While teachers have an important role to play in inspiring pupils’ future careers, it’s wrongheaded to claim they should replace trained careers advisers, argues Denise Bertuchi

In a column last week, Schools Week’s contributing editor Laura McInerney argued that teachers are the best careers advisers.

While it’s true that many pupils find teachers a good source of advice, they shouldn’t be expected to take on the role of a careers adviser. Rather, they should be complementing the work done by good careers professionals.

Careers advisers are a separate profession who use their knowledge of the labour market to help young people navigate a complex journey through life. Teachers are not trained to advise pupils on careers – how can they possibly be expected to offer well-rounded advice on the full range of pathways available to young people?

Careers advisers are a separate profession who use their knowledge of the labour market to help young people navigate a complex journey through life

After dismantling the Connexions service and passing full responsibility to schools – with no funding to support this work – the government finally published a half decent careers strategy last year. Plus points include getting every secondary school to use the Gatsby Charitable Foundation’s benchmarks to develop their careers provision.

However the new strategy also has weaknesses. It appears to assume every secondary school has a team of dedicated careers experts to take on all these new responsibilities and deliver this new accountability framework. The right incentives are not in place for schools to be responsible – they are measured on exam results, not careers advice.

Where is the money for all this to come from? There is some new funding for the Careers Enterprise Company to work “strategically” with some schools, and some helpful new tools, but there’s no increased core funding for schools to deliver the strategy.

The strategy relies heavily on teachers, volunteers and employers. As they stand, the plans will add on extra initiatives without properly linking successful, evidence-based projects, such as the National Careers Service’s inspiration agenda.

Careers services have seen many changes over the years, with budget cuts (pre-2010, the careers budget was circa £200 million per year), restructuring (moving from publicly owned to contracted-out provision), cuts to terms and conditions and the undervaluing of professional qualifications (as shown by the absence of careers professionals on the board of the CEC).

UNISON has collected many case studies of the impacts of such cuts – here is just one. Cheshire was one of the first area where Connexions services closed, and many of the schools in the area adopted a model where teachers operated as careers advisers. UNISON representatives watched what was going on, and some alarming patterns emerged.

For example, many young people were not made aware of opportunities at local colleges and apprenticeships – and were instead advised to progress to their school sixth-forms. Yet they were not given proper educational guidance – causing many to enrol on advanced programs when alternatives such as BTECs would have been more appropriate.

Additionally the UNISON representative found much “preventable NEET” across the whole area because the quality of guidance provided was so poor and not in any way tailored to the needs of young people.

The international evidence base is clear – career guidance is a key ingredient in successful economies and this should be judged through a rigorous inspection framework. The role of employers and business is vital, but this should complement the expertise provided by careers professionals, local/combined authorities and other social partners.

In 2017, two of the eight National Careers Service contractors achieved an ‘outstanding’ grade from Ofsted; the rest were rated ‘good’. While CEC prides itself on being at the forefront of evidence-based practice, it does not get involved in direct delivery to young people, teachers and parents.

Properly planned and funded careers services improve social mobility, reduce levels of inactivity through training or education, and lead to higher wages. There are real cost benefits to be accrued from this approach. UNISON wants to see a universal careers service accessible to people of all ages, delivered by qualified careers professionals and with a stable funding system.

Denise Bertuchi is Assistant National Officer at UNISON