Ministers step into careers cauldron

12th March 2004 at 00:00
'Inadequate and inappropriate' say critics seeking reform of Connexions, the young people's advice service. Joe Clancy and Michael Shaw report

A major review of careers guidance in England is to be carried out by the Government after scathing criticisms of the Connexions service.

The review is likely to consider putting all careers guidance under one umbrella. It is currently split between a service for teenagers run by Connexions and a service for adults run by the Learning and Skills Council.

It is also expected to examine whether Connexions should continue to target young people at risk from dropping out of education at 16, or if it should provide an overall service for all teenagers.

Good careers advice for teenagers is becoming more important as ministers attempt to boost learning and career choices under proposals to improve job options for 14 to 19-year-olds.

The Department for Education and Skills said it intends to hold an "end-to-end review" of careers education and guidance that will focus on help for 11 to 19-year olds.

A spokesman said: "We recognise that as the reforms come into force, 14 to 19-year-olds will face increasingly hard choices in key stage 4 and need to understand the implications of those choices on the rest of their lives.

"So now we need to start to assess whether the right package of support will be available for all young people in the future."

Connexions, which was set up three years ago and costs pound;441 million a year to run, has faced fierce criticism for focussing on personal and social issues as well as careers guidance.

Mike Tomlinson, in his interim report on 14 to 19 reform published last month, noted that careers advice was not yet of a consistently high quality and often formed a targeted service rather than a universal entitlement.

A report on careers advice in the UK and 13 other countries, delivered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found that training for advisers was often inadequate and inappropriate.

Guidance within UK schools was also too variable in quantity and quality with pupils sometimes being advised to stay on, even if it was against their own interests, as it would improve the school's financial position.

A third report published last month revealed that 30 per cent of pupils aged 14 and over said they received no careers guidance from their school or college.

The review will fuel the debate among key professionals in careers guidance over whether an all-age service should be introduced throughout the UK.

At present, Scotland and Wales have one service providing careers advice for everyone. In England, Connexions delivers to 13 to 19-year-olds and the LSC to the 20-plus group.

Tony Watts, senior fellow at the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling, welcomed the DfES review.

He said: "The review should be looking radically at the need for a universal service and whether existing structures are robust enough."

At a Careers England conference last week, chairman Bob Fryer said: "The nation needs an all-age career guidance system which will help the country to fulfil skills needs."

The Institute of Career Guidance said it was delighted that the DfES was planning a full review because it had been campaiging for a year for an investigation into the advice provided by Connexions.

Ian Pearson, chief executive of the ICG, said news of the review has been met with "relief and overwhelming support" by members working within the Connexions Service.

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