Is it time for a change in career guidance?

Oct 3, 2022 | Apprentices & school leaver

Tristram Hooley, Professor of Career Education at University of Derby, reports on a new parliamentary inquiry that hopes to shake up the provision of career guidance in England.  

With a new Prime Minister and King, a controversial mini-budget, a plummeting pound and the hoopla of party conferences, even the most dedicated follower of politics might be forgiven for missing the start of the House of Commons Education Select Committees inquiry into Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG).

For people involved in student employment this should be something that you are paying close attention to.

Why student employers should care about career guidance

Parliamentary Select Committees exist to scrutinise the work of government. They are cross-party and, at their best, are somewhere where MPs lay aside their party affiliations and dig deeply into an important issue.

The Education Committee is chaired by Robert Halfon who is one of the more thoughtful and informed, and occasionally maverick, members on the Conservative side. Halfon has a long-standing interest in skills and careers and has met with the Institute of Student Employers a few times in the past.

The fact that the Education Committee are now looking at career guidance should be an enormous opportunity.

Career guidance is part of the solution to problems that we hear employers articulating to the ISE regularly. If you want a stronger connection to schools, need the education system to help young people to develop the skills that you will actually need or just believe that it is important that young people are supported to find a direction and purpose in life, then career guidance is something that you should care about.


What is the Education Committee trying to do?

Back in January, the Education Committee issued a call for evidence about the state of career guidance in England. What, they asked, was wrong with current provision? Was the taxpayer getting good value for money? And how could things be improved?

They received 128 submissions from a wide range of stakeholders including me and the ISE. In general people highlighted that while some of the fundamentals are in place, much improvement is needed.

The committee have now moved into a new phase of the inquiry where they call witnesses and cross-examine them. I was (un)lucky enough to be called for the first oral evidence session, which you can still watch on parliamentary TV, and which brought together a set of experts in the field. In this session Halfon and his colleagues on the Committee raise several concerns about the current system and clashed with me and the other experts on the panel.

Firstly, they were willing to question some of the things that the experts generally thought were working pretty well. They asked whether the Gatsby Benchmarks were useful and whether the Careers and Enterprise Company was doing a good job. Would we be better off without these things? The experts, including myself tried to argue that the existing infrastructure was useful, but underfunded, and that it would be detrimental to dismantle the whole thing. But I think that the MPs remained unconvinced.

Secondly, the Committee generally seemed to think that schools could be doing more with less and that an increase in resourcing was not the answer. Again, the panel argued about this and made the case for more resources, especially for more disadvantaged students.

Finally, the Committee explored whether money would be better spent if it was sent directly to schools rather than channelled through an agency like the Careers and Enterprise Company. By my calculations this would probably end up with about £7,000 arriving in every school’s bank account. I can’t see what schools could meaningfully buy with this.


What happens next?

The evidence session that I was part of was the first of many. Over the next few months, the committee will hear from a wide range of different experts and stakeholders. At the end of this process, they will write a report and make some recommendations.

There are clearly some important issues up for grabs. While everyone agrees that career guidance is useful, there are legitimate disagreements about how it should be funded, to what level and what infrastructure and framework should sit around this funding to ensure that schools deliver on their responsibilities.

For me, a clear framework of what schools should deliver, some money to make it happen and a national agency and local hubs to oversee it and make sure it is done well is the right answer.

The problem is that we are thinking too small and underfunding all this activity, which means that a great many young people do not get enough help and support. Robert Halfon seems to disagree with me at the moment, but hopefully the inquiry process will convince him!

Government doesn’t have to listen to the reports that select committees write or act on their recommendations. But, with a new education secretary and a widespread consensus that career guidance needs to be improved this is a great opportunity. Hopefully Robert Halfon and the rest of the Committee will seize the moment and make the recommendations that are needed.

 Read more insights and advice on career guidance

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