One of the key conclusions of this report is that CE/IAG (about either future studies or training/apprenticeships) from Connexions does not seem to have any measurable effect on young people’s opinions or on their eventual choices.
The authors of this report themselves admit that ‘the apparent lack of any effect of Connexions on either short-term attitudes or on actual long-term decisions is surprising and disappointing’ (p.78); but straightaway go on to say ‘the finding needs to be interpreted with some care’.
This is not the first report to fail to find the positive effects from CE/IAG interventions that they are looking for and to fall back on the argument that there is no evidence that it does any harm either!
Wherein lies the difficulty? The researchers do not help themselves by starting with such a skewed definition of what CE/IAG is for. They argue that ‘Good CE/IAG can be thought of as aiming to meet two objectives. The first aim is to increase the stock of highly qualified and highly skilled people in the British workforce. The second aim is to encourage disadvantaged young people to aim high’ (p.4). CE/IAG is for all young people and its overriding objective is to enable young people to fulfil their aspirations in learning and work for the well-being of themselves and for those where their attachments lie.
A further flaw in the premise of their research comes from the statement that ‘Young people can obtain CE/IAG from three main sources: from their family, from their school, or from the specialised Connexions service’ (p.4). The researchers were tied to these three items by the survey data that they were using which had been created for a purpose other than understanding the impact of CE/IAG provision. We all know that young people engage with many other sources of CE/IAG including the media, the internet, opportunity providers and friends. In fact, the ‘informal’ CE/IAG providers often have more impact than the formal providers. Organisers of CE/IAG provision are increasingly trying to harness and strengthen the effectiveness of these informal sources of help. In a typical school year, students may have 10-15 hours of careers education, one hour of contact with a Connexions personal adviser and over 1,100 hours of other lessons. Is it surprising that a quantitative-based evaluation fails to pick up significant effects from formal provision when the inputs themselves are inadequate?
The report concerns itself with two kinds of outcomes: effects on young people’s opinions (which we might call intermediate outcomes) and effects on their actual activities at 16 (which we might call practical or economic outcomes). There is no attempt to examine another important effect of CE/IAG namely the impact on personal attribute outcomes such as changes in young people’s self-efficacy beliefs, understanding of their own interests and their capacity to make life-enhancing decisions. The research does try to control for the effects of some other variables that affect practical or economic outcomes; but there is no discussion of the constraining effect of the wider ‘opportunity structure’ whether it is the limited curriculum offer in the school/consortium or the restricted availability of alternatives such as Apprenticeships and training courses. The report does find ‘that talking to either family members, or to school teachers, about future studies in the course of years 9 or 10 has some positive effects on attitudes to school, and the intention to stay in education and reduces pupils‟ probability of not knowing what they would do after year 11’ (p.7).
The authors do seek explanations to compensate for the shortcomings of the data available to them. One which careers teachers and Connexions advisers will be familiar with is the issue of attribution for the help received. Young people do not always remember where their ideas, information and support came from; and if they’re doing well, they’re more likely to say that they got there all by themselves!
For all its limitations, the report does point to some useful conclusions. The strong tendency for young people who had used one source of CE/IAG to have used the other two, suggests that parents/carers, schools and Connexions services need to work together more closely. The report also supports the notion that earlier CE/IAG interventions have more effect, at least on short-term outcomes, than later interventions.
This sobering analysis of the state of CE/IAG provision should be read by all; but it is not the longitudinal study that we need to help us really understand the role of CE/IAG in young people’s education and employment choices.
Download the report at: