My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I was going to make a similar point later, but she has made it very powerfully.
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who is not here this evening, has been cautious in his criticism of the previous Government’s programmes, and rightly so. Of course, as Members on both sides of the House have said, there were serious imperfections with Connexions and Next Step, but we must be careful not to write off the positive features and the important work of many talented and committed professionals who have worked, as some still do, in those programmes.
Today, in advance of tonight’s debate, I spoke to people in some of the secondary schools in my constituency. Those at St John Bosco school in Croxteth told me about the work they have been doing with the Aimhigher programme. They have drawn particularly on the importance of the role of face-to-face contact by employing a graduate mentor to assist the girls at the school with their university applications and career development.
This is a school in a very deprived neighbourhood that has an excellent reputation and a high percentage of its girls going on to university.
Cardinal Heenan school for boys has pioneered a particularly innovative approach to careers advice. I want to commend Dave Forshaw, the head teacher, and his team for their industry day programme, which I have had the opportunity to visit on two occasions. The programme draws on alumni, partners and a range of local organisations to deliver rich and effective careers advice, starting in year 7. Its recent industry days have had contributions from a former pupil of the school, the actor Ian Hart, who appeared in the Harry Potter films, as well as local and national journalists, sports professionals, solicitors, accountants and others. West Derby school has adopted a similar approach and held its first careers convention last year.
I cite those examples because they demonstrate two important points. The first is the critical importance of giving information and advice at an early age. Too often, these things are left too late. The second is the importance of drawing on expertise, including among the alumni of the schools themselves, to inspire young people.
The head teachers of those schools said to me today that quality careers advice needs resources. They are very concerned about what they see as a potential shift in policy away from face-to-face interaction to online and telephone-based services. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State set out the research published by Unison that was done at the university of Derby, which shows the sheer scale of the cuts in careers services up and down the country. That is the backdrop for this important debate.
Some of this debate has focused on low-cost solutions and how effective they are in delivery. I would like to bring the House’s attention to the work of an organisation called Future First. It has done excellent research on careers services. Like the head teachers of the schools in my constituency that I have cited, it emphasises that careers advice cannot be reduced to online information and telephone services. A complementary model is surely the best way forward. Future First seeks to increase social mobility by building communities of alumni around state schools to inspire young people about their futures.