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There's been a huge proliferation of education, training and career pathways open to 14 to 19-year-olds, a trend that looks set to continue as proposed curriculum reforms increase the emphasis on vocational studies.
The higher education sector, too, is booming as it tries to meet the Government's plan that, by 2010, 50 per cent of young people will attend university.
The options for many pupils are bewildering, which makes it increasingly important for schools to provide a strong programme of careers education and guidance (CEG). But it's not just about directing them towards the right initial career choice. The demise of the job for life means young people need to acquire a wide range of career management skills if they are to respond to a fast-changing employment market. Helping pupils towards this is part of the responsibility of all teachers, whatever their subject: one of the duties set out in last year's School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document is to "provide guidance and advice to pupils... on their further education and future careers".
What does it involve?
"Careers education" aims to equip pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to make informed choices; "guidance" involves personalised advice, usually on a one-to-one basis. Under the 1997 Education Act, all state schools in England are legally required to provide a planned programme of careers education for Years 9-11; this will be extended to include Years 7 and 8 from this month. Pupils must also have access to guidance from careers advisers and to a wide range of up-to-date resources and reference materials; in practice, this can mean anything from a corner of the main library to a dedicated resource area with ICT facilities. The act does not specify the content of the programme nor how much time should be devoted to it.
Last year, the Department for Education and Skills published a non-statutory national framework for CEG, which encourages schools to review and develop existing programmes and, where appropriate, extend them to students up to the age of 19. Ofsted is required to assess CEG provision, and guidance has been published to help schools evaluate programmes in preparation for this (see resources).
The post of careers co-ordinator is often an additional responsibility taken on by an existing member of staff, with most training taking place on the job; it is not possible to undertake initial teacher training in CEG.
Their task is to co-ordinate a programme that usually involves a combination of discrete careers lessons, often as part of PSHE; special events such as industry days and employer visits; work experience; and the integration of careers activities into other subjects.
The framework encourages a learning outcomes approach, stressing the need for evaluation and assessment, and some schools accredit pupils' learning through one of the certificates in careers and employment skills run by various awarding bodies. Until recently, careers service companies, which took over from LEA careers services in the early 1990s, sent advisers into schools to provide specialist individual guidance. But, in England, this provision has undergone a major overhaul with the 2001 introduction of the Connexions service.
Why was Connexions introduced?
In 1999, 9 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds were not in employment, education or training , a figure that had been more or less static for the previous 20 years. In its report, Bridging the Gap, the Social Exclusion Unit concluded that the major obstacles to reducing this figure were fragmentation of support services for troubled teenagers and insufficient guidance on post-16 options. It was this report that give birth to the concept of a service aimed at 13 to 19-year-olds that would put "guidance" at its centre; not just careers advice, but also help for more needy teenagers who had personal and social problems that might inhibit their aspirations and cause them to drop out of the system.
How does it operate?
The service was phased in from April 2001. It now operates through 47 local partnerships that link public, private and voluntary organisations - such as the careers, probation, education welfare, and some health services - to create a "one-stop shop" for teenagers needing advice on anything from career options to pregnancy and drug problems. Young people can access the service through advisers in schools and colleges, local drop-in centres or the Connexions-direct website.
There are two main methods of delivery. For direct delivery, the partnership operates as one company, buying in services from other agencies when necessary. In the second, sub-contracted, model, a core Connexions team distributes grants to private companies and voluntary organisations to provide services. Funding comes from the DfES. Fifty per cent of the budget is allocated according to the number of 13 to 19-year-olds in the area, with extra funding based on factors such as the numbers of teenagers not in work, education or training, and pupils leaving school with poor GCSEs.
Partnerships work to government targets and have been asked to reduce by 10 per cent the number of those without work, or an education or training place.
In February this year the Government ordered the 47 Connexions partnerships to make savings of pound;25 million. Since then, several multimillion - pound contracts with private companies - including education service providers Nord Anglia, the Centre for British Teachers and Vosper Thorneycroft - have been terminated.
The personal adviser
At the heart of the Connexions service are the 7,500 personal advisers, who function as a single point of contact for teenagers . In schools, they work with careers co-ordinators to provide individual guidance and, sometimes, to help plan and deliver careers education programmes. Many personal advisers were formerly careers officers, but their responsibilities have widened and they are expected to provide advice on a range of issues, and access to other support services when appropriate.
Some advisers come from other backgrounds such as youth and social work or teaching. To provide careers advice they must hold a recognised qualification such as the qualification in careers guidance or NVQ level 4 in advice, guidance and advocacy. Many have caseloads covering more than one institution and most schools operate a system of prioritising the most disaffected pupils for their attention.
Is it working?
A major concern is that the service's target-driven nature means problem pupils take up a disproportionate amount of personal advisers' time. Ian Pearson, chief executive of the Institute of Career Guidance, the largest professional body representing those working in the field, says his members believe Connexions is not operating effectively as a universal service and there is too much focus on young people without employment or a place in education or training at the expense of those not obviously at risk.
Sylvia Thomson, president of the National Association of Careers and Guidance Teachers, says funding is insufficient to provide a truly universal service, that the wide remit of personal advisers means there are fewer careers advice specialists and they find it difficult to maintain their level of expertise.
These concerns are backed up by February's interim report from the Tomlinson inquiry into 14-19 reform, which noted that careers advice was "not yet of a consistently high quality and often formed a targeted service rather than a universal entitlement".
Carolyn Caldwell, executive director of the National Association of Connexions Partnerships, acknowledges the problems but says these are still early days. She says many partnerships are achieving a balance between demands and many of those with pastoral responsibilities in schools are seeing benefits.
As John Whitehead, year head at the Ellen Wilkinson school in the west London borough of Ealing, says, Connexions is a holistic and personalised service that continues to support pupils after they have left school. "Our adviser has given real direction to the lives of some of our most troubled pupils."
More changes ahead?
The DfES has recently responded to concerns about Connexions by launching an "end-to-end" review of the delivery of careers services for 11 to 19-year-olds; the findings are due to be published later this year. In the longer term, change is also likely with the plans, set out in the Every Child Matters Green Paper, for child and youth services to come together under children's trusts. Funding for Connexions will be channelled through these, raising concerns that money for careers advice could be diverted into other pressing areas, such as child protection. Ms Caldwell says Connexions partnerships will want to see funding protected, or clear and detailed government advice about how careers services should be maintained.
What about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The requirements for careers education and guidance in other parts of the UK are similar to those in England. Scotland and Wales have produced national frameworks, with the statutory requirement being extended to cover 19-year-olds in the latter. In Northern Ireland, careers education is a statutory cross-curricular theme at key stages 3 and 4. The three have escaped many of the criticisms levelled at Connexions by maintaining discrete careers services that provide guidance in schools, but which are also available to all age groups. In Wales, seven companies work under the Careers Wales banner, and Careers Scotland integrates careers companies with adult guidance services and education business partnerships. Careers officers in Northern Ireland are directly employed by the department of education.
And independent schools?
Some independents use government-funded careers services, but many also use private organisations, the largest of which is the Independent Schools Careers Organisation. This provides professional advisers to member schools throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Because parents of independent school pupils are often willing to stump up additional funding, it is able to provide what its admin director, Keith Beale, calls the "Rolls-Royce" of careers services, including psychometric testing to help Year 11 pupils with their choice of post-16 options.
Careers in the wider curriculum
Some of the aims set out in the non-statutory guidelines for PSHE, such as understanding training and career options, making the most of abilities, goal setting and developing career management skills, coincide with those of the CEG framework, and many schools use PSHE as a vehicle for delivery of the careers programme.
From this month, schools are required to provide a programme of work-related learning at key stage 4. This is likely to increase the emphasis on careers education and preparation for work being delivered through curriculum areas, and further links between schools and the workplace, an area that education business partnerships (EBPs) have been developing since the mid 1990s. Increasingly, employers are recognising the benefits that relationships with schools can bring.
One example is the Grow Your Future Workforce initiative, a three-year pilot started in May 2003 and funded by the Northwest Development Agency.
United Utilities and Scottish Power, and the engineering department of John Moores University, are working with 10 schools in the region to raise awareness of careers in electrical engineering. As well as providing workplace visits and talks, the project is developing learning materials and strategies across subjects such as maths, science and technology, and pupils are being made aware of the practical applications of engineering, from Formula One racing to the fight against cancer.
The companies involved see it as a way of creating opportunities for pupils and ensuring potential recruits leave school with solid basic skills and understanding. Brian Taylor, a Connexions worker involved in delivering the project, says the programme is raising aspirations. There has also been an increase in the number of applications for engineering apprenticeships and for further study options.
Teachers in the workplace
According to the Teacher Training Agency, more than a third of new recruits to the profession are over 30, which suggests many are embarking on second careers. But a significant number of teachers have little experience of work outside the classroom. For many, a placement in an industry related to their subject can enhance professional development and help them contribute to the school's careers programme. The EBP network helps organise such placements under contract to DfES. These usually last between one and five days and are designed to increase teachers' understanding of business practices, forge partnerships with local companies and enhance delivery of CEG.
Patrina McQueen, a food technology teacher at St Augustine of Canterbury high school in St Helens, had had no experience of the catering industry until she spent a day as a chef in a Chinese restaurant. "I was struck by the sheer intensity and speed of work in the kitchen. It gave me an insight into what it's like to work in that environment, and a tremendous buzz that I was able to take back to the classroom."
Spin-offs from the placement, organised by Liverpool Compact EBP, ranged from a similar day's experience for pupils and talks from chefs and catering managers, to a competition that involved creating a meal for a full-scale banquet held at the school. Ms McQueen says the project has given pupils an idea of the wide range of roles in the catering industry, and food is now the most popular technology option. She is working on links with the German airline Lufthansa following a behind-the-scenes look at in-flight meals and catering outlets at Manchester airport. "It's made me realise just how much of a key figure the individual subject teacher can be in opening up the world of work to pupils," she says.
Main text: Caroline Roberts.
Additional research: Sarah Jenkins
Next week: Staffrooms
* Connexions, www.connexions.gov.uk.
* For Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: www.careerswales.com; www.careers-scotland.org.uk; www.delni.gov.uk.
* www.cegnet.co.uk is the website of the national support programme for careers education and guidance. You can download the national framework, and find resources and schemes of work, and information on qualifications and awards.
* The Institute for Career Guidance: www.icg-uk.org.
* The National Association of Careers and Guidance Teachers: www.nacgt.org.uk.
* Guidance on preparing for Ofsted can be found at: www.nacgt.org.uk ofsted.htm.
* www.cascaid.co.uk is a site dedicated to providing careers professionals with the latest resources.
* The Careers Research and Advisory Centre: www.crac.org.uk.
* The Guidance Council (www.guidancecouncil.com) is an independent campaigning body for career guidance in the UK.
* The Independent Schools Careers Organisation: www.isco.org.uk.
* The National Education Business Partnership Network (www.nebpn.org) contains a link to a dedicated site for professional development placements for teachers.