No website can replace good careers guidance

Careers education and guidance is more than just providing information about jobs says Janet Downs. It cannot be offloaded to employers or delegated to website and phone lines.

The quality of careers education and guidance (CEG) has plummeted since the days of the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative (TVEI), which did much to improve the status of vocational education in its widest sense: generic work-related skills.

This was achieved by a combination of class-based CEG, collaboration with local authority professional careers officers, work-experience for pupils in their last year of compulsory schooling (years 10 or 11), sharing best practice via small hubs within a larger area consortium, area-wide TVEI related in-service training (TRIST), help from local employers and support from central government.

Employers provided work experience, helped with initiatives such as industry days, careers conventions, mock interviews and Young Enterprise.

Industry and newspaper days and the like became normal practice in schools, all of them promoting the “soft” skills that employers demand: problem-solving, team work and perseverance.

The site is so dull that it can’t fail to leave users uninspired

The professional careers service was involved too, providing help with many of the initiatives, but more importantly ensuring that every young person had at least one face-to-face, individual careers interview. Today, the National Careers Service provides careers guidance for all young people in England from the age of 13 through a website so dull that it can’t fail to leave users uninspired. Its counterparts in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are far more inviting and user friendly.

But no website is a substitute for a face-to-face meeting with a properly trained, independent, professional careers advisers, the kind of people Michael Gove had in mind when he told the education select committee in December 2013 that the call for independent careers advisers was driven by “self-interested people” who were spouting “garbage”. David Laws, in his book Coalition, describes how Gove had a visceral hatred of careers officers along with local authorities, cross-party committees and sex educators.

Laws wondered if Gove’s loathing of professional careers advisers was because of an unsatisfactory interview during his youth. He did not speculate what caused his detestation of sex educators.

CEG is not just about promoting generic work-related skills. It should also give pupils the tools to make decisions wisely. This ability is based on developing self-awareness and applying this when choosing post-school routes. It entails a wide knowledge of the different pathways and the qualifications needed to follow them. Unfortunately, judging schools on the proportion of pupils they send to university works against this. Schools are encouraged to act in their own interests rather than in the interests of the pupils.

Laws wondered if Gove’s loathing of professional careers advisers was because of an unsatisfactory interview during his youth

The tone of much rhetoric surrounding employer involvement in CEG suggests employers can do this better than schools. Schools and employers are in partnership, but the ultimate responsibility for CEG lies with schools. It cannot be offloaded on to employers.

Although employers are essential partners in any CEG programme, they should not be used as substitutes for properly trained, professional careers officers. No employer can be expected to know all the possible post-school routes and how to apply for them. But employers have a vital role in activities such as providing work experience, mock interviews, helping on Industry days/STEM days, careers conventions, supporting initiatives such as “Inspiring the Future”, offering taster sessions for pupils wanting to experience a typical day in a particular job and mentoring pupils.

CEG needs properly trained professionals working full-time. It also needs a teacher in charge of careers in schools. Again, this needs high-quality training – being responsible for careers isn’t just pointing pupils to a website and sticking up a few posters.

Yet for all the rhetoric about high-quality careers education being essential, it is unlikely the government will support the development of CEG in schools or local careers services run by professionals.

This would demand investment at a time when school financing is already inadequate.


Janet Downs is a writer for the Local Schools Network

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  1. This is spot on, Janet. As a former TVEI careers adviser I can verify that I led lots of employer activities with students in my schools, I provided personalised careers guidance, and I worked closely with the careers leader. It worked so well and students were well prepared to make informed decisions and to make effective transition into work, education or training. As you say, sadly the investment in this sort of service is not on the horizon. And what was left of publicly funded information, the National Careers Service website, is just dire. Employers are indeed vital partners – but should not be sole providers. Our young people in England are being let down.