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Fresh start for careers guidance

Another big idea from New Labour's early years is in trouble. Ministers plan to wind up Connexions, the careers advice and guidance service created in 2000 by David Blunkett as a one-stop shop for all 13 to 19-year-olds in England. Now it is to be broken up and returned to the control of local education authorities, schools and colleges.

Like the now defunct Individual Learning Accounts, which were created to encourage under-achieving adults back into education and training, Connexions was a flagship of Labour's "culture change". A single universal guidance service had the dual task of reaching the neglected and disaffected while providing careers advice for all. Ministers were so confident of success that careers services were swept away.

Where it did best was to reach 16 to 18-year-olds not in education or employment. Numbers in this group dropped 3 per cent last year. But a litany of problems was revealed by the Commons public accounts committee last month. Two-thirds of staff leading school careers education had no formal qualifications, and the "universal" element of the work was inadequate.

In fact, complaints were coming into The TES almost from day one. Careers guidance officers said Connexions had diluted their work. Others were overstretched. This week, comments from local authority leaders, school and college heads and careers officers offered a common refrain: "Connexions is trying to do too much at once without the funding behind it."

Many of these stakeholders are the ones ministers swept aside in creating Connexions during those bullish and confrontational first days in Government. By contrast, Careers Wales drew such people in. That may well be why it is now regarded as much more successful.

The lesson for the Government is to be more trusting and inclusive. The challenge now is to transform careers guidance without losing what is good in the Connexions service.

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