THE Government has suffered a defeat in the Lords over its plans to introduce a revamped careers service that targets disaffected teenagers.
The new "Connexions" service, plans to combine careers advice with mentoring in a bid to cut education drop-out rates among troubled youngsters. But Opposition peers successfully argued that the plan would mean high-achieving students suffered.
They forced an amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill which guarantees that all students will carry on receiving at least the current quality of advice.
The amendment will give some comfort to careers advisers, who had warned that the Bill risked downgrading their service.
Under the Connexions plan, there would be an army of up to 20,000 "personal advisers" for 13 to 19-year-olds in schools and colleges. Their remit would extend beyond careers advice to work to reduce truancy and exclusions, drug abuse, youth offending and teenage pregancies.
However, Liberal Democrat Baroness Sharp of Guildford warned during the Bill's third reading that the Government's plans were "overambitious".
Connexions - expected to cost pound;500 million a year - will subsume all of the current pound;250m careers service budget.
But Baroness Sharp said it was unlikely that the extra pound;250m, to come from this summer's comprehensive spending review, would be available till April, 2001. She said: "We do not qustion the value of personal advice and mentoring services in helping disadvantaged young people back into mainstream education.
"But until further resources are provided...the new service cannot be provided without detracting from the current careers service."
Lady Sharp added that even under the current system, which has seen the Government asking careers advisers to give special attention to the disaffected, there was evidence that support for able pupils was suffering.
Lady Sharp's amendment, backed with Tory support by a majority of 157 to 142, says, on the face of the Bill, that advice and guidance will not suffer from the introduction of Connexions.
Tony Watts, director of the National Institute of Careers Education and Counselling, said: "It is very helpful to have a clear statement like this on the face of the Bill."
The Government suffered a second defeat after Opposition peers backed another amendment to the Bill, designed to protect the future of small school sixth forms.
Ministers had promised that such sixth-forms would not be closed, despite their higher unit costs. The amendment, tabled by Tory peer Lord Pilkington of Oxenford and passed by 173 votes to 127, effectively writes this pledge into the Bill
The Bill now goes to its first reading in the Commons, where the Government must decide whether to reverse the two amendments.