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Careers service `not up to the job'

New guidelines for careers education are to be drawn up by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, following a report which said too many students are given the wrong advice about which courses to take.

Launching a new booklet, Better Choices - Working Together to Improve Careers Education and Guidance, Gillian Shephard, Education Secretary, and Michael Portillo, Employment Secretary, said SCAA would replace the out-of-date National Curriculum Council careers document and suggest ways in which careers can be integrated into the school curriculum.

Mrs Shephard said: "As choice expands, good careers education and guidance becomes more important. And it needs to be made available earlier, as age 14 becomes as important a transition as 16 or 18.

"Careers education is now very much a part of the agenda for improving our schools and colleges and for helping young people to succeed, and we shall build upon that."

The booklet calls for good practice in schools including a written whole-school or whole-college careers education statement with measurable targets; a comprehensive "who does what" agreement between schools and colleges; and careers advice and training for all staff involved, including heads and principals.

Last month the Office for Standards in Education and the Further Education Funding Council reported that the drop-out rates on some A-level and further education courses reached 60 to 70 per cent.

Carey Widdows, of Somerset Careers Service, said competition between sixth forms and further education colleges had led to students being recruited because it meant more money for the institution. "The pressure on colleges to recruit can mean that students are encouraged to do courses that may not be in their best interest. And the high drop-out rates not only represent a personal tragedy for the student, but is also a loss to the country. It is essential that we have a careers service that is impartial and gives students appropriate advice. There are now many options, for example youth training and modern apprenticeships."

* Careers officers and people who work with offenders are to press the Government to make careers guidance for offenders and young people at risk a central responsibility of the careers service, writes Biddy Passmore.

They are worried that current moves to put local careers services out to tender will mean that they focus increasingly on mainstream work, neglecting initiatives with those on the margins of society.

"There is no co-ordinated system of careers guidance for people leaving prison or on probation," George Burns, educational development officer of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), said this week. "It is the partial concern of many agencies and the actual responsibility of none."

The problem was highlighted at a two-day conference held in Cheltenham this week by NACRO and the Institute of Careers Guidance. The two bodies launched joint "statements of entitlement".

For offenders, they called for careers guidance to be available within community homes, young offender institutions and prisons. Guidance should be impartial and non-judgmental and should provide accurate information, particularly about the effect of a criminal record on choice and opportunity, the statement said.

For young people at risk, the statement urged continuous access to careers guidance, regardless of whether young people were in work or training.

Mike Stewart, NACRO's director of services to the community, stressed the importance of reaching "young people who disappear from education, training and employment (around 76,000) . . . They are a marginalised group, ineligible for social security benefits and highly at risk of turning to crime," he said.

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