A long-awaited careers strategy has been published by the government in response to calls for schools to do more to reduce the number of children not in education, employment or training (Neet).
The document, Careers Strategy: Making the Most of Everyone's Skills and Talents, prioritises support for vulnerable and disadvantaged children, as, according to the strategy, research shows they get the least amount of careers guidance affecting their future work and life prospects.
The strategy contains a set of measures to help schools provide careers advice more effectively. These include appointing a careers leader, for which £4m has been set aside to train staff in at least 500 schools in areas of England where support is most needed.
Schools in the 12 social mobility opportunity areas must also provide links to local education, training and employment providers to give their pupils the best chance to gain employment and long-term work skills.
Alongside this is the proposal to create "careers hubs" for children to gain access to information on further education and employment opportunities. The aim of the hubs is to expand the reach of careers education and guidance outside schools by bridging the gap between young people in education and those who are Neet.
All these measures are to be informed by the eight benchmarks of good career guidance developed by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and against which schools are to be judged.
Disadvantaged young people
The government's strategy states that it will help young people from poorer backgrounds by offering an equal amount of high-quality careers guidance regardless of where they live.
However, research conducted in 2017 by Moote and Archer found that careers work in schools is not reaching those most in need, including ethnic minorities and low-income groups.
Denise Bertuchi, assistant national officer at Unison, says the focus on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds is a step in the right direction, but she is concerned that another pilot risks "fragmenting" the sector.
She says the strategy does not address the 40 per cent of young people with low skills levels, as the focus of the strategy is on young people with employability skills.
Andy Ratcliffe, chief executive for Impetus-PEF, agrees that more needs to be done for the most disadvantaged young people.
"There isn't much in the strategy for those young people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, who will need more intensive support to build their employability skills and confidence to be ready to enter the world of work," he says.
He adds that for some young people, it's going to take "deep, ongoing support from a trusted adviser for them to get, and crucially keep, a job".
"For them, some light-touch exposure to employers is good but nowhere near enough," he adds. "That is where the Careers Strategy and new Social Mobility Strategy need to work hand-in-hand."
Underpinning the strategy is the government's drive to improve social mobility for all young people. There will be a specific focus on identifying and addressing the existing barriers to social mobility, and experiences of what works will be shared by academics.
Lisa Capper, director of education for Nacro, says the strategy provides an opportunity for the public sector to work more closely with private and voluntary sector education and training providers.
"Disadvantaged or disengaged young people often need to be supported in their first engagement with employers for this to be a success," she adds. "We have seen first-hand how alternative education provision can positively engage young people at risk of becoming Neet."
Bertuchi says that providing more exposure to, and experiences of, the world of work for pupils is vital for widening their horizons.
She says: "There are 256 mentions of skills in the strategy, but not one mention of lifelong learning - where are the progression routes?"
The government has recognised this by requiring all schools to give education and training providers the opportunity to talk to all pupils from the beginning of 2018 (see below).
A key element of the strategy is the appointment of 500 careers leaders in English schools by 2020. The strategy says careers leaders will have "the right capabilities, such as strategy development, management, networking skills and an up-to-date understanding of labour market information and new options like T levels".
However, Bertuchi says £4m is insufficient to deliver this and is concerned that there is no additional funding for careers advisers.
"What about access to and investment in fully qualified, independent impartial careers advisers?" she asks.
The strategy states that the title careers teachers does not convey "the importance of leadership in this role".
Amanda Percy, post-16 commissioning manager for Portsmouth City Council, is also disappointed that good quality careers guidance delivered by independent qualified professionals is not a feature of the strategy, as they are vital in helping young people understand and navigate all available options.
She says: "A careers professional can help a young person analyse their skills, make sense of what is often complicated labour market information, and make an informed choice of education and training pathways."
NEW EMPLOYER REQUIREMENTS FOR SCHOOLS
New guidance introduced from January 2018 requires schools to allow education and training providers the opportunity to talk to pupils at three different stages of their education about options available to them. These are:
- At 14, pupils must have the chance to speak with studio schools, technical and further education colleges in relation to employment opportunities.
- At 16, pupils must have access to apprenticeship providers, colleges and work-based training providers.
- At 18, pupils must have access to apprenticeship and higher education providers. Schools will also be required to publish a policy statement on their website detailing how providers can get involved with the school.
Source: Technical education and apprenticeships: raising awareness in schools, DfE, November 2017