Concern has been growing over a decline in the quality of careers education since the government stopped funding the local authority-run Connexions service and devolved responsibility to education providers in 2012.
The service offered in schools is a particular worry. In September 2013, Ofsted found that good-quality advice was "patchy" and that most provision was not independent. Research by other bodies has shown that schools are failing to inform pupils about vocational pathways and apprenticeships.
In response to the criticisms, the government established a new careers company, backed by employers, and more detailed guidance for providers.
Last week, Labour made a pledge that if it won the election, every secondary school and college student would receive face-to-face careers guidance from a trained adviser.
Karleen Dowden of the Association of School and College Leaders, which helped to draw up the Foundation Code, said that education providers realised they needed to take action.
"We wanted to get a consensus and to make sure young people were provided with the best offer," she said. "The key thing is meeting the needs of young people, but it's also important to look at it in a wider context because it has such huge implications for the economy and workforce.
"The code allows providers to shape what is the best model to adopt; it's us saying we need to take responsibility [for careers education] and stop blaming the lack of funding and lack of steer from government."
The first of the six behaviours laid out in the code asks providers to adopt a "strategic approach" to careers education, including embedding it in the curriculum for all age groups; the second asks them to "address the skills mismatch" by joining with employers to bridge the gap between education and work.
They are also urged to "work with other educational partners', engage parents and carers, and "support social mobility" by helping disadvantaged students to access progression routes.
Lastly, the code advises that the people delivering advice should have access to high-quality CPD.
"It gives a benchmark about what's important," Ms Dowden said. "We are going to be in much better place if everyone works towards the six points."
David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said he hoped the code would pave the way for more objective guidance.
"With so many autonomous education institutions there's a real need for impartial advice," he said. "What's most important is what is best for young people. The way forward is through collaboration - the sharing of information and intelligence."
Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said the document reinforced the message that careers education would succeed only when providers took ownership of it.
Andy Gannon, director of policy for the 157 Group of colleges, said: "We know the government is not going to step in and provide a magic bullet, and therefore the best people to solve the problems are the people in schools and colleges themselves.
"This is us saying, regardless of how the system is structured, that we recognise there's a set of key principles that drive the work we do with young people."
`Impartial advice enables confidence'
Leicester's post-16 education institutions have established the Leicester Impartial Advice and Information Services (Liaise), offering impartial advice to all the city's schools.
Liaise representatives attend events for parents and students, present on post-16 options in assemblies and to tutor groups, and provide careers training for school staff.
The authors of the Foundation Code highlight the initiative as an example of good practice. Schools use the service as the "first port of call" when seeking input from a post-16 provider for career education programmes, they say. And the post-16 providers have put aside self-interest to ensure the scheme's success.
Colin Cole, careers coordinator at Beaumont Leys School, says: "Liaise gives staff belief in the choices that young people make.because all the members of Liaise prepare them with outstanding impartial advice and guidance and enable them to feel confident about their future."
Of one mind
The code is underpinned by evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research and has been developed by:
- the Association of School and College Leaders
- the Association of Colleges
- the 157 Group of colleges
- the ATL teaching union
- the Association of Employment and Learning Providers
- the Principals' Professional Council
- the Sixth Form Colleges' Association.