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Careers service applies for a role

AT LEAST four articles in The TES last month should cause alarm bells to ring among officials at the Department for Education and Employment:

* The National Survey of Careers Education and Guidance finds that one in four schools with sixth forms is failing to provide students with objective careers advice about the full range of post-16 options;

* The Association of Colleges is sufficiently concerned about suppression of information that it is asking for access to addresses of school pupils in order to undertake their own marketing;

* The Further Education Development Agency cites wrong choice of course as the principal reason why students drop out of further education;

* Colleges and national training organisations are pitching for a bigger slice of Government funding for post-16 education and training.

The Government has taken a number of steps to improve matters. It has legislated to improve access for young people to impartial careers guidance.

The role of the independent careers adviser in preparing young people for transition to further learning is critical to a successful reduction in the wastage (in human and economic terms) caused by the lack of fit between the needs of the learner and the current menu of opportunities.

We all want young people to be hungry to continue with learning but they must also be able to defend their choice of next step on the learning ladder. Providers can then concentrate on the quality assurance of the learning experience and not run the risk of confusing guidance with either marketing or retention for retention's sake.

The Government is also encouraging the establishment of local partnerships between the various providers of post-16 education and training. These are crucial and long overdue.

Already there are signs of improving relationships in areas where partnership working is established. But in reality competition is inevitable and is not without benefits so long as a body without an axe to grind is available to "hold the partnership ring". This should preferably be a body with knowledge of the needs and aspirations of learners coupled with an understanding of the broader needs of employers and of society.

We believe that the bodies best suited to this role are the new careers service organisations. They play a key role in the production of local market intelligence, they are in touch with both the supply and the demand side and they are independent of providers.

Careers service organisations have come a long way in recent years and are more than ready to pick up the challenge. It must be in the interests of young people and society in general, to encourage them to do so.

Jim Woollcombe, Chairman, Careers Service National Association, 2 Leabrook Road, Dronfield Woodhouse, Sheffield

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