Careers teaching: must do better

Industry believes schools are poorly positioned to provide pupils with work advice. But will the Government initiative make any difference? Francis Beckett reports

We regard all teachers as careers teachers. All teachers influence young people, and so they need to be aware of the opportunities for young people." Thus BAE Systems education liaison manager David Rowley expresses industry's general view of how things ought to be. But not how things are, according to a recent Ofsted report.

An Ofsted national survey of careers education and guidance in 1998 found that a quarter of secondary schools failed to provide a planned and well organised programme, and that careers teachers were poorly trained, with only a third holding a recognised qualification.

One in 10 schools did not have a dedicated careers library, and the quality of information provided was unsatisfactory in one-quarter of schools. Library access for one in four students was poor, usually because schools have no supervision available at lunchtimes.

The Government careers library initiative, which provides schools with match funding to upgrade their careers information by, for example, renewing software licenses and buying new materials, was beginning to have an effect. But more than half of schools had not made effective use of information and communication technology for careers work.

Industry wants a careers service that is informative, impartial, independent and available to all young people. So there is concern in industry that the service may focus too much on the disaffected and those at risk of social exclusion. Many in industry have not heard about the Government's new ConneXions strategy, but those who have say it could fall into this trap.

Martin Tims, Esso UK's manager of education and environment programmes, says his company's main recruitment needs are for graduates, while the careers service focus is on the disaffected and school leavers. Not enough is done to advise those going into higher education, he says, and, as an illustration, adds that many university students are given the wrong advice about what and where to study for their future careers.

This view is echoed in the recent CBI survey on the modern apprenticeship scheme. Employers were critical of schools for not properly informing and advising their 14 to 16-year-olds about the scheme's advantages.

CBI human resources director John Cridland says: "Only a third of young people on modern apprenticeships actually complete their training to get their NVQ level 3. Not enough bright young people are going on to the scheme. Careers guidance in schools is inadequate, so many young people do not know what apprenticeships can offer them. Many of those who remain in full-time education could achieve far more - and have better prospects - if they were on an apprenticeship."

There are also complaints about the partiality of advice given by teachers. Ofsted found: "In one quarte of schools with sixth forms, students do not receive objective advice about the full range of post-16 options. In such cases, students are placed under pressure to stay at school."

This is hardly surprising given the pressures on funding and league tables. Schools do not want to lose their best pupils. Colleges complain that schools refuse to give pupils information about the alternative post-16 education on offer. Schools accuse colleges of poaching students. Both accusations are justified.

An Association of Colleges survey last year found that 93 per cent of colleges in competition with local schools for post-16 pupils reported information barriers in schools, such as college open events not being publicised and college prospectuses not being distributed.

The views of industry about the shortcomings of the current careers education available is echoed by young people themselves. Listen Up, a joint report from the Home Office and the Cabinet Office on the views of young people on a range of social, personal and educational issues, reported a widespread demand for a better, more comprehensive careers service.

There were complaints that careers guidance was very limited and often concentrated on jobs that were unsuitable or undemanding. Preparation for employment through work experience was not good enough.

Industry has put a lot of resources into influencing the teachers because of their influence on young people. Companies like Esso and BAE Systems offer a placement service for teachers to spend up to five days learning about the careers it can offer. BAE offers 3,000 teacher placements a year.

The Government has asked the Independent National Strategy Work Experience Group to devise ways to improve the quality of work experience. It has also announced an initiative to counter stereotyping.

Meanwhile, 12 major employers are offering work experience to young women in traditionally male-dominated industries. The companies are Arup, Compaq Computers, Vodaphone Airtouch, BT, Cisco Systems, BG Foundation, Savills, Carillion, ME PC, Jones Laing Lasalle, Canary Wharf and the Ministry of Defence.

Industries see raising their profile as another way of informing teachers. Individual companies do this, as do the national training organisations (NTOs). The pharmaceuticals NTO is said to be particularly effective.

Providing careers teachers and company advisers information about the labour market is a key task for industry. The Government in future intends all this to be co-ordinated through the regional development agencies, the LSCs and learning partnerships. But it is not yet clear how this will happen, or how it will feed into ConneXions and down to schools.

According to Mike Livock, company training manager at Peugeot: "Industry does not have the right to dictate what is in the curriculum. But we do have a role to point out the skills and knowledge a young person will need to be employable."

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