Careers work in England’s schools: politics, practices and prospects

boy in experiment image

The United Kingdom (UK) is leaving the European Union. As it moves towards finding a new place in the world order, an accelerating wave of economic, social and technological change will inevitably transform the economy (Lawerence, 2016), schooling and people’s lives. There are several unknowns about the long-term impact and consequences resulting from this, but change is on the horizon. For example, almost half of UK business leaders are worried about post-Brexit skills shortages and fear they will not find enough suitable personnel (IoD, 2016). There are concerns that skills gaps in sectoral areas which rely heavily on overseas workers will be hard hit, including the teaching profession (DfE, 2016). The ILO Skills Match in Europe report (ILO, 2014) indicates the UK has the 5th highest level of mismatch, with 28.9 per cent of its workforce in jobs not suited to their skill level. Giving attention to working families is also important, because almost half of people living in poverty in the UK are in a working household (Fullfact, 2015). Warhurst (2017) argues Britain’s policymakers need to pay greater attention to the subject of ‘decent quality jobs’ for individuals given almost three-quarters of workers who were low paid in 2002 were still in low paid jobs in 2012.

Our improved education and skills system must be supported by high-quality careers provision…Careers provision continues to be patchy and inconsistent – both in schools and in later life. The Government is reviewing the current careers offer for people of all ages, and will build on the best international evidence to publish a comprehensive strategy later this year for careers information, advice and guidance."

 - (Industrial Strategy: Green Paper, January 2017, p.45).

A new independent five-year historical synopsis of how central government policies are impacting on careers work in England’s secondary schools offers insight to how current arrangements have unfolded. Attempts to reshape and re-engineer careers provision for young people, through an evolving careers experiment - in the form of a Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) - are considered. Brief comparisons are made to other national careers policy developments further afield. A blame culture and evidence-based rhetoric has crept into England’s policy discourse. The career development profession has largely been left on the periphery of the careers experiment and it is necessary to seek explanations of this oversight.  There are tensions, yet to be resolved, in relation to fairness, transparency and accountability within current careers work for young people in England.

At a local and regional level people are beginning to notice the impact of cuts to their budgets. A lack of co-ordination across local areas has created an environment for schools and businesses that business leaders describe as ‘chaotic’ (Ofsted, 2016). New forms of partnerships are beginning to explore ways in which they can co-create more accessible and coherent careers support for young people, parents, teachers and employers in their area. They are seeking local solutions to a national problem by bringing key stakeholders together from the National Careers Service, Job Centre Plus, Careers and Enterprise Company, Education Business Partnerships, Local Authorities, School and College bodies together e.g. London (London Councils, 2015), Cornwall (2016), and The Black Country - to name but a few. There are some signs of a renewed focus on a local all-age careers offer for young people and adults in preparing a response to post-Brexit skills shortages.

Deirdrie's full article is available through Taylor & Francis Online.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @deirdretalks

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Deirdre Hughes OBE

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE is an Associate Fellow at Warwick University, Institute for Employment Research (IER).

She was Chair of the National Careers Council in England, from May 2012-September 2014, reporting to three Skills Ministers.