Teenagers let down by 'patchy' careers advice

6th October 2006 at 01:00
Majority of students think schools did not consider their best interests

Colleges have criticised careers advice after a survey revealed that most students believe schools have a hidden agenda in pushing them towards certain courses.

A survey by the Association of Colleges found that 55 per cent of students believe teachers steer them towards courses which the school does best, rather than what is right for the student.

The ICM poll of more than 1,000 university students found that 66 per cent wished they had received better careers advice. It confirms the findings of a survey of sixth-formers earlier this year, which found that nearly two-thirds said careers advisers were no help in choosing a university course.

The findings come as careers advice is in transition from the national service run by Connexions to a series of federations that involve local authorities, schools and colleges, which are expected to hire their own experts.

Connexions, the pound;450-million-a-year advice service, was criticised for failing to be properly universal and focusing too narrowly on teenagers out of education, employment and training in order to meet government targets.

Last year, it achieved a 14 per cent cut in those out of work or education, beating the Treasury target of 10 per cent.

But inspectors said its advice was "patchy", and the National Audit Office said it had only half the number of personal advisers it needed. School leaders welcomed the decision to end Connexions' national service and put hand funds to schools and colleges.

But Maggie Scott, director of learning and quality at the AoC, said that while colleges supported the new federations, there would need to be close monitoring to ensure the advice was impartial.

The association fears that poor advice which fails to outline all the options for students at 16 and 18 could affect college recruitment.

Ms Scott said: "Subject teachers in schools wouldn't necessarily have the vision or perspective to ensure universal advice - they just couldn't do that. It's critical for them to have access to young people to explain what they're about and to make sure young people know what they're doing."

She said it would be even more important when new diploma qualifications are launched because students will have to rely on college's expertise in vocational teaching.

Under the future arrangements for careers advice, due next year, schools will be able to opt out of federations and go it alone.

"We don't know whether what they put in place will be impartial or not," Ms Scott said.

The survey also found that about one in five students believes A-levels are not a good preparation for university. Many wished they had done some vocational training: 58 per cent said they would like to have combined practical and academic courses.

Even among the elite universities of the Russell Group, 46 per cent wished they had done more practical courses. Practical skills in subjects such as IT and business administration would make graduates more employable, 67 per cent of those surveyed said.

Ms Scott said: "This survey gives voice to the silent majority who have not been well served by school careers advice. These results also show that the curriculum has been too inflexible for many."

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