Pupils are better advised post-Pathfinder. Susan Young reports. Substantial benefits have resulted from the privatisation of the careers service, according to researchers.
Schools have felt the impact of the changes most as the quality and quantity of information for the service's clients has markedly improved and the standards and accessibility of local careers offices is better than two years ago.
However, the National Foundation for Educational Research team, which completed the report on four of the first 13 privatised "Pathfinder" services for the Department for Education, also discovered problems.
While providing action plans for pupils, college students and trainees was a central feature of careers guidance in the four Pathfinders, this did not necessarily indicate a "structured, impartial programme", while the need to meet planning targets was widely seen as dictating too rigidly the activities undertaken.
James Paice, the junior education minister responsible for the careers service, said: "It is clear that the service is considerably improved, although I am not going to sit here and pretend it is perfect."
The Pathfinder services are currently bidding for the contracts once more, along with a final tranche of those not previously put out to tender. The initiative is costing the Government more than the previous service: around Pounds 200m a year compared with Pounds 140m pre-Pathfinder but Mr Paice - and the report - call it money well spent.
"The broad sweep of findings presented in this report has borne witness to how a well-funded policy initiative, framed by clear aims, delivery targets and practical guidance can effect substantial change in a system within a two-year period," says An evaluation of the performance of pathfinder careers services.
Mr Paice says the service has benefited from being taken from local authority control, although the LEA is the partner in many of the new contracts. "Young people have an ever-increasing array of opportunities. When the service was part of the local authority they had an interest in keeping them in the education service. I just feel as an independent organisation that a broad spectrum of organisations and people are represented on the boards and they are much more likely to get impartial advice which they need."
He added: "I think there's a difference between education and learning. Ever since we have had this new department I have been trying to use the word learning. For many young people work-based training may be the best course of action. Learning doesn't necessarily mean full-time education as it did a few years ago."
Schools thought careers advisers now played a more significant role in helping young people to make careers decisions wisely, although they thought the target-setting could cause problems. The report also shows that the best service now seems to be given to schools, with less provision for colleges and much less for young people in other training.