The ‘national scandal’ of careers advice in schools

22nd April 2016 at 00:00
Guidance is of little help to students when choosing FE courses, survey reveals

The NUS students’ union has described the state of careers advice as a “national scandal”, as a new survey lifts the lid on the factors that influence FE students’ career choices.

The research, carried out by YouGov and shared exclusively with TES, shows that for many students, advice from school tutors and careers experts does little to sway them in decisions about their future careers.

The survey, which asked students what the most important factors were when they were choosing a college, also reveals that the issue of employability and the financial assistance available at institutions have become significantly more important.

Proximity to home and course reputation are among the most-cited issues, although the significance of these factors has fallen (see figures, right).

More than a quarter of those who took part in the research, commissioned by WPM Education, said that employability was one of the most important factors for them. This compares with only a fifth in 2015. The proportion citing financial assistance as one of the most important factors rose from 10 per cent to 17 per cent.

The figures show that school tutors and careers advisers were “very” or “moderately” important to only a third of FE students when choosing their current education institution. Almost 18 per cent said tutors and advisers didn’t influence their decision-making at all.

‘Funnelled into rigid pathways’

The findings of the survey, involving more than 760 FE students, were released as shadow FE and skills minister Gordon Marsden raised concerns about the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), the new organisation tasked with improving careers advice across the country (see box, page 47).

His concerns were echoed by Shakira Martin, NUS vice-president for FE. She told TES: “NUS believes the current state of information, advice and guidance (IAG) is a national scandal. Today’s education system funnels young people into rigid pathways too early, and with recent reforms to A levels and cuts to the budget for 18-year-olds, excellent careers IAG is vital.

“NUS is calling on the government to invest in a truly national careers system that delivers impartial information and advice.”

David Byrne, principal of Barnet and Southgate College, said that he believed school-based IAG was “at best patchy, and often not in tune with local or regional economic opportunities”.

“Students tell me that very often they had researched opportunities themselves, with an increasing volume using social media sources to suss out jobs and possible opportunities, while still at school,” he added. “When they get to college, they love the linkage between the course being studied and possible employment opportunities.

“My view is triangulated by the evidence of seeing employability and financial assistance high on the list of importance. If a prospective student is persuaded that a particular college can further his or her chances of a job, I have no doubt they will view that college as a good investment.”

Gill Clipson, deputy chief executive at the Association of Colleges, agreed that young people were increasingly aware of the difficulties in the job market, adding: “Colleges offer great support to help students achieve crucial employability skills and they also ensure value for money by providing expert teaching staff in industry-standard facilities.”


CEC ‘lacks resources’

The new Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) may not have the resources or strategic approach necessary to implement an effective careers advice system, the shadow FE and skills minister has claimed. Labour MP Gordon Marsden (pictured) told TES that he had obtained figures from the government showing that the CEC, which launched the first of its services last September, employed only 18 full-time equivalent staff.

The government announced funding for the CEC in December 2014. The organisation aims to improve consistency of provision and increase employer engagement with young people. It is rolling out a network of enterprise advisers – volunteers from business who will work directly with schools and colleges to make careers advice relevant – and last month, it announced the winners for its £5 million careers and enterprise investment fund.

But Mr Marsden said that the government’s funding commitment for the CEC was inadequate: “It is partly a question of logistics and also a question of putting in place a strategic approach: £70 million sounds like a lot of money, but when that is over four years, when you have only got 18 people full-time employed to take the strategy forward, it is concerning.” He added that there was “no clarity at all” on what the CEC’s strategy and target audience were.

The Department for Education said the £70 million would “transform the quality of the careers education, advice and guidance offered to young people”. A spokesperson said: “This significant investment will help us build on the great progress we have made in improving the life chances of the next generation.”

CEC chief executive Claudia Harris told TES that the organisation was set up to “join the dots in careers and enterprise provision”. She added: “In what can be a confusing landscape, we use targeted evidence and interventions to make it easier for schools, colleges, employers and careers and enterprise providers to work effectively together to support young people. By working in partnership with others, we are able to significantly amplify our reach.”

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