Ministers review incentives and consider ‘toughening Ofsted’ over school career advice

Ministers review incentives and consider 'toughening Ofsted' over school career advice

Incentives for schools to offer better careers advice will be reviewed and tougher Ofsted guidance considered as the government finally draws up its ‘comprehensive careers strategy’, a senior minister has revealed.

Robert Halfon, the minister for skills, told a meeting in Parliament this morning that schools were to blame for the skills deficit in England because of their fixation on “university, university, university”, and said good quality advice on apprenticeships and skills in schools was still “very rare”.

The government will unveil plans for its comprehensive careers strategy – which was supposed to be released in the first few weeks of 2016 but is delayed until later this year – on Monday, but Halfon outlined his priorities for the plan at a breakfast for the Careers and Enterprise Company in the House of Lords today.

Do we give schools the stick or the carrot? Do we toughen Ofsted? All these kind of things we are thinking about.

He said officials would think about the incentives for schools – which have had a statutory duty to provide guidance on a range of post-16 and post-18 options since 2014 – and would consider a tougher approach by Ofsted, which already looks for evidence that schools are meeting the duty in its inspections.

“Do we give schools the stick or the carrot? Do we toughen Ofsted? All these kind of things we are thinking about. Do we recognise good schools better?”

He spoke of the need to “raise the prestige of careers guidance” and creating “widespread quality provision”, and criticised schools for failing to tell pupils about vocational routes, although he admitted there were “brilliant cases”.

He said two apprentices at Gateshead College had recently offered to visit their old schools to promote degree apprenticeships, but had been turned away.

“I thought to myself, this is exactly what is wrong with our country. Everywhere I go, I talk to apprentices. I talk to people who are doing skills and I say ‘do you ever get advice in your school about apprenticeships and skills’ and they do not. [It is] very rare.

“If we ask ourselves why we have a skills deficit, why we have problems with people doing enterprise and becoming entrepreneurs, it is because schools predominantly are fixated on university, university, university, and we have to change that.”

Plans for a comprehensive careers strategy were first unveiled in 2015, and the former careers minister Sam Gyimah said in December 2015 that the strategy would be published “in the coming weeks”.

However, the government admitted in its green paper on a new industrial strategy earlier this week that a review of careers advice was still ongoing, and that the strategy would now be published later in 2017.

The Department for Education has pledged to spend £90 million on careers in this parliament, most of which has gone to the Careers and Enterprise Company to fund its network of enterprise advisers, mentoring scheme and grant scheme.

However, the government now accepts it “needs to go further” to offer all pupils the information, advice and guidance they need, and has described the current offer as “patchy and inconsistent” in its consultation on plans for a new industrial strategy.