A potentially game-changing piece of legislation for the sector comes into effect this week.
The so-called “Baker amendment” – introduced as part of the Technical and Further Education Act 2017, thanks to an intervention from former education secretary and university technical college founder Lord Baker – will require all schools to allow colleges and training providers in, to talk about the alternative education options available.
Many schools are extremely reticent to suggest options other than sixth form to their students, fearing a drop in numbers. Fewer students means less funding, at a time when schools are struggling with reduced budgets.
Funding issues aside, however, the Baker amendment is warmly welcomed by the FE sector. It will benefit not only young people who are more suited to a practical, career-focused way of learning, but also businesses in need of skilled employees.
The new legislation is also an intrinsic element of the government’s long-awaited careers strategy, published last month.
Careers advice in this country, or the apparent lack of it, has been a hot topic for some time. Schools and colleges have a pivotal role to play to ensure that young people are not only prepared for work, but also have a well-developed understanding of the jobs and opportunities available to them.
From careers hubs and careers leaders in schools and colleges to improved work experience opportunities and a beefed-up National Careers Service, all the recommendations in the strategy are valid and much-needed. We are all used to hearing of good intentions and ideas that sound great on paper. But how can we ensure that this strategy will deliver what’s needed?
Apprenticeships and skills minister Anne Milton is absolutely right when she says that “raising the quality of careers provision requires a truly national effort”. And key to this is buy-in from employers and universities – with sound, high-quality progression routes being made available.
Support from businesses
The good news is that much of what’s set out in the strategy is already happening in many institutions, including my own. As a college of further and higher education with campuses across south-east London, we put a huge emphasis on ensuring that our students are career-ready – and we cannot do this without proper support from businesses.
To this end, we have set up 11 employer advisory boards, covering all subject areas, to inform curriculum development of every course we offer.
Our hospitality, food and enterprise career college was the first of its kind in London and it has pioneered an employer-led approach – one of 20 14-19 career colleges up and running around the UK.
Further afield, the European Social Fund has already identified career education as an area of need. It is currently funding 12 career clusters, which are piloting employer-led activities for children and helping teachers to understand London’s job opportunities.
Career success is also reliant on good progression links. Whether a student chooses to move into higher education, on to an apprenticeship or directly into work, high-quality pathways must be available.
These progression pathways can only be effective if young people and their parents are aware of the options – and this awareness is what the Baker amendment aims to achieve. However, I am sceptical about the fact that no mechanism to enforce this legislation will be in place. What exactly will happen to schools that refuse to let their local college or technical school in to talk about vocational and skills-led routes?
Will we be facing the same situation as we are with raising the participation age to 18, where there is absolutely no recourse or action taken if the rules are not adhered to, due to lack of monitoring? Who would I go to if a school said no, my staff couldn’t come and talk to their pupils? If it’s a local authority school, will the LA have the power to insist that it opens its doors?
For me, this is a critical issue that needs to be clarified. If children don’t hear about options first-hand, they will remain in the dark about the excellent technical opportunities that are open to them. The assumption will remain that academic qualifications trump technical ones – which is madness as the country faces a skills crisis.
I am keen to support the government’s careers strategy and I applaud the Baker amendment. Yet, I hope time is taken to look at how best to enforce it – as well at what is already being done successfully. This current success must be built upon and good practice recognised, as opposed to reinventing the wheel completely.
Sam Parrett is principal and CEO of London South East Colleges and London South East Academies Trust