Careers Education for Students - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:25 pm on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 5:25 pm, 6th September 2018

My Lords, I start by paying tribute to what I regard as an outstanding maiden speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. It was powerfully delivered, containing wisdom, perception, humour and—which I particularly liked—a determination right from the start of her membership of your Lordships’ House to hold the Government to account. I predict that her name will become one of those that makes noble Lords hurry to the Chamber when they see it on the annunciator—and I shall be one of them. I feel a sense of some shame that I did not include in my speech the need to highlight to young people careers opportunities in the arts and culture sector, as the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lady McIntosh did.

Not for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has done your Lordships a service by securing this important debate and, as ever, introducing it so effectively. The workplace is changing and careers advice must change with it. In fact, there must be a change from careers advice to careers education, which of course are not the same thing. With the likelihood that as many as a third of jobs could become obsolete over the next 20 years, more must be done to ensure that learning is targeted at the skills needed to deliver success, not just at the personal level but for the UK economy as a whole. As various noble Lords have said, including the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, it is about “jobs” not “careers”. The changing world of work will necessitate several changes of job, and possibly career, with consequent upskilling and reskilling. Learning, therefore, will and must become lifelong.

Careers education should be a means of improving social mobility by encouraging young people to embrace careers and areas of work that they might not otherwise consider. In their careers strategy launched last year, the Government rightly argued that improving careers education was especially important for students from working-class backgrounds.

The Government had earlier recognised the huge mistake of devolving responsibility to schools by establishing the Careers & Enterprise Company in 2014. To some extent, that continued when they agreed to accept the so-called Baker clause in the Technical and Further Education Act 2017. It requires that all state-funded schools and academies in England allow the providers of technical education and apprenticeships access to pupils to inform them about these routes into employment. But this has not been universally welcomed by head teachers. Some colleges have reported that, on the basis of responses they receive from schools they approach to speak to students—or perhaps more importantly, the lack of them—it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the careers advice offered is often limited and selective and, as I said, too often it is careers advice and not careers education. Colleges also say that because schools with sixth-form facilities remain heavily incentivised by government to retain their students, this has had a direct knock-on effect on the breadth of careers education offered. They also report that, since the introduction of the Baker clause in January this year, there has been little, if any, positive difference in access granted.

At a time when schools are struggling with increasingly limited resources, these are often focused on areas of a pupil’s development that are directly reflected by accountability measures, at the expense of other areas that are equally crucial for a young person’s future life chances, such as good-quality careers guidance. Such an environment surely will not help to advance the Government’s careers strategy.

That strategy has been generally welcomed, and I am on record as saying that it provides a firm basis on which careers education can be developed. It provided for the Gatsby benchmarks to be included in the updated statutory guidance for schools and colleges published at the start of this year, and it listed actions to be taken by this month. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has detailed those, so I will not repeat them.

In July, the Secretary of State announced the names and locations of 20 careers hubs. This announcement was welcomed by the Association of Colleges, although it seems that the central fund for these hubs would be equivalent to only £1,000 per school or college. I ask the Minister: is that really enough to make a meaningful difference? The hubs are co-ordinated by the Careers & Enterprise Company, whose representatives I met last week to discuss their work to bring about progress after the recent stagnation in careers education. They initially identified the so-called cold spots that define where young people most need careers support, and they update these statistics each year. Their enterprise adviser networks and enterprise co-ordinators are already having an effect, and the careers strategy handed the Careers & Enterprise Company increased responsibility in the delivery of the Gatsby benchmark standards for careers provision.

I thoroughly agree with my noble friend Lady Morris that only the achievement of all eight benchmarks should be regarded as meriting success. All schools are supposed to have achieved these by 2020. It will, to put it mildly, be interesting to see what the position is in two years’ time.

The Careers & Enterprise Company provided progress reports, including on a steady rise in the number of schools meeting the eight Gatsby benchmarks. It would be helpful if the Minister could say what percentage of schools and colleges have now met all eight benchmarks, as well as how many have met this month’s deadline for providing website information on careers and the appointment of a careers leader.

The introduction of careers leaders, tasked with driving forward a careers strategy in every school and college, is welcome. However, they will be funded by each establishment and so will be part of the culture. It is arguably unrealistic to expect them not to exercise some bias in their approach to student retention. There is evidence of schools with dedicated careers staff being told by their senior management not to engage with volunteers from the business sector. That smacks of head teachers being more concerned with their own careers than those of their students. It is an attitude problem that the DfE needs to root out, and quickly.

I referred to lifelong learning earlier, and that is central to any meaningful response to meeting the country’s future economic challenges and opportunities. The appeal of earning while learning for younger learners is increasing. It is essential that schools’ career leaders make the young people they are offering guidance to aware of alternative styles of post-school learning. For instance, among 18 to 20 year-olds distance learning, two-year degrees, evening degrees and degree apprenticeships are all gaining in popularity.

This is at one end of the student age scale, but much can be achieved at the other end. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that SMEs could be more involved in careers education. The Federation of Small Businesses is a strong supporter of, and a contributor to, careers education as part of the curriculum in secondary schools. But that organisation also recognises the need to target careers education at primary school pupils. That is why it works with Primary Futures, an alliance formed by the National Association of Head Teachers and the charity Education and Employers.

I sat through the entire debate thinking it was really strange that no one had mentioned Primary Futures or primary schools and then in the speech immediately prior to my own, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, did just that and stole my thunder. None the less, Primary Futures carried out research showing that young people start to rule jobs in or out when they are as young as seven, specifically around gender stereotypes, with the patterns of jobs chosen by seven year-olds remarkably similar to those selected by 17 year-olds.

Primary Futures aims to broaden horizons and raise aspirations for primary school children by involving volunteers from the world of work. It is now accelerating its rollout to engage up to 50% of primary schools across England, providing the opportunity for over 250,000 pupils to access volunteers from the world of work. I echo the call from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, that the Government should be looking at supplementing the finance provided by the National Association of Head Teachers and Education and Employers to Primary Futures because of the very important and effective work it already carries out.

I conclude with an issue raised by several noble Lords during the debate. I asked the Minister to set out how the Government will measure success in their careers strategy. Clearly this will be a process, with the initial steps taking effect this month. They are important, but how will the Government monitor progress in careers education and how will they deal with schools that continue to resist attempts to refocus their priorities from routes to higher education to apprenticeships and other opportunities that will be vital to the economy in the future?

More work is required if the Government are to achieve to their goal, as stated in the careers strategy, to support everyone, whatever their age, to go as far as their talents will take them and have a rewarding career.