Careers education 'is not acceptable'

Careers advice and guidance in England needs a complete overhaul, says Career Development Institute boss

Kate Parker

Careers education in England is 'not acceptable', says Career Development Institute boss

The lack of careers education in England is not acceptable and the system needs a complete overhaul, the chief executive of the Career Development Institute (CDI) has said.

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum event on tackling youth unemployment, Jan Ellis hit out at current careers provision, calling for further investment and questioning the accountability of the National Careers Service.

Ms Ellis said there was a “huge amount of unfinished business in this career education and guidance space”. She called careers guidance in England “patchy” and said “there are a lot of young people still not being able to access high-quality careers information and advice”.


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In the Skills for Jobs White Paper, published in January, the Department for Education said “clear and outcomes-focused careers information” was fundamental to the success of reforms, and added that “impartial, lifelong careers advice and guidance” should be available to people regardless of age, circumstance or background.

Currently, the Baker Clause requires all schools to allow further education providers access to students to inform them of their options, and the Gatsby Benchmarks give schools an eight-point framework to follow when delivering careers advice.

Schools' careers guidance 'needs investment'

However, Ms Ellis said that while the benchmarks were important, they were targets on schools, and not about outcomes for young people. 

She said: “If you want to give world-class careers guidance to young people in schools, then it needs to be invested in. Let's not also lose sight of the fact that they are targets of the schools, they're not about outcomes for young people. We have a system in England whereby the responsibility has been given to schools but they haven't been given any money to actually fund delivery of that responsibility.”

She added: “When young people officially left school in July, there was nowhere where they could go to get high-quality career guidance for that whole period between when the new term started in September. That’s just not acceptable.

“There needs to be a complete and thorough overhaul of the career guidance system in England, so that we do work towards achieving that all-age guidance that has been talked about in the Skills for Jobs White Paper.”

Ms Ellis said one of the issues was the lack of stipulation about how much time a careers leader should spend on careers advice and guidance. 

“Many of these teachers have got other roles as well – they are geography teachers or deputy heads," she said. "They fulfil a lot of different roles within the school, but without specified time they can spend on career education and guidance, the diversity is huge and not all young people are getting the full services that they actually require.”

The National Careers Service

In the White Paper, the Department for Education said it wanted to improve alignment between the Careers and Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service, and set out the appointment of Professor Sir John Holman as independent strategic adviser on careers guidance. 

Speaking at the forum, Ms Ellis said Mr Holman needed to build “accountability” into the National Careers Service, and criticised the current priorities of the service.  

“Careers practitioners do not get paid unless they're doing certain deliverable outcomes, and these outcomes are governed by a system of priority groups," she said. "The government says that anybody aged over 18 up to the age of 50 who's been unemployed for a year is a priority group of the National Career Service. 

“Now you might say, 'That's fine. what's unreasonable about that?' But for me, there are thousands of people coming off furlough, thousands who are going to have to rethink their careers in the next few months, thousands have been made redundant as a result of the awful pandemic. How can they be seen by qualified careers advisers? Because they can't under the current priorities of the system.” 

She added: “When Sir John develops his new system, I hope he's going to build in a lot more accountability to it, because at the moment, the National Careers Service is not accountable. It's governed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency and there is no opportunity for representatives of the sector to actually influence the policy and outcomes of the National Careers Service.” 

A DfE spokesperson said: “The National Careers Service provides free, up-to-date, impartial information, advice and guidance on careers, skills and the labour market across England to anyone over the age of 13. This includes people who are unemployed and on furlough.

“As we build back better, our priority is making sure everyone, no matter their background, can access high-quality careers advice so they can choose a path that is best suited to their skills and talents.

“We have appointed Professor Sir John Holman as an independent strategic adviser. He will advise ministers on the steps needed to ensure the Careers and Enterprise Company and the National Careers Service provide the support people need to get ahead."  

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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