Having seen me present my ten minute rule bill on careers guidance (access to schools), a retired teacher got in touch with me incredulous that the fabric of careers had collapsed so completely since he managed careers in a Manchester secondary school not so long ago. He described a former time when students had programmes of talks and visits as well as access to impartial careers advice that gave them the information to make informed decisions about their future. As he said all the focus on achievement and results only takes you so far without access to high quality careers education, information, advice and guidance.
But the sad reality is that careers has been neglected for the last six years in the chaotic landscape of provision encouraged by a Conservative government convinced that wasting public money on new post-16 provision in areas where there is no need will somehow incentivise higher achievement. We have university technical colleges, new sixth forms, studio schools and free schools whether we need them or not. And we are soon to have more selective free schools, in the form of grammar schools. All of this over capacity heightens provider competition for sixth form students. It encourages institutions to put barriers in the way of colleges speaking to their students in school about post-16 opportunities beyond the school gates.
Rapid changes taking place in the economy and the employment market – make careers advice and education absolutely critical. The vote to leave the European Union puts even more urgency into the need to ensure that young people and adults gain the skills needed for an economy to compete globally. That is why I welcome the government’s budget announcement to put more money into skills.
Colleges are well placed to upskill Britain’s workforce. They are essential for the government’s vision for better technical and professional education. However, if we are to fill the skills gaps and train young people to work across a range of industries, it is imperative that they are aware of all the options available to them at the age of 16, such as apprenticeships and technical education and training.
Careers advice is currently not working for many young people; too many are being encouraged to stay in the school sixth form without being aware of are other high quality options with colleges and other training providers.
What we really need is a renaissance in careers education, information, advice and guidance to return to the best practice that existed as a norm in many parts of the country just 10 years ago. There is still much good work going on with some outstanding practitioners giving young people the information they need to make the right decisions for themselves. But it is patchy. As students at my excellent local college, North Lindsey told me, drawing on their personal experience, it is not consistent. There is no entitlement for all young people to the impartial careers they should properly have.
My short bill attempted to take a small step in the right direction by putting a duty on schools to allow colleges and other post-16 providers the right to speak to their students about apprenticeships and other courses they provide. It should not be necessary to legislate to ensure young people have access to such information. Every school should be focused on the best interests of their students and conscientious about ensuring they have the support, guidance and information to make the best decisions for their future which in turn should deliver the skills and the jobs needed to power a post-EU United Kingdom.