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Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me.
I’m glad to be here for many reasons. Not the least of them is the fact that I think careers education and guidance in schools has had a rough deal for longer than most of us would care to remember. And I want to assure you in person of my commitment to playing my part in putting that right.
The esteem, or lack of it, in which careers teachers have sometimes been held is in inverse proportion to their influence over young people’s lives and prospects. Many teachers have viewed being handed the careers brief as drawing the short straw in the curriculum lottery.
But you know better. And so do I.
Importance of guidance
It was that most down-to-earth of Dominicans, St Thomas Aquinas. who once said that it is “better to illuminate than merely to shine”.
Eight hundred years on, the work of your Association continues to demonstrate how right he was. Indeed, there can be few roles more important than that of helping to set young people’s feet on the right path as they set out in life and of helping them to understand where the choices they are making could lead.
As any good teacher can confirm, offering guidance implies far more than just conveying information. It also implies illumination.
Plans for reform
So I want to begin by saying something about the Government’s plans for reform in this area.
Our aim is not, as some have mischievously claimed, to diminish or deprofessionalise careers education and guidance, but the very opposite.
Our approach to careers provision in schools is based on two very clear principles.
First, we believe that schools should have the freedom and flexibility to take decisions in the best interests of their pupils.
That means focussing schools on securing access to advice on the full range of academic and vocational options but giving them freedom to determine how best to do this. That includes recognising that legal constraint is not necessarily the most effective way of ensuring pupils receive careers education and other wider support they may require.
Second, we believe that young people will benefit from high quality external sources of guidance - free from any vested organisational interests - to complement any in-house arrangements. Schools must be able to commission any specialist support that they need from a strong and diverse market in careers guidance.
I recognise that this move away from central Government control will be a significant cultural change and, in at least one sense, a step into the unknown for some schools.
But at the same time, I’m confident that empowering schools and setting them free from bureaucratic oversight is the right way forward. Independent schools have been using a wide range of services and advice for many years and now we want all schools to enjoy that same freedom of choice.
Of course, schools must be accountable for the quality of what they achieve. So we should expect them to answer for outcomes, not inputs such as the use of a particular service or a specific approach to providing careers guidance.
The increasing amounts of information that are becoming available not just about different careers, but also about the comparative benefits of different higher education courses and of the comparative merits of choosing an academic route or a vocational option like an Apprenticeship post-18, are making the guidance young people get in schools more vital than perhaps ever before.
That is why I regard the development of reliable destination measures as increasingly crucial - and not just in schools, but in further and higher education, too.
If used properly, they will provide clear and comparable information on the success of schools in helping their pupils to progress to university, into further education or into employment.
Role of the careers sector
I want the careers sector to be at the forefront of showcasing the benefits of careers guidance. And I want to say here and now how grateful I am for the work already under way to strengthen the evidence base and bring together the very best examples of interventions that have a positive impact on young people.
I want to go further and ensure that we do all we can to celebrate the very best in high-quality careers education and guidance and the good work that many schools are doing to support the young people in their care.
I recently announced my intention to establish a network of school leaders to develop and share the most effective practice in securing careers guidance for pupils.
I hope that your Association will play a prominent role in identifying and sharing those inspirational examples that will demonstrate the value and benefit of careers provision.
But as well as individual examples of excellence, we will need to gauge how the system as a whole is responding to the changes.
Review of careers guidance
That is why we have promised to commission a thematic review of careers guidance by Ofsted. This will help us to establish a baseline for future policy development and to understand whether there are areas that are not delivering the key outcomes of achievement and progress for young people. If the review uncovers problems then I will not hesitate to consider what could change for the better and what further support might be necessary.
I know that working your way through this difficult transitional period is a challenge. But I see a real opportunity to reach a point where the careers profession is restored to the position it deserves.
By adopting a relentless focus on quality, on outcomes and on promoting the benefits of independent, impartial guidance we can build a careers profession that is stronger and better equipped to face the future.
An important element of this new world of opportunity will be the opening up of the market for careers guidance. And whether your position is one of a careers professional, or a school-based practitioner involved in the day-to-day management or delivery of careers education and guidance, I would urge you all to think carefully about the opportunities that will open up through this new way of doing things, and how you can best take advantage of that.
Of course, significant progress has already been made in the development of the careers sector as one that can stand comparison with other respected professions.
For example, the main professional bodies for careers are working for the first time as a unified force for professionalism. The Careers Profession Alliance is committed to developing a register of careers professionals, and wishes to achieve chartered status for careers professionals over the next three years.
The Alliance is working with the professional bodies to establish common professional standards, so that everyone signs up to the same code of ethics as well as to the same standards of practice. Those common standards need to be supported by continuing professional development, and organisations in the National Careers Service will be required to support their staff in meeting these standards. The Alliance will support this process by putting a range of new resources including resources online, for careers advisers to use as an integral part of their professional development.
Moreover, a new National Careers Service will lead the way on quality and standards. Young people will be able to access the National Careers Service through its online and telephone channels.
Schools can, of course, commission organisations that are part of the National Careers Service to provide independent, impartial careers guidance. The Service will not be funded to provide that support but I have outlined the steps we are taking to strongly persuade schools of the merits of investing in professionally delivered face-to-face guidance.
This approach reflects the fact that the needs of young people and adults are different. It would be strange to give teachers clear responsibilities for the careers guidance of their pupils and then provide a public service that attempted to replicate part of that function. So the Service itself will not be centrally funded to provide services direct to schools.
My colleagues and I are clear that there are few tasks in our education and skills system that are more important than helping young people to understand as early as possible the full implications of the choices they are asked to make.
We know that enlightenment is a prerequisite of empowerment. But, even so, we do not pretend to have all the answers. So I would like to close by encouraging you to take advantage of three forthcoming opportunities to feed you views and experiences into the reform process.
First, we will be hosting a careers guidance transition summit, jointly with the Local Government Association on 15 July. I am delighted that ACEG will be represented alongside a range of school and local authority representatives. This will provide an opportunity to focus on issues of transition from the current arrangements. We are keen to facilitate the exchange of good practice between local authorities and will share effective delivery models - examples such as those in Swindon and Northamptonshire where authorities are already using the greater freedom afforded by the Early Intervention Grant to develop integrated, efficient support for young people. Following the event we will set out key milestones for the transition period up to September 2012, to support local authorities’ transition planning. You may wish to refer to the Local Government Association’s Communities of Practice website where a detailed summit agenda and attendee list will be available from tomorrow and where we will place outputs shortly after the event.
Second, we have begun initial conversations with stakeholders on the question of extending the duty to secure independent careers guidance down to school year 8 and to young people up to the age of 18 studying in schools and further education settings. I am delighted to confirm that a full public consultation on this issue will take place in the autumn and I very much hope you will take part.
Third and finally, it is important to me to hear your immediate reactions to the progress that has been made to date and the immediate challenges we face. So I look forward to your questions.