It’s finally out! The Government Careers Strategy

The long awaited (2 years to be precise) Government Careers Strategy was finally unveiled at the Careers Development Institute’s annual conference on the 4th December by Minister of State, Anne Milton. It comes in at 36 pages and sets out its ambition for careers provision in Britain to become world class and play an important role in supporting improved productivity and greater social mobility. It states the case that this is an ambitious plan, but one that can be delivered by a strong partnership between government, employers, schools, colleges, universities and the careers community. Several links are made in the document with the industrial strategy in terms of contributing to reducing skills shortages and improving productivity as well as supporting the promotion of new technical education.

The key headlines of the report were shared at our recent Linking London IAG Practitioner Group meeting via a presentation, which will shortly be available in the Linking London partner area of the website. In brief, the strategy endorses fully the eight benchmarks of good practice developed by the Gatsby Foundation. The Careers Enterprise Company will take on a more ambitious role, building on their work to date by coordinating support for schools and colleges across all the Gatsby Benchmarks and Ofsted will hold schools and also colleges to account for the careers provision they offer pupils: with a new requirement for Ofsted to comment in college inspection reports on the careers guidance provided to students from January 2018.

Secondary schools and colleges will continue to be responsible for making sure that their students can access independent careers guidance. Employers will have a vital role to play in the delivery of careers provision and there is a focus on improved labour market information and greater access to data in general, to inform advisers as well as learners, to be made available via an improved one stop National Careers Service website (NCS). 

Set out as a strategy for all ages, there are plans to trial careers activities in primary schools and develop specialist advice for long-term unemployed and those with additional needs. In addition 20 careers hubs will be set up, focussed on supporting young people in the most disadvantaged areas, linked to the government’s Opportunity Areas programme. Training and support will be provided to improve careers leadership, with the aim for every school and college to have a dedicated careers leader, with £4 million to provide training and support for at least 500 schools and colleges.

In terms of progression on to higher education, the strategy states that schools and colleges should encourage more able disadvantaged young people wanting to go to university to apply to the most selective universities and that universities, particularly the most selective institutions, need to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and challenging areas to apply to higher education. Once students are on course higher education institutions are expected to do more to make sure that students from disadvantaged backgrounds make best use of their university careers services.

Comments from the sector to date have been mixed. The news that the Gatsby benchmarks will be used to act as the standard in terms of what constitutes good careers guidance and that all schools and colleges will need to work towards these has been welcomed as has the news that the government aims for every school and college to have a named careers leader. I don’t think anyone will argue with a push to improve the quality and accessibility of labour market information or an improved NCS website – I’ve heard lots of feedback that the website has become less comprehensive and user friendly since its incorporation onto the GOV.UK site. However the deadline of by 2020 for improvements to the website seems overly long.

Few in the careers profession will argue with plans to raise the status of careers guidance or the rather ambitious goal to make it world class. While the goal of having a careers leader in every school and college will help in terms of co-ordination as well as raising the status of careers work, there is no mention of additional funding for these posts, other than for training purposes. The number of qualified careers professionals has declined dramatically over the past 10 years and there is no direct funding for schools and colleges to pay for more posts. Not surprisingly criticisms of the strategy have focussed on the lack of additional funding to enable schools and colleges to pay for staff engaged in planning and delivering careers guidance. I agree with UNISON head of education Jon Richards who in reply to the announcement of the strategy called it: a missed opportunity to pull together an effective and coherent careers service that could provide proper independent and impartial guidance by qualified professionals.  

On a final note it’s worth highlighting  to our university partners that UUK are currently working on a career pilot with the North East LEP and 4 universities, which includes exploring the potential of adapting and extending the 8 Gatsby benchmarks to universities.

Linking London will be keeping a close eye on developments relating to the Careers Strategy and will continue to share these via the Linking London IAG Practitioner Group meeting and future editions of the IAG newsletter.