From education to employment

Careers – the importance of balanced advice

Earlier in April the Government revised its guidance on ways schools should provide careers advice, information and guidance to young people.

Although not ground-breaking, we were encouraged by the Government’s call for schools to give young people fair and balanced information about all their options. As an organisation that champions technical, practical and vocational learning we know there are many paths to success and it is crucial that alternatives to traditional academic routes, such as apprenticeships, are given the attention they deserve.

We were also happy to see the emphasis placed on the importance of involving employers in delivering advice and guidance to pupils. Research by the Education and Employers Taskforce shows that interventions such as careers talks, visits to industry and work experience can all have significant benefits to young people and their career prospects.

However, as the Edge Foundation’s Director of Policy and Research, David Harbourne points out, the new document uses the word ‘should’ much more often than the word ‘must’. Schools still have a considerable amount of discretion when it comes to careers advice and this is where our concern rests. In research we carried out earlier this year we found that just a third of students taking vocational qualifications felt supported by their school, while almost a quarter of students were told they were ‘too clever’ for vocational education. We fear that unless the new guidance is enforced and the ‘shoulds’ turned to ‘musts’ too many schools will continue in the same fashion, promoting A levels and university over the equally demanding vocational routes available.

But what does good careers guidance look like? The Gatsby Foundation has just released a report about careers guidance in schools, identifying good practice and providing recommendations on how to deliver it. We fully support Gatsby’s work to create a comprehensive framework of eight benchmarks which, if implemented, will see an end to a bias in careers guidance and allow all young people to achieve their potential.

As the 2nd May deadline for nominations for the VQ Awards approaches, we are once again reminded of what can be achieved by taking VQs. Looking through the nominations we have already received I am amazed, as I am every year, at the hard work and dedication of so many vocational students. While they vary dramatically in age and cover a whole range of subjects, the one thing that these learners all have in common is that they are high achievers. They have worked incredibly hard to get themselves in the position they are and it is wrong that many of them will have had to work that little bit harder to prove themselves and to shake the outdated stereotype that clings to vocational education in some quarters. We hope that on VQ Day this year, as we celebrate with the winners, and the hundreds of others who take vocational qualifications up and down the country, we can inspire schools to see past the stigma and encourage all their students to consider all the options.

Jan Hodges OBE is chief executive of Edge, the independent education charity dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning

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