What support do we give students who are choosing their path after GCSEs? From 2010 the government began dismantling Connexions, the national service for careers advice which included a UK-wide network of career advisers who were based in dedicated centres but also spent time in schools. This sounds appalling, but to be fair many teachers and students thought that Connexions was not fit for purpose.
In the vacuum left by Connexions, since 2011 the responsibility to provide independent Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) has rested with schools, who have a statutory duty to make sure it is provided, but no extra funding or training to meet their duty.
So what’s the current reality of CEIAG provision across the UK? It’s not great: a recent survey by the education giant Pearson found that only 20% of schools are confident that they are meeting the requirements of their statutory duty.
In place of Connexions, the government has created websites. These include The National Apprenticeship Service, a site for finding apprenticeships, The National Careers Service, a website which hosts Further Education course information plus a careers advice phone line (although face-to-face meetings are a possibility for over 18s), and Plotr, which hosts lots of videos of people in different careers as well as apprenticeship and volunteering vacancies.
At the moment these websites are not very user-friendly, plus the data they contain is incomplete. There is also, of course, the bigger problem that websites are by no means the full story of what students need.
What should be done?
It might be controversial amongst my peers working in education but I think that theoretically the government’s approach of just providing ‘infrastructure’ – issuing statutory guidance and creating websites for students to find out information – is fine. It’s probably right that actual delivery of CEIAG is devolved to schools.
However the truth is that in this space the government’s infrastructure falls a long way short of what is needed.
Firstly, the statutory guidance does not give schools clarity in what they should actually deliver for their students. One of the first ‘next steps’ is for us to agree what ‘Outstanding’ looks like. Ofsted should determine which schools are best at CEIAG, detail what they do, then pull together a clear and practical framework for what CEIAG should consist of at each Key Stage. The framework should also help schools to audit their existing provision.
Secondly, the government has never been good at making websites so they should stop trying and instead focus on completing the datasets behind the websites, then let social enterprises and private companies build tools that work really well for students and teachers. At the moment information on courses at Further Education colleges is far more patchy than, for example, information on university courses – there is no reason why this should be the case, and in this regard the government should lick Further Education colleges into shape. Unifrog has been very successful in steering students and teachers through the university choosing process – we’d love to do the same for non-university options – but we can’t do that until the data on all these options has been properly collated.
And where will we get to in an ideal world? I don’t want to pre-empt my hoped-for Ofsted framework for Outstanding CEIAG provision, but my hunch is that it would say that we need teachers and particularly form tutors to be actively involved in supporting their students to navigate their post-16 pathways. The main problem with external careers advisers is that they don’t know kids well. But form teachers do, and if they were supported by excellent websites which provided them and their students with accurate and usable information, we might get to the point where for the first time in the UK, students can make well-informed choices about how they want to progress post-16.
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Alex Kelly is Director of Unifrog
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