Careers fairs urged in schools to give colleges ‘equal’ pupil access

Schools will be forced to let colleges and apprenticeship providers advertise directly to pupils under new legislation announced this week.

The plans mean schools could be required to hold independent “careers fairs” and let companies of all sizes speak with pupils.

The proposed laws would require schools to let pupils hear from apprenticeship providers and further education (FE) institutions as part of their careers guidance.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan announced the move on Sunday, saying it would reduce “an outdated snobbery” towards apprenticeships.

But questions remain over who will make the decisions about which organisations can promote their products in a school, and the body which represents training providers has called for specific guidance to ensure organisations of all sizes and sectors are fairly represented.

Stewart Segal, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, said his organisation believed the key to effective promotion of different career choices was giving all providers access to students and parents.

Mr Segal said it was important any subsequent statutory guidance to the new legislation addressed those issues and suggested careers fairs organised in schools may be an answer.

He added: “We certainly need a system where existing relationships are respected and where smaller niche providers catering for specific skills priorities are not excluded.”

Speaking at the weekend, Ms Morgan said that while going to university is right for many young people, “for other young people the technical education provided by apprenticeships will suit them better”.

Several companies with large numbers of apprentices already have close links with schools. Weapons manufacturer BAE Systems is the sponsor of a school in Cumbria, while Rolls-Royce is a co-sponsor of the Cabot Learning Federation, which has schools across south west England.

It is not yet known how these relationships will be affected by the need to allow alternative providers to promote their jobs within a school.

Unions have been cautious in their views about the government’s use of the law to force schools into providing broader careers guidance.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said the proposed legislation, which will be explored further in the government’s forthcoming careers strategy this spring, was not the answer to issues with post-16 provision.

He said: “If we want to help our young people, more legislation isn’t the answer. What’s needed instead is support and funding.

“We should also ask what more the post-16 providers can do to engage with schools. Without all this, schools will always find it difficult to deliver.”

Mr Hobby agreed with the government that access to high quality school-based careers guidance was very important for young people, adding: “There are many routes post-16 and students deserve frank advice about their merits.”

Leaders within FE have long complained that schools do not always give impartial information to pupils about their options, particularly when schools are trying to sell their own post-16 provision.

Schools are already legally obliged to provide careers guidance.

A rule change in 2012 saw local authorities stripped of this responsibility with schools taking over.

But a report by Ofsted in 2013 found that three-quarters of schools failed to equally promote vocational options.