Schools will be expected to report their progress against national careers advice benchmarks at least once a year, under plans to beef up statutory guidance.

The Department for Education has also announced plans for a new “strategic action plan for careers”, a single “digital front door” for young people to access guidance online and to eventually create an “all-age careers system, unified under a single strategic framework”.

But ministers have rejected calls for direct funding of careers advisers and extra “numerical targets” for the number of schools meeting the Gatsby Benchmarks of good careers guidance.

Robin Walker MP
Robin Walker MP

The Parliamentary education committee has published the government’s response to its report into careers advice and guidance in England. Chair Robin Walker welcomed ministers’ “broadly positive response”.

Secondary schools and colleges are currently encouraged to self-report their progress against careers education benchmarks through an online tool called “Compass”.

The committee’s report, published in June, recommended that the DfE “update its statutory guidance to make reporting through the Compass tool compulsory for all secondary schools and colleges”.

At present, 90 per cent of schools and colleges use the Compass evaluation, and 3,172 use “Compass+”, which enables tracking of Gatsby Benchmark achievement “at an individual pupil level”.

The DfE said in its response it wanted to “avoid mandating the use of Compass as a reporting tool”.

But it said it would update statutory careers guidance to “set a clear expectation that all secondary schools and colleges should self-report progress against the Gatsby Benchmarks at least once during every academic year”.

DfE wants ‘unified’ all-age careers system

The committee’s report criticised a “confusing, fragmented and unclear” careers system. Schools are responsible for providing advice and guidance, overseen by the Careers and Enterprise Company.

Some responsibility also sits with the National Careers Service, and with the Department for Work and pensions and its agencies.

The DfE said it agreed there needed to be “greater coherence between publicly funded careers services, across all ages”.

Its ambition is to “develop an all-age careers system, unified under a single strategic framework, that helps to address the fragmentation in careers services identified by the committee”.

But they “do not have firm views yet on what this will look like but we want to start exploring the issue further”.  Stakeholder and “early market engagement” will begin this autumn.

The first step will be a “single starting point for careers and skills”, launching this autumn.

This “digital front door” will help young people and others find the “trusted impartial careers and skills information that they need”.

User testing of the prototype “has revealed that young people found it useful and would return to it in future”.

National Careers Service website gets a refresh

The government has also launched a “new and inspiring look and feel to the National Careers Service website” to make it more accessible to young people. The new “front door” will be built on this.

“Our goal is to build digital and inperson services which form a unified careers system which best enables citizens to explore and develop their careers, skills and training options at any point in their lives.”

The committee also called for a refreshed careers strategy, which was last updated in 2017. Instead, the DfE said it would publish a “strategic action plan for careers” in 2024. It will set out “strong objectives to continue to increase the number of schools achieving the Gatsby Benchmarks in full”.

But setting additional numerical targets for benchmark achievement “risks encouraging a tick-box approach”, ministers said.

The DfE also rejected a recommendation that it update statutory guidance to “suggest an appropriate proportion of time” that school careers leaders should be given to fulfil their role, and a call for schools to report how much time they give to their leaders.

They said there was a “risk that by quantifying an appropriate proportion of time we are creating additional pressure on resources and taking the focus away from other school or college priorities”.

Ministers reject direct funding of advisers

The department also “does not agree” with the committee’s suggestion that it directly-fund school careers advisers. It said schools and colleges were “best-placed to determine their own arrangements”.

The committee’s report criticised an administrative “burden” preventing access to work experience.

The DfE said it would “look at what more we can do to address barriers to organising work experience”.

Ministers also agreed with the committee that there was “potential for an online platform that promotes a range of work experience placements both locally and across the country. But again, this is a “longer-term aspiration”.

Beefed-up legislation requiring schools to give alternative education providers access to their pupils came into force earlier this year. The committee said the DfE should “directly track compliance” and ensure “appropriate action” against those failing to comply.

The DfE said schools could already record compliance through the Compass tool, and that the CEC had a “single place for providers to register a concern if they have reason to believe that a school is not complying”.

However, although there have been “lots of requests for clarification and support, there have not been any concerns registered by providers to date through the CEC’s website”.