Ofsted has been told to “do its job properly” on careers advice.
Speaking in today’s Commons Education Select Committee meeting, chair and former skills minister Robert Halfon said Ofsted was awarding “outstanding” ratings to schools that were not complying with the Baker Clause – a legal requirement to allow colleges and other FE providers access to students in schools to inform them about vocational career paths.
“Does it not send the wrong message that even providers with poor careers advice can be rated 'outstanding',” Mr Halfon asked Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman. “My feeling is that careers advice is very much secondary for Ofsted.”
He added: “Your remit is careers guidance. I am not asking you to do anything more, I am asking you to do your job properly and enforce the Baker Clause. It is the law, and it part of your job. It is just that you see it as a lesser priority because it is about skills and apprenticeships and not academic study.”
Ms Spielman said it was not that Ofsted viewed careers advice as a lesser priority, “but the inspection model we operate is not a list of the statutory requirements and ticking off against that”. She said Ofsted “of course” cared about whether schools complied with the Baker Clause, but highlighted that there were hundreds of legal requirements for institutions. “The career advice is a very important piece to make sure [learners] make the right choices,” she added.
Ofsted: Careers advice in schools 'is incredibly important'
Mr Halfon pointed out that previously Ofsted had found weaknesses in careers advice and guidance in two in five providers rated "outstanding" or "good".
Sean Harford, national director of education at Ofsted, said: “It is true that where there are weaknesses, they exist across the grades.” However, he said there had been improvements in the 18 months since.
“Recently, we did a 2021 trawl and again, there were about 20 per cent where there was a negative response. They were not all located in 'outstanding' by any means, but I think what inspectors are seeing is that there are still weaknesses,” he said.
Ms Spielman added: “The Baker Clause is relatively recent and I think what is coming through in inspections is a pretty rapid sector response from what was a pretty low level at the point that it was first brought in, and that is what our work is showing. Career advice and getting young people on the right path is incredibly important.”
Ofsted was working on ensuring good careers advice and guidance in schools, she said: “It means better signposting in inspection handbook and inspector training, in essence. We are not enforcers. I think there is a misunderstanding there. Careers advice and guidance, including the Baker Clause, are already an important part of inspection.”
Ms Spielman said inspection was a “weighing up” of different aspects of quality education and overall effectiveness. “Career advice and guidance is one piece of what a school or college does and it is weighed up against other things. It is given significant weight, but it is not set up as a limiting judgement.”
Making the Baker Clause more of a priority in inspections was a matter for the government, said Ms Spielman.
However, Mr Halfon said: “You are again passing the buck. Your remit is careers guidance and you are giving schools 'outstanding' records who have poor careers advice. There is nothing wrong with you saying, 'Actually, careers guidance, we know, includes the Baker Clause,' which was passed into law actually by myself in my previous role in 2017, and there is nothing wrong with you saying, 'Actually, we want much better scrutiny that the Baker Clause is followed and is complied with.'"