Last month the document ‘Career Guidance and Inspiration in Schools’ was published by the Dept for Education. The purpose of this we are told is to ensure that all schools are clear about what is expected of them in meeting their statutory duty and to that end it is helpful as a check list for schools. We are also told in the guidance that Ofsted has been giving Career Guidance a ‘high priority’ since its report ‘Going in the Right Direction’ in September 2013. Anecdotally the experience of careers coordinators in schools does not seem to reflect that priority but time will tell.
I would like however to comment on just some of the content of this guidance and the direction of growth in the guidance community more generally.
First of all we should be pleased that Dept. for Education has seen the need for this and therefore the importance of careers work with young people more broadly. Clarification of schools’ statutory duty to provide all pupils ‘with independent (impartial and external to the school) from years 8 to 13’ is helpful. However why a private contractor would be more impartial than someone employed by the school, seems counterintuitive to me. If you want and need your contract with a school to be renewed, you are just as subject to the temptation to be partial as you would if you were employed by the school. Surely the issue should be that if someone is professionally qualified and on the professional register, thereby signed up to the professional code of practice and ethics, it should make little difference what their contract with the school is like. Furthermore we all know that there are many highly competent practitioners who are employed by schools and whose impartiality is unchallenged by Ofsted. So where is the clarity I wonder?
Secondly the emphasis throughout is on information and engagement by the school with external bodies such as employers and employers’ bodies. This in my view panders to the idea that all young people need is lots and lots of information and inspiration by those already in the labour market. The irony is that this is so soon after Alison Wolf’s recommendation that work experience should no longer be a statutory entitlement for young people in key stage 4. Rather, says Wolf, they should leave this until post 16, when some key choices have already been made and under-aspiration is unchallenged, gender stereotypic choices or ill-thought through plans made. Are employers impartial? Will employers present a balanced view of their industry, challenge gender biases or help the young people in front of them to think more broadly? Some of them certainly will. But why encourage engagement with these groups and not with the profession that is trained and experienced in just these issues:careers professionals?
Thirdly and finally there is the reliance on the National Careers Service website and online and telephone services. Again if young people want information this is a useful source. However, like the NHS Direct service for health concerns, they can only deal with what is presented to them. They cannot second guess what is behind the question, what assumptions have been made or read the body language of a young person overwhelmed by their predicament. In short, this service cannot replace the opportunity for a young person to sit one to one with a trained professional who will listen to them and help them to reflect on what they say. Put simply an online service can provide some answers, a one- to- one career discussion with a professional will prompt the questions that they didn’t know they needed to ask.
So this document offers the opportunity to have important discussions with schools, to ensure that at the very least they are fulfilling their statutory duty. But let us hope that the conversation doesn’t end there, but continues into the vital role of the careers professional in preparing young people for the ever more complex world of work. This labour market is changing so fast that no employer, website or enterprise activity can prepare young people for the challenges ahead. It will take all of us working in partnership, with trained professionals at the centre , to do this and our young people deserve nothing less.
Anne Chant, June 2014