time, that it wouldn't be. They are in two different markets."

The TES Scotland understands that the Duffin committee, whose report led to the creation of Careers Scotland, considered attaching it to Learndirect Scotland but decided against such a move since the latter had just been established.

And as one close to the committee observed, "Wendy didn't want that anyway", a reference to Ms Alexander's powerful advocacy of bringing careers advice closer to the business world.

Strains in the marriage became apparent last year when Unison members took industrial action in protest over plans by Scottish Enterprise to extend its performance pay regime to careers staff. The dispute badly affected Careers Scotland's ability to deliver a full service.

Scottish Enterprise's much-publicised financial problems and its decision to concentrate its efforts on six key sectors of the economy will have reinforced the agency's determination to focus on its core economic business.

The latest move will leave Careers Scotland with a hybrid structure, since its arm in the north of Scotland will remain with Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The experience there has been a much happier one; many of the services there already work in a more integrated way.

One of the factors likely to have convinced ministers is the growing political preoccupation with the NEET group of 16-19s who are not in education, employment or training.

Careers Scotland is to have a pivotal role in working with this group, ensuring pupils head for some destination after school, which will require the careers service to be more closely aligned with schools. The powerful Smith Group, which has been set up to attack the problem of NEET youngsters, believes it is vital that this should happen, based on evidence from Glasgow.

A number of schools in the city have been buying in extra careers advice, which has been credited with significant improvements in school-leavers'

destinations. The average unemployment rate for leavers in east end schools has dropped from 22 per cent in 1999 to 8 per cent last year.

One secondary, Smithycroft, saw its unemployed leaver rate fall from 31 per cent three years ago to 6 per cent last year. At St Mungo's Academy, careers staff were on hand four and a half days a week and this enhanced service is credited with halving the number of the school's NEET youngsters since 2001.

Sir Robert Smith on the NEET group, Viewpoint 22

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