Provide apprenticeship careers talks or face legal action, schools told

Consultation launched on new duty to give pupils six opportunities to hear from further education providers

Consultation launched on new duty to give pupils six opportunities to hear from further education providers

Schools will be ordered to provide pupils with six “encounters” with further education and apprenticeship providers, or risk being hit with a legal direction from government.

The Department for Education has published a consultation, setting out more detail on how new legal careers advice requirements will be enforced.

The skills and post-16 education act 2022, which passed into law in April, creates a new legal duty for schools to provide pupils with “at least six encounters with a provider of approved technical education qualifications or apprenticeships”.

The law change beefs up the so-called Baker clause, an amendment to the law in 2018 by former education secretary Lord Baker which required schools to give training providers access to their pupils.

But the new legislation goes further, stipulating when and how often schools must provide these encounters.

The new law states two of these must be in school years 8 or 9, with another two in years 10 or 11. A further two must be offered in years 12 or 13. However, unlike the earlier encounters, sixth formers will not have to attend by law.

It follows criticism of the lack of enforcement of the current rules, with a 2019 study by IPPR finding that two-thirds of secondary schools were still flouting the Baker clause a year after it was introduced.

In new draft guidance, the DfE said although “progress has been made”, there is “still more to do to ensure all pupils hear about the benefits of technical education qualifications and apprenticeships”.

‘Ladder’ of intervention

Schools that fail to meet the new requirements, which come into effect next year, will be subject to a “ladder of support and intervention”, with a legal direction serving as the most severe form of punishment.

First, non-compliant schools will be given “targeted support and guidance”, then asked to review their careers provision. Such reviews could also be carried out by a careers hub or another school, depending on a school’s “situation”.

At this stage, schools will also be “subject to further monitoring in the current and following academic year to ensure they have the right support going forward”.

Schools still not compliant will be “strongly encouraged” to have an expert review or “independent quality assurance” of their careers provision, and will be supported to develop an improvement plan.

If a school still doesn’t meet the requirements, a DfE official or minister will write to them reminding them of their duties and setting a date by which the school must comply to avoid “moving to formal intervention”.

They will also order school leaders and governors to take part in “careers leader training”, which, “depending on circumstance”, may have to be funded out of the school’s own budget.

If schools are still non-compliant after all this, the education secretary can use his power to issue a legal direction, requiring “appropriate remedial action to be taken”. Such directions are enforceable by a court order.

Schools may also lose out on government careers funding if they are non-compliant, the DfE said.

Prepare for 2023 change

The new law comes into effect next January, but schools will have until September to put their plans in place.

The “encounters” for year 9, 11 and 13 pupils will have to take place between September 1 and February 28 in each academic year.

The encounters for pupils in year 11 and below are mandatory for schools to offer and for pupils to attend. The sessions for sixth formers will be mandatory for schools, but pupils will not have to attend by law.

The DfE first announced plans to toughen up the Baker clause last January, following criticism, including from Lord Baker himself, over a lack of action to tackle non-compliance.

Other than ministers issuing warning letters, little action has been taken so far on schools flouting the rules. However, in 2020, Ofsted rapped the first school for flouting the rule.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman pledged last year that the watchdog would “always” report where a school fails to comply with the Baker clause, adding that it would be “unlikely” a school could be graded ‘outstanding’ if it was found to be non-compliant.

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