Schools with sixth forms ‘failing on careers advice’

Schools with sixth forms are failing to provide pupils with the same level of careers advice as schools without sixth forms, a situation fuelled by competition for pupils, experts say.

Exclusive analysis for Schools Week shows schools with sixth forms are 20 percentage points less likely to offer personal careers guidance that those without sixth forms.

They are also 16 percentage points less likely to give pupils information about further education or higher education providers, the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) analysis found.

Colleges said schools with sixth forms were reluctant to allow them to address their students at open evenings

It is not the first time schools with sixth forms have been called out for restricting careers information for their pupils. However the new data is the most wide-ranging to date.

Bill Watkin, the chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said the government must increase the funding rate for 16 to 18-year-olds, which is frozen at £4,000 a pupil, so sixth forms were not desperate to keep their pupils.

Competition for numbers was “not a situation that is going to lend itself to impartial advice and guidance”.

Colleges said schools with sixth forms were “reluctant to allow them to address their students at open evenings”, Watkin said.

The education select committee warned five years ago that schools with sixth forms were “putting their interests ahead of their pupils” by restricting their access to other education providers. This allowed them to fill their own post-16 places.

The CEC has collected data from 2,937 schools and 355 FE institutions for its 2018 State of the Nation report to see if they meet the eight Gatsby benchmarks, which are markers of excellence in careers advice.

Analysis seen by Schools Week reveals a higher proportion of schools without a sixth form met every benchmark. The difference was especially pronounced for the seventh benchmark, which measures pupils’ “encounters with further and higher education”.

Only 46 per cent of schools with a sixth form met this benchmark, compared with 62 per cent of schools without.

The gap was even wider for the eighth benchmark on “personal guidance”. Only 53 per cent of schools with a sixth form met this compared with 73 per cent of schools without.

The Technical and Further Education Act requires schools to follow the Baker clause, which states they must allow training providers and colleges to offer year 8 to 13 pupils non-academic routes.

Further analysis on the seventh benchmark showed only 45 per cent of schools with a sixth form gave pupils “meaningful encounters with further education colleges”, compared with 78 per cent of those without sixth forms.

However Kevin Gilmartin, post-16 and colleges specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that the benchmarks did not always measure the “informal advice” offered by schools with sixth forms.

The CEC report also found schools and colleges achieved 2.13 of the eight Gatsby benchmarks compared with 1.87 last year. Meanwhile, the proportion of schools and colleges not achieving any benchmarks fell from 20.6 per cent to 18 per cent.