An empty box: The government’s response to the select committee’s report on career guidance

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For those of you who follow these things closely you may have spotted that we have recently seen a select committee report on career guidance followed by the government’s response. In this post I summarise both reports and try and decide whether any of it really matters.

If you are interested in this you might also want to have a look at David Morgan’s (CDI) post on LinkedIn.

The select committee

Select committee’s are designed to scrutinise government policy. They don’t really have a lot of power, but they do get to look deeply at different topics and then call government ministers and others in to answer questions.

The Education Select Committee has had a long-standing interest in career guidance. It held an inquiry consisting of written and oral evidence in the first half of this year. I provided written evidence and was then called to give oral evidence as well. But they didn’t just listen to me, they also heard evidence from a very wide range of people.

Ultimately the key conclusion in the published report of the committee is that:

It appears that the right framework is broadly in place, but there is a lack of a clear overarching strategy and stated outcomes. Progress towards meeting the Gatsby benchmarks has been slow, with schools and colleges only meeting just over half of them on average.

It then dives further into the details and makes recommendations in the following areas.

  • Strategy. Government should publish a strategy, get Ofsted to report against it and make the completion of Compass compulsory. I agree with most of this and definitely think that the strategic direction needs to be sharpened, however I’m a bit worried that ramping up compulsion and increasing the stakes through Ofsted might just result in schools gaming the system rather than a real improvement in quality.
  • Organisations delivering careers. The Careers & Enterprise Company should get all schools into hubs, the DfE should recommend that Careers Leaders have more time, the NCS website should be improved, strategic coordination between the organisations delivering careers should be improved, and direct provision of personal guidance through the CEC should be trialled, a one-off payment should be made to schools that are weak on the Gatsby Benchmarks. This is all good stuff and recognises the need for more resources to improve the system. It stops short of really addressing the real funding issues in favour of more projects and pilots, but if it all happens it would be very welcome.
  • Careers in primary schools. The DfE should review the evidence, develop Benchmarks for primary and reflect on how to move careers forward in primary through the development of model curricula. This is definitely on the right lines, but a bit weaker than we might have hoped. At best we might see another round of pilot activity in primary, rather than really starting to embed it as part of the core primary curriculum.
  • Embedding careers into the curriculum. The Department should think about how to embed careers into the curriculum through initial teacher education and CDP programmes and standards. It is also important to consult careers professionals and employers as curricula are developed. All a bit vague really and even the more specific things lack clarity about how they can be achieved.
  • Connecting employers with schools. A lot of reviewing and improving is suggested here alongside a new online portal. Basically, none of this will really do anything very much to improve provision.
  • Specific groups (mainly relating to disadvantage and SEND). Again, lots of encouragement to review and improve things including support for supported internships for SEND students. The most substantial thing is the proposal to expand the Pupil Premium Plus (additional funding for disadvantage students) which might actually put some more money into the system. Apart from that the most important thing is a recommendation to improve the quality of data held on NEET students. There is some important detail in this, but no really major recommendations and some attempt to dodge the resourcing issues.

The government’s response

The government’s response only came out on the 21st September so the sector is still digesting it. The key message is as follows.

The Government agrees fully with the core message of the Committee’s report that getting careers education right would boost the life chances of people, fill skills gaps in the labour market and level up communities. We are committed to taking action to continue to improve the consistency and quality of careers provision for all ages within a clear and unified system. We accept fully or in part the majority of the Committee’s recommendations. Where we do not fully accept recommendations, we already have an alternative existing or planned approach that has been developed as part of the Government’s overall programme for careers education, information, advice and guidance.

We might describe this as bland but broadly supportive.

The main substance of the response is directly responding to the recommendations that the committee made.

  • Strategy. Yes, they will produce a new strategy document (although it will be called an Action Plan). But, this won’t happen until the Ofsted Thematic Review reports (sometime this autumn). They won’t strengthen the position of careers in the Ofsted framework and won’t make Compass compulsory.
  • Organisations delivering careers. They say that the coverage of schools in the Hubs is increasing anyway, that they don’t want to specify the amount of time allocated to careers leaders, but that they will launch a new digital ‘front door’ for young people to access existing careers resources and that they have given the National Careers Service website a new lick of paint. They are thinking about how best to coordinate all of the different careers programmes and aren’t likely to do anything quickly, they also won’t give schools any new funding for careers.
  • Careers in primary schools. They already have a small programme of work in primary schools and aren’t intending to do anything more until after this is evaluated in 2025.
  • Embedding careers into the curriculum. They aren’t going to do anything new here.
  • Connecting employers with schools. They are going to task The Careers & Enterprise Company with looking at whether any improvements can be made in this area. They also like the idea of a digital solution, but aren’t planning to do this quickly. They are also already doing some things to improve engagement with vocational education.
  • Specific groups. The government agrees that this is important but isn’t going to do anything much new in response. They have been developing the idea of supported internships further and plan to continue to do this. They have increased the funding for Pupil Premium Plus and extended it to 2025. But, they aren’t really going to do anything more to support NEET young people.

Does it matter?

The Select Committee report is a useful document which highlights several shortcomings in the government’s current career guidance policy. It could be both harder hitting (particularly on issues of resourcing) and more specific in its recommendations. Nonetheless, I’m happy to nod along in agreement with most of what it recommends.

The government’s response is mainly a form of soft stonewalling. By saying that they agree with everything that the committee says it is easy to miss the fact that they are basically not promising anything new. In terms of concrete promises it basically boils down to the new Action Plan, a ‘digital front door’ (the purpose or efficacy of which remains to be seen) and the increased Pupil Premium Plus funding (which I suspect they were going to do anyway).

Very little of this will make a difference to the experience of young people seeking careers advice in the school system or to the careers leaders, careers advisers and teachers who are trying to help them. But, the development of the Action Plan offers the sector another chance to make its case and try and influence government. The never-ending process of lobbying, proposing and hopefully compromising continues.

The bigger issue at this point in time is what kinds of guarantees this government can give on anything. At best it has around at year left in power (if you can call it that). The hawks in the treasury are looking for cuts anywhere they can find them and the Labour Party seem to unwilling to make any concrete proposals and seems content to work within the current governments spending plans. None of this bodes particularly well for the future of career guidance.

The best-case scenario is that the Action Plan provides some clarity and new funding that carries the sector over into the sunlit uplands of a Kier Starmer government and that the new Labour Government finds its feet and its purpose, as well as an interest in career guidance, quickly.

The worst-case scenario is that the Action Plan gets delayed, funding stagnates or even drops, that school’s find themselves in more financial problems through the winter and cut investment on career guidance, and that the new government focuses mainly on a new programme of austerity, trimming anything that it can identify as non-essential.

Time will tell. What we can say, is that this round of scrutiny and the government’s response to it has failed to make a real impact into the critical problems that the career guidance sector is currently facing.

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