Young people may be denied essential career guidance

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The Institute of Career Guidance (ICG) is warning MPs and Lords that the proposed changes to the way that careers guidance is delivered in England will lead to young people being deprived of essential support at a time when they need it the most.

Instead of access to professional careers guidance for all, the new National Careers Service for England, scheduled to be fully operational by April 2012, will provide an online and telephone information service but no funding for face-to-face guidance for young people, which has up to now been provided through the Connexions service. The Education Bill (currently progressing through Parliament) shifts responsibility for providing careers guidance from local authorities to schools that will be required by law to provide 'independent, impartial careers guidance'. But with no additional funding to schools, fears are that few schools will be able to afford to buy in career guidance services.

The ICG has circulated robust research evidence from over 20 studies to politicians to inform the Education Bill debates in the House of Lords. These demonstrate the critical importance of careers guidance to young people’s futures, the clear links to participation in education post-16 and the consequences of compromises on quality.

The research summary shows that:

  •  The lack of information about the choices available is seen by young people as one of the main barriers to their participation post-16. Research evidence shows that all young people need access to accurate, high-quality, impartial information about their options post-16 and what they need to do to enter their chosen career.
  • When career guidance is provided by schools this can be too remote from the labour market [lp1]and too closely linked to the self-interest of particular institutions.  In a recent study (2008) the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) points out the weaknesses in academically-trained teachers providing careers guidance.
  •  Individual face-to-face guidance has the greatest impact, followed by group counselling and classroom interventions. Although computer-delivered interventions are the most cost-effective, these and other counsellor-free approaches are the least significant.

Deirdre Hughes, immediate Past President of the ICG and Associate Fellow at the Warwick Institute for Employment Research said: "There is ample evidence that what young people want and need is face-to-face guidance. Many do not know how to identify suitable employers and many do not know how best to select a suitable institution or programme of study that can enhance their learning and personal development. Identifying talents and matching these to opportunities is a hit-and-miss affair without proper guidance. If young people are to be denied personal contact with a trained and experienced careers adviser they may end up making the wrong choices."

 The Education Bill states that schools will be free to make arrangements for careers guidance "that best suit the needs of their pupils, engaging, where appropriate, in partnership with external, expert providers". A proposed clause in the Bill to ensure that all careers guidance secured by schools meets a national quality standard was defeated in the House of Commons, raising fears that a free market in careers guidance that compromises quality will develop.

Steve Higginbotham, current ICG President said: "We are concerned that teachers will be encouraged to deliver career guidance and that pupils will only get access to online and telephone-based services. Careers guidance must be provided by professional advisers with suitable qualifications and experience. It is a huge disappointment that safeguards on quality and professionalism are not being included in the Education Bill. The consequences are significant for young people who need the very best guidance in an increasingly uncertain jobs market."

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