Government efforts to improve careers advice to school students are being undermined by a severe shortage of qualified teachers, according to a new Office for Standards in Education survey.
Only a third of the 148 secondary schools questioned by inspectors had careers co-ordinators - teachers responsible for careers education and guidance - with a recognised qualification.
The survey also found that:
* l one in four schools failed to provide a planned, well-organised programme of careers education;
* one in 10 schools had no dedicated careers library, and; * a quarter of schools provided unsatisfactory careers information.
While many of the findings are upbeat - with careers teaching found to be satisfactory or better in eight out of 10 schools - inspectors warned that there was too much variation in standards between schools.
"This study confirms there is a lot of good work going on in schools, but the variation between the best and worst is too wide and there is much room for improvement in the co-ordination between the education and the guidance elements of careers work," said David West, head of post-compulsory education at OFSTED.
Key areas for attention, says OFSTED in a report published this week, are in the training of teachers and in curriculum development.
While training opportunities for careers co-ordinators were adequate, those for non-specialists, such as tutors and teachers of personal and social education (PSE), were "unsatisfactory".
A third of co-ordinators had gained a recognised qualification in careers education and guidance since the last government introduced a training programme three years ago. Provision and take-up, says the report, has been "uneven" but will eventually result in "a much-needed increase in the number of trained careers co-ordinators".
Ministers this week responded by announcing plans for a new nationally-recognised qualification for careers co-ordinators.
The report also draws attention to the wide variation in responsibilities and pay rates for co-ordinators, as well as the amount of non-teaching time allocated to support their work.
While 75 per cent of schools with sixth forms provide students with objective careers advice about the full range of post-16 options, the remaining 25 per cent do not. In these schools, the report says, students are placed under pressure to stay at school.
The report also highlights the "unacceptable" variation in content, organisation and time allocated to careers work. One in 10 schools allows no more than three hours teaching in Years 10 and 11. In contrast, one in five schools allocates more than 20 hours.
Government schemes to improve careers advice have generally had a positive impact. The library initiative, says the report, has led to improved resources and raised the profile of careers work in eight out of 10 schools. Schools where the impact is low have often been impeded by the high cost of computer software or outdated IT equipment.
Another government scheme, designed to introduce careers advisers into lessons, has led to 50 per cent of schools increasing the amount of time spent on careers work at key stage 3 during the last three years. Nine out of 10 guidance interviews conducted by careers advisers were found to be satisfactory or better - one of the report's most positive findings.
The survey finds schools overwhelmingly positive about John Major's government's decision to privatise the careers service in 1993. Nine out of 10 schools said the impact of the reorganisation was satisfactory or better, leading to "a more business-like approach from a service which is more consistent and reliable".
The "National Survey of Careers Education and Guidance" is published in two reports, one on secondary schools, secure units and young offender institutions; the other on special schools and pupil referral units. Both are available free from the OFSTED Publications Centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ. Telephone 0171 510 0180.
NATIONAL SURVEY OF CAREERS EDUCATION AND GUIDANCE:OFSTED'S KEY ISSUES FOR ACTION
Schools need to:
* make clearer to students how careers education fits intothe curriculum; * plan the curriculum more effectively, explaining the purpose of careers education and guidance; * make better use of parents and employers; * ensure careers advisers have suitable facilities andup-to-date information about students.
Careers co-ordinatorsteachers need to:
* be able to provide up-to-date evidence of the quality of the careers education in their schools.
Headteachers need to:
* be more involved in developing partnerships with careersservice companies; * use teachers' time more efficiently and check that co-ordinators do not carry out inappropriate tasks.
Careers service companies need to:
* ensure that students are prepared for their Year 11 career action plan interviews.
The DFEE needs to:
* help provide more careers co-ordinators with a recognisedqualification; * explore some form of initial teacher training in careers work; * target the one in 10 schools without a dedicated careerslibrary; * consider ways of improving the service for students in residential special schools.
Special schools and units need to:
* raise the quality of careers education teaching throughin-service training, staff development and liaison with colleagues in other schools.