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Graham Stuart: "The state of careers advice should shame the DfE into action"

Graham Stuart, chair of the Commons Select Committee, writes:

Careers guidance for young people in England is very much in the spotlight – and we need to keep it there.

At the risk of conjuring an unlikely image, it is currently the elephant in Michael Gove’s red box.

This summer, a series of reports have highlighted the shortcomings of the careers advice on offer in our schools.

In June, the CBI’s education and skills survey found that only 5 per cent of businesses across the UK feel the careers advice available to young people is good enough.

Last month, a study by the Pearson Think Tank revealed only 12 per cent of educators polled said they “knew a lot” about the new duty on schools to deliver independent, impartial careers guidance.

To put those figures in context, 5 per cent of our fellow citizens recently told YouGov that they don’t believe Elvis is dead. And 12 per cent believe the Apollo moon landings were faked. These are not encouraging numbers.

Why does this matter?

The answer lies in a recent study by the Education and Employers Taskforce.

The taskforce surveyed 11,000 13 to 16-year-olds, mapping their job ambitions against the employment market over the period to 2020.

It demonstrated how teenagers have a weak grasp of the employment market. For example, 10 times as many youngsters were aiming for jobs in the culture, media and sports sector as there are jobs likely to be available.

By contrast, fewer than one in 30 young people were considering jobs in banking and finance, even though one in five jobs are expected to be in this sector.

I have had first-hand experience of this. When the Select Committee visited Bradford College in October 2012, I met a young man whose experience typifies the waste of time, money and potential to which poor careers guidance, or the complete lack of it, can lead.

He was taking a course to join the uniformed services. He had wasted the previous year on a course that was not right for him and would not have led to a job in the fire service, which he wanted to join. To add insult to injury, this young man had found out during the appropriate course that the fire service is now shrinking, and that there was unlikely to be a job for him at the end. The system let that young man down, and it is doing the country no good at all.

That is just one anecdotal example. When the experience is scaled up, huge amounts of money are being wasted.

What do we do to fix this?

At a national level, ministers need to take concerted action in order to turn this situation around. The National Careers Service has a key role to play. It has done fantastic work since it was established last year. In the last twelve months, it has delivered 1.1 million face to face advice sessions with 650,000 adults. Three quarters of its adult customers reported progress in learning or work after six months, and 56 per cent said the NCS was instrumental in helping them to achieve this.

This work should be extended to support and challenge schools as they deliver careers advice.

But to date, the Department for Education has not been pulling its weight in supporting the NCS. Whereas the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills contributed over £84 million in 2012/13, the DfE provided only £4.7 million.

Do you know what percentage of the DfE’s total budget that represents? It’s 0.008%.

That figure should shame the DfE into action.

This is an extract from a speech Mr Stuart will make tomorrow (17 October).

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