Careers guidance in schools could be "increasingly marginalised" at a time when it is urgently needed, under reforms being discussed by ministers, experts have warned.
Sources have indicated that ministers plan to use next week's education bill to remove schools' statutory duty to provide careers education as part of the curriculum, instead leaving it up to heads.
There are also concerns that schools will have a duty to "buy in" professional careers guidance, with doubts hanging over how much extra money they will get to do so.
At present, professional careers guidance services are provided by the youth-orientated Connexions service, funded through increasingly cash-strapped local authorities.
But from April 2012, schools will have to purchase this from a new all-age careers guidance service, announced recently by further education minister John Hayes, or a competing private provider.
Key figures in the sector are calling on the Government to say whether it will provide extra money for schools to do this.
Tony Watts, an international policy consultant on careers guidance and career development and visiting professor at Derby University, writes in The TES today: "It (the Government) needs with great urgency to announce the budget for the all-age service, and to reaffirm the importance of careers education.
"If it harbours ideas of using local authorities and schools as scapegoats, this would be an act of abject cynicism."
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, who sits on an advisory group to the Government's new all-age careers guidance service, said: "There has never been a more important time for all young people to have access to high-quality guidance, with the education maintenance allowance going, the introduction of tuition fees and rising unemployment.
"If in legislation schools have to access careers advice, there has to be a budget to do that and there is a risk that there won't be."
Sue Barr, president of the Association for Careers Education and Guidance, added: "There is a real danger that some schools won't see careers as their priority."
Insight, page 26.