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Fears of an end to free-for-all advice;FE Focus

Minister hints that career guidance may become a two-tier system, reports Harvey McGavin

A GOVERNMENT minister has raised the prospect of a two-tier careers guidance system, confirming fears that many young people could miss out because of proposals to target the most needy.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Guidance Council in London this week, Baroness Blackstone, the minister for further and higher education, hinted that the entitlement to free advice might not survive the reorganisation of the careers service.

Baroness Blackstone told the meeting that advice and guidance services were "at the heart" of Government education and employment policy.

"They are central to our strategies for bringing about a learning society, for increasing the nation's competitiveness and for addressing social exclusion."

She said that future advice services would be "basic" and "free to all" but warned that using public money to provide more in-depth guidance services was "not currently a priority".

She asked: "Is that emphasis also right for the long term? And if not, what might replace it?"

Rodney Buse, chairman of the Guidance Council, said the minister's remarks were an admission that resources were limited.

"Everybody should have access to guidance. What the minister has said is: 'what does that mean?'

"Should everyone have free access and if not how do we decide who pays? Do we use that money almost exclusively for the socially excluded and ask others to pay?"

A new Youth Support Service, including a one-to-one mentoring service called Connexions aimed at disaffected teenagers, was ann-ounced in the Learning to Succeed White Paper and developed further in July's report from the social exclusion unit. The proposals are currently out to consultation.

But careers guidance professionals have already voiced concern that mainstream provision will suffer as existing resources are redirected towards helping those most in danger of dropping out. One poured scorn on the Connexions scheme, saying it "sounded like a dating agency".

The post-16 White Paper described current careers advice as "fragmented" and "variable" while the social exclusion report, Bridging the Gap, suggested that well-motivated pupils would need only "light touch" careers advice.

But Tony Watts, director of the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling, believes that the guidance system should be comprehensively improved and made available to every young person.

He said: "I am totally in support of the Government's agenda - it's important that the needs of the socially excluded are addressed and met - but not at the risk of undermining and reducing the universal service.

"If this is to be a programme in which the careers service has an important part to play then that's great. But if it is a reorganisation of the whole careers service on a limited base then that could be

disastrous."

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