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.”

Read more: Careers company insists it has ‘achieved a lot’

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.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


  1. I seem to remember that a national body called Connexions used to manage careers advice but Gove dismantled it, giving the money directly to schools. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before Ofsted pointed out that careers advice in something like 85% of secondary schools was inadequate. Halfon is trying to clear up the mess left by the odious Gove, last seen in a farcical thumbs up situation with that enemy of education and civilisation Donald Chump. Wouldn’t it be great if ministers were really held accountable for the damage they do?

  2. It’s good to hear that Minister Halfon is considering ‘toughening Ofsted’ over schools careers advice.In 2013, House of Commons Education Committee, 23 January 2013 indicated “Too many schools lack the skills,
    incentives or capacity to fulfil the duty put on them without a number of changes being made. We do not think that schools can simply be left to get on with it.” In the same year, the independent National Careers Council, appointed by the coalition government in its first report stated – “Ofsted has announced that it will place greater emphasis in inspections on careers. Whilst inspection will undoubtedly ensure that schools and
    colleges place greater priority on careers, Ofsted could also assist the improving of standards by sharing best practice. One year on (2014), the NCC presented to Minister Boles -“Government could also draw upon other policy levers such as Ofsted and quality assurance frameworks to stimulate the careers marketplace in order to reduce complexity and transactional costs, build its capacity, and assure the quality of services in this market.” (p.16)
    The Minister could draw on these particular practical suggestions designed to help support schools (p. 28)

  3. Our apprentice was the only one of 90 students who left to take up an apprenticeship. Over the summer when she left, the head of the school wrote to the parents 5 times to tell them they were making a mistake by letting their daughter take up an apprenticeship. Two and a half years on, the said Apprentice has several new work based qualifications, a raft of work experience and is now earning circa £20k per year. Her 89 peers are all in college, living off their parents and still lacking real work experience. I bet she is not the only example of schools not promoting apprenticeship routes as highly valued work based education.

  4. Great. Another stick with which to beat schools. There should be proper provision to replace the Connexions service funded separately from schools. Another legacy from the dangerous half wit. No surprise he’s a Trump fan. Narcissistic ideologues both.

  5. Surely, then from this point of view a measure of a school should not include ebacc? If indeed the advice you give enables a child to follow a technical or vocational skills route, then the ebacc is not applicable to that student if they decide to study a range of subjects that doesn’t include a language or a humanities based subject. Until we stop measuring institutions on irrelevant figures such as ebacc then no progress will be made with the above issue. There is nothing wrong with s child studying 4 art based subjects or 4 humanities subjects, this is not a measure of the individual or intelligence.

  6. Over 25 years ago, the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) did much to raise the profile of careers education and guidance (CEG) which included encouraging generic work-related skills. TVEI began to decline when funding was stopped and given the death blow by Michael Gove.
    We now seem to be reinventing the wheel – but beefing up Ofsted won’t do. High quality CEG needs investment and properly-trained career professionals based locally. The Careers and Enterprise Company is a poor substitute.