Skills, Skills, Skills: a fairy tale ending for technical education

Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee outlines the need for the recently opened inquiry into Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) for children and young peopleFor those catching-up, the ‘root and branch’ review will look at how CEIAG can provide better support for disadvantaged or left-behind groups so that there is improved access to otherwise inaccessible career opportunities. Furthermore, the inquiry will examine and explore whether current careers advice is providing young people with the necessary information to support their future career ambitions, including career choices, employment, training, and further and higher education opportunities.

This country faces a skills crisis. Funding per student aged 16 to 18 has fallen by 11% in real terms over the past decade, while participation in adult skills and lifelong learning has slumped to its lowest level in more than 20 years. 

In the workplace, employer-led training has dropped by half since the end of the 1990s and nine million working-age adults in England have low literacy or numeracy skills, with six million adults not qualified even to Level 2.

If we are to tackle this shortage of skills and ensure everyone is equipped to thrive then we must do all we can to make sure that children and young people are getting the very best advice and guidance early on about careers and the options open to them.

But despite the great efforts of all those individuals and organisations involved in providing careers guidance and support, the truth is that careers guidance policy is not fit for purpose. 

That is why the Education Committee has launched an inquiry into careers education, information, advice and guidance in schools and colleges. It will act as a root and branch review of the current system, not just looking closely at the data and outcomes for young people, but also setting out a plan for the future.

What we so desperately need is a parity of esteem between vocation and technical skills and academic learning. But we will never get this until we change the culture of careers advice. Technical education has long been the Cinderella of our education system, overshadowed by the two ugly sisters of snobbery and under-funding.

Of course, Cinderella went on to become a member of the royal family. But to complete the fairy tale for technical education, what is needed is a sea-change of careers advice which puts ‘skills, skills, skills’ first and foremost. 

Our inquiry will examine how careers and skills guidance could be better embedded at every stage in the curriculum – primary, secondary, further, higher and adult education – to ensure that all pupils are properly prepared for the world of work 

We will also look at ways in which schools could be supported to better fulfil their duties to provide careers advice and inform students of technical, as well as academic, pathways. 

The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, currently progressing through Parliament requires only one careers meeting per pupil over three key year groups. Instead, we should see at least three careers’ meetings per pupil, per year, involving colleges, technical education providers and apprenticeship providers. This would show we mean business when it comes to supporting our young people with their futures. Indeed, this is why I have tabled an amendment to the Bill with this express purpose. 

There is much to be welcomed in recent Government policy. The £3 billion of funding announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Budget for skills represents a positive change in the Government’s ambition. 

But the hundreds of millions spent by the Government is not always providing value for money due to unnecessary duplication of efforts, and traditional thinking. Our inquiry will also therefore examine whether the Government should bring responsibility for careers advice and guidance under one body, for example a National Skills Service.

Having access to vocational and non-academic routes out of school is essential, not only for the country’s skills revolution and meeting the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, but also for the future prosperity of our young people. If we really want to build an apprenticeship and skills nation, we will first need to transform our careers offering and advice across the country. 

Robert Halfon MP

To contribute to the review written evidence needs to be submitted by 17th March can must be submitted here.

The call for evidence includes:

  • Whether the current system of careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) is serving young people, particularly:
    • those from disadvantaged backgrounds;
    • those who are known to the care system
    • those who are not in mainstream education, including home-educated pupils and those in alternative provision;
    • those from different ethnic minority backgrounds; and
    • those who have a special educational need or disability.
  • Whether and how the Government should bring responsibility for CEIAG under one body, for example a National Skills Service, to take overall responsibility for CEIAG for all ages, and how this might help young people navigate the CEIAG system.
  • Whether such a National Skills Service is best placed in the Department for Education or the Department of Work and Pensions to avoid duplication of work.
  • Whether organisations like the Careers Enterprise Company and National Careers Service provide value for money to the taxpayer.
  • How careers and skills guidance could be better embedded in the curriculum across primary, secondary, further, higher and adult education, to ensure all learners are properly prepared for the world of work
  • How schools could be supported to better fulfil their duties to provide careers advice and inform students of technical, as well as academic, pathways.
    • How the Baker Clause could be more effectively enforced
    • How the Government can ensure more young people have access to a professional and independent careers advisor and increase the take-up of the Lifetime Skills initiative.
  • Whether the proposals for CEIAG in the Government’s Skills for Jobs White Paper will effectively address current challenges in the CEIAG system
    • Whether greater investment to create a robust system of CEIAG is needed, and how could this be targeted, to create a stronger CEIAG

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