How to fix a broken bandwagon like careers advice?

Since bad (inexpert, partial) careers advice contributes to poor educational choices, further education colleges take a keen interest in the issue and, as a result, it’s been a campaigning issue for my former employer the Association of Colleges for many years.

Now it appears that the only person left thinking careers advice in Britain is OK just caught the last train to the coast.

Children’s charity Barnado’s, the Confederation of British Industry and the Chartered Institute of Professional Development are among those queueing up to criticise school-age ‘information, advice and guidance’ (IAG).

Ofsted and Government have joined the chorus. But if everyone agrees it’s broken, what’s the solution?

Ofsted says that Government should be more ‘explicit’ in its guidance to schools and colleges and collect more accurate data on school leavers’ destinations** in order to understand about young people’s journeys into employment – admirable aims, but unlikely to sufficiently incentivise schools to fix their IAG.

Nor would ‘more effective marketing’ by the National Careers Service, another suggestion, and one that would cost money to implement. (Incidentally, the NCS wasn’t established as an alternative to Connexions). Potentially more powerful is the warning that inspectors should take more account of careers guidance – but if schools are having trouble giving expert advice because they can’t afford the experts, then it’s a hollow threat.

Government says it will take up the Ofsted suggestions on guidance and data and wants more employers to advise school pupils directly. But if this is an effective alternative to having informed, expert guidance within a school or group of schools then my name is Buzz Aldrin. A nice chat with Eddie Stobart isn’t going to help you very much if your interests lie in archaeology.

The AoC says: institutions should only be graded good or outstanding by Ofsted if their careers guidance is good or outstanding; there should be a clearly identifiable careers hub in any area so young people know where to go; all school and college sites should link to the National Careers Service and investment in the service should be increased to £80million. Which seems to me to be a good balance of carrot and stick.

Whatever the answer, research (which I’ll be writing about next week) strongly indicates that spending more money on professional school-age careers guidance (in particular for Year 9 and 10 pupils) would provide a significant return on investment in terms of reducing sixth-form and higher education drop-out rates and spending on adult education campaigns.  Middle-class people like me tend to talk about school-age careers advice in the context of it being shoddy for decades. What we perhaps don’t appreciate is its considerable benefit to those young people who don’t have the informal network of advice and guidance I was able to access when young. More next week.

**improving destinations data quality wouldn’t be too difficult as it’s currently in a very sorry state, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it would be of use to Government, students or parents