Nic Dakin: All students have right to careers advice

HAVING a goal is hugely motivational, especially for young people, and access to impartial guidance about what opportunities are available, linked to labour market information, should be a given for all young people so that they can set their goals in an informed way.

Careers education is being downgraded by schools, argues Scunthorpe MP Nic Dakin.

When I stood down as principal of John Leggott College on being elected to the House of Commons in 2010, careers education, information, advice and guidance were not perfect in our schools and colleges, but they were a lot better than they are now.

The deterioration of careers education over the last six years is deeply concerning. The CBI was right to state in its 2015 education and skills survey that careers guidance in schools was “not good enough”.

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For a long while the Government were in denial about the impact that a plethora of changes, combined with significant funding cuts, was having on the provision of careers education in schools.

Then the penny dropped. The response was the establishment of the Careers & Enterprise Company, which I have always seen as an expensive and complicated way of fixing a fairly simple problem.

MyBigCareer is a charity that provides free advice in many disadvantaged areas of the UK. Volunteers from the independent sector and professions give up their time to go into schools and give free impartial advice on apprenticeships, university and work-related courses, and are overwhelmed by the response.

They say that not one school with which they have worked has ever heard of the Careers & Enterprise Company, despite millions being ploughed into the organisation.

Back in 2012-13, when I led a commission on skills involving the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership, businesses and schools were agreed on the need for better careers education, and were keen to work together to make it happen. However, it did not happen, because the pressures of performance on the bottom line of results make organisations look inward rather than ​outward. What was missing was the capacity and time for businesses, schools and colleges to co-ordinate their efforts. That, in my opinion, is where the resources should be simply and ruthlessly targeted, and the need remains as strong today as it was then.

It is worth pausing to applaud the fantastic work that goes on in many schools, despite the pressures and funding challenges. Some amazing people with both business and education backgrounds are working to provide young people with impartial information and choice. Nevertheless, students should be entitled to quality careers education that meets an agreed standard, wherever they go to school.

My Bill seeks to ensure that, at the very least, colleges and post-16 providers can talk directly to school students about the opportunities in their area. Sadly, too many schools, especially some with their own sixth forms, put obstacles in the way of this crucial information.

In response to a recent question from me, the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills (Robert Halfon) himself said: “I recently visited degree apprentices at Gateshead College whose own school refused them a visit in order to talk about apprenticeships, skills and technical education.”

He was rightly outraged by that, but it is not an isolated case. Colleges all over the country report the placing of similar barriers in school students’ way. That just is not good enough.

Even in my own area the two excellent local colleges, North Lindsey and John Leggott, report that things are becoming more difficult than they used to be. When I met students and staff at North Lindsey, staff reported that school student access was becoming more difficult, and that was confirmed by the students’ experience. John Leggott reports instances in which students have been denied access to careers events because their schools chose not to participate.

The pressure on schools to deliver results sometimes leads to an understandable reluctance to provide time for careers education, but I would argue that once young people have a personal goal, often linked to where they progress to next or a career target, it can motivate them to achieve much more, thereby transforming their performance in their academic studies.

All my experience tells me that education delivers best when it is focused on the interests of learners, not the interests of providers.

Nic Dakin is the Labour MP for Scunthorpe who launched the Careers Guidance (Access to Schools) Bill this week. This is an edited version.